Web Feed

Syndicate content
things of interest in the synagogue world
Updated: 22 min 34 sec ago

Netanyahu accuses Abbas of incitement in Jerusalem

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 11:25

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of incitement as the P.A.’s official media called for a day of rage in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu pointed out the call at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

On Thursday, Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II agreed after meeting in Amman to de-escalate the situation on the Temple Mount and make it clear that the status quo will be upheld.

“Abu Mazen must halt the incitement that leads to acts of violence,” Netanyahu said Sunday, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “This is one of the roots of the inflamed moods that are fueled by Islamist extremist propaganda and propaganda by the Palestinian Authority.”

Netanyahu also called rumors that Israel intends to change the status quo on the Temple Mount  “a gross lie.”

Since capturing the holy site during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has severely restricted access for Jewish worshippers, in part not to inflame tensions. The status quo continues to restrict Jewish worship on the mount.

The day after the Jordan meeting, Israel removed its age limitation on entrance to the Temple Mount, for the first time in two weeks allowing Muslim men under the age of 50 to enter the compound that contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Army Radio reported.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported Sunday that Netanyahu will meet again with Abdullah in the coming days to continue discussions over tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, citing  Jordanian parliament member Mohammed al-Katatshe.

Orthodox Jew stabbed in Antwerp in attack seen as anti-Semitic

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 03:18

LIEGE, Belgium (JTA) — An Orthodox Jewish man who was stabbed in the neck in Antwerp in a suspected anti-Semitic attack was released from the hospital.

Yehosha Malik, 31, sustained injuries classified as moderate on Saturday morning in the capital of Belgium’s Flemish region, the Gazet van Antwerpen reported. He was discharged the same day after medical staff determined his injuries were not life threatening.

In an interview with Hadrei Haredim, a Hebrew-language news website, Malik said he felt a jab to his neck “and saw a young man eagerly trying to stab again.”

Malik was on his way to synagogue in the city’s center, where a population of approximately 16,000 Orthodox Jews reside.

According to Malik’s account, the attacker fled after he was confronted by a witness, also an Orthodox Jew.

The region’s Forum of Jewish Organizations wrote in a statement that “there is very real chance we are dealing with an act of pure anti-Semitism.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called on European authorities to step up efforts to protect Jewish communities that are being targeted by Islamists and other parties.

“There is a war against the Jews on the Internet and on the streets,” he said. “Until there is a crackdown on incitement to hatred and anti-Semitism, then more people will believe that these types of attacks are legitimate. We call on European authorities to form a specially dedicated pan-European body to deal specifically with the wave of anti-Semitism and the threat of radical Islam that threatens Jews and the continent of Europe.”

Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association said his group will set meetings with European Union officials to discuss “the severity of the situation and ways to combat such phenomena at their core, through education.”

Suspect in 1980 Paris Synagogue Bombing Extradited to France

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 07:10

A Lebanese-Canadian who is the main suspect in a 1980 bombing that killed four people outside a Paris synagogue has arrived in Paris and will be questioned in court on Saturday, a court source told Reuters.

Click here for the rest of the article...

At Least Six Degrees of Wisdom and Nuttiness

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 05:00

Philologos points out that not every rabbi is a ‘rabbinical scholar’ and not every rabbi’s pupil is a smart man. Did a Forward article muddy the Talmudic waters?

Click here for the rest of the article...

The Most Useful Things I know About Outreach…I Learned as a Stockbroker

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 13:23

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Rabbi David Gerber

This year, after years of decline, our post-b’nei mitzvah engagement numbers exceeded 120% compared to our projections. Our recent success is a result of a number of factors including but not limited to: improved programming, a dynamic professional staff, and a deeper financial commitment to youth engagement.  While it can be difficult to replicate programming and success due to the unique nature of our staffs, congregants, and resources, I do believe that our approach to outreach is the heart of our recent turnaround, and that our approach has lessons to offer anyone pursuing congregational transformation.

Before I enrolled in rabbinical school, I spent nearly five years in the financial industry. While I find very few similarities between my life as a stockbroker and my life as a rabbi, I always go back to the five lessons I learned during my first week of training. These five lessons have continued to guide me in building relationships, and have been at the center of my approach to outreach.

1. Know Your Customer

This is rule number one of the finance industry. If you don’t know your client, there is no way you can help meet his or her needs. Before you even begin to offer advice, you must have a thorough understanding of what your client needs.

In Jewish outreach, this translates as “Know Your Congregant.” Take every opportunity to learn about the people in your congregation. Learn what motivates them, where their interests lie, and how they like to learn. The more you know about your congregants, the better chance you will have of developing programming that appeals to them. And the best way to learn this information? Just ask!

2. Believe in What You Are Selling

The first stock I was asked to sell was a very solid investment. It was an oil company that had a proven track record of stability. I read, researched, and practiced, and didn’t make a single sale. After hearing enough “no’s” on the phone, I realized that I was lacking enthusiasm and passion for the product – and my clients could clearly sense that. I thought back to my recent college days and recalled a restaurant that had just opened up. There was a line out the door every day and I went there all the time. I did some research and decided that this was an investment I truly believed in. I changed my product and I was in business.

While I don’t like to equate sales with outreach, the truth is we are, in fact, trying to sell people an idea. We are trying to convince people that Jewish tradition can enrich their lives, and impress upon them the value of studying Torah We have to convince our members that it is worthwhile for them to continue their education after their bar or bat mitzvah.

If you are trying to sell a product you don’t believe in, it sounds different. If you want to convince someone that studying Torah adds value to his or her life, you must believe it. That passion and enthusiasm is contagious. If you don’t have passion for what you are offering, it is time to revisit your product.

3. Ask for the Order

This one seems so simple, yet so few people do this naturally. Consider the following sales pitch:

“This investment has shown consistent gains throughout its history. It suits your portfolio perfectly. I know the stock very well. I have done the research. It is, without question, my best recommendation for you. What do you think?”

This was essentially my first practice pitch when I was in training (at least to the best of my memory). I thought it was pretty good until my mentor pointed out that at no point in the conversation did I actually ask the person to buy the stock!

It sounds like meaningless semantics, but in reality I did not give the client the opportunity or need to say yes or no.

Think of how many times you have said things like:

  • It is really important for you to continue on to confirmation
  • You would love our shul-in this weekend
  • I’d love to see you more involved at the synagogue

In each of these cases, the person you are speaking with can very easily answer with something like “Sounds great!” while not actually committing to anything.

Try asking things like:

  • Will you give confirmation a try?
  • Will you join us for our next youth event?
  • Will you join our religious school committee?

It’s natural to prefer to hear “sounds great” than to open yourself up to a “no” answer, but at least you’ll know where they stand. It gives you a definitive answer and lets you ask probing questions that may lead to finding the right area of interest for your congregant.

This, by the way, is great advice for fundraising as well. Just remember, if you do not ask the question, do not expect to get an answer.

4. Nothing Can Replace the Value of a Handshake

While most brokerages find clients by cold calling (calling people at random), my firm insisted that we go to surrounding neighborhoods and knock on doors. Believe me, it is as difficult as it sounds. But, sure enough, it works. People appreciate face time. For every door I knocked on and every conversation I had, I followed up with handwritten thank you note..

The value that our firm instilled in us is the importance of building relationships. The only way to do this is through personal contact. As a rabbi, I value every opportunity to spend time with my students and congregants. I attend their mitzvah projects and school plays. I spend time in the lobby between religious school sessions. I stay at the oneg until the end.

There are no shortcuts to building relationships. They form one handshake at a time. The primary purpose of a rabbi is to serve the needs of the congregation, and this is the only way to learn those needs.

5: Don’t Allow Growth and Technology to Affect Your Values

In the late ‘90s, my firm was nationally criticized for refusing to allow our clients to engage in online trading. We believed that the stock market is a difficult thing to navigate, and it should be done with the assistance of a professional. While we took a pretty big PR hit and we would have profited greatly from e-trading, it went against our core values. Sure enough, our clients fared much better than average when the tech-bubble burst.

In the Jewish profession, we are dealing with ancient texts, time-honored traditions, and sacred values. We are facing congregants with varying interests and jam-packed schedules. We are under constant pressure to modernize our methods and bring our religion into the 21st century. We are faced with the fear that Jews today have no room in their busy schedules for Judaism.

There is a part of the Talmud where the rabbis try to explain what makes for a good or bad prophet. Simply stated, a good prophet brings you closer to Torah. A bad prophet takes you away. Such is the case with technology.

I am a firm believer that the “silver bullet” of not only youth engagement, but all engagement, is Torah. We are not the first generation to fear that we’ll be the last. Moreover, what has kept us together throughout the ages has been the stubbornness with which we have held fast to our Torah. We may have to come up with innovative ways to deliver the message to people, but the message cannot be compromised. When thinking about introducing new programming or new learning options, the question we should ask ourselves is: does this bring Jews closer to Torah?

Rabbi David Gerber is the Associate Rabbi of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA.

Judaism and Feeding the Homeless

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:01

Rabbi Scott Perlo of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC and a group of young Jewish professionals serve breakfast to the homeless for the interfaith group So Others Might Eat, and Rabbi Perlo explains the connection between Jewish faith, social justice, and the Torah.

The post Judaism and Feeding the Homeless appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Israel Eases Temple Mount Restrictions on Muslims

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 06:49

Following trilateral talks with Jordan and the United States on deescalating tensions in Jerusalem, Israel lifted its age limitation on entrance to the Temple Mount.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Amy Reichert’s Art Reinvents Judaica

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 05:00

Tired of dreary Judaica museum exhibitions? Amy Reichert’s artwork is refreshingly different, as she ‘re-looks’ at familiar ritual objects.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Who's to Blame for Temple Mount Violence?

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 05:00

Benjamin Netanyahu blames Mahmoud Abbas for spiralling Temple Mount violence. But Israeli security insiders say Jewish extremists pose just as potent a threat, J.J. Goldberg writes.

Click here for the rest of the article...

France's New Chief Rabbi Embraces Reforms

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 21:13

The first thing Haim Korsia did after becoming chief rabbi of France was give his new office a thorough cleaning.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Op-Ed: Centralizing authority on conversions hurts converts

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 15:23

The Rabbinical Council of America, which held its 2014 convention this summer in Harrison, N.Y,., is facing criticism for its centralized conversion system. (RCA)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Israeli government recently moved to decentralize the conversion system by allowing local courts to convert individuals on their own.

Ironically, as Israel moves away from centralization, here in America the Rabbinical Council of America is enthusiastically embracing it. The modern Orthodox rabbinical organization recently reaffirmed its commitment to its centralized conversion system, which it calls GPS (Geirus Policies and Standards). Under the system, the RCA accredits only those conversions conducted under RCA’s batei din, or rabbinical courts, using the GPS process.

Since its inception in 2008, we have opposed this centralized approach. We still do today. Here’s why.

Dangers of centralization: When one rabbi or court controls the conversions of an entire region, the potential for danger is magnified because inappropriate conduct can implicate the entire system. Investing power in a select few invites the question: Who oversees the overseers? And if the court or rabbi is corrupt or abusive, a prospective convert has no alternative but to submit and comply. A decentralized system that gives local rabbis the right to convene and serve on the beit din allows for choice.

Overly strict standards: The centralized beit din system almost invariably relies on the most stringent opinions of halachah, or Jewish law. As a result, the mainstream halachic tradition, which is far more inclusive and compassionate, is ignored. This overly strict approach to conversion causes unnecessary suffering on the part of would-be converts.

Emotional distress: Conversions require that rabbis have a deep understanding of the condition of the particular convert. While clear guidelines are required for conversion, within those parameters halachah provides latitude for individual rabbis to decide who is worthy of conversion. But unlike local rabbis, the centralized rabbinic authority has far less sensibility to the convert’s particular situation. Rather than face a rabbi who knows them, the converts must appear before a tribunal. While GPS supporters maintain that local rabbis can be “sponsors” who advocate for their candidates, some of these rabbinic sponsors have told us that they and the converts they represent were often distraught by the rigid, inflexible and often callous approach of the centralized beit din and felt that the convert’s particular circumstances were ignored.

Fewer converts: A centralized system, which by definition limits the number of rabbis who sit on conversion courts, can deal with only so many converts, and too many converts are being forced to wait for too long. Only 1,200 people have been converted through the GPS since its creation 6 1/2 years ago – on average fewer than 200 converts per year. With most of the conversions taking place in New York, the system yields fewer than 100 converts annually in the rest of the United States. Certainly every convert who comes forward must undergo a significant process, but we must be more welcoming. These dismally low numbers simply don’t reflect this value.

“Out of town” cities suffer: Large cities in America like Baltimore, Denver, Houston, San Francisco and St. Louis have no local GPS court, so potential converts in these cities must travel to a GPS beit din elsewhere. Prospective converts in Denver, for example, must fly to Chicago, where the nearest beit din is located. Bearing in mind that the convert must meet with the beit din even before the actual conversion takes place, this process is frustrating, onerous and uninviting. With relatively few GPS courts across the country, significant backlog and scheduling problems arise. This results in many converts feeling disrespected and unwelcome.

Undermining the local rabbi: The centralized system sends the message that local rabbis are not to be trusted, weakening their position as spiritual leaders within the community. The mission of rabbis is to spread Torah to their communities and help shape the Jewish world. The centralized system undermines their mission and effectiveness.

Slippery slope of centralization: If local rabbis cannot be trusted to do conversions in their own communities, one wonders what the next step will be. Will only select rabbis be able to perform weddings?

Questioning earlier conversions: Despite repeated RCA assurances that pre-GPS conversions would not be revisited, the facts on the ground are otherwise. Institutions that turn to the RCA for guidance regarding past conversions are advised to obtain a retroactive certification from the GPS. Thus, post-GPS guidelines are imposed on conversions done pre-GPS. Just recently, a young man converted by a prominent RCA rabbi 25 years ago told us that he was questioned about his level of observance and then required to immerse again in the mikvah, or ritual bath, for purposes of conversion before being accepted to a graduate-level yeshiva. The policy of reevaluating conversions leaves open the possibility that GPS rabbis of today will have their conversions questioned tomorrow.

Now that Israel is finally doing something to address the harmful influence of centralization of rabbinic authority, we in America should be celebrating our tradition of decentralized and locally empowered rabbinical leadership. The welfare of converts, our communal health and our religious vitality depend on it.

(Rabbi Avi Weiss is senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Rabbi Marc Angel is the director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. They are the co-founders of a new modern Orthodox rabbinical organization called the International Rabbinic Fellowship, or IRF.)

Hungary Jewish Leader Charges Fraud at Historic Synagogue

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:39

The head of Budapest’s Jewish community said he filed a complaint with police alleging fraud and embezzlement at the historic Dohany Street Synagogue.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Budapest Jewish head alleges shortfall in Dohany ticket sales

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 09:56

(JTA) — The head of Budapest’s Jewish community said he filed a complaint with police alleging fraud and embezzlement at the historic Dohany Street Synagogue.

David Schwezoff told the Hungarian media last week that the community was at least $400,000 short in ticket revenues from visitors to the synagogue, the Nepszava newspaper reported Monday.

The president of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation, a Hungarian umbrella organization with which the Budapest community is affiliated, disputed the charge.

The revenue collected from ticket sales from the past two years was $1.21 million, Nepszava reported.

Last month, Schwezoff canceled the community’s contract with the firm responsible for collecting entrance fees to the community-owned synagogue, according to the paper.

It was unclear who Schwezoff accused of graft in the complaint, which has not been made public. Schwezoff and the community’s spokesman, Balazs Csaszar, were unavailable for comment.

Andras Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz, in disputing Schwezoff’s allegations claimed that ticket revenues will be approximately $2 million.

In an interview with Nepszava, Heisler accused Schwezoff of “running amok and compromising the Jewish community’s honor.” Heisler told JTA on Thursday that Schwezoff, who was elected president of his community last month, was “not competent as a Jewish leader due to his current actions.” He declined to make any further comment on Schwezoff.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Heisler warned that Schwezoff’s actions could jeopardize the popular Jewish Summer Festival of Budapest because it has been organized for the past decade by the owner of the company that collected fees to the synagogue. Schwezoff removed the owner, Vera Vadas, from the positions on Oct. 31.

Schwezoff told the Heti Valasz weekly that Heisler treats him “as an enemy” partly because Schwezoff, who was not born Jewish, was photographed several years ago while wearing women’s clothes at a drag club.

“Mr. Schwezoff had a colorful life in the past,” Csaszar told JTA last month, adding that Schwezoff “made a 180-degree turn” and “has been living according to the Torah, keeping Shabbat and kosher.”

Why Do We Keep Dissing Chabad's Spirituality?

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 08:00

Why are we still ignoring spiritual practice as a means to engage young Jews? Chabad houses are doing something right — and we should learn from them, Jay Michaelson writes.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Barry Freundel May Have Peeped on More Women — Prosecutors Create Web Site

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 12:51

Prosecutors said that there could be more victims in Rabbi Barry Freunel’s mikveh peeping scandal a hearing today in D.C. Superior Court, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Russian Jews Push Back at Campaign Against Ukraine Oligarch

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 08:57

A senior Russian rabbi accused the country’s communist party of “vulgar and primitive anti-Semitism” after it demanded Russian Jews condemn a Ukrainian Jewish oligarch.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Leading Russian rabbi slams demand that Jews condemn Ukrainian oligarch

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 08:10

(JTA) — A senior Russian rabbi accused the country’s Communist Party of “vulgar and primitive anti-Semitism” after it demanded that Russian Jews condemn a Ukrainian Jewish oligarch.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for and adviser to Rabbi Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, on Wednesday said the request in a letter from two Communist lawmakers sent last week to Lazar and Adolf Shayevich, another chief rabbi of Russia, “reflected a primitive form of anti-Semitism which presumes all Jews belong to some sinister superstructure simply because they are Jewish.”

While the rabbis “have nothing to say to the communist lawmakers, we do expect other members of the Duma to speak out against this provocation,” Gorin said.

In the letter, the lawmakers urged Lazar and Shayevich to speak out against Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian Jewish banker and regional governor who has poured millions of dollars into rearming the Ukrainian army against Russia.

“Russian Jews must distance themselves from Kolomoisky and make him understand that his crimes are denounced by his own people,” one of the lawmakers, Valery Rashkin, told the Izvestia newspaper after he and Sergey Obukhov published an open letter in the newspaper to Lazar and Shayevich. The lawmakers wrote that Kolomisky’s actions “contribute to ethnic and race hate and cause people to commit hate crimes not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia.”

The Russia-Ukraine border has been tense since the overthrow in February of Ukraine President Victor Yanukovych, who was accused of corruption and perceived by many Ukrainians to be a Kremlin puppet.

Citing concerns to ethnic Russians and other minorities, Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in March — an action that triggered an ongoing armed conflict between pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east and government troops.

Throughout the conflict, pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian propagandists have accused one another of espousing anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Barry Freundel Set for Court Date

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 07:15

Rabbi Barry Freundel is expected to appear in a Washington D.C. court today to face charges he used a hidden camera to peep on women in the mikveh of his Orthodox synagogue.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Mosque and Synagogue Firebombed as Tensions Rise

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 06:25

A Palestinian mosque and an Israeli synagogue were damaged in separate arson attacks, police and local residents said on Wednesday, causing no casualties but stoking tensions that have flared over a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Five educators awarded Pomegranate Prize

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:14

NEW YORK (JTA) — Five American Jewish educators have received the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize.

Established in 2011, the annual Pomegranate Prize recognizes emerging leaders in Jewish education who have been in the field for 10 years or less. Each of the winners receives $15,000 to invest in educational projects.

This year’s recipients are Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, founder and director of the Center for Jewish Mindfulness in Chicago, and program director for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York; Rabbi Michael Bitton, director of educational technology and Judaic studies teacher at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn; Talya Gillman, a Jewish educator and social justice advocate pursuing a master’s degree in transformational leadership in Seattle; Oren Massey, executive director of Edah in Berkeley, Calif.; and Rabbi Yigal Sklarin, a Talmud and Jewish history teacher at The Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan.

“We know that encouragement early on in a person’s career can make all the difference in their success,” said James Crown, one of the New York-based Covenant Foundation’s founders, in a statement.

The 2014 group brings to 20 the number of Pomegranate Prize recipients.