Talking about the decline of Jewish Peoplehood was all the rage in 2007. But the debate between Jewcy’s Joey Kurtzman and JTS’s Jack Wertheimer was more about whether the decline in this collective identity was tragic (Wertheimer) or inevitable (Kurtzman).
The debate was thought-provoking, but it didn’t contain much analysis.
It’s months later, but our friend Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has just published a genuinely brilliant essay about the concept of Jewish Peoplehood in 20th century Jewry and the ways in which the community has since changed.
Stern’s most significant contribution is his observation that Conservative Judaism was the denomination most tied to the concept of Jewish Peoplehood.
According to Solomon Schechter, the esteemed scholar and president of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary: â€œthe collective conscience of catholic Israel . . . [was] the sole true guide for the present and futureâ€? of Judaism.
Mordecai Kaplan is now associated with Reconstructionist Judaism, but he spent most of his life at the Jewish Theological Seminary. For Kaplan “the locus of Judaism was in its history as a civilization. Judaismâ€™s gift to the world was its ability ‘to make its collective experience yield meaning for the enrichment of the life of the individual Jew and for the spiritual greatness of the Jewish people.’”
Indeed, according to Stern:
Whereas Orthodoxy made belief (doxa) its starting point, and Reform Judaism put ethical monotheism atop its theological pedestal, Conservative Judaismâ€™s worldview emanated from a specific assumption about the social nature of Judaism. It was no wonder that the greatest of Jewish social scientists were part of the Conservative movement. In Conservative Judaism, the traditions, norms, and mores created and developed by the Jewish people became the final authority of Jewish life and practice. In the words of the towering rabbinic figure Rabbi Robert Gordis, a new â€œminhag Americaâ€? (American Jewish religious custom) would determine the shape and form of Jewish ritual. What mattered most was the historical experience of Jews — the way they lived, played, and practiced their Judaism.
Why is this relevant? Because as Stern insightfully points out, we shouldn’t be surprised that the decline of Jewish Peoplehood is coinciding with the crisis of identity currently afflicting the Conservative movement.
Today Jews who are engaging Jewishly are more interested in meaning, value, and spirituality — things that both the Reform movement and Orthodox movement are more concerned with.
While most of Stern’s article is descriptive, he does end on a prescriptive note:
What is needed instead is a return to the original Jewish model, where peoplehood was embraced as an outcome of a shared destiny and values, where group attachment was the powerful end result of an engagement with a compelling tradition and spiritual practice. As the past fifty years have demonstrated, peoplehood without the spiritual, ethical, or religious infrastructure of Judaism will not survive. Going back to the holistic model will demand a great deal more attention to creating a thicker and richer Jewish culture capable of answering the existential question of how Judaism can enrich oneâ€™s experience of living.
-Martin van Creveld makes the argument that â€œIsraelâ€™s War With Hezbollah Was Not a Failure.â€? (Forward)
-There is a report that Syria has, with Iranian support, developed a new missile that would enable it to target Israeli installations such as airports, ports and factories with greater accuracy. (Haaretz)
-With the decline of the state in Lebanon, it is now Hezbollah, which â€œreally does not feel defeated,â€? providing education and welfare. (Haaretz)
Despite the organized Jewish community publicly coming out and acknowledging that Barack Obama is not anti-Semitic, rumors continue to fly about his imaginary hatred toward Jews and Israel.
Barack Obama is a dedicated and proven friend of Israel.
Our friends in the Chicago Jewish community and in the Senate can attest to this. But you need not heed our words; just look at Obamaâ€™s deeds. (MORE)
Now what motive does Durbin have to write such a piece. Is he trying to gain favor in the Jewish community’s eyes? I don’t think so. Though he’s not Jewish, many people mistakenly believe he is because he has been such a strong supporter to the Jewish community and Israel for years.
Durbin writes this piece in the interest of truth. And it’s worth a read.
In this week’s installment of â€œFrom the Academy,â€? Dr. Judith Hauptman, E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture at The Jewish Theological Seminary, tells us about her current research and a book that’s influenced her recent academic work.
I am working right now on a book (tentatively) entitled “Women in the Rabbinic Kitchen.” Why this somewhat oxymoronic title? Because of the mistaken conclusion many people draw.
Since the talmudic rabbis assigned men just about all public ritual roles — like leading synagogue prayer services, conducting the Passover seder, and blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah — many people think that women were not assigned a significant ritual role in Judaism. This is not so.
Careful analysis of rabbinic texts shows that just as men were expected to perform a series of rituals for the community, women were expected to perform a series of rituals for the family.
Men performed their rituals in public. Women performed theirs at home, which was not private but semi-public space. What does semi-public mean? That the home was open to many, that it often had a shop in the front, opening onto the street, and living quarters behind. That a stream of people passed through the home on a regular basis, not just clients of the head of household, but tailors, barbers, launderers, and the like.
So what rituals did the rabbis expect a woman to perform?
-An Israel-based company has invented a prosthetic tooth, the size of two molars, that delivers drugs automatically to the user. (Discovery News)
-Sirak Sabahat talks about coming from Ethiopia and becoming an Israeli movie star. (The Jewish Week)
-Two rating agencies are upgrading Israelâ€™s financial rating. (Haaretz)
-A look at a program that sends Jewish, Christian and Muslim teens to Israel. (Jewish Exponent)
-Hana and Sinai Julian made aliyah from Brooklyn with Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2003, but â€œinstead of staying with relatives, going to an absorption center or a rented apartment, they and four of their seven children went directly from the airport to the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Dragot.â€? (The Jerusalem Post)
-Daniel Orenstein wants to cut back on programs to entice Jews (including Israelis) abroad to come to Israel: â€œBy closing the Ministry of Absorption, we could disperse its NIS 1.4-billion budget to benefit Israelis who live here – immigrants and long-time residents alike.â€? (Haaretz)
-A joint New Israel Fund – Union of Progressive Zionists Birthright Israel tour dubbed “Peace, Pluralism and Social Justice,” gives a decidedly different slant on Israel. (The Jerusalem Post)
-Israelâ€™s plan to end Falashmura immigration by the middle of this year has been dealt a major legal blow. (Haaretz)
-A new program from Israel Encounter takes interfaith couples to Israel, with the non-Jewish partner traveling free. (Atlanta Jewish Times)
Oh Conservative Movement, you continue our love-hate relationship.
Today I hate you.
The movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recently passed a teshuva (response paper) addressing how many children Jewish couples should have:
The world’s Jewish community has not recovered numerically from the devastating losses during the Nazi era. Demographic studies point to a Jewish birthrate that will not maintain the Jewish population in the United States, with serious implications for the future of the American Jewish community, the Jewish people as a whole, and Judaism itself. It is essential that we encourage fertile Jewish couples to have at least two children in compliance with the early Halacha, and one or more additional children, who are mitzva children in the additional sense that they help the Jewish people replace those lost in the Holocaust and maintain our numbers now. Adopting children, converting them to Judaism, if necessary, and raising them as Jews helps in this effort as well.
Why the term ‘mitzva children’? Both because having more than two children is mandated by later Jewish law and also because in our day the term mitzva is used by Jews to describe ‘good deeds.’ In a sense, Jews are saying that they feel commanded by God to do the right thing, that which they feel God would want them to do in the situation. Every couple who has at least a third child should feel that that child is a mitzva child in this sense, for the parents are not only replacing themselves as minimally commanded, but making an additional contribution to assuring that the Jewish people will survive to help to fulfill God’s plan for the world. (MORE)
Ugh. I can imagine it now.
“Hi. My name is Meredith. This my husband Ben. And these are our three children: Larry, Moe, and our mitzva child–Curly.”
Or better: “No Curly, you weren’t an accident. You were a mitzva.”
(Hat tip to Jspot)
The Jewish Book Council announced the winner of the second annual Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature today. The Rohr Prize is worth $100,000 and is one of the richest literary prizes in the world.
This year’s prize goes to a non-fiction book, and the winner is…
[Lucette] Lagnado picked up the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for â€œThe Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Familyâ€™s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.â€? …
Lagnadoâ€™s book is based on the story of her aristocratic Jewish familyâ€™s mid-20th century flight from Egypt and eventual resettling in Brooklyn. They formed part of the mass exodus of 1 million Jews from their Arab homelands in the wake of the founding of Israel.
Two $7,500 Choice Awards also were named: Ilana Blumberg for â€œHouses of Study: A Jewish Woman Among Books,â€? and Eric Goldstein for â€œThe Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race and American Identity.â€?
I wrote the following article about Woody Allen’s The Insanity Defense for my Jerusalem Post books column, but it turned out someone had recently reviewed the book for the Post. So I publish it here for your reading pleasure…
A Laughing Matter
Woody Allenâ€™s new film, Cassandraâ€™s Dream, has ushered in the kind of cultural anxiety that only Woody can produce. Allen is 72, but he hasnâ€™t slowed with age, continuing to release nearly a film a year. Much to the chagrin of his long-time fans.
Conventional wisdom says that Allenâ€™s films have — with sporadic exceptions — been precipitously declining in quality. At this point, his movies are like family reunions, events that annually force us to confront the intersection of nostalgia and betrayal.
And because Allen always seems to have a new film in the theatres itâ€™s difficult to find the dispassionate distance needed to truly review his oeuvre.
Not so when it comes to Allenâ€™s prose.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Woody Allenâ€™s comedic essays and stories were often found on the pages of the New Yorker and other publications, but until recently, he abandoned this line of work. Last year, Random House published The Insanity Defense, a single-volume compilation of Allenâ€™s three early books, Getting Even (1971), Without Feathers (1975), and Side Effects (1980). And now thereâ€™s plenty of critical distance to look back admiringly at these efforts.
JTA has reported that a “leading rabbi in Ireland” has criticized the Irish Film and Television Academy for an award it intends to give Mel Gibson.
“We find it very puzzling,” said the rabbi, who wished to remain anonymous. “He has made blatant anti-Semitic remarks, and you’d think they’d give him a miss this year.”
While the rabbi may have a point about Mr. Gibson, the attempt to remain anonymous seems a little silly.
I spent a summer in Dublin back in 1999, and I came to love and respect the tiny Jewish community there. I arrived soon after the Adelaide Road synagogue — a historic shul (founded in 1892), where Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog had his bar mitzvah — closed its doors.
That community, which had been located near the city center, merged with a synagogue about 20 minutes away and was the only remaining Orthodox congregation in Dublin. The rabbi of the shul was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, but people joked, he was also known as The Only Rabbi of Ireland.
This wasn’t precisely true. There was one other: the rabbi of the Progressive congregation in Dublin. But back in 1999, there wasn’t even Chabad in Ireland, and Cork, which had once had the second most populous Jewish community in Ireland, didn’t have a congregation that met on a regular basis. (At its peak, Ireland had about 5,000 Jews, now it has between 1,000 and 2,000.)
I’ve heard that Chabad has since come to Dublin, but still, it’s hard to imagine that there are more than a handful of rabbis in all of Ireland (and there may well be fewer), and so while I’m always happy to have the opportunity to write about Ireland, the anti-Mel rabbi’s attempt to remain anonymous strikes me as particularly odd.