Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Mischaracterization of the Truth

Conservative Rabbi Michael Siegel (CJN)
One of the most talked about issues facing the Jewish people right now is how Israel should treat Diaspora Jewry. I cannot remember a time where there was more divisiveness among our people. The issues specifically under contention are conversions to Judaism and granting non Orthodox streams of Judaism some degree of official recognition via an egalitarian space at the Kotel.  

The government of Israel has reneged on a deal made to allow an egalitarian space at the Kotel. That was because of Orthodox opposition to the legitimacy that would be conferred upon them by a committee that would be established to be preside over it consisting of rabbis from both Orthodox and non Orthodox movements. That would amount to a back door recognition.

The other issue is the Chief Rabbinate’s standardization of conversion procedures that in effect has formalized the invalidation of every non Orthodox - and even some Orthodox – conversions. A corollary  of which is that non Orthodox rabbis - and even some Orthodox rabbis - cannot be trusted to verify the Jewish status of anyone. 

I disagree with not accepting some Orthodox Rabbis’ testimony about an individual’s status as a Jew. But that is beyond the scope of this post.

I have endorsed the idea of standardization of conversion procedures. And so too has the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) who created new guidelines (GPS) that have been accepted by the Rabbinate.

In their most recent issue, the Chicago Jewish News interviewed  2 non Orthodox rabbis that were placed on a ‘blacklist’ made by a political hack in the rabbinate. This fellow apparently on his own (according to Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau) decided that it was necessary to list rabbis whose testimony would not be accepted.  Those rabbis were understandably upset by being placed on this blacklist – which was a stupid and disgusting thing to do.

But their explanation of why they are upset skirts the real issue. This is not about rejecting non Orthodox Jews. This is exactly about those standards which their denominations do not adhere to. It should not be a surprise to anyone that rabbinate does not accept non Orthodox conversions and therefore testimony by their rabbis about who is or isn’t Jewish.

Those 2 rabbis have been parroting the charge by other heterodox rabbis that the rabbinate is rejecting 90% of the world’s Jews by refusing to trust their testimony. Adding insult to injury - YCT ordained Rabbi Avrom Mlotek mischaracterizes this as an issue of rejecting unity.

The idea that this is about unity or rejecting 90% of the world’s Jews because they aren’t Orthodox is a misdirection of what is going on.

This isn’t about unity. There was never any unity between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Orthodox Judaism has rejected all non Orthodox movements from their very inception. They have made no secret of that. These 2 rabbis know that as should Rabbi Mlotek.  

I’m sure that this situation has always bothered heterodox rabbis – They believe they are legitimate. No one wants to be considered illegitimate. But they know that Orthodoxy by definition cannot accept movements that it believes violate our basic religious principles. Heterodox rabbis know that too. And so too should Rabbi Mlotek.

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is composed entirely of Orthodox rabbis. That is how it was created long before the state itself was created. From the very beginning until this day, they are recognized by the state as the official religious authority. Recognition of other denominations is therefore simply not in the cards. No amount of push back will change that. Nor should it change in my view.

Saying that the State of Israel rejects 90% of world Jewry is therefore a demonstrable lie. There is no other way to characterize that claim. Orthodoxy does not reject any Jew, no matter how far removed they may be from Judaism.

It has always been that way. Before there was denominationalism, there was only one Judaism. There was a spectrum of observance among us that ranged from the most devout and observant to the least devout and non observant. But everyone knew what Judaism was. Which is essentially what Orthodoxy is today (Only it wasn’t called Orthodoxy since there were no denominations.)

If a Jew was not observant everyone knew what that meant. Demonationalsim changed all that. Reform decided that observance is not necessary. Conservative Judaism redefined Halacha to fit the times. One could now choose to be a non observant Jew without any guilt.  Obviously this was unacceptable to Orthodoxy - the historic and default state of Judaism

Religion in Israel is controlled by the Chief Rabbinate. Whose membreship is entirely Orthodox as it always has been. It is based on the historical fact that Orthodoxy is what Judaism originally was. There should be no surprise whatsoever that heterodox movements will be not be accepted and that any back door attempt at recognition by the Israeli government will be fought.

What about the value of pluralism? Is that not a legitimate goal of a democracy? It is and I support it. But to me pluralism does not require a legitimization of the illegitimate by a body charged with determining what Judaism is - and what it is not.

Pluralism in  a Jewish State means accepting every Jew as Jewish as defined a rabbinate that has fealty to Halacha - no matter to which denomination they belong – or even if they do not belong to any. Israel has never stopped any denomination from establishing a presence there and preaching their own gospel. That is pluralism. Forcing a religious body to recognize something to which they are ideologically opposed is not.

I just want to reiterate that I have nothing perusal against Conservative and Reform rabbis. I fully understand that their efforts are based on the principles of their denominations. 

They even share many values with Orthodoxy. Surely we can unite in common goals for the welfare of the entirety of the Jewish people. For example - lobbying congress to oppose Sunday blue laws is certainly something we can unite over. We can be close personal friends too. Friendship does not mean recognition. Rav Soloveitchik who was vehement in his opposition to heterodoxy had a very close relationship with a non Orthodox rabbi. As did the Serdei Aish before him - and more recently as did Rabbi Yosef Reinman (who is Charedi) had with a Reform rabbi.

I also strongly agree with Rabbi Mlotek’s criticsm of how some Jews on the extreme right have expressed their animosity to other – even Orthodox Jews - that do not meet up to their standards. But that does not add up to recognizing movements we consider illegitimate.  That would be a betrayal of our values. No one with any kind integrity would ever do something like that.

I would therefore ask that these rabbis  rethink how they criticize a rabbinate that is Orthodox and more importantly – to  stop distorting the truth.