Newt Gingrich’s Robo Call Not Kosher

Mitt Romney managed to win the Florida primary today despite Newt Gingrich’s attempt to convince Florida’s Jewish population that Romney forced Holocaust survivors to eat non-kosher food.

Gingrich’s Robocall emanated from a 2003 veto that Mitt Romney cast while he was governor of Massachusetts for denying $600,000 in additional funds for poor Jewish nursing-home residents to receive kosher meals. Last week, the the New York Post reported that Romney prevented the funding of $5 per day because he thought it would “unnecessarily” lead to an “increased rate for nursing facilities.” (Eventually, the Massachusetts State Legislature approved an amendment to restore the funding for the Jewish nursing home facilities.)

What is funny is that four days ago Zach Silberman wrote on JTA.org about Romney’s 2003 veto leading to kosher meal cuts for poor nursing-home seniors and concluded with this question: “Will Romney opponents try to make hay of the story in a state loaded with elderly Jewish voters?” The answer was: Of course they will.

Here is the text of Newt Gingrich’s Robocall:

As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher. Where is Mitt Romney’s compassion for our seniors? Tuesday you can end Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy on religious freedom, with a vote for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Newt 2012.

Here’s Newt Gingrich’s Robocall:

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

Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Guest List

Now that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky have gotten married in Whitebeck, NY, some details of the wedding have been reported. The New York Times reports that the interfaith ceremony was co-officiated by Rabbi James Ponet and Reverend William Shillady. Jim Ponet, a Reform rabbi, is Yale University’s Jewish chaplain. His official title is director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which is the campus Hillel there.

The NYT also says that the “family said the ceremony would celebrate and honor elements of both traditions. It would include friends and family reading the [Sheva Brachot] Seven Blessings, which are typically recited at traditional Jewish weddings following the vows and exchange of rings.”

Genevieve de Manio

According to this photo the groom wore a kippah (yarmulke) and tallit (prayer shawl). The tallit is not required at Jewish weddings, though some grooms choose to wear one and some grooms choose to wear the white kittel (robe).

Supposedly a ketubah (wedding document) was also witnessed and signed before the ceremony.

Since a guest list hasn’t been released, I decided to come up with a quick list of people I am certain were not there.

THE NON-GUEST LIST FOR CHELSEA CLINTON’S WEDDING:

  1. Kenneth Starr
  2. Monica Lewinsky
  3. Newt Gingrich
  4. Rush Limbaugh
  5. Sarah Palin
  6. Bill O’Reilly
  7. Ann Coulter
  8. Dick Cheney
  9. Linda Tripp
  10. Paula Jones
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Why Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Matters & the Celebrity Double-Standard

I’m hesitant to write about Chelsea Clinton’s upcoming wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, who was raised in Conservative Judaism, because I want to respect the private lives of the bride and groom. However, when the bride is the daughter of the 40th President of the United States, I suppose she is classified as a celebrity and her wedding is fair game as a topic for discussion.

This marriage will spark conversation in the Jewish world about two main issues: How intermarriage affects the Jewish community; and, whether there is a double-standard in the Jewish community when it comes to the intermarrying ways of celebrities.

David Gibson, in his article in Politics Daily, brings to light the key points surrounding this wedding. The question of whether Chelsea Clinton will convert to Judaism is something that Jews wonder (from Jews who are vehemently against intermarriage and those who are accepting of it). This high-profile wedding will bring many of the implications of intermarriage to a more public forum, forcing the conversation about, among other things:

  1. whether a rabbi should officiate at an interfaith wedding;
  2. whether intermarriage really erodes Jewish continuity;
  3. whether a non-Jewish mother can raise Jewish children;
  4. whether conversion for the sake of marriage is genuine enough to count; and,
  5. whether there’s a double-standard in the Jewish community when a high profile person marries outside of the faith.

Gibson quotes my colleague, Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe, who claims it’s his dream that Chelsea Clinton will convert to Judaism. Gibson also read the ongoing conversation at the InterfaithFamily.com website about Chelsea’s upcoming wedding.

In a lively discussion at the InterfaithFamily.com website, one commenter said that even if Chelsea does not convert, a rabbi should take part in the wedding “if the couple agrees to raise the children Jewish.” Another, however, cautioned that “this cannot be a Jewish wedding — a Jewish wedding is one where both people are Jewish, either by birth or by choice.” And yet another commenter gave what is perhaps a more characteristic answer: “I believe that Chelsea and her fiancé should do whatever will make them happiest.”

In real life, of course, questions about the role of religion often animate wedding planning, given that so many young people feel freed from old prohibitions against marrying outside the faith, if indeed they adhere to the religion of their parents or any religion at all.

Last month I was quoted in a Detroit Free Press article about interfaith marriage (“Do Interfaith Marriages Threaten Jewish Identity?”) and then took part as a panelist in a Free Press online chat on the subject.

After taking part in the online chat with Edmund Case, the CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, and an intermarried couple, I can only conclude that this is a very challenging issue because people’s lives, and children, and feelings of love and affection are in conflict with thousands of years of tribal law. It’s really about clubs and who can join and who can’t and who decides the rules.

Regarding the Gibson article in Politics Daily, my teacher Rabbi Irwin Kula comments, “This is great article for studying just about every pathology in American Jewish life… an entire article on intermarriage and Jewish weddings all about its threat and not one sentence on the possible meaning of the ritual that might actually create meaning and value. It’s chuppah/Jewish wedding as tribal marker and intermarriage as either threat to the tribe or grudging opportunity to increase numbers. Why should Chelsea convert? To make sure we don’t lose her kids to our tribe so worried about our size!”

Some interesting questions surrounding the Chelsea Clinton wedding should make this even more interesting:

  • The wedding will take place on Shabbat (July 31, 2010), so how will this affect whether observant Jewish (shomer Shabbat) guests will attend. Even if they stay within walking distance of the Astor mansion, according to Jewish law weddings are not to take place on the Jewish Sabbath.
  • If Chelsea does convert before the wedding, will her conversion be disputed publicly by the Orthodox who will claim that a Conservative (or Reform) conversion isn’t “kosher.” And, many will question her commitment to Judaism — didn’t she do this only for the sake of marriage and how much preparation and deliberation did she put into this?
  • If Chelsea doesn’t convert, how many of the Bill and Hillary’s Orthodox friends will attend the wedding anyway? Will their attendance at an interfaith wedding (and on Shabbat to boot) signify an endorsement? And what about Conservative rabbis who are technically not supposed to attend interfaith weddings? Will some make an exception for such notable nuptials?
  • Finally, might this high-profile interfaith wedding turn the tides and lead to greater acceptance and sensitivity toward interfaith marriage? After all, as Gibson writes, “The main body of Conservative Judaism [CJLS] voted to allow interfaith families to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, and in March, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America hosted a two-day workshop “sensitizing” students to “issues of intermarriage and changing demographics.” There is even talk of allowing Conservative rabbis to attend the interfaith weddings of friends — and this just four years after the movement adopted an official policy emphasizing the importance of converting a non-Jewish spouse.

Chelsea Clinton’s wedding is sure to grab headlines because of the main actors and the supporting cast, but in the Jewish world this wedding might just be an interfaith “game changer” in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.

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

Kagan Rules in Favor of Chinese Food on Christmas

On Christmas Day 2007, I wrote that Mike Huckabee, then a presidential hopeful, liked to eat Chinese food on Christmas like many Jewish people.

Huckabee explained his family’s Christmas tradition: “…we have an unusual tradition that after the Christmas Eve service we go out and eat Chinese food. Don’t ask me why.”

Jewish people flock to Chinese restaurants on Christmas because they’re the only restaurants open. The oft told joke is that the difference between the Hebrew calendar and the Chinese calendar is about 1,000 years — which means that this was how long Jews had to go without Chinese food.

Now, today we get word from the woman who is likely to be the next Supreme Court justice that she also frequents Chinese restaurants on Christmas.

In Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina probed Kagan on the threats to the United States, asking her if she was unnerved by the Christmas day bomber. He asked her, “Where were you on Christmas Day?”

To which the Jewish Kagan responded, “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman quipped, “I could almost see this one coming.”

And Senator Chuck Schumer explained to the committee, “Those are the only restaurants that are open!” (Video below)

Perhaps this Christmas Eve at a table in a Washington D.C. Chinese restaurant will sit Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elana Kagan, just having a nice Chinese dinner like many other Jews around the country.

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