Tag Archive: Judaism


The denominations, and the seminaries where they train their rabbis, will have to recognize this and take a more holistic view of their role in Jewish life. Rabbis need to see themselves as teaching Judaism, not as upholding the tenets of a particular movement. …
What’s more, the denominations, themselves, are no longer the most relevant force in shaping our synagogues. Instead of the large denominational divisions, imagine an entrepreneurial approach to synagogue life, one that encourages the growth of vibrant communities….

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 169.

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Rabbi Avi Weiss can be a bit of a controversial figure that very few people, I think, take seriously, for two major reasons, that I think may be related.

The first is by reputation. He’s not known for being a למדן – he’s not known for being a learner; not known for being a תלמיד חכם, which I find very unfortunate. Having heard him numerous times – my grandparents go to his synagogue in Riverdale often – and other interactions, I can tell you that Rabbi Weiss is a lot more knowledgeable and a lot smarter than just about everyone gives him credit for. It might not come across because he might act like a Carlebachian hippie, but there’s a great deal of substance under there that’s very easy to overlook.

The other issue that I think comes up is that leads people to make either irresponsible or just flat-out wrong assessments is they focus too much on conclusions; by which I mean What is the conclusion? What is the statement that Rabbi Weiss says?  If you agree with it, you agree with what he’s trying to accomplish: “Oh, how great, how courageous he is”.  And if you’re predisposed to not liking what he says: “The guy’s a כופר – he’s a heretic, and he’s not really Orthodox”.  And neither one of these responses addresses the issue of method; meaning, you could be right, but for wrong reasons,  you could also be right for wrong reasons.  But no one actually addresses the arguments on their merits. People get so worked up in the emotional reaction of “Do we like what he says or do we dislike what he says?”  And I think that, too, is unfortunate, because I think there is a system here and I think it’s worth unpacking.

Rabbi Josh Yuter, “Halakhic Process 25: Open Orthodoxy“, Yutopia Podcast #119 (27 October 2013).

Our young people are redefining their Judaism. We need to be an active part of that redefinition process. It is up to the Jewish community to reach out, engage and embrace them.

…we are committed to not just engaging our young people, but engaging them in our reimagination and our transformation. They are not the problem. They are a part of the solution.

Many of our organizations have built models based on philanthropy first. We need to move away from “pay-to-play” Judaism. If young people are meaningfully engaged, they will become philanthropists. But we are pushing too many of them away by expecting them to give before they connect.

Jay Sanderson, “Crisis and Opportunity – Reflections on the Pew Report”, The Jewish Journal (11-17 October 2013), 44.

I am actually not interested in simply furthering that we represent the Jewish people. I understand that it was a blip, a modern blip, exacerbated by the Holocaust, the Jewish peoplehood and “more than the Jews kept the Shabbas, the Shabbas kept the Jews” – that’s just a lie. It’s okay, I appreciate it, but for Jews who stopped keeping the Shabbas, it’s wonderful rhetoric, but it has nothing to do with how people function. People will observe the Shabbas if it actually works for them in their life to help them flourish. They’re not going to keep it because it keep them. I love the rhetoric and so I’m interested in shifting the balance – and I think this is great for rabbis – from Jewish peoplehood to actually Torah, to the wisdom and practice.

Rabbi Irwin Kula, “Texts Without Borders”, Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship, Third Cohort, Session #1 (Clal: New York City, 8 November 2011).

Judaism is about the wisdom and practice to help human beings become deeply human. And it is not, for me, an idealogous, tribalist, experience. The tribe is a means, the people is a means, and, although I understand and I walked away from synagogue life to work inside, strengthening the Jewish people, exclusively, at a moment in which I thought that the fundamental issue was to strengthen the Jewish people, to rescue a million Jews from the Soviet Union, to rescue 60,000-100,000 Jews from Ethiopia, to build the political infrastructure, and to help build the political structure of American Jewish life so that the body politic could be protected in a physical way. So I got that.
But I never imagined that was an ends. I cannot believe that, basically, we’re down to and American organized Jewish community that, at the core, worries simply about its security and survival. And it has taken that anxiety and projected it upon issues of identity. I’m mind-bogglingly blown away that that is what has happened to a 3,000-year-old wisdom tradition that has been knocking around the planet that has been asking and moving around fundamental human questions. I just cannot believe it.

Rabbi Irwin Kula, “Texts Without Borders”, Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship, Third Cohort, Session #1 (Clal: New York City, 8 November 2011).

…the Jewish relationship to wine has remained rooted in religious practice. Despite challenges in simply finding a bottle [or an amphora] of wine, our ancestors were able to maintain their wine traditions. I would venture to say that we Jews have the oldest codified relationship to wine of any people on earth. In this light, how could wine be anything but critical to Jewish life?

Jeff Morgan, quoted in Rob Eshman, “People of the Vine”, The Jewish Journal (30 August – 5 September 2013), 26.

While the other movements are engaged in soul-searching on how to deal with dwindling and aging membership in synagogues, the challenges to Orthodoxy are how to deal with its burgeoning numbers: how to cost-effectively educate the hordes of children the Orthodox are having, how to expand ever-growing synagogues, and where to establish new communities where housing costs—for large homes—are low. But from college campuses, to urban communities of singles and young couples, to suburban communities with families and empty nesters—the numbers all show that Orthodoxy is an attractive type of Judaism, one that is easily replacing any fall-off, and is actually expanding through a relatively high birthrate and an expanding professional outreach movement.
It would stand to reason that Orthodoxy’s greatest challenge—in America, Israel, and around the world—would be having too much self-confidence and sense of triumphalism.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, “Challenges and Opportunities for a Robust Orthodox Judaism”, Conversations Issue 17 (Autumn 2013/5774), 51.

In a statement repeated several times in Shas, Rava emphasizes the importance of an individual’s input in Torah study, that is, the process of making Torah one’s own. Let us look at AZ 19a, where this appears in the context of Rava’s ‘musar shmuess’ regarding Talmud Torah. … In other words, our task in studying Torah, if we merit it, is to put our own individual stamp on Hashem’s Torah by filtering it through our own understanding, as limited as that may be. The souls of Kelal Yisrael were all at Mattan Torah, and we each have our own portion of Torah assigned to us. Of course, that understanding, even if part of our ‘self’ contributes to it, must reflect true Torah values and modes of thought and argument. Clearly, this individual stamp on Torah learning applies to the Amoraim; after all, Rava was first and foremost addressing his own colleagues, who were Amoraim. Thus, we should expect that each Amora has his own individual understanding of various issues, and when they differ, seemingly isolated differences might be understood as expressions of a more general outlook.

Yaakov Elman, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza”, Hakirah 11 (Spring 2011), 61-62

R. Moshe Maimon called my attention to the Meam Loez’s discussion of the laws of niddah, addressed to both men and women, and there is no mention there of bringing anything to the rabbi. This omission was rectified by R. Aryeh Kaplan, who in his translation (vol. 1, p. 136) adds: “When in doubt, a competent rabbi should be consulted.”

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 2”, The Seforim Blog (25 March 2012), n. 2 {http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/03/answers-to-quiz-questions-and-other.html}

The title “rabbi” is indeed significant. This can be seen by the fact that when Sara Hurwitz was called Maharat there wasn’t any outcry, but when she was given the title “rabba” that is when the controversy really broke out, even though her job description didn’t change in the slightest. Does this mean that there was no objection to a woman functioning as a rabbi as long as she didn’t have the title? Only after she was renamed “rabba” did the RCA adopt a resolution rejecting the “recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.” Yet despite that resolution, there are synagogues where women are still serving, for all intents and purposes, as members of the rabbinate minus the title.

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 2”, The Seforim Blog (25 March 2012), n. 6 {http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/03/answers-to-quiz-questions-and-other.html}