Friday, March 21, 2008

Eternal Jewish Family Conference in Argentina

The EJF will soon be having a conference in Argentina. I would appreciate receiving reports from those who attend as to what is said and decided there.

I would also like feedback as to the impact the ruling of the Bedatz against participlation in EJf has had.


  1. HA HA HA Purim Sameach!!

    This is a really good Purim Shpiel, you had me going there for a while.

    But, really it is not believable that a well respected Talmid Chacham as Leib Tropper would out and out DEFY the rulings of the Bedatz.

    And in Argentina no less!! Ha Ha!!

    The Sephardic community under Rabbi David Setton originated the Syrian Edict against conversions for marriage in 1927, prohibiting "even "Orthodox" conversions for marriage for all of Argentina and until the end of time.

    One of the co-sponsors of the Edict was Rabbi Aharon Halevi Goldman (1854-1932) who provided the halachic foundation for the Edict which was later adopted and enacted by Syrian communities worldwide.

    Rabbi Goldman was known to be an outstanding Talmudic scholar and was regarded as the spiritual leader of the Ashkenazic Jewish community in Argentina.

    Rabbi Goldman clearly stated his views of the reason why Jewish men wanted to have their gentile wives converted in Argentina:

    "I was startled to hear and alarmed to see" (Isaiah 21:3).....that there are men who have thrown off the yoke of Heaven. They have taken gentile wives and have begotten children with them. Then to cover up their wantonness, they wish to have their alien wives and foreign children accepted as converts and included in the Congregation of Israel....Who would be such a fool as to be taken by their declaration that they sincerely wish to convert their alien wives and and foreign children since all their trickery and deceit are nothing but an attempt to whitewash their irresponsibility in order to obtain religious sanction".

    (Rabbi Goldman, an Orthodox Rabbi is quoted in "Conversion to Judaism in Jewish Law, Essays and Responsa" by Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer p 89.).

    Purim Sameach!!!

  2. As an complete outsider to this whole situation, I really have great difficulty understanding how there can be such a lack of transparency in such a fundamental issue. It just seems ludicrous (if what you are reporting is the whole side of the story) that an organisation that claims to represent the gedolim, cannot back itself up when push comes to shove.

    As related in a corporate finance lecture I recently heard, if you are trying to find out who is running a company, and you cannot find any information, that in itself tells you more than enough. This situation seems to be of the same calibre.

  3. As reported in today's online Haaretz, see the report on one Reform Judaism effort on the subject of dealing with the non-Jewish spouses and their kids: "'Project Welcome' outreach program of the Union for Reform Judaism offers blessing for non-Jewish spouses and says most important issue for inter-faith families is to raise kids Jewish."

    Note the parallel in FORM, LANGUAGE, STYLE, and almost in SPIRIT, while not in substance, in the same sweet-talk and inducements that EJF uses in these exact type of situations.

    Note also the gross distortion and abuse of the words "outreach" as it is applied to non-Jews.

    Seems that good old-fashioned "kiruv rechokim" to Jewishly-ignorant secular Jews who still have two legitimate Halachically Jewish parents is fast slippingt into obscurity, something that EJF also seeks to deploy to its advantage, so that to the Jewishly-ignorant observer what EJF and Reform are doing is actually indistinguishable. It's actually quite scary to see how EJF and Reform's "Project Welcome" speak in the same terms, read on...:

    Mon., March 24, 2008 Adar2 18, 5768

    "U.S. Jewish movement embraces mixed marriages, reaches out to kids

    'Project Welcome' outreach program of the Union for Reform Judaism offers blessing for non-Jewish spouses and says most important issue for inter-faith families is to raise kids Jewish.

    By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondent

    The plastic "Project Welcome" file on Karen Kushner's desk contains dozens of thin brochures. This is the guide to the perplexed that she is offering to congregations in the San Francisco area - useful advice with a single aim: to help bring new people to the synagogues, including intermarried couples, Jews married to non-Jews.

    The brochure contains, for example, a "Blessing for Non-Jewish Spouses" that Kushner suggests be recited on Yom Kippur morning. The brochure was written by Janet Marder of the Beth Am congregation in Los Altos Hills. And this is what she writes in the introduction to the blessing: "What we want to thank you for today is your decision to cast your lot with the Jewish people."

    For Kushner, who has decided to distribute this text as a means of instruction, it is clear where the border runs between who is out and who is in: "If they raise Jewish kids, it's a Jewish family. It's not the parents who are important, but rather their choice regarding the next generation."

    Kushner, who directs the "outreach" project of the Union for Reform Judaism in San Francisco, has drawn encouragement in recent weeks from the inundation of new studies examining the identity of mixed families in the United States. She says the immediate result will be more funds and resources for her initiative. And this is not surprising.

    Two Boston-based studies radiate cautious optimism regarding the possibility of bringing mixed families into the Jewish community. A more general study of religion in the United States, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also has contributed to the sense that mixed marriages are more an opportunity than an obstacle to the American Jewish community.

    The study, which identified religious mobility as an integral part of American life, found that more than 40 percent of Americans change their religious affiliation over the course of their life. When disregarding people who shift between different denominations of Protestantism, this figure remains at 30 percent.

    Kushner's conclusion: A welcoming, vibrant congregation will attract mixed families. This means that the community's overall message must also change: from "It is important to marry a Jew," to "It is important to raise Jewish children." After all, the first message has long been doomed to failure. About half of young Jews marry outside the community. Kushner compares the mixed couples to immigrants: While the first generation preserves their language, their customs, their identity, the second generation is fully American.

    Success in Boston

    In November 2006, the Jewish Federation of Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, published an initial study of the community's success in keeping mixed couples. This was a sensational study (whose main points appeared in the first article in this series).

    Two-thirds of Boston-area intermarried couples were raising their children as Jews, double the rate in many other communities. In any case, about two weeks ago the follow-up study, "Intermarried Families and Their Children," was published by Katherine Gan of Harvard University. It states not only that mixed families are raising their children Jewish, but also that they are Jewish in a way that closely resembles the practices of Reform families with two Jewish parents.

    For example, similar percentages have a Passover seder, light Sabbath or Hanukkah candles, and attend synagogue. Further, similar percentages of children have a bar or bat mitzvah. The researchers attribute special importance to this, as many believe that a bar or bat mitzvah is the key indicator of Jewish identity.

    Another Boston-area study dealt with four Jewish communities in different parts of the United States - Boston in the Northeast, Saint Louis in the Midwest, Atlanta in the South and San Francisco in the West. Researcher Arnold Dashefsky of Hebrew Collegen noted, "Jewish respondents often mentioned their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah as being particularly enjoyable," in the study, "Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys in the United States." It too was written with extreme caution, but it has contributed to the atmosphere of optimism prevailing among those who want to believe the Jewish community can transform what looks like a disadvantage into an advantage.

    Dashefsky, in a conversation with Haaretz, described the 21st century as characterized by open borders even between religions. Among the couples he has studied - couples who already have chosen Judaism - he too has found characteristics "similar to the normative pattern of all American Jews."

    That is, if they have chosen the Jewish community, they will not behave much differently from inmarried Jewish couples. Nevertheless, "for many of these Jewish spouses, a gap exists between their relatively normative Jewish connections (compared to other American Jews) and their perception of acceptance within the larger Jewish community," he said. That is, they live as Jews, but they do not necessarily feel that they have been accepted as members in equal standing of the community.

    Dashefsky translates this into practical recommendations remarkably similar to Kushner's, including "sensitivity training for Jewish organizations on how to be welcoming" to intermarried couples. And this is exactly Kushner's specialization.

    One of the most salient thresholds for mixed couples is something every young couple goes through: the wedding ceremony. Both of the studies raise a new question: Has the time come to persuade more rabbis to marry mixed couples?

    The Reform movement will address this question at its annual convention of rabbis and cantors in Cincinnati this April. They will not necessarily make new decisions, but they will examine the findings and learn something new, even if is not necessarily surprising: Mixed couples who
    found a rabbi to marry them are more connected to the Jewish community.

    In the Harvard study, 54 percent of the mixed couples who chose Judaism were married by a rabbi - while only 10 of the couples that rejected Judaism were married by a rabbi. In the other study, too, "statistically significant relationships" (though not perfect correlations) "were uncovered in regard to rabbinic officiation, including raising children as Jewish, synagogue attendance on the High Holidays and the absence of Christian observances" from family life.

    Christmas trees in San Francisco

    In any case, the matter of "Christian observances" brings up a disturbing and intriguing point. To what extent do the researchers believe the existence, or absence, of such observances are correlated with Jewish observances? Is having a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah more important than a Christmas tree at home? And if so, why?

    The Boston study presents a stunning example that justifies the examination of this question. Its conclusions are definite: "Intermarried Jewish families with Jewish children are generally as observant as inmarried Jewish families." As noted, this is indeed the case with respect to the bar mitzvah, the Passover seder, and candle-lighting ¬ but there are nevertheless a number of important differences. One of them is bringing a Christmas tree into the home. "One issue consistently brought up by both Christian and Jewish partners was the decision to have a Christmas tree," the study stated.

    Here are the figures: Some 82 percent of mixed families that raise their children as Jews have a Christmas tree, at least some years. This figure is very close the percentage of mixed families not raising their children Jewish (86 percent), very far from that of the Reform families with two Jewish parents (6 percent) and even further from the percentage of Conservative families with two Jewish parents (0 percent).

    Dashefsky found similar figures: Most of the intermarried families (58 percent) have a Christmas tree. A large majority (74 percent) give Christmas presents. Some researchers are not comfortable with these findings, and especially with their interpretations. Professor Steven Cohen, in his 2006 study "A Tale of Two Jewries," which also aroused controversy - considers the Christmas trees incriminating. This is one factor he cites as evidence for his conclusion that there are now two Jewish peoples: those who marry Jews, and those who do not. Anyone who has a Christmas tree in his home - whether or not he held a bar mitzvah for his son - is not Jewish enough, Cohen feels.

    But here exactly is the point of controversy. Kushner says the mixed couples have Christmas trees because "they can't undo their past." This is the symbol that is hardest for the non-Jewish partner to give up - and there is no reason not to evince a degree of tolerance here, she says. A Christian woman married to a Jewish man told Dashefsky's interviewers that "my husband gets upset if I put up too many Christmas decorations, so I put up more Hanukkah decorations." The study concludes: "It was clear that having a Christmas tree was very important to her."

    Which brings Kushner back to the comparison with immigrants. The first generation finds it difficult to give up its old customs. They need to be considerate of family members - such as the parents of the non-Jewish partner who come to visit and want to see their grandchildren around the tree. The Christmas tree brings the researchers to a practical conclusion: It is better see the cup as half full - a bar mitzvah, a Passover seder - than half empty.

    Dashefsky sees both the danger and the opportunity. It is better for the Jewish community, he believes, to stress the opportunity.

    This outlook guides Barry Shrage, head of the Boston Jewish community, an observant Jew who chooses to believe these studies bear good tidings. "We believe," he explains, that the efforts of the Boston community to be more welcoming, more open, "are reflected in the decisions made by intermarried families in Greater Boston" to belong to the Jewish community.

    In this sense, what this series called the most daring experiment in the history of the Jewish people is already, in his opinion, showing signs of success."

  4. "Jewishly-ignorant secular Jews who still have two legitimate Halachically Jewish parents "

    Before 1970, Gentiles and Jews in the US rarely socialized with each other. Clubs, companies, restaurants and neighborhoods were segregated either officially or with a "Gentleman's Agreement".
    Because of discrimination a "Jewishly-ignorant" person would usually have little choice but to marry another Jew; despite a lack of any commitment to Jewish heritage it was the only option for a people reviled by the society at large.

    In the past 30 years things have changed and Jews join the same Country Clubs, Health Spas, Ivy League Colleges, Companies and Law Firms as Gentiles and also live in the same neighborhoods. Discrimination is no longer a barrier to intermarriage and as a result the intermarriage rate has been steadily climbing to a current level of 70% among non observant Jews.

    The built in barriers of Torah life do not apply to the non observant Jew, his is not any different from the life of his Gentile neighbors and he cannot be convinced that he should not marry them. After all, Judaism without the Jewish religion is nothing more than racism, which is highly disdained in Western society.

    As such is the case, opportunities for kiruv in the US are rare. Among those from the FSU with an 80% intermarriage rate for four generations true kiruv opportunities are even rarer.

    The question that Jews the world over should be asking is "WHO are these organizations" (ie Chabad, Aish, Oorah, EJF) "reaching" out to?

    The answer, which I accidentally discovered a decade ago (my home and Shabbat table were open to Chabad and Aish until that time) has been that in many cases for the past 20 years and in more cases than not in the past 10 years, it has been NON JEWS.

    We have had children in the shiddach parsha for the past 3 years. HALF (I am not exaggerating, we have kept score) of the yeshiva educated shidduchim who have been recommended for my children by Orthodox Rabbis and shadchanim would not be eligible to marry a Jew in Israel because their mothers are NOT JEWISH. In some cases there was a "conversion" done by an ad hoc Beit Din before the pre-marital tevila, some of the "conversions" were done by solo Orthodox Rabbis without a Beit Din and the majority simply had mothers who thought they were Jewish because they married a Jewish man.

    Why don't kiruv Rabbis or principals of Jewish day schools ask questions to find out if the mothers of these children are Jewish? Because they know the truth, which is that if they did, their shuls, schools, seminaries, camps and all other programs would be empty. And where would that leave THEM?

    I have spoken to many others, friends and relatives in NY, NJ, FL, Los Angeles and Baltimore who are members of communities that are Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Chassidish, Litvish and Modern who have had/have children for whom they are trying to find shidduchim. Every one with whom I have spoken has told me the same thing, that their experiences have been the same if not worse than ours.

    The problem is also not unique to the US. An Israeli friend warned us about "frum" Israelis who come to learn in US yeshivas because they have Russian or South American Gentile mothers and will not be able to marry in Israel. The same friend told us that there are Israeli Rabbis who help Gentiles get into US yeshivas.

  5. The Competition:


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.