Moriah ethos and the resilience of traditional Judaism

December 14, 2018 by J-Wire
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Since Moriah College’s founding in 1943  by Abraham Rabinovitch, acceptance to Moriah was conditional on having a Jewish mother, or to have been converted according to Halacha…writes Yankel Koncepolski.

Yankel Koncepolski

Halacha is the product of both the Written and the Oral Law.

The Written Law is the body of books that Hashem dictated to Moshe, otherwise known as The Five Books of Moses. The Oral Law comprises the Mishna and the Gemoro  and the combination of the two is known as the Talmud

3331 years ago, during Moses 40 day stay on Mt Sinai,  when Hashem conveyed the Torah to Moses, the explanations of the terse sentences of the Bible, as found in the Talmud, were also conveyed to Moshe during those 40 days.

As Maimonides states in Principle #8 of his 13 Principles of Faith ( one of which is Ani Maamin ), which he wrote in the 12th  Century :

“I believe by complete faith that the whole Torah now found in our hands was the exact same one given to Moses, may peace rest upon him “

The complete Talmud had been committed to writing 750 years before Maimonides stated his 13 Principles of Faith.

Originally Hashem wanted the details found in Talmud to be passed down verbally from Father to Son. Therefore It was initially forbidden to be written down.  However during the ruthless Roman occupation of the Holy Land after the destruction of our holy Temple in the year 68 CE, Hillel’s great-grandson Rabbi Judah Hanassi , determined  that if he would  not write down the Oral Law, the  heart and soul of the Jewish people, it would be forgotten and this  would lead to the disappearance  of the Jewish people.

Without the Talmud, there is no practical possibility of any Jew fulfilling the basic details of any of the 613 commandments. For example, without the Talmud, we would have a Mezuzo cover on our doors with nothing inside it. Because nowhere in the Chumash does it state that a parchment with the Shema written on it is required. The Oral Law conveyed to Moshe and found in the Talmud provides these indispensable details. The exact details of how a bris should take place are not found in the Bible. Those details are only found in the Talmud.

Is the belief in the Oral Law only a matter of faith?

Jewish continuity resulted from an unbroken chain of accurate tradition, passed on with self-sacrifice from generation to generation. As an example, the Lowy family heard from an eyewitness,  that their father Hugo was murdered at Auschwitz when he bent down to retrieve his Tefillin which the Nazis had thrown to the ground. He gave up his life for those Tefillin. The Dead Sea scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves, which archaeologists date to over 2100 years ago, include the exact wording of the Bible we read on Shabbos.

Thus the Jewish tradition dating back 3331 years that G-d conveyed all the details to Moses on Mt Sinai is incontrovertible.

The definition of Orthodox Judaism is the belief that Hashem taught Moshe both the Written ( Chumash ) and the Oral (Mishna, Gemoro etc ) during his 40 days on Mt Sinai. This has been passed on from father and mother to children for 3331 years. Anyone Jewish today will be able to trace himself back to an ancestor who was a recipient of this 3331-year-old uninterrupted chain of Torah Laws and wisdom. Jews over centuries gave up their lives to preserve the holy details of this tradition. In Spain and in Auschwitz.

One of the laws in the Talmud is that Jewish identity is passed down either via maternal descent or through a conversion in which the convert commits to both the Written and the Oral Law. Because as Maimonides and other giants state,  he or she that denies the validity of the Oral Law, is automatically denying the Divinity of the Five Books of Moses.

However, the various Reform movements over the ages, reject the Oral Law.

Jewish continuity requires day-to-day commitment.  History has demonstrated that marriages to non-Halachik Jews did not increase our numbers. If more Liberal conversions over the centuries were the solution to Jewish continuity the Jewish population would be significantly higher and not 14 million.

History shows that within four generations those Jews who married reform converts were entirely lost to the Jewish community. Today in the US, the once enormous Reform movement of the 1930s and ’40s is on the verge of extinction.

Yankel Koncepolski is a Sydney businessman and co-founder of The Jewish House


10 Responses to “Moriah ethos and the resilience of traditional Judaism”
  1. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    Dear Yankel,
    You have communicated the issues of adherence to Orthodox Halachic principles at Moriah with clarity and logic.
    Thank you for bringing this Torah prespective to the readers on J Wire and thereby to the Jewish community at large.

  2. Mark Buchen says:

    Thanks Yankel.

    Boiling the matter down, Orthodox holds that the Torah, Oral & Written are binding.
    Reform holds it to be customary. Reform activists oppose Torah as binding and so argue their view by insisting that Customary Torah is “tolerance”, “big tent”, “diversity”, “acceptance” and even lately, “continuity”. As soon as an Orthodox Jew professes that a Binding Torah & Customary Torah are both valid expressions of Judaism, he has accepted the tenants of Reform.

    Customary & Binding are mutually exclusive. We need to agree to disagree and respect the individuals who hold differently to ourselves. That includes not forcing beliefs & practices onto those that hold differently. Our tribe will always debate, so lets do so as brothers & sisters, not enemies.

    Moriah and Emanuel Schools should maintain their respective policies.

    As is the nature of activists, do not imagine that the matter will end at the admissions policy. Compromise for the sake of Shalom will just allow the dispute to progress to board seats & staff appointments.

  3. Yankel Koncepolski says:

    Dear John

    I was very careful not to say in my article that the Moriah
    Constitution states that a student must have a Jewish
    mother or have converted according to Halacha , because
    it doesn’t and would present a argument
    asserting that Mr Rabinovich did not specifically
    want only students who were Halachikly valid Jews

    The Moriah Constitution says that Halacha
    determines the policy of the school.

    Acceptance of only a Jewish student as per Halacha
    was what the founder of Moriah wanted.

    Matrilineal descent or conversion according to
    Halacha is what Mr Rabinovich wanted,
    because he wanted all the matters of the school
    to be run according to Halacha. Mr Rabinovich
    was a committed Jew, who wanted Jewish boys and
    girls to become committed to the mitzvot and
    knowledgeable of the Torah wisdom.

    As I explained in my article, Halacha is the product
    of the Written and Oral Law, the belief in which
    is one of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith

    Nowhere in the constitution does it state that
    a referendum of either Moriah or non Moriah
    Jews can alter the constitution to void Halacha.

    As Debbie Huber stated. If someone is not
    happy with the Moriah ( Rabinovich ) enrolment
    conditions, he has other options such as the
    The Emmanuel School.

    Judaism is not subject to a referendum of laymen.

    Judaism has minimum standards. One of those
    standards is that feeling Jewish is not enough to

    Can you imagine someone who is a son of a
    qualified doctor , but who does not want to
    accept that he must study medicine for 6 years
    to qualify saying, that he should be accepted
    as a doctor just like his father ?

    Can you then imagine how other doctors or lawyers or
    accountants would react, if this son was not allowed by
    the AMA to practice as a doctor, and he then started
    organising a petition to force the AMA to register him as a
    doctor on the basis of discrimination?

    Those who understand will understand

    Best wishes

    • JOHN Ziegler says:

      Dear Yankel

      You’re right that the Moriah constitution doesn’t discuss the parentage of students. But please have another look because what you’ll see is that the reference to Halacha is only in connection with curriculum and not in relationship to enrolment. The institution says that the school will educate Jewish hildren (without further clarification and importantly does it say “only” Jewish children. That explains why until the mid to late 1990s Moriah’s policy was in line with that of all other orthodox schools, why there were non Jewish children at the school and intending parents were not subjected to the interrogation process now being perpetrated by the management.

      I would be interested in any comments that you have that are based on the facts available to us.

      Best wishes


      • Koncepolski Yankel says:

        Hi John

        I am grateful that you and I are having a respectful discussion

        I read the latest constitution, and whilst it certainly could have been written in a clearer manner , there is no doubt about the spirit of the wording. I am assuming that it was worded by a lawyer who in all likelihood was not a Torah scholar.

        The constitution talks about “recognising and promoting the practice and observance of Halacha“

        It would be pulling at straws to argue, that an orthodox school founded by a very Orthodox Jew like Mr Rabinovich, who memorialised in writing, that the school recognises and promotes Halacha, could at the same time breach a most fundamental Halacha relating to the enrolment of students.

        Mr Rabinovich’s reasons for setting up an orthodox school are well documented in Sydney Jewish history books. ( There are also people alive who knew Mr Rabinovich, the orthodox Jewish life he led and his red lines ) . He would not have donated his houses in Vivian St to establish a school that rejected the Written and Oral Law. He did not maintain that Judaism is subject to a referendum.

        A board member told me about 14 years ago , that a survey had been just completed by Moriah parents, who were asked words to the effect
        “ what is the main reason you are sending your child to Moriah. He said by far the main response of the parents was, that they wanted their children to marry someone Jewish.

        Back then when marrying out was less common, it was very clear that the parents strong desire was that their children marry another student whose both parents are Jewish.

        Parents in those days felt very hurt and embarrassed if their children chose to marry a non Jew or the child of a non committal ‘conversion’ . The vast majority who did so, have been lost to the Jewish community.

        Today, sadly, Moriah children marrying non Jews is much more widespread. The result is that some parents want to sanitise conversions that don’t require the keeping of Shabbos, keeping kosher and family purity laws ( separation and Mikve )

        This in my opinion is the underlying emotional reason for the petition.

        Jerome Goldberg says a Jew is Jew. This is a not a plausible argument.

        If Jerome would say “ a doctor is a doctor “ . What does that mean ?

        No sensible person would insist, that because his or her father is a doctor, that he/she should be registered as a doctor. He /she would be told that to be qualified as a doctor, a 6 year course must be completed. If the claimant would then say “but I am from a family of doctors and I am imbued with medical knowledge, it is discriminatory not to call me a doctor”, people would laugh at him/her.

        The example of a doctor, relates to
        a profession i.e only what one does for a living, yet a strict standard and qualification is mandatory and unquestionable.

        How much more so is a qualification vital, when we are talking about the essential identity of a person. Being a Jew.

        I want to emphasise, that I truly feel for parents whose children decide to ‘marry’ a non Jewish partner. I am involved with quite a few parents in this position and assisting them.

        However what younger parents should take away from this very important discussion is, that they cannot expect their children to marry Jewish and have Jewish grandchildren , if they the parents don’t conduct their home in a manner consistent with what Moriah teachers are trying to instil. A responsible and considered Jewish parent will conclude that he should conduct a Jewish home with a Kosher kitchen , Shabbat atmosphere and family purity. Mixed messages are picked up
        by children, who later at marriageable age say to bewildered parents “why should I marry someone Jewish, when it did not mean that much to you“.

        Jewish continuity is about fulfilling the instructions that Hashem gave us on
        Mt Sinai 3331 years ago with daily effort. I am confident that most of those who signed the petition believe in a G-d who created a highly complex universe, whose creations under microscope reveal tiny cells that have millions of components that work in a masterful orchestral harmony that boggles the mind.

        The Creator of this incredible universe placed human beings in the world to bring spirituality into the world. As creator, he established a blueprint for the world to operate peacefully and successfully. This is called the Torah.

        People who are knowledgeable in Torah and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the Torah instructions and wisdom, are in a far better position to lead a truly fulfilling Jewish life, that towards that persons old age, will see him/ her experience exhilarating Jewish nachas from his children and grandchildren.

        Yankel Koncepolski

  4. John Ziegler says:

    Dear Yankel, some interesting thoughts, but of course, it’s just not true that since its founding in 1943 “acceptance to Moriah was conditional on having a Jewish mother, or to have been converted according to Halacha.” I know facts and truth have become a bit old fashioned but as we’re talking about the education of the children of our community let’s try to keep to known facts and set an example for the children by a diligent attempt to seek the truth at all times. Then we can have a really good airing of the issues.

  5. Yankel Koncepolski says:

    Hi Everyone

    For those who want to understand the Biblical and Talmudic
    sources behind matralinieal descent , I will be giving a class
    at 1pm today in the Central Synagogue library

    Parking available in the Shul car park


  6. David Spielman says:

    Taking this to its logical conclusion; I propose that Moriah College should only accept students whose family proves that they are observing at least the main aspects of traditional, halachic Judaism; keeping a kosher home, observing the sabbath, etc. I mean, surely these “big commandments” should be a minimum criteria?
    May just lead to a very small school….


  7. Elie says:

    Thank you Yankel for this comprehensive article and supporting Jewish continuity

  8. Ivan Basserabie says:

    Thank you Yankel for this very eloquent and important article. Strength to you



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