How Jewish texts can help women — rabbis included —  through trying transitions

May 29, 2014

This book review first appeared in Lilith Magazine, Spring 2014Kaddish: Womens Voices

Rabbi-editors Sue Levi Elwell and Nancy Fuchs Kreimer invited women rabbis, scholars and activists to share the Jewish texts they
have found themselves applying in their own lives. The contributors to Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives (Cascade Books, $26) include Julie Greenberg, Judith Plaskow, Blu Greenberg and Wendy Zierler. Rabbi Hara Person writes of raising a son and finding wisdom in stories of the biblical King David. Rabbi Rachel Adler observes her mother’s cognitive slide into forgetting, and the book of Lamentations is Adler’s benchmark. Rabbi Laura Geller looks back many decades to her divorce, examining it through the lens of Sarah and Abraham setting out on a journey when they were no longer young. And here is Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg on coming to a mature understanding of her professional role:

As a congregational rabbi I felt great pressure to be someone who was always interested in others. Always. The truth is I was not always interested. I also had to demonstrate how “spiritual,” “deep,” “serious and seriously Jewish” I am. Especially as someone in the early wave of female rabbis, I felt so compelled to get it right. Shoring up a persona of “spiritual” has a grave downside, like any persona — intellectual, manager, healer, etc. So much energy is invested in the persona, the false God, that the true God, the true life force, one’s unique passion, is concealed, and at worst, even buried alive….

At the Passover seder we are invited to lay back on super comfortable chairs or to just “lounge around.” Reclining as free people counters restlessness. We place the body in a position of repose, in a place of faith and trust. This posture opens a door to relaxing the fretting brow and the urge to pace the floor. When I am relaxed in my body, my mind is relaxed as well. I have a chance to ponder relationships, causes and consequences. I have the opportunity to live purposefully at whatever stage of life.

In the new book Kaddish: Women’s Voices (Urim, $27.95) editors Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas gather 52 reflections on the experience of mourning. Belda Lindenbaum writes here, “For some women it is no longer a lonely experience. Still, the road to understanding women’s spiritual needs and making room for them, both figuratively and physically, is a long one, and we have barely begun the journey. Most of the liturgy is wonderfully poetic. A phrase that is dear to me appears in the morning prayers; You have changed my mourning into dancing/You have removed my sackcloth and girded me with joy/So that I might praise You and not remain silent/God, my God, forever will I thank You. Is this not a paradigm for loss and acceptance? For me, it also speaks to women’s need to be seen and heard within Judaism. If God sees us and hears us, and acknowledges us as part of God’s community, then where is man?”

A Review of the Nehalel Siddur

November 11, 2013

by Professor David A. AugustNehalel

When my Rabbi mentioned a new Shabbat Siddur “with pictures” over Rosh Hashanah, my interest was immediately piqued.  As a somewhat regular attendee at Shabbat and Yom Tov service, and as an occasional Shaliach Tzibur and stand-in when our Chazzan is away, I am familiar with the liturgy and attuned to the influence the Siddur can have on my approach to prayer.  I regularly use half a dozen different Siddurim, and was curious about this new concept.  While I was attracted by the promise that it is traditional in scope and content, I was also a bit skeptical of the role the pictures might play in distracting from the “business” of davening.

The Nahalel Siddur, devised (his word) by Michael Haruni, is published by Nevarech (Jerusalem).  It is meant to be used on Shabbat, with the usual additions to allow its use on Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, and various other days that coincide with Shabbat; it is not a holiday Machzor, and not designed for use on the Shalosh Regalim.  It is nearly traditional in its liturgy, although there are some concessions to egalitarian worship (for example, the morning Berachot offer modern versions for women).  I also found myself surprised by the inclusion of some prayers that I was not familiar with, such as, “An Entreaty for IDF Soldiers in Captivity (Prayer recited as long as any IDF soldiers are held in hostile captivity).”  The Hebrew and English fonts are serviceable, and the liberal use of color in the texts is quite helpful.  It is printed on durable paper that gives it a nice feel.  On these merits alone, the Nehalel Siddur is a worthwhile contribution.

Upon hearing about this Siddur, however, my skepticism was stoked by two overriding questions.  First, would the Siddur be practical to use for davening, or would the pictures be so distracting and intrusive that it would function better as a coffee table book rather than as an instrument of prayer?  Second, how would the inclusion of pictures effect the experience of for davening?  The layout of the Nehalel Siddur immediately allayed both of these concerns.  The pictures were chosen to exemplify a line in the text of a prayer; there is an additional visual link through the highlighting of the line of text in English and Hebrew to help the user make the intended connection.  The pictures (all still life photographs or pictures of people or animals) are tastefully chosen, artistic, and almost unfailingly relevant.  They are not Read the rest of this entry »

Jewish Press Review of Rabbinic Authority

October 9, 2013

 From the Jewish Press:RabbinicAuthorityWeb1

Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality introduces the English-speaking public to the scope of rabbinic authority in general and the workings of the institution of the beit din in particular. In this work, published by Urim Publications, Rabbi A. Yehuda Warburg presents ten rulings in cases of Jewish family law and civil law which he handed down as a member of a beit din panel. In each decision, the author offers a rendition of the facts of the case, followed by claims of the tovea (plaintiff), the reply of the nitva (defendant) and any counterclaims. Subsequently, there is a discussion of the halachic issues emerging from the parties’ respective claims and counterclaims, followed by a decision rendered by the beit din panel. To preserve the confidentiality of the parties involved in these cases, all names have been changed, and some facts have been changed and/or deleted.

These decisions touch on issues of employment termination, tenure rights and severance pay, rabbinic contracts, self-dealing in the not-for-profit boardroom, real estate brokerage commission, drafting a will, a revocable living trust agreement, the division of marital assets upon divorce, spousal abuse and a father’s duty to support his estranged children.

Accompanying these presentations is Read the rest of this entry »

Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

June 3, 2013

From The Canadian Jewish NewsHerod The Man Who Had To Be King

Last month, in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum opened a new exhibit of wide panoramic proportions called Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey. The exhibition has sparked a great deal of excitement and is attracting large numbers of visitors. (Please go to for a story about the exhibit.)

Herod strides imperiously and brutishly through the cities and villages of Judea and, of course, in Jerusalem in the last century BCE. Historians have tried to imagine precisely who he was ever since time, wind and nature’s eternal elements buried the broken columns of his spectacular archeological masterpieces in the sand and earthy clumps of the ancient land.

And now, a new book, brings Herod to life once again, enabling us to imagine him afresh, if not actually anew.

Written by Yehuda Shulewitz, Herod: The Man Who Had to be King (Penina Press, 2012) is an ambitious work that sweeps character, drama, intrigue, history, classics and theology into one epic novel.

The novel, however, was not completed by Shulewitz. Alas, he died around this time six years ago, during Passover 2007. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a renowned scholar of Jewish history in her own right, completed the work that was ultimately published some five years after the author’s death.

Yehuda Shulewitz was a rare multi-disciplined scholar: economist, historian of Read the rest of this entry »

A Review of Midor l’Dor – Genetics and Genetic Diseases: Jewish Legal and Ethical Perpectives

January 3, 2013

by Rivkah Blau

Dr. Deena Zimmerman is an equally appropriate author for “Midor l’Dor – Genetics and Genetic Diseases: Jewish Legal and Ethical Perspectives.” The Hebrew words mean “from generation to generation.”

She earned her BA at Yale and MD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In the program of advanced Torah study for Women at Nishmat in Jerusalem, she earned the title yo’etzet halacha, female halachic advisor who answers women’s questions about the mitzvah of family purity. She wrote A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life (2005), a clear halachic and scientific presentation of the mitzvah. In Israel she works at TEREM Emergency Medical Services. She and her husband are the parents of three boys and two girls.

Dr. Zimmerman begins with an organized, cogent, short course in genetics so that a layperson can understand what the field is about. It’s helpful to study this opening section; when she notes in a later chapter that a disease is “inherited in an autosomal recessive manner,” you will understand. The mother and the father each carried a recessive gene for the illness and were unaware that there was a 25 percent chance that their baby would have the disease. It is understandable that they are shocked.

When you learn that many genetic problems are the result of carriers marrying each other, and see in which areas of Jewish settlement – Lithuania or Morocco, for example – there is a greater likelihood of being a carrier of a problematic gene (say 1:10 instead of 1:500), you have a good argument for marrying a spouse with an ancestry different from your own.

The section on “Genetic Diseases with a Jewish Association” is sobering. There are Read the rest of this entry »