The Strange Case of Mosheh Friedman

Moshe Aryeh Friedman was born in 1972 in Brooklyn and he's currently living in Antwerp, Belgium. He is indeed a practicing Orthodox Jew - but in other ways he is rather un-Orthodox...

When speaking to the Media he introduces himself as Rabbi Moshe Friedman, but his status as Rabbi has been questioned and challenged by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger. "Rabbi" Friedman does not find this particularly troubling since he opposes the existence of Israel and therefore doe snot recognize Rabbi Metzger's authority. His views are somehow close to the Satmar Hassidic group, but he is not affiliated with them. Officials of the Austrian Jewish Community claim that he has not proven that he has completed the rabbinical studies required to earn the title and he was actually expelled from the Board of the Vienna Jewish Community. All this, however, still doesn't justify the decision by the Jewish Orthodox schools in Belgium to deny admission to his boys...

In 2006, Moshe Friedman participated in the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, which took place in Tehran with the participation of famous Holocaust deniers and a clear agenda of rejection of the historical facts of the Nazi Genocidal war against the Jews. While at that Conference he made himself also known for proposing the dissolution of the State of Israel and the relocation of the Jews living there to the countries from which they came. The reason for his expulsion of the Board of the Vienna Jewish Community was his alignment with the Freedom Party in Vienna, an extreme right wing Party with Neo-Nazi overtones. But there is more...

After meeting Hamas official Atef Adwan in Stockholm in 2006, Moshe Friedman announced his intention of building a coalition between Hamas and anti Zionist Jews to bring about Israel's dissolution. To this day, Moshe Friedman insist that the Holocaust was a much smaller event than presented by historians and that it was exaggerated by the Jews to pave the way for the creation of Israel. He claimed during an interview in 2009 that he doesn't consider himself anti Zionist and that there is no such a thing as anti Zionist Jews, although he insisted on his alternate version of the Holocaust and on the need to dissolve the State of Israel.

Mr Friedman should be respected in his right to hold his own opinions on History and on Zionism, even if we disagree with him (as I personally do most emphatically). On the other hand, religious schools of any religion and of any denomination have the right to set standards for their own functioning and for their own admission policies. State interference with those policies and standards is a flagrant violation of the separation between religion and politics (or as we call it in America, Separation of Church and State) and a serious setback for the philosophy of Modernity which allowed the Emancipation of Jews in Europe and set the foundation for America's Democratic Ideals.

Another interesting question is why did Mr Friedman initiate legal action against a Girls' school instead of against any of the many Boys' Schools which rejected his children? As an Orthodox Jew, it would be certainly problematic for him to have his boys pursue religious studies with Girls.

Several years ago, while in Lexington, I learned of an Anti Israel demonstration about to take place downtown, and I went to monitor developments. The demonstration, while supporting a political position I certainly oppose, was mostly peaceful so I didn't see it as a problem. I did meet at that demonstration, however, a curious character to introduced himself to me as "Rabbi Ricky" and was dressed in the traditional attire of most Hassidic Jews; furthermore, he was laying on Tefilim as the speakers were spewing their venom from the stage. I discreetly approach him and suggested to him to go lay tefilim to some different location for his own safety. To make sure he understood my intentions, I showed him my business card as Executive Director of the local Jewish Federation. Upon seeing the card, he looked at me and said "These people are my friends - I am a Palestinian Jew". Upon research, it turned out that "Rabbi Ricky" was not even Jewish, and he was born in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Who defines "membership" in a community? Is is solely Halachah that defines a Jew? In that case, Rabbi Moshe Friedman should not be denied access to Jewish education for his children. Or is it exclusively a personal choice? In that case, Rabbi Ricky who never even underwent formal conversion, is as much a Jew as Moshe Friedman is. Other question which have haunted Jews in America for decades are even more the child of a Jewish father and non Jewish mother to be considered Jewish? If somebody undergoes conversion following Halachah but certified by a non Orthodox Beth-Din, is the conversion valid?. All these questions are very good ones, but they ignore the most basic one...

Belonging to any Human group demands a two-way street. The individual must define him or herself as part of that group, but the group must also believe that the individual meets the group definition of itself. Mutual acceptance is the basis for community belonging. Under these rules, "Rabbi Ricky" is out. But how about "Rabbi Friedman"? - he presents a more difficult question, since his disagreements with the mainstream Jewish community are not over religious beliefs or religious practice but, in his opinion, just "political".

While the fact of Moshe Friedman's Jewish identity cannot be denied, his qualifications for the Rabbinate were certainly challenged by several top authorities in the Orthodox Jewish community, so he is not entitled to use the title of "Rabbi". In addition, most Jewish schools or Jewish organizations define themselves not only as "Jewish" but also as responding to additional qualifications and boundaries. Some organizations are "Zionist", others are "Labor", others are "Secular", and of course, there will be "Orthodox", "Conservative", "Reform", "Reconstructionist", etc. Some of these boundaries are more permeable than others, but each and every one of these organizations can be expected to reject individuals who openly attack or undermine the organization's self-definition within the Jewish world.

State intervention in these internal organizational matters is not only a violation of the fundamentals of Modernity, but it is also a violation of the individual rights of these organizations to freely assemble according to their beliefs.

We might never be able to come up with a definition of "Who is a Jew" which will satisfy every Jew in the world - but we can defend our right to preserve our ideological and religious integrity and individuality, and we have the right to reject political intervention to limit our rights if, as in this case, do not harm anybody outside the group.

And Mr Friedman, if you deny the historical realities of the Holocaust, and if you demand the dissolution of the State of Israel, and if you embrace an Iranian dictator bent on genocidal war against Israel - I don't care how big your check might be...your contribution will not be welcome at the Jewish Federation.


Add Comment