Have the Rabbis Ruined Judaism?

Aish Ha Torah. Los Angeles. 9100 Pico Blvd. 8 p.m.

It’s a dark and lonely night.

Let’s flash back to a dark and lonely morning almost 13 years ago.

April 13, 1998. I am called in to meet with the rav. He asks me if I made certain cheeky posts on the internet. I confirmed I did. He gives me a choice to clean up my act or to leave the Aish community.

I leave the community.

A few months later, I sneak into a Friday night Aish singles event. An organizer spots me and busts me out.

I haven’t been back since.

Until tonight.

This is the last night of my annual yoga pass. I want to go see the Guru. I’ve only been to 120 classes over the past year. I haven’t truly taken advantage of my pass unlike 2009 when I went to 213 classes.

Still, tonight, a friend has asked me to come to Aish to see Rabbi Kahn speak.

Who’s Rabbi Ari Kahn? According to FB: “Rabbi Kahn is Vice President of Migdal Ohr institutions in Israel, he is also Director of foreign student programs @Bar Ilan University where he is a senior lecturer, in addition he is a senior lecturer in MATAN, and Aish Hatorah Jerusalem.”

On Dec. 16, Rabbi Kahn lectured about the rabbinic ban on Israelis renting to non-Jews.

Rabbi Kahn’s older brother, Yair Kahn, is a big rabbi in Israel. “Rav Yair Kahn , [YHE ’77] head of the Overseas Students Program, has been a Ram at Yeshivat Har Etzion since 1987. He is currently teaching a third-year Israeli shiur. Rav Kahn has been the coordinator of the Virtual Beit Midrash Gemara Iyun Shiur for several years. Originally from NY, Rav Kahn studied at Chaim Berlin, Yeshiva University, and Yeshivat Har Etzion. Rav Kahn is also the editor of the Shiurei Hagrid series published by Mossad Harav Kook.”

I don’t want to set foot in Aish, but my allegiance to my friend is stronger than my fear of another humiliation.

I leave my hovel at 7:40 p.m. It’s a one-mile walk. I figure I’ll get there a little late, slip in the back door, sit somewhere as inconspicuous as possible and then leave as fast as possible.

No harm, no foul! Can’t get fairer than that!

As I get closer to Aish, my heart beats more rapidly and my fears multiply and take demonic form.

You probably don’t understand how much this shul means to me. It’s the most loving Jewish home I’ve known. People here embraced me when I moved to Los Angeles. They taught me Judaism. They brought me home for Shabbat and holiday meals and then I let them down with my raunchy blogging. And I can’t face them. I feel so ashamed. I can’t believe I’m walking back in here. Why can’t I just leave these good people alone? The unclean need to stay outside the holy community.

My crippling shame comes not from anything I’ve done — although plenty of that makes me feel appropriate levels of shame — but my crippling shame comes from who I am. I fear that at my core, I am just rotten.

As I pass the bank, I see a couple of people entering Aish from the back. As I cross Doheny Blvd to join them, I spot a straight black-hatted rabbi walking towards me. Ohmigod, it appears to be Rabbi Aryeh Markman.

I can never fool Rabbi Markman. He’s got my number. I’m out of luck. I might as well turn around right now and go home like the sniveling coward that I am.

As the eloquent Ari Shayne wrote on the JewishJournal.com in 2007:

Luke Ford’s bread and butter is Lashon Hara. No self respecting Jewish bet din would admit a goy like him into our midst. One may be able to fool human Rabbis, but HaShem understands one who lives by Lashon Hara, especially when focused about Jewish people, is a Judenhasser and no member of the Tribe of Israel. Yemach shemo v’zezichro.
A ger who converts to Judaism under false pretenses is not a Jew. If a bet din finds a ger not living life as a Jew [eg, committing Lashon Hara as a way of life], Jewish status is revoked [this is the halakcha].
I implore all Jews to contact the various Los Angeles Bet Dins to make aware to the community Luke Ford commits Lashon Hara, to the extent of being antisemitic, and should have his ger status reversed.
A simple look at lukeford.net will confirm what I have reported here. LF YS”V.

My shame at being a coward overwhelms my cowardice and while my spirit has long since left my body, my legs keep moving me towards and inside of Aish HaTorah where I briefly cling to a friend and whisper, “They’re going to throw me out.”

I don’t want to be thrown out. I hate being humiliated. Yeah, I know I humiliate people every day on my blog, but I hate to be humiliated. I hate to be shamed. I hate to be spanked. I hate to be ejected. I hate to be hated. I hate to be thrown away. I hate the way it makes me feel. I hate, oh, how I hate, but me more than you.

You don’t understand how much it means to me to be inside Aish HaTorah. I know you’re going to think I’m suspect, but I’d rather be inside Aish than inside Mila Kunis.

After all, the satisfaction from casual sex evaporates after a few decades.

I had a chance for a good life here (1994-1998). I was surrounded by good people. I had a chance to build something. I had a chance to get my life on the right track. I had the chance to be matched up with a good woman and to marry and to have kids. And now that’s all gone. I was 27-31 years of age when I was at Aish. Now I am 44. I have never married. I can’t hold my head up in the Torah community.

I find the most inconspicuous place to sit and then I bury myself in my Blackberry and pretend to be fascinated by a report on Moktada al-Sadr returning to Iraq. I can’t face my execution like a man. I can’t look people in the face. I can only stare at my Blackberry.

“I bother no one and no one bothers me,” I tell myself.

I sit up front against the wall, frighteningly close to the ark. The rabbi starts speaking. I stare straight ahead. I don’t look back in case someone recognizes me.

People repeatedly interrupt the rabbi with questions and comments.

One man around 50 years of age says Aish has shifted to the right. When he came here ten years ago, Rabbi Moshe Cohen gave his Shabbos morning shiur to men and women sitting together. Now men and women sit separately. Many weddings have separate seating for men and women.

Rabbi Kahn says he does not like separate seating for men and women at weddings. This type of policy makes it difficult for singles to match up. “At every wedding, there should be two or three shiduchim,” says the rabbi.

Afterward, in the private chatter, there’s talk of shiduchim and how many wonderful single women there are while the single men are mostly suspect.

What am I? Chopped liver?

What am I doing at a lecture entitled, “Have the Rabbis Ruined Judaism? What is the nature scope and power of the Rabbis?”

As though I could pass judgment on these matters? As though I could have an opinion? I can barely read Hebrew.

The Jews in the room seem so robust and confident. They’re assertive with their opinions. By contrast, I’m such a timid goy, meek and mild, positively Christlike, like a lamb to the slaughter, like God’s suffering servant…

When I was last at Aish, it was this vibrant outreach organization. Many of the people who came were not observant. Now it has shifted to the right religiously to stave off the angry criticism of people like Rabbi Rabbs.

I have no opinions.

I bother no one and no one bothers me.

Friday. A friend phones. “Do you have any feelings about the class other than your own neuroses?”

Luke: “Yes. The Persian kids in their 20s spoke too much, said too little, interrupted too much. I wish the speaker would’ve announced, ‘I’ll take questions at the end.'”

“There was a deep theological point to the talk — once God takes us as His partner, the result has to be imperfection.”

Friend: “Dude, when Aish HaTorah told you in 1998 that you were persona non grata, that was prior to your Orthodox conversion. You’re a different man now. They can’t hold your past against you because you’ve been reborn into a new life. They can’t remind you of your actions in the past. You should assume that you are now welcome. You should meet with Rabbi Cohen and sort this out. You should do this with any shul you’ve had problems with.

“You’re so silly sometimes. You get caught up in your own little world that you miss the larger picture. You went through a conversion to Orthodox Judaism. They can’t hold your past against you. That’s forbidden by Jewish law. The things they found objectionable, you are no longer doing today. Your blog today is no more objectionable than the JewishJournal.com or hundreds of other newspapers and magazines and blogs and the works of other journalists.”

Thursday night, Rabbi Ari Kahn says: In some minds, there’s such a thing as a good rabbi and a bad rabbi. Who the good guys are and the bad guys are [is often a matter of individual whim].

I was teaching a class this week about abortion. There is a huge argument among rabbis about abortion. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was incredibly strict about abortion. He held that abortion was murder. The only thing that could justify it was if the fetus threatened the mother’s life.

I think my class saw him as one of the bad guys because he restricted individual autonomy.

About 40 years ago, there were these co-joined twins born into an Orthodox family. Reb Moshe permitted the surgical separation of the twins, even though that meant one of them would die.

The chief surgeon of the hospital at the time was C. Everett Koop. He couldn’t decide the ethics of the situation. He relied on the ruling of Reb Moshe.

A leading Orthodox rabbi of the 20th Century who had liberal views on abortion was Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg.

Yet on plastic surgery, Reb Moshe permitted and Rav Waldenberg forbade (except in extreme cases).

A number of years ago, I did something I don’t like to do. I was on a panel discussion at Tel Aviv University with representatives from Reform, Conservative, secular and Orthodox Judaism. I was the representative of Orthodox Judaism.

All the non-Orthodox talked about Orthodox Judaism being fossilized. I thought I was at a gathering of paleontologists.

I said that 50 years ago, the Conservative movement decided to allow people to drive to shul on Shabbos. Was this a good decision or a bad decision? There are reasons you could allow somebody to break Shabbos to save a soul spiritually.

If I knew that a Jew was going to join a cult or another religion and by getting in the car and driving to them I would have a chance to stop them, I should get in the car and try to stop them. If I asked Rav Elyashiv if I should do this, he’d say drive.

In 1982, Israel was at war in Lebanon. Many Israeli soldiers went weeks without talking to their families. A phone became available on Shabbos. Should they call their parents and break Shabbos?

So they called Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and he answered the phone on Shabbos and said absolutely that all the soldiers should use the phone that Shabbos to call their parents.

Somebody later asked Rabbi Auerbach why he answered that phone call on Shabbos. He said that he knew that if his phone rang on Shabbos, it was an emergency.

So I said on the panel that the Conservative movement allowed people across the board to drive on Shabbos. This meant that Conservative Jews did not feel compelled to live within walking distance of their synagogue. The further you live from your Jewish community, the less likely you are to send your kids to a Jewish school. So this Conservative ruling promoted intermarriage and destroyed Jewish community.

December 30 – Parshat Vaeira from Gavriel Manricks on Vimeo.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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