by Rabbi Dov Fischer, Israel National News
Every legal system engenders cogent minority viewpoints from great scholars. But we do not light 8 candles the 1st night of Chanukah.
I often teach about what I call the “Green Goggles of Faith.” Back in 1991, America expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. During that “Operation Desert Storm,” media embedded with the troops filmed their night camera coverage by employing the same night-vision green-tinted lenses worn by troops on night-vision goggles. With them, people amid night’s blackness could see what others could not, even though it was present for all to view. Likewise, the Hand of G-d is in front of us all, but most never see G-d’s handiwork in His miracles. By contrast, for those who don the “Green Goggles of Faith,” it all is clear for view.
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In the book of Shmot (Exodus) 33:20-23, G-d tells Moshe (Moses) that no one can see His face and live, but we can see the back of His head. I teach that to mean, inter alia, that we often cannot see G-d’s miracles as they occur because we stand too close, but we retrospectively can look back years later — sometimes sooner — and, with perspective offered by the distance of time’s passage, can see that G-d was right there in front of us performing a miracle, or laying the groundwork for something much deeper than we then grasped.
Yosef HaTzadik (Joseph) saw what his brothers missed: in their selling him into Egyptian slavery for their adversarial reasons, they actually were laying groundwork for the family’s — and thus the Jewish People’s — rescue and salvation when a brutal famine later would strike. Breishit (Genesis) 50:19-20. And yet, as Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l has explained, Yosef himself was unaware that an even greater framework was being laid: to take the Jewish people away from corrupted and perverted foreign influences in Canaan so they could cultivate a new religion and values-rich culture while demographically isolated in Egypt’s Goshen, crafting a nation of three million to march to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
Things happen for reasons. Miracles also happen. Some are overt: the ten plagues, splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf – the Red Sea), food falling from the sky, the sun “standing still,” the 1969 Mets. Some are more subtle, notably the many events that interplay in Megillat Esther (the Biblical Book of Esther), where one thing “just so happens” and then another and then another. Soon, it is Jews marked for extermination instead killing 75,800 murderous anti-Semites and proto-Nazis in 48 hours, rather than being massacred themselves — all with full material support of a perniciously anti-Jewish regime.
Miracles are events outside the possible, the conceivable. We pray for them but those pleadings often seem unanswered. Most dying people die on schedule despite “mishebeirakh” prayers for healing and name changes. Sometimes, those disappointing end-results indeed are G-d’s overt answer: “Sorry, but no.” Sometimes: “You won’t understand today, but you will thank me later for saying ‘No.’” And sometimes: “No, and I regretfully cannot make the reasoning comprehensible to you.” (Ex. 33:19; Isaiah 55:8-9)
Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid formed a government last June, nine months ago, conceived in sin. With 72 right-wing Knesset seats elected, a left-center government nevertheless emerged with the Marxist Labor party, the even more radical-left Meretz party, and the anti-Zionist Arab Muslim Ra’am party. That government has torn down houses in Chomesh, stopped Jewish sapling plantings in the Negev, is connecting to utilities tens of thousands of illegal homes Arab Muslim built without permits, has named two left-wing judges to four of the recently opened Supreme Court vacancies, has allowed the diminution of Israeli demographic dominance in Area C, has suspended plans to build new Jewish housing near the old Atarot airport, has failed to assert control over Arab anarchy in the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood, threatens destroying Arugot Farms, and has taken steps in the Transportation ministry to compromise public Shabbat observance.
Worst of all, the Minister of Religious Affairs has proceeded on a tragic course threatening to sever Jewish Peoplehood world-wide by endeavoring to displace the Chief Rabbinate’s oversight of religious conversions and transferring that authority to the secular Knesset populated by the likes of Avigdor Liberman, Yulia Malinovsky, Tamar Zandberg, Gilad Kariv, and more than a dozen Arab non-Jews.
Minister Kahana’s proposals aim to solve Israel’s truly serious public-policy concern about 400,000 non-Jews in Israel — most of them hailing from Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania — some of whose lineage includes “paternal Jewish seed” but not a Jewish mother. (Many have only a Jewish grandfather and parents who are both non-Jews.) Writings here, here, here, here, here, here, and here have set forth the issues.
A group of American Jews presented Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with 150,000 petition signatures begging him to withdraw the Kahana conversion bill. Crickets. People met with Minister Matan Kahana. Crickets. Rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) from all over the world met with Kahana. Crickets. It has become clear that Kahana believes he knows better how to “improve Judaism and conversion” than do the vast majority of the world’s leading rabbinic authorities.
Kahana has cherry-picked and identified some dissenting rabbonim, men indeed of stature, but clearly in the minuscule minority. It is not difficult to locate dissenting views in any matter of fair public concern. Aside from the old saw about two Jews generating three conflicting opinions, even America’s Supreme Court typically emerges with 5-4 splits comprised of majority opinions and several scholarly dissents. On the instant matter, the majority view on conversion procedure among authoritative rabbinic voices overwhelmingly insists that today’s conversions be conducted under the aegis of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
That view is held uniformly by every single authoritative rabbinic association in the world, including but not limited to the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, the Rabbinical Alliance of America (Igud HaRabbonim), and the three primary rabbinic conversion courts of the Rabbinical Council of America (Beth Din of America, Chicago Rabbinical Council, and Rabbinical Council of California). In Israel, likewise: from the UTJ and Shass Haredi parties to the “Modern Orthodox” expressions of Religious Zionism, as reflected rabbinically by Rav Chaim Druckman and politically by MK and former Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Of course there are dissenting rabbinic perspectives, but no legal system bases itself by enacting minority opinions.
Perhaps the most profoundly disturbing aspect of the entire Kahana-Bennett effort to wrest Judaism from the Chief Rabbinate is that they would confer its implementation within a virulently secular Knesset. This simply cannot be. Over the years the Knesset’s member parliamentarians have included rabidly anti-religious people, atheists, haters of any Judaism. They have included people who eat pork, bread on Passover, and Jews intermarried with Muslims. Some have identified as “Canaanites” — people of the land, not of the Jews. Furthermore, there are typically approximately ten Arab Muslims in parliament most terms.
The present Bennett-Lapid-Michaeli Labor-Hurwitz Meretz government, however, relies on four Ra’am Arab Muslim votes for their 61-seat governing majority. Without that party’s Mansour Abbas imprimatur — even if Ra’am merely abstains from a Knesset vote on Judaic conversion — the Kahana Conversion Proposals lose by 59-57.
Arab Muslims absolutely must not vote in this debate. Jews have no business weighing in on internal Islamic theological practice nor for enacting legislation circumscribing that religion. Should I — a Rav — have a vote on enacting procedures for converting to Islam? Or . . . on what day they observe their Sabbath . . . or the proper decibel levels (in terms of Islamic theology, extraneous to public-nuisance considerations) of their muezzin’s call to prayer . . . or the words he recites in that adhan (prayer call) . . . or the directions he faces as he calls . . . or how he rolls up carpets on which mosque congregants prostrate . . . or sharia’s restriction that women inherit half what men do . . . or the procedures by which imams are appointed . . . and how waqfs operate?
It has been a long struggle to overcome the Kahana conversion proposals. Coalitions of rabbonim and others of laity have been formed. Time, passion, and money have been invested. Thousands have rallied, spoken, signed petitions, and others have published a storm of text — in Israel, in the Exile, in vernacular, in Hebrew.
Finally, news broke that the Government had withdrawn its proposed “conversion reforms” bill. Not because, on reflection, they chose to do the right thing but because Mansour Abbas, whose Ra’am is associated with the “Muslim Brotherhood” and who deems the Negev part of “Palestine,” finally opted out. He rightly determined that, otherwise, he and Islam would rue the day he ever stepped into an internal Judaic theology dispute.
When the news broke, I felt as I did when learning that the U.S. Congress had integrated the Jackson-Vanik Amendment into the 1974 Trade Act, finally tying Soviet Jewish emigration rights with “Most Favored Nation” commercial status for the U.S.S.R. to purchase American grain. We had been told for five years we were wasting our time, risking our future careers and lives pointlessly for a cause that was unwinnable. But now Jackson-Vanik meant a million Jews would be going free, that we the few who had demonstrated at Soviet buildings and often had risked our own freedoms to liberate Soviet Jewry had beaten the evil empire.
I felt that way again when we learned of miraculous overnight Israeli operations that brought home from the Gondar and other regions of Ethiopia more than 10,000 Jews of the Lost Tribe of Dan. On yet another occasion, I experienced the feeling when we learned that, after massive public prayers at the Kotel and world-wide, all but Yonatan Netanyahu had arrived safely from Idi Amin’s impossible Ugandan captivity.
We are a people of unique destiny. Although all should sacrifice in pursuit of a miracle, Megillat Esther teaches that the sacrifices of even a discrete few can justify G-d miraculously changing history. Note that Esther asks Mordechai to call a three-day fast at Passover time among the Jews of only one city, Shushan — not all impacted 127 provinces — to beg for G-d’s miracle saving Persian Jewry throughout an empire ostensibly extending from India to Ethiopia. (Esther 4:16) During the Shoah years, in what single community anywhere in the world did Jews fast three days and wear sackcloth publicly? None. Instead, Jews relied on FDR and Stephen Wise.
This struggle has not ended. Minister Matan Kahana was a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces. He served bravely as a fighter in Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s special reconnaissance unit. As a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, he commanded a squadron of F-16s. Such a man typically does not back down until he can report “Mission Accomplished.” Here, that mindset is tragic because, to reach that end, he continues pursuing what halakha never allows — promoting minority opinions as though proper to implement.
Honest halakhists know that every legal system engenders cogent minority viewpoints, even from great scholars. Nevertheless, we do not light eight candles the first night of Chanukah, working down to one on the final night, even though none of us today compares with the learning of Beit Shammai who advocated that rejected opinion. We do not eat chicken with milk. Judaism does not adopt minority opinions for practice in the first instance. Rather, the solution to intermarriage always has started with educating the populace, not by conferring Judaic status on non-Jewish girls who manifestly will not observe core Torah precepts like Shabbat — and then bringing 25,000 more.
When Jews sacrifice and pray, risking and investing all, it is not those acts that achieve miracles. Not the pre-state Jewish underground per se, not the 1948-1967-1973 superior military training and weapons acquisitions, not the 1970’s Soviet Jewry movement, not the 1980’s Ethiopian secret diplomacy, and not the 2022 political maneuvering that saves Jews. Rather, it is G-d and only His miracles that saves Jews. Nevertheless, those miracles do not ensue until Jews first “do hishtadlut” — sacrifice to the point of exhausting all options. Then, when all human efforts have been pursued but seemingly failed, a miracle sometimes unfolds. Not always, but often enough to discern a pattern and formula when viewing with Green Goggles of Faith.
The struggle continues.