Alexander Penn's grandson to be ordained as rabbi

Drawn to God after he discovered that 'a bunch of spoiled brats from Beverly Hills' knew more about Judaism than he did.

torah scroll 88 248 (photo credit: courtesy)
torah scroll 88 248
(photo credit: courtesy)
The grandson of radical Marxist Zionist poet Alexander Penn will be ordained as a rabbi by the Conservative Movement's Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Dr. Jonathan Fine, a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government in the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and a fellow researcher at the center's Institute of Counterterrorism, said he was drawn to Judaism because he felt a spiritual void in his secular Zionist upbringing. "It struck in 1980 while working as a counselor in a Reform summer camp in California," said Fine, who also teaches at the overseas students' program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "I was amazed to discover that a bunch of spoiled brats from Beverly Hills and Belair, including the son of Dustin Hoffman, knew more about Judaism than I did," Fine said. He chose Conservative Judaism, he said, because it struck a balance between "Orthodox dogmatism on one hand and the almost complete personal autonomy provided by Reform Judaism." "I do not believe in black and white decisions, but you also can't do whatever you want," he said. "One of Judaism's greatest inventions was transforming abstract ideals into reality, which is Halacha." Since 1988, the Conservative Movement in Israel has ordained 65 rabbis. Candidates to be a rabbi must have a BA and end up completing an MA in Jewish studies during a four-year course of studies that includes Talmud, hermeneutics (Conservative theology, Jewish feminism, Bible and Talmud criticism), Jewish philosophy and Jewish history. Rabbis are also expected to abide by the rulings of the Halachic Committee in Israel, which is not bound by the rulings of the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards. Fine said he would not blindly accept all the rulings of the Halachic Committee or any other body. "I won't hesitate to debate or to fight issues," he said. "But so far, I have not found myself in a position to oppose anything." In addition to Fine, Haana Klebansky, a new immigrant from Georgia, Jean Claude Sudar of France and Orit Winboim will all be ordained on Wednesday. Penn was born in Russia in 1906, made aliya in 1927 and wrote poems with a political and social message in the Marxist press. He died in 1972.