(This article is excerpted from Marc D. Angel, Remnant of Israel: A Portrait of America’s First Jewish Congregation—Shearith Israel, Riverside Books, New York, 2004.)
We may find it jarring to come into contact with Jews who observe minhagim different from ours. We may think that their practices are quaint, or odd, or plain wrong....The hope is that through greater awareness and empathy, we will function as a stronger, happier, and more diverse Jewish community. We need a genuine recognition that in our various searches for Divinity, different Jewish communities have followed diverse—perfectly halakhic and proper—roads.
Rabbi Dr. Sabato Morais (April 13, 1823-November 11, 1897) was described by a New York Yiddish newspaper as “without doubt…the greatest of all Orthodox rabbis in the United States.” This encomium was written several years after the death of Morais, when a full picture of his life and accomplishments could be written with historical perspective.
This article discusses some cases, reflective of the educational approach of many religious schools and individuals, that are symptomatic of serious problems in the way our community transmits Torah teachings. The fundamentalist, literalist position—so vehemently criticized by Rambam—still holds sway among many Orthodox Jews.
The Talmud (Berakhot 58a) teaches that one is required to recite a special blessing when witnessing a vast throng of Jews, praising the Almighty who is hakham harazim, the One who understands the root and inner thoughts of each individual.Their thoughts are not alike and their appearance is not alike. The Creator made each person as a unique being. He expected and wanted diversity of thought, and we bless Him for having created this diversity among us.
There is a feeling among many Jews, including many Orthodox Jews, that worship in the synagogue lacks adequate inspiration and spirituality. Among the complaints: the synagogue ritual is chanted by rote; the prayers are recited too quickly; the prayers are recited too slowly; the service is not understood by congregants; people talk too much in synagogue; the services do not involve everyone in a meaningful way.
During the Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur period, some Jews have a custom known as “kapparot.” The ceremony involves swinging a live chicken over a person’s head three times, and then slaughtering the chicken. People who follow this practice believe that the ritual is a form of atonement (kapparah) for their sins.
Shouldn’t all Jews who wish to pray be allowed to do so without having to pay premium prices? Does it seem ethical for synagogues to “sell seats” for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Doesn’t this process diminish the sanctity and idealism of synagogues? Yes, these criticisms certainly seem valid. In an ideal world, synagogues would not “sell tickets” or charge expensive dues for membership. But we don't live in an ideal world.
In this essay, I will focus on two great modern-day posekim, studying how they approach similar halakhic questions. Both are scholars of vast erudition, of wide influence; both have written and published many works. The two posekim to be discussed are Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Haim David Halevy.
When I was a young rabbi, I believed that the classic models of Sephardic rabbinic leadership provided a responsible and meaningful example for all of world Jewry. Nearly 50 years later, I still believe this to be true. In spite of all the negative signs that abound, I still believe this to be true.