What Has Britain’s Chief Rabbi Done To Strengthen Modern Orthodoxy In UK?

Lawrence Kaplan writes: "The CR is an eloquent spokesman for traditional Jewish values on the nationial and international scene. Kol ha-kavod. But what has he done to strengthen the modern Orthodox community in the UK? From my own observations and from my speaking to highly placed Modern Orthodox Jewish rabbis and scholars, the answer seems to be very little — if that.

"The old Jews College died, and, as you say correctly, it has been reborn as the LSJS, an adult education institute. My point is that an adult education institute, no matter how fine, is no substitute for a school of higher Jewish learning, whether it has a semichah program or not. Jews Colloege, for all its faults, was such a school, the LSJS, for all its virtues, is not that. What role the CR played in the death and transfiguration of Jews College is a matter of some debate. A number of well placed Britsh MO scholars are very bitter about the alleged role of the CR, but I am not in a position to judge the validity of their complaints. The bottom line is that in terms of MO intellectual life in GB, L’eyla is no more, Jews College is gone, and all that remains is an adult education institute. Doesn’t impress me."

Ben Bayit posts:

As I pointed out to ADDeRabbi on his blog the taxation issue is a particular USA issue and has no bearing on the largest Jewish and largest Torah community in the world – that in the State of Israel, which has no tax credits or deductions for parsonage. As far as I am aware the only jobs that legally require "semicha" are neighborhood rabbis and dayanim which by law require a qualification of being accredited to be a neighborhood rabbi – with semicha being a pre-requisite for achieving this qualification.

SO this tax issue wil have little or no impact in creating a brod based world-wide movement for women’s ordination as clergy. There are almost no more "reverends" left in England. But frankly the idea of separating "pastor" from "Rabbis" is a good one. If we all view the founder of the first women’s ordination program in Orthdoxy as "pastor" (albeit high-powered, vocal and professionally successful) rather than a "rav" or "posek" it will put his position in the proper perspective.

Many years ago in Israel there was a big push for women who wanted to learn torah shebaal peh to be toanot rabbani who are licensed to advocate in the rabbinical courts. halevai there would have been more rabbis like Rabbi Broyde who would have told such women to go to law school instead. Encouraging women to become toanot IMHO bordered on onaat mamon on the part of the Rabbanim that encouraged this course of study for women. Everyone in Israel knows that a toen rabbani is limited in what s/he can do – and many issues related to divorce (especially child support) are under the SOLE jurisdiction of the civil courts, thus rendering a rabbinical court pleader ineffective in representing their client. It was a feminist agenda that pushed these women into toanot programs. Today many have them have gone on to get law degrees – as well as get a more "balanced" perspective on divorce in Israel. A survey was done on some of the original toanot and found that nearly half their clients were men, not women.

Today, many younger religious women just go straight into law school and only then do some toanot study if they want to specialize in family law (and frankly many of them going into this profession prefer getting licensed as mediators rather than as toanot – also a more practical and useful professional accreditation). A program like the new midrasha at shaarei mishpat law school http://www.inn.co.il/News/News.a…ews.aspx/ 188096 which combines Jewish learning and legal studies is much more effective than the toenet rabbani program. frankly, american women who want to study torah shebaal peh and have good professional credentials should be encouraged to go to this program (or similar one in Bar Ilan in combination with the midrasha there). It is a bachelor’s degree that can be used to go onto advanced studies as well as professional licensing (even in the USA as most states – certainly NYS – will admit graduates of Israel Ll.B programs into the bar without the need for additional academic studies as Israel is a common law state).

While undoubtedly there is much evidence to show the role economics played in the development of Halacha – especially as it relates to social issues – a great degree of caution must be taken before embarking on radical communal transformations affecting social norms in the religious community. all the more so when these transformations no longer affect a local town, district or council of 4 countries – but due to the global village and fast telecommunications, such agendas are liable to spread very quickly beyond the local particularities of the issue.

Also, and without claiming great knowledge of US tax law, from the little that I know of it, the courts and the IRS have defined "minister" and "clergy" substantively and functionally rather than technically, and look at the job being performed and the organization it is being performed for. An ordained Rabbi working for a private or even communal school that is not affiliated with a recognized synagogue/house of worship and/or does not provide ministerial services or perform religious functions will not be eligible for parsonage benefits while a non-ordained operosn who is commissioned by a synagogue for the performance of religious functions and/or to provide ministerial services will be eligible.

Thus, the parsonage argument for taking such far reaching communal steps is also undermined not only by the local peculiarities of the issue but also by its very essence. I.e. the "klaf" of ordination is not likely to change things all that much as far the tax code goes. Were all day schools end educational institutions (where the bulk of rabbinical professionals practice and receive the bulk of wages for rabbinical services) in the USA to liquidate themselves and then re-incorporate as part of a recognized synagogue, perhaps there might be something to discuss re: the parsonage issue – and even then only perhaps, as even then the test is still one of function. If this is the issue then the place to fight it is in the tax courts – not the pages of the Jewish Press. let the RCA come up with some form of "license" that will allow women to be "commissioned" for certain pastoral roles – without the need to copy Yoreh Yoreh language, and ask the IRS for a pre-ruling on it and then challenge the pre-ruling if they reject it. This should be done before engaging in the social upheaval involved in dealing with the issues of ordination for women and will keep the issue at its appropriate local level without impacting the rest of the Orthodox Jewish world.

DOVID POSTS: . According to IRS publication 517, students are not permitted to take parsonage. I am sure that Rabbi Weiss was unaware of this, but in light of all the charges of corruption recently among various rabbis, he should be more careful. If YCT is still giving parsonage to its students, perhaps you can show Rabbi Weiss IRS publication 517.

About Luke Ford

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