Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guest Poster: B'nai Avraham v'Sarah: So You're Kosher But Not Glatt Kosher?

This was originally posted by Austin C. Moore on his Facebook page. He is a Conservative convert. Although, he seems to be more (Moore... haha) observant than many people who call themselves Orthodox.

Vayikra 19:33: "You (plural) shall not oppress the convert in your land."
Vayikra 19:17 - "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account."
Judaism has never been monolithic and homogenous, it has always been evolutionary. At one time Rabbinnic Judaism was the greatest heresy of its day. It had Sages who were brilliant. When did we stop. The transmission of law at Sinai did not stop in the generation of the Sages for every generation possesses capable Sages. The Torah was not given to the Haredim, but to all Israel.

Unfortunately, many use the Torah to divide rather than unify. Many have built fences not only around the Torah, but also around the synagogue. What happened to ahavat yisrael and klal yisrael? The fact remains that Judaism is larger than the Haredim, and their face is not the only face to Judaism. Their definitions are not the exclusive authoritative position on all things Jewish, or even halacha. (I think I just signed my warrant for gehinnom).

Many in the Orthodox Community act as if there is one brand of Judaism. Has there ever been one form of Judaism? We have been stratified by tribes. We had the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. We had Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. Even the Talmud includes minority opinions of the Rabbis! If we are supposed to brand those in the minority opinion as heretics, why does our Oral Torah include dissenting opinions?!?! At one point there was the mitnagdim and Hasidim. Was either more or less "Jewish" than the other? No. Look at the Sephardim and Ashkenazim? Which is more authentic Judaism? Neither.

Our Tradition teaches shivim panim, that the Torah can be read from seventy differently but equally meaningful perspectives. What happened to pluralism in Judaic thought? Which is correct: tucking in your tzitzit or wearing them out? Should you eat kosher or glatt kosher?

Placing those in cherem who cling to different beliefs is the antithesis of Torah. We can hold different beliefs and interpretations and remain faithful Jews. However, this Haredi alienation exists for those who challenge the religious authority of the generation, the self-proclaimed arbiter of what is Jewish. The words of the liberal Rabbis in the Torah who challenged the authority in their day are now cited to brand Jews as apikorsim. The words of yesterdays "heretics" are used to brand proponents of unpopular Jewish positions today as heretics. Is this not irony? Rabbi Helen Bar-Yaacov has a humorous adage, "Those who are less religious than me are heretics. Those who are more religious than me are fanatics."

Does having the longest payes or the blackest coat make you a "pious" Jew? What use is putting on a tallit if you slander your neighbor? Why do the Haredim defend the Iowa slaughterhouses as ritually kosher while the the meat was ethically trayf, and employees were mistreated. The Haredim have become so entrenched in ritual mitzvot that they trangress ethical mitzvot regarding gerim. They accuse progressive Jews of picking and choosing mitzvot and Torah when they largely engage in the same practice, but they are Orthodox so they define what is right and wrong.

We ask the age old question, "Who Is A Jew?" I doubt the Haredim today would accept Ruth's conversion if she appeared before them to marry in Israel today! Will the Moshiach ben David be "halachically" Jewish by Israeli Orthodox standards? The Israeli Supreme Court would probably insist on a pro forma conversion, "just to be sure." And he will have to undergo both Sephardic and Ashkenazic conversions just as the Ethiopian Jews to be fully accepted as Jews. Or yet a better scenario: The Chief Rabbi would ask, "Adon Ben David, can you present Ruth's conversion certificate?" Mr. Ben David presents it. The Chief Rabbi responds, "I'm sorry, but the rabbis on the Beth Din are not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate, Mr. Ben David." Oy Gevalt!

Recently, more than 1,000 of Rabbi Haim Druckman's conversion were nullified. Is there even a halachic precedent for nullifying a conversion? I can think of innumerable halachic problems nullifying a conversion can bring.

The Israeli Rabbinical Court has a list of less than 100 rabbis (not all of whom are living) whose converts they will accept. Israel will not even accept the Beth Din of America's converts anymore! This is such a slap in the face to the American Orthodox Community. What makes Israeli Orthodox Judaism superior? When will the Orthodox Community be on the same page? I thought these are the same people who said there is one Torah, one opinion, one authority, and one halacha. Well, then why are they all on a different page. They must have invalidated their premise that Judaism, even Orthodoxy, is homogenous.

It is expected that the Orthodox will not accept Reform and Conservative conversions. The same arguments they used against Reform and Conservative rabbis are now being used internally against their own Orthodox rabbis. When does this madness and mockery of Torah end?

The fact remains that there is no such thing as a universal conversion even in the Orthodox world. You may be accepted in America, but not in Israel. You may be accepted by Breslov, but not Lubavitch. You may be accepted by the Ashkenazim, but not the Sephardim. The thing is that you're kosher, but you're not glatt kosher. I don't eat glatt kosher, so being merely kosher has always been good enough for me!
For more information on the Division Between American Orthodoxy and Israeli Orthodoxy:
Here is a Conservative responsa regarding the annulment of conversions:
For more on conversions:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Are religious Jews becoming goyish?

I think it's appalling what I've noticed about Judaism. I understand that keeping kosher and Shabbos are important. However, I just can't get over the way people think it's ok to do all these other things that no one considers ok, even if they are doing it.

For starters, people in the regular society sleep around and such. Their reaction is, "I'm an adult, I can do whatever I want." Even though this has become common practice, I don't think anyone really thinks this is right, not even the people that do it. It's more about they don't care what's right, everyone else is doing this and no one is going to tell them what to do (hmmm.... ok this doesn't jive with my last post... but, hey).

Unfortunately for the Jewish people, instead the reaction is, "I do the right thing because I keep kosher and Shabbos, so if I want to sleep around, I'm not violating any Jewish laws."

It's time the rabbis start speaking out about some of the things going on in the religious world. I'm not the only one who feels this way. I recently saw that some posts online about the behavior of yeshivah bochurim. I've seen complaints about how they get goyishly drunk at weddings. I've seen how me samayach at weddings has turned into this license for these men to drop any decorim they might have in favor of drunken rowdiness.

This is not something I have seen first hand. I've actually not yet been to a Jewish wedding. However, I ran across complaints in completely different places on the the internet. I also saw that more than one person stated they can't believe rabbis aren't speaking out about this. The last post I read about this, they stated there were rabbis at the wedding witnessing this and they didn't say anything.

When the rabbis give their d'var Torahs, they are challenging the people to be a better person. Are they not? So, I challenge the rabbis to roll up their sleeves and really challenge the Jewish people to truly be on a level higher than all the goyim, instead of this refusal to acknowledge the heavy influence.

Live your own life, please

I would just like to take a minute to vent about the way everyone in the Orthodox Jewish world feels they have the right to butt into my life. What does it matter to them if I've been on a date in the last month or not? Not to mention, they should do some research into shidduchim and it's history.

Shadchans are only supposed to be suggesting matches that are compatible. If I tell them I don't have a TV and I want to cover my hair and rarely with a sheitel, their response is to set me up with a guy who wants a TV and wife who doesn't cover. In fact two different shadchans have tried to set me up with this same guy. I found his Facebook profile, he's looking for "random play" and he is Conservative. They think that a gyoress should be put with someone who sleeps around. Save those other guys for the good little FFBs.

So, ok, fine, I didn't have to convert, so why should I get anyone decent? Fine, I got it. However, then let me decide to stay single. Are you kidding me? We can't do that! Now that I'm Jewish, everyone can tell me what to do. I don't tell them how to live their lives, I wish they wouldn't tell me what to do with mine. It's that simple.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bo from 2007

The beginning of parshah Bo is the remainder of the ten plagues from Va Era. Moses warns the Pharaoh that locusts are next. They will eat all that has been leftover from the last plague, hail. So Pharaoh’s people convince him to concede, which does... almost. He stops to ask who will be going to worship G-d in the desert. When he finds out that the daughters and livestock will be going and not just the males, he changes his mind.

So, come the locusts to cover the land and eat the remainder of the land, as mentioned above. Pharaoh can’t take it. He calls for Moses and Aaron, “enough already, I’ll let you go, ok.” Ah, if it were only that easy. G-d made Pharaoh’s heart hard and he once again didn’t let the Israelite leave.

The ninth plague was darkness, darkness everywhere. Pharaoh acquiesced but, changed his mind. He was on a bit of a role with that.

Ah, the TENTH and FINAL plague: death of the first born. Now this was such a fitting plague. The Egyptians had this and that way of going after the first born. First they asked the midwives: Shifrah and Puah to check the birthstool for male babies and exterminate them. When they made excuses, then the Egyptians just decreed for the male babies to be thrown into the river. Now it was payback, all their first born males, animals and people, including Pharaoh’s son died around midnight.

This is when Nisan was instituted as the first month of the year because this is when the Israelites left slavery that had lasted more than a generation. Thus, these Israelites had spent their whole lives as slaves to Egypt. Pesach, the holiday that is upon us, started right here in this parshah. One was to pick out their lamb on the tenth of Nisan and then hold on to it until the fourteenth of Nisan.

On the fourteenth of Nisan, all Israelites would slaughter their lamb in the afternoon. They would then put the blood on the three sides of the doorframe on the outside. The lamb was roasted over a fire. Any left over was to be burned. It was to be eaten in haste.

The blood on the doorposts will cause G-d to pass over that house and not afflict it. From there it is discussed that one should clear their homes of anything leavened and they will not eat anything leavened for the duration of the Festival of Matzahs. It stresses that one does not get out of this if they are a convert or living outside of Israel. The Israelites did this exactly.

The final plague was exacted. Someone died in every house. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. He was so ticked, he not only let them leave, he couldn’t wait to get rid of them. So the people had to leave without their dough rising. They also borrowed gold and silver from the Egyptians.

It goes on to state that no gentile man may eat the passover sacrifice. They can become covenanted to G-d but, they may not eat it without that covenant (circumcision).

All first born males that initiate the womb, both man and beast must be sanctified unto G-d. Also, the Festival of Matzahs will continue for all time. We must explain to our child that we keep this festival because G-d acted on our behalf.

This is personalized for me because G-d has just delivered me from Harlem, a land very much NOT flowing with milk and honey to here in Queens, just in time to be fresh on my mind for my first Pesah.

These words will be included in the Tefillin. Passover will be a law for all time. This is where the redemption of the first born was instituted. All of this is because G-d brought us out of Egypt (and in my case, Harlem). We must remember G-d and his mercy to deliver us from our oppressors.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Modest is the best (poem)

A women looks best
When she is modest

It won’t hurt us
To be shomer skirtus

It’s very tzin-us
To cover your knee-us

A good Jewish girl knows
She must cover her elbows

It would be a wreck
If the collar was too far from the neck

I must confide
My body, do I hide

It’s not a goof,
Some like stockings bullet proof

Married Jewish women wear
Something to cover their hair

So, the way to be
is modest, you see...

Va'era D'var Torah (written 2007)

As always, the Hebrew lineage is established. In fact, the Levite lineage which was established last parshah, was established again.

The Tetragrammaton tells Moses to go to Pharoah and ask to let the Hebrew people leave to go out to the desert to worship their G-d, (the one not listed in Pharoah’s book). He tells Moses up front that Pharoah’s heart will be hardened. That’s pretty much how it goes. There are some plagues, Pharoah says he’ll let the Hebrew people go. He changes his mind. There are more plagues. He’ll let them go. He changes his mind. Also, Pharoah’s sorcerers can reproduce the plague but, only partially. It appears this makes him less willing to give in to the plagues and their Creator.

This is the parshah of the ten plagues. It was noted that the first nine can be broken down into three sets of three. In each of the first of three plagues, the warning was given to Pharoah at the Nile. In the second of three plagues, the warning was given at the palace. For the third plagues in each set, no warning was given. The tenth plague stands on it’s own. This was the plague of the first born son.

Another point to be made is that each plague was a response to the various stripped titles the Egyptians gave to the Hebrews.

On a personal note, He does always do what he says. I mean, that should go without saying, but, I’m saying it. The Tetragrammaton keeps his promises whether they are joyful or filled with dismay.

Parsha Shemos- my summary (written 2007)

This parshah, Shemot, starts of reestablishing the Hebrew lineage up until that point. Then it talks about the new king arising that feels threatened by the Hebrew people. So, he chooses to lash out at them, not of just cause, but of fear that they could do something to him, if they wanted to.

Besides overtaxing and slave driving the Hebrews, they asked the midwives who deliver their babies to kill all boy babies. However, these women, just lied and told the king the women delivered without midwives, before they got there. So a new decree was issued: just throw the boys into the Nile!

They establish that they are about to tell the birth history for a Levite child. The child was rescued from the side of the Nile by Pharoah’s daughter. She names him Moses, for she drew him out of the water. She raises him, but he somehow maintains his Hebrew identity since he sticks up for the Hebrew who is being picked on by the Egyptian.

When Pharoah found out his adoptive grandson was in touch with his Hebrew heritage, he wanted his head. So, Moses had to flee to Midian, where he found his wife, Zipporah. They had a son, Gershom.

Time had passed and so, the Pharoah and king in Egypt passed away. The Hebrew people there, got a break from the hard labor that was put on them at the very start of this book (and parshah.) So, G-d gives Moses the mission to go back to Egypt and take the Hebrew people out of there. He warns him that it won’t be easy. Pharoah will be stubborn.

One of the most important aspects of this parshah is introduction of another name of G-d. The Tetragrammaton actually translates into a powerful statement about His various omni qualities. The name of the Tetragrammaton actually means “I was, I am, I will be.” On one hand, this is a testament to His existence across the timeline. One the other hand, it is a commitment to each and every one of us. All you have to do is put the words, “there for you” at the end of the name. The result is a statement that He was, is and ALWAYS will be there for you.

Another reassurance in this parshah is the Tetragrammaton’s mercy. When Moses was asked to speak on His behalf, he did not want to do it because he is not an eloquent speaker. Moses begged to not to be asked to this. The Tetragrammaton reassures him that it will be fine because after all, He is the one who makes things fine or not fine. However, Moses just couldn’t grasp that peace of mind and begged again because all he can think is that he is not an eloquent speaker. Well, He gives in and gives sends his brother, Aaron to speak for him. Now someone in shul asked why the tetragrammaton gave in to his lack of faith. I think it is so obvious: because He is merciful, even when we are lacking.

This parshah can also be used to debunk the concepts that are the basis of the christian faith. After all, if His name defines a timeline of existence then the idea that He became a finite being is absolutely preposterous. Additionally, He speaks of His powers again when He reassures Moshe that he will be able to speak to the Hebrew people. If one acknowledges His power, then that person is a lemech to think He is not powerful enough to decide how He issues rights to the kingdom, as is taught in that other faith.

I found the section about the circumcision confusing, but, now, it’s clearer. When the Tetragrammaton tells Moses that his first born son is Israel who should be sent out to worship Him. He is telling him, your first born son has a destiny for the Hebrew people and thus, he MUST be covenanted. At least that’s what’s it seems to me. When Jacob was referred to as Israel in the last book, it was because that statement had bearing on the Hebrew destiny. For whatever reason, Moses doesn’t stop his travels for the circumcision. However, Zipporah, his wife, represented women in a positive light by doing it for Moses.

The last part of the parshah establishes the fact that the Hebrew people were made as slaves. They were expected to work for no pay. They were beaten when they didn’t meet quotas. They were not permitted to leave. I would call that slavery.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My story up until I started studying for conversion...

People always want to know my story. Why did I convert to Judaism? Where did I come from (religiously)? What are my parents?

My mother was Catholic. My father was raised at a United Church of Christ church, protestant. Neither one went to church while I was growing up. My parents were divorced on my second birthday. So, my mother (and grandmother) raised me. So, when it was time for a life cycle, Catholic was the way we went. However, my mom never went to church, let alone take us. My grandmother went. If I wanted to go, I could go with her but, I wasn't taken to church.

I always felt warmly towards Jews. I got, and of course still do, warm fuzzies seeing a star of David. I remember reading Anne Frank and seeing the movie, looking for the extra Jewish parts like Chanukah. However, our area would have been waspy if it weren't for the high percentage of Catholics. So, I didn't haven any encounters with Jewish friends growing up.

When I was in about fifth or sixth grade, I started going to a youth group at a church. I became a very religious xtian. In high school, I went to another church which was right wing fundamentalist. The women were really into skirt-wearing as proper attire. You weren't supposed to go to the movies. You weren't supposed to buy anything on Sundays. There should always be six inches between persons of opposite gender.

Eventually, I was attending x-tian college and I could no longer ignore the problems I saw with the religion. If He is Eternal, He couldn't have become a human? Why are there two different geneologies for this person that's supposed to be Him? The argument used is that one is Joseph's geneology and the other is Mary's. However, the doctrine states that Joseph was not the PERSON's father. So, what gives? Friday to Sunday morning is not three days and three nights. If they knew enough to record this birth, why was nothing but, one teenage incident recorded until the PERSON was 30 something?

So, I left x-tianity.

After making the decision, I was asked by people, "so what do you believe now?" That was a good question. I had to ask myself. I concluded that all the problems I had with the Bible were with this "new" testament, if you will. I didn't inconsistencies within the "old" testament. I decided that the G-d of the "old" testament was indeed, G-d, the Creator of the Universe and the Eternal One. I discovered this religion existed and that it's called Judaism. So, I had one Jewish Email pal and I asked him where to start. He did such a great job of dissuading me. However, I stopped celebrating Xmas, Easter and New Year's.

Fast forward several years. In June of 2004, I moved to New York City. I originally came to pursue a career in acting. However, being surround by Jews tugged at that thing inside me that caused me to look into converting previously. One day in the summer of 2006, I was walking in downtown Brooklyn, when a Chabadnic asked me if I was Jewish. I replied, "no, but, I-" The "I always wanted to convert," was cut off and he gave me a bnei noach card.

Well, I took that card home and I prayed on it. I prayed to Hashem if perhaps I was supposed to convert, that he should send me a sign. Perhaps I could make a Jewish friend or work for a Jewish person.

On the 26th of Elul (less than a month later), I started working for this Jewish guy.

I will continue the story another day...