As Prime Minister Netanyahu boldly exposes the world’s double standard against Israel, both President Obama and prominent figures within American Jewry condemn him for it. In this program, Ari & Jeremy delve into the eternal wisdom of this week’s Torah portion to determine how we can awaken from our slumber and make sense out of the injustice and confusion of our times.The Land of Israel
Posts Tagged ‘American Jewry’
American Jewry, with few exceptions, has replaced the tenets of Judaism with the political correctness of liberalism. In the long run, this new creed will weaken the relationship with the State of Israel.
Jay Shapiro Show 26Jul – PODCASTIsrael News Talk Radio
I recently attended the wedding of a wonderful ba’al teshuva couple whose parents are Conservative Jews. One of the honored guests was their parent’s Conservative Rabbi. Although the mesader kedushin (the officiating rabbi) was Orthodox, the Conservative rabbi was quite involved with various Halachic minutia throughout the course of the evening (…none under the hupah). Without getting into details, I have to say that I was impressed. The rabbi was very knowledgeable in Halacha and insisted that it be followed. If one did not know that he was a Conservative rabbi, one could have easily thought he was Orthodox… and not especially left wing either.
I happen to know that this rabbi came through the ranks of the Conservative movement. He was not one of those Orthodox “sellouts” who took a Conservative shul for the money. He came from a committed Conservative home and his primary Jewish education was through the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) where he was ordained. His shul is fairly large and I would guess consists mostly of non-observant (by Orthodox standards) Jews.
This got me to thinking about the origins of the Conservative movement. I fully believe that the founders’ intent was to ‘conserve’ Judaism… from the inroads of Reform that was sweeping the country in those days. Those founders wanted to produce a rabbinate that was in harmony with American values and American culture… in order to better relate to the melting pot mentality of those days.
Although the movement has since undergone changes whereby questionable theologies have become acceptable… I do not believe that was part of the original equation and did not become so until the late Mordechai Kaplan advanced his radical ideas about the nature of God and the Jewish people. Although radical views are not required in Conservative Judaism, they are now accepted or at least tolerated.
I don’t know the theology of this rabbi. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he believed in Torah MiSinai. In any case, I think one can fairly say that Conservative rabbis like the one at the wedding are observant and see themselves in many ways like kiruv professionals for their members. Not that they are able to get their members to observe Shabbos. But that they try and get them to be as observant as possible without alienating them from the shul.
Oddly enough, this is the philosophy of Lubavitch. Although their primary focus is on making as many Jews as possible religious Lubavitchers, they do things one step at a time and often do not succeed beyond merely making non observant Jews merely Lubavitivch friendly. They will say that we all fall short of perfection and that we should all try and improve in our observances… even those of us who are shomer Shabbos!
I think the Conservative rabbi sees himself and his role in the same way. I further believe that he would be overjoyed if any of his congregants become Orthodox via Chabad or any other Orthodox Kiruv group. Indeed he was effusive with praise for this young couple who were going to spend their first year of marriage in Israel with the husband spending time in a yeshiva.
I realize of course that not all Conservative rabbis are like this. But I’ll bet that there are a lot more like him – that actually live up to the original Conservative credo of trying to conserve Judaism.
I bring all this up in light of an editorial by Forward editor Jane Eisner. She too was critical of her own columnist Jay Michaelson for considering Haredism to be the single biggest existential threat to “fabric of American Jewish Life”…. And castigated him for demonizing and alienating one group when there is another threat that is “just as potent.”
Her point was that the many unaffiliated Jews are increasingly opting out of their Judaism. From the Forward article:
As the UJA-Federation of New York’s recent population survey highlighted, the growth of the “unaffiliated” has equally profound and worrying consequences for the future of the Jewish community. Compounded by the shrinking middle — that mixture of Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews who are, with some notable exceptions, throwing a party fewer and fewer people want to attend — we have a community that is ceding ground to an extreme form of Judaism largely because many of its members don’t care enough to maintain any other form.
The statistics that Ms. Eisner quotes in her editorial are illustrative of the problem. The trend is towards the growth of Orthodoxy and the shrinkage of everything else. It isn’t too hard to predict the future of heterodox movements.
But instead of being triumphalist, I think we Orthodox Jews are better served by reflecting on this massive attrition by so many Jews from Judaism… and seeing if there is anything we can do about it. To my mind it is tragic that we are losing so many Jews to an assimilation that sees any and all religion as archaic and useless.
It is all too easy to write everybody else off and say, “That’s life”! We can’t really do anything about it. Let us therefore concentrate on ourselves – to make our lives holier and re-build Judaism’s numbers by our own propagation. Thankfully there is Chabad and other Kiruv organizations that do not feel this way. But the people they reach are all a drop in the bucket compared to attrition numbers.
Which brings me back to the Conservative rabbi I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The fact is that if there was some way we could work together with people like him, I think our attempts at outreach would be far more successful. Altruistic Conservative rabbis like him I am sure would be eager to do that.
I am convinced that any and every non-observant Jew that becomes Orthodox would be a success story for him – if he were in some way involved with an Orthodox Kiruv movement – even it were nothing more than steering teenagers to NCSY and through them they became observant, that would be considered a victory for him.
I’m not saying that it will be easy to accomplish that. I realize there are restrictions involved because of issues having to do with validation. These issues are real. Virtually all the Gedolim of previous generations, including Rav Soloveitchik, forbade any religious collaboration with heterodox rabbis for fear of giving them tacit recognition.
One may argue that conditions are different now and since these movements are in decline there is little danger of our legitimizing them in any meaningful way. And that the benefit of reaching out far outweighs a now archaic public policy. But it is way below my pay grade to over-rule these giants.
That those on the left wing of Orthodoxy have done so – even if for these very reasons does not make it right. Besides – joint public prayer ceremonies and the like do not really do all that much for outreach anyway, in my view. There is a difference between working with them behind the scenes – and standing in a public arena and thereby by inference endorsing them.
I believe that we should work with them. Those who are sincere about mitzvah observance, like this rabbi, desire to keep Jews – Jewish. And they now realize that their past leniencies like permitting their members to drive to shul on Shabbos was a big mistake. And exactly counterproductive to their goals of preserving Judaism. They have instead created a path out of it… and their movement is now in serious decline.
I don’t know how to co-operate with them in ways that will not violate the will of the rabbinic giants of the last generation. But I’m sure it can be done. The devil – I know – is in the details. But at this point in time – it is worth taking the time to figure it out. There is too much at stake and the time is short. Before long there will be no Conservative Jews to work with. If not now, when?
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.Harry Maryles
Eric Garcetti has just been elected one of Los Angeles’ youngest mayors ever. Eric was a Rhodes scholar in Oxford from about 1993 to 1995. We were close friends and he was a regular at my Oxford University L’Chaim Society. One unforgettable incident defined his character for me in a moment of terrible tragedy for one of our students.
One day in the late afternoon in 1995, I received a phone call from a student who was one of my wife and my closest friends and the President of our student organization. She was crying bitterly. Her name was Jordana and she was almost incoherent with grief. Jordana, who has given me her permission to use her name, was studying in Oxford far away from her home in Canada. She had just received a phone call that her beloved father, with whom she was very close, had died in a terrible accident. She pleaded with me to come around to help her in this moment of agony and incomprehensible pain. I reached her family and we all decided the best thing would be for her to return home as soon as possible. I told them I would drive her to the airport in London.
There was one problem. That night I had already invited Eric over to our home for a private dinner with me and my wife. Given that this was before most students had cell phones, the only effective way of communicating with the students was through the University’s painfully slow “pigeon post” system. I could not tell Eric in time that the dinner was being canceled.
I drove to Jordana’s college where some of her friends were already helping her pack her things. I attempted to comfort her in the tragic news and then brought everything to the car for the trip to the airport. We drove straight to our home where my wife could speak to her and where she could eat something quickly prior to the long night ahead of her. As we walked into the house, there was Eric, smiling and looking happy to be at our home for dinner. He had no idea of the night’s events. I quickly introduced him to Jordana. Her eyes were red and was pale from grief. I said to Eric, “This is Jordana and I’m so sorry that we have to cancel dinner tonight. You see, she has just learned that her father passed away just hours ago.” Moments like this are what show the true character of an individual. Here was Eric, a young, popular Rhodes scholar at Oxford who had simply come to have dinner at his Rabbi’s home. Now, he was being confronted with a total stranger’s grief and tragedy. How would he react?
And here was an interaction that has lingered in my mind and which I will never forget. Eric looked right at Jordana and, in the softest gentlest words, said to her, “I am so sorry for your pain. I’m heartbroken to hear the news. Please tell me if there is anything I can do.” His face was contorted in agony. He spent the next few minutes speaking with her. It was not what he said but the way he said it. He spoke with extreme empathy and understanding. It is quite remarkable that nearly twenty years later I can remember the scene so vividly. What I saw was genuine human compassion for the plight of a complete stranger. I remember thinking to myself that here was a young man with a soft and special heart, that he had the ability to connect genuinely and compassionately with those who were suffering.
Jordana reciprocated the effort. Amid mind-altering loss, she kept her composure and apologized to Eric for having to cancel his dinner. She thanked him for his sympathy and did everything in her power to interact with him on a human level amid her shattered heart. She told him she looked forward to getting to know him better when she returned and under better circumstances. It was a herculean effort at composure.
Eric refused to leave the home until Jordana and I departed. He waited around, told me how he of course understands the need to postpone our dinner, and kept on emphasizing that he wanted to help in any way that he could. About 20 minutes later we departed to London.Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I am not one to criticize the Reform Movement. Not because I think they are beyond criticism. But because they are so out of my orbit of mandatory ritual – that any criticism from me would be entirely meaningless to a movement that doesn’t mandate it. They do not believe in the binding nature of Halacha. And until recent times they rejected virtually all ritual – claiming only the ethos of Judaism to be valid.
In recent times they have done a 180 with respect to the ritual observance. They finally realized that avoiding all ritual left them bereft of any Jewish identity.
Nonetheless there is a debate in Reform between liberal factions who want to stick with the old tradition of rejecting all ritual (How ironic is that! …sticking to a tradition?!) and a newer breed of rabbis on the right of the Reform Movement who want to re-embrace ritual albeit on a voluntary basis. That seems to be taking hold to a certain degree.
Some Reform Jews are indeed beginning to observe Jewish rituals. When ritual becomes voluntary, it becomes easier to observe. There is no sense of responsibility or guilt if it is not done. This is why the Talmud teaches us that a metzuveh v’oseh (a person who is commanded to perform a ritual and complies by doing it) is greater than an eino metzuveh v’oseh (A person who is not commanded to do the Mitzvah but does it anyway). The metzuvah v’oseh feels the “strain” of obligation on his shoulders. The eino metzuveh v’oseh does not.
In this way a Reform Jew can pick and choose which ritual seems more meaningful to them and reject those that aren’t. Either way there is no sense of obligation, burden, or guilt attached.
Where it was once taboo, Reform rabbis can now be found wearing a kipa on their heads. Hebrew has been reintroduced into their prayer services. Torah is talked about more frequently and its study encouraged. In short there are more than a few elements of ritual that are being promoted by Reform rabbis and accepted by Reform Jews.
I have always felt that this was a positive development. Mitoch shelo l’shma bah l’shma. The more Mitzvos one does that are meaningful to them even if they only considered voluntary, the closer they become to being truly observant. Former Reform Movement head, Rabbi Eric Yoffie is of the newer breed of Reform rabbis that encourages mitzvah observance. This is how he raised his children. If I recall correctly one or more of his children are now Orthodox. And he is quite proud of them.
But all is not rosy. There is a pull in the other direction… all with good intentions. It is a pull based on sensitivities to others. The motivation is noble. But their innovations based on them are tragic. Redefining “who is a Jew” to include people of patrilineal descent (those born of a Jewish father and a non Jewish mother) is one such innovation. It increases their numbers but not with Halachicly definable Jews- which include only those born of a Jewish mother or sincere Halachic converts.
The latest such innovation is a move generated by Reform Rabbi Ellen Lippmann. She is “married” to a non Jewish woman who terms herself a “permanently lapsed Irish Catholic.” In an open letter published in the Forward she urges that their rabbinical seminary (The Hebrew Union College – HUC) policy barring intermarried students from entering their rabbinate be changed. It is not enough, she says, that intermarried couples be accepted into their temples. It should be reflected in the policies of their schools as well. While there is still resistance by some of their leadership, it seems like their future includes intermarried rabbis.
How absurd this is. It follows a trend that began with ordaining women; to ordaining GLBTs (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender people) and is now trending toward ordaining intermarried couples. Like I said, I am in no position to dictate policy to a movement in Judaism that is non-Halachic. But it is the height of folly to be going in this direction.
Why, I would ask, stop there? If Reform Judaism is to be true to its ideals of ecumenism and an ethos free of prejudice, why not let a non-Jew become a rabbi? As long as they renounce the divinity of Jesus why bar them? That would be discriminatory! Non-Jews can be trained in pastoral duties. They could counsel Jews just as easily as non-Jews. Let them be educated at their rabbinic seminary. There are some pretty talented non-Jews out there that can be very spiritual and trained in Judaism’s ethos. These non Jewish Reform rabbis would not after all be required to do any mitzvos since even Jewish Reform rabbis aren’t.
This is of course ridiculous and they would never do this. But as absurd as this is, the argument is valid. Furthermore if ritual observance is voluntary, why not just drop the whole charade and just call anyone with an ethical perspective on life a Reform Jew? The only caveat (for the moment) being that they reject the divinity of Jesus. Once they do that – they can be called a Jew if they live an ethical lifestyle. Why stop with patrilineal decent? On the other hand why call yourself Jewish at all? What’s the point?
And yet there is that pull to the right that encourages observance on a voluntary basis. The battle rages on in their circles.
As Orthodox Jews – why should we care what happens in Reform Judaism? Because Kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh. We have a responsibility to our fellow Jews to keep them as Jewish and observant as humanly possible. I therefore add my own protest to this idea. To the extent that they increase mitzvah observance we ought to encourage them. To the extent they they move further away from Judaism we ought to discourage them. The one thing we should not be is apathetic.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.Harry Maryles
When I was a young man around the time I was studying for semicha at the Hebrew Theological College, I had written article in a now defunct local Jewish magazine, the Sentinel. It was in response to a scathing attack against the idea of ordaining women by a prominent rosh yeshiva (yeshiva dean).
I explained that the title rabbi stems from the word “rebbe” which literally means teacher. As such there was nothing wrong with calling a woman educated to teach Judaism with that title. That was over 40 years ago. Some would say that I was ahead of my time.
But I was wrong and regret writing it. I was wrong because in my impetuous youth I did not understand what I understand today, that something which is not a black and white issur (prohibition) does not necessarily make it a good idea to pursue. Nor did I understand that breaking with tradition can open a Pandora’s box that will be counter-productive to our future.
The truth is that there are Halachic issues with female rabbis. I’ve discussed them before in essays where I argued against the ordination of women. It is not that I am a misogynist. I personally have no problem with female rabbis. But I would not have any problem counting women into Minyan either. Except that Halacha does not allow me to do that. There are Halachic issues with respect to female rabbis too. Like serara. While I have no personal problem with it, I have a Halachic problem with it. Women are forbidden by Halacha to take positions of leadership in certain Jewish areas. Like Shuls.
I had also argued in the past that even though women can serve in other areas the way rabbis do (e.g., teachers) the primary and historic function of a rabbi has always been in a shul as a pulpit rabbi. Leaving aside the issue of serara it is highly impractical and awkward for a woman to be the rabbi of a shul.
The primary function of a shul is prayer – doing so with a minyan. A woman may not be counted into a minyan and may not be present in the actual sanctuary of a shul with the men unless she is separated by a mechitza (partition). While a rabbi can have a position outside of the actual area of prayer – like in a classroom or as a principal or a pastoral marriage counselor, that has always been a secondary role. Even though there are ways where a woman can technically lead from ‘behind the mechitza’ and address the members with a D’var Torah from a podium after the service… I think it is safe to say that this is a highly impractical way for a spiritual leader of a shul to function.
There are also perception issues. When an Orthodox Shul lists a woman as a rabbi a public unfamiliar with the nuances of Halacha on this issue can make the mistaken assumption that the Shul has broken with Halacha.
So while there may be ways to skirt the Halacha and technically not violate it – it isn’t pretty… and in my view undermines the spirit if not the letter of the law. What is gained on some sort of equal rights way is lost by the radical departure from normative Orthodoxy.
Which is the reason I agree with the Rabbinical Council of Amercia (RCA) position on the recent graduation of three women clergy from Yeshivat Maharat. They have rejected it. In an article in the Forward RCA President Rabbi Shmuel Goldin explained it as a violation of our Mesorah – tradition:
“We feel extremely strongly that there is certainly room for women leadership within the Orthodox community, both educationally and professionally,” RCA President Rabbi Shmuel Goldin told the Forward. “We do not believe, however, that it is appropriate for women to be ordained as rabbis.”
Goldin added that he did not think the school was defying the Orthodox community but rather was “moving in ways that are removing it from the normative Orthodox community. It’s not a question of defiance, it’s a question of direction.”
I completely agree. Calling a woman a “maharat” instead of rabbi is an irrelevant distinction. A spiritual leader, a maharat, and a rabbi are all the same thing. That Yeshivat Maharat founder Rabbi Avi Weiss gave in to pressure- promising not to call his graduates rabba (his feminization of the word rabbi) is really a meaningless gesture. With apologies to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – a rose by any other name is still a rose.Harry Maryles
The trial of Yosef Kolko is about to begin. Rabbi Kolko has been accused of child molestation. According to Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, “Kolko has already confessed to the social worker who will be required to testify.” The social worker was hired at the behest of the Lakewood rabbis investigating the charges. This fellow allegedly committed sex crimes multiple times on a young boy in his charge while in a religious summer camp.
Rabbi Kolko has plead not guilty. Not sure how he can do that now if a social worker will indeed testify in court that he admitted the abuse actually took place. Rabbi Kolko faces up to 60 years in prison if found guilty.
Lakewood’s rabbinic leadership has responded to this by coming out full force in defense of Rabbi Kolko – insisting on his innocence and claiming to have proof that he did not do this. They have made all kinds of threats to his accuser using the Shulchan Aruch’s language about mesirah (informing) as a hammer. Language that says that informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities means losing your chelek in olam habah – your place in the world to come! (Although many Poskim say that Mesirah does not apply in a country like ours that has a fair system of justice.)
They have enlisted the aid of two rabbinic figures of great stature – one in Israel and one here – to weigh in on this matter. Based on what these leaders were told, they have come out with very harsh condemnations of the victim’s father… claiming that he violated Halachah by not dealing with this “in-house.” They said he should have gone to a beis din (religious court). They are the ones who are equipped to handle these things Halachicly.
It’s nice that these rabbinic leaders have so much compassion for the accused. But what about the victim? And how have they expressed their compassion to his father- the accuser?
The victim’s his father is not your average ba’al habos. I don’t know his identity. But I am told by people who do, that if his identity were made known to me, I would recognize the name since he is originally from Chicago.
According to my sources the father is a major talmid hacham (Torah scholar)who until this happened was a respected figure in the Lakewood community. No one can say that he has no ne’emanus (faith) and dismiss the case out of hand. He has also secured the support of another posek (jurist of Jewish law) outside of the Lakewood community that has much respect in the Haredi world. It is also not clear to me whether he did not attempt to go to a beis din first. There are conflicting stories about that depending on which source you believe.
It is particularly galling to me is how this has been handled. Everything I have read about it tells me that Lakewood’s rabbinic establishment has no concern for the victim at all. And that they do not believe him or his father. They are concerned only for the welfare of the accused. The war waged against the victim’s father is relentless and harsh. Here is just one example written in a letter written by a prominent Rav which has been made public:
After conducting a thorough investigation I am absolutely certain that R’ Y.K.[Yosef Kolko],may his light shine, is perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever. And not only is he innocent but it is also as clear to me that all these allegations are fabrications made by [REDACTED].
Further, all the reports made to the secular authorities were only for the express purpose of casting blame for their[the victim’s family] own shameful and cursed existence on others. And the truth is that the allegations they make against others are crimes they themselves are in fact guilty of and they seek to cleanse their reputation by blaming an innocent man for their own deeds.
There have been equally harsh words published by anonymous “askanim” (dealers) in Lakewood along these lines. Not to mention the letter from a respected rabbinic leader in Israel saying that what the accuser was doing is forbidden by Torah law and that he should bring the matter first to a religious court.Harry Maryles