Sep 25, 2008

Let’s do 5769 together, not alone

Let's do 5769 together, not alone
by Rabbi Menachem Creditor (courtesy of the J)


The year 5769 is destined to be one of transition. There will be enough change to boggle the mind — if not stifle it.

And if the end of 5768 is any harbinger, we will need all our wits to handle the transition, to take the right path forward.

Whichever path that is, the best way to do so is communally, not individually.

In the past few months, the Bay Area has seen an influx of new leaders (rabbis, teachers, a CEO at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation) — while in the background the country experiences economic upheaval and the political turbulence of a presidential election.

Swirling around us are differing visions of what might come next.

How can we make decisions facing, as marketing theorist Jack Trout calls it, such a "tyranny of choice"? With so much potential in the air, how can we remember the solid ground beneath our feet? Which way do we turn as the entire world, it seems, is born anew right in time for Rosh Hashanah?

I don't have answers to these questions, per se, but I have ideas and anxieties and hope — and I have my blessings. And now is as good a time as any for a blessing (if not the best time, since the High Holy Days are the rare occasion when we almost seem to gather as a community).

I bless us to remember first and foremost that tunnels and bridges allow us to join together. Traffic does not stop Jewish unity. Living in different regions of the Bay Area is no excuse not to coalesce for common cause.

The truth is, we have serious work to do.

Bay Area Jewish institutions must be or become meeting places for the affiliated, the seekers, the unaffiliated, the professionals engaged in the sacred work of strengthening Jewish connections with non-identifying Jews.

The only way we'll successfully respond to the alarmingly low affiliation rates in our community is by championing uncompromising unity and innovative Jewish education initiatives. And this will happen only if we share our Jewish world rather than divide it.

We are a strong, worthy, skilled community. And we have the means to transform those assets into higher levels of affiliation. In order to do this, each particular community must see itself as part of the whole — Orthodox is Conservative is Reform; we are nothing without each other.

We must recognize that redundancy in community organizations wastes precious resources. Partnerships between shuls, agencies and schools allow for a stronger and wider net to be cast. It's not shul against shul, agency against agency, federation against federation.

In Rabbi Hayim Herring's classic book "Jewish Networking," he reminds us that "organizations exist for people and their purposes. They exist to serve people, not the other way around. Network Judaism asks institutional leadership to examine how Jewish institutions relate to one another. Organizations that exist in a network relationship do not compete against one another, but work together to be responsive."

We should be blessed to come together whenever we can, sharing resources and thereby maximizing the impact we can have as a whole Jewish community.

I've been inspired when shuls and schools and agencies collaborate to change the world — working for Darfuri refugees, Israel and equal marriage, and against domestic violence, poverty and mental illness. These are purposes that bring us together, even when we debate. Especially when we debate.

Spirituality is meant to make a positive, practical difference in your daily life. Being a believer should strengthen your mental and physical health, augment your appreciation for life, provide a fuller sense of purpose, help you make decisions, heal and fortify your personal relationships, make you feel whole — not divided.

We share time and space as a Bay Area community. We must approach our time together with reverence, respect and care. Every public gathering should be a safe place to explore, question and test our beliefs. We must support each other in our journey.

Our synagogues face east. We share a direction. Our lives are geographically connected. We share a state, a country. We are sisters and brothers with believers in other faiths, in no God, in many Gods. We share a world.

We all have work to do.

I bless us that while alone we are strong, we remember that together we are stronger. May the year to come find us brave and wise enough to dream with our hands, fulfilling a vision together, step by step.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 21, 2008

Jesuit University Offers Jewish Social Justice Course

By Rebecca Spence
Thu. Sep 18, 2008

Los Angeles — A Bay Area university has become the first in America to create an academic program based on a long-standing tradition: the Jewish commitment to social justice.

This month, the University of San Francisco, a 153-year-old Jesuit institution, launched the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice. Directed by Jewish activist Aaron Hahn Tapper, the program offers students the opportunity to carry a minor in the new track, which examines social justice through a Jewish lens.

In 2003, Hahn Tapper founded Abraham's Vision, an educational organization that works toward transforming religious and ethnic conflicts. He will continue his work at Abraham's Vision, where he serves as co-executive director.

Since the 1970s, Jewish studies departments have proliferated on American college campuses. More recently, Israel studies departments have carved out a place for themselves in academia. But this latest iteration — a program narrowly focused on Jewish social activism — is a departure from the more traditional departments, where academic study stands alone. The Swig program intends to marry academia with practical application.

"It's a bold undertaking that's really trying to shake things up," said David Myers, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Social activism has long been a defining characteristic of the Jewish people. In the early part of the 20th century, Yiddish labor activists organized workers in protest of abhorrent factory conditions. That kind of protest — rooted in the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, or repairing the world — was reflected again during the civil rights movement, when Jews flocked to the South to oppose segregation.

During the past decade, a new crop of young Jewish social justice activists has emerged as a growing force in Jewish life. The success of such groups as the Progressive Jewish Alliance — a California-based grass-roots organization — points to the renewed Jewish focus on issues of racial, economic and gender equality. Recently, the Conservative movement created Heksher Tzedek, a justice certification for kosher meat. The initiative was conceived in the aftermath of the Forward's reporting on Agriprocessors, the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse, which has been accused of mistreating workers and animals.

In an indication that the burgeoning social justice movement is hitting the mainstream Jewish world, Daniel Sokatch, who previously led PJA, was tapped last spring to become CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

"The emerging Jewish social justice movement is now, beyond dispute, clearly impacting the mainstream Jewish community," Sokatch said. "Beautifully, it now leaps from just the Jewish community to the places where people are looking at and studying the Jewish community."

The Swig program is for Jews and non-Jews alike. An estimated 5% of USF's 8,000-member student body is Jewish.

To Hahn Tapper, an academic institution is the perfect setting to train students to have a real-world impact. "The purpose of education as this university sees it, and as I see it, is not to merely attain certain skills but to take those skills and go out and change the world for the better."

The USF program — formerly known as the Swig Judaic Studies Program and reconfigured by Hahn Tapper — requires students to take two new core classes in addition to pre-existing Jewish studies courses.

One of the core classes, "Jews, Jewish Texts, and Social Justice Activists," examines five social justice issues — economic justice, gender equality, sexual-orientation equality, environmental justice and racial and ethnic equality — in the context of Jewish text. As part of the course, 17 Jewish social justice practitioners from the Bay Area — including Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who advocated for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis in the Conservative movement — will visit and speak to the students.

"Nothing like it exists in the country," Hahn Tapper said, referring to the course. "And I say that with regret, not with hubris."

Sep 18, 2008

Crossing a line?: Many local names sign on to controversial Rabbis for Obama list

Crossing a line?: Many local names sign on to controversial Rabbis for Obama list

Friday September 19, 2008
by dan pine, staff writer for the J.

Can ordained rabbis publicly endorse a partisan political candidate? Apparently, yes they can. More than 400 American rabbis have lent their names to Rabbis for Obama, a Chicago-based organization that has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Rabbi Menachem Creditor, of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, is one of the pulpit rabbis signing on for Obama. He’s not the least bit worried that he has crossed a line. “I’m not representing my congregation,” he says. “That would be a violation of the tax code and the church-state divide.”

It’s not like the Rabbis for Obama will hop on the campaign bus or show up arm-in-arm at a rally. Mostly they signed a letter (available on the Web at www.rabbisforobama.com), which reads in part, “We join together to support Senator Obama for president, and we do so in the belief that he will best support the issues important to us in the Jewish community.” The letter goes on to read: “We are fully aware that a smear campaign against Senator Obama has been waged in the Jewish community, and we feel it is our duty as Jewish leaders to fight for the truth and against Lashon Hara,” the Hebrew term for evil speech. A Republican Jewish leader found that latter passage of the letter particularly objectionable.

“It’s irresponsible and unprofessional as rabbis to give a hechsher in accusing us of lashon hara,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Brooks said the reference to “guilt by association” seemed to be referring to the RJC’s criticism of Obama’s links to his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and some who have been listed as the Democrat’s foreign policy advisers — two topics that Brooks believes are fair game in the debate over Obama’s record.

The rabbis for Obama live in every region of the country, including the Bay Area. Local rabbis participating include Creditor, Brian Lurie, Michael Barenbaum, Pamela Frydman Baugh, Carol Caine, Steven Chester, Jack Gabriel, Margaret Holub, Lori Klein, Lawrence Kushner, Michael Lerner, Janet Marder, Dorothy Richman, Laurie Hahn Tapper, Martin Weiner and Josh Zweiback. Of those, a handful are senior rabbis at local congregations. Others are either retired or serve agencies such as Hillel or Jewish day schools. Dan Shapiro, the Jewish outreach director for the Obama campaign, said his team is “delighted to have leaders with credibility” in the Jewish community come forward to “make a difference.”

Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, said he believes Rabbis for Obama is a first in the Jewish community. “I certainly can remember many newspaper ads that rabbis would sign” backing a candidate, Sarna said, but “I can’t remember another organization with this kind of title.” Creditor says that if McCain or his supporters had protested “the outright smear campaign of Obama having a Muslim background or not being a friend of Israel, I probably would have thought twice about signing up.” But, in his view, that did not happen.

Like Creditor, Zweiback, an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, also cites what he calls a “smear campaign to spread untruths about Obama and Israel” as the reason he, too, got involved. He sees no problem with a rabbi endorsing a political candidate, as long as it’s done as a private citizen. The Rabbis for Obama Web site lists the names and locations of the supporting rabbis, but not their synagogue or organization. “None of us speak for our institutions, as we’re rightfully not allowed to do,” Zweiback says. “Rabbis have an obligation to exercise care in how they do things like this, but just as people in other settings have a right to endorse, by virtue of being citizens, so do rabbis. They don’t give that up.”

Hillsborough resident Norman Epstein, a local senior official in the Republican Jewish Coalition and a McCain supporter, begs to differ. He is outraged by the idea of a Rabbis for Obama. “I feel this is stepping over the line of what I believe a rabbi’s role in the community is,” Epstein says. “To be clear, that is to be a spiritual leader, not a political activist. Judaism is a religion, not a liberal political movement. So are these rabbis telling Jews for McCain ‘not to bother attending my shul’? Talk about offensive, disrespectful and shameful.”

Zweiback couldn’t disagree more. “The notion that the work of a rabbi is apolitical shows a lack of understanding of rabbinic Judaism,” he says. “The concerns rabbis have classically devoted themselves to — so much of it is political. When Isaiah talks about the real meaning of Yom Kippur, un-shackling the cruel chains that oppress the poor, what is he talking about if not [politics]?” He also counters that church-state prohibitions apply to religious institutions, not individuals. “The issue is not a rabbi, but a 501(c)3 charity institutionally cannot take sides,” he notes. “We’re careful and make sure we don’t cross the line that the institution itself is supporting a cause or candidate.”

One rabbi familiar with politics welcomed the rabbinical group. “I endorse Rabbis for Obama and I endorse Rabbis for McCain,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I believe religious people ought to be engaged in the public world.” The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, who has been critical of mixing religion and politics, said he was OK with the group. Rabbis don’t have to give up their rights, he said. As long as they’re not endorsing candidates from the pulpit, Foxman said, “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Creditor admits not everyone in his Berkeley congregation shares his political leanings, but he believes his endorsement of Obama will not offend. “Members of my shul are glad to know I care about the future of our country,” he says. “Some disagree with my political commitment, but its important to know our synagogues are places to have the conversation.”

Tell that to Norman Epstein. “This is a slippery slope for our spiritual leaders,” he says. “I am glad my rabbi is not on the list. He would hear from me if that were the case.”

Sep 17, 2008

Vote No on Prop. 8


The California Supreme Court’s May 15th marriage ruling caused a historic response on the part of leaders of PJA and three other Jewish Bay Area community organizations. We have joined together to form Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice), a coalition for justice and LGBT rights. In addition to the PJA, Kol Tzedek members include Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Jewish Mosaic: the National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and the LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Sonoma and the Peninsula.

Kol Tzedek began our work together by creating a vocal supportive presence at San Francisco’s City Hall on the first day that marriage licenses were issued to same sex couples. We came equipped with a chuppah (marriage canopy), a ketubah-like document marking the historic moment and signed by nearly 200 people present, and wedding cake to celebrate with couples.

Our next goal is to mobilize the Jewish community against Proposition 8 which is on this November’s ballot. Prop. 8 would amend the Californian Constitution so that only marriage between a man and a woman would be valid in California. We will outreach to rabbis, organize community forums, and coordinate Jewish phone banking events throughout the Bay Area over the next three months, all in an effort to influence the Jewish community’s vote and public impact. The phone banking will take place every Thursday night in September and October from 6:30 to 9 PM at varying locations.

Join our efforts! Email bayarea@pjalliance.org for ways to get involved.

See below for a complete list of all of our upcoming actions:

  • Hold several community gatherings in collaboration with the Jewish Community Relations Council to address the Jewish community’s responses to Proposition 8.
  • Organizing “Jewish Nights” of phone banking to call potential voters who are “on the fence” and advocate for their vote against Prop. 8. These will take place every Thursday in September and October (expect Yom Kippur) at a variety of locations throughout the Bay Area from 6:30 to 9 PM (in collaboration with the ACLU of Northern California).
  • Gathering signatures of at least 125 Northern California rabbis for a clergy statement supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry (in collaborations with Los Angeles based Jews for Marriage Equality, who will gather 125 signatures in Southern California).
  • Reaching out to rabbis in the Central Valley with encouragement to support the efforts against Prop. 8 and providing them with supportive materials, and Bay Area rabbis and same-sex couples who can speak at their synagogues.

Sep 15, 2008

Why I Joined Rabbis for Obama

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor


I've received both affirmation and hate-mail in recent weeks for having joined a group called Rabbis for Obama (rabbisforobama.org), a grassroots organization of rabbis from all movements and backgrounds.  Here is why I joined. 


My primary reason for endorsing a political candidate, especially given the dangerous overlap between religion and state involved, is that there is a terrible and effective Lashon Hara/Slander campaign against him within the Jewish community.  (Click here for a story reported by the Associated Press about how the Jewish Community in Florida is being targeted in this way.I receive countless anti-Obama emails containing innuendo, rumor, guilt by association, and worse.  Efforts to defame him and distort his record are flying in the Jewish internet.  If rabbis who affiliate republican had stepped up and said, "we support John McCain for president but decry the smear campaign being waged in our own community," I'd likely not have joined Rabbis for Obama.  This didn't happen, and the lies within the Jewish community cannot be tolerated, especially when they are attacks upon a long-time friend of the Jewish community.  I joined Rabbis for Obama, stepping into the political conversation as a rabbi, because the Jewish community deserves better than this.


I joined Rabbis for Obama because he stands for what I believe.  When Obama condemned his former pastor's "incendiary language," he did so asserting that vitriolic firebrands "denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation."  Obama demonstrates a proud patriotism, the absence of which I've mourned for at least the past eight years.  I joined Rabbis for Obama because I want to be proud to be an American, and I feel I will be when Barack Obama is president.


I am a Zionist.  And I am critical of many Israeli policies in a similar way to my complex and loving relationship with my parents' home.  Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf recently shared that Senator Obama, speaking recently before a Jewish audience in Cleveland, shared the following vignette:  "I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces," he said "and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced…. There's good and there's bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes… and if we're just pressing down on these folks constantly, without giving them some prospects for hope, that's not good for our security."  John McCain's rhetoric, since having begun the presidential campaign, simply scares me.  The black-and-white foreign policy of the far right (which was once not John McCain's donor base but now is) is not healthy for Israel or the world.  I feel secure with an American president who affirms Israel's right to defend herself and also challenge us all.  I joined Rabbis for Obama because Barack Obama will be a president involved in the right ways with Israel's decisions. 


Since Sarah Palin joined (took over) the McCain ticket, things have gotten worse.  Her appointment is an insult to Hillary Clinton, rewarding tokenism instead of personal achievement.  Her speeches are full of lies and vitriol.  Her interviews demonstrate an unprepared, spiteful person who has learned the politician's "thumb-jab" but not the universal wisdom of accountability.  Sarah Palin does not belong in the White House.  John McCain the senator would not have endorsed her in this position, and his appointment of her as Vice Presidential candidate is disturbing.  I joined Rabbis for Obama because McCain's choice of running mate was irresponsible, unwise, and dangerous. 


I pray for a world that learns again what it is to dream big, to speak of hope, to surpass expectations.  Change is an overused term, but its call is clear.  Things are not OK.  Our country is not OK.  The war is not OK.  We must relearn what makes America great.  We must relearn how to dream. 


Barack Obama speaks this language, lives its call, and will lead our precious country well. 


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

a comment on "the atheon"

a comment on "the atheon"


Religion and science are different pursuits. Science ultimately desires to know “how” and religion is the pursuit of “why”? Superconductors might very well duplicate a mini-big-bang, but are not designed to reflect on the motivation for creation. Denying the existence of God is, in effect, denying that which cannot be measured. Denying the existence of God is denying the mystery of infinity. Science is a part of religion in that, with every scientific advance, we understand the universe just a bit better, and therefore reanalyze inherited traditions, fusing our daily rituals with reflective thinking.

Mr. Keats is quoted in the press release for Atheon as saying, “If people are to find spirituality in science, it’s likely to be by immersing themselves in questions.” He has, in effect, missed the point of faith traditions. Every one of them is a spiritual framework for existential questions. Doubt in science is healthy. So is doubt in God. What do I mean when I use the term God? Is it, as Mordechai Kaplan said, “the power that makes for salvation?” Is George Lucas tapping into something sublime with his labeling this power, which can be used for good or for evil, “the force?” I believe so.

An Atheon, if it leads people to do good in the world, is a good thing. But if the premise is that questions only emerge through scientific inquiry, it is based on a mistake and might be just a new form of unhealthy zealotry.

rabbi menachem creditor
congregation netivot shalom
berkeley, ca

At Jesuit university, a unique
course in Jewish social justice
University of San Francisco
Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley, Calif., is among 17 guest speakers this semester at the University of San Francisco class titled "Jews, Jewish Texts, and Social Justice Activists."

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- Erin-Kate Escobar, a political science major at the University of San Francisco, had never been interested in her school’s Judaic studies program.

“It was Judaism as religion,” she says.

But when classes resumed last month the old program, with its theological and historical emphasis, had morphed into The Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, a reconfigured minor aimed at teaching students what it means to be a Jewish social justice activist.

The program offers classes in Judaism, Jewish culture and thought, Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Christian relations, and Hebrew and Arabic, as well as two core courses dealing with Jewish ideas about social justice.

Escobar signed right up.

“When I think of Judaism, I think of social justice and tikkun olam,” says the 21-year-old senior, who was raised Jewish in Santa Cruz, Calif. “This is something I’m willing to put my name to.”

Jewish social justice has been a growth industry for at least a decade. The field is bursting with new organizations, from the Progressive Jewish Alliance in Los Angeles to Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, and established groups such as the American Jewish World Service that are directing more of their energies to hands-on social justice work.

Young Jews are flocking to these projects, spending vacations digging wells in Africa, standing on picket lines in Chicago and rebuilding homes in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The new minor at the University of San Francisco, however, is the first academic program of its kind in the country.

Several Jewish social justice groups offer short-term and yearlong fellowships to train young people and rabbinical students in social justice work. The liberal rabbinical seminaries offer electives, some of them quite extensive. But it took a private Jesuit college on the West Coast to create the first academic program of study, a school where just 5 percent of 6,000 undergraduates are Jewish.

Aaron Tapper, who has held the school’s Swig Chair of Judaic Studies since August 2007, developed the program. Tapper, an assistant professor, also is the founding co-executive director of Abraham’s Vision, a conflict transformation organization that works with Jews and Palestinians.

For the Swig program, he spent most of the past year assembling a scholarly advisory board, lining up relevant courses and creating a few new ones.

One of the new core courses, taught by Tapper this fall, is "Jews, Jewish Texts and Social Justice Activists." Students read ancient and modern Jewish texts, and hear from rabbis and Jewish social activists working in the field about a range of issues.

“Many nonprofits define social justice narrowly, in terms of economic justice,” Tapper says. “We define it a lot more broadly to include racial and ethnic equality, sexual orientation, environmental justice.”

The first guest speaker was Rabbi Lee Bycel, the regional director of the American Jewish World Service. He spoke about Judaism’s prophetic tradition.

“I drove home that the core of Judaism is action,” Bycel says. “We have prayer and study, but without action they lack meaning.”

Bycel says “two or three” students he spoke to in the class are considering careers in Jewish social justice, which he finds significant.

“This is a burgeoning field, and we need people who have a deep commitment to social justice and Jewish values, and the ability to be strategic," he says. "A program like this plants seeds that will hopefully excite people to go on and get training they need to pursue this as a career.”

The lack of trained professionals able to fill the growing number of positions in Jewish social justice organizations was one of the main challenges highlighted in “Visioning Justice and the American Jewish Community,” a report released in May by the Nathan Cummings Foundation that detailed the huge growth in the field.

“There’s such a need to deepen the talent bank,” says Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, the foundation’s program director for Jewish life and values. “The fact that this is the first academic program of its kind is very exciting, and very complementary to the other Jewish social justice programs.”

Activists throughout the United States are applauding the USF program.

“I think it’s wonderful,” says Sam Aranson, the director of educational programs at the Chicago-based Jewish Council for Urban Affairs.

The council has eight rabbinical students enrolled in a three-month social justice fellowship program, as well as six graduate students in its yearlong Nadiv fellowship for Jewish social justice work.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Reform movement’s Just Congregations initiative, says the USF program is smart to tap into young people’s passion for social justice.

“The fact that an academic institution understands the intersection of Jewish text, Jewish liturgy and action in the world and is able to integrate that into a teaching program is a tremendous step forward in the way Judaism is taught,” he says.

Two of the four students who have enrolled for the new minor are Catholic, including Kathryn Butler.

“I’m not Jewish, but social justice is something everybody can relate to,” says Butler, 21. “The more I read about Jewish social justice, it’s not something I’m focused on as a career, but it will help me as a person.”

Although some people are surprised that a Jesuit college was the first to introduce a minor in Jewish social justice, it is quite fitting. The University of San Francisco was the first Catholic school in the country with an endowed Judaic studies chair, founded by the Swig family more than 30 years ago. And the university’s president, Father Stephan Privett, regularly takes his deans and vice presidents on immersion experiences to Mexico and Central America to deepen their commitment to social justice.

“The Catholic tradition’s focus on social justice is really a reincarnation of Judaism’s prophetic tradition,” Privett says. And the school already offers “Performing Arts and Social Justice,” so creating a similar course for Jewish studies wasn't a stretch.

Still, Escobar says, the Jewish course is different.

"People say, 'You just add ‘social justice’ to everything at USF, now it’s just Judaism and social justice," she quips. "I say, no, it’s not just ‘adding’ social justice on the end. Social justice is part of Judaism."

Sep 10, 2008

The Launch of Rabbis for Obama

I am a proud member of www.RabbisforObama.com! Here is today's press release, which I endorse completely.

September 10, 2008
Group of over 300 Rabbis Join to Support Obama

WASHINGTON – Today, group of over three hundred American rabbis released a letter in support of Senator Barack Obama's historic candidacy. "Rabbis for Obama," through its website, www.RabbisforObama.com, aims to spread an awareness of Senator Obama's message of change and repairing the world, which is steeped in the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam and the values of the Hebrew prophets.

"Rabbis for Obama" is a grassroots effort founded by Rabbi Sam Gordon of Wilmette, IL, and Rabbi Steven Bob of Glen Ellyn, IL. Its members represent every corner of the American Jewish community, including rabbis from each of the major Jewish Movements in the United States (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist). Many are distinguished clergy and educators known for their publications and teachings.

Among the rabbis are prominent figures such as Rabbi Elliot Dorf (Los Angeles, CA), Rabbi Jack Moline (Alexandria, VA), Rabbi Burton Visotzky (New York, NY), Rabbi Janet Marder (Palo Alto, CA), and Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus (Homewood, IL). They join over three hundred others in making a clear statement of Senator Obama's strong support from the Jewish community in America.

"Rabbis for Obama" marks the first time in American history that such a large group of rabbis has supported a candidate for political office. The support of rabbis nationwide is a testament to Barack Obama's strong support in the Jewish Community, and demonstrates that he shares the values and principles so important to the American Jewish Community.

Rabbi Sam Gordon, Wilmette, IL
Rabbi Steven Bob, Glen Ellyn, IL

Vice- Chairs:
Rabbi Rachel Cowan, New York, NY
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, Homewood, IL
Rabbi Steve Foster, Denver, CO
Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Laura Geller, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Don Gluckman, Pikesville, MD
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Wyncote, PA
Rabbi Charles Kroloff, Westfield, NJ
Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Encino, CA
Rabbi Brian Lurie, San Francisco, CA
Rabbi Rachel Mikva, Rye Brook, NY
Rabbi Jack Moline, Alexandria, VA
Rabbi Charles Simon, New York, NY
Rabbi David Teutsch, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Ethan Tucker, New York, NY
Rabbi Burt Visotzky, New York, NY

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Bruce Abrams, Cleveland Heights, OH
Rabbi David Adelson, New York, NY
Rabbi Adam M. Allenberg, Mountain View, CA
Rabbi Victor Appell, New York, NY
Rabbi Stephen A. Arnold, S. Easton, MA
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, Omaha, NE

Rabbi Larry Bach, El Paso, TX
Rabbi Andy Bachman, Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Chava Bahle, Suttons Bay, MI
Rabbi Andrew Baker, Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Michael Barenbaum, Marin, CA
Rabbi Benjy Bar-Lev, Cincinnati, OH
Rabbi Lewis Barth, Encino, CA
Rabbi Morris Barzilai, New Rochelle, NY
Rabbi Elliot Baskin, Greenwood Village, CO
Rabbi Renee Bauer, Madison WI
Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh, San Francisco, CA
Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Annie Belford, St. Louis, MO
Rabbi Karen Bender, Tarzana, CA
Rabbi Donald R. Berlin, St. Michaels, MD
Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Marjorie Berman, Philadelphia PA
Rabbi Phyllis Berman Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, Madison, WI
Rabbi Michael Birnholz, Vero Beach, FL
Rabbi Aaron B. Bisno, Pittsburgh, PA
Rabbi Joshua Boettiger , Bennington, VA
Rabbi Terry Bookman, Miami, Fl
Rabbi Jill Borodin, Seattle, WA
Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Neal Borovitz River Edge, NJ
Rabbi Sara Brandes, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, Glencoe, IL
Rabbi Lester Bronstein, White Plains, NY
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, New York, NY
Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl, Baltimore, MD
Rabbi Caryn Broitman, W. Tisbury, MA
Rabbi Daniel M. Bronstein, Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Carol Caine Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Debra S. Cantor Newington, CT
Rabbi Carie Carter, Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Steven Chester, Oakland, CA
Rabbi Diane Cohen, Los Angeles
Rabbi Hillel Cohn, San Bernardino, CA
Rabbi David J. Cooper, Piedmont, CA
Rabbi Julian I. Cook, Denver, CO
Rabbi Mychal Copeland, Stanford, CA
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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 3, 2008

Observant Jews and the Halacha of Eating Out

[cross-posting from the ShefaNetwork.org conversation referenced below]

Dear Chevreh,

I'm grateful to Rabbi Leff for beginning this conversation, and am thrilled that Shefa has provided a forum for thoughtful dialogue leading up to a conversation at the CJLS. On this topic it is clear that we bring much life-experience and engagement-with-halacha to the table. Here's what I'm hoping, and what has defined (and will continue to define) the ShefaNetwork as a place of positive purposeful dreaming:

We have seen fruit already, with gatherings of Shefaniks at various Conservative Movement conventions, with a surge in subscription to the email list (currently around 450 college students, USY'ers, professors, rabbis, cantors, FJMC/WLCJ leadership, shul leaders, USCJ professionals, JTS/Ziegler/Machon Schechter rabbinical students, early childhood educators, Israeli Masorti members, potential Jews undergoimng conversion in Europe, etc...). There have been over 40,000 hits on Shefanetwork.org! We have been featured in the Jewish Week and in Movemental publications. The Shefa Learning Mission to Israel two years ago is preparing for a sequel in the Winter of 2009. So much building to do - so many connections brimming to the surface!

The question of eating out in non-kosher establishments is one very much alive in the daily choices of Conservative Jews. I myself have a policy of eating out "cold-dairy", asking questions when relevant about food preparation and proximity in storage. Rabbi Leff's forthcoming teshuvah is an opportunity to effect a more widespread conversation with those who see their current eating practices as 'treif' and a capitulation to convenience. If we can, as halacha has always striven, talk about elevating mundane acts, then we aren't condoning treif practice. We are engaging on a campaign of mindful halachic engagement, true to the historical commitments of Conservative Judaism.

There are some who, when they navigate tradition while eating in non-kosher establishments, take off their kippah. This is a long-standing practice tied to the halachic concept of "marit ayin", or a "deceiving eye", which means that one should never, through personal choices, lead others to believe that a questionable practice is kosher. So, for instance, when my family and I ate at the cafe of the incredible San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum just last month, someone saw my kippah and asked me if the food was kosher. I responded that the food was kosher in its preparation, but that no rabbi had supervised its production. In effect, I said, it was kosher because I trusted the descriptions as published and the food preparer's testimony. (the food also happened to be vegetarian, with only acceptable fish being served). This conversation only occurred because I was wearing my kippah. And I was not misleading someone into misguided practice - I was demonstrating that it's possible to keep kosher in the world.

To the question of "who needs kosher bakeries/restaurants then?" I believe the advocacy falls primarily on synagogues - and Conservative/Masorti shuls should, as some have, "take back kashrut" from the Orthodox establishment which was handed, through recent decades of Conservative Movemental neglect, a virtual monopoly on the claim to general authenticity and kosher supervision in particular.

Why should there be kosher establishments if you can keep kosher in non-kosher ones? Because the navigation of the world through tradition Jewish eyes cannot compare to the creation/sustaining/celebration of a Jewish home. If you can be holy without being Jewish, why be Jewish? Because it's your home. And other people have special homes, but it's not the same. The rhythm of a Jewish eatery is particular - would you hear Israeli folk music or Mattisyahu or Moshav playing in the speakers at a Starbucks? Do Jewish professional/volunteer meetings suddenly contain more pride when the menu affirms their identity and commitments? Is the "schlokiest" falafel joint an opportunity to affirm a relationship with Israel because it carries both "Mitzli" and Snapple, both Ha'aretz and the New York Times?

We need Kosher establishments because they embody the affirmation of a shared Jewish authenticity, the opportunity to have Jewish community where everyone (strict and lenient) can have a common meeting place. This is why I'm hoping that, though the Conservative Movement (in a tehuvah by Rabbi Elliot Dorff) has allowed wine both hechshered (certified) and not, we should support kosher wineries through shul policy - because in today's day and age, you have to try to not buy kosher wine. It's easy - online in in stores. This is a matter of convenience and flavor-preference as opposed to commitment.

When kosher choices are called for because the menu includes non-kosher choices, Rabbi Leff's teshuvah is important as a "how-to." And yes, let's create (maybe as another dreamful 'Shefadik' conversation?) a "how-to-drive-to-shul-on-Shabbat" with a clear ideal of living close enough to shul to make it irrelevant. This doesn't stigmatize those who drive - it channels the necessary choice, based on legitimate factors, into a path of kedusha/holiness - within the Halacha as already validated by the Conservative Movement. When we call into question the Conservative Movement's decisions, we are actually denying our own legitimacy and demonstrating radical, harmful, envy for whichever form of Judaism we claim has it "right" where we don't.

Orthodoxy is based largely on the concept of "yeridat hadorot", that every generation since Sinai has less authority due to the forward march of time. Reform is based on Sacred Autonomy coupled with prioritizing the prophetic (moral) voice of Judaism over rabbinic halachic norms. We are called, I believe, as Conservative/Masorti Jews, to bring Sinai and Torah with us everywhere we go. We stand on the shoulders of giants and are called to be giants of yiddishkeit ourselves, mitzvah heroes (including the Social Justice innovators of Danny Siegel's former Ziv-network) who care about Torah with open eyes and actual decisions. We challenge the inherited halacha and embrace the tension of holding onto ideals without rejecting new authentic possibilities. We retranslate the triumphalist Aleinu's "literal" meaning and still sing it. I'm not worried about being judged authentic by my Orthodox friends - and they aren't worried about being judged as authentic by me. We have work to do, and each community must follow its own authentic path, guided by genuine established commitments (Halacha & Social Justice being the Conservative Movement's, I believe).

I believe we are called to be a Kosher Movement, and that this conversation is about increasing the Kashrut in many people's lives. May the conversations we are so blessed to share on the ShefaNetwork become contagious - throughout our Movement and beyond.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

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