Mazel Tov, Orthodox Montreal Clergy – Woman – RABBA


Six years after serving Congregation Shaar Hashomayim as its first female clergy member, Rachel Kohl Finegold is changing her title from “maharat” to “rabba,” because she is confident her community is now ready for it.

In a June 27 article in The Forward – headlined I am an Orthodox Clergywoman, and I am Changing My Title – she explains the reasons for her decision.

To her, the title “rabba” recognizes that she “can fill a rabbinic position without compromising my adherence to the halakhic parameters for women.”

The Shaar is the largest and second-oldest congregation in Montreal.

In 2013, Rabba Kohl Finegold was one of three women in the inaugural graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat in New York, which was the first institution in the world to train and ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities.

The New York native, now 39, has been serving the Shaar as director of education and spiritual enrichment since then.

“Maharat” is a Hebrew acronym denoting a female “leader of Jewish law, spirituality and Torah.” “Rabba,” which is used by some ordained women in Orthodoxy’s liberal wing, has been contentious because of its similarity to the word “rabbi.”

The ordination of women is not recognized by mainstream Orthodox bodies, such as the Orthodox Union or the Rabbinical Council of America.

Rabba Kohl Finegold writes: “I have found the title (maharat) to be unsatisfying for those on all sides of the issue of Orthodox women’s ordination. More liberal-minded Jewish feminists may feel it does not sound rabbinic enough, that it shies away from the fact that I have the same ordination as any Orthodox rabbi.

“Traditionalists, on the other hand, those who object to the ordination of Orthodox women regardless of the title, may feel the title ‘maharat’ might be masking some hidden agenda that I have not been honest about, or even, at some point down the line, that I intend to violate halakhic norms.”

She notes that “maharat” is “an invented acronym only a decade old.” It is little understood, she says, and is difficult to pronounce.

“The time is ripe for me to move toward a title that is more rabbinic to the ear, and more familiar to the tongue,” she writes.

Rabba Kohl Finegold says she has the support of her synagogue’s leadership and even the more traditional congregants now accept that the term “rabba” more accurately reflects her clerical role.

In addition to her educational and programming duties, she can officiate at weddings (but not sign as a witness on the ketubbah) and at funerals (but not be counted among the minyan for Kaddish).

The title “rabba” was first used by Sara Hurwitz, who was the first woman ordained by Yeshivat Maharat founder Rabbi Avi Weiss, a few years before the inaugural class. It stirred considerable controversy.

Those in Rabba Kohl Finegold’s inaugural class could choose the title they wanted. One of the other two graduates was Abby Brown Scheier, the wife of the Shaar’s Rabbi Adam Scheier and an educator, who has been using the title “rabba” for a couple of years. She is not on the synagogue’s staff.

Rabba Kohl Finegold says she always hoped for a title that was a feminized version of the word “rabbi,” but put that aside in favour of the less contentious word “maharat” when she was hired by the Shaar.

“This community was taking a risk on me. They would be the first congregation in North America to hire an institutionally ordained Orthodox woman as part of the clergy,” she writes. “As they took this courageous step, they needed to ensure that this monumental change would be accepted, and that my title would not be divisive.”

To read the remainder of the article click here.

Jeff Ballabon – The Dangers to Secular Jews When those Secular Jews Agree that non-Orthodox are Not Really Jews, Trump

Trump’s Orthodox Whisperer

DURING A FOX BUSINESS INTERVIEW IN MARCH, Donald Trump’s former campaign advisor Jeff Ballabon called Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar “filth.” When host Stuart Varney suggested that, perhaps, “filth” might have been too strong a word for the Muslim congresswoman and Somali refugee, Ballabon doubled down. “She is a filthy disgusting hater,” he spat. It had been over a month since the start of the media fracas over Omar’s tweets criticizing the pro-Israel lobby, for which she faced calls to resign as well as death threats. By April, a 55-year-old Trump supporter was calling the congresswoman’s office and threatening to “put a bullet in her fucking skull.”

At first glance, Ballabon’s Fox appearance might seem like just another iteration of what has become a sad, dangerous routine in American politics—another Trump surrogate spewing invective and riling up the base on daytime TV. But Jeff Ballabon is not just another Trump surrogate.

A former media executive—he once headed communications for CBS News—and a veteran Republican operative, Ballabon has worked for roughly two decades to turn Orthodox Jewry into a mature political force allied with the Republican Party. Now, under Trump, that alliance has begun to pay big dividends—not only on Israel, long a focus of Orthodox politics, but on domestic issues as well. Indeed, never before has Orthodox Jewry, and the Jewish right more broadly, had such access to a president. 

With this increased power and influence has also come a change in political style—one that Ballabon’s comments in March, as well as his Twitter feed at all times, exemplify. Angry, vitriolic, even vulgar, contemptuous of “political correctness” and unafraid to traffic in racist tropes, this is Jewish politics in a new key—and Ballabon wants to be a leading composer. His transformation from behind-the-scenes campaigner to aspiring movement leader reflects the emergence of an assertive, aggressive Orthodox Jewish right that has already reshaped American politics—as well as intra-communal Jewish politics—and could continue to for years to come.

Ballabon’s path from political fixer to Trump proxy maps the Republican Party’s trajectory from the “compassionate conservatism” of the George W. Bush era to the gleeful cruelty of Trump. He began his career not on the fringes of the right but at its center—as legislative counsel for Missouri Sen. John Danforth, who by today’s standards would be considered a moderate. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Ballabon cultivated close ties with the Christian Right, then at the apex of its power, which he identified as both a potential model for a new Jewish politics and a more natural partner for Orthodox Jewry than liberals in the Democratic Party, which was (and remains) the political home for the majority of American Jews.

After Bush’s victory in 2000, Ballabon became, as the right-wing Jewish paper The Algemeiner put it, the administration’s “unofficial liaison to Orthodox Jews.” In 2004, he worked on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, during which he devised a strategy to turn the Orthodox into reliable Republican voters. He succeeded. In Long Island’s heavily Orthodox “Five Towns,” for instance, support for Bush jumped from less than 30% in 2000 to more than 60% in 2004; in the ultra-Orthodox Rockland County enclave of New Square, which went for Al Gore in 2000, Bush won in 2004 with roughly 98% of the vote. The Orthodox communities that shifted to the right in 2004 have, for the most part, heavily favored Republicans ever since

Having made his name as the keeper of the keys to the Jewish vote—Ballabon was the subject of a fawning 2005 New York Observer profile by Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News—he would go on to work for several Republican campaigns, among them Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.

Today, Ballabon has become one of President Trump’s most prominent Jewish surrogates, making regular appearances on various Fox News shows and weighing in on Jewish-related matters as an authentic, kippah-wearing spokesman. (Ballabon comes from a non-hasidic Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community.) He has appeared on the America First radio show hosted by Sebastian Gorka—a member of the Viteszi Rend, a racist Hungarian nationalist order founded by Hungary’s antisemitic, Nazi-collaborationist leader, Admiral Miklos Horthy—and he has defended Gorka from charges of antisemitism. While Instagram grifter Elizabeth Pipko has played the face of the bungled “Jexodus” initiative—which claims to be leading American Jews out of a Democratic Party turned irrevocably antisemitic—it is Ballabon who has led the astroturf movement from behind.

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Lakewood, NJ Pool Segregation Rules Adjudicated Unlawful by 3rd Cir. Judge

Correction: The initial title of this article read “2nd Cir.” It should have read 3rd Cir. Thanks to the person who caught the mistake.  Corrected 24.4.19

Judges rule sex-segregated pool schedule unlawful at condo in Lakewood, NJ

While they stopped short of ruling that any gender-segregated pool is unlawful, one of them expressed “vehement disapproval of segregation” over the “separate, but equal” policies.

Swimming pool. Credit: Max Pixel.

Swimming pool. Credit: Max Pixel.

 The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found on Monday that a condominium’s sex-segregated pool time policy in the heavily dominated New Jersey neighborhood of Lakewood discriminated against women.

The court ruled for a group of owners who sued after each were fined $50 by their condominium association for violating the rules of A Country Place Condominium Association about the pool that includes separate swimming times for men and women in accordance with strict modesty standards upheld by Orthodox Jews, who consist of two-thirds of the association’s residents during of the 2016 lawsuit.

The judges said the policy violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the federal Fair Housing Act, which “makes it an unlawful housing practice to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin.

The judges said “inequitable features” in the swimming schedule was unlawful in that on weeknights, women were allotted 3.5 hours of pool time after 5 p.m., while the men had 16.5 hours. Only 25 hours were allocated for people of all sexes.

Judge Thomas Ambro ruled that “women with regular-hour jobs thus have little access to the pool during the work week, and the schedule appears to reflect particular assumptions about the roles of men and women.”

To continue reading click here.

Lakewood, New Jersey – Gate Unlocked for Sabbath Observant Jews, Settlement

Lakewood community unlocks gate for Orthodox Jews after Sabbath complaint

LAKEWOOD – An Orthodox Jewish man has struck a deal with his homeowners’ association to unlock a pedestrian gate key to Jewish observances at the 55-and-over community in Lakewood, ending a dispute that served as another cultural flash point in the fast-growing township.

Nathan Reiss filed a state discrimination complaint in December 2017 claiming The Enclave’s pedestrian gate prevented him from walking to a synagogue because the gate required the use of an electronic key card. During the Sabbath, those observing the Orthodox Jewish faith are forbidden from driving or using electricity.

More:Lakewood seniors ‘get out of Dodge’ as Orthodox Jewish home buyers move in

Tuesday, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced a deal between Reiss and The Enclave, in which the gate would be unlocked during Sabbath hours and on Jewish holidays.

“This settlement should serve as a reminder to housing associations, condo associations and co-ops across New Jersey that being sensitive to the religious beliefs and observances of their residents is not only the right thing to do, it is the law,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

To continue reading click here.

New York, the Orthodox Jewish Community and the Measles

Why Measles Hits So Hard Within N.Y. Orthodox Jewish Community

The Rockland County, N.Y., woman hadn’t told her obstetrician that she had a fever and rash, two key signs of a measles infection. A member of the Orthodox Jewish community there, she went into premature labor at 34 weeks, possibly as a result of the infection. Her baby was born with measles and spent his first 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The infant is home now, but “we don’t know how this baby will do,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner for Rockland County. When young children contract measles, they face a heightened risk of complications from the disease, including seizures or hearing and vision problems down the road.

The measles case Ruppert described is just one of many. New York state’s outbreaks, which began last October, have gone on longer and infected more people than any other current outbreak nationwide. More than 275 cases of the disease have been confirmed statewide through the first week of March, primarily in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and in Rockland County towns northwest of the city.

That total makes up about half of the 578 confirmed cases in 11 states that were reported nationwide by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from January 2018 through the end of last month. Washington state, with 76 cases by the end of February, has the second-highest number of cases.

Measles cases in New York have been concentrated among children from Orthodox Jewish families, many of whom attend religious schools where vaccination rates may have been below the 95 percent threshold considered necessary to maintain immunity. The outbreaks began when unvaccinated travelers returned from Israel, where an outbreak persists, and spread the disease here.

Besides geographic proximity, cultural identity may contribute to an outbreak taking hold in the close-knit Orthodox community — a feeling that their worldview is not in keeping with modern secular society, said Samuel Heilman, a Queens College sociology professor who has authored several books about Orthodox Jews.

“It’s about a view that we have our ways and they have their ways,” he said.

Although some Orthodox Jews claim that vaccinations are against Jewish law, that’s not correct, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, who is also a rabbi and chairman of the department of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island. “There’s not a single opinion that says vaccination is against Jewish law,” he said.

As public health officials and health care providers battle to get the outbreaks under control, one of their biggest challenges is communicating to people that measles is a menacing disease to be taken seriously.

“People don’t want to get vaccines because they don’t think they need them,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The public may have grown complacent. Before the vaccine program began in the United States in 1963, as many as 4 million people became infected every year. Nearly 50,000 were hospitalized and up to 500 people died annually. By 2000, measles was a disease that public health officials said was essentially eradicated in the U.S., thanks to a comprehensive vaccine program that reduced the number of cases by 99 percent.

But measles has crept back in recent years, in part because of fears fanned by anti-vaccine activists who have claimed, without evidence, that vaccines cause a variety of problems, including autism.

The measles virus is still a problem in some other countries, and unvaccinated people may bring the virus back with them and infect others.

The virus is exquisitely contagious. If an infected person coughs or talks, droplets can remain in the air or land on a surface and cause infection for hours. Ninety percent of people who are exposed and susceptible will become infected. While a fever and red rash that spreads from the face down along the body are common symptoms, side effects can be serious and even lethal, especially for young children and people with compromised immune systems.

In an effort to contain New York’s outbreaks, Ruppert initially prohibited 6,000 children at 60 mostly religious schools and day care centers in Rockland County from attending class because they hadn’t been vaccinated. As more children have been vaccinated and the school vaccination rates have reached 95 percent, those numbers have dropped. But about 3,800 students at 35 schools are still excluded from attending.

In Brooklyn, 1,800 students at 140 schools were originally affected, said Dr. Jane Zucker, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Immunization at the New York City Health Department. Those numbers have declined somewhat as well.

Since the outbreaks began, Rockland County health care providers have administered more than 16,000 vaccines, while New York City has provided more than 7,000 shots.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Bergen County, NJ Rabbinical Counsel to Oust Rabbi for Hiring a Female Rabbinic Intern; the Suppression of Women

Edited: 2.22.19

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In NJ, Orthodox rabbis vote to bar a colleague for training female clergy

TEANECK, N.J. (Jewish Standard via JTA) — Pushing back against efforts by liberal Orthodox Jews to allow women to serve as clergy, an Orthodox rabbinical council in northern New Jersey is preparing to oust a member for allowing a woman training for ordination to serve as an intern in his congregation.

The member is Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck.

After the Jewish Standard reported in November that Netivot had hired Marianne Novak to be a rabbinic intern, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County amended its bylaws to push Netivot and Helfgot outside of its communal tent. Novak is studying for ordination at Yeshivat Maharat. When she is ordained, she will take the title either of rabbah or of rabbi.

To read the article in its entirety click here.


Chuzpah and the Absence of Shame, Bringing the World to its Knees

When I do or say something that I regret, I feel shame. I am aware that I have let myself down, and that I should have done better. Shame and regret are good emotions — so long as they encourage one to do better. Shame is a condition of a healthy relationship with other people and with God. The response to wrong actions or wrong speech, according to our tradition, is to identify the mistake, to own it by confessing it to God, and to vow to do better in the future.

Yet I am concerned that even in our most Orthodox of communities, too few people exhibit a sense of shame.

It is never pleasant writing about the moral failures of the Orthodox world, because there is so much that is good and wonderful in it. But there is sadly another side. We are exhorted not to speak ill of people, but that never stopped the prophets from speaking out against our moral failures.

There have been and are too many cases of Orthodox or Haredi Jews in Israel, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, convicted of financial, sexual, or political crimes. And too rarely have I seen any outward show of shame. It is no comfort to me that this is also the case in every single other religious, social, or national group around the world.

If the prosecuting agencies are secular or non-Jewish, they will be accused of bias, antisemitism, and double standards. And sometimes that may be the case. But not always. And if the felons or the organizations they are involved with have done good things — charitable, educational, or financial — they often will be excused (as if that in some way whitewashes their actions).

When convicted felons are turned into heroes or paraded as victims, I feel very uncomfortable. There is a long and dishonorable tradition of Haredi law breakers who claim they were unfairly victimized, even though they knew full well that they were breaking the law. They often salvage enough of their ill-gotten gains to hand out largess on their release, and are treated as heroes or victims. This is hardly a Kiddush HaShem (giving Judaism a good name).

It reflects very badly on our religious values, and it is not the sort of behavior we should be proud of.

And this pattern of behavior is indicative of a much larger problem. There is a culture in certain Haredi circles of a blatant disdain for the law. And even if it starts with disrespect, even disdain for non-Jewish law, it often ends up by taking advantage of other Jews. In Israel recently, a convicted sex felon was welcomed into the home of arguably the most revered Haredi rabbinic figure. And another rabbi convicted of sexual abuse was treated to VIP status at a well-known site of pilgrimage — as if this is a perfectly normal way of behaving. Too many well-known public figures — and even rabbis — serve jail time for offenses. I don’t need to mention names. Then they emerge as if they have done nothing wrong, and life goes on as normal.

This issue has been taken up by the admirable and gutsy rabbi Natan Slifkin on his blog

At the root of the problem is a lack of a sense of shame, bushah in Hebrew. Maimonides, in his Book on Repentance, describes the demeanor of a someone who repents. He should “be modest and of humble spirit … admitting his errors.” A while back I read a great blog on shame by Jeremy Brown. I recommend his website too, which is more specialized.

In the blog I am referring to, he quotes the Talmud in Nedarim 20a on the line in the Torah (Exodus 20:17), “The awe of (God) should be upon your faces.” This refers to shame which shows on our faces. And it means that shame leads to a fear of sin. From this the rabbis learnt that it is a good thing to be embarrassed. Note how the Hebrew conflates embarrassment with shame. The Hebrew term, Boshet Panim, literally translates as shame-faced.

The Midrash Tanhuma calls the opposite of Boshet Panim — Azut Panim — arrogance. The Mishna in Sotah says that chutzpah and an absence of shame is what brings the world to its knees, and only Divine Intervention in the form of Elijah can redeem it. Perhaps that is why some people campaign so hard for the messiah to come now.