Member of Knesset Dov Lipman – called a "rasha" (evil one) and an "apostate" by Rabbi Aharon Feldman – responds to the stinging attacks on him from haredi rabbis, including Feldman, over the government's plan to draft haredim and to compel haredi schools funded by the government to actually teach secular subjects as required by law. Lipman is also asked about Women of the Wall.
An mp3 of my interview on the Talkline Network's Mamash Radio show is posted after the jump in the extended post. The interview aired Saturday night-Sunday morning after Zev Brenner's show and Shmuel Butman's Moshiach on the Air.
I want to correct a misstatement I made.
I'm interviewed on a radio show, Mamash Radio, running tonight after Shmuel Butman's Moshiach is on the Air program, which itself runs immediately after Zev Brenner on the Talkline Radio Network.
A list of sources I cite are posted after the jump in the extended post.
Here is a piece by Matthew Wagner from today's Jerusalem Post. Wagner reports Rabbi Dov Lior, the rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba and a leader of the National Religious right wing has ruled that Israel should not aid Darfur refugees who have found their way to Israel. (Rabbi Lior earlier ruled that these poor people should be stopped at the borders and pushed back into the Sinai wilderness.)
His ruling was echoed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva and another leader of National Religious Jews. Efraim Zuroff, also an Orthodox Jew, of the Simon Wiesenethal Center's Israel office also agrees.
First, Rabbi Lior:
Israel has no moral responsibility to aid Darfur refugees, and their plight must not be compared to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba Dov Lior said on Wednesday.
He was responding to a query on the "Yeshiva" Internet forum.
Lior's questioner said Israel was obligated to help Sudanese refugees who reached its borders just as the nations of the world were morally responsible to help Jews suffering under Nazi Germany.
But Lior disagreed: "The Holocaust is not a good example [of a general moral obligation that can be compared to Israel's obligation to Darfur refugees]," he said. "During the Holocaust, Jews were hunted. The Germans wanted to destroy all the Jews wherever they were. The Swiss who saved the Jews [sic] knew that someone was hunting them down and wanted to murder them.
"We have enough problems of our own with immigration absorption. We need to take care of our own 'Sderot refugees' and we do not have budget reserves. We have enough poor people in Israel. There are plenty of nations that can help those refugees besides us.
Now Rabbi Aviner:
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva, said Jewish law obliged Jews to treat all human beings with loving kindness.
"We have to do it not because of the Holocaust but because God commanded to treat all of His creations, especially those created in His image, with loving kindness.
"We don't do it for the publicity or to look good in the eyes of the goyim. Jews have done acts of loving kindness in the past even when they were paid back with hatred," Aviner said.
However, he also said our own poor and homeless, including Israelis "expelled" from the Gaza Strip, came first. "We are a country of refugees," said Aviner. "We simply do not have the resources."
Now Efraim Zuroff:
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, agreed with Lior that comparing the plight of Jews during the Holocaust to that of Sudanese refugees was inaccurate.
"Sudanese who managed to reach Israel had already escaped ethnic cleansing by entering Egypt from Sudan," he said. "The move to Israel was an attempt to find a better haven.
"Obviously, as Jews who were victims of genocide, we have a special duty to help stop the ethnic cleansing inside Sudan. But at the same time, Israel has limited resources. We cannot possibly help all Sudanese refugees," he said.
The case being discussed here are refugees who walked across the the Sinai and illegally crossed into Israel seeking shelter. They are victims of genocide who fled to Egypt, were persecuted there, some were sent back to Darfur by Egyptian authorities, and others fled to Israel.
To say, as Rabbi Lior does, that the "poor of one's own country take precedence over other people's poor" is disingenuous. That halakha is talking about sending money or aid to another city or country. Then, all things being equal, the poor of your own town or family come first. But, if the poor in another country are starving to death, and yours merely skip one or two meals per week, or eat less choice foods for the Sabbath, the halakha mandates aiding the poor starving to death in that other country.
So what are Rabbis Lior and Aviner really saying? They are saying this – Darfur refugees are not Jews. The halakha quoted is talking about helping Jews. The implication here is clear. Darfur refugees do not deserve our help because they are not Jewish.
But the truth is, once these poor people get to us, they are our poor, and they must be aided just like any other poor person in Israel. That is the halakha. (Some of you may recall biblical verses about how to treat strangers, verses that also say, "…because you were once strangers in Egypt.")
So what we have here is two prominent right wing National Religious rabbis with huge followings. Both misrepresent the halakha, it seems for political reasons.
These rabbis are concerned about aiding settlers who refused to leave Gaza, lost much of their benefits as a result, and now suffer – all because they listened to these very same National Religious rabbis (and others, as well) who ordered them to remain in Gaza.
As for the Sederot refugees, aiding them is not a matter of a shortage in funds – it is a matter of s shortage in political will.
As for Zuroff, he is right and he is wrong. Yes, the parallel is not exact. But he raises a straw man rather than deal with the actual situation. No one is talking about taking in all or most of Darfur refugees. We are dealing with a few hundred people, not millions, and the state – and, just as importantly, the Israeli private sector – has more than enough money to help these people.
The saddest thing of all here is noting Rabbi Lior's background:
…During the Holocaust, Lior himself was a refugee. He and his family were expelled from Poland and wandered through the Soviet Union. Both his parents died of starvation.
Lior is one of the most respected and influential religious Zionist rabbis in more right-wing circles. Many of his students hold key positions in national religious high schools and he is the spiritual authority for the Ariel Youth Movement.…
What did God spare Rabbi Lior for? To repeat the mistakes and evil of his parent's oppressors?
I will say one very controversial thing about this sad affair. Scholars study the formation of the Hitler Youth. They seek to answer, in part, a fundamental question: How could an entire generation of children be, for want of a better term, brainwashed? How could Hitler, yemach shemo, have 'cloned' so many little Hitlers?
Perhaps we should study the Ariel Youth Movement and its members. By this I do not mean to equate Rabbi Lior with Hitler or his movement with Hitler youth. But I do see parallels between Rabbi Lior's history of racism, and his teaching of this racism to youth, and what happened in Germany.
This is a very sad day for Judaism, and an even sadder day, I'm afraid, for God.
And, yes, I do see parallels with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe's position on (not) aiding Ethiopian Jews, where he also cites din kadima (the poor of your own town come first) as a reason to not help save starving, tortured Ethiopian Jews.
"I have no idea where my mother is buried. Now I will be able to unite with her memory and the memory of my brother," Yaakov Gonchel, 29, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1982, said Wednesday.
More than two decades after a large wave of immigration from Ethiopia arrived in Israel, a memorial commemorating the 4,000 members of the community who perished on the long journey to the holy land was finally inaugurated in Jerusalem.
The memorial was erected with the help of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
"This took many years, during which many people have not had a proper opportunity to mourn," Gonchel explained.
The mass departure of Ethiopian Jews from their country as part of the "Moshe Operation" began in 1983, when thousands started moving clandestinely towards the Sudanese border. During their journey and stay in temporary camps in Sudan they endured murders, rapes, diseases, robberies and hunger.
Some 8,000 were flown from Sudan to Israel in the framework of the "Moshe Operation".
Uri Rada, chairman of the Ethiopian Jews Remembrance Fund, who lost his mother on the journey to Israel, told Ynet: "This was a kind of holocaust for the Ethiopian community. Most of us don't talk about it to this day, because this is a very emotionally charged subject for the community."…
The number of EJs that tried to reach Sudan in 1983-84 is probably closer to 14,000. Hundreds died on the way, hundreds more in the refugee camps, and several thousand died trying to walk back to Sudan after Operation Moses was halted by the Sudanese government after leaks in the Israeli and American media. Those leaks are directly traceable to the highest levels of the Israeli government. Operation Moses stopped on Friday January 5, 1985 after then-PM Shimon Peres held a press conference confirming the airlift while nonsensically asking people not to talk about it. Sudan killed the airlift moments after Peres stopped speaking.
It is worth noting that the NY Times and Boston Globe both had the story of the airlift more than a month earlier. They held their stories on the direct request of the US State Department, convinced that publishing meant killing Jews. The Washington Jewish Week was then tipped by a person close to the Israeli leadership. It refused the Stae Department's plea and published the story. The NY Times and Boston Globe were furious, and published their stories. The airlift did not end because President Ronald Regan upped the amoiunt of bribe money the US was paying the Sudanese leadership. As long as Israel did not officially acknowledge the airlift, the Sudanese had enough cover to let the airlift continue. That is why Peres called his press conference, whose only possible purpose was to derail the airlift. Thousands more EJs died horrific deaths as a result of Peres' actions.
A lesson to be learned here is that the airlift succeeded because the US paid for them and backed them with the entire weight of the US Government, and that publicizing the airlift endangered lives.
Now imagine the airlift had worked this way: EJs airlifted from Sudan and taken to hotels in Cyprus, where they would have lived for a few days while undergoing a conversion process. From there, the EJs would have been flown to Israel. What kind of publicity would have been generated by dropping off starving, disease-ridden Africans in the middle of Cyprus (or Rome, another suggested location)? The airlift would have been leaked earlier and more EJs would have died as a result, probably along with a few Israeli agents.
Yet this insane plan (one, it must be stressed, that the government of Cyprus – and the Italian government – would not agree to) is the plan pushed by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his responsa to me. When I received Rav Moshe's answer, I told him this would never work, that the plan was impossible. His response was that we should try and that it should be our first resort.
There is a lot one can say – little of it good – about the judgement of someone who suggests this type of Rube Goldberg behavior. (As, indeed, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef points out about Rav Moshe, in language no more polite than mine.) Yet Rav Moshe wanted them all rescued. He wanted them all educated in Orthodox Judaism lest they be lost to the Jewish people, and he forbade discrimination against them, especially discrimination based on skin color.
But the bottom line is clear. Many Ethiopian Jews died unnecessarily because of the actions of other Jews, and even more would have died if haredi rabbis had been followed. And, of course, almost no one cares about any of this.
Halakhic background on Ethiopian Jews can be found here. The Rebbe's letter to me on rescuing Ethiopian Jews is here, along with other documents of interest. Agudath Israel's attitude toward rescue can be seen here. And an interesting tidbit on haredim and Holocaust rescue is here.
In his infamous 1983 letter to me responding to my pleas to help Ethiopian Jews, the late Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote:
Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or representatives.
Of course, this was complete bullshit. Chabad had long been involved in using these same methods to save Iranian Jews. (So, to be clear, had Satmar.) But Chabad's operation had come to a halt early in 1982. And it was no state secret. Iranian Jews saved this way were very evident in Crown Heights and LA, and they didn't hide how they were saved. Many had moved from the US to Israel, as well.
Many of you questioned me on this point, claiming Chabad had not used student visas to save Iraninan Jews. Well, just to keep the record clear, here is why you were so very wrong:
One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service's central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.
They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.
This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn't feel scared.
"I was courageous," he said. "I had the purpose to save Jewish children."
He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of [Chabad's] Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.…
Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.
Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, "There's no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America."
The Rebbe lied. Ethiopian Jews died. Period. End of story.
Ethiopian Jewish leaders have told me for years that many missionaries were coming to Israel with the Falash Mura and were now actively trying to convert Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The story has finally made the papers in Israel:
Spiritual leaders of the nation's poor, culture-shocked and embattled Ethiopian community opened another front of divisiveness Wednesday, calling to excommunicate members of their community who engage in Christian missionary activity.
The Jewish Ethiopian community plans to compose a blacklist of known missionaries who will be ostracized.
"We know who they are," said Itzhak Zagai, Chief Rabbi of Rehovot's Ethiopian community. "The worst punishment imaginable for an Ethiopian is excommunication, because we are all so interdependent."
Ethiopians who appear on the list will be unable to marry inside the community.…
But what more should be done? Should we deny entry to all Falash Mura because of a few missionaries? Ethiopian Jewish leaders often say we should do just that. The Rabbinute says the opposite, based on a series of halakhic rulings. And the state? The state would just as soon left all Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia. Without outside pressure and some strong intervention from President Regan, that is exactly what would have happened.
Here's where I come down on this: Bring in all the Falash Mura now. At the same time, begin intensive anti-missionary campaigns in the Ethiopian community. Helping Ethiopian Jews fit in, find work and become Israeli is extremely important. Missionaries feed on poverty and alienation, the two things Israel's failed absorption policy ensures. Chabad's shameful treatment of Ethiopian Jews, along with haredi racism, doesn't help things, either.
I recently exchanged emails with a friend in Jerusalem. He is adamant. Ethiopian Jews are not Jewish. To bolster his point, he cites DNA evidence, evidence that, at most, can indicate that Ethiopian Jews not descended from the southern tribes of Israel, primarily Judah and Levi. He also cites Hebrew University's Steven Kaplan, who believes Ethiopian Jews adopted Judaism in the early Middle Ages as part of a wave of Judaization sweeping Ethiopia. (Kaplan himself fully supports EJ aliya and absorption, and is very clear on those points.) There is also evidence of this noted by another academic who specializes in Ethiopian song.
The point of this post is not to refute this belief, but I will make one simple point regarding it: Nothing these academics believe and nothing in that DNA evidence precludes conversion to Judaism. In other words, at best this evidence proves not that Ethiopian Jews are goyyim, but that Ethiopian Jews may be converts. And, when you factor in what academics of equal stature say in opposition, or what many others say – based on solid evidence – about the lineage of Ashkenazi Jews, for example, or the 'unity' of the Tribes of Israel, one quickly realizes that all of this evidence is a two-edged sword; what cuts the black Jews you so dislike cuts you, deeply, as well.
The point of this post is to ask a hypothetical question: What if Ethiopian Jews are not Jewish? What if they never converted and are not descended from Jews? What if they are simply well-meaning non-Jews who adopted as many Jewish practices as they could and identified as Jews, doing so for hundreds of years, often under great persecution? How should we then properly relate to them?
Let me quote from my friend's emails because they are representative of many other emails and comments I've received over the last twenty-five years:
"[Ethiopian Jews are] just African black guys with feathers and bells singing their ol' folk tunes but they sure got rhythm … I see dozens of Ethiopians a day and 95% look like deep African tribal blacks and the other 5 % look more refined but none of them look Jewish to me… SHVARZAH NIC YIDDEN … they ain't Jews except to the non-religious politicians who want cannon fodder they are employed as security guards and janitors and vote for the liberal parties the lefties love it canned votes and someone to sweep the floors … you marry a sevarzah and i will marry a Jewish girl your kids will have rhythm and mine will get a Noble prize (at least statistically)…"
Is this any way to treat people who have suffered as Jews for hundreds of years?
One would think that even those holding the minimalist position, those who reject all evidence in support of Ethiopian Jews' Jewish descent, would have respect for people who suffered so much because everybody who persecuted them did so to persecute Jews.
Indeed, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein mentions this in his letter, and writes: "One should also know that even if in practical application of the law they are not Jews, nevertheless since they think they are Jews and sacrifice their lives for their Judaism, we are obligated to save them." And, as Rabbi Feinstein, Rabbi Ahron Soleveitchik and others have made clear many times, one may not discriminate against a person, Jewish or not, because of skin color.
But it should not take a pesak halakha to teach Jews that. I would think that if a people had suffered so much and risked so much for Judaism and Israel, we would, at the very least, be civil toward them. We certainly would want to help them out of danger and distress, and do whatever is necessary to help them succeed.
Yet, in the Ashkenazi Orthodox world (especially in the American part of it) the opposite is often the case. Here is a quote from an email sent to me by a leading member of the RCA: "[A leading Orthodox professor with close ties to Chabad] once said that the poskim who affirmed the certain Jewishness of the Ethiopian Jews were those who did not read a European language." This is a racist slap at the dozens of Sefardic poskim who hold, just like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, that Ethiopian Jews are 100% Jewish. Needless to say, this Orthodox professor is not known as a friend to Ethiopian Jews in any way, not even following Rabbi Feinstein's minimalist position quoted above – a position, by the way, endorsed by Rabbi J.B. Soleveitchik and dozens of others, as well.
I think this all points to a larger malaise in Orthodoxy, a malaise that has turned morality into "what can we get away with" rather than "what is the ideal we should strive for."
The mesorah tells us that the Messiah won't check lineage. Traditionally, questions of lineage have been dealt by rabbis in the most lenient ways possible. Yet, put black skin on people and somehow leniency gets tossed to the wind, and strictness becomes the norm.
This is racism, pure and simple – bigotry based on skin color. Rabbis who allow this, either by commission or by silence, are many. You can find them at your local Chabad House, at your Modern Orthodox shul, on staff at Yeshiva University, and on the streets and study halls of Mea Shearim and Geulah. They work for Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach, study in the Mir, stroll 13th Avenue in Brooklyn. They are plentiful.
It seems to me they are killing Judaism.
[Perhaps the only reason I remained a BT after failing (or so I thought) to get a clear response from the Rebbe on Ethiopian Jews was the reaction of Rabbi Moshe Feller, the Rebbe's shaliach to the Upper Midwest, to a letter written by Ethiopian Jewish leaders and smuggled out of Ethiopia. The letter detailed the suffering of the people, including several rapes of young girls. As he read the letter, Rabbi Feller began to softly cry. His is the only positive reaction I can cite in all these years, outside of Rabbi Feinstein's message to me and the endorsement of other rabbis to the public parts of it. In dozens of interactions over many years, I would say well over 98% were wholly negative.]
Recently, I found Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's 1984 teshuva-letter on Ethiopian Jews stuck between two file folders. (You can click the thumbnail image for a larger, more readable image or download a PDF.) This letter was written in response to a question I asked through Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rav Moshe's son-in-law. He referred the question to his son, Mordechai, who then served as Rav Moshe's secretary-assistant. What follows is a (rough) translation:
With the Help of HaShem
26 Sivan 5744
To the honored, my beloved grandson ha rav ha-gaon moreinu ha-rav Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, shlit"a, with blessings of peace and blessing and all good:
With my best regards,
Here as per your request, I reaffirm what you wrote in my name several years ago regarding the "Falashas," that it is known what is written in the responsa of the Radba"z, section seven, §9, that it is understood he considers them to be Jews; however for practical application of the law it is difficult to rely on this, for it is not clear if the Radba"z knew well the reality regarding them, nor is it clear whether up until our time their status has [remained the same and] not changed. But in regard to practical application of the law they are not mamzerim or the like, for the Radba"z mentions there that many many doubts apply to them. Review my responsa where I detail at length the qualifications of the rabbinical prohibitions regarding the legal status of 'an illegitimate child of unknown fatherhood' and 'a child found in the street whose parents are (both) unknown'.
Regarding their Judaism, we must consider it a safek [doubt], and one must require of them true conversion before we permit them to marry within the Jewish community. Yet even before their conversion it is an active precept to save them from being drawn into a non-Jewish creed and from danger as the law is for any Jew, for "safek nefashot l'hakel" ["a doubt involving saving lives is judged leniently"] even where here the doubt is in their very status as Jews.
One should also know that even if in practical application of the law they are not Jews, nevertheless since they think they are Jews and sacrifice their lives for their Judaism, we are obligated to save them.***
As you mentioned, they should not be brought to the Land of Israel* unless they have underdone a conversion**, in order to not increase the concern for assimilation [i.e., intermarriage with Jews who do not have a doubt regarding their Jewish status and also a weakening of the faith of Ethiopian Jews themselves]. But if they have legally converted, and as I have heard they are doing, we shall consider them like all Jews, and one must assist them and support them for all needs of livelihood, both physically and spiritually. And I suffered great anguish because I have heard there are those in Israel who are not drawing them close in spiritual matters and are causing, G-d forbid, that they might be lost from Judaism. And it seems to me these people are behaving so only because the color of the Falashas' skin is black. It is obvious that one must draw them close, not only because they are no worse than the rest of the Jews – and because there is no distinction in practical application of the law because they are black – but also because one can say perhaps they are gerim [converts], and are therefore included in the mitzva "and you shall love the convert."
And I will conclude with the hope that the situation will improve, and in the merit in observing all the mitzvot, we should all soon merit to the ingathering of the exiles by our righteous messiah.
Your grandfather who loves you in heart and soul,
[All emphasis added.]
* Suggestions were made to bring Ethiopian Jews to Cyprus or Italy (or even the US or Canada) first to fulfill this request, but it proved impossible to do so. I told R. Mordechai Tendler this would not work. His answer based on conversations with his grandfather was to try anyway, which we did, and to note "safek nefashot l'hakel" in the teshuva. In other words, you have to save them no matter what. Rav Moshe wanted to give Baruch Tegegne and I brachot (blessings) to do so and asked us to come to the mountains, where he was vacationing, so he could bless us in person. Illness on our parts prevented this.
** Rav Moshe would later specify a giur l'humra, a form of pro forma conversion that allows conversion without first pushing away the potential converts and without first teaching them Jewish law. He would also later note that the Israeli Chief Rabbis' decision on these matters should be respected.
Israel's President, Moshe Katsav, had this to say about Ethiopian Jews:
Israel may have been wrong to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, President Moshe Katsav said Sunday in an unusually candid comment. "At times I feel we did an injustice to the Ethiopian population by bringing them to the country," the president said after being presented with recommendations for fighting violence within society.
Katsav's remarks came after the Ministry of Absorption released data showing that during 2005 there was a drop of 11 percent in crimes involving youths of Ethiopian descent and a 10 percent drop in crime involving youths from the former Soviet Union.
The president also criticized the lack of appropriate care for youths who emigrated from Ethiopia.
President Katsav did not make the same remark about Russian Jews. I cannot say what President Katsav meant. But I can say this – corruption and repeated (and uncorrected) mistakes do not lead to good absorption. And neither does the bigotry so in evidence from both politicians and rabbis.
But, if history is any indication, Israel will not learn this lesson. The corrupt and inept absorption will continue, politicians and rabbis will not stop being racists. The price for this will be paid by Israeli society, which will have, for years to come, black people on its margins – black people who wanted nothing more than to come home after thousands of years of exile. And it will be paid by Ethiopian Jews, who came home to Israel only to discover the color of their skin is more important than their years of sacrifice.
Shame on us all.
The Forward reports on Israel's failed absorption of Ethiopian Jews:
The media also seized on an incident last month in which Ethiopian students in a Haifa high school were attacked by their fellow students — all veteran Russian immigrants — during recess. A similar incident took place in Arad last year. And in the beginning of 2005, two Ethiopian girls were attacked without provocation in a Tel Aviv dance club by other Israeli girls. Both of the Ethiopians ended up in the hospital with serious injuries.…
According to reports from the Tebeka Center, racism also has been a major problem. The center has dealt with hundreds of complaints regarding racial discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants. In one case, a dismissal notice was sent that referred to an Ethiopian employee as a "nigger." A security supervisor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University ordered that no more than one Ethiopian guard be assigned to any one position. An Ethiopian worker in Arad was told that she is not allowed to cook for Jews because the local rabbi doubts her Jewishness and believes that she would taint the food.…
Six-year-old Adiso Dasa, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia three years ago, did not start school on Thursday. Rather than beginning first grade, he stayed home because of an order given by Or Yehuda Mayor Yitzhak Bokovza barring 50 children of Ethiopian immigrant families from registering in local schools.
The families all immigrated within the past three years, and until a few months ago they lived in absorption centers around the country, where they were given a governmental grant to purchase an apartment. Many of the families chose to move to Or Yehuda, where they believed they could integrate into Israeli society, find jobs and make a decent living. But sometimes dreams are dashed.
In Or Yehuda, it appears, the immigrants received a cold welcome. Mayor Bokovza is angry at state authorities, which, he said, do not allow "controlled absorption of immigrants" and allow large numbers of immigrants to end up in the same city, creating "ghettos." Some 1.5 percent of Or Yehuda residents are Ethiopian, according to Bokovza. "If this situation continues, in two years they will be 4 percent," he said.
Because of his actions, the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called on Bokovza to allow the students into the city's education system immediately. Bokovza will come Sunday to a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee, where he said he would hand down an
"indictment" against the State of Israel for its conduct regarding immigrant absorption.
Adiso has lived for three years with his family in an absorption center in the Jerusalem area Two months ago his family moved to Or Yehuda. Over the summer, his parents went to the municipality's education department to register him for class. "They told us the mayor has not yet decided what to do. They didn't tell us where to go. Now my brother is sitting at home,doing nothing. He is very disappointed by the entire situation," said Rahel, Adiso's older sister, on Friday.
Ethiopian Immigrants Association chair Adiso Masala had some words for Bokovza: "If citizens of Israel want to move from one community to another, they can do so freely; we're a democracy. I discovered that this man has no desire to absorb immigrant families. I now call on the government ministries to forbid mayors from denying immigrants the right to be absorbed in their cities, because that would be a dangerous precedent," he said.
Masala also blasted Education Minister Limor Livnat: "I heard her say Thursday that the school year opened with no hitches. Dozens of Ethiopian students who aren't in school is not a hitch?" he asked.
One person has stepped in to propose a solution Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger, who has already informed the Education Ministry that he has agreed to take dozens of Ethiopian pupils from Or Yehuda into his city's education system and will even offer busing services to the children. "It is not right that someone who doesn't send his kids to school risks being shown an arrest warrant, but a mayor is exempt from this. Because of his refusal 50 kids are on the street. I think Bokovza should be presented with 50 arrest warrants, one for each child who was left outside the school gates," Rochberger said.
Bokovza is convinced that he is only saying out loud what many other local authority heads only think, but prefer not to say so as not to be accused of "racist behavior." "When someone is ready to fight, he gets called racist. I am fighting the State of Israel, not Ethiopians. I'm actually protecting them. The State of Israel is sending them randomly to all sorts of places, and causing them to concentrate in certain places. The process could continue, and it should be stopped. Like in a healing process, sometimes you have to cut into the flesh. The sight of dozens of kids who aren't in school is also distressing for me to witness. Today I will go to the State Control Committee and accuse the government ministries of abandoning certain populations and segregating strong populations from weaker ones," he said.
Compare the above to this: Chabad Schools Ban Ethiopian Jews.
Haaretz has a truly sad article about the alienation of Ethiopian Jews from Israeli society and about the racism that fueled it:
"I thought that after doing army service I wouldn't have a problem getting into clubs, but that's where I came across the greatest racism of all. The worst humiliation I ever suffered was two years ago, when I went out with army buddies to the TLV club in Tel Aviv. They wouldn't let me in. My [white] Israeli friends were allowed in and I waited outside three hours. I swore never to go back there," he says.…
The hip-hop music is deafening. "[White] Israelis go to a club to hear Middle Eastern music, with us its black music. Many may not understand the words, but they identify with the message. They know the songs are about racism and violence, and they feel that way," says Kumra.
I tried during my 1993-95 stay in Israel to deal with this problem, which was then in its infancy. As a (then) Chabadnik, Chabad was the first place I turned. But Chabad was clear – it was not going to help Ethiopian Jews, period. My attempts were also rebuffed by other sectors of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world.
I am guilty of not looking outside of the haredi world for a solution to this sad problem.
But we as a community are also guilty.
Will we let another generation waste away? Or will we act?
Hevra, the time is short and our Boss is pressing …
What Chabad Claims:
Chabad of District of Columbia
Chabad-Lubavitch's sophisticated operations in D.C. have a rather unique focus. Over the past 45 years, this office has administered support for causes of national and world Jewish concern. Yet beyond these vital Jewish interests, Chabad-Lubavitch has not abandoned its educational imperative even here. Outreach programs include twice-weekly Torah classes for Congressional staff members, a growing lecture series on various Jewish concepts, and many holiday awareness programs and special events. A new center has been recently inaugurated.
1. Chabad had no permanent office in Washington, DC until the 1990's, when Rabbi Avraham Shemtov's son was old enough to open one. (This was not due to a lack of suitable rabbis – it was due to a lack of suitable Shemtovs. In other words, nepotism.) Before that, Rabbi Shemtov worked had to prevent other outreach organizations like Aish HaTorah from opening in Washington (got to hold the place for the kid, after all) while at the same time doing very little toward outreach in the nation's capital. (Yearly menorah lightings, photo-ops with politicians, fundraising …) As you may know, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov is based in Philadelphia.
2. See here for the Rebbe's perception of Chabad's activities in Washington, DC. You'll note that it seems to clash with the current Chabad spin. Especially note the Rebbe's refusal to help starving, persecuted Ethiopian Jews by asking Congress for help with aid and rescue.
3. See here for the Chabad-DC/American Friends of Lubavitch website.
An English-language translation of the Rebbe's letter on the rescue of Ethiopian Jews can be read here.
Information on Chabad, Holocaust Rescue and Ethiopian Rescue can be viewed here.
A teshuva from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein can be viewed here.
Rabbi J. David Bleich's overview of the halakhot regarding Ethiopian Jews, excerpted from Contemporary Halakhic Problems (Vol. 1), can be read here.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner rule that a cohen can marry and Ethiopian Jewish woman.
A rabbinic 'protest' to this website can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here. [It is also posted on the Adath.com website.]
[It is important to realize that I did not see the Rebbe's letter written to me twenty years ago until it was published (without my permission) nine months ago in Kfar Chabad Magazine. If I had received the Rebbe's letter then – in other words, if the Rebbe's office had not confiscated it, which is what seems to have happened – I would have publicized it immediately. Chabad bought twenty years of silence by confiscating that letter.]
Please click on the thumbnails to read the documents. Thank you.
"Not a single Ethiopian Jew is enrolled in the [Chabad] educational network."
Chabad schools ban Ethiopian students. Why? According to the following article, they do so because the Rebbe instructed them to. But, Chabad spokesman Rabbi Menachem Brod disingenuously claims,
"The problem with the Ethiopians arose with the arrival of immigrants in Operation Solomon, when they were flown by their leader and refused to undergo conversion according to halacha, as the Operation Moshe immigrants did. Therefore, their Jewishness is in question..."
What Rabbi Brod fails to say is that Chabad refused to take Ethiopians before Operation Solomon as well. Chabad now claims that it will only accept Ethiopian students who have undergone a full conversion (a process that often takes years) even though Rav Moshe Feinstein -- the rabbi the Rebbe referred this issue to -- ruled that only a giur l'chumra (a pro forma conversion) was necessary. But, as the article states, "not a single Ethiopian Jew is enrolled in the [Chabad] educational network."
Should a member of a movement that brazenly lies be a teacher of your children? Should he be your rabbi? Can you trust the kashrut of his food?
Is Chabad racist? . . .
On the Responsibility to Save Lives
". . . [W]hen children suffer, and we know about them, we are always responsible for what is happening to them. To feed one child and to give hope to one parent is already to raise our voice against despair, against hunger, against injustice, inequality and humiliation."
• • • • •
Shirking That Responsibility
". . . You demand to know why Chabad-Lubavitch representatives (“shluchim”) are not doing anything or are not doing enough, related to this problem [of Ethiopian Jews and the Famine] that you are very concerned with . . . You should know that Chabad-Lubavitch representatives have a specific mission assigned to them, which is to spread Judaism in the communities designated to them. Congressional resolutions* and the like are not part of those duties [even though those same rabbis regularly lobbied Congress and had successfully worked to have the Rebbe's birthday declared "Education Day, USA" in the Rebbe's honor] . . . your [requests for help] ... do not fit in with the activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or representatives. . ."
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, January 16, 1984, at the height of the Ethiopian Famine.
*See here for the Congressional Resolution in question.
In 1943, the Union of Grand Rabbis and Agudas HaRabbonim issued the following plea calling on all rabbis to attend the Rabbis March on Washington. In part, it reads:
The Union of Grand Rabbis, as well as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, appeals to support the action of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe as a Redemption of Captives [pidyon sh'vuim]. It is important for the aim of rescuing the remnant of Israel in Europe that all Rabbis be present in Washington to add weight to the manifestation of the Rabbis, the Grand Rabbis and the leaders.
As mentioned in an earlier post, it seems that no senior Chabad rabbis from the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights attended.
The Rebbe and his brother-in-law the Rashag did not attend. The Freidiker Rebbe also did not attend. (While it must be assumed that the Freidiker Rebbe's illness prevented his attendance, it did not prevent him from sending representatives of note. Yet he did not do so.)
Now, let's look at the 1983 letter from the Ad Hoc Rabbinic Committee to Save Ethiopian Jews. It calls for support for House Resolution 107 (Senate Concurrent Resolution 55), asks that petitions that do so be circulated in synagogues, and includes an ad placed by the above-mentioned Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe in the New York Times on February 16, 1943.
The Ad Hoc Committee's letter is signed by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yosef Ber Soleveitchick Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
There were no Lubavitch signatories. Chabad did not support the House Resolution. In the Rebbe's letter on the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, he ridicules US Government involvement in rescue and refuses to support the House Resolution because such support is not in the job description of Lubavitch.
The 1943 Rabbis March led to the rescue of 250,000 Jews from the Nazis. The 1983 Letter led to US backing for and involvement in the rescues that saved more than 25,000 Ethiopian Jews.
Do Not Waste Energy On Any Work Which Is Not Connected With Fulfilling The Mission Of Lubavitch
By the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson
– as published in Kfar Chabad Magazine, Volume 1079, 5 Shevat 5764 (January 28, 2004) Page 35.
12 Shevat 5744 [Monday, January 16, 1984]
Mr. Shmarya Rosenberg1
S. Paul, MN 55116
Shalom u’Bracha! 2
Your special delivery registered letter with enclosures dated 7 Kislev [Sunday, November 13, 1983 -- two months before the Rebbe wrote this letter] was received in it’s proper time. You are raising several questions beginning with a question that is related to a complicated problem of Jewish law (“Halakha”). As is well-known and widely publicized, it is outside the scope of my duties to render Jewish legal decisions (“paskin shailot”). I can only suggest that your question be addressed to a qualified rabbinical body, like Agudat HaRabbonim. 3
Aside from this, I am surprised by the wording of your letter because I do not remember receiving any letter from you in the past. 4
Your attitude appears presumptuous and unbecoming. You demand to know why Chabad-Lubavitch representatives (“shluchim”) are not doing anything or are not doing enough, related to this problem that you are very concerned with. Not only this, but your letter is tasteless and illogical, because your questions would be no more logical if you asked a physician why he is not actively involved in a matter related to engineering.
You should know that Chabad-Lubavitch representatives (“shluchim”) have a specific mission assigned to them, which is to spread Judaism in the communities designated to them. Congressional resolutions and the like are not part of those duties that are planned for them.5, 6
Furthermore, there is very little -- if anything -- they can achieve in the area that interests you most. Therefore, to divert their minds and to turn their energies and their time to something not related to their mission will be wasteful and diversionary to the work that they already do superbly and with full devotion.
Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions of representatives (“shluchim”).7
The impression received from your letter is that you are probably not familiar with the correct way to achieve success for the cause you are so eager to work for.
In light of the above mentioned, and because you have begun your letter with B”H [an abbreviation for Baruch HaShem, Blessed is God], it is absolutely correct for me to ask you two questions related to this matter:
1. Remember the law ("din kadima") that the needs of the poor of your own city come first. Did all the Jews in your city receive adequate necessities to cover their Jewish [i.e., spiritual] needs? If not, why not?
2. What have you done and what are you currently doing -- are you doing all you can? -- to convince and encourage the Jews in your community -- men, women and children -- to live their lives as truly devoted Jews, Jews devoted to the Torah and its laws, fulfilling the daily mitzvot and acting as Jews? If not, why not?
Of course, there are many differences between your questions and mine. In fact, an operation to benefit the Jews of your community (along with it having precedence in Jewish law, "din kadima") can be carried out without the necessity of assistance from the American Congress and without the approval of any foreign government. Furthermore, such an operation would undoubtedly be successful -- it depends only on you and your willingness and determination to carry out such an urgent action. 8 Surely there is no need to explain to you the conditions in America -- including in your state and in your city -- that so very many Jews -- men, women and young children -- are carried away on the stream of assimilation, influenced by foreign surroundings that leads to intermarriage, etc. So many of them are lost to our people day-after-day, and, according to our sages, even the soul of one Jew is regarded as an entire world, and certainly it is so with regard to the rescue of so many of our brothers [from assimilation].
I must say that the purpose of my letter to you is not to argue with you or even to give you mussar (“moral guidance”) because I do not know you. Your letter is one of very many letters I receive and your letter does not fit in with any of them. It occurs to me that perhaps it is providential (“hashgakha pratit”), and that this gives me the opportunity to bring to your attention the fact that the many Jews nearby you have important needs and that an effort must be made to reach and save them -- they have the priority, the first claim on Jews like you.
May G-d give you the correct answers to answer my questions, not for my self-indulgence but for the sake of our brethren (“acheynu b’nai yisrael”), especially the younger generation in your city, assuming that you are a resident there for at least a few years or perhaps were born there.
With The Respect That Is Fitting (“B’Kavod HaRoy”),
P.S. I would like to respectfully ask you as an additional question related to this matter: In what way can it be helpful to this issue (that you are so angry about) for you to be well-informed on what I do or do not do to benefit it?
1. The Rebbe was writing to a university student who at that time had already been very active in outreach efforts on his campus, in his city and, in fact, throughout North America for several years, including working with Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in his city and across the country, and would continue to do so for many years to come. His first contact with Lubavitch had come almost two years before this when he hand-delivered to Chabad-Lubavitch representative Rabbi Moshe Feller a letter smuggled out of Ethiopia from Ethiopian Jewish leaders to American rabbis desperately pleading for help and describing the horrible situation in Ethiopia. The student asked Rabbi Feller to send a copy of that letter to the Rebbe. It appears from the Rebbe's letter that this was not done. The student also had extensive contact with Chabad leadership in Brooklyn and repeatedly asked them to help Ethiopian Jews. They refused, and either did not pass along the student's requests to the Rebbe, or, if they did, the Rebbe simply ignored them.
As the Rebbe's letter soon makes clear, and as Chabad's subsequent actions demonstrate, Chabad's position is that a Jewish educational project in Minnesota is more important than saving the lives of starving tortured African Jews.
2. “Greetings and Blessings!”, a standard opening to a letter in rabbinic Hebrew discourse.
3. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Dean of the Rabbinic Court of Agudat HaRabbonim, had already ruled that Ethiopian Jews must be saved and had widely publicized that ruling. Rabbi Feinstein and Agudat HaRabbonim would soon rule again, very publicly, that Ethiopian Jews must be saved and that one can certainly and must in fact violate all Sabbath restrictions in order to carry out the rescue if it be necessary to do so. The Rebbe did not listen to either decision, and continued to withhold help, both with rescue and with absorption and acclimation to Israeli society and modern Judaism.
4. Note the previous letter on Ethiopian Jews sent September 16, 1983 and published here for the first time. Also note that many requests for help and guidance had already been made verbally through representatives of Lubavitch in Minnesota, Crown Heights -- including Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s secretary and public relations person -- and other locations throughout North America, without any response from the Rebbe.
5. Getting Congress to pass resolutions declaring the Rebbe’s birthday as “Education Day, USA,” was part of their duties, however.
6. Here is a copy of the Congressional Resolution I asked Chabad-Lubavitch and the Rebbe to support.
7. The Rebbe was asked to send Chabad 'Mitzva Tanks' into absorption centers to visit Ethiopian Jews. That is what the Rebbe is referring to when he says the projects mentioned "are not logical and they do not fit in with the activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions of representatives."
8. Chabad was unwilling to help with that, as well.
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The New York Times: "The legal conflict has revealed a deep tension within the Orthodox community that has been reported in the Jewish weekly press, and has been the almost exclusive topic of discussion on some Orthodox Jewish Web sites like failedmessiah.com and unorthodoxjew.blogspot.com in the months since Mr. Hikind brought up sexual abuse."
The New York Times: "In Postville, residents were dismayed by a report posted on a Jewish Web site, FailedMessiah.com, saying that Sholom Rubashkin held a celebration in Postville last week after he was released from detention on $1 million bail."
THE COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: "[Jeff] Abbas passed the video to Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has provided some of the best coverage of the raid and its aftermath; a few days later, the video was referenced in The New York Times."
The Forward: Postville’s City Council initially voted to support the idea of a community benefits agreement, but later voted to withdraw support for such an agreement — a development first reported on the blog Failed Messiah.
Samuel Freedman in the Jerusalem Post: "[T]the scandal of Agriprocessors has been chronicled from Stephen Bloom's book Postville to Nathaniel Popper's investigative reports in the Forward to Julia Preston's coverage in The New York Times to the muckraking blogger FailedMessiah.com."
Religion In The News: "So authoritative has Rosenberg become that he is now regularly quoted by the Register; and his site has been referenced by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and both the Forward and the JTA."
Tablet Magazine: “If you’re Jewish and you were married five years ago, you have not confronted the problem that exists today,” Rosenberg says. “The problem is much worse for anyone who isn’t Orthodox. As the Haredi strength grows and their control grows, that’ll become clearer.”
Religion Dispatches: "The best collection of articles I’ve found can be perused at failedmessiah.com, the blog of Shmarya Rosenberg, who, with the perspective of insider turned disillusioned outsider, has been probing the nuances and hypocrisies of the ultra-Orthodox establishment since 2004."