Media: Clinton’s Rabbi Is Mainstream, Israel’s Rabbis ‘Extreme’

Victories for intermarriage against the ‘narrow.’

08/10/10
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Maybe some Orthodox Jews are feeling “triumphalist” these days, with their high birthrates, high degrees of Jewish literacy and low assimilation rates, but to read the papers lately is to see Orthodoxy as a Palooka getting pummeled in a Pier 6 brawl. Between Chelsea Clinton’s intermarriage and the shelved conversion bill in Israel, the Orthodox are certainly getting the worst of it.

 

The Orthodox rabbis in Israel, favoring legislation institutionalizing the classic standards of conversion to Judaism, have been widely described as “fundamentalists,” “extremists,” “ultra-Orthodox, ” “militant” and “aggressive.”

In one opinion piece by Alana Newhouse in The New York Times (July 15), we’re told that the bill’s advocates are “demonstrably corrupt,” advocating something with “harrowing” implications, that “will destroy religious life in Israel,” let alone “threatening to sever the vital connection” between Israel and American Jews.

There were no balancing op-eds in the Times from even one person who supported the legislation.

Rabbi Mark S. Golub, the non-haredi president of Shalom TV, and a veteran of Newsweek’s “Top 50 Influential Rabbis” list, declared (July 27) that the campaign against the bill “overstated the threat the bill posed to non-Orthodox American Jewry and unnecessarily angered large numbers of uninformed Jews over a bill which actually does not address them at all. The Anglo Jewish media joined in the chorus warning of dire consequences were the bill to become law, while failing to separate fact from hysteria for their readers.”

Golub, a Reform rabbi, said the Newhouse piece “announced to all America” that the bill was “telling 85 percent” of the diaspora “that their rabbis weren’t rabbis, their religious practices were a sham, [their] conversions were invalid, their marriages weren’t legal under Jewish law, and their progeny were a tribe of bastards unfit to marry other Jews. In point of fact, the Rotem Conversion Bill says nothing of the kind.” Nevertheless, in most American media, to slander the bill was to be enlightened; to support it was to be extreme.

A Google search of “Israel conversion extreme fundamentalist” delivered 1,350,000 links.

And what of Rabbi James Ponet? He officiated on Shabbat with a Methodist minister at Chelsea Clinton’s intermarriage. Is that “ultra” or “extreme?”

A Google search of “Rabbi James Ponet,” along with “ultra” or “extreme” produced only six links. He’s not extreme; he’s Reform. The nerve of Israel’s chief rabbinate not to trust Rabbi Ponet with conversions.

Even at “On Faith,” the online Washington Post site for the discussion of religion, Sally Quinn founder of the site, said intermarriage makes her “hopeful.” It produces children who “grow up open-minded … respecting of people of all or no faiths rather than narrow their perspectives.”

One of the “On Faith” contributors, Rabbi David Wolpe, couldn’t help but say a kind word for being “narrow.”

“Intermarriage is a serious threat to Jewish survival,” writes Rabbi Wolpe. “We are a vanishingly small people.” A home where the mother is not Jewish, as Clinton is not, “is even more likely to result in children who do not identify as Jews.”

Yes, says Rabbi Wolpe, “Love vaults over boundaries and that is often both beautiful and compelling. Much can be lost along the way however, and it is difficult to keep both the integrity of a tradition and its universal messages. As with all great blessings, the blessings of America exact a considerable cost.”

Danielle Berrin, in L.A.’s Jewish Journal (Aug. 1) said there will be those “disappointed” by Clinton and Mezvinsky “for refusing to choose,” and presenting religious inconsistencies. “Well,” says Berrin, “we don’t live in a black-and-white world.” The critics are “silly and shortsighted. It is precisely the kind of all-or-nothing extremism that has fueled religious fundamentalism in Israel…. Chelsea Clinton may not be halachically (legally) Jewish, but then, who is?”

“Who is” — along with the “extremism” name-calling — brings us back to Israel’s conversion bill. Why doesn’t the Knesset seem to want to trust the Rabbi Ponets and Danielle Berrins of American Jewry with matters of Jewish identity?

If American liberal Jews increasingly want to give Israel “tough love” politically, Israelis increasingly aren’t afraid to give “tough love” back to American Jews, religiously.

In the liberal Haaretz (July 27), Israel Harel notes that opposition to the bill “has been joined by some who take a positive view of mixed marriage and of the secularization and de-Zionization of Israel.” He says you can’t make Israelis make religious choices they don’t want to make. There are “fewer than 100 congregations in Israel that describe themselves as Reform or Conservative,” writes Harel, “and most are small; compare that to thousands of active and growing Orthodox congregations.”

Harel adds, “The bill’s opponents are concealing the fact that it would not revoke Israel’s recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad. The only split in the Jewish people is thus the one carried out daily by those who split off from it. The hundreds of thousands of people who have turned away from Judaism did so irrespective of the admitted difficulties of converting in Israel, and this will hold for those who desert in the future, too.”

Israelis don’t think Reform and Conservative Jews will be around much longer. In Yediot (July 27), Aliza Lavi writes that the Clinton intermarriage illuminates a “new era where large parts of the young generation of U.S. Jews are no longer with us.” This is “a reality that threatens us all, both religious and seculars…. [The] cocktail of mixed marriages and declining attachment to Israel” is leading to a situation where “within a generation or two we’ll mostly be left with members of the Orthodox and haredi communities.”

In the end, writes Rabbi Golub of Shalom TV, the misinformation campaign “to generate American opposition to the Rotem Conversion Bill in Israel was remarkably successful.”

Shmuel Rosner, in his Jerusalem Post blog, agreed (July 14): “I know that progressive Jews around the U.S. are furious … Their anger has made a difference … In fact, progressive leaders should thank [the sponsors of the bill] for providing them with the rare opportunity of actually winning a battle against the Orthodox rabbinical establishment. In some bizarre way, they might want to consider this week as good one.”

 

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08/19/2010 - 17:00

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Mr. Guber: You are squeezing the truth out of statistics. You write that the majority of Jew under 35 "attending synagogue...on at least a weekly basis are Orthodox." While this is most likely true, the qualification of "...on at least a weekly basis...." eliminates most Reform and Conservative Jews, and especially those without affiliation, from the mix and makes your implies conclusion that 30% of worldwide Jewery must therefore be Orthodox highly questionable.
The issue is not so much between orthodox and liberal as between American and Israeli. In America, pluralism and liberalism have been the touchstones of the national experience -- for Jew and non-jew alike. In Israel, the emphasis has been on jewishness. This is why most Israelis who are not religious are not interested in reform or conservative judaism. This also speaks to the growing divide between Israeli and American Jews.
My question is when will the great mass of pluralistically-minded Israelis, particularly the Modern Orthodox community, find the political horse-trading and pandering to the most extreme religious elements in Israel obnoxious enough to say maspik? When will Beit Hillel begin to reassert itself against Beit Shammai? I have to tell you that I place the onus for resolving this situation on the Orthodox community, because it is the only community that has the political strength and the religious credibility to rein in the Charedim on these issues. In thinking about this dilemma, I can't help but think of the quote attributed to Martin Niemoller after his release from eight years in the concentration camps: "They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up." I know that the quote has been utilized to the point that it now seems like a cliche, and might seem almost offensive in this context, but it still seems so appropriate in thinking about the need for the Orthodox world to find a creative solution that allows for coexistence with the other movements of Judaism. Intermarriages like the Clinton-Mezvinsky nuptials present an opportunity at the same time they present a challenge. When I place the onus for promoting Jewish peoplehood on the Orthodox community, please consider the following issues as starters. 1. I know of no Conservative or Reform rabbi who refuses to recognize or acknowledge the smichah of an Orthodox rabbi or who would refuse to sit on a Beit Din with an Orthodox rabbi or who would question a conversion supervised by an Orthodox Beit Din. In contrast, I can count on one hand the number of Orthodox rabbis I know who would recognize or acknowledge the smichah of a Conservative or Reform rabbi or who would sit on a Beit Din with a Conservative or Reform rabbi or who would accept a conversion supervised by a Conservative or Reform Beit Din. With respect to the conversion question, by the way, there is no practical difference between Orthodox, Conservative and most Reform conversion processes today other than the source of smichah of the rabbis serving on the Beit Din. In many instances, the experience may be even more rigorous in many respects in the Conservative and Reform processes from what I have seen. As a corollary, notwithstanding the theological distinctions between the Orthodox world and the more liberal movements, I suspect that the training of a Conservative rabbi for smichah may be substantially more demanding in a variety of respects than the training required for smichah from many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox yeshivot. 2. I know of no Conservative or Reform Jew who would refuse to join a minyan in an Orthodox shul, although they may have philosophical concerns regarding a mechitzah. In contrast, there are very few Orthodox Jews I know who would join a minyan in a Conservative or Reform shul, and most of them would say the t'fillot privately before physically joining the minyan. 3. I know of no Conservative or Reform Jew who would deny Orthodox Jews the right to have segregated prayers at the Kotel. Today, unlike the late '70s when I lived in Israel and women routinely read at the Kotel from the Torah and, for example, from Eicha on Tisha B'Av, a woman attempting to do the same thing would likely be arrested after she was stoned by Charedim. A woman wearing a tallit at the Kotel also is subject to arrest today. Today, in contrast to the late 1970s and '80s, groups of men and women are no longer allowed to pray together anywhere in the vicinity of the Kotel plaza without fear of physical attacks by Orthodox Jews and arrest. 4. I know of no Conservative or Reform Jew who would question the kashrut of the home of an Orthodox Jew who tells them that the home is kosher. I know of very few Orthodox Jews who would not question the kashrut of the home of a Conservative or a Reform Jew, even if the host assured them that the home was kosher. 5. I know of no Conservative or Reform rabbi who refuses to sit on a communal board of rabbis because there are Orthodox rabbis participating. I can count on one hand the number of Orthodox rabbis I know of who openly participate on communal boards of rabbis outside of Israel... and of course Israeli boards of rabbis are hardly pluralistic. Most Orthodox rabbis with whom I am familiar do not participate on communal boards of rabbis either out of conviction or out of fear of censure and ostracism by their fellow Orthodox rabbis. I understand that this attitude is based on the writings of Rabbi Soloveitchik, whose scholarship on many halakhic issues I have admired. In this instance, however, I fear that his writings and practices may have caused severe if not mortal damage to the cause of Jewish unity. 6. Conservative and Reform Jews accept Orthodox converts as fellow Jews for all purposes. On the other hand, I know of very few Orthodox Jews who accept Conservative or Reform converts as fellow Jews for any purpose. 7. No Conservative or Reform Jew, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that their rabbis should have a right to determine whether an Orthodox convert's motivations for conversion were sincere for any purpose, including the Law of Return, which has always been available to provide automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jew, including any convert from any denomination of Judaism, dating back to its adoption in 1950. Once again, in contrast, members of the Orthodox community have repeatedly attempted to impose their standards on the definition of "who is a Jew" for purposes of the Law of Return and Israeli citizenship. The amendments to the Rotem bill which made it so horribly objectionable to the great mass of informed Jews were just the latest iteration in that effort. Today, ultra-Orthodox dayanim in Israel with the sanction of the Chief Rabbinate almost routinely have nullified even Orthodox conversions - a phenomenon, again to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented in the history of Judaism and without precedent in halakhah. I can tell you with absolute confidence that, when the leaders of the Orthodox community are willing to begin conversations with the leaders of the Conservative and Reform communities without preconditions, and with mutual respect and sensitivity, I am confident that they will find receptive counterparts immediately. There clearly is much to discuss, including finding solutions to the ticking Russian timebomb. But when might any of this dialogue begin to inform Israeli politics?
these rhetorical questions all derive from the same baseless premise: that conservative and reform rabbis and ceremonies have the same legitimacy as orthodox and therefore that orthodox rabbis and jews are at fault for not accepting them. that false (or at least unproven) premise is the crux of the problem and while the writer may believe it is correct, how does he or she have the temerity to simply assume that it's true and that therefore anyone who doesn't accept it is a bigot or worse? I'm not here to argue orthodox theology vs. conservative and reform but simply to point out the illogic of all those who say to the orthodox, chuck your disagreements and give up because we're 85% of world jewry (today) and really don't like what you stand for (even though our grandparents and certainly our great-grandparents stood for the same thing).
While I have watched the gradual ascension to political and religious power of the Charedim troubling, as a non-citizen, I have been willing to accept it as part of the necessary give and take in Israeli politics and I have continued to pay my AIPAC dues, literally and figuratively, and to follow the AIPAC approach of never challenging Israeli policies publicly, even if I disagreed with them strenuously. I have watched the abandonment of Jerusalem by the Chilonim, including middle-aged lifelong Yerushalmim who moved to Tel Aviv the day after we attended a cocktail party at their former home in Rechavia last March. I viewed the tide of nullifications of even Orthodox conversions with some alarm, but assumed that at some point the Orthodox community would respond. Instead, the Orthodox response has been to become even more reluctant to perform conversions generally and to effectively cater to the machmer world of the ultra-Orthodox. I viewed the rise of apocalyptic Orthodoxy in the settlements and elsewhere in the national religious movement as an extreme fringe element, particularly when it led to the assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister, but I see this fringe today as having succeeded in imposing its will on the great mass of Israelis when it comes to the discussion of limiting the settlement enterprise beyond the Green Line to areas of strategic importance and to dismantling illegal outposts. So today we have women stoned and arrested for reading from the Tanakh at the Kotel (parenthetically, women routinely publicly read from the Tanakh without any public outcry when I lived in Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s). We also have the charming innovation of segregated buses requiring women to sit in the back (I know these are only on a few select lines, but the precedent is outrageous), and schools funded by the state that are segregated effectively along ethnic lines. On a personal level, I found the decision of a young Israeli couple whose wedding I recently attended to engage in an act of civil disobedience in connection with deciding to be married halakhically but not under Israeli law (without the participation of the Chief Rabbinate) to be inspiring, but also terribly illustrative of the current state of affairs. Recently, as noted above, I happened to read in Ha'Aretz about a close relative of Sokolow and the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors who made aliyah several years ago, but now is unable to prove her Jewish particulars to the satisfaction of the Rabbanut: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/sokolow-s-niece-not-jewish-enough-to-marry-here-1.304882 and refrains from pursuing the insult in the religious court system for fear of being declared a non-Jew by a Charedi judge. One important element of the problem is the reality that at least 85% of the Jewish world is non-Orthodox. It seems to me as someone who has had intimate dealings with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements over the course of my life that mutual respect and a willingness to tolerate a variety of approaches to Jewishness alongside one's own seem to be fundamental to finding an effective communications vehicle between the Orthodox community and the great masses of world Jewry, and to finding a way out of the Russian mess, as well as a variety of other challenges that Israel seems to be creating for itself.
Statistics can be deceptive and slippery things. Thirty years ago the same number, 85%, was quoted. I have watched very large Orthodox families -produce very large Orthodox families - produce very large orthodox families during those three decades. Let the writer site a source for what is now silly and outdated information. Beyond that as at least half the world's Jews have no affiliation at all, even if this number were correct ( it is not) It would mean that at least 30% (not the implied 15%) of active committed Jews are Orthodox. By the way the majority yes I said majority of Jews under 35 years of age attending synagogues world wide on at least weekly basis are Orthodox. I wish there were more substance to the writer's claim. I have no wish to loose non-Orthodox Jews- believe me, we are talking about my extended family here - people I love, but the writer is creating a mirage and more feel good statistics which is the last thing we need.
Mr. Mark's piece adds one more unbalanced article to the mix on this issue. From the perspective of someone who has converted to Judaism under Orthodox auspices, the bill as written would have given the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which virtually everyone I know considers a corrupt institution, the power to review my conversion for "sincerity" for all purposes, including qualification for the Law of Return. To say that I find the Knesset effectively placing my Jewish identity into play both offensive and hurtful is an understatement. I personally view these issues as quite fundamental. I have always viewed my right and my children's and my grandchildren's right to an Israeli passport as almost a sacred covenant between my family and Israel. One of my sons, parenthetically, carries an Israeli passport and served in the IDF. My suggestion, with all due respect as a non-Israeli, but someone who cares passionately about Jewish peoplehood and about Israel retaining its position at the center of the Jewish world, is that it is long past time for the Israeli body politic to come to grips with the need to find an inclusive approach to the Jewish world and to find ways to strengthen the Jewish people rather than engaging in sinat chinam, which is what the Charedim have been promoting as far as I'm concerned, and bare knuckles politicking over the relationship between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world. If you want to find an almost surefire way to make Israel irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of Diaspora Jews, which of course none of us wants, bills like Rotem's, which have the potential to change the current "who is a Jew" status quo in a more Charedi direction, are the perfect way to get there.
What we need is "extremism" for the middle road. Reform approaches to lineage and intermarraige and haredi approaches to conversion and women are BOTH major threats against the future of Judaism and the Jewish people! And I hate seeing Conservative Judaism lumped with "progressive" Judiasm. Conservative Judiasm is (or at least was) committed to halacha --- something shared with Orthodoxy and not with Reform or other streams.
What part of Deuteronomy 7:3-4 do the non-Torah observant Jews not understand? "You shall not intermarry..." Those who reject Torah and Halakha have no standing to complain about Torah and Halakha. It is NOT the obligation of Judaism to adapt to the modern world. It is the obligation of Jews to adapt the modern world to Judaism. Young Mr. Mezviinsky has already decided that being accepted as a Jew by goyim is more important to him than having his future children accepted as Jews by Jews. If Chelsea Clinton-Mezvinsky wants to convert, she would be welcomed. If their future children want to convert, they should be welcomed. But at this point in time, it is logically inconsistent for the happy couple to claim any affinity for Judaism if they reject what makes Judaism different: Jewish scripture, and Jewish law. Without those things, the difference between Jews and non-Jews is merely symbolic. One can be a good person without being a good Jew. If you want to be a good Jew, you must be a both a good person and be respectful of Jewish scripture and law.
Why is it that the Reform and Conservative branches have to sing the praises of interfaith marriages - do they need something to prove. The sad part about it is that intermarriage where there is no conversion to become Jewish is very sad. We are in sad shape - the Hareidim and orthodox families are increasing and the other families not. Are the others jealous - why aren't they increasing their families? It is easy to blame the religious fanctions a fact the the JEWISH WEEK loves bring out. Yes it's very nice that the wedding occurred - but the fact remains is that reform and conservatives "CHOKE" at increasing their families, thus DECREASING non-orthodox families, thus self desrtuction. I challenge all the Reform, Conservative, Trationalist, etc non orthodox 'jewish' Rabbis to challenge their communities and come up to the challenge and increase your fold - but not by intermarrying and not keeping the jewish faith - or are you unable to stand up to the challenge. Remember Hitler did not care if you were othodox, conservative, reform, 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, or whatever all you had to be is 'jewishlike' - There is no joy intermarriage - do we have to like it - NO! but by the same token we cannot alienate - It is sad that at this time of the year we can't get along - MAy we all have a prosperous, joyus, and healthy New Yeat - FREE OF INTERMARRIAGE !
If the "moderates" among the Jews had their way a couple of hundred years ago, there would be no Jews left today. I guess it is left for us, the politically incorrect "extremists" to try to maintain our identity. This may mean alienating and infuriating the moderates. But, they don't seem to want to be Jewish anyway, so who cares? Now if these same moderates would relocate to Israel, share our risks, share our joys, then they too can have a voice locally. If they choose to remain abroad, then let them stay out of our internal affairs.
You do not address the woman that had to go back four generations and get Ketubas and Birth certificates. Her family was in the HOlocaust try to get Birth Certificates and especially Ketubas. The woman only wanted to get married in Israel. Now she will get married on a Kibbutz by a Conservative Rabbi and go to Cyprus to have a civil ceremoney. How can a so called Orthodox Rabbinate allow this? This is like the Nazi's but in reverse. If you had a Jewish grandmother you where Jewish. So what is the Rabbinate trying to alienate any Jew that does not do what they want. I don't think so and people have the right to be Jewish in there own way. I am appalled and I am a Jew from America and could not produce any of these papers.
It is time to bring down the volume. I believe the women was given bad advice regarding how to prove she is Jewish according to Jewish Law. I am a professional genealogist and it may surprise you to know that Halachic proof can asserted to and accepted by Rabbinic courts many ways. Documentary evidence comes in many forms, and generally even children of Holocaust survivors can locate suitable documents with the right plan and a little patience. You are wrong in your last assertion. I could probably prove you are Jewish to the satisfaction of Rabbinic court in a day or two providing the most basic facts bear out to be true. Those facts would be known to you and you probably know them now. With all due respect this subject does not need more emotional sanctimonious heat. There is almost always a way. Rafael Guber
This doesn't show that Rabbi Ponet is mainstream. It just shows that there are a lot of commentators out there who are stupid. Their silly arguments won't change the true reality of intermarriage. Nor will it change the reality of Israel.
A friend, touring Italy, came across the town of Pitgilano. There the gentile hid and protected the Jews during WWII. The gentiles and Jews got a long. In fact, the Jews and the non-Jews got along so well since WWII that they all intermarreid. Wonderful! Today, as a result of intermarriage, there are no Jews (except one old woman) left in Pigilano. The "moderates" can now declare their ultimate victory.
And so, rather than the numbers diminishing because the Nazis shipped their ancestors off to concentration camps, the Jewish population was dimished because of human connectinons. An irony, for sure, but one that is quite preferable to most of us.

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