Monday, November 21, 2005

No more sex for Reform youth

Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent for Haaretz has again provided another fascinating story. In the midst of election fever gripping Israel with the announcement that Sharon is starting a new political party(as if Israel didn’t have enough), we have this story from left field. The headline really caught my attention. “No more sex for Reform youth says the rabbi!” Read on before I share my thoughts:
Thursday afternoon, I was still in Houston, so I got to sit with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and discuss the speech he was preparing to give today at the biennial of his movement. "It's about sex," he smiles: "High school students should not be having sexual relations." This is the message he starts with this year. It is very urgent, he thinks.

But first things first - the most revealing sentence I find in the speech is a more general statement one can read as a key to the Yoffie state of mind these days: "The problem for our synagogues may be," says Yoffie, "that we are not very good at saying 'no' in Reform Judaism... In the realm of personal behavior, we are reluctant to ever use the word 'forbidden'." This, he believes, should be changed somewhat. A more restrictive movement, more demanding, more - should I dare say - conservative movement, is the one Rabbi Yoffie envisions. If you were a politician, I tell him, one would apply to you the overly employed phrase "mugged by reality." The do-whatever-you-want approach just doesn't work for a movement that needs members to be committed. So you basically ask the congregation to do more: study more, go to Israel more, practice more. Yoffie smiles again. He has a nice, gentle, smile. But listen to what he has to say to the youngsters of the movement, and listen seriously:

"A growing number of middle school students are sexually active, and oral sex is both prevalent and widely accepted. Most striking of all is a social ethic known as 'hooking up' that severs sex from any pretense of a relationship. 'Hooking up' can refer to different kinds of physical contact, but it always means a casual, no-strings-attached sexual encounter. It means getting physical without getting emotional... the Union has created a six-session course for bar and bat mitzvah-age students in our religious schools... we do not tell our kids that sex before marriage is forbidden. Since many of them will not marry for fifteen years after the onset of puberty, it is unreasonable to suggest that this traditional standard should be maintained for young people who are adults? On the other hand, we say in the clearest possible way that high school students should not be having sexual relations. Our teens are not adults. They are beset by tension with parents, pressure from friends, a desire for approval, and an uncertain sense of self. This means that students in high school are not yet ready for the loving, mutual relationships that make sex an experience of holiness."

Unrestricted-hippie-liberal-permissiveness? Maybe it's the wrong movement for you. Being reform doesn't mean one needs no rules, so Yoffie says.

I’m really happy Rabbi Yoffie has finally addressed the issue of teen sexuality. It is an issue that is not often discussed in public forums. It is interesting to note that the Rabbi does not prohibit, sex before marriage, just sex at school age. It is also interesting to notice his awareness that it is time for the Reform movement to say “no” more often.

From an orthodox perspective, I think this issue is just as relevant in frum communities. Teenage kids who wear kippot and long skirts are not necessarily
shomer negia. There has been a suggestion of allowing orthodox people before marriage to visit the mikva after sexual relationships. The question is, would you prefer someone violate the non-biblical prohibition of sex before marriage, or the biblical prohibition of not visiting the mikva. Tough question.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


After many years of praying and wondering whether miracles really do happen, I was privileged to witness one last night. That being Australia qualifying for the World Cup after 32 years in the soccer wilderness (I guess that’s better than 40 years in the midbar). If Australia wins the world Cup, then Mashiach is surely on our doorstep.
The Age reports:
Australia, which has found so many heartbreaking ways to lose World Cup qualifiers, last night found a new way to triumph when it won its way to the World Cup in a penalty shootout thanks to the steely nerves of John Aloisi and the heroics of Mark Schwarzer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What is the most important Jewish Word?

Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent for Haaretz writes from the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities about a discussion of "Top 10 Jewish vocabulary words every Jewish leader should know." The rabbi’s at the conference made one list, while the rest of the group made another. Here’s what they came up with:

Rabbis: Mitzva V'Halachah (commandment and law), Hesed V'Rachamim (kindness and compassion), Tzedaka, Tikkun Olam, Bracha, Kashrut (dietary laws), Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality), Bikkur Holim, Shivah, Aliyah (immigrating to Israel).

Group: Tzedaka, Tikun Olam, Chesed, Chevra, Simcha (joy), Ahava (love), Shalom (peace), Tikva (hope), Achdut (unity), Klal Israel (all of Israel).

What are your top 10 Jewish words/concepts? Mine are: V’ahavta Lereicha Kamocha, Shalom, Achva(Friendship), Shira(song), Tfilla, Hashem, Sababa(cool), Keif(Fun, yes I know its an arabic word), Mastik (Gum – I like how the word sounds) and Yisrael.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Rabin a Rodef?

Since Yitzchak Rabin initiated the Oslo process with the Palestinians in 1993, there had much resistance to his formula of LAND FOR PEACE where Israel would give the Palestinians a State in Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for an end to incitement and terrorism against Israel.

Jewish extremists were against this policy because they claimed that the land of Israel is holy and can never be traded. Their method of dealing with Palestinian attacks against Israel was to use more force.

Palestinian extremists (Hamas) were against the Oslo process because it’s ultimate aim was a two state solution. These Islamic extremists believe that the entire land belongs to Muslims only, and all Jews should leave or be killed. Therefore, Hamas would send suicide bombers onto buses whenever Rabin and Arafat were to have a meeting, in the hope that this would derail the peace process.

Before you continue reading, please say:
Hareini lomed/lomedet Mishnah le'ilu'i nishmato shel Yitzĥak ben Rosa u-Neĥemya RabinI am studying Mishnah in the memory of Yitzĥak Rabin, son of Rosa and Neĥemya

וְאֵלּוּ הֵן שֶׁמַּצִּילִין אוֹתָן בְּנַפְשָׁן: הָרוֹדֵף אַחַר חֲבֵרוֹ לְהָרְגוֹ, אַחַר הַזְּכוּר וְאַחַר הַנַּעֲרָה הַמְאֹרָסָה. אֲבָל הָרוֹדֵף אַחַר הַבְּהֵמָה, וְהַמְחַלֵּל אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, וְהָעוֹבֵד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, אֵין מַצִּילִין אוֹתָן בְּנַפְשָׁן:

In the following cases a human life is saved at the cost of a human life: when one person threatens the life of another, when a male is sexually threatening another male, or married woman. But when someone is intending a sexual union with an animal, or to desecrate Shabbat or to practice idolatry - no human life is forfeit in order to prevent this.

“Lies, Bad Law, and Human Life"
by Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein – November 1995

Jewish law has an enviable past, particularly in promoting the sanctity of human life. It was Jewish law, after all, that first crowned each human life with absolute value. While their neighbors drenched their altars with the blood of small children to propitiate their gods, the prophets of ancient Israel thundered their formula for pleasing the Almighty. "Let the oppressed go free...Divide your bread with the hungry...When you see the naked, cover him." For Isaiah and his colleagues, G-d was best served by enhancing the quality of the lives of others.

The earliest rabbinic writings continued the tradition. "Whoever saves the life of a single person is considered as saving the entire world," claimed the Mishna. Jewish law regarded life as so sacred, that all precepts of the Torah could be suspended to save it, excepting three cardinal transgressions. And one of those three was murder.
Jewish law was so loath to take a human life, that criminal procedure was hopelessly stacked in favor of the defendant. If the twenty-three judges managed to reach a guilty verdict in a capital case, they were required to fast the entire day. And if they found for guilt unanimously, charges were dismissed. A court which could not produce someone to back the defendant obviously was not doing its job well.

The Talmud sums up its internal audit of procedure in capital cases appropriately enough. "A court that takes a life once in seventy years is a killer court." This is the lenient view. Others suggest an even longer interval.

The Devil, however, can cite Scripture; his disciples turn to case law and statute. Somehow, Yigal Amir thought that he found justification from the law itself. Amir decided that Mr. Rabin's negotiations with the Palestinians posed an immediate threat to the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis. Jewish law (as well as many other codes!) allows (actually demands) anyone to take the life of a murderous pursuer - or rodef - of his innocent victim. Amir thus claimed that Mr. Rabin was a rodef, and that it was a mitzvah to kill him.

The argument is inaccurate, and was denounced as such by virtually every major and minor Jewish legal thinker. To be a rodef, the pursuer must perform some act that is objectively life-threatening. The models in the literature make it clear that one cannot be a rodef to some, and a savior to others. Arguably, there are as many Israelis who believe that the peace process will save lives, as those who believe that the consequences will be insufferable. Besides, one argument alone justifies taking the life of the rodef: the certainty that the pursued will be saved. No sane person could have guaranteed that killing Rabin would stop the peace process in its tracks. If anything, killing Rabin has had the opposite effect, dramatically increasing popular support for the Labor position.

Despite his posturing, Amir's actions had nothing to do with Halacha. And before people criticize Jewish law, they should stop and remember that much of their distaste for his cowardly and despicable act owes historically to that very same tradition.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Remembering Rabin

As the ten year Yartzeit of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin approaches, there is much debate about how to commemorate this shaping event in Israel’s history. The left seeks to commemorate the assassination with a homage to the Oslo peace process, arguing for further territorial concessions in exchange for peace. The centre/religious Zionist camp want to commemorate the event by emphasizing “ahavat Yisrael” and Jewish unity, beyond politics. Some on the right would prefer not to commemorate the assassination at all.(Numbered people are 1-Yitzchak Rabin, 2- Yigal Amir, 3-Student Mordi Israel, 4-Driver Menachem Damti, 5-Agent S.N. (Possibly S.G.), 6-Bodyguard Yoram Rubin)

These were the of Rabin’s final speech delivered on November 4th, 1995:

"Permit me to say that I am deeply moved. I wish to thank each and every one of you, who have come here today to take a stand against violence and for peace. This government, which I am privileged to head, together with my friend Shimon Peres, decided to give peace a chance -- a peace that will solve most of Israel's problems.

There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly, that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well: the PLO, which was an enemy, and has ceased to engage in terrorism. Without partners for peace, there can be no peace. We will demand that they do their part for peace, just as we will do our part for peace, in order to solve the most complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace. Even with Syria, is will be possible to make peace.
This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace. For this, I thank you."

10 years on, many Israelis argue that Rabin was wrong in saying “we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians.” The leadership of both Arafat and Abbas has shown this to be false. Neither have maintained a cessation of violence against Isreali civilians. Many Israelis also argue that Rabin was right in saying “there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war.” That is why the majority (along with this blogger) supported the disengage , albeit with a heavy heart and much sadness.

What do you make of Rabin's political legacy, and how do you think we should remember his life?