Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter


entries tagged with: Ronald Price


UTJ conference to focus on independent minyans

The Union for Traditional Judaism will hold its annual conference on Sunday at its Teaneck headquarters. The confab, themed “Independence Day: The Independent Minyan/Prayer Group Phenomenon,” will include a panel of speakers discussing the role of the independent minyan in the wider Jewish organization world, what the establishment can learn from them, and vice versa.

“We’re poised between what would be called the establishment of the Jewish world and what would be called the cutting edge of the Jewish world,” said Rabbi Ronald Price, UTJ’s executive vice president. “We thought this would be an appropriate topic.”

According to a 2008 survey of new Jewish organizations, more than 300 new Jewish initiatives were reaching out to some 400,000 Jews. And of those Jews, some 20,000 were involved in independent minyanim or prayer groups, instead of conventional synagogues.

Speakers at Sunday’s conference will include Adena Berkowitz, founding member of Kol HaNeshamah in New York City; Ann E. Shinnar of the steering committee of Teaneck Women’s Tefillah; and Rabbi Chaim Solomon, founding rabbi of Traditional Congregation of Mt. Dora in Florida. Torah scholar Hakham Isaac Sassoon, a teacher at UTJ’s Institute of Traditional Judaism-The Metivta, will begin the conference.

Price noted that the 2008 survey, conducted by Jumpstart, The Natan Fund, and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, found that a large number of small, niche initiatives had emerged across the country and that participants were shunning larger organizations for more intimate settings.

The research findings warned that many of the new start-ups face economic troubles, something Price hopes to address during the conference.

“We will be looking at the subject as objectively as possible,” he said. “Obviously UTJ sees itself as a halachic organization, but participants come from liberal as well as traditional backgrounds. We want to see how [independent minyanim] will become applicable to our work and help in communities.”

Organizers want to present a better understanding of these independent groups and why they are attracting so many, said UTJ special projects coordinator Judy Landau. Each speaker is involved in an independent minyan and will answer questions about that group, from how it is funded to challenges it faces, as well as its vision for the future, ritual format, and space layout.

Landau pointed out that these groups appear to be making better inroads with the 20somethings and 30somethings in the Jewish community — which established synagogues have had trouble with.

“That really is what we want to explore: What makes them attractive and how established synagogues might be able to learn something from them,” Landau said. “We want to let people know why they seem to be successful.”

Last year’s conference focused on child sexual abuse, particularly within the yeshiva world. Other topics have included the idea of the Jewish vote and how UTJ and synagogues can work together.

Past conferences have drawn as many as 300 or as few as 50. Attendance at the conference is unpredictable, Price said, but there is another option for those unable to make it to Teaneck: For the third year in a row, the conference will be Webcast on the Internet. In fact, Price said, much of the interest in the conference is coming from around the country, from California to Florida to Maine. Even at conferences with smaller attendance, UTJ has had twice as many people participating through the Internet, Price said.

“That’s very exciting,” he said.

For more information on the Webcast or the conference, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


UTJ emerges from bankruptcy

Organization pays all creditors in full

After spending only eight months in chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Teaneck-based Union for Traditional Judaism and its educational arm, the Institute of Traditional Judaism (the Metivta), have escaped — and may become stronger than ever.

“We have emerged from bankruptcy with the knowledge that all of our creditors will receive 100 cents on the dollar,” declared Rabbi Ronald D. Price, executive vice president of the UTJ and dean of the institute. All the old vendors are also continuing to work with them.

Price expressed the hope that the UTJ, the Metivta, and the Morashah (the rabbinic fellowship), as they rebuild, “will find ourselves stronger and with greater potential than ever to teach our Torah.”

The cause of the bankruptcy in May of last year: Several key benefactors lowered their contributions, thanks to the recession, and the organization’s income plummeted by more than 40 percent.

In a chapter 11 bankruptcy, there are no limits on the debt — unlike a chapter 13 bankruptcy. The rate of successful chapter 11 reorganizations, however, is low, estimated at only 10 percent or less.

The UTJ is an outreach and educational organization, sometimes viewed as filling a space between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. It has produced the “Taking the MTV Challenge-Media and Torah Values” curriculum (, now in over 400 schools, synagogues, camps, and college campuses around the world. The program provides participants with a way to filter the messages of the electronic media without having to ban unwanted TV programs or movies.

“It is a good day for us,” said Rabbi Edward Gershfield, president of the UTJ. “We wondered if and when it would come. We have always tried to be models of ‘emunah tzerufah veyosher da’at,’ a combination of faith and intellectual integrity. Having come through this experience knowing that everyone has been made whole financially gives us the emotional boost we need to enthusiastically go on, creating innovative ways to provide access to Jewish living and learning for the broader Jewish community.”

The UTJ’s popular Kosher Nexus website ( deals lightly with the latest news in the world of kosher food, and it receives thousands of hits regularly.

With chapter 11 behind them, the UTJ leaders intend to ramp up development of all their outreach and educational programming, including the MTV Challenge, Kosher Nexus, and online learning.

“We believe that God has given us intellect to use in search of truth,” said Price. “All we can do in this world is use the tools God has given us to come closer to Him. If our programs and the lifestyle we try to exemplify help others in that task, we have succeeded.”

For more information about the UTj and its programs, visit or call (201) 801-0707, ext. 200.


Mayim Bialik: Promoting a spirituality Hollywood devalues

‘Blossom,’ ‘Big Bang’ actress in town to spread Yiddishkeit

Mayim Bialik in conversation with Rabbi Ronald Price of the Union of Traditional Judaism. Courtesy UTJ

She’s an actress, a scientist, a celebrity spokesman for the Holistic Moms Network — and she spent a day of her vacation in Teaneck this week, playing herself in two film projects designed to spread Judaism and Jewish values.

“I do love entertaining people, but I ultimately believe in using my talents to make the world a better place,” Mayim Bialik said Sunday night.

She was speaking to a gathering of 100 people in support of “Jew in the City,” a website that produces videos aimed at answering questions and dispelling misconceptions about Orthodox Judaism. The next day she filmed a video segment for the site.

While in Teaneck, Bialik also was filmed in a 90-minute discussion on tz’niut, modesty, with Rabbi Ronald Price of the Union for Traditional Judaism. The discussion will be used in its series of MTV (Media and Torah Values) Challenge videos designed to help teens understand the values implicit in what they watch on television and to contrast those with the values of Jewish tradition.

Bialik, 35, is in the second stage of an acting career that began when she was a child and made her a generational icon as the teenaged star of “Blossom.” She then put aside acting for the “normalcy” of college life; she attended UCLA and became deeply involved in campus Jewish life, minoring in Jewish studies. She went on for a doctoral degree in neuroscience — and then returned to acting after the birth of her second child on the theory that acting was a better job for a mother than being a research scientist. This past year she had a recurring role in the geeky comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” playing a nerdy neurobiologist.

Bialik’s connection to “Jew in the City” is personal: She has been studying Torah by phone for years with the site’s creator, Allison Josephs, and the study partnership has grown into a friendship.

Each of Josephs’ videos addresses a question, such as “Why do Jewish women cover their hair,” or “Is birth control kosher for Orthodox Jews” or, as in the forthcoming episode for which Bialik was filmed, “How do I convey to people that the science that I’ve studied fits in with the Jewish beliefs that I hold dear?”

Josephs answers each question with a humorous touch. One of the points she is trying to make is that becoming Orthodox doesn’t mean leaving behind one’s personality.

“The questions are the questions that I had as I was becoming religious,” said Josephs. They also reflect the misconceptions about Orthodox Judaism she discovered when interviewing 3,000 Birthright Israel alumni during the five years she worked for the Partners in Torah outreach organization.

For Bialik, the questions are familiar.

“I feel I’ve been the guinea pig on ‘Jew in the City,’” said Bialik. “I see a lot of conversations I’ve had with Allison fleshed out.”

Where “Jew in the City” is using video to normalize the image of Orthodox Judaism, the “Media and Torah Values” project is devoted to using Jewish texts to question the values that media defines as normal. The premise is that Hollywood and Judaism offer two different value systems.

That’s something Bialik strongly believes.

“The life of acting and show business is not all that fulfilling spiritually,” she said. Where her Judaism teaches people to treasure what’s inside, “my industry cares about what’s outside. Nobody cares what you do in your dressing room, no one cares what goes on in your head, except whether you have learned your lines and get them right. Nobody cares if I’m a good person, and I want to be a good person. It’s what’s absolutely valuable.”

The MTV Challenge project is a series of DVDs with lesson plans, combining clips from television shows with traditional Jewish texts to study and discuss.

“By comparing the values that come out from each, we try to help them make choices that come out from that analysis,” said Price.

“The idea is for people to create a filter to use, so they don’t simply absorb everything they see on TV.”

The program featuring Bialik will depart from the usual format, combining clips from Bialik’s shows with clips of Bialik discussing the issues that they raise, as well as discussing how to be professional in Hollywood “and still be loyal to your values as a Jew,” said Price.

Bialik said that her desire to wear skirts rather than pants has mostly meshed with the socially-challenged character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“There was an episode where the character had to wear a casual outfit and the producers said, ‘You’re going to be wearing a sweat suit.’ They allowed me to wear a long shirt over it.

“I don’t have enough power to walk away from the job. Did I get off for the first day of Rosh HaShanah? Yes. The second day? No.”

After her character drunkenly kissed her “non-boyfriend” boyfriend, she received an e-mail from a fan: “I thought Amy was shomer negiah — that she didn’t touch men.”

Replied Bialik: “I thought so too until I got the script.”

Page 1 of 1 pages
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30