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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rabbi Pesach Lerner Responds

Updated: 7/27 Based on Rabbi Pesach Lerner's feedback, I have updated this article.

In my previous blog post I discussed that Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director of Uri L’Tzedek (a social justice organization) and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah musmach (ordainee) is scheduled to lecture at the Young Israel of Stamford, CT about “Ethical Issues and Kashrut”. I wondered what the Executive Director of the National Council of Young Israel, Rabbi Pesach Lerner thought about this speaking engagement since from several newspaper statements Rabbi Lerner appears to be an Uri L’Tzedek detractor. I contacted Rabbi Lerner via email and received a timely response from him on 7/25, which I appreciate. He stated to me via email that he "feels embarassed for the membership of the Young Israel of Stamford" and that he is "sure that many members of the Young Israel are embarrassed by this topic and speaker; I feel for them". However, Rabbi Lerner also stated "that it is their prerogative" to have Rabbi Ari Weiss lecture.

Rabbi Lerner’s criticism can be distilled to one key statement he wrote to me, “Ethics is not just a buzzword, it is real. One must earn the right to discuss the ethics of something." Rabbi Lerner continued, "Let the members of YI of Stamford decide if this young man has earned that right.” It was apparent that Rabbi Lerner does not believe that Rabbi Ari Weiss has "earned that right", stating that Weiss is a "young man with limited knowledge" of the lecture subject matter and the "totality of Judaism", as well as has "limited [Judaic life] experience". Based on that criteria it seems that Rabbi Lerner would not approve of other individuals from Uri L'Tzedek lecturing at a Young Israel, since their backgrounds appear to be similar to Rabbi Weiss' (see YCT Alumni and The Uri L'tzedek Leadership Team).

Rabbi Lerner provided examples of "experienced" and "educated" lecturers one might expect at a Young Israel:
There are so many experienced, educated individuals ---starting with the Young Israel of Stamford’s new rabbi [Rabbi Naftali Wolfe], who impressed us with his breadth of knowledge and presentation ---within the synagogue, the Jewish community of Stamford and greater Jewish community, who can speak on a myriad of Jewish and general topics.

Sept 13 is two weeks before Rosh Hashana, there are so many people to invite and so many relevant topics to discuss. Sept 13 is two days after Sept 11, an event that carries with it so much memory, discussion, introspection…The National Council of Young Israel has access to so many wonderful speakers on so many topics. We share this information to our branches, all over the country. We are happy to assist the Young Israel of Stamford as well.
I noticed that the Stamford YI presents themselves as being affiliated with with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. I wonder what Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union thinks about this, especially since Uri L'Tzedek was attacking Agriprocessors, a kashrus customer of the OU. I emailed him this blog post, requesting a statement. We'll see if he responds.