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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Union’

Israel Hotels Attracting Tourists with OU Kosher Certification

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Israeli restaurants and hotels are more interested n seeking kosher certification from the American-based Orthodox Union (OU) in order to attract foreign tourists, according to the Kosher Today newsletter.

It said that many American Jewish tourists generally are more familiar with the OU than Israeli rabbinic certifications.

The OU operates in Israel in an office near downtown Jerusalem and has several kosher supervisors.

Not all restaurants are willing to accept OU supervision. Kosher Today noted that the La Cuisine restaurant decided to forfeit its OU certification for Passover rather than agree to its requirements for proper cleaning of the facility before the holiday.

Dept. of Education Outreach Plan May Include Orthodox Groups

Monday, March 18th, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education outlined new efforts to bring non-profit schools into federally funded programs, an initiative that had been sought by Orthodox Jewish groups, among others.

State and local educational agencies “must ensure the equitable participation of eligible private school students and, as applicable, their teachers and parents” in such programs, the department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement said in its proposed plan for such inclusion, posted on the department’s website on March 14.

Such schools, including religious schools, must also be included in programs falling under disabilities education law, it said.

The Orthodox Union welcomed the initiative.

“Today’s announcement by the Department of Education is an important and pragmatic first step in improving the delivery of federally funded educational services to the nonpublic schools students who are entitled to receive them,” it said in a statement. “We appreciate the collaborative relationship we have had with White House and Department officials on this project, and we look forward to working with them to ensure its successful implementation.”

Orthodox Seeking Federal Funds for Sandy-Struck Synagogues UPDATED

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Wednesday is the day you can help the synagogues and other houses of worship that helped you and others who suffered from Hurricane Sandy.

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New York City and the surrounding communities last fall, many synagogues and other houses of worship became distribution centers for material goods and spiritual relief to those affected.  Many of those buildings sustaining enormous damage from the storm.  But because those types of non-profits are not specifically mentioned in the authorizing legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been unwilling to provide them with available relief funds.

The Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs and the National Council of Young Israel are asking constituents to call their federal legislative representatives and tell them to vote in favor of legislation that will solve the problem: HR 592, the “Federal Disaster Assistance NonProfit Fairness Act of 2013.”

HR 592 is bi-partisan legislation introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, a New York Democrat (NY-06), and Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican (NJ- 04).  It will correct a defect in the current FEMA legislation by making clear that houses of worship are to be included amongst the nonprofit recipients of federal disaster relief aid.

The language that the bill will add to the current law that provides disaster relief and emergency funding defines houses of worship as

A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility

The ever-present fear that any time government and religion come near each other the mighty “separation of Church and State” that Americans hold dear might be threatened is often enough to overcome common sense.  But the Constitution does not prohibit any relationship between the two, what it prohibits is for the government to promote and support one particular religion, according to the bill’s proponents.

Because HR 592 will provide funding for any house of worship that is affected by natural disasters, the fear of unconstitutionality recedes. In order to ensure there is no misunderstanding, the religious organizations hope that the legislation is passed.  If it is, millions of dollars of the relief fund will become available to the more than 2oo synagogues and other houses of worship that were damaged in the storm.

A vote on this bill will take place on Wednesday, February 13.  The OU and NCYI ask that all citizens call their legislators and ask them to vote yes on HR 592.  For those who don’t know how to contact their representatives, or even who is their representative, there are websites which provide the information.

In addition to the organizations that represent Orthodox Jews, there is a broad range of support for HR 592, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the New York Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Council of Churches of the City of New York, the American Jewish Committee, the Archdiocese of Trenton and Newark, the American Jewish Committee and Agudath Israel.

UPDATE Febreary 13:  Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 592, by a vote of 354 to 72.  The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.

Completing His Father’s Journey

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

The call to Abraham, with which Parshat Lech Lecha begins, seems to come from nowhere:

“Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, and go to a land that I will show you.”

Nothing has prepared us for this radical departure. We have not had a description of Abraham as we had in the case of Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d.” Nor have we been given a series of glimpses into his childhood, as in the case of Moses. It is as if Abraham’s call is a sudden break with all that went before. There seems to be no prelude, no context, no background.

Added to this is a curious verse in the last speech delivered by Moses’s successor Joshua:

“And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the G-d of Israel: Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the [Euphrates] River, Terach, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods’ ” (Joshua 24:2).

The implication seems to be that Abraham’s father was an idolater. Hence the famous midrashic tradition that as a child, Abraham broke his father’s idols. When Terach asked him who had done the damage, he replied, “The largest of the idols took a stick and broke the rest.” “Why are you deceiving me?” Terach asked. “Do idols have understanding?” “Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying,” replied the child. On this reading, Abraham was an iconoclast, a breaker of images, one who rebelled against his father’s faith (Bereishit Rabbah 38:8).

Maimonides, the philosopher, put it somewhat differently. Originally, human beings believed in one G-d. Later, they began to offer sacrifices to the sun, the planets and stars, and other forces of nature, as creations or servants of the one G-d. Later still, they worshipped them as entities – gods – in their own right. It took Abraham, using logic alone, to realize the incoherence of polytheism:

“After he was weaned, while still an infant, his mind began to reflect. Day and night, he thought and wondered: how is it possible that this celestial sphere should be continuously guiding the world, without something to guide it and cause it to revolve? For it cannot move of its own accord. He had no teacher or mentor, because he was immersed in Ur of the Chaldeans among foolish idolaters. His father and mother and the entire population worshipped idols, and he worshipped with them. He continued to speculate and reflect until he achieved the way of truth, understanding what was right through his own efforts. It was then that he knew that there is one G-d who guides the heavenly bodies, who created everything, and besides whom there is no other god” (Laws of Idolatry, 1:2).

What is common to Maimonides and the midrash is discontinuity. Abraham represents a radical break with all that went before.

Remarkably, however, the previous chapter gives us a quite different perspective:

“These are the generations of Terach. Terach fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot … Terach took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terach were 205 years, and Terach died in Haran” (Genesis 11:31).

The implication seems to be that far from breaking with his father, Abraham was continuing a journey Terach had already begun.

How are we to reconcile these two passages? The simplest way, taken by most commentators, is that they are not in chronological sequence. The call to Abraham (in Genesis 12) happened first. Abraham heard the Divine summons, and communicated it to his father. The family set out together, but Terach stopped halfway, in Haran. The passage recording Terach’s death is placed before Abraham’s call, though it happened later, to guard Abraham from the accusation that he failed to honor his father by leaving him in his old age (Rashi, Midrash).

Yet there is another obvious possibility. Abraham’s spiritual insight did not come from nowhere. Terach had already made the first tentative move toward monotheism. Children complete what their parents begin.

The Objective Basis For Morality

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Is there such a thing as an objective basis of morality? For some time, in secular circles, the idea has seemed absurd. Morality is what we choose it to be. We are free to do what we like so long as we don’t harm others. Moral judgments are not truths but choices. There is no way of getting from “is” to “ought,” from description to prescription, from facts to values, from science to ethics. This was the received wisdom in philosophy for a century after Nietzsche had argued for the abandonment of morality – which he saw as the product of Judaism – in favor of the “will to power.”

Recently, however, an entirely new scientific basis has been given to morality from two surprising directions: neo-Darwinism and the branch of mathematics known as Games theory. As we will see, the discovery is intimately related to the story of Noah and the covenant made between G-d and humanity after the Flood.

Games theory was invented by one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, John von Neumann (1903-1957). He realized that the mathematical models used in economics were unrealistic and did not mirror the way decisions are made in the real world. Rational choice is not simply a matter of weighing alternatives and deciding between them. The reason is that the outcome of our decision often depends on how other people react to it, and usually we cannot know this in advance. Games theory, von Neumann’s invention in 1944, was an attempt to produce a mathematical representation of choice under conditions of uncertainty. Six years later, it yielded its most famous paradox, known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Imagine two people arrested by the police under suspicion of committing a crime. There is insufficient evidence to convict them on a serious charge; there is only enough to convict them of a lesser offense. The police decide to encourage each to inform against the other. They separate them and make each the following proposal: if you testify against the other suspect, you will go free, and he will be imprisoned for ten years. If he testifies against you, and you stay silent, you will be sentenced to ten years in prison, and he will go free. If you both testify against the other, you will each receive a five-year sentence. If both of you stay silent, you will each be convicted of the lesser charge and face a one-year sentence.

It doesn’t take long to work out that the optimal strategy for each is to inform against the other. The result is that each will be imprisoned for five years. The paradox is that the best outcome would be for both to remain silent. They would then only face one year in prison. The reason that neither will opt for this strategy is that it depends on collaboration. However, since each is unable to know what the other is doing – there is no communication between them – they cannot take the risk of staying silent. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is remarkable because it shows that two people, both acting rationally, will produce a result that is bad for both of them.

Eventually, a solution was discovered. The reason for the paradox is that the two prisoners find themselves in this situation only once. If it happened repeatedly, they would eventually discover that the best thing to do is to trust one another and cooperate.

In the meantime, biologists were wrestling with a phenomenon that puzzled Darwin. The theory of natural selection – popularly known as the survival of the fittest – suggests that the most ruthless individuals in any population will survive and hand their genes on to the next generation. Yet almost every society ever observed values individuals who are altruistic: who sacrifice their own advantage to help others. There seems to be a direct contradiction between these two facts.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma suggested an answer. Individual self-interest often produces bad results. Any group which learns to cooperate, instead of compete, will be at an advantage relative to others. But, as the Prisoner’ Dilemma showed, this needs repeated encounters – the so-called Iterated (= repeated) Prisoner’s dilemma. In the late 1970s, a competition was announced to find the computer program that did best at playing the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma against itself and other opponents.

Yom Kippur Thoughts

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, is the supreme moment of Jewish time, a day of fasting and prayer, introspection and self-judgment. At no other time are we so sharply conscious of standing before God, of being known by Him. But it begins in the strangest of ways.

Kol Nidre, the prayer that heralds the evening service and the beginning of the sanctity of the day, is the key that unlocks the Jewish heart. Its melody is haunting. As the cantor sings, we hear in that ancient tune the deepest music of the Jewish soul, elegiac yet striving, pained but resolute, the song of those who knew that to believe is to suffer and still to hope, the music of our ancestors that stretches out to us from the past and enfolds us in its cadences, making us and them one. The music is sublime. Tolstoy called it a melody that “echoes the story of the great martyrdom of a grief-stricken nation.” Beethoven came close to it in the most otherworldly and austere of his compositions, the sixth movement of the C Sharp Minor Quartet, opus 131. The music is pure poetry but the words are prosaic prose.

Kol Nidre means “all vows.” The passage itself is not a prayer at all, but a dry legal formula annulling in advance all vows, oaths and promises between us and God in the coming year. Nothing could be more incongruous, less apparently in keeping with the solemnity of the day. Indeed, for more than a thousand years there have been attempts to remove it from the liturgy. Why annul vows? Better, as the Hebrew Bible and the rabbis argued, not to make them in the first place if they could not be kept. Besides, though Jewish law admits the possibility of annulment, it does so only after patient examination of individual cases. To do so globally for the whole community was difficult to justify.

From the eighth century onwards we read of gaonim, rabbinic leaders, who condemned the prayer and sought to have it abolished. Five centuries later a new note of concern was added. In the Christian-Jewish disputation in Paris in 1240, the Christian protagonist Nicholas Donin attacked Kol Nidre as evidence that Jews did not feel themselves bound by their word, a claim later repeated by anti-Semitic writers. In vain, Jews explained that the prayer had nothing to do with promises between man and man. It referred only to private commitments between man and God. All in all, it was and is a strange way to begin the holiest of days.

Yet the prayer survived all attempts to have it dislodged. One theory, advanced by Joseph Bloch in I917 and adopted by Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz, is that it had its origins in the forced conversion of Spanish Jews to Christianity under the Visigoths in the seventh century. These Jews, the first Marranos, publicly abandoned their faith rather than face torture and death, but they remained Jews in secret. On the Day of Atonement they made their way back to the synagogue and prayed to have their vow of conversion annulled. Certainly some such reason lies behind the declaration immediately prior to Kol Nidre in which the leaders of prayer solemnly grant permission “by the authority of the heavenly and earthly court” for “transgressors” to join the congregation in prayer. This was a lifting of the ban of excommunication against Jews who, during the year, had been declared to have placed themselves outside the community. That, surely, is the significance of Kol Nidre in the Jewish imagination. It is the moment when the doors of belonging are opened, and when those who have been estranged return.

The Hebrew word teshuvah, usually translated as “penitence,” in fact means something else: returning, retracing our steps, coming home. It belongs to the biblical vision in which sin means dislocation, and punishment is exile: Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden, Israel’s exile from its land. A sin is an act that does not belong, one that transgresses the moral boundaries of the world. One who acts in ways that do not belong eventually finds that he does not belong. Increasingly he places himself outside the relationships – of family, community and of being at one with history – that make him who he is. The most characteristic sense of sin is less one of guilt than of being lost. Teshuvah means finding your way back home again.

Carrying Both Pain And Faith

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a kind of clarion call, a summons to the Ten Days of Penitence that culminate in the Day of Atonement. The Torah calls it “the day when the horn is sounded,” and its central event is the sounding of the shofar.

More than any other, the sound of the shofar has been the signal of momentousness in Jewish history, italicizing time for special emphasis. It was the ram’s horn that sounded at Mount Sinai when the Israelites heard the voice of God and accepted the covenant that was to frame our religious destiny. It was the ram’s horn that accompanied them into battle in the days of Joshua. And it would be the ram’s horn that would one day signal Israel’s return from exile, gathered once again in the Promised Land.

On Rosh Hashanah the shofar becomes a herald announcing the arrival of the King, for at this time of the year God is seen not as a father or creator or redeemer, but as the Sovereign of life enthroned in the seat of judgment. The imagery of the prayers is royal and judicial. The world has become a vast court, and its creatures pass before the King of Kings awaiting his verdict.

“With trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn Raise a shout before the Lord, the King… For He comes to judge the earth” (Psalms 98:6, 9).

Before Him are the books of life and oblivion, and we pray to be written in the book of life.

At times the imagery of the day can seem remote, because monarchy has become for us less judicial, majestic and grand. Kings and queens no longer enter palaces to the sound of trumpets and preside over issues of life and death. Nonetheless, Rosh Hashanah still conveys a sense of expectancy and moment. Its two days are Days of Awe whereby we are conscious of standing before God – our past exposed to scrutiny, our future unknown and in the balance.

The New Year and the Day of Atonement are vivid enactments of Judaism’s greatest leap of faith: the belief that justice rules the world. No idea has been more revolutionary, and none more perplexing. There are questions that challenge faith, and there are questions that come from faith. Those who asked about the apparent injustices of the world were not figures of doubt; they were Judaism’s supreme prophets. Moses asked, “O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people?” Jeremiah said, “Right would You be, O Lord, if I were to contend with You, yet I will speak with You about Your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

They did not ask because they did not believe. They asked because they did believe. If there were no Judge, there would be no justice and no question. There is a Judge. Where then is justice? Above all else Jewish thought through the centuries has been a sustained meditation on this question, never finding answers, realizing that here was a sacred mystery no human mind could penetrate. All other requests Moses made on behalf of the Jewish people, says the Talmud, were granted except this: to understand why the righteous suffer.

As tenaciously as they asked, so they held firm to the faith without which there was no question: that there is a moral rule governing the universe and that what happens to us is in some way related to what we do. Good is rewarded and evil has no ultimate dominion. No Jewish belief is more central than this. It forms the core of the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the rabbis and the speculations of the Jewish mystics. Reward and punishment might be individual or collective, immediate or deferred, in this world or the next, apparent or veiled behind a screen of mystery. But they are there. For without them life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The faith of the Bible is neither optimistic nor naive. It contains no theodicies, no systematic answers, no easy consolations. At times, in the books of Job, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, it comes close to the abyss of pain and despair. “I saw,” says Ecclesiastes, “the tears of the oppressed – and they have no ‘comforter.’ ” “The Lord,” says Lamentations, “has become like an enemy.” But the people of the Book refused to stop wrestling with the question. To believe was painful, but to disbelieve was too easy, too superficial, too untrue.

Numbers Don’t Tell The Story

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Near the end of Parshas Va’etchanan, so inconspicuously that we can sometimes miss it, is a statement with such far-reaching implications that it challenges the impression that has prevailed thus far in the Torah, giving an entirely new complexion to the biblical image of the people Israel:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you are the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7).

This is not what we have heard thus far. In Bereishit, God promises the patriarchs that their descendants will be like the stars of the heaven, the sand on the seashore, the dust of the earth, uncountable. Abraham will be the father, not just of one nation but of many. At the beginning of Exodus we read of how the covenantal family, numbering a mere seventy when they went down to Egypt, were “fertile and prolific, and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).

Three times in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses describes the Israelites as being “as many as the stars of the sky” (1:10, 10:22, 28:62). King Solomon speaks of himself as set among “the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number” (1 Kings 3:8). The prophet Hosea says: “The Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted” (Hosea 2:1).

In all these texts and others it is the size, the numerical greatness, of the people that is emphasized. What then are we to make of Moses’s words that speak of its smallness? Targum Yonatan interprets it not to be about numbers at all but about self-image. He translates it not as “the fewest of peoples” but as “the most lowly and humble of peoples.” Rashi gives a similar reading, citing Abraham’s words “I am but dust and ashes,” and Moses and Aaron’s, “Who are we?”

Rashbam and Chizkuni give the more straightforward explanation that Moses is contrasting the Israelites with the seven nations they would be fighting in the land of Canaan/Israel. God would lead the Israelites to victory despite the fact that they were outnumbered by the local inhabitants.

Rabbeinu Bachya quotes Maimonides, who says that we would have expected God, King of the universe, to have chosen the most numerous nation in the world as His people, since “The glory of the king is in the multitude of people” (Proverbs 14:28). God did not do so. Thus Israel should count itself extraordinarily blessed that God chose it, despite its smallness, to be His am segulah, His special treasure.

Rabbeinu Bachya finds himself forced to give a more complex reading to resolve the contradiction of Moses in Deuteronomy, saying both that Israel is the smallest of peoples and “as many as the stars of the sky.” He turns it into a hypothetical subjunctive, meaning: God would still have chosen you, even if you had been the smallest of the peoples.

Sforno gives a simple and straightforward reading: God did not choose a nation for the sake of His honor. Had He done so, He would undoubtedly have chosen a mighty and numerous people. His choice had nothing to do with honor and everything to do with love. He loved the patriarchs for their willingness to heed His voice; therefore He loves their children.

Yet there is something in this verse that resonates throughout much of Jewish history. Historically Jews were, and are, a small people (today less than a fifth of one percent of the world’s population). There were two reasons for this. First is the heavy toll taken through the ages by exile and persecution, directly by Jews killed in massacres and pogroms, indirectly by those who converted – in fifteenth century Spain and nineteenth century Europe – in order to avoid persecution (tragically, even conversion did not work; racial anti-Semitism persisted in both cases). The Jewish population is a mere fraction of what it might have been had there been no Hadrian, no crusades, and no anti-Semitism.

The second reason is that Jews did not seek to convert others. Had they done so, they would have been closer in numbers to Christianity (2.2 billion) or Islam (1.3 billion). In fact Malbim reads something like this into our verse. The previous verses have said that the Israelites are about to enter a land with seven nations: Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Moses warns the Israelites against intermarriage with them, not for racial but for religious reasons: “They will turn your children away from following Me to serve other gods.” Malbim interprets our verse as Moses saying to the Israelites: Don’t justify intermarriage on the grounds that it will increase the number of Jews. God is not interested in numbers.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/numbers-dont-tell-the-story/2012/08/01/

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