May 31, 2011

URGENT! Sign the Petition: "I Stand in Coalition to Oppose a Ban on Circumcision!" (plus media advisory, supporting organizations and rabbis, and FAQ)

URGENT: RE: Proposed Criminalization of – and Ban on – Circumcision in San Francisco
Sign this Petition, email it to aporth@jcrc.org, and circulate this entire email widely!

I oppose the proposed ban and criminalization of circumcision in San Francisco. Include me in the list of coalition members who oppose this ballot initiative. I do so:

On behalf of an organization

As an individual

As an elected official

Name: __________________________________________________________________

Title: ___________________________________________________________________

Organization/Congregation: _________________________________________________

(if pledging opposition on behalf of an organization/ congregation):

Email Address ___________________________________________________________

Phone:    1. __________________________   2.________________________________

Signature: ______________________________________     Date: ____________________

Sign me up to lend support for this coalition's efforts:

I will help secure other endorsements

I will help raise money for the campaign

I will help organize online

Please email or fax this completed form to Abby Porth at aporth@jcrc.org or(415) 979-0981.

Questions? For more info contact: (415) 957-1551.

MEDIA ADVISORY                                 






Abby Michelson Porth

121 Steuart Street

San Francisco, CA  94105







May 18, 2011 … San Francisco, CA.  Today, medical professionals, legal scholars, and diverse faith community leaders expressed deep concern about and strong opposition to a San Francisco ballot measure, which would make circumcision a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail.


The United States Constitution protects the rights of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children, including the religious decision to circumcise their infant sons.  Professor Joel Paul, Associate Dean of UC Hastings School of Law, explained "The proposed ordinance targets a well-established religious practice of Jews and Moslems and denies parents a right to make a fundamental decision about the religious upbringing of their children. The Constitution does not permit government to restrict the free exercise of religion under these circumstances without a showing of some overwhelming compelling governmental interest. In this case there is no such justification."


For thousands of years, Jews around the world have practiced this ritual, which is fundamental to the practice of Judaism.  Muslims also consider circumcision central to their faith. Federal law protects parents' rights to direct the religious upbringing and education of their children in their early and formative years. 


Maha El Genaidi, Executive Director of the Islamic Networks Group, stated "Circumcision is required for Muslim males in emulation of the Prophet Abraham. This procedure usually occurs after birth in the hospital and causes minimal pain to the infant, similar to other procedures that are routinely conducted such as immunizations for newborns. A ban that specifically targets a religious practice of Muslims and that has been proven to be medically beneficial is a violation of First Amendment Rights that guarantees all Americans the right to religious freedom."


Reverend James DeLange, Chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, stated "We, representing diverse communities of faith throughout San Francisco, are deeply troubled by this proposed ballot initiative.  It would turn back the clock on a right that is fundamental to the founding of this country – the right to the free exercise of religion.  People of all religions, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds have sought a new life in San Francisco to pursue religious liberty."


Reverend Amos Brown, President of the NAACP, San Francisco stated "In America, under the Constitution, we are guaranteed freedom of religion. We should not waste citizens' time and money on a measure that violates the religious choice of persons who, out of their tradition practice circumcision, and who make this choice for their children for medical and health reasons."


Commitments to Oppose Proposed Ballot Measure Banning Circumcision

(updated 5/31/11)



Local Jewish Organizations and Rabbis


1.    Jewish Community Relations Council

2.    Jewish Community Federation

3.    Anti Defamation League

4.    American Jewish Committee

5.    Jewish Study Network

6.    Meira Academy

7.    Rabbi Mona Alfi, Congregation B'nai Israel, Sacramento

8.    Rabbi Mark Bloom, Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland

9.    Rabbi Yonatan Cohen, Congregation Beth Israel, Berkeley

10. Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley

11. Rabbi Dennis J. Eisner, Peninsula Temple Beth El

12. Rabbi Micah Hyman, Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco

13. Rabbi Mark Melamut, Congregation B'nai Emunah, San Francisco

14. Rabbi Sydney Mintz, Congregation Emanu El, San Francisco

15. Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Congregation Emanu El, San Francisco

16. Rabbi Larry Raphael, Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco

17. Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz, Congregation Adath Israel, San Francisco

18. Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco

19. Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi, Congregation Chevra Thilim, San Francisco

20. Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club

21. Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland


Local Partners


1.    Archbishop George Niederauer, Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco

2.    Bishop Marc Andrus, Episcopal Diocese of California

3.    Bishop Mark Holmerud*, Lutheran Bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

4.    Council on American Islamic Relations – San Francisco Bay Area

5.    David Lee, Grand Executive, Chinese American Citizens Alliance

6.    His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco

7.    Imam Abdurrahman Anwar, Yaseen Foundation

8.    Imam Ilyas Anwar, South Valley Islamic Community

9.    Imam Tahir Anwar, South Bay Islamic Association, San Jose

10. Imam Zaid Shakir*, Zaytuna College

11. Islamic Networks Group

12. Marin Interfaith Council

13. Monsignor John Talesfore, Pastor and Rector, Saint Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

14. Muslim American Society - Bay Area 

15. Reverend Amos Brown, NAACP Bay Area, Third Baptist Church

16. Reverend David Brown, Calvary Presbyterian Church of San Francisco

17. Reverend Canon Charles P. Gibbs*, Executive Director of United Religions Initiative

18. Reverend Carol Hovis, Marin Interfaith Council

19. Reverend Jim Kitchens, Calvary Presbyterian Church of San Francisco

20. Reverend James DeLange, San Francisco Interfaith Council

21. Right Reverend William Swing, Founder and President of United Religions Initiative

22. San Francisco Interfaith Council

23. Yaseen Foundation


Public Officials


1.    Bevan Dufty, Former San Francisco Supervisor

2.    California State Senator Mark Leno

3.    California State Senator Leland Yee

4.    San Francisco City Assessor Phil Ting

5.    San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu

6.    San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen

7.    San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

8.    San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell

9.    San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

10. San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener


Medical and Research Authorities*


1.    Dr. Laurence Baskin, UCSF Children's Hospital, Professor and Chief of Urology and Pediatrics

2.    Dr. Martin Brotman, President, Sutter Health West Bay

3.    Dr. Sang-ick Chang, Chief Medical Officer, Alameda County Medical Center

4.    Dr. Craig Cohen, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, UC San Francisco

5.    Dr. Gary Gershony, Interventional Cardiologist, John Muir Cardiovascular Institute

6.    Dr. Carol Roberts Gerson, Physician and Mohelet

7.    Dr. Mark Glasser, Obstetrician/Gynecologist

8.    Dr. Daniel Halperin, Lecturer in Global Health, Harvard School of Public Health

9.    Dr. Robert Kahn, Urologist, Pan Pacific Urology, San Francisco

10. Dr. Brian Kaye, Rheumatologist and Internist, Berkeley

11. Dr. Brian McBeth, Department of Emergency Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital and Clinical Assistant Professor, University of California, San Francisco

12. Dr. Jeffery J. Rabinovitz, Pediatrician

13. Dr. Michael Rokeach, Chief of Medical Staff, California Pacific Medical Center

14. Jeff Spieler, Office of Population and Reproductive Health, USAID

15. Dr. Kevin Tabb, Chief Medical Officer, Stanford Hospital and Clinics

16. Dr. Lory David Wiviott, Infectious Disease Specialist, California Pacific Medical Center



Higher Education Endorsements


1.    Dr. Natalie Berg*, Trustee, San Francisco Community College Board

2.    Jeffrey Fang*, Student Trustee, San Francisco Community College Board

3.    Peter Goldstein*, Vice Chancellor, San Francisco Community College

4.    Dr. Don Griffin*, Chancellor, San Francisco Community College

5.    Professor Joel Paul, Associate Dean, UC Hastings College of Law

6.    University of San Francisco


*Affiliation for identification purposes only



National Organizations and Individuals


1.    American Jewish Committee

2.    American Islamic Fellowship of Atlanta

3.    American Muslim Voice Foundation

4.    Anti Defamation League

5.    Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism and the National Organization of American Mohalim 

6.    B'nai B'rith International

7.    Central Conference of American Rabbis

8.    El-Tawhid Juma Circle: A Coalition of Gender-Equal/GLBTQ-Friendly Mosques in North America

9.    Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

10. Hadassah

11. Jewish Council for Public Affairs

12. Jewish Federations of North America

13. Jewish Labor Committee

14. Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

15. Jewish War Veterans of the USA

16. International Rabbinic Fellowship

17. Islamic Society of North America

18. Light of Reformation Mosque of D.C

19. Muslim Nurses Association

20. National Council of Jewish Women

21. Rabbinical Assembly

22. Rabbinical Council of America

23. Rabbi Jason Herman, New York

24. Rabbi Irwin Kula, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

25. Rabbi Judd E. Kruger Levingston, Philadelphia

26. Rabbi Jay Moses, New York

27. Temple Israel, Natick, Massachusetts

28. Union for Reform Judaism

29. Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

30. United Muslims of America

31. United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance

32. United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism

33. Unity Mosque of Toronto


 Proposed Criminalization of – and Ban on – Circumcision in San Francisco

FAQs prepared by the Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom

May 20, 2011



Q:  What does this ballot initiative say?

A:   The ballot initiative would make it unlawful and criminal to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years. 

Q:  Is there an exception to this proposed law for the religious practice of circumcision in the Muslim and Jewish communities?

A:   No.  The initiative would make circumcision lawful only if there is a "clear, compelling, and immediate medical need with no less-destructive alternative treatment available."


Q:  What is the proposed penalty of this initiative?

A:   This initiative would criminalize performing circumcision, putting any physician or religious clergy person who performs the procedure in county jail for up to a year, and/or punished with a fine of $1,000.  The measure denies parents the right to choose, with the guidance of their physician or tradition, circumcision for their sons. 


Q:  Isn't this proposed initiative against the law?

A:   Probably.  California law prevents localities from prohibiting medical professionals from performing procedures within the scope of their profession.  In addition, there are significant Constitutional law issues with this proposed measure because it would infringe upon the right to free exercise of religion.



Q:  Isn't circumcision known to have medical benefits?

A:   Yes.  The World Health Organization reports:  "There is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%."  There are also medical reports of lower rates of penile cancer and urinary tract infections in circumcised males, and reduced cervical cancer in women whose partners are circumcised.


Q:     Why can't we ignore this as a frivolous ballot measure? 

A:      Proponents of this initiative refer to "genital cutting" and "mutilation," implying that male circumcision is analogous to female genital mutilation and hoping to conceal from voters their attempt to criminalize a widely accepted procedure. 


Q:     How is male circumcision different from female genital mutilation?

A:      Male circumcision has known and documented health benefits, and there is no credible medical evidence that male circumcision is harmful or prevents male sexual satisfaction.  Its purpose is religious and for health benefits.  In contrast, the World Health Organization states that female genital mutilation "includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons," that it "has no health benefits" and is "internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women."  Female genital mutilation is performed for the explicit purpose of preventing female sexual satisfaction. 


Q:     Who has joined in the coalition against this proposed criminalization of circumcision?

A:      Organizations and influential community leaders from across the nation, representing the medical, civil liberties, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, HIV research/advocacy, and choice communities are joining in coalition against this attack on parental choice and religious freedom.  Join us!

Q:     How do I support the coalition?

A:      Sign this Petition, email it to aporth@jcrc.org, and circulate this entire email widely!

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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May 27, 2011

Kolot/Voices of CJ: "What I Want For My Children's Jewish Education"

What I Want For My Children's Jewish Education

by Daniel Avraham ben David Kalmen v'Sarah


My oldest child will be starting kindergarten next year, and I have been thinking about her Jewish education.

I am proud to raise my children in an ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood and to be part of a vibrant Jewish community. I live a block away from a public school where my children can get an excellent secular education. I also want them to benefit from Jewish learning that is engaging, rigorous, and appropriate to their needs. With two working parents, our family spends Saturday observing Shabbat, and we treasure Sunday for the family time when we can do things we don't do on Shabbat.

One option for my kindergartener's education is to spend around $20,000 to bus her to a day school miles away. That would pay for a secular education that would be approximately as good as the one at the public school, coupled with 15 to 20 hours per week of Jewish education. My other option is to send her to the public school down the block and pay around $1,000 to get three or four hours of supplemental education per week at a nearby synagogue. I'm planning to send her to public school, but I don't think that three hours a week of Jewish education is sufficient and I'm willing to pay for more.

For anyone reading this who is mumbling that I should just send my daughter to day school, you're in good company. I've lost track of the number of intelligent and passionate leaders of synagogues and synagogue schools who have told me that if I want a serious Jewish education for my children, day schools are the only choice.

Still, I am not alone in facing this choice and not choosing day school. According to recent surveys by the Avi Chai Foundation, there are 56,000 children attending supplemental schools in Conservative synagogues in the United States, and 13,000 children enrolled in Solomon Schechter day schools. Those 56,000 children whose parents can't or don't chose day schools have few other options for rigorous Jewish education during the school year.

I am also looking at another model that takes some inspiration from the old Talmud Torahs. In this model, on weekdays children get their secular education in public schools, and then they go directly to a Jewish school for Jewish education four days a week. Talmud Torahs were created as community schools in urban areas, but when Jews migrated to the suburbs their children moved away from those schools, which were not re-created in their new neighborhoods. This model can be revived and updated with everything we've learned about quality Jewish education in school and camp settings. (One modern benefit would be that Talmud Torahs provide childcare that helps working parents in the late afternoon.)

The Kesher Community Hebrew After Schools in the Boston area are probably the most established example inspired by this model. A few families in our neighborhood are trying to create this kind of program. We're working with vibrant local Conservative synagogues – Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, and Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Ohev Sholom, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Washington, also has expressed some interest in this idea and has families considering participating. We are receiving our most direct inspiration and help from the Edah program at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California.

Edah began with one kindergarten class last fall. Its goal is to merge the experiential, structured learning that flourishes at highquality Jewish summer camps with a commitment to daily Jewish learning and Jewish community. The program began with a partnership between a group of parents and Netivot Shalom's rabbi and director of lifelong learning. The program runs Tuesday to Thursday afternoons, beginning when the school buses arrive from public schools – between 1:30 and 2:45 – and goes for a total of 8 to 12 hours per week. On Thursdays, the Edah children join the synagogue's religious school class. Plans call for the program to run five days a week in future years, with children attending at least three afternoons.

When they arrive, children can choose art, reading, or game activities. Each activity has Jewish content, and most involve Hebrew language. The children play a lot of games, play sports in Hebrew and do aleph-bet yoga, participate in outdoor and environmental learning experiences, cook, daven, study the parshat hashavuah, and much more. There are also full-day programs when the public schools are closed, and three full-week programs during school breaks.

Rena Dorph, a day-school graduate and Edah co-founder, said that the program is helping her child develop a sense of being Jewish in a secular world. She has heard kindergarteners discuss how to explain Judaism and kashrut to friends in their public schools. The regular transitions between a secular environment and a community of Jewish peers create a place for in-depth discussions like these. Rabbi Stuart Kelman, Netivot Shalom's founding rabbi, who is a former day school principal and camp Ramah director and the grandparent of a child in the program, calls it "the first serious alternative in Jewish education that has come along in years."

I hope to adapt some of these elements in our community. Although it is far from certain that we'll have our program ready by the time my daughter enters kindergarten, the lay and professional leaders at Congregation Tifereth Israel and Ohr Kodesh Congregation are enthusiastic and willing to work with us. But translating enthusiasm into action is a challenge. Budgets are tight and neither synagogue has funds to invest in experiments, even if those experiments should be largely self-sufficient once they are fully running. It's hard to recruit families for a program that doesn't have a location or a schedule yet.

My vision is far from the only new model in Jewish education. For example, the winter 2010-11 issue of this magazine looked at Hebrew language charter schools. I am not personally interested in that model – I see no need to replicate the things that secular schools do well in my community. My vision, however, does share something with Hebrew charter schools – the central organizations of the Conservative movement are barely part of these efforts. The authors of two of the three articles in CJ supported a serious consideration of charter schools by the Conservative movement. The third article, from the head of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association, argued that it would be "demoralizing, counterproductive, and against the best interests of the existing institutions" for Schechter professionals to support charter school Jewish education.

Given limited money and staff, what role could the Conservative movement's central organizations play in these efforts to innovate in Jewish youth education? Section 2 of United Synagogue's recently passed strategic plan provides some surprisingly good guidance, as it talks about United Synagogue staff as connectors. For example, in CJ's spring 2011 issue Rabbi Harry Pell described a Schechter day school's curriculum on the evolution of halachah through modern times. A central Conservative organization like United Synagogue or the Jewish Educator's Assembly could make such curricula available on public websites. Even if such a program can't be replicated outside day schools, it could be a starting point for educators in traditional supplemental schools or newly designed programs. Organizations also could work with outside groups such as the TaL AM, which provides Hebrew language books and curricula to day schools, to adapt their resources for othereducation models and increase the number of Hebrew language educators trained in using such materials.

I want to see Conservative organizations identifying, documenting, and publicizing some of the many new education ideas happening within and outside the movement, so that educators and parents can spend less time reinventing the wheel. Where there are particularly exceptional programs, I want to see additional funds and the necessary support to replicate them. I want the synagogues in my neighborhood to learn about programs, like Edah, not because a random congregant – me – moved from California to Maryland, but because professionals are scouring the country for good programs to use. Even providing web pages where people could post and comment on programs, curricula, and lessons would be a huge help.

So what does movement infrastructure have to do with my vision for my children's education? I'm just a parent with a mediocre Jewish education who is learning Jewish pedagogy in my spare time. I want my ideas to be heard by others, ripped apart, improved, and sent back to me so that what happens in my children's classrooms is of higher quality than what I and a few overworked teachers and synagogue leaders could create on our own. I want to learn about new ideas from people with whom I have no direct connection. I want my children to understand they are not part of just their synagogue community, but of a world community of Jews who are working together to make sure their education is as engaging and high quality as possible. I want the institutions of the Conservative movement to have an active and valued role in this process.

Daniel Avraham ben David Kalmen v'Sarah is a walking-distance member of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, and Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He's also a non-walking distance member of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California. He grew up at the South Baldwin Jewish Center in Baldwin, New York.

May 26, 2011

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld: "Why it is more meaningful articulating "Sh'ma yis-ra-el..." than "Hear O Israel?"

Reflection from CJLS meeting on May 25, 2011

"Why it is more meaningful articulating "Sh'ma yis-ra-el..." than "Hear O Israel?" 

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld



I share with you one insight stemming from a teshuvah (legal responsum) we discussed this week at the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards on the question of the heresh (one who is deaf) and to what extent sign language can, halakhically, stand-in for speech when creating rituals that permit the non-hearing community to be as fully enfranchised within Jewish life as possible.  Many around the table got stuck on the matter of Torah-reading.  Blessings can be recited in any language, according to halakhah.  One may recite the Amidah in English. 


And so there is no reason a non-hearing person cannot "recite" blessings using signs.  Does that extend to Torah-reading?  What is the status of a Torah-service in which the congregation is non-hearing, and at which the way that the Torah is read is by means of a non-hearing person reading directly from the Torah scroll, but instead of chanting/articulating what s/he reads simultaneously signs it?  Many agreed that while sign language is a/the primary language for the non-hearing community, the rendering of the words of the Torah into sign is, itself, a translation, a "targum" and not a direct recitation.  Most linguists consider sign language to be a language in and of itself.  American Sign Language differs from  Hebrew Sign Language, and Hebrew sign language is not, itself, Hebrew.  Nor is there any certain way to render biblical Hebrew into sign-language completely faithful to the nuance of the original.  Therefore, we would encourage the non-hearing community to experience the Torah in this way, to engage in learning the Torah this way, but we may not be able to claim, halakhically, that was is taking place is fulfillment of the mitzvah of "kriat haTorah b'tzibbur"--reading the Torah in public.


What struck me in this exchange was the idea that, quietly, informed it: there is sanctity--unique, supreme, perhaps even mystical sanctity--to hearing our holy Torah chanted, perfectly, in the original.  Think about it.  For many regular shul-goers, Hebrew is not a fully, or immediately, comprehensible language.  This is true for many Torah-readers!  And so the exercise of reading Torah in our shuls often involves a non-Hebrew-speaker chanting Hebrew sounds/syllables to an audience that, mostly, does not understand the words.  And yet we consider that ritual to be, in its pristine state, so sacred and unimpeachable that we would consider a rendering of the Hebrew text into a medium that would be comprehensible (ie, English for our community, sign-language for the non-hearing community) somehow less than authentic. 


I raise this point not to question whether our association with Torah-in-Hebrew ought to persist; I believe it should.  I raise it to have us consider what it means for the individual Jew, and the community of Jews, to pray and, quite literally, "hear revelation" every week in a foreign language.  Religion pushes us beyond the rational, and engages the mystical.  Whether we are full-blown kabbalists who impute to each Hebrew letter unlimited power and import, or Jews looking to taste and touch  something of the transcendent, the Hebrew text, the Hebrew word and the Hebrew chant is our medium.  Let that sink in this weekend as you recite the Shema, savoring each syllable, asking yourself why it is more meaningful articulating "Sh'ma yis-ra-el..." than "Hear O Israel."  Consider it as you listen to the reader bring you in to Parshat Bemidbar in what is most likely not your natural tongue.  Let the Hebrew enter into your soul, to a place where, we believe, only it can reach.


Rabbi Adam Kligfeld is the rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

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