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Rabbi Barry Freundel Fired by Kesher Israel

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 13:43

Rabbi Barry Freundel has officially been fired from his post at Kesher Israel over sensational charges he used a hidden camera to peep on women in the Washington D.C. synagogue’s mikveh.

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Building a Robust, Reform Shabbat Community

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 09:00

by Harry Frischer

Imagine a room filled to capacity each Shabbat with worshippers who derive deep satisfaction from regular communal worship. Imagine the ruach (spirit) of many voices lifted together each week in energetic, musical, participatory prayer. Imagine a community whose members enjoy rich, rewarding spiritual lives, nourished by regular prayer, ritual, and learning.

Imagine a worship community where participants come to know each other and care for each other. Imagine a worship community where members celebrate together in times of joy, take care of each other in times of illness, bereavement, and other times of need. A community where members are welcomed in each other’s homes for Shabbat and other occasions, and where members enjoy each other’s company both inside and outside the synagogue.

Imagine a worship community that values Jewish learning and literacy, and where members find depths of meaning in the regular study of Jewish texts. A community where members are inspired to acquire the skills needed to navigate Hebrew liturgy, and where members regularly chant Torah and haftarah, deliver divrei Torah, and lead in so many other ways.

Imagine a community that celebrates Shabbat as a genuine day of rest: a day of respite from the relentless demands of work. A day to slow down and recharge, and to resist the pressure to run from activity to activity. A day for spending time with family and friends, for leisurely meals, for walks in the park, and afternoon naps.

Imagine a growing, robust and thriving Shabbat community. A community of all ages – from young families with small children to seniors, and everyone in between – who share a common passion for the joyous celebration of Shabbat, which helps meet the deepest longings of the soul.

Imagine a Reform Shabbat community that embraces everything described above and also the inclusiveness and commitment to social justice that are the hallmarks of progressive, liberal Judaism.

Reform Judaism has long valued Shabbat as a time of rest, learning and worship, offering a profound spiritual experience even for Reform Jews. The celebration of Shabbat as described above fits is squarely within our Reform tradition, and is an important part of our liberal heritage, not some artifact best left to other Jewish movements. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie said in his remarks during Kabbalat Shabbat at the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2011 Biennial Convention:

And where did people get the idea that to observe Shabbat means to be Orthodox? Isaac Mayer Wise would turn over in his grave. For him, Shabbat – and this means a Reform Shabbat – was at the very heart of liberal Judaism.

Many of our Reform congregations work hard to provide transformative, moving worship and serious Jewish learning, and they succeed in doing so. Each synagogue has its own group of regulars who can be counted on to attend services, adult education programs, and other offerings. But these regulars typically are a small fraction of synagogue membership, and we are a long way from having the thriving, growing and robust worship communities contemplated above. Rabbi Janet Marder has observed that a critical task for Reform Judaism is the “ongoing work of expanding the committed core,” thereby creating a “culture of commitment” that can inspire a Judaism of “passion and devotion.” A robust Shabbat worship community is that “committed core.”

Expanding a Shabbat worship community beyond the group of existing synagogue regulars, to create a thriving, sizable, cross-generational core is not easy work. It is not a matter of merely changing the Shabbat service, adding new music or bringing in interesting speakers, as important as all of those factors may be. It involves the difficult task of inspiring congregants to want Shabbat as part of their lives, and to help them derive meaning and purpose from regular Shabbat worship, study, and rest. This important work requires the combined efforts of both clergy and lay leaders, who inspire through personal relationships, painstakingly cultivated one cup of coffee at a time, and their own Jewish engagement. It requires personal invitations, personal follow-up, and considerable hand-holding. It requires training of lay leaders and clergy, meetings, and discussion, all designed to bring the vision of a committed Shabbat community to the forefront of synagogue consciousness.

This work also cannot be dependent on focus groups or research that seeks to identify what members think they want from their synagogue. Steve Jobs famously said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them, a quote that is particularly appropriate here. We need to show members a warm, embracing Shabbat-centered community and the observance of a Reform Shabbat that can enrich their lives and enable them to experience a closeness to God that they may never have been able to imagine on their own.

The work of expanding a Shabbat community also complements the other important project of Reform Judaism – engaging the unengaged. Our Reform congregations devote considerable effort to ignite the spark of Jewish engagement where it did not previously exist, and these efforts can be very successful. With appropriate focus and effort, we can be equally successful in inspiring more of the already-engaged to higher and higher levels of engagement, learning and commitment, thereby enhancing their lives immeasurably while also expanding our committed core.

Harry Frischer is an attorney and a vice president and trustee of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City.

Photo by Isti Bardos of Temple Israel in Memphis, TN

Rabbis Face Jail Time for 'Private' Weddings

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 06:34

Israel’s Cabinet has let stand an amendment which would subject to two years in jail a rabbi who performs a private wedding ceremony, as well as the couple who got married.

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Israel’s Cabinet retains amendment to jail rabbis who perform private weddings

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 05:53

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet has let stand an amendment which would subject to two years in jail a rabbi who performs a private wedding ceremony, as well as the couple who got married.

The Cabinet debated the amendment to legislation passed last year which allows couples to go outside their own communities to find a rabbi certified by the chief rabbinate to marry them.

Dozens of couples marry outside of the rabbinate every year.

“The present law is an outrage,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Advocacy Center, which wrote the proposed amendment, said in a statement. “I am disappointed that the Cabinet couldn’t look beyond petty politics in order to rectify this law which is disproportionately severe and ludicrous.  Israel is now among a few select countries where it is a criminal act to perform a chuppah.”

Farber said his organization will now seek litigation to protect rabbis and couples who seek to be married outside the rabbinate.

 

Tel Aviv Synagogue Vandalized in 'Jewish State' Protest

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 18:00

A Tel Aviv synagogue apparently was vandalized in protest of Israel’s nation-state bill.

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3 Charged With Plotting Temple Mount Attack

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 13:25

Three Palestinian men were indicted for planning to attack activist Yehuda Glick and right-wing lawmaker Moshe Feiglin during a visit to the Temple Mount.

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Australia Capital Gets First Rabbi

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 11:17

The Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth officiated at the inauguration of the first rabbi officially appointed to lead the Jewish community in Australia’s capital.

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Netanyahu to submit bill to invest in Arab Druze, Circassian communities

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 06:13

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will submit a plan to the Knesset for significant investments in the Arab Druze and Muslim Circassian communities.

The plan will include funds for education, infrastructure, and employment “in order to reduce the existing disparities,” Netanyahu announced Saturday night on his Facebook page, an on Sunday in an official announcement from his office

Netanyahu met last week with leaders of the Druze community, where he told them about plans to submit the bill.

During the meeting, Netanyahu also told the leaders that the nationality, or Israel as a Jewish nation-state, bill set to be voted on next week would not harm their status and would even entrench their equality in Israeli society.

About 130,000 Druze live in northern Israel. There are about 4,000 Israeli Circassians living in two villages in northern Israel.  The Circassians in Israel are Sunni Muslims who were expelled in the late 1800s by the Russians from the Caucasus Mountains.

Teaneck Synagogue Taking Steps To Rein in Rabbi Pruzanksy

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 12:49

The board of directors of Rabbi Pruzansky’s Teaneck synagogue is taking steps to oversee the cleric’s controversial blog posts, which will be submitted to editors prior to publication.

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Teaneck shul taking steps to rein in Rabbi Pruzanksy

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 12:40

NEW YORK (JTA) – The board of directors of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s Teaneck synagogue is taking steps to oversee the rabbi’s controversial blog and tighten shul security.

In a letter sent to congregants on Friday, the board of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun said Pruzansky had agreed to submit his writings to editors prior to publication and that the process would be reviewed periodically by the synagogue board.

The shul also said security patrols by Teaneck police have increased in recent days to ensure the safety of the synagogue, its members, and Pruzansky and his family.

The letter was sparked by a Nov. 21 blog post titled “Dealing with Savages” in which Pruzansky called Arabs in the Land of Israel “the enemy,” advocated their emigration or deportation, and suggested that the mosque atop the Temple Mount be moved to Saudi Arabia. JTA first reported the post on Sunday, shortly after the rabbi deleted it due to “unspecified threats,” he said.

“The Executive Board met with the Rabbi earlier this week and has been in communication virtually non-stop since last week. We fully appreciate the gravity of the situation for our Shul and the extended community,” the board said in its letter.

“As the Board of Directors has said in the past, the public writings of Rabbi Pruzansky are his personal thoughts, views and opinions and not those of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, its Executive Board, Board of Directors or members,” the board said in its letter to members. “Bnai Yeshurun is in no way affiliated with the Rabbi’s blog postings and has never had editorial control over them whatsoever.”

The new editorial oversight arrangement for Pruzansky comes in response to the harsh spotlight his recent posts have cast on his 800-member Orthodox shul, Teaneck’s largest.

In his own letter to congregants, Pruzansky expressed regret for writing “in a manner that many deemed harsh” following last week’s deadly terrorist attack at a Jerusalem synagogue that left five dead, including four Jewish worshippers.

“I probably have suffered sporadically over the years from lack of a resource that all other writers have — a good editor,” Pruzansky wrote. “As such, I have agreed (upon recommendation of the shul leadership) to form a panel of people that I trust that will review my writings — not to censor the ideas, but to make certain, when necessary, that they are conveyed in slightly-less colorful ways.”

Pruzansky’s Nov. 21 post was hardly his first foray into controversy. Over the years, he has used his blog and his sermons to castigate those he deems harmful to the Jewish people — not just Arabs, but Israeli leaders, too. In 1995, weeks before the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Pruzansky called Rabin a Judenrat — the term used to describe the Jewish councils that did the Nazis’ bidding during the Holocaust.

Earlier this month, Pruzanksy got into a public spat with the New York Jewish Week in which he seemingly compared the newspaper to the Nazi publication Der Sturmer.

Pruzansky’s Nov. 21 blog post focused on why and how Israel should deal more harshly with the Arab population living under its control.

“There is a war for the land of Israel that is being waged, and the Arabs who dwell in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished,” Pruzansky wrote. “Israel has to act, especially as the violence has spiraled out of control … At a certain point, the unrestrained behavior of unruly animals becomes the fault of the zookeeper, not the animals.”

The post prompted a rare statement from the Orthodox Union repudiating rhetoric that resorts to “wholesale demonization, advocates for the collective punishment of Israeli Arabs, or calls for the destruction or dismantling of Muslim holy places.”

Conservative Rabbinic Students Barred From Knesset Prayers

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 21:02

American rabbinical students from the Conservative movement studying in Israel were prevented from holding afternoon prayers in the Knesset synagogue.

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Rabbinical students prevented from holding egalitarian minyan in Knesset synagogue

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 10:59

JERUSALEM (JTA) — American rabbinical students from the Conservative movement studying in Israel were prevented from holding afternoon prayers in the Knesset synagogue.

The students, who on Tuesday wished to hold an egalitarian service in the Knesset synagogue, were told that the synagogue is to be used exclusively for Orthodox prayer services, the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel said in a Facebook post.

The students were hosted at the Knesset by Masorti’s Jewish Pluralism Watch, joining journalists, scholars and Knesset members for a discussion of personal status issues such as the right to non-Orthodox, egalitarian weddings, divorce, conversion and burial rights, and how the absence of religious pluralism in Israel directly undermines the country’s democracy and security.

The students were offered an alternative venue at the Knesset for their services, Haaretz reported.  Haaretz reported that it was Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein who told the group egalitarian prayer is not allowed in the Knesset synagogue.

Also participating in the program were rabbinical students from the Abraham Geiger College run by the Reform movement in Berlin, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, and Hebrew College, a pluralistic training center for Jewish educators in Boston.

“A lot of the students were very upset and shocked,” said Rabbi Joel Levy, director of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who submitted the request on behalf of the students, told Haaretz. “You’d think that the Knesset would be a place of ingathering of the Jewish people, but actually we learned that it has boundaries that don’t include liberal Jews. Paradoxically, this decision served as an appropriate end to our conversation about religion and state in Israel.”

 

Orthodox Leaders Condemn Rabbi Steven Pruzansky for 'Demonization' of Arabs

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 11:14

A growing chorus of Orthodox leaders are speaking out against the anti-Arab rhetoric of a prominent New Jersey rabbi, Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck.

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Police chief: Keep right-wing lawmakers off Temple Mount

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 06:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Right-wing lawmakers who want to change the status quo on the Temple Mount should not be allowed to visit the site, the Israel Police commissioner said.

Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino on Tuesday called Israel Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision to allow lawmaker Moshe Feiglin and other lawmakers to visit the Temple Mount earlier this month a “mistake,” calling Feiglin “a symbol of changing the status quo.”

Danino spoke Tuesday at the Sderot Conference for Society at Sapir College.

“We want quiet and we want to restore security. We’re always saying, ‘Let’s do everything we can to keep the situation from deteriorating.’ We keep coming back to the Temple Mount. This place is holy to many religions, and we are supposed to maintain the status quo in order to maintain quiet there,” Danino told the conference.

“We say leave the Temple Mount alone,” Danino said to the right-wing lawmakers.

In a response posted on his Facebook page, Feiglin said: “Danino failed to protect Jerusalem and to safeguard the personal security of the city’s residents, and now he is trying to find a scapegoat, and excuses for his failure.”

The post continued: “I have been going to pray at the Temple Mount, legally, every month for the past 15 years. This is the legal, national, religious and moral duty of every Jew. I suggest that Danino concentrate on ensuring the safety of Jerusalem residents and Israeli citizens, and spend less time taking part in panels and conferences and trying to evade responsibility.

Danino said that police are working extra-long shifts and have cancelled vacations in order to avoid the escalation of violence in Jerusalem.

Israel's Lone Soldier Center Severs Ties With Rabbi George Finkelstein

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 05:00

The Lone Soldier Center, which helps young people serving in the IDF, has ended its relationship with George Finkelstein, the rabbi accused of inappropriate contact with Y.U. students.

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Israeli man, 22, attacked in Berlin

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 14:25

(JTA) — An Israeli man visiting Berlin suffered a black eye and fractured fingers in a street attack.

The Israeli, 22, said he was beaten and kicked Sunday evening after leaving synagogue by four men who spoke German with an Arabic accent, according to reports.

“I have no doubt they attacked me because I looked Jewish or Israeli to them,” the victim told Ynet.

He was not wearing anything that identified him as Jewish or Israeli, and the attackers did not rob him, according to reports. The attackers fled when passers-by intervened.

The Israeli received ambulatory treatment in the hospital. He will return to Israel for more medical treatments for his injuries, according to Ynet.

German police said they would investigate the incident and determine if there were nationalistic motives behind the attack.

The victim told Ynet he was in Berlin because he was thinking of moving there to escape the economic situation in Israel. The attack would not deter him, he said.

Orthodox N.J. Embraces Rabbi Pruzansky — Extreme Anti-Arab Views and All

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 13:10

Why do so many of New Jersey’s Orthodox Jews accept Rabbi Pruzansky’s calls for Israel to collectively punish Arab Israeli and Palestinian ‘savages’?

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Yehuda Glick Leaves Hospital Nearly a Month After Failed Assassination Attempt

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 13:16

Yehuda Glick, the Temple Mount activist shot in a failed assassination attempt, left the hospital nearly a month after the attack.

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Temple Mount activist leaves hospital nearly month after shooting

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:24

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Yehuda Glick, the Temple Mount activist shot in a failed assassination attempt, left the hospital nearly a month after the attack.

At a news conference Monday at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Glick thanked those who helped to save his life and recited the blessing thanking God as “He who brings back life to the deceased.”

Glick, 49, said that his attacker told him before he pulled the trigger on Oct. 29 outside a Jerusalem conference center that he was doing it because Glick is “an enemy of Al-Aksa,” the Temple Mount mosque.

“Anybody who shoots and kills someone in the name of his religion is the first person disgracing his religion,” Glick said. “Those who are giving respect to Islam are those Muslim doctors and nurses who work at this hospital, helping people after they have signed the Hippocratic Oath. These are the people who are bringing respect to God and their religion, not those who murder in the name of religion.”

Glick was shot at close range in the chest and abdomen by an assailant who fled on a motorcycle. The alleged assailant, a member of Islamic Jihad who worked in the conference center’s kitchen, was killed hours later in a shootout outside his eastern Jerusalem home.

Immediately before he was shot, Glick had spoken at the center on the Jewish right to pray on the Temple Mount.

 

Canadian-Israeli Victim of Jerusalem Terror Attack Still in a Coma

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:02

A Canadian-Israeli citizen remains in a coma nearly a week after the deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers.

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