OK in Baltimore, but …

Conservative Judaism Thrives In Baltimore, But Troubled Nationwide Being a flag-waver for Conservative Judaism nationwide these days breathes new life into the old expression, “If things are so good, how come I feel so bad?” Except in Baltimore, which is experiencing a reverse of the country’s trend of Reform Judaism passing Conservative Judaism in adherents. Membership units for Conservative shuls here are about 4,800 while the four Reform temples come in at about 3,000. As Rabbi Avram Reisner of Congregation Chevrei Tzedek noted, “You don’t sense crisis in the Conservative congregations here.” But the panoramic view of the U.S.-based Conservative movement and projections for its future have been perceived as so troubled that even Jack Wertheimer, a noted professor at the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote a much-circulated 2007 essay for Commentary magazine that bluntly asked, “Has the Conservative movement fulfilled its historical role, and should it call it quits?” As Conservative partisans are…


Resolution on Israel by the RA

2008-4 RESOLUTION ON JERUSALEMWHEREAS Jerusalem from the time of the Bible was established as the political and religious center of the Jewish people;WHEREAS during 2000 years of exile, Jerusalem (Zion) has been a guiding light for the Jews and a focus of prayer and longing;WHEREAS the State of Israel in recognition of the centrality of Jerusalem made her its capital;WHEREAS the pre-1967 situation, wherein Jews were denied access to the Kotel and other significant historical and religious sites, was intolerable; andWHEREAS Israel harbors great hope for negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement with her neighbors.THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Rabbinical Assembly:• call upon the government of Israel to assure that any future peace agreements ensure that Jerusalem remain the capital of Israel and that Israel exercise control over the sacred sites of the Jewish people in Jerusalem;• call upon the government of Israel to ensure free access…


Bonim Levels Fresh Attacks On USCJ

Group wants to oust the current United Synagogue leadership. Bonim founder Arthur Glauberman: Group wants to oust the current United Synagogue leadership. In yet another indication of the problems plaguing the Conservative movement, as many as 40 synagogues are considering withdrawing from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism because the movement’s congregational arm doesn’t serve their needs, according to a leader of a new group pressing for change. “I say stay and change from within, but 30 to 40 other synagogues may leave,” said Arthur Glauberman, a founder of Bonim (“Builders”). He was referring to multiple comments on a United Synagogue listserv. Bonim, which claims to represent about 50 synagogues along the East Coast, is now speaking openly of ousting the current United Synagogue leadership, slashing the group’s $14 million budget and restructuring the organization. It is also calling for the closing of all 15 of the movement’s regional offices…


Why the 27th of Nissan?

By Michael HandelzaltsOn Monday evening, April 20, 2009, we will begin our 24-hour commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, recalling the millions of Jews who perished in Europe between 1933 and 1945 due to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators. That date also happens to be the 120th birthday of the man who conceived the idea of annihilating the Jewish race: Adolf Hitler. A lifespan of 120 years is a particularly Jewish idea. It is what we wish our co-religionists on their birthdays, since that was the age reached by four most distinguished Jews: Moses, Hillel, Yochanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, 10 days after his 56th birthday. In 1948 Israel's Chief Rabbinate suggested marking the suffering and murder of Jews during the Holocaust on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which also commemorates the siege of Jerusalem…


Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis…

Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling



By Nathan Jeffay


In Tel Aviv, shortly before Passover, David Cohen was mulling over his holiday menu. “I’m thinking of making sushi,” he said.


His plan reflects more than just growing Israeli enthusiasm for Japanese food; it reflects a new polarization on one of the most controversial of Passover-related issues — kitniyot.


Cohen, a beer brewer in his 40s, is an Ashkenazic Orthodox Jew, yet he plans to eat a food shunned on Passover by most observant Ashkenazim. Rice — a key ingredient in sushi — is not in the biblically banned category of hametz, or leavened cereal grain. Religiously, if not taxonomically, it falls within the family of legumes that in Hebrew is known as kitniyot.


Sephardic Jews eat them on Passover, but Ashkenazic rabbis banned them centuries ago because they resemble leavened food when they swell up.


More and more foods have been classified as kitniyot in recent years, as Ashkenazi rabbinic positions have hardened across a wide expanse of Halacha, or traditional religious law. Of late, however, something of a rebellion has erupted among pockets of Modern Orthodox Jews who have decided to eat kitniyot.


“Why should we uphold a meaningless restriction when the Torah permits us to eat kitniyot?” Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Jerusalem asked rhetorically in an interview with the Forward. Bar-Hayim made history two years ago by formally lifting the ban on kitniyot in the Holy Land. His authority is invoked among the growing ranks of new kitniyot-eaters like Cohen.


According to some experts on changes in religious law, we are witnessing the beginning of the end for the ban on kitniyot in Israel. “In another generation, people in Israel won’t even know what you are talking about,” said Rabbi Donniel Hartman, co-director of the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute.


For many observant Ashkenazim here, the kitniyot prohibition is a long-standing pet peeve. “This was a much easier process before I moved to Israel,” said Michael Davis, a recent British immigrant interviewed while shopping for Passover in a Tel Aviv supermarket.


For most of the year, Israel is the capital of kosher, offering the word’s easiest consumer experience for observant Jews. Come Passover, however, many of those same consumers find shopping interminably complex.


Beginning a few days before Passover, Israeli shops overflow with items certified “kosher for Passover,” like those in Diaspora Jewish neighborhoods. But in Israel, traditional Ashkenazim must read the fine print on every item. A growing number of products are labeled “Suitable for kitniyot-eaters only.”


In part, the confusion is caused by manufacturers using kitniyot in ever-more adventurous Passover products. The other cause is the constantly swelling list of items banned by Orthodox rabbis as kitniyot.


“The attitude in the last few decades has changed and become stricter to the point of absurdity,” said kitniyot expert Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmud at Bar Ilan University. Recent additions to the kitniyot list, he said, include cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and even hemp.


Opponents of the growing list point out that many products now deemed kitniyot, like sweet corn and soybeans, were unknown to the medieval sages whom today’s rabbis claim to follow, and therefore cannot be covered by their prohibition.


Thanks to the growing stringency, a traditional Ashkenazi in the store where Davis was shopping would have to avoid such un-legumelike products as chewing gum and chocolate spread, along with most cooking sauces.


Bar-Hayim argues that maintaining practices unique to Ashkenazic Jews in Israel is undesirable. By definition, he said, the Jewish state should find Jews more “united in their religious practice,” not “living here as if they are in the old country.”


For backing he cited the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative code of rabbinic law, which states that a Jew moving to a new area should adopt the customs of the new community rather than cling to the old ones. And since the kitniyot restriction is European and was never widely observed in the Middle East, he reasons, it holds no weight in Israel.


His ruling has provoked widespread rabbinic fury. “People have been keeping this tradition for over 600 years,” former Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in a lecture last month. “Those who kept it were great people. What, we should tell them to give up their traditions?”


To Bar-Hayim, the critics’ approach is irrationally attached to the past and is “not halachic,” possibly even “anti-halachic.” “Just as it is forbidden to allow what is prohibited, it is forbidden to prohibit what is allowed,” he said.


The debate runs deep, even dividing some families. Eliyahu Skozylas, a Jerusalem software engineer, will be eating kitiyot this Passover for the third consecutive year, but his wife refuses. It is, he admits, a “major source of tension in our home.”


Bar-Hayim’s ruling and his reasoning closely echo a 20-year-old halachic ruling by the Israeli Conservative movement. David Golinkin, head of the Conservative rabbinical college the Schechter Institute, wrote in 1989 that all Israelis can eat kitniyot “without fear of transgressing any prohibition.”


Some scholars predict that a combination of rabbinic rulings and demographics will eventually make the kitniyot ban a thing of the past in Israel. “The classic characteristics of halachic change” are already discernible on the issue, Hartman said. For example, large numbers of Ashkenazim — himself included — draw a fine distinction by eating kitniyot “derivatives” but not kitniyot.


The “disintegration of the divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardi” will play a significant part, Hartman said. Already there is “not a single family in the country without a Sephardi member,” and Sephardim are more influential than ever in national culture. He stressed that this development will be a result of Ashkenazic-Sephardic mixing in Israel and will not affect practice in the Diaspora.


Other experts predict that the kitniyot tradition will endure, preserved by a combination of religious traditionalism and multiculturalism. “There’s a reassertion of ethnic pride, with people feeling it’s okay to do things differently to others and to celebrate diversity,” said Bar-Ilan University Jewish studies professor Adam Ferziger.



The Watchman 60+ Years Ago

  The Watchman Monday, Aug. 16, 1948The Jews beat the Arabs. Out of the concentration camps, ghettoes, banks, courtrooms, theaters and factories of Europe the Chosen People had assembled and had won their first great military victory since Judas Maccabeus* beat the Syrian Nicanor at Adasa 2,109 years ago. Their success has been hidden from the world by U.N. maneuvering and by a confusing war of a hundred skirmishes with real battles. Although, in years to come, fighting might break out again & again, its probable pattern was "fixed: the Jews were too tough, too smart and too vigorous for the divided and debilitated Arab world to conquer. As the U.N. truce settled on Palestine last week it seemed probable that the new state of Israel, already recognized by 15 nations, would seek and get U.N. membership at next fall's meeting in Paris. It was time to stop pondering the settled question of whether there would be a Jewish state, time, to…


Sweeping Change For USCJ?

Wernick Promises Sweeping Change For United Synagogue Rabbi Steven Wernick: Wants to “re-engage” Conservative synagogues. by Stewart AinStaff Writer With the Conservative movement’s congregational arm under attack on two fronts, the group’s incoming executive stepped into the fray this week with bold promises for sweeping change. “One of the greatest frustrations is that the United Synagogue is not transparent or sufficiently responsive to the needs of the synagogue,” the executive, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told The Jewish Week. “I want to re-energize and re-engage the synagogues by creating priorities and an agenda of the United Synagogue and therefore also the movement. “I’m going to do it using the phone, by traveling and through electronic meeting spaces. I’m going to listen. People are doing great things, and we need to talk to each other ... I plan to have serious conversations with the leadership of synagogues on a local level.” The United…


FoundationStone Free Hebrew Software

FoundationStone is a FREE application and support materials designed to help you learn Hebrew - an essential part of a Jewish education. The "Online Hebrew Tutorial" is available as part of the download - a complete, condensed set of language lessons to learn Hebrew. It can also be browsed online.    HOW IT WORKS -  By recording which words you are getting wrong and reviewing those words more frequently, the program adapts your program of study to your individual needs. Contrast this to the standard method of learning using lists of words on paper - the words you already know get the same attention as words you don't. Words can be reviewed from English to Hebrew or Hebrew to English, and reviewed in random order so you are not remembering them from their position in the list. Statistics are provided and allow you to set personal goals for each session.   By…


The Wallenberg Curse

      Search for Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Holocaust Hero, Has Torn His Family Apart - WSJ.com      More BigCharts Virtual Stock Exchange FiLife.com WSJ Asia WSJ Europe WSJ Portuguese WSJ Spanish WSJ Chinese       SEARCH                             Welcome, Logout                   My Account      My Online Journal      Help      Message Center ( new)                                    U.S. Edition                                                WSJ.com is available in the following editions and languages:                                                                                                  U.S.                                                                                                                  Asia                                                                                                                              India                                                                                                                                      China                                                                                                                                                                    Europe                                                                                                               Americas                                                                                                           en Español                                                                                                                                          em Português                                                                                                                                                  …


Conservative Judaism’s ‘Vision Thing’

Conservative Judaism, the centrist denomination that once dominated American Jewish religious life, faces a crucial juncture this spring in its quest to halt a lingering decline. The United Synagogue, the movement’s congregational arm, is set to hire a new executive officer, completing a wholesale generational change of guard in Conservative Judaism’s three major institutions.The leadership change could offer the movement a rare opportunity to reverse its fortunes. But in an interview with the Forward, United Synagogue lay president Raymond Goldstein, who is directing the job search, hinted at difficulties in articulating a vision of future Conservative renewal. That could make it hard to find a transformational CEO able to implement such a vision. Asked at one point what changes the movement might need to achieve renewal, Goldstein replied, half in jest, “If you have the answer, we’ll buy it from you.”In fact, the movement already bought an answer, in the…