Monday, October 24, 2005

The LForD Chumrah of the Month - A new feature

Yes, in response to the many requests from our readers, LForD is now presenting a new. upgraded content.

That is, the "Chumrah of the Month!"

It will appear periodically whenver our correspondents encounter one.

A chumrah, for those of you blessed not to know, is a practice all too common(alas!) in the Jewish people, where those who wish to show their superior piety engage in ritual stringencies not strictly required by Jewish Law. These things soon become normative, and if your don't follow them, then you're a God-cursed heretical Apikorus, like me.

The first recorded Chumrah occured in the Garden of Eden, where Eve told the snake that not only was she forbidden to eat the fruit, she was forbidden to even touch it! (That wasn't true, God only told her not to eat it.) We all know what eventually happened in that little incident.

Today's Chuma:

I encountered today's chumrah on my shopping trip to the neighborhood "Kosher-ama"supermarket. As the checkout clerk (a pleasant young African-American woman) rang up a hermetically-sealed package of the extruded orange plastic called "M___ Cheddar Cheese" she called out to the bagger, "Don't put this in that bag, use another."

"That bag" turned out to be the bag in which my meat order was packed.

I told the young lady, "That's not necessary, my rabbi told me that I could even spill milk on meat when it's cold, and a simple washing is all that's need to to keep it kosher."

[I should note that "my rabbi" was not my Conservative "Mara d'atra," but was the teacher of a kashrus class I took from an Orthodox outreach organization. The rabbi in question was the head mashgiach for a nationally recognized Orthodox hasgacha operation.]

She replied, ""Well thats' not what the customers here insist on."

Oy vey! Does this mean that groceries will now have to be packed in seperate bags? Will we have pink bags for flieshik, blue bags for milchick, and green(?) bags for parve? Will our people now refuse to eat from people who carry their groceries in plain brown bags? What do the gentile store clerks think about this mishugass?

There are some advantagges to being Conservative, after all. (At least, I think so, come to think of it, I've never asked my "mara d'atra" whether I should use sperate shopping bags, and, given what happened, I'm not sure I want to ask the "shaila."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rabbi Jack Takes On the Feminazis -- and anyone who thinks for himself!

UPDATE: 10/23/05

Apparently Dr. Werthiemer is only a "Doctor" not a rabbi. But he still sounds like a preachy rabbi, so I will grant the good doctor s'micha from the CA Theological Seminary (CATS) and continue to call him "Rabbi Jack.")

Original Post:

I saw this originally in Haaretz,

"Jewish Men Want to Marry Someone More Like Their Mother"

and then found the original article

Jews and the Jewish Brithrate

By Rabbi Jack Wertheimer

Rabbi Wetheimer, is in line to become one of the gedolim (such as they are) of the Conservative Movement, He's apparently one of the "in-reach" faction whithin the Conservative movcement, those who think the movement should focus only on those members comitted to the Conservative's liberal halachic standards and the hell with the rest of us who have our doubts. In other words, he wants us to become Orthodox Lite. He's thus a soul mate with the esteemed Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, the current (or maybe immediate past) president of the Rabbinical Assembly, whose work I fisked last winter. ("Is the Conservative movement incompetent, or does it just have contemprt for its members?") .

Ha'aretz ran the gender-war angle on the story, i.e. Rabbi Wertheimer puts the feminazis in their place by suggesting that the ladies should forget about high-powered careers (which is actually good advice for both genders), and get married young and have lots of babies. If they don't then non-Orthodox Jews will die out and only the Orthodox will remain.

But what;s more important from my perspective is the other critical stuff he said about modern non-orthodox Jewish parenting and cultural norms:

"No doubt, many feel there is not much to be said about any of this—that the twin trends of low fertility and high intermarriage are forces of nature, not to be questioned but merely endured. Besides, one can always point to the larger social forces at work, from the sexual revolution, to the felt economic need to maintain dual-career marriages, to the obsessive quest for success, to a predisposition among the best-educated to regard family itself as a suspect category and child-rearing as a chore best left to others, to the triumph of the cult of individualism and freedom of personal choice, and so forth.

The litany is well-known, and its constituent elements have surely affected Jews as much as anyone else. In fact, to judge by the figures cited above, they have affected Jews more than others. But, precisely because that is so, it is useful to consider the particular beliefs and social values embraced by the majority of American Jewish families.

Tom Smith’s study of distinctiveness is a good place to start. His surveys demonstrate, for example, that American Jews are exceptional in the emphasis they place on raising independent-minded children. Asked to rank the relative importance of five values to be passed on to the next generation, overwhelming numbers identify their highest priority as the ability to “think for himself or herself,” far more than those naming “working hard” or “obedience.”

That no other ethnic group shows results like these is a finding in which many Jews would undoubtedly express pride. But there is surely a price to be paid for this unmodulated emphasis on independent-mindedness. At least in part, it has been paid in the coin of group allegiance and even of fidelity to one’s own parents when it comes to things like marriage and family. The same can be said for the value that Jews place upon education. Although this certainly accounts for their disproportionate presence at top-tier colleges and universities, it, too, is pursued at the cost of other values."

Read that carefully. Basically Rabbi Jack believes that American Jews have to be a bunch of mindless sheep who do whatever the gedolim tell us (for our own good, of course). And what the gedolim of the Conservative mevement want us to do is be a bunch of baby-producing machines (the men are involved in this as well as the women) to ensure that there will be lots of future jobs with six figure incomes for future graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and, of course, enough people left to keep Rabbi Jack's retirement fund solvent.

Maybe Rabbi Jack is right. Maybe the only way the Jews can survive is by being a community of fundemntalist sheep, allowed to argue ferociously about a limited range of topics, but basically living a lifestyle and attitudes very controlled by its religious leaders. But if I want that why do I need Orthodox Lite when real 200-proof Orthodoxy is so close at hand? The very reason I'm not Orthodox is becuase I want to be able to think for myself. Too bad it makes your job more frustrating Rabbi, but that's the price you pay for your big fat six-fugure salary. (And don't try poor-mouthing me, I was on a rabbinical search committee recently, I know what salaries the RA is expecting for its members.)

However, I think that Rabbi Jack is jumping to conclusions just a wee bit to qickly. He operates on the assumptions that the only way to get new Jews is by producing them the opld-fashoned way, in delivery rooms. And he also assumes that all these Orthodox baby-boomers (the current crop born in the 21st century) are going to be reatined by Orthodoxy. And he seems to have not heard of the Orthodox "shidduch crisis," which threatens the foundations of Orthodox fertility.

What about the possibility of augmenting the non-Orthodox Jewish world through conversion? I believe Rabbi Yoffee of the Reform movement suggested more outreach to the goyim some time ago. Who cares if the Orthodox don't accept our conversions? If we believe they're OK, the hell with the Orthodox.

What about more agressive outreach to hiloni (secular) Israelis? Sure, secular Israelis are famous for believeing that the Jewish relgion os bunk, and that Orthodoxy is the only authentic Judaism. At least Masorti/Conservative looks more like Orthodox than the other deniominations, and even seculars want bar and bat mitzva and need to be married and buried, etc. Perhaps the Masorti need to set up some "b'nai mitzva factories" in Israel to bring in the members. So what if their committment is loose? Look at what Paul of Tarsus did with Christianity: By opening it up to the goyim, he made it one of the most powerful religious forces in the world, even if most of the membership is poorly commmitted, and many even hold to pagan beliefs to this day.

And, finally, what about outreach to disaffected Orthodox Jews? We have a number of them in our congregation. Especially good prospects are women who are totally disenfranchised in even centrist Orthodoxy. Also, people of both genders who want to be able to think for themselves. Rabbi Jack, you should pruse the Ortho-skeptic blogs, including Dov Bear, the Gadol Hador, Ben Sorer Moreh, Hedyot, and other such people. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism could go a long way by strategivc support of synagogues that cater to Orthodox crossovers. Shuls that cater to halachically committed people, and , most importantly, assume that the members are knowledgeable, and don't need to have their hands held while to do the rituals. With the right aproach, we could skim off the cream of the Orthodox baby-makers and together with converted goyim, end up with a stronger Jewish community consisting of independent-minded thinkers.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Madonna, Kabbalah and dog-bites-man story

From the BBC:

Madonna "upsets" Israeli rabbis

"Confessions on a Dance Floor features a song called Isaac, about a 16th Century Jewish mystic called Yitzhak Luria.

But rabbis who guard his tomb in Israel have said it is forbidden to use his name for profit.

Rabbi Rafael Cohen told the Israeli Maariv newspaper Madonna would receive a "punishment".

"Jewish law forbids the use of the name of the holy rabbi for profit," said Cohen, who runs a seminary named after Luria in the northern Israel town of Safed."

Um, Rabbi Cohen, unless you're doing your work for the seminary for no pay, you. too, are profting by using the name of a holy rabbi. Maybe you, too, will receive a punishinment. Like having to spend your time in Olam Haba with Madonna!

But the fact that Madonna is applying the Kabbalah in a manner contrary to Orthodox teaching isn't exactly news.

So why are the rabbis dignifying her aherence to a kabbalah cult with this condemnation?