The LED Kippah

I just saw that there is now an LED Kippah (yarmulke) that you can buy on the Web. (Update: the website is no longer operational so perhaps it wasn’t a successful idea)

Light Up Kippah - LED Kippah Yarmulke

You can program your own scrolling message. Perhaps donors will contribute money to the congregation for their name to scroll down the rabbi’s kippah?

Think of all the messages I could display on my kippah during services:

  1. Today’s Kiddush sponsored by the Goldberg family
  2. Please keep side conversations to a minimum
  3. Turn off cellphones please
  4. In memory of [yahrzeit name here]
  5. Please don’t be offended by anything said in my sermon
  6. How’s my preaching? Call 800-2-KVETCH
  7. My other head covering’s a Detroit Tigers hat
  8. CNBC Stock Ticker
  9. This LED message was not programmed on Shabbat or Yom Tov
  10. News Headlines crawler from JTA.org
Light Up Kippah - LED Kippah Yarmulke
Screenshot from the L.E.D. Kippah Website

LED Kippah

I just saw that there is now an LED Kippah (yarmulke) that you can buy on the Web. (Update: the website is no longer operational so perhaps it wasn’t a successful idea)

Light Up Kippah - LED Kippah Yarmulke

You can program your own scrolling message. Perhaps donors will contribute money to the congregation for their name to scroll down the rabbi’s kippah?

Think of all the messages I could display on my kippah during services:

  1. Today’s Kiddush sponsored by the Goldberg family
  2. Please keep side conversations to a minimum
  3. Turn off cellphones please
  4. In memory of [yahrzeit name here]
  5. Please don’t be offended by anything said in my sermon
  6. How’s my preaching? Call 800-2-KVETCH
  7. My other head covering’s a Detroit Tigers hat
  8. CNBC Stock Ticker
  9. This LED message was not programmed on Shabbat or Yom Tov
  10. News Headlines crawler from JTA.org
Light Up Kippah - LED Kippah Yarmulke
Screenshot from the L.E.D. Kippah Website

Danny Nevins, Heksher Tzedek & Indiana Jew

There’s a nice article in the Detroit News about my rabbi, Danny Nevins. He will become the next dean of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary this summer.

The sidebar of the article links to his personal website, the teshuvah (responsum) he co-authored on Homosexuality in Judaism, and even a Detroit News audio file of him being interviewed by the Detroit News reporter.

Of course, the author had to provide the requisite pessimism about Conservative Judaism: “Nevins comes to the position at a time when the population of Jews is declining in Metro Detroit and across the country. It also is a time when Conservative Judaism has lost some of its appeal as a logical alternative to the more liberal Reform Judaism and the strict interpretations of Orthodox Judaism.”

Thankfully, Rabbi Nevins countered this sentiment with an optimistic view of the Seminary’s objectives for the future. He said, “Every challenge is an opportunity, [and] I think at the Jewish Theological Seminary we are viewing this as an opportunity to re-examine our message, our structure and also the quality of what we are producing.” This positive outlook is exactly what the new chancellor, Arnie Eisen, has been preaching since accepting the chancellorship.

Perhaps the recent New York Times article about the Conservative Movement’s new Heksher Tzedek was the best news coverage Conservative Judaism has received in years. Kudos to Rabbi Morris Allen for working on making this new certification for food produced in a socially just way a reality.

I wouldn’t call it negative publicity, but I did find it funny that the History Channel‘s Josh Bernstein (“Indiana Jew”) explained that he didn’t go to JTS for rabbinical school because he was turned off by the fluorescent lights. In an article by Suzanne Kurtz on the Hillel website, the star of the hit show “Digging for the Truth” and the author of a book by the same name, describes studying Jewish texts at Pardes in Jerusalem for twelve hours a day.

“So satisfying was the [Pardes] experience, when his year of study was up, Bernstein paid a visit to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York to see if rabbinical school might be his next move.

‘But the fluorescent lights ruined it for me,’ he explains. ‘I told the rabbis at Pardes I’m going to get my wisdom in the desert.’ Their reply: ‘It was good enough for the Patriarchs.’ “

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Pistons Bling for $15,000!

Proving once more that you can buy anything on eBay, there is a 2004 Detroit Pistons World Championship ring up for auction right now. The starting bid is $15,000 and the owner of the ring is listed as being from White Lake Township.

Just my personal opinion, but I think that if the owner of the ring were smart then he’d wait a couple weeks until the Pistons win another championship before auctioning the ring.

It would be interesting to know who’s ring this is and why they want to part with it.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Mixing Religion and Politics in Ohio

Rabbi Jason MillerI got very nervous today when everyone started telling me about the media reports that a clergyman made inappropriate religious comments in his opening invocation at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus this past Wednesday (video). This is because I opened Wednesday’s session of the Ohio Senate with a prayer. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that it was Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), I thought. Or maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the Six-Day War that took place forty years ago in 1967 and then made reference to the current war that U.S. soldiers are fighting in that region of the world.

Well, fortunately, it wasn’t my speech that was the provocative one that afternoon (or if it was provocative, it wasn’t completely out of line). Apparently, a short walk down the hall from where I opened the Ohio Senate, in the Ohio House, a pastor invoked the name of Jesus several times and strongly encouraged the passing of a bill that was before that legislative body during that session. Both of those acts are forbidden.

Rabbi Jason Miller and Rep. Josh MandelOhio Representative Josh Mandel (left), the 28-year-old Jewish Republican from Lyndhurst who served in Iraq, said he had no problem with Wednesday’s prayer, saying clergy of any religion should have the freedom to speak freely. Ironically, I was with Josh on Monday evening at the Annual AIPAC event in Columbus and I asked him to come speak at my synagogue. Who says there is such a thing as the “separation of Church and State” anyway?

In all seriousness, there are problems with having religious leaders address our elected lawmakers before their legislative sessions. By accepting invitations to deliver the opening prayer, as I have now done twice, I am contributing to the problem. Perhaps, the only answer is to eliminate the opening prayer. But that wouldn’t change the fact that religion is still a major part of the political arena (both locally and nationally).

The Associated Press picked up the story and it ran in papers all over the country on Friday.

Here’s the full article from the Columbus Dispatch:

Ohio House warned to tone down prayers by guest ministers

Some clerics have ignored guidelines


Growing concern that prayers recited at the start of Ohio House sessions are potentially offensive to some members has pushed leaders to insist that all prayers be turned in for review at least three days in advance.

Too many guest ministers are invoking the name of Jesus during their prayers, a no-no under House guidelines, which, based on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, requires such prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.

Guidelines also say prayers should avoid contentious subjects.

The issue reached a tipping point during Wednesday’s invocation when the Rev. Keith Hamblen, pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Lima, made multiple references to Jesus, spoke favorably of church-sponsored schools and mentioned the bills up for debate that day, including a controversial strip-club proposal. [Watch a video of this invocation]

That sparked a memo from House Clerk Laura Clemens to all members.

“I have received several legitimate complaints from members recently about the disregard for the guest minister guidelines, more specifically the increasing tendency of our guest invocators to use language referring to a particular deity,” she wrote.

House Speaker Jon A. Husted, R-Kettering, requires that all prayers from guest ministers be delivered to the clerk’s office 72 hours in advance — a deadline that had been loosely enforced.

“We want our guest ministers to be able to speak freely, but we also want to keep in mind all of the members in the chamber,” said Karen Tabor, spokeswoman for Husted.

Rep. Chris Redfern of Catawba Island, the Ohio Democratic chairman, was one of two Democrats to walk off the floor during Wednesday’s prayer. He said prayers over recent years have become “increasingly evangelical.”

“The opening prayer is a time to be mindful of the obligations that we’ve been granted through our voters and gives us a chance to reflect,” he said. “It should not be used as an opportunity to proselytize. At times, all we’re lacking is a river to take members down to dip them in.”

Other reaction was mixed. Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, who invited Hamblen to give the prayer, said it was inappropriate for him to mention issues on that day’s agenda. “I kind of cringed when he did it.”

Rep. Josh Mandel, R-Lyndhurst, one of two Jewish members in the House, said he had no problem with the prayer.

“Our country is based on freedom of religion, not a freedom from religion,” he said. “Clergy of any religion should have freedom to say the opening prayer of their wish.”

Charles Wertz agrees. The Madison County resident and pastor of Journey of Faith Fellowship said it’s appalling that for a prayer to pass political correctness, “you have to gut all the things that make any prayer significant.”

Christians naturally pray in the name of Jesus, he said.

“There’s a stupidity to all this in that if they don’t want somebody praying in the name of Jesus, then don’t invite a Christian,” Wertz said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has generally banned government-sponsored prayer at public events. But in 1983 it made an exception for Congress and state legislatures.

But challenges continue. An Indiana federal district court ruled in November 2005 that legislative prayers no longer could invoke the name of Jesus. The case was appealed.

A 2002 survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 37 legislative chambers had guidelines for invocations and three required clergy members to submit their prayers for review. The Ohio Senate has guidelines on content but does not require prayers to be submitted.

Raymond Vasvari, a First Amendment specialist and former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, says the Ohio House is in a bind. While leaders don’t want sectarian prayer, government inviting a minister to speak and then vetting his or her prayer is akin to illegal prior restraint, he said.

“They need to pick people who aren’t going to say things that are overly divisive,” he said. “But once they open the door and invite a guest minister in, they pretty much have to live with what he intends to say until he’s done saying it.”

Clemens, the House clerk, wrote that the policy may limit the ability to have a guest invocator at every session, but she asked members to help her enforce it.

“I would hate to have to eliminate this program but may find it necessary to do so if this trend continues,” she wrote.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Conservative Movement’s Kosher/Justice Stamp of Approval in New York Times

A great article was published in the NY Times today about the hechsher tzedek of the Conservative Movement. Last month at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention in Boston, the hechsher tzedek received formal endorsement from the RA, the national association of Conservative rabbis. The article can be accessed here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Tel Aviv: A Contrast in Videos

I was deeply disturbed by a video shown on the news in Israel earlier this week. A rabbinic colleague on Ravnet (the email discussion group for Conservative rabbis) first alerted me to this horrific video. It shows a motorcyclist killed after crashing into a large truck in the Israeli metropolitan city of Tel Aviv. Not only does the traffic camera capture this man’s tragic death, but it also shows that forty motorists neglected to stop for this fallen human being. Forty cars drove around this man lying in the middle of the street.

There is now a debate ensuing in Israel about whether people have stopped caring for each other (anyone heard of “kol yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh“: All Jews are responsible for each other?). This also brings up questions of whether any of these individuals considered the mitzvah (commanded law) from Leviticus 19:16 of lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha (do not stand idly by the suffering of your fellow human). To some extent, “lo ta’amod” is the halakhic equivalent of the “Good Samaritan Law.”

Israel even has a “Lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha” Law (passed in 1998 by the K’nesset). Aaron Kirschenbaum, in an article titled “The Bystander’s Duty to Rescue in Jewish Law,” published in ASSIA-Jewish Medical Ethics writes about the following story: “In the early hours of the morning of March 14, 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked on her way home in Queens, New York. The unknown assailant made several separate attacks on her over a period of about forty minutes, and she finally died of the stabs he had inflicted on her. As the police subsequently ascertained, at least thirty-eight neighbors had heard her screams for help, some may have also seen her struggle, yet no one intervened – not even to call the police.”

Eliezer Ben-Shlomo, in his article “The Duty to Save Life in Jewish Law and the Rulings of the Supreme Court of Israel,” explains, “As far as normative criteria are concerned, the obligation to save life is established in the codex of Jewish law as a legal obligation which obligates whoever happens to chance upon a situation where he can intervene and save life.”

I personally don’t believe that all forty individuals, on their way to work, who drove around the 63-year-old man lying in the street knew he was unable to be saved.

After seeing the video and reading the accompanying articles as well as the thread of postings on Ravnet, I decided to deliver a sermon this coming Shabbat about this troubling event. I had planned to talk about the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 since next week is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Perhaps now I will have to talk about how different things were forty years ago when all Israelis came together in unity and celebrated at the Kotel (Western Wall) after the holy city of Jerusalem was reclaimed.

When I did a Web search to again find this shocking video in preparation for my sermon, the first video I encountered was a diametrically opposite video although it was also filmed in Tel Aviv. Both videos are below:


“FOR 2 MINUTES NO ONE STOPPED”

“FREE HUGS IN TEL AVIV”


As we celebrate forty years of the reunification of Jerusalem, may we also learn a lesson about the forty cars that didn’t stop for the human being lying in the street. Forty years ago Israelis paused to celebrate the return of a wall and of a walled city from their people’s history. They paused to pay respect to their fallen brothers who died fighting to protect the country. Forty years later they failed to pause for the sake of a fallen brother. I pray for a return to the ethic that we are all responsible for each other… no matter how rushed we are to get to work.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi Jack Moline and Rev. John Hagee

I hope the fact that I haven’t posted anything to my blog in over two weeks means that I’ve just been busy and not that I’ve run out of things to say.

After spending last week in Boston at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention, I have a lot of blogging to do. The convention was simply amazing with one great session after another. I was very impressed with the Rabbinical Assembly, and I left with newfound hope and excitement about Conservative Judaism in general.

I will post some reflections about the convention in the next day or two. In the meantime, I was struck by a couple of articles about my colleague Jack Moline of Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Virginia. Rabbi Jack is one of the more politically liberal Conservative rabbis, but has nevertheless agreed to sit on the dais at Reverend John Hagee’s “Night to Honor Israel” in the Washington area this month. After hearing John Hagee (right) speak at AIPAC in March, I am not surprised about the support he is getting from even the most liberal rabbis who cannot support his conservative Christian Right agenda, but will stand together with him for the sake of Israel. With Zev Chafetz’s book A Match Made in Heaven receiving critical acclaim, there will no doubt be much more attention paid to the reaction of mainstream Judaism toward Evangelical Christian support of Israel.

I especially liked Jack’s quote in the Baltimore Jewish Times:


“I don’t like his politics or his theology, but we live in a time when friends of Israel are few and far between. We have to recognize that we are receiving support from the evangelical community that we are not receiving from our traditional friends. I’ll be happy to talk about the theological context after we achieve a safe and secure Israel.”



This is the article from YNet News by Yaakov Lappin:
Fresh controversy has erupted around Christian Zionist leader Pastor John Hagee, after Conservative leader Rabbi Jack Moline’s name appeared on the list of invited guests at an event hosted by Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CFI) group, the Jewish Week said.
“Rabbi Jack Moline is a Jewish centrist in almost every respect. He is leader in the Conservative movement, a crusader against intermarriage and a fierce opponent of the religious right’s growing influence on American life,” the Jewish Week said.
“Rabbi Moline says his views about the domestic dangers posed by the religious right have not changed, but conditions have,” the report added.
The Jewish Week quoted Rabbi Moline as saying: “We’re no longer in a position of being too selective in choosing our friends,” and citing “the threat posed by Iran and Israel’s growing isolation.”
“Rabbi Moline’s participation marks the growing if uneasy acceptance of Rev. Hagee’s brand of pro-Israel activism across the Jewish community.
Mainstream Jewish leaders are rushing to embrace him, despite continuing concerns about his apocalyptic views about Israel’s future, his open advocacy of war with Iran and his harsh domestic views, and critics are being pressured into silence,” the Jewish Week added.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller