Caulfield Shule President misses the crucial point

In a letter to the Australian Jewish News, Anthony Raitman does a good job of explaining that Shules need to become part of Centres of Orthodox Jewish interest attracting more people. The days of people who simply buy a seat are perhaps waning. Yes, if one attends 3 days a year, even if you have a great Chazan supported by a great Choir, there are challenges charging only for this. In days gone by, this was not the case. The community attended more often, many daily. This was a year long rental of a seat and all that goes with it, and a reasonable price. Caulfield Shule, which classes itself as Modern Orthodox does a great job at hosting and innovating new activities to attract people into the building.

Anthony, however, has missed one important point in my view. This relates to whatever the mission statement of the Shule may be. All the activities are means to an end. The end, though, is to have people feel affiliated to the extent that they will come to shule on more than 3 days. Many don’t come for Yizkor, let alone “Bar Mitzvah” anniversaries and all the new techniques. Ultimately, the cornerstone of all activities must be serious weekly and varied Jewish education, as part of the mix. Without that, people can see it as a Modern Orthodox Beth Weizman. I don’t think this was ever the view of the father of Centrist Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik. Serious Torah learning, varied, specialised classes for women on topics that relate specifically to them, etc must accompany all entrepreneurial approaches. Shule can’t simply be a performance. People must be transformed, and transformation can only apply through quality education.

I would hope that more Shules would adopt this as part of their mission statement. Some Chabad shules seizing on the opportunity, simply shift the financial onus from seat rental to raising money. However, they too need to be involved in not just the ‘feel good’ aspects. Torah education must be central to a centrist Orthodox Shule.

Unfortunately, Melbourne did not make use of Rabbi Kenneth Brander from YU, who turned a Shule from 60 members to 600 and is in charge of Yeshivah Universities outreach. He offered lots of free follow-up. I know of many Rabbis who haven’t even made contact with him. Yes, they have their own networks, but you can see the copycat styles even to the extent of canned pre-prepared Shiurim. Whilst pastoral care is critical, education is even more critical as it ensures continuity and revival.

How many Shules offer to say Kaddish on a Yohr Tzeit etc but could do it better by actually meeting the people, re-acquainting them with Kaddish and having them come to Shule and say it, with Tefillin? That’s a level higher.

On the nature of interfaith relationships

Many years ago, the indisputable Rabbinic Doyen of Centrist Orthodoxy (call it Modern or Torah U’Maddah if you like), Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, issued clear rulings under which interdenominational activities must be underpinned. Note, unlike, more right-wing streams of Orthodoxy, Rav Soloveitchik, was not an extremist advocating zero contact. At the time, the Rav’s focus was on Xtianity, as this was the prevailing pressure in the USA. To think that his advice would not equally apply to other religions, such as Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism is a non sequitur.

Rav Soloveitchik stated (emphasis is mine):

1. “We are a totally independent faith community. We do not revolve as a satellite in any orbit.” Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded. This refusal should be recognised by all participants as an ongoing point of disagreement between the faith communities, not an issue to be ironed out by apologetics or revisionism.

2. “The logos, the word in which the multifarious religious experience is expressed does not lend itself to standardization or universalisation. The confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level. There, all of us speak the universal language of modern man.” Because the theological language of the respective faith communities expresses religious sensations too intimate to be comprehended by those of another faith, dialogue must remain in the realm of the “secular orders.”

3. “Non-interference is a conditio sine qua non for the furtherance of good-will and mutual respect.”No Jew must ever suggest changes or emendations to Christian rituals or texts, and the converse is a requirement as well.

4. Any response to Christian overtures that even hints toward a willingness to compromise the fundamental matters over which millions of Jewish martyrs were sacrificed is an affront to their memory. To willingly equivocate where they stood firm demonstrates utter insensitivity to the “sense of dignity, pride, and inner joy” that their memory ought to inspire.

With this in mind, let us examine a letter from Rabbi Ralph Genende (emphasis is mine) of Caulfield Shule as an Orthodox Rabbinic member and President of JCMA

To Our Muslim Sisters And Brothers

Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Statement

11th July 2016

We watched with sadness and horror the tragic events of the last days of Ramadan and can’t imagine how difficult they were for you.

We know that there is wide consensus that these terrorist attacks are largely political and that Islam is being distorted and manipulated for political and ideological purposes.

The victims, the families and friends of the victims, are all in our prayers.

In Australia, we heard with pain the divisive and hurtful comments of Pauline Hanson about Islam and Muslims.

Know that we share in your sorrow and distress and that we stand with you in the struggle for love and compassion.  May they overcome bigotry and hatred and violence.

May the blessings of peace, Shalom, Salam speedily grace our planet.

Rabbi Ralph Genende

President JCMA on behalf of JCMA

I have a number of questions of Rabbi Genende.

  1. Does he accept Rav Soloveitchik’s principles as outlined above? If he does, I am comfortable with that. If he does not, I posit that he is acting outside the boundaries set by Rav Soloveitchik for the RCA. [ Yes, I am aware of revisionists from both sides (left/right) who want to strengthen or weaken what Rav Soloveitchik ruled, but I treat these as speculation of little substance]. We have what the Rav said explicitly. It is clear and unambiguous.
  2. If he accepts the Rav’s views, did he formally write the parameters to his colleagues through which dialogue could proceed, as enunciated by the Rav above. In particular, did he write words to the effect that“As Jews we will never concede at all to the notion that our covenant with God has been superseded by other religions and we formally seek your acknowledgement of this point before any dialogue can proceed. You may have your viewpoint, but I seek your explicit agreement that you acknowledge that we will never see our covenant as superseded by other religions, and there can be no apologetics or revisionism in this regard.”
  3. Can Rabbi Genende tell us whether he received condolence style letters of apology from his Muslim colleagues ever. If not, why might that be? If yes, surely, it is critical that he actually publish those letters. Such letters, more than Rabbi Genende’s letter, act as a counter balance to incitement.
  4. We experienced the recent murder of Rabbi Marks and the stabbing of the young girl Hallel Ariel about whom the State Department made no statement despite her being a US citizen, let alone a human being. I assume Rabbi Genende heard the brave tear-jerking speech at the grave by Hallel’s mother. Muslim men of the cloth, in such a forum, need to distance themselves from Arab politics, and issue unambiguous condemnation of cruel, disgustingly opportunistic cold-blooded murders. Surely, one basis of this group is that violence is to be condemned at all times, except if attacked in a war situation where one is defending oneself.
  5. If Rabbi Genende received no such letter of condolence from his Muslim friends of the cloth, then I see no reason for him to continue with letters of “Salaam”. What is the point? The only outcome from such things is  Queens Day honours for the committee for their tolerant platitudes and joint acts of breaking bread.
  6. I am not an expert on Pauline Hanson’s platform, however, a significant number of Australians voted for her viewpoint. In a democracy, this counts for votes in determining how we are governed. There is rhetoric and views from Hanson’s acolytes that are to be condemned. There are other statements that state the obvious, but neither the Labor Party or the Liberals would ever say those for fear of losing votes.  Whatever Hanson’s views are, I do not see it as the role of this committee via Rabbi Genende to make pronouncements about a political party unless Hanson’s party has a platform which is universally considered amoral. Rabbi Genende doesn’t mention which comments of Pauline Hanson he as our representative objects to, but I think that should be the focus and not Hanson herself. He should focus on what was said that is offensive, and if need be, condemn such statements where they offend common human decency. In a vacuum though, the letter simply reads as a political rejection of everything Hanson’s party stands for. It’s not the party per se. It is explicit policies, which may emanate from any party, including the Greens, that might be horribly objectionable to all three religions because they breach a basic covenant of morality. The issues, not the parties, should be the focus.
  7. I invite Rabbi Genende to publish letters initiated by either Xtian, Muslim or other colleagues in respect to violence against civilians in the wider world, including Israel. Paris anyone?
  8. I invite Rabbi Genende to ask his colleagues to openly condemn the current outrageous UNESCO proposal where they brazenly rewrite history, announcing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an exclusive Muslim holy place which has no connection to the Jewish people or their religion whatsoever! Does Rabbi Genende not remind his co-religionists that this is blatant lying, and lying is a common mundane human act that all religions should condemn? It is precisely the type of pronouncement (from UNESCO) about which Rabbi Soloveitchik warned.Last week UNESCO adopted a resolution which refers to Israel as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem and on, what UNESCO calls, the al-Haram al-Shariff (Temple Mount). The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) that is today Judaism’s holiest site is referred to as “Al-Buraq Plaza” in the resolution.The UNESCO resolution claimed “Israel is planting Jewish fake graves! in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” near the Temple Mount and falsely accused Israel of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”. Will Rabbi Genende’s committee distance themselves from such lies publicly? If not, why not? How does one sit on a committee with anyone who denies the Jewish foundation of Jerusalem?UNESCO especially mentioned the damage caused by Israeli Forces since Aug. 23 “to the gates and the windows of the so-called Qibli Mosque inside al-Aqsa Mosque.”. The organisation claimed that Israel doesn’t respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of al-Aqsa Mosque as “a Muslim Holy Site of worship and as an integral part of a World Cultural Heritage Site.” Rabbi Genende knows this is an abhorrent rewriting of history, or to use the words of Rav Soloveitchik,“Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded.”

    Given that this implicitly and explicitly concedes our covenant, let alone provable history, on what religious basis is Rabbi Genende continuing dialogue unless his co-religionists openly reject the notion in a letter initiated by them?

    Aug. 23 is the date that 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron in 1929 during riots that began after similar lies about a Jewish threat to al-Aqsa ignited the Arab street in British-ruled Palestine. Talmudic Geniuses from the Yeshiva in Hebron were among those murdered. Will Rabbi Genende not also focus on this parallel or does he confine himself to personhood statements of grief when one group of Muslims murders another group of Muslims?

    The UNESCO resolution doesn’t utter a word about the daily riots that already started on the Temple Mount in the summer of 2015 and continued into the autumn after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas spread false rumors that Israel intended to change the status quo on the mount. There is overwhelming video evidence of who started the fighting at the Temple Mount and of Muslims barricading themselves in the al-Aqsa mosque. Video evidence doesn’t count in a world of lies, and if men of the cloth don’t condemn such lies, why are we sitting with them on one table?

  9. One has to wonder: apart from appeasement in the name of “we are all one” what Rabbi Genende’s involvement on this committee actually achieves. I’d argue that sending all Victorian students to the holocaust centre achieves much more than such letters.

I also read the growing trend of experiencing the religious practices of other religions in moments of “unity”, with nice accompanying pictures (Rabbi Genende amongst them). I ask again, how is this consonant with Rav Soloveitchik’s ruling that things be restricted to secular orders. Rav Soloveitchik, effectively meant, looking after the poor, the needy, and Noachide-style edicts of having proper courts, order, etc.

I have no doubt that Rabbi Genende has the best intentions, but I believe that unless we see letters initiated by his co-religionists of this committee, then we are not getting a proper picture of what this committee does or what it hopes to achieve, and whether it achieves it or whether its terms of reference should be refined or changed.

I, for one, would have no regret in condemning  those Jews in Israel who burnt the Palestinian youth and criticising it as an act which is contrary to Halacha and normal moral law. Did Rabbi Genende write such a letter? We all know that  such Jews are minuscule in numbers, and that the Shin Bet is on their heads and tails, sometimes with justification and sometimes without. Jews act to quell violent radicalism.

Be under no illusion, Rabbi Genende. Even today, Xtians believe that all Jews should convert to Xtianity and Muslims believe that all Jews should convert to Islam. Under that factoid, it seems to me that confining activities to joint acts of the more secular, as enunciated by Rav Soloveitchik is the correct and only approach to take. Any more is platitudes that achieve very little.

The politics and policing of curbing incitement is the domain of politicians and the law, not a religious committee that ought to work together to foster those secular good acts that benefit society.

Centrist (Modern) Orthodoxy will die in Melbourne

Chabad are everywhere except where they aren’t. They work hard at it, and some are very good at it. They are entitled to the fruits of many years of work.

Those remaining Rabbis who aren’t Chabad, are almost exclusively left-wing. You can’t be modern if you aren’t left-wing. Consider that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria cannot make a statement about Open Orthodoxy (which is today’s incarnation of Conservative Judaism, except, in the words of Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter, “they can’t learn and perverted Yahadus”.)

The Rabbinic Council, led by (Chabad) Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick knew about the issue in Melbourne before it occurred, but have chosen silence. This is misguided as it won’t go away. If you are a Chabad Rabbi, then you don’t really care. You only care about the Jew, not the labels. You perform the tasks you believe will cause the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s return from on high to lead the Jews out of Golus. In my view that is why the Rabbinic Council is toothless. Shules are there because they include Jews who need to have their Klipos removed. I don’t include mavericks like M.G. Rabi in this; he has no community, only kashrus businesses.

Case 1: Rabbi Shamir Caplan (who is a lovely soft person) of Beit Aharon invites a “Maharat” whose title then morphs in other later advertising to “Rabbi”.

Case 2: Rabbi Ralph Genende of Caulfield Shule (who seems to have a penchant for quoting non Torah literature in his speeches) has decided to host the cutely misnamed Rabbi Ysoscher Katz from YCT. YCT is the left-wing break away from YU which has been considered beyond the pale by the Rabbinic Council of America.

Who in Melbourne cares? If it isn’t obvious, Shules in Melbourne will be led by young “I’m your friend style, Chabad Rabbis OR left wingers like Rabbis Caplan and Genende.

Rabbi Ralph Genende, second from the left at the well. Greens’ leader Di Natale is third from the right.

In truth, Jews actually need knowledgeable centrist Rabbis who live in this world, and don’t have an agenda and who give Shiurim on a range of topics. Rabbis need to become educators again, not feel good functionaries. I can see Melbourne in 10 years deprecating into an architectural abyss of a former era. I’d rather Moshiach came NOW!

I haven’t mentioned Mizrachi because they are in their own category. They consider themselves as the only real religious zionist shule. I think it is true that more B’nei Akiva graduates go on Aliya, than any other congregation, but I’ve never been comfortable with them “owning” Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim services. I feel these should be held in a different Shule each year. That is a more positive thing to do.

Who is there to talk to? The moribund Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV)-The “lay body”? Don’t waste your time. There are lots of old furniture still running that group and the meetings are thoroughly uninspiring. If there wasn’t an Eruv, they would be dead, ironically.

The Council of European Orthodox Rabbis agrees with the Rabbinic Council of America on this issue, and the general issue of YCT, and rabbi Avi Weiss et al. I don’t imagine the congregants of Caulfield Shule give a tinker’s cuss. These days, you do whatever you can to “bring them in”. How do they measure success? Seat Payments or regular Shabbos attendance or …

Here is a view from the RCA

Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)

Oct 31, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:
Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
And whereas on May 7, 2013, the RCA announced:
In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America
Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
Commits to an educational effort to publicize its policy by:
Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.
This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.

Inviting Jewish Politicians to speak on Shabbos

I noticed an advertisement by a Shule in Melbourne, where a Jewish Federal Member of Parliament (from the Liberal party) was invited to speak as follows:

Cholent n’ Chat Kiddush after Shabbat
Tefillah

With the dynamic and resourceful Federal Resources Minister Josh
Frydenberg

“Brave New Year: Economic and Strategic Challenges facing Australia”

Firstly let me say that this particular Shule does a great job creating interesting programs to attract people to Shule. They are to be commended for that. They are professionally run, and have full pews on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Now, I do not know Josh Frydenberg. I am hoping that he or a relative lives close to the Shule. In the least the Rabbi or a board member should have invited him for Shabbos. If this is not the case, then the creation of such an event serves to potentiate a Halachic abuse of Shabbos. I will assume Josh or his family live within walking distance or some other arrangement has been made. It is the responsibility of the Rabbi of the Shule to make sure that the Halacha is followed here. If Josh were not to be within walking distance, Rav Soloveitchik was very clear that it would be forbidden to invite a person when they “knew” such an invitation would induce Shabbos desecration.

The last issue is that of the topic. The Navi Yeshayahu 58:13 tells us:

אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי, וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ ה’ מְכֻבָּד, וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ, מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר

from which the Talmud (Shabbos 113B) and Codifiers conclude that one’s topics of speaking, should be “Shabbosdik”. A clear explanation of this can be found in (‘שולחן ערוך הרב’ או”ח סי’ שז ס”א), What I have written is short of an exact definition. At the same time, unless the organisers know exactly what Josh will be talking about, they may be causing an infraction for Josh. The speaker is the one who is enjoined not to speak about matters which involve or may come to involve acts forbidden on Shabbos. On the other hand, those who attend, also take part in this activity. If they were not in attendance, then there would be no talk. To be clear, if Josh was to speak about the Government’s attitude to Israel or Jewish multiculturalism or security that would be quite pareve. If, however, he were to speak about the likelihood of, say, changes to death duties or superannuation, then this would induce people to consider acting on their investment portfolios, and that may be forbidden. As I mention, I am not a Rabbi, so do take every thing I say with a grain of salt, and make sure you speak with your own learned Posek/Halachic Decisor.

The purpose of this post isn’t to seek out and unearth things that might be wrong in an Orthodox setting. For all I know, Josh may in fact be a member of Caulfield Shule and attend every now and again, in the same way that Michael Danby attends Elwood Shule regularly. I am simply noting that the planning of topics and events needs careful halachic attention.

Another aspect of  וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר is to make sure that people are not brought to צער (feeling bad) by the speech. As such, I would suggest that any Labor voters (I hope there is no such thing as a tree hugging anti semitic Greens voter among our people) would probably not be permitted to attend the talk as they would get annoyed by the Conservative platform that will be espoused. Causing yourself צער on Shabbos is contraindicated halachically as well.

Perhaps I am being over pedantic. Note though that I tend to look at things through the prism of Halacha especially when I had learned these laws only one week ago!

I repeat what I said at the beginning of this article: the particular Shule in question does a great job in bringing innovative new ideas to entice people to enfranchise with Judaism. I wish them only success.

Following on from Rabbi Genende’s critique of Noah and love of Abraham’s open flimsy tent …

I noticed a fan wrote a populist but sourceless response in the Jewish News. They say where there is a Rabbinic will there is a Halachic Way. In that spirit, I bring you some more open tents of Abraham as per the simile of Rabbi Genende, [Hat tip anonymous]

What I’d like the Caulfield Board and/or Rabbi Genende to answer is whether they see themselves as affiliated with the RCV or the Open Orthodox breakaway of Chovevei Tzion. I know the president of Caulfield reads my blog. I’d love a clear answer. I believe this is a reasonable and respectful question to ask.

Hevre,

As this email reaches your inbox, Dr. Elsie Stern, our vice president for academic affairs here at RRC, is notifying our rabbinical students that on September 21, 2015, RRC’s faculty voted to no longer bar qualified applicants with non-Jewish partners from admission to RRC, and to no longer ban RRC students in good standing from graduating as rabbis, because they have non-Jewish partners. As you are likely already aware, this policy change is the result of many years of discussion within the Reconstructionist movement.

Why have we taken this step? We no longer want to prevent very wonderful and engaged Jewish leaders from becoming rabbis. After years of study, research, and discussion with many members of the Reconstructionist community, we have concluded that the status of a rabbinical student’s partner is not a reliable measure of the student’s commitment to Judaism—or lack thereof. Nor does it undermine their passion for creating meaningful Judaism and bringing us closer to a just world. The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to fight or police; we want to welcome Jews and the people who love us to join us in the very difficult project of bringing meaning, justice, and hope into our world.

As many of you asked us to do, we have strengthened our admissions standards on reviewing an applicant’s commitment to Jewish continuity in their personal, familial and communal life. We make this change while also revising our curriculum in major ways, focusing intensely on how to train rabbis (and other leaders) on practices and teachings of Jewish distinctiveness, even as we are preparing them for leadership in a multicultural world.

It has been a long journey to come to this place. No one in the process takes this historic decision lightly. We do feel that it reflects some of the realities in Jewish communities today. Our congregations have members with non-Jewish partners, and we need rabbis who can provide them with role models for vibrant Jewish living. Reconstructionism has always been predicated upon changing as Jews and Judaism change, even when these changes are emotionally challenging.

In this season of Sukkot, we can’t help but think of the theme of the ushpizin, the guests we welcome into our sukkah each year. Some of them are family, and some of them are temporary strangers. Each of them has a life story to share with us. As we continue to welcome guests further into the inner sanctum of Jewish life and into our own families, we are humbled. Know that our faculty has wrestled with this issue for many years, on our own and in conversation with many of you.

In the coming days and weeks, we will schedule calls to discuss this further with congregations, rabbis, board members, supporters, and congregational and communal leaders. Stay tuned for details.

Please join me in moving ahead into the new season.

L’shalom,

Deborah Waxman

Rabbi Deborah Waxman
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities