It's hard to know where to start when approaching Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin's screed, "Dividing the soul of Orthodox Judaism." R. Rocklin's basic premise is that we should stop crying about the attempts of Israel's Chief Rabbinate to delegitimize Rabbi Avi Weiss, since he and his Open Orthodox ilk have brought this misfortune upon themselves by not toeing the ideological line. It was certainly bad timing to post this the day before Haaretz reported "Avi Weiss is not alone: Israeli rabbinate disqualifies another U.S. rabbi." What was the thought crime of that rabbi, Scot Berman? Being an educator and not a pulpit rabbi. I wouldn't expect R. Rocklin to know what Haaretz is going to report, but this was not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the aggressive moves of the Chief Rabbinate (CR) over the past few years. Luckily, R. Berman is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, so I'm sure they'll--oh right, R. Rocklin is on the RCA's Executive Committee, and he thinks the way they're bending over for the CR is just peachy.
So the idea that
the CR is just standing up for Torah and truth is demonstrably false.
Even worse is the idea that they're applying some halakhic standard. The
Talmud, Maimonides and Shulhan Arukh all state that "All of the
families are considered kosher," which means that if someone says he's a
Jew, we're supposed to believe him and let him marry. But that's not
what happens in Israel. The rabbinical courts instead call in witnesses,
especially the sort they would invalidate at any actual wedding: the
female and the familial. To recap, the CR rules: women, fine; relatives,
fine; educators, invalid; rabbis who follow Maimonides in Mishneh Torah
as opposed to Maimonides in his Mishnaic commentary, invalid.
brings us to a third point. R. Rocklin blithely characterizes Rabbi Dr.
Zev Farber (whom he doesn't have the decency to name) as having "denied
the divine authorship of the Bible." This is a lie. I have corresponded
with Rabbi Farber, and he does not believe anything of the sort. If you
actually click on one of the dozens of hyperlinks R. Rocklin provides,
you'll find that they rarely bear out his accusations. Not that it stops
him from presenting the opinions of some neo-haredi members of his
organization as the authentic voice of the RCA and of Modern Orthodoxy
as a whole.
This brings us to my final point (and a brief sermon). This week we read the passage of the manna, Exodus 16, which the Tur (OH 1) actually recommends reading daily. As the Beit Yosef explains (ad loc.
5), this helps strengthen one's belief in God and His Providence.
Interestingly, there are two incidents in which the Israelites fail to
follow the rules of the manna. First, some people leave the manna
overnight; later that week, on the Sabbath, when no manna is supposed to
fall, others go out looking for manna.
The sins seem similar, but
the reactions are very different. In the first case, it is Moses who is
wordlessly furious at this violation of his direct command; in the
second, God speaks up, "Until when will you refuse to observe My
commandments and My teachings?!" If we look at the text, we would be
hard-pressed to understand the divine reaction. In the first case,
Moses' direct order is countermanded; in the second, it is hard to
pinpoint the exact transgression. Moreover, if this is supposed to be a
pre-Sinai test run, "so that I may test them, whether they will follow
My teaching (torah) or not," it would seem that leaving over
the manna is much more significant, as the time-limit for eating sacred
food is an oft-repeated principle, going back to the paschal offering in
Egypt. Avoiding going out on the Sabbath is hardly an eternal value.
the psychology of the matter is enlightening. Why would anyone leave
over manna, the miraculous food? Well, this generation is used to crying
out to God with no answer; is it a great surprise that they are afraid
to simply toss out their leftovers and hope that they will remain in
God's good graces? The collectors, on the other hand, are doing
something profoundly bizarre: if God is providing for them, why not
believe Him that he won't do so on the Sabbath? If He isn't, then there
would be no manna in any case! That, at least, is how a monotheist would
approach this. In the ancient pagan world, on the other hand, the fact
that the God of the Heaven rains down food does not affect how the God
of the Desert will maintain it. They are looking for the manna to prove
that the God who took them out of Egypt is one of many. This corrupted
faith is the true danger.
Herein lies a lesson. The true enemy of
religion is not an individual's inability to live up to a high standard
of faith (even if that standard comes from the words of Moses Our
Teacher, let alone one reading of the words of Moses Maimonides), but
the willful corruption of that faith. Even if R. Rocklin's thesis were
true, it would still be unpardonable that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel
is spending its time delegitimizing dedicated rabbinical leaders instead
of defrocking the child molesters, fraudsters and felons in its own
ranks. If the RCA will not stand up for its members and for its flock,
it will cease to be relevant to Jews who actually care about what the
Torah tells us to do, not who wrote it down.