I’m a happy member of a Federation (Orthodox) synagogue with an Charedi rabbi, and I’m pretty observant (or meshuggah frum as some of my irreverent friends would say) myself.
Some years ago, my shul newsletter reproduced an article by a Charedi rabbi which claimed that children born with severe disabilities born to Jewish parents were the reincarnations of sinful souls, who had been sentenced by divine decree to redeem the sins by a handicapped cycle of life in this world.
I knew this to be a historically documented but now very minority view of Jewish halacha (religious legal rulings) but I thought it was deeply unacceptable to pop it without comment into the newsletter of a congregation which includes some less observant and many with little knowledge of Jewish law, as if it represented the dominant Orthodox view of such children.
I wrote a letter of protest to the shul board, and the rabbi and I subsequently had a very long talk walking home to Shabbos lunch at his house, where he talked in more detail about the talmudic foundation of these readings and his view (which I agreed with) that this belief in no way implies anything less than the very greatest love and admiration for these children, and our obligation to regard ourselves as honoured to be the parents, guardians, educators and carers of them, doing everything possible to develop and enrich their lives and opportunities, during their time in this world.
I remembered a similar sensation built up a few years ago when a radical anti-Charedi Jewish group sought to stoke up hatred of Orthodox Judaism by claiming that Jews are commanded by the Torah to save the lives of Jews, but not non Jews, on the Sabbath.
There is indeed talmudic support for this view. In practice, however, it is unknown for Orthodox Jews to refuse to save the lives of non Jews– and indeed, saving a life usually depends on taking action before you determine the status of a person at risk.
The most famous and widely revered rabbinic Orthodox writer of postwar days, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote about this difficult topic on the theme to the effect that, yes, it is a talmudic law which we do not find easy to accept, but we accept that it is a talmudic law we recognise but express discomfort with.
Last week, I met a man familiar with our community who knows me. “There’s a hate preacher coming to the UK”, he said, “Can I email you to get your support for a campaign against him?”.
I told him how to find my email address and said he could send me the information.
To my surprise, it turned out to be a campaign to label as a “hate preacher” a Charedi rabbi who holds the sort of views of halacha I’ve explained above. And it was clearly a campaign seeking to enlist the support of solidly Orthodox Jews to share in this labelling and get him banned from entering the UK.
Here’s what the letter said:
“There’s going to be press coverage this week (it’s already started) and a significant change is that this time there’s going to be some high-profile rabbinic condemnation. The more this comes from the community (especially the observant bit of it) the more effective it will be.”
And in today’s London Times, there’s a highly sensationalist article headlined: “Rabble rousing rabbi not welcome here, say Jews”
Needless to say, there is no shortage of comments already on the sight saying such things as “This man is the responsibility of America and Israel, they should take steps to ensure his activities are curtailed.”
Alternatively, just divert his aircraft to Germany, where he will be arrested and prosecuted.”
The rabbi in question is American, but was born in Israel. It is completely unclear what if any relationship to Germany he has.
It should be clear that I don’t share the rabbi’s views, and I regard his interpretation of halacha as one of a very tiny and uninfluential majority, just as I regard the Christian ministers of evangelical congregations with comparable views as small minorities within Christianity.
I don’t think such people should be called “hate preachers,” which is a term reserved for those who really do preach hatred of others.
I utterly deplore what I think is an opportunist, unmerited and grossly inflammatory campaign, which I believe to be promoted inter alia by the ridiculously named “Jewish Labour Movement,” linked to the Labour Party, for internal Labour Party political reasons of wishing to prove that they’re not Islamophobes and doing so by campaigning against those they can label as Jewish hate preachers.
The reason I believe the Jewish Labour Movement, itself financed by the Jewish Leadership Council’s unelected millionaires,is behind this campaign because the Times report, which appallingly labels the Rabbi in question as “rabble rousing” (his audiences are Charedi Jews) quotes Jeremy Newmark, the paid Director of the Jewish Labour Movement.
The chief rabbi’s office has issued a statement which expresses opposition obliquely in these terms, not in terms which label the rabbi as a hate preacher:
“The chief rabbi has often spoken about the importance of our communities being places of warmth and inclusion. We do not expect that any of our rabbis or communities would wish to host a speaker who threatens to disrupt that precious atmosphere, with views which cause widespread offence.”
The fact that, contrary to the impression given by the Times report, Chief Rabbi Mirvis himself has not made any statement about the talmudic authenticity of this rabbi’s minority interpretation tells us a lot.