The Real Demographic Threat in Israel: Ultra-Orthodox taking over the Knesset

December 28, 2011

Anyone who reads this blog is almost certainly horrified by the violence, hatred and downright nastiness of the Ultra-Orthodox terrorists who are so cowardly that they are trying to intimidate the Dati Le’umi, Religious Zionist community by attacking their children going to school. But we need to recognize that because of the current system of government in Israel, nothing can happen while the Chareirdi, Ultra Orthodox have so much power in the Knesset because of their organizational skills and sheer numbers. Moreover, with their huge birthrate – thank God for more Jews! – they are going to have more influence in the years to come, not less.

So it is time to reconsider something that some of my Right wing friends are suggesting: Israel should annex – unilaterally if need be – the West Bank, Yehuda and Shomron, and give the 1.7 million Arabs living there the vote. That will throw off the demographic strenglehold of the Chareidi parties by shaking up the make-up of the Knesset. No doubt many of those Arabs will vote for the Leftist, more secular parties. In addition, to deal with the imbalance of Arab votes, Israel should open the gates to more Jew-ish people from Africa and South America and combine them with the Jew-ish people from the former FSU to build a fire-wall against the Chareidi Ultra-Orthodox parties. The Ultra-Orthodox will not embrace these Jews or quasi Jews from Nigeria and Unganda – in fact, the Conservative world has done more to reach out to them than anyone else. So we will have the perfect balance in Israel to recalibrate and minimize the power of the Ultra Orthodox world and restore Israel to the “status quo” that existed in the early decades of the State, when Shlomo Goren and much more tolerant and Zionist religious Jews dominated the Jewish scene. This is not a joke: Israel, in my mind, is suffering from forms of xenophobia that are keeping the United States back as well, when we compare it to the growth and success of Australia and Canada which have successfully allow immigrant populations to provide diversity and balance.

I welcome the conversation…

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

International Rabbinic Fellowship Statement on Religious Violence in the Jewish Community

December 28, 2011

The International Rabbinic Fellowship, an international fellowship of Orthodox rabbis, strongly condemns the use of violence, intimidation, verbal abuse and/or the threat of any such actions in the pursuit of achieving any “religious” goals, legislation, or in trying to enforce adherence to any “social” or “communal” mores. Such actions and attitudes have no place in interactions between Jews whether in the Diaspora or in our beloved State of Israel. We call upon law-enforcement officials to vigorously uphold the law and prosecute law-breakers fully.

In light of the recent tensions that have come to a head in Beit Shemesh we also call upon the rabbinic and communal leadership of this section of the Hareidi community, especially those whose voices carry great authority, to actively rein in the extremist elements to the best of their ability.

As Orthodox rabbis we recognize and value the principles of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a democratic society. Moreover, we recognize that there can be no protection of any segment of society so long as some are being attacked.  Our Torah teaches that all human are created in the image of God b’tselem elokim. We are committed to this fundamental truth and will struggle for its universal application.

Some Good Writing on Chanukah – Barry Gelman

December 23, 2011

Here are two links to interesting articles on Chanukah.

1. This article expresses a position I have taken in my work with Christian Zionists. My work with Christian Zionists has been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling. However, I draw the line and will not work with Messianic jewish groups who claim that one can be Jewish and accept Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior. Being Jewish and accepting Jesus are mutually exclusive and many of these groups prey on unaffiliated Jews and lure them in. You can find the original article here.

2. A wonderful article by Noam Zion: The Rabbinic Idea of Peacemaker: David Hartman Reads Maimonides’ Laws of Chanukah

Chanukah Sameach


Cellphones and Driving: A Halachik Perspective by R. Yosef Kanefsky

December 14, 2011

This post originally appeared in August of 2009, but has become only more urgent since then. At the time I wrote it as “ a prayer for the full and speedy recovery of Margalit bat Miriam, who was struck and thrown from her wheelchair by a driver who did not see that the light had turned red, because he was speaking on his cellphone.” Margalit bat Miriam has since passed away.  

The Federal government has begun the slow process of determining whether or not there ought to be national laws regarding cellphone use while driving. All of us who are committed to living according to Halacha need not wait for a government decision. The verdict is already in.


The halachik analysis of this issue proceeds in a very linear fashion, beginning in the classical discussion concerning unintentional murder. The Torah, as we read just recently, commands that we create cities of refuge for people who have unintentionally taken the life of another person. By fleeing to the city of refuge, the one who unintentionally took the life is protected from the impassioned wrath of the “blood-avenger” (the kinsman of the victim). In addition to being protected, he also will be paying for his act, as he will remain confined to the city of refuge until the High Priest dies.

 In its analysis of this passage from the Torah, the Talmud makes it clear that not all unintentional murder is the same. (For a quick summary of the Talmud’s discussion, see Maimonides’ code, Laws of the Murderer, Chapter 6). Sometimes the death of the victim is truly the result of a freak accident. In this case, the person who caused the accident does not flee to the city of refuge. In the eyes of the law, he is completely innocent. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the instance in which again, there was no intention to kill anyone, but the person who caused the death of the other acted with such carelessness and recklessness, that his actions are classified as “approaching the intentional”. This person as well does not flee to a city of refuge. To quote Maimonides (paragraph 4):

            There is also the case of one who kills unintentionally, but his act approaches the intentional, as it involves an act of negligence, or is in an instance in which he should have been cautious but was not. He does not flee to the city of refuge for his sin is too great to be atoned for through his exile… Therefore if the blood avenger finds and kills him, he (the blood avenger) is exempt form punishment.

             Putting aside for a moment any uncomfortable feelings we may have about the law of the blood avenger, the larger point concerning the perpetrator’s act is clear. To cause the death of another through an act of gross negligence – albeit unintentionally and without any premeditation – is categorized as a “great sin”, one which legally approaches intentional murder.

           What do we know about the likelihood of a driver causing a car accident when he or she is speaking on a cellphone (not to mention texting)?  As reported in the NY Times on July 19, the likelihood that a driver holding and talking on a cellphone will crash, is equal to that of a driver whose blood alcohol level is .08 percent – the legal definition of driving while intoxicated. As the Times article put it, “drivers using phone are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers”. The article goes on to quote a Harvard study estimating that cellphone distraction causes thousand of deaths, and hundreds of thousands of injuries per year. The potential for committing a “great sin” is astonishingly high.  And the research is not showing that using a hands-free phone significantly reduces this potential either.

 As halachikly observant Jews, we go to great lengths to lower our risk of sinning. We do not climb trees on Shabbat lest we inadvertently violate Shabbat by breaking a branch. Many of us do not eat corn or beans on Pesach; lest we come to eat inadvertently eat chametz. On the first day of Rosh Hashana this year, we will actually set aside the Biblical mitzva of blowing shofar, lest we inadvertently carry the shofar through the public domain, thus violating the Shabbat. It is self-evident that our system demands that we not drive while distracted by our cellphone, lest we, God forbid, God forbid, inadvertently injure or kill someone. It’s that straightforward.

If for no other reason though, do it for Margalit bat Miriam.   

A Hanukkah irony -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

December 14, 2011

Hanukkah today is a holiday of great irony. Though not a Biblical holiday, and certainly not Judaism’s most essential holiday, Hanukkah has taken on an exaggerated importance in America, due I think, to its calandrical proximity with one of Christianity’s most important festivals.

Hanukkah commemorates the war in the year 166 B.C.E. between the Jews in Israel and the Greek empire within which Israel of that era found itself. No two cultures could be more different than that of the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks were polytheistic and emphasized the esthetic, as their statues that we visit in our museums illustrate. Their perfect physical body chiseled in the Olympics and cultivated in Greek art and writing is iconic. In contrast the Jewish people were monotheists and a nation not known for their esthetic accomplishments, but rather their theological, judicial, and ethical ones. The Jewish people fought a war against the Greeks to retain their unique religion and not assimilate into Hellenistic culture and beliefs.

We light candles on Hanukkah because Hanukkah is about bringing the light of ethical monotheism into the world, about bringing the light of spirituality into a time of deified physicality, epitomized by the pervasive Greek culture of physicality and its worship. Hanukkah is indeed a battle of light and dark, polytheism and monotheism, the physical and the spiritual, the outside culture against the small Jewish nation trying to withstand assimilation and disappearance.

How ironic that Hanukkah, an anti-assimilationist holiday, has become the holiday of Jewish assimilationism, with the giving of gifts to imitate the Christmas tradition and the extravagant spending on parties which recall their non-Jewish counterparts.

For the previous generation of American Jews the opportunity of the American melting pot was Judaism’s undoing. Jewish people in alarming numbers from that generation assimilated into American culture, and feeling they could not be both Jews and Americans, exchanged their Jewish identity for the promise of American prosperity.

Though we live in a new era, one whose watchword is multiculturalism and not assimilation, it alas has come too late for the high percentage of American Jews whose grandparents were Jewish but whose grandchildren are not. At this time of year, when we might be tempted to use Hanukkah as a way of feeling part and parcel of the outside culture, of having our winter holiday also, let us resist this temptation to fit in, and instead take back our winter holidays for what they should be. A time of learning what it means to resist the American melting pot, a time for all of us, Jew, Christian, Muslim and Hindu, to celebrate our difference and separateness; -to see each of our uniqueness as more valuable than fitting in.

The culmination of Hanukkah’s successful military campaign two millennia ago was the rededication of the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The symbol of this rededication was the lighting of the oil lamps, the menorah, with pure olive oil. This act, the bringing of light into the darkness, symbolizes the true Jewish take on Hanukkah. This Hanukkah let us celebrate, not presents and fanfare, but a single small light, adding one additional light on each subsequent night of Hanukkah and taking in the message that bringing light into the darkness is really what Hanukkah is about.

No Apologies. Just True Orthodoxy, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

December 8, 2011

In the past few months, forces have made my good friend and inspiration, Rav Hyim Shafner, apologize for several things he has said.  I do not begrudge him those apologies, if it helps him navigate the political world we live in.  But I do want to set the record straight:

1) If a couple – whether they be same sex, other sex, intermarried, etc – are part of the community and they adopt a baby, or celebrate that child’s birthday or bar mitzvah – that child deserves to be celebrated.  Celebrating the Bar Mitzva or the adoption of a child just – with a cake at kiddush, or with the entire kiddush – just means that Judaism is happy for kids to have loving and caring parents.  It does not mean that the parents are a good match, a halachic match or even bashert.  It is just a celebration of a family.  Families come in all shapes and sizes – some halachic, some not.  Our responsibility is to make sure that the kids see Judaism as beautiful and as compelling as possible.

2) Rav Hyim’s hypothetical case of a non-Jew getting an aliya may happen all the time in today’s world when we don’t examine people’s pedigree before they get an aliya.  We do check before we would marry them, but not before an aliya.  If we know that we accidentally gave a non-Jew an aliya, – even if there is a doubt – we can just add an acharon and still have 7 aliyot.  

3) Are the Batei Dinim that are dragging conversions out over several years, making potential converts miserable actually violating the prohibition of “innue hager”?  Rav Sha’ar Yashuv HaCohen paskined that they are considered geirim once they are involved in the conversion process.  So it would seem that our Batei Dinim are at list happy to risk violating this Torah prohibition, in order to be extra extra sure that they follow the strictest opinion possible to convert people.  Frequently they process conversion candidates inefficiently and painfully by making them have to face a bunch of rabbis who are not trained in the field of conversion, and are not doing it professionally.


No more apologies when it comes to values like welcoming Jews to shul, or making people feel comfortable in a Beit T’fila – a place of prayer and Torah – or when it comes to treating those who want to be Jewish with dignity.  The Torah asks us to stand up, and Morethodoxy is about standing up for these Torah values.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

IRF Statement in Support of Tzohar

December 8, 2011

At the request of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), we are happy to disseminate the following IRF statement concerning the current struggle over who may perform weddings in Israel.  For the last month, Israel’s ministry for Religious Services, controlled by the Shas party, has been attempting to prohibit the rabbis of Tzohar, a Modern Orthodox, National-Religious group from performing weddings.   Tzohar, whose rabbis have performed over 15,000 weddings in Israel over the past sixteen years,  had created its Wedding Project in 1996 in response to the very negative experiences that secular Israelis had been having with rabbis who work for the Chief Rabbinate. Insensitive and discourteous treatment by these rabbis had been leaving a very sour taste toward religion in the mouths of many couples, and many others were simply opting to marry in Cyprus, without a religious ceremony at all. By contrast, in Tzohar’s description of their Wedding Project ,  “Tzohar’s rabbis do their best to turn the wedding  encounter into a spiritual experience; one which enriches both the couple and the rabbi, which leaves a positive impression with the young couple, and which creates the possibility of further meetings between the couple and rabbi further on in life. The success of the Wedding Project lies in a set of guidelines within which the organization’s rabbis function:
1. The rabbi meets with the couple before the wedding for a conversation aimed at explaining and designing the wedding ceremony.
2. The rabbi arrives punctually at the place of the ceremony.
3. Tzohar’s rabbis do not perform more than one ceremony on any given evening.
4. Tzohar’s rabbis receive no payment for officiating at a wedding.

It is shameful that the Ministry of Religious Services has been trying to shut Tzohar down.
(You can learn more about Tzohar at and about the IRF at )

The International Rabbinical Fellowship calls upon the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel to permit the rabbis of the Tzohar rabbinical organization to continue registering marriages and conducting weddings in the State of Israel as has been the practice for the last decade.
The wedding initiative under the auspices of Tzohar has allowed thousands of Israeli couples, who might have opted for non-halakhic avenues, to marry under the wedding canopy according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Furthermore, it has brought many more to greater love for Torah and the commandments and respect and appreciation for tradition in the spirit of “Her Ways are ways of Gentleness and all he paths are peaceful”. The important work of Tzohar is a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, which should be strengthened and supported.
Tzohar’s wedding project has also been a tremendous resource for many couples from here in the United States and other areas of the Golah looking to celebrate their weddings in the Jewish state.  Many of these couples would not have had the opportunity to create as joyous and meaningful a wedding were it not for the work of Tzohar.
We call upon the political and rabbinic establishment in Israel to ease this process and not put up more roadblocks that cause dissention and create difficulties for those who would avail themselves of this avenue of Huppah and Kiddushin.   We include in this ensuring the right of every Israeli citizen to register for weddings in the municipality of their choosing regardless of residency.