Hamas Chief Cool With Women Rabbis

One of the most common questions I get from Orthodox Jews is how I can defend the Conservative movement’s decision (from 1983) to ordain women as rabbis. I was too young to be a part of the debate concerning women’s ordination in the late 70s and early 80s, but from what I’ve read it was a very tense time at the Jewish Theological Seminary where students and faculty were split on the issue.

It has now been close to thirty years since women began studying for ordination in Conservative Judaism. Within the Conservative movement, women rabbis have become commonplace and it is no longer an issue for the majority of Conservative congregations. The conversation has shifted from a halachic nature (Can a woman serve as a rabbi according to Jewish law?) to a more social nature (Are women rabbis treated fairly in the rabbinate?).

Truthfully, I never understood how women rabbis are problematic from a Jewish legal standpoint since there’s no problem with women serving as teachers, which is the main function of a rabbi. However, in the Orthodox world, the issue of women rabbis is still in its infancy with a minority of liberal Orthodox leaders like Rabbi Avi Weiss advocating for female rabbinic ordination. The first woman to be ordained by Rabbi Weiss, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, has been successful in her rabbinate but is far from being accepted by most Orthodox Jews.

Over the weekend, I read of support for women rabbis from a most unlikely source. In fact, I did a double take when I read the Jewish Daily Forward’s title for this article: “Hamas Chief on ‘Noble’ Women Rabbis”. Did the leader of Hamas, a known terrorist organization, really come out in favor of the ordination of women as rabbis and call women rabbis “noble”?

It turns out that the Jewish Daily Forward sent the husband (“Rebbetzman”?) of Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses to Egypt to interview Hamas chief Mousa Abu Marzook over the course of two days before Passover earlier this month. This could have been a great story (Dayenu!) if it were only about a Jewish journalist in Egypt meeting face-to-face with the ruler of a foreign oppressor and trying to get out of Egypt before the holiday commemorating freedom from Egyptian bondage.

But the story gets much better. Journalist Larry Cohler-Esses is married to Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses, a Conservative rabbi who was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1995 and is the first woman from the Syrian Jewish community to become a rabbi (and the first and only person (male or female) from her community to become a non-Orthodox rabbi. She had to give her husband permission to fly to Egypt in the days before Passover to interview the Hamas leader. He was concerned about leaving home during the week of Passover preparation. She flippantly told her husband that he wasn’t much help anyway so he should go to Egypt.

In Egypt, during the two-day interview the two men discussed Passover in the 21st century:

Abu Marzook could not believe I was leaving Cairo so fast, or understand why I’d end up divorced if I didn’t. I explained about the Seder, and about Passover, when the Jews had to…well, leave Egypt really fast. He said, “But that was 4,000 years ago when the Pharaoh was trying to kill the Jews. No one’s trying to kill you now.”

“Actually,” I said, “kind of, you guys are.” And we were off on what ended up being a five-and-a-half hour discussion over those two days.

Surprisingly, what Mousa Abu Marzook was most fascinated with was his interviewer’s rabbi wife. When Cohler-Esses told the Hamas leader that his wife is a rabbi, Abu Marzook was astounded and asked, “There are women rabbis?” he asked.

Cohler-Esses explained to Abu Marzook that about one-half of all rabbinic students in the liberal American seminaries are actually women. He then explained his wife’s personal struggle in becoming a rabbi because of her roots in the Syrian Jewish community. The Hamas leader, whose Muslim religious beliefs treat women as second-class citizens, seemed dumbfounded that she hasn’t been accepted by her community. “She’s done nothing wrong,” he said. “What she’s done is noble.”

Obviously, the issue of women rabbis was only a side conversation in a long and serious interview by Cohler-Esses, who took a small dose of criticism by some for even meeting with a member of Hamas. But this story is amazing. Who would have ever thought that the most vocal proponent of women’s rabbinical ordination in the Orthodox movement might just be the leader of Hamas?

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

A Letter to Jeffrey Zaslow’s Daughter Eden

Dear Eden,

When I heard the horrible news yesterday evening about your father’s tragic death I immediately thought of you. I then spent the entire 25 hours of Shabbat asking God how this could happen and hugging my children a few extra times than I ordinarily do.

I can’t stop thinking of the first time I met you because, whether you realized it or not, you taught me so much about your father. And about life. It was in September 2010. You were a student in my class at Temple Israel Hebrew High School. It was the first time I had ever taught a high school class about blogging and I was eager to see each teen’s creativity. The first session was an introduction to blogging and I recall you weren’t there.

In the second session of the course all twenty teens set up their new blogs and began to write their first post with some excitement (or as much excitement as teens show in a Hebrew High School class). You sat in front of your computer with nothing on the screen for several minutes. When I came over you explained that you had no idea what to write about or even what the focus of your blog should be. It was then that I said one of the stupidest things I have ever said to anyone. “You’re Jeff Zaslow’s daughter and you have writer’s block?” I wished I could take those words back. Fortunately, you laughed.

Jeff Zaslow (Photo by Eden Zaslow)

I told you the story of how I first met your parents. Ironically, it had been at my own Hebrew High School twenty years earlier. Your mom and dad came to Adat Shalom Synagogue to speak to the high school students about their careers in the media. Of course I knew your mom from the television news, but I was so intrigued with your dad’s job as an advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He read some of the more humorous questions he had received over the years. And of course his humorous responses.

You and I talked for a while and I asked what you enjoy doing. You told me that you enjoyed photography. I told you it would be a great idea if your blog was a collection of your photos. Since you didn’t have any of your photographs on that computer’s hard drive you decided to make your blog about something else. I told you that I had recently been asked to start a blog for Detroit’s Community Next about Jewish celebrities. You thought that sounded like a great idea and decided to focus your blog on Jewish celebrities and Detroit’s budding film industry. In your opening blog post you wrote:

Hello, I am Eden Zaslow, a student at Temple Israel Monday night school in West Bloomfield, Michigan. In my blog I will be talking about Jewish celebrities and the new or soon to be new LA: Detroit. I will be posting facts and gossip about Jews and about the movies being filmed in Detroit. Enjoy!

The next time we had class you posted about how Michigan’s current race for governor would affect Detroit’s film industry. You correctly predicted that if Rick Snyder became Michigan’s next governor it would jeopardize the film industry. While you didn’t continue that blog, I know you have continued your photography. In fact, you might be the youngest photographer to have a photo credit in People Magazine. I know how proud your dad was that your photo of him was used alongside the review of his last book The Magic Room.

Eden and Jeffrey Zaslow

I know I’m not the first to tell you this, but The Magic Room was your dad’s last lecture. He helped make the words “last lecture” into a household term when he helped Prof. Randy Pausch leave his legacy to the world. The Magic Room was your dad’s legacy. He wrote the book for you and your two sisters. He wanted to share how special the father-daughter relationship is, and in so doing he helped so many parents do their most important job a little better. Having my own daughter, I’m grateful for this beautiful book.

This morning in synagogues all over the world, the Jewish people heard about Yitro’s contributions to the Jewish people. Yitro was a Medianite priest and Moses’ father-in-law. But he was also an advice columnist of sorts like your dad was at the Sun-Times. Yitro gave very important and useful advice to Moses that helped him be a better leader. While the Torah doesn’t mention this fact, Yitro’s advice also helped Moses be a better father and husband. Your dad, Jeffrey Zaslow, was a modern-day Yitro. Whether it was following in the footsteps of Ann Landers as an actual advice columnist or writing brilliant books like The Girls from Ames and The Magic Room, or helping our heroes like Prof. Randy Pausch, Pilot Sully Sullenberger, and Rep. Gaby Giffords write their memoirs, your dad shared his wisdom with millions. The number of languages his books were translated into is a true testament to the far reach his books had.

I wish I could give you some explanation for the tragic accident that took your father’s life before he could see his own daughters trying on their wedding gowns in front of the mirrors of the Magic Room. I wish I could share a prayer or a psalm or an inspirational quote that could take away some of the pain you and your family are feeling right now. There is no explanation. It is shocking. It is horrific.

Jeff Zaslow (Photo by Eden Zaslow)

Eden, you taught me an important lesson and one I won’t soon forget. You taught me that we are not our parents. Just because your father was a prolific writer who was publishing a best seller each year, doesn’t mean that his 15-year-old daughter shouldn’t struggle in coming up with a theme for her new blog. Maybe writing won’t be your thing. Maybe it will be photography. Or a million other things. No matter where you place your talents, I know one thing is for certain. Your father will be so proud of you. He will be looking down at his daughters and beaming with pride.

Please know that your father left an indelible mark on our world. Through the gifts of his wit and wisdom, his keen ability to listen to others, his ability to tell stories, and his genuine desire to help others, Jeffrey Zaslow will long be remembered and cherished. But more important than that, he was a mensch and a wonderful and caring father.

May your father’s memory be for blessings.

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

Gilad Shalit’s First Ten Days of Freedom

I’ve been paying close attention to Gilad Shalit’s first days of freedom from captivity. The debate of whether the prisoner swap was the right choice rages on throughout Israel and beyond, but I’ve become more interested in how he adapts to freedom and how he responds to his new status as a celebrity.

Perhaps what is most notable has been how the Israeli media has treated Gilad and the Shalit family since his release last Tuesday. In general, the news media has respected a 10-day moratorium on intrusion in the town where the Shalit family lives. With the exception of a few photos that were released with the family’s permission of Gilad riding a bicycle and swimming at the beach, there have been no reports of paparazzi-like intrusion into his life during the past ten days. I don’t believe this could have ever happened here in the United States. The American media and paparazzi would have staked out his home 24-7 to get the best photograph of Gilad re-adjusting to freedom in the privacy of his home. Kudos to the Israeli media for being so respectful of this 10-day period.

This video of Gilad Shalit riding his bicycle by his home in Mitzpe Hila was released with permission of the Shalit family:

GILAD’S UGLY SHIRT
I instinctively knew that it wouldn’t take long until humor became part of the Gilad Shalit story. The first real example of this is the now famous “Ugly Hamas Shirt” that Gilad wore when he was released. ynet News first reported that “The Shalit Shirt” has quickly become a fashion trend in Gaza. “The first image of Gilad Shalit out of Gaza has captured the attention of many in Israel and around the world. Shalit was led by Hamas men wearing civilian clothing including a plaid shirt. But while most focused on his gaunt frame, it appears many Palestinians were more interested in his outfit, which became an immediate trend in Gaza.” Stores in the Gaza Strip are selling “The Shalit Shirt” in a wide range of colors for 60 Shekels or about $16.50. There are already several Gaza-based Facebook groups about Gilad’s ugly shirt.

BIBI’S FOREST GUMP MOMENT
It’s unusual for a prime minister to crave the spotlight and sneak into photos because, well, they’re already the leader of the nation and always in the spotlight. However, it really seemed like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was doing just that during the reunion of Gilad Shalit and his father. It didn’t take long for the Israeli news media and bloggers worldwide to recognize that Bibi was trying to get his face into the iconic photos during Gilad’s release.

This act of hubris was immediately labeled “Bibi Forest Gump” after the Tom Hanks movie in which Forest Gump was seen in every iconic photo of American history. And then the Bibi Bombs began. People began Photoshopping Bibi’s face into iconic photos like the Begin-Sadat peace handshake, the signing of Israeli independence, Moshe Dayan walking in reunified Jerusalem in 1967, and Saddam Hussein’s hanging. Some even added Bibi to classic movie scenes from such films as Pulp Fiction and Cassablanca.

At least Netanyahu had fun with it when, yesterday, he uploaded his own “Bibi Bomb” to his Facebook page. It’s a photo of him addressing the U.N. with a superimposed photo of his face and a speech bubble from his smiling mouth with the text, “Doogri, you made me laugh.” An explanation of Bibi’s photo on Jewlicious says, “The word ‘Doogri’ means ‘honestly’, or ‘straightforward’… Not only did Netanyahu’s own version of the ‘Bibi Bomb’ play on the images circulating online, but it also expressed self-humor at his use of the word ‘doogri’ in his UN speech [when he addressed PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas saying] ‘Let’s talk ‘doogri’. That means straightforward, I’ll tell you my needs and concerns.”

DESTINY OR COINCIDENCE?
There are several notable coincidences with the Shalit release. The haftorah (selection from the Prophets) that was read this past Shabbat morning (Shabbat Bereshit) from the Book of Isaiah includes such lines as: “I have called you to be righteous. I took you by the hand and kept you. I made you into a covenant for the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners out of the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness out of prison” (Isaiah 42:6-7) and “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4).

Samuel Freedman, writing in the NY Times, referenced the story of Sodom (in next week’s Torah portion) in his beautiful op-ed about pidyon shvuyim (redeeming the captives). He wrote, “The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians. The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of ‘pidyon shvuyim’ — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.”


SHALIT FAMILY’S TENT REMOVED
One of the most emotional moments for Israelis living in Jerusalem was seeing the empty space outside the Prime Minister’s residence where the Shalit family’s protest tent stood for several years. The tent had served as a sign of Shalit’s captivity and a place where tourist groups would visit with the family. The tent was taken down and carted away earlier this week as Israeli President Shimon Peres visited with Gilad at the Shalit family home in the northern Israeli town of Mitzpe Hila.

Debate will continue about whether this was good or bad for Israel. Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, has now spoken out against the prisoner swap that brought Shalit home, saying it has weakened Israel and strengthened Hamas. Every time there’s an attempted terror strike or bombing, critics will point to the release of the prisoners. However, even the release of one Hamas terrorist in exchange for Gilad Shalit could lead to a future incident.

It’s hard to put a price on Gilad’s freedom. However, watching him ride his bike outside his home and knowing he has visited the beach with his family and played ping pong make it feel worthwhile. Hopefully, Israel’s security fence will do its job in keeping the released prisoners and other potential terrorists outside of Israel. It might be unrealistic, but I’d like to believe that the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency) didn’t release all those prisoners without first injecting some sort of tracking mechanism into their bodies. I jokingly posted on Facebook that Israeli news reported that the Shin Bet provided each of the released Palestinian prisoners with their own complimentary GPS-enabled smart phone so they could always be located.

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

NY Times’ Misguided News Alerts

Last week, the Zionist Organization of America issued a press release expressing its shock that President Barack Obama omitted Israel in his list of countries suffering from terrorist attacks. ZOA was appalled by the omission.

The Obama Administration released the President’s talking points for the forthcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11 and while the speech included eight cities were terrorism has occurred, he didn’t include an Israeli city. This is the statement the ZOA took issue with: “As we commemorate the citizens of over 90 countries who perished in the 9/11 attacks, we honor all victims of terrorism, in every nation around the world … We honor and celebrate the resilience of individuals, families, and communities on every continent, whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.”

The ZOA press release also referenced a 2008 speech Obama delivered as a candidate when he mentioned six cities plagued by terrorism but failed to include an Israeli city. I thought the ZOA’s statement was unnecessary. It is clear that President Obama was using alliteration in his speech and sought to provide some examples of where terrorism has occurred. Perhaps if terrorism were more prevalent in a major world city like Johannesburg, he could have included “Jerusalem or Johannesburg” in his speech. The President wasn’t giving priority to these world cities over any other location where terrorism has occurred, he was merely stating that we should honor and celebrate the resilience of people everywhere. Just as Chicago would be included if we say “in New York or LA,” so too Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are included when the President says “Lahore or London”.

So, I didn’t think the ZOA’s rant was necessary. I do, however, raise my eyebrows at the NY Times’ decision to not issue an email news alert about yesterday’s storming of Israel’s Egyptian Embassy by thousands of protesters in Cairo and the necessary evacuation of its diplomats by Israeli military jets.

I’ve been receiving email news alerts from the NY Times for many years. Most of the time they are legitimately “breaking news” stories. Sometimes the news alerts refer to breaking political news and sometimes they let you know if a major sports milestone occurred. Oftentimes they alert us if a notable person has died.

I was surprised last night after Shabbat when the only news alert I saw in my email inbox from the NY Times let me know that actor Cliff Robertson had died. Who was Cliff Robertson? Exactly!

Even though over 80 personnel and family members of Israel’s embassy in Cairo had to be saved in an emergency rescue operation after violent riots erupted there, the NY Times felt that the only “breaking news” that had to conveyed to its news alert subscribers was that a little known actor had died. In the alert, the Times even described Robertson as an actor who “never quite reached the top echelon of movie stardom.”

I don’t think President Obama deserves to be attacked for neglecting to include an Israeli city in his brief listing of world cities where terrorism occurs (everyone knows Israel has had her share of terrorist attacks), I do think it is curious that the NY Times is so misguided when deciding what news actually deserves an email news alert.

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

Another Altered Photo in Jewish Newspaper

While everyone is talking about the altered photo with Hillary Clinton in the Haredi newspaper Der Zeitung, there have been other examples of these ultra-Orthodox newspapers editing photographs to suit their purpose.

TIME Magazine reported on a poorly doctored photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet from 2009 in the Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman. In the photo, two female Cabinet members, Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver, are replaced with men’s faces.

The faces belong to ministers Ariel Atias and Moshe Kachlon, who in the original photograph can be seen toward the periphery of the group (standing, second from left and second from right). As TIME explains, “In Yated Neeman‘s version of the image, they have been cropped out. Much of the newspaper’s readership consists of ultra-Orthodox readers who do not think it proper for women to serve in the government.”

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

Statement from Haredi Newspaper Regarding Hillary Clinton’s Photoshop Job

The Haredi Jewish newspaper Der Zeitung (sometimes spelled Der Tzitung) has issued a statement about its alteration of the official White House photograph that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, the director for counter-terrorism.

I’m glad that Der Zeitung has issued a statement, but I’m STILL cancelling my subscription (I will keep the lovely tote bag though).

The White House released a picture showing the President following “live” the events in the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden, last week Sunday. Also present in the Situation Room were various high-ranking government and military officials. Our photo editor realized the significance of this historic moment, and published the picture, but in his haste he did not read the “fine print” that accompanied the picture, forbidding any changes. We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department.

The allegations that religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office, is a malicious slander and libel. The current Secretary of State, the Honorable Hillary R. Clinton, was a Senator representing New York State with great distinction 8 years. She won overwhelming majorities in the Orthodox Jewish communities in her initial campaign in ‘00, and when she was re-elected in ‘06, because the religious community appreciated her unique capabilities and compassion to all communities. The Jewish religion does not allow for discrimination based on gender, race, etc.

We respect all government officials. We even have special prayers for the welfare of our Government and the government leaders, and there is no mention of gender in such prayers.

All Government employees are sworn into office, promising adherence to the Constitution, and our Constitution attests to our greatness as a nation that is a light beacon to the entire world. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press! In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

We are proud Americans of the Jewish faith, and there is no conflict in that, and we will with the help of the Almighty continue as law-abiding citizens, in this great country of our’s, until the ultimate redemption.

This story (Hillary Clinton’s HarediGate?) has been the hot topic of the day. I have to agree with Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah who wrote, “there is no Jewish law mandating the removal of normally clothed women from pictures like this.” Refusing to publish photos of women in a newspaper is but one more example of extremist Jews being so scared of modernity that they erect high fences around Jewish laws to keep their adherents from from “harm.” Is it really better to misrepresent the truth and deceive people than to see a photo of a modestly clothed Secretary of State?

(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
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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

Helen Thomas Strikes Again; Wayne State University Ends Award

When I watched the HBO documentary about Helen Thomas, “Thank You Mr. President,” I remember being impressed about what a long, successful career this woman had. But that entire career was soured this past summer when her true colors were displayed. David Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi, filmed Helen Thomas outside the White House saying that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine.” The 90-year-old Lebanese news correspondent was promptly fired by Hearst Communications.

Last week, at a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Michigan, Helen Thomas uttered more anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements. She said, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is… We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.”

While Detroit’s Wayne State University, from where Thomas graduated in 1942, chose to maintain its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award following her outrageous remarks this summer, her most recent comments forced the university to act. Wayne State announced on December 3rd that it would no longer present the award. In a statement, the university said, that it “strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a short statement saying Thomas “clearly, unequivocally revealed herself as a vulgar anti-Semite.”

Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit was quoted in today’s Detroit Free Press. He said, “When she said … that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by Zionists, Ms. Thomas repeated the anti-Semitic stereotypes that have been used for more than a century to incite hatred of Jews. Her comments should be condemned by all people who oppose bigotry in any form.”

In an interview, Helen Thomas said that she stands by the comments she made to Rabbi Nesenoff outside the White House during a Jewish Heritage Month event. She also criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan during an interview this past Thursday in Dearborn. She said the Iraq war “was built on all lies.” She continued, “Thousands are dead, with no reason explained yet. There has been no truthful reason for going into Iraq.” Asked what she thought was the reason for U.S. policies, Thomas replied: “Because they own the ink. They also own the airwaves,” adding that she was referring to “Zionists.”

Detroit Free Press religion editor Niraj Warikoo interviewed Helen Thomas yesterday and asked her about Wayne State University ending the annual diversity award in her name. She told him that “the leaders of Wayne State University have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press.”

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

Karma Contrition: Joel Stein’s Child’s Nut Allergy & Rabbi Compares Helen Thomas to Hitler

This Yom Kippur, I plan to speak to my congregation about issuing apologies for things we shouldn’t have said. I know, that sounds like “nothing new under the sun,” but I’m going to look at how karma plays a role in our contrition.

Here’s an example: The witty Joel Stein, who writes the bi-weekly back page for Time Magazine, penned a funny, yet hurtful, LA Times column back in January 2009 claiming that American parents have gone nuts over nut allergies. He wrote, “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” Ouch!

Stein clearly won no fans from the parents of children with peanut allergies. And I’m sure there were a good number of those parents out there wishing that Joel Stein would get a taste of what they go through on a daily basis — carrying Epi Pens and worrying that their child would come into contact with an allergen. Stein wasn’t alone in writing cynical articles calling into question the mass hysteria caused by over-vigilant parents, but his wit came out as criticism and was very hurtful to many parents.

Fast forward to August 2010 and Joel Stein when karma comes knocking on Joel Stein’s door. In his mea culpa column in Time, Stein writes:

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a column that questioned whether the increase in food allergies among children was a matter of overreporting. It began with this carefully calibrated thought: “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” After that, I got a little harsh.

The column was not the first thing that came to mind after my 1-year-old son Laszlo started sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and, finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Childrens Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts. But it was the second thing. Because after my nut-allergy column came out, many parents wrote me furious e-mails saying they hoped that one day I would have a child with life-threatening allergies.

Stein maintained his trademark wit and mockery in the column, but managed to sneak in some contrition as well. Perhaps he was thinking that Yom Kippur was approaching and he owed an apology to all the peanut-allergy parents out there. He wrote, “I realize that the more I understand of other people’s difficulties, the less funny they are.” I’m sorry that Stein’s son Laszlo developed a peanut allergy, but I’m glad the writer saw the error of his ways and found the ability to apologize. That is the message of this season of repentance.

Another possible example of karma calling is Rabbi David Nesenoff getting tripped up in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi, made headlines last May after videotaping journalist Helen Thomas issuing a career-ending anti-Semitic opinion that Israeli Jews should return to Germany and Poland. Yesterday, in either an act of karma or gotcha journalism, Nesenoff put his own foot in his mouth.

Even though he retracted his comparison of Helen Thomas to Adolf Hitler, The Jerusalem Post made sure that both his comparison and the retraction became part of the public record. The Jerusalem Post reports that “Nesenoff proved he isn’t immune to impolitic remarks when he drew analogies between Thomas, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and sex offenders, before retracting the Hitler comparison… Nesenoff also went on to draw an analogy between Thomas, the long-time former UPI and Hearst Newspapers correspondent, and a high school teacher found guilty of sodomy, asking whether such an individual’s record in educating children shouldn’t be blemished by his offense.”

At the end of the phone interview, Nesenoff acknowledged that his comparisons were “a little exaggerated.” The rabbi then retracted the Hitler comparison and said he was sorry.

I don’t question the fact that Helen Thomas should have resigned after making her comments, but the type of journalism used by Nesenoff to acquire those comments was questionable. “What comes around goes around,” as they say. Nesenoff now finds himself apologizing for his own insensitive comments. This could be karma masked as gotcha journalism. Nesenoff tried to retract the statements he made which are damaging to his own character and integrity, but he learned the same lesson that he taught Helen Thomas: Anything you say can and will be used against you.

A lesson was learned in both the case of Joel Stein and the case of Rabbi David Nesenoff. Both men got a taste of their own medicine and issued apologies. No matter how we get there, that is the ultimate goal of repentance — feeling contrite and owning up to your wrongdoing.

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

Sweet Like Honey

One thing I’ve learned since I started Kosher certifying a grocery store’s bakery section is that there are a lot different types of honey. Last week, I was a guest on the Fox2 Detroit Morning Show’s cooking segment called “Cooking School.” I wanted to display various foods related to Rosh Hashanah, so I went to  Johnny Pomodoro’s Fresh Market in Farmington Hills, Michigan and grabbed as many different varieties of honey as I could find.

A recent article in Hadassah Magazine by Adeena Sussman (“Sweet Talk”) argues that it’s time for honey to share the stage on Rosh Hashanah. Sussman introduces the reader to many new sweeteners, but I think there’s still enough different types of honey to go around.

On the Cooking School segment I baked (well, not really baked… it was staged) a honey cake for the Jewish New Year. Here’s the final part of the video from Fox2 with Lee Thomas:


I wish everyone a sweet new year!

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