Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who will be completing his 16-year tenure as head of the Reform movement at the end of the year, has never been afraid to speak his mind. He has been an advocate for greater Torah study and observance of Jewish ritual within the Union of Reform Judaism, taken President Barack Obama to task for publicizing his disagreement with Israel over settlements, called on a major Muslim American group to engage in more dialogue with Jews, and chided J Street members, at their annual convention, about some of their criticisms of Israel.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the first major communal dinner for JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association, held this past Sunday evening, was the sense of pride in and celebration of the accomplishments of the organization, founded in 1997.
Though often on the defensive and frustrated in their efforts to press the Orthodox establishment to expand opportunities for women in the areas of spiritual, ritual and intellectual life, within the framework of halacha, the women of JOFA set aside Sunday evening to mark the inroads they have made.
With each passing day Mideast tensions seem to grow deeper and more complex, and the notion of an “Arab Spring” that brought such hope to millions 10 months ago seems particularly naïve now as violence has returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
With Israel facing extraordinary challenges in the Mideast, it is losing a key advocate in the White House.
Dennis Ross, a Mideast adviser to five presidents, once was derided as one of “Baker’s Boys” during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker. More recently, though, he has been viewed as a confidante and friend of Israeli leaders. He is leaving his post at the end of the year, an implicit signal that the U.S. effort to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is on hold until after the 2012 election.
How deep should our concern be over the ugly spate of anti-Semitic sentiment on display in our community in recent days?
Jewish organizations and leaders responded with appropriate outrage over a spree of swastika and “KKK” graffiti in Midwood, Brooklyn, violently punctuated with the burning of several parked cars under cover of darkness late Friday night.
We don’t dwell in Israel, but we sure dwell on it. We gloat. (Nobel Prizes!) We kvetch (Sabras!). We worry. (Flotillas!) Most of us are probably convinced that we can’t do much more than think about Israel, beyond writing a check, say, or boarding a plane every once in a while. But there is something more we can do. We can buy Israel.
In what could be the most serious challenge to the legitimacy of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in its present form, Tzohar (Hebrew for window), an influential group of more than 600 religious Zionist Israeli rabbis, is launching a major media campaign this week, accusing the Chief Rabbinate of discriminatory policies over the right to officiate at marriages in Israel.
While participants in Occupy Wall Street garner headlines in drawing attention to the imbalance of financial power in the U.S., a growing number of prominent Americans are taking the Food Stamp Challenge this month, a low-key but meaningful effort to draw attention to hunger in this country. They have agreed to spend a week on the average food stamp allotment of $31.50 per person, which comes out to $1.50 a meal.
The vote this week by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to approve full membership for the Palestinians is another step along the treacherous road toward full UN recognition of Palestine and continued delegitimization of Israel.
Fortunately, and to its credit, the United States voted against the move, labeling it “inexplicable,” but the final tally was 107-14, with 52 abstentions, among the UNESCO membership.
The tragedy of agunot — women unable to obtain a Jewish divorce — remains a seemingly unsolvable problem within halacha [Jewish law] that has left too many women in an emotional, legal and financial black hole.
Adding to the problem is the absence of data. In Israel, estimates of 10,000 agunot have been reported by The Wall Street Journal and Jerusalem Post, in contrast to claims by Agudath Israel that there are 180 in the Jewish state, and remarkably, an equal number of men who are being refused divorces by their recalcitrant wives.