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.
I recall chatting with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, composer, musician and poet Alicia Jo Rabins in a Mexican joint in Chicago after a Golem show a few years back, right after the big market crash. I asked what else she was working on, and she started talking about a project revolving around Bernie Madoff. I (and I’m sure many others) suggested she apply to the 6 Points Fellowship, which happily saw the merit in her and her work. The resulting project has finally reached its debut moment. Rabins’ new full-length song cycle, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, at Joe’s Pub in New York City on Thursday, November 8th and again on the 15th. Details after the jump. More »
This is a guest post by Dasi Fruchter, an organizer with Uri L’Tzedek‘s Civic Engagement Campaign.
“…and it is rationally compelling that a worker should not be left solitary and alone, to the point that he needs to hire himself out for a pittance to satisfy his hunger and to feed his family stale bread and house them in a dark and lowly hovel. To give them the capacity for self-defense the law grants him the right to organize, and to make regulations that will assist his peers, distribute work fairly and justly, and achieve a respectful employer-employee relationship and appropriate wage, thus enabling him to provide family with a standard of living equivalent to that of his neighbor” (Rabbi Ben-Tzion Meir Chai Uzziel, Hoshen Mishpat 42:6)
When I tell people what I do, I am often proud to include my identity as an activist and community organizer in the description. Also included in a very substantial way is my commitment to Torah-observant Judaism. Only several years ago, those two identities seriously clashed, but since I’ve become involved with Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox Social Justice organization, fusing my commitments to both halacha (Jewish Law) and to social justice was a logical and seamless step.
My activist story is a long one, but I wanted to share an integral part of it with you. Every Shabbat in my childhood home was a fantastic event. Everyone was invited and the table bubbled over with joy, song, my father’s homemade challah bread, and stirring conversation. The personal engagement, the energy, and the palpable feeling of community were present every week. I particularly remember my mother’s commitment to inviting people that were different from us to our Shabbat table–the synagogue janitor or the school security guard. In retrospect, I now understand the communal space that we created at our Shabbat table – a combination of celebration, reflection, and earnest conversation across difference– was and is a radical space, a space that I try to foster every day in my commitment to Jewish spiritual leadership.
As I grew up, I learned that these workers, who I learned later were classified as “low-wage” workers, were not treated by society with the same dignity as people in professional positions. It was particularly striking to think about the workers who attempted to work on the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Though they were working 40-hour weeks, they still sunk more than $5,000 below the poverty line, while attempting to live on $15,080 a year, often without benefits. If the wage had kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, it would be $10.55. Nineteen states have already raised their minimum wage to keep up with the high cost of living, and New York State is the most recent addition to this group, though the bill faces immense resistance from the New York State Senate.
Sometimes, when I tell people about the type of work I do with Uri L’Tzedek, I’m immediately dismissed for my “left-wing” politics. I understand that there are different fiscal arguments for raising the minimum wage, maintaining it, or taking it away all together. What I don’t understand, however, is the acceptance that there are people working more than 40 hours a week who have no chance of making ends meet. I try to explain that this is not a partisan issue–it is a moral issue. Uri L’Tzedek seeks to achieve its social justice goals through not only ensuring that the minimum wage standard is upheld in kosher restaurants, but also through the constant struggle to achieve a higher standard for workers in the service industry. We want to limit poverty. This is not about the social safety net. This is a step forward to a living wage. When people work, they should be able to live dignified lives based on their labor.
So when I had the opportunity to represent Uri L’Tzedek as a part of a coalition of 60 faith organizations, workers, labor groups, and community members working on raising the minimum wage in New York, I jumped at the opportunity with gusto. Uri L’Tzedek, which serves as a part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, chose to be involved in the minimum wage effort as a part of a wider Civic Engagement project across the country.
It has been an honor to serve on a coalition with pastors, workers, and organizers–coming together to seek dignity for workers in the fastest growing sector in our country. Tuesday marks the three-year anniversary of the last time the minimum wage was raised in New York.
The coalition of workers, businesses, and community members will come together on July 24th for a National Day of Action for Low Wage Workers. The goals of the march from Herald Square to Union Square are twofold. The first is explicitly legislative and seeks to put pressure on prominent members of the State Senate to raise the minimum wage. The second goal seeks to plant the seeds for a vibrant and unified movement of low wage workers. Due to the fact that low-wage workers are spread across industries, they often face difficulty when trying to organize for higher standards or basic rights. This historic coalition and day of action will attempt to convey that if necessary, workers in the rapidly growing low-wage sector will stand up as a group against exploitation.
Following the march will be my favorite part–where Uri L’Tzedek will facilitate pop-up Batei Midrash (houses of study) all over Union Square. These small groups, facilitated by Jewish community leaders and Rabbis in the tradition of Jewish Torah learning, will study both ancient and contemporary Jewish texts together about ethical treatment of workers and responsibilities to the poor.
I hope you can join me there on Tuesday to create a strong and unified Jewish voice to advocate for the dignity of workers.
An article about this coalition was published in the New York Times earlier this week. More details for the National Day of Action for Low-Wage workers can be found here. Please email email@example.com for more information.
The NY Times recently published an article about an unusual public apology by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a prominent psychiatrist. In the early 1970’s, Dr. Spitzer was instrumental in the American Psychological Association’s decision to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. Much later in his career, he interviewed individuals who were undergoing reparative therapy intended to change their sexual orientation, and published a 2003 article concluding that reparative therapy could change sexual attraction in individuals who were highly motivated to change. Although this article was published in a peer reviewed journal, due to his prestige, instead of actually undergoing peer review, the article was published without review alongside commentaries critical of his methodology and his interpretation of the evidence presented. Spitzer has come to agree with the critics of this work, publicly declared that his conclusions were wrong–giving detailed explanations of why these conclusions were wrong, and apologized to those who underwent reparative therapy based on the prestige and credibility he lent to such treatments. You can read more about this in The NY Times article.
So what does this have to do with Judaism? In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Conservative Movement voted on several respona regarding homosexuality and Judaism. Much was written at the time about the fact that conflicting respona each received sufficient votes to be considered acceptable interpretations of halacha. The Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner Responum narrowed prohibited behaviors sufficiently to open a path to homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination. Two others, the Roth Responsum, and the Levy Responsum, concluded instead that homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination were not compatible with halacha. The Levy Responsum uniquely claimed that reparative therapy to change sexual orientation could be effective, explicitly suggested such therapy as an option for adults unable to have opposite-sex relationships, and also implied that such therapy should be suggested to teenagers. More »
Now that the election season is heating up, once again the question will be asked, what does the Jewish community want? How will they vote? What will they base their choice on? If you listen to the polls, the pundits and the politicians (and many of the putative spokespeople for the Jewish community) the answer is simple: Israel. However, the question needs to be asked: is this the right answer? What should Jews care about, as Jews?
If by being Jewish one means connecting oneself to the wisdom of the Jewish tradition one would find that Jews who put social and economic justice at the heart of their concerns are tapping a deep vein. When God informs Abraham that God is going to destroy Sodom, Abraham challenges God: “Will the judge of all the world not do justice?” Speaking of Sodom, the prophet Ezekiel understood their sin as “She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility; yet she did not support the poor and the needy.” Jeremiah channels God saying: “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” from which Maimonides, the great 12th century Spanish Jewish philosopher and jurist, understood that the true goal of the religious and philosophical path—beyond even knowing whatever it is that one can know about God—is to practice love and righteousness and justice in the world. More »
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 »
As Napoleon waged war and sent French troops into Russia in 1812, the rabbis of the shtetlakh were faced with a serious political dilemma – who should receive the support of the Jewish community; Napoleon or Czar Alexander I? On the one hand, the experience of the Jews of Russia and Poland had been incredibly challenging, to say the least. Starting in 1791with Catherine the Great, the Jews of Russia were relegated to what was known as the Pale of Settlement, a swath of land comprising of modern-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and parts of Western Russia. Jews in the Pale were very poor and the Cossack cavalries made life generally dangerous for them. Life for Jews under Napoleon was very different. Once Napoleon took the helm in France in 1804, Jews were given full and equal rights under the spirit of the French Revolution. However, this came at a cost – part of Napoleon’s grand plan was to allow for the recognition of the Jewish religion while working hard at eliminating its practices. Once the Jews received full rights in France, anti-Semitism grew in French cities. Napoleon is quoted as responding to the rise in anti-Semitism by saying:
This is not the way to solve the Jewish question. I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them. More »
The following is a sermon I delivered to my congregation last week for Parashat Vay’ḥi on the travesties in Beit Shemesh and Mea She’arim — a little late, but still important.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines legacy as: a gift by will or something which is transmitted by or received from an ancestor. It is especially interesting to me that the word choice of the Mirriam-Webster dictionary is to use the language of transmission because the Hebrew word we use for tradition, מסורה, literally means ‘transmission.’ This idea, of something which is transmitted by an ancestor, is incredibly significant to the Jewish tradition. It is significant, mainly, because we take immense pride in our tradition and we take immense pride in the success we have had in passing down our traditions from generation to generation. This pride we take in transmitting our traditions is not new, quite the contrary, it goes back to our very foundation and to our very origins. Sure enough, when we received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai we were instructed, as we read daily in the words of the first paragraph of the Shema, וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם – and you shall teach these words to your children and you shall speak about them. Now, that is truly significant, but it goes even deeper into our origins than our covenant with God at Mount Sinai, rather it goes to our very first foundations, to Avraham Avinu, to Abraham our Forefather, of whom the Torah tells us לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה – such that Avraham commands his children and his household after him and they will guard the way of God. What we impart to our children, what we transmit to them, the legacy which we leave them, is a huge part of the Jewish tradition. More »
A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting discussing an upcoming ballot initiative which would eliminate the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Everybody in the room was opposed to the death penalty. The discussion was about the strategy that should be employed to convince voters to make the proposition law. The campaign’s tactic was to argue that the death penalty was more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). This is, of course, true. As the LA Times reported:
[An] examination of state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimated that the additional costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for the condemned adds $184 million to the budget each year.
However, sitting in that room, engaging in that conversation, I suddenly got very depressed. I realized how we had all been impacted by the culture of greed that has overwhelmed our country.
I want to make clear that I think that we urgently need to stop our country’s machinery of death and to begin the hard work of justice—reforming our prisons, making victims and/or their families whole, allowing for transgressors to repent and atone (as I argue here). I think that replacing the death penalty with LWOP is a good and important step on the way to accomplishing this. I was reacting to the fact that the parameters of the debate (cheaper is better) are not ones that I agree with and are destructive to the moral fabric of our country and society. Let me explain. More »
My friend Getzel Davis, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, delivered a tremendous sermon at the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidrei here in New York.
All English during the service had to be shouted in short phrases, then shouted back by the crowd. (This is in keeping with the protesters who also use this method because they have no sound permit.) I vote that all sermons should be delivered in this fashion from here on out. I’ve never been among a congregation paying such rapt attention to a sermon.
Anyway, presented here in its entirety is Getzel’s sermon. Just imagine what it sounded like broken into short bits, shouted out in a call and shouted back in a response.
Getzel Davis about an hour before Occupy Kol Nidrei (Photo by David A.M. Wilensky (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0))
Friends – we are here tonight to celebrate the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has been misunderstood to be a sad day. But really, an early rabbinic texts calls Yom Kippur one of the two happiest days of the year. What makes this day happy? It is the day of forgiveness. This is what Yom Kippor means “The Day of Forgiveness.”
According to our myth, Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf. What is the golden calf? It is the essence of idol worship. It the fallacy that gold is God. How do we become forgiven for worshiping gold?
I believe that G!d is infinitely forgiving. The harder question is how we forgive ourselves. How can we forgive ourselves for failing to live up to our own ideals? How can we forgive ourselves for failing to recognize others’ humanity? How can we forgive ourselves for remaining silent for so long in the face of injustice?
Forgiveness is important because once we can mourn our mistakes then we are no longer ruled by them. We are free to create things anew.
This is what Kol Nidreh is about. It is releasing ourselves from the oaths that we mistakenly took.
When people think about oaths, they usually think of verbal promises. In Judaism though, most of our oaths are “Chazakas” – or oaths taken through repeated action. By doing things again and again, we make internal promises about how we want to live. Other names for these might be habits, preferences, or addictions. These chazakas rule our lives, making things simpler by allowing us to live on autopilot .
The problem with this is that while chazakas are easy, they are often not skillful. It is easier to not make waves. It is easier to not make eye contact with those suffering. It is easier to trust others to run society. It is easier to sit on our butts.
Tonight, you are offered all the internal freedom that you can imagine. How do you want to live the next moments of
your life? Do you want to love more? Do you want to be more joyous? Do you want to speak your truth? What does
your truth say?
Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year because it gives us the radical option of being here now. We don’t work. We don’t eat. We don’t drink. We don’t have sex. We dress in white robes.
We do these things because Yom Kippur is a ritual death. It is the way that we allow our old selves to die.
Tomorrow, when we break our fasts, we step into newness. We step into being the people we want to be and not just the people we have been.
You know friends, it is hard not to worship gold, or power, or any of the other idols that our society shoves down our throats. I believe that this is why the Torah tells us that there is something else created in the image of G!d.
In the first chapter of Genesis the first human was created in the image of G!d If we need something to serve here on earth, we are given humanity. Service to humankind is sacred and a reflection of service of G!d.
First of all, let’s just set aside for a moment the ridiculousness of mentioning Islamic extremists in every other breath – really, I have to say (I never thought I’d defend Beck in any way whatsoever) that really, his comments weren’t about Reform Jews being terrorists. While his comments were completely inane, his point was that Reform Jews are primarily a political organization rather than a religious one. How many ways this is a stupid comment leaves me gasping, but it’s not what most people seem to have taken it as – i.e. a claim that Reform Jews are terrorists.
However, the level of stupidity remains pretty high: More »
A short article in the Independent talks about the work of Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director and Co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. The organization is perhaps one of a very few which represents rabbis of all branches of Judaism, who together stand up for Human Rights in Israel.
The organization has three main focii: “human rights education, including courses in pre-army colleges; social and economic justice in Israel, which has seen it, with other Israeli groups, win a signal victory in halting the country’s draconian welfare-to-work project; and Palestinian human rights. This last includes a legal initiative which has reversed the takeover of hundreds of acres of Palestinian land by the settlements.”
Of the three, the project which RHR is perhaps most famous for is the protection of the olive harvest in Israel. Despite ostensible legal protection for olive trees in Israel – not to mention the law of the Torah which forbids attacking trees and cutting them down wantonly, even at a time of war, olive trees have been a target of settlers who also may attack Palestinians, settle illegally on Palestinian land or engage in other un-Torah-like behavior.
The inspiration came in 2002, when Noaf abu Ghabia, a Palestinian deeply committed even at the peak of the intifada to co-existence and non-violence, and with whom RHR had joined in various symbolic Jewish-Arab tree plantings, appealed for help against settlers attacking harvesters in the village of Yanoun. RHR began bringing volunteers, and three years later won a crucial High Court ruling ordering the army to protect the harvest.
While it was, as he puts it, a “high maintenance victory”, requiring a constant presence of the volunteers, Ascherman says that this year the army has – despite some exceptions – largely fulfilled the first two requirements of the ruling: protection of access to the land and of Palestinian farmers as they pick the olives. “There are farmers reaching olive trees they haven’t been able to reach for 10 and 15 years,” he says. What the army has been much less good at – so much so that RHR is close to returning to the High Court for a new order – is preventing the destruction of trees and theft of olives by the settlers.
Ascherman has a theory that the settlers’ actions are a response to the nascent peace process, which they see as an “existential threat” to their way of life. He reels off a list of villages where olives have been stolen – sometimes before the harvest – or trees poisoned or cut down. Then he takes us to perhaps the saddest sight of this year’s harvest, the scorched fields within sight of the notably hard-line settlement outpost of Havat Gilad.
Here, between 1,500 and 2,000 trees were burned two weeks ago by settlers – according to some witnesses, with troops looking on – as the “price” for the destruction by the army of two illegal buildings in the outpost earlier in the day
War is evil. It is incumbent upon us always to remember the victims of the institution of war and our culpability in the very fact that wars are still fought.
These are the American soldiers who died since the beginning of the month. Their average age is 24 and a half years old. They are not heroes. They are dead. Today we should remember them-they fought and died because we sent them to fight.
Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis, 24, of Belmont, Mass. died Nov. 1 in Kandahar, Afghanista.
Pfc. Andrew N. Meari, 21, of Plainfield, Ill. died Nov. 1 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Todd M. Harris, 37, of Tucson, Ariz., died Nov. 3 in Badghis province, Afghanistan.
Spc. James C. Young, 25, of Rochester, Ill., died Nov. 3 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
1st Lt. James R. Zimmerman, 25, of Aroostook, Maine, died Nov. 2 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Blake D. Whipple, 21, of Williamsville, N.Y., died Nov. 5 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.
Sgt. Michael F. Paranzino, 22, of Middletown, R.I., died Nov. 5 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Brandon W. Pearson, 21, of Arvada, Colo. died Nov. 4 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Broehm, 22, of Flagstaff, Ariz. died Nov. 4 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Pfc. Shane M. Reifert, 23, of Cottrellville, Mich., died Nov. 6 in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Jordan B. Emrick, 26, of Hoyleton, Ill., died Nov. 5 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Randy R. Braggs, 21, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., died Nov. 6 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Sgt. Aaron B. Cruttenden, 25, of Mesa, Ariz. died Nov. 7 in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Dale J. Kridlo, 33, Hughestown, Pa. died Nov. 7 in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Andrew L. Hutchins, 20, of New Portland, Maine, died Nov. 8 at Khost province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Anthony Vargas, 27, of Reading, Pa., died Nov. 8 in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, 29, of Tallahassee, Fla., died Nov. 9 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Sgt. Jason J. McCluskey, 26, of McAlester, Okla., died Nov. 4 at Zarghun Shahr, Mohammad Agha district, Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Dakota R. Huse, 19, of Greenwood, La., died Nov. 9 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Fashion designer Zac Posen adjusts orthodox teen contestant Esther Petrack before one of the final runway competitions on ANTM
If you’re anything like me, you’re just dying to hear impassioned opinions on ANTM (that’s America’s Next Top Model, for the non-cognoscenti among you) from someone who has never once watched the show.
What follows is based on a controversial clip featuring an Orthodox–or more specifically, a Modern Orthodox–Jewish contestant from the recent cycle of the CW reality show and the virtual ruckus it caused among the online community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.
In case you have not seen this yet, here are some…visuals:
18-year-old Maimonides alum Esther Petrack was recently eliminated from the popular CW reality television show and has finally spoken out to dispel the rumors about her and to address the damning insinuations circulating among the blogosphere and beyond. In a Nov. 3 article in the Jerusalem Post, for example, the Orthodox Jewish reality TV star responded to a rumor that she had lived in Mea She’arim and was excommunicated by explaining that she had never lived there, and adding: ““How did they even find out about me? The video was on the Internet, which they’re not fans of, anyway.”
Indeed in that same interview, Petrack explained that she is not, nor has she ever been haredi. Yet despite this, the media persists in sensationalizing her story by describing her as haredi or ultra-orthodox.
Amusingly, the Israeli news reporter here also describes the school she attended in Boston (Maimonides–one of the bastions of so-called Centrist/Modern Orthodox Jewish education in the U.S.) as “haredi.” Haredi or not, Petrack’s appearance on the show created a stir among many in both the US and Israel who self-identify as “frum.” The infamous clip of the show went viral in the Orthodox community over a month ago, causing outrage and declamatory, self-righteous tongue wagging wherever it raised its scandalous head. One can understand why such provocative television might elicit a raised eyebrow or two but, in all honesty, I think such righteous indignation is misplaced. In all of the online discussion of this admittedly rather ridiculous episode, search though I might, nowhere could I find condemnation of what seemed to me to be the most shocking moment of all: an instance of blatant religious discrimination. In the video clip above, Tyra Banks makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that all contestants, irrespective of their beliefs or practices, are expected to conform to the show’s 24/7 work schedule, religious observance be damned.
While the norms and mores of civilized life are often suspended in ironically titled “‘reality” TV moments like these make me squirm more than scenes of so-called survivors consuming their own feces in order to prolong, for just another glorious week, their “15 minutes of fame.”
If an employer in the US today denied work to a prospective employee based on her/his religious practice, the almost automatic result would be a job discrimination lawsuit with an expectedly grim outcome for the employer . While, just under a century ago, pious Jewish immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat from Europe would routinely lose their jobs and face poverty and even starvation if they did not work on Saturday, thankfully times have changed dramatically, and now religious tolerance is a blessed norm in the US: no longer does a Jew have to choose between starvation for him/herself and his/her family and Sabbath observance. (Thanks is of course also due to courageous labor unions for more humane work hours and weekends off.) The apparent demand of the show’s creator and hostess, Banks, that Petrack chose between “honoring the Sabbath” and being part of the show, would seem to be a throwback to “bad old times” before anti-discrimination laws established norms of fairness and equality in hiring.
As to the “case” itself, we can hardly blame an 18 year old for the offenses of a crassly sensationalistic, heavily edited, celebrity-powered televised competition. While the wisdom of entering such a competition might be questioned at the outset, what Petrack does is her personal choice; she is not forcing anyone – Orthodox or not — to watch or to sanction or imitate her actions.
Much of the online uproar surrounding Petrack’s supposedly hypocritical activity as an Orthodox Jewish young woman is actually misinformed. We later learn, via a blog comment posting by Petrack’s mother (or someone posing as Petrack’s mother. However you please), that her daughter’s statement, “I will do it,” (viz., desecrate the Sabbath by working) was actually edited out of context. Upon re-watching the clip, you can see the response, indeed, was edited. Despite the remaining tsniut (modesty) issue, Esther’s Shabbat observance may very well have been ‘technically kosher’—contrary to the way several articles (even some sympathetic) suggest.
A good part of me empathizes with Petrack. How many of us can readily recall certain decisions and activities undertaken at the tender age of 18 that we would not exactly wish to immortalize on video? Especially for those of us raised in Modern Orthodox milieus, the eternal saga of rationally reconciling the two (modern and orthodox) is a plight that strongly resonates. Granted, at least in my line of work, this doesn’t generally involve lifting one’s shirt on television…..at least not as far as I can remember, anyway.
One day, when I host a Jewishly-observant-themed talk-show entitled Halakhically Incorrect, I think Petrack should be a guest.
Anyone who has, at some point, lived a genuinely modern and Orthodox existence knows that certain actions, on paper, (or, in this case, video edited out of context) could easily baffle others. Or, as one of my good friends from college whom I recently visited remarked while laughing with a glint in his eye, “Remember when I used to sin for you on Saturdays?” referring to my Shabbat observance in which several of my more keyed-in non-Jewish friends and living-mates knew to flip the bathroom switch on before I ducked in on the seventh day of the week.
In short, the real judgment in this case should be against Banks for issuing such a shockingly intolerant ultimatum, not against an 18 year old struggling to reconcile traditional religious observance and modernity. But Banks is “nit fun unzere” (translation: not one of the “tribe”). So why attack her, right?
Jewschool founder Mobius juxaposes the statement over video of the recent demolition of Bedouin village al Araqib for a JNF forest. As aluminum huts crumble, Robinson claims JNF’s Blueprint Negev benefits some tens of thousands of Bedouin in and around select recognized towns. And as phalanxes of policemen shove the poorest of Israeli families from their homes (read: tents), Robinson charges further, “The NGOs and individuals who signed onto this petition did not contribute to the advancement of the quality of life of these residents; rather they seem to spend their time petitioning against those who are.” A heavy charge indeed if the leading signatories are the NGOs providing services to Bedouin that the government does not.
It takes a concerted stretch of humanitarian values to displace people for plants. Or perhaps more correctly, it’s painful rending of the Jewish people’s historical experience to prioritize Jews over non-Jews in a state claiming to be a Western democracy of the highest ethical standard. The JNF has seen only a few small donations by yours truly — which long ago stopped for this very reason. The welfare of Bedouin is important to me after my short time teaching in a Bedouin summer school in 2004.
A Jewish visitor to Rebbe Nachman’s grave has been murdered by a local Ukrainian. The murder culminates a series of tense incidents between Jewish participants in the Rosh Hashana Kibbutz and ethnic Ukrainians in the city of Uman, in the Cherkasy region of Ukraine.
Here’s the sad course of events.
1. Jewish pilgrims to Uman riot after catching a Ukrainian local stealing from them.
2. A few nights later, a drunk Jewish man stabs a Ukrainian in the stomach who he accuses of stealing. The Israeli is arrested.
3. A few nights later, two drunk Ukrainian men leave a bar in Uman and proceed to murder a Jewish man by stabbing him in the heart.
4. The Israeli government convinces the Ukrainian government to send his body home without an autopsy.
So apparently Rebbe Nachman, that holy, wild, achdus and hisboydedus-baal khesed rogue, stopped dancing in his grave. The realization in the English-language press that the annual pilgrimage to the grave of the Breslover Rebbe is also a site of enormous historical, moral and ethnic weight. The relationship between the local Ukrainians and the Jews, on whose money the Ukrainians depend, is fraught with all sorts of muck. Another day in the life of the land that all but Rebbe Nachman’s followers left behind.
The blog Holocaust in the Baltics, edited by the venerated Yiddish linguist and cultural activist Dovid Katz, has an interesting rundown of the recent commemorative ceremony for destroyed Lithuanian Jewish communities massacred in the Paneriai forest. The ceremony, which was attended by government officials, diplomats and a small group of local Jews, provided a peek into an oft-ignored corner of the exile. Fania Kukliansky, a well-known attorney and head of the Vilnius Jewish Community gave a speech in Lithuanian in honor of those murdered, Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, a former Jewish partisan who is being investigated by the Lithuanian government for so-called “atrocities,” delivered an address in Yiddish about the need to learn universal lessons from the Holocaust.
Yet the blog details another, much more unusual speech by Emanuel Zingeris, a former Jewish community official turned right-wing Lithuanian nationalist politician. Holocaust in the Baltics writes:
A politically charged speech was given by Emanuelis Zingeris, a member of the Lithuanian parliament and its ruling right-wing faction, who is head of its committee on foreign affairs. Though a prominent Jewish personality, he resigned from the Jewish Community of Lithuania years ago, and has become a leading figure in Baltic nationalist circles. He continued the politicians’ tradition of saying different things to different audiences. He told the assembled crowd that he did not really consider Nazi and Soviet crimes to be equal, and that those who raised ‘suspicions’ about Ghetto escapees were making a ‘mistake’, but made no reference to his own many on-the-record pronouncements over the years in his governmental capacity as point man and ‘court Jew’ for the ‘Double Genocide movement’
Now calling someone a court Jew tells us that Zingeris is a politically powerful man that says one thing to the Jews and one thing to the Goyim. Ah, such a medieval problem!
Not really. The article provides links to Zingeris’ record of spouting “Double Genocide” ideology while sitting in the Lithuanian Parliament. The blog defines as Double Genocide Ideology as:
Attempts to utterly redefine genocide; painfully absurd accusations against aged Holocaust survivors; tacit encouragement of racist and antisemitic moods, particularly victimising today’s remnant Jewish community in this part of the world; attempts to restrict freedom of debate; state financed campaigns to persuade the European Union to accept the revisionist model, via the Prague Declaration, via a Europe-wide mixed Nazi-Soviet commemoration day, and other mechanisms.
In contemporary Lithuania, the land of our ancestors, three Jews are giving three speeches about the Holocaust. And yet, those three Jews, who delivered those speeches in three different languages (none of them Hebrew) hold radically different notions of the Jewish relationship to the Nations. Zingeris, who for a long time was on boards charged with the renovation of Vilnius’ Jewish Quarter, is now counted among those who believe there was little difference between Lithuanian suffering under the Soviets and Jewish suffering under fascist Nazi-Lithuanian collaborators. He also thinks that its appropriate to talk out of both sides of his mouth.
Yet, the Baltic boot that pins Zingeris’ neck in some ways pins us all.