Could Tzipi Livni be sweetening feminists before dropping a bombshell?
As discussed earlier on Forward Thinking, Justice Minister Livni has just announced that she is working on legislation to criminalize the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The timing is interesting — just as she could find herself in a very awkward position on women’s issues.
Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group that prays once a month at the Western Wall, is waiting to see what will become of its newfound rights.
For the first time ever, women tried to hold public prayers at the Western Wall with he blessing of the state today. It was be the group’s first prayer meeting since a landmark court ruling that will put an end to the police’s habit of detaining its members.
Women planned to gather at the Wall, some of them wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, with guarantees from police that they will respect the protection that the court afforded them.
Instead of the police, women found themselves facing off against thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators. Police had to protect them from the Haredi mob.
Now, non-Orthodox religious leaders are demanding an investigation into the violence.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has just dealt the political establishment a trump card to clamp down on the women. This week he waived his right to challenge the permissive court ruling they received as he believes it accords with the current law, but in his decision he left the door wide open for the Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to redefine the law and put a stop to their newly-won right to public prayer at the Wall.
If Bennett decides to alter the law, he will head straight to Livni’s office for her signature to do so. The pressure will be high on Livni, the junior party of the coalition, from strongman Bennett. Perhaps she’s making a big gesture to women in her announcement today so that, if and when the time comes to reel in rights at the Kotel, she can say that she’s only lost a battle but won the war.
Either way, the ball is in Tzipi’s court.
I have an Orthodox Jewish friend here in New York who is always yapping about Dallas (not the television show).
“The people are so nice,” he says. “The weather is better… The houses are cheaper.” He’s been there only once in his life, but would like nothing more than to find a job northern Texas and move to the city known for Cowboys and (kosher?) Tex-Mex cuisine.
My friend is in his mid-30s, married, and has a soon-to-be 2-year-old son with another on the way. He has a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and recently had to build a wall in his living room to accommodate for sleeping space for his growing family. He wakes up at dawn to prep his son for daycare and then go to work. After cleaning the apartment until about 1 a.m., he gets about four hours of sleep, if he’s lucky.
It is a life that I could not fathom living at this point. It is also a lifestyle that is increasingly the norm for thousands of young couples in New York, especially observant Jews. That’s why places like Dallas don’t sound so bad after all, even for those accustomed to walking around the corner and finding dozens of options for food, prayer and friends.
The urge to find greener pastures outside the high rent, small space environment of New York was on full display Sunday as the Orthodox Union held its fourth Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair. A record-high 1,300 participants spoke with Jews from places like Portland, Ore., Long Branch, N.J., and yes, even Dallas. There were representatives from 41 cities in 18 states, each touting the myriad advantages of moving there.
Louisville has high tech jobs and 120 years of Jewish roots. “The cost of living and safety is unmatched,” said Brian Wallace, who moved to Kentucky six years ago from Monsey in Rockland County.
The rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz isn’t opposed to the plan for an egalitarian prayer section there, he announced in a statement emailed to reporters yesterday. But it’s already clear that he doesn’t speak for the Haredi mainstream.
Rabinowitz is Haredi, but softer on religious issues than most Haredi leaders. This is partly because he’s a state employee and realizes that there are limits to his autonomy, and partly because his family background is more moderate than many — for example he served in the army.
“The Kotel isn’t ours to give away,” rages the editorial of the Jerusalem-based Hasidic-establishment newspaper Hamodia today, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall. “The place of the Temple was chosen by God and the Shechinah [divine presence] has never departed from the Kotel.”
Hamodia went on to argue that the Women of the Wall fight is a proxy battle by American Reform which is trying to compensate for its failure to make inroads in to the Israeli religious scene. “The Reform Movement in the United States is using the Women of the Wall to bully the government in to giving it recognition that the people have withheld,” it claimed.
Hamodia argues that while much of the world sees the fight of Women of the Wall as a human rights issue “nothing could be further from the truth.” It insists that Women of the Wall are actually infringing the rights of other female worshippers at the Wall with their controversial monthly prayer meetings there, such as today’s gathering which resulted in two female worshippers being detained by police..
“Indeed, if anyone’s rights are being trampled, it is those of the regulars at the Kotel, the women who come — every day not just Rosh Chodesh [the start of the month] — to daven [pray], not to create provocation. These women are denied a place of quiet, holiness and dignity, where they have been coming for decades to pour out their hearts, by a group of lawbreakers that seeks to advance a political agenda.”
Hamodia portrays the Reform movement as hypocritical, writing: “How ironic that the same Reform movement that hails Israel’s Supreme Court when it rules that the Tal Law on drafting yeshivah students is unconstitutional, or that Haredi schools must teach the core curriculum, has no trouble ignoring what it when it bars the Women of the Wall from holding services at the Kotel.”
There’s a telling moment in David Brooks’ New York Times column today about the growth, and attraction, of Orthodox Jewry. He describes the educational background of Layaliza Soloveichik, the wife of Meir Soloveichik (Brooks’ “tour guide” around Haredi Brooklyn) in this way: Layaliza was admitted to Harvard but went to what Brooks describes as a “religious college, Yeshiva, instead.”
I don’t know the Soloveichiks, but I’m guessing that Layaliza didn’t exactly go to Yeshiva as an undergraduate because, as a woman, she couldn’t go to Yeshiva. She went instead to Stern College for Women. It’s a subtle distinction, I know, but an important one, signaling that the education of girls and boys, women and men, is treated differently in this community and meant for different outcomes. Nowhere in Brooks’ column does he acknowledge the gender disparities in Orthodox Jewish life, which have grown ever more distinct in the last few decades.
There’s more that he doesn’t say.
Two weeks ago, when the Forward launched its special editorial project America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, we had no idea what to expect. We asked people of all ages, denominations and backgrounds to nominate a rabbi who has inspired them or who had a profound effect on their lives or in their communities. But would readers respond? Would they take the time to write 200 words about a rabbi? Would we receive stories from a cross-section of American Jews — and would those stories move us? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!
America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis marks the first phase of our year-long investigation into the challenges and changing roles of the American rabbinate. Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner launched this initiative in a recent editorial, in which she addressed the effect our stalled economy has had on job opportunities for both young and old rabbis, as well as the difficulties women face breaking into the all-male Orthodox world — and the difficulties the Reform movement faces attracting men to its synagogues. As she concluded, “defining and sustaining the role of the modern rabbi is one of the most vital challenges before the American Jewish community today.”
You’ve seen it. President Obama has seen it. Now you get to try it out yourself.
We at the Forward are proud to present the Jack Lew signature widget, which allows you to recreate the wonderful, amazing, crazy curlicues of the first Orthodox Jew to be nominated as treasury secretary.
Go ahead, test it out (Hat tip to Yahoo News). You know you want to.
Does Jack Lew need to tighten up his penmanship if he’s going to be treasury secretary?
The Orthodox Jew whose signature is going to be on every single dollar bill in the land has a pretty weird — actually, an incredibly, startingly weird — signature.
And it seems to be the main thing the world is noticing about the man who’s President Obama’s choice to take over from Timothy Geithner.
See how YOUR own signature would look if you wrote just like Jack Lew
“A lesser-known but extremely pertinent fact about Lew is that he has the world’s worst signature,” writes Kevin Roose over at New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog. “And pretty soon, that signature could be on every single one of your dollar bills,” he writes with horror.
Roose notes that Geithner had to neaten up his already somewhat legible signature before it could be printed on dollar bills. If so, then Lew is going to have to do a complete overhaul of his John Hancock.
The Orthodox rabbi who oversees the Western Wall has vowed not to soften his confrontational approach toward Jewish women seeking to pray at the holy site in Jerusalem.
On Friday, police detained four women for wearing prayer shawls as they tried to start a prayer service. There have been numerous similar incidents in the past.
In an article that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz sent to journalists Tuesday, but apparently written before Friday’s incident, he said that women trying to pray at the wall represent a “liberal-zealous” agenda.
Rabinowitz, who is an Israeli state employee, is the man behind the ban on female public prayer that the police enforces. He presents himself as caught “between two types of zealotry.”
He wrote: “From the side of the traditionalist zealots, I have been attacked because of my vigorous actions t bring thousands of groups of students and soldiers to the Western Wall. Many of these groups do not live a traditional Jewish lifestyle. From the liberal-zealous direction.”
The “zealotry” from the other direction is that of the Women of the Wall, the inter-denominational group that wants the right to wear prayer shawls, to pray, and to read out loud from the Torah at the Wall.
Discussing a Talmudic passage he wrote of zealotry: “With pretty words it asks for our protection – in the name of tolerance, of course. Under the protection of tolerance, it grows and flourishes, until it is impossible to prevent the disaster that it brings upon all of us.”
He went on to state “loud and clear” that “[a]s long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there. The stones of the Wall can teach us about the cost of zealotry. They still remember the heat of the flames, lit by the zealotry of the residents of Jerusalem, each man against his brother. Before these glorious stones, we are charged never to make the same mistake again.”
How Orthodox should Israel’s Orthodox university be?
There’s a major controversy at Bar Ilan University about the institution’s policy of compulsory yarmulke-wearing during Jewish studies classes.
It has long been policy that male students should cover their heads when studying sacred texts, though many professors turn a blind eye when they don’t. However, a recent incident saw a professor, Haim Talbi, insisting that a student donned a yarmulke or left class, and the student leaving. “How is it possible that a lecturer tells a student to get out of class for not wearing a kippah, and the university backs that teacher?,” the student posted on Facebook.
The university has said that students sign on the rule when they enter the establishment, so Talbi was perfectly justified. But the real question isn’t whether it’s justified on paper but whether it makes sense. Bar Ilan isn’t like Yeshiva University where students study religion in yeshiva alongside their degree, but rather a place where Jewish studies are treated academically. For many Orthodox Jews, the reason it’s important for a man to wear a yarmulke when looking at sacred texts is that it draws a distinction between reading as a purely intellectual activity and one with metaphysical importance. And this is exactly the distinction that some of Bar Ilan’s secular students think they shouldn’t have to make.
The precise way that it sees the balance in Jewish studies between academia and doctrine has long been a grey area at Bar Ilan. This controversy looks set to force some significant internal debate and some clear conclusions.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is setting himself up for a most almighty clash with the British religious establishment this week, as he prepares to amend the laws on marriage.
The leaders of all three main parties support government plans to afford same-sex couples the right to civil marriage, plus permission to wed in churches and other religious buildings. While the proposed law is designed to allow churches and congregations the flexibility of opting in or out of officiating same sex ceremonies, it is nonetheless opposed by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the London Beth Din also oppose any alterations to the traditional definition of marriage. The United Synagogue, of which Rabbi Sacks is the spiritual leader, maintains that “marriage from time immemorial has been that of a union between a man and a woman”, and as such “any attempt to redefine this sacred institution would be to undermine the concept of marriage.”
Yet progressive Jewish denominations, along with Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Quakers, have been leading the push to host same-sex weddings in their places of worship. Liberal Judaism was the first branch to back the Coalition for Equal Marriage – the umbrella organisation lobbying in favour of same-sex marriage – asserting that, “as Liberal Jews, we want to support positive celebrations of life that help the individual to revel in life’s joys as well as to support them through life’s difficulties.”
Like many Jewish leaders, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to advocating on behalf of my denomination. Sometimes the need is concrete, other times ideological. From supporting the worldwide network of the 600-plus Conservative kehillot to agitating on behalf of a Judaism that is pluralistic, intellectually compelling and rooted in tradition, my religious identity is often inextricable from my personal Jewish “brand.”
Much of this is unavoidable. Not a month goes by without an invitation to speak about a topic of endless fascination to the Jewish public: the current state of Conservative Judaism. Whether joining together with the heads of my sister organizations to construct a wide lens view or honing on a particular geography — I will be moderating a panel discussion on the renaissance of Conservative Judaism on Manhattan’s East Side in December — I declare myself, time and again, a spokesperson for Conservative Judaism.
But I was reminded of the limits of denominationalism this past week in the course of my hastily arranged Solidarity Tour to Israel on Day 7 of Operation Pillar of Defense. Organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I joined with a group of North American Jewish leaders from United Synagogue to the Union for Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Union to the Jewish Federations of North America and other Zionist groups.
Together, we visited the mayors of the cities most affected by Hamas missiles, the injured civilians and soldiers, the damaged property, the brave Israeli citizens under threat of extinction every single day. Together we met with Israeli president Shimon Peres. Together we boarded buses from Ashkelon to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, united as Jews, representatives of our denominations, yes, but stripped of the agendas that occupy us back in our offices in North America.
The Jewish Press set off a firestorm last week when it published An Open Letter to Sarah Silverman by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt. The Orthodox author criticized the comedian’s politics, vulgar presentation style, and the fact that she remains childless. As a linguist, what I found most interesting about this article was the language. By looking closely at the Hebrew and Yiddish words used by the author and commenters, we can learn a lot about Orthodox Jews in America.
In my research, I have found that Orthodox Jews use many Hebrew and Yiddish words when speaking to other Orthodox Jews, but they avoid or translate those words in their speech to outsiders. In the letter to Sarah Silverman, Rosenblatt uses only one, a word most Americans know: kosher. He talks about God, not Hashem, and Orthodox rather than frum.
Many articles in the Jewish Press use more distinctive language. For example, Mordechai Bienstock writes: “We can be truly ourselves in all of our pursuits, expressing the wonderful individualistic neshamahs [souls] Hashem [God] has granted us through the application of our special natures in the physical world, what the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples discovered as the basis for avodah b’gashmiyut [serving God through the physical world].”
Even Rosenblatt uses Hebrew and Yiddish words in his other articles in the Jewish Press, for example, in an article about internet filters: “Our frum [religious] community”, “Kiddush Hashem” (sanctifying God’s name), and “Halacha Chabura” (study group about Jewish law).
When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.
Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.
“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?’” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”
Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.
“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.
While I was researching my Forward story about circumcision and pain, I realized that I didn’t know what a circumcision actually looks like. I’ve only attended one bris — apart from my own — and there I didn’t have a good line of sight to the baby.
I was particularly interested to know more about the circumcision procedure because one of the more interesting aspects of the reporting for this week’s story was that circumcision opponents are not the only people who describe the process as cruel.
Many Orthodox mohels perceive medicalized circumcision — a longer, more involved procedure than traditional circumcision — as particularly uncomfortable for babies. Even injecting anesthetic into infants is seen as painful.
Meanwhile, more liberal Jewish mohels, most of whom are doctors, think the idea of using sugar water or grape juice as the only form of anesthetic before and after removing the foreskin, as most Orthodox mohels do, is unfair to the child. Why avoid pain medication when research shows that babies feel pain and when analgesics are so prevalent today?
Sometimes a candidate doesn’t have to chase after the Jewish vote. It chases him. That could be Mitt Romney’s conclusion from an unusual set of events he experienced in New Jersey today.
Speeding from Newark Airport to Lake Terrace, N.J., Romney’s motorcade crossed paths with a Jewish Orthodox wedding party, posing for photos with the bride and groom.
The ride was already harrowing for all concerned, according to a pool reporters account.
“Hitting speeds of up to 90 mph at times, the motorcade made what had been scheduled as a 61-minute drive in roughly 45 minutes on a route that took us along the Jersey Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway and prompted your pooler to wonder many times if she would live to cover Romney’s remarks at the fundraiser tonight.”
Things were going to get even curioser. In the words of the pool reporter: “some unusual things happened.”
“First, the motorcade passed a man dressed in American flag shorts running down the street toward the venue here while waving an American flag.
“Whooooo!” he exclaimed, as your pooler’s van passed.
Despite rain and traffic jams, the mood was jubilant at MetLife stadium on August 1, as some 90,000 Orthodox Jews gathered to celebrate the completion of the study of the Talmud, or Siyum HaShas.
A massive crowd of mostly ultra-Orthodox men in dark suits and hats packed the East Rutherford, N.J., football stadium, spilling out onto concourses, escalators and parking lots. Several thousand women also attended, seated on the upper level behind a specially constructed, $250,000 divider made of green plastic that remained open for much of the evening.
“It was inspiring,” said Yossi Gelber, an accountant from Queens who has participated off and on in the page-a-day Talmud regimen, or Daf Yomi, since 1990. “How often do you get to [pray] with 90,000 people?”
“I came to have an imprint in my mind and to be part of something wonderful,” added Pnina Fenig, a speech therapist and Toronto native now living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The event, which began at 7:30 pm and lasted until after midnight, marked the 12th completion of the 2,711-page cycle that begins anew every seven-and-a-half years. The daily study system was initiated in 1923 in Vienna, at the first congress of Agudath Israel, by Rabbi Meir Shapiro.
While this year’s event marked the largest such gathering to date, celebrations were held in previous years at venues such as Madison Square Garden, Continental Airlines Arena and Nassau Coliseum.
Mindy Meyer is a 22-year-old Orthodox law student who went to Prospect Park Yeshiva in Brooklyn, wears knee-length skirts — and is running for New York state Senate.
Her website, pink and flashy, incorporates glitter and leopard print. Campaign slogan? “I’m Senator and I know it.”
“I’m trying to appeal to the younger population,” explains Meyer of her campaign. “I went to all the other senators’ websites and by the end I fell asleep. No wonder young people aren’t voting.”
She explains that Elle Woods, the pink-loving heroine of “Legally Blonde,” inspired her to choose the background theme color for her website.
“Elle Woods taught me that you can take pink and bring it to the highest levels of sophistication,” says Meyer.
Despite the flash, Meyer, who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines, insists she is no joke. “I mean business, and I’m serious about this,” she says earnestly.
Others might disagree. On a page titled Diva of the District, Meyer lists the various issues on her platform, including “Poverty & Unemployment,” “Stop & Frisk,” (not a fan), “School Choice” (Mindy vouches for vouchers!), and “Crime” (she’s going to crack down on it). She also vows to end hunger, posing as “Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen to make her point.
A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.
The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.
“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”
The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.
Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes can usually count on the firm support of the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America.
While Hynes has been lambasted over the years by child abuse survivors and their advocates for his handling of sex abuse cases, Agudath has generally backed what it sees as his sensitive handling of abuse cases in the community.
Not this week.
The Forward asked Agudath what it made of the D.A.’s blanket refusal to name 85 Orthodox Jews charged with sex crimes.
The D.A.’s office denied the Forward’s Freedom of Information Law request by claiming that all Orthodox Jewish sex abuse suspects should have their identities protected because of the community’s “tight-knit and insular” nature.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath’s executive vice president and a legal expert, defended the D.A.’s right to evaluate whether to release the names of offenders on a case-by-case basis, according to Agudath spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran.
Such an evaluation could take into account whether naming the suspect might allow the victim to be identified. But a blanket policy of withholding names of perpetrators should not be “across the board” in any community, he said.
With Rick Santroum’s exit from the presidential race, Jewish supporters of the conservative candidate say that they’re ready to back his onetime rival Mitt Romney.
“We’re happy he stayed in as long as he did,” said David Shor, creator of the website Jews Pick Rick. “We’re going to unite behind Mitt Romney and hopefully we’ll be able to beat Obama in the general election.”
Always a dark horse, Santorum enjoyed a moment of plausibility as a candidate in March as the Republican field narrowed. His exit appears to make official what had long been presumed: Romney will eventually face Obama in the general election.
Though he was considered a favorite of Christian conservatives, Santorum enjoyed particular support among Orthodox Jews, as Forward reported in late March. Orthodox supporters pointed to Santorum’s focus on social issues, and on a personal life that resembled their own.
“I’m sure they’ll go to Romney,” Shor said of his fellow Orthodox Jewish Santorum supporters. “I don’t think [Obama] will be able to get the Jewish Orthodox vote.”
Other Santorum supporters were upset at the news.
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