1/29/14

עונג שבת (עונ"ש):עֵת לָלֶדֶת וְעֵת לָמוּת: פרידה מפיט סיגֶר- Oneg Shabbos Blog's Pete Seeger and the Jews Post

A fine Pete Seeger and the Jews post - in Hebrew.

Time to be born and a time to die: Farewell Pete Seeger

בלוג עונג שבת 
רשומה: עֵת לָלֶדֶת וְעֵת לָמוּת: פרידה מפיט סיגֶר

P.S. Seeger was not a Jew. Wikipedia: Seeger was born at the French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan. His Yankee-Protestant family, which Seeger called "enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition", traced its genealogy back over 200 years. A paternal ancestor, Karl Ludwig Seeger, a physician from Württemberg, Germany, had emigrated to America during the American Revolution and married into an old New England family in the 1780s. Pete's father, the Harvard-trained composer and musicologist Charles Louis Seeger, Jr., was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to American parents

Times: Rabbi Avi Weiss Says he Was a Victim of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

I should like Avi Weiss because he stands for openness in Orthodoxy - a strange idea indeed - but I think, perhaps better than the closed kind.

Apparently Weiss stands also for opining opinionated Orthodoxy and he has taken his current gripes to the Times.

I have justified gripes about the rabbinate in Israel. We all do. What rabbi doesn't? But really who believes that, "Coercion and religion do not mix"? Take a look around the world. It is essential that they mix. The notion that they do not mix is a strange one.

Ultimately the Rabbinate in Israel may fail; it may be neutered or it may be be disbanded. But it will be because the institution implodes from within, not because an American rabbi thinks it must be fixed.

Rabbi Weiss must understand the judgement of some of his colleagues that "open" rabbis are not sufficiently "tribal" to testify about the Jewishness of unknown persons who claim to be members of the tribe. The chief rabbinate has a good argument that you can't be "open" and credibly "tribal" at the same time.

Indeed, "Systemic problems persist." But I don't see evidence that Weiss understands much about what they are. Here is his op-ed in the Times.
Rein in Israel’s Rabbinate
By AVI WEISS

NEW YORK — Recently, I was a victim of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. As an Orthodox rabbi, one who advocates for a more open and inclusive Orthodoxy, I’ve often attested to the Jewish status of congregants who wish to marry in Israel, as required by the Chief Rabbinate. I’ve been doing so for 45 years, but in October, one of my letters was rejected. Suddenly, my judgment had been found unacceptable.

1/28/14

Haaretz: Why Women Want to Wear Tefillin

Some Orthodox women want to wear tefillin. Some nasty rabbis want to stop them from doing that.

I call this a scribal-tribal issue because Tefillin are amulets that Orthodox Jews wear to demarcate their membership in the tribes of Israel. And amulets are written by scribes, who stand the most to directly benefit from the potential 100% increase in tefillin sales if all girls and women would start wearing them.

If the "Jewish Scribes Union" was more powerful, it would be so much behind this movement by a few young Jewish Orthodox women to wear Tefillin. But of course, there is no such union :-)

Elana Sztokman has written an impeccable editorial explaining why the women who want to wear tefillin deserve our respect and admiration.
Tefillingate: Orthodoxy must not reject its most committed women: The crude, sexist responses within Orthodoxy to girls wearing tefillin reflect men’s fears and prejudices - and ignorance about the passion of religious feminism.
By Elana Sztokman

The current firestorm about girls wearing tefillin has shed light on sexism in the Orthodox world. As opposed to a viewpoint informed by sexism, which sees the women and girls donning tefillin out of choice as radical provocateurs threatening an imaginary status quo, we should see them rather as inspiring examples of Jews embracing God and Torah.

There are those who try to make their objections seem rooted in halakha. Rabbi Ethan Tucker has done an exceptional job unraveling the halakhic myths and facts about women and tefillin, so there is no reason to rehash that here. Suffice it to say that the idea that women are prohibited from wearing tefillin is more a function of perception than reality.

1/26/14

Is Bruno Mars an Orthodox Jew?

As far as we know, Bruno Mars is not Jewish, Orthodox or otherwise... the pop singer is from Hawaii, part Filipino and part Puerto Rican.

His Grammy winning album is Unorthodox Jukebox and let us make this clear, this music is not suitable for Orthodox Jews (or others) who wish to avoid music with explicit themes about sex or swear words. Other than that, we like the album a lot.

Previously on the subject of Bruno Mars (6/5/12) we waxed Talmudic:

We like the popular music of Bruno Mars. It is mostly happy and upbeat. Even the unrequited love theme in "Grenade" comes out as a positive lyric in some strange ways.

The blog Jewlicious pointed us to a music video that wonderfully draws on a Bruno Mars song, "Marry You."
Dancing Jews, um, Juice: Everybody thinks Bruno Mars is singing “dancing Jews” instead of the actual lyric, “dancing juice” (slang for booze). But who cares, this amazing, joyous video gives us plenty of reasons to post it.
Jewlicious does not explicitly tell us that the amateur video shows some friends of the couple dancing dressed up like "dancing Jews" (men wearing hats and fringes - tzitzit) who appear in and out of the frame at the right times in the song.

Is Pink Jewish?

Yes, Pink is a Jew. The star performer dazzled everyone at the Grammy's with her singing, acrobatics and revealing performance in 2010 and again in 2014. Her mother is Jewish.

A 2006 interview with Pink says about her plans for tattoos,
Her Jewish mom will be honoured on her right arm, “with Hebrew writing and a cat ’cause she’s a snob and she’s a nurse and all that stuff,” she says cryptically. “And my dad is this country boy and he’s a wolf, or a tiger – I’m not sure which animal yet. And my mom grew up in Atlantic City so I’m gonna have all sort of casinos. And Carey has tattoos of Las Vegas casinos… Then for the country I want a spider’s web, Charlotte’s Web, all that stuff.”
Wikipedia says, "Pink was born (1979) Alecia Moore in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Judith Moore, a nurse, and James Moore, Jr., a Vietnam veteran. Her father is Catholic and her mother Jewish, and her ancestors immigrated from Ireland, Germany, and Lithuania."

We don't know if she got the Hebrew tattoo.

Pink's "Raise Your Glass" video below gets seriously into religion at about 2:00.



[repost from 3/2011]

Are Tefillin Jewish?

In "Gender and tefillin: Possibilities and consequences"  Ethan Tucker waxes poetic about the Jewish ritual of wearing phylacteries.

"Put simply, tefillin, at its core, encodes full citizenship in the world of learning. Wearing tefillin is nothing less than the embodiment of the value of Torah study, the manifestation of a commitment that by studying Torah, Jews strive to make their very essence a concrete extension of God's will in the world. Those who wear tefillin thereby demonstrate their full responsibility to transmit and produce the next generation of Torah."

I do appreciate the poetic sound of the previous paragraph. But "put simply" I have no idea what any of it means.

Let me enumerate what I do not understand.

JStandard.com: NJ Gov. Christie's Bridge Scandal "Worse than Watergate"

The Jewish Standard ran a great article - by editor Joanne Palmer -  discussing the mess in New Jersey with Burt Ross,former mayor of Fort Lee (yes he is Jewish), "‘Too big for its bridges’: Former Fort Lee mayor talks about Gov. Christie and the Port Authority."

Ross straight and to the point says that he does not believe Christie merits continuing as governor and that the current scandals are worse than Watergate. Ross is articulate and detailed. We reproduce the Jewish Standard interview-article here.
You can take the boy out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the boy.

In this case, the boy is a grown man — Burt Ross, now of Malibu, Calif. Mr. Ross and his wife, Joan, decamped a mere two years ago, following their children west. But he spent his entire life until then in Bergen County, first in Teaneck, then in Fort Lee, and finally in Englewood. “New Jersey is my homeland,” he said.

While he was here, Mr. Ross — whose gravely accent makes it clear that Brooklyn and Bergen are not very far apart — a Harvard-educated lawyer and developer, was very involved in local politics. In 1972, when he was 28, he became mayor of Fort Lee. He was, he reports, the country’s youngest mayor of a moderately large municipality. From that vantage point — distanced enough to afford him a clear view, and close enough, and infused with enough history, to give vivid context — Mr. Ross has been paying close attention to the unfolding scandal beginning to envelop the large frame of Gov. Chris Christie.

1/25/14

Is sex expert Esther Perel Jewish?

Yes sex expert Esther Perel is a Jew. The Times reports in an article about the: "Sexual Healer":
...The daughter of two Polish-born Holocaust survivors, Ms. Perel was raised in Antwerp, in a community of survivors; she went to college at Hebrew University and started creating workshops with Jewish immigrants about their cultural identity. Her work with interfaith couples grew out of that expertise. “Since I was 19, I’ve been creating conversations,” she said. “I create thought-provoking, challenging conversations about the unspoken.”

In her mid-40s, Ms. Perel, who has a master’s degree in expressive art therapy, started thinking about taking on a new intellectual challenge. She began reading and writing more explicitly about sexuality, an aspect of couples therapy in which she had not yet specialized. She feels certain that the decision to take on the subject of sex, like her interest in cultural identity before it, can be traced to her upbringing. “I remember saying as a kid, ‘No door will ever be closed to me,’ ” she said.

Growing up in a community of survivors left her permanently thinking about how people find their way to vibrant lives. “In my community there were two groups of people,” she said. “There were the ones who did not die and the ones who came back to life.” Her parents, a social couple who talked openly about what they endured in the camps, who were storytellers and who had humor, fell into the second category. In helping others explore their sexuality, as Ms. Perel sees it, she is helping foster a totally different, difficult conversation, and yet also helping individuals “be more alive — to have a more complex and meaningful lived life.”...

Best New Yorker Paragraph Ever by Elizabeth Kolbert explaining How Chris Christie Wrecked the Port Authority

Elizabeth Kolbert begins her comment article ("Red Light") with the best paragraph I ever read in New Yorker:
Sitting in traffic destroys the soul. In the Hobbesian logic of a jam, each car becomes every other car’s enemy, and life’s purposefulness turns on itself. Time dilates. The NPR headlines roll by, then roll by again. Inching your way toward the tauntingly designated E-Z Pass lane, you grow to despise the man in the gray Audi, but it’s the woman in the blue Subaru who cuts you off. Progress slows until you reach a standstill. You begin to fantasize that you’re the victim of a malevolent force, that your lane has been singled out for some sort of cruel test or act of vengeance. This is a sign that you’ve lost touch with reality—unless, of course, you live in New Jersey...

1/23/14

WNYC Reporter Robert Lewis Maybe Isn't Incompetent and Unprofessional After All

WNYC News ran a report, "The Orthodox Nonprofit That Maybe Isn't Corrupt After All" on Thursday, January 23, 2014 by Robert Lewis, reporter. The report had little new information about an organization that was criticized anonymously in the Moreland Commission investigation into public corruption.

Relief Resources, a Borough Park mental health service was accused of taking public money and providing no services. It turns out that they do provide services. The services may not be efficient - but I have a hard time seeing the service as a corrupt entity.

"Corrupt" is a weasely word to begin with. A more specific term like illegal would be better - if indeed there was any illegal activity connected with Relief Resources. And there is not.

And so here we go. Robert Lewis titles his story in the most weaselly way I have seen in a long time: "The Orthodox Nonprofit That Maybe Isn't Corrupt After All." Throw in gratuitously that they are Orthodox - but omit that it is a mental health service. That's not impressive. Then add the word "Maybe" - aren't there rules in journalism preventing the use of weasel words in title? "Maybe Isn't Corrupt" - shouldn't that be "appears to be honest."

I'd say the title of the article ought to be, "Brooklyn Mental Health Service Unfairly Accused of Corruption Turns Out to be Legitimate."

(UPDATE 10 PM: WNYC HAS CHANGED THE HEADLINE. IT NOW READS, "Do-Nothing Nonprofit" Actually Does Stuff. MY PROPOSED HEADLINE IS BETTER. "DOES STUFF" IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTIC DESCRIPTION. BUT HEY AT LEAST THEY SORTA LISTENED.)

Maybe the Moreland Commission and Governor Cuomo aren't corrupt either. They surely aren't doing a good job going after real corruption. So hmm, I wonder if we should look into the Moreland Commission and find out who told them where to look for corruption - and who told them where NOT to look for corruption. (Were the exact words, "Go get me an Orthodox rabbi. That lately makes good headlines.")

I'm going with the conclusion that journalist Robert Lewis writes weasely poorly researched stories and I am still not sure that maybe he isn't incompetent and unprofessional.



(Hat tip to my special source.)

1/22/14

Bloomberg: Yeshiva University Plummets to Junk Rating

My alma mater's credit rating is now junk, as the article says, "On Jan. 9, Moody’s lowered the rating by five steps to B1, making Yeshiva the only university with an endowment of more than $1 billion that it ranks as junk."

For years I ranked the way the school treats its students, faculty and alumni as junk. My moody opinion carried no weight. This opinion about credit by Moody's carries lots of weight.

As Professor Margaret Soltan who blogs about higher education says, “It’s a catastrophe for the community that the leadership there has managed to screw it up.”
Madoff Haunts Yeshiva as University Slides to Junk: Muni Credit
By Michael McDonald and Brian Chappatta

Yeshiva University lost about $100 million when Bernard Madoff, a trustee, was revealed to be a fraud in December 2008.

While Madoff left the board and is in prison, Yeshiva is still struggling. The school warned that its chronic budget deficits may worsen after failing to produce an annual financial report on time. The move led Moody’s Investors Service to cut its rating this month to an unprecedented four levels below investment grade, spurring investors to sell Yeshiva debt.

“It’s about their management,” said Emily Schwarz, an analyst at Moody’s in New York who focuses on higher education. “I don’t see the market being the main concern. They really have a real niche. They are the Jewish university of New York.”

No Footnote: My Colleague Shamma Friedman Won the Top Talmud Prize in Israel

I congratulate my Jewish Theological Seminary colleague, expert in university Talmud studies, Shamma Friedman, who has won a prize, the top Israeli prize for Talmudists.

This is the prize that was made famous in the Yossi Cedar comedy film, "Footnote" whose premise was that the committee gave the prize by mistake to the father when they meant to give it to the son, both professors of Talmud, and mayhem ensued.

I hope that no mayhem will follow this award to Professor Friedman, and I am confident that it was not an error. His many contributions to Talmud study are described admiringly by Shai Secunda here (How Shamma Friedman, Winner of This Year’s Israel Prize, Revolutionized Talmud Study: Meet the American-born JTS professor who modernized an ancient pursuit) and by Yehuda Mirsky here (Talmud: The Back Story).

Mirsky says in part, "Friedman's massive scholarship yields a complex picture: a picture of hosts of talmudic sages consciously and ceaselessly reinterpreting earlier traditions in order to achieve coherent teachings to guide them in the present."

The main difficulty that I have with the Friedman work is its non-controversial "back story" scope - asking a lot about how we got the Talmud and how it is made up of layers of traditions.

I'm more interested in the contents of the Talmud - the values and ideas in the massive document and its role as a guide for religious, spiritual and intellectual life. Neither article tells me anything about what Friedman contributed to those areas of inquiry.

1/20/14

Is Janet Yellen Jewish?

Yes, the Chairman-designate of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System of the United States, Janet Yellin is a Jew.

Wikipedia reports, "Yellen was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Anna (née Blumenthal) and Julius Yellen, a physician. She graduated from Fort Hamilton High School in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. She graduated summa cum laude from Pembroke College (Brown University) with a degree in economics in 1967, and received her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in 1971 for a thesis titled Employment, output and capital accumulation in an open economy: a disequilibrium approach under the supervision of James Tobin and Joseph Stiglitz."

NYTimes.com: Formerly Orthodox Girl has Sex With a Guy She Met on the Subway

In the Times (1/19/2014) FASHION and STYLE: "Adrift Too Long, Searching for a Navigator" a friend told me about an essay by a formerly Orthodox woman. So I took a look at it.

It's in the "Modern Love" column of the Sunday Times. It's by LEAH VINCENT. It's not shocking or dramatic. It adds to the women's memoir genre: "Look at me I escaped from Orthodoxy and now have sex with random men and eat non-kosher food."

The short Times essay comes from a longer book, soon to be published. Here is a (shocking?) representative passage:
...Later, as we lay together in a tangle of sheets, I said: “Man, that was good. Why didn’t we work out again?” I hadn’t forgotten about his girlfriend or his criticism, but I felt nostalgic for what seemed like a missed opportunity between us. I still had no man in my life, and in the oxytocin haze, I wondered if maybe Luke and I could make it work.

Luke turned on his side and put a sympathetic finger on my ribs. “I’m afraid you’re a little too intense for me,” he said. “I’m afraid that your hunger for this, for me, is your attempt to fill some hunger in yourself that only you can fill.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I said. I had told him a little about my past. It was hard to prevent some pieces of my history from filtering into my conversation. But I didn’t think he really understood me.

His palm slid around the contours of my shoulders. “I get what you’ve been through. I have a theory about what happened. I think your dad saw you hit puberty, and he couldn’t handle you turning into the woman you are, so he pushed you out.” His hand slid down my side, but I moved away....
This kind of strange coming of age narrative may work for readers. I don't have the capacity to judge it as effective literature.

What strikes me is the assumed dramatic motive behind the writing. That is to say the idea that it is so hard to escape from Orthodox Judaism.

That theme is credible to me. It is hard. I know Orthodox Judaism well. It is a "sticky" religion with deeply held myriads of propounded rules and codes. Not easy to walk away from that.

So the "desperate need for redemption" angle of the writing in the Times works for me as credible. The rest of the story does not impress me. Help! Am I right or have I missed something?

1/16/14

Author talk: Dara Horn on "A Guide for The Perplexed" at Yeshiva U Museum, Monday Jan 27

A Guide for the Perplexed – A Conversation with Dara Horn
Monday, January 27, 2014 | 7:30 pm

In her critically acclaimed new novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, Dara Horn uses the Cairo Geniza as the backdrop for a powerful story about our search for knowledge, intimacy and enlightenment. Intertwining the remarkable story of the Geniza's discovery with a dramatic contemporary tale of a futuristic software program that records everything its users do, A Guide is a riveting story and an insightful meditation on the power and limits of human imagination, as well as on the tension between faith and reason.

Join us for a special conversation with the author in combination with a viewing of Threshold to the Sacred: The Ark Door of Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue. Featured in the exhibition are two manuscripts by Moses Maimonides, including a draft of a portion of his Guide for the Perplexed, one of the greatest philosophical works of the Middle Ages – and an inspiration for Horn's novelistic tour-de-force.  Guests are invited to visit the exhibition before the program, beginning at 6:45 pm.
Details:
15 W. 16th Street (just west of Fifth Avenue), Manhattan
Tickets: $10, general; $7 YUM members, students, seniors
For tickets, go to: www.smarttix.com; or call (212) 868-4444
Threshold to the Sacred: The Ark Door of Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue has been organized by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore and Yeshiva University Museum.

The exhibition and programs are made possible through the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation, lead sponsor, and The David Berg Foundation, as well as patrons and friends of Yeshiva University Museum.

Threshold to the Sacred explores the artistic character and the religious and cultural setting of a decorated and inscribed medieval wood door from the Holy Ark of Egypt's Ben Ezra Synagogue, site of the discovery of the Cairo Geniza. Featuring beautiful Jewish and Islamic works of art and artifacts, conservation and science research on the ark door, and manuscript treasures from the Cairo Geniza, the exhibition brings to life the remarkable past of the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the panel's expansive communal context.






Saving the trees: Free e-books to celebrate Tu b'Shvat



Happy Tu b'Shvat from Ben Yehuda Press

We've freed our e-books to save the trees

The Cabalist's DaughterTo celebrate Tu b'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, we've temporarily lowered the price on seven of our e-book titles to zero. To see the full list of our titles on Kindle, you can click here. Or read on. (Don't worry if you don't have a Kindle - all our titles are still available in old-fashioned, Shabbat-friendly paper editions as well.)

In The Cabbalist's Daughter, Yori Yanover tells a tale of a miraculous Chasidic heir: a daughter cloned from the Rebbe's DNA and gifted with her own mystical powers.

"A wildly-fun fantastical Jewish Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe."
Laurie Gwen Shapiro, author of The Matzo Ball Heiress
"A rip roaring read! It's Tom Clancy meets Chabad meets feminism. I loved it."
Judith Abrams, author of Talmud for Beginners
"Laugh-out-loud funny."
Rachel Esserman, Binghamton Jewish Reporter
"The Jewish answer to the blockbuster TV action series '24.'
Tzvee Zahavi, author The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation: Tractate Hullin

The Lilac TreeThe Lilac Tree is a story of the first blush of love in an impossible time -- filled with unforgettable characters, and an indomitable spirit of hope and joy.

the year is 1945 and Berlin is in shamble. Alone for the first time, beguiling young Hanne Goldshmidt must find her own way. Homeless and hungry, she is plucked from a crowd of ragged survivors and by sheer good fortune is given a golden chance to start a new life. Falling in love with her dashing benefactor puts Hannah right in the thick of his risky clandestine schemes.

A Russian princess fallen on hard times, a back country G.I. from West Virginia, a cagey Russian spy, an aging German actress and a spirited Ursuline nun all have their parts to play in the drama of Hanne's life. In the end, it all comes down to Hanne: Will she follow the path of comfort or courage?

Life in the Present TenseLife in the Present Tense collects the best of Rifka Rosenwein's column, "The Home Front," about her suburban, soccer-mom life, which appeared at the back of The Jewish Week for seven years.
Her brave approach to her cancer, and her decision to share her experiences in her column, resulted in readers taking Rifka into their hearts.
Her reflections — on topics ranging from her son's first kindergarten girlfriend to living on "cancer time" — are a death-defying celebration of life.
Reading her work you can see your own friends, your parents, your children, your co-workers, your spouse . . . and yourself.
"A treasure trove of wisdom from one of American Judaism's most beloved and lamented voices."
Publishers Weekly,

"Dispatches from a life unfolding... unwaveringly honest, wry, gentle, and reflective."
Tova Mirvis, author of The Ladies Auxiliary

"Rifka Rosenwein writes with energy, passion and a clear-eyed sense of perspective."
Steven Brill, founder, American Lawyer

Click here to see all seven tree-saving free e-books (and one e-book selling for only $4.95)

Ahron's Heart

For the first time, the writings of one of the 20th century's most important Hasidic thinkers are made available to a non-Hasidic English audience. Rabbi Ahron "Ahrele" Roth (1894-1944) was born into the ultra-Orthodox world and wrote exclusively for a very small community of Hasidim that he founded and which continues to this day. His work is little known outside of this insular community of Yiddish-speaking followers in Israel and New York. Reb Ahrele has a great deal to say to sincere spiritual seekers far beyond his own community. This volume includes an intense, representative selection of the large body of work Reb Ahrele produced in his relatively short life. Reb Ahrele taught his followers how they could reconnect with their true, simple, spiritual selves by providing them with clear, practical instructions in the realm of spiritual consciousness, discipline and practice. He worked persistently to communicate specific steps in order to arouse his followers' deepest spiritual intentions.

"A fierce work still connected to the cloister of Meah Shearim"
The Forward

How Would God REALLY Vote?

Are the Bible and the Talmud conservative books?

No way!

Does God want the U.S. government to ban gay marriage, pull evolution out of high school textbooks, and leave health care to market forces?

Not a chance!

Should Americans trust right-wing Christians with their votes on election day?

Not before reading this devastating critique of a leading Jewish ally of right-wing Christianity.
Loving the Real Israel

And the winner is....

Loving the Real Israel was named a 2013 National Jewish Book Awards finalist on Wednesday by the Jewish Book Council.

The book offers an educational agenda for liberal Zionism. Author Alex Sinclair is director of programs in Israel Education for the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Loving the Real Israel draws from the writings of Jewish philosophers, educational theorists, and Bible scholars to offer principles for a new liberal Zionist engagement. Loving the Real Israel provides guidance for educators in constructing meaningful Israel educational experiences, as well as for liberal Zionists who want to discuss Israel issues with their friends, family, and community.
Esau's Blessing

And the winner was...

Last year, Esau's Blessing: How the Bible Embraces Those with Special Needs was finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. 
In Esau's Blessing, Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, offers a provocative new reading of the Hebrew Bible that applies a contemporary "special needs" perspective to the ancient texts. The resulting insights into biblical characters makes the Tanakh a source of educational and pedagogic wisdom.
"Who makes [man] dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" says God to Moses (Exodus 4:11). Prouser shows how reading the Bible can, in her words, "help us to imagine our special needs brethren in the embrace of a loving God, and instruct us to respond in a similar compassionate manner."
This book confirms that the Bible wants people with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect. It shows that characters with disabilities are among the most heroic personages in Scripture.
For those working in the field of special education, this book provides a framework that anchors their good work firmly in an ancient tradition and calls attention to its holy purpose. For those with loved ones with disabilities, Esau's Blessing shows how God's love and covenant extend to everyone.


Web Bug from http://BenYehudaPress.us2.list-manage.com/track/open.php?u=872b6dc1474d8545c737dfc44&id=f495eb6182&e=57770dddf3

1/11/14

JStandard.com "Insulting Generalizations": Angry and Defensive Rabbi Goldin Pulls My Dear Rabbi Quotes out of Context to Call them Insulting to Orthodoxy

Sorry to bring you the bad news, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin. Your colleague engaged in insulting behavior. I gave advice about what to do with that (see Dear Rabbi, January 2014).

You try now to turn it around and make it seem like the discussion of offensive behavior by an Orthodox rabbi (who stood in the hallway at a bat mitzvah rather than entering the sanctuary) is an insult to Orthodoxy. You take my quotes out of context and you opine and complain.

Here is insulted Rabbi Goldin's response to my January Dear Rabbi Column and my reply to him.
In his response to a query concerning the behavior of a specific rabbi in a Midwestern city (“Dear Rabbi, January 3), Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy, whose smicha, like mine, comes from Yeshiva University, makes the following assertions concerning Orthodoxy in general:

“Orthodoxy maintains, first, that it is the only true form of Judaism, that all other varieties are falsifications of the religion. Orthodoxy maintains, secondly, that Jews must shun other forms of Judaism lest they be granted legitimacy. In the system of thought that justifies Orthodoxy, it’s okay to do what needs to be done, and even to disrespect other forms of Judaism, because the very survival and future of Judaism (and the world) hangs in the balance.”

Were such insulting generalizations printed about any of the other denominations of Judaism, a public outcry would ensue. It seems to me, however, that Orthodoxy often is perceived as fair game.

Let’s get something straight. As an Orthodox Jew and rabbi, I do believe that my brand of Judaism is “correct.” If I believed anything less, I would not be true to myself. I would also expect leaders of other denominations to firmly maintain the “correctness” of their approaches. That does not mean, however, that I believe that “Jews must shun other forms of Judaism lest they be granted legitimacy.” It certainly does not mean that I believe that “it’s okay… to disrespect other forms of Judaism.”

I and countless other rabbis and lay leaders within the Orthodox community place a high premium on interdenominational activities, discussions, and programs. We preach and believe in the value of all Jews — in fact, in the value of all human beings. To suggest that we condone the “disrespecting of other forms of Judaism” is downright disrespectful and insulting to us.

Compounding the problem is the fact that these broad allegations were printed, not in a personal opinion column but in a supposedly objective “Dear Rabbi” column. Rabbi Zahavy rightly claims that “Our community benefits greatly from those who reject divisiveness and narrow-mindedness and to instead pursue comity and understanding with vigor and persistence.” I firmly agree. I am hard-pressed, however, to understand how his own column has furthered those lofty goals.

I often have maintained that our relationship with “others” in the Jewish community should be guided by the principle of “valuing each other’s contributions without totally validating each other’s beliefs.” I hope that future columns will continue to reflect this balance. The community expects and deserves no less.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Congregation Ahavath Torah
Englewood

Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy responds:

I am disappointed that Rabbi Goldin twice uses the term “insulting” to characterize my advice in his angry and defensive response to my column. My objective explanations, background, and advice are based on many volumes of learned academic publications and on my extensive and thoughtful experiences as a professor and rabbi over four decades. My words are chosen with great care, and my advice intends to foster understanding and goodwill in our community.

In his response, Rabbi Goldin evades the issue of my column. He does not tell us whether he would attend a bat mitzvah to which he was invited at a Conservative synagogue and pray in the sanctuary with the congregation, or whether he would stand in the hallway, or whether he would make an excuse and not attend the service at all.

My column aims at focusing on issues by answering the questions of individuals who have the right to seek and receive respect and dignity and meaning in their lives through Judaism.
"Let’s get something straight"? Indeed, let's; And, "a public outcry would ensue"? Just give us a break. You stand outside in the hall  of real public discussion and then you open the door to the chamber of discourse and you shout in to us - "I'm insulted!" Then you turn and go away, back to your own dimension of reality. Be well and God bless you.

1/3/14

JStandard.com: My Talmudic Advice Column for January: Shul Boycott and Carlebach Conundrum

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column
Published in The Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi,

Several years ago I attended a Bat Mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue in a Midwestern city. I recall witnessing something that has troubled me since that time. The principal of the Orthodox day school in the city attended the event but during the service he would not enter and he stood outside of the sanctuary in the hall. I found this action discourteous and disrespectful. Am I wrong to have been offended? Am I wrong to be raising this question after much time has passed?

Polite Jew
Teaneck

Dear Polite,

It's not surprising or remarkable that you continue to recollect years later the event you describe. The scenario has all the trapping of a traumatic passive-aggressive social confrontation.

First, it's an odd circumstance that you describe that more likely would occur out-of-town than in one of the big metropolitan areas. In the small community context, on the one hand the rabbi likely felt obliged to accept the invitation because people in town would know if he did not. On the other hand, the dictates of his right-wing Orthodoxy prohibited him from entering a church or any non-Orthodox place of worship.

The rabbi's ill-conceived compromise was to partially attend the event. He would have been better advised to make an excuse and not be present at all. Of course, that's easier to do in a big busy town.

By all ordinary social conventions a person invited to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah comes to see and hear the child be called to the Torah and be accepted into the adult community. It seems that the rabbi's religious inhibitions were like blinders that prevented him from understanding the discourtesy of his actions.

Unfortunately, often we use the arena of the synagogue as a small field on which to play out the dramas of our larger social and communal lives. And do note that among these arenas, there are good synagogues and communities and bad ones.

In a healthy synagogue and community, dramas unfold with dignity and can be resolved with polity. In a toxic environment, spectacles can lead to insolence and be poorly worked out, leaving contempt and recriminations in their wake. These ill after effects can and will linger for years.

In this case that you raise, the rabbi acted out the conflict between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism by his personal actions of standing in a synagogue hallway.

He came to the event with this baggage. Orthodoxy maintains first that it is the only true form of Judaism, that all other varieties are falsifications of the religion. Orthodoxy maintains second that Jews must shun other forms of Judaism lest they be granted "legitimacy". In the system of thought that justifies Orthodoxy, it's okay to do what needs to be done, and even to disrespect other forms of Judaism, because the very survival and future of Judaism (and the world) hangs in the balance.

And yet, basic human courtesy does persist as a factor even in the face of such strong sentiments. In your scenario, the rabbi you reference felt impelled to be polite, in a way that was offensive to you.

Yes, you are right to have been affronted. And no matter how long ago it took place, you are not wrong to object to social abusiveness cloaked in the camouflage of religion. Our community benefits greatly from those who reject divisiveness and narrow-mindedness and who instead pursue comity and understanding with vigor and persistence.

Dear Rabbi,

Our synagogue has a periodic Carlebach service based on the melodies of the famous singing rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. I have problems with that new practice. First I come to synagogue to hear the traditional melodies for the prayers, not newly invented tunes. Second, I have heard that Rabbi Carlebach was banned by his peer rabbis for his experimentation with the liturgy and for his personal shortcomings.

Am I wrong to object to the Carlebach minyan in our synagogue?

Tradition, Tradition
Engelwood

Dear Tradition,

You left out from your inquiry the factor that most troubles synagogue-goers when it comes to the Carlebach-style prayer service, usually conducted on Friday night. That is, because of all the extra singing, the service can take much longer than the ordinary Kabbalat Shabbat.

On the specific point that you raise, of course, you may object to any and all innovations in the synagogue. But I don't know if that will get you anywhere. It's undeniable that avant garde is not desirable in a place where millennia old liturgy is cherished. Yet the hum-drum boredom of many of our congregations motivates people to seek in different directions for new forms of spirituality.

And true, some say that the Carlebach tunes are inspiring. But I have heard classically-trained hazzanim object vociferously to the extra-liturgical innovations that those songs contain. They say the rabbi did not honor the parameters of the prescribed and sanctioned chanting and singing.

During his life, Rabbi Carlebach indeed was chastised for his unorthodox actions and innovations. And most recently his daughter Neshama announced that she was converting to Reform Judaism. Her decision may be controversial, but it makes good sense to me, since Orthodoxy prohibits women from singing in public.

Now, you don't tell me if your congregation is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. Carlebach services are held in all of those venues. But to answer your question, yes, you are wide of the mark to object to a minyan in your synagogue that was instituted by the proper procedures of your community. Although you may have good arguments in your corner, remember that synagogue attendance is voluntary. When there is a service that takes place that does not meet with your liking, you may stay home or attend another synagogue.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com