April 4, 2018: One big tzimmes

From Pharaoh to Haman, Hadrian, the Crusaders, the auto-da-fés and the Cossacks, we have a lot to be angry about.

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One big tzimmes
One of my favorite Passover foods is tzimmes.
Because it is a complicated mixture of many different foods, the very word has come to mean something that is quite mixed up and more complicated than it really should be.
On April 2, you published an article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency headlined “With Conservative Judaism set for leadership change, will its intermarriage policy be next?” – which was really quite a tzimmes. The writer took the fact that two leaders of important branches of the movement resigned for personal career reasons and combined it with a recent Blue Ribbon commission that discussed our position on intermarriage, together with upcoming contested elections in the Rabbinical Assembly and so forth, and came up with that headline.
Where does this tzimmes come from? What does one thing have to do with the other? Somewhere buried in the article is the answer to the question, namely the uncontested fact that the leadership of the movement recently issued a clear statement reaffirming the long-standing rabbinic standard of the Rabbinical Assembly that our clergy may not officiate in any way in an intermarriage. The only question that is being discussed by the Law Committee, of which I am a member, is whether attendance at intermarriages should be prohibited on the same level or not.
The two matters are different from many points of view and the matter awaits clarification, but intermarriage is prohibited in Jewish law, and this is and will remain the clear stand of the Rabbinical Assembly.
There have been Rabbinical Assembly members who believed in permitting movement rabbis to officiate at such weddings, but they have either resigned from the group or refrained from officiating. It is absolutely clear that should they officiate, they will be asked to resign.
The fact that the only rabbi who is quoted in the article as favoring conducting intermarriage resigned from the Rabbinical Assembly five years ago should make this clear. What is of concern to the assembly is the question of what can be done to strengthen Judaism by encouraging intermarried couples to come closer to Judaism, to raise children as Jews and to consider conversion in a serious fashion.
The writer is a rabbi, a Jerusalem Post Magazine columnist and a former president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.
The article by JTA writer Ben Sales is well written and reflects a real issue. However, it describes, without any qualification, something happening in the leadership of the US branch of the Conservative movement.
The uninformed reader will not have any idea that the same movement also exists in many other countries, including Israel (where it is, as is in some other places, called the Masorti Movement).
This may seem like a technical issue, but since many people (not particularly well-wishers of said movement) like to describe all non-Orthodox streams as an American invention – contrary to historical fact – the writer should be more careful with his terminology.
Ben Sales’s extensive article on the status of Conservative Judaism suggests that the movement is floundering for lack of guidance. That guidance should be coming from the fountainhead of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary. Since this presumably well-researched article does not even mention JTS, it suggests there is no such guidance.
One must ask what role JTS is playing in solving the major theological questions facing the movement. What is it teaching the movement’s future rabbis concerning the best course to be taken to assure the survival of Conservative Judaism? How, with both patrilineal Jews and gentiles being admitted as full congregational members, will these future rabbis assure that the next generation of Conservative Jews will have Jewish grandchildren?
A more updated Haggada
Susan Hattis Rolef takes great umbrage regarding the Shfoch Chamatcha (Pour out your wrath) prayer in the Haggada (“About the Passover Seder, pluralism and tolerance,” Think About It, April 2).
She, of course, is free to say or omit whatever she likes. But disregarding Jewish history is not what the Seder is about. On the contrary, it is about remembering.
In that short, four-line passage, we beseech the Almighty to “pour out His wrath” – not on all gentiles, but to direct it against those who “devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.”
From Pharaoh to Haman, Hadrian, the Crusaders, the auto-da-fés and the Cossacks, we have a lot to be angry about.
Rolef describes her attending a Seder in Berlin and feeling uncomfortable reciting this passage in front of the gentiles who were there. There is nothing wrong and everything right about reminding them that their fathers and grandfathers were willing participants or onlookers on the gassing, bludgeoning, shooting and hanging of one-third of our people.
Ms. Rolef, asking for the Almighty to destroy those who sought the Final Solution is right and moral – “... but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One saves us from their hand.” Yes, even today. That is what “Shfoch Chamatcha” is about.
Ra’anana/New York
I respectfully disagree with columnist Susan Hattis Rolef about the relevance of the traditional Passover Haggada to our time. She is especially uncomfortable with the passage “Pour out Your wrath upon the Gentiles....”
Anyone who reads today’s newspapers knows that the verse “In every generation they rise up to eradicate us....” is alive and well. The regime in Iran threatens us every day.
It is interesting to note that we ask God to pour out His wrath; we don’t take it upon ourselves to do it, in contradiction to our enemies.
It is up to every generation to seek out and find the relevance contained within the Haggada.
A secular Haggada, Halaila Hazeh – Haggada Yisraelit, will undoubtedly go the way of all other “relevant” Haggadot such as the Coal Miner’s Haggada from the 1930s, the Save the Whales or the Red Forest Haggadot of the 1960s and the feminist ones of the 1970s.
Our traditional Haggada has kept the Jewish people for thousands of years and I believe will continue to do so.
One speech he’d tolerate
Regarding “Edelstein: Knesset won’t take part in altered Independence Day festivities” (March 30), I find it amazing that Culture Minister Miri Regev, the national busybody, feels she can co-opt such a revered institution – and worse, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t say anything about it.
Obviously, it’s to Netanyahu’s political benefit that she’s demanding he be given a starring role in a ceremony that for decades has sought to downplay politics, preferring instead to remain an event for the people and not the leaders or members of this or that party.
There is only one way I could be convinced that giving Netanyahu the podium on Independence Eve would be of benefit to the people: if he were to use the occasion to announce his departure from the political scene. Now that would be independence! (No need even for cigars or champagne!)