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  • The Ten Commandments: What’s The Point?

    Posted on May 13th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Often times I see the “Ten Commandments” displayed on boards in synagogues, above the Parochet, on walls of praying spaces, in religious school classes- each commandment followed by an exclamation mark, for example:
    You shall not kill! ! לא תרצח
    You shall not Still! לא תגנוב!
    Even in places where the exclamation mark is not actually printed, it could be heard in the tone of the imperative form, as we are traditionally accustomed to read it.
    Could it be read differently?

    Author: Rabbi Oshrat Morag

    Placing a question mark
    In her poem “We All Stood Together” , Merle Feld describes how in Sinai, men and women have witnessed the revelation and received the Torah together. However, as the poem continues, a voice of frustration arises; due to lack of time and availability (staying home and taking care of babies) women’s interpretations throughout Jewish history were not documented. This poem represents the first stage of what feminist theologians such as Rachel Adler and Judith Plaskow (among others) describe as the realization of inequality which leads to critic. In the second stage, feminist readings of traditional texts try to reconstruct the lost voices; as readers of texts as well as writers of texts, giving voice to women in texts along with suggesting new ways of reading texts, or listening to them.
    The first stage includes the realization that traditional texts are the product of male interpretation; reflecting their theological, social, cultural understandings. Feminist approach to those texts often places question marks on what is considered “facts” or the “truth” in order to create possibilities for different interpretations which represent women’s experiences. The interpretation of עשרת הדיברות as I would like to suggest here, puts such a question mark.
    The “Ten Commandments”, and for that matter all commandments, are named in English “commandments”- meaning, orders that come from a hierarchal status, in this case from God. In Hebrew the word מצווה comes from the root צ.ו.ה meaning to order, however the use of the word mitzvah refers explicitly to God’s orders . The notion of commandment might be expected in a patriarchal theology where God is hierarchal; He is a Ruler, a King, Lord of Hosts. A God in those images can only speak to us in orders, in commandments. The power of figures such as kings and rulers lies in the ability to put sanctions and punishments on us, should we not follow the commandments.
    Language is limiting human expressions of theological experience, as it is a representation of human experiences and knowledge and a reflection of those on the image of God. Jewish feminists, motivated to add women’s experiences and knowledge to the Jewish conversation , produced other images of God , suggesting mostly non-hierarchal ones. When viewing God as non-hierarchal I would like to place a question mark on the terminology of “commandments” and ask which word might be most fitting to replace it.

    Taking away the exclamation mark
    The “Ten Commandments” are not named “mitzvoth” in Hebrew but rather are called: דברים (in Shmot 20:1) or דיברות (for example in Bavli Shvuot 39a), meaning some form of speaking. God is speaking to all the people in Sinai and sets ten basic points to what might be considered ground rules for the affirmation of the covenant between us. These words are followed by Parashat Mishpatim, in which the words, that are very general, turn into more elaborating sentences- describing the ideal moral behavior.
    In that light, God could be imagined more as a Guide, or as an Educator who is trying to teach us how to create a just and moral society, and how to become good-doing individuals of that society, rather than a Tyrant who orders us how to behave. The image of an Educator or Guide bears somewhat of the authority that I find easier to accept, since it suggests an authority that is based on experience or knowledge that I don’t share or understand, as well as the good intention for my well-being and that of society . God sets before us many more teachings throughout the Torah, and towards the end, in Parashat Re’eh, we are given the Choice ; we have learned what is right and what is wrong, we are aware of the consequences for following each path, but at end it is our choice to make and we are held responsible for it.
    Using the terminology of “teachings” for “commandments” does not come to devalue their meaning or content. I used to say that as a religious person I feel commanded to follow God’s commandments. By changing the terminology I do not feel any less committed to follow the teachings; if anything it enhances my sense of partnership in the Covenant. Changing the terminology is simply asking to take away the exclamation marks that we supposedly have at their end. By doing so, we open new possibilities for reading the “Ten Teachings”.

    Moving toward the point
    In formal and informal education, we assume, or more accurately, hope that the seeds of values that we plant in the minds of children grow with them along the years. We sometimes see the results specifically in difficult situations; should the right choice be made we know the values have been well implemented and correctly applied.
    Viewing God’s teachings in that light, a point takes the place of the exclamation mark, which enables us to read the “Ten teachings” not as orders but rather as a prophecy of our behavior. It may be perceived as if God shares with us our future selves, as if God says to us :

    I am your God. (I took you out of Egypt as salves and now you are the People of Israel)
    If you follow my teachings (and not the teachings and values of [American] Idols)
    You will remember Shabbat. (that it is a sacred day as well as a social one).
    You will honor your parents. (they are your Guides as well and want the best for you)
    You will not kill, or commit adultery, or steal, or lie, or covet. (Because whenever an instinct or a drive to do wrong appears, you will make the right choice).
    With a point at the end.

    We All Stood Together/ Merle Feld

    My brother and I were at Sinai
    He kept a journal
    of what he saw
    of what he heard
    of what it all meant to him

    I wish I had such a record
    of what happened to me there

    It seems like every time I want to write
    I can’t
    I’m always holding a baby
    one of my own
    or one for a friend
    always holding a baby
    so my hands are never free
    to write things down

    And then
    as time passes
    the particulars
    the hard data
    the who what when where why
    slip away from me
    and all I’m left with is
    the feeling

    But feelings are just sounds
    the vowel barking of a mute

    My brother is so sure of what he heard
    after all he’s got a record of it
    consonant after consonant after consonant
    If we remembered it together
    we could recreate holy time
    sparks flying

     

    Rabbi Oshrat Morag currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and is pursuing a doctorate in Feminist Theology at HUC-JIR.

     

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  • Can Women Pray Out Loud? Some Rabbinic Sources

    Posted on October 24th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 2 comments
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    I remember when I first seriously looked into the textual basis of “Kol Ishah.”  I used my computer concordance of all of rabbinic literature (here defined as Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi, Bavli and midrash collections) to look for the term.  I expected to find a long list of sources.  I found three hits.  I thought, “Well, I must have looked it up wrong.”  So I tried “kol ha’ishah”, “kolot nashim” and other variations.  No matter what I tried, I still I came up with just three hits in all of rabbinic literature.  And each of those citations is a repetition of just one statement.  So the prohibition comes down to this single statement:

    Anat Hoffman of Women at the Wall Being Arrested

    If one gazes at the little finger of a woman is it as if he gazed at her secret place!?  No, it means in one’s own wife, and when he recites the Shema.

    Rav Hisda:  A woman’s leg is a sexual incitement, as it says, “Uncover the leg, pass through the rivers (Isaiah 47:2)” and it says afterwards, “Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, your shame shall be seen (Isaiah 47:3).”

    Shmuel said:  A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement, as it says, “For sweet is your voice and your countenance is comely (Song of Songs 2:14).”

    Rav Sheshet said:  A woman’s hair is a sexual incitement, as it says, “Your hair is as a flock of goats (Song of Songs 4:1).” (B. Berachot 24a//B. Kiddushin 70a//Y. Hallah 2:1; Shmuel’s saying)

    This passage talks about things that might distract a man while reciting the Shema.  I think reasonable minds would agree that a man might be distracted by seeing his wife naked before him while he was attempting to recite the Shema.  But what comes next is, in essence, a list of what different sages find most enticing about women…a sort of sidebar to the main conversation.  Since Shmuel’s statement is included in this sidebar, later generations took it to mean that hearing a woman’s voice is as distracting as having one’s wife sit naked before him.

    Author: Rabbi Judith Abrams

    When I realized this, I contacted one of my mentors and asked, “Is this really the entire basis for not allowing women’s voices to be heard?”  He told me it was.  I must admit, I was flabbergasted.  We had been hung out to dry on the flimsiest of pretexts.  I asked a fellow teacher what he thought of this and he said, “Well, when I was 15 I’d have been distracted by a woman’s voice.”  To which I replied, “Why should I have to shut up for the rest of my life because you used to be 15?”

    The prohibition is all the more surprising because Scripture and rabbinic literature assume that women sing publicly.  Of course, Miriam and the women sing at the shores of the sea (Exodus 15:20-21).  Women are public musicians (Psalm 68:26) and take part in loud public rejoicing (Nehemiah 12:43).

    In Mishnah, it is assumed that women sing professionally, publicly and liturgically:

    Women may raise a wail during the festival [week] but not clap [their hands in grief]; R. Ishmael says, those that are close to the bier clap [their hands in grief].  On the days of the New Moon, of Hannukkah and of Purim they may raise a wail and clap [their hands in grief].  Neither on the former (i.e., the festival week) nor on the latter occasions do they chant a dirge.  After [the dead] has been interred they neither raise a wail nor clap [their hands in grief].  What is meant by “raising a wail”?  When all sing in unison.  What is meant by a dirge?  When one leads and all respond after her.  As it is said:  And teach your daughters wailing and one another [each] lamentation (Jeremiah 9:19).  But as the future [days] to come, [the prophet] says:  “He will destroy death for ever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.  (Isaiah 25:8)” (M. Moed Katan 3:9//B. Moed Katan 28b)

    So, weighing our evidence, we have Biblical, Mishnaic and Talmudic testimony that women sing publicly and liturgically as opposed to a single statement by one sage which does not, in context, ban women’s voices at all.  I believe there is far more textual support affirming the right of women to sing in public and at services than there is for banning it.  “May the the sounds of joy and salvation be hear in the tents of the righteous (Psalm 118:15)!”

     

    This week’s author, Rabbi Judith Abrams PhD.,  is the director of Maqom an online center for adult Talmud study.

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  • Eradicating Modern-Day Slavery

    Posted on October 3rd, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    This week’s post comes from Rabbi Rachael Bregman, who writes on an issue we cannot afford to ignore. -editor Ruth Abusch-Magder

    An 11-year-old girl in five-point shackles is escorted into a courtroom. Her crime? She was caught in the back of a van with a 43-year-old man who had paid for 30 minutes of her time to do whatever he wanted to with her.
    Where was the man when the girl was in court? He’d already been released, fined $50 for misdemeanor solicitation and set free.

    The little girl – because at 11, what else can we call her – belonged to a pimp who had three other girls in his possession. After she had run away from home, the pimp took her in, and now she was “paying him back” for a roof over her head, her clothing and some food.[1]

    This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but slavery still exists today, and this is what it looks like.

    The Facts

    According to the U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization, there are between 21 and 27 million slaves in the world today – more than at any other time in history.  Of them, 25 percent are women, men and children – thousands in the United States – who are victims of forced sexual exploitation. And while not all those who work in prostitution are victims of human trafficking, many are, especially children.

    “Runaway and throwaway”[2] children are easy prey for traffickers. One out of every three teens will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home, and the younger a girl[3] is, the more likely she will be sexually victimized.

    A pimp will attempt to break a girl’s will though physical and verbal abuse to prepare her for a life of prostitution and separate her completely from her previous life,[4] making the child completely dependent on him or her and enslaved to the sex trade.

    This is happening not just to someone else’s kids; the victims could be my kids and yours. There has been a marked rise in the sexual exploitation of kids from middle- and upper-income backgrounds.

    “Any child who is feeling lonely and isolated is at risk,” Judge Peggy Walker of the Douglas County Juvenile Court said. “Kids run away to the city and sell their bodies for drugs or alcohol or a place to stay, [and] their parents are generally stunned, believing that sexual exploitation is something that happens to someone else’s child.”[5]

    The Johns can look just like you and me: Of the men purchasing sex, 75 percent are white and of upper- or upper-middle-class.[6]

    Author, Rabbi Rachael Bregman

    Our Motivation for Change

    A century-and-a-half ago, President Abraham Lincoln declared, “…upon this act [of emancipating all slaves], sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty G-d.[7]”

    Lincoln’s claimed authority not just from the Constitution, the U.S. military, the citizens of this nation and G-d on high; he characterized the act as one of justice itself.

    As Jews, the call to end human slavery goes beyond merely justice. Among our religion’s central rallying cries is, “remember, you were a slave in Egypt,” reminding us of our freedom and the great responsibility to protect others who are enslaved which comes with it.

    We sing about redemption from slavery in the daily prayers[8]. G-d commands us to free the captives, that slavery is wrong, and that, as Jews, central to our identity is ridding humanity of the practice.

    We celebrated 150 years since the date of the Emancipation Proclamation on Shabbat T’shuvah, the special Shabbat which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During those days, we prayed, we repented and we did acts of justice to save our own souls. When we commit to tzedakah (here, “justice”), we are breaking the cruelty that exists within us and the world and transforming it into compassion, and in doing so, we are changing our very nature.[9]

    Justice is protecting the slaves in our world. Today, we both yearn and are commanded to turn the world, ourselves and wickedness around toward good. We are the ones who have committed these crimes, and we are also the ones who can protect their victims. The power is in our hands.

    How You Can Make a Difference

    It is incumbent upon us to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), the cornerstone of the U.S. effort to combat modern-day slavery. This act, currently stalled in the Senate, will allow us to make sure the protections for the slaves of today are renewed and expanded upon.

    Simply go to passtvpranow.org, sign your name and do your part to protect those who suffer the fate from which we have been freed. And simpler still, come to the Child Trafficking Summit: Education to Action on Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. at The Temple to learn more and get involved fighting this fight.

     

    This piece originally appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times

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  • Proud to be Out and Jewish: Celebrating Pride Month

    Posted on June 12th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Gay Pride in Jerusalem 2003

    This week we hear from Rabbi Ruth Adar who reminds us why we should all be proud this June. -ed. Ruth Abusch-Magder

    .

     

    Author, Rabbi Ruth Adar

    It’s June. I’m feeling the gratitude again.

    Flash back to my first Gay Pride Month, in 1988: I had recently come out in a cloud of cluelessness, a single mother. There was a parade over the bay in San Francisco, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
    1988 was a different world: AIDS was a mystery disease chewing through the gay male population, rumored in some quarters to be a Punishment from God. Same-sex intimacy was a felony in Georgia, with the blessing of the Supreme Court (Bowers v Hardwicke, 1986). After I came out to the principal at my kids’ Montessori School, I was told our family was unwelcome.  An attorney told me it was a good thing my divorce had become final in California, because in my home state the courts would regard me ipso facto an unfit mother.

    1988 galvanized me, and by the time the following June rolled around, I was volunteering for the National Center for Lesbian Rights where I had the privilege of meeting some of the people who’d been fighting on my behalf: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, activists since 1955, and Donna Hitchens and Roberta Achtenberg, who founded NCLR in 1977.  I met many other good people with names you won’t find in Wikipedia who had worked hard for many years. I learned what a deep debt I owed to those who had cut the rocky little path I was walking.

    Flash forward to another June, in 2002: I emerged from the cheroot from Ben Gurion and walked into the Jerusalem campus of HUC for the first time. One of the questions in my mind was, how was this going to go, really?  How much of a problem was it going to be, well, me? Because that’s the thing: being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is about identity. My orientation is an essential part of who I am that cannot be hidden or closeted or apologized for without twisting the truth.

    I am happy to say that while I was at HUC-JIR (2002-08) I never felt that anyone on faculty or in the student body ever consciously slighted me on account of my orientation. I was proud to attend classes in the building that houses the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation, first of its kind in the Jewish world.  There is still plenty of work to do in the Reform Jewish world, but at least at school I felt welcome.

    I owe my good experience to the pioneers who went before me: men and women who did the heavy lifting, who out of love for Torah and a sense of destiny persisted in pursuing this sacred work during the years when the Movement was not yet ready for us. Some of them suffered the pain of the closet. All persisted in the face of a particular interpretation of passages in Leviticus 18 and the slipperier “ick factor” that makes LGBTQ freedom work so challenging.

    To those people, this June, I say todah rabbah. You are a blessing to us all. I know some of you, but by no means all of you. I hope that someday I’ll hear your stories.  And just as this year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sally Priesand’s ordination, I hope in some future year, we’ll be celebrating yours: you are my heroes.

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  • A Mother’s Day Tribute to Mothers and Jewish Values

    Posted on May 8th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Sara Goren with her granddaughter, Seth's daughter

    Jewish mothers often get a bad rap. Comedians, movies, books portray Jewish moms as the biggest impediment to the development of healthy Jews. Yet, when I started to ask around, there are lots of us out there who see our mothers -Jewish or not- as essential to our growth into the proud Jews we are today. What follows are three moving tributes to three wonderful moms.

    We would love to hear more, feel free to share your comments on what values or teaching that you learned from your mom and how they made you into the person you are today.  -Ruth Abusch-Magder, editor

     

    Lessons from Estelle

    One of the biggest lessons I learned from my mother, Estelle or Essie as every one called her, was really a lesson in feminism although she wouldn’t characterize it that way, but it really was.  My Mom had me later in life.  She was already in her forties.  My older sister was in college and she felt her child bearing days was over.  She grew up in an era before the Great Depression and got married soon after high school.  She worked as bookkeeper from the age of 16 out of necessity not having the luxury of a college education.  Even after she married, she worked in the family business, was active in the life of the community, as Hadassah president, Sisterhood president, temple fundraiser and took care of her parents as well. She raised my sister and ran a household.

    Bernie and Estelle Eger 50th Anniversary

    She was active in National Council of Jewish Women and so she taught me by example to be involved Jewishly.  But my mom would also say to me, “Don’t be any man’s schmatta.”  By that she was trying to tell me to be my own person.  Go to School. Find a career. Be self supporting.  It wasn’t a dig at men or marriage (My parents were happily married 58 years until my father’s death!).  But it was her way of conveying the importance of being your own independent woman!  And she taught me well. I was the first to graduate college in my family and then of course to go on to seminary and the blessings of a Rabbinic calling!  I am no one’s shmatta today. I am my own person and I treasure my mom’s advice and encouragement to grow and learn and embrace the world. –Denise Eger

     

    Learning to be a “mom”

    I came out to my mother as gay when I was 27.  While I’d like to say that this particular step out of the closet took superhuman levels of courage on my parts, that’s not exactly (or even remotely) true.  More accurately, my comfort sharing who I am flowed from many of my mother’s attributes; because of her nurturing love, her subtle kindness and her perseverance in the face of challenge,  it was far more natural to share than to withhold.

    Getting older, I find that I, too, carry these qualities that allowed me to be open with my mother.  They enable and strengthen my rabbinical life, from pastoral conversations to community building.  For this reason, perhaps my mother’s greatest ability was how she was able to mold me into the kind of person she is.

    About a year ago, I became a father to a daughter.  Since then, I’ve been struck by how many people have asked me, “Since you’re a single man, how are you going to make sure she has good female role models?”  I suppress my urge to give a snarky response, smile politely and say, “I think we have that covered.”   -Seth Goren

     

    What I Learned From My Mom

     

    One of the most important things I learned from my mom was to tune into and value feelings.  My mom would always say to me,  “Don’t keep it in, it will fester.”  Even though I didn’t know what “fester” meant, I understood by her statement that she not only saw me, but felt me.  I was always a little surprised that she was aware, often before I was, that I was hurt or concerned about something.  (She’d also say “mother’s always know…”) She intuitively knew that experience was layered and that there was more going on than what appeared on the surface. She taught me pay attention to what lies below. This skill has profoundly influenced

    Marlene Berkson Kornick -Jill's Mother

    my work as a rabbi.  I’m not afraid of feelings and teach that becoming aware is a first step toward wisdom and change.  Also, this was probably why my love and enthusiasm for Torah study has been so deep. I teach that the surface layer is only one part of reality and by delving deeper into the nuances and multiple meanings of the text, we can learn more and more about our own souls. –Jill Zimmerman

     

     

     

     

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  • Freedom Rides: From Atlanta to Jerusalem

    Posted on March 15th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Freedom Ride -taken with hidden camera from the IRAC

    This week we have the honor of Rabbi Leigh Lerner’s experience riding the buses for civil rights in Israel. Rabbi Lerner is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El-Beth-Shalom in Montreal. He is on sabbatical in Jerusalem and volunteering time with the IRAC on their Freedom Ride project.

    “Git to the front of the bus, bwah, or else!”  That was the end of my first freedom ride, but I was only 13, just a kid boarding the bus from downtown Atlanta to Buckhead.  Segregation reigned in 1958 Atlanta, and having arrived from the integrated north, I just knew it was wrong and wanted to make a statement, so I sat in the “colored” section on that Peachtree St. trolley.  The driver would have none of it and threatened to throw me bodily off the vehicle.

    Author Rabbi Leigh Lerner

    Author- Rabbi Leigh Lerner

    Now flash to Jerusalem, 2012 – 5772, and a different kind of freedom ride.  Come aboard an Egged bus in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox section dotted with yeshivot and a perfect copy of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s home in Brooklyn.  Buses in this area of Jerusalem and in many other areas of Israel had, over the last 12 years, become segregated: women in the back and bidden to enter by the back door, and men in the front.  “Mehadrin” bus lines grew to 50 in number, despite the ill-feeling they engendered.

    Anat Hoffman

    Anat Hoffman

    Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, brought the law suit that re-integrated Israel’s buses, but on January 12, Anat, James Cherney, a URJ board member from Chicago, and I took a short ride to make sure the law was being obeyed and to open the front of the bus to Haredi women.Anat sat in one of 4 seats facing each other in the front of the bus.  Except for three women, every female either boarded from the back and remained there, or boarded from the front and went to the back.  Both ends of the bus became quite full, but not a single Haredi man would occupy any of the 3 seats in the vicinity of Anat Hoffman.
    One woman boarded the bus and sat by Anat, who exchanged a hello with her.  She stayed in that seat for one precious minute, then went to the back.  Why?  Did she sit there to make a statement momentarily?  Or did she lose courage and resign herself to the back, as all the men around her expected her to do?
    Another woman rode but three stops.  She stayed near the back door, which is just before the women’s section, then left with her heavy case.  A third woman boarded with a stroller and stood in a space at the back of the “men’s” section, where Egged provides extra space.  It was a double stroller, and she needed the room.
    When Anat, Jim Cherney and I left the bus, the area where Anat had been seated filled quickly with black hatted men.
    Segregation exists in Jerusalem.  Until IRAC won its case, it existed with the assent of the government, the very government that subsidizes the bus companies.  Now it is sustained by social pressure.  Still, many Haredi women bless IRAC for opening the front of the bus to them again.  Only by sitting where we please will Jerusalemites and other Israelis keep their buses integrated.  Separate can never be equal.
    Be a freedom rider yourself.  When you visit Jerusalem, take 2 hours of a morning to hear IRAC’s story and ride a Jerusalem bus as an observer.  Your eyes will open not only to parts of Jerusalem the tour buses never go, but to people, issues, and struggles that too often remain hidden from our view of the Jewish State of Israel.

     

    Postscript: For those interested in support the IRAC effort, Rabbi Lerner adds the following note -Commitment is really just for the time period — takes about 2 hours to 2.5 hours, which involves prep talk, getting to bus stop in one of the outer ring Haredi neighborhoods, riding the bus into the city, taking a cab back to IRAC, meeting for 30 minutes to debrief and get further legal background.  Cost is 6.30 shekels, about $1.50, for the bus ride, and usually IRAC takes care of everything, including cab back. It is very safe.  If there’s a problem on the bus, the IRAC person will handle it, and problems do not involve actual physical threats, but sometimes shaking of seats, being told to go to back of bus, several individuals standing over a woman and glaring at her.  Of course they don’t sit near her themselves.  These things do happen, but not that often, and IRAC personnel know what to do.  We’re hoping that people will talk/write about their experience in their congregational blogs or bulletins, etc., and tell what IRAC is doing to keep buses integrated and make sure that “unser yidn,” liberal Jews, secular Israelis, etc. can sit wherever they please in public transport and at public meetings.

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  • International Women’s Day and Purim Collide

    Posted on March 8th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Rabbi Stanley Davids and Dr. Michael Marmur

    A brief report by Dr. Michael Marmur:

    In honor of International Women’s Day and Purim, a group of about 200 people congregated in Ben Yehuda to hear women read the Megilla (it’s the day before Purim in Jerusalem). The Megillah was read by a group of women including Rabbi Ada Zavidov of Har El Congregation, Rabbi Ma’ayan Turner, and Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, among other Jerusalem women. Men attending were asked to come dressed as women, and some of us obliged.

    The background to this is the struggle over the role of women in public spaces in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh and elsewhere. In recent weeks the question of whether women will be seen and heard in our streets in the spirit of open societies has been raised, following some high-profile examples of intolerance, most of which originate in the Ultra-Orthodox community.

    Kol Haneshamah Congregation and other liberal forces in Jerusalem are engaged in a series of symbolic acts designed to emphasize the need to stand up for the kind of society we want our kids to grow up in, and your kids to feel at home in.

    Our colleague Rabbi Darah Lerner was spotted in the crowd, along with HUC-JIR students and others.

     

    To see a video of the event shot by the talented HUC-JIR first year Rabbinic Student Jeremy Gimbel who was also responsible for the Purim spoof on the Book of Mormon musical click on the link below

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed46ucSUuVk

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  • Martha Stewart, Feminism and Purim

    Posted on March 2nd, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Lina Morgenstern

    Is writing a cookbook a feminist act?

    As women’s history month begins there is much to debate. I for one would struggle to make the argument that Martha Stewart is a feminist, though in 2004 Elaine Lafferty, the editor of Ms. magazine at the time of Stewart’s sentencing for insider trading, suggested that there are some reasons to think otherwise.

    And yet, when I read Lina Morgenstern’s Illustriertes Universal-Kochbuch für Gefunde und Kranke, The Illustrated Universal Cookbook, I read it as a feminist tome. Containing thousands of recipes, Morgenstern’s opus was literally a work of art. Under her tutelage, even simple dishes, such as mayonnaise, are plated on platters and adorned with edible carvings that would make Martha green with envy. Pages upon pages of exquisite drawings portray not only the dishes but the variety of food stuff and kitchen tools. Morgenstern spares us no detail, there is a drawing of a pea splitting knife and a recipe for reindeer meat – though not native to Germany she did not want anyone to be unprepared. Like Stewart does today, Morgenstern presented an impossible vision of womanhood and set unattainable standards.

    Morgenstern wrote her cookbook in1886. She wrote it as part of a broader vision and mission of pushing the boundaries of women’s roles. Born in 1830, she was one of five daughters born to wealthy Jewishly observant family that stressed g’millut hassadim, good works. Her first public act, at age 18, was to establish a charity that would provide school supplies for children in need.

    Much like those who argued for women’s suffrage, she parlayed the limits placed on women –their caretaking capacity, their compassion –into reasons to enter new areas of activity and create new and varied instructions. Women were responsible for child care, so she opened the first Kindergartens in Berlin. Women were responsible for food preparation, so she open a cooking school to ensure true mastery. Women were responsible for the ill and poor, so she opened a soup kitchen. Women were meant to be patriotic but not fight in wars, so she cared for wounded soldiers. Women were expected to be proper managers of middle and upper class households, so she established Housewives associations at a time when the idea of women gathering in public was pushing the boundaries. Women were peaceful by nature so she became political activist.

    Morgenstern's Cookbook, cover, cover page, and example of illustrations

    Her cookbook was over the top. The very act of creating a larger than life book, which in hindsight I cannot help read with a touch of irony, highlighted the weightiness of the work women did in the home, the attention to detail and thought they put into something that might seem as simple as a meal. Additionally, at time when all the other cookbooks written by German Jewish women were committed to upholding kashrut, Morgenstern, who came from a traditionally family, broke with the rabbis and set forth a broader vision. She was willing to break traditional expectations.

    In many ways, Morgenstern’s life connects closely to that of ancient heroine of the Purim story. Esther used her very traditional role as a beauty queen & wife to change the course of history and so did Lina. So in my not so humble and outspoken opinion, Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts is not feminist, but Lina Morgenstern’s The Illustrated Universal Cookbook certainly is!

    -Ruth Abusch-Magder

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  • Advice for Jewish Professionals: What Every Grad Should Know 6

    Posted on February 1st, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Inspired by last week’s posts on advice to those searching for jobs as Jewish professionals ahead of graduation, a few of the rabbis of the Women’s Rabbinic Network added a few gems that have been helpful to them as they have moved forward in their careers. Thanks to everyone for sharing! Short and sweet, this is a list not to be missed!

     

     

    Rabbi Barbara Metzinger who is currently doing CPE training: I was told to memorize the Hebrew of the 23rd Psalm. Invaluable.

     

    Robin Leonard Nafshi Similarly, I was told to memorize the Hebrew of Birkhat HaKohanim

     

    Alona Lisitsa I was taught that there are many ways to be successful.

     

    Lisa Levenberg Always have a few sentences in your head to say about the parsha.

     

    Elisa Koppel For that matter, Lisa…make sure you always know what the parashah is. :)

    Always know the official names of rooms in the synagogue. The person for whom it is named got that honor for a reason.

    Make a point to thank other staff (especially support staff) publicly and regularly.

    Carry a copy of the Rabbi’s Manual in the car.

     

    Toby Manewith Building from what Lisa said: always have a few words suitable to event you’re attending. You never know when the person scheduled to give the invocation, etc., will be late. Learn something about every member of the staff with whom you work. Find something to connect over – music, kids, sports, food, books, television…. Take time to connect with everyone for a few minutes every week.

     

    Ilana Greenfield Baden offered two pieces of advice. -From a somewhat weary rabbinic mentor: If you want to be a rabbi, you have to love the Jewish people; and the Jewish people can be a very difficult people to love… From a more optimistic mentor: Always have at least three routes from your home to the temple – just in case there is traffic or weather…

    Ilyse Glickman and a few of her classmates from HUC-JIR NYC remembered a particularly witty song written and preformed by Reni Dickman at the annual fundraiser for the soup kitchen run by the students. The original version of the words seems to be lost to history but Lisa Levenberg remembered the chorus. Everyone agrees the advice is spot on!

     

    “always get directions to the cemetery plot

    especially when the day is blisteringly hot.

    If you’re traveling alone

    make sure you’ve got your cell phonnnnnne

    so you can always get directions to the cemetery plot!”

     

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  • A Prophetic Voice: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Judaism

    Posted on November 16th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder 2 comments
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    This morning American’s across the country awoke to news that the various “Occupy” encampments from New York to Oakland had been shut down over night. In the slightly less than two months since it began the movement has captured attention across the country. On Yom Kippur a group of Jews came together in New York to pray and Occupy Judaism was born.

     

    How does this movement play out for the students and alumni of HUC? To be sure, Occupy Judaism is non-denominational enshewing the hierarchies of movement based Judaism. Yet over the last few week I put out calls and connected with some current HUC students and Nancy Weiner, the Clinical Director of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling and faculty advisor to the Student Association and Interfaith programs to understand their perspective.

     

    The students spoke candidly but asked that I not use names. They were concerned about the perception their involvement might have on employment –current or future- which suggests that even as the mainstream media covers the protests, Occupy remains a fairly small group on the margins. For the students there is both fear and pride. Fear, that involvement will mark a person as too radical (there are rumors that people involved with Occupy Judaism and currently employed in mainstream Jewish organizations have been asked not to be too public about Occupy involvement.) Pride, that they are carrying out the prophetic tradition.

     

    For Nancy Weiner, a tenured professor as well as a rabbi to a small congregation, pride dominates. Growing up, social justice was the essence of what it meant to be a Reform Jew. Her High Holidays sermon on the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street protests and her participation in the protests during Sukkot were obvious extensions of a long standing commitment to social justice. Was she concerned that her sermon might offend or provoke her financially comfortable congregants? Not really. “They understand that there is a need to fix the system.” Nor is she alone in speaking out. According to Weiner several rabbinic colleagues, in wealthy congregations spoke about the movement over the High Holidays. As she pointed out, all of these communities have been touched by the concerns raised by those who were camping in Zuccotti Park. Weiner was neither the only HUC faculty member nor the only HUC rabbi taking part in the Occupy Sukkot action that took place. Shirely Idelsohn Dean of the New York School was there as was Ellen Lippmann.

     

    Lippmann wrote in the Huffington Post about the connection between the holiday and the contemporary movement. For one of the students, the highlight of eating and sleeping in the sukkot in Zucotti Park was studying the laws of sukkot and recognizing that everyone, from the richest person with the most beautiful home to the poorest person, all have the same obligation to dwell in a sukkah during the holiday, reinforcing a vision of fundamental equality no matter our earthly riches. Another described a scene that amazed her, Councilman Brad Lander was teaching the Occupy Judaism group about law pertaining to housing in New York and all of a sudden Jesse Jackson comes by. The learning stopped, the two embraced and spoke and then the learning continued. It was the embodiment of the sukkah as an open place of peace.

    But for all that I spoke to, the message of Occupy Judaism transcends the direct connection to sukkot. Repeatedly I was told of David Sapperstein’s recent address to the HUC-JIR community in which he spoke of the Occupy Wall Street as a prophetic voice in the best tradition of the prophets of old. True enough there is no clear agenda, no clear answers to fix the problems of society. But that does not seem to bother the supporters. Our ancient prophets did not focus on the fix but rather the identification of the difficulties.

     

    As for concerns about OWS being anti-semitic, according to those who had spent significant time in the park in Manhattan, they are simply part of the attempts to discredit the movement. Yes, there have been negative signs and slogans here and there, but they have been overshadowed by bigger signs discrediting the anti-semites and the general signage that says nothing about Jews at all.

     

    No doubt there will be those among the alumni who do not support either or both Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Judaism, I’d love to hear from you as well. For whatever happens next, it is clear that the voices of Jewish wisdom and tradition should not be left out of the economic debates that are so critical for our collective future.

     

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