The PCUSA and the Banality of Evil

Most who voted for the PCUSA divestment are not anti-Semitic, but the action itself clearly was. … Read More >>


So, You Thought It Would Never Happen?

A private business owner in Seattle has been told that he will face fines and penalties if he refuses to bake “wedding” cakes for deviant couples in violation of his religious faith. If it’s “racist” to discriminate against deviant couples having a “wedding,” then it’s wrong for a Rabbi to refuse to marry them, as well.

The Rabbi has no Robes

Earlier this year, I wrote about how easy it now is to become a Reform or Conservative Rabbi, with the advent of $8000 online ordination. An enterprising woman from Detroit has managed to take things to the next level, serving as a Rabbi at a prominent Reform temple having “never trained as a rabbi,” much less receiving ordination.

But here’s the kicker: it took the congregation years to recognize that their “rabbi” had no training. She had become a “rabbinic associate” in 2008 and was expected to begin her studies, which she stated that she had completed last year — an ordination ceremony was held at the temple in May 2012. And they only found out because their board president contacted the institution she claimed to have attended in order to arrange for a second ordination ceremony there at the school — at which point he learned she had never even enrolled.

Perhaps it’s a nitpicking side point, but contrary to what the board president said to the press, the institution whose distance-learning course she was to take is not, in fact, affiliated with the Reform movement at all. ALEPH is the “Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” founded … Read More >>

Times Are Strange

A lengthy op-ed in the New York Times today by one Susan Katz Miller celebrates intermarriage and the raising of children of intermarrieds in both Jewish and non-Jewish traditions. Her family “celebrates Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Passover and many Shabbats… We also celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.”

Ms. Katz and her Episcopalian husband want their children “to feel equally connected to both sides of their religious ancestry.”

“Perhaps,” she writes, “having been given a love for Judaism and basic Hebrew literacy in childhood, they will choose at some point in their lives to practice Judaism exclusively. That would be good for the Jews. Or perhaps they will choose to be Christians or Buddhists or secular humanists who happen to have an unusual knowledge of and affinity for Judaism. That would also be good for the Jews.”

Neither, however, would be good for the Jews. Ms. Katz, “the granddaughter of a New Orleans rabbi,” was “raised Reform Jewish” by her own “Episcopalian mother and… Jewish father.”

Times, indeed, are strange. Geraldo Rivera and Stella McCartney (Paul’s daughter) are halachically Jewish. But Susan Katz Miller is not.

The Lessons of Outremont

I hope every Mishpacha reader read and absorbed last week’s cover story about the public relations efforts of chassidic residents of Montreal’s Outremont district, which had implications for Torah Jews far from Montreal.

Outremont’s chassidic residents – a full quarter of the neighborhood – discovered that their neighbors, particularly a local city councilor, were not all enthusiastic about their presence. The traditional response would have been to do nothing, other than mutter about the anti-Semities and pray that matters did not degenerate further.

Nor would such a response have been entirely unjustified. Xenophobia has long been a prominent characteristic of Quebec’s francophone population, and it would be hard to think of a group more likely to arouse suspicions of outsiders faster than strangely garbed, generally non-French-speaking, chassidim.

Blaming the anti-Semitics also benefits one’s psychic health. For one thing, it means that one never has to examine one’s own actions to determine whether they could have in anyway contributed to the animosity displayed. And second, it means that one need not worry about doing anything to change the situation, which is just part of the natural order of things.

Outremont’s chassidim, however, rejected the quietist approach. Aided by an unlikely … Read More >>

A Purim Papacy

After giving it serious and prayerful consideration, and despite the many urgings and importunings from my supporters around the world during this Purim season, I must regretfully announce that I am not a candidate to succeed the recently resigned Pope Benedict. Although I possess a large number of extra yarmulkes of all colors and shapes, including many red ones, I do not feel suited for this role – even though I must admit that people who know me best do find me rather infallible. There are several reasons for this decision:

The ceremony for choosing me would perforce include the traditional white smoke emanating from the Vatican chimney. The doctor has told me to avoid smoke at all costs. All my encyclicals are out of service. My last encyclical is missing one of its eight wheels, thus encumbering me with its slow pace. I tried bi-cycles and tri-cycles, on which I did fairly well, but when I climbed on to the traditional Vatican en-cyclical, I kept falling off — which is worse than falling from grace, and quite demeaning for the papacy, especially with those long robes. As for those long white robes, they would all need to be … Read More >>

The Cartel Has Been Broken

In retrospect, the phenomenon of Internet-trained Rabbis serving in Conservative and Reform congregations was bound to happen.

For decades, the liberal movements have tightly managed their Rabbinic placements. The size of each class at HUC or JTS (plus Ziegler in LA) is limited, and each year’s graduates band together as an informal cartel, setting acceptable starting salaries for congregations of different sizes. While this has made it difficult or impossible for smaller congregations to afford a Rabbi, it has also ensured that the Rabbis are able to quickly repay the roughly $100,000 they spent for five years of training — and make quite a decent living from then on.

I recall over a decade ago that there was some controversy when new, “non-denominational” Rabbinic schools were founded. But now, these “non-movement” schools constitute a movement of their own, churning out new rabbis at an impressive rate. All you have to do is commit two or three hours a week (and $8000), and write a 2000 word paper at the end on “any Jewish topic” to prove you’ve learned something, and that’s it, you’re ready to be called Rabbi. And some of those rabbis are, says the Forward, … Read More >>

Missionaries and Maligners

[This is an Ami Magazine "News Commentary" piece -- one of several features I write for the publication.]

An umbrella group of institutions engaged in Jewish-Christian relations and the Anti-Defamation League both issued statements recently that were harshly critical of Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the respected posek (halachic authority), Rosh Yeshiva, and Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York. In a dvar Torah posted to the web, Rabbi Schachter had decried missionary activity in Eretz Yisrael and the efforts of some Orthodox-ordained rabbis to affirm Catholic claims to “a covenantal connection” to Eretz Yisrael.

In the process, he noted how the “official Catholic response” to the Zionist movement was a negative one, and how the position of the Vatican to this day is that Jerusalem should be an “international city.” And he noted Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l’s strong opposition to the establishment of religious bonds with Christian clergy—and how “shameful” it is that some claiming to be disciples of “the Rav” have disregarded or misrepresented his words. Rabbi Schachter is recognized as, in the words of the New York Jewish Week, “a leading disciple” of Rab Soloveitchik, whom the paper calls “a towering … Read More >>

Exercising the Empathy Muscle

Politicians are often subject to derision, often for good reason. Recently, though, a Catholic cleric hurled an unusual and creative insult at local politicos: They are like Jews.

Edward Gilbert, the leader of the Catholic Church in Port of Spain, the capital of the southern Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, made the comparison between elected officials and “the original Jewish people,” explaining that Jews, at least in ancient times, cared only about their own.

“The Jews were compassionate and caring to the people of their nation, to the people of their race…,” Archbishop Gilbert reportedly said during an October 24 religious ceremony commemorating the 225th anniversary of the Roman Catholic presence on Trinidad. Christianity, he proudly asserted, “universalized the concept of love.”

Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League protested the sermon, calling Mr. Gilbert’s statements “a disturbing repackaging of ancient anti-Jewish canards and supersessionist beliefs.” The American Jewish Committee chimed in with chiding of its own, contending that “such prejudicial comments not only reflect personal ignorance, but also ignorance of the teaching of the Catholic Church since Nostra Aetate.” That was a reference to the Vatican II declaration repudiating the centuries-old “deicide” charge against all Jews, stressing the religious bond … Read More >>

The Heavens Are the L-rd’s

Those of us old enough to remember July 20, 1969—when human beings first walked on the moon—recall, too, our sense of amazement over the “one small step for man” that came to mark the day for posterity.

The technical accomplishment was formidable. The Apollo 11 spacecraft transported three men from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the moon, and two of them stepped out onto the Sea of Tranquility, a dry bed on the lunar surface.

For some, it was wholly the technological feat that yielded the awe. The “giant step for mankind,” to them, meant that now nothing could stand in the way of further space exploration, that further giant steps—which they assumed were inevitable—would soon enough include a permanent outpost on the moon, a human presence on Mars, even flesh and blood forays into realms beyond the solar system. Humans could, and would, conquer the heavens.

Today, more than forty years later, a considerably more modest mood has settled on would-be intergalactic conquistadores. No feet have disturbed lunar dust since 1972. Space travel disasters, dangers posed by radiation in space, and budgetary constraints born of wars and social needs have combined to effectively remove … Read More >>

Why America Hearts Israel

Carl Schramm’s graduation speech to Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business was pretty much what one would expect from one of America’s leading students of entrepreneurship: a paean to American freedom of the individual and the economic freedom on which it is grounded. In the middle of Schramm’s celebration of American capitalism, there appeared a sentence that caught my attention: “The per capita rate of business formation in the U.S. is higher than in any industrialized society except Israel.”

That chance reference to Israel together with the United States set me thinking about one of the nearly open miracles of Israel’s history: The only country in the world in which popular support for Israel is consistently high also happens to be the richest and most powerful nation in history, the one indispensable ally.

American support for Israel has little to do with the wealth or influence of the Jewish community. Many of Israel’s staunchest political supporters in the United States represent states or districts with few Jewish voters. (The same pattern exists in Canada, whose prime minister, Stephen Harper, is by far the most forceful advocate for Israel among current world leaders. The traditional base of Harper’s Conservative Party … Read More >>

Pulling The Plug – Like It Or Not

“Death squads” are alive and well. And they have nothing to do with the President’s health-care system.

A teen in New Zealand was forced off life-support, and lived to talk about it. Here is an excerpt from a First Things blog. (First Things is a religion-friendly, right-leaning periodical of intellectual thought that was run for many years by Judeophile Father Richard John Neuhaus. It has enjoyed much contribution by Jewish writers; its masthead today includes a young YU grad as a Junior Fellow.)

A teenage girl whose life support was switched off by a New Zealand hospital against her family’s wishes defied the odds to recover and returned home this week — walking and talking. Doctors forecasted that Kimberly McNeill, 18, would never recover from her severe injuries and 15 days after being transferred to Auckland City Hospital, authorities turned off the life support machine, the New Zealand Herald reported Sunday. Defying the odds, she pulled through and this week, two months after the wreck, which nearly claimed her life, returned to her parents’ home in Napier, on New Zealand’s North Island, to continue her rehabilitation, Hawkes Bay Today reported.

A Cautionary Tale

The headline says it all: “Court orders Orthodox woman to be cremated after three-month battle.”

Ethel Baar, who died on September 11, began following Orthodox Judaism late in life, and her great-nephew James Pollak said that she had wanted to be laid to rest in accordance with Orthodox tradition.

But in 1999 she also stated in her will that she wanted her body to be cremated, which is against halachah.

There isn’t much a secular court could do; even they follow the principle of Devarim Shebelev Aynam Devarim, “Words of the heart are as nothing.”

As found on “Yiddish Nayes.”

Fighting Fire With Water

Our Jewish danger-sensors must be turned on always, but our Jewish brains no less. … Read More >>

A View From Afar

To name the Muslim country where she lives would compromise her security; the authorities there do not look favorably on citizens who communicate with Jews. Her husband is a Hindu and she, although born a Christian, long ago abandoned her family’s religion and pledged herself to the Torah.

“Tehilla,” however, as I’ll call her, has not converted, and has no plans to convert. She and her two adult sons are “Noahides” – non-Jews who have come to the conclusion that the Jewish religious tradition is true and who have undertaken observance of the “seven laws of the children of Noah” – the basic moral precepts that Judaism prescribes for all of humanity: the prohibitions against idolatry, profaning G-d’s name, murder, sexual immorality, stealing and eating a limb cut from a live animal, as well as the commandment to establish courts of law.

There are Noahides in Australia, Asia, Europe and here in the United States (a good number of them, for some reason, in Tennessee, Georgia and Texas). Many face formidable societal obstacles, though Tehilla, considering where she lives, likely faces more than most.

“Tehilla,” which means “praise” in Hebrew, is an appropriate alias for someone so filled … Read More >>

Our People Do Not Know the Truth about You

A first-person account, from the always-excellent IMRA News Service:

Emek Hospital saves a Palestinian boy from Jenin

On Thursday, June 3, 2010, 15 year old Muhammed Kalalwe … noticed a deadly viper snake and tried killing it with a rock, but the dangerous creature struck out and bit his right palm. Screams and panic ensued and within minutes, the boy’s father, Hafed, grabbed his stricken son and rushed him to the Jenin Hospital. They were ill-prepared to treat the boy, had no anti-serum and decided to send him by ambulance to the Emek Medical Center in Afula. Hafed later related that he was genuinely afraid to be taken to Emek because he was sure that they would be ignored and not even spoken to…

The humanitarian reality of Emek shocked both the father and son as they were immediately greeted in Arabic, rushed into the ER where Emek’s multi-ethnic staff administered life-saving anti-serum and brought the boy back from the brink of death…

I asked the father how he felt now about Emek Hospital and the Israelis he has come into contact with. Staring me straight in the eyes he said, “Our people do not know the … Read More >>

They Con the World

Especially for those familiar with “We are the World,” this is a must-watch video.

This video was taken down by YouTube for a “Copyright Violation” after some 3 million views. Thanks to Ori for providing a revised link.

For men there is individual Kol Isha at 1:05-1:20 and 2:50-3:10, and a mixed chorus thereafter. Please respond accordingly.

Rapper's Sabbath

Despite having eclectic tastes in many things, I have no appreciation of urban music. And so I had never heard of Q-Tip (the person, that is; the object is familiar to me). He is apparently a rapper. Presumably with clean ears.

I was introduced to Mr. Tip’s existence by a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report about his embrace of the Jewish Sabbath, a concept he apparently encountered while playing a role, as a drug dealer, in a film about some Chassidic boys who were lured into smuggling illicit substances.

The motion picture was “inspired” – the producer’s word, although it sits somewhat uncomfortably here – by the case of some young American Chassidim who were in fact recruited in the 1990s to carry illegal drugs overseas.

The ideals and commitments of most Orthodox Jews make them unlikely committers of crimes like drug running. But, sadly, illegalities of many types, including that one, do exist in the Orthodox world. Not every Jew in the Orthodox community lives an Orthodox life.

So it was probably inevitable that some enterprising screenwriter would come across the reports about Chassidim tragically drawn into the easy money of drug smuggling and recognize an entertainment … Read More >>

UK street preacher jailed for saying homosexuality is a sin

From the Daily Telegraph:

Dale McAlpine was charged with causing “harassment, alarm or distress” after a homosexual police community support officer (PCSO) overheard him reciting a number of “sins” referred to in the Bible, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships.

The 42-year-old Baptist, who has preached Christianity in Workington, Cumbria for years, said he did not mention homosexuality while delivering a sermon from the top of a stepladder, but admitted telling a passing shopper that he believed it went against the word of God.

Of Cartoons and Coldhearted Cowardice - Part 1

This week, the New York Times’ token center-right columnist, Ross Douthat, had an important piece on the contradictory notions of censorship in contemporary society. Reading it through Jewish lenses, though, one can see its implications for our own society as well.

Back in 2006, when the appearance of cartoons caricaturing Islam’s founder, Muhammad, sparked worldwide riots, the scriptwriters of an entertainment program with well deserved notoriety for its offensive language and willingness to ridicule anyone and anything, tried to run an episode featuring its own animated images of Muhammad. The channel airing the program, however, blacked out these images.

Two weeks ago, these same writers got their revenge with another episode lampooning the censorship of their work, this time featuring Muhammad speaking from inside a U-Haul trailer and a mascot’s costume. This prompted an Islamic website to post a column predicting the writers would end up like Theo van Gogh, a Dutch artist murdered in 2004 for his stinging critiques of Islam, alongside a photo of van Gogh’s corpse. The host channel’s response was swift in coming: the very next episode, intended to feature similar “non-appearances” by Muhammad, was purged of every last reference to him and the … Read More >>

Preaching to a Very Mixed Choir

What do you tell a gathering of clerics, when they give you about a minute, and others can be expected to offer some PC drivel? Speaking at the World Summit Of Religious Leaders Forum On Globalization, Religion And Traditional Values this morning in Baku, my colleague Rabbi Abraham Cooper managed to express something with substance and effect, by drawing on Chazal. (I will admit to having had some input in the drafting of the speech. :-)) Introduced by an imam from Kuwait, this, in part, is what he told the crowd:

The Rabbis taught: Ke-sheim she-partzufeihem shonos, kach doseihem shonos. “Just as their faces are different, so are their opinions and beliefs….” What is the connection? Why link faces to beliefs? A learned Rabbi, Yisrael Gustman, himself a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, offers this unique explanation:

We may not like the way somebody else looks, but we hardly blame him or her for the size of their head, the color of their eyes, or length of their nose. We recognize that people looking different, is part of the way G-d set up our world. We should understand that people’s different beliefs are exactly the same. We should … Read More >>

Last Words

To a believing Jew, every other Jew, no matter how ignorant or personally unobservant, is a relative – a member of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish Family. … Read More >>

Haiti and the Mind of G-d

I am not able to worship a G-d Whose ways are all crystal clear to me – attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859)

The ways of G-d are hidden and mysterious; they have never been crystal clear to man. Only a finite and mortal god can be fully known and understood by finite and mortal man. But who will worship a mortal god? By the same token, only an infinite and immortal mind can fathom the infinite and immortal G-d. But who among us has an infinite and immortal mind?

Given these obvious facts, it is difficult for a mortal mind to fathom the ease and eagerness with which other mortal minds presume to reveal divine secrets. For whenever some major catastrophe strikes, there are always those who leap forward with reasons and explanations. Whether it be a bridge collapse, a massive air disaster or a plague, inevitably a religious leader stands up and tells the world precisely why this happened.

Tsunamis, we are informed, strike certain countries because they disregard G-d; floods inundate populous areas because they are flooded with vice; hurricanes devastate cities because of overweening pride. It is as if every catastrophe were to have … Read More >>

Selective History

Neither Christianity nor Islam, after all, even existed when the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem functioned for centuries as the focal point of the Jewish people. … Read More >>

EEOC vs. Belmont Abbey, Continued

I am honored that Professor David Neipert, one of the faculty members who initiated the EEOC complaint against Belmont Abbey College, saw fit to respond to my earlier article on this topic (as it appeared on the Baltimore Sun’s “In Good Faith” religion blog). Given his personal involvement in this case, it is obvious that he begins with a far greater knowledge of its particulars, and I appreciate his sharing his perspective of the facts.

Here are the key points that he has made, to the best of my understanding:

1. The status of Belmont Abbey College as a religious institution is questionable. This is buttressed by the fact that the College “advertised itself as an equal opportunity employer and freely accepted funding that was not available to religious institutions.” Additionally, the majority of its faculty, staff, students, and alumni are not Catholic.

2. The college offered coverage for these services for 26 years, “indicating that this was a change of a deliberate policy.” It was then done immediately, unilaterally, and without discussion, and the College refused to negotiate.

3. It is not the eight faculty members, but the school, that is attacking religious freedom. … Read More >>