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July 31, 2016 / 25 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘judaism’

What’s the problem with Reform Judaism?

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Abu Yehuda}

Today I came across an article by Rabbi Baruch Efrati in which he opposes cooperation between Israelis and the Reform Movement.

So what, you say. Another Orthodox attack on the heretical reformim. Perhaps so, but here is what caught my attention:

The secular Jewish world does not want to take over the religious world from a theological point of view, but to live beside it – hence, the possibility of influencing that world, listening to its hearts’ desires, elevating its holy sparks to their heavenly source. The secular are actually non-observant Orthodox, they do not present an alternative organized religion that turns transgressions into an ideology intended to take the place of the Torah. They have not invented a made up religion but are in the midst of a process where secularism is withering and faith is blossoming, as one can see over the last few years in which there is constant strengthening of ties to Torah, baruch Hashem.

“Non-observant Orthodox,” or as the saying goes, ‘the synagogue that they don’t go to is Orthodox’. At worst, thinks Efrati, they won’t interfere with the religious world while at best they might join it. On the other hand, the Reform are a threat. “It’s either we or them [sic],” he adds.

One wonders why he is worried, because only about 3% of Israeli Jews identify with the Reform movement, and most of those are English-speaking immigrants. The ‘non-observant Orthodox’ aren’t rushing to join them, either. Those that I talk to simply don’t see the point of Reform Judaism, maybe because just living in Israel provides the sense of Jewish community that many American Jews seek from their congregations, and because even the least observant Jew in Israel is likely to have a stronger background in Jewish history and ideas than most American Reform Jews. And of course, they already speak Hebrew!

The real possibility of religious change in Israel today comes from Orthodox Jews (including well-known rabbis) who ask why certain customs, in particular in respect to women, are adhered to when they are not required by Jewish law. They also ask why certain rabbis should have a monopoly on kosher certification, conversions, and so forth. These folks will certainly have a much greater effect on the nature of Jewish observance in Israel than Reform Jews, because they can’t be accused of ‘inventing a religion’.

Nevertheless, the American Union for Reform Judaism does present a problem for Israel, but it has little to do with theology.  It is because the Reform Movement is conducting a left-wing political campaign targeting both American Jews (primarily) and Israelis.

The campaign focuses on issues like mixed prayer at the Western Wall, ‘segregated’ Haredi buses, and the Rabbinate, which is widely perceived as arbitrary and even corrupt in its behavior in regard to marriage and conversion. Another issue is ‘religious pluralism’, which means the fact that Orthodox synagogues and rabbis are subsidized by the government’s Religious Affairs Ministry while liberal streams of Judaism are not. The URJ’s associated groups have filed numerous lawsuits in connection with these issues. The controversies are presented as evidence for Israel’s failure as a liberal democracy.

They resonate as civil rights issues in the US. But they haven’t ever become serious concerns for most Israelis, who are much more concerned with security and economic problems. The average secular Israeli sees both the Women of the Wall and the Haredi Rabbi of the Kotel as radical extremists, and their struggle as having nothing to do with ‘normal people’.

The URJ also takes a strong position for a ‘2-state solution’ and is critical of Israel’s settlements across the Green Line. In the US it has supported the Obama Administration’s policies (after agonizing for a time, it decided ‘not to take a position’ on the Iran deal that was strongly opposed by both the Israeli government and opposition). Many American Reform rabbis belong to J Street, and the President of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, is a former activist in both J Street and the New Israel Fund.

Jacobs wasn’t shy about his intention to intervene in Israeli politics when he outlined his positions in his 2015 biennial address and announced that the URJ would not “check [its] commitment to tikkun olam at the door.”

The American Reform Movement, in its 1885 Pittsburgh Platform was explicitly anti-Zionist. After the state of Israel was established it was grudgingly accepted, but it wasn’t until the 1997 Miami Platform that Reform Judaism began to present itself as a Zionist movement. But two years later it began to specify the kind of Jewish state it wanted Israel to be, and the proprietary attitude has only gotten stronger. Like the Obama Administration and J Street, Reform seems to love us to death.

All of this fits neatly with the program of the tiny but loud Israeli Left, which lately has been arguing that the liberal Israel that they knew and loved is being replaced by an undemocratic, theocratic and militaristic monster, the Jewish counterpart of the Islamic State. They too want to make us better.

Just as very few Israelis are attracted to Reform Judaism, very few agree with the political point of view that the URJ espouses. And neither secular nor religious Israelis buy the idea that Israel is becoming undemocratic, theocratic and militaristic. What is happening is that the cultural elites that have set the tone here since 1948 are finally changing to match the more right-wing political landscape. Naturally, those being deposed are unhappy.

Regardless of whether they think Reform Judaism is a “made up religion” or even care, most Israelis think that decisions affecting life in this country should be made here, and not by a liberal American organization that represents very few of us. And that is the real issue.

Vic Rosenthal

The War for Halachic Judaism

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Disclaimer:

Disclaimer: I don’t like labels as it pertains to Torah identity. I don’t love the term ‘orthodox Jew’,  modern-orthodox, etc. Personally, I would prefer the term halachic Jew, but some of the most aggressive religious innovators insist that they are acting in an halachic manner. On the other hand, I have zero patience for those who nit-pick with ridiculous semantics. In this article I use the term ‘orthodox Jew,’ because sometimes terms become deep-rooted in a communal identity, and the desire to shake the root free is both wasteful, unnecessary, and sometimes counter-productive. I use the term when referring to religious rabbis who believe in the absolute Divine nature of Torah, and the mass revelation at Sinai.

A few other brief points. In no way do I believe that there are no great, righteous men of Torah today. G-d forbid! There are many, and I am fortunate to know more than a few myself, both in Israel and America. In this article I am speaking about what I perceive to be a dearth of prominent public voices, in response to radical innovations.

Finally, I want to clarify that my critique of torturous misreading of Halacha is referring to radical innovations that, in my opinion, contradict the traditional approach of Halacha. My critique has no commonality with those who mock the halachic system and Halacha in general. Quite the opposite. I am unequivocally committed 100% to the Divinity of Torah, and to the sacred words of chazal.

In any event, these are my general reflections of what I perceive to be a terrible problem. If nothing else, perhaps, this article will encourage people to address these issues.


Once upon a time, there were giants who walked amongst us-giants of Torah. Men with wisdom to combat the modern idols of secularization. Men who defended the integrity of the Jewish synagogue and the Jewish family from goyish modernization. Men who spoke with deep wisdom in defense of the deepest truths. Men who understood that modern definitions of feminism, woman’s rights, and similar minded ideologies spoke more of the faulty psychology of their respective advocates, than of any new-age modern revelation designed to liberate women from being women. Once upon a time, great men of Torah fought for yahadut.

Today, there are few if any prominent vocal voices. And so, whenever the new radical voices in the Torah community (who speak in the name of Torah) speak violence to the system, there is deafening silence. On issues that should transcend all labels and factions, and appeal to everyone concerned with protecting Halachah, one feels the void.

Ironically, some of the most blatant outrages occur in Israel, where unbridled Jewish messianic fervor renders many Jews vulnerable to aberrant belief systems. Consider the spectacle of orthodox rabbis giving a kosher seal to evangelicals and missionaries in Israel because of a distorted notion of achalta de’geula (a pivotal point in time auguring moshiach). Consider how one prominent Rabbi in the heartland of liberated Samaria opened up his community to evangelicals in order to benefit from their free labor. Today, these evangelicals have transitioned from living in tents to dwelling in cottages.

Consider that Tommy Waller, the leader of these evangelicals from the volunteer group “Hayovel”, once infamously admitted in a promotional video that such opportunities will give him a chance to missionize (video):

“As we’re working with these people, we’ll be able to share with them this…this Jesus that we know.” 


Further on in the video, a family member elaborated:

“Our family has begun a ministry called Hayovel. The vision of Hayovel is to develop a network of individual, families, and congregations who are ready to labor side by side with the people of Israel. To bless them, to stand with them, to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in yeshua messiah. We extend the invitation to you, to join us.”


Interfaith-Dialogue

And what of the growing number of religious rabbis who swim in the dangerous waters of interfaith dialogue? Perhaps most outrageous of all is that easily the most prominent individual involved in this lunacy repeatedly treads upon his deceased Rabbi’s famous stringent halachic ruling which prohibited such actions. (See Rav Soloveitchik’s famous essay “Confrontation” and follow-up Addendum.)

On a more general level, how is orthodoxy supposed to cope with the following?

  • Rabbis with kipot and beards who reflect on a morality independent of Halacha? Rabbis whose readings of Torah verse and Talmud require a torturous misreading of the written and articulated meanings?
  • Rabbis whose usage and defense (if only for application regarding what they believe to be “antiquated” injunctions, and not every day Halacha) of this tactic remind me of the perverse attempts of “Jewish Renewal”.
  • Religious Rabbis whose interpretations of of Divine injunctions mirror the tactics of maskilim new and old. Rabbis who see metaphor in the biblical injunction to destroy Amalek and the 7 Nations of Canaan.
  • Rabbis who believe in a “new Halacha.” Rabbis who opine that Rambam and others spoke for their age alone.
  • Religious Rabbis who advocate for homosexual marriage.
  • Rabbis for Hillary Clinton and her leftist anti-Torah positions.
  • Rabbis who engage in biblical criticism.
  • Rabbis who wish to free Spinoza from his well-earned excommunication.
  • Rabbis for “open-orthodoxy” and the ordination of women.
  • Rabbis whose well-intended but misguided notions will surely lead the next generations on the path to a new reform movement.

I worry about the future of Judaism. Not for its ultimate survival, since our tradition is stronger than any threat we face. But the war will come at a cost. The cost of souls lost to heresies new and old. Once upon a time, giants of Torah fought for truth against the ‘reformation’ of Torah. Today the Torah community is as weak as ever. Not in terms of over-all Torah study. In that context, there is more Torah study today than ever before. But with the rise of social media, and the new movements pandering to all sorts of foolishness, Torah Jewry is intellectually susceptible. We lack sophisticated courageous Torah leadership to stand up for unpopular truth.  Even the RCA has shown an inability to reign in radical thought. How long did it take for them to take a stand against the growing clamor of the new “orthodox” to ordain woman?

The great men are gone. The classic men of past generations who fought critical battles for the preservation of Torah are gone. Today’s religious rabbis shirk their duty to protect their flocks. Worse yet, many lead their flocks astray.

Factionalism render’s certain camps relatively insulated from some of these heretical voices. For the time, at least. One attraction of these new voices which will appeal to the disaffected of every community, is that some of these new prophets raise valid points about institutionalized rabbinical abuses which represent a chillul Hashem. These real issues act a springboard to hoist radical ideas. The fact that a stopped clock tells accurate time twice a day does nothing to change its general status as a broken instrument.

Yet the willingness to admit abuse speaks of a candor which people find impressive. The answers are usually less impressive, and are usually more grounded in feelings than Jewish law. But one cannot ignore the real issues, and the attraction of those who address them. One must find better solutions reflecting Torah positions. “Orthodoxy” doesn’t need to change, despite the popular insistence that it must. Corruption is by definition contrary to Torah. If it is corrupt, then it cannot be orthodox despite the identification as such by the corrupt. We need to aggressively return to the truths of Torah.

Where are the giants who fought for halachic integrity? These great men are gone. Today we have silent men. Fearful men. People afraid to confront those who seek to ordain female rabbis in the name of orthodoxy, and those who would rather create a new Halacha to free chained women, rather than call for Jewish men to break open the heads of recalcitrant men. Today, we have Rabbis who in the name of compassion, will create leniency where none can be found, and in turn, will create mamzerim. The greatest and most sensitive poskim of the past, were sometimes hamstrung by halachic reality. They understood that non-halachic compassion will destroy the Jewish people.

In the name of political correctness, some may opine that the Rambam’s words were for his age alone, and that the Nesher could never have imagined a Jewish state in a modern age. My understanding of the Rambam is that he foresaw much more than his modern day detractors ever could. Unlike others, he wrote about biblical wars precisely because he understood that the process of redemption will occur, and war will be necessary.

In the name of religious tolerance, many distort the Meiri in a way that he could never have imagined, as a source for all sorts of prohibited activities. The Meiri never could have fathomed a prominent religious America rabbi in America entering a national church for Obama’s initial swearing in ceremony. No one puts a gun or a sword to a Rabbi’s head in America, and yet he entered a forbidden place of his own volition.

Political correctness has infiltrated orthodoxy making orthodoxy increasingly susceptible to liberal sensibilities. Now is a time for intellectual zealousness for Hashem. Men of Torah need to face the new heresies and radical innovations, and intellectually combat the religious proponents of these foreign notions.

An orthodox Judaism which fails to heed today’s call, will suffer in the coming years. The impact will affect even the most insulated communities. One day, the orthodox will awaken from their slumber and cry out for action. What will they do? They will create conferences to deal with the new “crises”. But by then, the bleeding will be copious.

Donny Fuchs

Chabad Rabbi Wins Second in Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Competition

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

One can find a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary almost anywhere in the world — but how many viewers expect to find a rabbinical expert on kosher laws competiting for the top prize on the Food Network’sChopped‘ show?

The irrepressible Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, 31, actually won second place as a contestant on the popular program, in an episode titled “Leap of Faith” in which he competed alongside a priest, a pastor and a nun.

Hecht grew up in Brooklyn, NY as one of 10 children and told Chabad.org that he managed to stay in his mother’s good graces by helping his mother in the kitchen. Those skills came in handy later in life when he began whipping up Sabbath meals at home with his own wife, Tzivie; the two are co-directors of Chabad Dutchess-Rhinebeck Jewish Center in Upstate New York.

The clerics were tasked with preparing an appetizer, entree and dessert using secret basket ingredients revealed at the start of each round, timed in 20, 30 and 30-minute increments.

It was the rabbi’s expertise in kosher laws that he said brought him to the show, which he saw as an opportunity to educate millions about kosher food, and to debunk some myths about it as well.

“The experience was phenomenal,” Hecht said. “The producers were very accommodating and sensitive to my needs and requirements.”

Those requirements were part of the agreement for the rabbi’s participation on the show, which found him due to his role as a guest lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. It was one of CIA’s professional chefs that nominated him to appear on “Chopped.”

Hecht said he’s “always enjoyed cooking,” so before he appeared on the show, “some of the chefs at CIA coached me and gave me lessons” as a way to reciprocate for his lectures of past years.

The rabbi noted that the experience emphasized for him “how no other religion requires both the ingredients and food preparation to be within certain guidelines. The other contestants didn’t have the same restrictions… [It] helped me to appreciate even more the responsibility and reward of keeping kosher.”

One of the biggest challenges, of course, was the fact that because the studio kitchen was not kosher, the rabbi could not taste any of the food. To compensate, Hecht asked the pastor to sample the condiment levels in his dishes for him.

For those who are wondering what a Chabad rabbi might create as a gourmet chef for the Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ competition, the episode (Season 28, Episode 13) aired on June 21 and is set to be rebroadcast. It is also available on demand.

Rabbi Hecht created a salmon stew for the appetizer that included raw white honey and Ezekiel bread. His entree was a Lebanese-style lamb and rice dish with a jalapeno-based relish he called “the rabbi’s heat.” But his most successful dish was the dessert — a rugelach made with fig, macadamia nut and hamantash filling (the latter was a basket ingredient), alongside a rainbow carrot tzimmes and fresh non-dairy whipped cream (since meat was served in the main dish).

The spirit was congenial among the competitors and the judges, said the rabbi. As Sister Sara Marks noted, “We all have God in common.”

Hana Levi Julian

No More Half-Way Judaism

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Recently, I read a shocking and saddening report published in the “Jewish Press.” In an article written by Sandy Eller, entitled “67 Deaths in Eight Months,” the New York-based Adumin organization revealed that since Rosh Hashanah, 67 Orthodox young people under the age of 35, in the tri-state area alone, have died because of substance abuse. The figure is astonishing! 67 young lives! In the Orthodox community! Gevalt! 21 suicides, 41 drug overdoses, and 5 alcohol-related deaths! I don’t have statistics available, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this figure is higher than in the overall age group in the general tri-state area, which numbers 1000 times more. As Hamlet might say, “Something is rotten in the Orthodox community in New York.”

Eller writes that the Orthodox community has hidden the problem for years. Now Rabbi Zvi Gluck, director of Adumin, has decided it is time to come out of the closet with the issue, in order to save lives.

Of course, we all empathize with the plight of these young people, and the tragedy of their deaths. Certainly, just like every individual is unique, the causes behind these deaths vary from case to case. But, to tell you the truth, if I were a young Orthodox person living in New York, I too would want to be drunk or stoned most of the time to escape the emptiness, inner horror, and hypocrisy of galut existence. How can you raise an Orthodox child to believe in the Torah while teaching him that Jewish life in the Diaspora, living amongst the gentiles in alien lands, is perfectly OK? Any normal child who reads the Bible understands that G-d wants the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel, just like it says in the Torah again and again. But if you tell a Jewish child that living in New York is just as good, and even better than living in Israel, you screw up his, or her, brain, and some form of schizophrenia is sure to follow. The Torah was given to be practiced in Eretz Yisrael, not in Egypt, or the wilderness of Sinai, and not in Brooklyn, New York. That’s why Judaism in the galut is hollow and void of real spirit. Like Rashi, and the Ramban, and other great Sages have written, the practice of the commandments in the exile is just to keep us from forgetting them, so that we will know how to do them when we return to Eretz Yisrael. Young Orthodox people sense this charade. They sense the hollowness of Orthodox life in America. This feeling of emptiness leads them to feel alienated from Judaism, and from life in general. Unfortunately, to express their feelings in the Orthodox world around them is strictly taboo, as forbidden as cheeseburgers and pre-marital coupling, so they resort to alcohol and drugs to drown out their inner anxiety and deep unhappiness in living a life that doesn’t feel true. Some anguished souls even commit suicide.

The real problem is that no one tells them the truth. No one tells them that their inner feelings are really healthy feelings – that a Jew is supposed to feel the emptiness of Torah in galut, because the real place of Torah is Israel. Their parents don’t tell them; their teachers and rabbis don’t tell them; the Rosh Yeshiva doesn’t tell them that they are perfectly right to feel the way they do, because, just as the Torah portion, Behukotai, teaches, Jewish life in the exile is a curse, a life filled with anxiety and dread.

If the Orthodox community in New York wants these terrible tragedies to cease, there is only one solution – to teach young people that the joy and spiritual high of Judaism is waiting for them in the Land of Israel. They don’t need shrinks and a half-way centers. They need to hear the truth. No more half-way Judaism. It is time for the full Judaism of Eretz Yisrael.

Tzvi Fishman

Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh, Judaism Beyond the Commandments

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent,” says Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such, Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it.” One of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial enemy.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says that we have to do away with these people, whether it is Amalek or the nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see what we can work out.

And then you get this incredible dialogue, this near business deal between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so you’ll keep them alive. I think that should be the point of departure whenever we discuss moral issues related to our fellow-man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view, that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God, Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say over here? And as I did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope you do as well whenever the Torah speaks about killing people. We see this reflected in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so they declared these laws inoperative.

JewishPress.com: And yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.

NLC: I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to execute his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as some Hasidic texts indeed seem to suggest .

JP: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?

NLC: It seems he lost his prophecy. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning. It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.

But let us be careful, I only suggest such a reading when speaking about moral problems. But when you speak about Shabbat and holidays, where there are no issues between the individual and his fellow-man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the laws of Shabbat because they’re not convenient.

 


 

Nathan Lopes Cardozo was born 70 years ago in Amsterdam, and was named after his father’s youngest brother who was murdered in the Holocaust. His father was a secular Jew who was nevertheless proud of his Portuguese-Jewish origin. His mother, who was not born Jewish, was raised by the Cardozo family and was an integral part of the community. Later on, she saved her husband and his family from the Nazis by hiding them in her Amsterdam apartment. Nathan Cardozo converted to Judaism when he was sixteen, through the Amsterdam Rabbinate, and his mother did many years later as well.

Cardozo spent the next 12 years studying at various Haredi Yeshivas such as Gateshead, whose dean, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwitz, ordained him as a rabbi. At 21 he married Freyda Gnesin, a young Dutch woman from eastern European parents he met at the Haarlem synagogue. That’s the Dutch Haarlem synagogue.

CAN JEWS PERPETRATE A HOLOCAUST?

We return to the question of whether God commanded the Jews to annihilate certain nations with the expectation that the Jews would defy Him.

JP: In the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes the job — did Shmuel fail?

NLC: What was it that Shaul did wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies.

JP: But Shmuel is not sanctioned for his action.

NLC: It seems that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag deserved the death penalty. This is very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from another point of view it is morally absolutely unacceptable. So Berlin speaks about a tradeoff, which every judge and every legal system has to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s the part of the human condition.

There is no such thing as black and white responses to these sort of issues, and I think that plays a role in Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.

There are reasons to wipe out Amalek and there are reasons why not to do so, especially when it comes to their children. But because there’s this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective, therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous even for the future generations and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who will say that all of them will be evil? Jewish Law even discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite wants to become Jewish and several authorities believe that we have an obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!!

THERE’S MORE TO JUDAISM THAN THE MITZVOT

JP: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?

NLC: Yes, I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making process. They are also God-given, just like the commandments. I think that’s not only in these extreme cases, but nearly in all cases, because if you look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to find a heter (permission) for this problem. He may even have made up his mind before he started. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his position and puts it in an halakhic framework. After which he says, so I was right in what I said at the beginning. He knows quite well that they were all colored by his need to come to a lenient conclusion. This is completely legitimate.

You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, you see it with some very Haredi literature as well. It all has to do with a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi poskim. There’s a world of difference there. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic , than the Sephardi one. This has its root in their different experiences in the countries from where they hail and consequently we find different halakhic responses.

There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us what to do and what not to do. But it has obviously a much larger Weltanschauung, an outlook on life, which lies behind these halakhic requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah, unless they are stated in very general terms, such as you must be holy, but that still requires a moral explanation. So ideologies play a role as well. The ideological differences between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.

JP: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?

NLC: Let me tell you an interesting story. Reb Haim Zimmerman was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop back in Lithuania. I met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He wasn’t so well known, because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to the Aguda camp. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he said, Maimonides agrees with me. So his students said, You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides. So he said, No, Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him.

I think that is a most important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And that has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at length about this problem. The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time as the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of an historical development. Since we were living in the diaspora, we had to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the non-Jews out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition. The Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive in a largely anti-Semitic world.

Both the Shulkhan Arukh and earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is for once and for all. He provides no minority opinions, he acts precisely as what he probably was, as the greatest talmudic genius of his time and possibly of all time, and we—after a period of resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned him into an halakhic idol: If Maimonides says so then there’s nothing left to discuss. We canonized him.

We never had, as the Catholic Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these matters. With us it was always fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides, the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they can’t stand up against Maimonides, he is too overpowering. The same is true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There are none.

This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re doing is taking the halakha which developed in diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we bring it to the State of Israel, and apply it as if we are still living in diaspora—when we are not. And therefore you constantly have problems in Israel about halakha, because the traditional halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulkhan Arukh) lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?

JP: But the Mishneh Torah talks about the laws of the temple and other areas of Jewish life on the land.

NLC: Yes. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state. That whole concept didn’t exist. [The late chief rabbi of Israel] Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog writes in one of his letters that the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with the State of Israel where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the administration of the non-Jewish world.

The Shulkhan Arukh starts by saying, In the morning we have to get up, and we must imagine God before us always. But let’s ask an important question: what are the prerequisite conditions to enable you to get up in the morning and to say these words and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written, will have created a legal system that enables you as a Jew to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue without getting attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of guarantees from a secular administration, to make your adhering to your religious obligations possible. But that was the Turkish government, that’s not the situation in Israel today. So what you really need to do is rewrite all this, and then you’ll have a big problem because the law has to be able to develop and to constantly re-think itself. But how many poskim have made sure we do that? Instead, they will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and say, no, Rav Yosef Karo says like this and that’s the end of the discussion.

THE ROLE OF THE POSEK

JP: Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the Talmud? How much of the millennia of Sh”ut (halakhik Q&A) should a modern posek take into consideration?

NLC: There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover (Rabbi Joseph Rosen) would rule from the Talmud. Rav Ovadia Yosef, although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly contradicted himself in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by the Shulkhan Arukh and at the same time he constantly put it aside and went directly to the source.

My feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge and they get drowned in it. And therefore they cannot think creatively any more. If you have too much knowledge then you can’t think on your own anymore because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of knowledge and you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true with halakha, this is true in many other departments of human knowledge as well. We know so much and therefore we get completely overwhelmed by it and we don’t have space left any more in our brain to come up with something new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.

Therefore the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not the right poskim any more since they can’t think outside the box. But if you go one step below, and in Israel you have quite a few of them, you will find people who know halakha very well but they are not stagnated by this staggering knowledge, so they are probably much better equipped for responding to the needs of the day. Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, Rabbi David Bigman. And there are many more around, especially in Israel — I don’t think you have so many abroad. But in Israel, at the moment, you have people who think on their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a critical eye and make amazing rulings.

Rav Cherlow came up with some unbelievable rulings which got him in trouble with his colleagues. He has responsa about women wanting to get a child without being married. Israeli poskim have also dealt with sex change operations. These are daring undertakings, Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful consideration.

Rabbi Cardozo related a personal example of thinking outside the halakhic box.

I had a case two years ago: M, the son of a friend of mine, a Cohen, from a Portuguese-Spanish family of Amsterdam, practicing Jews, wanted to get married to a convert who was also a divorcée. And since he is a cohen, he went to the Rabbinate of the Spanish synagogue in Amsterdam and asked if there was any possibility he could marry this woman since he knew that a cohen can’t get married with a convert or a divorced woman. Both are very problematic laws in today’s society. Both he and his bride to be were not so young any more, they were in their forties and had little chance to find other partners and have children. But the Rabbinate said no. After all: a divorcée who is also a convert — and a cohen: impossible. So they came to me. I don’t consider myself to be a posek at all, but I know a little about it. They asked, can’t you help us, so I sat down with them and I said to the woman, why are you a divorcée? Did you get a get (bill of divorce)? Yes, she answered, I received a get via the rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv. I was married to an Israeli man, and after a few weeks the marriage fell apart. I asked if she would mind telling me why, and the answer was that the husband had a physical problem and couldn’t have relations with his wife. He was severely impotent. So I said to her, did the rabbinic court ask you why you wanted to get divorced? No, she said, they just told me I should get a get and that’s what I did. So I told to her that it was my opinion that she was not a divorcée, and that she didn’t need a get because there was no consummation of the marriage and therefore she was never married according to Jewish Law. The Rabbinate in Amsterdam had failed to ask these questions. Not a small matter.

Then I said to the cohen, how do you know that you’re a really a cohen? You come from the same background that I come from, Portuguese-Spanish, from under the shadow of the Inquisition. Can you tell me that your family were really cohanim? The man was actually called Cohen, which would indicate that he really was one. But I knew that the name Cohen was in the Portuguese-Spanish culture the same as “Lord” in England, and nothing to do with having been a descendant of Jewish priests. They used to use this kind of name as an honorary name which did not mean that they were cohanim halakhically. So after a lot of discussion with Israeli poskim, including Rav Bigman, and Rav Hollander, I said to the couple, this is my opinion: the young man is either not at all a cohen, or he might be a Hallal, a desecrated cohen. This is because during the time of the Inquisition, cohanim were incapable of holding on to their cohen lineage by marrying only women that were permitted to them such as virgins and widows. And if they married Jewish women who were not permitted to them, then their offspring are no longer bound by the laws of the cohen and are allowed to marry every Jewish woman including a convert or divorcée. And so I officiated at this couple’s Chupah.

In my opinion there are very few real cohanim in the world today. The Ashkenazi community has also had to go through the most terrible conditions and few there are real cohanim. The only ones who are probably cohanim are the Syrians and Tunisians, who have kept reliable records of their Cohanim.

ELECTRICITY AND SHABBAT

JP: When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like the telephone are not a problem — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery slope?

NLC: If you would ask me, am I in favor of allowing turning on lights on Shabbat? I would say No, but not for solely halakhic reasons. My reason is this: the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain spirit, a certain atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need to observe Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically forbidden — there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat. But not all halakhic matters are pure halakha. They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles which were prohibited to be lit, over the years this was applied to electricity as well, so that unless there are very specific circumstances where there is really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t light electric lights. Nobody is paying a big price for this. There’s no moral issue here, let’s keep the system as it is.

But take for example the case of the “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew doing work for us on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending on the non Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish state. In other words: we still need to have Arabs sitting in the electric company to make sure that we have light on Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for Jews to do this work without transgressing Shabbat. There must be ways by which we can do it ourselves and we don’t need non-Jews to do that for us.

I have altogether a moral problem with using non-Jews on Shabbat, because what we’re doing here is making an impression that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen; what we can’t do — he has to do. In other words, we are the so called chosen people, and we need to be served by the non-Jews. This discrimination against non-Jews is wide-spread in the orthodox community and very problematic and highly un-Jewish.

JP: You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat. Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth circles.

NLC: It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody you have to replace it with something even better. And if you don’t do that then you get these situations, which, in the Modern Orthodox world, has become a problem. There’s a lot of spirituality and inspiration missing, especially in the Lithuanian Jewish world. The excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to observe the commandments, over which Hasidism has a much better handle, is of the outmost importance. In the non-Hasidic world we’ve become extremely mechanical, we have to keep all the laws and we’re no longer asking what is the music behind it, what kind of music are we playing out here? The original Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica) — were able to give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit and knew exactly what they were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and being highly controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that the Hasidic world has been given a spirituality which the Lithuanian world is not offering us till this very day.

KASHRUT AND ANIMAL SUFFERING

JP: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?

NLC: I have doubts about the kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us. The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically. The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town where once in a while they would eat a piece of meat. You can’t compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of thousands of cows are killed every day.

I believe that the prohibition on needless suffering by animals makes our whole system non-kosher. Because, if indeed there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve seen this personally, the way they deal with those animals is beyond all description, then the Rabbinate should say: No way we are permitting this. Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel, there must be lots of them, but how is it possible that the shechita will always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you can cite a permission here and an allowance there but how far does that go especially when we are bound by laws on how to treat animals mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).

We should start educating people to no longer eat meat. This is a process, an educational process. The trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to be with all the people who are making their living from this industry? And there are lots of them: shochtim, butchers, supervisors, whatever else there is. You’ll have to find a financial solution for these people, you can’t just say, We stop eating meat. We have to find a slow way by which we will get people off eating meat, finding solutions to the financial problems of the people who are left without their livelihood — this is going to take fifty, sixty years. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.

DISMANTLE THE CHIEF RABBINATE

JP: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?

NLC: We need to end the Institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. I have the greatest respect for Chief Rabbis Yosef and Lau, they mean well but they are the victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset and not the Chief Rabbis . It is a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place. The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general, often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the Haredim, the ultra orthodox. This was not the intent for the Chief Rabbinate, because the Haredim have their own Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate lacks the halakhic poskim of great stature to deal with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher slaughtering, running a modern state, which require these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They are not on that level. They don’t seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

Today’s Chief Rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav Ben Zion Uziel or Rav Isaac Yitschak Herzog. I think that in the Ashkenazi Rabbinate the last person of greatness was Rav Shlomo Goren. He had the knowledge and he had the creativity. Afterwards this whole institution disintegrated.

JP: So you would replace it?

NLC: Sure. The last Knesset has already decided that every local rabbinate would have its own conversion system in their own cities, and no longer be subject to the control of the chief rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know these people. So how can they decide, without actually knowing the people, who is eligible for conversion?

I am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians of Jewish descent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people they’ll marry our children and in no time we’ll have a million non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of the state of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So here you have to consider not just the conversion issue but the security of the state, too.

This is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here with the state of Israel which requires that we make sure that we remain a unified political entity, that we can marry each other and secure the State of Israel.

But the rabbinate hasn’t for one moment even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.

David Israel

Rhode Island Residents Riled About Anti-Semitic Attack on Local Synagogue

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Police in Pawtucket, Rhode Island continue to investigate a hate crime after a big red Nazi swastika was found spray-painted on the welcome sign of Congregation Ohawe Sholam.

Worshipers found the swastika on Sunday. It was painted on the sign for the Kollel Center for Jewish Studies outside their Orthodox synagogue.

A news conference was held Monday morning by city and religious leaders, who condemned the vandalism.

“It can’t be tolerated, it shouldn’t be tolerated, and it won’t be tolerated,” said Rabbi Raphie Schochet. “This symbol that’s been blotted out over here is a symbol of bigots and bullies.”

Officials immediately condemned the crime.

“The police department will go through any neighborhood video, hopefully we can catch anyone coming from or leaving the scene,” said Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King. “We’re asking neighbors, we’ll check Facebook, but what we really need is the help of the public. If you thought you saw something that looked a little bit off – please notify us.”

“The vandalism that has occurred at Congregation Ohawe Sholam in Pawtucket is demonic and depressing,” said Bishop Thomas Tobin, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

“I’m angry and disgusted,” said U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) . “This despicable act of vandalism has only one purpose – to intimidate members of our community and it won’t succeed.”

Congregation Ohawe Sholam president David Pliskin told local WPRI-TV in an interview that Holocaust survivors among the congregants found the graffiti to be a painful reminder of the past. “This is the kind of thing that makes your whole body roil inside if you’re a Jew,” he said. But for those who survived the death camps, “It’s like someone trying to stab you in the heart again.”

Ohawe Sholam is the only synagogue in Pawtucket.

Pliskin rejected claims the graffiti might have been a childish prank. “This person clearly had some knowledge,” he told WPRI. “A lot of people draw the swastika with a cross, but this person has actually done it the way it was done on the Nazi flag, with an ‘X’.” He called it a hate crime.”

Nor has it been the first.

Last October, flyers were distributed just a few blocks from the synagogue with an illustration of a hooded man bearing a rifle, captioned, “Revolution is the only solution to Jewish pollution.”

But Pliskin also said the community has been incredibly supportive. One person gave a blanket to cover the sign. Another offered money to repair it.

‘The immediate result has been an outpouring of compassion and many acts of kindness from the entire community,” Pliskin said. ‘We should be thankful there are so many good and wonderful people around us.”

The city’s Department of Public Works has taken the sign off-site and is in the process of restoring it, according to WPRI.

Hana Levi Julian

EasyJet Claims ‘Disruptive Passengers’ to Blame for Separation, Removal from Flight

Monday, May 9th, 2016

EasyJet Airlines categorically denied having removed and separated Jewish passengers from the rest of the travelers on board a flight from Barcelona to Paris on May 1, in a statement to media on Monday by Andy Cockburn, the airline’s director of public relations.

“Flight EZY3920 from Barcelona to Paris Charles de Gaulle on 1 May 2016 with 180 passengers on board returned to the gate in Barcelona and was met by police due to a group of passengers behaving in a disruptive manner,” said Cockburn, as quoted by JTA in several Jewish publications.

“All passengers were asked to disembark at the request of the police so they could speak to a small number of passengers in order to investigate the incident…. [EasyJet] does not tolerate abusive or threatening behavior on board,” he added.

JewishPress.com and Cockburn exchanged phone calls numerous times on Monday but each time JP returned the call, Cockburn was unavailable or could not be reached. Messages were left on both sides and emails were exchanged as well, but contact was elusive.

Even if some passengers were “disruptive” it still is not clear why an entire flight was forced to disembark, nor why only the Jewish passengers were required to remain secluded for six hours in a separate section of the terminal under armed police guard, nor why their captors refused to answer their questions.

Cockburn’s contention that the Jewish passengers were separated at the request of the police so they could be questioned under investigation does not make much sense, unless the police were only probing Jews. However, the spokesperson’s final comment that the airline “does not tolerate abusive or threatening behavior on board” seems to imply that Jews were behaving in an abusive or threatening behavior on board prior to takeoff.

Hana Levi Julian

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