As we enter the New Year with all its promise, we can’t help but ponder a few mysteries of life: What has King Solomon left for the ages? What is Andy Samberg doing this fall? And what job has a young Hasidic man snagged that is as surprising as gefilte fish at the Oyster Bar? Read on!
Thousands of Orthodox Jews are preparing to swing live chickens over their heads before Yom Kippur, symbolically transferring their sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption. This practice is called ‘Kapparot,’ which literally means “atonement.”
Using fish, money or chickens are acceptable methods of performing this expiation ritual. Using a live creature has the impact of allowing one to appreciate his or her own life and the life of the animal. A deep appreciation for animal life is fostered by seeing an animal slaughtered so that man can survive.
This chicken swinging ritual is controversial both in terms of the practice potentially leading to animal cruelty and the view by many leading rabbinical authorities that the practice should be avoided because of its superstitious nature.
Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Code of Jewish Law, called the practice “heathen, foolish and superstitious.” Other rabbis especially Kabbalists like Rabbi Isaac Luria encouraged the practice of using a live creature for Kapparot.
Another common objection to the practice is based on the Jewish principle that one is forbidden to engage in tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (causing unnecessary pain to animals). While the ritual itself does not necessitate animal cruelty, the pragmatic outcome may result in the unnecessary suffering of chickens:
Because modern kapparot chickens are trucked into the city from long distances, often in open trucks exposed to the weather and without adequate food or water, the question of … cruelty to animals …. has become an … issue. The birds may also suffer while they are being handled for sale or during the ceremony, because many urban Jews are unfamiliar with the proper, humane way to hold a chicken … The birds are frequently cooped up in baskets, and some merchants neglect to give them sufficient food or water. In some cases, the caged chickens have been left out in the rain or under the hot sun with no shade or shelter, or simply abandoned in warehouses and left to starve if not sold in time …
We’re used to seeing adolescent-looking girls posing like wannabe porn stars in American Apparel ads.
That probably makes Yoel Weisshaus the most unorthodox American Apparel model ever. His dark blond peyos long and bouncy, the Hasidic 32-year-old college student poses in what is surely the company’s most modest ad ever, wearing a white button down and black pants, and in some shots his own fur shtreimel.
It is not Weisshaus’ first star turn, said the Satmar Hasid, who has his own website. He is part of a group of shomer Shabbat actors who work as extras in movies and television shows set in Hasidic areas. He was in the 2011 Sean Penn movie “This Must Be the Place” about a Nazi war criminal hunting washed up rock star, and recently shot an episode of the CBS show Blue Bloods, which is about a family of police officers and stars Tom Selleck. “I’m one of the very few Hasidim who puts my face out there,” he said, in a thick Yiddish accent.
It’s not enough to earn a living.
“I’m a peasant, a shlepper,” Weisshaus told The Forward. “I do a little bit here and there, I do a little bit sales in a family business, a little bit Hevra Kadisha,” preparing the bodies of the dead for burial. “I’m trying to do more legal writing, writing legal briefs and memoranda.”
After 12 years and three terms as mayor, Michael Bloomberg somehow still can’t figure out how the average New Yorker thinks.
The out-of-touch billionaire who bought a trifecta free pass to Gracie Mansion is leaving office this year. But he couldn’t resist the urge to make an idiot of himself on the way out the door.
Bloomberg blasted Bill de Blasio, the Democratic frontrunner to succeed him, for seeking to “divide” the city. That’s because de Blasio has ridden to the top of the polls with a message that government must do more for middle- and working-class New Yorkers.
It was bad enough that Bloomberg obviously has no idea how the majority of New Yorkers feel about rising rents and failing schools in the gilded city that he has molded in his patrician image.
Like Anthony Weiner in an internet chat room, Bloomberg had to go even further.
Speaking in a swan-song interview with New York magazine, Bloomberg made the outrageous and offensive claim that de Blasio was running a “racist” campaign. Mayor Mike blames de Blasio for making political ads featuring his African-American wife (who was once a lesbian) and their teenage son, Dante, whose eloquence and trademark Afro has made him the defining symbol of the campaign.
“He’s making an appeal using his family to gain support,” Bloomberg said. “I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing.”
Bloomberg went on to prevaricate that he doesn’t think de Blasio himself is “racist.”
Taking a moment off from the intense debate over Syria, President Barack Obama published a blessing for the High Holidays.
Obama noted that 50 years ago, Rabbi Joachim Prinz stood with Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and told the marchers the when god created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbor. The president added that it is the time of year in which we should all ask ourselves the most piercing questions, like, “Am I doing my part to repair the world?”
Read more: http://forward.com/articles/183238/barack-obama-will-visit-stockholm-synagogue-during/#ixzz2dwnl2MH5
Obama attended a Rosh Hashana service in Stockholm, Sweden, where he will also visit a memorial monument for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
Anthony Weiner blew his stack at a Jewish voter in Brooklyn who insulted his wife, calling the man a “jackass” through a mouthful of cheese danish.
In a video posted online by Yeshiva World News political correspondent Jacob Kornbluh, Weiner can be seen engaging in a shouting match with an unidentified man in a yarmulke inside the Weiss Family Bakery in the Orthodox neighborhood of Boro Park.
The Weiner campaign later released a longer video revealing that the argument started when the shopper insulted Weiner and said, “married to an Arab” — a reference to his wife, Huma Abedin, whose family is from Saudi Arabia. The insult was first reported by Talking Points Memo.
Hearing the insult as he left the store, Weiner stopped, called the person who flung the insult a “jackass,” and returned inside to confront him.
Weiner proceeded to shout angrily at the man in a yalmuke for roughly two minutes as the man continued to criticize Weiner for his sexting scandal. “You did disgusting things, you have a nerve to even walk around in public,” the man says.
“And you’re a perfect person, you’re my judge?” Weiner said. “What rabbi taught you that, that you’re my judge?”
The man called him “a bad example” and told Weiner that his sexting amounted to “deviant” behavior.
“Stay out of the public, go home and get a job,” the man told Weiner.
After the encounter, an unseen man asked Weiner if he will forgive the man who confronted him, given that the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah was set to begin just hours later.
“Of course, of course, I don’t hold it against him,” Weiner said.
Suddenly everyone is talking about Syria.
Two years of mayhem and murder, confusion and hesitation. 100,000 Syrians killed, a quarter of the population turned refugees, and now hundreds have been gassed to death, a sight which no Jew – no human – can ignore; a sight which once seen, cannot go unanswered.
As we enter Rosh Hashana, the crucial days of mercy and compassion in the Jewish calendar, we must open the door for the story of the Syrian people to enter into our prayers. If books of life and death are opening during this time, how can we not place this burning issue on our praying agenda during these High Holy Days.
Some might decry such prayers as a “bleeding heart liberal” initiative, one which undermines precious “Jewish time” for the plight of those who are otherwise our enemies. Yet praying for other nations is an inimitable feature of Rosh haShana, and praying on behalf of one’s neighbors is something Jews have been doing since the days of Abraham.
Rosh Hashana contains an on-going tension between the personal and the global. On one hand it is our private judgment day, a day where the Jewish people crown God as our King. Yet Rosh Hashana commemorates the creation of the world – not the creation of the Jewish people. It is the judgment day for the entire world – and our prayers must reflect that concern.
This concept is already invoked in many of the prayers of Rosh haShana, and best crystallized in one of the oldest prayers for Rosh haShana, called “Rav’s Tekiya”. Originally quoted in the Talmud, it continues to appear in almost all prayer books:
This day is the commencement of Your deeds, a recollection of that first day. It is a fixture for Israel, a day of judgment for the God of Jacob. And regarding the nations it will be decided: Which to peace and which to the sword; which to hunger and which to prosperity; And creatures will be called up, to be recalled for life or death. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh haShana 27a)
New York mayoral candidate Bill Thompson’s political tour guides to Hasidic Brooklyn are two guys named Joseph — both famous influence-peddlers with strong community connections and checkered pasts.
When he campaigned in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Williamsburg on Labor Day, Thompson was accompanied by Hasidic fixers Joseph Menczer and Joseph Goldberger, the New York Observer reported.
Menczer and Goldberger are members of the Pupa Hasidic sect, a small ultra-Orthodox group based in Williamsburg. They have close ties to Rabbi David Niederman, a leader of the larger of the two halves of the divided Satmar Hasidic community.
Once owners of retail stores in Williamsburg, the two rose to prominence in the late 1990s after their prodigious fundraising efforts for George Pataki’s gubernatorial campaign gave them exceptional access to the governor’s office.
In 2000, the New York Times revealed that Goldberger and Menczer had parlayed their $500,000 in donations to the Pataki campaign into a highly unusual relationship with state health officials who they lobbied behalf of for-profit businesses.
Jews and Sex. That could be the title of this week’s new quiz, because… why not? That’s a title that gets readers. But, in this case, it’s also a title that pertains to the content. So much sex and so many Jews! Read on! (As if I could stop you.)
Two countries; two chief rabbinates. But the institutions could hardly be more different.
I have spent part of this summer observing the Chief Rabbi elections in Israel, and part in the U.K., hearing the opinions of British Jews about the end of the Jonathan Sacks era, with their Chief Rabbi (or strictly speaking the Chief Rabbi they share with the Commonwealth) due to retire on Sunday after two decades. The London-based congregational rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will replace him.
Sacks’ great success has been showing a dignified face of Judaism to non-observant Jewry and to non-Jewish Britain. He is famous for his short “Thought for the Day” monologues on BBC Radio and for his writing in the mainstream media. Sacks is a popular public intellectual far beyond the Jewish community, as he seems to know how to say the right things to inspire without pushing his beliefs.
In fact, the common tongue-in-cheek comment about him among Orthodox Jews is that he has been “Chief Rabbi for the Gentiles” — revered outside of his obvious following, Orthodox Jewry, but failing to resonate in this observant community.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has precisely the opposite orientation — it represents Orthodoxy and fails to communicate its message beyond.
As we head into the New Year, Jews around the world are getting ready to reflect, party, pray, and of course, eat! NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation wanted to make it easier to find a High Holiday experience that’s fun, meaningful and close by, so they created an interactive map.
With more than 475 events from over 250 cities, the map is easily searchable by different locations and an array of personal preferences. Whether it’s an LGBT-friendly event, a traditional worship service, or a Rosh Hashanah dinner with other 20s/30s Jews, you will be able to easily search for the High Holiday experience you want in your city. You can also easily share the map’s events on Facebook and Twitter, so you can connect with friends and experience the High Holidays together.
The following speech was delivered at this week’s ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Fifty years ago a Rabbi shared these steps with Dr. King and began his remarks by saying, “I speak to you as an American Jew.”
My name is Alan van Capelle, and today I speak to you as an American Jew. I represent the Jewish Civil Rights Group Bend the Arc, and the more than thirty organizations collectively called the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.
The vision Dr. King offered us fifty years ago wasn’t only a dream. It was a call for equality but it was also a demand for justice.
We may be closer to legal equality but we are far, far, far from justice. We are far from justice when young black men are stopped and frisked and disrespected on the streets of New York City.
We are far from justice when students carry the burden of loans.
We are far from justice when 11 million immigrants work every single day without protections or a pathway to citizenship.
We are far from justice when a gay, lesbian, or transgender person can be fired from their job simply for being who they are.
We are far from justice when we accept the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and we allow American children to go to bed hungry.
Yes, the moral arc of the universe is long and it does in fact bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because of people like Bayard Rustin, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. It bends because of you and me. We make the arc bend. And for many of us, it’s not bending fast enough.
Every year Jews around the world recall how Moses led his people out of slavery and towards the Promised Land. But the desert came first.
Jews believe that the only way to the Promised Land is through the desert. We are taught that “there is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”
Fifty years after Dr. King delivered his speech from these very steps we are still a people wandering through the desert. But don’t be discouraged. Because I’m not.
When I look around this Mall, at all of you – so diverse, so impassioned, so bonded together by shared values, hopes, and dreams – then I can hear in your voices the echo of Dr. King, and I know that the edge of the desert is near, and the promised land within sight.
(JTA) — An awkward silence set in between me and Genghis after he tells me that I am welcome to spend the night at the Derbent Jewish Community Center, but that I first need to “get clean” in the mikvah.
I have not heard of congregations with mandatory ritual immersions for visitors, but this is my first visit to a center for Mountain Jews and I am open to believing almost anything about this tough and ancient community of Hebrews, with their elaborate system of superstitions, strong military tradition, unabashed disregard for women and, until recently at least, penchant for bride kidnappings.
But as it turns out, a new anthropological discovery is not in the cards for me. The shower in my room is broken and Genghis (“Like Genghis Khan,” he says, to make sure I spell it correctly) is simply offering that I lather up in the shower adjacent to the actual mikvah.
The Derbent Jewish Community Center in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan was thoroughly renovated in 2010, and now features a kindergarten for some 30 toddlers, a wedding and reception hall, kosher kitchen, small museum and tea corner open to the city’s 500-odd Jews.
On the flashier third floor are two rooms for guests, who pay about $30 per night to stay in this Jewish island in a predominantly Muslim ocean whose traditionally friendly attitude toward Jews has been marred in recent years by a radical fringe which may be growing.
I am in Derbent to find out how the community is coping after the near-fatal shooting last month of its chief rabbi, Ovadia Isakov, who was shot in front of his home at night by several assailants the government suspects were Islamists. It followed an earlier attack on the synagogue last year, when a small bomb went off in its interior yard.
A lengthy piece in the New Republic asserts — or, more accurately, hopes — that “an unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism.” The latter word, of course, is intended to refer to traditional Orthodox Judaism.
Heavy on anecdotes about Haredi crazies harassing sympathetic women, the piece, titled “The Feminists of Zion,” details how demographic changes in Israel have brought the decades-old peaceful co-existence of secular and Haredi Jews to something of a head. The “once-tiny minority” of Haredim “now comprises more than 10% of the population,” it informs. And it warns that “as their numbers have increased, so has their sway over political and civil life.”
That sway has resulted in things like “an increase in modesty signs on public boulevards and gender-segregated sidewalks in Haredi neighborhoods,” not to mention “gender-separated office hours in government-funded medical clinics and de facto gender segregation on publicly subsidized buses,” among other affronts.
In 19th-century America, there was much anxiety about the “Yellow Peril,” the pernicious effect that Chinese immigrants were imagined to have on the culture of the union.
During the Second World War, the phrase was applied to Japanese-Americans. The New Republic writers, Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, seem to perceive what they might call (although they don’t) a “Black Peril” in Israel. And the white knight on the horizon who might vanquish the monster is the Jewish state’s “fighting feminist spirit.”
That spirit, the writers say, is championed by the Israeli Reform movement (and its legal arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, or IRAC) and by “modern-Orthodox” women in Israel who are fed up with Haredim. One group of such Orthodox feminists, Kolech, the article notes, has begun to work with IRAC on “a host of issues.”
The “highest profile example of the renewed fighting feminist spirit in Israel,” the writers assert, may be “the stunning success this year of Women of the Wall,” (WOW), the group of feminists that has made a point of gathering monthly at the Western Wall, or Kotel Maaravi, to hold vocal services while wearing religious garb and items traditionally worn by men, which offends the Haredi men and women who regularly pray at the site around the clock.
When the Forward decided to run a feature commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Jewish influence on the seminal civil rights event, the first name discussed was that of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a close friend of Martin Luther King.
Was he there? What role did he play?
Heschel passed away in 1972, after devoting much of his life to Jewish causes and the civil rights movement, but his daughter Susannah Heschel has carried on his legacy through her own work as a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth.
When I called her earlier this summer to discuss memories of her father’s participation in the march, she was a bit at a loss — in her recollection, he was not invited to the March on Washington.
Susannah Heschel said her father met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the first time in the January of 1963 at the National Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago.
For most Americans, a solid high school education is a stepping stone to college. But Hasidic boys and girls who chose to pursue a higher degree do not have this foundation to build on. Most Hasidic boys receive one hour of English studies per day, four days per week, from third grade to bar mitzvah — one hour in which they are taught the bare minimum, often by Hasidic teachers who themselves lack a secular education. Most Hasidic girls, on the other hand, study the rudiments of English, math and science three hours per day, four days per week. Most boys do not graduate high school, and most girls receive non-accredited diplomas.
Hasidic men and women who choose to go to college do so for different reasons. Some face challenges in providing for their large families, and see education as the key to a bigger salary. Others seek a way out of their communities, and want to function as intelligent adults in the secular world. In their pursuit of a college degree, Hasidim struggle to bridge many academic and cultural gaps.
Six weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to document the stories of individuals, myself included, who took the leap from a rudimentary Hasidic education to college. I spoke with Frieda Vizel, Naftuli Moster and others, who are identified by their first names or by pseudonyms in the piece. (They asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they would face retribution for criticizing the schools in the Hasidic community, of which they are still a part.)
I raked through hours of poignant interviews. What resulted was a story of collective hope, struggle and triumph. Click below to listen.
Frimet Goldberger is a radio producer, writer and senior at Sarah Lawrence College. When she is not running after people with a recorder, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.
Josh Halpern’s essay, Should Men Thank God They Were Not Born Women? sensitively and articulately outlines many of the tensions facing those of us who are committed to the halacha and Orthodoxy and at the same time live in a world a seemingly incongruous world: a world where women are first-class politicians, lawyers, doctors, educators and then have second class status upon entering an orthodox synagogue.
Orthodox feminists must promote gender equality whenever it is halachically sanctioned. This is an approach I agree with. This is not the space for exploration of the halachik status of the bracha of shelo asani isha, though perhaps further though in this matter is warranted. However, I would like to offer two reactions and solutions to Josh’s challenge.
First, a practical solution. As a matter of communal practice, I and most of the communities I pray with are advocates of beginning communal prayer with Rebbi Yishmael omer, omitting all the morning blessings from the communal recitation and instead asking the community to recite the morning blessings at the home as they were originally intended. This mitigates the concern of a public statement, whether intended or interpreted, of the value of one gender over another. There is no halachik requirement that these brachot be said out loud, and if their recitation causes half of the people in the room to feel insulted, shamed or silenced it behooves the community to say them privately.
This is an effective, though surface solution. It does not address the deeper issues Josh raises.
So what is an Orthodox feminist to do? One could simply throw out this blessing. But then aren’t there a host of other blessings, passages from the Talmud, even biblical verses that may jibe with today, or tomorrow’s, moral sensibilities?
A push in underway to save a most unusual language.
Polari is a language — or to be exact a lexicon of 500 words approaching a language — used over the years in Britain by sailors, criminals, circus performers, prostitutes, immigrant Jews and Italians, and the gay community. In short, a bunch of people that didn’t have much in common except for being on the fringe of society and wishing to be able to converse on certain topics without being understood by the mainstream.
And given that each group that used it contributed to its vocabulary, it had Jews using criminal slang, Italians using terms contributed by prostitutes and — you guessed it, everyone using words in, or adapted from, our great mamaloshen Yiddish. For example, ugly became meese from the Yiddish meeiskeit, and crazy became meshigener. Yiddish is responsible for 5% to 10% of Polari words.
There are indications that the language has been around for as long as five centuries. But it thrived in the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries, during which time Yiddish had its influence. In the communities that made use of it, including among Jews, it has been forgotten for several decades — yet it lingered for longer in the LGBT community.
This is why gay Manchester artists Jez Dolan and Joseph Richardson are on a “mission” to save it.
They developed an iPhone app that provides English to Polari translation, and have held educational events that have attracted about 500 people. Last year they held a small exhibition at the University of Manchester’s John Ryland’s Library, viewed by 30,000 people and today the open a much larger exhibition which they expect to be seen by 50,000.
Why are they so keen to “save” Polari? It was, in their view, “a bold yet secretive part of gay history,” and they think that in the age of increasing GLBT equality, it’s important for their community to remember the past — and the ad-hoc connections that it made with other marginalized groups, Jews among them. “I don’t think we expect people to start using it massively but we want people to know about it, and know about this heritage shared with others,” said Dolan.
You’ve got Richard Nixon to kick around again this week, thanks to newly released anti-Semitic tapes. There’s also Anthony Weiner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — but not together!
You may have heard that if Quebec’s government has its way, we’ll be seeing far fewer yarmulkes on the province’s streets. We certainly would be seeing none of them on the heads of people working or receiving services at government offices, and public schools, daycare centers and hospitals.
The governing Parti Québécois party’s proposed “charter of values” —effectively, a legal ban on religious symbols in the pubic sector— has been met with condemnation from many political leaders, including Jewish ones, in the province that includes Montreal.
Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP and a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, wrote in the Huffington Post that “the so-called ‘charter of values’ reportedly being contemplated by our provincial government would make a mockery of the free and open society that many of Quebec’s nationalist leaders have been promoting for decades.”
Cotler charged the PQ, led by Pauline Marois, with misinterpreting the separation of church and state principle and of planning to deny religious freedom, a right guaranteed by the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights, as well as the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He went to so far as to sugges that PQ founder René Lévesque is rolling in his grave.
Lionel Perez adopts a slightly more diplomatic tone, but he essentially sides with Cotler. Perez, a 43-year-old attorney and entrepreneur, is the interim mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal’s largest and most diverse borough, with residents from more than 100 different cultural communities. He is also a kippa-wearing religiously observant Jew and has a very personal stake in all of this.
In an opinion piece in the French-language Le Devoir, Perez wrote that he does not oppose a secular charter per se, but that he is arguing for an inclusive secularism. “The goal of an inclusive secularism is aiming to build a genuinely plural public space, to build a society that avoids marginalizing or traps our citizens in a single mold, depriving them of the right to their moral or religious choice,” he wrote.
“I believe that values of tolerance, respect for others and moral autonomy are equally as fundamental as Quebec secularism.”
With the fact that Montreal accepts over 90 percent of all immigrants to Quebec in mind, Perez is presenting a motion to the city’s government asking it to speak up against what the provincial government is proposing.
“Obviously there is a lot of concern. Any time you have any kind of legislation that indicates any kind of separation, it causes for concern,” Perez told CTV News about his constituents’ reaction to the proposed charter.