Category Archives: Jews

The role of non-Jews in the synagogue

An intermarried couple joins the synagogue. What are the boundaries for participating in services?

Temple Beth Abraham

For comparison, having no boundaries is a characteristic of another, non-Jewish, monotheistic religion, Unitarian-Universalism. Not allowing any intermarried couples to join a synagogue removes the question entirely – which is the common Orthodox approach – but also drives the children of such couples eventually to other faiths.

Orthodox Judaism

Many Orthodox synagogues won’t allow intermarried couples or join. For those that do, a gentile may not become a member of a synagogue, nor serve on synagogue committees. For both halakhic and theological reasons, they may not lead prayers or recite a berakhah. Gentiles, however, are warmly welcomed to prayer services and communal events.

Conservative/Masorti Judaism

For both halakhic and theological reasons, non-Jews may not lead prayer services or recite a berakhah. They are welcomed to prayer services, and communal events. Conservative synagogues recognize that many intermarried families exist, and has created roles for non-Jewish parents/grand-parents who wish to participate in life-cycle events for their Jewish children/grandchildren.

This could include the recitation of a personal prayer, a relevant section from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.) The booklet “Building the Faith”, from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, notes that non-Jewish family members may be given honors to open and close the ark that contains the Torah scrolls; they may dress the Torah in its cover, and may lead the congregation in various English readings. Many Conservative synagogues are now creating support groups for intermarried families.

Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism

In many Reform Temples gentiles may serve on Temple committees, and may count as full members of the movement. “In many congregations…non-Jewish choristers and soloists have occupied positions which seemed to make them into shelichei tsibbur [cantor, leader of prayer services].”

Various Reform teshuvot (e.g. “Gentile Participation in Synagogue Ritual 5754.5”) offer guidance limiting the role of gentiles in Reform prayer service, but leadership is not obligated to follow.  Surveys show that 87% of Reform congregations allow gentiles to serve on synagogue committees; 22% allow gentiles to have an aliyah to the Torah.

Survery conducted by the Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, noted in “A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America”, Jack Wertheimer

Reconstructionist Judaism

Allows rabbis to officiate at intermarriages, and accepts patrilineal descent. Children of a gentile mother are considered Jewish; despite official policy, in many congregations this does not matter whether or not they are raised as a Jew. As such, non-Jewish children raised as Christians may nonetheless be accepted as “Jews” in Reconstructionism. [Feld]

Gentiles may become members of Reconstructionist Temples, they may serve on Temple ritual committees. They may sing prayers on the bima during prayer services. The JRF has issued a non-binding statement limiting the role of gentiles in services, “Boundaries and Opportunities: The Role of Non-Jews in JRF Congregation.” However these issues are ultimately decided by local lay leadership.

  • From “Can Halakha Live?” by Rabbi Edward Feld, “The Reconstructionist”, Vol.59(2), Fall 1994, p.64-72

 

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Fake rabbis

Who is a rabbi? There are several types of rabbinical ordination within Judaism, but one of the most common themes is that a rabbi is trained in good faith by other rabbis, and has an extensive background in Torah, Talmud, halakhah (Jewish law), tefila (prayer), and Jewish theology.

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School and Cantorial School Class of 2004

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School/Cantorial School Class of 2004

When one goes to a synagogue, the rabbi can generally be trusted to be an actual rabbi. However there needs to be skepticism on this matter, as there is a phenomenon of fake rabbis.

For decades, there has been an evangelical Christian movement attempting to convert Jews by setting up various “Messianic” synagogues. Their leaders learn how to sing some Jewish prayers; they buy tallitot and tefillin, and may dress their churches up like synagogues. As such, one can enter a congregation which advertises itself as a synagogue, but the leader is actually Christian clergy..

There is a separate Hebrew identity movement. Some non-Jews decide that they no longer believe in the Trinity, and want to accept Jewish monotheism. They can of course do so on their own, join a Unitarian church; or go to a synagogue. But some within this group “self-convert” – they simply claim to be Jewish, and some even “self identify” as rabbis. A few have created websites and Facebook discussion groups which gain followers. And so we have a group of people claiming to be rabbis, who are neither Jewish nor rabbis.

A third category exists, which is more complicated, as this group of non-rabbis has gained some traction in parts of the Jewish community. There are some Jewish people claiming to be rabbis who merely purchased “modern rabbi certificates” from diploma mill. The Forward has a article on this phenomenon:
“Online-Ordained Rabbis Grab Pulpits” Josh Nathan-Kazis 12/3/12

Some people have allowed these supposed rabbis to officiate at weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, and even conversions, not knowing that their rabbinic credentials are non-existent, and that their conversions and weddings are not accepted as real.

Readers should be aware of these diploma mills: they offers “modern rabbi” certificates:

* The New Seminary, in New York City. Founded in 1981 by Joseph H. Gelberman.

* “The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute” http://jsli.net/

 

How can you tell if someone is a real rabbi?

If someone is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi then they would have learned with other Orthodox rabbis, and be qualified to be a member of an Orthodox rabbinical organization. Most of the Orthodox Jewish rabbinical groups are listed here:  Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical organizations

If someone is a Conservative/Masorti rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of the Rabbinical Assembly. or the Union for Traditional Judaism

If someone is a Reform/Liberal/Progressive rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of one of the Reform rabbinical groups, such as The Central Conference of American RabbisLiberal Judaism (Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues) or the Movement for Reform Judaism (until 2005: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain).

Individuals who pose as rabbis

* Lior Bar-El. Created a YouTube channel and became an Admin of a Facebook Judaism group. His followers posted his videos on other groups, leading many to assume that he is a rabbi. Bar-El makes attacks against real rabbis as “eiruv rabbis”, false rabbis:

https://www.youtube.com/user/vortex677 }

Here is an example of one of Lior Bar El’s screeds from 3/10/16:
> “I shall be discussing why it is not permitted and why u
> shouldn’t listen to the filth of the erev ravs {false rabbis}
> who pull new laws of abominations out their butts daily. I shall
> also have in the end a lecture and warning I give to all the
> sheeple out their that follow abominations …

* Yosef Mizrachi – A right wing Haredi Orthodox Kiruv (outreach) preacher, he makes his living lecturing at right wing Orthodox synagogues. He never received semichah (rabbinical ordination); no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. His own website refuses to mention why he calls himself a ‘rabbi’.

* Asher Meza is a self-styled rabbi on YouTube, but no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. He claims to be the leader of “Aish HaTorah College Of Jewish Studies”, but no such college exists. As seen on this video, Asher Meza accepts Christian fundamentalist Messianics as adherents of Judaism. This position is rejected by all of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153193302043228&set=vb.319582778227 }

* Judah Moshe works with Asher Meza on supposed “conversions to Judaism”, and is the leader of a website called “West African Jews of the Diaspora.” This is a non-Jewish, Black Hebrew Israelite organization, made of gentiles who self-identified as Jews in the early 20th century.

Felipe Gutierrez, claims to be an “Israelite Rabbi”

* Philip S. Berg is the founder of The Kabbalah Center. His name is actually Feivel Gruberger, and his training was to be an insurance agent. He married the niece of Kabbalist Rabbi Brandwein, and distributed his books. Feivel claims to have a Doctorate, but will not reveal the name of the universty that granted it. Feivel claims to have semichah (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshivah Kol Yehudah in Jerusalem, but that too has never been confirmed by the school. Feivel’s new-age Kabbalah Center has been acepted by celebrities such as Madonna. It has grown to have branches in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, and other cities. None of the denominations of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform) consider his school authentic.

The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute

This is regarded as a mere diploma mill, selling fake “rabbi ordinations” to unknowing secular Jews for $8000. In the New Jersey “Jewish Standard”, Joanne Palmer writes:

Blane calls himself a Universalist rabbi. he mandates a belief in intermarriage and a willingness to perform such ceremonies as a prerequisite for enrollment in JSLI.
The institute, which he founded about three years ago, meets online. The only time students get together is at their ordination. Classes are by videoconference; they last for two hours once a week. There are two semesters a year, and a rabbinical student must take both semesters for s’michah, or ordination

The class “starts with a little davening,” Blane said. “Then we all bring something to the table, something that relates to halachah or a festival or a holiday. I’ve developed a curriculum that touches on what I believe is all the important topics that a liberal rabbi needs to understand and come to terms with in order to meet the needs of their communities.” Each student is required to give a d’var Torah every week, and over the course of the year they must lead a lunch-and-learn session, using some of the knowledge they gained over the course of their extra-rabbinic lives. At that point, the students are ready to be ordained, with their s’michah certifying that they “have demonstrated familiarity with our codes and texts and are empowered to serve as rabbi and teacher,” the institute’s website, jsli.net, says…  It was just about that time that the then-Cantor Blane was ordained a rabbi by the Rabbinical Seminary International.

So this “rabbinical school” has the same educational level and time commitment as a 10th grader going to a Modern Orthodox 10th grade Hebrew school.

A new way to become a rabbi? The Jewish Standard 8/24/12

Conversion to Judaism

A work in progress

For over 2,000 years Jews have been unified by identify: One is a Jew if their mother is a Jew, or if they convert to Judaism. Basic conversion requirements are that a bet din (court of 3) witness that a convert has been instructed in the basics of Jewish faith and practice, and then:

  • Immersion (t’vilah) in a mikveh (ritual bath)
  • For men, circumcision (Brit milah, or a Brit-dam)
  • Understanding and acceptance of the Jewish faith.

The beth din then issues a Shtar Giur (“Certificate of Conversion”), certifying that the person is now part of the Jewish people. Also see The mikveh as a way to solve conversion problems

“It is thus the Halakhah dealing with ‘personal status’ which guarantees the underlying unity of the ‘holy community’…They must be prepared to conform to law at least in this respect. For, only if the ‘holy community’ remains undivided on the basic level of its existence…there can be an unqualified acceptance of one another as fellow Jews.”

Judaism “Plural Models within the Halakha”, Volume 19, No.1 (Winter, 1970) p.85-86. Reform Rabbi Jakob J. Petuchowski

An Interview with Rabbi Chuck Davidson by Yoel Schaper

Can conversion be revoked? Mi Yodeaa StackExchange

Conversions to Judaism not centralized

Rabbi Chuck Davidson writes

The 13 Principles of Conversion

Following are 13 principles regarding the Halakhic requirements of conversion. As in most areas of Halakha there are disagreements in the normative rabbinic community about these requirements. That said, the following points represent, in my opinion following more than 10 years of research, a solidly-based mainstream Halakhic approach.
1) Halakhic conversion requires kabbalat mitzvot, generally translated as “acceptance of the commandments”, on the part of the proselyte.
2) There is disagreement among the poskim (leading scholars of Halakha) regarding the Halakhic definition of kabbalat mitzvot.
3) A mainstream position among many poskim is that kabbalat mitzvot means nothing more than non-coercive conversion, that is consensual conversion; in other words the proselyte is converting of his or her own free will (see here, here, and here).
4) Le-khatchila (ab initio), the consent of the proselyte to convert should be informed consent. That is, the proselyte should know that Judaism includes mitzvot (commandments) that bind all Jews, whether by birth or via conversion, as well as reward for those who observe the commandments and punishment for those who transgress them (however we might theologically understand this reward and punishment). But, according to this opinion, kabbalat mitzvot does not mean that the convert is committing to observe the commandments in practice (see here, here, here, and here.)
5) Some poskim claim that the above position is a minority position (I humbly disagree), but do admit that this position was widely practiced in the past (see here).
6) Many poskim who reject the above position le-khatchila, do accept it be-diavad (post facto). That is, if the proselyte was converted despite a lack of intent to observe the mitzvot in practice, the conversion is nevertheless Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here). Of particular interest is the position of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the greatest poskim of the 20th century) regarding a proselyte who did not intend to observe even as central a mitzvah as Shabbat (see here).
7) A proselyte who ceases to observe the commandments, no matter how immediate or extreme (including going back to his/her previous religion), remains Jewish according to Halakha (see here, here, and here).
8) The Talmud states that a proselyte who is prepared to accept the entirety of Halakha with one exception is not to be accepted. That said, the Shulkhan Aruch (primary code of Jewish law) does not rule according to this statement. Moreover, the Talmud’s statement applies only if the proselyte converts on condition that s/he will not be obligated by Jewish law to observe this one Halakhic point s/he does not accept (see here). Further, the statement of the Talmud prohibits the conversion court from accepting such a proselyte only le-khatchila. But if the court performed the conversion, it is Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here and here).
9) If three laymen (i.e., non-rabbis) perform a conversion, it is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here, here, and here).
10) In converting a proselyte who will likely not be observant and who will transgress the commandments, the conversion court is not guilty of lifnei iver (placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, i.e., aiding and abetting) if it is performing the conversion in order to prevent intermarriage (see here).
11) If a proselyte converts for the purpose of marrying a Jew, the conversion is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here and here).
12) Conversion is the first step a gentile takes in his/her Jewish journey. The Talmud, Rambam, and Shulkhan Arukh describe a conversion process which is almost immediate, with no study or preparation beforehand. Standard practice in the 1950’s was a one-month course in the basics of Judaism (see here). At least one leading posek (scholar of Halakha) rules that it is entirely prohibited to teach a proselyte Torah before the conversion (see here).
13) There are those who contend that the implementation of traditional Halakhic conversion must change from what was practiced in the past. They reason that prior to the phenomenon of secularization when most Jews observed the Halakha, it was presumed that a proselyte would be observant. But nowadays, since most Jews are not Halakhically observant, we must be careful to convert only those who we firmly believe will be observant.
It is, however, incorrect that before the phenomenon of secularization it could be presumed that a proselyte would be observant (see here, here, here, and here). To the contrary, in an era marked by widespread secularization (such as the contemporary era), there is yet more room to convert proselytes who will likely not be observant (see here).
The Halakhic parameters of conversion are, of course, much more complex than can be covered in a Facebook post. For further Halakhic sources on the relevant issues, see here.
I can be reached at cpdtorah@gmail.com

 

Sephardic Jewish views in the modern era

THE LEADERSHIP AND TRADITION OF SEPHARDIC SAGES IN THE MODERN ERA

Note: This article uses the term Sephardi colloquially; in this context it is inclusive of the three major Jewish ethnic groups distinct from Ashkenazi Judaism, namely Sephardic, Mizrachi and Maghrebi Judaism.

by Rabbi Yitzchak Chouraqu

Hamerkaz, Fall 2014

Sephardic culture throughout the ages developed in concurrence with general culture, thus continuing the tradition of the Golden Age of Spain, in which the internal Jewish world recognized the wider world without losing its own uniqueness.
The Sephardic Sages of recent generations were aware of current events and
changes in the world around them. This is especially true in more recent years,
since modernism in its European version arrived in the Eastern lands.

The Sephardic reaction to the changes of the new age was quite different from the Ashkenazic response. On the one hand, the educational model of the Sephardic sages approved of general studies, and even considered them as worthy endeavors in addition to a Jewish education; and in the spirit of this approach, the Sephardic sages did not withdraw from modern society in the way that some Ashkenazic Orthodox elements did. On the other hand, with the deepening of European rule in Muslim countries, the pull towards secular culture was in opposition to tradition.

Yet interestingly, the response of the Sages to protect the community’s traditions was not to develop the model of strict, isolationist Orthodoxy. Instead, they emphasized the principles that strengthen faith — especially those that have guarded Jewish identity and communal unity — all with the goal of keeping the members of the community connected to the Jewish world as much as possible.

What characterizes the legal/interpretive methods of the Sephardic sages as it relates to halakha (Jewish Law)?

One of the characteristic principles of the Sephardic sages is the way they determine
halakha. Sephardic Sages utilize the basic legal principle known in rabbinic language as kohah dehetra adif – the power of the lenient path is the preferred. This principle praises the greatness of the Hakham (wise sage) who delves deeply into an issue and finds a lenient halakhic solution.

Knowledge of life experience often accompanies and guides halakhic decision-making, together with a realistic viewpoint, according to which a harsh position would apply to only a small part of the public. In the view of Sephardic Judaism, the responsibility of the Hakham is to the whole community, to all of the Jewish people, perhaps for all future generations. Therefore it would not be responsible to set an excessively stringent standard of halakha that would cause a great portion of the community to be lost if they cannot abide by it.

Deciding halakha stringently does not reflect the greatness of a Hakham, and many times it attests to some theoretical educational theories taught in yeshivot, or to an outright fear of deciding the halakha. Such concerns prevent the Hakham from choosing the lenient path over the stricter one. Harsh halakhic decisions and the desire to accommodate all opinions have caused an accumulation of stringencies that makes it difficult for a later posek (Rabbinical decider) to weigh, maneuver, and navigate the halakhic process in the directions needed for a specific case that comes before him. Thus, fear of God pushes aside the true dynamic force of halakha.

Thus, between the strict and the liberal positions, the Sephardic Sages established a third path in which their great humility before God and their commitment to serve God brought them to adopt original halakhic stances in order to deal with new situations, without fearing lenient decisions, rulings or originality in the halakhic process.

Rabbi Yitzhak Chouraqui is the Director of MERHAV, the Joint Rabbinic
Leadership program of Memizrach Shemesh and the SEC. He also serves as
the Rabbi of Yad Ramah Synagogue in Jerusalem

Hamerkaz-2014 full issue (PDF)

Non-Jews or Pre-Jews

Earthpages.org

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (... Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish People have been a small and often persecuted minority. So it is not surprising that less than ten thousand non-Jews convert to Judaism every year.

But very surprising is when an Israeli newspaper (HaAretz) reports that British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, and a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference in early November. claimed that the number of non-Jews who believe they are descendants of Jews or ancient Israelites, about equals the total number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses.

Twenty five hundred years ago the prophet Zachariah declared: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew…

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