Robert Downey Jr. Appeals For Mel Gibson’s Forgiveness

As anyone who was paying attention during the recent Yom Kippur services will tell you, one must seek repentance on their own. In Judaism, there are three ways to atone for sins: asking for forgiveness, praying, and giving charity. Nowhere in Jewish law does it say that a friend can ask for forgiveness on your behalf.
That’s precisely what actor Robert Downey Jr. attempted to do on Friday during the American Cinematheque Awards Friday in Los Angeles. Downey Jr. urged the Hollywood community to forgive Gibson for his recent troubles, which include anti-Semitic rants, racial tirades, and spousal abuse.

At the annual award ceremony occurring exactly one week after Yom Kippur, Downey Jr. (whose father is half-Jewish) paraphrased the New Testament when he said to the audience that “unless you are without sin…you should forgive him and let him work.” The two actors appeared in the 1990 movie “Air America” together. Downey continued, “I urge you to forgive my friend his trespasses. Allow him to pursue this art without shame.”

At least one rabbi has spoken out against Downey Jr.’s attempts to gain forgiveness from his Hollywood colleague. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier, said that only Mel Gibson can seek and receive forgiveness for his sins. “The sins between man and his fellow man can only be forgiven if the person who committed the sin asks for forgiveness from those whom he shamed and insulted and caused harm to,” Hier said Monday.

Hier even mentioned that Mel Gibson’s plans to make a movie about Judah Maccabee won’t help his cause either. “”You can’t ask forgiveness indirectly through a movie,” Hier said. “You can’t do it by saying, ‘Look at the part that I have. I’m producing a film about a Jew.’”

In September, the Anti-Defamation League has asked Warner Brothers to remove Gibson from the Judah Maccabee film. Abraham Foxman of the ADL released a statement in September saying, “We would have hoped that Warner Bros. could have found someone better than Mel Gibson to direct or perhaps even star in a film on the life of the Jewish historical icon Judah Maccabee. As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better. It would be a travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views.”

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

Apple Removes Jewish App in France

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The NY Jewish Week

It’s the age old question: Is so-and-so Jewish or not? I’m not talking about the controversial “Who is a Jew” question that gets into matters of lineage. Rather, the dinner party question of whether a celebrity is Jewish or not.

Occasionally I blog about Jewish celebrities here and I peek at the analytics that show what search strings people used to land on my blog. There is an overwhelmingly high number of referrals to my blog from searches from all over the world like these: “Is Justin Bieber Jewish?” “Is Madonna Jewish?” “Is Bruce Springsteen Jewish?” “Is Lenny Kravitz Jewish” “Is Benjamin Millepied Jewish” and so on. What does that mean? It means that people from all over the globe are curious about which celebrities are Jewish.

Well, if people are curious about which celebrities are Jewish and which aren’t… There’s an app for that. But not in France anymore.

The French version of the “Jew or Not Jew” app, called “Juif ou pas Juif?” in French, was selling for 0.79 euro cents ($1.08) in France when Apple decided to kill it. An organization in France called SOS Racisme argued that the app, which was designed by a Jewish man, violated French laws banning the compiling of people’s personal details without their consent. Apple agreed. The app still sells outside France, including in Apple’s U.S. App Store where its price is $1.99.

SOS Racisme released a statement explaining that it called on Apple to remove the app from its online store and to be more vigilant about the applications it sells. In an interview, published Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper, the “Jew or Not Jew?” app developer Johann Levy said he developed the app to be “recreational.”

“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews, but as a Jew myself I know that in our community we often ask whether a such-and-such celebrity is Jewish or not,” Levy, a 35-year-old Franco-British engineer of Jewish origin said. “For me, there’s nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish or not. On the contrary, it’s about being proud.” Levy said he compiled information about famous people around the world from various online sources.

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

Kippah Your Head Covering Outta My Office

Kippah. Yarmulke. Beanie. Skullcap. You can call it whatever you want, but the Jewish head covering has been in the news and in pop culture a lot lately.

The New York Post reports that an Italian man is suing McKinsey & Co., the international consulting firm, claiming he was fired after repeatedly complaining to human resources that his colleagues made fun of his yarmulke. Ciro Rosselli claims in papers filed in Manhattan federal court yesterday that he wore a yarmulke in the McKinsey & Co. offices where he worked as an executive assistant and was discriminated against for it. I know there are several McKinsey & Co. employees who wear a yarmulke to work. Rosselli’s case is interesting, however, because he’s not even Jewish. He was wearing the Jewish head covering while practicing “theosophy,” an obscure spiritual philosophy that maintains that “there is no higher religion than truth.”

Rosselli’s colleagues at McKinsey & Co. gave him a hard time about his kippah. He claims his boss compared him to Madonna, the Kaballah-loving celebrity who has embraced Judaism despite the fact that she’s Christian. Another co-worker suggested that Rosselli was just trying “to hide his bald spot.” According to the lawsuit Rosselli filed, one co-worker said he wasn’t a “real Jew” and another demanded that he “take that [yarmulke] off! You’re creeping me out!” Rosselli’s lawsuit seeks unspecified money damages from McKinsey & Co. for discrimination and retaliation.

The kippah has also made its way into pop culture. It’s become more common to see actors wearing a yarmulke on television shows (Jeffrey Tambor on “Arrested Development” or Jeremy Priven on “Entourage) and in the movies (Ben Stiller in “Keeping the Faith” or Owen Wilson in “Meet the Parents”). But this is just to let the audience know they are playing Jewish characters.

In a recent episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the kippah was the punchline. Like he did as a writer on “Seinfeld,” Larry David draws on real life situations for “Curb” and shows how humorous they are. I’m sure that living in Los Angeles, Larry David has encountered middle-aged Jewish people who suddenly embrace Jewish observance. And that was precisely the situation he wrote for Bob Einstein, who plays the dentist Marty Funkhowser on the show. In the “Palestinian Chicken” episode, Larry attends a dinner party where Funkhowser, wearing a yarmulke, explains that he’s recently undergone a spiritual awakening following his divorce and mid-life crisis. He has been meeting with a female rabbi each night who has influenced him to become more religious (saying the blessings before meals, wearing a kippah and even considering “Koufaxing” his friends by not playing in the golf tournament on Shabbat).

In this scene (video below), Funkhowser is about to enter a Palestinian chicken restaurant wearing his large velvet yarmulke, but Larry David and Jeff Garlin (playing Jeff Greene) won’t allow it.

I started wearing a yarmulke when I was four-years-old at my synagogue-based pre-school, and then continued to wear it at my Jewish day school in Detroit and whenever I was in a synagogue. During my freshman year of college I decided to wear a yarmulke all the time. At first I probably wore it as a sign of Jewish solidarity and then later for more religious reasons. Today, I cynically joke that I wear it simply to cover my bald spot, although truth be told it probably has protected my head from getting sunburned every now and then.

Leo Rosten claims that the word “yarmulke” comes from the Tatar word for skullcap. However, I think it’s more likely from the Aramaic “yira malka” meaning “awe of the king” as a sign of respect to God. Whatever one’s reason for wearing a yarmulke, they deserve to be treated with respect. Whether you’re an Italian New Yorker experimenting with many religions or a spiritually renewed Jewish dentist going to eat some Middle Eastern chicken.

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

An Analysis of the Delta Airlines Controversy

After writing about the news that Delta Airlines was supporting Saudi Arabian Airlines’ partnership in the SkyTeam Alliance, I have been flooded with email messages — both in support of what I wrote and criticizing me for starting a false rumor.

I have been contacted directly by Delta Airlines and the Saudi Embassy in Washington. I have received messages from individuals wishing to petition or boycott Delta Airlines. I have also been scolded for picking on one airline when many airlines are part of similar agreements with discriminatory countries. This story certainly played to people’s emotions and it went viral quickly. In only a couple days my Huffington Post article has been “liked” over 7,500 times, I’ve been quoted in USA Today, and interviewed by CNN. I believe there is still a lot of misinformation going around concerning this partnership, but there have also been some clarifications since I posted my article. Rather than retracting what I wrote or removing that post entirely, I will attempt to clarify my views based upon all the information I currently have.

I first got wind of this story when a friend posted a link to the World Net Daily article titled “Delta adopts Saudi ‘no-Jew’ fly policy.” The article explained that Delta was adding Saudi Arabian Airlines to the SkyTeam Alliance and this would require the American carrier to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights from New York or Washington bound for Jeddah. It also said that former U.S. Representative Fred Grandy (also formerly known as “Gopher” on “The Love Boat”) was presenting this matter to Congress.

Now, I am well aware that World Net Daily is a far-right, Conservative news website and I take its content with a grain of salt. However, it did publish two letters from Delta’s customer service coordinator which explained the company’s position. Further, I did my own research and read through Delta’s press release dated January 10, 2011, in which Delta offers its support of Saudi Arabian Airlines joining the SkyTeam Alliance. I also spoke with individuals who understand the function of the SkyTeam Alliance and they told me that Delta would be “code sharing” with Saudi Arabian Airlines. I was also curious about who owns Saudi Arabian Airlines so I contacted an authority in the airline industry who told me that it was owned and operated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Based on this information I posted the story to this blog and to the Huffington Post.

What follows are some corrections and explanations based on statements made by Delta Airlines and the Saudi Arabian Embassy after I posted my article:

1) TITLE: I based the title of my blog post on the World Net Daily’s article title (“Delta adopts Saudi ‘no-Jew’ fly policy”). This was a sensational title and was misleading. Delta did not adopt Saudi Arabia’s policy and Delta does not discriminate. In my article I clearly stated that Delta does not discriminate, but that my concern was that Delta was supporting membership in the SkyTeam Alliance by an airline run by a discriminatory country.

2) DOES IT MATTER?: I’ve had numerous people ask me if this even matters since most Jews are not planning on traveling to Saudi Arabia anyway. “I guess we’re not flying Delta to Riyadh for Passover” was a common cynical comment I received. While it is certainly true that Jewish men and women tend to fly to Miami, Aspen, Palm Springs or Israel for Hajj and not to Mecca and Medina, it’s still the principle that Saudi Arabia does not issue visas to Jews, Israelis or individuals with an Israeli stamp on their passport. Again, like other Muslim countries that do not issue visas to Jews, there are exceptions and I stated that clearly. I also understand that King Abdullah is working to reform his country and make good on his public commitment to interreligious dialogue in Madrid, but that he’s having a difficult time in doing so.

3) WELL, OTHERS DO IT TOO!: I’ve never liked this defense. It sounds like something a fifth grader would claim when he gets into trouble. Even if other airlines and other airline alliances code-share and do business with Saudi Arabian Airlines, it doesn’t make it right that Delta is. I recognize that American businesses and the American government have alliances with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I know that we have military bases there. I know that we get a lot of our oil from them. I have seen the video of our last American president walking hand-in-hand with their king and I have seen the video of our current American president bowing down in front of their king. The fact remains that the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia and it is a nation that discriminates against women and non-Muslims.

4) SO WHY PICK ON DELTA?: I don’t have anything personal against Delta Airlines. However, it was Delta that was singled out in the World Net Daily article and Delta’s press release supporting Saudi Arabian Airlines joining the SkyTeam Alliance that I read. Further, as I mentioned in my post, I live in Detroit which has been a Delta hub ever since Delta bought Northwest Airlines. I fly Delta often because most of the flights in and out of Detroit are operated by Delta. So, it was disconcerting to me that the airline I use the most is welcoming Saudi Arabia’s national airline into the alliance it founded.

5) CODE-SHARING: When I wrote the original article, I was informed that Delta’s alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines would include a code-sharing agreement. It was explained to me by those in the industry that this would mean that a traveler could book a flight to Saudi Arabia on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight through Delta. I even surmised that this could also mean that travelers would be awarded SkyMiles from Delta for their travel to Saudi Arabia. I never suspected that Delta would refuse travel to a Jewish person or an Israeli national. However, this alliance did not sit well with me because it was Delta getting too close to the airline of a discriminatory country. Based on Delta’s most recent press release about this matter, it appears that there is no code-sharing agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

6) DELTA’S RESPONSE: Delta seemed to backpedal on this alliance after the public outcry. Delta’s customer service coordinator Kathy Johnston’s response seemed to pass the buck: “While we fully understand and sympathize with your concerns, Delta has no control over the actions of the United States or any foreign country. If the government of Saudi Arabia engages in discriminatory practices in the issuance of travel documents to U.S. citizens, this is a matter which must be addressed with a local embassy as appropriate or with the U.S. State Department.” Only after this controversy went viral did Delta issue a stronger statement fully explaining the nature of its partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines via the SkyTeam Alliance.

7) SAUDI ARABIAN EMBASSY RESPONSE: In short, I don’t buy it. The Saudi embassy claims that the “Rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false.” It is well known that one cannot get a visa to Saudi Arabia with a point of entry stamp from Tel Aviv on ones passport. This is discriminatory. If other countries have the same policy, that makes them wrong too, but it is not an excuse for Saudi Arabia to follow this practice. Saudi Arabia also does not allow non-Muslim religious articles in its country. They have discriminatory practices when it comes to women’s rights. All of these issues should have raised a red flag when Delta considered supporting Saudi Arabian Airlines admission to the SkyTeam Alliance (even if other airlines had followed suit with SkyTeam Alliance or any of the other airline alliances).

8) JUST GET A NEW PASSPORT: Many individuals have simply said that it’s not a big deal if Saudi Arabia refuses entry to its country with a passport showing a previous trip to Israel. “Just get a new passport,” they say. It’s the principle here. And if Israel is denying entry to those who’ve visited the Palestinian Authority (in violation of the 1995 Oslo II accord), then they should correct that policy as well).

The bottom line is that I didn’t pick on Delta maliciously. I am not happy that other airlines have partnership agreements with Saudi Arabian Airlines either. I wrote about Delta because they were the focus of an article I read and they were the Airline that posted a press release on the Web supporting Saudi Arabian Airlines’s admission to the SkyTeam Alliance (which Delta founded). While the title of my post was misleading and inaccurate, I still believe that Delta (and any other airline in the SkyTeam alliance) is making a mistake by becoming a partner with an airline run by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman’s letter to Delta sums it up best:

We understand that Delta, as any airline, is required to comply with the visa requirements of the destination country,” wrote Foxman in a letter to Delta CEO Richard H. Anderson. “However, Saudi Arabia’s past practice of banning travelers with an ‘Israel’ stamp in their passport from gaining entry into the country runs contrary to the spirit and intent of Delta’s non-discrimination policy.

While this practice affects all travelers who previously visited Israel, it has a disproportionate impact on Jewish passengers. Moreover, Saudi Arabia also bars anyone from bringing into Saudi Arabia religious ritual objects, including religious texts, from any faith other than Islam, effectively banning religiously observant Jews from entering the country.

We expect Delta, and any other American airline which flies to Riyadh or partners with an airline that flies there, to ensure that its passengers — whatever their faith — not be discriminated against, and that no American airline in any way enable, or facilitate this discrimination, whatever the regulations of Saudi Arabia.

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

Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines No Jew Policy

For a long time in Michigan, Northwest Airlines had its hub at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. That meant an essential monopoly on domestic flights in and out of Detroit. A few years ago Delta Airlines took over Northwest Airlines and now the vast majority of domestic flights at Detroit Metro are operated by Delta. That fact makes it especially troubling to learn that Delta will add Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam Alliance of partnering companies and would require the Delta to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights to Saudi Arabia. The partnership was originally announced by Delta Airlines in a press release on January 10, 2011.

World Net Daily reported that this issue was “first was presented to Congress, the public and others by talk radio host and former U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy, whose own battle against discrimination was documented when his former radio station demanded he tone down criticism of Islam on his program. He then left the station.”

The article included correspondence from Kathy M. Johnston, Delta’s coordinator of Customer Care, explaining that Delta does not discriminate nor condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender. However, she stated , Delta must comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves. That means that if the Saudi government denies Jews from entering its country and Delta brings them there on its flight they can be fined.

The issue here is one of principle. Delta isn’t being forced to include Saudi Arabian Airlines into its Sky Team Alliance. In fact, Delta could stand on principle and refuse to include Saudi Arabian Airlines based on its discriminatory policy. No, it’s not Delta’s fault that the Saudi government is anti-Semitic, but it doesn’t have to go along with it. It’s as if the Saudis are telling Delta that when it comes to Jewish passengers its name should become an acronym: “Don’t Even Let Them Aboard.”

I know I’m not the only one who finds it troubling that Delta would go along with Saudi Arabia’s policy of not allowing Jews on their flights. While I’m not planning a vacation to Riyadh any time soon, I would have a hard time flying with Delta knowing they are collaborating with the discriminatory government of Saudi Arabia.

The American Center for Law and Justice has already taken up this issue and I have no doubt that organizations like the Anti-Defamation League will not be far behind. I fly Delta a lot, both domestically and internationally. In fact, I’ve flown Delta flights to and from Israel twice in the past four years. Each time I arrive to my destination with Delta, I hear a flight attendant thank the passengers by saying, “We know you have a choice when you fly so thank you for choosing Delta.” However, that’s not entirely true. Here in Michigan, we often don’t have much of a choice when we fly. It’s usually Delta or nothing.

I have no doubt that this matter will not quietly go away. The Jewish community will not feel comfortable flying Delta knowing about its new association with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Clarification: Delta Airlines is not changing any policies. Delta claims they do not discriminate and I concur. The issue here is that they have welcomed an airline (Saudi Arabian Airlines) that does discriminate into their global partnership (SkyTeam). Finally, Delta does not own the Sky Team alliance. SkyTeam is a global airline alliance (founded by Delta Airlines and a few other airlines) that provides customers from member airlines access to an extensive global network with more destinations, more frequencies and more connectivity.

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

Are Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, John Galliano and Julian Assange Anti-Semites?

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

How does one know when someone’s comment is anti-Semitic? I suppose it’s the same as how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

There have been several high profile examples of anti-Semitic outbursts recently. And like famous anti-Semitic rants in the past, there has been much debate as to whether these recent cases should be classified as anti-Semitic. In all of these instances, one could argue that “I know it when I see it.”

There are times when a celebrity makes a poor choice, but is likely not being intentionally anti-Semitic. Examples are when Roseanne Barr dressed as Adolf Hitler and posed for a magazine and when Prince Harry went to a costume party in a Nazi uniform. However, when Mel Gibson repeatedly espoused his anti-Jewish feelings, there was no question about his motivation or true feelings.

In recent days, we’ve heard questionable comments by Charlie Sheen and Glenn Beck. We’ve seen video footage of Dior designer John Galliano expressing his love for Hitler and berating innocent people with anti-Semitic slurs. And a recent report said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization.

Charlie Sheen, who continues to prove that his “Wild Thing” character in the movie “Major League” was pretty close to his real persona, referred to the executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” by his Hebrew name. Rather than calling him Chuck Lorre, Sheen referred to him as “Chaim Levine” and raised red flags throughout the media and in Jewish organizations. Not only has Sheen denied that there was any anti-Semitic undertone in his rant, he is now requesting that the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman apologize to him for condemning his remarks.

It’s pretty obvious that Sheen’s not getting very good PR counsel these days (if any at all) because he expressed his admiration for Mel Gibson in an interview with Howard Stern. I don’t think Mel Gibson is the guy you want to bring into your corner when you’ve been accused of an anti-Semitic rant.

Glenn Beck recently apologized for his insult to Reform Jews. The Fox News talking head said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.” He was responding to a letter condemning his virulent attack on George Soros. I was one of several non-Reform rabbis who signed the letter urging Fox News to fire Beck. While I don’t agree with Soros’ politics and certainly find his views on Israel to be troubling, I understood Beck’s comments about Soros (comparing him to the Nazis) to be anti-Semitic in nature. While Beck will likely never apologize for his Soros tirade, it is telling that he apologized to the angered Reform (not “Reformed” as Beck called them) rabbis.

The anti-Semitic comments by Christian Dior designer John Galliano in a shocking videotape (see below) were quite obviously anti-Semitic. Dior has fired him for his hateful comments and he was arrested by French police over allegations that he abused a couple in an angry, drunken, anti-Semitic diatribe. Oscar winner Natalie Portman who represents Dior in perfume ads said she was disgusted with John Galliano over his anti-Semitic rants. In a written statement, Portman said, “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way.”

Finally, Julian Assange’s comments seemed to be more paranoia than anti-Semitism. He suggested that British journalists were conspiring to smear his organization. The NY Times reports that Assange “was especially angry about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks.”

While Assange’s accusation does sound like the age-old charge that the Jews own and run the media, it might not be anti-Semitic. Rather, Assange is probably feeling like everyone is out to get him after the recent WikiLeaks dumps of classified information.

Are anti-Semitic comments on the rise? I don’t think so. Rather, there has been a trend of high-profile individuals making anti-Semitic statements. It’s entirely possible that these hate-filled tirades reveal the true sentiments of these celebrities. Hopefully, they will apologize for their outbursts and be more dignified and sane in the future.

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

The Light of German Jewry

This has been a whirlwind week for me in Berlin, where I’ve spent long days touring with other young Conservative rabbis. We have learned first hand about how Germans have confronted their past and are looking to their future. We have seen the German Jewish community rebuilding itself with a sense of pride and renewal.

This Shabbat, in the Torah portion Tetzaveh, we learn about the ner tamid (the eternal light). We can compare the ner tamid — a main focal point in the Temple — with the German Jewish community. Considering the horrific history the Jewish people in this part of the world endured during the last century, it is crucial to remember that this Jewish community’s light was never fully extinguished — it is eternal.

In the past few days, I have visited a concentration camp and several Holocaust memorials. That is precisely what one would expect our group of rabbis to experience here in Berlin. But that is only the first part of the story. We also visited a liberal rabbinical school (Abraham Geiger College), progressive synagogues (like the Masorti congregation where my colleague Gesa Ederberg serves as rabbi), Jewish centers, a Masorti nursery school, kosher restaurants, and Jewish museums. We learned how German school children are confronting their nation’s history during the Shoah.

Our group of rabbis spent an entire morning in the German Foreign Ministry being briefed on international relations by a high level, career diplomat. We were hosted at a luncheon on the top floor of the Reichstag, looking out over Berlin. We had a glatt kosher dinner with our Protestant colleagues, exchanging theological viewpoints and perceptions about memory over shnitzel and goulash. I have worn my kippah in the streets of Berlin over the past week without incident. I have heard Hebrew spoken throughout the city, both by Israelis and non-Israelis. When I took off my coat at a museum, the German guard smiled and said “Todah Rabbah” (Hebrew for “thank you”) and “shalom.”

This is a changing country. I was unaware of the renaissance taking place here in the German Jewish community. Democracy, tolerance, justice and understanding are all shared values here in Berlin. The light of our Jewish brothers and sisters here is not only still kindled, but it is burning bright.

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

Open Letter to Glenn Beck

What follows is the Wall Street Journal full-page ad of an open letter from the Jewish Funds for Justice and signed by 400 rabbis calling on Fox News to sanction commentator Glenn Beck for his “over-the-top” attacks on George Soros. Kudos to Simon Greer and Mik Moore of Jewish Funds for Justice on this initiative.

Glenn Beck:
George Soros, who as a child in Hungary survived the Holocaust by living with a non-Jewish family “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.”
November 11, 2010

Roger Ailes:
There are some “left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anyone can use the word ‘Holocaust’ on the air.”
November 16, 2010

“[NPR] are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left-wing of Nazism.”
November 17, 2010

Rabbis to Rupert Murdoch: ‘Sanction Glenn Beck’
An open letter on the occasion of UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2011 – Dear Mr. Murdoch, We are rabbis of diverse political views. As part of our work, we are devoted to preserving the memory of the Shoah, and to passing its lessons on to our future generations and to all humankind. All of us have vigorously defended the Holocaust’s legacy. We have worked to encourage the responsible invocation of its symbols as a powerful lesson for the future.

We were therefore deeply offended by Roger Ailes’ recent statement attributing the outrage over Glenn Beck’s use of Holocaust and Nazi images to “left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anybody can ever use the word ‘Holocaust’ on the air.”

In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed. But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only “left-wing rabbis” who think so.

Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, a child survivor of the Holocaust, described Beck’s attack on George Soros as “not only offensive, but horrific, over-the-top, and out-of-line.” Commentary Magazine said that “Beck’s denunciation of him [Soros] is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo.” Elan Steinberg, vice president of The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, called Mr. Beck’s accusations “monstrous.” Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, called them “beyond repugnant.” And Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University, says Beck is using traditional anti-Semitic imagery.

“I haven’t heard anything like this on television or radio — and I’ve been following this kind of stuff,” Lipstadt said. “I’ve been in the sewers of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial more often than I’ve wanted.”

We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media. But that is not what we have seen at Fox News. It is not appropriate to accuse a 14-year-old Jew hiding with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Hungary of sending his people to death camps. It is not appropriate to call executives of another news agency “Nazis.” And it is not appropriate to make literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people with whom you disagree.

It is because this issue has a profound impact on each of us, our families and our communities that we are calling on Fox News to meet the standard it has set for itself: “to exercise the ultimate sensitivity when referencing the Holocaust.” We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and that Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
Vice President, American Jewish University, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus
President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Daniel Nevins
Dean, Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School
Rabbi Yael Ridberg
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Steven Wernick
Executive Vice President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism
All organizations are listed for informational purposes only.
Rabbi David Adelson | Rabbi Charles Arian | Rabbi Benjamin Arnold | Rabbi Melanie W. Aron | Rabbi Erica Asch | Rabbi Larry Bach | Rabbi Justus Baird | Rabbi Lewis Barth | Rabbi Samuel Barth | Rabbi David Baum | Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker | Rabbi Anne Belford | Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer | Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon | Rabbi Alvin Berkun | Rabbi Jonathan Berkun | Rabbi Lauren Berkun | Rabbi Donald R. Berlin | Rabbi Phyllis Berman | Rabbi Joseph Berman | Rabbi Leila Gal Berner | Rabbi Edward Bernstein | Rabbi Kim Blumenthal | Rabbi Neil Blumofe | Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor | Rabbi Charles Briskin | Rabbi Deborah Bronstein | Rabbi Herbert Bronstein | Rabbi David Brusin | Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik | Rabbi Daniel Burg | Rabbi Joshua Caruso | Rabbi Aryeh Cohen | Rabbi Heidi Cohen | Rabbi Samuel Cohon | Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels | Rabbi David Cooper | Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove | Rabbi Rachel Cowan | Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel | Rabbi Meryl Crean | Rabbi Robin Damsky | Rabbi Judith Edelstein | Rabbi Hector Epelbaum | Rabbi Jerome Epstein | Rabbi Noah Farkas | Rabbi Michael Feinberg | Rabbi Samuel Feinsmith | Rabbi Fern Feldman | Rabbi Brian Field | Rabbi Tirzah Firestone | Rabbi Joel Fleekop | Rabbi Steven Folberg | Rabbi Jeff Foust | Rabbi John Franken | Rabbi Anthony Fratello | Rabbi Alan Freedman | Rabbi Daniel Freelander | Rabbi Michael Friedman | Rabbi Dara Frimmer | Rabbi Gary Gerson | Rabbi Jordie Gerson | Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz | Rabbi Henry Glazer | Rabbi Gary Glickstein | Rabbi Andrew Gold | Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg | Rabbi Josh Goldstein | Rabbi Leonard Gordon | Rabbi Andrew Gordon | Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb | Rabbi Roberto Graetz | Rabbi Laurie Green | Rabbi David Greenberg | Rabbi Fred Greene | Rabbi Steven M. Gross | Rabbi Victor Gross | Rabbi Eric Gurvis | Rabbi Fred Guttman | Rabbi Andrew Hahn | Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper | Rabbi Joshua Hammerman | Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann | Rabbi Joshua Hoffman | Rabbi Michael Holzman | Rabbi Daniel Horwitz | Rabbi David Ingber | Rabbi Sheldon Isenberg | Rabbi Brett Isserow | Rabbi Steven Jacobs | Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde | Rabbi David Jaffe | Rabbi Howard Jaffe | Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster | Rabbi David Kalb | Rabbi Raphael Kanter | Rabbi Aaron Katz | Rabbi Elie Kaunfer | Rabbi Allan Kensky | Rabbi Stanley Kessler | Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block | Rabbi Ralph Kingsley | Rabbi Daniel Klein | Rabbi Zoe Klein | Rabbi Jonathan Kligler | Rabbi David Kline | Rabbi Marc Kline | Rabbi Asher Knight | Rabbi Peter Knobel | Rabbi Douglas Kohn | Rabbi Stephanie Kolin | Rabbi Debra Kolodny | Rabbi Chaim Koritzinsky | Rabbi Jamie Korngold | Rabbi David Kosak | Rabbi Chava Koster | Rabbi Mark Kram | Rabbi Jonathan Kupetz | Rabbi Stephen Landau | Rabbi Ben-Zion Lanxner | Rabbi Michael Adam Latz | Rabbi Esther Lederman | Rabbi William Leffler | Rabbi Mordechai Leibling | Rabbi Susan Leider | Rabbi David Lerner | Rabbi Michael Lerner | Rabbi Alan Lettofsky | Rabbi Joel Levenson | Rabbi Daniel Levin | Rabbi Hillel Levine | Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater | Rabbi Richard Levy | Rabbi Sheldon Lewis | Rabbi Mordechai Liebling | Rabbi John Linder | Rabbi Ellen Lippmann | Rabbi Alan Litwak | Rabbi Barry Lutz | Rabbi David Lyon | Rabbi Craig Marantz | Rabbi Janet Marder | Rabbi Marc Margolius | Rabbi Rolando Matalon | Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin | Rabbi Sarah Meytin | Rabbi Brian Michelson | Rabbi Shira Milgrom | Rabbi Jason Miller | Rabbi Jonathan Miller | Rabbi Mark Miller | Rabbi Joshua Minkin | Rabbi Yocheved Mintz | Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh | Rabbi Ben Morrow | Rabbi Janet Offel | Rabbi Jack Paskoff | Rabbi Jay Perlman | Rabbi Rex Perlmeter | Rabbi Jonah Pesner | Rabbi Stephen Pinsky | Rabbi Richard Plavin | Rabbi William Plevan | Rabbi Rayzel Raphael | Rabbi Matthew Reimer | Rabbi Paula Reimers | Rabbi Victor Reinstein | Rabbi Steven Reuben | Rabbi Elizabeth Richman | Rabbi Ben Romer | Rabbi Joshua Rose | Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg | Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld | Rabbi David Rosenn | Rabbi Jennie Rosenn | Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser | Rabbi John Rosove | Rabbi Robert Rubin | Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay | Rabbi Arthur Rutberg | Rabbi Jan Salzman | Rabbi Daniel Satlow | Rabbi Scott Saulson | Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe | Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb | Rabbi Deborah Schloss | Rabbi Sid Schwarz | Rabbi Arthur Segal | Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller | Rabbi Benjamin Shalva | Rabbi Ari Shapiro | Rabbi Howard Shapiro | Rabbi David Shneyer | Rabbi Andy Shugerman | Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz | Rabbi David Small | Rabbi Myra Soifer | Rabbi Felicia L. Sol | Rabbi Marc Soloway | Rabbi Ned Soltz | Rabbi Abby Sosland | Rabbi Adam Spilker | Rabbi Brent Spodek | Rabbi Mychal Springer | Rabbi Israel Stein | Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein | Rabbi Frank Stern | Rabbi Keith Stern | Rabbi Yvonne Strassmann | Rabbi Mark Strauss-Cohn | Rabbi Ron Symons | Rabbi Elliott Tepperman | Rabbi David Teutsch | Rabbi Mervin Tomsky | Rabbi Daniel Treiser | Rabbi Lawrence Troster | Rabbi Jan Uhrbach | Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen | Rabbi Arthur Waskow | Rabbi Donald Weber | Rabbi Ezra Weinberg | Rabbi Michael Weinberg | Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt | Rabbi Jay Weinstein | Rabbi David Widzer | Rabbi Avi Winokur | Rabbi Amiel Wohl | Rabbi Sarah Wolf | Rabbi Bridget Wynne | Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz | Rabbi David Young | Rabbi Michael Zedek | Rabbi Daniel Zemel | Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman | Rabbi Misha Zinkow | Rabbi Leonard Zukrow
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Hockey Player Claims Anti-Semitism, Now a Senator

There would probably be more anti-Semitism in the National Hockey League if there were only more Jewish players. TMZ reports that the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks are being accused of abusing Jewish Player Jason Bailey. The 23-year-old was a 3rd round draft pick in 2005 and he “claims from the moment the Ducks assigned him to play for an affiliate team called the Bakersfield Condors … his coaches unleashed a ‘barrage of anti-Semitic, offensive and degrading verbal attacks.'”

Bailey says the coaches also forced him to travel apart from the team and he was “rarely given any ice time” in games because he’s Jewish.

According to the documents, filed by Bailey’s powerhouse lawyer Keith Fink, Bailey complained to the Ducks about the hostile work environment — and the team reacted by instructing the coaches to pen apology letters to Bailey in which they both admitted to using hurtful language.

Bailey was eventually traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2009 — and insists the Ducks were “happy to be rid of him.”

I’m curious to hear how NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who is Jewish and an Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity brother, will deal with these allegations against the Anaheim Ducks. Hopefully, Jason Bailey will be treated better in Ottawa.

(Hat tip to Mark Eaton)

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

Rabbi Forbids Participating in Talkbacks and Website Comments Sections

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

The more I blog, the thicker my skin gets. Overtime, I’ve learned to prepare myself before reading the comment section at the bottom of my posts. With great inventions, we have to take the bad with the good. It’s been wonderful that newspapers and magazines make their articles available to us on the Web, but it also means that individuals can post outrageous, defaming, and insulting comments underneath each article — opinions that would never be published in a print edition. And blogs are great, but with them comes a countless number of off-subject comments that only express hate and ignorance.

No matter what I publish on the Huffington Post website, I know that the atheists are going to be commenting in full force. Their comments often won’t have anything to do with the subject I wrote about, rather they will be self-serving statements about their viewpoint. I recently wrote on the Huffington Post about the importance of giving equal significance to the celebration of the birth of a baby girl in Judaism and the discussion in the comments section turned into a polemic against ritual circumcision. And of course any blog or article on the Web that even mentions Israel will soon have the page littered with hundreds of inflammatory anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribes accusing Israel of the occupation of Palestinian land.

Earlier this year, Ron Kampeas quoted the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris in an article on the JTA.org website about the nature of Web commenting. Harris, an avid blogger for Huffington Post, said, “To read some of the reactions to anything I write about Israel is sometimes to require a very strong stomach — it can be nasty, over the top, vitriolic and dripping.” Nevertheless, Harris believes that it’s important to continue blogging and responding to his critics, whether on Huffington Post or the Jerusalem Post, which has a notoriously controversial talkback section. Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League feels differently. He said, “It’s a magnet for conspiracy theorists and for haters. I look at it and sometimes wonder why am I bothering.”

Now, an Orthodox rabbi has ruled that his students are forbidden from responding to articles on websites and blogs as it may lead to religious and moral transgressions. yNetnews.com interviewed Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of Religious Zionism’s leading rabbis, who “stressed that this isn’t a halachic decree or a comprehensive ban from a higher rabbinic authority, it is a ruling he gave to his students after receiving a question via text message which asked: ‘After reading a ‘kosher’ article is it all right to take a look at the talkbacks?'”

Rabbi Aviner’s responded “No” to his questioner on the grounds that it would lead to lashon hara (gossip), humiliation and valueless time consumption. In Aviner’s opinion, the ability to respond to articles and publications and to hold debates should have promoted “clarification and reformation of ideas and opinions” which is why “it could have been a wonderful thing”, but instead it is used for diatribes and gossip under assumed identities which the Torah sees as “cursed be he that smiteth his neighbor secretly.”

Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, issued a call for greater civility in discourse before Rosh Hashanah this year. He wrote, “Name a contentious issue, and the two sides line up to spew their vitriol, each convinced the other’s policies would bring disaster. There is a great deal of anger, fear and contempt expressed. But no real dialogue, little if any appreciation for the other side, and less and less willingness to hear another point of view in the hopes of reaching common ground. One practical concern is the missed opportunity for meaningful discussion in… the comments area on our website.”

As we enter the new year of 2011, my hope and prayer is that there is increased civility on the Web. Cyberspace is a big place and anyone with an internet connection can post their opinion, no matter how extreme or offensive it may be. But perhaps everyone can exercise some restraint and make the comments sections a more enjoyable place to engage, learn, and share ideas.

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