Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rambam's Daughter

"Rambam" is the Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known to the western world as Maimonides, the great rabbi, philosopher and physician who was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1135 C.E.

Sephardi Jews, of whom Rambam was one, were scattered all over the world following their expulsion from Spain in 1492, on account of the Catholic Church's inquisition. In 1654, when the Recife in Brazil fell from Dutch hands into the hands of the Portuguese, the Jews of that town had to leave on pain of death. A ship carrying 23 of the Jewish refugees from Recife landed in Manhattan, then a Dutch colony under the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant. The Governor attempted to keep the Jews out of New Amsterdam, and, after they successfully appealed Stuyvesant's ruling, Stuyvesant continued in his attempts to abridge their civil rights. But the Jewish refugees persevered, and, led by Asser Levy, eventually secured their rights on par with the other residents of New Amsterdam.

In 1664, the British took control of the New Netherlands in 1664. The Articles of Capitulation negotiated between the British and the Dutch provided, inter alia, that the Dutch inhabitants of the colony would enjoy freedom of religion under British rule. When the Dutch recaptured the Colony in 1673, the British subjects there were given the same rights that the Dutchmen in the Colony had enjoyed under the British. When the Colony once again came into British hands in 1674, the personal civil rights, including free exercise of religion, persisted. Indeed, when New York became a State, its delegation insisted that the Bill of Rights be amended to the U.S. Constitution so that they would have the same personal freedoms they had enjoyed under British and Dutch rule.

Another Sefardi Jew, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784 - 1885), put much of his wealth towards philanthropy during his long life. Notwithstanding the exiles, there has always been a continuous residual Jewish presence in the Holy Land from the time of Joshua. Sir Moses Montefiore did much to better the condition of the Jewish population of the Land of Israel during his lifetime.

Eastern Europe became a breeding ground for Jewish scholarship, with numerous yeshivas and other educational institutions. These provided rabbinical support for other Jewish communities throughout the entire world. The Nazis were well aware that destruction of the Eastern European Jewish community would have negative impact upon world Jewry, and proceeded with their evil plans accordingly.

After World War II, the surviving rabbinical leaders from the Eastern European yeshivas transplanted their remnants to America, Israel, and elsewhere. In order to restore their decimated yeshivas, the rabbis took the unprecedented step of instituting long-term full-time religious studies for almost all Jewish males in their communities. In addition to the obvious economic ramifications it has wreaked in the communities, there are also the social repercussions. Jonathan Rosenblum compared it to chemotherapy, a drastic measure that poisons the body -- on a temporary basis -- in order to save the life. It has negative effects.

One of these negative implications is that the communities have become more insular. This insularity goes well beyond the distinction between religious Jews and non-religious Jews. Specifically, there are now religious elementary and junior high schools in Israel (and, for that matter, in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey) that discriminate against Sephardim, and will not admit Sephardi pupils. They do not want their children to be exposed to outside influences, even those of different religious Jewish communities.

Along with everything else, this is ingratitude. Were it not for the groundbreaking efforts of Asser Levy, America might not have been tolerant enough to nurture the religious Jewish communities transplanted from the ashes of the Holocaust after World War II. And were it not for Sir Moses Montefiore, the religious Jews who emigrated to the Holy Land in the 19th Century would surely have had a far rougher time there.

Yet, there are certain religious institutions where even the Rambam's daughter would not be welcome!

The end of the calendar year of 2009 approaches. My wife and I am in the process of sending out our final tzedakah checks for the year, so that we can properly claim the charitable deduction on our taxes. We are taking care to not support institutions that discriminate against religious Jews.

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  • At 03 January, 2010 13:11, Blogger HB said…

    Nice article. What does it have to do with the Rambam's daughter?

  • At 03 January, 2010 14:09, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    HB, read the post. Read it, and read it again.

    And then consider the following:

    Bullet Point One: Rambam was Sephardi!! Therefore, any and all daughters he may have had would be Sephardi.

    Do you understand this up to this point? If not, then read the entire post, and then read it again, and then re-read the foregoing Bullet Point One.

    If you still do not understand it, then keep repeating the foregoing instructions until you do understand!

    If, on the other hand, you DO understand that Rambam's hypothetical daughter, if she were alive today, would be a Sephardi girl, then you are ready to move to the next Bullet Point below.

    Bullet Point Two:

    The Beit Yaakov Girls' School in Immanuel, Israel, discriminates against Sephardi girls.

    Are you with me to this point? If not, then read the entire post, and then read it again, and then re-read the foregoing Bullet Point Two.

    At such time, and on such a re-reading, as you understand that the the Immanuel Beit Yaakov Girls' School discriminates against Sephardi girls, you are now ready to go onward to the next and final Bullet Point.

    Bullet Point Three will connect Bullet Points One and Two.

    Bullet Point Three: If, hypothetically, the Rambam's Daughter were to try to enroll in the Immanuel Beit Yaakov Girls' School, then she would be discriminated against!

    If, by this point, you still do not understand, then there is nothing further I can do to help you.

    For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

  • At 03 January, 2010 21:02, Blogger HB said…

    Thank you for you condescending response. I thought that was your intent.

    It is just that had I wanted to make a point like that, instead of inventing theoretical daughters of the Rambam, I would have used actual descendants of the Beis Yosef and others who are among those who have been shamed and rejected.

    With a bit more homework, you could actually write a more compelling article.

    It's the thought that counts.

  • At 04 January, 2010 01:14, Blogger WBBeinuni said…

    What a nasty response. I will thank you only to print my comment if you intend to respond respectfully.

    I am wondering why you feel the need to demonstrate our indebtedness to the Sephardim by describing the accomplishments of Montefoire and Levy; do we not all use the Shulchan Aruch as our guide? Without the Sephardim the lessons taught in our schools would not have a bottom line!

  • At 04 January, 2010 02:41, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    First, I take this opportunity to publicly apologize to HB. My response to HB's initial post was overly strident.

    By way of explanation, and not of excuse, the strident response came at the heels of some very frustrating interactions with more than one very, very dense person. What I saw as HB's failure to grasp what I thought should have been a very, very obvious point elicited a response that went a bit too far.

    I now ask HB for mechila.

    As for the substance of HB's second posting, HB is totally on the mark. I am not familiar with Beit Yosef genealogy, but certainly, if one or more of the affected young Sephardi girls is in fact a direct descendant of the Beit Yosef, then she would certainly be an excellent exemplar of what is wrong with the policies of the Beit Yaakov Girls' School in Immanuel.

    Likewise, WBBeinuni's observation that Yosef Karo's Shulchan Aruch is a Sephardi innovation would be a far, far better exemplar than Montefiore or Asser Levy.

    The Blog posting in question is obviously not the product of the intense painstaking scholarship I perform in my scholarly capacity (including several articles and research projects currently in progress). I do not always employ the same standards and review processes to this Blog that I do, as a matter of course, with my scholarly research. This Blog is usually an off-the-cuff comment forum for my own comments.

    In any event, I do thank HB and WBBeinuni for bringing these matters to my attention.

    And again, I apologize for my stridency. My temperament too often follows Shammai more than Hillel.

  • At 06 January, 2010 23:55, Blogger Aaron said…

    Interestingly enough, the oldest synagogue in America, Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, was founded by the Sephardim.

    If you've never visited, it is quite an interesting stop with some wonderful history, including being the congregation that was the recipient of George Washington's letter assuring religious freedom for Jews in the United States. Quite an accomplishment.


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