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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776
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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

“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.

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.

Yori Yanover

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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