Monday, June 30, 2008

Shalev Ben Ya’akov

I know this guy from way back...he's a real neshome. Check out this article about him and don't miss the audio!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Jerusalem Calatrava Bridge: Inaugurated But Not Finished

In spite of the lavish inauguration ceremony, the bridge is still closed to the public. It needs a few finishing touches:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 11)

Not too long ago Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote the following:
Rabbi Druckman’s supporters have not responded to a single one of Rabbi Sherman’s charges in halachic language. They have thus added fuel to the fire of those who believe that the DL camp is incapable of dealing responsibly with sophisticated Torah thinking. Rabbi Sherman may or may not be right, but he raises important issues.
This is line with what I wrote in my first post on the subject:
Any attempt to deal with this ruling in an emotional and non-Halachic manner is doomed to fail. Halachic issues are not solved by screams, petitions and mass gatherings. Those that think otherwise are fooling only themselves.
Finally a well known rabbi from the National Religious camp has dealt with at least some of the issues halachically. In this week's issue of BeSheva (not on line yet) Rabbi Eliezer Melamed takes on the High Rabbinic Court's decision. His main point is that the rabbinic judges of the High Court erred in labeling the Conversion Court judges as "evil", claiming that the High Court is not familiar with the reality with regards to the intention of the converts and the conduct of the Conversion Courts.

Frankly I'm pretty disappointed with the article. Although Rabbi Melamed makes some good points, much of the article is an appeal to our feelings. He paints a picture of a family that was murdered in the holocaust and this "convert" is the only remnant left. He tells us a story about a Lithuanian Rosh Yeshiva that arranged a conversion for his long lost relatives within a week. He surmises that the High Rabbinic Court's bad judgment (in his opinion) was caused by the fact that they are used to degrading National Religious Torah scholars. There is no mention of the "forgery affair" whatsoever.

I have to admit that the article is much better than the pep rallies with kippah clad cheerleaders or homilies on the Book of Ruth. However, I expected a much deeper halachic discussion. Perhaps BeSheva is not the proper platform for that kind of article.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jerusalem Calatrava Bridge: Inauguration Tonight

The city of Jerusalem will mark 40 years of reunification with a spectacular celebration and public inauguration of the bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava on June 25,2008.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin, Seven Dirty Words and Our Living Soul

The the passing away of comedian George Carlin conjures up certain childhood memories. I remember when my brother bought the album "Class Clown". We laughed hysterically. I don't think that our parents liked the album too much. The "Seven Dirty Words" clearly upset them, but they were powerless to do anything about it. I have no doubt that the amount of dirty words in my everyday speech skyrocketed as a result of listening to Carlin's clowning.

As I mentioned we laughed hysterically. Unfortunately I did not know then what I know now. Profane language pollutes one's soul. It is bad to hear it, and it is even worse to speak it.

It is well known that the faculty of speech is one of the things that separates man from the rest of the animal kingdom. "Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The words for living soul in Hebrew is "Nefesh Chaya". Targum Onkelos translates this into Aramaic as "Ru'ach Memalela", a speaking spirit. This extra vitality that is in man is expressed by his speech, for better or worse.

The Torah requires us to guard our tongues. Dirty language, tale bearing, slander, etc. are out of bounds. Old habits may be hard to break, but it is worth it. When a person cleans up his speech he immediately feels that he has ascended to a higher level. Indeed he has.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 10)

I saw an article in HaTzofe that gave an answer to a question that I asked in one of my previous posts on this subject. Among other things, I wanted to know what Rabbi Rosen's halachic basis was for certifying the conversions .

Here is Rabbi Rosen quoted in HaTzofe:

שניהם, בנפרד, גערו ברב דרוקמן שהבטיח לא לשנות באיוולת זו, ושניהם הורו שלא לערוך גיור מחודש ואפילו לא להחליף תעודות מחשש לחילול השם. כמובן שקבלתי בשמחה ואישרתי את כל גיורי הרב דרוקמן

My translation:
Both of them [Rabbis Shapira zt"l and Eliyahu shli"ta] , in separate, castigated Rabbi Druckman who promised not to repeat this foolishness [of signing conversion certificates for conversions where he was not present] , and both of them instructed me not to perform a renewed conversion [i.e. the converts do not have to repeat the conversion ceremony] and even not to replace the certificates for the fear of desecrating God's holy name. As is understood I received [this instruction] happily and I certified all of Rabbi Druckman's conversions.

So here it is, black on white, that the former Chief Rabbis ruled that the conversions are just fine in spite of the "forgeries", and as Rabbi Rosen wrote:
With regards to the conversions that were already performed - since in the end there were three rabbis that sat in judgment, the conversion is valid because the certificate as a document is not necessary according to Jewish law, and even if there is 'a forgery in it' this does not harm the conversion. As is understood that such a decision intrinsically implies that he who signed [Rabbi Druckman] this kind of 'forgery', and also Rabbi Avior that caused [Rabbi Druckman] to sign because of a certain interest, and is himself [Rabbi Avior] a signatory as well, there is nothing in all this to cast a personal blemish or illegitimacy to judge [on Rabbi Druckman or Rabbi Avior].

Now I need to try to understand Rabbi Sherman shli"ta and his esteemed colleagues in the Great Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. In their ruling they quote Rabbi Rosen at length, obviously accepted what he wrote as reliable. The head of the court, Rabbi Sherman wrote:
Among all of the voluminous material that exists in the file on the conduct of the Merkaz Shapira Conversion Court, and the conduct of the Court President Rabbi Druckman and his deputy Rabbi Y. Avior, I did not find any reaction, responsum or opinion by any expert rabbinic authority to the piercing halachic questions of Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, former head of the Conversion Administration.

Nu, because they found nothing in the file they decided to answer Rabbi Rosen's questions by themselves, arriving at conclusions that have serious implications for the converts. They mention that Rabbi Rosen sent questions concerning the matter to Rabbis Shapira zt"l and Eliyahu shli"ta. However, did they bother asking Rabbi Rosen if he received an answer from the Chief Rabbis? Although the answer received from the former Chief Rabbis was apparently oral, Rabbi Sherman obviously considers Rabbi Rosen's testimony reliable since he quoted him at length, as I have already mentioned!

At his point, as far as I am concerned, the instructions of two former Chief Rabbis outweigh the deliberations of Rabbi Sherman and his court. To be continued.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 9)

On Shabbat I asked a fairly well known rabbi if he read Rabbi Sherman's ruling. He replied that he read a draft of it. I asked him what does he think about it and he replied curtly, in a tone that bordered on rebuke, that he does not want to talk about it. He added that I can ask him a question about any subject except conversion. Looking back on the incident, I think that the rabbi would have been more willing to talk were it not for the fact that there were many other people listening. The subject is a hot potato!

Later on I was more successful. I had the opportunity to discuss the issue privately to a different rabbi who is a dayan (a religious court judge) that serves in the court of one of Israel's major cities. He told me that he read the ruling. He agreed with me that the "Religious Zionist versus ultra-Orthodox" media spin was misleading. In his opinion, the issues involved are far too complex to be dealt with by the media. He also told me the following:

- Evaluating the intentions of converts with regards to keeping the commandments is not always a simple matter.

- The wording of the documents that Rabbi Druckman signed, "In a council of three we sat and came before us...and we checked...and accepted the commandments in front of us etc.", is problematic for someone who was not there. (Sometimes a judge will add his signature to "certify" a "ma'avad" or "ma'ase beit din" that was already signed by three other judges that were present).

- However, he thinks that Rabbi Sherman and his court went too far in classifying Rabbi Druckman as being invalid to bear witness and to judge.

- There are difficult cases that come before judges where "everybody is right".

And so it goes. Keep tuned for updates.

Windows of Opportunity

Jerusalem is not only in the capital of the State of Israel but also the capital of the Jewish People. And as such, Jews from all over the world come to visit here. Many of those coming have no idea of what being a Jew really means. For them, being a Jew is a label that they carry. If being a Jew means belonging to a certain religion, then it is a religion which they know almost nothing about. What's worse, the version of Judaism that they were exposed to is usually a mixture of all kinds of other doctrines sprinkled with Jewish ritual which is both watered down and dehydrated at the same time. If being a Jew is being part of an ethnic group, well who really cares? Is chopped liver better than pizza or chicken chow mein?

Since the days of the Holy Temple the inhabitants of Jerusalem have had the privilege and obligation to host Jews that come from all over Israel and all over the world. Since I've set my home up here in the holy city I have done my best to be part of this tradition. Over twenty five years ago Jewish families opened their homes and hearts to me and gave me the chance to see what Judaism was all about. By opening up my home I "return the favor" and fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality, a tradition going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

Often our guests are "one timers". They came to Israel on a special program like "Birthright" for an intensive week or two, and we never see or hear from them again. They are usually greatly impressed by what they have seen on their trip. Seeing Jews living as nation in their own land, the land of the Bible, is a stark contrast to the Diaspora experience where Jews are at best a tolerated and at worst a hated minority. Seeing Jerusalem's Friday traffic being replaced by almost empty streets on Shabbat brings about an appreciation of the holiness of the Sabbath which is difficult to attain when living among the gentiles.

These young visitors may not know it, but a window of opportunity has been opened for them. They have been given a chance to understand what being a Jew is really all about! The gates of the land of Israel have been opened for them. The gates of Torah have been opened for them. Will they enter? Will they be able to break away from the inertia of the life plans that they have already made? Will they be able to give the boot to seeking material gratification in search of something much higher? Will they return to their "hometowns", where the chance of assimilation is high, or will they "re-Jewvinate" themselves and hook up with their nation?

Their situation reminds me of what is described in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. Naomi, after losing her husband and two sons, decides to return to her home in Bethlehem. Her Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah accompany her on the way. Naomi tells them that they are better off staying in Moab:
And Naomi said: 'Turn back, my daughters; why will ye go with me? have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say: I have hope, should I even have an husband to-night, and also bear sons; would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye shut yourselves off for them and have no husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes, for the hand of the LORD is gone forth against me.'

Orpah listens and heads back. Ruth however is not willing. The time that she spent with Naomi and her family has changed her.
And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'

Everyone knows that Ruth merited being the "Mother of Monarchy" in that King David was her great grandson. Less well known is Orpah's fate. The rabbis say that she descended to the depths of depravity. I'll spare you the details.

I imagine if Orpah knew what the future held, she probably would have gone the extra mile like Ruth. Unfortunately for her, when the window of opportunity was open she failed to take advantage of it. Ruth had the wisdom and courage to cling to her mother in law and her God, for which she was richly rewarded.

HH #170

Soccer Dad did it. Here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jerusalem Calatrava Bridge: Really Strung Up

Up until recently the bridge was being supported by yellow metal supports. You can see them in this old post. Now the supports are gone, and the only thing holding the bridge up are those metal cords:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conversion According To Hillel

In this week's issue of BeSheva Rabbi Eliezer Melamed once again writes about conversion. As usual the article is informative and interesting. Here is my translation of things that I found interesting in particular. As usual the words in square brackets are additions for the sake of clarity:
Which judges should sit in the [conversion] courts, should they be realistic and suspicious like the students of Shamai the Elder, according to the demand of the rabbis of the Lithuanian [Eastern European ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic] public; or innocent and credit giving like the students of Hillel the Elder, according to the position of many rabbis of the National Religious public? The answer to this is found in the summary of the section of the Talmud that deals with the issue. The rabbis said (Shabbat 31A) Later on the three [converts that Shammai did not want to convert and afterwards were converted by Hillel] met. They said, "Shammai's impatience almost drove us out [of the World to Come], Hillel's humility brought us under the wings of the Divine Presence."

And even though Shammai had very serious claims, since according to his estimation they [the prospective converts] did not intend to keep mitzvot, and [in this estimation] he probably had what to rely upon, since many times judges that went in the way of the House of Hillel received converts that in the end returned to their deviation [i.e. did not keep the mitzvot]. And in spite of this the words of the Gemara teach us to conduct ourselves according to Hillel's opinion.

...It is good that rabbis that tend to kindness and believing people sit in the conversion court, that they we be more readily convinced that the intention of the convert is to fulfill the mitzvot, and many times it turns out that were more correct than those that tend to be suspicious. And after the court was convinced that the convert intends to keep the mitzvot, they are obliged to convert him, and after he converted - he is like a Jew in every way.

Surely it is reasonable to determine, that a court, when it becomes clear that after five years most of its converts are not keeping the Sabbath, should desist from converting. Indeed the converts that it converted are Jews in every way, but since it turned out that these righteous judges tend to believe the converts too much, it is correct that they should retire from the conversion court. However as long as this has not been proven, it is good that they should continue to judge and convert the offspring of Jews and their spouses - according to their best judgment. It was not for nothing that the Holy One blessed be He created [the trait of] innocence, since sometimes only with it [innocence] it is possible to cope with difficult problems.
Rabbi Melamed promises something that many of us have been waiting for:
Indeed I planned to analyze the roots of the painful affair [i.e. the conversion crisis], however in the wake of many questions I had to expand upon the halachic foundations [of conversion], and with Heaven's help the next time I will try to write words of truth about the public scandal concerning conversion.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remembering Gush Katif

Talmud Torah Morasha in Jerusalem put on an exhibition in honor of 60 years of Israeli independence.

Among the exhibits:

If someone thought that Gush Katif would be forgotten quickly, they were mistaken.

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 8)

In spite of the fact that there are those that disagree with me, I insist that the "forged conversion certificates" issue is important, perhaps even crucial, to understanding and perhaps solving the conversion crisis. It seems to me, a simple layman, that without "the Rabbi Rosen letters", the cases of Rabbis Atiya and Sherman for casting doubt on at least some of the conversions of the Merkaz Shapira Rabbinical Court would be much weaker.

Perhaps this post should be titled, "The Conversion Crisis: The Missing Document". It seems to me that a very important document is missing from the case. From section 6 of Rabbi Avraham Sherman's ruling we learn that Rabbi Rosen wrote a letter to former Chief Rabbis Shapira zt"l and Eliyahu shli"ta and asked the following questions (the words in square brackets were added by me for the sake of clarity):

מה לעשות עם כל "מעשי בי"ד הידועים לי כ"זיוף", ואשר טרם נמסרו למתגיירים, האם לדרוש החלפתם בחתימת השמות הנכונים?

What should be done with the conversion certificates that I know are "forgeries", but have not been passed on to the converts, should I request that they be replaced with the signatures of the correct names?

מה לעשות עם כל "מעשי בי"ד הידועים לי כ"זיוף", ואשר כבר נמסרו למתגיירים. האם לדרוש החלפתם בחתימת השמות הנכונים? (היבט חמור של חילול ה'!)

What should be done with the conversion certificates that I know are "forgeries", and have already been passed on to the converts, should I request that they be replaced with the signatures of the correct names? (A serious aspect of the desecration of God's name)

מה לעשות בעוד 120-150 "מעשי בי"ד שאותו רב פלוני חתום עליהם במהלך מחצית השנה האחרונה? האם לברר נוכחותו עם המתגיירים במישרין או בעקיפין? חשוב לציין כי אותו רב פלוני מוכר בציבור, ומתגיירים יגלו בעתיד את ה"זיוף", וכדי בזיון וקצף!

What should I do with an additional 120-150 conversion certificates that Rabbi Ploni[Druckman] is signed on during the last half year? Should I clarify his presence with the converts directly or indirectly? It is important to note that Rabbi Ploni[Druckman] is well known, and the converts will reveal the "forgery" in the future, and this will cause much humiliation and wrath [RYR is citing Esther 1:18].

האם אותם פלוני ואלמוני, יכולים להמשיך ולשבת בדין גירות?

Can Ploni [Rabbi Druckman] and Almoni [Rabbi Avior] continue to sit in the conversion court?

ונפשי בשאלתי, למי עלי לדווח או להגיש תלונה אם בכלל?

And my soul in my question [RYR is citing Esther 7:3], who should I report to and issue a complaint if at all?

Now these are heavy duty questions that were posed to two of the greatest rabbis of our generation. What was their answer? Did they answer RYR in writing? If so, does their answer include their halachic reasoning, or did they answer each question without bothering to supply sources?

Rabbi Avraham Sherman wrote in the same section of his ruling:

בכל החומר הרב שמצוי בתיק התנהלותו של בית הדין לגיור במרכז שפירא, והתנהלות אב בית הדין הרב דרוקמן וסגנו הרב י. אביאור, לא מצאתי כל תגובה, תשובה או חוו"ד של גורם רבני תורני בר סמכא, לשאלותיו ההלכתיות הנוקבות של הרב ישראל רוזן, ראש מנהל הגיור לשעבר.

Among all of the voluminous material that exists in the file on the conduct of the Merkaz Shapira Conversion Court, and the conduct of the Court President Rabbi Druckman and his deputy Rabbi Y. Avior, I did not find any reaction, responsum or opinion by any expert rabbinic authority to the piercing halachic questions of Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, former head of the Conversion Administration.

I think we can assume if the file contained an responsum from Rabbis Shapira zt"l and/or Eliyahu shli"ta, RAS would not have dismissed them in such a way. On the other hand, is RAS hinting that there was some kind of responsum in the file, but by rabbis who are not "experts" in his eyes?

Rabbi Rosen wrote in one of his letters:
With regards to the conversions that were already performed - since in the end there were three rabbis that sat in judgment, the conversion is valid because the certificate as a document is not necessary according to Jewish law, and even if there is 'a forgery in it' this does not harm the conversion. As is understood that such a decision intrinsically implies that he who signed [Rabbi Druckman] this kind of 'forgery', and also Rabbi Avior that caused [Rabbi Druckman] to sign because of a certain interest, and is himself [Rabbi Avior] a signatory as well, there is nothing in all this to cast a personal blemish or illegitimacy to judge [on Rabbi Druckman or Rabbi Avior].
After this "move" - I was calmed and did not investigate the subject further. From my perspective the affair was over.

RYR does not explicitly tell us who made this decision. If one looks at the original letter the wording is vague. It could be understood that this is the answer that he received to his letter to the Chief Rabbis, but this is certainly not stated explicitly. If RYR did receive a written response from the Chief Rabbis, this could certainly help solve the crisis. If the response was oral, I don't think that it will carry much weight. What's more, it seems strange to me that RYR would have settled for anything less than a detailed written response to the questions that he asked.

So I ask, what was their answer, and if it is in writing, where is it?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 7)

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, whose articles about Jewish law are almost always enlightening and thought provoking, wrote an article in last week's issue of BeSheva entitled "Shmirat Mitzvot KeTnai LeGiur" (Keeping the Commandments as a Condition for Conversion). The article stresses the importance of the prospective convert accepting upon himself to observe the Torah. I recommend that all of you that understand Hebrew read the article.

With regards to the conversion crisis Rabbi Melamed wrote the following:

כל העקרונות שהזכרתי עד כה עומדים בבסיס המדיניות המנחה את בתי הדין לגיור של הרבנות הראשית, ובכללם בית דינו של הרב דרוקמן.

All of the principles that I have mentioned so far stand at the base of the policy that guides the conversion courts of the Chief Rabbinate, including the court of Rabbi Druckman.
That's just splendid. However, Rabbi Sherman and his court apparently feel otherwise, and they accuse Rabbi Druckman's court of not following these guidelines, i.e. of not making sure that the prospective converts are serious about keeping the mitzvot. Personally I would like to see evidence in order to judge the merits of these conflicting claims.

Rabbi Melamed makes no mention of the forged conversion protocols, which is perhaps the most serious issue raised by Rabbi Sherman and his court. Instead he finishes the article with the following:

עוד חשבתי להוסיף דברים קשים על השערורייה שחוללו דיינים בבית הדין העליון, אבל נגמר המקום, ואולי טוב שכך, כי מי יודע, אולי בינתיים יחזרו בתשובה, ולא נצטרך לדבר עוד בזה.

I thought to add harsh words with regards to the scandal caused by the rabbinic judges of the Upper Court, however the space [allotted in the newspaper for his article] is [already] used up, and perhaps this is for the good, for who knows, perhaps they will repent in the meantime, and we will not need to speak more about this.
Somehow I don't think that Rabbis Sherman, Izirer and Scheinfeld are going to "repent" so quickly. In any case I left the following comment on the internet addition of his article:

I am interested in hearing the rabbi's opinion with regards to the forging of rabbinic court protocols by Rabbis Druckman and Avior as was documented by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen and quoted in the ruling of Rabbi Sherman.

Let's see if Rabbi Melamed will respond.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Does She Talk in Two Parts?

HH #169 is up at "Writes Like She Talks". She put it up in two parts, I and II. Does she also talk in two parts?

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 6)

Here's my transaltion of an interesting letter to Rabbi Yisrael Rosen and his even more interesting answer as posted on the Tzomet web site (hat tip: Rav Tzair). Rabbi Rosen's response sheds much light on how Rabbi Sherman's ruling is affecting him as well as many converts. The response also raises quite a few questions and things that I would like to comment on. In the meantime I am posting it as it is without my interjections. I do not claim that this is an exact translation, although I did my best. Words in square brackets were added by me for the sake of clarity:

Dear Rabbi Yisrael Rosen.

Do you confirm what was said in your name in Rabbi Sherman's ruling concerning Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior (concerning the forgeries)? If so - why did you take part in the rally in support of Rabbi Druckman? These are not vexing questions [i.e. in order to vex you] - I want to know since I learn in Rabbi Druckman's yeshiva, and it is important for me to clarify the subject from its source. Excuse [me], and thanks in advance.

The question is not clear to me.
I unqualifiedly support all of the conversions of The Conversion System, including those that were performed by the most lenient [rabbis] (and there are those that say that I am among them...).
The Conversion System is one of my life works, and ever since the ruling I walk bent over and am worried about what will be. Quite a few converts telephoned me in tears, and I had to use all of my power of persuasion in order to calm them.
I took part in the assembly of the Tzohar rabbis in order to express my support in all the conversions, including Rabbi Druckman's conversions, including the years 99-2005 that with regards to them the Great Rabbinic Court, as if it were possible, invalidated. At the end of the assembly they requested signatures - and I signed unqualifiedly.

In the [Hebrew] year of 5760, it seems to me, when I was the head of The Conversion Administration, it suddenly became clear that Rabbi Druckman occasionally signs rabbinic court rulings [i.e. conversion certificates] which he did not take part in. In the wording of the ruling it is said that the signatories confirm that the convert came before them, and that they checked him and found him suitable and he took upon himself [to fulfill] the commandments in front of them [i.e. in their presence] and the like - this wording is truly impossible for one that did not sit in judgment at all.
I did not know what to with myself because of the responsibility that was upon me, and what I must do halachically, publicly and ...legally.

I reported this to [then Ashkenazic Chief] Rabbi Lau , who was my supervisor, and at his suggestion, and perhaps it was my suggestion and with his agreement (I do not remember), I turned to [former Chief] Rabbis Shapira (of blessed memory) and Eliyahu (may he live a long life) to ask them what I should do, and similarly if I should inform these converts and give them a new rabbinic court ruling[i.e. a new conversion certificate signed by the rabbis that were really present]. In order to fulfill my administrative obligation (and perhaps [my] legal and ethical [one]), I put my questions and concerns in writing, in a letter to Rabbis Shapira and Eliyahu that was quoted in the present ruling. By the way, in my letter I accused Rabbi Avior of causing Rabbi Druckman to stumble in this [matter], and I explained the reason why he did this.

To the best of my memory both of them (in separate) called Rabbi Druckman and woke up his ear [i.e.discussed the matter with him] (I did not take part in the meetings. This is what I heard from their confidants) and he on his part promised that such events would not be repeated.
With regards to the conversions that were already performed - since in the end there were three rabbis that sat in judgment, the conversion is valid because the certificate as a document is not necessary according to Jewish law, and even if there is 'a forgery in it' this does not harm the conversion. As is understood that such a decision intrinsically implies that he who signed [Rabbi Druckman] this kind of 'forgery', and also Rabbi Avior that caused [Rabbi Druckman] to sign because of a certain interest, and is himself [Rabbi Avior] a signatory as well, there is nothing in all this to cast a personal blemish or illegitimacy to judge [on Rabbi Druckman or Rabbi Avior].
After this "move" - I was calmed and did not investigate the subject further. From my perspective the affair was over.

At the end of that year I finished my job. The file with the correspondence and its addendum remained in the offices of the rabbinic court management. Years later I heard that the file 'became thicker' with additional events that I have no knowledge of.

It is superfluous to mention, that I never raised a waggling of an argumentation that, as if it were possible, because of this deed Rabbi Druckman should be personally invalid to judge ( and perhaps to testify etc.) as the judges in the Great Rabbinic court impudently argue. It is superfluous to mention that I did not transfer anything to the media, and until I read Rabbi Sherman's ruling I did not at all know that this old material was included in it, and use was made of it that is totally out of proportion.

It is not clear to me what - and perhaps who - brought you to turn to me. In any case I saw fit to clarify [this matter] and you can make fair use of my words by distributing them, or bringing them to whoever thinks that perhaps I have a hand in this trespass.

And be a blessing,

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Kahane Biography

Recently I read the new biography of Rabbi Meir Kahane z"l, Rabbi Meir Kahane, His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975.

This biography is special in a number of ways. The author, Rabbanit Libby Kahane, was the rabbi's wife, and as such is able to give us the "inside story" behind the man who made the headlines. From time to time she calmly and decisively refutes the false claims of previous biographers. Almost everything she writes is meticulously documented. The author's knowledge as a librarian helped her to draw on a vast range of sources including FBI files made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

For those of us who were alive in the 1960s and 1970s, this book is a walk down Memory Lane. Those were turbulent years, and the various protests and struggles of that time play a central role in the book. It was Rabbi Meir Kahane that came to the rescue of the Jews that were the victims of inner city violence by forming the Jewish Defense League. It was Rabbi Kahane that succeeded in putting the plight of Soviet Jewry on page one of the newspapers and on the evening TV newscasts. The Rabbi even made headlines as a prisoner in Allenwood Federal Prison in his struggle to secure the right to kosher food for Jewish prisoners all over the country.

The book also reminds us things that have been forgotten with the passage of time. For instance, who remembers that in the early 1970s Rabbi Kahane was highly admired by politicians and journalists here in Israel for his militant stance, protecting Jews whether they be in the Bronx or in Moscow? Unfortunately, Rabbi Kahane lost this sympathy when he pointed out the inherent contradiction in the idea of a state that is Jewish as well as democratic. No one was able to answer his simple question: If the Arabs become the majority, do they have the right to vote the Jewish State out of existence? Lacking a genuine intellectual response, his opponents responded with long winded diatribes that avoided the question and hapless ad hominem arguments. (It is interesting to note that today the Israeli Left says quite openly that they are not interested in a Jewish State but rather "a state of all of its citizens", something which they would not admit 20 years ago.)

The book also mentions Rabbi Kahane's struggle for Torah Judaism and Jewish education. Rabbi Kahane understood the young American Jews of my generation. The Judaism which we were raised upon, which had been Conserved, Reformed, and Reconstructed to death, was a pathetic creed whose god was created in the image of man and as such was subordinate to him. He understood that the High-Holiday-fashion-show Judaism which we were exposed to was a wretched lie which would be soundly rejected by young people that loathe hypocrisy. Indeed, how few of us, products of the Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist Bar/Bat Mitzvah factories, ended up marrying Jewish! Rabbi Kahane foresaw this disaster and did his best to prevent it.

In short, I highly recommend this book. I can't wait for Volume Two!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 5)

This week's volume of "Me'at Min HaOr" (A Little Bit From the Light), Rabbi Chanan Porat's parsha sheet, features an article by Rabbi Druckman on the front page. It is a nice dvar Torah, certainly worth reading. I hoped for naught that the rabbi would mention something about the conversion crisis.

However, Rabbi Porat, in his column "Midrashir", praises Rabbi Druckman and then adds the following:
על כן כמה צר ומר פסק דינם של כמה דיינים שהעיזו פנים להטיל בו דופי ולפסול את הגיורים שגייר בלא לשמוע אפילו מה בפיו. חובת המחאה על ביזוי תלמיד חכם מוטלת על כולנו ולה אנו שותפים ב'מעט מן האור'.

ברכתנו שלוחה לרב דרוקמן שליט"א שימשיך ללכת על פי ה' ויוסף לקדש שם שמים ברבים ללא מורא וללא חת
My translation:
Therefore how narrow and bitter is the ruling of a few rabbinic court judges that acted impudently to defame him and to invalidate the conversions that he performed without hearing what he had to say. The obligation to protest the degradation of a Torah scholar is incumbent upon us all and we at "Me'at Min HaOr" are partners to this [obligation].

Our blessing is sent to Rabbi Druckman (may he live a long life) that he will continue to go according to God and to fearlessly sanctify the name of Heaven in public.
Let's take a look at this and see if this statement is "A Little Bit From the Light" or something else entirely.

"Therefore how narrow and bitter is the ruling of a few rabbinic court judges that acted impudently to defame him and to invalidate the conversions that he performed without hearing what he had to say."

If we are concerned with the honor of Torah scholars, this includes the rabbinic court judges who for some reason are not mentioned here by name.

The claim that they invalidated the conversions is also not exact. Rabbi Rosen got it right when he wrote, "The ruling casts a doubt on myriads of conversions (and their offspring), but does not invalidate them in a sweeping manner (each case should be considered on its own)."

Rabbi Porat raises an interesting point with by saying that the judges did not hear what Rabbi Druckman had to say. This is what Rabbi Druckman told Arutz 7:
"הרב אברהם שרמן שהיה אב בית הדין בדיון, פרסם אותו לפני כשלושה חודשים בכנס דיינים כללי והרצה עליו, והזכיר אותי ב"תוארי כבוד" רבים, תוך כדי אמירת גיבובי דברים. בעקבות ההרצאה הזאת טלפנו אלי דיינים כשהם מזועזעים מכך, שבלי לדבר איתי או לשמוע את הצד שלנו, הוא פרסם פסק דין כנגדי".

"רק שבוע לאחר הכנס הם הזמינו אותי לשמוע את דברי, לאחר שכבר היה פסק דין! הגעתי לדיון ואמרתי להם שבכך שהם פרסמו את פסק הדין בלי לשמוע את הצד שלנו, הם פסלו את עצמם מלדון, ופניתי לרב עמאר, שהורה להם שלא לפרסם שום פסק דין אלא להעביר אליו את התיק".

"יומיים לאחר ההחלטה של הרב עמאר הם פרסמו את הפסק, כל מאן דהוא מבין שזה כתב פלסתר. אלו דיינים? אלו לא יכולים להיות דיינים! דיינים, שכביכול באצטלה של בית דין, כותבים פסק בלי לשמוע את הצד המדובר, איך אפשר לעשות דבר כזה?", אמר הרב דרוקמן
Rabbi Druckman explains that before the ruling was made public Rabbi Sherman publicized it at a convention of rabbinic court judges. A week later they invited Rabbi Druckman to tell his side of the story. Rabbi Druckman told them that since they came to a decision without hearing him first, they invalidated themselves from adjudicating the matter. Rabbi Druckman notified Chief Rabbi Amar who instructed the court not to publicize the ruling. Two days later they publicized the ruling against the explicit instructions of Rabbi Amar who is the President of the Great Rabbinic Court.

In summary: They did not hear his side of the story. When they invited him to hear his side of the story he refused to tell it. In the meantime, I, and others like myself are waiting to hear Rabbi Druckman's response to the "forgery affair" as described by Rabbi Rosen.

"The obligation to protest the degradation of a Torah scholar is incumbent upon us all and we at "Me'at Min HaOr" are partners to this."

We also have an obligation to make sure that the special conversion courts are acting in accordance with Jewish Law. We have an obligation to demand that the rabbis that sit in the courts will not act in a way which will cast a doubt as to the validity of the conversions. We have the obligation to protest the continuing disinformation being circulated with regards to this affair which gives the impression of an attempted whitewash.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 4)

I've finally found something published on the matter that I agree with. In last Shabbat's Tzohar parsha sheet there was an article entitled "13 Principles of a Judge in the Conversion Court(Part 2)" by Rabbi Eliyahu Birnboim. Here is principle number 8:
I believe that conversion must be done according Jewish Law of [in accord to the way it has been done for] many generations, for the purpose of guarding the unity of the nation.

Conversion has to be a factor in keeping the unity of the nation of Israel and not a factor [that causes] its fragmentation. I have no doubt that the problem of the non-Jewish immigrants that cane to the land [of Israel] in accordance with the Law of Return demands the attention of the halacha and the rabbinic court[s], however the problem must be solved in a manner that will not harm internal unity. It is forbidden for us to create different types of conversion that will give legitimacy to some and will harm others. The conversion must be "conversion for all", in a manner that will be acceptable to everyone. To our dismay this is not the situation today in the State of Israel, wherein there is a division [according] to different groups and sectors. It is possible to hope that conversion itself will become, with the passage time, a solution to this problem, however in any event I am of the opinion that without this kind of conversion, the motivation for immigrants to convert will not be created.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 3)

It seems that the National Religious Party is on a trip to Strawberry Fields, the place where "nothing is real." In the last issue of "Kippah Achat" (vol.11) the conversion issue is mentioned several times. But for the NRP, "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see." The theme of "let's blame the ultra-Orthodox" while systematically ignoring the "forgery affair" of Rabbis Druckman and Avior repeats itself over and over again.

I encourage those of you that are concerned about this affair to download the document and see what I am talking about. I am not going to waste my time translating such cheap propaganda. I wonder, if the forgeries were perpetrated by Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak, would the NRP MKs be willing to whitewash it in such a shameless manner? Is there anyone wearing a knitted kippah who will demand accountability from the Beit Din in Merkaz Shapira?

Because I admire Rabbi Druckman I expect him to fully address the forgery issue that has been documented by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen. Continuing to ignore it will not help the converts harmed, nor will it bring voters to the NRP. Emet MeEretz Titzmach.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Chag Shavuot Sameach

HH #168


Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis (Part 2)

Here's an interesting question that was posed to Rabbi Yisrael Rosen and his answer:

B"H Iyar 5768, 5.08

To Rabbi Yisrael much peace,

I read the ruling that Rabbi Sherman wrote concerning the conversions, and I saw the he relied a great deal on things that you wrote as the head of the Conversion Administration about Rabbi Druckman's forged rabbinical court protocols. It seems to me that in the entire ruling these are the most serious things that are said against Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior.

If you in fact stand behind the things that you wrote why did you add your signature to the announcement protesting the insult to Rabbi Druckman, after all the Rabbinic Court that wrote the insulting things just quoted the words that you wrote?!

And in general, and in general, what is the truth in connection to the ousting of Rabbi Druckman under the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox, as has been publicized?


A. With regards to the ruling of Rabbi Sherman:

1. The ruling contains three parts: Chapters 2-5 deal with the stringent conversion policy, including the ability to retroactively invalidate a conversion fairly easily if the convert say that she did not keep [the Mitzvot] so much. The ruling casts a doubt on myriads of conversions (and their offspring), but does not invalidate them in a sweeping manner (each case should be considered on its own).

2. In chapters 6-9 the "forgery affair" of Rabbis Druckman and Avior is described. Rabbi Avior was accustomed to have Rabbi Druckman sign rabbinical court protocols which he was not present at (because without his signature the conversion would not be approved, even though three rabbis were actually present). The wording "In a council of three we sat and came before us...and we checked...and accepted the commandments in front of us etc." is not true. Details further on. Rabbi Sherman tends to personally invalidate Rabbis Druckman and Avior, and as a result all of their conversions since the year '99.

3. The third part deals with the authority of the Great Rabbinic Court regarding the Conversion Courts.

4. I totally censure the first and last part of Rabbi Sherman's ruling, and I publicized a very sharp stance against it in "Shabbat BeShabbato" (Parshat Behar). I signed with both hands on the Tzohar Rabbi's Manifest concerning this, which is completely acceptable to me, including the unqualified recognition of the conversions of Rabbis Druckman - Avior.

5. With regards to 'my part'; When it became known to me (in the year 2000 my last year as the head of the Conversion Administration) the 'sign on blind' procedure I was obligated to act by virtue of my position. In coordination with Chief Rabbi Lau, who was my supervisor, I turned to Rabbis Shapira (of blessed memory) and Eliyahu (may he live a long life) and I spread my distress before them, orally and in writing, including questions if to replace the rabbinical court protocols, and if the conversions are invalid? Both of them castigated Rabbi Druckman who promised not to repeat this way [of signing rabbinical court protocols which he was not present at] . Neither of them instructed to invalidate the conversions or to replace the rabbinical court protocols. I accepted this and I kept quiet all these years and "I closed the file" in my mind.

6. Rabbi Sherman extracted the subject from the files of the Rabbinic Court Administration that administered the conversions after me. He discovered that Rabbi Druckman continued to sign in this way. In spite of this I cannot agree to the ruling that casts a personal flaw!

7. For the sake of Rabbi Druckman's honor I prefer not to relate to the subject publicly. I know that there are those that falsely suspect me of 'collaborating' with Rabbi Sherman. I prefer to be among those that do not answer.

B. With regards to the ousting of Rabbi Druckman as Head of the Conversion Alignment

1. The story of the 'ousting' of Rabbi Druckman on the background of Rabbi Sherman's ruling and 'the encroachment of the ultra-Orthodox' as is being hinted to by the media, is a clever spin. In my opinion the source is the rabbi's advisor, and in the end this will hurt the rabbi himself.

2. The Public Service Commisioner, Shmuel Hollander (national religious) is not working in the service of the ultra-Orthodox. He informed Rabbi Druckman (as well as his assistant, Rabbi Klein) two months ago (!) that he would not continue until the end of his term because of a serious comptroller report on his performance (and the performance of his assistant) in the Conversion Alignment. The central remark with regards to Rabbi Druckman is his great absence and lack of being present, in spite of having a full time position (including a car and a driver). Since the contract expires in 6.08 the reason given was age (75).

3. To the best of my knowledge, there is no 'letter of dismissal' because of the affair of Rabbi Sherman's ruling, and there is no connection between the termination of his work to the 'ultra-Orthodox' aspect. Rabbi Druckman (or his advisor) spoke to the media about a 'focused thwarting' and a 'shameful ousting' in connection to Sherman's ruling. And it is not so! In my opinion, such claims will lead only to embarrassing the rabbi due to the revelation of unpleasant facts.

Yisrael Rosen

And a comment to slanderers: On Yom Kippur eve (!) I sent a letter to Rabbi Druckman and in it I mentioned that I will in no way be a candidate to 'inherit him', and that my criticism was not meant to undermine him, God forbid. My life's work is Machon Tzomet, and in a full time position!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis

I really did not want to blog about this. I consciously try to blog about positive things, and do my best to stay away from issues where there is a Chillul Hashem (desecration of God's name).

As is well known, the Great Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem, led by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, came out with a controversial ruling (file number 5489-64-1) severely criticizing Rabbi Chaim Druckman and his conversion court in Merkaz Shapira. This of course was followed by a large outcry from Rabbi Druckman's supporters, since Rabbi Druckman is a very highly respected rabbi and educator in the National Religious sector. What's more, the ramifications of the ruling upon those converted by Rabbi Druckman's court and their progeny are devastating. The jblogosphere and talkbacks on various news web sites also took Rabbi Sherman and the Great Rabbinic Court to task.

I wonder how many people who are criticizing the ruling of Rabbi A. Sherman and the Great Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem actually read it. I did, and it looks like a very logical and sound halachic document, supported by the many sources cited in it. Any attempt to deal with this ruling in an emotional and non-Halachic manner is doomed to fail. Halachic issues are not solved by screams, petitions and mass gatherings. Those that think otherwise are fooling only themselves.

The attempt to present the ruling as an attack by the ultra-Orthodox on the National Religious Public is at best a nice spin for the MSM, and at worst an attempt to divert the public's attention from the very real issues raised in the ruling. The truth is that the ruling is "Zionist" in a number of ways.

First of all, the "star" of the ruling is the religious-Zionist Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of Machon Tzomet and well known for his weekly column in the "Shabbat BeShabbato" parsha sheet. In his letters which are quoted in the Psak, he accuses Rabbi Druckman of signing conversion certificates which falsely state that he was part of the Rabbinnic court which presided over the conversion. This is not simply an administrative matter, as one blogger claimed. This is bearing false witness, something which is forbidden for every layman and certainly for a judge in a rabbinic court. Rabbi Rosen also claims that some of the conversion certificates bearing Rabbi Druckman's signature were not signed by Rabbi Druckman. He accuses Rabbi Avior (a member of Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court) of being responsible for the forgery.

Rabbi Sherman states that the halachic ramifications of these acts of bearing false witness are that Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior are halachically unfit (pasul) to be rabbinic judges. Therefore any converts that converted in their court never appeared before a fit rabbinic court, and therefore never converted! These are very harsh words with very severe ramifications. I really do wish that Rabbi Sherman and his court are mistaken here! However I cannot find any flaw in Rabbi Sherman's arguments.

Another star of the ruling is Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zt"l(of blessed memory), the revered Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, founder of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, and perhaps the greatest rabbi of the previous century. Rabbi Sherman quotes Rabbi Kook's responsa (Da'at Cohen 154) in which RAYK states that a rabbinic court that accepts converts, when it is clear that these converts will not keep the commandments, is itself in violation of the commandment "do not put a stumbling block before the blind". If we hold that the halachically binding, i.e. that this gentile has really become a Jew, then the rabbinic court is guilty of putting a stumbling block in front of the convert in that many acts that were permitted for him as a gentile (desecrating the Sabbath, eating shrimp, etc.) are now forbidden to him as a Jew. Therefore, every time that he violates these prohibitions he incurs Divine punishment, and the rabbis that converted him are responsible for this. On the other hand, if we hold that the conversion was not halachically binding, the gentile is still a gentile but the Jewish community thinks that he is a Jew. This situation can cause all kinds of halachic problems. For instance a "female convert" marries a Jew, and they have a son. They get divorced, and then he marries a Jewess. He dies without any children from his second wife. In this case, if he has any brothers they have to do "yibum/halitza" to his second wife. However, the community mistakenly thinks that his first wife's conversion was valid, and since he had a son from her they let his second wife marry again without "yibum/halitza"!

(One of the points of contention is that Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court is allegedly accepting converts even when it is clear that the potential converts have no intention of keeping the commandments. This is in clear of violation of Rabbi Kook's opinion, as well as the opinion of most rabbinic authorities, and this is another reason to invalidate Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court and its conversions. It would be interesting if empirical evidence is available comparing the results of Rabbi Druckman's conversions to the conversions of other rabbinic courts.)

Here's another "Zionist moment" in Rabbi Sherman's ruling. Among the Torah prohibitions that Rabbi Druckman is accused of is the following:

גניבת דעת של רשויות השלטון במדינה, שיש לה נפקות והשלכה על עניני סטטוס החל במרשם התושבים, וכן במתן זכיות ממוניות ואזרחות שהמדינה מזכה בעלי תעודות אלו, וכלה בקביעת מעמד אישי, ובזה יש אסור דאורייתא מטעם דינא דמלכותא דינא.

"Deceiving governmental authorities of the state (of Israel), and this has ramifications with regards to status starting with the population registry, and similarly in giving monetary and civil rights that the state awards the owners of these (conversion) certificates, and ending with the determination of personal status, and in this there is the Torah prohibition of "the law of the land is the law".

Do I hear the strains of "Hatikva" playing in the background?

In my humble opinion, the questions raised with regards to Rabbi Druckman and his rabbinic court have to be dealt with. A million petitions and mass gatherings won't make the problems go away. While we are certainly commanded to honor Torah scholars, this cannot hinder the search for the truth.

במקום שיש חילול ה' אין חולקים כבוד לרב

I turn my eyes to the Chief Rabbinate. Only they have the ability and authority to solve these problems. May we merit seeing the solution of this crisis, for the benefit of the converts, the Torah scholars, and the entire nation of Israel.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ezra "Elnakam" Yakhin Speaks

I mentioned him yesterday and now I found this film of Ezra Yakhin delivering a lecture at Machon Meir. The man speaks with a passion!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Happy Jerusalem Day

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds -- we still could not thank You sufficiently, HaShem our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us.

It's been over forty years since the liberation of Jerusalem, and many people take Jerusalem for granted.

I just finished reading the book Elnakam by Ezra Yakhin. I just love this book. This is a book that just breathes Jerusalem. Here is what Yisrael Eldad had to say about the book:
This book is a revelation of the inner feelings of a youth in the underground. It has the additional grace of being imbued with the very atmosphere of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not only the scene of the action, with the stress placed on the battle for the city, but we get an insight into the lives of the Jerusalem suburbs where patriotism and faith go hand in hand. This is a stylized reconstruction of actions and experiences and also a fighter’s lament for the liberty of Israel, rising from the very roots of the people and their faith, roots going back for generations. The dominant characteristic of this testimony is it authenticity. Without the help of such no historian, let alone a poet, may hope to understand that generation and its struggle, sense the flesh-and-blood reality of waging a war in the underground. This war is seen here through the eye of the writer, symbolically enough an eye that was wounded and turned to bleeding flesh during the battle for the (Jerusalem’s) Old City. It is fitting that this war, this city and even the reality of today and our struggle should this be regarded: with love and pain, with love in spite of pain. From being just another testimonial to the past, this book is transmuted by the power of love into a link in the continuous chain of the struggle for liberty and complete salvation.
If you can, get a copy. Happy Jerusalem Day.
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