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Tol'dot:The Ethical Actions of Authority (Genesis: 25:19-28:9)


After a hiatus to focus on life pursuits I’m back to tackle the torah!

In our Lives:
I think the shock of hearing about unethical news in our lives comes from our own struggles with what to do when faced with tough ethical decisions. Do we stand up for what is right, or hope it fades into the background (and that no one notices)? The news lately has been a series of tragedies and lies: The Penn State scandal, presidential candidates fumbling their way through policy positions they don’t seem to understand, big banks continuing to post record profits, or the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme we have seen questionable ethics. We have seen the use of power and authority in our government acting unethically or amongst private companies who don’t look out for the best interests of even their employees!

Reflecting:
When we hear of such news we wonder if we ourselves would act better? How are we educating future generations? Are we teaching (by example) to only look out for ourselves? Do we consider how these acts of deceit effect others? Ultimately it seems the truth inevitably comes out but at what sacrifice? For me, when thinking through decisions where ethics are at play I like to think that I consider who will get hurt, what would by the favored outcome, and is it “just”? Not all decisions are easy but all should treat people fairly. And I think the consequences should adequately reflect appropriate punishment for unethical choices. Otherwise we are simply letting power breed power in our society. And if you aren’t sure what to do heed my mother’s advice “you get more flies with honey” it works every time!

Occupy wall street has been an interesting way to think about the consequences of treating US citizens indifferently by big businesses. While I am unclear of their demands and the common message they represent it is clear that Americans are unhappy. The economic gap has grown to 99% vs. 1% where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer and some of those in power are seeing to it that this discrepancy remain. Occupy wall street and other Occupy movements are working to regain the people’s right to democracy, to voters views mattering and being heard. The popularity of this movement has signified to me that injustice has consequences and people have re-recognized their ability to hold others accountable for their actions.

From the source:
The upcoming parshat this week Toldot deals with the story of brothers Jacob and Esau and with common themes of stealing, hatred and lying. But the plot runs deeper as the lies are intentional and done with power by authority. Rebekah, mother of twins Jacob and Esau tricks her husband Issac into giving the birthright to the younger son Jacob since he is her favored son (and Rebekah thinks more deserving of the blessing). Rebekah, acting authoritatively in her roles as wife and mother lies and aids Jacob in stealing the birthright. But as a result of this act Jacob must leave his family due to what he has done and Rebekah is without her favored son. I think this can serve both as a lesson to those with power to act ethically since the consequences of selfish acts can be grave, and to those without power to not just go along with what the authority says but to stand up for justice and to ask yourself if the act is ethical and if not what you can do about it! While the reasoning behind Rebekah’s acts may be for a more favorable outcome of Issac’s blessing. I am more concerned with the lying and deceit that those with power partake in (as shown above). If in fact Jacob was the better son to receive the birthright then it should have been bestowed upon him because of his merit and not by way of an unethical act. Jacob is the one who is held accountable for Rebekah’s actions not Rebekah even though she assured Jacob this would not be the case. These actions seem similar to Americans having to carry out their promises to banks or fulfillment of laws even though the banks and the rules keep changing and not upholding their end of the deal. It cause me to question if those in authority don’t even lead by example who will?

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Reinventing Rituals: June, A Month of Pride and Same-Sex Marriages



This post originally appeared on Pursue. It is the second in a series on reinventing Jewish rituals (which I will be writing for Pursue). To read the first post on memorials/yartzeits, click here.

June is full of irony: not only is June Pride month, but it is also the unofficial start to wedding season. So many are still fighting for equal marriage. As I write this, lawmakers in Albany are struggling to garner enough votes to make same-sex marriage legal in New York state (see resources to get involved at the end of this post).

As someone who works at the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue, CBST (Congregation Beit Simchat Torah) I see firsthand how the denial of civil rights affects our families. I also get to see what an amazing tribute it is to the Jewish tradition to have so many people who are deeply rooted in religion, spirituality, and tradition create a community unique to them. Instead of allowing themselves to be turned off by communities who are still figuring out their “stance” on homosexuality, they have a home where their whole identity is able to come together and thrive with others who accept them for who they are and don’t focus on how they do not fit with the “heteronormative” family.

Within Judaism, what does it mean to have a same-sex marriage? What are some of the opportunities for reinventing this ritual? Rabbis debate this topic just as many states debate same-sex marriage bills across the country.

Much of the contemporary Jewish conversation on same-sex marriage draws on pieces of Torah and explains how to reinterpret them in an inclusive way for our same-sex couples, namely, the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. Rabbi Arthur Waskow asks, “Can we not interpret this as ‘to be fruitful and expansive emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually rather than biologically?’ Furthermore, same-sex couples may not have the biological ability to reproduce but with modern technology this no longer means they do not have the ability to create a family.

As Jewish movements struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage in their own communities, countless conversations occur amongst rabbis as to what clergy groups’ official position on same-sex marriage should be. The Reform movement in 2000 voted to adopt a resolution stating “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”

What do “appropriate” Jewish rituals look like? The basic Jewish marriage consists of the following (in a nutshell):

Marriage Contract (Ketubah)
Canopy (Chupah)
Exchanging Rings
Seven blessings (Sheva Brakhot)
Breaking the glass

While Rabbis change their stances according to their various interpretations of Torah it is important to make sure LGBTQ Jews have a place they can turn for rituals in their lives, including marriage. If you have a litany of weddings to attend this summer, you’ll realize pretty quickly that every wedding is different and dependent on the couple’s custom, so there is a lot of room for interpreting these different components and imbuing them with meaning based on the couple’s values.

Because the traditional Jewish wedding choreography is gender specific, a re-imagining of the different components of the marriage ceremony is necessary. This can be done by same-sex and heterosexual couples, all in the name of promoting marriage equality.

Listed below are some variations of the basic rituals and traditions to get an idea of how you can change your own ritual to be LGBTQ inclusive. Hopefully you’ll see some of these at weddings this summer season!

(From Central Conference of American Rabbis Working Group on Same-Gender Officiation)

Circling:
One person circles the other 3x, then they switch, and they take hands and circle together for a total of 7x.

Kiddush:
Couple holds the cup together.

Rings:
Exchanged and prayers recited, with language such as… “by this ring are you consecrated unto me before God and these witnesses in the spirit of our people,” or “this is my beloved and my friend.”

Breaking the glass:
Broken together, or two glasses broken.

To recognize the continued struggle for equality:
Because so many gays and lesbians sadly still know the oppression and pain of hiding, because so many gays and lesbians still lack equality of civil rights in our world, we break a glass/glasses on this day of celebration to remind us that even in this hour of great joy, our world is still incomplete and in need of healing. May the time be soon, speedily and in our day, when all who are in hiding shall be free and all who are in exile shall come home.

May the shattering of these glasses by _________ and ___________ remind them and us to work towards this time of wholeness, this tikkun, for ourselves and our world. Amen.

How will you be re-imaging the Jewish wedding this summer?

Take action today towards equal marriage rights in New York:
Join friendfactor
Call your senator!
Video: CBST Rabbi Kleinbaum in active protest with Hasidic Rabbi in Albany

Resources:
List of LGBTQ friendly synagogues- Keshet
Resources for Torah related learning- Jewish Mosaic
Kulanu: All of Us A Program and Resource Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Inclusion by the URJ Press

See you in July! Tacklingtorah will be taking the week after Pride off to re-coup abroad!

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תרומה –תצוה (Exodus 25- 30:10) T'rumah and T'tzaveh-- And you shall be a blessing....


Trying out a new blog format, feedback welcome!


In our lives:
February is Jewish Disability Awareness month. Awareness itself is an interesting term to wrap your mind around, it makes me ask: how are we building “awareness” and about what specifically? Are we being ‘aware’ just by engaging in conversations about disabilities? How do we talk about disability, in what context, and what actions are we taking in our society to help those who may have different physical or mental challenges. I took this week to reflect on what it means to be able-bodied, the ways in which each person is a gift, and the varying individual tools each person has at his/her disposal. Many organizations in the Jewish world are doing work to think through how to integrate Jewish Disability Awareness month within their own communities. See links below.


When it comes to talking about disabilities I am always struck by the importance of language. Have you ever thought about the negative association formed with words used to describe several handicaps? The implications from these words such as handicap, disabled, wheelchair bound, amputee, retard, etc, are all negative. Language is important, especially when it affects how we view people. One way to combat negative connotations of language is to state the person first rather than the handicap. For example the man who is blind vs. the blind man. This shows that it is only one aspect of his identity rather than the defining factor. Given that every person is differently able, and we each have different strengths and weakness it seems unfair to label someone who only has one arm, or will never surpass a third grade reading level as disabled, why not label each person as unique? Idealistic, I know, but I still feel there is a better way to describe people then by pointing out their limitations first. Instead of the girl with brown hair it becomes the deaf girl. When we talk about disabilities there is a certain amount of sorrow or unspoken pity for those who can’t do certain tasks. Take a minute to think of how exceptional those who are disabled would feel if we took the time to ask questions about their challenges and how they can accomplish something instead of making our own assumptions about their capabilities.


Reflecting:
When I reflect on why it is important to have a month where we think about the disabled among us I think about the individual tools we each possess. It is naïve to think that we can do everything on our own; we must look to the support of others to help us iron out our own strengths and weaknesses. We each have gifts, and we each have a set of tools, it is figuring out how to use them well, and how to learn from others that is the real challenge. We are each only as able as we let ourselves be. There is so much that we can learn from one another if we are willing to both ask for and accept help. Those with physical or mental disabilities are just like everyone else with their own strengths and weaknesses. Think of those you admire who have amazing talents. Are even the extremely gifted able to do everything well? Or is there something in particular that they shine at, and other things which they struggle with? We must figure out how to use our resources to the best of our abilities including allowing others to support us in the ways where we may not be as ‘able’ as our friends, family or neighbor.

With everything we do we must look to those around us and be open to learning. When we think we can do everything on our own we lose the ability to be positively influenced and changed by others. I think we give up our own self growth when we assume we have no need for others help.


From the source:
The past two weeks Torah portions, T’rumah and T’tzaveh talk about how the Jews did and should build the tabernacle, or sanctuary. Building is something we must do together, when we build or create we use our own tools to make something spectacular. To me, building is similar to learning from each-other. One builds together the same way one learns from the teaching of others. We rely on the wisdom and abilities of those that came before us and the unique gifts that we can bring to the table. Whether you are brilliant, musically gifted, an artist, an economist, a pop-culture guru, etc. everyone has a passion and the ability to share; it’s what we learn from one another that builds our individual character. So the next time you see someone struggling don't pity them but rather offer your skills and look for what you can learn from them as well. I guarantee the only thing standing between you and those around you is fear and the inability to see past differences. Think positively and ask the person in your midst to share their gift with you.

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him (yidvenu libo)…And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."

(Exodus, 25:1, 2, 8)

While the text deals with the specific building of a tabernacle, we also see pieces of how God asks for the gifts of the people to be shared with him. Showing us to not only be appreciative of the gifts that are offered to us, but also to be receptive of where these gifts come from. Our gifts are our passions and we must always remember how much we have both to offer and to learn from each person among us. By interacting together we can achieve holiness similar to that which comes from the building of the tabernacle.


As we continue to read the story of Exodus, I'm reminded that last week we celebrated both Moses’s birthday and date of death on Friday, the 7th of Adar. Moses, while a memorable Jewish leader in history was ‘slow of speech’ implying a lisp or speech impediment. Yet when Moses is remembered we speak of his strengths and accomplishments. In fact his brother Aaron often spoke on his behalf, but it was Moses who was the visionary and whom God choose to lead the Jewish people on their journey. Let us not forget the skills we can share with the world and the ways in which we can be open to the teachings of those among us whether able-bodied or disabled.


And you shall be a blessing.....

Debbie Friedman’s lyrics:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you

Leich l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing
L'chi lach, and I shall make your name great
Leich l'cha, and all shall praise your name
L'chi lach, to the place that I will show you


Union for Reform Judaism Jewish Disability Awareness Month related blogposts
North American Federation for Temple Youth JDAM Resources
Religious Action Center engages with JDAM
Gateways Jewish education for children with disabilities

Follow #JDAM on twitter

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