Honor Your Rabbis: Jews I Wouldn’t Count As A Minyan

February 27, 2011
Israeli soldiers praying on duty.
Israeli soldiers praying on duty.

The enormous white signs smell of fresh glue, slapped upon layers of their predecessors, perhaps covering them, but they are just as blasphemous. The dark, black letters cry of the future of the Jewish people and denounce those evil men who wish to destroy them. The people on the street stop to read the new Torah given to the Jewish people, by people who sign their names as “The Committee to Defend the Torah’s Honor”.

The reality is quite the opposite. The future of the Jewish people may be in danger – but not because of what is written on these signs. There are evil men who wish to destroy the Jewish people – but not the same ones listed on these signs. True, there are committee’s which defend the Torah’s honor – but they are clearly not the same signatures on these signs.

Recently, the Jewish people here in Israel, as well as abroad, has been faced with a terrible dilemma. There are thousands of soldiers in the Israeli army, who wake up daily to don their green uniforms, and hold their guns to their sides as they head out to defend the Jewish people. Yet, there are those who wish to strip them of their status as “Jews”, and remind them that even though they converted in genuine rabbinical courts of rabbis who also served their countries with pride and honor, they are not counted in all synagogues as Jews nor welcome among the Jewish people.

True, many of them today do not yet lead lives of Torah values. True, some of them do not find their place in synagogues even on the highest of holidays. Of course, some of them even continue to walk around with the names their mothers gave them as children. In light of this, the question has been asked – are they really Jewish?

This is an interesting question, one who’s appearance is relatively new on the table of Jewish law, and one that has no clear answer in earlier texts.

The Torah put together a system to answer our complicated questions, when it commands us:

If a matter eludes you in judgment, between blood and blood, between judgment and judgment, or between lesion and lesion, words of dispute in your cities, then you shall rise and go up to the place the Lord, your God, chooses. And you shall come to the Levitic kohanim and to the judge who will be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they will tell you the words of judgment. And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the Lord will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you.” (Devarim 17:8-9)

Rabbi Amar (L) with Rabbi Yosef (R).
Rabbi Amar (L) with Rabbi Yosef (R).

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Rishon LeTzion and Chief Sepharadi Rabbi of Israel, was approached by Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the current Rishon LeTzion and Chief Sepharadi Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, one of the generations leading Halachic authorities, ruled that these Jews were as Jewish as anyone else, and affixed his stamp and signature beside that of Rabbi Shlomo Amar, a respected authority in his own right.

This created quite a stir in Israeli religious circles, especially when a statement allegedly being that of Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, the predominant Halachic authority for Ashkenazi Jews of Lithuanian dissent, disagreed with that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Immediately, the Badatz (the “Rabbinical Court of the Charedi Community of Jerusalem”), issued statements to be pasted all over Jerusalem, claiming that they were going to take to the streets in protest until Rabbi Ovadia Yosef changed his mind. Many signs that came after the originals, denounced Rabbi’s Yosef and Amar as “sinners” and “evil men” out to “destroy the Jewish people”.

Rabbi Elyashiv at his home.
Rabbi Elyashiv at his home.

Blasphemy! What kind of behavior is this? I can just imagine that when Rabbi Moshe Isserlesh argued with Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, people in Poland and Lithuania must have taken the streets by storm. They must have put up signs and letters denouncing Rabbi Yosef Karo for voicing his opinion. I’m also positive that in Tzfat, they must have held protests against that young man from Poland who argued with the Halachic master of Israel at the time.

Of course not! Our people’s holiness throughout the generations, was due to thefact that they held their rabbis in the highest of esteem, even when they disagreed! There is a difference between agreeing and respecting! Let our Rabbis do their job and deal with this issue together, and let us do ours and treat them with the utmost dignity and respect.

Rabbi Soleveitchick, of blessed memory, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, was once asked if all the stories told about the great rabbis of the Jewish people were true. He responded, “they may not be true, but it goes to show you how the Jewish people viewed and revered their rabbis!”. That is the true face of the Jewish people!

Rabbi Shteinman.
Rabbi Shteinman.

When Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of the authorities in the Israeli Yeshiva world, announced his opinion that certain Yeshiva bachurim may serve in the army, there were people in Israel and American who pelted him with garbage bags and leaflets calling him the “Satan”.  He rarely travels to Jerusalem since, in fear of his life. When he spoke in the United States a few years ago, there were National Guard snipers there to protect him.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef dealt with this issue one Saturday night and said, “This is not our way! We always respected our Torah scholars! These people are guilty of disgracing a living Torah scroll!” (Halichot Mussar).

Rabbi Akiva writes in the Talmud (Pesachim 22b): “[it is written] “You should fear Hashem, your G-d” – this comes to include Torah scholars”.

Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 242:1): “It is a positive [Torah] commandment to stand up for every Torah scholar, even if he is not elderly, but rather young and smart”.

It is also written in the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 243:6): “It is a great sin to disgrace Torah scholars, or to hate them. And anyone who disgraces Torah scholars – has no portion in the world to come, and he is included in [the verse] “and he has disgraced the word of G-d.””

How can I people pray each day that Jerusalem be rebuilt, when the Talmud (Shabbat 119b) teaches: “Jerusalem was only destroyed because they disgraced Torah scholars”. Such hypocrisy!

I therefore have told my students, and am not ashamed to say so publicly – if you know anyone who has ever disgraced any Torah scholar of the Jewish people, regardless of denomination or political party, do not count them as part of your minyan. I can pray with those who aren’t sure if they believe in G-d, or in which G-d they believe. I can pray with those who aren’t yet keepers of Shabbat or Kosher. But I cannot pray with those who publicly have no shame and desecrate the name of G-d’s representatives in this world.

They have no portion among us, they never have and never will.

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