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 »
I read with great interest your op-ed “Lechery, Modesty, and the Talmud” in the New York Times last week. I commend you for taking such a strong stand on this important issue, especially in the wake of continued violence against women in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. However, I think there is a structural flaw at the core of your argument that I would like you to address. (continues here)
This is a guest post by Lillian Cohen-Moore, a freelance writer, editor and stage manager who calls the West Coast home. She often tours and travels to cover assignments; she lives out of a suitcase and on twitter.
Earlier this month in Beit Shemesh, Israel, a group of women did something unthinkable to their critics: they danced.
The population in Beit Shemesh ranges from ultra-Orthodox Jews to socially active long-time residents, as well as recent waves of English speaking immigrants. As Beit Shemesh and Israel at large undergo social change, much of it religious and class based, the clashes between segments of the population happen more often, with an often vociferous intensity from the ultra-Orthodox. As members of many Orthodox families begin university and military service, the extremists in the community lash out, believing their peers should stay as removed from larger society as possible. In this current social climate, women across Israel have been subject to escalating harassment by these members of the ultra-Orthodox. Media outside of Israel began to sit up and take closer notice of the harassment of women in Israel after Naama Margolese, an eight year old resident of Beit Shemesh, was spat upon and had rocks thrown at her by ultra-Orthodox men. Parents escorting their daughters to the same school are subject to similar harassment, being told by grown men that their daughters are ‘whorish’ because their school uniforms are not modest enough.
Women like Brenda Ganot, who works at Partnership 2Gether of the Jewish Agency for Beit Shemesh, and Miri Shalem, director of the Ramat Beit Shemesh community center, wanted to respond to the harassment going on in their community. The negative coverage of the city, which has included media attention on the ultra-Orthodox push for segregated bussing, got to both women. Ganot describes Beit Shemesh possessing a large moderate community with a deep engagement in charity and community events, a community that has been eclipsed in the eye of many media outlets while they cover the actions of the ultra-Orthodox community. More »
The article does note that the phase seems to end when many teens return from gap year in Israel when they frum out. I guess between episodes of getting blotto and into trouble, they wander into the wrong neighborhood on Shabbos, texting blithely away and get violently assault. Welcome to Mea Shearim… Frum satire also fisks…
As we’ve posted before, R. Art Green and R. Danny Landes have been having quite an intense back-and-forth debate about theology and other things over the last few months.
To recap: Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). Green’s next response appeared here in Jewschool, and Landes responded on his own blog.
This is rumored to be the last installment, by Green:
I think we are still far from understanding each other. You just don’t get me. Identifying me with Mordecai Kaplan and Richard Rubenstein is way off the mark in terms of how I see myself or self-identify, whom I read, or my relationship with either God or tradition. Kaplan was never an influence on me; I came to JTS the year after he retired and never had the privilege of studying with him. I read Heschel’s God in Search of Man for the first time when I was fifteen, and fell in love. I tried Kaplan a bit later, but found him dry and boring, too prosaic, too American and pragmatist, not the soaring spirit I needed. I did indeed try to align my neo-Heschelian mysticism with aspects of Kaplan’s legacy during my RRC years. That attempt did not succeed very well; just ask the Kaplanians. Yes, of course I share some concerns with Kaplan and greatly respect his honesty in raising them, but our framework for responding to them is quite different. We both want to respond out of the most contemporary and profound understanding of religion. But for him that is the rationalism of Dewey and Durkheim. For me it is the phenomenology and post-critical religiosity of Otto, Eliade, and Peter Berger.
Along with most of the intellectually-oriented JTS students at the time, I was excited when Rubenstein published After Auschwitz in 1966. He had dared to say what many of us were thinking. But I soon realized that his net result was the demise of traditional Judaism, reducing it to nothing more than a psychological tool. My move toward a neo-Hasidic reading of tradition was precisely a response to Rubenstein, not an alliance with him. I needed a Judaism that expressed a spiritual truth, not just religion serving as a crutch with which to get through this absurd life.
It took me many years to say out loud that I am a mystic. In Jewish circles it sounds a bit like proclaiming oneself a tsaddik, which is the farthest thing from my mind. But it is true that as a thinker and as a religious personality, it is only the mystical tradition that has saved Judaism for me. Scholem quotes R. Pinhas of Korzec as thanking God that He created him after the Zohar was revealed, “because the Zohar kept me a Jew.” That is true for me too, regarding both the Zohar and the teachings of the Hasidic masters themselves.
I would love to be able to explain this to you, but find it subtle and difficult. More »
Let’s legislate non-orthodoxy out of existence. OTOH I’d like to see what the law actually says. Maybe we could add a friendly amendment that since there are no streams of Judaism, therefore the Orthodox have no right to maintain their hegemony, because the Reform and Masorti are not (now, according to this new bill) streams, but exactly as legit as orthodoxy, since it would now all be “just Judaism”? FTW, right? Or we could counter-propose a bill that there is no such thing as Orthodoxy, and the true heir of Jewish practice is [name your favorite non-Orthodox movement].
Or maybe we could get the government out of the religion business, stop allowing the nuttiest of the nuts to determine who is a Jew, while simultaneously preventing people with good intent from converting (contrary to Jewish law, despite the fact that they keep claiming they’re the true inheritors, just like lots of other odd things they do, such as (my fave) prevent Jewish weddings unless their roster of rabbis is involved, despite the fact that one needs no rabbis at all halachicly speaking).
Hey, maybe we should just do that anyway.
Gene Simmons of KISS on Israel. It’s kinda weird, but I love it when Simmons/Witz tells Israelis to toughen up because Americans criticize everyone. So much for the tough-on-the-outside sabra? Maybe the real reason we don’t have peace in the middle east yet is because despite all the machismo of the Israeli image, Israelis aren’t really all that tough? Or maybe even because they are trying to live up to the image that American Jews on the right desperately want them to be? (Hey does that mean we can blame the occupation on all those kids who beat up Jewish kids in elementary school?)
Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). This is now Green’s next response. Underlying all of this are some interesting questions about the possibilities and limits of Jewish theology. (One could say “questions about Orthodoxy and Neo-Hasidism,” but perhaps it’s more complicated than that.) We welcome more discussion and debate on these issues, and not only from the two men involved. Green’s next letter is below.
Let’ s continue this public conversation, which is not over, in a face-to-face second person form, without the barrier of an intervening magazine. Internet interest will provide more than sufficient readership.
I find your tone, in your latest response as well as the initial review of my Radical Judaism, to be significantly annoying, ranging between dismissive and condescending. This is particularly bothersome because you continue to distort my views, either because you have not read me carefully or because a straw-man Art Green better suits your purpose.
You distinguish my views from earlier Jewish notions of an abstract deity by saying that I “flatly deny” divine transcendence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. More »
The Dec. 20 vote came after what the president of the organization, Rabbi Barry Gelman of Houston, told The Jewish Week was a “wonderfully healthy and passionate discussion.”
This is the liberal orthodox group co-founded by R. Avi Weiss of Riverdale, where Rabbah Sara Hurwitz gained fame. Glad to hear that there was neither a rubber stamp nor a hasty thumbs down, but a vigorous debate. Judaism always should be both vigours and a debate, a wrestling with God and the law. In this respect, IRF demonstrates how it is similar to its Conservative cousins- not in that it would consider women as members, but that it would engage in thoughtful debate of the subject.
Lawmakers, Jewish leaders and kosher businesses are lobbying New York’s new governor Andrew Cuomo to restore the state’s kosher law-enforcement division.
Budget cuts and retirements over the last year have left the division with one employee, the division’s director, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The cuts in the department, which once employed 11 kosher inspectors, will save up to $1 million a year in salary, benefits and services, according to the newspaper, citing a state Department of Agriculture and Markets spokesperson.
Shaul Magid has an interesting discussion of Art Green’s new book Radical Judaismtogether with the reviews of the book, asking the question: “What does it all mean?” Here’s the punch-line:
These three reviews illustrate three levels of anxiety Jews feel about their theological future. The anxiety is not really about Green’s proposal as much as the realization that something must be done to create a theologically-relevant Judaism and no one really knows what to do. Mirsky’s questions about “survival” and the ever-present threat of the dissolution of the particular are well-placed and Green and others need to address them seriously. Wolpe’s anxiety about syncretism and the un-Jewishness of contemporary Radical Judaism is an instantiation of what I have called the paranoia of assimilation. If Judaism cannot learn to live with this syncretism, that is, with the normalization of un-Jewishness in its Judaism, it may be doomed. In America, Jews have learned to live comfortably with non-Jews in productive and mutually respectful ways. The next step may be learning to make the borders of Judaism more permeable. Landes seems to be threatened by everything that stands outside his own imaginative “Judaism.”
But you should read the whole thing here then come back and comment.
This essay by Rabbi Yehuda Gilad one of the ramim or teachers at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa might actually be a significant development in the slow motion and excruciating implosion of the Israeli Rabbinate. Here’s the punch line:
As important as issues such as kashrut, Shabbat and religious services are, there is currently no Jewish communal matter that comes close to approaching the significance of this challenge upon which our future here as a Jewish state rests. We must admit and say honestly, the current Chief Rabbinate (with all due respect to the many fine individuals who make up its ranks), as an institution, has neither the desire nor the ability to cope with this challenge. Unfortunately, it buries its head in the sand, and even kowtows to the Chareidi community, which is ambivalent at best, and antagonistic at worst to the very state the Rabbinate is meant to serve.
Despite the pain and difficulty involved in breaking with this institution that we had great dreams for, I hereby call upon the lay people and the Rabbis of the religious-Zionist community to say openly what many of us have already felt in our hearts for some time. The Chief Rabbinate has run its course.
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?
NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.
The article goes on to say
In the past year, there has unfolded within American Modern Orthodox Judaism the first major evidences of a pending theological schism, as a small but media-savvy minority of rabbinic activists from the YCT/ IRF camp have begun pushing the MO envelope farther to the Left than mainstream Modern Orthodoxy ever contemplated. At the center of the impending schism is Rabbi Avi Weiss. He is charismatic and dynamic, rabbi of a shul with a large membership where he can introduce any innovation he desires, and he has a rabbinical seminary and rabbinical association in place to give his agenda the aura of a legitimate “movement.” Although Young Israel synagogues do not readily accept YCT graduates as congregational rabbis and the 900-member RCA does not regard YCT ordination as carrying the legitimacy of a RIETS Semikha, Rabbi Weiss has decided that he no longer needs communal approbation to venture on his own because he has the minions. More »
Around the country, yesterday, many cheered and many booed as Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, as unconstitutional and in contradiction of the due process clause.
While a seeming majority of US Jews are clearly supportive of overturning the ballot proposition, known in many circles in California as “Prop H8,” the Orthodox Union made this bizarre statement, according to the JTA:
“In addition to our religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil right of religious freedom.
“Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one,” it added, concluding that the OU looked forward to the appeals process.
In what world does the OU live? Apparently one where they will be forced by US law to officiate at same-sex marriages? Yes, that’s right, here in America practices and beliefs are forced upon religious organizations all the time. That’s why every synagogue has to have a nativity scene or a giant set of Ten Commandment plaques…
The full statement, which can be read here, goes on to say:
Already, in states with same-sex civil unions and similar laws, religious institutions, including churches, social service providers and youth groups have been penalized by authorities for their beliefs. Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one.
We look forward to the appeals process which will bring these critical issues to America’s highest courts.
Oh! Now I get it! They are against being told what to do or believe because it impedes the religious freedoms of a sliver of a tiny minority population in the US (which I really don’t understand how their freedoms are impeded at all)… What they are NOT against is taking away the constitutional rights of at least 10% of the US population who have been relegated to second-class citizen status and forced to stand by as the sacred institution of marriage is maintained for adulterers and wife-beaters… Good ol’ fashioned sense and reasoning from the OU.
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Gavriel Meir-Levi who heads up Jewish Outreach for the Mark Levine State Senate Campaign for District 31 which runs along the Hudson River from the Upper West Side to North Riverdale. He worked on the 2008 Obama Campaign and is currently exploring the intersection of Democracy and Technology.
Tu B’Av with the Orthodox Avante Garde
One of the most interesting things about running Jewish Outreach for a state senate campaign has been re-discovering all of the technicolored streams within waves within movements of Jewish observance and identity that run from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights to Riverdale; Modern Orthodox meets Open Orthodox meets YU Orthodox meets Black Hat Orthodox meets Non-Traditional Chassidic meets Liberal Conservative Halachic meets Non-Pluralistic Egalitarian meets Zionist Traditional Reform meets Post-Zionist Israeli meets Meta-Judeao Eco-Zionist meets Activist Atheist.
Did I miss anyone? It’s impossible I did not, and even if somehow a complete list were compiled, no doubt crashing the Jewschool server in the process (not to mention our own heads), we would need but to wait a few minutes for a new movement to emerge from within the Brownian Motion of contemporary Judaism.
It was just such an emergence that my friend Mark Levine who is running for State Senate witnessed for the first time at the Bangitout Tu B’Av party in Riverside Park, the emergence of the Avante Garde Orthodox. Somewhat ironically, the Orthodox communities have been most welcoming of my candidate (who founded the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan) even though many of them have deep misgivings about President Obama. Intuitively the expectation was that the more liberal communities who are Jewishly closer to Mark’s level of observance and practice would be his strongest supporters, his “natural base” in political parlance. And yet the enthusiasm of the Avante Garde Orthodox has been astonishing to behold, even though they were far more interested in each other than in anything Mark had to say on Tu B’Av.
Despite their misgivings about Obama and progressive causes (of which many Mark supports) the Avante Garde Orthodox may be closer to Obama than they realize, albeit not in the strictly political sense. Many of them may have suffered through overbearingly Ultra-Orthodox childhoods and day school experiences during which year after year they were told, “No, you can’t!” Well, they are now discovering that as young adults living on the Upper West Side oh yes they can! Yes they can stay up all night flirting on Tu B’Av, yes they can appreciate a Broadway show, yes they can become active politically and yes they can figure out their own unique contribution to the multi-faceted multi-colored movements within contemporary Judaism.
Check out this interesting Statement of Principles, written and edited by leaders in the Modern Orthodox community:
For the last six months a number of Orthodox rabbis and educators have been preparing a statement of principles on the place of our brothers and sisters in our community who have a homosexual orientation.
The original draft was prepared by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. It was then commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.
Significant revisions were made based upon the input of Rabbi Aryeh Klapper and Rabbi Yitzchak Blau who were intimately involved in the process of editing and improving the document during the last three months.
The statement below is a consensus document arrived at after hundreds of hours of discussion,debate and editing. At the bottom, is the initial cohort of signators.
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism. More »
Last week, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed, “Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community“, calling on Jewish organizations to enact non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, and called on funders to make their support contingent on the adoption and practice of such policies.
Adopting formal non-discrimination policies — and ensuring their implementation — will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This week, Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, wrote a response, “Don’t exclude in the name of inclusion“, arguing that the religious values of Orthodox organizations require them to practice discriminatory hiring based on sexual orientation. Therefore, Schusterman’s suggestion, if fully enacted, would result in a severe reduction of funding to Orthodox institutions.
… 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…