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It's OK Not to Forgive Rabbi Barry Freundel

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:19
A Washington D.C. rabbi grapples with the severity of the punishment Rabbi Barry Freundel should receive. She asks if Judaism obligates us to forgive him.

Permission Granted: How the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Impacted Our Congregation

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 11:21

The Journal of Youth Engagement checks in with Rabbi Ben David, whose congregation has been participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution. The article “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is, and Is Not” originally appeared in the Journal of Youth Engagement in October 2013.

In your original article, “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is (and Is Not)” you highlighted what “revolution” meant for your congregation. We want to know: now that significant time has passed, what, if anything, has changed in your b’nai mitzvah process?

Our B’nai Mitzvah program continues to evolve.  Most specifically, we continue to look for ways to allow the students and their families to own the process.  For the students, this means not only picking their mitzvah project, but allowing them to select the verses they will chant from the Torah and what the music will be for their morning.  We honor them in our Teen Night program the week before and after their simcha.  Even these elements help them to feel ownership.  We continue to work on family education as it pertains to not only B’nei Mitzvah, but all transitional moments across Jewish life.

When we last heard from you, your congregation was asking many questions, such as,

  • What should sixth grade look like?
  • What do we want our children to experience?
  • What is the role of peer mentoring and community service?

Can you share anything about the answers you came up with to these questions?

In sixth grade, we are emphasizing family education more and more.  We are increasingly convinced that experiential learning is ideal, especially for this age group as it allows them to live Jewish practices in a way that is not at all theoretical or pedantic.  It’s a good age also to have students really transition to a place of their own, personal Judaism.

To this end, having families experiencing Shabbat together in conventional ways, such as Shabbat services and dinner, and slightly less conventional ways, including through art and social justice, has been really positive for all of us.

How has participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution influenced your thinking around other areas of congregational life? What key components have you carried into work beyond b’nai mitzvah?  

B’nai Mitzvah Revolution has given us permissions to tinker.  To use a baseball metaphor, not every change has to be a big home run.  Singles and doubles go a long way toward updating a program.  It all adds up.


Read Rabbi David’s original article and other past editions in the Journal’s searchable archives.

Benjamin David is the Rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, N.J.  He is the co-founder of the Running Rabbis, a global social justice initiative. He and his wife Lisa are the proud parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel. 

The Fight Continues Against the 20-Week Ban

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 09:00

This week, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), a dangerous bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation with only narrow exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger.

In advance of Wednesday’s vote, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, issued a statement to emphasize the Reform Movement’s strong opposition to H.R. 36 and our firm belief in a woman’s fundamental right to make her own health care decisions. The statement reads, in part: 

The women who need access to later abortions are often facing desperate circumstances, such as birth defects or fetal diseases that are undetectable until around the 20-week mark. To cut off abortion access at 20 weeks—an arbitrary point in gestation without medical basis—leaves these women without access to a critical health care service. Government policies must not restrict a woman’s right to make medical decisions in concert with her family, her doctor, her clergy, and whomever else she chooses to include.

H.R. 36 is part of a trend of anti-abortion bills at both the federal and state level. In recent years, Congress and state governments have increasingly sought to restrict access to reproductive health care, a step by step approach to stripping women of their right to make informed decisions about their bodies, their families and their lives. These include dangerous and restrictive policies like the building regulations and physician admitting privileges recently passed in Texas (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws, known as TRAP laws), the mandatory 72-hour waiting period that Missouri enacted last summer and bans on abortion after an arbitrary point in gestation—like H.R. 36—which currently exist in nine states.

The House originally planned to vote on the bill in January, on the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. Though it was expected that H.R. 36 would pass easily, a group of House Republicans indicated at the last minute that they would oppose the bill for its requirement that rape survivors report their assault to law enforcement in order receive an exemption to access abortion services. House leadership “fixed” the bill by amending this provision by requiring survivors either to report to law enforcement, or to see a medical professional at least 48 hours before the abortion, at a different clinic than the one performing the abortion. Though this requirement may seem more compassionate, patients would have to schedule two appointments, in two places—and to pay for both. Depending on the availability of health care services in her area, this requirement could be impossible.

The Reform Movement has long opposed 20-week bans and other legislation that undermines women’s fundamental dignity to make informed decisions about their own health. We believe firmly in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and to have safe, legal and affordable access to health care.

Our tradition emphasizes the sanctity of all life. By restricting abortion access after 20 weeks, H.R. 36 would endanger women’s ability to seek medical care to maintain the sanctity of their own lives. As our tradition commands women to care for their own health and well-being above all else, we must continue to fight to ensure that all women and their families have safe, legal and affordable access to all health care services, and that those services are not cut off after any given point in a pregnancy. Take action today; urge your Senators to oppose restrictive anti-choice bills like the 20-week ban!

Rio Gets 2 Orthodox Synagogues for Olympics

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 07:56
Rio de Janeiro is set to open two new Orthodox synagogues ahead of the Brazilian city’s hosting of the 2016 Olympic Games.

The Mystery of Lebanon's Maghen Abraham Synagogue

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 05:00
The elaborate renovation of a ruined Beirut synagogue sounded like a hopeful sign for the future of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community. Michael Kaplan asks why Maghen Abraham is still shuttered.

Kairos Prison Ministry

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 18:23

For more than 30 years, trained volunteers from Kairos Prison Ministry have been transforming the lives of inmates at more than 400 prisons with one-on-one mentoring, uplifting sermons, and love.

The post Kairos Prison Ministry appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


Thu, 05/14/2015 - 17:00

This ancient Jewish festival is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation,” says Rabbi Shira Stutman.

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, says Rabbi Shira Stutman, is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation.” /wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-shavuot.jpg

The post Shavuot appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Shira Stutman Extended Interview

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 16:30

Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.

/wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-rabbistutman1.jpg Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.

The post Rabbi Shira Stutman Extended Interview appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Barry Starr Wore Dress for Online Tryst

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 08:23
A prominent Boston rabbi was indicted for embezzlement and larceny for stealing money from his temple to pay off a man who was blackmailing the rabbi for his affair with a teenage male.

The Torah of Coalition

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 05:00

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

When Eliezer Ben Yehuda set out to assemble a new, Hebrew language dictionary, he needed to create terminology for modern day concepts that are not found in our ancient sources.  Although many of his words caught on and are used regularly, many others did not.  Recently, I was reminded of two words for which there are no Hebrew equivalents, leaving us no choice but to use the Latin terms: koalitziyah and the less popular oppositziyah. 


Last week – literally at the 11th hour – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escaped political collapse by signing agreements with four different partners to form a narrow coalition with 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members. Although this strategy has been used before, such a coalition is both fragile and extremely difficult to maintain.  What will happen, for example, if a single Knesset member is absent for an important vote? Although I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that because there is no Hebrew word for coalition it’s not a Jewish concept, there has been only one instance in the past in which a 61member majority came together in agreement – passing the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.


This new koalitziyah was made possible because Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), two ultra-Orthodox parties, have returned from “exile,” which did not serve them well in the past. We in the Reform Movement are distressed by this deal, however, because it promises management of the rabbinical courts to the ultra-Orthodox.  Although the Justice Ministry has overseen the standards and ethics of rabbinical court judges for the last decade, supervision of the courts will be wrestled away from this ministry and returned to the Religious Services Ministry, which Shas controls.


The coalition agreement with UTJ includes a clause that calls for a larger committee responsible for appointing rabbinical court judges, meaning there will be more coalition politicians and fewer women on the panel. UTJ also has been promised that orders requiring tiered burial – a massive waste of land compared to in-ground burial – will be canceled in ultra-Orthodox cities.  In addition, appropriations to yeshivot will increase, the conversion bill will be reversed, and the issues surrounding the draft and the ultra-Orthodox will resurface.


And so it continues.


In his effort to form a coalition, Netanyahu took a page from the playbook of Israeli politics of old:  Sell out to the Haredim because secular Jews don’t care about those things anyway.  For Netanyahu, it’s all about holding on to power.  In fact, on September 23, 2018, a date he eagerly awaits, Netanyahu will surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving leader.


In a democracy, power must belong to the people.  Sadly, in today’s Israel, an increasing majority of citizens wants nothing to do with those who hold the power — the rabbinate, their courts, and the obligations they impose on Israelis.  Thankfully, the Israeli democracy is stronger than its parts. Indeed, the Supreme Court will prevail and checks and balances will continue to do their job. What’s more, our Reform Movement will continue to lead efforts encouraging Israelis to enhance their Jewish identity – to maintain their souls, their resources, and their character – even as the grip of state-sponsored Judaism tightens around them.


Indeed, it is easy for those who sit in the oppositziyah or across the ocean to wax lyrical about the long list of grievances prompted by the recent elections.  At the same time, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are providing essential alternatives.  After all, that’s what today’s Zionism is all about — altering the course of the Jewish State so that it is meaningful to all the Jewish people.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.

Barry Freundel Continues to Violate Women's Privacy

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 05:00
Even in his defense, Rabbi Barry Freundel continues to violate the privacy of women says Bethany Mandel.

Rabbi Barry Freundel Taped Sex Encounters With 'Several' Women

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 18:33
In addition to secretly recording women undressing for the mikvah ritual bath, Rabbi Barry Freundel engaged in sexual encounters with several women, according to prosecutors.

Rabbi Barry Freundel Seeks No Jail Time for Mikveh Peeping

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 15:39
An attorney for the prominent Washington rabbi who pleaded guilty to secretly videotaping dozens of women naked during ritual baths asked a judge to sentence him to community service, not prison, according to court records.

Seeing is Believing: Visual T’filot and the Future of Jewish Worship

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 15:33

Rabbi Lance Sussman, the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA,  wrote a piece published today in eJewish Philanthropy titled “Seeing is Believing: Visual T’filot and the Future of Jewish Worship.” He begins,

Three years ago, my synagogue agreed to install large retractable screens on either side of the Ark and mounted projectors on the back wall of our 900 seat sanctuary. With almost no resistance, we quickly transitioned from late 15th century technology to early 21th century modalities of communicating.

It was a relatively easy process. In addition to her musical talents, our Cantor discovered she had an inherent talent for developing liturgical power point. What size font, which colors, Hebrew versus transliteration, translation versus epitomes of the text, iconic images versus new art and still life versus video instantly presented themselves as questions we needed to address. One by one, we worked our way through the various technological and philosophical issues.

Keep reading at eJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Rabbi Pinto Gets 1 Year in Bribery Scheme

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:11
Yoshiyahu Pinto, an Israeli rabbi who has counseled such celebrities as LeBron James, was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to bribing a senior police official.

Is It Sexist To Call Ayelet Shaked the 'Israeli Sarah Palin'?

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 16:01
And there is plenty of legitimate concern as to what she will do with that power, based on her record. In the past, Shaked has publicly stated that she would like to reduce the power of the Supreme Court, promoted the controversial “Jewish state” law, which would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state into legislation as well as a law which would financially punish leftist non-profit organizations, was the driving force behind an effort to pass a bill that would allow judges to close off the option of a presidential pardon for terrorists, designed to prevent the early release of Israeli Arab and Palestinian murderers as part of negotiations with Palestinian entities, as well as legislation that would bypass Supreme Court human rights objections to the detention and deportation of African asylum-seekers. But the substantive criticism of her politics has undeniably been laced with a healthy dose of sexism. Shortly after her appointment was announced, former cabinet minister and Knesset member Joseph Paritsky sneered on Facebook that, “finally, we have a justice minister worthy of being featured on a calendar in an auto repair shop.” When criticized for the remark, Paritsky’s reportedly dug himself in deeper in a radio interview, arguing that the fact that she has posed for fashion photos in the past justified his observation - capping it off with a Nazi comparison, saying, “I mean, this is not a person who avoids presenting herself before the camera. It’s not like I took someone who had never struck a model’s pose to exhibit her beauty, and she is very beautiful – like many of the Reich’s women.” Such comments caused at least one feminist activist, Peggy Cidor from the group Women of the Wall, to post plaintively on that Facebook “Paritzsky’s sexist comments are going to force me to defend Ayelet Shaked!!” In fact, Shaked’s left-wing feminist counterparts in the Knesset were already coming to her defense. Meretz MK Rozin said that remarks like Paritzsky’s “show contempt for women, but also hurt the legitimacy of the important criticism being leveled against Shaked’s appointment.” A day later, leader of the Meretz party Zehava Galon joined the protest after an item was published in a newspaper gossip column reporting on weekend celebration of Shaked’s 39th birthday at a luxury hotel, noting that “on Friday morning, Shaked showed up at the pool, but to the disappointment of hotel guests, she kept her clothes on.” Galon declared on Facebook that she was officially “fed up with all of the sexist and misogynist comments regarding Ayelet Shaked. Shaked is an intelligent and hard-working politician with nationalist anti-democratic views. I won’t spare her tough criticism when and where she takes advantage of her position to damage our legal system, but I have no intention of remaining silent when every few days someone pollutes the public arena with these miserable statements about her.” It all “sends a message to women and girls that it doesn’t matter how much they succeed, even when they receive a top ministerial post in the government - they will be judged first and foremost on their physical appearance … I intend to stand against Ayelet Shaked in every effort she makes to weaken the Supreme court and harm Israeli democracy. But when it comes to how she is treated as a woman and when it comes to remarks that diminish and insult her that she is forced to endure, I will stand beside her.” Galon’s post received more than 18,000 “likes.” Being defended so vehemently - by left-wing Meretz, no less - is much more of a novelty for Shaked than being attacked. Resentment is regularly aimed at her, and not only by the secular left - she has no shortage of it from across the political spectrum, starting at the very top. Shaked famously served as office director for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was opposition leader, where she met her ally Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett. The pair are sworn enemies of both Netanyahu and his wife Sara, leaving their jobs under a cloud in 2008, that start of a personal loathing that continues to this day, which both sides refuse to discuss, but is undeniable. At the ceremonial announcement of the agreement that included Shaked’s appointment as Justice Minister, Netanyahu pointedly refrained from shaking her hand. Rounding out her enemies list now are embittered Likud members who coveted the post - as well as ultra-Orthodox party members who won’t let her forget the fact that she spearheaded the legislative effort to force yeshiva students into army service and have ideological religious objections to the Jewish State bill that she promotes. Neither is the attention that is paid to her good looks particularly new. In what probably qualifies as the stupidest poll ever, the Israeli Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery quizzed 300 women, asking them to rank Knesset lawmakers according to their attractiveness. Shaked came out on top for the female lawmakers (Yair Lapid topped the male list.) But Shaked has proven time and time again that she is no shrinking violet and knows how to fire back in her own defense, whether the topic is her political positions or her image. Last year, Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht opened a column about Shaked with: “She first appeared as a curiosity – a young and pretty secular woman from an upscale north Tel Aviv neighborhood … much more attractive and elegant than the caricatures of crazed right-wingers with their bushy beards, skullcaps askew and Uzis dangling from their shoulders.” and concluded the piece: “The riddle of Shaked remains unsolved. Is it unbridled teenage-style enthusiasm, limited binary thinking that includes childish worship of one-dimensional nationalist ideas, or are we witnessing a sophisticated, mathematical talent for harnessing the soul of the nation for the benefit of the settlers?” The column, headlined “A Knesset member whose irresponsible violence belies her appearance” drew an angry response from Shaked, who criticized what she called Hecht’s cheap shot against her. Shaked wrote: “I’ve had it with those women – women! – who seek to undermine the serious work of women in Israeli politics by describing them as “attractive and elegant” but utterly vacant.” In her column, Shaked defended her political positions against what she called “the delusional left, which has lost every vestige of self-control.” Her combative - and often aggressive - style on the Knesset floor, in media appearances has demonstrated that while she may enjoy having defenders - she certainly doesn’t need them. She has shown in her legislative career that she can can hold her own - and has even indulged in some of her own gender-based trash talking. Last December, disgusted in the middle of a heated budget debate, she scornfully turned to a Labor Party member and complained that “you people are doing nothing, just sitting there scratching your balls.” The remark might have played better as sexism payback, however, if she’d said it to a male legislator, instead of to MK Stav Shaffir - who is just as tough and combative and - (dare one say it?) - attractive as Shaked herself.

Ex-Met Council Boss Gets 1 Year for Fraud

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:55
David Cohen, the former executive director of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was sentenced to one year in jail for his role in a $9 million embezzlement scheme against the Jewish nonprofit.

This Month in The Tent: Engaging Families with Young Children

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 09:00

“Sooner. Stronger. Deeper. Longer.” That’s the motto that guides Nancy Bossov through her work as an early childhood education and engagement professional. Now the director of early childhood education at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., Nancy came up with this motto while serving as the director of early childhood education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. In practice, it means that engaging families in congregational life sooner rather than later fosters stronger connections to the congregation. This leads to a deeper experience for members, which translates into longer member-synagogue relationships.

Almost all synagogue leaders are concerned with their congregations’ membership numbers, and those same leaders report drastic drop-off rates for families whose children have completed their formal religious education. Although there isn’t a magical cure-all for membership retention, early engagement has proven to be a successful tactic.

Knowing this, the URJ gathered leaders from 28 congregations to participate in two early childhood-related Communities of Practice, Successfully Engaging Families with Young Children and Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Center. For 18 months, these leaders explored strategies and programs for achieving that “sooner, stronger, deeper, longer” member connection.

The findings from those Communities of Practice have just been published and are available in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. The guide includes best principles; a syllabus and workbook pages to help you strategize about your engagement efforts; additional research; and helpful articles and other resources.

Because learning together is so important, the URJ just launched seven new Communities of Practice, including two designed to help leaders with early engagement: Building a Brand: Excellence in Reform Movement Early Childhood Engagement (for congregations that have an early childhood center) and Creating Connected Communities for Families with Young Children (for congregations that do not have an early childhood center). Visit the Communities of Practice group to read about these learning opportunities, and see this ongoing conversation for answers to frequently asked questions. Applications for the new Communities of Practice will be accepted through June 15th.

For more conversations and resources about early childhood education and engagement, visit the Early Childhood group or search #EarlyChildhood and #EarlyEngagement.

Seasonal Info: We invite you to join us at the 2015 URJ Biennial, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Registration will open later this month. In the meantime, visit urj.org/biennial to learn more.

Tent Tip: The Tent’s powerful search tool can help you find answers to your questions and resources to help manage the sacred. Before posing a question to your fellow Tent members, or if you’re not sure where to find a resource, enter your search term in the search box located at the top of every page. You then can filter search results to more easily find what you need.

Join the conversation and access these and other great resources in The Tent. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team.

GOP Presidential Hopeful Scott Walker Leaves for Israel

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 08:30
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely candidate for the GOP nomination for president, left for what he billed as an “educational trip” to Israel.

A Mother's 'Shabbat Love' and the Benefits of a Spiritual Education

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 05:00
Lisa Miller always loved Shabbat with her mother, but it was only when she became a clinical psychologist did she realize that a spiritual education is key to a child’s development.