Sunday, 16 July 2017

“Ki Mitziyon Tetze Torah Udvar Hashem Mirushalayim” (From Zion Shall Torah come forth and Hashem’s word from Jerusalem) Part II

This is the second article addressing the Yisraeli Rabbinic authority and the relationship between Yisrael, Zion, the Spiritual Center of the Jewish people and the Diaspora Jewish community.

I believe many would agree that keeping a unified Jewish community has never been an easy task. However, it is sharing the same tradition, Torah, Written and Oral Torah as well as Halacha despite the differing customs and observations between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews, which has been the key to our survival as a nation.

The rulings made by the traditionally appointed Jewish authorities, rulings that were based on Torah and Halacha were not always to everyone’s liking. Some found them too harsh, painful, demanding and even unfair. Have Civil law and the rulings of the appointed Civil Court that made certain decisions always been to everyone’s liking? Did they always please all? What about those times when the rulings by both the Civil Court or the Rabbinical one were fair and even lighter than was called for because of mitigating circumstances?

Let me cite some examples of such rulings, some personal ones.

Both my parents, as many know, were Shoah survivors. They came from different backgrounds. My mother came from a modern, educated and wealthy family. My father from a religious one and a poor one. They met in the labour camps. My mother got pregnant during the war and gave birth to my brother three months after they were liberated. My brother was born out of wedlock, at least so I thought.

They moved to Yisrael in 1949. They were still unmarried. Did the Rabbinate ask them to rush to register to get married according to Jewish law? Did they torment them? Did they question them, forcing them to prove their Jewishness? Did they act in any inhumane way? NO!

 After the testimony of witnesses who testified that they had been together for several years, they were accepted as a married couple for all intents and purposes.

It was only when I was in high school that I found out that my parents never had a proper Chuppah. One day, I asked my mother to see their Ketubah. She told me they had none. It hit me like a thunder. I could not sleep that night. I had an exam the following day and asked to be excused from it. The fear that I may not be considered Jewish, that I am illegitimate, that I will never be able to be married in accordance with Jewish Law, tore me apart.

I decided to go to our town’s Rabbi, Rabbi Sokolover to ask his opinion.

“Your parents are considered married in accordance with Halacha,” he reassured me. “There are many couples like your parents. Halacha recognizes their marriage even if they do not have a Ketubah.” What a relief it was for me. I was Jewish. I was legitimate.

The Rabbinate was also accommodating on another issue that was close to me. One of the 613 Mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah prohibits against tattooing one’s body.    Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:28 commands us: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for a dead person; you shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves. I am God.”

Again, I will raise the issue of the Shoah. What were Mr. and Mrs. Gutter, our neighbours and my parents’ closest friends, along with many other Shoah survivors supposed to do about the tattooed numbers branded on their arms when they were but children in Terezin? Would the Torah prohibit them from being buried in a Jewish cemetery? Did the Rabbinate compel them to go have their tattoos removed surgically because it was against Torah or Halacha?

Again, rabbinical opinions on the subject are as numerous as those expressing them. I will not list them here. I will, however, share with you one story which touched me deeply:
A woman once asked Rabbi Ephraim Oshry (1914-2003), the well-known posek who wrote responsa during the Holocaust, if she could remove her concentration camp tattoo via plastic surgery. He advised Holocaust survivors not to remove their tattoos, but rather to wear them as badges of honor (Teshuvot Mima’amakim 4:22).

One final example to prove my point of the humanness of the Rabbinate.  A couple of American friends of mine who emigrated to Yisrael in the 1980’s was childless. They decided to adopt two orphans from Brazil, a boy and a girl. Their mother was not Jewish which meant that the children were not.  The boy had to undergo a Brit Milah, naturally. However, did the Rabbinate pile a whole bunch of hurdles in front of my friends as far as declaring the girl Jewish? Did they make life miserable for them demanding that the girl go through proper Halachic conversion? NO!

My friends were invited to the Rabbinical Court where they were asked how they intended to raise their children. After a series of questions, the Rabbis decreed that the Jewish education which my friends were going to rear the children in was proper and satisfactory to warrant them Jewish status and they approved their request.

 There are many more such examples. I am certain, though, that for each example I provided here, many would rush to provide instances to prove the opposite. Indeed, the Rabbinate may not always make life easy for everyone but to portray it as the epitome of all evil is unfair and wrong.

Please stop and think. Do we, Jews, wish to keep our unique Jewish identity? Now that we have our own Jewish Homeland back, do we want to lose it by flooding it with those who may bring along with them foreign practices which might water down our strong and powerful essence, an essence that withstood the turmoil of time? “The proof is in the pudding,” as they say in English. And the pudding has proved to be the best one. Why then change its recipe? Why fix our well cemented national fortitude if it “ain’t broken?”


  1. Great second part to a very important and quite troubling topic. It is one that I think about ad nauseam. While I don't want to get into the topic in-depth here, as it would cause too much controversy, I will simply express myself via the following points:

    - Regardless of the movement or group you identify with, one thing should be clear: Eretz Yisrael is the Land that HaShem chose for Himself and for his Nation Am Yisrael. If you don't believe this, you (and I) don't deserve to be there.

    - If you wish to live in Eretz Yisrael or even visit as a Jew, again, regardless of the movement or group you identify with, you should accept that HaShem gave the Torah - written and oral as well as the 613 Mitzvot. This should be the baseline for each and everyone. And by the way 613 Mitzvot sound like a lot, but one can only do between 271 (per חפץ חיים - Choffetz Chaim) and 369 (per ספר החינוך - The Book of Education / Chinuch) of them today, depending on who you ask. Have you ever thought about how many secular laws you follow day to day? More than those numbers, I can guarantee you that.

    - If everyone that considers themselves religious would do this, perhaps it would give the Rabbinic Authority a good reason to open themselves up to being more accepting of those outside of the norm (as it exists in Eretz Yisrael). If everyone were to accept this basic foundation of TORAH MITZVOT, then issues relating to converts, marriages, who gets to worship at the Kotel would shrink... Why? Because most of these struggles are that political and not religious in nature would no longer have a leg to stand on.

    - I don't know how this can be fixed before Mashiah comes, but my wish is to see all movements disappear. They are only divisive and only push the Nation from accomplishing its goal of repairing the world תיקון עולם (Tikkun Olam) and being a light unto the nations אור לגויים (Or LaGoyim). We should only have people who observe on one side, others who don't on the other, and people who are in-between that are learning with שמחה (Simcha - joy) from those who can teach them. Beyond that, other differences should be welcome to enrich one's knowledge and appreciation of one's fellow Jews... "You are Sephardi and I am Ashkenazi? Great, teach me more about your customs and I'll teach you mine." The same goes with Chassidut and many other vibrant colors of Judaism. Show me, teach me, so that I can understand...

    If we all have the same foundation and believe in it (TORAH MITZVOT), then the other layers that we add can only enrich one's understand of others, which can only lead to more AHAVAT AM YISRAEL, and in turn AHAVAT HASHEM. Unfortunately this is easier said than done...

    1. Steven, this s the BEST comment, I have read on the subject. You are not only a scholar but a true Jewish scholar. Excellent references and simply THE BEST!!!! Thank you!

    2. Thank you for the kindest words. I am hardly a scholar - I just speak from the heart - I just want WHAT IS BEST FOR AM YISRAEL. I originally held back from posting these thoughts as I wrote them two days ago with very little sleep in my system.

      B'ezrat HaShem, one day I'll measure up to the title of scholar... One can never know enough, and the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Jewish wisdom is almost endless, but luckily it all stems from the ONE AND ONLY TORAH THAT HASHEM GAVE US 3,329 YEARS AGO. It is important to keep this in mind and not lose focus as we, as individuals, embark across the wild seas of knowledge that make up the richness of Judaism.

    3. G-d Bless you, Steven, you and yours always :-)