The Orthodox-secular rift has threatened the Zionist movement from its outset. To facilitate cooperation despite the deep differences, the "status quo" was established, so that it would not be necessary to deal comprehensively with the place of religion in Zionism and the State of Israel. Piece by piece, various "arrangements" were established in order to avoid making fundamental decisions.
During the last decade, the State of Israel has struggled to refine policies related to conversion to Judaism on multiple levels. There have been a number of conversion annulments, even more attempted annulments, some of which were rejected in Israel’s rabbinical courts. Others were dealt with by Israel’s Supreme Court. There have been hundreds of cases of converts who were unrecognized by local rabbinates, hundreds more who converted overseas and were denied entry into Israel under the Law of Return, and finally, thousands who sought conversion in Israel but were unable to convert through the national system, either because the process was too burdensome, or alternatively, because they were rejected out of hand by the Ministry of Interior.
How much legal autonomy—and how much exemption from otherwise applicable laws—ought religious groups to have?
When government grows larger and more ambitious, laying down the law in more and more areas of life, these questions arise more often and more urgently.
It is a common motif that without some “special accommodation” or exemption from various laws, it would be difficult for religious communities or even individuals to live religious lives. If public law forbids employment discrimination on the basis of religion, for example, religious groups have an obvious claim for exemption when choosing their clergy, and a claim for autonomy to decide who qualifies to be rabbi, priest, or pastor.
Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders
By Rabbi Hayyim Angel
OU Press, 2013, 368 pages
Reviewed by Rabbi Israel Drazin
Poet Robert Bly speaks of two periods of “opening” in human life, roughly between 18 and 23 years of age, and then again sometime in one’s mid-40s. The first of these coincides with our college years, a time of notable openness to new ideas, new ways. It was as a freshman at Yeshiva College that I was introduced to serious religion, and I became an enthusiastic participant. My engagement lasted only five years. I was very much in love with the Orthodox life, the practices, and the learning. But for better or worse I had a philosophical conscience.
We are very pleased to announce that beginning June 1, 2013, Rabbi Hayyim Angel will serve as National Scholar of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. A remarkable scholar and teacher, Rabbi Hayyim Angel will dramatically increase the programming of our Institute by offering classes, serving as scholar in residence in communities throughout North America, organizing public conferences, conducting seminars for Judaica teachers…and more. Along with his work for our Institute, he will be expanding his teaching at Yeshiva University.
“Then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie ... and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?”
—Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Going off the derekh is one of the greatest epidemics facing the religious Jewish community today. You would be hard-pressed to find a frum family untouched by this phenomenon, whether it is a child, sibling, spouse, cousin, friend, or schoolmate who has left religion behind. In the wake of the individual leaving is a tempest of emotions—confusion, guilt, anger, hurt, and sadness.
Secular subjects are taught with various approaches in Jewish schools. Some take the approach that they are a necessary evil, and are taught only because they are required to do so by the civil authorities. They believe that only really worthwhile learning is that of limudei qodesh. Others take a more positive attitude toward limudei chol, considering them important at least for purposes of earning a living. Others go even further and consider all knowledge to have some intrinsic value. Scientific truth has sanctity in that it attests to the wisdom of the Creator.
Issachar and Zebulun are said to have founded an economic model that has become popular within a segment of Orthodox Jewish society. The model is commonly viewed as follows: Issachar “bore the yoke of Torah,” devoting himself exclusively to study, while Zebulun was a successful global merchant. Recognizing the benefits and deficiencies of their single-track careers, they contracted to share the rewards, if not the burdens, of their respective interests. Each brother received goods produced by the labor of the other. Lacking time for constant study, Zebulun financed his brother’s cerebrally pious lifestyle and, in return, was guaranteed a portion of Issachar’s metaphysical reward. Issachar avoided traditional work but, thanks to Zebulun, he could still put food on the table.
“Rabbi, what will you do about the rain?”
Exhausted and in shock from my first exposure to the realities of the swarming, squalid city of Mumbai, then called Bombay, I stared back, perplexed and concerned.
“Don’t you know, Rabbi, there is a drought here in Maharashtra.” Their thoughts, though unsaid, were loud and clear: “We have survived as Jews for 2,000 years without rabbis; if you can not bring rain we do not need you.”