Monday, June 19, 2017

Stop ‘Frum-shaming’ the Kushners!

The Kushners (JTA)
Is Ivanka Kushner Jewish? Yes, anyone who says she is not clearly does not understand what the parameters for conversion to Judaism are (as defined today by Orthodoxy). Is She Orthodox? Well, not as traditionally defined. But they are observant.  What does  that mean? The following article in JTA has an excellent description of it. To put it the way Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer did on Facebook, I could not have said it better. It follows:

So apparently Jared and Ivanka play golf on Shabbat. Cue the handwringing.

The New York Post reported Wednesday that the president’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law like to hit the links on the holy day, and stay within the bounds of the Sabbath rules by walking the course (instead of driving a cart) and tipping the caddie the next day (instead of handling money). Of course, the newspaper also noted that even according to the “less strict” Conservative movement, merely playing the game is a violation of Shabbat.

Articles of this type — I’ve written a couple — are premised on the idea that if Javanka are Orthodox Jews, they should be observing Jewish law, called halachah, strictly by the book. Anything less is hypocrisy or blasphemy.

On the surface, that assumption seems to make sense. But it’s wrong.

That’s because Jared and Ivanka have never claimed to strictly observe halachah. And among Jews who identify with Orthodoxy and belong to Orthodox synagogues, they are far from alone.

In general, Orthodox Jews tend to structure their lives around obligations and restrictions called mitzvot, from observing the Sabbath and praying three times a day to making sure their clothes don’t include a mix of wool and linen. But a broad spectrum of observance exists among the country’s half-million Orthodox Jews, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the study every American Jewish journalist is statutorily required to cite at least twice a month.

Unsurprisingly, haredi Orthodox Jews — the fervent “black hats” who populate enclaves like Monsey, New York, and Lakewood, New Jersey — abide by halachah. Indeed, a whole subculture has grown around adopting “chumrahs,” or more stringent ways to observe Jewish law.

But among self-identified modern Orthodox Jews, the picture is more diverse, says Pew. Nearly a quarter say religion isn’t “very important” in their lives, more than a fifth aren’t certain of their belief in God and 18 percent hardly attend services.

When it comes to Judaism’s legal particulars, nearly a quarter of modern Orthodox Jews don’t light candles on Friday night, 17 percent don’t keep kosher in the home and about a fifth handle money on Shabbat. Alas, the survey did not ask about golfing.

Orthodoxy is theoretically centered around halachic obligation, and today’s modern Orthodoxy is represented by strictly halachic institutions like Yeshiva University and the Orthodox Union. So what to make of these apparently non-Orthodox Orthodox Jews? Actually it’s not all that strange. There are any number of reasons to affiliate with a movement whose rules you occasionally or even often break. Maybe it’s how you grew up. Maybe you appreciate Orthodoxy’s aesthetic of rigor and tradition. Maybe you like the local Orthodox rabbi or synagogue.

Or maybe, when you do observe Jewish customs, you prefer to do so in what feels like a more traditionalist atmosphere – praying a full service in Hebrew with a text mostly unchanged for centuries. There’s a long-running joke in Israel – which isn’t really a joke – that the synagogue secular Israelis don’t go to is Orthodox.

“A lot of people really enjoy the intensity of commitment in the Orthodox community, but they would provide confidentially that they don’t agree with the doctrines or dogmas,” said Rabbi Moshe Grussgott of Congregation Ramath Orah, an Orthodox synagogue in New York City. “They socially find meaning in that community. Every Orthodox rabbi knows such people exist, but there’s an openness. We don’t check to see who believes what.”

Chabad, the sprawling Hasidic outreach movement, has built a global empire on the idea that Orthodox ritual and affiliation can appeal to non-Orthodox Jews. Chabad emissary couples accept that many of those who attend their synagogues are picking and choosing among the mitzvot, perhaps enjoying a Friday night meal and the Saturday morning service before heading off to the golf course or the garden.

Jared and Ivanka undoubtedly adhere more to traditional Jewish customs than most American Jews (Pew says only one in seven Jews avoids handling money on Shabbat; only 25 percent of Jewish parents say they have a child who was enrolled in a yeshiva or Jewish day school in the past year).

But despite the swirling rumors, they’ve – wait for it – never actually claimed to fully observe halachah. Ivanka has discussed her Shabbat observance at length at least twice in the past couple of years, and neither time did she say the family observes Shabbat in the most traditional sense.

In a 2015 Vogue profile, Ivanka said “We’re pretty observant, more than some, less than others.”

She went on to say: “Yeah, we observe the Sabbath … From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another. We don’t make phone calls … We don’t do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family.”

Jared added that they both “turn our phones off for 25 hours. Putting aside the religious aspect of it; we live in such a fast-paced world.”

Ivanka repeats this description in her new book, “Women Who Work,” writing that “From sundown Friday to Saturday night, my family and I observe the Shabbat. During this time, we disconnect completely – no emails, no TV, no phone calls, no internet. We enjoy uninterrupted time together and it’s wonderful.”

(A 2016 New Yorker profile of the couple did call them “shomer Shabbos,” a term that denotes full halachic observance, but never quotes them to that effect. Like Jared and Ivanka themselves, the article mentions unplugging and family time.)

So let’s break that down. Jared and Ivanka say they unplug for Shabbat: no phone, no computer, no TV. Nowhere do they mention forgoing sports (or not flying in a plane!). Nowhere do they mention Jewish commandments.

Instead, they talk about the thing many observant Jews value about Shabbat: the chance to disconnect from work stress and their numerous devices, and reconnect with family.

Yes, Jared grew up in Orthodox institutions. Yes, the family now attends an Orthodox synagogue. Yes, they play golf on Shabbat, eat at non-kosher restaurants and don’t dress in “Orthodox” garb. And yes, there are many other observant Jews like them — you can find them living in Jewish communities from New York to California to Jerusalem. Frum-shaming people like this doesn’t really make sense when they’ve never actually claimed to be frum.

“Orthodox rabbis have to have that balance,” Grussgott said. “We uphold what halachah and observance should be in the abstract – we don’t compromise on that – but we have to be accepting of everybody.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Telling Women How to Dress

Why are we playing games? Let’s just go straight to burkas and be done with it! From JTA:

A haredi Orthodox school in Brooklyn raised ire online after it issued a strict dress code — for the parents of its students.

The Chabad school Bnos Menachem in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, sent a letter last week to parents inform parents of the code, which bans denim, tight clothes and leggings, and requires nail polish to be in “conservative/soft colors,” wigs to not go past the shoulder blades, skirts to be mid-calf length, and elbows, feet and the neckline to be completely covered.

The letter, posted on CrownHeights.info and on Twitter, does not stipulate any specific dress requirements for men.

“It should not be hard to meet these requirements, as our students need to keep similar rules and it is imperative that the home and the school follow the same standards. By showing our girls how to dress with finesse, they will have good, true hassidische role models,” says the letter, signed by school director Motty Gurary.

“Parents who adhere to these rules will be welcomed in Bnos Menachem School,” the letter later continues. It asks parents to sign a contract agreeing to follow the dress code.


Monday, May 8, 2017

From the 'You've Got to be Kidding' Department

Justin Bieber
There are Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, and Orthodox  Jews. But what is a Bieber Jew? From JTA:
You’d better Beliebe it: A haredi Orthodox woman went into labor after just one song at a Justin Bieber concert in Tel Aviv.
Then again, Reut Ziskind, 23, from the predominantly haredi city of Bnei Brak, told Ynet she was three weeks overdue by the time she attended the concert on Wednesday.
“When I bought the tickets, I was sure I would give birth before or after the performance,” she said. “I never dreamed I’d actually give birth during his performance.”
Ziskind’s water broke as soon as Bieber took the stage. She begged medics to let her stay for the duration of the concert, but to no avail. They rushed her to Meayanei Hayeshua Medical Center.
“I was not having contractions, so I did not think I should have to miss out,” she told Israel’s Channel 2.
Ziskind delivered a healthy baby girl and named her Hadar.
“If I would have had a boy, I would have called him Justin,” she said.
Ziskin also denied it was unusual for a haredi woman to attend a pop concert.
“I’m a modern ultra-Orthodox woman,” she told Ynet. “You would be surprised, there are a lot of ultra-Orthodox women who love Justin Bieber.”
Wednesday’s show, which attracted some 50,000 fans, was Bieber’s second performance in Israel; the first was in 2011.
The Jerusalem Post reported that this time he brought an entourage of 115 — plus a personal Jacuzzi.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Women Protesting WoW

Last week's protest of WoW (Forward)
It's not about male domination of the Wall. It's about defending and respecting tradition. Ask the over one thousand Orthodox young women protesting the Women of the Wall. From Naomi Zeveloff  at the Forward:

For years, women in Israel have been fighting for the right to pray out loud at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, just like men. But now, a group of girls has risen up to defend the status quo.

On Tuesday, February 28, at least 1,000 female high school students were bused to there to protest a prayer service of Women of the Wall, the biggest group trying to make egalitarian prayer a reality at the Wall.

It was a striking scene: On one side of a police barricade specially erected for the event stood throngs of Orthodox teenage girls in long skirts and sweaters with holy books in hand. On the other side, around 120 Women of the Wall activists in prayer shawls and phylacteries, the black leather boxes and straps many Jews wear at morning prayer, celebrated the bat mitzvah of a 12-year-old Israeli girl.

While most of the Orthodox teenagers prayed peacefully, a few yelled “animals” at the Women of the Wall group, according to news reports. (Organizers said that they instructed the girls to be respectful.)

The teen girl pray-in was organized by The Liba Center, a coalition of nationalist groups, and Women for the Wall. The latter wants to maintain the status quo at the Western Wall, where women and men pray separately with restrictions on female prayer.

The girls missed school for a full day of events in the Old City. After praying at the Western Wall, they went to the Jewish section of Jerusalem’s Old City to dance and listen to a sermon by Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Tsfat.

Among the girls was a 12-year-old student from Petach Tikva who woke at 4 a.m. to travel to Jerusalem with two friends. Her school had allowed the students to skip classes to attend, so long as they received parental permission. The girl was eager to attend the event, which was organized by two Liba-affiliated high school students, she said. Her mother easily obliged. “Some things we learn in school and some things we learn not in school,” she said.

(The girl and her mother spoke on the condition of anonymity for privacy reasons.)

The teenager was motivated to go to fill up the women’s section with people who prayed according to the site’s Orthodox rules. The idea was to prove to the outside world that they were a bigger group than Women of the Wall.

“It wasn’t to fight against the Reform,” she said, referencing one of the non-Orthodox groups fighting for egalitarianism at the Western Wall, “but to fill up the place.”

Even so, anti-Reform sentiment was on display as the girl came home with a T-shirt from the Liba youth cohort with the words, “The eternal wall for the eternal people and not the Reform cult.”

When the 13-year-old reported back to her family about her day, she noted that some of the loudest fighters were not Women of the Wall, but Orthodox adult women who whistled shrilly to drown out the Women of the Wall prayers. “How can we daven [pray] with all this noise?” she said.

Women of the Wall say that the Orthodox are the ones turning the Western Wall into a battle ground, and that some groups are using the young women as ammunition to thwart the cause of religious equality at the Western Wall.

“I’m sad that they are setting up the women against us,” said Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall. “I don’t think that this is a women’s battle against women. I think this is a battle of ultra-Orthodox men trying to tell women, whomever, how to dress, what to say, what to do and 
where to stand.”

Women for the Wall founder Leah Aharoni rejected the notion that the young women are being unfairly used in the fight over the Western Wall. She said that her group was simply providing a “platform” for the teenage fervor about the Jewish holy site.

She said that she met with 40 young female leaders recently and they named the Western Wall as a major area of concern. “They were very disturbed,” she said. “That is their spiritual home.”

Yigal Canaan, an activist with The Liba Center, conceded that young women have a strategic role to play in countering Women of the Wall. His group is countering a now-stalled government plan, negotiated with Women of the Wall and other liberal Jewish groups, to create an egalitarian section just south of the traditional Western Wall. In a video released last week, The Liba Center accused the feminist group of seeking to “divide” the heart of the Jewish people.

“I think that in every struggle, young people are more enthusiastic and more ideological,” he said. The presence of women also helps counter claims that the Western Wall religious authorities are discriminating against women. Women want the “traditional way,” he said.


Aharoni said that the prayer service was a lesson for the teen girls: “This is a message for our 
daughters to learn. If it is something that concerns you, it is productive for you to voice that concern.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Nikky Haley at the UN

What a refreshing approach! I just wish she was the President and not just the American representative to the UN. But I guess we should take what we can get. And with Haley we get a lot:

   

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Here's Something to Feel Good About

Warmly regarded (Jewish girls at an NCSY event)
(JTA) – Jews are the most warmly regarded religious group in America, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which was released Wednesday, found that Americans generally express more positive feelings toward various religious groups than they did three years ago.

As they did the first time the survey was taken in 2014, Jews topped the survey, in which respondents rank various religious groups on a “feeling thermometer.” On the scale of 1 to 100, 1 is the coldest and 100 the warmest; 50 means they have neither positive nor negative feelings.

Jews were ranked at 67 degrees, up from 63 in the 2014 survey, followed by Catholics at 66, up from 62, and Mainline Protestants at 65. Evangelical Christians stayed at 61 degrees.

Buddhists rose to 60 from 53, and Hindus increased to 58 from 50. Mormons moved to 54 from 48.

Atheists and Muslims again had the lowest ratings, but both still rose on the warmth scale. Atheists ranked at 50 degrees, up from 41, and Muslims were at 48, up from 40.

The authors noted that warm feelings toward religious groups rose despite a contentious election year that deeply divided Americans. “The increase in mean ratings is broad based,” according to the authors. “Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all the major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults.”

The random-digit-dial survey of 4,248 respondents was conducted Jan. 9-23. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Americans tend to rate their own faith groups highest, the survey found. Jews rated themselves at 91 and rated Muslims at 51, up from 35 three years ago. Jews rated themselves the highest compared to other groups; the next highest was Catholics at 83.

The survey showed a divide between older and younger Americans. While Jews received a 74 from respondents aged 65 and up, the age group’s second-highest ranking behind Mainline Protestants, respondents aged 18-29 ranked Jews at 62 and gave their highest ranking to Buddhists at 66.
Religious groups also were rated higher by respondents who knew someone from that religion. Those who knew Jews gave them a 72, and those who do not know any Jews gave them a 58.