In the 1940's Agudath Israel of America and the Spero Foundation published a series of chapbooks known as Jewish Pocket Books. These were by and large nothing more than apologetics designed to keep Orthodox youth "in the fold." As a measure of their success, one can note that most children born into Orthodox homes in 1930 became members of Conservative congregations in their adulthood. This failure to retain the youth has many causes, not all of them attributable to bad apologetics. Yet, in 1947 Aguda published a truly despicable chapbook in the series, Science and Judaism, authored by Rabbis Harold Leiman and Joseph Elias. It is little more than warmed over creationism. It misrepresents both how science works, and what science had already proved, while at the same time avoiding all mention of traditional Jewish sources that support evolution and the findings of paleontology.
But within this book is a stunning admission regarding the Jewish heritage of Ethiopian Jews:
The Falashas of Abyssinia considered themselves Jews who emigrated from Palestine in the times of King Solomon. In fact they only posess some books of the Bible and have been out of touch with later developments of Jewish history. Yet they believe in the future coming of the Messiah and the rising of the dead. This belief is one of the doctrines of Judaism since Sinaitic days, it is therefore natural that Falashas share it. Orientalists, however, "cannot" concede its divinely inspired origin; they consider it an invention of suffering Jewry after the fall of the Maccabean dynasty. Instead of accepting the evidence from Abyssinia they, therefore, blithely declare that the Falashas' belief in a Messiah "disproves" their Solomonic origins.
This kind of reasoning is necessary if the facts of history are to be fitted into a preconceived evolutionary pattern.… (Science and Judaism, Agudath Israel of America and the Spero Foundation, New York, 1947, pages 66 - 67, emphasis added.)
But how did Agudath Israel react to the plight of Ethiopian Jews? While willing to use these poor people to support Aguda's apologetics, their usefulness vanished when rescue became necessary. As I reported here last year:
On May 19th, 1981, a delegation from the American Association for Ethiopian Jews met with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the head of the Agudath Israel World Organization.
To enlist the help of Agudah in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews.
The AAEJ had every right to expect Agudah's help. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein had already publicly endorsed rescue. So had Israel's Chief Rabbis. Rav Ovadia Yosef was clear and unequivocal in his support. Further, a leader of the Young Israel movement and a supporter of the AAEJ, Rabbi Yaakov Pollack had arranged the meeting with R. Sherer.
But the meeting did not go well.
R. Sherer spent much of the time lecturing the group, and little time listening. He wanted proof of the Ethiopian Jews Jewishness before acting.
What about Rav Moshe Feinstein's ruling? the group asked. R. Sherer brushed aside Rav Moshe's ruling, apparently citing Rav Moshe's advanced age as his reason. The group was stunned.
What of the rulings by the Chief Rabbis? the group asked. Not good enough, R. Sherer replied.
What about Rav Ovadia Yosef? they asked. Surely he is someone who can be relied on? R. Sherer, agreed that Rav Ovadia was a chacham, a wise Torah scholar, but his ruling on Ethiopian Jews was not scholarly enough.
What if Rav Ovadia would rule again, and write a longer, more detailed teshuva? That would be different, R. Sherer replied.
He also suggested the group get a ruling from someone more scholarly like Rav J. B. Soleveitchik, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University.
The group was being hondled by R. Sherer and they knew it.
Nonetheless, the AAEJ sent Rabbi Pollack to Jerusalem to see Rav Ovadia. Not surprisingly, Rav Ovadia handed Rabbi Pollack the same ruling he had issued before because nothing else was needed. (Rav Ovadia was telling R. Sherer in polite rabbinic parlance to stick the teshuvah up his fat Ashkenazi ass.)
Despite Rav Moshe's teshuvah and his 1984 letter calling for immediate rescue, the Agudath Israel World Organization did nothing to help rescue or resettle Ethiopian Jews. (Rav Moshe had correctly wondered what good another teshuva, along with the public letters he had alreadly signed with Rav J. B. Soleveitchik, would do – but he wrote it anyway because we asked him to.)
Less than forty years after the Holocaust, the leaders of haredi Judaism in America refused to listen to their posek (religious law judge) and instead chose to stand by while thousands of Ethiopian Jews died.
If that is not racism, I do not understand the meaning of the word.
It is also interesting to note that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, referred the question of the Ethiopian Jews Jewishness to Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe ruled that the Ethiopian Jews must be saved. The Rebbe, just like R. Moshe Sherer, ignored Rav Moshe's ruling.
[Based on a first-hand report by the AAEJ's president Graenum Berger found on page 694 of his autobiography, published in 1987 by Ktav, and from other contemporaneous sources.]
Worse yet, Rabbi Moshe Sherer was a leader of Agudath Israel of America at the time it published Science and Judaism, gaining leadership in that organization in 1941, and leading Aguda until his death in 1998. Rabbi Sherer was one of the few American-born haredi rabbis active at that time in what was then a small organization. There is no question he saw Science and Torah and approved it before its publication.
Rabbi Sherer – like much of Aguda leadership – was racist. He was also a liar and a rank apologist whose ends almost always justified his means. [His son, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer, takes after him.]
Haredim, led by their Aguda spin-doctors, claim to want to be judged in the free marketplace of ideas. And so they should be. We would not accept lies and racism like this from our politicians. We should not accept it from our rabbis, either.
Make this point clear to your local haredi rabbi the next time he asks you for a donation.