Board of Rabbis Creates Jewish Court

The Southern California Board of Rabbis has created its first Jewish court, or beit din, to provide arbitration of disputes within the region’s Jewish community--the second largest in the nation, with about half a million members.

The entity, which will offer an alternative to costly, often divisive civil court procedures, will be distinctive in the Los Angeles area, spokesmen said, because its panels of three rabbis will be chosen from Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox clergy and will serve claimants from all branches of Judaism.

Existing Jewish courts--both permanent and temporary--usually serve only their own wings of Judaism, said Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, president of the Board of Rabbis. The board enthusiastically voted in November to form the court, he said.

“This is important, because it affirms our belief that there is one Jewish people,” said Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, who proposed the idea.


“Jewish ethics are not divided by denominational lines,” he said. “This will allow the Los Angeles community to recognize our unity at a time when that unity is being challenged.”

Kriegel is not only senior rabbi of Temple Ner Maarav in Encino but also an attorney.

Acknowledging that certain disputes are too controversial within Judaism to resolve, Kriegel said the court will not handle disagreements, for example, over kosher practices, religious conversions and same-sex wedding ceremonies. But cases involving various business, medical, legal and “non-ritual religious issues” will be accepted, he said.

The first case to come before the beit din will be a dispute that Kriegel learned about early last year between an individual and a Jewish institution. Rather than go to civil courts, the parties decided to wait for the Board of Rabbis to form the Jewish judicial body, he said.


Each party will choose a rabbi for the beit din panel, then those two rabbis will select a third panelist from their own ranks, Kriegel said.

“We should get rolling within two or three weeks,” he said. Rabbi Paul Dubin, who recently retired as the longtime executive secretary of the Board of Rabbis, will serve as secretary of the new court.


Auxiliary Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Los Angeles and Rabbi Allen Freehling of University Synagogue will be among 20 Catholic and Jewish leaders traveling March 8-19 to Israel and Rome to explore Middle East issues and relations between the two faiths. Also in the group are Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore and Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.

* Television’s Michael Warren, executive producer of the “Family Matters” and “Step by Step” sitcoms, Larry Poland, chairman of the behind-the-scenes MasterMedia Christian network of studio executives, and KKLA-FM (99.5) talk show host Michael Duffy will speak next Saturday at Biola University’s annual “Christians in Media” conference. Admission to the program at the La Mirada school ranges from $15 for college or high school students to $50. (562) 906-4548.

* David Wolpe, who began in July as senior rabbi of Westwood’s Sinai Temple, the oldest Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, will be formally installed Sunday at 4:30 p.m. In the 1980s, Wolpe taught at the University of Judaism and led High Holy Days services for young adults at Sinai Temple. He was an administrator and instructor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City when the congregation asked him to return to Westwood.


The 65th Los Angeles Bach Festival will feature harpsichordist Patricia Mabee and classical guitarist Jeffrey Goodman next Saturday in a performance at First Congregational Church, 540 S. Commonwealth Ave. Mabee, a member of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra since 1976, and Goodman, a composer-artist who has performed extensively on both sides of the Atlantic, will play at 8 p.m. in the church’s Shatto Chapel. (213) 385-1345.


* Cantors and operatic vocalists from Los Angeles and the East Coast will join in concert next Saturday at 8 p.m. at Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, in a tribute to resident Cantor Evan Kent, who is marking 10 years at the Reform synagogue. (310) 277-2772.

* At the newly restored Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, choirs and vocalists from several churches and synagogues in the area will perform music based on the Psalms at 7:30 p.m. today. Organized by Temple Beth El and Cantor Ilan Davidson, the benefit concert at the theater, 478 W. 6th St., includes a $5 donation for admission. (310) 833-2467.


A public forum on “Pluralism in Judaism: What Unites Us, What Divides Us” will feature a prominent Orthodox rabbi Wednesday at UCLA Hillel Council. Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, and dean of Ohr Torah institutions, will discuss denominational differences with Reform Rabbi Richard Levy of Los Angeles, national president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff, provost of the University of Judaism. The program, featuring three student respondents, will be at 7:30 p.m. at 900 Hilgard Ave. $12 at the door. (310) 208-3081.

* Political scientist Susanne Hoeber Rudolph of the University of Chicago will lecture Monday at UC Riverside on religion’s role in civil society, especially how faith transcends national borders. She has written books on Mohandas Gandhi and U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia. The free lecture will be at 4 p.m. in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.


As neighborhoods change in the Southland, congregations with dwindling memberships often look for ways to make a graceful exit in order to keep the church still a church and retain denominational continuity. Here are two recent examples:

* When the 60-year-old Zion Lutheran Church in Maywood folded, the congregation gave its buildings to the parent Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, according to the district’s new bimonthly magazine, In Focus. Whether a planned Spanish-language mission in Maywood succeeds may depend on a core mission group of three Maywood families who have been members of another white-turned-Latino church in Bell Gardens. The Irvine-based district counts 23 Latino congregations in Southern California, Arizona and southern Nevada.


* South Gate First Christian Church, once a predominantly white congregation of 2,000 members, will celebrate its 50th anniversary at 10:45 a.m. Sunday in a chapel on the church property at 3030 Firestone Blvd. Although First Christian has about 75 members still on the rolls, “I’m 70 and I’m one of the younger ones,” said the Rev. Donald Jarman, a retired clergyman whose father, the Rev. Ray Jarman, founded the church.

The congregation was unable to interest its parent Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination in taking over the complex, whose main sanctuary seats 600. So, Jarman said, it was sold last year to the Hispanic Fundamentalist Baptist Church, which is pastored by the Rev. Joaquin Hurtado Jr. The link to the Disciples of Christ was not lost, however. After taking courses at the Claremont School of Theology, Hurtado achieved “standing” with the denomination and acts as pastor of both South Gate congregations. First Christian worships in the chapel and the Baptists in the sanctuary.


A Promise Keepers rally will be held May 22-23 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, according to a tentative list of the men’s regional conferences for 1998.

The evangelical men’s ministry recently announced plans to lay off its entire paid staff by March 31. Thus, the firmness of the complete May to October schedule of 19 cities released this week may depend partly on the flow of donations to the Denver headquarters, said Roger Chapman, a Promise Keepers spokesman.

Bill McCartney, the group’s founder, announced Feb. 18 that the staff would be switching to volunteers instead of paid staffers because this year’s arena and stadium rallies will have no registration fees.

The schedule begins May 15-16 in Detroit. Other California sites will be Fresno on June 5-6 and Sacramento on Oct. 9-10.