Mar 29, 2010

Thoughts from a Simple Son

Thoughts from a Simple Son
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What was it that held back a feeling of impending liberation this year?

Was it the real events occurring on the global political arena? The
insistent existential question of the necessity of particular form,
given the urgency of a universe-in-need? The impossibility of
balancing these demands alongside 'normal', everyday concerns?

These questions might fit (with some hermeneutical fidgeting) into
the categories of 'wise child', 'wicked child', and
'unable-to-ask-child.'. But what if it's much simpler than that?

Perhaps the less obvious explanation is the most obvious possibility.
That instead of 'figuring it out' via intellectual exploration,
activist rebellion, or even profound silence, the best thing to do,
once in a while, is to be honest. Simple. Something like 'there's
something happening, and I'm not sure about my trajectory at the
moment. Hmm...'. ('Cottleston Pie' was Pooh's way of saying this, I

This allows for more space, for some respite from engagement. And
it's not a conscious-rejection of community, a hermit-like delving, or
even attuned silence. It's much simpler. It's waiting for a breath
of fresh air, for whatever comes next.



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Mar 28, 2010

bostonglobe: "Conservative temples struggle with changing demographics"


In search of a new generation

Conservative temples struggle with changing demographics

CHESTNUT HILL — During Passover and the High Holy Days as many as 2,000 people crowd into the cavernous sanctuary at Congregation Mishkan Tefila. But on a normal Shabbat the smaller, more intimate downstairs worship space is used for the synagogue's 200 or so regulars.

Just 2 miles away at another Conservative congregation, Temple Emeth, Rabbi Allan Turetz has 800 to 1,000 worshippers for formal holidays, and closer to 150 for Saturday morning services. It can be a stretch to assemble the temple's twice-daily "minyans,'' or prayer groups, that require 10 members to be present, especially on a Saturday night.

Greater Boston boasts one of most thriving centers of Conservative Judaism in the country, but it has not escaped a national trend of diminishing membership. From its founding in the United States in 1913, the movement grew to encompass more families than any other branch of Judaism. But membership in Conservative synagogues fell from 43 percent of Jewish households in the late 1980s to 33 percent in 2000, according to the National Jewish Population Survey.

Local religious leaders play down the trend, and point to the thriving Jewish nursery and day schools that abound in the area. But they also acknowledged that new ways to recruit, retain, and engage members of Conservative synagogues are vital to their future.

"The tradition is not a museum piece, it is a living, thriving, evolving tradition that speaks to the issues people face today,'' said Turetz, in his 33d year at Temple Emeth. He said the congregation's membership has held steady during the past few years at about 400 families, although he acknowledged that number was higher a decade ago.

"We are doing very well, but there isn't a synagogue in the area that doesn't want to be larger than they are. Like any responsible organization we are reaching out to different populations, and opening our doors to new people,'' Turetz said.

Myrna Cohen, 73, of Newton, joined Mishkan Tefila in 1968, around the same time as several dozen other young families who, like her, were recent arrivals in the area. Many are still active members today, she said.

"So came loads of us, and the congregation became the focal point of our lives. We are a family, there is no other way to describe it, and we care for each other in good times and bad,'' said the retired Newton schoolteacher. "I have always considered Mishkan Tefila the standard,'' she said. "It's a grand and wonderful place.''

With sadness, Cohen said, she has watched Conservative synagogues struggle to attract younger members, especially those willing to take on time-consuming leadership posts.

"The demographics of Judaism have changed, no doubt about it, with two people working and kids programmed in so many activities,'' said Cohen. "I do want to tell parents who think they don't have time that they want to make sure they spend enough time demonstrating their own values to their children. Judaism is about culture, history, and tradition, and we have to remember to pass along all three to our children and grandchildren, or something will be lost.''

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism estimates there are 1.4 million worshippers in about 760 congregations across the country.

The organization said it could not confirm the results of a survey, conducted by the Jewish Federations of North America, that found membership in Conservative congregations had fallen from 43 percent of Jewish households in the late 1980s to 33 percent in 2000.

However, United Synagogue officials are concerned enough to launch the organization's first large-scale census of congregations, and make recruitment, retention, and new programming a centerpiece of its agenda this year, said Aaron Kischel, its Northeast director. His own synagogue, Temple Israel in Sharon, is booming with 700 families, but has also seen some decrease in recent years, Kischel said.

He suggested the population shifts may be a pendulum swing from the demographics that made the Conservative movement so popular during the post-World War II baby boom, when many Jews rejected the Orthodox traditions and embraced the Conservative form as a way to meld modern suburban life with traditional, European-style aspects of their faith.

Subsequent generations, especially those who have intermarried with other faiths, have increasingly been choosing Reform Judaism, which emerged in the 1950s with more liberal attitudes toward Jewish law and the roles of women. Conservative officials did not ordain women as rabbis until 1985, or accept women as cantors until 1990.

"We are attentive to this, but not worried,'' said Kischel. "I see it as a normal societal and structural readjustment. In the 1950s, people were ready to write off Orthodox Judaism, and as we see they have done particularly well and are growing.''

He said increasing time pressures on families, and a real estate market that has made it prohibitively expensive to buy homes in popular Jewish hubs like Brookline, Newton, and Sharon, are probably more to blame for the local membership dips than a widespread departure from the faith. There are 27 Conservative synagogues in Massachusetts, with the total reduced by about four in the past decade due to mergers and closures, he said.

"I am concerned that we do need to encourage our congregations to broaden their programming base,'' Kischel said.

It can be difficult to assemble members with full-time jobs and demanding family lives into twice-daily minyans at inconvenient times, he said.

"But if you pick up the phone and call them, and ask for their support, they always come over, rarely does anyone turn you down,'' Kischel said. Lack of attendance "does not equal a lack of concern or care.''

At Mishkan Tefila, 39-year-old Melissa Donovan is considered a young member. The Newton resident sent her daughters to the synagogue's nursery school and was so impressed by it, and the temple's Hebrew school for children, that she decided to become a member four years ago. Growing up, she attended a Conservative synagogue in Swampscott, and felt drawn to the same tradition for her own children.

Her husband is not Jewish, and her parents — who live in Gloucester — are her closest Jewish relatives. "I wanted to raise my children in Judaism, and I knew I needed help to do it, and Mishkan Tefila could teach my daughters everything they needed to know,'' said Donovan.

Chuck Diamond, the congregation's president, said he hopes its members become the leaders of a local effort to rejuvenate Conservative synagogues. Mishkan Tefila is large and strong with about 540 families, but far smaller than in the early 1970s when it counted upwards of 900 families, he said.

The recession has not helped. The cost of a synagogue membership — $2,000 at the least, and more if a child is enrolled in religious education — is a hard-won item in the family budget in a region with some of the highest housing and education costs in the nation.

This means, Diamond said, he and other members need to do a better job reminding people of the benefits of being involved.

"Why come here? You can still have the tradition that your parents and grandparents had, but it has become so much more flexible,'' he said. "You can get a lot more out of a synagogue than you did years ago. Everyone is looking for more reasons to come and feel the spirit.''

Family life has always been front and center at Mishkan Tefila, but one priority this year is to reach out to more single people — straight and gay, Diamond said. The synagogue's 85,000-square-foot facility houses a 6,000-book library and a museum, and hosts scores of meetings and educational programs every week, he said.

"This is a community with so much going on that is caring, giving, and accepting. As scary as the future is, we are very excited by it. We want these doors to remain open 150 more years,'' said Diamond.

One local Conservative synagogue that has avoided a membership decline is Temple Emanuel in Newton, which has 1,123 families according to its senior rabbi, Wesley Gardenswartz.

The relatively high figure "is not a coincidence or an accident. We have thought long and hard and strategically about how to maintain and grow our shul's membership in a difficult environment,'' Gardenswartz wrote in an e-mail.

Offering variety and choices to multiple generations, has been especially effective, he said.

On Friday nights, the temple offers the same liturgy prayed in two totally different ways: a traditional service is led by one cantor, attracting about 20 members, while another featuring musical instruments, melodies from Jewish composers around the world, and several prayer leaders attracts up to 300 people.

"They say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,'' Gardenswartz said. "The same is true of maintaining shul membership. It takes eternal vigilance.''

Matters of Faith is a series of occasional articles on religious life in area communities. Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com 

© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
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Mar 25, 2010

Baltimore Jewish Times - Cover Story: Talking with Rabbi Ronald Shulman and Alex Weinberg

Baltimore Jewish Times - Cover Story: Freedom's Guidebook

So many haggadahs offer unique opportunities for our sacred seder journey.

Talking with Rabbi Ronald Shulman and Alex Weinberg

Alan Feiler & Phil Jacobs, Managing Editor & Executive Editor
March 26, 2010


"The Jewish people's festival of freedom is best enjoyed by talking, asking, answering, debating, discussing, wondering about and exploring the Haggadah's many themes, traditions, texts and ritual symbols. In this way participants may discover personal meaning in the celebration and the beauty of the Passover seder.

"Using Haggadah Shelanu you can prepare your seder celebration in advance of your family and friends' arrival. Preparing a meaningful seder is one of the most important needs we have as Passover approaches."

It is ostensibly a self described "scrapbook" of the Jewish memories and history of the participants of one's seder.

By going to chizukamuno.org , Haggadah Shelanu can be downloaded and printed in plenty of time for seder.

This haggadah, is the collaboration of Rabbi Ronald Shulman, Chizuk Amuno's spiritual leader, and Alex Weinberg, its director of congregational education.

It's a hagaddah that gives family members literally space to write down their hopes and wishes, be it through words or even drawings. It's a haggadah that suggests participants recount their earliest or funniest seder memories. And/or, it suggests that participants tell what items they brought to the table or foods they cooked. When it comes time to read the Four Questions, there's even a suggestion of "what four modern questions would you ask today?" A participant can recount the day in the life of an Israelite slave, and draw or write about the four types of children described in the hagaddah. There's a chance to illustrate the 10 plagues, and just so many more interactive, wonderful suggestions.

Rabbi Shulman and Mr. Weinberg had been working on their own ideas for such a Haggadah. When it became known to both, they decided to collaborate.

The two tell the story of the Exodus. Yet, they leave plenty of blank space and many trigger questions so that coming to the seder is truly participatory in meaning and action.

"You have prepared in advance this way, and you are using what you created and experienced and bringing this to the table," said Rabbi Shulman.

"A Jew," he continued, "is someone who can tell his story. At its core is it is a traditional Haggadah."

Both men, however, wanted to help people rediscover how they connect as individuals and families to the Exodus. This year, there is even a student's version, giving children further insight as well as more reason to feel connected.

"The seder is the quintessential Shabbat table," said Mr. Weinberg. "It is a unifying and rallying point. We're combining our traditions with our history and our food."

There's something "powerful" he said about the seder.

He and Rabbi Shulman have made it even more so.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Mythic Compassion

Mythic Compassion
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

with overflowing gratitude for my wife

"A religious [person] is a person who holds God and man[kind] in one thought at one time, at all times, 
who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, 
whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z"l

How could it be otherwise?  What kind of God would wish for passion to be limited to the Divine-Human relationship?  If all people, every person, is created in the Image of God, then isn't interpersonal compassion an act of worship?  Isn't earthly justice a validation of God's creation?  Otherwise, Yehudah Amichai z"l made the correct accusation:

I, required to solve riddles against my will, know
That were it not for the God Who is Full of Compassion
There would be compassion in the world
And not only in [God]. ("ilmalei ha-El malei rachamim")

How can one image of God suffer (let alone cause) harm to another image of God?  And to those who draw a clear line between God and humanity, a response is clear in Deuteronomy:

If a person is guilty of a capital offense and is put to death, and you impale them on a stake, you must not let the corpse remain on the stake overnight, but must bury them on the same day. For an impaled body is an affront to God: you shall not defile the land that the Adonai your God is giving you to possess. (Deut. 21:22-23)

A human being's body may not be treated poorly for that must be seen, as Heschel taught us, as treating God poorly.  We are commanded to hold God and man[kind] in one thought at one time.  That requires an integrated religious sensibility unlike many approaches, which compartmentalize "the holy" away from the world. 

May we not misperceive dividedness when the sacred is right here. Waiting.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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JTA.org: "Conservative Judaism set to open first shul in Australia"

JTA.org: "Conservative Judaism set to open first shul in Australia"

Maxine Silbert celebrates her bat mitzvah last year at a Havdalah  ceremony at Kehilat Nitzan, Australia's only independent Conservative  synagogue, with Rabbi Ehud Bandel on guitar.  (Capture Now)


Maxine Silbert celebrates her bat mitzvah last year at a Havdalah ceremony at Kehilat Nitzan, Australia's only independent Conservative synagogue, with Rabbi Ehud Bandel on guitar. (Capture Now)

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) -- It began with a small ad placed in the Melbourne edition of the Australian Jewish News by John Rosenberg, a Jewish professor who liked neither the constraints of Orthodoxy nor the lack of tradition in Reform Judaism.

A decade later, Rosenberg's solution, Kehilat Nitzan (Hebrew for "bud"), has bloomed into Australia's first and only independent Conservative congregation, with some 600 members.

Now the congregation is on the cusp of opening its own synagogue building.

There's one key ingredient missing: a new rabbi.

"I went along to the first service in 1999 and have been hooked ever since," says Judy Feiglin, Nitzan's immediate past president. "Nobody had any idea how to run the service, but people weren't judgmental, they were real."

With no rabbi and no home, the fledgling community began by renting rooms in Jewish institutions. Now it must move to larger venues for the High Holidays to accommodate its burgeoning membership.

While commonplace in the United States, Conservative Judaism failed to gain a foothold Down Under until the 1990s. Orthodox Judaism was the only denomination in Australian Jewish religious life until the 1930s, when Reform Judaism began to catch on here. Since then the two movements have held a duopoly over Australia's 100,000 Jews, with Orthodox Judaism the dominant  stream.

Congregants at Kehilat Nitzan say they like the alternatives Conservative Judaism offers to tradition-minded Jews here, such as mixed-gender seating and egalitarian services.

"My 96-year-old father has always belonged to an Orthodox shul and for us to sit together is a real highlight," Feiglin says.

For the first seven years, Nitzan was a lay-led congregation, with occasional visiting rabbis. By 2005 the community had reached a "critical mass," and Rabbi Ehud Bandel, a former head of the Conservative Masorti movement in Israel, was appointed its first rabbi.

"Most of our congregants came from Orthodox shuls but are not Orthodox in their way of life or outlook," Bandel told JTA. "The Conservative movement is the best place to be in both worlds -- in the world of Jewish traditions and practice, and in the Western democratic world of pluralism, humanism, egalitarianism."

Bandel says Conservative Judaism "has the potential to become the mainstream in Australian Jewry."

Not everyone agrees. Yossi Aron, the religious affairs editor of the Australian Jewish News, admits that the "monopoly of Orthodoxy" is being challenged, but not by Nitzan.

He says smaller congregations such as Shira Hadasha, an inclusive Orthodox minyan where men and women lead the service, albeit separated by a mechitzah, are laying down the gauntlet to Orthodoxy.

"Nitzan is here to stay, but I don't see it as a major player yet," says Aron, who is Orthodox. "When people talk about Melbourne Jewry, they don't talk about a third prong."

Until the advent of Nitzan, Orthodox and Reform were practically the only options in Melbourne's 50,000-strong Jewish community. Indeed, soon after his arrival, Bandel was given the cold shoulder by some Orthodox rabbis who walked out of a function after he was asked to say a prayer.

"Most [Orthodox rabbis] don't want to know us," Feiglin says. "They think we're not genuine. It's really quite sad."

Nitzan's officials are hoping their permanent home will send a strong signal of their long-term intent.

"A congregation is first and foremost the human core," says Bandel, noting his congregants' activism in tikkun olam, or social outreach. "Then comes the building; it's very, very significant."

Nitzan has a strong relationship with Sydney's Emanuel Synagogue, originally a Reform community that now is also affiliated with the Conservative and Renewal movements. In fact, Nitzan's roots can be traced back to Emanuel.

In 1992, several congregants and Emanuel's Jeffrey Kamins, now its senior rabbi, began a Monday morning Conservative service. Rosenberg, who was working in Sydney at the time, was among them, and took the idea back to Melbourne.

"The origins of the Conservative movement in Australia began in Emanuel Synagogue," says Kamins, a native of Los Angeles who was ordained at Hebrew Union College.

Now he says plans are afoot to launch Masorti Australia -- "a nationally recognized movement as opposed to two independent congregations."

Although no date has been set for completion of Nitzan's building, which will feature a kosher kitchen, library and learning center, Bandel hopes the opening will come before year's end.

"Hopefully I'll be able to go home after I affix the mezuzah for the new shul," he says.

By that time, the board must appoint a successor. Already the search committee has received more than a dozen applicants. Most are newly graduated American rabbis, but the selection committee is keen to receive Anglo, Latin and Israeli applicants as well.

Nitzan's current president, Zvi Civins, who hails from New Jersey, says the community is looking for a "dynamic, personable, knowledgeable rabbi," and someone who can attract young adults.

Although there is no exact deadline for applicants, he is scheduling videoconference interviews with several candidates and plans to meet some when he is in the United States in June.

"This is a really import juncture in the history of the shul," he told JTA. "It's a marvelous opportunity for a new rabbi to continue the growth in our new home.

"We're the pioneers in Melbourne; we see ourselves as the vanguard."

As for when the new Australia's first independent Conservative shul will officially open its sanctuary, Civins says that "Rosh Hashanah was the goal. But maybe by Chanukah we'll be ready."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Mar 24, 2010

Shabbat HaGadol 5770: “Commanded to Hope”

Shabbat HaGadol 5770: "Commanded to Hope"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

commemorating the Shloshim of Jon Galinson, z"l

The Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol speaks of a day when Elijah will come and "return the hearts of parents to their children and children's with their parents (Malachi 3:24),"  a day that can seem far, far away sometimes.   

The whole of the Haftarah is an emotional outpouring of God through the prophet Malachi, whose name means, significantly, "My Angel".  An "angel" is, according to Jewish Mysticism, an impulse borne of spiritual emotion.  Another way of saying this is that an angel is one way God is revealed in the world.  Malachi the 'Angel-Prophet' might be best understood as a manifestation of God's desire to not be Alone, and of God's Burning Need to remind us that we aren't alone either.

There is anger here as well, anger from a God who feels abandoned:  "I haven't changed, and you haven't disappeared either (3:6)… Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you — says Adonai Tzeva'ot/Lord of Hosts (3:7)."  In other words, "Where are you? I need you! I don't want to Be Alone!"

Where is the Omnipotent God, the Unmoved Mover, the Perfect Eternal One?  Those are not biblical notions of God.  Those are philosophical responses to inescapable human vulnerability.  What can we know, then of God?  If one human yearning (Tanach) portrays a Vulnerable God, and later human yearning portrays a Perfect God, what does "belief in God" mean?  Can Judaism speak with a coherent voice about God?

I believe in God. 

God is, for me, the emotional pull we feel toward each other, the collective potentiality of humanity calling out for you.  I am in love with the Jewish path to the sacred, in which communal commitments demand hope embodied by commanded behavior.  This structured way of life, our People's evolving trek with the Mystery, emerges from (and is sometimes in dialogical response to) Biblical text.  Traditional behaviors, mitzvot, bring us closer to each other, and therefore to God.  The stronger the shared particular path, the closer we are bound to each other.  The more connected every person and interconnected every family becomes, the healthier the world.  The healthier the world, the healthier God is.

I believe in a day when children's hearts will reconnect with their parents' hearts, when the things we yearn for will burst into reality, when those we've lost will return and embrace us once more.  God and we don't want to be alone.  It's a hurt that makes us cry out for each other.

I believe we are commanded to hope for and work towards that better day, expressed in this week's Haftarah as God begging for our return.  

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Announcing the Release of "The ShefaNetwork.org Pesach Collection 5770"

Announcing the Release of "The ShefaNetwork.org Pesach Collection 5770"
edited by Nina S. Kretzmer and Rabbi Menachem Creditor

While Pesach is a wonderful time of year, full of hope and happiness, we know that it can be a crazy time too. We hope that this guide, completely compiled of sources from the Conservative Movement, will help you to easily prepare for a meaningful Pesach and celebrate with special sedarim. The ShefaNetwork Pesach Collection is organized into sections regarding preparation for the holiday and the order of the seder itself, interspersed with unique songs collected by Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner to enliven your holiday.  Chag Kasher veSameach! LeShanah HaBa'ah BiYerushalayim! http://shefanetwork.org/shefapesach5770.pdf

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Mar 23, 2010

an interfaith Pesach ecard dreamt into reality by Craig Taubman

Dear Shefa Chevreh,

Our teacher (and fellow Shefanik) Craig Taubman created an Interfaith Pesach e-card with teachings from an imam, rabbis, and ministers reflecting on Pesach and sharing the blessing of a liberated world.  

It just takes one click here http://bit.ly/interfaithpesach to hear the wisdom of all the teachers involved, and to share it with friends and family.  It just went out through USCJ and several other lists - please share it widely.  If there's one dream we might dream a lot louder this year, it is of a world where this partnership isn't uncommon.  Today it is - worth celebrating and circulating.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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jpost editorial: "The right message at the Wall"

March 23, 110 Tuesday 16 Nisan 3870 11:44 IST print
Print Edition
Photo by: Barry Schlesinger
The right message at the Wall
As is sadly all too familiar in the holy, contentious city of Jerusalem, this week was replete with ostensibly religiously motivated violence.
As is sadly all too familiar in the holy, contentious city of Jerusalem, this week was replete with ostensibly religiously motivated violence. Riots broke out, on and around the Temple Mount, sparked by baseless claims put forward by various Palestinian leaders that Israelis were scheming to undermine the Muslim hold on the Al Aksa Mosque. 

The unrest, which followed the dedication of the Hurva Synagogue and last week's ill-timed announcement of building in Ramat Shlomo, was a blatant attempt to use violence as a way to intimidate Israel.

But there was another, more minor incident in which religiously motivated violence was used to intimidate. On Tuesday, Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the Women of the Wall, a diverse, inter-denominational coalition that has been praying at the women's section of the Kotel on the first day of every Jewish month for the past 21 years, was attacked by haredim. 

Incensed by the women's gender-equal prayer style (the women don prayer shawls which in Orthodoxy are reserved for men, and pray in a quorum, also a style of communal prayer reserved for men), a group of haredi men standing on the men's side of the partition at the Western Wall plaza, began throwing chairs at the women even before they had begun praying. Thankfully, no one on the women's side was hurt.

Most significant, though, was the police's reaction to the haredi unrest. Instead of arresting the women for inciting the haredim, as it has done in recent months – when Nofrat Frenkel was pushed into a police van and detained for the "crime" of reading from a Torah scroll and wearing a tallit, and Anat Hoffman, a founder of Women of the Wall, was arrested, interrogated and fingerprinted for a similar "crime" – the police this time arrested the men who threw the chairs. 

It is to be hoped that this marks a reversal of Israeli authorities' tendency to blame the victim for a "provocation," instead of blaming the attacker.

THIS CAVING in to haredi radicalism at the Kotel is backed by the Israeli judiciary.

In May 2003, the High Court of Justice, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Women of the Wall could not pray out loud at the Wall. The court based its ruling on the premise that the women's prayer endangered public order. 

Although they did not phrase it quite this way, the judges, including then-president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak, basically argued that the presence of the Women of the Wall whipped the haredi public – both male and female – into a wildly ecstatic, uncontrollable rage that would lead to rioting. 

The State of Israel, meanwhile, helpless in the face of this zealotry, could not guarantee the safety of the women or of the wider public. Therefore, the Women of the Wall, for their own good, had to be consigned to an alternative site, Robinson's Arch, near to, but separate from the Kotel.

Due to the haredi public's purported inability to control itself, the Women of the Wall are now forced to share Robinson's Arch with an archeological site. As a result, it is available to them only until 10:30 each morning. Services must be coordinated in advance, and anyone arriving or leaving late is charged an $8 fee. 

Robinson's Arch lacks prayer equipment such as arks, Torah tables, chairs and prayer books, which must be brought in by worshipers. It has no indoor facilities, so it cannot be used when it rains, or when it is particularly hot.

But more than the inconvenience to the Women of the Wall, the premise underlying the High Court's decision is problematic, even dangerous. It rewards bullying tactics and violence and switches the blame from the attacker to the victim.

According to this kind of reasoning, after all, the Palestinian violence we witnessed this week in Jerusalem could be justified as an inevitable response to any Israeli move deemed by Palestinians to be incitement, whether it be the refurbishing of an ancient synagogue located in the middle of the Old City's Jewish Quarter or the building of 1,600 homes.

The clear message that the Israeli law enforcement authorities must send is that violence is an illegitimate form of protest. Gratifyingly, this is the message that was conveyed this week by Jerusalem's police when they arrested violent haredi trouble-makers.
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Mar 22, 2010

from chabad.org Shloshim - The 30-day Mourning Period

Shloshim - The 30-day Mourning Period

Between Shiva and Shloshim

Even though the Shiva (first seven days of mourning) has ended, one is considered a mourner for twelve months for a parent, and until theShloshim (the thirtieth day from burial) for other relatives. During these twenty-three days, the intensity of mourning is reduced. However, some restrictions continue to remain in effect. One should consult a competent rabbi for complete guidance in all of these matters.

Notable restrictions that are lifted:

  1. Mourners are no longer confined to the Shiva home.

  2. One may change out of the clothing worn during Shiva.

  3. One may greet others with customary greetings ("Hello," "How are you," etc.), but others should not greet him in this manner. If they do, he may respond in kind.

  4. One may sit on regular chairs.

  5. One may wear leather shoes.

  6. One may return to work and engage in business.

  7. One may use cosmetics, lotions, oils, perfumes, makeup, and wear jewelry.

  8. One may study Torah.

  9. One may resume marital relations.

  10. One may attend a Brit Milah (circumcision of a child), Pidyon Haben (redemption of the firstborn son), Bar MitzvaT'noim(engagement), and a Siyum (celebration upon completion of a tractate of Mishna or Talmud), but one should not remain for the meal.

Restrictions that carry over:

  1. One may not wear new, freshly laundered, or ironed clothing. In the case of great need, one may have the clothing worn by someone else for a few moments and then they are permitted to him. This does not apply to shirts, underwear, and socks or stockings, which may be changed as required.

  2. One may still not take a luxurious bath or shower during this period.

  3. If one became dirty or sweaty, he may shower in the usual manner; however, he should do it as quickly as possible.

  4. One may not take a haircut, shave, or cut one's nails. (A woman preparing for the Mikvah may do all her usual preparations.)

  5. One may not listen to music or attend a concert, nor go on pleasure trips and tours. This also includes attending social events such as dinners, parties, and so on. One who is mourning his parents may not do so for the entire year.

  6. One may go into a wedding hall to wish a close relative or friend "Mazal Tov," before the meal is served and while no music is being played. Consult a competent rabbi for guidance.

  7. One should avoid activities that are not in the spirit of mourning. For example, one may not buy a new home, nor redecorate, renovate, or purchase new furniture, and so on, unless one will suffer great financial loss if it is delayed past the Shloshim.

  8. One may not marry during the Shloshim. Nowadays, when preparations for the wedding begin months in advance, and postponing the wedding will result in great financial loss, some permit it during the Shloshim, but not during Shiva. Consult a competent rabbi for complete guidance.

  9. If one's profession is such that he must attend festive events for his income (musician, photographer, caterer, etc.), he may attend them. Some relatives and friends rely on this leniency after Shiva and act as a "waiter" by serving a few dishes so that they may attend a wedding of a relative or close friend. This should only be done when one's lack of attendance will cause the celebrants great pain. In general, consult a competent rabbi for guidance.

The Thirtieth Day

The Shloshim is the thirtieth day from burial. When mourning all relatives except one's parents, the mourning period concludes following the morning service on this day. When mourning parents, the mourning continues for a full twelve months, until the first Yartzeit.

Traditionally, families gather on the eve of the Shloshim to share support, recite prayers and Psalms, and to give charity in the merit of the deceased. Many will also make a Siyum, celebrating the completion of theMishnayot studied to merit the soul of the deceased, as well as a meal.

When Shloshim is Not Thirty Days

Sometimes Shloshim can be less than thirty days. This happens when a Jewish holiday occurs during Shiva and thus annuls the remaining days of Shiva mourning. One then calculates the Shloshim day as follows:

Passover and Shavuot: Fifteen days after the holiday ends.

Sukkot: Eight days after the holiday ends.

Rosh Hashana: Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur one observes those days as one does between Shiva and Shloshim, then Yom Kippur annuls the remaining part of Shloshim.

Yom Kippur: Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot one observes those days as one does between Shiva and Shloshim, then Sukkot annuls the remaining part of Shloshim.

Also, if a Jewish holiday occurs between Shiva and Shloshim, it annuls the remaining days of Shloshim, and one conducts himself as if Shloshim is complete.

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

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tcjewfolk.com: "Minnesota’s Rabbi Morris Allen Inspires at DC Immigration Rally"

tcjewfolk.com: "Minnesota's Rabbi Allen Inspires at DC Immigration Rally"

RIA Minnesotas Rabbi Allen Inspires at DC Immigration Rally [Updated]I just got back from the March for America in Washington, DC organized by Reform Immigration for AmericaTwo hundred thousand people  of all different colors, ages, backgrounds, languages and nationalities shouting "si se puede, yes we can" to the possibility of bringing comprehensive immigration reform to America. [UPDATED - with Park Board figures]

Minnesota's very own Rabbi Morris Allen (of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights) was the Jewish speaker at the opening of the event, joining Christian and Muslim leaders from around the world to stand up for immigration reform from their various religious perspectives.

Here is the video of Rabbi Allen's invocation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RAxRoHW1Os

Rabbi Allen provided me with the text of his original speech (the final was cut slightly). Here it is. May we all be inspired to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Standing here today, in front of each and every one of you, I find myself believing that the message of Passover has arrived a week earlier than it was intended. For when Jews sit down to their Seder tables a week from tomorrow, we will open our Seder book the Haggadah and there we will read "Chayav adam lirot et atzmo kiilu hu yatza mimitzrayim—it is incumbent on each person to personally see themselves as if they themselves had emerged out of Egypt."

For the Jewish community understands, that the story of Passover is the story of the first group of migrant workers who reclaimed their dignity, who restored their identity and who no longer needed to hide in shame their message of hope and opportunity.

Today we have gathered on this mall to remind the world that the story of Passover is not over. Its enduring message demands that you and I stand firm in insuring that we never forget that at its heart the Hebrew scriptures teaches one lesson over and over again some36 times to be exact "you shall not oppress a stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt"

We as Jews stand united today in understanding that our own story is one of living either on one side of that statement's equation or the other—the one who must be remembering or the one who must be remembered. My grandparents fled the ravages of eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. They sought hope and haven and simply an opportunity to build lives of meaning and of purpose.

Today their presence is evident as is the collective presence of my ancestors of generations long gone, for each of them has transmitted to me and to us all that the moral imperative of welcoming the stranger and in the process creating a fellow citizen is at the heart of tradition that I represent.

Today we stand united in our belief that absent Comprehensive immigration reform that the story of Passover and the possibility of truly completing the seder itself is still not possible. Freedom is Judaism. Passover is not 3,000 years old. It is today, and we are part of it. And this why hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the country have come together around We Were Strangers Too: The National Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform led by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago, and Jewish Community Action in MN of which I am proudly a member. We have met with congressional leaders, gathered thousands of signatures urging reform, educated and organized Jews in synagogues to help pass CIR, and participated in interfaith rallies and marches.

Immigration reform is a priority for the Jewish community. My own organization, the Rabbinical Assembly is united in its support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Today you and I have but one task—to remind the members of Congress and the hearts of all Americans that unless we pass true immigration reform, God's dream for how we are to live in this world will never be realized. Chayav adam lirot et atzmo kiilu hu yatza mimitzrayim—it is incumbent upon you and me today to see ourselves as if we had come forth from Egypt—and in so doing insuring that never again will an immigrant feel the coldness of a society in the turning of our backs on them.

May God bless us in our work, and may we bless God by committing to our work.

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

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Mar 21, 2010

the ASUC bill

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau and President Yudof,

I share with you my distress as a leader in the Berkeley community in response to the UC Berkeley ASUC Student Senate bill calling upon the UC Berkeley administration and the UC Regents to divest from companies due to their business relationship with the Israeli government.

I am the rabbi of a community with many diverse opinions about Israel, and am not unaware of valid critiques of Israeli governmental policy.  Indeed, I have written publicly on this topic, and will continue to do so.  The ASUC bill unfairly singles out Israel and worsens the very hopes for peace that unites every party at the table.  This bill fosters animosity, and presents a terrible picture of the UC Berkeley campus to the community.

It is my hope that the tolerance and diversity which typify UC Berkeley's reputation, and is the shared aspiration of Zionists and their detractors alike, will cry loudest in the near future in response to the ASUC bill.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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From Yonina Creditor: "A Woman, a Chair and a Wall"

"A Woman, a Chair and a Wall"

Yonina Creditor, JTS Rabbinical School

                Last Tuesday, I went to a holy place, to daven with a holy community at a holy time – Rosh Chodesh Nissan. I had heard of the Women of the Wall and had the desire to experience their Tefilot, just as I had been exploring Tefilah all over Israel this year. When I arrived at the Kotel, I went to the Womens section and took a moment, as I do every time I visit, to appreciate the historic significance of my ability to stand freely at the Kotel. I always hear the radio broadcast from 1967 in my head, "HaKotel BeYadeinu" (The Kotel is in our hands). I silently thank those who I don't know, whose sacrifices made it possible for me to stand there at all.

                It was in that moment that I looked to my left to see the first chair come flying over the Mechitza (divider) of the men's side. Okay, one chair. They are upset. I understand they are not happy. Then three more chairs followed, one of which shattered into lots of plastic shards. The police were called but not before six more chairs were thrown over. I am not sure the Chareidi men throwing the chairs realized they sent us a Minyan (a group of 10) of chairs. We then saw a Shtender (prayer stand) raised but thankfully, it was lowered. No matter how angry these men were, where in the Torah does it say that possibly injuring a fellow Jew is an acceptable practice?

                One of the leaders explained to us that if we wanted to wear our Talitot (prayer shawls), then we had to wear them like scarves with the Tzitzit (fringes) tucked into our coats so they would not be visible and Tefilin (phylacteries) were not to be worn. As we were putting on our Talitot, the second wave from the men's side began. Since the chairs did not disuade us, they began calling us Nazis and Amalek. To be honest, I don't know which was worse, being called such names or chairs thrown at me in anger.

                With all of this going on, I wondered how I could find the Kavanah (intention, focus) to pray when I was fearful of my safety, even with the female officers in riot gear assigned to protect us. I also began to wonder if fighting to be able to daven at the Kotel as a Conservative Jew was worth all the trouble. I never doubted my beliefs before and now I was questioning my right to daven with my Tzitzit, Kippah (head covering) on my head and to sing out loud all the while surrounded by hostility. I feared for their safety of the female police for putting their lives in danger in order to defend Jewish women from Jewish men.

                Davening started and shortly there after, this group of men began to yell, not sing, their prayers. They reminded me of the opening scene in 'Gladiator,' with the Germanians yelling their battle cry, whipping themselves into a frenzy before going into battle with the Romans. I was waiting for those men to charge over the Mechitza. I tried to daven as I waited to see what the next assault would be. Thankfully, it did not come.

                It was not until the Shema when I felt the deepest frustration and sadness. I could nto reach my Tzitzit. They were tucked into my coat as instructed. I struggled with my coat and could only grab 3 strings. I wrapped them around my finger, shielding what I was doing by bending slightly. When I get to the third paragraph, I awkwardly bent down to kiss those precious Tzitzit. I said the words "Ure'item Otam," and you shall see them, knowing that I was told that I could not see them – not at the Kotel.If I have to daven in a way that shames and belittles my beliefs and the words of the Torah, then why do it? Why try to have Kavanah when men were screaming not 20 feet away? This is not Tefilah (prayer) and this is not what Hashem (God) wants from me – being fearful and shamed for being Jewish!! This is not a Nazi regime, so why are the Charedim taking a page out of the Nazis playbook and using it against other Jews?

                Those men continued their frenzied screaming throughout our davening of Hallel. At one point, we began to sing a Niggun (tune with no words) and for a split second, those men who hated us enough to desire physical and spiritual harm upon us joined in. For that one moment, I believed the phrase "HaKotel LeKulam" (the Kotel belongs to everyone), for in that instant, we sang together in harmony. Sadly, it was a fleeting moment but one that could be glimmer of hope for future peace.

                Six days have passed and I still struggle with whether the fight for religious freedom at the Kotel is worth all this pain. I hear the recording, "HaKotel BeYadeinu" and think – no it is not. HaKotel BeYedaihem (the Kotel is in Their Hands) and they are afraid to share. I don't know what these Chareidi men fear from a group of women who have such love for Hashem and Torah that we take upon ourselves Mitzvot (commandments) that are not forbidden to us according go the Torah and Rabbinic literature. Therefore, I will return next month to Daven at that holy place, with that holy community, at that holy time because I want to show Hashem how much I love being Jewish and am willing to sacrifice my comfort for Keva (technical) prayer and trade a peaceful prayer space for the right for my voice to be heard at the Kotel.

- Yonina Creditor

JTS Rabbinical School

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