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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Judaism’

The Kolko Case: A Stain on Lakewood

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

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.

Intimacy in a Jewish Marriage

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

One of the most striking things about the book Hush by Judy Brown – aside from it’s primary message about how her Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park deals with sex abuse – is how they deal with the subject of sex altogether. (Her recent article dealing with her naivete about experiencing her own puberty is also quite illustrative of her community’s attitude).

Her descriptions about when and how she found out about the sex act were both humorous and sad at the same time. As I recall it, for young girls in her type of Hasidus (although she did not identify them, I believe that it is Ger) sex is a completely taboo subject. There is no mention of it at all until a young woman is ready to get married. I assume the same holds true for young men. Until then it is treated as a taboo subject never to be discussed in polite – or any company.

Those who dare to bring up questions about are probably just told to hush up!The explanation is very clinical and explained entirely as a matter of procreation. The main character in that book found it all shocking.

I am not making any value judgments here. Nor am I going to go into the Halachic aspects of sexual relationships other than to say that although the primary purpose is procreation that is not the only purpose. The sexual relationship between a husband and wife is of paramount importance to a successful marriage. As long as it is done in a marital context and taharas hamishpacha – hilchos nidah (family purity – laws of menstruation) is observed Judaism looks with favor upon a healthy sexual relationship.

Several years ago, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a book called Kosher Sex. I did not read it. But I assume it was written with this idea in mind… advocating a healthy sex life for married couples. Rabbi Boteach was severely criticized for this – mostly by his own Lubavitch community. I assume he went too far in his descriptions of the sexual act. Or maybe they just felt that this subject ought not be published in a book… that it should instead be done discreetly in hasan (groom) classes or kallah (bride) classes. I don’t know.

Rabbi Boteach had already been on the outs for other reasons in Lubavitch when his book was published. Although still he claims to be a loyal follower of Habad and has written many positive pieces about them – this book kind of sealed his fate as a Pariah to them.

I bring all this up because there has been a new book published on this subject entitled Getting Closer. The author is an Orthodox Jew – Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch. He is a marital and family therapist in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. I assume he is Lubavitcher Chasid too, just like Rabbi Boteach. But unlike Rabbi Boteach it seems he is quite accepted in their circles.

Rabbi Schonbuch was recently interviewed in the Forward about sexual dysfunction in the Orthodox community. The artilce opened with some interesting statistics:

Sexual dysfunctions within relationships are more common than ever today, with an estimated 40% of women and 30% of men suffering from sexual dysfunctions, according to a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical school.

One of the things Rabbi Shonbuch points out about sexual dysfunction is the following:

It’s important to note there’s nothing different about the Orthodox community. Rather, it’s not always spoken about, so they just need more information about it.

Sexual dysfunction can take various forms for both men and women. If those statistics are right, it is a much bigger problem that I ever thought.

I have to wonder if this is in part due to the taboo nature of the very subject of sex. There is no sex education in religious schools. Although today there are classes given to young men and women (usually separate) who are about to get married.

When I was a young man, these kinds of classes were all about Halacha. Intimacy was never discussed and considered a private matter. Today I’m told that these issues are discussed in hassan and kallah classes in some Orthodox circles. To what extent I don’t know. This is a good thing and ought to be encouraged in all segments of Orthodoxy. But if Judy Brown’s experience is still true – I suspect that sexual dysfunction might just be a big issue there.

I found the interview in quite informative. After reading it, I wondered just how different the various segments of Orthodoxy treat sexual intimacy? How does each segment’s attitudes about sex impact on its members marriages? Is one approach superior to others? Are there any comparative studies? I think this is an important issue… one that ought to result in a universal Orthodox approach that will best contribute towards healthy sexual relationship and ultimately to a successful marriage.

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The Religious Significance of the Israeli Flag

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Living in Jerusalem, one of the highlights of my year is attending the annual Flag Parade on Yom Yerushalayim. Watching thousands of blue and white flags being paraded through the heart of the city, one can’t help but well up with pride. But the Israeli flag is more than just an expression of national pride – the flag possesses religious significance.

Growing up in New Jersey, my first encounter with the Israeli flag was in the shul we belonged to. There it stood, adjacent to the ark, flanked on the other side by the American flag. Despite a ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein against the placement of the flag in the sanctuary (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayyim, vol. 1, no. 46), the Israeli flag has become a fixture in the contemporary synagogue.

We Jews have had flags for thousands of years. The Torah (Num. 2:2) describes how the Jews encamped in the wilderness, “each man by his banner.” According to the Midrash, each flag was adorned with its tribe’s unique color and symbol.

And while some may contend that the Israeli flag is a modern invention, Rabbi Ari Shvat, who has done extensive research on the flag, has shown the historical antecedents of this symbol. For example, a flag with the Star of David hung prominently in the synagogues of Prague since the mid-14th century, with the approval of their great rabbis, among them the Maharal, Shelah, Noda B’Yehudah, and Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz.

The late historian Avraham Ya’ari, in Toldot Chag Simchat Torah, his groundbreaking work on the development of the customs of Simchat Torah, records that for centuries the flag has been a part of the Simchat Torah celebration – an image we are all familiar with.

Let us not forget the obvious: The design of the modern Israeli flag is based on the tallit. The blue and white motif we are familiar with today was adopted at the First Zionist Congress of 1897, even though it had earlier incarnations.

It was David Wolffsohn, a banker from Kovno who played a role in the early Zionist movement as an assistant to Herzl and later as the second president of the Zionist Organization, who made the decision to adopt the tallit motif. In a jubilee volume celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, Wolffsohn wrote that the choice was obvious: “We already have a flag, white and blue – the tallit that we wrap ourselves up in during prayer. This tallit is our symbol. Let us take the tallit out from its case and unfurl it before the eyes of Israel and before the eyes of all the nations!”

By choosing the familiar religious motif of the tallit, Wolffsohn was determined to imbue the flag with religious meaning.

Rabbi Avraham Yizchak HaKohen Kook also saw religious meaning in the flag. At the rededication of the Churva Synagogue in Jerusalem on Chanukah of 1926, Chief Rabbi Kook not only allowed the flag of the Jewish Legion to enter the synagogue, in his invocation he described the flag as “holy” and a symbol of Redemption.

To many, however, the flag represents secular Zionism and a secular government at times antagonistic to religion. The truths of history, however, prove that things weren’t always so black and white (or blue and white).

In an article that appeared on 22 Nissan 1949, just two weeks before Israel declared its independence, the newspaper of Agudath Israel, Hamevaser, called on its readers to place the Israeli flag in their windows. And in the years following the establishment of the state, the flag was proudly displayed in haredi homes on Yom Ha’Atzmaut – including the homes of great leaders such as Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky and the Rebbes of Modzitz and Sadigura. Today the flag still flies over the Ponevezh Yeshiva on Yom Ha’Atzmaut out of deference to its founder, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, who began the practice.

For me, the importance of finding religious meaning in the flag became crystallized after an unfortunate event: One Purim, a yeshiva bachur who had imbibed a bit too much, noticed the Israeli flag displayed proudly above my door and remarked that it is avodah zarah, idolatry. I quickly responded that the Israeli flag is a symbol of tremendous sacrifice.

Stop Deriding Black Hatters!

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

One of my many goals in life as a Jew is to contribute to the unity of the Jewish people. All Jews share the heritage of the Torah which is what defines us as Jews. That heritage belongs to all of us as was so eloquently stated by newly elected Knesset member Ruth Calderon when speaking about her love of the Talmud. For those who choose not to follow all – or even any Halacha they are nevertheless fully Jewish – af al pi she chotah, Yisroel hu (even though he sinned, he is still a Jew).

Among those of us who are observant – unity should be natural. There should be a very strong common bond no matter what our differing hashkafos are. I often say that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We are all shomer Shabbos and Yom Tov. We all keep Kosher. And we all eat matzah and do not eat hametz on Pesach.

But if one were to look at the enmity between religious Jews of differing hashkafos one would think we live on different planets the residents of which are enemy alien creatures. Unity is the furthest thing from our minds.

Which brings me to a very poignant article by Yael Farzan published yesterday in The Observer – Yeshiva University’s student newspaper. Let me say at the outset that I agree with her. She laments the fact that there is so much bias against the “Black Hat” (Haredi) community by members of her own Modern Orthodox community.

What precipitated her article is an experience she had on a recent Friday night. During a conversation with a group of friends someone slipped a derogatory comment about Haredim that generated derisive laughter from the other members of the group. She cringed!

I for one am happy to see a natural reflex like that from a Modern Orthodox Jew. It shows me that there are people who indeed believe that what unites us is greater than what divides us. The laughter from others in her group is unfortunately a more common reaction. If not overtly then covertly. This is nothing but pure prejudice for no reason. Laughter is not criticism. It is a form of expressing one’s feeling of superiority over others. And it shows an attitude that is so ingrained that no one there – other than the author of this article – gave it a second thought. It is just a given – natural part of their worldview to look down at the Haredi world.

This is wrong. It is as biased as is being anti-black. Which as Ms. Farzan points out is the furthest thing from a Modern Orthodox Jew’s worldview. The typical Modern Orthodox Jew would be appalled (rightly so) if someone used a racial epithet against a black person. If a crude racist joke were made there would very likely be no laughter – but righteous indignation. As there should be.

But when it comes to one of our own, there is no such thing. Laughter is the appropriate response (unfortunately) to an anti-Haredi or anti-Hasid joke.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Haredi or Hasidic. We can disagree with them on hashkafic issues or be critical of some of their choices. But we must never deride them or think less of them as human beings or Jews just because of hashkafic differences.

I criticize the Haredi and Hasdic world all the time. But it is not a criticism of their lifestyles or their Hashkafos. Even as I believe that my worldview is the correct one, I concede that there are others who see things differently than I do… seeing their own worldview as the correct one. In the spirit of “elu v’elu” (“these and those”) we should just agree to disagree and respect each other’s views and lifestyles as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others.

So if a Haredi has a large family, or wears a black hat, or sees the goal of Jewry expressed only in terms of Torah study, or does not see any value in the study of mada (secular studies), or even chooses to live his life in isolation, sheltered from all outside influences – that is his right. It should not detract from the sense of unity that observant Jews have. We are all believers in the Torah and the obligation to follow Halacha. And we all fail sometimes in those goals, whether it is bein adam l’makom (between man and God) or bein adam l’havero (between man and his fellow). Our commonality should supersede any differences between us. We should respect those differences even as we disagree with them.

Anyone of us who therefore smirks at derogatory Haredi or Hasidic comment or laughs at a derisive joke ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The only legitimate criticism of anyone should be in behavior that is a hilul HaShem (desecration of God’s name). It doesn’t matter what the hashkafa of that person is. Even if we speculate – as I sometimes do – about the reasons for some bad behavior stemming from what is perceived as a flaw in the way some hashkafos are carried out – that does not mean that an entire group should be looked down upon or that the entire hashkafa is wrong. Criticism should be looked at as a means of trying to rectify a flaw, not as a put-down of the entire group.

To the extent that some of my more critical posts generate comments that are sarcastic and contemptuous toward the entirety of Haredim or Hasidim I apologize. It has never been my intent to do that. My intent is to improve, not to deride. And yet some of those posts bring out the worst in us.

I should add that is not a one way street. The behavior of many Haredim and Hasidim towards Modern Orthodox Jews is just as bad. The exact same essay in The Observer could have been written about a group of Haredim in the ‘back of the Beis HaMedrash mocking Modern Orthodox Jews. The things being pointed to are different. As are the reasons for their sense of superiority. But the attitude is the same. And my critique would be exactly the same.

But I fault Modern Orthodox Jews more than I do Haredim. Not because our jokes are meaner. I have heard equally scornful comments from both groups about the other – albeit in different ways. But as Ms. Farzan points out – Modern Orthodox Jews are supposed to be the open minded ones. The tolerant ones. The ones who try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. It’s time we acted like that about our own.

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Is Hatred for Haredim Due to Media Bias?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

I am a huge fan of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. I rarely disagree with him. The former editor of Tradition Magazine and vice president of the RCA who led a shul in Atlanta, Georgia, is a gifted speaker and is one of the most talented and fair-minded writers on the Orthodox scene I have ever read. His educational history speaks to his broadminded approach to issues of the day. He attended Yeshivas Haim Belrin and Ner Israel where he received smicha (certification as a rabbi) and then went on to get his bachelors and masters degrees from Johns Hopkins and a doctorate in religion from Emory University.

One of his greatest achievements was taking a pulpit in a shul where only two out of 40 families were Shomer Shabbos and which had no mechitza (barrier between men and women for prayer). A couple of years after he became the rabbi there, he managed to install one. His courage in putting his job on the line after the mechitza was removed – insisting that he would not continue as their Rabbi if it were not re-installed has made him a hero of mine…  It should have served as an example to many traditional rabbis who took non-mechitza shuls. While I cannot judge them as a whole, I think more than a few simply did not have the courage to do what Rabbi Feldman did. I have to believe that at least in some cases they could have done so without losing their jobs. But I digress.

Rabbi Feldman (who is the brother of R’ Aharon Feldman, Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner Israel) has written a critical article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine about media bias against Haredim in Israel. His focus was on their reportage of Haredim ignoring the solemnity of Yom HaShoah – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

There is hardly a family in Israel that has not lost a relative in the Holocaust. It is a solemn day in Israel. There are no picnics or barbecues on that day. There are instead many events that deal with the pain of loss. One of the things they do on that day is turn on a siren. Most of entire country stops at that moment. People driving their cars stop many get out and stand in silences while the siren sounds as a sign of respect for the dead.

While there is some criticism from the right about the “Jewishness” of this custom, there ought not be nay question about what to do during that time. Nor should there be any question about whether to join in the day’s solemnity by not holding any ‘fun’ parties or picnics.

Rabbi Feldman is very clear in his condemnation of the Haredim who ignore this day in spite! – having picnics and barbecues in the park while the rest of the country mourns. Whatever their complaints about the government or when and how such days are observed, the fact that some Haredim are so callous that they treat it like the fourth of July is like spitting at the survivors and their families.

Rabbi Feldman’s problem is that the same media that rightly objects to the way some Haredim behave on this day, does little to report on the reverse when it happens:

[D]o the ever-vigilant secular watchdogs get into similar high dudgeon when non-religious Israelis display their own brand of insensitivity toward sacred religious days? On Tisha B’Av, the historic day of national Jewish mourning for the sacking o Jerusalem and the Holy Temples, do the media scour the countryside in search of Israelis who carry on normally: shopping, going on outings, attending pork-serving restaurants and pubs? …And on Rosh Hashanah, when millions of Jews are in synagogue returning to God and praying for a good year for everyone, is there editorial indignation at those secular Israelis who spend the day at the beach, or fly off to the garden spots of Europe?

I do not see this as the same thing at all. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Feldman answers his own question?

Granted, such people are a tiny minority who don’t know any better, and the vast majority of Israelis do honor the High Holidays.

But then he hedges:

But then again, the [H]areidi disrespecters of Yom HaShoah were also a tiny minority — which did not prevent bitter condemnation of all [H]areidim.

Orthodox Women May Stand to Lose Under Sharansky’s Proposal

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Natan Sharansky recently put forth a proposal to renovate and extend the Western Wall plaza to include Robinsons Arch, thereby creating an egalitarian prayer space alongside the ones currently designated for men and women. As an Orthodox woman I am not egalitarian, nevertheless, I think creating space to include all the denominations comfortably at the Kotel is a positive thing, nobody should feel excluded from Jerusalem’s holiest site. Despite that, I am very disappointed with what this proposal might mean for Orthodox women.

Though Kotel access and inclusion for the progressive denominations is an important issue, Sharansky was specifically charged with coming up with a solution in response to the escalating conflict surrounding the Women of the Wall. Though some people may conflate those two issues they are in fact separate and distinct and in this case it looks like the issue of denominational access has won out over women’s rights. And what is even worse is that it is the women’s hard work which enabled this victory and yet is coming at their own expense.

As an active Orthodox feminist I have invested years of my life to advancing women’s rights within the framework of Halachah, studying at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education instead of seeking ordination from one of the liberal movements, working at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, serving as an intern at Congregation Ramath Orah on Manhattans’ Upper West Side, founding and leading various women’s tefillah groups where women could be represented and share their voices without having to abandon their communities to do so.

I was also a huge proponent of Women of the Wall (WOW) for many years. I saw WOW as my sisters in Israel struggling for women’s Halachic rights at the Kotel, the same way I was struggling for them here in America. Not a violation of Halachha, but a fight against patriarchal social norms that prevent me, and millions of other women, from actualizing our Halachically permitted potential. Anat Hoffman, in an opinion piece she wrote in the Forward in 2010 states

Simply put, our goal is to obtain the freedom to pray and to do everything that is Halachically permitted for women on the women’s side of the mechitzah (the barrier between men and women). This includes reciting prayers together that do not require a minyan, and, yes, most of all, it includes reading from the Torah. At a minimum, we want to be allowed to pray at the Wall for one hour each month, free of injury and fear. This should not be a provocative request. If I wanted to mount a provocation at the Wall, I certainly wouldn’t do so by inviting a group of modestly dressed women — most of them devoted Orthodox Jews — to show up early in the morning to pray in a manner entirely consistent with Halacha. That some are provoked does not make us provocative. We have been waking up early to pray every Rosh Hodesh for the past 21 years — this is no fad, no political act. It is done for the sake of prayer. Over the past week a number of people have questioned the premise that an egalitarian section at the Kotel does not address the needs of progressive Orthodox women. In response I would say firstly that I should not have to leave a space or community that I am an active part of in order to assert the rights afforded to me by Halachah, as an Orthodox women in a de facto Orthodox space shouldn’t my actions be a valid part of the greater whole that determines the status quo by which we set our norms? Secondly, davening in an egalitarian space is probably not seen as a Halachically viable option for most Orthodox women for whom an allegiance to Halachah is paramount to their other needs.

Thirdly, the proposed space is not a free for all space, even if a group of women wanted to get together within that proposed space and hold a women’s tefillah group, not a minyan, I question whether they would be able to. I have enough liberal friends and have been exposed to the progressive denominations sufficiently to see that they too have a bias and I question if such a group would be welcome.

Is the Chief Rabbinate to Blame?

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

I don’t know who Rabbi Gideon D. Sylvester is. Never met him or heard about him until now. A quick search on the internet informs me that he lives in Jerusalem, is a human rights activist, and a member in good standing of Britain’s United Synagogue. That is the umbrella organization of Britain’s non Hassidic Orthodox Jewish establishment that Lord Jonathan Sacks heads. I have no clue what Rabbi Sylvester’s Hashkafos are. But on this subject I am one with him.

Rabbi Sylvester has penned an article in Ha’aretz that I believe highlights one of the biggest reasons why so many secular Jews in Israel reject observant Judaism. He blames the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for it. This may be an over-simplification but I think he is on to something. It is the very same thing I talk about quite often here. The religious right.

By example he tells the story of a secular Jewish Israeli who refused to wear a Kipa under the hupah at his own wedding. When asked why and told that even British Royalty wear a Kipa when entering a synagogue as a sign of respect , his answer was that as a Jew he had a right to practice Judaism as he saw fit. It is one thing for a non Jew to show signs of respect. He saw wearing a Kipa – something he does not believe in – as a form of religious coercion.

That took me aback. In 2013 it is rare to find a Jew so far removed from observant Judaism that he will not don a Kipa in similar circumstances. I recall channel surfing a couple of months ago and stopping on one of those ‘bachelorette’ programs where a man gets to choose from a group of women who he will marry (or vise versa).

Personally I can’t stand this form of entertainment (…and I use the word entertainment loosely). That episode happened to be the season finale and the man and his chosen bride were getting married. I stopped on that program because I noticed that it was a Jewish wedding. How did I know that? Because the bridegroom was wearing a Kipa. There was nothing else on that show that was even remotely Jewish. The women he chose wasn’t even Jewish. The man officiating was not Jewish. The ceremony was civil. And yet the Jewish bridegroom still felt that wearing a Kipa was the right thing to do.

But the above mentioned Israeli would have no part of that. Why? I believe that Rabbi Sylvester quite correctly blames the way the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is perceived. It is perceived as coercive. I would add that the Israeli Rabbinate is but it one cog in that coercive wheel. The way the religious right has been acting lately reinforces the image of ‘Gimee mine and get lost’.

The religious right may believe that God is on their side… that they are fighting for a Torah way of life and that the current government wants to destroy it. I completely disagree with their take, but I can understand why they feel that way. Even if one would concede their point that does not mean they have to behave in such a negative off-putting manner. Doing so is what creates and perpetuates bridegrooms like that Israeli.

The irony – says Rabbi Sylvester is that secular Israelis like him are people that are ready to lay down their lives for their people. All of them including the religious right of both Haredim and extremist Religious Zionists. And yet he is so angered by their religious coercion and behavior that he refuses to have anything at all to do with any symbols of observant Judaism.

The question is – why are many non Jews so much more respectful of Judaism than this fellow is? Rabbi Sylvestor tells us about the relationship Margret Thatcher had with the former Chief Rabbi of England, Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz – and later with current Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. So enamored was she with Lord Jakobovitz that she was the one who had him placed in the House of Lords. He was her “favorite man of God.” Why? Well I can tell you one thing. It was not because of religious coercion. It was because he exemplified the best of Jewish values to the world:

Although she was a believing Christian leading a Christian country, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held the British chief rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovitz, in the highest regard. She recognized in him a religious integrity which she felt was lacking in her church, so she consulted with him regularly…

Rabbi Jakobovitz, his successor, and other prominent Orthodox rabbis commanded similar respect. Those rabbis understood how to act like a Jew in public They understood Jewish ethics. They understood that acting the way they did was the Jewish way to act. And the result was a Kiddush HaShem. One that can bring justifiable pride in being a Jew even if one is not observant.

In Israel today, how many of our religious leaders instill pride in being Jewish into the secular public? There was a time where one could easily answer that question. Rabbis Haim Shmuelvitz, Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Yisroel Zev Gustman come to mind. How many religious leaders act like they did in public? How many expressed the Hakoras HaTov to the army as did R’ Shmulevitz and R’ Gustman? How many expressed sensitivity to a secular Jew as did R’ Auerbach – by not embarrassing a secular woman on a bus because she was immodestly dressed. He got off at the next bus stop much sooner than he had to so she would not think he got up because of her. He walked an extra two blocks so as not to embarrass her.

Compare that to the harsh rhetoric of today. As Rabbi Sylvester clearly points out at the end of his excellent article:

While the Israeli rabbinate is full of excellent scholars and fine individuals, rabbinic voices of decency and integrity are too often drowned out by the shrill, wicked cries of the religious and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

Our Israeli religious leaders must be associated not only with a strong Israel, but also with ethical, caring and compassionate leadership. They must speak out for Israel’s majority, and also for its minorities, for those who are learned in the law and those who are not. Then, I imagine that wearing a kippa under the [h]uppah will be far less of an issue for our many of our fellow Jews.

I could not agree more.

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