Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Ask the Rabbi: May women deliver eulogies?" J-Post

2-7-13 by Shlomo Brody- Under pressure from the Israeli Supreme Court, the Chief Rabbinate recently issued a halachic ruling permitting women to deliver eulogies. This declaration was the culmination of a legal battle led heroically by the ITIM organization following highly publicized incidents in which women mourners were forcibly prevented by the municipal burial society (hevra kadisha) from eulogizing their loved ones. These incidents highlight the widely divergent views within Jewish sources regarding the participation of women in funeral services.

In antiquity, many cultures featured lamentations at funerals, a phenomenon also found in Jewish sources. Jeremiah, for example, proclaims, “Summon the dirge-singers... send for the skilled women... Let them quickly start wailing for us, that our eyes may run with tears...” (Jeremiah 9:16-17). Based on this verse, the Sages asserted that dirge-singers were featured at the funerals of the greatest scholars.

Elsewhere they detailed the various lyrics recited by the women of Babylonia, which included rich, poetic imagery. One sage went so far as to assert that a husband, within his marital contract, becomes obligated to provide a dirge-singer at his wife’s funeral. This requirement was codified by Maimonides as well as Rabbi Yosef Karo, even as he noted that this was only true in societies that had this custom. The basic principle guiding this law is that the marital contract obligates one to provide appropriate ceremonies in accordance with contemporary practice.

"Religious councils act as a law unto themselves" J-Post

Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi
2-28-13 by Jeremy Sharon- Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi publicly acknowledged that some local religious councils ignore the law when conducting and arranging religious services for people in their jurisdiction, during a review in Knesset of the achievements of the ministry during his time at the helm.

Speaking on Tuesday, the minister specifically backed the right of women to deliver eulogies at the funerals of relatives and spoke out against gender separation at cemeteries.

Speaking about the issue, Margi stated that there are some chief municipal rabbis and burial societies “which are a law unto themselves,” and said that he was “not ignoring” the problem of segregation at cemeteries – but added that it was the task of everyone, including Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, to watch the issue closely so that the public is not harmed.

"Rabbis allow Sabbath invites for non-religious Jews" J-Post

2-27-13 by JEREMY SHARONRabbis from the Orthodox Beit Hillel organization have issued a ruling that it is permissible to invite a non-religious person to your home for a Shabbat meal, even if they will travel by car on the Sabbath itself.

In general, it is forbidden according to Jewish law to suggest any kind of activity to someone who might, through doing it, break Halacha. Therefore, inviting someone for Shabbat when it is known that they will travel by car, and thus infringe upon the precepts of Jewish law, has traditionally been heavily discouraged.

But a new ruling issued by the rabbis of Beit Hillel states that if the invitation is for the purpose of positively impacting the Jewish identity of a non-religious person, then there is room to be lenient.

According to Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, director of Beit Hillel, many secular Israelis are today seeking spiritual input and experience in their lives, and the opportunity to expose someone to a traditional Shabbat atmosphere should be embraced in order to provide this positive experience.

“Shabbat is one of the most unifying experiences and it is a real opportunity to create a connection between religious and secular Jews,” Neuwirth said. “By inviting a non-religious friend, neighbor or work colleague for a Shabbat meal, it can help bring society together, unite families in which some members are religious while others are not, strengthen a person’s Jewish identity and draw people closer to their heritage,” the rabbi continued.

"Struggle over candidacy for chief rabbi heats up" J-Post

 2-26-13 by Jeremy Sharon-  With the terms of the two serving chief rabbis, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar rapidly drawing to a close, the competition within the national-religious community to be acknowledged as the sector’s consensus candidate is becoming increasingly fraught.
The election will be conducted by a 150-member panel in a secret ballot in June, and many in the national-religious world are eager that a rabbi from their community be appointed to at least one of the two positions, having been frozen out of the chief rabbinate during the last 10- year term.

Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein- "JW Q&A: A Unique Torah Authority Nears 80"- Jewish Week

2-26-13 Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein is the rare exception in Israeli life: a Talmudic and halachic authority and yeshiva teacher with a doctorate from Harvard who is fond of quoting Shakespeare and Milton, and a leader of religious Zionism who has been identified with the “peace camp.”
He is being honored on March 10 in New York by the American representative of Yeshivat Har Etzion, the Etzion Foundation, on the occasion of his 80th birthday and in appreciation of his more than 40 years of teaching at Har Etzion.
A student (and son-in-law of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Lichtenstein made aliyah in 1971. With the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital, he founded Yeshivat Har Etzion and pioneered the hesder yeshiva movement, which insists yeshiva students serve in the Israel Defense Forces during their advanced Talmud study. As an intellectual leader of Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism, Rabbi Lichtenstein has inspired thousands of students to be rabbis, educators and communal leaders.
He has consistently taught that the Torah obligates religious Jews to cooperate and interact with general society and to identify with the entire human family.

"How Do We Relate To Morally Difficult Texts In Jewish Tradition?" by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

2-27-13 Jewish Week- We have all become familiar with the tactics of bigots who distort our religious beliefs or make up horrible lies to advance their hatred. Fortunately, most people in our pluralistic society recognize and reject these tactics.
But how would we respond to a skeptic who points to the morally troubling verse, “When...the Lord your God delivers them to you and you defeat them, you must utterly doom them to destruction: grant them no terms and give them no quarter” (Deut. 7:1-2)?
Or consider the many admonitions in the Torah to be kind to strangers, and to remember that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. How do we reconcile this noble idea with these seemingly contradictory commands, “In the towns of the latter peoples, however, which the Lord your God gives you as a heritage, you shall not let a soul remain alive. No, you must proscribe them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deut. 20:16-17), and  “Samuel said to Saul, ‘I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel. Therefore, listen to the Lord's command! ... Now go attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and assess’” (I Samuel 15:1,3)?
There are four primary philosophical approaches in relating to difficult texts like these.

"Orthodox Black Rapper Celebrates life out of the Closet" by Ruth Abusch Magder

Rapper Yitz "Y-Love" Jordan 
5-31-12 Rabbis Without Borders- “Last Shabbos, because of me more people were talking about gay rights around the the Shabbes table, and it’s a good thing.” So explained Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan.
Jordan, whose mother is Puerto Rican  and father is Ethiopian, has been Jewish for 12 years and involved with Judaism for more than half his of his life. But only recently he decided to publically come out of the closet about being gay.
Growing up in Baltimore, Jordon did not have a strong Black identity. His diverse group of friends and his interest in punk rock – he shaved his head and sported a Mohawk for a while- set him apart from other black kids. But even as a young kid others identified him as gay and bullied him.

Yet as a teen, when he was drawn both to drag and to an observant life, he felt he had to choose between his identities. And so being gay was not officially part of the equation for many years. Ironically, as he became more observant and involved in the hassidic community, being black became more central to his sense of self. Eventually, however, hiding part of himself, meant that he felt less able to fully embrace the mitzvot that originally drew him to Judaism.
So for Jordan, coming out is a coming together of all of the elements of his self. Speaking by phone he explained, “Prioritizing identities, that’s a concept does that does not exist, I am never more one thing than another… now I am able to express myself fully.”
While there are those in the Orthodox world who have condemned him for coming out, the reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Both the hip hop and Orthodox worlds have reputations for being homophobic but Jordan’s experience since coming out publically in Out Magazine suggests that the world is changing. Last week rap impresario Russell Simmons reached out and so did some prominent Orthodox rabbis.  It makes him wish he had taken this step years ago.
Y-Love has long been a role model for Jews of color, advocating for diversity in the Jewish community.  Now he has added the LGBTQ community to the list of those he seeks to motivate and strengthen. “I’ve heard from a trans woman who says I’ve inspired her to continue studying towards conversion to Judaism and from other rappers who say they wish they had my courage to come out,” says Jordan clearly gratified that his choice to come out is inspiring others.

"No happiness in gay-lesbian shidduch" YNET

Rabbi Aviner
8-24-11 by Ari Galahar
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner refuses to back marriage between homosexuals and lesbians, says 'a child needs parents who love each other.' Gay religious groups say new initiative 'implies there is no room for homosexuals in the religious community'
A new Web initiative seeking to match religious homosexuals and lesbians has sparked a row in the religious world. Although it has gained the support of a series of dignified rabbis, not everyone is pleased with the solution suggested by Rabbi Arale Harel and the Kamoha organization for Orthodox homosexuals.

"This initiative is unfair toward the children who'll be born as a result," senior Religious Zionism Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, an avid supporter conversion therapy, told Ynet. "In order to have a healthy upbringing, a child needs parents who love each other, not parents who don't know each other.

"The idea to match homosexuals and lesbians was raised in the past and did not bear fruits of happiness – not among the couples and not among the children."

Rabbi Aviner clarifies that he is against the proposed "shidduch", adding: "This problem must be solved differently. A new method for treating homosexuals and lesbians, called 'the reparative method', has recently arrived in Israel. Thousands have been freed in the United States. It's new in Israel and I recommend this method, which solves most of the problems.

"A while ago I met a woman with two babies in her arms, and she told me that her husband got over it and they love each other, and after a while I met her again with a third child."

According to Rabbi Aviner, there were many conversion therapies in the past "which did not bring a blessing" and were therefore opposed by many, but "the new method is based on the assumption that even a person with a different orientation has the natural orientation within, and if he can be released from the other inclination stemming from identity issues caused during his childhood, the hidden natural inclination emerges.

"We know hundreds of people in Israel who have managed to get over it, and have built good homes."

"Fight for Your Quinoa! by. R. Yosef Kanefsky"

2-28-13 This one is in our hands.
Quinoa has been a breath of fresh culinary air in the non-kitniyot Pesach kitchen, and has restored dietary sanity to us Ashkenazim. But the kitniyot zealots are lurking. The OU, for example, is equivocating on quinoa’s non-kitniyot status . The battle for quinoa is underway, but if we all work together, we can win this one.

Remember when peanuts were not considered kitniyot? Probably you don’t. But when Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was asked about peanuts in 1956, most Ashkenazim were eating them on Pesach. And not only that, but Rav Moshe argued clearly and unequivocally that peanuts should remain permissible, and that they should NOT be lumped in with beans and legumes. (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3, 63) 

The only reason we don’t pack up peanut butter and jelly on matzo for our Chol HaMoed outings today, is that our forbearers buckled before the kitniyot zealots of their day. And those of us who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The kitniyot zealots of Rav Moshe’s day used arguments quite similar to those being raised by the forces conspiring to deprive us of quinoa today. The rabbi who posed the peanuts question was “astonished” that Ashkenazim were eating peanuts, for “he had heard that there is a place somewhere in which people are making flour ” out of peanuts, and further, “he had heard that peanuts are planted in fields in the same manner as other kitniyot are (i.e. they too share uncomfortable proximity to grains) ”.

"Advocacy Orgs. Applaud House Passage of LGBT-Inclusive Violence Against Women Act" Advocate Magazine

Rep. Nancy Pelosi


The House passed the LGBT-inclusive Senate version of a bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act by a bipartisan vote of 286-138.
The U.S. House of Representatives today reauthorized the LGBT-inclusive Senate version of Violence Against Women Act, despite objections from some Republicans about language protecting LGBT, Native American, and undocumented victims of domestic violence. The bill now heads to President Obama's desk, where he has promised to sign it into law.
After more than a year languishing in Congress, the bill reauthorizing VAWA passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 286-138, according to NBC News. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate in February
President Obama issued a statement this morning commending the bill's passage and promising to sign it as soon as possible. 
"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," said Obama in a statement. "Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community. The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice. I want to thank leaders from both parties — especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy  — for everything they’ve done to make this happen. Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."

Video- "Gay French Jews come out for Purim" JN1 TV/YNET

2-28-13 France's LGBT community celebrates Jewish holiday's message of survival, seeing Queen Esther as source of inspiration
VIDEO – Drinking, raucous costumes, and wild exuberance. France’s Jewish gay community this week celebrated the festival of Purim, which commemorates the survival of the Jewish people.
Salvation came only after Queen Esther revealed that she was Jewish, a revelation that some gay Jews liken to their own experience of coming out. Her courage helped save the Jews in ancient Persia from near extermination.

In the Book of Esther, the Jewish Persian queen foils the plot of Haman to kill the Jews, by revealing her identity. Esther is a source of inspiration for France's Jewish LGBT community. In the Purim story, the king’s advisor Haman uses the Jews’ difference as a motive for killing them. After he is snubbed by Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, he vows to massacre all Jews.

The story's tale of persecution rings a familiar bell for the Jewish gay community, also a minority group.
The day of deliverance is celebrated by wearing colorful costumes and drinking lots of wine, as a way of reversing the roles of bad and good. If homosexuality is no longer hidden in the Jewish community, challenges still remain for France’s gay Jews.

In a context where French gays have felt a rise in homophobia, as a result of the recent gay-marriage debate, the festival of Purim seems to have come at just the right time, proving that it is okay to be different. The story of Purim, beyond the tale of the survival of the Jewish people, is also a coming out story. Gay Jews see parallels between their own experience and the story of Esther, a Jewish woman, who wasn’t afraid to hide who she was – an important message for the LGBT community in their fight for justice.

"Shmuley Boteach: ‘Gay relationships are no worse than smoking’" The Jewish Chronicle

Shmuley Boteach 
8-9-12 by Simon Round- Shmuley Boteach has never been what you might call shy. The man, whom others have described as a shameless self-publicist, would characterise himself slightly differently, as a shameless publicist for Jewish values — if he happens to become famous himself in the process, this merely means he is doing that job properly.

It is a role he has been fulfilling thoroughly for years now. As a young rabbi in Oxford his L’Chaim Society attracted high profile speakers and earned him a Times Preacher of the Year award. More fame arrived with his friendships with Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, his Discovery Channel show, Shalom in the Home, and his best-seller, Kosher Sex. But his latest project, if successful, will put all others in the shade. Boteach is hoping to be the first Orthodox rabbi to become a United States Congressman.

He has received the Republican nomination to run against the Democrat incumbent Bill Pascrell in New Jersey. It is historically a safe seat for the Democrats but Boteach, never short of self-confidence, believes that is all about to change. On a brief visit to London, he says that his prospects of winning are realistic.

“I believe my chances are very strong. My campaign has great momentum, it has compelling ideas and it’s receiving regular national media exposure. My opponent is not getting any traction at all. He’s been in Congress 16 years now and he’s not saying anything new. A lot depends on the national situation but I don’t think Obama is going to be re-elected and that will help my race.”

But what is a rabbi doing jumping into choppy political waters in the first place? “I have been involved in the media for the past few years. If you are in broadcasting you either have to exist in the reality TV jungle or you become a talking head on a partisan political talk show where you just mouth off. I’m 45 years old now and I want to do something serious.”
By doing something serious Boteach means that he will be following the same set of values which prompted him to launch the L’Chaim Society, the talk show and Kosher Sex. He feels that America needs Jewish values. His is also a response to the evangelical Christian block which he thinks has control of the moral agenda in the US.

“For 30 years, the Christian evangelicals have said they want to protect the institution of marriage. How? By stopping gay marriage. If we stop gays from marrying, will we save the institution of marriage? I have repeatedly pointed out, only half facetiously, that the only people who want to get married in the US these days are gays. The fact is that if every gay man and woman in the US moved to Canada, you would still have a 50 per cent heterosexual divorce rate.”

This is not to say that he necessarily approves of gay marriage, but he is sympathetic to the gay community, citing the case of his own brother who is an Orthodox gay Jew.

“The Torah consists of 613 commandments. They might be transgressing two of these. I don’t know why people make it such a red line. If you are in a gay relationship that is not in accordance with what the Torah says, but in my view they are doing nothing worse than people who smoke or drive on Shabbat — in fact, smoking is probably a more severe transgression.”

"Masorti on the fence over gay marriage" The Jewish Chronicle

12-13-12 by Simon Rocker The Reform and Liberal movements have both welcomed the government’s promise to press ahead with the introduction of gay marriage.
The Chief Rabbi has made his opposition known, but he has certainly not been as vocal about it as Catholic leaders.
But the Masorti movement remains undecided. It did release a statement this week in which its senior rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg said: “Gay people have long been subject to misjudgment, humiliation and exclusion, especially in religious life. A key Conservative responsum advocates full inclusion of gay people in all areas of Jewish life and leadership.
“We believe in marriage as an ideally lifelong, loving, unique and faithful commitment made before God. We supported civil partnerships between gay people. We are in discussion on how such bonds of loving commitment can best be expressed in traditional religious ceremonies.”

"Gay marriage: shuls ready" The Jewish Chronicle

Rabbi David Mitchell and Ian Kirsh

  • 2-17-13 
  • By Ray Filar  

    "Jewish organization backs RI gay marriage bill"

    2-28-13 PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island Jewish organization has come out in support gay marriage in the state.
    The Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island on Thursday announced its endorsement of a bill pending in the General Assembly that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
    Director Marty Cooper says the group’s support is grounded in the Biblical idea that all humans were created in the image of God and are worthy of respect.
    The group joins the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, the Episcopal bishop and the Rhode Island State Council of Churches in supporting the legislation.
    The Roman Catholic church stands opposed the bill, which has passed the House but has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.end of story marker

    "Obama administration asks for broad high court ruling overturning California gay marriage ban"

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Thursday planned to urge the Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on gay marriage, wading into a case that could have broad implications for the right of same-sex couples to wed.
    While such friend-of-the-court briefs are not legally binding, the administration's filing could have some influence on the justices when they consider the constitutionality of the ban in March.
    The brief also should offer clarify President Barack Obama's evolving views on gay marriage. Obama supports same-sex unions but has said marriage should be governed by states.
    The administration intended to meet the Thursday filing deadline for all parties not directly involved in the case.
    Gay rights advocates hoped the brief would ask the court to strike down California's Proposition 8 and declare that the Constitution bars any state from banning same-sex unions.

    "Born this way? Five court cases will put focus on gay identity" Washington Times

    Sheldon Bruck- victim of
    x-gay therapy
    2-25-13- Lady Gaga may belt out that gays are “born this way,” but questions about the origin and unchangeability of homosexuality are central to at least five lawsuits, including two before the Supreme Court next month.

    A key argument in the battle over same-sex marriage is whether homosexuality is inborn and “immutable,” and whether gays, as a class of people, need special protection or “heightened scrutiny” from the courts on equal-rights issues.

    Attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson made these exact points in their new brief to the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California case challenging a proposition passed by state voters essentially blocking same-sex marriage.

    “Because of their sexual orientation — a characteristic with which they were born and which they cannot change — plaintiffs and hundreds of thousands of gay men and lesbians in California and across the country are being excluded from one of life’s most precious relationships. They may not marry the person they love,” the attorneys wrote Thursday on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, an organization that seeks to overturn the state’s Proposition 8 and legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

    "Big push to support gay marriage at high court" Seattle Times

    Prominent Republicans, retired military leaders and U.S. businesses are among the factions ready to ask the Supreme Court to support marriage equality in two cases up for argument next month.
    2-26-13 WASHINGTON — Prominent Republicans, retired military leaders and U.S. businesses are among the factions ready to ask the Supreme Court to support marriage equality in two cases up for argument next month.
    The effort is being coordinated by gay rights groups and is designed to show the justices the rapid and widespread evolution of views about same-sex marriage, now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Religious leaders, labor groups and gay people who live in states that prohibit them from marrying are also weighing in.
    The justices will hear the dispute over California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on March 26, followed a day later by a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act provision that denies legally married gay couples a range of federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples.

    " Hasidic Rebels Find Home in Brooklyn Chabad Congregation" –

    The Forward-2/26/13 Hippie Art and Vegan Cholent for Crown Heights 'Misfits
    On a freezing Friday night in Brooklyn, a group of 18 Crown Heights residents scurry through the crowds of Jews leaving synagogue and make their way to a second-story apartment on Rogers Avenue for Shabbat dinner.
    Inside, hippie art and vintage John Lennon photos share wall space with drawings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late leader of the Chabad hasidic sect, and a yellow “Moshiach” flag, the symbol of the movement’s messianic wing. A large glass table holds the evening’s spread: sauteed vegetables, kale salad, vegan cholent and a challah so perfect, attendees say, “only a gay man could have baked it.”
    After a ceremonial blessing over wine and bread, the guests get to talking. A disc jockey, graphic artist and rabbi are having a heated discussion about Chabad’s influence on Indian meditation, while a photographer is explaining to a pregnant lady why Mitzvah Tanks, Chabad’s outreach vehicles, are the most brilliant thing to happen to planet Earth since Miles Davis.
    This is not your typical Shabbat dinner in Crown Heights, the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad movement.
    While nearly all the participants were raised in hasidic homes, most have strayed from strict religious practice. Yet rather than flee the neighborhood, they have chosen to remain in the heart of the Chabad community.
    “The way I grew up, you had to either be 100 percent committed to religion or you’re out. There was no picking and choosing,” said Shmuley Toron, the 25-year-old gay man from Cincinnati responsible for the perfect challah. “But there are parts of the religion that I love, which is why we’re still here in Crown Heights. And I know I can be as religious as I want to be without having to leave completely.”
    Toron and his friends are part of a community of Chabad misfits who, while not fully embraced by the Crown Heights mainstream, are beginning to find a place for themselves in an outwardly conformist community. His apartment has gained a reputation as the place people go to party, relax or escape the neighborhood’s rigid social norms – a situation that is virtually unthinkable in other hasidic communities, which are more likely to shun members that don’t fully abide by communal standards.
    “The acceptance fringe members see in Crown Heights is really rare to that community, and it wouldn’t happen anywhere else,” said Hella Winston, a sociologist and author of the 2006 book “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels.” “Crown Heights is a type of place that is much more tolerant that most insular, hasidic communities. And their attitude is that they will mostly meet you where you are.”
    One of 13 siblings raised in a Chabad family, Toron kept his sexuality a secret through years of religious camps and schooling, including a stint in a rabbinical seminary. He finally came out to his family four years ago, and still maintains some religious practices – keeping a full beard, covering his head and learning Tanya – though he doesn’t associate with communal institutions.
    He does attend a new synagogue, however: Chevra Ahavas Yisroel, or CAY, led by Rabbi Chezzie Denebeim, a 27-year-old Californian, and his wife, Sima, who pride themselves on creating an environment open to everyone.

    "The Many Hats of Orthodox Judaism" by Simi Lichtman

    2/10/13 Huff Post- Whenever we used to watch a movie, my sister and I would play a game: "Spot the Jewish Reference" would have been the game's title, had we given it one. In just about every movie, there was at least one Jewish character who loved matzah ball soup, or at least one Hasid walking in a busy street. But looking back on all these brief references -- or not so brief, if the movie involved Adam Sandler -- I realized there really is no medium to those extremes.

    Jews, as portrayed by Hollywood, are either purely cultural, putting a symbolic Star of David up on their Christmas trees, or exceptionally religious, to the extent that their English is tinged with a shtetl-like Yiddish accent. Never once is there a young woman wearing pants and praying on her iPhone, as I do every morning on my way to work. The Modern Orthodox Jew is not a universal icon the way a Hasid is. In fact, Modern Orthodoxy is a concept that doesn't seem to exist at all.

    "A More Welcoming Shul Program that teaches rabbis the how and why of inclusion poised to grow"

    02/13/13 by Helen Chernikoff- Many congregants are a bit intimidated by their rabbis — not Shelley Cohen, not when it came to fighting for her son Nate, who suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal genetic disease.
    When Nate, who died in 2007 at age 21, approached bar mitzvah age, Cohen asked her rabbi at the Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue to make the bima wheelchair-accessible.
    “He said, ‘Look how much it will cost, I just don’t think we can do this,’” Cohen remembered, leaning forward gently but firmly to demonstrate just how she leaned on the rabbi. “I said, ‘I think you can.’” “He said, ‘But, it will be so difficult, it’s so expensive.’ And I just said, ‘I think you can. I think you can.’ And he did.”
    She won that battle, but decades of losing ones inspired Cohen soon after Nate’s death to create the Jewish Inclusion Project, which trains rabbis on why and how to create synagogues, schools and summer camps that make people with disabilities and their families feel welcome. Now the program, presented for the first time in 2008 atYeshivat Chovevei Torah, the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in the Bronx, is poised to grow.
    At the end of January, Cohen brought her project back to YCT. For four days, all day, YCT’s rabbinical students and their colleagues at Yeshivat Maharat, the school that trains Orthodox women to serve as congregations’ spiritual and halachic leaders, attended Cohen’s training: working in pairs, alternately bowing their heads over their texts and raising them to confer with each other or take a sip from a cup of tea, likely lukewarm.

    "LGBT center focuses on allies" - The Daily Targum: Rutgers University

    "Nina Duong, a member of Rutgers Student Life, said while Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer people face oppression daily, the University is taking steps to make them feel more at home." 
    LGBT center focuses on allies - The Daily Targum: University: Nina Duong, a member of Rutgers Student Life, said while Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer people face oppression daily, the Unive…

    "Modern Orthodox Students Meet to ‘Slam’ in Poetry Combat" Jewish Press

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

    "Has Jewish Infighting Finally Hit Bottom?" by Gary Rosenblatt

    Has Jewish Infighting Finally Hit Bottom? | The Jewish Week
    "With the national election results bringing a renewed sense of hope among many Israelis pleased to see fresh faces in the Knesset, and the growing realization here that an aging and shrinking Jewish community in this country cannot afford to be its own worst enemy, maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning from tearing each other down to hearing each other out."
    Click the link at the top to read the full article in the Jewish Week.

    "A Personal Thank You to Rabbi David Hartman and Dr. Menachem Elon: Giants of the Jewish World" -By Rabbi Avi Weiss

    I am deeply, deeply saddened to hear of the death of my friend, Rabbi Dr. David Hartman. This comes on the heels of the loss of the great Jewish legal scholar, Dr. Menachem Elon. While Dr.Elon and Rabbi Hartman made different contributions to Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, for me, as part of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat families, they had a common point – their unconditional support for our vision, our programs and our institutions.

    Modern Orthodox rabbinic training had for years been in the sole domain of one institution. When Chovevei started, indeed, several years before it started, there was a harsh reactionary pushback. YCT was not always YCT. It actually began as the Meorot Fellowship, a once a week study group on issues confronting Modern Orthodoxy. Once the Jewish world heard about Meorot, it didn’t take long for it to be declared off limits by some rabbis. There were several rabbis and even some students who told me they agreed with the philosophy and would like to be involved, but could not because of this ruling.

    And then I was in touch with Dr. Menachem Elon. I came to know Dr. Elon after he dealt with the Women at the Wall issue as an Israeli Supreme Court Justice. He was, after all, a master of mishpat ivri, and hence most suitable to write that decision. In the course of that ruling he contrasted the arguments for women’s prayer groups with the psak of several Roshei Yeshiva who prohibited such services. In the end, Dr. Elon’s decision was extremely favorable to women’s prayer groups. He was a man who was not afraid to speak truth to power.

    I, therefore, in those early years, turned to Dr. Elon for advice. His reaction was quick and clear, “if I could be of any help, please let me know.” And he was as he began his annual teaching for the Meorot Fellowship program. He was one of the highlights of the year, giving us the credibility we sorely needed.

    In time, I came to know some of Dr. Elon’s children. What struck me is how they had taken different paths in life, and yet, remained close. That does not happen in a vacuum. It comes, I believe, from parental influence. Dr. Elon embodied a tone reflective of the basic philosophy at Chovevei, that Am Yisrael, despite its differences, must learn to love each other like family. And the test of family is not how we love when agreeing, but when disagreeing.

    "Reflections on Rabbi David Hartman z”l" – by Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

    The first time I heard Rabbi David Hartman speak was in the summer following my “shannah aleph” year in Israel between high school and college. After spending a year in the yeshiva one of my teachers invited me to accompany him to a panel discussion taking place one evening at theMachon – the Shalom Hartman Institute – in Jerusalem’s German Colony. I barely remember what was said that evening by any of the panelists – including Rabbi Hartman. But I do remember the thrill of encountering a vibrant Jewish intellectual conversation that was taking place outside the walls of my Orthodox beit-midrash.  Hearing about his death this week, at the age of 81 (an age that does not seem old when considering a scholar with so many insights left unsaid), has caused me to reflect on his legacy within my own life and work.There are two ideas that have become central to my own worldview and teaching that I learned from Rabbi Hartman.  Additionally, his place within (and outside of) contemporary Orthodoxy has an additional message for the future.

    "Comfort" by Ely Winkler (Another Gay Jew Blog)

    02/21/13 I stand by a few rules in life; one of them being, "no should ever be forced to do something or forced to be in a situation they are uncomfortable with." The key word in this thought is the word "DO".

    Too many people hide behind "discomfort". One might say, "I don't like gay people, they make me uncomfortable. I don't like people who are of a different race, they make me uncomfortable." Well, here's the thing, if you don't like these people, then don't BE them. No one's asking you to be gay or to be a different race. But simply denouncing someone's rights to exist, their rights to equality, and their rights to BE, is not because you're uncomfortable, but more likely comes from a place of ignorance. 

    I was very uncomfortable, for many years, with being gay. And that was my right to be uncomfortable with- it wasn't something I had grown up hearing about, believing in, understanding, or something I was okay with. So I was uncomfortable that it was a part of me. Over time, I worked and strove to find comfort with who I am, and still work to this day to test my limits and learn my comforts and discomforts as part of being gay. But most importantly, not understanding something for whatever reason- because it's new to you, because it goes against your religion, or just because you don't know enough- shouldn't make you "uncomfortable", and doesn't give you a right to hate. It gives reason to avoid someone or something that makes you uncomfortable- a gay bar, perhaps- but not a right to be hurtful.

    There is a fine line between discomfort and ignorance. Often times, I find myself "uncomfortable" with something, simply because I was/am ignorant to it. I don't know about this other culture, other lifestyle, other way of behaving, and my initial reaction is "it makes me uncomfortable". But more recently I learn to express my discomfort by asking questions, striving to grow and to learn instead of running away in discomfort. I seek to become less ignorant, and therefore more "comfortable".

    If you don't like gay people, don't be gay. If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married. But don't go around claiming "discomfort" as a rationalization for your ignorance and hate. Acknowledge your flaw, and if you so choose, strive to grow to a place of tolerance and comfort.

    "Gay" by Ely Winkler (Another Gay Jew blog)

    A few weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from a friend. Well, a Facebook friend, an acquaintance; someone I knew in college, was never particularly close with, but I always had a great friendly relationship with him. 
    In one of our psych classes, I repeatedly called you gay in a derogatory fashion. I honestly don't remember what prompted it, but I kept annoyingly saying it to you for an entire class period. I know it seriously upset you, and in hindsight, it was probably one of the most insensitive things I could have done.
    I sincerely appreciate his sensitivity and thoughtfulness, and really appreciate the message. I appreciate seeing his growth as a person, particularly to this plight, and his apology. But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember the incident in question, and, I don’t remember having any negative feelings towards this person at all. That doesn't mean he didn’t say those things to me or call me names, but instead, I think, because it simply didn’t matter to me.

    When people have asked me to tell my story or, once or twice, to speak publicly, it hasn't been easy for me. I don’t have these “backpocket stories” of being called names or treated inappropriately. Only a few times in my life did I truly feel I was a victim of “bullying”, but in no way can I recount those memories clearly. By moving past these challenges and incidents, by making peace and keeping on my own path, I gave myself the power to overcome the difficulties and ignore any negativity that so many others seem to struggle with, like being called gay in a derogatory fashion. I have no list to avenge, no book of stories to describe the pain and suffering or any hurt that I’ve been caused by others.

    It’s too easy, especially in a marginalized community such as the LGBT community, to victimize ones self. I find it a waste of time and horrifyingly self-absorbed (says the man writing a blog about himself) to run around pointing fingers at everyone who may have caused you pain. I find all too often, people will victimize themselves to get what they want, or to further an “agenda” (for lack of a better term).
    The way I see it, the way to get somewhere in life is not by playing the victim, but instead by showing strength and growth in the face of adversity. 

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Very Powerful Video- "To This Day Project" - Shane Koyczan

    Monday, February 11, 2013

    Video: "Brendon Ayanbadejo talks NFL gay rights" CNN 2/5/13

    "Ed Koch and the Politics of the Closet"- The New Yorker

    2-2-13 The New Yorker: Ed Koch, whose brashness and authenticity about almost anything and everything came to define New York City in the seventies and eighties, would for the most part tell people who asked about his sexual orientation that it was none of their business, although it was clear that he was trying to give the impression that he was heterosexual—at least for most of his life. One of the many remarkable things about the Ed Koch story is that this highly successful public figure known for his transparency of opinion—that is what made him Ed Koch—felt the need to be so opaque on this one subject. And that spoke volumes.

    There are now hundreds of openly gay elected officials in the United States and over a thousand around the world. This past November, voters elected a record number of openly gay or bisexual members of Congress (six) and the very first member of the U.S. Senate, Tammy Baldwin. But when Ed Koch first ran for public office, for Congress in 1968, there were none.

    "LGBT Muslims Are Failed By Their Community Leaders" by F. Yusef

    2-9-13 Huffington Post: My last blog spoke of the need to better support LGBT Muslims as they seek to reconcile their sexuality with their faith; that Muslim communities needed to stop sweeping this matter under the carpet and acknowledge that LGBT Muslims do exist. The common Islamic viewpoint on sexual feelings is that, yes, they happen, but that it is not a sin until one unlawfully acts on those feelings. I have met conservative-minded Muslims who seem to believe that LGBT Muslims are an exception to this rule, that the very having of sexual feelings makes one a sinner. But according to these same conservative-minded Muslims, if you're a heterosexual Muslim, having sexual feelings is fine as long as they are controlled and not acted upon.

    NOMINATE a rabbi who has inspired you by 2-28-13

    To nominate a rabbi who has inspired you, please fill out this form by February 28. Submissions must be 200 words or less, and the rabbi you nominate must do his or her work in North America or on behalf of the military. 

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013

    " Why Orthodox Jews Should Not Oppose Legalizing Same Sex Marriage" by Rabbi Joshua Yuter

    February 6th, 2013- About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Yuter was ordained in 2003 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He also holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Yeshiva University, an M.A. in Talmudic Studies from Yeshiva University, and a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Rabbi Yuter is also an alum of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is currently the rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul on New York’s historic Lower East Side.
    When institutions like kosher slaughtering and circumcision being challenged in court, we should be careful not to impose our own religious beliefs on others. 
    On May 23 2011 several prominent Orthodox Jewish organizations issued a joint statement declaring their opposition to legalizing same sex-marriage. The brief statement is as follows:
    On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear:
    We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family.
    The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, we believe the institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children. It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society.
    Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.
    The integrity of marriage in its traditional form must be preserved.  This statement was issued not only by Orthodox institutions considered “right-of center” such as Agudath Israel of America or National Council of Young Israel, but also by more moderate Orthodox organizations such as theOrthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).1Unlike most religious proclamations which are directed towards specific religious communities, this joint statement advocates a political position – though based on religious principles – to the secular world beyond the normal scope of religious influence. To be sure, this joint statement is hardly the first time rabbinic organizations have issued political statements. Across all major denominations, the Orthodox RCAConservative Rabbinical Assembly, and Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis have all passed resolutions advocating public polices exemplifying their respective religious beliefs, with few (if any) complaining about the separation of church and state.

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