Monthly Archives: January 2008

Shabbat at LimmudNY

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

OR: Tales of a Postdenominational Jew at a Postdenominational Conference.

This is my first year at LimmudNY, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. One thing I knew, though–with the multiplicity of Shabbat prayer choices–traditional egalitarian, Sephardic, Shira Chadasha style, mechitzah non-egalitarian, meditative, instrumental, yoga-infused–this was my chance to explore the unknown.

To try things that weren’t available–or at least not to me–back in Washington, Dc, without fear of of judgment or reproof. And I tried to. I showed up ready to meditate my way through Kabbalat Shabbat. But 10 minutes into it they were still discussing what they were GOING to do. We’re going to meditate, we’re going to sing, we’re going to breath. And contemplate–boy are we going to contemplate.

And, with the strains of a spirited service wafting through the air from several rooms over, I was ready to just DO already. So off I went to the next stop…traditional egalitarian, which that night was being led by a Latino Jewish man teaching the mostly-Ashkenazi crowd some Sephardic tunes. But with a room full of newbies to Sephardic singing, the atmosphere was muted, and I was unmoved.

And so I followed the strains of the music across the hall to the the mechitzah Carlebach service. My husband looked over at my quizzically–with all these options, and with all my stated desires to “break free,” how had I wound up back in what was, essentially, the Orthodox service at LimmudNY?

I simply went to the most beautiful tefillot I could find. The mechitzah minyan won not because of the mechitzah but despite of it, and together with my son, husband, and hundreds of Limmud-niks, I had a great time.

Maybe there’s something to be learned here about pluralism, or about self-exploration. At very unique events like LimmudNY, you can forge your own path through spiritual marketplace, and follow it wherever it may lead…even if it brings you right back where you started.

Posted on January 20, 2008

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 Spinka Scandal

This entry was posted in History on by .

The ever-insightful Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has an interesting and sobering post over at Cross-Currents about the Spinka Hasid tax fraud case.

Why does it take so long for some people to take note of the differences between corrupt, anti-Semitic governments of older vintage, and the arguably better record of the medinah she chesed we inhabit? Is it not related in part to having no frequent and sustained interaction with our neighbors, so that only fictionalized versions of them are encountered?

Insularity has its merits, but it seems to come at a price as well. Part of that price is living in a time warp, where little has changed from hundreds of years ago, and all non-Jews are assumed to be cut of the same cloth. Those who promote insularity as a hedge against dilution of spiritual energy had better come up with a way of injecting a bit of an update in attitudes towards non-Jews and non-Jewish governments, or scandals such as the present one will continue to plague the community.

MORE…

Posted on January 18, 2008

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

Gossip Girl Does Have Jews

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Much has been written in the New York blogosphere about the real-ness quotient on CW’s addicting new hit Gossip Girl.

Former Gawker and now Jewcy writer Emily Gould has been shocked that there are no Jews in the preppy world of Upper East Side boarding schools. Perhaps true on the TV show. But were anyone to have read the book series on which the show is based (I have a long commute), they would know that one of the main families on the show is indeed Jewish.

Readers learn in Nothing Can Keep Us Together that the Humphrey clan, the hippie crew from, gasp, the West Side in the books, are Members of the Tribe. Young Jenny will be “attending some famous Czech art camp–something she’d committed to over Passover under the influence of too much Manischewitz wine.”

Reality factor goes way up.

Posted on January 18, 2008

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God is not spontaneous

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Texts on by .

There’s an old saying “Man plans and God laughs,” but recently I realized that, in the Bible, it’s God who does all the planning.
This is theologically surprising, but it also makes the Bible a less suspenseful read than it could otherwise be.

For example, the final plague in Egypt, the killing of the first born, is violent and dramatic. But it’s no surprise. It begins in last week’s Torah portion, in Exodus 12:29, but by then we’re already ready for it. God had told Moses about it in detail in Chapter 11.

In this week’s Torah portion, God performs His most famous miracle of all: the splitting of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:21, Moses lifts his staff over the sea and a strong wind parts it. Shocking!

But not really, because God already mapped out what was going to happen a few verses earlier.

God’s need to tell us what He’s going to do before he does it, continues in the Bible. I began thinking about this divine tendency, when reading Joshua 6, where God informs Joshua how the walls of Jericho will fall down — a few verses before they actually fall.

So why does God do this? Well, many commentators have noted the ways in which God involves Moses and Aaron in the Ten Plagues — they are asked to take action (like Moses lifting up his staff) in order to initiate the plague. God wants to empower people — and his leaders in particular.

God also wants everyone to be very clear that it was Him who brought about these miracles, so He foretells the fantastical events before carrying them out.

Yet, while I understand these considerations, God’s aversion to spontaneity is a little disappointing. It means that many of the most dramatic Bible stories have spoilers.

In the end, God can wreak havoc and work miracles at will — but He’s got OCD when it comes to preparation.

Posted on January 18, 2008

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Who are you voting for?

This entry was posted in General on by .

With primary season in full swing, I thought I’d poll you, dear readers, on who you think you’ll be voting for (or — for those of you in Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Michigan — who you have voted for).

We’ll start with the Democratic race, and I’ll post a Republican poll next week.


Posted on January 17, 2008

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Heeb, Seriously

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

No joke. Heeb magazine’s humor editor David Deutsch takes on Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna in an op-ed in this week’s Forward.

And Deutsch seriously hold his own, taking on Sarna’s recent assertion that Heeb is part of a secularist movement.

Heeb’s editors represent a broad spectrum of Jewish thought. Some of us are shomer Shabbat, some are post-Orthodox, some are irreligious, some may be antireligious and most are some combination of all of the above. Individually, we have our own ideas about Judaism and what we’d like expressed in the magazine, but collectively, when we put an issue together, I can honestly say that the impact it has on the religious life of the Jewish people is not at all a concern of ours.

That may sound like secularism, but let’s place it in a larger historical context. When the Workmen’s Circle held a party on Yom Kippur, they were making a statement. When Heeb throws a party, it’s just a party. If there are people out there who confuse Heeb for Judaism, that’s kind of pathetic — though, as a quarterly, it does require twice as much devotion as going to temple two times a year.

MORE… 

Posted on January 17, 2008

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

Digging the Bible

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Since 2006, Slate editor Daivd Plotz has been “blogging the Bible.” Unsettled by reading the story of the rape of Dinah, he feels cheated that what he knows of the bible is simply:

Adam and Eve, Cain vs. Abel, Jacob vs. Esau, Jonah vs. whale, 40 days and nights, 10 plagues and Commandments, 12 tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee Sea walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, I absorbed other bits of Bible everywhere—from stories I heard in churches and synagogues, movies and TV shows, tidbits my parents and teachers told me. All this left me with a general sense that I knew the Good Book well enough, and that it was a font of crackling stories, Jewish heroes, and moral lessons. (MORE)

He is shocked to learn that there are other stories, some with violence and evil, that he was never taught. So he decides to read the bible from the beginning and blogs his thoughts.

Now Plotz is in Israel “digging the Bible,” trying to get as close to his readings as possible. This week he writes about visiting the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls reside, and traveling to Qumran, where the ancient texts were found.

Only one problem. He writes about the Essenes, the “weirdo cult that saved the Bible.” However most scholars, and our article on the scrolls, believe that this sect could not have written the documents.

So who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Posted on January 17, 2008

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

West Bank Outposts

This entry was posted in History on by .

-An overview of the unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank finds there to be over 100 at present. Ariel Sharon’s dismantlement promise to Bush covers only outposts established after March 2001 (25 or 50, depending on who you ask). These house about 3000 people, and some are indisputably built at least partly on private Palestinian land. (Haaretz)

-Plans for evacuation of West Bank outposts are the subject of a bitter squabble between Olmert and defense minister Barak. (Haaretz)

-And, contrary to this report, the Yesha Council head denies that any agreement has been reached regarding the peaceful dismantling of Jewish outposts. And he warns: “No one expects the dismantling of Migron to go over without an Amona-style fight.� (Israel National News)

-Member of Knesset Arye Eldad  says “Our instructions to the residents of Judea and Samaria are to violate the law and build“ unauthorized buildings. (The Jerusalem Post)

-Similarly, in the face of a governmental decree banning any Jewish construction in the West Bank, Gush Emunim co-founder Benny Katzover says, “My suggestion is to choose a public building, such as a synagogue or a school or the like, in one of the central communities, and start building it openly – using it as a symbol of our fight against this White Paper decree, showing that the decrees are immoral and anti-Jewish.â€? (Israel National News)

-A close-up look at defiant attitudes in the outpost movement in the West Bank, where “Many Answer Bush’s Demand For End to Illegal Settlements By Starting New Constructionâ€?. Focus is on Shvut Ami, which has been evacuated 8 times already, only to have settlers return. (The Washington Post)

-And just now, Shvut Ami has been evacuated once again. (Haaretz)

-Akiva Eldar wonders how Defense Minister Ehud Barak can be offering to legalize some of the outposts since the road map agreement says “The Government of Israel will immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001. … Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” (Haaretz)

Posted on January 17, 2008

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The Rule of Law in Israel

This entry was posted in History on by .

-In a number of cities “intransigent registrars and rabbis” are refusing to recognize state-sanctioned conversions to Judaism, and it is proposed that these people, “who receive their salaries and draw authority from the state,â€? be fired. (Haaretz)

-Yossi Sarid observes, “it is difficult to point out even one law in Israel that is properly enforced – from the Minimum Wage Law to the law ensuring free education. But the law on smoking in public places – that one is enforced energetically and with strange fervor…Where there is neither will nor way to deal with serious business, they deal with little thingsâ€?. (Haaretz)

-An Israeli district court fined the Education Ministry $3,500 for violating the Freedom of Information Law by hiding a quarter million dollar million study on the results of math achievement tests that showed the superiority of a method developed by two chareidi teachers from Bnei Brak. The judge noted that Education Ministry officials knowingly committed perjury by claiming that they did not have the test results. (Shema Yisrael Torah Network)

-Israel’s Housing Ministry is moving construction of more than 1,000 residential units in East Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood on land held by “absentee” Palestinians. The move is said to be in violation of both a 2005 instruction from the attorney general to stop applying the absentee law in East Jerusalem and explicit promises to the U.S. not to apply that law in the capital’s eastern quarters. (Haaretz)

-The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din charges that Israel’s military court system for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank produces 99.7% convictions with the average hearing just two minutes long. Hearings were held in Hebrew and the Arabic-speaking suspects often did not understand the charges brought against them, and “Most are detained in Israel and their attorneys are not able to meet them.”  The IDF says the report was filled with flaws, faulty research methods and mistaken analysis. (The Jerusalem Post)

-A new proposal will give the ruling government more power and the sitting Supreme Court justices less, when it comes to appointing new Supreme Court justices. (Haaretz)

-In December 2004 Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Haredi schools not teaching the core curriculum could not continue to be publicly funded. The ruling has not been enforced, and the Education Minister wants another year’s delay. (Haaretz)

-Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for masterminding the killing of four Israelis and a Greek monk in West Bank attacks, should be released, say an increasing number of Israeli leaders, including Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai. (Haaretz)

-Alexander Yakobson  argues that  “one reason for the ongoing scandal regarding the non-evacuation of the illegal West Bank outposts…is the trauma of Amona. The government fears that outpost evacuation will be accompanied by serious violence…Those who organized the violence at Amona, then, achieved their goal – belligerent intimidation of the government.” (Haaretz)

-More than 6 years ago, the Migron outpost was begun with the erection, without a permit, of a cellular antenna followed by a shipping container to house the antenna’s guard. 5 ½ years ago the Palestinian owners of the land began legal action to evict the settlers, and the state promptly agreed that the settlement was to be evacuated. But a continuing series of postponements has resulted in no state action. Says the Palestinian’s lawyer, “When it comes to outposts… the government does not rule over its citizens.â€? (Haaretz)

Posted on January 16, 2008

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Who is a Jew?

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

From the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri inmate once labeled a white supremacist is fighting for his right to be served kosher meals in prison.

Norman Lee Toler, serving a 10-year sentence for statutory rape, insists he is Jewish despite guards at an Illinois penitentiary catching him with photos of Adolf Hitler and white supremacist literature. He also has several white supremacist tattoos, including a fresh “SS,� the name of a Nazi unit.

Toler argued in federal court that his soul will be in jeopardy if he is forced to eat nonkosher food.

In the lawsuit, Toler said prison officials repeatedly denied his requests for kosher food, violating federal law and his constitutional right of religious expression.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said the state may have to change the policy for verifying inmates’ religious preferences — they currently do it by checking a box — if Toler wins the case.

Prison officials and staff question the sincerity of Toler’s religious claims. He was sentenced in 1999 to more than eight years in prison for robbery in Illinois and was found with the white supremacist material, including seven photos of Hitler, before being released on parole in 2003. Toler is serving his current term for statutory rape of a victim under the age of 14.

Posted on January 16, 2008

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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