Thursday, May 29, 2008

בואי בשלום עטרת בעלה

Did you know that if you arrive at shul while the congregation is facing the entrance and bowing towards the metaphorical presence of the Sabbath Queen at the end of Lekha Dodi... makes you the Sabbath Queen for that Shabbat?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Agriprocessors (Rubashkin's) Boycott!

The Jewish Week
Pressure Seen Mounting Against Kosher Meat Giant

Interesting how they focus on the "Liberal" Modern Orthodox and the Conservative worlds. I can see why the Hhareidim wouldn't be involved in protesting, boycotting, or "anti-supporting" Agriprocessors — but where're the Reform? The Reconstructionists? The Renewalists? I'd think they'd be all up on this thing. Etho-kashrut is going to be the next big thing after Eco-kashrut!

Makes some nice (but divisive? i hope not) publicity for the International Rabbinic Fellowship, Uri L'Tzedek, and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, though.

And to the rav whose name is the first two words of the article, I give you a berakha — if the poo must hit something, may it hit the fan and not hit you!

The Jerusalem Post
Agriprocessors announces new CEO

This article focuses on the Agriprocessors business side of the equation. It also mentions Uri L'Tzedek, based in New York, as well as two voices from the Mid-Atlantic — R' Shmuel Herzfeld of The National Synagogue in Washington DC (where i actually spent Shabbos ‘Erev Pesahh this year), as well as the Star-K in nearby Baltimore.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Glass Half Empty Holidays

On Yom Ha‘atzma’ut I had a short discussion with some friends about the relative weight of Israeli Independence Day compared to earlier nationalistic Jewish holidays like Hhanuka. I claimed that Yom Ha‘atzma’ut has greater religious weight than Hhanuka because we know that Hhanuka ended up failing about a hundred years later, when the Second Jewish Commonwealth came under Roman over-rule, and then ended up being destroyed. The Third Jewish Commonwealth, on the other hand, hasn't failed yet.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


After the Monday raid at Agriprocessors (Rubashkin's) in Postville, Iowa, hundreds of undocumented immigrants who already were suffering under Agriprocessors's labor practices were detained. Many of their families have no one to turn to except for a local Catholic church — which has been giving them refuge, a place to stay, and food to eat.

Local Newspaper Articles:
Immigration officials conduct raid on Agriprocessors, Inc. plant in Postville
Scared relatives huddling inside Postville church
Anxiety high inside Postville church

And a post on Jewschool
It’s Our Turn to Help

you can help them out by donating to:

St. Bridget's Hispanic Fund
c/o Sister Mary McCauley
PO Box 369
Postville, IA 52162

Watch Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget Catholic Church discuss the situation:

Friday, May 09, 2008

מה ענין שמיטה אצל המגדף؟

I had to share my bar mitzva parsha, so I only ever learned to lein alíyas 1-3. This Shabbos, however, for the first time ever, I will (iy"H) be leining my entire bar mitzva parsha, parashat Emor, in my idiosyncratic semi-neo-Masoretic accent and mixed Eastern and Western Ashkenazic cantillation (trop) system. This is at my rav's shul, so if you know who/where that is and are going to be in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by and throw more-than-a-decade-old candy.

Since I started "reb school" (and, incidentally, stopped calling it that, since I picked up the term while working in a Conservative school and am now back in my native Orthodox cultural context where no one uses that abbreviation), whenever I stay by my rabbi for Shabbat he randomly throws rabbinical tasks at me, like "hey Steg, the guy who's supposed to run the beginners' service is stuck on the other side of the river — why don't you do it?"

So as I was learning the end of my parsha, which I had never learned to lein before, I was wondering what I could say if I got asked to give a devar torah at shalashudess.

I don't know how practical it is — since I haven't been at it for long — but I think that ideally, se‘uda shelishit divrey torah should involve the interface between the weeks; a theme of the end of Shabbos; or connections between last week's parsha and the coming week's parsha.

There's a famous question about the first line of Parashat Behar — ma ‘inyan shemita eitzel Har Sinai? Why does it say that God gave Moshe the laws of the sabbatical-fallow year specifically at Mount Sinai? What do they have to do with each other?

But my question about joining Parashat Emor and Parashat Behar together is: The very last passage in Emor is about the megadeif — the half-Israelite half-Egyptian man who gets into a fight with another Israelite and curses God. Why the juxtaposition? What does shemita have to do with blasphemy?

I think an answer might be in the way the Torah deals with the prohibition of noqvo sheim, cursing God's name, and with the consequences of murder and damage to animals — kageir ka’ezrahh, kageir ka’ezrahh yihyeh — “whether immigrant or native” the same rules apply. No discrimination in legal matters between newcomers and oldtimers (how such discrimination crops up in Halakha at other points is a separate discussion).

We then move on to Shemita. The institutions of Shemita every 7 years and Yoveil every 50 teach us that we are all immigrants and migrants in relation to God. This isn't our land; we just live here. God holds all the deeds. So in that way, we are all alike — everything in this world truly belongs its Creator, no matter how tight we try and hold on.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dr. Marc Shapiro Urges On the Great Orthodox Schism of the 21st Century

In response to the Rav Druckman Conversion Scandal...

An exerpt from his piece in The Jewish Week:
...The Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world should not seek to delegitimize the haredi form of Orthodoxy. But basic pride in one’s ideology would suggest that the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world should not feel the need to follow the haredim and adapt its own practices in order that there be “one standard.” Whenever people urge the adoption of one standard, you can be sure it will always be the haredi standard, and this applies to conversion, kashrut supervision and any other matter you can imagine. In other words, as long as “one standard” becomes the goal, there is no longer a need for Modern Orthodox halachic authorities. Halachic matters can be left to the haredi world, all in the interest of preserving “Orthodox unity.”
Yet isn’t it time to ask why the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world doesn’t model itself on the haredi world in at least one area? The haredi world follows its own authorities without regard for the non-haredi rabbinate. Isn’t it time for the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world to do the same?
This would mean a complete break with the haredi halachic authorities and the establishment of religious courts that share at least some of the values and worldview of the community in which they serve. (I was struck by how, in his lengthy ruling attacking Rabbi Druckman’s conversions, the haredi dayan relies on the halachic decisions of a well-known posek who serves the anti-Zionist Edah Haredit. In other words, the writings of one who believes that the creation of the State of Israel was a terrible sin — and who clearly has no sympathy with the goal of helping ease the conversion of sincere non-Jewish immigrants — is helping guide the decisions of a dayan who works for the Israeli government and is supposed to have the best interests of the State at heart.)
I am sure some readers will protest that it goes against Orthodox unity to advocate this approach. Yet with such a step the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world would only be acknowledging the situation that the haredim have created, and are now pursuing with a vengeance.
There are hundreds of thousands of non-Jews in Israel, many of whom are interested in conversion. There is also an enormous intermarriage rate in the United States, and there are many non-Jewish partners who are also willing to convert. Yet before solving the problem of who will be a Jew, we must solve the problem of who is a dayan and who is a halachic authority. The haredim have already given their answer to this question. One would that think that the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionists would take the hint and realize that the time has come to go their own way.

Maybe he'll join my campaign to call the OU and tell them to get rid of R' Yisroel Belsky as one of their head halakhic decisors for his public defaming of the Modern Orthodox world.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


תענית אסתר : פורים :: יום הזכרון : יום העצמאות

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Conversion Dilemma

No, I'm not talking about the absurd retroactive nullification of all of a court's geirim by another court. You can read all about that and how it means that, in actuality, No One Is Jewish, over in that well-written article by Josh Frankel on Jewschool. Also see the reaction from R' Yuval Cherlow (שרלו) over at Arutz Sheva‘.

The dilemma I'm referring to is the question of geir qatan in a "not-observant-enough" family. A Jewish family adopts a child, and they want to convert the child to Judaism. It's sort of silly for a Jewish family to have a Non-Jewish child — although it has been done (someone I know has a Non-Jewish foster child), but that means that a beit din has to agree to convert the child.

Generally, the way it works is that you are allowed to do something for someone without their consent if it's for their benefit. So this baby, who has no da‘at or sense of anything at all, can get converted if it's for their benefit.

But what if the family that will be raising the child is not observant? Instead of giving the child the opportunity to fulfill many mitzvot and rack up "mitzva points" — you'd be making them Jewish and putting them into a situation in which they'll be violating so many prohibitions that used to be completely permitted to them! It'd be for the exact opposite of benefit!

One way to solve this is to assume that there's some intrinsic benefit in being Jewish. If you hold by an ideology that claims that Jews are metaphysically better, purer, or superior in some other way to Non-Jews, it's easy to justify making this Non-Jewish child into a Jew. Even if they're going to violate many Torah prohibitions, at least they're Jewish!

But you can't do that if you hold that all humanity is created in the image of God, and that the only thing that separates us from the rest of the world is our Contract with God and the mitzvot that flow from it. In that case, simply "being Jewish" isn't a benefit without mitzvot, just as Jewish identity in general doesn't exist without a mitzva framework.

Which puts us in the dangerous position of people who are more so-called "liberal" having less justification to do what they naturally feel is the right thing and unite these families in Halakhic Jewish status. I wonder how we get around that. I think I'll ask them.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mekimi Moments and Riding High

תהילים קי"ג ה-ח

מי כיהוה אלהינו
המגביהי לשבת
המשפילי לראות
בשמים ובארץ
מקימי מעפר דל
מאשפות ירים אביון
להושיבי עם נדיבים
עם נדיבי עמו

Tehillim/Psalms 113:5-8

Who is like YHVH, our God —
who rises on high to sit;
and sinks down low to observe
the heavens and the earth —
lifting up the poor from the dust,
raising the needy from garbage-heaps —
to seat them among the nobles,
the nobles of God's own people?!

These lines have been running through my head the past few weeks, in the musical version by Yosef Karduner linked to below. And so I started looking closer at the verses, and how they express their message.

There's a vertical axis at work here — not a temporal or geographical axis mundi around which space or time turn, like Shabbat or the Temple Mount — but a relationship axis of power in society. As Ribbí Yohhanan said, wherever you find God's power, you also find God's humility.

God rises on high... to sit down.

Not just to 'go up', 'stand up', or 'lift' — ג.ב.ה is the root of "tall". God rises on high — but sitting is a downwards motion. This isn't moving from a standing position to a seated one; it's walking up steps to the Throne, and sitting down in Judgment upon it. Upwards motion gathers strength and gathers power — sitting enthroned consolidates that power into a stable base, ready to apply it in action. The image here is of God rising up to the heights of the universe to take on the role of Commander, Judge, Ruler, Decider — not slumping into an easychair after a long day at work.

And from that upwards-and-yet-settling motion, the mizmor moves in the opposite direction.

Even from on high, God is intimately concerned with what goes on down below in the World.

We now have a completed axis — God rises up on high, to "sit down" in stability and power at the heights of existence; and yet what God is doing there is switching direction, lowering Godself down into our world to be concerned with what's going on in the heavens and the earth, from God's Throne-Seat in the heavens-above-heavens.

And what does God do, with this vertical axis linking the Physical and Supernal Realms?

God recreates it within our own reality, drawing the poor and weak up God's lifeline, raising them up from the dust and the dirt, the garbage and the refuse, and setting them on their feet. But like God, the point is not to be "on high" — the point is to seat them. Like God rising up to sit in power and majesty over the universe, God lifts up the downtrodden to seat them in power and judgment among the nobles. They are no longer weak and lowly; they are now decision-makers themselves, enthroned.

And so maybe the next step is for them to follow in God's footsteps, and themselves lift up the next batch of needy after them.

What is a 'Mekimi Moment'?

It's an incident in which you feel meqimi mei‘afar dal being applied in your own life. When you look around yourself and what you're doing in this world, and you see how far you've come. When you see God's lifeline pulling you out of the dust, and placing you unexpectedly among those who you never would have imagined yourself coming into contact with. When God stands you up, and you find yourself attaining things that you never even dreamed one day you would even set out to do. When you wake up one day and realize that God has placed you in the circuit of people with power, or even given you power yourself... just make sure you use it properly.

Even a poor kid from the shtetl can grow up to help change the world.