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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Weiss’

RCA Parley To Address Women’s Leadership Roles

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, an upcoming Orthodox rabbinical conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.

“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, seeking to put a positive spin on what also could prove to be a highly divisive gathering of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’s decision in January to confer the title “rabba” – a feminized version of rabbi – on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Following the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Rabbi Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.

One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”

A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA.”

Rabbi Weiss is one of the founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group founded, in part, to serve as an umbrella for graduates of his rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Graduates of the school have been unable to secure automatic membership in the RCA, which has never taken a public position on the fellowship.

RCA insiders say adoption of the measures, neither of which would be retroactive, is unlikely. But their existence still points to a tug within the organization between those seeking to maintain the council as a broadly inclusive group and those who want to draw firmer lines.

“The RCA leadership has always been centrist,” said one RCA official involved in planning for the conference. “The rank-and-file rabbis, those on the front lines, can’t afford to be radicals on either end. But it’s getting harder and harder to promote an RCA which is led by the center, but which includes the whole range.”

Following the Weiss controversy, the RCA announced that women’s leadership would be placed on the conference agenda. A committee is now in the late stages of crafting a policy on the issue.

The policy, which will have to be ratified by the membership, would express general support for women’s scholarship and their assumption of appropriate leadership roles while drawing the line at ordaining them as rabbis. But lately there has been resistance from those seeking stronger language marking certain functions as forbidden.

“The committee expects for there to be pushback and perhaps alternate language from both the right and the left,” said the RCA official.

Whether any formulation could quell the controversy is unclear. Weiss has never backed down from his view that Hurwitz is a member of the synagogue’s rabbinic staff, though he says the school he is launching to train women will bestow a title other than rabba.

Moreover, several women now serve important Modern Orthodox congregations in various capacities – some of which clearly overlap with traditional rabbinic functions.

The results of a survey to be presented at the convention show a clear consensus among RCA members against granting semicha, or ordination, to women, according to an official involved in the council’s strategic planning process. On other issues, the official said, there is no “strong consensus.”

The policy that the council is to enact on women’s leadership will likely remain vague on specifics as a result. Its drafters say that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion.

“I believe that we can have clarity on the red lines and have a degree of inclusiveness in the areas that are not as clear,” Rabbi Goldin said. “We as an organization have to provide latitude for members within the organization to be able to follow their conscience in areas that are not black and white.”

But it is precisely that approach that has encountered some turbulence and which is leading some to push the organization toward a firmer line.

“I think there’s a need for clarity,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, an RCA regional vice president who said he supports the amendments in principle. “What we don’t want to offer the public is a blurring of the lines, that the RCA is all things to all people.” (JTA)

RCA Parley To Address Women’s Leadership Roles

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010


With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, an upcoming Orthodox rabbinical conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.


The Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.


“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, seeking to put a positive spin on what also could prove to be a highly divisive gathering of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis.


Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’s decision in January to confer the title “rabba” – a feminized version of rabbi – on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.


Following the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Rabbi Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.


One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”


A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA.”


Rabbi Weiss is one of the founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group founded, in part, to serve as an umbrella for graduates of his rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Graduates of the school have been unable to secure automatic membership in the RCA, which has never taken a public position on the fellowship.


RCA insiders say adoption of the measures, neither of which would be retroactive, is unlikely. But their existence still points to a tug within the organization between those seeking to maintain the council as a broadly inclusive group and those who want to draw firmer lines.


“The RCA leadership has always been centrist,” said one RCA official involved in planning for the conference. “The rank-and-file rabbis, those on the front lines, can’t afford to be radicals on either end. But it’s getting harder and harder to promote an RCA which is led by the center, but which includes the whole range.”


Following the Weiss controversy, the RCA announced that women’s leadership would be placed on the conference agenda. A committee is now in the late stages of crafting a policy on the issue.


The policy, which will have to be ratified by the membership, would express general support for women’s scholarship and their assumption of appropriate leadership roles while drawing the line at ordaining them as rabbis. But lately there has been resistance from those seeking stronger language marking certain functions as forbidden.


“The committee expects for there to be pushback and perhaps alternate language from both the right and the left,” said the RCA official.


Whether any formulation could quell the controversy is unclear. Weiss has never backed down from his view that Hurwitz is a member of the synagogue’s rabbinic staff, though he says the school he is launching to train women will bestow a title other than rabba.


Moreover, several women now serve important Modern Orthodox congregations in various capacities – some of which clearly overlap with traditional rabbinic functions.


The results of a survey to be presented at the convention show a clear consensus among RCA members against granting semicha, or ordination, to women, according to an official involved in the council’s strategic planning process. On other issues, the official said, there is no “strong consensus.”


The policy that the council is to enact on women’s leadership will likely remain vague on specifics as a result. Its drafters say that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion.


“I believe that we can have clarity on the red lines and have a degree of inclusiveness in the areas that are not as clear,” Rabbi Goldin said. “We as an organization have to provide latitude for members within the organization to be able to follow their conscience in areas that are not black and white.”


But it is precisely that approach that has encountered some turbulence and which is leading some to push the organization toward a firmer line.


“I think there’s a need for clarity,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, an RCA regional vice president who said he supports the amendments in principle. “What we don’t want to offer the public is a blurring of the lines, that the RCA is all things to all people.” (JTA)

Rabbi Avi Weiss Backs Off ‘Rabba’ Title ‘For Sake Of Peace’

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Just a few weeks after declaring Sara Hurwitz a “rabba” in order to “make clear” her status as “a full member of our rabbinic staff,” Rabbi Avi Weiss promised the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) that neither he nor his Yeshivat Maharat will confer that title on any other woman.

Rabbi Weiss – spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, founder of both Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, and a weekly Jewish Press columnist – ascribed his concession to “the tension caused to our greater community and my commitment to the principle of gadol ha’shalom.”

Rabbi Weiss granted Hurwitz the title of maharat – an acronym of the Hebrew words manhiga hilchatit ruchanit toranit (halachic, spiritual and Torah leader) – last March after she studied and was tested in the same areas of halacha that men traditionally master before receiving semicha.

The new title, however, sounded awkward, and so in late January, Rabbi Weiss dropped maharat and together with Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University formally ordained Hurwitz as a rabba.

To many in the Orthodox community, Rabbi Weiss had gone too far. The Agudath Israel Council of Torah Sages declared the move “a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.”

Both Rabbi Weiss and the RCA denied a Jewish Week report that the RCA was considering expelling Rabbi Weiss from its ranks. “There is no basis to those rumors,” RCA President Rabbi Moshe Kletenik told The Jewish Press. But Rabbi Weiss backed down on the rabba title nonetheless. In a letter to

Rabbi Kletenik, Rabbi Weiss wrote, “The change in title from ‘Maharat’ to ‘Rabba’ has precipitated a level of controversy in the Orthodox community that was neither expected nor intended.”

In a speech to his community this past Shabbos, Rabbi Weiss said he only agreed to drop the title rabba “for the sake of peace,” arguing that qualified women can and should perform many rabbinical duties. He cited Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, who told the Jerusalem Post last year that his opposition to women rabbis was “social, not religious.”

In a recent interview in YU’s student newspaper, The Commentator, Rabbi Lamm referred to this comment, saying, “I was criticized, of course. People asked, ‘You mean that al pi din they’re allowed to become rabbis?’ My response: ‘I don’t know. Are you sure they’re not allowed to?’

Rabbi Lamm went on to say, however, “It is too early to tell where this is all headed and I think they are moving much too quickly. Do I think having women rabbis is a good thing? I do not know. I am, however, concerned that, before long, we will find ourselves overly feminized, and I would not want to see that happen.”

The RCA’s Rabbi Kletenik, however, was unequivocal.

“To ordain a woman as a rabbi,” he told The Jewish Press, “is a breach of our mesorah and not acceptable in an Orthodox synagogue.”

Rabbi Kletenik didn’t endorse or condemn the title maharat, but said semantics are irrelevant. “Regardless of the title, if a woman is acting in the role of a rabbi, that’s something which is not acceptable.”

The importance of higher Jewish education for women is not in dispute, he said. “Certainly we encourage Torah scholarship for women, and there are appropriate roles for women to play in terms of leadership within the Jewish community. But being a rabbi is not one of them.”

The RCA will discuss possible leadership roles for women at its annual convention in April, he said.

Rabbi Weiss’s compromise with the RCA comes 12 years after he and Rabbi Adam Mintz, former rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, hired women interns for their congregations. Both rabbis declared at the time that the hirings should not be interpreted as a stepping-stone toward the appointment of women rabbis.

“The call for women to be rabbis is unhelpful. It has halachic problems,” Rabbi Weiss told The Jerusalem Post at the time.

But a decade later, Rabbi Weiss apparently had a change of heart. When he conferred the title of maharat upon Hurwitz last year, he published the halachic rulings of three contemporary rabbis permitting some form of rabbinic ordination for women.

In a 2009 halachic responsum addressed to Rabbi Weiss, noted religious Zionist leader Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun argued “that an Isha Hakhama can teach and instruct, according to all of the opinions, and a community can accept upon themselves an Isha Hakhama as their teacher (Morah) in Torah, in all of the regular roles of a community and synagogue rabbi, and there is no aspect of suspicion or prohibition, even according to the strict positions in Halakha on this issue.”

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Giving Due Credit

The tax credit legislation applauded by TEACH NYS in its two-page ad in last week’s Jewish Press was enacted by the New York Legislature over Governor Pataki’s veto. It certainly is appropriate to thank the governor and others, including the Sephardic Community Foundation, who supported alternative legislation – especially since their initiative got the ball rolling. It is not appropriate to ignore the vital role of Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Joseph Bruno. They got the job done.

We should all especially appreciate – in this matter and in so many others – what Sheldon Silver has done for our community.

Marvin Schick
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Remembering Harry Fischel

Re the recent articles by Dr. Yitzchok Levine on the late Harry Fischel (“The Multimillionaire Who Remained True to Orthodoxy,” front-page essay, April 21, and “Glimpses Into American Jewish History,” May 5):

I worked at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York as the secretary to Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, Mr. Fischel’s son-in-law, for several years (before and after I was married) and met Mr. Fischel many times when he visited.

I once went to Mr. Fischel’s home to bring him some document. He gave me a tour of his Park Avenue apartment and showed me his beautiful sukkah. He lived on the second floor and had eliminated all the rooms above his sukkah at a serious annual financial loss.

Rabbi Goldstein gave me a copy of Mr. Fischel’s book, Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle, which he inscribed for me. I also have a copy of the Pirkei Avot given to guests at the wedding of one of Mr. Fischel’s daughters.

It became a tradition for Mr. Fischel to mark the marriage of each of his daughters with the publication of some volume of Jewish interest, which served the dual purpose of providing a souvenir for the wedding guests and propagating the teachings of Torah.

I have many fond memories of my time at the West Side Institutional Synagogue. Time marches on. I am now a widow. I live in Los Angeles and am the “Bubby” of three wonderful grandchildren who live in New York.

Rose Marateck Ptashkin
Los Angeles, CA
 
 

Chesler’s Insight

Kudos to Phyllis Chesler for her insightful “How a Holocaust Happens” (front-page essay, May 5). Ms. Chesler’s most telling observation is that by focusing on the European Holocaust, and concentrating on the memorializing of dead Jews, attention is diverted “from the impending Holocaust against living Jews.”

Has the American Jewish community come to the realization that, as Chesler writes, “Israel endured the equivalent of 9/11 every month for four years during the intifada that began in 2000″?

World opinion is being tested, and found wanting. There is no outcry against the calls from the Arab world for Israel’s destruction. As Ms. Chesler rightly points out, “What matters is not just what evil people do. What matters is what the good people do – or fail to do. The time to act is upon us. Heroism is now our only alternative.”

Helen Freedman
Americans For a Safe Israel
New York, NY
 
 

Chovevei Torah Ct’d (I)

You are to be congratulated for your forthright editorial of April 14, “Warm and Fuzzy Halacha.” Our sages long ago predicted that the Conservative movement would increasingly become like Reform. You were also right to expose what is going on in Yeshiva Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Avi Weiss violates the age-old restrictions on teaching Torah to non-Jews (even more so to upper level Catholic clergy) and thereby also the ban of HaRav Yosef Solveitchik, zt”l, on interfaith dialogue.

It is silly to suggest, as some have, that because Rabbi Weiss is a noted activist there is nothing untoward in his promoting and condoning conduct that is contrary to halacha and not in the best long-term interests of the Jewish people.

Robert Markowitz
Brooklyn, NY
 
 

Chovevei Torah Ct’d (II)

Having read some of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s pronouncements about the mission of his yeshiva, I was not at all surprised by the excerpts from Chovevei Torah’s own materials cited by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer (Letters, April 28).

Rabbi Weiss’s encouragement of an easy theological and educational camaraderie between his students and functionaries of the Reform and Conservative movements; the Yeshiva Chovevai Torah newsletter extolling a new Haggadah designed by one of its students to “speak” to the understanding of “liberation” in the “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender” communities; and the rosh yeshiva of Chovevei Torah musing about whether halacha should be “bent” to conform to modern circumstances – all of this indicates an emerging problem for Orthodoxy.

The time is long past due for Rabbi Weiss to explain – perhaps in his Jewish Press column – just how his “Open Orthodoxy” is consistent with normative Orthodox Judaism.

Raphael Handler
(Via E-Mail)
 
 

Jewish Museum And Shabbos

New York’s Jewish Museum recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. But as of May 13 the museum, after a century of closing for Shabbos, will be open its doors on Saturdays. What message are the museum’s directors trying to send? Is the Jewish Museum really a Jewish institution – or a secular one that tries to fool the public with its name?

We Jews should be proud of all the aspects of Judaism that make us unique – our heritage, our religious traditions, our Jewish identity. We cannot remain silent. Readers should contact the Jewish Museum and make it clear that we do not support this new policy. Otherwise we may, before long, see a new name on the building: The Not-So-Jewish Museum. 

Debbie Jaeger
(Via E-Mail)
 
 

Biblical Blessing

It is interesting to note that the evil Islamic fundamentalist 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui shouts “God Curse America” – a statement completely at odds with the words and spirit of the song “God Bless America,” composed by Irving Berlin, a patriotic Jewish immigrant.

The Bible says, regarding the Jews, “Those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed” – which, in Moussaoui’s case, can also be applied to America, a country that stands for freedom for people of all faiths, including Islam and Judaism.

Robert Harris
Chicago, IL
 
 

Judaism And Western Democracy

Several recent articles in The Jewish Press seem to suggest that Judaism endorses Western political democracy. Rabbi Berel Wein’s op-ed piece “Judaism and Democracy” (April 7) cites historical examples of observant Jews deciding issues democratically and equates Israeli elections with Judaism: “In the 20th century, Jewish life was governed almost completely by elections, different parties and non-stop campaigning, a situation that obviously pertains today in the State of Israel.” Rabbi Wein concludes that “Jewish life is therefore quite democratic.”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his column “The Case For Democracy” (March 31), commits the same flawed leap from Judaism to Western democracy. Rabbi Riskin notes the Rambam’s ruling that ordination for a Sanhedrin can be resuscitated by a majority of Sages in the Land of Israel and then cites sources for equating the entire congregation of Israel with the Sanhedrin as well as for equating the Congregation of Israel with the Congregation of Jews living in Israel.

Rabbi Riskin offers no rationale for equating elections in which only observant Jews living in the Land of Israel participate with the kind of elections held in Israel today – elections which include the participation of a substantial and hostile non-Jewish population.

Democracy is the best form of government for the nations of the world, who do not possess the Torah (Law) of Emet (Truth). But our Torah opposes Western democracy as the ultimate ideal government for Israel.

In his sefer Or Hara’ayon, Rabbi Meir Kahane writes the following concerning democracy and Judaism:

The nations and alien culture have crowned supreme the concept of “vox populi,” decision-making by majority, come what may, and it is this which is called “Democracy.” The Torah, by contrast, does not tolerate such foolishness. Abominable wickedness cannot possibly be rendered acceptable simply because a majority of fools, ignoramuses, or evildoers have declared it so. Bitter does not become sweet or darkness light, even if all the people say it is. One is not free to decide against the commandments of his Creator.

Rabbi Kahane was right. Judaism is not the same as Western democracy. One need look no further than Michael Freund’s op-ed article of March 31 – which described how the great democracies of Switzerland and Norway have forbidden the slaughter of animals in accordance with Jewish law, and of how democratic Sweden has imposed restrictions on circumcision – to understand the contradictions between Western democracy and Judaism.

In 1988, Rabbi Kahane’s Kach Party was poised to win anywhere from six to eighteen Knesset seats, as predicted even by polls conducted by those on the political Left. And so the “only democracy” in the Middle East banned Rabbi Kahane’s party, a party whose entire platform was taken from the Torah.

There are many Jews who still proclaim that Judaism and democracy are compatible. There are other Jews who see the contradiction. Both groups agreed on one thing in 1988: With few exceptions, they chose to remain silent when democracy was banned in Eretz Yisrael. After three intifadas, Madrid, Oslo, thousands of victims of terrorism, thousands of families destroyed, the Jewish communities of Gaza expelled, and a Hamas terrorist state installed in Eretz Yisrael, we’re still paying the price.

David Ferster
(Via E-Mail)

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Applauds Editorial

I heartily applaud your April 7 editorial – “Warm and Fuzzy ‘Halacha’” – that called attention to the growing phenomenon of Jews, including some so-called Modern Orthodox Jews, seeking to change halacha to suit their own politically correct inclinations.

I was not really surprised to learn that the Conservative movement is poised to legitimize homosexuality in order to “get with the times” on “equal rights” issues. I suppose it matters little to them that our Torah is unequivocal on this point. After all, the Torah was written a long, long time ago, and things and people are different today. The Ribbono Shel Olam really doesn’t understand human nature after all – He needs a bunch of Jewish Theological Seminary grads to set Him straight.

The matter of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah’s astonishing and unprecedented invitation to cardinals of the Catholic Church to learn Torah with its students is something more ominous, since YCT was organized – and still bills itself – as an Orthodox center of Torah learning. Is this stirring and heartwarming gesture to brotherhood really the halachic way? Can one legitimately decide to unilaterally cast off the teachings of our greatest sages? Are any of our hallowed traditions safe in Rabbi Avi Weiss’s world?

Arthur Wasserman
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Deplores Editorial
  
What a shock that there are Neanderthals in the Orthodox community who would be opposed to Rabbi Avi Weiss’s innovations and promotion of what he calls Open Orthodoxy. (Excuse the facetiousness – I’m unfortunately well aware that we have more than our share of primitivists in the frum olam.)
 
There are many of us who are fully observant Jews and very happy with the changes Rabbi Weiss and other forward-looking thinkers are introducing. Your harping on his not having approval from great Torah scholars is way off the mark. Rabbi Weiss has distinguished himself in his activism on behalf of the Jewish people and I am very comfortable putting my trust in someone like him.
 
We need more religious leaders like Rabbi Weiss and fewer of the sort who make Orthodoxy look silly or worse by spreading hysteria over Indian hair in wigs or microscopic creepy crawlers in water and lettuce.
 
David W. Hirsch
Ramat Gan, Israel
 
 
LukewarmOn Editorial

I have mixed feelings about your editorial in which you decry a “warm and fuzzy” approach to halacha. Why is it that every time people come up with ways to improve the lives of Jews, they get attacked? Don’t you think it logical that cultivating ties with powerful leaders of the Catholic Church will make for better relations with the Church and therefore benefit the Jewish people as a whole?

On the other hand, I, like you, have a problem with changing the rules regarding homosexuals, which the Conservative movement seems about to do. Rabbi Weiss’s project, however, is very different in my view, and you shouldn’t have lumped it together with the gay issue.

Chava Elgarten
New York, NY
 

A View From The Inside

The Conservative movement’s decision to relax procedural requirements for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to issue a takanah, a major revision of Jewish law, was not strictly motivated by a desire to change the status quo regarding the status of gays and lesbians. I was personally closely involved in the effort to change these procedural requirements.

There are 25 voting members, all rabbis, of the CJLS. Longstanding policy was that any teshuvah that received 6 votes in support – less than 25% – was a valid position of the committee. As a pluralistic movement, Conservative Judaism is comfortable with having a plurality of opinions that contradict one another. We have a teshuvah that says it is OK to drive to shul on Shabbos; we also have a teshuvah that says it is not permissible to drive to shul or anywhere else on Shabbos unless it’s a case of pikuach nefesh. Each individual rabbi chooses which view to follow.

Some time ago, the Law Committee instituted a requirement that a teshuvah that was a takanah – that was rabbinic legislation, in effect, overturning something in the Torah – would require a majority of the committee’s approval, not just 6 votes. The Rabbinical Assembly’s Executive Council imposed on the Law Committee a procedure that said a takanah should be approved by 80% of the committee – 20 votes. Meaning there could be no “minority opinion” against a takanah.

Many people in the movement – including many rabbis who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians – felt that the 80% rule was inappropriate and unprecedented. The disputes between Hillel and Shammai were settled by a majority. Hillel did not need an 80% vote to institute the prozbul.

Many of us feel that, no matter how difficult the issue, if a majority was good enough for chazal, a majority should be good enough for us. The collected wisdom at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention affirmed that a simple majority is sufficient to approve a takanah, and that is the procedure now in place.

It is not clear, in fact, whether this change in procedure will have any impact at all on the outcome of the upcoming discussions of the Law Committee on the gay/lesbian issue. It is quite possible that any teshuvah labeled a takanah on that subject would not have the requisite 13 votes.

Rabbi Barry Leff
Toledo, OH

 
Praise And Criticism For Dr.  Schick

Objectionable Terminology?

Re “He Who Destroys a Single Jewish Life”, front-page essay, March 31:

The Jewish community owes a huge yasher koach to Dr. Marvin Schick for the work he had done on behalf of Klal Yisrael over the past forty years. Many of our mosdos today reap the benefits of his efforts.

As the founder and director of the only independent yeshiva dedicated to helping boys who need a little more attention, I must tell you that we have to be very careful with the term “at risk.” I believe it is being dangerously overused. True, it goes a long way in fund-raising, but otherwise it’s counterproductive.

We have been and continue to be very successful with our bochurim. Our children are proud to be regular guys in a regular cheder. We never loosely use the term “at risk.” It only means we have to struggle more to meet our obligations. It’s worth the cost. Our students are the happiest bunch of kids you’ll find.

Yes, there are many yeshiva boys who are “at risk” – but only because our current chinuch system has failed them. It is only of late that yeshivas and national Jewish organizations are addressing the reality that not all youngsters are created equal. They are finally teaching “chinuch lana’ar al pi darko.”

So let us do all we can for these precious children, but without the alarming words “at risk.”

Rabbi Joseph Salamon
Director
Yeshiva Ohr Torah

 
Internet’s Dangers

Although Dr. Schick is correct when writing about tuition problems in our community, I feel he unfairly attacked the Lakewood community in his most recent article.

Dr. Schick wrote: “I am appalled by the announcement by Lakewood yeshivas and Beth Jacobs that all children in homes that are Internet-accessible and have not received the requisite approvals from local rabbis will be expelled.”

Dr. Schick apparently fails to understand the dangers inherent in the permissiveness and unbridled decadence which characterizes many domains of the media – especially the Internet. (The problem is not the technology, which could be used for good things, but the evil ways in which that technology is used.)

People are, to say the least, justifiably concerned. Responsible educators have a duty, therefore, to remove such evil from their schools and communities. Educators who attempt to monitor the Internet and media to protect their children should be commended. Although I am not a member of the Lakewood community, I do respect the rabbis and educators who have the good sense to promote high standards of virtue.

Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Lakewood Hashkafa

The Lakewood Internet policy – and I say this as one of Marvin Schick’s biggest fans – can be viewed another way. As I understand it, this was a decision of the Lakewood community pertaining to its membership and while there are universal applications of the policy, it is meant for that community alone. The Internet policy is consistent with the Lakewood hashkafa; it remains to be seen whether, as Dr. Schick predicts, there will continue to be problems within the community when it comes to observing the policy.

Judaism is not a one-size-fits-all religion. Chassidim, yeshivaleit, Modern Orthodox, haredim, etc., all have their chumras, and what frum Jews choose to do in their own circles is their own business. People should be guided by their rabbonim and not feel that every psak or chumrah adopted by one group applies to everybody else.

Shlomo Kleinbart
Brooklyn, NY
 
 
Let Lakewood Be Lakewood

I am an attorney and also in business, and I use the Internet for work on a constant basis. I studied at a Lakewood branch yeshiva, and members of my family learn at BMG Kollel. Based on my living in both the yeshiva and the secular worlds, I take strong issue with Dr. Schick’s interpretation of the Lakewood Internet prohibition. This is not an exclusionary issue, but rather a matter of protecting the heart and soul of the community.

Any Lakewood parent who chooses to have Internet service knowingly violates community standards that are nearly unanimously accepted by the community and its leaders. Such parents must accept the responsibility of putting their children at risk if they are expelled. If you choose to live in Lakewood, then respect the standards there. And certainly outsiders must respect that community’s decisions in chinuch, yiras shomayim and avodas Hashem.

The sheer size and depth of the Torah and avodah that emanates from Lakewood sustains Jews across the world, whether or not they agree with all of the yeshiva’s positions. We must not tamper with Klal Yisrael’s precious asset.

I encourage The Jewish Press and Dr. Schick to continue addressing complex issues in Jewish life.

Noah Foxman
Brooklyn, NY

 
‘Without Fear Or Favor’

There are very few educators and writers in the Orthodox community who tell it like is – who make their case “without fear or favor.” Marvin Schick is one of those few, and I tip my hat (a yeshivish fedora purchased in Boro Park) to him and to The Jewish Press for not shrinking from telling the truth about the important issues of our time.

I’m certain that Dr. Schick’s criticism of the Lakewood Internet ban will raise hackles in some circles, but anyone who fails to recognize the revolutionary nature of the Internet is in for a rude awakening.

The Internet is, quite simply, the most important development we’ve yet seen in the spread of human knowledge. Forget about radio and television – never has there been a medium that links the world so completely and makes such a previously unimaginable array of learning – both Jewish and secular – available at the click of a mouse. The yeshiva world shuts it out at its own peril.

Zalman Gorvitsch
(Via E-Mail)

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Shabbos Priorities

A person had slipped and fallen on the ice and now lay dangerously in the middle of the street, in the heart of Boro Park, on erev Shabbos. I was at a red light across the street, stuck behind another car. As I waited in anticipation for the light to change, I prayed that one of the dozen (or more) motorists who drove right by her would stop and offer assistance.

I and the motorist in front of me were the only ones to stop to help this person. It turned out that she was indeed injured, and an ambulance immediately transported her to the hospital.

Then it hit home: How selfish and insensitive can people be? Those uncaring motorists could have hit her while she lay in the snow, unable to get up. I ask them: Would those few minutes to stop and call for help for an obviously injured fellow Yid have made a difference in your erev Shabbos schedule?

And to the person who had the time to pull up behind me and get out to scold me about why I ‘didn’t park like a mentsch,’ I apologize. I was busy preventing further injury to someone who might have been a member of your own family (which you could have ascertained if you’d taken the time to walk over and see for yourself). Shame on you!

Irving Klein
Brooklyn, NY



Where Are The ‘Leaders’?

While it has become disturbingly commonplace to witness the capitulation emanating from the Sharon government as it prostrates itself before terrorists, the silence from our own American Jewish leadership is deafening.

Where is the outrage and the rallying cries from these so-called Jewish leaders in the face of the administration’s double standards regarding concessions demanded of Israel – specifically, the administration’s push for Israel to release jailed terrorists, coupled with its demand that Abbas arrest the killers of U.S. contractors. In other words, Palestinian Arab terrorists who kill Jews should be released, but Palestinian Arab terrorists who kill American contractors should be incarcerated.

While Condi is beside herself with joy at the newly elected “democratic statesman” Abbas, she sternly warns her Israeli friends to prop up the new PA leader with all sorts of goodies – and this while Abbas refuses to dismantle the terror webs. Why are our Jewish “leaders” silent?

It gets worse. Our Jewish leaders apparently are not bothered by the price that needs to be paid for “peace” – namely, slicing up Israel in order to hand the Palestinian Arabs (who are in fact a conglomeration of Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians etc.) a contiguous state. Does this not ring alarm bells for our “leaders”?

The U.S. administration takes a substantial portion of its cues regarding Israel from the Jewish lobby and its attendant leadership. If our Jewish “leaders” are apathetic or support all manner of Israeli concessions, why in heaven’s name should we expect anything different from American officials?

These “leaders” are for the most part afraid to make waves. Leaders have no right to claim the prestige and perks that come with their titles if they put everything else before their sacred mission.

Adina Kutnicki
Elmwood Park, NJ



Abbas’s Allies

In spite of the best efforts of The New York Times and the Bush Administration, there is no evidence that the goal of Mahmoud Abbas are any different from the goal of Yasir Arafat to destroy Israel “in blood and fire.”

What is different is that Abbas is clean shaven, much better dressed and infinitely more shrewd than Arafat. Realizing that the gangs of terrorists he commands and those he is allied with can never defeat Israel in open warfare, Abbas has adopted the tactics of Sun Tzu, the 4th Century BCE. Chinese war lord and military strategist to defeat a much stronger Israel. One of Sun Tzu’s cardinal lessons is that “the supreme art of war is to defeat the enemy without fighting.” That is why Abbas will temporarily suspend the killing, say the right things and smile a lot.

Ariel Sharon has prevented his armed forces from defeating a much weaker enemy and is blindly participating in the “negotiations” scam. Sharon will risk civil war and the destruction of the morale of the army and his nation by ethnically cleansing more than 8,000 Israeli citizens from homes and farms that will all be turned over to the terrorists to establish a new front in their war against a shrunken Israel.

The best allies Mahmoud Abbas has are Ariel Sharon and the anti-national, anti-Zionist elites in Israel and America who support him.

George E. Rubin
New York, NY



Arab Land For Peace

As history has shown, peace summits can easily come to an abrupt end. During previous talks, Israel had to be the compromiser, while Arafat would reject every offer. After four years of bloody terror, a harder line can be expected from the Israelis. Land for peace has failed to materialize in the past, and there’s no reason to believe it will be otherwise this time. That is why more pressure must be put on Israel’s neighbors with regard to the Palestinian refugees.

After decades of allowing Palestinians to fester in refugee camps, Arab states must be the first to alleviate the suffering of their Palestinian populations. Jordan, whose population is 60 percent Palestinian, can transfer swaths of its land mass to a future Palestine. Egypt can do the same in the Sinai to allow the crowded Gaza Strip some breathing space. In Lebanon, home to nearly a million refugees, the occupying Syrians can grant Palestinians citizenship and access to labor, something denied to them for decades.

Israel cannot and must not always be the one to make the most painful concessions. Should Israel turn back to the 1948 Auschwitz borders or allow millions of Palestinians to settle inside its borders, it would spell the end of the Jewish state. This time, the Arab states should be the first ones to make a grand gesture, and land for peace on their part would only render a future Palestinian state more viable, something in everyone’s best interests.

Peter Subissati
McGill University
Montreal



Brooklyn College And Israel

As Brooklyn College faculty members, it encouraged us to read that Provost Roberta Matthews (“A Lesson from Israel in Higher Education,” op-ed, Jan. 28) used a trip to Israel to discover the reality of the ‘country’s ongoing security issues.’

Since her installation as provost, Ms. Matthews has embraced a different reality, having:

* urged all Brooklyn College professors to dismiss their classes to attend a ‘teach-in’ on Middle Eastern affairs that contained no known supporters of U.S. or Israeli policy in the region;

* promoted a ‘global studies’ curriculum, a faddish approach that the Middle East Studies Association championed at its annual conference as a way of repackaging the organization’s well-known anti-Israel bias;

* appointed to a curricular initiative that claims to teach students about American democracy the faculty co-chairs of the ‘Current Events Committee,’ one of whose members boasted, in writing, of the committee’s unwillingness to sponsor ‘pro-Israel’ events;

* supported displacing from the Student Government members of the school’s predominantly Jewish political party, an action that violated college rules and that President C.M. Kimmich was forced to annul.

No public relations offensive can undo the very real harm of these policies in denying Brooklyn College students an objective portrayal of matters relating to Israel.

Margaret L. King, Professor of History
Robert David Johnson, Professor of History
Brooklyn College



Roles And Responsibilities

The Feb. 11 column by Rabbi Mordechai Weiss – ‘Let’s Stop Making Excuses for our Kids!’ – contained a few valid points, but I found it irritating. The valid point is that children need to be taught responsibility, which includes accountability for their behavior. Other statements elicited gut reaction, prompting me to write this letter.

There is a blanket statement that kids who are identified as misbehaving are always wrong (my paraphrase). The majority of mechanchim are honest and dedicated people, and I will not assault their character. However, misbehavior is almost always symptomatic, and it is not an indication that the child is bad. Rabbi Weiss referred to ‘remonstrating.’ Discipline is achieved by collaborating in setting rules, and showing the students how to follow them. Unfortunately, most schools approach this responsibility as a mandate to ‘punish.’ This is doomed to fail. There is no excuse for financial ‘fines,’ and too many suspensions and expulsions are questionable.

We recently read in Parshas Yisro that Yisro was most impressed with the fact that the miracles at the Yam Suf were based on ‘Ki badovor asher zadu alayhem,’ which according to Rashi means the Mitzrim were punished ‘midoh kineged midoh’ – the punishment fitting the crime.

The goal of giving a student a negative consequence is to teach, not to avenge a wrongdoing. Expecting that any other punishment will result in the learning of a negative association is wishful thinking. Many students learn that financial punishments are greed-based and directed at the parent, and that expulsions are rejections and expressions of rage. Until we can communicate a different message, we are not fulfilling our task as mechanchim.

The examples Rabbi Weiss used in his article are clear instances of midoh kineged midoh, and bear little resemblance to current applications of discipline. A valuable step before turning away some blaming fingers from schools would be to re-examine whether the discipline follows the midos of HKB”H that were are expected to emulate.

I was horrified to read that the drug busts and other horrific events are solely the ‘blame’ of the kids and their parents. I find a single attribution of blame to be grossly irresponsible – even if it were directed at schools.

Rabbi Weiss makes a valid point in noting that parents sometimes defend their children inappropriately and are guilty of denial. But to conclude that school discipline is the answer is beyond unjustified – it is a carte blanche that is often used inappropriately.

For several years I have been leading a weekly meeting (one of many) for Mothers and Fathers Aligned Saving Kids (MASK). Parents are able to address their denial, anger, and frustration with their children, communities, and schools. Most arrive at the door full of self-blame, and many are thoroughly bashed. They have rested at the foot of blame for too long.

Much of the progress in the youth-at-risk movement has come from eliminating the targeting of parents while not absolving them of their responsibility. MASK has been at the forefront of this issue for the past eight years, and through their efforts parents have taken off their masks and assumed responsibility for their roles – and stopped making excuses for their kids. They learn how to handle them.

Bashing parents is neither truthful, nor effective, nor acceptable. We need to partner with them to best help the children. As has been said, it takes a village. Let us all remove our masks and face our roles and responsibilities.

Benzion Twerski, Ph.D.
(Via E-Mail)

Title: Principles Of Spiritual Activism

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

Title: Principles Of Spiritual Activism
Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss
Publisher: Ktav Publishing, Hoboken, N.J.

 

Rabbi Avi Weiss has become legendary for his heroic activism on behalf of Jewish causes where others are content with private lamenting. This 200-page collection of essays dating back more than a decade demonstrate the concise thinking behind Rabbi Weiss’ public extravagances and persona.

In seven sections, Rabbi Weiss explains the nature and purpose of his Jewish activism. In doing so, he has produced a book that is both a textbook for Jewish activism as well as an exposition of some of his many exploits.

Weiss bemoans the fact that American Jewry proceeded too cautiously during World War II to save European Jewry during the Shoah. He feels that too often, we become our own victims. He recalls the famous joke wherein two concentration camp prisoners who are about to be shot by a firing squad are asked for a last request. When one of them starts yelling in protest, the other quietly admonishes him: “Shah, don’t cause trouble!”

Rabbi Weiss warns that while we cannot always immediately accomplish our objectives, a bit of “noise” will help alert our fellow Jews to imminent danger.

As he expresses in one of the essays, “Principle Eight,” very few congregational rabbis have been involved in activist causes. Most synagogues expect their rabbis to dwell only in the “spiritual realm,” and to leave activism to lay persons. He, on the other hand, feels that activism should be an integral part of the rabbinate, as when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, together with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not everyone is blessed with a personality that can absorb abuse and invective, both from the targets of their activism and often from members of the Jewish community who disagree with activist behavior. Whether he is pursuing Nazis or advancing political causes, Rabbi Weiss acts as a conscience for those of us who are less public in our behavior. And indeed, history has proven the necessity of going public when shining a light of exposure can help defuse danger and ameliorate injustice to the Jewish community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-principles-of-spiritual-activism/2004/06/16/

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