Racism or Halakha? An Analysis of the Barkan Controversy

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22 Responses

  1. Eli says:

    I don’t understand why the author here ceded the halachic ground so easily. Why no discussion about the classification today of stam yeinam as a d’rabbanan, and Ethiopians as at the very least “safeik” Jews (they underwent at the very least a geirus l’chumra of the Rabbanut) and potentially even a sfek sfeika. They are safeik Jews, subject to a machlokes haposkim, who then converted through (in the eyes of the eidah) a potentially questionable conversion. So we have safeik on a d’rabbanan, and maybe even a sfek sfeikah, yet this author doesn’t take the eidah to task at all, or even mention, that it is more than reasonable to pasken l’kula as a result.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    A more open process, in which the criteria for decision are clearly stated, would also be very helpful. This is elemental fairness that also puts the organization in a proper light. Given that there is no halachic consensus on the status of these Ethiopians, whether formally converted by someone or not, challenges can be expected to any decision, so be proactive and prepare a public case beforehand! No one in the world of customer goods should act as if he lives in a bubble.

  3. Yaakov Hoffman says:

    The issue of sfek sfeka etc. is relevant when one is paskening an individual’s shayla. When a kashrus organization bestows their certification on a product, the product needs to be held to that organization’s “lechatchila” standards and policies.

  4. Truth says:

    Eli,
    There is ample halachic precedent to not rely on safek derabbanan lekula lechatchila.
    Additionally, just because you consider those to be valid sfeikos does not mean that the Eida’s poskim do. The Eida poskim likely have definitive psakim on those issues, in which case, the charges of racism are unfounded. Again, this is not a halachic debate in which you can try to suggest potential kulas to find a reason lehakel, the Eida has a right not to be meikil on any of those issues, the question is whether there was racism involved. Given that the Eida is known as the most machmir hashgacha, that is meikil on as little as possible, the answer is obvious.

  5. Baruch Nissonovich says:

    I believe the Chief Rabbinate does not require evem geirut l’chumra. They did originally, but under political pressure they backtracked and adopted R Ovadiah Yosef’s view that no geirus is necessary. I believe that the Rav, too, did not agree with R Ovadiah’s position and was extremely skeptical of the proposition that a community that had never heard of Moshe Rabeinu could be considered Jewish.

  6. Raymond says:

    I knew absolutely nothing about this controversy until reading the above article. While I have certain long-standing issues with the Chareidim, it is clear to me from what I read above, that this is a matter of secularists looking for any excuse to disparage religious Jews, and that basically, those secularists have no idea what they are talking about. If they cared to hear my advice, I would tell the secularists to consider studying some Torah so as to decrease their ignorance, but if they simply will not, then at least find somebody else to pick on. People often talk about religion mixing too much into affairs of the State, but in this particular case, it is the State who is sticking their collective nose into religious matters, where it does not belong.

  7. Yosh says:

    Rav ovadya זל held they needed conversion until circa 1980… he then swithed his view
    2) DNA says they are not jewish
    3) they mostly refuse to convert now because of left wing incitment … the women are converted at the mikva when they marry

  8. Joel Rich says:

    It’s indicative of a fractured halachic system with no sanhedrin to say here’s the deal.
    very appropriate for a time when we sign off with She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

    Joel Rich

  9. mycroft says:

    “2) DNA says they are not jewish”
    Re DNA as testing for Jewish roots see
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_studies_on_Jews
    see especially
    “The maternal lineages of Jewish populations, studied by looking at mitochondrial DNA, are generally more heterogeneous.[25] Scholars such as Harry Ostrer and Raphael Falk believe this may indicate that many Jewish males found new mates from European and other communities in the places where they migrated in the diaspora after fleeing ancient Israel.[26]

    Two studies in 2006 and 2008 suggested that about 40% of Ashkenazi Jews originate maternally from just four female founders which are likely of Near-Eastern origin, while the populations of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities “showed no evidence for a narrow founder effect”.[27][25]

    With the exception of Ethiopian Jews and Indian Jews, it has been argued that all of the various Jewish populations have components of mitochondrial genomes that were of Middle Eastern origin.[28][5]

    In 2013, however, Richards et al. published work suggesting that an overwhelming majority of Ashkenazi Jewish maternal ancestry, estimated at “80 percent of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry comes from women indigenous to Europe, and [only] 8 percent from the Near East, with the rest uncertain”,[29] suggesting that Jewish males migrated to Europe and took new wives from the local population, and converted them to Judaism. Another study by Eva Fernandez and her colleagues argues that the K lineages (claimed to be European in origin by Richards et al.) in Ashkenazi Jews might have an ancient Near Eastern source.[30] “

  10. Ben Waxman says:

    One can be sympathetic to the Eida’s adherence to their standards and still say “I want nothing to do with an organization that treats people I consider to be Jews in such a manner”.

  11. David Ohsie says:

    “This proposal is quite problematic. The suggestion that the state can interfere with private supervisory organizations imposing their standards on the products they certify is misplaced and dangerous.”

    Makes sense. So then you decry the Israeli Rabbinate’s monopoly on marriage in Israel and support Tzohar in enabling Rabbis to make their own decisions on who can be married?

  12. David Ohsie says:

    “On this issue, the Eidah’s position in fact reflects the consensus of contemporary authorities and it is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who is in the minority…Thus, no Orthodox Jew (perhaps besides those who follow Rabbi Ovadia Yosef exclusively) should accept wines manufactured by non-converted Ethiopians.”

    Does the Israeli Rabbinate accept them as Jews? Do you see the problem with each person setting their own standard for Geirus?

    “Rabbis who insist that Ethiopians must convert include such luminaries as Rabbis Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe Y.D. 4:41)”

    Rav Moshe says explicitly that he isn’t paskening and defers to the Israeli authorities. http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14679&st=&pgnum=301

  13. David Ohsie says:

    “However, the mad rush to accuse Barkan and the Eidah of racism stemmed largely from ignorance of the fact that the Jewish status of Beta Israel is actually a serious halakhic issue.”

    Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yosef said he takes a grave view of what was done to the employees, whom he described as religiously observant. “There is no explanation for such a directive other than pure racism. Ethiopian immigrants are Jews in every sense of the word,” Yosef said.

  14. Ben Waxman says:

    A few points:
    1) Raymond: Except for the bill submitted by that MK, the response came from the public, not the state. It was people (like myself) who wrote to Barkan and told them that they won’t be buying their product anymore who got the company to change its heksher. Society has every right to chose not to use Eida certified products.

    2) “There is no question that this affair could have been handled much more quietly and sensitively.” This was not mere insensitivity. This move was insulting to people considered Jewish. Insulting a ger or a Jew is a sin. Being machmir doesn’t apply only to issues like checking lettuce. It also applies to mitzvot ben adam l’chaveir.

    3) I didn’t hear that the Eida wanted to clear up their status. What the Eida’s press release said was that they don’t want to judge individual cases and have to decide who is a Jew and who isn’t.

    4) “Like it or not, the fact that these employees are Ethiopian is immediately visible. ” Which is exactly the problem! Making an immediate judgement about certain people based on their skin color (while ignoring the fact that the people are all Shomer Shabbat) is racist! Any Russian, by the Eida’s logic, should also have to undergo giyur. But they don’t check everyone tuedat zehut to see if there is a Sergei or Boris working there.

  15. Yaakov Hoffman says:

    David Ohsie–My understanding is that the Chief Rabbi, Rav Yitzchak Yosef, is quite defensive about his father’s rulings. Rav Ovadia was the one who insisted that Ethiopians do not need any conversion. Rav Yitzchak Yosef therefore does not acknowledge any doubt that the Ethiopians are halakhically Jewish. With this frame of mind, transferring the workers seemed to him like a racist act. My argument is that this approach is misguided because Rav Ovadia’s opinion is in fact not the consensus.

  16. jewinjerusalem says:

    I remember that the psak of R’ Moshe was in the Jewish Observer (remember that?) at the time. He suggested that the Jewish community assist in their escape from Ethiopia. But, they should be taken to another country until they would fully convert so they would not mix with the Jewish community until then.

    Bottom line: Virtually all poskim require geirus for them. R’ Ovadya backtracked after their protests. (I remember getting stuck in one of them when I went to the dentist near Heichal Shlomo.) Who relies on a pask that is a result of a protest?

    There is another point. The Eidah never said what bothers them. Did these three people never convert? Or did they convert with someone they don’t trust? Or what? The eidah doesn’t have a good track record with geirim. I once sent a student there to get a marriage license. They refused to help him because they “don’t deal with geirim.” So I guess they ignore parts of Shulchan aruch.

  17. Yaakov Hoffman says:

    David—Reb Moshe says he is not paskening regarding teaching them Torah. In the 4th paragraph he writes clearly that it is forbidden to consider them Jewish prior to conversion. But the point is moot anyway since most Gedolim in EY paskened that they require conversion.

    There is no comparison to the Tzohar issue. We are not discussing is not whether or not it is permissible for the Badatz to act as a private kashrut organization, and whether the state will recognize its kashrut. The question is the state acting as arbiter of the halakhic standards of the organization itself.

  18. Yaakov Hoffman says:

    Ben–That is not racism! They were not making a “judgment” about these workers–it is purely based in fact. Think about the case of an Asian person in the Jewish community. It is simply a fact that no one who was born Jewish, and whose recent ancestors were all born Jewish, looks Asian. Thus, you know immediately that he or she is either a convert or the child of converts. Similarly, for those who do not accept Beta Israel as Jewish, there is no escaping the fact that all persons with that skin color are either non-Jews, have a convert in their immediate ancestry, or are converts themselves.

    If the Badatz had found out by any other means that one of the employees at Barkan was a convert or had a converted mother, they would similarly have investigated that worker’s status.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    Yaakov Hoffman wrote,

    “Similarly, for those who do not accept Beta Israel as Jewish, there is no escaping the fact that all persons with that skin color are either non-Jews, have a convert in their immediate ancestry, or are converts themselves.”

    Haven’t some known poskim held, despite the shaky or absent paper trail, that this population has obvious African or mixed ancestry but became Jewish by conversion many centuries ago?

  20. bracha says:

    Bob Miller @5:02 pm, Exactly right. Political correctness gone mad; The facts and common sense do not matter where PC is concerned. But with an issue such as ‘Who is a Jew’, it is very serious business and must be treated as such. The underlying reason with some Sephardic Rabbis immediately giving a hechsher on all the ‘wannabe Jews’ from the third world countries, is because they themselves (Sephardim) were terribly mistreated by the Bolshevik Ashkenazic Jews but are now making a great mistake themselves by equating these two completely different matters. The Sephardim are probably the purest of Jews and it was racism that played a part then at the State’s founding by the leftist Ashkenazic Jews.
    These Africans and Asian communities must be carefully scrutinized because the seriousness of ‘who is a Jew’ goes to the very core of our people, heritage and the Laws of our Torah.

  21. Daniel says:

    bracha July 22, 2018 at 11:03 am “The underlying reason with some Sephardic Rabbis immediately giving a hechsher on all the ‘wannabe Jews’ from the third world countries, is because they themselves (Sephardim) were terribly mistreated by the Bolshevik Ashkenazic Jews…”
    You will need to back up that strong statement with evidence, as otherwise its just as easy to argue that the Ashkenazi Rabbis disallowed the conversions because of their underlying racism.

  22. Bob Miller says:

    There are substantive issues. I grow weary of people looking for political reasons for halachic decisions.

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