Friday, May 30, 2008

EJF responds to accusations

The following was posted to the EJF website

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Various blogs have featured information on EJF that are full of distortions, lies, and simple inaccuracies. EJF does not as a matter of principle wish to dignify these inaccurate comments about EJF. To point out just how inaccurate these blogs are, here is our ONE-TIME sample review of the facts:

  1. Rabbi Leib Tropper does not sit on any Beit din that performs Geirus, and therefore he could not nullify any conversion, as a blogger charges. Any information on invalidation (never were valid) is merely information relayed by an affiliate Beit din.
  2. No beit din can "Revoke" a conversion. A nullification of conversion can happen when (like the case on the Blog) Abraham told people including the sponsoring Rabbi that his wife Sarah did not observe even the first Sabbath after her conversion or subsequent Shabbos despite her promise during the conversion process to the contrary greatly upsetting her husband.
  3. EJF tried to contact Sarah for clarification to relay her response to the Beth din but EJF was told that she was unwilling to come to the phone.
  4. EJF subsequently called a Chabad rabbi in their area to discuss her situation. He intimated that she was not yet observant, adding that there was 'progress'
  5. Most Batei Din including those that are affiliated with EJF do NOT condition a women's conversion on her covering her hair. This was the written halachic decision of the leading Halachic Authority, Hagaon Rav Moshe Feinstein ,OB'm.
  6. Please note that EJF will not discuss the Bourne case out of respect for ALL parties involved.
  7. All of the assumptions and claims of S. Rosenberg and friend (host of the blog called 'Failed Messiah') are patently false. Kol Yaakov did not throw out the son of Mr. & Mrs. Bourne into the street. He made a decision to leave when he was told that the Beit din in NY that converted him would not convert his parents.

It is our view that the bloggers misrepresentation of the two cases is born out of cynicism and sounds consistent with what appears to be his negative attitude towards Orthodox Jews in general.

Shavuos IV- Jews' inherent skepticism required the experience of Sinai

The following was taken from Daas Torah I & II

Rashba (4:234):
We learned from our forefathers not to accept something which contains the slightest doubts or uncertainties until it has been thoroughly investigated and the truth is ascertained. This we see concerning the acceptance of Moshe as a true prophet. They were uncertain whether to believe him—even though he came to announce that they were to be rescued from the horrible servitude of Egypt. This is why Moshe said they won’t believe me. This is because it was known that they were inherently skeptical and did not believe anything except that which simply had to be unquestionably true. Therefore, even though G‑d did incredible miracles in Egypt until they were taken out with an outstretched arm and awesome events—it was not sufficient to remove the doubts about Moshe from their hearts. These doubts were caused by the fact that all that occurred in Egypt were possible just a coincidental or natural events or from magical powers. Because of these doubts, they did not have unconditional faith in Moshe until the Splitting of the Sea—as the verse says, “that they [now] believed in G‑d and Moshe His servant” (Shemos 14:31). The Targum(Shemos 14:31) says they now believed in the prophecy of Moshe that it was true and was not the result of natural events. This event removed the last vestige of doubt that the miraculous events in Egypt could have been the result of random natural events. It was obviously impossible that the sea could have been split at night and the next day return to its normal state. Therefore, the splitting of the sea removed the doubts from their hearts—for the time being. However soon after the Splitting of the Sea, the doubts returned. They thought perhaps Moshe, who was more knowledgeable than any other man had ever been, knew how to do this by natural means which they couldn’t ascertain. The only remaining option for clarifying the truth of Moshe’s prophecy was by their own prophecy and this is what in fact occurred at the Revelation of Sinai when they final established the truth.

Kuzari (5:1): Tradition is only good for the satisfied person. However for the confused person it is better to investigate thoroughly especially if this analysis comes to validate the Tradition. Then there is an integration of these two approaches—knowledge and tradition.

Kuzari (1:25): G‑d introduced His words to the entire Jewish people by saying that He was their G‑d Who took them out of Egypt. He didn’t say that He was the creator of the world and the creator of the Jews… Therefore that which obligates all Jews to keep the Torah is the experience of the redemption of Egypt and the revelation of Sinai which was they witnessed with their own eyes and afterwards transmitted through an unbroken chain of tradition through the generations—which is equivalent to actual seeing with one’s own eyes.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Shemos 19:4): Faith—which is inherently vulnerable to being undermined by doubt—is not the basis of either your awareness of G‑d or your awareness of yourself. Both are in fact your direct knowledge of that which you have experienced directly through your physical senses. [This verse is describing the direct experience of the Exodus from Egypt]. The exact same idea is expressed later concerning the revelation of Torah—(Shemos 20:19), “You have seen that I have spoken to you from Heaven.” All of Judaism rests upon these two pillars of truth—the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation of Torah at Sinai. These two pillars stand firmly on your own direct experience with your physical senses which excludes the possibility of deception. They were witnessed simultaneously by 600,000 people. These two pillars both have the highest degree of certainty and are excluded from the realm of mere conjecture or faith. They are in fact in the realm of direct knowledge and are therefore facts which are incontestable in the same way as the indisputable facts that we exist and the physical world exists are incontestable…

Chovas HaLevavos (Introduction): This is like the servant who was commanded by the king to collect money from his agents and to carefully count and weigh it. This servant was bright and had great expertise in this matter. The agents, however, were cunning and persuaded him to simply accept their word concerning the accounts without his own personal audit. He thus was lax following the command of the king. When the matter came before the king he commanded that the money be brought to him and he asked the servant to precisely describe the sum. The servant of course was not able to answer and the king punished him for taking his command lightly and relying on the word of his agents and not just because the amount of money was incorrect. However, if he had not been an expert in these matters the king would not have punished him for relying on the word of others. Thus it is with Judaism. A person who lacks the ability to comprehend something with his intellect has full justification for not investigating it. In such a case, he must of course rely on the traditions from the prophets that are taught by the sages. The idea is to start with the tradition and learn to comprehend the tradition with your own intellect. That way you have the best of both worlds. If you are negligent in this matter, it is taking lightly what your Creator requires of you….

R’ S. R. Hirsch (Nineteen Letters #18): [the leaders of Orthodoxy] became at first enemies of this philosophical spirit, and later of all specifically intellectual and philosophical pursuits in general. Certain misunderstood utterances [e.g., Bereishis Rabbah 44:1] were taken as weapons with which to repel all higher interpretations of the Talmud . . . The inevitable consequence was, therefore, that since oppression and persecution had robbed Israel of every broad and natural view of world and of life, and Talmud had yielded about all the practical results for life of which it was capable, every mind that felt the desire of independent activity was obliged to forsake the paths of study and research in general open to the human intellect, and to take its recourse to dialectic subtleties and hairsplitting. Only a very few [e.g., R’ Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari and Ramban] during this entire period stood with their intellectual efforts entirely within Judaism, and built it up out of its own inner concept [Drachman translation]…. we are left with two generations confronting each other. One of them has inherited an uncomprehended Judaism, as practiced by men from habit, a revered but lifeless mummy which it is afraid to bring back to life. The other, though in part burning with noble enthusiasm for the welfare of the Jews, regards Judaism as bereft of any life and spirit, a relic of an era lone past and buried, and tries to uncover its spirit, but, not finding it, threatens through its well‑meant efforts to sever the last life nerve of Judaism—out of sheer ignorance [Paritzky translation].

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Supreme Rabbinical Court Ruling English Summary II

The 9 part translation and summation of the Supreme Rabbincal Court ruling made by the Rebbitzen's Husband has been consolidated . Click on link

Rav Ovadia Yosef commented that conversion courts are too stringent

Jerusalem Post just reported the following. I personally find this item rather strange in that it doesn't directly mention what Rav Ovaida Yosef's view is in regards to the recent ruling concerning Rav Druckman's conversions. It is difficult to fathom the significance of this report - since what it says he said is not being disputed. Therefore the conclusions drawn are simply not justified. Any more comprehensive reports of the view of Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita would be greatly appreciated. See Yeshiva World's comment.

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"Conversion courts are too stringent"

Preeminent Sephardi halachic authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said this week that conversion courts were being too inflexible and stringent with potential converts, said sources close to the rabbi.

"Accepting the yoke of the commandments is essential for conversion," Yosef reportedly told a small group of Shas MKs and functionaries. "But we must not push off converts too much. It is not right to cause them pain by rejecting them."

According to MK Haim Amsalem (Shas), who was present when Yosef made the comments, Yosef quoted from the Babylonia Talmud to prove that rabbis should be lenient and welcoming when dealing with potential converts.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99-100) relates that the patriarch Abraham rejected Timna who wished to become his concubine. Instead, Timna married Eliphaz, Abraham's great grandson through Eisav and gave birth to Amalek, the Jewish people's archenemy.

Yosef said that from this passage in the Talmud we must learn to be more accepting of gentiles who wish to become a part of the Jewish people.

Yosef's comments come as a group of haredi Ashkenazi rabbis have launched an attack on the Conversion Authority, the official state-sponsored body responsible for conversions, for being too lenient.

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is responsible for conversions, has also been severely criticized by the haredi community for giving his backing to the conversion authority.

Amar, one of Yosef's protégés, has been under pressure to adopt more stringencies with respect to the acceptance of converts. However, Yosef's more lenient stance on the issue will give Amar the rabbinic backing he needs to stand up to this pressure.

Yosef's position also underlines differences in approach between Sephardi rabbis, who tend to be more lenient in their halachic rulings in comparison to haredi Ashkenazi rabbis.

Update on conversion crisis

'State can't force rabbis to perform conversions'

Jerusalem Post May 27, 2008

The Knesset Law Committee took advantage of a session meant to mark the 70th anniversary of the Union of Local Authorities on Monday to debate the crisis between religious Zionists and Ashkenazi haredim over the legitimacy of the special conversion courts established several years ago to facilitate conversions. [...]

In the meantime, Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem tried to steer the discussion toward a bill he initiated aimed at transferring the responsibility for conversion from the religious court system to the city rabbis. Rotem hoped to bring the bill to a vote during the meeting but agreed to postpone it due to a request by haredi MKs.

Rehovot Chief Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook said the government and the Knesset would be violating the human rights of rabbis if they forced them to recognize conversions they did not believe in. He also referred to a rabbinical opinion that states that a convert must convert twice - once before the conversion court and a second time by immersing himself in water before becoming a Jew. Total immersion in water, he said, symbolized the acceptance of the convert of all the halachic commandments.

Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, a senior figure in the religious Zionist movement, argued that "we must return to the point where we decide [whether or not to approve a conversion application] in accordance with the Shulkan Arukh. If we take a more exacting position beyond that, we will be beset with intermarriage. In the Shulkan Arukh it says not to be too severe or to demand too much. But the rabbinical courts are doing the exact opposite."

Shas MK Haim Amsalem was critical of the special conversion courts but called for a colloquium of the most learned Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis to determine how conversions should be carried out in Israel.

Although he did not say so, he appeared to be critical of the unilateral decision made by Sherman to nullify all the conversions carried out by Druckman. On the other hand, he wrote that the 10 months and 500 hours of study that every potential convert must undergo prior to appearing before the special conversion courts was a waste of time. "As though Judaism was some sort of study course," he scoffed. "The question is whether or not the convert wants wholeheartedly to be a Jew and accept the burden of the commandments. If so, why does he need to study 500 hours. If the court is convinced of his sincerity, that's everything."

Rotem told The Jerusalem Post he was shocked to hear from Kook that he opposed allowing city rabbis to deal with conversions because they could be easily bribed. Rotem said he was certain of the honesty of the city rabbis.

Burning the New Testament - fighting the Jewish Messianic missionaries in Israel III

CNN) -- Police in Israel are investigating the burning of hundreds of New Testaments in a city near Tel Aviv, an incident that has alarmed advocates of religious freedom.[...]

News accounts in Israel have quoted Uzi Aharon, the deputy mayor of Or-Yehuda, as saying he organized students who burned several hundred copies of the New Testament. The deputy mayor gave interviews to Israeli radio and television stations after word of the incident surfaced about two weeks ago.

Soon he was talking with Russian, Italian and French television stations, "explaining to their highly offended audiences back home how he had not meant for the Bibles to be burned, and trying to undo the damage caused by the news (and photographs) of Jews burning New Testaments," The Jerusalem Post reported.

Aharon told CNN on Wednesday that he collected New Testaments and other "Messianic propaganda" that had been handed out in the city but that he did not plan or organize a burning. Instead, he said, three teenagers set fire to a pile of New Testaments while he was not present. Once he learned what was going on, he said, he stopped the burning.

The episode has worried defenders of Israel's minority population of Messianic Jews, who consider themselves Jewish but believe in the divinity of Jesus, as do Christians. It also has concerned evangelical Christians in North America, Europe and Asia, who visit Israel by the hundreds of thousands.

Calev Myers, an attorney for Messianic Jews in Israel, told CNN he plans to file a formal complaint Thursday with the national police at the request of the United Christian Council in Israel, an umbrella organization for a few dozen Christian organizations outside Israel. "I hope the people who are responsible for breaking the law will be indicted and prosecuted," he said.

About 200 New Testaments were burned, Aharon said, but he saved another 200. His goal was to stop attempts to distribute Christian literature in the city, he said.

Myers, however, said he doubts that Messianic Jewish missionaries distributed the New Testaments. He said it's not clear how the volumes found their way into homes in Or-Yehuda.

The deputy mayor told CNN he respects the New Testament and would not do what has been done to the Jews in the past -- a reference to Nazi burning of Jewish and other books in the 1930s, and other occasions when Jewish texts, including sacred ones, were burned.

Myers said his complaint will ask the authorities to investigate possible violations of two Israeli laws. One forbids the destruction or desecration of any religious icon or item that a group holds sacred. Another bans people from speaking publicly in a way that offends or humiliates a certain religion.
Both laws are meant to prevent people from inciting religious violence, he said.

The burning controversy has unfolded against the backdrop of other instances that Myers cited as examples of discrimination against Messianic Jews in Israel.About two months ago, the teenage son of a Messianic pastor was severely injured when a package delivered to his home exploded, Myers said. In addition, several rabbis urged students to boycott further participation in a Bible competition after they learned that one winner -- a high-school student in Israel -- was a Messianic Jew, he said.

Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have sharply criticized the burning of New Testaments.[...]

Shavuos III - Whoever rejects idolatry is called a Jew

Being a Jew is not a just a racial, biological or identity issue. It also involves beliefs. Perhaps the most important one is the rejection of idolatry and the acceptance of Torah.
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Megila(13a):
R’ Yochanon said that Mordechai did in fact come from the tribel of Binyamin. So why was he called “a Jew” [which implies that he was from the tribe of Yehudah]? Because he rejected idolatry since anyone who rejects idolatry is called a Jew [even though he isn’t from the tribe of Yehudah] as we see in Daniel (3:12):“There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not regarded you; they serve not your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.”

Meiri(Megila 13a): Whoever rejects idolatry is as if he accepted the entire Torah. Whoever raises an orphan in his house is as if he gave birth to the orphan.

Mahari Bruno((#135): There was an incident with a person who took an oath not to play with any Jew. R’ Isserlin was asked whether he could play with an apostate (mushuad)? He was allowed to since an apostate is not called a Jew. Even though Sanhedrin (44a) states that a sinner is still consdiered to be Yisroel – nevertheless he is not called a Jew and therefore the oath doesn’t apply. A proof for this is that Rashi (Sanhedrin 44a) explains the term Jew based on the Megila (13a) that whoever rejects idolatry is called a Jew. Therefore an apostate who rejects the G‑d of Israel and accepts idolatry is not called a Jew.

Rabbeinu Bachye(Devarim 8:1): Our Sages (Shavuos 29a) teach that whoever rejects idolatry is as if he acknowledges the entire Torah and whoever acknowledges idolatry is as if he rejected the entire Torah.

R' Ezriel Hildsheimer(Y.D. 1:259): Question: Is a person called a Jew based upon Megila (13a) that whoever rejects idolatry is called a Jew? Answer: This is one of the statements which causes great destruction amongst us. It is obviously not so. Heaven forfend that one should understand this statement literally...

Yad Ramah (Sanhedrin 19b): Calev ben Yefunah’s wife was called a Jewess even though she was the daughter of Pharaoh – but since she rejected idolatroy she was called a Jewess. This principle is learned from Daniel (3:12): “There are certain Jews [members of the tribe of Yehuda – Rashi- whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not regarded you; they serve not your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” This verse indicates that whoever rejects idolatry is called a Jew.

Rambam(Hilchos Avodas Kokovim 2:4): The commandment prohibiting idolatry is as significant as all the other mitzvos. This is learned from Bamidbar (15:22): And if you have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the L‑rd has spoken to Moses, We have a tradition that this verse is talking about idolatry. Therefore we learn from this verse that whoever agrees with idolatry denies the entire Torah as well as all the prophets and all that is written in the prophets from Adam until the end of the world (Bamidbar 15:23). Similarly one who rejects idolatry agrees with the entire Torah and all the prophets and all that which was commanded by the prophets from Adam until the end of the world. Thus it is the foundation of all the mitzvos.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shavuos II - Jewish character traits

Shavuos is the beginning of the Jewish people when the Jews received the Torah and accepted the obligation to keep it and committed themselves to a special relationship with G-d. This post is devoted to some of the characteristics of Jews found in the classic Jewish sources.
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Holy People

Devarim(14:2):Because you are a holy people to the L‑rd your G‑d and G‑d has chosen you to be His treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.

Inherently kind and sensitive to others

Yevamosh(79a): There are three distinguishing characteristics of the Jewish people. They are merciful, bashful and kind to others. They are merciful as is stated in Devarim (13:18):”…that G‑d should give you mercy [to be merciful to others – Rashi Beitza 32b] and be merciful to you and multiply you.” They are bashful as is stated in Shemos (20:17), “That His fear be before your faces.” They are kind to others as it is stated in Bereishis 18:19): “That Avraham may command his children and his household after him...” Whoever has these charcteristics deserves to be attached to this people.

Torah was given to Jews because they are aggressive and stubborn

Beitzah(25b): Why was the Torah given to Israel? Because they are aggressive and stubborn… If the Torah had not been given to Israel no nation or tongue could withstand them…

Rashi(Beitzah 25b): The Torah was given to the Jews because they are overly aggressive and the Torah serves to moderate their energy and subdue their heart…

Netzach Yisroel 14) I have already explained with clear proofs that the soul is the dominate factor in the nature of the Jew. For example, being stiff necked is one of the bad qualities that Jews have. Practically speaking that means that Jews refuse to accept chastisement and will not listen to corrective advise. This is in fact because they are not essential materialistic. Only something which is materialistic is readily altered. Consequently Jews are very resistant to change and will not accept the advice of others. Furthermore the (Beitzah 25b) states that they are the most aggressive and pushy people. That is because they have the power associated with being the defining figure that is separate and distinct from the readily altered material. In contrast the non‑Jews readily change their ways and readily accept correction. The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 11:5) therefore explains that Yonah did not want to go on a mission to Nineveh because he knew that this people would readily repent after hearing his chastisement. This would reflect badly on the Jews who stubbornly resisted repenting…

Shemos Rabbah (42:9): What is meant by saying that the Jews are a stiff‑necked people (Shemos 32:9)? R. Judah b. Poloyah said: They deserve to be beheaded. R. Jakim said: There are three who are inherently arrogant and overly self‑confident. The dog amongst animals, the rooster amongst birds, and the Jews amongst the nations. R. Yitzchok b. Redifa said in the name of R. Ammi: You think that this is said disparagingly, but it is really a praise. It means that a Jew will more readily be hanged then give up Judaism. R. Abin said: To this very day Israelites in the Diaspora are called the stiff‑necked people. R. Nahmani said: To prove to you that they are stiff‑necked, you should note that when G‑d was about to give them the Torah it says, On the morning of the third day, there were thunder and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the sound of a very loud shofar (Shemos 14:16). G‑d said: ‘I will show them all My miracles, and I only hope that it will be of some purpose.’

Shemos Rabbah(36:1): Why did Yermiyahu (11:16) describe the Jewish people as: “A leafy olive tree, fair with beautiful fruit?” The lesson is that just as the olive …is taken off the tree and beaten and then it is taken to vat and placed in a grinding-mill and then it is ground and afterwards tied with ropes. Then finally when stones are put on them they produce oil. It is similar with Israel. The idolaters come and beat them from place to place, imprison them, put them in chains, surround them with guards and only then does Israel repent their sins and G‑d answers them. How do we know this? Because it says in Shemos (2:23) that the Jews sighed and G‑d heard their groaning… Similarly in Devarim (4:30), “In your distress…because G‑d is a merciful G‑d.” That is why the Jews are described as “A leafy olive tree, fair with beautiful fruit.”..

Reishis Chochma (Yira 14): Concerning the service of G‑d one should not have fear or embarrassment as it says in Avos(5:20) be as chutzpidik as a leopard to do the will of our Father in Heaven. Nevertheless it is necessary to be shy and self effacing with people when in worldly matters which are not connected to religious issues. Similarly one needs to have proper fear and respect for Torah sages...

Wise and intelligent

Devarim(4:6): 6. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who, when they shall hear all these statutes, shall say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

Shabbos(75a): R. Simeon b. Pazzi said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi on the authority of Bar Kappara: He who knows how to calculate the cycles and planetary courses, but does not, of him Scripture saith, but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of his hands. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Johanan's name: How do we know that it is one's duty to calculate the cycles and planetary courses? Because it is written, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples: what wisdom and understanding is in the sight of the peoples? Say, that it is the science of cycles and planets.

Not inherently superior to other people

Ohr HaChaim (Shemos18:21): Why did Yisro deserve being the source of the information about forming the judicial system - especially when it implies - chas v'shalom - the ignorance of G-d's people prior to his suggestions? The Ohr HaChaim answers is that G-d wanted to teach the Jewish people a fundamental lesson for all generations. The lesson being that there are among the nations of the world men of great intelligence and understanding and these nations have awareness of important and valuable information. G-d's intent was to show through Yisro that the election of the Jews was not because their knowledge and insight was greater than other nations. They were not chosen because of their superior wisdom and knowledge. Their election was the result of G-d's supreme kindness and His love of the Avos. This explanation is more appropriate according to the view that Yisro came prior to the Revelation at Sinai. Accordingly G-d's message was that even though there are amongst the Nations greater wise men than amongst the Jews - the Jews were nevertheless chosen. We are therefore to praise Him for choosing us because of his Kindness. However, even according to the view that Yisro came after the Revelation at Sinai - a similar lesson can be learned by the fact that Yisro is mentioned in the sequence of events of the Torah prior to the giving of the Torah.

Treasured and Beloved of G‑d

Devarim(7:6-8): For you are a holy people to the L‑rd your G‑d. The L‑rd your G‑d has chosen you to be a special people to Himself - distinguished from all the nations that are on the face of the earth. G‑d did not desire you and chose you because you were more numerous than all the other nations - because in fact you were the smallest of all nations. Rather it was because of His love for you and to keep His promise which He had sworn to your forefathers that G‑d has taken you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh the king of Egypt.

Kuzari(1:95): 1) By the time the Jewish people had become a nation, with people such as Moshe, Aharon, Miriam, Betzalel, Yehoshua etc. even though there were sinners who were hated by God [for what they did], there is no doubt that they too were segula for from their root and nature they were segula, and in the future they would give birth to children who would be segula. 2) The children of Yaakov were all segula and were distinguished from the rest of mankind in their godly characteristics, for He made them as a distinct, angelic species [he actually writes, that asking why non-Jews cannot be like Jews is like asking why animals can't talk]

Ramban (Devarim 7:8): And He chose you – from all the nations that you should be special and His inheritance because the choice means distinguishing a part from the rest. The Torah explains that this choice was the result of G‑d’s love for you. He saw that you were fitting to be beloved before Him and to be beloved more than all the other nations. The Torah does not mention the reason for being chosen because the One who chose to love is known to make his His beloved bear all the suffering that comes from Him. Israel is more fitting of this suffering than all the other nations. This is indicated in Beitza (25b): There are three who are distinguished by their strength – one is Israel amongst the nations. That is because they are able to withstrand their trials and tribulations. As it says in Shemos Rabbah (42:9): Either be a Jew or be crucified. The meaning of “I chose you” means for the sake of your forefathers that matters devoped until that they were sworn that their descendants would be chosen. That was so that the sins of their descendants would not nullify the promise. Consequently G‑d took you out of the land of Egypt with a strong hand.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shavuos I -The beginning of the Jewish people

While I have posted much material regarding the nature of conversion and the problem with conversion - the fact remains that Judaism and the Jewish people are the result of conversion. While there is much discussion whether the essential act of conversion was that of Avraham or the mass conversion at Sinai - everyone agrees that the mass conversion at Sinai was creation of the Jewish people we have today. Therefore I will be devoting a number of postings from the classic sources regarding the creation of the Jewish people.

This issue of the origin of the Jewish people is not merely of historical interest - but how the beginning came about determines the halacha for present day conversions. That is because the conversion process itself is a replication of this original process.

Conversion process is same at that which created Jewish people

Kerisos(9a): Bamidbar (15:15): As you are, so shall the ger (stranger) be. He is compared to you but not completely concerning your sacrifices. Rebbe said, “As you” means as your ancestors. In other words, just as your ancestors only entered into the covenant with G‑d by means of circumcision, immersion in mikve and sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifices, so shall the ger enter in to the covenant with G‑d circumcision, immersion in mikveh and the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice.

Yevamos(46a): Our Rabbis taught: If a candidate for conversion was circumcised but not immersed in a mikveh – R’ Eliezer said he is still a valid ger because our ancestors [who left Egypt and came to Sinai - Rashi] were circumcised but had not been immersed in a mikveh. If he were immersed in mikveh but was not circumcised – R’ Yehoshua said that he is a valid ger because our female ancestors immersed but were not circumcised. Our Sages said that if he were only immersed in mikveh but not circumcised or if he were only circumcised but not immersed in mikve – he is not a valid ger. He must have both circumcision and immersion in mikveh [to be a valid ger]

Rambam(Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:1-4): With three things Israel entered into the covenant with G‑d – circumcision, immersion in a mikveh and offering a sacrifice….So it is for all generations when a non‑Jew wants to join the covenant and get sheltered under the wings of the Shechina and accept upon himself the yoke of Torah he needs circumcision, immersion and the offering of a sacrifice. For a non-Jewish woman to convert she needs immersion and the offering of a sacrifice…

When did the Jewish people become Jews?


Ramban(Vayikra 24:10:): … I don’t agree with the French commentators. Once Avraham was circumcised and made a covenant with G‑d he was considered a Jew and was not considered belonging to the nations. We see this concerning Esav (Kiddushin 18a) that he had the status of a Jewish sinner….

Rav Tzadok( Parshos Shemos): There is a well known dispute amongst the rishonim as to whether the Patriarchs were still considered Bnei Noach and “all are the words of the living G‑d” (eilu v’eilu). In fact they had left the status of Bnei Noach as we see in Chagiga (3a) that Avraham was called “the beginning of gerim.” However they were not complete Jews until the Giving of the Torah which was a type of marriage (kiddushin) as is stated in Sanhedrin (59a) regarding Devarim (33:4) that Torah is considered a betrothal. Avraham had been promised this with an oath which is a form of engagement and betrothal through an oath. Nevertheless it was possible to break the commitment prior to marriage which is the completion of the betrothal. Concerning this Shemos (23:9),”You know the soul of the ger because you were gerim in Egypt.” They were in fact gerim in Egypt because they were just called Israel. And this that it says in Bereishis (15:13), “And your descendants will be gerim (strangers)… Because they were slaves to the Egyptians they were not yet called “servants of G‑d” and “children of G‑d”. Because of the slavery they merited being redeemed afterwards and also to receive the Torah. That is because their affliction was not like the affliction of other peoples which is to cause them to be destroyed. In regards to Israel it was like that of the punishment that a father gives his son which is out of love and kindness for the son’s own good so that he can receive a greater good. Therefore the son has to be reprimanded and punished and through this is capable to receive much benefit afterwards.

Tztizt Eliezer(20:44 7): The Turei Even (Chagiga 3a) writes about Avraham being the begining of gerim and deals with many gemoras which seem to be contradictory concerning whether the Jews left the status of Bnei Noach prior to Sinai. He cites Yoma (28b), Yevamos (100b), Kiddushin (18a) and Chullin (100b) as well as others. He also discusses Amram marrying his aunt and Avraham saying that Sarah was his sister (which is true if he had the statuts of Ben Noach). He writes that the Patriarchs had a partial status of being a Jew - even though it was not complete – but they definitely left the status of Bnei Noach in the days of Avraham. Thus it makes sense why Chagiga (3a) describes him as the beginning of gerim. That means that he was the first one who left the status of Ben Noach and entered into a state of holiness. This fits in with Yevamos (100b) which explains Bereishis (17:7): “ And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a G‑d to you, and to your seed after you” to mean that they should not marry a non‑Jewish woman so that his descendants shouldn’t be influenced to follow in her ways.

Igros Moshe(Y.D. 3:112): It appears that the reason of Tosfos (Yevamos 45) in his first answer which concerns the first view is that the 3 people of the beis din are for the sake of the acceptance of mitzvos by the ger. That is because the acceptance of mitzvos is not an activity of the geirus process because we don’t find that there is any discussion in the gemora about how this is derived – even though it could have been learned from the fact that our ancestors said “We will do and then we will understand” (na’aseh venishma) at Sinai. Nevetheless we don’t find in Yevamos (46a) in the braissa where the details of the conversion process are learned from the actions of our ancestors (i.e., circumcision and immersion in mikveh) that it shows how we know that the mitzvos must also be accepted. Rather it appears that the acceptance of mitzvos is not an activity which is part of the ritual of conversion but rather someone who does not accept the mitzva is not fit to become a ger. [Thus it is the essential precondition for conversion – but does not cause the conversion]. Tosfos holds that only the acceptance of mitzvos requires a beis din and also states something new that the declaration that this man or woman is fit to become a ger needs to be done in front of three because the word mishpat (laws) is associated with conversion. Therefore when the ger accepts the obligation to do mitzvos before three and also to be circumcized and immersed in mikveh – they render the decision that he is now fit to become a ger. Therefore after this decision he is circumcised and immersed - even if it isn’t in the presence of beis din – he still becomes a valid ger since he did the this according to their instructions. This can also be seen from an inference that can be made in the language of the Ramban which is brought by the Magid Mishna (Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:9), “But if he accepts on himself before three to be circumcized and to immersed in mikveh and he is instructed in some of the mitzvos according to their details, and then he goes and is circumcized and immersed even not in the presence of beis din – he is a valid ger.”… This indicates that the beis din needs to instruct him that he needs to accept the mitzvos in their presence and then to be circumcized and immersed in mikveh. They render a decision that he is valid to become a ger – which is then accomplished through circumcision and immersion in mikveh

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Christian Zionism - G-d sent Herzl & Hitler to get Jews to go to Israel

YouTube has the video/audio of the influential evangelist John Hagee and his explanation of the basis of recent Jewish history. As a result of these statements, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain rejected his endorsement.
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CNN reports that John Hagee defended his remarks with the following:

Hagee is pastor of a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas, and founder of a global Christian broadcast network.

In a statement released before McCain rejected his endorsement, Hagee said his words had been taken out of context.

"The intentional mischaracterization of my statements by an Internet journalist seeking to use me as a political football in the upcoming presidential race is a gross example of bias at its worst. I will not stand idly by while my character is assassinated and my views on the Holocaust are grossly distorted.

"To assert that I in any way condone the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler is the biggest and ugliest of lies. I have always condemned the horrors of the Holocaust in the strongest of terms." He also pointed to millions of dollars worth of donations his ministry had made to humanitarian efforts in Israel.

The Washington Times (5/24/08) published defenses of Rev. Hagee's words - click link for full article
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Jews defend Hagee's words

By Julia Duin

Jewish allies of the Rev. John Hagee rushed to his defense yesterday to say the Texas evangelist is not anti-Semitic despite Sen. John McCain campaign's repudiation Thursday of the evangelist's endorsement.

"John Hagee is one of the Jewish people's best friends," Los Angeles talk show host Dennis Prager said on the air yesterday morning. "Identifying John Hagee with anti-Semitism would be like identifying Raoul Wallenberg, the great Swede who saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, with anti-Semitism."

Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, of Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, appeared at an afternoon press conference yesterday to say Mr. Hagee's "words were twisted and used to attack him for being anti-Semitic." In actuality, Mr. Hagee "interpreted a biblical verse in a way not very different from several legitimate Jewish authorities," the rabbi said."Viewing Hitler as acting completely outside of God's plan is to suggest that God was powerless to stop the Holocaust, a position quite unacceptable to any religious Jew or Christian," the rabbi said.

"I have devoted most of my adult life to ensuring that there will never be a second Holocaust," Mr. Hagee told reporters. "I have worked tirelessly to eliminate the sin of anti-Semitism from the Christian world and to ensure the survival of the state of Israel." At issue was Mr. Hagee's reference — in a late 1990s sermon and in his 2006 book "Jerusalem Countdown" to Adolf Hitler being a "hunter" used by God to force Jews to emigrate to Israel. In a reference to the Book of Jeremiah, whose author predicts a scattering of the Jewish people but saying God would bring them back to the promised land, Mr. Hagee says in the sermon: "How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."

David Brog, a Conservative Jew who is executive director of Mr. Hagee's nonprofit Christians United for Israel (CUFI), said critics misunderstood the biblical context. "Leading rabbis have said the same thing," he said. "This is a legitimate effort to grapple with the age-old question of why God allows evil in the world. Pastor Hagee was not, as some are claiming, saying the Holocaust was good. He has said repeatedly, throughout his life, that the Holocaust was the greatest of tragedies."But there is a long-standing Jewish tradition of searching for divine explanations for tragedy. For people who are biblical literalists, God is omnipotent; therefore, they maintain, God must have allowed the Holocaust to happen. What you hear here is an effort to search for an explanation."

Mr. Prager agreed. "As a religious Jew, I don't happen to believe that God brought on the Holocaust," he said. "But my Orthodox Jewish father who fought in World War II and many other believing Jews do. There is nothing anti-Jewish about that belief."[...]

The Catholic League, which had criticized the televangelist over statements taken as denunciations of the Roman Catholic Church, defended Mr. Hagee over the latest charges."I ... found him to be the strongest Christian defender of Israel I have ever met, and that is why attempts to portray him as anything but a genuine friend to Jews — one for whom the Holocaust is the horror of horrors — is despicable," League president Bill Donohue said Thursday.[...]

Barry Block, senior rabbi at San Antonio's Temple Beth El, a Reform synagogue, says the local Jewish community has been divided on Mr. Hagee for years. [...] He added, "Anti-Semitic is a term I use sparingly and would not apply to Pastor Hagee."

===============

Rav Chaim Dov Keller wrote in the Jewish Observer:

[...] The Yishuv Hayashan (old settlement of chareidim) in eretz Yisroel had served as an unbroken link with the distant past. But in the 1930s the Yishuv was under siege. The new wave of Socialistic and secular Zionism was attempting to redefine Judaism as a nationalistic concept threatening to reduce Torah to a cultural curiosity. The current expansion of the Torah world then had already began with the arrival of Rabbi Eliezer Shulevitz in Eretz Yisroel in 1922 when he lad the groundwork for the founding of the Lomza Yeshiva in Petach Tikva (1924). And Rabbi Iser Zalman melter arrived from Slutzk, Russian to head Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in 1923. In addition the Alter of Slobodka...established his yeshiva in Chevron in 1924 [...] The Jewish poopulation grew dramatically in the mid-40s as a result of the horrific events in Europe, but the chareidim were in danger of being overwhelmed by the new forces. Miracles were needed - and Hashem provided them. From the charnel house of Europe came visionary leaders and builders like the Chebiner Rav, the Imrei Emes, the Beis Yisroel and Reb Arele Belzer. Members of the Mirrer Yeshiva came to Erretz Yisroel from Shanghai after the war, to be led by Rabbi Lazer yudel Finkel and Rabbi chaim Shmulevitz. And who can descrie the tremendous effect of Torah giants llike the Brisker Rav who escaped with nissim from the Nazis, stood at the helm of the battles for clear Daas Torah and restablished with a small group of talmidim that which is today the crowning glory of the Brisker yeshivs? How can one assess the awesome impact on the Torah world made by Harav Elazar Shach and the Steipler who later became the recognized leaders of the Olam HaTorah after the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav? [...]


Prime Minister's Office has dismissed Rav Druckman

Conversion Authority head Rabbi Haim Druckman has received a letter from the Prime Minister's Office notifying him of his dismissal due to the fact that he has turned 75 and thus passed the age of retirement.

The dismissal comes at a particularly sensitive time, after a panel of rabbinical judges wrote a halachic ruling overturning a conversion by Druckman, and implied that all his conversions should be annulled.

The ruling, while not automatically revoking the hundreds of conversions Druckman performed, has still alarmed many converts who had gone through the process under Druckman's tutelage.

Chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Legislation, and Law Committee, Menahem Ben Sasson (Kadima), asked the Prime Minister's Office Thursday to find a way to extend Druckman's position. According to Ben Sasson, Druckman's remaining in office is important "especially in these hard times, when there is a crisis regarding conversions."

During an emergency meeting of the committee, all MKs present expressed full confidence in Druckman.

According to Likud MK Yuri Edelstein, removing Druckman from office would seriously harm the little faith left with immigrants considering conversion.

"This will be seen as the government's surrender in face of a haredi attack against the conversion authority and the converts. This is another one of the government's poor attempts at survival by pleasing extreme orthodox circles, which anyway do not recognize the state's authority to convert. [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert should take an exceptional step and cancel [Druckman's] dismissal forthwith."

[...]

Christian Zionists Gain Israel's Inner Sanctum

IPS News Service reported the following. May 22, 2008 Click on the link for article

Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Jan 3 (IPS) - After raising more than two hundred million dollars for various projects in Israel, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the organisation he founded and is president of, has hit pay-dirt.

In late December, the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helped found the State of Israel, announced that the IFCJ "will be declared a funding partner of the Jewish Agency... [and] Eckstein will ... receive new voting powers that will include spots on the committees that oversee the agency's budget and that meet with the prime minister and his Cabinet," the Jewish Daily Forward reported.


The announcement indicates a major shift in agency policy. Nearly 10 years ago, the head of the Jewish Agency "refused to be photographed taking a check" from Eckstein. "Now, it has publicly, and apparently proudly, acknowledged that the IFCJ would be donating 45 million dollars to the agency over the next three years, almost all of it raised from evangelical Christians in North America," according to The Forward.

Eckstein told the news service JTA that "This elevates" the fellowship and "thereby Christians around the world to strategic partner with the worldwide agency..."

"Appointing Eckstein on the basis of how much money he can bring raises wider questions about who should be making policy for the agency -- which is supposed to be the bridge between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, not simply a philanthropy -- and how the Jewish community is represented," Gershom Gorenberg told IPS.

Gorenberg, the author of "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount" and "The Accidental Empire", pointed out that "If money is the sole criterion, if this is simply a philanthropy, then there is no reason for the institutionalised relationship with the government."

"The Jewish Agency is essentially saying that pro-Israel Christians are joining with the Jewish community worldwide in helping aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel] and in strengthening the security and welfare of the State of Israel. That has never happened before," Eckstein added.
[...]
Earlier this year, at a conference at the Centre for Jewish Studies at Queens College in New York City on the state of world Jewry titled "Is it 1938 again?" Eckstein, in answering the question in the affirmative, called for a strategic alliance with evangelical Christians, because they are "our best friends and closest allies".

"He brushed off concerns about their supposed ulterior motives -- converting Jews and advancing Armageddon -- as a 'figment of, if I can say it, this liberal, Jewish and journalistic imagination,'" the Florida Jewish News reported.

Eckstein's organisation "represents a community whose interest in Israel is based on their own theology," said Gorenberg, who is also a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. "However much they proclaim love of Israel and Jews, their priorities are not based on Israeli or Jewish evaluations of what's in Israel's interests. They may oppose a two-state solution, for instance, because it doesn't fit their theology -- which is different from right-wing Jews who believe that such a solution is dangerous to Israel's future. I disagree with the right-wing Jews as well, but it is a different type of disagreement."
[...]

"It feels like we're losing control," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a co-founder of the Web site Jews on First, which monitors the religious right and Christian Zionist groups in the United States. "Those who will be in charge of the Zionist enterprise will not be Jews, but the senior partners with the most money."

While Eckstein's role in the Jewish Agency raises serious questions, Gershom Gorenberg pointed out that the "ad hoc relation that sometimes exists between Israel and conservative Evangelicals … is parallel to the ad hoc coalitions sometimes created by circumstance between feminists and fundamentalists on issues such as prostitution or pornography. They may jointly support a particular measure, but there is no real community of interests, no coalition."

Justice Minister Friedman asserts: Conversion should be based on national identity - not halacha

YNET reports:

Israel needs to find a solution regarding weddings and divorces for citizens who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law, "Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said Sunday night.

According to him, the State needs to help them integrate into Israelis' lives and to accept them even if the Halacha (Jewish law) has difficulty recognizing them as Jews. The present situation in which they cannot marry, is unacceptable, he added.

Friedmann explained that “some groups consider them Jewish since they serve in IDF infantry units like Golani and Givati. It is the country’s duty as a member of the family of nations to allow every citizen to marry. "Rabbi Avraham Sherman (who decided that conversions carried out by Rabbi Haim Druckman were null and void) may not accept this, but the State as a state, must.” In a conference discussing “who is a Jew” held at the Brodt Jewish Culture Center in Tel Aviv, the justice minister attacked the policies of strict rulings in the rabbinical courts, saying that “I wouldn’t say anything if there was another way to get married. The problem is that the same strict group doesn’t allow others to get married in different places.” Minister Friedmann also discussed the issue of conversions, claiming that “the world’s Orthodox community believes that whoever fails to abide by the commandments will eventually assimilate. "However, I believe that the approach in Israel needs to be completely different. When we are on our own land and there is Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, if somebody wants to join us, it is worth it to make it easier on them. The same strictness is not fitting because people share the same fate just by virtue of them being here.” He also said that “the last decision canceling conversions carried out by Rabbi Druckman does not make the situation look promising. I hope that he will reassess this issue and I will recommend that Knesset members adopt legislation on the issue.”

Chief Rabbi Amar - "we did not cancel any conversions!"

YNET reports

Rabbi Amar referred to the Rabbi Druckman case, saying that “actually we did not cancel any conversion, but the specific case discussed was returned to the local rabbinical court. People claimed certain things and the religious judges said that if they will be proven as true, the conversion will be cancelled. In the meantime, we have not yet convened with the involved parties and thus I cannot express my stance on the issue.” The chief rabbi added that the amount of press surrounding this case is inappropriate. “Like in any situation, here too the judges are divided, and such is God’s way," Amar said.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Burning the New Testament - fighting the Jewish Messianic missionaries in Israel II

The following article was sent by Penina Taylor. It provides a better context for the events than does the Jerusalem Post article previously posted
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Taking out The Trash


Penina Taylor - Executive Director of the Jerusalem Center of Jews for Judaism

(Op Ed published on Israelenews and Israelinsider)

It was reported yesterday by several major news outlets that recently the religious Jews of Or Yehuda set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament. Ha’aretz called it “the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.” Calev Myers, attorney representing the Messianic communities of Israel called for the people who did it to be brought to trial. But brought to trial for what?

The people who burned these books broke no law. Despite the allusions being made to the burning of Jewish holy books during the times of the inquisition or the holocaust, there is absolutely no comparison here. The New Testaments had been basically thrown out – they were garbage, and there is no law against incinerating garbage, even by religious Jews, even in public.

First let’s look at the whole story. The town of mostly religious Jews had recently been targeted by missionaries, a form of harassment. The missionaries were not invited to come, they invaded, and in the wake of their invasion, they left hundreds, maybe even thousands of New Testaments and other missionary literature. The townspeople were in a quandary – what to do with this heresy that they did not want in their homes? So, the Deputy Mayor came up with a solution. He offered to take the unwanted trash off the residents’ hands and dispose of them in such a way that made it clear and in no uncertain terms that such literature was not only unsolicited, but unwelcome.

Like a modern day King Josiah, Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon set out to unburden the citizenry he was sworn to serve, and they gave him the unwanted materials willingly. In the book of 2 Kings, chapter 22 and in 2 Chronicles 34, we read the story of King Josiah who took the throne at the age of eight years old. It is said of him, “And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. ” (2 Kings 22:2) – a claim that no Christian would deny. And yet, we read in 2 Chronicles 34:33 that “Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers.”

Now, King Josiah removed the objects of heresy and idolatry forcibly, he did not give the citizens a choice in the matter, including regarding their service to God and this is where the two stories diverge. Truth be told, we could go on about how the burning of the New Testaments was simply an exercise in freedom of expression or even freedom of religion, which Israel claims to be why proselytizing is no longer illegal in the land. But the bottom line is this: there was no persecution or violence against Christians here, and no one was forced to do anything he/she didn’t want to do. If anything, it is the missionaries who are guilty and deserve to be brought to trial for mass harassment, not to mention the countless number of trees who senselessly gave their lives for the printing of the unwanted material and the ridiculous amount of space this story is now taking up on web pages and newspapers the world over.

Rabbi Vinas - the unanswered questions???

Much as I am pleased with the long letter I received and posted from Rabbi Vinas explaining his activities - the fundamental questions I have raised in previous posts have not been adequately addressed.

According to all accounts I have read and seen - Rabbi Vinas is a wonderful and sensitive human being. He genuinely cares about the welfare of other people. I also accept as fact that he is totally sincere and genuinely concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people. He has also gone through the system as an Orthodox Jew, studied Torah, helped turn around a dying shul in Yonkers as well as devoted countless hours to helping people of Hispanic background. Furthermore despite his upset about some of the material that I have posted - he has taken the time to write material which he requested to be posted on this blog to defend his position (which I have duly posted). We have also exchanged emails with material he requested remain confident - and I am honoring his request. He has even agreed to meet with me next time he comes to Jerusalem.

So what is left? The answer unfortunately is that nothing that he has written so far would lead to answering the basic points that I have posted before.

Contrary to what one commentator posted about ignorant blogs causing problems - this is not an ignorant blog! I have been criticized for many things in my lifetime - but being ignorant is not something I am accused of by people - who know me and know what I have written in my seforim as well as on the internet. Furthermore most of the comments to my postings - even though often in disagreement - generally reflect informed well thought out positions by intelligent, well educated adults.

Rabbi Vinas - has in essence addressed the issues on the level of a newspaper interview but has not evinced any concern with our questions on the level of Torah scholarship. From what I have posted about Rabbi Vinas - it is clear he is a highly educated man and in recognition of such is a research fellow of a think tank devoted to proselytization of anyone who either thinks he might be Jewish or who can be pesuarded that he might want to be Jewish. Thus he is fully capable of responding to fairly standard questions both as a Talmid Chachom and a secular academic scholar.

Let me summarize the halachic/hashkofic issues that we have raised and for which I hope to receive from him erudite responses citing chapter and verse and well as teshuvos from contemporary gedolim as well as some of the authorities that Rabbi Vinas uses - since from everything I have read so far he is apparently not a posek.

1) Rabbi Vinas is active in accepting and encouraging those who might be descended from the Anusim of Spain and Portugal (500 years ago) to keep mitzvos and to convert fully to Judaism. I have asked for the justification for such a practice and he says it is a sofek doreissa whether they are Jewish. In fact he believes his family is from such a background and thus his own self perception is either a Jew from birth or at least a sofek doreissa Jew from birth. While there are many discussions in the rabbinic literature concerning Ethiopians - I am not familiar with any discussion of the status of Anusim. The letter from R' Aaron Soleveitchick and R' Mordechai Eliyahu do not address the concerns raised and are in of themselves difficult to ascertain what they mean. In sum - on whose authority does Rabbi Vinas actively promote the mitzva observance and conversion of Hispanic Jews who might be halachic Jews, or might be descended only patrilinearly or might in fact be full goyim. Associated with this is the question whether they are possible mamzerim or sofek mamzerim.

2) Rabbi Vinas has many talents - one of which is fluency in Spanish and the Hispanic culture. In this context he has been interviewed by Spanish/Catholic newspapers concerning how Judaism views Christianity. He is on record as saying that there is nothing prohibited in Christian worship and they in fact worship the same deity as we do. He says he did this to enhance the attitude towards Jews - which is clearly a desirable goal. However the statements as reported in the papers are not accurate descriptions of the Jewish position - which views Christianity as prohibited. The attempt of one of the commentators to explain this away as saying in effect "for you goyim it is permitted by the Torah - even though it is viewed as idolatry if a Jew did it" is simply not acceptable. Is there a posek which allows telling goyim that the Torah sees nothing wrong with their worship practices - when in fact it isn't so? If there is I would appreciate knowing who it is.

3) Rabbi Vinas is an official associate of an organization which actively promotes proselytization of non-Jews. His defense that he disagrees with some of what they do and besides there is also a Chabad rabbi associated with this organization - is not acceptable. Where is the literature, the Torah sevoras, the psak of gedolim which would permit him to act in this way. While there are poskim who allow teaching at Reform and Conservative day schools - I would like to know who told him that it is mutar to be publicly associated with this organization? What is the justification?

4) Rabbi Vinas acknowledges that he is a ger. As was discussed in my previous post on Rabbi Vinas - there is a significant question as to having a ger as a rav of a shul - especially when he is telling people what they must do. While there are various possible reasons to justify this - I would like to hear the Torah reasoning and sources he used to justify this.

In sum. The issue is not whether Rabbi Vinas is a sincere man who is moser nefesh to help the Jewish people. The question is what is the justification for what he actually does - since it is obvious that there are clear cut Torah problems raised by his activities. Sincerity and pure motivation is not an adequate justification in a religion of halacha - even though it is so for other religions.

Burning the New Testament - fighting the Jewish Messianic missionaries in Israel I

Jerusalem Post published the following article regarding reaction to Christian [Messianic Jewish] missionaries amongst the Ethiopian immigrants
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Or Yehuda deputy mayor: I'm sorry about burning New Testaments

The burning of hundreds of New Testaments by yeshiva students in Or Yehuda last week was regrettable and unplanned, the city's deputy mayor, the man who spurred the students to act, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon of Shas used the opportunity of speaking to the Post, which publishes a monthly Christian Edition, to apologize to Christians worldwide, saying he hoped the incident would not inflame tensions between Jews and Christians.

Following the publication of the story on Tuesday, however, many messianic Jewish and other Christian groups expressed grave concern over the increasingly violent nature of anti-missionary activity in Israel.

Aharon had a very busy Tuesday. In the morning, Ma'ariv ran a story on how he organized to retrieve and burn hundreds of New Testaments given to Ethiopian Jews in his city by local messianic Jews. By 9 a.m. he was on an Army Radio news-talk show defending his actions, which he called "purging the evil among us."

At 10:30 he was on Channel 2's morning news show saying that Ethiopian immigrants in Or Yehuda were being encouraged to go against Judaism by messianic Jews. "We need to stop being ashamed of our Jewishness and to fight those who are breaking the law by missionizing against us," he said.

But by the early afternoon he had already been interviewed by Russian, Italian and French TV, explaining to their highly offended audiences back home how he had not meant for the Bibles to be burned, and trying to undo the damage caused by the news [and photographs] of Jews burning New Testaments.

But then he also told The Associated Press that he didn't condemn the Bible burning, calling it a "commandment."

Aharon then told the Post that he was very sorry for the book burning and that it was not planned, and that he was aware that the incident may have caused damage to relations between Christians and Jews. The deputy mayor said he had organized, together with "three or four" yeshiva students from the city's Michtav M'Eliahu Yeshiva to go to apartments in the city's Neveh Rabin neighborhood, which has many Ethiopian immigrants, and round up packages given to them several days earlier by messianic Jews. The packages contained a New Testament and several pamphlets, which Aharon said "encouraged on to go against Judaism."

[...]

The incident in Or Yehuda is the latest sign of rising tension between segments of the modern Orthodox and haredi sectors and the messianic Jewish community. Two months ago, the son of a messianic Jew was seriously wounded by a parcel bomb left outside his home in Ariel. Earlier this year, haredim demonstrated outside messianic Jewish gatherings in Beersheba and Arad, and there were instances of violence.

And just before Independence Day, a group of religious Zionist rabbis called for a boycott of this year's International Bible Quiz after discovering that one of the four finalists from Israel, Bat-El Levi, an 11th-grader from Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood, was a messianic Jew.

The rise in tensions is partly due to an increase in the number of messianic Jews in Israel over the past few years, with some estimates putting the community at 15,000, and partly due to increased fervor within haredi anti-missionary groups.

Sources familiar with the Falash Mura - whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity under duress in Ethiopia, and who made aliya under the understanding that they would return to Judaism - say that some continue to be Christians in Israel, and that this makes them amenable to messianic Jews. Several messianic Jews and at least one Christian group in Israel contacted by the Post on Tuesday expressed fear that if they spoke on the record, they would be attacked.

[...]

"I expect the police to investigate everyone who was involved in the book burning, including those who incited the youths to the act, even if that includes Mr. Aharon," Myers said. Myers said the book burning was tantamount to incitement to violence.

"Israelis have to understand something: Messianic Jews here have strong ties to American evangelical Christians, and there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who see the burning of the New Testament as a very serious issue. The New Testament is believed in by hundreds of millions of people. It is not in Israel's national interest to allow the burning of their holy book," Myers told the Post.

Myers is not worried about opening up a legal battle over missionary activities in Israel. "Messianic Jews distribute literature here and are very careful about it. Chabad is a much larger group that distributes material and literature," he said.

[Aharon says it is okay for Jews to give material to Jews, but not for Christians to target Jews.]

"The messianic Jews in Israel are Jews like anyone else. They are registered with the Interior Ministry as Jews. So they are just as entitled to hand out pamphlets as anyone else, as long as it is from adults to adults and does not involve minors. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 there has never been one case of proven missionary work that has led to an indictment," Myers said
[...]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rabbi Manny Vinas objects to criticism and explains his position

I have posted a number of times I, II, III, IV,
 VI, VII  regarding Rabbi Vinas and his involvement with conversion of Hispanics/Anusim. He is also officially listed as an associate of an organization involved in actively proselytizing non-Jews. There are also interviews with him in Spanish/Christian publications in which he tries to minimize differences between Judaism and Christianity. In his reply published below, he strongly objects to the understanding which readily emerges from these sources and he offers an alternative understanding based on a detailed explanation of the context.

I appreciate the time and effort involved in his reply as well as his upset. I am in the process of investigating his explanation and if it holds up I will publicly apologize for misunderstanding his postion. I am not out to get Rabbi Vinas but am concerned about his activities - and am interested in hearing what he has to say.

Therefore I would appreciate if Rabbi Vinas elaborates more on these issues - as he is not only obviously knowledgeable about them - but is involved in the day to day reality. It would not only serve the purpose of correcting the impression readily obtained from the public record but would provide the readers of this blog with a better understanding of what is going on in the world. In other words I am willing to give him a public forum in which to educate us and at the same time for him to understand how the extensive public record of his activities clearly implies the views that I have presented in the blog.
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Rabbi Vinas wrote:

Thank you for taking so much time to review my holy work of returning the Anusim to Judaism, and thank you for recognizing me as "a well educated Rabbi." You are correct I am involved in helping people of Anusim background return to Judaism. I do so knowing that it is clearly expressed in one of the Takanot de Rabenu Gershom that encourages the Jewish community to outreach to individuals who were forcibly converted out of Judaism to return to the ways of the Torah. "Anusim" is the halachic term for people commonly referred to by ignorant people as "marranos" which means pigs in Spanish an insult for Jews by our enemies. These were Jews who were forcibly converted by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions to Catholicism but maintained secret Jewish practices for centuries, and sought return to Judaism whenever possible. In fact this takanah was actually carried out by the Rabbanut of the Amsterdam Jewish Community during the 1650's. The great Rav Menashe ben Israel and Aboab de Fonseca spent much of their time seeking out people of anusim background to help educate them and return them to the ways of the Torah. It is called pidyon shvuim by these two great Rabanim. Rav Menashe Ben Israel was the Rav who negotiated with Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to return to live openly in England in 1654. He also published many books in both Portuguese and Spanish to educate anusim and return them to Torah observant lives. Rav Menashe Ben Israel was one of the Banai Anusim who returned to Jewish life as soon as his family was able to escape to the safety of Holland. He never forgot the many Jews who were left behind however. FYI The attempt by Rav Yaakov Berab to reestablish the Sanhedrin was intimately linked to the desire of these people to return to Judaism - they were seeking makot for having pretended to practice avodah zarah. Hoping to have kaparah in this world rather than in shamayim. There are many teshuvot and halachot dealing with this phenomenon throughout the past five hundred years. In modern times, Rav Mordechai Eliahu has teshuvot that support the return of the anusim and created a document of return for anusim that formalize their return by means of milah and tevilah, he calls it a "teudah lashuv darchei avotav." Rav Aharon Soloveitchik also penned a letter expressing that Anusim are to be considered Jewish, counted for the minyan, given aliyot even prior to conversion/ or return. He says that when they wish to marry they should undergo some form of giur. Many Ashkenazik Rabbanim that perform giur for people of anusim background including Rav Belsky who worked with a family that I had hashpaa on in their return to Judaism - called it a giur lechumra or even offers letters of recognition as fully Jewish by birth whenever possible. When a person of anusim background approaches me I embrace them and encourage them to observe the mitzvot, from the beginning. The reason is simple - following the idea of safek deoraita lechumra - we pasken that since there is the possibility that these individuals might halachically be Jewish deoraita since many of them only married individuals that their grandmothers insisted were the only ones permitted to them as was the case in my family - I can not in good conscience tell them to be mehalel shabbat or discourage them from being Jewish since by doing so might be over an issur deoraita of causing Jews not to observe the Torah.

My family is descendants of the anusim of Cuba. I am not ashamed of this fact. Rather, I am proud that we were ale to hold onto Jewish practice for so long under threat and that at the first opportuinty to do so we returned to full Jewish life here in America. I am an Orthodox Rabbi, I went to yeshivot all of my life. For Elementary School I went to Chabad Lubavitch of Miami Beach then I went to higher yeshivot. First I went to Rabbi Yochanan Zweig's Mesivta and Yeshiva in Miami Beach, then to Touro College NYC, then to Yeshiva University where I learned sofrut from Rav Shmuel Schneid of Monsey New York. Then I learned with Rav Aharon Zeigler of Boro Park Brooklyn and he gave me smicha.

I am not ashamed of my "yeshivishe" background. I am proud that I was able to learn and continue my learning to this day. I am dedicated to Torah and dedicated to following the teachings of chazal and the gedolim. I am a Sfardi and follow Sefardic halacha and I am very familiar with Ashkenazik poskim as well since I learned primarily in Litvishe Yeshivot. Are you familiar with ours beyond the Ben Ish Hai?

The articles quoted are not my own. They are the work of Dr. Gary Tobin who organizes the Institute you mentioned. Dr. Tobin is a secular scholar his opinions are his own. I am not the only Orthodox Rabbi that he consults in his studies, he lists me in that context as a consultant. If you had looked further on the page of the Institute you would have seen another Orthodox Rabbi who is a Lubavitcher who also serves as a consultant. I'm not a paid employee, I am a respected scholarly colleague and try to provide as much guidance as possible to the Institute regarding halachic issues. I am proud of my work with them and there are many things that I disagree with and many things I do agree with.

Regarding "actively proselytizing" I have never encouraged non-Jews to convert to Judaism only people of anusim background to return to Judaism. The Kiruv rehokim movement make take offense to your casting their work as proselytizing since they see it as encouraging teshuvah. I encourage return to Judaism for anusim. It is the same thing if you wish to call it "giur" or "giur lechumra" or as Mordechai Eliahu (sefardi posek I am sefardi) calls it "Lashuv darchei avotav" it involves milah, tevilah in a mikvah ksherah and most importantly Kabbalat ol malchut shamayim and kabalat hamitzvot. I am confident in sharing with you that all who have returned or are in the process of returning to Torah lifestyles with me are living observant lives and I am very proud of being involved with them. In fact my entire reason for engaging in this process is my emunah shelemah that the only means for full and unquestionable return is through halacha and its processes. And those who seek me out for help also believe this or they would have long ago sought to be part of Reform or Conservative Communities rather than having to live a life of belonging to a community of people (frum people) where blogs like this could threaten them at any moment with writing about their ancestry or raising questions about them when their actions are leshem shamayim. If we do this to each other -cast doubts about each other, launch witch hunts and in the process violate the Torah prohibition not to remind the ger that he is a ger - how will we be able to attract Rabbanim who will act boldly and without fear to help other Jews. Chevrah - instead of being suspicious of anusim lets celebrate that my ancestors loved Torah so much that they held onto as much as possible even at the risk of their lives in the interior of a Caribbean Island (Cuba) and that the Torah is so strong that after 500 years I was able to learn from such great lamdanim and return and help others return. Please be more sensitive - making it appear that I am continuing some sort of christian replacement theology or any other christian framework is insulting and is clearly an issur deoraita of reminding the ger of his past to cast doubts about him and the 33 other places where the Torah warns us about treating the ger with love and respect. Also the Tshuvot of the Rambam regarding love of the ger specifically siman 448 (new edition), also see psukim Shmot 22:20, Vayikra 19:33,34 sefer hachinuch mitzvah 63. Might wish to see Bava Metzia 59b.

Again: The article quoted is not my own. It is the work of Dr. Gary Tobin. Either you read it wrong by mistake or on purpose to somehow discredit my work either way I deserve an apology.

European rabbis invalidate conversions done by Rav Druckman

The Conference of European Rabbis announced this week that it would not recognize converts who were converted by rabbis in Israel, singling out Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's State Conversion Authority.

"We oppose the phenomenon of Israeli rabbis shuttling to Europe especially to perform a conversion and then shuttling back," said Rabbi Moshe Lebel, Rabbinical Director of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in a telephone interview from Moscow. "These rabbis are not familiar with the reality in Europe," he added.

"I know of several cases where Druckman and other Israeli rabbis performed conversions for people who lived in communities in places like Germany and Scandinavia where it was almost impossible to adhere to a religious way of life. There was no minyan [prayer quorum], no kosher butcher, no mikveh [ritual bath]." The CER's decision comes just two weeks after a judge who sits on Israel's High Rabbinical Court, the most senior rabbinical body in the state, cast doubt on the validity of conversions performed by Druckman in Israel.

[...]

In addition to authorizing conversions in Israel, Druckman has also performed dozens of conversions in European communities where there was no recognized rabbinical court. In the wake of Sherman's accusations, the CER has decided to invalidate all conversions performed by Druckman or other Israeli rabbis operating like Druckman in Europe.

"In Israel the argument can be made that non-Jews who convert continue to live in a state with a Jewish majority in which the dominant culture is more or less Jewish," said Lebel.

"But in Europe it is of utmost importance that the potential convert belong to a strong Jewish community after his or her conversion. The convert needs the support of the community to remain religious and observant."

[...]