JBuzz Musings October 23, 2013: High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Earlier this month, on Oct. 1, 2013 the Pew Research Center released their new poll entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” showing a growing a trend of American Jews identifying only culturally as Jews, but not religiously. What…READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 14, 2013: Observing Tisha B’Av to rebuild Jerusalem – morally and spiritually

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Observing Tisha BAv to rebuild Jerusalem – morally and spiritually

Source: Haaretz, 7-14-13

Eicha? How? How could this have happened? This is the question that pervades the liturgy of Tisha B’Av – the annual fast commemorating the destruction of the Temples – which we mark this coming Tuesday….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 12, 2013: Tisha B’Av: An unloved Jewish holiday gets a makeover

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Tisha BAv: An unloved Jewish holiday gets a makeover

Source: Religion News Service, 7-12-13

(RNS) Most people have heard of Hanukkah and Passover and maybe Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement. But Tisha B’Av? Translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it counts as one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 11, 2013: The Hero of Tisha B’Av?

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The Hero of Tisha BAv?

Source: The Jewish Press, 7-11-13

In this season of the Three Weeks, as we approach Tisha B’Av, perhaps it is worth re-examining the story told in the Gemara and the version found in the Midrash, and particularly the role of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 9, 2013: How Tisha b’Av Turns Into A Holiday

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How Tisha bAv Turns Into A Holiday

Source: The Jewish Week, 7-9-13

We give credence and added strength to Zechariah’s prophecy by changing and lightening the foreboding character of Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the 10th month), rising from our shiva stools (we must sit on the ground on Tisha b’Av) at mid-day….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 3, 2012: Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture

Source: Elon Pendulum, 4-3-12

It was during his first semester on campus that sophomore Mason Sklut discovered his interest in Jewish history and culture. Now, with the addition of a new program in Jewish studies, Sklut will graduate with a minor in the topic he loves.

Professor Geoffrey Claussen has been instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Studies Program. File photo by Julia Sayers.

“My first semester, I took Jewish Traditions with Michael Pregill, where I learned about how Judaism has become what it is today,” Sklut said. “Going back thousands of years in this class and discovering the ancient roots of my religion was an incredible experience for me.”

Sklut has taken multiple additional courses about Judaism and said he is fascinated with the diversity of the religion. The new program offers students an interdisciplinary minor tracing the culture and history of the religion.

“In many courses, it’s seeing how the community, generally throughout history, functioning as a minority group, related to other surrounding communities,” said Geoffrey Claussen, assistant professor of religious studies. “Being able to trace the very diverse experiences of the community through very different times and places is what the minor seeks to encourage.”

Claussen, who arrived at the university in the fall and has been instrumental in the formation of the program, said it seeks to unite a range of courses — including religious studies, foreign language, philosophy and sociology, among others — to illustrate the complexity and diversity of the Jewish communities.

Students interested in obtaining the minor must complete 20 credit hours, four in Jewish Traditions and the others from a selection of more than 35 course offerings.

Claussen said he has already spoken to some students who have fulfilled some of the requirements for the minor.

It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with.
– Junior Diana Abrahams

“Some students have had in mind over the last year that this was probably coming up, and they have planned ahead to some degree,” he said. “Or, just because of their own academic interests, some students have ended up taking many of the required courses.”

Junior Diana Abrahams will have completed all 20 credits by the end of the spring based on courses she was already enrolled in. Abrahams, who is Jewish, said she enjoys engaging in conversation about her religion.

“It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with,” she said.

Academic interest in Jewish studies has increased in North America in recent years, Claussen said, and the creation of such a program at Elon is beneficial to the university.

“Jewish families considering Elon have asked in recent years about whether there will be a Jewish studies program, and this program helps to make Elon attractive to that whole group of students,” Claussen said. “And this includes students who may not necessarily choose to minor in Jewish studies, but who want to know that the college supports taking the Jewish experience seriously as part of the liberal arts education.”

Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War

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Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War

Source: Jewish Journal, 12-11-11

Last week I was privileged to hear a presentation on Hanukkah by Noam Zion, a fellow of and the senior educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, who led 40 Rabbis of the Southern California Board of Rabbis in a superb 2-hour conversation entitled:

“Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism and Habad –  Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”

Noam offered us a comprehensive view of Hanukkah from its beginnings (© 165 B.C.E.) through history and how it is understood and celebrated today by Israelis, American liberal non-Hareidim Jews and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written by rabbis through the centuries, Noam noted three questions that are consistently asked: ‘Who are the children of light and darkness?’ ‘Who are our people’s earliest heroes and what made them heroic?’ ‘What relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?’

Though religiously a “minor holyday” (Hanukkah is not biblically based, nor do the restrictions apply that are associated with Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur), Hanukkah occupies a place in each of the ideologies of the State of Israel, American liberal Judaism and Habad.

For example, before and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Maccabees served as a potent symbol for “Political Zionism” for those laboring to create a modern Jewish state. The early Zionists rejected God’s role in bringing about the miracle of Jewish victory during Hasmonean times. Rather, such leaders as Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Jacob Klatzkin, and A.D. Gordon emphasized that Jews themselves are the central actors in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land, not God.

For 20th century liberal American Jews Hanukkah came to represent Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the American value of religious freedom as affirmed by the first Amendment of the US Constitution. Even as the holiday of Hanukkah reflects universal aspirations, the Hanukkiah remains a particular symbol of Jewish pride and identity for American Jews and their children living in a dominant Christian culture.

For Habad, Hanukkah embodies the essence of religious identity on the one hand, and symbolizes the mission of Jews on the other. Each Hassid is to be “a streetlamp lighter” who goes out into the public square and kindles the nearly extinguished flame of individual Jewish souls, one soul at a time (per Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber). This is why Habad strives to place a Hanukkiah in public places and why Hassidim offer to help Jews don t’filin. Every fulfilled mitzvah kindles the flame of a soul and restores it to God.

Noam concluded his shiur (lesson) by noting that the cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based in the different responses to the central and historic question that has always given context to Hanukkah – ‘Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?’…READ MORE

Shuly Rabin Schwartz: More City Bar Mitzvahs Hold the Religion

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JBUZZ — JEWISH NEWS

Source: WSJ, 7-23-11

MITZVAH

 

A small but growing number of families are opting for secular bar mitzvahs, taking the occasion to celebrate personal growth and Jewish culture instead of Jewish faith. Although such celebrations are derided by some religious leaders as little more than birthday parties, participants say they are a thoughtful alternative for those who do not subscribe to religious beliefs.

While secular bar mitzvahs veer away from traditional religious elements, they also tend to forgo the over-the-top celebrations that have become a subject of criticism by Jewish leaders.

“I think a bar mitzvah party that has a six-course meal and a large band, and doesn’t have a spiritual piece except that the food is kosher, is not as holy as one that is trimmed down and includes community service,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York.

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Manhattan is leading a nationwide movement to create meaningful secular services for Jewish teenagers. Marge Greenberg, whose daughter Rachel Gerber recently completed City Congregation’s 18-month bat mitzvah program, says it’s no accident that parties for participants tend to be small.

“The part that comes beforehand is the important part. The celebration is just the culmination of the study,” Ms. Greenberg said. “The party is incidental. It’s like a social occasion. It’s just not the point.”

The idea is slowly gaining acceptance, though some rabbis have different views.

“The concept of a ‘secular bar mitzvah’ is of course a bit of an oxymoron since ‘bar mitzvah’ means ‘one who is commanded by God,'” said Daniel Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “Without the religious part it is just a birthday party.”

Secular bar mitzvahs continue centuries-old traditions: The emotions and themes common at bar mitzvahs—family history, maturity and hard-won pride—are all present, proponents say.

“This is part of the contemporary world,” said Shuly Rabin Schwartz, a professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “In an odd sort of way the nontraditional ceremonies are affirming the value of the tradition. They’re saying something should happen at this stage. They’re trying to figure out something meaningful for individuals in that community.”

At City Congregation, bar mitzvah candidates spend up to two years preparing for their big day. Students in the program write essays on topics such as family history, community service and role models, and complete a project on a topic in Jewish culture. (One recent project’s title was “Holy Carp: Gefilte Fish, Judaism and Me.”)

“It’s not Judaism lite,” says Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation. He has conducted the bar mitzvah training for more than 50 students… READ MORE

Civics studies in Israeli Schools to focus on Jewish democracy

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Source: YNet News, 7-20-11

Education Ministry approves controversial changes to high school civics curriculum which will emphasize historical justifications for State of Israel’s establishment

A new civics curriculum is underway after being approved by the Education Ministry on Monday. The new curriculum has a bigger emphasis on the connection between a Jewish and democratic state.

The program’s approval encountered a few obstacles due to a public battle between civics teachers and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar who sought to introduce the change.

A source within the Education Ministry noted that while the alterations were relatively moderate, they definitely mark a change towards a more nationalistic and Jewish direction.

Secular, religious students to study civics together

Education Ministry pushing for new program in which religious, secular high schools will hold joint civics classes. ‘This requires a great deal of courage,’ program manager says — Full Story

The changes include additions like a historical introduction to the Balfour declaration and the UN’s partition plan in 1947.

The declaration of independence will be studied with an emphasis on the historical and international justification for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel. There will also be an emphasis on the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation state while explaining it from the perspective of democratic values…READ MORE

Northwestern Professor Kenneth Seeskin wins National Jewish Book Award

Source: JUF, 5-11-11

Kenneth Seeskin, the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Professor of Jewish Civilization and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern University, has been honored with a 2010 National Jewish Book Award from the Jewish Book Council. The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture (Cambridge University Press), co-edited by Seeskin and Judith R. Baskin, of the University of Oregon, received first place in anthologies and collections.

The guide—chosen as the best written, most comprehensive, and most engaging book in its category—offers 21 essays by leading scholars examining an overview of Jewish life from its origins in the ancient Near East to its impact on contemporary pop culture today.

Seeskin, who joined the Northwestern University faculty in 1972, is best known for his interpretation and defense of the rationalist tradition in Jewish philosophy. He has also edited The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides, and authored the award-winning books Maimonides on the Origin of the World and Searching for a Distant God: The Legacy of Maimonides. He accepted the award at the 60th annual National Jewish Book Awards ceremony on March 9 at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

In an interview with JUF News Seeskin spoke about his award-winning anthology, the rise of Jewish studies programs at academic institutions, and the one thing that unifies all Jews in history….READ MORE