1st write thru: adds details, background
(CNSNews.com) - A rabbinical court in Brooklyn, New York has taken the unusual step of excommunicating Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential hopeful on Al Gore's ticket.
The New York Torah Court stated that Lieberman caused "grave scandal" for the Jewish religion "by the fact that, while claiming to be an observant Jew, Lieberman has been misrepresenting and falsifying to the American people the teachings of the Torah against partial birth infanticide, against special privileges and preferential treatment for flaunting homosexuals, and against religious intermarriage of Jews."
Rabbi Joseph Friedman, a spokesman and participant in the rabbinical court, said in a statement that Lieberman "violated our sacred Torah by his Senate votes upholding partial birth infanticide and legitimizing homosexuality, which abnormal and unhealthy behavior the Torah strongly condemns as sinful and immoral." Friedman was traveling abroad Monday and not available for comment.
A beth din is comprised of three Talmudists who may convene to consider sanctions when there is a question about how a person has conducted himself in regard to Jewish teachings.
Decisions from a beth din are not based on secular law, but rather the interpretation of Jewish teachings. A beth din, which means \lquote house of judgment,'' may consider matters including divorce, financial disputes and other questions of Jewish law.
"In former times, when there was more of an organized hierarchy, there were different cities that would have their own beth din," said Rabbi Yehuda Levin of New York, who estimated the beth din''s ruling represents "tens of thousands of Jews in Brooklyn and other parts of the country," and perhaps as many as 150,000 Orthodox Jews.
"There are special issues where rabbis get together and convene a beth din," said Levin, who was not one of the three rabbis convening the New York beth din. "This would be more of the kind that was convened for this purpose." Levin is a spokesman for the group Jews For Morality, which has been critical of Lieberman and some of his policies as they relate to Orthodox Judaism.
The Gore-Lieberman 2000 Campaign Headquarters' press office in Nashville had no immediate response to the excommunication.
"Excommunication is very uncommon," said Levin. "While it''s not an everyday occurrence, it certainly does happen that a beth din will find that a person is in a state of disfavor in the Jewish community."
Although the decision represents the opinion of the rabbis who convened the beth din and the Jews they speak for, it does not necessarily mean Lieberman will be unwelcome in other Orthodox Jewish synagogues.
Not all Orthodox Jews concur with the ruling by the New York beth din. Rabbi Gavriel Cohen, who serves on the rabbinical court in Los Angeles, said he felt the decision was too harsh. "It''s overdoing it a little bit," said Cohen, who suggested Lieberman stick to politics and not delve into matters of faith. "He''s a nice person, but he should not answer religious questions."
Cohen agreed that excommunication was rare among Jews, citing a recent action by a beth din in Israel as something that may have provided some of the impetus for the New York beth din''s move. "It''s not common, it''s something that just happened in Israel about three or four weeks ago and it''s still in the air," said Cohen.
But others thought the New York beth din decision was appropriate. "Joe Lieberman has brought this excommunication upon himself by flatly trying to say that orthodoxy is one way when orthodoxy is the opposite direction of what he said it was," said Reverend Lou Sheldon with the Christian lobbying group Traditional Values Coalition.
"The partial-birth abortion issue is a bread-and-butter, life or death issue to Orthodox Jews," said Sheldon. "Creation and pro-creation are vital to the Orthodox Jewish belief system."
Note: CNSNews.com Evening Editor Bob Melvin contributed to this story.