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April 29, 2009

Footsteps Founder Makes Jewish Week List

Malkie Schwartz, founder of an organization that helps haredim who decide to leave ultra-Orthodoxy, is named to prestigious NY Jewish Week list, as is Beejhy Barhany, the founder of BINA, Beta Israel of North America (Ethiopian Jews of North America).

Malkie Schwartz

36 Under 36 2009: Malkie Schwartz, 27
by Sharon Udasin, NY Jewish Week

When Malkie Schwartz first decided to leave behind her native Chabad-Lubavitch community in 2000, she had a strong network of support in secular New York — something that she realized most formers chasidim have difficulties finding. Three years later, she decided to change that by founding Footsteps, a comfortable learning and social environment where people can adjust to their new lives and discuss their decisions. "Unlike a lot of the people who leave, I had a support system and I obviously experienced challenges of my own," she says.

As a teen, Schwartz was able to move in with her secular grandmother, who introduced her to elements of mainstream culture frowned upon in Crown Heights – like television and movies – and encouraged her to
enroll in Hunter College in 2001.

At school, Schwartz gradually began to meet other students who had just joined the mainstream community and left behind their ultra-Orthodox families and friends. But there was no comfortable setting where she could introduce all these lone people, who often felt shameful for leaving the fold, and therefore kept their identities secret, according to Schwartz. "It dawned on me that here were amazing people who could be helpful to me and to one another," she says.

So Schwartz decided to bring these people together, by starting a student group that began with five or six people. "The next thing I knew word spread like wildfire," she says. "I’ll never forget the energy in the room," at the early meetings.

Once the group was large enough, Schwartz decided to transform her small group to a citywide support organization called Footsteps, where formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews can socialize and take computerized GED, reading and writing skills courses donated by Instructional Systems Inc. Since founding the program, Schwartz has garnered financial support from the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Foundation, Bikkurim, and another anonymous source.

Footsteps is what Schwartz calls a "safe place," where people can watch their first movie and learn with social worker Michael Jenkins how to create a basic resume.

"We have seen people go from a fourth grade reading level to enrolling in graduate school programs and people who, facing a slew of potential consequences, reveal to their friends and families who they are and what they are seeking from life."

Still tethered to the law: Schwartz will soon be leaving her executive position at Footsteps to focus on her studies at Cardozo Law School, where she is a second year student. Favorite authors: Phillip Roth and Walter Mosley.

Beejhy Barhany

36 over 36 2009: Beejhy Barhany, 33
by Carolyn Slutsky, NY Jewish Week

By the time she was 7, Beejhy Barhany had fled her native Ethiopia, walking with her family and 300 villagers to Sudan, where they started a new life. After a few years they left again, this time taking a Jeep through the jungles of Kenya, on to Uganda, France and finally to Israel, which even at that young age she remembers was "like fulfilling a dream after exile."

She quickly made the transition into Israeli life, and at 22 visited New York, where she also felt at home. But when she moved here, she searched for agencies to help Ethiopian Jews making the transition and found nothing. So in 2003 she founded Beta Israel of North America (BINA), a cultural organization for Ethiopian
Jews.

"The idea behind BINA is to empower Beta (Ethiopian) Israel Jews and teach about the rich culture of Ethiopian Jews," says Barhany. She would like to educate the Jewish world at large that there is more than one shape and color for Jews, and see members of the diaspora interacting as equals.

"It’s always ‘how can we help them?’" she says of the attitude of many in the Jewish community. "It should be ‘how can we help each other.’"

BINA has a speakers bureau and educational workshops, the Sheba Film Festival (which opens Sunday) and social services for the approximately 500 Beta Israel living in the New York area. The group hopes to develop a curriculum around the Ethiopian Jewish experience, and continue its outreach to the Jewish and black communities.

Barhany says she is inspired by the recent election of President Barack Obama. "As a black Jewish woman it’s a good change. Eventually the U.S. can be a role model to other countries, opening people’s minds," she says, adding that Israel still has further to go in accepting Ethiopian Jews as fully integrated members of society. "If we empower each other we can learn and be stronger," she says of the world and her own little community within it. "That’s the best help you can give."

Wanderlust
Barhany has a passion for exploring different ethnic groups and diversity, and has journeyed to the Inca trail and Machu Pichu.

The entire 36 Under 36 list.

[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]

Comments

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It's interesting that kids of Lubavitcher Baal Tshuvahs are leaving to return to the normal world. Perhaps it's a bit easier for them because they have normal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for support.

I can only imagine the kind of harassment Ms. Schwartz must be subjected to by the black hat lunatics.

Shmarya, perhaps you could ask her to write a guest article here.

Malkie isn't interested in the publicity.

I wish both these young ladies lots of mazal.

This is a terrific story, I congratulated Malkie in an email after I read her remarkable story that appeared in "Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels" by Hella Winston.

This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to better understand the problems many, many young people feel about the Hassidic and Haredi communities. Free at last, free at last ...

Yeh, why do not frum people when they visit Crown Heighets they always wish they could have some sexy hottie Lubavitch girl?.

I don't understand why she has chosen to go to Cardozo Law School, when she has left the Orthodox fold. I know that she is no longer Torah observant because she is proud of the fact that she eats in non-kosher establishments, yet she is attending an Orthodox-affiliated law school? I don't see where the consistency is here.

Favorite author - Philip Roth

How telling

RD: Maybe she is now Modern orthodox instead of Chassidic? I have an ex-Bobov friend who is MO. Also, Cardozo does not impose Orthodoxy; many of its students are non-frum or Gentile.

Lots of gentiles attend Cardozo and othe YU grad schools. Maybe it was the best law school to which she was admitted.

YL, if what Reb Doniel says is true, then she is definitely not Modern Orthodox since Modern Orthodox people do NOT eat in non-kosher establishments.

True, Harold. Anyhow, it's her life & business.

It is "rumored" again we do not know if this is totally true that she has toned down her anti frum \ Antsiest beliefs.

Sigh. What do M.O. do? Is there a rule? Do some of them eat in non kosher establishments? Hey, some of them eat shrimp in non-kosher establishments! Shall we send out the modesty squad to report them to the rabbi (with photos uploaded to frumenforcers.org) and have them singled out during Kol Nidre?
Their children go to day school. They belong to schuls where men and women sit separately. So what 'are they?'

Perhaps they feel that what they do is not-quite-right but they want to explore.

Perhaps they don't eat shrimp, perhaps they only drink black coffee.
Perhaps they have weighed the evidence and come to a personal decision to eat vegetarian food in any restaurant that will serve them.
Are they conservative?
No, they daven where the sexes are divided.

How about ... they are Jews, not entirely observant by traditional standards. That describes a lot of us.

Include me in the ranks of people who are surprisingly religious in some aspects and not at all in others, and somewhere in between on still other stuff.
Don't ask me to explain; it's just how I roll.

She's a reformed haredi LWMO.

No She's a treif eating traditionalist.

No She's a...

OH PLEASE!!!

How about this:

She's a Jew, a bat yisrael!!!

No, she is not observant at all, not on a Conservative or Modern Orthodox level. Conservative Jews at least make an effort to do the best they can when eating out- they won't eat treif or meat, and they show kibbud ha shabbos, observe the yomim tovim, the women daven and many wear tallis and tefillin, etc. At least these groups shjow a respect for the halacha. She has no respect for the halacha and has consciously chosen to reject the path of any form of observance whatsoever. There are even Reform Jews who are at least somewhat observant nowadays. She is totally nonobservant and she is seeking to lead others down this path. An organization like hers would be better off if they had a Modern Orthodox rabbi/psychologist/professor as its director. A cultured, educated, Westernized, ritually observant and yosher Jew would be able to help runaways from the Haredi velt seek educational opportunities, learn about the arts, music, and other manifestations of derech eretz, including a college education, while remaining committed to davening, being kovea ittim, kashrus, observing Shabbos and the mitzvos and halacha which bind us to HaShem and one another. Troubled Haredi kids need to know that there are normal people out there, who go to college, who drink regular milk, and are fully members of American/Western society while remaining fully Orthodox. Unfortunately, the acerbic fundamentalism and emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse that often characterizes their experiences growing up, as well as the attitude that they are right and everyone else in the world wrong, often causes a total revulsion in their minds towards observance. They view observance as a burden and an unwelcome set of demands which exists purely to subjugate them and keep them under the communal thumb, rather than their heritage and a delight from HaShem. They need derech eretz, spirituality and exposure to the best HaShem has given us in the realm of both torah and derech eretz. Even if they do not wish to be Orthodox anymore, than t elast they should have some feeling of connection to yiddishkeit. They need to know that they are part of the Mishpacha and that HaShem loves them as His chosen ones, and that this does not involve following every chumra in the book.

Reb Doniel, I think the last thing they want, especially early on, is another orthodox rabbi telling them what to do.
There is a period of very unreligious activity at first, which can last any length of time, then a gradual leveling off to some healthier moderation in Jewish lifestyle. Some sort of guidance during these times is essential, as you point out, but I don't think a rabbi is the answer. I hope there is a mental health professional involved.

Having other people of similar background for group discussion is a good thing. Sometimes they just don't know what is 'normal' and what isn't, and group sessions can help, moderated by a psychologist/social worker.

I suspect many of these folks end up all over the spectrum as far as where they end up with what they practice and observe, as they find their own comfort zone. They would not take well to a lecture about why they should be practicing religious Jews.

Reb Doniel –

1. These people are ADULTS, not child "runaways."

2. They do not want to be Orthodox.

3. They have LEFT Orthodoxy.

4. They want help navigating a world they are unfamiliar with.

5. Footsteps helps them.

6. To make this as clear as possible for you, they don't buy the Orthodox [read that again so you're clear: O-R-T-H-O-D-O-X] B.S. anymore. They don't buy Torah mi sinai. They don't buy halakha. They don't buy your tikkun olam crap. They've seen it all first hand and know the bullshit. That means they don't buy the MO bullshit either.

7. A small percentage of these ADULTS chose to remain observant and become MO. Footsteps helps them do that.

8. Most do some Jewish stuff like go to or host occasional Shabbos dinners and the like.

9. But the two things they do not need are an MO psychologist to 'show them the light' and an MO rabbi to be self righteous with them.

10. You'll note no MO or haredi groups do what Footsteps does and none do what you want done. The haredim all try to make the ADULTS who want to leave frum again and MO doesn't care at all. Perhaps you should direct your wisdom at your peers.

Even though according to law, these people are adults, they lack the maturity and exposure to the real world that others of their age may have due to the nature of their upbringing. They are extremely vulnerable coming out of these communities and don't have a clue about Modern Orthodoxy. To them, the world is black and white, good vs. evil, because they were brainwashed into thinking like this. In their minds, it is either all or nothing, in regards to yiddishkeit, and so, disenchanted Jews like Malkie Schwartz are attempting to impose their views on vulnerable and often, socially and emotionally handicapped individuals. I wonder- are they really helping people with their problems or is there a hidden agenda here? Also, the reason why I think Modern Orthodoxy hasn't addressed the issue of Haredi kids going totally off the derech is that there is obviously kowtowing and a fear of the Haredim among most Centrist, run of the mill YU/RCA types. They view the Haredim in a positive light and are not likely to interfere in a situation like this due to reprisal from the Haredi rabbinical authorities. If I had the means to do so, I would start an Open Orthodox organization where ex-haredim can discover spirituality, the meaning of Jewish identity in the modern world, the thought of the Rav, Martin Buber, and others, as well as receive therapy and guidance.

A bit condescending, don't you think?

Most of these ADULTS (many are in their 30s, BTW, and the oldest in his 60s) have spent YEARS thinking about Judaism, talking to rabbis about their feelings about it, and exploring within Orthodoxy before they finally leave.

But you ASSUME these are all 20 year olds who impulsively run away.

And let me especially clear: The world isn't 6000 years old, Noah's flood did not happen, the Exodus as described in Tanach is impossible, and the entire Joshua account is hogwash. And most of these ADULTS know this BEFORE they leave.

They also know about the massive stealing and fraud in haredi communities. They know about the rampant sexual abuse And they know about the OU's corruption and Baruch Lanner, as well.

They also know all leading MO rabbis (except Yosef Blau and, perhaps, Tzvi Hersh Weinreb) have been SILENT about these crimes.

But you think exposure to the likes of you will keep them Orthodox?

Please.

Why not spend your time cleaning up your own very dirty house.

Reb Doniel, the goal is not to keep these people from becoming less religious. They've already decided to become less religious, or to drop religiousness altogether. The goal is to orient them to the nonharedi world, to learn appropriate daily activity, be brought up to speed with secular education, job training, and even how to have normal interactions with regular humans. Family issues, divorce, finances, etc. all complicate the matter.

They're like space travelers arriving from another planet. Dealing with the psychological issues all this brings is of course, essential.

But having a rabbi and/or frum counselor to start hocking them about staying frum is not going to happen.

Reb Doniel,

Other than truly believing they are smarter, better educated and spiffier than their scruffier and oh so disrespectful hareidi brethren, the Modern Orthodox are no better than Hareidim.
Both are preaching all the wrong answers, some more politely than others.
The Conservative movement has all the right questions.

I think WSC has the right approach. Let them sort out their own religiousity, and give them tools to live outside the chareidi world. And JT, if they want to end up Conservative, that's fine, too. But no one "movement" has all the answers or all the questions, IMO. (I have experienced all 3 major movements, for a significant amount of time in each.)

RD: I like your idea about Open Orthodoxy, but leave it an option for all who want it, rather than hocking a tchinek on those who don't want it. My ex-Bobov friend went from chasid to punk-rocker to Modern Orthodoxy- in his own time, and with no one (least of all me) hocking him a tchinek- or he would have run further. But Shmarya is right that most chareidi drop outs will never be Ortho again.

YL, I nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a Grammy for all your songs.

Thanks, WSC. I'll take the grammy, but Arafat got a Nobel, so I'll pass on it.

A Gutten Shabbos to all!

Yochanan Lavie,

I was not referring to the footsteps participants in any way.
I was just making some general opinion based assertions.
The Conservative movement is asking "most" ok not "all" of the right questions.
I dont think the other movements offer the best or even great answers, I've found them to often be the wrong answers.

Obviously whats wrong for me may be perfect for you. That still doesnt make it right for me.

Alot of the older JTS scholars are really brilliant scholars with impressive accomplishments like Solomon Schecter.

Obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to theological assertions. Philosophy is not an exact science.

JT: Indeed, there are many great scholars at JTS and in the movement generally. They have my respect, even if I don't always agree with them, as you too have my respect. Freedom of conscience is the ticket. Shavuoah tov.

jaded topaz - the Conservative movement has a lot to be humble about, too (although I personally agree about some of the scholarship).

Honestly, everybody could afford to tone down their bravado about whatever sub-group they belong to. It's especially weird that so much is happening on this thread in particular, where the obvious message seems to be that fragmentation, isolation, and telling people what to do ends up really messing some people up.

The Conservative Movement has run itself into the ground and will most likely cease to exist within 20 years from now. What they need to do is adopt Patrilineal descent if they want to stay afloat because he majority of their youth either intermarry, or if they want to become observant, they generally go over to the Orthodox side.

Whole I think the CJLS is very scholarly and publishes great halakhic literature, the movement has certainly broken with traditional halakha in many areas, and if they accept people who identify as Jewish without being halakhically Jewish, they would be able to reach out to many more people.

++will most likely cease to exist within 20 years from now++

I remember when that was said 20 years ago, and when it was said 40 years ago.

The demographics have changed since then. Back then, Conservative was larger than Reform, but nowadays, 36% of American Jews are Refor, 25% Conservative, 12% Orthodox and minute percentages are Recon., Renewal or Humanistic. The rest are unaffiliated or secular. Reform is actually demonstrating growth in membership numbers while Conservative is showing a decline, with the average age of the Conservative shul-goer is 50-60. Jews are intermarrying and the products of this phenomenon want to be accepted as Jews without conversion. That is why they go to the Reform Movement. I see no reason why the USCJ rejects patrilineals- they don't adhere to halacha in so many other areas, so why be selective with something that will help the movement revitalize itself and grow?

If prominent members of the movement rabbinate claim it is no longer Halachic, and if gays can be married and get semicha, if women can be rabbis, if people can drive on shabbos and eat treife milchigs out, if kohanim can marry converts and divorcees, than why choose to follow the halakha on yichus?

if women can be rabbis, if people can drive on shabbos and eat treife milchigs out, if kohanim can marry converts and divorcees, than why choose to follow the halakha on yichus?

Do you really have smicha? Every one of these things have Rishonim who ruled that way.

We don't hold by rishonim. The halakha follows "the later ones." The USCJ allowed all of these things out of a need to make heterim for their members, needs largely created out of suburbanization and growing assimilation. As for marriage, these innovations were based in a need to combat assimilation, in the words of the responsa themselves. These innovations were largely instigated by the membership, not the halakhists. Why do you think Joel Roth just resigned from the CJLS? Why do you think the UTJ was created out of the USCJ?

Did you know many frum Jews ate gevinat akum and halav akum after the Rishonim and before the USCJ approved it?

And kohanim are regularly allowed to marry converts and divorcees throughout the Orthodox world.

Electricity was viewed as muttar on Shabbos by a surprisingly large number of Orthodox rabbis. So was telephone use.

You need to separate decisions made by Orthodoxy for policy reasons (hadash assur min haTorah) from actual halakha.

Reb Doniel,

On "We don't hold by rishonim" - that "we" needs to be underlined. So there's only a narrow window in history of people most Orthodox can posken according to - great. But that doesn't mean when other people look deeper into the chain of teaching, or more recently for that matter, it's unrelated to halacha or mesorah.

By the way, I think those driving (to shul) and treif milchig tshuvot are horrible. For the latter, especially, I saw no compelling reference to any halachic source.

Exactly. I have the complete volumes of USCJ teshuvot at home, and my point is that it is no coincidence that on all areas where they break with halakha, there are no references to any mekorot in siuch controversial teshuvot. They believe that a vote of the congregants suffices as a valid halakhic source. This is where even the most left-wing MO differ with them. We would only make a change in oractice if we felt there was textual support for it. This is also why all of the brilliant minds from JTS refused to support the responsa allowing for driving on shabbos, milchigs out, gay marriage, etc.

When it comes to halakha le ma'ase, of course we would hold by later authorities. Moshe Feinstein obviously knew more about the realities of modern Jewish life than did the Meiri, when it was common and allowed to use vegetable rennet for cheese that lacked rabbinical supervision, or when it was acceptable to play instruments in Shabbos. We can't uproot what has become the accepted practice for the sake of convenience.

First paragraph - Too true. Sigh. I really hope the movement straightens up.

Second paragraph - neh, I don't agree completely. Common practice is something we continually create, as long as it can be halakhically backed up. And as for "accepted practice," I find that too often this means "accepted by people who count," further defined as whomever agrees with the speaker. To a certain extent I think we have to realise that there was always a great diversity of practice (surprisingly often, although of course not always, with respect) in Jewish history. Our generation didn't invent schizm and it's not the end of the world, or Torah.

I saw your website. I dig the Gemara comics.

This is also why all of the brilliant minds from JTS refused to support the responsa allowing for… milchigs out…

Again:

1. Rishonim held gevinat akum and halav stam were muttar.

2. Hundreds of Chazal "ate out" in non-kosher inns when they traveled.

3. The actual minhag of America before the haredim came and rejected it was to eat milchigs out. And that minhag was followed by some very Orthodox rabbis.

You don't like the USCJ? Fine. But try to stay somewhat withing history and reality when you criticize it.

RD - thanks!
Shmarya - why are you so awesome?

FYI,

The leading kashrus expert in the Rabbinical Assembly is launching an initiative to- shocker!- stop eating milchigs out.

Rabbi Plotkin is doing a great mitzvah by encouraging the correct approach to eating kosher. He has a very vested interest in this- he was the rabbi who pressured the Florida Panthers into getting kosher food at their games and he is also the rav ha makhshir of the Ben's Deli in Boca Raton.

Warning To Conservative Jews: Don’t Eat That Pizza!
by Stewart Ain
Staff Writer

A survey of Conservative clergy released last week found that more than 80 percent eat warmed fish in non-kosher restaurants, prompting the chairman of the movement’s rabbinic kosher subcommittee to begin writing a legal opinion that will likely restrict what Conservative Jews may or may not eat in non-kosher restaurants.Such a sweeping opinion, if approved by the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, would radically change Conservative practice that has been in place for more than a generation. And it would also set Rabbi Paul Plotkin, the subcommittee chairman and a recognized expert in kashrut for the Conservative movement, on a collision course with more liberal Conservative rabbis who argue that halacha must change with the times.“It’s been disappointing to me and a matter of personal consternation for a long period of time,” Rabbi Plotkin said of the Conservative movement’s widespread practice of eating hot dairy food in non-kosher restaurants.“I’ve been toying with writing a responsum on the issue,” he said. “Not only do I want to see this issue revisited [by the Law Committee] but there is a misconception in the Conservative movement that Conservative Jews are permitted to eat hot food in non-kosher restaurants. That is not true.”Rabbi Plotkin, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am in Margate, Fla., said he expects to submit his paper by the end of the year. He said the current practice of Conservative Jews was based on a misunderstood legal opinion written in 1940 by Rabbi Max Arzt that focused on the eating of grilled fish and cooked vegetables in non-kosher restaurants in communities that lacked kosher restaurants. “It was limited in scope and rooted in the reality of its time,” Rabbi Plotkin said. “Many of the reasons he permits grilled fish are no longer valid. ... And that teshuvah [Jewish legal opinion] does not cover how you can eat pizza from a non-kosher restaurant. I certainly do not eat, nor can I find any foundation religiously, for allowing it — even if one presumes that all cheese is kosher.”The e-mail survey — which was conducted in January by the Jewish Theological Seminary primarily to gauge views on its Law Committee’s decision to permit gay and lesbian ordination and same-sex commitment ceremonies — was answered by 919 rabbis and 211 cantors. Although their acceptance of gays and lesbians was widely reported last week, little attention was paid to the section of the survey that dealt with patterns of observance and belief.Rabbi Plotkin said his responsum would present an “intellectually honest and halachically valid opinion to guide Conservative Jews as to what they may and may not eat in a non-kosher restaurant.”He said he realizes that a “more stringent position may evolve” as a result of his paper “because that is the intellectually honest position. ... The Conservative movement should not be about how many leniencies the movement can find.”But Rabbi Barry Leff, of Toledo, Ohio, said that although he agrees with Rabbi Plotkin’s conclusion, he believes halacha, or Jewish law, has to adapt to the times. Making it stricter, as Rabbi Plotkin suggests, “would reduce the relevancy of halacha in the eyes of many.”“Every once in a while we have to bring halacha into line with what people are doing or we lose respect for the system,” he explained. “Don’t impose something on the community unless they will abide by it,” and a change in halacha now would not be accepted by the people.“Halacha gets determined by the people, and the rabbis follow,” Rabbi Leff pointed out, citing the case of turkey, which was unknown in the Old World. “The rabbis wanted to ban it, but the people said it was like a chicken and had to be kosher,” he said. “The rabbis followed and had to adapt halacha.”The same holds true for eating in non-kosher establishments, said Rabbi Leff, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel. He said he found in his own non-scientific survey of 110 Conservative rabbis in the fall of 2003 that 71 percent ate hot dairy meals in non-kosher restaurants and that 92 percent ate hot dairy meals in vegetarian restaurants that lacked rabbinic supervision.Similarly, he said, he found that a “substantial majority” of observant Conservative Jews ate hot dairy meals in non-kosher restaurants. Last week’s survey found that 90 percent of Conservative Jewish professional leaders (educators and executives) and 97 percent of Conservative lay leaders such as synagogue presidents and board members said they eat warmed food such as fish at non-kosher restaurants. (About one-third of Jewish professional leaders do not keep kosher; 57 percent of lay leaders do not keep kosher outside of the home, the seminary survey found.)On his own blog, Rabbi Leff argued that the danger in changing halacha in this instance “seems small compared with the benefit that will accrue from our committed people seeing that halakhah can adapt to the changing times and practices.“The time for wrestling with this issue is long overdue, and this responsum is offered in an attempt to reconcile practice and halakhah. We believe that a seemingly-radical change in halakhah is preferable to allowing the current dissonance between law and practice to continue indefinitely.”Rabbi Leff said he submitted this teshuvah to the Law Committee in May 2004 and that it still has not been considered. But were it considered, he said he believes it would receive the six votes necessary to be adopted. Rabbi Plotkin, however, said he rejected the paper’s arguments, saying, “If tomorrow everyone is eating pig, do you change the rules? Where does that end?”Rabbi Kassel Abelson, chairman of the Law Committee, said his committee has left it up to “individual rabbis to make the decision about where to eat.”“I would assume that even the Orthodox or very Orthodox would eat cold food like salads [at non-kosher restaurants],” he said. “Warm food brings another level of observance in terms of the plates it was prepared on. I presume that most restaurants are clean and the question is whether you accept it or insist [that the plates] be ritually cleansed.”The seminary survey found also that more than one-third of Conservative rabbis and cantors believe the Torah was “written by people and not by God or by Divine inspiration.” And it found that about one-third turn lights on during Shabbat.The poll found that 36 percent of Conservative clergy said they believe man wrote the Torah, and that 39 percent of Conservative professionals and 42 percent of lay leaders believe it. In addition, 37 percent of clergy, 17 percent of professional leaders and 6 percent of lay leaders refrain from turning on lights on Shabbat.There are great divisions between clergy and laity on other practices as well. For instance, 64 percent of clergy refrain from driving on Shabbat, compared with 27 percent of professionals and 11 percent of lay leaders. And although 94 percent of clergy refrain from shopping on Shabbat, that is true of only 60 percent of professionals and 43 percent of lay leaders. In addition, while 83 percent of clergy pray at least three times a week, that is a practice followed by only 40 percent of professionals and 33 percent of lay leaders.Asked about the poll results, Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, took issue with the wording of the questions. Thus, he said, the results might not indicate the true behavior of the respondents. Rabbi Abelson said the turning on of lights on the Sabbath is in keeping with a Law Committee decision from the 1950s. What was a surprise, he said, was their response to the question about the origins of the Torah.“I have always thought that the overwhelming majority [of rabbis] would say that even if the words were put down by human beings, they were still divinely inspired,” he said.

Also, regarding gevinas akum.

The Shulchan Aruch holds by the Rambam here. He says that some geonim hold that even when there is no reason for the prohibition, it still applies (Ma'achalos Asuros 3:14). The enactment applies to all cheese produced by non-Jews whether or not a Kosher or non-Kosher curdling agent was used, per the Rambam.

Maggid Mishneh says this is due to davar sh' b' minyan, that it holds because whenever Chazal forbade something, the prohibition remains even when the reason for the prohibition is not relevant.

Rabbeinu Tam says that we don't need to be makpid on gvinas akum, but the halakha follows the Rambam. We follow the Shulchan Aruch. Period.

Wow. I hope Rabbi Plotkin gets this message through. That "dissonance between halachah and practice" argument has to be the single worst one ever. Isn't the obvious solution to change your practice and teach others how to do the same? (I think a lot of Conservative Jews honestly don't know.)

About the statistics about what Conservative Jews believe or don't believe, or do/don't do, it would be interesting to see some comparative numbers with other movements.

Enough with the gvinah, I don't think either of you care what the other one has to say about cheese.

You are right. They don't know what halakha sanctions. They are following what works for them. I work in South Orange, NJ several times a week. The community of Jew shere is mostly Essex County, NJ-observant conservative these days. A family in town I know went to eat pizza in a treif place on Motzoei Pesach with a professor/philsoopher from JTS, who also lives here. That is what is common-place. While these people, thank G-d, eat only kosher meat, they see nothing wrong with eating pizza that probably has pig/sausage juice and steam infused into the entire crust, cut with a pizza cutter that probably just touched chicken and cheese pizzas and pepperoni.

If anyone has ever been by Columbia/JTS, there are tons of JTS [eople, including one famous feminist rabbi-doctor whom I respect deeply as a scholar, who happily munch on their Papa John's.

Theey are trying to tread a balance, and for that, I respect them, but there are issues that are undeniable.

I agree with Shmarya on the concept of "halacha".
Also, in 2009 there is so much about halacha that is mostly misunderstood and consequently miserably misconstrued.
And technically when it comes to "minhagim" that have not morphed into halacha, its clearly all about the "minhag hamokom".

Reb Doniel, why does halacha have to go according to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. Not everyone originates from the Spanish territories associated with both the Rambam and the author of the Shulchan Aruch.
Why cant we go according to the French scholar, Rabbeinu Tam ?

Yochanan Lavie,
You're right, no one movement has all the right answers and I shouldnt have been knocking any other denominations.
Maybe every denomination has part of the right answer.......
I guess every denomination has their positive points and if I was in a wise mood I might be able to learn something from each denomination, even the flaky mystical ones that annoy me........

Anyway, whether or not some of the current Conservative responses to halacha need a little halachic analysis or not,some of the older traditional Conservative scholars were really brilliant.

In my previous comment when I said "minhag hamokom" I meant the "original" minhag hamokom.

The way people conduct themselves on this thread >>>>>>>> than the way people (myself included) conduct themselves on the foreign workers thread.

While these people, thank G-d, eat only kosher meat, they see nothing wrong with eating pizza that probably has pig/sausage juice and steam infused into the entire crust, cut with a pizza cutter that probably just touched chicken and cheese pizzas and pepperoni.


Strictly speaking, there isn't a problem with zeiah from non-liquid food in an open or well-vented oven –– which is what pizza ovens are.

As for the cutter, I recall the same Shulkhan Arukh you cite when convenient explains the reason "we buy" sliced cabbage from non-Jews in the market even though the knives used to slice said cabbage are not kosher and probably non clean is that whatever mamashot on the knife if batel after the first cut and the first pice cut is mixed in with all the others and is also batel.

As for your 'peirush' on gevinat akum, what you fail to note or even comprehend is that hundreds of Orthodox rabbis ate gevinat akum in the 20th century.

Why?

Because the issue is what type of rennet is customarily used to produce cheese.

In most Western countries but especially in America, that rennet is overwhelmingly from non-animal or microbial sources, meaning there is no issue with, the rabbinic stricture against using animal rennet alone. (A combination of animal and non-animal rennet is perfectly kosher, however – ze ve ze gorem.)

That is why tens of thousands of Modern Orthodox Jews ate Kraft cheese (the Rav included by many accounts), until the Rav, at Kraft's request, was going to give Kraft his hechsher and the tiny but still very potent kosher mafia of the day coerced him to stop.

From that point onward, MO Jews – scared by the initial false reports that the Rav had refused to put his hechsher on Kraft cheese – began to eat only 'Jewish' cheese, which is why Orthodox Jews now pay about 2x the price for cheese as everyone else. Before that, we paid what everyone else paid because we ate what everyone else ate. And we did that because it was perfectly kosher.

Lastly, while opposed to eating hot milchigs out, Rabbi Abadi – who was the posek of Lakewood and who is now a rosh kollel in Jerusalem – allows eating many hot food in non-kosher restaurant, pointing out that Chaza"l themselves ate in non-kosher restaurants and inns.

He has specific requirements to do this – asking that the utensils be clean before use and requiring a Jew to adjust the fire the food is cooked on – but many of his requirements themselves have heterim from post-Shulkan Arukh rabbinic sources that would allow someone to skip them in certain cases.

America's minhag hamakom pre-Eastern European immigration among Orthodox Jews and even among Orthodox rabbis was to eat gevinat akum, drink halav akum, and eat things like fish and dairy in non-kosher restaurants,

It took haredim (the minority of Eastern European immigrants by far and still the minority of Orthodox American Jews) about 100 years to inflict their food stringencies on the rest of Orthodoxy.

The irony of this is that people like Reb Doniel and Paul Plotkin are ignorant of that history.

I would also point out that post-Shulkan Arukh, many communities that ate gevinat akum continued to do so.

Members of those communities later immigrated to America, forming a big chunk of early American Jewry.

The one halakha haredim most disregard, even more than dina d'malchuta dina, is the halakha that says you must follow the minhag of the community you live in.

Haredim got around that one by declaring ay minhag perceived to be less strict than theirs non-kosher.

beautiful girl isn´t she?

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