Thursday, July 19, 2007

Background Information and The History of Rabbinical Ordinations

Background Information and The History of Rabbinical Ordinations
By Rabbi Yaakov Siegel
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - July 19, 2007

In recent months, The Awareness Center has issued articles and opinions about the giving and revoking of Smichah (rabbinical ordination). I would like to clarify certain things in this regard, and to offer some suggestions that might be helpful.

First of all, our ordination is not an unbroken chain from Moses. There was indeed such an ordination, but it died out (or, more correctly was killed out) in the fourth century c.e. by a systematic Roman decree (anyone giving or receiving ordination, as well as all Jewish residents of the town it was given in, or if outside a town, then the nearest town, would be killed). That is why the early Rabbis of the Talmud have the title rabbi, and the later ones rav, the latter indicating that while a sage, he lacked official ordination.

Maimonides opines that the chain could be restarted if all the sages in the Land of Israel would ordain one man, that man would resume the chain. There were several unsuccessful attempts to do this, most notably in the 16th century. There is currently another effort in this direction, but, so far, has met with little support.

After the 4th century, sages were looked to for guidance and instruction, but there was no ordination process. It should be noted that there is no currently observed Jewish ritual that needs a rabbi. Any Jew can perform any function, provided he knows all the applicable laws, and abides by them. The function of a rabbi at a wedding, for instance, is to ensure that all rituals are done properly. This is in contrast to Christian marriage, where the priest or minister make the marriage. In Judaism, the couple and witnesses make the marriage. The rabbi is a sort of legal adviser.

Around the year 1300, a prominent German rabbi was troubled by the phenomenon of unqualified people presenting themselves for communal positions (nothing new under the Sun!). He instituted a rule in Germany that no one could serve as a rabbi unless he was authorized by a recognized figure. This authorization was called smichah, although it had little to do with the original smichah. It was, in effect, a letter of recommendation, as good aw the person giving it. This procedure was challenged by many (the great North African rabbi, Yitzchal ben Sheshet, wrote a responsum that a rabbi is made not by a letter, but by the acceptance of the community [Teshuvot HaRivash 271]). However the practice spread, and became standard in most Jewish communities.

It should be clear that a rabbi's legitimacy depends on his knowledge and integrity, not on his ordination. One very prominent East European rabbinical figure of the late 19th and early 20th century was without ordination nearly all of his life. When the Polish government required him to get an official ordination, he simply went to one of his disciples to be ordained!

Since the 14th century, most communities required a rabbi to be certified (ordained) by known and respected figures. A rabbi might have several such smichot to show the extent of his acceptance. In ultra-Orthodox circles this is still the norm. I personally have seven Smichot.

In modern orthodox circles, as well as non-Orthodox circles, institutional (Yeshiva or Seminary) ordination has largely replaced private Smichot.

Now we may understand why a particular body can not "defrock" a rabbi whom they did not ordain, or even recognize. It isn't an "either you do or don't have Smicha" situation. The Smicha is as good as the person giving it. If a particular rabbi or seminary felt that one of their ordainees was no longer worthy, they may issue such a statement. No one else could.

In Israel, the Chief Rabbinate has legal standing. Rabbinical positions are, in effect, civil service
positions, funded jointly by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. Only those
either ordained by the Chief Rabbinate, or those who have been personally approved by one of the Chief Rabbis (some positions require approval of three members of the Supreme Rabbinical Council too) may serve as a rabbi. That is why in Israel an official rabbi may be "defrocked" i.e. no longer recognized by the institution of the Chief Rabbinate. People outside the "system" i.e. rabbis without the authorization of the rabbinate, have no legal status anyway.

Before we can discuss how to deal with our "bad apples" and the rabbis and institutions who seem insensitive to the situation, I think we need to understand the dynamics of the situation. There was and is a tiny minority of "rabbis" who sell smichot. However, these are widely known (years ago there was even one who advertised the sale of smichot in the newspapers), and shunned by other rabbis.

There is, however, a danger to unsophisticated congregations who don't do their homework when hiring a rabbi. Then there is another small group that gives ordination as a favor, usually to help someone get a position so as to earn a living. their motive is unselfish, but nevertheless dangerous to the community. However, even great rabbis may be lulled into silence for one of several reasons.

First, there is the fear of violating the prohibition of Lashon Hara - slander. There are many laws governing this grievous sin. Although there are clear rules when one may expose an evildoer, few rabbis have the resources to check out the veracity of charges. The feeling is "since I can't be sure, better I do nothing."

Second, there is the concern for causing the offender to lose his livelihood. Recently, a colleague of mine was studying with another rabbi in the study hall of a well known yeshiva. A menial worker at the yeshiva was insulted, or at least thought he was insulted, by a student in his early teens. The worker grabbed the student by the throat.

My friend came to the students defense, and was struck. The boy's father called the authorities, and the worker was arrested. That evening the man came to evening services at the yeshiva, and the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) stood up and shook his hand warmly.

My friend asked the Rosh Yeshiva for the meaning of his actions. He informed my friend that he had personally bailed him out. When my friend protested, the Rosh Yeshiva said "Don't you realize that this miserable job is this man's only livelihood?" Undoubtedly, the Rosh Yeshiva felt he was performing an act of ultimate chessed-kindness. He apparently felt that this came before the physical safety of the students.

Third, there is concern for the honor of the offenders family. While this is a legitimate concern, it must, of course, be balanced with the honor of the victim.

Fourth, there is a fear of getting the secular authorities involved. Although the Halachah (Jewish law) provides for cases where a person who is a danger may be given over to the police, the fear of doing so in a case which might not be true deters most.

Fifth, there is the fear of chillul Hashem-desecrating the Name of G-d were it to be known that a "rabbi" had committed unspeakable evils. This must be balanced with the principle "in a place of desecration of G-d's Name, we give no honor even to a rabbi."

Sixth, there is a concept of despising a scholar. Maimonides considers this a serious form of heresy.
Many will simply not believe that a earned man could do such base things. They usually are right, but, unfortunately, not always. So, protecting the offender is usually done from a feeling of misplaced altruism, fueled by the real feeling that the allegations may, in fact, be false.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Eisemann Family Tree

Eisemann Family Tree

Please note there are two Rabbi Moshe Eisemann's.  One was affiliated with the Yeshiva of Vineland, NJ. The other is associated with Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Baltimore, MD.  They are both related and are first cousins.


The following is for informational purposes only. The Awareness Center is providing the following to help the average reader better understand the political arena the alleged survivors, witnesses and victim advocates have been subject to.

The majority of individuals around the world are unfamiliar with the Eisemann families and or the political influences that have surrounded his life.

As in most cases, it is a very difficult to deal with situations of sexual violence when a loved one is the alleged or convicted sex offender. Think about it—what would you do if you suspected that someone you are related to or are friends with is sexually inappropriate? Would you talk to him/her about it? Would you tell another family member or friend? Would you share it with your rabbi? Would your rabbi know what to do? Would you seek professional help or advice? Should you keep quiet to protect your family member or sound the whistle to protect another? How would your community react if they knew someone in your family allegedly sexually victimized another? Would your community's expected reaction influence any decision you'd make? These are just few of the numerous dilemmas and questions regularly posted to The Awareness Center.

Dealing with alleged and convicted sex offenders and their family members presents complex ethical issues. What can be harder than being the mother or the father of a sex offender?

Denial is clearly the first line of defense, because who in their right mind wants to believe that their offspring, someone they love and care for, could hurt a child? How can a parent even think of supposedly relinquishing their instinct to protect their child by reporting him or her to the authorities? It is a terrible dilemma. Could you as a parent turn your child over to the police? Could you force an adult child of yours into sex offender treatment? And what would friends and other family members think if they learned that you were the parent of a sexual predator? A similar between a rock and a hard place is the reality for people who are married to sex offenders.

What about the stigma and shame if anyone learned your secret, learned that you married, live with and or bed such a person? And what about the children of a sex offender—how would you feel if you were one? How would you face your friends, schoolmates, or co-workers once your parent's criminal behavior was made public? Would you still be allowed in your friends' homes? Would you still have friends? Would you and your siblings face shunning and stigma come marriage age?

These heartbreaking and complicated issues are real, and need to be addressed. We need to address them as a community. Every alleged and convicted sex offender has parents, family, friends and colleagues—people who are close to him/her and are faced with this reality, often unprepared, and in many ways, also victimized, hurt, confused, disillusioned, and ashamed.

Do you know of a family member or friend of an alleged or convicted sex offender? It is critical that you don't turn your backs on them. They need your support. Put yourself in their place. If you were one, what would you need?

The spouse of an alleged and/or convicted sex offender may need financial support while the offender is in prison and or treatment. If there are children in the home, the non-abusive spouse may have to keep them away from the offender to keep them safe. Can you imagine the feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and fear that the non-offending parent will need to deal with?

Every member of a family of alleged and/or convicted sex offenders will need the community's emotional, financial, and spiritual support. And what a difference such support can make in the healing process of non-offending family members; versus them being shunned for their "association" with a sexual predator and/or for helping to stop the abuse.

There is no doubt that we all have a moral obligation to help stop sexual violence so that offenders cease to victimize and the victims receive the healing they deserve. Whether we know the offender or not, hiding, denying and covering up his or her actions make us accomplices to the crime. At the same time, the pain of having a family member or friend who is an alleged or convicted sex offender has to be one of the hardest pains to bear. It is also our moral obligation, as a community, to offer a holding environment (not shunning and shame) for all families torn by abuse—those of the victims, and that of the offender.


Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves whether the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents: 

Rabbi Moshe Eisemann of Yeshiva of Vineland (who at one time attended the Ponevezh Yeshiva, which was originally located in PanevėžysLithuania.)
  • Married to:
    • Sora Eisemann - Eisgrau
      • Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau (husband of Sora Eisemann)
        • Rabbi Yaakov Eisgrau (brother of Eliezer Eisgrau - Rabbi at Ner Israel)
    • Esther Eisemann - Goldberger
    • Miriam Eisemann
  • Married to: Paula Eisemann
Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger is married to Judy Elenbogen (an Eisemann cousin)


History of Ner Israel Yeshvia - Baltimore, MD

  1. Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, Ner Israel's founder and first rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel (Dean)
    • Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Kulefsky, dean of Ner Israel Rabbinical College - second rosh yehsiva of Ner Israel (Dean)
    • Rabbi Herman Neuberger (brother-in-law of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman) - president of Ner Israel

Some of the information on The Awareness Center's web pages may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.

We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

For more information go to: . If you wish to use copyrighted material from this update for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


 "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." –– Margaret Mead