Beyond the Cusp

July 8, 2017

One Single Judaism for One Unified Israel


Of late, there has been much unrest and noise from out of the Jewish New Orthodoxy, the Torat Chayim, Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox organization, demanding that Israel bend to their versions of acceptability for conversions that are not strictly Halachic according to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. They were kind enough to put their demands into a letter written to express their obviously superior and more pluralistic views, which will allow for a more pleasant Israeli expression of Halacha, which could be acceptable to a larger general group of American Jews. The claim is that the Jews in America are turning away from Israel because Israelis demand that conversions be performed and approved by the Israeli Rabbinate that recognizes numerous Synagogues for meeting their Halachic standards. They were kind enough to even put it into writing, so, please allow us to quote:

As progressive, pluralistic orthodox rabbis associated with the rabbinic group Torat Chayim, we stand fully as allies with our sisters and brothers throughout the entire Jewish community in support of pluralism in America and Israel. We were disheartened to read that the Israeli government has rescinded its commitment to create a space for alternative and liberal groups to pray at the Western Wall and is moving to delegitimate all conversions but those done by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”
“Imposing one narrow version of Orthodox Judaism as the official standard for prayer and for conversion in Israel harms the unity of the Jewish people and it harms support for Israel in America. We encourage all Modern Orthodox Jews to publicly support freedom for multiple religious approaches to Jewish life. The Torah demands that we embrace humility in our dealings with fellow human beings. Pirkei Avot teaches: Do not demand to be the sole judge (of what is right or wrong in religious matters) for only God — and not humans representing God — has the capability of being the sole judge.
“This means that we should bring humility – not arrogance; and wonder – not certainty — to our relationships. The Sages teach that we are stronger when we disagree openly and respectfully while continuing to engage with one another and honor each other’s human dignity. We honor the different paths of our fellow Jews, even if we have our disagreements for the sake of heaven, and we yearn deeply to see a truly pluralistic Israel.”
Rabba Dr. Carmella Abraham-Rabbi Dr. Marc AngelRabino- Daniel Askenazi-Rabbi Ben Berger-Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger-Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo-Rabbi Menashe East-Rabbi Michael Cooper Emerson-Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber-Rabbi Avidan Freedman-Rabbi Marc Gitler-Rabbi Daniel Goodman-Rabbi Dr. Mel Gottlieb-Rabbi Ben Greenberg-Rabbi Dr. Yitz Greenberg-Rabbi Herzl Hefter-Rabbanit Bracha Jaffe-Rabbi David Jaffe-Rabbi David Kalb-Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky-Rabbi David Kashe-rRabbi Ysoscher Katz-Rabbi Will Keller-Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn-Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz-Rabbi Yehoshua Looks-Rabbi Asher Lopatin-Rabbi Dr. Ariel Evan Mayse-Rabbi Avram Mlotek-Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman-Rabbi Micha OdenheimerR-abbi Haim Ovadia-Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picard-Rabbi Aaron Potek-Rabbi Dr. David Rosen-Rabbi Abe Schacter-Gampel-Rav Hanan Schlesinger-Rabbi Gabriel Nachman Kretzmer Seed-Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller-Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein-Rabba Ramie Smith-Rabbi Devin Villarreal-Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz


Women Rabbinic Signatories from Above Letter

Women Rabbinic Signatories from Above Letter


With such an impressive list of names, one would think that this is a movement with tens of thousands of members. They represent, at most, a few thousand Jews. Most of the names above were either in the initial movement of graduates of the Yeshiva run by the Torat Chayim, Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox organization. Perhaps the initial discussion we should entertain is the actual feelings towards Israel that is honestly held currently in the United States. As former members of the Conservative Synagogue, which was the better choice between it and the Reform Synagogue, as the town had no Orthodox and the closest Orthodox group met at one person’s residence a little over a hundred miles from our home, just a tad beyond walking distance; we got a first hand sample of the true and honest feelings of a typical congregation, and from the sample of those who attended Saturday Morning services, alias, the really seriously religious group. We will get to our sampling, but first some, reality check, facts. When the Israelites left slavery in ancient Egypt, according to our Sages, approximately twenty percent of the Jews decided to leave and the remainder preferred the safety and security of Egyptian slavery. When the Jew returned from the Babylonian exile, our Sages tell us, again about twenty percent decided to return and build the Second Temple while the remainder figured they would sample Persian culture and practices. When Israel first opened up to Jews the overwhelming reaction was not exactly excited exhilaration. Simply put, very, very few Jews left whatever comfortable lives they had in Europe, America, Russia, the Arab world of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Iran, India, Ethiopia, South Africa and wherever else the Jews were living in the 1800’s and first quarter of the 1900’s, before the British decided to close the door, the flow was light to a trickle resembling anything but a torrent. The Jews stayed put. Even when Ze’ev Jabotinsky (one of our main heroes) visited Eastern Europe and tried to tell the congregations that the Nazis and Hitler were going to be a huge problem for them and they should come to Eretz Yisroel, you know what happened? The Rabbis, once the word got out, refused to allow him into their Synagogues and, even when he managed to tell their congregations, they told their congregations that Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a lunatic and scare-monger who had no idea what he was talking about and they were fine and should simply stay put. The point, the Jews are like all people, they prefer the comfortable place that has been home no matter the situation and are apprehensive about change. Imagine that.


That said; let us move on to the next little misconception. When they poll any sample of Jews about their feelings towards Israel, the question is virtually always something like, “Do you support Israel?” Surprisingly, the response usually receives seventy-five or eighty percent say yes. But how about when the question is, “Do you support the Two-State-Solution and a state for the Palestinian people?” Believe it or not, you still get well over fifty percent sometimes as high as seventy-five percent yes. Now we can get to a more particular poll where the question becomes, “Do you support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government?” Now it depends on whom you poll amongst Jews. Strictly Halachic Jews will respond well over fifty percent and probably close to ninety percent supporting. Reform Jews will respond exactly the opposite with over three-quarters not approving the Netanyahu government. The Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox Jews will probably respond favoring the negative side as they see the Netanyahu government as their opposition and not favoring their position of a more understanding and liberated Judaism. The Conservative Jews will poll, unfortunately, closer to the Reform than the Halachic Orthodox Jews when it comes to the Netanyahu government. If Amir Peretz, the new Labor Party leader, or Ehud Barak, a newly active Labor Party former leader who also has decided he might desire a run against Netanyahu, and either of these leftists were to become Prime Minister of Israel, then the non-Orthodox Jews would suddenly love the government while the strictly Halachic Orthodox Jews would still support the government and Israel because their support is not tied to politics. They would also express some wariness towards such a government but would still support the government and oppose maybe some of their ideas.


Co-ed rabbinic ordination ceremony at Yedidya with Rabbi Daniel Landes

Co-ed rabbinic ordination ceremony at Yedidya with Rabbi Daniel Landes


So, where are we going with all of this discussion? Well, let us go straight to the really big question and what if they asked all the American Jews, “Are you planning on making Aliyah in the next ten years?” This is the one question where the answer would be rather consistent across all stripes and it would be a rather solid, “No!” Perhaps this would be the good spot to talk about our pre-Aliyah experience. First and foremost, our Rabbi, Hashem bless the man, was supportive and overjoyed for us and his enthusiasm was wonderful. The congregation broke into three distinct groups, which mirrored their politics almost to a person. The conservatives, both the openly conservative and the friends who preferred that we never reveal their politics, to a person were happy and many expressed their desire to also make Aliyah and many of these are planning on retiring to Israel and we invited them to come to the same area we chose, though some expressed a great desire to move to Jerusalem. The through and through leftist members all but to a person considered us to be borderline insane for wanting to move to Israel and leave the United States, the best and most natural place for any Jew to live. Many pointedly bet that we would be back in the United States within a year, two at the most. The more moderate congregants were less declarative but the majority of them simply wished us well but thought that we were making a mistake to leave the United States and especially to go to Israel. Honestly, we were surprised by the reaction being from the greater majority of congregants we knew and were social with were discouraging in their expressions towards our making Aliyah. The really odd thing was that they were confused about our enthusiasm for moving to Israel and leaving the United States. Most who asked why we were making the move did not believe the answer that one of us had always wanted to make Aliyah and the two of us both really loved our pilot trip and were anxious to make the move. Lastly, the ones who thought we were going to come running back to the United States are in for a surprise, we love it here in Israel.


The reality is that the vast majority of American Jews cannot see moving to Israel in the coming years and believe that leaving the United States is a foolish and idiotic idea. They will say they support Israel whenever they are asked by a pollster. They say this because it requires nothing from them. Many will send money to Israeli funds and charities because that is what Jews do. But when they are talking amongst themselves, they tell a different story. They are not in any way Zionist and have referred to the Israelis living in Judea and Samaria as settlers and many honestly believe they are living on Palestinian lands. The majority believe that if Israel would be more flexible and just give the Arabs the lands beyond the Green Line that there would be peace. They agreed with President Obama that Israel was the reason there was no peace. Often having conversations with many of our fellow congregants, we found that avoiding the subject of Israel was the wisest of decisions. The average American Jew doesn’t give Israel much thought, as they are far too busy with life. Their first and foremost thought politically is support of the Democrat Party and liberal ideology. One of our friends from the congregation e-mailed us after the election and since and told us something we could have simply assumed ourselves. The congregation was largely in a funk being excessively distraught about having President Trump elected with Hillary Clinton somehow not being permitted her coronation. What can we add; they are good, loyal, leftist Democrats who place their party as amongst their highest priorities. It’s good to know that things have not changed, well, not exactly.


Many Jews in Europe are rapidly learning how fragile the societal acceptance of Jews can be. Many of the nations in Europe have rapidly growing anti-Semitism, which is starting to frighten many of them. What has been even more upsetting has been that from what we have noted, many of the Rabbis are telling their congregants that everything is under control, the government will protect them and that there is no reason to panic. The reality is that there is plenty of reason to panic. One perfect example comes from, of all people, Chief Rabbi of Russia and President of the Conference of European Rabbis Pinchas Goldschmidt who called for the Jews to take unity with European Muslims as they have a common cause in resisting attacks on minority religions and defending religious freedom. He was quoted in the Guardian stating, “When there is tolerance for other languages, other cultures, religions, traditions, we Jews feel more accepted. Jews always felt more comfortable in places where other cultures and religions were respected. At the moment when an ultra-nationalist wind begins to blow, it makes Jews, as a minority, uncomfortable.” Meanwhile, in France many Jews are wearing kippahs woven to match their hair so as not to draw attention while others simply ceased wearing them in public. Unfortunately, time has made the situation unavoidable and most of the Rabbis have taken to heart the need for their congregants’ safety. Some have began to admit of the necessity of caution and possibly for leaving Europe for the United States, Canada (postponing the inevitable) or Israel. Chief Rabbi of Brussels Avraham Gigi has stated, there is “no future for Jews in Europe.” He told a radio audience that, “There is a sense of fear in the streets, the Belgians understand that they too are targets of terror. Jews now pray in their homes and some of them are planning on emigrating.” The remainder of his radio interview can be read at the above link. A simple search tells the terrifying story facing European Jews but despite all the evidence of danger, many Jews remain passive refusing to leave their homes for the greater fear of the unknown.


Mind you, there is something Israel could do which would make this an easier sell that we believe that there is only one Judaism, that would be to have one Chief Rabbi. The great news is this will come to fruition once the Knesset passes a bill unifying the Chief Rabbinate and instead of having one Chief Rabbi for Ashkenazi and another Chief Rabbi for Sephardi, Israel would have one Chief Rabbi for all the Jews. One Chief Rabbi, one Judaism, and one Jewish People as unified Jewish community, then Israel can claim that one Jewish Law exists for all Jews. That would be the strongest message Israel could give the world and would allow for a single voice of the one Chief Rabbi of Israel telling the Torat Chayim, Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox organization, that there is but one Judaism and one Halacha for all Jews and this cannot be denied. Watering down Judaism or making a new and more “open” Judaism which permits for each Jew and each Synagogue or community to make their own Halachic laws and interpretations, then what is Judaism but a series of clubs each with their own charter. This experiment was already tried and it started in Nineteenth Century Germany with the early principles of Reform Judaism formulated by Rabbi Abraham Geiger. This more open form of Judaism was designed as Jews were, for the first time, recognized as members of the population of the nations in which they lived. The Ghettos were opened and the Jews were permitted to live wherever they wished amongst the general population. The new Judaism was fashioned to permit the Jews to enter into the general population as equals without being seen as different and so they would be accepted more readily. Many ‘unnecessary’ rules which were not ‘absolutely required’ or really all that ‘important’ to the essence of being a Jew were made ‘voluntary’ and Jews began to be assimilated. If you want to see the effect of making Judaism fit the desires and needs of each Jew individually instead of making each individual Jew fit Judaism as defined by Halacha, just look at the Reform Jews in the United States and you get your answer. According to estimates done near the end of the last century, the rate of intermarriage of Reform Jews was approaching three out of every four marriages. That makes Reform Jews merely with a one out of four chance of marrying within the faith. That is assimilation’s result, the end of the Jewishness of Jews.


I must admit that I only realized the necessity of strict Halachic Judaism as the sole allowable form after coming to Israel. This realization came along with the realization that being a Halachic Jew is actually far more easily accomplished in Israel. The supermarket only sells kosher food, the major ones while there are specialty markets, which are not necessarily kosher. There are Synagogues within walking distance throughout the town where we live. The main reason a Jew in Israel would not live a Halachic life is by choice, not lack of opportunity. In the United States, if a Jew does not reside in a neighborhood within walking distance of a Synagogue or have somebody from the congregation willing to put them up every Shabbat who does, then either they never attend Shabbat services or they use some form of conveyance on Shabbat. Those are the choices. To be a Halachic Jew in the United States you will need to either shop at one of the specific markets out of the many or be very specific in the brands you purchase. A Halachic Jew may only purchase meat from specific butchers. The basic idea is that being a Halachic Jew outside of Israel is only easy providing you reside in a very specific neighborhood, a luxury which is not necessarily affordable for all Jews. In many a city the Jewish ghetto, and that is what they actually are even if gilded, does not resemble a ghetto and can be very pricey. In Israel, being a Halachic Jew is possible in every price neighborhood.


Another reason there can only be one Judaism and that it must be Halachic as defined by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is because the big century-long experiment with cafeteria Judaism has failed and failed miserably. Tailoring Judaism to each fancy will lead to only one thing, no Judaism. Yes, a congregation of Torat Chayim, Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox, Jews can be held together most often by the Rabbi leading it. But what happens after the founding Rabbi? Does the next Rabbi have the strength of personality to hold everyone to the exact standards? Will the next Rabbi have that ability as well? Eventually the congregants will seek different Rabbis and each time the rules will be altered, weakened just enough to fit the new desires and demands of each successive congregation. The freedom initially taken to alter Halacha leads only one place, no Halacha just as the Reform movement proved. Sure the Torat Chayim, Open Orthodox or Progressive Orthodox, will claim that theirs is a different system and that it can hold the line. The problem is they have already proven they cannot hold the line as their own ordained Rabbis have allowed same-sex marriages and are now calling for an allowance to be made for intermarriage. Where now are they going to stop? The best bet is they will simply be the next revolution and will be exactly the same as Reform Judaism was except their decay from Halachic Law will be faster and more detrimental to Judaism than was the Reform movement. That is why Israel needs only one Chief Rabbi and Judaism only needs one Halacha.


All we wish to say is, “Judaism is One Religion for One People in One Nation with One Chief Rabbi.”


Beyond the Cusp


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