Monthly Archives: September 2007

Synagogues Raising Money

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-A Miami Reform shul has sold time-shares in its Torah: “For a one-time gift of $1,800, donors can sponsor a section…Each year, during the week before that section is read at Shabbat services, donors can keep the torah in their homes – visits that have prompted families to host scripture studies, parades and dinner parties.â€? About 40 of the 52 weeks have been sold. Says Rabbi Mitch Chefitz, who came up with the idea: “When it’s brought into a house, it makes the house more holy.â€? (The Jerusalem Post)

-A look at the high cost of Jewish life, starting with annual family synagogue dues at $2,500. (J.)

-As synagogues are increasingly unable to meet rising costs by raising dues, some have turned to a tiered dues structure with, for example standard dues of $1,550 per family and “four higher dues categories for sustaining members�. (The Jewish Week)

Posted on September 24, 2007

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Kol Nidre Services Online

This entry was posted in General, Holidays on by .

This year the Jewish TV Network will be broadcasting live Kol Nidre services from the Wilshire Boulevard Temple on its website at http://www.jewishtvnetwork.com/. They begin at 4:45 pm Pacific Time / 7:45 pm Eastern.

There are many people who do not have a service to attend, cannot afford tickets, or for a variety of reasons can’t make it to synagogue this year.

We hope this can be a helpful resource and wish all of our readers a Happy New Year and a meaningful Yom Kippur.

Posted on September 21, 2007

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The Rebbe as Messiah

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

I’m a few years late, but I’ve finally gotten around to starting Professor David Berger’s The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference — his theological memoir about Chabad messianism.

The book is rooted in Berger’s contention that beliefs about the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Messiah-ship is widespread in Chabad circles and that this belief subverts and transgresses normative Jewish theology. As the title suggests, the book is directed at Orthodox Jews who have continued to allow Chabadniks to have prominent communal roles while supporting or facilitating this heresy.

One of Berger’s most interesting observations has to do with the role of pluralism in perpetuating the status quo:

Modern Orthodox Jews have long endorsed the ideal of toleration, and in many contexts they cooperate with secular, Reform, and Conservative Jews whose ideological distance from them is greater than that of Chabad messianism…As for the so-called Ultra-Orthodox, even they have become accustomed to living with religious variation in a larger Jewish community; at worst, Lubavitch would be another group of inauthentic Jews. In all circles, pluralism moderates the intensity of the reaction.

Which raises the question: Should the liberal/pluralistic Jewish community be bothered by the fact that many (perhaps most) Chabadniks believe that their dead leader is the Messiah and will be resurrected from the dead (or isn’t really dead at all)?

Do we who encourage inclusivity and diversity have grounds for opposing this belief? And if not, what about Jews for Jesus? We might object to their missionary work, but many among us might object to Chabad’s missionary work, as well.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts, but here is my initial half-baked reaction, and it’s rooted in a recently much-debated concept: peoplehood.

Chabad expresses sincere and intense investment in the Jewish people. In fact, they are the best of the best when it comes to expressing a sense of responsibility and care for their fellow Jews. That is certainly not the primary thing that comes through with Jews for Jesus.

Then again, I am not inclined to make “peoplehood” with its vague and indeterminate boundaries and definitions the only criterion that’s necessary and sufficient for involvement in the Jewish community. Thoughts?

Posted on September 20, 2007

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Yom Kippur & Kapparot

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

-For most Jews, Yom Kippur presents an especially sharp contrast between how things are supposed to be, and how they are. Jay Michaelson has some thoughts on what to do about that. (Forward)

-For Rachel Biale as a child in the world of secular Israelis, “all the other Jewish holidays had been dressed in new secular, agricultural garb, and celebrated with great preparations and intense excitement.� However: “For the adults the non-celebration of Yom Kippur was precisely the point.� And in a way, it still is for her. (J.)

-Reuven Hammer says that Yom Kippur is time out of time itself. (The Jerusalem Post)

-A photoessay on kapparot, as done at Jerusalem’s shuk. (Israel National News)

-After complaints from ASPCA and PETA, Hasidic Jews are revising their kapparot practices, especially in terms of how the fowl are being handled prior to slaughter. (Forward)

-A Petach Tikvah court has just ruled that the ritual slaughter of chickens for the “kapparot” ritual is a violation of Israeli state regulations on animal slaughter. (Haaretz)

Posted on September 20, 2007

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My Stomach: My Ruler, My King

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Like many Jews, I have stomach problems. Fortunately for most people, their problems aren’t as severe as mine. For three years I lived with physically crippling symptoms before I was finally diagnosed by an amazing NYC gastroenterologist. He basically saved my life.

As part of my prescriptive lifestyle, I have to eat whenever I feel hungry. Even waiting five minutes too long can leave me severe pain for hours later.

And one can imagine fasting, even on Yom Kippur, is entirely out of the question.

I probably should have known this was coming years ago. I remember attending afternoon services with my family nearly 10 years ago. I was reading the haftorah, the book of Jonah. As soon as I finished, I left the sanctuary and nearly ran to the bathroom to throw up. When my mom came to check on me, we chalked it up to being on a new medicine.

The next year, I attended neilah services with just my father while my mom was home preparing the break fast meal. All of a sudden, I became sick to my stomach. I quietly grabbed my dad’s cell phone and went to the parking lot.

“Mom, can you come bring me a granola bar?”

She was confused. I explained that I was nauseous and needed something to eat right away. She drove all the back to shul just to give me a snack.

The problems continued when I got to college. Our Hillel handed out a goody bag of treats to students who showed up to neilah so that we could break fast as soon as the services ended. Of course, I snuck to the bathroom and threw up. I went back to services to grab my goody bag and went to another floor of the building to eat.

It was around this time, after getting sick for many years in a row, that I decided that I probably shouldn’t fast. It seemed simple enough. That should solve my Yom Kippur dilemma. But in fact, it created a whole set of new problems

First, what does one eat on Yom Kippur? Is it better to eat as little as possible, just what’s needed to keep me healthy, or to eat a hearty, full meal? And what should I choose to eat? Perhaps it should be Jewishly related food, maybe a nice bagel with cream cheese or matzah ball soup. Or should I stick with something simple, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Going to break fast meals presents another issue. We generally go to the home of friends. Being kind guests, they insist that we eat first. I say, “Really you should eat first,” but I don’t want to tell them why. They remark how delicious the food is, not because the dishes are amazing, but because how they longed for food all day. I just smile and nod.

At services, people wish me a tzom kal, an easy fast. It’s kind of like when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. I’m polite and wish them the same back. But deep down I know that my fast is the easiest of them all.

Over time, I’ve learned to volunteer at the children’s services or baby sitting. They don’t mind that I share their challah or apples and honey.

But perhaps the hardest thing is going to services knowing that I am doing something different than everyone else. Sometimes, I wonder if they can’t see that morning bagel happily sitting in my stomach. By the afternoon, I’m not weak, my face isn’t pale, and I’m surely not complaining how hungry I am. Do they know how delicious that tuna sandwich tasted this afternoon? And standing for all of neilah is a breeze. I’m covered just in case with an infamous granola bar in my pocket. Does it qualify as muktzeh?

Without fail, on Yom Kippur I am ridden with guilt. Even though I do not fast at the recommendation of my doctor, I feel that I am doing something wrong. While I know that it is possible to have a spiritually meaningful Yom Kippur when not fasting, it makes it hard when one cannot truly atone for what feels like a sin. On a day where we admit our guilt and get a fresh start, I am overcome by shame. On a day where we once again become clean in the eyes of God, I feel dirty and impure. Though I thought I had gotten control of my stomach two years ago, on Yom Kippur it is the ruler, the king.

And so once again, Yom Kippur for me is little more than a day when I go to services and smile at the people I haven’t seen in a while. The prayers are little more than motions I go through. In the end, I look for spirituality on other holidays.

And in case you were wondering, my favorite holiday is Shavuot. Predictably, I’m not lactose intolerant.

Posted on September 20, 2007

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And then?

This entry was posted in History on by .

This week, the Jerusalem Post has an op-ed by a former Birthright Israel participant entitled, “What Now?” Struggling with how to stay engaged with Israel after the trip, this person went on a Livnot U’Lehibanot Galilee Fellowship, to help rebuild the northern part of Israel devastated last summer.

While the piece is a nice story, it raises is a larger issue. Is the best way to keep former Birthright participants involved in Jewish life to send them back to Israel again? Where does one draw the line with too many free trips to Israel?

As someone who’s been on a few of those trips, I wonder if some of these programs are partially creating a dependency on further visits to Israel, instead of building a lifelong commitment to Judaism stateside.

Posted on September 19, 2007

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American Jews, Marketing, & Yom Kippur

This entry was posted in General on by .

-Ira Forman argues that Walt and Mearsheimer in their new book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy� demonstrate that they
do not “understand the role of American Jews in domestic politics.â€? He concludes: “as an ideological polemic it … has some merit–particularly for the straightforward way that it makes its debating points. But as a serious academic work that effectively shines the light on the domestic politics of the friends of Israel, it deserves a big fat “F.â€?â€? (THe Jewish Week)

-A new book attempts an encyclopedic look at Secular Judaism. (Haaretz)

-An old hand at the classic combo of kvetching and marketing makes his complaint and his pitch. (Jewish Journal)

-“Jewels of Elul III� is collection of very brief essays, meditations, poems on the theme of hope and healing, and would work well
as supplemental Yom Kippur reading. The 29 contributors include Deborah E. Lipstadt, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Tovah Feldshuh,
Matisyahu, Dr. Jerome Groopman, Anita Diamant, Naomi Ragen and Rabbi David Wolpe. The whole thing (plus the previous two versions)
is available at: http://jewelsofelul.com/.

Posted on September 19, 2007

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Yerida to Yemen

This entry was posted in History on by .

Thanks to Ben over at reshimu for pointing out this fascinating Haaretz news clip about a Jewish family returning to Yemen after being disappointed by Israel.

The video is too short and the story too odd to take any broad lessons from, but it’s certainly interesting — and a little sad.

Posted on September 19, 2007

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A Tough Balancing Act

This entry was posted in History on by .

Let me make it clear from the outset: I think some of these people and groups I am about to list are completely wrongheaded, some of the cases make me very angry, and I am no defender of those who try to delegitmate Israel. I have fought battles with those calling for divestment against companies doing business in Israel and have written articles saying that responsibility for the Iraq war and for American policy toward Arabs or Palestinians belongs to Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush, not the pro-Israel lobby. There are some Israel bashers who, if they scratched themselves a bit, would recognize that they are not free from anti-Semitic stereotypes. We are not paranoid when people attack Israel — there is a lot of vicious hostiltiy out there.

But … yes, the but is there. How do we best serve Israel’s longterm vitality and security and the integrity of our own community here in the U.S.? That is a pragmatic not a truth based question.

I am thinking about the big headlines over the last few years. There was the Columbia case against the Middle East Studies Department, then AJC and ADL were accused of silencing Tony Judt. Jimmy Carter and Walt-Mearsheimer published books that were the talk-of-the-town after we attacked them. Next was the outcry over an Arabic cultural school that led to the principal’s resignation and then a new tenure battle (following the one at De Paul University) with  Barnard College professor Nadia Abu El-Haj. The David Project, out there in our name, is being sued by the Islamic Society of Boston in an ugly battle. These are the big ones. There are many more.

Jews made it in this country, broke through the quota barriers, the discrimination, the tacit “Gentleman’s Agreement” by fighting for freedom of speech, the right to be public in our Jewishness and even demonsrate for Jewish interests, from Israel to Soviet Jewry. I am proud of our power and our willingness to be out there.

Here’s the rub. The more we threaten and assault and use our power to silence, to challenge tenure committees and public speeches, attack authors and publishers, the more we begin to look and sound like the them who didn’t want us to be part of this country, or at least, not part of this country in our unique Jewish voice and character. For the vocal and militant Jewish crowd, swinging out at every critic of Israel or of Jewish power must feel heroic. But I wonder whether the rest of us feel proud or, rather, a bit edgy that we are acting like the power elites of prior generations who tried to hold us down and silence us.

I feel much more confident that mature, intelligent and nuanced responses to the Israel and Jewish power bashing serve Israel’s interests much better than bashing back, that is, if we really believe that, in spite of her imperfections, Israel deserves our support. Often, the volume of our protests against those who disagree seems to correlate with our doubts and fears about Israel. Less attack and more reason would do us, Israel and dialogue in this country good.

Posted on September 18, 2007

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No need for an eruv

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

My husband and I are just about to close on our first home next week. Looking for homes was a long and arduous process that made me feel a bit like Goldilocks:

“This master bedroom is too small. This closet is too cramped. This kitchen is too old.”

And then of course there were religious concerns:

“This is too far to walk to services if we wanted to. This kitchen doesn’t have enough room for two of everything. This backyard won’t fit a sukkah.”

That’s no longer the case for some residents of Brooklyn:

Touting “kosher amenities� — including two-sink kitchens, balconies pre-fit for sukkahs, gyms with separate schedules for men and women — these new condominiums are being custom-built for Orthodox populations that are growing in both absolute numbers and wealth. In Flatbush-Midwood, construction is about to start on a new luxury condominium targeting Orthodox Jews. In Williamsburg, several new buildings have been erected specifically for Satmar Hasidic residents. And in Crown Heights, about 20 new buildings with kosher amenities have been unveiled recently — including a 94-unit project by local developer Mendel Drizin, which will include a synagogue in the lobby, a gym with separate hours for men and women, and a special storage room for strollers. (MORE)

Posted on September 18, 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

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