(JTA) — The Israeli Chief Rabbinate said it will recognize all past conversions performed by Rabbi Barry Freundel, the Washington rabbi charged with voyeurism.
On Tuesday, the Rabbinate clarified that it was joining the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America in affirming the validity of the conversions, a day after the Rabbinate said it would be examining their validity.
“The Chief Rabbinate of Israel clarifies that the Rabbi Freundel affair has no effect on the policy of recognizing conversions performed by him in the past,” Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor wrote to JTA in a text message.
Maor also wrote that until further notice, the Rabbinate will not recognize future conversions performed by Freundel.
“I’m pleased to see that the Rabbinate clarified the matter and acted relatively quickly in order to alleviate any further suffering on the part of Rabbi Freundel’s victims,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Life Advocacy Center, which pushed the Rabbinate to recognize the conversions.
Disgraced Rabbi Barry Freundel is accused of grave violations of rules regarding conversions. Why didn’t rabbinical authorities impose better oversight after a previous scandal?Click here for the rest of the article...
by Rosanne Selfon
Over 100 years ago, 156 American women representing 5,000 women in 51 sisterhoods gathered to found the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), renamed Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) in 1993. These women united to fortify their Jewish identities, perform mitzvot, and collectively support the Reform movement. One of their first endeavors was to establish a scholarship fund to benefit Hebrew Union College (HUC) students. Not only did the women successfully raise scholarship money, they built the Sisterhood dorm on HUC-Cincinnati’s campus. Their largesse expanded during the Great Depression when they financially rescued the college. To this day, WRJ is HUC’s largest cumulative scholarship donor.
In 1955, NFTS determined that broader support for youth was essential. The women established the YES Fund to underwrite youth activities, educational projects, and special initiatives. The acronym YES became the fund’s familiar name (Y for youth, E for education, S for special projects). Women’s generosity to the YES Fund continues today.
During the last decade of the 20th century, WRJ produced a video to showcase its accomplishments, in which Rabbi Alan Smith, former director of the UAHC (now URJ) Youth Department, comments,
Ask any of the kids what the YES Fund is, and they can immediately tell you—YES means Youth, Education, and Special Projects. The YES Fund makes things happen. Every kid in NFTY knows what the YES Fund is.
Was Rabbi Smith correct? Well, perhaps he exaggerated just a bit.
Why would teenagers know anything about the YES Fund, sisterhood, NFTS or WRJ? NFTYites know their history. They proudly note that NFTY was created due to persistent women. For many years, Jean Wise May, daughter of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, badgered Union leaders, lay and professional, to maintain youth on the Union’s agenda. Her distinguished pedigree often gained her entry into the hallowed halls of the male-dominated Union leadership. May, a member of the first women’s college basketball team, was a proven powerhouse who advocated for women’s suffrage and even women’s ordination. Taking on the Union’s leadership to create a national Reform youth movement became her passion—she simply wore them down!
In 1926, Jean Wise May convinced NFTS leaders to establish a committee to foster an organization of temple-based youth groups; it became a permanent committee a year later and funding followed. The women also understood the necessity of creating leadership-training opportunities. In each instance, funding always followed ideas.
In 1930, NFTS earmarked $5,000 to support the salary of a full-time youth division at the Union. In 1937, the NFTS Board of Directors endorsed the creation of a national youth movement. Never underestimate the power of a single person, let alone thousands of Jewish mothers.
How does the YES Fund enable today’s youth? Most recently, WRJ pledged $75,000 to fund NFTY6 Fellows, an innovative program designed to target sixth graders. After Hurricane Sandy, WRJ provided $10,000 to underwrite attendance at NFTY events for teens affected by the hurricane. Last summer, WRJ granted $5,000 for girls’ scholarships to attend the URJ Six Points Sci-Tech Academy in its inaugural year. Youth programs and projects like these are underwritten by the YES Fund donations every year.
How does this affect individual teens and their families? Consider Stacey Kapushy and her daughters Maddie, a senior, and Sammie, a freshman who live in Lancaster, PA, which has a small Jewish population, a strong Reform congregation, a rabbi who passionately advocates for youth, and an engaged sisterhood. Maddie, president of her local temple youth group, has attended Camp Harlam, multiple NFTY events, and EIE High School in Israel. Sammie, new to NFTY this year, has attended Camp Harlam, Six Points Sports Academy, and Six Points Sci-Tech Academy. Both girls have received significant financial support enabling their participation.
“The WRJ Sci-Tech Scholarship allowed me to focus on science, to be with girls who had that same focus, and to find a connection point in our Jewishness,” said Sammie. “This is the place I want to return to, my escape.”
Maddie notes, “Sisterhood provided accessibility to all of my experiences. I wouldn’t have been able to participate without its financial support. Stipends have made a huge difference for my family.”
And what does Mom Stacey, a full-time working, single mom who is currently sisterhood president, say?
Because of the Yes Fund and the generosity of our sisterhood, I am rearing two daughters whose Jewish identity has been intentionally developed. They will grow up to be contributing members of society, strong, confident and morally grounded. They have experienced a tutorial in giving back. I know they will pay it forward when they can. Thank you WRJ and sisterhood for the critical life lessons you have taught my daughters.
Indeed, the YES Fund impacts NFTYites individually as well as collectively. The YES Fund reflects our priorities: women understand that the future of the Jewish people resides in creating a passion for Judaism in young people. In the next hundred years, WRJ pledges to continue what its founding matriarchs initiated, a partnership with our youth to build a dynamic Jewish future.
Rosanne Selfon served as WRJ President from 2005-2009. Most recently, she was WRJ Centennial Chair and is a lifetime member of the WRJ Board of Directors. She has served on the URJ Board of Trustees since 1994 and today is Chair of the Camp Harlam Council and Vice-Chair of the NAC, North American Camping and Israel Programs.
Correction: In the September 9th edition of 10 Minutes of Torah, “Mitzvah Corps: The Power of Community, The Power of Self”, there was an oversight in noting Mitzvah Corps Portland’s partnership with Tivnu: Building Justice. Tivnu offers a gap year program in Portland for young adults interested in a Jewish, hands-on approach to social justice.
Several public buses featuring photos of young women wearing kippot and prayer shawls were vandalized in Jerusalem.Click here for the rest of the article...
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is reviewing the validity of conversions performed by Rabbi Barry Freundel — despite the U.S. ruling that the ‘peeping’ rabbi’s conversions ‘remain halakhically valid.’Click here for the rest of the article...
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Several public buses featuring photos of young women wearing kippot and prayer shawls were vandalized in Jerusalem.
The buses had their tires slashed and ads defaced with spray paint in the haredi Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. Haredi men were responsible for the vandalism, according to reports.
The bus advertisements, launched last week by the Women of the Wall group, feature Israeli girls aged 11 to 14 wearing a prayer shawl and holding a Torah scroll in front of the Western Wall. The ad reads in Hebrew: “Mom, I too want a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.”
Some 50 percent of the Women of the Wall bus advertising has been vandalized since the campaign began a week ago, according to the Cnaan marketing company.
“It is sad to yet again see the ultra-Orthodox citizens take the law into their own hands and use Judaism as an excuse for the use of force, threat and violence against women,” Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs said in a statement. “We call on ultra-Orthodox leadership to strongly denounce this act of violence and all others.”
Rabbi Barry Freundel’s arrest last week on voyeurism charges wasn’t the first time Washington’s Kesher Israel was ensnared in a sordid crime case.
In 1984, Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz — Freundel’s predecessor in the Orthodox shul — was brutally murdered in his Georgetown home. The Poland-born Rabinowitz, who had served Kesher Israel for 34 years, was found stabbed and bludgeoned in his home.
The crime was never solved. Read JTA’s coverage at the time.
The tragedy and its immediate aftermath was addressed more comprehensively in this article in the Baltimore Jewish Times.
NEW YORK (JTA) — An alternative Hebrew school program in New York City, a digital repository for Jewish texts and a synagogue-based bakery in Tulsa, Okla., that employs mentally ill adults are among the 29 Jewish groups listed for the first time in the annual Slingshot guide to innovative Jewish projects.
The 2014-15 guide published Monday features 82 of what it touts as North America’s “most innovative” organizations and projects.
This year the list, previously limited to 50 groups, expanded dramatically. In addition, Washington and Midwest editions and a supplement highlighting women’s organizations also were published.
Despite the added slots, Slingshot officials said in a news release, this year’s process for selecting organizations and projects “has been more competitive than ever before, as the total number of applicants has dramatically increased.”
Launched in 2005 by a group of donors in their 20s and 30s, the Slingshot guide evaluates North American Jewish organizations based on “their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results.”
Leaders of included groups have described the guide as a “stamp of recognition” akin to being listed favorably in a Zagat restaurant guide.
Newly included groups are the Altamont Bakery; Asylum Arts; Beit T’Shuvah: Youth Services; Eshel, Inc.; The iCenter; iEngage-The Engaging Israel Project; Jewish Disaster Response Corps; Jewish Kids Groups; Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington @ Adas Israel; The Jewish Journey Project; Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel
Jewish Student Connection; Jewish World Watch; JScreen; JLens Investor Network; LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture; LE MOOD; Makom; Online Jewish Academy; RespectAbilityUSA; Righteous Conversations Project; Ritualwell; Shabbat Tent; Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC); SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity; SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva; TAMID Investment Group; The Sefaria Project; and TI Fellowship.
The full guide, including supplements, can be downloaded at http://www.slingshotfund.org/order/
The leading Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says that it knew in 2012 that Rabbi Barry Freundel acted inappropriately in his role overseeing conversions, but that it chose not to bar him from working with converts and did not inform his synagogue.Click here for the rest of the article...
NEW YORK (JTA) — The Rabbinical Council of America affirmed that any conversions performed by Rabbi Barry Freundel, the Orthodox rabbi in Washington facing charges of voyeurism, are valid.
The RCA, the main modern Orthodox rabbinical association in the United States, issued a statement Monday to assuage the concerns of Orthodox converts to Judaism whose conversion process was overseen by Freundel, who was arrested last week for allegedly installing a hidden camera in the mikvah to spy on women in the shower. The rabbi has pleaded not guilty.
However, it’s not clear that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate will honor Freundel’s conversions. In response to an inquiry from Israel’s daily Haaretz, Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Manor left open the possibility that those conversions might be invalidated.
“The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is drafting a policy regarding conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel that will attempt to strike a balance between what is permitted according to Jewish law, on the one hand, and the rights and welfare of the converts, on the other,” Manor said, according to Haaretz.
Freundel has been suspended without pay from his position as rabbi at Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox congregation in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, and from the RCA, where Freundel served on its executive committee.
“The Beth Din of America — under the leadership of Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz — has concluded as a matter of Jewish law that conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel prior to his arrest on October 14, 2014 remain halachically valid and prior converts remain Jewish in all respects,” the RCA said in its statement, which also expressed sympathy with Freundel’s alleged victims and his family.
The RCA also announced that it would appoint a woman to serve as an ombudsman for converts at all the RCA’s rabbinical courts for conversion, known as batei din. The role of the ombudsman will be to field any questions or concerns from conversion candidates who feel uncomfortable raising those issues with the rabbi in charge of their conversion process.
Also, the RCA said it would appoint a commission made up of rabbis, lay leaders and mental health professionals to review RCA conversion processes and suggest safeguards against possible abuse.
“We wanted to create all kinds of opportunities for potential converts to feel safe to share their discomforts and concerns,” Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA in an interview.
Freundel spied on women in the mikvah at least since 2012, according to documents filed in Washington Superior Court. He allegedly hid a camera in a clock radio and installed it in the shower area of the mikvah.
Freundel was released the day after his arrest with orders to stay away from his synagogue and alleged victims.
In Orthodox Judaism, mikvah ritual baths are used for the purposes of conversion and on a monthly basis by married women at a certain point in their menstrual cycle. Some men also visit the mikvah before Shabbat or holidays.
The RCA said it had fielded one other complaint of inappropriate behavior by Freundel — that he had shared a room with a woman who was not his wife on an overnight train. But those allegations of impropriety could not be substantiated and the matter was dropped.
“The overwhelming majority of our members are people of integrity and honesty who work hard and are trustworthy,” Dratch told JTA. “From time to time we have people who violate the norms, and unfortunately suspicion has cast a very large net over a large number of people. That undermines our ability to represent out community and lead our community and do our job properly.”
EDITORIAL: The high holidays presented a challenge to rabbis who felt the need to address Israel. Two sermons show the difficulty and possibility involved.Click here for the rest of the article...
Graffiti equating the Star of David with a swastika was found painted on the Temple Mount.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A follower of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, an accused sex offender who fled Israel, drowned in Belgium while swimming in a river near Antwerp.
The body of Nissim Levy, 27, was buried last week in his hometown of Ashkelon, the news website ashqelon.net reported Saturday.
Levy was in Belgium to be near Berland, head of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary. Last year Berland fled Israel amid allegations that he sexually assaulted at least two female followers, including a minor.
Berland, who is living in a southern suburb of Amsterdam with scores of his supporters, apparently was in the Antwerp area for the weekend.
Israel has requested his extradition from the Netherlands, where Berland was arrested last month at the airport upon his arrival from South Africa. Since fleeing Israel, he has taken up residence in the United States, Switzerland, Morocco and Zimbabwe, often with dozens of followers.
Levy’s body was sent to Israel with help and funding from the Shomre Hadass Jewish community of Antwerp, according to the Hebrew-language Behadrei Haredim news website.
His family also contacted another Jewish community, the haredi Orthodox congregation Machzikei Hadass, for assistance, the website reported, quoting an unnamed member of Shuvu Bonim who claimed that the congregation declined to help.
Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld of Machzikei Hadass denied the claim, telling JTA, “The deceased’s family asked us for assistance and we offered to cover all expenses for burial in the Benelux, but we also said that we would need a third party to cover the costs attached to sending the body to Israel, which are substantial.”
The president of Kesher Israel synagogue gave a heartfelt reaction to Rabbi Barry Freundel’s arrest on voyeurism charges — in a speech that did not mention Freundel by name even once.Click here for the rest of the article...
When Latin Kings gang member Roberto Eddy Santos was released from prison, he assumed the identity of a rabbi — before going on to pose as a police officer.Click here for the rest of the article...
Rabbi Freundel’s arrest on voyeurism charges did not stop the congregants at Kesher Israel from celebrating Simchat Torah with a determinedly joyous lay-led service.Click here for the rest of the article...
Debbi Ballard wanted to get more kids excited about Jewish education. So the Floridian bought a 38-foot recreational vehicle and turned it into a Hebrew school on wheels.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, announced that he will step down as rabbi of the congregation.
Weiss — who has been an ardent activist on behalf of embattled Jewish communities and pushed a more religiously liberal brand of Orthodoxy — made the announcement Thursday during holiday services. Weiss said his retirement would be effective next July.
He said he will continue to serve as rabbi-in-residence at the synagogue, the Forward reported.
Weiss is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school, and Yeshivat Maharat, an institution for women that has graduated two cohorts of female spiritual leaders called Maharats, an acronym meaning female spiritual, legal and Torah leader.
The leader of the Palestinian group Hamas on Thursday called on Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, saying Israel was trying to seize the site, revered in Islam and Judaism and focus of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.Click here for the rest of the article...