How we're navigating the conflict over our partnership minyan.
I live in a town with one Orthodox synagogue. That is not simple if you prefer progressive Orthodoxy. It's sometimes not even simple if you like old-fashioned Modern Orthodoxy. But the community is diverse, our friends are here and we have carved out a liberal outpost for ourselves in "Kol Echad", a partnership minyan. A partnership minyan is a mechitza minyan, with a divider between men's and women's sections; where women read from the Torah; receive aliyot and lead prayers on for selected parts of the service.
Frequently, I hear congregants complain that their rabbis are not inspiring or that they never take clear stands on issues of importance. That's why the ongoing discussion about rabbinic independence that has erupted again at B'nai Jeshurun, covered very fairly by The Jewish Week (“B’nai Jeshurun Defections Fuel Debate,” Feb. 28), transcends any single congregation and any one subject. It is a contemporary case study about two issues facing the congregational world:
"Russell Stone is a rabbi at a poor synagogue in New York City. He is a devout man with a problem. Membership is way down and he lacks the funds to keep his synagogue open. Things are looking very bleak, and he has grown progressively more cynical and bitter with the passage of time. Just as he is on the verge of packing it all in, he receives some interesting news. A former member of his congregation has died and left the rabbi a significant amount of money. A blessing? Or the start of something far more sinister? Can Rabbi Stone just accept the money and move on? His conscience says no. Step into his shoes as he travels all over Manhattan in his attempt to uncover the truth."
I recently started reading Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” which won a Pulitzer this year. It’s a subtle yet fast-moving narrative about Lincoln’s evolution from a man merely averse to slavery to the one who would abolish the institution forever in America. Slavery in America is inexhaustible topic for historians, but a subject harder to come by is Jews in America, at least before the late 19th century.
Late last year, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis banned the popular blog Voz Iz Neias and even went so far as to try to have it taken down. Now, FailedMessiah.com reports that the Agudath Israel of America's Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah has issued a ban prohibiting its adherents from using the Internet without a filter.
The Abraham Geiger College, Germany’s Reform rabbinical school, ordained three rabbis recently. All three, like most of the 100,000-plus Jews who have come to Germany in the last 30 years, are from the former Soviet Union, but one garnered most of the attention.
Ukraine-born Alina Treiger is the first female rabbi ordained in Germany since before the Holocaust.
The last one, Regina Jonas, died in Auschwitz in 1944. She was the first woman known to be ordained as a rabbi in modern times.
A ketubah behind them, the bride and groom stood under a chupah with a rabbi, listened to friends recite the Sheva Brachot — and at the end of the ceremony, the tallit-wearing groom stepped on a glass.
But Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s long-awaited wedding Saturday night was not your average Jewish ceremony.
That’s not just because the parents held aloft on chairs at the reception included a former U.S. president, the current U.S. secretary of state and two former members of Congress.
And it wasn’t only because the ceremony occurred before Shabbat’s end. It was also because Rabbi James Ponet (pronounced Po-NET), Hebrew Union College-ordained and the longtime director of Yale University’s Slifka Center for Jewish Life, co-officiated alongside Rev. William Shillady, a Methodist minister.
Even as the number of liberal rabbis willing to preside at weddings of Jews to gentiles appears to be growing, co-officiation with clergy of another faith, while hardly unheard of, remains taboo.
Every synagogue minyan (daily prayer group) has the one person who always seems to be there. In some congregations, this might be the gabbai (a ritual director of sorts). In other shuls it might be the rabbi. And in others it might be a lay person who is very dedicated and wants to ensure there is always a minyan (quorum of 10) so others can say the Mourner's Kaddish. Some minyans have a group of dedicated individuals who make it a point to always attend -- regardless of rain, sleet or snow.
The first time I heard about a "virtual simcha" was in the late 1990s. Detroit was hit with a massive snowstorm and the 8-day old baby boy's aunt who was to play the role of rabbi was stuck at the airport in New York. The rabbi improvised and she officiated at her nephew's bris via speaker phone.
Of course, if this happened in 2010 and not in the late 1990s the bris would have been officiated by the rabbi through Skype, and she would have seen the simcha and been seen by the attendees.
Using technology to add people to a simcha is becoming more common. An increasing number of grandparents and great-grandparents are attending their grandchildren's wedding in the virtual world.
Just last month I officiated at a wedding that was being streamed live to Israel so that the bride's elderly grandparents could "be there." Through Ustream.tv, the grandparents felt like they were at the wedding even if it meant staying up late into the night in Israel.