Monday, August 20, 2012

Of Shuls and Rabbis

Chopping Wood has an interesting article about the quest for a Rabbi at a shul in Yad Binyamin.

Over the past few years our congregation in Modi'in has been going through a similar process. Five years ago when I joined the shul, there was a small group that was actively pushing for a Rav for the shul, and a few individuals who were absolutely against the concept of having a Rav dictate to the shul what it can and cannot do.

To me, having a shul Rabbi is one of the most important aspects of a congregation. Even though the concept fo Shul Rabbi is less common in Israel, and many people have their own rav that they can turn to with personal halachic questions, I think that a part time Rabbi is important to any congregation for a variety of reasons, including the followng:
  • Stops the shul being a "free-for-all", where anyone feels that they can do whatever they want, whether changing the Nussach, changing the acceptable practice, or changing any other acceptable norms.
    Some change is warranted, other change can be harmful or divisive, and some change may not be halachicly acceptable. The job of the Rabbi is to make sure that practice in the shul is acceptable to halacha and appropriate for the membership.
  • A Rav who knows how to assert his authority can help prevent arguments. There are always disagreements in a shul over how things should be done, the role of women, who should get aliyot etc. If the Rav has the authority to stand up and say that this is the way we do things here, that can help prevent arguments, or at the very least rephrase the argument as a discussion with the Rabbi instead of a screaming match between congregants.
  • The Rav helps set the tone of the Tefilla. His presence can help the speed of the tefila and decorum suitable for the congregation.
  • The entire atmosphere in the shul changes when there is a designated Rav present. I know that I behave different when I am next to someone that I respect (A good tip for improving your behaviour, especially in Elul,  is to always imagine that you Rosh Yeshiva is in the room with you)
  • Most importantly, having a Rav present is an important educational tool. Kids can see that decisions in the shul are based on an Halachic authority, and the see how to give Kavod, even with something as small as waiting for the Rav to finish Shema before continuing with the Tefilla.
Some of the issues above can be achieved if there is a recognized Posek for the shul, such as a city Rabbi who is accepted by the congregation and is involved in the running of the shul. However even having a designated Possek is rare in Israel, as far too many congregations let the Gabbai, Ba'al tfilla, or individual members do whatever they want in the running of the shul, or leave halachic decisions up to a vote.

The lack of Rabbi in our shul has been a sore point for me since I joint the congregation when I moved to the neighborhood five years ago, however there is only one shul in the neighborhood that has its own Rabbi, and even though I regularly daven at their Hashkama minyan on Shabbat, I don't see myself as a member of that congregation for a variety of reasons (which are beyond the scope of this post).

I was hopeful that our shul would eventually appoint a Rabbi, and in the mean time the Gabbai'im have taken all halachic questions to Rabbi Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modi'in.
Over the past year the Va'ad has been working on a "Takanon" for the congregation, and I was really hoping that the issue of Rav/Possek would be addressed formerly there. Today they sent out a draft of some of the clauses that have been drafted for the Takonon so that they can be voted on at a meeting next week.
Most of the clauses addressed questions of Nussach that have been controversial over the past few years, but they had the following proposal regarding the question of Rabbi (I deleted the names of the individuals involved):

שאלות הלכתיות
באם תתעורר שאלה הלכתית בהלכות תפילה,  בית כנסת, ס"ת והקריאה בלבד, יפנו הגבאים אל חברי ועדה  הלכתית, שתכריע בנושא. לצורך כך הועד מציע שתוקם ועדה הלכתית בראשות הרב ___es__ והחברים _____ ו_____.
בסמכותה של ועדה זו להכריע הלכתית בנושאים שיועלו בפניה על ידי הגבאים או להביא את השאלה בפני סמכות הלכתית  אחרת בהתאם לשיקול דעתם.

Halachic Questions
As Halachic questions arise with regard to prayer, the Beit Knesset, Sefer Torah, and Leining only, the gabaim will refer to  members of he Halachic committee that are familiar with the issue. For this purpose, a committee will be established under the leadership of Rabbi ____ and members _____ and _____.
This committee will have the authority to establish halachic practice for issues that are brought to them by the Gabbaim, or to take the question to a different recognized halachic authority based on their judgement.
Even though I have utmost respect for the three members proposed to establish the "Halachic committee" and I respect their judgement and knowledge of halacha, if this clause is voted in as it is currently worded, I think that I will not be able to continue as a member of the congregation.

I think that this clause is the opposite of the concept of congregation rabbi for the following reasons:
  • Instead of a Rabbi, this is a committee, there is no one individual who can say "The Buck Stops Here".
  • It limits the issues that the "Halachic Committee" can rule on (prayer, Beit Knesset, Sefer Torah, and Leining only). I don't know what other issues may come up, but I think that there should be a halachic authority over all activities run by the shul, including  social activities, Chessed programs, or children's activities run under the auspices of the congregation.
    (Note - I am not aware of any halachicly questionable activities under the auspices of the shul, but if we have a Rabbi, he should be involved in these committees)
  • The committee will only respond to issues raised by the Gabbaim, they have no formal authority to take an initiative if they feel that they can contribute in other ways, for example they see something in shul instituted by the Gabai'im which is halachicly questionable or have suggestions how thigs could be improved.
    (The present Gaba'im are very careful on halachic matters, and I assume that when they step down the new Gaba'im will be equally careful, but it is still a good idea for someone to have the authority to oversee their decisions).
  • The proposal went out of its way to not designate a Posek for the shul (who until now has been by default Rabbi Lau) rather it is deliberately vague in referring to a "recognized halachic authority".
  • Other proposed clauses for the Takanon dealt with Nussach of Tfilla, If Nussach is not regarded as a Halachic issue that should be referred to a Rabbi, but decided by a majority vote, I'm not sure what type of issues would be considered the responsibility of the "Halachic Committee"
I sincerely hope that there will be significant changes to this clause before it is voted on next week. But should it pass in it's current format, looks like I'll be in the market for a new shul for Yom Tov this year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Larry Derfner now a Settler?

One of the things I love about Modi'in is the variety of people who live there.

Modi'in has all types of religious, social, ethnic, and political outlooks living in relative harmony.

This includes some of the most extreme political activists. For example, Larry Derfner describes himself as "an ultra-liberal Zionist". He has repeatedly spoken out against the "Occupation", and last year was fired as a columnist for the Jerusalem Post when he justified a terrorist attack against Israelis ("I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us”).

I disagree strongly with almost every thing that Larry has ever written ("almost" because actually a couple of years ago I did agree with a column he wrote about the importance of Jews and Arabs interacting).

Anyway, a common theme of the extreme left is that all of Israel's problems are directly or indirectly the fault of "The Settlers" or "The Occupation". I'm not sure what the definition of "Settler" is; the 48 cease fire line is not clearly demarcated on any maps, and is not recognized as a political border by  the Israeli Government or the Palestinian Authority, I think that the only bodies that place any significance on the '49 cease fire line are groups like the European Union.

Now that the EU has declared Modi'in to be part of the disputed territories, will left-wing activists like Mr Derfner move, or is his opposition to the "Settlers" only apply to other people, not liberal minded people like him who should be entitle to keep their home in Israel-Occupied Modi'in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thanks to the EU, the population in Judea and Samaria is growing

Moetzat Yesha should be delighted with EU who managed to increase the population of Judea and Samaria without relocating a single person.

The EU just updated their list of "Non-Eligible Locations" to include many locations that have been "occupied" by Israel since 1948. This includes my beautiful city of Modi'in (check page 4 of the PDF which lists my zip code).

If you are not familiar with the history of Modi'in, the city was planned during the Rabin administration, partially as a possible solution for residents of Judea and Samaria, should residents of any of those areas be expelled from their homes and need to relocate to pre-67 Israel.

You can see the former cease-fire lines on Google maps, none of Modi'in was occupied by Jordan before 1967. The edge of Modi'in (Maccabim and part of Malibu) was in "no-mans land", the area between the Israeli and Jordanian cease-fire lines.

However, non of this seems to be of interest to the EU, they seem to be convinced that "קרוב למחיצה כמחצה דמי"; that just like in Horseshoes or Gimatriyas, close is good enough - and my home being close to the former green line is enough to define me as a settler.

Following is the official response from The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Newsletter
MFA Newsletter

Israel's reaction to EU customs list of non-eligible locations
There is not the slightest doubt that the Modi'in, Maccabim and Re'ut localities are an integral part of Israel. The EU ignores reality when it extends the domain of conflict to places and issues that do not belong there.
(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
For anyone who deals in reality, there is not the slightest doubt that the Modi'in, Maccabim and Re'ut localities are an integral part of Israel, and their future is not in question.
The EU ignores reality when it extends the domain of conflict to places and issues that do not belong there. As for the other locations mentioned in the EU list, the European approach, though not new, is not acceptable in Israel's view, and it is being addressed through ongoing diplomatic engagement.
Remarkably, by the unilateral publication of the locations list on the internet, the EU has unacceptably cut off a negotiating process regarding this very issue. This action, conducted "ex abrupto", has therefore been the object of an official protest lodged by the Mission of Israel in Brussels to the European Union.

Monday, August 6, 2012

013 Netvision Again

As I've said on this blog before, one of the worst customer services experiences I've ever encountered was with 013 Netvision.

From comments on this blog and conversations with many people, it seems that for 013 Netvision, charging people for services they didn't request, need, or use, happens so often that I don't believe it is an error; it seems like a deliberate business policy.

"Netvision Customer Service" (and similar terms) are the most common search terms bringing people to this blog, so I guess I can thank Netvision for the extra traffic.

Since my last encounter with Netvision I did the only thing that makes sense - cancelled all payments to Netvision on my credit card, and make sure to stay clear of any services or products offered by the company.

Sure enough today I received another bill from them for services I never used, never asked for, and didn't pay for. No idea what they claim I owe them for, but I don't have a spare three hours today to wait on hold so that I can speak to a client service rep to find out.

If anyone else has similar mastery bills from Netvision, feel free to leave a comment.

And, if anyone from Netvision customer service is reading this (and if you aren't, you should be), feel free to leave a comment as well with a direct number that I can use to speak to someone without a 3 hour wait.