Why Our Haredi Chief Rabbis Must Go

An Orthodox convert from Canada makes so much sense, it’s painful. Barbara Crook puts Sefardic Chief Rabbi and haredi stooge Shlomo Amar in a corner and beats the stuffing out of him:

I’m a Jew by choice. It’s the most important choice I ever made in my life, and perhaps the most important choice I will ever make.

Almost eight years after my husband and I completed Orthodox conversions in Canada, every action in my life is defined by my Jewish identity and my desire to be on the front lines for Israel.

I’ve been on numerous Jewish boards, including that of an Orthodox outreach organization, was named woman of the year by my local chapter of Emunah and have lectured about Jewish leadership across Canada. And whom do my Jewish-born friends call when they have questions about Jewish laws or tradition? The convert, of course.

I’ve been to Israel 18 times since my first trip in May 2003, have led missions to Israel and taught Canadian and American university students how to defend Israel. I spend most of my vacations studying Hebrew in Jerusalem, and work for an Israeli organization that has defended Israel in parliaments and conferences around the world.

According to Jewish law, I have all the obligations and privileges of any Jew born of a Jewish mother. But if Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar gets his way, when the time comes to make aliya I will be denied the basic right of equality to other Jews under the Law of Return. Rabbi Amar wants to change Israeli law so that only Jews born to a Jewish mother would be entitled to automatic citizenship.

"[Converts] are able to come as citizens through other laws, and that is fine… of course they will be considered," he told Israel Radio.

In other words, all Jews are equal, but some Jews are less equal than others.…

[Ms. Crook then lists the copious instances where the Torah demands respect for and protection of the convert, including the then (and, aparently now) novel concept that converts and born Jews are equal under the law.]

The Torah codifies and champions something that Rabbi Amar has failed to grasp: my fundamental right as part of our nation to join my people under equal terms and settle in the Land of Israel.

The future of Israel and the Jewish people depends on Jews who embrace Judaism and are proud to be Jews – whether by birth or by conscious decision. I have made my choice and God has recognized my choice. My right to the land is no less than Rabbi Amar’s. God gave me that right. Rabbi Amar cannot take it away.

At this point, I hope our next chief rabbis come from the Reform Movement. Even if they don’t, Shlomo Amar and his ethically, legally and morally challenged Ashkenazic counterpart need to be removed ASAP.

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26 Comments

Filed under Haredim, Israel, Jewish Leadership, Sefardim

26 responses to “Why Our Haredi Chief Rabbis Must Go

  1. Nigritude Ultramarine

    I like this quote from a JPost reader:

    “Lincoln said he didn’t have much respect for a man’s religion if it didn’t mean he treated his dog or his horse any better.”

    Why am I not surprised that, Abraham Lincoln, a farm boy from Kentucky, has more sense that a “scholar” like Amar?

  2. As a convert myself, I agree completely. I’ve been told (but am still studying so could be mistaken) that there is no word for “convert” in Biblical Hebrew.

    I have a better idea though — why not abolish the idea of Chief Rabbi in the first place, since there’s no place for such a construct in Judaism. And while we’re at it, why don’t we secularize the government of Israel and allow religion to be a personal choice the way it is in free countries? Why do we have to borrow bad ideas from the other nations and leave the good ones?

  3. Yochanan Lavie

    I agree with Daniel Lyons. Let’s privatize religion. No state monopolies.

  4. Garnel Ironheart

    On one hand, I’m not writing to defend Rav Amar. On the other hand, I think one has to ask: What led him to state such an opinion? In recent years there has been a controversy surrounding the Law of Return. It states that any Jew is entitled to instant Israeli citizenship but doesn’t define “Who is a Jew”. As a result, a non-Orthodox convert or the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother could make a claim to Israeli citizenship under the law even though, according to halachah, they are not Jewish. In fact, there have been quite a few such cases. It is possible that Rav Amar’s announcement has come out as a result of this abuse of the Law of Return. Rather than reopen a can of worms by announcing that only halachic converts to Judaism may claim citizenship, he has simply lumped all newcomers in the same category. In that way he hopes to remove the issue of people who are not Jewish according to halacha but want to claim citizenship. Unfortunately, his solution winds up alienating and insulting many people who have sincerely come to dwell under the wings of the Shechinah and will just wind up causing more damage to his cause.
    As for secularizing the government of Israel, that is a brilliant solution as it would solve the Israeli-Arab problem in the Middle East. As a Jewish state, the Israelis have a reason to be in the middle of that medieval mess. Israel is Jewish land and the Jews are demanding their right to live there. But as a secular state, Israel loses all reason for existing. What is an Israeli? A new construct with no real ancestral tie to the land. The Israelis, divested of that connection, could then migrate, without guilt, to Florida and Toronto and leave the country behind for the Arabs. Be careful what you wish for.

  5. D

    Better still, eliminate the entire “Right of Return” altogether. It has become a political football for Orthodox and Heterodox movements alike in the past few decades. Indeed, recent applications of the law has resulted in upwards of half-a-million goyim getting automatic citizenship and some pretty colorful celebrations of X-mas in Tel Aviv.

    Call the law a vestige of a bygone era and eliminate it once-and-for-all!

  6. To Hell with these “rabbis” (literally).

  7. Lawrence M. Reisman

    D’s call to “eliminate the entire “Right of Return” altogether” makes sense. Today, non-Jews can become citizens by living in Israel for 3 years, learning Hebrew, and other requirements I have forgotten about. It shouldn’t be too difficult for Jews to fulfill these requirements as well; let them apply to everyone. Actually, 20 years ago, either Shas or Degel Torah (back when there was still some sense over there) suggested that instead of allowing the right of return to Jews, it should allow it to those who identify as Jews or those who have suffered in their homeland for being identified as Jews. It makes more sense today than it did then.

  8. Yos

    “Better still, eliminate the entire “Right of Return” altogether.”

    Exactly! How many ‘real’ Jews are European pseudo-goyim who contribute nothing to the state or faith? No offense to them -heh- but it’s silly that they’re somehow worthy of aliya and yet can’t pass the test that foreign laborers do without any real complaint.

  9. Yos

    “As for secularizing the government of Israel, that is a brilliant solution as it would solve the Israeli-Arab problem in the Middle East.”

    Sadly, it doesn’t really matter. The claim to Israel for religious reasons is actually the weakest argument in the arena of public opinion. The strongest being ancestral ties. Once you establish a state on those terms, you have to appropriate citizenship accordingly. Doing so from a religious perspective is unavoidably slippery because of the subjective nature of religion.

  10. Isa

    In 1936 or perhaps 1937 the whole of the Syrian Rabbinate in North America banned any and all converts from their community-which is still in force. I believe what was going on is there was an ‘Orthodox’ conversion mill(s) going on.
    There might be still an ‘Orthodox’ conversion mills . There ARE ‘anything goes’ ‘Orthodox’ rabbis.The MINIMUM time for an Orthodox conversion is at least one year with most stretching to a 2-3 or more years. There are exceptions of course e.g. father Jewish or perhaps raised Jewish-then the minimum time may not apply.
    With R. Amar it may be because of conversion mills OR some power play.
    There was a time when Orthodox converts were accepted automatically and Conservative converts were accepted just so long as they said the proper things-this regarding the Conservative converts were done ‘under the table’. That was until the Lub Rebbe decided to make a political issue of the whole process.

  11. Neo-Conservaguy

    The Syrian rabbinate in general seems to represent the most extremist junction of Sephardim and Chasidim hashgafa. They are in their own group outside of mainstream western or eastern Sephardim, who tend to be more rational about issues of halacha. Not accepting converts places them directly against Jewish history in general and Sephardic history in particular – it’s pure chutspa.

    Barbara Crook is dead on correct – from a Torah perspective. For better or for worse – and usually I believe for better – we don’t practice Torah Judaism, but rather rabbinic Judaism. As such, conversion has been subjected to a certain amount of reaction to historical stress in the text. Note well, however, that a straight reading from Gemara regarding the requirements for a kosher conversion are rather more simple than is claimed by most Orthodox groups, who seem to find sport these days in trying to “not recognize” conversions, some even by other Orthodox groups. Converts have become pawns on the political chessboard of the rabbinate – how exactly is this living up to the mitsva of loving the convert?

  12. Lawrence M. Reisman

    To clarify what the Syrian rabbis did, they banned members of their community from marrying either non-Jews or converts. I pray (daven is a Yiddish word) with Syrians shabbos mornings, and I have seen converts and their sons receive aliyot. The ban was focused on marriage, so as to avoid intermarriage. I am told that when Reb Moshe Feinstein objected to the ban, he was asked “Are you willing to take responsiblity in this world and the next every time a Syrian Jew intermarries?” He had no answer.

  13. Neo-Conservaguy

    In other words, they decided to ignore a Torah commandment because of even the possibility of “intermarriage” by way of a non-kosher conversion of the “outsider”. If we took that same approach to kashruth, we wouldn’t eat anything because it might contain unseen bugs – oh wait, that’s exactly what some fanatical Jews do hold! The Syrians seem to be an insular community that want to stay that way and it appears to have far more to due with clan (racial?) identity than with real concerns about halachoth of gerim. What – are their rabbis so inept that they can’t oversee conversions their own community will accept?

  14. Lawrence M. Reisman

    Neo-Conservaguy derides the Syrian community’s takana against marrying those not born Jewish. He asks “are their rabbis so inept that they can’t oversee conversions their own community will accept?” The Syrian community is a very diverse one, with varying levels of religious observance. Not everyone does what the rabbis tell them, and absent the takana, it would be very easy for someone to find a cooperative rabbi somewhere else to do a conversion. By the way, the insular nature of the community does not keep them from marrying either other Sephardim or Ashkenazim. Talking about their “clan (racial?) identity” is not only inaccurate, but reeks of racism.

  15. Neo-Conservaguy

    Racism? Yes – theirs.

  16. Isa

    As I been led to believe the Syrian ban against converts also banned converts and their sons and daughters from being enrolled in Syrian Jewish schools. Perhaps now there is some acceptance of converts. regarding this quote:
    “and I have seen converts and their sons receive aliyot.”
    These converts, were they married to Syrians?
    If not, then I see where the difference is.
    I do know that in the Lebanese Jewish community there is great tolerance.

  17. Lawrence M. Reisman

    “These converts, were they married to Syrians?” No. However, for what it’s worth, they are black. Are Syrian Jews racist? Nowhere near as much as Ashkenazic Jews who try to paint non-Ashkenazic Jews as two inches above the Arabs.

  18. Yochanan Lavie

    “Are Syrian Jews racist? Nowhere near as much as Ashkenazic Jews who try to paint non-Ashkenazic Jews as two inches above the Arabs.”

    I am as Ashkenazi as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and I emphatically do not denegrate non-Ashkenazim. (In fact, I particularly admire Yeminite and Ethiopian Jews, who seem to me the most Tanach-like Jews of all.)

    Futhermore, I saw disdain in your previous post:

    “I pray (daven is a Yiddish word) with Syrians shabbos mornings…”

    It’s a Yiddish word- so what? So is Shabbos (as opposed to Shabbat). It’s more Jewish than “pray” to my ears, which to me conjures up images of a church service.

    Some, but not all, “SY’s” look down upon us “JW’s.” So racism goes both ways.

    The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care if you wind your tefillin clockwise or counter-clockwise (or even if you wear them at all). Neither should we.

    (Yes, plenty of Sephardim, and even some Tunisians perished in the Shoah).

  19. Yos

    “The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care if you wind your tefillin clockwise or counter-clockwise (or even if you wear them at all). Neither should we.”

    I’ve always felt that on a certain level that should be the ultimate criteria concerning מיהו יהודי. Zionists were arguing over who deserved aliya, and almost in response every variation of individual was lumped together and labelled ‘Juden’.

  20. Lawrence M. Reisman

    To Yochanan Lavie:

    You say you “emphatically do not denegrate non-Ashkenazim.” I wasn’t accusing you, but the individual who says that Syrian concerns “have far more to due with clan (racial?) identity than with real concerns about halachoth of gerim.”

    You say “racism goes both ways,” of course it does. But I have found a lot more on the part of Ashkenazim, especially the more Westernized, acculturated, secularly educated – and this includes the Modern Orthodox.

    You say you saw disdain in my previous post. Sorry, it wasn’t intended. It’s just that I have spent a good chunk of the last 27 years defending the Syrian community, including the takana on marrying gerim.

    “The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care” etc. etc. etc. Totally irrelevant. The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care if you were Jewish. But I do agree we shouldn’t care (generally) how Jews wrap their tefillin, what they eat or don’t eat on Pesach, or what nusach they use. I don’t. But I do care when Jews denigrate other Jews for following rabbinical takkanas that apply only to their own communities, and which are supported by all the rabbis of that community, no matter their religious and ideological orientation today. (By the way, I believe that the rabbi of the Lebanese congregation in Brooklyn signed on to the reaffirmation of the takkanah that was published 20 years ago. I’ll have to check on that.)

  21. Neo-Conservaguy

    “Are Syrian Jews racist? Nowhere near as much as Ashkenazic Jews who try to paint non-Ashkenazic Jews as two inches above the Arabs.”

    In other words: yes. Why not just say it, Lawrence? They are being racist. Just like, as you point out, are many Ashkenazim in how they perceive and have treated Arabic Jews in Israel for the past 50 years.

    “It’s just that I have spent a good chunk of the last 27 years defending the Syrian community, including the takana on marrying gerim.”

    Exactly what defense have you offered that responds to my direct question: how can a rabbinic taqanah (note the Sephardic spelling, BTW) build a fence around the performance of a positive Torah mitsva? Show me the text that is the basis of your answer, please, so we can discuss it accordingly.

  22. Yochanan Lavie

    The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care” etc. etc. etc. Totally irrelevant.

    I respectfully disagree. That is exactly the point. AS Josephus, and the Talmudic rabbis attest, Jews are always involved in internecine conflicts over trivialities while our enemies encircle us. Today, nobody seems to care that Adolph Hitler, Jr. in Iran is planning Shoah II, the Sequel (although he denies the original ever happened).

    As for the convert controversy,I once heard a prominent Syrian rabbi, Jose Faur (now at Bar-Ilan University) speak in Brooklyn. I was the only non-Syrian in the audience. He was doing a shiur in Mishle, and praised Abraham Carmel, the famous convert. When someone from the audience was puzzled, Faur explained that Jews are supposed to respect sincere converts. The takanah, he said, applies only to the Syrian community as a hedge against assimilation. We may not want our daughters to marry Carmel, but we should respect him, Faur explained.

    I disagree with the takanah, because I don’t like chrumrot. I think they are over “al toseph,” in general. However that does not mean the Syrians are all racist (though some are- as in all communities). Faur even tried to set me up with someone in the community. (It didn’t work out, but not because I’m Ashkenazi.)

  23. Yos

    “The ovens of Auschwitz didn’t care” etc. etc. etc. Totally irrelevant.”

    To quote the Qu’ran:

    …their fighting between them is severe, you may think them as one body, but their hearts are disunited; that is because they are a people who have no sense.

    Yes, schism is bad. Be it liberal or convolutedly severe. But there had better be a way around it, because Amalek is catching up.

  24. Lawrence M. Reisman

    “In other words: yes. Why not just say it, Lawrence? They are being racist” I do not believe that the issur on marrying gerim arises from racism. Furthermore, the way it was phrased was racist on your part (use of the word “clan”). Don’t be the pot calling the kettle black.

    “how can a rabbinic taqanah (note the Sephardic spelling, BTW) build a fence around the performance of a positive Torah mitsva” The question is irrelevant. The Syrian rabbonim were interested in combating intermarriage and assimilation, in other words preventing the violation of a negative commandment. Rabbonim have wide lattitude in promulgating rules for their own communities. That is what was done in this case.

  25. Neo-Conservaguy

    From where do you derive your halacha, Lawrence? Again, I’m looking for the specific text, both to my original challenge to you and also to the negative mitsva you’ve now mentioned. I always happy to learn from others, but I think you’re out of ammo on this one.

  26. pjb

    It boggles my mine how one communtiy can put a fence up to converts. The torah states to accept and welcome converts. I have been dating a syrian guy for almost 7 months. Allegedly he has spoken to his rabbi about our future. He told me the ban was only against converts who converted for the primary reason to intermarry. My father was born jewish and my mother converted. I am lookin into an orthodox conversion at the time. Perhaps his rabbi is a bit more traditional??, or he’s lying, and there is no getting around this made up law. 😦

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