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Hundreds of French Jews demand election for chief rabbi

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 09:17

(JTA) — Several hundred French Jews including dozens of community leaders have called for the re-election of a chief rabbi of France within three months.

The community leaders made the call in a letter they sent last month to Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire – the French Jewish institution responsible for providing religious services, the French news agency AFP reported Monday. French chief rabbis are elected by a Consistoirial committee.

“The election must take place during the first semester of 2014 so that a legitimate chief rabbi of France is chosen to express the voice of Judaism during the difficult period we are experiencing,” they wrote. Another 500 people have signed an online petition conveying the same message.

The position has remained essentially vacant since April, when Gilles Bernheim handed in his resignation after admitting that he had committed plagiarism and claimed unearned academic titles. Rabbis Michel Gugenheim and Olivier Kaufmann have filled in as chief rabbis since then.

The cosignatories of the letter wrote that Consistoire regulations state that reelection must take place within six months of the post becoming vacant.

The Consistoire, which employs the chief rabbi and other religious services providers, has a central office in Paris and 18 regional branches, one of which is  the Paris Area Consistoire.

In their letter, the 50 community leaders said that ongoing plans to unite the Paris Area Consistoire with the central office — both of which are headed by Mergui – may lead to further postponement of the appointment of a chief rabbi.  One source told AFP on condition of anonymity that the unification would “allow Mergui to keep control of the institutions” and possibly determine who is elected.

Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Arrive in Jerusalem for Draft Protest Rally

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 10:43

Thousands of haredi Orthodox men have gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem as part of a mass prayer rally and protest against a bill that would require yeshiva students to serve in the military.

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French JDL Praises Baruch Goldstein’s Massacre of Palestinians

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 09:44

France’s Jewish Defense League has published a eulogy of Baruch Goldstein which celebrates a massacre he perpetrated against Palestinian worshipers in Hebron 20 years ago.

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The Children Left Out of Judaism

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 06:00

For parents of children with special needs, the synagogue can be an unwelcoming place. Laurie Levy writes about her own frustrations and the need for inclusion.

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Jews and Muslims Push Denmark on Kosher Slaughter

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 09:56

A joint delegation of observant Muslims and Jews made the case to the Danish ambassador to the United States that his country’s ban on ritual slaughter was harmful to its reputation.

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Reform Synagogue Attacked in Simferopol, Ukraine

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 14:43

The following was sent on Friday afternoon as an email on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The bottom of this post includes a link to donate to help Jewish communities in Ukraine during this time of crisis.

This morning, as our community members arrived at the synagogue center in Simferopol, they discovered Antisemitic slogans stating “Death to the Jews” painted all over the doors of the synagogue, as well as damage to windows and other parts of the building.

As the unrest in Ukraine unfolds, concerns for the safety and well being of our communities in the Ukraine is growing steadily, especially in the rural areas and Crimea.

As seen on the news, the Crimean peninsula is considered of strategic importance to Russia, and at the time of this newsflash it seems that Russian troops have occupied the main airports and centers of power in the capital and surroundings. This violent atmosphere has quickly given rise to harassment and attacks on our communities.

Rabbi Michael Kapustin says, “The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia. If this were the case, I would leave the country. In this case I will leave this country since I want to live in democratic Ukraine. In the meanwhile, in spite of all  our hesitation,s my family has decided to stay. If anyone comes tonight I will be in the synagogue to light the candles. Wider Shabbat services will not take place due to security reasons.”

According to Anatoly Gendin, chair of the community, “Clearly, it was important for the anti-Semites to commit this crime. Since the crisis began prices went up by 30%, pensions aren’t being paid.  As usual, Jews are blamed reason of these disasters and Jews are held responsible. I am afraid to think how this will progress. ”

As the situation is unsafe, the community has instructed all members to stay indoors and stock up on food and supplies.

The WUPJ has initiated an emergency campaign to support our communities through this crisis, and hope to provide urgently needed security measures, supplies and equipment to the communities. If you are interested in joining this effort please donate now.

We hope and pray that quiet will return soon to the streets of Ukraine, as Shabbat settles in on the streets.

Ose Shalom Bimromov, may the One who makes peace in the heavens, help bring peace here on earth, for all the Household of Israel and for all God’s creations.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mike Grabiner, Chairman of World Union for Progressive Judaism
Anne Molloy, Chair of WUPJ FSU Committee
Alex Kagan, Director of WUPJ FSU Program

To make a contribution, please visit WUPJ GIVING. If you’re using a credit card, please mark “Kiev Appeal” in the box that says, “Enter description.” Please call Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor with any questions or concerns: 212-452-6531 or gary@wupj.org.

'Death to Jews' Scrawled on Synagogue in Crimea

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 14:21

Unknown individuals painted swastikas and the phrase “Death to the Jews” on a synagogue in the Crimea region of southern Ukraine.

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Yeshiva U. agrees to ordain student it rebuked over ‘partnership minyan’

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 21:24

NEW YORK (JTA) — Yeshiva University said it will grant rabbinic ordination to a student after previously threatening to withhold it over his having once hosted a so-called “partnership minyan.”

“An agreement has been reached and the student will be receiving Semikha,” Rabbi Yosef Blau, a senior counselor at Y.U.’s seminary, told the Forward in an email, referring to ordination.

The Forward received confirmation of the move from the university’s media relations director.

In a partnership minyan, women lead many aspects of the Sabbath service and are called to the Torah. Most halachic sources prohibit the practice, including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS.

Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, or RIETS, had previously sent a letter to the student ordering him not to participate in partnership minyans “nor create a public impression that he supports such activities in normative practice,” The New York Jewish Week reported Thursday. The letter was posted on The Jewish Channel’s website.

The student, who is identified as Shalom in the letter dated Jan. 13, has chosen to remain anonymous. He told the Jewish Week that he had intended to host the partnership minyan at his home only once in his home at the request of his then-ailing wife.

The letter indicated that the student will not be a “musmach,” or graduate, of the seminary unless he is able to subscribe to the principles laid out therein, including to “defer, in matters of normative practice, to the opinions of recognized poskim,” or decisors of Jewish law.

News of the letter spurred objections from some Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Op-Ed: A Jewish approach to the ‘differently abled’

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 18:07


ROCKVILLE, Md. (JTA) — Increasing numbers of Jewish institutions are starting to pay attention to the disabled in our midst. The needs of this part of our community were in the communal spotlight this February, thanks to it being Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

As with so many categories of Jewish teaching, the traditional Jewish approach to disability is a mixed bag. Several categories of the disabled, like the cheraysh (deaf-mute) and the shoteh (mentally deficient and/or insane) are neither obligated by the body of mitzvot (Jewish commandments) nor qualified to serve as witnesses in legal proceedings, essentially being placed in the same category as minors. The blind are obligated by the mitzvot but are not allowed to offer testimony in a trial.

In other places in our tradition, a disability or a disease is seen as a punishment from God for bad behavior. Leprosy is the punishment for tale-bearing. Similarly, in the Talmud (Taanit 21a) a story is told of Nahum Ish Gam Zu, who had no hands, no feet and was blind in both eyes. These disabilities were not birth defects but were rather divine punishment inflicted on Nahum at his own request because he felt guilty for not being quick enough to feed a beggar who ended up dying.

A third way that the Jewish tradition discusses disability is essentially used as a theological trump card. It is a way of saying that God’s agency in the world is far more significant than human agency. Thus despite the fact the Moses is said to be “slow of speech,” possibly a person with a speech impediment, he nonetheless offers the most important words in the biblical story. The rabbinic commentators use this to make the point that Moses is simply an agent for God, serving as God’s spokesperson in the earthly realm.

None of the above three Judaic treatments of disability are particularly sensitive by 21st-century standards. I also fear what a disabled person, one who takes Judaism very seriously, concludes from such treatment in our sacred texts.

From a theological perspective, I am far more comfortable with the theology implicit in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” than I am with theological assumptions of the biblical and rabbinic texts. For Kushner, God does not cause disability, orchestrate natural disasters or punish human transgression with disease. Rather, God is the source of comfort to whom we turn when trying to cope with such setbacks. God is a source of healing, not of affliction.

Many parts of classical Judaism are products of the thinking of earlier generations that may not fully reflect the most enlightened understanding of our time. Yet there is one insight on the issue of disability where Judaism was not only centuries ahead of its time but where the insight is still well beyond the way most of us behave in the realm of disabilities.

The Jewish tradition prescribes a blessing upon meeting different kinds of people: a king, a wise person, a Torah scholar. The prayer prescribed upon meeting a person who is disabled or who suffers from a deformity is: “Praised are You, Creator of the Universe, who makes people different, one from the other.” Amazing!

The insight inherent in this bracha is that no two people are alike, that each of us is “differently abled.” One person can play piano; another might be skilled at computers; another can fix a toilet. A young man who was a member of my first congregation had Down’s Syndrome. Every week when he greeted me at synagogue, he offered me the most wonderful smile and the biggest hug that any person has ever given me. I came to look forward to Ben’s expression of unqualified love that was not the least bit calculated or contrived. It was his gift.

I suspect that our discomfort with people with disabilities may have something to do with our fear of being in that situation ourselves one day. One might imagine that it would make us more compassionate. But denial may be an even more powerful emotion that we trigger when confronted with a circumstance that we are not prepared to confront.

If we take to heart the Jewish teaching about every person made in the image of God and recall that one person is no better or worse than the other, simply “differently abled,” we might be better able to open up our hearts and our institutions to a wider swath of humanity.

We’d all be better for it.

(Rabbi Sid Schwarz is a senior fellow at Clal and director of the Rene Cassin Fellowship Program for young adults on human rights and Judaism. He is the author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights, 2013))

Y.U. Will Ordain Rabbinical Student Who Held Partnership Minyan Service

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 17:59

Yeshiva University, previously said to be withholding ordination from a student who held a partnership minyan in his home, now says it will grant the student ordination in March.

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Y.U. Won't Ordain Rabbi Student Who Held Partnership Minyan Service

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 14:58

The rabbinical school of Yeshiva University is withholding the ordination of a student who held a partnership minyan for his wife in their home.

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'Bridgegate' Official David Wildstein Joked About Targeting Rabbi With Traffic Jam

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 13:48

The Jewish aide at the center of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’ scandal joked about manufacturing a traffic jam at the home of a local rabbi.

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NFTY-NAR Kallah: Can Dads be NFTYites, Too?!

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 10:00

Earlier this winter, my synagogue played host to NFTY-NAR’s Winter Kallah. Because we’re of the “go big or go home” belief, our cantor arranged for Jewish musician Dan Nichols to be our artist-in-residence the same weekend. Ever a consummate mensch, Dan participated the entire weekend in activities with NFTY, the religious school, and programs for our adult congregants.

Beginning Thursday evening, Dan rehearsed with our adult, teen, and youth choirs for our Friday night service. On Friday evening just before Shabbat, more than 130 teens and their NFTY-NAR advisors started to arrive by car, by minivan, and by bus. As months of tireless and careful planning came into play, the weekend began to take on a life of its own. There are not enough words to express the gratitude to these dedicated people who do so much for our youth beyond planning such kallot.

The weekend was, in a word, awesome. It began Friday night, with Dan leading our congregation in a musical Shabbat service. I have been going through some soul-searching recently, and Dan’s music, paired with the NFTYites’ reactions to it, gave me reason to take a step back and feel as though I might have found some of what I’d been looking for.

After Friday night service, host families waited patiently in the social hall to receive the names of our teen guests and to pick them up for the start of the event. You’d think we were expecting the arrival of our firstborn children! “Did you get boys or girls?” “How many are you hosting?” “What are you feeding them on Saturday night?” Among the host families were the usual suspects – those who currently have teenagers in the youth group. There were also a large number of hosts whose children were long gone from youth group, as well as families with no youth group members past or present – and even a single, senior member of our congregation who took on 10 teen boys, God bless her! (My son was in her house, and by Saturday morning, I already received a phone call yelling me how wonderful the boys were. Upon arriving home on Sunday, my son told me she was a terrific hostess. What a match!).

My family learned we’d be hosting six 9th-grade girls. My son had given my wife and me specific instructions about what to expect for the weekend and from the teenage houseguests we hosted. His advice? Give them wifi and plenty of junk food, but most of all, leave them alone to enjoy their time together. He was right on target.

By Saturday morning, I felt a little like Tevye, only I had six daughters plus my own. By Sunday, I didn’t want them to leave! The girls were polite, and each brought our family a gift of thanks. After feeding “my girls” breakfast, my daughter and I drove them to the temple for morning worship with Dan and a day of activities created by the NFTY board. I spent the day prepping allergy-sensitive dinner, and as we ate together that night, they relayed their opinions on the day. After dinner, we headed back to temple for Dan Nichols and Eighteen in concert. As soon as Havdalah was over and Dan hit the first chord, I felt like I was at a Springsteen concert. The NFTYites stood, danced in the aisles, and never sat down.

On Sunday, I said a quick goodbye to my new daughters when I dropped them off at temple for the end of their weekend. My wife and I picked up our exhausted-yet-enthusiastic son, who, after showering, filled out an application to work at URJ Eisner Camp this summer. He refuses to let go of the ruach, spirit, that powers NFTY events.

For the past four-plus years, I only got as close to NFTY as listening to my son’s stories. This year, I got a little closer. I have so many fond memories: catching our guests laughing as they took photos of my son as a young boy, to being comfortable enough in our home to popcorn in the microwave, to taking over my living room and making it their temporary dorm room. Is there such thing as a NFTY Kallah for adults? The love these teens have for Judaism is contagious!

Argentina Rabbi-Congressman Sergio Bergman Skips Shabbat Session

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 07:43

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a lawmaker in Argentina’s National Parliament, will miss the opening of the 2014 legislative session and the State of the Union Speech because it occurs on Shabbat.

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Extremist Rabbi Warns Yair Lapid Could Be Assassinated Like Yitzhak Rabin

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 17:47

Israeli police launched an investigation into a well-known haredi Orthodox rabbi’s statement that Finance Minister Yair Lapid could be assassinated in the same way as Yitzhak Rabin.

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Rabbi warns Yair Lapid could be assassinated like Rabin

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 17:15

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli police launched an investigation into a well-known haredi Orthodox rabbi’s statement that Finance Minister Yair Lapid could be assassinated in the same way as Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabbi Dov Halbertal made his remarks in an interview this week on Galei Israel Radio.

“I had a guest over on Shabbat, an important scholar, and he told me something astounding that I think had a lot of truth to it,” Halbertal said. “He told me, ‘Listen, there’s going to be a new Rabin assassination; Lapid will be killed by a haredi.’”

Along with questioning Halbertal, police said they are considering tightening security around Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, the Times of Israel reported.

According to Israeli media reports, Halbertal explained that he was repeating someone else’s comment and issuing a warning, not making a threat.

An attorney by profession, Halbertal was known as an associate of the late haredi authority Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

Many in the haredi world are upset with Lapid because of his push for a universal draft law that would see most haredi yeshiva students drafted into Israel’s military.

Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing extremist opposed to the prime minister’s signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Newsweek/Daily Beast ‘Top 50 Rabbis’ list ending

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 16:31

NEW YORK (JTA) — The authors of the Newsweek/The Daily Beast “Top 50 Rabbis” list said they are ending the annual feature.

Gary Ginsberg, Michael Lynton and Abigail Pogrebin explained the decision, first reported in the Forward, in an article published Wednesday by The Daily Beast titled “Why We’re Not Ranking Rabbis.” They wrote that the list, which was launched in 2007, “started to carry too much weight for too many people.”

“Some rabbis felt personally wounded when they weren’t mentioned,” they wrote. “Others told us it adversely affected their career opportunities. We started receiving emphatic pleas from certain rabbis to add them to the roster (or move them higher in the rankings). Some of those rabbis enlisted friends or colleagues to lobby us insistently. Some even came to our offices with personal pleas to be included, others to offer prayers for our souls.”

The authors said they had been “queasy about ranking rabbis,” yet followed the advice of magazine editors who told them that “rankings matter: if you want people to pay attention, you need a scorecard.”

While the list “offered a valuable, unusual snapshot of the Jewish landscape,” they wrote, it “has been misconfigured into an unhealthy contest which outweighs its potential contribution.”

Jordanian lawmakers vote to expel Israeli envoy

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 14:18

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jordan’s parliament voted to expel Israel’s ambassador to Amman and recall its envoy following a Knesset debate about Israel regaining sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

The vote on Wednesday is not binding on the Jordanian Cabinet, which has the final decision. The government is unlikely to approve the measure, according to reports.

A day earlier, 47 Jordanian lawmakers signed a statement calling for the 1994 peace treaty with Israel to be rescinded. Under the treaty, Jordan was given special jurisdiction over the Temple Mount and other Muslim holy sites.

The Temple Mount is overseen by the Muslim Wakf, the religious administration charged with managing the Temple Mount site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Jews generally are not permitted by the Wakf to pray or bring any ritual objects to the Temple Mount.

In the Knesset debate on Tuesday night, Moshe Feiglin of the Likud party called on the Israeli government “to apply the full sovereignty of the State of Israel in the entire Temple Mount. I call on the Israeli government to allow free access to any Jew to the Temple Mount through any gate, and allow them to pray.”

Denmark Debates If Kosher Slaughter Is Less Humane

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 12:06

Danish Agriculture Minister Dan Jorgensen said he was open to reviewing scientific studies that present Muslim or Jewish ritual slaughter as humane.

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Pushing Jewish Day Schools to Be More Inclusive of Special Needs

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 11:16
The recent Kveller post by Benay Josselson on her son’s positive and enriching experience at Rockland Jewish Academy made me hopeful about the prospect of a full, participatory Jewish day school education for special-needs children. Her tone, which greatly contrasted with her blog post from one year earlier when she assumed it would be tough […]