His jobs include:
* West Coast director of the Orthodox Union
* Army chaplin
* Rabbi of Young Israel of N. Beverly Hills
You know you’ve arrived if you get invited to any of these homes:
* Rabbi Marvin Hier Great conversation, fascinating guests
* Rabbi Ari Hier Charming erudite host
* Rabbi Elazar Muskin Great food, great Torah, a great long seder
* Rabbi Kalman Topp Understated rabbi who allows room for others
* Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky Gracious, stimulating
* Rabbi Robert Wexler Erudite, gracious, hospitable
* Rabbi Mimi Feigelson Great food, fascinating conversation
* Rabbi Dov Heller Great food, masters of hospitality
* Rabbi Nachum Braverman Understated empathic rabbi
* Rabbi Moshe Cohen Learned, funny
* Rabbi Boruch Sufrin Smart, funny
* Morey Levovitz Accomplished, generous
* Rabbi Yaacov Pinto
* Richard Horowitz Masters of hospitality, stimulating conversation
* Marc Firestone Masters of hospitality, low key, interested in others
* Peter Lowy – rich, generous, Australian
* David Sacks Funny, smart, unexpected
* Stuart & Enny Wax The gold standard for hospitality
* Sam Glaser Not your typical Orthodox home, this one is a lot of fun!
* David Suissa
* Monica Osborne
* Selwyn & Glynis Gerber Good Israeli wine, good food, Glynis owned Serravalle – the original gourmet Kosher meat restaurant in town
* Rabbi Marc Mandel
* Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
* Rabbi Lisbon (Chabad Bais Bezalel)
* Chazzan Netanel Baram
* Rabbi Sharon Brous
* Rabbi Bradley Shavit-Artson
* Don Etra
* Mark & Debbie Goldenberg
* Robert J. Avrech
* Mitch Julis
* Professor Aryeh Cohen
* Bob & Judy Millman
* Rabbi Aryeh Markman
* Rabbi Yitz Jacobs
* Rabbi Motti Shenker
* Fred and Susie Toczek
* Harold and Brenda Walt (Catering by Brenda!)
* Billie & Jenny Gelb
* Larry and Andrea Gill
* Jeff Fishman
* Richard Kellner
* David Nimmer
* Etan Cohen
* Steve Tabak
* David Nagel
* Ian & Lisa Tofler
* Steve & Daisy Cohn: Healthy food, hearty conversation
I simply posted this list because my soul is so in love with truth. Who knew that it would score me invites? I am not worthy. I just want to cover myself in dust and ashes, sit at the feet of the sages, and blog all day (except for Shabbos and holidays).Read More
An Orthodox rabbi calls me Sunday afternoon. “I’m watching Analyze This on channel 5. I met somebody last night who’s a gay ex-Mormon. Very nice guy. He really liked me a lot. He’s going to UCLA and is studying to be a psychiatrist.
“There’s a commercial now. We have something in common. I’m dying for lack of an intellectual person to talk to. Sometimes the best person is ex-religious. When you’re ex-religious, religion still has a formative impact on your life. Sometimes the best person to talk to is someone who knows what religion is but he got turned off to it by all the idiots and wanted to be more rational.
“You go to Bnai David. I don’t care if someone is Modern Orthodox or Reform either. I just need intellectual people. You know Sam Harris? I prefer him to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I saw all three of them at the library.”Read More
6 p.m. We walk towards Pico Blvd and head west. He’s lived in this hood since 1987. “No other place has so many kosher restaurants in one place,” he says. “People get along better here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The other side of town [Fairfax/La Brea] is more icky, sticky, stuffy.
“I go surfing. I put my surfboard on my car and I’m off. Nobody cares. I’m not sure I could get away with that on the other side of town. I’d get a speech from some yenta. ‘What are you doing? Rabbis don’t go surfing.’
“In New York, I don’t know what people would say about me. Ashkenazi Jews can’t handle people who are different.”
Luke: “This is a tolerant Orthodox community.”
Rabbi: “Oh yeah. Pico-Robertson is a magnet for misfits so naturally they don’t have a problem with me. They couldn’t stand the poison and the venom of New York and New Jersey… They tend to be more laid back and open-minded and understanding of people who are different. Plus, there are a lot of Sephardim and Persians and they don’t give a crap.”
“The older I get, the more young chicks dig me.”
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be Jewish. But you can’t talk to these people. They feel that Torah is truth, they were born with a Jewish soul.”
“If I woke up one day and somebody told me, ‘Rabbs, we discovered that your grandmother is not a Jew.’ I’d say, ‘Thank God, I’m out.’ I don’t want to be part of this. I hate this. Non-Jews think it is the greatest thing ever. They all want to be Jewish. I don’t understand it.”
“I get the BT (baal teshuva) thing. I’m born Jewish, I’m stuck. I better do what I am supposed to do.”Read More
This coming Shabbat – Parshat Toldot November 21st, Rabbi Kahn will be the Scholar in Residence at the West Coast Torah Center 322 North Foothill Road Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Friday night dinner in the shul with a few families, followed by a shiur. “From Death to Life – a Jewish view of the afterlife”
Shabbat morning , a derasha before Musaf. , A shiur an hour before Minha at 3:15 PM “The mystical experience”
It returns Oct. 18 in downtown Los Angeles. I believe this Torah study is aimed at the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered community.Read More
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (Bnai David) and Rabbi Elazar Muskin (YICC) love each other and their shuls do a lot of things together.
Bnai David’s president David Diamond emails his congregation: As I mentioned from the bima this past Shabbat, we are looking forward to building on the already strong relationship and sense of community between our shul and Young Israel of Century City as Rabbi Kanefsky and Rabbi Muskin exchange pulpits this coming Shabbat morning. I invite you all, once again, to join me in greeting Rabbi Muskin and welcoming him warmly upon his arrival at B’nai David. Davening begins, as usual, at 8:45.
Erin Dana Leib, the daughter of Naomi R. Leib and Dr. Martin L. Leib of Riverdale, the Bronx, is to be married Sunday to Rabbi Daniel Jonathan Smokler, a son of Carol S. Smokler and Irving A. Smokler of Boca Raton, Fla. Rabbi Irving Greenberg will officiate at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan.
The bride, 30, is a candidate for a Ph.D. in social thought at the University of Chicago. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. She teaches Jewish philosophy and studies the Talmud at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in Manhattan.
…Both the bride’s and the bridegroom’s previous marriages ended in divorce.
The couple’s paths first crossed in 1995 when they took part in Nesiya, a summer program in Israel, during high school.
“Dan was a rather charismatic hippie in his youth, meaning a cool, long-haired, spiritual guy,” Ms. Leib said.
Mr. Smokler, in turn, said he was “definitely intrigued by her, but our paths never crossed long enough.” After that summer Ms. Leib went back to New York and Mr. Smokler to Ann Arbor, yet they remained in contact and would often see one another a few times each year at Jewish events.Read More
David Deutsch emails:
Dear Rabbi ________,
I’m writing this on behalf of Luke Ford, in the hopes that you will reconsider your recent decision to ban him from shul unless he places his blog under your hechsher. While I understand how frustrating it can at times be to deal with him, there are a number of issues both personal and professional which I hope you would take in mind, and have a little rachmones on him.
First of all, by way of introduction, my name is David Deutsch, and among other things, I’m both shomer Shabbos and the Humor Editor of Heeb Magazine. Like Luke, like every frum person working in journalism, I am regularly confronted by the challenge of whether or not I am violating halacha in what I do. We want to inform or entertain, but can we do that effectively if we can’t criticize or call attention to people’s misdeeds? Some days we go to bed feeling we’re on the side of the angels, some days we go to bed wishing we hadn’t written what we’d written, but you should not presume that these decisions are always made glibly or without due consideration, or that we don’t seek ways to perform our own teshuva. We hope that people take into consideration the full spectrum of our work, and treat us no differently than they would anyone else in another profession.
This raises another issue. To be sure, there is something very personal about putting your thoughts to paper (or screen) that makes what Luke does much harder to separate from who he is. Most shuls have a word for real estate owners who charge exorbitant rents, high-powered attorneys who represent crooks and crooked corporations, or CEOs who fire hundreds of workers and ship their jobs overseas—they call them “boardmembers.” Certainly, rabbis have a right and a responsibility to be interested in the behaviors of their mispallelim, but there should be a fair standard applied equally.
This approach only goes so far, of course. At the end of the day, Luke, like anyone, can’t simply rationalize his behavior by saying “other people are doing far worse.” So the question then is what is it what he’s done that’s so objectionable? Looking at the specific incident involving The Jewish Journal blog, I can certainly understand why you were upset with him. On the face of it, one can argue that he violated the privacy of a teenage girl. But let’s be fair here—the girl in question is a nascent journalist who, one presumes, hoped to use prurient interest in her “private” life to further her career. Arguably, once she decided to blog about her life, it really stopped being private. Still, she is a teenager, and teenagers should be cut a certain amount of slack. But is Luke really the one to blame here? While it may be said that she didn’t know better, or that anonymity should still be respected even on-line, it may also be argued that if anyone was at fault here, it was the grownups at The Jewish Journal, who sought to boost their own website by exploiting the not-so private life of the girl in question, and who should have known that on-line anonymity may be desired, but it certainly can’t be promised. Let’s face it—Luke has his good points, but he’s not exactly an NSA cryptographer. In figuring out who the blogger was, he was pretty much doing what anyone who actually pays attention to writing could have done. Was it something that he had to do? No. Was it newsworthy? In the sense that the The Jewish Journal created and hoped to exploit an interest in who the blog’s author was, yes. Should Luke have done it? That’s a much tougher call, but I don’t think that the approach you’ve suggested is the best way to answer it, or to guide him in the future.
Luke—like all of us—is definitely a work in progress, and he marches to the beat of his own drummer (and I would tell you that after having tried editing him once, I would very, very strongly warn against taking over a supervisory role over his writing). But let’s look at the balance of his work. A lot of what he writes about are things that frum Yidden should be writing about. I certainly don’t always agree with him, but I think that the Orthodox world suffers from a real lack of introspection, and it is a good thing for our body politic to have people like Luke who are willing to raise questions about the establishment, whether it’s rabbinical misconduct, skewed Federation priorities and policies, or just general hypocrisy and sanctimony. We do ourselves a real disservice if we tell our own voices to “shah, shtill” and leave the field of criticism to those who don’t necessarily have the best interests of the Torah world at heart. And say what you will about Luke, he does care about Torah and mitzvos. And indeed, the very fact that you would threaten to ban him from the shul shows that you know this, since it’s a threat that would be meaningless to anyone who didn’t care.
Rabbi, I don’t know you, and Luke, to his credit, wouldn’t give me either your name or the name of the shul. I don’t know what your relationship to Luke has been, so I don’t want to make any judgments. But in thinking about this situation, I was reminded of something that happened to me years ago. I was riding my bike, and was about to run a red light, when I realized there was an elderly woman at the corner, so I stopped to let her cross. Instead of doing so however, she started berating me. “Are you going to let me cross? Are you going to stop?” and so forth. My initial reaction was anger, since, after all, I had stopped. I realized at some point, though, that she wasn’t yelling at me; she was yelling at all the bikers who didn’t stop.
What’s the connection? I just want you to consider the possibility that your approach to Luke is guided perhaps by the type of frustration we all feel to the things we can’t change. We all want a more civil discourse in the public world, and have very little influence in creating it. We are constantly bombarded by people saying and publishing things that we’d probably be better off not knowing, and can’t do a thing about it. In Luke, you have someone who you can influence. And I think it’s worth taking the time to consider that fact that, while this blog isn’t just a hobby, it’s Luke’s parnosse, he used to have a blog that brought him a much more lucrative parnosse, and he gave that up. How many of your other mispallelim would be so willing to give up lucrative clients or accounts that were morally objectionable? We know that Luke actually does care about these things, or this issue wouldn’t have arisen in the first place. The question is “What’s the best way to convert that care into action?”
When that elderly woman yelled at me, it left me annoyed, not sympathetic or even particularly understanding. Had she taken those same moments to thank me for stopping, when so few bikers do, it would have given me a chizuk to do the right thing in the future. Luke doesn’t need to be berated, he needs chizuk. I beg you to reconsider your plan for Luke. I don’t think Luke needs censorship; I think he, like all of us, could use guidance. My real fear is that you’ll end up isolating him from the community, and rather than guiding him, you’ll instead leave him rudderless. Instead of an eitheror ultimatum, perhaps you could simply take the time each month to ask him what he’s working on, and if there’s anything he’d like to discuss. Luke will still have his community, and you’ll probably be able to be a positive influence on the really important matters, while saving yourself a huge hassle in dealing with actually editing Luke, a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, much less a strange rabbi who I believe wants the same thing that I do.
At any rate, I hope this gives you some food for thought (does that need to be consumed in the sukkah?), and that, as we recently asked from Hashem, you will find it in your heart to cancel your own stern decree. Gut yontiff,
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today announced it has selected Rabbi Sharon Brous as the recipient of its first Inspired Leadership Award. The Foundation created the biennial award program to recognize an outstanding professional leader whose vision can help transform the Los Angeles Jewish community. It provides a $100,000 donor advised fund for Brous to distribute to programs and projects of local Jewish organizations that support her vision.
Brous is the founder of IKAR, a vibrant Jewish spiritual community in Los Angeles dedicated to the integration of spiritual and religious practice and the pursuit of social justice. Among her accomplishments, Brous is credited by many for her innovative approach to reaching out and drawing back many young, unaffiliated Jews to Judaism. She was included in the Forward newspaper’s annual list of the 50 most influential American Jews for three consecutive years, and Newsweek has named her one of the leading rabbis in the country.
“Rabbi Brous exemplifies the committee’s criteria for this prestigious award: she’s a forward-thinking leader who is ahead of her time—truly creative and entrepreneurial in her approach to Jewish communal issues,” said Foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland. “Her dynamic personality and commitment to Judaism and social justice are truly inspirational. She’s a person of integrity and accomplishment who works to effect positive, meaningful change in the Los Angeles Jewish community.”
He continued, “For the first time in The Foundation’s more than 50-year history, we have established a monetary award program that recognizes and supports the work of an individual. Our role as a prime source for funding causes in Jewish Los Angeles continues to evolve and expand. Consequently, our board feels it is incumbent upon us to identify outstanding young leaders and support their work.
“Rabbi Brous was selected from 15 candidates nominated by The Foundation’s board. However, our organization has been aware of Rabbi Brous’s breakthrough work for several years, and in fact, she was one of the inspirations for establishing the award,” Schotland concluded.
Surprised to Receive Award
“I am thrilled and honored to receive The Foundation’s inaugural Inspired Leadership Award,” Brous said. “We started IKAR four years ago believing that if we approached traditional Jewish life with a pious irreverence, a true sense of mission, a spirit of innovation and risk taking, and a real sense of humor, we could build a beautiful and compelling model, and simultaneously catalyze a critical conversation in the American Jewish community about the Jewish future.
“We knew that these were ambitious objectives, but we also knew that the time was right to create a new model of Jewish community, particularly in a moment defined by religious apathy on one hand; extremism and divisiveness on the other. This award recognizes our work toward realizing our vision,” the rabbi added.
Brous Fund: Encouraging Others to Live Charitably
Brous plans to use the $100,000 donor advised fund to inspire others to give thoughtfully and generously. This includes a matching challenge to IKAR community members who join her in a tzedakah (charity) collective. Brous envisions a group that will study the Laws of Tzedakah (charity and justice) and collectively explore visionary, purpose-driven organizations and projects around the city that merit funding.
“My goal is to inspire people who might not otherwise be giving to give, and give meaningfully. We will be leveraging The Foundation’s gift to create an even greater pool of resources,” Brous said.
Brous, 34, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001. She received her master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, where she also received her bachelor’s degree. After ordination, she served as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. Following her move to Los Angeles in 2002, she was Rabbi in Residence and director of Advanced Jewish Studies at Milken Community High School.
For the past seven years, Brous has served on the faculty of REBOOT, a nonprofit that seeks to revive Jewish tradition, and on the regional council of Progressive Jewish Alliance. She teaches social justice and spiritual activism at Hebrew Union College and sits on the rabbinic advisory boards of American Jewish World Service and Hebrew College, Newton, Mass. A native of New Jersey, she resides in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles with her husband, David Light, a comedy writer, and their two daughters.
IKAR is a Jewish spiritual community in Los Angeles founded in 2004. IKAR, which means “root” or “core,” is deeply committed to the integration of authentic and passionate spiritual practice and serious engagement in the pursuit of justice as a human and religious obligation. Of the 370 families and individuals who are members of the community, the majority are previously unaffiliated or disaffected young Jews. The community meets regularly for the Sabbath and holidays as well as for learning and community engagement. For further information, please visit www.ikar-la.org.
About The Foundation
Established in 1954, the Jewish Community Foundation is the largest manager of charitable assets and the leader in planned giving solutions for Greater Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. The Foundation currently manages assets of nearly $800 million and ranks among the ten largest Los Angeles foundations (based on assets). In 2007, The Foundation and its 1,200-plus donors distributed $78 million in grants to more than 1,850 organizations with programs that span the range of philanthropic giving. For further information, please visit www.jewishfoundationla.org.Read More
Washington — Presidential historians and convention observers believe this year’s Democratic convention will be the first time that a rabbi gives an invocation before the presidential nominee’s acceptance speech since the advent of modern American political conventions nearly a century ago.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will be making history August 28 as he opens the Democratic convention’s last day, in front of an expected crowd of 70,000 in the audience and millions more watching from afar.
The choice of a Jewish religious leader to give the prime-time invocation is only one part of a move by the Democratic Party to raise the profile of faith in its rhetoric and activities, a move from which Jewish religious activists and evangelical Christians seem to be benefiting more than other faiths. Both groups are seen as key constituencies for the Democrats in the November elections.
“This shows how critical the party and the campaign believe the Jewish community is in the upcoming elections,” said Matt Dorf, Jewish outreach coordinator for the Democratic National Committee.Read More
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Rabbi Judah Kogen was determined not to be a rabbi.
Rabbi Kogen, the new spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in West Brighton, brings with him to Staten Island a wealth of experience in leading congregations of every size, in developing high-level educational programs for both adults and youth, and in helping Conservative Jews understand what it really means to be a Conservative Jew.
Rabbi Kogen was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. He moved with his family to Manhattan’s West Side as a boy of 6 when his father, Rabbi David Kogen, became the vice chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary.
He studied Bible at JTS while also enrolled at City College of New York, and he went to the JTS rabbinical school while studying at Columbia University’s graduate school.
After serving large congregations, Rabbi Kogen realized that “what I was chasing wasn’t there.”
The congregation had 160 members, more than three-quarters of whom were over 70. The rabbi also served congregations in Larchmont, N.Y., and Newington, Conn., before taking a job at the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills — the Queens synagogue where eight Torah scrolls were reported stolen over the weekend.
The rabbi comes to B’nai Jeshurun following the retirement a year ago of its longtime spiritual leader, Rabbi Judah Newberger.
The rabbi emeritus and new rabbi led services together during one of Rabbi Kogen’s first Sabbaths on the Island, helping to smooth the transition.
Rabbi Kogen said he was interested in the Island’s oldest congregation because “B’nai Jeshurun was seeking the kind of leadership I can offer.
A “recovering New York Yankees fan,” Rabbi Kogen maintains an avid interest in Israeli music and in politics. Parents thinking about enrolling their children in B’nai Jeshurun’s Hebrew School can meet the rabbi — who will serve as its principal — at an open house and barbecue Sept. 7.Read More
Financial crises occur. Personal trainers need their access. The All-Star Game can run late.
“I had some, uh, mixed feelings, Seth, about your missing our last appointment,” said Rabbi Stuart Shiff, sitting one morning the other week across the table in a midtown Manhattan office from one of his private students, Seth Horowitz, executive vice-president of sporting goods company Modell’s.
The rabbi thumbed the pages of the Torah on the table. Shiff is one of five rabbis employed by an international Orthodox Jewish organisation known as Aish HaTorah, which offers many services to regular people at its Upper West Side centre. It offers some special attention to those whom its managing director, Rabbi Adam Jacobs, refers to as “very significant people”.
Almost all are accustomed to personal trainers and personal services.
People sometimes seek grounding when times get tough,” he said.
One said he became a participant soon after he married a “very secular” Jewish woman. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Centre for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York, said the Aish programme reflected a long tradition in Judaism of co-operation between the tribes of ancient Israel known as the Zebulun and the Issachar.
“We did classes at Goldman Sachs for years,” said Rabbi Brad Hirshfield, president of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership.Read More
Held by Jewish tradition to be unpronounceable, the Tetragrammaton is often replaced by “Adonai” or “Lord” when Jews read scripture. Christians often pronounce it as Yahweh or Jehovah.
Could Yahweh have both a yin and a yang? Does God’s gender matter?
“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the article published this week in the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) Journal.
“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God’s name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”
The four consonants that make up the Tetragrammaton appear 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible. Since early Hebrew script included no vowels, the pronunciation of the name was known only by those who heard it.
According to Sameth’s research, ancient Israelites sprinkled the Tetragrammaton into everyday salutations until 586 B.C.E., when the First Temple was destroyed. Eventually, it was uttered only by priests. After the destruction of the Second Temple, it was no longer pronounced at all.
Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of “hu” and “he,” the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.” Therefore, he concludes, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.
Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.
Moscow, August 1, Interfax – Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar urges believers to take footballers for a model.
Every man should live like “in a football field, to give all his energies and abilities,” he writes in his article published by the Lechaim magazine in August.
“Footballers play to kick the goal to the rival. If there is no rival, there is no football. However, life is the same! God could have created the world to make everything easy for a man, but then life would be deprived of sense,” the rabbi writes.
According to him, God created “a rival” to each man including “various obstacles we have to overcome in order to gain something.”
“Yes, it makes life much more difficult, but much more interesting! We are like footballers have to overcome “opposition of the enemy” and acquire new skills,” the article says.
Lazar also noted that a good footballer is an all-around sportsman who can play as both guard and forward.
“A team with utility players will always dominate the rival. To fulfill his mission in everyday life, a person also must know how to attack and guard,” he writes.Read More
Dennis Shulman is a blind psychologist who’s also an ordained rabbi. Political experts say the 58-year-old Democrat’s quest to unseat Rep. Scott Garrett is a long shot. “The Republican administration has simply made so many mistakes that people have given up on seeing Republican leadership as dealing with the issues facing the country,” said Ingrid Reed, director of the New Jersey Project at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
The 5th District, a narrow strip running along the state’s northern border, covers traditionally conservative areas that compliment Garrett’s own conservative views. Garrett, as an incumbent, also has the potential to raise cash fast.
So far, Shulman hasn’t lagged too badly in the money race: Shulman had $258,381 on hand, to Garrett’s $649,003, as of June 30. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also included Shulman in an early July round of radio advertisements and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has campaigned for Shulman.
Shulman argues that Garrett is so conservative that even 5th District residents want a change. The Alexandria, Va.-based American Conservative Union lists Garrett as one of the most conservative congressmen in the Northeast.
Shulman has a long list of differences with Garrett. Shulman, for example, is against President Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s proposal to allow more offshore oil drilling. Garrett thinks the proposal has some merit.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Israel. She is associate dean at the Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, and seeks a progressive direction for Judaism and a greater understanding of pluralism. She is involved with Mazorim Spiritual Care/Israeli Chaplaincy, and Rabbis for Human Rights. She spoke with Swati Chopra:
You were the first woman rabbi in Israel.
Throughout the centuries the religious leaders of Judaism have been men. A woman was ordained for the first time in 1972 by a stream of Reformed Judaism, which began in the 1850s in Europe and later moved to the US. Israel was established with an official synagogue and rabbinate, which are orthodox and patriarchal. They control all laws of marriage, divorce, burial, conversion. And they continue to get more and more extreme.
I was fortunate to be born in New York and come of age during the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement. On my father’s side, i’m a tenth generation rabbi. So, i like to say i went into the family business! But it wasn’t automatic. It was a journey.
Does the official rabbinate accept you?
Not at all. But they don’t accept men who are not orthodox.
What is the women’s Bible project?
It is the product of the Reform Movement in Judaism in the US. Some 15 years ago, a woman suggested that since so much of our tradition is interpreting the Bible, wouldn’t it be wonderful if women’s voices interpreted the Bible?
There are over 200 women’s voices in this Bible, who are Biblical scholars, rabbis, teachers. They come from many groups; most are Reformed. It was launched in December 2007. This Bible highlights the women’s angle. Not with a sledgehammer, but by saying that this might be interesting to women from this perspective.
You’re in the heart of a conflict zone. Is there a woman’s perspective to peacemaking?
People in the peace camp in Israel come from the impulse to reach out to the other, to make room for the other. And I don’t know if that’s a woman’s perspective. There are many women in the peace movement. When I’ve been in interfaith dialogue, with Palestinian Christians mostly, I try and introduce a woman’s perspective. When things get angry, I try and speak from a different place, about what we share.Read More
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Seven members of the township Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously decided Thursday that a local rabbi is, in fact, running a house of worship out of his home.
“If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it probably is a duck,” zoning board member William Nero said before the board voted. “And without question, this is a duck.”
Nero was referring to 351 Stillwells Corner Road, the home of Rabbi Avraham Bernstein.
Bernstein’s neighbors have long complained that Bernstein is running religious services out of his home, which is located across the street from the township Municipal Complex.
The township does permit houses of worship in residential areas, but requires a use variance for their operation. Bernstein — a member of the Jewish organization Chabad Lubavitch — does not have a use variance to run services out of his home.
After years of mounting frustration among his neighbors, one — Paul Sweda, who lives next to Bernstein — asked the zoning board to determine whether Bernstein is operating a house of worship in violation of the township’s zoning ordinances.
The board began hearing the case in January. During the hearing process, the board heard from several witnesses who described watching people visit Bernstein’s home on Fridays and Saturdays, and observing what they believed to be religious celebrations at the house.
Based on that testimony and their own observations, board members said they felt assured that Bernstein’s home met the definition of a house of worship.
To be a house of worship, a property must be used for traditional services, meetings or gatherings of an organized religious body or community, which are presided over by an ordained or “otherwise officially recognized” leader of the body or community.Read More
After spending 12 years at Congregation Bethaynu in Pepper Pike, Sukol left in June 2007 to start a new type of Jewish religious and learning experience that he calls Cleveland’s Synagogue Without Walls.
In the fall, he formed The Shul, which has no denominational affiliation.
“I felt it was time to do something new. To spread my wings. To create something from scratch,” said Sukol, 50, a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
In addition to leading The Shul, Sukol is an adjunct faculty member at Baldwin-Wallace College, a lecturer at the Rose Institute for Life Long Learning in Beachwood and a hospital chaplain.
Sukol’s manner is easygoing and self-deprecating. No one calls him Edward. Instead, he’s simply Rabbi Eddie. He’s quick with a joke, and his style of dress nearly always includes a spirited tie.
There is the baseball tie for the Indians opening day. UNICEF and Save the Children ties. And for New Yorkers, a tie depicting the interior of the Chrysler Building.
Sukol says he began to wear the animated ties to better relate to children. That’s how the popular Charlie Brown tie took up residence around his neck.
His cheerful demeanor is infectious. At Congregation Bethaynu, Sukol routinely stepped off the bimah to interact with worshippers. He was known for sometimes calling on unsuspecting congregants.
It’s the reason some members of that congregation left and followed Sukol.
So what does a synagogue without walls look like?
Rabbi is always
on the go
For starters, it means Sukol is always on the go. He travels to homes for twice-a-month Shabbat services. He leads study groups in a restaurant and a bookstore and helps prepare teens for their bar or bat mitzvahs at his Pepper Pike home.
“Rather than expecting people to come to me, I am going out to them,” he said.
But logistical problems arise by not having a bricks-and-mortar synagogue.
Before Rosh Hashana last year (services were held at a Solon school), Shul member Allen Frydenberg was concerned that there was no ark to hold the Torah. So he made a wooden ark that fits in the back of the rabbi’s Toyota Camry.
Sukol is unsure if The Shul will ever have its own building. He said he can’t predict the future. For now, he’s concentrating on making the experimental synagogue as relevant as he can.
Even though she calls herself a traditionalist, Emily Gusky didn’t think twice about joining The Shul. Gusky, who lives in Solon, enjoys the informality of the service.
“I don’t think you need a building to believe in God and religion,” she said. “And you don’t need to have a building to feel Jewish.”
Sukol says he started The Shul to offer a different experience to those within the Jewish community whose needs and interests were not being addressed adequately or fully by existing communal organizations.
“It’s what I lovingly call the disaffected,” he said.
He especially wants to reach the unaffiliated, the intermarried (interfaith couples) and baby boomers. Boomers make up the largest segment of the Jewish population, Sukol said.Read More
CANTERBURY-Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, gave a stirring address to Anglican bishops gathered under the Big Top tent at the decennial Lambeth Conference Monday evening. He said that Anglicans must come together despite their differences.
Speaking in his main remarks about covenants between God and the people, Rabbi Sir Jonathan discussed the divisions in the Anglican Communion during the question and answer period. “It is the hardest thing in the world to hold the adherents of a faith together,” he said. “The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice better than any other religion I know, certainly than any other Western religion I know.”
He called on Anglicans to be tolerant of each other, as he had known them to be when he was a student in Anglican schools. “Covenant is predicated on difference,” he said. “Between God and humanity-that is the covenant of ultimate difference.”
Beyond the call to unity in the Anglican Communion, Rabbi Sir Jonathan said that Anglicans can help to unite people across religions. He said that Anglicans can help “to hold us together in a world that is drawing us apart.”
In his main remarks, Rabbi Sir Jonathan said that societies without faith disintegrate. “Relationships break down. Marriage grows weak. Families become fragile. Communities atrophy. And the result is that people feel vulnerable and alone.”
“That is where we are,” he said.
Sir Jonathan said that “covenants of faith are splitting apart”, and called on Christians to walk united with members of other religions in working to solve the world’s problems.
Too often, he said, religion showed a divided face to the world: “Conflict – between faiths, and sometimes within faiths.”
Sir Jonathan said that globalisation had created a “global covenant” but that it was itself in danger.
“The sanctity of human life is being desecrated by terror. The integrity of creation is threatened by environmental catastrophe. Respect for diversity is imperilled by what one writer has called the clash of civilisations.”
He also referred to the long history of Christian antiSemitism that underpinned centuries of persecution of the Jewish people. He said: “Friends, I stand before you as a Jew, which means not as an individual, but as a representative of my people. And as I prepared this lecture, within my soul were the tears of my ancestors. We may have forgotten this but, for a thousand years, between the First Crusade and the Holocaust, the word ‘Christian’ struck fear into Jewish hearts.”
He said he could not have stood “in openness” before a gathering of so many Christian bishops without mentioning this “book of Jewish tears”.
Sir Jonathan said: “Think only of the words the Jewish encounter with Christianity added to the vocabulary of human pain: blood libel, book burnings, disputations, forced conversions, inquisition, auto-da-fé, expulsion, ghetto and pogrom.”
The past could not be rewritten but it could be “redeemed”, he said. Today, more than 60 years after an Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, met a Chief Rabbi, J. H. Hertz, to found the Council of Christians and Jews, the two faith groups could meet as “beloved friends”. That friendship now had to be extended more widely, to Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians and Baha’is.
Sir Jonathan said: “Because though we do not share a faith, we surely share a fate. Religions should not fight each other but work together to face the challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental disaster.”Read More
Rabbi Yosef Carmel speaking on Shabbos @ Yavneh.Read More
|By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried|
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have trouble understanding the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” It seems to be an injunction forbidding jealousy. How can jealousy, a normal human emotion, be forbidden?
One of the classical commentaries, R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, provides insight to answer your question. He explains that we are only jealous of, or covet, something that we believe could actually become ours. When we see a friend, colleague or coworker achieve a heightened level of financial success, we may be overcome by jealousy. When we observe, however, a king of royal lineage basking in the splendor of his riches, we don’t feel envious. Why this discrepancy?
The difference is clear. We recognize we are not kings. We were not born into royal families, and do not yearn for things we know could not possibly become ours. We might, however, be envious of our neighbor who we believe is no more capable than ourselves.
“Lo sachmod,” “Do not covet …” teaches us a profound lesson in G-d’s involvement in our lives and livelihoods. The Al-mighty has provided each person with his or her needs. What is appropriate for one is not necessarily fitting for another. What belongs to another is as much out of reach as if your friend was royalty.
I think this explanation is inherent within the verse itself. The commandment to not covet our friend’s ox and donkey is uttered in the same breath that we may not covet his wife. This is hinting to us that just as his wife is completely off limits to me (that’s his royalty), so too the rest of his possessions are to be viewed as completely out of reach. Consequently, you will not covet those belongings.
You see that this mitzvah doesn’t command us to quash our emotions. It rather gives us a direction in life which enables us to control our emotions. All natural emotions have a place; otherwise they would not have been created within us. Our job, as Jews, is to control our emotions, utilizing them when appropriate, remaining above them when inappropriate.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the first black sub-Saharan rabbi ordained at an American rabbinical school, has had a very busy time since returning to Uganda in June, after not having lived there for five years. Among other activities, the American Jewish University graduate recently supervised about 250 formal conversions to Judaism: men, women and children, ages ranging from 4 to 80, who had been preparing while he was gone for their meeting with the beit din.
“We started the conversions on July 8,” said Sizomu, who spoke with The Journal by cellphone from his Ugandan village. “And we have continued the conversions throughout the week. People not just from Uganda, but also from Kenya, South Africa and from Ghana.
“We are very happy about how Judaism appeals to Africans,” he continued. “We are not going out there and asking people to convert. We are here, and people come to us and express their desire to make that commitment, their desire to immerse themselves in Jewish education.”
The African converts also immersed themselves in nature’s mikvah.
“The mikvah was the river,” Sizomu said. “So the women went to one part of the river, and the men went to a different part. It was so beautiful.”
The mass conversions were not the only major event for Sizomu since returning to Uganda. During the same week, he hosted the first-ever meeting of PAJA, the Pan-African Jewish Alliance.
“Jewish community leaders [came] from black African communities in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia,” Sizomu said.Read More
BLOOMFIELD – The call comes from someone “deep in southwest Texas, headed for New Mexico.” It’s Stephen Landau, the new rabbi at Tikvoh Chadoshoh in Bloomfield, and he’s driving through the familiar landscape, visiting friends and family, catching up on rest, before taking the Connecticut pulpit on Aug. 1.
Landau is a Dallas native who lived and worked in New Mexico for 20 years before deciding to become a rabbi. A carpenter by trade, he was ordained on June 1 from Hebrew College in Newton, Mass.
“My heart is here in many ways,” he says of the American southwest, “and I always expected to return here or to the mountain states of the American west. But something happened when I went to visit Tikvoh Chadoshoh. Even though I had other opportunities, they basically won my heart.”
Landau will succeed Rabbi Lily Kaufmann, who served Tikvoh for seven years and left this summer to become the Theresa Berman Director of Jewish Learning at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn.
“There was something very non-concrete about my attraction to Tikvoh,” Landau says. “The congregants’ attitude and culture, the community they’ve built over 70 years, match my dreams and vision for community. It has a lovely, chavurah-like intimacy that you don’t often find once a congregation gets bigger than 50 or 60 families. They care very deeply about each other as individuals and Jews, and they’re very good to their rabbi. They’re easy to love.”
Landau says that while he always identified as a Jew, he was raised in a Jewish-secular family, with a high degree of ethnic, cultural, and historical identity with Judaism. “I’ve always been a person intrigued with the unseen, with what we don’t see or know,” he says. “In a Jewish sense, I’ve always been intrigued more with the questions much more than the answers.”Read More
Just recently, a highly respected sage, Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, son-in-law of the late, great venerated sage Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, shocked many by stating that Judaism is in favour of organ donation. He attached the usual caveat that one should consult one’s rabbi on this. But the message is clear and unequivocal.
The question is, will it make a difference?
Why would it not? Because it remains an entrenched myth in the mind of so many that Judaism is against organ donation. Jews and non-Jews are convinced of this.
Why do so many people believe this? There are a number of possible reasons. One is simple: ignorance. People don’t know, and therefore assume, often incorrectly. Another is that it is convenient to believe that Judaism is against organ donation, because that way, you are off the hook and don’t need to contemplate this urgent and life-saving matter. People generally avoid all conversation regarding their eventual demise, including buying burial plots. Organ donation fits with this avoidance response.
Or, people might actually be afraid of donating an organ. Why? Perhaps they give credence to the preposterous statements they may have heard, and attributed to some otherwise sage individuals, to the effect that if you donate an organ, you will come into the afterlife without that organ, as a punishment for having saved someone’s life! This is so ridiculous as to defy comment, yet it circulates and does its own incalculable damage.
Imagine that God would punish someone for having fulfilled the supreme mitzvah of saving a life. Or that God, who generates life, cannot generate another kidney. Or that someone who donates a heart will walk around in the afterlife without a heart!
By the way, what happens to those who did not donate a life-saving organ, but nevertheless had a lung or kidney removed because of cancer? Do they likewise get punished for having cancer? The more we splice this, the more absurd it sounds, because it is absurd.
Not absurd is the presumption made by many that Judaism insists on burial after death, and that by donating an organ, that body part is not buried. The premise is correct, but the conclusion is not. The Torah obliges us to bury those who have died. That is clear. Equally clear is that saving a life is a vital mitzvah that is praised and encouraged as the most noble deed that we are humanly capable of.
Until this generation, these two concepts never met after death, because organ donation was not a viable medical procedure. That has changed in the past few decades, such that organ donation is now part of after-life care. The human body is sacred, both in life and after death. If after death, one can save a life with a body part, that is an overriding mitzvah, pikuach nefesh, that pre-empts the other competing mitzvah obligations.
We understand that one must treat the Shabbat as an ordinary day in order to save a life. The same logic applies to the mitzvah of burial, namely that the rule of mandatory burial is waived for that organ or part (cornea) used to save life, or sight, as the case may be. Admittedly, it will take more than a few years to have an entire faith community re-adjust thinking that dates back thousands of years, thinking that has given birth to a noble Jewish reflex: death followed by funeral and burial, done as soon as possible with no delays.
The reality is that donating organs after one has passed from the world is a difficult concept, and it takes only a slight blip to convince people to back off from it. We continue to face an acute shortage of organs, to the extent that every three days, a person in Ontario dies waiting for an organ.
And to be fair, there are challenges, the most critical of which is assuring that the person donating an organ is dead according to halachic definition. For this, we have a major difference of opinion surrounding the issue of brain stem death, specifically whether it is a sufficient criteria to establish that the person is dead according to Jewish law.
The Halachic Organ Donation Society (HODS) has many rabbis associated with it who have signed their organ donor card. They have made this known in a public manner, and they have endorsed the brain-stem death concept. The issue is still not finalized, but it’s still possible to be an organ donor even with this challenge. And in many places in Canada, DCD, short for donation after cardiac death, has been implemented to help save lives.Read More
Morris Talansky is the ordained rabbi, former Great Neck macher, and sometimes successful businessman who may bring down the government of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. In May, Talansky told Israeli prosecutors that he delivered envelopes of cash to Olmert, which he claimed were for both campaign and personal expenses. Olmert insisted on cash, Talansky said. “I just didn’t really understand the system in Israel,” said Talansky, and so he acquiesced.But in cross-examination scheduled for this week in Israel, Olmert’s lawyers are expected to paint the roly-poly 75-year-old Talansky as an aggressive, threatening businessman who has long had a reputation as a bully. Talansky has characterized himself as a naïve lover of Israel taken advantage of by a cunning politician.
A transcript of secret tapes obtained by New York Magazine suggests that Talansky can indeed be willful and determined, and even threatening.
Twenty years ago Talansky invested in a Pittsburgh office building which quickly went bust. He felt he’d been fleeced by the sellers, among them a couple of Long Island rabbis.
In its grandest forms, speech is the Divine gift which enabled Moshe to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” and the gift which enables us, to this day, to protest injustice and decry evil. It is the Divine gift through which we are able to express love, shared hopes and communicate our vision to others.
But both the story of Bilaam and Targum Jonathan instruct us to see beyond the grand, deep, transformative moments of speech and realize that each and every time we speak, we are taking advantage of a Divine gift. In an elevator, on the checkout line, when asking our child to do her homework, when responding to a person looking for a handout, we are deploying this Divine gift that is within us. And as such, every time we open our mouths we are either affirming God’s decision to entrust us with this power, or we are proving ourselves — for that moment — unworthy and unappreciative of it.
Reb Shlomo Carlebach taught that a person should pray before each time they open their mouths. In light of the awful damage we can cause with speech, or the great blessing we can bestow with it, this is surely not a bad idea. But a more practical suggestion perhaps would be to just meditate for a split-second on the image of Bilaam’s donkey, or on Targum Jonathan, “and with [God's] breath the human became a creature of speech.”Read More
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday told the High Court of Justice that Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger should cease to serve as a dayan (rabbinic judge) on the Supreme Rabbinic Court.
Mazuz added that the committee charged with selecting rabbinic court judges was also responsible for ending their tenures.
Mazuz’s position came in response to a petition submitted by attorney Boaz Arad on behalf of the Ometz – Citizens for Good Government and Social Justice movement, which is opposed to a decision by the judicial selection committee in February not to dismiss Metzger over the free accommodation and benefits he received from hotels.
The police began investigating the affair in December 2004, in the wake of an investigative report on television, which stated that Metzger had received free accommodation at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem during Passover.
The report also referred to three other incidents in which the chief rabbi supposedly received benefits from hotels in Jerusalem. In April 2006, after the police had investigated the various affairs, Mazuz decided to close the file for lack of evidence. But at the same time, Mazuz called on Metzger to take some responsibility and draw personal conclusions.Read More
A group of ultra-Orthodox passengers delayed for about 90 minutes the takeoff of a scheduled El Al flight from Kiev to Ben-Gurion Airport last month because their rabbi was late in getting to the airport, according to a passenger on the flight. El Al and its Ukrainian partner have a monopoly on the route.
“The passengers were in their seats. The flight attendants were ordered to close the doors when a Haredi passenger suddenly came running from the back of the plane to the front,” the businessman related. He said the flight was scheduled to take off at 11:35 P.M. on June 19.
According to the passenger who spoke to Haaretz about the incident, about 35 minutes after the scheduled takeoff time the pilot announced that after consulting with Tel Aviv he was instructed to wait for the rabbi, who arrived about an hour later with two or three other ultra-Orthodox men. The rabbi, a man in his 70s, according to the witness, took his seat and told his fellow passengers, “Every delay is for the best.”Read More
CANTON Rabbi Leah Herz may be the only rabbi who received her AARP card and ordination in the same week.
Herz, who assumes the pulpit this month at Canton’s Temple Israel will succeed Rabbi John Spitzer, who has held the post since 1981.
“I think I have always wanted to be a rabbi,” she said. “There have always been pieces and elements in my life pointing in that direction.”
The “second career” rabbi was ordained three days after her 50th birthday in 2005.
She had been an assistant rabbi in Seattle and, before that, a successful stockbroker in Chicago.
Like many Jewish women, Herz didn’t have her bat mitzvah until 1992.
“When I was younger, girls didn’t have bat mitzvahs,” she explained. “When I had mine, the floodgates opened for me. I’ve always been observant, but I fell in love with the Hebrew language and the Torah.”
At her son’s urging, Herz quit her job of 13 years, sold her home, and enrolled in Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati at 45. It was five-year regimen that included a year of study in Israel.
“Six weeks after I got there, the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) started,” she said. “It was a challenging year, but it was an amazing year.”
FALLING IN LOVE
Herz’s first assignment after rabbinical school was at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Seattle as one of three assistant rabbis serving 1,400 families.
“I always knew I wanted my own congregation,” she said. “I came to Canton in January and fell in love. There’s a Yiddish term, ‘bershert,’ which means ‘intended one.’ ”
Herz said second-career rabbis have a disadvantage in that they don’t have 40 to 50 years to serve like a traditional rabbi, “But what they lack in energy, they make up in life experience.”
The most liberal of the three main branches of the faith, Reform congregations such as Temple Israel began accepting women rabbis in 1972. Conservative Judaism started accepting women rabbis in the 1980s. Orthodox Judaism does not.
Herz noted that because half the current rabbinical students are women, concerns have been voiced about the “feminization of the rabbinate.”Read More
Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, is the only rabbi who lives in Israel who was invited by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the World Muslim League to the conference that is slated for July 16 to 18.
Other rabbis representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism have also been invited.
Rosen said that the conference was the Saudis’ first initiative to reach out to other religions in this way.
About 200 leaders have been invited to the conference.
Several months ago, Abdullah announced that he planned to hold a major interfaith summit in Saudia Arabia. The Madrid conference is a precursor to that much larger initiative.Read More
PARIS (Reuters) – A rabbi, an imam and a priest sat down to discuss the most sensitive parts of their sacred scriptures, the verses that offend or anger other faiths.
But instead of the Catholic criticising Koran quotes or the Jew complaining about a Gospel, each took objectionable passages from his own holy book and tried to explain them to the others.
“Les Versets douloureux” (The Painful Verses), the result of their work, is an unusual book that aims to move interfaith dialogue beyond polite meetings to discuss issues that create tensions among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Rabbi David Meyer, the driving force behind the project, said his frustration with routine interfaith meetings that avoided tough issues prompted him to seek a different kind of dialogue with Sohaib Bencheikh and Rev. Yves Simoens S.J.
“For a real dialogue, we have to have the courage to confront difficult things,” the rabbi of the International Jewish Center in Brussels said at a presentation of the French-language book in Paris on Thursday.
The book marked a new approach in interfaith dialogue. While religious leaders have been meeting for decades, an upswing in contacts in recent years reflects a feeling they need to work even more closely to foster better understanding.
Bensheikh, head of the Higher Institute of Islamic Sciences in Marseille, stressed the book was “not a dialogue between institutions. It’s the work of three believers, that’s all.”Read More
I spent most of this past week at the annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association, which convened this year in Washington, D.C.
I always enjoy the yearly gathering of writers and editors for the opportunities they afford me – not only the professional ones but also the personal ones, the chances to meet other Jews, in particular those who are not like me. The opportunity to get to know them and hear about their work, lives and views is, to me, invaluable.
And, as always when I attend AJPA gatherings, I was happy to see my friend Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, a Jewish scholar and the editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, a Denver-area Jewish weekly – one of the few other Orthodox Jews at the conference.
He always asks me to study some Torah with him at some point over the conference, and I am honored and happy to oblige. This year was no exception.
But one particular AJPA-conference study-session we had, back in 2003, will always have a special place in my heart. The gathering that year took place in Los Angeles.
That year was when Rabbi Goldberg told me about a “special project” he was working on: an elucidation of a difficult 18th century commentary (that of the Vilna Gaon) to a complicated Jewish legal text (the Shulchan Aruch on the laws of mikveh), a project he has now completed and is publishing. We spent an hour or so analyzing one of the particular passages on which he was then working.
The next day, all the conference attendees were shuttled to a Universal Studios lot. There we heard a presentation from an official of the Shoah Foundation – which was then temporarily located at the Studios – followed by an interesting panel discussion about teaching the Holocaust in public schools.
We were walking to a dining hall on the premises where the awards dinner would take place and I found myself next to Rabbi Goldberg. Around us were actors’ personal trailers (the more successful the actor, we were told, the larger the trailer); on the drive onto the site we had seen elaborate facades of period-piece buildings with nothing behind them, props for movies or television shows.
Rabbi Goldberg was excited, but not by the trailers or props. He had, he said, cracked a textual problem we had encountered the day before in the Vilna Gaon’s commentary. I listened as he addressed the passage, and we discussed the resolution. As we spoke about the text, there was no doubt in my mind that its resolution was the high point of my friend’s day, and of mine.Read More
In late 1973 after the Yom Kippur War, then-chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef received a query from the chief military chaplain, Brigadier General Mordechai Piron, regarding almost 1,000 cases of missing IDF soldiers who remained in the field, all of whom were married men.
Rabbi Yosef, who was just at the beginning of his term as chief rabbi but who had gained prominence as a respected posek (arbiter of halakha, Jewish law), took upon himself one of the most complicated halakhic assignments since the establishment of the state: he was appointed as president of the IDF’s Court for Agunot Affairs, which dealt in 1974 with issues relating to agunot – literally, “chained women,” because their husbands did not or could not give them a religious divorce, leaving the wives unable to remarry according to Jewish law.
In his vast halakhic treatise, Yabia Omer, Rabbi Yosef devoted long chapters to the matter of agunot, and to the halakhic principles whereby some 1,000 married women could remarry on the basis of various, partial testimonies that their husbands died.
Aginut, or the state of being an aguna, is a complex halakhic issue, which many halakhic arbiters avoid, primarily out of fear that they will mistakenly allow a woman whose husband is alive and one day will return home, to remarry.
In the preface to his Responsa, written in the month of Shvat 5734 (1974), Rabbi Yosef explained the importance of permitting agunot to remarry, and directed a little barb at rabbis who fled from this complex and critical halakhic issue: “I am aware of the way of some scholars in our generation, a way of light, of fleeing from every doubt in the world so that they will be able to present clear and decisive halakhic ruling to the point that it is incontrovertible; and indeed their way is good and honest in all other teachings, but when it comes to the aginut of a woman, I do not take the same approach, I only follow in the path of our early and late rabbis, who sought other sides and other sides of sides with all their might in order to be lenient in the matter of the aginut of a women.”
“Rabbi Yosef was called upon to deal with one of his greatest legal, dramatic and humanitarian issues, and by definition one of his toughest Israeli assignments,” journalist Adam Baruch wrote years later in his book “Seder Yom.” “The ultra-Orthodox posek functioned here like a modern lab (-) his halakhic work in the matter of the agunot was a humane example and a halakhic example; an undertaking that reverberated deeply in Israeli society as a whole.”
Now Rabbi Yosef is likely to be called on to handle a similar assignment. From his perspective, the case of the abducted soldiers focuses first of all on the possibility that Ehud Goldwasser’s wife, Karnit, will become an aguna.Read More
WARSAW: The first rabbis ordained in Poland since World War Two received their diplomas from Warsaw’s Rabbinical College on Sunday, PAP news agency said.
Nine students from the United States and Israel were granted rabbinical rights at a ceremony presided over by Poland’s chief rabbi, U.S.-born Michael Schudrich, and attended by Jewish clergy from Poland, Israel and Britain.
“This was a ceremony of historic proportions,” said Rabbi Szalom Ber Stambler, who heads the college.
“For centuries, Poland had been a world centre of Jewish studies laying down the code of proper Jewish conduct.”
Most of Poland’s 3.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazi Germans in ghettos and extermination camps during World War Two.Read More
Rabbis and employees within the Chief Rabbinate said Sunday that the latest allegations published in the local news media against Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger have dealt a serious blow to worker motivation.
“I ran into someone over the weekend who asked me if I am still working in the rabbinate. I was embarrassed to tell him that I am,” said a senior rabbi who preferred to remain anonymous.
The rabbi said he and his colleagues are cynical about Metzger, who – they feel – does not provide a positive role model for religious leadership. Adding that Metzger’s negative press coverage, whether true or not, has had adverse effects on the overall morale of the organization.
“People lack the motivation they once had with previous chief rabbis,” he said.
Another rabbi, who said he was not convinced of the allegations directed at Metzger since the chief rabbi has many enemies, nevertheless admitted that the image of the Chief Rabbinate had been hurt.
“Rabbi Metzger is also having difficulty convincing rabbinate employees to carry out his decisions,” he said.
In the latest flurry of rumors surrounding the chief rabbi, the daily Ma’ariv published testimony by an anonymous 23-year-old French photographer who claimed that Metzger sexually propositioned him.
According to the off-the-record claims, Metzger met the photographer during an interfaith conference in Seville, Spain, in 2006.
Amir Dan, Metzger’s PR representative, called the allegations “an evil conspiracy.”
“The mendacious comments attributed to Rabbi Metzger were never uttered,” said Dan.
“Ma’ariv published this article and they’re planning to publish another disparaging article this coming weekend. The timing of this story now, two weeks before an important Supreme Court case involving the chief rabbi, is not coincidental.
“Rather, it serves interests that want to hurt Rabbi Metzger in any way possible. The rabbi will not give in to the denigration campaign being waged against him just as he has not capitulated in the past.”
In 2003, Ma’ariv published a story claiming that Metzger had sexually harassed four men. Three years later, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz ruled not to indict Metzger on charges that the chief rabbi allegedly received illegal free stays at various Jerusalem hotels. But the attorney general also issued a damning report of Metzger in which he recommended that the chief rabbi resign. Mazuz said that if he did not do so willingly, Metzger should be forced out of his post.
Metzger later won a High Court case in which he petitioned to annul Mazuz’s recommendations. The rabbi suspended himself from serving as a rabbinical judge while he defended the charges for free hotel stays.Read More
There were times in history when kidnappings were so common that extreme measures had to be taken. An example was the case of Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg (1215-1293). Rabbi Meir, a major rabbinic figure, was taken hostage by a German vassal named Rudolph who demanded an exorbitant ransom.
The imprisoned rabbi, in an act astounding in its selflessness, issued a ruling from his cell ordering his students and followers not to pay.
Unfortunate stories like these offer modern rabbis precedents that can aid them in deciding present-day challenges. However, Rabbi Meir’s plight is only partially instructive for the decision makers of Israel in the 21st century.
We might be able to learn from Rabbi Meir how to avoid the exploitation of the Jews’ emotional attachment to life. But there are some things that we cannot learn from Rabbi Meir’s story.
We cannot learn from Rabbi Meir or any other Jewish source that it is permissible to endanger Jewish lives to retrieve the body of a Jew. Only for the sake of saving a life is a Jew obligated to go to extreme lengths. Assuming Regev and Goldwasser are dead, there would be no Jewish legal precedent for freeing terrorists in exchange for their bodies.Read More
Cutler, the spiritual leader of Congregation Tiferes B’nai Israel in Warrington, Pa., for eight years, has been serving in Iraq since November as a US Navy commander.
only Jewish Navy and Marine chaplain in Iraq, he is attempting to create a “viable Jewish community” at the five US Navy bases in western Iraq with Shabbat services, learning programs and even a bet midrash.
Still Cutler, in his early 50s, is staying in touch with his Reconstructionist congregation in Bucks County. He receives four to five e-mails per day from congregants and continues to guide the book club, which meets every four to six weeks at a local Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Montgomeryville.
“You’d really think he could see us,” said Joyce Burstein, the book club’s founder. “When members are speaking to him on the phone, they smile at him.”
The book chosen for discussion is sent to Cutler. The date of the meeting is dependent on how quickly the book reaches the rabbi – if it reaches him at all. To accommodate his schedule, meetings are held late in the afternoon Iraq time.
On June 22, participants gathered to discuss “Endless Light” by David Aaron, a Kabbalah-themed book about “love, spiritual growth and personal power.” They arrived with questions, insights and research on the subject, most of which were directed to Cutler once he joined the meeting via phone from 6,000 miles away.
Here are some reviews on amazon.com:
Mitzvah Dude writes: “Rabbi Nachum Shifren exposes the bureaucratic stagnation that plagues the Los Angeles Unified School District. He documents instances of racism towards him, threats of violence, and the extreme application of PC politics. What is sad is that we have lost a talented teacher that truly cares about his students and actually brought standards and discipline to inner city schools.”
Midwest Book Review writes: “We now live in a world of Columbine-style school violence, on-campus gang violence, racial and sexual violence, and student-on-teacher violence that has made our schools (especially the inner city schools) more like correctional institutions focused on physical misbehavior control than institutions dedicated to learning. “Kill Your Teacher” is not a how-to manual for abusing classroom instructors. It is a warning to us all that inept and corrupt school administration policies are exacerbating the risks to the safety and learning environment of teachers and there students. Rabbi Nachum Shifren writes with the special expertise and first-hand knowledge gained from having been a Los Angeles public school teacher teaching Spanish at many of the inner city school districts since 1991. Exposing what he has witnessed with over virulent Black/Hispanic and Black/Anglo racism in the student bodies of these schools, “Kill Your Teacher” is sobering reading and will prove to be a substantial contribution to the national dialogue currently underway concerning issues of safety, race relations, and moral clarity with the context of our public school systems and administrative policies.”
Read MoreBeing recognized as an Orthodox Jew also made Shifren a target. Some students made anti-Semitic remarks openly to him during class time — and the administration refused to apply any discipline. This culminated in one parent of a problem student complaining to the school district that Shifren was teaching Hebrew in his Spanish class. Whenever Shifren compared the names of parents who sent complaints about him, no matter how outlandish, they always matched those of the students who were repeatedly causing disciplinary problems. In each case, the usual evidence of lack of class participation, goofing off, or absence of homework was apparent.Shifren attributes a lot of these problems to what he calls a period of “pay back” by certain minorities who believe previous injustices excuse the need to learn. In their minds, students should be advanced to higher levels because they are oppressed — even if they are ill-equipped to survive in a competitive society. Shifren touchingly recounts how, while working at a prison ranch as a teacher years later, he was approached by one of his former students, who by that time was an inmate. The student literally began crying to the Rabbi about his circumstances because he was graduated without even having the ability to read or fill out a work application. In a more ominous tone, Shifren recounts how one student at his school was murdered for his tennis shoes and how his classroom of students expressed little remorse or objection to the killing. And the reaction of the school administration was little better to this general indifference.
Shifren writes of how he was deliberately ignored by his administrators in regards to his repeated requests for an American flag to be put in his classroom so that the pledge of allegiance could be recited. He also proposed to an administrator that December 7th, 1941 be marked as a day of remembrance for Pearl Harbor on the heels of month long celebrations for Cinco De Mayo and Martin Luther King’s birthday. But he he was informed that the day would not be earmarked because it might be “offensive to Asian students.”The last quarter of the book contains an account of a female colleague of Shifren’s, another teacher who was beaten down continually despite an honest desire to help her students. Many days she was forced to hold class outside on the grass or on the football bleachers because the school would not even provide her chairs for her students. She also recounts harrowing tales of lockdowns with SWAT teams on campus and administrators who were always curiously absent the days such developments occurred.This book is a powerful example of how the political correctness and reverse racism on our college campuses seep into other corridors of our educational system. College graduates become the very teachers and school administrators that Shifren describes in his book.Taxpayers, educators, concerned parents of children in high school and anyone concerned with the state of education in America should read Kill Your Teacher for insight about what is happening to our schools — and what we can expect from the next generations of students emerging from them.
It isn’t a pretty picture.
You don’t have to be religious (most of its contents are secular) to enjoy this book about one of Pico-Robertson’s greatest characters.
Not since “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” have two more unlikely activities been combined into one book title. Surfing Rabbi? If that sounds like an oxymoron to you, then you really should read this book. It’s the totally honest personal story of a 1960’s Malibu beach rat whose love of surf and sand eventually became a spiritual quest to delve more deeply into the power of his own Jewish roots. Today, he is both a Hasidic rabbi and avid surfer, demonstrating that to be a “religious Jew” does not have to mean withdrawing from the modern world.
I read this book on a cold, snowy, Minnesota Sabbath afternoon, which is about as far away from the ocean as a person can get. I knew nothing about surfing when I opened the book, but soon found myself completely caught up in the story. Here was a man so devoted to surfing, that he drove through a war zone just to get to the beach. Foolhardy or adventurous? I had to find out!
When Steven Weil came to town in 2000 to take over Beth Jacob, his sociable side got the best of him and he started socializing with members of competing shuls in Pico/Robertson. He invited them to his home, he became interested in their lives, he learned their names and the names of their family and friends. He was a hail fellow well met type of rabbi and he made a lot of important friends fast.
Unfortunately, these new friends did not include the other rabbis in Pico/Robertson.
Rabbi Muskin at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) felt like Rabbi Weil did not give him sufficient kovod (honor) as the senior Modern Orthodox rabbi of the neighborhood.
Rabbi Weil began referring to Rabbi Muskin in uncomplimentary terms, words that I can’t use on a family-friendly blog such as this one.
This absence of a loving relationship particularly gnawed on Rabbi Muskin who often confided to his congregants how much it hurt him that Rabbi Weil didn’t seek him out.
Rabbi Weil didn’t give a flip.
At a meeting with Christian Zionists a couple of months ago, Rabbi Weil said something that caused a fellow rabbi in the ‘hood to walk out.
Rabbi Weil does not have warm relations with any other synagogue rabbi in Pico/Robertson.
Rabbi Muskin is an intense man who likes to run things. His shul does not need an executive director. Rabbi Muskin does that job. Rabbi Muskin runs his shul, not the shul’s board of directors. Rabbi Muskin runs the simchas (celebrations) of his congregants. They get in big trouble if they try to hold a simcha outside the shul. Rabbi Muskin has a particular vision for his community — a community that I loved during my year there — and he enforces it.
YICC and Bnai David-Judea have excellent relations. Even though Bnai David is too liberal for Rabbi Muskin’s tastes, his criticisms are muted at best.
Members of the three Modern Orthodox shuls in Pico/Robertson often hang out with each other, as do members of the two chareidi non-Hasidic shuls — Aish HaTorah and Anshe Emet.
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, the likely next rabbi of Beth Jacob (which has about 800 member families, many on paper only, and a budget twice that of the other Modern Orthodox shuls in the hood), has excellent relations with the rabbis at Bnai David and YICC.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Weil will run the Orthodox Union. I predict he’ll do a great job. He’s the CEO type more than the pastoral care type. He delegated the visiting the sick type stuff to Rabbi Marc Mandel.
Rabbi Weil has an MBA. He loves to run things by delegating. He prefers to concentrate on the big picture and the big donors.
Beth Jacob now has four minyans on Shabbat. A year ago, Young Israel of Century City added a young professionals minyan and a few months later Beth Jacob followed suit. For a while it had an age limit (35 or something), but that’s been dropped. Beth Jacob is going to hire an assistant rabbi to cater to this minyan.
Most of the young single women go to the Happy Minyan or Bnai David (and a few at Aish, almost none to Beth Jacob and YICC).Read More
Steven Weil of Beth Jacob is a CEO with semicha (rabbinic ordination).
Elazar Muskin is the quintessential shul rabbi. He devotes himself to his community. He sets aside Fridays to call widows and shut-ins, etc to wish them a Gut Shabbos. He visits the sick. He brings soup. He’s there for his congregants in their crises and in their simchas (joys).
Rabbi Muskin is a smart accomplished man, but what stands out about him is his heart. He’s passionate. He loves people. He gave me the most beautiful gift I’ve received in my life — a pair of tefillin (when I was too poor to buy my own).
Rabbi Weil is all brain. He’s power hungry. He has an MBA. He doesn’t like to be bothered with pastoral care. He’s Mr. Cerebral. “He doesn’t feed the soul of his congregants,” says one Beth Jacob member. Rabbi Weil doesn’t speak to their hearts. Perhaps that is why the main minyan at Beth Jacob is dying. All the other minyans at Beth Jacob, the ones Rabbi Weil has nothing to do with, are booming.
Rabbi Weil is a master fundraiser. During his tenure, Beth Jacob secured the lot next door and renovated the downstairs. He’s got the shul running like a business. It’s in good financial shape. But the budget has boomed during his tenure. Beth Jacob is adding a fourth rabbi. If his successor is not a master fundraiser, Beth Jacob could be in financial trouble in as little as two years.
Rabbi Weil was great at reaching out to secular Jews (such as Benny Alagem, owner of the Beverly Hilton) and getting them to come to shul on occasion and donate vast sums of money.
Rabbi Weil and Rabbi Muskin can’t stand each other. Rabbi Muskin won’t sit on the same platform as Rabbi Weil.
Rabbi Weil views Young Israel of Century City as a breakaway from Beth Jacob (which it is) and therefore feels no compunction about trying to poach its leading congregants such as Mark Goldenberg, etc.
Beth Jacob is looking for a new rabbi and a new cantor. Contrary to what I previously thought, Daniel Korobkin is not a shoo-in to be the next rabbi. The position is wide open.
Cantor Avshalom Katz has been flying in once a month from Israel but the arrangement is not working for Beth Jacob. Everybody likes Katz but once a month is not enough.Read More