The Ellenson Challenge

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In this week’s Forward, David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, recounts two recent events in which Israeli Orthodox rabbis have severely demeaned Reform Judaism.

The first is the well-publicized case of former Sephardic chief rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu who recently joined a long line of Orthodox rabbis blaming the Holocaust on liberal Judaism.

The second is the case of Rabbi Michael Boyden, a Progressive rabbi whose son was killed in southern Lebanon in 1993, who was asked to recite a prayer at a public ceremony on Yom Hazikaron, only to have the invitation rescinded following pressure from a local Orthodox synagogue.

But Ellenson doesn’t only condemn these events. He calls upon Orthodox rabbis of good conscience to condemn them with him. And he gives his Orthodox colleagues a precedent:

In July 1860, a group of zealous Orthodox youth in Amsterdam entered an assembly of the Shochrei Deah, a Reform group, and stoned the liberal rabbi Dr. M. Chronik, almost killing him…

Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer — then head of an Orthodox yeshiva in Eisenstadt, Hungary, and later destined to become founder of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin — did not hesitate to condemn these youth for their actions, and he stated that such a deed constituted an act of hillul hashem, a “profanation of God’s name.â€? …

Hildesheimer circulated among Orthodox rabbis in various lands a petition that stated: “We, the undersigned, have read with great sorrow the announcement about the unrestrained disturbance in the synagogue in Amsterdam. We declare that this sad episode is opposed to the commandments of Judaism.�

Will any Orthodox rabbis take up Ellenson’s challenge?  I know what I think.  And I’d love to be proven wrong.

Posted on May 3, 2007

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One thought on “The Ellenson Challenge

  1. AMS

    Stoning or even hitting of anyone is against the Torah, as it says in Emor, this weeks parsha. Unless, of course, it is in self defense. These “youths” were in fact going against their cherished Torah law in order send a message to those Jews who chose to veer from it’s literal way, and the interpertations of the times that had been passed down for generations with inclusions of adaptations for modernity (which nontheless were sanctioned under Torah law). This is in truth reprehensible because it causes a further rift between Jewish brothers. While I do not know the exact reason why the Rabbi made such harsh comments relating Reform Jews and the Holocaust, I may have a clue. In Ethics of our Fathers (Pirqai Avot) 5:11 it says “Sword of war comes to the world for delay of justice, for the perversion of justice and for interperting the Torah decision in opposition to the halachah (law).” Let us step back for a moment and place ourselves in the minds of the ultra religious youths. Could it be they knew the Torah so well that they forsaw that the possibility of “interperting the Torah in opposition to halachah”, as they thought the Reform Rabbi was doing, was going to bring “death by sword”? Could it be they themselves thought they were acting in self defense? I have no answer to this. While two wrongs don’t make a right, hatred between Jews caused destruction of the second temple. Two rights make an airplane. You can’t fly with one wing. Thank you for the post and the awareness. Let’s fly to Israel together with the Messiah. Have a holy Shabbat.

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