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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate

The President of HUC-JIR, sent The Jewish Press an angry letter suggesting there are Orthodox sources supporting patrilineal descent.

David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rebuked The Jewish Press, suggesting the daughter of a Buddhist Korean woman who never converted was qualified to serve as a rabbi. We went ahead and checked his facts…

David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rebuked The Jewish Press, suggesting the daughter of a Buddhist Korean woman who never converted was qualified to serve as a rabbi. We went ahead and checked his facts…
Photo Credit: HUC-JIR

Earlier this week, we ran a story about a reform cantor and rabbi whose father was Jewish but her mother was not, and who is serving in her two very Jewish sounding roles without the benefit of a proper—or even a Reform—conversion (It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi). To me, it seemed like the ultimate, end-of-the-line kind of illustration of how far the Reform movement has strayed outside the rabbinical tent, although over the heated discussion that ensued by our readers it was mentioned that the lady in question is not the first non-Jewish Reform rabbi since the Reform movement enacted the doctrine of patrilineal descent to determine who is a Reform Jew.

We now received a response letter from David Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, protesting our article. I was conflicted over whether we should run the article as is, and expect our readers to debate it, or add my own running commentary. The reason I decided to do the latter, which, I admit, is taking advantage of my position as editor, at the expense of the author, is that the letter is rife with misleading information.

I debated this with our editor in chief, and we decided that, in the name of fairness, we’ll run only complete paragraphs of the Ellenson letter, in sequential order, and add comments only between paragraphs, much the way some people do when they respond to a long email. So, here we go:

To the Editor:

I recognize that the editors and authors of The Jewish Press have a different stance towards Judaism than we at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and in the Reform Movement do. Indeed, I do not question your right to approach Judaism and the issue of conversion as you deem proper even as our own principled position is distinct from yours. However, no less a rabbinic personage than Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer of Posen, the famed author of Drishat Tsiyon, referred to children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers – even without conversion – as zera kodesh. He asserted that “gdolei yisrael” could well spring from among these children.

The citation from Rabbi Kalischer of Posen (who vehemently rejected the Reform movement of his day, see Hertzberg, Arthur, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader) is misleading, and a little bit offensive.

It suggests that Rabbi Kalischer—a student of Rabbi Akiva Eger and one of the most noted Zionist Rabbis of the early 1800s (he called for the redeeming of all of Eretz Israel and for the renewal of the Temple sacrifices, both values that I would love to see adopted by the Reform movement) supported the recognition of the offspring of Jewish men and their non-Jewish wives as Jews, without a halachic conversion.

Throwing such a ludicrous claim without proper citation does not befit the president of an academic institute, mostly because it forced yours truly to spend hours online in search of the cite. But I did. Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, affiliated with the RCA beit din in Montreal, told Paul Lungen of CJN (New standards possible for Orthodox conversions) about an 1864 case when two German rabbis, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Azriel Hildesheimer debated the standards to be applied to child conversion:

“Responding to a query from a rabbi in New Orleans, Rabbi Kalischer argued that if the child was brought up in a home where there was potential for him to grow in observance – even where the mother was gentile – the conversion should be approved. Rabbi Hildesheimer believed conversions should not be approved unless the parents were observant.”

In other words, the honorable president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is trying to pull off a dishonest shmear, suggesting that by his sweet comment that those children of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers are “holy seed” (zera kodesh) – he meant they could become rabbis without a proper conversion.

No, no, no. The debate was over whether a guy who marries a non-Jew can ask for a halachic conversion of their children, even though he is so outside the Jewish fold that he went and married a Jew.

In our own time, Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Israel, in his Zera Yisrael, has offered a broad survey of halakhic writing on this question and has made the same point as Rabbi Kalischer concerning the offspring of intermarried Russian families who have made aliyah to Israel. Rabbi Amsalem has written that such children, who share in the fate and destiny of our people, should be embraced.

This one is not merely a lie, but a stupid lie, because the rabbi in question is alive and well, and can speak for himself, which he did. Here, for the record, is rabbi Chaim Ansalem’s view on the conversion of children of intermarried Russian families (the text was shortened, the full version is available here):

“First, of course I insist that the entire giur (conversion) process be done according to halacha, by an authoritative court, including bris milah, dipping in the mikvah, and accepting the yoke of mitzvot. But as opposed to a complete gentile who wishes to convert, we today in Israel are dealing with gentiles whose halachic definition is “of Israelite seed.” 98 percent of olim from the former Soviet Union are of Israelite seed and therefore in their cases we should go easier, since they’ve expressed their wish to be part of the nation of Israel by enlisting in the army.

“God forbid, I do not mean we should give up any part of the giur process.”

So much for that bit of disinformation on the part of the HUC-JIR president.

I therefore read with great dismay the gratuitously cruel article concerning Rabbi Angela Buchhdal that just appeared in your paper. In light of the attitudes expressed by poskim such as Rabbi Kalischer and Rabbi Amsalem, I am surprised that a frum newspaper like yours presents the fullness and diversity of Jewish law on conversion in such a simple and distorting manner.

The only thing is, the distortions are all generated by the honorable Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion president, who either does not understand the stuff those two poskim wrote, never read their stuff and was handed the cites by an intern, or understands that he’s distorting the truth and hopes no one would check.

Oy, he picked on the wrong frum newspaper…

Most of all, in light of the talmudic passage that equates the sin of shaming a fellow person in public to murder, I am astonished that you would allow such a piece to single out Rabbi Buchhdal by name and that you assume an article that was written in another newspaper and upon which your author draws for his piece reveals all the facts about her life. That your article would appear in Elul as our people prepare to stand before our Maker in teshuvah during the Yamim Noraim next month is beyond comprehension.

This one is harder to refute than the misleading information and outright lies in the first two paragraphs. I believe that had Buchhdal been minding her own business, singing her lovely Jewish tunes in her packed synagogue, we’d stay away from the story. Check out our website and see how many times we sought out any individual Reform rabbi for scorn – I think the only other time we did it was in reference to the Jewish BDS movement.

But Buchhdal became the poster child for the grotesque notion of a rabbi who needn’t bother to convert to Judaism before they start giving Yom Kippur drashas at the podium. There we actually have an obligation, as a website by and for observant Jews, to expose this silliness.

Sinas Chinam and Yamim Noraim talk have become the new flag in which Reform scoundrels are wrapping themselves, and yet—to seriously mix metaphors here—the emperor still has no clothes.

We at HUC-JIR surely have our own principled position in regard to Judaism and we are very proud of our students and the education they receive to qualify them as rabbis and cantors among the people Israel. Among these students, no one is more gifted, knowledgeable, and committed to Yiddishkeit than Rabbi Buchhdal. Happy are we that our fate is tied up with hers and that we had the zechut to be her m’kom torah. We only wish we had thousands more like Rabbi Buchhdal, who brings the beauty and truth of our massoret to the Jewish and general public. A true disciple of Aaron Hacohen, Rabbi Buchhdal, in the words of Pirkei Avot, “loves and pursues peace, and loves her fellow creatures.” In so doing, she “brings them close to Torah.” She deserves better than to be singled out as she was in this article.
Sincerely,

David Ellenson, President Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

We’re willing to concede that Angela Buchhdal is the spitting image of Aaron Hacohen, a woman of peace and valor, bringing Jews close to the Torah in the spirit of our massoret.

But she’s not Jewish. She can become Jewish, not a problem, we’d love to have someone as highly regarded as she in the fold. I could recommend several lovely, moderate Jewish rabbis who would be honored to take her through the process, free of charge.

Until she does that, there isn’t one, single, singular, itzy bitzy tiny Jewish posek anywhere in the history of Judaism since Ezra the Scribe who even suggests she’s Jewish.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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45 Responses to “Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate”

  1. Dan Silagi says:

    I, Daniel Silagi, in my capacity of Chief Apikorus of the United States of America, hereby issue this posek: Rabbi Angela Buchdahl is Jewish.

    Moreover, I am far from being itzy bitzy, and wouldn't look so good in a teeny weenie yellow polka-dot bikini, either.

  2. Alan Kardon says:

    Would you accept someone editing your comments and only showing parts you deem people should see. Shame on you for doing this and violating the spirit of the 1st Admendment.

  3. Angela Buchdahl is no Rabbi by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, Barack Hussein Obama is the Messiah to most Jews, so anything is possible, especially if the Reform Movement is involved. To them, it is "Let's make up a new Judaism as we go merrily along".

  4. Dan Silagi says:

    Based upon your other comments, I don't think you're Jewish, German, or Georg Von Starkermann.

  5. Stephen Leavitt says:

    The letter we received was published in full.

  6. rfine says:

    Once again, we prove that politically (at least) we Jews are our own worst enemies.  I am not a member of the Reform nor the Conservative Jewish Communities in our city, but I have respect and affection for both.
    It seems to me, the critics of the rabbi’s suitability to serve are more concerned with the messenger than the message. I think this behavior might cause G-d to be sad and disappointed with us. There are more important issues facing the Jewish Community towards which our energies and intellect could be directed.
    Dr Russ Fine
    Birmingham, Alabama

  7. Let's check the final decision.

  8. Jack Zeller says:

    The style of the editor could be more civil. It totally distracts the topic.

  9. as reform Jew and read what you show my next step maybe spam box, in the mean time in Quebec city our Rabbi treat me like a Prince until he find out I was reform jew then I become an official Goy and don't count me in a minyan and to me they become Orthodoxe pig and work toward building a Reform Temple to be able to pray as we see fit and write to federal gevernement to don't accept any orthodoxe racist immigrant in Canada most of them Lubavitch and Hareidi because they come here to teach hate and in here its illegal.

  10. Gary Dalin says:

    @Dan: The title Apikorus can only be granted to someone learned in Jewish law. Since you don't seem to know tje difference between a posek and a psak, you are as qualified as is any Reform rabbi to make Halachic judgements.

  11. Gary Dalin says:

    @Jack: Reform rabbis are used to not being challenged by their mostly Hebrew illiterate constituency. It allows them to pontificate especially when they cite an obscure reference.
    Be appreciative that someone went to the trouble to show
    how such quotes are abused to justify a philosophy derived from outside Jewish law. HUC produces great pastors they
    title "rabbis", but then again so do the Christian Messianics.

  12. happytobeajew says:

    i read this and am saddened by the ‘baseless hatred” of jews. i am a jew and i try to observe what i can—in the tradition of franz rosensweig’s :NOT YET. Traditional judaism sets the standard and has done so since sinai;however, we who were fortunate enough to be born at a time and or place that encourages individual freedom, have taken the secular standards and applied them to judaism. IT CANNOT WORK,and we find ourselves cutting one another’s throats(metaphorically) when there is  a broad population out there who would do it literally. EACH DESTROYS JUDAISM.
    are we so insecure that we cannot acknowledge that there are standards towards which we should strive, but that when we  don’t reach the mark, we are not bad —or maybe not even wrong—we are just jews trying to be part of judaism.

  13. happytobeajew says:

    rfinethank you

  14. YochananEfrayimHernandez says:

    Seriously, do you think Hitler would have cared from which side her parents were Jewish? She would have been either raped, tortured, murdered, or all of the above during the Holocaust. According to Torah:
    Bere**** 17:7-9 says “I will ratify My covenant between Me and you and between your offspring after you, throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant, to be a G-d to you and your offspring after you; and I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourn – the whole of the land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a G-d to them.” G-d said to Avraham, “And as for you, you shall keep My covenant – you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. (Rabbi Scherman: The Stone Edition Tanak Page 33 “Lecha Lecha”).
    So the question is she according to Torah a descendant of Avraham? Is she following Torah and observing all of Ha-Shem’s Mitzvahs like feast days and Shabbats? If so, let her be and lets instead focus on real issues. Like not being able to build homes in our own land for our people, letting the UN, EU, and Palestinians bully us into releasing Terrorist back into the world (which in my eyes should have been killed for taking the lives of so many Israeli’s). These are things that should be concentrated in our headlines and not the petty differences in our religious system.

  15. Yochanan Efráyim Hernandez says:

    Seriously, do you think Hitler would have cared from which side her parents were Jewish? She would have been either raped, tortured, murdered, or all of the above during the Holocaust.

    According to Torah: Bere**** 17:7-9 says "I will ratify My covenant between Me and you and between your offspring after you, throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant, to be a G-d to you and your offspring after you; and I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourn – the whole of the land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a G-d to them.” G-d said to Avraham, “And as for you, you shall keep My covenant – you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. (Rabbi Scherman: The Stone Edition Tanak Page 33 “Lecha Lecha”).

    So the question is she according to Torah a descendant of Avraham? Is she following Torah and observing all of Ha-Shem’s Mitzvahs like feast days and Shabbats? If so, let her be and lets instead focus on real issues. Like not being able to build homes in our own land for our people, letting the UN, EU, and Palestinians bully us into releasing Terrorist back into the world (which in my eyes should have been killed for taking the lives of so many Israeli’s). These are things that should be concentrated in our headlines and not the petty differences in our religious system.

  16. This is a disgusting comment.

  17. Georg von Starkermann, I HEARD THAT. The NSA will be knocking on your door! I am NOT the Messiah, but I am certainly practicing "Tikkun Olam"!

  18. If you look at the right side of this age, you will see what the Jewish Press calls a "POLL". It says:"As a Jewish person, which non-Jewish religion do you think is the least objectionable?" This poll is consistent with the tone of all of these articles by Yori Yanover. Mr Yanover, and the Jewish Press, are MORE concerned with the things that DIVIDE PEOPLE, and push people apart, than trying to be an instrument to bring people together, while allowing each person to worship in the way that Hashem gives that person the light to see. Please remember the words: "MY HOUSE IS A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE". And have a good Shabbos.

  19. meant "right side of this PAGE".

  20. Judith Ross says:

    I refused to vote on the Poll Question as it is offense. How would you feel in the question was asked and Judaism was on the list of possible answers. All religions have their place, as long as they are willing be peaceful and accept the fact that every one has the right to believe as they wish. In other words I am disgusted with this poll and I think anyone who votes is a racist.

  21. youcanthandlethetruth says:

    no such thing as a female Rabbi or a non Jewish Rabbi or a Rabbi who’s mother was gentile.  Do not tamper with Torah

  22. Menachem Rephun says:

    Joseph Salowitz Anything is "disgusting" that challenges your preconcieved notions

  23. Menachem Rephun says:

    Joseph Salowitz Your idea of "tikkun olam" is peppering your conversation with Yiddish phrases, eating lox, and appointing Puerto Rican lesbians as Rabbis

  24. Menachem Rephun says:

    I, Menachem Rephun, hereby place you in cherem

  25. YochananEfrayimHernandez says:

    I value and understand your point. What I’m just trying to suggest is that we need to focus on real matters like what is happening in Yisrael and this fake peace process rather than on Jewish religious differences.

  26. As a convert who went through a non-Halachic conversion (Jewish Center swimming pool a mikvah?) and then converted thru the Council of Orthodox Rabbis, I resent any acceptance of Buchdal. My husband was a Reform Jew when we married 55 years ago. Today he is my Daf Yomi chaverusa (we've completed the daf 3 times). Our 6 children are Jewish and our youngest son a Chabad rabbi.

  27. Nacha Sara Leaf says:

    You guys are awesome!! And may you continue to be chavrusas for many many long years:))

  28. With all due respect, whenever issues like this come up, someone pulls the Hitler card. And it's just wrong. As emotionally compelling as it sounds (i.e. the Nazis didn't make these distinctions, she was Jewish enough to die in Auschwitz, etc.), it's a grotesque caricature of Judaism. However one might choose to define who is a Jew, Adolph Hitler's definition is the last definition on earth we should be using. We define who we are as Jews by our INTERNAL standards, not by who our greatest enemies think we are.

    Harold Berman,
    Co-Author, "Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope"

  29. Danny Schild says:

    What would you expect from this ultra right wing Orthodox site?

  30. Yochanan Efráyim Hernandez says:

    I apologise Mr. Berman. I guess I just get so upset because it seems that we are fighting with one another instead of focusing our engergy on issues relating with what's happening in Yisrael. We should be a united people and these issues just pull us apart and I'm sick of it. I undestand we have our differences in Judism but that shouldn't be our focus. So again, I apologise if I offended anyone. Shalom and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

  31. Joel Chesky Salomon says:

    Joseph Salowitz, is this a new form of “argumentum ad nauseam”?

  32. For a brief history of matrilineality in Judaism (one's Judaism descending from one's mother), see the following article that appeared some years ago in the Jerusalem Post – http://www.oztorah.com/2009/07/matrilineality-is-still-best-for-jewish-identity/.

  33. Yori Yanover says:

    Yochanan Efráyim Hernandez – We're not fighting with one another. Fighting takes place in order to conquer something or to defeat someone. I wholeheartedly believe in simply moving away from any contact with the reform movement, which is slipping away into a new, clearly not Jewish horizons.

    Good bye and thank you for all the fish.

  34. Barnaby Yeh says:

    Do your research. She did gerut:
    Eventually, at 21, she did undergo a conversion ceremony, but she prefers to think of it as a reaffirmation ceremony.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/20/nyregion/religion-defining-judaism-a-rabbi-of-many-firsts.html

  35. Eva Feld says:

    Don't understand what the discussion is. Reformed has slipped into its own abyss. Neither fish or fowl and the chicken flies twice over hot water, instant chicken soup kosher l'pesach. Reform is exactly what the word means: 'Reform" and therefore any subject, however, comfy or uncomfy gets "reformed". It is convenient that way, no rules too difficult to overcome, they are simply reformed. End of discussion.

  36. Yori Yanover says:

    Barnaby Yeh – You're right, and we noted it in a separate article. Now you tell me, what does it mean "reafirmation ceremony"? What did she reafirm? The logic of it is bizarre, if you actually think about what the term means, in light of the fact that the core of Jewish conversion is acceptance of the yoke of the sages.

  37. Ahron Ebert says:

    Reform Judaism is a different religion than Judaism. The Reform Rabbi writes as if they are part of Judaism. I found his letter amusing and full of BS.

  38. Ahron Ebert says:

    What a great story. Sorry one of your children went bad and became a Chabadnik.

  39. Ahron Ebert says:

    Hitler would not have recognized her as Jewish.

  40. Dan Silagi You can always check me out on the official register of the SS Nordland Division/ Now that I have been rehabilitated and a frequent visitor to the Holyland, I can assure you that Ms. Buchdahl is still no Rabbi.

  41. David Conley says:

    Yori, if you would have read the comments to your previous article, you would have seen the link to the nyt article that says she had a conversion. Why is it nobody read my link to Dr Eisenman's jpost blog about the Herodians and being Jewish? Did you read it? http://blogs.jpost.com/content/abrahamicmosaicdavidic-conversion-opposed-rabbinic

  42. Dan Silagi says:

    Who died and made you St. Peter?

  43. Dan Silagi says:

    First of all, ******, I know very well the difference between a posek, which you aren't, and a psak, which if you issued one I'd tell you where you could shove it. Capice?

  44. Chaya Stock says:

    may this new year be even more amazing for you and all Jewish people and the rest of the nations too its time for moshiach now.

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