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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘rabbis’

Jewish Survival in the Face of Existential Threats: a Focus on Women

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Women have exercised their inherent gift of intuition and bravery to influence the course of Jewish history from the earliest time recorded.

The dramatic confrontation between Sarah and Avraham over the choice of successor, in effect a struggle over the survival of Judaism, was reenacted a generation later between Rivka and Yitzchak. In the face of his own preference, Rivka, just like Sarah, was intrinsically directed to choose the optimal heir to Yitzchak.

Egyptian Exile and Exodus are pivotal landmarks in the history of our people’s struggle for survival. References to Galut Mitzrayim (Exile in Egypt) and Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) are central to the entire corpus of Jewish socio-ethical teaching. Against such background, the rabbinic dictum that “It is to the credit of the righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11) is quite remarkable. Our rabbis recognized the roles women played in making redemption possible.

The Hebrew midwives, who at the risk of their lives defied the edict of Pharaoh “and let the children live” (Sh’mot 1:17), were rewarded for their great courage, and “G-d granted a bounty for the midwives, and the nation multiplied and grew very mighty” (Sh’mot 1:20). The other women also did their share to ensure survival by keeping their appearance attractive and boosting their husbands’ morale.

Within this context the Midrash focuses on the role of Miriam whose admonishment prompted her own father to resume his marital duty. And so, the birth and survival of Moshe, the Divine instrument of Israel’s redemption, was the consequence of intuitive acts by a number of women which included, besides Miriam and Yocheved, even Pharaoh’s daughter who, by adopting Moshe and providing a Hebrew nurse for him, completed the first phase of Israel’s redemption.

Regarding the next phase of redemption, Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, our rabbis claim that the women were given the Torah first because it is they who teach their children “the ways of the Torah.” The teachers of “the way” to the next generation hold the secret of a people’s survival. They are the bridge to the Jewish future.

The Biblical precedent established a pattern for women of later generations to have a historically defined role as the vanguard in the struggle of Jewish survival. At every crucial juncture women have stepped into the historical vacuum to provide roles as unseen movers based on their prophetic intuition and their ability “to tune into” the existential self of the Jewish people.

From Rebbetzin Recha Freier who spearheaded a movement which evolved into the Youth Aliyah, a major instrument of rescue for Jewish children during the Holocaust, to Rivka Gruber, teacher, librarian, and social worker, who, after her two sons fell in Israel’s War of Independence, became the founder of a string of settlements in the Sharon Valley, women have been silent movers, creating educational, social, health and welfare infrastructures for the Jewish community.

And how about the women in our present situation of surrounding existential threat, the war of terror in Israel?

That chapter is being written even as we speak. Do you remember the name Chava Shatsky? How could you? She is one among innumerable heroines whose children were murdered by Arab terrorists, one name among hundreds. Her 15 year-old daughter Keren was killed by an Arab terrorist in the Karne Shomron mall on Motzei Shabbat, February 16, 2002.

I happen to remember because of a personal connection. Reading in The Jewish Press that Karen and the other casualties were pupils in Kedumim’s Ulpana Lehava, where someone from my family taught English, I immediately contacted her to offer my emotional support. When I started to speak and my words drowned in tears, it was she who comforted me. Yes, Keren was her pupil, she said, and Keren’s mother, Chava Shatsky, was the chairman of the department at Lehava.

“You must speak to Chava,” she advised me. “Chava will give you chizuk, strength… she gave chizuk to all of us. In our grief over Keren, the faith of Keren’s mother gave us all strength,” the young teacher said. When I expressed profound amazement, she continued: “Yes, it is amazing. Yet there are many other women who react similarly. And these women are the guarantee that we will make it,” she said with pride.

The young teacher’s words helped me. They helped me cope with the grief and face the future. Indeed, these heroic mothers, like Jewish women throughout our history of confrontation with existential threats are the guarantee that we will make it.

Want a Tzohar Rabbi for the Wedding? Avoid Petach Tikvah

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The Religious Council of Petach Tikvah, located next to Tel Aviv, is generally known to give problems for couple wanting to get married by modern orthodox rabbis registered with the Tzohar organization, a rabbi told The Jewish Press Thursday.

Responding to the reported plight of a young man whose request for a certificate that he is single was rejected by the Petach Tikvah Religious Council, the rabbi, who has performed dozens of weddings, explained that the council is known for giving modern orthodox men a hard time.  He added that the rejection had nothing to do with the election loss  two weeks ago of Tzohar Rabbi David Stav to Haredi Rabbi David Lau

The Petach Council reportedly rejected the prospective groom’s request for a certificate because he opened a file with Tzohar. The Council tried to explain that the young man did not bring with him the required documents and that his wanting to be married by a Tzohar rabbi was irrelevant.

The rabbi who spoke with The Jewish Press suggested that the prospective groom travel to the nearby city of Shoham, where there is no problem with the Rabbinate.

Many Haredi rabbis on religious councils resent the growing popularity of Tzohar

 

 

Chief Rabbis & Politics

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I have never been a fan of chief rabbis. Anyone appointed by committees, politicians, or bureaucrats is suspect in my eyes. Perhaps my antipathy is rooted in the days when both Napoleon and the czar appointed state chief rabbis whom they approved of because they were likely to support their agendas. I can say with confidence that, in general, the greatest rabbis, whether intellectually or spiritually, have never been interested in public appointments.

I don’t mean to say that all chief rabbis have been duds. Israel’s Chief Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Isaac Herzog, and Uziel were great men by any criteria. Chief Rabbi Goren was a dynamic overachiever and a fearless innovator. Some, like Ovadiah Yosef, have been great scholars but poor spokesmen. But there have been too many others who were undiplomatic, corrupt, or ineffective. The reason can simply be put down to politics. When appointments are made by groups of political appointees (or self-appointed grandees) they invariably make the wrong decisions. Neither is public acclaim a reliable test of the best person for the job. Those who seek or need public recognition are rarely willing or able to take the tough and controversial stands that are the mark of genuine leadership.

Israel recently appointed two chief rabbis, both the sons of previous chief rabbis. I do not know either of them. But remarks I have seen attributed to them leave me deeply depressed that they will reflect a xenophobic, narrow perspective and shrink from trying to humanize the rabbinate. The political maneuvering, the arm twisting, the deals behind closed doors all point to a corrupt system. And once gain the innovative, the exciting have lost out. If a good man ever emerges it is despite the system not because of it. Nepotism is a poor way of producing great leaders. Yet throughout Jewish religious institutions nepotism is the norm rather than the exception. Yeshivot nowadays are often big family businesses (as indeed are most Chasidic dynasties).

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi. This in itself is evidence of how flawed the system is, that in a small religion such as ours religious leadership cannot work together. In addition, in Israel, there is a huge disconnect between the religious leadership and the common person, between the state rabbinate and the Charedi world, which has its own authorities. Indeed the Charedi world always rubbished and abused the state rabbinate until, in the desperate search for jobs for the boys and power, it began to infiltrate and then take much of it over. Once again it has ensured that its candidates have got the jobs.

One of the first words in Ivrit I learnt was “protektsia” (yes, I know it comes from Russian). “Vitamin P” meant you could not get anywhere in Israeli life, from top to bottom, religious or secular, without knowing someone or having someone pull strings in your behalf. So it was and so it largely remains. When this disease infects religion, it loses its moral authority.

But surely, you will say, Judaism requires one to respect one’s religious leaders. In theory this is so. The Torah commands respect for princes and scholars. Our liturgy is full of references to their importance. But there are two very distinct types of leadership in our tradition. The prophet and the judge emerged through merit. That’s probably why there were women judges and prophets. Rabbis as a rule were the result of meritocracy (the rabbinic dynasties that began with Hillel wanted to have their cake and eat it). On the other hand, the priesthood and the monarchy were both hereditary, and both failed. Most of the Jewish kings were idolatrous, evil men, and most priests showed more interest in money and power than Divine service.

Moshe typified the meritocracy. This was why he always defended himself by referring to his spotless record. It is true we say that in each generation we must accept the leader, Jephtah in his generation as the equivalent of Samuel in his. But I believe that has another meaning, of the need to accept the best we can get.

“Pray for the welfare of the ruling powers because otherwise humans would swallow each other up,” says the Mishna. That very Hobbesian idea underpins our modern secular states. But as Locke argued, if the king failed to do his job, you could and should get rid of him. This is why we pray for the State wherever we live, even as we may try our best to vote out whoever the current prime minister is. We in the West have recently experienced the irrational hysteria over a royal baby. I have no interest in ordinary people being elevated to positions of power or even symbolic authority simply on the basis of birth. There are enough inequalities in life of rank and wealth. I like the fact that we can vote people out of office as much as in. If I choose to respect someone, it is on the basis of the respect he or she earns, not the position they have been given. The diploma should be greater than the diaper.

I look forward to Elijah’s arrival. I hope he will not try to reinstate the monarchy. But I am pretty sure he will not insist on two kings, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi.

One of the reasons for so much disillusion with religion is precisely this disconnect between how its leaders too often behave and speak and their own purported religious values. The more we see how susceptible religious leadership is to money, power, and fame, the less good the religion they represent looks. I don’t care too much what politicians like Spitzer or Weiner get up to, and if people want to vote for them that’s their problem. But when religious leadership behaves like political leadership, something is very wrong.

R. Lau to Submit Conversion Rulings to Haredi Review in Backroom Deal

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Three weeks after the stunning knockout a coalition of Haredi and Hardali (National religious Haredim) politicians delivered to Jewish Home and its hapless leader, Minister of Religious Services Naftalli Bennett, Ma’ariv reveals the price that had to be paid before the approval of Rabbi David Lau by the extremist Haredi camp: control over non-Haredi conversions.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve heard nothing but praise for the new Ashkenazi chief rabbi, who, as rabbi of Modi’in, a typical mixed religious and secular Israeli town, has shown the kind of moderation and acceptance one expects of a rabbinical shepherd. Some, like National Religious pundit Menachem Rahat, have gone so far as to suggest that under normal circumstances—meaning before the overwhelming sweep of Jewish Home and the ousting of the Haredim from government—someone as sweet and accepting as Rabbi David Lau would not have stood a chance to be selected, and that he was picked only as a desperate response to the popular Rabbi David Stav, a National Religious scholar and leader who was going to revamp the chief rabbinate.

And it worked. Like Menachem Rahat, the prevailing tone of the National Religious commentators following Lau’s election (and Stav’s defeat) has been that at least Rabbi Lau is a nice guy, a moderate, a uniter, not a divider.

All those well wishers may have to reexamine their praises now. According to Ma’ariv, in closed conversations Rabbi David Lau conducted with some Haredi decision makers before the vote, he gave them his commitment that all of his ruling regarding conversions would be submitted to a review by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the man who gained his reputation as the killer of Rabbi Chaim Druckman’s thousands of kosher giurim-conversions.

Back in May of 2008, the Supreme Rabbinical Court judges Rabbis Hagai Izirer, Avraham Sherman and Avrohom Sheinfeld annulled thousands of conversions done by two National Religious rabbis, determining that:

“First, all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman must be disqualified; second, conversions can be retroactively annulled for those who are not observant.”

Attorney Susan Weiss, founding director of the Center for Women’s Justice (JOFA), told Ynet in 2008 that the verdict had far-reaching implications on thousands of people who underwent conversion in the last few years—and on their children.

Much has been written and said about the case, which had territorial war written all over it. It was the first case of such massive, retroactive annulments of giurim-conversions, and the fact that the injured rabbis were renowned National Religious figures, while the court that destroyed their decades of work—as part of the chief rabbinate!—was comprised only of Haredim, was a sign that the Haredim were determined to annul not just the conversions, but also the foothold of the religious Zionists in the Chief Rabbinate.

In the spring of 2012, Israel’s Supreme Court re-affirmed the validity of the thousands of conversions disqualified retroactively by the Rabbinical Court in 2008, but stopped short of saying the rabbinical courts did not have the authority to annul conversions.

Still, the justices did not spare the rabbinical court their criticism. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote in the verdict:

“The Rabbinical Court of Appeals rode roughshod over basic procedural rules and the principles of natural justice. It demonstrated contempt for the special conversion courts, and above all, it hurt and did a shocking injustice to the petitioners and their children.”

Maariv spoke to Rabbi Sherman who confirmed the story about the condition for Rabbi Lau’s election. According to rabbi Sherman, Rabbi Lau met with Rabbi Yosef Efrati, a confidant of the late Rabbi Elyashiv, leader of the Lithuanian Haredim.

“Rabbi Lau told Rabbi Efrati that on all matters regarding conversions he would come to talk to me and consult in me before reaching a decision, because I have been involved in these issues as a confidant of Rabbi Elyashiv, and I am familiar with his rulings on these matters.”

And so the circle is complete: the most fundamental driving force behind the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, the celebrated chairman of the Tzohar organization, dedicated to making life under halacha more palatable for secular Israelis, was the brutal treatment of thousands of converts by Rabbi Sherman and his co-justices. Now it is clear that not only did the Haredi politicians manage to subvert the attempts to ease their hold on religious life in the country, but that Religious Zionism has lost the most crucial battle of that campaign. The forces that gave us the disqualification of thousands of Jewish lives are back at the helm, stronger and smarter.

Rabbinical Group Aims to Standardize Circumcision in Europe

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

A European rabbinical group has created a union to include every mohel – ritual circumciser – in an effort to standardize ritual circumcision and combat attempts to ban it.

Based on the model of Britain’s Initiation Society, the Union of Mohalim in Europe seeks to “unite approved mohalim across Europe under a single banner, ensuring that all communities can be assured of the high level of training and regulation,” according to a statement released Wednesday by the Conference of European Rabbis.

In April, a dispute occurred between the Conference of European Rabbis and a Chabad rabbi from a rival group, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. The Chabad rabbi, Menachem Margolin, published an op-ed criticizing the Conference of European Rabbis for its disapproval of metitzah b’peh — a controversial ritual involving oral suction of the circumcision wound…”

In December 2012, German lawmakers passed a law that guarantees parents the right to circumcise boys for religious reasons. The vote followed a court ruling in Cologne that defined ritual circumcision as causing “bodily harm,” and the German parliament later passed a law preserving ritual circumcision. However, the Cologne court ruling led to partial bans on circumcision in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and intensified the heated debate over the issue in Scandinavian countries and beyond.

Rabbinical Council of America Issues Guidelines on Sexual Abuse

Monday, July 15th, 2013

The Rabbinical Council of America, the main professional association for Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, — has put out a statement calling “upon all synagogues and schools to adopt policies geared towards preventing sexual abuse.”

Among the recommendations are training staff to prevent sexual abuse; using sex registries to warn communities when a convicted sex offender moves to town; running background checks on all employees; not allowing an adult and child to be alone together; and clarifying what kind of physical contact is unacceptable.

The RCA’s resolution on the guidelines acknowledged that “the Orthodox community has experienced cases of sexual abuse committed by rabbis, counselors, leaders, and other Jewish professionals [and that] such abuse causes immeasurable harm to the victims and can destroy lives.”

The organization of rabbis urged that current staff members as well as new employees undergo periodic retraining on preventing sexual abuse.

Concerning a sex registry it noted, “The entire community need not know about this person’s history, but the rabbi or principal and some professionals will be aware and will monitor the person’s compliance with specially instituted safeguards.”

When there is a need for a private conversation, the RCA suggested that it take place in a situation where others can easily see what is happening.

It added that physical contact between an adult and a child could state that “high fives” or  a pat on the shoulder are acceptable but that “wrestling, kissing, or sitting on laps are not.“

The Rabbinical Council warned that safety for children should be promoted but that there should not be an atmosphere in which “any adult who smiles at a child is immediately accused of sexual abuse.”

Freedom of Religion on Temple Mount – Except for Jews (Video)

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Police at the Temple Mount last week escorted a group of Jews to enter a gate to ascend to the holy site but then closed it to them when an Arab mob of only 50 Muslims gathered and threatened them with hate slogans.

The police promised the Jews they could enter in another hour, but when the time came, the police escorted them away from the site and allowed only Muslims to enter.

The success by the Arabs to force the police to keep Jews off the Temple Mount is another Arab victory in what has become an increasingly evident battle by Muslims to keep Jews from having any claim to the holy site and by Jews to prove the opposite.

The police usually take the easiest way out when it comes to sensitive political wars in the name of religion, or perhaps this one is a religious war in the name of politics.

Security forces for years have honored Haredi demands and kept the Women of the Wall movement from praying with prayer shawls and tefillin at the Western Wall – until Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky stepped into the fray and supported the women’s efforts.

The police suddenly changed sides and instead of arresting the women, they protected them and arrested Haredim who tried to interfere with the women’s prayer.

When it comes to Arabs and Jews on the Temple Mount, it is clear which side the police take.

If possession is nine-tenths of the law, the Muslims have won hands down.

Complicating the Jewish struggle to overcome Palestinian Authority claims that the Jewish Holy Temples never even existed is the prohibition of the Chief Rabbinate against Jews ascending the Temple Mount, because of issues of Jewish law concerning ritual purity.

An increasing number of Zionist rabbis permit entering certain areas of the Temple Mount, and the Temple Mount Institute actively promotes Jewish visits.

The government always has preferred to “keep the peace,” but the more the Arab world insists that the Temple Mount has not Jewish history, the more many Jews say that if they do not stake out a claim by their presence, the de facto absence of Jews will turn the Temple Mount into a  permanent “Muslim only” site.

Now what would happen if, instead of religious Jews trying to ascend the mount, the Women of the Wall would concentrate their activities there instead of testing the Haredim at the Western Wall?

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Update: Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger under House Arrest

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Police have released Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on condition of “house arrest” for five says, during which time he is forbidden from leaving the country or making contact with anyone under investigation on charges of bribery and money laundering.

Police questioned Rabbi Metzger for 10 hours before releasing him close to midnight Thursday night.

He vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Police have taken into custody Rabbi Metzger’s aide, Chaim Eizenstein, for eight days. Also being held for six and seven days respectively are officials of two non-profit organizations,  Beit HaTavshil director Simcha Karkovsky  and Ben Zion Tzioni, head of the Tzedaka V’Mishpat.

Israeli fraud squad officers raided Rabbi Metzger’s home and office Thursday morning following an undercover probe the past several months.  Police received authorization from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador to carry out the raid and arrests.

Police confiscated computers and documents and opened bank accounts.

The Chief Rabbi allegedly pocketed hundreds of  thousands of shekels, and possibly more, that were intended for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Also questioned and eventually arrested were one of the rabbi’s aides and two NGO officials.

Other arrests are expected.

The probe is the latest in a lengthening list of investigations of Israeli public figures, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was acquitted on two major charges and found guilty on one count, and suspended Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The suspicions against Rabbi Metzger are grave, and if indictments are filed, the case would be a bombshell for an Israeli public that is increasingly distrustful of the police, politicians and judges.

Nevertheless, the  timing of the indictment against Lieberman and the questioning of Lieberman is interesting. Accusations and investigations against Lieberman dragged on for more than 10 years before an indictment was filed late last year, coincidentally around the time new elections were scheduled.

Rabbi Metzger, from the Haredi community, is being questioned days before the election of new chief rabbis. The two leading candidates for the Ashkenazi post are Haredi Rabbi David Lau and national religious Rabbi David Stav.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/fraud-squad-questions-chief-rabbi-yona-metzger/2013/06/21/

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