Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yom Yerushalayim!

Jerusalem Day!  In 1969, Sidney Goldfoot wrote An Open Letter to the World from Jerusalem.  Alas, his message is still important today.  Courtesy of Aish Video.

For those of us living in חו״ל who lived through those terrible days leading up to the Six Day War - let's remember the sacrifices and celebrate the victory.  Lift a glass of wine!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rabbi School Dropout

Wanna Be A Rabbi?, Part ב:  Are we beginning to sense a theme here?  Don't worry - Abq Jew will, eventually, go back to his usual announcements of upcoming Abq Jewish events, his commentaries, and his other contributions to Jewish life in Albuquerque and beyond.  But first, here is a message from Pizmon.

What - you don't know Pizmon?  From their website:
Pizmon is the co-ed Jewish a cappella group from Columbia, Barnard, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. We sing a variety of different genres, including liturgical pieces, Israeli rock and pop, English parodies, Yiddish classics, and children's songs. We primarily perform off-campus, teaching and sharing our music with Jewish communities around the world. To find out more about what we do and who we are check out our press package. To inquire about our availability or purchase CDs, please check out the rest of the website.
Why, you ask, are Jewish a capella groups popular?  Because they can perform on Shabbos without the ... awkwardness of violating (according to many) the prohibition of playing a musical instrument thereupon.  Note: Technically, the prohibitions are against a) carrying the instrument (the same reason we don't blow shofar on Rosh HaShanah when it falls on Shabbos); and b) tuning the instrument. 

So then, you ask, why can't we simply a) pre-position the musical instrument (or shofar) at the performance venue (or synagogue) before Shabbos; and b) pre-tune said musical instrument (or refrain from doing so during the performance)?  These are excellent questions.

Moving right along, here is a video that shows you what Pizmon can do.  Note: This is not the song that Abq Jew wishes to concentrate on - but it is a great song.

Now, here is the song that Abq Jew wishes to concentrate on.  It, too, is a great song. It's from Pizmon's third album, Greensleeves, and is set to the tune of Beauty School Dropout, from the musical Grease.  Pizmon is now up to their ninth album, some of which are available at CDbaby.com.
Rabbi School Dropout
Words: Natie Fox - Pizmon dropout
Music: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Your story's sad to tell, a Yiddish ne'er do well
Most farblundgent Jewish soul on the block
Your future's so unclear now, what's left of your career now
Can't even get a trade-in on your Tanach

Rabbi School Dropout, your proof of smicha won't be sent
Rabbi School Dropout, missed your behina, flunked cholent
Well, at least you could have taken time to learn Torah and Jewish roots
After spending all that dough buying nice clothes to look farputzed

Hey Yid get moving, to yourself don't be a tease
What are you proving, you've got the seichel but no kishkes
If you go for your smicha you're just being a nincompoop
Turn in your Talmud Bavli, go back to law school

Rabbi School Dropout, no ordination day for you
Rabbi School Dropout, when they said "Moses" you said "Who?"
Well, they couldn't teach you anything you think that you're so glorious
No one would ask of you a shaila unless he was an apikoros

Chabibi don't sweat it, you're not cut out to play this tune
Better forget it, who wants a shiur from a shmagoon?
Now, you love your Bubbe, you love your Zeyde, but still the world is cruel
Wipe off that holy face and go back to law school

Hey you don't blow it, please take the good advice I've sent
Baby you know it, even though you're so farklempt
I've told you what to do, so listen you, I've really got to fly
Gotta be going to that Beis Midrash in the sky
Abq Jew wishes he could point you to an uploaded MP3 of Rabbi School Dropout - but he is not sure that he can legally do that, even though other Pizmon songs are available on YouTube.  Abq Jew affirms that artists are entitled to the fruits of their labors.  So buy the album - you'll love it!

A couple more points about Wanna Be A Rabbi?:
  • Let it be noted that Abq Jew's fateful JTS Talmud encounter with Rabbi Saul Lieberman, of blessed memory, was one of the Rabbinical School entrance requirements, which Abq Jew had never completed.  Since Abq Jew was never formally admitted, he cannot be a Rabbi School Dropout.
  • Let it also be noted that Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, Director of the Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program of JFSNM, has correctly pointed out that Abq Jew overgeneralizes.  Rabbi Min states:
    In the Rabbinical School I attended, Academy for Jewish Religion, California, rabbinical leadership, pastoral care, creating meaningful ritual and developing a deep personal spiritual connection are very much a part of the curriculum.
  • And thus, let it also also be noted that Abq Jew stands (actually, sits) corrected; but that AJRCA's is one of but a few rabbinical programs that are thus enlightened.
And one more thing:  Menachem Creditor, now Rabbi Menachem Creditor, was a 1995-1996 member of Pizmon, and sang tenor on this Pizmon album.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wanna Be A Rabbi?

Don't Give Up Your Day Job:  Not everyone who becomes a rabbi goes to rabbinical school, and not everyone who goes to rabbinical school becomes a rabbi.  Abq Jew is one of those who went (without actually being admitted; it's a long story) and didn't.

Why didn't he?  Somewhere along the way, Abq Jew found out that the rabbi has to sit on the bimah for the entire day of Yom Kippur - all the services, all the prayers, all the cantorial ... stuff.  Sometimes with a choir.

That's the story Abq Jew has told for the past thirty-odd years.  But the truth is - he couldn't get past the Jewish Theological Seminary's in-person Talmud entrance exam, administered by Rabbi Saul Lieberman, of blessed memory.

Rabbi Lieberman was such a formidable scholar that ... when he went to interview at JTS, he was warned: "Don't tell them you know the entire Babylonian Talmud by heart."  Sure enough, when asked about the extent of his learning, Rabbi Lieberman claimed to know only half the Talmud.  "Which half do you know?" he was asked.  And Rabbi Lieberman responded: "Which half would you like to hear?"

Abq Jew profoundly and profusely apologizes.  It's an old joke - and  my rabbinical school colleagues, many of whom went on to brilliantly successful careers, swore (Billy Nader) it really happened.  But the truth is - it took smarts and "background" and sitzfleisch to become a rabbi, especially at the Seminary, especially in those years.

Since those years, Abq Jew has begun to think about What Might Have Been (it's a symptom of old age).  Here are a few things that Abq Jew has learned since his Seminary days:
  • To have any credibility within the Jewish communities of North America, you are way better off with the title "Rabbi" than without it. This is true despite any knowledge or experience - "background" - you may have.  The titles "Dr" and "PhD" are helpful, but are most powerful when combined with "Rabbi". 
  • The title "Rabbi" has traditionally been conferred based almost entirely on scholarship. When push comes to shove, ya gotta know your stuff - in order to serve your congregation and community. This was especially true of the Seminary, and Abq Jew suspects it still is. Six years of study barely skims the surface of the Sea of Talmud.
  • Scholarship is no longer needed in order to serve your congregation and community. What is needed today is leadership - and leadership is not taught at rabbinical school.
  • Love of Judaism, skilled performance of Jewish rituals, and being a rabbi are very different things.
There are today many more alternative paths to the title "Rabbi" than ever before.  And that's a good thing. Still, the experience of rabbinical school is so unique, so powerful, that it has stayed with Abq Jew through the years.  It was an honor and a privilege just to eat in the same dining hall as my teachers and colleagues.

Want to know what rabbinical school and the rabbinical profession are like these days? Jean Meltzer-Maskuli, a Daytime Emmy award winning writer and rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, posted this delightful video to show us.

Jean writes a blog, From Hollywood to Holyland, and occasionally writes for Punk Torah. If you're thinking about rabbinical school - and especially if you're not - you'll find Jean's writing well worth your time. About the video, Jean writes:
I never thought this simple, little Purim Shpiel video made for my dear friends and colleagues at RRC (www.rrc.edu) would garner so much attention! I have lots to say from all the feedback I've received from across the globe, but here's the really important part of it...

While this video was made in jest, I want to be clear... there has not been one minute of one day since entering the rabbinate, when I have regretted my decision.
So watch and enjoy.  And remember - there's always law school!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who's Who in Jewish Abq

Have You Met  ... Tircha D Tzibura?  Tircha D Tzibura is known throughout the Jewish world, even (especially?) Abq.  Some say she has always been here; others, that she just arrived from the Coast.  With her flaming red curls, sensible shoes, and half-asleep expression, she is easy to spot.

OK, this is just the type of thing that Abq Jew finds humorous.  Tircha d'tzibura ("a burden on the congregation") is a Rabbinic / Talmudic expression that denotes an activity that takes longer than most people can bear, and that, therefore, should be avoided.  While some claim that tircha d'tzibura cannot apply to shul on Shabbas - after all, where else ya gonna go?  what else ya gotta do? - others are sure that it does.  The classic example: the many occasions during the year when we take two (or three!) Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) from the Ark, so we don't keep the congregation waiting while we roll the scroll back and forth to find the next reading.  Abq Jew must point out that the correct phrase is " Sifrei Torah", and not the often-heard " Torahs".  There is only one Torah.

Meet Morris Ayyin, Genghis & Sylvia Khan, and (eventually) other Abq Jewish machers right here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tony Hillerman's New Mexico

Why We Are Here:  Want to know why Abq Jew & his family are living in New Mexico?  Tony Hillerman, of blessed memory, can tell you - and show you - exactly why.

KNME, our local PBS station, posted this video on Facebook today.  Why today?  Dunno.  In any event, KNME says:
Tony Hillerman was a New Mexican for the better part of his years, and captured the people, open vistas and spirit of the American Southwest in his award-winning mystery novels.
In this half-hour documentary, Tony shared his inspirations and life story in a delightful, candid and oftentimes humorous way.

We start with Tony's humble beginnings in dustbowl Oklahoma. We then follow him though France in World War II, his career as a journalist, a university professor and finally becoming one of New Mexicos best-selling authors.
A fascinating story of success, Tony says, "My three fourths of a century has been notable for fortunate outcomes and rare disappointments."
You can view the video on YouTube here.  And you can learn more about Tony Hillerman in his memoir, Seldom Disappointed.  The title comes from his Mama's favorite aphorism:

Blessed are those who expect little;
they are seldom disappointed.

Tony Hillerman's mystery novels are required reading for anyone coming to the Land of Enchantment.  Fortunately, Tony was one of the best - one of the most natural - storytellers Abq Jew has ever had the pleasure to read. 

Through this video, we can still hear Tony - telling stories.

You can learn much more about - and you can see much more of - Tony Hillerman's New Mexico in his daughter Anne Hillerman's splendid album, Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn.

Tony Hillerman fans - and fans of good writing - should also know that there is an annual Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, which will be held this year on November 10 - 12, at Hotel Santa Fe.

The 2011 faculty will include New York Times best selling author Douglas Preston; thriller expert David Morrell; mystery writer and popular teacher Sandi Ault; Hemingway Award winner Sean Murphy; Edgar nominee Hampton Sides; much-praised novelist Jo-Ann Mapson, Peter Joseph, editor at St. Martin's Press and more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Walking, Curses, and the Unaffiliated

Rabbi Marc Angel on Parshat BeHukotay:  The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
offers a vision of Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually sound, spiritually compelling, and emotionally satisfying. Based on an unwavering commitment to the Torah tradition and to the Jewish people, it fosters an appreciation of legitimate diversity within Orthodoxy. It encourages responsible discussion of issues in Jewish law, philosophy, religious worldview, and communal policy. It sees Judaism as a world religion with a profound message for Jews, and for non-Jews as well. It seeks to apply the ancient wisdom of Judaism to the challenges of contemporary society.
The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals was founded in October 2007 by Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel. Since 1969, Rabbi Angel has served Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City, founded in 1654. He is now devoting himself full time to the work of the Institute, serving as its Director.
This week, Rabbi Angel - a prolific and award-winning author - turns his attention to the unaffiliated Jews in our communities.  In his article, Walk, not Talk, Rabbi Angel relates the story of one such Jew who expected much but contributed little. 

Note: for your convenience, Abq Jew has reprinted the entire article below.  But you are strongly encouraged to visit the Institute's website - http://www.jewishideas.org - to learn more about the Institute's work, and especially to read and view Rabbi Angel's thoughts and opinions.
A man who lives near our synagogue recently attended an evening service in order to say kaddish in memory of his father. Although we almost always have a minyan present, that night we had a problem. The weather was bad, some of our "regulars" were out of town--we only had eight men at services.

Our guest was agitated and angry. He had come to say kaddish, but we were not able to provide him this opportunity. He stomped angrily out of the synagogue, indignant that we did not have a minyan when he needed one.

Yes, it is a pity that we missed minyan that night.

But who was this man who was so angry at us? He was a neighbor of the synagogue who has lived nearby for many years. Yet, he is not a member of the synagogue and has not contributed even one cent to the synagogue for all these years. He never attends the synagogue, except when he needs to say kaddish. Although he has done nothing to strengthen the synagogue or to bolster our minyan (except when he needs to say kaddish), he expects the synagogue to be there to serve him at his convenience; he expects ten men to be at services whenever he deigns to show up.

He feels that he has a right to benefit from the synagogue, even though he does nothing to help the synagogue maintain itself. He was indignant that ten men didn't show up for him to say kaddish, even though he never shows up to help make minyan for others. He feels entitled to take, but doesn't feel responsible to give.

This week's Torah portion begins with the words: "If you walk in My statutes." The Torah might have said: if you observe My statutes, or if you keep My statutes." Why does it use the word "walk?"

Rabbi Hayyim Palache, a sage of 19th century Izmir, explained that when the Torah commands us to "walk" in God's ways, it means that we are to be active participants. We are not supposed to wait for opportunities to fulfill mitzvoth, but we are urged to "walk", to actively seek ways of doing that which is right and good.

To "walk" in God's statutes means that we actively take part in religious life, that we happily and eagerly accept responsibility to do our share as part of the community. It means that we pay our way, and do our best, and participate as well as we can.

Some people somehow think that they are entitled to benefit from synagogues or other communal institutions, even though they do not participate in maintaining those institutions. Who exactly is supposed to pay the bills? Who exactly is supposed to attend daily services and make minyan every morning and evening? These people don't really care, as long as the responsibility doesn't devolve on their shoulders. Let others provide!

The Torah portion reminds us to "walk" in God's statutes, to participate actively, happily and responsibly in maintaining a vibrant Jewish religious life. Those who shirk the responsibility and privilege of "walking" in God's ways deprive themselves of the satisfaction and self-respect that come with ethical, righteous religious living.

Synagogues and communal institutions don't  exist just  through wishful thinking. Minyanim don't happen just from good intentions. If we each do not do our share, we have no right to expect others to pick up the slack for us. 

Let us "walk" in God's statutes. It's an important key to personal happiness and communal strength. What is needed is "walk," not "talk."
Here in Albuquerque, Abq Jew has visited the offices of many Jewish institutions and organizations.  (Yesterday he paid a delightful - in every sense of the term - visit to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Albuquerque, a warm, engaging center of Jewish and general learning.  If you're planning your children's education - please take a look here.) 

And Abq Jew (and many others) has observed that every element of Albuquerque's Jewish communal foundation needs two things:
  • Money  אם אין קמח, אין תורה
  • Involvement  אם אין תורה, אין קמח
As Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah points out in Pirke Avot 3:21, these two things are related.  And while these things are in good supply in Albuquerque, they are not in great supply.

How can the Jewish community increase Involvement in the Duke City?  Rabbi Ishmael offers an excellent start in Pirke Avot 3:21:  והוי מקביל את כל האדם בשמחה  "Receive all men cheerfully".  We do that a lot in Albuquerque, so we'd be going from strength to strength.

And how can we increase Money, to strengthen our financial stability?  How can one make a small fortune in New Mexico?  You all know the answer - start with a large one!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Paul Simon, Honorable Mensch

He's One of Our Boys: Bob Boilen, writing in NPR's blog All Songs Considered, captured Paul Simon and a Moment of Pure, Sobbing Joy, which you can view on YouTube here.
Paul Simon has brought joy to so many for so long, but on this night he made Rayna Ford's dream come true. During a show in Toronto on May 7, Rayna Ford, a fan from Newfoundland, called out for Simon to play "Duncan," and said something to the effect that she learned to play guitar on the song. In a moment of astonishment and disbelief, Paul Simon invited her on stage, handed her a guitar and asked her to play it for the crowd. When she strapped on the guitar, the audience went crazy. In a few strums, the band played along, tears ran down Rayna Ford's cheeks and Simon stood by her side in smiles.

Abq Jew calmly notes that this is not today's most important news by or affecting Jews  in the world.  But, to paraphrase the famous story about the starfish on the beach - "it made a difference to Rayna!" - so maybe it is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

WestSide Shalom!

Kabbalat Shbbat in Rio Rancho:  A new Jewish community is forming on Abq's Upper West Side, and you are invited to their second Friday night service.

Fri 13 May 2011 @ 6:45 pm 
Inn at Rio Rancho
1465 Route 528

Further information: Debra (505) 235-2940

The service will be led by Rabbi Stephen Landau.  A long-time resident of Norther New Mexico, Rabbi Landau was ordained by Rabbi Arthur Green of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Boston.  He returns permanently to New Mexico this summer.

Abq Jew participated in WestSide Shalom's first Kabbalat Shabbat service a few weeks ago, and is delighted to report that the turnout was excellent and enthusiastic.  And that Rabbi Landau is personable, knowledgeable, and engaging - a wonderful addition to the New Mexico Jewish community.

Rabbi Landau Says:  Please join us on May 13. Please come and be together with us on Shabbat in your home community. Come as you are. Please lay down your version of ordinary, and come home to the extraordinary simplicity of being together on Shabbat.

A Murder of Crows

A Drasha of Rabbis:  In Friday's post about Rabbi Gerhom Sizomu, Uganda's Rabbi Comes To Albuquerque, Abq Jew wrote:
Also present was the largest convocation (8) of Albuquerque rabbis - maybe ever?  And the most rabbis in one room since ... Graduation Day at JTS?  Dudu Fisher at Carnegie Hall?  The Miss Borough Park Pageant? 
Well, that was certainly a cheap shot about Miss Borough Park, and Abq Jew apologizes to anyone offended ... although it turns out that the blog FrumSatire.net ("One man's apikorus in another man's talmud chochom"), unbeknown to Abq Jew, had covered the event in 2008.

And then there's the term "convocation".  While convocation has the primary meaning of a group of people called together in a meeting, the term has a secondary definition of a clerical assembly of the Anglican Church.  Clearly, we cannot use "convocation" here.

So - what term can we use?  One may speak of an obstinacy of buffalo, a murder of crows, a tower of giraffes, a leash of greyhounds, an exaltation of larks, a rhumba of rattlesnakes.  But how does one speak of a group of rabbis?

Abq Jew pondered and considered.  Then he pondered and considered again.  Then he thought about it, and here are the possibilities he came up with:
  • Bet Din.  Unfortunately, a bet din usually consists of only three rabbis. Not nearly enough.
  • Sanhedrin.  Has a lot of appeal (no pun intended), but usually refers to an historical group of 71, highly revered, etc. Too specific for general use; also, gets too much respect.
  • Farbrengen.  Too Jewish.  Also, typically refers to Chabad Lubavitch rabbis only, not altogether a bad thing.
  • Sermon.  Buffalo "do" obstinacy; rattlesnakes "do" rhumba; and, as we all know, rabbis "do" (and do and do) sermons.  But so do (lehavdil) priests and pastors. So why not use the term drasha?  Just Jewish enough - perfect!
Next question:  What is the largest drasha of rabbis ever assembled?  Abq Jew can think of two possibilities:

1.  Every year or two, Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim gather from all over the world for a conference at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn.

 Here's a news story about the convocation, er, drasha::

And here they are, gathering for a group photograph:

2.  Every few years, a large drasha of dedicated rabbis (and regular yidden) completes the Daf Yomi ("Daily Page") cycle of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud - that's right, at the rate of one page per day.  And they hold a Siyyum to celebrate.  In Madison Square Garden.

Let's see:  For hockey, the Garden seats 18,200; for basketball, 19,763; and for concerts 20,000 center stage, 19,522 end-stage.  Abq Jew bets that for the Siyyum HaShas, every seat was taken - and then some.  Not all the attendees were ordained rabbis - but after studying Talmud so diligently, they should be.

You might think: there's your drasha record.  Except that

3.  Several thousand years ago, all Jews then living, all Jews ever born, and all Jews ever to be born gathered beneath Mount Sinai to hear God speak to us.  There were, Abq Jew believes, more than a few rabbis among us. A whole drasha-load of rabbis.

We celebrate this wondrous event every year on the Holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, exactly seven full weeks after the Holiday of Pesach.  When God freed us from Egypt, there was a reason: so God could give us His Torah.

This year, Shavuot begins on Tuesday evening, June 7th.  Come celebrate!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Uganda’s Rabbi Comes To Albuquerque

Breakfast @ B'nai:  After an appearance Wednesday night in Santa Fe, Uganda's Rabbi Gershom Sizomu came to Albuquerque for breakfast Thursday morning at Congregation B'nai Israel.

Rabbi Sizomu is the first chief rabbi of Uganda and the spiritual leader of almost 2000 members of the Abayudaya (People of Judah) Jews in Eastern Uganda.

The Abayudayah trace their origin to Semei Kakungulu, a native military leader whom the British converted to Christianity in the 1880s, but who embraced Judaism in 1919.

After his ordination in 2008 by the American Jewish University, Rabbi Sizomu returned to Uganda and established a yeshiva to train African rabbis to serve their ancient land and emerging Jewish communities.

Under the sponsorship of Be'chol Lashon, an organization that advocates for the growth and diversity of the Jewish People, Rabbi Gershom is visiting Jewish communities throughout North America.  Neil Rubin, Editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, reports:
Growing up amid central eastern Africa’s tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, Gershom Sizomu knew that being Jewish was far from usual.  After all, his father — a rabbi like his father before him — was once arrested for building a sukkah and ransomed from the arresting police officer with five goats.
. . .
A genial and warm man, the rabbi wanted people to know that [his] community appreciates Jewish pluralism.
“The Abayudaya Jewish community does not want to be very involved in Jewish denominations, so we’re not comfortable with saying Orthodox, Reform or Conservative,” he said. “We have chosen our Judaism and it’s one that is more suitable to our environment. That means songs with African melodies set in Hebrew. We do bring in customs from the outside world that suit our environment.”

Rabbi Sizomu is the first Abayudaya leader ordained by a western Jewish institution, having graduated in 2008 from the Conservative movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. In July of that year he converted to Judaism 250 people from the village of Nabogoya.

“We may not have a classical Conservative outlook; we have separate seating, but women on our bimah,” he said, “But we respect halachah and Torah and respect strongly Shabbat and festivals. We have our own style.”
Abq Jew was among the large gathering privileged to hear Rabbi Sizomu speak - and sing (Adon Olam), and play guitar!  Others present included Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, who was instrumental (pun fully intended; it was Sam's guitar) in bringing Rabbi Sizomu to the Land of Enchantment.

Also present was the largest convocation (8) of Albuquerque rabbis - maybe ever?  And the most rabbis in one room since ... Graduation Day at JTS?  Dudu Fisher at Carnegie Hall?  The Miss Borough Park Pageant?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yom HaAtzmaut: Independence Day

Pillar of Fire:  Here is a video of the Declaration of Independence, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan.

How did this day come about?  Here is another video, from the Jewish Agency.

And the result?  The War of Independence, as described in this video:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Yom HaZikaron: Day of Remembrance

The Price Paid:  As we remember those who have fallen defending the State of Israel, let us also remember one - Gilad Shalit - who is still held in captivity.

In remembrance of the fallen:

And to remember Gilad Shalit, YnetNews.com proposes the Gilad Shalit test for the newly-unified PA-Hamas Palestinian government:
Few know for certain where the tacit truce between Hamas and Fatah will lead. Some view it as an inevitable step of internal reconciliation towards stable statehood. Others warn of radical Islamist ramifications. Time will tell, but one initial indication will be the Palestinian tandem’s decision concerning Gilad Shalit.
. . .
Now, with the new joint Hamas-Fatah venture, Gilad’s fate is also in Fatah’s hands. If Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas insists on the matter, Shalit can be back home by week’s end. His continued stay in captivity will clearly show who truly is in charge of the new Palestinian conglomerate. This is a basic test of leadership.
Who is in charge?  We know Who.  May the Redeemer of Captives speedily redeem Gilad Shalit.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Upstairs the Eulogy

Downstairs the Rummage Sale:  Johanna Ginsburg writes in A life in poetry where the holy and secular meet, published in the April 27th New Jersey Jewish News:
Yehoshua November always seems to live in two worlds: the holy and the profane, the religious and the secular, the hasidic and the poetic. In the tension between the two, his poetry dwells.
 Yehoshua November holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh.  He has also studied Hasidic thought at the Rabbinical College of America, the Chabad-Lubavitch seminary in Morristown, New Jersey.
Combining those two worlds has earned November national recognition in the world of poetry— most recently, as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry for his first book of poems, God’s Optimism, published by Main Street Rag in 2010.
Here are two poems from God's Optimism for your thoughtful enjoyment:
Upstairs The Eulogy, Downstairs The Rummage Sale
The beloved Yiddish professor passed away on the same day
as the synagogue’s rummage sale,

and because they could not bear
the coffin up the many steps
that led to the sanctuary,
they left it in the hallway downstairs,

and because I was not one of his students,
and it didn’t matter if I heard the eulogy,
they told me to stay downstairs,
to watch over the body and recite Psalms.

And I thought,
this is how it is in the life and death of a righteous man:
upstairs in the sanctuary, they speak of you in glowing terms,
while down below your body rests beside
old kitchen appliances.

And I recited the Psalms as intently
as I could over a man I had only met once,
and because I knew where he was headed,
and you and I were to wed in a few months,
I asked that he bring with him a prayer for a good marriage.

And this is how it is in the life and death of a righteous man:
strangers pray over the sum of your days,
and strangers ask you to haul their heavy requests
where you cannot even take your body.

One evening you will walk past a park
between two fading apartment buildings,
and see men playing tennis in white garments,
and long to slip out of your life,
to be buried in the white robe with no pockets,
and float like the ball
between two rivals, two great friends,
this world and the next.

— from God’s Optimism by Yehoshua November

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Ethical Kashrut

Kosher Gets Ethical:  Louis Nayman reports in the Magen Tzedek blog that a new standard is about to remake American Jews' dietary code:
Kosher is about to get an American makeover. Sometime between Passover and Chanukah 2011, a new social responsibility certification—the Magen Tzedek (Star of Justice)—is expected to begin appearing on the labels of selected kosher food products throughout the United States.
 Why, Nayman asks, is this necessary?
Those who remember the 1970s television ad for Hebrew National hot dogs (“We answer to a higher authority!”) can be forgiven for assuming that current kosher certification explicitly mandates labor standards, hygienic conditions and environmental ethics surpassing federal or state requirements. It does not.
. . .
Magen Tzedek certification ... is intended to assure purchasers that a kashrus-compliant product also conforms to Biblical and Talmudic ethical values and standards regarding the treatment of workers, animal welfare, environmental impact and fair business dealings.
To Abq Jew, the merits of such a super-kashrut certification are absolutely obvious and completely beyond reproach.  Not so to Agudath Israel, who posted (through a third party) a statement condemning the Magen Tzedek venture - and the Conservative Movement, which promotes this venture.

Abq Jew and many others - among them (Orthodox-ordained) Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center, whose comments are especially worth reading - believe that Agudath Israel has missed the boat on Magen Tzedek. The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement has responded to Agudath Israel's criticism, stating:
The misleading statement by Agudath Israel concerning Magen Tzedek is a misrepresentation of a very important development in kosher food production in America. Magen Tzedek is based on our assertion that biblical and rabbinic law mandate fair treatment of workers (בל תלין) , humane treatment of animals (צער בעלי חיים) and care of the earth (בל תשחית and שמירת הארץ) which can be translated into measurable standards applicable to commercial food production. These standards were developed in collaboration with SAAS, an organization acknowledged worldwide for its expertise in ethical certification programs.

We are appalled that Agudath Israel sees in ethical certification for kosher food an effort that “corrupts halakhah.” All Jews recognize that Judaism is a religion built upon ethical precepts. A central purpose of Jewish observance is to make us more decent and moral people, more capable of carrying out God’s vision of a just world.

We flatly reject Agudath Israel’s false accusations that we “harbor no respect for the very concept of halakhah.” We have always maintained that the Magen Tzedek would only be awarded to products already bearing kosher certification. Yet, we maintain that mitzvot bein adam l'makom (commandments between humanity and God) do not take precedence over mitzvot bein adam l'havero (commandments between one person and another).

Maimonides stated said that in fulfillment of Jewish life “one must be strict in their behavior and still go beyond the letter of the law (לפנים משורת הדין)." We see our role as ensuring that such is the case in the production of kosher food. Just as we would never delegate to the government to determine what constitutes proper kashrut certification, neither should we leave to the government enforcement of Jewish norms regarding ethical behavior. Instead of dismissing the work of one another, we call on all Jews to work together to ensure that our actions are truly a kiddush hashem--a sanctification of God's name.

Magen Tzedek affirms the eternal wisdom of Torah by bringing the moral values of Jewish religious tradition to bear on the daily operations of industrial food production, bringing more Jews to value the beauty of kashrut and Jewish observance assuring that we feel truly fulfilled when we sit down around our tables for a meal.
Temple Grandin, the well-known author, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and designer of livestock handling facilities, has the following to say about maximizing animal welfare in kosher slaughter (read her complete statement here):
In order to maximize animal welfare, kosher slaughterhouses need to take the following steps: 1) eliminate stressful cruel methods of restraint such as dragging, shackling and hoisting or leg clamping; 2) keep animals calm before slaughter, since an agitated animal is more difficult to kill and takes longer to become unconscious; 3) perform the cut immediately after an animal’s head is restrained; 4) use restraining devices that hold animals in a comfortable upright position; 5) perform collapse scoring to keep track of the proportion of animals that quickly lose consciousness; 6) use video auditing by an outside firm, and practice transparency by streaming the video to a webpage so that the public can view it.

Adhering to these practices would enhance animal welfare, and all these steps could be implemented without transgressing the requirements of religious law. The kosher industry has an opportunity to show the world that it is doing things the right way.
To Abq Jew's way of thinking, this is an open-and-shut case.  It is the mission of the Jewish People to lead the world to higher standards.  We therefore must agree to alleviate the suffering of animals we slaughter. Adoption of the Magen Tzedek standard is an effective way to ensure that we do this.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Israel Wave Your Flag!

Independence Day 5771:  This year, Yom HaAtzmaut is celebrated on the 6th of Iyyar - Monday night May 9th and Tuesday May 10th.  In Israel, and increasingly outside in חו''ל, the day before Israel Independence Day is set aside to mourn those who have died defending the State of Israel.

The practice of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Yom HaZikaron - Israel's Memorial Day - immediately before celebrating Israel's independence has always appealed to Abq Jew.  Combining the two observances is psychologically fulfilling and emotionally uplifting, in sharp contrast to the American practice of separating cause from effect to create another long weekend.

When you are ready to celebrate, please enjoy this new video from Aish.com - the same folks who gave us Google Exodus.


What?  You never saw Google Exodus?  Too tired from dancing all night to click the link?  OK - enjoy and rest up.  Freedom!  Independence!  Home at last!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rabbi Min on Talmud Torah

Basic Jewish Value #9:  The mission statement of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico reads: “Guided by Jewish values, we offer targeted social services that help preserve and improve the quality of life for New Mexicans.” What are these Jewish values? How do they help guide the day-to-day work that we do at JFS? When new employees join the staff of JFS, they are introduced to eighteen of these basic Jewish values.

Jewish people are often referred to as "people of the book," not only because of our relationship to "THE Book" (the Bible), but also because study and education are important Jewish values. Wisdom, in the Jewish tradition, can be found in both sacred and ordinary texts and experiences. The Talmud, for example, a huge compendium of Jewish law, teaching, lore and discussion, includes puns, word play and stories about ordinary people and unusual situations. For Jewish Family Service, this value translates into a commitment to keep learning. At each monthly staff meeting, I do a little teaching. Staff members are encouraged to attend trainings and seminars to enhance their skills and develop their competencies. We also recognize that our clients have many years of accumulated wisdom; when we spend quality time with them, we learn from their wisdom.

Rabbi Min Kantrowitz
Director, Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program

Monday, May 2, 2011

Upon The Death of an Enemy

 Rejoice Not:  Rabbi Menachem Creditor has the following to say about last night's news, received on the eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day:
How do we respond when the architect of enormous evil is brought to justice?  What does it mean for us, as Jews, and as Americans, that Osama Bin Laden has been killed? . . .
I'm not sure what I mean right now.  I'm relieved that an evil has been eliminated from the world.  I'm mourning our lost Six Million. . . .
We do not rejoice at the death of our enemy.  The implementation of justice is not a joyful celebration . . .
May America know a measure of comfort after these almost 10 years, and may we redouble our efforts to rebuild our Nation in a more unified way, knowing that this incredible pain has been felt by members of every political persuasion . . .
May the Jewish People bear testimony to the attempted Destruction of our People by redoubling our commitment to building and supporting our Jewish communities, knowing that every moment of Jewish Living is the ultimate legacy of those who died Al Kiddush haShem, for the Sanctification of God's Name . . .

Rabbi Creditor also brings the Midrash of G-d admonishing the angels' singing as the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea: "How can you sing when My creatures are dying?" 

Abq Jew has the same mixed emotions as Rabbi Creditor and many others. It is not right to rejoice at the death of any of G-d's creatures.  And one must bear in mind the words of Winston Churchill: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Yet Abq Jew slept better last night than he has in almost 10 years.