Monthly Archives: September 2007

True Joy, Through Water

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

Canfei Nesharim, a terrific organization that works to inspire the Orthodox Jewish community to understand and act on the relationship between Jewish Law, traditional Jewish sources and modern environmental issues, has a wonderful and innovative Sukkot program called True Joy, Through Water.

The program invites families and communities to recognize the importance of water on Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.

Canfei Nesharim also has excellent resources for families and communities available for sale on their website, including Sukkah decorations, environmental reminder stickers for children, coupons for eco-friendly paper products, and eco-friendly lulavim and etrogim.

For all of their great Sukkot resources, visit http://canfeinesharim.org. The deadline for orders of Sukkot packages is September 19th, so act now!

Posted on September 11, 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

Wanted: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s speech at the Islamic Society of North America conference has been flagged by other Jewish leaders as controversial (if not misguided). Critics point to ISNA being named an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism probe.

But as the Forward pointed out, there was good reason to attend.

ISNA’s condemnation of terrorism, including that conducted by Hamas and Hezbollah, and its open support for a two-state solution, as well as the participation of the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security in this year’s conference, were key factors in Yoffie’s decision to accept the invitation to speak.

From the sounds of it, the ISNA convention seems like the Muslim equivalent of the UJC General Assembly. ISNA claims 100,000 members from 300 organizations. Surely, there’s diversity among it’s members; surely there are many worth approaching for much-needed Muslim-Jewish dialogue. We should be relieved and grateful that ISNA reached out to Rabbi Yoffie.

And yet, the Jewish press mostly focused on the controversy. The Jewish Week article about the event was particularly egregious, failing to report one detail about the actual convention, focusing exclusively on the controversy and critics.

It’s interesting that I needed to go to Indiana’s IndyStar.com for this info about Yoffie’s speech:

his remarks were repeatedly interrupted with applause and his Muslim audience gave him a standing ovation.

This, even though Yoffie made pointed remarks about the pockets of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the unyielding interest Jews have in preserving Israel as a Jewish state.
I admit that my feelings about this are somewhat personal, as two of my dearest friends — Ari Alexander (of Children of Abraham) and Rabbi Eliyahu Stern — spoke at the conference. But my personal naches aside, it would be nice if we could listen to those Jews who were actually at the conference, those leaders among us looking for a way to jumpstart an interfaith conversation that is long overdue.
So toward that end, here are some of Eli’s thoughts about the conference.
Perhaps the most interesting moments of the panel discussion happened when the audience was given a chance to comment and ask questions. I was struck by how one audience member after another got up and made–almost verbatim–the same statement: “You should know that I know a Jew and she is a good person, a kind person, a smart person. I am friends with this Jew.â€? The first time someone made the comment I yawned, the second time I began to get frustrated and annoyed but by the third time someone felt the to announce to the world that he she knew a Jew and was proud of their friendship it finally hit me what was going on here. “Elli don’t you get it?â€? I said to myself, “These two communities have so little contact, there is so much fear and strife between them that the mere fact that someone is just friends with or even knows with a a Jew at-all is a big deal!â€? Man do we have our work cut out. (MORE)
And here are Ari’s thoughts.

Posted on September 11, 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 Triumphalism, Jewish Essentialism

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

I’ve often expressed my belief that Jewish triumphalism (be it biblical or theological) is dangerous because it will likely lead to demeaning the other and, quite possibly, violence.

Reading Menachem Kellner’s Must a Jew Believe Anything? I came across a passage in which he articulates a similar sentiment. Kellner arrives at his idea in analyzing two contrasting tendencies in Jewish thought: those who believe that Jews are essentially different (and better) than non-Jews vs. those who reject any inherent differentiation between Jews and gentiles.

Kellner identifies the former position with Judah Halevi and, later, the Zohar; while Maimonides supports the second position.

Here on MJL, Rabbi Jill Jacobs has similarly distinguished the two:

For Halevi, the Jews are inherently different from other people. In his most famous work, the Kuzari, he introduces the idea that, at the time of the creation of human beings, God instilled in Adam a certain divine quality, which then passed to Adam’s son Seth and then, through Seth’s line, to the entire Jewish people (1:95). This divine essence, according to Halevi, is unlinked to any human behavior. A Jew who rejects Torah law cannot lose this essence, and a non-Jew who observes the commandments cannot acquire it.

In contrast, Maimonides, in accordance with the rabbinic understanding of chosenness as the result of human action, describes Abraham as a philosopher who is “chosen” only because he discovers God. (MORE)

Again, for Kellner (and I’d agree) there are practical — potentially, political — ramifications to this debate:

It is a short step from maintaining that Jews are essentially different from non-Jews to affirming that Jews are inherently superior to non-Jews…

It is also a short step from the conviction that Jews are essentially unlike non-Jews to the position that non-Jews can never be trusted and that they bear within them an ineradicable hatred for Jews…In the context of an Israel seeking to live at peace with its neighbours, Jews holding this ‘essentialist’ view of the nature of the Jewish people more than occasionally fall prey to the tendency to demonize our enemies and often incline to believe that any accommodation with these enemies will simply lead the latter to continue seeking our destruction…

When the essentialist vision of the Jewish people is coupled with the profound disdain for non-Jews found in the Zohar and other kabbalistic and hasidic texts, the temptation to reject any movement towards peace or accommodation on the part of Arabs as nothing more than a tactical step towards the ultimate goal of our destruction becomes almost overwhelming.

Kellner wrote his book before the onset of the second intifada, and though he may not have highlighted Arab peace overtures now, the message — that theological denigration can shape political points of view — remains true.

Posted on September 11, 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

Creating new ritual

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Last week, the good folks at Jewschool blogged about the need for Jewish ritual in contemporary life events. Their list of examples included:

  • Moving in with a partner to whom you are not married. [to some extent the marriage process acts as a ritual in the case where you move in together post-huppah.]
  • Separating from a partner to whom you were never married.
  • Substantially changing diet (becoming/ceasing to be, kosher-keeping, veg, vegan, etc)
  • Accepting a new job.
  • Graduating from university, trade school, etc. (MORE)

It’s an interesting and legitimate concern. When I started working here at MJL, I was surprised to find a group of articles specifically outlining ritual for such lifecycle events:

I’m not sure I personally would use any of these “ceremonies” in my life, but it refreshing to know that scholars, clergy, and other individuals are addressing the holes in Jewish ritual causes by modernity.

Posted on September 10, 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

Bible Codes

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Over at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Yizchok Adlerstein has this to say about a new Jewish Action interview about the Bible codes (popularized in the Jewish world by Aish Hatorah’s Discovery seminar):

The way Prof. Barry Simon and I see it is that nine years ago we saw the Codes as probably without merit, and possibly dangerous.

Things have changed. Today we regard them as definitely without merit, and certainly dangerous to the Torah community.

The rest is perush, which will be available, BE�H, in the form of a FAQ that we will be releasing, but with the Yomim Tovim upon us, it is not likely to see the light of day till December. (We would have preferred a side-by-side presentation within the pages of JA, but apparently someone was not willing to do this unless the other side saw our presentation in advance. We were not willing to give them that advantage, since we had the last time, and it worked extraordinarily to our disadvantage. No problem. Putting our response on the web instead ain’t chopped liver.)

MORE…

Posted on September 10, 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

I’m too poor to daven these days.

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

From Craig’s List via Gawker:

Come celebrate the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement with New York’s most elite Jews. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Elliot Spitzer, DA Robert Morganthau and Top Wall Street Executives, to name a few…

I have 2 tickets to both of the following events:

Rosh Hashanah September 13, 2007
Yom Kippur September 22, 2007

These tickets are only given to members of Congregation Emanu-El and if you weigh the membership dues against the low, low price of $150 per ticket in section C; you are making out with the best deal of the season. Take a look at what the members pay:

Per Seat Section
$1,290 A
$1,100 B
$960 C
$710 D

Remember 5769 only happens once, why not celebrate at one of the most beautiful houses of worship in the world?

From Ynet:

Miami synagogue seats go for $1.8 million

Conservative Miami Beach synagogue auctions off two lifetime front row seats on eBay. Rabbi says auction aimed at gaining attention of Jews who are disconnected from their faith (MORE)

Also from Ynet:

Reserved synagogue seats going for $50,000

Major discrepancies reported in prices charged by synagogues from tourists, Israelis ahead of High Holidays (MORE)

Posted on September 10, 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

Fish Heads, Kosher Honey & Teshuvah

This entry was posted in History on by .

-In “Facing the Music� Rabbi Shefa Gold gives a meditation on “Tefilah …Teshuvah … Tzedakah.� (The Shalom Center)

-Here’s where that kosher honey for Rosh Hashanah comes from. (J.)

-Rachel Freedenberg has found that the standard Conservative High Holy Day aren’t working for her: “So this year, I’m doing something different. I’m going to have my own service…Instead of chanting a long list of sins I may or may not have committed, I’ll be able to actually think about those sins and meditate on them, without having to hurry on with the service.� (J.)

-Physician and author Sherwin B. Nuland says that the obligations of the High Holidays — in terms of repairing human relations — “become less taxing as we age.â€? (The Forward)

-What is the connection between Rosh Hashanah and fish heads (includes, I’m sorry to say, two recipes)? (The Forward)

-Avi Shafran sets forth why “Rosh Hashana is described both as a Day of Judgment and as a happy holiday.� (The Jerusalem Post)

-High Holy Days can be a particularly difficult time for those facing the absence of loved ones. (NJ Jewish News)

Posted on September 10, 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

From Robben Island to Yad Vashem

This entry was posted in History on by .

I spent part of the summer in South Africa spending time in the black townships outside Cape Town with an amazing organization called Ikamva Labantu that has spent decades building an infrastructure for the formerly disenfranchised and still impoverished Africans. There is much to do in a country still divided by race and privilege, but my wife Shira and I were blown away by the progress we saw there.

Then I flew to Israel to work with colleagues on figuring out ways to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is 4,600 miles from Cape Town to Jerusalem, but the two felt like a million miles apart. The sad fact for me, a committed Jewish Zionist: During the 1990s, both South Africa and Jerusalem had the chance to resolve their conflicts. South Africa succeeded and Jerusalem failed.

What the two conflicts shared: Warring populations, terrorism, dual claims of land and history, divisive ethnic identities, huge anger, a sense of utter futility and hopelessness, a belief that violence is the only path.

There are crucial differences: South Africa had an overwhelming black African population forced by European colonialists into an apartheid world. Africans sought democratic rule and definitely wanted the white population to remain. The Holy Land holds two ancient populations almost equally divided in size, each with the power to do terrible damage to the other.

Apartheid effectively describes the former world of South Africa, not Israel. The situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories is one of two nations in conflict. Palestinians do not want Jews in their territory while Israel is home to a substantial Arab minority even though the polls show that half of Israel’s Jews want their Palestinian neighbors out.

Continue reading

Posted on September 10, 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

The End of an Era

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I tend to get nostalgic around Rosh Hashanah, and in my JPost column this usually results in a September piece that’s something of a State of the Union address for Jewish literature. This year is no different.

In my latest, I reflect on Grace Paley’s death, the forthcoming literary demise of Nathan ZuckermanPhilip Roth’s fictional alter-ego — and the monumental achievement that is Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in considering the end of an era of Jewish-American literature.

I conclude the column with an idea I first tested out on this blog a few weeks back, so thanks for being my guinea pigs.

MORE…

Posted on September 7, 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

Where do non-profits go when they die?

This entry was posted in History on by .

Jewish organizations rarely disband or die. Many that have outlived their original, and even subsequent, missions frequently hang around, eating up valuable fund raising dollars that could go to start-up, innovative or just more useful groups.

I’m not going to go into a list. I think that most Jewish leaders, professional and lay, could spout off their “Top Ten” list at any moment.

Instead I’d like to offer what organizations can do when they become unable to sustain themselves:

During its 80-year history, The Jewish Community Center, Congregation Ohr Yisrael of Spring Valley, New York, marked the lifecycle for generations of Jews. At its height, it had a Hebrew school with over 600 students. But after years of changing demographics, and a four-year struggle to repurpose its facility, the synagogue was unable to continue and the congregation’s leadership decided to dissolve.

The synagogue is disbursing $2 million, approximately one-third going to charities in Israel including the Technion, Jewish National Fund, Hadassah Hospital and the Israel Cancer Research Fund. Money for other Israeli charities is being distributed through the PEF Israel Endowment Fund. American charities include the JCC-Y in Rockland, the Reuben Gittleman Day School, Bikur Cholim, Camp Ramah, Camp Simchah, Taglit-birthright israel, Hatzollah Ambulance Corp., Jewish Family Services, JTS, Ohr Vadas School for Special Needs Children, Holocaust Center of Spring Valley, and Jewish War Veterans. (MORE)

Legally, they did exactly as non-profit regulations dictate. Depending on how this congregation was set up, it was bound to give money either to organizations with similar missions or in the same geographic vicinity. It seems that this shul did both.

But Jewishly, it seems the board members did the right thing as well. They enabled other organizations to carry out meaningful work in their honor. And, to borrow language from the sports world, they left while they were ahead.

If only the rest of the Jewish community would take notice.

Posted on September 6, 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