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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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P'Kudei (Exodus 38:21- 40:38) -- Relationships: who will you ask to join the fight?


In our lives:
Have you ever thought about how your life revolves around a series of relationships that are in constant flux? A “relationship” is such a vague term. Some of us have easily 20, 50, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of relationships. A “relationship” is defined as the relation/ association between two or more people which may be either fleeting or enduring. Relationships can be professional, personal, intimate, interpersonal, or theoretical. In other words, you have some sort of relationship with every person, organization, and to everything that you encounter.

Reflecting:
Recognizing an abundance of relationships in our lives is easy. More importantly, how are our relationships cultivated and applied? The Jewish Organizing Initiative taught me the true power of relationships. I went from viewing the word “relationship” as exclusively applicable to dating, to a world in which I view my entire existence as it relates to my “relationships” with other people, organizations, communities, and things.

The Jewish Organizing Initiative helped me learn how to tell my own story, how to have a one-to-one (an intentional conversation), how to evaluate my own and other’s self interests, and many more skills which strengthen relationships. Organizing skills allows every conversation I have to be both strategic and fruitful. I spent the year building on, putting into practice, and creating a vocabulary for skills that create change among individual people, and entire communities. It is amazing the collective power that relationships can create. Think about those you choose to help, or what organizations you choose to donate your money to. If someone you have a good relationship with asks you to prioritize their particular cause, and it is in line with your own self-interests then most likely you will do whatever you can to help!

JOI taught me not only how to listen, and identify the challenge, but how to research, connect and apply solutions to systemic problems. These skills all came back to thinking critically and strategically about my relationships. Think about this… two people who share a similar problem may not be able to find a solution, but by sharing their problem with others, and by cultivating relationships, you may find that 200 people share the same problem. Now, you have built power through relationships, and have a need for systemic change. A community organizer may help to orchestrate relationship building among communities. The organizer may enlist the community to start a research campaign, and develop a solution where the community can hold those in power (i.e. government) accountable to the proposed solution. The collective people may ask that action be taken in a public forum. And that is powerful! Change like this could not be achieved without the power of relationships. Never underestimate the power of people and the ways in which individual relationships can build that power. So, share your story and think about who you know and how you can help each other make a difference!

From the source:
Last week in parshat P’Kudei we see a glimpse into the relationship between G-d and Moses. G-d trusts Moses with leading the Israelite people, and Moses in turn trusts G-d’s power. Throughout the book of Exodus, we have seen strengths and weaknesses in the relationship between G-d and Moses, and Moses and the Israelite people. But, as we complete the construction of the tabernacle, we see how the power of relationships has affected Moses, G-d, and the Isaelite people. They have learned from their mistakes and have begun to work together. They have proven to one another their ability to do great work,

“ Just as G-d had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work. And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as G-d had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them.” (Exodus 39: 42-3)

These relationships rely on one another to achieve their common goals of holiness. They want to be able to feel G-d’s presence in a collected space (the tabernacle). In order to feel G-d’s presence the Israelites must abide put faith and trust into their leaders, and rely on one another to collectively build a holy site. Just as Moses uses community organizing by working through his relationships we too can help strengthen our campaigns when we collectively use our relationships to create united power.

The take-away:
How are you using your relationships to organize power, and create change? Are you constantly thinking about how to strengthen your relationships? Are you looking for ways to create change, and do you ask those around you to help you do so? No? Take the time now to figure out what it is you will fight for! And who will you ask to join the movement? Want to learn these skills?? JOI is now accepting applications from passionate Jews looking to fight for change! www.jewishorganizing.org

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