Archive | November, 2007

Kutz is alright. Stop freaking out.

The URJ Kutz Camp is the place where I was convinced one summer that I will one day be a rabbi, learned the summer after to love liturgy, and this past summer worked as camp librarian and composed my first complete sidur. Kutz has never been the most financially secure of places. As NFTY’s population has declined in recent years, it has become increasingly hard to fill beds. Gas prices have also risen so sharply in recent years that Kutz’s bottom line has been seriously hurt by that as well. In the past, Kutz was open year-round as a retreat center, playing host to retreats and meetings held by area congregations, NFTY regions, other URJ departments, in addition to other renters. All of this weekend year-round renting helped Kutz to stay financially afloat. As gas prices have risen, the cost of heating has gone up dramatically and heating Kutz’s facilities year-round to accommodate rental groups has become a huge financial burden. The thing that once kept Kutz financially viable, no longer does.

In response to this, some have begun to spread rumors, to which I briefly fell victim, to the effect that Kutz would close after the summer of 2008. After speaking on the phone today with someone in a much better position to actually know what the hell’s going, I am here to tell you that Kutz is not going close! Kutz will cease to function during the winter for at least one year (2008-2009) as a life-saving measure. There is no word on how long that measure will last, but there it is. The lay-offs that I wrote about here were done for the same reason.

In the words of the person I spoke to today, “Everyone believes in Kutz’s program and mission. No one is debating that. The problem now is how that works out in terms of money.” In other words, folks, Kutz is here to stay for to foreseeable future.

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The plot thickens

For the back-story on this, go to Categories, which is located on the main page’s sidebar and click on Israel. Articles there should catch you up on this.

After I sent an email to President Weisbuch and Dean Cucchi about this ongoing issue that other day, from whom I got no responses, I received today an email from Drew University Chief Communications Office, Dave Muha. Muha thanked me for my continued interest in this issue. He also gave me a Q&A to distribute, which follows:

DREW STUDY ABROAD Q&A

The following questions and answers are meant to provide factual information about Drew’s study abroad policy. The university appreciates the comments and suggestions it has received from the community about this important matter.

Q. Why won’t you allow students to study in Israel at this time?
Drew’s current study abroad policy is tied to the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list and does not allow students to study in countries for which there is a travel warning. Since the university is not in a position to assess the safety of foreign destinations for students, it has historically relied on and is currently relying on this source.

Q. But there are other sources that offer a different assessment.
Why don’t you use them? Drew is actively reviewing these sources, as well as the study abroad policies of those universities that allow their students to study in countries with State Department travel warnings, to see if there is a way to revise its policy to allow for greater flexibility while giving proper consideration for students’ safety.

Q. Doesn’t the State Department warning apply only to Gaza and the West Bank?
Unfortunately, no. Drew checked with State’s consular affairs office and this is not the case. Although there are some strongly worded sections of the warning pertaining to Gaza and the West Bank, the warning is not limited to those areas.

Q. Is it true that you’re allowing students to study in Lebanon?
No. Study is not permitted in Lebanon and the approximately two dozen other countries for which there are State Department travel warnings.

Q. Is it true that you allowed a student to study in Israel last summer despite a travel warning?
Not exactly. Drew does not monitor student travel during the summer when school is out of session. Students who take summer courses at foreign universities are able to transfer their credits to Drew upon their return. Because the university does not have a formal policy regarding where a student can and can’t study during the summer, it did accept credits from a student who studied in Israel. How the university handles summer study will be reconciled with its fall and spring policy as part of the ongoing review.

Q. So you would otherwise accept credits from Israeli universities?
Yes. The quality of the universities in Israel has never been in question.

Q. And if it weren’t for this travel warning, you would support a student’s desire to study in Israel?
Absolutely. Drew actively encourages students to study abroad. In fact, to facilitate this, it has just revised its study abroad policy to allow students to keep all of their merit- and need-based aid while abroad. There is no intent on the part of the university to discriminate against Israel. It is solely the result of an existing policy that is tied to the State Department’s travel warning list–a policy that Drew is now reexamining.

Q. When will the review process be complete?
The review is underway and should be completed during the Spring 2008 semester. The university is committed to thoroughly reviewing the sources mentioned above and, if a change is recommended, developing a policy that can be evenly applied to all students and travel destinations.

David W. Muha
Chief Communications Officer
Drew University

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Lone Star Sidur Project – Kadish

Today’s examination of the four forms of Kadish and their place and purpose in the service is a departure of sorts from the norm for a Lone Star Sidur Project post. I say this because I’m not offering the text of any form of Kadish because I won’t be referring heavily to the content of Kadish, but more to its structural purpose and role in services. I assume that most people reading this are familiar with Kadish anyway. If you are not familiar with it, Google it. It’s out there. Much of this post has changed since it was first posted due to the comments of readers.

Kadish comes in four forms. It’s most well-known is Kadish Yatom, which, literally translated, is the Orphan’s Kadish, but is more commonly called Mourner’s Kadish. Kadish Yatom is relatively the same size as Kadish Shalem, but some of the ending lines are different. Kadish Yatom does not refer specifically to death. Take from that what you will.

Kadish Shalem, which means Whole Kadish, is used during services to mark major transitions between distinct service sections.

The Chatzi Kadish is a shortened form of Kadish Shalem. It is used to mark minor transitions between service sections.

Kadish D’rabanan is a version of Kadish containing an extended series of lines praying for the good fortune of and praising teachers and students of Torah. It is said upon completing a study session, marking the end of that session, with the understanding that another study session will be had in the future. In the service, it appears in a variety of different places, depending on the choices of individual sidur editors.

All forms of Kadish are written predominantly in Aramaic and are meant to be said only in the presence of a minyan because Kadish is considered a specifically public form of praise.

Growing up with Gates of Prayer, I was only aware of the existence of Chatzi Kadish and Kadish Yatom. GOP’s approach to utilizing Kadish is extremely limited, but consistent. Chatzi Kadish, which GOP translates “Reader’s Kadish” (twenty bucks to anyone who can explain that translation to me!), appears once in every morning and evening service. In morning services it appears in one of its places between P’sukei D’zimrah and Sh’ma Uvirchoteihah. In the evening, it appears between what passes for Kabalat Shabat in GOP and Sh’ma Uvirchoteihah. Kadish Yatom appears at the end of every service. GOP makes no use of Kadish Shalem of Kadish D’rabanan at all.

Mishkan T’filah follows GOP’s example with one exception. MK has reintroduced Kadish D’rabanan. MK’s editors have elected to slip KD in between Morning Blessings and P’sukei D’zimrah. Because MK has reordered the Morning Blessings such that the section on study comes last, KD then serves also in the way that a Chatzi Kadish might, marking the minor transition from Morning Blessings to P’sukei D’zimrah. Although I like the traditional idea of using KD to conclude the Torah study section of Morning Blessings and I like the idea of using a Kadish to divide Morning Blessings from P’sukei D’zimrah, I dislike that MK has combined these two purposes into one by needlessly reordering the Morning Blessings. Haavodah Shebalev (Israeli Reform) follows MK without reordering the Morning Blessings.

The traditional locations of Kadish make little sense to me. Chatzi Kadish is supposed to appear at points of minor transition, yet it only appears at the transitions from P’sukei D’zimrah to Sh’ma Uvirchoteihah, before Maftir, and between the Torah service and Musaf. Kadish Shalem ought to appear at the site of a major transition, yet it only appears at the transition from Shacharit to Torah service and from Musaf to concluding prayers. I am mostly confounded by what seems to be an undefined notion of what major and minor transition points are.

I would keep Kadish mostly in its traditional places, with a few exceptions. I would remove entirely the notion of doing one before Maftir. Absolutely no transition is going there. That is simply the middle of the Torah service and it makes no sense. I would also follow MK’s idea of inserting a Kadish D’rabanan after the study section of the Birchot Hashachar.

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104!

Thank you everyone for reading.

The blog had 104 hits today!

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Lone Star Sidur Project – Birkat Torah & Eilu D’varim

[EDITED. This has been edited due to a massive correction made by David Singer in his comment on this post.]

After a little Yom Hodu hiatus, I am back to my litrugical self with the third part of my series, the Lone Star Sidur Project. Today I examine the Torah section of the Birchot Hashachar, the Morning Blessings. The traditional text of the section follows:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה.

Bless you, Adonai, our God, King of the world, for you have sanctified us through your commandments and commanded us to engross in words of Torah.

וְהַעֲרֶב נָא יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ אֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִֽינוּ וּבְפִי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵינוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כֻּלָּֽנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ לִשְׁמָהּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Please, Adonai, our God, sweeten the words of your Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of your people, the House of Israel. May we and our children and our children’s children, your people, the House of Israel–all of us–know your name and study your Torah for its own sake. Bless your, Adonai, our God, teacher of Torah to your people, Israel.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּֽנוּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים, וְנָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת תּוֹרָתוֹ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה.

Bless you, Adonai, our God, King of the world, for you chose us from amongst all the peoples and gave us your Torah. Bless you, Adonai, giver of Torah.

יְבָרֶכְךְ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.

May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine on you be gracious to you. May God turn his face to you and place peace upon you.

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם שִׁעוּר: הַפֵּאָה וְהַבִּכּוּרִים וְהָרַאְיוֹן וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה.

These things have no measure: The corners of the field, visiting the sick, pilgrimage, acts of loving kindness, and study of Torah.

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּֽרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וְהַשְׁכָּמַת בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית, וְהַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים, וּבִקּוּר חוֹלִים, וְהַכְנָסַת כַּלָּה, וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת, וְעִיוּן תְּפִלָּה, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם.

These are things one is rewarded for in this life, but for which the principal reward is in the world to come: Honoring father and mother, acts of loving kindness, visiting the house of study morning and night, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, accompanying the dead, deep prayer, making peace between a man and his friend, and Torah study is equal to all of these.

As a kid going to services and learning about liturgy from Gates of Prayer, I totally misinterpreted this whole section. Gates of Prayer shortened the section by combining the opening line of the first “eilu d’varim” paragraph with first line of the second so that it read “Eilu d’varim sh’ein lahem shiur, she’adam ocheil peroteihem ba’olam hazeh v’hakeren kayemet lo l’olam haba, v’eilu hein.” Then it translated the whole line as “These are the obligations without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure.” They excise the Priestly Blessing (y’varech’cha…) and the body of the first section entirely and keep to the solidly “ethical commandments”-oriented second section. GOP also loses the blessing for before the reading of Torah (…bachar banu…).

Because of this goofy chopping and translating, I assumed as a kid that this section was a liturgical poem listing thing, which it is limitlessly good to do. Because of this faulty assumption, I always wondered why the section is preceded by a blessing for Torah study.

As it turns out, the entire section, both eilu d’varims and the blessing over Torah study, is part of the larger framework of the morning blessings, a series of prayers and blessings about the morning routine. The rabbis who constructed the section couldn’t imagine a morning without a little study, so they inserted this section. It begins with the appropriate blessing for study, followed by the blessing for reading Torah, followed by a passage from Torah (from Bamidbar 6), followed by our two eilu d’varim paragraphs. The first eilu d’varim is from the Mishnah, Peah 1:1. The second is from the Gemara, Shabat 127a. The three passages are meant to be said daily to fulfill a minimum of the daily obligation to engage in study.

Why, then, does GOP feel the need to truncate it so? As such, it is not actually any particular text and it is thus no longer possible to seriously study the selection as though it is a selection of Torah. Mishkan T’fillah follows GOP’s example.

Haavodah Shebalev (Israeli Reform) chops the intro down considerably as well, opting only for the blessing for reading Torah, which I dislike because the focus of the section is study. If that is the case, should the appropriate blessing for study not be said? HS then proceeds with the same quotes from Mishna and Gemara, preceded by a greatly expanded version of the quote from Bamidbar.

Siddur Sim Shalom and Siddur Eit Ratzon take approaches that I find highly preferable to the Reform movment’s consistent approach of extreme and unjustifiable truncation.

SS presents the entire section in it’s traditional form, no deletions, and one addition. Between the selection from Bamidbar (y’varech’cha…) and the selection from Peah (the first of the two eilu d’varim selections), SS adds a paragraph of text from Vayikra 19, part of the famous K’doshim Tih’yu passage.

SER takes SS’s approach a step further, while also embracing the Reform tradition of deletion. SER includes as an introduction to the section only the blessing for Torah study (…la’asok b‘divrei Torah), excluding the introductory passage beginning “V’ha’arev na…” as well as the blessing for reading Torah (…bachar banu…). SER then deletes the second eilu d’varim passage (Shabat 127a), while it adds passages from D’varim 6, Hoshea 2, Vayikra 19, Michah 6, and D’varim 16.

While I appreciate Joe Rosenstein’s attempt to give folks a wider variety of texts for study and I take no issue with any of his particular additions I do take issue with the exclusion of two of three texts originally included in the section for study.

And now on to what I do like. I would keep most of the introductory material, but I would exclude the blessing for reading Torah (…bachar banu…). I realize that it is there because at that point we are about to read a small selection from Torah, but there are many other passages of Torah in the sidur, which apparently do not require this blessing before they can be read. In a perfect world I would correct this by removing that brachah.

I see the value in SS’s and SER’s approach of adding a few additional passages for study, but I would hesitate to do so. Though the idea is that we should study these passages each morning, that is not happening. We chant them and pass them by without giving them any thought, much less consideration serious enough that I would consider it study. When we start actually studying these three passages and get tired of them, we can think about putting in new ones.

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More on the Drew/Israel situation

See the previous post for more on this story as well as links to my previous posts about this.

Lara Portnoy, student member of the committee tasked with re-inventing the rule preventing [EDIT: Name removed as requested] from studying in Israel, a Yid herself and President of MESA (Middle-Eastern Student Association), has sent me a link to the JPost article I wrote about in the previous post. You can read it here.

I’d like to take this time to respond to a couple of comments that were left on the previous post. First, I’d like to respond to Richard Silverstein, proprietor of the excellent Israeli and American Jewish news blog, Tikun Olam.

Richard wondered if this is an issue of Drew simply refusing to endorse a decision to study in Israel or a refusal to accept credits from Israeli universities. I imagine that if a student transferred to Drew from an Israeli school, they would have no problem with their credits transferring. However, Drew sees accepting credits from an Israeli university, which a Drewid studied at while enrolled at Drew as equal to an endorsement of what our insurance company believes is reckless self-endangerment.

An individual called “lori,” who left no link nor email address with her comment, also visited the previous post and left a comment. Lori may have found her way here via Google search. I have had many visitors to the blog in the last couple of days via Google searches along the lines of “[EDIT: Name removed, as requested] + Israel” and “Israel + Drew University.” Regardless of how she found her way here, she said:

“This isn’t a circus. It’s wrong for Drew not to accept credits from Israel’s universities. The insurance excuse is bull – there are plenty of policies that cover study abroad in Israel. Drew needs to step up here or risk its standing not just with the Jewish community. Israel’s universities have led the way in tech and biomedical research and have Nobel nominees. Look what happened to British academia when they tried to play politics with Israel. Shame on Drew for not trying harder.”

If lori had examined my previous posts on this story, as the post she commented on suggested that readers do, she might not have made this comment. I’ve already addressed most of these issues in previous posts.

Lori says that “the insurance excuse is bull.” That confuses me. Apparently, many other small liberal arts colleges have the exact same bull insurance excuses. No one is arguing with the lori’s comment that, “Israel’s universities have led the way in tech and biomedical research and have Nobel nominees.” That is all true. That is also not the issue.

What angers me about lori’s comment is her attempt to equate this with British academia’s recent boycott of Israel. This is an analogy that simply does not hold up. In the case of the British academics, this was a concerted effort to make a statement about Israel. There were members of the British academic community saying flat out that they were opposed to Israel and Israel’s actions. In the case of Drew, this is really and truly an issue of insurance. No one here has said anything about Israel doing anything wrong.

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The impending media circus?

I have reported on this situation previously here and here.

To summarize, because of a State Department travel advisory, Drew University is not allowing students to go to Israel at this time, though apparently we have allowed it in the past. There has always been a policy in place keeping students from attending study abroad program in countries that appear on any sort of State Department watch list. People have been allowed to go to Israel in the past due to inconsistent application of the policy as recently as this summer. With a new study aboard coordinator, a more consistent application of this policy has arrived. I am not happy about, but I understand the University’s position with regards to insurance. Apparently, policies like this are quite normal at schools our size all over the country.

This entire issue center’s around a particular Drew student who is planning on going to Tel Aviv University next semester, which is looking increasingly unlikely, which is making this student increasingly unreasonable.

What follows was added to this post on November 28, after the student this issue revolves around contacted me, asking for me to remove his name from my blog. Previously, this post had contained a number of specific references to things that the individual said to me. He told me after the fact that those things were said in confidence. Though that was not made clear to me at the time, I have decided to honor his wishes and drastically truncate this post.

That is not to say, however, that I am in any way happier about this issue than I was when I first posted this. I still find the transformation of this issue, which is about consistent application of a silly rule (which is now in the process of being revised), into an issue about anti-Israel statements.

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Condi’s Astonishing Effect on Hebrew Vocabulary

I have learned the following tidbit from NPR and Chicago Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”

Apparently, Condaleeza Rice has become such a frequent visitor to Israel in recent years, that Israeli government officials have adopted a new slang term, l’kandel. I’m not sure how the conjugate this. The radio show only noted how to pronounce the infinitive. This word is apparently derived from Condi’s name is used to refer to the act of shuffling about between various meetings, saying many things, getting nothing done.

Aside from the surface humor of this, I’m also amused by the fact that no word for this already existed in the Israeli political lexicon. I’m amazed frankly.

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Interfaith Event Update

 This is a follow-up to this post. What follows is the assessment of Harold Wilensky, my Dad.

“The AAIM service at CBI was quite the thing. The place was packed. People sitting in all the aisles. People standing in the aisles. The chapel was full. People sitting in the Sanctuary foyer. Everyone was there. Even [CENSORED: THE NAME OF ONE OF MY CLOSE FRIENDS]–along with some girl who had multi-colored hair. You name the religion and they were there. Even a Yorba chieftain–evidently of west African origin. It was nice seeing Folberg and the imam sitting next to each other and each wishing the crowd salaam alikum and shalom aleichem. Folberg needs to work on his Arabic. Rabbi Freedman from Beth Shalom and a Protestant minister did what amounted to a stand-up act asking people to donate money to AAIM. AAIM gave CBI a sukkah. It was set up in Smith. It was not clear to me why they had a sukkah.

“All the TV stations were there as well.

“And we had a Board meeting that started late and ended early.”

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Islamofacism? Or Islamophobia?

This is the worst story of Islamophobia I have heard to far, its impact on me made worse by the fact that this occurred in the mostly open-minded city I grew up in. Over the course of two emails and one phone call today I received from both of my parents and one Rabbi this disgusting story.

Every year, AAIM, Austin Area Interreligious Ministries holds a pre-Thanksgiving dinner and service hosted by various religious communities at various houses of worship. This year, Hyde Park Baptist Church was slated to host the festivities in their Central Austin facility, though the event was organized by Austin’s Muslim community. Said Rabbi Steven Folberg, the Senior Rabbi at the congregation I grew up at, Congregation Beth Israel, in an email to the whole congregation, “Sadly, when the church leadership learned that ‘interfaith service’ did not mean ‘intra-Christian’ or ‘intra-Protestant,’ in other words, when they learned that non-Christian worshipers and religious leaders would be represented, they withdrew their offer.”

In a phone call with CBI’s Associate Rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin D. Sternman he told me that what had happened was that because of the timing of the interfaith service portion of the event, the Muslims involved in the event would have to pause to offer their sunset prayer. Upon hearing this, HPBC’s leadership apparently had an aneurism and decided that they would not allow people to pray to God in their church. Makes sense, right?

When CBI caught wind of this and was asked to provide the facilities for this event, the only response was, “Why not?”

The Austin American-Statesman, Austin’s newspaper, quoted Church leaders saying, “’Although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us at Hyde Park Baptist Church, the church cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property… Hyde Park Baptist Church hopes that the AAIM and the community of faith will understand and be tolerant of our church’s beliefs that have resulted in this decision.’” The paper also noted, “Hyde Park Baptist, an evangelical megachurch at West 39th Street and Speedway, is not a member of Interreligious Ministries, and church leaders were not planning to participate in the service.” As for CBI, “Synagogue leaders said they would arrange space for Muslims to make their evening prayers… ‘What a great testimony of inclusion.’”

Said R. Folberg in his email, “My reasons for choosing to offer our sanctuary for this occasion are many, but I would share just one of them with you now. Simply put, one crucial way to begin to heal some of the divisions in our society and lessen the amount of hostility and suspicion that has risen up, reptilian, from the depths of our culture, is to bring people into contact with each other whose paths do not normally cross. We must get to know other human beings as human beings, created in the image of God, and not as self-serving mental abstractions, symbols of our own ignorance and fear. I know of no more effective or powerful way of dispelling myths and stereotypes about ‘The Other’ than to worship and break bread together. We must encounter each other as fathers, mothers and children, we must look into each other’s faces, in order to make peace.

“This is more than just ‘a nice thing to do.’ I deeply believe, at the risk of sounding grandiose, that the very survival of humanity depends upon our willingness to transcend our differences and reach out to each other at the very same time that we cherish the uniqueness of our various communities and traditions. Whether one is Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Secular Humanist, or an adherent of any one of the multiplicity of other faiths and ideologies that claim the loyalties of men and women everywhere, there is no greater spiritual truth, and no truth more essential to our aspirations to heal the world, than the truth of the unity and the interdependence of all human beings. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it 40 years ago, ‘Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.’ When we consider the Torah’s famous admonition, uvacharta bachayyim, ‘You shall choose life,’ then it is clear to me that the opportunity to host the service is the opportunity to do an important mitzvah.”

Bravo, CBI!

HPBC leaders, go read a damn book.

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