Rosh Hashanah Really is a Fashion Show

At many synagogues and temples on the High Holidays, people cynically remark that it has the feel of a fashion show. Jewish people, many of whom only attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur each year, get all decked out in their most stylish clothes.

Well, this year, there really will be fashion shows on Rosh Hashanah. Apparently, New York Fashion Week couldn’t find any other dates to hold its popular event. According to the NY Times, if they moved Fashion Week earlier in the calendar it would collide with Labor Day and any later would conflict with the European fashion shows. The NY Times explains:

One store has come up with its own solution to Friday’s Fashion Night Out dilemma. Last year Rosebud, a SoHo boutique that features Israeli designers, opened for New York’s biggest shopping party, but declined this year because of the Jewish holiday. “We took a stand,” Fern Penn, the owner, said. Instead she is celebrating Night Out on Sunday and Monday. “This is how I’m dealing with it,” she explained. Or as Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” might put it, she added, “You make it work.”

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

Fidel Castro Caption Contest

On its Tublr pageThe Atlantic reposted a photo of Cuban leader Fidel Castro with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. They turned the photo into a caption contest. I love caption contests so I couldn’t resist coming up with the following captions (under the photo):

Let me just proofread my note Jeffrey before I give it to you to put in the Western Wall on your next trip to Israel.
Wow, Jeffrey! You were so much thinner at your bar mitzvah!
The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg hand delivers a thank-you note from Chelsea Clinton after the Cuban dictator sent “his and her’s” bath towels as wedding gift.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Fidel Tells Ahmadinejad to Stop Slandering the Jews

A few years ago, it looked like Fidel Castro was going to make his grand exit from the land of the living. Instead, early this summer he emerged from his medically induced hiatus. Since his return, Castro has apparently been reading The Atlantic because he contacted Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter at the magazine recently.

While Goldberg was on vacation a couple weeks ago, the head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington (what would be the Cuban embassy if we had diplomatic relations with Cuba) called Goldberg’s cellphone with a message from Fidel Castro. He invited him to Havana to discuss Goldberg’s article on Iran and Israel.

Fidel told Goldberg that his article in The Atlantic confirmed “his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran.” Fidel “criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the ‘unique’ history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.”

Goldberg’s reflections on his face-to-face meeting with Castro is fascinating. Perhaps, if he’s feeling up to it, Castro should be brokering peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

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

Time Not on Israel’s Side

As I prepare for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, like most rabbis I feel like time is not on my side. For Israel, however, as the Jewish nation engages in the latest round of a potential peace treaty with the Palestinians, Time is certainly not on her side — Time Magazine that is.

This week’s issue of Time Magazine has the bold headline proclaiming “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” I’ve only read the online version of the article thus far (the online version is an abridged version of the cover story appearing in the September 13, 2010 issue). Overall, it seems that the article itself is fair to some extent, but let’s face it — most Americans are only going to see the cover. They’ll see the cover telling them that Israel doesn’t care about peace when they’re at the grocery store, pharmacy, library, bookstore, and airport. Most people won’t pick up the magazine to even read the thesis of the article.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis attacked Time Magazine’s choice of cover art in his Commentary Magazine editorial. Gordis writes that “The Web version of the story hardly even qualifies as journalism. It’s nothing more than a few sentences strung together, interspersed with links to a series of photographs. The printed version, at least, has a thesis, and it’s not a bad one. Its claim is that Israelis don’t discuss the peace process much (true), that they have low expectations (true), and that they don’t care (also true). And why do Israelis not care?”

The problem with the article as Gordis explains is that Time Magazine’s answer for why Israelis have despaired of peace is because they are more interested in money. Now, if that’s not a classic anti-semitic argument, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, those who read the article in Time will simply figure that Israelis don’t care about peace because they’re more concerned with their hi-tech companies, 401K’s, and real estate investments. They won’t know that the current peace negotiations were the Israeli prime minister’s idea and that the president of the Palestinian Authority had to be dragged to the bargaining table. They won’t read the thoughtful responses to the Time Magazine cover story by Danny Gordis or Bret Stevens in the Wall Street Journal. They won’t remember Israel’s successful peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Instead, they’ll see photos throughout the cover story of Israelis on a Tel Aviv beach smoking a hookah and silly quotes from real estate agents about how Israelis continue to buy homes despite the missiles falling.

I guess if Time’s going to resort to age old anti-Semitism against Israel, then the only way to “beat back Time” is to go satirical. I’ll leave that job to “The Onion,” which gets the best jab against Time Magazine with its fake news story about Time creating a new magazine for adult readers. Here’s the video:


TIME Announces New Version Of Magazine Aimed At Adults

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

Rabbis’ Attendance at Interfaith Weddings

My op-ed in the Forward last month has generated much debate. Many of the comments I’ve received, both personally and on the Web, have missed the point of my argument.

First and foremost, I was surprised by the number of heated comments by Orthodox Jews who were obviously critical of my position. (Note: I was surprised by the number of Orthodox Jews who took the time to comment, but not by the content of their comments.) Many of them erroneously referred to this as a Halakhic (Jewish legal) matter. I would agree that a rabbi officiating at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew is a Halakhic matter, but sitting in the audience as a guest is not. Yes, there are issues of mar’it ayin — a rabbi seen at an interfaith ceremony raises questions of perceived acceptance, but attending the ceremony (or reception) alone is not a breach of Halakhah.

The issue I wrote about is an issue specifically within the Conservative Movement that only affects rabbis who are members of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA). My argument is simply that the RA should remove the policy prohibiting RA members from attending interfaith wedding ceremonies. Currently, the policy reads “Rabbis may not officiate at, participate in, or attend an intermarriage” (Rule III:d). I argue that officiation and participation are different from attendance and should therefore be separated.

Further, as every Conservative rabbi knows, the Vaad Hakavod (ethics committee) does not enforce the attendance at interfaith weddings restriction. In fact, there’s a general understanding that it doesn’t even apply when it’s the wedding of a close family member. Further, the Vaad Hakavod does not go out looking for members violating the code. If they receive a report, they may or may not choose to look into it. From what I’ve been told (from a reliable source), no one reports on RA member rabbis attending interfaith wedding ceremonies. They do receive reports of RA rabbis officiating at said ceremonies. However, before they have the chance to sanction these rabbis, they resign their membership from the Rabbinical Assembly.

To clarify my point, I take exception with three facts.

1) The RA’s Code of Religious Practice lists attendance in the exact same ruling as officiation. Those are two separate matters and shouldn’t be in the same rule, let alone the same sentence.

2) I don’t believe that an unenforced rule should remain on the books simply to give its members an “excuse” when they don’t want to do something. A member of the RA who makes the decision (on principle) to not attend interfaith ceremonies should explain his/her principle when invited (or not explain the rationale and just decline the invitation). It takes backbone to uphold ones principles rather than using an unenforced ruling as an excuse.

3) While there are individuals who hold by the notion that rules are meant to be broken (especially rules that historically haven’t been enforced), there are individuals who strictly follow rules. Thus, there are Conservative rabbis who would refuse to go to their own child’s wedding (or sibling’s, best friend’s, etc.) because they are members of an organization that forbids such activity. This seems to compete with the concept of shalom bayit and common sense.

Overall, the feedback I’ve received from my colleagues in the RA has been positive — especially among those colleagues under a certain age. Some colleagues in the RA agree with my argument, but wished I hadn’t publicized the matter in the press. My belief is that issues such as this rarely change when handled internally. Already, discussions are underway to rescind this policy in the RA and this conversation is continuing on several blogs including Jewschool and Chopping Wood, the personal blog of Orthodox rabbi Reuven Spolter.

Chelsea Clinton’s wedding has generated a whole new discourse on intermarriage for American Jewry, from Reform to Orthodox. It will be interesting to see what the future brings.

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

Sean Penn Movie in Detroit Wants Conservative Jewish Extras on Shemini Atzeret

There have been a lot of movies being filmed here in Michigan over the past couple of years because of the lucrative tax and loan incentives for film production in the state. Apparently Sean Penn will be in Detroit making a new movie called “This Must Be The Place.”

I just received an email message (see below) that the film is looking for extras for a Jewish funeral scene. I fit the description that they’re looking for (I am a Conservative Jew, and I’m between 30-40 years old). The problem is that the two days they need these 30-40 year old Conservative Jewish people are Erev Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret respectively — two major holidays on the Jewish calendar.

The movie, “This Must Be The Place,” stars Sean Penn and is about a Holocaust survivor and his son. I guess when they decided to advertise their need for extras in a Jewish funeral scene, they didn’t consult the Jewish calendar or they would have found that these two days are not the most ideal for the type of movie extras they’re looking for.

And, by the way, I’m wondering if the film’s producer can explain how a Conservative Jew, which is based on ideology or synagogue affiliation, looks different on camera than other Jews. I guess they’re looking for non-Hasidic looking Jews as extras in the movie and thought this was the best way to advertise it.

Personally, I can’t wait for this movie to be released so I can see if I know anyone sitting in the funeral when they should have been in synagogue for the holiday.

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