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An open letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

 
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Dear Rabbi Boteach,

I am disturbed and offended by your campaign to purchase the Libyan mission’s property adjacent to your home in Englewood. While I join you in support of your condemnation of the Libyan government, its policies toward Israel, and its failure to take moral responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Americans, I fail to understand why you refuse to abide by the talmudic principle “Dina Malchuta Dina,” the law of the land in which we live must be observed by Jews. As Rep. Steve Rothman explained in a very detailed statement in response to your initial demand that the Libyans be forced to leave the property they own in Englewood, the issue of the legitimacy of their purchase and continued ownership has been adjudicated. Whether we like it or not, the United States courts have determined that they have the right to own that property.

My questions to you are:

1. Why did you choose to buy a home next to the Libyan property if you find living there so painful and distasteful? Would you really want neighbors of every embassy and consulate in our nation to have the right to pick and choose whether that nation has the right to house its ministers and offices in our nation? If a Muslim-American bought property next to the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, should that person have the right to force Israel to sell its residence? If you want Libya to pay property taxes to your town, do you want Israel to also pay property taxes to all the communities where there are Israeli diplomatic residences throughout America?

2. You keep making references in your attacks upon Rep. Rothman to the issue of public aid for private religious schools. Again, Rabbi Boteach, this is an issue that has been extensively debated in our American court system. As a parent who paid day school tuition for two children pre-kindergarten through grade 12, I am grateful that we have the right of school choice for our children and believe that with that right comes the responsibility to support a public education system that is open to all children. My question to you is: How can you square the circle of desiring to maintain a Jewish parochial school and demanding government money? Would you be willing to have your tax dollars equally support Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, Protestant, Catholic, Jain, and Buddhist school systems in northern New Jersey? We are a multicultural, religiously pluralistic community. Can you somehow justify why Jewish schools should get public funds without presenting a plan for how we could afford to have local options for every ethnic and religious group in our community?

3. Will your Jewish think tank be open to all Jews of all religious streams? This is no small matter, since your appeal for funds and support is being made to the entire Jewish community but you have no track record of inclusiveness and recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis, cantors, or academics. As a Reform rabbi who has lived and served in this community for 22 years, I want to invite you to come to the next meeting of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis at noon on Monday, Feb. 8, at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and open a discussion on your vision. We can then share with you the exciting progress that we are making through the Kehillah Partnership toward creating a cross-denominational Jewish day camp and retreat center that will serve the full spectrum of Jewish life in our community and that will be located on a property that is being legally and non-coercively acquired by the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township for the use of the whole Jewish community. We can also hear from you how you plan to attract Jewish sociologists, theologians, psychologists, social workers, and rabbis of all religious streams to your new center. I am confident that, if your vision is truly inclusive, working together we can find physical space for your think tank that I would hope would be more than just a “Jewish equivalent of the politically conservative Heritage Foundation,” but perhaps an American version of the Shalom Hartman Institute where Jews of all religious and political views come together.

According to the Midrash, all Jews stood together at Sinai. Rabbi Boteach, on this Shabbat of Parshat Yitro, I ask you to consider standing together rather than seeking ways to divide the Jews of northern New Jersey.

Temple Sholom, River Edge, Reform
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Why Ferguson matters to Jews

“Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot:

“That wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.

“That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”

This passage is read every Friday night at my synagogue, Barnert Temple, and I am moved each time it is read. Ever since I was a teenager, I would picture Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walking hand in hand in 1965, marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

 

 

To a daughter on her way to Israel

We spend much of Thursday at Marshall’s.

“What do you think?” I ask you, frowning. “Here. Add up these numbers.” I read you the measurements of the cute red wheelie bag, and you punch the figures into your phone.

“It comes to 44, Mom. Perfect!” Perfect for El Al, that is. Height plus width plus depth, the dimensions of your carry-on luggage may not exceed 45 inches.

“That’s great, sweetie!” I say cheerfully, and we wheel it to the cashier. One more thing we can cross off the list.

 

 

The stuff of life

A friend from down the block made aliyah the other week.

I dropped by a couple of times the week before and watched the hustle and bustle—the rush to pack up 10 years of a family’s life into one single moving truck. What to take? What to discard? How is someone to choose such things when faced with years and years of stuff, of objects that awaken memories? “To-keep” labels were attached to the furniture, but piles of books and toys that had accumulated over the years were for the taking. Anything left over was to go to charity or into the trash. My friend quipped that they were moving only to get her family finally to clean up the house.

 

 

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Zionism is many things to many people.

For some, it is the great hope of the Jewish people and the guarantor of our survival. For others, including a noticeable number of Jews, it is the ruination of Jewish values and a form of racism, despite the U.N.’s long-overdue rejection of that equation in 1991. On one hand, for some Jews and Christian supporters it is a dream become reality. On the other hand, there are Jews and Christians—at least one group whose church organization voted to boycott some American companies doing business with Israel—who view Zionism as a nightmare composed of missed opportunities and worse. Why such disparate views about what appears to be a single ideology?

Writ large, classical Zionism was believed by all Zionists to be the national movement for the return of Jewry to its homeland and for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. But Zionism never was a single ideology. There was socialist Zionism and revisionist Zionism, secular Zionism and religious Zionism. There was the Zionism that foresaw the disappearance of the diaspora and the Zionism that held Israel to be the center of the creation of a Jewish-Hebraic culture that would inform diaspora Jewish life and preserve it for generations to come.

 

Get your facts first

Do not be misled. Halachic divorce IS necessary.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who is the chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, and erstwhile rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, recently published an article called “When is Halachic Divorce Necessary?”

Rabbi Riskin discusses the halachic stance popularized by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein with apparent approval. Known to many as “Reb Moshe,” Rabbi Feinstein was the author of the collection of rabbinic responsa called “Igrot Moshe.” Rabbi Riskin summarizes: “a ‘get’ [religious divorce] is a necessity only for a halachic marriage: the very concept of marriage is unique to the halachic context and therefore the halachic obligation of a ‘get’ applies only within the unique rubric of a halachic marriage.”

 

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We’re in Elul now, the month preceding Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashanah.

In many ways, Elul is set apart from the other months. It shares with Cheshvan, the month after Tishrei, the distinction of having neither holiday nor holy day, neither feast nor fast. Tishrei is overcrowded with special times — Rosh Hashanah, the Fast of Gedalia, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah. Thirteen of that month’s 30 days are spoken for, preprogrammed. It’s no wonder that we must build up to it slowly, and when we must recuperate in Cheshvan.

Elul is a bit of a conundrum. Its two special observances embody the double message it gives us. The uncertainties of divine judgment and the assurance of unconditional divine love vie for our attention. To clarify the core ambiguities, we could start by looking at the two observances unique to Elul.

 
 
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