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The Orthodox Monopoly on Marriage in Israel

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 14:00

I was not at my son’s official wedding.  Ariel and his wife got married in Cyprus. They made this choice not because of the country’s wonderful sights and romantic scenery, but because they wanted to be able to marry outside of the framework of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate holds a monopoly on all Jewish marriages in Israel. There is no civil marriage, which leaves an Orthodox marriage as the only option for Jewish couples in Israel.  This means that the ceremony is often performed by a rabbi who does not know the couple personally. It means stringent gender roles including pre-marital classes for women, and no option for LGBT marriages.

Ariel’s marriage is part of a shift we are seeing in Israeli society of thousands of Jews who choose to be married outside of this system.  “I was born in Israel, and fulfilled my obligations –I served in the Israeli army and paid my taxes. Why was I not given the right to decide how to get married in Israel? Why do I need to lie about our lifestyle and about something as intimate as the first day of my wife’s period to get married?”

At least my son had a choice. The many restrictions imposed upon marriage and the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel means that hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate are unable to wed legally in their own country. This situation is unparalleled in any other democratic country.

Over 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel every year.  On their flight to Cyprus, Ariel and his wife observed that the plane was filled with Israelis who were also going there for a civil marriage.  The Israelis waited in line together, took photos of one-another, and sat together at a nearby Haagen-Dazs for celebratory ice cream afterwards.

IRAC knows that Israelis want and deserve control over one of the most important aspects of their life. IRAC has introduced various marriage bills in an effort to permit Israeli couples to marry outside of the religious establishments.  Last night, Einat Hurvitz, the head of our legal department, and Shelly Yechimovitz, the former head of the Labor party, spoke about the necessity of freedom of marriage to young Israelis in Jerusalem.  They need to know; it doesn’t have to be this way.
P.S. I am seeking a large used ship, a captain, and a few willing rabbis to launch a loveboat that will travel in and out of Israeli territorial waters to perform marriage ceremonies until our law passes in Knesset.

Rabbi Rejects Apology From Bleach-Tossing Attacker

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:08

A rabbi who advocates against child sex abusers refused to accept an apology from a Hasidic man, the son of an accused abuser, who threw bleach in the rabbis’s face.

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N.Y. rabbi refuses apology from man who threw bleach in his face

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:54

(JTA) — A rabbi who advocates against child sex abusers refused to accept an apology from a Hasidic man, the son of an accused abuser, who threw bleach in the rabbis’s face.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg told Brooklyn state Supreme Court Judge Joseph Gubbay, who asked Meilech Schnitzler to make the apology in court on Wednesday, that he would not accept the apology because “you didn’t harm me. You harmed all the children I represent,” the New York Post reported.

In December 2012, Rosenberg on his blog for sexual abuse victims accused Schnitzler’s father of being a child sexual molester. As Rosenberg walked past Schnitzler’s Brooklyn fish market, Schnitzler ran toward him with a cup of bleach and threw it in his face. Rosenberg, of the same Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, was treated for burns on his face, around his eyes and in his left eye.

The incident came a day after Nechemya Weberman, a Satmar Hasidim leader, was convicted on 59 counts of sexual abuse of a then-18-year-old woman when she was between the ages of 12 and 15 and went to Weberman for counseling. Rosenberg supported and assisted the victim throughout the judicial process.

Gubbay on Wednesday sentenced Schnitzler to 5 years’ probation for the attack. Schnitzler had pleaded guilty to the felony charge of “Intent to cause physical injury with a weapon” at a hearing in April.

Rosenberg reportedly read an impact statement in the court but, according to the Failed Messiah blog, was not allowed to read some of the parts that criticized the DA or the plea deal.

According to a copy of the statement obtained by the blog, Rosenberg said that the “plea bargain has compounded the damage of my assault.” He said the day after the plea deal was announced he was pelted with rocks by teenage boys outside of a Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg. One of the teens yelled, “Ha, Ha, Schnitzler is going free!”

“The reign of violence in my community aimed at children and their protectors must be ended. Those of us in the Hasidic community willing to cooperate with the criminal justice system are entitled to protection from violence and intimidation. If not for my sake, for the sake of our children, please let the world know that our children will not be abandoned to those who would abuse them and protect their molesters. Please help make all of Brooklyn a safe place for children and those who fight for them,” he said.

Rosenberg runs a website and telephone hot-line for sex abuse victims.

European rabbis, congregants call for release of abducted teens

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 07:03

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Dozens of young rabbis serving in Europe gathered at an Amsterdam Holocaust monument to protest the abduction of three Israeli youths.

The rabbis, members of the Young Rabbis Forum of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, gathered on Wednesday at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former theater turned commemoration site because the Nazis used it as a central dispatch point of Jews to death camps shortly after their invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.

Also attending was executive director of the Netherlands-based organization Christians for Israel, Roger van Oordt.

The rabbis carried a large banner reading “#Bring Back Our Boys” and a Dutch-language translation in reference to Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were last seen on Dec. 12 at a hitchhiking post near Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the West Bank, and whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said have been kidnapped by terrorists presumed to be Palestinian.

The gathering in Amsterdam was part of a number of activities by Jewish communities in Europe on behalf of the three youths.

France’s Consistore, the Jewish community’s body responsible for religious services, called on congregants to convene at Paris’ Grande Synagogue de la Victoire on Thursday for a mass prayer for the youths’ safe return and instructed synagogue throughout France to say a special prayer for their release.

In Munich, emissaries of the Torah MiTzion movement organized a rally in Munich featuring similar signs at the city’s Marienplatz, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

Stephan Kramer Named Chief of AJC Europe Office on Anti-Semitism

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:35

Stephan Kramer, a Jewish leader in Germany, was named director of the American Jewish Committee’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism.

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Germany’s Stephan Kramer to run AJC’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:20

BERLIN (JTA) — Stephan Kramer, a Jewish leader in Germany, was named director of the American Jewish Committee’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism.

Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany for 10 years, will head an initiative that aims to raise awareness about and help combat anti-Semitism. Concerns about the problem in Europe are particularly high now.

In a statement released Wednesday, AJC’s executive director, David Harris, said “the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe … demands an enhanced AJC response.” Harris lauded Kramer’s experience and vision, and
ability “to make a difference.”

Kramer told JTA, “It’s not just about complaining about the situation … about raising my eyebrows and pointing my finger. It’s about working together with local initiatives and implementing programs to fight anti-Semitism.”

He added, “There is not one country that does not have a problem with anti-Semitism, but this is also about fighting racism and other forms of stereotypes and xenophobia.”


Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 13:09

Copies of this letter are being given to delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in Detroit, MI, who will be voting this week on several Israel-focused resolutions related to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Tonight, Rabbi Rick Jacobs will address the assembly. His message: Vote for partnership and against divestment. Watch his address live this evening, starting around 7:25pm EDT.

Dear Friend,

As the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, representing 1.5 million North American Jews, it is my honor to join you at your General Assembly.

I have come here to Detroit with an important message about strengthening our alliance. I look forward to discussing this matter with you in person, but it is of such heartfelt concern to me, and so many millions of American Jews, that I am taking the extra step to write you a detailed letter.

Like yours, our community yearns for peace and justice for all peoples. Like you, we pride ourselves on our social justice work and interfaith relations. Your creation-care and social service projects throughout the world are nothing short of exemplary. We have worked closely with your Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years, and partnered with clergy from your churches in interfaith coalitions and dialogue programs. These collaborations are based on mutual respect and understanding – and, at their best, are grounded in the core rule of coalitional relationships. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend and seek common ground. That is especially true when a partner’s survival is at stake.

As you know, our love for Israel is paramount to our identity and our faith. We appreciate and share deeply your constant concern for the vulnerable across the globe, including in Palestine. It is a source of pain to us that you fail to show that same consistent, sensitive and passionate concern for our Israeli civilian brothers, sisters and children (Jewish and Arab alike) in your statements and actions. Israeli civilians also face genuine existential threats and are so often the target of violence and terrorism. This harsh reality betrayed itself just this week when three Jewish students were kidnapped by terrorists while walking home from school. And, rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas continue to cause fear in southern Israel.

I am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. We stand firmly on this—and for two states–and want to partner with you, but your support for BDS will make this much harder.

We firmly believe that our Zionism, exemplified in our support for the Jewish people’s liberation movement as realized in the state of Israel, should not come at the expense of the Palestinian people who deserve freedom and dignity, in an independent state.

Every day the occupation causes pain and hardship to too many Palestinians. Only two states for two peoples living side by side in peace will allow this tragic conflict to end, giving way to coexistence in this blood-soaked patch of land. We truly yearn for the day when the swords of all nations will melt into plough shares and when the lives of all the children of the region, of Iraq and Syria, of Palestine and Israel, marred by fear and hate, will be mended by tranquility and laughter.

Israel is an imperfect democracy, as is the United States. Israel is not immune from criticism, and we hold Israel to the same standards of justice and equality of all democratic nations. In order to bring about desired change, it is imperative that the actions taken help fulfill the goal at hand. If the desire is, as I believe it must be, two states for two peoples, these divestment moves are not the answer. That’s because, thus far, support for divestment from Israel has only proven to harden the positions of those who least desire justice for the Palestinians. The resolutions you will consider may be aimed at specific companies, but the headlines around the world will be “Presbyterians Endorse BDS,” and will further strengthen hardliners on both sides.

We are inspired by the poetry of the prophets, but we live in the prose of a daily struggle to create a better world through the difficult, sometimes relentless work of compromise. Indeed, compromise is a rare and precious commodity between the people of Israel and the people of a future state of Palestine, but it is essential and we must work hard to achieve it.

Much of the rhetoric and the materials produced for the Church around this debate have been profoundly troubling. In particular,I have been terribly saddened, even horrified, by the document Zionism Unsettled, which is being sold as a teaching guide on the Presbyterian Church USA website. It is one of the most biased and ahistorical documents I have read. There is no way to sugarcoat it: this document is a vicious attack on Judaism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel, negating the very theological legitimacy of the Jewish religion.

How should Jews react in the face of efforts to equate Israel or Zionism with apartheid? Comparing apartheid to the situation of Israel, a democracy that, with all its flaws, grants fundamental rights and due process to all its citizens is deeply troubling. In Israel, Arabs and Jews sit side by side in restaurants, are treated in the same hospitals by Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses, and study at the same universities in courses taught by Arab and Jewish professors. There is an Arab Christian Israeli, Justice Salim Joubran, serving on Israel’s Supreme Court. To compare the horror, brutality and pervasive systematic racism of apartheid that permeated every sphere of South African life with the ills of Israel’s policy is not only unfair to Israel, but also dilutes the horror of apartheid and demeans the struggle of those who heroically defeated it.

The terminology and imagery of apartheid and Nazism conveys that one side of an argument is so intrinsically evil, so illegitimate that it has no place in the discussion and its proponents have no place at the table. Such language suggests that the Jewish yearning for our own homeland is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent, denying Jews their own identity as a people. A sweeping indictment of Zionism amounts to a blanket condemnation of the vast majority of Jews in the world.

Over the past century, we Jews and Presbyterians have become more loving brothers and sisters, but we are at a crucial junction in our relationship. I pray that the decisions of this General Assembly will bring us closer, so that we, in the words of Isaiah, can be “restorers of the breach” that threatens to divide us from each other and from the backbreaking work God commands of us to shape a world of reason and justice, of compassion and peace.

I pray that God’s blessing will rest upon you and guide you in your challenging deliberations.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

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Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

Click here for the rest of the article...

The Secret Jewish History of Tupac Shakur

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in 1996, led a life of turmoil. But a new Broadway musical makes Seth Rogovoy wonder if the brilliant rapper was really just a nice Jewish boy.

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The Secret Jewish History of Tupac Shakur

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in 1996, led a life of turmoil. But a new Broadway musical makes Seth Rogovoy wonder if the brilliant rapper was really just a nice Jewish boy.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Do I Really Have To Act All Jewish for His Mother?

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Dressing modestly and reciting Jewish prayers isn’t for everyone. A woman asks the Seesaw about managing expectations at the Modern Orthodox home of her boyfriend’s mother.

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#BringBackOurBoys meets #BringBackOurGirls

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 17:56

Demonstrators rally outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan to express solidarity with three Israeli teens who were abducted in the West Bank, June 16, 2014. (Miriam Moster/JTA)

Immediately after Monday’s #BringBackOurBoys rally at the Israeli consulate in New York on behalf of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, several participants joined a second rally nearby focused on another kidnapping on a different continent.

The second rally was outside the Nigerian consulate. It was for the more than 200 Nigerian girls whose mass abduction by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram spurred the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which in turn inspired the campaign on behalf of the abducted Israelis.

At the #BringBackOurBoys rally, the organizer, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, led the crowd in a chant of “We are with you” in a bid of solidarity with the abducted teens and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” with the crowd.

Not long afterward, Weiss was two blocks away, speaking and singing at a #BringBackOurGirls rally on behalf of the Nigerian girls.

Jordan Soffer, a student of Weiss, had happened upon the Nigerian girls’ rally as he was leaving the Israeli boys’ one. He ran back to notify Weiss, who immediately headed to the Nigeria rally and was invited to speak.

The slogan #BringBackOurBoys has met with some criticism, with a blogger for the Forward arguing that it was wrong to appropriate the language used by those advocating on behalf of the still-captive Nigerian girls. But Weiss told JTA that the participants at the Nigeria rally embraced him.

As Weiss sang Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s “Leman Achai Veraai,” members of both groups put their arms around each other, Weiss said.

“Any missing child in any area of the world is the concern of every citizen of the world,” Ebbe Bassey Manczuk, who spoke at the Nigeria rally and does media work in New York for the #BringBackOurGirls effort, told JTA.

Speaking before the #BringBackOurGirls group, Weiss recalled, he highlighted the commonality of the experiences and losses of the two communities, noting that both had suffered at the hands of terrorists. He said he urged the two communities to stand up for one another.

“It was an experience. Wearing a tallit, I spoke about the commonality of godliness in all people,” Weiss told JTA. “I remarked that just as [President Obama] said ‘These girls are my daughters,’ he should also say, ‘These boys are my sons.’”

South African Rabbi Steps Down Over $4K Blackmail of Other Rabbi

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 16:01

A South African rabbi was jailed and resigned from his synagogue after attempting to blackmail another rabbi.

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S. African rabbi steps down following blackmail attempt on colleague

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 14:34

(JTA) — A South African rabbi was jailed and resigned from his synagogue after attempting to blackmail another rabbi.

Cape Town Rabbi Bryan Opert stepped down from the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation after trying to blackmail Rabbi Ruben Suiza, the longtime head of the city’s Sephardic community, Haaretz reported. Opert was jailed for 48 hours in a case that came to light in late April and was first covered in the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport.

Opert, who approached Suiza anonymously via emails to Suiza’s wife, threatened to make public that the rabbi had been consorting with prostitutes if Suiza did not pay 48,000 South African rands, approximately $4,430.

The charges against Opert, who also is the administrative head of conversions at the Union of Orthodox Synagogues, have been suspended in an agreement with the Suizas as they continue talks with the authorities, according to Haaretz.

In a letter to his congregation, Opert blamed his behavior on a struggle with depression.

Paul Simon Escapes Charges in Domestic Spat

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 14:24

Prosecutors have decided not to go forward with charges against Grammy Award-winning musicians Paul Simon and Edie Brickell after the couple had a fight in April at their Connecticut home, a court clerk said on Tuesday.

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Prayer Won't #BringBackOurBoys

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 06:00

The whole Jewish world is praying for the three kidnapped Israeli teens. Leah Bieler writes that such devotion risks taking the focus away from those who are really responsible.

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A Handful of Jewish Republicans Runs Far to the Right

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 06:00

Eric Cantor’s conservatism made him an anomaly among Jews. But a handful of GOP congressional candidates are breaking the mold even more — by embracing the Tea Party.

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The Evolution of the NFTY Chordster

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 05:00

By Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur

In 1982, a rabbi placed a guitar in my arms, taught me four basic chords, and inspired by Hillel’s famous quote, declared, “With these four chords you can play any Jewish song. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Indeed, in the 1980s, NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, continued to develop and deepen our connection to Judaism through creating and singing new Jewish songs. We learned, we taught, and we sang with enthusiasm and tremendous passion.

Song sessions were about creating sacred community. In the early 80s, microphones were frowned upon by those who felt that the use of electronic equipment would affect the relationship between leader and participant, turning the session into a performance-oriented event. Without the electronic boost, song leaders had to work a bit harder, but the result was the creation of sweet three-part harmonies and a strong emphasis on collective singing.

Pre-internet and long before the ability to digitally distribute, the ubiquitous orange cardboard-covered NFTY Chordster produced in 1981 was our musical bible. The chordster was based primarily on the first three NFTY albums produced in the 1970s, the compositions of Debbie Friedman z”l, and the music of Kol B’seder, with a spattering of other compositions from fledgling songwriters. Included in the NFTY Chordster were the transliterated words and chords to hundreds of songs from Israel and America that lent themselves to group singing and participatory prayer. In an attempt to recognize the ever-expanding repertoire of the movement, the volume was produced as a three-ringed notebook, designed to expand as repertoire emerged from the camps and from NFTYites. Indeed, every few years we produced a semi-official chordster supplement and these packets were shared informally around the movement. In the late 1980s, the chordsters were upgraded from cardboard to plastic covers, but the contents remained unchanged, beloved by songleaders and movement musicians.

In the 1980s, the final three NFTY albums came to fruition, adding a number of significant compositions, each with a distinct sound and production value. As a collection―three albums from the 70s and three from the 80s―it offered a great deal of material to instill into the movement.

In 1980, in celebration of forty years of NFTY, NFTY released “This is Very Good.” Subsequently, in 1984, “Hold Fast To Dreams” was released. Using understated instrumentation and production, with a strong focus on vocals, the songs were easily reproducible by the average songleader, and provided invaluable tools to musicians of all ages in the movement. Finally, in a grand celebration of NFTY at 50, the sixth and final official Songs NFTY Sings album “Fifty Years in the Making 1939-1989”arrived, combining remakes of older songs from previous NFTY recordings as well as new songs from the movement. The final album, with a heavier emphasis on production, became the bridge to the next series of NFTY recordings—the Ruach series. It is interesting to note that there was a significant decrease in the number of Israeli songs on these albums in the 1980s, as more American Jewish songwriters began to find their voices. We embraced writing in the vernacular, although the majority of our repertoire was still liturgy-based and sung in Hebrew.

When I look at the state of music in our movement today, we have much to celebrate. But there is no doubt that those NFTY albums created the foundation for our rich musical contributions.

In February of 2003, many of those involved with the production of those albums, and former NFTYites from the 1980s (i.e., old people with young hearts), gathered in Washington, D.C. for the URJ Youth Workers Convention. Quite unexpectedly, we found ourselves completely snowed in and unable to leave the hotel, nor could our scheduled speakers get to us in order to address the group. Poignantly, in 2003, only days before the convention, the collective Song NFTY Sings collection was released as a digitally remastered collection.

In a desperate attempt to entertain ourselves, an idea emerged. Could we sing through the albums from beginning to end without assistance from the actual recordings? We found a small room (which became even smaller as the number of participants grew) and appropriated guitars from the unsuspecting NFTYites in the next room. For hours, the space vibrated with the sweet sounds of NFTY, from the guitar introduction to “Al Shelosha Dvarim” until the final notes of “Shalom Rav.” With the exception of two songs that no one in the room could remember, we succeeded in our undertaking. Frankly, the emotion of being in a room with the song composers and producers―a good number of whom had recorded vocals―was overwhelming. We were surrounded by our teachers, our students, and generations of song leaders who were ultimately indebted to one another. Four hours later, exhausted and exhilarated, we left the crowded lounge feeling as if we had re-created history.

Every time I see the orange NFTY Chordster in my office, I think back to the rabbi who told me—‘. . . the rest is commentary.’ For so many of us, the music of NFTY is indeed the ikar—the principal tenet. May we continue to sing from our hearts and from our souls in celebration of NFTY’s sacred community.

Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur was ordained from the HUC-JIR rabbinic program in 1997 and is a veteran songleader of four URJ camps (Kutz, Coleman, Greene and Jacobs), NFTY National Conventions, as well as for the summer NFTY in Israel programs. She currently serves as the chairperson of the URJ Kutz Camp

The Rebbe's Big Idea

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 21:08

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, was inarguably the most well-known rabbi since Moses Maimonides.

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