Tiny cameras and memory cards capable of holding hundreds of thousands of images were found in the Towson University office of Rabbi Barry Freundel.Click here for the rest of the article...
Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, the founder and director of the online Talmud learning website, MAQOM, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Houston. She was 56.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, the founder and director of the online Talmud learning website, MAQOM, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Houston. She was 56.
Abrams, who made a career of Jewish teaching and learning, was a relative latecomer to Jewish study. Inspired by a semester studying in Soviet-era Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where she met Jews in synagogue and on the streets, she entered the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with practically no Jewish education, and quickly excelled in her studies, according to professor Jonathan Sarna, who is a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University and wrote a tribute to her on the H-Judaic e-mail list. Abrams graduated at the top of her class in 1984 and was ordained as a rabbi the following year.
Her rabbinic thesis, on the image of America in the Russian-language Jewish press, was published in the American Jewish History journal in 1986. In 1993 she earned a doctorate in Jewish studies from Baltimore Hebrew University.
Abrams pioneered online teaching of Talmud to adults through her website MAQOM, and authored over 20 books for asults and children. Her most recent book, “The Other Talmud” (Jewish Lights) was published in 2012.
Abrams is survived by her husband, Dr. Steven Abrams, and three children.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America have crossed the US-Mexico border, many being sent by their parents to escape gang violence in their native countries. While the US immigration courts attempt to quickly process them through the legal system, religious groups such as Catholic Charities, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and others are also responding.
Denmark’s national health authority sees no risks to justify recommending a ban on the non-medical circumcision of boys, the body’s director said in parliament.Click here for the rest of the article...
European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws that target specifically hate speech against Jews.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) –Denmark’s national health authority does not think non-medical circumcision is risky enough to justify a ban on it, the body’s director said in parliament.
The Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s director-general, Else Smith, made the statement during her address at a debate in the Danish parliament Wednesday. Two Danish parties and the country’s children’s ombudsman support a ban because they believe circumcision violates children’s rights.
The Politiken daily quoted Smith as saying that while there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending the practice, the risks aren’t serious enough to require a ban.
The debate was organized by the Danish parliament’s group on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Support for a ban was reiterated during the debate by the Red-Green Alliance and the Liberal Alliance, whose combined electoral weight is 11 percent of the Danish parliament’s 179 seats.
Ole Birk Olesen, a lawmaker for Liberal Alliance, responded to Smith’s assertion by comparing circumcision with finger amputation and genital mutilation.
“Doctors can also remove small children’s small fingers without risk if they do it correctly. Should it be allowed to amputate young children’s little fingers without a medical reason?” he demanded.
The debate in parliament comes amid a discussion across northern Europe on the Jewish and Muslim practice. Interest in the topic resurged in 2012, with left-leaning liberals and secularist calling for a ban for humanitarian reasons and nationalist anti-immigration parties supporting a prohibition because they feel the custom is a foreign and barbaric element in Danish society.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the European Conference of Presidents, who visited Denmark last month, told JTA that activists against non-medical circumcision of boys, or brit milah, as it is called in Hebrew, plan to focus their lobbying efforts on Denmark. “The mixture of a secularist society, anti-Israel sentiment, a hostile far-right and threats by radical Muslims make life increasingly difficult for Danish Jews,” he said.
In a poll released earlier this week, nearly three quarters of 1,000 Danish respondents said they supported fully or partially banning non-medical circumcision of boys.
(JTA) — European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws targeting hate speech against Jews.
The call was made in a resolution passed Thursday by the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis, or CER, which convened this week in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“We call on additional countries to follow the example set by France and Germany, and devise legislation that targets hate speech against Jews specifically,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told JTA Friday.
“It is something that few countries have but is necessary in light of the rise in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech, as we have witnessed this summer,” Goldschmidt said in reference to a surge in anti-Semitic expressions throughout Western Europe that coincided with Israel’s war in Gaza.
The fight against attempts in Europe to ban non-medical circumcision of boys and kosher slaughter of animals was also a high priority for the committee, Goldschmidt said.
A draft resolution calling for the establishment of an inter-European authority that would certify clergy to combat religious hate speech was suggested but was not passed by the committee, which has over 25 members.
The meeting in Tbilisi was the first time that CER held an event in Georgia, and it coincided with government-sponsored celebrations of 2,600 years of coexistence between Jews and non-Jews in Georgia.
“We saw banners in Hebrew and Jewish signs all over the city,” Goldschmidt said.
CER also met with Georgian officials, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who, at 32, is one of the world’s youngest heads of state.
Garibashvili spoke of his high regard for Israel and Jewish culture during the meeting, Glodschmidt said.
Defying regulations by Western Wall rabbinic authorities, members of Women of the Wall smuggled a tiny Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Kotel.Click here for the rest of the article...
How should a Modern Orthodox congregation react when its rabbi is accused of abusing converts? In the case of Barry Freundel, Kesher Israel didn’t hesitate.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A Palestinian-American student alleged that she was assaulted by a group of Jewish fans at a Brooklyn arena during an exhibition basketball game between the host Nets and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Nerdeen Kiswani, 20, said that she was punched in the stomach and had a Palestinian flag taken from her hands during the Oct. 7 game at the Barclays Center by a group that included Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA, who was punched outside the arena after the game. Kiswani, who wears a hijab, is a student at Hunter College in Manhattan, where Petlakh also teaches.
In a statement to the New York Daily News, Petlakh’s attorney, former City Councilman Lew Fidler, denied that Kiswani was punched by his client or anybody else.
A video taken of the incident shows a flag being taken from Kiswani by a single individual, but does not indicate that she was struck or attacked by a group. Shawn Schraeder, who is accused of assaulting Petlakh and is awaiting arraignment, is seen in the video.
Kiswani’s attorney, Lamis Deek, said the punch occurred but cannot be seen on the video. Deek also is representing Schraeder in his case.
At a news conference Tuesday, Kiswani said that she was assaulted because she was “the only visibly Muslim women in the arena.” She is the founder and editor of the I Stand with Palestine web magazine and president of Hunter College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Police said Monday that Schraeder would not be charged with a hate crime because they no longer think bias was involved in the punching of Petlakh.
Kiswani said that when she reported the attack to Barclays Center security staff, the alleged assailants were stopped only briefly before being allowed to proceed; they were later escorted from the arena. NYPD officers also did not act, Kiswani said, and threatened to arrest her friends who alerted them to the incident during the game featuring Maccabi Tel Aviv and the NBA team.
This article has been updated and revised.
MINNEAPOLIS (JTA) — Early last week, national faith leaders called rabbis, pastors, priests and imams to Ferguson, Mo., a city rife with racial violence and pain. Along with my rabbinic colleagues from Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Justice, I responded to the call to the people of Ferguson that their struggle for justice is a timeless spiritual struggle. I went with the intention of teaching protesters and police alike a new path for justice, a promise of racial healing.
I realized I had the wrong idea: This wasn’t about clergy teaching anyone anything but about our bearing witness to a movement. After 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer, the youth of Ferguson are demanding that he, and they, not be forgotten.
We rabbis went to Ferguson to hold ourselves accountable. We participated in an interfaith prayer service calling upon community leaders to advocate for racial justice; we stood before the Ferguson police station demanding that they, and we, atone for standing idly by when Michael Brown and so many other young people of color are harassed, jailed and killed. We left the sukkot in our home communities, eschewing comfortable meals and the joy of the festival, and went to Ferguson to build a different sort of sukkah: a sukkat shalom, a “shelter of peace.”
Here is what we learned:
Our children are angry. They are angry that young men of color like Michael Brown are being shot on our streets. They are angry that police caused Brown further indignity by leaving his body in the street for 4 hours and 32 minutes, forcing parents to hide their children’s eyes. They are incensed that even in death, the police did not show his corpse that modicum of dignity.
Our children are committed. For 65 days, these young leaders have shown exquisite leadership, organizing nightly protests, confronting police, demanding answers, crying out for justice.
Our children are hopeful. They believe that with the power of their voices, the gathering of their feet and the sacred work of their hands, they can bring about justice and dignity for all people in this nation.
Our children are righteous. As we stood in front of the police station at Ferguson, one young African-American woman stood face to face with a police officer in riot gear, a sign in her arms held high: “Black Lives Matter!” She testified to him, staring deeply into his eyes: “What you all did to Michael Brown makes me want to hate you. But I won’t have hatred in my heart. I will only have love. And I know you all want to repent for what you’ve done, for creating a system that lets my sisters and brothers of color die. I won’t hate you. I want to hug you.” And she did. With fierce tears, she treated that officer like a human being. And she asked — she demanded — that her humanity be seen.
Our children are capable. I thought they needed the rabbis and ministers and imams and priests who came to Ferguson to “show them the way” to make justice happen. But they don’t need us to do it for them. They need us to amplify their holy work, to bear witness to their righteous anger and their anguish and their longing to be treated with compassion and with dignity and affection.
Our children are impatient. After all, they are children. They should be dreaming of a world unfolding in front of them. They should be impatient with how they’ve been treated. What does it say about us when we ask them to be patient?
And finally, our children are here. Did we need to show up and stand for 4 hours and 32 minutes in the pouring rain to face off with police officers in riot gear? We did. We did so to show that this movement is for repentance: for the police who fail to serve and to protect; for all of us who have allowed this to happen; for each one of us who needs to commit to the hard work of dialogue and social change.
What the mainstream media show are neighborhoods in chaos. What we saw were young people full of passion, skill and moral courage demanding that America live up to its national promise: that we are all created equal, that dignity is not for some of us but for all of us.
(Rabbi Michael Adam Latz is the senior rabbi at Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis.)
by Rabbi Bennett Miller
Earlier this month, Jews the world over poured into synagogues to “afflict our souls” on the holy day of Yom Kippur – to search within ourselves to atone, forgive, and ultimately emerge renewed.
K’lal Yisrael (the community of Israel) is afflicting its own soul right now, too. Both real and existential struggles are being fought on many fronts, and the outcomes will determine much about the future of Israel and the Jewish people. Will gender equality be the norm – where men and women can pray and live as equals? Will our society respect and treat fairly all denominations, regardless of our level of observance? Will we see lasting peace – security and stability for Israel?
Together with our congregations and families, Reform Jews in the United States are doing everything we can to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. At the same time, we must prepare to return to the daily work of ensuring that the Israel we see on the other side of this conflict is the one that you and I envision – one in which the ideals of pluralism, equality, and peace help to secure prosperous, fulfilling Jewish lives for us all.
Just one year from now, the next World Zionist Congress (WZC) will convene in Jerusalem. This “Parliament of the Jewish People” will debate critical issues in helping to fulfill the dreams of the founders of the Zionist Movement—a pluralistic and democratic Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, our people’s homeland. This debate, too, will be a deciding moment for the shape of Israel’s soul.
Luckily, the democratic process allows each one of us to have a voice in that discussion. ARZA, representing Reform Judaism, selects delegates for the WZC based on the proportional outcome of the WZC elections conducted by the American Zionist Movement (AZM). The composition of the WZC has both financial and policy implications in Israel, as resources are allocated based on the number of seats a party holds and the policy positions of those parties.
In short, these elections are the strongest way for North American Reform Jews to promote and encourage the progressive ideals of social justice, equality and democracy in Israel itself and help build the kind of Jewish state we all know is possible. A Jewish state that holds true to the ideals of religious pluralism, the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel, women’s equality in all areas of life, democracy, a solution to the ongoing conflict and so much more.
ARZA, representing Reform Judaism, is asking every North American Jew who holds these values dear to stand with us. The WZC Elections are vital to the future of Progressive Judaism in Israel and to the relationship between Jews of North America and Israel. Here is what we hope you will do in the coming weeks:
- Pledge: Take the pledge to vote for ARZA-Representing Reform. Tell your friends and family to pledge their support as well.
- Spread the word: Right now, teams are forming in Reform congregations throughout the country to get out the vote. Get in touch with your synagogue campaign team today, or form one if it doesn’t yet exist.
- Vote: Register with the American Zionist Movement and vote for ARZA-Representing Reform between January 15th and April 30th.
The fate of Israel and the soul of K’lal Yisrael are not yet sealed. Let us join together, and let our voices be heard.
Rabbi Bennett Miller, senior rabbi of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ, is the national chair of ARZA, and also serves on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He also earned his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1988.
Bethany Mandel found it odd when Rabbi Barry Freundel demanded she ttake a “really long shower” in the mikveh prior to her formal conversion to Judaism.Click here for the rest of the article...
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly has withdrawn his support for a bill that would allow local rabbis to oversee conversions.Click here for the rest of the article...
A controversial Savannah rabbi may retain his pulpit for another three years, despite the synagogue board’s recommendation that his contract not be renewed.Click here for the rest of the article...
The Jerusalem City Council elected two new chief rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the former chief rabbi of Israel.Click here for the rest of the article...
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly has withdrawn his support for a bill that would allow local rabbis to oversee conversions.
The bill, sponsored by the Hatnua party led by Tzipi Livni, passed one reading in the Knesset plenum in the summer.
The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which oversees all conversions in Israel, opposes the measure. Haredi Orthodox parties and the modern Orthodox Jewish Home party also are in opposition.
According to Hatnua lawmaker Elazar Stern, the bill’s sponsor, Netanyahu said he would support the measure but asked for a delay in bringing it to a vote more than once due to opposition from coalition partner Jewish Home, as well as following the summer’s military operation in Gaza and then because of the vote on the 2015 state budget.
The reports have fueled speculation in the Israeli media that Netanyahu will call early elections.
Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu withdrew his backing to shore up his coalition base and not upset the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, who he might need to form an alliance in future governments.
“We will continue to push through the Conversion Bill,” Livni wrote in a post on Facebook. “If it is not advanced in the Cabinet, we will advance it in the Knesset with liberal partners, those who are not afraid of the ultra-Orthodox and want to enable young people that live here and serve in the army to realize their strong desire to convert, marry and live here with dignity.”
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Jerusalem City Council elected two new chief rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the former chief rabbi of Israel.
Amar was tapped as the city’s Sephardi chief rabbi on Tuesday evening. Rabbi Aryeh Stern was picked as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi. Both had the support of Mayor Nir Barkat.
Stern is a modern Orthodox rabbi and was backed by the Jewish Home party. Amar had the backing of the Shas party.
The city has not had a chief rabbi since 2003.
“It is in my intention to serve as the rabbi of all Jerusalemites: secular, modern Orthodox and haredi alike,” Stern said in a statement following the announcement of his election. “The Jerusalem Rabbinate is a great merit, but it also comprises a hefty responsibility. I will make sure that the religious services will become accessible and friendly, and will serve as an outstanding model for all of the other rabbinates in Israel.”