Daily Alert

30 December 2007

Jpost and Conservativist Propaganda

Top Masorti rabbi: We're allies of modern Orthodox

Dec 26, 2007 20:50 | Updated Dec 27, 2007 11:46

Moreshet Avraham Synagogue, located in East Talpiot, looks like hundreds of Orthodox houses of prayer throughout the capital. Modest but inspiring respect, the Jerusalem-stone façade building is adorned with the typical Stars of David and constructed at a slight angle so congregants face the Temple ruins when they rise to pray to God.

Barry Schlesinger, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, is Moreshet Avraham's rabbi. With his full, graying beard and crocheted kippa, Schlesinger looks like any other modern Orthodox or religious Zionist rabbi.

But Moreshet Avraham is not your average Orthodox synagogue and Schlesinger is not a run-of-the-mill rabbi. Schlesinger is the president of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement's Rabbinic Assembly, and Moreshet Avraham is one of the most vibrant, growing Conservative communities in Israel.

Ahead of the Masorti Movement's 30th anniversary celebrations on Thursday and Friday at Kfar Maccabia, The Jerusalem Post met with Schlesinger to discuss Israeli-style Conservative Judaism.

"The difference between us and Orthodox Judaism is that we look more critically at the Shulchan Aruch [code of Jewish law]," says Schlesinger. "We are willing to go back to the sources, to the Talmud, to the early rabbinic authorities to reinterpret the Halacha. The most obvious example is the role of women. They are full participants, not just in prayer and Torah reading, but also as rabbis who make halachic decisions.

"In Efrat, there are incredible frameworks where Orthodox women are learning Torah at a super-high level. But that is where it stops. You don't have women making halachic decisions."

Schlesinger says Moreshet Avraham and other Conservative communities are traditional enough that Orthodox Jews feel comfortable with the prayers and rituals, and at the same time secular Jews can participate without feeling intimidated.

Nevertheless, Schlesinger does not deny that Conservative Judaism is challenging.

"I am not worried about scaring people away because I expect too much of them," says Schlesinger, who, if asked by his congregants, tells them not to drive on Shabbat and is opposed to same-sex commitment ceremonies and the ordination of homosexual rabbis.

"We have to be clear about our demands and let our congregants know that we are totally committed to Halacha and mitzvot," he says. "But at the same time, we must not be oppressive or threatening, rather challenging and engaging. We should feel comfortable bringing people from all backgrounds into our communities without worrying whether we have to lower standards of commitment. I believe that when you make demands, you communicate seriousness, and that attracts people. If people don't feel challenged, they lose interest. We have to be open about our expectations, and people will respect us for that."

Schlesinger denies that the Israeli Conservative Movement is more stringent in its approach to practice and ritual than the American Conservative Movement.

"I'd say we share the same spectrum of opinions - Left, Right and Center. Just like in the US, we solve our differences through dialogue. Despite dissent, we part as colleagues and friends. We hug each other while keeping dry under the same umbrella."

Schlesinger, who is in his early 50s, grew up in a modern Orthodox household in Englewood, New Jersey. He immigrated to Israel and got involved in community activism, eventually becoming the head of the community center in Jerusalem's Old City. When he was in his mid-40s, Schlesinger decided to pursue a master's degree at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He said his mid-life decision to become a Conservative rabbi had been heavily influenced by Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter's president and senior halachic authority.

Despite his decision to become a Conservative rabbi, Schlesinger's wife and children have remained Orthodox.

"But while I am nominally Conservative, there has been no change in my practice of Judaism. If anything, today I do more mitzvot than I did then.

"We have more things in common with modern Orthodoxy than things that divide us," he continues. "For instance, the shmita issue: We both believe in the Israeli economy, we are both Zionists. Tzohar, like the Reform and Conservative movements, used the Supreme Court to effect a change in the rabbinate's decision."

The reference was to a Supreme Court petition brought by Tzohar, an organization of liberal modern Orthodox rabbis who protested the Chief Rabbinate's stringent stand on vegetables grown by Jewish farmers in the shmita (sabbatical) year. Tzohar, along with a coalition of Jewish farmers and produce wholesalers, ended up winning the Supreme Court case, forcing the rabbinate to back down.

However, Schlesinger admits that Tzohar and other Orthodox organizations distance themselves from non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. In fact, one of the sharpest criticisms leveled at Tzohar by the rabbinate was the claim that Tzohar rabbis were acting like their Reform and Conservative counterparts. Tzohar went to great lengths to prove that its position on shmita was strongly based on Orthodox sources, and it enlisted leading Orthodox rabbis to gain credibility.

Nevertheless, Schlesinger sees in modern Orthodoxy a natural ally and partner. "The two of us can change the face of religious observance. We can work it out with them as comrades."

Schlesinger says he has two main objectives for the future.

"First, we would like to reshape our image in Israel to show that we are a true synthesis of modernity with halachic observance. Second, we want to continue to produce outgoing, compassionate and smart rabbis who can at one and the same time present a clear message of what is expected of his or her congregants and still be sensitive to each congregant's postmodernist narrative."

The APRPEH comments on this article were posted to JPOST's talkbacks. Talkback commenter "aviel" labeled me along with a couple of other participants "talebans". I proudly wore it as a badge of honor. I have only posted the other talkbacks related to my comments. Conservativist attempts to gain recognition in Israel are clearly damaged by their comrades in North America. With such friends, they need no enemies. Even in Israel, Conservativist Judaism is pretty much recognized as a social movement not legitimate religious expression, (IMHO).


1. Halacha and the Conservationist movement

you cannot simultaneously say you are "totally committed" to Halacha and talk about changing it. this is dishonest communication. What Schlesinger is saying is no different than the Reformists, that is, what has meaning to me will be MY halacha, whether that is self-imposed standards or no standards.

APRPEH - USA (12/26/2007 23:05)

9. To the Talebans #1-3

Why does Tosefta Megillah mention that a woman can get an aliyah to Torah? Much of the "holy and incancellable" Halachah are concensus decisions by the rabbis even in cases where there are more options. Yishar koach, masortis! Words of a Modern Orthodox who adheres to this menschlicher community.

Aviel - Israel - (12/27/2007 17:13)

13. Women Aliyahs to Aviel #9

even as a Taleban, I wish to differ with you. Quoting Rbi Hershel Shachter: "The Tosefta (Megillah Chap. 3) records that theoretically, a woman should be permitted to get an aliyah (to the Torah), however the Rabbis did not allow this because of kvod hatzibbur. This has clearly been the universal practice in Klal Yisroel for close to two thousand years".

APRPEH - Taleban #1 - USA (12/27/2007 18:31)

14. Women and aliyahs to Aviel (pt 2)

The Torah leaves the Mesorah in the hands of the leaders of each generation, like it or not that is the way it is. Real Rabbonim, based upon the works of previous generations determine the impact of the Halacha given the circumstances at their time. Not to change it (G-d forbid) but to make it work meanwhile protecting the integrity of the law itself.

APRPEH taleban #1 - USA (12/27/2007 18:32)

15. women and aliyahs to Aviel (pt3)

This is not the goal of Conservatism and Reformism. This discussion brings to light one method Conservativism "rahbis"s use which is to take a theoretical exception and make it a rule, or sort of rule. In Reformist and Conservatism, there are no rules. Rules in these "movements" are meant to be broken when convenient.

aprpeh - taleban #1 - USA (12/27/2007 18:33)

21. To # 3 et al.

This chauvinistic fixation on women is amazing - as if they were not normal human beings. No.3, you are obviously brainwashed and consider your inferior position a compliment - after all, you don't have a breira . As for the K'vod hatzibbur - obviously in this view the females, kept away from the Torah, must do without kavod. That's why Masorti and Orthodoxy will never meet common ground.

DAvid - US (12/27/2007 19:51)

23. to David #21

No David. the continuing effort to turn women into men is not kavod for women. it is batuling the differences between men and women which is clearly an un-halachic thing to do. everyone man and woman is equal before HaShem. The privileges of ritual do not affect that. I hope you do not substitute a commoner notion of equality for the Torah's notion of Btzelem Elokim.

aprpeh taleban #1 - USA (12/27/2007 20:42)

38. To taleban # 23 and his kavod
No taleban # 1, Conservative women have not turned into men. Come and see them sitting next to their husbands - they look 100% female !!! Ritual and Torah is not a "privilege" but a right for the entire Am Yisrael, not just for half of it. If that bothers your precious kavod, too bad. Get over it !
David - US (12/28/2007 20:06)

39. to David #38
Dear David This taleban grew up and was not only active in a Conservationist congregation but actually worked in the movement. I know exactly what you are talking about. Sleeveless dresses, touching, kissing, short skirts getting aliyahs. It isn't in the dress for which the women seek to be men, but in the rights for which halacha designates to men. The kavod of the tzibor can be seen in various ways over the millenneum.
aprpeh - taleban #1 - USA (12/28/2007 21:55)

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23 December 2007

Review - Opening Up Orthodox Judaism

Opening Up Orthodox Judaism

Gaining visibility in its eighth year, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah presents challenge to centrist and right-wing elements of Orthodoxy.

by Steve Lipman, Staff Writer

In a small classroom across Broadway from Columbia University, Moshe is having a meltdown one recent afternoon.

Moshe, in his late 20s, is reluctantly unburdening with his rabbi about his drinking problem. Depressed, almost suicidal, unhappy with his family life, Moshe talks in shrugs and sullen grunts. The rabbi, leaning forward in his chair, listens sympathetically. After a while, he convinces Moshe to make an appointment the next day with a mental health professional. "It’s not going to help,’ Moshe declares. "Rabbi, life’s not getting any better."

Moshe and the rabbi grow silent. And a group of young men sitting around a large table in the classroom break into applause.

Like the other men in the room, Moshe (not his real name) and the rabbi (not a real rabbi, yet) are rabbinical students, taking part in a pastoral counseling class at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. To learn pastoral skills, students assume the roles, assigned at random, of rabbi and congregant.

The role-playing, say the founders of the eight-year-old, Modern Orthodox school that is housed in the Robert K. Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life, is one of many distinctive marks of an institution that combines the standard curriculum of a yeshiva with such innovations as leadership retreats and psychiatrist-directed process groups and fund-raising training.

Chovevei Torah (Hebrew for lovers of Torah), the first major Modern Orthodox rabbinical training center established in this country since Yeshiva University more than a century ago, is the creation of Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, better known in many circles for his liberal brand of Orthodoxy and his decades of political activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry, Israel and other causes.

The yeshiva has grown from its original nine semicha students to 45 today, while drawing criticism in some parts of the Orthodox world. Rabbi Weiss’ vision of an "Open Orthodox Judaism" — open taking a capital O to brand it as a movement, like Modern or Centrist Orthodox Judaism — that grants respect to feminism and other branches of the religion has earned the opposition, often clandestinely, of other organizations.

YCT rabbis in some cities report opposition when they try to join local rabbinical boards. The yeshiva withdrew its application for its ordainees to join the Rabbinical Council of America, the central rabbinical group of the Modern Orthodox movement, when it became apparent that the application would be denied. And the National Council of Young Israel recently ruled that any candidates to head its 150 congregations had to submit to a screening by a National Council-appointed committee; the decision was seen as an attempt to keep Chovevei Torah rabbis out of Young Israel synagogues.

Young Israel’s action is the latest implicit recognition of the growing viability and visibility of Chovevei Torah. Many view the creation of Chovevei Torah as an implicit critique of Yeshiva University’s perceived shift rightward, an attempt to produce pulpit rabbis able to relate to and lead Orthodox congregants firmly entrenched in American society.

The opposition, says Howard Jonas, a Riverdale businessman and philanthropist who is a major financial supporter of YCT, is "a nuisance," not a hindrance. "It’s an unsuccessful campaign. We have more people applying [for enrollment] than we can accept. We have more jobs [open to Chovevei graduates] than we have graduates."

Rabbi Weiss agrees. "I really don’t take note" of the opposition, he says. "It has virtually no impact on us."

YCT enrollment this year is 45, mostly clean-shaven men in their 20s who favor large, colorful knitted kipot. The school has emerged as a leading producer of Modern Orthodox rabbis for pulpits, teaching positions in day schools and Hillel leadership posts on college campuses, providing competition not only for men ordained by YU, but by haredi rabbis who had taken many of those jobs in recent decades.

"We are about recruitment, education and placement," says Rabbi Weiss, who was ordained by Yeshiva University in 1968 and taught at YU’s Stern College for Women for decades. "The mission of the yeshiva is to produce leaders."

The rabbi stresses that YCT is a rabbinical school, not a theological seminary. Its emphasis is not

A constant presence at the yeshiva, usually dressed in a cardigan sweater and no tie, Rabbi Weiss is available to confer with students. But he has delegated day-to-day operations to Rabbi Dov Linzer, whom Rabbi Weiss recruited a decade ago from the kollel (an advanced learning program) in Boca Raton, Fla., and to other advisory committee members and teachers, including Rabbi Saul Berman, founder and head of the now-defunct Edah, an organization associated with the liberal stream of Orthodox Judaism.

Together, the faculty designed the yeshiva "from scratch," Rabbi Weiss says, just as psychiatrist Michelle Friedman designed the pastoral counseling program.

Torah lishma, learning Torah for its own sake, but an education centered on the needs of a community rabbi. The men ordained by Chovevei Torah are expected to serve in pulpits or classrooms, not, as is the case at many other yeshivot, to become lawyers or accountants with an extensive Talmudic background.
Not A One-Man Yeshiva

"I’m not the yeshiva," Rabbi Weiss cautions.

"There is a tendency to identify a yeshiva with its founders," says Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, a CLAL staff member who teaches Jewish philosophy and spirituality at YCT. "The yeshiva is much bigger than any one person. The guys are not Avi Weiss clones.

"I had the same concerns when I came here five years ago," Rabbi Blanchard says. Like him, many of the rabbis teaching at YCT come from haredi educational backgrounds.

Rabbi Weiss, says third-year student Devin Villarrea, "explicitly made a conscious effort to keep his politics out of the yeshiva."

All the students know Rabbi Weiss’ activist background, but activism is not part of the official or unofficial curriculum, students say. "No one yet has taught me how to chain myself to a door," says Seth Winberg, a first-year student, an allusion to Rabbi Weiss’s many protests at places like the United Nations or the convent at Auschwitz.

Rabbi Linzer, who was recently promoted from the school’s rosh yeshiva to dean, notes that "from the outset we recognized that a central role of a rabbi today is the pastoral role. We have heard rabbis in the field say to us, ‘I never got the training you guys are offering.’"

During a pre-Chanukah inspirational speech in the YCT beit midrash last week, Rabbi Weiss urged his students to strongly consider working outside of the Greater New York area after ordination. "There is a community that exists outside the tri-state area," he said. "We’ve got to create a culture of going out of town. We have a responsibility to these communities."

Think Peace Corps, Rabbi Weiss said.

The students, sitting in front of laptop computers, listened respectfully. If they are like past ordainees of the school, most will end up out of town; according to a map produced by Chovevei Torah, its rabbis have found positions in congregations across the U.S. and Canada, many in prominent synagogues.

The beit midrash, a large hall on the sixth floor of the Kraft Center, looks like any other yeshiva study hall, lined with bookcases that bulge with the Talmud and the Code of Jewish Law. The learning schedule also is standard – morning to night classes in Gemara and Jewish law, and chavruta sessions with learning partners.

That, in addition to the mandatory pastoral counseling and social action classes designed to help produce rabbis who can handle the demands of 21st century congregations.

"This is an Orthodox institution," Rabbi Weiss says.

"This," says Rabbi Blanchard, "is a classic semicha program. It’s definitely not an easy semicha. It’s not graduating half-baked kiruv (outreach) rabbis. We would not have credibility [in the wider Orthodox world] if we did not offer the same semicha program,"

Critics of Chovevei Torah, who tend to critique the school’s level of Jewish learning or its commitment to halachic standards, do not "have a clue what is going on internally at YCT," says an observer who is familiar with it and Yeshiva University. He asked that his name not be used.

The liberal reputation of Rabbi Weiss and of Rabbi Linzer, particularly in their willingness to engage with non-Orthodox denominations, "led to the sense that they are crossing the line," that Chovevei Torah offers an education that is not consistent with normative Orthodox Judaism, the observer says. "Some of this is perception rather than reality. It’s not [about] what’s going on in the beit midrash."

Has the success of Chovevei Torah had any effect on Yeshiva University, pushing its policies to the left?

"I don’t see it – in the same way that YU has not changed in response to Lander, which in on the right," the observer says. He is talking about the Lander College for Men, a seven-year-old Orthodox institution in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, that combines a college education with a yeshiva program.

For most congregations around the country in the market for an Orthodox rabbi, the friction between Chovevei Torah and other Modern Orthodox institutions is strictly a New York City affair.

"In the end, they always hire the best candidate," Jonas says.

Roberta Goodman, former president of Congregation Sherith Israel in Nashville, says her synagogue received pressure – she is reluctant to give details – not to hire Rabbi Saul Strosberg, who was ordained by Chovevei Torah, for a pulpit opening two years ago. The rabbi says he also was urged, "based on the fact that I went to Chovevei," to withdraw his application.

He did not withdraw. He was hired. "We determined that we needed to hire the person who was going to meet the needs of our community," Goodman says. "Hands down, it was Rabbi Saul. It was the best decision we ever made. He is warm. He is able to relate to everyone. The community loves him," she said, calling him "the living embodiment of Ahavat Yisrael [love of one’s fellow Jews]."

Rabbi Michael Broyde, a prominent pulpit rabbi in Atlanta and a dayan, or decisor, on the RCA’s Beth Din of America, wrote a public letter several years ago questioning Chovevei Torah’s "inter-denominational interactions within Judaism," as well as its "interfaith cooperation" and views on working with gays and lesbians.

He declined to be interviewed for this article. But a year and a half ago, when Rabbi Broyde, a founder of Atlanta’s Torah Mitzion Kollel, needed to hire a rosh kollel to lead the institution, his choice was Rabbi Zev Farber, who was ordained by Chovevei Torah.

I do not intend to enter into the subject of the "Orthodoxy" status of Chovevi Torah or review the well known history of events that have characterized the recent past of the school. There are plenty of places online to engage in that discussion.

What I do wish to look at is the nature of the above article and whether or not it contributes to the general discussion or has, possibly another agenda.

My initial reaction is that a school which seeks recognition as an "Orthodox Yeshiva" (albeit - Open?) does not support it's cause with an endorsement article from what is arguably NY's most "conservativish" of Jewish newspapers known outside of NY.

What I do wish to convey is my anxiety over an article which seems to highlight and glorify itself over the rifts in the Orthodox world, pointing out Yeshiva University (implicitly centrist) being pulled from Lander (described as on the "right"). No where is the equation concluded that YCT is on the "left", only Rabbis Weiss, Linzer and Berman earned that title. The angle of the writer can be seen in the discussion of the National Council of Young Israel's decision to have a national review of applicants seeking Rabbinic positions in one of their member congregations. The article pains itself to say this is aimed at YCT. Maybe, and if this is the case, so what?

Why didn't the writer say the same about the Israeli Chief Rabbinate discontinuing automatic recognition of North American "Orthodox" conversions? Is it possible that the Rabbinate was led to this action due to reports coming from the US regarding YCT? Is the argument a fair one? Should it have been discussed in the article? Is it a sign of strength or weakness within “Orthodoxy” that these conversations are taking place?

The writer chose to dwell on the disagreements within “Orthodoxy” with minimal attempt to actually dive beneath the surface. The best example is the RCA non-vote. The writer was satisfied to merely report that Chovevi's application was withdrawn due to a lack of support for it’s being included amongst the gatekeepers of “Modern Orthodoxy“. Why? No help from the article on this point. Is it possible that “Orthodoxy” is flourishing and can demand particular standards be met for acceptance? Is it possible that “Modern Orthodoxy” is finally blazing a trail back to it's roots and away from it's long drift toward being defined as in “the eye of the beholder“? The implication that the RCA non-vote drew little attention outside NY is far from true. It drew little attention in those places where “Orthodoxy” is not a well defined concept, religiously or politically.

Now I am in the camp of those who prefer to avoid labeling Jews which may seem to be a contradiction to those who read my posts and in particular this one. But since this article seeks to shine light on the differences within the flow of “Orthodoxy”, I find myself drifting in the opposite direction. The defining of channels of “Orthodox” leaves a reader with the need to separate rather than unite; Lander is the right, YU is the center/mainstream, YCT is left, RCA is mainstream/right, NCYI is right, etc. As I have presumed, this is the purpose of the article. YCT has not helped it’s cause agreeing to cooperate with this writer and newspaper. Those who sought to help YCT have hurt it’s case for widening it’s acceptance by agreeing to be interviewed.

I have to make an additional observation concerning the left in general bringing a closure to the criticism of the New York Jewish Times and fitting nicely into the discussion . That is, we have been discussing in a larger sense the idea of an unclearly defined “open” yeshiva. The writer, IMO wanted to expose “Orthodoxy’s” woes. What then is “open” and to whom? The liberal truth test for which the writer failed is to acknowledge that differences are not necessarily subject to good vs. bad. When it comes to liberals, my way is the only way. True “openness” in thought allows for a free flow of ideas, analysis of strengths and weaknesses. The cream then rises to the top. The article (more of an editorial) has an opinion and seeks to discredit those who disagree.

My advice to Rabbis Weiss, Linzer and Berman:

1) Change the marketing piece. drop the meaningless word “open”. This has been antagonistic from the outset and insulting to the many thousands involved in “inreach” and counseling years before Chovevi was ever conceived

2) Stress your similarities not differences. The Jewish world has enough tension, follow your own mission and help to unify Jews and stop dividing with self-righteous (imho) pretensions of re-defining “Orthodoxy”

3) Keep the Catholics out of the Beis Midrash - no offense to Catholics intended. If you wish to be “modern Orthodox” at the very least pay attention to those things that HaRav M. Soloveitchik OBM strongly discouraged and avoid them.
4) Lower your profile for awhile. Credibility/peacemaking often comes after a period of quiet. Quiet is good for the soul.

5) Acknowledge that YCT’s campaign of acceptance has contributed to strained relationships between “Orthodox” institutions. Commit to damage control and repair of the breach.

There can be room within a wider umbrella of “Orthodoxy” for various channels and approaches. Rabbis are needed for many different positions within “Orthodox” institutions. Jewish organizations have different needs. Like those Jewish institutions mentioned in the article, some may find that YCT graduates fit their particular cultural liking (leaving aside for the now the argument made in my previous post concerning the membership of “movements” dictating practices either on the micro level of the individual institution or the larger “movement” itself and the implication of this for ‘Orthodox’ organizations). What is clear however, is that for a wider umbrella of “Orthodoxy” to function the role of the gatekeeper (RCA in this case) must be upheld. The setting of standards is crucial in order to produce harmony and unity for all Jews. Without, we risk returning to something that American Jewry resembled before the national Orthodox associations came on the seen, namely, local autonomies; questions concerning the halachic status of geirus, kashrus, eruvin, mikvas, etc. This is not the goal of YCT, I believe but an outcome which could result from it’s not changing course and a point well worth noting. Far fetched? Maybe. Possible? yes.

Now on a less serious note, some readers may have noticed that YCT recently ran a flash advertisment on the Israel National News website. Below, see a screen shot of the ad. Notice anything unusual? No rewards for correct answers will be given but leave a message if you like

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18 December 2007

Yoffie Speaks: Dedicated to the 'Something is Better Than Nothing' Crowd

Reform leader embraces Shabbat as antidote to 'microwave culture'


Dec 17, 2007 22:42 | Updated Dec 17, 2007 23:35

The head of the Reform Movement called on Saturday for a renewal of Shabbat observance, the latest in the movement's growing embrace of traditions once staunchly opposed.

In his Shabbat morning sermon, at the union's Biennial Convention in San Diego, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, addressed the 6,000 worshippers in what has come to be seen as a "State of the Union" speech for the movement.

His call for increased Shabbat observance comes almost 150 years after the founder of the American branch of the Reform Movement transformed American Jewry by moving the major Shabbat service to Friday night to accommodate Jews who had to work on Saturday.

Yoffie said the movement was seeing a new openness to observing a weekly day of rest.

"Reform Jews are considering Shabbat because they need Shabbat," he said. "In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating. Do we really want to live in a world where we make love in half the time and cook every meal in the microwave?"

Though he acknowledged that most Reform Jews are not yet ready to embrace a Shabbat that is separate and distinct from the rest of the week, "our research indicates that we have more closet Shabbat observers than we realize," Yoffie said.

A recent survey by the Research Network of Tallahassee, Florida, of more than 12,000 Reform Jews showed that 46 percent refrain from money-earning work on Shabbat and 39 percent try to make Shabbat a special day.

Yoffie's call for increased Shabbat observance reflects a growing embrace of traditions once rejected by the movement. At the same time, Yoffie said the Shabbat observance he envisions "will not mean some kind of neo-frumkeit," or "an endless list of Shabbat prohibitions." It will reflect instead, a unique Reform approach.

"It will mean... approaching Shabbat with the creativity that has always distinguished Reform Judaism," said Yoffie. "It will mean emphasizing the 'Thou shalts' of Shabbat candles and Kiddush, rest and study, prayer and community - rather than the 'Thou shalt nots.'"

In challenging congregations to move forward with these initiatives, Yoffie suggested two approaches: The appointment of a Shabbat Morning Task Force to study and recommend how Shabbat morning worship might be reimagined, and the formation of a second group, a Shabbat Chavura, that will come together for three to four months to create a Shabbat observance in an authentically Reform way.

Other issues addressed included the need to build an "unconditional, non-negotiable" connection to Israel, Jewish-Muslim dialogue and the need for universal health care.

Yoffie, who was the first major Jewish leader to address a major Muslim group when he spoke to the convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) over the Labor Day weekend, announced a new partnership between the union and ISNA and urged all Reform Jews to become knowledgeable about Islam.

Synagogues and mosques in 11 communities have already agreed to pilot a dialogue program developed jointly with ISNA, and more partnerships are being formed.

Further, Yoffie urged every congregation to begin an adult study program about Islam using a new Reform curriculum.

"Don't you agree with me that keeping some of Shabbos is better than not keeping Shabbos?", "Not really", I respond. "Solely for the sake of convenience, keeping merely some of Shabbos is not keeping any of Shabbos".

The gift of Shabbos is not measurable in volume. HaShem's gift of Shabbos to the Jews has to do with His relationship with Israel (the bigger sense of the word). It is HaShem's will for the Jew to recognize Shabbos with Zachor (remember) and Shamor (guard), an immeasurable blessing indeed. What other people have been given such a blessing and accounting from G-d?

To Eric Yoffie, it seems that some of Zachor is okay, but don't bother him with Shamor, whatever feels right. To Yoffie, Shabbos is no blessing or gift but only what he and his colleagues and followers can will for it to be. I suppose it would be a cheap shot to laugh at the idea of Reformists creating on Shabbos, but then again, the idea isn't too far from the truth.

Yoffie believes that Reformist committees can create ritual and observance that will be meaningful. But are they not taking on a task bigger than themselves?
The appointment of a Shabbat Morning Task Force to study and recommend how Shabbat morning worship might be reimagined, and the formation of a second group, a Shabbat Chavura, that will come together for three to four months to create a Shabbat observance in an authentically Reform way.

How does one who believes in personal fulfillment and meaning create that fulfillment and meaning for someone else? Isn't the idea of personal fulfillment defined by the eyes the individual? Does the ritual bring with it the meaning or does the meaning determine what the ritual should be? So if candles on Friday night are good, are they not equally good Saturday morning? And if Kabbolas Shabbos is so spiritual why not repeat it the next day?

The "unique Reform approach" as Yoffie defines it will of course be all fun and no work. Phony "spirituality" needs not the work on the self to see the truth. No drawing down energy is necessary for the brave new Jew.

The truth which is known to Shabbos observers and anyone with even a little traditional learning under their belts is that connection with HaShem comes at a cost. It isn't easy and it shouldn't be easy. Preparing for Shabbos, especially during winter's short day time requires good timing and forethought. While it is "spiritual" when one contemplates why they are trying to do so much in so little time "l'kavod Shabbos" on Friday afternoon, the payoff comes after the candles are lit. Lighting candles without the preparation or then spending Shabbos doing inappropriate Shabbos activities doth not a spiritual experience make. It is sort of an act of futility. Candles are but one example.

Now, I am not speaking to those who may be new to Shabbos observance, growing every week, taking on new rituals, learning how to be better Jews, chas v'shalom. Continue on and know that in the shoes of a Ba'al Teshuva a Tzadik cannot stand. These are holy Jews.

But to those who believe that creating "new halachos" in the face of the accepted halachos is a fruitless and pointless exercise. Only HaShem knows what role the mitzvos were intended to accomplish in the spiritual realm and why they were given. Making new mitzvos to meet the needs of the one who wishes to keep them is laughing in the face of HaShem. Mitzvos are the instructions given by HaShem in order for the Jew to meet Him halfway and strengthen the connection of the soul He gave us to His being. The commander gives a command which is fulfilled by someone else, unifying the giver and receiver. This process cannot be dictated by a committee tasked to answer the question, "what is meaningful today?"

Yoffie is not calling for increased Shabbos observance as the article stipulates. He is calling for an increase of Reformist activity on Shabbos in the Reformist halls of assembly. This is to activate membership involvment to pay more money and give him and his rabbi fakes more authority.

Seemingly arguing against my above point is this:
Though he acknowledged that most Reform Jews are not yet ready to embrace a Shabbat that is separate and distinct from the rest of the week, "our research indicates that we have more closet Shabbat observers than we realize," Yoffie said.

A recent survey by the Research Network of Tallahassee, Florida, of more than 12,000 Reform Jews showed that 46 percent refrain from money-earning work on Shabbat and 39 percent try to make Shabbat a special day.

There is no definition of the surveyed ideas above and one must give the benefit of the doubt to those who were surveyed. But an ojective reader must wonder how many of those surveyed answered as they did because 1) they do not go to their jobs on Saturday, 2) play golf on Saturday, thereby making it special, or sleep late and go to Starbucks, (a spiritual event indeed). But presuming that the survey takers were honestly saying they try to observe some of Shabbos somehow, why not just send them on their way somewhere else, like to their LOR to learn what to do to enhance their observance?

I personally find it surreal that the leadership of a major "religious" organization must review surveys of membership to determine what the major "religious" practices should be. Someone please define leadership to me, I must be missing something. Can you imagine an Orthodox Rabbi polling his membership and finding out how few congregants eat in a Sukkah during the festival and base his teaching to his congregants not upon the need to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah but to justify not doing so. Preposterous.

Yoffie bringing up the issue at all is a form of teshuva I suppose. His "movement" (movement - implying "in motion" constantly - without an anchor) is guilty of neglecting this major and arguably defining practice of Judaism for as long as anyone can remember. Retreating from its regressive position of ignoring Shabbos as good only for those who need it, to emphasizing Shabbos, (but not the Shabbos we understand but a better, more modern, more Reformist version) is not aiding in bringing Jews closer to Torah but moving Jews further away from Torah, for any attempt to replace the holy Shabbos with some fantasy contrived in the conference room is something not holy but wholly unJewish.

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14 December 2007

Q & A on "The Conflict"

Quiz Yourself on the 'Israeli Arab ("Palestinian") Conflict'
Posted on 12/14/2007 5:02:54 AM CST by PRePublic

1) When was the Arab immigration to [the historic Jewish land of] Israel -"Palestine" boosted?

A When they wanted to see Jewish holy sites.
B When [anti French and anti British] Arab nationalism spread across the middle east.
C When the Zionists Jews came and cultivated the deserted land.

2) What's [Arab "Palestinian" highest "national" icon] Yasser Arafat's country of origin?

A Israel ["Palestine"].
B Jordan.
C Egypt.

3) Why were there --initially-- more Arab immigrants ["residents"] than Jewish immigrants (Arab majority)?

A Because Jews didn't attempt to enter.
B Arabs were 'invited" to come.
C Because the British restricted only Jewish immigration, to appease the Arabs

4) Why did (some) Arabs leave "Palestine" Israel in 1948?

A Because the Zionists "told" them to.
B Because the UN told them to.
C Because the Arab leaders ordered them to evacuate [their reasoning: to facilitate annihilation plans] while they attempt to 'throw the Jews in the sea'.

5) What has been the term "Palestine" always referred to?

A a country.
B a flag.
C an area, always known to be historical Israel.

6) What was Arabs' reaction to UN's partition plan for a two state solution and have their conduct since then ever been legal?

A they embraced the UN.
B they ignored and didn't react at all.
C they refused, objected to the plan and illegally started attacking the newly reinstated state of Israel.

7) How many Jewish refugees were chased out from Arab Muslim countries after Israel was re-established?

A 300,000
B 500,000
C Between 800,000 & 900,000

8) When did Arabs, Muslims start attacking Jews in the holy land?

A In the 1940's
B In the 1930's
C In the 1920's

9) Why did Arabs attack Jews so many years [even] prior to the re-establishment of Jews' homeland?

A Because of losing sports games to the Jews.
B Because of the "occupation" by... the British...
C Because they were led by such racist leaders like Haj Amin Al-Husseini the Mufti, that so shamelessly kissed Adolf Hitler's ass (while Hitler played the Arabs to his anti Jewish agenda).

10) What is synonymous with the Arab Muslim leader the Mufti?

A Spirituality.
B Peaceful religion.
C [Christian] Armenian genocide 1915, Hebron massacre 1929, pact with Adolf Hitler, Farhud massacre in Baghdad 1941, SS Bosnian Muslim brigade's crimes on Serb Christians 1943.

11) What did/do Arabs call to any lost [armed] battle to the Zionists?

A Loss.
B Mistake
C A "massacre" .

12) When did that so called "occupation" occur and why?

A In the 1948, during the war of independence.
B In the 1950's, as part of an "expansion".
C In the 1967 war when Israel decided it 'had enough' of constant Arab unprovoked attacks on its innocent citizens, the Goliath combined nations of Arabs, as always, lost the war to little tiny Israel - "David", by all legal means it was not a "theft".

13) Why did/does Israel continue to 'hold' the territories captured in 1967?

A Power hungry.
B "oil"...
C 1) Historic rights, it was always pertaining to the Jews. 2) Because of security, buffer zone.

14) What has been Israelis' experience in giving gestures to the Arabs so far?

A Arabs behave better.
B No change.
C Arabs, Muslims become more radical, more violent [example: Hamas rose right after the Gaza give away] as they see Israel's kindness as weakness.

15) When did these Arabs, (mostly) sons and grandsons of immigrants start to call themselves as "Palestinians"?

A In the 1940's.
B In the 1950's.
C In the 1960's.

16) What did/do all Arab-Muslim leaders & "fighters" openly plan to do to the Jews in their many wars?

A To occupy them.
B To oppress them.
C [To "throw them all into the sea". or a modern version of:"wiping off map", or "drinking the blood of the Jews" - aka] Genocide.

17) Who started to give equality for minorities, including voting rights for [Arab] women in the middle east?

A Jordan.
C Israel.

18) Where in the middle east, does it exist a 100% complete freedom of speech, freedom of the press?

A "Palestinian" authority.
B Egypt.
C Israel.

This quiz comes from "Freeper" PRePublic AKA - Free Israel Now blog (link on the right hand side on the main APRPEH blog). I have posted the first 18 questions. There are 66 in total which can be found be clicking back to the original post. One hint, all the answers are "C". This is an open book quiz meant to inform the reader on the arabian-Israel/Jewish conflict. While some of the questions are a little editorial in nature and some are basic facts of history, it is a good source to turn to for a quick glance at the basic nature of the arab problem and also a place to send those who are beginning to study the conflict for the first time. Yasher Koach to PRePublic on a nice job.

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05 December 2007


Bah, Hanukkah--the holiday celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness
From FreeRepublic

original article

High on the list of idiotic commonplace expressions is the old maxim that "it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." How do such fatuous pieces of folk wisdom ever get started on their careers of glib quotation? Of course it would be preferable to light a candle than to complain about the darkness. You would only be bitching about the darkness if you didn't have ­a candle to begin with. Talk about a false antithesis. But at this time of year, any holy foolishness is permitted. And so we have a semiofficial celebration of Hanukkah, complete with menorah, to celebrate not the ignition of a light but the imposition of theocratic darkness.

Jewish orthodoxy possesses the interesting feature of naming and combating the idea of the apikoros or "Epicurean"—the intellectual renegade who prefers Athens to Jerusalem and the schools of philosophy to the grim old routines of the Torah. About a century and a half before the alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth (another event that receives semiofficial recognition at this time of the year), the Greek or Epicurean style had begun to gain immense ground among the Jews of Syria and Palestine. The Seleucid Empire, an inheritance of Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews—had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith. I quote Rabbi Michael Lerner, an allegedly liberal spokesman for Judaism who nonetheless knows what he hates:

Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.

But away with all that, says Lerner. Let us instead celebrate the Maccabean peasants who wanted to destroy Hellenism and restore what he actually calls "oldtime religion." His excuse for preferring fundamentalist thuggery to secularism and philosophy is that Hellenism was "imperialistic," but the Hasmonean regime that resulted from the Maccabean revolt soon became exorbitantly corrupt, vicious, and divided, and encouraged the Roman annexation of Judea. Had it not been for this no-less imperial event, we would never have had to hear of Jesus of Nazareth or his sect—which was a plagiarism from fundamentalist Judaism—and the Jewish people would never have been accused of being deicidal "Christ killers." Thus, to celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism's bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that masochism could do no more. Except that it always can. Without the precedents of Orthodox Judaism and Roman Christianity, on which it is based and from which it is borrowed, there would be no Islam, either. Every Jew who honors the Hanukkah holiday because it gives his child an excuse to mingle the dreidel with the Christmas tree and the sleigh (neither of these absurd symbols having the least thing to do with Palestine two millenniums past) is celebrating the making of a series of rods for his own back. And this is not just a disaster for the Jews. When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

And, of course and as ever, one stands aghast at the pathetic scale of the supposed "miracle." As a consequence of the successful Maccabean revolt against Hellenism, so it is said, a puddle of olive oil that should have lasted only for one day managed to burn for eight days. Wow! Certain proof, not just of an Almighty, but of an Almighty with a special fondness for fundamentalists. Epicurus and Democritus had brilliantly discovered that the world was made up of atoms, but who cares about a mere fact like that when there is miraculous oil to be goggled at by credulous peasants?

We are about to have the annual culture war about the display of cribs, mangers, conifers, and other symbols on public land. Most of this argument is phony and tawdry and secondhand and has nothing whatever to do with "faith" as its protagonists understand it. The burning of a Yule log or the display of a Scandinavian tree is nothing more than paganism and the observance of a winter solstice; it makes no more acknowledgment of the Christian religion than I do. The fierce partisanship of the holly bush and mistletoe believers convicts them of nothing more than ignorance and simple-mindedness. They would have been just as pious under the reign of the Druids or the Vikings, and just as much attached to their bucolic icons. Everybody knows, furthermore, that there was no moving star in the east, that Quirinius was not the governor of Syria in the time of King Herod, that no worldwide tax census was conducted in that period of the rule of Augustus, and that no "stable" is mentioned even in any of the mutually contradictory books of the New Testament. So, to put a star on top of a pine tree or to arrange various farm animals around a crib is to be as accurate and inventive as that Japanese department store that, as urban legend has it, did its best to emulate the Christmas spirit by displaying a red-and-white bearded Santa snugly nailed to a crucifix.

This is childish stuff and if only for that reason should obviously not receive any public endorsement or financing. The display of the menorah at this season, however, has a precise meaning and is an explicit celebration of the original victory of bloody-minded faith over enlightenment and reason. As such it is a direct negation of the First Amendment and it is time for the secularists and the civil libertarians to find the courage to say so.

my response as it appears on FreeRepublic

Hitchens makes so so many mistakes in this article, I don't know where to begin. The apikoris is not one who prefers Hellenism but one who denies religious authority by replacing it with his own ideas, of which may include replacing the idea that not G-d (chas v'shalom) made up religious concepts but man. This is not necessarily the same as Hellenism which admired the Torah and traditions of the Jews except those that "needed" G-d as a reason, (ie. Shabbos, Circumcision) those things referred to as "chukim".

Jewish children were named for Alexander since he too came to admire Judea and did not attack her. As an honor to Alexander, Jewish boys were named for him.

Michael Lerner is not a "rabbi" but a phony. Having said that, his idea is not too far off base. The Assyrian-Greeks were brutal but it was the attack on Torah which encouraged the Maccabi revolt. Hitchens seems to write off the fact that the revolt was begun by one family and mostly carried out by their spiritual leadership of the people. The brutality of the empire may had led others to join but it was a war to liberate Judea from the oppressive anti-G-d empire which was the driving force. A good liberal would have to admit that a nation which prefers a national religion by choice should be allowed to have it whether he (Hitchens) likes it or not. Judaism, on the other hand, makes no pretense of merging democracy into theology. This is Hitchens hang up. However, the leadership of the Union of Reformist Judaism may differ on that point.

It is also true that the Hasmonean monarchy fell into corruption. But it did so, after it adopted the Hellenist philosophy and diverged from its Torah origins. So much for the purist secularist leadership.

Blaming Torah then for the takeover by Rome is a stupid conclusion on many fronts. First it presumes Rome had no intention of expanding into Judea. This is ridiculous. Second, it was the corruption of Helenism that made Judea target. It was the zeal of the religious which made it a most costly venture for Rome. Had Judean monarchy and the Priesthood remained as learned and religious as the masses, who knows if Rome would have been permitted to succeed. We learn that sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred, refusal to get along as Jews, caused and still causes exile. Rome was merely the instrument of destruction.

When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

First, there was no such thing as Palestine then or now. Second, it was the restoration of the Temple and Jewish religion which preserved humanity. It is the Torah which brings peace to the world. It is Edom, (ie. Rome) which brought and still brings destruction to the world. Okay, it is a theological point which CH would reject, however, I would stress the point that our Noahide friends make that the world would look greatly different if the non-Jews upheld the Noahide code. Upholding the code of every nation for itself, every person for itself, the underpinning of secularism and it's eventual cause of demise which is a most frightening reality.

The reality of Chanukah is not to teach about oil, with which Hitchens scoffs. It is about proclaiming that even in exile, the Jew brings light into the world. It is indeed the light in the darkness. It is the light emanating from the Bais HaMikdash which lights the world, not enlightenment of the athiests like Hitchens which darkens the world and serves as a test for the Jew's ultimate mission to make this world fit as a dwelling place for G-d.

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29 November 2007

The New Low of Moral Equivalency

Rice Compares Israeli Policy, US Segregation

(IsraelNN.com) In a speech at the Annapolis conference, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared Israeli policy in Judea and Samaria to segregation between blacks and whites in the US south decades ago, according to the Washington Post. “I know what it is like to hear that you cannot go on a road... because you are Palestinian,” she said, referring to Israel’s policy of creating separate Jewish and Arab roads in areas where there have been repeated attacks.

Rice also expressed sympathy with Israelis, saying she knows what it is like to live with constant suicide bombings and other attacks because a local black church was bombed by white separatists when she was a child, killing one of her classmates and three other girls. “There is pain on both sides,” she said.

Back in the days of the old south, white communities were always hunkered down in bunkers waiting for the next round of attacks from the black side of town. These were vicious attacks, launched at white schools and community centers with the aim of forcing the white communities to surrender to the demands of the radical black leaders who believed that whites really had no place in the land and should leave it. The old South truly belonged only to the blacks and the whites through trickery and support from the outside, the racist white communities of Europe, were able to overcome the black owners of the land. Agreements to end the fighting were frequent and broken with the as much frequency as they were crafted, the black leaders unable to restrain their anger and hate for the whites.

Maybe some sort of fantasy as this was soring through the mind of Condi Rice when she said such ridiculous and ignorant words as quoted in the article from INN. The lack of the ability to draw a comparison between preventing attacks by barbarians and Jim Crow laws prevents a certain amount of discussion on this subject. Ideas need to have common ground in order to be comparable.

I sympathize with the fact that Ms. Rice has a childhood memory of a tragic event. Many of us have those memories. In Israel's case everyday a new tragic memory is prevented by security forces. The immensity of difference is unmeasurable. Maybe Condi should contemplate what it might be like to multiply her memory by many factors then she may actually come to realize the stupidity of her lack of morality in her moral equivalence.

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27 November 2007

Olmert the Forsaken

Olmert to World Jewry: Israel Makes Sole Decision on Jerusalem
17 Kislev 5768, 27 November 07 05:33
by Hana Levi Julian(IsraelNN.com)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed American Jewish leaders Monday that Jews outside of Israel have no right to intervene in any decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

Olmert declared at a news conference Monday following his meeting with leaders of U.S. Jewish communities that "the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel," making it clear that Jews outside of Israel had no right to participate in decisions about the future of Jerusalem. The prime minister told reporters that the issue had "been determined long ago."

His remarks were seen as a slap to American Jewish leaders who oppose tentative plans by the Olmert administration to put Jerusalem on the negotiating table.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, told hundreds of Jews in Chicago Monday night that "Yerushalayim is not for discussion, Yerushalayim is not for sale, Yerushalayim must remain undivided forever." Participants at the prayer vigil were led by the rabbis of the community in chanting tehillim (psalms) and speaking out against the division of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. A statement sent to the media noted that "for at least one night both the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox and Aguda communities stood side by side to pray for what most matters."

The prime minister's statement also did not seem to take into account a declaration that was made decades ago by his predecessor, a founding father and the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion during a session of the first Knesset in Tel Aviv.

"The attempt to sever Jewish Jerusalem from the State of Israel," warned Ben Gurion in 1949, "will not advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or in Jerusalem itself. Israelis will give their lives to hold on to Jerusalem, just as the British would for London, the Russians for Moscow and the Americans for Washington."

The Orthodox Union (OU) immediately responded to the prime minister's remarks with a statement saying it did not intend to dictate policy to Israel, but expressed its "resolute stand" that all Jews in the world have a share in "the holy city of Jerusalem." %ad%

Agudath Israel of America adopted a resolution Sunday at its 85th national convention in Connecticut bluntly stating "Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so."

Both statements echoed an assertion published on the website of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem which states unequivocally that "World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem."

The group soberly notes in its statement that this is "the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that a significant group of American Jewish organizations have created a broad united front to pursue a policy directly involving Israel that is based on an explicit principle that supercedes deference to the sitting Israeli government."

American Jewish and Christian leaders met Monday with White House officials to discuss their concerns about the events taking place in Annapolis Tuesday.

Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, led the group of American Jewish and Christian leaders who met with Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor for U.S. President George W. Bush and other senior White House officials.

Included in the delegation was Jeff Ballabon, head of the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem, as well as representatives from Agudath Israel and the National Council of Young Israel, David Brog of the Christians United for Israel, the Southern Baptist Convention and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

"We had a constructive and meaningful conversation…." said Diament following the meeting, adding "We were happy to share with them the perspective of Americans who in their synagogues and church pews regularly pray for the peace of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem."
www.IsraelNationalNews.com© Copyright IsraelNationalNews.com

Where Olmert is technically correct is that the government of Israel will eventually be the party to negotiate and ratify any treaty. He is wrong in that his government will not be the one to do so. Olmert is also wrong if he believes that Israel, under the terms to which he is limiting her decision-making to a mere secular consideration, will have any say on her destiny. Olmert, by denying a stake in Jerusalem to the diaspora doesn't weaken the diaspora but empowers it to pursue separate and distinct policies as to Israel's future, provided a unified front of Orthodox associations can be mustered. By Olmert's very unthoughtful remarks, he is setting a dangerous precedent where well-trained and thoughtful political action by diaspora Jews and their friends are cut lose from Israeli government priorities and actions. Then again, given the history of Israeli government, this may not be a bad thing and could result in better policy making in Israel.

The reality is, that outside the unity of Jerusalem, there are few issues which will result in a unified front by diaspora Jewry. But for Olmert to show his hand and his ignorance answering the call of the State Department which undoubtedly helped him contrive this comment, leaves Jewry in a quandary. Not supporting Israel is unthinkable. How to support Israel is another matter. The best situation would be for the immediate collapse of this government and new elections if for no other reason than to unify Israel and ease the nerves of diaspora Jewry.

It is likely not recognized in Israel how important the role of American Jewry in particular is to Israel and the delicate balance needed to demonstrate the connectivity between the US and Israel and why the close relationship is important. In the US, American priorities in policy making must be stressed. Making the case that US priorities and those of Israel is not always as clear as some might think but usually demonstrable. No trickery is needed, the two nations indeed share so many interests. But this balancing act is probably not so appreciated in Eretz Yisrael. Olmert's comments triangulate the equation, adding State Department professional diplomatease interests (which are not necessarily America's best interests) leaving a three legged table.

To make the case that the US is on the wrong track in middle east negotiations is an easy case to make. Differing with Israel which is in agreement with America's not yet enlightened middle east understanding is much harder. Olmert has turned the table upside down and not to Israel's benefit.

As pushed and shoved as he is, Olmert may have had no choice but to go to Annapolis. However, he could have come locked and loaded to make the best case that Israel could make, pointing out for instance that Abbas is useless and has done nothing in terms of his previous responsibility's nor does he carry and authority in the PA areas. Olmert could make Benny Elon's case or even that of a larger transfer, all for the sake of peace. He could make the case that Al-Qaeda is strenghtened by the creation of PA terror state, not weakened and that Syria will be emboldened to more aggressive actions as a result of a PA state. Olmert though brought with him the only thing of value that he can offer, Jerusalem, city of gold.

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25 November 2007

News for Thanksgiving and a Turkey in the Straw

Israel Becoming Less Secular

12 Kislev 5768, 22 November 07 07:53by Hillel Fendel(IsraelNN.com) An Israel Democratic Institute (IDI) demographic survey finds religious growth and secular decline - but most significant is that the proportion of religious in the public is highest among the youth.

The percentage of Jews describing themselves as secular has dropped sharply over the past 30 years, while the religious and traditional proportions have risen. The annual survey finds that the secular public comprises only 20% of the Israeli population - compared to 41%, more than twice as much, in 1974.

Nearly half the population, 47%, describes itself as traditional, while the hareidi-religious and religious together comprise 33% of the public.

The numbers were compiled based on a survey of representative sampling of 1,016 Israelis Jews.

Tradition Reigns
Over the past seven years, according to IDI statistics, the proportion of secular Jews has dropped sharply from 32% to 20% today. The "traditionalists" have traditionally had the lead in polls of this nature - except in 1974, when they trailed the seculars, 41% to 38%.

Other findings show that the Sephardic population is much more traditional and religious than the Ashkenazi sector. Only 7% of the former describe themselves as secular, compared to 36% of the Ashkenazim. At the same time, 56% of the Sephardim are religious or hareidi, compared to only 17% of the Ashkenazim.

It can be inferred from the numbers that Israel is a traditional society, and that it will become even more so as the years go by. 39% of those under age 40 are religious - more than those in their 40's and 50's (32%), and much more than those aged 60 and over (20%).

Country is Right-Wing; the Religious - Even More So
Politically, the religious are more right-wing, but so are the others. Among the religious, many more are identify with the right than with the left, by a 71-8 margin; among the traditional, it's 49-21, and among the secular, it's 43-27. In total, 55% of the population view themselves as right-wing, and only 18% are to the left.
www.IsraelNationalNews.com© Copyright IsraelNationalNews.com

It is interesting to compare the IDI study with another research report recently released.
"Beyond Distancing, Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel"
from The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The synopsis of the IDI study is that young Israelis are becoming more religious and more traditionally connected. The Beyond Distancing report measured and found young (non-Orthodox) American Jews growing increasing ambivalent towards Israel and less Jewishly connected.

The under 40 demographic in Israel and the 40-59 demographic are significantly more religious than the 60 and above demographic. Within the under 40 demographic 38.8% identify with the label "religious" while 44% identify with the label "traditional". By comparison, the over 60 crowd identifies most with the label "traditional" (57.4%) while only 19.8% claimed to be "religious". The consistent finding in Israel is that the secular label is relatively speaking flat, only moving from 22.8% in the 60 and above group down to 17.2% in the under 40 crowd. Overall, combining the categories of religious and traditional the social structure looks like this: 82.8% of the under 40 crowd are Jewishly connected, 77.4% of the 40-59 crowd in the same category, 77.2% for the above 60 crowd but heavily waited to the "traditional" label. The "traditional" label has clearly lost ground to the "religious" label in a generational sense.

In America, (not measuring the Orthodox, since the Beyond Distancing study factored out the Orthodox*) the younger generation of Jews has moved the other direction.

First lets look at some of the studies analyses and conclusions:

Yet these feelings of attachment may
well be changing, as warmth gives way to
indifference, and indifference may even give
way to downright alienation. Inevitably, if
sufficiently pronounced and widespread, this
prospective sea-change in attitudes toward
Israel will have profound effects upon American
Jews’ relationships with Israel, with
direct bearing upon Israel’s security.

Indeed, a mounting body of evidence
has pointed to a growing distancing from Israel
of American Jews, and the distancing seems
to be most pronounced among younger Jews.

The loci of Jewish identity have
shifted from the public to the private, from
ethnicity and politics to religion, culture and
spirituality (Cohen and Eisen 2000). Jews are
more thoroughly integrated with non-Jews,
and intermarriage is both a symptom and a
cause of this re-formulation of Jewish identities
in a direction that makes attachment
to Israel specifically, and identification with
collective loyalties generally, less intuitively

Thus, three trend lines converge to
make intermarriage a major factor in driving
down the Israel attachment scores of
younger adults. First, many more young
people are intermarried. Second, the
intermarried are more distant and more
alienated from Israel. Third, the youngest
intermarried are the most distant and alienated
from Israel.

Many American Jews are claiming
or reclaiming their identities as proud, equal,
Diaspora Jews who do not necessarily believe
that Israel is the center and America the
periphery of a global Judaism.

These results point to the continuing secularization of American Jews and the damage wrought by outer-marriage. American Jewish youth in greater numbers than their predecessors are acculturated to a religion neutral society where the open ticket to social acceptance is ditching all that crazy Jewish stuff. Where have we heard this before. But if that were only the case. The problem runs far deeper. This younger crowd merely has cultural Jewish identification without recognizing that it is the religion aspect which defines the nature of what real cultural identification is. This limb of the Jewish body is educated poorly in Judaism and the education that most receive is sparse and filled with non-traditional learning. The beliefs and understanding of this group reflects its background.

(all respondents)

1. How important is being Jewish in your life? .............
Very Fairly Not Very Not At All Not
Important Important Important Important Sure
45% 39% 12% 3% 1%

2. Do you see yourself as:
a. Religious? … 35%
b. Secular - 44%
c. Spiritual? - 61%
d. Observant (religiously)? - 31%
e. Jewish by religion? - 89%
f. Jewish by ethnicity? - 82%
g. Culturally Jewish? - 78%
h. Pro-Israel? - 82%
i. A Zionist? - 28%

3. With respect to your belief in God, which term best applies to you?
Believer: 67% Agnostic: 14% Atheist: 6% Not sure: 13%

8. Do you agree or do you disagree with
each of the following statements?

d. Being Jewish is the primary way I identify myself.......
Agree Strongly 25% Agree 30% Not Sure 10% Disagree 29%Strongly Disagree 5%

e. It is important to me to have friends who are Jewish..
Agree Strongly 21% Agree 40% Not Sure 13% Disagree Strongly 22% Disagree 4%

f. I wish I knew more Jewishly…………………………....
Agree Strongly 15% Agree 34% Not Sure 24% Disagree 24% Strongly Disagree 4%

k. I have a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world……………………………
Agree Strongly 20% Agree 39% Not Sure 23% Disagree 16% Strongly Disagree 2%

m. It bothers me when people try to tell me that
there’s a right way to be Jewish…………………….
Agree Strongly 41% Agree 39% Not Sure 11% Disagree 8% Strongly Disagree 1%

t. Jews should marry whoever they fall in love with,
even if they’re not Jewish…………………………...
Agree Strongly 29% Agree 34% Not Sure 13% Disagree 14% Strongly Disagree 9%

u. I would be upset if a child of mine were to marry a non-Jew who did not convert to Judaism…….....
Agree Strongly 13% Agree 17% Not Sure 14% Disagree 29% Strongly Disagree 28%

9. Do you agree or do you disagree with each of the following statements

c. If Israel were destroyed, I would feel as if I had suffered one of the greatest personal tragedies of my life………….....................................
Agree Strongly 34% Agree 30% Not Sure 18% Disagree 13% Strongly Disagree 5%

e. I am sometimes uncomfortable identifying myself as a supporter of Israel……………………………………
Agree Strongly 3% Agree 11% Not Sure 15% Disagree 44%Strongly Disagree 27%

Another troubling observation which the study directors seem to take for granted and attempt to justify in their results is the measure of support for Israel based only upon war and political correctness. The authors imply that living through Israel's glory filled war history increases "support" and identification with Israel while the troubles since Rabin and Oslo (where only a non-religious Jew would conclude that a moral equivalency) have resulted in a distancing from Israel.

One explanation for these trends and
age-related variations looks to the impact
of history and how Israel has appeared in
various periods over the last 60 years.

What is obviously missing here is not a political determination of whether or not it is 'good' to support Israel but what is the Jewish thing to do. Where is the "Jewish blood" factor and the "all Jews are responsible one for the other" measurement? This is the reason, I would humbly conclude as to why the Orthodox were not measured in this survey. The survey is not really measuring support for Israel so much as it is measuring support or lack thereof for a single Jewish people. Despite the efforts to the contrary of late amongst the Reformists in particular to make the claim of a unique Jewish identity not based upon Jewish tradition and Torah but equal to it nonetheless (separate but equal) , the same benefit of equality isn't extended to the unification of all Jewry nor does it concern itself with Jewish life in Israel. Jews in Israel are Jews too. Israel will soon have a greater population of Jews than anywhere in the world (if not already). A large body of American Jewry is not ready to process this reality nor prepared to deal with the halachic consequences. The idea of a unified and equal Jewish people without Israel being intrinsically at the center, contains an inherent inconsistency of logic. Logic though, has never been a pre-requisite of non-traditional Jewry.

Some of the survey findings include broken down to age groups include:
(click to enlarge)

While Israeli youth grow more religious, American Jewish youth are increasingly losing interest with Israel, compared to the percentages of previous generations of American Jews and are less interested in Jewish life.

One of the reasons for free trips to Israel has been to stimulate interest in Israel affairs and Jewish communal responsibility. The focus of Israel education however is spiked by its being managed by non-religious Jews. Political correctness, the Pirke Avos of non-traditional Judaism demands looking at Israel "objectively" since Israel must be judged by the standards of "fairness" and "world peace". Israelis, on the other hand seem to better understand the traditional role of Jewish responsibility (possibly out of necessity).
American Jewry could better focus it's assets on teaching Torah and subsidizing Jewish day school education for all Jewish children than wasting it's time on other politically correct programs. Israel trips should be used as a reward for attending day school not as a means of last resort to save Jewish youth.

*"As might be expected, Orthodox
Jews maintain far different relationships
with Israel than those maintained by the
non-Orthodox. If anything, Orthodox engagement
with Israel has increased over the
years as Orthodoxy has been “Sliding to the
Right” (Heilman 2006)."

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21 November 2007

When Is a Mountain not a Mountain?

Muslims Declare Jewish Temples Never Existed In Jerusalem

Posted by The Editors on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 7:37 PM

On the day that archaeologists announced discovering on the Temple Mount fragments of table vessels and animal bones dating back to Solomon's Temple in the eight century B.C.E. -- the former Mufti of Jerusalem and Fatah's adviser on Jerusalem declared "There was never a Jewish Temple on al-Aqsa (The Temple Mount) and there is no proof that there ever was a temple. Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make al-Aqsa if there were a temple there for others before hand."

He went on to comment on the Western or Wailing Wall. He said, "The wall is not part of the Jewish temple. It is just the western wall of the mosque. There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews."

These sentiments were echoed by a Waqf (Muslim Religious Authority) archaeologist.

These are the current opinions of the Muslims Israel is going to "negotiate" with at Annapolis. They do not recognize the existence of Jewish history in Jerusalem, and President Abbas agrees with them.

The Bush Administration and the Olmert government are legitimizing these people by talking to them.

Stop this madness.

Well of course the Temples didn't exist. Al aqsa has been on al-quds since the time of Ibrahim. Everyone knows that Islam pre-dates all known religions and that allah chose al aqsa and al-quds as holy places to supplement Mecca and the Ka'bah.

The religious myth that Islam cares a hoot for Yerushalayim is built on the wobbly foundation of Islam's cultural and structural under-pinning. Jerusalem is holy to Islam and Christianity too for that matter ONLY because it is holy, now and forever to the Jews. That HaShem chose Jerusalem for the Jewish capital is fodder for all the replacement ideologies that we still see today. Yoshka walked the streets of Jerusalem because it was the Jewish center of life. It was holy before him, not made holy because of him. The conquering arabic hordes didn't make Jerusalem holy nor was this a goal. To the contrary they arrived there because the Christians were there and blocking their way of Islamic suppression of infidels. The whole Islamic claim is based upon a dream of Mohamed recorded in the Koran, not mentioning Jerusalem by name. In fact, Al-Aqsa was built after the death of Mohamed. At the time of Mohamed's "dream", Jerusalem was under full Christian Byzantine control.

Only the Jewish people can truthfully claim Jerusalem from a religious and national perspective. "World peace" whatever that actually means, will only be achieved when Muslims learn the truth and seek forgiveness from the Jews. But don't hold your breath. It takes humility to admit an error. Humility to the arab in particular means not stepping back but being stepped upon: humility = humiliation. Judging by the claims in the article above, the time for peace has not yet arrived.

On the other hand, the madness that is Islam's claims plagues us today and could be a punishment for not having cleared Har HaBayis in 1967. The yissurim of Israel are self-imposed. HaKodesh Baruch Hu strengthen the faith of your children to do your will.

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16 November 2007

Jewish Posterity for $8,000

This Dvar Torah was originally written in 2005 and can be found here. I received it by email this week. It struck me after having written my commentary A Flashy Bookmark Found Amongst The Torn Pages of a Discarded Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Posner's general theme of Jewish continuity and the message conveyed by Ms. Berman in the article that I commented upon are interesting to compare. I took special note of the last paragraph:

"For these are the children of Jacob" conveys a faith that the chain is worth more than what a link lacks. We have nachas that our children are part of this chain, and we say a little prayer that they earn (for how else will they pay day-school tuition?) a whole lot more than $8,000 a year.

Finally, the Dvar Torah includes sagely advice from Mrs. Posner OBM.

By Rabbi Shimon H Posner
My son the doctor had a son:
he is now a neurosurgeon.
His son is a forest-ranger in Yosemite:
the girl he is not yet married to is not Jewish.
My son the lawyer had a daughter:
she is a senior analyst with Morgan Stanley:
she's forty-three and just met Mr. Right.

A survey of Jewish America was unveiled two years ago:
containing little we didn't already know anecdotally.
Still, some of the numbers were shocking.
Three hundred thousand less Jews
than there were only ten years ago?
Forget Zero Population Growth:
we're eating away at our capital. And for what?
Because, as the survey reported, we earn $8,000 per year more than the average American family!
We're not having kids
so we can go out and earn an extra minimum wage.
My kingdom for a horse;
My birthright for $8,000 worth of lentils.

The problem is not that Jewish women don't want to be Jewish mothers:
it's that Jewish men don't want to be Jewish fathers.
Manis Freidman sees feminism as a cry,
piercing through the upshot of the Industrial Revolution:
"Give us back the husbands that you stole from us!"
Until that revolt, men grew into fathers:
fathers needed to provide, so men worked.
Gradually men stopped working to provide,
they went off to pursue a career,
self- fulfillment, a more meaningful life(style).
Who would want to be the mother of their children?

Perhaps more than any parsha, ours is laden with domesticity: it is painful to hear, from our perspective,
women pining for children and for their husband's attention
that childbearing would earn them.
More easily overlooked is the husband
who watched sheep all day in order to raise a family.
Bucolic as it may sound, this was not a sign of the times;
his twin brother led a high-pressured, adventurous, corporate-mogul lifestyle.

'Will our children say kaddish for us?'
was the worry of a generation gone by.
'We have no children.'
is the silent scream of the most comfort-conscious generation. Worry and concern of a Jewish future is misused,
overplayed and gauche.
Charged-up activism is annoying. Neither work.
Go get a job! Become successful! is the cry.
And the kids listen, in droves.

One of the positive aspects of the Sixties-Seventies is idealism: a greasy-haired, pot-induced, thoroughly-off-base idealism, but idealism. When the surviving hippies (the ones who didn't OD in Marrakech) took a bath and trimmed their hair they were also cleansed of selflessness and had their strife of the spirit cut short. The lucky ones had someone to help them channel their idealism.

Parents want to provide children with whatever the parents grew up missing.
A greater accomplishment is to provide children with whatever the parent grew up taking for granted.

It is not enough to want grandchildren.
You must want sons who are fathers more than you want sons who are doctors, want daughters who are mothers more than daughters who are market analysts.
You must want sons-in-law who are fathers
more than sons-in-law who are neurosurgeons.

My mother taught me
that you can never choose to have a child:
you can only choose not to have a child.

"For these are the children of Jacob" conveys a faith that the chain is worth more than what a link lacks. We have nachas that our children are part of this chain, and we say a little prayer that they earn (for how else will they pay day-school tuition?) a whole lot more than $8,000 a year.

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12 November 2007

To Sanctify the Profane

National Jewish conference focuses on youth
More than 3,000 leaders expected at Nashville event

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, 11/12/07
The gathering sounded like a college football game, complete with pep-rally music and pennant-waving students.

Instead, the scene was the United Jewish Communities' annual General Assembly, which is expected to bring more than 3,000 Jewish leaders to Nashville this week. The event runs through Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.

With about 8,000 Jews in Nashville and around 20,000 statewide, Tennessee's Jewish community is the smallest to ever host the conference.

"It's really been quite an undertaking," said Judy Saks, community director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville. Saks' organization is teaming with similar chapters in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis to provide volunteers for the event.

Although discussion topics will vary, the overwhelming issue for Jewish leaders is the same facing other religions: figuring out how to keep younger generations involved.

"That's the big question, and if you have the answer, we'll pay you a lot for seminars," Saks said. "It's probably going to involve a complete change in the way we are doing things."

Students get involved

More than 200 students from colleges ranging from the University of Michigan to Vanderbilt University are expected to attend the conference, which includes sessions on involving young adults in Jewish life.

"I'm here to learn a lot more about my Jewish identity," said Jon Hurst-Sneh, a University of Kansas student. "We're here to realize our religion."

Hurst-Sneh was among about 60 Jewish students and young adults who volunteered at the Nashville Rescue Mission on Sunday morning, sorting clothing, preparing food and speaking with men and women at the complex.

Volunteer and service work are likely to play a prominent role in future Jewish teaching of students, said Saks.

"They really want to put the things that they have learned in religious school to work, and one of those things is helping others and involving younger people," Saks said.

The students and other attendees will have several prominent leaders, Jewish and otherwise, to look to during the conference. Sunday's speakers included Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will address the assembly Tuesday morning.

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."

Why do college age youth go the GA to learn about yiddishkeit? Why not spend a semester in Yeshiva? Today, there are plenty of "kiruv" or better "in-reach" (read it as enrich) yeshivas for boys and girls which will inspire growth in Judaism not only by advancing their knowledge of Torah but by spiritually motivating the 'soul' of the wandering and lost Jew. Indeed, all Jews are of one soul. (for reference material on the single neshama of Israel and the ideas implications, see Chassidic Dimensions, Shochet).

One would do well to begin this path with a desire to cling to HaKodesh Baruch Hu while overcoming the urge to look for an excuse not to do so. This is a direct challenge to the "I need to be inspired" crowd. It isn't inspiration so much which is lacking but commitment.

I would bet that most people making the "inspiration" argument have either played organized sports, taken up an instrument, dance, art or any hobby which must be nurtured. In the effort to learn or master the necessary skills, did they need inspiration or commitment? Clearly, the matter is one of desire to achieve. No one gives this to a Jew, it must come from inside. The inheritance is a gift but it must be brought out from the shell it is hidden in. But what of the end product? A sports player plays the game in the end, and the piano keys are stroked producing a melody. What of the Jew? Here we come to the loggerhead. What is the purpose of this search for meaning or spirituality? Is it to have some sense of satisfaction or accomplishment? Or is it something else, larger than the very person.

A Jew looks for HaShem for no other reason than to discover himself. How so? Since HaShem, Israel, and Torah are united in eternal oneness, the search for spirituality is to find oneself, or better to recognize the divine source of the soul itself. We are mere vessels carrying the soul. HaShem blew that soul into us. It seeks to return to it's source at all times, but the body selfishly refuses to let it go. And this, may I venture, is a secret of Jewish life. The body refuses to let the soul have it's way seeking to meet it's own agenda. However, being stuck together for a tour on earth, the soul and body must work together throughout life. The yetzer hara empowers the body in its effort to control the soul. The soul cries out to it's creator for strength to overpower the urges of the yetzer hara. The body can be convinced to do right and the soul can be taught to give in to foreign influences. It is an effort in the intellectual realm which drives a Jew toward an observant path away from a not yet observant path. A conscious effort is needed to turn aveiros into mitzvos.

Sorting clothes at a shelter might be a good thing to do. If it is done because it makes the body feel good, then it has affected the soul negatively. If it is done because the soul says, it's an act of chesed for you to should sort clothes at the shelter, and the body says, "I would rather be sleeping but will go if you make me", then the soul has influenced the body in a positive way. This is called sanctifying the profane and is a message as I see it that the Rebbe taught. Make what you do holy. This message is what is missed by college students at the GA. Spirituality doesn't follow attempts to "realize our religion". Rather it is the love of humanity and desire to do what HaShem wants which teaches how we "realize our religion".

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."

Pnina, it isn't Orthodoxy" which scares students, it is the commitment which scares students. It is the fear of being Jews, who Think Jewish, act Jewish and appear Jewish which scares students. Your position is a false dicotomy. Orthodox or secular is not the choice. Jewish or not is the choice. You seem to wish to define Judaism based upon what is good for you. It isn't Orthodoxy which scares you it is the fear that you cannot set and keep the standards for which you are comfortable.

Comfort is not what makes you feel good but a sense of continuity, that you are able to keep the tradition of your ancestors alive and meaningful. This is a true comfort and what HaShem expects from you. Connectivity to the past and future is your reward. But it is hardly your only obligation. While it is truly hard work to live up to HaShem's expectations, seeing through the facade of self-determination Judaism is harder.

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A Flashy Bookmark Found Amongst The Torn Pages of a Discarded Shulchan Aruch

Reform Judaism Mag - Winter 2007

(ED. originally posted 1 Nov 07)
I’m a Jew Just Like You
by Joelle Asaro Berman

Discussing Outreach

Give us adult children of intermarriage a stake in the incredibly rich tradition that is our Jewish future.

When it comes to labeling, Jews take the cake. We’ve invented a term for nearly every Jewish lifestyle. While I knew from an early age that I bore the “Reform” label, I wouldn’t learn of my “interfaith” label until I was an adult working full-time in the Jewish communal world.

As a child, nothing struck me as strange about having a non-Jewish parent. It was the norm; many of my friends came from mixed households. That’s what happens in the condensed suburbs of New Jersey: People from different backgrounds inevitably cross paths and, in some cases, decide to raise families together.

In my case the cross-pollination occurred between a Sicilian mother, raised Catholic in Lodi; and a mélange-of-Eastern-European-descent father, raised Jewish in Fair Lawn. They met at the nearby college where they both held teaching positions.

During her own college years, my mother’s devotion to Catholicism dissipated, despite an unwavering faith in God. Her biggest obstacle to raising her future children in a particular faith was not the religion itself, but her distrust of all organized religion. Conveniently, my father’s twin brother is a rabbi, and for an entire year he and my father worked to dispel her fear, answering her searching questions until she felt comfortable enough to raise us as Jews. Soon enough she was hosting my baby-naming ceremony and driving my brother David and me to Hebrew school.

And so I grew up—becoming a bat mitzvah at a Reform synagogue, discovering my Jewish identity at Reform overnight camp, and spending many fun weekends at Reform youth group events. Never was I labeled as an “interfaith kid”; having a non-Jewish mother was merely a genealogical footnote.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I started working in the larger Jewish communal world and was almost instantly labeled and made to feel inferior for having a non-Jewish mother. According to some of these Jews, my father was among those “finishing Hitler’s work” by marrying outside the faith and pushing the Jewish people closer to extinction. Entire organizations and large sums of money were being devoted to studying the impact families like mine were having on Jewish continuity. The message was clear: Despite our Jewish upbringing, patrilineal children like me needed to suck it up and convert if we wanted to be considered legitimate outside the Reform world.

These detractors remain oblivious to how an interfaith family with both parents committed to raising Jewish children works. My parents figured it out early in their marriage. They concocted a careful, deliberate recipe sure to yield children with strong Jewish identities: A heaping serving of holiday observances sweetened by the recitation of blessings every Friday night at Shabbat dinner, a good measure of Hebrew school, bar/bat mitzvah, and a generous pinch of participation in informal Jewish activities—especially URJ Joseph Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA, where I made lifelong friendships.

Nowadays, the Jewish elements of my identity are as deeply ingrained as the Sicilian identity which my mother worked to infuse throughout my childhood. At our third-grade “Around the World Food Fair,” I wore my great-grandmother’s dress from Sicily and my mother helped me serve homemade ravioli. David and I couldn’t just watch The Godfather—afterward, my mother would expound on the history of the Sicilian mob, which formed, we learned, as a result of the persecution and hardship Sicilian immigrants faced when they arrived in this country. I also followed my mother’s example in scoffing at waitresses who would say “ca-la-mar-i” instead of the dialectally correct “co-la-mad.”

Still, I was a Jew, even as we ate a special meal with my mother’s side of the family every year during the Feast of St. Joseph. I was a Jew, even as I hung ornaments from the Christmas tree in our living room. I was a Jew, a proud Jew at that, when both sides of my family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—stood at my side as I ceremonially signed my bat mitzvah certificate at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

I see now that this is ultimately my parents’ biggest success—that I know exactly who I am: An American Jew of Sicilian heritage. And so, after wrestling with the interfaith label for the past several years, I now realize it means nothing to me except that I had a somewhat unique upbringing for an American Jewish girl.

That said, as someone who’s worn the interfaith label, let me offer some observations. One: Accept the reality of interfaith families. Whether you like it or not, the next generation of Jews will count many non-Jews as their parents and many not-typically-Jewish ethnicities as part of their identity. Two: Welcome interfaith families. For every interfaith family that’s weathered the storm of feeling unwelcome and disadvantaged, there are plenty who get lost in the flood. There’s no chance for Jewish continuity unless we open the tent to them all.

And last: Count in adult children of intermarriage. Give us a stake in the incredibly rich and resilient tradition that is also our Jewish future.

{Joelle Asaro Berman, a senior editor for JVibe (the magazine for Jewish teens), helped lead the NFTY L’dor V’dor trip in 2004.}

sample writing:
Wax and Tinsel

The Spirit of Ruth

You can always tell the sincere ones from the others. "I want to be Jewish and I don't care what it takes". "If I have to convert again and again and again, I will do it." I have great sympathy for the writer of this article and feel very sorry indeed that she is a victim of a convenience founded in the Reformist movement brought on by rampant secularism and divisive self-interest. The Patrilenial descent teshuva has resulted in vast numbers, thousands of Jews estranged from the people to which they identify themselves.
{inspiring lesson from Torah.org}

Ruth the Moabitess had an unyielding desire to join the Jewish people, fulfill the Torah and take her place in the unending saga of Jewish history. No cost was too great, no burden too unbearable. As a result, she is the model of conversion to Judaism. Ruth did not seek Israel solely because she felt comfortable with the Jews, indeed, the only Jews she knew were her first husband, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law before entering eretz Yisroel. Neither did she seek Jewish company to eat lox and bagels.

What gave Ruth her strength? Why not just hang with Naomi and be an outsider/insider?

One of the wreckage's of the Reformist movement is it's creation of now significant numbers of children produced by the married outs. Halacha has determined that many of these children are not Jewish, yet in many cases, the offspring have no personal identity other than being Jewish. Some are born into families in which multi-religious events occur: Shabbos and sunday services, Xmas and a conveniently timed Chanukah, Pesach and Easter, etc. The article above serves as testimony to the weakness of Reform Judaism. The best the author can come up with can be paraphrased as 'it isn't fair to exclude us {IE. children of interfaith}'.

Consider the following quotes:

"These detractors remain oblivious to how an interfaith family with both parents committed to raising Jewish children works. My parents figured it out early in their marriage."

"Still, I was a Jew, even as we ate a special meal with my mother’s side of the family every year during the Feast of St. Joseph. I was a Jew, even as I hung ornaments from the Christmas tree in our living room. I was a Jew, a proud Jew at that, when both sides of my family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—stood at my side as I ceremonially signed my bat mitzvah certificate at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. "

I am not certain what it means to be a Jew at a Catholic feast and by hanging 'Jewish' ornaments on an idol tree. What I do understand is that Judaism has laws and beliefs. Jews can find guidance on every matter in their life either by reading or asking a Rabbi (Orthodox of course). I will stop short of accusing the writer's Jewish parent of religious abuse in child rearing. But, I will say that the decision to engage in a life-time relationship with a non-Jew, especially when the non-Jew is the mother is self-destructive behavior.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz class on Intermarriage from a Mystical perspective

Ms. Berman is asking for a stake in the Jewish world without being Jewish. What stops anyone, who "feels" Jewish or even G-d forbid messianics/Jews for J from using this same justification to make an argument for inclusiveness? Why should they be excluded? They "want" to be Jewish too as did the Samarians of old or the Karaites.

Rabbinic Judaism was empowered long ago to draw the lines and those same lines today obligate us as they have obligated all Jews from the beginning of time. We now slide into the general discussion of why Reformist Judaism is outside the boundaries of mainstream Judaism, ie. "Orthodox" Judaism. The rule of patrilineal descent can no more be added to the halacha than chazer can be made kosher. Sure Jews eat pig, drive on Shabbos, and some even marry out with non-Jews. But like the discussion over gay marriage and ordination, patrilineal descent requires the Jewish people to accept and give legitimacy to actions, forbidden by Jewish law simply because there are numerous violators of these laws who wish to have their own avodah zara made permissible in the eyes of the non-violators. This is a prescription for destruction. And, it is a hallmark of the liberal indoctrination for which Reformism is now associated.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I started working in the larger Jewish communal world and was almost instantly labeled and made to feel inferior for having a non-Jewish mother. According to some of these Jews, my father was among those “finishing Hitler’s work” by marrying outside the faith and pushing the Jewish people closer to extinction.
Meschita Nedarim 64b labels a childless Jewish male (not fulfilling the mitzvah of piryah ve-rivyah) as dead even while still alive.

The emotionally gut wrenching quote above is not at all an uncommon occurrence. Most married-out parents and children of those relationships were denied the basic information they needed not only to make appropriate decisions (the parents) but even to understand the implications of those decisions (the children). Reformists are led to believe their own rejection of the halachic standard will be accepted by all Jews as status quo. To challenge the status quo makes you a "divisive" or "mean-spirited" or even "hateful" person. Who would deny this poor innocent girl of her very personage and Jewish destiny? In a logical world view, one would have to conclude that if some Jews follow one fundamental law and some an entirely different and opposite law, two entities exist where there was one previously. Or, there are two equally valid sets of law. I cannot think of anything which separates Reformists from the rest of the Jewish world more than this one issue.

These real victims, (and there are plenty) are trapped in a world that tells them they are Jewish and Halacha that determines they are not Jewish. I heard a "victim" of the patrilineal descent once relate a story from his school years. A test in math was given, and word sentences were used to calculate dates (from one date to another). The question asked the students to calculate a certain number of days using "Christmas" as one of the dates of the calculation. The student (remember who is not Halachically Jewish) did not know on what date "Christmas" fell and had to ask the teacher. Clearly, some of these "victims" know nothing other than Judaism, even if their knowledge of religion is minimal.

So where to from here? I do not believe that any progress will be made on this issue until Reformism backs away from this decision and reverses it's previous ruling. At the same time, Reformist leaders must come clean, apologize to those children of 'interfaith' relationships (in particular those who are not Jewish) and open a dialogue, in good faith with the leading Orthodox rabbonim as to setting up batei dinnim specifically to deal with each case individually as to a proper conversion. While this is an uncomfortable at best arrangement, it beats "finishing Hitler's work." Ms. Berman, please consider an Orthodox conversion. You have too much potential to be written off from the Jewish people. You must, however, take the first step.

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Sderot QassamCount - via Daled Amos

Nice Jerusalem Video from Yeshiva Beit Orot

The Path To The Final Solution

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