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Yom Tov Sheni: The second day of festivals

 

Outside of Israel, the biblical Jewish holidays have an extra day added to them, known as Yom Tov Sheni shel galuyyot (the second day of the festival in the diaspora), or more commonly as Yom Tov Sheni.

Exceptions are on hol ha-mo’ed, the intermediate days of Sukkot and Pesach, and Yom Kipur (Day of Atonement.)

“The practice originated because of the uncertainty in the Diaspora of the day on which the Sanhedrin announced the New Moon. Later, when astronomical calculations were relied upon, the sages declared that the custom should nevertheless be accepted as permanent. Although the Day of Atonement was an exception, as a double fast day was considered too difficult, there were individuals who observed two days. Rosh Ha-Shanah, on the other hand, gradually came to be observed as a two-day festival even in Eretz Israel; beginnings of the custom here, too, are to be found in the Second Temple period, although it became universal only in the Middle Ages. With regard to Passover and Sukkot, the first day of hol ha-mo’ed was observed as a full festival day in the Diaspora while an additional day was added at the end. Thus on Passover a second seder is held on the second night and an eighth day is added. The day following Shemini Azeret at the completion of Sukkot became known as Simhat Torah, the ‘Rejoicing of the Law.’ ”

  • Festivals, Second Days of Festivals, Encyclopaedia Judaica

Within Orthodox Judaism, Yom Tov is considered almost inviolable, thus observance of Yom Tov Sheni is mandated.

Traditional Journal Orthodox

Festivals in Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism rejects Yom Tov Sheni for all holidays, including Rosh HaShanah; American Reform Judaism also holds that most laws for Yom Tov Rishon (the first day of biblical festivals) are no longer binding/nomrative. These laws have been subsumed under Reform’s principle of personal autonomy.

CCAR Journal Reform

Flexibility in the Orthodox position on Yom Tov Shnei

Orthodox Rabbi Mendell Lewittes comes to this conclusion:

“Suffice it to say that the Second Day Yom Tov has been observed scrupulously in the Diaspora for centuries without question. However, the situation today is so radically different from what it was even less than a century ago, that the time has come for our religious authorities to examine the matter anew.”

“From the discussion in the Talmud which preceded the directive sent to the Diaspora from Eretz Yisrael it is apparent prior to then changes took place in the observance of the Second Day, depending on the means of communication between Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora…When it was possible to signal the diaspora by the relaying of flares, the Diaspora only celebrated one day. When the flares had to be discontinued because of the interference by the Cutheans, they celebrated two days. When once again the flares could be operated, they returned to one day. When messengers were sent to report the fixing of the new month, wherever they arrived before the 15th of the month only one day was celebrated.”

“These facts, as Rashi explains, “indicate that this observance was not instituted for all times.” In other words, it was not a takkanah…; it is – as Meiri says – “in our times nothing more than a minhag of the fathers.” ”

Rabbi Lewittes asks for the creation of a Chief rabbinical council “whose members are sensitive and responsive to contemporary values and are ready to exercise their prerogative to institute takkanot and render halakhic decisions in the spirit of an evolutionary development of the Halakhah.”

– “Jewish Law: An Introduction”, p.253-257, Mendell Lewittes, Jason Aronson Inc., 1987

Yom Tov Sheni in Conservative Judaism

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Yom Tov Sheni was a topic of periodic discussion by the Conservative movement’s law committee. A teshuva by Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal was unanimously accepted by the law committee in 1963. After giving a review of the legal sources and responsa literature, the teshuva affirmed that it is possible to change the law in this regard, yet such a change is not obligatory or recommended. The conclusion reasoned that:

“The suggestion to eliminate Yom Tov Sheni comes from two sources: 1. From observant Jews for whom the new status of the T’futzah and a yearning to invest Israel with greater spiritual influence are sufficient warrant for the change. Their religious life would not suffer. The elimination of unnecessary hardships and superfluous duplication would enhance the observance of festivals in their homes. Yielding to their suggestion would stem from factors of strength in Judaism. 2. From non-observant Jews, or at best from would-he observant Jews, for whom the lesser demands of Judaism might contribute to a wider observance of the holidays…One hesitates to predict the measure of success that would follow from yielding to their suggestions, but it would derive from factors of weakness in contemporary Jewish life. The simple truth of the matter is that Jewish observance in America is not strong enough in depth to justify the assumption that elimination of the second day will enhance our religious life. On the other hand, its elimination will deny us the utilization of the second day for religious inspiration…” In closing, this teshuva concluded that it would be premature to make any official changes in Yom Tov Sheni, and that retaining it would allow for more advantages than disadvantages.

Four years later the Rabbinical Assembly instructed the law committee to re-open the issue. After much debate, three teshuvot were eventually accepted by the law committee.

All of the teshuvot are considered as valid positions within normative halakha. Following the traditional Jewish stance, the Conservative movement holds that a congregation follows the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d’atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p’sak [ruling/decision].

Overwhelmingly, most American Conservative synagogues, and all Masorti synagogues in England, have retained observance of Yom Tov Shenei. It is, of course, not observed in Masorti synagogues in Israel. The three teshuvot are summarized below.

(1) Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham J. Ehrlich conclude that observance of Yom Tov Sheni is a minhag which can be decided by the local rabbi. “While we reaffirm the inherent value of Yom Tov Sheni, in order to provide relief to those who no longer find in it spiritual enrichment, and to those who for socio-economic reasons find it is not feasible to observe the second day of yom tov, we declare that yom tov sheni is not a hok, a permanent enactment, but a minhag, a custom Congregations need not feel compelled to observe other than the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah. On the other hand, those who still desire to maintain it as an expression of personal piety, as a chumrah, might do so, vetavo aleihem berakhah, may God bless them.

(2) Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat offered a dissenting view in which he ruled that (a) the observance of Yom Tov Sheni must be seen as a takkanah, and not a minhag, (b) it is important in general to build a “fence around the Torah”, (c) In a reference to the Reform movement, he writes that “If, however, the second day of Yom Tov were eliminated, it would not be long before the first day would fall into desuetude. We have living proof of this contention. A large and influential religious movement in Judaism has eliminated the second day of Yom Tov for the past two generations. De facto, if not de jure, the first day no longer exists as a significant factor in that movement” In conclusion, he urges the retention of the observance of Yom Tov Sheni for a host of practical matters.

Rabbi Shuchat concludes by saying that he would agree to the elimination of Yom Tov Sheni if it were to come from a recognized halakhic body in the land of Israel. This echoes the view of some Modern Orthodox rabbis, who are willing in theory to make many of the same changes made by Conservative Jews, but who state that they are unwilling to make such rulings on their own authority; rather, they are waiting for a more recognized body in Israel to someday appear.

(3) Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal writes “that it would be tragic for us to initiate a program which must lead inevitably to the abandonment of the second day of the festivals. Let those who have no alternative… not feel that they are in violation of halakhah if they observe only one day. But we cannot condone the initiation of discussions about the second day in those Congregations which do have regular and meaningful services on it.”

The full text of these responsa are available as a PDF file here:

Yom Tov Sheni: CJLS Responsa (in English)

Conservative teshuvot may also be found in “Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970”, volume III, pages 1228-1272. This is part of a three volume set that is available from the United Synagogue Book Service. e-mail: Booksvc@uscj.org

http://www.uscj.org/mall/bookservice.htm

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Non-Jews in Jewish law today

POPE, RABBI AND SWISS CARDINAL PICTURED IN 2011 AT VATICAN

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at the Vatican, in 2011.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer writes

The Hebrew Bible teaches the equality of all human beings, as all are created in the image of God. Rabbinic Jewish literature similarly contains numerous positive statements about gentiles. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that there are some passages in rabbinic literature, kabbalah and medieval philosophy that depict gentiles in deeply negative terms. Dealing with discriminatory laws and negative texts when teaching our tradition to youth and adults can be problematic, to say nothing of how we deal with them when interacting with Gentiles. This has become particularly acute in the Diaspora today where Jews are in constant contact with Gentiles and enjoy equal rights and equal status. At a time when other religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, are re-examining their attitudes towards Jews and making changes in their dogmas to eliminate negative doctrines, we can hardly do less.”

  • The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today

We examine here how is it possible that Judaism – which contains so many ethical teachings on the equality of all humans – also contains such statements. The reason becomes clear when we read these texts in historical context.

In the Bible, the Israelites were the only monotheists, and were surrounded by people who hated them. Israelites suffered genocidal wars against them. As such, the Bible’s polemics against pagans are completely understandable.

What about statements in later works, the classic texts of rabbinic Judaism: the Mishnah, the two Talmuds, and Midrash compilations? Jews in this era (200 BCE to 800 CE) were surrounded by people who persecuted them. Even a cursory reading of the Church Fathers reveals anti-Semitic diatribes. Many are so specific and violent that they have incited followers to murder Jews, in the name of the Church, for nearly two millennia.

As such, it is not surprising that rabbinic literature has some polemics against non-Jews.  The Jewish people knew of no gentile society in which we were treated as equals, as human beings.

During the so-called Golden Age of Jewish life on the Iberian peninsula (700 CE to 1100 CE) , while not ideal, there were some sustained periods of tolerance and intellectual respect towards Jews. Some moderate tolerance was shown by both Christians and Muslims towards Jews. In this era Jews, Christians and Muslims worked, traded and intellectually sparred together in a way not to be seen again until The Enlightenment (18th century Europe and America)

Even after The Enlightenment, Jews were widely treated as non-human, especially by European Christians during the Holocaust.  It is really only since the 1960’s that most Jews have lived in communities where non-Jews treated Jews as human beings.

Yet even today pockets of anti-Semitism are flaming up across Europe, America, and the middle-east. Many non-Jews still do not treat Jewish people as equal – even to the point of denying Jews the right to exist as a free people, within safe borders, in their indigenous homeland, Israel.

So where does that leave us today? If you are traditionally observant, the codes of Jewish law do not always treat non-Jewish people with respect. There are even a few aggadot, non-legal midrashim, which view non-Jewish people as having essentially no purpose, other than the value they have of potentially serving Jewish people in some way. But given even a modest historical understanding of the last 2000 years of anti-Semitism, persecution and genocide, it is not surprising to see a small percent of rabbinic lit contains such comments. Nonetheless, we note that such statements are inconsistent with today’s liberal views of equality.

There is little that we can do to change the behavior of those who treat us disrespectfully. But we can change our own interpretations of these texts. Being a light unto the nations means treating others in the same way that we’d have others treat us. This is the golden rule of Rabbi Hillel.

Also, one should be aware that many statements assumed to be racist are, in fact, not racist at all. Masorti Rabbi Simcha Roth, זצ״ל, writes :

There is much to suggest that the animus of ‘pagan’ was restricted to the non-Jews of Eretz-Israel. In the Gemara [Ĥullin 13b] Rabbi Yoĥanan states that “Non-Jews outside Eretz-Israel are not idol worshippers: they are just following ancestral custom.”
Rabbi Yoĥanan lived in Eretz-Israel during the 3rd century CE, at the height of the Romanization of the country. It is not at all clear on what basis he opines that non-Jews living elsewhere in the Roman Empire and observing the same rites and traditions as the non-Jewish population in Eretz-Israel are not pagan idolators whereas those living in Eretz-Israel are just that.

So it seems that for the sages the term ‘idolator’ serves to designate a non-Jew living in Eretz-Israel. Thus it is, perhaps, a social definition rather than a religious one. At any rate, it is clear that the original intention of our tractate is not to regulate the social intercourse of Jews and non-Jews the world over but only that of Jews and non-Jews in Eretz-Israel during the age of paganism.

Rabin Mishnah Study Group, Avodah Zarah, Chap 1, Mishnah 1

On the same topic, consider this essay by Rabbi Cardozo. How Halakha must transcend itself (part 1 of 3) His piece is aimed at an Orthodox Jewish audience.

The changes he is proposing have already been adopted by Conservative & Masorti Judaism, and Reform Judaism.  See for example, The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, an official responsum of the CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.)  An excerpt:

Following the example of Rabban Gamliel II and invoking the principles of Kiddush HaShem and Darkhei Shalom, we declare that any rulings concerning matters of financial or civil law in the Mishnah and Talmud that discriminate against Gentiles are not to be considered official operative Jewish Law in our day. In accord with the teachings of the Meiri we further rule that any such laws were time bound, referring specifically to pagans of any early time and therefore do not apply to non-Jews in our era. We consider such laws to be in violation of our highest moral values and impede us from attaining higher moral virtues.

Further reading

Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud After the Humanities by Mira Beth Wasserman (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)

Halakhah for Our Time: A Conservative Approach to Jewish Law

Why follow halakha (Jewish law)? What is the rationale behind accepting  the Torah’s mitzvot?

Mishnah Kehati series

Many in Orthodoxy believe that God, more or less literally, revealed His will to mankind in sentences clear and literal, and that the record of God’s revelation, from the time of Moses to today, is nearly infallible. As such any reasonable person should understand the immense need to follow God’s word as closely as possible.

For a wide variety of theological and historical reasons, most people – including many religious Jews – reject the idea that God unambiguously speaks like a person, and also reject the claim that God’s words were infallibly transmitted for thousands of years. Most post-Talmudic forms of Jewish theology, in fact, including philosophical rationalism and Kabbalah (mysticism), hold that God is totally unlike man, that God is not anthropomorphic, and so a simple/literal view of revelation is not tenable – as well as theologically unnecessary. And outside of strict Orthodoxy, we recognize that the text of the Torah is maculate – it shows the signs of human editing over time.

As such, especially if one is coming from a strictly Orthodox or literalist background, it is reasonable to ask: why should we Jews still accept the Torah, and view halakhah – our way of life – as normative?

The following answers are from Rabbi David Golinkin, “Halakhah for Our Time: A Conservative Approach to Jewish Law”, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

David-Golinkin

image from The Schechter Institutes, Jerusalem, Israel.

A. Theocentric reasons

1. We must observe the laws commandments because they are Divine in origin; they were given to us in the Torah at Mount Sinai by God Himself. And what about all the laws that were added by the rabbis throughout the ages? According to this approach, they too were given at Mount Sinai, as we read in the Palestinian Talmud “Even what a clever pupil will expound before his teacher has already been given to Moses at Sinai.”

2. Halakhah is the way that the Jewish people throughout the generations understood God’s revelations at Mount Sinai and observed it. A Jew who observes mitzvot fulfill’s God’s will as Klal Yisrael – the collective people of Israel – understood God’s will for 3,000 years.

3. The Torah and the mitzvot express the eternal brit [covenant] made between God and the Jewish people. As Moses states in Deuteronomy:

“It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today. Face to face the Lord spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire.”

This statement would not be surprising if it had been made to the people who had been present at the revelation at Mt. Sinai. But Moses is speaking to their children forty years later – and yet he says “us”, “every one of us”, “you” ! His point was that the covenant was not a one shot deal; it is renewed in every generation as Moses clearly explains at the end of Deuteronomy:

“I make this covenant not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

4. The mitzvot lead us to holiness, sanctify our lives and bring us closer to God. This is the approach taught by the Tanna Issi ben Yehuda 1700 years ago: “With each new command, God adds holiness to the people of Israel. [Mekhilta, parashah 20] This approach is also reflected in the standard formula of blessings recited over mitzvot such as Shabbat and Hanukkah candles, lulav, tefillin and tallit: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us…”

B. Ethnocentric reasons

1. Halakhah is the cement that binds together the scattered “bricks” of the Jewish people. Without it, the Jewish people would have long ago disappeared. The mitzvot tie every Jew in the world together with every other Jew in the world, as we all perform the same mitzvot. When we put on tefillin in the morning, we know that a Jew in Morocco does the same. When we light candles on Hanukkah, we know that a Jew in Argentina does the same. When we give tzedakah, we know that a Jew in Australia does the same.

2. The mitzvot are the golden chain which binds us and our children to our ancestors, and to the history of our people. Without them we would lose our continuity and we would feel like orphans in history. When we observe Shabbat, we know that Moses our teacher did the same. When we keep kosher, we know that Rabbi Akiva of the second century did the same. When we visit the sick, we know that Rashi of the eleventh century did the same. When we comfort the mourner, we know that Maimonides of the 12th century did the same.

3. The greatest threat to the Jewish people is assimilation and intermarriage. For thousands of years the mitzvot have protected the Jewish people from these threats. The famous Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am said “More than the Jews have preserved the Sabbath, the Sabbath has preserved the Jews.” The same can be said of all mitzvot.

C. Anthropocentric reasons

1. Mitzvot are a means of self-discipline, of improving character and of making us better human beings. This idea sounds very modern, but it is not. It was first suggested by the Letter if Aristeas, one of the books of the Apocrypha, written by a Greek jew in the second century B.C.E. The author states: “The sacred commandments were given for the sake of righteousness to arouse pious thoughts, and to perfect one’s character.” [Letter of Aristeas, paragraph 144].

A similar suggestion was made three hundred years later by Rav, a Babylonian rabbi and a major contributor to the Talmud. He said: “The commandments were given only in order to refine and discipline the person who performs them.” [Bereshit Rabbah, 44:1 ed. Theodore Albreck, p.424]

2. We perform Mitzvot because they are enjoyable! They uplift the spirit and bring joy to the heart. This point of view has been popular from biblical times until today. The Psalmist wrote three thousand years ago: “The precepts of the Lord are just, making the heart rejoice.”

…There are many other possible responses to the question “Why observe the halakhah?” but in the final analysis the chief thing is not to expounds the Law but to do it. [Mishna, Avot 1:17]

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

 

Christological statements in the Zohar

Judaism is traditionally monotheistic, and rejects Christian concepts of the Trinity. Christianity is a trinitarian monotheistic: they hold that God exists as three hypostases, but is one being, having a single divine nature. The members of the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action, and will.

Kabbalah Sefirot Tree

he Zohar: Pritzker Edition

But over the milennia Jewish theology and literature has developed in many different ways. In the 15th century a book began to be published called the Zohar (זֹהַר‎, “Splendor” or “Radiance”.) This was described as the work of a Spanish Jewish writer named Moses de León, who in turn said that he found a secret cache of works written by Shimon bar Yochai (“Rashbi”), a rabbi of the 2nd century CE.  Most Jews at the time didn’t accept that this was literally correct, but within another 2 centuries the Zohar became to be seen as the most authoritative and ancient work of Jewish mysticism. By the 19th century large segments of Orthodox Judaism held that it was an article of faith that the Zohar was legitimate. However, much of it is written in an unclear fashion, and even it’s adherents and commentators have a hard time understanding what the precise teachings are.

Most controversial were the sections of the Zohar which paralled almost exactly the Christian concept of the Trinity.

Moses de Leon himself had a hard explaining why the Christian terminology for the trinity is incorrect, while his Kabbalistic/Zohar explanation of the trinity is correct.

Today, at least in public, Orthodox Jewish Kabbalists claim this is a “misunderstanding” of the Zohar – but not only is it correct, we have textual evidence that the Zohar texts used by Christian missionaries are correct. Later Zohar texts used by rabbinic Jews were altered to more quietly allude to neo-Christian, Trinitarian teachings. Attached below are quotes from Studies in the Zohar, By Yehuda Liebes.

Example 1

‘The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself in three archetypes, all three forming but one. He is thus symbolized by the number Three. They are revealed in one another. [These are:] first, secret, hidden ‘Wisdom’; above that the Holy Ancient One; and above Him the Unknowable One. None knows what He contains; He is above all conception. He is therefore called for man ‘Non-Existing’ [Ayin]'”
– Zohar, iii. 288b

Example 2

And this teaching from Zohar (II, 53b)

Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three names be one? Only through the perception of faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the holding of the hidden eye alone. The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements – fire, air and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so, it is with the mystery of the three-fold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai – three modes which yet form one unity. This is the significance of the voice which man produces in the act of unification, when his intent is to unify all, from the Infinite (Ein-Sof) to the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has been revealed in the holy spirit.

Liebnes writes :

It is interesting to note that R. Moses de Leon also grapples in the above passage with the problematics of the ten sefirot — why they are not threefold as is the Unity of God (and not only why they are not considered one — a philosophical question) — apparently because the tripartite formulations were of such obvious importance to him. Indeed, in writing his response to the questioner in his work confirming the unity of three,13 de Leon also responds to this latter question:

And as to what you have said concerning the sefirot (divine emanations), that they are ten and not three or more, you have made your point very clear. Nevertheless, all the sefirot are contained within the mystery of the triune singularity, as our sages teach us (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 3): “The world was created through ten sayings, and of three are they comprised —wisdom, understanding and knowledge14 — forming a single source of reality”, {ibid., p. 134)

Indeed, Abner of Burgos also relied on this triad of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, in order to verify the authenticity of the Christian trinity. Y. Baer, in referring to Abner’s words,15 drew a parallel between them and the words of the Zohar in the Midrash ha-Ne^alam in Zohar Hadash to Genesis (Mossad Ha- Rav Kook edition, 4a) and in III:290a-b (Idra Zuta), and the commentary of R. Azriel of Gerona on the passage in his Commentary to the Aggadoth, claiming that not only could such (trinitarian) quotes be used for Christological interpretations, “but that the aforementioned Kabbalist writers had made use of  the idea of the Christian Trinity in their works.”

Later Liebes writes

In the passage cited by Heredia, we find strong emphasis placed upon the mystery surrounding the second element of the Trinity — the son. While it is true that there is no reason to doubt the Christian origin of this element, in my opinion the use of this element in no way implies a forgery. It is quite possible that these words came from the author of the Zohar himself, for allusions to such concepts are to be found in other passages of the book, as we shall see further on in this study. But first let me remark that even at this point we do have a partial proof of the authenticity of this passage: the very beginning of Heredia’s passage does appear in extant editions of the Zohar in III:263a.24 In this Zohar passage, concerning the first of the three divine names in the verse Shema‘ Yisrael, we have the following statement:

“And this is called the father.” While it is true that the term “father” is regularly applied in the Zohar to the sefirah of hokhmah (wisdom), as it is clearly alluded to here, it is nevertheless unusual for the Zohar to simply enumerate the different names of the divine spheres unless they fit within a specific framework of discourse. Thus, only if we assume that Heredia’s addition referring to “son” is authentic will the use of the term “father” seem appropriate within this discourse.

Moreover, it seems to me that if someone wishes to falsify a document, he will forge an entire passage, so as not to be caught in the act of falsifying material, rather than attach a forged section to an authentic passage. This is so especially after we have noted that there are other passages in the Zohar discussing the triune qualities of the Shema,
which the forger certainly would have known (It is hard to imagine that his forgery just happened to chance on the same idea that appears in the Zohar in these places). Why Heredia didn’t hinge his forgery on one of these passages, which would have suited his purposes better than the one in question — a passage discussing five elements rather than the three found in the Shema — is a serious question to ponder.

All these considerations have convinced me that the passage Heredia brings is an authentic Zohar passage, which was apparently later abridged because of its Christian connotation and then woven into another discourse on the Shema.

This change was very likely made by the author of the Zohar himself, who was frightened by his own daring after the first version of his work had been disseminated. Other such instances of this phenomenon — different recensions of the same passage, all written by the author of the Zohar — have been well attested.

 

Here is a 25 page article (PDF format) Christian Influences in the Zohar, Yehudah Liebes

Conversion to Judaism

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.

The basic requirements for gerut (conversion to Judaism) are that a beit 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 beit din then issues a Shtar Giur (“Certificate of Conversion”), certifying that the person is now part of the Jewish people.

Who sits on a Beit Din? Who is a rabbi?

In theory, the Beit din doesn’t need to be all rabbis; in halakhah (traditional Jewish law) there is the option for three observant and knowledgable Jewish men to sit on the Beit Din.  This was generally done in an environment where a person was joining an observant Jewish community. In today’s world, post Enlightenment, most people converting are not joining a a community where most Jews are observant. The social shifts since the Enlightenment have been tremendous. As such, all mainstream Jewish denominations have conversions overseen by rabbis, to avoid any doubt.

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. However, one can’t trust just any individual they meet through the internet. One should make sure that they have real rabbinical ordination, and is widely recognized within their own denomination as legitimate. See the article on fake rabbis.

Also see The mikveh as a way to solve conversion problems

Should a conversion follow halakhah?

All of rabbinic Judaism followed halakhah as a way of maintaining community.  Halakhah is normative – what one actually ought to do – as opposed to a suggestion – in all of Conservative/Masorti Judaism and Orthodox Judaism (even if occasionally interpreted differently.) However since the development of Classic German Reform Judaism, some have held that conversions may be done in any way, even not following halakhah. As such, from the late 1800’s until the 1970’s, a huge number of conversions overseen by Reform rabbis didn’t even attempt to be halakhic. Thus those can not be accepted by the rest of the Jewish community. Note that many Reform/Progressive rabbis in Israel and the UK rejected the anti-halakhic attitude of Classic German Reform.

Since the 1970’s there has been a subtle but important shift in Reform Judaism, holding that for such matters halakhah was helpful in creating unity. As such, some Reform rabbis today do run conversions which, in their view, fulfill halakhic requirements, and when those criteria are met, they are accepted as valid by Conservative/Masorti rabbis. For details see Proceedings of The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards: 1980–1985, pp. 77–101.

Here is a common, but by no means official, American Reform perspective.

“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

Attempts towards Jewish unity

On several occasions rabbis in Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism worked to heal rifts in the Jewish community. If more people know about these hopeful enterprises, it may inspire our own generation to restore Jewish unity.

 

What if one is of maternal Jewish lineage, but raised as a Christian? Does one need to convert?

There are a tremendous number of people who are halakhically Jewish because their mother, or maternal grandmother, was halakhically Jewish, yet they were raised in another faith (usually Christian.)

Historically, most people in this category never found out that they were Jewish, yet in ever generation a significant number of folks do find out, and they want to leave their childhood faith, and observe Judaism as their religion. In cases like these, do they need to convert to Judaism?

 

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