Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Update, March 16, 2010: The meme continues. Here’s another piece (this one by Irwin J. Mansdorf) on engaging new forms of conversation between Israel and the world: The Hasbara challenge: We can’t counter Arab PR by telling people Israel invented cell phone

A new Israeli government effort to bring the average “Yossi Israeli” into the ongoing effort at getting Israel’s position across to average individuals and the media to combat negative perceptions, stereotypes, and anti-Israel sentiment is getting a significant amount of attention in the media, Jewish and otherwise.

The website Masbirim will attempt to begin training Israelis to speak on behalf of Israel when the opportunity arises. It also contains satirical videos poking fun at how poorly Israel is understood or known beyond stereotypes of violence and backwardness. As with much satire, the quality of the work has been widely debated, as well. (more…)

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Rabbi Elyse Wechterman of Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro, Mass., has a nice piece in a recent edition of her local paper, in which she says our job is not only to survive the immediate crisis, “but also to reexamine what is truly important, what it is we want to do with what little time, money, strength, will we have – here, now.” In the piece, she generously quotes from Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman several times:

“When suffering comes to you, you may not be able to do much about it (the specific crisis), but you can do something about yourself (your stance, perspective, attitude in the world).”

Excellent and useful thoughts.

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Come and study in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute with your fellow rabbinic students from other movements in an open and supportive atmosphere.


  • David Hartman
  • Melila Hellner-Eshed
  • Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi
  • Rut Kaniel Kara-Ivanov
  • Israel Knohl
  • Micah Goodman


  • Reading the Zohar
  • The Soul of the Sinner: From Chet to Geulah
  • God After Auschwitz: Dilemmas in Post-Holocaust Theology
  • Morality in War
  • Where Do We Come From?

The Experience

  • 6:00 – 7:00 PM “Processing” issues dealing with ruchaniyut, the Israeli experience (yisraeliyut) and becoming a rabbi. Half of the processing will be through reflection on Israeli poetry and half will be through small group reflection (talking circle)
  • 7:00 – 7:45 PM Dinner (homemade vegetarian soups & trimmings)
  • 7:45 – 8:30 PM Havruta study
  • 8:30 – 10:00 PM Shiur: Half of the shiurim will be with Melila Hellner-Eshed (Reading the Zohar); the other half will be with other Hartman Faculty


  • When: Twenty-seven Tuesday nights, beginning October 27, 2009
  • Cost: $750 (includes all study materials and 27 dinners)
  • For more information contact: Rabbi Bill Berk, 054-424-8702, billberk@shi.org.il
  • For information, and to register, contact Marlene Houri, 02-567-5336, marlene@shi.org.il


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From our colleague Rabbi Jonah Layman:

So I just hung up and I must say that President Obama is quite impressive. He framed his presentation around the “unetaneh tokef” prayer quoting who shall live and who shall die, etc. and the shofar blast. This season he says prompts serious reflection and debate about matters of life and death and that’s what the health care issue is. Reforming health care is essential especially for the 46 million Americans without health insurance. Everyone knows the system is broken and we need to trust each other to fix the system. We need to take bold steps to do that.

Background: NY Times article that mentions the conference call. NY Times blog on the overall debate.

BETTER: NY Times blog on the call with rabbis.

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President Obama is set to call a group of religious leaders today – that’s Aug. 19, 2009 –  to push his health care reform proposal. At least one rabbi with ties to Shalom Hartman Institute is going to be in on the call. Rabbi Jonah Layman, rabbi of Shaare Tefila Congregation of the Washington, DC, suburb of Silver Spring, MD, and a member of the current cohort of rabbis in the Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative, told us he is going to be in on the call.

That’s not surprising, as Rabbi Layman is co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Social Action Committee and Washington Board of Rabbis.

There are several faith-based groups supporting the president’s program, including Faithful America’s faithforhealth.org, and Reform Judaism’s jewsforhealthcarereform.org.

According to the LA Times, the president actually will be speaking with rabbis twice today (Shaharit and Mincha?). The first call is strictly to rabbis, a sort of Rosh Chodesh Elul, pre-Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) health-care pep talk, and then the second call where rabbis are part of the larger group of pro-health-care-reform religious leaders:

First up is a “High Holy Day” call this morning with rabbis from Judaism’s Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. Organizers hope the call will provide fodder for synagogue sermons when the Jewish holidays arrive next month.

To listen in on the call, go to the Faith For Health website.

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A new survey reported here has found that the current generation of Israelis has a weak – to be charitable – knowledge of Judaism. According to the article:

The survey revealed that 80% of secular Israelis and 59% of Israelis overall define their level of Judaic knowledge and Jewish heritage as mediocre or lower. The percentage claiming a low level of knowledge was relatively high among adults over age 55 (21%), among Jews of Ashkenazi descent (22%), and among those with above-average incomes (20%)….

Among secular Israelis who define their level of knowledge as low, only 25% want to expand their Judaic knowledge.

But nearly half (43%) of all secular Israelis want to increase their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish sources, with many citing such options as a secular beit midrash (Torah study center) (15%) or Jewish academic institutions (14%).

The Hartman Institute’s Be’eri program – now encompassing 50,000 Israeli students in so-called “secular” high schools across the country – teaches Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish history, Jewish tradition, and Jewish thought without adding on requirements of observance. The program is wildly popular among students (see the video from a visit the Be’eri students made to Hartman Institute last winter), and is set to expand to thousands of additional students in coming years. For more information on Be’eri, write to us at the Hartman Institute.

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Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, says that Israel at 61 is not looking for messianic redemption or major developments. Israel and Jews should be content if the Jewish State takes small steps of continuous progress toward safety, security, social welfare, democracy, pluralism, and peace.
Special kudos to the person who can tell us who is singing “Hatikvah” in the opening credits.

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The value and virtues of Top 10, 25 or 50 lists are endlessly debatable. But what is indisputable is that they start discussions – and disputes. The publication this week of the new “Top 50 (U.S.) Rabbis” compiled by Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman & CEO Michael Lynton, News Corporation Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and JTN Productions CEO Jay Sanderson and published by Newsweek, and the addition this year of the “25 Most Vibrant Congregations” is no different.

From the moment these lists first appeared, people have been attacking them for being too hip and media-centric, to ignoring traditional (read: Orthodox and yeshiva) rabbis, and for ranking the un-rankable. At the same time, they have sparked debate as to what makes a rabbi effective in the modern world.

Shmuel Rosner, as usual, offers a pungent critique of the list and its worth:

In a real world of serious rabbis such list will change only very slowly and very rarely (Can you imagine: this year, Hillel is tops Shamai for the number one slot!?). The fact that Newsweek can tweak its list so quickly is testimony to one of three things:

  1. Newsweek doesn’t do a serious job.
  2. Rabbis aren’t as important as they used to be.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic Monthly says, “The list is meant to be picked over, so pick over it I will,” and he does, with his own tart and funny comments on many of the list’s leaders. Here’s what he says about Newsweek’s pick of David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, and FOO (Friend of Obama) as No. 1:

This pick is typical of the list, which slights congregational rabbis (the ones who interact with, you know, Jews), but it makes a certain amount of sense: Saperstein has become a central player in the liberal wing of American Jewry, which is the wing on steroids.

Finally, when I passed this list around to members of the current class of Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative Fellows, they made similar comments. One wrote: “Friends, we’re all fine rabbis. Please let’s not get sucked into this hideous ranking system before Zagat starts reviewing our sermons and congregations.”

With all that as prologue, several Hartman-affiliated rabbis and their congregations, as well as FOH (Friends of Hartman), made the list:

Two synagogues on the Top 25 list are represented in the current cohort of Rabbinic Fellows:

Past members of the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative program on the list are: Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, new head of the CCAR, and Ed Feinstein of Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA. The list’s chief FOH is David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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Summer Learning at Hartman Institute

Summer Learning at Hartman Institute

We change the homepage picture on the Hartman website on a regular basis – once every week or so. But we don’t have space to say a lot about each photo. So, beginning with the current picture (see a small version above), we are going to have something to say about each picture as it goes online.

The current picture is an interesting shot over the left shoulder of Rabbi Ron Aigen, a member of the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative, during that group’s Summer 2008 residency in Jerusalem. In the picture, Ron is seen studying in the Institute’s internal courtyard in the cool shadows of a Jerusalem summer afternoon.

Rabbinic Leadership Initiative participants spend three years with the Institute. They make three summer visits and three shorter ones in the winter. During the academic year they learn on a weekly basis with a Hartman Institute scholar via a videoconference. And they are in touch with us and each other on a regular basis. The current cohort is in the second of its three years.

They are turning out to be an unusually close-knit group that has bonded despite their far-flung locations – New York to California, Montreal (Ron) to Florida – and their different denominations – Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Last month, during their winter visit, the group conducted a morning (Shaharit) service together. That sounds like no big deal, but it was the first time the men and women of the Rabbinic Leadership group had been able to find a way to pray together.

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I don’t want this one to slip away unnoticed, even though it is off the main Hartman website homepage for now: David Hartman’s new column on the rise of extremism in the Jewish world. The essay is adapted from one of his recent lectures in the Pomrenze Lecture Series: Challenges Facing Modern Jewry in Israel and the Diaspora. In that talk, the fourth in the six-lecture series, Rabbi Hartman discussed the thinking of Mordecai Kaplan, the 20th century American rabbi and philosopher who founded the Reconstructionist Movement, the first U.S.-founded Jewish movement.

Rabbi Hartman marveled at the change in the Jewish world, and how the Conservative Movement has struggled even as Orthodoxy – and its stricter and stricter off-shoots – continue to gain in popularity: “It seems that the more extreme, the more right wing, the more you have a sense of being a holy Jew.”

Rabbi Hartman laments the rise in non-rational thinking, the triumph of the devout and energetic over the thoughtful and intellectual: “The less intelligible things are these days, the more attractive they have become.”

Read his entire essay, including his sharply worded condemnation of the “irrational,” by clicking here. There is also a video version of the talk embedded with that article.

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