Sunday, July 16, 2017

Recognizing Truth - No Matter the Source

A Reform egalitarian prayer service at Robinson’s Arch
Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein is one Orthodox rabbi that I believe has caused more damage to Orthodox Judaism than just about any other Orthodox rabbi. His name is practically synonymous with the ban on Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s books issued by his mentor, Rav Elyashiv. 

That ban has done incalculable harm to fellow Orthodox Jews - driving a wedge between many modern Orthodox Jews and Charedim. As have so many other things he has had a hand in. I am therefore loathe to agree with anything this man says about any subject. And yet I find myself mostly in agreement with him on a subject on which he was recently interviewed. 

By the same token I find myself in disagreement with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, someone that I consider a hero. While I still do consider him a hero on so many levels, he has made some comments in recent years on a variety of issues that trouble me. The latest of which is his apparent support of heterodox movements: 
"First and foremost, [Diaspora Jewry can teach us] the idea of pluralism…I see the Reform and Conservative as my partners and as part of Israel... 
I really do not understand how this student of Rav Soloveitchik (the Rav) who in the past did not make a move without consulting his teacher and mentor, could say something that is in diametric opposition to his views. 

It is rather well known that the Rav did not permit any of his students to participate with heterodox rabbis except in matters of communal welfare. In theological matters, he forbade any participation because he considered them an illegitimate representation of Judaism. On this point the Rav was no different than Rav Aharon Kotler. And yet in calling them partners Rabbi Riskin seems to be rejecting his mentor’s clear directive.  That said I do not disagree with him about this: 
"There is a reciprocal relationship between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, which is very important, even vital for us,"  
Yes, there is. And it is important to maintain it. The only question is what the cost might be. The relationship cannot come at the cost of sacrificing our ideals. We can’t say that something is Kosher if it isn’t. Even if it would cost us good will. 

First the claim that their conversions should be recognized while at the same time welcoming intermarried couples – and even performing intermarriages is an outrageous demand that any rational person that recognizes the basic tenets of Judaism - would reject. And then there is the Kotel issue.

Until this controversy arose, there were no issues with respect to welcoming every Jew into Israel with open arms. That hasn’t changed. It doesn’t matter to which denomination a Jew belongs Nor how observant they  are. If a Jew comes to the Kotel there is no litmus test about observance or belief. Or even if they are Jewish. Ever since the return of the Kotel into Jewish hands thousands of Jews from all denominations have come to the Kotel; respected the rules; and in many cases found it to be inspiring experience even without it being egalitarian. 

What is happening now is that their leaders are insisting that their egalitarian standards be respected and recognized. Most of Reform and Conservative Jews did not have this issue on their radar at all -   until their rabbis made it one. And as noted here a few days ago, most secular Israelis could not care less about praying at the Kotel – even in an egalitarian setting. Which (as mentioned in the past) they already have in the little used portion of the Kotel called  Robinson’s Arch. It therefore seems obvious to me that the Kotel is little more than a tool being used for purposes of recognition. And Rabbi Riskin seems to be supporting that. Perhaps he was responding to this: 
“We love the State of Israel and will continue to do. But we will not sit idly by while the State of Israel delegitimizes us and frankly says to the Jews of North America and the Jewish of the world, ‘You do not matter,’” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the North American Reform movement, said June 26 at the Knesset. 
No, Rabbi Jacobs. The State of Israel does not say that at all. Nor do even the Charedi parties. It is not the Jews of North America or you they reject. It is the false ideology of Reform Judaism.

I cannot understand how a man like Rabbi Riskin can compromise the ideals he has worked for all of his life, ideals his mentor strived for – all for the sake of support from Diaspora Jewry. We need the support. But the price he is willing to pay is too high.

Which brings me to Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein. It galls me to say it, but in large part I agree with him:
“The reason why Judaism is the only religion that survived throughout thousands of years and all the massacres and all the attempts to destroy it is that the ours is the only religion that has always been the same, the way it was given to us on Mount Sinai,” Eisenstein said in an interview. “Who gave you, the Conservative and the Reform, the authority to make up a new religion?” 
Eisenstein said ultra-Orthodox opposition to the Western Wall deal was fundamentally about staving off state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism. The Western Wall agreement also called for an interdenominational Jewish committee to oversee the non-Orthodox section, which ultra-Orthodox critics felt gave non-Orthodox movements an unprecedented say in Israel’s religious affairs. 
Adding to this is Shas Kenesset member Rabbi Ayeh Deri. And although he too is not one of my favorite people, here he speaks the truth: 
“We have nothing against Jews in any place they may be. They are all our brothers,” he said. “Our fight is against the approach, this ideology which is attempting to bring a new Judaism here, is trying to destroy everything that we built here over the years.”  
So there you have it. This is little more than a fight over legitimization of violations of Halacha that are increasingly being accepted by heterodoxy. And no Orthodox rabbi could ever agree to that.