The rabbis on Moriah – George on the rabbis

December 16, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Nine rabbis circulated their congregations a joint statement stating that a “Jew is a Jew”, but it seems circumstances change its simple message following Sydney Jewish day school Moriah College standing by its rules of halacha.

Moriah College

The rabbis who circulated the statement:

Levi Wolff (The Central Synagogue)
Yanky Berger (Chabad Double Bay)
Davey Blackman (JLC)
Motti Feldman (Dover Heights Shul)
Michoel Gourarie (BINA)
Chaim Koncepolski (Cremorne)
Paul Lewin (North Shore Synagogue)
Aron Moss (Nefesh)
Dovy Rapoport (Kehillat Kadimah)
The statement:
A Jew is a Jew
There has been heated discussion in the community about the long-standing policy of Moriah College to only admit halachically Jewish students.
This is a sensitive and delicate issue that elicits strong emotions. In the cloudiness of those emotions, some of the facts are being overlooked. It is not about inclusion, it’s about who is a Jew. So we thought to clarify the issues:
Do the Orthodox accept Reform Jews as Jews?
A Jew is a Jew. Whether Orthodox, Reform or no affiliation, anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halacha is Jewish. We embrace every Jew as our brother or sister, no matter what.
So, what is the controversy about?
As an Orthodox school, Moriah College’s constitution stipulates a policy of only accepting halachic Jews. This does not include someone who has converted outside of Orthodoxy, or the children of someone who converted outside of Orthodoxy. This policy is understandably hurtful to those who do not comply with this definition.
Isn’t Moriah being divisive by not accepting students who are not halachically Jewish?
There is nothing controversial about an Orthodox school upholding a policy which maintains the millennia-old definition of a Jew. Any religious school should be allowed to define its own fundamental principles and who its clientele is.
Shouldn’t these things move with the times?
The Torah is eternal and unchanging. It has an inbuilt system that deals with new situations and modern innovations, but the very definition of Jewish identity is not subject to change.
Shouldn’t we be tolerant of other views?
Yes, and tolerance goes both ways. The Orthodox community attempts to uphold the Torah and its eternal values. No one is forcing anyone else to accept those values, but no one should be forced to forsake them.
What do you say to a family who believes they are Jewish but are being rejected?
It must be very painful, and we are sorry for any hurt. But you are not being rejected. There is a path for anyone who was not born Jewish to embrace Judaism – halachic conversion. We will support anyone who sincerely wishes to pursue that path.
Not everyone is Jewish. Anyone can become a Jew. But you have to follow the process that Judaism has defined. We don’t ensure Jewish continuity by changing what it means to be Jewish – that is not continuity. We ensure the Jewish future by teaching our kids what it means to be Jewish.
We commend Moriah College for staying true to this message.

George Klas

George Klas responds:

Dear ravs:

Can Moriah pick ‘n choose?

Yep, the school is a private organisation, it’s free to decide who joins the club. Legally, if it wishes, it can preclude girls, gays or pigeon-toed Eskimos. Whether it’s morally right is another question.

Shouldn’t Halacha tell us what’s right?

The argument that Halacha is fixed is historically incorrect. The rabbis argued and disagreed. What’s considered Halachic Judaism today would not pass muster by the ancients. A Halachic ruling is an interpretive act. So who decides? Who says an Orthodox interpretation should hold sway over a Conservative or Reform opinion?  We’ve never come in one flavour, we don’t have a pope, diversity has been our strengths.

But matrilineal Judaism has been the rule for 2000 years. You can’t arbitrarily change things.

True, a Jewish mum has been key to Jewish identity for some time but it wasn’t always the case. Prior to the Roman conquests, we were, like other tribes, a patrilineal society. It changed to combat Roman soldiers raping Jewish women. If it changed 2,000 years ago to reflect contemporary events why can’t it change now? To claim, “We don’t ensure Jewish continuity by changing what it means to be Jewish …” is historically wrong. Incidentally, if one accepts the mother line of Judaism many of our early kings were goys. Really?

Adaptability within a core belief has been the source of our survival. 

When the Temple was destroyed the rabbis had to re-invent Judaism. They created new rituals and practices often tied to the local culture. Why do we wear kippas, conduct seders? It’s not required by our liturgy. They’re customs we adopted from Babylonians and Greeks.

Okay, so Judaism has changed but what’s our core belief? What should we teach our kids?

You’re right, “We ensure the Jewish future by teaching our kids what it means to be Jewish,” That dear ravs is Hillel’s teaching about chesed not some pinched commentary about “Is a Jew a Jew.”

Shavua tov,

George Klas

George Klas was barmitzvahed at the Central Synagogue and now lives in New York.

He donated a Czech Holocaust Torah to the Central. He visiting Sydney to spend time with his 102-yr-old mother Rose.


25 Responses to “The rabbis on Moriah – George on the rabbis”
  1. Elisha Rotenburg says:

    George is indeed correct; the school is a private organisation. If they choose to only enrol halachic Jews then they are perfectly within their legal rights to do so.

    In terms of a moral perspective; if one feels so strongly about their enrolment system, please be advised there are over 3000 schools in Sydney alone to choose from.

    This policy is not new yet Moriah College has and remains the most popular Jewish day school in Australia, which says a lot.

  2. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    I am sure Moriah College will be happy to embrace Henry Wirth’s suggestion to decline JCA funding on the basis it is contributed by both Orthodox and Progressive Jews – provided of course The Emanuel School does the same, bearing in mind its funding also comes partly from Orthodox Jews who do not approve of its pluralisitc policy.

    • Asher Horvitz says:

      So true – a bit of an understatement by the word “partly” though.

    • Stephen Scholem says:

      The difference between the funding situations of Moriah and Emanuel schools is that Moriah will not accept children of maternal Reform conversion descent while Emanuel will happily accept children whose maternal line ancestors converted through Orthodox auspices.

  3. Yankel Koncepolski says:

    Dear Debbie

    George Klass’s historical / halachik comments
    are unfortunately incorrect

    Matrilineal descent has existed since the giving of the
    Torah on Mt Sinai 3331 years ago

    Sources : Deuteronomy 6:3
    Rashi on that verse
    Tractate of Kiddushin 68a
    Code of Jewish Law EH 4:5

    Matrilineal descent is thus a Biblical Law and cannot
    be changed by the Sages.

    There has not been any period in Jewish history where
    patrilineal descent took over from matrilineal determination

    George’s is spot on wrong to say that prior to the Roman
    conquest, Jews were a patrilineal society. George has confused
    tribal affiliation (which is patrilineal ) which has nothing
    to do with status as a Jew, which was as I stated
    above always matrilineal.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

    Stephen , with regard to Joseph’s wife not being

    The prohibition for a Jew to marry a non Jew
    ( Deuteronomy 7:3 ) only commenced at Sinai,
    many decades after Joseph married his wife.

    There was no prohibition before that.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

    • Akiva Glickstein says:

      Glad to see there are some community members who actually know the facts and have the historically accurate information! I was in awe when I read George and the Scholem’s responses. It’s hard to believe that some people could be so wrong about readily available information.

    • Stephen Scholem says:

      The difference between the funding situations of Moriah and Emanuel schools is that Moriah will not accept children of maternal Reform conversion descent while Emanuel will happily accept children whose maternal line ancestors converted through Orthodox auspices.

    • Stephen Scholem says:

      Yankel,I did not say that Joseph was forbidden to marry a non Jew. What I said was that he did marry a non Jew by whom he fathered two sons who were considered Jewish enough to be set as examples to Jewish boys for millennia ever after.

    • Debbie Scholem says:

      I spent considerable time looking at Deuteronomy 6:3 as quoted in Rabbi Koncepolski’s posting and try as I might could not find any reference to matrilineal descent matters. Deuteronomy 7:3 and 7:4 appear to be the verses on which Rashi and the Talmud authors based their opinions.
      A little typo is a dangerous thing.

      • Koncepolski Yankel says:

        Debbie , I am very disappointed in your last
        comment about the typo ( I call this ‘the missing
        tile complex ‘)

        I cited the verse in Deuteronomy twice

        It is true the first citation was incorrectly typed as 6:3 ,
        but the second time in the very same comment it was
        typed correctly as 7:3 . Isn’t that how you found it ??

        It is a pity that after you confirmed the Biblical source
        I provided for Jewish identity in my Op-Ed , you chose
        to highlight the typo, rather than admitting that matrilineal
        descent is Biblical ( which no Sage can alter )

        Matrilineal descent and conversion according
        to Halacha is NOT a Sydney Beth Din rule.

        It is 3331 years old and explicitly Biblical

        Humility is required, particularly when one is leading
        a public mutiny against Hashems Torah. Moriah is
        courageously affirming its faith in our Torah.

        It is high time that Sydney Jews who are uneducated in
        the Torah, refrain from publicly mocking learned and
        sensitive Rabbis ( such as Richie Moss and Rabbi Blackman )
        as well as mocking lay Torah scholars.

        Would the same uneducated critics have respect for
        a layman who is not a qualified doctor , who publicly
        ridiculed a very learned medical specialist?

        I challenge all those that have signed
        Jerome Goldberg’s petition to first get
        properly educated in basic Judaism before
        they try to tear down a pillar of our Jewish
        education system.

        Finally it is a tragedy that a captain of
        Moriah is leading a mutiny against the basic
        fundamentals of our faith.


    • Joe Weinstein says:

      Thank you Yankel,
      For detailed explanation

    • George Klas says:

      When I posted that Jews were once a patrilineal people I wanted to bring a historical perspective to a religious debate.

      Some have claimed that we were a matrilineal society from the get-go, from Sinai. That is a religious belief not a historical fact.

      The Torah provides ample evidence of patrilinealism: Juda, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon had non Jewish wives. They married out and their off-spring were Jews. Further more, family law was heavily patrilineal. Succession and inheritance was derived from the father.

      The patrilineal position is also supported by historical analysis. Prof. Shayne Cohen, a noted Harvard scholar, has researched the subject extensively. He concludes the switch from patrilineal to matrilineal was a 1st/2nd century CE rabbinical decision. I commend his scholarly paper – sections 7 & 8 are instructive,

      It is clear that Judaism has never been a static, immutable religion. It is a vibrant, living faith that over the millennium has changed to reflect contemporary cultures and events. The rabbis were hip.

      In debating the emotional issue of identity it is important to separate religious beliefs from historical evidence. It is also important, when all is said and done, to remember that while we may play to different rules we are on the same team.

      Shavua tov,
      George Klas

  4. Ezra Davidowitz says:

    Dear Rabbi’s,
    Thank you for publicly backing Moriah College’s admission criteria.

    Do not be disheartened by all those who seek to disrupt Moriah’s admission policy.

    The minority may make a loud noise, but have no doubt, the silent majority stands with you and Moriah College.

    You may have noticed that there is a petition going around trying to gain signatures stating that the signatories believe that Moriah college should accept Reform Jews.

    Our thriving Jewish community here in Sydney is roughly 50,000 strong yet this petition, after already 10 days, struggles to number even 1000 signatures.

    Those who published their names on that petition must be very proud of themselves.

    Emanuel School accepts Reform Jews and would gladly welcome all those who wished to enrol.

To those who don’t agree with Moriah’s policy, no one is forcing you to send your children there.

    Mazal tov to all of the year 12 students who recently received their HSC results and may our community grow from strength to strength.

    • Stephen Scholem says:

      Ezra Davidowitz – you might not be aware of this but Moriah does accept Reform Jews, as long as their maternal line was Jewish. They have not instituted a beliefs test for admission – yet. Perhaps you would like to suggest this to them.

      • Ezra Davidowitz says:

        Stephen Scholem – Moriah does not accept Reform Jews, you may not be aware of this but if the Mother is Jewish (halachically) then the children are as well.

        Not sure where you heard that if the maternal line is Jewish, the children can somehow have the status of Reform Jews.

        In order for someone to have the status of a Reform Jew, somewhere in their maternal lineage, a reform conversion was made.

      • Joseph Hanan says:

        Stephen you may want to revise what you’ve said here. The entire debate is about Moriah College *not* accepting Reform Jews.

        Also it’s worth noting that the petition going around has over 1/3 of its signatories opting to be anonymous. Interesting..

    • Shimon Levinsky says:

      Such great points. Good on you for speaking up. Very true on the silent majority stands with Moriah!

    • Jessica Shulman says:

      Very valid points here. A lot of my friends sent their kids to Moriah because they wanted their children to grow up with other Jewish students. Some of my other friends sent their kids to Emanuel because they didn’t mind who their kids grew up with. I think it’s an amazing thing that we have schools that cater for all different strands and that should be something to celebrate!

  5. Henry Wirth says:

    I have no problem with Moriah College taking the stand that it has. But it should also have the moral courage to immediately decline assistance from JCA (over $1.1 million for 2018-19) as this money is contributed by both Orthodox and Progressive Jews

  6. Jonathan Benjamin says:

    I am curious. How many of our esteemed rabonim who signed that letter send their children to Moriah?

    Perhaps we should focus on the views of the Moriah community.

  7. Stephen Scholem says:

    Nine Rabbis: Whether Orthodox, Reform or no affiliation, anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halacha is Jewish.

    Genesis 41:45,50-52 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife … Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

    Genesis 48:20 He(Jacob)blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.'”

    So every shabbat evening observant Jewish men bless their sons and wish them to be made like the sons of not just a non Jewish woman but the daughter of a pagan priest! So much for immutable traditions passed on by the sages.

    • Koncepolski Yankel says:

      Regarding your painful mocking of millions of observant Jews,
      who for thousands of years have blessed their darling boys on Friday nights with “May Hashem make you like Efraim and Menashe “

      I quote you “ So every Shabbat evening observant Jewish men bless their sons to be not just like the son of a non Jewish woman, but the daughter of a pagan priest “

      Your allegations above, are again factually incorrect .

      Firstly Osnat ( Joseph’s wife ) was not as you assert , the biological
      daughter of Potipher ( pagan priest ) and not the biological daughter
      daughter of a non Jewish woman

      Pirkei D’Rebi Eliezer ( Chapter 38 ) informs us that Potiphera had
      himself castrated ( see Rashi Parshat Miketz 41:45 ) and had
      no children . Osnat was therefore not conceived by either Potiphera
      or Potiphera’s non Jewish wife.

      In fact Joseph’s wife Osnat , was the daughter of Dina, who in turn was
      the daughter of Jacob, one of the 3 forefathers of the Jewish people.
      Osnat was born in Israel and traveled to Egypt, where she married her
      uncle Joseph.

      So the entire argument is without basis.

      I respectfully ask you to publicly apologise for mocking millions of
      self sacrificing Jews, who in purity gave their sons this blessing.

      Reading an English translation of the Bible and then publishing
      incorrect commentaries is not a responsible path.

      Rather become a seeker of the truth by attending classes of learned
      Rabbis or learned lay Torah scholars.

      I wish you and wife well

      Yankel Koncepolski

  8. Debbie Scholem says:

    George’s responses are spot on. I don’t have any confidence that the nine Jews who signed the ‘Jew is a Jew’ declaration will even respond to his astute knowledge, observations and interesting questions. I just feel confident that when a member of Central synagogue, as George is, has the courage to reply to his Rabbi’s Declaration I feel positive that one day many more members of Orthodox synagogues will ask for answers.

  9. John Ziegler says:

    We’re in the post truth era so perhaps facts no longer matter but for anyone who’s interested here are a few:

    1. The Moriah policy is not “long-standing” but quite new, about 20 of the school’s 75 years
    2. The Moriah constitution does not define a Jew (but does stipulate the type of Jewish education)
    3. The constitution requires that the school educate Jewish children but does not limit the education to Jewish children only. (In earlier years it enrolled non-Jewish children as allowed by the constitution)
    4. The Moriah policy is not shared by other Orthodox Jewish schools, eg Masada, Mt Sinai, Mt Scopus to name 3.

    So even ignoring the foolishness, divisiveness, intolerance and bigotry of the present unnecessary policy it’s not constitutionally valid, a point relied upon by its advocates.

    • Stephen Scholem says:

      Thank you John for bringing much needed facts to everyone’s attention. Whether the facts matter to the rabbis and board of Moriah remains to be seen.

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