Monday, July 25, 2016

"When Heinemann speaks, people listen," says Paul Mendlowitz, senior vice president of DiamondCard Processing Corp., a credit-card processing company in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Mr. Mendlowitz, who is Orthodox, and others countered that since most Web sites don't process transactions on Saturdays, no money changes hands, so the sites should be able to remain open."




Ruling Guides Orthodox Sites' Sabbath Sales

With the rise of e-commerce, that question has long been brewing in Orthodox Jewish circles, and last fall it came to a head with a random phone call to Rabbi Moshe Heinemann.

Rabbi Heinemann, of Star-K Kosher Certification, an international kosher certification organization based in Baltimore, is one of a handful of rabbis in the United States recognized as having mastered the minutia of Jewish law.

He is consulted frequently by Orthodox Jews -- who number some 600,000 in the U.S. -- seeking guidance with the wave of new technology never anticipated by the strictures of Judaism, especially when it involves the Sabbath, which begins at sunset Fridays and ends an hour after sunset Saturdays.

With the dilemma over Web-based businesses before him, Rabbi Heinemann recalled a 45-year-old related ruling by another renowned arbiter of Jewish law. The late Rabbi Yitzchok Weiss had said Orthodox-owned vending machines must be closed, because even though the owner isn't present to make the exchange, he still collects the money. The parallel precedent seemed clear, so Rabbi Heinemann's answer was that Web sites, too, must be unplugged, even though the owner isn't technically doing anything.

A Web site operated by an Orthodox Jew could remain open only "if the shopping cart on the Web site is shut down," ensuring that no actual transactions took place, Rabbi Heinemann ruled in his group's small but influential newsletter Kashrus Kurrents.

The article spurred a storm of protests from Orthodox businessmen concerned that Rabbi Heinemann's ruling, which several rabbis say has the force of law among observant Jews, would mean a loss of online orders.

The 66-year-old Rabbi Heinemann travels around the world certifying everything from ovens manufactured by General Electric Co. that can be programmed to go into "Sabbath mode" -- meaning that food can be kept warm because Orthodox Jews aren't allowed to turn things on by pressing buttons on the Sabbath -- to legal arrangements in which a Jew transfers formal ownership of his business to a gentile one day a week so it can stay open on Saturday. His organization boasts what it calls the world's only Mandarin-speaking rabbi.

Born in Germany, Rabbi Heinemann lived in England and came to the U.S. after World War II ended. He studied at rabbinical college under a prominent rabbi, the late Rabbi Aharon Kotler, dean of Beth Medrash Govoha Seminary, in Lakewood, N.J., the largest rabbinical seminary in the U.S. He has been teaching Jewish law for several decades.

"When Heinemann speaks, people listen," says Paul Mendlowitz, senior vice president of DiamondCard Processing Corp., a credit-card processing company in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Mr. Mendlowitz, who is Orthodox, and others countered that since most Web sites don't process transactions on Saturdays, no money changes hands, so the sites should be able to remain open.

 Israel Sendrovic, a retired executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, weighed in with the protestors, confirming that credit-card transactions over the Internet aren't generally processed Saturdays.

"One of my hottest business days was on Rosh Hashana," says Rabbi Mayer Pasternak, who created Jewishmusic.com, an online emporium of aural Judaica. "I felt a twinge of guilt, coming back and there were a couple hundred orders." The guilt was especially strong, he says, because he assumed that visitors to his site were nearly all Jewish, and should not be browsing the Internet on the Sabbath and holidays at all.

The Talmud, the collection of writings that make up the body of 3,000-year-old Jewish civil and religious law, weighs in on many of the finer points of the Sabbath, but not all of them, and could never have anticipated the explosion of Internet shopping, to name only one technological development that would have confounded the ancient patriarchs. "This is all new," Rabbi Heinemann says.

An infertile Jewish couple once asked the rabbi whether their child would be Jewish if they used a surrogate mother who wasn't. To the couple's relief, Rabbi Heinemann ruled that their child would indeed be Jewish, as the host mother would simply be an "incubator." He even developed an Orthodox procedure for ensuring the paternity and maternity of a baby conceived in a test tube: An Orthodox Jew must be on hand to collect the sperm and the egg and to seal the contents of the test tube.

The rabbi heard from an array of people who disagreed with him on the Web site issue. He was inundated with phone calls both at work and his home, and after mulling over the decision, he handed down a rare reversal in the newsletter's latest issue in May.

"Technically speaking," he wrote, "the vendor's monetary acquisition, the kinyan kesef, happens on a weekday so there is no issue, prohibition of mekach umemkar, business sale transactions, on Shabbos." (It took him 9 long months to swallow his inflated ego, as Jewish money burned)

The issue has quieted down, but the rabbi, who has reversed himself only a handful of times in his 40-year career, says it deserved the attention: "This is something you have to know. Keeping the Sabbath in a proper way is very important to us."


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A Time to Cry - A Time to Learn What is Genuine and What Are Lies!

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The events of the past several years, very obviously demonstrate the way you and your leaders understand our cultural history. But for the few of us that truly understand our history, as I do, untangling some of its complex strands has practical and intellectual consequences.

In my own case, the hardest - and the most challenging - is my never-ending research of Judaism's core values. I had to unlearn what I thought I knew, and was forced to shed presuppositions I had grown up with and taken for granted internally and intellectually.

This type of introspection, difficult to the extreme, has given me the depth of understanding of the Jewish doctrines to which is part of my very being, embedded in my DNA, and has assisted me in determining, at least for myself, what is divine and what is human.

For those who will never experience my struggle, there is no contradiction at all to the divine and human perception, the challenge is integrating the two. They are not diametrically opposed to one another as your ignorant rabbis would have you believe. They rule out that learned and spiritually inclined Jews, have always sought to discern spiritual truth via their intuition, reflection, senses, and creative imagination.

The rabbis that will deny you your God-given intellect, to experience on your own what humankind was destined to evolve into, a mirror-image of the beauty of what could and should be the Divine will of chochmat ha'briah; the understanding of the evolution of the intellect to adapt to today's realities of truth and practicality. What they would want you to forget, that only with the shedding of the "Church" as the arbiter of truth and morality in the U.S. Constitution, a mere couple of hundred of years ago, was then civilization, at least the United States, able to remove its intellectual shackles burdened and encumbered by nonsense, cruelty, ignorance and hell.

We've developed more in the last few hundred years, than we have in the last untold thousands. That does not come without a price, however. But that is not the thrust of this post.

Rabbis who will deny such experiences, can teach us anything they choose to about God,and have always identified themselves as our "guardians" of the ancient traditions, or Mesorah. They will preach with fire in their eyes and bimah-banging that it is only they that can determine your faithfulness - by your ability to abide by their interpretation of what was handed down from ancient witnesses -- never adding or subtracting anything unless you consult with them first. And these "guardians", who refer to themselves as the "eini ha'edah" or the eyes of the community, that this view of their role expresses appropriate humility; and it vests them and them alone of the Divine Truth, with God's own authority.

These so-called leaders, of course could not ban the imagination entirely, but they effectively channeled your religious imagination to support their opinions, no matter how cruel and ignorant they may be. Everything you are, they teach, is because you are merely an extension of them, not individuals who have the ability to know right from wrong. And if you stray; like Heaven forbid, do not consult with them if an ongoing series of heinous crimes and cover ups are transpiring under your noses, by the very rabbis that will have you consult with them only, than it is you that is the heretic, the maskil, the sheigetz, the oisvorf and the menuvel.

But in fact, these "heretics" having left the intellectual Jewish ghettos of New York, have impoverished the very system that they outgrew. These "heretics" often walk alone - despite the fact that the spiritual inquiry that they undertook, forcing them to leave their ghettos of origin behind, have become primary sources of inspiration to tens of thousands, and eventually their ideas to the vast majority of Jews, because ultimately I pray "right makes might"!

What such people seek, however, is NOT a different set of rules and obligations to their faith, but rather insights or intimations of the Divine, that would validate themselves in experience. Some who have engaged on this path pursue it in voluntary solitude; others participate in various forms of worship, prayer and action, or a combination of the above.

Engaging in such a practice requires the highest form of faith, or belief, but it also involves so much more; the trust that enables us to commit ourselves to what we hope and love. We have the knowledge and experience to declare boldly; "THIS IS NOT SO, I DO NOT ACCEPT THAT!"

The sociologist Peter Berger points out that everyone who participates in tradition today chooses among elements of that tradition. We survived thousands of years BECAUSE we were able to relive, reinvent, and transform what we received.

This act of choice - which the term heresy originally meant - leads us back to the problem that Orthodoxy meant to resolve; how can we tell truth from lies? What is genuine and thus connects us with one another and with reality, and what is shallow, self-serving, or evil? Anyone who has seen foolishness, sentimentality, delusion, and murderous rage disguised as God's truth, knows that there is no easy answer to this dichotomy. Orthodox Judaism distrusts your capacity to make such discrimination and insists on making them for us. Given the often notorious human capacity for self-deception, we can thank your so-called rabbis for this. And the many of you that wish to be spared hard work, gladly accept what these rabbis tell you.

But the fact that we do not have a simple answer, does not mean we should evade the question. We have also seen the hazards - even terrible harm - that sometimes result from unquestioning of religious authority. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman's tyrannical, unforgivable conduct during the Holocaust comes immediately to mind. Thousands went to their death upon instruction from him. How many hundreds of thousands of "modeh ani l'fanechahs" will forever remain unsaid every morning from the mouths of children?, perhaps only God knows, but I suspect that He does not know either.

Many of us, however, sooner or later, at critical points in our lives, will have to make our own path where none exists. And that, done correctly, is a good thing. As for me, I am resolute, passionate in my beliefs, non-yielding to any ideological foe that crosses my path. I live in my head and in my contemplative soul. Any setback I view as temporary and a challenge to outhink my opponent. I never concede to evil, never...and I never will. My children and your children are counting on me, whether they know it or not.

And so are you....

As the posuk in יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Isaiah - 10:13 says, "The light of Israel will be fire and its Holy One - flame, it will burn and consume its thorns..."

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