Going my Way?

Part of our Fearless Judaism series.


We live in a moment of transition. It is not the first, of course: the Temple is destroyed, the era of the sages has gone, the vast and varied Jewish life spread throughout Europe and the Middle East was decimated by the holocaust and other historical events, and today, the day of the great movements, these movements are fading. Many people are frightened by this – what will happen? And not without some reasonable cause.

Our numbers are shrinking, and many people who identify as Jewish treat Judaism as an ethnicity -like being Italian, or a hobby – something to be done when there is time and it is convenient.

But the “ever-dying people” will once again find a new wave to ride, and will continue.


And what will it look like?

Many religious speak of “the way” – and Judaism, too, has a “way,” – Halacha. But maybe instead of thinking of it as “the” way, maybe we should speak of it as “the Going,” or better yet “A way” or “A going.” More »

Throwback Thursday: from the “why won’t this go away?” file

I noticed recently that polygamy and its presumed benefits seem to be making the rounds – unfortunately – once again, so I dug up this old fisking. Nope, still not a good idea.

…from what I can tell, her real complaint is that this younger generation prefers monogamy and childrearing to the raunch that she claims her generation championed. Look at the utter condescension:

Punishing the sexual woman is a hoary, antique meme found from “Jane Eyre” to “The Scarlet Letter” to “Sex and the City,” where the lustiest woman ended up with breast cancer. Sex for women is dangerous. Sex for women leads to madness in attics, cancer and death by fire. Better to soul cycle and write cookbooks. Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion? The question lingers in the air, unanswered.

Right. Just where does she think those babies come from… what, they were decanted from a tube? The irony is so thick – she seems to be arguing for people to uncouple sex and intimacy even while her subtext is that people are rejecting intimacy. I wonder if she actually remembers any of the people who were engaged in those wonderful open marriages?
- See more at: jewschool.com/2011/07/12/26564/not-bringing-sexy-backplease/#sthash.fLGNmfGM.dpuf

Filed under Feminism, Gender, Sex

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In the (increasingly overstuffed) annals of “What were they thinking?” Israel inquires as to fifth column.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that some genius at Israel’s immigrant absorption and foreign ministries had distributed a questionnaire including problematic questions on “dual allegiance” of American Jews to Israel and the United States and the (sloppily labelled “pro-Israel”,) American-Jewish lobby and with which country their allegiance would lie in the case of a crisis between the US and Israel.

As it turns out, the questionnaire was commissioned by the Israeli American Council, a private nonprofit group based in Los Angeles. And surprise, surprise, Sheldon Adelson has become a major assist and funder to the group. You remember Adelson, right? He’s the guy who advocated nuking Iran last week as a petty show of strength. That was after nearly singlehandedly bankrolling a series of right-wing politicians in the last US election, and then encouraging Bibi Netanahu to take sides in said election.

Thankfully, after Bibi got wind of it… or at least after it was reported in Haaretz, the PM did direct the ministries to stop distributing the questionnaire cease to promote it.

Happy Rosh Hashana

All of us at Jewschool wish you a year to come of blessing, justice and righteousness. May we all merit our blessings and be grateful for them, whatever that means to you.

Why the teacher started crying in class today.

I’m not a regular attendee of the National Havurah Committee’s Summer Institute, but about ten years ago, when I was in rabbinical school, I attended my first NHI. I taught a class on psukei d’zimrah (the psalms that open the morning service) and taught tunes to which to sing them.
Last year, I returned. This year, I came back once again. Partially, I’m here because the organization for which I work recognized that it would be a benefit to have me here, talking to people about our mission and making connections, but if I didn’t love teaching, if I didn’t love the community here, I wouldn’t have spent the sheer magnitude of hours preparing 6 hours of teaching, plus workshops, for the rather short period of time of a week.
And the community here is indeed special. Despite the ongoing -in fact, seemingly neverending- discussions on how the Jewish community is fragmented into billions of little cliques, divided by generation, who don’t have any interest in what each has to say to the other, at NHI, the age range goes from the very young to the very old. There’s a kids camp for the young families so that the grownups can go to classes, but there are plenty of teens (I have a 14 year old in one of mine) attending the classes right alongside the aged for whom they have a great deal of respect. And the respect clearly goes both ways.
Today in class, I taught a session on one of the more moving sugiyot in the Talmud. One of the older individuals in the class- he reminded me of my father, although he is perhaps a bit older- was struggling with the material. In the story we were studying, one rabbi insults his friend because the friend demonstrates superior knowledge. For most of the class, my chaver really struggled with the idea that a teacher – a rabbi- could have been so small as to be insulted by his student overtaking him in knowledge.
And then.
Three quarters of the way through the class, struggling to be heard over the cacophony of the room, he told a story of his own. About a student he had had many years before, whom he had made fun of in class over a political argument that he did not agree with at the time, but which he had come to understand. And he said, “I have to find her to apologize.”
And that’s why the teacher started crying in class today.

Job: Israel Conversations Initiative Program Coordinator

I sure wish I lived in NY. Actually, I wish this was somewhere other than NY. But for someone out there who likes living in NY, this is a bahhhhgain.

The ground-breaking Israel Conversations Initiative (name to be determined) aims to build an inclusive, empowering model supporting young Jews to talk, study, deliberate, and ultimately define their own relationships to the State of Israel. The project will center on training a cohort of emerging Jewish leaders to facilitate and convene a series of conversations and events drawing together New York Jews in their 20s and 30s across diverse viewpoints. Moving beyond the avoidance, intimidation, and volatility that has surrounded many public conversations on Israel in the American Jewish community, the Initiative will create forums for productive, welcoming, head-on engagement with “hot topics” that inspire passionate disagreement. More »

Mishegaas, or more reasons why The Onion rules everything

NO, really:

Onion gets hacked by Syrian propagandists, responds with funny article. The Onion got hacked, sending out a bunch of nonsense tweets such as:

To which they responded with their usual aplomb. HT BoingBoing

Is Yiddish dying? Uh, no.

Is Jack Rosen hijacking the AJCongress? Does anyone care?

Dvora Myers on Unorthodox Gymnastics comments on the chutzpah it takes to thanks God for not being a woman ironically. What do you think?

Doctor Who is a Jew? Come on Tablet, can’t you do any better than that?

And here’s a kickstarter to translate for what sounds like a completely fascinating book. I can’t wait to read it.

If you can read Yiddish literature only in English translation, Joseph Opatoshu’s 1921 novel, In Poylishe Velder (In The Forests of Poland),is one of the most important works of world literature with which you’re probably unfamiliar. A vast panorama of Jewish life in Poland during the 1850s, Opatoshu’s novel concentrates on backwoods Jews who live among gentile peasants rather than in Jewish communities in cities or shtetlekh. Touching as it does on hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland. Those parts not set in the forests or on the road take place in the court of the Rebbe of Kotzk, the last of the classical hasidic leaders. The Rebbe and his court are portrayed so convincingly that even members of the book’s original audience often forgot that they were reading a novel and not an intimate history of hasidism in Kotzk. It’s the price that Opatoshu had to pay for writing some of the best prose ever published in Yiddish.

Of course, I consider myself the last of the Kotsker Hasidim, so perhaps it’s just me.

Diet for a Jewish planet

A couple of days ago, I was interested to see an article on Times of Israel asking the question, “Why is it easy to keep kosher but so hard to diet?

I have to admit to having wondered myself. He offers the example of a woman who made her diet work for her by using kashrut, “I once heard of someone who wanted to lose weight but was having trouble laying off late night sweets. So what she would do is eat a little piece of meat at night and then she wouldn’t find it difficult to refrain from eating dairy desserts,” and then posits three reasons why he believes it’s easier to keep kosher than diet: Kashrut has a defined list of what you can eat and what you can’t; Keeping kosher is for life, dieting is seen as temporary; and Keeping kosher is highly habitual.

Each of these has its points – as someone who didn’t grow up keeping kosher, but has now for many years, I’d have to say that each of these points makes some difference. Yet, while keeping kosher has a list of things you can and can’t eat, so, in many respects, does dieting (don’t eat sweets, don’t eat fried and fatty foods); most people know that dieting is for life, and, I suspect that if one actually was serious about the dieting, it would also become habitual.

I actually think that the reason kashrut is easier for rather different reasons: it’s a communal effort. True, in many shuls, there are people who keep different levels of kashrut, but generally when people are eating together, there’s some minimal level of recognition for the person’s kashrut – at the very least, picking a restaurant where the person can eat, or making accommodations for them in one’s home. The rabbis were no fools. Americans love to think that everything is about the individual, and, even better, the individual will – but in reality, what we do with other people is an exceptionally powerful force.

Filed under Food, Ritual

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Is There a Jewish Position on Gun Control?

For the last couple of weeks, as the fallout from Newtown continues, as the NRA displays its absolute contempt for anyone who finds anything other than guns of value, Jews have also been participating in the conversation about gun control in the US.

While Jews tend toward the liberal positions about guns, Judaism does not, in reality, always correspond with American 21st century liberal politics. Does Judaism have a position on gun control? Rabbi Aaron Alexander of AJU’s Ziegler school, writes a commentary in HuffPo that, although it focuses on one aspect and one commentator that gets at the crux of the Jewish view.

There is simply no rational way of escaping the fact – not opinion- that gun ownership raises risks of death and injury for everyone in the house where the gun is owned. Nor is there any credible evidence that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress. Jewishly, significantly increasing safety risks to oneself without showing a significant benefit to offset it would require a ban on gun ownership.

Secondarily, hunting for sport, as Rabbi Landau says (the commentator that Alexander is writing about) is considered negatively by Jewish sources. Taking pleasure in something that causes pain is contrary to Jewish values. Even when we eat meat, we are required by Jewish law to slaughter it in a way that causes no pain to the animal (that is why an animal whose slaughter is performed with a knife that has even a single nick in it is considered treif). Arguments aside about whether or not such a death is truly painless (and there are certainly those who advocated vegetarianism – such as the gadol hador – the great one of his generation, Rabbi Soloveitchik), the value is clear: Jews are not supposed to engage in such behavior, except if there is no other option – in other words, one may stave off starvation by hunting, but it’s not something Jews should do if there are other sources of food.

Finally, it is worth knowing that the ban on Jewish hunting is not merely a halachic matter (matter of Jewish law) custom too has long viewed the hunter as a negative character. Those who make their living by killing are considered the very height of what my mother would have called “a goyishe kop” (please excuse, non-Jewish friends). If one looks through old haggadot, the wicked son, the rasha is often portrayed as a soldier or a hunter.

Sport hunting is not a value. Hunting for food – outside of a starvation case- is not a value. Safety for one’s family is a value, and the evidence is that having guns in the home not only does not protect one from intruders, but increases risks of accidental shootings, suicide deaths, and deliberate shootings, particularly in cases of domestic violence. Societally, then, there is one last case to be made. Many people argue that the case for owning guns is that the second amendment is determined to let us protect ourselves from a tyrannous government. God knows the Jews know from tyrannous governments.

To consider this rationally: does the possibility that a bunch of neighbors with assault weapons might gather together to fend off the United States government when it comes for us to send us to the camps balance out the overwhelming numbers of American gun deaths, and the evidence that very tight gun control, or even banning guns would reduce (not eliminate, of course, but reduce) gun deaths. That leaves us two questions actually. First, would those assault weapons stave off tanks, rockets and the very latest in military technology? Not likely. Second. If by some miracle there was a chance that it did, would it be worth it? I suppose that is a calculus that in general society could be argued, but Jewishly, I would say that the decisive view is no. The risks are too clear, and the protection far, far too little – if there is indeed any at all.

Leadership crisis?

In a curious piece in yesterday’s Israel Hayom, Isi Leibler decries a leadership crisis in the diaspora. That of course, is not much in the way of news. Oh, wait, but maybe it is. Leibler claims that “the key professionals dominating the scene are close to retirement, yet failing to groom successors.”
What’s odd, though is exactly what he thinks leadership is. I can’t speak as well to the European scene…Since I know the American scene best, let’s focus on that. Leibler singles out AIPAC as the exception to the rule and then mentions the “the three major public political organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (the Presidents Conference),” as apparently representative of the entire Jewish community leadership in the USA.

He points to the fact that each of these organizations is headed by a charismatic figure (talented professional) reaching retirement age and also are the key fundraisers.

While he’s certainly correct in this analysis of these organizations, I wonder why he considers this the “leadership” of the Jewish community? More »

Applications are now online for Selah San Francisco Bay Area Cohort

Applications are now online for Selah San Francisco Bay Area Cohort 11!

The Selah Leadership Program is a collaboration between the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Bend the Arc, in partnership with the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Selah trains a cross-section of leaders in Jewish and secular organizations to be effective, sustainable and collaborative agents for change. Selah is the first leadership training designed specifically for Jewish leaders working across the social change field. Since its founding in 2004, we have trained more than 250 leaders from over 180 organizations.

The Selah Leadership Program provides unparalleled training for social change leaders, new tools to enhance organizational vision and facilitate change, and the opportunity to learn among some of the nation’s most innovative and inspiring Jewish social change leaders. This cohort is broadly designed for Jewish leaders working in the Bay area who are dedicated to social change and justice and have at least 7 years of experience in their field

. We encourage applicants from secular and Jewish organizations that work on social change from multiple approaches including, but not limited, to: community organizing, direct action, social entrepreneurship, advocacy, education, and arts and culture. The application process is highly competitive.

Learn more about Selah, get an application, or recommend someone you know.

Whose Ten Commandments?

In this month’s Commentary magazine, Jack Wertheimer once again takes on all the terrors of (assume a creaky old gramps voice here) those young people today. Except that it isn’t actually those young people today who are best characterized by his complaints.

Here are his complaints in order (This is just the outline, for the full effect, you’ll need to go see the actual essay):
I. I am the Lord your God, Who took you out of Egypt to ‘repair the world.’
II. You shall not be judgmental.
III. You shall be pluralistic.
IV. You shall personalize your Judaism.
V. Meaning, meaning shall you pursue.
VI. You shall create caring communities.
VII. You shall encourage the airing of all views.
VIII. You shall not be tribal.
IX. You shall celebrate your Jewishness.
X. You shall hold the Jewish conversation in public.

Just to get them out of the way, I’m just going to skim over my major wuts in is piece:

I’m kind of mystified by number 5. Is he saying that Jewish survival, should it have, for example, no Torah at the center, and no community, is worthwhile for its own sake? Why? Number ten, OTOH is classic Wertheimerian krechtzing. He just doesn’t actually get that there is no non-public square anymore. I know the guy is basically a grump (and sexist, though that doesn’t come out so much here) who spends his editorial time complaining about “the kids these days,” but does he really want to advertise the fact that he has no idea what year it is and is unaware of the use of new technologies and how people – not just Jews- actually live?

Still, even a stopped analog clock is right twice a day: More »

Short Pesach Rant

By request:

No offense everyone, but nothing else is going on my seder plate.

Orange, okay – that actually has a venerable history (I was told by a Moroccan rabbi,that Moroccans have put oranges on their seder plates for generations), but no apples, no tomatoes, no marzipan, olives, paper airplanes, tobacco, safety pins, boots to the head, old shoes, picnic tables, automobile engines, stuffed rabbits, keys, construction equipment, window glass, or used kleenex. Nothing. Else.

I’m happy to have people bring questions to the table, but the seder plate is the seder plate, and this addition of objects has gotten out of hand.
1. Charoset,
2. Chazeret
3. Beitza
4. Maror
5. Zaroa (Actually Selek, because our house is dairy)
6. Karpas
7. Orange
makes a perfect kabbalistic tree of the seven lower sefirot (which is actually why we have 6 plus the matzah, which is seven for the seven lower sefirot – bet you didn’t know that, did you?) adding anything else makes the sefirotic tree impossible, so nope, nothing else. I can talk about freedom without adding any other objects to my table

Reading this story made me feel like dancing.

I hope the kid (I guess he’s barely a kid, at 17, although the story reads as though he’s younger) doesn’t keep hiding his Jewishness. Go, young, Jewish, black, Irish-dancer, use the force! Or whatever.

meet Drew Lovejoy, a 17-year-old from rural Ohio. His background could not be more American. His father is black and Baptist from Georgia and his mother is white and Jewish from Iowa. But his fame is international after winning the all-Ireland dancing championship in Dublin for a third straight year.

And Sandra Fluke’s boyfriend isinteresting why?

Gawker has discovered a variation on Godwin’s law: “As a Tea Party discussion grows longer, the probability of anti-semitism approaches one.”

Apparently Sandra Fluke’s dating a Jewish guy (Bill Mutterperl) is somehow relevant… to something?

“anyone familiar with Boston and New York political history knows about the wealthy Mutterperl family’s long tradition of supporting the typical Jewish variant of socialism.

I wonder if Adam has ever been to a kibbutz.”

As Gawker notes, “These are literally the same Tea Partiers who accused Occupy Wall Street of antisemitism.” -it’s in fact, the same guy: Brooks Bayne

As someone involved with Occupy Judaism and several other variants of Occupy in my native city, how much damn time did I have to spend talking to newspapers about how stupid the accusations of antisemitism were? And yet, people keep defending tea-partiers as misunderstood?


Is it Still Purim Yet?

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame, is apparently doing an album of showtunes. Well, we all gotta grow up sometime, right? Who knew?

From Broadway.com:

Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider will team up with Tony winners Patti LuPone and Bebe Neuwirth, in addition to Broadway veterans Cyndi Lauper, Clay Aiken and more on his new album Dee Does Broadway. The heavy metal singer’s forthcoming album will feature a selection of classic Broadway hits. Dee Does Broadway is set for release on May 8 on the record label Razor & Tie. Snider himself appeared in Broadway’s Rock of Ages, which features music from his band, in the fall of 2010.

HT dlevy

Filed under Celebrity, Music


Read this Book

I could probably just about build a raft and sail around the world with all the books advocating for Jewish Social Justice that have come out in the last couple of years. Several of them are very good. I particularly like Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ first book, which is both thorough and excellent.
But I want to recommend a book that’s a little bit different.

Rabbi Shmuly Yankelowitz, the founder of the Orthodox social justice movement Uri L’Tzedek, has just come out with a book very simply titled Jewish Ethics and Social Justice (Derusha Publishing). Unlike most of the the other books in this burgeoning genre, Rabbi Y’s book is a collection of essays previously published in newspapers journals and blogs. This is both a strength and a weakness, which I will touch on later. More »

Birth control is NOT like pork chops

Feministe has a round-up on the recent squabbling about whether or not religious organizations that don’t approve of birth control should have to have health plans cover it.
Aside from the misogyny and offensive attitudes on display in general, let us analyze the statement made by a few people that requiring such organizations to require it would be like serving bacon at a Jewish barbeque. Well, let’s see: suppose someone attending the barbeque had a life-threatening illness that required them to eat pork. And supposing that person had to attend the barbeque and to eat while there. Well, now, I suppose they’d just fire up a separate grill upwind, since under those circumstances, Jewish law requires them to eat it. And if they weren’t Jewish? All the more so.
Now, shut up.