Victor Hugo observed that “narrow horizons beget stunted ideas.” Classic Judaism has included an idealistic universalistic world-view. Judaism’s horizons have been great; and it has begotten great ideas. The challenge to modern Jews is to remain faithful to their distinctive mitzvot while maintaining a universalistic ethical idealism.
Haham Gaon represented a balanced religiosity, deeply faithful to tradition while deeply sensitive to the needs and feelings of modern men and women. Haham Gaon was a model of dignity, compassion, and total commitment to the People of Israel and the State of Israel. As a proud Sephardic rabbi, he refused to compromise his own traditions in order to curry favor among others.
Moses Maimonides died in early December 1204. He was a unique figure in Jewish history and has had an enormous impact on halakha and philosophy. He fostered a religious worldview marked by reason and clear thinking. In commemorating the 814th anniversary of his death, we are posting Rabbi Marc Angel's article, "Religion and Superstition: A Maimonidean Approach."
The leaders make a decision; the decision is flawed; it causes dissension; it is based on the wrong factors. Yet, they will not back down. They have invested their own egos in their decision and will not admit that they were wrong. Damage—sometimes irreparable damage—ensues, causing the organization or institution to diminish or to become unfaithful to its original mission.
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.
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.
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.