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On Tuesday morning, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar conducted a heartfelt prayer with a few dozen supporters in the remote area of the Western Wall known as the “Israelite Section,” which had been designated by the Israeli government for the mixed prayer services of Reform and Conservative visitors.
The chief rabbi’s followers erected an improvised mehitza-divider to separate men and women, in defiance of the government program. After the morning service, Rabbi Amar spoke tearfully, saying “there’s no such thing as the Reform Kotel, there’s only the Holy Kotel.”
“No one can revoke this holiness,” Rabbi Amar continued, “not the government, not the court, you can’t, it’s a hekdesh-sanctuary, it’s the Temple Mount. Not the goyim, not the UN, no power can revoke it. We stand guard and declare that our entire purpose is for the sake of God’s honor, only God’s honor, and the Shechina-emanation of God, and the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Amar’s prayer service reflected a perception on the part of many Haredi leaders that the Reform and Conservative movements are making inroads in Israel through the Supreme Court and certain government officials, and are threatening the classic status quo, whereby secular Israelis did not go to shul, but the shul they didn’t go to was Orthodox. Most Israelis are not interested in these American imports, but the fact that the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem went out of his way to condemn Reform access to the Kotel probably gave those two-minute movements a new lease on life.
For the record, the idea for the mixed prayer area by the Kotel came from an Orthodox Jewish politician, then Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who in 2013 announced the creation of a new prayer area, south of the Mugrabim Gate and north of Robinson’s Arch, an area of 4,844 sq. ft., which is a non-contiguous extension of the Kotel Plaza. It was Bennett’s attempt at solving a 28-year long dispute between the Women of the Wall, a group of largely non-Orthodox Jewish women who have been praying in the Kotel’s women’s section on the first of each Jewish month as well as on select holidays, singing and donning talit and tefillin—all acts which have been provoking ultra-Orthodox Jews since the early 1990s.
While a broad section of ultra-Orthodox public figures attacked the Bennett solution, going as far as to dub it “tzelem ba’heikhal” or a statue in God’s temple, the Women of the Wall group also rejected the minister’s peaceful solution, accusing Bennett of aligning himself with the “extremist” views of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the government-appointed Kotel Rabbi, and of Israel’s chief rabbis (of course, when one accuses the mainstream religious and political leadership of extremism, it would be difficult for her to claim the center).
The WOW also called the special fenced wooden platform Bennett provided for mixed prayers a “sundeck overlooking the Western Wall,” which, come to think of it, could be the name for a bangup real estate bonanza. And the Reform movement over in the US, where they dominate Jewish life, at least on paper, with some two million members (in largely Orthodox Israel they may be noisy but their numbers are puny), announced that the Kotel must be open and accessible to all the Jews and men and women must be treated equally there. In other words, why can’t you all be more Reform, like the rest of us.
The fact is that the Bennett solution, while acquiescing that Israelis who are Reform and Conservative have the right to use a state-owned and funded religious facility, resolves the conflict in a peaceful way, which is not something the Reform and Conservative movements want. Since the platform has been erected, it has been standing empty, first because very few Reform and Conservative Israelis have the time or inclination to regularly fight Jerusalem traffic to go pray at the Kotel when most of them hardly ever pray in their own synagogues during the week; and second because without the opportunity to provoke the Orthodox, what’s the point of schlepping all the way to Jerusalem?
Now, the pushback from the Jerusalem Chief Rabbi has revived the non-Orthodox, whose fundraising and membership largely depends on being the victims of Orthodox “repression.” And so, once again, spokespersons for both movements have condemned the aging rabbi, whose salary is provided by the taxpayers, and who attacks the principles of equality, freedom and the American way.
Perhaps the good chief rabbi of Jerusalem should have taken a hint from the fact that he and his followers were the only ones praying on the Reform “sundeck,” because no one else ever prays there on any given day, and even the Baha’i movement in Israel represents a bigger threat to Orthodox Judaism at the Kotel than do the Reform and Conservative.
The best cure for the WOW phenomenon is probably to let them have their way until they get bored with it. The most recent new month celebration of the WOW, a week ago, attracted fewer than 90 women, and the only coverage it received was a provocation by its CEO, who showed local cops at the end of the service that she had “smuggled” a Torah scroll into the women’s section. Otherwise even she couldn’t get arrested by a largely disinterested police, and couldn’t get covered by the media which is inundated with much bigger stories.JNi.Media
The members of the Stanton Street Shul community on Thursday night received an email from their board announcing that the inclusive event of hosting Orthodox LGBT in an Eshel Downtown Shabbaton. This despite a warning letter from neighborhood Orthodox rabbis who declared that “No Jewish institution that allies itself with such a group can rightfully claim to be Orthodox.” (See: Lower East Side Rabbis Hint at Excommunicating Orthodox Shul for LGBT Shabbaton)
The Stanton Street Shul board wrote: “We want to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to hosting the Eshel Shabbaton this Shabbat and to being an Orthodox shul where all Jews can feel safe praying, learning Torah, and finding fellowship with each other — a place where all are welcome and all feel welcome. We are proud of our members, our rabbi, and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue for fostering the kind of inclusive community that respects the dignity of all people, recognizing that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim, in God’s image.
“We encourage you to show your support by coming to shul this Shabbat for services and for the Shabbaton programming, and we welcome your feedback, questions, and notes of support.”
However, the Stanton Street Shul website’s page announcing the Eshel Shabbaton has been removed.
For its part, the Eshel organization, whose mission is to integrate Orthodox LGBT in the community, started a petition online titled: Support Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino (the spiritual leaders of the Stanton and Sixth Streets shuls). The petition reads:
“Dear Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino,
“We are Orthodox LGBTQ Jews, parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews, and allies. We believe in inclusive Orthodox communities that welcome LGBTQ Jews and their families.
“We are disheartened to learn that both of you have been attacked for hosting Eshel in your synagogues. However, we want both of you, and your synagogue members, to know how much we support you and appreciate your efforts on our behalf.
“We thank you, Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino, for giving us hope with your commitment to Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests). We thank the leadership and membership of both synagogues for agreeing to host us. You are a model for what warm, compassionate, and inclusive leadership should be.”
As of Friday morning, the petition has received 259 signatures.
In our original story, JNi.media referred to the local Lower East Side rabbis’ letter as hinting excommunication of the “erring” shul. But in the reality of a diminishing Orthodox Jewish presence on the Lower East Side, which comes with the weakening of the Orthodox “establishment” in the neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine what steps the local rabbis might take to make good on such a threat. The relationship between the shul and the neighborhood Orthodox leadership (as opposed to the neighborhood rank and file Orthodox Jews) has always been tense, with the Haredi leaders being critical of the Stanton Street Shul’s egalitarian policy regarding women (the shul maintains women’s minyanim several times a year; shul women dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah; the shul invites women scholars in residence for Shabbat lectures). The dispute over the LGBT Shabbaton may just fizzle away without any tangible negative consequences. At the same time, as has been expressed several times in online debates over the story Thursday, there’s also little chance of an honest dialog between the Stanton Street Shul community and the neighborhood rabbis over the serious issues facing the declining Orthodox community on the Lower East Side.JNi.Media
If things go according to plans, the Stanton Street Shul, which has been hosting Jewish worshipers on the Lower East Side since 1913, will be participating in the Eshel Downtown Shabbaton this coming Shabbat. According to the shul’s email, received by JNi.media, Eshel’s mission since 2010 has been to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities. The theme of the Shabbaton is Creating Welcoming Communities.
This event has been denounced in benign but clear language by local Orthodox rabbis, and as things stand, should the Shabbaton take place, the Stanton stands to be cut off from the mainstream Orthodox community, with possibly devastating consequences.
A later email from the shul reflected the discomfort some congregants may have felt regarding the Shabbaton. It read: “In preparation for the Shabbat, we would like to invite you to an open forum tonight, May 31st at 7:30 PM at the Stanton Street Shul on the topic of ‘Why we are hosting the Eshel Shabbaton.’ At this time, we will hear from [shul Rabbi] Rabbi [Aviad] Bodner what the goals of the Shabbaton are and why we are hosting it. This will be an opportunity to express support, voice concerns, and ask questions.”
Although many of its regulars reside in the Grand Street Co-Ops near the East River in downtown Manhattan, and are part of the Orthodox community there, the Stanton Street Shul since the 1990s has charted a somewhat different path than the largely Haredi community south of the Williamsburg Bridge. The Stanton is located north of the bridge, in the hip/Hispanic community of Alphabet City (named after its north-south Avenues A, B, C, and D). As such, the Stanton, which at some point was salvaged by its congregants from being sold and converted into a church, caters to the unaffiliated Jews scattered in the neighborhood. On the high holidays and on a few other key dates during the Jewish year, the Stanton is packed with Jews, from Israeli NYU students to fallen Hasidim, to secular folks who miss that bit of traditional sweetness in their lives.
Needles to say, the Stanton Street Shul has also been more accepting and tolerant than most. Shabbat morning services often start at 10:30, Friday night kiddush includes a sampling of quality whiskeys, and the congregation has integrated several gay and transgender members with the kind of ease one doesn’t easily find outside New York City and Tel Aviv. The LGBT Shabbaton was another step in that direction of affiliating the shul more with uptown than with the Lower East Side.
On its website, Eshel writes that “through community gatherings Eshel helps LGBT Orthodox people pursue meaningful lives that encompass seemingly disparate identities while also fulfilling Jewish values around family, education, culture, and spirituality.” On that part, regarding the definition of Jewish values through the spectrum of the LGBT lifestyle, the Stanton Street Shul received its stern rebuke from the local rabbis.
The signatories at the bottom of a letter titled “An important Message to the Community” are well known beyond the Lower East Side: Rabbis David and Reuven Feinstein, the sons and spiritual heirs of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the universally accepted halakhic authority in North America; Rabbi Yeshaya Siff, of the Young Israel of Manhattan, possibly the sweetest and easiest going man of the cloth in downtown Manhattan; his son, Rabbi Azriel Siff, whose Chasam Sofer synagogue stands next door to the Stanton, but is well to the right of its hipster neighbor; and Rabbi Zvi Dovid Romm, whose Bialystoker synagogue hosts the largest congregation this side of 42nd Street.
“All Jews, whatever their challenges or levels of observance, are welcome in all of our shuls,” write the exulted rabbis. And they’re right, for an ultra-Orthodox community, the Lower East Side is probably the most open and accepting on the planet. Some have suggested that the reason for the sense of comfort that is so typical of this community has to do with the nature of the co-op apartments: everybody in the neighborhood is living in the same Soviet-style, square, low-ceilinged apartments — there are no secrets, no really rich and really poor. Things may have changed since privatization, people have been buying up and connecting strings of apartments, but the community is still humbler than most. But we digress.
“However, the basic mandate of the Orthodox synagogue is to promote fidelity to our Torah and our mesorah,” the letter continues. “Sadly, Eshel demands that we change the Torah’s timeless standards to accord with prevalent secular attitudes.”
Notice how instead of saying they’re furious, the rabbis stress their sadness, many times: “We are saddened that the Stanton Street Shul and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue have unilaterally chosen to associate our community with an organization which we cannot consider to be Orthodox, one whose stated aims are at odds with the verses of the Torah itself.”
Next, the rabbis deliver the only threatening line in their letter. It may not sound like one, but it’s a herem, an excommunication, as unmistaken as the herem that was imposed on Baruch Spinoza and Uriel da Costa in 1656 by the Amsterdam rabbinical court: “No Jewish institution that allies itself with such a group can rightfully claim to be Orthodox.”
That’s heavy. It means that many of the committed Orthodox members of both shuls, who preferred them over the Grand Street shuls for a variety of political and emotional reasons, are likely to leave. Excommunication is serious stuff. The letter calls on both shuls to disassociate themselves from the Eshel group and cancel the Shabbaton. We’ll keep you posted, if we can.JNi.Media
Lodi, NJ, resident Anthony Graziano, 24, on Friday was found guilty on 20 counts of terrorism and faces up to life in prison, for vandalizing and firebombing Jewish synagogues and a rabbi’s home in 2012. Graziano’s sentencing will take place in July. Graziano was charged together with his friend, Aakash Dalal.
The two attackers started a fire in the Rutherford, NJ bedroom of a rabbi, who was asleep at the time, as were his wife, their five children and the rabbi’s parents.
Graziano’s attorney argued that his client did not wish to harm anyone, and he plans to appeal.David Israel
In a surprising interview he gave Haredi radio station Radio Kol Hai, MK Yehuda Glick (Likud), known in the mainstream media as the “rightwing extremist” who advocates Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, used the opportunity to deliver conciliatory messages regarding his position on the relationship between state and religion in general and the Reform movement in particular.
Glick was the next in line on the Likud election list, and when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon resigned from his office as well as from the Knesset last week, Glick took his legislator seat.
Glick told the Haredi radio listeners that “there’s no need to boycott the Reform, and it wouldn’t be so bad if the chief rabbis had met with them, we need to strengthen everyone. The Reform are Jews, and they deserve their human rights as Jews.” But Glick insisted that “the official body which is responsible for halakhic issues in the State of Israel is the Israeli chief rabbinate. But I believe the rabbinate should be considerate of the entire public, within halakhic limits.”
That part is a bit puzzling, seeing as the chief rabbinate believes it is acting within its halakhic boundaries when it views the Reform movement as an enemy of traditional Judaism and its values. The same chief rabbinate will probably have a hard time complying with MK Glick’s call to “integrate the Reform according to their proportionate presence in the Israeli population,” and his statement, “I believe the Reform movement needs a greater representation in Israel.”
When asked if he believes a Reform rabbi should be allowed to conduct a chupah ceremony, Glick said that, “It isn’t clear why in Israel it is required that weddings be conducted by rabbis. After all, the rabbi has no halakhic role in the chupah ceremony. All you need is the couple and two witnesses.” Glick said “there should be clear instructions as to how to conduct a wedding ceremony, and just as you don’t have to have a rabbi at a circumcision, under the chupah you don’t need a rabbi either.”
Speaking about drafting Yeshiva students to the IDF, an issue which may come up again with Avigdor Lieberman—who believes every young Israeli must serve—taking over the defense ministry. Glick related, “I have two sons who are soldiers and one son-in-law who studies in yeshiva, and I think each one of them contributes his part to the Jewish nation in a dignified way and should be allowed to do so.” Glick said “we should enhance the public’s appreciation of yeshiva students, but anyone who uses his yeshiva as a means for self advancement (meaning cheating the draft and going to work instead of serving) — that’s very serious. Ultra-Orthodox men who are not studying should volunteer in ZAKA or in Yad Sara.”JNi.Media
“Ben pekuah” is a Talmudic reference to a calf that was removed from his mother’s womb after she had been slaughtered properly. Some sages agree that the newborn calf will not require slaughtering to be eaten, since it is technically part of an already slaughtered animal. But they mostly agree that even if on the Torah level the animal may be eaten without killing, it should be slaughtered nevertheless, to prevent confusion.
Indeed, some commentators have suggested that when Joseph complained to his father Jacob about his brothers who transgressed the prohibition against eating the flesh of a living animal — the brothers had actually been feasting on such an in utero calf.
But what if a male and a female in utero calves were to be mated, to eventually procreate an entire herd that according to the Torah may be eaten alive? Would the prohibition of mar’it ein-misleading visual message still hold when it is well-known that the herd is entirely pre-slaughtered?
A similar debate is being conducted in the halakhic world around the new development, which is yet to prove itself commercially viable, of in vitro meat. Also known as cultured meat or synthetic meat, in vitro meat is an animal-flesh product that has never been part of a developed, living animal. Several research projects have experimented with in vitro meat in the lab, with the first in vitro beefburger, created by a Dutch team, being consumed publicly in London in 2013.
According to the NY Times, there remain difficulties to be overcome before in vitro meat becomes commercially available. For one thing, it is still prohibitively expensive, the cost could be reduced as the technology improves to allow for mass production.
The other problem with in vitro meat is cultural, since many consumers might object to eating meat that has not developed naturally and has not been killed.
According to Kippa, the entire spectrum of National Religious rabbis, who normally disagree on just about everything, welcome the idea of cultured meat, even though it is years away from being available commercially. The process of developing in vitro meat begins with taking muscle cells and applying a protein that promotes tissue growth. Once this process has been started, it is theoretically possible for it to continue producing meat indefinitely without introducing new cells from a living organism. A Daily Mail 2012 story claimed that, in ideal conditions, two months of in vitro meat production could deliver up to 50,000 tons of meat from ten pork muscle cells.
In vitro meat may be produced as strips of muscle fiber, which grow through the fusion of precursor cells – either embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, or specialized satellite cells found in muscle tissue. This type of meat can be cultured in a bio-reactor.
A 2009 Time article suggested that meat could be grown into “real” muscle, which would require giving it a circulatory system in order to deliver nutrients and oxygen close to the growing cells, as well as to remove the waste products. Other cell types, such as adipocytes, would also need to be grown, as well as chemical messengers to provide clues to the growing tissue about its structure. The growing muscle tissue would need to be physically stretched or “exercised” in order to develop properly.
Rabbis Dov Lior, Yuval Cherlow, and Shlomo Aviner believe that the new invention is vital, explaining that it does not constitute a problem of eating the flesh of a live animal — even assuming that the source animal for the cells would not be slaughtered, kosher or otherwise. They believe that with the proposed technological process in place, the substance would not even be considered meat, but “parve.”JNi.Media