What Does Judaism Say About Reproductive Rights?

June 27, 2019

By Rabbi Eli Freedman

In the spirit of lifting up women’s voices, I want to begin with the words of Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel in Boston. She writes, “Women have been wronged.Children have been wronged as well. No one is left untouched in the destructive legislation concerning abortions—especially, of course, women’s bodies, which have been viewed as the property of government.” Rabbi Zecher then goes on to quote this week’s portion, Behar, with the words: “Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I the Eternal am your God.”

We consider the specific command “not to wrong another” in light of legislation in Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere that has robbed women and those who love them of their own agency and, preemptively, in some states, indicted them as potential murderers. Although these heinous behaviors of lawmakers reflect a sinister strategy to get to the Supreme Court, they have trampled human dignity and decency on the way.

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Clergy Leadership Beyond Our Walls

May 29, 2019

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

I am so grateful to serve a congregation that cares not only about its immediate needs, but also about the broader Jewish community. All of our clergy work on initiatives beyond our walls. Such work nourishes us in our professional growth, contributes to the greater good of American Judaism, and offers us the opportunity for regional and national impact.

For instance, Cantor Frankel recently shared in the May Bulletin about her upcoming role as an officer on the Board of the American Conference of Cantors. Rabbi Freedman most recently joined the Board of Interfaith Family and continues his involvement in POWER and local and global multi-faith work, and I am concluding my term on the Board of the Jewish Federation and also service on the Board of Interfaith Philadelphia and on the Central Conference of American Rabbis Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate.

I have taken on a new short-term role, and I have an idea about how some of you might like to be involved. This December, I will lead the Friday evening Shabbat service at the Biennial convention of the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism. I am excited for the opportunity, and I enthusiastically invite you to consider joining me in Chicago for the 5,000-person convention of Reform Jews.

The large number of participants means this service is quite a production, so I am already planning the service. Presently, I am studying readings, poetry, and commentary I might like to incorporate into the service. I am focusing on readings that highlight relationships, connection, intimacy, and authenticity. Here is where I would like to invite your involvement. As I collect the commentaries, I would love to study them with you! I am so curious to know what you would find inspiring.

I plan to study the prayers and commentaries that I am considering for the service, along with parts of that week’s Torah portion, at our regular Torah Study session on Saturday, June 8 from 9:15-10:30am. I hope you will join the conversation!

Combating Anti-Semitism

April 9, 2019

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

I write this having just returned from the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). There, I moderated a panel about important work that is now taking place to combat anti-Semitism. This work was unknown to most of my colleagues, and I thought it may be unknown to you as well. So I would like to share with you what I learned.

The panel was comprised of Amy Spitalnick and Roberta Kaplan. On Shabbat, August 12, 2017, hundreds of Nazis or White Supremacists descended on Charlottesville. Amy and Roberta are the people who are suing the Nazis.

Amy Spitalnick is the Executive Director of Integrity First for America, an organization which holds accountable those who threaten the principles of our democracy. Integrity First is funding and supporting the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit filed by a coalition of Charlottesville community members against the Nazis responsible for the violence. Previously, Amy served as senior policy advisor and communications director to the New York Attorney General, and as advisor and spokesperson for the New York City mayor.

Roberta Kaplan, or Robbie, the founding partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, is a commercial and civil rights litigator, and an expert in cutting-edge areas of law. Robbie’s work is “Where Were You When” kind of work. Where were you when the Supreme Court ruled for Robbie’s client Edie Windsor and for marriage equality? I remember where I was. Where were you when the witness of #MeToo became the fighting words of #TimesUp? When Robbie co-founded the Times Up Legal Defense Fund? I remember where I was. Where were you when… the racists, the anti-Semites, chanted “Blood and soil” and then actually shed blood in Charlottesville? I remember where I was.

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Keep ‘Em Separated: Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Israel

March 26, 2019

Anyone remember the song, “Come Out and Play,” also known as, “Keep ‘Em Separated,” by the 90’s alternative band, Offspring. The story goes that inspiration for the “keep ’em separated” lyric actually came from frontman, Dexter Holland’s, experience in a laboratory cooling flasks full of hot liquids. He placed them too close together, realizing after he messed up the experiment that he needed to, “keep ‘em separated.”

If there is one thing you should know about this week’s portion, the entire book of Leviticus, and really the whole mindset of the ancient Israelite priests, the authors of Leviticus, it is, “keep ‘em separated.”

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Reform Zionism: Caring for Both Israelis and for Palestinians

March 19, 2019

by Rabbi Maderer

This article originally appeared in the March issue of the Rodeph Shalom Bulletin.

Last month, I expressed here, and in a sermon, my gratitude about my extended family’s trip to Israel. Several things made it deeply meaningful. I have an almost life-long relationship with Israel, having begun my visits as a child. In preparation, I read from Rabbi Larry Hoffman’s book about spiritual pilgrimage to Israel. My children were moved to journal every night we were there, and for a progressive lens, my family traveled with the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). The ARZA-led experience was important to me because it meant a critically thinking guide whose approach would feed my passion for Reform Zionism. Last month, I shared with you one critical aspect of Reform Zionism– that we need to own our place in Israel, our place at the Western Wall/Kotel, and our authentic place in Judaism.

This month, I would like to share another critical aspect of Reform Zionism. Much like Reform Judaism is devoted to cultivating a meaningful Jewish community and also caring for the other, Reform Zionism is devoted to the love for and support of the Jewish homeland and also caring for the other. Support for a Two-State Solution indicates the commitment to a home for two different peoples–both Jews and Palestinians. Too often, leadership voices and the media express polarizing views, as if we may only advocate for the Jews or for the Palestinians, as if human beings may care either for our own or for the other. I believe this is the false choice of those on the right who won’t speak of hard truths about the occupied territories to be spoken, and of those on the left who neglect to be transparent that Boycott Divestment Sanctions does not seek to make Israel a fairer place, it seeks to eliminate Israel. In a state established in the wake of the Holocaust and where over a million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries landed, in a state where security is so different that my hotels had bomb shelters but no chain locks on the room doors, and in a state that has occupied territories of other peoples, I cannot see how either the far right or the far left can alone lift up the truth.

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Parashat Ki Tisa: Religious Fanaticism in Israel

February 26, 2019

Israel’s non-profit SpaceIL launched its spacecraft from Florida’s Cape Canaveral last night in a bid to become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the moon. The unmanned craft, called “Beresheet,” a reference of course to the first word in the Torah, began an approximate seven-week journey to the moon, from where it will send back images of the rocky surface and conduct experiments on the lunar magnetic field.

This should be a time of pure joy and celebration for Israel. Yet it is not. In the same week in which we saw the best of Theodor Herzl’s Zionist vision, we also saw a much uglier side of the Jewish State.

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Staying at the Table: The Women’s March and Anti-Semitism

January 13, 2019

This week’s Torah portion, Bo, includes a text from the Passover seder.  Through my family’s seder table ruckus, I always hear the special emphasis my family reads in this part.

“And you shall explain it to your child on that day: ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

They always emphasize Me. I.  “It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt” (Ex 13:8). What is the point of the emphasis—me, I?  It’s personal! Our story of redemption, and the redemption we bring into this world with social justice—it’s personal.

This Shabbat brings the 3rd Women’s March, another step on the road to redemption—a road that for me, feels personal.  The ongoing and heightened dilemmas surrounding the March also feel personal. Read the rest of this entry »