July 6: Bold, brave, unapologetic

Rabbi Uziel demonstrated true rabbinical leadership and innovation, proving unequivocally that where there is a will, there is a halachic way.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bold, brave, unapologetic Sir, - Benjamin Ish-Shalom's stringent, but unfortunately all-too-accurate, criticism of today's Chief Rabbinate and the conversion issue is even more painful when one considers how Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel (1880-1953), the State of Israel's first Sephardi chief rabbi, approached the very difficult problem of converting non-Jews for marriage purposes. While marriage is usually considered a typical ulterior motive and therefore totally invalid reason for conversion, he took a rather radical and very controversial approach even in his day. He ruled that when faced with an inevitable intermarriage where all avenues to prevent the union had failed, it was preferable to convert the non-Jewish partner (especially the woman) in order to at least allow the possibility of the couple leading a Jewish life and ensuring that their children be halachically Jewish. While quoting all the various reasons against such action, his concern for the end of the Jewish line and the future implications for the Jewish people overcame other considerations, despite their validity and necessity in other cases. He was obviously aware of the controversy of his approach, and even mainstream Orthodoxy has by and large not accepted his viewpoint as the norm; but what is important is his bold, brave and unapologetic attempt to deal with one of modern Judaism's most relevant and significant issues: intermarriage. And this, decades before anyone dreamed of massive aliya from the former Soviet Union. One need not agree with his ruling, and we certainly cannot try and extrapolate how he would deal with conversions today, but one thing is certain: Rabbi Uziel demonstrated true rabbinical leadership and innovation, proving unequivocally that where there is a will, there is a halachic way, a point obviously lost - even denigrated - by today's rabbinical establishment ("Divided we fall," UpFront, June 29). GERSHON HARRIS Hatzor Haglilit Heritage for all Sir, - In "Building our own Jewish identity" (May 18), David Horovitz noted with regret that only Israeli children from upper-class families travel to Poland on the Jewish Heritage Program. Other parents can't afford school outings, let alone a trip abroad. Hence children from less affluent backgrounds can't experience this important educational program. I'd like to point out a happy exception. Ten years ago Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, realized the value of sending teenagers to Poland. By sending 160 children a year from our Youth Aliyah Villages and day centers, we have provided this invaluable source of Jewish identity for children at risk. The trip is preceded by a month of intense study. Our children are appreciative. Their behavior is exemplary. They hold high the Israeli flag. We know that these students are enriched by this trip. They all go back to their schools and youth villages and lead the Yom Hashoah ceremonies for their peers. Hadassah is proud to have taken the responsibility for teaching our children about our heritage. BARBARA GOLDSTEIN Deputy Director, Hadassah Offices in Israel Jerusalem