October 28, 2014
Conversion to Judaism involves, after being screened and found to convincingly desire to accept the Yoke of Heaven and the Yoke of Mitsvot, having studied enough to know and understand what that involves, and living the life in a manner that projects confidence that one will continue living loyally according to these principles and commitments, to then declare one’s commitment before a rabbincal court, and to immerse oneself in a mikveh in presence of such a court. Before dipping, men must also undergo circumcision, or, if already sufficiently medically circumcised, have a drop of blood extracted in lieu of circumcision. The procedure is otherwise identical for men and women, though men immerse themselves naked, while women do so in a manner as to make this encounter as modestly as possible. This means that she will be dressed in a dark, somewhat heavy but loose robe, enter the water, and only once in the mikveh will the rabbinical judges enter, remain at a distance, conduct the requisite brief conversation, and see her head disappear under the water.
Typically, the rabbinical judges remain at the door, quite far from the actual mikveh, though this does also depend on the design of the room. Nonetheless, Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky finds that some judges do come in into the room proper, and that some women find that insensitive. She has therefore written A Modest Proposal for Women’s Conversion in which she revives an argument she first proposed in the journal Akdamut Milin in 2007 (article link). According to her, the judges don’t need to be there at all. She does raise some valid ponts, but regarding her main point, she is wrong and she knows it. Read the rest of this entry »
October 2, 2014
Rosh haShanah is usually thought of as a festive, celebratory day, while Yom Kippur is the day of prayer and aweful, awesome judgment, the day of repentance, prayer and spirituality.
But is it perhaps the opposite way around? Could Yom Kippur be actually more festive than Rosh haShanah, and Rosh haShanah be more aweful and awe inspiring? These themes are explored in the following sermon from 5768 (2007) that gave my German book Ein reissendes lärmendes Wildwasser its name. Read the rest of this entry »
July 17, 2014
Though the tragic kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teenagers Gilda Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Frenkel seem like ages away, overloaded as we are with images and news from the ongoing war with Hamas, the following two amazing vignettes of Gilad Shaar reached my inbox. They show how even at 16, this young man had earned his place among those of loving hearts and good deeds, someone with ambitions of empathy and lovingkindness.
Rabbanit Mizrachi was at a women’s convention last week. On the stage was a group called “Playback”. They asked members of the audience to share stories which they would then act out.
One young woman got up .This is her story:
“I work as a resource room teacher with children who have learning disabilities. A few years ago a young boy began taking lessons in my resource room. I could not figure out what had brought him to seek my help. He clearly had no difficulty with his lessons and did well on all his tests. Read the rest of this entry »
July 1, 2014
With extreme sadness, I join millions of Jews the world over who mourn the three young men who, simply because they were Jews and reachable targets, had been kidnapped in the bloom of their lives and murdered in cold blood by inhumans, dreggs of humanity. May we find strength in prayer and deed, not to forgive this crime against civilians, and not rest until the perpetrators and their enablers are brought to justice. Meanwhile, I offer these words of prayer,so that G”d may inspire us to labor for justice and that we may keep the memory of those martyrs forever before our eyes. [UPDATE 20140703: Slightly edited, including but not limited to inserting the fathers’ names, as customary for praying for the deceased]
אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים, שׁוֹכֵן בַּמְּרוֹמִים,
הַמְצֵא מְנוּחָה נְכוֹנָה, תַחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה,
בְּמַעֲלוֹת קְדוֹשִׁים וּטְהוֹרִים,
כְּזוֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ מְאִירִים וּמַזְהִירִים,
יַעֲקֹב נַפְתָּלִי בֶּן אַבְרָהָם,
גִּלְעָד מִיכָאֵל בֶּן אוֹפִיר,
וְאֶייַל בֶּן אוּרִיאֵל
שֶׁנֶּהֶרְגוּ עַל קְדֻשַּׁת הַשֵּׁם
עַל יְדֵי מְחַבְּלִים רְשָׁעִים יִמַּח שְׁמָם וְזִכְרָם,
[בַּעֲבוּר שֶׁנִּתֵּן צְדָקָה \ שֶׁנִּלְמוֹד מִשְׁנַיּוֹת \
תּוֹרָה בְּעַד הַזְכָּרַת נִשְׁמָתָן.]
אֶרֶץ אַל תְּכַסִּי דָּמָם,
וְאַל יְהִי מָקוֹם לְזַעֲקָתָם,
עַד אֲשֶׁר יַשְׁקִיף ה’ מִשָּׁמַיִם
וְיָחוּס עַל עַמּוֹ, אַרְצוֹ וְנַחֲלָתוֹ.
Read the rest of this entry »
May 16, 2014
I just saw a letter from the lay president of the Paris consistoir (umbrella organization of the Jewish community, which operates the city wide subsidiary institutions, like the beis din), where Mr. Joël Mergui, the lay president, provides statistics for gittin (religious divorces) and for contentious divorce cases at the beis din. They write more than 400 gittin a year. Of those, last year there were 12 men and 16 women who did not present themselves easily or at all before the beis din, requiring further action. Note the surprising larger number of women refusing to cooperate with the beis din. It’s not just newsworthy because of the breakdown of men vs. women, it’s also about the proportion of problem cases. Out of 400, between 16 and 28 demanded extra attention.
The letter was published as part of their weekly newsletter, downloadable here. Scroll down to “Pour une médiation sereine au service des couples.” Read the rest of this entry »
April 2, 2014
— Who’s there?
— Fritz Schmidt, your rabbi’s neighbor who purchased your chametz yesterday morning.
— Ah, what do you want?
— Oh, nothing major. I just want to pick up that bottle of islay whiskey you sold me yesterday at a discount.
– (Astonished) That’s all?
– Yes. Well, eh, no. I am also coming to deposit a few frozen pork bellies in that freezer you rented me. I am preparing a party for Easter Monday, but since the stores are closed, I find your freezer very handy…
– (Annoyed) Come in. *Your* freezer is down the hall. Well, at least I know you meant it when you bought that chametz.
March 25, 2014
Following a discussion on the Avodah mailing list (scroll down to: “How to Teach History”) regarding the popularity of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s teachings in general and his outlook on Western culture in particular, I am making my 2006 paper Culture, a Foundation for Torah? available for download. It was published that year in a festschrift celebrating the 111st anniversary of the founding of the Schomre Thora in Basel. A German translation was included in my 2008 book Ein lärmendes, reissendes Wildwasser.
February 15, 2014
Forthcoming March 27th I will be one of the speakers at a joint event between the European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace and the German federal state of Hessen’s Brussels office. It will be an opportunity to explore the mounting pressures attempting to limit freedom of religion and tolerance for others in Europe. The title of my lecture is provocatively entitled: “Religious practices and expressions: contradicting human rights?”
This will be another step in our interfaith effort to mitigate and counter the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Resolution 1952, from the 1st of October 2013, which encouraged legally constraining religious circumcision. Some previous steps undertaken in this matter were described in a previous blog post.
January 29, 2014
Forthcoming March 27th I will be one of the speakers at a joint event between the European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace and the Council of Europe’s Brussel’s office. It will be an opportunity to explore the mounting pressures attempting to limit freedom of religion and tolerance for others in Europe. The title of my lecture is provocatively entitled: “Religious practices and expressions: contradicting human rights?”
This will be another step in our interfaith effort to mitigate and counter the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s resolution Resolution 1952 (2013), which encouraged legally constraining religious circumcision. Some previous steps undertaken in this matter were described in a previous blog post.On January 20th 2014, I took part in a Jewish-Muslim interfaith mission by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, meeting with Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, where he reitterated his strong support for religious freedom and cultural tolerance. This came a week ahead of a renewed discussion concerning ritual male infant circumcision at the Council of Europe.
Unfortunately, a the discussion regarding ritual circumcision a mere week after our interfaith meeting with Secretary General Jagland, we could see first hand how some activists won’t stop at anything and will try to claim a moral high ground upon which they can build their castles of intolerance, cloaking their intransigence in arguments supposedly about the rights of the child, while totally ignoring the same children’s rights to be part of a community, for instance a religious community, and to receive their parents’ culture and deeply held values. There remains much work to be done.
Most upsetting was that all Germans who were present and spoke at the January 28th discussion all opposed ritual circumcision. It seems like after losing in the German Bundestag when the latter body passed a law protecting ritual circumcision, they ran to the Council of Europe to sell their intolerant wares. Read the rest of this entry »