Monday, October 29, 2007

Best PSA ever! Warning: NSFW!

Possibly also the longest, but this should be required viewing for every 13 year old. Hopefully they won't need it yet, but if they do, it covers all the bases: for women, men, het or homo, and does it all with a catchy tune and amusing choreography.

All of today's posts brought to you HT BoingBoing
Warning NSFW! Explicit!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Talmud Tools

Jen Taylor Friedman (of Barbie davenner fame) gives a spiffy little overview of daf commentators


Another Bitch-Slap to the Rabbinate

According to Ha'aretz, another challenge to the Chief Rabbinate has popped up. Last month I blogged on the reaction to the scandalous no-heter for shmitta matter(and here); a group called Tzohar had announced that it would simply go around the Rabbinate. Well, they're at it again.
45 rabbis from Tzohar and an unspecified smattering of the Religious Kibbutz Movement in response to the chief rabbinate's policy of making conversion ridiculously difficult have said that they will simply go around it in this as well.

According to Ha'aretz,

That position ignores the plight of the more than 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halakha. If the recommendations of the interministerial committee on conversion to expedite the process are not implemented soon, the rabbis are expected to establish the proposed conversion courts. That would represent another stage in the undermining of religious-Zionist rabbis of the Rabbinate, following struggles over marriage, kashrut and shmita in the past several months.
The latest steps began about six months ago with a conference of the Joint Conversion Institute, which prepares most prospective converts in civilian and military frameworks. After the head of the institute, Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, announced that the requirements of the religious courts kept many graduates from completing their conversion, 45 rabbis agreed to officiate in religious courts that would convert the graduates, even without recognition from the Rabbinate. Most of the rabbis, the majority of whom who prefer not to be identified, are associated with with Religious Kibbutz Movement and the Tzohar rabbis' organization.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how this plays out int he marriage arena, since the Chief Rabbinate is almost certain to refuse to allow these converts to be married in Israel - causing these folks to suffer fromthe same problems that Reform and Conservative/Masorti converts have had to deal with for years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Interesting Letter

Dr. David Berger, recently appointed director of YU's Yeshiva College's Jewish Studies Department, writes a response to the accusation that he excludes a major Jewish group from Orthodoxy (the Lubavitchers) and requires members of the Chabad-Lubavitch communityat YU to "take some sort of oath declaring they do not believe the Rebbe is the Messiah to be considered accepted within Orthodoxy." This accusation, appearing in the Commentator
challenges Berger to be more open-minded - I suppose about whether or not it's okay to believe that the Lubavitch rebbe is either the messiah or divine.
The gist of his response is that "a large majority of Lubavitch hasidim believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah while a very substantial number believe that he is pure divinity. (For a succinct presentation of the evidence, see," suggests that parties interested in the matter read his book, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, states that he is not calling for excommunication - comparing his call to be similar to that of moderate Orthodox to Conservative and Reform Jews, which tickles me in oh, so many ways.

He concludes, more or less,

We live in an olam hafukh, an upside-down world, where spokespersons for a movement permeated by Christian-style posthumous false messianism and even avodah zarah can accuse Jews who deny them automatic Orthodox legitimacy of violating Jewish values. This is how I formulated the point in the Hebrew book: "Chabad hasidim have largely succeeded in silencing their critics with the accusation that those critics are fomenters of strife who undermine Jewish unity and disdain the supreme value of ahavat Yisrael. Permission is thus granted to the destroyer (nittenah reshut la-mashchit) to hijack your religion as you watch, while you remain helpless-because you are a decent person who loves the Jewish people and shuns divisiveness."

Students in my Bernard Revel Graduate School course on messianism will testify that although I assigned some of my writings on Chabad-along with the works of Lubavitch hasidim-I kept classroom discussion as analytical and non-polemical as possible. As to Yeshiva College, it no doubt contains students who are not fully committed to Orthodox Judaism, and I do not see the need to ask questions of Lubavitch applicants that are not asked of others. But attending Yeshiva College is not the same as serving as a rabbi, a dayyan, a Jewish Studies principal, and, in the context of avodah zarah, a shochet, a sofer, and a wine producer.

Wow, and they say I'm blunt.

I'm curious to see what people think of all this - I'll probably update this post later to say more of what I think... the comments over on Jewschool have not at all been what I expected.

xp Jewschool

Supreme Court refuses to hear birthcontrol challenge

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to reexamine a new York court ruling upholding a state law that forces religious-based social service agencies to subsidize contraceptives as part of prescription drug coverage they offer employees.

Since New York is one of 23 states that require employers that offer prescription benefits to employees to cover birth control pills as well,this refusal to hear the case will actually have quite wide effect. I suppose I should mention that I am very surprised by this, given the current makeup of the court. The original law was made in 2002, called the "Women's Health and Wellness Act" and requires health plans to cover a number of services aimed at women, including contraception, mammography, cervical cancer screenings and bone density exams.

According to AP,

Catholic Charities and other religious groups argued New York's law violates their First Amendment right to practice their religion because it forces them to violate religious teachings that regard contraception as sinful.

"If the state can compel church entities to subsidize contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs, it can compel them to subsidize abortions as well," the groups said in urging the court to take their case. "And if it can compel church entities to subsidize abortions, it can require hospitals owned by churches to provide them."

Other Catholic and Baptist organizations are part of the lawsuit. Seventh-Day Adventist and Orthodox Jewish groups signed onto a brief filed in support of Catholic Charities.

Three years ago the court rejected a challenge to a similar law in California....
The New York law contains an exemption for churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission that primarily serve followers of that religion. Catholic Charities and the other groups sought the exemption, but they hire and serve people of different faiths

This is all pretty amazing in my eyes, but a welcome respite from the usual (at least recently) hijinks of the high court. While, I sympathize with the religious organizations that don't want to offer services that their faith group opposes, I have to say frankly, that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Catholic hospitals are now a juggernaut in the American health care system, and if they decide tomorrow that arterial plaque is holy, I don't want to have travel possibly to another state to get treatment for heart disease. This reminds me of the entire brou-ha-ha over the D&X procedure, in which Congresspersons were shown doctors performing dilation and extraction abortions, and obviously it looked yucky; well, that's because when you do surgery, there's blood. Open heart surgery isn't all that pretty either. Nevertheless, sometimes people's lives are at stake, and according to Jewish law, when one's life is at stake one not only may, but must, take action. Thus, if I live in a place where I can't get services because all the hospitals are run by Catholic institutions, my religious beliefs are being violated. And that holds, according to the groups pursuing this case, even if I can find a Jewish doctor to perform my bypass surgery, or whatever.

Yay to New York, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (the other states with similar laws).

If you don't live in one of these states, consider it a good idea to get a law like this passed in yours. One should be able to consult one's own religious teachers and guides for instruction on what is permissible, and not have to obey someone else's. Your doctor and you should be making your health care decisions, not the pope, or some reverend so-and-so somewhere.

xp Jewschool

How to make Oak gall ink

For all you aspiring sofrim out there...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Arbitration expose by former judge

Former chief justice of the West Virgina supreme court, to be exact.
warning: the image at the top is really, really disgusting. Almost as disgusting as the arbitration firms the article is about.

ht to