Zina Schiff, a concert violinist, has performed and recorded on five continents. Her first recording was the solo violin score for MGM's The Fixer, and a major focus of her 16 CDs is classical Jewish music. This article appears in issue 28 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.
Before questioning the usefulness of the word “Orthodox,” let’s first acknowledge the need that this term serves. Congregations, like individuals, find benefit in affiliating with congregations of similar direction. Such affiliation provides the weight of numbers when larger issues, such as intermarriage and conversion, separation of church and state, recognition of homosexuals as congregants, and political positions on national and international issues, need to be addressed.
This article originally appeared in issue 7 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. More than ten years have passed since its publication...and yet the issues raised in this article continue to be highly relevant today.
The current policies of the Orthodox rabbinic/beth din establishment are causing anguish to thousands of would-be converts and their families; are turning would-be converts away from Orthodoxy; are de-legitimizing Orthodox rabbis and converts who do not subscribe to the "establishment" positions; are causing thousands of halakhic converts to fear that their and their children's halakhic status will be undermined.
Tanakh needed prophecy so that we could transcend ourselves and our limited perspectives to aspire to a more perfected self and world, and to reach out across the infinite gulf to God. Ultimately, however, it also needed Ecclesiastes to teach how to have faith from the human perspective, so that we may grow in our fear of Heaven and observe God’s commandments in truth.
The premise of economic growth has come under question, in many parts of the world today, from a variety of directions. We are aware, of course, that moral thinking in practically every known culture enjoins us not to place undue emphasis on our material concerns. But today there is more to it than that. With heightened sensitivity to the strains that industrialization often brings, including the possibility of permanent climate change, many people in the higher-income countries now question whether further economic expansion is worth the costs.
In our world, we will more and more have to face this new parent-child pattern, either as parents or as children (and some of us as both). What happens when the roles of the child’s youth are reversed, when the child is the one who lives the public life and the aged parent “no longer comes down into town”? What happens when parents are no longer making decisions for the best interests of the children but become children trying to safeguard the best interests of their parents?
Although we popularly refer to the upcoming fast day as Yom Kippur, the Torah calls it Yom haKippurim—the day of atonements (in the plural). The plural form reminds us that there are many roads to atonement. Each person is different and is on a unique spiritual level; each comes with different insights, experiences, memories. The roads to atonement are plural, because no two of us have identical needs.
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. Many people see it as a primitive, quasi-idolatrous practice. Others view “kapparot” as egregious cruelty to animals.
Our Rabbis tell us that on the death of Abaye the bridge across the Tigris collapsed. A bridge serves to unite opposite shores; and so Abaye had united the opposing groups and conflicting parties of his time. Likewise Dr. Hertz’s personality was the bridge which served to unite different communities and bodies in this country and the Dominions into one common Jewish loyalty.
—Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky: Eulogy for Chief Rabbi Hertz.