Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Friday, January 11, 2013
When I was in college I studied a lot of modern political philosophy and social theory, reading and writing papers about the theories of Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Max Weber and many others in the “DWM” (Dead White Male) pantheon. I can’t say that I enjoyed studying all of these. But, there was something about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, one of the greats in that pantheon, that made me downright queasy. Part of it, I’m sure, was that the translation from the German of any philosophical work typically makes difficult reading into something virtually impenetrable. (Where is the verb?!) Moreover, despite numerous lectures and discussions I never fully understood the infamous “Hegelian Dialectic.” A few minutes of reading or listening to a lecture on it made my eyes roll back in my head. And then there was the fact that that embedded in all of his German philosophic idealism was a pervasive and pernicious anti-Semitism. Hegel had a profound influence on many later philosophers and writers who typically embraced his anti-Semitism as well. Put briefly, I am not a fan.
Now, former Senator Chuck Hagel is not Georg W. F. Hegel. As far as I know they are not related at all beyond the sound of their last names. And Senator Hagel never said anything that approaches philosopher Hegel’s anti-Semitism (who said, for instance, that Germany cannot assimilate the Jews because the Jews live an “animal existence that can only be secured at someone else’s expense”). Senator Hagel merely told Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East negotiator, in 2006 when he didn’t sign a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” I’m sorry, Nicholas Kristoff, even if it may be reasonable to disagree with policies of the Israeli government it is not OK to use the term, “Jewish lobby,” when doing so.
I understand that, despite this, AIPAC is not opposing the nomination of Senator Hagel as Secretary of Defense. I guess that puts me to the right of AIPAC on this issue which may make some people chuckle. But, there it is. One of the biggest decisions that the Obama Administration will make in its second term is whether or not to bomb Iran. It simply is not very reassuring to think that one of the people who will be making that decision might, possibly, maybe, be a little, teeny bit anti-Semitic. The “Jewish lobby,” after all, is apt to be quite vocal about attacking Iran if it is apparent that Iran has the bomb. Do we want someone as Secretary of Defense who might find the lobbying of said Jewish lobby offensive, or even off-putting? It makes me feel, well, a bit queasy.
On that note, I wish you a happy, healthy and non-anxious Shabbat.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Sunday, January 6, 2013
“Shalom, Mr. Sharansky!” I shouted. “Anachnu Reformim me’Artzot HaBrit, MiTenafly, New Jersey,” (Translation: We are Reform Jews from the United States, from Tenafly, NJ.) “We are celebrating the B’nei Mitzvah of several of our students.”
“Mazal Tov!” came the reply from the short man standing on the platform overlooking us and several other groups gathered to pray and celebrate at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
It was one of the more remarkable moments of an Israel trip filled with remarkable moments: Natan Sharansky, formerly known as Anatoly Sharansky, the famous Soviet Jewish refusenik, and now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel was watching our B’nei Mitzvah celebration.
Perhaps some explanation is in order here: This past Monday morning the participants in our Temple Sinai Israel trip gathered together to celebrate the B’nei Mitzvah of several students in our group (including my own daughter, Sarah). The site we chose is typically referred to as, “Robinson’s Arch,” but is actually the southern part of the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Herod. The difference between the part of this wall called, “The Kotel” (“The Wailing Wall” or “The Western Wall” in English) and the site where we met is that the former was the part of this wall that had remained visible throughout the ages and became a sacred site to Jewish pilgrims and visitors. The latter was exposed through an archaeological dig. Moreover, and most critical to our visit, the Robinson’s Arch site, unlike the Kotel/Western Wall, is not under the jurisdiction of the Western Wall Heritage Council, which is completely controlled by the Ultra-Orthodox. It is an archaeological park open to all, and allows visitors to gather in prayer (by appointment, at certain set times) without conforming to Ultra-Orthodox customs and restrictions.
As it happens, those restrictions have become the source of a major, international Jewish controversy, which recently reached the front page of the New York Times. The group, “Women of the Wall,” has been fighting since 1988, in their words, for “the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.” While not made up of Reform Jews per se – only a minority of the members identify with our Movement – its mission is very much in sync with our Movement and its leader, Anat Hoffman, happens to be the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In October Anat Hoffman was arrested by the Western Wall police for attempting to pray there with 250 women attending the centennial convention of Hadassah. (Officially she was accused of disturbing the peace for singing out loud at the Western Wall. The law says, "No religious ceremony shall be in held in the women's section of the Western Wall.") In December my colleague and friend from Franklin Lakes, Rabbi Elyse Frishman, was detained for wearing a tallit at the wall.
While in Israel our group celebrated Havdalah with another friend, Rabbi Rachel Shabbat Beit Halachmi, a Reform rabbi, Hebrew Union College professor and Shalom Hartman Institute fellow. She spoke with us about why this issue has taken on so much significance, pointing out that it touches on three major, hot-button issues in Israel: the status of women in Judaism, the status of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel and the rights/standing of diaspora Jews in Israel. Consequently such a seemingly small action as a few women gathering at the Kotel each month on Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the new month, a traditional women’s holiday) to pray together has taken on such symbolic significance and become an international incident.
In any event, I hope in some small way we helped Mr. Sharansky see how beautiful Reform worship can be and how committed we non-Orthodox Jews are to celebrating our commitment to Judaism at our most significant, ancient holy site. We’ll see what he decides. In the meantime, if you want to let Natan Sharansky know how you feel you can send a letter to:
Mr. Natan Sharansky
The Jewish Agency For Israel
48 King George St.
Hope you all have a wonderful 2013.
Rabbi Jordan Millstein
p.s. If you want to learn more about all of our adventures in Israel just go to the Temple Sinai of Bergen County facebook page, where numerous pictures and anecdotes are posted.