Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rabbi Marc Angel defends Rabbi Druckman and elucidates his agenda

We read with horror that the High Rabbinical Court of Israel has upheld a lower court decision which declared invalid all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Haim Drukman, head of the Conversion Authority of Israel.

As Orthodox rabbis, we believe that this decision is motivated by political interests rather than by the search for Halachic integrity and religious truth. The outcome is morally repugnant, and is an outrage to Rabbi Drukman and his colleagues who are attempting, within the confines of Halacha, to resolve a fundamental challenge to the social and religious well-being of the Jewish State - the religious integration into the Jewish People of hundreds of thousands of Russian non-Jews living in Israel as full citizens, loyal to the State and to the People of Israel.

This decision is an abuse of rabbinic power, highly detrimental to the well-being of the Jewish people.

We affirm that all those who have converted under the aegis of R. Drukman and the Conversion Authority of Israel, are Jewish without question. To oppress them by casting doubt on their Jewish status is a sin of the first magnitude, an express violation of multiple Biblical commandments.

We urge the State of Israel, the worldwide Orthodox Rabbinate and the Jewish people at large to repudiate this decision of the High Rabbinical Court of Israel; to affirm the Jewishness of all Halachic converts; to treat all converts with the love and respect to which they are entitled according to the laws of Torah.

Rabbi Avraham Weiss and Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Co-Chairmen, International Rabbinic Fellowship

Rabbi Saul Berman, Chairman, International Rabbinic Fellowship Geirut Committee

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Founder and Director
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
8 West 70th Street
New York, NY 10023
212 362 4764


  1. Rabbi Angel's response was released within hours of the announcement of Rav Sherman's psak.

    Rav Sherman's report is a 50 page legal brief issued by the religious equivalent of a Supreme Court Chief Justice.

    In the secular world, law students and lawyers STUDY and try to UNDERSTAND legal opinions composed by Chief Justices, but none would dare to criticize them.

    When Rabbi Angel states:
    "we believe that this decision is motivated by political interests rather than by the search for Halachic integrity and religious truth." it is clear that he did not read the report.

  2. Rabbi Angel says "the religious integration into the Jewish People of hundreds of thousands of Russian non-Jews living in Israel as full citizens, loyal to the State and to the People of Israel."

    His statement seems to reflect his belief that these Russians will only become Jews in order for [the secular nation called] Israel to enjoy their loyalty.

    Can anyone reading this post explain when this became a valid conversion motivation within Halacha?

  3. As a U.S. citizen, I am aware that I live in a Christian country. Many U.S. Christians reflect Rabbi Angel's viewpoint: the importance of the religious integration into the American People of several million non-Chrstians living in the U.S. as full citizens, loyal to the State and to the People of the U.S.

    I feel as though I am a reasonably loyal U.S. Citizen even though I understand the reality that I have 2nd class status here.

    The Russians want to convert because in order to gain full benefits of citizenship in the State. In effect, this causes them to be forced conversions, much like many Jews in 14th century Spain. The Spanish were correct in their belief that these half hearted conversos were not really and truly loyal to the Catholic church or government. Just like todays Russian conversos.

    If the U.S. required me to convert to Christianity in order to enjoy certain social welfare benefits, I think Rabbi Angel would have a lot to say about that in protest.

    His support of the same type of position in Israel, against the gentiles, smacks of hypocrisy to me.

    If the goal is to obtain equivalent benefits for the non-Jewish Russian population, why not simply swear them to a normal citizenship oath to Israel and it's people and let them continue to practice their own religion?

  4. Rabbi Angel's remarks are strange.

    Nowhere in Rav Sherman's ruling does it mention treating converts any differently than they have ever been treated.

    I think the ruling is instead a clarification of exactly who is or is not a convert, so that we can be certain that we are treating real converts with the proper Kavod, and so we can be sure to not defraud the gov't of Israel by providing rights and benefits to those who are not entitled to them.

    Rabbi Angel seems very confused. I hope someone can help him understand that the issues at hand are about misrepresentation and fraud, and have absolutely nothing to do with how Converts are treated.

  5. Russian conversos/anusim forced to eat pork in secret out of the eyes of their neighbors.

    They light their Christmas trees in the closet and sing carols read from cards held under the table in case someone from the Ministry of the Interior should glance and see them, practicing their faith in secret.

    In the Army barracks in the black of night, when their comrades are asleep, they pull out miniature icons of Jesus, Mary and the Saints
    kept hidden in the folds of their wallets. They pray alone in the dark in fear that their commanding officer will see them.

    Storefronts in strip malls in Bat Yam, Ashdod and Haifa appear to be cheap clothing outlets, but in the back lies a secret wall, which when pushed aside reveals a hidden sanctuary, a Church for those forced to abandon the faith of their forefathers by the Ministry of Absorption.

    Every day these conversos risk their benefits, the social welfare system that supports them, educates their children, provides them free medical care and housing. Should they be discovered as secret Christians, they will lose everything and be expelled from their home!!

    They wait and they hope. They pray and they pine away for their Saviour will come and rescue them from the darkness.

    Perhaps someday, Mother Russia will send emissaries, Priests of the Orthodox Church who will recognize the sure signs that they have been eating pork. They will be baptized and returned to their homeland so they can rejoin their people as one!!

    Shalvei Russia!!!

    These articles are from a website

    Urgent: The Law of Return Must Be Changed

    In December 2001, I was sent by the "Jewish Agency" to supervise studies according to the program "Jewish Identity", a program which is run in all the countries of the former U.S.S.R. This program includes Jewish history, religion and tradition.

    I saw exhilarating Jewish life – life whose funding comes from the "Jewish Agency", the "Joint", "Habad" and other international Jewish agencies. They reconstruct synagogues, build new mikvas (Jewish bathhouses), organize ulpans for those who wish to learn Hebrew, let people experience a kosher Shabbat or simply eat and rest at the "Jewish Agency's" cost.

    New Jewish libraries are opened, holidays are celebrated for children, winter and summer youth camps are organized, senior citizen concerts are given and the poor are fed kosher meals. In short, the Jewish communities today are given huge financial and organizational aid from sources outside of Russia and with this assistance, organize an abundance of public life as well as charity.

    Life in the outskirts is extremely difficult and as a result, all search fervently for association with the Jews and their institutions in order to affiliate themselves with a strong and wealthy community. One Israeli who I met there commented:

    "We buy them."

    Unfortunately, he is correct: As for the vast majority, the connection between the recollection of a Jewish grandfather, to the Jewish identity is completely decrepit. With the exception of a few elderly people who truly learn their language and culture, all the rest honestly admit: " I am not a Jew but I am entitled to the Law of Return and the right to all the benefits given by the community."

    All his life a person was educated that there are no nations, instead there is a "new being – the Soviet nation". This person finds it difficult to accept the fact that all nations are different and that he must decide with whom to choose alliance. In addition to the question of alliance, the question of identity is often a difficult one. When these people are asked "Who are you?" – they respond "I am entitled to the Law of Return". No history or Jewish tradition lecture will benefit the Jewish identity unless one wishes it to.

    A certain person witnesses the wealth of the Jewish community and its unity {especially with reference to the local "Dog eat Dog" philosophy). This person has no definite identity yet he has the feeling of "I am entitled to the Law of Return" and he thinks "If I receive these measly crumbs here, what awaits me in Israel?" The explanation that Israel is a small and not very rich country will fall on deaf ears, no facts of terror attacks and no explanation of our uniqueness as Jewish State will help.

    To a person who was educated by and lives in a multi-national power (and Russia is still one), it is difficult to imagine what a mono-national country is. I wish not to label anyone but we must not ignore the facts: Most of the "olim" from the former U.S.S.R. come from distant cities and most of the "olim" from the former U.S.S.R. are non-Jews.

    I intentionally do not include exact numbers from the "Jewish Agency" but in certain areas the amount of non-Jews who make "aliyah" constitutes 90%. "Jewish Agency" employees, clever and fair people, said to me:" It is totally absurd. We can do nothing. Our attempted persuasion against this does not deter them, and they have a legal right. The amendment of the Law of Return must urgently be abolished"…!

    The Law of Return of itself speaks of the right of Jews and their families to return to Israel. The amendment (which was passed in the 1970's) expands the right to the son and the grandson of the Jew. And most of the "olim" today come from this specific amendment. Incidentally, none of the "Jewish Agency's" people with whom I spoke, agreed to be quoted. "Our position requires it!".

    I do not wish to discuss the problem caused to Israel by this "aliyah". I do wish to discuss the problems which arise among the "olim" themselves – those who are not coming to a Jewish State but instead, are running away from local difficulties. When a person travels not "to" but "from", it is perverse to define him as an "oleh". He is a refugee. His situation as a refugee is hopeless – he is not the master of his destiny. A good deal of the immigrants from the former U.S.S.R. watch only Russian television channels, follow the news in Russian, relate only to their society, eat mostly Russian food (and even Russian imported) – the only thing local they use is money. These people are literally miserable – despite all economic wealth – for one who is required to ignore reality is desolate. This is not an effect of language hindrance – on the contrary – these difficulties emerge as a result of lack of interest in reality, to Judaism, to Israel. In the State of Israel, Russian media and books which speak of what Jews are and what the Jewish State is, are plentiful. Yet the disputed point is that the person does not ask himself honestly: "Who am I and what am I doing in the State of Israel?" No simplification in the conversion process will help one who does not want to convert.

    No solution to the problem of burial and marriage of non-Jews will help those who are enraged by the distinct characterization of our Jewish State. Do we have the moral right to preserve the amendment (from the 1970's) of the Law of Return as it is and by that encourage massive immigration of those who have no emotional bond to a Jewish State and are pained by this?
    Asia Antov
    2005 Jun 27

    The website is gone, but the article is still relevant:

    An Israeli Passport in 10 Days!!!

    The site offers its surfers the possibility of purchasing an Israeli passport and Identity Card for the price of 10,000 Euro. The Ministry of Interior promises: the matter will be looked into.

    10,000 Euro – that is all it takes today for a Russia citizen to receive Israeli citizenship, at least that is what the Russian Internet site declares: The site offers its services to anyone who wishes to "make aliyah" and an Israeli Identity card and passport without having to wait months as required.

    The site details the existing possibilities to shorten the procedures and hints unambiguously of its effective connections with the Ministry of Interior and the Israeli Consuls in Europe. "Only preferential treatment on the part of the Ministry of Interior's employees regarding your request enables the problem to be solved", the site states. Due to the fact that a large sum of money is involved in order to receive this service, the site specifically states: " Our services are not inexpensive, and we request that people with economic difficulties not bother us."

    The site actually appeals to two types of audiences: Russian citizens, usually wealthy, who live their lives in Russia. These are interested in receiving Israeli citizenship and passports which bestow upon them many advantages without this becoming known to the Russian authorities. The other audience which may be assisted by this service is made up of Russian citizens who are entitled to "make aliyah" but who are uninterested in leaving Russia and moving to Israel for the required time necessary in order to receive an Israeli Identity Card (3 months) and Israeli Passport ( 12 months).

    The site guarantees to arrange an "aliyah" visa to one who requires it within a few days, to attain for him an Israeli Identity Card at top speed of 3 to 7 days and to issue him an Israeli Passport within only 10 days.

    To one who applied and asked how he would attain Israeli citizenship if he has no Jewish background whatsoever, the following answer was given : "The Russian law from the year 1993 enables one to declare by means of a court of law and with no proof at all of a change in one's nationality, among others, to a Jewish nationality, which entitles the Russian to the Law of Return and therefore entitles him as well to make "aliyah" to Israel.

    The Wording is Very Cautious""

    The Ministry of Interior and the "Nativ" organization which process the applications for "aliyah" visas to Israel from the former U.S.S.R. are very concerned with this phenomenon. One of the officials involved in this matter said ironically, " According to the site,everyone from the former U.S.S.R. is entitled to "make aliyah" to Israel. And whoever is unaware of this – the site informs him of it."

    Officials in the Ministry of Interior refused to respond to the possibility that part of the payment to this site is transferred as bribery to clerks in Israel. Head of the Population Department, Sasi Katzir, said in response: "The population department makes much effort to battle this type of phenomenon. Actions are taken by the office whose goal it is to protect the citizens of the State of Israel. The matter was brought to our attention and is being looked into."


    Eli Berdenstein
    2005 Apr 6

  6. Open Orthodoxy's challenge to Haredi Judaism on every front.

    Something VERY important in this post may have slipped below the radar because they are new developments, and Orthodox world, particularly in America as well as in Israel, needs to sit up and take note of it because it is already impacting the way Modern Orthdoxy is gearing itself up to fight and ignore rulings like those in Israel that came from Rav Sherman negating Rav Druckman, see the Canadian Jewish News article below.

    If one looks at the signatories of the declaration of support for Rav Druckman by Rabbis Marc Angel, Avi Weiss, Saul Berman and Shlomo Riskin, who are, by the way, the elite of the elite of YU's most charismatic alumni and they are also established long-time leaders of the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy, one must note that two of the names officially sign as:

    Rabbi Avraham Weiss and Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Co-Chairmen, International Rabbinic Fellowship

    Rabbi Saul Berman, Chairman, International Rabbinic Fellowship Geirut Committee

    And one must therefore ask WHAT is the International Rabbinic Fellowship? and WHAT is the International Rabbinic Fellowship GEIRUT Committee?

    The organization is new and is tied in with Rabbi Weiss's new ultra-Modern Orthodox "YCT" Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (against which the Aguda-leaning mouth-piece YATED NE'EMAN in America has published lngthy open and scornful articles, (see Monday, February 26, 2007: "Yated exposes YCT as a 'Threat to Halachic Judaism'" and Yated Ne’eman Attacks Chovevei) warning Agudist Torah Jews to reject and stay away from YCT and its graduates [some YCT graduates are already grabbing rabbinical jobs in places Aguda type yeshivas had hoped to place there alumni].)

    Anyhow, there is a website at for this new Modern Orthodox conglomorate of yeshiva/rabbinic organization/beit din, that, while it is made up of YU's elite alumni and members in good standing of the RCA, yet, with huge financial backing, like from Howard Jonas of IDT Corporation ( and others, they have managed to set a new denomination of Orthodoxy that they call "Open Orthodoxy" whatver thatmay mean (and they do have their own interpretations and agaendas).

    Based on the press release on this pot, it is importnat to note that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin also adds his name to it, and that while Rabbi Riskin is not formally affiliated with YCT because he has his own network of yeshivas and institutions in Israel, he is nevertheless part of the original "triumvirate" of Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Saul Berman (who headed the now defunct EDAH organization that had as its mission statement "The courage to be modern and Orthodox").

    The statement is undersigned by:

    Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Founder and Director
    Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
    8 West 70th Street
    New York, NY 10023
    212 362 4764

    So one must ask WHAT is the "Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals"?

    Rabbi Marc Angel had worked independently until now (as the head of Congregation Shearith Israel, The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in the City of New York ) and since 2007 he heads the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

    From its own website: "The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals offers a vision of Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually sound, spiritually compelling, and emotionally satisfying... The Institute works for an intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive Orthodoxy."

    Now Rabbi Angel joins with the de facto ruling ultra-modern Orthodox rabbinical triumvirate (a Bais Din?) of Riskin, Berman and Weiss who all have known highly brilliant and innovative minds, are all highly outspoken and actvists since their student days, and were considered the most popular and best rebbeim at YU and Stern College during their lengthy teaching careers at YU and its related schools and it can be said beyond a doubt that they have tens of thousands of students, disciples and followers who were influenced by them and drawn to their liberal, activist and even LIBERATIONIST outlook of Orthodox Judaism.

    They have all broken with the YU and RCA establishments and set up their own rival schools and institution to the left of the YU and RCA establishments whom they regard and kow-towing and caving in to right wing pressures from the Charedi world.

    Rabbi Riskin has a very powerful following among the Modern Orthodox mainstream, so his name on this declaration is significant. He was even recently considered as a possible succesor to Rabbi Norman Lamm as Dean and Rosh Yeshiva of YU in America, but he does not need it because he has his own empire in Israel and an ongoing following on the Upper West Side having been the founding rabbi and is the ongoing sage-emeritus of the flagship Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue from where the wealthy still give him lots of help, and where, it MUST be noted, Rabbi EPHRAIM BUCHWALD is still the OUTREACH RABBI and heads the NJOP: National Jewish Outreach Program that does CONTROVERSIAL outreach TOGETHER with REFORM and CONSERVATIVE synagogues and it is know that gentiles exist in great numbers in these type of places and attend all NJOP programs that would lead to conversion issues, no doubt about it, and for which it was condemned by the Agudas Harabbonim in The Jewish Press, March 7, 2003:

    "Kiruv and Halacha: In answer to many inquiries whethwr the Agudas Harabonim approves of the 'Shabbat Across America/Canada' is not allowed to pray in Reform and Conservative Temple...Therefore [it] cannot approve of a call to attend a Reform or Conservative Temple on a Friday night..." , see also in this regard:

    "A HISTORIC DECLARATION: The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (Agudath Harabonim) hereby declares: Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. Their adherents are Jews, according to the Jewish Law, but their religion is not Judaism.

    Rabbi Riskin also has the full backing of Morry J. Weiss, chairman of the board of American Greetings Corporation, and who also happens to be the Chairman of Board of Trustees of YU, (see Morry Weiss Assumes Leadership of Yeshiva Trustees ) and son in law and succesor to Irving Stone (of Stone Chumash fame). Rabbi Riskin's Ohr Torah-Stone Institutions are important bastions of Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism in Israel headed solely by Rabbi Riskin and therefore his support of the statement against Rav Sherman, as signed on this press release, is very important that will no doubt have strong ramificatyions as all these rabbis will speak out and be very vocal and militant against the rulings issud by Rav Sherman.

    Following are three recent articles that make it very clear that we will be hearing a lot more from this group as the controversy over conversions/rabbis/bateidin/Religious Zionism unfold, and it will not be a pretty sight to experience, behold or stomach:


    The Canadian Jewish News

    Wednesday 14th of May 2008 9 Iyyar 5768

    Modern Orthodoxy decides to fight back

    Thursday, 15 May 2008

    In 2006, The Canadian Jewish News ran a series of articles on modern Orthodox Judaism. Many readers saw those articles as evidence of the decline of modern Orthodoxy and its gradual replacement by more haredi types of Orthodox Judaism.

    Those so inclined might find even more evidence now that modern Orthodoxy is in trouble. A number of issues have arisen recently, but none is of more concern than conflicts concerning conversion.

    Here in Israel, where I am spending my sabbatical from York University, rabbinic courts have state sanction and rabbis are often appointed to them as political favours. As haredi political parties have grown in size and the National Religious Party has shrunk, state rabbinic courts are increasingly run by rabbis who are inimical to the values of modernity and unconcerned about the issues of Israeli society at large.

    One of the most vexing social problems in Israel is that under the Law of Return, a large number of people have immigrated here who have some Jewish lineage, but are not halachically Jewish. The structure of the state is such that haredim do not have control over immigration, but they do have control of the marriage, divorce and, to a large extent, burial systems. Since civil marriage does not exist in Israel, there are now presumably hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who cannot marry or divorce legally and cannot be buried in many of the country’s cemeteries.

    While a more global solution to this problem is needed, a few modern Orthodox rabbis in Israel have been taking small but significant steps to solve the problem. The Conversion Authority, run by Rabbi Haim Druckman, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Or Etzion, simplifies the conversion process for these Israeli citizens. They study about Judaism and must show commitment to observance, yet many of them do not adopt full observance in an Orthodox manner. But as Zvi Zohar and Avi Sagi have proven in a number of books and articles in Hebrew, and most recently in an English book (Transforming Identity: The Ritual Transition from Gentile to Jew, 2008), the claim that conversion is conditional on total observance is neither the universal nor even the majority opinion in halachic literature. Rabbi Druckman and his colleagues have ruled that for people who throw in their lot with the Jewish people, move to Israel and agree that they and their children will risk their lives in the Israel Defence Forces protecting Jews from their enemies, conversion can be based on incomplete observance of the laws of Orthodox Judaism.

    A number of months ago, a messy divorce case in the Israeli city of Ashdod set off an incredible chain of events. The wife had converted to Judaism through Rabbi Druckman’s court 15 years earlier. The husband argued in the local (haredi-controlled) rabbinic court that he should not be required to make any settlement with his estranged wife or give her a religious divorce (get), since they were never really married under Jewish law. He argued that she was still a gentile, as she had never really converted with sincerity. The local rabbinic court ruled that her conversion with Rabbi Druckman should be retroactively annulled, that she was still a gentile, that her husband was unattached and that their three children were also gentiles (since their mother was a gentile).

    The case was appealed to the high rabbinic court in Jerusalem, led by the haredi Rabbi Avraham Sherman. In a 38-page ruling Rabbi Sherman’s court upheld the ruling of the lower court and went further: it ruled that all conversions done by Rabbi Druckman’s courts were to be considered null and void. In fact, all converts who come to be married in Israel should be scrutinized. If they do not have the “look” of a religious Jew, their conversion papers, from any religious court in any country, would not be considered sufficient grounds to allow them to marry.

    Such an approach is shocking, to put it mildly. As Sagi and Zohar’s book proves, the idea of retroactively annulling conversions and of considering all conversions conditional on observance for the rest of the converts’ lives is not supported by the force of the halachic literature over the ages. It is a bludgeon being used for political ends.

    Orthodox conversion is also a hot issue in North America. Recently the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the premier organization of “centrist Orthodox” rabbis, announced serious changes in its policies.

    No longer will the RCA stand behind the conversions done by their members in local communities, unless they’re done by members who were specifically appointed as conversion-worthy rabbis by rabbis Herschel Shachter and Mordechai Willig, roshei yeshivah at Yeshiva University in New York. (Rabbi Shachter is no stranger to controversy concerning modern Orthodoxy – among other notorious statements, he called the modern Orthodox organization, Edah, “a sort of internal Amalek,” referring to the Jews’ prototypical enemy, whom the Torah commands all generations to eradicate.)

    A rather short list of conversion-worthy rabbis has since been circulated, along with a new set of standards for such conversions, which represent a significant departure from past practice. To give but one example, until recently, it was possible to find RCA rabbis who would convert the adopted baby of two Jewish parents even if the parents were not Sabbath observant. Following the new RCA standards, that is no longer possible. Many people, myself included, see this as one of a series of regrettable moves by the RCA to the right of the religious spectrum.

    The RCA has vociferously defended its tightening of conversion standards and its move to centralization as crucial steps toward ensuring that its converts will be recognized in Israel. But now, after Rabbi Sherman’s ruling, it’s hard to imagine that the RCA can count on that. If Rabbi Druckman’s converts can be thrown out by Rabbi Sherman’s high rabbinical court, why should any RCA rabbi think that his converts are safe?

    So there are many reasons to feel that modern Orthodoxy is under attack. But perhaps the attack is responsible in part for some exciting recent developments.

    In the last week of April, the founding conference of the International Rabbinic Fellowship took place in Florida. I had the pleasure of being one of 85 Orthodox rabbis who gathered to discuss how modern Orthodoxy can be revived and can make a contribution to the Jewish people.

    The inspiring conference was organized by Rabbi Marc Angel, a former president of the RCA and author of some 20 books on Jewish law and philosophy, and by Rabbi Avi Weiss, rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a well-known political activist and author most recently of Spiritual Activism. One of the sponsors of the conference was Rabbi Angel’s Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (

    Most of the rabbis at the conference were RCA members who have no plans to resign from the RCA, but have sadly concluded that a different framework is required to advance our modern Orthodox agenda. Six rabbis came from Israel for this conference, including the roshei yeshivah of two Israeli yeshivot. Seventeen of the North American rabbis present (including two from Canada) were graduates of the new “open Orthodox” Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, whose graduates are not welcome in the RCA. (According to the Jewish Week of May 1, 2008, Rabbi Schacter “threatened to resign from the RCA if any Chovevei Torah rabbis were admitted to the group.”)

    As a veteran of conferences, I must say that I found the Rabbinic Fellowship refreshing even from a structural perspective. All sessions were held in the same room, with rabbis sitting at tables arranged in a square. There was no head table or dais. Formal presentations were limited to 15 or 20 minutes, and the majority of time in each session was dedicated to open group discussion. This structure reflects one of the crucial values of the Fellowship – a non-authoritarian approach in which each rabbi has autonomy to do what is appropriate for his community without necessarily answering to an authority figure far away.

    Not surprisingly, the 85 rabbis did not agree on everything. But they discussed the important issues of Judaism today in a friendly, respectful atmosphere that was free of intimidation. On many crucial issues, there was agreement: on the need to work hard to create an intellectually vibrant Orthodoxy, to be responsive to issues related to women and to put an alternative system of conversion in place. They also agreed that Orthodox rabbis should speak out and be activists on issues other than Israel or the details of Jewish law, since Judaism has much to say about other problems in the world. There was also a great desire to have Orthodox synagogues and institutions where all Jews would feel welcome, even those who choose to live non-Orthodox lives.

    The timing of the conference could hardly have been better. The first public act of the Fellowship was to excoriate the high rabbinical court in Jerusalem for its cynical ruling, promulgated on the day that the conference ended. (Four days later, the RCA also issued a strong statement condemning Rabbi Sherman’s court.)

    I personally found it exhilarating that there were so many Orthodox rabbis who shared the modern Orthodox agenda and who were willing and eager to work to advance these ideas. Who knows? Perhaps the flagrant behaviour of the high rabbinic court in Jerusalem will be enough to wake people up to the need for an alternative form of Orthodox Judaism.

    (For more information on the Rabbinic Fellowship, contact Rabbi Angel at mdangel@jewishideas.orgThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ).

    Martin Lockshin is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and is active in the International Rabbinic Fellowship. He is professor of Jewish studies at York University and is currently on sabbatical in Jerusalem.


    The New York Jewish Week


    Taking On The RCA?
    New rabbinical group launched to counter rightward shift in Modern Orthodoxy.

    by Gary Rosenblatt
    Editor and Publisher

    In a move certain to be seen as an effort to compete with the Rabbinical Council of America — the largest group of Orthodox rabbis — two vocal critics this week launched a clerical group called the International Rabbinic Fellowship.

    But Rabbis Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Marc Angel, rabbi emeritus of Shearith Israel of New York, insist that the new fellowship, which attracted about 75 rabbis from North America, Israel and Columbia to a two-day conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., was created not to compete with the RCA but more broadly to counter what they see as a rightward shift in the Orthodox community and the centralization of the rabbinate.

    They say they intend to maintain membership in the RCA — Rabbi Angel is a past president of the group. But they believe the new fellowship is filling a vacuum, as indicated by the large turnout, for rabbis who feel “claustrophobic” in their roles, according to Rabbi Angel.

    “Rabbis need a place to grow, they can’t operate out of fear,” he said, predicting that the new group will soon grow to at least 150 members. (He pointed out that an additional 15 rabbis registered for the conference but were unable to attend and another 25 who could not make it to Florida said they want to be part of the fellowship.)

    Attendees said the conference included young and older rabbis and reflected a wide range of viewpoints within Orthodox Judaism.

    “We have created an open space where rabbis don’t have to look over their shoulders and feel intimidated” by rabbinic authorities who would marginalize them, said Rabbi Weiss. “We want to empower them to think for themselves.”

    He noted that when as a young rabbi, he would ask a halachic question of his rebbe, the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, the revered dean of Modern Orthodoxy, the response would be: “What do you think, Avraham?”

    Rabbis Weiss and Angel and others believe that such autonomy has disappeared and that religious authority has increasingly become the purview of rosh yeshivas and poskim (decisors), with congregational rabbis feeling intimidated to express their own views and frustrated by the experience.

    Most recently, the point of contention has been over an agreement reached by the RCA and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel over conversions performed by American rabbis. The Chief Rabbinate used to automatically accept conversions performed by RCA members, but the new agreement would only allow for conversions approved by a dozen or so religious courts in the U.S.

    The RCA says this will circumvent the problem of individual rabbis whose halachic standards are lacking; Rabbis Weiss and Angel and other critics said the move weakens the standing of individual rabbis.

    The new group plans to take positions on a wide range of issues, including conversion, Rabbi Weiss said, hoping to influence the Jewish community in the U.S., Israel and around the world. Other areas of concern include the plight of agunot (women unable to obtain a religious divorce), end-of-life medical issues and the environment.

    Asher Lopatin, rabbi of Congregation Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel in Chicago who attended the conference in Florida this week, said he will continue to attend RCA conventions, which he described as an opportunity to hear religious authorities speak out on issues they see as most important. But he said the RCA has not been a place for open sharing among members about the doubts and conflicts they deal with in their work, and that those authorities who play a major role at RCA gatherings “probably would not be comfortable” with the kinds of issues he and others would like to see raised by the fellowship.

    “I want to talk about how we relate to non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews, how we deal with women’s issues, non-Orthodox converts, the history of halacha and other broad issues,” he said.

    Rabbi Lopatin said the only group he knows of that deals with these topics openly is the Yarchei Kallah Program led by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. The program, part of the Legacy Heritage Fund Rabbinic Enrichment Initiative, brings together about 30 young Orthodox rabbis (under 40) twice a year to discuss issues of importance to them in their careers and personal lives, from balancing professional and family responsibilities to delivering more effective sermons.

    “Our goals are not political,” Rabbi Schacter said. “We want to deal with [rabbis’] challenges and frustrations, to make them feel appreciated and inspired. We give them, in effect, a group hug.”

    Rabbi Lopatin, who has participated in the program, praised Rabbi Schacter’s work, but said he hoped the new fellowship would deal with these types of issues not only twice a year — “and then we put them back in the closet” — but on an ongoing basis.

    Some leaders in the Orthodox community see the creation of the new fellowship as a political move by Rabbi Angel, and particularly Rabbi Weiss, noting that that the RCA has refused membership to graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Rabbi Weiss in 1997.

    “Avi and Marc have come to feel increasingly disenfranchised,” one rabbi said, “and the conversion issue put them over the top. Now Avi will have a place for his Chovevei graduates, as he should,” adding that it was “disgraceful” that the RCA has not accepted Chovevei rabbis, of whom there are now about 40 serving in pulpits and Hillel posts around the country.

    Several rabbis familiar with the situation said that Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and one of the three rabbis chosen by the RCA and Israeli Chief Rabbinate to make key decisions on the conversion issue, threatened to resign from the RCA if any Chovevei Torah rabbis were admitted to the group.

    Rabbi Schachter was unavailable for comment.

    A number of rabbis contacted by The Jewish Week were not aware of the formation of the new fellowship. Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, president of the RCA, said in an e-mail response:

    “The RCA reserves comment at this time, as it would be inappropriate to comment on a new group based upon speculation, until and unless we are fully informed with first-hand information. The RCA, as always, enjoys and encourages open discussion of divergent points of view amongst all of its members.”

    Other members noted that while the RCA is caught between “the roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva University and the desire to be an open tent,” in the words of one rabbi, it was unfair to portray the RCA as stifling discussion. He noted that Rabbi Weiss was invited to speak at the annual RCA convention two years ago and that topics like homosexuality have been discussed openly.

    Rabbi Weiss said that it is important for Chovevei rabbis to have a rabbinic organization they can belong to, and that the fellowship can be that place. But he added that the new group has broader goals and will only allow about 25 percent of its membership to be graduates of Chovevei.

    Seventeen of the rabbis at the conference this week were ordained by Chovevei.

    Rabbi Weiss asserted that change in the community can come either from the top down or bottom up, but that it is the latter that has the greatest impact. He noted that community rabbis are the keys to effecting change, far more so than rabbinic scholars.

    Rabbi Ross Singer of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore said that what was unique about the fellowship and the conference, which he attended this week, was that it was “unapologetically open and modern, willing to explore the role of universal ethics in halacha and Judaism, and all with a passion and love of Torah. That just doesn’t exist out there,” he said.


    The Jewish daily FORWARD

    Rabbis Form New Orthodox Organization

    By Anthony Weiss
    Thu. Mar 06, 2008

    After years of tension between more liberal and conservative elements of the American Orthodox Jewish establishment, several liberal Orthodox rabbis have banded together to create a new rabbinic organization that offers an alternative to traditional Orthodox authorities.

    Rabbis Marc Angel and Avi Weiss have convened an organization they are calling the Rabbinic Fellowship, a national affiliation of rabbis that they say will create a safe space for Orthodox rabbis to exchange ideas without fear of repercussions. The fellowship also could offer a home to rabbis frozen out of the established Modern Orthodox rabbinical union. In one sign of how the organization could influence the Orthodox world, Angel and Weiss said that it could set up an international network of rabbinic courts.

    “We want to create an environment where rabbis can feel empowered to think, to speak, to make judgments, to make decisions and, when we come to a consensus among ourselves, to come to some practical plans of doing things,” said Angel, who is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York’s historic Sephardic synagogue.

    The establishment of the fellowship was inspired in part by a series of negotiations between the Rabbinical Council of America, which is the leading union of Modern Orthodox rabbis, and the Israeli chief rabbinate over conversion standards in America. A number of critics, including Weiss and Angel, have accused the RCA of capitulating to the chief rabbinate.

    It is also the latest attempt to set up more liberal Orthodox institutions alongside the more established organizations. A number of critics, including Weiss and Angel, have accused these institutions of becoming more restrictive and more authoritarian and of being less open to new ideas. Weiss, the champion of what he calls “Open Orthodoxy,” has played a particularly prominent role in those struggles as the leader of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a seminary he founded in 2000. YCT has butted heads repeatedly with several of the leading Orthodox organizations. The lack of acceptance for YCT’s graduates helped lead to the foundation of the Rabbinic Fellowship.

    The relationship that YCT has had with established Orthodox bodies was often tense. In the seminary’s early years, officials at Yeshiva University — the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy — attempted to block YCT graduates from landing rabbinical positions. In turn, Howard Jonas, chairman of YCT, accused Y.U. of moving to the right, under the leadership of “a combination of the gutless and the spineless in a coalition with the mindless and the senseless.” Jonas later apologized for his comments.

    These tensions came to a head when YCT attempted to win accreditation from the RCA. According to the rules of the RCA, rabbis can be admitted only if they receive ordination from an RCA-accredited institution or by an accredited rabbi. YCT attempted to join, but its application ran into roadblocks and was ultimately withdrawn.

    The result was that YCT graduates are now unable to join the RCA. Though YCT officials said they have had no trouble placing the school’s graduates in teaching and rabbinical posts across the country, graduates have no professional organization to join.

    Weiss and Angel both have emphasized that the purpose of founding the Rabbinic Fellowship was neither to create a separate rabbinical union for YCT graduates — the two rabbis want the majority of members to be non-YCT grads — nor to compete with the RCA (of which both remain members). Rather, their goal is to create a safe space for rabbis to exchange ideas and develop their own opinions, in an environment they describe as fearful and often resistant to open dialogue.

    Angel, who is a past president of the RCA, said he was particularly troubled by the growing notion that thinking and decisions about making rabbinic law were privileges reserved for a few eminent authorities, and by the idea that communal rabbis were supposed to make peace but not think — an attitude that he says has pervaded the RCA.

    “The way they’re organizing themselves is around some rabbinical authorities — which are very few — and the rest of us are supposed to be sheep,” he said.

    The fellowship has already met once, last October, at a conference attended by some 33 rabbis, and the organizers are scheduling another for next month, which they hope will be attended by 100 rabbis. The plan for the rabbinical courts is currently the idea of Angel and Weiss and not organizational policy, but Angel said he hoped it could be up and running within a year or two.

    Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, said nobody involved in the rabbinic fellowship had discussed it with him directly.

    “Frankly, we do not know what they’re trying to accomplish, how it might relate to the RCA, what their own personal ongoing relationship to the RCA will be, all of which is remarkable,” Herring said. “And frankly, we just find it very peculiar.”

    Herring also warned that any competing court system would run the risk of issuing decisions that might not be accepted broadly in the Orthodox world.

    “You don’t want to advance your particular ideology, noble as it may be, on the backs of good men and women,” he said.

  7. Right! no more Russians in idf and no more descendants of half convert aider to serv the state of Israel no need for their blood sacrifice for this haredi rabbis! Let the haredi serv and defend Israel! ups sorry the haredis dont join the idf .and second you can bring a molech here one you deny judaism to one convert for wrong motives political s ones ,

  8. Jersey Girl: Rabbi Angel's many articles on this subject show that Rabbi Sherman's ruling simply has no real legs to stand on - he follows one opinion against the entire remainder of halachic literature, from the Talmud until today. It is perfectly acceptable to criticize a Chief Justice's ruling, when that Chief Justice doesn't even have the slightest legal basis for his ruling. It might be noted that Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, one of the largest poskim living today, implicitly concurs with Rabbi Angel.

    See especially (contains only the first two pages of a five page article, but these two pages contain the most important part of the article)

    Bright Eyes: As reflected in the Talmud, Rambam (as understood by the Bach), Shulchan Aruch, Gra, and many others, conversion requires "kabbalat mitzvot" only l'hatchila (at the outset). Once a conversion is performed, i.e. after the fact / b'diavad, "kabbalat mitzvot" is entirely irrelevant. And given this, a case of great need (dochek) can permit leniency in what is required at the outset.

    Anonymous: America is explicitly intended to have freedom of religion; Israel is explicitly intended as a Jewish country. There can be no comparison, and requiring citizens to be Jewish is really not different than requiring them to be Israeli; in Judaism, the peoplehood and religion are part and parcel of the same matter. Indeed, Ruth's conversion to Judaism began with "Your people will be my people".

    Bright Eyes: You are correct that according to Rabbi Sherman, the converts were actually never converts to begin with, and so no mistreatment of converts has occurred. But as Rabbi Angel demonstrates, Rabbi Sherman's ruling is almost without precedent in 2000 years of halachic literature, and so there can be doubt that these converts are actually true converts, whom Rabbi Sherman is abusing.


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