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November 22, 1985 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-11-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

44

Friday, November 22, 1985 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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Monday, December 2, 1985 12:00 Noon
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25242 Greenfield • Oak Park •

Cracow Incident Typifies
American Jewish Rift

BY IRVING GREENBERG
Special to The Jewish News

Consul General of Israel, Chicago

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One of the saddest moments of
recent Jewish communal life oc-
curred last month in Cracow.
Rabbi Emily Korzenick rose to
greet Eric Strom on the occasion
of his bar mitzvah — the first
bar mitzvah in a decimated and
aging Jewish community of
Cracow in 30 years. As she
strode onto the Bimah, one
Rabbi Nachum Elbaum, who
had come from America purpor-
tedly to represent Orthodox
interests, pulled her tallis off —
to prevent what he considered a
desecration of that holy place.
The bar mitvah's grandfather
, gave her another tallis and she
began to speak. "But ladies can-,
not speak in the synagogue,"
Rabbi Elbaum repeated. Rabbi
Korzenick completed her hom-
ily, nonetheless.
The saddest part of this inci-
dent was not the shame of such
a spectacle on the front page of
the New York Times. Nor was it
Rabbi Elbaum's pathetic inabil-
ity to offer a credible rationale
for his objections. The truth is
that the symbolism and inspira-
tion of a bar mitzvah in Cracow
— 40 years after the Holocaust
— transcends the embarrass-
ment. The saddest revelation of
the incident is the extent to
which the Orthodox and the rest
of the Jewish community now
live in two worlds which lack
both an elementary basis of
common speech and some
mechanism of reconciling con-
flicting visions of reality.
A month before the bar
mitzvah, the story of the forth-
coming ceremony appeared in
the Anglo-Jewish press and fi-
nally was picked up in right-
wing Orthodox Circles. For their
part, these Orthodox understood
only one thing. The great
synagogue of the Rema (Rabbi
Moses Isserles, 1525-1572) was
to have a bar mitzvah led by a
non-Orthodox woman rabbi.
The thought that a non-
Orthodox rabbi, and a woman at
that, -would lead the service
struck them as a travesty. For
them, there was no sense of the
joy of the bar mitzvah, there
was only a sense of desecration.
Still less, was there any em-
pathy for the ethical propriety
and gain in dignity which the
average non-Orthodox Jew per-
ceives in a woman rabbi's role.
There was only outrage at this
aggressive incursion by Jews,
lacking in learning and obser-
vance, into a synagogue which
had followed Orthodox practice
for centuries. A strong protest
was put out in the name of
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Dean of
the Orthodox decisors in
America.
The Cracow Jews are for the
most part not Orthodox; they
follow that practice mostly out
of respect for their past tradi-

Irving Greenberg is president of
CLAL, the National Jewish
Center for Learning and
Leadership.

tion. They do receive help and
their cemeteries have been kept
up with the help of Orthodox
groups such as Agudath Israel.
Once the protest was made, they
did not wish to offend any
group. For their part, the
Americans were eager to avoid a
public confrontation. They felt
bad that the Orthodox felt bad,
but they weren't going to re-
pudiate a woman rabbi for being
either non-Orthodox or a
woman. In consultation, the idea
of switching the bar mitzvah to
the normally closed Tempel
Synagogue was worked out.

The switch did not mollify the
Orthodox. There is no
mechanism for dialogue, for dis-
cussing religious differences be-
tween Orthodox and non-

In the entire
incident, not a
single leading
Orthodox rabbi
disowned Rabbi
Elbaun's
embarrassing
outburst and
confrontational
intervention.

Orthodox Jews, particularly
none at the level of rabbis and
theologians.
At the end, the right pres-
sured the leadership of the Rab-
binical Council of America
(modern Orthodox) to speak out.
Were there serious alliances or
contact between the groups, the
RCA might have suggested, pri-
vately, letting the shift of loca-
tion serve as a solution to avoid
public controversy. Or, it might
have privately expressed some
understanding of the differing
perceptions of Orthodox and
non-Orthodox Jews and
suggested that for the sake of
peace, Rabbi Korzenick with-
draw.
In the absence of any restrain-
ing alliances, the RCA instead
elected to go with the right-wing
and issued a public blast stating
that for a Reform or Conserva-
tive rabbi to officiate at the
Remu Synagogue, "would be a
betrayal of Jewish history." This
brought an angry counterblast
from Rabbi Alexander Shapiro,
head of the Rabbinical Assembly
(Conservative). Shapiro has
been trying to create bridges be-
tween the groups but such a
total denial of rabbinic dignity
to the non-Orthodox evoked his
strongest condemnation —
which further clouds chances for
dialogue.
Rabbi Korzenick and the
Strom family came seeking as
peaceful a ceremony as possible.
They brought a male survivor
capable of leading an Orthodox
service to officiate. Then it was

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