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Biblical intermarriage

Regarding the discussion of intermarriage by Rabbi Zahavy (“Dear Rabbi,” June 30) — I agree with his views, and note that he cites Ruth as a favorable, indeed admirable, example. But I am surprised that in his and others’ discussions of intermarriage, the two notable instances of intermarriage in the Torah, by arguably its two greatest figures, are rarely noted.

To make matters worse, they married daughters of pagan priests! I refer first to Joseph, who married Asenath, the daughter of a priest of On (mentioned twice, for emphasis, in Genesis 43:45,50). (On was an Egyptian city, the center of the cult of the sun-god Re.) Second, there was Moses, who married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest, Jethro (Exodus 2:16-22). One might explain these away by noting that the husbands were leaders not likely to be led astray, but still — were they setting an example?

Dan Mosenkis, Fair Lawn

In defense of Orthodox institutions

I write in response to Mr. Joseph Kaplan’s July 22 op-ed, “Sorrowful Words.” I follow the order of his letter.

Disappointments with the RCA — Geirus — GPS

The key benefit of establishing the GPS protocols is that the convert is assured of the acceptance of their geirus in North America and Israel. Mr. Kaplan claims the GPS contains “overly strict procedures” that “put up barriers to conversion rather than help people convert.” I am sure that Mr. Kaplan does not endorse the position that there can be a conversion without any standards. So, I ask Mr. Kaplan, which provisions of the GPS are “overly strict”?

Mr. Kaplan continues his assault on the GPS by seeking to tarnish it by calling out the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, the former chairman of the GPS Committee of the RCA. Rabbi Freundel pled guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. While it is crystal clear that what Rabbi Freundel did was criminal, unconscionable, and cannot be condemned enough, at the same time, it also should be crystal clear that none of his atrocious activities bear on the GPS or, most importantly, on the giyuirm that were performed under the GPS.

Mr. Kaplan further seeks to undermine the GPS system by citing the GPS Review. On the contrary, the GPS Review stands by the purpose and halachic standards outlined in the GPS Policies and Procedures. The following is from the Review’s opening:

“While there were those who expressed opposition to the entire notion of a centralized system of conversion courts calling for a return to conversions done by local rabbis, the RCA affirms the value of its centralized system of Regional Courts for Conversion, the GPS system. In particular:

1. The RCA affirms the fundamental value of the GPS system, whose standards in halacha are in accordance with the most widely accepted views of our poskim. A conversion completed through this system grants the convert the assurance that the conversion will be the most widely accepted both in North America and by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

2. The RCA affirms the halachic standards of the GPS system.

3. While the Freundel arrest is an unmitigated tragedy and gives urgency to this review, the GPS system includes many people who have worked appropriately, including rabbis, administrators, teachers, and mentors. These people are not to be judged unfairly due to the criminal activity of one.

4. While affirming the strengths of the GPS, the GPS is acknowledged to have weaknesses, as does any system. Some of these are due to the nature of a centralized system and some are due to the delivery of the services.

5. The RCA is committed to improving the GPS system by both making it more efficient and by improving the experience of the convert.”

In the words of Rabbi Josh Yuter, “the real importance of the report can be found on page 11, and worth quoting at length.”

From the report: “At the time of the establishment of the GPS system, attention was paid primarily to the development of Batei Din that would function according to standardized halachic procedures. Primary concerns included the essential requirement of conversion candidates’ full observance of Jewish law at the time of the conversion, as well as with their expectation and commitment to continue to live as observant Jews. The emphasis in establishing this system was to maintain a high quality of the conversions in order to assure that they would be widely recognized.

The emphasis of the RCA in establishing these Batei Din was thus primarily on the halachic practices of the Batei Din and not on the experiences of the converts. It was assumed at the time that the experiences of converts, their training, their spiritual and religious development, their emotional process and comfort would be tended to by their sponsoring rabbis who had much experience in these areas.

The collection of data from the surveys, from input of those involved in conversion preparation as teachers and sponsoring rabbis, as well as from the collective experience of the Review Committee members, have made apparent, however, that the RCA must not limit its attention to halachic details, but to the many areas and aspects of the complexity of the total conversion experience for conversion candidates, including emotional, spiritual, social issues, power dynamics, and other factors. While many converts felt satisfied with the process of conversion, a significant minority felt vulnerable, unduly stressed, and sometimes even resentful of the process. These recommendations expand the attention that must be given to the quality of the experiences of converts.

While there are opportunities for improvement to the GPS Policies and Procedures, they are, as they exist today, halachically sound and certainly not “problematic.”

With regard to the very unfortunate circumstance about “Nicole,” who converted under the auspices of Rabbi Lookstein, the incident itself gives support for the need of the GPS. The GPS anticipates this unfortunate outcome by stating: “Rabbis and lay people who carry out conversions outside of this framework should know that they cannot be assured of recognition by the RCA/BDA with respect to such conversions.” And, in my own words, by extension, by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Disappointments with the RCA — Press Releases

For the record, the full text of both press releases is offered below. Mr. Kaplan is disappointed in that the statements do not make specific points and do not pass his editorial muster. I prefer to see the RCA statements as being on point and representing the best of modern Orthodox rabbinic leadership. Your readers can judge for themselves.

RCA Condemns Terror Attack in Orlando

Jun 14, 2016 — The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, expresses its shock at the hate filled terrorist attack in Orlando that brutally murdered 49 innocent people and wounded 53.

“Murderous attacks in the name of religion are anathema” said RCA president Shalom Baum. “We condemn the philosophy and actions of radical Islamists which are the antithesis of personal responsibility, coexistence, and peace. We call on world leaders to continue the fight to protect innocent people from the violence motivated by ISIS and those sharing its cruel philosophy.”

“We categorically condemn the hatred and violence perpetrated against the patrons of the Pulse nightclub” said Vice President Elazar Muskin. “No individual or group should be singled out in such a nefarious way. Our deepest condolences are extended to all the bereaved families, their friends and community, in this time of pain. Our thoughts and prayers for a speedy and full recovery are with all the wounded.”

RCA Protests Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

Jun 26, 2015 — The Rabbinical Council of America expresses deep concern over today’s ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding same-sex marriage.

While recognizing the civil rights of all who live in a democratic country as well as the diversity of religious and political opinions in a multi-religious society, the RCA rejects the Court’s redefinition of marriage. Marriage is an institution defined by the Bible and subsequent religious codes and it is upon the foundation of traditional family life that our society has been built for millennia.

We are sobered by the response of Chief Justice John Roberts, that “people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today” and are alarmed about the threat articulated by Justice Samuel A. Alito that the majority opinion “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

We call on the United States government to ensure, in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, “That religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, president of the RCA, said, “We remind all Americans of faith, Jewish and non-Jewish, that no court can change God’s immutable law. We will redouble our efforts to use persuasion to make the case for God’s eternal truths about the nuclear family and the bond between husband and wife. We stand committed not to lose faith in faith itself, and hope that others who cherish God’s teaching will join us.”

Disappointments with the OU — Rabbinic Coordinator — Open Orthodoxy

Mr. Kaplan is disappointed that the OU does not publically distance itself from articles by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer that are critical of open Orthodoxy. But, why should the OU do so? Where is the opportunity for a discussion and debate of the issues? Instead of calling for the OU to disassociate from Rabbi Gordimer’s articles, Mr. Kaplan should be encouraging Rabbi Gordimer’s articles — and their respective responses. This way the public can make an informed judgment based on transparent presentations of both sides of the debate.

Disappointments with the OU — Rabbinic Coordinator — Rabbi Belsky

Mr. Kaplan is disappointed that the OU featured a profile about Rabbi Belsky after his recent petirah. Mr. Kaplan omits that while he was still alive, Rabbi Belsky made clear in a public letter that “he favors the reporting of credible suspicions of abuse directly to the civil authorities without the need to seek prior rabbinic permission.” I prefer to view Rabbi Belsky in the very words of the OU Kosher’s CEO (for whom Mr. Kaplan has strong respect and admiration) Rabbi Menachem Genack, “He advocated on behalf of people for whom everyone else had lost hope — and he did so at enormous risk. He wasn’t necessarily always right, but he was always motivated by compassion and a sense of profound kinship for the most unfortunate and isolated person. He was extraordinary in that way. He was incredibly unique and irreplaceable. I loved him very much.”

Conclusion

Instead of focusing on his disappointments and generalizing from specific events to negatively characterize our community institutions, I would urge Mr. Kaplan to draw inspiration from all of the good work that is done by our flagship modern Orthodox institutions, the OU and the RCA.

Yisrael Gottesman, Teaneck

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