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Welcome to My Website!

This website has one primary purpose – to help stop and hopefully reverse the attrition of Jews from the American Jewish community. Many others are trying to do this too; some are trying to make Jewish prayer services more interesting and others are focused on improving Jewish education.

Those are laudable efforts that I agree with. However, those efforts only reach those who are actively in the Jewish community at the present time. So many of our numbers are not in the Jewish community, never go to prayer services and never attend Jewish educational classes. In other words, current efforts are like preaching to the choir and not connecting at all to everyone else.

So how do we reach them?

My hope is to reach them through the books I am and will be writing. Perhaps this website will also help. I hope so. I start from one basic assumption: If you have a product and it is not selling, you either have to change the buyers or you have to change the product. Read more »

Israel Lurches to the Ultra-Orthdox

I am sad to report that Israel has made two moves recently that thumbs its nose at Conservative and Reform Jews and embraces the desires of the ultra-Orthodox, who comprise only 15% of the Jewish people worldwide.

The first move is to renege on the deal negotiated over a 4-year period with all Jewish parties to allow equal access to the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel or the Wailing Wall). The ultra-Orthodox threatened to bolt the slim coalition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put together and he caved in to their demands. The deal is now officially “frozen”, which means it is dead.

The second move is to disallow conversions unless they are performed by rabbis that are approved by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. They have already published a list of 160 blacklisted rabbis and they will examine all conversions to see if they meet the rabbinate’s standards. This means that the ultra-Orthodox will have sole authority to determine who is a Jew and who can be married to a Jew. While the cultural tilt in America is toward increased pluralism, in Israel it is toward total theocracy.

Many Jewish leaders and organizations are now refusing to meet with Netanyahu and feel a big divide has opened between Israel and American Jews. I am a strong supporter of Israel, and will continue to be, but like many other American Jews, I will be focusing my support and charitable donations to activities that support the safety and success of Israel and not to activities that support the government and the theocratic status quo.

The politicians and the Israeli electorate need to feel our disapproval of what they are allowing to happen or this trend will continue and become permanently established. All Jews must be accepted and welcomed in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, as magnificently rendered in the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva.

Using the Mikveh as a Conversion Tool

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove recently wrote an opinion in New York’s “The Jewish Week” newspaper in which he recommended that all Rabbis use the Mikveh as a way to sanctify intermarriages, convert non-Jews to Judaism, and sanctify Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It is an interesting and creative idea to standardize how these things are done. Permit me to quote exerpts from him directly on his idea:

“As a rabbi I have a commitment to uphold Jewish law and, as such, not officiate at interfaith weddings. As a rabbi, I also have an obligation to meet people where they are, and serve the Jewish future by helping build Jewish identity. So what exactly is a rabbi to do?”

“I offer a proposal for consideration, for synagogue communities like my own, for the Conservative movement and perhaps other arms of Jewish life to consider.

“By my read of the sources, from the Talmudic period onward, there is an established position permitting conversion to Judaism by way of mikveh immersion for a woman, and for a man, circumcision and immersion in a mikveh, coupled with a course of study.

“Mikveh immersion is the Jewish act ritualizing a sacred transformation from one state of being to another.

“In our world where there are no guarantees regarding who our children will fall in love with, it is incumbent upon us to lower, not raise, the barriers to entry to being a Jew. If a non-Jew desires to build a Jewish home with a Jewish partner, a rabbi’s job is to nurture that desire, draw both partners close and make the onramp to Jewish life as inviting and doable as possible. Read more »

Wailing Wall Liberated

The government of Israel has taken steps to open the Wailing Wall to women and Conservative and Reform Jews. This is expected to be in full effect in two to three years. Some construction has to be done to make a place where these groups can meet and pray at the Wall.

Prior to this, only Orthodox men were allowed to pray at the Wall.

This is a real breakthrough in ending the monopoly of the Orthodox on everything religious in Israel. And it came despite the current government having Orthodox groups in its narrow coalition. Other reforms have been rolled back by this government, but apparently it couldn’t resist the efforts of non-Orthodox groups to change the access rules. Particularly active was Women of the Wall, a group that kept going to the Wall to pray and kept getting arrested for their efforts. Much thanks goes to Natan Scharansky who has been working on a compromise for the past three years.

The Orthodox still have a monopoly on marriage, divorce, defining who is a Jew, and other domestic civil matters. We live in hope that one day their monopoly on these areas will be changed as well.

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College Will Accept Students With Non-Jewish Partners

The rabbinical seminary of American Judaism’s smallest mainstream denomination will become the first major rabbinical school in the United States to admit and ordain rabbinical students who have non-Jewish spouses and partners.

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which made its announcement September 30, has been debating the issue for years. Some leaders of Reconstructionist congregations had said they might leave the movement over the change.

“The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to police,” said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC’s president, in a press release. Read more »

The Nuclear Arms Agreement With Iran

Although it is usually not my purpose here to get involved in current political issues, I read a commentary in the “Chicago Jewish News” by its editor Joseph Aaron, that I think people should see. The Jewish community is divided on whether the Iran agreement is the best achievable deal or the “historically bad deal” proclaimed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.

Despite the divide, for which I’ve seen figures giving each side the majority, most of the articles and comments I’ve seen have been against the agreement. This is an exerpt from a commentary (July 31, 2015) that is for the agreement. I personally have mixed feelings about the agreement. Part of me is in favor and part of me hopes it will be rejected. I’ll give my reasoning after the article. In any case, I think it is important for Jews and others to hear an argument for the agreement to balance out the discussions. Read more »

We Are All Jews

In a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a woman used the term “Orthodox Judaism”.

In his response, the Rebbe wrote:

“I must point out to you the splitting Judaism into orthodox, conservative, and reform is a purely artificial division, for all Jews share one and the same Torah given by the One and same G-d. While there are more observant Jews and less observant ones, to tack on a label does not change the reality that we are all one.”

I totally agree. Would that the other “Orthodox” movements feel the same as the Rebbe and the Lubavitchers. We Jews are a small group, and its a shonda for us to fight with each other like we often do. We can disagree about things, and practice differently, but we are all God’s Jews and in the same family, descendants of Abraham and Sarah, and we should act like it.

The Debate Over Jewish Achievement

By Steven L. Pease in aish.com, June 13, 2015

As a non-Jew, I’m fascinated that a people which constitute less than 1% of the world’s population has made such enormous contributions to humanity.

Jews have been part of my life in kindergarten, at Harvard Business School, and throughout my professional career. It was from those experiences that I developed the notion that Jews are the world’s most disproportionate high achievers.

A decade ago I began intensive research to test out the hypothesis. Now, after writing The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, speaking on the subject, being interviewed on radio and TV, and soliciting criticisms and arguments to disprove the statement, I have come to believe it is simply true.

As a non-Jew, I am fascinated by the fact that a people which constitute 2/10ths of 1 percent of the world’s population and 2 percent of the U.S. population, has made such enormous contributions to the betterment of humanity. Read more »