Who is schnorring to fund Steven Greenberg’s trip?

The prime supporter and collector to fund Steven Greenberg is allegedly non other than that famous Jewish personality, who spoke at Habonim on Shavuos about how he ‘finally managed to break away from Orthodox Judaism’ -Mark Cherny.

We love you Mark, not just because you are a mad St Kilda supporter, but because despite what comes  out of your mouth, you cannot break away. No Jew can give away their essence, which contains Godliness. Yes, I’m aware that Science maybe your god, and I’m not getting into that topic here.

It is ironic that Mark who disavows Orthodoxy, is finding the funds to enable the non Orthodox Steven Greenberg to speak at an Orthodox Shule! Can you see what I see? As I understand it, all Orthodox Shules turned down Mark, except for Caulfield. Perhaps Steven Greenberg himself can convince Mark to remove the shade covering his glowing inner Jew-the Neshoma he disavows because it’s not in a test tube.

What I don’t understand is why Rabbi Genende was seemingly seduced by cheap populism. Modern Orthodoxy opposes Steven Greenberg and his husband. I’m sure Rabbi Genende will vigorously oppose Steven Greenberg, but is a function for young adults the correct address for this discussion?

By now, everyone knows that the ARK Centre and Shira Chadasha are the two outliers that have welcomed Steven. No shock horror in those two places opening their arms.

Bottom line: It should have stayed with ARK and Shira Chadasha and Michael Barnett’s group, which includes ‘intermarried homosexuals’, no less. Maybe Steven will try to convince intermarried homosexuals to stop their relationship because they are assisting a Ben Noach to sin?

On Steven Greenberg & Rabbi Genende

We are enjoined not to judge anyone until we are proverbially ‘in their shoes’. Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, with the agreement of its Senior Rabbinic Authority, Rabbi Ralph Genende, have invited members of the community to hear a self-professed homosexual, and self-professed Orthodox Jew, once ordained at YU, named Stephen Greenberg, to address his homosexual struggle, contextualised with his ‘partner’ and ‘daughter’. 
If we accept the theory that Steven was born with a predisposition of sexual attraction to the same gender, then we must ask  whether he consulted his teachers at YU. As someone who was ordained, this is even more of an imperative given the gravity of the issue and the world trip, crusader-like approach.

The Shulchan Aruch is acutely aware that some will have a tendency to be attracted to the same gender. It is unambiguous in describing what a person should do if they are indeed inclined that way.

There are well-known prohibitions in respect to a heterosexual male being alone with a heterosexual female. Whether this is a Torah infraction or a Rabbinic one, is a dispute between the Rambam and other Rishonim. Whatever the case, the laws of Yichud, being alone,  are there to protect against a potentially more serious consequence, that may lead to prohibited sexual relations.

What is not well known is that the Shulchan Aruch codified the self-same laws of Yichud, in regards to same gender seclusion/Yichud (See Even HoEzer 24:1) 

If a male has a homosexual predilection, then it is forbidden to be halachically alone with another male. There is no argument about this Halacha and there can certainly be no argument of its applicability in our age. 

The Rambam in his glosses on the Mishna in Sanhedrin 7, states that a Jew is not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality as they are both unnatural. The Rambam could not envisage someone with a Jewish Soul having such proclivity.

As I understand it, Steven claims to adhere to all laws of Judaism give or take the odd stumble that we all experience. If Steven lives with his male partner he most certainly is choosing to ignore a Halacha. I am not referring to the likely outcome of homosexual sex; rather, Yichud—being alone. If he does not, then kudos to him.

I would assume that Steven, who Rabbi Genende also describes as an Orthdox Rabbi, does not live under the same roof as his partner, and they perhaps take turns looking after the daughter? If that is not the case, it is difficult to accept the description of Orthodox.

Technically, one or both males, might not be the biological father, which also raises another hornets nest in respect to Yichud with an adopted child. The Lubavitcher Rebbe amongst many others had grave problems giving permission for Yichud with an adopted child. Others are more lenient, including Rav Soloveitchik, to whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent some Lubavitch couples (see Nefesh HoRav from Rav Schachter) who wanted to adopt and needed the Psak Din of a World renowned Rabbi.

At this point I trust that even the far left are not churlishly dismissing me as homophobic, based on what I have written.

One expects that the otherwise religiously-oriented homosexual Jew feels more self-guilt than the secular homosexual Jew. This is not because people are more derisive to the religious one. Rather, it’s because he feels he has been born with an impediment to keep Halacha. 

 Some will deal with it by disappearing into new social circles where they potentially practice less Judaism as time goes by. Others, such as Steven presumably blame their genetic marker for their predilection and will wrestle with God about why they weren’t given heterosexual genes.

I would hope that if Steven was asked, ‘Would you have preferred if God had made you heterosexual’, that Steven would answer in the affirmative. If he does not, I’m not sure why Rabbi Genende as Vice President of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria would invite him to espouse his views!

We should consider why Stephen isn’t addressing one of the homosexual groups where he may encourage people to keep all the other laws of Judaism and give them confidence to do so. Perhaps he will do so. I do not know, but I think that would be a positive thing.

I have not ever come across anyone not being welcomed in Shule because they were homosexual. I would imagine they are shunned by Hungarian Chassidic communities.

To be sure, even Chabad who welcome all, have some restrictions. When Shlomo Carlebach started diverging from an Orthodox path, Rabbi Y. D. Groner z’l, who had been a study partner of Shlomo, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe נ׳ע whether he should try and bring Shlomo ‘back’ through Kiruv. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should do so, but never within the walls of a Lubavitch institution lest anyone think that what Shlomo does is acceptable etc. Why did Steven have to speak within Caulfield Shule’s property? Having Steven at a congregational function definitely stretches the boundaries of what is tolerable. Given Rabbi Genende’s professed opposition to Steven’s approach in a letter to his congregants one wonders why Rabbi Genende didn’t choose to debate Steven?

The menagerie of congregants at Caulfield on a standard Shabbos will not likely include the young adults who will attend Steven’s talk. Caulfield do a great job, given their ability to pull in big donations to lure world class performances via a choir from Israel. They are a vibrant Shule with an active and dedicated committee. 

I’m sure these activities are roundly enjoyed, but will a ‘voyeuristic’ gaze into the house of a religiously inclined homosexual Jew translate to attendance at Shule or Rabbi Genende’s educational programme? I think not, especially if Rabbi Genende disagrees with Steven’s interpretation of Scripture anyway!

Imagine, if you will, that instead of Steven, the guest speaker was a ‘religious’ adulterer/womaniser. Perhaps not a Rabbi, but someone well known. Imagine this person wanted to speak about his problem of wandering eyes which lead to covert forbidden sexual relations. It could be argued that he too has a proclivity. Is there a genetic link? My question then to Rabbi Genende is, would you give such a person a podium to speak of his struggles to keep his pants on when his eyes wander? Something tells me that Rabbi Genende would not allow such a talk. Why? Marriage is sacred and such acts are abominable and don’t deserve a podium. If I am right, the podium should be reserved for the types of Jews who are inspirational. I am more inspired to hear of those homosexual religious Jews who courageously don’t give in to a basic tenet.

Did Rabbi Genende consult leading centrist/modern Poskim. It would appear that his colleagues in the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are far from enamoured by his  ‘go it alone’ approach. If he has support from a Posek who knows Steven then Rabbi Genende should at least inform his colleagues in the Rabbinate.

I have heard that some intend to protest. In my mind this is not only stupid in the extreme, but halachically questionable.  On that matter I also have Rabbinic agreement. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳א made it clear in our phone call that one should not go to Caulfield, either to protest or to listen to Steven.

There is a valid question about calling up to the Torah someone who advertises their homosexuality and the acts which result. These types of questions arose in the Halachic literature regarding those who have married out and those who publicly break the Sabbath in a ‘look, Shabbos doesn’t mean anything’ attitude. I know that in Elwood Shule, there is a Shule goer who married out. He comes on Shabbos fairly often. Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick instructed the Gaboim not to give him an Aliya, as I recall. This is consistent with the view of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל.

Turning our attention towards Sabbath desecrators, I know that the late Rav Chaim Gutnick z’l would wait in his office until everyone had left and then walk home. He knew that his community of Holocaust survivors were theologically and psychologically challenged and displayed peculiar traits: they came to Shule but drove there. They didn’t eat Kosher but would never eat Pork. When such a damaged person came to Shule, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick only saw their holy soul and did not see any infractions.

What about Steven Greenberg? To my mind, he does not need an audience of voyeuristic heterosexuals. The need to treat people as created in the image of God should be taught by those who are not involved in Torah infractions. I interact every now and again with a homosexual Talmid Chacham, who I believe to be celibate. 

Does one give Steven Greenberg an Aliyah? My personal answer would have been yes, if he was a ‘mind your own business’ private type. If however he was advertising his homosexuality and seeking acceptance according to the Torah then I would be inclined not give an Aliya to the Torah. I don’t rely on my own feelings in such a grave case, and discussed this with my Posek today. He fully agreed with me that protesting was definitely not the correct approach. It would also not be advised for an Orthodox person to attend such a talk. In respect of giving him an Aliyah he opined that in a Shule where people have lots of different baggage of aveyros, and wouldn’t be alarmed in the slightest, then he is not considered an outlier in that particular congregation and can be called up.

In the end, we must try to focus on the Godly soul of individuals who face big challenges to keep Torah and Mitzvos and try to have them attend davening, go to Shiurim etc.

My view is that this is for the ‘ordinary’ person. The one who has ordination and travels the world talking about his anti Torah proclivities should not be afforded an outlet connected to an Orthodox Shule.  

It is ironic that many of those making noise against him are defending the despicably accused Malka Leifer. I just hope that she isn’t duping the psychs in Israel who are evaluating her state of mind and that she be promptly  brought to face Justice in Melbourne, and should she be found guilty, they could put her in a psychiatric prison if she is indeed impaired in that way.

PS. YU does not revoke Smicha, but would have revoked Steven’s if they had that policy. I discussed this with those who give YU’s respected and high standard Smicha today.

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.

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

Give us back our boys (Part 2)

After the Caulfield Shule event there was much murmuring from sections of the community about aspects that they didn’t like. This is not to imply they had a problem with the event. The feeling was positive.

I’d like to consider each one (that I know of) and that have been broadly canvassed, and offer my view, for what it’s worth. These are in no particular order.

  1. Umbrage was expressed that the Rabbinic President of the RCV and ORA was using his phone from the daïs to take panoramic pictures/videos from his place while people were involved in the event.
    My view is that this was ill-advised, and not in keeping with the solemnity and angst of the event. There were adequate photographers and the ubiquitous Channel 31 fellow quite able to take pictures and video as need be.
  2. Offence was expressed that some Rabbinic figures failed to sing HaTikva
    My view on HaTikva was formed many decades ago when I discussed the matter with a Rav from Mercaz HaRav, as a young Yeshivah Bochur during the summer break at Moshav Keshet. That is a story in of itself. The Rav was fiercely Religious Zionist, and our site was literally on the border with Syria. When we threw a rock over the barbed wire fence near where we worked each day, it was common for a mine or some other incendiary device to detonate. The Rav was obviously very spiritual. I remember waiting twenty minutes for him to finish davening Mincha after we had all finished to engage him in discussing the matter. His view was that it was unfortunate that God’s name is not mentioned therein and that there was no seeming connection to Torah. Nonetheless, he felt that when in a place where people were singing it as an anthem, not doing so, would likely cause some to make the wrong reading, and that this itself could estrange Jews from Judaism, so to speak. He told me that he made one substitution when he sang it in such situations. Instead of Lihyot Am Chofshi, he used Lihyot Am Torah B’Artzenu and suggested I focus on Hashem’s hand and Ein Lecha Ben Chorin Ela Mi Sheosek BaTorah. Since that time, I have tried to do so. Chofshi, can mean many things, but to secularists this can range from freedom to possibly freedom of the yoke of religion/heaven (from the vantage of a more Charedi reading). As my own children grew up, they noticed me making this substitution. Whether they do, is a matter for themselves. 
    That being said, it is unwise to be standing there in public view without one’s lips moving even if someone is theologically opposed. I understand that some might turn their back so nobody would notice. I understand that some have other objections. I could even foresee the bleeding left-wing objecting to the anthem on the grounds that it is difficult for an Arab Israeli to sing (this has been in the news in fact). Either way, one should absent oneself in an inconspicuous manner so as not to create heat. I saw one Rabbi leave as soon as Tehillim was over. That’s his right. It’s for his congregation to interpret. Nobody forces a Rabbi to sit anywhere they don’t want to.

    In of itself, there is nothing holy about an anthem, of course. This does not imply that one is opposed in some way to the notion that the birth of the State was Yad Hashem and a miraculous event. Let’s face facts. The majority of the RCV are not Religious Zionists, including the President nor do they need to be in terms of any constitution or mandate that I am aware of.

  3. Some from the more Charedi spectrum, who made an effort to attend in name of unity, felt that the Tefilla Lishlom HaMedina was contentious.
    It is true that Charedim, Chabad, Litvaks et al do not agree that the birth of the state implied that one should say Reishit Tzmichat Geulateynu. Some add the word “Shtehe” (rumoured to be R’ Moshe Feinstein’s suggestion) or Smichat Geulatenu.Having finished a book about the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Amiel ז’ל, of the Gush, a holocaust survivor himself and ardent Zionist, and having a copy of his seminal book המעלות ממעמקים which I read decades ago, it is clear that even some Religious Zionists (like Rav Amiel) have problems with the issue of certainty when it comes to predictions of redemption. It is also for this reason also that I am uncomfortable when people say that XYZ is Mashiach. This type of eschatology, to me, is unimportant. The end is the goal. Exactly who and when and how things happen, as noted by the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim is unpredictable. Having said that, one wasn’t forced to say this prayer. One could easily have just stood like everyone while it was being said. Those who felt that it was just too theologically uncomfortable, could have attended a Tehillim event that was apparently held at Adass Israel on a previous day, although it would be good if they publicised these things in a better manner: they know how.
  4. There were comments about allowing a Conservative Cantor recite Tehillim.
    To be honest, I didn’t know who the (Sefardi) Cantor was. I only noticed the errors in Tehillim that he had made and wondered whether he had bad eye sight. Either way, unless the person is a Kofer/Apikorus, I don’t see an issue with saying Tehillim after him (I haven’t asked my Rav). I would assume the President of ORA checked this out and was satisfied that he wasn’t a Kofer/Apikorus.

To end on a positive note, [Hat tip BA] listen to this excellent speech from the Chief Rabbi in London.

R’ Shmuley Boteach, R’ James Kennard, and Diversity within Chabad

I am not a supporter of R’ Boteach’s approach. I am not a Chabadnik, and for reasons which I won’t go into, I most certainly don’t advocate the glamour and glitz approach of R’ Boteach. Recently, R’ Boteach spoke at Caulfield Shule. I am told it was a packed house and many enjoyed his talks. Yoshke isn’t Kosher in my eyes, and in the eyes of many, but came they did to hear Boteach’s messages on that and “Kosher Sex” and more.

Enter an Ashkenaz Shule, Sydenham, in South Africa. Yes, my Mechutan is the Rav of the Shule and a Chabadnik. He’s actually moderate for what it’s worth. They, for whatever reason, also had R’ Boteach speak. I don’t know how it went, but I’d imagine it was popular. R’ Groner in Melbourne spoke firmly, personally and with gentle persuasion to R’ Boteach to use his talents in other ways. That did not work.

Now Caulfield Shule is led by an arguably left-wing modern Orthodox Rabbi, who I believe is from Rhodesia? Either way, he allowed the talk to go ahead.

The Shule in South Africa, led by a Chabad Chosid, also allowed the talk to go ahead. That’s not to say either Rabbi agreed with the approach of Boteach. I don’t know the circumstances.

If we are to accept that a large Ashkenaz, mainly non-observant Shule in South Africa ought to also have a more diverse Rabbinate (as in Melbourne, Australia) as alleged by Rabbi Kennard, then I ask, in practical terms: what was the difference between the Caulfield event and the one in Johannesburg?

I think the answer is that were the Rabbi of Caulfield someone who asked his Sheylos to R’ Hershel Schachter, the pre-eminent Posek of the Centrist Orthodox community, and senior Posek of the OU, then he may have been advised that it was unwise. On the other hand, the Rabbi in Joannesburg found himself criticised in the Jewish Press by  scions of Chabad in the guise of the respected R’ Ezra Shochet. No doubt though he discussed it with his trusted colleagues.

If there is one thing I’ve observed about Chabad, is that it’s a binary system. The Rebbe was it, and everyone else is at the same 0 level. That is, a 1 and many 0’s. Again, while I agree with R’ Kennard that we do need home-grown Rabbis and more diversity, Chabad cannot be painted (any longer, if at all) with one brush. I’d say the quality, honesty and energy of the personality  is at least if not more important than their Hashkafa (in our day and age)