Tzemach Atlas has a post about a menorah "lighting" held by the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Chabad Chief Rabbi of Georgia. An Orthodox Christian website describes the encounter this way:
TBILISI, Georgia – During the eight-day long holiday of Chanukah, an
extraordinary event occurred at the headquarters of the Head of the
Georgian Orthodox Church, where Ilia II welcomed Rabbi Abraham
Mikhaelashvili, the Chief Rabbi of Georgia and Chabad Lubavitch
The Christian Orthodox leader extended
congratulations to the Jewish people on Chanukah and lit the candles of
a Menorah, presented to him as a gift by Rabbi Mikhaelashvili. The two
religious leaders then joined one another in singing the first psalm –
the Patriarch singing in Georgian and the Chief Rabbi singing in Hebrew.
this festive meeting, the parties discussed issues concerning the
freedom of worship in Georgia. Ilia II and Rabbi Mikhaelashvili
emphasized that the traditional religions of Georgia were notable for
their mutual respect and goodwill, which, in turn, has assisted in
maintaining mutual understanding and peace in the region.
Georgian religious leader added that brotherly relations between the
two peoples have resulted in a positive influence on relations between
the two countries – Israel and Georgia. The Patriarch noted that
Georgian Jews preserve the Georgian language and Georgian traditions
when they return to their historical homeland. He also supported the
initiative recently expressed by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili
to provide Georgian Jews, who have immigrated to Israel, with dual
This is the menorah "lighting" Marvin Schick has been so worked up about. Here is what Schick wrote:
In the name of tolerance, too much that is alien is being tolerated. An
example is the extraordinary recent Chanukah Menorah ceremony in
Tiblisi, Georgia. Chabad’s Chief Rabbi and the Patriarch of the
Georgian Orthodox Church performed the ceremony, with the Christian
leader lighting the Menorah and the two clergymen singing the
blessings, one in Hebrew and the other in his native language. I am
looking at a photo of the event as I write.
But, as I noted on Mentalblog:
There was no bracha recited here. It was during the day. And the menorah was presented as a gift to the Patriarch, who lit it himself. It was not a Jewish menorah-lighting ceremony for Jews.
As you know, I’m not shy about criticizing Chabad, but what wrong took place here?
Unless Marvin Schick, et al, hold that any friendly contact with non-Jewish religious leaders is somehow forbidden. But fair warning: You are writing many Rishonim and Achronim out of Judaism by doing so.
And this is my problem with Marvin Schick. Conflating a presentation made to a religious leader with a public menorah-lighting ceremony is a large mistake to make. It is even worse when one realizes Schick accused Alan Dershowitz of promoting intermarriage, when all Dershowitz did was endorse the Reform movement’s position on patralineal descent and encourage the Jewish community to be more welcoming of those who had already* intermarried. Dershowitz’s position is not Orthodox by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not the same as advocating wholesale intermarriage for the sake of intermarriage.
I’ve made the point before that Chabad has honored men who should not be honored by an Orthodox Jewish institution. Dershowitz is not one of those, because he has done much for Shabbat and kashrut observance at Harvard, and stood up for Israel at a time when that was extremely unpopular on college campuses. He is not himself intermarried, and is a deeply concerned and committed Jew.
Marvin Schick cannot see this. He cannot see the difference between Chabad’s Children’s Museum honoring actor Jeff Goldblum, the non-committed, inter-dating, once and perhaps soon again intermarried Jew who has done, in his own words, nothing Jewish his entire adult life except make an occasional trip to the local deli.
There is much to criticize about today’s Chabad, much that makes me fearful for its future and the future of the Jewish people. Honoring Alan Dershowitz or presenting a local non-Jewish religious figure with a menorah are not part of them.
Schick sees real problems with Chabad. For the most part, I agree with his assessment. But I cannot for the life of me understand why an educated man so consistently chooses examples that cannot make his case.
* UPDATE: I received the following from Marvin Schick’s son Joe:
[Dershowitz] wrote "If a non-Jew wants to marry a Jew and is prepared to have a rabbi participate in the ceremony, a rabbi should be willing to lend his or her Jewish participation to so important an event."
So, perhaps it would have been more correct for me to have written, "have already intermarried or made the irrevocable decision to do so." Again, I disagree with Dershowitz, and I would not have asked him to speak at the Chabad convention. But Dershowitz’s positives are at least as prevalent as his negatives, and a (weak, to be sure) case can be made for having him speak. This is not so with other Chabad speakers and honorees, including the very publicly intermarried mayor of a major city honored with lighting the public menorah, the actor Jeff Goldblum as noted above, and others.
Of course, all this begs the important question. The above Dershowitz quote is from an obscure article** published in the Harvard Crimson. Few people have seen it. Yet, Marvin Schick makes a charge – Dershowitz promotes intermarriage – and does not bother to quote or cite this article, which is in effect his lone source for making his allegation. If Schick had actually done his homework (he clearly did not do so), he would have cited this quote in his original article. But he did not. If he had, much of Chabad’s hostile reaction would have been muted, and Schick’s point would have been made. So why didn’t Schick do this? The only conclusion I can reach is that he did not have this quote at hand when he wrote his article, and based his opinions about Dershowitz on other information that, if he had cited it, would not have made his case.
**UPDATE #2: Joe Schick also notes that the above quote appears in Dershowitz’s book, The Vanishing American Jew, and so it does, on page 322. But the context of the quote makes it clear that my understanding of Dershowitz’s position is correct – that, if nothing else can be done, welcoming the non-Jewish spouse is the only path to take. Dershowitz makes it quite clear that he fully endorses discouraging intermarriage, and he fully understands the Orthodox and Conservative movements will not count non-Jewish spouses as Jews or welcome them religiously. He only contends they should be welcomed within the larger Jewish community, and he does this for a clearly stated reason, a reason that seems true: Discouraging intermarriage by sitting shiva for the child, withdrawing from the child, etc. has not worked on any level. While I disagree with Dershowitz’s proposed solution, to imply that he is advocating intermariage as a first option is absolutely incorrect.