The Rabbi Blacklist
This week we had the fast of 17th of Tammuz. It begins a period referred to as The Three Weeks in the Jewish calendar. These weeks commemorate a lousy time in Jewish history that culminates on Tisha B’Av – the 9th of Av – the day when a number of tragedies took place such as the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples, expulsion from Spain and a whole bunch of other miserable things throughout our history.
The Talmud points out that the 2nd Temple was destroyed because of Sinat chinam – gratuitous dislike that Jews had for one another. The Talmud also states that we unfortunately suffer this same malaise because it says that any generation that does not rebuild our Temple is equally responsible for its demise, just like the generation when it occurred. In other words, we don’t get off scot free and cannot point fingers at those folks of a couple of thousand of years ago and declare that they messed it up for us. Nope, we continue to mess it up the self-same way right here and right now so long as the Temple is not rebuilt in our day and age.
So in keeping with this great tradition of infighting, this week the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel came out with a blacklist of 160 Rabbis in the United States and elsewhere. While the Chief Rabbi himself, Rabbi David Lau did not sanction such a list, it nevertheless arose from his office unbeknownst to him. It primarily concerned itself with Rabbis of all denominations whose conversions may be questionable.
So when I heard about this, I quickly searched the internet to find the list to see who was on it. And lo and behold, I was extremely disappointed. As I scoured the alphabetized list (by first names and not last for some reason) I looked it over with bated breath to see if I made the cut: Steve Schwartz, Yaakov Kalmanofsky.
Noooooo – and there it wasn’t – my name!!! They left me off!
“How can that be?!” I wondered. Granted I have not been involved in too many conversions but I am sure if they searched hard enough they could have found one of my candidates (as our local Beit Din calls them) not up to snuff. And if I may confess, one young lady freaked out right after she converted and went AWOL for some time.
But more – don’t these Rabbis in Israel know that I quote many secular bands and artists that they would find offensive, unacceptable and would strongly feel should not share the same pages as Rashi or Rambam? Surely I ought to be blacklisted for that. Ok, maybe Gordon Lightfoot is somewhat innocuous and what bad can you say about Jackson Browne? But what about Madonna? Yeah, Israeli Rabbinate, have you heard that I included a Madonna song in my Torah essays? Better, you know what another artist, Andrea True did before she sang “More More More – How Do You Like It?” that I once quoted? Google it… or better yet, maybe you shouldn’t.
Or how about the gay issue? I have a regular lesbian couple coming to our services on Shabbat (even though they have not been around lately). Not only are they welcome with open arms but they usually sit in the first or second row. Gay women have accompanied Karen on JWRP trips to Israel. Why, I should be right up there with Rabbi Dweck from London.
Or how about my take on Chabad? Some of these Charedi rabbis have a real hard time with Chabad. Well, hello? Have they not seen my piece entitled “I Am Chabad” that I wrote a few years ago? That article was one of the top 10 ten articles on COLlive.com in their “best of” year-end online issue. If you have issues with Chabad, then you need to have issues with me.
Don’t they know that a CFL player once called me a “Badass Rabbi” and that one of my congregants made me a sweat shirt with that logo? Ok, I don’t go around wearing it, but how many Badass Rabbis do they know?
I mean, I need to get on that list. I want to be on that list. Why you wonder? You know what they say, “Any PR is good PR.” Can you imagine if I got blacklisted? You know how many people would suddenly want to come to Aish? “Hey let’s go to Aish and check out the blacklisted Rabbi there. I hear he is real badass.” As one Facebook user said in the comments, what great street cred to be on that list. I was ready to add it to my bio. “Rabbi Nightingale has been married to Karen for 29 years, is the proud father of seven children, one grandchild and been blacklisted by the Israeli Rabbinate.”
As I contemplated this lack of dubious distinction, it made me think of how little impact I might be having on the greater Jewish world. A joke came to me that summed up this whole sad episode in my life. The story is told that at the Kol Nidrei service one year, in the middle of this most solemn evening, the rabbi spontaneously jumped from his chair, opened the holy ark, threw himself to the ground and before the Torahs proclaimed, “Oh dear God, I am a nothing, I am dust, I am sand, I am a zero, a gournisht.” Prostrated, he cries hysterically and a huge hush came over the congregation during this dramatic moment.
Ten minutes later the Chazzan does the same; opening the ark, throwing himself to the ground and also proclaiming his utter nothingness to the same shock of the congregants.
Soon after the Shamash – the guy who takes care of and cleans up the synagogue – follows suit and throws himself to the ground in front of the Ark. Whereupon the Rabbi leans over to the Chazzan and indignantly asks, “Who does this guy think he is to say he is a nothing?!”
And maybe that’s the problem. Who do I think I am that I deserve to be on that blacklist? Maybe I am not such a hot shot. Maybe I am just a minor leaguer in the larger Rabbi world out there. And, as if to rub salt into the wound, a few days ago a fellow who moved to Israel and just got engaged presented my letter attesting to his Jewishness to the Rabbinate in Jerusalem. They asked, “Who is Rabbi Nightingale?”. Arrrrgggghhhh! How am I supposed to get on their blacklist when they don’t even know I exist?!!!
I guess I will just have to try to work a little bit harder. In the meantime, hopefully I will just do what I do best – provide a little perspective and humour on the whole situation. And maybe when we all get a grip, we will be able to deal with our differences in a more civil fashion. But until then…
We want our names on all the lists
Don’t really mind if they’re misspelled
And if nobody takes a picture
We take pictures of ourselves
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida