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December 4, 2016 / 4 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Who is a Jew?’

Supreme Court Wants Interior Ministry to Explain Why Reform Converts Aren’t Recognized by the State

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction against the Interior Ministry ordering it to explain within two months why 11 petitioners who underwent Reform or Conservative conversion in Israel should be refused a Certificate of Oleh (immigrant) based on the Law of Return, and why they should not be registered as Jews in the Population Registry.

The Law of Return (Hok Ha-Shvut) was passed in 1950, giving Jews the right of return and the right to live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people with one Jewish grandparent or people married to a Jew, although they were not considered Jewish under Jewish halakha. Those who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are immediately entitled to gain citizenship in Israel.

According to the halakhic definition, a person is Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, or if he or she converts to Judaism. However, Orthodox Jews do not recognize conversions performed by Reform or Conservative authorities. But the Law of Return states that any Jew, regardless of affiliation, may immigrate to Israel and claim his or her citizenship.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that all conversions performed outside of Israel would be recognized by the authorities under the Law of Return. The court had already ruled in 1989 that conversions performed outside of Israel were valid for the Law of Return, regardless of whether they were Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. The 2005 ruling extended that decision, finding that overseas conversions were still valid even if the individuals did the preparatory work for the conversions while residing in Israel.

Now it appears that the Supreme Court is prepared to bring down the last vestige of halakhic Judaism regarding conversion, in an attempt to authorize Reform and Conservative religious courts in Israel to covert, forcing the state to accept their converts as Jews.

The current Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, is an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and will most likely fight the court’s obvious plan tooth and nail. But in the end, he will have one of three choices: obey the court (not going to happen), resign (not likely), or change the law, which is, in fact, anchored in the Haredi parties’ coalition agreement.

Can the Law of Return be changed today? Can the 1970 dreaded ruling allowing non-Jews to be accepted as Jews also be revoked, while the Knesset is at it? The fate of Netanyahu’s government may depend on it.

David Israel

Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh, Judaism Beyond the Commandments

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent,” says Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such, Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it.” One of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial enemy.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says that we have to do away with these people, whether it is Amalek or the nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see what we can work out.

And then you get this incredible dialogue, this near business deal between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so you’ll keep them alive. I think that should be the point of departure whenever we discuss moral issues related to our fellow-man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view, that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God, Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say over here? And as I did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope you do as well whenever the Torah speaks about killing people. We see this reflected in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so they declared these laws inoperative.

JewishPress.com: And yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.

NLC: I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to execute his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as some Hasidic texts indeed seem to suggest .

JP: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?

NLC: It seems he lost his prophecy. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning. It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.

But let us be careful, I only suggest such a reading when speaking about moral problems. But when you speak about Shabbat and holidays, where there are no issues between the individual and his fellow-man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the laws of Shabbat because they’re not convenient.

 


 

Nathan Lopes Cardozo was born 70 years ago in Amsterdam, and was named after his father’s youngest brother who was murdered in the Holocaust. His father was a secular Jew who was nevertheless proud of his Portuguese-Jewish origin. His mother, who was not born Jewish, was raised by the Cardozo family and was an integral part of the community. Later on, she saved her husband and his family from the Nazis by hiding them in her Amsterdam apartment. Nathan Cardozo converted to Judaism when he was sixteen, through the Amsterdam Rabbinate, and his mother did many years later as well.

Cardozo spent the next 12 years studying at various Haredi Yeshivas such as Gateshead, whose dean, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwitz, ordained him as a rabbi. At 21 he married Freyda Gnesin, a young Dutch woman from eastern European parents he met at the Haarlem synagogue. That’s the Dutch Haarlem synagogue.

CAN JEWS PERPETRATE A HOLOCAUST?

We return to the question of whether God commanded the Jews to annihilate certain nations with the expectation that the Jews would defy Him.

JP: In the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes the job — did Shmuel fail?

NLC: What was it that Shaul did wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies.

JP: But Shmuel is not sanctioned for his action.

NLC: It seems that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag deserved the death penalty. This is very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from another point of view it is morally absolutely unacceptable. So Berlin speaks about a tradeoff, which every judge and every legal system has to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s the part of the human condition.

There is no such thing as black and white responses to these sort of issues, and I think that plays a role in Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.

There are reasons to wipe out Amalek and there are reasons why not to do so, especially when it comes to their children. But because there’s this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective, therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous even for the future generations and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who will say that all of them will be evil? Jewish Law even discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite wants to become Jewish and several authorities believe that we have an obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!!

THERE’S MORE TO JUDAISM THAN THE MITZVOT

JP: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?

NLC: Yes, I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making process. They are also God-given, just like the commandments. I think that’s not only in these extreme cases, but nearly in all cases, because if you look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to find a heter (permission) for this problem. He may even have made up his mind before he started. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his position and puts it in an halakhic framework. After which he says, so I was right in what I said at the beginning. He knows quite well that they were all colored by his need to come to a lenient conclusion. This is completely legitimate.

You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, you see it with some very Haredi literature as well. It all has to do with a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi poskim. There’s a world of difference there. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic , than the Sephardi one. This has its root in their different experiences in the countries from where they hail and consequently we find different halakhic responses.

There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us what to do and what not to do. But it has obviously a much larger Weltanschauung, an outlook on life, which lies behind these halakhic requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah, unless they are stated in very general terms, such as you must be holy, but that still requires a moral explanation. So ideologies play a role as well. The ideological differences between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.

JP: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?

NLC: Let me tell you an interesting story. Reb Haim Zimmerman was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop back in Lithuania. I met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He wasn’t so well known, because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to the Aguda camp. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he said, Maimonides agrees with me. So his students said, You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides. So he said, No, Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him.

I think that is a most important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And that has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at length about this problem. The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time as the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of an historical development. Since we were living in the diaspora, we had to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the non-Jews out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition. The Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive in a largely anti-Semitic world.

Both the Shulkhan Arukh and earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is for once and for all. He provides no minority opinions, he acts precisely as what he probably was, as the greatest talmudic genius of his time and possibly of all time, and we—after a period of resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned him into an halakhic idol: If Maimonides says so then there’s nothing left to discuss. We canonized him.

We never had, as the Catholic Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these matters. With us it was always fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides, the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they can’t stand up against Maimonides, he is too overpowering. The same is true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There are none.

This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re doing is taking the halakha which developed in diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we bring it to the State of Israel, and apply it as if we are still living in diaspora—when we are not. And therefore you constantly have problems in Israel about halakha, because the traditional halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulkhan Arukh) lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?

JP: But the Mishneh Torah talks about the laws of the temple and other areas of Jewish life on the land.

NLC: Yes. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state. That whole concept didn’t exist. [The late chief rabbi of Israel] Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog writes in one of his letters that the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with the State of Israel where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the administration of the non-Jewish world.

The Shulkhan Arukh starts by saying, In the morning we have to get up, and we must imagine God before us always. But let’s ask an important question: what are the prerequisite conditions to enable you to get up in the morning and to say these words and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written, will have created a legal system that enables you as a Jew to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue without getting attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of guarantees from a secular administration, to make your adhering to your religious obligations possible. But that was the Turkish government, that’s not the situation in Israel today. So what you really need to do is rewrite all this, and then you’ll have a big problem because the law has to be able to develop and to constantly re-think itself. But how many poskim have made sure we do that? Instead, they will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and say, no, Rav Yosef Karo says like this and that’s the end of the discussion.

THE ROLE OF THE POSEK

JP: Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the Talmud? How much of the millennia of Sh”ut (halakhik Q&A) should a modern posek take into consideration?

NLC: There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover (Rabbi Joseph Rosen) would rule from the Talmud. Rav Ovadia Yosef, although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly contradicted himself in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by the Shulkhan Arukh and at the same time he constantly put it aside and went directly to the source.

My feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge and they get drowned in it. And therefore they cannot think creatively any more. If you have too much knowledge then you can’t think on your own anymore because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of knowledge and you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true with halakha, this is true in many other departments of human knowledge as well. We know so much and therefore we get completely overwhelmed by it and we don’t have space left any more in our brain to come up with something new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.

Therefore the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not the right poskim any more since they can’t think outside the box. But if you go one step below, and in Israel you have quite a few of them, you will find people who know halakha very well but they are not stagnated by this staggering knowledge, so they are probably much better equipped for responding to the needs of the day. Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, Rabbi David Bigman. And there are many more around, especially in Israel — I don’t think you have so many abroad. But in Israel, at the moment, you have people who think on their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a critical eye and make amazing rulings.

Rav Cherlow came up with some unbelievable rulings which got him in trouble with his colleagues. He has responsa about women wanting to get a child without being married. Israeli poskim have also dealt with sex change operations. These are daring undertakings, Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful consideration.

Rabbi Cardozo related a personal example of thinking outside the halakhic box.

I had a case two years ago: M, the son of a friend of mine, a Cohen, from a Portuguese-Spanish family of Amsterdam, practicing Jews, wanted to get married to a convert who was also a divorcée. And since he is a cohen, he went to the Rabbinate of the Spanish synagogue in Amsterdam and asked if there was any possibility he could marry this woman since he knew that a cohen can’t get married with a convert or a divorced woman. Both are very problematic laws in today’s society. Both he and his bride to be were not so young any more, they were in their forties and had little chance to find other partners and have children. But the Rabbinate said no. After all: a divorcée who is also a convert — and a cohen: impossible. So they came to me. I don’t consider myself to be a posek at all, but I know a little about it. They asked, can’t you help us, so I sat down with them and I said to the woman, why are you a divorcée? Did you get a get (bill of divorce)? Yes, she answered, I received a get via the rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv. I was married to an Israeli man, and after a few weeks the marriage fell apart. I asked if she would mind telling me why, and the answer was that the husband had a physical problem and couldn’t have relations with his wife. He was severely impotent. So I said to her, did the rabbinic court ask you why you wanted to get divorced? No, she said, they just told me I should get a get and that’s what I did. So I told to her that it was my opinion that she was not a divorcée, and that she didn’t need a get because there was no consummation of the marriage and therefore she was never married according to Jewish Law. The Rabbinate in Amsterdam had failed to ask these questions. Not a small matter.

Then I said to the cohen, how do you know that you’re a really a cohen? You come from the same background that I come from, Portuguese-Spanish, from under the shadow of the Inquisition. Can you tell me that your family were really cohanim? The man was actually called Cohen, which would indicate that he really was one. But I knew that the name Cohen was in the Portuguese-Spanish culture the same as “Lord” in England, and nothing to do with having been a descendant of Jewish priests. They used to use this kind of name as an honorary name which did not mean that they were cohanim halakhically. So after a lot of discussion with Israeli poskim, including Rav Bigman, and Rav Hollander, I said to the couple, this is my opinion: the young man is either not at all a cohen, or he might be a Hallal, a desecrated cohen. This is because during the time of the Inquisition, cohanim were incapable of holding on to their cohen lineage by marrying only women that were permitted to them such as virgins and widows. And if they married Jewish women who were not permitted to them, then their offspring are no longer bound by the laws of the cohen and are allowed to marry every Jewish woman including a convert or divorcée. And so I officiated at this couple’s Chupah.

In my opinion there are very few real cohanim in the world today. The Ashkenazi community has also had to go through the most terrible conditions and few there are real cohanim. The only ones who are probably cohanim are the Syrians and Tunisians, who have kept reliable records of their Cohanim.

ELECTRICITY AND SHABBAT

JP: When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like the telephone are not a problem — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery slope?

NLC: If you would ask me, am I in favor of allowing turning on lights on Shabbat? I would say No, but not for solely halakhic reasons. My reason is this: the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain spirit, a certain atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need to observe Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically forbidden — there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat. But not all halakhic matters are pure halakha. They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles which were prohibited to be lit, over the years this was applied to electricity as well, so that unless there are very specific circumstances where there is really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t light electric lights. Nobody is paying a big price for this. There’s no moral issue here, let’s keep the system as it is.

But take for example the case of the “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew doing work for us on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending on the non Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish state. In other words: we still need to have Arabs sitting in the electric company to make sure that we have light on Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for Jews to do this work without transgressing Shabbat. There must be ways by which we can do it ourselves and we don’t need non-Jews to do that for us.

I have altogether a moral problem with using non-Jews on Shabbat, because what we’re doing here is making an impression that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen; what we can’t do — he has to do. In other words, we are the so called chosen people, and we need to be served by the non-Jews. This discrimination against non-Jews is wide-spread in the orthodox community and very problematic and highly un-Jewish.

JP: You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat. Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth circles.

NLC: It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody you have to replace it with something even better. And if you don’t do that then you get these situations, which, in the Modern Orthodox world, has become a problem. There’s a lot of spirituality and inspiration missing, especially in the Lithuanian Jewish world. The excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to observe the commandments, over which Hasidism has a much better handle, is of the outmost importance. In the non-Hasidic world we’ve become extremely mechanical, we have to keep all the laws and we’re no longer asking what is the music behind it, what kind of music are we playing out here? The original Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica) — were able to give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit and knew exactly what they were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and being highly controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that the Hasidic world has been given a spirituality which the Lithuanian world is not offering us till this very day.

KASHRUT AND ANIMAL SUFFERING

JP: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?

NLC: I have doubts about the kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us. The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically. The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town where once in a while they would eat a piece of meat. You can’t compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of thousands of cows are killed every day.

I believe that the prohibition on needless suffering by animals makes our whole system non-kosher. Because, if indeed there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve seen this personally, the way they deal with those animals is beyond all description, then the Rabbinate should say: No way we are permitting this. Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel, there must be lots of them, but how is it possible that the shechita will always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you can cite a permission here and an allowance there but how far does that go especially when we are bound by laws on how to treat animals mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).

We should start educating people to no longer eat meat. This is a process, an educational process. The trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to be with all the people who are making their living from this industry? And there are lots of them: shochtim, butchers, supervisors, whatever else there is. You’ll have to find a financial solution for these people, you can’t just say, We stop eating meat. We have to find a slow way by which we will get people off eating meat, finding solutions to the financial problems of the people who are left without their livelihood — this is going to take fifty, sixty years. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.

DISMANTLE THE CHIEF RABBINATE

JP: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?

NLC: We need to end the Institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. I have the greatest respect for Chief Rabbis Yosef and Lau, they mean well but they are the victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset and not the Chief Rabbis . It is a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place. The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general, often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the Haredim, the ultra orthodox. This was not the intent for the Chief Rabbinate, because the Haredim have their own Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate lacks the halakhic poskim of great stature to deal with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher slaughtering, running a modern state, which require these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They are not on that level. They don’t seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

Today’s Chief Rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav Ben Zion Uziel or Rav Isaac Yitschak Herzog. I think that in the Ashkenazi Rabbinate the last person of greatness was Rav Shlomo Goren. He had the knowledge and he had the creativity. Afterwards this whole institution disintegrated.

JP: So you would replace it?

NLC: Sure. The last Knesset has already decided that every local rabbinate would have its own conversion system in their own cities, and no longer be subject to the control of the chief rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know these people. So how can they decide, without actually knowing the people, who is eligible for conversion?

I am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians of Jewish descent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people they’ll marry our children and in no time we’ll have a million non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of the state of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So here you have to consider not just the conversion issue but the security of the state, too.

This is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here with the state of Israel which requires that we make sure that we remain a unified political entity, that we can marry each other and secure the State of Israel.

But the rabbinate hasn’t for one moment even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.

David Israel

Rivlin Embraces Reform and Conservative Jews as Part of ‘One Family’

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

President Reuven Rivlin embraced the Reform and Conservative movements in a speech to the New York UJA-Federation on Friday during his visit to the United States.

Rivlin, like his predecessor Shimon Peres, is a full-fledged secular Israeli and is silently uncomfortable with the authority of the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel.

Two days after lighting the Hanukkah Menorah at the White House, Rivlin stated at the meeting, which included Orthodox Jewish leaders:

It is important for the State of Israel to show full respect and sensitivity to all American Jews. It is important that we remember, not only on Hanukkah that we are all one family.”

All communities represented here today share the love of Israel and a deep commitment to the future of the Jewish people and to the positive image of the State of Israel.

We must never forget that even the major differences between us are an honest expression of concern shared by all of us, whether we are Orthodox, Reform or Conservative.

No one questions his generalities, but when it comes down to specifics, Orthodox Judaism inherently cannot accept American “Jews” who are converted under non-Orthodox rabbis who do not accept traditional Jewish law.

It could be compared with the idea that the American Medical Association would accept alternative medical practitioners as “doctors” even though they have not studied in recognized medical schools.

President Rivlin tried to reach out to the common interests of all Jews, such as the nearly universal Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and the solidarity for victims of terror “in Israel and all over the world.”

Conservative Jewish Rabbi Steven Wernick complained that we “can’t do marriage, can’t do divorces [and] can’t do conversions” in Israel.

President Rivlin did not dip into the dangerous political waters of explicitly promoting the Reform and Conservative agenda for “equality in Israel, but he made it a point to call Wernick a “rav,” Hebrew for rabbi.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Bennett and Netanyahu Clash over Rollback of Religious Reforms

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

 

The Cabinet Sunday morning approved amendments to the conversion reform law of the last administration and returned more power to Hareidim, over the objections of coalition partner Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home).

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett to vote for the changes, alleging that they were part of the coalition agreement with the Shas and Yehadut HaTorah (United Torah Judaism) parties.

Bennett said at the Cabinet session, “I did not agree to this in coalition negotiations,” but the Prime Minister shot back:

All of the agreements obligate everyone.

Likud Parliamentary Group Chairman Ze’ev Elkin stepped into the fray and confirmed that Bennett opposed rolling back the reform, and the Cabinet passed the changes with Bennett and Bayit Yehudi Cabinet member opposing it.

Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party that is not in the coalition, also voted against it.

The amendments wreck all of the efforts in the previous government to take conversion out of the hands of Hareidi rabbis an allow local rabbinical courts to decide on the delicate issue that has the most impact on 300,000 Russian immigrants who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Hareidi courts generally are far less willing to accept conversions than are national religious rabbis.

The Cabinet also transferred authority over the country’s rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services, which is headed by another Shas MK, David Azoulay.

Refusal to accept reforms means that it is more likely that all of the children and future generations of the immigrants will not be Jewish. If the woman marry Jewish men, there would be even more non-Jews in Israel and would create complications that could affect their children’s future.

The need for Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a coalition forced him to accept the Shas and UTJ demands to put the conversion process back in the hands of Hareidi courts. Under the new amendments local courts still can process conversions but only with the approval of the Chief Rabbinate.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, son of the late Rav Ovadia Yosef, is part of the Shas movement that his father founded, so it is no wonder that the Shas party insisted on eliminating reforms.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also opposed the reforms.

It only is a matter of time before reform once again will undo the Hareidi establishment that never misses an opportunity to forego bridging gaps with the non-Hareidi population and bring people closer to Judaism, simply because they insist on such a rigid approach to religion and concentration of power that pave the way for a backlash that could weaken Orthodox Jewish influence in Israel.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Jewish Agency for Israel Calls for Special Diaspora Conversion Courts

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

The Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel is calling for the establishment of special religious courts in the Diaspora to handle conversions outside the State of Israel.

A resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority of the board at its meeting Wednesday (June 24) said that in the absence of such courts, the Agency would send rabbis to assist local communal rabbis in the endeavor.

“In light of The Jewish Agency’s responsibility to help ensure the unity of the Jewish people and in recognition of the existence of many interfaith families in various Jewish communities, The Jewish Agency wishes to facilitate these families’ full integration into the Jewish people via conversion, as well as through the possibility of Aliyah. In the absence of conversion courts able to serve those who wish to convert in many Jewish communities, The Jewish Agency will cooperate with the special conversion courts established for this purpose by sending rabbis to assist local communal rabbis.

“The Jewish Agency will accompany the converts through their process of preparing for Aliyah, for those who choose that option.”

“The Jewish Agency serves the needs of Jewish communities around the world,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Agency.

“This is one of the very real needs voiced by various Jewish communities. The time has come to respond.”

The issue of Jewish conversion both in Israel and abroad is one that is complex, controversial and fiercely debated between individuals as well as communities.

Recently the community leadership position of a major Anglo-Israeli rabbinic figure came under question, it was believed, in part due to the controversy generated over this topic.

Hana Levi Julian

Jewish Sen. Bernie Sanders to Run for President

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Jew who is not involved in organization religion, will toss his hat in the political rang today and announce he is challenging Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s nominee for president in 2016.

We would write that he is throwing his kippa into the ring except for the faint possibility that he even owns one.

Vermont Public News (VPR) reported, “Sanders will release a short statement….and then hold a major campaign kickoff in Vermont in several weeks…. Sanders’ basic message will be that the middle class in America has been decimated in the past two decades while wealthy people and corporations have flourished.”

Sanders is an Independent and a vocal critic of “corporate America” and the government’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

A socialist, the 73-year-old Sanders wants to make campaign finance reform, climate change and the rich-poor gap as the center of his campaign, and he will focus on the proposed TPP to try force Clinton to declare whether she supports or opposes it.

Sanders might be exactly what the United States needs, someone who is not afraid to challenge the “billionaire class” instead of cooperating with it while the middle class, as in almost every other western country, fells it is becoming an endangered species.

His being Jewish is not going to win him any points from Orthodox or even the Conservative Jews.

Sanders, born in Brooklyn, once volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz after university, an experience which may have bolstered his socialist views.

As for Judaism, he is not actively involved, and the Burlington, Vermont Free Press reports:

When it comes to the impact of religion on his life, he said, ‘I find myself very close to the teachings of Pope Francis,’ and he described the pope as ‘incredibly smart and brave.’

A quote from Pope Francis also graces Sander’s Sanders for President Facebook page.

Judaism and being Jewish are not part of his public face. The Jewish Telegraph Agency wrote last January after an interview with Sanders, “With a series of observations about the Jewish history of rootlessness and oppression, Sanders begins to describe the role of his lower-middle-class upbringing in forging him into the Congress’ only self-described socialist.

Sanders boycotted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech in Congress last month. He has deep roots in the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam war movements but has tried to remain neutral concerning Israel.

He said a Town Hall meeting in Vermont last year that Israel “over-reacted” to Hamas missile attacks but noted that the terrorist organization attacked from within populated areas and wants to destroy Israel.

If it is good news that this Jew is running for president, pray that he beats Clinton so he can lose the big race.

Below is a video of Sanders explaining why he boycotted Netanyahu’s speech.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Jewish Agency Planning for Massive Aliyah of 120,000 French Jews

Monday, January 26th, 2015

The Jewish Agency is making plans to settle 120,000 Jews — one in every five French Jews — over the next four years.

The project sounds fanciful if one looks at recent history, but radical Islamic terror and country-wide anti-Semitism have cast a shadow of the Nazi era over Jews in France.

The Jewish People Policy Institute, the Jewish Agency’s think tank, is drawing up plans for opening up job opportunities to attract French Jews, who enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

The number of Jews from France who moved to Israel last year was 7,000, a small number by itself but a dramatic jump from previous years. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has said he anticipates 15,000 Jews from France to make Aliyah by 2016, but the Agency’s think tank has bigger plans.

If history repeats itself, the project for mass Aliyah will create lots of work for Jewish Agency , inflate its budget and bring in only a trickle of results.

Aliyah from Western countries never has been very impressive except in the hey-day of Israel’s victory over Arab enemies in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Since the 1970s, the only really impressive Aliyah has been from what was the Soviet Union, from where more than 1,000,000 Jews — and 300,000 people who were not Jews according to Jewish law — moved to Israel.

But Jews have a tradition of enjoying a good life in the Diaspora, hanging on until they are expelled or often trying to flee after it is too late.

Fear and loathing have not yet sent shivers down the spines of American Jews, most of whom consider Israel a place for hapless Jews who cannot survive elsewhere. The “Golden Medina” has been a tough nut for Aliyah ever since the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

On a trip to Baltimore in 1951, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion told rags to-riches millionaire Jacob Blaustein of expectations of the Aliyah of thousands of Jews every month, to which Blaustein retorted, “American is our home.”

Just think if one in every five American Jews were to make Aliyah. The economy would boom. The so-called “demographic problem” of an Arab and Bedouin population dominating Jews would disappear.

If even 10 percent of 1 million American Jews were to settle in Judea and Samaria, there would be no question about its place in Israel.

But Americans do not face the imminent threat that has caused French Jews to panic and fear.

The Jewish Agency plans are not a pipe dream.

“I was in Netanya this past Shabbat, and everyone is talking about the Aliyah of Jews from France,” French expatriate Yisca Maimon told The Jewish Press Sunday.

She explained:

They are afraid to go to the supermarket and to synagogue and get killed. The Aliyah movement starts with one friend, and then another friend, and everyone influences one another. Jews in France are very close to one another. People are afraid of Islamic terror because there is absolutely no security there. Yes, there are attacks in synagogues and supermarkets in Israel, but here we have the IDF. We are in our own home.

Jews in France feel they cannot stay there anymore. They know they have to leave. There are nearly 8 million Muslims in France, and their presence is increasingly overwhelming. Everyone is afraid.

There is another reason for Jews to flee France, if they want their children to remain Jews. The assimilation rate is nearly 70 percent, which raises the question of which Jews will move to Israel.

Haredi rabbis who are not raving Zionists — except for the fact that they live in Israel — already have objected to mass Aliyah because of problems of Jewish law.

They say they are afraid of more secular Jews but  in truth they also are afraid of the growing national religious community in Israel, which in the past two decades has become very influential in the IDF, professional fields and now in the Knesset thought the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, which has opened up its doors to secular Jews who also are strong nationalists.

The Jewish Agency will have to deal with the problem of “Who Is a Jew” when the time comes. It also will have to streamline the absorption process to allow professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, to practice in Israel without some of the obstacles that have no logic but simply exist from the earlier days of the modern State when old-line Israelis expected everyone to be like them.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet Sunday, “We must prepare to absorb large-scale immigration to Israel. To this end we are working to remove the impediments to [recognizing] diplomas and professional degrees in Israel. At the same time we will prepare an emergency plan to cancel bureaucracy so as to enable massive construction to absorb the immigrants, just as we did previously to absorb the major immigration from the Soviet Union.”

If the Jewish Agency can succeed, it might even begin to attract more Americans, not enough to make baseball the Israel National Pastime but enough to at least make hamburgers as popular as falafel.

 

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-agency-planning-for-massive-aliyah-of-120000-french-jews/2015/01/26/

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