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December 9, 2016 / 9 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

I’m a Feminist and the Women of the Wall Don’t Represent Me

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Ha’aretz reported that a group of activists from the Women of the Wall organization are opposed to an Israeli governmental proposal to permit Reform Jewish congregants to have their own area to pray, independent from where both Orthodox Jewish men and women pray. In other words, these activists rejected a compromise proposal that designates an area of the Kotel where they are permitted to pray as they desire, in order to insist that Orthodox Jewish men and women be forced to conduct their prayers surrounded by individuals who don’t respect their religious customs.

As a modern orthodox Jewish feminist, I am outraged by the behavior of these activists, who dirt the name of feminism by their actions. Just as Reform Jews feel that they should have the right to pray as they are used to at one of the holiest sites in the Jewish religion, Orthodox Jews feel the exact same way. Furthermore, while Reform Jews are religiously permitted to pray in accordance with the Orthodox tradition, Orthodox Jews aren’t permitted to pray in a Reform manner, since their prayer services must follow a certain format according to Jewish law.

Even though nothing bars a Reform Jew from praying at the Kotel in an Orthodox manner, the Israeli government was respectful enough to offer Reform Jews their own location at one of the holiest sites in Judaism in order to pray as they please, without disturbing others. But instead of jumping on the opportunity and saying thank you to the Israeli government, activists from the Women of the Wall organization aren’t content. Why? Because the compromise proposal permits Orthodox Jews to continue praying as they have for thousands of years and this bothers them. While they demand religious toleration from others, they refuse to give others the same favor in return.

While Women of the Wall claims that it is not egalitarian to pray in an Orthodox manner, I would like to remind them that Jews have been praying for thousands of years a certain way and changing the religion is not in the hands of men. We cannot decide in the place of G-d what is Jewish law, based upon modern trends. Even if we don’t understand everything in Judaism, G-d always makes things a certain way for a reason and humans should never question G-d.

Nevertheless, Judaism remains to be one of the most egalitarian religions today, as women are believed to be at a spiritually higher level than men and countless Jewish women have held prominent positions both in the Tanakh and throughout Jewish history. Moses granted Jewish women the right to inherit at a time when women having such rights were unheard of. Even if one doesn’t desire to obey Jewish law due to ones own Reform belief system, the bare minimum that one should be able to do is to respect others that wish to and to do as one likes in a location that won’t disturb others.

I also would like to point out to these individuals that there are many more pressing issues facing feminists today than whether or not Jewish women will be able to wear a Tallit like the men and host a so-called “egalitarian” prayer service at the Kotel. I call upon any one who believes that having “egalitarian” prayer services at the Kotel is the most pressing issue facing women today to take a look at the world that we live in.

Women are getting raped en masse in Syria, either by government forces or by Islamist rebels as part of their sexual jihad. Around 50 percent of Yemen’s brides are under the age of 18. The UN stated that over 5,000 women are murdered each year in honor crimes. 2,500 brides in India are burnt to death each year, primarily due to dissatisfaction over the dowry. One young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, was almost murdered by the Pakistani Taliban for insisting on young girls in her country having the right to have an education. Around 125,000,000 girls in Africa and the Middle East are victims of female genital mutilation.

Closer to home, hundreds of young underage Jewish girls are seduced by Arab men each year. Many of these cases evolve into abduction, rape, and abusive marriages. This problem is especially acute in Southern Israel, where sexual harassment by Bedouin men is a major issue. Furthermore, according to the OECD statistics, the Israeli police recorded 17.5 cases of rape within the country per 100,000 people within the Israeli population in 2012. There were only 9 OECD members who had worst statistics than these in regards to rape, one of them naturally being the United States. Recently, Jerusalem Online News reported that only two female mayors were elected to serve in the 2013 municipal elections. This means that out of all of the Israeli municipalities, there are only 4 female mayors in the entire country.

Rachel Avraham

Pushing the Boundaries of Outreach

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

One of the most difficult challenges of the 21st century was made very clear by the recent Pew study on American Jews. The fact is that except for Orthodoxy – Jewry is shrinking. I need not go into the statistics. They have been discussed ad infinitum by just about everyone. The shrinkage is due to a combination of factors mostly having to do with the lack of any significant meaning attributed to Judaism by those devoid of a religious education. Young Jews even with the highest of ethical values see no value in the religion of their forefathers. They see themselves as ethical human beings – same as anyone else with ethical values. They see all religious ritual adding nothing to their sense of ethics.

The question arises – what do we do about that? As Orthodox Jews who understand the value of the Torah and the importance of following Halacha – how can we change this new secular Jewish paradigm?

There are those who would answer: Nothing! There is nothing we can do to significantly change the attrition away from Judaism the masses are undergoing… that there has been attrition one way or another in every generation. Although they might wish things were different, they say it is virtually impossible to influence the minds of the vast majority of Jews whose secular – even ethical values were formed by a society devoid of Torah.

They will therefore say that we Orthodox should instead turn inward and work on ourselves and that the future of Judaism rests with us. While I understand that mentality and would certainly agree that we all need to work on our ourselves – I strongly disagree that we ought to ignore the rest of Jewry. We are not talking about a few Jewish souls here. We are talking about the vast majority of them. Fully 90% of all American Jewry is not Orthodox. Are we simply to just write them off? I don’t think so.

Thankfully neither do all the outreach organizations. They have had much success in reaching out to our secular brethren. But it is still a drop in the bucket. We Orthodox remain only 10% of the total. We may be growing, but a lot of that is internal because of our higher birth rate. The amount of successful outreach is still relatively small.

One way to reach more people is by interdenominational interaction. The problem with that is that some of the greatest religious leaders of the 20th century – including Rav Soloveitchik – have forbidden doing that. They forbade religious interaction of any kind because it would grant them tacit recognition. We cannot be seen to recognize movements that legitimize heretical thought. I understand and appreciate that.

Which is why the actions of the well intentioned Yeshiva Chovevei Torah are so problematic. Outreach is what motivated them to host leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism at a round table discussion during the installation of their new president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. That certainly does seem to legitimize them. Both in the eyes of the leaders themselves and in the eyes of those who attended the session. While I support YCT’s intentions, I believe they have crossed a line here. As much as I would love to see cooperation between the denominations towards the goal of outreach that we all share – it cannot be at the expense of undermining our theology.

I know that YCT argues that such interactions do not validate heterodox movements. But it is impossible for those who attend to not see it that way – watching them all discuss their religious views as equals at the same table.So even though I agree with their motives, I disagree with what they did. That leaves the problem unsolved.

But there are other ways that we can participate with them and at the same time not be seen to recognize them. One way was when Yosef Reinman, a right wing Orthodox Rabbi from Lakewood, co-wrote a book with Amiel Hirsch, a Reform rabbi he had befriended… and then went on a book tour with him.

He was immediately – roundly criticized by the Agudah Moetzes for violating the ban on interacting with heterodox rabbis. They asked him to stop the tour and withdraw his book. He acceded to their requests but lamented the fact that he was now impeded from making the inroads he had started making with Reform Jews he would have otherwise never met.

Harry Maryles

YCT, Heterodoxy, and Agudah

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Agudath Israel has come out with a new statement about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). They are ‘deeply troubled’ that YCT is hosting a group of 4 non-Orthodox rabbis at the installation of their new president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. They will be involved in a roundtable discussion entitled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation”.

I have mixed emotions about this. But I am in fact pleased that Agudah has responded to it – even if in a negative way. This shows that they must recognize YCT as an Orthodox institution. Which it is, in my view. I don’t for example believe they would be criticizing the Conservative Movement if they invited Reform rabbis to a roundtable of their own.

My feelings about this issue are mixed for the following reasons.

On the one hand – there is the rather well known decision by the Gedolei HaDor of the previous generation to forbid any interaction with non Orthodox movements. The fear was that by doing so, it would tacitly imply recognizing their legitimacy. Orthodoxy rejects heterodox movements and considers them illegitimate.

It is also rather well known that Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik made a distinction between interacting with them on any theological matters – which he also forbade; and interacting with them on non theological matters that impacted on the welfare of all of Jewry – which he permitted.

I agree with Rav Soloveitchik’s perspective. The question is whether this round table falls into the category of theological discussion or not. I’m not sure – but if I had to peg it, I would lean toward putting such a roundtable on the theological side of the argument and thus forbid it.

That said, I wonder if that would be true if matters of actual theology were expressly left out of the discussion. And the round table was limited to a discussion of practical non-theological rabbinics. Like psychological counseling or how to go about giving advice to congregants. The truth is that heterodox rabbis probably have a lot to offer in the realm of practical non theological rabbinics. As would say a mental health professional or even a priest or minister for that matter.

On the other hand, since this is a Yeshiva hosting heterodox rabbis I would be hard pressed to say that there would be no theological aspect to it. It is a virtual impossibility to completely leave out theology in such a discussion. Which is why I would be opposed to it.

There is, however, another thing to consider. What is extant today was not extant when the Gedolei HaDor forbade such interactions. Times have changed in ways which make me wonder if we should re-examine our positions. Let me hasten to add that I do not advocate the policies of Open Orthodoxy that YCT represents. They have rejected the prohibition of interacting with non-Orthodox rabbis and now freely advocate full engagement with them at all levels – including theological ones.

But I think it is fair to evaluate the reasons they have done it. Times have indeed changed. When the prohibition was made, it was a time that Reform and Conservative movements were on the ascendancy. They were a real threat to Orthodox Judaism. Orthodoxy in America was in relative infancy then. To wit – Rav Aharon Kotler who was the driving force behind the prohibition headed a Yeshiva of about 300 students when he died. Today there are over 6000 students there and they are growing exponentially. There are also now many smaller Yeshivos like Lakewood that are now thriving. They did not exist at that time.

There is no question that the small group of Orthodox Jews at the time were seen by most non Orthodox observers as a dying relic of an ancient past. While Heterodox movements were flourishing and growing by leaps and bounds. It is very understandable that the Gedolei HaDor did not want to give any semblance of recognition to them. Their ‘David’ was fighting a very large Goliath.

But today – the tables have turned. We are the ones growing. They are either shrinking (Conservative) or redefining Jewishness to include non Halachic Jews (Reform).

It is therefore a fact that heterodoxy is no longer the threat to Orthodoxy it once was – if at all. It is now apathy and indifference that is the enemy. Jews are leaving Judaism in droves. They do not see any denomination as relevant to their lives. They see themselves as secular human beings in the brotherhood of man – without the slightest connection to Judaism. One might even say that Conservative and even Reform Judaism today is at least trying to get them to retain their Jewish identity if nothing else.

In the light of all this, perhaps this is a Hora’as Shah – time to act and change the paradigm. Maybe YCT is not so terribly wrong headed in partnering up with these movements. I do not see legitimizing them as a danger anymore. The danger is in the growing numbers of unaffiliated Jews who have no problem with intermarriage and tend to buy into the ‘Apartheid’ narrative about Israel found in the secular liberal/leftist environment in which they live.

This is not to say that I agree with YCT. I don’t. I am not qualified to make judgments about Hora’as Shah. I am just thinking out loud. For example one might argue that giving them legitimacy in any setting, no less a Yeshiva, is forbidden in principal – having nothing to do with whether doing so is some sort of existential danger to Orthodoxy. I can just as easily see this argument as I can YCT’s argument.

Perhaps the fact that there is another aspect to this now that did not exist before is why Agudah has not thrown YCT out of Orthodoxy – as publications like the Yated have advocated. They must realize that they are Orthodox in that they follow Halacha… and that their intentions with respect to heterodoxy are good – even if badly mistaken for the reasons stated. And for that, I applaud them.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Harry Maryles

Did Iran and Russia Just Save Israel?

Friday, September 13th, 2013

It would be ironic if true, but it may very well be that Iran and Russia (and Syria) just saved Israel (or God did, using them as proxies).

Obama stated on Thursday that he’s going to be pivoting his focus away from the international arena and instead concentrate on domestic issues and politics (God help America).

After having been burnt in Syria, and completely played by Russia and Iran, it’s as close to an admission of policy failure and incompetence as you can possibly get.

On the downside, it means the U.S. military may not be dealing with Iran if it tries to cross the nuclear red line, but based on what we’ve heard during the Syrian debacle, it seems unlikely they were going to do so in the first place.

A number of respected U.S. military commentators were saying outright that the U.S. could not financially afford a full-scale war with Syria. The U.S. would need to be prepared for escalation into a full-scale war, if they were going to undertake even a limited military strike.

So, if the U.S. wasn’t prepared or capable of running a small or full scale operation/war in third world Syria, how can anyone reasonably have expected that they would be in a position to do so in Iran?

The message here for Israel, is that Israel is going to have to turn directly to their true source of power for this one.

On the upside, if Obama feels burned by Syria, the Arab Spring, Egypt, Russia, and everything else International, then maybe, just maybe, he’ll leave Israel alone too.

Maybe this is the end of Obama trying to embed Hamas into Judea and Samaria, and trying to divide Jerusalem, trying to kick out Jews out of our homes, and trying to promote this latest “peace process”.

One can hope.

G’mar Chatima Tova

JoeSettler

White House Briefs Reform and Conservative Rabbis on Syria

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Nearly 700 rabbis and other Jewish communal officials were briefed by a top White House aide on President Obama’s Syria plans.

The call Tuesday with Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, was organized by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and attracted 691 callers from all religious streams, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the RA’s executive vice president.

She said that rabbis were eager to be briefed on Syria so they could better discuss the issue in their Yom Kippur sermons.

Rabbis on the call pressed Rhodes on the moral underpinnings of striking Syria, distinctions between responses to the use of conventional weapons on civilians as opposed to chemical weapons, what the administration’s endgame in Syria was, and on how its Syria considerations affected its relationship with Israel.

JTA

Did She or Didn’t She?

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Over the past two days, while the army was shooting into the crowds in Egypt and half of Beirut was lifted by a huge car bomb, and many other awful things were happening, The Jewish Press readership has been dealing with mostly the question of the possibility that a Reform Rabbi named Angela Buchdahl could have attained her high position without the benefit of a Jewish conversion.

It started with an article in The Forward (Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue), that basically suggested Buchdahl was not Jewish according to Jewish law:

But she also engaged Judaism at a time when the Reform movement itself was undergoing dramatic change. Eleven years after Buchdahl’s birth, in a move still hotly debated in all streams of Judaism, including within Reform Judaism itself, the Reform movement overturned more than 2,000 years of tradition that recognized only those whose mother was Jewish as Jews from birth. Others, including those with just a Jewish father, were required to undergo a process of conversion, though this process varied among Judaism’s different streams.

Starting in 1983, as intermarriage advanced steadily among its members, Reform Judaism conferred a “presumption of Jewish descent” on those with one Jewish parent, whether it was a father or a mother. The one condition to this recognition was that it be established “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith,” according to the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

In many ways, Buchdahl represents the flowering of this revolution in Judaism, and symbolizes a kind of coming of age of its children.

This was coupled with an article in Hadassah Magazine:

Profile: Angela Buchdahl

Though Buchdahl’s mother did not convert, she wanted her children to find a home in the Jewish community. Her father instilled Jewish pride in his children and gave them a Jewish vocabulary, says Buchdahl, but it was her mother who imparted a sense of spiritual yearning and wonder. Her mother’s Buddhism informs her Judaism, she says, noting that Jewish and Korean cultures overlap in their approach to life, their emphasis on giving back and their drive to succeed and to be educated.

So yours truly, enchanted by the concept of the non-Jewish Rabbi, charged ahead. I still believe all the points I was making were right, namely that the Reform  doctrine of patrilineal descent and the “presumption of Judaism” in the case of a the offspring of a non-Jewish woman married to a Jew were on the money.

Except that it turns out Buchdahl may have converted to Judaism after all.

Thanks, first, to our reader Vicky Glikin of Deerfield, Illinois, who wrote:

It is highly unfortunate that your facts and the very premise for this article are plain wrong. Rabbi/Cantor Buchdahl underwent an Orthodox conversion, a fact that you would have easily discovered had you actually been trying to write an intelligent work of journalism.

So I went looking for the misrepresented conversion, and found the following line in the Times (Defining Judaism, a Rabbi of Many Firsts), hidden among long, familiar paragraphs like this one:

Her first reaction was to think about a formal conversion to Judaism, but a second impulse quickly followed: Why should she convert to prove something, when she had been a Jew her entire life? In traditional Jewish law, a Jew is defined through the mother’s line. But over roughly the last 40 years, the Reform movement in Judaism accepted descent through the father’s line as legitimate for Jewish identification, so if a child has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who affiliates as a Jew (the mother need not convert if she is involved in synagogue life), the child does not need to undergo a conversion to become a Jew.

But then, the Times revealed: “Eventually, at 21, she did undergo a conversion ceremony, but she prefers to think of it as a reaffirmation ceremony.”

Another clue was in something David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, wrote in his letter today (Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate):  “you assume an article that was written in another newspaper and upon which your author draws for his piece reveals all the facts about her life. ”

Meaning, Ellenson may have known Buchdahl had converted in an Orthodox ceremony, but to concede this would mean that he agrees that it takes an Orthodox conversion to turn even the child of a Jewish father into a real Jew — as shown by the very poster child of patrilineal descent, the subject of our attention these past two days.

I still find the entire affair more than a little bizarre: why should someone who did convert in an Orthodox ceremony be sending out all the signals that they didn’t and that they’re proud they didn’t. Perhaps we’ll find out in the next chapter of this very strange story.

Yori Yanover

‘Caged Women’ – Never Happened

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

The Women of the Wall proved today that it’s not about the prayer, but about the politics.

While they were praying, they were also busy sending out tweets from the official Women of the Wall account (I guess they have some Kavana issues).

a horrible feeling. what a shanda to encage women at the kotel

what a frustrating, painful feeling. women in a cage at the Kotel.

When I heard, “women in a cage,” I rushed to check out the photos.

With a turn of phrase like that, I knew what I was expecting to see. Needless to say, I was disappointed, when it turned out to be nothing even close…

Let’s see what’s really going on.

Here they are at the main Kotel itself, being allowed to pray according to nearly any alternative lifestyle demands they have been promoting — with direct access to the wall at the plaza, so they can also touch the same section of the wall as everyone else can while they pray, and all the tourists can watch them.

WoWCage

Yet they are using SENSATIONALIST, exaggerated terminology, tweeting to the world that they were put in cages.

Put in cages!

At first I thought it was just them being whiny, but, you know what? It’s just straight out lying.

As you can see from their own photo, that it is not the case at all.

The women’s section has been divided by a standard police divider, so that part of the women’s section is designated for those women who want to pray in the traditional Jewish manner as they have been doing at the Kotel every day, and the other part dedicated to those who want to pray in their alternative fashion, wearing male accouterments, as they do once a month.

And since the Women of the Wall have been demanding to be allowed to pray at the main Kotel plaza in their non-traditional manner – and they were allowed to do so, this argument should pretty much be over.

But that obviously is not what the Women of the Wall want (that the argument should be over).

It’s not enough that they have forced their alternative method of prayer into the Kotel.

Here’s the truth of it, based on their own tweets.

They want to force their method of prayer onto to the other women at the Kotel too, including onto those who don’t want to pray that way – whether those women want it or not.

As part of their performance politics, the Women of the Wall are demanding that everyone else be subject to their methods of prayer, while they simultaneously prove that they won’t tolerate the way the other women (or men) at the Kotel want to hold their traditional prayers.

It’s a one way street for the Women of the Wall.

I am sure that within a month or two, they’ll get their way, too, and Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) women who want to pray undisturbed in the Jewish traditional manner will be made to feel very uncomfortable in their place of prayer.

And it won’t end there.

Because, as their tweets prove, this obviously isn’t about their wish to pray at the Kotel in a manner that deviates from tradition — after all, they’ve already won 95% of that (and I’m 100% convinced they’ll get permission to read from the Torah next month).

Next we’ll see petitions to the Supreme Court to completely remove the Mechitza, and allow egalitarian (mixed prayer) prayer groups.

How long until some IRAC-connected Reform rabbi demands to be allowed to play guitar on the Sabbath at the Kotel as he or she “traditionally” does in his or her Reform Temple?

This isn’t a battle about some women wanting to dress up as men like Yentyl and pray at the Kotel.

There’s no question that many of the backers of the Women of the Wall see the obliteration of Torah Judaism in public places in Israel as their ultimate goal.

The Kotel is just one of their battlefields, and the more SENSATIONAL they can make the battle sound, and the longer they can keep it going, the better it is for their camp.

JoeSettler

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/muqata/caged-heat-was-only-hot-air/2013/06/09/

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