Monthly Archives: February 2007

Evangelicals and Israel

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Obviously, a lot has been written about evangelical support for Israel. Yet from all the reading and talking I’ve done about this issue, I never internalized its intensity until I saw this scene from the documentary Jesus Camp (an amazing film that I finally got around to watching last night).

Keep an eye out for the Israeli flag.

Posted on February 20, 2007

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Chief Rabbi Says “No” to Fur

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Cold temperatures have finally arrived in much of the United States, but Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi has just nixed the idea of warming up with a fur coat:

Jews must not wear fur skinned from live animals, Israel’s chief rabbi said in a religious ruling on Tuesday.

‘All Jews are obliged to prevent the horrible phenomenon of cruelty to animals and be a ‘light onto nations’ by refusing to use products that originate from acts which cause such suffering,’ Rabbi Yona Metzger said. (MORE)

Still, the ruling might not be as progressive as it seems: “The ruling stopped short of banning the use of fur from animals skinned after they were slaughtered.”

Posted on February 20, 2007

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Not So Good With the Math

This entry was posted in History on by .

There have been murmurings since December that the UJC’s National Jewish Population Survey was way off. 

With the publication of a new “meta-study” from the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University the verdict-and the corrective-is in. And the UJC missed by a mile.

According to JTA, the NJPS estimated the American Jewish population at 5.2 million Jews. But Len Saxe, who led the new report, says the number is actually closer to 6 to 6.4 million (and even more if a broader definition of Jewishness is used).

How does an organization spend millions of dollars (which could have been used to benefit the very Jews they’re counting) and still come away with data that’s just plain wrong?

According to Saxe, the NJPS substantially undercounted Jews in their 20s and early 30s. It seems that the leaders of tomorrow were out speed-dating and climbing the corporate ladder and missed the dinnertime call.

Those who have landlines, that is. Young Jewish adults who have eschewed landlines in favor of cellphones never even stood a chance.

The good news? There are more American Jews than we thought. The bad news?  Percentages.

Says Saxe:

[T]he numbers suggest that the community, even if it is growing, has not been effective in certain areas – penetrating a much smaller portion of the Jewish population than previously thought – and it will take more programming to reach the underaffiliated. That also means significantly more philanthropic funding will be needed.

All of this makes for a good story in the Jewish press. We’re not shrinking. Hurrah! The UJC can’t make a survey worth a shekel. Boo!

But the question remains: what now?

Posted on February 20, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Money in the Academy

This entry was posted in History on by .

The Jewish Week is reporting that major donors at Brandeis University are pulling their financial support to show their displeasure with Jimmy Carter’s highly-publicized visit to the university last month.

The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions — and specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of the nation’s premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.

They are “more than a handful,” he said. “So, this is a concern. There are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions.” (MORE)

This development will clearly continue the conversation about free speech on the college campus, but maybe it will also re-open a related conversation about money and its role/influence in the academy. No doubt this is an issue for all universities and all departments, but I’ve always sensed it’s even more of an issue for Jewish Studies because of the remarkable proliferation of endowed programs.

The generosity of our community’s philanthropists has facilitated important new scholarship and new opportunities for students, but I am curious to what extent the influx of money into Jewish Studies has politicized it.

Of course, some of these issues have been discussed in association with the Israel Studies programs and professorships that have been created in the last few years. While the academic institutions that house these programs have tried to frame Israel Studies as a more focused academic field, there was likely a political genesis to it as well: a reaction to perceived anti-Israel bias in Middle Eastern Studies departments.

As the Forward reported a couple of years ago: “Neither [Columbia professor] Stanislawski nor any other current Israel studies professor denies that the recent fount of donors willing to support Israel studies is a product of recent discussions about the rising anti-Israel sentiments on American campuses.”

Philanthropists are, of course, entitled to give their money away as they please and on their own terms. Here, I think, the real challenge is for the universities and their presidents, who are often judged on their fundraising abilities.

In the last few years, we’ve started to see more clearly how big money has corrupted many of our politicians. Will this happen to the academy, as well? Not to the same degree, certainly. But the possibility that knowledge-production can be bought is somehow even more unsettling. After all, bribes have been part of governance forever, but I’d like to believe that the life of the mind is, still, above all that.

Posted on February 19, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Jewish Parenting

This entry was posted in Beliefs, General, Practices on by .

What should you do when your son refuses to go to Hebrew school? Or when your daughter asks you about God? Should you teach your children about the Holocaust?

Jewish parenting is full of special challenges and opportunities. Wouldn’t it be helpful to share thoughts and ideas with other parents?

Discussion boards have sprung up all over the web to provide support for Jewish parents. Here’s a sampling of discussion boards for Jewish parents:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jewishparenting/

http://groups.google.com/group/soc.culture.jewish.parenting/topics

http://messageboards.ivillage.com/iv-psjewish

MJL’s Daily Life & Practice discussion board regularly hosts parenting discussions, like this one.

Also, click here to see MJL’s collection of articles on Jewish parenting.

Posted on February 19, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

More Science & Judaism

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

For those of you who still can’t get enough science and Judaism reading, check out Noah Efron’s recently published Judaism and Science: A Historical Introduction (Greenwood Press).

After a few weeks of back and forth with the Greenwood publicity folks, I received the book yesterday and, on first glance, the volume seems comprehensive and very readable.

Posted on February 16, 2007

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Readers Respond

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History, Practices on by .

This week’s Jewish Week includes three letters to the editor about Rabbi Michael Broyde’s article that I blogged about yesteday.

The first two point out that Rabbi Broyde is not the first Orthodox rabbi to predict the demise of Conservatve Judaism.

Writes Rabbi Jack Moline:

We have yet another Orthodox scholar pronouncing the Conservative movement dead for the same tired reasons. (“The End Of The Conservative Movement,” Opinion, Feb. 9)

Goodness, if Jewish skeptics need proof of the resurrection of the dead, they need only look to my movement, which has come back to life from being pronounced dead after mixing seating, driving to shul, adopting modern Hebrew in prayer, counting women in minyan, ordaining female rabbis and now enfranchising gay and lesbian Jews…

Posted on February 15, 2007

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Announcing birthright israel’s Summer 2007 Registration

This entry was posted in General on by .

Taglit-birthright israel is kicking off registration for its Summer 2007 trips today.

What is birthright israel? From their website:

Taglit-birthright israel provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. Taglit-birthright israel’s founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.

birthright’s positive impact on the Jewish identity of its participants has been well-documented. This summer, birthright will be taking 20,000 young Jews to Israel, double its normal capacity, thanks to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

You can register by clicking here.

Posted on February 15, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Dear Rabbi Broyde

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History, Practices on by .

In last week’s Jewish Week, Rabbi Michael Broyde — rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills (Atlanta) and professor of law at Emory — published an opinion piece called “The End of Conservative Judaism.”

Rabbi Broyde’s thesis is that the Conservative movement’s recent decision on homosexuality was a move that demonstrated its break with Jewish law, and that along with ushering in the demise of the Conservative movement, will usher in an age in which American Jewry will have only two movements: Traditional and Liberal.

Rabbi Broyde clearly has a healthy dose of skepticism about liberal Judaism (for example, he takes it for granted that the legal nature of the homosexuality decision is “bogus”), but the tone of the article is descriptive, not ideological. Thus, Rabbi Broyde writes:

So now that American Jewry has outgrown its adolescence, I predict a rosy future of two denominations, with many subcultures within each of these denominations. There will be one denomination (called “Liberal” in most of the world) that denies that Jewish law is binding…There will also be a second denomination (called “Traditional” in most of the world) that observes halacha religiously…

All of this, I think, is a change for the better. The reorganization of American Jewry along the lines of acceptance or rejection of Jewish law will only help people make important choices in their own religious life.

Though I agree with some of what Rabbi Broyde writes, I do think the article is a bit deceptive. For one, Rabbi Broyde defines Liberal Judaism in terms of Orthodox (or Traditional) values. Defining Liberal Judaism as a denomination that “denies that Jewish law is binding” would be like a Liberal Jew defining Traditional Judaism as a denomination that values the fetishization of law more than the dignity of women and non-Jews.

Additionally, Rabbi Broyde’s supposed neutral/descriptive posture must be called into question in light of an article he published in the Jewish Press last month, where he writes:

Orthodox Judaism stakes its existence (in a theological sense) on the proposition that the intentional curtailment of observance of halacha, even when sincerely motivated, is sinful and improper. Denominations predicated on the idea that Jewish law is not binding, or that it can mean something very different from the classical understanding of halacha, are from an Orthodox point of view improper approaches not only to Jewish law but to Judaism generally.

In this article, Rabbi Broyde reaffirms the opinion of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik that Orthodox Jews can participate in programs with non-Orthodox Jews when the programs are social or political in nature.

On the other hand, Orthodoxy would not participate in a religious event such as multi-denominational worship in which Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform services are offered in a spirit of ecumenical validation and people choose where and what type of service to attend or even to attend all of them.

This smorgasbord approach to prayer cannot help but convey to its participants that – just as all the food choices are proper and what one consumes is a matter of personal choice – all the prayer options are valid.

I have a lot respect for much of Rabbi Broyde’s writing (some of which he has graciously let us reprint on MyJewishLearning), and I have friends and family members who have only wonderful things to say about him, but here I need to call it as I see it. Rabbi Broyde has the right to his opinion. He has the right to believe that pluralism or liberal Judaism is a perversion of his faith. But we have the right to ask him to do so in good faith.

Say what you mean, Rabbi Broyde. Don’t say that splitting up American Jewry into Liberal and Traditional is a “change for the better,” when you believe that Liberal Judaism is completely invalid.

Worst of all, perhaps, after presenting his rules against participating in an event that might lend religious credibility to non-Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Broyde concludes his Jewish Press article: “May we be blessed to live in a society where our diversity does not lead to divisiveness, and our unity is not contingent on our uniformity.”

If there’s a way to interpret this as anything but chutzpah, please post it in the comments section.

I’ve heard great things about Rabbi Broyde, but I’m disappointed. Good writing needs to be honest, and this attempt to be both a diplomat and an ideologue seems a bit slippery to me.

Posted on February 14, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Saint Valentine’s Day?

This entry was posted in General, Holidays, Practices on by .

Valentine’s Day is problematic for Jews. Not only is it a saint’s day, but it’s got a nasty history of violence for us.

According to Beliefnet.com:

[Not] only is Valentine’s Day indisputably a Christian holiday that honors a Christian martyr, but several thousand Jews were martyred on the day named after him. In the mid-fourteenth century, tens of millions of Europeans were dying from the plague; rumors were rampant that Jews dreamed up the disease to poison Christians. In Strasbourg, a mob used this as an excuse in 1349 to exterminate local Jews to whom they owed massive debts. About 2,000 Jews were rounded up and burned to death on a platform in the local Jewish cemetery.

But never let it be said that Jews don’t believe in Love.

So, if you have heart-shaped and chocolate-flavored romance on your mind today, click here for some Jewish views on love and sex.

And join the discussion: Should Jews celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Posted on February 14, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy