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 Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded.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.

Attention: the dormant Rabbinic Council of Victoria

The following is from Arutz Sheva from the respected Rabbi Gordimer re Rabbi Riskin’s creeping to the left.

[Hat tip DS]

Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. His writings on Jewish topics are published widely.

It is sometimes hard to believe what we are reading, as things are turned upside down in an effort to be politically correct and gain popular appeal. Orthodox Judaism has never sought to be politically correct – on the contrary, it has stood its guns no matter what direction the winds are blowing. Unfortunately, with the case of Modern Orthodox rabbis who have crossed the line into Open Orthodoxy, it has become almost commonplace to read the unbelievable, things that would never have been expressed were Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l, the Torah luminary of American Modern Orthodoxy, still with us. Sometimes, shocking ideas are articulated in direct contravention of his views, with the excuse that “times have changed.” Since when has that wellworn excuse been used in Orthodoxy?

This, much as it hurts to write it, seems to be the case when it comes to rabbinic superstar, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, who seems to be on a much publicized collision course with tradition. There was the “Rabbi Jesus Video” (which Rabbi Riskin later said did not represent his views, due to the video’s poor editing), his promoting the chanting of Megillath Ruth by a woman at the main minyan of a synagogue under his jurisdiction, and other ideas that fly in the face of Orthodox tradition. A once modern rabbinic icon who did much to bring people closer to Torah, Rabbi Riskin has in his later years adopted positions that fly in the face of normative Torah understanding. (Please also see the later portion of this linked article regarding Rabbi Riskin’s involvement with Christian ministries.)

Although one could have otherwise, perhaps favorably interpreted Rabbi Riskin’s hair-raising idea in his recent public pronouncement on Arutz Sheva that the Reform and Conservative movements are partners in Jewish outreach to have been intended to express the demarcation between acceptance of Reform and Conservative Jews themselves and unequivocal opposition to their leaders and their interpretations of Judaism, a view held by respected rabbinic authorities, that is clearly not what Rabbi Riskin said.  Rather, Rabbi Riskin stated:  “They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer… That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless they’re trying to bring Jews closer.” In other words, it is the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements whom Rabbi Riskin praises!

This leadership is bringing Jews closer to what? Intermarriage?  Christmas trees and menorahs in the living room? A total departure from normative halakhic Judaism?

Let us look at that greatest danger to the continuity of the Jewish people, not the just as important continuity of its halakhic framework. On a factual level, not only are most Reform Jews (and non-Orthodox Jews in general) intermarried today, and not only does the head of the Reform movement extol intermarriage, but there has been serious discussion within the Reform movement to permit its rabbis to themselves be intermarried. The Reconstructionist movement has gone further, formally allowing its rabbis to be intermarried, and a large plurality of rabbis in the Conservative movement favor the performance of intermarriages. In fact, the Conservative movement’s USY youth group now permits its leadership to interdate

To endorse these movements as positive and as forces for bringing Jews closer to Judaism is downright wrong and even farcical. Although these groups may espouse some type of Jewish identity, they embody and encourage assimilation and the abandonment of Jewish tradition and commitment. And it is happening before our eyes.

Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.

It is therefore not only incorrect to refer to these groups as partners in bringing Jews closer to Judaism, but it is dangerous, as such a statement empowers and validates groups which threaten the very integrity and future of authentic Judaism in every manner.

There is no need for elaboration, as the issue is not subtle or nuanced; endorsing the heterodox movements is tantamount to endorsing the dismantling and destruction of traditional Judaism.

Many of my friends were immensely impacted by Rabbi Riskin in a most positive way during his early tenure in the United States, as he energetically established Torah institutions of the highest caliber. My friends miss the old Rabbi Riskin. We all wish that he would return.

The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s opinion and do not represent any organizations. 

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

Rabbi Genende’s Drasha on Rosh Hashono

I must admit not hearing about it, but it flew across my desk, and I feel it requires some comments. I reproduce it below, adding my comments.

And every day the world grabs you by the hand and says: “This is important” and “this is important.” “This is where you should be putting your energy” and “This is where you should be directing your priorities.”
No it is the Torah that yanks you by the hand and gives direction to your heart and your hands about what you prioritise and how

And every day you’ve got to yank your hand back and put it up against your heart and say – “No this is important, this is what really counts! I will be guided by my heart, directed by my principles, driven by my faith.”
Actually, it is Shulchan Aruch which does that. In the rare cases, where one doesn’t see how the Shulchan Aruch should direct him, man does not go to his heart, he goes to his Rav Hamuvhak, which in my case is Rav Schachter, Head Posek of the RCA, Rosh Kollel of YU, and Head Posek of the OU. Who is Rabbi Ginende’s Rav Hamuvhak? I am interested to know. I assume it’s not his heart.
Life isn’t just about getting the logic right although clarity of mind and clear thinking are of course critical. It’s about getting your heart and mind in synch.
Is this a Pasuk or a Seif in Shulchan Aruch? What came first, the chicken or the egg. I don’t get it. My heart sometimes tells me A, but Shulchan Aruch says B. The latter is based on logic and clear thinking. Which should I follow?
At the beginning of recorded history Noah stood up, built an ark despite the cynics and sceptics. He was a righteous man, (ish tzadik bedorotav – איש צדיק בדרתיו) a Tzadik for his time and generation.
The Rabbi has seemed to not mention that it took Noah hundreds of years to convince people of the impending flood. The people were depraved. They didn’t listen. Noah Miktanei Amono Hoyo Ma’amin. He believed in even those of little faith. His generation, though, was depraved and if not for this Hero, there would have been no Avraham or Sarah!
Ten generations later the first Jew, Abraham, burst onto the world scene. He too dared to be different.
Yet we are told he used his logic, not his heart. He considered the Buddha’s and idols and inane entities so ridiculous that he SMASHED them in his father’s house. Would Rabbi Genende’s heart allow him to SMASH these today?
He was called an עברי a Hebrew, someone who chose to live on the other side, the word עברי comes from עובר as in מעבר לים on the other bank; He wasn’t transgender but he was a trans-Jew!
Call him a Chabadnik. He went to any corner and opened every door to every Jew and indeed tried to convince the non believer to believe. Guess what? We don’t hear any more of those converted by Avraham and Sarah except that they might have been the Erev Rav? Why is that?
Both were heroes, but it’s Abraham that we are named after, that we remember today in our Torah reading.
We actually descend from Noah’s son Shem. His one depraved son Cham was condemned as a violent animal and the other one Yefes, was the man of political correctness
It’s Abraham not Noah who was the first Jew.
And without Noah, Abraham wouldn’t have existed. Why is that, Rabbi?
He is our founding father, our hero. Abraham isn’t remembered for an ark but for his tent, a flimsy fragile temporary structure open with entries in all directions like a Chuppah.
Source please: Where do we know it was flimsy and fragile? What is this allegory to the Chuppa? Is this poetic license being employed?
There are two ways, two approaches to the world – the way of Noah, the ark-method, building yourself a secure and sealed structure to protect yourself from the wild waves and violent storms out there: It’s a sensible path but one based more on logic of the mind than language of the heart.
There are two approaches that must be taken according to generation and circumstance. Sometimes we must be firm as per God’s command to Noah, and other times we need to enfranchise, but Avraham only did so according to the Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Noach. Dear Rabbi, did you ever wonder why they aren’t called Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Avraham? Avraham wasn’t teaching them about Eiruvin. He was teaching them about monotheism
Then there is the way of Abraham, the tent open to and welcoming the winds of change but firmly planted on the ground with a strong tent pole and pegs like a steady moral compass.
So you have gone from a flimsy tent to a strong one with a moral compass. Avraham was certainly known as Midas HaChesed. Are you going to condemn Yitzchak because he was Midas HaYirah? What is your poetic meaning to gentle openly orthodox Abraham ready to Shecht his only son?
An open tent, an open heart and an open mind. Abraham is the model of compassion, he pulls his hands back to his heart. He is a massive intellect but in the end we remember him not for his magnificent mind but his exquisite heart, his creative chesed. 
Open Mind? Are you calling someone who goes into his Dad’s shop and elsewhere, and smashes every modern idol “an open mind with compassion”. Indeed he was. But, when it came to fundamentals, he didn’t dangle his toes in political correctness.
You can insulate yourself in an ark, oblivious to the world and its problems, protective of your own family and the property or you can open yourself to the world out there, embrace it, let it change you as you change it.
The kind of Judaism I believe in has always understood that you can’t stop the winds of change, but as Bob Dylan put it in Forever Young, you can ensure that you have a strong foundation, a firm tent, when the winds of change shift
Pray tell, who was the Rabbinic influence in your life that told you not to withstand the winds of change through the loving Mesora of our generations?
An open Orthodoxy as opposed to a closed one knows what it is to be a global Jew that the world’s problems are our problems that we can’t go on using our planets’ resources as if they were infinite.
Here Rabbi Genende needs to come clean. Is he a member of the Open Orthodoxy movement that embraces various unmasoretic principles and is rejected by the Rabbinic Council of America whose Posek was Rav Soloveitchik and whose Talmid Muvhak is without any doubt whatsoever Rav Hershel Schachter? The RCA has ruled that Open Orthodoxy are not to be admitted in the RCA. Tell us Rabbi Genende where are you in this equation?
We Aussies are almost as wasteful, reckless and feckless in our consumption of natural resources as the Americans. Our footprint is clumsy and large.
Our ingenuity and ability to correct the correctable is also famous.
Oscar Wilde’s acerbic retort could be applied to us – America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation between…
You see that as acerbic. Perhaps you should point to the current “infallible” Pope and his communist method of converting to Xtianity. His people slashed our chests with the cross in no less a barbaric way than D’aesh does with its opponents (or friends). That’s far more to the point than Oscar Wilde
We were given this earth לעבדה ולשמרה to work it
Interesting. Who was given that command? Abraham? Nope. His forebears, who you have placed as irrelevant to our times.
and protect and safeguard it for future generations (Genesis 2:15). So remember: Reduce, reuse, recycle and eat less red meat – it’s good for you and your planet.
What is a Rabbi doing telling us to eat less Red Meat? He knows he should eat Red Meat on Yom Tov, and wash it down with fine wine. He also knows that Korbanos were full of red meat. The jury is out on various diets and fads. Rabbis do have a duty to tell us what is not good for us.  חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא but if one’s motive is to modernise, become a vegan?
And open Orthodoxy knows you can’t close the ark against the world’s most pressing global challenge today: The mass displacement of people, the greatest number of refugees since War World 2. All these dreadful images etched on to our collective minds, seared into our consciousness from the lifeless pitiful body of the 4 year old Syrian Kurdish boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey, to the chaotic scenes at the at the railway station in Hungary.
This is the only way? Closing the Ark? Rabbi Genende is often pictured with Muftis and Priests. I’d like to know whether he has asked them to take in their people. They have the space, the money and the resources to do so very quickly. Has he? Would he go on the public record as being critical of them for not advocating such? Perhaps he’s not aware of this
I would be taking that message to the tree huggers. I’d also point out this 

They have sparked an intense, important and long overdue debate in Australia about our responsibility to respond to the cargoes of hapless people and to rethink our policies on asylum seekers.
I don’t know, the last I saw Labor was claiming that they stopped the boats, so is the Rabbi advocating for “Israel hating” Greens?
In Australia as across the world the people led the way and our government responded positively. I am heartened by the wave of compassion that has swept the world but the issues are complex, the problem growing and it’s going to take resilience and determination to sustain goodwill and not to suffer compassion fatigue. And to apply the same kind of compassion to those now stranded on Nauru or Manus Island. People of all faiths and ethnicities have to continue to make space for one another, to honour our shared humanity. Fail this and we will have failed one of the fundamental tests of humanity. Fail this and we have failed the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers” something close to Jewish hearts.
This is an incorrect translation and I will take it as poetic license to further Rabbi Genende’s political bent
Of course part of the complexity is that a large part of these refuges will be Muslim and while I’m afraid of and oppose a Muslim caliphate fear of all Muslims isn’t a defence. If we are not part of the solution in reaching out to moderate Muslims, of helping integrate Muslim refugees and migrants into our lifestyle and helping find a way to reach young disaffected Muslims, then we are part of the problem. Stereotyping Muslims is as bad as stereotyping Jews. We are after all the “People of the Book”, nuanced readers of reality.
Which part of Sharia is unclear? What percentage is required for you to give them credence. Try this 

I draw strength from the leadership of the ICV, I draw strength from the young thoughtful Muslims I meet, from the young American Muslim leaders leading regular visits to the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to learn about Zionism and Israel. They assure us it’s not too late; we can still stem the tide of Islamic anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. I pray they are correct because it’s going to take all the positive good-will and ingenuity we can muster.
You take their assurances. Just like Neville Chamberlain. 

It’s easy to resort to black and white responses but that’s the way of Noah – you are in the Ark or you are outside.
Again the Rabbi seems to have missed the point. Noah was OUTSIDE his ark for hundreds of years more than he was in the ark. I dare say, he was more involved in ICV than the good Rabbi and for far longer. His generation, like ours, the Holocaust generation isn’t ready to have the wool pulled over our eyes by tree hugging political correctness manifestos.
That’s not the way of Abraham who from the beginning of his mission reached out to the world around him, converting and accepting his neighbours while remaining resolute in his pursuit of justice, compassion and righteousness.
Judaism since Avraham has always resisted the easy way – Just as we prefer a twisty Shofar, a כפוף to a straight one. Gimme a twisty curly shofar any time! Give me the long and winding road – a straight line may be the shortest path between two paths but it isn’t necessarily the best way between two moral poles.
Some more poetic esoterica? What has this to do with a Shofar. The best Bris Milah, which Avraham was the first to perform, was short and sharp, in the straightest line. Could you have used that line?
And being straight may be easy and comfortable but it doesn’t mean we reject Jews who aren’t straight but GLBTI.
Kindly define your terms. What does rejection mean? I’ve seen homosexuals getting Aliyos in plenty of Shules. They don’t walk in wearing a rainbow coloured Tallis nor should they need to advertise their proclivity. Do you want your congregants to come in with “I drove to Shule on Shabbos but my Rabbi still loves me” on their tee shirts or should they wear “I ate pork yesterday, but it’s okay, it was before Yom Kippur”. What the heck? What’s wrong with being like everyone else. I don’t ask people about their sexual proclivities especially in Shule. The only people I’ve heard talk about this are raucous ones, none of whom I actually know.
One of the fundamental challenges today is that of the inclusion of GLBTI individuals in the Jewish tent. 
Really. A much BIGGER problem is People going off the Derech, Shabbos and Modern Orthodoxy, and the Shidduch Crisis and the need for Gimmicks in Shule to get people to come because their Jewish Education is vacuous and synagogue based. While I’m at it. Which authority allowed a Shule, your Shule Rabbi Genende to be transformed into a concert hall. Rav Soltoveitchik wouldn’t allow a Chuppa in a Shule because it was unbecoming to Kedushas Beis Haknesses!
Orthodox Judaism has always embraced the traditional and Biblically-based definition of marriage as that between a man and woman; and that homosexuality is forbidden. Does this mean that there is no place for the gay person in Jewish life or for the Orthodox gay couple in the Orthodox community? Is it only Adam and Eve? Is there any place for Adam and Steve?
It’s easy to say – “It’s against the Bible and Judaism, that’s it.”
But you’re comfortable with public shabbos desecration about which the concept of Tinok Shenishba has been well and truly debunked by Rav Asher Weiss in Minchas Asher, quite honestly and convincingly. Do you honestly think people haven’t learned or been denied the lessons of Shabbos. That doesn’t worry you, but Adam and Steve sitting together in Shule? What do I care. There is nothing forbidding it. However, there is al pi Shulchan Aruch, and I challenge you to debate this with me, an absolute prohibition of Yichud between Adam and Steve, as there is for Adam and Eve before they perform Kiddushin. And, as a matter of fact, there is no existential Kiddushin according to either Noah’s laws or Abraham’s laws in respect of Adam and Steve, or Jill and Gill.
It’s a lot harder to say that to a sincere gay individual, to your son who has come out or to your sister who is living in a gay relationship. It’s a fearsome challenge, because if homosexuality is genetically wired as overwhelming evidence suggests how can a caring God demand they go against their nature?
I’m sorry to point out to you that you will not understand God’s way, irrespective of which morality your heart adopts. Furthermore, Rabbi Genende, what would you say if there was some Gene Therapy developed in 10 years time which obviated this “carelessness” of God? God put it there. Would you advocate it’s use to repair the אנוסים?
Indeed it has been suggested that the verse may only apply if the individual is acting out of free choice not compulsion ( אונס).
And that’s not a gun at his head? Please quote your sources?
And we need to recognise the vulnerability of young gay individuals, to affirm their right not to be alone לא טוב היות אדם לבדו , not to be driven to despair and suicide, but to establish loving relationships even as we ask of them and their heterosexual peers to show restraint in the public expression of their sexuality.
Rabbi Soloveitchik understood that Pasuk very differently to you, and he had plenty of cases, just as “cruel” like the Cohen who wanted to marry the convert etc. But, Halachic Man is bound by the Meסorah, and I dare say, Rabbi Genende, so are you. This is what makes the flimsy tent not fly away.
I don’t know why God created us differently and why the Torah decreed homosexuality forbidden. But I do know that the reality of the 21st century is that there are GLBTI Jews, that there are practising Orthodox Jews living in same-sex relationships.
Oh boy, it’s only the 21st century that has publicised this effectively. It’s always been there. If it wasn’t why is one of the Sheva Mitzvos B’nei NOACH
I do know that Orthodox Jews don’t stone sinners today even if they are desecrating Shabbat or committing adultery. In our shule we don’t ask people if they ate the abominable (to’evah) shrimp cocktail or had their name on the Ashley Madison site before we give them an Aliyah.
There are very good reasons for that, and it has NOTHING to do with your Shule. But what are your reasons? Are they halachically based on הוכיח תוכיח את עמיתך or is it a matter of “heart or constitution”.
So who knows what the future holds? Being flippant I could remind you that in the certain states in the USA gay marriage and marijuana were legalised on the same day. After all, Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with another man he should be stoned. We have just been interpreting it incorrectly all these years…
Fair enough, old joke but a good one
Being serious I would rather err on the side of compassion than be a religious warrior without compunction. I will leave it to God to judge who is right.
Why are you a Rabbi? What morality do you impart to the masses. Are you limited to those parts of Shulchan Aruch that “fit your heart?” I haven’t seen anyone beat up a gay person in any Orthodox Shule by words or even invocation. Why would they? I had a great moral dilemma, but I dare say, I went about it in a different way to you, Rabbi Genende. We had a pedophile on bail in our Shule. I was troubled by his presence, which should have been quiet in a corner awaiting his trial (personally, in his position I wouldn’t have been able to go to Shule, but I digress). I discussed it with the Rabbi and I sensed he found this a “too hard issue” like the one you are grappling with. I rang Rav Schachter, and he said to me immediately, that I had no right to even imply that the eventually convicted pedophile should not come to Shule. He had a CHIYUV to daven like any body else, however, he should be quietly spoken to and asked to come and leave quickly and make himself unobtrusive. Is he also someone you consider an אנוס Rabbi Genende, the DNA may even indicate it. What then?
There is a fascinating Talmudic discussion about whether women can blow the shofar. While the Halachik debate focuses on obligation and responsibility there is another debate going on in Orthodoxy today about inclusion, leadership and spiritual role models.
The debate is within Avi Weiss’s break away group. The RCA aren’t debating the role of Rabats, or whatever you want to call them. They are very clear and their statements freely available.
While the ultra-Orthodox’ s position is generally that Noah steers the ark and Mrs Noah doesn’t even have a name, the Open Orthodox position is look to Sarah. When Sarah fearlessly challenges Avraham and he appeals to God (like many a Jewish husband may be tempted to), God’s response is simple and unequivocal: כל האמר לך שרה תשמע בקולה – Whatever your wife says – goes! (Genesis 21:12)Listen to her voice!
And today across the Jewish world – especially in Israel and USA we are doing just that today. We are paying attention to the learned and thoughtful voices of religious women who are achieving the same and even superior levels of Jewish knowledge to their male counterparts.
And pray tell how you extend this Drush to a Siman in Shulchan Aruch, and which commentators? NON Ultra Orthodox (and here I do mean RCA) couples listen to their wives and Na’ama as the wife of Noach is known.
While the title these women deserve may be debatable – rabbi, rabbah, Maharat – they are taking on positions of religious leadership in shules across Israel, Canada and the USA.
Do me a favour. I have a cousin who is a Yoetzet Halacha. She knows Shas and Poskim very well. She is anti feminist, as was Rav Moshe Feinstein. When she needs she consults with Rav Henkin, who by the way doesn’t approve of Shira Chadasha. Do you approve of Shira Chadasha as Orthodox Rabbi Genende? Would you advocate it being a member of the RCV or whatever new group forms?
There is still a way to go; even YU (Yeshiva University) the bastion of Modern Orthdoxy is opposed to women being ordained in any form.
Really? YU are against Yoatzot? Where did you get that from?
In my mind the debate is not about Jewish law but the power to define and control the franchise of Orthodox Judaism, about women sharing the right to decide on our collective future! I look forward to welcoming these women into Australia and in our Shule, into positions of spiritual leadership.
Well, you’d be well aware of the Rambam on this issue, wouldn’t you. He was very forward thinking. Do you know his wife’s name? I’m sure you are aware that a (male) King can’t give testimony. Let’s seek equality here too?
They are our “Women of Gold” and a women’s reading of Torah and Halacha can surely only enrich and enliven Judaism for all of us.
We have had women Prime Ministers in Australia and Israel, women running for President of the USA, women occupying highest positions in society, from COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg to CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube. Surely the time has come for us to embrace women leaders in our Orthodox shules and institutions…after all they will still remain safely behind the mechitza.
The challenge Orthodoxy faces today is will it focus on the small (and laudably) totally committed 10% of the Chareidi ultra Orthodox or will it reach out to the fractured, bleeding majority, the Jews who are marrying out and walking away. It will be judged in the 21 century by how it responds to these challenges. This is not just a challenge for the religiously committed but for you and me – do you want your grandchildren to be and stay Jewish? How and what kind of Jewish?
We’ve also had our Madonna’s and Bar Rafaeli’s and young Ms Clinton and all those who do no service to Jews or Israel. I guess you forgot them, and forgot that Tel Aviv is the capital of the LGBTI World Mardi gras. Can you tell us in plain language whether you are opposed to the holy city of Jerusalem featuring a “Pork eating rights March” or are you governed more by Western Sensibilities than Modern Orthodoxy.
When you open the doors like Abraham and Sarah you let in all kinds of influences, some sweet breezes and some toxic winds. It’s a dangerous path because you don’t always know who you are welcoming in and Lionel Trilling has warned if you become too open-minded your brains can fall out…
But I would take the tent of Abraham any day over the ark of Noah hermetically sealed and separated by high walls from the rest of society, from my fellow human beings.
So when the world comes pulling at me and says: “This is important and this is important” I will definitely and unequivocally pull back my hand, turn it to my heart and say: “No this is important, the kind of heart I have, the soul I am growing is one that is guided by the way of positive passion wider inclusion and recognition, driven by my unerring belief in the God and the truth of Torah of Israel and the rich values we continue to share with the world.”
So I will sow the winds driving through my tent with seeds of love and scatter on them our values of dignity and equality, freedom and family, community and connectedness.
I expect you meant sew. I said enough about this above, but I will remind you that the Torah doesn’t tell us what happened to all those people Abraham and Sarah converted. Did you ever wonder why?

The AJN attack on Orthodox opinion

The AJN is perfectly entitled to have views. These are widely considered anti–religious for many years by many. In fact, each year we ask ourselves why we buy it.

Whatever the case may be, the AJN needs to acknowledge that nobody contends that homosexuality is an illness. It is a preference, call it a predilection. I don’t have it, so I can’t claim any expertise nor am I a therapist of any sort. The preference itself, as is well-known by the AJN is not considered sinful according to Torah Judaism (I don’t conclude man-made reformations of Judaism here as they are of minor interest if any). People are born with predilections. There is the nature vs nurture conundrum which is far from settled. Acting on the preference and performing the homosexual act is described as sinful by the Torah and Codifiers. There can be no argument about that fact in any form of Orthodoxy. Reformers have their own religion.

Now, many if not the vast majority of those professionals who see homosexuals professionally claim that the predilection is life long and cannot be altered. That may well be. There isn’t Science here, and extrapolation into the future is tenuous at best. Maimonides knew about predilections long ago.

The best counter case to nature, as quoted by arguably the most respected psychiatrist in the USA, Professor Abraham Twersky, and many others is the identical twin conundrum which has been studied extensively. All known biological markers were exactly the same, and yet one twin had a predilection and the other did not. There is currently no theory able to explain that. There is a minority view, and yes it is a minority (Dr Elon Karten comes to mind) that claims they have techniques which allow predilection change to materialise. Like Climate Skeptics they are attacked regularly. I’m not an expert, but as a Scientist, one would be a fool to think that in ten years time, our knowledge of these things will still be static. Accordingly, if Rabbi Telsner or anyone else subscribes to the view that predilection modification could occur, they do not deserve to be pilloried in the disrespectful tone of the AJN.

Pedophillia is also at least a predilection. Perhaps we will discover it is more likely a disease that is incurable except by using drastic means to make sure that those who seem to “enjoy” such things are simply incapable of (re)offending. In the meanwhile, one witnesses judges themselves releasing pedophiles back into the public after serving sentences, as if law makers believe they will be “safe” to society once  so released. Is that true? Evidence would suggest that re-offending is (too) common and perhaps techniques for rehabilitation are simply inadequate and not practical at this time.

Now, if Rabbi Telsner were to subscribe to an opinion that people with predilections can have them modified (and this could extend to those with life long fetishes), one can disagree, but one should not excoriate him in the way of the AJN, as a matter arising out of the Royal Commission.

Rav Schachter of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University always said that a “stock” Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel in general should not be a Posek (decisor) of Halacha because they sit in a cloistered environment and are often/mostly oblivious to the nuances of science and other disciplines. This was certainly the case in Lithuania where most Rabbi’s were not Halachic Decisors. There were some exceptions such as the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish, but the late and great Chacham Ovadya Yosef did not consider the Chazon Ish a Posek of repute, because he sat cloistered and didn’t face the people, so to speak.

Either Rabbi Telsner has read some minority opinions or has been informed of such by some of his constituents. This can mean that the AJN, seeing itself to present current knowledge on such topics can disagree with the minority opinion, but it does not give then a license to excoriate a Rabbi for agreeing to such a minority opinion.

The last time I looked there were no Nobel Prize winners writing for the AJN, and aside from the occasional community brouhaha most of the news is stale, and unenlightening. Indeed we may have also recently witnessed an alleged breach of journalistic ethics which has allegedly resulted in a staff member being suspended initially. The mere fact that we are exposed to the weekly whining letters of Messrs Burd and Herzog, and others is bad enough. One could almost write their letter before reading it. I think the AJN do good things but there is room for improvement in some of its approaches. Yes, I know it’s good for selling papers, but Oilom Goilom believes everything.

The “what do you think” section is statistically unsound, and really just a copy of journalistic practice in low-level papers, like the Herald Sun and others. Is it going to make one iota of a difference if I know what the local butcher thinks of Bibi’s chances?

I’m digressing.

Back to the issue at hand. The AJN may not have liked elements of evidence tendered. As such, it should carefully analyse such in a calm and sanguine way. The majority of Rabbis are traumatised by the Royal Commission, and my sense is that things will never return to the situation before in respect to how they react if they are God forbid confronted with such information. We aren’t Catholics, and don’t have a box where one admits their sins and the Priest, Lehavdil, absolves the sin, says a few hail mary’s sends the perpetrator on their way and will never breach confidence.

It’s also not about Chabad. Don’t people read the internet? Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to secretly videoing some 57 women at the Mikva with secret cameras. Is he sick? Undoubtedly. Can he be rehabilitated? I don’t know. He will serve jail time. Does this paint all Rabbis as fetish-laden? Of course not.

Contrast this issue to the one about the “interfaith dialogue” we graphically saw and where Rabbi Ralph Genende as usual gushed forward with platitudes about how useful they were. Let’s look at the evidence AJN. What has ever changed because of these meetings. They were forbidden according to the scion of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik for reasons which were absolutely sound then, and even more sound now. If it was a meeting to bring religions together to have a joint charity drive for the homeless,  or similar that’s fine. If it was about showing our religion to them and theirs to ours, what’s the point? Tolerance can be achieved without any interfaith dialogue as long as nobody considers us as monkeys behind trees that have to be killed. Was I blind, or did the AJN not notice that there was no muslim representative in the picture at that “feel good” meeting, or did I miss something.

Anyway, to make it clear, I usually do not agree with Rabbi Telsner but on some matters I don’t think he deserves the anti-religious excoriation meted out to him.

AJN and especially Rabbi Ralph Genende of the moderate left wing: check this out for a reality check while you read the Chazal quoted by Rashi הלכה עשיו שונה ליעקב. (Whiteout anyone?)

I’d love to hear the AJN and/or Rabbi Ralph’s commentary on this, or better still have his interfaith group muslim representative condemn this presentation from February 13th in Copenhagen as abominable in the extreme in the Western and Muslim Press.

Pushing your own barrow

Rabbi Ralph Genende issued an opinion (hat tip to Ezra May) about Di Tzeitung’s photoshopping of women in an uncelebrated manner.  There is a way to criticise this Satmar newspaper but Rabbi Genende has not simply sought to do that. Rabbi Genende has used this as an opportunity to trumpet modern orthodoxy and contrast it with ultra orthodoxy.

Let’s look at how he made his arguments, and ask some questions.

While modern Orthodoxy has long-championed the greater inclusion of women in Jewish public life, the Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) world still struggles with, if not out rightly rejects.

In what way do Charedim struggle with the inclusion of women? My observation is that each group within the Charedi world has their own halachic interpretation which they pursue.

In what way are the modern Orthodox championing inclusion of women? The Rav forbade the inclusion of women on Synagogue boards and the RCA issued their displeasure with Rabbi Avi Weiss’ attempts to ordain women.

they don’t have the right to impose this on others as the “Torah-true way”

In context, only readers of their paper are ‘forced’ to see this picture through their lenses. Is that not their free choice?

 I do have a problem with their zealotry, their conviction that they have the G-d given right to make women sit at the back of the bus or pressure them to move out of their allotted seats on an El AL plane because they don’t want to sit next to them.

I agree that women on a public bus should not be forced to move, but is this because of a lack of respect for women per se? I would have thought it was all about separation of sexes. I suspect that they would drag a man from the women’s section if he wandered over there.

More to the point, what has this to do with Di Tzeitung’s editorial policy unless one is simply trying to make the facile point that if they are extreme with one thing they must be extreme with others. Is Rabbi Genende implying that all those who choose not to publish pictures of women push women to the back of buses? Clearly that’s not the case.

To airbrush out pictures of women (which is done regularly not only in Di Tzeitung but also in other Chareidi publications) is a distortion of the truth which in Halacha is called gneivat da’at (being deceitful) and midvar sheker tirchak (keep away from falsehood).

How so? It is Gneivas Daas or Sheker if there is an expectation that they do not airbrush woman out of pictures. Is Rabbi Genende seriously suggesting that the readership of these papers is not aware of the editorial policy to do so? Come now.

The readership of the Tzeitung believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for  what they look like”. I am not assured by this because the Tzeitung producers and readers are ‘fine-print’ shmekkers; they often focus on the most stringent minutiae of Halachik practise

So the implication is that anyone who aspires, as policy, to be a so-called בעל נפש must be telling a lie if they miss the fine print?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but how does Rabbi Genende know?

Equally, it is sciolistic to suppose that the difference between Charedim and  modern orthodox relates to the fine print. Is Rabbi Genende aware, for example, that the Rav, as scion of Brisk acted in Psak in a manner which tried to accommodate all opinions!  Is this the difference between Charedim and Modern Orthodox? I think not. Was Rav Hirsch dismissive of the fine print? What about the Sridei Eish?

And I am not assured by their reverence for what women do because this is usually restricted to a very narrow area

Is Rabbi Genende now questioning the appreciation of all Charedim for their wives because their lives are less outward and worldly (in his parlance narrow) than his? What sociological study is he leaning on to support this assertion?

More worrying is the attitude of a large segment of the Chareidi world towards women and modesty in general. A group of Chareidi women and girls in Bet Shemesh have begun to wear Muslim garb covering their whole body (including their heads and faces) with rabbinic approval.

We are all aware of this radical group. We are also all aware that they have also been condemned by Charedim. What license did Rabbi Genende use to define this phenomena as a large segment. Is he engaging in hyperbole to push his own barrow?

 There is an increasing tending in the Orthodox world to separate the sexes at schools, weddings, funerals and shule events. This was not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past.

Rabbi Genende has now moved from Charedi and Modern Orthodox to “Orthodox” in general. Do his claims stack up? Orthodox Schools were always segregated. Even the Rav who allowed it at Maimonides felt that once that community was able, that males and females should learn Torah in separate classes. On weddings, I’m not sure how this practice has increased in vacuo. Is Rabbi Genende also claiming that the level of immodesty has stayed constant during time? It has not. The levels of Tzniyus in clothing has greatly decreased over time. Indeed, the Rav refused to perform a wedding for a Chasan who was not wearing a hat, and did not perform weddings when the Kallah was wearing a plunging neck line  etc. Once when the Rav was caught out performing Siddur Kiddushin for a bride who was immodestly dressed, the story is related that he kept asking for a bigger  and biggur siddur until he was unable to see the Kallah past the siddur! There are also explicit sources which forbid the mingling of genders during funerals, including the Shura.

 While modest, respectful, appropriate behaviour between men and women is what the Torah expects, it does not expect a total separation of the sexes.

Rabbi Genende is entitled to his opinion, but I’m not sure why he thinks he is entitled and they are not entitled to follow a contrary view?

As the wise rabbis of Pirkei Avot advised long ago: “Be careful with your words”.

I agree with this 🙂

Let us in the modern-Orthodox world encourage them to be more inclusive in their ways and views. You need fences for protection but you also need gateways and openings so that you can grow and move freely in Hashem’s varied and colourful world.

I am not sure if Rabbi Genende speaks for modern Orthodoxy, but I don’t see his article as encouragement! Nay, he is playing to his audience; his congregation.

Disclaimer: Let me be clear that I do think that what Di Tzeitung did was careless and gross and lacked an awareness of the world, but I do not agree with using this as a platform to bash and/or push one’s own barrow; something I contend is what Rabbi Genende achieved with his article.