2009 in Review

Dec 31, 2009 at 10:41 AM


The Best and 'Worst' of Yinon in 2009

As 2010 quickly approaches we decided to do a review of Yinon Blog over the past year. What were some of the most popular, most interesting, or maybe the most controversial posts of 2009?

Let us know what you think are the best (or 'worst') of Yinon in 2009!


Most Controversial

1) "Where have all the men Gone?" - 45 comment
2) "First African-American woman rabbi should challenge Us?" - 23 comments
3) "More Orthodox women rabbis?" - 14 comments
4) "What do we call a woman rabbi?" - 11 comments
5) "Women in Early Judaism" - 5 comments

*It seems the most controversial topics on our blog are women and women rabbis.


Most Popular

These posts were the most popular with the highest numbers of comments:

1) "Where have all the men Gone?" - 45 comments
2) "So what's our Purpose?" - 29 comments
3) "First African-American woman rabbi should challenge Us?" - 23 comments
4) "Liturgy: Dead or Living?" - 23 comments
5) "Judaism in Crisis" - 16 comments


Most Posts

What "labels" had the highest number of posts? (I guess these are the topics we write about the most).

1) "Spirituality" - 40 posts
2) "Quote of the Day" - 34 posts
3) "Torah" - 33 posts
4) "Pieces of Parsha" - 27 posts
5) "Community" - 26 posts
6) "nexgen" - 25 posts


Other Posts Worth Mentioning

Quote of the Day

Dec 30, 2009 at 11:30 AM


"We are controversial because we believe in Judaism and many have decided the rabbis are anti-Jesus and spiritually bankrupt.

The unchallenged notions here are at least two: (1) that the actual church of history is somehow closer to G-d than the Judaism of history and (2) that G-d is not at work in the people of Israel except in those who explicitly declare Jesus as Messiah. When you look at the actual, concrete, human side of the church through the ages, you do not find purity, scriptural integrity, or godliness as the rule, but rather corruption, greed, error, and abandonment of some of G-d’s priorities. You find the same when you look at Judaism and any other human endeavor. But you also find, in church history and in Jewish history, that G-d has been present in ways too powerful to miss. Salvation truly is implanted in our midst, as the prayer after the Torah service declares."

Derek Leman, from his article "RememberJeruslam.org"


Meeting a Fellow Blogger

Dec 28, 2009 at 11:07 PM

Today, we had the pleasure of meeting Ovadia from the blog Just Jewish, and spent a few hours giving him a watered-down Jewish tour of DC. (There was some Neopolitan-style pizza and a sculpture garden thrown in for good measure.) I won't sing his praises too much, since I don't want anyone else to persuade him to move to their city and join their community. (We're already working on that.) I will say that he's wise beyond his years, and his honesty and spiritual curiosity is refreshing. For now, we're marking some new territory, and welcome him to our blogroll, at right.

Disturbing Trends

Dec 22, 2009 at 10:03 PM


Last Friday, the famous sign above the gates of Auschwitz which reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Sets You Free) was stolen in the middle of the night. Although a temporary replica was immediately put up in its place, the act sent shock waves throughout the Jewish world ... at least among those who were listening.

The sign was recovered (Thank G-d) on Monday (albeit in three pieces), and five young men have been detained in the incident. Although the incident enraged many Holocaust survivors - most people don't even know it happened. Maybe it's just me, but it seems hardly a word was spoken about it.

Additionally, last Monday, December 14th, an Orthodox Christian priest in Moldova led nearly one hundred people in attacking a public menorah. The priest, Anatoliy Chirbik, led the group in a demonstration at Stephan the Great Square in Kishinev, where he spewed a number of antisemitic slurs. Demonstrators, led by the priest, used hammers and iron bars to dismantle the five foot tall menorah, and erected a huge cross in its place.

"We are an Orthodox country," Chirbik told the assembly. "Stephan the Great defended our country from all kinds of Zjids [a derogatory term for Jews], and now they come and put their menorah here. This is anarchy."

Ironically, both of these events happened during Hanukkah, a holiday which celebrates our deliverance from tyranny and oppression.

What makes these acts even more disturbing is that they follow on the heels of a troubling year for the Jewish people. 2009 witnessed the most dramatic upsurge in antisemitic incidents and anti-Israel sentiment since the Second World War.

In February, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the findings of a report which found that nearly half of all Europeans feel Jews "have too much power," and nearly 31% blamed the Jewish people for the current economic crisis.

Incidents in France, which has the largest Jewish population of any European country, reported over 600 new antisemitic incidents just within the last year.

In June I blogged about rising antisemitism in Hungary, which has the third largest Jewish population in Europe. A newsletter published by "The trade union of Hungarian police officers prepared for action," was quoted in Haaretz as contending for an armed war against the Jews:
"Given our current situation, anti-Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews."
I can personally attest to the fact that antisemitism is alive and well in Europe. When I first moved to Budapest, Hungary in 2001 I was cautioned to avoid wearing a Star of David, a yarmulke, or any other Jewish symbols. Many people refrain from openly identifying themselves as being Jewish out of fear. When I rented my first apartment, my Jewish landlords were very nervous about my putting up a mezuzah, fearing their property would be vandalized. And I quickly learned my lesson when a swastika was painted outside my apartment window. These sentiments are echoed from within the government and media. The local news channels in Hungary were government run, and often news anchors would openly proclaim that Jews and Gypsies were to blame for the country's problems.

And the problem is not just in Europe. This does not include the numerous acts which have occurred all over the world.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Antisemitic acts here in America rose 27% in 2004. Recent data from 2009 show even greater trends, but more finalized results have not yet been released. One of the highest increases in Antisemitic acts, according to a source from the ADL, has been in California, a state that has previously been known to be a melting pot and quite tolerant of minorities. Alas ... even in America, we are not immune to rising antisemitism.

Has 2009 been good for the Jewish people? I'll let you decide. But as for me, I find the trends quite disturbing.

A Talmudic Highlight

Dec 20, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Scroll of tractate Hullin, Babylonian Talmud (CUL T–S MISC. 26.53.17), acknowledgment to Dr. S.C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the Cambridge University Library, and the Syndics of the Library.


Did you know the Talmud was once studied in scroll form?

This morning I ran across an interesting article on Tzvee's Talmudic Blog titled, 'Was the Hullin Scroll the Oldest Talmudic Manuscript ever Recovered?' For those of us familiar with a page of Talmud, and who may have also sat for hours in a yeshiva learning, discussing, and arguing over a daf (a page of Talmud), it seems hard to imagine that the Talmud was not always in a book form.

The manuscript (pictured above) is of a section of the Talmud called Hullin, and is the oldest manuscript of the Talmud ever recovered. Touching on the evolution of the Talmud, the author quotes Professor Shamma Friedman of JTS, in noting:
"For an ensuing period of more than half a millennium the 'book' of the Talmud, in the form of manuscript codices, held sway in Jewish intellectual life. These codices usually contained the Talmud text only. The text remained a living and changing entity, in the sense that the margins provided space for textual notes (beyond what may have been possible on scrolls), which were often incorporated in the next copy. Related literature, such as Rashi’s commentary and Tosafot, so central to the printed Talmud as we know it, were essentially available in separate codices only."
It is interesting to think about how the Talmud has evolved over 1,500 years. What makes the Talmud so fascinating (and difficult) is its complexity. It is in all reality an archaic conversation. I use the word 'archaic' not in a sense of 'useless,' or 'done away with,' but simply in a sense of its age. And because it does not flow like a typical book, it takes mastery of the text to follow and track all its allusions, quotes, and citations - as well as its language. Another aspect of the Talmud many western thinkers find frustrating is that many of the arguments discussed often do not have a conclusion. That is hard for those of us from western countries who have been encultured to expect a neat and organized conclusion.

The Talmud is really just volumes of case law, setting prior precedents for understanding, interpreting, and establishing halachah. Attorneys, and those familiar with legal codes really get this. One of the major aspects that separates Judaism from other faith traditions like Protestant Christianity is this notion of halachah (of Jewish law). Jewish life and practice is established on prior communal precedent. One cannot just do what one sees fit. There are accepted previous understandings and interpretations that determine Jewish life and observance. And proper innovation and creativity should be established based on communal understanding of these prior precedents.

In a previous post I wrote on halachah, I noted that Jewish law was never meant to be static, but rather to be reinterpreted in every generation. Rabbi Wayne Dosick describes halachah as “ever-developing” and “ever-evolving.” Because halachah is derived out of evolving case law, it is developed by wrestling with texts, the practicalities of daily life, and the teachings of previous leaders in order to decide halachic matters. It is a process. A process that is not set in stone, and not without inerrancy. However, while engaging with rabbinic texts and deciding halachah, Professor Gordon Tucker guides,

"Development in the domain of de-rabbanan must not be abrupt or discontinuous, [but] must be rooted in traditional exegetical methodologies, and above all, must be ratified by the community of the committed and informed."

We as Messianic Jews are obligated to engage in knowledgeable discussion with Jewish law. At times we may interpret it differently, especially in light of New Testament understandings (stay tuned!). Yet, that does not mean we can just “do as we see fit.” We have a responsibility to ourselves and the larger Jewish world to engage in halachah through a knowledgeable and informed process.

And what is the subject matter of the above Hullin manuscript? The author closes his article by noting, "for those who are curious, this text's subject matters are the prohibitions of eating: the sinew of the hip of an animal; a limb from a living animal; milk together with meat."


Reflecting on Albuquerque

Dec 15, 2009 at 1:20 PM


Last week, Monique and I joined a number of other colleagues in Albuquerque, NM for the UMJC's mid-year leadership retreat.

This year's retreat was extremely significant. The UMJC focused on discussing the future of Messianic Judaism, and all the invited presenters were young leaders. You can read Rabbi Russ Resnik's reflections of the retreat on the UMJC website.

One of the aspects of the UMJC I appreciate the most is their focus on the future. Providing more than mere lip service, the UMJC has put their money where their mouth is. For example, they have provided tremendous resources to young leaders through internship and scholarship programs, young leaders retreats, and inviting younger leaders to be main speakers at conferences. The UMJC has been front and center in raising up a new generation into leadership.

Monique and I were two of the main presenters. In our first session, titled "The New American Jew," we led participants in an interactive look at the make-up of the American Jewish Community today, helping to identify the spiritual needs of three primary generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millenials - and what these generations are all looking for in a spiritual home.

Our second session, titled "Building Spiritual Homes for the New American Jew," we drew upon the previous session, and upon our conviction that Messianic communities should be vibrant spiritual homes for Jewish believers, seekers, and intermarrieds. As such, we delved into the practicalities of creating welcoming Jewish spiritual environments. We also discussed current communal models and methods, explored alternative and emergent models, and presented simple “how-to’s” for transforming congregations into sacred communities for the New American Jew.

The other presenters, our friends Nathan Joiner and Britta Phillips, also did an excellent job, and provided additional interactive opportunities. The entire retreat went very well, and the feedback has been tremendous.

Following the retreat, we enjoyed a day in beautiful Santa Fe with other rabbis and spouses, and stayed through the weekend enjoying the first couple days of Hanukkah with some family and friends. Overall, our trip to New Mexico was exciting, beneficial, and even relaxing.

If you are a leader or lay-leader of a UMJC affiliated congregation, Monique and I will also be doing a UMJC sponsored webinar January 5th on the topics we raised at the retreat. So if you missed the retreat, or want to continue the exciting dialogue begun in Albuquerque, join us for the webinar! For more information or to register for the webinar, go to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/348332371.


Quote of the Day

Dec 14, 2009 at 2:06 PM

Taking out the Trash

A husband and wife once came to see the renowned Rabbi Gifter, the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland. The wife had a complaint.

"Rabbi," she said, "I work around the house all day and my husband refuses even to take out the trash. He says as a student of Talmud, it is beneath his dignity. He sits and studies and watches me lug the barrels out to the street. Is there anything in Jewish law that can compel him to help?"

Rabbi Gifter spent some time trying to make peace between the couple. Along the way he explained that no, there was no Jewish law that compelled the husband to take out the trash.

The next day early in the morning, Rabbi Gifter showed up at the couple's home. The husband, honored by an unexpected visit from the famous rabbi, begged him to come in and have something to eat.

"No," said Rabbi Gifter, "I haven't come for a visit. I've come to take out the trash." The husband was perplexed. "You see," explained the Rabbi, "it may be beneath your dignity, but it is not beneath mine."

-Rabbi David Wolpe, from "Off the Pulpit, 11/26/09"


Universal Declaration of Human Rights @ 61

Dec 10, 2009 at 7:42 PM


This week marks the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Led by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, 48 of the most powerful countries in the world signed this document, for the first time in history, agreeing on a set of common principles that would govern their respect for the rights of individuals. Included in the UDHR’s declarations were the following sentiments:

  • that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
  • that a person’s race, sex, language, religion, political opinion, and nationality could not operate to restrict access to these rights.
  • That slavery and torture are illegal
  • That women are entitled to dignity, that we are not property to be bought and sold.
  • That people should be able to challenge their abusers in court … even if their abuser is their own government
Is it any coincidence that the anniversary of the UDHR falls on the anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel? Of course it’s not just a mere coincidence! Let’s go back in our heads to 1948 … the Western world was emerging from the worst bloodbath of all history. 6 million people were murdered under the noses of the continent of Europe for the crime of being Jews … and nary a peep was uttered in protest by the citizens of Europe. Twenty million were murdered by Stalin. Countless more soldiers lost their lives in the two bloodiest wars in history – World War I and World War II.
And it was a host of “isms” that fueled these wars. Nationalism, racism, nativism, isolationism, Aryanism. In short, human nature at its very worst.

It is no mere coincidence that the state of Israel and the UDHR were brought to life in the same year. The Western world, in begrudgingly authorizing the establishment of the first Jewish state, and in enthusiastically embracing the principles of the UDHR … was attempting a form of penance, and carving out a new and hopefully brighter vision for the future.

But sixty years later, how far have we come? Does the world we live in reflect the UDHR’s vision for the future? Does our own government adhere to its principles? Sadly, it does not.

In Burma, a military junta continues its campaign to eradicate the Karen minority people. The genocide in Rwanda sparked an even more devastating conflict in the Congo, where six million people (mostly women and children ... and a whole lotta refugees) have been murdered in the past 12 years. Genocide still rages in Darfur. Globally, it’s estimated that 27 million people are held in slavery – at least 17,000 of them are enslaved in the United States. 1 in 3 women faces some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime – rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, honor killing, female genital mutilation.

No. 61 years later, what has really changed? I’ll tell you what’s changed. Our capacity and our obligation to act has changed. The age of iPhones, blogs, “the internet,” cheap international travel … these things have brought news of atrocities, genocide, and abuses of power into our living rooms.

Fortunately … these tools of communication have also brought our living rooms into the global stage. As individuals, we have the power to speak up about injustice, to lobby our government for change, to pursue shareholder activism to stop corporate abuse, to send, with the click of a button, lifesaving resources and funds to human rights activists.

And as Jews, we have the call of Hashem. To seek justice, to defend the widow and the orphan, to free the captives, to comfort those who suffer … G-d commands us to act, because acting in the face of injustice is the only way to effectively remember.

Remember … we were slaves in the land of Egypt. Remember … we were pushed out of Spain during the Inquisition. Remember … we were hunted down in Europe during the Holocaust. And remember, that with G-d’s help, we have overthrown tyrants and established a home where we enjoy relative security. With G-d’s help, Haman was hung from a noose, Antiochus was pushed out of Jerusalem, Hitler was overthrown, and the state of Israel has survived for sixty years.

Sixty-one years later, there is still plenty of work to be done. Let’s commit as a community to do more of it.

What ... Tyranny and Chocolate???

at 1:01 AM

This week I ran across a fun post in time for Hanukkah by a young Reform Rabbi on her blog, Frume Sarah's World.

As Jews, we share a unique responsibility in Tikkun Olam, in repairing the world and infusing it with holiness. As such, this author wrote an informative post on Hanukkah gelt. Yes ... that's right, Hanukkah gelt ... And raises awareness about ethical considerations when buying chocolate. So, as chocolate lovers ... and proponents of social justice ... we found her post informative and wanted to share!

Quote of the Day: Engaging Jewish Adults

Dec 1, 2009 at 7:30 PM


In an excellent article on Jewschool, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg responds to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s recent stated desire to reach the “young adult” demographic. She weighs in with some excellent thoughts to be considered.

Definitely read the whole article, but here is a taste for our Quote of the Day ...

Thinking in terms of “getting the young people” has too often led to programs that have the potential to fail on at least one of two counts.

On the one hand, people can spot an attempt to “be hip” from a mile away; programs that aren’t organic, that don’t genuinely tap into the zeitgeist and people’s interests will be read as pandering and condescending and are likely to fall flat.

But more than that, even when people show up, the nature of many outreach programs leads me to wonder whether we aren’t operating under a misguided definition of “success.” If people go to an event featuring a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model from Israel and leave tipsy but untransformed Jewishly, is that a success? Will attending a kosher karaoke night make people more moral, kinder, more in touch with themselves, with the Divine, with a stronger sense of meaning to their lives? Will it quench their thirst for the living Torah — the Torah that speaks to their lives, their struggles, their romances and ethical questions, to their financial woes and existential fears?

I would posit that getting butts in chairs — even the butts of a highly desirable demographic — is not the point … as it happens, 20-somethings — like folks in other age groups — crave substance and depth … What most people want, I’ve learned, is the high-octane stuff: to come to a deeper understanding of Jewish spirituality; to talk about the nature of God and the purpose of religion; to find a Jewish connection to the big questions weighing on their hearts, and to create a community in which those questions can be explored together.


-Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is senior Jewish educator at Tufts Hillel and the author of “Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion” (Beacon Press, 2008).