Friday, November 16, 2007

Hooray for Rabbis with Common Sense

Three cheers for Rabbi Chaim Brovender over at the Jerusalem Post. Jeers to the weirdo who asked this bizarre question:

Q. I was recently on a business trip, and while I found the city to be very nice etc., I am a bit concerned. I visited an Asian restaurant, not owned by Jews, (Under the local Rabbis) There seemed to be active idolatry taking place. There was a statue of Buddha, where they had placed a large bowl of oranges and burning incense right in the entrance to the place. At the end of the meal I was served oranges (Possibly ones that were previously in front of Buddha) Is this place considered a "Bais Avodah Zorah" ? And can a Jew eat there?

A. Avoda Zara should certainly be avoided. For that reason going into a Catholic church (perhaps real idolatry) is problematic. However,Buddism is different. There the reference is to a great religious teacher called "the enlightened one". It is hard to imagine why this might be called Avoda Zara.

If you ate an orange, I do not imagine that Avoda Zara was the problem.

Head-smack. Thank you, R. Brovender, for restoring my faith in the fact that rabbis do, in fact, have brains (I'm still recovering from this episode).

Speaking of dear R. Moss, he's got more neat info for us. First, apparently parents are turned into mini-prophets for a day when naming children. I guess that means that I get to smack mine for not forseeing that a couple of decades down the line, my lack of a Hebrew name would still be giving me a complex. Whoops. Incidentally, R. Moss penned his own "Ask the Rabbi" column on Buddhism a while back. Of course, it's still kind of nutty:

This is where the paths of Buddhism and Judaism diverge. In Buddhism, a physical object can't have innate holiness, for holiness is other-worldly; in Judaism, a physical object can be the holiest of holies, because there are no limitations to the Divine. This difference in world-views translates into two very disparate ways of life.

Hang on, Torah scrolls being holy; I get. But saying "there are no limitations to the Divine" means that some sweet old rebbe could pop up out of nowhere and start proclaiming the Bobover's glasses the new holy of holies, or this weird thing (not work safe!). After all, nothing's impossible for God, right Rabbi Moss? And how could we measure the relative holiness of different objects?

Wait, I know...

Or maybe...

Of course! It all makes sense now. Glad we cleared that up.

Also kudos to another rabbi with brains (and integrity- wow, a twofer!), R. Benny Lau.
The incident that, according to Lau, was "the straw that broke the camel's back" came a few months ago, at the onset of the shmita year, when Jewish-owned land in Israel must be left to lie fallow unless a loophole in Jewish law is employed, by which the land is "sold" to a non-Jew. This year, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has given local rabbinical councils the option of not issuing kashrut certificates to places that buy heter mechira (permit of sale) produce, a move that is widely seen as pandering to ultra-Orthodox interests.

"This was something that all the chief rabbis endorsed in the past and it just proved that Rabbi Elyashiv [Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the spiritual leader of "Lithuanian" ultra-Orthodoxy] put Metzger there simply so he could shoot down heter mechira. He is a puppet, a cartoon dressed in robes of majesty."

In Lau's eyes, each one of these incidents demonstrates an abdication of national responsibility by the rabbinical establishment, in the face of its preference for narrow sectarian interests. "We allowed the rabbinate to become the preserve of political interests and rabbis who are taking orders from the Lithuanian leadership, which has no stake in the national interest.

"There is no logic in allowing ultra-Orthodox-run rabbinical courts," continues Lau. "This is one of those places where Israeli society comes into contact with the world of halakha. When a couple comes in for a divorce, I expect the rabbi to understand their social background. But, if he hasn't gone to the army, and he's lived a life closed off from the Israeli street, you're going to have a cultural collision." That's why Lau is now part of a group of rabbis who are setting up an alternative kashrut-certification system that will support suppliers of heter mechira produce. He has also announced his willingness to form an alternative beit din that will be much more user-friendly toward those seeking conversion.

...Benny Lau has qualified criticism for his uncle, whom he describes as "one of the people closest to me in the world." His uncle's orientation is "toward the ultra-Orthodox establishment," says Lau, "but he has never said anything to me about the work I am doing. I admit though that he excelled in inaction in the conversion field. As chief rabbi he spread genuine warmth to all corners of the Jewish world but he did nothing to improve the system."

Lau prefers to explain his decision to act now by the fact that "when one gets older, one finds oneself pushed to the front of the stage and there is no leader standing in front of you."...

Now Lau may find that he has to concentrate, along with others, on creating an alternate rabbinate. Not that this is his preferred outcome. "We haven't come to replace them, but to do the job they should have been doing themselves. If they suddenly show that they have responsibility, we'll be off." But Lau fears it is too late for this to happen. "I realize that we are in a period of dismantling, but this has to be done carefully so we can become religious leaders of a Zionist public and serve the majority of Israeli society."

Not to be unkind, but I really do hope that Lau succeeds in dismantling the obsolete Chief Rabbinate of Israel- and that when he does, the non-Ortho movements mobilize and try to get some competition in there. Even if that doesn't happen, I get the impression R. Lau is a little more forward-thinking than some of his haredi peers, so I've got hope.

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