-A conference in Israel looks at the Reform Movement’s failure to make significant inroads in Israeli society. (The Jerusalem Post)
-Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of the MasortiÂ Movement’s Rabbinic Assembly, on some affinities that Masorti has with modern Orthodoxy in Israel. (The Jerusalem Post)
-Masorti in Israel is looking at the question of how important gender equality in a religious context is to Israelis. (Ynet)
-35 year old Congregation Ramot Zion, one of Masorti’s flagship institutions, finally hires a rabbi, a woman who is â€œa home-grown product of the Israeli Masorti movement and in many ways, the face of the movement’s new generationâ€? and who will have to faces changes in Jerusalemâ€™s French Hill’s neighborhood. (Haaretz)
-Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of the West Bank town Kiryat Arba, has issued an edict mandating that Jewish scribes should not sell Torah scrolls, tefilin or mezuzahs to Reform Jews. (Ynet)
At one point in history, the sport of boxing was dominated by Jewish men. And while those days are long gone, Orthodox Jew Dmitriy Salita is creating a name for himself in the sport. His challenge is balancing being a fighter and an observant Jew.
MJL contributer Saul Austerlitz reviews a new documentary about the boxer in this week’s Forward.
Welcome to the first installment of “From the Academy,” in which I (will hopefully) check in with Jewish Studies professors to find out about their current/recent research.
My first subject is Dr. Howard Wettstein, a professor of philosophy at University of California-Riverside. I asked Dr. Wettstein if he’d share what he’s working on and if any books in particular have inspired his project. Here’s his response:
I’m early in the writing of a book on Jewish philosophy. I’ve completed a couple of chapters and have some of the rest mapped out. But, as I say, it’s still early. The project is both very personal and philosophical. It’s aim is to make sense of my own personal religious commitment.
I was an undergraduate at Yeshiva University in the early 60s. Coming from a largely secular background, I found myself powerfully attracted to traditional Jewish religious life and learning. I gave a great deal of attention to Jewish learning, especially Talmud, and after 5 years entered the S’micha (ordination) program. But a crisis of faith set in, and eventually I left Yeshiva and indeed left religious life for some 25 years.
My return to the life and the learning is one that has proved enormously rewarding, but as one can imagine, things look very different now than they did to a 20 year old. I find myself entirely committed to the religious life, but in various ways not committed to the understanding of that life provided by the medieval theological philosophers.
A new international ranking of environmental performance puts the United States at the bottom of the Group of 8 industrialized nations and 39th among the 149 countries on the list…
The United States, with a score of 81.0, he noted, â€œis slipping down,â€? both because of low scores on three different analyses of greenhouse gas emissions and a pervasive problem with smog. The countryâ€™s performance on a new indicator that measures regional smog, he said, â€œis at the bottom of the world right now.â€?
He added, â€œThe U.S. continues to have a bottom-tier performance in greenhouse gas emissions.â€?
But there’s good news, too. We’re not as bad as the Belgians.
Belgium (78.4) continued to rank near the bottom of the 28 European nations.
â€œBelgium remains a shock,â€? said Professor Esty, who said the heavily industrialized country, riven by centuries-old ethnic quarrels, was 57th among the 149 nations. â€œOf those ahead of them, only 10 are richer,â€? he added.
-With Ms. Magazine rejecting an ad celebrating three Israeli women leaders, Phyllis Chesler accuses â€œThis is a feminism that has been utterly Palestinianized,â€? and Francine Klagsbrun, has termed this a â€œfeminist moment of truth.â€? (The Jewish Week)
-And Andrew Silow-Carroll gives his take on the real reason the ad was rejected, and what is says about priorities at the magazine. (NJ Jewish News)
-Israelâ€™s new TECSAR reconnaissance satellite, â€œan expression of the growing cooperation between Israel and India in the security sphere,â€? is said to give Israel â€œan important further intelligence advantage over its rivals.â€? (Haaretz)
-Rabbi David Seidenberg asserts that JNF-North America â€œis circumventing the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (the JNF in Israel) by funneling funds raised here through an organization called T’nuat Or that is partnering with the state of Israel to destroy the Negev and Bedouin communities through a Jews-only development plan called “Blueprint Negev.”â€?Â He suggests giving money directly to KKL. (Neohasid)
-Is Hizbullah leader Nasrallah distressed, desperate and flailing about for the right stance? (Ynet)
-And what would happen if Israel did try to kill him? (The Jerusalem Post)
-An extensive look at â€œHannah Arendt on Palestine and Jewish Politics,â€? including many quotes and footnotes. (New Left Review)
-Making the case for Jonathan Pollard’s imprisonment to end. (The Jerusalem Post)
Most of my conversations about the presidential primaries have been about the Democratic field. But Tom over at Blogs of Zion has reminded me that we’re not all Democrats.
Says Tom: “There is a growing trend in the Democratic Party to be unable to identify real evil.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
(BTW: Tom also declares his support for Rudy, citing his — um — moral courage.)
Bottom line: I said last week that I would poll those of you who are voting (or have voted) in a Republican primary to find out about your candidates of choice. So please vote below.
Currently, the Democratic poll I posted last week has Obama in the lead at 40% followed by Hillary at 34%; Edwards at 11%; Other at 9%; with 6% undecided.
Matt Bar, formerly known as the Ramblin’ MC, is working on a fantastic project where he raps each of the weekly portions, in addition to other stories. As he calls his work, it’s “Kid Tested, Rabbi Approved!”
For lyrics and a listen, check out his site.
Tu Bishvat–often known as the Jewish New Year for trees–celebrates the coming of spring and the seven species of fruits, vegetables, and grains known to have flourished during Biblical times in Israel. With a bounty of tempting options among the seven–barley, wheat, olives, pomegranates, figs, grapes, and dates–it’s easy to be inspired. More
Israeli cinema took another step forward this morning when Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort was nominated for an Academy Award, Best Foreign Language Film.
The story takes place in the year 2000, the year of the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The setting for the film is a 12th century Crusader stronghold in southern Lebanon, just prior to Israel’s withdrawal from that country in 2000. Israel’s sudden withdrawal from Beaufort and Lebanon after 18 years of occupation is the backdrop for Cedar’s film, which outlines the daily routine of a group of soldiers, their feelings and their fears, and explores their moral dilemmas in the days preceding the withdrawal.
The movie’s director, himself an IDF veteran who was stationed in Lebanon, uses the stone walls of Beaufort castle as a symbol of the futility and endlessness of war. The film was shot in northern Israel in the spring of 2006. Ironically, filming was completed in June, just a month before the second war in Lebanon broke out.
Watch the trailer here.
One of the stand-out sessions for me at this year’s LimmudNY was a panel called Can You Hear My Now? Fixed Liturgy and the Crisis of Prayer.
It included such luminaries as Rabbis Michael Strassfeld, Reuven Hammer, and Andrea Cohen-Kiener.
They each had a lot of interesting insights on prayer,the possibility/necessity of change to the service, and more.
At the beginning of the question and answer portion of the session I raised my hand and asked a question that all of the sudden seemed very important:
How can I balance my own spiritual needs–my desire to have a deep and meaningful prayer experience–with the education and care of
my young child?
I sat back and waited for their words of wisdom. Interestingly enough, only Andrea Cohen-Kiener, the sole woman on the panel, chose to answer the question. And she answered in a way that I truly didn’t expect. Especially not from a feminist (and female) Renewal rabbi.
First of all, she said, you should know that there’s a heter (exemption) for you that allows you not to be obligated to fixed prayer during this time in your life. (A misleading statement–in the tradition it’s not so much a heter as a lack of obligation altogether–and covers a woman’s entire life).
Also, she continued, though in the ancient period a women spent most her short life childbearing, for this is only a short period in your life, and before you know it, it will be over, and you’ll probably miss it. And meanwhile, you’re engaged in some of the most spiritual work of all, shaping a young spirit.
That doesn’t mean, she said, that you don’t need “the pause that refreshes” that prayer offers. You just may not be able to get it at 9:30am on Saturday morning.
Her advice? Form a Rosh Hodesh group or create some other form of woman’s prayer group. Or set aside time each night to read something spiritually uplifting. Find the time, inside or outside synagogue, to nurture your soul.
I appreciated her advice, but I also found it somewhat troublesome…she essentially advised me to give up on finding spirituality in my Shabbat prayers until my children are older. I don’t think that I’m ready to do that, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to search for ways to make it work.
And as for forming women’s groups…an interesting idea, but most of the women in my circle don’t have the time or the inclination to join yet another group and take away from the already limited time that they get with their children.
But she also reminded me that having my son with me in shul–even as he pulls off my hat, throws cookies, and shouts at the rabbi–adds a level of joy and truth to my prayers that would have been totally unachievable without him. And with every “amen” he utters, I can feel pride in the beautiful Jewish soul that is developing within him.
Had her advice come out of the mouth of an Orthodox rabbi, I most certainly would have taken issue, seen in it hints of the “women are on a higher spiritual level” idea that is used to exclude women out of so much of traditional Jewish public life.
But coming from a female Jewish renewal rabbi, it was something else entirely, and so I listened with an open heart. And that’s how I came to remember that though communal prayer will always be an important part of my Judaism, there are many types of spiritual experiences to be had in this life.