(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.)
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) and Rabbi Benzion Uziel (1880-1953) were towering spiritual leaders of Israel. As we commemorate the anniversaries of both of their deaths at this season, we recognize the ongoing impact of their work, their teachings and their leadership.
Rabbi Solomon Maimon, long time leader of the Sephardic community in Seattle, has passed away at the age of 100. The community had celebrated Rabbi Maimon's 100th birthday a few months ago. For that occasion his nephew, Rabbi Marc Angel, wrote words of tribute...and we reprint those words in Rabbi Maimon's memory.
We must face this problem squarely and candidly: The narrowing of horizons is a reality within contemporary Orthodoxy. The fear to dissent from the "acceptable" positions is palpable. But if individuals are not allowed to think independently, if they may not ask questions and raise alternatives, then we as a community suffer a loss of vitality and dynamism.
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.
This essay focuses on ideas and ideals, in the belief that without a clear and firm intellectual foundation, Orthodoxy will continue to drift in less than ideal directions. The hope is that if enough Jews take these ideas and ideals seriously, they will have strong impact in moving beyond the status quo and into a finer Orthodoxy that represents Torah teachings at their best.
America is not just a powerful and vast country. It is also an idea, a compelling idea that has a message for all people in all lands. As American Jews, we are committed to the ideals of freedom and equality, human dignity and security, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have come far as a nation, but very much remains to be done.
The Jewish Press publishes a bi-weekly feature in which several rabbis are asked questions relating to Jewish observance and Jewish values. One of the respondents is Rabbi Marc D. Angel. Here are Rabbi Angel's responses to the first 4 questions in this series of articles.
We post this article on the life and thought of Rabbi Benzion Uziel, one of the great religious leaders of the 20th century. When he passed away on September 4, 1953, he was mourned by hundreds of thousands of Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Jews and Arabs. A remarkable personality, Rabbi Uziel proclaimed that Judaism is not a narrow, confined doctrine limited only to a select few individuals. It must thrive with a grand vision, always looking outward.
As we rejoice at the many successes of the State of Israel, our joy is dampened by the ongoing terrorism and threats lodged against Israel and the Jewish People. We must stay focused on the remarkable renaissance of the Jews as manifested in the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish State. We thank the Almighty for having granted us the privilege of living at this special time.