Recently, a young woman who had suffered a miscarriage called Shoshana Samuels, who is a yoetzet halacha, a trained adviser in the Jewish laws of family purity. Samuels was able to answer the woman’s halachic (Jewish legal) questions about the bleeding following a miscarriage, but she had some questions for the woman.
Although the Orthodox community is committed to the existing ketubah document, whose language comes from the Mishnah, Blau said he has no problem with a bride and a groom making additional agreements and commitments, as long as they do not controvert Jewish law.
Parshat Acharey Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)
The traditional English translation for the disease tzora'at that is eponymous with this week's Torah portion, Metzora, is "leprosy." However, as our commentators explain, biblical leprosy was something very different from the bacterial leprosy of modern times that is attributed to the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae. Biblical leprosy traces to a different kind of disease, an infection permeating the spirit and the soul, the disease of lashon hara (or its Ashkenazic variant spelling, lashon hara): evil talk, tale bearing and gossip.
This season, several new haggadahs raise new questions. New interpretations bring new approaches to the seder, enabling readers and participants to bring new layers of meaning to their own celebrations of the holiday.
Parshat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
Were contributions toward the building of the Tabernacle voluntary or compulsory? Those of us who have stood before our communities during a building campaign have always tended to favor the latter option, as this makes for a more effective appeal. But the classical commentaries on the Torah -- presumably more objective in their approach to the question -- are rather evenly divided on it.
In his magnum opus on the history and development of Jewish civil law, "Ha-Mishpat Ha-Ivri" ("Jewish Law"), Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon remarks that basing a viable modern legal system on Jewish Law is no easy task -- "it calls for great intellectual effort, creativity and boldness."
While the questions associated with incorporating Jewish civil law into Israel's legal system are complex and beyond the scope of this column, I do wish to pose one modest question: Is it possible, in select instances, for the principles and spirit of Mishpat Ivri to serve as a quasi-legal and moral guide on certain matters of Israeli policy?
On Dec. 19, 2007, the U.S. Attorney General's Office filed an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California naming the Chasidic yeshiva and four other Spinka organizations, as well as eight people, in a multimillion dollar tax fraud and money-laundering ring that stretched from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to Israel and elsewhere.
I opened my mailbox to find several letters, a few bills and a host of requests for donations from various organizations that I have supported over the years. Because I am a stickler for organization, I sort the letters, place the bills in a folder marked "Look at me soon!" and the appeals for donations in one marked "Save the World." Between the needs of my local community, the Jewish community, our country and the world at large, I am seriously thinking about renting a storage unit for the hundreds of requests I receive annually.
There is a modern-day term for the inability to admit wrongdoing: sociopathy. A conscience that cannot feel guilt is capable of untold evil. An ability to look critically at ourselves, to see where we are wrong, is the beginning of making things right. Being right -- in the narrow sense of "correct" -- amounts to very little, if a correct position isn't also righteous. Joseph is correct in interpreting his dreams of domination and superiority to his family, but he is also insensitive and inflammatory. He is right again, according to midrash, in what he tells his father about his brothers' bad behavior. But in Jewish law, unlike American, truth is not a defense against defamation. Accuracy is not piety.
The Writers Strike is a Jewish issue. How do I know that? Because everyone is saying it's not. The writers who are demanding a larger share of DVD rights and residuals for their work and the producers who refuse to give it to them both say, repeatedly, that despite the fact that so many of them happen to be Jewish, the strike is not -- as Jewish writers and producers told our senior reporter Brad Greenberg last week -- a Jewish issue. To paraphrase a Clinton-era favorite, you can be sure that when everyone is saying it's not about being Jewish, it's about being Jewish.
From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs -- the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe -- already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.
"Judges and officers shall you place at all your gates."
Thus begins our parsha, which is one of the richest in rulings, teachings and commandments, and which is therefore concerned about enforcement.
Forget the Bible, the Talmud or even the Code of Jewish Law. When it comes to figuring out who pays for what at a contemporary Jewish wedding, today's families are more apt to consult Modern Bride or TheKnot.com.
Maya Nahor learned she wasn't Jewish from an Israeli bureaucrat.
The question of whether Talmud is indeed part of Jewish learning for girls and women in traditional Orthodox education has come under debate in the last two decades in Orthodox circles.
How should Conservative Judaism cope with dwindling membership, growing intermarriage rates and society's increasing religious and political polarity, while remaining true to its base in halachah (Jewish law)?
These two cases vividly illustrate the current problems of the modern day agunah (a woman chained to an unwanted marriage), because halacha (Jewish law) gives the husband the sole, unfettered power of divorce. While under Ashkenazic tradition a woman can withhold her "consent" to such a divorce, the remedies available to the victim of a recalcitrant husband or wife differ substantially.
Mangled metal and scattered limbs have a way of changing one's perspective.
On a warm night in Jerusa-lem, my friends and I sat at Cafe Hillel on Emek Refaim Street, sipping coffee and beer, enjoying the glorious freedom of the Israeli drinking age of 18. We Americans were happy to be away from home and eager to explore the culture of a new city.
The next night, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, a suicide bomber ripped Cafe Hillel apart, killing seven and wounding dozens. The gut-wrenching images from the scene flashed across the television screen, and I struggled to keep my eyes open. The explosion had reduced the cafe's chic exterior to rubble. Israelis do not censor news footage; I could see blood on the walls and the outlines of bodies on the street. While I could barely watch, the paramedics did not flinch; they had witnessed similar scenes many times before.
Hinda Leah Scharfstein sees the Torah as more than just the original source of halachah, Jewish law, and the earliest telling of our nation's birth.
"The Torah takes a holistic look at the individual, and it does tend to have a sort of healing effect on people," said Scharfstein, the executive director of Bais Chana Women's International, a New York-based nonprofit. "I attended my first holistic Torah retreat 20 years ago, and I have been involved on a professional and personal level with it ever since, and since then I have definitely felt better. My thinking has become healthier, and I feel more whole."
The Florida case of a woman on life support for 13 years has put issues of how we die and when and how doctors and others should intervene on the front page. Whatever the courts say about that case, however, will only apply to federal and Florida law.
What would Jewish law say about such a case? That question is important because the issues raised in that case confront Jews often as they care for their parents, spouse and other loved ones and as they contemplate their own dying process.
The basic Jewish principle about these matters is clear: We are, on the one hand, not allowed to hasten the dying process, but on the other, we are not supposed to prolong it either.
Some say Fanit Panofsky was destined to build a mikvah. In her native Morocco, her great-grandmother operated a mikvah. So, too, did her grandmother.
Later this year, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards will most likely reconsider the subject of homosexuality. As in the past, the extremes in these discussions are not listening to each other, and there's been no mention of an obvious problem with the proposals to make halacha more gay-inclusive. (Perhaps the problem just seems obvious to me because I move comfortably in both worlds, as a shomer mitzvot Jew who once identified as gay but now accepts the authority of halacha regarding human sexuality and has been "openly celibate" for more than a year.)
This year, 5763, Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat, the weekly observance that Sen. Joseph Lieberman calls "a sanctuary to put the outside world on hold and concentrate on what's really important -- your faith and your family." And although Lieberman, who was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, will experience the same joy he feels every Friday night as he takes off his watch and prepares to get into the Sabbath mood, during Rosh Hashana all activities are heightened -- the prayers are longer, the conversation more intense, the urgency to evaluate the past year and make resolutions for a sweet New Year more palpable.
No, Jeremy, you cannot wear 'liberty spikes' to your bar mitzvah party," I say, referring to the hair-style that transforms my son's head into the Statue of Liberty's crown.
"Mom, you don't understand," he says. "Even when I'm 50, I'll be spiking my hair."
In the opening book of his monumental code of Jewish law, Maimonides declared, "We are bidden to walk in the middle paths which are the right and proper ways...." The great medieval sage was articulating the golden mean, the principle that we should avoid extreme behavior, ethical or physical, at all times. The person who succeeds -- indeed, who navigates between indulgence and self-denial -- is, by Maimonides' standards, the wise one.
Many people assume that Jewish law unequivocally advocates capital punishment, because of frequent references to capital crimes and capital punishment in the Torah. But while Jewish law supports the death penalty in theory, the Oral Law makes it difficult, and in most cases impossible, to execute someone for murder, says Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of the Jewish Studies Institute of Yeshiva of Los Angeles and the chair of Jewish law and ethics at Loyola Law School.
A man who will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court next year that his planned execution in Florida's electric chair constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" can point to a 2,000-year-old Jewish law when he pleads his case.
These are the weeks that we read of our heroes. The book of Genesis tells the stories of the faith and tenacity of the fathers and mothers of our nation for whom every day was another stride in the uncharted waters of living in covenant with God. It was their passionate determination to keep the vision of a righteous and holy people alive that ultimately produced the Jewish people. But it wasn't always easy.