Last week, thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews came out for mass protests across Israel. What was the contested issue: defense for Israel? Support of Agunot? Parents against child molestation? An end to violating business ethics and Israeli law? Not in the least bit. Sadly, this mass protest, the largest of its kind in years, was for the right to keep Sephardim out of Ashkenazi schools.
This April, an explosion on a BP drilling rig caused the largest oil spill to have ever hit the Gulf of Mexico, which has led to mass public damage and estimates of around 60,000 barrels continuing to flow out each day. There are ongoing debates over who is to blame for this massive spill and who is accountable for the cleanup: The US government? BP? Halliburton? Transocean? Many fingers have been pointed and responsibility needs to be taken, but amid the cacophony of corporate vs. government clashes, we can also learn personal lessons from this fiasco.
I fear death. I think about dying frequently and often try to make meaning of my mortality. Until recently, if someone had mentioned reincarnation to me, I would have dismissed it as a non-Jewish theological belief. I imagine most people share my visceral skepticism of the possibility of reincarnation and of its authentic Jewish roots, but perhaps we can temporarily suspend this disbelief and explore the idea together in search of a theology that can improve us. Perhaps, this thought experiment can even promote certain moral virtues.
Faster! Bigger! Newer! More in touch! The innovative sector of Jewish life is thriving as never before through grassroots movements, including hip prayer groups, Jewish farming, and religious community organizing that are emerging to meet an expanding range of Jewish needs. While I consider myself a social entrepreneur within this trend and am excited by its progress and creativity, I can’t help but raise ethical concerns and questions about this progress. Why do so many innovators find it necessary to disparage the larger Jewish establishments?
We all watched in dismay when Haiti was struck with a devastating 7.0 earthquake; the consequences of this natural disaster intensified by Haiti's status as the 2nd poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. One hundred days later, hundreds of thousands are living in tents in refugee camps without sanitation as the devastation and fear continues with little signs of progress.
"Gold drive for Rubashkin!" read the subject line in my inbox. I knew that millions were being spent to defend Sholom Rubashkin, but when I read the email calling people to donate their gold to the defense fund, I was shocked. This gold drive, combined with a petition to the US Attorney seeking to get 50,000 signatures asking for better treatment of Rubashkin, is being pitched under the premise of the mitzvah of "Pidyon Shevyuiim" (redeeming of captives).
In the past half century, North American Jewish feminists have made leaps and bounds - across the various denominations - in ensuring the inclusion of women in ritual life, as well as in the elevation of women to positions of respect and leadership in the community.
More recently, Jewish feminism has grown to include more systemic issues such as advocacy for comprehensive forms of sex education and the plight of agunot.
This column is a protest: its intent is to help prevent Jewish thought from being hijacked to the monastic serenity of quiet mountaintops where peace is chosen over truth and the self over the collective. Authentic religion today is lived in the hustle and bustle of the streets and it is here that Torah can be most transformative for 21st century Jews. As Moses is reassured (Deuteronomy 30:12), “Lo bishamayim hi” – The Torah is not in the heavens!