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May 29, 2016 / 21 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘RCA’

Intense Debate Follows Orthodox Rabbi’s Presence At D.C. Service

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

A prominent Manhattan rabbi is defending his decision to participate in last week’s National Prayer Service.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City was one of three Jewish clergymen to participate in the service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

As the service was taking place, in response to a call from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Basil Herring, said Lookstein was breaking the organization’s rules by participating in the service.

Herring said Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.

“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate,” Herring said. “If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic. There is no political perspective here that says you should not do it because it is politically sensitive. Of course it is a purely religious question.”

In an interview with JTA just hours after the service concluded and in a mass e-mail to his colleagues later in the week, Lookstein defended his decision.

“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to [Jewish law], I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said.

“But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”

The controversy has triggered a robust debate among Modern Orthodox rabbis, both regarding the substantive question at hand – whether Lookstein’s decision to participate was permitted under Jewish law – and the process question of whether the RCA overstepped its bounds or mishandled the situation by criticizing Lookstein publicly.

The founders of an alternative Orthodox rabbinic group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have come to Lookstein’s defense.

In a statement, Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel defended Lookstein’s right to decide for himself whether to participate and took aim at what they framed as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Orthodox rabbinic bodies, including the RCA.

The RCA’s Herring, in addition to commenting on the situation, sent JTA a statement drafted by the organization.

“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” the RCA statement said. “Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”

Even some RCA members who agreed with the RCA’s view that Lookstein had made a mistake believed the organization should have remained silent or limited its comments to the public statement.

This week, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, denied his organization had ever taken a public stance on the matter.

“We did not issue any press release,” Hochberg said. “We gave you our policy statement about a longstanding RCA policy. There is no comment about Rabbi Lookstein. He acted independently and not on our behalf. It wasn’t going to be sent to anyone. If no one called, it would not have gone out. It was not going to be sent out to anyone.”

Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.

The other four religious representatives to read part of the prayer were Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship in New York City; the Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; and Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.

Earlier in the program Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington, recited Psalm 121.

According to another source, the Obama team was looking specifically for the participation of an Orthodox rabbi.

One person in attendance said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time candidate for vice president and an Orthodox Jew, told Obama that it was incredibly important and a very positive thing that the Orthodox community was represented.

The RCA’s Herring was adamant that the group was not taking a political stance, noting that the organization sent a letter to President Obama congratulating him and expressing confidence that “with the help of God, you will build on the respect and good will that you have earned to lead a united country in a successful confrontation with the daunting challenges that we face both within and without.”

Lookstein said he had two conversations with Herring about his participation. In the first, Herring tried to dissuade Lookstein from participating. In the second, he did not.

“Had I pulled out it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community, which was at least the way I felt,” Lookstein said.

He also said he heavily weighed the halachic implications of his move, and though he would not ordinarily participate in an interfaith prayer service, especially one in a church, in this case he felt “there were other concerns.”

“If I reached a decision to do it, since I am very careful about shmirat mitzvot, you should conclude that I felt halachically this was the right thing to do,” Lookstein said.

Lookstein met Obama after the reading and recited to the new president the blessing Jews say when they come into the presence of a king – only after Obama gave him permission.

“I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, ‘If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again,’ ” Lookstein said. “He responded with a clear assent.”

In Lookstein’s e-mail to his colleagues, he concluded, “Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.”


Jacob Berkman

The Truth About RCA Geirus

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

         There is a sign hanging in my office that should be standard in the office of every rabbi, communal leader, worker for Klal Yisrael or activist of any sort. It reads: “For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.” And so goes the overheated, misleading, and at times blatantly false reaction by several of my distinguished RCA colleagues to the RCA’s recent promulgation of the Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS).
         Let us sort through the myths and the facts.
         Myth: The Jewish Week headlined its report “RCA Seen as Caving in on Conversions”  (to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel). That headline is a contemptible untruth. Having served from its inception on the GPS Committee that formulated the standards, I can state that the reality is the Rabbanut never once suggested an approach to conversion in America, a change in any of our standards, or the adoption of any of their standards.
         Myth: The GPS calls for the re-evaluation of all conversions done in the past by RCA rabbis. This is an especially despicable falsehood, as it serves only to make generations of converts in the Jewish community anxious about their status and acceptance in the community at large. The reality is that not one past geirus is being reviewed by the RCA or its Beth Din of America, and such was never contemplated. To even suggest otherwise is to blatantly violate the Torah’s numerous admonitions against tormenting the ger.
         Myth: The RCA is shifting “to the right” (whatever that means) and has now adopted a series of harsh and restrictive regulations that will hinder the ability of non-Jews to convert. The reality is that these standards are not new, but an expression of the majority opinion in halacha as interpreted through the ages and historically applied by the overwhelming majority of RCA rabbis involved in geirus.
         The proximate cause of the promulgation of the GPS was the sense – here and in Israel – that some rabbis, both inside and outside the RCA, were not adhering to any reasonable benchmark by which geirus has traditionally been executed. This situation had to be rectified in order to protect the integrity of geirus in America and to facilitate a convert’s acceptance in Israel should he or she choose to make aliyah.
         Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will sit in judgment of each American geirus – past, present and future. Well, there is a kernel of truth in every bushel of lies. But this point is nothing new. Certainly the Rabbanut has no standing (or interest) to review the geirus that occurs outside Israel until and unless there is some Israel nexus, such as when the convert makes aliyah. But this has always been the case.
         As a pulpit rabbi, I have provided dozens of affidavits to the Rabbanut attesting to the Jewishness of my members who were born Jews or who converted according to halacha andwho wished to make aliyah or marry in Israel. And this is justly the province and domain of the Chief Rabbinate, and its legal authority under Israeli law. In this instance, the GPS makes the process easier, as participating regional batei din in the network of the RCA, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America, are pre-certified to have their conversions accepted by the Rabbanut.
         A convert who (sadly) never contemplates aliyah or does not marry in the State of Israel will never have any contact with the Rabbanut on these matters.
         Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will not recognize any conversion performed outside the GPS framework. This is also completely false. Any rabbi – RCA or otherwise – can continue to perform conversions on his own and apply to the Rabbanut for acceptance. The considerations the Rabbanut will use are its alone, and completely within its purview. I suspect that some conversions will be accepted, and others rejected – as it has always been.
         Beyond the myths, there is a bigger picture that needs to be considered. One of the most joyous moments in the rabbinate, for me, has been presiding over the conversion process. In a single instant, a non-Jew accepts upon himself not only the laws and customs that regulate Jewish life but also the history and destiny of our covenantal people. A conversion properly conducted and performed is fraught with solemnity, consequence and elation. The process should require intense study, a steadily increasing commitment to halachic practice, and climaxing in a complete acceptance of the mitzvos while standing in the mikveh.
         Nevertheless, it has long been an open secret in the United States (filtered over time to rabbinic authorities in Israel) that there were some American rabbis – again, both members and non-members of the RCA – who officiated at conversions that lacked these prerequisites. Apparently there were rabbis who took substantial sums of money for conversions, turning this sublime process into a lucrative business. There were rabbis who were forced to convert non-Jews under duress, as in the (hypothetical) shul president stating: “Convert my future daughter-in-law or find another job.”
         There were rabbis who were lax in applying the appropriate halachic standards and not insisting, expecting or even contemplating that there would be kabbalas hamitzvos in any realistic way – conversions without a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, taharas hamishpacha and other staples of Jewish life.
         They asked questions with a wink and received the appropriate answers by the candidates, as if they were reading from a script. (And in almost every such case the conversions were performed for the purpose of marriage. Why else would a rabbi even think of converting a non-Jew who does not wish to observe Jewish law, except for some pressing ulterior concern that itself undermines the very fabric of geirus?)
         There were rabbis who were negligent even in the technical performance of the act of geirus, including a failure to observe the immersion in the mikveh. There were rabbis who converted non-Jewish women knowing they would marry kohanim in violation of Torah law. There were some who availed themselves of every leniency and loophole, ensuring that pro forma conversions would take place that would satisfy the needs of the member in question but not necessarily the letter or spirit of the law.
         (Lest the reader think there was pervasive chaos, the “rabbis” referred to in the examples above were usually the very same small number of people.)
         The GPS Committee performed a vital public service in formulating and disseminating these standards. The formation of regional batei din across the United States – and the ban on the sponsoring or teaching rabbi from serving as a dayan for someone he himself taught or guided – ensure that the individual rabbi is shielded from undue pressure to perform a conversion that is unsatisfactory and lacking in halachic substance.
         These dozen batei din, and the more than forty rabbanim who serve on them, have the full backing of the Chief Rabbinate, ensuring that converts who are potential olim receive a royal welcome home. And, I suspect, the existence of these batei din will sharply reduce the number of non-Jews who convert solely for marriage or some other inducement. Further, the GPS deals sensitively with gerim who are contemplating marriage but wish to convert sincerely, with intermarried couples that want to re-enter the community of committed Jews, and with infertile couples who wish to adopt a non-Jewish child and confer merit upon him under the wings of the Divine Presence.
         With all due respect, I must strongly object to my colleagues’ demagoguery, which serves only to alarm true and sincere converts as well as promote these esteemed rabbis’ own private, political agenda. The GPS Committee – comprised of a geographic and hashkaficcross-section of the RCA – labored over 18 months to produce an appropriate formula that universalizes standards for geirus but that nonetheless allows for the flexibility needed in evaluating something as subjective as another person’s commitment and sincerity. It has, perhaps, the support of 97% of the RCA membership. It is fair, honorable, sensitive, just and moral.
         Its opponents, rather than talk in flowery generalities, must answer the following:
         Do you require from prospective converts a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, and other fundamental areas of Jewish law? If not, please state so openly.
         Do you perform conversions in which there is willful blindness to reality in order to accommodate those whose commitment is lacking, and have you ever officiated at a conversion in which you were doubtful of the candidate’s sincere commitment to Torah and mitzvos? If so, please state so openly.
         Do you feel you are performing a public service in adding to the ranks of the Jewish people those who do not share our value system, our lifestyle or our destiny – thereby transforming good and decent non-Jews into sinning Jews? If so, please state precisely the nature of that public service, explain the reasoning behind that disservice to non-Jews as well as the justification that underlies the unbridled attack on the sincere efforts of your colleagues.

         Certainly, for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism – if only the criticism would be reasonable, measured, truthful and justified.

         With the GPS system in place, a stumbling block has been removed from the process of conversion and the process itself simplified; the honor of righteous converts has been redeemed; the privilege of joining the Jewish people given its proper credence; and, most important, the Torah has been magnified and glorified.

         Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, treasurer of the Rabbinical Council of America, a member of the Geirus Policies and Standards Committee, and the rosh beit din of the Beit Din L’Giyur in Bergen County where, he reports, GPS guidelines are already in place and functioning superbly.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Unbalanced Media


   Thank you to Nathan Lewin for the work he is doing to support and defend AgriProcessors (“Hatchet Job on Kosher Meat Company,” front-page essay, June 9). It is unfortunate that Jewish media are all too willing to jump on the bandwagon of kosher-bashing. The sentiments of the Forward have been echoed in other Jewish media outlets, such as the Jewish Journal here in Los Angeles.
   It’s reasonable enough to be skeptical of claims made by those with a vested interest, but why are Jewish journalists giving a greater benefit of the doubt to PETA than to the companies that provide kosher meat and the rabbis who supervise them? The negative repercussions of such criticism in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world are self-evident.
   As Mr. Lewin deftly summarized, these “journalists” are guided not by Jewish law and ethics but by of the standards of Whole Foods and PETA. The laws of kashrut are not some feel-good tenets that we can mold and shape to suit our moral sensitivities, or politicize in the name of this or that cause. PETA insists that “meat is murder” and has compared factory-farming chickens to the mass murder of Jews in the Shoah. Any shechita is going to be deemed “unkosher” in PETA’s eyes.

   The Forward’s reporting on AgriProcessors represents neither the first nor the last criticism of a Jew by a fellow Jew. It is, however, yet another example of a troubling trend in Jewish media – a trend of increasingly wanton disregard for Torah values and ethics.

   If Jewish media outlets cannot resist the burning desire to attack, I would hope they would at least invest more energy in presenting a balanced view.

   Matthew Lefferman

   Los Angeles, CA


Rashomon, Anyone?


   I am an avid reader of Jewish newspapers and have a particular interest in how various publications report on the same event. One of my more amusing experiences occurred just last week as I tried to follow the latest developments in the ongoing controversy over the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s tightening of standards on conversions.
      In the Jerusalem Post I read that the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chief Rabbinate had entered into an agreement to settle a controversy over the validity of RCA conversion practices. According to the Post’s account of the agreement, an account you carried in The Jewish Press, the RCA accepted monitoring by the Chief Rabbinate of who among the RCA’s member rabbis would be acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate when it comes to performing conversions. The Post actually said the RCA “caved” on this key issue.
      In Haaretz and The Jewish Press I read a statement from an official of the Chief Rabbinate who said that the chief rabbis would be looking into past RCA-approved conversions in order to ascertain their validity.
      Yet The New York Jewish Week carried a story, headlined “U.S. Rabbis Stand Up to Chief Rabbinate,” which presented to its readers, in everything from the article’s title, subtitle, and a slew of comments from RCA officials, the picture of a “commitment from the [Chief] Rabbinate to automatically recognize all past, current and future conversions approved by the RCA and the Beit Din of America (BDA).”
      Does the RCA have editorial input into what appears in The Jewish Week? Or is everybody else wrong and The Jewish Week right?

   Baruch Aurbach

   Ramat Gan, Israel


Rosenthal Nay


      I was intrigued by Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal’s response to his critics (Letters, June 16) in which he said he was gratified by the reaction to his op-ed column (“Shortchanging Our Children By Teaching Midrashim Literally,” June 2) “since my intention has been to stimulate thought and discussion.”
      I was left wondering exactly whom it is he wishes to dialogue with. Surely the great Torah scholars of our day who should make these decisions have already thought this issue through. The fact that they obviously don’t agree with Rabbi Rosenthal is reason enough for me to ignore his brand of chinuch.

   Zalman Bloom

   New York, NY


Rosenthal Aye


   The negative comments you published last week in response to Rabbi Rosenthal’s op-ed failed to address the cogent points the rabbi made in his plea that schools stop teaching midrashim literally. One can argue about the meaning of a particular word in one specific instance or another, but it’s clear from the vast body of rabbinic literature, including the work of Rambam and other Sephardic sages often overlooked by European-oriented rabbis, that midrashim as a whole were never meant to be automatically accepted as literal truth but rather as morality tales, homilies, etc.

   Rabbi Mordechai Halper





Umbrage At One Woman’s Parade Boycott


Poor Attitude


      It’s too bad Sara Lehmann (“Why I Boycotted the Israel Day Parade,” op-ed, June 9) didn’t come to her senses in time for her to attend the Israel Day Parade.
      Ms. Lehmann is not alone in her feelings. Many of us are upset and feeling rather desperate about the situation today in Israel with a government that seems bent on committing national suicide. However, most of us (hopefully) realize that the existence of the State of Israel is a miracle and a gift given to us by Hashem and that it is incumbent on us to show pride in its existence. Numbers count, and the world takes note of who cares about Israel. In fact, if we Orthodox Jews would come out in far greater numbers, we might even have more of a say in Israeli politics, at least to whatever extent that’s possible from here.
      I couldn’t help but contrast Ms. Lehmann’s attitude with the showing at the Puerto Rican Day Parade a week after the Israel Day Parade. Spectators and marchers numbered above a million, according to all reports. If we cared enough, we could have surpassed that number at our parade.

   Amy Wall

   New York, NY


Salute The State, Not A Government


      Orthodox American Jews who abandon their Zionism because of the policies of the Israeli government are essentially handing the fate of the Holy Land to secularists without a fight. Last year, many orange-clad Jews marched proudly in the Salute to Israel Parade, showing the world where they stood with regard to Israel. Sadly, this year some of them chose to stay home.
      It must be easy telling Ehud Olmert how to conduct public policy from the comfort of Brooklyn. After all, Olmert could never expel Jews from the settlements of Flatbush, Midwood, and Crown Heights!
      When Rabbi Kahane was thrown out of the Knesset, did he abandon Zionism? When the residents of Gush Katif were expelled from their homes, did they abandon Israel? It took Menachem Begin nearly 30 years of being a minority politician before he finally was elected prime minister, but he never abandoned the Hatikva or the Israeli flag.
      Rather than abandon Zionism, the Orthodox community needs to endure this test of faith and continue to work in partnership with Hashem and our fellow Jews in rebuilding our historic homeland.

   Sergey Kadinsky

   Forest Hills, NY


Only Way To Make A Difference


      I made aliyah 25 years ago and I strongly disagree with Ms. Lehmann’s sentiments. Yes, thousands of Jews were forced to leave Gaza last year. But if there had been a million Jews there – even a quarter of a million – there would have been no disengagement. Simply put, if we don’t use it, we lose it. There is no way that Israel could have kept investing the military and financial resources needed to secure the safety of a few thousand Jews living in a sea of more than one million Arabs.
      Instead of sitting in Brooklyn and criticizing Israel and ranting to your children, Ms. Lehmann, pack your bags as thousands of us have done and move to Israel. The quality of life and kedusha here are far superior to what you have in Brooklyn. And you do make a difference. Every Jew who comes to live here makes a difference.

   Leslie Brand

   (Via E-Mail)





Education Article ‘A Wake-Up Call’

      Yasher koach, kol hakavod, bravo, hooray and heidad! Finally, someone has honestly and passionately put into writing some major issues affecting Jewish education today (L. Weisinger, “Education With Strings,” op-ed, May 26).

      Accountability and oversight are crucial concerns. Although most yeshivas are governed by a board, I am constantly amazed by what is allowed to take place in terms of finances, governance, and general management. Many board members run successful businesses, but somehow all their acumen departs once they enter the yeshiva. They would never allow in their own business what they tolerate in their schools. A serious cheshbon hanefesh is needed before it is too late to make needed corrections.

      One issue crying out for attention is teacher qualifications, training and continuing education. Every article and research study (as well as common sense) indicates that properly trained and certified teachers are more effective in the classroom, and that students learn more from them. Why do we require teachers of secular studies to be licensed? Is math more important than Torah? What message do we send when untrained teachers spend so much time with our children? We no longer live in a shtetl, but we accept the shtetl mentality that the so-so melamed is OK and that teenage seminary graduates are competent teachers. How much trauma has been caused by this philosophy over the decades? Teaching is a skill that requires training and supervision.

      Not every talmid chochom knows how to teach. Not every musmach has studied the Navi he is teaching. Not every Israeli is trained to teach Hebrew as a second language. If the person who cuts our hair is licensed, if the person who sells us insurance is licensed, if our plumber is licensed, how can we blithely allow an untrained individual to spend so many precious hours daily with our most valued treasures – our children? Granted, there are talented teachers who know instinctively in their kishkes how to teach. Would we, however, allow an unlicensed attorney to represent us or an unlicensed doctor to treat us?

      Jewish education is the only field of endeavor (except ditch digging) where a person can have a career without any certification from any authority that he/she is competent to teach. “Education With Strings” is a wake-up call.

      In-service training and continuing education means more than a one-shot seminar once or twice a year. In any case, a 6-hour seminar once a year provides little that a teacher can use.

      Jewish pedagogy programs are alive and well all over the world. The insulation and isolation from these modernish concepts is no longer acceptable. Sure, we have a fine track record of producing frum and educated graduates. But how many have we lost along the way? How many have been turned off by inadequate teachers? How many left the fold because it’s more important to protect an ineffective teacher than to serve the needs of a child?

      Hamatzil nefesh achas b’Yisroel. How can we not act now to bring Jewish education into the 21st century? Ms. Weisinger’s remarks are right on target. It’s time to do something about it.

Dr. Wallace Greene


National Board of License For Teachers and

Principals in Jewish Schools in North America


Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Peace For Nothing

Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing in keeping your readers informed about what’s really going on in the Middle East.

Previous Israeli governments tried Land for Peace and got no peace. Each piece of land given to the Palestinian Arabs was used as a launching pad for further acts of terrorism against Israel.

Land for Peace is precisely the policy pursued by Neville Chamberlain as he sought peace with Hitler by surrendering Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in 1938. The policy of appeasing Hitler didn’t work. It only increased his appetite for further conquests.

Israel’s policy of appeasement didn’t work either. The terrorists have only been emboldened. Israel’s disengagement from Gaza resulted in the Hamas terrorists winning the Palestinian Authority government election. Hamas remained committed to terrorism against Israel and to Israel’s destruction, and won a landslide victory. The Palestinians interpreted Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza as a sign of Israel’s weakness, and as proof that terrorism works.

The current Israeli policy is essentially surrender, or Land for Nothing. Israel is giving up land to those who seek its destruction and getting nothing in return (except more terrorism being committed against Israelis).

The Palestinian Authority is committed to the eventual destruction of Israel. What’s with these crazy Israelis? Do they really think such idiotic policies will win them peace or make the world love them?

Richard Chamberlain
(No relation to Neville Chamberlain)
Rochester NY
Conversions And Halacha
You know, despite all of the yelling and screaming about an Israeli Chief Rabbinate that has been hijacked by haredim who are targeting Modern Orthodoxy, is not the real issue whether halacha is being followed in conversions and divorces? Are these not fundamental to the integrity of the Jewish bloodline? Instead of arguing turf and reputations, should we not be focusing on whether the chief rabbis have a point?
Sol Glazer
(Via E-Mail)
In The Haredi Camp
Your editorial last week embracing the new rules about conversions adopted by the Israeli chief rabbis went to great lengths to avoid the appearance of any targeting of the RCA. Anyone reading between the lines, however, knows right away that the Chief Rabbinate has come to represent the haredi establishment in its efforts to discredit Modern Orthodoxy. I am disappointed that The Jewish Press, a Modern Orthodox paper, is in the haredi camp on this issue.
Neil Halem
New York, NY
Still More On The RCA

I suspect many readers are getting tired of reading about the Rabbinical Council of America in your news and letters sections, but I feel compelled to add my thoughts. I have yet to see any refutation by the RCA of the merits of Chief Rabbi Amar’s conclusion that he cannot blindly accept their conversions as meeting halachic requirements. As you noted in your editorial last week, that development was based upon actual case studies. If the RCA wants to restore its credibility it must confront the evidence in those files.

On a related note, I’ve read the various resolutions on religious issues that were adopted at the RCA’s recent convention and am puzzled at the logic of convention delegates setting halachic policy.

The RCA boasts of a membership of a thousand rabbis, but nowhere is it claimed that all of their members or convention participants are talmudic or halachic scholars. Yet at the end of their conventions, resolutions reflecting the views of a majority of the conventioneers are solemnly voted on, passed, and disseminated. Why should the rest of us care a whit about those resolutions?

Similarly, why should the RCA’s regular pronunciamentos during the course of the year about halachic issues with broad implications matter to anyone? Haven’t we always relied upon gedolei haposkim for this kind of decision-making? Should any of us really care what a majority of rabbis not noted for their halachic erudition feel about certain halachic issues? This may sound like “haredi condescension,” but how am I wrong?

I am not saying that there are not some competent halachists to be found in the ranks of the RCA. What I am saying is that packaging halacha in conventional organizational garb doesn’t work. At least not for me.

Heshy Brodkin
(Via E-Mail)

Unprincipled Kissinger

Once again Jason Maoz hit it right on the mark in his Media Monitor column of June 2 (“Kissinger In His Own Words”). I remember very well how Kissinger cynically played one side against the other in the years after the Yom Kippur War, first as Nixon’s and then as Ford’s secretary of state.

The man is and always has been a manipulator – in his younger days he was an acolyte of Nelson Rockefeller and was on record as having said some very ugly things about Nixon, who at the time was one of Rockefeller’s bitterest enemies within the Republican party. Then Nixon gets elected president in 1968 and suddenly Kissinger can’t say enough wonderful things about the man.

And it was Kissinger who tried so hard to torpedo efforts by Jewish activists and congressional leaders aimed at forcing the Soviets to adopt a more lenient emigration policy for the millions of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Thank God we had principled non-Jews like the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson who stood up to the vile, unprincipled Kissinger.

Michael Ellis
Brooklyn, NY
Misses Chess Column

How sad that you gutted Jeffrey Kastner’s “Chess In The Press” column which so many readers have enjoyed for many years. To replace it with a “game” so offensively named as “Judoku” only compounds the error. I guess this is just another example of the dumbing down of America.

Bring back the chess column and give kavod to the great Jewish chess champions of the past like Lasker and Reshevsky.

Emanuel J. Chosak
New York, NY
Torah Vodaath Reunion

We’re hoping that readers can help us locate the following classmates (each would be about 63 years of age) for a 50th-year reunion of the 1956 graduating class of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath Elementary School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The reunion date is June 25, 2006.

Ackerman, David
The Cohen TRIPLETS (Allan, Martin and Norman)
Fogel, Charles
Frankel, Moshe
Goldfeder, Sheldon
Greenberg, Martin
Greenberg, Michael
Hidrie, Joseph
Hyman, Stanley
Kaplan, Benjamin
Lev, Martin (Mordechai)
Lewin, Edward
Rich, Stuart
Segal, Barry
Schiff, David
Schiff, Marvin
Vogel, Roland
Moish Weissman
Cell: 347-528-7837
Home: 718-698-5217
Heshy Nagel
Phone: 845-406-4261
Plea From A Christian Zionist

American Christian Zionists have a bond of special love for the Land that the Lord God of Israel gave to the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David by everlasting covenant.

We know that many of your ancestors have, down through the dark and bloody ages, had many crimes committed against them by those who called themselves “Christians.” Crusades and devilish inquisitions have been carried out by those flying the flag of Christianity – horrific acts that have left an indelible stain on the pages of human history.

My dear Jewish friends, I assure you that these barbarities were not born in the hearts of those who truly love the Lord and who revere the sacred tenets of Christianity. Usurpers of the name “Christian” gave vent to these bloody atrocities, not true children of God.

Yes, we differ about the Messiah, but what else is new? In this hour of great, great need, both for the dear Hebrew people worldwide as well as for America, both Christians and Jews best circle their wagons (I am a 66-year-old cowboy preacher) and stand united against our common foes. We as Christian-Zionists in Oklahoma City are doing all we can to raise our voices to Mr. Bush, Mr. Olmert, Dr. Rice, et al, to save all the land of Israel for the Jewish people.

We are, however, tremendously concerned and distraught about Sodomite parades and celebrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities, along with the promotion, by high Israeli officials, of Tel Aviv as a world capital for sodomite “culture” and tourism.

The organization Jerusalem Open House is sponsoring a week-long international Sodomite convention in Jerusalem, beginning August 6, with a parade, film festival, and other celebratory events designed to introduce this lifestyle/death style to Jewish young people. Why, on its website this group even lists programs for Orthodox Jews as well!

Now, let me be very candid, humble, and sincere in what I say. The silence we perceive on the part of rabbis and political leaders, particularly those in the Orthodox and more traditional communities, is deafening to us Christian Zionists.

We noticed a while back how rabbis banded together to ban wigs from India because of their concern that the hair originally had been part of an idolatrous practice. But is not such a massive explosion of sodomy in the Holy Land deserving of fierce and ongoing opposition on the part of religious Jews?

What we perceive in following Israeli politics is a never-ending cycle of Wheeling and Dealing in these government coalitions, with the bottom line being meeting the monetary needs of community institutions, schools, and the poor.

We understand those needs, believe you me! We suffer the same at the present time here in Oklahoma City. But what role does the sanctity of the Holy Land play? Why won’t leading rabbis meet with Olmert, Peretz, Peres, and other government officials and tell them face to face: “We demand that these aforementioned abominations be canceled, or there cannot be business as usual”?

We Christian Zionists look at Orthodox Jews as the standard-bearers of Judaism and as stewards of the Holy Land. We find it paradoxical and sad that while the Palestinians in Israel support Hamas, which pledges a return to strict Muslim sharia, the religious Jews seem to be turning the other cheek to the most blatant forms of immorality.

May the Lord God of Israel (called that 498 times in my King James Bible) bless you as you consider these words.

I am, humbly and sincerely, a yedid and chaver of the dear Hebrew people.

Rev. Jim Vineyard
Oklahoma City, OK

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Unfair Depiction

Steven Plaut’s description of France in his article “Le Bouffon Grandiose” (op-ed, May 5,) does not fit the facts.

First, actor Dieudonn?‘s provocative remarks are his alone and he has been convicted and fined by a French court, on the basis of the Lellouche Act which is among the world’s toughest legislation on hate speech and anti-Semitism.

Second, to claim that an individual’s anti-Semitism reflects French society as a whole is unjust and wrong: According to a poll published in Maariv in September 2005, 82 percent of the French like the Jews, with France ranking second among countries expressing a positive opinion (after the Netherlands).

Anti-Semitism is in total contradiction with France’s values. As President Jacques Chirac declared on Nov. 17, 2003, “When a Jew is attacked in France, it is an attack against the whole of France.” The French Government has demonstrated its absolute determination to fight this scourge, and its efforts have been widely recognized by both the Israeli authorities and the national leaders of the American Jewish community. Its zero-tolerance policy has borne fruit: anti-Semitic acts in France declined 48 percent in 2005 compared with 2004.

Finally, Mr. Plaut’s references to an “Islamic republic” in France are totally baseless. France is actively pursuing a strategy both to combat radical Islam and better integrate its Muslim community into the French society. France acted to stop the Eurosat satellite from rebroadcasting Al Manar channel programs to its territory and moved successfully to have Yahoo.fr filter Internet sites promoting hate and anti-Semitism.

Fran?ois Delattre
Consul General of France
New York, NY

McCain And Israel (I)

I read last week’s front-page story about Senator John McCain with great interest (“McCain: ‘Proudly Pro-Israel’ “). What mattered to me more than the substance of Sen. McCain’s reactions to the “misimpressions” about his Mideast policy contained in that Haaretz article was the fact that he was so anxious to correct the record.

The options for an American president when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not all that numerous and I suspect that the pre-June 1967 borders – with the possible exception of Jerusalem – will be the starting point for any president, with adjustments for Jewish population centers in the West Bank.

Both Sen. McCain and President Bush have demonstrated a healthy respect for Israeli interests. Certainly a President John Kerry or a President Al Gore would have been more likely to impose more concessions on Israel in order to bring about a settlement.

Bruce Wallach
New York, NY
McCain And Israel (II)

Those who were so quick to criticize Sen. McCain for his comments to Haaretz fail to realize that it’s always been U.S. policy that eventually, in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist and a formal peace treaty, Israel will have to cede most of the territory it won in the Six-Day War. It’s also the policy now supported by a majority of Israelis.

To take umbrage over McCain’s frank comments, whether or not Haaretz took them out of context, is unfair and terribly childish. Why should he be expected to hold views to the right of most Israelis? The last time I checked, McCain was a senator from Arizona, not a Knesset member from Kiryat Arba.

Menachem Gelb
Market For Rabbi Weiss’s Ideas

You have made some very valid points about Rabbi Avi Weiss’s departures from traditional Jewish practice and teaching. Certainly the expectation is that his yeshiva will turn out rabbis who will tend to perpetuate his thinking. What I think you are overlooking, however, is the fact that there is a huge market for what he is selling.

Rabbi Weiss’s ideas may not resonate with The Jewish Press (it is to your credit that you feature him as a columnist despite your concerns with many of his ideas) or with many others in the frum community. But there are an awful lot of Jews out there who are looking for alternatives to normative Orthodoxy and who don’t really care whether Rabbi Weiss’s innovations pass stringent halachic muster.

Evan Lazaroff
(Via E-Mail)
Shortsighted Approach

I was amused by the RCA’s immediate and very public response to a recent front-page story in The Jewish Week on the questioning of RCA conversions – including many involving the RCA’s av bet din, Rabbi Gedaliah Dov Schwartz – by Israeli rabbinic authorities.

But when The Jewish Press broke the story – several weeks before The Jewish Week ran its article – of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s problems with Rabbi Schwartz’s conversions, the RCA basically ignored it.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that far more of the RCA’s natural constituency read The Jewish Press than they do any other Jewish newspaper. So it strikes me as curiously shortsighted of the RCA to continually stonewall and otherwise slight The Jewish Press, which, as you reported, was the case whenever you attempted to get comments from RCA officials on the Tendler matter, and which we see is the case in this latest controversy.

I know my perception of the RCA certainly has changed for the worse over the past year.

Henry Wasserman
(Via E-Mail)
‘Meek Nonentities’

Your editorial last week titled “Iran’s Goal” points to the sad fact that the Jewish community has been hijacked by those so-called leaders who have political agendas of their own. I’m sure I speak for many when I question how a negative spin could possibly be put on President Bush’s declaration of solidarity with Israel in the face of Iran’s threat to nuke the Jewish state.

I wonder if party affiliation comes into play here. Most of these “leaders” are staunch liberals and loyal Democrats. You hardly heard a peep from any of them when Democrat Bill Clinton was interfering in Israeli elections and strong-arming Netanyahu and Barak at Wye River and Camp David. But when a Republican president boldly puts the word and prestige of America squarely in Israel’s corner, these usually meek nonentities suddenly find their voices and release a torrent of non-gratitude at the president. How absolutely pathetic.

David Grabelsky
San Antonio, TX
Wrong Message

I was amazed to read of the criticism in certain Jewish quarters of President Bush’s vow to stand by Israel in any confrontation with Iran. These clowns passing for “leaders” claim that Bush’s declaration gives the erroneous impression that U.S. policy is designed to meet Israeli interests. To those predisposed to hating Jews and Israel, such protestations mean nothing. But to political leaders like President Bush, the message these mediocrities are sending is that forthright support for Israel is unappreciated and perhaps counterproductive.

Paul Halper
(Via E-Mail)
Principled Editorial

I was impressed with last week’s “Misleading Appreciation” editorial, which sharply criticized a two-page advertisement that had recently appeared in The Jewish Press. (You previously had published a letter from Dr. Marvin Schick critical of the same ad). Further, last week’s issue not only contained your editorial taking issue with the ad, it happened to also contain another (full page) advertisement from the same group.

It’s refreshing to see a publication that is not afraid to disagree with its own advertisers on matters of principle.

Shmuel Molinsky
New York, NY
Behind The Numbers

Last week’s otherwise cogent editorial on the Israeli Supreme Court’s 6-5 immigration decision missed one important point. While six of the eleven judges voted not to strike down the law as being unduly violative of the rights of Israeli Arabs, one of the six judges voted that way only because the law was due to expire shortly. In his opinion, he seemed to suggest that should there be an attempt to reenact a similar measure, he would vote to strike it down.

In sum, if you look behind the numbers, there appears to be a majority on the Israeli Supreme Court that does not think an Israeli government has the right to restrict immigration in a manner that singles out Arab Israelis or is based upon population projections.

Harold Rosenzweig
(Via E-Mail)
Forgiving Nazis

Eva Moses Kor, who along with her identical twin was one of the inmates on whom the infamous Dr. Mengele did experiments, has declared that she forgives Mengele, and by extension all Nazis. (See “Letting Go of the Death Camps,” film review, New York Times, May 18, about the movie “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.”) In so doing, she speaks for herself only, she says.

I have an aunt who survived Auschwitz and Mengele’s experiments. She suffers to this day from the hell she went through. She wouldn’t agree with Eva Moses Kor.

Many years ago, I was waiting for a bus at Jaffa Gate outside the Old City of Jerusalem. A young man approached me and said, “I see you are Jewish. I am German and I came to Israel to beg forgiveness for the deeds of my father. I ask you for forgiveness.”

I told him that while I admired his action, he had the wrong address. Only the victims can forgive.

Many years have passed. I have not forgotten that young man’s search for inner peace. But the victims were too numerous, and who can speak in their name?

Dr. Elie Feuerwerker
Highland Park, NJ

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Note To Readers

When we published Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz’s open letter of resignation from the Rabbinical Council of America in our issue of Dec. 23, we were unaware that he is a cousin of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler’s wife. While it has no bearing on the particulars of the Tendler-RCA controversy, or on the questions raised by the RCA’s response to recent decisions by the Jerusalem Bet Din of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Faskowitz should have disclosed his relationship to Rabbi Tendler.

In a telephone conversation this week with The Jewish Press, Rabbi Faskowitz acknowledged that he was remiss in not having mentioned the relationship in his open letter, though he pointed out that he had mentioned it in the second paragraph of a private letter he e-mailed the RCA on June 30, 2005 – a letter that detailed his concerns with the way the organization had pursued its investigation of the charges leveled against Rabbi Tendler and with what he viewed as its disrespectful reaction to the ruling of the Jerusalem Bet Din.

Rabbi Faskowitz said his resignation from the RCA is “all about the [Jerusalem] Bet Din. If my reason for resigning had anything to do with my relation to Rabbi Tendler, I would have resigned when the RCA expelled him.”


Fascinating Reading

Re Jason Maoz’s interview with Abigail Pogrebin, author ofStars of David (“Not such ‘Stars of David,’ ” Dec. 30):

I read the book and found it fascinating because, to her credit – sometimes overtly and sometimes implicitly – the author actually asks these people about the fact that for the vast majority of them the Jewish story, the saga of their families if you will, dies with them. And a lot of them go into very convoluted excuses. I thought Beverly Sills and Ruth Ginsburg were particularly pathetic.

Bill Pearlman
(Via E-Mail)
Rich Man With A Title

Coincidentally, a friend of mine had lent me “Stars of David” a couple of weeks ago, and I heartily second Mr. Maoz’s positive assessment of the book. As for World Jewish Congress honcho Edgar Bronfman’s denigrating the idea that God gave the Torah to the Jews, and his denying that the God of Israel is his father or his King – can anyone imagine the leader of a Catholic organization talking about Catholicism in such dismissive terms? He’d be forced out of his position in an instant. With us Jews, however, someone can be a total am haaretz and apikorus and still be hailed as a “Jewish leader” – providing that he’s a rich man like Bronfman.

Lawrence Franklin
New York, NY
Munich’ Fears Groundless

In taking ADL National Director Abraham Foxman to task for his assessment of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” you refer to the movie as “a presentation fraught with far more danger than Mel Gibson’s recent casting of the Jewish people as responsible for the death of Jesus, which drew much public ire in the Jewish community, stoked in greatest measure by…” Mr. Foxman.

Two years ago, you predicted in an editorial that the release of Mr. Gibson’s “Passion” movie “will ignite the kind of virulent anti-Semitism that provided the foundation for pogroms throughout history and the Holocaust little more than a half a century ago.”

Apparently, with the realization that the fears over “Passion” were unfounded, you are taking on a new bogeyman, predicting that “the consequences of Mr. Spielberg’s theme taking hold among American Jewry and being picked up by policy makers in Washington would be catastrophic.” In your view, “Munich” is scarier than “Passion” because many Christians already held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus and they “hardly needed Gibson’s encouragement.” You are thus suggesting the existence of novelty in the moral message conveyed by Mr. Spielberg’s film.

But does “Munich,” in fact, offer any chidushim? Doesn’t everybody “know” already that the “Israel-Palestinian” conflict is based on a misunderstanding between two long-suffering peoples with equal historical and religious claims to one small piece of land and why can’t we just all get along? And isn’t this “knowledge” already reflected in longstanding American governmental policy to pressure Israel to “share” this piece of land with the Palestinians regardless of the security consequences?

Like “Passion,” “Munich” is a movie – and just that. It will keep millions of people entertained for a couple of hours. It will be the topic of discussion at some cocktail parties and office water coolers. It will reinforce the views of those who agree with the views conveyed by the movie, and will offend those who do not (including those who deny Israel’s right to even exist). Mr. Spielberg will laugh all the way to the bank once again and might even win another Oscar. But by making bold predictions about the societal consequences of this movie, you are once again crying “wolf” – or “Foxman.”

Zachary M. Berman
Bronx, NY
More On `Torah Lishma

Rabbi J. Rosenblatt (Letters, Dec. 30) accuses me of being “out of my league” in discussing the purpose of Talmud Torah and refers to my front-page essay (“A ‘New’ Understanding of Talmud Torah,” Dec. 16) as “intellectually corrupt.” My conclusion that learning Torah merely “for the sake of learning” is not a Jewish concept he ascribes to “either egregious ignorance of the primary sources or willful distortion of them.”

In the interests of brevity and basic dignity I will not respond to his insults, only to the substance of his argument. I feel no need to defend my right to study the Torah and form significant conclusions despite being a non-gadol – something Rabbi Rosenblatt is clearly offended by. Indeed, I wonder how he feels permitted to challenge me on intellectual grounds if he does not consider himself to be a gadol.

When all the smoke is blown away, the extent of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s substantive response is a vague reference to Nefesh Hachaim. Without going into detail or quoting a single passage, he claims that R’ Chaim of Volozhin supports “a concept eerily similar” to the conception of learninglishma that I claim doesn’t exist.

In Section 1, Chapter 21 Rabbi Chaim writes “And this is the Torah of Man: when he is involved in Torah lishma – to observe and fulfill all that is written in it – he purifies his body from head to foot.” Clearly, Rabbi Chaim defines learninglishma as not random, aimless “learning for the sake of learning,” but learning with a clear and practical purpose: to observe and fulfill.

In Section 4, Chapter 3 he further explains, based on the Rosh in Nedarim referenced by Rabbi Rosenblatt, that learning lishma is “to know, to understand, and to increase acquisition and pilpul.” Unless one defines pilpul as irrelevant theorizing, Rabbi Chaim’s approach only supports my article.

It should also be noted that the vast majority of Rabbi Chaim’s remarks about Talmud Torah relate to its mystical benefits. For one thing, therefore, much of what he writes is complementary to my article, not directly related to it. For another thing, he merely refers to a different sort of benefit or goal of learning Torah. Nowhere does he, or any classic Torah authority, advocate the sort of aimless, esoteric, non-practical learning that is prevalent today.

If Rabbi Rosenblatt is troubled by the fact that I, rather than any “gedolim,” have noted the dubious foundation of the modern kollel approach, perhaps he should take it up with them.

Chananya Weissman
(Via E-Mail)
Words Have Meaning

In his letter of Dec. 30, Rabbi Riskin admits to having been “taken aback” by my criticism (Letters, Dec. 16) that he committed a “major error” regarding his translation. Actually, my criticism was that he had committed two major errors.

In his letter, Rabbi Riskin deals with only one of his mistakes. Specifically, he turns his attention to the Latin etymology of the adjective naive – nativus, “which means natural, unaffected candor and artless, actuated…by truth.”

On that basis he assures the reader that it would be okay to describe the Patriarch Jacob as a “naive” tent dweller. Rabbi Riskin’s mistake is that he relies on etymology without considering modern usage. (English has changed since the Roman Empire.) In modern standard English, the adjective naive is also associated with a lack of learning, experience, sophistication. It might be used to describe an individual who is devoid of wisdom and good judgment or someone who is gullible and easily duped. (One might be tempted to describe Esau in such a fashion, unjustly – certainly not Jacob. It would not fit the biblical context.)

Even according to Rabbi Riskin’s etymological reference, it would still be highly imprecise to select naive as a translation oftam. Quoting an unabridged dictionary, Rabbi Riskin cites “artless” as a worthy synonym. In modern American usage, artless is defined as lacking skill, crude, lacking knowledge. Is Rabbi Riskin still so sure about naive as an accurate translation of tam when referring to the Patriarch Jacob?

It is true that naive can connote qualities which are not so negative – in the sense of being natural and unaffected by guile; however, given the negative connotations cited above, there are far better English equivalents which would more accurately translate the Hebrewtam. (For example: wholehearted, which Rabbi Riskin used in his Dec. 2 column.)

I disagree with Rabbi Riskin’s interpretation of Malbim. Isaac did not think that his son Jacob was out of touch. It was a judgment call. As a parent, Isaac believed that Jacob should devote his life exclusively to spiritual matters as a Torah scholar. (That does not mean that he thought Jacob was naive or out of touch.)

Isaac was aware of Esau’s “problems.” However, he understood that Esau had great potential. Rebecca did not wish to confront Isaac about such an issue. She understood that her actions would be vindicated as indicated by the biblical context.

This exchange reminds me of the Italian saying Traduttore e traditore – roughly translated as “The translator is a traitor.” I do not wish to imply that Rabbi Riskin is a traitor. I am not speaking politically or theologically. The point is that it is simply very difficult to translate

from one language into another language, given the divergent cultures and vocabularies pertaining to the languages under discussion.

Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)
Don’t Discourage Aliyah

Reader J. Schwartz’s letter (Dec. 16) about Orthodox Jews andaliyah is full of distortions and errors from beginning to end.

1. No one ever claimed that the State of Israel as presently run is the geula – it is “the first flowering of the geula.

2. Zionist rabbonim do not speak out against the state – only against the present government and, in fact, are careful to differentiate.

3. If Reader Schwartz is displeased with secularism in Israel he should make aliyah, become a citizen and at least vote for change.

4. Terrorism also affects America; in fact, many Jews were murdered in the World Trade Center attack. In addition many Jews in America are victims of violent crimes – far more than in Israel.

5. Cuts in government funding mainly affect those who do not work. This situation also exists in America.

6. Who says living here means living in “dire conditions”? This is the sin of the miraglim. Just as in America, here there are rich, poor and middle class people.

7. Living in Israel is more than a great mitzvah. This is the only land in which a Jew can fulfill himself both individually and nationally.

Every Jew should be planning aliyah – or at the very least not discouraging others from doing so.

Avi Keslinger
Ofra, Israel
The Problems With Evolution

Evolution Is Anti-Science

Reader David Fass (Letters, Dec. 30) begins his attack on my views on evolution by saying: “Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it’s not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world, that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.”

There follow nine paragraphs, but I was unable to find (a) a direct quote of anything I said and (b) why I was wrong.

All physicists today believe in the Anthropic Principle – that the universe was designed for people. Is that objectionable? Science has proven it.

Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the most prominent of the evolutionists, clearly stated that evolution is not a natural process but an accident. If you believe in accidents, you are not talking about science. Scientists had four theories about the origin of the moon until people actually went there, brought back rocks, and saw that all the theories were wrong. The latest theory? It was an accident.

The problem with evolution is that it is anti-science. That was the purpose of my letter. Does science believe that a tiny dot can emerge from nothing? It does not. Does science believe that a tiny dot containing the entire universe can expand? Einstein’s theory of Black Holes denies that such a dot can expand. Does science believe that a primal dot turned into a fiery plasma of simple material that became incredibly complex quarks and genes – all by accident?

Science teaches entropy, meaning that a closed system cannot gain in complexity, only decline. The simple plasma could thus not become complex atoms and genes.

Mr. Fass concludes by writing, “The image of the ‘idiot scientist’ conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter may be comforting to some, but it’s ultimately just crude escapism.”

Why not quote where in my letter I supposedly insulted scientists, or science? I didn’t insult science; to the contrary, I feel that modern science encourages our belief.

Rabbi David Eidensohn
Monsey, NY
Disdainful Attack

David Fass’s letter is, based on my experience, very typical of people who defend evolution. They shed little light on the subject, yet engage in attacks on those with dissenting views.

You’d think that if the viability of evolution were, in his words, “discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites,” he could refute at least one point made by Rabbi Eidensohn. Instead of offering refutations, Mr. Fass writes with an air of disdain for Rabbi Eidensohn, rabbis in general, yeshivas, Monsey and the “yiddishe kup.” What an earth does all this have to do with the shortcomings and fallacies of an outdated “scientific” theory?

It’s very encouraging to hear from Mr. Fass that “scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people” and that “their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective.”

The problem is that scientists can also be staggeringly dishonest when it come to furthering their careers, prestige or bank accounts.

One case in point (and there are others), reported by newspapers around the world just last month: Dr. Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University faked 9 out of 11 stem cell research experiments. His phony results were being reported around the globe as scientific breakthroughs. Obviously, being educated is one thing; having integrity is a different story.

If Rabbi Eidensohn had questioned internal combustion or the properties of electricity when he’s surrounded by cars and electrical appliances, I could understand Mr. Fass’s irritation. But questioning the viability of a far-fetched theory like evolution is not all that out of line. I don’t live in Monsey, but my guess is that chickens aren’t turning into monkeys – even in Monsey.

Josh Greenberger
Brooklyn, NY

(Editor’s Note: Mr. Greenberger is the author of “Human Intelligence Gone Ape” (NCSY) available free at EvolutionDead.com.)

Secular Faith

There was just one problem with David Fass’s contention that Rabbi Eidensohn (and by extension the entire frum community) looks askance at science for failing to accept evolution. Evolution is not science. Never was, is not now, and never will be.

Evolution was introduced as a theory, and like most other theories it should have long ago been discarded. But it has one important element on its side: Evolution is atheism, and trumped up by Satan’s “useful idiots” in the academic community this lie continues to be foisted on lemmings who lack the sophistication and backbone to lash out in disgust.

I am far from alone in my conviction that evolution is a pseudo-religion. The most recent edition of the Economist magazine featured on its cover the cliched progression of a hunched-over ape eventually morphing into a comely lass. In the accompanying article, evolution was described as one of the three great secular faiths (Marxism and Freudianism being the other two) of the 19th century. (The author of the article, it should be noted, is one of the creed’s staunchest supporters.)

That supposedly Orthodox Jews fall over themselves trying to inject evolution into the story of creation does not impress legitimate truth seekers. Troubled by science? I don’t think so. But evolution? That’s a whole different story.

Hey, I can be open-minded. If in another 600 billion years man evolves into a centipede, I’ll retract this letter. You have my word on it.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Dubious Hypothesis

There are many Young Earth Creationists who believe in the Torah’s chronology of a 6,000 year old universe, a number of top scientists among them. Even though most of them are non-Jews, Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, spoke highly of them and was very critical of Orthodox Jewish scientists who accept evolution, despite the Torah of Nature showing no evidence whatsoever of millions of years – let alone billions – that have been invented solely to support the vapid belief that the theory of evolution requires vast eons to even begin to operate.

It is remarkable how the solid scientific evidence of a young universe still has not registered on some Orthodox didacts. Evidence such as the rate of decrease of the earth and sun’s magnetic fields, the rate of decrease in the size of the solar disc, the high residual warmth of the moon and mere half-inch of dust on its surface (which amazed the Apollo astronauts who had been told to expect being swamped), the decrease in the speed of light, the paucity of helium and micro-meteoric dust in the atmosphere, the rate of mineral deposition into the oceans, the fallacious premises of radiometric dating, the still “unwrapped” state of the arms of the great spiral galaxies, the thickness of Saturn’s rings, the continued existence of short-term comets, human population statistics, the complete dearth of any human record or artifact older than 6,000 years, polystrate fossils, the non-organic theory for the origin of oil, dendochronolgy (no tree older than 5,100 years can be found), pleochroic haloes etc., are all indicative of an astounding recency of creation.

In view of all this, it is perplexing how some Orthodox Jewish writers are still wedded to the discredited idea of evolution over billions of years. As the late journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed, “In the future evolution will be laughed at as one of the greatest jokes of history. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious a hypothesis could have been accepted with the incredible credulity that it has!”

Amnon Goldberg
Safed, Israel

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Kahane’s Views Not `Abnormal’

Elliot Resnick (“Kahane’s Ideas, 15 years and 1,300 Deaths Later,” op-ed, Dec. 9) writes that “Kahane felt abnormal times required an abnormal response.” I highly doubt that Rabbi Kahane would have agreed with this presumptuous notion. His response to the demographic crisis in Israel could not be termed “abnormal” in the least. It was an answer and philosophy based on Torah values. His entire political platform was based on Torah. The rabbi would often quote the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim as a source for the laws relating to a ger toshav. He would often quote Tanach about purging the enemies from our midst.

None of the ideas that Rabbi Kahane extolled were predicated on hatred, racism, or his own personal or political philosophy. They were based on Jewish values from a Divine source.

The rabbi would often tell us that the way to penetrate the impurity of the world is to keep speaking the Torah truth. To never allow ourselves to be intimated and discouraged by the hostile reaction of the masses. The greatest tribute we could pay Rabbi Kahane is to keep speaking the truth – and to ask Hashem to give us the strength to gird our loins and courageously face our detractors and adversaries with His Word.

Fern Sidman
(JDL National Director 1983-1985)
Brooklyn, NY
Real Priorities

My heart goes out to the young lady searching for her bashert (Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint, Dec.16). Perhaps the question to be asked is not “What’s wrong with me?” but rather, “What’s wrong with them?” – referring, of course, to her so-called girlfriends, nay, married women, so busy with gossip at the attended wedding. What is wrong with people? Have we lost all sense of derech eretz? What are the real priorities?

Parents, educators and rabbis need to focus first and foremost on the essential task of instilling derech eretz in our youngsters. The banning of home Internet use (“Lakewood Rabbis Ban Home Internet,” Dec. 16) is all fine and good, if this is the derech chosen by some (from what I’m told, not all residents or rabbis approve of this ban) in the community. Naturally, some of us might retort: What’s next? The banning of appropriate educational television programming? Of Jazz music? How about the reading of “secular” American papers?

Kedusha, holiness, is an integral aspect of a Torah home Yet I would like to believe that appropriate use and editing of the Internet or other modern media in one’s home can be achieved through wise choice, education and discipline without the need for a ban. My real concern is the need for true, aggressive and visible religious leadership where it appears to be lacking – in emphasizing values of derech eretz to young people and in fact, to people of all ages.

A special message to the aforementioned young lady: As an observant psychologist, I would venture a guess that there is, in reality, nothing wrong with you. I am sorry that your “friends” and those around you have been so thoughtless and inconsiderate. May God bless you, heal you and bring you speedily to your true mate.

To the foolish, inconsiderate girls at the wedding, and those like them: Know that there is One above; an Ear that hears and an Eye that sees all. To parents, rabbis and the rest of us: Let us be ever vigilant and work tirelessly to raise the banner of the important values reinforced constantly in our holy Torah.

Hye Harris
Via E-mail

Learning From Yaakov

Just to add one thought to Chaim Silver’s fine letter of Dec. 16: I think it’s important to note Yaakov Avinu’s first interaction with “outsiders” after spending 14 years in yeshiva, out of touch with mainstream society. When he arrived at the well in Charan, he saw three flocks of sheep being tended by some shepherds. Yaakov said, “My brothers, where are you from?”

“My brothers.” It boggles the mind.

Why would Yaakov Avinu, a man used to interacting with angels and immersing himself in Torah for years at a time without sleep, feel any connection to the common, if not lower-class, idol-worshiping shepherds?

The answer is simple. Hashem’s Torah is not about elitism and being naive or out of touch. Hashem’s Torah is about engaging with the world and with its inhabitants and elevating everyone and everything to new levels of holiness. That’s what Yaakov Avinu was trying to teach us when he approached people who were as foreign to him as any he had ever encountered, and called them his brothers.

Halevai that we should approach our fellow Jews, let alone non-Jews, with that degree of love and sensitivity.

Yaakov Steinhart
(Via E-Mail)
On Being A `Good Jew’

Reader Herman Ganz (Letters, Dec. 9) attacks The Jewish Press for a recent editorial stipulating, as he paraphrased it, that the authentic way to be considered a “good Jew” is through the performance of mitzvos.

Mr. Ganz, this is not merely an editorial position, it is the basic foundation of the faith. You advocate secular humanism – or, in Jewish-speak, being a mensch – as a substitute for observing the Torah. This constitutes a basic fallacy of the nonobservant – the belief that Judaism is a series of meaningless rituals divorced from proper etiquette. The Torah speaks of laws between God and man as well as those between man and his fellow.

In fact, as our Sages teach, Hashem is more exacting with the latter group of laws; therefore, it is impossible to be a “good Jew” without doing what Mr. Ganz calls “acts of kindness.” That said, if one dismisses those regulations that are unique to our religion and concentrates instead on being a nice guy, he is no different from a pleasant gentile. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we are enjoined to reach higher. So yes, Mr. Ganz, it is entirely appropriate to stress the performance of mitzvos as the key for one to earn the moniker “good Jew.”

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY
Painful Parting:
An Open Letter To The RCA

A newspaper is not the address that one generally chooses to send a letter of resignation from a major Jewish organization such as the Rabbinical Council of America.

I chose this unusual route because I have come to the conclusion that I have no other recourse, as there appears to be no one in the organization’s hierarchy I can turn to.

I have been a member of the RCA since 1986 when I assumed my first position as a pulpit rabbi after having spent fifteen years in the Lakewood Kollel. I was embraced by finerabbonim and outstanding leaders, who, despite recognizing that my hashkofos swung way to the right, were bold enough and honest enough to invite me to serve as executive treasurer for six years. I have always considered this a display of their religious integrity and an expression of the broader scope of interest and responsibility that the organization embraced. The RCA had good and honest leadership – then.

I am afraid that I no longer have the same confidence in the RCA’s leadership. It no longer matters who is right and who is wrong in the Tendler affair. (Of course it matters to all of us that Rabbi Tendler has been vindicated, but I now speak with regard to my resignation from the RCA.)

I am so dismayed by the conduct of people whom I respect and call colleagues. I say to them:

Your utter disregard and disrespect for the Bet Din in Yerushalayim is appalling. Do you really believe that traditional “rabbi double talk” is going to fool the rabbis themselves? Do you really believe that your constituents are so simpleminded that they will fall for “Well, we don’t have to listen to a bet din butyou do”?

To be declared a “lo tzayis dina” by the Jerusalem Bet Din of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is not a slap on the wrist. It means shame on you, shame on everything you are associated with. It means that on public record you are in defiance of the laws of Torah. This is a public pronouncement made by the holy bet din humiliate you into submission. Yet not only do you show no remorse, regret, or contrition – you continue to show defiance. (At least be creative. Come up with something that appears logical instead of continuing to debase yourselves with inane innuendo and lame explanations).

I will tell you what disturbs me most of all. I will tell you why I resign from your midst. In 1987 Rabbi Aron Shurin, z”l, told me this story. The Rav, zt”l, said to him that he was jealous of Reb Aharon Kotler, zt”l, who had “real”talmidim. “But you also have talmidim,” protested Rabbi Shurin. Answered the Rav: “Reb Aharon’s talmidim ask him ‘Rebbi, can I do this?’ Or, ‘Rebbi, can I go there?’ Or, ‘Rebbi, can I say that?’ My talmidim say, ‘Rebbi, I did this. Rebbi, I went there. Rebbi, I said that. Is it ok?’ He lamented what he perceived to be a lack of real and absolute loyalty by some of histalmidim (not most, who were and are talmidim n’emonim).

I am not atalmid of the Rav. I know, however, that the Rav expected, and had the right to expect, obedience from his talmidim. There was no one who protected the honor of and demanded subservience to theBet Din of Yerushalayim more than did the Rav. B’ksav and b’al peh.

For his talmidim to violate and shame the memory of their rebbi by brazenly ignoring his edict makes those of us, who studied under the tutelage of otherrebbeim, carefully contemplate and more clearly understand the words of Rabbi Shurin.

My rebbi, Reb Chaim Shmulevits, zt”l, has a well-known shmues in which he attributes the foibles of Chielwho sinfully attempted to rebuild Jericho – to his having been sucked into a whirlpool of mistakes, from which he was unable to extricate himself because his understanding became more and more obscured as the mistakes kept piling on. The same has happened to you, unfortunately. I pray that Hashem gives you the einayim lir’os and oznayim lishmoa to recognize and reverse those mistakes.

Until that happens I can no longer be affiliated with an organization whose leadership is declared a violator of Torah law by the Bet Din of Yerushalayim. I sadly submit my resignation from the RCA.

Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz

Letters to the Editor

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