Latest update: November 14th, 2012
In what may appear as one of the more interesting ironies to some, the Forward has chosen Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel (pictured here with Senator Joseph Lieberman) as one of the top 5 most influential Jews in America. (They did not say which position he holds on that short list.)
To that end they are showing short videos of each of those top 5. They have started off with one on Rabbi Zwiebel. (Could he be at the top of the list?) These 5 Jews head a list called the Forward 50. Which as the title suggest adds another 45 influential names. Rabbi Zweibel’s video can be seen below.
I use the word irony because of the fact that the Forward is often singled out by Charedim as very anti Charedi. Rabbi Zwiebel – for those who don’t know – is the executive director of one of the most publicly active Charedi organizations in the world, Agudath Israel of America.
This list has been heavily criticized in the past for choosing people who many of us in Orthodoxy never even heard of – to the exclusion of people many of us feel are quite a bit greater than those they have chosen. Like various Roshei Yeshiva and Poskim.
Agree or disagree – the Forward has its own guidelines for measuring impact (which they are certainly entitled to have) and they have chosen accordingly.
As executive director of Agudah he promotes the policies dictated to him by his organization’s Rabbinic authorities, which they term the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah – loosely translated as the Council of Torah Sages.
Rabbi Zweibel certainly has his detractors in wider Orthodoxy. There are issues that have stirred controversy. While all of Orthodoxy has more that unites us than divides us, there are some issues that are so controversial that they threaten to tear us apart and separate us forever. Among them are two of 3 which Rabbi Zweibel was asked about.
One is the issue of requiring all suspicions of sex abuse be first reported to a Rabbi before being reported to the police. That is so that the rabbi can determine whether the evidence is credible enough to over-ride the Issur of Mesirah. Even if one holds that Mesirah is still applicable in our era.
Rabbi Zweibel spoke eloquently about this vetting process. But as I have indicated in the past, I disagree with it. My difference with Agudah is that if there is going to be any vetting process about what is and isn’t credible evidence, it ought not be a rabbi that determines it. It ought to be mental health professionals and the police who regularly deal with sex abuse. As I recall it was R’ Elyashiv who Paskined that there are no Mesirah issues when there are Raglayim L’Davar (credible evidence). And he never said that it should be a rabbi that determines it.
The other controversial issue is MbP (Metzitza B’Peh – oral suction of the blood from a circumcision wound). Agudah is fighting New York City’s Health Department requirement of informed consent. Meaning that a Mohel has to warn parents about the dangers of transmitting diseases of the mouth via direct oral contact with the wound.
Again, I have profound differences on this issue. But I hear his argument. For Chasidim – a segment of Orthodoxy that believes MbP is an integral requirement of Bris Milah – asking their Mohalim to warn parents about it sends a message that a Halachic requirement is in fact dangerous! A danger they believe is practically nonexistent.
Although I understand their position and that of Agudah one has to weigh the message’s negative implications for them against the right of a parent to be informed about the possible dangers, rare though they may be. Rabbi Zweibel seems to say that two constitutional freedoms are at stake here. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I guess this is the argument they will make in the courts in order to overturn the health department’s informed consent requirement.
We’ll see how that plays out.
A 3rd issue mentioned in the interview was an offshoot of the Siyum HaShas. That Agudah managed to fill a football stadium to overflow crowds of mostly Charedim – seems to indicate that American Jewry’s growth is trending towards a more insular way of life. Thus we are less able to influence greater society by directly participating in it.
Rabbi Zweibel countered that being more insular doesn’t mean we can’t influence greater society. The way we fulfill our mandate to be an Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations – is by living our lives in religious, moral, and ethical ways. And thus setting an example to the world as compared to how some other segments of the culture lead their lives.
Although, I do not believe we should be insular and instead fully participate, I agree with him about being role models of behavior. However I think we have a long way to go before we can claim the moral high ground here. Not because Jewish ethics aren’t of the highest caliber. But because far too many of our high profile people haven’t lived up to them.
In any case this post isn’t about any of these issues. It is to congratulate Rabbi Zwiebel for receiving this honor. And accepting it with the humility shown in the interview. From a medium that often criticizes positions his organization takes.
I have said this before. Rabbi Zwiebel is a good man. He is a man who serves the Jewish community with integrity and honor. I also happen to believe that that he does not necessarily always agree with the positions of Agudah’s rabbinic leadership. But as good soldier and an admirer of those rabbinic leaders, he follows their lead and fights for their views. That’s what a good lawyer does anyway, doesn’t he?
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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