For many, the idea of an Israeli civil marriage may seem an oxymoron, and not just in religious terms. Still, for those in the latter category whose godlessness, sloth, or attitude toward Rabbinocracy might have sent them to Cyprus, there is good news.
JTA reports that Knesset passed a Civil Union bill. By a substantial margin no less. Now mind you, this is a victory for the GLBT community as well, which often had to rely on a loophole for partner rights when it came to property, inheritance, and what not.
So, kol hakavod for a step forward. I don’t want to think about the political price that may be paid for this (one hopes it isn’t tied to some new conversion acceptance policy). But for the moment, progress. Who’d have thought that this day would come, amidst the Knesset’s notorious acrimony, bickering and partisanship?
Who knows, maybe non-Orthodox Jewish weddings will be next…
We — American Jewry in general, Jewschoolers and bloggers in particular — talk a lot about the power of the web to help us organize communities.
Here’s a great example I just encountered. In my hometown of Austin, Texas — where I’m currently hanging out ’til Sunday on Spring Break — the entire Jewish community, which includes one Conservative shul, two Reform ones, Chabad, and a variety of smaller groups, have all gotten together a communal Shomrim effort. Shomrim (one Shomer, many Shomrim), are people who volunteer to sit with the bodies of recently deceased Jews while they await their funeral and burial.
They’re doing this through a communal website. When someone dies, they can have Shomrim times listed on this website and then regulars who participate in this communal Shomrim group receive and e-mail directing them to sign up on the site for times to watch over the body.
I learned of Arnold Foster by reading his obituary, which arrived through the wire about a day ago.
The JTA reports:
Arnold Foster, an attorney who had a nearly 60-year career at the Anti-Defamation League, has died.
Foster fought against anti-Semitism and extremism, and advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel. He was 97 when he died Sunday night.
In 1938 he organized a team of lawyers to serve as the volunteer legal arm of the Anti-Defamation League. He joined the staff of ADL in 1940, and as associate national director was primarily responsible for building ADL’s law department and civil rights program. In January 1946 he was appointed general counsel, a position he held until 2003, though he retired from the ADL in 1979.
I don’t know anything about Arnold Foster. I don’t know whether he was on the right or the left, whether he was a shomer mitzvos, an atheist, or both. What I do know is that the ADL of 1938 was a very different organization than it is today, and working for it would have been a step towards fully participating in global politics and identity formation. In Foster’s universe, Jews were being gassed in Poland, demoralized in Algiers and rapidly assimilating into the white American mainstream. Reading this obituary, I wonder to myself about the wisdom of a man like this and the opinions he took to the grave. Would I have agreed with them? Would he have been able to articulate how his experiences informed his work?
What we do learn from Foster’s obituary is the origin of his name:
Born Arnold Fastenberg in Brooklyn, Foster was a graduate of St. John’s University in Queens and its law school. He changed his name at the suggestion of a director when acting at a local playhouse during law school.
“May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
So, it turns out that Erev Rosh Hodesh (coming at you live the ides of March, in the evening) is a special time in the Jewish year. Thanks to a Frumster.com email, poor, sad, and unmarried girls like me got this stunning message, about this time of “significant opportunity for salvation and success.” Start filling up those hope chests, because yeshiva bochers all around Israel will be praying so that all the single ladies don’t die alone! That’s right. They’ll put a ring on it, if you ring them. Someone order a cheese platter, this is going to be quite the Hodesh Tov.
Whether or not this has some sort of Torah or Talmud backing, I cannot say. I am just a meek woman who knows not the glory of the true word that this yeshiva will use to find me a husband. B-f***ing-H, as I like to say.
Their photographic list of geonim is impressive, at least in terms of the amount of time it must have taken them to grow their beards. I wonder if your husband – or mine (of blessed memory) – can be found under the black hats, or woven into the fabric of their all-day prayer shawls.
All you have to do is call 1-800-451-3656, or, internationally, 1-646-395-9544. Those shlitas will get right on task in praying about the poor unmarried women who take the time (and cell phone billable minutes) to call and ask for a hussun. Call me crazy (do it – I dare you!), but maybe these unmarried women should take the time to talk to men they might want to marry instead.
IF (and if I could actually represent my feelings visually, those letters would be dripping with a venom that would burn the inside of your monitor once they appear) these kollel kids from Ateret Shlomo (how nice of them to link RIGHT to their donation page so dangerous my office blocked it (if you want a hubby, you gots to pay!)) want to pray for husbands for the unwed, and IF (again, with the sarcasm) they think it will make a difference, then by all means. Feel free to waste your power on some virgins.
How about praying for adequate food for all? How about a stop in climate change? How about no more destructive natural disasters this year?
My cousin once told me that prayer works, just not in the way that we want it to (oh, to have faith like that…). She said that was why there were so many babies born the same day that my future husband passed away. A hard pill to swallow, for sure, but it gives me an idea. Maybe if these dudes pray for the unmarried women who call, then maybe the natural disasters will stop happening?
This article was originally published on InterfaithFamily.com. Interfaith Family is “the online resource for interfaith families exploring Jewish life and the grass-roots advocate for a welcoming Jewish community.” I don’t think I’ve written about my family on Jewschool before, but I thought I’d give it a try by cross-posting.
My brother and I were raised by two Jewish parents. Ours was a liberal Jewish home: mezuzahs on the doorways, Shabbat dinner every Friday, holidays observed and celebrated. I grew up believing that my parents were both equally committed to our family’s level of observance. In recent years, long after my parents’ divorce, and as my father has formed a new family, I’ve learned that my outlook was perhaps naive.
My father believed that raising the kids with Judaism was the right thing to do. He went along with it. But while our family observed Passover, eschewed bread and other leavened products for the eight days, he would go to the deli by his office for lunch and privately enjoy a sandwich. Once I was old enough to go to synagogue on my own, he no longer went to Shabbat services. And when I wanted to start laying tefillin, he was more than happy to give me his set, which had been stashed in the back of his closet since before I was born.
As an observant Jew, I was taken aback by his deception. In hindsight, I understand, and appreciate, the decisions he made for our family. I was left wondering what type of religious life he would have, especially as he ages and talks about his will and funeral plans. But while I was wondering what his funeral might look like, balancing my future mourning needs with his probable want for a not overtly religious burial, another life-cycle event brought his religious views to the forefront.
My father started dating, moved in with, and became engaged to the woman who is now my stepmother. This raised a whole other round of questions for me. As far as I knew, he had only ever dated Jewish women. My stepmother is not Jewish. I didn’t have much opportunity to spend time with her before they were married; we lived on opposite coasts. My questions went mostly unanswered, and mostly unasked. More »
The following post is by Rabbi (and new mom) Ilana Garber of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, CT. Rabbi Garber’s expertise extends to both the young and the young-at-heart, with experience leading Tot Shabbat services, singing in nursing homes, and more. She is passionate about mikveh resurgence, creating new rituals, learning with others, music of all kinds, and cheering for the Red Sox. You can follow her on Twitter at both @ilanagarber and @bethelwh.
I was sure I was having a girl, and throughout the pregnancy I connected to my unborn fetus in a mother-daughter sort of way. I was so sure, in fact, that when the doctor exclaimed, “it’s a boy!” I shot back with, “it’s a WHAT?!?!?!” And with that, my beautiful baby boy was welcomed into this world.
My husband and I had always planned to welcome our daughter – I mean our child – into this world with many Jewish rituals. Before the birth we had created templates for our welcoming/naming ceremony, most likely a Simchat Bat, a celebration at the birth of a daughter. Yes, we had planned for a bris as well, and either way we intended to have the welcoming-into-the-Jewish-covenant ceremony on the 8th day of the baby’s life (so as to be egalitarian – boy or girl).
The bris happened, of course, and was fine. Well, I’ll admit that the night before the bris I whispered to my tiny, helpless son that I was sorry we were Jewish! Yes, and I’m a rabbi. My motherly instincts took over and I was just so sad for the pain he was about to endure. Everyone assured me it would be quick and easy, and it was, even for my son. The day passed and we all lived to tell the tale. As I saw it, our next Jewish ritual task would be to plan our son’s bar mitzvah (in 2022 – save the date!).
But what I hadn’t anticipated in relation to Jewish rituals came in the form of a plane reservation made by my Modern Orthodox in-laws. “We’re coming for the Pidyon HaBen,” they announced, just hours after the mohel had completed his task. A Pidyon HaBen, literally the redeeming of the (first born) son, is a symbolic ceremony held on the baby boy’s 31st day of life. Based on our experience in Egypt, when the firstborn sons of the Egyptians were killed but those of the Israelites were saved and consecrated to God, God commanded that when we arrived in the land of Canaan, we would “redeem every firstborn male among your children” (Exodus 13:13). Jews have been doing this ever since, and now, apparently, it was our turn.
I immediately objected to this idea – actually, I freaked out. Here’s why:
A Pidyon HaBen is only for a boy, so by holding this ceremony we would be implying that a boy is in some way superior to a girl. As a feminist, I just could not stomach that.
The ceremony necessitates a kohen, someone descended from the Jewish priestly class. But I don’t believe that anyone actually knows if they are a kohen (forgive me if you think you are one), so how does one person claiming to be a kohen make him (yes, in this case, him) superior to anyone else? As someone who believes in egalitarianism, I couldn’t handle this.
The Pidyon HaBen is about the (hopeful) future restoration of the Temple, as in THE Temple, in Jerusalem, and the idea that if we redeem our son he would not have to serve in the Temple. I do not think that restoring the Temple would be good for the Jewish people as a whole, and so even considering my son for that kind of experience (even symbolically) was too much for me. Plus, I joked to my husband, as a pulpit rabbi, I am committed to a lifetime of temple service – why should my son be free from this?
Since a Pidyon HaBen is only for the firstborn son of a woman who has delivered vaginally and has had no other issue of the womb (no daughters, but also no miscarriages or abortions), I felt that my celebrating such “luck” was insensitive to all of the women who are struggling with fertility challenges.
My husband and I did a lot of soul-searching, and we tried to make the best parenting decision we could, one that was consistent with our values and also in the best interest of our son. Ultimately we realized that it would be best if we held the Pidyon HaBen ceremony, quietly, without a lot of people and not making such a big deal, so that there would never be a question in our son’s mind as to whether he was redeemed. We decided that it was important to fulfill the ritual and to uphold our tradition, even though we struggled with some of the implications of the ceremony. Looking back, I’m glad we did it, and I loved the moment the kohen handed our son back to us and declared, “he’s your boy!” This time I just smiled and said, “yes, he is!”
Tobaron Waxman is the winner of The Jewish Museum’s first-ever Audience Award, selected from nearly sixty international artists. Votes were gathered from visitors to the exhibition in person and online, between September 13, 2009 and January 11, 2010. Waxman was selected for his provocative installation Opshernish, 2000/2009. The piece examines the construction of gender in Judaism by recreating and condensing a multi-part performance installation.
The following are the artist’s own words as shared with Jewschool’s editors: More »
Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” radical, truth-teller, and challenger of mediocrity, died yesterday at the age of 87.
Zinn, unsurprisingly, kept his hand in the rabble-rousing business right up until the end. Having been recently featured prominently in The Nation’s “Obama at One” issue, in which he pointed out that Obama has been a fairly traditional Democrat in his seeking of “compromise,” he, as always, encouraged us, the American people, to get off our duffs and push hard for more change, and reminded us that it won’t happen without a lot of back-breaking work on the part of us, we, the people.
He will be missed.
If you still don’t know who he was, try out his website.
It is with great sadness that I learned, a few days ago, of the death of the great modernist Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever ז”ל. Sutzkever’s immense talent as writer was matched only by his heroism as a freedom fighter. During WWII, Sutzkever fought as a partisan and famously saved Yiddish documents in Vilna from destruction at the hands of the Nazis, who killed both his mother and his son. After the war, Sutzkever immigrated to Israel, where he became editor of the Israeli Yiddish literary quarterly Di Goldene Keyt.
Sutzkever has never received his proper due among literary audiences, especially Jewish American readers, and if you have never read anything by him, I commend his understated but intensely powerful writing to your attention (yes, go ahead; buy two copies: one for you and one for the Yiddish lover in your life). Here is a poem he penned in 1948, entitled Yiddish:
Shall I start from the beginning?
Shall I, a brother,
Smash all the idols?
Shall I let myself be translated alive?
Shall I plant my tongue
Till it transforms
Into our forefathers’
Raisins and almonds?
What kind of joke
My poetry brother with whiskers,
That soon, my mother tongue will set forever?
A hundred years from now, we still may sit here
On the Jordan, and carry on this argument.
For a question
Gnaws and paws at me:
If he knows exactly in what regions
Levi Yitzhok’s prayer,
To their sunset —
Could he please show me
Where the language will go down?
May be at the Wailing Wall?
If so, I shall come there, come,
Open my mouth,
And like a lion
Garbed in fiery scarlet,
I shall swallow the language as it sets.
And wake all the generations with my roar!
As a young Jewish man, I have often wrestled with the dilemma that dating poses: that is, do I confine myself only to Jews? In my view, the question it comes down to is one of priorities. Which is more important, an uninterrupted or unimpeded relationship, or my obligation (desire?) to raise my kids Jewish? Are they mutually exclusive?
Theoretically, and in my ideal world, they wouldn’t be. But in actuality it’s a lot more complicated. In my hometown, for instance, there are a lot of families with one Jewish parent, usually the father. I have many close friends like this. And almost universally, they are completely non-religious. I don’t say this in any sort of condescending, not-Jewish-enough-for-me kind of way. What I mean is that they as a family have no interest in being Jewish. Now that is obviously their own personal choice, and as such I have no intention of criticizing it, but I fully intend to have a Jewish family. Here’s the issue: how many of those people did too? How many went into that relationship convinced that they could do it, convinced that their spouse would be interested, engaged, capable, and that they would have Jewish kids if not a Jewish family (i.e. their mom wasn’t really a part of it)? The answer is that I don’t know.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that none of these men went into the marriage with the intent of having a Jewish family, as I do. Again, a personal choice. But I doubt that’s as universal as the lack of that concept’s actual instances in the real world. It’s definitely food for thought. More »
[I hope there will be a lot of collaboration on this one, so i will set out the framework and edit it a lot, so please make suggestions and additions in comments and I'll add them to the main text.]
One of the most festive parts of the (Ashkenazi?) Jewish wedding tradition is the shtick. According to Wikepedia:
“Shtick” is derived from the Yiddish word shin-tet-yud-koof, meaning “piece”; the closely-related German word Stück has the same meaning.
In a wedding context however, it refers to a specific part of the dancing. Generally there is circle dancing. At some point brides and grooms (and sometimes their families) are lifted in chairs. Once the couple* is returned to ground level it is time to fulfill a special wedding-specific miztvah: mesameach chatan v’ kallah (gladdening the groom and bride).
The general setup is:
bride and groom is sitting on chairs
open space in front of them
people standing around the open space.
Now, many things will happen, all designed to entertain the couple. I’ll look at a few categories of entertainment and then at a few common tricks. I am sure that many of you will have all sorts of ideas as to how to do these various tricks better and will have suggestions of others I forgot. My intention is to create a framework so that we can all collaborate to make a good repository of ideas so that folks unfamiliar with this part of a wedding can think about how they’d like to participate ahead of time. My personal experience, is that this offers an opportunity for different kinds of skills to emerge and people who aren’t used to having some of their talents recognized in a Jewish context get that chance here.
Oftentimes guests who know the bride and/or groom well will have prepared various sorts of brief skits. These should be short because quick turnover is important to the flow, and these can drag out if brevity isn’t a focus. As my new neighbor, BZ, reminded me–since the music is often loud, skits should be purely visual so the bride, groom, and assembled masses can all enjoy it without hyper-focus. Examples?
Signs, Decorations, etc
It commonly happens that people will use inside jokes, groom/bride related humor, etc to concoct funny posters and other objects that relate to the specific couple. Dlevy writes: at many of the weddings I’ve attended, friends from different phases of the celebrants’ lives will bring t-shirts from the camp/youth group/college/etc they shared, often decorating the couple in the regalia as part of a skit.
Who has other examples?
Often, kids get involved and do very cute things. I saw a 7-year old bring a violin once, hush the band and play a piece he had recently learned. It was delicious.
Personally, this is my favorite category. Tons of approaches are in-bounds. Magic tricks, feats of strength and balance, fancy dancing, and anything else worthy of the spotlight. Here are a few examples:
Bottle Dancing–This is a feat of balance that ranges from simple to extremely hard. You move around with a bottle on your head. If you are beginning you might just walk around, which may very well impress. The guy pictured below can come very close to lying down and standing back up without ever touching the bottle. Word to the wise: this trick is easiest when the bottle is about half full. Difficulty: Ranges. Wow Factor: Very High. Injury Risk: Low.
It’s hard, as a long-confirmed bachelor, to always stay optimistic, hopeful, that I too will find a partner. It’s all the more difficult in the midst of wedding season, when every remaining summer weekend is filled with another wedding.
But I need not fret!
I was able to make it past the horrifying web layout, reminiscent of 1997 Angelfire pages, to see that by simply filling out a form, the results of which can be viewed by anyone, groups will be formed to say Tehillim (Psalms) for us single folks in hopes that it’ll help us find our basherts (destined, fated; soul-mate).
The site also offers links to dating websites (notably, JDate isn’t included – it’s not frum enough) and to articles on how to set folks up (all but one are dead links).
What the FAQ doesn’t answer is which Tehillim should be said, which are the most powerful for making a match. Some googling turned up the answer (also, wow, who knew there were so many Tehillim/singles/shidduchim sites?!). According to one source, Tehillim 32, 38, 70, 71, 72, 82, 121, and 124 are to be said. Another site encouraged those that were in Artscroll:
Don’t just sit by helplessly as you watch Israel and the Jewish people being terrorized by their enemies. You can make a difference! As the world turns its back on the Jewish people’s plight we are forced to defend ourselves. Since time immemorial, Jews have survived and been victorious through the power of their prayers. … Specifically, Jews are urged to devote at least fifteen minutes a day to this form of prayer and to recite Psalms 20, 83,121,130 and 142 during that time.
And then I found the jackpot: it seems if I read this book in full in addition to saying Tehillim daily, I’ll find my bashert. Or, wait, was I supposed to say Shir HaShirim early in the morning for 40 consecutive days, Perek Shira for 40 consecutive days, and also say Tehillim Chidah? Or… Hrm. Maybe if I were really dedicated to finding my beshert, I’d be reciting all of Tanakh everyday.
Today, I’d like to take on the institution of marriage. I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage in the last five years or so, although not (unfortunately) because I’ve gotten any closer to it myself. However, between seeing many of my friends and relatives get hitched and watching the national debate over the nature of marriage in politics, it’s been hard to avoid thinking about the subject.
If you want to skip directly to the controversial point of this post, here it is: Rabbis should get out of the marriage business. However, if you read this sentence and then skip straight to the comments to call me a godless lefty pinko homosexual heretic (and, to be fair, you’d be about half-right) you will miss the point. Read on. More »
We previously reported on that whole neo-Nazis/Heschel highway situation in Missouri. The NYTimes follows up with a second piece about it, with input from Susannah Heschel:
Missouri officials, thwarted in the past on free-speech grounds when they tried to keep the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway, took another tack after the National Socialist Movement adopted the half-mile stretch of road, on the outskirts of Springfield. The legislature voted to name it for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled the Nazis’ advance in Europe and became a prominent theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States before his death in 1972.
Lawmakers said they hoped the new name would send a message that the area valued inclusiveness, not anti-Semitism and racism. But Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth, said Monday that while she appreciated their intentions, attaching her father’s name to a road cleaned by neo-Nazis would be “vulgar” and would “dishonor” him.
It has been over a week since an act of domestic terrorism. At the funeral of Dr. Tiller, protesters waved signs, including “God Sent the Killer!” Hate begets hate, and I would like to see talk radio hosts, Fox news personalities, and others who encouraged and incited the murder of Dr. Tiller charged under the law. If people who play “supporting roles” in other acts of terrorism can be arrested, they should be too.
While the halakhic parsing of abortion is complex, Jews do not have the same definition as Christians: life does not start at conception. For a week now, I’ve been wanting to post about the Jewish understandings of abortion. A counter to the “religious right’s” view. Each time I’ve started to write that post, I’ve become too saddened and angered by the rampant infringement of women’s rights to their bodies in the US. So instead, I will share Rabbi Young‘s personal Eulogy for Dr. George Tiller:
I have been to Wichita only once—April 9th to 15th, 2006. Natalie and I met Dr. Tiller, and spent time with him in his clinic for a week. We did not want to go, but to us there was no real choice. About a month before our ordination and investiture from HUC, Natalie was 34 weeks pregnant, and we discovered that the baby had microcephaly and lissencephaly. In plain English, the head was too small, and the brain was not developing. The first, second, and third opinions all told us the same thing. Our baby would not live outside the womb. So Natalie and I made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Throughout our week there, Natalie spent a lot of time asleep or in a drug-induced haze, so I had a lot of time to sit in our hotel room and think. I kept a journal when I could handle it emotionally, and I read. I read emails and magazines, and studied a little Mishnah. I took in the words of Tractate Niddah (5:3) which says, “A day-old son who dies is to his father and mother like a full bridegroom.” This phrase stuck in my mind, especially the use of the word “bridegroom.” There are many words the Talmud uses to distinguish different stages of life. It could have said elderly man, full-grown son, or young man with equal gravity to describe a parent’s loss. Using “bridegroom” must be intentional, and it works on two fronts.
The first is independence. A bridegroom is clearly of an age where the parents have completed raising the child until he is ready to be on his own. They know who he is, the kind of person he is, what interests he has, and what his aspirations are. Their loss equals the loss of a fully developed human being, no matter what age he is.
The second speaks to emptiness. Even before a woman gets pregnant, she is making plans for the child’s life. When a couple discovers that they are going to have a child, the plans begin. If this is the birthday, then this will the Bar Mitzvah. This will be graduation, and hopefully around here is the chuppah. Who knows, maybe by this year we’ll be grandparents! Describing the loss as “like a full bridegroom” reminds us that we are going to miss out on every simchah that might have been, from birth to the wedding and beyond.