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.
This 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.
However, 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.