Fashion History Jewish Shabbat Torah

What to Wear

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I attended a Purim party. I had no idea what to wear. In past years I was able to figure out what to wear based on the theme. Black tie? Got it covered. Western attire? No problem (jeans, flannel and cowboy hat). 70’s Disco attire? That’s easy (and fun!).

This year, however, the invitation said “Gem Tones.” Say what? I was clueless and my wife wasn’t much help on this one. I started calling other guys to find out what they were going to wear. One friend was more clueless than the next. Were jeans too casual? Did I need a sport coat? Did my outfit have to be certain colors. I don’t think I’ve ever looked in my closet and thought, “Gee, some of my clothes bear a striking resemblance to the tones of gems!” I would have been less stressed had the invitation instructed us to dress like a favorite Disney character (well, there’s always next year!).

It’s usually easy for men to decide what to wear to parties. Weddings are either a black tuxedo or a dark suit. “Casual” can be jeans or slacks and a button-down shirt. I’m really not complaining because I know it’s much more challenging for women.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, the details about the clothing of the priests continues. Even God’s instructions concerning the sacrificial burnt offering have a great deal to do with the special vestments of the high priest, Aaron, and the other priests. “The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body.” After the priest has taken up the ashes of the burnt offering he has to do a costume change. Even the priests’ clothes get anointed with oil and some of the blood from the sacrifice.

The late biblical scholar Nahum Sarna writes about the details of the priestly clothing: “Just as sacred space must be differentiated from profane space, so the occupants of the sacred office must be distinguishable from the laity. Hence, special attire, the insignia of office, is ordained for Aaron, the archetypal High Priest, and for his sons, the priests of lower rank.”

The reason for such minutiae when it comes the clothing of these holy men is l’chavod ultifaret (for dignity, honor, and splendor). The medieval commentator Sforno explains the use of these two Hebrew words. The vestments, he writes, “were for the dignity of God and to lend splendor to the office of the priest so that he would be revered by the people.”  I think that the vestments were as much for the dignity of the priests, of the wearer that is, as they were for God’s dignity.

This teaches us that what we wear says a great deal about us. All of these details about the priestly clothing reminds me of the famous dress code that was in effect for many years at IBM. Men had to dress in a dark colored suit, could only wear a white dress shirt, and could select a necktie of any conventional color; so long as it was solid – no patterns. For women, it was mostly the same – A dark, solid colored skirt and a white blouse. IBM believed that the way its workforce dressed portrayed the specific image that they wanted associated with their company. Apparently, they held the belief that it’s “the clothing that makes the man.”

And this belief was just as true in the 1990s, as companies like IBM shifted from strict, conservative dress codes to less-formal attire. Casual dress in the workplace became the new trend and “Dress down Fridays” became a popular section in most clothing stores. Companies like IBM believe that the way one dresses helps contribute to the way one works, behaves, and acts toward others. It also contributes to the way others view the wearer. When we get dressed in the morning, don’t we think about what type of image we want to portray for that day? Don’t we pick out our clothes for the day based on more than just the weather?

What we wear is representative of who we are, and indeed, where we come from. It speaks volumes about what we stand for and our own level of self-dignity. Styles do change. And society’s attitudes toward standards of proper attire do too. I might never fully comprehend how to dress in a “gem tones” attire, but I understand that our clothing is important.

Let us dress for success. Let us dress for style. And most important, let us dress l’chavod ultif’aret – for dignity, honor, and splendor.

Shabbat Shalom!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
American Jews Humor Jewish Torah

Let’s Hair It for the Jew Fro

As a follically-challenged guy, I’ve always been impressed by (and a bit envious of) the Jew Fro. It’s certainly an underreported aspect of Jewish cultural life. My uncle sported a Jew Fro in high school back in the early 70s, which I’m convinced was only because he knew he’d be bald later in life (he was). Male patterned baldness runs in the family and his father (my grandfather) wore a toupée.

The Jew Fro, the Jewish version of the Afro, has become more talked about of late as Jewish celebrities like Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg have popularized the fashion. Three years ago I posted to a clip from the movie “Knocked Up” in which Katherine Heigl’s character admires Seth Rogen’s character’s curly hair. She asks what product he uses to get it to look that way, and he tells her that it’s called “Jew.” The video clip has been viewed close to 18,000 times since I uploaded it. Websites with photos of the best Jew Fros (South Park creator Matt Stone, Art Garfunkel, Nick Jonas, film critic Gene Shalit, music producer Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Richard Simmons, etc.) are popping up everywhere. A t-shirt that reads “Chicks Dig the Jew Fro” is a top seller on the Web.

Now, Moment Magazine has published an article about the Jew Fro that traces its history all the way back to the Bible. Just because Samson was a Nazirite and didn’t cut his hair doesn’t mean he sported the Jew Fro. It is an interesting take on the hairstyle though. Svetlana Shkolnikova writes:

Yet society continues to subtly perpetuate the idea that sleek and straight is beautiful, making the curly hair of both Jewfros and Afros contentious, particularly for women, says Shari Harbinger, director of education for the curly hair salon DevaCurl. She struggled with her curly hair growing up, choosing to blow dry it straight and even resorting to harsh Japanese relaxers. The curly-straight struggle haunts some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, as Sarah Jessica Parker confesses in the 2005 book Stars of David. “I always feel that people think that straight hair is pretty and curly hair is unruly and Jewish,” she says. When she receives excessive praise from men for straightening her hair for a part, she jokingly responds, “‘You’re an anti-Semite!’ Because I just feel it’s a little stab at the Jews.”

My favorite part of the article is that the author quotes Professor Shuly Rubin Schwartz, the dean of the undergraduate program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where I studied in the Rabbinical School. She claims the Jew Fro’s birth came about because Jews “figured out how to own their own hair” and “Jewish women in turn thought, ‘Why are we sitting under the hair dryer?'” The article doesn’t show a photo of Shuly Schwartz, who herself sports a curly Jew Fro (see photo below).

Whether it’s Jewish men or Jewish women, they should be proud of their curly locks of hair. For me, I’ll just remain envious of the moppy curls of Jew Fros while I embrace my receding hairline.

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

Beshalach: Remembering Katrina and Honoring NOLA

It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Katrina occurred five-and-a-half years ago. I traveled to New Orleans in 2007 with other rabbis to help in the cleanup effort and spent two quick days there this past August when I was the keynote speaker at the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Fraternity Convention. It was impressive to see how New Orleans has returned to a great city thanks to the hard work of its people.

This Shabbat, the Jewish people all over the world will read Parashat Beshalach, the section of the Torah narrative in which the Israelites walk through the water of the Reed Sea. When I returned from New Orleans in 2007, I spoke about the experience on Shabbat Beshalach. I am reposting those words below and congratulate the great people of NOLA for navigating their way through the disastrous waters of Katrina.

NOLA: A Story of Hope and Rebirth

There was a part of me that was curious. Perhaps curious in a similar way as I was in 2001 following September 11th when I wanted to see the aftermath of the disaster. There was a natural desire – a sense of inquisitiveness – in wanting to see Ground Zero. I had seen the news footage of New Orleans after Katrina hit in August 2005. I watched Spike Lee’s documentary, “When the Levees Broke” about the Lower 9th Ward’s ravishing after the flood. I wanted to see it for myself.

Unlike 9/11 when I was, as we say in Hebrew nogeah badavar, very much connected to the tragedy, since I was living in New York City, about to leave for a year of study in Israel, and found myself stuck in Chicago where I was visiting friends and unable to return to Detroit where my wife was at the time. When Katrina hit I was thousands of miles away from the U.S. I learned about the storm a couple of days after it hit when I turned on the T.V. in my hotel room in Kiev. I had been traveling throughout Ukraine with some of my university students and no one seemed to know anything about Katrina yet. I felt removed from the situation because I was.

So, for the past year-and-a-half I had a strong desire to become more connected to the situation. Further, I felt that it was a travesty that Katrina was so far from our minds this many months after the fact since it wasn’t a hot enough story anymore for the evening news or the 24/7 cable networks. There was a feeling deep inside of me that I had to find out what I could do to help. And to see it with my own eyes.

Touring the worst hit areas this past week, as part of a Rabbinical Assembly Mission to New Orleans with thirty-five other Conservative rabbis, there were many thoughts running through my head.
Miracles. I thought of the difference between keriat yam suf and bekiat yam suf. Keriat yam suf is the miraculous feat of God to separate the waters of the Sea of Reeds. When Moses held his staff high in the sky, there was a strong wind that forced the waters to recede so the Israelites could cross the sea escaping from the pursuing Egyptian army. But there was also bekiat yam suf – the water crashing back down on the Egyptians who like the Israelites were children of God, part of God’s creation.

I thought of the many theological conundrums presented by Katrina. Returning to my own conception of God and God’s role in the world, I considered the hurricane from God’s point of view. Did God feel powerless watching His children perish in the flood? Did God resent those who didn’t flee for higher ground? Was God frustrated by those who believe Him to be omnipotent and questioned why the All Powerful was not taking advantage of that power? Was God disappointed by those who erred in catastrophic ways by not repairing the levee walls years ago when it was determined they would not withstand a storm of this magnitude? Was God distraught by the horrific criminal acts of many in the days and weeks following Katrina?

I thought about divine justice. How could a student of the Bible not consider the narratives of Noah, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the generation who constructed the Golden Calf. No human beings seem deserving of the devastation that was wrought on the victims of Katrina. No doubt there were those arguing that New Orleans was a city of strife, of sin, and of moral debasement.

But I also thought about faith. Who were the victims of Katrina? Who were the ones working toward revitalization and a potential renaissance? What gave them the courage and the conviction to rebuild? I thought about Hugo Kahn, the leader of our incredibly powerful tour of New Orleans. Hugo is a past president of the New Orleans Federation and very active in the Conservative shul, Shir Chadash, where his wife is the president.

Everyone in the shul sang Mr. Kahn’s praises and told us that were it not for the Kahn’s, the day school in New Orleans would not exist. A refugee from Kristallnacht, he was raised in Omaha and became an accountant. He ran a major department store in New Orleans for many years and he told us how the store supported many projects in the community. He is currently on the Finance Committee of the Federation helping to figure out how to cover the $4 million deficit of the Jewish institutions in the community due to Katrina. He was “resurrected” into service because so many in the Jewish community have left New Orleans.

What gives people like Hugo Kahn the faith to persevere? He survived Kristallnacht as a child and could have relocated last year with his wife to many Jewish communities around the country. But his faith drove him to return to New Orleans and to lead the rebuilding effort.

As I toured the area, I also thought about water. How could I not think about water? It was all around us. From the Mississippi River to one side and from Lake Pontchartrain on the other. I learned about canals, levees, and deltas. I learned that New Orleans is basically a bowl that filled with water. I thought about how the Torah is compared to water. Moses proclaims: “May my teaching drop like the rain.” Both rain and Torah descend from the heavens and provide relief to the thirst. Water is the source of life – deprived of water; a person will become dehydrated and ultimately disoriented. But here, I realized, it was water that was the source of death and destruction.

I also spent some time thinking about responsibility. There’s a part of me that wants New Orleanians to move on and not focus on whose fault Katrina was. Was it the responsibility of the Federal Government tasked with the building and maintenance of the levees? Was it the responsibility of the local government to have better prepared for the storm? Should the evacuation efforts have run more smoothly? Should there have been better civil order maintained by local law enforcement? Should the local residents have been more responsible with their own safety and survival?

There were many, unfortunately, who didn’t recognize they were being saved and brought to safety. They made their own mistakes by not taking responsibility for their own best interests. I was reminded of the old joke about the guy standing on his roof while the flood waters swirl around his house? He turns down a rescue helicopter, a Coast Guard boat, and a raft, insisting God is going to save him. He dies and goes to heaven, and asks God why He didn’t save him. God says, “I tried. I sent a helicopter, a boat, and a raft…” “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

* * *

Our scholar-in-residence for the mission, my colleague and teacher Rabbi Gordon Tucker, opened the mission with a text study session about the mysterious manna that our ancestors ate in the desert. Through several midrashim found in the Talmud, we learned that the Israelites didn’t have to work very hard for this food that rained down from heaven each day. There are many stories told about this manna including the fact that there was actually home delivery. The manna would essentially be delivered right to your door – the same helping each day. In fact, Rabbi Tucker taught us that upon eating the manna, which would taste like anything you wanted, there was no excretion. He compared this to infants who are also not concerned about excretion because they don’t have to be. The Israelites were babied. They were given what they needed and didn’t have to work for it.

This all changed, of course, in the time of Joshua when our ancestors had to sweat and toil to create a land and a community. They had to fight and they had to be more responsible. The people of New Orleans will now have to sweat and toil to rebuild the city. I can tell you that from what I witnessed, there is a lot of work to be done. They cannot, and should not, have to do it alone.

Shutafo. We were partners with the Holy One Blessed Be God in seder beriat ha’olam – the creation of world. We are now shutafo, partners with God in Tikkun Olam – trying to repair our severely damaged and fragile world. We need to be shutafim with the people of New Orleans. We have to remember that there are many down South willing and able to hammer their homes back together. They might just need us to give them the hammer. There are many who are dedicated to starting new schools, they might just need us to show them how to teach. There are many who desperately want to get back on their feet and start new jobs. They just might need the financial assistance to take the first step.

We will benefit because the people of New Orleans are a people with soul. New Orleans is a city with soul. Tuesday night following a lecture, we headed to the Maple Leaf Bar in the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans. The Maple Leaf is one of oldest and most beloved music clubs in New Orleans. We were blessed with the opportunity to hear the true New Orleans sound of the Rebirth Brass Band. The 10:00 pm show finally began at 11:30 pm, but it was well worth the wait. It was loud and it was soulful!

After the concert, my colleague and friend, Rabbi Daniel Schweber wrote in his journal that “the music experience demonstrated to me first hand that New Orleans’ soul is worth preserving. In Judaism we do not make a big distinction between the body and the soul. It is the body and soul in tandem that make the person who they are. The same is true with New Orleans. New Orleans is made up of its soul dwelling in the body of the Mississippi Delta. I came to the realization that if we are going to preserve New Orleans’ rich culture then we have to preserve and rebuild the body, the physical city itself.”

May we all come to see what I saw this past week. In New Orleans, there is much hope amid the suffering. There is faith amid fear. We, as American citizens and men and women striving for justice in the world need to help New Orleanians see the possibilities amid pessimism.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Katrina struck. Let us end the blame game. Let us end the questioning. Let us strive to rebuild. We all have to help. For the sake of a people with deep faith and abounding soul. For the sake of the future. For the sake of justice. For the sake of godliness.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
American Jews Celebrities Jewish Torah

Give Babs a Hand: Barbra Streisand Buys Three Torah Yads

Here’s my recent post on the “Rabbi J in the D” blog for Community Next:

After a decade-long $150 million campaign, the National Museum of American Jewish History officially opened November 14 in Philadelphia. The 100,000 square foot museum is on Philly’s Independence Mall.

The new museum’s gala grand opening had hundreds of donors who paid between $1,500 and $5,000 to be part of the celebration with Vice President Joe Biden, Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler.

I did a double take when I read what Barbra Streisand, who didn’t perform at the gala event, bought in the museum gift shop. According to JTA, “One of 18 individuals highlighted in the museum’s Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, which greets visitors on the first floor, Streisand made time to stop in the museum’s shop, where she spent $800 on three yads (Torah pointers) and silver candlesticks.”

Is Babs a regular Torah reader (I’d pay to hear that!) or are the yads gifts for friends? If Streisand wants to use her yad to read Torah in an Orthodox synagogue, I’d advise she first dresses up like a man. Here’s what that would look like:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Law Orthodox Judaism Rabbis Torah

Did the Torah’s Patriarchs Follow Jewish Law?

Xtranormal has helped users create close to 10 million projects by turning their words into funny animated movies. User “krumbagel” has created a hilarious Xtranormal animation that successfully (and humorously) critiques the ultra-Orthodox notion that the Avot (patriarchs) in the Torah not only followed the Halachah (Jewish law) as outlined in the Torah, but even observed the mitzvot (commandments) that were set forth by the sages thousands of years later through the debates of the Talmud and the explanations of the Mishnah Berurah.

The video begins with the yeshivah bucher asking, “Can I say over a vort that I heard by my rebbe’s house last Shabbos?” His interlocutor challenges him when he claims that, in the Torah, Jacob gave his brother Esau bread with the red lentl stew because there is a debate in the Talmud as to which blessing one says before eating lentls, and thus Jacob gave Esau the bread so he would perform the ritual hand-washing(!) and say Hamotzi (the blessing over the bread) without worrying if he was uttering the correct blessing.

I enjoy a fanciful midrash (homiletical explication of the text), but find it problematic when later rabbinic rulings of Jewish law are applied to the actions of the characters in the Torah’s narrative. A great example of this is when I was putting my first-grade son to bed a few weeks ago on a Friday night. It’s long been my custom to tell a Torah story to my children on Friday nights during our bedtime ritual. I was talking about the differences between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau when my son interrupted to tell me that his teacher at school taught him that Esau was bad because he would hunt and kill animals that weren’t kosher. Really?! When I asked my son how it would have been possible for Esau to know which animals were kosher, he just shot me a blank stare. Oh well!

Anyway, here’s krumbagel’s video:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Basketball Celebrities Jewish Torah

Miami Heat Look to 613

In Judaism the number 613 is a lucky number associated with the number of positive and negative commandments that can be found in the Written Torah (Bible). So, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade line up to display their new Miami Heat jerseys, many Jews in the know can’t help but smile at the symbolic number.

Taryag is the acronym made up of the gematria (numerology) numbers that stand for 613. So, instead of the “Taryag Mitzvot,” here are the Taryag Heat. Now let’s see if these guys can play by the rules and win a championship.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp children Environmentalism Jewish Torah

Planting Trees at Summer Camp

In addition to providing kosher supervision for Camp Mass, a Jewish residential summer camp in Michigan run by Tamarack Camps, I also run several informal educational programs. One of my favorite programs is planting trees with the campers and their counselors. I wrote the following article about the importance of trees for the camp’s online newsletter:

Planting Trees

Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a tree in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the tree and then go and greet the Messiah.”
(Avot D’Rabbi Natan 31b)

Tonight, as I watched the Second Night Show, my mind focused on the beauty of trees. The entire camp gathered at the Zaks Amphitheatre as each village staff took to the stage to showcase their talents and demonstrate what makes their village special.. I thought of the thousands of trees on our vast camp acreage and how each tree has its own personality just like each village. I thought of the unique gifts that each camper will share this summer at camp and how each tree shares its own gifts with us.

At Tamarack, our campers and staff live on 1,500 beautiful acres of land dotted with trees as far as the eye can see. The campers remind me how important those trees are to our camp on a daily basis. Each village has a chance to plant a tree in one of our lush fields as a way to give back to camp. Before the digging begins, I ask the campers what trees provide for us. Oxygen, paper, fruits, nuts, shelter, shade, and wood for fires are some of the common responses I hear. Some campers have reminded us that chewing gum, medicines, maple syrup, and chocolate also come from trees.

In past years, each camper and counselor has planted an individual tree. This summer, however, as a true sign of community each village will be planting a big pine tree to serve as an enduring reminder of the magic of the summer of 2010. God willing, in the future, the campers will return to Tamarack with their own children to visit the tree they planted this summer.

After the campers have planted their village tree we gather in a circle and listen to the personal dedications. Everyone in the village – campers and staff – share the names of the individuals for whom they planted their tree. Some dedicate it to their parents, siblings, friends or pets. Others have planted the tree in memory of a beloved grandparent. Many campers have dedicated the tree to their counselor or their bunkmates. One camper dedicated his village tree to everyone at Tamarack.

After each camper fills out a keepsake tree certificate, we join together in the Shehechiyanu blessing, acknowledging how grateful we are to partner with God in making our camp look even more beautiful. This is truly a wonderful way for us to give back to our camp. The website of the Jewish National Fund is listed on the tree certificate so families can plant a matching tree in Israel when their camper returns home at the end of the session.

Just as the trees throughout our camp grow and blossom, may our hundreds of campers grow and blossom this summer and may we reap the wonderful gifts they give.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Israel Jewish Law Orthodox Judaism Reform Judaism Torah Women

Woman Arrested for Illegal Use of Torah

I work as the rabbi at a Jewish summer camp. We have eighty campers from Israel join us each summer. Many of these young campers, like most Israelis, are not familiar with liberal, alternative forms of religious expression in Judaism. In Israel, Judaism is black and white. You either do it or you don’t – secular or religious. Even the Israeli youth at camp who have heard of the Conservative and Reform movements still don’t really understand what it means to be a Conservative or Reform Jew.

This morning, a 12-year-old Israeli boy approached me and asked, “You’re not an Orthodox rabbi, right?” No, I responded wearing my cargo shorts, t-shirt, and shortly cropped hair with a knitted kippah. I told him that I’m a Conservative rabbi. He said that’s what he figured but he wasn’t sure. He then said something that caught me off guard. In Hebrew he asked, “That sefer Torah (Torah scroll) that you read from on Shabbat morning at services here at camp isn’t kosher, is it?”

I explained that the Torah is most certainly kosher, but I understood immediately where his doubt came from. I told him that our camp actually owns two kosher Torah scrolls and that this particular one we’ve been using this summer was on loan from a local synagogue. Based on the Judaism that he sees in his native Israel, he found it difficult to believe that a non-Orthodox rabbi could possess a valid Torah scroll.

In Israel today, the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) establishment is calling the shots when it comes to religious law. Israelis like to boast that their country is the only true democracy in the Middle East, but when it comes to matters of religion, Israel is beginning to look more like one of those backward, primitive religious states in the Islamic world at which we roll our eyes.

Each month, on Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the Jewish month), the Women of the Wall gather in Jerusalem for a women-only prayer service. These prayer meetings have been turned into a media circus ever since Nofrat Frankel was arrested for wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) a few months ago. Yesterday, Women of the Wall leader Rabbi Anat Hoffman was arrested for carrying a Torah scroll from the Western Wall women’s section to the Southern Wall area where the Chief Rabbinate and the police both agreed that women could read from the Torah.

My colleague, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, was part of this group and witnessed Anat’s arrest. She detailed the incident in a jewschool post. She writes:

We finished Hallel and began to proceed, according to the terms of the Israeli High Court (Bag”tz) decision, to Robinson’s Arch to read Torah, with the intent to preserve the continuity of the service by escorting the Torah in song. Now, it should be noted here that WoW has had a hard time lately getting the Sefer Torah into the Kotel area, even though Bag”tz permitted it in its ruling. I won’t reveal how they got it in this time around, but it took some maneuvering.

It is perfectly kosher, according to the Bag”tz ruling, to take the Sefer Torah out of its bag, as Anat did this morning, by the Kotel, to carry it to Robinson’s Arch. It is not permitted to read from the Torah in the women’s section, and we did not. We were singing and escorting the Torah, and things got more and more tense, with police trying to physically push Anat out of the women’s section and she (and those of us holding on to her) was trying to walk out, but at a more dignified pace. Eventually there was a skirmish involving the police trying to physically take the Torah out of her hands (we were now out of the women’s section and on our way over to Robinson’s Arch) and somewhere in all of that, they arrested her, and she was taken into custody (as was the Torah).

Many Conservative and Reform rabbis have written articles recently expressing the notion that the real enemy in Israel is us. Often the greatest threat is from within.

Just today, a law called the Rotem Bill is moving closer to final passage in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). This law began as a proposal by the Yisrael Beitenu party to streamline conversion for Russian immigrants, but it has been twisted into an attack on non-Orthodox Jews. This bill will vest all authority for conversion in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and guarantee that only a particular Orthodox approach to defining Judaism will become the guideline for determining who is recognized as a convert to Judaism. The Rotem Bill would overturn earlier protections for non-Orthodox converts and threaten the legitimacy of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and other converts to Judaism who wish to become citizens or be otherwise recognized by the state as Jewish.

I’m proud of my Jewish heritage and I feel blessed to be a rabbi. However, the notion that a woman can be arrested in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish homeland, for holding a Torah scroll is infuriating. I believe that it is healthy to have differing viewpoints and expressions of Judaism, but the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on religion in Israel must cease. The video footage (below) showing the police brutality toward the Women of the Wall is disgusting.

In a week on the ninth of Av, Jewish people around the world will fast for a full day in commemoration of the destruction of the temples that once stood in Jerusalem. Tradition teaches that the Temple fell in the year 70 CE on account of sinat chinam, the baseless hatred among Jews. The complete arrogance and disrespect shown by some Jewish people toward others in Israel demonstrates that 2,000 years later the lesson has yet to be learned.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Apple Food God Judaism and Technology Kosher Prayer Technology Torah

Apps for Torah Study & Grace After Meals

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs
As the Apple iPhone has become even more popular and an increasing number of Apple fans have picked up the iPad, there has been a wave of new applications created for these devices. Some are good and useful, while others… well, let’s just say I’m not going to take the time to write a bad review.
Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, now calling himself “The App-ter Rebbe,” has announced the publication of a new commentary on the Torah for Apple’s iOS devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Garfinkel, who previously published the well-received hard-copy Torah commentary “Mikraot Ramah,” for use at Jewish summer camps, now adds “Mayim La-Eidah” to the App Store. Mayim La-Eidah is a Torah commentary and discussion app to supplement the study of the weekly Torah portion. This current week’s installment includes 23 Divrei Torah (commentaries) on the Torah portion and 17 discussion questions to be used for sermons, adult education, and youth programming. If reading material on a screen isn’t your cup of tea, or if using these electronic devices doesn’t sit well with you on Shabbat, just tap the “Send Me A PDF” button in the lower-right hand corner. You’ll receive a printer-friendly PDF in your email, and you are free to photocopy it for educational purposes. The commentary includes material for laypeople and professionals alike. Installments only cost 99 cents and can be downloaded here.
Another useful app for the Chosen People is iBirkat. This is a Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) application for the iPhone. This app, created by the Jerusalem-based development firm appSTUDIO, is a free app without ads that is being released as a public service.
Currently this is the only benscher app that is on the market as the other apps for the Apple family of devices that include the Birkat Hamazon text are not focused solely on Birkat Hamazon, but rather include it along with other texts and features. With iBirkat there’s no need to navigate through an entire Siddur to find the Birkat Hamazon. iBirkat has an elegant scroll view as opposed to static page views and takes advantage of the accelerometer and adjusts the text to the adequate screen position.
This app was developed when members of the team realized that the only time they found themselves using an iPhone Siddur app was to recite the Birkat Hamazon. They saw the need for clean, convenient and quick access to the text of Birkat Hamazon. iBirkat is free and available for download at the Apple app store online.
A new app recently released for the iPad is Totally Tanakh, a joint project of RedleX and the Davka Corporation. Totally Tanakh lets you browse, search and study the Hebrew Bible and features crisp Hebrew text with precise placement of Hebrew vowels and cantillation marks, and verse-by-verse synchronization between Hebrew, English, and Rashi’s commentary. This app includes the Hebrew text and English translation of the entire Bible plus the Hebrew text of Rashi on Torah with vowels. This app has great search capability and easy navigation. I also liked the bookmarking feature and the ability to view the Rashi commentary and the Hebrew text in parallel columns.
Totally Tanakh sells for 9.99 and is available at the Apple app store.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Ethics Facebook Jewish Law Judaism and Technology People Privacy Torah Web

Mark Zuckerberg, Emily Gould & Rabbeinu Gershom

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

What do Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, blogger Emily Gould, and the 10th-11th century scholar Rabbeinu Gershom have in common?

They all articulated their views about privacy.

Zuckerberg was criticized last month for Facebook’s new privacy settings. Over 500 million worldwide users of Facebook had more of their information made public because Zuckerberg believes that “if people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.”

Zuckerberg, now 26-years-old, created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room as a way to connect co-eds in the Ivy League. Today, it’s used by all ages across the globe to divulge more personal information than anyone had originally planned.

Zuckerberg’s first privacy controversy came on November 6, 2007 when he announced a new social advertising system at an event in LA called Facebook Beacon. The application enabled users to share information with their Facebook “friends” based on their browsing activities on other sites. Beacon came under attack from both privacy groups and individuals with Zuckerberg ultimately taking responsibility and offering an easier way for users to opt out of the service.

Emily Gould, author of “And the Heart Says Whatever,” has also been affected by the sharing of private information on the Web. She writes in the current issue of Newsweek: “I should have known that the blog, an anonymous diary of my personal life, was a bad idea. As a reporter for the gossip site Gawker, I spent my days deconstructing similar attempts at concealment. But I lulled myself into a false sense of security.

Disclosing her personal information and experiences with everything from cooking to an office romance gone bad, robbed Gould of her private life. Everything quickly became public and spread around Cyberspace. Her former boyfriend revealed secrets of their relationship in a tell-all article in the New York Post Sunday magazine.

Gould, who “spent the next few days wishing the Web away,” is the classic example of someone who’s life was changed by over-sharing. In the Information Age, TMI doesn’t just mean sharing too much information; it means that your too much information has gone viral on the Web.

And that brings us to Rabbeinu Gershom. Centuries before the invention of e-mail and status updates, this sage understood a thing or two about privacy. At the beginning of the eleventh century, the leading German rabbi was Gershom, known by German Jewry as Rabbenu ((our Rabbi) Gershom. According to the tradition, he wrote four special ordinances (takkanot) which differed with Jewish law in Babylonia.

While his most famous decree concerned the outlaw of polygamy, Rabbeinu Gershom also made it a major sin to open and read someone else’s mail. This legal ruling ensured the privacy and safety of mercantile transactions between Jewish communities.

This sort of makes us wonder what Rabbeinu Gershom would make of the voluntary sharing of personal material on the Web today. Perhaps, someone should share Rabbeinu Gershom’s teaching with Mark Zuckerberg so his company locks down users’ personal information that should be kept private.

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