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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘rabbis’

Tzohar Rabbis Group Says New Law to Help Stop Assimilation

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

The new law that the Knesset passed Monday night to allow couples to register for marriages wherever they want will help prevent civil marriages abroad and stop a wave of assimilation, according to the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization

“Local rabbinates functioned as mini-monopolies, causing widespread resentment among both religious and secular couples,” the Tzohar group said. “In addition to severe bureaucratic obstacles, many ultra-orthodox local rabbis prohibit Zionist rabbis from performing weddings and do not recognize the rabbinic authority of most North American community rabbis.”

It added that the result of the system has been that secular couples traveled to Cyprus and Prague for civil marriages, creating a situation in which “their children will find it almost impossible to prove their Jewish roots in the future.”

Rabbi David Stav, founder and president of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, said, “Many people are unaware that Israel is suffering from a wave of mass assimilation and intermarriage. This is mostly due to bureaucratic factors rather than halachic challenges.”

Revolutionary Marriage Reform Law Spells End to Haredi Domination

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

The Knesset voted Monday night in favor of a bill sponsored by the Jewish Home party that in effect breaks the grip of Haredi rabbis on marriage permits in the country. It easily passed on second and third readings in the Knesset with the only opposition coming from Haredi Knesset Members.

The “Tzohar Law,” named after the organization of modern orthodox rabbis who have been vying for more influence in the country’s religious establishment, will allow couples to register for marriages anywhere they want.

The change is not minor. Certain cities are known to be a nightmare for couples who are often faced with local rabbis’ extreme demands concerning their being Jewish, their lifestyles, and also touching on customs that vary in different communities, such Sephardi and Ashkenazi, and which are not required to be observed by everyone.

One rabbi who has performed dozens if not hundreds of marriages told The Jewish Press that one city, which is not being named here in order not to blemish its name, is a known problem because of local Haredi rabbis’ conditions that often are “unreasonable.”

Now that a prospective bride and groom can register wherever they want, Haredi rabbis will lose any influence, good or bad, they once had over secular and non-Haredi religious couples. If the Haredi establishment had been a bit more flexible in the past decade, it could have won the respect of tens of thousands of Jews who might have been swayed to become more observant.

Instead, their insensitivity to Israeli’s desire for tradition without coercion has cost them their dominance and has allowed modern orthodox rabbis to take over as much more widely accepted role models.

The winners of the new law are the Tzohar rabbis and the Jewish Home Party, which is rapidly shaking off its predecessor’s National Religious Party stigma of representing only observant Jews and those that believe that Jewish development in Judea and Samaria is the only important issue for the country.

The party has attracted non-observant supporters with an election platform that supported civil marriages, and the Tzohar law is bound to attract more non-religious supporters who want to marry according to Jewish law without having to be subservient to Haredi rabbis’ ultimatums.

“We have opened the religious services market, “ said Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett.

The Tzohar rabbis recently lost an important battle with the Haredi establishment, which elected Rabbi David Lau as Chief Ashkenazi rabbi instead of Tzohar Rabbi David Stav.

The new law will also create a computerized database for the registrations, making the records accessible to all of the registrars.

Jewish Home Punched Out in Losing Bid to Keep Terrorists Jailed

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

A Cabinet committee unsurprisingly defeated on Sunday a motion by the Jewish Home to propose a bill that would prevent the government from freeing heavy-duty terrorists.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted 8-5 against the proposal, with Likud, Yesh Atid and Livni’s HaTunah party minsters opposing it and Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu ministers voting for it.

With Justice Minister Tzipi Livni heading the committee, the bill had no chance. Click here to understand how she wears three hats, all of them oversized.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a senior Likud member and a close aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, characteristically played the role of a sore winner and told Jewish Home Minister Uri Orbach, “If you don’t like it, you can resign.” Sa’ar berated the Jewish Home for daring to propose a bill that would have gone against government policy.

Livni was even cruder with her snipe that the government does not act on the orders “of the rabbis in the West Bank.”

The party stated after the vote, “This is a sad day for the struggle against terrorism in Israel.”

For his part, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not directly mention at the Cabinet meeting Sunday morning the second step in the four-stage plan to free 104 terrorists, a program that started in July to pave the way for the resumption of talks between Israeli negotiators, headed by Livni, and the Palestinian Authority. Instead, he made an undisguised reference to the deal, stating that “promises” must be kept, as reported here in an article on mortar shelling attacks on Israel today.

No one reminded him that he once promised that he never would vote to expel Jews from their homes in Gush Katif. That was before he passed up every effort to vote against the expulsion of 9,000 Jews from Gaza until after was a done deal and his vote did not matter.

Sa’ar and Livni got in their licks, and the terrorists will be released, but the Jewish Home party is far from down and out.

Freeing terrorists, especially for talks and not even for a solider, a civilian or a dead body of one of the two, is decreasingly popular, and it is doubtful that a majority of Israelis are much more than unenthusiastic over the idea.

Every previous release of terrorists has been followed by attacks by several of the same terrorists. Every time, the government finds another reason to say it won’t happen again. Two years ago, it went through he ludicrous procedure of forcing each one to sign on the dotted line, “I will be a good boy, and will not return to terror,” before being free to kill more Israelis, more than 120 at last count.

This time, the government experts on terror says the terrorists are too old to return to terror. Time will tell how they celebrate their birthdays, but it would not wise to attend the party because the cake might blow up in your face.

With every attack by freed terrorists, the voters will remember who voted to free them and who voted to keep them in jail.

But the Jewish Home has a lot of other reasons to be confident that it can buck the government even if it is a member of the coalition.

Every poll in the past several months has shown the party is more and more popular. It has shed the old National Religious Party’s stigma of considering a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as the only thing that matters in the country. Unlike the NRP, Jewish Home and its chairman Naftali Bennett do not “take orders from rabbis.”

It has taken popular stands on civil marriages, leniency towards homosexuality, like it or not, and it has forged into the area of consumer rights, once a monopoly of the Meretz party.

Elections are probably a long time away, but Sa’ar and Livni may end up taking it on the chin.

Who’s a Pew

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The views in this article are not at all those of the Jewish Press, but we decided to publish the article as an opportunity to expand the public debate. So comment away…

There have been three reports released in the past few days regarding Jewish Population. Two, the Pew Research Study, and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute Study, are concerned with Jewish population numbers. The third, by the University of Huddersfield in England concerns itself with the genetic history of Askenazi Jews. But in fact, all three studies are really about Jewish identity.

The Pew and Steinhart studies have come up with vastly different numbers concerning the size of the Jewish population in the US. This disparity is due to their diverse definition of who is a Jew.

This is not a new problem. Jewish identity has been an issue in the Jewish community at least since the beginning of the Common Era, and perhaps even before. At the start of the Common Era Jews in Rome were proselytizing so successfully that the rabbis felt that they had to erect barriers to conversion for fear that the Jewish community would become too diluted. In essence, they revised the standards for Jewish identification and as Judaism became more rabbinical, whole segments of the Jewish population who were not considered religious enough by the rabbis became disenfranchised and were left out in the cold.

In great part, due to this exclusionary policy, the world Jewish population declined sharply over the next thousand years. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the world Jewish population dropped from about five million at the start of the Common Era, to about one million by the end of the first millennium CE. It remained at about one million until the middle of the eighteenth century when it suddenly skyrocketed to seven million in less than a hundred years.

Both the precipitous population decline and the even more remarkable population increase resulted from the different policies of defining Jewish identity. In the early years of the Common Era, before the rise of rabbinic Judaism, Jews were defined through self description; for example, you could describe yourself as a Roman Jew or as a Greek Jew. There was no other requirement than that. You didn’t have to belong to a synagogue or observe holidays, or keep kosher, or any of the other criteria that are currently applied in population surveys. After the rabbis gained power the nature of Judaism and Jewish identification changed. A Jew could no longer self select. He had to be listed as a Jew by the rabbi. Thus, if a Jew was not affiliated with a rabbinic religious community, he was not counted as a Jew.

This situation continued for the next thousand years until Napoleon granted the Jews citizenship, and pioneers and visionaries like the Bal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and Rabbi Abraham Geiger, the founder of the Reform Movement, declared that it was not necessary for a person to be affiliated with a synagogue or even know how to pray in order for him to consider himself Jewish. (It should be remembered that the Bal Shem Tov was excommunicated by the Vilna Gaon because of this heretical idea.)

These great visionaries said that if you consider yourself Jewish, then you’re Jewish! As a result of this earth shattering declaration the world Jewish population soared so that by 1935, through the measure of self identification, there were fifteen million Jews in the world. (Hitler did not ask “how Jewish” his victims were)

Today, we are facing a similar problem that confronted the Jews in the first centuries of the Common Era. We have once again set up barriers to Jewish identification and we now have standards to determine if you are a “True Jew:” Was your mother Jewish? Did you have a bar mitzvah? How often do you attend services? Do you belong to a JCC? Contribute to Jewish charities? Been to Israel? Speak and/or read Hebrew? Light Shabbat candles? Have a Christmas Tree? And on and on.

These questions only serve to narrow the field in a time when we should be widening our tent. We can no longer afford to be an exclusive and exclusionary club. We need to find new ways to welcome not only the disenchanted and disenfranchised Jews but also the intermarried, and their non-Jewish partners.

In the same way that Jews of the twenty first century are different from their first century ancestors, so too must the definition of who is a True Jew be different. Until we can settle on a new definition we will be unable to accurately measure the Jewish population.

Bernard Beck is the author of True Jew…Challenging the Stereotype, published by Algora Publishing, 186 pages, $22.95

FBI Arrests NY Rabbis for Beating Husbands Who Refuse Divorce

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The FBI raided a Monsey yeshiva Wednesday night and arrested four mean, including two rabbis, who allegedly kidnapped and beat recalcitrant husbands who had refused to grant their wives religious divorces and thereby prohibit them from re-marrying under Jewish law.

The “executors” used by the divorce gang included “electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and placed plastic bags over the heads of husbands,” the complaint charge stated.

The status of stranded Jewish women is known as “aguna” and is a problem that has received deserved focus in Israel and the Diaspora in recent years.

The FBI investigation and arrests bring to national attention the anguished situation of “aguna” women and perhaps will help put legal pressure on husbands who have separated from their wives but refuse to allow them to re-marry.

The suspects were arrested after a month-long sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce from her husband. Another undercover agent posed as her brother.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with Ariel Potash and a fourth individual known as Yaakov, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.

The FBI also raided Yeshiva Sha’arei Torah in Monsey and a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere.

The rabbis allegedly charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve kidnapping husbands, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to abduct and beat husbands.

The FBI agents called Rabbi Wolmark in August and said they were “desperate for a religious divorce and were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain a divorce,” according to the charge sheet.

“There are a couple of ways to do that,” Wolmark allegedly said in a recorded phone conversation. “You have to, we have to, convene a special Bet Din and see if there are grounds to, to, to coerce him on the ‘get’ [divorce decree].”

Wolmark allegedly added, “You need to get him to New York where someone either can harass him or nail him. Plain and simple,” he said, according to the complaint. The rabbi then set up a meeting between the undercover agents and Rabbi Epstein. A recorded conversation revealed that Rabbi Epstein spoke about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce.’

He allegedly added, “Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the ‘get.’”

One of the “tough guys,” supposedly Rabbi Epstein’s son, “uses his karate skills” on the victims, court papers said.

The FBI said the “divorce gang” has been operating for 20 years and that Rabbi Epstein said he carries out approximately one kidnapping a year.

Forcing husbands to grant a divorce is permitted under Jewish law, a rabbi told The Jewish Press Thursday. “Jewish law does not always seem humane, but it really is humane because physical force often is the only way to force angry husbands to release their wives from virtual bondage and to allow them to-remarry,” he said.

The rabbi added that rabbis often are blamed for the situation of the agunot but also are criticized for using force, recognized under Jewish law, to solve their dilemma.

He pointed out that force can be used only if a Bet Din [religious court] authorizes it and only if there are substantial reasons to order a divorce.

YCT, Heterodoxy, and Agudah

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Agudath Israel has come out with a new statement about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). They are ‘deeply troubled’ that YCT is hosting a group of 4 non-Orthodox rabbis at the installation of their new president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. They will be involved in a roundtable discussion entitled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation”.

I have mixed emotions about this. But I am in fact pleased that Agudah has responded to it – even if in a negative way. This shows that they must recognize YCT as an Orthodox institution. Which it is, in my view. I don’t for example believe they would be criticizing the Conservative Movement if they invited Reform rabbis to a roundtable of their own.

My feelings about this issue are mixed for the following reasons.

On the one hand – there is the rather well known decision by the Gedolei HaDor of the previous generation to forbid any interaction with non Orthodox movements. The fear was that by doing so, it would tacitly imply recognizing their legitimacy. Orthodoxy rejects heterodox movements and considers them illegitimate.

It is also rather well known that Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik made a distinction between interacting with them on any theological matters – which he also forbade; and interacting with them on non theological matters that impacted on the welfare of all of Jewry – which he permitted.

I agree with Rav Soloveitchik’s perspective. The question is whether this round table falls into the category of theological discussion or not. I’m not sure – but if I had to peg it, I would lean toward putting such a roundtable on the theological side of the argument and thus forbid it.

That said, I wonder if that would be true if matters of actual theology were expressly left out of the discussion. And the round table was limited to a discussion of practical non-theological rabbinics. Like psychological counseling or how to go about giving advice to congregants. The truth is that heterodox rabbis probably have a lot to offer in the realm of practical non theological rabbinics. As would say a mental health professional or even a priest or minister for that matter.

On the other hand, since this is a Yeshiva hosting heterodox rabbis I would be hard pressed to say that there would be no theological aspect to it. It is a virtual impossibility to completely leave out theology in such a discussion. Which is why I would be opposed to it.

There is, however, another thing to consider. What is extant today was not extant when the Gedolei HaDor forbade such interactions. Times have changed in ways which make me wonder if we should re-examine our positions. Let me hasten to add that I do not advocate the policies of Open Orthodoxy that YCT represents. They have rejected the prohibition of interacting with non-Orthodox rabbis and now freely advocate full engagement with them at all levels – including theological ones.

But I think it is fair to evaluate the reasons they have done it. Times have indeed changed. When the prohibition was made, it was a time that Reform and Conservative movements were on the ascendancy. They were a real threat to Orthodox Judaism. Orthodoxy in America was in relative infancy then. To wit – Rav Aharon Kotler who was the driving force behind the prohibition headed a Yeshiva of about 300 students when he died. Today there are over 6000 students there and they are growing exponentially. There are also now many smaller Yeshivos like Lakewood that are now thriving. They did not exist at that time.

There is no question that the small group of Orthodox Jews at the time were seen by most non Orthodox observers as a dying relic of an ancient past. While Heterodox movements were flourishing and growing by leaps and bounds. It is very understandable that the Gedolei HaDor did not want to give any semblance of recognition to them. Their ‘David’ was fighting a very large Goliath.

But today – the tables have turned. We are the ones growing. They are either shrinking (Conservative) or redefining Jewishness to include non Halachic Jews (Reform).

It is therefore a fact that heterodoxy is no longer the threat to Orthodoxy it once was – if at all. It is now apathy and indifference that is the enemy. Jews are leaving Judaism in droves. They do not see any denomination as relevant to their lives. They see themselves as secular human beings in the brotherhood of man – without the slightest connection to Judaism. One might even say that Conservative and even Reform Judaism today is at least trying to get them to retain their Jewish identity if nothing else.

In the light of all this, perhaps this is a Hora’as Shah – time to act and change the paradigm. Maybe YCT is not so terribly wrong headed in partnering up with these movements. I do not see legitimizing them as a danger anymore. The danger is in the growing numbers of unaffiliated Jews who have no problem with intermarriage and tend to buy into the ‘Apartheid’ narrative about Israel found in the secular liberal/leftist environment in which they live.

This is not to say that I agree with YCT. I don’t. I am not qualified to make judgments about Hora’as Shah. I am just thinking out loud. For example one might argue that giving them legitimacy in any setting, no less a Yeshiva, is forbidden in principal – having nothing to do with whether doing so is some sort of existential danger to Orthodoxy. I can just as easily see this argument as I can YCT’s argument.

Perhaps the fact that there is another aspect to this now that did not exist before is why Agudah has not thrown YCT out of Orthodoxy – as publications like the Yated have advocated. They must realize that they are Orthodox in that they follow Halacha… and that their intentions with respect to heterodoxy are good – even if badly mistaken for the reasons stated. And for that, I applaud them.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Torah & Norman Solomon

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/torah-norman-solomon/2013/10/02/

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