Rabbi Joyce Newmark Returns to Jeopardy to Defend her Title

Rabbi Joyce Newmark of Teaneck, NJ won $29,200 in her first appearance on the television game show “Jeopardy!” last night. She returned to defend her title tonight, but came up empty.

She was welcomed back onto the show by host Alex Trebek who mentioned that she won the night before on the twentieth anniversary of her ordination as a rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also asked her how long there have been female rabbis and if it’s difficult to be one. Newmark answered the question very well, basically explaining to Trebek that she’s never been any other kind of rabbi other than a female one.

Here are two video clips from Rabbi Joyce Newmark’s second appearance on “Jeopardy!”.

JTA Article

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

Hillary Clinton Removed from Iconic Photo by Hasidic Newspaper

A big hat-tip to Failed Messiah (who gave a hat-tip to Critical Minyan) for breaking the news that an Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper, Der Tzitung, has determined that the photo of top U.S. leaders receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden was too scandalous.
What was so offensive about the image? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the photo and, based on good intel, the editor of Der Tzitung discovered that she is a woman. The Hasidic newspaper will not intentionally include any images of women in the paper because it could be considered sexually suggestive. The iconic photo shows President Obama, Vice President Biden, and members of the U.S. National Security Team in the Situation Room of the White House. Secretary of State Clinton, wearing a long-sleeved suit jacket, sits with her hand over her mouth. I’m not sure how Der Tzitung determined this was a racy photo. Perhaps they just don’t like the idea of a woman with that much political power.
Der Tzitung Photophopped Hillary Clinton out of the photo, thereby changing history. To my mind, this act of censorship is actually a violation of the Jewish legal principle of g’neivat da’at (deceit). I wrote about this subject a year ago following the Flotilla debacle in Israeli waters outside Gaza when the Reuters news agency doctored photos that it published by removing weapons from individuals aboard the Mavi Marmara. The doctoring of photographs like this is referred to as “Fauxtograpphing.” I’m curious to hear how Der Tzitung responds to its attempt to remove Hillary Clinton from this iconic photo and thereby from this historic event.
This official photograph was released from the White House and includes the following disclaimer after the caption: “This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Saturday the Rabbi Wore a Pantsuit

I wrote this in praise of my female rabbinic colleagues. I have always been impressed by how women rabbis are able to juggle motherhood with the daily grind of the rabbinate. I wish a happy Mother’s Day to all the “Rabbi Mommies” out there – many of whom have made a profound impact on my own rabbinate.

Originally posted at JTAThe Jewish Journal and The Daily Rabbi

On a recent trip to Berlin with a dozen other Conservative rabbis, we made certain to stop at the apartment building that Regina Jonas once called home (photo below). I had never heard of Jonas before, but to the four female rabbis in our group she was a hero. In 1935, she became the first woman in the world to be ordained as a rabbi. My colleague, Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, hosted our group at her beautiful Berlin synagogue during our visit and doubled as a knowledgeable tour guide. We also had the opportunity to meet with rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College, where in 2010 Rabbi Alina Treiger became the first woman to be ordained in Germany since Jonas. Today there are hundreds of inspiring, smart and passionate women rabbis who have followed in the steps of Regina Jonas.

As another “rabba” will soon be ordained, American Jews are just getting used to the idea of female rabbis in the modern Orthodox world. However, in the more progressive streams of Judaism women rabbis have been on the scene for decades and are now part of the fabric of everyday Jewish life. In fact, one funny anecdote demonstrates that for some of the youngest members of the Jewish community, women rabbis are the only form of rabbi that exists. A female colleague tells the story of when she introduced her 5-year-old son to a male rabbi, he reacted in shock: “But Mommy, I thought only ladies can be rabbis.” Out of the mouths of babes!
In Newsweek magazine’s recent ranking of the top U.S. rabbis for this year, there were many more women listed in the top. Among these superstar rabbis were women who are leading institutions and large congregations, as well as highly sought after authors and entrepreneurs who have launched their own communities.
Like other professions in which women were once not welcome to join, the rabbinate has been forced to learn how to accept female rabbis into the ranks. Certainly, this acceptance is most challenging for the oldest generation of rabbis who came of age in the “Old Boys Network,” a rabbinate sans women. Middle-age rabbis were the first to welcome women into the profession, but also have memories of the controversy that took shape around the seminary doors opening. But for the younger rabbis (and I include myself in this cohort despite the fact my doctor tells me I’m aging a bit each day), there have always been women rabbis and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
I recall the first time I jumped into a New York City cab and noticed that my driver was a woman. I did a double-take, but then things progressed as usual. She got me to my destination, I paid the fare and her tip, said thanks, and was on my way. Not so with female rabbis, however. There are noticeable differences between the sexes and we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. Having women as rabbis has added immensely to all aspects of Judaism and these female rabbis have helped shape the conversation.
Women rabbis have added beautiful new rituals to our tradition. They have introduced spiritual rituals that most men wouldn’t have dreamed up like prayers for fertility, teachings at the mikvah, and meaningful customs following a miscarriage. Women rabbis have brought naming ceremonies for our daughters to the meaningful level of the bris. They can relate to the teenage bat mitzvah girl in ways that male rabbis never could or would never even try. Their commentary on the Torah and Talmud is fresh, and they can provide voices to the hidden personas of the many female characters of our rich text that have been missing for generations.
When I was in rabbinical school, I gained new perspectives from my female peers who at the time numbered just one-third of the student body. I cherish the wonderful professional and personal relationships I have with our female rabbis in town. They offer so much to our community and I feel sorry for the previous generations who missed out on the female rabbinic voices.
Many women might yearn for the day when we no longer use the term “woman rabbi” or when the Forward doesn’t publish a list of the top fifty women rabbis. But we should embrace the changing face of the American rabbinate. Men and women are different creatures and so too it is in the rabbinate. It will only be to Orthodoxy’s benefit to welcome more women into rabbinic leadership roles. Regina Jonas would be proud.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rep. Dave Camp Should Force Staffer to Grant Ex-Wife a Jewish Divorce

On the final day of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, thousands of conference attendees descend on Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress on issues important to the State of Israel. A few years ago I joined other pro-Israel Michiganders and lobbied Representative Dave Camp. The congressman wasn’t available to meet with us and left an ill-prepared staffer to answer our questions and try to assure us of his boss’s support of the Jewish State. Since Dave Camp represents the 4th Congressional District of Michigan (an area pretty far north of where I live), I didn’t think I’d find myself lobbying him on any other issues in the future. And I surely never thought I’d lobby him on the issue of an agunah — the case of a Jewish woman whose ex-husband refuses to grant her a get (a Jewish bill of divorce).

Rep. Dave Camp becomes the chairman of House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow taking over from Rep. Sandy Levin, and The New York Times reports that there is already controversy surrounding his office. Aharon Friedman, a 34-year-old tax counsel for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee is an Orthodox Jew who is refusing to give his wife, Tamar Epstein, 27, a get.

The NY Times says that Friedman “finds himself scrutinized in the Jewish press, condemned by important rabbis, and attacked in a YouTube video showing about 200 people protesting outside his Silver Spring, Md., apartment on Dec. 19…The Friedman case has become emblematic of a torturous issue in which only a husband can ‘give’ a get. While Jewish communities have historically pressured obstinate husbands to give gets, this was a very rare case of seeking to shame the husband in the secular world.”

One rabbi wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee asking that he lean on Aharon Friedman to grant the Jewish divorce. The couple has been civilly divorced since April and share custody of their daughter, but they are still married according to Jewish law. Without the get neither one of them is permitted to remarry within the faith. Tamar Friedman is considered an agunah, or chained woman until Aharon presents her with a get.

I implore Representative Dave Camp to compel Aharon Friedman, his staff member, to do the ethical thing and grant his wife a Jewish bill of divorce. I’m sure that Rep. Camp wants everyone who works with him to be of moral character. On his first day as the chairman of this important committee tomorrow, I hope Dave Camp will take Aharon Goldstein aside and tell him what he needs to do to “right this wrong.” This matter has nothing to do with the Committee on Ways and Means or the 4th District of Michigan, but it has a lot to do with character and hopefully the leadership of the 112th Congress will make that a top priority.

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld told The New York Times, “I don’t think the Messiah can come, as long as there is one agunah in the world.”

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

Yes, Orthodox Judaism Changes Too

With all the talk of the changing narrative in the intermarriage conversation, the increased acceptance of gays and lesbians in synagogues, and the virtually across-the-board practice of egalitarian prayer in Conservative and Reform congregations, many Orthodox Jews claim that they are the only ones practicing “Torah true” Judaism and refusing to change course on any of these social issues. Of course, even saying Orthodox Judaism is misleading because it encompasses so many different practices and beliefs — from modern, liberal Orthodoxy to the Haredi (ultra-religious sect).

Judaism, like most religions is fluid. It evolves throughout time; the question is how quickly the changes materialize and when. In response to changes in society, the most progressive denominations evolve the quickest because, well, they are the most progressive. Take the issue of women rabbis for instance. The Reform Movement, Judaism’s most liberal branch, minted the first female rabbi in 1972 with the Reconstructionist movement following suit in 1974. The more traditional Conservative movement spent many years debating the change before finally ruling to allow women rabbis in the mid-1980s with my colleague Rabbi Amy Eilberg becoming the first Conservative rabbi to be ordained in 1985.

A quarter century after the Conservatives opened its seminary to women, the more progressive Orthodox Jews in Centrist Orthodoxy are now debating the leadership roles of women in the synagogue. It was only a matter of time.

A few Orthodox women have already been ordained in some seminaries with the most well-known case being Rabba Sara Hurwitz, ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss (pictured) of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (New York). While her title was debated, there’s no question that she functions like a rabbi in Weiss’s congregation. And I have no doubt that Weiss will ordain more women in the future.

And Orthodoxy has begun to evolve on the case of gay and lesbian acceptance. Again, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements acted quickly with the Conservative movement taking years to study and debate the issue before opening its seminaries and allowing the movement’s rabbis to officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies in December 2006.

Recently, 150 Orthodox rabbis issued a statement calling for the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Orthodox community. The statement said in part that “Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism… Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community.” At the Orthodox movement’s Yeshiva University in New York, there have been several conferences on GLBT issues. Rabbi Steve Greenberg, an out-of-the-closet gay Orthodox rabbi has helped move Orthodoxy to a place of increased acceptance for gays and lesbians following the success of 2001’s film “Trembling Before G-d,” which explored the struggle of Orthodox Jewish homosexuals.

Many Orthodox Jews will say that the one place there cannot be any leeway is when it comes to davening (prayer). The dignity of the service is compromised when a woman leads, they’ll say. And yet, this seems to be the next big change in Orthodoxy — women prayer leaders. Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem and Darchei Noam prayer group in New York have allowed women to lead certain parts of the service and be called to the Torah for an aliyah honor for years now, but the major news was last Friday evening. Rabbi Avi Weiss allowed a woman at his Orthodox shul in Riverdale to lead the congregation in the Kabbalat Shabbat service. The New York Jewish week reported, “In Rabbi Weiss’ latest effort to push the boundaries of women’s roles in an Orthodox shul, he had a woman, Lamelle Ryman, lead a Friday-night service with both men and women in the pews. Rabba Hurwitz, who heads a seminary for Orthodox women created by Rabbi Weiss, made a few brief remarks, not even touching on the fact that no other Orthodox synagogue in the U.S. had apparently ever before had a woman lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service. But it was Ryman’s show, and according to those in attendance, the davening was beautiful.”

Some in the Orthodox movement are in favor of Weiss pushing the envelope and moving Orthodoxy into the future. Others feel that he’s making changes without any process or input from others. It’s possible that a censure from the Rabbinical Council of America is forthcoming, but Weiss is doing precisely what rabbis have done for generations — moving Judaism forward.

The Judaism of 2010, in any of the denominations, looks different than the Judaism of past centuries. That’s because the times change and the Jewish religion changes too, whether people like it or not.

Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on “Torah true Judaism.” If Judaism is truly going to be true to the Torah, then we must all embrace the Torah’s dictum that says the Torah does not reside in the heavens. It belongs to humanity and it is up to us to see that it remains vibrant and evolves.

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

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 | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Newsweek Magazine Affirms Female Orthodox Rabbi

Newsweek Magazine released its annual list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America.

Now in its fourth year, Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., list who they think are the 50 most influential rabbis in the U.S.

While the yearly ranking is merely based on the opinions of two Hollywood moguls and some unscientific criteria, it generates a lot of buzz. There’s also a certain amount of ego that becomes manifest among rabbis when the list is released each year, in addition to debate regarding who was ranked too high and who was missing from the list altogether. My teacher Irwin Kula, who ascended from #10 in 2009 to an impressive #7 this year, tweeted a link to the Newsweek list with the question “How can I not share this!”

What is most interesting in this year’s list is which rabbi was ranked as the 36th most influential rabbi in the U.S. She is new to the rabbinate and new to the Newsweek ranking. Her name is Sara Hurwitz and a lot of controversy surrounds her. Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) ordained her as a rabbi a couple years ago giving her an acronym for a title and then changing it to “rabba,” a title that irked many in the Orthodox world. Earlier this year, under much pressure from the Right, he backed down and decided to not go through with creating women rabbis.

However, it would appear that Lynton and Ginsberg side with Avi Weiss on this one. And so Rabba Sara Hurwitz becomes one of the most influential rabbis in the country according to Newsweek Magazine, while among the people she is supposed to serve she is not even considered a rabbi.

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