Friday, February 05, 2010

Rabba or Maharat? Who cares!!!!??????

Oh my G-d. (Don't want to offend anyone by spelling it out) Because, Lord knows, everyone has to weigh in on this. Mahara't? Rabbah? Not wanting to re-hash the whole debate, (click here for story) I have been reading the comments on the popular orthodox web site, Vos Is Neias, and I have come to believe that our people are insane.

For those of you who want the short version, Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior Rabbi of The Hebrew Institute in Riverdale, last year, ordained Sarah Hurwitz after she completed seven years of study, the same as any man would do. Because the HIR is a modern Orthodox synagogue, and because Rabbi Weiss was smart enough to realize that he would take a lot of heat for the action, chose a title that indicated ordination, but was different enough not to threaten the establishment. After a year of everyone wondering what the heck "Mahara't" meant, (it meant nothing to anyone outside of the HIR) they decided to change the title to Rabbah, a feminized version of Rabbi. I think that it is kinda dumb and funny, and they should just call her Rabbi, but it brings us a step closer. I have to admit, I have come to this position reluctantly, because I admit, I was one of those who felt that Halacha, Jewish law, should not casually be tossed aside. Over the past few years, however, i have been challenged (primarily by my wife) to look deeper into many of the things that "feminists" push for, and have found them to have halachic integrity. I Put the word feminist in quotes, since I don't think it applies. This is not a feminist issue. It is a thinking Jew's issue. And too often, we don't think. We rely on everyone else to think for us, under the guise of "they are gedolim - greater thinkers than we are" and i think, to some extent, because it is easier. There are those who would have us think that we cannot upend halacha or tradition, but that is completely against our tradition. Consider that 100 years ago, Sarah Schenirer departed from traditional Judaism by creating a system of educating, get ready here, GIRLS! I wonder how many people today would argue against giving girls a Jewish education? And that took a mere 100 years or so. Another 150 or 200 years before that, they were going to excommunicate the Baal Shem Tov, the father of chassidut for his radical thinking. I think that one took hold.
So back to the beginning about our people being insane. Change happens. All throughout our history, Rabbis have changed Jewish law. Who gets to decide which Rabbis have the right to do that? Answer is, we all do! So for me, Kudos to RabbiS Weiss and Hurwitz!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Last night, at the New York Jewish Film Festival, I watched a movie called Eyes Wide Open, a movie about Aaron, an ultra-Orthodox butcher in Jerusalem and a dedicated husband and father, who hires Ezri, a handsome student, as his apprentice. When his time with Ezri comes at the expense of his family life, Aaron faces threats from neighbors and town elders. Haim Tabakman’s sensitive feature debut explores the devastating consequences of forbidden passion.
It is now the second film about gay life in the Orthodox/Haredi world that I have seen in the last two weeks.

That either says that there seems to be an awful lot of interest in gays in the orthodox world, or that there is a lot more of it than people would imagine. I have lots of ideas about this, but I won't bore you with my thoughts. It is funny to me that with the groundbreaking work by Rabbi Steve Greenberg in the film Trembling Before God and just the repeated media exposure over all sorts of Rabbis and Clergy involved in same sex relations, that people still question. The Cantor at our Conservative Temple is openly gay, and lives with her partner, with whom she had a public ceremony in her shul. A few years back, a member of our Orthodox community hosted a reception for their daughter attended by over three hundred people celebrating the marriage of their daughter to another woman. The Ketubah was on display for all to see.
Yet despite the progress we have made, there are still those who refuse to be tolerant. There was a funny moment last night, at least I thought it was funny, when following the film, the director got up to answer questions. The director, who was Israeli, had long blond hair, and clearly did not appear to be from the Haredi world. A woman got up, and said, "have you ever lived in the Haredi world, or gone to a Yeshiva?" She went on, to say sarcastically, " I can translate it into Hebrew if you don't understand." He replied, not only do I understand, but I also understand your tone... this drew laughter from the audience. He paused and said, " I did not go to Yeshiva, nor did I live in the Haredi world. What happened was, one morning, I got up and decided to make a science fiction film about the Haredi world...... and at that point the woman shouted, "and that is exactly what you did" and stormed out of the theater. He went on to say that he had done pretty extensive research, and interviewed many people, and felt his movie was pretty true to form.

And by the way, I felt the film portrayed a highly sensitive and difficult subject in a very thoughtful, tender and respectful way.

Frankly, I am pretty sure that the incidence of gays in the orthodox world would mirror the statistics that we see everywhere else, but i think that both opportunity and societal pressure limit the ability for people to express themselves.

Look, I understand that as an observant Jew, balancing the Biblical commandments with reality presents a challenge. However, as a therapist, I also know that we often keep our eyes wide shut.

That doesn't really solve anything either.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy Tish'a B'av

This is the greeting offered by one of my co-workers. Well, I admit, it did make me chuckle. I then explained to her the meaning (as I understand it) of Tish'a b'av, the whole destruction of the Temples thing, and all the awful things that have befallen the Jews over the centuries. But it got me to (continued?) thinking. This whole Judaism thing is really tough. Trying to find ways to inject meaning into things that happened a millenium ago is not easy. So last night we did what we often do on Tish'a B'av, try to figure out where to go. After all, it is one of the very few "holidays" where if you are observant, you can go to the "away ballpark", wherever that is. So the search for which orthodox synagogue in the New York area will provide the most meaningful, spiritual services begins in earnest, a few days before. This year, it was to be Darchei Noam, the egalitarian orthodox synagogue that meets at the Heschel School in Manhattan. In years gone by, it has been The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, (Avi Weiss' Shul), The Hebrew Institute of White Plains. (Maybe I should have gotten a clue when all the places we were going were "institutes" like, short for institution) I think the most "fun" we had at a shul was the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan, with customs dating back two centuries in New York, and going much farther back. So it was determined that we would see what Darchei Noam had to offer in the spirituality department, since we have had such great experiences at Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem. All that was before the "TOE". You see, a few days ago, my wife stepped on a piece of glass in our home. After two visits to the podiatrist, she was not having a great amount of relief. So yesterday, after speaking to a colleague whose husband is a pediatrician, he suggested that she come see him to remove, what she was sure, was more glass in her foot. It was appropriate, of course, since my wife is, how shall we say, a bit of a reluctant patient. So seeing a pediatrician, with his soothing, patient demeanor would be comforting. So off we went, at about 4:00, to see Harry, the Pediatrician. After what seemed like an eternity, he was able to remove what was, in fact, a small piece of glass or two, and off we hobbled, my wife wounded, but on the whole, much better, we believed.

Unfortunately, the trek into the City was now going to be postponed, since the pain, and the impending tornadoes were threatening to put a damper on our plans. So after our ritual seudah mafseket trip to our pre-tish'a b'av restaurant in Westchester County, we made the decision to return home, to our less than ho-hum synagogues to hear the reading of Eicha. Disappointed that I would not have a tish'a b'av experience, and no women reading Eicha that night, (alright, call me a heretic) i suggested to my wife that perhaps we skip the shul reading of Eicha, and instead, do it ourselves. And that is exactly what we did. We went home, and after completing the evening prayers, we sat down, my wife with her injured foot elevated, and me on the floor, in typical tish'a b'av fashion, we dimmed the lights, and I began. Toward the end, my wife took over, beautifully chanting the last two chapters of Eicha.

I had found a way to make it spiritual, after all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Being Part of the Club - or not!

My former brother in law, whom I don't think ever reads my blog, mercifully, seems to have picked me to debate Judaism with. A silly sort of back and forth, since we have some diametrically opposed ideas when it comes to belief and practice.
He started off this barrage with the question, "do you believe?" After I figured out what he was asking that i believed in, he described Judaism as a sort of club, where you either follow the rules and become a member, or opt out of the club. Now opting out of the club does not mean you opt of Judaism, rather just a particular group of Jews.
This has spurred an ongoing debate which neither of us can win, since we both hold immutable tenets that are diametrically opposed to one another. Firstly, he rejects change altogether. Or if not, he feels it needs to take several centuries to accomplish. While I understand the nature of his concern, i disagree entirely, and that is where we ultimately will have to agree to disagree.

But this club he refers to, made me think. Yesterday, as I am sure most people know, several Rabbis were arrested for money laundering from the Deal, NJ community. This is a proud, close knit community of mainly traditional Syrian Jews who I imagine must be sick over the publicity they are getting in relationship to this tragedy. So they must want to leave that club, because membership has negative privileges. Then of course I read the article in the Yeshiva World News that Rabbi Yitschak Tuvia Weiss is encouraging his followers in Meah She'arim to protest in the streets this Shabbos because of the continued opening of a municipal parking lot, which is sure to create hostility, and maybe even a little name calling and throwing of nasty objects.

Another club that I would not want to belong to. And while I really do want to talk about the meat and potatoes of the discussion i have been having, today, i pose the question, "which club do you belong to, and why?" I know the answer to that one for me. So many clubs, so little time.
Shabbat Shalom

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Catskills and a welcoming community

Yesterday was visiting day at my son's camp, so despite the fact that this is his last year, we made the long (170 miles each way) trip to visit. It was a beautiful day, and the drive was very pleasant. After the visit was over, my wife and I decided to relive our youth and pay a visit to some of the other communities in the Catskills that we used to frequent. We headed off to Woodridge, a community with a fair amount of new building and changing communities. It is absolutely amazing to see that the entire Chassidic world moves upstate for the summer. I saw Vishnitz, other assorted chassidim, and the most interesting to me was the "summer home of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin." Now I went to Yeshiva. Trust me, we had no "summer homes." And everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, there are men with beards and payos, and women with sheitels (wigs) and long skirts, and little boys playing, with their tzitzis flying in the wind. The funniest sight was of what looked like a pick up basketball game, somewhere near woodridge, with a bunch of men, some African American with no shirts on, and others, men fully clothed, with long sleeved white shirts and shoes playing a basketball game.
In contrast to my post of the other day, no one was throwing garbage. Or dirty dipapers. Blacks and chassidim playing basketball together. Maybe the folks from Mea Shearim should take notice,

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is this what G-d wants? - The Jewish People - We are our own worst enemies

The violence going on in Israel between the Chareidim (ultra orthodox) and non - Chareidim really disturbs me. (Story here) The gist of it, this time, is that a mother, who apparently nearly starved her child to death, was arrested due to neglect. As the story unfolded, the implication was that the mother had Munchhausen syndrome by proxy , an illness where the mother intentionally harms her child/ren in order to obtain medical treatment and sympathy for herself. In any event, the response by the chareidi community, of which this woman is a part, was to wreak havoc on anybody and anything. Burning tires, throwing garbage, physically assaulting people. I have never witnessed these events, not living in Israel, but I can fantasize the image. Men, (because surely the women would not be allowed to participate in public) in long black coats, hats, and long beards throwing garbage at policemen. What a sight that must be.

Is this what G-d wants? When the mayor of Jerusalem permitted the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat, the chareidim rioted. On Shabbat. I mean, come on, people, on Shabbat? Throwing dirty diapers at innocent people, at policemen.

I am a big believer in letting everyone find their own path to G-d. No matter how you slice it, throwing dirty diapers, while dressed in your Shabbat finest is just not it. You can't convince me that it is. Nothing justifies the chilul hashem (desecration of G-d's name) that this promotes and encourages. Not to mention adding fuel to the fire for those who are anti-chareidi. Because, you see, at the end of the day, we all get lumped together if we are observant, and there is no distinction. I, for one, don't want to be part of the diaper throwing, Shabbat violating chareidim protesting a parking lot. I will find my own way. I wish they would find theirs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kashrut - It's What I've Always Said

So, it has been more than a year, maybe closer to two since I have posted, but I have decided, on a whim, to try to get back into it. There are so many things that go on every day, and so little time, but let's give it a shot.

I came across an article that appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times, sent to me by Yussi, that talks about Hebrew National and its "status" in the Kosher consuming world. (Jewish Times article) I don't fully accept everything that the article says, but much of it is true. The article implies that much of what happens in the Kashrut world is political, and I must admit, from my personal experience as a mashgiach (Kosher supervisor) with two of the largest Kashrut organizations in the world, it did not appear that way. Of course, I was removed from the front office, so I cannot tell you about the wranglings and goings on back there. I will tell you, that what should be of more concern than the politics, is the actual Kashrut of the products being supervised. But I save that for another time. Suffice it to say for the moment, that even among those supervisory bodies that everyone "trusts", there are more than a few problems that could send the whole process into question. After all, if you really want to avoid kashrut issues, eat only fruits and vegetables, and make sure you grow them yourself!

But back to Hebrew National. I ate Hebrew National as a kid. I grew up in a small town far from the Kosher world, and if you wanted Kosher meat, that was what you got. Then off to Yeshiva, where i was told, no, you cannot eat it. Why? Well, it is just not done. Something about a technical issue that the meat was out of the sight of the supervisors during packaging, and therefore, no good. So no more Hebrew National for me. Besides, Nathan Katz? (I think that was the supervising Rabbi for a while) Who the *#@#@ is he? No one knows. Can't trust him. Then, years later the bigger scandal.... they are rinsing their meat in water that is too hot, which at least had some teeth behind it in terms of disallowing it. I know, let's change supervision! And then everyone will love us and trust us.

So, we switch to the Triangle K.

Well, it was a good thought, but Ralbag? (administrator of the Triangle K) No one trusts Ralbag! I remember the rumor when i was a kid, and Drakes became Kosher under the Triangle K. Well, it's only dairy, so how bad could it be? Then I heard the "in"famous story that one day, some unnamed person, called the Drakes company and asked to speak to the Rabbi/supervisor. The alleged response, was "oh, he doesn't come in very often." By the way, we changed the ingredients. Do you think we should let him know? That was it for the Ralbags. True? Who knows, but that was 25 years ago. My brother, (who I am sure would not eat Triangle K anymore) was the one who said to me, "I met Rabbi Ralbag. He is a religious man, with a long white beard." Well, i don't know that the beard length makes much of a difference (if it did, i would grow mine longer) but there is no questioning the Ralabg's (his sons run the business now) credentials or seeming personal qualifications.

So I don't know about all of you, but in the future, Hebrew National might just find a place at my table. OK, so it will be on paper plates.