Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is It True that Young Israel Discriminates Against Converts?

hat tip: ajg


There's trouble brewing in the Young Israel synagogue organization according to this The Jewish Week article.  The article focuses on pressure by the official Young Israel leadership to expel its Syracuse synagogue,  Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse, allegedly because it has a female president.


The article discusses how the Young Israel Movement has moved religiously and politically to the "Right," which is at odds with some member congregations. 



Several of those leaders interviewed cited in particular an August 2007 letter that included the following in which the organization said there were a series of new regulations:


* Synagogue presidents must be male and Jewish from birth; (emphasis mine)
and more regulations

That's outrageous and contravenes Jewish Law.  One is never supposed to remind a convert that he/she is a convert.  Once someone converts they are Jewish and that's it.  Davka, about their forbidding women from the position as synagogue president, I won't get involved, because I see it as cultural not halachic.  Also, I am not a member of such a shul, nor do I live in the United States.  But I'm shocked by their unabashed discrimination against converts.  It reminds me of the American law which requires all U.S. Presidents to have been born in the United States. 

What's next for Young Israel?  No "BT's*" in high office? 

*Baalei teshuva, those who accepted Torah Judaism, later, not raised in it.

16 comments:

Bryan said...

I think it's one thing to be the leader of a country and to be the president (not even rabbi) of a synagogue.

That said, I wonder how one avoids the halakhic prohibition on reminding someone that she is a convert if said person wants to marry a Cohen. Wouldn't you have to break halakha to prevent the marriage (which would produce mamzers) from going through?

yaak said...

Batya, as much as we don't want to remind Geirim of their past, there are certain Halachot that apply to them that are unavoidable. See here, for example:

אסור למנות גר לתפקידים שיש בהם שררה

which is the reason why a convert should not be given the position of president.

yaak said...

The prohibition is mentioned in the Rambam Hilchot Melachim 1:4:

ה [ד] אין מעמידין מלך מקהל גרים, אפילו אחר כמה דורות--עד שתהיה אימו מישראל: שנאמר "לא תוכל לתת עליך איש נוכרי, אשר לא אחיך הוא" (דברים יז,טו). ולא למלכות בלבד, אלא לכל שררות שבישראל--לא שר צבא, ולא שר חמישים או שר עשרה, אפילו ממונה על אמת המים שמחלק ממנה לשדות; אין צריך לומר דיין או נשיא, שלא יהא אלא מישראל: שנאמר "מקרב אחיך, תשים עליך מלך" (שם)--כל משימות שאתה משים עליך, לא יהיו אלא "מקרב אחיך".

Batya said...

Bryan, the responsibility to marry a suitable woman is on the Cohen to be careful where he looks. Just this week a Cohen friend of mine told me of a cousin who married a convert and therefore couldn't join the rest of the clan on the "bima" to bless the congregants.

yaak, is being president of a shul considered so lofty?

Anonymous said...

Batya, consult your local Rabbi and get back to us.

I think Young Israel is correct on these points.

Anonymous said...

Batya, you asked Yaak a question, while the answer lies in the Rambam he posted. Read it again.

yoni said...

shamaya and avtalyon.

yoni said...

also, the rambam says not to take a leader from "kahal gerim". at the time of the rambam there were "kehillot"- entire communities that had converted en masse and lived seperately from other jews. a "ger b'shaarecha", however, a ger who converted as an individual and integrated into the jewish community, could be considered "mekerev achicha" as per the rambam's requirement.

yoni said...

having said this, the rambam is certainly a legitimate halachic authority, and the ONLY authority on many matters in hilchot melachim, though i'm not sure about this particualar one. young israel is surely using the rambam here and, while i disagree with their reading, they certainly have the right to interpret as they wish, they have their own rabbis.

Batya said...

yaak, Shy, I agree with yoni's point about properly defining גר "ger." There's a difference between stam ger, stranger, goy and גר צדק "ger tzedek," a righteous convert.

If a גר צדק "ger tzedek," can be a rabbi, then why can't he be a synagogue president?

Unknown said...

Were Shmaya and Avtalyon geirim or bnei geirim? I had thought that they were no geirim themselves, but bnei geirim, but I do not have any sources with me.

yoni said...

sabba hillel, from the rambam:
אפילו אחר כמה דורות"-

Keli Ata said...

Why so many comments in Hebrew? Why can't they be written in English:(

Batya said...

Keli, I agree. I try to translate everything and wish others would do the same.

Keli Ata said...

Thank you, Batya:)

Batya said...

I can't enforce it, but I will try to make sure what I write is clear to those who don't know Hebrew.