Monday, February 13, 2006

Glass ceiling for women educators?

Good discussion on AddeRabbi and Modern Orthodox Woman about women in leadership positions in the Orthodox world, particularly in women's learning institutions, and how they are restricted by the lack of the title 'rabbi' or an equivalent.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Masa to disaster

I was quite sceptical when Israel announced its Masa programme, mostly -- but not exclusively -- because it would drain funds from the already proven birthright, which is also potentially much more appealing to un/under-affiliated diaspora students. Several months on, it's been announced that the two organizations are negotiating a merger, because -- you guessed it -- the competition for funding wasn't benefitting anyone.
How would this work? The JPost quotes birthright people suggesting quite heavily that it would mean additional funding for birthright. Ha'aretz hedges its bets with the fears of both sides:
Critics of the union, including Beilin, say it will endanger the reputation and success of birthright. "Masa will not take off, and it might bring birthright down with it," Beilin says.
The Jewish Agency is concerned that the union will mean marginalization and a loss of control for Masa, which is considered to be the Jewish Agency's flagship project for the coming years. The chairman of the Jewish Agency's Education Department, Amos Hermon, says "Masa is a strategic move of the government and the Jewish Agency. Bringing in partners requires very serious consideration."
Personally I'm with Beilin on this. As I've said before, I just can't see thousands of Jews from the diaspora lining up for an entire year in Israel, unless they are already extraordinarily committed (mostly = going to yeshiva for the year), which the kids targeted by birthright, who are the ones whose Jewish futures we should be really concerned about, by definition aren't (see my previous posting on this, link above). Does birthright really want to be in bed with these guys? Wouldn't they be better off waiting a couple of years for Masa to collapse, at which point much of the money would revert back to them anyway? So far, there's been all this money lavished on Masa and it doesn't yet have anything at all to show for it -- other than the harm it's done to birthright.

The roots of Tu Bishvat

(First published Tu Bishvat 2005)

A few weeks ago we talked about the amazing malleability of Channukah, which meant something different to each generation. Today we celebrate Tu Bishvat which is, if possible, even more malleable than Channukah! Two nice explanations of this idea can be found here and here. In short, Tu Bishvat can be roughly divided into four historical periods:
  • Rabbinic/Economic: Tu Bishvat was first mentioned in the Mishnah (Tractate Rosh Hashanah) as the New Year for Trees – one of several new years to do with tithes. The fifteenth of the month of Shvat was, quite simply, a tax day which marked “the end of the arboreal fiscal year: tithes on fruit after this date belonged to the next year,” fruit from before this date belonged to the previous one. As a side note, Shammai wanted the New Year for Trees to fall on the first of the month. Would the festival of Aleph Shvat have caught on as well??
  • Mystical – After Israel’s exile tithing was no longer relevant and so the festival was neglected for a good 1,000 years. It only bloomed again (ahem) in sixteenth century Tzfat, where the Kabbalists, and in particular the AriZal (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria), resurrected it and gave it a new, cosmic face. The Ari was responsible for inventing the Tu Bishvat Seder and for initiating the custom of eating fruit on this day. The ceremony was imbued with Kabbalistic meaning – each fruit, each cup of wine etc. symbolised a Kabbalistic idea. In 1753 the Kabbalists produced a Tu Bishvat Haggadah called "Pri Etz Hadar" or "Fruit of the Goodly Tree."
  • Zionist/National: Tu Bishvat received another boost in the late nineteenth century when the Zionists connected it to the ideas of reforestation of the land of Israel and to the reblooming of the people of Israel in their land. To this day, Israeli school children plant trees on Tu Bishvat – a more recent phenomenon than they may realize. Incidentally, the Knesset held its first ever meeting on Tu Bishvat (1949), at the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem.
  • Ecological – In the 1960s, environmental activists began to use Tu Bishvat as a day to remember and promote universal ecological issues. This is more of a Diaspora/American face of Tu Bishvat, however….

Wishing you a multi-layered Tu Bishvat!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Does Islam really forbid the depiction of Muhammed?

The answer is, I don't know -- I'm not an expert on Islamic law and there have been various opinions expressed on this over the past week in the media. However, this blog has collected a series of images of Muhammed from the past few centuries, including many drawn by Muslims themselves. Whatever Islamic law says on the subject, drawing Mohammed has clearly not been a taboo, certainly not a reason for violence. Which either means that a great number of Muslims are ignorant about their own history and faith (as very well may be and as is not unusual in other religions, including our own, as well), or that there's a lot more to the stoking of this story than has been generally acknowledged -- or both.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More than you ever wanted to know about chulent

We've already discussed the etymology of the word chulent on this blog; here's another chulent-y fact I wasn't previously aware of:
in the old country, Jewish families would take their cholent to communal bakers' ovens. To protect the food's kosher status, the pot was sealed with a paste of flour and water, says Brooklyn's Matthew Goodman, who writes a food column for the national Jewish weekly newspaper Forward.
On the way home from schul, or synagogue, families would pick up their pots. Typically this task was reserved for the men and children of the family, writes Cairo-born food historian Claudia Roden in The Book of Jewish Food.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Damned if they do, damned if they don't

Just over a year ago, Bloghead noted that Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the director general of Israel’s rabbinical courts, told an event for Yad L'Isha -- the Israeli organisation which helps agunot -- that
“Recently Yad L’Isha has positioned itself as a fist/punch to the husband and a fist to the rabbinical courts... The day isn’t far when the rabbinical courts will boycott the organization. If Yad L’Isha turns Eli Ben-Dahan and the Dayanim into their great enemies – you will have wasted your work....”
At the time, we translated this as,
'you’re making life too difficult for us, it’s no longer as easy as it was to settle these cases by sacrificing the wives. We’re beginning to feel threatened – time to get rid of these feminists before they really start getting uppity.'
Well, now the rabbinical courts have made good on Ben Dahan's promise -- and gone one better. Not only are they boycotting Yad L'Isha, they are apparently breaking off ties with any and all organizations which fight for the rights of the agunot:
A spokesman for the management of the rabbinical courts said that the council was "reexamining its relations with women's organizations that claim to protect the rights of agunot."
Rabbinical judges David Malka and Avraham Sheinfeld, both members of the six-man council, told The Jerusalem Post that there had been no official announcement.
However, both men admitted that rabbinical judges were wary of their relations with the women's organizations...
Malka said that there was a lot of bad blood between the judges and the organizations. "We are bitter after all the attacks made by the organizations on the judges."
Unfortunately, there's been more than good reason for the organizations to challenge and attack the judges, who have routinely allowed men to blackmail their wives and keep them in unhappy marriages for decades, encouraged women to give up money that other courts have ruled are owed to them and generally treated too many women with contempt. That the judges react in this way show it's all about their ego. As judges, they are not beyond criticism, reproach or challenge and the fact they think they are, and that they can get away with this behavior, is deeply disturbing.
And if anyone doubted the court's lack of understanding of the women who come before them, you need only continue reading the esteemed judge Malka's comments to the Post, where he unashamedly
admitted that he encourages women to relinquish child support payments owed by the husband or other monetary obligations in order to facilitate the giving of a get (divorce certificate).
"Listen, this is money that she never earned," explained Malka. "Only in theory does it belong to her.
"For instance, according to the law the wife is entitled to half of a man's pension rights even though she never worked a day in her life. I do not think she should remain an aguna because she is stubborn about receiving her half."
That's right, according to judge Malka a woman who spends her life bringing up her family and looking after what is, after all, her husband's home as well has 'never worked a day in her life' and is not entitled to any financial security, and their children, apparently, do not deserve financial support from their father because it's their mother doing the asking. Not that his opinion should really matter; note to judge Malka, women are entitled to this money not by theory, but -- as you yourself noted -- BY LAW. That you think your job as a judge paid by the state is to talk them out of their legal rights is beyond presumptuous.
Of-course, I was being generous before -- it's not really about the judges' easily bruised feelings. With this move, the rabbinical courts are using the strongest means they have to very consciously pressure the women and the women's organizations into shutting up and just allowing them to continue colluding in the ruin of women's lives in peace and quiet, without having to answer to the public for their rulings and actions. But there's no use in the women shutting up; in the years when the women kept quiet or operated more quietly, nothing was done for them either. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't. I hope they do because the rabbis' latest reaction is the surest sign yet that they are feeling the heat and the public pressure to change their ways.

(Via OOSJ)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stop downplaying the WJC report

The AG's report on the WJC is out and the feeling among those who have addressed its findings in the blogosphere seems to be that Israel Singer and his colleagues have been completely exonorated. In addition, of course, everyone is jumping on the media coverage, particularly in the Jewish Week, for 'misrepresenting' what's in the report and simply blasting the WJC for the hell of it (or because they're terrible journalists and can't bear to admit they've been wrong).
Well, I beg to differ with the first point, and think that the second has allowed everyone to take their eye off the real issue.
The report, which I've read, is completely and consistently clear on one thing: nothing criminal went on at the WJC and there was no criminal intent. From that point of view, many of the suspicions raised against the organisation have proven unfounded. However -- and this is a big however -- it does, essentially, convict Singer et al of terrible financial mismanagement and negligence with what is NOT THEIR MONEY.
Says the Town Crier: "According to the Attorney General's statement, the WJC seems to be guilty of not much more than having been run like a Jewish Organization."
Well, sorry, the 'everybody does it' excuse simply doesn't cut it -- the only thing it's good for is as a warning to the other Jewish orgs who function this way to get themselves into shape, pronto. The report details some extremely serious issues and actions which -- while not criminal -- should not be downplayed. Officials at the WJC were using the organisation's money to pay for their children's school tuition, for G-d's sake, for life insurance for their partners, car leases, and acting completely carelessly with millions of dollars which again, were not theirs, but came in a large part from donors like you and -- well, not me, in this case, but you get the picture.
The fact is, in this day and age, Israel Singer saying that he simply isn't 'the organizational type' isn't good enough. All of these men are worldly, experienced and intelligent enough to have known better. If they can't handle the money, they should have hired someone who could, way before Mr Herbits was brought onto the scene. The fact is, again, if anyone is to blame for this entire episode, it is not Isi Liebler -- whatever his motives were, and it's clear that he's no tallit shekulo tchlet -- but the WJC men themselves -- for leaving themselves so outrageously open to it.
Think what you like of Gary Rosenblatt's coverage, Isi Liebler's motivations, etc etc etc, but that doesn't change the basic fact that this report is still extremely serious. The very fact that Mr Singer has been barred from taking up any position of financial management speaks for itself. This doesn't make him a bad man -- I'm sure the opposite -- but I'm sorry, if you donated money to the WJC, would you want him handling it? I wouldn't.

A systematic strategy, please

Not having learned the lessons from the Gaza evacuation, when the settlers' attempts to compare the Israeli government to the Nazis generated total disgust from the rest of the Jewish world, Mentalblog is calling the events in Amona a 'pogrom' -- completely devaluing, of-course, the experiences, suffering and deaths of the Jews over the centuries who went through real pogroms. Disgusting.
In the meanwhile, though, I do have to ask why Olmert decided to evacuate Amona at this exact point in time. The West Bank is littered with similar illegal settlements -- none of which I support; I want to see them all dismantled. What is the point of getting rid of one here, one there, though -- so much trauma when another ma'achaz will pop up tomorrow somewhere else and when others continue to exist anyway? What I want to see from Olmert, before the election, preferably, is a statement about how he is going to deal with the question of Israel's presence in the territories as a whole (not leaving it to our imaginations and suppositions -- 'everyone knows' what he's going to do is just not good enough), and then go about it in a planned and most importantly, systematic way. Get rid of all of them, get rid of all of those he wants to get rid of, get rid of none of them, but whatever he does, he should do it as part of a thought-out strategy, and not just as he goes along, as it suits his election campaign. There's simply no point otherwise.

UPDATE: According to Allison, the 'pogrom' accusations may have started with Effie Eitam.