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Bulgarian Synagogue Hit With Anti-Semitic Vandalism On Shavuot

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 09:44

“Death to Jews” and a swastika were painted on the notice board of the Central Synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria.

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Circumcision Gas Station Mural Sparks Protests in Cleveland

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:50

A coalition of Cleveland Jewish leaders are protesting a graphic mural painted on a gas station wall that depicts a rabbi performing a controversial circumcision ritual.

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Reform CA Lobby Day: Do Your Congregations Build Affordable Housing?

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:45

By Rabbi Stephanie Kolin

On Monday, June 2, 2014, nearly 30 Reform CA leaders from all across California, descended on the Capitol building in Sacramento. We started our morning at Congregation B’nai Israel for breakfast, lobbying training, and a briefing by coalition leader Shamus Roller, Executive Director of Sacramento Housing Alliance. After our minds, hearts, and bellies were full, we jumped into our cars and headed to the Capitol. Rabbi Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood led us in a powerful prayer and kavvanah on the steps of the Capitol, as we held a tallit, our ritual shelter, above our heads.

Our first meeting was as a group, with Senate President Pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg, a member of congregation B’nai Israel, noted our deeply impactful work on the TRUST Act last year, and gave us focus for the long day ahead. We shared our gratitude with him for creating the opportunity for using Cap and Trade funding for building affordable homes near transit and then continued on our day.

Throughout Lobby Day, Reform California leaders met with over 25 of our legislators, including Senate Pro Tem Steinberg, the office of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the office of Pro Tempore Elect Kevin De Leon, and Governor Brown’s staff members who cover environmental and housing issues. Reform CA leaders asked hard questions, shared why as Jews we are committed to the preservation of our planet as well as those who inhabit it, and urged our state leadership to allocate significant Cap and Trade funds for building affordable housing near transit, not just for this year’s funds, but for the long term.

One of the many stories that emerged from this day encapsulates the power of raising a faith voice in the public square.

The team that met with Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Rabbi Dara Frimmer, and Rabbi Tamara Eskenazi, reported back that they had a wonderful meeting with him in which they had a lively exchange about Cap and Trade funding, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building affordable homes near transit. The beginning of the meeting, however, was quite remarkable. After they explained why they were there, Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas asked them: “So, do your congregations build affordable homes or are you involved in construction or development?”

They answered (somewhat confused): “No.” So he inquired about what they were doing there if they were not positioned to gain from the building of these homes. And they told him that they were there because they are Jews. They explained that we are charged with caring for the earth and for the people who inhabit it. They care about people who are suffering and struggling, they shared. Rabbi Eskenazi said: “We have an interest in living in a California that is just and compassionate for all people.” They shared that they were there because it is our job to repair what is broken in our world.

The members of that team reported back to the Lobby Day participants that Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas nodded his head in understanding and then the conversation began in earnest! We will learn again and again that our voice, a moral faith voice, has a different kind of impact in Sacramento. We are not a special interest lobby group – we speak for what is just and right for the most vulnerable in California, for our own families, and for our neighbors across lines of race, class, and faith. We have serious interests in living in an economically and environmentally just state that allows all of its citizens to thrive and grow.

When we take action in the public square, when we enact justice through the lens of Torah, we play a sacred role in creating the California that we dream of.

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin is the Co-Director of Just Congregations. She is the lead organizer of Reform California, a joint campaign of the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and the URJ’s Just Congregations. You can join the email list and learn more about the upcoming housing campaign at rac.org/reformca  

Reform Movement Reacts to Palestinian "Unity Government"

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:26
Rabbi Jacobs: "This much is clear: no one who loves Israel, or cares about the Palestinian people, or both, can afford to close doors right now. However daunting, this must be a moment when all parties stop taking unilateral actions..."

Poet Christian Wiman

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:02

“I have a hard time conceiving of a God completely removed from suffering,” says Christian Wiman, a lecturer in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. “Once I understand the notion of Christ participating in suffering, then it makes more sense to me.”

The post Poet Christian Wiman appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:00

This ancient Jewish festival is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation,” says Rabbi Shira Stutman.

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, says Rabbi Shira Stutman, is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation.” /wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-shavuot.jpg

The post Shavuot appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Shira Stutman Extended Interview

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 11:59

Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.


/wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-rabbistutman1.jpg Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.

The post Rabbi Shira Stutman Extended Interview appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Online Jewish Conversion Thriving at Sim Shalom: Program Provides an...

Wed, 06/04/2014 - 21:52

A robust and increasingly sought Online Jewish Conversion program is thriving through the innovative Sim Shalom Online Synagogue and its inclusive community.

(PRWeb May 05, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11818691.htm

Rabbi Asher Lopatin Defends Open Orthodoxy Against 'Heresy' Attack

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 15:00

A leading Open Orthodox rabbi has defended the progressive movement against attacks made last week by Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the head of the ultra-Orthodox organization Agudath Israel.

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Romania Ex-Shul Hit by Firebombing

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 13:34

A firebomb thrown into a former synagogue in central Romania caused minor damage, a local Jewish watchdog group said.

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Orthodox condemnation of Reform and Conservative nothing new

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 10:55

When Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, a.k.a. the Novominsker rebbe, took to the dais at the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America gala on May 27 to condemn Conservative and Reform Judaism and assail the so-called Orthodox movement, various New York media seemed to find his speech noteworthy.

Here’s what Perlow said:

Those movements that came to subvert the historic meaning of Yiddishkeit have disintegrated themselves. They’ve became oblivious and they’ve fallen into the pits of intermarriage and assimilation. They have no future. They almost have no present. And you can say that these vestiges of heresy and lies will be relegated by God to the dustbins of Jewish history.

But a new danger has appeared on the horizon, a movement that calls itself open Orthodoxy, that also seeks to subvert the sacred meaning of Yiddishkeit, that is steeped in heresy…*

Here are some of the reactions the speech spawned:

Orthodox rabbi stuns Agudath gala” — Forward

A striking statement” – The New York Times

Tirade” – New York Observer

But for those who have been paying attention, Orthodox leaders have been disparaging Reform and Conservative Judaism for decades, and Perlow has been at the forefront of such attacks. (See below for some examples of those attacks, culled from the JTA Archive.)

Here’s what David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudah, told JTA in an email:

Agudath Israel has historically been quite vocal on the subject of the non-Orthodox movements – especially in earlier years, when the American Jewish community was still taking shape. More recently, the focus has been less on the heterodox movements, whose failures to sustain Jewish growth and continuity have become painfully apparent to all, and more on internal challenges facing the Orthodox community itself. Still, even today, we do not shy away from criticizing the non-Orthodox movements when they deviate further from classical Judaism.

What’s more, Agudah’s disdain for open Orthodoxy is not new, as is clear from this statement issued last September condemning Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the leader of the open Orthodox movement, for hosting a multidenominational rabbinical panel.

Throughout its history, our people have been afflicted with schismatic movements and sects at odds with the mesorah, or religious tradition, bequeathed to us at Har Sinai.

Sometimes such “new approaches” openly rejected the Jewish religious heritage, like the movement that introduced itself in the nineteenth century as “Reform.” On other occasions, the break with the Jewish past was more subtle, as in the case of the “Conservative” movement, whose name, though, was quickly belied by its actions…

Countless Jews have been led down the path toward Jewish oblivion by the mesorah-rejecting rabbis of the non-Orthodox movements.  That an ostensibly Orthodox rabbinical seminary would now provide a prominent public platform for leaders of those movements to share their wisdom on the subject of training new rabbis is irony of the most bitter kind.

A yeshiva is a place where Jews rigorously pursue the timeless truths of Torah.  That leaves no room for those who reject the very concept that such timeless truths exist.  The forthcoming YCT installation ceremony does violence to this essential principle.

Defending the May 27 speech — after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke after Perlow, came under fire for not condemning the remarks — Agudah officials have taken pains to note that Perlow was not condemning non-Orthodox Jews, but non-Orthodox Judaism.

Some analysts have dismissed that distinction as perfunctory, but it’s actually significant.

While Perlow never has been shy about condemning the non-Orthodox movements, his controversial speech actually reads more like an analysis of the non-Orthodox movements than an attack — and not a wholly inaccurate one, as Forward Editor Jane Eisner acknowledged in an editorial on Tuesday:

If we non-Orthodox Jews are honest, we’ll admit that there is some truth to Rabbi Perlow’s statement that the Reform and Conservative movements have “become oblivious, and they’ve fallen into the pit of intermarriage and assimilation.” Last year’s Pew Research Center report found that more than four-in-five Reform Jews marry non-Jews. Yep, that’s intermarriage and assimilation.

The upshot: What’s the news here?

UPDATE: In an email to JTA, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, responds to Perlow’s remarks:

I welcome the Noviminsker into the conversation of how to bring a Torah message to all Jews that is meaningful to them and their lives. I hope this is the beginning, albeit a rough beginning, to a relationship and partnership with the haredi world to work together for Hashem’s Torah and Klal Yisrael. We at YCT are working hard to train  the rabbis who will revitalize and reinvigorate Modern Orthodoxy to relate to the issues and people of our times in a way true to our tradition. I call on the Noviminsker and all Jews to join us in that mission. Orthodoxy should be open, but also a lot more – passionate, inclusive, rigorous, dedicated to walking in Hashem’s ways.

Courtesy the JTA Archive, here are a smattering of some other instances of Orthodox attacks on non-Orthodox Judaism:

Nov. 28, 1995: Yaakov Perlow decries non-Orthodox Judaism as a “false ideology.”

March 26, 1997: The Union of Orthodox Rabbis: “Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. While their adherents are Jews, their religion is not Judaism.” Defending the union after critics assailed the statement, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, dean of Yeshiva University, called Reform and Conservative leaders “deceitful.”

July 13, 1981: Harold Jacobs, president of the National Council of Young Israel: “By rejecting the standards of Jewish law and tradition, it is the Reform and Conservative groups which have divided the Jewish people and caused needless human suffering through invalid conversion, marriage and divorce procedures which have thrown a shadow over the Jewish identity and marital status of thousands of innocent men and women.”

Jan. 21, 1974: Rabbi David B. Hollander, president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America: “If rabbis oppose the authority of the halachah, they effectively disqualify themselves not only as rabbis but also as faithful Jews since they stand guilty of leading many well intentioned Jews away from Judaism.”

*Words in italics represent English translations of Hebrew or Yiddish terms.

Why 'Love the Jew, Hate the Judaism' Is So Wrong

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 06:00

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are dead wrong to condemn whole streams of Judaism. But Jane Eisner writes that many of us make blanket condemnations of Haredim — and it’s no less shameful.

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Masked Men Threaten To Torch Ukraine Chief Rabbi's Home

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 17:22

Armed, masked men threatened to burn down the house of one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, a spokeswoman from his office said.

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Why Rabbi Schneerson Was Good For Jews But Bad For Biographers

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 17:17

He was perhaps the most influential rabbi in modern history. Yet suprisingly little is known about the man who was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

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Report: Armed men threatened to burn down Ukrainian rabbi’s home

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 15:44

(JTA) — Armed, masked men threatened to burn down the house of one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, a spokeswoman from his office said.

The incident outside the Kiev-area residence of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich occurred on May 23 at 1:30 a.m., Inna Yoffe, the executive director of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, told Ukrainian media last week.

Bleich, the confederation’s president, was not in the country at the time of the attack, which ended without serious injury, Yoffe told the television channel 112 Ukraine two days after the reported attack.

“There was an attack on a paramilitary guard outside the fence in front of the house,” she said. “The attackers were wearing masks and camouflage uniforms with machine guns; they arrived by an SUV.”

Yoffe said the attackers forced the guard to lie face down on the ground and told him they would kill him and burn down the house. She did not say how many men threatened the guard.

The men fled the scene after another guard from inside the residence called the police, Yoffe added. The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine filed a complaint with police over the assault.

Contacted by JTA, Bleich said the men who showed up outside his home did not target him specifically. According to his understanding, the rabbi said, the attack was not anti-Semitic.

Reuven Rivlin Raises Hackles With Derision of Reform and Conservative Judaism

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 15:04

The front-runner in Israel’s presidential election has equated Reform Judaism with “idol worship” and refused to refer to Reform rabbis by their title.

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Reuven Rivlin, Israeli presidential front-runner, champions pluralism in politics but not Judaism

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 12:44

Likud lawmaker Reuven Rivlin meeting with children at a Jerusalem school, May 30, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The front-runner in Israel’s presidential election has equated Reform Judaism with “idol worship” and refused to refer to Reform rabbis by their title.

Former Knesset speaker Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin, considered a Likud party elder statesman, is one of six candidates running to succeed Shimon Peres in the largely ceremonial post chosen by the Knesset every seven years. Rivlin is backed in the June 10 vote by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and much of the center-right governing coalition.

In two stints as speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin was known for his respectful treatment of colleagues of varying political affiliations, though he is not as accepting of diversity within Judaism.

His most scathing remarks about Reform Judaism came in 1989 after visiting Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in New Jersey.

“I was completely stunned,” Rivlin said in an interview published in Yediot Acharonot. “This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism.”

Rivlin, who is secular, is not alone among Israeli politicians in seeing Orthodoxy as the sole authentic Jewish practice. Moshe Katsav, who served as president until 2007, also declined to refer to Reform rabbis as rabbis.

But Rivlin’s attitude toward non-Orthodox Judaism is seen by critics as being at odds with his reputation for fairness.

“On a personal level he’s a nice person, kind and caring,” said Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who led Rivlin’s 1989 trip to Emanu-El and now heads the religious pluralism organization Hiddush. “He may be open-minded on a variety of issues, but his mind was made up on issues of the religious pluralist picture of contemporary Judaism. In that respect he was the same old anti-liberal, closed-minded traditionalist Israeli.”

Rivlin, who declined to speak to JTA, was first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and twice served as the body’s speaker. A self-identified disciple of Revisionist Zionism founder Zeev Jabotinsky, Rivlin opposes territorial concessions to the Palestinians and wants Israel to retain the West Bank. He has said that he supports giving Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians.

Rivlin’s opposition to a two-state solution means that he would be unlikely to reprise the diplomatic role that Peres has played in his tenure as president. A well-known dove, Peres has been uniquely suited to the task of representing Israel to audiences abroad that are skeptical of the country’s right-wing government.

But while Rivlin is hawkish on territorial issues, he is widely regarded as a staunch defender of democratic norms, placing him at odds with others on the right on issues related to civil liberties.

Reuven’s record earned his presidential candidacy the endorsement of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, which cited his “niceness.” Netanyahu’s backing, however, was seen as given more reluctantly. Rivlin, who has had a sometimes acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu, was ousted as Knesset speaker last year in favor of fellow Likud member Yuli Edelstein.

As speaker, Rivlin broke with the Likud-led coalition in 2011 in opposing a law that sought to criminalize the boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements, explaining in an Op-Ed that the measure “threatens to catapult us into an era in which gagging people becomes accepted legal practice.”

In 2010, Rivlin attempted to block the Knesset from stripping an Arab-Israeli lawmaker of her parliamentary privileges as punishment for participating in the flotilla operation to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Shmuel Sandler, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said that as Knesset speaker Rivlin treated parliamentarians fairly regardless of party affiliation.

“He created a precedent that you can’t be overly biased,” Sandler said.

But Rivlin has taken a hard line on official Israeli recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

In a Knesset session last month, Rivlin said that if Reform or Conservative conversion standards are adopted, determining Jewish status “becomes a civic definition rather than a religious definition.”

“I have no doubt, and my positions are known, that the status of Judaism according to halachah [Jewish law] is what has kept us going for 3,800 years,” Rivlin said in a Knesset speech in 2006. “Besides it there is nothing.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, recalls meeting with Rivlin upon his first run for Israel’s presidency in 2007. Yoffie asked Rivlin whether, as president, he would recognize Yoffie as a rabbi. Rivlin declined to answer.

“He’s a traditional Jew who isn’t sympathetic to Reform,” Yoffie told JTA. “That hasn’t changed. But I do expect candidates for president to act in an appropriate and respectful manner to all elements of the Jewish world.”

Religious pluralism issues have been a point of recurring conflict in Israel-Diaspora relations.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said that Rivlin’s past comments about Reform rabbis were “absolutely unacceptable, there’s no question about it.”

However, Schonfeld said she is holding out hope that he will change his views, particularly given that major American Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Committee have made clear their concerns about how the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are treated in Israel.

“You have to remember what we are looking for is not only word but deed,” Schonfeld said. “There are political figures in Israel who certainly call us rabbi. That doesn’t mean they have done anything to change the law: making state funding of religion available to everyone on an equal basis or having no state funding of religion.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, declined to be interviewed on the issue. His office referred JTA to an article by Yoffie in Haaretz criticizing Rivlin’s past remarks.

(Julie Wiener contributed reporting from New York.)

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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