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Monday, November 14, 2011

My Rabbi

The Rabbi of my community, Rav Shlomo Riskin, and I are on good - even friendly - terms. We greet each other warmly whenever we meet and as often happens in small communities, our friends and family are intertwined.

However, this isn't to say I agree with everything he says or does. But sometimes he hits one so far out of the park that I want to stop strangers on the street and say, "Can I read you what my rabbi just wrote?".

Today is one of those days.

Here is part of an excellent article he wrote:

Once upon a time even so-called secular Israelis were proud of chief rabbis, men like Rabbis A.Y. HaKohen Kook, Isaac Halevi Herzog and Shlomo Goren (all of blessed memory) because these rabbis were inclusive rather than exclusive; they sought to embrace every Jew and bring him or her closer to tradition. These mighty individuals looked to halachah to solve questions of personal status, not to complicate them.

At a time when an unfriendly and inflexible Chief Rabbinate and its courts of law are driving young couples to Cyprus so as not to get married “in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel,” thankfully the rabbis of the Tzohar organization have been finding user-friendly and welcoming halachic solutions to include them under the Jewish marriage canopy.

Now, in their infinite wisdom, the Chief Rabbinate and Ministry of Religious Affairs have closed yet another door (in addition to the doors of meaningful Jewish divorce and conversion) – the door of Jewish marriage – to a confused and disgruntled Israeli public. All “for the sake of heaven.”

I understand that the present controversy between Tzohar and the Ministry of Religious Affairs is on the road to resolution. But the general and underlying problem still remains in full force. Local religious councils are still setting up difficult roadblocks before well-meaning secular couples who have never heard of Tzohar but who want to be married by a rabbi – if it isn’t too much of a hassle to do so. The rabbinic courts remain extremely reluctant to force husbands to divorce their wives in accordance with halacha no matter the difficulties of their marital situations, and no matter how unreasonable the husband’s demands may be as his price for the giving the get.

Furthermore, close to 350,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union – “Kanukian” Israelis under the right of return but not halachically Jewish – are still awaiting the establishment of user-friendly ulpanim and courts for conversion devoid of small-minded bureaucracy and whose conversions will not be nullified later on by one of the Chief Rabbis’ court judges.

Our sacred Talmud and the Responsa of Jewish law have loving solutions for the overwhelming majority of problems engendered by these situations; “It din” the law is flexible, but “let dayan,” many of the judges are not, as the Talmudic saying goes. Let us only pray that until the proper changes in the system are put into effect, a disgruntled Israeli populace will not throw out the baby with the bathwater.


The story is told of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the famed tzaddik of Jerusalem, who once spotted a young soldier on a short furlough from the army. The rabbi knew the young man from the neighborhood in Geula, and so he crossed the street in order to extend his hand in greeting. “Shalom Aleichem,” said the venerable sage. “Please come to my home. I would very much like to drink tea with you and hear about your activities.”

The young soldier seemed uncomfortable.

“I don’t think it’s right for me to come visit you,” he said. “I don’t wear a kippa anymore.”

Rabbi Levin, in his black hat and black kaftan, smiled warmly at the young man and took his hand in his own.

“Don’t you see?,” he said, “I’m a very short man. I see you, but I cannot look up so high as to notice as to whether you are wearing a kippa. But I can see your heart – and your heart is big and kind, and that’s what counts.

You are also a soldier placing your life at risk for all of us in Israel. Please drink tea with me; your kippa is probably bigger than mine.”

I don't have to agree with everything he says. Only G-d is infallible. But I'm proud to call a rabbi like this 'my rabbi'.

Go read the rest for yourselves.

Posted by David Bogner on November 14, 2011 | Permalink


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I was thrilled to be able to introduce myself to Rabbi Riskin at last year's English-language Purimshpiel when my husband and I were visiting Efrat and tell him how much I used to enjoy his dvar Torah pieces published in the Washington Jewish Week. Thanks for publicizing this editorial. You are indeed lucky to have such a rabbi!

Posted by: Rachel | Nov 14, 2011 6:26:30 PM

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: SaraK | Nov 14, 2011 8:24:35 PM

Now, that's my kind of Rabbi.

Not only did he hit the ball out the park, it was with bases loaded. Superb.

Posted by: Ellis | Nov 16, 2011 5:43:16 PM

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