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Why God Can Sometimes Sound Female

Sun, 06/01/2014 - 06:00

In the ‘Shemoneh Esreh’ prayer, the feminine form is used to address God. Might this be proof that the deity is female? Not so fast, Philologos explains.

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400 Years After Portugal’s Inquisition, a Very Unusual Family Comes Together

Sun, 06/01/2014 - 06:00

The descendants of four Portuguese Jewish brothers who fled the Inquisition 400 years ago recently gathered for a reunion. Let’s just say they have some fascinating tales to tell.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio Pleads 'Hear No Evil' on Orthodox Rabbi's 'Heresy' Attack

Sat, 05/31/2014 - 09:20

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed he didn’t hear a rabbi’s shocking rant about Open Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Jews, despite sitting just a few feet away.

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Metaphysical Filmmaker, Michael Perlin Announces the Release of 3...

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 22:32

Michael Perlin, the director, writer and producer of the documentary film, 3 Magic Words, is announcing the release his new book, 3 Magic Words.

(PRWeb April 29, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/04/prweb11800135.htm

Agudath Israel Defends Rabbi's 'Heresy' Attack on Open Orthodox

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 18:25

Agudath Israel has leaped to the defense of Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, who called the Open Orthodox movement ‘heresy’ and launched a shocking attack on non-Orthodox Jews.

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Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Urge Women To Limit Internet Use

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 13:41

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis warned a crowd of 10,000 women about the dangers of the Internet, while addressing them through a one-way mirror in Brooklyn.

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Pope Middle East Trip Report

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 12:03

Pope Francis made a brief yet momentous visit to the Middle East May 24-26. The primary purpose of the trip was to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as a range of other religious leaders, and to support the dwindling Christian population in the region. But along the way he also visited Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, the Jordan River, and the Dome of the Rock, and he made an unplanned stop at the security wall that surrounds the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Perhaps the pope’s most dramatic call for peace was his unexpected invitation to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray with him at the Vatican.

The post Pope Middle East Trip Report appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Hamas Official Admits Funding Temple Mount Riots

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 11:46

A senior Hamas operative said that the group is paying young Arabs to harass Jews at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel’s domestic security service announced.

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Op-Ed: Presbyterians, BDS and Israel — here we go again

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 10:55

Members of the First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Ohio, attend a Sunday service in 2012. (John Moore/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — In the charming movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character repeatedly relives the same day until learning from the repetition transforms him from lout to worthy wooer of his colleague, played by Andie MacDowell.

The “Groundhog Day” of Presbyterian-Jewish relations is coming soon to a theater near you, but if we do not fully engage the issue, a Hollywood ending is unlikely.

The biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has regularly included an unhealthy confrontation between pro- and anti-Israel voices. This struggle is out of sync with the norms of American interreligious comity.

For the sixth time since 2004 — this time in Detroit on June 14-21 — a minority within the denomination will attempt to convince fellow Presbyterians that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be encouraged by anti-Israel resolutions, divestment from companies doing business with Israel, boycott of Israeli products produced in the territories, labeling Israel an apartheid state and replacing church support for a two-state solution with a one-state vision signifying the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

In 2012, at the last biennial, a divestment proposal was narrowly defeated by only two votes out of 664 cast. Despite multiple defeats, divestment supporters have not given up. They are back with new tactics.

Why is this General Assembly different from all others?

The Presbyterian BDS camp has revealed its desperation by publishing a virulently anti-Israel document, “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide,” available for sale on the Presbyterian Church’s website. In this document, the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network openly admits that its argument with Israel is not about the Israeli-Palestinian territorial dispute but rather the entire Zionist enterprise and Israel’s very existence.

This screed presents Zionism as a “false theology,” “heretical doctrine,” “evil,” a “pathology,” “racism,” “colonizing” and responsible for “cultural genocide.”

When asked for its response to “Zionism Unsettled,” the denomination’s leadership said, “Our Church has a long history of engaging many points of view when it comes to dialogue on critical issues facing the world around us — it’s who we are, part of our DNA.”

Really? Are there no limits? Does Presbyterian DNA include a document that respected Presbyterian theologians have labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Judaic?

While the BDS minions are harming the Presbyterian-Jewish relationship, it is not yet beyond repair. Jews and Presbyterians can still prevent a minority of Presbyterians from using the ignominious demonization and delegitimization of Israel from driving an irreparable wedge between the two religious communities.

First, Jews and Presbyterians must clearly reaffirm their commitment to a two-state solution achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

That solution envisions a future Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. BDS, in sharp contrast, encourages and promotes the ideology of those who do not accept Israel’s existence, and therefore must be rejected.

Second, Presbyterian leadership must rein in the excesses of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and its fellow travelers.

To say that the network speaks to the church but not for the church is a cop-out. After all, the network is chartered by the church, and its propaganda is marketed by the church.

Similarly, BDS proponents should not be allowed to turn General Assembly committees discussing anti-Israel initiatives into kangaroo courts in which conclusions are predetermined and intimidation is used to silence other voices.

In April 2014, the assembly’s committee on Middle East issues deposed a moderator who dared to have a relationship with his local Jewish community and participate in interfaith trips to Israel. Where is the fairness and representativeness that are Presbyterian hallmarks?

Third, Jewish religious leaders and laypeople are encouraged to reach out to their Presbyterian friends — clergy and lay — and tell them what is being done in their name.

Let them know how central Israel is to your Jewishness and how hurtful this process has been. Make sure they know of the Jewish commitment to peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Like Americans as a whole, American Christians overwhelmingly support the State of Israel, whose values and aspirations for peace they share. Presbyterians in the pews are no exception.

But a vocal minority — with tacit approval from the church’s leadership — has dominated the conversation. They cannot be allowed to turn back the clock on Presbyterian-Jewish relations.

It’s time for Presbyterians and Jews to reclaim their historic alliance on issues of mutual interest, including working together for Israeli-Palestinian peace. That would be a Hollywood ending — or, in this case, a beginning.

(Rabbi Noam E. Marans is the American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations.)

Shin Bet: Hamas senior official admits funding Temple Mount riots

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 08:50

(JTA) — A senior Hamas operative said that the group is paying young Arabs to harass Jews at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel’s domestic security service announced.

Hamas operative Mahmoud Toameh, 63, made the claim in interrogations by the Shin Bet security services after his arrest on May 14, Shin Bet wrote in a statement posted Thursday on its website.

Shin Bet’s account of Toameh’s interrogations quotes him as saying that Hamas cooperates with Israel’s Islamic Movement to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount compound. Hamas pays a group of young men a monthly salary of $1,150-$1,440 to harass and throw stones at Jewish visitors.

Toameh, who was born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem but now lives in Saudi Arabia, was arrested at the Allenby Crossing between Israel and Jordan and was indicted on Thursday at a military court, Shin Bet wrote. The Shin Bet announcement did not specify the counts with which Toameh was charged.

He said Hamas had recently seen a decrease in the level of funding offered to the group by Iran and has come to rely more heavily on funding from donors in the Persian Gulf.

According to Toameh, the “Palestinian Business Forum” is a Hamas front.

Shin Bet said Toameh, who has eight children, has presided since 2008 on Hamas’ Shura Council, which is headed by Khaled Mashaal. He also sits on Hamas’ main economic council.

Pope to host Peres and Abbas in peace prayer at Vatican

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 16:52

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will join Pope Francis in a prayer for peace at the Vatican.

The prayer will take place on June 8, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed Thursday, according to Vatican Radio.

The pope made the invitation following the celebration of Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem during his visit last week to the Palestinian West Bank city. A rabbi and a Muslim imam will be present at the service, the pope reportedly said.

In his invitation, the pope said, “I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.  …  All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers.”

Later, he added, “Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.”

The offer comes a month after the collapse of nine months of U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Peres will leave office at the end of July.

Pope Francis Leaves 'Lord's Prayer' at Western Wall

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 14:33

Pope Francis wrote the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish on a note he left in the Western Wall.

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Pope’s Western Wall note contains Lord’s Prayer in Spanish

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 13:00

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Pope Francis wrote the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish on a note he left in the Western Wall.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation released the contents of the note placed between the stones of the Kotel during the pope’s visit on Monday.

The note, signed “Francis,” was written on papal letterhead.

The Lord’s Prayer, also known as “Our Father,” is a central prayer in Christianity.

A copy of the letter appears below:

ROR Stands With Ruth: Omer Week 7

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 13:00

By Rabbi Richard Levy

This blog is the sixth in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer to Immigration Reform.

We Stand with the Ruth of Today

Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom of Chicago speaks with Erendira Rendon, Lead Organizer at the Resurrection Project in the Pilson neighborhood of Chicago. As Naomi stood with Ruth of Moab, Reform rabbis are standing with the Ruths of today – undocumented immigrants like Ere. Watch the Youtube video here.


We Stand With Ruth of Moab
by Rabbi Richard Levy

The Book of Ruth begins with the introduction, “It happened in the days when the judges judged” and concludes with the birth of King David, the representative figure for Malchut, the sephira of sovereignty.  The book itself is a kind of cri de couer for a better time—free of this book’s rampant poverty, loneliness and maltreatment (in Ruth 2:9 Boaz warns his workers not to molest Ruth, implying that they regularly molested other women).  We know that that is the Biblical view of the period of the Judges, when periodically “Israel did what was wicked in the eyes of Adonai” (Judges 4:1 et al.) because “in those days there was no king in Israel; each person would do what was right in one’s own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

For while it was a time when the Judges judged, they did not seem able or interested to judge how they might stop the famine which had sent Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi and her family into exile in Moab to seek food.  In our own time, so many people come to the United States to flee famine, drought, poverty or political oppression, often because they have given up hope that the powers in their own countries will be able to assist them, or care about assisting them.  They too are searching for a sovereignty which cares for them.  They have learned to believe that Americans do care.

To leave Eretz Yisrael for another land was a major decision, just as it is today.  To leave the country of one’s birth, however oppressive its living conditions, remains a difficult decision, never made lightly.  Today’s immigrants, like those in the Book of Ruth, have to abandon family, friends, the only language they know, sometimes the only place they have known.  Naomi, widowed by the man who led them into Moab, speaks of herself often as a bitter woman.

Her husband’s name was Elimelech, “My God is Sovereign”.  Yet what is sovereign in this book?  Naomi seems to believe that for each person—at least in her family—homeland is sovereign; in the book’s most famous passage, 1:14-17, three times Naomi urges Ruth and her sister Orpah to return (shovna)to their homesthe source for the custom of turning away potential converts three times.  They were all immigrants, Naomi held, and with their husbands dead, the sisters should return to the place from which they came.  But Ruth perceives a higher obligation—a higher sovereignty, if you will; using the same word as her mother-in-law, Ruth says, “Don’t entreat me to abandon you, to turn back (la-shuv) from you.”  For Ruth, to “return” to her own home would be to turn away from her proper home—the home she felt called upon to go to, because of her loyalty and love for Naomi.  If this book is a tribute to the rewards that come from following the precepts of the Torah (obedience to parents [or in-laws], caring for the stranger, leaving grain for the poor, etc.), Ruth turns to the sovereignty of God rather than the sovereignty of her own native place.  But the sefirah of Malchut also has a human dimension, representing kenesset Yisrael, the community of Israel—since it is through the community of Israel that God’s sovereignty is manifest.  When Ruth embraces the people Israel in choosing to go with Naomi, she embraces this dual dimension of Malchut as well.

The implications of this decision for today’s immigrants is instructive.  While we usually attribute primarily economic motives to contemporary immigrants’ desire to remain in the United States, we do our country a disservice by playing down a motive similar to Ruth’s: a belief, or a desire to believe, that the United States is a more caring country than the one from which they came.  How often do we tarnish that belief with the insensitivity, fear, and hostility we show particularly to undocumented immigrants, but often to all immigrants! How insensitive we often are to the still present American commitment to being a beacon to the oppressed—to the malchut, if you will, of the “American dream”—and of the American people as, at their best, the embodiment of it.

As a result of Ruth’s decision to remain with Naomi, the older woman feels an obligation to care for her.  A word that pervades the book, chesed, usually translated “love” or “lovingkindness”, really means love borne of a covenant.  Ruth shows chesed to Naomi, Naomi shows it to her, and Boaz shows it to both of them.  This covenantal love stems from the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, which the Holy One will renew with us when the period of the Omer climaxes with Shavuot.  Devotion to the covenant is a sign of acceptance of the sovereignty of the God who made it—ol malchut shamayim, the “yoke” of the rule of heaven, and ol mitzvot, the “yoke” of the mitzvot.  Ol in Hebrew is related to the word al, above, with the sense that the yoke links us to the God above, rather than the more usual image of joining two creatures on the same level.

Are we ready to feel a sense of “covenant” with the undocumented immigrants of our time?  Are we ready to link them with the memories of grandparents or other relatives who endured many hardships to reach these shores—often out of the same motives as today’s undocumented?  And if we say, “Well, our ancestors came legally,” we forget that most of them came here at a time when immigrants were wanted, invited, encouraged by the state.  Now that the state is hostile to immigrants, to which sovereignty are we going to be loyal, that of a welcoming, covenanting God, or a too often frightened state?  Or, in the language of the Book of Ruth, are we going to be  citizens of a too often uncaring rule of Judges, or of the ideal, embracing sovereignty of God’s Malchut?

The season in which we read this book makes our choice quite clear.

Rabbi Richard N. Levy is the Rabbi of Campus Synagogue and Director of Spiritual Growth at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, CA. He completed a two-year term as the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and was the architect of the Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, the “Pittsburgh Principles,” overwhelmingly passed at the May, 1999 CCAR Convention. 

We stand with Ruth – and so can you! We have created a special liturgy and text study for our Shavuot campaign. Will you show us your support for this campaign by pledging to use one or both of our resources?

This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern-day strangers among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. Learn more and join the mailing list at rac.org/ror.

 

Top Agudath Israel rabbi slams Reform, Conservative movements

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 12:21

(JTA) — The rabbinical leader of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America said the Conservative and Reform movements “will be relegated to the dustbins of Jewish history.”

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker rebbe, also slammed a more liberal branch of Orthodoxy at Agudah’s annual dinner Tuesday in Manhattan.

Perlow, the head of Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages, said the Reform and Conservative movements “have disintegrated themselves, become oblivious, fallen into an abyss of intermarriage and assimilation.”

The Open Orthodoxy movement led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, which seeks a greater role for women in Jewish ritual,  is “heretical,” Perlow said. He also called on Modern Orthodoxy to “stand up and reject these new deviationists cloaking themselves in the mantle of Orthodoxy,” the Forward reported.

The remarks were reported Wednesday by the Forward.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared immediately after Perlow and praised Agudah and the haredi Orthodox community for its growth.

De Blasio said his universal prekindergarten program was designed for the Orthodox Jewish community.

“From the very beginning, I knew this would succeed for all of New York City if it was also something that succeeded for this community,” de Blasio said. “The yeshivot were such a crucial part of it. I knew if we did that so many children would benefit.”

Annual Meetings: Taking Stock of Where We Are

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 09:00

by Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder, Ph.D.

Congregations need times for self-reflection. No congregation should coast, go on auto-pilot, or think of its mission as the doing of business-as-usual.

At least once a year, we need to take stock. What have we accomplished? What are the challenges we face? What are the possibilities? Perhaps most important of all, what are our dreams?

For individuals, this kind of reflection takes place during the High Holidays. But congregations have a different cycle. We look at ourselves at our annual meeting.

People have a tendency to disparage meetings, but I don’t take that path. Meetings bring us together for a shared purpose. They are a tribute to our spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. They appeal to our “better angels.”

 

Annual meetings are also the time when we honestly say thank you. We are indebted to those who have volunteered their personal time to lead and make decisions on behalf of the congregation. Particularly deserving of our in-person gratitude are members of the Board of Directors who are completing their term of service.

Those coming on to the Board as new directors also deserve your vote of affirmation for the commitment that they are making. And, appropriately, without your vote, no one can be elected to lead this congregation. A quorum is an expression of the democratic character of the congregation, and the best democracies are those in which the members actually participate.

This is the season of annual meetings. Perhaps yours will begin with the requisite bagels, coffee and conversation. The meeting probably includes the election of the new Board of Directors, and a vote on the budget for the coming year. This is the way leadership and priorities are embodied.

Just as important, though, are the reflections on the past year, the vision of the future, and the thoughts and feedback that you share.

Here’s to annual meetings. They enable us to recognize the significant milestones we have passed as a community. They afford us moments to see the big picture. They are an accounting of our resources, our potential, and what it will take to achieve our collective vision.

Let’s make our annual meeting a priority. It’s the moment that reminds us that we are all in this together.

Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder, Ph.D. is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton, CA.

Schechter School Closing Adds to Boston Anguish Over Rabbi Barry Starr Scandal

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 07:39

It’s been a rough few weeks for Conservative Jews in the Boston suburbs. First, a prominent rabbi was caught in a scandal. And their day school is closing.

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Storybook Boston Suburb of Sharon Shaken by Rabbi Barry Starr Hush Money Sex Scandal

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 13:29

Even the Hebrew school students know the lurid details of the scandal that has engulfed Rabbi Barry Starr and Temple Israel, a Conservative pillar in the Boston suburb of Sharon.

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A Formula for Engaging Jewish Teenagers

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 09:00

Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program.

Picture this: a large group of teens, 7th to 12th grades, sitting around a campfire, singing songs, playing games, and grouping and regrouping in ever changing configurations of young people. Bucking trends in Jewish life – where so many teens drop out soon after b’nai mitzvah – these teens showed up smiling. (Thanks to the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, we rethought our entire youth program.)

Rabbi Julie Weisz, the energetic visionary behind Congregation Or Ami’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, invited the teens to reflect upon what made their Triple T time so meaningful. The responses were heartwarming:

  • Making new friends
  • Being a madrich (counselor) at the 4th-6th grade retreat
  • Creating a movie short with my JEWTube track
  • Working with the younger students as a MIT (Madricha-in-training)
  • Leading sports days for the at risk kids in Future Coaches
  • Creating social action projects with VolunTEENS
  • Being part of LoMPTY
  • Going to regional NFTY SoCal events
  • Bonding with everyone here

It seems that our faculty and rabbis have hit upon what we believe is a formula for continued youth engagement:

  • Relationship building.
  • Leadership development.
  • Multiple pathways (we call them “tracks”) to participation.
  • Confirmation as the culmination for all tracks (including youth group)
  • Choices

And lots of listening, loving and patience.

Youth work is incredibly exciting, deeply rewarding, intensely frustrating, and ultimately so incredibly important. Just as teens are coming into themselves, we youth professionals get to love them, accept them unconditionally, and present Judaism to them as a healthy pathway to finding oneself. There are moments, so many moments, when the neural connections are fired up just right, and through their time in temple, they find the acceptance and love that they deeply crave.

Of course along the way they go through all the same struggles as everywhere else. And so they experience social anxiety, face cliquishness, lose elections, and feel slighted. Because it is all real life. Being a teen is frustrating and often painful. Being a teen’s parent is a lesson in powerlessness and oftentimes frustration as we sit on the sidelines unable to fix it all.

That’s why youth professionals often make a real difference. When we do it right – listen, love, eschew simple problem solving in favor of long-term growth and compassionate struggle – the synagogue becomes a safe place for young people to learn and grow.

As our teen songleader led us to close the evening with a sweet havdala ceremony, the teens enjoyed a group hug, evidencing with their physical closeness the reality that permeates their hearts. This diverse group of kids are finding a path forward – past B’nai Mitzvah and into young adulthood. The path is not always straight. The temple cannot shield them (or their parents) from heartache, but there is no question that the combined efforts of caring, engaging faculty and available, committed rabbis can provide a safe loving space for our teens.

Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor – the work with teens is a continuous, never-ending process. But when approached with an open mind and an open heart, it is even the exhaustion is exhilarating.

Israel Minister Calls for One-State Solution on Jerusalem Day

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 08:45

An Israeli minister marked Jerusalem Day by calling for a one-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians — as the Temple Mount was closed following clashes between Muslim worshippers and police.

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