Saturday, March 3, 2007

Poked Avon Avos

In a Teshuva which I recently received via e-mail the question was asked whether a yeshiva may accept a child born to a Jewish mother and a non – Jewish father. The Rabbi, Eli Monsour in seeking an answer quoted a p’sak of Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. Apparently Harav Moshe Feinstein, was asked if a yeshiva can refuse to accept such a child, or whether a synagogue should not allow the bar mitzvah of such a child.

Rabbi Monsour quoted the Iggrot Moshe (O.C. 2:73) which states that a yeshiva should not accept such a pupil, nor should a congregation host the bar mitzvah celebration. The reasoning according to Monsour’s understanding of Rav Moshe Feinstein is that in accepting this pupil to the Yeshiva or by hosting his Bar Mitzvah seems to be giving implicit approval to his parent’s lifestyle.

Rendering a p’sak halachah of this nature is a very complicated process. As the Jewish community grows more diverse and complex so do the She’elot. It would seem that Rabbinical institutions prior to granting Semicha ought to incorporate a course on how to approach the rendering of a p’sak halacha or an opinion referencing a p’sak halacha. Furthermore, in rendering a halachic opinion one also has to be aware not only of the short range effect but also on its long term impact. Clearly Rabbi Monsour was correct in consulting with previous literature on the subject in order to reference previously held positions. However, doing so doesn’t absolve him of exercising his intellect in the appropriateness of applying this particular teshuvah.

It would appear to me that when Harav Moshe Feinstein rendered this particular decision it was within a very different context. This particular position was probably rendered twenty five to thirty years ago when the American Jewish landscape was quite a bit different than what it is today. Thirty years ago, in the early 1970’s, intermarriage and assimilation, while talked about wasn’t an existential threat to the Jewish people. Intermarriage was probably in the 15-20% range. Although this number certainly wasn’t negligible, it wasn’t an astounding number. When someone intermarried thirty years ago, it made waves and emotionally devastated families, even non-orthodox families. Few Rabbis, even within the reform community performed such ceremonies. Thus, for Harav Moshe Feinstein to render such a position was pretty much in line with the prevailing conditions.

Harav Moshe Feinstein’s concern in rendering such a position was to stem the tide of intermarriage, or at least not to indirectly lend support to it. His position of refusing the children of intermarried couple’s entry in yeshivot, may discourage people from intermarriage. Today however the situation is reversed. Instead of a relatively low number of intermarriage, the relative number is alarmingly high. So the question is, given this high rate of intermarriage do we want to bury our heads in the sand and live in denial or do we need to be more proactive in confronting this threatening and growing reality.
Why would we want to turn a yiddishe neshama away from Judaism by barring him from a yeshiva or a synagogue? By doing so, one wouldn’t be achieving Harav Feinstein’s goal of deterrence- it can’t be done because intermarriage and assimilation has run rampant. All one is achieving is driving this intermarried family who seeks help to the other liberal movements. Harav Moshe Feinstein was concerned that by educating this child a message would be sent out whereby, there is a legitimating of his parents union. In the world we live in today, the issue isn’t whether their union is being legitimized. It is what it is. The only question is what of the off spring. Are we to behave as “rigorists”(zealots), writing them out of Judaism or are we going to assume more of a paternalistic, loving role and help save a neshama b’yisrael.

If anything, Harav Moshe Feinstein wasn’t a “rigorist”. He had a unique sensitivity and tenderness when it came to Deenei Ishut. One can’t know what Harav Moshe Feinstein’s rendering would be today. I do know that any rendering of his would have taken into account the complexity of the Jewish world. He would have also considered the religious practice of the family. He would consider the circumstances that would prompt an intermarried family the unique desire to have their child placed under the influence of Torah and Jewish hashkafah. He would consider what long term impact the Jewish education on this child would perhaps be.

I would urge Rabbi Monsour to reconsider his approach and to keep in mind the issues raised here. Should there in fact be a blanket refusal to accept such a child into the Jewish mainstream based upon this p’sak, or is there an alternative to avoid losing a Jewish soul. Surely there must be another way. I would also add that prior to rendering such a life altering decision it behooves the Rabbis involved to meet with the mother and child in order to develop a clear picture as to the family’s, attitudes, expectations, their attachment to Judaism and how the education of this child can impact on them.