Articles

The end of an era for Italy's Jews: Why young Italian rabbis are bowing to Israeli Orthodoxy

(This article, by Anna Momigliano, appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, April 27, 2015.

When Daniela Dawan’s first nephew was born, in late 2000, the family travelled from Milan to Rome to have Italy’s most prestigious rabbi, Elio Toaff, perform a giyur katan – newborn conversion – on the infant, whose mother wasn’t Jewish.

By the time Dawan's niece was born in early 2002, however, no Orthodox rabbi willing to perform such a conversion on the offspring of a mixed marriage could be found in the whole country. Toaff, the charismatic Tuscan-born rabbi who headed the Jewish community of Rome for half a century (1951-2001), had retired a few months earlier.

National Scholar's Update: May 2015

May, 2015

To our members and friends, I hope you are all well.

As summer approaches, we still have several important upcoming Institute programs in store:

On Sunday, June 7, from 10:00am-1:00pm, I will be running our second symposium, co-sponsored by Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan: “Extremely Religious without Religious Extremism: Perspectives within Jewish Tradition.” This symposium will feature three talks:

Review of Rabbi Marc Angel's New Commentary on Pirkei Avot

The Kosher Bookworm
Pirkei Avot As An Intellectual Challenge
by Alan Jay Gerber

With Shavuot now behind up, we once again commence our learning of Pirkei Avot starting with the first chapter. Thus, it is most opportune to bring to your attention a new commentary by a former classmate of mine at Yeshiva University and the Director of The Institute For Jewish Ideas and Ideals, Rabbi Marc Angel. This commentary entitled, "The Koren Pirkei Avot" features a translation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and a publisher's preface by Matthew Miller. In this preface Miller asks and answers the following question:

Upgrading the Hareidi Education System with General Subjects

Israel’s new political reality—with the two main Ultra-Orthodox or Haredi political parties, the Sephardic-based Shas party and the Ashkenazi-based United Torah Judaism, inside the government won’t help the next generation of Haredi young people—in fact, on the contrary, it will perpetuate a broken system. While Shas and United Torah Judaism have negotiated financial windfalls for their constituencies, as well as a pull-back on the demand that Ultra-Orthodox young men serve in the Israeli Defense Force, this old style of conducting business could be harmful to our community’s young people.

The Lion and the Compass

Maimonides (d. 1204) tolerated no idea that failed the test of reason. An ancient and robust tradition of superstition among the Jews did not deter him. Maimonides either ignored or rationalized scores of Talmudic halachot based on astrology, demonology, and magic.

Maimonides denounced astrology passionately, despite its popularity, calling the belief “stupidity” and its practitioners “fools.” His argument bears emphasis: Maimonides opposed astrology primarily on scientific rather than religious grounds. The Torah prohibits divination from the sky, he ruled, not because it displays a lack of faith in God, but simply because it is false.

Kabbalah versus Charlatanism of Pseudo-Kabbalists

Certainly the study of Kabbalah(esoteric literature) is authentic and part of the Torah. We know that the great Rabbis that we all revere—the Ramban, Rav Moshe Cordovero, the Ramchal, the Wilna Gaon, Rav Shneur Zalman (Chabad), the Malbim, Rav Chaim Wolozhin, Rav Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad--and many other luminaries spent many hours in its study and produced brilliant literature. Beyond that, didn't Chazzal (Chagiga 13a) themselves deal with these subjects?

Into the Heart of the Fire

Over 20 years ago when I was the National President of the Australasian Union of Jewish Speakers we hosted Rabbi Avraham Infeld for a National Conference. Avraham was the first person to tell me that I should become a rabbi. “But Avraham” I said, “I don’t even know if I believe in God” and he responded to me, “But you love people”. That was before I started learning Torah and before Torah was the guiding light in my life. I was standing at the precipice of my spiritual journey that has opened out in different directions including through prayer, yoga, meditation, dream-work, inner child healing, relationship work, conflict transformation, spiritual direction, pastoral counseling & sexual healing.

Rabbis Gone Wild

RABBIS GONE WILD
RABBI STEWART WEISS

This has not been, to say the least, a banner year for the Rabbinic
profession. Almost every month - or is it week?! - some new scandal hits the
headlines, giving rabbis - and by extension, all of Judaism
- a black eye. And these are not just minor offenses, like getting a bit
tipsy at the Shabbat kiddush, or forgetting if the eulogy is for a man or a
woman, or even taking a few liberties with the Discretionary Fund. No, these
are actually culpable crimes we are talking about, peccadilloes that scrape
the bottom of the Cholent pot, from voyeurism to adultery to larceny for
stealing synagogue funds to pay off blackmailers ready to reveal an illicit
liaison with an underage boy congregant. With an occasional game of naked

Stop denying it: Fanaticism is derived from the Torah

The events that took place over the last few days are a display of religious fanaticism. It is a sharp shift towards an abyss, against which the Jewish sages have warned us. They knew we have a strong pull towards this kind of behavior, that our Torah is capable of transforming into a deadly poison, and that those who act on its behalf can become murderous terrorists. At first, they turn against other peoples, but then, they turn against their own.

"The Torah of Israel has nothing to do with these murderous acts".