July 10, 1997
On Jews and Judaism
By Ari L. Noonan, Contributing Writer
Ann Terrick, the rabbi's secretary, said that her boss wasn't taking calls but that she would dial him anyway. It's been a little more than two months since Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, 77, was felled by a mild heart attack, but his voice booms through the receiver as he picks up the phone. He sounds as robust as he did 30 years ago, when he went to the mountain and built one of the country's landmark temples, Stephen S. Wise.
His most recent legacy, Milken Community High School, is racing toward an important finish line -- the first of three permanent buildings should be completed by January. It has become a model for non-Orthodox schools. The nation's first Jewish community high school supported by a single Reform congregation, Milken has set national enrollment records three years in a row. Within two years, Zeldin hopes, Milken's entire 10th-grade class will spend a month in Israel each school year, as his grandson, Oren Krol-Zeldin, recently did.
Zeldin has been the ideal patient, he says, because he has so much to live for. He and his wife, Florence, recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary, and he's still enjoying the success of his first book, "What This Modern Jew Believes."
Abortion and suicide figure to be the attention grabbers in his sequel, which offers a liberal view of halacha -- "why the Reform movement keeps the spirit but not the letter of the law."
The rabbi believes that doctor-assisted suicide at least should be considered to preserve a patient's dignity. And he would like to outlaw abortion in the third trimester unless the mother's physical health is endangered. However, a threat to the mother's mental health is not a good argument, Zeldin maintains, because it's too subjective.
On his own Jewish philosophy, Zeldin, who was raised in an Orthodox home, says: "I can be a traditionalist and modern. But people haven't been able to separate them."
News & Notes
ans of bilingual education, please note. Historically, 90 percent of the students at Perutz Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy have been immigrants, many of them recent arrivals. But you won't hear any Russian or Farsi spoken on campus. Hebrew and English are the only languages allowed
"We want them to know the languages that will be central to their lives in this country," says Rabbi Reuven Huttler, founder and dean of the yeshiva.
Taking a Pluralistic Course
n a unique approach to offering potential converts the full range of Jewish religious practice, rabbis representing the four main branches of Judaism will jointly teach a lecture course next spring.
The Pluralistic Outreach to Seekers program comes "in response to the growing factionalism that threatens to polarize Jewish life" and is for "people of all faiths and backgrounds who are unchurched and who seek a community of faith in Judaism," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis.
Schulweis will chair the 15-week study course at his Valley Beth Shalom congregation in Encino.
The faculty includes Orthodox Rabbi Abner Weiss of Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, who's the outgoing president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; Conservative Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism; Reform Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills; and Reconstructionist Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine.
Following completion of the course, those attendees who wish to convert will be encouraged to apply to the beit din (rabbinic court) of whatever branch of Judaism they prefer.
"They will be Jews by choice, and that choice includes any of the branches from the tree of wisdom and life we call Judaism," Schulweis said.
The 15-week Introduction to Judaism course will be by enrollment but will include four free public lectures, with each of the participating rabbis speaking at one.
Schulweis said that he knew of no similar program, particularly with the participation of both Orthodox and Reform rabbis, at any other institution. But he hopes that the concept would spread elsewhere.
He added that, beyond denominational differences, the four rabbis were drawn together by an overriding belief in the unity of the Jewish people.
Co-director of the program is Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom; Rabbi Nina Feinstein will serve as coordinator.
Specific dates for the spring course have not been finalized but will be announced later. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor