Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The New Rabbi Riskin

Rabbi Shlomo Riskn, current Chief Rabbi of Efrat
How sad it is for me to see the demise of a great rabbi. But that is the only way I can see what is happening now to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He has essentially moved himself firmly into a religious position so far to the left that he seems to have effectively cut himself off from the mainstream.

I am sure that Rabbi Riskin’s large core of supporters will challenge me. They will say it is not Rabbi Riskin whose demise we are watching, but the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. They will say that the Rabbinate is the one that has moved out of the mainstream by coming under the influence (if not outright control) of the Charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel. While I agree that the Rabbinate has moved in a rightward direction that is influenced by Charedi Rabbonim, I am not convinced that their motivations with respect to Rabbi Riskin are necessarily a refection of that.  From JTA
The Chief Rabbinate has declined to automatically renew Riskin’s appointment and has summoned him for a hearing on the matter on June 29.  
Rabbi Riskin is defiant. He says he will remain Chief Rabbi no matter what the Rabbinate decides. For as long as the Efrat community wants him. 

Rabbi Riskin has been the Chief Rabbi of the West Bank city of Efrat since 1983  when he co-founded it. Before that he was the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS).  There is not a doubt in my mind that his contributions to Klal Yisroel are vast. He was an eloquent  defender of Orthodoxy against Reform and Conservative Judaism.  His principled view of living in Eretz Yisroel moved him to make Aliyah in the middle of a highly successful career.There he built a community of devoted citizens that absolutely adore him.

His commitment to Orthodoxy had always included the recognition that there were rabbis greater than he.  Chief among them - his Rebbe and mentor, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (RYBS). He also consulted with R’ Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He always consulted with the likes of these great rabbis before embarking on ambitious projects designed to advance the cause of Orthodoxy.

Although there were some things about him that I saw as controversial (like his penchant for psychoanalyzing the Patriarchs of Judaism) I gave him a pass because of those overwhelming and indisputable  contributions. 

But as Gil Student points out – Rabbi Riskin has changed. He no longer feels the need to consult. And some of his programs have surpassed by far any possible approval from his Rebbe and mentor, RYBS. Like his decision to start ordaining women. Or his aggressive embrace of Christianity to the point of making flattering comments about Jesus in his attempt to increase and enhance Christian support of Israel and the Jewish people.

And then there is the sticky issue of conversions. Rabbi Riskin seems to feel that this is the primary issue that the rabbinate has with him. He disagrees with their requirement that all conversion should be done through them. And that only those conversions will be recognized as legitimate.  Rabbi Riskin believes that conversions should be allowed by local municipal rabbinical courts not subject to the rabbinate whose conversion standards vary.

His reasons are pure. He believes that the Rabbinate’s requirements are too strict for purposes of converting the masses of Russian immigrants who were born of a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother. There are Halachic opinions that allow for leniencies in such cases. And he feels that because of the demographic time bomb that these immigrants represent, every leniency should be employed even if they are no longer accepted by the mainstream. 

I’m not here to judge who is right and who is wrong as I am not qualified to do so.  What I will say is that matters of converting to Judaism should not be taken lightly. And that matters of state cannot supersede Halacha.

I suspect that this Rabbi Riskin may be right about why the Rabbinate is now reluctant to renew his status as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. But even without that, there is ample reason to question what he is doing in those other areas. One cannot look at past accomplishments. One must look at what that person is about now. One must make judgements about fitness based on the present. Not the past.  

I agree with Gil. Rabbi Riskin has changed. It is a change that clearly includes a radical agenda. I don’t blame the Rabbinate for carefully reviewing his fitness for the post. Radical agendas are not what Judaism is about. This is the new Rabbi Riskin. I miss the old one.