Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wanted: Courage, Heroism and Humility

[The ongoing crisis of the rabbinate has been overshadowed this week by the political crisis surrounding the ongoing exposure of the venality of Ehud Olmert. While the Talansky circus was underway, though, there were two siognificant developments. First, Rav Druckman's termination was suspended, sine die. Second, an appeal on behalf of the woman originally hurt by R. Sherman is finding it difficult to garner support among many of the same elements in the Religious Zionist community who are among R. Druckman's most vocal supporters. Both developments reminded me of a vort that the Rov zatzal presented on a Saturday Night in Boston, and which was the key point of my valedictory at the YU Hag ha-Semikha in March, 1982. It is more relevant today than it was even then.]

The Mishnah in tractate Ta'anit (10a) states that if the 17 day of Marheshvan arrives, and no rain has yet fallen, 'singular individuals' (יחידים) begin to fast. The Talmud (10a-b) then asks who these 'singular individuals' are. Here the Talmud distinguishes between scholars (תלמיד) and these יחידים. [תלמיד means student, but based upon the parallel passages in Shabbat 114a and Qiddushin 49b, it 's clear that here תלמיד is shorthand for 'scholar' (תלמיד חכם).] A scholar is defined as 'who when asked a matter of halachah in any place can answer it, even in the Tractate Kallah.' In other words, one is referring here to a an individual who possesses sovereign mastery of the entire Torah. (Though see, per contra, Tosafot Shabbat ad loc. s.v. ואפילו).

Knowledge, however, does not make one, automatically, a יחיד. The latter is one who 'is worthy of being appointed a leader of the community.' Knowledge, it would appear, is not sufficient for leadership. One needs more. The Rav declared that, first and foremost, one must have fortitude and courage. The theoretician may be a fine teacher. However, if he lacks courage; if he is not sensitive to the needs of the community, then he is not a יחיד. He may not, he must not, be appointed as a leader of the community.

Far too many acknowledged rabbinic scholars lack this crucial characteristic. They are either timid and/or obtusely insensitive. Some of those presently in power in the Israeli rabbinate, lack the latter quality. Far too many of those who would replace them, are woefully deficient in the former trait.

Since I count myself among the latter group seeking a solution. I urge my colleagues to look into their souls to find the courage, the גבורה, to step up to the plate and do the task that God has given them.

Woe to them if they don't. Woe to us if they don't.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kol ha-Posel or, Rabbi Sherman Revelatus

Ben Chorin posted this revealing information about Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the self-appointed critic of the Conversion Authority:

One of the main arguments put forward by R. Avraham Sherman against R. Druckman's conversions is that R. Druckman signed on conversions at which he was not present. This was a technical matter since it is not disputed that three dayanim were present at each of those conversions.

As they say: kol haposel bemumo posel. I am holding in my hand a document written by the Commissioner of Complaints against Judges, Tova Strassberg-Cohen, and signed by her on March 31, 2008. The document is a response to a complaint against a panel of dayanim sitting on a case involving a divorce dispute.

The whole panel seems to have been out of control: they heard testimony in the presence of only one side, neglected to keep protocols, and so on. But the main complaints involve the aforementioned R. Sherman (RAS).

First of all, RAS failed to disclose that one of the lawyers appearing before him was at the same time representing his daughter in front of another court. When this was discovered, he was asked by Rav Amar to cease hearing the case. RAS simply ignored Rav Amar's request.

Second, RAS signed the ruling despite not attending a session of the court at which testimony was heard.

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

FLASH! Olmert Fires Rav Druckman [UPDATED]

Rav Haim Druckman שליט"א

I have to say that I'm stunned (and not much stuns me anymore). PM Olmert's office decided to exploit the absence of Rav Amar to summarily fire Rav Druckman, on the pretense that he was 75 years old. This, to put it mildly, is a very lame excuse. Exceptions to the various age limitations are made all the time. One classic example, the founding conductor of the IDF orchestra was kept on the job for over thirty years after he was supposed to retire. We are a country that specializes in making exceptions.

Without sounding extreme, I can't help but think that Olmert sacrificed Rav Druckman in order to secure the support of Agudat Yisrael and Degel ha-Torah and Shas to support his survival in office. (If Olmert has already given away the Golan in order to avoid problems, what a conversion authority?) His statements against Rav Druckman, and his swipe at the National Religious community that they will soon become Reform, are not only disgusting per se, they are disingenuous. None other than Rav Ovadiah Yosef has ruled, הלכהלמעשה, that if a non-Jew converts and agrees to some sort of traditional lifestyle, the conversion is valid. I have it on the best authority that he has expressed support for Rav Druckman's efforts. So what is this? Political grandstanding on the backs of the converts.
Whatever the reason, the question is what now? Personally, I see no other option but the establishment of an independent rabbinical court system, manned by the hundreds of qualified Dayyanim whom the Haredi Politicos and their Secular allies keep out of the Rabbinate. Let the Badatzim stew in their own juices. If they don't want to accept us, so we need not support them (monetarily, politically or any other way). Our own yeshivot and institutions are crying for support. Our efforts need to go there and towards teaching Torah in the broader community.

As for Yishai's demagogic remark about the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox community becoming Reform, let me say this. Accusing anyone who isn't Haredi of being Reform is an old, cheap form of anti-Modern Polemic. Unfortunately, our community has often taken such screed too seriously, and we've been hurt as a result. For example, because the Conservatives addressed the problem of recalcitrant husbands first, we did nothing- lest we look Reform. Does that make sense?

In the end it's a matter of our own self-discipline and confidence. If we continually work on strengthening our יראת שמים, our diffidence in Psaq, our readiness to be heroic and our readiness to stop where the Torah won't let us go, even if there is a human price to pay- we have nothing to fear from political hacks and Haredi polemicists.

If, however, we subordinate the Torah to modern trends, to religious subjectivism and relativism, and do violence to its texts and inner logic- as advocated by some self-styled 'Orthodox' humanists- then we will go down the path of religious, spiritual and national perdition that Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal 'Judaism's have blazed.

The latest information on the story is:

The Return of the Lemmings

It shouldn't, but it never ceases to amaze me. In a move of incredible, potentially deadly, cynicism Olmert is planning to hand over the Golan (together with 93% of Judea and Samaria) to the Arabs. Never mind that Syria doesn't really want a deal. Never mind that the Palestinians can't bring themselves to compromise on anything. Never mind that both the Alawite junta in Syria and the so-called 'moderate' Fatah Government of the PA will likely both fall to Jihadists. Never mind that Olmert is just trying to save his skin.

Despite all that, the papers are hailing the peace with Syria that hasn't even begun to be defined or worked on. By contrast, the increasingly solid and sordid tale of corruption that is closing in on Olmert is reduced to a secondary or tertiary place.

It's a drug this Peace fantasy, and the whole system of elites is addicted.

Drug addiction kills.

I guess they forgot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's Not Purim: It's Sefira and it's Happening Now

There must be something in water (what's left of the water). In addition to the craziness in the Battei Din, there is the above pashkvil, which is simply the latest salvo in the power play of the Edah ha-Haredit to take over Ramat Bet Shemesh. So now there will be no satellite carried shiurim either. I wonder how that will go over with Rav Ovadia Yosef.
Even better is a psak halakha that was conveyed to me by a Rosh yeshiva friend of mine:
אחד מגדולי הפוסקים בבני ברק אסר להתקשר לאישתו נידה בטלפון רוטט
As the Rav זצ"ל used to say: It's assur to be stupid.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conversion Redux: The Ground is Burning (2)

I now have a copy of the decision I mentioned yesterday, wherein a Jerusalem Bes Din in 2000, invalidated a ruling of the Army Rabbinate after the Yom Kippur War and rendered a young girl a safeq-mamzer, based upon the assumption that the Army Rabbinate is neither reliable nor God-fearing.

There are no words for such cruelty in the name of Torah. The same person is now one of the leading supporters of those seeking to destroy the conversion authority.

Anyone interested in obtaining the text can write to me at: woolfj@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Conversion Redux: The Ground is Burning

President Bush’s Middle East visit and the on-going bribery investigation of PM Olmert, have overshadowed the controversy surrounding the Haredi attempt to delegitimize the Israeli Rabbinate’s Conversion authority, and willy nilly to retroactively revoke the over 25,000 conversions carried out in the past decade. It has, however, not gone away. On the contrary, the Jerusalem Post reports that the fallout has thrown the entire rabbinate into disarray. [This, of course, is exactly what the extremist Lithuanian faction wants.]

No one knows whether the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, R. Shlomo Amar, will succeed in neutralizing the Sherman ruling. In the interim, the lives of close to one hundred thousand people are in turmoil. The converts don’t know if they are Jewish. Their spouses don’t know if they are married. Their children don’t know if they are Jewish. The latter’s children (and their prospective spouses) don’t know if they are Jewish and/or getting married. So much for Haredi awareness of the fact that, on forty eight separate occasions, the Torah commands that one love the convert and forbids one to hurt him or her. (Uri Urbach has an important take on the larger context of the issue, here.)

In the interim, Tzohar has published a statement supporting Rav Druckman and excoriating the Sherman Psak in the strongest terms. Signed by 80 Religious Zionist Rabbis (including this writer), it is a strong response and a big Kiddush HaShem. In a parallel report, YNet highlighted R. Aharon Lichtenstein's impassioned words at last week's conference. As reported (accurately, I was there) by YNet:

"כמה שנאה, כמה טינה, כמה עוינות יש בפסק הדין האיום והנורא הזה", אמר הרב ליכטנשטיין, "במערך הגיור ישנם דיינים יראי שמים ותלמידי חכמים אשר השקיעו את מרצם וחייהם למען התורה. אי אפשר לדחוק אותם ולזרוק אותם לרחוב". לדבריו, "בנקודה הזאת צריכים להיות תקיפים. אסור להשלים עם הסגנון הזה ועם הגישה... היכן שמענו או ראינו כי כל הסומך על מיעוט הפוסקים, בניגוד לדעה הרווחת, אפיקורס במזיד יקרא? אוי לאוזניים שכך שומעות ואוי לבית דין מגמתי שכזה אשר כך התבטא". "כמה שנאה, כמה טינה, כמה עוינות יש בפסק הדין האיום והנורא הזה", אמר הרב ליכטנשטיין, "במערך הגיור ישנם דיינים יראי שמים ותלמידי חכמים אשר השקיעו את מרצם וחייהם למען התורה. אי אפשר לדחוק אותם ולזרוק אותם לרחוב". לדבריו, "בנקודה הזאת צריכים להיות תקיפים. אסור להשלים עם הסגנון הזה ועם הגישה... היכן שמענו או ראינו כי כל הסומך על מיעוט הפוסקים, בניגוד לדעה הרווחת, אפיקורס במזיד יקרא? אוי לאוזניים שכך שומעות ואוי לבית דין מגמתי שכזה אשר כך התבטא".

On the other side of the issue, the Post report included an interesting fact:

However, Sherman received backing from the haredi rabbinic establishment. For instance, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levine, who heads an independent rabbinical court based in Jerusalem that specializes in determining Jewish genealogical trees (yihus) in the haredi community for couples before marriage, claimed in an interview this week on Radio Kol Hai that the vast majority of converts converted by Druckman's authority did not adhere to Halacha after the conversion. Therefore, this was proof the conversions were not valid.

I was not aware of R. Levine's existence until last week. It was then that a colleague called my attention to a decision issued by R. Levine, when he served as chief marriage registrar of the Jerusalem rabbinate (פסקי בתי הדין הרבניים, תיק תקכ"א שעל ידי בית דין מס' 126, תש"ס).

A girl came to the Rabbinate to register to marry. Her mother had been married to a young man who was killed in the Yom Kippur War, when his tank took a direct hit. No physical remains were found, though shreds of clothing were identified as belonging to him. Based upon this and the military reports, the Army Rabbinate declared him to have died and issued a certificate that the young widow was free to remarry. After some time she did so, and the young lady in question was the child of the second marriage. Twenty-Seven years later, she came before Rabbi Levine to receive the required documentation that would allow her to marry.

R. Levine reexamined the Army Rabbinate's decision and disqualified it. He argued that the latter had not elicited sufficient evidence of the soldier's death. Hence, the wife was a safeq Eshet Ish and her daughter a safeq mamzeret. He informed the stunned girl that she was unable to marry. The only out that he offered was that if she were to represent the case to a 'God fearing Bet Din'
(בית דין ירא שמים), she might find relief and be able to marry.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Halakha knows that one NEVER reopens the case of an Aguna, who was freed by a recognized Bet Din, certainly not a quarter of a century later.

One never creates the circumstance to create mamzerim.

Why did he do this? He did this because he is part of what, to my shame as a proud Litvak, religious commentators are terming the 'Litaliban.' He cares not for anything but the supererogatory demands of his tiny coterie. Otherwise, how does this charlatan dare to term the military Rabbinate's Bet Din as not being 'God fearing'? Was he ever in a tank? Did he ever suffer the heat of battle? Does he know the circumstances of what type of remains one might expect to find in a burning tank? [By contrast, as described by R. Benny Lau, Rav Ovadia Yosef sat with military experts to determine the realities of battle, locked himself in a room with the outstanding cases of missing soldiers, and found solid halakhic reasons to release over 1,000 agunot! Evidently, the spiritual heir of R. Isaac Elhanan Spector, the Rov of Kovna who was famous for helping agunot, was born in Baghdad. The Lithuanians have, it would appear, dropped the ball.]

So, the inclusion of R. Levine in this story indicates that conversion is but the tip of the iceberg. This cabal is out to totally destroy the non-Hareidi rabbinate, and it does not care how many lives it destroys in the process.

תורה תורה חיגרי שק

Monday, May 12, 2008

Another Graduate....

Readers of this blog are, by now, well aware of the fact that I am of the firm opinion that the Arab-Israel conflict was, is and will remain essentially religio-cultural. It has much less to do with post-colonialism, economics or secular nationalism. I have been of this conviction since I read Bernard Lewis' 'The Return of Islam' (Commentary, January 1976) and that conviction has grown and intensified as time has gone by. That is why whenever I'm invited to speak in Israel or abroad, I try to convince my hosts that some variation on this theme ought to be included in the program. I am not doing so in order to sow despair. I do so out of the belief that challenges can best be met by looking them straight on.

The willingness of the various academic, intellectual and political groupings, here and abroad, to hear this point of view has been very wan. The cognoscenti love to dismiss this idea as just so much drivel, despite the fact that very accomplished scholars maintain exactly this position (inter alia, Bernard Lewis, Yehoshua Porat, Richard Pipes, Richard Landes, and Martin Kramer).

Now, further confirmation has come from an unexpected source. None other than the first of the so-called 'New Historians,' Professor Benny Morris, has come to exactly this conclusion in his new book on the war of independence. As excerpted in this past Friday's Jerusalem Post (with interview):

To be sure, while mentioning "God," Ben-Gurion... had failed fully to appreciate the depth of the Arabs' abhorrence of the Zionist-Jewish presence in Palestine, an abhorrence anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia with deep religious and historical roots. The Jewish rejection of the Prophet Muhammad is embedded in the Qur'an and is etched in the psyche of those brought up on its suras. As the Muslim Brotherhood put it in 1948: "Jews are the historic enemies of Muslims and carry the greatest hatred for the nation of Muhammad."

Such thinking characterized the Arab world, where the overwhelming majority of the population were, and remain, believers. In 1943, when President Franklin Roosevelt sent out feelers about a negotiated settlement of the Palestine problem, King Ibn Sa'ud of Saudi Arabia responded that he was "prepared to receive anyone of any religion except (repeat except) a Jew." A few weeks earlier, Ibn Sa'ud had explained, in a letter to Roosevelt: "Palestine... has been an Arab country since the dawn of history and... was never inhabited by the Jews for more than a period of time, during which their history in the land was full of murder and cruelty... [There is] religious hostility... between the Muslims and the Jews from the beginning of Islam... which arose from the treacherous conduct of the Jews towards Islam and the Muslims and their prophet." Jews were seen as unclean; indeed, even those who had contact with them were seen as beyond the pale. In late 1947 the Al-Azhar University 'ulema, major authorities in the Islamic world, issued a fatwa that anyone dealing with "the Jews," commercially or economically (such as by "buying their produce"), "is a sinner and criminal... who will be regarded as an apostate to Islam, he will be separated from his spouse. It is prohibited to be in contact with him."

This anti-Semitic mindset was not restricted to Wahhabi chieftains or fundamentalist imams. Samir Rifahi, Jordan's prime minister, in 1947 told visiting newsmen, "The Jews are a people to be feared... Give them another 25 years and they will be all over the Middle East, in our country and Syria and Lebanon, in Iraq and Egypt... They were responsible for starting the two world wars... Yes, I have read and studied, and I know they were behind Hitler at the beginning of his movement."

The 1948 War, to be sure, was a milestone in a contest between two national movements over a piece of territory. But it was also - if only because that is how many if not most Arabs saw it (and see it today) - part of a more general, global struggle between the Islamic East and the West, in which the Land of Israel/Palestine figured, and still figures, as a major battlefront. The Yishuv saw itself, and was universally seen by the Muslim Arab world, as an embodiment and outpost of the European "West." The assault of 1947-1948 was an expression of the Islamic Arabs' rejection of the West and its values as well as a reaction to what it saw as a European colonialist encroachment against sacred Islamic soil. There was no understanding (or tolerance) of Zionism as a national liberation movement of another people. And, aptly, the course of the war reflected the civilizational disparity, in which a Western society, deploying superior organizational and technological skills, overcame a coalition of infinitely larger Islamic Arab societies.

Historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric and flourishes that accompanied the two-stage assault on the Yishuv and the constant references in the prevailing Arab discourse to that earlier bout of Islamic battle for the Holy Land, against the Crusaders. This is a mistake. The 1948 War, from the Arabs' perspective, was a war of religion as much as, if not more than, a nationalist war over territory. Put another way, the territory was sacred: its violation by infidels was sufficient grounds for launching a holy war and its conquest or reconquest, a divinely ordained necessity. In the months before the invasion of 15 May 1948, King 'Abdullah, the most moderate of the coalition leaders, repeatedly spoke of "saving" the holy places. As the day of invasion approached, his focus on Jerusalem, according to Alec Kirkbride, grew increasingly obsessive. "In our souls," wrote the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, "Palestine occupies a spiritual holy place which is above abstract nationalist feelings. In it we have the blessed breeze of Jerusalem and the blessings of the Prophets and their disciples."

The evidence is abundant and clear that many, if not most, in the Arab world viewed the war essentially as a holy war. To fight for Palestine was the "inescapable obligation on every Muslim," declared the Muslim Brotherhood in 1938. Indeed, the battle was of such an order of holiness that in 1948 one Islamic jurist ruled that believers should forgo the hajj and spend the money thus saved on the jihad in Palestine. In April 1948, the mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Muhammad Mahawif, issued a fatwa positing jihad in Palestine as the duty of all Muslims. The Jews, he said, intended "to take over... all the lands of Islam." Martyrdom for Palestine conjured up, for Muslim Brothers, "the memories of the Battle of Badr... as well as the early Islamic jihad for spreading Islam and Salah al-Din's [Saladin's] liberation of Palestine" from the Crusaders. Jihad for Palestine was seen in prophetic-apocalyptic terms, as embodied in the following hadith periodically quoted at the time: "The day of resurrection does not come until Muslims fight against Jews, until the Jews hide behind trees and stones and until the trees and stones shout out: 'O Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"

The jihadi impulse underscored both popular and governmental responses in the Arab world to the UN partition resolution and was central to the mobilization of the "street" and the governments for the successive onslaughts of November-December 1947 and May-June 1948. The mosques, mullahs, and 'ulema all played a pivotal role in the process. Even Christian Arabs appear to have adopted the jihadi discourse. Matiel Mughannam, the Lebanese-born Christian who headed the AHC-affiliated Arab Women's Organization in Palestine, told an interviewer early in the civil war: "The UN decision has united all Arabs, as they have never been united before, not even against the Crusaders... [A Jewish state] has no chance to survive now that the 'holy war' has been declared. All the Jews will eventually be massacred." The Islamic fervor stoked by the hostilities seems to have encompassed all or almost all Arabs: "No Muslim can contemplate the holy places falling into Jewish hands," reported Kirkbride from Amman. "Even the Prime Minister [Tawfiq Abul Huda]... who is by far the steadiest and most sensible Arab here, gets excited on the subject."

Nor did this impulse evaporate with the Arab defeat. On the contrary. On 12 December 1948 the 'ulema of Al-Azhar reissued their call for jihad, specifically addressing "the Arab Kings, Presidents of Arab Republics,... and leaders of public opinion." It was, ruled the council, "necessary to liberate Palestine from the Zionist bands... and to return the inhabitants driven from their homes." The Arab armies had "fought victoriously" (sic) "in the conviction that they were fulfilling a sacred religious duty." The 'ulema condemned King 'Abdullah for sowing discord in Arab ranks: "Damnation would be the lot of those who, after warning, did not follow the way of the believers," concluded the 'ulema.

Another graduate of the university...of duh. Welcome aboard.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thank you

Nizkor et Kulam

Yom ha-Zikkaron is fading. The day is for what we call in Hebrew 'התייחדות,' identifying and feeling the price that we have paid for the right to live and pray, work and study in this, the Land that God Almight promised to Abraham, who tended his flocks on the hills among which I live.
Words fail on days such as this. Everyone here is related to, or knows intimately, someone who either fell or was wounded in defending our country. Every parent with children over 18, knows what it is not to sleep for three years and, after that, during their reserve duty. Many of us who were unable to serve in the army, know what it is to stand guard over the home front from terrorists, and had friends who fell in the line of duty.
We all know, intuitively, that Jews are called upon to live a sacrificial existence.
Please God, let our sacrifices from now on be spiritual.
תהי נשמותיהם צרורות בצרור החיים ויעמדו לגורלם לקץ הימים

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The RCA Decries the Sherman Psak

[The following statement was just issued by the Rabbinical Council of America. I take special pride and satisfaction in the fact that it was I who first brought the scandal of R. Sherman's psaq to the RCA's attention, provided the members with the relevant information and documents, and kept the issue on the front burner. ברוך ה'.]

Rabbinical Council of America Reacts to Ruling of Israeli Rabbinical Appeals Court regarding Past Conversions by the Israeli Conversion Authority

Leviticus 19:33 : "You (plural) shall not oppress the convert in your land."
Commentary of the Netziv: "The plural form of the verse teaches us that a third party who sees the oppression of a convert and does not protest is also guilty of oppression."

The Rabbinical Council of America, having taken note of the recent ruling of the Bet Din Elyon (Rabbinic Court of Appeals) of Israel, nullifying certain conversions performed by the State Conversion Authority led by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, has today issued the following statement:
Having reviewed the ruling of the Bet Din Elyon in detail, and being fully mindful of the respect due the rulings of duly constituted rabbinical courts in their respective jurisdictions, the RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the ruling itself, as well as the language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God's name, insult outstanding rabbinic leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court.

We have been assured by Israel's Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar, who is also the President of the Rabbinical Courts System of Israel, that in releasing this ruling the court in question directly countermanded his instructions and policies. He has confirmed that the ruling has no legal standing at this time. We commend Rav Amar for his positive role in this matter since its very inception in the Ashdod regional court.

We add our rabbinic voice to those of others who have called for a thorough review and repudiation of the actions of a select few of the Bet Din Elyon, who in this ruling as in other previous instances, have sought to undermine the Conversion Authority.

For this reason, and others, it is more important than ever that the Conversion Authority be strengthened in its important work in bringing about halachicly proper conversions to our faith and to the Jewish people.

Given the very public nature of the challenge posed by the ruling in question, we call on the Chief Rabbis of Israel to reaffirm their support of the Conversion Authority and its leadership in clear and unambiguous terms at the earliest possible time. Until that will happen, each passing day will cause reprehensible anguish to halachic converts, irreparable harm to the fabric of the Jewish people, and a considerable debasement of the good name of Torah, halachah, and tradition.

Nothing Stands Before a Free Press (and the Internet)

So, according to the New York Post, this is the story.

If, however, Livni takes over, God help us.

Conversion Crisis Redux

Yesterday, I was interviewed on the subject by the Jerusalem Post. Part of that interview is here. I would add that R. Sherman's so-called psak is nothing of the sort. It is an evil, cruel, manipulative piece of propaganda. Halakhically, it holds little (if any) water. It ignores the well known rulings of major Poskim who differ (and with whom he was obliged to deal), such as R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, R. Moshe Feinstein and others זצ"ל. It is a Hillul HaShem and Hillul Kavod Ha-Torah. Period.

Last night I attended the emergency meeting of the Rabbis of Tzohar, called in order to protest the indignities heaped upon R. Haim Druckman, the viciousness of the Bet Din ha-Rabbani ha-Elyon and the baldfaced violation of the sensitivities and halakhic status of 25,000 converts!

A highlight was the impassioned address by R. Aharon Lichtenstein who inveighed heavily, and passionately, against this act of sacrilege, this desecration of the Torah's honor. He stated clearly that it is the Dayyanim who dared to disqualify R. Druckman who are, themselves, disqualified. Hatred and prejudice disqualify one from sitting in judgement. At the same time, he cautioned that those who support R. Druckman must conduct themselves as befits God-fearing, Orthodox rabbis and not to stoop to the muck-filled level occupied by Rabbis Attiah, Sherman, Izrer and Scheinfeld. (Though, in typically ethical fashion, he did not name them.)

I don't know how this will play itself out. However, I am willing to be optimistic that the nihilist forces that delegitimize Jews (by birth or halakhic conversion) aren't part of their specific community will not prevail. I saw the determination in the eyes of the Tzohar rabbis. As Ben Gurion said after the bombing of Tel Aviv, 60 years ago Shabbat: אלה יעמדו.

Monday, May 05, 2008


'He who teaches his neighbour's son Torah, Scripture considers it to as if he had sired him' (Sanhedrin 19b).

Not only children give one nachas, so do students.

Thus, it is with great pride that I announce that my student, Rabbi Dr. Matania Ben-Gedaliah, has been awarded the Jacob Katz Prize by the Leo Baeck Institute, for his ground-breaking doctoral dissertation 'The Sages of Speyer in the Generations After the First Crusade' (which I had the pleasure of directing). Dr. Ben-Gedaliah, in a scholarly tour de force, recreated the intellectual world, from which emerged both the German Pietists and the early German Tosafists. He also remapped the intellectual affiliations and traditions of the major scholars both before and after 1096. The implications of this research will recast many of the regnant assumptions about the origins and develoment of Franco-German Jewry in the Central and High Middle Ages.

Keep an eye out for forthcomong studies based upon his doctorate.

Hope Springs Eternal

This morning the newspapers are carrying a story that Rav Amar (in his capacity as Chief Dayyan of the Rabbinic courts) rejects the total invalidation of the conversions effected under the aegis of R. Haim Druckman, and will revisit the specific case under consideration. [The report in today's Makor Rishon/HaZofe confirms everything I've written in my previous postings. As soon as it's on line, I'll link to it.]

Meanwhile, the Tzohar Rabbis are holding an emergency meeting this evening to discuss the implications of this latest controversy.

Judging from the number of visits that this site received, and the large number of requests for R. Sherman's Psaq Din, I hope that this blog made some contribution to ameliorating this miscarriage of Halakhah.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Emes me-eretz Titzmach

Maariv just published an across the boards denial that Rav Druckman's conversions had been invalidated. The Rabbanut spokemen claim that that was never the upshot of the decision by R. Attiyah of Ashdod, or of R. Sherman of the Bet Din Ha-Rabbani ha-Gadol.

However, now it appears that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is trying to overturn the verdict of R. Sherman.

Failed Messiah has linked to another of R. Sherman's projects: Cancelling a Conference for the Amelioration of the Plight of Agunot, a year and a half agoi. According to Haaretz (taken grano cum salis):

Rabbis cancel conference on 'chained women'
By Amiram Barkat

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar last week canceled the conference on women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce (agunot), which was due to take place in Jerusalem on Tuesday, at the order of ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Amar had obtained Elyashiv's approval for the holding the Chief Rabbinate's first conference on this issue. However, ultra-Orthodox figures in the Rabbinic Courts persuaded Elyashiv to withdraw his approval.

Dozens of chief rabbis, rabbinic court heads and rabbinic judges from the Diaspora had been invited to the conference, and some have already arrived in Israel. Rabbi Amar had initiated the project to find ways of helping women whose husbands refuse to divorce them, and women who cannot divorce because their husbands are missing and not proven dead. Conference participants were to debate whether to impose economic and social sanctions on divorce objectors without infringing on halakhic principles.

Three months ago, Amar persuaded the Haredi sage Elyashiv to approve the conference. Elyashiv conditioned his consent on banning women from the conference. Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, head of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status in the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, was shocked by the decision to cancel the conference, she told Haaretz, although she doubted it would be a turning point in the rabbinical courts' treatment of women. "The conference's importance was in its existence - and canceling it indicates more than anything else the sorry state of Orthodox Judaism, which cannot deal with such a basic and humane issue," she said. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the director general of Israel's rabbinical courts, who coordinated the preparations for the conference, was also displeased by the conference's cancelation. "

It was a blessed initiative. It's sad that months of efforts will be lost," Ben-Dahan said. He said he did not know who caused the conference's cancelation and why. However, Haaretz has learned that it was dictated by rabbinic court figures, who object to the efforts to improve the circumstances of women who cannot get a divorce. Supreme Rabbinical Court judges Rabbi Hagai Izirer and Rabbi Avraham Sherman both advocate strengthening the husband's and rabbinical court's status in divorce cases. Izirer even supports authorizing the rabbinical court to cancel a divorce. Thus children born to a woman after she has divorced could turn, retroactively, into bastards. Izirer and Sherman spearheaded a campaign to pressure Diaspora rabbis to refuse the invitation to the conference.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Conversion Crisis Boils Over

As reported on YNet and last night on Mabat:

All conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman, who heads the Israeli Conversion Court, must be disqualified,” the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem concluded earlier this week, while discussing an appeal made a by a woman whose 15-year-old conversion conversion was annulled by the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, thus naming her children non-Jewish.

In the 50-page verdict, Judges Sherman, Izirer and Scheinfeld it said: "First, all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman must be disqualified; second, conversions can be retroactively annulled for those who are not observant."

Literally thousands of people are now in jeopardy of losing everything: their Jewishness, citizenship, families and children. In order to give an idea of the issues here, I'd like to post here some major points made to me by two Dayyanim of impeccable credentials, who are involved in the Conversion Authority:

1) The Conversion Authority (Minhal le-Giyyur) is an independent system of Rabbinical Courts, directly responsible to the Chief Rabbis and the Prime Minister's office. Headed by R. Haim Druckman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ohr Etzion, always requires a period of extended study and a clear, verifiable Kabbalat ha-Mitzvot from every convert. It categorically rejects the opinion that conversion may be effected without Kabbalat ha-Mitzvot. Since 1992, of the thousands of converts that have been certified by the Minhal, only seven have been invalidated. Five were done by the Minhal itself and two by the Bet Din HaRabbani ha-Gadol. All other converts were registered as Jews without question, for purposes of marriage.

2) The special Battei Din for Giyyur have always been an anathema to the Haredi dominated Bet Din system. As Hareidi control has increased, led by R. Avraham Sherman, these forces have mounted a systematic effort to disqualify conversions. This has been done on the direct orders of a certain Hareidi Poseq, whose openly stated objective is the neutralization of the 'Zionist' rabbinate. Toward that end, he mobilized these same forces to abolish the Heter Mekhira for Shemitta. R. Sherman is a loyal follower and soldier of that Hareidi Poseq.

This agenda has been consistently stopped by Dayyan Shlomo Daichovsky, who categorically rejected any attempts to retroactively annul properly performed conversions. Rav Daichovsky, however, was recently subjected to unbearable pressure, and forced to take early retirement. As a parting shot against those who effectively silenced him, Rav Daichovsky wrote a legal testament that will appear in the next issue of Tehumin. (I will forward it on request.)

3) As to the case at hand, the individual did accept the mitzvot in a convincing manner, and the giyyur was duly registered. The issue only arose when the couple came to get divorced. Dayyanim who, as noted hate the Minhal le-Giyyur and obey the dictates of certain Lithuanian quarters, often use such venues to take a stab at the conversions of one of the divorcing spouses. (Not infrequently, moreover, the husband in such cases tries to impugn the wife's conversion as a tactic to obviate a get.) Dayyan Attiah of Ashdod, (who no one I spoke to seems to know personally but whose legal decisions are considered underwhelming), used the opportunity not only to annul the conversion, but devoted his psak to excoriating and vilifying R. Druckman. He was censured for his behavior, but there were no real sanctions taken against him.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Rabbinic Court. The head of the panel, R. Sherman, not only upheld R. Attiah's ruling but disqualified all conversions supervised by R. Druckman retroactively since 1999. Rav Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, apparently asked him to delay publication of the ruling until a special Bet Din could review it. He ignored the request and issued it anyway.

4) The disqualification of Rav Druckman is based upon an admitted administrative irregularity.

Administratively, not halakhically, conversion courts must be comprised of two Rabbis and a certified Dayyan. Two exceptions to this rule were made: Rav Zaphaniah Drori, the Chief Rabbi of Qiryat Shemonah and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva and Rav Haim Druckman. The exception was made in light of their thirty years of experience in conversion. Rav Druckman, while he was a member of Knesset, was unable to be physically present at a large number of conversions, which did have a presence of three recognized musmakhim. In order to formally validate the conversions, he signed the certificates based upon the valid actions of the actual panel of rabbis. This behavior was called to Rav Druckman's attention. Rav Druckman was called in by both R. Avraham Schapira zatzal and yibadel le-hayyim arukim ule-refu'ah shleima Rav Mordekhai Eliyahu shlita. They told him to stop signing such certificates.
Both emphatically added that no big deal should be made of this, because it was merely an administrative matter and DID NOT AFFECT THE VALIDITY OF THE GERUS. Furthermore, they ruled that the acts of one Bet Din should not be questioned by another.

So, Rav Sherman's personal invective is of no halakhic validity. Rav Druckman's response is here.

The Dayyanim with whom I spoke surmised that the result will likely be a tremendous Hillul HaShem, compounded by having the anti-religious Supreme Court adjudicate this case. However, the court will likely emancipate the Minhal le-Giyyur from the supervision of the regular Shas/Degel Ha-Torah/Agudat Yisrael dominated Battei Din.

Maybe, just maybe, מעז ייצא מתוק.

[UPDATE: On Shabbat I had the opportunity to read R. Sherman's decision. Interestingly, he devotes over 75% of his attention to demolishing R. Druckman, 15% to deconstructing R. Daichovsky, and only 10% to the case under consideration.]

R. Sherman's ruling is now available on-line at: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/Sherman%20Psak-2.pdf

If you have trouble with the download, e-mail me at: woolfj@gmail.com.