Quote of the Day

May 27, 2009 at 10:20 PM

In the world of religion, smugness and self-assurance are usually risky. As Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Mainline Protestant denominations have discovered, success in the present provides no guarantees for the future. If anything, saying Kaddish for other religious movements has often been the first sign of a movement’s own impending decline.

- Jonathan D. Sarna, "Saying Kaddish Too Soon?"

Quote of the Day

May 25, 2009 at 2:10 AM

Whether one opposes or supports gay marriage, one thing is certain: The heterosexual divorce rate is more than 50 percent, and it has been so well before gay rights ever came to the fore in this country. Sure, we can search for scapegoats to blame for the loss of love in our time. But we heterosexuals have seen the enemy and it is us ... The greatest danger to marriage in our time stems from the wholesale degradation of women in the popular culture. In magazines, on television, and especially on Internet porn, women are continually portrayed as the libidinous man’s plaything, not an equal to be taken seriously but a subordinate who is a means to salacious male ends ... Surely, if asked, Jesus would have said that a woman is more than male eye-candy ... [C]rying out against gays when there are bigger and more toxic fish to fry is what makes religion ineffective and irrelevant.

- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in "What Would Jesus Say About Miss California?"

More Orthodox women rabbis?

May 24, 2009 at 1:14 AM

The prospect of more women serving as Orthodox rabbis is just around the corner. A recent article in The Forward discusses the opening of a new yeshiva that plans to train women as Orthodox clergy. Interestingly, however, graduates will not yet be called "rabbis." According to Sara Hurwitz, one of the program's founders:

We’re training women to be rabbis ... What they will be called is something we’re working out.

The program is partly a brainchild of Rabbi Avi Weiss, who has long been an advocate for what he calls "Open Orthodoxy," and is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an "Open Orthodox" rabbinical school based in NYC.

Rabbi Weiss stressed that the halachic limitations on women would be observed, and thus some functions would still need to be performed by men. But that does not mean that women will fulfill any less of a leadership role, he stresses.

“The Orthodox model is not the Conservative and Reform model, where the roles of men and women in general and in leadership are identical,” Weiss told the Forward. “In Orthodoxy, the roles significantly overlap, but there are very clear distinctions.”

The issue of women rabbis is still hotly debated within Orthodoxy, and Weiss has long drawn criticism for his positions.

Despite the controversy of the topic, most people are not aware of the history of women within Orthodoxy, nor of the fact that there are already a small number of women who have received Orthodox smicha. Despite your position on the issue, it will be interesting to observe how these women clergy will be received in the Orthodox world.

From Holocaust to Human Rights

May 22, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Tune in to C-SPAN on Sunday at noon [ET] for a discussion with Thomas Buergenthal, Auschwitz survivor-turned-judge at the International Court of Justice.  He'll discuss his new book, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy.  I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly during law school after his lecture at the Organization of American States on the formation and priorities of the ICJ ... and have always wanted to hear him discuss his personal story as a Shoah survivor.  

This just gives further credence to my theory that at the helm of almost every major human rights organization or social justice-oriented institution is a Shoah survivor or one of their descendants.  

Yet another Jewish superhero, if you ask me.

What do young Jews want out of Jewish life?

May 21, 2009 at 3:53 PM

A recent article posted on Synagogue 3000's website discusses one of the most engaging (and successful) programs aimed at 20 & 30 Somethings. The article's author, Rabbi Jeremy Morrison, conducted a whole new approach to ascertain the needs of young, unaffiliated Jews in Boston. The entire article is great (and recommended reading), but for this post I want to focus on what unaffiliated young Jews expressed as their needs and desires:

We met with unaffiliated Jews living in the neighborhoods in which we have now established circles, and we asked the participants about their connections to Judaism, their reluctance to become affiliated with a synagogue, what of Judaism they would like to try, where they would like to try it, what we could do to help, and similar questions. Participants responded that they were seeking Shabbat meals and services in an intimate setting, serious learning about Judaism, and social action projects. They wanted to start with activities in their own neighborhoods, and they sought a mix of ages and types (e.g. married and single, older and younger; interfaith couples) to join together. Additionally, participants wanted any social connections to flow from these activities, rather than focusing on the social or dating aspect.

The older "model" of congregations and synagogues does not necessarily meet the needs of younger Jewish professionals who are seeking more intimate, spiritual, and engaging communities. If we are to have any success in engaging the next generation, we need to rethink our models we are often so married to, and come back to the drawing board.

Where have all the Jews gone?

at 12:48 AM

A good friend of mine, Derek Leman, today posted an entry titled "Who let the Jews Out." It is an excellent critique of the direction Messianic Judaism has taken in the last 10 to 15 years. His post has led to a lengthy discussion on the role of non-Jews, and the future direction of the Movement.

Many of his points echoed thoughts I wrote about in an article
 for Kesher in its Summer/Fall 2006 issue. I observed that despite the seeming success of the modern Messianic Jewish Movement in America, it has failed to reach Jews:

Although much attention is often given to the growth of Messianic Judaism since its inception in the 1960's and 70's, there is also a failure to recognize the fact that the Messianic Movement has not been as successful as it claims in reaching out to the larger Jewish community. Although Messianic congregations are springing up around the world, very few of these congregations have sizable Jewish numbers, and tend to be quite small.

As Derek argues in his blog, if Messianic Judaism is ever to become what many of us believe it should be, it must overcome its current crisis of identity and address the causes of this phenomenon. Our position is that until the movement as a whole (or at least a substantial sector) comes to agreement on the purpose of our existence, these issues will remain.

Stay tuned as we share our own thoughts on the
purpose and goals of a Yeshua-infused Judaism.

The Great Shlemiel

May 20, 2009 at 7:02 PM

In case you needed another reason to spit when you say "Bernie Madoff," the New York Times reports today that Madoff's investment fraud is threatening the livelihoods of Israeli musicians. The America-Israel Cultural Foundation, as it turns out, invested its entire $14 million endowment with Madoff, and saw it all go to smoke this past fall. AICF, whose scholarships have provided a "stamp of approval" for acclaimed Israeli musicians, including Itzhak Perlman (who performed at this year's Presidential inauguration) and Pinchas Zukerman has slashed it scholarship program drastically.

In Israel, an A.I.C.F. scholarship is commonly referred to as a keren, Hebrew for foundation. Young players use the term as in, When is your keren? Did you get a keren? How much is your keren?

It is beyond appalling that a fellow Jew would rip off his kinsmen with such gargantuan flair. His victims included no less than Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel! As Rob Eshman at the LA Jewish Journal described his reaction:
The man survives Auschwitz, lives to serve as the moral conscience of the world, then in the twilight of his noble life sees his charitable wealth destroyed by a fellow Jew. No one could plumb the darkness of a soul that could do such a thing, not even Wiesel.

As Rob Eshman goes on to explain, the blame does not fall exclusively on the shoulders of our decade's greatest swindler. The American Jewish community's "Big Macher Syndrome" provides fertile ground for opportunistic liars like Madoff:

We have rabbis who shut their mouths rather than risk alienating a potential donor. Sure they'll preach tikkun olam and charity from the pulpit, but how often do they preach modesty, humility and moderation? People are telling me the Madoff scandal all boiled down to one word -- greed. But it's not so simple. Madoff didn't just want money, he wanted the immunity that being a big shot, a macher bestows upon all sorts of cheats, dimwits and blowhards in the Jewish community.

Which begs the question, are the same norms operative within our own community? We may not have enough wealth in our midst to contemplate a Madoff scenario. But the mechanics of prestige and power don't always need money to grease their wheels. Have we built up individuals in our midst so dramatically that we offer them unprecedented opportunities for abuse ... setting them (and their victims) up for a cataclysmic fall from grace? Who throws their weight around in our shuls and institutions, and does our outsized admiration have a role in building the pedestal(s) on which they stand?

It turns out Madoff's travesty teaches us a lesson we'd do well to remember.

Though I'm still not sure the lesson is worth $50 billion.

Quote of the Day

at 6:15 PM

I tend to find that people who have grown up in a home where mainstream Judaism was a part of their lives find messianic synagogues lacking in authentic (ie. not Googled) culture ... [I]f a place is called a synagogue it needs to function, feel, and smell like one.  A heart for G-d isn’t enough.  Culture does matter.  Especially if we’re going to do anything about the rampant intermarriage rate.  One’s children might call themselves Jews but do they feel like Jews enough to marry another Jew and have a Jewish household?

- Anonymous

Quote of the Day

May 19, 2009 at 7:04 PM

What in the world made me assume that the poor are dumb? ... [I realized that] at some level I was prejudiced with the assumption that poor people did not know what their problems are, if they did know about their problems, they were not articulate enough and even if they were articulate, they were not smart enough to solve the problem.

- Suraj Sudakhar @ the Acumen Fund

First African-American woman rabbi should challenge us

at 3:23 AM

On June 6th, Alysa Stanton will become the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi and will lead a congregation in North Carolina. Stanton, a convert to Judaism, is a mother to an adopted 14 year old daughter and a trained psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and grief.

Since ordaining its first female rabbi in 1972, Hebrew Union College (HUC) has ordained 582 women rabbis. Reconstructionist Judaism ordained its first female rabbi in 1974, and the Conservative movement began ordaining women as rabbis in 1985. Since then, a number of Orthodox women have also received Orthodox smicha.

The ordination of the first female African-American rabbi should spark further discussions about the ordination of women rabbis within a Messianic Jewish context. The Messianic Jewish movement remains one of the only branches of Judaism that still does not officially ordain woman as rabbis. But this is not for a lack of previous discussions and debate.

A number of debates, including a recent one hosted at Toward Blog, highlight the growing call for Messianic Judaism to move forward in this matter. Many of us younger Messianic Jews do not even understand what is holding us up from moving forward on this issue, and are continually growing restless with all the foot dragging. In the meantime, many gifted and talented young women are voting with their feet and leaving our movement for spiritual communities in which their talents are valued. In a day and age when women can be and do anything, it seems absurd that what they CANNOT be is a Messianic rabbi.

Quote of the Day

May 18, 2009 at 10:50 PM

In the words of our favorite sixty-year old, Rabbi Russ Resnik:

This point in life's journey is a good time to re-invent ourselves, not a time to set our sights on Florida, plaid Bermudas and decaf, but to find creative ways to use the gifts and experience with which Hashem has blessed us, and to stay in shape, physically, mentally, and spiritually, so we can do it. There's a caveat, though, as we retool ourselves for another two or three decades ahead. We need to keep our younger colleagues in mind ... Younger, emerging leaders should not need to do battle with a bunch of old gatekeepers to gain a place at the leadership table.

Happy Birthday, Rabbi Russ!

When pious men talk like idiots.

at 4:46 PM

Should a Jew break Shabbos to save the life of a non-Jew?

We think the answer to this question is a pretty obvious yes, but were dismayed to find genuine controversy on this within elements of the ultra-Orthodox community.

A brief article at CrownHeights.info reports that the Hatzalah (religious Jewish ambulance service) was called to the scene of a car accident on Shabbat morning last week. The frum responders, who willingly broke the prohibitions on work and travel for the sake of pikuach nefesh (to "save a life"), soon learned that the accident victims were non-Jews, whose needs were being addressed by New York state EMTs. They stayed at the scene to assist the accident victims:
Shabbos morning at around 9:30, Hatzalah was called to the scene of a motor vehicle accident on Empire Boulevard and Albany Avenue. It is unclear who called or why, but Hatzalah responded and treated two drivers both of whom were not Jewish. A minivan and a small SUV collided mid-intersection, sending one of the cars up onto the sidewalk. None of the drivers suffered any serious injuries. One driver did complained of back pains, while the other refused medical attention altogether. Two members of Hatzalah responded to the scene. Upon arriving, they saw that FDNY EMS was already at work on the scene. The Hatzalah members cancelled their ambulance and gave assistance.

We read this story and thought "great example of Jewish tikkun! The responders had the expectation that a fellow Jew was in distress ... but when confronted with a different reality, they offered their assistance." Definitely
kiddush HaShem (sanctification of G-d's name). The Shulchan Aruch (a codification of Jewish law) confirms our view:
He who desecrates the Sabbath for the sake of one who is critically ill, even if his efforts prove unnecessary or fruitless, is sure to receive a reward; for instance, if the physician has said that the sick person needs one fig, and nine men have plucked one fig each for the sick man, they have all earned a reward from the Almighty, blessed be His name, even if the patient has recovered from the first fig ... there is nothing that supersedes the saving of human life. (Chapter 92)

We don't see within Jewish texts any distinction between the mitzvah of saving the life of a Jew versus the mitzvah of saving the life of a non-Jew. How frustrating, then, to see commenters assert otherwise.

But of course, "there is nothing new under the sun." Even during the life of Mashiach, Jews were squabbling about pikuach nefesh. In Matthew 12:10-13, Yeshua heals a man with a shriveled hand. In Luke 14:1-6, Yeshua heals a man whose body was swollen with fluid. Neither impediment was necessarily "life threatening." Both were likely considered "minor ailments," the treatment of which was arguably prohibited on Shabbat. It's significant that Yeshua's actions did not break Shabbat in the first place, as the healings occurred through miracles, rather than any physical act. Still, his public choice was provocative enough to set the crowd tittering.

The arguments Yeshua presented to support his position were numerous, including:
  • "If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you wouldn't take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good. (Matthew 12:11-12)
  • "Shabbat was made for man, not man for Shabbat." (Mark 2:27)
  • "If a boy is circumcised on Shabbat so that the Torah of Moses will not be broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man's whole body well on Shabbat?" (John 7:23)

Although none of these scenarios addressed the healing of a non-Jew on Shabbat, we're pretty confident that the Messiah who will cure a "minor ailment" on Shabbat via miracle would support the rescue of a non-Jew (through physical action) in serious danger. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch, "It is a grave sin to carry piety to the point of idiocy."

Is it kosher now?: Answering to a higher authority

at 2:44 AM

Voices within the Jewish community are calling for an evolution in kashrus. "From Kosher to Eco-Kosher to Righteously Kosher, Jews are amplifying the notion of the sacredness of food to include care for workers and the environment," states a recent article at Religion Dispatches. In the wake of various scandals involving the kosher food industry, and particularly the Agriprocessors fiasco, many Jews are asking whether or not kashrus needs a moral and ethical overhaul.

According to the article's author, Rabbi Benjamin Weiner:
If rabbinic supervision as it is currently constituted...is concerned only with ascertaining the purity of meat according to the letter of the law, and does not provide the moral foundation to militate against flagrant social abuses, then a revaluation of the concept of kashrut itself is in order.

We are called to be holy and to partner with HaShem in infusing the world with holiness. A kosher diet is a "diet for the soul," and brings holiness to the otherwise mundane process of eating. As such, higher standards should be placed on the food that passes our lips. If the meat is shecht (ritually slaughtered) properly - but employees are mistreated, animals are treated inhumanely, and unethical business practices are employed - then the slaughter, processing, purchase, and consumption of that meat has failed to impart holiness into the world.

New standards are needed. Proposals include:
  • promoting eco-kosher standards and the humane treatment of animals
  • an additional heksher (kosher certification symbol) denoting a company's commitment to righteous business practices, and
  • more transparent kashrus procedures
As Jews who care about Torah, and the mitzvah of ve'ahavta lera'eicha kamocha - of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we must speak out in support of such changes. There is an expression that "we are what we eat." Let's make sure that when we do eat, that we can be assured that all aspects of holiness and integrity are involved.

Is Obama "Good" for Israel?

May 17, 2009 at 3:27 PM

There has been plenty of nervous chatter and hand wringing concerning how President Obama may or may not alter the U.S.'s position towards Israel and specifically the (ongoing and usually unproductive) peace process.  We are very interested in seeing how his upcoming meetings with Arab and Israeli leaders are handled, especially his upcoming meeting with Netanyahu tomorrow.  

As discussed in this article in today's New York Times, Obama's background may be very positive (or could at least lead to a change of pace).  Obviously, the United States' approach for the last 10 -15 years has not worked.  

Mr. Obama’s predecessors, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, came of age politically with the American-Israeli viewpoint of the Middle East conflict as their primary tutor, said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator. While each often expressed concern and empathy for the Palestinians — with Mr. Clinton, in particular, pushing hard for Middle East peace during the last months of his presidency — their early perspectives were shaped more by Israelis and American Jews than by Muslims, Mr. Levy said.

It is indeed time to bring additional considerations to the table.  Although we do not expect the facts on the ground to actually change all that much, it's pretty pessimistic to throw up our hands and call it an "intractable conflict."  

Although it is inconvenient to admit as much, the Palestinians have been handed a raw deal.  By their fellow Arabs, by their own leaders, and yes, even by the government of Israel.  It is important to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns, for they, too, are created "in the image of G-d."  President Obama (who one of us voted for, and one of us did not) may have the personal background and perspective that's needed to broker something slightly better than absolute stalemate.

P.S.:  We weren't born yesterday and are well aware that Israel/Palestinian issues inspire particularly vivid reactions, several of which we share simultaneously within our own little skulls.  By all means, put your insights and venom in the comments section below. 

Getting Hitched

May 16, 2009 at 2:19 AM

Two short months ago, we enjoyed the happiest day of our lives when we were joined together under a huppah.  Given that Joshua is a rabbi and all, we took the process of preparing for our huppah pretty seriously.  In partnership with our senior rabbi, we developed an egalitarian and joyful lifecycle ceremony that was halachically valid and consistent with the way Jews have been getting married for thousands of years.  (Why turn a wedding into a hippy dippy circus?  There's no reason to mess with a good thing, we thought.)  It was inclusive of and accessible to our non-Jewish friends and relatives ... and most importantly, had everyone spilling tears of joy.

Email us if you'd like a copy of the programs/benschers that we designed to guide our guests through the day's events.

The canopy of our huppah was a Scottish lace tablecloth of Monique's great-grandmother, who smuggled it out of Germany during the Holocaust.

Mickie Caspie served as our artist and sofer.  We chose a Conservative text, which is essentially the Orthodox text + the all-important Lieberman clause.

We are living in a world with a lot of broken glasses ... broken homes, broken windows, broken doors, broken children, broken Yiddishkeit [Jewish life]. I want to bless you that you should be the ones to rebuild Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is only rebuilt by people who can take a broken glass, and build the holy Temple from it.  - Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

On girls and poverty

May 14, 2009 at 4:36 PM

Did you know that, in the average "developing" country, when an educated girl earns income, she reinvests 90% of it in her family, compared to 35% for a boy?  And yet, and yet ... less than one half of one percent of international aid money is directed at girls.

Certainly flips some of our instincts about "how to end poverty" on their head.  The pervasive culture of "short-term missions," (which too often informs Messianic strategies for tikkun olam) totally ignores this reality.  What has been the model of faith-based engagement in "third world" poverty?  Often the requirement that volunteers raise inordinate sums of money from their peers to fly themselves into rural areas to build orphanages and schools.  (Which, P.S.: could be built MUCH MORE CHEAPLY by local laborers, providing employment in the process.)  The girls at Wronging Rights call this "selfish volunteering," and its failure to produce results of lasting value to poor communities is staggering:

Selfish volunteering is huge. It starts young, with three-week service projects in hot, poor countries that can be neatly turned into college admissions essay. (1 part unawareness of own privilege + 1 part manual labor + 1 encounter with poor/sick/disabled native child just my age = admission to Oberlin.)

The success of investing in the education and entrepreneurial instincts of adolescent girls is undeniable ... but decidedly less glamorous than hearing about white people popping malaria pills in preparation for their outreach to the "poor and helpless." Turns out girls aren't so helpless.  They're just ineligible for education and small business loans.  Watch and learn.

Patti Stanger debates Shmuley Boteach

at 3:47 PM

So I'm kind of a huge fan of Bravo's "The Millionaire Matchmaker."  Patti Stanger, the show's star, somehow represents for me the ideal LA Jewish woman.  It's probably because she's NOT from LA that I love her so much.  She's brassy, bold, opinionated, and not afraid to call out the shortcomings of emotionally stunted millionaires.

And I'm a sometimes fan of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who's a shock jock sort of Orthodox rabbi.  We spotted him once sitting outside a Coffee Bean on a Sunday morning in the Pico/Robertson area of West LA, and couldn't stop throwing shifty glances at each other, like "ooh, that's Shmuley Boteach!"  "Yeah, yeah, the guy who debates all the time and has lots of kids!"  and "Wow, he drinks coffee like real people do."

It kind of made my day to see this article on the cover of the LA Jewish Journal today.  Here's the corresponding video:


at 6:10 AM

I've joined the Twitter revolution.  Find my tweets at twitter.com/rebyosh.

Jerusalem as Sacred Space

at 6:04 AM

Abstract of Makom Kadosh: Jerusalem as Sacred Space by Rabbi Joshua Brumbach. For the full article, click here.

How is it that Jerusalem became an axis of sacred space, a locus of the divine presence on earth? It lacks a harbor, access to a trade route, even interesting topography! And yet it is considered one of the most holy cities. As Scripture reveals, Jerusalem is sacred because G-d willed it to be, through various associated hierophonies, or divine encounters.

Beginning in Genesis, the Jewish patriarch Abraham (then Avram) goes up the Shaveh Valley, where he meets Melchizedek, the King of Shalem (present-day Jerusalem) and a priest of the G-d Most High. (Genesis 14:17-20) Avram eats a covenant meal with him there, Melchizedek blesses Avram, and Avram gives Melchizedek a tithe of ten percent of all his possessions.

In Genesis 22, a passage known in Hebrew as the Akeida, G-d calls Abraham to take his son Isaac to Mt. Moriah, and build an altar there on top the mountain. He binds up his son Isaac, and lays him upon the wood on top the altar. As Abraham is about to slay his son, he is stopped by an angel of G-d. 2 Chronicles 3:1-2 later identifies Mt. Moriah as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In 2 Samuel 24, G-d sends a plague upon the people of Israel as punishment against King David. 70,000 people die. At the end of the specified time, an angel of G-d stands atop the threshing floor of Aravnah, in the home of a Jebusite whose city was captured by David, and later renamed "Jerusalem." King David buys the site, builds an altar there, and offers sacrifices to G-d. G-d lifts the plague, and the site of King David's altar is later identified by 2 Chronicles 3 as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Put on an ancient near eastern thinking cap (which understands space as neither fungible nor homogenous) and connect the dots. Jerusalem plays host to ... the creation story in Genesis, godly figures like Melchizedek, the beloved Mt. Moriah of Abraham, and the place of G-d's revelation to King David! Is it any wonder that the Temple Mount is now associated with the physical manifestation of G-d's presence on earth??