Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Orientation is Normal in the Military

The following obituary was announced by the Department of Defense for this past week. May her memory be a blessing for those who knew and loved her, and may we all take pride in both her service and her sacrifice.  This is the support and love that an open policy on orientation makes possible in the U.S. Military today.

Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, USAF, 36 of Minnesota died December 21 in Afghanistan
Maj. Vorderbruggen was a 1998 graduate of Wayzata High School in Minnesota where she was a talented athlete and a three year starter on the women's soccer team. She graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2002 and later earned a Master's degree in forensic sciences at George Washington University. Her father, Joseph Vorderbruggen said that his daughter "loved life" and "loved the military. "Whatever goal she had, she found a way. "Maj. Vorderbruggen was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 9th Field Investigations Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

 Maj. Vorderbruggen is survived by her wife, Heather Lamb, her four year old son Jacob and her father Joseph Voderbruggen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jewish Groups Universally Defend Muslim's Rights against Donald Trump

From the JTA.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups blasted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to block all Muslims from entering the United States.
“A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Monday evening hours after Trump, a real estate billionaire and reality TV star, issued his call.
“In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “We also know that this country must not give into fear by turning its back on its fundamental values, even at a time of great crisis.”
The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson,noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”
Trump in his news release alluded to the massacre in San Bernardino, California, last week of 14 people by a couple apparently radicalized by the Islamic State terrorist group.
“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” he said. “Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Other Jewish groups condemning the comments included J Street, Bend the Arc, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Israel Policy Forum, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and JAC, a Jewish political action committee.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Patience in the Face of Terror

With the attack on a county program center in San Bernadino this week, we have been shown the combination of a "sleeper" terrorist and a "soft" target.  It is devastating.  With 14 dead and more wounded, the professionals are now working on identifying the circle around the dead terrorists. But there are many lessons to be learned.

First, there were immediate attempts to react to the attack and label it. Was it a disgruntled employee?  Was it domestic terrorism? Was it international terrorism? It had elements of each.

The first question was, is this a disgruntled employee, and therefore "just" a violent mass murder?  Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, fired as many as 150 bullets inside the San Bernadino County Inland Regional Center where he had worked. In retrospect, his employee status was merely part of the long play to identify a target and its weakest moment - the holiday party. He was not disgruntled, in conflict, or identified as a threat in any way.

The second thought was, is this an "anti government" domestic terror attack, like Oklahoma City?  After all, it was a county building.  But this also didn't make sense, as it was not a "government" office, and its purpose was to provide services to the special needs community.  Hardly a focal point for anti-government sentiment.

Finally, the truth starts to emerge.  They had thousands of rounds stockpiled at home. They had built pipe bombs and purchased military equipment and clothing. They had been deleting their computers and destroying their phones in the last few days before the attack. They purposefully dropped off their six month old baby (!) with her grandmother.  They attended the holiday party to case the location one last time, and then returned armed for war and began shooting.

At some point in the last few years, Syed made a change in his understanding of Islam and of America.  Born and raised in Chicago as a first generation American, he had no criminal record.  He had the right to travel to the Middle East, which he did.  He had the right to apply for immigration for his fiancee and co-terrorist.  And he did.  He had the right to pass a criminal background check and screening in California to purchase guns, which he did.  He had all of the rights and privileges that you and I have.  They were employed, and welcomed in their neighborhood.  America had done nothing wrong, and until they pulled the trigger neither had they.

This is the most difficult form of terrorism to prevent.  At best, you hope to stumble across them as they slowly stockpile materials to be used in bombs.  If you are lucky, someone will become aware and turn them in, but they were perfect in how they laid low. But this is a country of freedoms, and Syed was a born citizen like you or me.  What level of government intrusion into personal freedoms would have revealed this plot in advance? Certainly not one that you or I would tolerate.

The only way to stop them would have been to have had secured doors at the facility, and trained armed people in the building to respond during the shooting.  The truth is that only armed guards, or trained and armed citizens, can stop a shooter like this.  They are not on watch lists, no-fly lists, nor are they persons of interest in any crime.  They were known in the building and had the right to enter.  People like this can always start the shooting.  The question is, how fast can we stop it once it starts?

Once again, the response to the shooting by some has been to try to ban guns on the one side, or to scapegoat Islam on the other.  

Terrorists and criminals will always have access to guns, and will always be able to make bombs. The more pragmatic answer to these scenarios, though many are afraid of its stark reality, is to allow regular folks to become trained and licensed in the handling of firearms for defense. In Paris, in San Bernadino, in Charleston... no one in the room had a chance. The training should be a high bar and the vetting for a public concealed carry should be a high standard, but the only other solution is to hide and hope that the shooter misses you for the next 10-15 minutes while the police scramble to get to you.

And yes, there is a strong and determined voice in Islam to murder the enemies of their brand of Islam.  The enemies of ISIS include other muslims, westerners, Jews and whoever gets in their way. Those of us on the outside of Islam looking in continue to assert that Islam itself has to reject the terror and the truth is most of Islam does, unless you start talking about Israel.  

The FBI and Homeland Security are on the case.  The back story will be known, and new leads in the war on terror will be found and followed. The Islamic community in this country will continue to be supportive and cooperative to pursue and prevent this kind of murder, as they have proven to be since 9/11.

In the meantime, patience. No new stereotypes.  No new legislation.  Let the professionals do their job, and know that on a day to day basis in this country you really are entirely safe (unless you drive on I-95 in rush hour!).

Monday, November 16, 2015

Applaud the Muslims Who Condemn Terrorism

Too often all muslims are lumped into one neolithic stereotype of hatred and violence. At times like this, those who are frustrated by the perceived lack of Muslim voices for peace in general must applaud and reinforce statements like this:


               ISLAMIC ASSOCIATION OF LONG ISLAND – THE SELDEN MOSQUE ( The Oldest Mosque of Long Island ) . The Board of Trustees , The Executive committee , and  thousands of Peaceful and Law abiding Muslins of Long Island , New York – along with Muslim leaders are horrified by the terrorist attacks on Friday 13, 2015 in Paris , resulting in massive killing and serious injuries to innocent people . We condemn in strongest terms , all forms of terrorist acts , which are against humanity and Islamic norms . The Noble Law of Islam forbids all acts of aggressions and violence.  We all are united against those who terrorize the innocent civilians , anywhere in the world – Islam has declared  (for those who understand) , the spilling of blood and the destruction of property an absolute prohibition , until the Day of Judgment … It is necessary to apprehend
the perpetrators of these horrible and in humane crimes against humanity , as well as those who aid and abet them through incitement or by other means . Muslims stand in solidarity with the people of the France , we are absolutely saddened  and shaken by the attacks that have taken place in
Paris . Any attack on innocent people is unlawful and contrary to Islamic Law … Muslims are ordered by the Prophetic Traditions for the safeguard
of lives , honor , and property of Christian and Jews and all other human beings , no matter what  faith they belong , Islam shows generosity
toward one and all – as Universal brotherhood of mankind .

            A common complaint among non- Muslims is that Muslim religious authorities do not condemn terrorist attacks – the complain often surface in letter to the editor of newspapers , on phone-in radio shows , on internet forum and other media outlets , possibly because the so called Muslim terrorist keep killing innocent people . Contrary to the claim most major Muslim organizations, Scholars, Imams, and religious leaders have always
spoken against all forms of terrorism and terrorist attacks in general.

           Professor John Andrew Morrow , a Canadian Muslim scholar of International fame writes in his book , “ THE COVENANTS OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMED WITH THE CHRISTIANS OF THE WORLD “ :  “ … The similarities between Islam , Christianity , and Judaism , far out weight any
differences . To disrespect Christianity is to disrespect Christ in the same fashion that disrespecting Judaism is to disrespect Moses . Muslims do not have to denigrate divinity revealed religions and then cry bloody murder when Islam is attacked. Jew, Christians, and Muslims must defend each other from the onslaught of the secular New World Order , which is deeply committed to destroying them all . May the publication of The Covenants
of The Prophet Muhammed ( pbuh ) with The Christians of The World , be an occasion for a new alliance between those of the Abrahamic Faiths who are dedicated to preserving The Divine Revelations entrusted to them both from traitors within their mist and from unrelenting attacks of the modern world. Ameen .

Yousuf U. Syed, MD.MPH.
Board Member Islamic Association of Long Island
The Selden Mosque ( The Oldest Mosque of L.I. )
Global Interfaith Peace Mission, Inc
Council Member
Global Health Development Initiatives ,Inc
Board Member

Long Island Multifaith Forum/ Long Island Council of Churches.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Why the U.N. is Important and Good.

It has become a doctrine in many Jewish political circles that the U.N. is an ineffective and antisemitic organization.  I do not agree.  The U.N. is both important and good.  There are many reasons why I have held this conviction for my entire life.  

What does the U.N. do? Well, first let’s admit that it’s primary concern and function are not the state of Israel or the question of Palestine. We in the Jewish community are understandably neurotic about our past, our present and our future. The world does not share our neurosis, nor our preoccupation with Jews and Judaism.  That is not to say that there isn’t a lot of Israel focused activity out there, or even that it isn’t out of proportion with reality, but the perception that we are the center of everything good and evil in the world’s imagination is simply wrong. The amount of time spent on Israel and the Palestinians is a tiny fraction of what the U.N. is involved in. Judging the U.N. by its effectiveness or accuracy in our troubles would be an inaccurate lens for the organization as a whole.

The U.N. exists to maintain international peace and security, to promote sustainable development, to protect human rights, to uphold international law, and to deliver humanitarian aid.  The U.N. has several bodies:  The General Assembly, The Security Council, The Economic and Social Council, The International Court of Justice and the Secretariat.  Each has a positive role to play in making our world a better place.

In its political body, the General Assembly of 193 member states exists as the main deliberative and representative body of the U.N. Anything can be said or proposed here as a statement of policy, requiring merely a majority of nations (97) to be passed. Questions of membership, peace and security, budget, and other important matters require a 2/3 majority (129) to pass.  Here everyone must be heard. While we may be appalled at an anti-semitic diatribe from those who both oppose Israel in the U.N., that same freedom of expression gives us a voice there that we did not have in 1939. The safe place to express and debate is a tremendous foundation for International Peace and Security.

In its security arm, the Security Council, The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.  The 5 permanent members (USA, Russia, UK, France & China) each have a veto power in any vote. The 10 other members are elected by the 193 members, according to a regional allocation. Contrary to Israel’s umbrage of unique exclusion from the Security Council, 60 of the 193 nations have never been elected to the council, and never one that is party to a dispute which the council is considering. The Security Council’s resolutions, unlike any other body of the U.N. are absolutely binding on all member states, and the Security Council has the power to assess threats to peace, name them, and if necessary deploy troops to hold the peace. Without the Security Council, the U.N. would be a toothless tiger.

The International Court of Justice’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.  The ICJ does not try war crimes, as these fall under the completely separate purview of the treaty-based International Criminal Court in the Hague. Without the ICJ, the world would be left to “might makes right.” Most of its cases are territorial in nature, but some are economic, environmental or military.

The Secretariat is the civil servant arm of the entire U.N. and is led by the Secretary General, at this time Ban Ki-Moon. As he entered his second year in office, he outlined 5 priorities for his work:

  1. Sustainable development
  2. Prevention
  3. Building a safer and more secure world by innovating and building on our core business
  4. Supporting nations in transition
  5. Working with and for women and young people
Perhaps most important for the U.N.’s good work and reputation, however, is The Economic and Social Council - the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as implementation of internationally agreed development goals. It serves as the central mechanism for activities of the UN system and its specialized agencies in the economic, social and environmental fields, supervising subsidiary and expert bodies.  It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.

It is in the ECOSOC that the U.N. makes the greatest impact on the largest number of lives.  Humanitarian assistance, agricultural development, regional economic councils, standing commissions for the status of women, standards of transport, labeling of chemicals, controlling narcotics, protecting forests, and a broad and constant series of forums and plenums among nations, academics and economic entities all provide dynamic interchange in a fast developing world.  

Within any of these areas are scores of commissions and countless committees and forums held on regional sites around the globe. Since the 54 nations of the ECOSOC, and the 193 nations of the GA all have their own political slants, the more political an activity is - such as human rights - the less often it will follow some “objective” view of the topic.  And since most decisions are arrived at by a vote, Israel is often vilified and voted on in some of these forums. When Malaysia was the president of the ECOSOC in 2010, many such examples occurred.  With Republic of Korea ambassador Oh Joon at the helm today, many fewer such things have occurred.

The truth is that the world needs the U.N. areas of expertise, as in matters of territorial dispute, human rights, women’s equality, hunger, sustainable agriculture, clean water and more. These all demand an international forum of cooperation, and the U.N. is good at this.  Never before in human history has such a large percentage of the planet had representation in a common forum, and the reasonable right to expect care and concern from the international community - especially in matters that are larger than one’s own national borders.

Israel and the Palestinians both will use, and have used the political process of the U.N. when it suits us/them. And when the politics go against us we cry out how biased and unjust the organization is. The truth is, most of the U.N. really isn't about us - and most of it is really, really good.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Murderers are Murderers - There is no defense for this.

Thursday night, July 30, 2015.

4 masked Israelis physically attack two Palestinian homes in the town of Dama.  Both have windows smashed, and fire bombs thrown inside. At least one has the word, Nekama, "Revenge," spray painted on the side of the house. One is empty, while the other contains a family of four asleep in their beds. The father, mother and one child are brutally burned and now in the hospital with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 60-90% of their bodies.  The 18 month old baby, Ali Saad Daobasa, is killed by the smoke and flame. The parents are on life support.

Murderers.  Terrorists. Animals.

There is no defense for this act.  There is no political or religious justification that will hold up in the heavenly court of Justice or any just court on earth. This is why we have laws, police, courts and executioners. Saving ourselves as victims from this kind of pogrom is why we have Israel.  These killers have become what Israel deplores at its deepest levels.

The four fled to a nearby Jewish settlement, where they have not been identified or located by police.  They must be found, reported, turned in - whatever it takes.

Israel has an ideal to which it must live.  Israel must not use the tools of blood on blood between citizens. Revenge is not for the individual to dole out.

In the past several years, a creeping criminality has found support in the anti-Palestinian side of the political spectrum.  The "tag machir movement" is the clearest example. "Tag machir" is Hebrew for "price tag." Throughout Israel, unknown hoodlums have taken to spray painting Palestinian or Arab Israel property - most commonly cars - with those Hebrew words.  Sometimes there is more. But mostly it is a defacing of property to make the claim that a price must be paid for Jewish blood or for violence against Israelis.  Did anyone think it would stop there?

Vigilante criminals come in many sizes. On one side, they are the terrorists who drive a car onto the sidewalk to kill Israelis.  On the other side, it is tag machir or the murderers of Ali Saad Daobasa. Palestinian vigilantes almost always seek blood and murder. If you hate that, don't become it. Don't support it.  Don't justify it with even a half of an apologetic sentence for its motivation.

Israeli believes in better. Israel is better.  Israel must prove its values once again: justice for the family of Ali Saad Daobasa. The murderers must be found, arrested, and suffer the full abilities of the law as terrorists.

The real "price tag" if this crime is not prosecuted is the loss of the Israeli heart and its Jewish soul to barbarism and crime in the name of righteousness.

The protests have flared up. More violence is happening in the name of the murdered baby. The army must come out... the murderers on both sides are being rewarded.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hateful, Murderous Prejudice against Gay Rights in Israel

Posted on Jul 30, 2015
NEW YORK – Today, six marchers were stabbed during Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade, allegedly by a Haredi Orthodox man released from prison two weeks ago after stabbing people at the same event in 2005. The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, condemned the attack; calling for acceptance of and equality for the LGBTQ community and an end to violence against the LGBTQ community. The organization’s president, Rabbi William Gershon; and executive vice president, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, issued the following statement:
Jews around the world are saddened and appalled that an event in the holy city of Jerusalem, designed to celebrate that all of humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image, was marred by a senseless hate crime. The horror of an attack on these innocent marchers is made more painful by recalling the passages we read from Eicha on Tisha B’Av, lamenting the shedding of innocent blood in the midst of Jerusalem (4:13). We wish the victims a refuah shlemah, a quick and speedy recovery, and our prayers remain with their families. This incident further highlights the ongoing need for Israeli law enforcement and government officials to vigorously police and prosecute crimes motivated by religious extremism. We appreciate that many prominent rabbis across the spectrum have condemned this act of violence.
In 1990, the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution calling on the community to ‘work for full and equal civil rights for gays and lesbians in our national life, deplore violence against gays and lesbians, encourage inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews in our congregations, and increase our awareness of issues facing gay and lesbian Jews.’ We continue to follow these principles in hopes of guaranteeing a safe space in our synagogues and our wider communities.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Hatchet Job On Michael Oren

A Hatchet Job from Phillip Weiss. 

Sadly, founder and co-editor Phillip Weiss reached out to our community under false pretense to write a hatchet job on Michael Oren. When our community responded to his invitation to be interviewed about the bombing of our synagogue back in 1971, we thought that he was going  to honor the lessons of our past. 

Instead, with overt personal bias from his own childhood, and resentment against our congregant Michael Oren, he chose to do a hatchet job pure and simple. As he writes, his purpose was not to tell our story or what it meant for our community, but to attack the memory of a then teenage Michael because it was a different experience than he had growing up

His approach under false pretense is truly lamentable - another example of journalism as bias. He left a message in my voicemail saying he was "writing a story about the bombing, and would like to get a quote."  That is not a fair description of what he was doing.  He already had the story he wanted to write, long before his interviews, and then he went looking for quotes to support it.  To get those quotes, he misrepresented the point of his article.

Reading through the editorial selections on his site, it is clear why he would have animosity against Michael Oren, who lives far far away from him on the political spectrum.  

I did not return Mr. Weiss' invitation to be interviewed, as I am always wary of reporters. Today, my suspicions are completely confirmed.  There is no fourth estate, and the one being interviewed should always beware.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vaccinations are Religiously Mandatory for Conservative Schools and Families

Quite some time ago I was asked, as the supervising rabbi of a Jewish early childhood education center, to approve the admission of a new preschooler whose parents refused to immunize him/her.  In the public school, all you had to do was sign a waiver form that declared immunizations to be against your religious beliefs, and the school system had to let you in.  But this was my synagogue's school, and the rabbi sets the religious standards. I required immunization, and we lost the family from the school.

Recently, as I took my own child for immunizations, I recalled this fact.  My child made all the same arguments to me:  "Now one has measles any more!"  "Why do I have to get this shot? It hurts, and it does nothing!" Etc.

The simple truth of the matter is that the child who does not get immunized, and does not get the disease, can not claim that immunizations don't matter.  They are benefitting from the fact that all of their classmates did get immunized, and therefore they are not being exposed to the pathogen in question. They are still very vulnerable and present a risk to the community.  To bank on the fact that no one else has the disease is the height of irresponsibility as a member of any community.

Many myths circulate against immunizations, but the truth is that they are safe - and certainly safer than the old days of polio in the public swimming pools. The world population boom, and the decrease in childhood diseases are objective proof in part to the efficacy of immunization.

Judaism demands protection of life - all life - in the form of pikuach nefesh. Leaving one's child vulnerable to avoidable infection, and sending them out into public where they could then infect others would be an egregious sin if done unknowingly. To do it after being given the facts would be tantamount to intentional endangerment of a minor and reckless endangerment of the public.

Monday, June 29, 2015

False Fear from the Anti-Homosexuals Among Us

Immediately in the wake of the mainstream rejoicing regarding the Supreme Court's ruling in support of homosexual unions, came multiple articles from the Catholic Church, certain protestants, and some of the Orthodox Jews in our American Jewish Community.

The united fear expressed by these articles  is that those who are religiously opposed to homosexuality may be forced to support and serve active homosexuality.  The questions raised have included,

(1) Must someone working in town hall provide a marriage license if it is against their religion to do so?
(2) Must a catering hall or florist accept a contract for a homosexual couple's wedding celebration?
(3) Does a therapist put themselves at risk of a civil rights law suit by counseling that homosexuality is both deviant and curable?

There are two simple principles here, and two compelling analogies.

When working in a public office, one represents and administers the laws and directives of the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court. There is no freedom of conscience for a town clerk to withhold any service of the government based on their own personal convictions. That is illegal and morally wrong. Such a person should be removed from that office if they will not comply. This, however, also extends to services generally offered to the public, such as educational, retail or financial services, etc. General public services may not be withheld under the phrase, "we don't serve your kind here."

When operating as a private religious institution, the protection of religious rights and freedoms are paramount, and bias is not only legal - but essential in some form. Similarly, the right to assemble can be for any peaceful purpose. And finally, the right to free speech allows for the proclamation and distribution of those ideas.  The whole point of religious freedom is to protect the right to believe anything, and to form social groups whose purpose is to peacefully explore, celebrate and act upon those beliefs.  Catholics do not have to give communion to protestants. Jews do not have to count non-Jews in minyan prayer quorums. The Ku Klux Klan does not need at accept people with dark skin into their society. The Supreme Court has specifically asserted that these rights are still protected for those who believe as a matter of faith that homosexuality is a moral sin.

Imagine a town clerk refusing to issue a marriage license to a Jewish woman who had converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi. Only in Israel would someone think that might be tolerable, though they too are wrong.  But in America it would not be allowed ever. Imagine a kosher restaurant refusing to serve an intermarried couple. Imagine a Jewish University refusing admission to someone who eats treife.  Intolerable, of course. Government and public services have been made available by the pious to the sinners in the country for years. And even if I don't believe these to be sins, I respect that others do. But they have no right to withhold generally available public services on the basis of that bias.

Yet a church, a pastor, a synagogue, or a rabbi are NOT forced, in any way, to support or engage any activity which is contrary to their religion, when acting as a church, pastor, synagogue or rabbi.  I do not have to rent my synagogue for forbidden activities, nor do I have to rent my synagogue for permitted activities.  There is nothing wrong with Christians observing Christianity.  But my synagogue may choose NOT to rent the social hall for an Easter service for a church that needs an overflow location.  Then again, we might. But we have the right, because it is a religious issue, to decide to apply a bias, even if our social hall is generally available to the public to rent.

 In Conclusion: Homosexuality has been determined by the court to be a civil right, and society will be held accountable to the equal treatment of homosexual citizens under the law.  As with gender and race, no person may say that their religion is a basis for bias in the public sphere.  Nevertheless, individual rights to privacy, religion, speech, assembly, etc., all protect those who disagree with the ruling to hold and act upon those beliefs in the private and religious spheres. Denying services on the basis of sexual orientation is no different than segregating the lunch counter, or denying university admission to women.

The next time someone asks one of these questions about "homosexuals," you might want to substitute the word "black,"  "Christian," or "woman," and see how it sounds to you.  When properly framed, the questions answer themselves.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Racism, Gay Rights, and Truth in America Today (Updated 7/6/15)

With the murder of a South Carolina pastor, and eight of his students engaged in peaceful bible study, racism has once again grabbed the spotlight in America this month. Ironically, this week proved that the civil rights battle of the 60's is now a broad and permanent victory.  The nation responded with horror and empathy, and the AME church in Charleston which suffered the slaughter was heralded as an historic landmark for the development of American cultural life. Historically black churches led the way, with all of America in the supportive wake of their example: Racism is intolerable on the American stage.

This does not mean that racism is absent, but bias against skin, language, gender, sexuality or religion has become fully foreign to the mainstream of this society, and all political leaders from left to right and in between immediately spoke out against the crime.  The federal prosecutors have added bias to the docket, and none are arguing that 'bias' is not an aggravating element of violent crime anymore. Despite the bloody and murderous example, this despicable event has come to prove the fact that America has truly become a nation of not only high ideals, but follow through.

This same sweep of history saw the Supreme Court rule this week that gay marriage is a civil right afforded by the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  It is now unconstitutional for any state or local government to refuse to provide a marriage license, or to refuse to recognize a license from any other place, for a gay couple. Absolutely equality and equal protection under law have been extended to homosexuality.

Compare that to the December 17, 1963 N.Y. Times article, "Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern," which chronicles the shutting down of certain social establishments for attracting and serving "homosexuals and deviants," and its assertion that modern psychiatry had proven that homosexuality was deviant, avoidable and curable.  Just 50 years ago, the mainstream of our society treated homosexuality with disdain, pity, or persecution.  And at the same time, large segments of our society had segregated restaurants, bathrooms, buses and schools.

The advance of civil rights in this country as a peaceful movement of democracy is quite simply stunning.

This week's rulings are fully in keeping with our understanding of Judaism today. The knowledge that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon indicates that it is created by God, and therefore good. The bible also knows no race, per se, and judgement on that basis decries the image of God in all humanity. Judaism did not always universally understand these truths, but they have become self-evident. In these past 20 years we have come to accept that it is not "liberalism" that is changing the landscape, but "truth" and "justice."

Tzedek tzedek tirdof.  The prophet adjures us to seek justice incessantly. This week, we are reminded that the turning of time does bring with it changes and improvements and that both the Torah and our civil law in America are flexible to accommodate new revelations of truths. Even more so, however, it our traditional siddur that links the shema to our beliefs and proclaims Adonai Eloheikhem, emet:  The Lord your God is Truth. That which is true, scientifically, is divinely designed.

And He saw it, and it was good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The World Zionist Elections, Results and Analysis

As I was preparing my own understanding of the recent WZO elections, which we worked hard to support and participate in, my colleague Rabbi Dr. David Fine was already busy penning the following, excellent analysis.  Rather than do the same job less well, I am sharing his comments verbatim:

"The Zionist Congress Elections as an Index on American Jewry"

by Rabbi Dr. David J. Fine

The results of the elections for the American delegation to the 37th World Zionist Congress are worth reflecting on.  While the election plays a key role in influencing the policies of the World Zionist Movement and in mapping the Israel-Diaspora relationship, the data are also important as an insightful index into the nature of the American Jewish community.  The big headline is the success of ARZA, representing the Reform movement, coming out on top with 56 of the 145 seats allocated to the American delegation to the 500-seat congress.  What strikes me is that the 39% won by the Reform movement here matches with almost scientific precision the Reform movement’s share of religiously-identified American Jews in the 2013 Pew report.  The Pew report found that 40% of religiously-identified American Jews (as opposed to Jews-by-ethnicity only) identify as Reform.

The Pew report made an interesting methodological distinction between “Jews by religion” and “Jews of no religion.”  While many are concerned about growing rates of secularization, secularization is a process that has been going on for two hundred years, and the Pew report found that 4.2 of the 5.3 million Jews in America are indeed “Jews by religion.” American Jewish identity, as opposed to Israeli Jewish identity, is still defined through religion.  This fact is made clear through the Zionist Congress elections, where three quarters of the delegates (or, 109 out of 145) for the American delegation represent parties affiliated with religious movements.  Additionally, a vote for one of the secular parties does not necessarily mean that one does not identify with Judaism as a religion.  However, the elections results show that the religious leadership has a mandate to speak for the Jewish community.

The Mercaz USA faction, representing the Conservative movement in the United States, won 25 delegates, one more that the 24-member faction of the Religious

Zionists.  Even combined, the Conservative and Orthodox parties still have fewer delegates than the Reform party.  This result again matches the Pew report, where 22% and 12% of Jews by religion identify as Conservative and Orthodox Jews respectively, as compared to the 40% who identify as Reform.  The disparity is found in how well the Religious Zionists did in the elections as compared to Mercaz USA.  According to the Pew Report, only 4 of the 12% of Jews by religion identifying as Orthodox are in fact “modern Orthodox.”  And as modern Orthodoxy is the wellspring of religious Zionism, we have here also an extraordinary success story, where 4% of the total has won 17% of the Congress delegates (or 24 of 145).  However, the disparity is understandable when we look at the Pew findings on emotional attachment to Israel.  The report found that 77% of modern Orthodox Jews were “very attached to Israel” as opposed to 47% of Conservatives and 24% of Reform.  However, if we adjust the Pew numbers on the denominational breakdown of American Jewry to consider only those “very attached to Israel,” as that is the group most likely to vote in the Zionist Congress election, the Conservative movement should have come out on top with the Reform as a close second.  That is, according to Pew, 10.3% of American Jewry should be Conservatives who are very attached to Israel, 9.6% should be Reform who are very attached to Israel, and 3.1% modern Orthodox who are very attached to Israel.  While one can crunch numbers here in any combination of variables, what we see is that the modern Orthodox community did very well in the election given its small percentage of the American Jewish population.  The fact that its faction dropped by seven delegates since the last election can only be credited to the extent of ARZA’s victory.  Because the size of the Reform faction, as we found, matches its share of the American Jewish population, the Reform movement exceeded what could have been expected if only those who were “very attached to Israel” voted.

The 25 seats won by Mercaz USA represent 17% of the total, which, again, comes close to the 22% of Jews by religion who identify as Conservative according to Pew.  While the Conservatives should have done a little better given that there are more Conservative Jews who are “very attached to Israel” over Reform or Orthodox, there is no doubt that some of those “very attached to Israel” Conservative Jews voted for other parties.  (I say this because, among other data, some of them are listed on the slates of other parties.)  What was interesting was that the total number of votes for Mercaz USA was 9,890, comparing very closely to the 9,594 votes for the Religious Zionists.  This is interesting to me because I have often been in conversations where people have tried to convince me of the futility of Conservative Judaism where the commitment to Jewish traditon is (allegedly) minimal as compared to Orthodoxy.  My response has often been that if we look at absolute numbers as opposed to percentages within congregations, the numbers are probably very similar.  That is, across the board, there are probably just as many very committed Conservative Jews as there are Orthodox, except that the Conservative Jewish population is dispersed across the country while the Orthodox population is more concentrated. The Zionist Congress elections, more than the Pew report, show that the numbers of strongly committed modern Orthodox and Conservative Jews are roughly equivalent.  Of course, I am not counting the ultra-Orthodox population in this comparison.

Overall, the results of the Zionist Congress elections show us that a working alliance between the Reform and Conservative movements will control the majority of the American Jewish delegation, which was to be expected.  At the same time, the election results contribute to our understanding of the pluralism of voices that make up American Jewry. That is a very positive contribution that we can all make to world Jewry. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vatican to Recognize State of Palestine

BREAKING NEWSWednesday, May 13, 2015 11:03 AM EDT
Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty
The Vatican said Wednesday that it had concluded a treaty to recognize Palestinian statehood, a symbolic but significant step that was bound to be welcomed by many Palestinians but was likely to cause deep concern for the Israeli government.
Formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the Vatican, which has deep religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites, lends a powerful signal of legitimacy to the efforts by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, to achieve statehood despite the long paralyzed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about the increased international acceptance of Palestine as a state since the United Nations upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status in 2012 to that of a nonmember observer state. A number of European countries have also signaled their acceptance of Palestinian statehood.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, has long signaled his wish for a Palestinian state. For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.
A statement from a joint commission of Vatican and Palestinian diplomatic officials, posted on the Vatican news website, said “the work of the Commission on the text of the agreement has been concluded,” and that it will be submitted for formal approval and for signing “in the near future.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ethanol Gasoline on Pesach

On Apr 3, 2015, at 12:39 PM, Howard Kastner wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

I have a diesel car and I usually prefer to fill it with a biodiesel blend that contains soy because I believe it better for the environment. 

Following our discussion earlier this week that we are not permitted to gain any benefit from chametz during Pesach, can I drive my car with biodiesel during Pesach, or must I use regular diesel?

Similarly, during Pesach, would someone driving a regular gas car not be permitted to use gasoline with ethanol because it’s made from corn?

Thank you. 

Howard Kastner

Biodiesel is made exclusively from kitniyot, such as soy or corn.  My understanding is that biodesel from one of the 5 grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oats) is not economically viable in the industry.

DERIVATIVE products of kitniyot, used for NON_FOOD purposes, are competely PERMITTED on Pesach.  Ethanol fuel is another excellent catergory of a permitted product.


Robert Tobin 
B'nai Shalom
Office: 973-731-0160
P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

God G-d. Allah All-h.

On Mar 26, 2015, at 12:31 PM, [omitted] wrote:

Dear Rabbi:

I was surprised to see that you wrote ".. with God's help", rather than "with G-d's help" as I was taught in my youth.  Is the way I learned it an Orthodox tradition rule?


Dear P,

G-d is a option, but since it is one of many non-Jewish names of God, it should be joined by All-h, and Jes-s, etc., which no one seems to do.

The rules against writing God’s name applies to the Hebrew names, since those names on paper or parchment require burial.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach, 

Robert Tobin 
B'nai Shalom
Office: 973-731-0160
P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Original message follows:

In a message dated 3/26/2015 12:25:52 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Friends,

We are sorry to tell you that our internet router was fried by a power outage this morning here at the synagogue.  Therefore, until they are able to fix it (tomorrow with God’s help), our staff are unable to receive your electronic communications, etc., or to send any emails to you.

For reservations to Friday night’s dinner with Rabbi Asekoff, or to our second night Seder next week, or for any other reason, please CALL our front office during business hours:  973-731-0160.

From my cell phone,

Robert Tobin 
B'nai Shalom
Office: 973-731-0160
P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

NOTICE - This communication may contain confidential and privileged information that is for the sole use of the intended recipient. Any viewing, copying or distribution of, or reliance on this message by unintended recipients is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately by replying to the message and deleting it from your computer

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Non-Jewish Members of the Synagogue?

From: Robert Tobin <>
Subject: Re: Question
Date: March 24, 2015 at 1:25:51 PM EDT
To: [omitted]

The topic is a live one among Conservative rabbis to be sure.

Since “shul" is a made up category, there is no biblical, rabbinic or halakhic authority to clearly define the term “shul membership” and who it applies to.  Therefore it is a matter of policy, not religion in that sense.

Basically, non-Jews making decisions about the form of religious expression would be inappropriate. Jewish people should not determine who the priest in church is, or if the mass is in latin or not, even if their spouse is Catholic.  This is no different.  Therefore, non-Jews voting on which rabbi to hire (or fire), cantors, religious school directors, etc., is to be avoided in the opinion of most Conservative synagogues.  Since synagogue membership carries with it voting rights, they draw the line at the word “member,” only allowing Jews to be members and thereby maintaining that all members have the right to vote and hold office.

That is the simplest, but not the only way to handle the situation.  Many synagogues allow the non-Jewish spouse to serve on committees. What if they are president of the sisterhood, and by laws say that sisterhood gets a voting seat on the board? The dominoes fall quickly.

Probabably best, give the rate of intermarriage and the movement’s need to attract people to our form of Judaism, would be a “Jewish Membership” and a “non-Jewish membership” which would clearly delineate the priveledges and responsibilities of each category, kind of like a country club with “social” “golf” and “tennis memberships.”

But it is a live issue to be sure.

Robert Tobin 
B'nai Shalom
Office: 973-731-0160
P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

On Mar 24, 2015, at 12:57 PM, "T" and "H" ...... wrote:
Hi rabbi,
"T" here. My bro-in-law had a question for me that I must pass to you for a reliable answer. This is in regard to some sensitive proposed changes to our SHUL in upstate ny. (If that info makes a diff). Here's the question:
"What authority is there for the premise that Conservative synagogues do not admit non-Jews as members?"
Thanks in advance for your attention. 
Ps. A sweet and kosher pesach to you, "L" and the kiddies! 

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, March 23, 2015

The President vs. the Prime Minister: Why they'll never get along.

PM Netanyahu has convinced President Obama, 
beyond repair, 
that Netanyahu is a racist.

We should now expect a rapid and prolonged change in all "executive order" based relationships like US/AID investments, cultural and academic exchange programs, and US protection of Israel in the Security Council.

Here's why:

There is no way for President Obama to hear the following statements without directly associating them with the civil rights movement in America:

a) Netanyahu rejected his 2009 commitments to a two state solution;

b) Netanyahu stated clearly in the last 48 hours of the Israeli election that there will be no Palestinian State (no qualification given at the time), and;

c) Netanyahu and his party urged his followers to the polls on election day by portraying Arab voting, Arab voter drives, and allegations of bussing Arabs to polling stations as a threat.  While Netanyahu did NOT criticize or undermine the Arab right to vote, the rhetoric sounds like the anti-black oppression of voting rights in America in the 1960's. Race relations in America are deteriorating, and both the President and the U.S. Attorney General have been paying close attention to race riots and protests in MO and elsewhere of late. It is a hot topic right now in America, and a core value of this Presidency.

Netanyahu's rhetorical portrayal of "the threat" of the Arab voting, along with the denial of the possibility of a Palestinian state sounds to the President like this:  "those who have the vote are a threat, and the rest should never have a vote at all."   The only way the President will interpret that is institutional racism and oppression.

Or, as Jimmy Carter infamously declared it: "Apartheid." Netanyahu has pushed the only button we have that could possibly justify that horrific and misbegotten misunderstanding of Israel.

Now what?

The President has already made statements that must be taken very seriously:

From his press secretary Josh Earnest's press briefings following the election on March 18, 2015:

"Just as a relevant piece of recent historical context is that there have been two Israeli elections during the Obama administration.  In both situations, in the aftermath of both elections, the President did not telephone Prime Minister Netanyahu until he’d already been directed by the Israeli President to begin the process of forming a coalition government.
"So I'm not suggesting that the President will wait until that direction has been handed down this time.  I'm merely pointing out that in previous situations the President has not telephoned the Israeli Prime Minister on the day after the elections.  But I do anticipate that the President will call Prime Minister Netanyahu in the coming days.
"Q    -- talking about the Palestinian state issue over the last couple of days, citing the election.  But now that the election is over and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been reelected, can you talk a little bit about what that means for the U.S. goals in the peace process and the hope for a two-state solution?
"MR. EARNEST:  That's a good question, Justin.  I've got a couple of things to say about that.  The first is that the unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel, including our strong military and intelligence relationships, will continue.  And that relationship will continue because those relationships are essential to the security of the Israeli people, and the President is committed to continuing that important security cooperation.
"The second thing I wanted to say is that it has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinian people.  And that two-state solution has been pursuit of a democratic and Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.  That has been the policy of the United States under both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
"In the context of the recent election, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a change in his position.  And based on those comments, the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation moving forward.
"Q    -- that you guys may no longer favor a two-state solution, or that you may reevaluate sort of your ability to cooperate with Netanyahu?
"MR. EARNEST:  What I'm suggesting is that it has been the longstanding policy of the United States that a two-state solution is the best way to address this conflict, primarily because it is in the security interest of the Israeli people -- again, in the view of the United States -- it is in the best interest of the Israeli people because it would be the best way to resolve the very legitimate security concerns that they have.
"The United States also happens to believe, and the President also happens to believe that this would be the best way to resolve the situation, this conflict in a way that satisfies the concerns of the Palestinian people as well.  They seek a sovereign, independent state.  This solution also has the benefit of best addressing the stability of the region; that this ongoing conflict has contributed to instability throughout the region and that addressing this conflict by establishing a Jewish independent state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a sovereign, independent Palestinian state is the best way to defuse regional tensions as well.
"Of course, it's not going to solve every problem, but we know that this ongoing conflict does serve to inflame tensions around the region and promote instability.  And it has long been the policy of the United States and it continues to be the view of the President that a two-state solution is the best way to address those tensions and address that instability.
"Q    Netanyahu said that there would not be a Palestinian state for as long as he’s Prime Minister.  So the U.S. position is that you favor a two-state solution.  But he’s saying that he doesn’t want that as long as he’s in office.  So does that mean the Mideast peace process is essentially dormant for the rest of the Obama administration? 
"MR. EARNEST:  It means for today -- it means that for today that based on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments, the United States will reevaluate our position and the path forward in the situation.

"Q    Josh, a couple more on Bibi.  Republicans have put out the most celebratory statements on the results.  Some like Ted Cruz have pointed out that in their view, Netanyahu seems to have won despite the efforts of the Obama administration -- the Obama political machine, I think he put it.  I wonder if you care to respond to that.  And also, could you address what this does to efforts to prevent passage of either new sanctions without a veto-proof majority, also the Corker bill to require congressional --
"MR. EARNEST:  I don't anticipate that this will have a substantial impact on our ongoing efforts to resolve diplomatically the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program.  And the reason for that is, obviously Prime Minister Netanyahu has had ample opportunity to make very clear what his views are about that situation, so I'm not sure that the events over the last 24 hours or so has a material impact on that.
"As it relates to some of the comments from Republicans, I'll just point out that the administration, in very conspicuous fashion, avoided leaving anybody with even the appearance of an administration effort to influence the outcome of the elections one way or the other.  The President pointedly avoided commenting on the political back-and-forth that took place in the context of the election.  The President avoided meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he traveled to the United States only because it was two or three weeks before the election.
"So this administration has gone to great lengths to avoid weighing in on one side or the other.  And the reason for that is we believe that the interest between our two countries is well served by preventing this relationship from being subjected to a lot of aggressive partisan rhetoric.  And the President has certainly done his part to ensure that we’re protecting the U.S.-Israeli relationship from that kind of political back-and-forth. And, again, that is consistent with the tradition that other U.S. Presidents have prioritized, which is avoiding sort of the kind of partisanship that is part of the U.S. democratic process from infecting the U.S.-Israel relationship."

From his press secretary Josh Earnest's press briefings following the election on March 20, 2015:

"But you've also heard me raise significant concerns that we have here about some of the divisive election-day political tactics that were deployed by the Prime Minister’s political party on election day.  And you've also heard me raise concerns about the Prime Minister indicating withdrawal of his country’s commitments to a two-state solution.  And those are views that we’ve discussed at some length in this venue over the last day or two, and those were topics that the President raised directly with the Prime Minister in that phone call, as I said that he would."


In conclusion, we should be prepared for a U.S. improvement of relations with the pro-democracy Palestinians, such as Abbas.  Now is the time for those pro-state Palestinians to move forward actively in the U.N., not just the International Court. It is entirely possible that, in the absence of an Israeli commitment to the "legal" creation of a Palestinian state, the U.S. government will see the U.N. as the only viable route to advance the peace goal of  a two state solution.

For the United States, that would mean a withdrawal from the idea of a "negotiated" two-state solution, but if forced to choose between a non-negotiated two-state solution and the "permanent" rejection of a two-state solution, this lame duck President may feel that he is immune from criticism and able to support that move in the U.N.  If the Palestinians were to achieve U.S. support for that bid, it would pass in 24 hrs.

Stay tuned.