2/27/14

After Rattling Rabbinic Sabres Y.U. Backs Down and Will Ordain Rabbinical Student Who Held Partnership Minyan Service

I am mentioned in the Forward article and I am glad this episode is winding down. Too much posturing and anonymity in this struggle.

A longer interview with me got pared down to two paragraphs:
Tzvee Zahavy, a former University of Minnesota professor who received ordination from Y.U. in 1973, also took issue with Penner’s letter. “There’s no asterisk on my semikha certificate saying, you have the authority, but you have to check with us first,” he said.

Zahavy was so taken aback by the letter that he sent an email to Penner, asking whether Y.U. would like to revoke his ordination, since he supports the rabbinical student who held a partnership minyan. Penner wrote back, saying, “No, I doubt that’s necessary.”

Is Bridgegate Jewish?

The Bridgegate Scandal has always been Jewish in some ways, e.g. David Wildstein, a principal player in the scandal, is a Jew from Livingston NJ.

But now, yes, Bridgegate is really Jewish, since a certain Rabbi Mendy Carlebach was mentioned as a potential target for retribution: "Rabbi Mendy Carlebach serves as Chaplain in the Port Authority Police of NY and NJ, in the South Brunswick Police Department and as the Jewish Chaplain in the Federal Bureau of Prisons at MCC in NYC, NY."

In this story, New York Daily News: Christie appointees questioned if they would be fired over Bridgegate, we learned:
The 20 pages of documents [just released] also included a bizarre exchange between Wildstein and fired Christie administration official Bridget Anne Kelly, who put the bridge closing in motion.

Wildstein, after texting her a photo of New Jersey Rabbi Mendy Carlebach with House Speaker John Boehner, declared the religious leader "has officially pissed me off."

"Clearly," replied Kelly. "We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?"

Wildstein quickly responded: "Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed."

Yeshiva University Dean of Rabbis Denies News Account & He Won't Take My Semicha Back

When I got my semicha (1973) I was proud that it said "Yoreh Yoreh Beissur Veheter" giving me my own franchise to issue religious decisions regarding what is forbidden and what is permitted in accord with the Torah, Talmud, commentaries, codes and responsa.

Now my school YU has been saying of late through its great gadol and potent posek that in some public policy matters involving our religion, local rabbis can't do that unless they adhere to the halakhah and the mesorah as defined in Washington Heights. Well "the" halakah does not exist and "the mesorah" is a vague account of the transmission of religious authority. My franchise was never conditioned on those settings.

I've been making religious decisions regarding what is forbidden and what is permitted for people in my community and family since 1973. But since the rabbi rules seemed to have changed, I made an offer to my school. It's brief and it's copied below, emails between me and Marc Penner.
Would you like me to mail my semicha back to you?

[Link to my post]

Tzvee Zahavy
RIETS 73
No, I doubt that's necessary. We do not take back semikha and are not about to start doing so.
In an attempt to protect the dignity and confidentiality of the student, the yeshiva has kept quiet about the issues in this case. The actions of the yeshiva were not, as you present them, a punitive measure relating to a minyan that he held in his home.

Kol tuv
Rabbi Marc Penner
646-660-5858
Sent from my iPad (please excuse any mistakes)
Thanks for your reply. I am surprised to hear [back] from you.

I do not write news or research stories. I only comment and offer opinion after others have already published materials. In this case I relied on the account by Gary [Rosenblatt] in the Jewish Week and on the TJC story as I cited. You may want to straighten Gary out - on or off the record.

And no. I don't buy it. If you wanted to protect the dignity of the student you would not have written him that letter. I have no way of knowing what you are punishing a student for doing - but that letter was not the way to issue a reprimand. I'd hurry and retract it all if I were you [by saying e.g.,] "Yeshiva does not demand loyalty oaths or fealty statements from their students. It is unfortunate that I was misinterpreted."

Good luck.
Tzvee

2/26/14

Yeshiva University RIETS Threatens to Withhold Ordination of Wayward Rabbinical Student

The Jewish Week weakly exposed some elements of a story of rabbinic school intrigue ("‘Your Semicha Or Your Wife’YU withholding ordination from rabbinic student who participated in ‘partnership minyan.’"). It wasn't an illuminating account.

The Jewish Channel followed up with texts and data relating to the murky matter.

What wayward behavior does a rabbinical student have to perform to trigger threats against him by his school that they will not grant him rabbinic ordination?

Perhaps, if he is caught eating a bacon cheeseburger on Yom Kippur, that will lead to his loss of ordination. But that is not the case here.

Perhaps if he is caught committing adultery with his menstruating mother-in-law, that would be the trigger of his demise from the rabbinical ranks. But that surely is not the case here.

What egregious act did the student commit to merit the threat of his nuclear annihilation from the clergy ranks even before his career was launched?

He prayed with women.

Apparently this young man helped his wife attend a partnership minyan. So Yeshiva's dean of rabbis told him to sign a loyalty oath or forget about receiving his blessings. He must forswear such rebellious activities.

They sent him a very problematic letter, reproduced at TJC. I'm pretty sure that the letter is grounds for a major lawsuit. Its vague stipulations make little sense to me. But it's clear, if you are going to require a fealty oath to halakhic authority, as YU has defined it this week ("One of the central principles of RlETS is a fealty to halakhah and the halakhíc process"), as a condition for ordination, then surely you must do so at the beginning of the first enrollment of the student, not at the end of his five years of studies. Wow, if word gets out that that's what they do over there, nobody will gamble in that casino.

You cannot change the rules of the rabbi game in the metaphoric bottom of the ninth with two outs, the fourth quarter with 10 seconds left on the clock.

Astonishingly you have to step back and take a deep breath and think for a minute. Just think. Nothing terrible will occur if the Orthodox allow their women to be called to the Torah or count for a minyan. It would be a great thing. This latest situation is just one more catastrophic error by YU.

But most remarkable in the letter from the dean is that it's clear that Yeshiva University is no longer a place where the pure values of Torah and Talmud dominate. Those words are not mentioned by the dean. Rather it is where the rigorous adherence to things called halakhah and mesorah rule the roost, to the exclusion of  our cherished Torah and Talmud. How utterly bizarre.

2/23/14

Is the Film "The Endless Summer" Jewish?

My favorite movie is Bruce Brown's, The Endless Summer. No, it wasn't Jewish at all that is, until I made it into a metaphor for my quest for perfect Jewish spirituality and the inspiration for my book cover (see below). I haven't found any other Jewish connections to the film or the poster.

Vanity Fair has a story about the famous iconic Endless Summer movie poster. "One Summer, Forever: The Endless Summer poster is 50 years old, and it hasn't aged a minute. Kitchen-table project turned pop-culture phenomenon, the Day-Glo movie promo created by John Van Hamersveld for his friend Bruce Brown’s 1964 documentary is still selling the dream—on T-shirts, TV shows, beer bottles, and dorm walls. Lili Anolik looks back at the moment an iconic image was born, the social upheaval it presaged, and the surfer-dude-slash-designer whose life it changed."

In 1966 I saw a film that documented two boys seeking simple perfection in a quasi-mystical sport. IMDB sums up, "Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters."

The film spoke to me, as it did to many others of a more idealistic age. The essence of surfing of course is the wave. And the lover of surfing no doubt wants to embark on the quest for the best wave. To experience the performance of the essence is to find the perfect wave.

Brown's two surfer dudes found one in South Africa, see the video clip below.

2/21/14

Haaretz: Why so Few Streets Named for Women In Tel Aviv?

One of my favorite books about Israel is "Street People" by Helga Dudman. "This is an informative and amusing guide-book recalling the "biographies" of many Israeli streets, the stories of the famous men and women for whom they were named. Pedestrians (and drivers) can travel along Ibn Gabirol, Nordau, Ahad Ha'Am, George Eliot, Lilienblum--and know who they were and what they did!"

Haaretz now reports that, "Of 2,439 streets in Tel Aviv, only 62 - a paltry 2.5 percent - are named for women." And we cannot blame this on Orthodox rabbis. Tel Aviv is a predominantly secular city. I was taught that Zionism was a basically egalitarian movement. It seems that is not reflected in street naming.
Can Israeli women break the glass ceiling - on street signs?
By Ilan Lior

The briefest of strolls through Tel Aviv will reveal one very long road indeed: the path to gender equality in street names.

Although women constitute half the population, their names are almost entirely absent from street signs. Of 2,439 streets in Tel Aviv, only 62 — a paltry 2.5 percent — are named for women.

The number dwindles even further when you realize that in six cases, the streets bear the names of women mentioned together with their husbands.

2/17/14

What is Mindfulness?

A great summary by Daniel GolemanWhat Mindfulness Is — And Isn't --
Now that meditation has hit the cover of TIME, the Wisdom 2.0 conference has brought meditating executives to the headlines, and figures from Arianna Huffington to 50 Cent do the practice, a bit of backlash was inevitable.
But I was surprised to see my friend Tony Schwartz dissenting (at least a bit) in a New York Times blog “More Mindfulness, Less Meditation.” Tony’s sense of the working world ranks first class, but this time I think he got the facts wrong, in two ways.

2/16/14

Yeshiva University Orthodox Rabbis Began Their Crusade Against Jewish Women's Rights and Roles in 1985

LONG ISLAND JEWISH WORLD
MARCH 8-14, 1985

An Open Letter

Dear Rabbis Parness, Bronspiegel, Alpert, Willig and Schachter:

I have just read (Jewish World, Feb. 15-21, 1985) of your intention to issue a responsum forbidding women from gathering together for prayer and Torah reading. I know how urgent many people think it is at this time to react to recent trends within the Torah observant community. But I believe it is wrong to issue a formal responsum at this time and wish to explain why.

2/14/14

Rav Hershel Schachter's Valentine to Jewish Women

Taking a page from the questions I ask on my blog, Haaretz via the Forward asks, "Is Valentine's Day Kosher?" The answer? Surprise, "Since Valentine’s Day is even less of a religious holiday than these holidays (New Year's and Thanksgiving), it seems to this writer that Jews should be permitted to celebrate..."

That said, how does the venerable Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University celebrate the festival? He does so by publishing a love letter to Jewish women. He waxes poetic about how special they are to him. It's so touching it brought tears to my eyes to read how much the rabbi respects Jewish women.

Here is his romantic letter in its entirety (translated by Rabbi Yair Hoffman).
“The Entire Congregation is Holy..”

CAUSING THE KOHAIN TO BECOME IMPURE

A Mishna is cited in the beginning of tractate Yuma (2a) that the sages would purposefully cause the Kohain preparing the Parah Adumah to become impure, and then immerse him. They did this in order to entirely negate the view of the Sadducees [that the kohain performing the service must be completely pure – not just partially pure].

So that onlookers would now not denigrate the process of Para Aduma – the sages further ordained that all the actions involving the Parah Adumah be performed in vessels of dung, stone, and earthenware – vessels that are not susceptible to impurity.

2/11/14

Is US Attorney J. Paul Fishman Jewish?

Yes, US Attorney J. Paul Fishman is a Jew who attended Hebrew school as a child in River Edge in Bergen County NJ.

The Times reports, "In Inquiry, It’s Christie Against Prosecutor."
...Mr. Fishman has been thrust into the awkward and highly public role of investigating his predecessor, as part of an inquiry into the closing of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge and other apparent acts of political retribution.

No longer can Mr. Fishman, whom lawyers often describe as competitive and proud, avoid what he has been loath to invite: comparisons to his predecessor.

“You want to create a legacy if you take that job, and there’s no way you’re going to create a legacy, after Chris, prosecuting public corruption cases,” said Lawrence S. Lustberg, a prominent defense lawyer who has known Mr. Fishman since they attended Hebrew school as children in Bergen County. “So Paul is moving the office into other areas, taking it in directions where the District of New Jersey has never gone.”...

Is Top Philanthropist Mark Zuckerberg Jewish?

Yes, philanthropist and founder of FaceBook Mark Zuckerberg is a Jew. Wikipedia informs us, "Zuckerberg was born in 1984 in White Plains, New York. He is the son of Karen (née Kempner), a psychiatrist, and Edward Zuckerberg, a dentist. He and his three sisters, Randi, Donna, and Arielle, were brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a small town about 10 miles north of New York City. Zuckerberg was raised Jewish, had his bar mitzvah when he turned 13, and has since described himself as an atheist."

The Washington Post reports:
Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan are America’s most generous givers in 2013

Most of us will never see $1 billion in our lives. But that’s just about how much Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated in 2013, topping the list of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s latest compilation of America’s most generous donors.

Chan and Zuckerberg were the youngest donors on the list which logged an overall rise in giving in 2013 as well. According to the publication, the wealthy gave $7.7 billion last year — about 4 percent more than the total in 2012....

...Other technology leaders on the list included eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his estranged wife, Anne Wojcick, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Nineteen of the 50 top individuals and families on the list, including Zuckerberg and Chan, have signed Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’s Giving Pledge. The pledge asks the world’s wealthiest individuals to give the majority of their wealth — either in their life or after death — to philanthropy.

2/8/14

Is Rap Music Talmudic?

No, rap music is not Talmudic. Rap music is the complete utter opposite of anything Talmudic.

In setting a new epitome for bad taste and judgment, the owners of the Rap Genius web site continue to describe it as the Talmud for rap.

To take a page out of rap music, let me say to Mahmod Moghadam, Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory, the founders/owners of Rap Genius, "Fuck you."

Rap music is profane. It claims to be profane. There is no doubt it is profane. Listen to it for ten minutes. It's vile, misogynist, sexist, racist, violent and obscene.

On October 16, 2013 Shalom Life reported that RG is the, "'Internet Talmud' which continues to grow exponentially, attracting approx. 30 million monthly users around the world." No, it is not the Talmud!

Shalom Life in Canada reported January 30, 2014, "Rap Genius Launches App for Mobile" opining that, "The Internet Talmud lives on."

The RG web site claims to be the Talmud for rap lyrics, i.e., a place where commentaries expose the meaning of texts - not texts of the sacred Torah, as the Talmud and Midrash does, but texts of the utterly profane lyrics of rap music.

And three Jewish Guys are making piles of money off of the talents of hundreds of black musicians. Wow, very clever raising $15 million from Ben Horowitz of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. You guys are awesome Jews!

Oh, tough break when Google discovered that you were gaming their SEO algorithms. You quickly admitted that you "Effed up." How gallant of you (after you were caught): "Google Squashes Rap Genius 'Scheme'.
...Google discovered that Rap Genius was garnering successful results at search engine optimization - if you typed in the lyrics to any rap song, chances were rap genius would appear first - not because of its excellent technologies and millions of loyal fans; no, it appears the three dudes behind our beloved site were actually running a backlink scheme.

Tech expert John Marbach outlines how the scheme works exactly in a blog post from earlier this week; apparently bloggers were encouraged to insert backlinks to lyrics on Rap Genius for the new Justin Bieber album: Journals. Rap Genius promised to these bloggers that, in exchange, they would tweet a link containing these links, which optimizes SEO for all parties involved.

Google, however, looks down on such behavior as, besides being a tad unfair, leading to poor results for people using the search engine platform.

"We effed up," wrote Rap Genius founders Ilan Zechory, Mahbod Moghadam (check out our exclusive interview with Moghadam here), and Tom Lehman...
You know, don't tell anyone. I listen to rap music and admire the music and its utter chutzpah. That doesn't mean I officially like it...

But please, please, please don't keep calling Rap Genius, the "Internet Talmud"!

2/6/14

JStandard.com: My Talmudic Advice Column for February: Tracking the Tribal Golfer and Search for the Perfect Shul

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column
Published in The Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi,

I play golf often with my friend Charlie, who is a secular Jew. We generally are sent out by the starter to play the round along with another twosome. After a few holes, Charlie inevitably inconspicuously asks me if I think the guys we are playing with are “members of the tribe.” I can’t understand why Charlie is so concerned about his and other people’s Jewishness if he does not himself follow any religious practices.

Kosher Golfer
Mahwah

Dear Golfer,

You raise an issue about our genetic or tribal identification as Jews that is core to our self-understanding as a people. I used to teach that in modern times there can be a clear distinction between Jews, who connect to our people by descent only, and Judaists, who are Jews and also practice the religion of Judaism. I have come of late to recognize that genealogy and theology are intertwined in a more involved fashion.

2/5/14

Is Mindful Meditation Finally Going to Become Jewish?

Around 1992 I took up both yoga and also mindful meditation a la Jon Kabat-Zinn. I wrote the post below 8/28/09 ending with the question/suggestion that we bring mindfulness into our shuls and schools.

Five years later, Jews finally are noticing mindful meditation -- because it saves money, according to the Forward, "Why Jews Should Tune In to the Mindfulness Revolution. It's Not Just 'Hippie Stuff' — Meditation Can Save Billions."

Here's what I said about my practices in 1992 in Minnesota, and a link to a 2007 Times article.

Our club, Northwest Racket and Swim in St. Louis Park had a wonderful yoga program. Our favorite instructor was Bonnie West, who led a totally Americanized yoga class. She'd crack jokes and talk about current events and get all of us to go to our limits.

At our HMO they decided to offer a free course in mindful meditation as an experiment. We were right there to take up the offer. We did yoga and meditation for several years and let it taper off when we moved back East.

Why did we stop? We actually didn't. We integrated mindfulness into our everyday life to a large degree. But that is a whole other story.

Anyway we were quite pleased to read in the NY Times, in 2007, about the acceptance of the practice in mainstream schools.

Wouldn't it be a great thing to offer instruction in mindfulness in our shuls and synagogues too?
In the Classroom, a New Focus on Quieting the Mind
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN

2/3/14

Is Obscenity Jewish?

As much as I'd like to say no, anti-Semites and academics agree on this, that yes, a large number of Jews are prominently associated with obscenity in several ways.

Openly anti-Semitic web sites (such as this one "Sex Plague: The Normalization of Deviance and Depravity" and this one: "Secret Sex Life of the Jews") delight in chronicling the associations of Jews with obscenity, pornography, prostitution and the like. I don't recommend that you visit or read those vile sites, even the ones that represent some modicum of fact and journalism. These sites are run by people who hate Jews for people who hate Jews. Most of us agree that anti-Semitism in and of itself is a terribly obscene activity in any society.

And contrary to the constant stream of conspiratorial accusations of the anti-Semites, it's not a secret that Jews have been and are prominent in sex businesses. They are businesses whose barriers to entry were not high. The sex sector historically attracted Jewish businessmen when Jews were barred by anti-Semites from other industries.

There is significant open and credible academic discussion of this subject in new scholarly publications.

Religion Dispatches writes about one book that deals systematically with the issue of Jews and obscenity, "Jews and Obscenity: Is it a Thing?" in their Sexuality/Gender category.

Rachel Gordon reviews there Josh Lambert’s "Unclean Lips: Jews, Obscenity, and American Culture (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)."

She says it, "... is part of a growing body of scholarship on American Jews that’s willing to look where others have politely averted the scholarly gaze." Further she writes,