Q&A with Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger

The chief rabbi answers readers' questions about issues involving Judaism and the Jewish world.

yona metzger hat 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yona metzger hat 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Dear JPost readers, Due to the overwhelming amount of questions we have received for the Q&A with Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, the rabbi will answer an additional 20 questions in the near future. Meanwhile, here is part I: Mordechai Friedfertig, Buffalo, New York: Kavod Ha-Rav - Do you think the chief rabbinate today is what Rav Kook envisioned when he established it. If not, why and how can it be fixed? Rabbi Metzger: By all means, yes. The chief rabbinate of Israel has become the primary halachic rabbinical authority for the citizens of Israel and many members of world Jewry. Judging by the number of requests, queries and comments from heads of communities, rabbis of different countries, and the general populace of Jews in Israel and abroad, it is evident that the Rabbinate is an inalienable asset of Jewry in putting to practice the vision of Rav Cook. Max Rositan, Toronto, Canada: Since there is absolutely nothing explicit in the Torah about considering someone being Jewish only because person's mother is Jewish isn't it time to start considering people who only have Jewish father being Jewish? In our times when thanks to DNA evidence we can establish with a 100% certainty who person's father was lets stop alienating almost 50% of Diaspora Jews. These people are not at fault for "transgressions" of their fathers. I am writing this as a traditional Jew who can trace my maternal Jewish ancestors at least to the beginning of the 19th century. Rabbi Metzger: The basic assumption is wrong. The Torah clearly states that appropriating a person to a specific nationality is determined by the mother only, just as the Talmud tractate of Kidushin interprets the verse forbidding a man to wed his daughter to a gentile "for they will turn away thy son from following me" in the sense that only if your son was born to an Israelite mother can be called "your son" but if your son is born from a worshipper of the stars, he can only be referred to as her son. Therefore it is not allowed to consider the identity of a person by the identity of the father. Liza Zimmerman, Budapest: Dear Rabbi, my question is about the Kabbalah. Is there any stream in Judaism that doesn't accept it? Is the Torah, which has been given direct from Hashem not enough? Rabbi Metzger: There is no stream in Orthodox Jewry - the original Jewry - that does not accept the Kabbalah, the Kabbalah is a secret Torah and is one of the deepest layers of interpreting the Torah and understanding the Creator's way in running the world. Gil Bashe, Metuchen, NJ: Rav Shilt"a, how can we best address the challenges of intermarriage? What do you recommend to welcome these families into our community and encourage fuller participation? B'Todah Rabbi Metzger: Jewish education should be encouraged - Jews in the Diaspora should study in Jewish schools teaching the values of Jewish tradition, which emphasizes the uniqueness and special status of Jews among other nations, and strengthens our national pride. The problem you mentioned exists mainly in universities, and I believe that after a rooted, proud Jewish education, University encounters would not lead to intermarriages. Dan, Philadelphia: I was at the Kotel last week after sitting Sheva for my father. I got interrupted in the middle of Tefilah by a young able man asking for money to buy a Tefilin. He was followed by another asking for money to buy a Shabbat meal. What can be done to bring holiness back to the Kotel and avoid such frauds that give a bad name to religious Jews and denigrate the name of hashem? Rabbi Metzger: First of all let me begin by offering my condolences on your father's passing. Regarding your question, you are right. I discussed this matter with the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, in order to find ways to bar beggars from interfering people praying at the Wall. For your knowledge, there is even a law prohibiting begging throughout the Western Wall yard. In light of what you say we will put more emphasis to end this phenomenon and find the correct balance between the obligation to help the needy and the necessity of allowing visitors to pray in peace and not be bothered by impostors. Tracy Drucker, New York: I'm concerned about the lack of solidarity, the outright hostility among different secular and religious groups within Israel at a time of extreme vulnerability. Couldn't leaders like you initiate a temporary "truce", and foster a spirit of kindness, integrity and brotherhood to be strong to face Israel's enemies? It hurts so much to watch the country tearing itself apart. Thank you for this opportunity. Rabbi Metzger: We are acting in many ways to bridge the gaps so that we can live together as one people. The situation is definitely not encouraging and openness on both sides is needed. I think there were harder times in the past, and genuinely hope that we can take the right way together. It is important to point out that one of the foundations of the unity of the nation between religious and non-religious people is the education system of the schools: A) Educating towards respecting one's peers and loving Israel, as the Torah states "Love thy neighbor". B) Expanding Jewish studies - the values of religion and the sources of prayer and Mitzvoth that would help bridge the gap, which stems mainly from lack of knowledge and prejudice. Ezra Lagnado, New York: Why under the minhag ashkinaz for shahrit, shir hayom comes after alenu. Alenu I thought should be the closing prayer. Rabbi Metzger: According to many of the Ashkenazi communities, the Aleinu prayer is the last prayer of the day. An exception is the community of the Vilna Gaon followers. There is no obligation that Aleinu would be the finishing prayer, and there is precedence for both practices in halachic sources. Jay Akselrud, Beit Shemesh, Israel: Why was the aguna conference cancelled? I do not know any personally, but it seems like it would be a good idea to help these women out? What are the issues? Rabbi Metzger: There is a legal dichotomy in Israel between different rabbinical authorities. Therefore I was not a partner in planning or in canceling the convention. The question should be referred to the rabbinical court administration, which initiated the convention. Rivka Langworthy, Melbourne, Australia: B"H What, in your opinion, should the role of Jews in the diaspora be? Is it important for us all to aim to make aliyah, or should we maintain a vibrant presence in other lands? How can diaspora Jews work for the benefit of the State of Israel, other than making aliyah? How can Jews in the diaspora, who are often so disparate, work together in an effective way? Rabbi Metzger: Our aspiration is that all Jews in the Diaspora will make aliyah to the Holy Land, but so long as there are many communities living abroad it is our duty to care and assist them until the coming of the Messiah. God willing, when the Messiah will have arrived, all Jews will come to Eretz Israel. The responsibility of members of communities in the Diaspora is to support their brethren and their homeland in all ways possible, to be a light unto the nations and to sanctify God's name. Rael Olwyn, Johannesburg, South Africa: Does the rav see any way for peace within the guidelines of halacha? Rabbi Metzger: Certainly. Judaism educates all Jews on the important value of peace. This is obviously the stand of the halacha as well. Regrettably, our foes teach the opposite, and as long as their educative material does not change to include teachings of brotherliness and good neighboring, it is doubtful that there will be peace in our area. Adjoa Ndele Sydney, Australia: Rabbi, how do you see your people's relationship with the Church in 2007? What are important issues facing Jewish people today that we as Judeo Christians can pray with you for? Rabbi Metzger: I do not know if there was ever before a time of better relations between Judaism and Christianity. Since Vatican II, over 40 years ago, when the Church announced that it was canceling the age old accusation of Jews for crucifying Jesus, the ties between the Vatican and Judaism tightened. Furthermore, diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel have been established, and the Committee of Rabbis holds regular meetings with the Committee of Cardinals. We have reached accord on important historic issues happy for having the privilege to be part of these relations, which are important not only for both religions but can also help to diminish anti-Semitism around the world. Regarding your second question, I am not well-versed in the Christian Liturgy and my best advice would be to consult a man of the cloth. Michael Adler, New York: Why has the chief rabbinate not officially put the Netutrai Karta in Cherem? Rabbi Metzger: Your question is not phrased correctly. Immediately after discovering that extremists in the Neturei Karta group were to participate in the convention of Holocaust deniers, I turned to rabbinates and heads of communities around the world to which these extremists belong regarding ousting them from the community. I was happy to hear that my request was met positively and communities did as I asked them. Additionally, I turned to the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister to ban Jews from returning to Israel, and this request was granted as well. Currently the legal options to implement my request are being explored. Rich Horvitz, USA: I'm contemplating signing up to be an organ donor and am wondering if there is any conflict between the mitzva of saving lives vs. being whole in burial while waiting for the messiah? Rabbi Metzger: There is no prohibition and it is even a Mitzvah to do so, so long as extracting the organs to be donated, whether from a living or a dead person, is done according to halacha, after consulting a qualified rabbinical adjudicator. Daniel Lis, Herzliya, Israel: Dear Chief Rabbi Metzger, as a Social Anthropologist working on groups who claim to be descendants of the lost tribes, I noticed that be it in the case of the Bnei Menashe, or Ethiopian Jewry before, the Sephardi Chief Rabbis take a more active role than the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis. Could you elaborate why it has been so and what are the procedures to arrive at a response regarding such groups? Rabbi Metzger: With all due respect, I think your basic assumption is wrong. The decisions relating to members of peoples requesting to become part of the Jewish people are considered in the committee of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, where I am the acting president, and naturally I am well aware of all the issues that arise in the committee. In the presidency of the committee the two chief Rabbis are acting as presidents in rotation and therefore it cannot be said that the Sephardic rabbis are doing more than the Ashkenazi rabbis. Judith Snyder, Bensalem, Pennsylvania: How do people in Alaska know when to daven when there are days which are mostly daylight and very little darkness.-How do you know when to daven maariv? Rabbi Metzger: There is a precise astronomical chart according to which one can determine when day and night change. In practice, though, it is very difficult to lead a Jewish halachic life in Alaska and the poles for many reasons, among which is the one you mentioned. Barry Hammer, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Do you feel that there is a lack of people who can properly guide Jews into answering "Why should I be religious" without falling back on the answer "Because that's how you're supposed to live your life" or "Because G-d said so"? If so, what would you suggest we do to help fight this problem? If not, how would you approach a Jew who has fallen off the derech? Rabbi Metzger: The true answer is "because this is the only true way and there is no other." There are not several truths and the way of Judaism is the only one that can be logically proven. It is hard to give general advice on how to approach a Jew who has left the righteous way, and each case should be regarded individually. Keeping the Mitzvoth should be encouraged while observing the wholeness they give to the person keeping them. Dean Feldman, San Leandro, California: Dear Rabbi: My father, of blessed memory, was a gentile. Is there benefit and/or obligation to saying kaddish on his yartzeit? Rabbi Metzger: Wise men have said that a gentile should honor his father, and a convert is allowed to say Kaddish on his gentile father, indeed it if his son will say a Kaddish or a Yizkor on him. Also it is good to do good deeds and Tzedaka and these can also help the soul of the father.