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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category



The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses

Mar16

by: Imam Abdullah T. Antepli on March 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

imam

Abdullah Antepli (right), Duke's first Muslim chaplain, talks with Ahmad Mikell (left) after a worship service held on campus. Credit: islamophobiatoday.com.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?”

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Torah Commentary: Purim- ‘New Dawn’ of Revolutionary Consciousness

Mar12

by: on March 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

1. Dawn of a New Age- The Book of Esther

I will admit that I’ve always had a certain hesitation when it came to Purim. It wasn’t that I was so influenced by Bible criticism or historical scholarship, it was my own sense that the Book of Esther, the focus of the holiday of Purim, read more like a novel than a book of prophecy. It is probably for this reason that if you ask many people which came first, Hanukka or Purim, they would say that Purim was later- there is something more modern about Purim and the Megilla than about the Hanukka story. The Hanukka story feels more biblical than does the Esther story for a number of reasons- it takes place in the land of Israel, there’s a Temple with sacrifices and ritual purity, but most of all, there’s a miracle at the core of the story, whereas with Purim, there is no miracle, it takes place in exile, the Jews are a persecuted minority, and a lot of political intrigue with all the attendant violence is involved. So, despite its being hundreds of years earlier, the Purim story feels more modern, more contemporary. More importantly, the book of Esther, the “megilla”, reads more like a novel than any other sacred Hebrew text, though it is included among the books of the “bible”. I would like to argue now that this novelistic quality, seemingly a detraction from the sanctity of the holiday, may be, in fact, literally, its redeeming quality.

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Israel’s U.S Jewish Cheering Section Is Over Age 70, Writes Ari Shavit

Mar8

by: on March 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Ari Shavit, the Israeli journalist, has been traveling the United States recently (promoting his book) and has discovered what those of us who live here already know: Israel is a cause for Jews over 70 (and not most of them either). Below that general cutoff, most Jews have strayed from the reservation. And that cutoff will slip even further back soon. In 2016, the first baby-boomers turn 70. At the point, Shavit will need to revise his age cutoff to 71, then 72, etc. The Woodstock/McGovern Jews/Viet war protestors are not that into Israel.

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Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the American Jewish Community

Mar7

by: Donna Nevel on March 7th, 2014 | 40 Comments »

Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

The Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

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Torah Commentary: Perashat Vayikra- Who is Ritual For?

Mar6

by: on March 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

There is a lot of discussion these days in religious circles about “protecting halacha”, protecting the law, that if certain positions are taken by communities (usually issues related to the role of women, or modern scholarship these days), then “halacha” will be in “danger”.  I find this a curious new position. Is the role of Torah law to protect /elevate the people or is it some independent divine phenomenon that requires “protection”? Perhaps discussion of a more neutral set of Torah laws, those of sacrifice, neutral because they are no longer operative (itself an interesting development, and not without controversy at the time animal sacrifice was transmuted into prayer and other allegorical motifs). So how do we understand the purpose and function of the Temple rites and sacrifices?

My initial temptation was to play the phenomenologist, to compare our conceptions of sacrifice with those of other cultures, the use of language in Indian ritual, etc., but I was wary of the danger of explaining “away”, that is trying to give a good “excuse” for all this talk of korbanot, sacrifices. Rather than attempting to justify practices out of practice for two thousand years, and keeping in mind the suggestions of R. Kook that we may never sacrifice animals again, I would like to transform the question into one about the meaning of ritual in the human experience. So let us ask the central question of these questions, as does the Mei HaShiloach directly:

How can it be that if a person sins, he or she gets absolved from the sin by killing an animal?

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Happy Sabbath to You Too

Mar6

by: Zehra Bapir on March 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

It all started six months ago when my husband and I first moved to Brooklyn. We had been living in South-East Turkey surrounded by family members and friends in the same complex. I wanted to bring that sense of “neighborliness” with me when we moved to the U.S. and I also wanted the neighbors to know that even though I covered and looked like a terrorist from the desert, at least I was clean and friendly.

cookies

Credit: Creative Commons/rottnapples.

The first week we moved in, I made chocolate chip cookies. I know Americans — every one of them loves home-made chocolate chip cookies. That’s like a given. Every culture has a deep love and appreciation for something – English love chips. Turks love tea. Irish love…etcetera.

I was probably the first person to do this in the 21st century but that’s okay. I was going to be assertive in being a neighbor. My new neighbors were going to like me AND my chocolate chip cookies.

The first few doors I knocked on in the building gave me surprised but polite responses “What a nice idea, but I’m on a diet.” “Thank you so much, I’ll give these to my sons.” “This was so thoughtful! Unfortunately I have to watch my sugar intake you know because…” I had a feeling this would happen. I knew from movies a lot of New Yorkers were on diets, especially if they were old.

It wasn’t until I knocked on the last door that I realized most of them weren’t actually on diets.

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Rabbis Defend Colleagues Against AIPAC

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | 3 Comments »

One of the first acts taken by New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio was to convene a secret meeting with AIPAC to tell the lobby that he will always do whatever it wants. This is, of course, typical behavior for New York politicians but rather surprising coming from a progressive like De Blasio rather than the likes of Ed Koch, Al D’Amato or Chuck Schumer. The only indication that De Blasio knew that what he was doing was wrong was his insistence that the meeting be kept secret. This is also an indication of how toxic AIPAC has become for liberals. (Read the full story of the secret AIPAC meeting here)

Shortly after the meeting, the senior rabbis at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun In Manhattan, Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol, signed a letter to De Blasio which stated that AIPAC does not speak for them. Within hours, a few of the congregational big shots (big money, AIPAC members) condemned the two rabbis and began organizing the congregation against them. This is, of course, what AIPAC types do. Prohibit free thinking on Israel. (They, of course, are all for free speech on all matters relating to the United States.)

The point of the AIPAC efforts is to make the rabbis fear for their jobs. (More than most, I know how that works.) And if the rabbis don’t back down, their jobs could indeed be in jeopardy, in theory at least.

But here’s the thing. Bnai Jeshurun is perfectly suited to its community and so are its rabbis. Located in the heart of Bella Abzug/Ted Weiss country, the congregation is known nationally as one of the safest places to be ethical, spiritual and Jewish especially for young people. I say safe because young people avoid synagogues in general because you never know when the rabbi will start ranting about Iran or reading from AIPAC talking points. That won’t happen at Bnai Jeshurun, which is why, unlike pretty much any other synagogue in America, it is actually a cool place to be on Friday nights. (My younger son lives right nearby so I’ve see the crowds of kids filling the place.)

In short, the rabbis not only did the moral thing in speaking out against AIPAC, it did the right thing for their business: keeping Bnai Jeshurun viable and appealing to Jews (especially the young) who simply cannot stand AIPAC or Netanyahu, if they think about them at all. In other words, the Jews of their community.

Nonetheless, AIPAC now has it in for the rabbis. But, happily, hundreds of other rabbis and Jewish lay leaders are pushing back. Read the letter below. Look at those names. (Hey, where are Rabbis David Saperstein and Eric Yoffie? Oh yeah, they are at the AIPAC conference.) And be hopeful about the future of Jews, at least at Bnai Jeshurun where Judaism trumps politics. Hang in there, rabbis. Judaism’s future depends on people like you. And Israel’s too.

Do not miss the best line in the letter which sums up how the organized “mainstream” Jewish community operates:

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Female Rabbis at the Tent of Meeting?

Feb21

by: Rabbi Galina Trefil on February 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

The female rabbinate is a progressive sign of equality between the sexes; a bold, new stroke written out in the history of Judaism, whose pages have always been male-dominated…or so it is frequently assumed. As the old adage goes though: there is nothing new under the sun. While, at one point, a female rabbinate was unthinkable, its ever-growing numbers are giving rise to the question if the position is indeed new or if, instead, modern Judaism has decided to come full-circle. Is there evidence that professional female spiritual leadership ever existed in the Torah?

“He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”–Exodus 38:8

It is a sentence that packs a spiritual punch so subtle that it seems many don’t even notice its potential revelation. Once attention is drawn to it, one might then question what the position of these women entailed; expect some immediate follow-up giving details. However, this is where such curiosity will meet with strict disappointment, as this mention stands alone. Not only was this particular passage vague, but the Tannakh as a whole remains so. Only once more are these women ever referred to at all, in Samuel 2:22, where it states: “Now Eli was very old and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”

Analysis of the simple math shows that, if they existed from the time of the Exodus to the time of Eli, the position the women played in relation to the holy sanctuary stood steady for several hundred years.

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We Want to Have a Common Language: Carolina Jews for Justice Stand Out in the Moral Mondays Crowd

Feb21

by: Amy B. Dean on February 21st, 2014 | No Comments »

Credit: Carolina Jews for Justice

It can be isolating to be a progressive Jew in North Carolina. In a state where just 1% of the population identifies as Jewish, it can be tough just to find a religious community, let alone a politically active one. Although older Jews who may have been activists in the civil rights movement of the 20th century still live there, it appears their coordinated work for justice ended along with that era. There is no sustaining, Jewish-identified organizational infrastructure that today’s generation of younger North Carolina Jews could revive and harness for today’s fights.

But recently one Raleigh-based Jewish group has tapped into a wellspring of political passion among Jews, and is mobilizing them across the state to challenge the Republican takeover of the legislature. Through building coalitions with other faith and community-based groups, turning Jews out to the Moral Mondays rallies at the state capitol, and organizing laypeople and rabbis to take action, the members of Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) are speaking up for the political changes they want to see in North Carolina.

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Leaving Auschwitz

Feb20

by: Jerome Richard on February 20th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

A statue of Dimitar Peshev, who saved 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during WWII. Credit: Creative Commons

On November 14, 2013, a street in Washington D.C. was renamed Dimitar Peshev Plaza in honor of a man credited with saving the lives of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during World War II. Peshev had been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial so the honor appeared to be, if anything, overdue.

Bulgaria has long been lauded for saving its Jewish population, but the U.S. Holocaust Museum used the Peshev memorial proposal to point out that while no Bulgarian Jews were deported, over 11,000 Jews from Macedonia and part of Greece, then occupied by Bulgaria, were sent to the camps.

Radu Ioanid, a director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said “The callous and devious attempts to distort the history of Bulgarian Jewry is insulting to the victims of the Holocaust and is damaging to the image of Bulgaria…”

It was like interrupting a memorial service to announce that while the deceased was a splendid fellow his brother was once arrested for manslaughter.

Bulgaria’s ambassador to the United States, Elena Poptodorova, was insulted by what she called the museum’s “very rude” response.

There are thirty-six Holocaust museums in the United States, including the major one in Washington D.C. There are five in New York State, four just in Los Angeles. There are Holocaust museums in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Terre Haute, Indiana. Many more in other countries. Isn’t that excessive, even to commemorate such a monstrous crime as the Holocaust?

Of course, a full and accurate account is essential for an understanding of history, but there seems to be something else going on here. The proposal, after all, was to honor one individual. Why use that to tarnish the whole country’s reputation? It smacks of what someone said when asked if another Holocaust museum was needed. “Yes,” he replied. “We should rub their noses in it.” By they he meant the whole non-Jewish world.

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