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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘North America’

Quick Takes: News You May Have Missed

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

New Ground Zero Imam: Jail Apostates
 
   Those who leave Islam and preach against the Muslim religion must be jailed, declared the imam who has become the new face of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City.
 
   “If someone leaves the din, leaves the path privately, they cannot be touched. If someone preaches about apostasy, or preaches their views, they’re jailed,” stated Imam Abdallah Adhami in a November lecture obtained and reviewed by this column.
 
   Adhami was discussing the Koranic view of apostasy, or Muslims who decide to leave the Islamic religion.
 
   According to Shariah, or Islamic law, the consensus view in Sunni Islam is that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted against his will.
 
   There are, however, differing views on the subject, with some contemporary Islamic scholars differentiating between public and private apostasy and arguing for actions ranging from death to nothing.
 
   Adhami, speaking to a non-Muslim audience, claimed Islamic law only calls for punishment for public apostates and that most Islamic scholars demand only that public apostates be jailed as opposed to killed.
 
   He said, “In Islam, in the Koran, theoretically, if you look over the Koran from cover to cover, you literally have the right to the choice to reject God’s message. The only thing you do not have the right to do is to spread this conviction, lest you, quote unquote, pollute others.”
 
   In a separate lecture obtained and reviewed by this column, Adhami declared Muslims have “more of a right” than Jews to the biblical prophet Moses.
 
   It was announced last week that Adhami, 44, will take on the role of senior adviser for the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque to be built near Ground Zero in New York City, the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
 
   The previous face of the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Faisel Abdel Rauf, has said he will focus on a public speaking endeavor that started last weekend in Detroit and is slated to continue in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities.
 

   Rauf kicked off his nationwide speaking tour by addressing the banquet of a group that was designated as an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme to raise money for Hamas. Rauf’s appearance in Detroit, the city with North America’s largest Muslim population, was a keynote address to the so-called “Diversity Forum Banquet” of the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA.

 

Organization Targeting Beck

Teeming With Radicals
 
   The George Soros-funded organization attacking Fox News host Glenn Beck is led by a who’s who of the radical left. Jewish Funds for Justice, or JFJ, has been leading a crusade demanding Beck be fired in response a program in which Beck specifically targeted Soros, calling the businessman the “puppet master.”
 

   JFJ is led by individuals associated with communist and socialist groups; the children of Soviet spies; and a U.S. socialist organization that seeks to infiltrate the Democratic Party.

   As this columnist reported this weekat WorldNetDaily, JFJ is funded by Soros’s Open Society Institute.
 
   Now more information has emerged on the JFJ’s leadership. JFJ was founded by Si Khan, who serves on the board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which seeks to aid the children of parents the group deems “targeted, progressive activists.”
 
   The group was founded by Robert Meeropol, whose parents Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of passing crucial nuclear secrets to the Soviets and executed in 1953.
 
   JFJ board member Amy Dean meanwhile has keynoted a Communist Party event and was involved with a U.S. socialist party.
 
   JFJ board member Janice Fine was a leader of the socialist New Party and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, another socialist group.
 
   JFJ board member Donna Katzin is a former activist with the Cuba Resource Center. She is a donor to the Oakland, Calif.-based DataCenter, which itself has close ties to Cuba.
 

   JFJ’s president and CEO, Simon Greer, previously worked as a labor and community organizer and social change leader for 15 years. Greer recently wrote that he has had the “privilege of getting to know George Soros.

 

Is Iran Scared Of ‘Iranium’?
 
   The Iranian government is afraid of a new documentary investigating Iran’s nuclear program and is attempting to stifle free speech, the film’s director charged.
 
   A screening of “Iranium” was canceled last week amid threats to the event and a report of protest from the Iranian embassy. Following uproar from conservative members of the Canadian government over the cancellation, the screening of the film was rescheduled for February 8.
 
   ” ‘Iranium’ is quickly turning into the film Iran’s leaders don’t want you to see,” Alex Traiman, the film’s director, told this column.
 
   “That Iranian leaders would try to stifle free speech in North America perfectly displays the distinct difference in values instilled in Iran versus the West,” said Traiman.
 
   “Attempting to cancel the screening shows that the Iranian regime is afraid of the film’s content and the repercussions they may face from Americans and Canadians following its release. It also goes to show how fragile the current leadership structure in Iran actually is,” Traiman added.
 
   “Iranium” is narrated by Iranian actress and Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo.
 
   The film purports to document the development of Iran’s suspected nuclear program, beginning with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the ideology installed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. It accuses the Iranian leadership of using terror as a policy tool.
 

   The film also details the Iranian crackdown on protestors following last year’s presidential elections and outlines possible scenarios the greater Middle East and the Western world may face should Iran cross the nuclear threshold.

 

   Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief and senior reporter for Internet giant WorldNetDaily.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York’s 770-WABC Radio, the largest talk radio station in the U.S., every Sunday between 2-4 p.m.

Aaron Klein

Opposition Mounting To Proposed Israeli Conversion Bill

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.

Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.

The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.

Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.

Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.

Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert – including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance.

But in giving the Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the Diaspora warn.

Rotem says the bill should not concern Diaspora Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jews in the Diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”

Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.

“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.

In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”

The RCA called on Diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, albeit incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”

The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel.

Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halachah,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.

The executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, in an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community, wrote: “The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system.”

The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.

“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.

“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.

The letter’s text has not been made public.

Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.

“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

(JTA)

 

See related article titled “Religious Zionist Rabbi: Conversion Bill A ‘Haredi Ploy'” by Steve K. Walz.

Sarah Freishtat

Opposition Mounting To Proposed Israeli Conversion Bill

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010


WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.


Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.


The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.


Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.


In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.


Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.


Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.


Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert – including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance.


But in giving the Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the Diaspora warn.


Rotem says the bill should not concern Diaspora Jews.


“It has nothing to do with Jews in the Diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”


Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.


“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.


In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”


The RCA called on Diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, albeit incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”


The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel.


Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halachah,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.


The executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, in an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community, wrote: “The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system.”


The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.


“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.


In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.


“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.


The letter’s text has not been made public.


Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.


“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

(JTA)

 

See related article titled “Religious Zionist Rabbi: Conversion Bill A ‘Haredi Ploy'” by Steve K. Walz.

Sarah Freishtat

Why Winter Weather Is Good For You

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Many of us in North America, even in areas that are usually relatively toasty during the winter months – like Maryland and Washington, DC – are impatiently counting the days until spring and the promise of warmth and sunny days. Even rain is looking good these days.

After seemingly non-stop snow storms, back -breaking snow shoveling, slippery “ice-walking” and school closings – meaning bored children tearing the house apart, people want winter to be behind them. This despite the fact that winter’s end automatically means Pesach is imminent – and we all know what preparing for this holiday of freedom entails.

However, at this point there are a lot of fed-up, winter-weary adults who hands down (literally) prefer scraping kitchen counters than scraping icy windshields.

I however see many wonderful benefits to cold winter weather – it’s just a matter of opening your eyes even though your vision might be obscured by your ski mask. Below are a bar mitzvah number of reasons why winter weather is a bracha.

1: Good for the skin: Cold temperatures will keep you looking younger longer. After all, everyone knows that meat stays fresher looking in a refrigerator – but look what happens when meat is left out at room temperature (68-72 F).

2: Physical fitness via aerobics: All that jumping and hopping you do to get the circulation back in your frozen toes and fingers will burn calories and speed up your metabolism.

3) Physical fitness via weight lifting: Hours of bending down and lifting shovels full of snow over your shoulders as you clear and then re-clear your driveway and sidewalk, will build up your biceps and triceps and a whole bunch of muscles you never knew you had.

4) Enhanced privacy: You don’t have to worry about unwanted guests dropping in on you all hours of the day and night – not when there is 30 inches of snow on the sidewalk and road. Remember, sleet and snow falling through the day keeps the in-laws away!

5) Lower car expenses: Since you will not be going anywhere for a few days – or until whenever the blizzard lets up, you can save a substantial sum of money on gasoline and wear and tear on your car – unless of course you left it parked on the street/driveway.

6) Peace of mind: You don’t have to worry about getting sunburned or heat stroke if you spend too much time outside (while waiting for the bus that was due 40 minutes earlier).

7) More peace of mind: Bundled up in layers of clothing and sweaters, no one will notice the 10 pounds you recently gained while indulging in latkes and donuts on Chanukah – and snacking on that pile of shalach manos you need to get rid of before Pesach.

8) Power failure will not ruin your food: If the electricity goes off, there is no need to worry about food spoiling. Just take your perishables outside. And if you’re in the mood for an iced tea, or your soda is too warm, you can just reach out of your window and break off an icicle or two.

9) Mitzvah opportunity: Those who are in very good shape can roam around the neighborhood, helping friends and strangers alike to push their cars out of the snow banks they are stuck in.

10) No line-ups in restaurants: Because so many people are housebound, those who are adventurous have their choice of tables and quick service if they go out to eat.

11) Enhanced family togetherness: Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers and children will get re-acquainted as they spend quality – and quantity time together – since nobody will be going out until the snow drifts blocking the doors melt away.

12) Personal safety: If you feel like taking a late night stroll or need to pick something up from the grocery store, you can walk out with confidence knowing that no self-respecting mugger would be caught outdoors in this freezing weather.

13) Heat appreciation: On muggy, hot, summer days, as you feel like you are melting under the broiling sun, you can remind yourself of those frigid, chilly winter days you so recently endured and embrace the heat beating on your head.

As you can see, every cloud – even snow clouds – have a silver lining. You just have to not let the snowflakes get into your eyes!

Cheryl Kupfer

Intense Debate Follows Orthodox Rabbi’s Presence At D.C. Service

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

A prominent Manhattan rabbi is defending his decision to participate in last week’s National Prayer Service.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City was one of three Jewish clergymen to participate in the service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

As the service was taking place, in response to a call from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Basil Herring, said Lookstein was breaking the organization’s rules by participating in the service.

Herring said Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.

“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate,” Herring said. “If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic. There is no political perspective here that says you should not do it because it is politically sensitive. Of course it is a purely religious question.”

In an interview with JTA just hours after the service concluded and in a mass e-mail to his colleagues later in the week, Lookstein defended his decision.

“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to [Jewish law], I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said.

“But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”

The controversy has triggered a robust debate among Modern Orthodox rabbis, both regarding the substantive question at hand – whether Lookstein’s decision to participate was permitted under Jewish law – and the process question of whether the RCA overstepped its bounds or mishandled the situation by criticizing Lookstein publicly.

The founders of an alternative Orthodox rabbinic group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have come to Lookstein’s defense.

In a statement, Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel defended Lookstein’s right to decide for himself whether to participate and took aim at what they framed as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Orthodox rabbinic bodies, including the RCA.

The RCA’s Herring, in addition to commenting on the situation, sent JTA a statement drafted by the organization.

“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” the RCA statement said. “Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”

Even some RCA members who agreed with the RCA’s view that Lookstein had made a mistake believed the organization should have remained silent or limited its comments to the public statement.

This week, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, denied his organization had ever taken a public stance on the matter.

“We did not issue any press release,” Hochberg said. “We gave you our policy statement about a longstanding RCA policy. There is no comment about Rabbi Lookstein. He acted independently and not on our behalf. It wasn’t going to be sent to anyone. If no one called, it would not have gone out. It was not going to be sent out to anyone.”

Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.

The other four religious representatives to read part of the prayer were Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship in New York City; the Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; and Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.

Earlier in the program Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington, recited Psalm 121.

According to another source, the Obama team was looking specifically for the participation of an Orthodox rabbi.

One person in attendance said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time candidate for vice president and an Orthodox Jew, told Obama that it was incredibly important and a very positive thing that the Orthodox community was represented.

The RCA’s Herring was adamant that the group was not taking a political stance, noting that the organization sent a letter to President Obama congratulating him and expressing confidence that “with the help of God, you will build on the respect and good will that you have earned to lead a united country in a successful confrontation with the daunting challenges that we face both within and without.”

Lookstein said he had two conversations with Herring about his participation. In the first, Herring tried to dissuade Lookstein from participating. In the second, he did not.

“Had I pulled out it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community, which was at least the way I felt,” Lookstein said.

He also said he heavily weighed the halachic implications of his move, and though he would not ordinarily participate in an interfaith prayer service, especially one in a church, in this case he felt “there were other concerns.”

“If I reached a decision to do it, since I am very careful about shmirat mitzvot, you should conclude that I felt halachically this was the right thing to do,” Lookstein said.

Lookstein met Obama after the reading and recited to the new president the blessing Jews say when they come into the presence of a king – only after Obama gave him permission.

“I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, ‘If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again,’ ” Lookstein said. “He responded with a clear assent.”

In Lookstein’s e-mail to his colleagues, he concluded, “Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.”

(JTA)

Jacob Berkman

Intense Debate Follows Orthodox Rabbi’s Presence At D.C. Service

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


A prominent Manhattan rabbi is defending his decision to participate in last week’s National Prayer Service.


Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City was one of three Jewish clergymen to participate in the service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.


As the service was taking place, in response to a call from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Basil Herring, said Lookstein was breaking the organization’s rules by participating in the service.


Herring said Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.


“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate,” Herring said. “If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic. There is no political perspective here that says you should not do it because it is politically sensitive. Of course it is a purely religious question.”


In an interview with JTA just hours after the service concluded and in a mass e-mail to his colleagues later in the week, Lookstein defended his decision.


“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to [Jewish law], I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said.


“But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”


The controversy has triggered a robust debate among Modern Orthodox rabbis, both regarding the substantive question at hand – whether Lookstein’s decision to participate was permitted under Jewish law – and the process question of whether the RCA overstepped its bounds or mishandled the situation by criticizing Lookstein publicly.


The founders of an alternative Orthodox rabbinic group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have come to Lookstein’s defense.


In a statement, Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel defended Lookstein’s right to decide for himself whether to participate and took aim at what they framed as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Orthodox rabbinic bodies, including the RCA.


The RCA’s Herring, in addition to commenting on the situation, sent JTA a statement drafted by the organization.


“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” the RCA statement said. “Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”


Even some RCA members who agreed with the RCA’s view that Lookstein had made a mistake believed the organization should have remained silent or limited its comments to the public statement.


This week, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, denied his organization had ever taken a public stance on the matter.


“We did not issue any press release,” Hochberg said. “We gave you our policy statement about a longstanding RCA policy. There is no comment about Rabbi Lookstein. He acted independently and not on our behalf. It wasn’t going to be sent to anyone. If no one called, it would not have gone out. It was not going to be sent out to anyone.”


Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.


The other four religious representatives to read part of the prayer were Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship in New York City; the Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; and Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.


Earlier in the program Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington, recited Psalm 121.


According to another source, the Obama team was looking specifically for the participation of an Orthodox rabbi.


One person in attendance said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time candidate for vice president and an Orthodox Jew, told Obama that it was incredibly important and a very positive thing that the Orthodox community was represented.


The RCA’s Herring was adamant that the group was not taking a political stance, noting that the organization sent a letter to President Obama congratulating him and expressing confidence that “with the help of God, you will build on the respect and good will that you have earned to lead a united country in a successful confrontation with the daunting challenges that we face both within and without.”


Lookstein said he had two conversations with Herring about his participation. In the first, Herring tried to dissuade Lookstein from participating. In the second, he did not.


“Had I pulled out it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community, which was at least the way I felt,” Lookstein said.


He also said he heavily weighed the halachic implications of his move, and though he would not ordinarily participate in an interfaith prayer service, especially one in a church, in this case he felt “there were other concerns.”


“If I reached a decision to do it, since I am very careful about shmirat mitzvot, you should conclude that I felt halachically this was the right thing to do,” Lookstein said.


Lookstein met Obama after the reading and recited to the new president the blessing Jews say when they come into the presence of a king – only after Obama gave him permission.


“I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, ‘If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again,’ ” Lookstein said. “He responded with a clear assent.”


In Lookstein’s e-mail to his colleagues, he concluded, “Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.”


(JTA)

Jacob Berkman

The Benefits Of High Gas Prices

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

         People have been bitterly complaining about the rising price of gas. They feel their lifestyle is being threatened by the high cost of fuel. People interviewed by the media at the gas pumps are not shy in expressing their resentment and disgust, and how gassing up has hit them hard financially. Many admit that they are reconsidering their long-distance vacations, and complain that monies normally set aside for entertainment and recreational purposes will have to be diverted in order to pay for the ability to get to work.

 

         But every negative situation has a silver lining; one just needs to look for it.

 

         First, expensive gas will result in more people walking. Instead of getting into the car to drive half a mile to buy milk, bread or soda, people might be more motivated to save money and actually walk the 10-15 minutes to the grocery store. After doing that a few times, they might discover the enjoyment of feeling more energetic and happier. (Exercise releases the “feel good” hormones called endorphins.)

 

          I truly believe that if it weren’t for Shabbos, many heimishe people would never move their legs back and forth for any appreciable distance or time. At least Shabbos forces them to get reacquainted with the sidewalk.

 

          Here’s a true story: A friend of mine, bemoaning her expanding girth, pointed out (after I mentioned that in addition to dieting, exercise would help her lose weight) that she does exercise, as she often gets up from her chair and walks across the office to the filing cabinet or fax machine, etc. Since she drives to and from work, and rarely walks anywhere, she truly thought that she was actually “exercising.”

 

        Unaffordable gas might just save her life one day.

 

         Talking about saving lives, fewer vehicles on the road (because people are walking more often) means fewer distracted, inept or careless drivers causing tragic loss of limb and life. Imagine being able to cross the street at a busy intersection with a green light (and not feel that you should bench goimel) because you safely made it to the other side without being hit by a right-turning or left-turning car. Big-city dwellers and those living in Brooklyn will understand what I’m talking about.

 

         Imagine, as well, being able to breathe relatively fresh air as you walk to your destination – because there are fewer cars spewing their toxic exhaust at you.

 

         Another benefit is that people who share a sidewalk (as opposed to being separated by several tons of steel) have a much better opportunity to meet one another. Repeatedly seeing familiar faces can actually lead to the exchange of greetings, which might lead to a friendship – and who knows, maybe the lady one street over who you’ve become acquainted with has a nephew who would be perfect for your daughter!

 

         Speaking about shidduchim, the high cost of fuel might encourage in-town dating for out-of-towners (re: those living outside New York). Young people in sizeable heimishe communities may actually take a closer look at the local eligibles being redd to them – and actually go out!

 

         When I was in the parshah back in Toronto, it had become very fashionable for the boys to run to New York for shidduchim. We referred to them as “imports,” misguidedly believing the popular but misleading adage that, “The grass is greener on the other side.” Consequently the girls had to do likewise, in what was an expensive and exhausting necessity that, except for a fortunate few, is the norm in communities across North America.

 

         With soaring gas prices increasing the cost of flying and driving, young people may seriously look in their own backyard for their ezer kinegdo – resulting in many very happy and relieved grandparents who will be able to share their precious einiklach over Yom Tov.

 

         For example, my brother was smart/lucky enough to marry a wonderful girl who lived just doors away. His little ones would toddle back and forth from one bubby’s houseto the other, as we watched them from our front yard. They were fortunate to be loved and cherished, and to share magic moments on an almost daily basis with both sets of grandparents.

 

         No debating over which set of in-laws to spend the holiday with, no shlepping for hours by car with cranky preschoolers and bored 10-year-olds.

 

         While not everyone’s bashert is conveniently in town, at least there might be more motivation to try the home front first.

 

         So next time you’re at the pumps, don’t despair. Better health, cleaner air, more friends and even a shidduch might get you speeding on the road to a better life.

Cheryl Kupfer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/the-benefits-of-high-gas-prices/2008/05/14/

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