Local rabbis reject call for a Muslim ban

Local rabbis reject call for a Muslim ban

Members of the Rabbinical Association in the Heart of NJ at their first social event, held Dec. 21 at Sandcastle Billiards in Edison are, from left, Rabbis Robert Wolkoff (Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick), Esther Reed (Rutgers Hillel), Ja
Members of the Rabbinical Association in the Heart of NJ at their first social event, held Dec. 21 at Sandcastle Billiards in Edison are, from left, Rabbis Robert Wolkoff (Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick), Esther Reed (Rutgers Hillel), Ja

The Rabbinical Association in the Heart of New Jersey has rejected calls to ban Muslims from entering the country.

In a statement posted Dec. 14, the organization, representing 31 rabbis who either work or live in Middlesex or Monmouth County, declared that no one should be excluded from entering the United States based on his or her religion. 

Although it does not mention Donald Trump by name, the statement comes on the heels of the Republican presidential frontrunner’s call, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

“We are blessed to live in a country where people of all faiths, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims, live free of religious persecution,” the statement said.

“Our own Jewish faith has been victim of such prejudice and oppression. We advocate that our country welcome all those who wish to live peacefully no matter what religion they practice.”

The statement is the latest action of a six-year-old group that has grown on the strength of the January 2015 merger of the Jewish federations of Greater Middlesex and Monmouth counties, resulting in the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ. The decision to issue a statement grew out of the association’s last monthly meeting, on Dec. 9.

“The subject was being discussed, and the overwhelming majority of those present favored a public statement,” said association president Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Young Israel of East Brunswick. “This was not politically motivated, but reflected our belief that a moral, ethical issue was involved.” 

The statement appears on the federation website (jewishheartnj.org), as well as on the Facebook pages of several participating association members.

“We’ve received a lot of Facebook ‘likes’ and no negative comment at all,” said Rabbi David Vaisberg, the association’s vice president and religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Edison.

Weinstein and Vaisberg, along with association secretary Rabbi Ari Saks of Congregation Beth Mordecai in Perth Amboy, spoke to NJJN via a four-way conference call. 

Saks said this was not the first such statement presented by the group. On Oct. 15, they posted a statement in solidarity with Israelis in the wake of a series of stabbings and car-rammings by Palestinian terrorists. In that statement, its members “affirm the right of the State of Israel to defend its citizens” and ask community members to pray for peace and security in Israel. 

Vaisberg said the new statement is consistent with recent efforts to improve relations between Jewish and Muslim communities in the region. Last month, Temple Emanu-El hosted an interfaith dialogue with Vaisberg and Imam Raouf Zaman and members of the Muslim Center of Middlesex County in Piscataway.

Originated by six Middlesex County rabbis, the Rabbinical Association is not limited to hot-button topics like Muslim-Jewish interaction. “The initial goal was to provide a mechanism for rabbis to come together on issues of personal and professional significance,” said Weinstein.

Following the merger, the association, whose members were previously only from Middlesex, invited Monmouth County rabbis to join. They also added “Heart of New Jersey” to reflect the federation’s new name. As of now, some one-third of the 31 members are from Monmouth.

Vaisberg said the Rabbinical Association is an independent body. “We work closely with federation, one of our people is on its board, and we receive some funding, but we are not an official arm of federation,” he said.

In June, with the federation’s help, the rabbis’ organization held its first retreat, focusing largely on the changing roles clergy must play in a challenging new environment.

Other projects being developed by the association include a clergy mission to Israel, scheduled to depart in late February, and “Torah on Tap,” a learning and engagement program aimed at young adults.

“Every month, we plan to visit a different local bar where young adults gather,” said Vaisberg. “Our first session, held as an experiment in September, was at Hailey’s Harp & Pub in Metuchen. We offered a program covering crime and punishment within the context of Jewish values.”

The organization has a lighter side as well. Recently, the group held its first social event at Sandcastle Billiards in Edison. “We brought in some kosher pizza and got a coach to help us improve our pool shooting technique,” said Saks.

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