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    Everyone has dual loyalties

    January 15th, 2019

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 15 January, 2019.

    Rashida Tlaib has started her US Congress career by using the old antisemitic stereotype of dual loyalties, except this time the accusation is not directed so much at Jews, but at non-Jewish Americans who happen to have positive views about Israel.

    According to Tlaib, American supporters of Israel have forgotten what country they represent. Actually, they are well aware that their first loyalty is to the United States, as are Americans who have an opinion about Russia, North Korea, Mexico, Britain, Iran and any other part of the world which figures in American policy considerations.

    I suspect that in her terms, Tlaib herself has a bad case of dual loyalties. She dislikes other people’s support for Israel. But what about her own support for the Palestinians?

    Maybe she doesn’t realise that she is shooting herself in the foot. Maybe she also doesn’t see that by using Congress to attack supporters of Israel and advocate for the Palestinians, she is doing precisely what she objects to: introducing prejudice onto the floor of Congress.

    Many Americans are Roman Catholics. A sizeable number are of Irish Catholic extraction. Does that mean that their loyalties are divided between the United States and the Vatican, or between the United States and the Republic of Ireland?

    There are different types of nations, different types of loyalties and different types of identities. The word “nation” is sometimes political, sometimes geographic, sometimes cultural, often even culinary.

    If an American has a taste for French potatoes, Swiss chocolate, Swedish turnips, Brussel sprouts, German beer or English tea, does that create an unacceptable dual loyalty? If they have an interest in Greek or Italian literature, Indian films or Chinese philosophy, does that indicate a forbidden cultural dichotomy?

    It always bothered me to know that Ludwig Lewisohn said, “There is no such thing as a man: only a Frenchman, an Englishman, an American, a Spaniard, a German, a Greek, a Jew.” If he was being simplistic and denying one’s right to a range of identities on a range of levels, I don’t think he was right.

    Surely one can have multiple loyalties. In my case, I am both an Australian and an Israeli, and a Jew. Since I lived in London for 15 years and was brought up in Australia in a British environment, I also claim to be a Londoner and an Englishman.

    On occasions when I have visited Britain in recent years, I felt at home (though it felt strange to see how different the streets look and how expensive life in London has become).

    I knew someone (actually a rabbinic colleague) who was even more complex than me because he was an Irishman, an Englishman, an Australian and a Jew. He was living proof that it is possible to have more than two, three or four loyalties, all expressing a dimension of one’s being.

    Everyone has a multi-faceted identity regardless of whether their heart displays it and whether or not they wear it on their sleeve.

    Apart from what one might call public loyalties, there are personal identities.

    I am simultaneously a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. I am a voter, a pedestrian, a client and a consumer. I am a synagogue member, a historian, a non-meat eater and a geriatric. Over the years I have played many roles in society, not only as a rabbi, writer and teacher, but in other areas too. (I am even a cook, though I haven’t yet worked out how to make cakes.)

    I try to combine all my identities in a constructive fashion. I can’t – or won’t – analyse myself. But that’s not the main thing. I am me.

    The crucial problem with multi-faceted loyalties of any kind is whether they create conflict, and if so how to handle it. There are many situations in which conflict is highly unlikely but others where the possibility of conflict is very real. Examples are in the medical, military and business arenas.

    In Jewish ethics there is considerable debate about the tensions between the three major values of truth, justice and peace. There is a pragmatic urgency about finding solutions, or at least approaches to a solution.

    In Jewish theology, God Himself has a similar problem on a cosmic scale. He is both strict and compassionate, both immanent and transcendent. In the words of the liturgy, He is both Father and King. In the Book of Exodus, when He is asked what He is, He simply replies, Ehyeh asher ehyeh – “I am what I am.”

    Singing with Moses at our side – B’shallach

    January 13th, 2019

    According to the classical rabbis, there are ten great songs. One of the greatest is Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, which we sing this Shabbat.

    Singing has been intrinsic to Judaism from time immemorial.

    Sometimes it was impossible not to sing, as the human heart pulsated with the ecstasy of being alive and the feeling of what a wonderful world God has given us.

    Sometimes we sang through our tears: no tragedy or tyrant could shatter our faith that life was still good and there would yet be things to celebrate.

    No wonder the sages remarked that there were halls in heaven that opened only to the sound of song.

    No wonder too that Jewish song-making has always been part of Jewish worship, which was never satisfied to read, recite or even declaim the prayer service but built up a tradition of nussach, standard melodies for every season of the year.

    No wonder Israel Zangwill says that the Jewish year was like a musical box.

    No wonder that the commentators – amongst all their range of interpretations of the future tense in the opening words of Shirat HaYam – said that Az Yashir Moshe, Moses will always be at our side to sing the praise of the Creator.

    The first rabbi

    January 13th, 2019

    The Torah readings from Sh’mot to V’zot HaB’rachah focus on the work of Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses our Teacher”.

    Moses is the first rabbi in Jewish history. His legacy is studded with great rabbis, not excluding those of the present generation.

    But from the time of the Emancipation, the Jewish people has confused and conflicted the role of the rabbi.

    We have produced two types of rabbi – the rabbi who is a rav and the rabbi who is a minister. Sometimes the two roles are successfully merged but in many cases the rabbi has become a split personality.

    He wants to be a rav, a student and scholar, but circumstances (and the need to make a living) have made him into a congregational functionary who conducts services, solemnises marriages and delivers eulogies, for most of which rabbinical knowledge is unnecessary and even irrelevant.

    In 1966 an American rabbi, Morris Adler, who was shot and killed in his synagogue on a Shabbat by a demented youth, wrote – it turned out to be his last article – an essay called “Who is the Modern Rabbi?”

    He said, “The rabbi is the heir and teacher of the longest continuous history and tradition in the Western world. From early childhood he has trained to look at life from the vantage point of a millennial history. He now sees himself as stranger in a land not his, witness to the discontinuities and the escalation of transitoriness.

    “Jewish tradition defines the rabbi as a layman, yet to his parishioners he is a clergyman.

    “His is essentially a life of pathos. He suffers a score of alienations and must daily battle for his faith and hope. For he is isolated at the very centre of the community he ‘leads’ and serves as the spokesman of a group-tradition when the group has become all but traditionless…”

    A rachmonus auf Moshe Rabbenu.

    The trees’ contribution

    January 13th, 2019

    The Mishnah Rosh HaShanah tells us that there are four New Years. One is Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot, the New Year for Trees, which determines the application of tithing to that particular year.

    When this date arrives the first part of winter (in Israel) is over. The new season is imminent, and we have to look ahead.

    Technically, the focus is not so much on the trees themselves but on the human beings who inhabit the world in which trees play such an important role.

    But poetically, one can imagine the feelings of the trees, because anyone who watches the growth of Nature can see that trees have a personality.

    Like human being, they come to life as youngsters, they grow, tentatively at first, and as they reach maturity they are productive and protective.

    How does it feel to be a tree?

    From the religious point of view, even the plants and trees acknowledge God and rejoice to be part of His world. They look upward to Heaven; their swishing in the wind is like a voice that acclaims the Creator.

    Yes, there comes a time when a tree groans under the weight of years and begins to fall apart, but even after its physical death it makes a contribution to the universe.

    Trees, like people, leave their traces, and the world is a nicer place because they were there.

    The Beth Din & Jewish Law

    January 7th, 2019

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared on the J-wire website on 7 January, 2019.

    The Sydney Beth Din was established in the 19th century by Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler. Because none of the original members had rabbinic ordination, the Beth Din had no halachic independence. Conversions had to be approved by London and divorces had to be supervised by Rabbi Dr Joseph Abrahams of Melbourne, though the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation refused to allow their rabbi to undertake this task.

    When Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen came to the Great Synagogue in 1905 the Beth Din was re-organised under his chairmanship. After he died in 1934 he was briefly succeeded by Rabbi EM Levy. When Rabbi Dr Israel Porush came to Sydney in 1940 he was appointed head of the Beth Din by Chief Rabbi JH Hertz.

    The Beth Din derived its authority from the British chief rabbinate and the rabbis of the major Orthodox congregations were members. After Rabbi Porush, the Av Beth Din was Rabbi Osher Abramson, a halachic decisor of world standing. For a time the Sydney Beth Din was conducted by Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, with another Beth Din being conducted by the Yeshiva.

    From the 1990s a joint Beth Din functioned with the involvement of Chabad rabbis. It was decided to manage without an Av Beth Din, directing major matters to halachic experts overseas. At various times we were visited by Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu of the London Beth Din and Dayan Zalman Alony of the Federation of Synagogues who both approved our procedures.

    I joined the Sydney Beth Din in the 1970s at the invitation of Rabbis Porush and Abramson and was a Beth Din member until my retirement in 2005. Before leaving London I had attended sessions of the London Beth Din and gained shimmush (practical experience) of Beth Din procedures. It was awesome to sit with halachic experts in whose hands the theoretical principles of rabbinic study came to life.

    At the Sydney Beth Din our regular agenda was divorces, conversions and adoptions, as well as kashrut and synagogue procedures. Naturally we were pledged to the application of halachah (Jewish law) in all our activities, which included arbitration cases – Dinei Torah – which were made available because of the halachic rule that disputes should be handled internally within the Jewish community.

    The community does not always appreciate that a Beth Din does not impose Orthodoxy on anyone. It is not governed by communal politics but by Jewish legal tradition as laid down in the Bible and Talmud and enshrined in centuries of halachah. Both the Beth Din and the membership of a congregation are duty bound to obey the law of the Torah. A congregation that has appointed a rabbi are obligated to follow his decisions. A congregation’s acceptance of the rabbi is a declaration of adherence to his rabbinic authority.