Wednesday, May 21, 2008

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.


  1. Since you are asking for "erudite responses citing chapter and verse and well as teshuvos from contemporary gedolim as well as some of the authorities that Rabbi Vinas uses," perhaps you should begin by providing your own erudite sources forbidding the behaviors you find questionable. It is not sufficient to imply that everyone knows that the proselytization of anusim by other anusim is wrong, that an Orthodox Jew may not associate with non-orthodox organizations in any way, etc.

  2. MCD said

    Since you are asking for "erudite responses citing chapter and verse and well as teshuvos from contemporary gedolim as well as some of the authorities that Rabbi Vinas uses," perhaps you should begin by providing your own erudite sources forbidding the behaviors you find questionable.
    I would appreciate a clarification from you. Are you saying that you don't believe these activities are generally viewed as prohibited by Orthodox Jews - or are you concerned that perhaps the less educated readers of this blog aren't aware that they are prohibited?
    In other words are you disagreeing with my understanding of halacha?

    If in fact my understanding is incorrect than all Rabbi Vinas has to do is say that there is absolutely nothing problematic in what he does. If he does that I will be glad to show him the sources that disagree with him. If on the other hand he acknowledges that these activities are generally considered wrong but that there are extenuating circumstances that permit it - he can simply provide the sources that permit these activities under those circumstances.
    There is a general rule that the person who deviates from the norm has the burden of proof. Are you claiming that my position is not the normative one?

  3. "There is a general rule that the person who deviates from the norm has the burden of proof."

    Is there anything yet?

  4. I posted the comment previously and I would like for it to be attached to this thread as this is the most recent in this line of discussion.

    I think it is very convenient that certain Ashkenazim almost completely ignore or dismiss the poskim of two of the most authoritative Torah scholars of our modern times. Both Rabbi Soloveichik and Rabbi Eliyahu knew exactly what they were asserting when they signed their names to their poskim. They were obviously clarifications of how halacha applied to the situation of Anusim in this modern time. I find it quite disrespectful to imply that they were not aware or were mistaken or misinformed when they declared their rulings. I also believe that were the shoes switched that the same Ashkenazim would be quite sensitive and willing to help their brothers given the same poskim had the Anusim had names like Goldstein, Katz, or Kaminsky. The Jews that fled the Soviet Union had the many of the same problems as Anusim when it came to their lineage. They were treated in a much better manner. This seems to be quite a double standard in my opinion. The fact remains that this will remain a topic of division in the orthodox Jewish world. Furthermore, the thought that in this day of rampant antisemitism and mortal danger to am Yisrael that people would for some reason find it advantageous to be joined to klal Yisrael without a solid Jewish blood line seems extremely unlikely. How many people were clamoring to be return to their Jewish roots during the beginning of the Shoa? This is also such a time. Consider the danger their families are being put in because of their need to return? This is a factor that deserves no small consideration. More humility is required. Sometimes we think too much of ourselves.

  5. In this post I will attempt to respond one more time to your questions in an attempt to clarify my positions and to educate your readers regarding the return of the anusim to Judaism and the nature of my work with my synagogue community of Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers and with the Hispanic/Latino Anusim community.

    I was unable to answer your posts earlier due to the fact that my mother was niftar the day before LagLaOmer (Baomer for the rest of you) and I was in Shiva and shloshim for her. I'm surprised that my "fan club" (stalkers) who purport to know me personally, did not notify you of this fact and the fact that she was buried by a large number of Rabbanim Hashuvim who lauded her as a true tzadeket. My parents worked very, very hard sacrificing so that I could learn Torah and live and promote a Jewish life. They raised me to believe in the Torah and the poskim regardless of how bitter or ignorant the comments of others against gerim were. My mother (obm) always taught me that the ways of the Torah are “darchei noam” ways of pleasantness and truth. Assuming that you also believe this I will attempt to respond one more time assuming (based on the idea of being dan lekat zechut) that perhaps some of you might be seeking the truth just as I have all of my life. Also I learned that “Talmidei Chachamim marbim shalom baolam.” Since Torah scholars increase Peace in the world - it must be that your true intent is to spread peace and truth not hateful conjecture and lashon hara or motzee shem rah - I will assume once again this is the case and will answer.

    Before I respond however to your questions - I will address the distasteful, insulting and down right ignorant comments of the person who posts under the name "Jerseygirl." Specifically - it was already clarified to you on here that I do not have and never claimed to have smicha from RIETS. I find your comments regarding gerim and their ability to lead others closer to the Torah filled with prejudice and distrust that has no basis in the Torah and is in fact prohibited by the Torah in no uncertain terms. You will not oppress the ger, you will not remind him of his past and One law you will have both for the native born and also for the ger. Creating a scenario where gerim are distrusted and suggesting that the ger would lead other Jews towards some form of christianity and suggesting that this has happened at my synagogue is a ridiculous notion and is a clear violation of the Torah you should be ashamed of yourself! Perhaps Shmaya and Avtalyon Unkelos and Akiva etc should also be suspected just as you suggest that other gerim ought to be. If I were you I would hang my head in shame and attempt to do teshuva. But this is virtually impossible for people who think and convince themselves that they are the only ones right or the only ones who know the truth. What sign do you see of anything with a christian influence at my shul? Nothing! How do you dare to say such disgusting things about other Jews and especially about gerim who you are doubly commanded to love! Its unbelievable that you think this is acceptable and I'm surprised that other readers of this blog haven't "cried foul" to such a travesty. I love my shul and its members are made up of people seeking the right life, seeking to come close to the Torah and attempting to live Torah observant lives don’t speak lashon harah about a community of people!

    The "gentleman" who names himself “Bright Eyes” obviously does not know me personally as he claims he does. Those who know me and attend my shul would know right away that there are cases of giur that I have treated as exactly that Giur not anusim. Not all Latinos who have converted either through my auspices or others are claiming that they are anusim and I don’t treat all of them as such. The question that keeps coming up in my mind is what your motivation for saying these kinds of lies would be. Let me clarify to all of you what people who do know me already know. Not all gerim are anusim this includes Latinos or Hispanic Jews. All who seek giur are not treated as anusim. Stop the lies!

    This is an opportunity to clarify the fact that as I have explained before based on the teshuva of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik and Rav Mordechai Eliahu that anusim require some form of halachic “return” ceremony. Soloveitchik calls it a giur lechumra Rav Moredchai Eliahu calls it a return ceremony. Both require mila, tevila and kabbalat hamitzvot. Geneology, DNA or other pseudo scientific proofs are not sufficient. I have always recommended the process of return or giur for anusim in order to ensure that their Jewish status does not remain questionable and that they are fully living lives of Jewish content and status according to Orthodox halacha. Having giur according to halacha should remove all stigma of doubt regarding their ancestry if you would just leave them alone to live life as they want according to the Torah.

    Now I will respond to Daniel Eidensohns questions by the numbers that he placed on them. But as I respond I invite my readers to ask themselves why a Rav of an Orthodox congregation should have to respond at all to this level of insult and innuendo. And a further question would be why answer to this blog – who died and made you the poskim? Maybe I am required to answer because I’m a ger according to your estimation and therefore suspect. Well there goes the idea of one way of life for both gerim and born Jews. I’m going to respond however because there is a chance that you might be an authentic seeker of truth and honesty.

    1. Regarding what I wrote you about safek deoraita lehumra: I was referring to the practice of discouraging a potential convert of non-Jewish origin. What if this person is really Jewish just as he claims? What if it is true that the person has a tradition in his family that remained unbroken just as he said and I discouraged him from returning to Judaism. That would be an avera risk that I am not willing to take. Rather I continue to follow the Takana of Rabbenu Gershom and the work of Rav Aboab de Fonseca and Rav Menashe Ben Israel because I did not see any expiration date on their takanot. And even if you say that their work was situational in that they were working while the problem existed during that generation directly after the inquisition, I posit to you that the problem persists and that this exchange of blogs proves that it is all too real and that controversy exists around it and therefore some form of halachic response must be offered. Since there are earlier poskim such as those I mentioned that responded already to this question when it already arose all we need to do is apply the mechanisms that the poskim already created earlier. A point of clarification regarding the history that you quote regarding proving genealogy during the 16 century: This was the case for people who simply wanted to be recognized as born Jews through matrilineal descent without giur as in the case of Rav Menashe Ben Israel whose family had converted to Catholicism and later escaped Portugal and went to Holland. Others who had Jewish descent either patrilinealy or could not prove it under went giur to reestablish themselves as part of the “nacion” in Holland. If you study the history of the family of Rav Menashe Ben Israel the entire statements of “Jerseygirl” making it seem that there was something wrong with the people who stayed in Spain and Portugal because they did not exercise the option to leave is actually a criticism of Rav Menashe’s family who does not deserve this criticism. Hindsight is always 20/20 especially when tempered by 500 years. The important thing is that they remained loyal to the Torah and at great personal risk have attempted to return to Jewish practice. Anusim will continue to return to Judaism whenever they want to. We will not subject ourselves to ridiculous questions like why not sooner? The answer is that we returned as soon as we saw that what we were living was Jewish customs – as soon as it became clear to us that we needed to return to our original identity. I don’t know why it takes generations for people to return to Torah, if it was in my ability I would have done it three generations ago but I wasn’t alive then I’m alive now and now is when I have chosen to live as a Jew and to help others do so as well. The return to Judaism is heroic in any generation it proves that “la sangre llama” the blood calls.
    2. The second question is really an excellent trap laid very carefully. If I answer that I would respond to the goyim (who I was talking to) that they should cease to worship according to their religion and that they should follow only the true God of Israel and the Torah which is the only truth and only true path to Hashem (which is what I believe in) – you will answer that I am a proselytizer. If I respond just as I did according to the Tosafot (because I was placed during the interview into a position that I was afraid would reflect badly on us by insulting the majority of the readers of that interview who are Catholic or Goyim) then I am accused of being somehow soft on Christianity or worse yet being a christian and promoting christian practice or belief among Jews. Excellently laid trap. Except for one problem – you and your readers see through it. I responded using the Tosafot regarding the idea of the shituf because I wanted to not make the Jewish people and our beliefs odious to others. Some of you who use these blogs appear never to take that into consideration by the way. Some who read this material use it against our people, unfortunately making it appear that this type of name calling and innuendo is part of our holy tradition when it is not! Your commenter “steg” was the only person fair enough to see what I was saying, thank you. I am not a Christian. My mother and father were not Christians, the only religion I have ever known was Orthodox Judaism. I went to yeshivot all my life. I reject chrisitanity, the saints, the man god, the trinity, the supposed messiahship of any man who has ever lived, I do not believe that mashaiach has come or came or will return. I do not believe in the New testament or any other religious books or beliefs other than Judaism and the holy writings of our sages. I believe in Torah shebiktav and Torah she baal peh. It is insulting and degrading to place a ger into the position where he has to make these statements in a public form because a small group of Jews have dedicated hours of their time to try to bait him and make him look like something he is not. I hope that Hashem will heed the words of tachanun “shuv mecharon apecha…” because if a ger were to cry out to Hashem about this type of avera on your part and he responded accordingly it would not be good for our people or for you. This is not intended as a threat but as mussar – do teshuva - Hashem does not appreciate mistreatment of the ger. All Jews are required to reprimand each other and encourage teshuva and additionally since I have had the blessing of learning Torah I tell you on that authority that this is unacceptable.
    3. The Institute for Jewish and Communal Research is a prestigious academic institution. It includes experts in many areas including demographics and studies of large populations. I am interested in studying the number of people in the world that claim Anusim ancestry. The Institute is one of the few academic research institutes that would undertake this study. Additionally they are studying other populations including Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, African American Jews and other situations that may or may not be halachic. There are many who attend these meetings that are born Jews and Halachically Jewish bechol hadeot. Since they trust me and have a relationship with me of respect and collegiality, I was able to make recommendations to them that facilitated the observance of kashrut, Shabbat etc. I advocate the study of the anusim. I advocate knowing the practices of these populations, the history and everything I need to know to see if they are authentic so that I can assist them in their return to Judaism. This institute is the only program in the world that will help me do a serious respectable study of these populations it is an absolute necessity for me in my work ( for which I have never apologized). Attending academic meetings and participating in research of Jewish populations does not require any permission of gedolim beyond review with my personal Rabbeim and I have done so. I have stated my interest clearly at all meetings of the institute and I applaud their work in studying populations that until now have not been studied. Dr. Gary Tobin and his wife Diane are scholars, they may not be Orthodox but they are frum enough to respect and love gerim and the Jewish People and they see their work as dedicated to helping the Jewish people grow and prosper. It may not be the same opinion as yours but we must admit that there are dedicated to the study of the Jewish people and that their academic work is unparalleled and unequalled.
    4. Regarding being the Rav of a shul. According to Rav J.B. Soloveitchik a ger may be given smicha based upon the Tosafot in Kiddushin 71a that quotes a position of Rav Avraham Hager – he notes that obviously he had been given the title of Rav even though he was a ger.
    You are correct it does not require a major posek to rule that I can serve as the Rav of my shul. A clear answer to this question is presented in Teshuvot VeHanhagot (Vol. III:305) where the Gaon R. Moshe Sternbuch discusses whether a ger may be appointed as a rabbi or as dean of a yeshiva, a Rosh Yeshiva. At issue, as you noted, is that when the Torah directs us (Deuteronomy 17:15) to set upon ourselves a king from "amidst our brethren," meaning that the one chosen must be born a Jew, the Gemara (Kiddushin 76b) explains that this direction extends to all appointments of authority.

R. Sternbuch notes an inconsistency. Rambam, in his opening discussion to his Mishneh Torah, lists the mesora, the chain of those who ensured continuance of the oral traditions of the Torah from Moses at Mt. Sinai. Rambam includes in that chain Shemaya and Abtalyon who are referred to as gerei tzedek, righteous proselytes. The two sat at the head of the Beit Din, which seems odd since those who assume that position must be eligible to rule on capital offenses as well. As gerim they would be ineligible to do so, thus they actually were ineligible to assume leadership of the Sanhedrin. Yet we find in the Gemara (Chagiga 16a-b) that they were indeed in that chain: one was Nasi (prince, president) and the other was Av Beit Din (head judge).

Therefore R. Sternbuch explains that the rule that would exclude a ger from the Sanhedrin applies where there is a choice of candidates for the job. However, if we find that the ger is truly great in Torah unlike any other candidate, and all recognize this, he would be eligible to assume the role, provided he has mastered the oral tradition as well as the written one. R. Sternbuch cites Rivah's commentary on Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 17:55), where we learn that when there is no better candidate for a position, a ger is certainly eligible to assume it, and thus he would also be eligible to rule on capital cases. Consequently, that ger
would be eligible to head the Beit Din or Sanhedrin. This is what happened with Shemaya and Abtalyon.

Regarding the original question posed to him about a ger serving as Rosh Mesivta (head of post-high school Torah study), R. Sternbuch seems to feel that this would be permitted, since the prohibition applies to the trappings or political aspects of the office. Also, as Rosh Mesivta ( or Rav of a shul) one is not considered to be holding an office that one may bequeath to one's children. Rather, such a person is chosen for his great Torah scholarship and fear of G-d. This position is unlike a king's position and other political appointments that include great displays of honor in society and are (at times) subsequently bequeathed to the children.

Even those halachic authorities who disagree with the ruling that a ger may serve as head or dean of a yeshiva would agree that a ger would be qualified as a Rosh Mesivta or Maggid Shiur (lecturer), should the choice of candidates include a ger who is a better choice than the others.

    And by the way a ger may also serve as a dayan in cases of giur. This is clear from Rava in Yevamot 102a. He says that the pasuk you cite proves that a ger may serve other gerim since he is their brother. Rava says that if he has a Jewish Mother he may serve in cases where dinei mamonot are also involved. Rashi says that Rava must have been excluding gerim only in cases of dinei nefashot he cites Sanhedrin 32 a as proof of this. There the mishnah says that “all” are qualifies to serve as dayan in dinei mamonot the gemara Sanhedrin 36 b uses the word “all” to include gerim. Tosafot brings up a contradiction however, Yevamot 45b Rava allowed Rav Mari bar Rachel the son of a male convert to be appointed to a position of leadership only because his mother was a born Jewish, Tosafot resolves the conflict by saying that the gemara must be allowing gerim to be dayanim over other gerim in dinei mamonot as well. Tosafot disagrees with Rashi that gerim cannot be dayanim in dinei mamonot for born Jews but all agree according to him that he may serve other gerim. Nimukei Yosef holds the same way that a ger may only serve as a dayan in cases involving other gerim but he arrives at this conclusion based on the halachot of dayanut in halitza. Where the dayan must have both parents being born Jewish. The Tur in Yoreh Deah (269) holds that a ger may serve as a dayan if all concerned accept him as a dayan.

    The work of being a shul Rabbi is hard work if you undertake to build the type of community that I am building. The shul was not Orthodox it was conservative. The members agreed to change to Orthodox as a condition of hiring me. No other Rav was able to achieve what I achieved until I got here. This certainly qualifies me for my position. I am not an “am haaretz” I know how to teach Torah and to persuade other Jews to observe the Torah. This qualifies me for my position. The community has accepted me as their teacher and leader and as their posek. Since this would even qualify me as a dayan it certainly qualifies me as a Rav of a shul.

    Additionally my personal situation is not a clear cut case of giur. It is a situation of lashuv darchei avotav according to Rav Mordechai Eliahu. There is no valid reason to exclude me. Additionally I might clarify to you that I was in no way looking to become a shul Rabbi. I went to that shul (that I now love tremendously) to fix their sifrei Torah and they approached me. I accepted the position because I saw that I was suited to create progress here and that’s exactly what I have done. I agree with you Daniel if a better candidate were to emerge I would be happy to live my life out easily as a college professor which I could do without all this controversy and I’d give him the job. I’m not sure the community would accept that however, they don’t want to lose me and have expressed this to me in no uncertain terms. I will never ever cease my holy work with the anusim however. This is because I gave my word to my grandfather that I would do it and now I am even stronger due to the passing of my beloved mother who was from the anusim nad sought that all of us should come home. My background is no secret to the members of my shul or to anyone else. I told you I am not ashamed I am proud of my ancestors. My work with the anusim has been discussed throughout my time as Rabbi of the synagogue it is no secret. The fact that I am active in giur is no secret either and the fact that I am accepting of Jewish diversity racial and ethnic and that I welcome and affirm it is no secret either. No undercover work needs to be done here, nothing on our side is under cover if you want to visit with us let us know and we will host you for shabbos.

    I will no longer respond to any of these blogs about me. They have created too much emotional pain for me. It hurts me to know that there is a group of individuals out there that would actively seek to put a Rav who has dedicated his life to Torah and the Jewish community into the bitter position of focusing negative attention on him because they consider him a ger that he must assert himself and clarify his beliefs. As I told you earlier its wrong to do this to gerim, to other people, to other Jews etc. It worries me that people reading this might think that your behavior is part of our holy Torah beliefs but it isn’t. Your path of doubt, distrust and innuendo is the one that is far from the path of Torah not ours. The path of Torah is Darchei Noam. Stop before you create a hillul Hashem. I hope that non-Jews and other Jews don't think this is "normal" Jewish behavior. The rest of us respect each other, respect other Jews observant or non, respect gentiles it is only an extreme fringe that behaves this way please don't judge the rest of us Orthodox Jews based upon these pages.

    Abravanel has a wonderful comment on Sefer Devarim Perek Chapter 30 : "Hashem will return the Jews who are exiled and he will have mercy on them and He will return and gather you from among the nations." Abravanel explain that this double language is to state that the first group of returns will be the Jews who were openly Jewish. Since they suffered among the gentiles they will be brought back with mercy. The second time it says "return" he explains it is speaking about people who were forced away from Judaism against their will, he uses the term "anasam." This second group will also be gathered from among the nations and brought back - just as Hashem is keeping his promise to us right now. Some of us see it some don't.
    Shalom lekulam


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