Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Meet Rabbi ‘Willy’ Wolff, Germany’s ambassador of Liberal Judaism and now, movie star – The Times of Israel

BERLIN (JTA) For many Germans, Rabbi William Willy Wolff is the first Jewish religious leader they have ever met.

And hes the perfect man for the job. Diminutive, with a disarming chuckle and twinkling eyes, Wolff, who turned 90 in February, effortlessly breaks down that uniquely German condition of Berhrungsangst literally fear of contact with others.

Wolff, who fled Nazi Germany as a young boy and returned in 2002 to work in the former East Germany, is the first rabbi many Germans today have encountered. Its in part because of his interfaith outreach over the years as one-time head rabbi, serving three liberal Jewish communities in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

He is really a gifted ambassador for Judaism, said Hans-Jrgen Abromeit, a Protestant bishop who has worked often with Wolff on interfaith programs and calls him a fatherly friend.

More recently, however, Wolff has reached a new level of prominence thanks to German director Britta Wauer. Her documentary, Rabbi Wolff A Gentleman Before God, has been playing in theaters across the country. One of the top-grossing German documentaries in 2016, it will have its North American premiere in May.

Since the films release, the apparently tireless rabbi has been zigzagging around Germany with Wauer talking with dozens of audiences and signing copies of her accompanying book, Rabbi Wolff and the Essence of Life.

Hes not transmitting a narrow religion but humanity, said a starstruck woman after a screening and discussion in the former East Berlin. I like the calmness with which he approaches life.

Cover, Rabbi Wolff and the Essence of Life. (Courtesy)

Wolff may indeed appear calm, but hes also incredibly energetic and he comfortably embodies multiple identities: an Englishman, a German, a Jew; a Holocaust survivor with a spirit of joie de vivre.

The Berlin native in an interview with JTA described his family he had a twin brother, Joachim, and an older sister, Ruth as strictly Orthodox and culturally German. His father attended an independent Orthodox synagogue that attracted Jews who were unhappy with the increased liberalization of the official community.

The family fled Nazi Germany for Holland in September 1933 after Wolffs mother learned that the local tailors daughter, Magda, had married Hitlers propaganda minister.

My mother was afraid that because of the indirect connection with [Josef] Goebbels, we might be on an early list for deportation, Wolff said.

In 1939, they left Amsterdam for England, where Wolff and his brother attended the Hendon County Grammar School. When the schools deputy headmistress summoned students to discuss their career plans, Wolff said he wanted to be a rabbi or a journalist. He became both.

The headmistress, thinking Wolff was quite good at French, got him a one-year scholarship to the French Lycee in South Kensington. Wolff learned typing, shorthand and French there.

The skills would prove to be invaluable. With the war still raging, Wolffs typing and language abilities English, German, Dutch, French (he later added Russian) landed him a job with the Reuters news agency on the outskirts of London in a radio listening station that picked up Russian and German broadcasts. He worked there from 1944 to 1947.

There were no Allied correspondents [on the Axis side], so this was a way to get hints of official attitudes, Wolff, who later attended the London School of Economics, told JTA.

In 1954 he started working at the Slough Observer, and eventually joined the staff of the Daily Mirror, moving from domestic issues to foreign policy.

An overwhelming majority of Germans have accepted responsibility for the consequences of that past

Wolffs decades of work as a journalist included trips abroad with British prime minister Harold Wilson and foreign secretary Michael Stewart. Returning from one such trip in the late 1960s, they stopped in Bonn to meet with German foreign minister Willy Brandt.

It was the first time Wolff had set foot on German soil since his family had fled the country.

I was grateful, and even a little proud, to be living and working in Germany, a country where the events of the past had become unimaginable, he told Wauer. An overwhelming majority of Germans have accepted responsibility for the consequences of that past and that gave me a feeling of security.

Meanwhile, toiling as a journalist, Wolff drifted from the Orthodoxy of his youth.

Balloons from the art project Lichtgrenze 2014 (lit. lightborder 2014) reflected in a puddle next to remains of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, November 7, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Steffi Loos)

I have enormous respect and deepest admiration for all biblical scholarship, he said, but the more I got involved with text, the more clear it became to me that every word could not have come from God because God contradicts himself from one book to the next.

Plus, his parents split up. Wolffs mother lived with a man without marrying him until after his father died.

That, too, was unacceptable to some of my Orthodox friends, he said.

In 1979, Rabbi Sidney Brichto, a leading figure in British liberal Jewish circles, asked Wolff to edit the movements newsletter. He realized then that he wanted to return to his early dream of becoming a rabbi.

It became clear to me that every word could not have come from God because God contradicts himself

I found out about Liberal Judaism known globally as Reform or Progressive which had not been respected by my father or by the Orthodox circles and when I found out about that I suddenly thought, well, maybe I could make a contribution there, he told JTA.

Brichto ultimately recommended Wolff to the Progressive Leo Baeck College in London.

Wolff was ordained in 1984. He served at several London synagogues when he learned something unexpected: Germany needed rabbis.

For the first time since World War II, the countrys Jewish population was really growing due to the influx of former Soviet Jews after the unification of East and West in 1990. The postwar population of some 35,000 had grown to more than 240,000; synagogues were being built. The Union of Progressive Jews in Germany counts around 4,500 members.

In the spring of 2002, Wolff was tapped by a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and appointed head rabbi for Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, serving liberal Jewish communities in Schwerin, Rostock and Wismar. Three years later he was elected deputy chair of the General Rabbinical Conference, a liberal body in Germany that works parallel to the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference there.

In this photo taken Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Israelis attend a gathering encouraging others to immigrate to Berlin in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Commuting to his three communities in Germany and his home in Henley on Thames, England, Wolff led services and also represented Judaism in public a role he hopes he has done with dignity.

Whether or not I have succeeded is for others to say, he said.

Whether or not I have succeeded is for others to say

East Germany can be tricky terrain to navigate; for Jews and non-Jews, the scars of recent history are fresh.

The two dictatorships first the Nazis and then the communists I think left quite deep and hidden wounds, Wolff said.

Wolffs contract as head rabbi in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ended two years ago, but he continues to work as a volunteer. He has also found another, unexpected role: movie star.

This file photo taken on January 13, 2016 shows the main grounds of the Communist Free German Youth (FDJ-Freie Deutsche Jugend) school complex, built in the 1950s, near the Bogensee lake, north of Berlin, taken on January 13, 2016. (John Macdougal/AFP)

He met Wauer, who is not Jewish, when she was working on her first film, In Heaven, Underground, about the historic Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in the former East Berlin.

Wauer wanted a rabbi to say a few things about halacha [Jewish law], such as why we dont have two coffins in the same grave, and no other rabbi in Berlin would play ball with her, Wolff said.

The documentary was released to acclaim in 2011. Wolff, with an on-screen presence one reviewer described as pure gold, became a favorite among audiences, some of whom started asking Wauer to make a film about the rabbi himself.

The two dictatorships first the Nazis and then the communists I think left quite deep and hidden wounds

The popular result profiles Woolf as he shuttles between England and Germany, conducts services, attends the Ascot races in a dapper top hat, and digs through the piles and piles of books and periodicals that crowd his Henley bungalow.

Not one to dwell darkly on the past, Wolff acknowledges one regret: If there is anything I regret then it is the fact that I never married and never created a family, he told Wauer. I can hardly believe that I am as old as I am but have no children or grandchildren.

As for his newfound fame from Rabbi Wolff A Gentleman Before God, Wolff told JTA, I take these things in my stride, and I lose no sleep over it.

After a 2016 screening in Berlins Kino Toni, the audience, virtually all non-Jews, flocked around a small table holding their copies of the accompanying book for the rabbi to sign.

I dont see any bitterness in him, a woman commented later. He is a very important ambassador for people in Germany who know nothing about Judaism and have many clichs in their heads.

Rabbi Willy Wolff is the star of one of the highest-grossing documentaries in Germany of 2016. (Toby Axelrod/JTA)

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Meet Rabbi ‘Willy’ Wolff, Germany’s ambassador of Liberal Judaism and now, movie star – The Times of Israel

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March 29, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included – Bloomberg

In 2015, while traveling in Israel with 80 young tech professionals, Meghan Holzhauer fell in love with Shabbat dinner, the ancient Friday night tradition in which Jews bless candles, challah, and wine, then share a meal with loved ones. She was so inspired, in fact, that she started spreading the love. In March her travel startup, Canvus, took 40 young professionals to Mexico City, where they celebrated a multicultural Shabbat dinner. Shes now organizing a hip-hop Shabbat for 400 people attending a social justice conference in Atlanta in June. A lot of Jewish rituals are about honoring friends and family, she says. You feel part of something bigger.

Photographer: Tim OConnell for Bloomberg Businessweek

Holzhauer isnt Jewish. She was raised Christian-light by nonpracticing parents, she says, and has no interest in converting. As she explains it, a non-Jew finding inspiration in the Sabbathor traveling to Israel for that matterisnt so different from the millions of non-Buddhists who practice yoga or go on meditation retreats to India. Its the latest way that ancient traditions are meeting modern life, she says.

If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, its now. Interfaith marriage rates among American Jews have jumped from a little more than 40 percent in the 1980s to 58 percent in the period from 2000 to 2013. Thats a lot more newlyweds (plus their families and friends) with exposure to Jewish ceremonies and rituals. Call them Jew-adjacent, Jew-curious, or just Jew-ish.

Jewish culture is in the mainstream, its popular, and thats something any brand would want to jump on, says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions. Arq is a portal for interfaith couples, their friends, and their families to find relevant, inclusive, aesthetically elevated information and products. It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. Theres also an event series, including a weekend retreat in the Catskills in upstate New York that Shults says is inspired by Jewish summer camp but more Kinfolk-y, referring to the elegantly twee lifestyle magazine.

Shults grew up in an observant home, attended a Jewish day school, and became fluent in Hebrew. Then she got engaged to a Presbyterian. We never really found a [religious] community that matched what we were looking for, especially for me, says Shultss now-husband, Andrew. Many of the synagogues that purported to be inclusive turned out to have an agenda, such as trying to get Andrew to convert or cultivating the couples political support for Israel.

Shults covers her eyes and performs the traditional Shabbat blessing over the candles.

Photographer: Tim OConnell for Bloomberg Businessweek

The troubles didnt end there. Shults tells the story of one non-Jewish friend who went shopping for the couple by Googling chic Jewish wedding gift and found the results to be either totally out of style or far too didactic and preachy. Cool, inclusive presents did existShults knew that muchbut they werent easy to find. Thus, Arq was born. My ultimate test case was my husband, Shults says. Would he discover this? Read this? Go to this event?

Arq may be the most ambitious new company hoping to court the Jew-curious community, but its not the only one. There are secular dinner and dating platforms that draw on Jewish clichs such as the opinionated mother and the gut-busting holiday meal; resources to plan an interfaith wedding and help an interfaith family find a nonschlocky menorah; companies offering trips that take young secular professionals to Israel; and even a matzo company that aims to make unleavened bread the next pita chip. Most of these outfits are less than three years old. Not that long ago, it would have felt dirty to talk about branding Jewish culture, says Aliza Kline, executive director of OneTable, a social dining app that helps people of all religious backgrounds celebrate inclusive Shabbat meals.

Bubby brings old-fashioned matchmaking to the app age.

Source: Bubby

Of course, there has long been a mainstream taste for Jewish humor and food (see: Seinfeld, bagels, challah French toast), but the fervor is something new. I see rabbis doing really creative things, saying, Come in and try this out, says Rabbi Ari Moffic, who directs the Chicago branch of a swiftly growing national network called Interfaith Family. You can do Jewish, she says, even if youre not Jewish. You want to unplug? Its called Shabbat, and were the experts on it.

Moffic understands why this kind of cultural marketing would make many rabbis uncomfortable. As a rule, Jews dont proselytize to non-Jews. But Moffic and the others in the cultural-marketing camp have decided that enlarging the tent is the best way to keep young Jews inside it. The focus on a single community can so easily become exclusive, says Kline, who estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of OneTable guests arent Jewish. But through technology, were seeding hundreds of new communities.

That was the idea behind Arq as well. The name, inspired by Noahs Ark, is an allusion to diversity. With so many different animals in one boat, Shults explains, the best way forward is a compromise. For its model, the company draws on elements from well-established lifestyle portals such as Goop and Food52, up-and-coming jewelry resource Of a Kind, and parenting advice site Fatherly. To varying degrees, these sites fuse e-commerce with storytelling, but they also present themselves as community platforms. For the time being, Shults is relying on brand partnerships and events to support her business. I dont want to have to scale at an ungodly pace, she says of her decision not to seek funding.

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Shults started the company in late 2016, less than a year after quitting her job as director for marketing and community at the venture capital firm Spark Capital LLC, and it has already made several high-profile partnerships. Arq has linked up with the wedding registry company Zola Inc. to curate Jewish presents that dont look as if they come from the synagogue gift shop; with the home design site Apartment Therapy, on a series of Judaica-focused home tours; and with the feminist/LGBTQ-friendly wedding-planning site Catalyst Wedding Co., on an interview series with couples who are diverse in every imaginable way. Arq-branded events have included a couples salon series in partnership with Honeymoon Israel, a nonprofit that sends nontraditional (interfaith, same-sex) couples on trips to Israel, and a womens lunar retreat, based on the ancient Jewish practice of women celebrating one another around the new moon.

Honeymoon Israel helps interfaith couples celebrate their nuptials in the Jewish homeland.

Source: Honeymoon Israel

In addition, Arq hosts dinners with Bubby. Co-founder Stephanie Volftsun says the tech-enabled matchmaking service is inspired by the time-tested tradition of the Jewish matchmaking yenta and aimed at expanding the notion of what a Jewish couple should look like. Were all about being open to people who are different, which then means that non-Jews are drawn into our food, culture, and traditions, she says.

Not every Jew-ish company has such a social mission, however. The Matzo Project has taken as its task getting unleavened bread out of the ethnic food aisle. We want it to be more than something that very pious Jews eat at Passover, says co-founder Ashley Albert. The companys offerings include matzo flats and chips in salted, everything, and cinnamon-sugar flavors, as well as a matzo butter crunch bar. Its also about to release a vegan matzo ball soup kit. Like Bubby, Matzo Project has made the Jewish grandma central to its brandingthough in its case, shes more Long Island than old country. Each box features a cheeky cartoon granny in pearls and Iris Apfel glasses, with a word bubble that reads, Would it kill you to try something new? Albert, who also owns Brooklyns popular Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, and her Matzo Project co-founder, Kevin Rodriguez, a former product designer for Vera Wang, have received encouraging feedback on their branding from ethnic Italians and Koreans as well as Jews. Grandma is sassy, smart, and strong, Albert says. A lot of people know a version of her.

OneTable organizes Shabbat dinners in cities across the U.S.

Photographer: Elaine Moran

Products from the Matzo Project, which started a year ago, are available at New Yorks Eataly and Dylans Candy Bar, San Franciscos Bi-Rite minichain, and specialty stores in places as far-flung as Wyoming. Most of these retailers, Albert says, have never carried matzo before. She and Rodriguez have also talked their way into a handful of Whole Foods Markets, but finding a national distributor that gets the mission has been more challenging. Albert understands why people persist in treating matzo as a specialty food. But like the founders of Bubby, OneTable, and Arq, she thinks its only a matter of time before the foreign becomes familiar. When I was a kid, pita was a really unusual ethnic food, she says. It was part of somebody elses culture. Now its part of all our cultures.

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Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included – Bloomberg

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Judaism, Atonement, and God’s Nonviolence The RavenCast – Patheos (blog)

What does Jewish spirituality have to teach us about navigating the current American political crisis?

In the latest episode of the RavenCast, I sat down with Vanessa Avery, a Hebrew Bible Scholar and Diversity and Organizational Consultant. Vanessa holds degrees from the University of Exeter, Yale Divinity School, Kings College London and McGill University. She uses mimetic theory to interpret the Bible and to help businesses inspire generosity, empathy, creativity, hospitality, strength and courage.

Vanessa is the author of many articles, including Atonement and the Book of Jonah, Jewish Vaccines Against Mimetic Desire, Watchmen and Mimetic Theory, Whither Girard and Islam and Engaging Difference: Exercises and tips for creating Experiential Learning Environments. And theres a great article about Vanessa and her organizational consulting titled Why is scapegoating so common at Work? You can learn more about Vanessas consulting workshops and you can contact her through her website, Transcendence Education.

*How Vanessa has helped businesses diversify and end scapegoating practices.

*The connections between being a diversity consultant, mimetic theory, and the Hebrew Scriptures.

*The Bible is full of violence, but Vanessa claims that the Bible also holds the antidote to violence. How can that be?

*On the Jewish Day of Atonement, Jews are commanded to listen to the book of Jonah. Vanessa explains why the book of Jonah is crucially important to understanding atonement.

*The connection between justice and mercy in Judaism.

*How the book of Jonah can help us navigate the current American social crisis.

Stay in the loop! Like Teaching Nonviolent Atonement on Facebook!

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Judaism, Atonement, and God’s Nonviolence The RavenCast – Patheos (blog)

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Join the Boulder County Center for Judaism for a Special Passover Experience – Boulder Jewish News

BOULDER, CO: Passover, the season of our liberation, comes around every year not merely to remind us of the extraordinary liberation of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage, but also to inspire us to strive for a greater measure of self-liberation from all limitations and distractions which impede a Jew from the free exercise of Yiddishkeit in everyday life.

The rabbis at Chabad say this is the real meaning of the highly significant passage in the Haggadah which states that In every generation a Jew should see himself as though he personally has been liberated from Egypt. This is especially true during difficult times, and is always worthy of deliberation and discussion of the sort you will find at the Boulder County Center for Judaisms Passover Seder.

Every year they present an interactive Seder with explanations of our traditions, robust discussions, and a warm and welcoming atmosphere that envelops everyone in the specialness of this most celebrated of all Jewish holidays.

There is also a mouthwatering, multicourse feast including gefilte fish, chicken soupand more, which is preceded by the traditional foods of the Seder such as parsley dipped in salt water, matzo, Hillel sandwiches (charoset and horseradish on matzo), and the requisite four cups of wine.

Rabbi Pesach and Chany Scheiner invite you to consider their home yours for Passover and revel in the yom tov of Pesach the celebration of our freedom as a united community.

When: Monday, April 10 at 7:45 pm

Where: 4900 Sioux Drive, Boulder

Cost: Adults (age 12 and up) $25 (Only $20 if you reserve before April 1)

Children ages 2 to 11: $12

Anyone under 2 attends for free

Even if you can only come for part of the evening (small children are usually the reason for this) come, enjoy, participate, and leave whenever is appropriate for you.

RSVP: boulderjudaism@gmail.com

And if youre interested in performing the mitzvah of selling your chametz, contact boulderjudaism@gmail.com or www.boulderjudaism.com.

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Boulder County Center for Judaism Importing Shmura Matzo Again – Boulder Jewish News

BOULDER, CO: Once again, the Boulder County Center for Judaism is importing over 100 pounds of Shmura matzo for Passover. The round, hand-kneaded product is worlds apart from the machine-made, pre-packaged matzo most Jews know. Shmura means to watch or guard, and these matzos are guarded from the harvest of the wheat through the packaging of the completed matzo to insure no contact with the smallest speck of chametz or leavening.

When the Israelites left Egypt as directed by G-d, they had to leave quickly and could not wait for their dough to rise. The hot desert sun, however, baked the dough in their packs as they walked so when they stopped to eat, they found hard, flat crackers they called matzo. One of the reasons Jews eat matzo during Passover is in commemoration of the creation of this unleavened bread.

In addition to the fact that our ancestors were bereft of anything leavened (chametz) and we want our annual celebration of their liberation from bondage in Egypt to be as true to their experience as possible, over the years chametz has become symbolic of egotism, arrogance, and condescension to others, traits so harmful that they are considered the roots of all negative characteristics, adding another reason for eliminating even the most minute amount of chametz prior to the start of the holiday Monday, April 10th at sundown.

Shmura matzo is the closest thing to what our ancestors ate as they fled Egypt 3,000 years ago, said Rabbi Pesach Scheiner of the Boulder County Center for Judaism

If you want to add this traditional hand-made matzo to your familys Seder, please order soon as no matter how many pounds they order it always sells out quickly. Each box costs $23.60 and contains one pound (six or seven large circular matzos). It is available in regular or whole wheat. To place your order, email boulderjudaism@gmail.com or call 720.422.6776. Once the matzo arrives, purchasers will be notified so they can come to the Boulder County Center for Judaism to pick it up or arrange for it to be delivered.

And if youre interested in performing the mitzvah of selling your chametz, contact boulderjudaism@gmail.com.

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Progressively Speaking: After Trump controversy, what does Judaism say about paying tax? – Jewish News

Citing the recent example of Donald Trumps returns, how we pay our taxes and how much we pay is often at the top of political and news agendas.

Judaism expects everyone to contribute a fair share. Its a recurring theme in the Torah and Rabbinic literature, with the longstanding Talmudic principle of dina malchuta dina (the law of the land is the law).

But Progressive Judaism also offers two more reasons why paying tax is so important, even if you are president of the United States.

The first is historical. Our movement was founded in the first decade of the 19th century in Germany out of the intellectual milieu of the Enlightenment and the political environment of the French Revolution.

At that time, the Jews were moving from being a pariah people, restricted from the norms of life to being part of the new national state.

Progressive Judaism offered an opportunity to be both Jewish and a citizen of the modern state, and it follows that if Jews were to claim rights, they also had responsibilities.

These obligations, in my view, include voting and participating in public life and paying any tax levied by a democratically elected government.

The second reason is ethical. Progressive Judaism has sought to reclaim the Hebrew Prophetic idea that the performance of ritual obligations is acceptable to God only from Jews whose ethical behaviour accords with the core teachings of Judaism.

Progressive Judaism declares the ethical mitzvot of a higher order than the ritual ones.

Ethical mitzvot (support for the widow and the orphan, for example) are obligatory but some of that activity today is carried out by the state, utilising the taxes of citizens.

The evasion of taxes is therefore both a major breach of Jewish ethics and an attack on the modern, democratic state.

Danny Rich is senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism

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Progressively Speaking: After Trump controversy, what does Judaism say about paying tax? – Jewish News

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Violent Protestors Not Women Of The Wall Are Undermining Judaism – Forward

On the morning of March 28, the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the Women of the Wall will once again gather at the Western Wall for a women-led Rosh Chodesh (new month) service. Once there, the women will likely face an charedi Jewish mob intent on suppressing, or at the very least making as unpleasant as possible, their religious expression.

Previous protests have included sending thousands of charedi schoolgirls to crowd the womens section of the Wall, cacophonous disruption, and even physical violence. In instigating this mayhem, the charedi Jews have created a situation in which everyone, themselves included, are at loss. By violently disrupting the religious services of fellow Jews at the Western Wall, they reject an opportunity to pursue their own religious ambitions and, consequently, validate their lifestyle and creed.

A dedication to piety in the hopes of achieving G-ds favor and ultimately the coming of the Messiah is the hallmark of charedi Jews religious beliefs and observances. These values are instilled early in childhood and continue to direct every aspect of their lives, from dining to marriage, throughout adulthood. The charedim are fervent in their religious practice, careful to complete every positive deed opportune to them with precision, dedication and sometimes personal sacrifice. At the crux of this lifestyle is a yearning for true closeness to G-d, a spiritual connection obtained most easily through the presence of a Temple.

Lacking a Temple in the present day, the manner in which the charedim behave at the Western Wall itself on days that are not Rosh Chodesh further illustrates their religious philosophy. They frequent the site with children in tow, sweating through layers of clothing in the blistering heat, and sit before the Wall with prayerbooks in hand, quietly reciting psalms and prayers with a clear urgency. One might see them pressing their prayerbooks to their faces with their eyes closed, some in tears, in order to summon enough concentration; the spiritual experience of praying for redemption, among other things, at the very site at which it will appear can be an overwhelming one. Yet their lifestyle modeled to yield a closeness to G-d and the coming of the Messiah one that regularly and heavily includes these mannerisms is undermined by their vehement contempt for the Women of the Wall.

The charedim claim to be working towards the creation of a third Temple, but they disregard what must change in Jewish society in order for that Messianic age to begin. The last Temple was destroyed, the Talmud explicitly states, because of hatred from one Jew towards another. G-d was so angered by strife within the Jewish nation that He punished them by confiscating His imminent Presence from their lives, which had manifested in an active Temple. Surely they realize this; many charedi men in Israel spend most of their time studying Talmud. Yet, whether deliberately or otherwise, they ignore the principle.

In this sense it is these charedi Jews, rather than the Women of the Wall, who are breaking tradition. Embedded in Jewish theology is the concept of Jewish unity. In light of this value, while the Women of the Walls interpretations of proper modes of womens prayer certainly differ from that of the charedi community, the inconsistency is no justification for a literally violent challenge of their beliefs.

Instead of adhering to a tradition of an all-encompassing Jewish brotherhood for the sake of G-ds Will and favor, the charedim abandon that which they learn in order to persecute fellow Jews Jews who are likewise dedicated to frequent religious practice because of their own personal contempt. Orthodox protestors are living in a paradox of piety and undermining the very beliefs they purportedly espouse.

The presence of the Women of the Wall at the very place of the Temples destruction, no less is a chance for charedi Jews to prove that the conflict that destroyed their ancestors convenient connection to G-d, a connection they so badly crave, is obsolete. If they are crying into their books of Psalms in an effort to bring about the Messiah but refuse to look up at the opportunity to be welcoming towards other Jews as a more effective means of inspiring a Messianic age or indeed if they neglect to turn their eyes unto themselves they are merely using Jewish piety as a veneer for xenophobia and hatred. They are creating a Judaism wholly different from the one idealized in the Talmud they spend so many hours studying. They are signaling to the world their true intentions in disrupting the Women of the Wall, but they are also denying themselves the thing they yearn for most in the world: redemption.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

The Forward’s independent journalism depends on donations from readers like you.

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March 23, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Would Judaism Want Us To Repeal And Replace Obamacare? – Forward

As the battle for the future of American health care rages in Washington, I find myself eager to understand what the Jewish tradition has to say on the subject. Does our ancient tradition offer any wisdom that might shed some light on this complicated subject? Do Jewish values point us in one direction or the other?

On the surface, the answer might appear to be no. After all, most of the foundational texts of the Jewish tradition were composed in the ancient and medieval era, while many of the issues regarding health care in the modern context like access and affordability were unthinkable even half a century ago. Before the 19th century, medical procedures were more likely to be life-threatening than life-saving. No wonder the Mishnah, codified in the 2nd century, remarks, The best of physicians should go to hell (Kiddushin 4:14).

At the same time, the Jewish tradition advances powerful teachings central to virtually every authoritys understanding of Jewish values about the sanctity and value of human life, and the obligation to save life whenever and wherever possible. We must do whatever we can to protect our own lives (Deuteronomy 4:9), make choices that preserve our lives and our health (30:19), and also save the lives of others, refusing to stand idly by the blood of our fellow (Leviticus 19:16). In fact, Jewish law understands the requirement to preserve life pikuah nefesh as a primary religious imperative, taking precedence over virtually every other biblical and rabbinic command. For example, if a Jew is faced with the choice of upholding the laws of the Sabbath or saving a life (whether their own or that of someone else), she or he would be obligated to violate the Sabbath and save the life.

In classical Jewish law, these obligations are understood to extend beyond the responsibility of the individual to that of the community at large. After all, I may not be in a position to save my own life or that of someone else whenever a need arises. Ultimately, we form communities so that I can rely on others to do those things I am unable to do by and for myself, and so others can rely on me for those things they are unable to do by and for themselves. That reality does not absolve me of my basic responsibilities to others. My obligation remains the same. It means that I dont have to do it myself, but I must do my part to ensure that it is done. So, while I may not have the skills myself to heal the sick, I am nevertheless required to contribute so that the sick are cared for.

This principle is enshrined in classical Jewish law. Members of a community are required to contribute to a communal welfare fund, which is utilized to provide for the needs of the poor. While the Hebrew term for this contribution, tzedakah, is commonly understood as charity, it is not meant, in Jewish law, to refer to a voluntary gift stemming from the goodness of ones heart. Rather, it is an obligatory payment; a tax, for all sakes and purposes. The authorities can enforce this tax through corporal punishment and even the seizure of property (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 248:1-2).

This fund, consisting of the forced contributions of everyone in the community (including the poor themselves, so long as they have already provided for their own needs), is designed to be used for many things, like sustaining religious institutions, educating youth, and feeding the hungry. Helping those in need is thus not merely a matter for private charity, laudable though such deeds may be. Rather, it is a shared responsibility, incumbent upon a community charged by its most sacred text with caring for all its members and striving toward an eradication of poverty (Deuteronomy 15:4).

Priority for how the fund is to be used is given to urgency of need. So, for example, feeding the hungry takes precedence over clothing the naked, presumably because hunger is more life-threatening than exposure (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 251:7-9). And those who are more vulnerable take precedence over those who are less vulnerable. The highest priority for the use of communal funds is redeeming captives, that is, saving the lives of community members who are presumed to be in imminent mortal danger (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 252:3). Redeeming captives takes precedence over every other need, and tradition admonishes those communities who refrain from fulfilling this responsibility in the strongest of terms, arguing that not redeeming captives violates many biblical precepts (252:2). A community must reallocate resources towards redeeming captives, even if those resources had already been dedicated toward other worthy endeavors (252:1).

Jewish law holds that healthcare is a communal obligation. A community is responsible for the welfare of all its members, including and especially those whose lives are threatened. Members of a community must pool resources to provide for the needs of everyone within the community, especially the neediest and most vulnerable. And the first priority for the use of those resources is towards saving the lives of community members in mortal danger.

In our time, our country is our community. Our governments budget, our communal fund. Our tax dollars, the tzedakah we are obligated to contribute to that fund. Captives, those whose lives are imperiled and who could be saved through our intervention, like the sick and the injured. In other words, Jewish tradition teaches that the government in fact has an essential role to play in ensuring all its citizens receive adequate health care.

From the Jewish perspective, then, the fact that millions of Americans cannot afford adequate health care is unconscionable. Our current healthcare system should indeed be amended, but in such a way that ensures that every single American can afford adequate health care, even if such care is at the expense of the taxpayer, as is the case with systems like Medicare and Medicaid. Any proposal that would put affordable care out of the reach of any person ought to be seen as immoral, a dereliction of our responsibilities toward each other. Similarly, a proposal that would force tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance is, from the Jewish point of view, morally outrageous. No person in our society should be permitted to be without the protection of the community, even if such protection comes at the expense of the taxpayer.

The Jewish tradition obligates us to save lives. That obligation falls on individuals as well as communities. From the Jewish perspective, this is not an act of mercy. Its a divine imperative.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

The Forward’s independent journalism depends on donations from readers like you.

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Would Judaism Want Us To Repeal And Replace Obamacare? – Forward

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Italian Rabbi Objects To Pope Francis’s ‘Anti-Jewish’ Rhetoric – Forward

In his push to open up Catholic communion to the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis has portrayed his critics as stubborn legalists and Pharisees who sit in the chair of Moses and judge.

Its language that, for at least one rabbi, evokes anti-Jewish stereotypes.

The flare-up was highlighted in the religious journal First Things.

In a recent letter objecting to this language, Giuseppe Laras, an Italian rabbi, criticizes these homilies as promoting what he calls anti-Jewish stereotypes.

Laras describes an undercurrent of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism; a substantial distrust of the Bible and a subsequent minimization of the Jewish biblical roots of Christianity.

Laras acknowledges that there have been improvements in broader Catholic understanding of Judaism and Jews but worries that Franciss homilies are diluting the power of those positive developments.

Too many authoritative Christian voices both bishops and theologians have greeted Pope Franciss anti-Jewish rhetoric with silence, smooth excuses, or applause, First Things editor Matthew Schmitz writes. When will they speak out with the boldness of Rabbi Laras?

Email Sam Kestenbaum at kestenbaum@forward.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum

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Italian Rabbi Objects To Pope Francis’s ‘Anti-Jewish’ Rhetoric – Forward

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Meet Rabbi ‘Willy’ Wolff, Germany’s ambassador of Liberal Judaism and now, movie star – The Times of Israel

BERLIN (JTA) For many Germans, Rabbi William Willy Wolff is the first Jewish religious leader they have ever met. And hes the perfect man for the job. Diminutive, with a disarming chuckle and twinkling eyes, Wolff, who turned 90 in February, effortlessly breaks down that uniquely German condition of Berhrungsangst literally fear of contact with others. Wolff, who fled Nazi Germany as a young boy and returned in 2002 to work in the former East Germany, is the first rabbi many Germans today have encountered. Its in part because of his interfaith outreach over the years as one-time head rabbi, serving three liberal Jewish communities in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He is really a gifted ambassador for Judaism, said Hans-Jrgen Abromeit, a Protestant bishop who has worked often with Wolff on interfaith programs and calls him a fatherly friend. More recently, however, Wolff has reached a new level of prominence thanks to German director Britta Wauer. Her documentary, Rabbi Wolff A Gentleman Before God, has been playing in theaters across the country. One of the top-grossing German documentaries in 2016, it will have its North American premiere in May. Since the films release, the apparently tireless rabbi has been zigzagging around Germany with Wauer talking with dozens of audiences and signing copies of her accompanying book, Rabbi Wolff and the Essence of Life. Hes not transmitting a narrow religion but humanity, said a starstruck woman after a screening and discussion in the former East Berlin. I like the calmness with which he approaches life. Cover, Rabbi Wolff and the Essence of Life. (Courtesy) Wolff may indeed appear calm, but hes also incredibly energetic and he comfortably embodies multiple identities: an Englishman, a German, a Jew; a Holocaust survivor with a spirit of joie de vivre. The Berlin native in an interview with JTA described his family he had a twin brother, Joachim, and an older sister, Ruth as strictly Orthodox and culturally German. His father attended an independent Orthodox synagogue that attracted Jews who were unhappy with the increased liberalization of the official community. The family fled Nazi Germany for Holland in September 1933 after Wolffs mother learned that the local tailors daughter, Magda, had married Hitlers propaganda minister. My mother was afraid that because of the indirect connection with [Josef] Goebbels, we might be on an early list for deportation, Wolff said. In 1939, they left Amsterdam for England, where Wolff and his brother attended the Hendon County Grammar School. When the schools deputy headmistress summoned students to discuss their career plans, Wolff said he wanted to be a rabbi or a journalist. He became both. The headmistress, thinking Wolff was quite good at French, got him a one-year scholarship to the French Lycee in South Kensington. Wolff learned typing, shorthand and French there. The skills would prove to be invaluable. With the war still raging, Wolffs typing and language abilities English, German, Dutch, French (he later added Russian) landed him a job with the Reuters news agency on the outskirts of London in a radio listening station that picked up Russian and German broadcasts. He worked there from 1944 to 1947. There were no Allied correspondents [on the Axis side], so this was a way to get hints of official attitudes, Wolff, who later attended the London School of Economics, told JTA. In 1954 he started working at the Slough Observer, and eventually joined the staff of the Daily Mirror, moving from domestic issues to foreign policy. An overwhelming majority of Germans have accepted responsibility for the consequences of that past Wolffs decades of work as a journalist included trips abroad with British prime minister Harold Wilson and foreign secretary Michael Stewart. Returning from one such trip in the late 1960s, they stopped in Bonn to meet with German foreign minister Willy Brandt. It was the first time Wolff had set foot on German soil since his family had fled the country. I was grateful, and even a little proud, to be living and working in Germany, a country where the events of the past had become unimaginable, he told Wauer. An overwhelming majority of Germans have accepted responsibility for the consequences of that past and that gave me a feeling of security. Meanwhile, toiling as a journalist, Wolff drifted from the Orthodoxy of his youth. Balloons from the art project Lichtgrenze 2014 (lit. lightborder 2014) reflected in a puddle next to remains of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, November 7, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Steffi Loos) I have enormous respect and deepest admiration for all biblical scholarship, he said, but the more I got involved with text, the more clear it became to me that every word could not have come from God because God contradicts himself from one book to the next. Plus, his parents split up. Wolffs mother lived with a man without marrying him until after his father died. That, too, was unacceptable to some of my Orthodox friends, he said. In 1979, Rabbi Sidney Brichto, a leading figure in British liberal Jewish circles, asked Wolff to edit the movements newsletter. He realized then that he wanted to return to his early dream of becoming a rabbi. It became clear to me that every word could not have come from God because God contradicts himself I found out about Liberal Judaism known globally as Reform or Progressive which had not been respected by my father or by the Orthodox circles and when I found out about that I suddenly thought, well, maybe I could make a contribution there, he told JTA. Brichto ultimately recommended Wolff to the Progressive Leo Baeck College in London. Wolff was ordained in 1984. He served at several London synagogues when he learned something unexpected: Germany needed rabbis. For the first time since World War II, the countrys Jewish population was really growing due to the influx of former Soviet Jews after the unification of East and West in 1990. The postwar population of some 35,000 had grown to more than 240,000; synagogues were being built. The Union of Progressive Jews in Germany counts around 4,500 members. In the spring of 2002, Wolff was tapped by a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and appointed head rabbi for Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, serving liberal Jewish communities in Schwerin, Rostock and Wismar. Three years later he was elected deputy chair of the General Rabbinical Conference, a liberal body in Germany that works parallel to the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference there. In this photo taken Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Israelis attend a gathering encouraging others to immigrate to Berlin in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) Commuting to his three communities in Germany and his home in Henley on Thames, England, Wolff led services and also represented Judaism in public a role he hopes he has done with dignity. Whether or not I have succeeded is for others to say, he said. Whether or not I have succeeded is for others to say East Germany can be tricky terrain to navigate; for Jews and non-Jews, the scars of recent history are fresh. The two dictatorships first the Nazis and then the communists I think left quite deep and hidden wounds, Wolff said. Wolffs contract as head rabbi in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ended two years ago, but he continues to work as a volunteer. He has also found another, unexpected role: movie star. This file photo taken on January 13, 2016 shows the main grounds of the Communist Free German Youth (FDJ-Freie Deutsche Jugend) school complex, built in the 1950s, near the Bogensee lake, north of Berlin, taken on January 13, 2016. (John Macdougal/AFP) He met Wauer, who is not Jewish, when she was working on her first film, In Heaven, Underground, about the historic Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in the former East Berlin. Wauer wanted a rabbi to say a few things about halacha [Jewish law], such as why we dont have two coffins in the same grave, and no other rabbi in Berlin would play ball with her, Wolff said. The documentary was released to acclaim in 2011. Wolff, with an on-screen presence one reviewer described as pure gold, became a favorite among audiences, some of whom started asking Wauer to make a film about the rabbi himself. The two dictatorships first the Nazis and then the communists I think left quite deep and hidden wounds The popular result profiles Woolf as he shuttles between England and Germany, conducts services, attends the Ascot races in a dapper top hat, and digs through the piles and piles of books and periodicals that crowd his Henley bungalow. Not one to dwell darkly on the past, Wolff acknowledges one regret: If there is anything I regret then it is the fact that I never married and never created a family, he told Wauer. I can hardly believe that I am as old as I am but have no children or grandchildren. As for his newfound fame from Rabbi Wolff A Gentleman Before God, Wolff told JTA, I take these things in my stride, and I lose no sleep over it. After a 2016 screening in Berlins Kino Toni, the audience, virtually all non-Jews, flocked around a small table holding their copies of the accompanying book for the rabbi to sign. I dont see any bitterness in him, a woman commented later. He is a very important ambassador for people in Germany who know nothing about Judaism and have many clichs in their heads. Rabbi Willy Wolff is the star of one of the highest-grossing documentaries in Germany of 2016. (Toby Axelrod/JTA)

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Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included – Bloomberg

In 2015, while traveling in Israel with 80 young tech professionals, Meghan Holzhauer fell in love with Shabbat dinner, the ancient Friday night tradition in which Jews bless candles, challah, and wine, then share a meal with loved ones. She was so inspired, in fact, that she started spreading the love. In March her travel startup, Canvus, took 40 young professionals to Mexico City, where they celebrated a multicultural Shabbat dinner. Shes now organizing a hip-hop Shabbat for 400 people attending a social justice conference in Atlanta in June. A lot of Jewish rituals are about honoring friends and family, she says. You feel part of something bigger. Photographer: Tim OConnell for Bloomberg Businessweek Holzhauer isnt Jewish. She was raised Christian-light by nonpracticing parents, she says, and has no interest in converting. As she explains it, a non-Jew finding inspiration in the Sabbathor traveling to Israel for that matterisnt so different from the millions of non-Buddhists who practice yoga or go on meditation retreats to India. Its the latest way that ancient traditions are meeting modern life, she says. If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, its now. Interfaith marriage rates among American Jews have jumped from a little more than 40 percent in the 1980s to 58 percent in the period from 2000 to 2013. Thats a lot more newlyweds (plus their families and friends) with exposure to Jewish ceremonies and rituals. Call them Jew-adjacent, Jew-curious, or just Jew-ish. Jewish culture is in the mainstream, its popular, and thats something any brand would want to jump on, says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions. Arq is a portal for interfaith couples, their friends, and their families to find relevant, inclusive, aesthetically elevated information and products. It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. Theres also an event series, including a weekend retreat in the Catskills in upstate New York that Shults says is inspired by Jewish summer camp but more Kinfolk-y, referring to the elegantly twee lifestyle magazine. Shults grew up in an observant home, attended a Jewish day school, and became fluent in Hebrew. Then she got engaged to a Presbyterian. We never really found a [religious] community that matched what we were looking for, especially for me, says Shultss now-husband, Andrew. Many of the synagogues that purported to be inclusive turned out to have an agenda, such as trying to get Andrew to convert or cultivating the couples political support for Israel. Shults covers her eyes and performs the traditional Shabbat blessing over the candles. Photographer: Tim OConnell for Bloomberg Businessweek The troubles didnt end there. Shults tells the story of one non-Jewish friend who went shopping for the couple by Googling chic Jewish wedding gift and found the results to be either totally out of style or far too didactic and preachy. Cool, inclusive presents did existShults knew that muchbut they werent easy to find. Thus, Arq was born. My ultimate test case was my husband, Shults says. Would he discover this? Read this? Go to this event? Arq may be the most ambitious new company hoping to court the Jew-curious community, but its not the only one. There are secular dinner and dating platforms that draw on Jewish clichs such as the opinionated mother and the gut-busting holiday meal; resources to plan an interfaith wedding and help an interfaith family find a nonschlocky menorah; companies offering trips that take young secular professionals to Israel; and even a matzo company that aims to make unleavened bread the next pita chip. Most of these outfits are less than three years old. Not that long ago, it would have felt dirty to talk about branding Jewish culture, says Aliza Kline, executive director of OneTable, a social dining app that helps people of all religious backgrounds celebrate inclusive Shabbat meals. Bubby brings old-fashioned matchmaking to the app age. Source: Bubby Of course, there has long been a mainstream taste for Jewish humor and food (see: Seinfeld, bagels, challah French toast), but the fervor is something new. I see rabbis doing really creative things, saying, Come in and try this out, says Rabbi Ari Moffic, who directs the Chicago branch of a swiftly growing national network called Interfaith Family. You can do Jewish, she says, even if youre not Jewish. You want to unplug? Its called Shabbat, and were the experts on it. Moffic understands why this kind of cultural marketing would make many rabbis uncomfortable. As a rule, Jews dont proselytize to non-Jews. But Moffic and the others in the cultural-marketing camp have decided that enlarging the tent is the best way to keep young Jews inside it. The focus on a single community can so easily become exclusive, says Kline, who estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of OneTable guests arent Jewish. But through technology, were seeding hundreds of new communities. That was the idea behind Arq as well. The name, inspired by Noahs Ark, is an allusion to diversity. With so many different animals in one boat, Shults explains, the best way forward is a compromise. For its model, the company draws on elements from well-established lifestyle portals such as Goop and Food52, up-and-coming jewelry resource Of a Kind, and parenting advice site Fatherly. To varying degrees, these sites fuse e-commerce with storytelling, but they also present themselves as community platforms. For the time being, Shults is relying on brand partnerships and events to support her business. I dont want to have to scale at an ungodly pace, she says of her decision not to seek funding. The most important business stories of the day. Get Bloomberg’s daily newsletter. Shults started the company in late 2016, less than a year after quitting her job as director for marketing and community at the venture capital firm Spark Capital LLC, and it has already made several high-profile partnerships. Arq has linked up with the wedding registry company Zola Inc. to curate Jewish presents that dont look as if they come from the synagogue gift shop; with the home design site Apartment Therapy, on a series of Judaica-focused home tours; and with the feminist/LGBTQ-friendly wedding-planning site Catalyst Wedding Co., on an interview series with couples who are diverse in every imaginable way. Arq-branded events have included a couples salon series in partnership with Honeymoon Israel, a nonprofit that sends nontraditional (interfaith, same-sex) couples on trips to Israel, and a womens lunar retreat, based on the ancient Jewish practice of women celebrating one another around the new moon. Honeymoon Israel helps interfaith couples celebrate their nuptials in the Jewish homeland. Source: Honeymoon Israel In addition, Arq hosts dinners with Bubby. Co-founder Stephanie Volftsun says the tech-enabled matchmaking service is inspired by the time-tested tradition of the Jewish matchmaking yenta and aimed at expanding the notion of what a Jewish couple should look like. Were all about being open to people who are different, which then means that non-Jews are drawn into our food, culture, and traditions, she says. Not every Jew-ish company has such a social mission, however. The Matzo Project has taken as its task getting unleavened bread out of the ethnic food aisle. We want it to be more than something that very pious Jews eat at Passover, says co-founder Ashley Albert. The companys offerings include matzo flats and chips in salted, everything, and cinnamon-sugar flavors, as well as a matzo butter crunch bar. Its also about to release a vegan matzo ball soup kit. Like Bubby, Matzo Project has made the Jewish grandma central to its brandingthough in its case, shes more Long Island than old country. Each box features a cheeky cartoon granny in pearls and Iris Apfel glasses, with a word bubble that reads, Would it kill you to try something new? Albert, who also owns Brooklyns popular Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, and her Matzo Project co-founder, Kevin Rodriguez, a former product designer for Vera Wang, have received encouraging feedback on their branding from ethnic Italians and Koreans as well as Jews. Grandma is sassy, smart, and strong, Albert says. A lot of people know a version of her. OneTable organizes Shabbat dinners in cities across the U.S. Photographer: Elaine Moran Products from the Matzo Project, which started a year ago, are available at New Yorks Eataly and Dylans Candy Bar, San Franciscos Bi-Rite minichain, and specialty stores in places as far-flung as Wyoming. Most of these retailers, Albert says, have never carried matzo before. She and Rodriguez have also talked their way into a handful of Whole Foods Markets, but finding a national distributor that gets the mission has been more challenging. Albert understands why people persist in treating matzo as a specialty food. But like the founders of Bubby, OneTable, and Arq, she thinks its only a matter of time before the foreign becomes familiar. When I was a kid, pita was a really unusual ethnic food, she says. It was part of somebody elses culture. Now its part of all our cultures.

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Judaism, Atonement, and God’s Nonviolence The RavenCast – Patheos (blog)

What does Jewish spirituality have to teach us about navigating the current American political crisis? In the latest episode of the RavenCast, I sat down with Vanessa Avery, a Hebrew Bible Scholar and Diversity and Organizational Consultant. Vanessa holds degrees from the University of Exeter, Yale Divinity School, Kings College London and McGill University. She uses mimetic theory to interpret the Bible and to help businesses inspire generosity, empathy, creativity, hospitality, strength and courage. Vanessa is the author of many articles, including Atonement and the Book of Jonah, Jewish Vaccines Against Mimetic Desire, Watchmen and Mimetic Theory, Whither Girard and Islam and Engaging Difference: Exercises and tips for creating Experiential Learning Environments. And theres a great article about Vanessa and her organizational consulting titled Why is scapegoating so common at Work? You can learn more about Vanessas consulting workshops and you can contact her through her website, Transcendence Education. *How Vanessa has helped businesses diversify and end scapegoating practices. *The connections between being a diversity consultant, mimetic theory, and the Hebrew Scriptures. *The Bible is full of violence, but Vanessa claims that the Bible also holds the antidote to violence. How can that be? *On the Jewish Day of Atonement, Jews are commanded to listen to the book of Jonah. Vanessa explains why the book of Jonah is crucially important to understanding atonement. *The connection between justice and mercy in Judaism. *How the book of Jonah can help us navigate the current American social crisis. Stay in the loop! Like Teaching Nonviolent Atonement on Facebook!

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Join the Boulder County Center for Judaism for a Special Passover Experience – Boulder Jewish News

BOULDER, CO: Passover, the season of our liberation, comes around every year not merely to remind us of the extraordinary liberation of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage, but also to inspire us to strive for a greater measure of self-liberation from all limitations and distractions which impede a Jew from the free exercise of Yiddishkeit in everyday life. The rabbis at Chabad say this is the real meaning of the highly significant passage in the Haggadah which states that In every generation a Jew should see himself as though he personally has been liberated from Egypt. This is especially true during difficult times, and is always worthy of deliberation and discussion of the sort you will find at the Boulder County Center for Judaisms Passover Seder. Every year they present an interactive Seder with explanations of our traditions, robust discussions, and a warm and welcoming atmosphere that envelops everyone in the specialness of this most celebrated of all Jewish holidays. There is also a mouthwatering, multicourse feast including gefilte fish, chicken soupand more, which is preceded by the traditional foods of the Seder such as parsley dipped in salt water, matzo, Hillel sandwiches (charoset and horseradish on matzo), and the requisite four cups of wine. Rabbi Pesach and Chany Scheiner invite you to consider their home yours for Passover and revel in the yom tov of Pesach the celebration of our freedom as a united community. When: Monday, April 10 at 7:45 pm Where: 4900 Sioux Drive, Boulder Cost: Adults (age 12 and up) $25 (Only $20 if you reserve before April 1) Children ages 2 to 11: $12 Anyone under 2 attends for free Even if you can only come for part of the evening (small children are usually the reason for this) come, enjoy, participate, and leave whenever is appropriate for you. RSVP: boulderjudaism@gmail.com And if youre interested in performing the mitzvah of selling your chametz, contact boulderjudaism@gmail.com or www.boulderjudaism.com.

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Boulder County Center for Judaism Importing Shmura Matzo Again – Boulder Jewish News

BOULDER, CO: Once again, the Boulder County Center for Judaism is importing over 100 pounds of Shmura matzo for Passover. The round, hand-kneaded product is worlds apart from the machine-made, pre-packaged matzo most Jews know. Shmura means to watch or guard, and these matzos are guarded from the harvest of the wheat through the packaging of the completed matzo to insure no contact with the smallest speck of chametz or leavening. When the Israelites left Egypt as directed by G-d, they had to leave quickly and could not wait for their dough to rise. The hot desert sun, however, baked the dough in their packs as they walked so when they stopped to eat, they found hard, flat crackers they called matzo. One of the reasons Jews eat matzo during Passover is in commemoration of the creation of this unleavened bread. In addition to the fact that our ancestors were bereft of anything leavened (chametz) and we want our annual celebration of their liberation from bondage in Egypt to be as true to their experience as possible, over the years chametz has become symbolic of egotism, arrogance, and condescension to others, traits so harmful that they are considered the roots of all negative characteristics, adding another reason for eliminating even the most minute amount of chametz prior to the start of the holiday Monday, April 10th at sundown. Shmura matzo is the closest thing to what our ancestors ate as they fled Egypt 3,000 years ago, said Rabbi Pesach Scheiner of the Boulder County Center for Judaism If you want to add this traditional hand-made matzo to your familys Seder, please order soon as no matter how many pounds they order it always sells out quickly. Each box costs $23.60 and contains one pound (six or seven large circular matzos). It is available in regular or whole wheat. To place your order, email boulderjudaism@gmail.com or call 720.422.6776. Once the matzo arrives, purchasers will be notified so they can come to the Boulder County Center for Judaism to pick it up or arrange for it to be delivered. And if youre interested in performing the mitzvah of selling your chametz, contact boulderjudaism@gmail.com.

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Progressively Speaking: After Trump controversy, what does Judaism say about paying tax? – Jewish News

Citing the recent example of Donald Trumps returns, how we pay our taxes and how much we pay is often at the top of political and news agendas. Judaism expects everyone to contribute a fair share. Its a recurring theme in the Torah and Rabbinic literature, with the longstanding Talmudic principle of dina malchuta dina (the law of the land is the law). But Progressive Judaism also offers two more reasons why paying tax is so important, even if you are president of the United States. The first is historical. Our movement was founded in the first decade of the 19th century in Germany out of the intellectual milieu of the Enlightenment and the political environment of the French Revolution. At that time, the Jews were moving from being a pariah people, restricted from the norms of life to being part of the new national state. Progressive Judaism offered an opportunity to be both Jewish and a citizen of the modern state, and it follows that if Jews were to claim rights, they also had responsibilities. These obligations, in my view, include voting and participating in public life and paying any tax levied by a democratically elected government. The second reason is ethical. Progressive Judaism has sought to reclaim the Hebrew Prophetic idea that the performance of ritual obligations is acceptable to God only from Jews whose ethical behaviour accords with the core teachings of Judaism. Progressive Judaism declares the ethical mitzvot of a higher order than the ritual ones. Ethical mitzvot (support for the widow and the orphan, for example) are obligatory but some of that activity today is carried out by the state, utilising the taxes of citizens. The evasion of taxes is therefore both a major breach of Jewish ethics and an attack on the modern, democratic state. Danny Rich is senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism

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March 23, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Violent Protestors Not Women Of The Wall Are Undermining Judaism – Forward

On the morning of March 28, the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the Women of the Wall will once again gather at the Western Wall for a women-led Rosh Chodesh (new month) service. Once there, the women will likely face an charedi Jewish mob intent on suppressing, or at the very least making as unpleasant as possible, their religious expression. Previous protests have included sending thousands of charedi schoolgirls to crowd the womens section of the Wall, cacophonous disruption, and even physical violence. In instigating this mayhem, the charedi Jews have created a situation in which everyone, themselves included, are at loss. By violently disrupting the religious services of fellow Jews at the Western Wall, they reject an opportunity to pursue their own religious ambitions and, consequently, validate their lifestyle and creed. A dedication to piety in the hopes of achieving G-ds favor and ultimately the coming of the Messiah is the hallmark of charedi Jews religious beliefs and observances. These values are instilled early in childhood and continue to direct every aspect of their lives, from dining to marriage, throughout adulthood. The charedim are fervent in their religious practice, careful to complete every positive deed opportune to them with precision, dedication and sometimes personal sacrifice. At the crux of this lifestyle is a yearning for true closeness to G-d, a spiritual connection obtained most easily through the presence of a Temple. Lacking a Temple in the present day, the manner in which the charedim behave at the Western Wall itself on days that are not Rosh Chodesh further illustrates their religious philosophy. They frequent the site with children in tow, sweating through layers of clothing in the blistering heat, and sit before the Wall with prayerbooks in hand, quietly reciting psalms and prayers with a clear urgency. One might see them pressing their prayerbooks to their faces with their eyes closed, some in tears, in order to summon enough concentration; the spiritual experience of praying for redemption, among other things, at the very site at which it will appear can be an overwhelming one. Yet their lifestyle modeled to yield a closeness to G-d and the coming of the Messiah one that regularly and heavily includes these mannerisms is undermined by their vehement contempt for the Women of the Wall. The charedim claim to be working towards the creation of a third Temple, but they disregard what must change in Jewish society in order for that Messianic age to begin. The last Temple was destroyed, the Talmud explicitly states, because of hatred from one Jew towards another. G-d was so angered by strife within the Jewish nation that He punished them by confiscating His imminent Presence from their lives, which had manifested in an active Temple. Surely they realize this; many charedi men in Israel spend most of their time studying Talmud. Yet, whether deliberately or otherwise, they ignore the principle. In this sense it is these charedi Jews, rather than the Women of the Wall, who are breaking tradition. Embedded in Jewish theology is the concept of Jewish unity. In light of this value, while the Women of the Walls interpretations of proper modes of womens prayer certainly differ from that of the charedi community, the inconsistency is no justification for a literally violent challenge of their beliefs. Instead of adhering to a tradition of an all-encompassing Jewish brotherhood for the sake of G-ds Will and favor, the charedim abandon that which they learn in order to persecute fellow Jews Jews who are likewise dedicated to frequent religious practice because of their own personal contempt. Orthodox protestors are living in a paradox of piety and undermining the very beliefs they purportedly espouse. The presence of the Women of the Wall at the very place of the Temples destruction, no less is a chance for charedi Jews to prove that the conflict that destroyed their ancestors convenient connection to G-d, a connection they so badly crave, is obsolete. If they are crying into their books of Psalms in an effort to bring about the Messiah but refuse to look up at the opportunity to be welcoming towards other Jews as a more effective means of inspiring a Messianic age or indeed if they neglect to turn their eyes unto themselves they are merely using Jewish piety as a veneer for xenophobia and hatred. They are creating a Judaism wholly different from the one idealized in the Talmud they spend so many hours studying. They are signaling to the world their true intentions in disrupting the Women of the Wall, but they are also denying themselves the thing they yearn for most in the world: redemption. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward. The Forward’s independent journalism depends on donations from readers like you.

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March 23, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Would Judaism Want Us To Repeal And Replace Obamacare? – Forward

As the battle for the future of American health care rages in Washington, I find myself eager to understand what the Jewish tradition has to say on the subject. Does our ancient tradition offer any wisdom that might shed some light on this complicated subject? Do Jewish values point us in one direction or the other? On the surface, the answer might appear to be no. After all, most of the foundational texts of the Jewish tradition were composed in the ancient and medieval era, while many of the issues regarding health care in the modern context like access and affordability were unthinkable even half a century ago. Before the 19th century, medical procedures were more likely to be life-threatening than life-saving. No wonder the Mishnah, codified in the 2nd century, remarks, The best of physicians should go to hell (Kiddushin 4:14). At the same time, the Jewish tradition advances powerful teachings central to virtually every authoritys understanding of Jewish values about the sanctity and value of human life, and the obligation to save life whenever and wherever possible. We must do whatever we can to protect our own lives (Deuteronomy 4:9), make choices that preserve our lives and our health (30:19), and also save the lives of others, refusing to stand idly by the blood of our fellow (Leviticus 19:16). In fact, Jewish law understands the requirement to preserve life pikuah nefesh as a primary religious imperative, taking precedence over virtually every other biblical and rabbinic command. For example, if a Jew is faced with the choice of upholding the laws of the Sabbath or saving a life (whether their own or that of someone else), she or he would be obligated to violate the Sabbath and save the life. In classical Jewish law, these obligations are understood to extend beyond the responsibility of the individual to that of the community at large. After all, I may not be in a position to save my own life or that of someone else whenever a need arises. Ultimately, we form communities so that I can rely on others to do those things I am unable to do by and for myself, and so others can rely on me for those things they are unable to do by and for themselves. That reality does not absolve me of my basic responsibilities to others. My obligation remains the same. It means that I dont have to do it myself, but I must do my part to ensure that it is done. So, while I may not have the skills myself to heal the sick, I am nevertheless required to contribute so that the sick are cared for. This principle is enshrined in classical Jewish law. Members of a community are required to contribute to a communal welfare fund, which is utilized to provide for the needs of the poor. While the Hebrew term for this contribution, tzedakah, is commonly understood as charity, it is not meant, in Jewish law, to refer to a voluntary gift stemming from the goodness of ones heart. Rather, it is an obligatory payment; a tax, for all sakes and purposes. The authorities can enforce this tax through corporal punishment and even the seizure of property (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 248:1-2). This fund, consisting of the forced contributions of everyone in the community (including the poor themselves, so long as they have already provided for their own needs), is designed to be used for many things, like sustaining religious institutions, educating youth, and feeding the hungry. Helping those in need is thus not merely a matter for private charity, laudable though such deeds may be. Rather, it is a shared responsibility, incumbent upon a community charged by its most sacred text with caring for all its members and striving toward an eradication of poverty (Deuteronomy 15:4). Priority for how the fund is to be used is given to urgency of need. So, for example, feeding the hungry takes precedence over clothing the naked, presumably because hunger is more life-threatening than exposure (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 251:7-9). And those who are more vulnerable take precedence over those who are less vulnerable. The highest priority for the use of communal funds is redeeming captives, that is, saving the lives of community members who are presumed to be in imminent mortal danger (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 252:3). Redeeming captives takes precedence over every other need, and tradition admonishes those communities who refrain from fulfilling this responsibility in the strongest of terms, arguing that not redeeming captives violates many biblical precepts (252:2). A community must reallocate resources towards redeeming captives, even if those resources had already been dedicated toward other worthy endeavors (252:1). Jewish law holds that healthcare is a communal obligation. A community is responsible for the welfare of all its members, including and especially those whose lives are threatened. Members of a community must pool resources to provide for the needs of everyone within the community, especially the neediest and most vulnerable. And the first priority for the use of those resources is towards saving the lives of community members in mortal danger. In our time, our country is our community. Our governments budget, our communal fund. Our tax dollars, the tzedakah we are obligated to contribute to that fund. Captives, those whose lives are imperiled and who could be saved through our intervention, like the sick and the injured. In other words, Jewish tradition teaches that the government in fact has an essential role to play in ensuring all its citizens receive adequate health care. From the Jewish perspective, then, the fact that millions of Americans cannot afford adequate health care is unconscionable. Our current healthcare system should indeed be amended, but in such a way that ensures that every single American can afford adequate health care, even if such care is at the expense of the taxpayer, as is the case with systems like Medicare and Medicaid. Any proposal that would put affordable care out of the reach of any person ought to be seen as immoral, a dereliction of our responsibilities toward each other. Similarly, a proposal that would force tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance is, from the Jewish point of view, morally outrageous. No person in our society should be permitted to be without the protection of the community, even if such protection comes at the expense of the taxpayer. The Jewish tradition obligates us to save lives. That obligation falls on individuals as well as communities. From the Jewish perspective, this is not an act of mercy. Its a divine imperative. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward. The Forward’s independent journalism depends on donations from readers like you.

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March 21, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed

Italian Rabbi Objects To Pope Francis’s ‘Anti-Jewish’ Rhetoric – Forward

In his push to open up Catholic communion to the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis has portrayed his critics as stubborn legalists and Pharisees who sit in the chair of Moses and judge. Its language that, for at least one rabbi, evokes anti-Jewish stereotypes. The flare-up was highlighted in the religious journal First Things. In a recent letter objecting to this language, Giuseppe Laras, an Italian rabbi, criticizes these homilies as promoting what he calls anti-Jewish stereotypes. Laras describes an undercurrent of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism; a substantial distrust of the Bible and a subsequent minimization of the Jewish biblical roots of Christianity. Laras acknowledges that there have been improvements in broader Catholic understanding of Judaism and Jews but worries that Franciss homilies are diluting the power of those positive developments. Too many authoritative Christian voices both bishops and theologians have greeted Pope Franciss anti-Jewish rhetoric with silence, smooth excuses, or applause, First Things editor Matthew Schmitz writes. When will they speak out with the boldness of Rabbi Laras? Email Sam Kestenbaum at kestenbaum@forward.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum

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March 21, 2017   Posted in: Judaism  Comments Closed


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