Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Migrated fb note part 3: On equal marriage.

An Open Letter to Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London

31 May 2013 at 01:42
Calling all those who believe in either religious freedom (+ freedom from religion) or LGBTQ rights, or both. Today, one of my heroines, Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner shared a letter from a leading Quaker which he had sent to a member of the house of Lords, urging them to support the passing of law which would allow same sex marriage in "religious" venues by "religious" leaders. This is the letter I sent to Lord Sacks. Why don't you write one too?

כ"א סיון תשע"ג
30th of May 2013 according to the counting of the Christian Kingdom of Great Britain

Dear Lord Sacks,

I write to you, not in your esteemed position as Chief Rabbi of the Jews of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, but as Baron Sacks of Aldgate of the City of London, a Lord of her majesty’s government, and a protector of the rights of Britons in that government. I write to you about an issue dear to your heart, and to the heart of all Jews – namely religious freedom. You have written so eloquently in your book, “The Dignity of Difference” and elsewhere about the need for societies to recognise the search for truth within all religious traditions. You have been a constant voice for the promotion of a society in which each individual will be able to simultaneously draw inspiration and energy from their own tradition while being able to see the value and importance of others’ religious beliefs and join together with others to create a more just and equal society. Your criticism of the “I” culture resonated beyond sectarian boundaries as a clarion call for a more collective view of societal responsibility. You have been a leader in showing this country that all humans are created בצלם אלקים as equals, and that we all have a responsibility to defend the religious rights of others.

As such I beseech you to defend my religious rights. As a Progressive Jew, and a Reform Rabbi, I am moved by my belief in Torah, which for me is an עץ חיים – a tree oflife – a source of never ending, continuous revelation, to see, as you do, that all of us are created, בדמות אלקים. It is clear to me that the divine image in all of us demands from each of us that we be treated equally before the law. As such, I am divinely obligated  (מצווה) to respect the needs and wishes of my members – whether they be straight or gay, lesbian or bisexual. As you well know, our tradition teaches that humans are createdwith the need to seek עזר כנגדו – a help-mate in life. While my human cynicism may question the romanticism of this single-partnership vision, and while the Jewish tradition has historically allowed for multiple partners, in the society in which we live, monogamy and monoandry have become part of our societal and religious fabric.

As such, though I speak for myself, and not my community, as a religious leader, I understand myself to be morally, ethically and religiously bound  (מצווה) to perform ceremonies which celebrate the love and commitment of two people to each other. I view these ceremonies as a ברית אהבה – a sacred covenant of love. Moreover, given the nature of the establishment of religion in this country and the failure of the country to divorce religion from the state, as a religious leader, my role is also a legal one. And as such, if I am disbarred from marrying two people of the same gender, the state is actively squashing my religious freedom. I urge you, in your position as a member of the House of Lords to support my religious rights and freedoms and to join with other defenders of Jewish rights, such as Baroness Neuberger, in seeking a change in the law which will allow these religious marriages between two partners of the same gender to take place in my synagogue. As you know – this will in no way affect your own religious rights, nor those of anyone who does not wish to have them affected, but you will be a champion for those of us, whose religious beliefs are currently unrepresented in law.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Haim Shalom

Migrated Notes part 2: On Shechita

Another little rant...

23 June 2011 at 21:53
I feel that in recent years I have become much better in the self-righteous lecturing stakes when it comes to vegetarianism. This rant isn't really about vegetarianism, it is actually about the stupidity of a public Jewish figure not knowing what Jewishness is all about, so meat-eaters - I am not attacking you. Unless the Chief Rabbit reads this, in which case - yes I am attacking what you said (but not you personally, you seem very nice in person)...

So, I'm skimming through Ha'aretz online, as one does at the end of the day, when the little one has gone to bed, and I find this rather interesting article:


all about Holland banning kosher and Halal slaughtering. As always, I am torn between the fact that I don't really support Kosher slaughtering (or any slaughter for that matter), and the fact that I know that it isn't really about animal cruelty, but more about ignorance and probably a little bit of anti-Muslim prejudice. Anyway - I am reading along laughing at how we think we are so important (there are twenty times as many muslims in Holland as Jews, but somehow we still think it is about us). And then I get to this quote from Lord-on-High Sacks,

"If pre-stunning were made compulsory under Dutch law, Jews would be unable to practice a central element of Jewish life which has been continuously practiced for over 3,000 years"

Excuse me? What? What are you talking about? Slaughter is a central part of Jewish life? Methinks not, sir. No - in fact you are completely wrong. Ritual slaughter is part of a framework in Jewish law that allows us to eat meat. Eating meat is not in any way central to Jewish life**. We are not commanded to eat meat. There is no special bracha for meat (unlike Bread, wine, fruit, vegetables, etc). Eating meat is not central to being Jewish, and anyone who thinks so is the kind of idiot who says that whatever they like to do is central to being Jewish. If I were to suggest that as a Jewish Man Utd fan, I think that supporting Liverpool is idolatry, I would be perfectly correct from a Man Utd point of view, but from a Jewish point of view, I am just talking rubbish. So well done Lord Sacks - you get the 5771 David Taylor prize for talking absolute rubbish on behalf of the Jewish people.

So Lord Sacks - please read the TaNaKh, or failing that a little bit of RaMBaM or Rav Kook, who you claim to be a fan of, or just any book of actual Jewish law, and you will discover that you are obviously deluded - that the Jewish tradition does not consider the eating of meat to be central to its practice, or at least it certainly hasn't done since our temple was destroyed 2000 years ago. On the other hand, we do pray to be returned to Zion three times a day. And yet that central plank of the Jewish tradition, you seem quite happy to ignore.

** anyone mentions the irrelevant piece of aggadata that states that there is no simha without meat gets a prize for accessory for stupidity. Not everything ever written in the Talmud makes any particular practice of central importance to Judaism. The talmud also says that Persians have sex with their clothes on. My guess is, that doesn't make it true.

Migrating Notes from facebook to here: part 1 - On faulty logic

This was a note from my facebook page over 3 years ago. It might have been what made me start the blog. I don't remember. Anyway... 

A little rant about faulty logic.....

30 May 2011 at 15:51
It may be time for a little rant. I hate faulty logic. Just hate it - in particular this nugget of half-truth/ pure bullshit that I was told again today. Someone told me that it was "scientifically proven" that women are better drivers, and brought as proof the fact that in civilised countries, there are special deals by insurance companies that give women better insurance. This is not true. Don't get me wrong - women might well be better drivers,  but I am sure it can't be proven that they are, and certainly hasn't been yet. But I don't care about that - I care about the faulty logic. Women get better insurance because they are less likely to get sued by someone else for damage done. This has a number of causes, most of which it is hard to say lead to the claim that women are better drivers.
As a rule men drive a lot more than women (Far greater number of men commute long distances for work) - hence when an insurance company insures a man for a year, it is possible that they are insuring him for twice or three times as many hours on the road. Moreover - even when involved in an accident, and even when they may have caused one, women are less likely to get sued - either because of chivalry/chauvinism/sexism or because they are less likely to get into an argument -whatever! But it doesn't prove they are any better drivers! That is faulty logic! Now if someone argued that on average they believed that women were better drivers because among men there is a sub-culture of machismo which encourages young male drivers to act like boy-racer idiots, then I would buy it. Or if someone were to claim that society equates fast-driving with manliness and hence women are less apt to drive irresponsibly, i would agree - but the ridiculous insurance thing just does my nut. A definite case of (Alexandra - this is for you) Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

Rant done.


To be at home
is not a geographical reality.

To go home
is not a physical journey.

To leave home
is not an easy decision.

is not just where the heart is.

is where the kishkes are.

Where I grow.
Where I see the future.
Where that future is mine to build.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Thoughts on returning to a land at War....

My heart is in the east
And my suitcase is packed.

Leaving home
To go Home.

Looking to a promised land
with so little promise.
Aching to be there
Waiting to be there.

But praying that peace will come
Knowing that it will not come ...
... soon enough.

Written after the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha'ar and Muhammed Abu Khdeir

A parent should never have to bury a son.
God, don't bury your sons and daughters in violence.
Don't drown us in blood.
May we live to praise your name.
May we live to see your image in each other.
May we live.
In peace.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My 2 shekels' worth on the Rabbi Kimche Letter

I was originally going to write this as a response on the facebook wall of Andrew Gilbert, but obviously it got a bit long for a response...

I am referencing Rabbi Alan Kimche's Open Letter about Limmud which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/andrew-gilbert/rabbi-kimches-infamous-innaccurate-and-in-some-cases-offensive-article-on-attend/10152061054651392 and also Dr Harris Bor's response which you can find here: http://jacquelinenicholls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/lets-be-honest.html

I thought Harris Bor's response on Jacqueline Nicholls blog was exceptional, spot on, humourous and incredibly insightful. But I was not in any way offended by the original letter from Rabbi Kimche. I may have found it to be inaccurate (nothing new when talking about Orthodox rabbis characterisations of non-Orthodox Judaism - have we forgotten that the former Chief Rabbi of the US called Reform Jews, "those who destroy the faith" and a "false grouping"). I thought that what he said about LGBTQ Jews was offensive, but I was not offended, since I would expect nothing else - mainstream Orthodox Judaism is homophobic. So I think that Rabbi Kimche's main point needs to be understood - let's be honest.

Rabbi Kimche, from what I know of his reputation (and I might be wrong), is a good representation of mainstream orthodoxy's rabbinate. What we need to be honest about is the fact that the vast majority of UK Jewry doesn't believe in the type of Judaism these people espouse, and yet for the past couple of centuries, they have been propping up this necrotic institution of the United Synagogues and their affiliates.

I think that we should have an open honest conversation, and we don't need to take offence too easily when people disagree with our viewpoints, our understanding of the world or our values. I disagree with Rabbi Kimche, but we can disagree and respect each other's right to do as we wish, and he has every right to use his office to convince people why they should reject the wonderful beit midrash which is Limmud. He has every right to reject my understanding of Jewish history and Jewish identity.

If there is one place where Dr Bor's characterisation of narrow-minded Orthodoxy fell down, I believe, it is in the idea that he believed that somehow this type of Orthodoxy will cease to be vibrant. Dr Bor recognises that in fact, intolerance breeds itself very well and that the anti-modern forms of Jewish community are the only ones genuinely thriving numerically in the UK and around the world. We, on the liberal side of this debate also need to be honest - and admit that Rabbi Kimche has some good points to make (isn't that the point of the Limmud ethos - that we can learn from those people with whom we fundamentally disagree). When he accuses non-Orthodoxy of encouraging assimilation, he is obviously talking from ignorance, but nevertheless, it encourages us to ask genuine questions about what assimilation does mean to us today and where we stand on such an issue. How do we anticipate and react to the growing numbers of Jews who find non-Jewish partners and how do we help them to create meaningful lives within these partnerships?

Most of all, I think that the Progressive reaction to Rabbi Kimche's letter misses the main point - which is that it is not talking about us at all (though of course we are pawns used by him to make his point). But Rabbi Kimche is not talking about us and he is not talking to us, but rather to those members and leaders of "modern" or "open" orthodoxy, and he is asking them to be honest. He is asking people who use the moniker of Orthodoxy to be honest about that usage. In what way are "Orthodox" leaders who reject his fundamentalism, reject his obscurantism, reject his intolerance, reject his homophobia, reject his xenophobia really Orthodox? That is the question he is asking, and the honesty he is seeking. In the end it has nothing to do with Progressive Judaism - we just look on from the sidelines, wondering whether the leaders of "Modern" or "Open" Orthodoxy still want to share a camp with Rabbi Kimche and the other Orthodox rabbis who oppose dialogue and debate, or whether they want to share a camp with those who support it.

I am not trying to deny the leaders of Open or Modern Orthodoxy the right to define themselves as they wish, or to re-define Orthodoxy, but I would ask, together with Rabbi Kimche, for some honesty. I think that the leaders who Rabbi Kimche wants to reach, people like the incredible (Hopefully chief-rabbi-to-be), Rabbi Rafi Zarum, could probably give a fascinating response to Rabbi Kimche and to me, about the radical honesty which underpins Open Orthodoxy. I would love to hear it.