Rabbi Gershon Bess Vs. Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan

In the mid 1980s, Rabbi Gershon Bess began moving on his plan to reinvigorate the RCC and make it the Beit Din in town. He began moving on his plan to overtake Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan for kashrut supremacy (certifying restaurants, caterers and processed foods in Southern California as kosher).

Rabbi Bess knows he can’t beat out Rabbi Teichman in kashrut as Rabbi Avraham Teichman is with right-wing power Agudath Yisrael.

Rabbi Bess knew he could not take on Rabbi Bukspan directly and win. Instead, he recruited all the main Orthodox pulpit rabbis in town and promised them important roles in the RCC. He sold them on the merits of having one Beit Din for California, one standard for kashrut, a more stringent one than that held by Rabbi Bukspan.

Rabbi Bess’s genius is not in Torah learning but in politics. He recruited all the pulpit rabbis. Rabbi Elazar Muskin at Young Israel of Century City signed on early. Rabbi Muskin, a talmid of the Rav, saw the benefits in unity, in having one Beit Din for California. Though he didn’t get the job as rabbi of Lincoln Square synagogue in Manhattan despite multiple attempts, Rabbi Muskin became the president of the RCC, a position of honor in Orthodox Los Angeles.

Rabbi Steven Weil had no desire to make waves with the RCC. He went along with the RCC. As a humble baal teshuva, he couldn’t afford to his have right flank exposed. It was easier to just sign on with the established power.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is also a baal teshuva, but he has no such fears. Who will challenge Rabbi Steinsaltz’s learning?

Rabbi Steinsaltz could’ve become the Head of School at Shalhevet after Jerry Friedman left. The position eventually went to Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach.

Shalhevet trustees found out that Rabbi Steinsaltz was interested in the position but they insisted he send in a resume. Rabbi Steinsaltz was not going to send in a resume applying for the position. He would’ve only taken the position if it was offered to him.

If Rabbi Steinsaltz had become Head of School at Shalhevet, all of Shalhevet’s problems with the Orthodox community would’ve been solved.

Rabbi Steinsaltz would not have moved to Los Angeles. He has schools around the world, particularly in the Soviet Union, where he flies in every couple of months to serve on a Beit Din for converts. Rabbi Steinsaltz would’ve appointed someone to run the school day to day and Rabbi Steinsaltz would’ve flown in every couple of months to give some lectures.

There’s only one pulpit Orthodox rabbi in Los Angeles who’s willing to challenge the RCC — that is Rav Yosef Kanefsky of Bnai David-Judea. Rav Kanefsky will do what he thinks is right no matter if every Orthodox rabbi in California disagrees with him (which basically happened when Rav Kanefsky came out in opposition to Proposition Eight in 2008).

Rav Kanefsky still works with the RCC. He sponsors people for conversion with the RCC. In the end, however, he is a not an RCC apparatchik. He makes up his own mind and his congregation stands with him, or at least with his right to preach his conscience from the pulpit.

Other than Rav Kanefsky, the other Modern Orthodox pulpit rabbis in Los Angeles are tight with the RCC and don’t rock that boat.

Rabbi Bess was the perfect man to oversee the eruv for Los Angeles. He got all the rabbis in line and made it happen (even though many of his congregants "don’t hold by the eruv").

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in R. Avraham Teichman, R. Elazar Muskin, R. Gershon Bess, R. Yehuda Bukspan, R. Yosef Kanefsky, Rabbis, RCC and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.