Wednesday, August 8, 2012

AJWS vs Rabbi Meir Kahane

Before I left for Ghana I scheduled a few blog posts

For those who don't know (a few months ago I didn't know a few months ago) Ghana is a country on the western coast of Africa.

I am going on a mission with American Jewish world services.  It is part of a Rabbinic fellowship.  Me and 14 other Rabbis form all over America are going to be doing some service in Ghana for 10 days.

During that period there will be no cell phones and no Internet.  I will be blogging the old fashion way, a notebook and a pen, and I hope to put up some interesting posts when I return.

I am actually pretty anxious about the trip.  I had to get an arm full of shots (at Kohll's Pharmacy!  Check out their video!) and I had to buy all kinds of gear to protect me from mosquitoes.

I am also pretty excited.  I am the only Orthodox Rabbi going on the trip.  In fact, I did not initially apply for this fellowship.  I had not even heard of this fellow ship. I vaguely had heard of American Jewish World Services - my sister-in-law did some work for them in India a number of years ago.

American Jewish World Services came to me.  They strive to make their trips pluralistic but they did not have any Orthodox Rabbis going.  They called a friend of mine at the Orthodox Union in New York and asked if they knew any Rabbis who would be interested in going to weird and out of the way places where there are not a lot of Jews.  "Well, we already have a guy in Omaha."  they said.  "Ghana is probably not such a stretch.  Ask him."

My first question was whether or not the program would accommodate Shabbat and Kashrut.  AJWS assured me that they strive to be as inclusive as possible and do everything to make sure that all Jews can participate.

So I sent in an application and I was chosen to participate in the fellowship.

Since then I have become more familiar with AJWS.  Their philosophy is, not-surprisingly, very liberal.  I have read their literature with interest and I am greatly interested in the contrast between them and other Jewish activists that I have read in the past.

For example:
There is a lecture by Rabbi Meir Kahane from the 1960s about being active on behalf of Soviet Jewry. He sites to the Biblical story of Moshe in Egypt.  Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Jew.  Rabbi Kahane says, "Moshe did not see the Egyptian beating the Jew and then go and organize a committee to do a study on the root causes of Egyptian anti-semitism. He got up and saved the Jew by killing the Egyptian."
By contrast, AJWS sent around a text study on the same piece that reads as follows:

while Moses had an instinct for justice, he didn’t yet have a method
for making it happen.  His behavior, while powerful and inspiring, was also
impulsive, occasionally violent and ultimately inadequate.  There was a whole
Egyptian system which allowed the innocent to be beaten, but Moses didn’t
address that—he simply acted on rash impulse.  
On this particular point of disagreement between Rabbi Kahane and AJWS I think I would side with Rabbi Kahane.  While I understand what AJWS is trying to say, I don't think that Moshe's circumstances serve as a good example.  There is a time for violence and I believe that Moshe used proper judgement based on the information available to him and he made a decisive decision to risk everything and save an innocent life - even if it meant he had to kill the aggressor. 

I hope that over the ten days we have a chance to look at this piece.  It will be interesting to discuss my perspective with the rest of the diverse group of Rabbis.


  1. I have to agree with Rabbi Kahane as well. There's a time for reflection and a time for action. Great blog post!

  2. Amen Rabbi. Love to hear what comes of your discussion with modern pluralistic Jewish leaders. Hope your trip brings a little piece of ahavas yisrael and tikkun haolom.