This past Sunday, I MC’ed a Sermon Slam in Jerusalem, on the theme of Amalek. Here is one of my favorite pieces from the evening, by Charlie Buckholtz, a Jerusalem-based writer whose writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Tablet, and the Daily Beast, and who blogs at badrabbi.tumblr.com. His book Are You Not a Man of God? Devotion, Betrayal, and Social Criticism in Jewish Tradition, co-authored with Tova Hartman, was recently published by Oxford University Press. You can watch video of this performance here and listen to it in podcast form, along with another excellent one by Candace Mittel, a Pardes student, here. To find out more about Sermon Slam, visit its Kickstarter page. –aryehbernstein
A Malcontented Beheading
By Charlie Buckholtz
Back seat, BMW SUV.
Back streets of Queens careening by me, through me
in the window, as I wonder how it is I ended up here:
mid-day, mid-life, mid-week, on a visit to sit with the family of a dead guy I’ll never meet.
Taking lessons from a driver who knows he’s in the driver’s seat.
It’s this kid’s car, he’s 15 years my junior; pops just gave it to him the day before the
funeral; now they’re schmoozing pros and cons of the on-board computer.
Apparently it was between this one and a Mercury–next the conversation turns to pee-pee, naturally.
“So abba, how you pishing these days?”
Gotta love the Jews, right? They never quite fail to amaze.
Anyways, pops is obviously completely unfazed, no hesitation—
such a detailed explanation, it left me slightly dazed.
Pops you see is my boss, the shul president.
Pretend that we’re friends — maybe we are — but it’s as irrelevant
as the rain that was falling all around us that day, pounding like a dozer, hounding me like a moser,
making everything feel even smaller, closer…
No sir! I have a sudden violent urge to say
I am neither an impostor nor a dissident…okay?
Still I guess I’ll keep the rain in the event:
never know what details the future reveals to set new precedents.
Can’t say I remember what the thread was…guess I lost it in the dissonance.
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.
Reports surfaced today regarding a savage beating in East Lansing, MI in which Zachary Tennen, a 19-year-old sophomore Journalism student at Michigan State University, was asked if he was Jewish before two men of college age beat the crap out him. This attack included a Hitler salute and the
symbolic torture of trying to staple the boys mouth together shit getting kicked out of the kid. Updated info here.
According to the report from The Detroit Free Press, the police in East Lansing aren’t yet ready to call this hate crime a hate crime. They have witnesses and a suspect.
But here is the kicker:
Zachary told his parents no one at the party helped him as he was attacked and then thrown out of the gathering. He took a cab to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing for initial treatment, but underwent surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac overnight to have his jaw wired shut, his mother said.
The facts are bad enough here: A 19-year old kid was beaten for being Jewish. That is horrific. Adding to these nasty truths we know that no one who saw this go down helped this boy. It is inexcusable.
Unsurprisingly, Tennen said that not only the physical but the emotional trauma “isn’t very pleasant.”
A quote from a German minster comes to mind. More »
In the great tradition of Jewish lawyers defending Nazis and Nazi sympathizers (such as the infamous Supreme Court case involving neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, IL in the late 1970s), turns out that the most recent source of drunken and/or drug induced anti-Semitic rants (in the great tradition of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen), fashion designer John Galliano, has got himself a Jewish lawyer–to be fair, according to the interview linked below, he has been his lawyer for the last seven years.
YNet has published an interview with the Galliano’s lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, who has apparently received threats because representing the former top designer of Christian Dior. You can see the video of the clearly drunken and rather despicable rant at the HuffPost.
My favorite gem from the interview comes right at the beginning.
Your client is accused of making rather harsh anti-Semitic comments. What is your explanation for this?
“I have no explanation. It could happen to any one of us. Anyone can go to a bar, drink a little and get into a fight with someone.”
Yes. It could happen to any one of us. You walk into a bar, become obliterated drunk while under the influence of prescription drugs and then tell the people next to you that you wish Hitler had killed them… Happens all the time.
My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Galliano’s comments are unforgivable and despicable. Not to mention, in the greatest sense of irony, as a homosexual and self-proclaimed “gipsy” (apparently very publicly) he too would have fallen victim (twice) to the egregious and murderous crimes of the Nazi regime. However, I also think it wrong for people to be threatening his lawyer. Justice is justice, and lawyers take an oath to uphold justice; not to pick and choose which parts of the law to uphold. All the more so I find it acceptable for Zerbib to represent Galliano if they have had a professional relationship for nearly a decade.
Ultimately, anti-Semitic sentiment (drunken or sober) will not be eradicated because Jewish lawyers refuse to represent anti-Semites. Again, justice is justice and in free and democratic societies all people have the right to fair representation in court. Plus, if Galliano’s lawyer is going to make arguments in court such as the one quoted above–that any one of us could, in a drug and alcohol induced state, proclaim our love for Hitler–well, I think we can feel comfortable in how this case will go.
This Following Torah commentary was written by Rabbi Andy Shugerman of Aventura, Florida. Andy is both a graduate and current employee of JTS as their development Rabbinic Fellow. The following Dvar can also be found here.
Commonly found in coroner’s offices across North America is the following motto: “We speak for the dead to protect the living.” Ancient and modern biblical commentators have taken a similar stance toward the rape of Dinah and its aftermath. A close examination of Genesis 34 and contemporary responses to its narrative will show how one of the Torah’s most troubling passages can inspire us to take action. We must, in the words of Proverbs 31:8, “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” We must address similar injustices in today’s society in order to protect the living.
Chapter 34 of Genesis laconically opens with the rape. Verse one tells how Jacob’s and Leah’s only daughter “went out to visit the daughters of the land.” The next verse immediately reports that Shechem, a Canaanite man, “saw her, and took her and lay with her by force.” The next fifteen verses describe how Shechem, infatuated with Dinah, enlists his powerful father Hamor to “get me this girl” by brokering a deal with a speechless Jacob and his enraged sons. The brothers assent to Shechem marrying their sister only if he and his clan circumcise themselves; otherwise, they “will take our daughter and go” (34:17).
As shown above, among the various motifs in Genesis 34 is the repeated use of the Hebrew verb root LaKaCH for “get” or “take,” and three of its eight appearances figure prominently in the narrative’s closing verses. Three days following the mass circumcision, Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi “took each his sword” (34:25) to slay the townsmen and then “took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away” (34:26). After the other brothers “seized . . . all that was inside the town and outside” (34:28), the action concludes with Jacob’s furious reaction to his sons’ rampage, to which they reply, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (34:31).
In fact, that rhetorical question in the passage’s final verse encapsulates the concerns of the male personalities in this story. After Shechem inexplicably ravishes Dinah, he seeks to acquire her in a way that would dignify the coerced intercourse of their initial encounter. Her brothers, on the other hand, desire retribution for this “outrage . . . a thing not to be done” (34:7) that has turned their sister into a sex object. In Shechem’s eyes, Dinah is an item for negotiation; for her brothers, she represents a defilement and a cause for revenge.
According to this literary analysis, one can see how Genesis 34 presents its violent narrative of the loss and repossession of power, property, and honor. Amidst all the explicit atrocities, though, perhaps the most subtle tragedy is the way in which both Dinah’s virginity and her voice are stolen from her. Not once does she speak in the entire chapter, nor do any of the men ever address her directly. Unfortunately, many ancient and medieval rabbis add insult to her injury, as they place the onus for the rape on Dinah and/or her mother Leah. For example, Genesis Rabbah 80:1 assigns moral responsibility to both Dinah and Leah, for “a woman is not immoral until her daughter is immoral,” as Leah herself “went out to meet (Jacob) like a harlot.” This type of moralistic comment may have been intended to protect women from exposing themselves to danger, but it unfairly assumes that either Dinah or Leah could have prevented what occurred.
Instead of blaming the victim, the action-oriented divrei Torah of two female colleagues have articulated a fresh approach that has affected me deeply. Rabbis Arielle Hanien and Sharon Brous have both spoken about the rape of Dinah, in particular, and the difficult passages in the Torah, in general, as requiring a visceral reaction from contemporary audiences. We are meant to feel disgust and horror in reading these verses; indeed, those emotions make this difficult text sacred if we pay attention to our discomfort and act upon it. According to my colleagues, we are uncomfortable precisely because we know that these kinds of violence persist in our world today. We can neither ignore the plain meaning of the text or its striking context in our broken world. Instead, Rabbis Hanien and Brous would exhort us to hear God’s voice calling us to action through this and other challenging narratives that disturb.
To place this perspective in dialogue with current events and advocacy efforts, consider the following passage from Randy Gener’s article “In Defense of ‘Ruined’” in this past month’s American Theater magazine about one of the most produced and most troubling plays on stage this season:
This tradition of objectifying women during conflicts . . . has stepped up to new levels: Fighters have systematically used rape and murder in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda in the 1990s, and currently in Darfur with the intent to eliminate ethnic groups and to induce forced displacement. The prevalence of rape and other sexual violations in Eastern Congo has been described as the worst in the world. Women, children and even some men are being attacked by multiple assailants, often in public and in front of their neighbors. Even the United Nations’ peacekeeping forces have been accused of rape. Sexual violence wasn’t recognized as a war crime until June 2008 when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1820, a small step toward ending what Jan Egeland, the former humanitarian affairs chief, described as “one of the biggest conspiracies of silence in history.”
As Gener describes, Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined has received critical acclaim and large national audiences even though—or perhaps because—its pervasive subject matter, sexual violence, is such a taboo for conversation, let alone performance. Nonetheless, the fact that the play won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama attests to the public’s need and desire to hear these stories. Will we similarly examine cases of rape among male inmates in American prisons or cases of American servicemen sexually assaulting their female colleagues on military bases and in combat zones? What of the ever-expanding problem of human trafficking in industrialized countries, including the United States and Israel?
This Shabbat, let us follow the example of these women rabbis and artists who have spoken for Dinah and for others who could not speak for themselves. We must unravel other “conspiracies of silence” by bringing new attention to bear upon the persistence of sexual violence in all forms in the twenty-first century. Let us passionately question and courageously embrace the parts of our tradition and our world that challenge us the most. May we thus realize the full message of that passage from Proverbs 31: “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy . . . for the rights of all the unfortunate.”
If you were interested in bidding on ponzi scheme-schmendrick Bernie Madoff’s intimate apparel…well, I have bad news for you.
This past weekend, a trove of Mr. Madoff’s personal items, ranging from a 10.5 carat diamond ring to his underwear, were auctioned off at top dollar.
Salon reports that on Tuesday, the Working Group Against the Trafficking of Women pulled a stunt in Tel Aviv intended to jolt people out of their stupor about sex trafficking in Israel, and ultimately to get enough signatures to push forward a measure that would criminalize johns.
Although here in the states, I’m generally inclined to avoid clipboard holders (I’m perfectly capable of finding my own petitions to sign, thank you, and generally opposed to giving out my name and address to random people on the street whom I have no idea if they really represent the organization they state), this would probably grab my attention:
Activists lined up seven women like merchandise in the window of a shop in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center mall. A sign above them read, “Women for sale according to personal taste.” Haaretz reports that some “were made up to appear as if they had been beaten, and all had price tags that listed details such as age, weight, dimensions, and country of birth.”
It hasn’t been a secret for some time now that sex trafficking in Israel is an enormous problem. Way back in 2005, a report was issued by The Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, headed by Knesset member Zehava Galon of the left-wing Yahad party, which commissioned the report in an effort to combat the sex trade in Israel. Findings showed that some 3,000 and 5,000 women were smuggled to Israel annually and sold into the prostitution industry for about $8-10,000 American dollars, where they are constantly subjected to violence and abuse. Two years before that Israel passed a law that would allow the state to confiscate the profits of traffickers, but watchdog groups say it is rarely enforced.
This law would be different. In 1999, Sweden took the same approach advocated by this new measure, and criminalized johns; trafficking has since been significantly reduced. A report in July of this year, published by the government of Sweden evaluated the law’s first ten years and how it has actually worked in practice. It states,
street prostitution has been cut in half; there is no evidence that the reduction in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet; the bill provides increased services for women to exit prostitution; fewer men state that they purchase sexual services; and the ban has had a chilling effect on traffickers who find Sweden an unattractive market to sell women and children for sex. Following initial criticism of the law, police now confirm it works well and has had a deterrent effect on other organizers and promoters of prostitution. Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking has not increased.
This eBay item makes me want to cry.
It’s advertising a “Torah Scroll 400 Years Old Approx 10.8 Feet Long” and you can see from the picture that something’s seriously, seriously wrong.
People have been selling pieces of sifrei Torah on eBay for years. They get old sifrei Torah, hack them into pieces, and sell the pieces to goodness-knows-who on eBay. (Not that this is anything new; Jews have been buying and selling talisman pieces of holy books for centuries. But just cos it’s an old custom doesn’t mean we have to respect it.) I used to cruise eBay with some regularity looking at them, but I don’t do that any more because it makes me too sad. Poor little lonely pieces of a Torah scroll being sold off as artwork or curios, ugh.
… and we likely won’t for around 27 years. On June 21, Sholom Rubashkin, former head of the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, IA, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for 86 counts of fraud. According to the Huffington Post, prosecutors chose to not pursue the immigration charges (regarding the no less than 400 undocumented workers discovered working in his plant) because of the “decisive fraud conviction.”
While defense attorneys sought a 10 year conviction, prosecutors relaxed their request of life imprisonment to 25 years; in the end, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade of Cedar Rapids sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years in prison and ordered him to repay his lenders.
According to the Huff Post report:
In a statement released after the sentence announcement, Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox organization, called it “a dark day” for both American justice and American Jewry.
“While none of us condones any wrongdoing by Mr. Rubashkin, the extraordinary severity of the sentence imposed upon one of our Jewish brothers sends chills of shock and apprehension down our collective spine,” the statement reads. “This is a horrifying development.”
Hopefully enough chills of shock and apprehension to stop any other gross injustices against God, Creation and humanity from the Jewish community…
If you are a facebook user, you’ve likely received some sort of hack invitation recently to join or ‘like’ a page entitled Fact, all girls tell these 10 lies to men when they are cheating. (Note: the males are men while the females are girls.) Even if you have not seen this page on the internet, you still have an opportunity to engage in cultural myth-making vis-à-vis women’s chastity with this week’s Torah portion.
In biblical times, there was a different kind of over-the-top forum for humiliating public disclosure, equally intrusive, but with much higher stakes: the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, if you skip ahead to Chapter 5 of Numbers, you can read first-hand of the kind invasive intimidation tactics routinely used to “deal with” women whose husband’s suspected them of marital infidelity.
Because such a spectacle is better seen than described, I have taken the liberty to sketch out this rather involved procedure (see below). Interestingly, the text does not include any kind of formal questioning about the suspected woman’s partner(s). Considering how terrifying and demeaning this whole ritual must have been to the accused woman, one can rather safely assume that the desired effect was that she buckled under pressure and disclosed her tawdry secrets, if, indeed, such secrets existed.
The isha sota (or ‘deviant woman’) episode is disturbing on so many counts; one barely knows where to start working through these issues. If the woman proves innocent, she must resume her marital life with a man who has caused her such shame (if this is the case, the man is expected to give an offering as well—but this is only a gesture to God, not to his wife whom he falsely accused). If she is guilty of the charges, her “stomach distends and her thighs sag.”
Fast-forwarding to the Haftorah (Judges 13:2-25) which accompanies this week’s Torah portion, where we read of Manoach who, interestingly, appears suspicious of his wife when she comes to him and reports that an unnamed man appeared before her when she was out in the field all by herself and announced that she would soon become pregnant. While Manoah’s suspicions do not appear to reach the level of jealousy described in the Torah portion, he does insist on seeing the “man” himself. Particularly interesting with regard to this tale is that the son born to this couple as a result of the aforementioned annunciation is a strapping young fellow whose thunderous passion for the wrong woman leads him to his undoing.
What is to be learned here? One should exercise restrain not only in one’s actions, but also in one’s judgments of others.
Click on thumbnails for full-sized images, a step-by-step instruction on testing your woman:
Once again, a number of Hareidim have violated the sanctity of the Kotel. As women prepared to pray on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, several chairs were thrown at the daveners.
Poor form. I mean, if you’re gonna cast something at the Wall, why not stones? If you’re gonna get medieval on someone, at least practice what you preach… Until then, we know it’s March Madness and all, but can someone tell these folks to give the Bobby Knight impressions a rest?
Every now and again, I’m forwarded an opinion piece because, obviously, as a Canadian Jew, I’ll find it interesting and want to sing its praises here on Jewschool. This is seldom the case. Today’s gem came via an email from the Canadian Jewish Congress. They sent out an op-ed written for the Ottawa Citizen by Leonard Stern.
I’m tempted to argue with the whole piece, line by line, but instead, I’m just going to draw out a few problems.
Beginning Monday, university campuses play host to an annual event known as Israeli Apartheid Week, where Israel is assigned the role of Jew among the nations — singled-out, cursed and harassed.
Some Jewish students at Carleton and the University of Ottawa will discreetly choose to stay home, to avoid having to answer for the Jewish state. The whiff of something medieval hangs over this March ritual.
This isn’t about Jews, say the organizers. It’s about Zionists. Problem is, the activist groups behind Israeli Apartheid Week are doing everything to erase the distinction. One of those organizations, the Ottawa Public Interest Research Group, refused in 2008 to promote a lecture on African development because Jewish students happened to be organizing it. The event had zero connection to Israel but OPIRG said it wouldn’t partner with the Jewish students’ union due to the latter’s “relationship to apartheid Israel.”
That’s an ominous introduction to the article. Too bad I need to argue it down. So long as the Canadian Jewish community (like the vocal majority of many countries’ Jewish communities) maintains that Israel and zionism are an integral part of Jewish identity, and are inherently linked, I can’t blame student groups and other organizations for drawing a similar conclusion. So long as Hillels across Canada (and across the US) house Israel advocacy and zionist groups, and many have histories of bashing Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian groups, I see no reason why those groups shouldn’t be able to “retaliate” with Israel Apartheid Week. More »
In the ‘I’m rethinking sending my kids to day school’ department is this letter, circulated yesterday regarding the arrest of a Jewish day school employee:
We are writing to inform you about some unfortunate news. Namely, a very part-time employee of the Chicago Jewish Day School has been arrested on the charge of transporting child pornography. No students, parents, or other staff of the school are involved in this event. More immediately, this person’s schedule in our building meant that he had absolutely NO contact with any Emanuel students.
A few years ago, at a suburban temple where I’d previously worked as youth director, a janitor was arrested for taping kids for ‘potty porn’ in the bathrooms. It was pretty shocking.
B’H, I’m glad that in this CJDS case none of the kids were involved. Both of these people were on the periphery of Jewish schools to the extent that nobody suspected anything. So it’s got me thinking: how do day schools, or for that matter, camps, synagogues, federations, or youth groups avoid having our youth unknowingly involved in some aspect of kiddie porn?
Are there source or secondary texts in our tradition that deal with sexual crimes against children? No pun intended, even on erev Purim, but school me.
Today’s disinformation missive from David Wilder, Jewish Hebron’s propaganda minister, was titled “Despite the violence, Hebron’s children begin Purim.”
There is no hint of the insidious irony in that tag, as it is the violence of the Jewish community in Hebron which we are all mourning.
Seems there’s trouble brewing in Postville again.
In a terse note, Rabbi Weissmandl of Supreme Kosher removed his supervision from Agri-Star. OU supervision remains intact, for now, but this is a worrying sign. Indications are that this might be about Kashrut Politics, but perhaps there’s more to it? Let’s watch and see what unfolds.
Hat tip failed messiah.
It sucks when Jews commit a hillul hashem and the news picks up on it. We all suffer, especially if they’re observant and it smacks of hypocrisy.
But what about when it’s a poseur?
Amidst the feel-goods about IsraAID and JDC helping out on the ground in Haiti comes a story of a shady character named Jorge Puello. He’s a “legal advisor” to the 10 missionaries accused (and now cleared) of smuggling children into Dominican Republic. He’s also wanted in connection with a human trafficking scandal that spans Central America. He reportedly ran a brothel out of his home in Miami, luring Caribbean women with promises of modeling work only to traffic them into the sex-trades. It gets stranger. Puello apparently served a stint in jail for narcotics, served in US Army Intel, and worked for Homeland Security. Is nobody doing background checks anymore?
Oh yeah, and there’s this: he sports a beard, velvet kippah an claims to be ”president of the Jewish Communities of Dominican Republic.”
About four years ago, he emerged in Santo Domingo saying he wanted to establish a Sephardic Jewish community. Cerminara and Ana Puello said everyone in their family is Catholic and that Jorge Puello’s converted on his own. “He is Jewish by conviction,” she said. “He practices the religion and believes it in his heart.”
The Dominican Republic is home to about 50 Jewish families, a tightly knit and low-key community that includes Sephardim and Ashkenazim, and some had doubts about the new arrival, said Isaac Lalo, secretary of the Centro Israelita de Republica Dominicana, the main synagogue.
“This guy has nothing to do with our community,” Lalo said. “Sephardic Jews don’t just set up a community out of the blue.”
WTF?! Like we don’t have enough Madoffs in our midst, people gotta pose as us and do their evil deeds?
Hat tip to failed messiah.
Jewschool’s decade-in-review series began with the best JewFilms of the 2000s, Independent Minyanim, and the Jewish Food Movement and continues with this roundup of the Social Justice phenomenon.
Organizations which either didn’t exist or hadn’t yet gotten their voice a decade ago: Progressive Jewish Alliance (with regions in Los Angeles and San Francisco), Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, which launched in New York, and now has branches in DC, Chicago and New Orleans, the environmental group Hazon, American Jewish World Service (actually AJWS with Ruth Messinger—whole different thing than AJWS), Jewish FundS for Justice, the New York group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United for Justice in Washington DC, Boston’s Jewish Organizing Initiative, Minnesota’s Jewish Community Action. In addition, the eminence grise of Jewish social justice organizations, Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, hired Jill Jacobs, a Conservative Rabbi as Director of Outreach and Education in 2004, and started a summer seminar for rabbis (modeled on Interfaith Worker Justice’s “Seminary Summer”) which integrated Torah study and the practice of social justice. (Jacobs was then hired away from JCUA by JFSJ).
Cautious embrace of some social justice goals by the institutions of the Conservative and (to a much smaller extent) the Orthodox movements: Spurred on by the exposure of the unjust treatment of workers and the abuse of animals at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -this is not an exhaustive list- for various JS posts on this never ending source of nausea) in Postville, Iowa, the Conservative movement launched the so-called heksher tzedek. This is a kosher seal of approval which guaranteed that the product under supervision was manufactured ethically—that workers’ rights were being respected and that animals were not being abused. An Orthodox group called Uri L’tzedek (“Awaken to Justice”) organized shortly afterwards to the same end. Also during this time, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly approved a decision (a “responsa”) authored by Rabbi Jill Jacobs (by then having moved to the Jewish Funds for Justice as their Rabbi in Residence) requiring synagogues to pay their employees living wages. There is also a concurring responsa by Rabbi Elliot Dorff.
Finally, the latest Rabbinical seminary on the block, the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCC) has a social justice track which culminates in doing a social project (Canfei Nesharim was started by students at YCC).
Add it all up: the old split between the Jews who are interested in ritual practice and Jews who are interested in ethical practice is finally being eroded. The practice of social justice as a Jewish textual and ritual and political practice got a solid footing in the past decade. Keep it up.