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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘rabbi’

8 Women Receive Orthodox Ordination in Largely Political Endeavor

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

On Tuesday night, according to a report by Ynet, eight women received certificates of Orthodox Jewish ordination in Jerusalem and selected for themselves various equivalents to the commonly used “Rav” or “Rabbi” by males: some picked “Rav,” instantly making the title unisex; others went with “Rabba,” which would be the female conjugation of the male title, although the term is not in everyday use; some went with “Rabbi,” which in the genderless English grammar has been a common title for Reform and Conservative women clergy for decades.

One preferred to go with “Doctor,” possibly recalling the shamanist attributes for which some Jewish scholars were once renowned. Or more simply, because she has a PhD, but no ordination.

No one went with the prevalent “Rebbetzin,” presumably because to become a Rebbetzin one doesn’t need to study, just marry well.

The ordination was given personally by Rabbi Daniel Landis, a YU graduate who is the head of the Pardes Institute, an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community, based in Jerusalem and operating programs worldwide. Landis is also a senior member of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).

In his message to the freshly ordained Orthodox female rabbis, Landis explored the fact that his graduates are different from ordinary ordained Orthodox rabbis not merely because of their sex, but in their emphasis on Jewish studies, and on any studying at all for that matter:

“I very quickly abandoned the ambition to achieve only rabbinic expertise, and moved on to the more important initiative of promoting you as creative scholars, with integrity, sensitivity and courage, who have access to the members of their generation,” Landis said.

“Yes, but can they pasken on a chicken?” you might ask. It appears that ruling on the mundane needs of rank and file Orthodox Jews was not the top priority of this ordination, which is not a comment on the quality of scholarship of the graduates. They simply appear to put a different emphasis on their future roles in the Jewish community:

Rav Avital Campbell-Hochstein, one of the graduates, said at the ordination ceremony: “Receiving the ordination is not merely a score for knowledge. Ordination, or permission, like halakha itself, is focusing on human beings, on the image of God. Human beings must be seen and heard. The halakha and the Torah are sensitive to the slimmest signs of humanness.” And so, she continued, “in order for halakha, which is an emanation of the will of God, to be relevant and applicable, we must first and foremost be attentive. Human dignity is our driving force. Halakha can be a divider and it can be a meeting ground. It can be a wall and it can be a bridge. Choosing between those component depends on the human beings who use it, and who represent it.”

So, basically, no paskening on chickens for now. Instead, there was a lot of talk about advancing the status of women in halakha and in Orthodox society. You may have to rely on someone else for your kashrut decisions, but in areas of marriage, conversion, and burial, these ordained female rabbis will make sure, as Rav Naama Levitz-Applbaum put it, “that women will be counted, in the full meaning of the word, and to feel as full partners along the path.”

Perhaps as the number of ordained Orthodox female rabbis grows and as each ordination ceases to be viewed as a revolution and starts to be more commonplace (as has been the case in every profession women have entered over the past two centuries) we’ll start hearing about women Orthodox rabbis who are not so heavily invested in the feminist politics of their role but in caring for their congregations. At which point we should be able to assess this fledgling but growing movement not based on our political views but instead on the concrete scholarship and the halakhic contribution of these female rabbis. Because, let’s face it, Orthodox Jews need rabbis to interpret halakha for them. They have plenty of social workers doing everything else.

JNi.Media

Senior Rabbi Condemns Court Ruling on Legalized Prostitution

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono and member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, on Wednesday attacked vehemently the precedent ruling of Tel Aviv Municipal Court Judge Itai Hermelin, which empowered groups of sex workers to operate a legal brothel. Hermelin, who was elevated to municipal judge from his post as instructor for the Criminal Justice Clinic at Tel Aviv University, decided that since by closing down a building where prostitution took place he would be forcing the sex workers to take their business to the streets, he set up conditions under which sex workers could operate the facility legally.

Needless to say, this did not go well with Rabbi Arusi, whose community lies a few miles down the same major thoroughfare, Yitzhak Sadeh Street, where the building of ill repute stands. In a class he gave on Wednesday at the Natzach Israel yeshiva, which was recorded by Srugim, Rabbi Arusi accused Judge Hermelin of turning the entire state of Israel into “one big brothel.”

Rabbi Arusi, who is one of the top experts on integrating Jewish Law into Israeli State Law, criticized “a certain judge who permitted women to establish for themselves a house of ill repute and permitted men to acquire prostitution services. And that judge has declared that a woman’s possession of her own body is autonomous and the state may not interfere with her life and if this is what she desires — then if she opens a brothel by herself or with her friends it does not constitute an illegal act and she mustn’t be harassed. Likewise the customer is autonomous and if he desires prostitution services there’s no reason to prevent him from receiving them.”

As far as Rabbi Arusi is concerned, the Hermelin ruling might be that gulping sound at the end of the slippery slope of social and spiritual corruption that have engulfed Israel for decades. “He has brought us to the very state about which the prophet Isaiah screamed: ‘See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her — but now murderers!’ (Isaiah 1:21). The prophet didn’t refer only to prostitutes, of course. Corruption in government and in the judiciary is also considered prostitution.”

“Judaism is about the sanctity of life,” Rabbi Arusi insisted, explaining, “It means that man is not an animal, but a man, created in the image of God and behaving in this manner. He says yes to having a sex life, but in the framework of holiness and values, not promiscuity and licentiousness.”

It should be noted that the judge’s revolutionary ruling was inspired by the state prosecutor, who was attempting to expose the sex workers as liars, proving undeniably that the sex work in the building on Yitzhak Sadeh Street was actually run in an orderly fashion, in a manner befitting a permanent business. Soon enough, the judge began to wonder what purpose would be served by shutting down this well-organized facility of ill repute and dumping the women back on the street.

Of course, the downside is, as Rabbi Arusi said, not only accepting openly that one of the things Jews in the Jewish State are allowed to do is use sex workers, but that most Jews today don’t thing this is outrageous.

David Israel

Rabbi Kahane’s Grandson to Be Released into House Detention, Restrictions

Monday, May 30th, 2016

The good news is that Meir Ettinger, grandson of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is expected to be released on Wednesday, June 1, following 10 months of solitary confinement in administrative detention, meaning he never committed any crime, but former Defense Minsiter Meir Ya’alon was convinced he was going to commit bad things if only he were allowed to roam free. And so, in the same vein, although Ettinger will presumably be allowed to leave jail, he won’t be doing a lot of roaming, Hakol Hayehudi reported Monday.

An administrative decree signed by OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Roni Numa bans Ettinger from Judea and Samaria for a period of one year. Another decree, signed by GOC Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, bans Ettinger from Jerusalem and from the community of Yad Binyamin.

In addition, Ettinger must obey a night curfew for the next four months, and he has been banned from contacting a list of 92 acquaintances.

Ettinger is the second rightwing activist banned from contacting a long list of his friends — another young man was served last Friday with a decree running 87 names he is forbidden to contact.

Stay tuned for a solidarity with Meir Ettinger event his friends are organizing, which suggests that they’d be contacting him via YouTube.

Jewish activists Meir Ettinger and Evyatar Slonim were placed in administrative detention—an old British Mandate “temporary” regulation which is being employed by Israeli courts to incarcerate security risks whose alleged crimes cannot be proven—last August. They were then transferred to the security wing of Eshel prison near Be’er Sheva in early October.

Ettinger’s uncle, Binyamin Kahane, was killed with his wife Talya in a shooting attack near the settlement of Ofra in December 2000.

During his stay in isolation, his attorney, Sima Kochav, wrote: “They keep [Palestinian] security prisoners in this wing, which means the IPS is violating its mandate and risking the life of a prisoner needlessly. Not only have they damaged his conditions unreasonably, disproportionately and contrary to the ordinance, but they are, at this moment, risking his life in a tangible way. The [Arabs’] cells are adjacent to his cell.”

Kochav also pointed out that “while the prisoners exit to the yard, they knock on his cell doors, talk into his cell window, and threaten his life. Likewise during the outings, when the prisoners are in the yard, the detainee (Ettinger) is showered with curses, insults, and, worst of all, death threats. In addition, the prisoner in the cell next to Mr. Ettinger’s is banging on the walls throughout the night and shouting, in order to disturb and harm Mr. Ettinger.”

David Israel

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen: No More Ethiopian Immigrants

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Orthodox Israeli Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, founder of and judge in the conversions office of the Chief Rabbinate, director of the Zomet Institute for the interface of halakhah and technology, and the editor-in-chief of the annual halakhic journal Techumin, is calling on government to refuse to bring to Israel yet another group of 9,000 Falash Mura from Ethiopia.

Writing in the website Srugim, Rosen says he’ll never forget the assembly of Beita Israel in a shack that served as synagogue in the middle of a forest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was visiting there in the late 1990s, as head of the conversions office, and now recalls that for the rank and file members, prayer constituted only one word: Urshalim (Jerusalem). That, according to Rosen, was an effort to bring home thousands of real Jews, who have since been integrated with varying degrees of success. But those Ethiopian Jews have little in common with the Ethiopians waiting to reach Israel these days.

The reason for the new wave of immigrations has little to do with the plight of Jews, according to Rosen, and much to do with Likud MK Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian Jew, who, together with his comrade in arms MK David Amsalem, managed to squeeze out of Prime Minister Netanyahu a promise to fly in those 9,000 non-Jewish Falash Mura, in exchange for their voting with the coalition again. Herding 61 cats in his one-vote majority government, Netanyahu has had to do without those Neguise-Amsalem votes, which lost him several key bills during the winter session. Which is why the PM has pursued with such vigor his new coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu).

And each time MK Neguise, or foreign governments, or righteous lobbyists ask for another quota of Ethiopian immigrants who are Christian, not Jewish, they promise this is the last time. As in these 9,000 Falash Mura — it’s the last time.

Except that every time 9,000 Ethiopians board the planes out of Addis Ababa to Israel, 20,000 more take their place in the relocations camps. And Rabbi Rosen believes there are already more non-Jewish than Jewish Ethiopians in Israel. And more will keep coming.

The Falash Mura were unknown until Operation Solomon in 1991, when a number of them attempted to board the Israeli planes and were turned away. The Falash Mura said they were entitled to immigrate because they were Jews by ancestry, but the Israeli officials there saw them as non-Jews, since most had never practiced Judaism and were not considered by the Beta Israel as part of the community. In fact, even today, many in the Israeli Ethiopian community object to MK Neguise’s shenanigans.

Back in the 1990s, the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) provided aid to the Falash Mura in Addis who had been left behind during Operation Solomon. Except that when all this food and medical care became available, more Falash Mura left their villages for Addis Ababa and overwhelmed the NACOEJ. The Joint Distribution Committee agreed to provide additional assistance on a humanitarian basis, without recognizing the Falash Mura as Jews who are entitled to immigrate to Israel.

A committee headed by Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban decided the Falash Mura should not be allowed to enter Israel under the Law of Return, but recommended that those refugees who were already in Addis Ababa would be allowed to come in on humanitarian grounds. But the humanitarian gesture only invited more Falash Mura to arrive with expectations of one-way tickets to the holy land. Israel estimated that fewer than 10,000 Falash Mura would be seeking immigration, but the number ballooned to more than 30,000, conditions in the relocation camps worsened, and Israel was embarrassed into taking many of them in.

JNi.Media

Living In Terror In The Soviet Union: An Interview With Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“Persecution of the Jewish people.” When young Orthodox Jews hear these words, they tend to think of events like the Crusades, the Inquisition, or, more recently, the Holocaust. If you were to tell them that the 1950s and ‘60s were also years of dark persecution, many would no doubt regard you with a certain degree of puzzlement.

And yet the fact is that while Jews in postwar America were living in the lap of luxury, their brethren in the Soviet Union were still being terrorized for such “sins” as keeping Shabbos and teaching Torah. In his memoir, “Samarkand: The Underground with a Far-Reaching Impact,” Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, a 76-year-old Lubavitcher chassid, provides insight into the struggles he and other Jews experienced trying to observe Judaism under a government that considered the practice of religion counter-revolutionary.

Rabbi Zaltzman, who left the USSR in 1971, is currently president of Chamah, an organization devoted to helping Jews from the former Soviet Union. He is being honored this week in Washington, DC, as part of American Jewish Heritage Month.

The Jewish Press: You grew up Samarkand, the third largest city in modern-day Uzbekistan. How did your family wind up there?

Rabbi Zaltzman: I was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, but when the Nazis approached Kharkov in World War II, we were told on the radio that we should escape. So my parents decided to go to Samarkand and Tashkent, which is where many Jews found refuge.

You write that your defiance of the Soviet Union began as a boy when it came time to attend school. How so?

The schools in the Soviet Union wanted to build a personality. They used to call it a “Homo Sovietica,” a Soviet personality. No religion, no beliefs, no parents – if you saw your parents practicing religion, you had to tell to the school. There was no private education. The whole Soviet Union was based on Marxism and Leninism, which is against any religion. So my father was scared I would lose my Yiddishkeit if he enrolled me in school.

He hid me and my brother at home so that the neighbors shouldn’t see us and tell the government. For years, I’d walk out with a school briefcase in the morning and go to a friend’s house and then come back in the afternoon after school.

How long did that last?

Until I was nine. Local school officials used to go from house to house looking for children, and one day the neighbors reported there was a child in our home. The government found out I wasn’t going to school for religious reasons, so they told my father, “We’ll take away your son and send him to a foster home for reeducation.”

My father went to a school in a neighborhood with no Jews and told my teacher, “My son is a sick boy who must relax two days a week – Saturday and Sunday.” He also gave her a gift, and that worked for a year until they realized something was wrong and demanded that I come to school on Shabbos.

Did you?

No, never. My father tried to convince me. He said, “You’re not bar mitzvah yet. They’re going to arrest me and take you to a foster home. It will be much worse. Just go. You won’t be forced to write.”

But I didn’t want to go. I woke up early Shabbos morning and went to my friend’s house. So my father decided to take me to another school. It’s a long story, but after a few years I managed to stop attending school without the government noticing.

Elliot Resnick

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

South Florida Observes 14th Yahrzeit Of Rabbi Dovid Bryn

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Shabbos, May 14, marked the 14th yahrzeit of South Florida legend Rabbi Dovid Bryn, zt”l, founder of Chabad Chayil and the California Club Shul. Mostly known for his unending acts of kindness and genuine love for every human being, he is truly missed by all who knew him.

Some rabbis are known for their gigantic shuls and temples, but Rabbi Bryn had a much bigger “shul” – one not bound by walls. His shul was in the flea markets, soccer fields of the JCC, and in people’s homes where he spread his love. The rabbi often spent his Sundays in teenagers’ living rooms with a pair of tefillin, inspiring and changing lives.

Rabbi Bryn’s life was tragically cut short at age 40 by Marfan syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissue. For over a quarter of a century, Rabbi Bryn, the son of Holocaust survivors, courageously battled the fatal disease, yet he managed to minister to, counsel, and save thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike. The rabbi’s overflowing concern for others left no room for him to worry over his own well-being. He lived the equivalent of 120 years of good in a third of the time.

One friend commented on RabbiDovidBryn.org – which was created to remember the his middos and deeds – “If he could breathe, then he would talk to others about G-d’s good, the beauty of a mitzvah, or life’s bright spots. If he could walk, then he would go to share life with others and show a positive perspective as it should be seen. He showed strength not demonstrated by men who appear stronger. He showed love that is only written about…. When I will need an example of the unrelenting power of love, I will think of him.”

In honor of his yahrzeit, the entire community was invited to a special tribute farbrengen at Chabad Chayil and the Dovid Bryn Library to say a l’chaim, reminisce about the good times shared together, and, most important, to talk about how his chesed could be emulated.

To view or share photos or experiences of this remarkable man, visit RabbiDovidBryn.org. To learn about the Special Tribute Torah being written in his honor and purchase a letter, word, or parshah, call 305-770-1919 or visit the website.

Rabbi Moishe Kievman

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/south-florida/south-florida-observes-14th-yahrzeit-of-rabbi-dovid-bryn/2016/05/19/

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