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Rabbi Kanefsky named to Forward 50

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 20, 2008 | 6:34 pm

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky learned last fall the danger of voicing a political opinion last fall when he wrote a column for The Jewish Journal that said Israel should be free to determine the fate of Jerusalem without having to kowtow to Diaspora Jews who demand the city remain undivided.

“To be sure, I would be horrified and sick if the worst-case division-of-Jerusalem scenario were to materialize. The possibility that the Kotel, the Jewish Quarter or the Temple Mount would return to their former states of Arab sovereignty is unfathomable to me, and I suspect to nearly everyone inside the Israeli government,” he wrote.

“At the same time though,” he continued, “to insist that the government not talk about Jerusalem at all [including the possibility, for example, of Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods] is to insist that Israel come to the negotiating table telling a dishonest story—a story in which our side has made no mistakes and no miscalculations, a story in which there is no moral ambiguity in the way we have chosen to rule the people we conquered, a story in which we don’t owe anything to anyone.”

Nauseated or not, by simply suggesting that American Jews should butt out Kanefsky had broken an Orthodox taboo and the damage had been done.

“We heard sales, er, give-aways of the Journal spiked—in Gaza,” Robert Avrech wrote on his blog Seraphic Secret. “As we said, we’d like nothing better than to ignore Kanefsky, an arch leftie crank in Pico Robertson area, who leads a Romper Room congregation, but naturally the story was gleefully snapped up by the Los Angeles Times, a paper that would like nothing better than to see Israel disappear from the map. And of course, all the usual leftist Conservative, and Reform suspects jumped in to greet their lone Orthodox colleague to the Official Neville Chamberlain Appeasement Club. One of these characters labels Kanefsky a—get this—visionary.”

Well, last week The Forward agreed with that visionary label and named Kanefsky to its list of 50-most influential Jews, which includes a handful of Angelenos.

“A former associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a New York congregation led by maverick Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss, Kanefsky has long taken positions at odds with the Orthodox establishment,” The Forward stated. “He has allowed women to read from the Torah in their own single-sex services. As a past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, he is far more engaged with the non-Orthodox Jewish world than most of his peers. But his nontraditional approach seems to be helping his cause: Over the past year, Kanefsky’s congregation of 300 families has grown by more than 10%.”

I e-mailed Kanefsky Monday but didn’t hear back. Based on previous conversations and the pain his op-ed caused some in his congregation, I imagine he has mixed feelings about the honor.

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