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Posts Tagged ‘Chief Rabbi’

Torah & Norman Solomon

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Having just celebrated Simchat Torah, the festival of the Torah, the question of its source and authority remains at the very center of our current religious debate. But it’s a minefield, quicksand that can consume and even destroy the best of minds. In all the years I have worked in the rabbinate I have come across many devoted, hardworking men, but very few of them have been innovative thinkers of any note. Whatever gifts they may have had as speakers or writers, they have almost all avoided tackling fundamental theological issues. Some out of fear for their jobs, others out of fear of their peers, and of course others simply had neither the inclination nor the training to question and challenge core beliefs. It may be that the demands of the rabbinate are so overwhelming that they afford insufficient time. The fact is that almost all the intellectually creative rabbis I have come across throughout the Jewish world have left the full time rabbinate, mainly for academia.

Indeed it is in academia nowadays that all the creative Orthodox Jewish thinking is taking place. One can now find Charedi academics working in Israeli universities on what hitherto were always regarded as heretical approaches to Torah. Synagogues and communities, on the other hand, are centers of conformity and socialization. They do of course fulfill a very important need. Most people come to synagogues precisely to reinforce their social identity and needs and not to be forced into the painful process of grappling with ideas of faith.

I have just read Norman Solomon’s Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith. It is an important book for anyone grappling with traditional Judaism. And it calls to mind the great Louis Jacobs controversy that rocked and soured Anglo-Jewry for so long.

Louis Jacobs was a product of traditional Yeshivot and Kollels, a Jew who adhered strictly to halacha throughout his life, a gifted teacher, a caring pastoral rabbi and, his biggest fault if you could call it a fault, a painfully honest man. He was a man of such impeccable stature and religious integrity that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe called him to give testimony at a court hearing in New York over the Rebbe’s library. In a small work, We Have Reason to Believe, he brought traditional sources to show how the idea that all of the Torah was given to Moses on Sinai, was a complex idea, with textual, historical, and philosophical problems that needed to be addressed, and indeed could be, in modern philosophical terms. He was a senior lecturer at Jews College, a pulpit rabbi and a candidate to succeed Israel Brodie as Chief Rabbi.

But appointing Chief Rabbis has always been a fraught, Machiavellian political process, as recent maneuverings perfectly illustrate. Louis Jacobs was blocked by an unholy alliance of envious, narrow-minded, and politically ambitious rabbis whose background was both anti-intellectual and fundamentalist. They needed an excuse to hound him out of contention for leadership of Anglo-Jewry, and they succeeded. The result was that he was treated immorally by the religious leadership of Anglo-Jewry to his dying day, even being denied an aliyah at his own grandson’s Bar Mitzvah under a much lauded Chief Rabbi who ought to have known better. One can think of no better example of the moral bankruptcy of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy. I myself was banned at one stage from contributing to an establishment publication called Leylah because I had written a sympathetic article about him.

Norman Solomon was a distinguished rabbi in the Anglo-Jewish Orthodox United Synagogue with whom I have had intermittent contact over the years and whom I admire and respect. We share a Cardiff connection, as well as Cambridge and philosophy. Intellectually rigorous, sensitive, and modest, he served major communities with distinction before retiring to academia. First he helped establish the Centre for the Study of Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations at the Selly Oak Colleges, which put him in the forefront of interfaith activity, and then he became fellow in Modern Jewish Thought at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and a member of Wolfson College. Now, in the late stages of his career, he has tackled in public the very same issue that Louis Jacobs tried to deal with fifty years ago, but in greater depth and width.

It is a sad reflection on the current state of intellectual dishonesty and censorship in the Orthodox world that fundamentalism rules in the rabbinate. Only in academia can we find men like Marc Shapiro and Menachem Kellner, to name the best known, who are willing, from a position of committed Orthodoxy, to stand up and refuse to be deterred from examining honestly received ideas and showing how they are not simplistic clichés of belief but important, complex concepts that need more than superficial assent. Torah from Heaven stands with Marc Shapiro’s The Limits of Orthodox Theology as a seminal work that delves into the richness of our heritage to show that there is more than one way of looking at core religious ideas.

Catholicism reacted to the challenge of science in the nineteenth century by retreating behind the walls of certainty and dogma, insisting on papal infallibility. Orthodox Judaism has now adopted this mode. But I believe the easy access that modern technology and the internet gives us to the variety of texts and opinions that have existed in Judaism over thousands of years is taking the seals off the archives. The light shed will inevitably open minds and produce new approaches. The current battle over conscription in Israel gives the impression that the Charedi world in its entirety is set against secular education. But in reality, the interesting fact is that more and more Charedim are getting PhDs in Judaica nowadays, which means that new ideas are simmering within the fortress of Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy lives by practice rather than theology. I get really offended when zealots try to suggest that unless you believe a specific formulation of whatever, then you are “beyond the pale”. The Torah does not use the formulation, “You must believe,” which is a very Greek idea. Instead it posits certain fundamental assertions and leaves it up to us as to how we understand them. If God did not insist on a rigidly defined credo, why should we? If we want to retain critical, thinking, and open minds, we must offer intellectual rigor, not just religiously correct slogans. This book gives us a history of the issues and how different thinkers over the centuries have dealt with the challenges of the Torah. It is a major contribution. Thank you, Norman.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Hospitalized Again

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi and the spiritual leader of the Shas Sephardi party, is in the Intensive Care Unit of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, where he is being treated for an infection.

He is conscious but is breathing with the help of a respirator.

“Rav Ovadia,” as he is popularly known, had been in the hospital on Sunday for tests, was released but later was rushed back after not feeling well.

He has been in and out of the hospital several times this year.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Appointed as UK’s New Chief Rabbi

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

On Sunday, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was appointed as the United Kingdom’s new chief rabbi.

Rabbi Mirvis is the Britain’s 11th chief rabbi.

Besides being a congregational rabbi, Rabbi Mirvis previously served as the chief rabbi of Ireland from 1985 to 1992.

Rabbi Mirvis was born in South Africa in 1956. He moved to Israel in 1973, where he learned in Yeshiva Keren B’Yavneh, followed by Yeshivat Har Etzion, finally receiving his Smicha (ordination) at Machon Ariel in Jerusalem in 1980.

Rabbi Mirvis also has a BA in Education and Classical Hebrew, and to top it off is also a Shochet and Mohel.

Rabbi Sacks Attacking PM, Multiculturalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is blaming British Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to do enough to boost marriages in the UK, and saying multiculturalism in Britain has “had its day,” The Times reported.

Rabbi Sacks said Cameron should recognize marriage in the tax system and do more to support stay at home mothers.

“I think the government has not done enough,” he said. “Although I don’t take a political stance … I don’t think the government has done enough at all.”

Rabbi Sacks, who retires next month after 22 years, said the estimated £9 billion-a-year cost of family breakdown and “non-marriage” meant the state has a direct interest in promoting marriage.

Rabbi Sacks also said multiculturalism in Britain had led to “segregation and inward-looking communities.”

Comparing it to a hotel where “nobody is at home,” he said: “It doesn’t belong to anyone, we’ve each got our own room and so long as we don’t disturb the neighbors we can do whatever we like.”

Rabbi Arusi Quits Race for Chief Rabbi One Hour before Balloting

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi withdrew his candidacy for Chief Sephardi Rabbi, one hour before balloting began Wednesday afternoon. His withdrawal leaves three candidates in the race.

On Tuesday, Be’er Sheva Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri and Jerusalem Rabbinical Court head Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel quit the race. The remaining candidates are Hazon Ovadia yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, son of former Chief Rabbi and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef; High Rabbinical Court Judge Zion Boaron; and Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

Supporters of Rabbi Arusi, Chief Rabbi of the metropolitan Tel Aviv city of Kiryat Ono,  are likely to vote for Rabbi Boaron.

Israel to (Possibly) Select New Chief Rabbis Today

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

If all goes well, the 150 person committee, made up of rabbis, politicians, and rabbinic judges may select two new chief rabbis for Israel today, one Ashkenazi, and one Sephardi.

The race to the top has been considered very ugly this time around, as it’s about more than just about selecting a new chief rabbi or two. This race is the battleground between the National-Religious and Secular on one side, and the Ultra-Orthodox on the other, on what face the Rabbinate will have for the next 10 years.

There are a lot of candidates, and its not clear at this point, who, if anyone, has the best shot at the title.

The results will be announced at 8 PM tonight.

In an interesting development, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), and Religious Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) are working together to implement MK Moshe Feiglin’s (Likud) plan to only have one chief rabbi next time around.

In their version of the proposal, there are still Ashkenazi and Sephardic candidates, but one will be the chief rabbi, while the other will be president of the High Rabbinic Court.

All Kinds of Kissing

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Today: hand kissing, why, when, where, who, and, most important: what the heck?

Former minister of Social Affairs and former Minister of Communications Moshe Kachlon (on the right, kissing) was the Sephardi poster child of the former Likud government. He was a star, who introduced real competition among cell phone providers that brought down rates in a significant way. Now he’s no longer a star, in fact, he’s been a bit on the forgotten side.

Rabbi Zion Boaron (being kissed) is candidate for the position for chief Sephardi rabbi, in a crowded field. He has the backing of the current chief rabbi, Rav Amar, for the position. It’s understandable that he would also want on his side someone as popular as Kachlon. In short, looks like a match made in heaven. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that Rabbi Boaron is not the kind of modern, moderate, open minded rabbi one would expect someone like Moshe Kachlon to back. I’m not saying he shouldn’t back him, I’m just saying there’s a whiff of political posturing here, in fact, more than a whiff, almost an odor.

Rabbi Boaron’s positions are complex.

Rabbi Boaron, who serves as a rabbinic judge on the Rabbinic Supreme Court, opposes unisex work places, the Haredi draft, women’s organizations, and Haredi women suing their husbands for divorce in rabbinic courts. Mind you, he has well founded, even logical reasons for each one of his positions, and they all make sense. But moderate and modern they ain’t.

On the other hand, Rabbi Boaron has received open letters of support from women’s organizations such as Yad Laisha and Mavoi Satum for his “tireless effort” in working to help women receive their ‘gets’ (Jewish bills of divorce), as well as his halachic rulings on the matter that have helped women break free of their Agunot status. His actions included flying around to remote corners of the world to personally track down and convince recalcitrant husbands to divorce their wives.

In the area of conversion, he declared the “Bnei Menashe” to be of Jewish descent, which helped them finally immigrate to Israel. His approach to conversion is halachic, but with a moderate approach, in order to try to reduce intermarriage and assimilation.

He will probably also support the Heter Mechira leniency in the upcoming Shmittah year.

And unlike many other Sephardic Rabbis, Rabbi Boaron does not see himself as subordinate to Rav Ovadiah Yosef, and rejected Shas’s request that he drop out of the race.

Like we said, complex.

So, why the sudden shidduch? I believe we’ll find out soon enough.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/all-kinds-of-kissing/2013/07/18/

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