Late last Shabbat afternoon I came downstairs to find my husband reading aloud an article from The New York Times to our 12-year-old daughter about a free loan fund that had been started in Atlanta by a Jewish couple. Seeing the economic hardship around them, this couple put aside $5,000 to help their neighbors in need through extending small loans. As my husband read to our daughter, I immediately knew that this was a story that I had to bring to the attention of my students the following morning.
The cruse of oil story that explains the origins of Chanukah has fallen into disrepute. Many people feel that it appeals to children only, because Chanukah for adults is about a military victory against overwhelming odds. The Babylonian Talmud, they say, composed the story to downplay the Maccabean triumph. But they are wrong. If we read the cruse of oil story in context, we will see how “authentic” it is, and what purpose its authors intended it to serve.
A newly released report by the Task Force on Welcoming Interfaith Families of the New York UJA-Federation has been hailed by some as a breakthrough (“UJA-Fed. Launches Outreach To Intermarrieds,” Dec. 9).
To the extent that it calls for additional funding for Jewish education directed at intermarried couples and new sensitivity training for outreach workers, the report represents a shift in resources. But in its assumptions about intermarriage, it encapsulates the conventional and unsubstantiated wisdom about how best to address intermarriage.
Nowadays Orthodoxy is all about sex. Immodesty, promiscuity, homosexuality: the public discourse of the Orthodox Jewish world seems disproportionately to take place in the bedroom, the dressing room, and the closet.
A month ago I officiated a Jewish commitment ceremony and civil marriage for two men in Washington, D.C. The event was sensationally reported as a “Gay Orthodox Wedding,” and this news has stirred controversy within the Orthodox community. I am aware that my conducting this ceremony has made many uncomfortable, among them, some of my friends and supportive colleagues. In light of the strong feelings I felt that it was important that I clarify the facts, describe the context and explain my intensions. I am hopeful that controversy will give way to conversation.
Agunot again. In 1988 I attended an American Jewish Congress convention in Israel. In the middle of one of the speeches, a line of women tied together by chains pushed across the stage. On her chest each woman wore a letter that, taken all together, spelled the word “agunah,” a woman chained to a marriage from which she cannot free herself because her husband refuses to give her a get, a Jewish divorce.
During a recent conversation about the circumstances, future and significance of Israel for liberally minded North American Jews, the 20-something scion of a prestigious American Jewish family, with long Jewish and Zionist credentials, made a clearly painful confession; “To tell you the truth, Israel disgusts me.”
I recently spent a day at West Point meeting Jewish and non-Jewish cadets, seeing the sights, talking about leadership education with administration and faculty, and teaching a class about Judaism. We spoke of the distinctive pattern of religious belief and practice in America, and the role of religion in stimulating and sanctifying violence — and in eliciting and sanctifying compassion.
Before 2005, I knew little about child sexual abuse. That year, I was approached by a friend, now 44, who was molested as a teenager by two prominent figures in the Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox Jewish community: a teacher in a respected yeshiva, and a renowned chasidic therapist.
When my friend reported the teacher’s abuse to the school’s dean, my friend and his family were intimidated into inaction. A communal taboo against reporting a Jew to the secular authorities meant calling the police was not an option.
When 18-year-old Margot Haas visited Rwanda’s Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village on a summer service and learning trip, she was described by her mom as “ambiently Jewish.” The term itself reflects the gap between what so many “next generation” Jews think of themselves and how they are thought of by their parents and teachers.