June 19, 1997
Setting a Conciliatory Tone
By Ari L Goldman
Yossef Kanefsky and Ed Feinstein belong to an emerging generation of brash, younger Los Angeles rabbis who are distinguishing themselves by enthusiastically -- and openly -- embracing Jews who hold dramatically different beliefs.
At a recent forum on pluralism, Kanefsky and Feinstein took a public stand, delivering peacemaking declarations that blur denominational lines in Los Angeles, especially among rabbis -- some of whom have adopted separatist, intransigent positions regarding practices and policies of other Jews. Typically, some prominent rabbis have treated Jews of different denominations as less-worthy Jews. But that militant attitude -- "if you're not like me, you're an enemy" -- may fade away as newcomers with a message of conciliation step up in the community.
Kanefsky, a New York native who looks more like a teen-ager than the senior rabbi of (Modern Orthodox) B'nai David-Judea, has been in Los Angeles for less than a year, promoting what seems to be a daring Orthodox philosophy.
What he told the pluralism audience at the UCLA Hillel-sponsored forum may not win favor among all Jewish groups.
"No one movement has all the answers," said Kanefsky. "And all of the movements have some answers."
He also sought to separate Modern Orthodoxy from the militant Brooklyn-based Orthodox rabbi who angered most American Jews last March by declaring all non-Orthodox Jews as out-of-bounds.
"Except for beliefs on the extreme right, there can be no question that any Jew who loves God, who wants to lead a life guided by Torah principles, is, of course, a Jew," said Kanefsky. "Such a person is practicing Judaism [regardless of denomination]."
Feinstein, the lively associate rabbi at (Conservative) Valley Beth Shalom, put a face on a remarkable invitation that he and Senior Rabbi Harold Schulweis crafted a few months ago. Taking his message out into the community for the first time, Feinstein urged Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews to come on down to VBS in Encino and talk, freely, in a non-threatening atmosphere, about what they believe.
"I want to hear the Torah of other Jews," Feinstein said. "I want my Jews to be exposed to other Jews and their beliefs. I'm not afraid. I want my children to see how Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews look and act."
Such talk from the so-called emerging generation of rabbis may eventually overcome an atmosphere of conflict that is dominant in parts of the community. Supporters of the new-style conciliatory language of Kanefsky and Feinstein believe that there is a reason these rabbis can deliver unprecedented unity to the community. They have the advantage of a natural forum: Both are from large, prestigious synagogues.
Also, youthfulness, rabbinically speaking, is on their side. Feinstein is in his early 40s, Kanefsky, his early 30s.
The third member of the panel, Reform Rabbi Richard Levy, the director of Los Angeles Hillel Council and a yarmulke-wearing traditionalist in the most liberal movement, spoke with extraordinary warmth of his love for ritual and prayer practices.
All denominations, he said, "have filled a clear need. None of us has kept Jews out. My belief is, we all stood at Sinai. We just heard things differently."
As a kind of codicil, he added, "God has approved these different aspects of Jewish expression."
By the end of the UCLA Hillel program, it was plain that the participating rabbis -- Levy, Feinstein, Kanefsky and moderator Chaim Seidler-Feller -- were genuinely fond of each other in addition to sharing philosophical beliefs.
Board of Rabbis Installs Goldmark
Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark was recently installed as president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. The ceremony, attended by about 120 people, took place following a dinner at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.
Goldmark, 54, has served as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Ohr of La Mirada, a Reform congregation, since July 1979. He is also executive vice president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, an organization of 250 rabbis from throughout the Western United States. He succeeds Rabbi Dr. Abner Weiss, senior rabbi at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills.
In an interview before his installation, Goldmark said that the Board of Rabbis, which includes more than 250 rabbis from all branches of Judaism, is characterized by respect and pluralism, with the two-year term of president rotating among the different denominations -- from the Orthodox Weiss, to the Reform Goldmark, to Gilbert Kollin of the Conservative Pasadena Jewish Temple (in 1999), to Steven Carr Reuben of the Reconstructionist Kehillath Israel in Pacific Palisades (in 2001).
Goldmark will also chair a search committee for a new executive vice president to succeed Rabbi Paul Dubin, who is retiring in June of 1998. Dubin is one of two staff persons at the board, an agency of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. -- Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer
Hocus-PocusBy Yehuda Lev
It is with a sense of relief that the subject is at last out in the open.
I read discussions in The Jewish Journal (June 13), the Forward (June 6) and Time magazine (June 9), of Michael Drosnin's "The Bible Code."
I have not read Drosnin's work, nor am I likely to, but it deals with a phenomenon that has gained some currency in the Jewish community in recent years -- the belief that, by using computers to examine the placement of letters and words in the Torah in the form of a hitherto secret code, you can find incontrovertible proof that God was the author of the Torah. This is an idea that offers comfort to those who already believe in the Torah's divine authorship, and discomfort to those who, like myself, think there is considerable room for doubt on the matter.
As for criticism of the idea by believers, I quote Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency report in The Jewish Journal: "To pretend that God gave this evidence of faith but was waiting until we had Pentium chips to uncover it seems to me to be both simple minded and wrong."
I am not going to enter into the argument except to note that there are Protestant scholars who, with their own computers, examined the same Torah and discovered some hitherto secret codes that foretell the return of the Messiah. One wonders whose version of the Torah each team of experts was examining.
My interest in this stems from an incident some years ago, when I interviewed for The Journal a man who had contributed a large sum of money to Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox educational institution that supports a yeshiva in Jerusalem and maintains offices and meeting rooms on Pico Boulevard. Aish HaTorah has developed a program called Discovery that purports to prove that these codes do in fact exist. He was attracted to Aish HaTorah by the opportunity to study with Jewish educators. When I interviewed him in his office, I asked him for an example of what he had learned.
"Did you know," he told me, "that 5,000 years ago, there were 10,000 Chinese and 10,000 Jews, and that the effect of persecution on the Jewish people has been so great that while there are billions of Chinese today, there are just a few million Jews."
I owned up that I had not been aware of this and asked him where he had learned such interesting information.
"From my rabbi," he said.
"Could you call the rabbi and ask him for his source for this?"
"Certainly." And he dialed the rabbi's number and turned on the speakerphone.
When the rabbi answered, his student explained the situation and asked the rabbi from whence had come this data about the Chinese and the Jews.
"From our writings," said the rabbi.
"That's it?" I asked.
"That's it," said the rabbi. End of conversation.
I returned to the office and wrote a routine human-interest story about this nice man who so generously donated money to an educational Jewish institution; I omitted all references to Chinese vs. Jewish population growth statistics. But I thought to myself as I wrote, that the real story was not in his gift, or even in him, but in the spurious nature of the "education" that was being dispensed by the rabbis of the institution.
That brings us back to the subject of "decoding" the Torah. In the Forward's article, David Marcus, professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary, questioned the code's credibility.
"For it to be valid," he said, "a scholar would have to prove that the configurations of text that the book offers were the original arrangements. All manuscripts -- even printed editions of the Hebrew Bible -- differ."
In his view, the Bible code is "hardly better than fortunetelling...with this type of analysis, you could find anything you want to find."
I wonder what the Chinese do for laughs.
Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.
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