Israel Orthodox Judaism Politics Shabbat

Israeli Army Uses Facebook to Catch Female Draft Dodgers

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog (The NY Jewish Week)

An article in All Facebook, the unofficial Facebook blog, reports that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been using the social networking site to nab female Israelis who claim to be religious enough to be exempted from army service. Apparently, their activity on Facebook tells a different story — one the army is interested to learn.

Here’s the full article about these women who probably never thought their Facebook account would would be stalked by the Israeli army. Does the army have a right to snoop around these women’s Facebook photo albums? Is this an infringement on their religious rights? Leave your opinion in the comments section.

The Israeli army is monitoring the Facebook profiles of female citizens in order to identify those who have falsely espoused religious beliefs in order to avoid conscription.

Brid.-Gen Amir Rogovsky of The Israeli Defense Forces said that the IDF currently has six offices tasked with investigating the religious claims of women who would otherwise be eligible for military service. Enlistment is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over 18. Current policy allows Israeli women to be exempt from the draft provided they sign a declaration that they are devoutly religious, adhere to Kosher standards, and do not travel on Shabbat.

But 1,000 women have been caught in violation of the law according Rogovsky, who cited examples of Facebook activity that lead to the charges against the women. One woman had uploaded a photo in which she was holding a menu from a non-kosher restaurant. Another woman had a photo wearing clothing which was deemed to be immodest. Yet another woman was caught because she had logged onto Facebook on the sabbath.

The IDF has employed even more aggressive tactics, entrapping women by creating Facebook events that take place on Friday nights, inviting women, and then charging those that respond “attending”. Once caught the women were brought back to service.

The IDF has seen a sharp increase in draft evasion in recent years. Rogovsky estimates that thousands of women who sign religious declarations exempting them from service are not practicing Jews.

Hat Tip to “Rob the Web Guy” Graham

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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When Technology & Shabbat Collide, Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This past Sunday, the president of New York University issued a mass e-mail apology to students and staff. The day after Yom Kippur might sound like a sensible day for issuing apologies, but the question is whether John Sexton actually needed to make a Mea Culpa.

You see, this official apology to the entire university community was for sending an earlier mass e-mail (the university president’s academic year report) on Friday evening when Jewish students were already observing Yom Kippur at Kol Nidrei services. Apparently, the report was supposed to be sent during the day on Friday (before the advent of the holiday), but it was delayed due to technical problems.

While it’s nice that the university president issued this apology before any complaints were even made, I’m not sure how an e-mail coming into one’s inbox on the Day of Atonement is offensive. Personally, I abstain from using my computer or phone (and thus no e-mail) on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, but I’m not offended if messages reach my account during these times.

I don’t think Jewish institutions should send official e-mail messages on Shabbat and holidays, but of course it depends on the type of Jewish organization. A reform temple sending a reminder via e-mail to its membership on Saturday afternoon about a program that evening might not be considered unseemly, but a JCC or Jewish federation releasing a broadcast e-mail message in the middle of Shabbat would be tacky, raising eyebrows and drawing complaints. NYU, a secular institution, shouldn’t worry about sending e-mail messages to the student body on Jewish holidays. Jewish students at NYU were legitimately angered that the second day of classes were held on Rosh Hashanah, but the president’s e-mail message reaching the inbox once Yom Kippur began is not an egregious act. Sexton’s apology is just an example of political correctness gone too far.

There are certainly times when technology and Shabbat or Jewish holidays collide. In some cases, a tactful conversation is necessary. For instance, leaders in my synagogue might send each other casual e-mail messages on Shabbat and Jewish holidays regarding congregational matters. But it is only when a leader sends an e-mail to the entire congregation that it is problematic. True, no one is being forced to turn on their computer and log-in to their e-mail account to read it on Shabbat or a holiday, but it gives the impression that official synagogue business is being conducted on these days and that’s an impression I don’t want to give.
There are other times when technology seems to collide with Shabbat, but without that intention and the benefit of the doubt should be granted. Here are two examples to demonstrate my point:

1) For several years my Facebook account was set up to automatically upload this blog’s RSS feed onto my Facebook page. This process often took a few hours after I published a blog post. So, on one occasion I posted to my blog at around 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The blog post wasn’t fed onto my Facebook account until later that evening, after Shabbat began. The following Monday, I received a finger-wagging message through Facebook from a member of my local Jewish community. She commended me on my interesting blog, but questioned how I, as a rabbi and role-model in the community, could publish a blog post on Shabbat.

Even after explaining to her that the actual post was published well before the onset of Shabbat, but that it didn’t posted to my Facebook profile until several hours later, she chastised me for not taking that into account when I originally posted to my blog. I was immediately reminded that certain activities are prohibited even before Shabbat commences lest others think that you have transgressed the laws of Shabbat (i.e, one may not put wheat into the watermill unless there is enough time for it to be ground before the onset of Shabbat).

2) I am an avid user of Constant Contact, the Web based e-mail newsletter marketing application, and I used to send a weekly newsletter to my subscribers on Friday afternoon. On one particular Friday, the site experienced a maintenance problem and it didn’t send the newsletter until Saturday morning. I discovered that the newsletter wasn’t disseminated until Saturday morning when I checked my e-mail following Shabbat. Of all the subscribers, I received only one irate message from an individual who complained that I sent the newsletter during Shabbat. The irony is that he sent his chastising message to me on Shabbat afternoon. I replied with the explanation that Constant Contact experienced maintenance problems, he he responded, “I figured it was something like that. Sorry. And I guess I shouldn’t have responded on Shabbat anyway!”

So, sometimes it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt when technology and Shabbat collide. Before jumping to conclusions, it’s possible that the message sent to your discussion group on Shabbat was actually sent by someone in Israel where Shabbat had already ended in that timezone. Maybe that message from the Jewish federation’s CEO to the entire community was scheduled before the holiday, but it got delayed in Cyberspace.

And if you’re a college student at NYU who returned home after breaking the fast Saturday night to find that an e-mail message from your university president had been waiting for you in your inbox since Friday night… let it go. Your e-mail account’s Sabbath observance hasn’t been compromised.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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When Technology Needs a Day of Atonement Too

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

I’ve been following the Offlining campaign pretty closely. It’s the brainchild of Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo. They partnered to launch Offlining, an initiative to promote unplugging that was introduced on Father’s Day, to ask people to make a pledge to have 10 device-free dinners between then and Thanksgiving. To date, more than 10,500 have signed on to this pledge.

Yaverbaum told Jessica Ravitz, a reporter for, that he “is as guilty as anyone of making technological transgressions. He’s ignored family to check emails while at the dinner table and tuned out of actual conversations to tune into Twitter… I’m the guy who sleeps with his BlackBerry. I’m raising my hand and saying, ‘Yes, I’m an addict.'”

Perhaps that’s why Yaverbaum, who is Jewish, and DiMassimo, who is not, have decided to use the Jewish Day of Atonement as their next big day to get people to give their gadgets a rest. They encourage everyone, religious backgrounds aside, to make Yom Kippur (September 18) a technological device free day. That means that in addition to refraining from eating, drinking, showering, wearing leather shoes, applying perfume, and having sex, the Offlining guys are saying “no” to cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and texting too on Yom Kippur. Jews and non-Jews both use technology to do the precise things we ask forgiveness for on Yom Kippur, like gossiping, so I guess it makes sense to give those things a rest on this day.

As DiMassimo was quoted in the article as saying, “It’s annoying to be in a room with people, and yet not be really with them. My dad’s an electrical engineer, and he’s always said, ‘We invent this stuff to serve us, not for us to serve it.'”

The Offlining campaign isn’t the first attempt to get people to give their tech gadgets a rest. If you remember, Reboot launched a Sabbath Manifesto a few months ago to get people to avoid technology and connect with loved ones for a 25-hour period. Signing the Sabbath Manifesto not only meant putting cellphones and computers on hold for the day, but it also meant getting outside, avoiding commerce and resting.

Offlining has a catchy marketing campaign. Using DiMassimo’s advertising company, they’ve created posters with images of celebrities who have gotten into trouble through the use of modern communication technologies. The tagline is that you need not be Jewish to amend for your tweets (Lindsay Lohan), give up drunk dialing (Mel Gibson), or atone for your texts (Tiger Woods, of course) on Yom Kippur.

When I spoke to Ravitz last week about her upcoming article on the Offlining campaign (my quotes apparently didn’t make the final edit), I explained that “it’s great that Offlining’s campaign is directed at everyone, not just Jewish people, because we all use our technology to sin sometimes. Whether it’s texting gossip or belittling someone on Facebook, we need to put technology aside to really atone on Yom Kippur. Plus, without the nuisance of our phones and computers we’ll be able to concentrate on the task at hand much more attentively on the Day of Atonement (prayer and seeking repentance).”

On Yom Kippur we fast — refraining from food and drink — and it has a cleansing feel to it. I think that in the 21st century, a fasting from technology is a necessary cleanse as well.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Meatless Michigan?

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has taken quite a bit of criticism over her recent “no meat on Saturdays” proclamation. Or, as Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press wrote: Gov. Jennifer Granholm is in “a tall vat of deep-fried tofu.”

Granholm reasoned that in Michigan, a state hit hard by the economic recession, it’s become more difficult to feed the family meat meals. Essentially, she was just trying to help Michiganders save money during challenging times. However, like Oprah Winfrey a few years ago, Granholm neglected to consider how a move to vegetarianism would affect the agricultural industry. Obviously, Michigan farmers were less than thrilled by the governor’s meatless idea, even if it was only intended for one day of the week.

But there’s another segment of Michigan’s population that Governor Granholm didn’t consider: The non-vegetarian Jewish citizens of Michigan who enjoy eating meat for Shabbat lunch on Saturdays. While kosher meat is certainly more expensive than the tofu the governor is recommending, there are a good number of Jewish people who enjoy a hot meat-filled cholent on Saturday afternoon.

I think Granholm’s intentions were good, but I’m just not willing to forgo cholent, chicken, or even a turkey sandwich following Shabbat services on Saturdays. And I can certainly understand how this weekly push for vegetarianism would hurt local farmers financially.

Maybe Brian Dickerson put it best when he wrote: “Granholm and other politicians should take note: No one likes being told what’s good for them — unless they’re paying a cardiologist for the privilege.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Shabbat Unplugged

This morning at the JCC, I was checking my email on my phone when an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked what I do with that “thing” on Shabbos. I explained that while I am quite connected to my cell phone during the work week, I have no problem putting it aside for the 25 hours of Shabbat. He told me that he found that impressive and then told me what he remembered about his parents’ Shabbat observance when he was a child.

As connected as I am to technology, I find it healthy and refreshing to put it aside for one day a week. And that is precisely what Reboot, a nonprofit think tank, is encouraging Jewish people to do this weekend. In yesterday’s New York Times, Austin Considine explained:

The Fourth Commandment doesn’t specifically mention TweetDeck or Facebook. Observing the Sabbath 3,000 years ago was more about rest and going easy on one’s family — servants and oxen included.  But if Moses were redelivering his theophany today — the assembled crowd furiously tweeting his every sound bite — one imagines the frustrated prophet’s taking a moment to clarify what God meant, exactly, by a “day of rest.”  For starters, how about putting down the iPhone? 

Beginning at sundown on Friday, March 19 will be the first annual National Day of Unplugging. The organizers of this day will draw attention to Reboot’s “Sabbath Manifesto”, which seeks to fight back against the tidal wave of technology taking over society and our lives. They encourage people to put down the cell phone, stop the status updates on Facebook, shut down Twitter, sign out of e-mail and relax, as part of our National Day of Unplugging.

As a way to get people across the nation to reclaim time and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves for 24 hours, they have even created cell phone sleeping bags.

Following the launch of the iPad, Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons wrote: “Our love affair with technology is also about a quest for control. We’re living in an age of change and upheaval. There’s an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. But technology gives us the illusion of control, a sense of order. Pick up a smart phone and you have a reliable, dependable device that does whatever you tell it to do. You certainly can’t say that about your colleagues or families.”

I certainly agree with the concept behind this day of unplugging. On an average day, I’m Tweeting, updating Facebook, sending and receiving hundreds of emails, checking voice mail messages and returning calls, and taking photographs. Yet, from Friday evening through Saturday night, I am unplugged from battery powered communication and find myself spending much more time with my wife and children. It is also my sacred time to read books (as opposed to the other six days of the week when I’m reading articles, Tweets, and status updates on the computer).

I’m curious to know how many people who are not regularly Sabbath observant will unplug this Shabbat. Hopefully, those who do will share their experiences on the Sabbath Manifesto Website. I just hope they wait until it’s dark Saturday night to post!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Food Holidays Kosher Michigan Passover Shabbat

Costco Kosher Special Event

Last month, I wrote about Costco’s efforts to attract the kosher consumer by increasing their selection of kosher products, including kosher chicken and kosher meat. They certainly had the best of intentions even if the samples of cooked kosher chicken they were handing out wouldn’t pass even the most lenient of kosher standards.
Now, one of the local Costco warehouses in Michigan is reaching out to synagogue leaders to have Costco’s kosher products publicized to synagogue members before Passover. Unfortunately, once again, it looks like Costco didn’t consult anyone in the Jewish community who would have likely informed Costco’s public relations department not to have their special event take place on Shabbat. Oops!
There are other times for kosher consumers to attend this special three-day event, but most Jewish people will have already completed their Passover shopping at this point. Well, at least the thought is there.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Holidays Jewish Music Shabbat

Dave Matthews Yom Kippur Concert

No, Dave Matthews isn’t really going to play a Yom Kippur gig in Chicago, but two Dave Matthews Band concerts at Wrigley Field during Shabbat and Yom Kippur this Fall have been approved. According to the JTA, the music from the concert won’t be heard in the three nearby synagogues (Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox), but there will be parking problems.

The Chicago Sun Times reports that it hasn’t been confirmed that the concert is The Dave Matthews Band, and that it could also be either Phish or Paul McCartney. The Cubs are considering providing a parking lot and shuttle buses for worshipers to get to the synagogues.

Because the September 17 concert coincides with Kol Nidre, the start of Yom Kippur, the Cubs have reached out to all three synagogues in the area: Anshe Emet (Conservative), Anshe Sholom (Modern Orthodox), and Temple Sholom (Reform).

The Sun Times quoted Mike Lufrano, Cubs senior vice-president of community affairs, who by the way is Jewish and plans to miss his first Wrigley concert to be in shul. He said, “It’s really parking that they’re most concerned about. You won’t hear it because they’re far enough away. But, it’s fans coming to hear the concert at the same time people are going to worship.” Rabbi Michael Siegel of the Conservative synagogue Anshe Emet reportedly sent a letter to the City Council’s License Committee endorsing the concerts.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Negotiating With a Bar Mitzvah Boy

Like many rabbis, when I encounter an article about “Jewish life” in the mainstream press, I ask myself the age-old question: Is this good or bad for the Jews?

And that is precisely what I did yesterday when I read about the bar mitzvah party that is to take place at Yankee Stadium this June 5th and is now holding up the possibility of the stadium’s first boxing event that same night.

I’ve written about over-the-top bar mitzvah parties on this blog in the past, including the the $10 million Bat Mitzvahpalooza in 2005 featuring 50-Cent and Aerosmith. Now, Jonathan Ballan, the lead bond lawyer for the financing of Yankee Stadium, has reserved the stadium for his son’s bar mitzvah this June. The NY Times reports that “In addition to providing lounges, the Yankees promised to give the Ballan party access to the stadium’s giant scoreboard in center field for 30 minutes.”

Now, the Yankees are negotiating with the bar mitzvah family and the boxing promoter so everyone will be happy. They’ve promised seats at the boxing event to all the bar mitzvah guests, a private meeting for the bar mitzvah boy with the boxing champ, and autographed baseballs for all the bar mitzvah boy’s friends.

But here’s the best part of the story: The boxing champ is none other than Yuri Foreman, an Orthodox Jewish fighter who is studying on the side to become a rabbi. In an ironic twist, there was no question of hosting a lavish bar mitzvah party at Yankee Stadium in the middle of the Sabbath day where all sorts of activities that are antithetical to Sabbath observance will be taking place. However, the boxing match was scheduled for after sundown to accommodate Yuri Foreman’s many Sabbath-observant fans in the New York area who couldn’t get to Yankee Stadium during the Jewish Sabbath out of respect for Jewish law and tradition.

So, in essence what we have here is a Sabbath-observant championship boxing match that will be trumped by the Main Event, a mega-party for a 13-year-old Jewish kid that is throwing a sharp uppercut to the concept of Jewish values.

So, the headline could very well be: “Jewish Boxing Champion Knocked Out By Bar Mitzvah Kid.”  And that just can’t be good for the Jews.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Rabbi Shabbat Synagogues Synaplex

Indie Minyans

I am hesitant to write anything about the recent press that indie minyans has gotten because as kol raash gadol recently wrote on Jewschool for their Picks for Best of 2007: “Blinding Flash of the Obvious Finally Reaching the Mainstream Radar Years After Everybody Else Got the Memo: Indie minyanim.”

But since the New York Times recently wrote about the subject (“Challenging Tradition, Young Jews Worship on Their Terms”) and the online journal Zeek dedicated an entire issue to indie minyans, I thought I would weigh in.

The success of independent minyans really shouldn’t be news because their success was inevitable. Indie minyans are an obvious recipe for success:

1) Gather a bunch of young, single professional Jews in a large metropolitan area (New York City, Chicago, LA, DC, or Boston).

2) Mix in some young Jewish grad students along with some young married Jewish couples.

3) Send out an e-mail about an “informal gathering” (read: spirited prayer service that won’t remind you of your grandfather’s shul) to take place in someone’s apartment on Friday before dinner or Saturday morning around 10 AM.

3.5) Allow the e-mail to go viral and with some word-of-mouth dozens of young Jewish men and women will flock to the get-together.

4) After several months of these get-togethers, select a larger location to rent and this will turn into another start-up independent Shabbat prayer group.

Rabbi Elie KaunferThis is basically how the popular Kehilat Hadar traces its roots. I realized what an independent minyan was while sitting in Rabbi Ethan Tucker and Ariela Migdal’s Manhattan apartment (a few floors above our own apartment at the time) on a Shabbat morning in April 2001. I was invited to the minyan and asked to schlepp four of my folding chairs up eight flights of stairs. Little did I know at the time that the three minyan founders, including Tucker and his Harvard buddy Elie Kaunfer (right), were on to something. With sixty young Jews packed into an Upper West Side apartment davening (praying) like they were at Camp Ramah, a new type of synagogue community was forming.

The next gathering was held in a larger apartment — the home of my JTS rabbinical school classmate Dr. Len Sharzer. Len was the oldest student in my class but was not the oldest individual at the minyan that morning. That distinction was held by the late Marcia Lieberman, mother of Senator Joe Lieberman. Joe and Hadassah Lieberman were in town for the graduation of their daughter-in-law (Ethan Tucker’s wife Ariela Migdal) and attended the minyan that morning. I was honored to have the aliyah right after the distinguished senator from Connecticut.

From there the Hadar Minyan grew and grew with almost 200 in attendance for a Tisha B’Av service in Central Park. Hadar Minyan became Kehilat Hadar, and when Elie Kaunfer was ordained as a rabbi he created Mechon Hadar which has given birth to Yeshivat Hadar and the Minyan Project. The Yeshiva is a a full-time, community open to men and women looking to engage in intensive Torah study, prayer and social action. The Minyan Project promotes education, consulting and networking for independent prayer communities.

At the 2004 UJC General Assembly held in Cleveland, I attended a session in which Elie Kaunfer was one of the panelists. His response to what Gen X’ers were looking for in a spiritual community was fresh and innovative, yet also full of unknowns for the future. The indie minyans were gaining in popularity, but still no one could speculate what would happen when the indie minyannaires needed a true spiritual leader in their lives — a rabbi. A chavurah-like environment seems fine when you’re single or newly married, but when your oldest kid is celebrating her bat mitzvah it is helpful to have a rabbi. As the indie minyannaires get older my guess is that they will join established congregations that employ salaried clergy. However, they will greatly influence the way these synagogues and temples carry out their mission. Simply stated, they won’t settle for the way things have always been done in their grandfather’s shul.

In addition to how the members of indie minyans will come to change established congregations in the near future, another question is how rabbis may come to be welcomed into the indie minyans in some form of leadership role. This issue was taken up on a Jewschool post by Yehudit Bracha in September 2006: What IS the role of the rabbi in the independent minyan movement?

Rabbi_Andy_BachmanA great example of a dynamic rabbi in an emergent congregation is Rabbi Andy Bachman (left), the founder Brooklyn Jews and once executive director of Reboot. Andy is now the rabbi of Beth Elohim in Brooklyn (a Reform congregation in Park Slope). He recently posted an especially thought-provoking blog post about creating a transparent pulpit. My classmate, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, also became the rabbi of an emergent spiritual community when she founded Kavanah in Seattle a few years ago. And the dynamic Rabbi Sharon Brous has been wildly successful with Ikar-LA, the emergent spiritual community she created in 2004.

These rabbis are serving their congregations in new and innovative ways. They are leading their communities with much different leadership styles than rabbis who led in generations past. Because of their leadership, their congregations function differently and their congregants come to view synagogue life much differently. These emergent spiritual communities have Facebook pages, blogs, and only communicate to the membership via e-mail. These rabbis will answer a congregant’s question with SMS on their Blackberry. They even buy their Torah scrolls on eBay. These are the shuls of the future.

I must give my colleague Rabbi Elie Kaunfer a lot of credit. It would have been quite the accomplishment had he only co-created Hadar, however, he has taken it many steps further by forcing us to consider how independent minyanim will change the future of community building, communal prayer, rabbinic leadership, affiliation, and synagogue structure. Working with Synagogue 3000, he surveyed individuals about the role of “emergent spiritual communities” in the future of Judaism.

The introduction to the survey states:

Over the past few years, we have seen an important new phenomenon in Jewish life: the creation of dozens of independent minyanim, spiritual communities, alternative worship services, and emergent congregations. This rich array adds diverse opportunities for worship, learning, social justice work, community-building and spiritual expression.

We knew very little about the thousands of people associated with these new endeavors. Who are they? What are their concerns? How do they feel about the communities they’re creating, joining, and building? Why do they participate?

To answer these questions, the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute, in collaboration with Mechon Hadar, conducted a survey designed by the prominent sociologist Steven M. Cohen in partnership with Rabbi Elie Kaunfer and Shawn Landres. Our goal was to find out more about the participants, members, partners, and “acquaintances” of these new spiritual communities. The results of this work is the first ever portrait of the interests, values, and concerns of a critical innovative turn in American Judaism.

The report about the new movement of independent minyanim, “EMERGENT JEWISH COMMUNITIES and their Participants”, was published this past Fall and should be required reading for every rabbi and future rabbi, synagogue and temple board members, and anyone interested in the future of Judaism. In fact, anyone with a vested interest in organized religion should study this report.

Bottom line? Independent Minyans are necessary. They are serving a purpose for a whole generation of spiritually undernourished Jews. They are quickly changing how Jewish spiritual communities operate and serve their members. However, just as online banking and ATM’s are wonderful, they have not replaced traditional banking institutions or the humans who work there. The chavurah movement of the 1970’s did not replace rabbis and neither will the independent minyan movement at the beginning of the 21st Century. Rabbis will always be needed in Jewish life, we will just have to adapt our roles to modern times.

Links about Independent Minyans:

  • Synagogue 3000 and Hadar Report on Emergent Spiritual Communities
  • Attracting Young People to Jewish Life: Lessons Learned from Kehilat Hadar
  • Andy Bachman reacts to the NY Times article on Indie Minyans
  • The Minyan without a Binyan (Temple Bored Authority)
  • What Defines the New Minyan Movement (Jeremy Burton)
  • Judaism Without Synagogues (JewByChoice)
  • Tribeca Hebrew: The Hebrew School With the ‘Anti-Establishment Vibe’
  • What Independent Minyanim Teach Us About the Next Generation of Jewish Communities (Ethan Tucker)
  • Esther Kustanowitz looks for her perfect shul
  • (c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
    children Literature Shabbat Tzedakah

    Out of the Mouths of Babes

    I just finished reading a wonderful book to my three-year-old son. “Much, Much Better” (by Chaim Kosofsky) was sent to us from Leslie and Abigail Wexner as part of the PJ Library in Columbus, Ohio. The book is based on a fable where Elijah the Prophet is the guest at a couple’s Shabbat table (disguised as a poor beggar) and offers them a blessing.

    Weekly, the couple invites a stranger without a meal to eat to be their Sabbath guest. One Friday evening, Shlomo and Miriam were distraught because they didn’t have any guests with whom to share their meal. In the middle of the story my son asked me why the couple didn’t just go from house to house looking for a guest to invite. I explained that they were hoping to invite someone who didn’t have a home because that person certainly would not be able to prepare their own meal. He innocently asked me, “Well, do people without a home have a shul (synagogue) to go to?”

    It would be equally as beautiful a question if a Christian three-year-old child asked his father if homeless people have a church to go to… or if a Muslim child asked if homeless people have a mosque… or a Buddhist child asked if homeless people have a temple.

    I immediately thought of the many houses of worship that double as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The couple in the story (Shlomo and Miriam) receive the wonderful blessing of a baby after opening their home to this “stranger.” Think of how many blessings synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples would receive if they all opened their doors to feed the homeless.

    (c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |