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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Some young Nicaraguans who converted to Judaism in July with the help of the Kulanu organization, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

(JTA) Over the course of just a few days, the tiny Jewish community in Nicaragua more than doubled when 114 people converted to Judaism.

Last month, community members answered questions before a beit din, or religious court, of three Orthodox-trained rabbis from Israel and the United States and immersed in a newly built mikvah in Managua, the Central American countrys capital. Male converts underwent circumcisions or symbolic circumcisions if already circumcised.

On July 23, following the conversions conducted at the Managua home of a community leader, 22 couples wed according to Jewish tradition in a Managua social hall rented for the occasion. Kulanu, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports communities around the world seeking to learn about Judaism, had facilitated the conversions.

There was a great amount of trepidation in their faces and anxiousness because it was so important to them, and when they emerged from the mikvah the glow on their faces was amazing, said beit din member Rabbi Mark Kunis, who was ordained at Yeshiva UniversitysRabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminaryand works at the Shaarei Shamayim synagogue in Atlanta. Its inspiring; the excitement that it engendered was phenomenal.

From left to right, Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez speaking with beit din members Rabbi Mark Kunis, Rabbi Andy Eichenholz and Rabbi Marc Phillipe in Managua, Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. On the far right is Even Centeno, a convert who traces his ancestry to Sephardi Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity. (Bonita Sussman)

At least half the candidates claimed Jewish ancestry, and most had been studying Judaism for at least five years with some pursuing Judaism almost their entire lives, Kunis told JTA. All the candidates except one family were accepted for conversion, and one of the beit din rabbis served as a Spanish translator, since most of the candidates could not communicate in English, he said.

I feel at home, Even Centeno, 21, told JTA of having officially become Jewish. This was for me like a dream.

Centeno is among the converts who trace their ancestry to Sephardi Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition.

Centeno, who converted along with his parents and sister, said he was aware of his familys Jewish ancestry since he was a young child and started learning about Judaism at the age of 11.

The conversions bring a significant influx of Jews to Nicaragua. Jews have been living there since the 18th century, but the community numbered only about 50 in 2012 and was comprised mostly of American retirees, according to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation. That year, Kulanu helped facilitate the conversions of 14 people, most of whom claimed ancestry to Jewish men who had married non-Jewish Nicaraguan women. Another 14 converted in 2015, but the recent group is the largest to date.

Nicaraguan men who converted to Judaism waiting for their brides prior to a traditional Jewish wedding for 22 couples, July 23, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

Though the Nicaraguans converted together, they follow two different leaders, said Bonita Sussman, vice president of Kulanu.

The majority, including Centeno, are inspired by Hasidism and follow a local leader named Akiva Simja Fernandez, who converted to Judaism in 2012 with the help of Kulanu. Fernandez follows some Jewish customs that he learned from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which does not have a presence in Managua but caters to Israeli tourists in the beach town of San Juan del Sur.

Fernandez and many of his followers some of whom claim Jewish ancestry wear black velvet kippahs and wide-brimmed black hats, and sing and dance to Hasidic music during celebrations.

A second group with 38 members of one extended family heeds Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez, who traces his ancestry to Jews from Curacao who were forced to convert to Christianity. The group adheres to Sephardi customs and has access to a mikvah, or ritual pool, adjacent to Henriquezs home. The men wear big crocheted kippahs.

Prior to deciding to become Jewish, Sussman said, the converts identified with Christianity or messianism, a movement that infuses Christian belief with some elements of Jewish ritual practice.

This isnt the first mass conversion facilitated by Kulanu. Last year, the group brought rabbis to Madagascar to convert 121 people, building a Jewish community where none had existed.

Sussman noted how the members of the Nicaraguan community relate to their Judaism.

These two are unique in that one is a Sephardic and descendants of anousim and the other tends towards Hasidic kabbalistic practice, she said.

Anousim is a Hebrew term for Jewswho were forced to abandon Judaism against their will.

Though the Madagascar community also follows Hasidic traditions, the Nicaragua group that follows Simja is distinctive in the fact that it follows customs learned from Chabad, Sussman added.(Chabad has no official ties to the converts or Kulanu.)

A young Nicaraguan girl is among a growing Jewish community in Managua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

Sussman sees the conversions as part of a larger phenomenon.

This is a new trend in Jewish history, she said. In the last 100 years we have seen the Holocaust, the destruction of all Jewish communities in Arab lands and the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland. We are now entering an era of rebuilding the Jewish people.

In general, while there may be some hot spots of interest in Judaism in the Western countries, for the most part serious interest in religion is a thing of the past. Today, however, the interest lies in Africa, South America and India. As Jews we must be part of this exciting new development.

Kulanu is planning to send equipment to the Nicaraguans to perform kosher ritual slaughter.

The big need is for kosher meat. Were planning to get them shechitah knives, Sussman said. They havent eaten meat, some of them for years. They eat vegetarian and fish.

The dietary restrictions didnt seem to be a problem for Centeno, who was getting ready to cook for Shabbat, when he would be hosting 70 community members.

[A]ll the community will be in my house, well do a Shabbaton, he said. Today Im preparing all the food.

This woman and her young daughter were among the 114 converts to Judaism in Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua | Jewish … – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Some young Nicaraguans who converted to Judaism in July with the help of the Kulanu organization, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

(JTA) Over the course of just a few days, the tiny Jewish community in Nicaragua more than doubled when 114 people converted to Judaism.

Last month, community members answered questions before a beit din, or religious court, of three Orthodox-trained rabbis from Israel and the United States and immersed in a newly built mikvah in Managua, the Central American countrys capital. Male converts underwent circumcisions or symbolic circumcisions if already circumcised.

On July 23, following the conversions conducted at the Managua home of a community leader, 22 couples wed according to Jewish tradition in a Managua social hall rented for the occasion. Kulanu, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports communities around the world seeking to learn about Judaism, had facilitated the conversions.

There was a great amount of trepidation in their faces and anxiousness because it was so important to them, and when they emerged from the mikvah the glow on their faces was amazing, said beit din member Rabbi Mark Kunis, who was ordained at Yeshiva UniversitysRabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminaryand works at the Shaarei Shamayim synagogue in Atlanta. Its inspiring; the excitement that it engendered was phenomenal.

From left to right, Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez speaking with beit din members Rabbi Mark Kunis, Rabbi Andy Eichenholz and Rabbi Marc Phillipe in Managua, Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. On the far right is Even Centeno, a convert who traces his ancestry to Sephardi Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity. (Bonita Sussman)

At least half the candidates claimed Jewish ancestry, and most had been studying Judaism for at least five years with some pursuing Judaism almost their entire lives, Kunis told JTA. All the candidates except one family were accepted for conversion, and one of the beit din rabbis served as a Spanish translator, since most of the candidates could not communicate in English, he said.

I feel at home, Even Centeno, 21, told JTA of having officially become Jewish. This was for me like a dream.

Centeno is among the converts who trace their ancestry to Sephardi Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition.

Centeno, who converted along with his parents and sister, said he was aware of his familys Jewish ancestry since he was a young child and started learning about Judaism at the age of 11.

The conversions bring a significant influx of Jews to Nicaragua. Jews have been living there since the 18th century, but the community numbered only about 50 in 2012 and was comprised mostly of American retirees, according to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation. That year, Kulanu helped facilitate the conversions of 14 people, most of whom claimed ancestry to Jewish men who had married non-Jewish Nicaraguan women. Another 14 converted in 2015, but the recent group is the largest to date.

Nicaraguan men who converted to Judaism waiting for their brides prior to a traditional Jewish wedding for 22 couples, July 23, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

Though the Nicaraguans converted together, they follow two different leaders, said Bonita Sussman, vice president of Kulanu.

The majority, including Centeno, are inspired by Hasidism and follow a local leader named Akiva Simja Fernandez, who converted to Judaism in 2012 with the help of Kulanu. Fernandez follows some Jewish customs that he learned from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which does not have a presence in Managua but caters to Israeli tourists in the beach town of San Juan del Sur.

Fernandez and many of his followers some of whom claim Jewish ancestry wear black velvet kippahs and wide-brimmed black hats, and sing and dance to Hasidic music during celebrations.

A second group with 38 members of one extended family heeds Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez, who traces his ancestry to Jews from Curacao who were forced to convert to Christianity. The group adheres to Sephardi customs and has access to a mikvah, or ritual pool, adjacent to Henriquezs home. The men wear big crocheted kippahs.

Prior to deciding to become Jewish, Sussman said, the converts identified with Christianity or messianism, a movement that infuses Christian belief with some elements of Jewish ritual practice.

This isnt the first mass conversion facilitated by Kulanu. Last year, the group brought rabbis to Madagascar to convert 121 people, building a Jewish community where none had existed.

Sussman noted how the members of the Nicaraguan community relate to their Judaism.

These two are unique in that one is a Sephardic and descendants of anousim and the other tends towards Hasidic kabbalistic practice, she said.

Anousim is a Hebrew term for Jewswho were forced to abandon Judaism against their will.

Though the Madagascar community also follows Hasidic traditions, the Nicaragua group that follows Simja is distinctive in the fact that it follows customs learned from Chabad, Sussman added.(Chabad has no official ties to the converts or Kulanu.)

A young Nicaraguan girl is among a growing Jewish community in Managua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

Sussman sees the conversions as part of a larger phenomenon.

This is a new trend in Jewish history, she said. In the last 100 years we have seen the Holocaust, the destruction of all Jewish communities in Arab lands and the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland. We are now entering an era of rebuilding the Jewish people.

In general, while there may be some hot spots of interest in Judaism in the Western countries, for the most part serious interest in religion is a thing of the past. Today, however, the interest lies in Africa, South America and India. As Jews we must be part of this exciting new development.

Kulanu is planning to send equipment to the Nicaraguans to perform kosher ritual slaughter.

The big need is for kosher meat. Were planning to get them shechitah knives, Sussman said. They havent eaten meat, some of them for years. They eat vegetarian and fish.

The dietary restrictions didnt seem to be a problem for Centeno, who was getting ready to cook for Shabbat, when he would be hosting 70 community members.

[A]ll the community will be in my house, well do a Shabbaton, he said. Today Im preparing all the food.

This woman and her young daughter were among the 114 converts to Judaism in Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua | Jewish … – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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Often Times, There Is No ‘Right Way’ in Judaism – Algemeiner

Email a copy of “Often Times, There Is No Right Way in Judaism” to a friend

The Ten Commandments. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

What was the first commandment? On this question, there are two fascinating disagreements in Judaism. One was between Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and the author of the Halakhot Gedolot, written in the period of the Gaonim, who was probably R. Shimon Kayyara (eighth century). The other was between Maimonides and the poet and thinker Judah Halevi (c. 1080-c.1145).

The first controversy is simply this: Maimonides counts the opening line of the Ten Commandments, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, as a positive command. According to him, this means thatwe must believe in God. The Halakhot Gedolot does not count it as a command at all. Why not?

Nahmanides (1194-1270), in defense of the Halakhot Gedolot, speculates that its author counted among the 613 commands only the specific laws enjoining us to do or avoid something. The commands arerules of behavior, not items of faith. Faith in the existence of God, or acceptance of the kingship of God, is not itself a command but a prelude to and presupposition of the commands. Nahmanidesquotes a passage from the Mekhilta:

You shall have no other gods besides me. Why is this said? Because it says, I am the Lord your God. To explain this by way of a parable: A king of flesh and blood entered a province. His servants said to him, Issue decrees for the people. He, however, told them, No. When they accept my sovereignty, I will issue decrees. For if they do not accept my sovereignty, how will they carry out my decrees?

August 1, 2017 12:08 pm

According to Nahmanides, the Halakhot Gedolot must have believed that the verse, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery is not itself a command, but a statement of why the Israelites should be bound by the will of God. He had rescued them, liberated them and brought them to safety. The first verse of the Decalogue is not a law but a statement of fact, a reason why the Israelites should accept Gods sovereignty.

Thanks to the archaeological discoveries about which I wrote in a previous column, we now know that the Biblical covenant has the same literary structure as ancient near eastern political treaties. These treaties usually follow a six-part pattern, of which the first three elements were [1] the preamble, identifying the initiator of the treaty, [2] a historical review, summarizing the past relationship between the parties, and [3] the stipulations, namely the terms and conditions of the covenant.

Seen in this context, the first verse of the Ten Commandments is a highly abridged form of [1] and [2]. I am the Lord your God is the preamble. Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery is the historical review. The verses that follow are the stipulations, or as we would call them, the commands. If so, then the Halakhot Gedolot, as understood by Nahmanides, was correct in seeing the verse as an introduction to the commands, not a command in its own right. That is the first disagreement.

The second dispute was between Maimonides and Judah Halevi. For Maimonides, the first command is to believe in God, creator of heaven and earth.

Judah Halevi disagreed. Halevi was not only the greatest of medieval Hebrew poets, but he also wrote one of Judaisms theological masterpieces,The Kuzari. It is framed as a dialogue between a rabbi and the King of the Khazars. Historically, the Khazars were a Turkish people who, between the seventh and eleventh centuries, ruled a considerable area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, including southern Russia, the northern Caucasus, eastern Ukraine, Western Kazakhstan and northwestern Uzbekistan.

Many Jewish traders and refugees lived there, and in 838, the Khazar King Bulan converted to Judaism, after supposedly holding a debate between representatives of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. The Arabic writer Dimashqi writes that the Khazars, having encountered the Jewish faith, found it better than their own and accepted it. Khazaria thus became, spiritually as well as geographically, an independent third force between the Muslim Caliphate and the Christian Byzantine Empire. After their conversion, the Khazar people used Jewish personal names, spoke and wrote in Hebrew, were circumcised, had synagogues and rabbis, studied the Torah and Talmud and observed the Jewish festivals.

In The Kuzari,Halevi draws a portrait diametrically opposed to Maimonides account. Judaism, for Halevi, is not philosophical but counter-philosophical. Its not about abstract concepts but about concrete experiences: the taste of slavery, the feeling of liberation, the realization on the part of the people that God had heard their cry and set them free. The God of Abraham is not the God of Aristotle. The prophets were not philosophers. Philosophers found God in physics and metaphysics, but the prophets found God in history. This is how Halevis rabbi explains his faith to the king of the Khazars:

I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having brought them through the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way. . . (Kuzari I:11)

He goes on to emphasize that Gods opening words in the revelation at Mount Sinai were not, I am the Lord your God, creator of heaven and earth, but, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Kuzari I:25). The covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai was not rooted in the ancient past of creation but in the recent past of the exodus.

What is at stake in this difference of opinion?

At the heart of Judaism is a two-fold understanding of the nature of God and His relationship to the universe. On the one hand,God is creator of the universe and the maker of the human person in His image. This aspect of God is universal. It is accessible to anyone, Jew or gentile. Aristotle arrived at it through logic and metaphysics. For him, God was the prime mover who set the universe into motion.

Today, many people reach the same conclusion through science: the universe is too finely tuned for the emergence of life to have come into being through chance. Othersarrive at it not through logic or science, but through a simple sense of awe and wonder (Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical, said Wittgenstein). This aspect of God is calledElokimby the Torah.

But there is a quite different aspect of God thatpredominates throughout most of Tanakh. This is God as He is involved in the fate of one family, and one nation: the children of Israel. He intervened in their history. He made a highly specific covenant with them at Sinai not at all like the general one that He made with Noah and all humanity after the flood. The Noahide covenant is simple and basic; it involved a mere seven commands. The Sinai covenant, by contrast, is highly articulated, covering almost every aspect of life. This aspect of God is signaled by the use of the four-letter name for which we traditionally substitute the wordHashem.

Maimonides, the philosopher, emphasized the universal, metaphysical aspect of Judaism and the eternal, unchanging existence of God. Judah Halevi, the poet, was more attuned to the particularistic and prophetic dimension of Judaism: the role of God in the historical drama of the Jewish people.

Maimonides was the greatest halakhist and philosopher of the Middle Ages, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here, at least, the Halakhot Gedolot and Judah Halevi were closer to the plain sense of the text. Even the greatest thinker is not right all the time, which is why Judaism remains a conversation scored for many voices, each with its own insight into the infinite inflections of the Divine word.

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Often Times, There Is No ‘Right Way’ in Judaism – Algemeiner

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Netflix Picks Up Portrait of Hasidic Judaism From the Directors of … – Flavorwire

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Gradys Jesus Camp is a documentary that speaks to the tremendous reach of Netflix a very small movie thats been seen as widely as it has because its a mainstay in the services streaming library, and it always turns up on the service journalism listicles of the best docs on Netflix, and so on. So considering the ongoing popularity of that film, it shouldnt come as a surprise that the filmmakers have teamed with Netflix on their next film, which is (coincidentally enough) also a peek behind the closed doors of an insular religious group.

Variety reports that One of Us tracks three Hasidic Jews who make the difficult decision to leave their community while also, according to the filmmakers, grappling with a universal human dilemma: that the cost of freedom can also mean losing the only community theyve ever known. Ewing and Grady spent three years with their subjects.

Their most recent film was last years wonderful Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You; they also directed the harrowing and thoughtful Detropia. Netflix is reportedly planning a fall debut (and awards-season push) for One of Us, following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival; in the meantime, hey, look at that, theyre still streaming Jesus Camp.

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Jewish resistance to occupation is also fighting for the future of Judaism itself – Mondoweiss

The Sumud summer freedom camp where more than 130 Jewish diaspora participants with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence traveled to the West Bank for actions in solidarity with Palestinians. (Photo: Daniel Roth)

In May of 2017, I traveled to the West Bank as a member of a delegation organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). We were 130 Diaspora Jews, mostly Americans, working in partnership with Palestinian and Israeli resistance organizations to peacefully oppose the occupation of the East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gazaan ambitious mission to be sure, yet the group strived for even more:a challenge and wake-up call for the Jewish religion and tradition itself.

In the words of its organizers, the groups work is at the center of Jewish Transformation and Palestinian Solidarity. It rejects many conventional notions in the West about the relationship between Jews and Israel, such as the idea that Israel represents the Jewish people as a whole, and that any criticism of the Israeli policy constitutes anti-Semitism. Instead, in its motto, CJNV boldly proclaims Occupation is Not My Judaism. In other words, we can be proudly and fully Jewish while forcefully rejecting the actions of the so-called Jewish state.

Slide from CJNV delegation orientation. (Photo: Charlie Zimmerman)

The leaders of the delegation, a group of very principled and courageous people, asked us to focus on Palestinians and resistance to the occupation in our reports on the delegation, rather than writing about ourselves. That aspect of the work was indeed historic and covered extensively elsewhere, includingHaaretz, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. So I am going to respectfully defy the leaders admonishment because the groups work also has notable implications on the relationship between resistance to the occupation and the Jewish religion and tradition.

In Palestine, we heard extensively about the occupation from its victims. One resistance organizer noted that Palestinians are stereotyped as terrorists like chocolate is stereotyped as sweet. I believe Judaism is associated with Israel in a similar way. Any decoupling of Israel from Judaism, such as our mission, disturbs or least jars many observersthey might express surprise or even call Jews who challenge Israel kapos, traitors, or self-hating Jews.

Indeed, when I told friends and relatives that I was going to the West Bank to resist the occupation, some did point-blank call me traitor and an enemy. Others who were less vitriolic generally had a difficult time understanding how a Jewish person could possibly go against Israelthey tended to think I was a bit weird (which is true, but thats another story), or that I wasnt really Jewish.

A commentator on an article I previously published about the delegations work brings this point home well, if a bit, hyperbolically:

Mr. Zimmerman represents the crypto-enemy of Zionism and the so-called Jewish State of Israel; and every unacceptable, immoral and unjustifiable policy they stand for: he penned his observations having been there with the Jewish group CJNV and however secular by his own averral he may be hes Jewish. He is thus the detested and reviled JINO, the Capo, the self-hating Jew whose criticism of the Zionist project and of the Hasbara-ims beloved, flawless, sacrosanct Israel is the crime for which no punishment can be sufficient; criticism, express or implicit, by a Jew of Zionism and the State of Israel being worse than child-abuse, cannibalism and robbery-with-violence combined. [sic]

In hindsight, I realize that, prior to my participation in the CJNV delegation, even I unconsciously thought of the Israeli state and Judaism as equivalent to some degree. I knew that CJNVs slogan was Occupation Is Not My Judaism, but, unconsciously assuming that opposing Israel could not be authentically Jewish, I thought that we would focus only on the Occupation part of the mission. I assumed that Judaism would only enter the picture peripherally if at all, or maybe even cynically as a strategic way to advance our agenda.

My experience in the delegation proved these assumptions dead wrong. Though some secular Jews and atheists were present, the majority of participants, including at least ten rabbis, were very committed to Judaism. Their religion and tradition compels them to pursue justice for non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel and therefore actively resist the occupation. And they could support this position with plenty of Torah passages, commentary, and interpretation.

Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20), for instance, is a central tenet of Judaism. Pursuenot value, love, or think its just dandy: we must always seek and struggle for justice. The CJNV activists lived this principle. Many are active members of Jewish groups opposing the occupation such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. In that capacity, they devote much time and effort towards their goal of reversing unconditional support for Israeli policy, often putting their bodies on the line and risking arrest. And they did the same in Palestine when working to build and sustain the Sumud Freedom Camp in the South Hebron Hills village of Sarura. The IDF forcibly evicted Palestinians living in Sarura from their cave-homes about 20 years ago, and our mission was to rebuild these homes and move one of its former inhabitants and his family back in. Though CJNV officially asked us to participate in this action for only one full day, many activists camped out in Sarura for five days straight, engaging in physically intensive construction work while eschewing cell phone service, electricity, and indoor plumbing. Some even stayed in the camp up to a week or more after the delegation was officially over. Justice, justice they did pursueand then some.

Additionally, the more religious participants had a take on concepts such as Aliyah and Israel that differed from convention and what I learned growing upin their view, both refer to spiritual abstractions rather than concrete entities or actions. Aliyah refers to an unattainable goal of ascending (the term literally means ascent, not, as widely believed, return) to the ways of God in ones thoughts and action. As God is infinite, this is an unattainable goal, but those who yearn for it continually strive to act morally and improve themselves.

And Israel is seen both as a verb that means to struggle or wrestle with God and a noun referencing Gods covenant with the Jewish people. The struggle means one seeks Gods wisdom and guidance, but it also implies a dialectic partnership with God that affects both parties. The covenant represents a commitment of God to the Jews and vice versa. Jews honor this commitment by living ethically and seeking justice according to Gods will, which they continuously seek to discern.

Thus, in naming the Zionist state Israel, its founders debased the spiritual realm by implying that one could attain transcendent goals that we should strive for but are always beyond reach in the physical realm. According to one rabbi who participated the delegation, the Israeli states primary founder David Ben-Gurions advisors warned him that the name Israel would lead Jews to falsely conflate the spiritual concept with the new state. Ben-Gurions response: Thats fine with me.

All this armchair theology relates directly to CJNVs idea that occupation resistance intersects with Jewish transformation. To the degree that we identify Judaism with the Israeli state, it would be impossible to oppose the latter without transforming the former. And despite what some of its Orthodox adherents might believe, Judaism is a living religion and tradition: Jacobs wrestling with God (he cannot take the name Israel without engaging in this struggle), Talmudic debates, and evolving and differing viewpoints about the role of Zionism all exemplify a religion and tradition that at its essence embraces dialectic interaction and change.

So in supporting, opposing or remaining neutral on Jewish resistance to occupation, we are also staking out positions on the future of Judaism itself. Do we want our Jewish identities defined by allegiance to a nation-state, or do we recognize this as perhaps the clearest, most dangerous, and historically common example of idol worship there is? Do we say we have experienced persecution throughout history, so now its our turn to victimize others or we have experienced persecution throughout history, so we should ensure at all costs that we never perpetuate it ourselves?

Maybe this struggle for the soul of Judaism is one reason why I have observed an increase in visibility of and support for Jewish anti-occupation organizations in the Diaspora. More and more of us, in addition to pursuing justice, are fighting for Jewish identities we can embrace proudly and to keep our tradition alive, compassionate, and meaningful. Diaspora Jews, for the sake of Palestinians, ourselves, and our tradition, must continue to raise our voices and insist that injustice being perpetrated in our name and on our dime must end.

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A corrupted Judaism, worshipping victimhood J. – Jweekly.com

Regarding Laura Saunders opinion piece (Jewish values dictate I work to end Israeli occupation), in which she describes how her Jewish values compel her to defend the Palestinian Arabs against the Israelis, if shes so dedicated to Jewish values, why does her article make no mention of God, the Torah or the Covenant, which contains the promise of the land of Israel? Does her version of Judaism not contain these concepts? Saying the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria amounts to an illegal occupation is equivalent to renouncing Judaism itself.

Saunders talks about her Jewish upbringing, but both she and her teachers going back multiple generations have followed a corrupted form of Judaism that rejects its most central elements while attaching supreme importance to artificial social theories that have never been proven to work anywhere.

One of the peculiar features of this corrupted Judaism is its worship of victimhood. Everything is seen through the eyes of the victim. Claiming youre oppressed grants you instant moral authority, while being accused of oppression makes you unworthy of positive consideration. If Israelis impose harsh measures on Arabs, the only possible explanation is the sadistic pleasure they get from it. Saunders doesnt consider the possibility that the Arabs might have done something to deserve such treatment, and she seems totally oblivious to the fact that Arab leaders continually cultivate an attitude of murderous hatred against Jews, which is passed down from generation to generation, and that they would slaughter the Jews without mercy if Israel ever let down its guard.

People like Saunders imagine that theyre contributing to peace, but their Arab allies see them as useful idiots, working to weaken Israels ability to defend itself and preparing it for ultimate destruction.

Martin Wasserman, Palo Alto

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

A corrupted Judaism, worshipping victimhood – Jweekly.com

Regarding Laura Saunders opinion piece (Jewish values dictate I work to end Israeli occupation), in which she describes how her Jewish values compel her to defend the Palestinian Arabs against the Israelis, if shes so dedicated to Jewish values, why does her article make no mention of God, the Torah or the Covenant, which contains the promise of the land of Israel? Does her version of Judaism not contain these concepts? Saying the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria amounts to an illegal occupation is equivalent to renouncing Judaism itself.

Saunders talks about her Jewish upbringing, but both she and her teachers going back multiple generations have followed a corrupted form of Judaism that rejects its most central elements while attaching supreme importance to artificial social theories that have never been proven to work anywhere.

One of the peculiar features of this corrupted Judaism is its worship of victimhood. Everything is seen through the eyes of the victim. Claiming youre oppressed grants you instant moral authority, while being accused of oppression makes you unworthy of positive consideration. If Israelis impose harsh measures on Arabs, the only possible explanation is the sadistic pleasure they get from it. Saunders doesnt consider the possibility that the Arabs might have done something to deserve such treatment, and she seems totally oblivious to the fact that Arab leaders continually cultivate an attitude of murderous hatred against Jews, which is passed down from generation to generation, and that they would slaughter the Jews without mercy if Israel ever let down its guard.

People like Saunders imagine that theyre contributing to peace, but their Arab allies see them as useful idiots, working to weaken Israels ability to defend itself and preparing it for ultimate destruction.

Martin Wasserman, Palo Alto

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A corrupted Judaism, worshipping victimhood – Jweekly.com

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

A laughing matter – Creating a ‘Goyish Guide’ to Judaism. – The Jerusalem Post

Haredi comedian Ashley Blaker. (photo credit:MERON PERSEY)

He doesnt look much like a typical comedian. And he doesnt act much like a typical ultra-Orthodox Jew. But Ashley Blaker isnt concerned about labels.

Hes too busy making people laugh.

Blaker has recently finished his second UK-wide tour, Meshuga Frum, with 18 shows around the country. But now hes gearing up to reach a much wider audience, with a BBC radio show set to launch in 2018 called Ashley Blakers Goyish Guide to Judaism.

Ive spent a lot of time performing for Jewish audiences, Blaker told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. The next challenge is to adapt that comedy for a wider audience, so that everyone can appreciate it.

Of course, if youve seen Blaker perform, you know that his act has a distinctly parochial flavor. Clad in a black suit and white shirt, with tzitzit swinging, the comedian has audiences rolling on the floor with riffs on how to avoid shaking hands with women, and why every Jewish eatery and event now offers sushi.

I am remarkably ill-informed about the business I work in, he jokes, noting that he doesnt even own a television. Somebody asked me if Id seen The Wire, and I thought he was talking about the eruv.

But Blaker is hard at work adapting his material for new audiences and not just for the BBC. Hes also set his sights on an upcoming tour in the US, where his jokes will have to undergo a different kind of change.

Im kind of working on two different adaptations, he says. One is adapting for a British audience, who are not Jewish, but the other is for a Jewish audience, who arent British.

Hell get to test out some of the latter material on August 7 when he performs Strictly Unorthodox in Johannesburg. And to prepare for his radio show, hes been doing jobs in the West End of London.

If you pay attention to news reports out of the UK, you might wonder if audiences would be receptive to such a Jewish-themed show, considering rising incidents of antisemitism. But Blaker has no such concerns.

I think when you wear it so openly, and its such a part of your persona, I think people respect it in a different way, he said. I think its very different when you wear it as a kind of badge.

Blaker, a father of six, didnt grow up ultra-Orthodox, but become more religious once he got married.

He started working in comedy before he became observant, and has been producing TV and radio shows for the BBC for years.

While he doesnt expect too much pushback from the outside world, he does often feel it from within the more insular Orthodox community. Not everybody is thrilled with how he pokes fun at some of the customs and stringencies in observant life.

Youll always have a few people who dont have a sense of humor, he says. But when five people get in touch with me to complain about something, there are thousands of people who love something who dont get in touch.

And there are no sacred cows for Blaker: while his act is as clean as can be, it leaves no aspect of religious life off the table.

Nothing will mark you out as a baal teshuva [someone who became religious later in life] more than being a decent driver, he jokes. Blaker also makes fun of newspapers that ban images of women, or how haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men put plastic bags on their black hats in the rain.

Sometimes Ill get comments that I didnt celebrate enough how amazing it is to be frum. It wasnt celebratory enough, he says. Thats not my job. Thats not what I do. Thats missing the point.

But he doesnt alter his act to placate anyone, including a joke about remaking the TV show Lost (where a plane crashed on a remote island) to be about an El Al flight.

Just because I really wanted to have a character who spends the entire series going up and down the beach going: You daven mincha yet? You daven mincha? Blaker said some of the jokes he posts on Facebook are what garner the most hate mail and abusive calls, but hes learned to shrug it off over time. He also recognizes that some of the criticism stems from the fact that many of his audience members simply arent exposed to all that much stand-up comedy.

Theyre not going to see comedy on a regular basis, he says. Im doing something thats so unusual, and theyre just not used to it.

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A laughing matter – Creating a ‘Goyish Guide’ to Judaism. – The Jerusalem Post

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July 29, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Everything You Need to Know About Judaism’s Saddest Day of the … – Forward

Tisha bAv, the Ninth of Av, is the commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalems Temple.

And its also, basically, Catastrophe Day for the Jews. Its the day we consolidate all of our thousands of years of sorrow into one, 25-hour long inferno.

Heres what traditional Jews are mourning on this day, according to the Mishnah (the first redaction of the oral tradition, written around the first century CE):

1313 BCE: While the Israelites were sojourning in the desert, Moses spies return with bad reports about the Land of Israel (see Numbers 13-14).

423 BCE: First Temple, built by King Solomon, is destroyed by the legions of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

69 CE: Second Temple, built by Ezra and Nehemiah, is destroyed by the legions of Roman emperor Titus.

135 CE: The Bar Kochba revolt is crushed by Roman emperor Hadrian.

135 CE: Turnus Rufus plows the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Other events that notably took place on this day:

1290: Jews are expelled from England by King Edward I.

1492: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sign the edict of the Spanish expulsion.

1914: Germany declares war on Russia, sparking World War I.

The religious laws associated with the day:

Fasting (no food or drink) from sundown to the next days emergence of three stars.

Refraining from bathing, lotions/oils, or cosmetics

Refraining from sexual intercourse

Refraining from wearing leather shoes

The rules are pretty much the same as those for one in mourning/shiva.

25 hours is long but dont worry, weve got a list of best movies to watch to help the day move along.

Fasting Tips

TIPS FOR BEFORE THE FAST

Drink plenty of water, starting 48 hours before the fast. Increase your regular fluid intake by 30%.

Wean yourself off of caffeine starting 72 hours before the fast.

Decrease foods or drinks with refined sugar a few days prior.

Avoid salty foods.

Eat complex carbs: Whole grains, vegetables, baked (preferably sweet) potatoes.

Dont overeat in your pre-fast meal.

Eat fruit, especially hydrating fruit like melon and watermelon, which help retain liquids.

CUSTOMS FOR THE PRE-FAST MEAL

The meal is eaten while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, as if one is sitting Shiva.

Traditional pre-fast foods include boiled egg or lentils, foods associated with mourning, their round shape a symbol of the cycle of life.

It is customary to dip bread or egg into ashes.

Traditionally, fish, meat and wine are avoided, as theyre considered celebratory foods.

AFTER THE FAST

Break your fast on 4 cups of water, before eating anything.

Eat a light meal. Salad and soup, along with bread or rice, is great for this. Dessert should be fruits only.

Traditionally, meat and wine are not consumed until the following day.

After eating lightly, step away from the table and go for a short walk.

If you are really still hungry after that, have a small snack and more water.

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Everything You Need to Know About Judaism’s Saddest Day of the … – Forward

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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Some young Nicaraguans who converted to Judaism in July with the help of the Kulanu organization, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) (JTA) Over the course of just a few days, the tiny Jewish community in Nicaragua more than doubled when 114 people converted to Judaism. Last month, community members answered questions before a beit din, or religious court, of three Orthodox-trained rabbis from Israel and the United States and immersed in a newly built mikvah in Managua, the Central American countrys capital. Male converts underwent circumcisions or symbolic circumcisions if already circumcised. On July 23, following the conversions conducted at the Managua home of a community leader, 22 couples wed according to Jewish tradition in a Managua social hall rented for the occasion. Kulanu, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports communities around the world seeking to learn about Judaism, had facilitated the conversions. There was a great amount of trepidation in their faces and anxiousness because it was so important to them, and when they emerged from the mikvah the glow on their faces was amazing, said beit din member Rabbi Mark Kunis, who was ordained at Yeshiva UniversitysRabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminaryand works at the Shaarei Shamayim synagogue in Atlanta. Its inspiring; the excitement that it engendered was phenomenal. From left to right, Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez speaking with beit din members Rabbi Mark Kunis, Rabbi Andy Eichenholz and Rabbi Marc Phillipe in Managua, Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. On the far right is Even Centeno, a convert who traces his ancestry to Sephardi Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity. (Bonita Sussman) At least half the candidates claimed Jewish ancestry, and most had been studying Judaism for at least five years with some pursuing Judaism almost their entire lives, Kunis told JTA. All the candidates except one family were accepted for conversion, and one of the beit din rabbis served as a Spanish translator, since most of the candidates could not communicate in English, he said. I feel at home, Even Centeno, 21, told JTA of having officially become Jewish. This was for me like a dream. Centeno is among the converts who trace their ancestry to Sephardi Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. Centeno, who converted along with his parents and sister, said he was aware of his familys Jewish ancestry since he was a young child and started learning about Judaism at the age of 11. The conversions bring a significant influx of Jews to Nicaragua. Jews have been living there since the 18th century, but the community numbered only about 50 in 2012 and was comprised mostly of American retirees, according to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation. That year, Kulanu helped facilitate the conversions of 14 people, most of whom claimed ancestry to Jewish men who had married non-Jewish Nicaraguan women. Another 14 converted in 2015, but the recent group is the largest to date. Nicaraguan men who converted to Judaism waiting for their brides prior to a traditional Jewish wedding for 22 couples, July 23, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) Though the Nicaraguans converted together, they follow two different leaders, said Bonita Sussman, vice president of Kulanu. The majority, including Centeno, are inspired by Hasidism and follow a local leader named Akiva Simja Fernandez, who converted to Judaism in 2012 with the help of Kulanu. Fernandez follows some Jewish customs that he learned from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which does not have a presence in Managua but caters to Israeli tourists in the beach town of San Juan del Sur. Fernandez and many of his followers some of whom claim Jewish ancestry wear black velvet kippahs and wide-brimmed black hats, and sing and dance to Hasidic music during celebrations. A second group with 38 members of one extended family heeds Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez, who traces his ancestry to Jews from Curacao who were forced to convert to Christianity. The group adheres to Sephardi customs and has access to a mikvah, or ritual pool, adjacent to Henriquezs home. The men wear big crocheted kippahs. Prior to deciding to become Jewish, Sussman said, the converts identified with Christianity or messianism, a movement that infuses Christian belief with some elements of Jewish ritual practice. This isnt the first mass conversion facilitated by Kulanu. Last year, the group brought rabbis to Madagascar to convert 121 people, building a Jewish community where none had existed. Sussman noted how the members of the Nicaraguan community relate to their Judaism. These two are unique in that one is a Sephardic and descendants of anousim and the other tends towards Hasidic kabbalistic practice, she said. Anousim is a Hebrew term for Jewswho were forced to abandon Judaism against their will. Though the Madagascar community also follows Hasidic traditions, the Nicaragua group that follows Simja is distinctive in the fact that it follows customs learned from Chabad, Sussman added.(Chabad has no official ties to the converts or Kulanu.) A young Nicaraguan girl is among a growing Jewish community in Managua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) Sussman sees the conversions as part of a larger phenomenon. This is a new trend in Jewish history, she said. In the last 100 years we have seen the Holocaust, the destruction of all Jewish communities in Arab lands and the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland. We are now entering an era of rebuilding the Jewish people. In general, while there may be some hot spots of interest in Judaism in the Western countries, for the most part serious interest in religion is a thing of the past. Today, however, the interest lies in Africa, South America and India. As Jews we must be part of this exciting new development. Kulanu is planning to send equipment to the Nicaraguans to perform kosher ritual slaughter. The big need is for kosher meat. Were planning to get them shechitah knives, Sussman said. They havent eaten meat, some of them for years. They eat vegetarian and fish. The dietary restrictions didnt seem to be a problem for Centeno, who was getting ready to cook for Shabbat, when he would be hosting 70 community members. [A]ll the community will be in my house, well do a Shabbaton, he said. Today Im preparing all the food. This woman and her young daughter were among the 114 converts to Judaism in Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

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114 people just converted to Judaism in Nicaragua | Jewish … – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Some young Nicaraguans who converted to Judaism in July with the help of the Kulanu organization, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) (JTA) Over the course of just a few days, the tiny Jewish community in Nicaragua more than doubled when 114 people converted to Judaism. Last month, community members answered questions before a beit din, or religious court, of three Orthodox-trained rabbis from Israel and the United States and immersed in a newly built mikvah in Managua, the Central American countrys capital. Male converts underwent circumcisions or symbolic circumcisions if already circumcised. On July 23, following the conversions conducted at the Managua home of a community leader, 22 couples wed according to Jewish tradition in a Managua social hall rented for the occasion. Kulanu, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports communities around the world seeking to learn about Judaism, had facilitated the conversions. There was a great amount of trepidation in their faces and anxiousness because it was so important to them, and when they emerged from the mikvah the glow on their faces was amazing, said beit din member Rabbi Mark Kunis, who was ordained at Yeshiva UniversitysRabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminaryand works at the Shaarei Shamayim synagogue in Atlanta. Its inspiring; the excitement that it engendered was phenomenal. From left to right, Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez speaking with beit din members Rabbi Mark Kunis, Rabbi Andy Eichenholz and Rabbi Marc Phillipe in Managua, Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. On the far right is Even Centeno, a convert who traces his ancestry to Sephardi Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity. (Bonita Sussman) At least half the candidates claimed Jewish ancestry, and most had been studying Judaism for at least five years with some pursuing Judaism almost their entire lives, Kunis told JTA. All the candidates except one family were accepted for conversion, and one of the beit din rabbis served as a Spanish translator, since most of the candidates could not communicate in English, he said. I feel at home, Even Centeno, 21, told JTA of having officially become Jewish. This was for me like a dream. Centeno is among the converts who trace their ancestry to Sephardi Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. Centeno, who converted along with his parents and sister, said he was aware of his familys Jewish ancestry since he was a young child and started learning about Judaism at the age of 11. The conversions bring a significant influx of Jews to Nicaragua. Jews have been living there since the 18th century, but the community numbered only about 50 in 2012 and was comprised mostly of American retirees, according to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation. That year, Kulanu helped facilitate the conversions of 14 people, most of whom claimed ancestry to Jewish men who had married non-Jewish Nicaraguan women. Another 14 converted in 2015, but the recent group is the largest to date. Nicaraguan men who converted to Judaism waiting for their brides prior to a traditional Jewish wedding for 22 couples, July 23, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) Though the Nicaraguans converted together, they follow two different leaders, said Bonita Sussman, vice president of Kulanu. The majority, including Centeno, are inspired by Hasidism and follow a local leader named Akiva Simja Fernandez, who converted to Judaism in 2012 with the help of Kulanu. Fernandez follows some Jewish customs that he learned from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which does not have a presence in Managua but caters to Israeli tourists in the beach town of San Juan del Sur. Fernandez and many of his followers some of whom claim Jewish ancestry wear black velvet kippahs and wide-brimmed black hats, and sing and dance to Hasidic music during celebrations. A second group with 38 members of one extended family heeds Moshe Omar Cohen-Henriquez, who traces his ancestry to Jews from Curacao who were forced to convert to Christianity. The group adheres to Sephardi customs and has access to a mikvah, or ritual pool, adjacent to Henriquezs home. The men wear big crocheted kippahs. Prior to deciding to become Jewish, Sussman said, the converts identified with Christianity or messianism, a movement that infuses Christian belief with some elements of Jewish ritual practice. This isnt the first mass conversion facilitated by Kulanu. Last year, the group brought rabbis to Madagascar to convert 121 people, building a Jewish community where none had existed. Sussman noted how the members of the Nicaraguan community relate to their Judaism. These two are unique in that one is a Sephardic and descendants of anousim and the other tends towards Hasidic kabbalistic practice, she said. Anousim is a Hebrew term for Jewswho were forced to abandon Judaism against their will. Though the Madagascar community also follows Hasidic traditions, the Nicaragua group that follows Simja is distinctive in the fact that it follows customs learned from Chabad, Sussman added.(Chabad has no official ties to the converts or Kulanu.) A young Nicaraguan girl is among a growing Jewish community in Managua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman) Sussman sees the conversions as part of a larger phenomenon. This is a new trend in Jewish history, she said. In the last 100 years we have seen the Holocaust, the destruction of all Jewish communities in Arab lands and the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland. We are now entering an era of rebuilding the Jewish people. In general, while there may be some hot spots of interest in Judaism in the Western countries, for the most part serious interest in religion is a thing of the past. Today, however, the interest lies in Africa, South America and India. As Jews we must be part of this exciting new development. Kulanu is planning to send equipment to the Nicaraguans to perform kosher ritual slaughter. The big need is for kosher meat. Were planning to get them shechitah knives, Sussman said. They havent eaten meat, some of them for years. They eat vegetarian and fish. The dietary restrictions didnt seem to be a problem for Centeno, who was getting ready to cook for Shabbat, when he would be hosting 70 community members. [A]ll the community will be in my house, well do a Shabbaton, he said. Today Im preparing all the food. This woman and her young daughter were among the 114 converts to Judaism in Nicaragua, July 20, 2017. (Bonita Sussman)

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Often Times, There Is No ‘Right Way’ in Judaism – Algemeiner

Email a copy of “Often Times, There Is No Right Way in Judaism” to a friend The Ten Commandments. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. What was the first commandment? On this question, there are two fascinating disagreements in Judaism. One was between Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and the author of the Halakhot Gedolot, written in the period of the Gaonim, who was probably R. Shimon Kayyara (eighth century). The other was between Maimonides and the poet and thinker Judah Halevi (c. 1080-c.1145). The first controversy is simply this: Maimonides counts the opening line of the Ten Commandments, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, as a positive command. According to him, this means thatwe must believe in God. The Halakhot Gedolot does not count it as a command at all. Why not? Nahmanides (1194-1270), in defense of the Halakhot Gedolot, speculates that its author counted among the 613 commands only the specific laws enjoining us to do or avoid something. The commands arerules of behavior, not items of faith. Faith in the existence of God, or acceptance of the kingship of God, is not itself a command but a prelude to and presupposition of the commands. Nahmanidesquotes a passage from the Mekhilta: You shall have no other gods besides me. Why is this said? Because it says, I am the Lord your God. To explain this by way of a parable: A king of flesh and blood entered a province. His servants said to him, Issue decrees for the people. He, however, told them, No. When they accept my sovereignty, I will issue decrees. For if they do not accept my sovereignty, how will they carry out my decrees? August 1, 2017 12:08 pm According to Nahmanides, the Halakhot Gedolot must have believed that the verse, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery is not itself a command, but a statement of why the Israelites should be bound by the will of God. He had rescued them, liberated them and brought them to safety. The first verse of the Decalogue is not a law but a statement of fact, a reason why the Israelites should accept Gods sovereignty. Thanks to the archaeological discoveries about which I wrote in a previous column, we now know that the Biblical covenant has the same literary structure as ancient near eastern political treaties. These treaties usually follow a six-part pattern, of which the first three elements were [1] the preamble, identifying the initiator of the treaty, [2] a historical review, summarizing the past relationship between the parties, and [3] the stipulations, namely the terms and conditions of the covenant. Seen in this context, the first verse of the Ten Commandments is a highly abridged form of [1] and [2]. I am the Lord your God is the preamble. Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery is the historical review. The verses that follow are the stipulations, or as we would call them, the commands. If so, then the Halakhot Gedolot, as understood by Nahmanides, was correct in seeing the verse as an introduction to the commands, not a command in its own right. That is the first disagreement. The second dispute was between Maimonides and Judah Halevi. For Maimonides, the first command is to believe in God, creator of heaven and earth. Judah Halevi disagreed. Halevi was not only the greatest of medieval Hebrew poets, but he also wrote one of Judaisms theological masterpieces,The Kuzari. It is framed as a dialogue between a rabbi and the King of the Khazars. Historically, the Khazars were a Turkish people who, between the seventh and eleventh centuries, ruled a considerable area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, including southern Russia, the northern Caucasus, eastern Ukraine, Western Kazakhstan and northwestern Uzbekistan. Many Jewish traders and refugees lived there, and in 838, the Khazar King Bulan converted to Judaism, after supposedly holding a debate between representatives of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. The Arabic writer Dimashqi writes that the Khazars, having encountered the Jewish faith, found it better than their own and accepted it. Khazaria thus became, spiritually as well as geographically, an independent third force between the Muslim Caliphate and the Christian Byzantine Empire. After their conversion, the Khazar people used Jewish personal names, spoke and wrote in Hebrew, were circumcised, had synagogues and rabbis, studied the Torah and Talmud and observed the Jewish festivals. In The Kuzari,Halevi draws a portrait diametrically opposed to Maimonides account. Judaism, for Halevi, is not philosophical but counter-philosophical. Its not about abstract concepts but about concrete experiences: the taste of slavery, the feeling of liberation, the realization on the part of the people that God had heard their cry and set them free. The God of Abraham is not the God of Aristotle. The prophets were not philosophers. Philosophers found God in physics and metaphysics, but the prophets found God in history. This is how Halevis rabbi explains his faith to the king of the Khazars: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having brought them through the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way. . . (Kuzari I:11) He goes on to emphasize that Gods opening words in the revelation at Mount Sinai were not, I am the Lord your God, creator of heaven and earth, but, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Kuzari I:25). The covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai was not rooted in the ancient past of creation but in the recent past of the exodus. What is at stake in this difference of opinion? At the heart of Judaism is a two-fold understanding of the nature of God and His relationship to the universe. On the one hand,God is creator of the universe and the maker of the human person in His image. This aspect of God is universal. It is accessible to anyone, Jew or gentile. Aristotle arrived at it through logic and metaphysics. For him, God was the prime mover who set the universe into motion. Today, many people reach the same conclusion through science: the universe is too finely tuned for the emergence of life to have come into being through chance. Othersarrive at it not through logic or science, but through a simple sense of awe and wonder (Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical, said Wittgenstein). This aspect of God is calledElokimby the Torah. But there is a quite different aspect of God thatpredominates throughout most of Tanakh. This is God as He is involved in the fate of one family, and one nation: the children of Israel. He intervened in their history. He made a highly specific covenant with them at Sinai not at all like the general one that He made with Noah and all humanity after the flood. The Noahide covenant is simple and basic; it involved a mere seven commands. The Sinai covenant, by contrast, is highly articulated, covering almost every aspect of life. This aspect of God is signaled by the use of the four-letter name for which we traditionally substitute the wordHashem. Maimonides, the philosopher, emphasized the universal, metaphysical aspect of Judaism and the eternal, unchanging existence of God. Judah Halevi, the poet, was more attuned to the particularistic and prophetic dimension of Judaism: the role of God in the historical drama of the Jewish people. Maimonides was the greatest halakhist and philosopher of the Middle Ages, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here, at least, the Halakhot Gedolot and Judah Halevi were closer to the plain sense of the text. Even the greatest thinker is not right all the time, which is why Judaism remains a conversation scored for many voices, each with its own insight into the infinite inflections of the Divine word.

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Netflix Picks Up Portrait of Hasidic Judaism From the Directors of … – Flavorwire

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Gradys Jesus Camp is a documentary that speaks to the tremendous reach of Netflix a very small movie thats been seen as widely as it has because its a mainstay in the services streaming library, and it always turns up on the service journalism listicles of the best docs on Netflix, and so on. So considering the ongoing popularity of that film, it shouldnt come as a surprise that the filmmakers have teamed with Netflix on their next film, which is (coincidentally enough) also a peek behind the closed doors of an insular religious group. Variety reports that One of Us tracks three Hasidic Jews who make the difficult decision to leave their community while also, according to the filmmakers, grappling with a universal human dilemma: that the cost of freedom can also mean losing the only community theyve ever known. Ewing and Grady spent three years with their subjects. Their most recent film was last years wonderful Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You; they also directed the harrowing and thoughtful Detropia. Netflix is reportedly planning a fall debut (and awards-season push) for One of Us, following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival; in the meantime, hey, look at that, theyre still streaming Jesus Camp.

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Jewish resistance to occupation is also fighting for the future of Judaism itself – Mondoweiss

The Sumud summer freedom camp where more than 130 Jewish diaspora participants with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence traveled to the West Bank for actions in solidarity with Palestinians. (Photo: Daniel Roth) In May of 2017, I traveled to the West Bank as a member of a delegation organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). We were 130 Diaspora Jews, mostly Americans, working in partnership with Palestinian and Israeli resistance organizations to peacefully oppose the occupation of the East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gazaan ambitious mission to be sure, yet the group strived for even more:a challenge and wake-up call for the Jewish religion and tradition itself. In the words of its organizers, the groups work is at the center of Jewish Transformation and Palestinian Solidarity. It rejects many conventional notions in the West about the relationship between Jews and Israel, such as the idea that Israel represents the Jewish people as a whole, and that any criticism of the Israeli policy constitutes anti-Semitism. Instead, in its motto, CJNV boldly proclaims Occupation is Not My Judaism. In other words, we can be proudly and fully Jewish while forcefully rejecting the actions of the so-called Jewish state. Slide from CJNV delegation orientation. (Photo: Charlie Zimmerman) The leaders of the delegation, a group of very principled and courageous people, asked us to focus on Palestinians and resistance to the occupation in our reports on the delegation, rather than writing about ourselves. That aspect of the work was indeed historic and covered extensively elsewhere, includingHaaretz, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. So I am going to respectfully defy the leaders admonishment because the groups work also has notable implications on the relationship between resistance to the occupation and the Jewish religion and tradition. In Palestine, we heard extensively about the occupation from its victims. One resistance organizer noted that Palestinians are stereotyped as terrorists like chocolate is stereotyped as sweet. I believe Judaism is associated with Israel in a similar way. Any decoupling of Israel from Judaism, such as our mission, disturbs or least jars many observersthey might express surprise or even call Jews who challenge Israel kapos, traitors, or self-hating Jews. Indeed, when I told friends and relatives that I was going to the West Bank to resist the occupation, some did point-blank call me traitor and an enemy. Others who were less vitriolic generally had a difficult time understanding how a Jewish person could possibly go against Israelthey tended to think I was a bit weird (which is true, but thats another story), or that I wasnt really Jewish. A commentator on an article I previously published about the delegations work brings this point home well, if a bit, hyperbolically: Mr. Zimmerman represents the crypto-enemy of Zionism and the so-called Jewish State of Israel; and every unacceptable, immoral and unjustifiable policy they stand for: he penned his observations having been there with the Jewish group CJNV and however secular by his own averral he may be hes Jewish. He is thus the detested and reviled JINO, the Capo, the self-hating Jew whose criticism of the Zionist project and of the Hasbara-ims beloved, flawless, sacrosanct Israel is the crime for which no punishment can be sufficient; criticism, express or implicit, by a Jew of Zionism and the State of Israel being worse than child-abuse, cannibalism and robbery-with-violence combined. [sic] In hindsight, I realize that, prior to my participation in the CJNV delegation, even I unconsciously thought of the Israeli state and Judaism as equivalent to some degree. I knew that CJNVs slogan was Occupation Is Not My Judaism, but, unconsciously assuming that opposing Israel could not be authentically Jewish, I thought that we would focus only on the Occupation part of the mission. I assumed that Judaism would only enter the picture peripherally if at all, or maybe even cynically as a strategic way to advance our agenda. My experience in the delegation proved these assumptions dead wrong. Though some secular Jews and atheists were present, the majority of participants, including at least ten rabbis, were very committed to Judaism. Their religion and tradition compels them to pursue justice for non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel and therefore actively resist the occupation. And they could support this position with plenty of Torah passages, commentary, and interpretation. Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20), for instance, is a central tenet of Judaism. Pursuenot value, love, or think its just dandy: we must always seek and struggle for justice. The CJNV activists lived this principle. Many are active members of Jewish groups opposing the occupation such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. In that capacity, they devote much time and effort towards their goal of reversing unconditional support for Israeli policy, often putting their bodies on the line and risking arrest. And they did the same in Palestine when working to build and sustain the Sumud Freedom Camp in the South Hebron Hills village of Sarura. The IDF forcibly evicted Palestinians living in Sarura from their cave-homes about 20 years ago, and our mission was to rebuild these homes and move one of its former inhabitants and his family back in. Though CJNV officially asked us to participate in this action for only one full day, many activists camped out in Sarura for five days straight, engaging in physically intensive construction work while eschewing cell phone service, electricity, and indoor plumbing. Some even stayed in the camp up to a week or more after the delegation was officially over. Justice, justice they did pursueand then some. Additionally, the more religious participants had a take on concepts such as Aliyah and Israel that differed from convention and what I learned growing upin their view, both refer to spiritual abstractions rather than concrete entities or actions. Aliyah refers to an unattainable goal of ascending (the term literally means ascent, not, as widely believed, return) to the ways of God in ones thoughts and action. As God is infinite, this is an unattainable goal, but those who yearn for it continually strive to act morally and improve themselves. And Israel is seen both as a verb that means to struggle or wrestle with God and a noun referencing Gods covenant with the Jewish people. The struggle means one seeks Gods wisdom and guidance, but it also implies a dialectic partnership with God that affects both parties. The covenant represents a commitment of God to the Jews and vice versa. Jews honor this commitment by living ethically and seeking justice according to Gods will, which they continuously seek to discern. Thus, in naming the Zionist state Israel, its founders debased the spiritual realm by implying that one could attain transcendent goals that we should strive for but are always beyond reach in the physical realm. According to one rabbi who participated the delegation, the Israeli states primary founder David Ben-Gurions advisors warned him that the name Israel would lead Jews to falsely conflate the spiritual concept with the new state. Ben-Gurions response: Thats fine with me. All this armchair theology relates directly to CJNVs idea that occupation resistance intersects with Jewish transformation. To the degree that we identify Judaism with the Israeli state, it would be impossible to oppose the latter without transforming the former. And despite what some of its Orthodox adherents might believe, Judaism is a living religion and tradition: Jacobs wrestling with God (he cannot take the name Israel without engaging in this struggle), Talmudic debates, and evolving and differing viewpoints about the role of Zionism all exemplify a religion and tradition that at its essence embraces dialectic interaction and change. So in supporting, opposing or remaining neutral on Jewish resistance to occupation, we are also staking out positions on the future of Judaism itself. Do we want our Jewish identities defined by allegiance to a nation-state, or do we recognize this as perhaps the clearest, most dangerous, and historically common example of idol worship there is? Do we say we have experienced persecution throughout history, so now its our turn to victimize others or we have experienced persecution throughout history, so we should ensure at all costs that we never perpetuate it ourselves? Maybe this struggle for the soul of Judaism is one reason why I have observed an increase in visibility of and support for Jewish anti-occupation organizations in the Diaspora. More and more of us, in addition to pursuing justice, are fighting for Jewish identities we can embrace proudly and to keep our tradition alive, compassionate, and meaningful. Diaspora Jews, for the sake of Palestinians, ourselves, and our tradition, must continue to raise our voices and insist that injustice being perpetrated in our name and on our dime must end.

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July 31, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

A corrupted Judaism, worshipping victimhood J. – Jweekly.com

Regarding Laura Saunders opinion piece (Jewish values dictate I work to end Israeli occupation), in which she describes how her Jewish values compel her to defend the Palestinian Arabs against the Israelis, if shes so dedicated to Jewish values, why does her article make no mention of God, the Torah or the Covenant, which contains the promise of the land of Israel? Does her version of Judaism not contain these concepts? Saying the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria amounts to an illegal occupation is equivalent to renouncing Judaism itself. Saunders talks about her Jewish upbringing, but both she and her teachers going back multiple generations have followed a corrupted form of Judaism that rejects its most central elements while attaching supreme importance to artificial social theories that have never been proven to work anywhere. One of the peculiar features of this corrupted Judaism is its worship of victimhood. Everything is seen through the eyes of the victim. Claiming youre oppressed grants you instant moral authority, while being accused of oppression makes you unworthy of positive consideration. If Israelis impose harsh measures on Arabs, the only possible explanation is the sadistic pleasure they get from it. Saunders doesnt consider the possibility that the Arabs might have done something to deserve such treatment, and she seems totally oblivious to the fact that Arab leaders continually cultivate an attitude of murderous hatred against Jews, which is passed down from generation to generation, and that they would slaughter the Jews without mercy if Israel ever let down its guard. People like Saunders imagine that theyre contributing to peace, but their Arab allies see them as useful idiots, working to weaken Israels ability to defend itself and preparing it for ultimate destruction. Martin Wasserman, Palo Alto

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

A corrupted Judaism, worshipping victimhood – Jweekly.com

Regarding Laura Saunders opinion piece (Jewish values dictate I work to end Israeli occupation), in which she describes how her Jewish values compel her to defend the Palestinian Arabs against the Israelis, if shes so dedicated to Jewish values, why does her article make no mention of God, the Torah or the Covenant, which contains the promise of the land of Israel? Does her version of Judaism not contain these concepts? Saying the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria amounts to an illegal occupation is equivalent to renouncing Judaism itself. Saunders talks about her Jewish upbringing, but both she and her teachers going back multiple generations have followed a corrupted form of Judaism that rejects its most central elements while attaching supreme importance to artificial social theories that have never been proven to work anywhere. One of the peculiar features of this corrupted Judaism is its worship of victimhood. Everything is seen through the eyes of the victim. Claiming youre oppressed grants you instant moral authority, while being accused of oppression makes you unworthy of positive consideration. If Israelis impose harsh measures on Arabs, the only possible explanation is the sadistic pleasure they get from it. Saunders doesnt consider the possibility that the Arabs might have done something to deserve such treatment, and she seems totally oblivious to the fact that Arab leaders continually cultivate an attitude of murderous hatred against Jews, which is passed down from generation to generation, and that they would slaughter the Jews without mercy if Israel ever let down its guard. People like Saunders imagine that theyre contributing to peace, but their Arab allies see them as useful idiots, working to weaken Israels ability to defend itself and preparing it for ultimate destruction. Martin Wasserman, Palo Alto

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

A laughing matter – Creating a ‘Goyish Guide’ to Judaism. – The Jerusalem Post

Haredi comedian Ashley Blaker. (photo credit:MERON PERSEY) He doesnt look much like a typical comedian. And he doesnt act much like a typical ultra-Orthodox Jew. But Ashley Blaker isnt concerned about labels. Hes too busy making people laugh. Blaker has recently finished his second UK-wide tour, Meshuga Frum, with 18 shows around the country. But now hes gearing up to reach a much wider audience, with a BBC radio show set to launch in 2018 called Ashley Blakers Goyish Guide to Judaism. Ive spent a lot of time performing for Jewish audiences, Blaker told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. The next challenge is to adapt that comedy for a wider audience, so that everyone can appreciate it. Of course, if youve seen Blaker perform, you know that his act has a distinctly parochial flavor. Clad in a black suit and white shirt, with tzitzit swinging, the comedian has audiences rolling on the floor with riffs on how to avoid shaking hands with women, and why every Jewish eatery and event now offers sushi. I am remarkably ill-informed about the business I work in, he jokes, noting that he doesnt even own a television. Somebody asked me if Id seen The Wire, and I thought he was talking about the eruv. But Blaker is hard at work adapting his material for new audiences and not just for the BBC. Hes also set his sights on an upcoming tour in the US, where his jokes will have to undergo a different kind of change. Im kind of working on two different adaptations, he says. One is adapting for a British audience, who are not Jewish, but the other is for a Jewish audience, who arent British. Hell get to test out some of the latter material on August 7 when he performs Strictly Unorthodox in Johannesburg. And to prepare for his radio show, hes been doing jobs in the West End of London. If you pay attention to news reports out of the UK, you might wonder if audiences would be receptive to such a Jewish-themed show, considering rising incidents of antisemitism. But Blaker has no such concerns. I think when you wear it so openly, and its such a part of your persona, I think people respect it in a different way, he said. I think its very different when you wear it as a kind of badge. Blaker, a father of six, didnt grow up ultra-Orthodox, but become more religious once he got married. He started working in comedy before he became observant, and has been producing TV and radio shows for the BBC for years. While he doesnt expect too much pushback from the outside world, he does often feel it from within the more insular Orthodox community. Not everybody is thrilled with how he pokes fun at some of the customs and stringencies in observant life. Youll always have a few people who dont have a sense of humor, he says. But when five people get in touch with me to complain about something, there are thousands of people who love something who dont get in touch. And there are no sacred cows for Blaker: while his act is as clean as can be, it leaves no aspect of religious life off the table. Nothing will mark you out as a baal teshuva [someone who became religious later in life] more than being a decent driver, he jokes. Blaker also makes fun of newspapers that ban images of women, or how haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men put plastic bags on their black hats in the rain. Sometimes Ill get comments that I didnt celebrate enough how amazing it is to be frum. It wasnt celebratory enough, he says. Thats not my job. Thats not what I do. Thats missing the point. But he doesnt alter his act to placate anyone, including a joke about remaking the TV show Lost (where a plane crashed on a remote island) to be about an El Al flight. Just because I really wanted to have a character who spends the entire series going up and down the beach going: You daven mincha yet? You daven mincha? Blaker said some of the jokes he posts on Facebook are what garner the most hate mail and abusive calls, but hes learned to shrug it off over time. He also recognizes that some of the criticism stems from the fact that many of his audience members simply arent exposed to all that much stand-up comedy. Theyre not going to see comedy on a regular basis, he says. Im doing something thats so unusual, and theyre just not used to it. Share on facebook

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July 29, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Everything You Need to Know About Judaism’s Saddest Day of the … – Forward

Tisha bAv, the Ninth of Av, is the commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalems Temple. And its also, basically, Catastrophe Day for the Jews. Its the day we consolidate all of our thousands of years of sorrow into one, 25-hour long inferno. Heres what traditional Jews are mourning on this day, according to the Mishnah (the first redaction of the oral tradition, written around the first century CE): 1313 BCE: While the Israelites were sojourning in the desert, Moses spies return with bad reports about the Land of Israel (see Numbers 13-14). 423 BCE: First Temple, built by King Solomon, is destroyed by the legions of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. 69 CE: Second Temple, built by Ezra and Nehemiah, is destroyed by the legions of Roman emperor Titus. 135 CE: The Bar Kochba revolt is crushed by Roman emperor Hadrian. 135 CE: Turnus Rufus plows the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Other events that notably took place on this day: 1290: Jews are expelled from England by King Edward I. 1492: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sign the edict of the Spanish expulsion. 1914: Germany declares war on Russia, sparking World War I. The religious laws associated with the day: Fasting (no food or drink) from sundown to the next days emergence of three stars. Refraining from bathing, lotions/oils, or cosmetics Refraining from sexual intercourse Refraining from wearing leather shoes The rules are pretty much the same as those for one in mourning/shiva. 25 hours is long but dont worry, weve got a list of best movies to watch to help the day move along. Fasting Tips TIPS FOR BEFORE THE FAST Drink plenty of water, starting 48 hours before the fast. Increase your regular fluid intake by 30%. Wean yourself off of caffeine starting 72 hours before the fast. Decrease foods or drinks with refined sugar a few days prior. Avoid salty foods. Eat complex carbs: Whole grains, vegetables, baked (preferably sweet) potatoes. Dont overeat in your pre-fast meal. Eat fruit, especially hydrating fruit like melon and watermelon, which help retain liquids. CUSTOMS FOR THE PRE-FAST MEAL The meal is eaten while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, as if one is sitting Shiva. Traditional pre-fast foods include boiled egg or lentils, foods associated with mourning, their round shape a symbol of the cycle of life. It is customary to dip bread or egg into ashes. Traditionally, fish, meat and wine are avoided, as theyre considered celebratory foods. AFTER THE FAST Break your fast on 4 cups of water, before eating anything. Eat a light meal. Salad and soup, along with bread or rice, is great for this. Dessert should be fruits only. Traditionally, meat and wine are not consumed until the following day. After eating lightly, step away from the table and go for a short walk. If you are really still hungry after that, have a small snack and more water.

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July 28, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed


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