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Rabbi Avi Weiss to step down as rabbi of Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 04:48

(JTA) — Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, announced that he will step down as rabbi of the congregation.

Weiss — who has been an ardent activist on behalf of embattled Jewish communities and pushed a more religiously liberal brand of Orthodoxy — made the announcement Thursday during holiday services. Weiss said his retirement would be effective next July.

He said he will continue to serve as rabbi-in-residence at the synagogue, the Forward reported.

Weiss is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school, and Yeshivat Maharat, an institution for women that has graduated two cohorts of female spiritual leaders called Maharats, an acronym meaning female spiritual, legal and Torah leader.

Hamas Leader Accuses Israel of Coveting Temple Mount

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 17:39

The leader of the Palestinian group Hamas on Thursday called on Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, saying Israel was trying to seize the site, revered in Islam and Judaism and focus of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

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Freundel pleads not guilty to voyeurism charge

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:38

(JTA) — Rabbi Barry Freundel pleaded not guilty to voyeurism in a Washington, D.C. court.

Freundel, rabbi of Washington’s prominent Kesher Israel Congregation, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Washington. He was charged with voyeurism after a witness allegedly saw him installing a clock radio with a hidden camera in the women’s showers of the congregation’s mikvah.

On Wednesday, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge William Nooter ordered Freundel to stay away from Kesher Israel and the Jewish converts who immersed in the mikvah, according to Reuters.

Kesher Israel has suspended Freundel without pay, as has the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. The RCA probed Freundel this summer for allegedly making reservations to stay in a hotel room with a conversion candidate who was not his wife, according to the Jewish Daily Forward.

The RCA questioned Freundel about the matter, but the person who made the allegation could not provide supporting evidence.

“There were conversations with Rabbi Freundel on this matter,” RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky told the Forward. “Those who were involved with the conversations were satisfied with the explanation and no further action was taken.”

Rabbi Avi Weiss, Progressive Voice in Orthodoxy, Steps Down From Pulpit

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 14:23

Rabbi Avi Weiss, a progressive voice within Orthodoxy who has spearheaded the push to involve women in the faith, announced he is stepping down from the pulpit.

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The Minivan Rabbi of Mississippi

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 06:00

Most rabbis wait for Jews to come to them. Rabbi Jeremy Simons goes to them, roving across Dixie to 110 congregations in his battered Dodge minivan.

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Rabbi Barry Freundel Pleads Not Guilty To Taping 6 Women in Mikveh

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 20:43

Rabbi Barry Freundel had recorded secret videos of at six women women showering at the mikvah in his synagogue, according to allegations filed at his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.

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Will Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Conversions Be Deemed Invalid?

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 18:41

The validity of religious conversions performed by the rabbi charged with videotaping women in his mikveh may be challenged, an email from the rabbi’s synagogue suggests.

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Rabbi Barry Freundel, Accused in Mikveh Peeping, Seemed 'Aloof' to Washington Synagogue

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:37

Rabbi Barry Freundel was known to the Washington Jewish community as a champion of moral rectitude. But on Tuesday, the spiritual leader of Kesher Israel congregation for the past 25 years, was charged with the most intimate of transgressions: voyeurism.

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RCA suspends Freundel after voyeurism charge

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:35

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Rabbinical Council of America suspended Barry Freundel, the Washington D.C. rabbi arrested this week on a voyeurism charge.

The RCA board met in an emergency meeting Wednesday and suspended Freundel, effective immediately, extending the ban to his activities with the Beth-Din of America, meaning that Freundel’s functions as one of the leading conversion rabbis in the United States were also suspended.

In a letter to member rabbis of the Orthodox body, the president, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, said the charges Freundel faces are “deeply troubling” and confirmed what had until now been attributed to anonymous sources — that the alleged peeping took place in the mikvah adjacent to Kesher Israel, Freundel’s Georgetown shul.

Freundel is “facing charges that are deeply troubling,” Matanky said, adding that the alleged peeping is a “terrible, awful violation of privacy and of the sanctity of the mikvah.”

A recipient of the letter read it out over the phone to JTA. Freundel, according to reports, hid a camera in the mikvah, which was open for use to Orthodox Jews throughout Washington.

Washington’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, is meeting Sunday with Orthodox Jews to discuss privacy issues related to whatever recordings police may have uncovered in a search of Freundel’s house.

Matanky praised the Kesher Israel board, which reported Freundel to the authorities, for “acting responsibly” in the matter. He said in the letter that the RCA would “take further action as appropriate.”

Orthodox Group Probed Alleged 'Mikveh Peep' Rabbi Barry Freundel

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:50

An Orthodox rabbinic association investigated allegations of impropriety against Rabbi Barry Freundel. Why didn’t it tell his synagogue board?

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Rabbi in voyeurism case seen as distant and — until now — morally strict

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:29

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been known as a national leader on conversion and a strict moralist.

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Rabbi Barry Freundel was known to the Washington Jewish community as a champion of moral rectitude. But on Tuesday, the spiritual leader of Kesher Israel congregation for the past 25 years, was charged with the most intimate of transgressions: voyeurism.

Freundel, 62, was taken away Tuesday in handcuffs, after uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department searched his home in the Georgetown section of Washington. A local NBC affiliate reported that the rabbi had installed a clock radio with a hidden camera, called the “Dream Machine,” in the women’s showers of the congregation’s mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath.

The arrest marks a startling turn in the career of a rabbi known as a national leader in establishing precepts for conversion and as a strict moralist, who just last month railed against the corrosive effect of pornography on marriages. His synagogue, Kesher Israel, is one of the most prominent in Washington; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and New Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier are members, and former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is a former congregant.

The synagogue board in a statement said it had reported Freundel to authorities. “Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” the statement, posted on the congregation’s website, said. “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

Cathy Lanier, the city’s police chief, is set to meet Sunday night at another Orthodox shul, Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue, to discuss privacy issues related to the case, Ohev Sholom stated in an alert to the community, citing “what images may exist, from what time period, whether those images may have been disclosed or distributed, and how will those images be treated with sensitivity by law enforcement and prosecutors.”

The Forward on Wednesday reported that the Rabbinical Council of America investigated Freundel over the summer on a separate allegation of sexual impropriety. The RCA never took action because the complainant was not able to provide evidence. An insider said the RCA never notified the synagogue’s board of directors of this charge.

Congregants told JTA they were shocked by the allegation. They described Freundel as somewhat aloof and said he delegated much of the personal outreach to his wife, Sharon.

“He came off as academic, intellectual, a space cadet, head in the clouds,” said one former male congregant, a young professional. “The word was out — if you wanted an emotional experience, someone who would hold your hand, go to Rabbi Shemtov,” this congregant said, referring to the senior Chabad rabbi in Washington, Levi Shemtov. “If you wanted rigorous study, go to Kesher.”

“He wasn’t a super warm and cuddly rabbi,” said another male congregant, who, like others interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“He would answer whatever she’elahs you had,” this congregant said, using the Hebrew term for questions regarding Jewish law. “He was more than happy to share his thought process from a religious perspective. He was very much the doctor-rabbi.”

Freundel is a on the faculty of  Georgetown University’s law school and Towson University in Maryland.

Yet another former congregant, a woman, acknowledged Freundel’s reputation as distant, but said his compassion was manifest through his intellect.

Freundel, a leading rabbi for conversions, was known for his strict adherence to the precepts laid down by the RCA, but would also take care to guide closely converts through what could be a protracted and arduous process. “He has fought so hard for those who wished to make a halachic conversion to Judaism,” this congregant said, using the Hebrew term for Orthodox Jewish precepts. “He would not cut corners, but he was a voice of reason with the rabbinate.”

Freundel hewed a centrist line in some of the recent controversies affecting Orthodoxy: He was among the first to embrace the notion of women presidents for Orthodox congregations, drawing ire from some right-wingers. But he rejected attempts on the Orthodox left to create a class of women clergy, or “rabbahs.” He was known, congregants said, for dismissing rabbis he believed were his intellectual inferiors.

Just last month he told the Washington Jewish Week that the Orthodox community was afflicted by changes in sexual mores. “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place,” he said, “and the Orthodox community, no matter how traditional, is not immune from this, and it creates terrible problems.”

He went on to say: “Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages. It’s two keystrokes away. You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA executive vice president, noted Freundel’s role as the chairman of the RCA committee negotiating shared precepts for conversion with the Israeli rabbinate, which in recent years has accused American modern Orthodoxy of laxity in its approach. But Dratch said Freundel was just one figure in an ongoing process, and that it would not be affected by his departure. “Hopefully it doesn’t mean anything, because the process and the protocols are larger than any one individual,” he said.

Dratch extended the RCA’s sympathy to Freundel’s alleged victims.

“We have a lot of empathy for the alleged victims, for all women now who feel vulnerable who come to the mikvah, as well as for the family and for the rabbi himself,” Dratch said. “There’s too much we don’t know to pass judgment, but if true, we are outraged by the behavior of a rabbi in general and especially in an area of religious practice.”

From the Archive: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — and the rabbis

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 14:44

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Wikimedia Commons)

David Greenglass, whose testimony against his sister and brother-in-law — accused spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — played a central role in their conviction, recently died at age 92.

JTA had minimal coverage of the Rosenbergs’ trial for spying for the Soviet Union. However, in September of 1950 — soon after the couple was brought before a federal grand jury — it made note of a Denver Post editorial noting that “many of the persons implicated in espionage against the United States have been American citizens of Jewish descent.” The editorial, which named Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass as examples, praised a Denver rabbi, Manuel Laderman, for blasting Communists, “particularly Communists of Jewish descent,” in a Rosh Hashanah sermon.

In the months before the Rosenbergs were executed, there were numerous unsuccessful rabbinic appeals, from overseas, for clemency: 22 Israeli rabbis on Nov. 18, 1952;
Britain’s chief rabbi on June 12, 1953; and Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities on June 16, 1953. While Israel’s two chief rabbis initially were reported to have signed onto the November letter, the Ashkenazi one (Isaac Herzog) denied he had signed and the Sephardic one (Ben Zion Usiel), said he regretted signing it.

In the United States, Rabbi Abraham Cronbach of Cincinnati was one of only three clergy members urging clemency; he officiated at the Jewish couple’s funeral on June 21, 1953.

Rabbinic opinion the Rosenbergs’ execution was divided, at least in New York:

Rabbi Ira Eisenstein said from his pulpit the Synagogue of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (Conservative) that “Jewish tradition is unalterably opposed to capital punishment.” Rabbi David J. Seligson, in a sermon at the Central Synagogue (Reform) declared that “a true judgment was passed upon the Rosenbergs in accord with our American principles of evidence.”

Years later, JTA noted in a feature story on a Los Angeles retirement home for “aging Jewish radicals” — many of them former Communists — that the home’s courtyard featured “a rose bush planted in honor of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”

More Orthodox Women Dance With Scroll for Simchat Torah

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:00

Many Orthodox synagogues now allow or even encourage women to dance with scrolls on Simchat Torah. More than 100 Israelis shuls have joined in the trend.

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Temple Mount visits halted due to violence

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 05:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian demonstrators protested near the Temple Mount after Israel Police limited worshippers’ access due to fears of violence amid growing tensions.

Jewish visitors were permitted to ascend the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning, but the visits were halted by noon after the protests became violent.  Arab-Israeli leaders joined the protests, including Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas of the Balad party.

Wednesday is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, and a day when many Jewish pilgrims visit the holy site.

Visits to the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning were restricted to Palestinian men over 50 years and women, though the Palestinian Maan news agency reported that women also were denied entry.

Israel Police reportedly said they had received “information on young Arabs intending to cause disturbances to public order at the end of prayers.”

On Monday, Israeli forces quelled riots on the Mount by pushing the protesters into the Al Aksa Mosque and locking the  door. Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Monday for the first time during the Sukkot holiday.

Music City Roofers Invites People to Join in 21 Day Fast and Prayer...

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 02:15

As part of a tribute to the heroes and everyone effected by the events of 9/11/2001, Music City Roofers (musiccityroofers.com) sponsors a funds raiser and invites people in America and from all over...

(PRWeb September 11, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12161074.htm

A Las Vegas Jewish New Year Story: Bet Knesset Bamidbar, the Largest...

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 02:15

…Finds its Match in New Rabbi, Steven Rosenberg

(PRWeb September 09, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12145221.htm

Rabbi Barry Freundel Arrested — Suspected of Peeping on Women in Mikvah

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 17:47

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been charged with spying on women bathing in his own synagogue’s mikvah. ‘Such a beautiful thing is now kind of tainted,’ one woman said.

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20 Rabbis Join Rallies in Ferguson as Anger Keeps Building

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 16:45

Two months after the Michael Brown shooting, protests in Ferguson, Missouri are showing no signs of dying down. And now rabbis are joining the struggle.

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D.C. rabbi Barry Freundel arrested, charged with voyeurism

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 15:14

Rabbi Barry Freundel

(JTA) — Rabbi Barry Freundel, the longtime spiritual leader at Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., was arrested and charged with voyeurism after the synagogue board alerted the authorities.

Freundel, 62, was taken away Tuesday in handcuffs after uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department searched his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, Washingtonian magazine reported.

A statement from the board of directors emailed to congregants said it had suspended Freundel without pay.

“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” said the statement. “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

The D.C. police declined to provide further details beyond the charge. “We had an arrest of a Bernard Freundel, a 62 year old male who was arrested for voyeurism,” a police spokesman said.

Freundel, who is in police custody, is expected to have an initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday.

Freundel has led Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue, for more than two decades. The congregation’s members include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The rabbi also serves on the executive council of centrist Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America.


Am Yisrael Buy: Pro-Israel app aims to counter flurry of BDS ones

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:37

Two New York University students participate in an Israeli products “buycott” to combat Israel Apartheid Week, March 2010. (Courtesy of The David Project)

The latest Israel technology wasn’t developed at the Technion, nor was it hatched by a startup in Tel Aviv. In fact, it didn’t come from Israel at all.

Am Yisrael Buy, a new app (available on Apple, Android and Windows Phone) designed to help users locate and buy Israeli products, is the brainchild of Rabbi Daniel Cohen, 49,the spiritual leader at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, N.J.

A screenshot of the Am Yisrael Buy app.

After learning this summer about apps being developed to advance the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the rabbi said he “went looking for a pro-Israel app and couldn’t find one that was standing up to BDS.”

So Cohen, who sees BDS as a movement geared toward “isolating and destroying the Jewish state,” took it upon himself to create Am Yisrael Buy, which launched just before Rosh Hashanah. Some 2,500 users have downloaded it so far; it includes a list of Israeli products for purchase, as well as links to Israeli media outlets and Israeli organizations.

For now, the effort pales compared to the technology on the other side. Using the Buycott app, which catalogues products and their affiliations and lets users set up campaigns to either support or avoid certain products, pro-Palestinian activists created a “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel” campaign, which now has over 400,000 users. In contrast, Buycott’s “Support Israel and Boycott Terrorist Organizations” has just under  12,000 users.

While Buycott wasn’t designed specifically for the BDS movement, several other apps have been, including two separate ones that share the title “Boycott Israel.” And in March this year, the BDS movement announced that it was creating an app that offered a comprehensive database of Israeli products, and a barcode scanner to help everyday consumers boycott the Jewish state.

Interestingly, despite their different goals, Am Yisrael Buy and the BDS apps are similar in that they share information about Israeli products. A consumer wishing to buy Israeli goods could easily download a BDS application and repurpose it.

But Cohen insists that building an app with a pro-Israel message is vital.

“I’ve always taken the view that it’s better to put out a positive message,” he said. “Quite frankly, a specific BDS app, by downloading it, you send a message, whether you intend to or not, that you are supporting BDS. The commerce is important, but equally important is the message that the American Jewish community in general is supportive of Israel. So each download of [my] application goes in the column of supporting Israel.”

Cohen said he hopes to clean the app’s interface and attract people with greater technical know-how to work on the app. But he’s not looking to monetize it or start a company.

“For me it’s about the mission, the love for Israel, and the commitment that brought me into the rabbinate and made me an avid Zionist,” he said. “I’m just very fortunate to be in a position where I can make a difference.”