24 November 2009

International Rabbinical Fellowship Press Release: "New Orthodox Rabbinical Group Established"

International Rabbinic Fellowship
347 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001
Press Release

Contact: Rabbi Jason Herman, Executive Director
Phone: 917.751.5265
Email: jlherman@jlherman.net
9 A.M. EDT, November 20, 2009
new orthodox rabbinical Group established

Rabbis from across the United States, Canada, South America, Israel and Hong Kong came together last week to officially establish a new and long awaited organization of Orthodox Rabbis. The International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), several years in the making, is the brainchild of Rabbi Avraham Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in Riverdale, the Bronx, New York, and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, and Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Rabbi Emeritus of New York’s oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.
A board and officers was elected consisting of the next generation of Orthodox Rabbis who have shown themselves to be at the forefront of modern Orthodox leadership. The organization’s 120 or so founding members elected Rabbi Barry Gelman, Rabbi of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, Houston, Texas, as the IRF’s first President, Rabbi Hyim Shafner, Rabbi of Bais Abraham Congregation, St. Louis, Missouri, as Vice President of Education and Communication, Rabbi Nissan Antine, Rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah, Potomac, Maryland, as Vice President for Membership and Conferences, Rabbi Joel Tessler, Rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah, Potomac, Maryland, as Vice President, Rabbi Saul Strosberg, Rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel, Nashville, Tennessee, as Treasurer, and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, Rabbi of Congregation B’nai David-Judea, Los Angeles, California, as Secretary. A code of ethics that will bind the new group was provisionally adopted.
This first conference of the International Rabbinic Fellowship included the voting into reality of several new initiatives that promise to transform the Orthodox community and perhaps the Jewish world. A committee to formulate new procedures for Orthodox conversions, so much in the news in Israel and the United states as of late, was appointed. The committee is tasked with presenting to the IRF a final outline of requirements and processes for Orthodox conversions to be adopted by the membership in June at its annual meeting. The committee’s chairs are Rabbi Dov Linzer, Head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York City and Rabbi Joel Tessler, Senior Rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah, Potomac, Maryland.
Though Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women as rabbis, several Orthodox women who serve in a handful of Orthodox congregations in rabbinic capacities were present. A long discussion was held at the conference on the question of admitting women acting in a rabbinic capacity as full voting members among the Rabbis. The group voted to task the membership committee with creating criteria for the potential consideration of admission of women. If the IRF votes to admit women, criteria for membership will also be voted on in June. The IRF recognizes that there are highly capable women serving in rabbinic roles and as such the group might benefit from their presence, ideas and guidance. This heralds the first time that an Orthodox rabbinical group has entertained the possibility of admitting women as full members into its ranks.
For more information about the International Rabbinic Fellowship and the proceedings of its seminal inaugural conference held this past Tuesday and Wednesday November 17-18, please contact any of the following members:
Rabbi Barry Gelman, tel. 713.723.3850, email
Rabbi Hyim Shafner, tel. 314.583.4397, email
Rabbi Nissan Antine, tel. 301.279.7010 x 209, email
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, tel. 310.276.9269, email
Rabbi Marc D. Angel, tel. 212.724.4145, email
Rabbi Jason Herman, IRF Executive Director, tel. 917.751.5265, email

05 November 2009

More on Meiri

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I attended an AJWS event where Professor Moshe Halbertal spoke to past attendees of their Rabbinical Student Delegation trips (of which I was one, having gone to El Salvador), wherein, although he spoke about Rabbi Menachem Meiri,* he nicely framed the larger discussion. Professor Halbertal wrote an article on the aforementioned Meiri several years back that is pretty well-regarded on the topic.
What isn't as well-known is that Rabbi Aryeh Klapper gave a lecture (“Paskening Like the Meiri: Reflections on Jewish Attitudes Toward Gentiles and Halakhic Integrity”) which I attended a few years ago (although I re-listened to here and here). Although I found many ideas interesting in the lecture, I'm going to transcribe several interesting excerpts.
The first is on the interest in the Meiri:
In the draft of an article I am trying to write about this,** I think the fun paragraph I wrote about this was:
The mere existence of the Meiri has been a source of comfort for Orthodox Jews with universalistic tendencies. The reason that one wants to pasken like the Meiri is because of his unique position about Jewish-Gentile relations that appeal to those of us who have discomfort with laws that make sharp distinctions as to the obligations one has toward Gentiles as opposed to Jews and particularly those laws that seem to imply that basic standards of ethics are limited within the Jewish community.
A very fascinating section was where he discussed the importance of Meiri's writings and how they were attempted to be suppressed:
One is I want to preserve the uniqueness of Judaism, so if I say that all that you need to be a good person is x, then what’s special about Judaism? Secondly, one has the sense that somehow that being part of a community means that you relate to members of the community differently than you relate to non-members of the community. So then there should be some way that family members see themselves as obligated differently to each other, they’re should be some difference.
Now the Meiri offering a way possibly to level all of those distinctions, therefore, was seen as, both because he is seen as diminishing the uniqueness of Judaism and diminishing the unique bonds of Jews to each other was seen as very threatening. And because of this, a whole series of objections were raised. A stark way of framing this – and I’m going to quote this article again where I said
Meiri’s evident willingness to subject halakhah to moral critique and Meiri’s position to say not just "I think this is the halakhah", but I think if you don’t think this is the halakhah, then you’re doing something very wrong. And not just technically wrong, but morally wrong, because there is no justification for treating people like this. So Meiri’s evident willingness to subject halakhah to moral critique raised alarm among traditionalists. As a result, various legends and methodological positions have grown up with the purpose of limiting Meiri’s halakhic and hashkafic impact. These include the claim that Meiri’s works were unknown in halakhic tradition before the 20th century, that his work was published by the memorized transmission of unique manuscripts in the Vatican library, and, therefore, the Jesuits had infiltrated pro-Gentile glosses into the text.
When I was in yeshivah, there was, in fact, a very elaborate story about this: that Meiri was unknown to many for many years. One man who had a photographic memory was allowed into the Vatican library one day a year; he would read the Meiri and come back and write it down very quickly. That’s how the Meiri was published and the Meiri was unknown before this. Now one has to be suspicious because isn’t it funny that a work which exists only in the Vatican library happens to have these pro-Gentile glosses.
All very nice but regrettably not true. Not true at all. If you look at the Harvard Library catalog, you’ll see that the Meiri is published as early as 1830….
Another interesting quote:
The fundamental claim that Halbertal makes is that Meiri thinks that there is no avodah zarah in Christianity and, therefore, you can be engaged with their worship – all those prohibitions are moot. And Rabbi Henkin claims no, you can’t do that. Halbertal makes this claim based on this terminological precision. Here, I have to make a reference to quote Rabbi Saul Berman, who taught me the notion of Predictive Principles in Halakhah. If I want to set up the claim that A always goes with B, I have to know in advance whether a certain object is going to be B or not. So Professor Halbertal has these three categories, which are Civil Discrimination, Indirect Contact with Idolatry, and Social Contact. And there are 60-70 cases. So I had my students – what I did was, instead of giving them Professor Halbertal’s neat categorizations, I gave them all these cases in the order in the Talmud, and I said “Take every case and put it in either category A, B, or C.” And it turns out that the categories are not good predictive principles. On the whole, except for a few cases, the students distributed randomly as to whether these laws fell into category A, B, or C. So, it’s difficult to test Professor’s Halbertal’s thesis on a broad level.
Whenever Meiri makes these radical claims, he only makes them by implication. For example, he says here עובדי אלילים, one is not obligated to save them because they have no דת. This is the law regarding paternity of people who have no דת. When he makes the non-radical claims, he says "but, with regard to those who have דת...,". When he makes the radical claims, he leaves out the "but". He just does the implication. Pretty consistent. So you have to wonder: does this mean that Meiri really believes these things but can't get away with it or he's just seeding the tradition and hoping someone will come along and pasken like it? Is he cluing you in that this is really just apologetic and don't believe any of the other places he said it, either? I don't know. It's tough to imagine that he says it in so many times and yet, at the same time, there is a pattern - to me, and I have to show you all of the cases - that the more radical he gets halakhically, the less likely it is for him to spell out the implication.
One last one:
...Rabbi Henkin's really compelling argument is there's some silence - there's so many places that Meiri has the opportunity to just tell us "Christians are not עובדי עבודה זרה." He says the Sefardic rabbis write that Muslims are not עובדי עבודה זרה. He never says it about Christians. He has so many opportunities, it's suspicious.
* Meiri had previously been discussed on my blog here.
** The paper on which he was working was presented as "The Meiri’s Halakhah about Christians and Christianity: A Response to Halbertal" at the Association for Jewish Studies 39th Annual Conference in December 2007.

03 November 2009

Is There a Jewish View on Same-Gender Marriage In the Public Sphere?

With the votes in Maine and Washington today, I saw some stuff on Twitter that made me think about it, especially Alan's tweet that says "Doesn't understand these anti-marriage-equality folks in DC: why do they think their (dumb) religion has say over CIVIL marriage? Jews don't."
This got me to thinking: is this so? Does Judaism believe that a same-gendered marriage may occur?
What makes this a not simple discussion begins with the following midrash, commenting on Lev. 18.3 (even though verses 2-5 are part of the introduction to verses 6-23, with verses 24-30 being the conclusion to the middle section), the rabbis treat verse 3 as referring to something not [necessarily] in verses 6-23 (Sifra 9.8):
כמעשה ארץ מצרים וכמעשה ארץ כנען לא תעשו, יכול לא יבנו בניינות ולא יטעו נטיעות כמותם תלמוד לומר ובחקותיהם לא תלכו, לא אמרתי אלא בחוקים החקוקים להם ולאבותיהם ולאבות אבותיהם ומה היו עושים האיש נושא לאיש והאשה לאשה, האיש נושא אשה ובתה והאשה ניסת לשנים לכך נאמר ובחקותיהם לא תלכו
"Like the actions of the land of Egypt or like the actions of the land of Canaan you shall not do" - Is it possible that [this means that] there shall not be built buildings nor shall there be planted plantings like them? What can be learned out from this passage is that "In their particular ways you shall not walk" - I would have only said 'in their particular ways which they have distinguished as being particular to them and to their fathers and to the fathers of their fathers.'
So what did they do [that was problematic that this verse is prohibiting]? A man would marry a man and a woman would marry a woman; a man would marry a woman and her daughter and a woman would be married to to men. Therefore, it is said, "In their particular ways you shall not walk."
If that were the end of the story, it could just be that these are things Jews, alone, are to avoid, while whether or not gentiles are to avoid them is unclear. However, what further complicates the matter is the notion of the 7 Noahide commandments, which, according to Jewish tradition, are to be followed by gentiles. One of these seven is widely known as Sexual Morality - included in this commandment are a number of sexual prohibitions, including incest, bestiality, and adultery, but also includes homosexual sex between two men (but not between two women).
However, if this sexual morality aspect were to include the prohibition on marriages mentioned in the midrash, then, according to Jewish tradition, not only for Jews is same-sex/gender marriage prohibited, but also for non-Jews. And, if Jews are supposed to be the light to the nations, then we shouldn't be helping the rest of the world in a direction that is not in their best interests. On the other hand, this discussion could only arise when Jews could be able to contribute to the conversation....

01 November 2009

My Visit to the Hospital Today

Today, I went to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital for the first time ever (which is interesting since this is the main hospital in the area (and I ran past it many times when I used to be able to jog) and I have lived here for five years and my last week here).
My pain started earlier this week. On Tuesday, when I was riding the subway, because of how another rider was sitting, I sat next to my wife, albeit on a ridge between seats. Although I experienced some uncomfortability in my tailbone, I thought nothing of it. The next day, I woke up with a little soreness there; the following day, a little bit more. I had merely thought I had bruised my tailbone and was hoping it would get better on its own. By Friday evening, the pain was certainly not a little bruise, but I couldn't just go to the doctor's office. On Saturday, I began to have trouble walking and, by Saturday night, my walking was very limited. So, today, we headed over to the hospital to get my pain checked out.
The doctor who saw me identified the issue as a pilonidal cyst, which is an abcess of pus near my tailbone. When I told him what I thought had caused it (the pressure from the subway seat, he dismissed that idea (although, it's unclear, precisely, what causes pilonidal cysts).
The procedure consisted of various local numbing shots and then a cut to open up the pocket of pus (none of which was comfortable). I then waited about 15 minutes for it to air out (for the [bad] bacteria to die. I thought I was past all of the pain, but the next part where there was string put in the area where the pus had been and it was surprisingly painful. And with a bandage put on top, that was it.
We then headed out of the hospital (thank you, honey, for waiting for me the entire time with our daughter), had a friend graciously give us a ride back to our apartment, and now it's time to recover.