(Full disclosure – I’m currently a student in a joint Pardes/Hebrew College MA program)
So, R’ Daniel Landes, Pardes Rosh Yeshiva, published this review of R’ Art Green’s new book, Radical Judaism. I’m not going to excerpt it, because you should just go read the whole thing.
Here’s a leaked response from R’ Green:
To the editor:
Rabbi Daniel Landes’ da’ mah she-tashiv (“Know what to answer the heretic”) approach to my Radical Judaism, protecting innocents from “the dangers lurking in the rhetoric that Green and like-minded thinkers employ,” represents a theological bankruptcy lurking in traditional Jewish circles. The forces of religion fought two great battles in the twentieth century, one against evolution and the other, taken more seriously by Jews, against Biblical criticism. It lost them both, quite decisively. These defeats, plus the Holocaust, are real parts of the baggage that any intellectually honest Jewish theology must confront. My book is an attempt to create a viable Judaism in the face of those realities. Landes may choose to live in a closed circle that pretends these uncomfortable facts do not exist, continuing to play by the old theological rules. For Jews living outside those circles, such an approach does not work. He should know; many of his students are among them. More »
Alright, I know I’m kinda behind, as this is last week’s (month’s really) news, but it’s the season of forgiveness, okay?
Over the past month, there’s a been a lot of discussion of intermarriage in the wake (Is that a pun? Sorta) of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding. One article that caught my eye is the piece in the Forward last week by Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller,urging the Rabbinical Assembly to rescind the ban on Conservative rabbis participating in or attending intermarriages (of Jews to non-Jews anyhow. I don’t think other pairings are found disturbing).
In theory, violating this ban can have a rabbi expelled from the RA, although in practice, as Miller points out, attendance at interfaith weddings has not – as far as I or he or anyone I’ve queried, knows- actually resulted in said expulsion. I can’t say that I agree with Rabbi Miller, although I have mixed feelings about it: since in fact, there is no consequence for for violating the attendance part of the ban, rabbis who need to go because it is their child or a close family member, can actually attend, while preserving other rabbis’ ability to say that ultimately, intermarriage is not something that they are able to celebrate, if that is their bent, and having the movement stand behind them, which given the ostensible principles of the movement, seems reasonable to expect.
Rabbi Miller seems to view the refusal to attend interfaith weddings as tribalism, rather than as a more complex problem. I suppose in the case where the Jewish member of the couple is Jewish in name only, and doens’t view Judaism as important at all, then tribalism might be a fair description, but for a rabbi in the Conservative movement, who at least in theory views Judaism as having a divine component, and Jews (as a people) as having a particular and holy mission, that strikes me as an unfair description.
In some respects, I view this as a variant of the same discussion that happens about the driving tshuvah. Jews on the more observant end may point out that it was a mistake to allow it, as those who were going to drive would drive anyhow, while the tshuvah givies the appearance that driving is okay to everyone else, halachicly speaking (the problem with the tshuvah appears most especially to be two things: 1. the people who wrote it had only the sketchiest idea of the inner workings of an engine, and 2. there was a deliberate stretching of the way halachah works , in honesty, beyond the breaking point: claiming that the spark of the spark plug is a sort of unintended side effect of the driving is sort of like claiming that the heat on a stove is an unintended side effect of cooking the food) while in fact, it isn’t really, and even the tshuvah sort of admits it. Instead the better solution might have been to simply not address the issue, nor castigate those who chose to drive, and welcome them as one would anyone else, simply not taking note of the matter. However, once the tshuvah is published, it’s very difficult – I would say impossible- to reverse it to that situation, since any change away from a complete acceptance then appears to be a rejection of the people who drive.
Am I advocating hypocrisy? I suppose so. I think that in this case Miss Manners would approve (Miss Martin, if you should happen to read Jewschool please feel free to weigh in). Perhaps I can argue that mipnei darkei shalom, hypocrisy might be our best alternative?
Interested in other peoples’ thoughts on this.
My pregnant wife sitting at home, I stood in the grocery store aisle with two bottles of grape juice in my hand–in the one hand I had the bottle of Kedem grape juice (I usually buy the organic, but they were all out) and in the other hand, a bottle of organic Santa Cruz 100% Concord Grape juice. I didn’t know what to do. My wife and I are dedicated to maintaining an organic diet. Some consumers choose organic products only when available; we choose to ONLY purchase organic products, if there’s not an organic option, we don’t get it. But here it was, Friday afternoon, too late to run around to more stores to look for organic juice that had a hekhsher. What to do… Can I, a soon to be rabbi ordained by the Conservative Movement, say kiddush on juice without a hekhsher? It’s not something I had ever done before… would I be willing to start? I was.
Unlike some, I have read and learned quite a bit about stam yeinam. Literally meaning ‘their wine,’ it refers to the practice of maintaining that when it comes to grape products, only Jewish hands may be a part of the production from start to finish. Dating back to Talmudic times, this practice was solidified, codified and reinforced by the work of the Tosafot (Franco-German medieval Talmudic commentators specifically interested in halakhic legal theory). In theory, the practice has two reasons, as far as my research has shown me. 1) There was the fear that wine purchased for kiddush could have been used or dedicated for avodah zarah (idol worship), and 2) that in certain areas blood was used as a purifier (the salts would act to separate out impurities in the wine). So today, in 2010, when there is no more avodah zarah as it was meant by the Talmud and there is hardly a winery in the world that would use blood as a purifier, what do we do with this tradition? (Hebrew readers who are interested in this topic should DEFINITELY check out Hayim Soloveitchik’s book on the topic titled “יינם”)
This is a guest post by Rebez. For reasons of privacy, names of participants have been left out.
Even before the dancing began, one could sense this wedding was going to push boundaries. The seating arrangement for the huppah was a tri-chitza. Looking out from the huppah, on the right was a small woman’s section, on the left was a men’s section, and in the middle with 80% of the participants was mixed seating. No signs for the different sections, just implicit understanding. It was assumed that you would know which section you belonged in. And dividing each of the three sections was a looming thick movable wall also known as the mehitza.
I’ve never seen this mechitza’s equal. The mehitza was a solid structure of four metal bars with a connecting crossbar and a piece of colored hanging plexiglass that was both opaque at eye level and translucent everywhere else. The metal bars were shaped like a swing-set with the glass divider hanging down as the swing. Approximately 10 feet long and 9 feet high. An intimidating presence.
By the time the dancing began, the room was transformed from a tri-chitza huppah space to a dance hall with one barrier in the middle. As soon as the Chattan and Kallah were introduced and the dancing ensued, they parted ways to opposite sides. The separate dancing began.
There are many ways to create intentional separated dancing space at a simcha. You can have a physical barrier. You can also have no barrier and still have separate dancing. You can have a tri-chitza. And then you can do what this wedding did, although I’m not sure something like this can be planned. More »
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.
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.
Last week, Georgia Gov. Sunny Perdue signed into law House Bill 1345, which fixed the Kosher Food Labeling Act (KFLA) of Georgia, which required that any food sold as kosher had to meet the guidelines of the “Orthodox Hebrew religious rules and requirements.” This law was ruled unconstitutional because it had the government mandating whose standards qualified as acceptably kosher – not a good position for our government to find itself in, and mirrored a similar problem found in New York’s Kosher Law Protection act of 2004. Apparently this problem was later fixed, as New York adopted a law that set them on the same path that Georgia is now treading .
The new law in Georgia requires rather that consumers are informed about the standards under which any kosher food product was certified. I will be interested to see if Georgia can
do well imitate New York didn’t‘s path in a matter regarding religion. I’m not really sure how helpful all this will be to the kosher consumer, but I suppose that I would be pleased to know the standards set by any given hashgacha. I wonder, though, if it will really help solve the “this rabbi is rumored to never show up and check” problem
Mar Gavriel tells us:
Most of the world is observing Yom Ha’Atzma’ut on Tuesday, because Yom HaZikaron is the day before Yom Ha’Atzma’ut and when Yom HaZikaron is due to be on a Sunday we push the whole lot up a day – Yom HaZikaron on Monday and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut on Tuesday – so as not to encourage people to drive to the memorials when it is still Shabbat.
Consideration 1: According to Rav Hershel Schachter (top bod at Yeshiva University), halakhic Yom Ha’Atzma’ut can never fall on any date other than 5 Iyyar, because that is the actual date on which the miraculous event occurred. So no pushing it off to Tuesday – if 5 Iyyar is a Monday, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a Monday, end of story.
Consideration 2: But this Monday was Ta‘anit Behab. Almost no one today still fasts, but a number of communities still recite the associated Selichot.
So — on Monday, the main YU Beis Medresh minyan recited Selichot AND Hallel. Not something one generally sees.
Upon setting out to write this dvar Torah, I had grand visions of talking about the halakhic status of coed toilets. If a woman is ritually unclean, how can other members of her family use the same toilet, for example?
There was going to be a blow-out Foucauldian analysis of the halakhic sources, followed by a lengthy exegesis on Melanie Klein’s partial object; Kohut’s narcissistic transference, and Freud’s paranoia “syllogism” as taken up by Lacan. And then the ground-breaking revelation that we have been/are currently/always will be sinning.
It was going to be fabulous.
Perhaps fortunately for you, Masechet Niddah, Masechet Khullin, and Masechet Keilim (11:2) took me to school. Once again. We can use the same toilet as someone who is ritually unclean because the toilet is “מחובר לקרקע” (it is connected to the ground)—this is the loophole. (For those following at home, this is the same term used in reference to mikvaot, or ritual bath pools.) Furthermore, I learned that in our times–i.e. post-Temple times–we are all tamei met already, and thus this is a non-issue.
Now that we’re all breathing comfortably…
I will tell you, instead, about how I first learned about sex. (What does this have to do with tazria metzorah, you ask? Just wait. You’ll see.) More »
This weekend, Pope Benedict XVI voiced concern over the use of those creepy full body scanners at airports. He’s against them, saying “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity.” The Pope continued:
Respect for the principles he enunciated “might seem particularly complex and difficult in the present context”, he told his audience, which included airport managers, airline executives, security workers, pilots, cabin and ground staff.
They had to contend with problems arising “from the economic crisis, which is bringing about problematic effects in the civil aviation sector, and the threat of international terrorism, which is targeting airports and aircraft”. But, he warned: “It is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person.”
The pope’s words will delight civil liberties campaigners opposed to a device that strips passengers virtually naked.
He’s only a few weeks behind various Islamic authorities, who have come out against the scanners. Fiqh Council of North America issued a
fatwah statement as passing through the scanners would violate Islamic rules of modesty.
And the Jews? There seems to be (shocking, I know), differing opinions. The Rabbinical Center of Europe (an umbrella organisation for Orthodox communities) has declared the scanners to be immodest, but allowed. Part of their issue is that men should review images of men, women those of women. They were assured that images are reviewed by computer software, and humans are only involved if something is found. But this isn’t accurate. We know from many reports that the images aren’t written over or erased, that security staff are looking at images. So will rabbis in Europe reconsider? What about in North America?
In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, I asked Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, who teaches Talmud online at Maqom.com and author of Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli, to prepare a Torah lesson on the topic. – Reb Yudel.
If you look at the blessings we are supposed to say in the morning, you can see that we are supposed to thank God for each thing we have as we become aware of each blessing we have. We thank God for sight when we open our eyes. We thank God for the ability to stand up when we get out of bed. When we put on clothes, we thank God for them.
In fact, the list of blessings in the prayer book is only a suggested “starter list. We should get into the habit of thanking God for every single thing we have when we experience it. (In Eastern religions this is called “mindfulness” and, yes, we have it in Judaism.)
We have blessings to thank God for all these things but, at first glance, it seems that we don’t have blessings for the two senses that are prerequisites for taking part in the sages’ system: hearing/speaking and cognition. You could be a blind sage (in fact, two of our greatest sages, Rav Sheshet and Rav Yosef, were blind). But not hearing or speaking or understanding booted you right out of the sages’ system. This put you in the class called, “the deaf/mute, the mentally ill/disabled and preverbal children.” Those people fell outside the sages’ system.
So if hearing was so important, why wouldn’t that have been the very first blessing you’d say in the morning, right after you were awoken by the rooster (or your alarm clock)? Actually, you say a blessing that acknowledges not only your hearing and cognition but the hearing and cognition of all the world around you.
Before you even open your eyes, you hear the rooster–and you hear the rooster’s cognition and voice–and you thank God for your hearing, for knowing what you hear,
for knowing that the birds really only do start singing
at the very first light of dawn,
a light the human eye cannot discern,
for the bird having a voice,
for the whole world making sense again.
When you say, “Blessed be God, who gives the rooster the understanding to
distinguish between day and night”, you acknowledge the most profound gifts
in your day: you woke up and you knew who you were.
1. Why are those the two most profound gifts you have all day long? What
would not having those gifts imply?
2. Now that we’ve unpacked some of the meanings of this blessing, can you
3. What would this blessing be if the sages had invented it today?
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Dvora Meyers. She usually blogs at Unorthodox Gymnastics.
I saw Srugim for the first time over the summer. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on the Israeli television show that follows the romantic travails of four Modern Orthodox singles in Katamon, Jerusalem’s equivalent of the Upper West Side, as they search for partners and meals on Shabbat.
Since the program does not air on any channel in the U.S., I was forced to download it illegally on the Internet thus opening my computer up to a whole host of viral threats. But it was definitely worth it.
Apparently, I am not alone in my fandom. The [spoil alert]Jewish Week has just run this cover story about the show’s popularity stateside. The show has just begun its second season in Israel (and on my computer in Brooklyn). If you’d like to watch it without endangering your hard drive, the JCC in Manhattan (in conjunction with Jewschool) will be screening the first season (two episodes a week) starting Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 7:30pm.
In addition to being entertained, it’s the perfect opportunity to sharpen your Hebrew comprehension skills. Or if you are seated next to a particularly cute man/woman, you can pretend to not understand what’s transpiring on-screen and ask for help. I’m sure that the show’s characters would approve. Or you can tally the number of halachic inaccuracies you can find throughout the two episodes. Sounds like a good idea for a drinking game to me… Though I suppose the alcohol part will have to wait ’til afterwards, when the Jewschool crew heads next door to Amsterdam Alehouse. Join us! Bloggers and readers alike will be toasting pints and sipping cocktails in the back party room.
SRUGIM COCKTAIL CONTEST: We’re taking suggestions for drink specials in the comments field of this post. The only rule is that you must include the name of the drink, its ingredients, and, of course, the name of the drink must be related to a character, place or theme of the show. The top three favorites will be served at the Jewschool after party on Wed. Feb. 3 – and those three lucky winners will suck down their first drink on Jewschool. RSVP on Facebook now!
Looking for an opportunity for full time study in an egalitarian setting? Yeshivat Hadar in New York City offers a chance for both summer and year ’round study for women and men to study together – and you even get a living stipend. I’ve been to a bunch of classes, lectures, and more than a handful of weekday services. It’s quite an eclectic bunch of of students – and their teachers are excellent. Want to learn more? Check out this Wednesday night’s event – in person or online.
The Cairo Geniza: Crumpled Papers, Revolutionary Prayers
A Taste of Yeshivat Hadar — open to all
Considering applying to Yeshivat Hadar’s 2010 Summer or Full-Year Program?
Interested in experiencing learning at Yeshivat Hadar and asking your questions?
When: Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 7:30-9:00 pm
Where: Yeshivat Hadar, 190 Amsterdam Avenue (at 69th Street), NYC
Taught by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer
In December 1896, Solomon Schechter traveled to the “Ben Ezra Synagogue” in Old Cairo and discovered 200,000 Hebrew manuscripts, some from as early as the 9th century. Among them were alternative liturgies that will astound those used to the standard Ashkenazi prayerbook, including alternate versions of the weekday Amidah. In this class, we will study how crumpled papers in a forgotten attic can change our understanding of prayer.
RSVP to info-at-mechonhadar.org
Prospective Applicants to Yeshivat Hadar are especially welcome to this program, which will end with Q+A about Yeshivat Hadar’s full-time programs.
Can’t come to NYC? Join us on the phone or on ustream. Here’s how:
Go here to watch a live broadcast. Register for a free account ahead of time, and login to chat your questions.
Have specific questions? Email Aryeh Bernstein, Director of Recruitment, at bernstein-at-mechonhadar.org.
You can download our applications here: Summer (2010) and Full-Year Program (2010-11).
The following is a guest post by Yisroel Bas. He blogs at אומשלאָף.
This past spring I decided that I wanted to start wearing tsitsis, at least on Shabbos. This decision came out of an embrace on my part of biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification. However, I was not attracted to the traditional undershirt variety and I wanted something a little more special. So I designed a T-shirt style beged to wear on Shabbos. I chose blue ribbons to match the color of tekheles. Although it took some time, I convinced my mom to make it for me. I wanted the garment to be as square and shirt-like as possible, and a preliminary look at the Torah yielded no problems with my design.
When my mom finished the garment, I spent an afternoon figuring out and eventually tying the tsitsis (Ramban Teymeni style). I was really happy with the final project and decided that I would wear it for the first time at Yugntruf‘s Yiddish Week retreat. While there, several people asked me why I had tsitsis on a shirt with closed sides. I was told that the majority of the beged needs to be open in order for it to be khayev tsitsis. I asked for the source of such a rule and was met by a lot of “I’m not sure”s and “gemora”s. After the retreat I started on a journey to find the source of this “rov beged” injunction. I would walk around on Shabbos with the shirt on and go from shul to shul asking the rabbis if my beged was khayev tsitsis. One told me that the source as Manakhos in the Gemora. Another had no clue. And yet another was convinced that as long as it has daled kanfes, it’s khayev tsitsis.
I went home, found a translation of Manakhos, read it, and found no mention of “rov beged” or even the slightest hint of a definition of kanfe. Finally the Chabad Shliakh in my building found the injunction in his Shulkhan Orukh, but he did not know where the Shulkhan Orukh got it from. Finally after asking the shliakh at my school a million times to look up the source, he put me on the phone with the chief librarian at the Chabad library. He found the source: the students of the Maharam of Rothenburg (d.1293).
Okay, so my shirt is fine according the Torah and Gemora, but not the Maharam (nor anyone who thinks that the Shulkhan Orukh is from Sinai). On top of my own doubts and uncertainties, I now had several rabbis telling me that I can wear it all I like, but just not on Shabbos (because if the beged isn’t khayev tsitsis, then I am “carrying” them about when I wear the beged). I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged, and partly because I am not sure of how much the Maharam and what he supposedly taught matters to me. For all I know the beged is khayev tsitsis in that the majority of the beged is open (sleeves and bottom), just not contiguously. Right now I am getting ready to make another similar beged and I think I’m going to stick with “closed” sides.
ראה הפֿקדתיך היום הזה על־הגױיִם ועל המלכות
זע, איך האָב דיר געשטעלט הײַנטיקן טאָג איבער די פֿעלקער און איבער די מלכותן
אױסצורײַסן און אײַנצוּװאַרפֿן
און אונטערצוברענגען און צו צעשטערן
צו בױען און צו פֿלאַנצן
Last week, a discussion was organized at Yeshiva University in NYC called “Being Gay In The Orthodox World: A Conversation with Members of the YU Community.” The event, which took place on December 22, was sponsored by the YU Tolerance Club and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. It was an open event; people from the YU and Stern communities were invited to attend, as were members of the Jewish communities at large. (I received several invitations to go but was unable to make it.) Many of you found out about it on twitter; our most popular tweet, which more of you clicked through than any other, was a link to The Curious Jew‘s transcript of the panel discussion, which Chana posted within a couple hours of the event’s conclusion. This transcript has been as close to hearing about it as those of us who weren’t there could get, since Rabbi Yosef Blau said in his opening remarks:
What we WILL be doing is addressing the pain and the conflict that is caused by someone being gay in the Orthodox world. Our four panelists, one present student and three alumni of Yeshiva, will be speaking about their own lives and experiences. I would ask you not to take pictures of them and not to record to respect privacy. Recordings have an unfortunate tendency to enable someone to take out a snippet and then use it for various and sundry purposes.
Each speaker then went through his own personal story of being gay in the Orthodox world. Dr. Pelcovitz, a psychologist on faculty at YU, presented a psychological/Orthodox perspective; he made sure to emphasise that there is a difference between “feeling” and “doing” gay, and said that “nobody has the right to judge a feeling,” regardless of halakhic understanding. Questions were then taken from the audience of 800 people, and the event ended more or less on time.
But, of course, it didn’t actually end there. More »
Shabbat at the Hazon Food Conference is an exceptional experiment in pluralism. I wish I had the time to comment on it, but perhaps that will be saved for reflections tomorrow evening once I’m back home. For now, I will report on the sessions I sat in on today. The first involved a private meeting with current and future rabbis (and the occasional educator) and Nigel Savage, the director of Hazon and a true visionary. The second session, titled “The Vegetable Monologues,” after “The Vagina Monologues,” focused on the stories of three Jewish, female farmers. Before Havdallah, I attended a session of the status of Genetically Modified Organisms in Halakhah put on by Zelig Golden, an environmental lawyer with the Center for Food Safety and Rabbi David Seidenberg. More »
You might think we would be getting tired of this topic by now. But, no, we need to revisit it periodically just to forget about how many other worthwhile problems we could be addressing.
An Orthodox Jewish school in London was found guilty of violating UK racial discrimination laws. The problem at hand was that a 12 year old was refused admission to the Orthodox school because his mother had converted under the auspices of the Masorti movement. The problem lies in the fact that there apparently isn’t any other Jewish school available. It’s that one or none.
Now, technically, there really isn’t any good reason for the Orthodox to refuse to recognize Masorti conversion – like all halachic conversion, Masorti Judaism requires mikveh and milah (for males) and profession of a belief in one, unified, God. Much of the brou-ha-ha is about extra-halachic matters. But despite my opinion that the Orthodox are wrong not to recognize Masorti conversions, I still think that this is a bad idea.
Do we really want secular courts deciding who gets to be considered Jewish (or any other religion, for that matter)? I know that Europe views government interaction with religion quite differently than my government here in the USA (or in theory ought to, anyhow), and there are certainly circumstances in which it makes no sense for us to try to separate our opinions from the religious sensibilities that formed them (or not), as long as we try to be honest about where those sensibilities come from. But having a presumably secular government decide that the Orthodox have no right to exclude Masorti Jews is just a recipe for trouble.
The potential for other decisions to go awry is just too great. Now, if they want to rule that no school has a right to exclude anyone of any religion from enrolling, okay then, as long as they also grant that the school gets to insist on its curriculum without outside interference, and the enrolled student has to follow along if he (or she) enrolls.
In Israel, government participation in religious business has caused just no end of trouble. The founding fathers of the USA were more than right when they noted that a healthy religion is not going to be helped by having government promote it. Reading Steven Waldman’s book Founding Faith made me think a lot more of how religion developed in the USA — and why our secular government, with all its problems, works much better in the arena of helping religion by ignoring it than nearly any other in the world. Which is not to say that doing so hasn’t had its own problems. Certainly the idea of an agora for religious ideas has also resulted in people treating at least Judaism as if it were something one could choose in pieces, treating it as any other product, to evaluate on, say, whether it makes you happy, or is fun, rather than Judaism as something to which we might have to submit ourselves in order to make ourselves better, or our community better. Further, we need to realise that we might not be better off for choosing our community according to whom we like to hang out with, rather than being stuck with the lumpy mess that is true community. But overall, we are better off with a hands-off policy from the government.
Let the argument commence.
The new Sh’ma is out. It’s got some great articles about the intersection of Judaism and “the law of the land” (i.e. this land), and responses to a wonderful passage from Agnon about Hanukkah — its not what you would think.
Check it out:
||Look Inside >>
|December 2009, The Law of the Land is the Law