Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The good, the bad, the weird

A few recent good news–bad news items:

In Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall successfully conducted a bat mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel, including having the young women chant from a Torah scroll.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it was a very small Torah scroll, smuggled into the women’s section  under a coat, because the authorities would allow the women neither to use one of the sifrei Torah kept at the Western Wall, nor to bring in a full-sized scroll.

The Women of the Wall have also  begun advertising the opportunity for bat mitzvah services at the Wall on buses in Jerusalem. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the buses are being vandalized. 

Bad news: the rabbi of a prominent Orthodox congregation in Washington, D.C., was accused of placing a camera in the synagogue’s mikveh and photographing women as they undressed.

Relatively good news: the congregation placed him on leave and made no attempt at a cover-up. Some Orthodox authorities called for women to serve on boards that supervise mikvaot. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote, “Few stories over the past years have been as serious with regards to male religious violation of women and action is required. A comprehensive review of male access to the female mikveh must be undertaken so that all women feel and know that the mikveh is an inviolable place of religious privacy and spiritual security.”

He also wrote, “This sorrowful story also highlights the need to accelerate the establishment of female Halakhic (Jewish legal) authorities so that women can increasingly regulate private feminine Jewish matters.”

Reb Shmuley, whose new book has the title Kosher Lust, also made a startling defense of voyeurism—but only within marriage and only with consent.

Good news: also in Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral (Episcopal) hosted a Friday jummah (Muslim prayer service) on November 14. This was widely reported, even by Ha’aretz in Israel.

Bad news: the service was interrupted by a protester. Slightly better news: there was only one protester, but that’s because admission to the cathedral was tightly controlled.

The service came about through a suggestion that Ebrahim Rasool, the ambassador of South Africa to the United States, made at a memorial service in the cathedral for Nelson Mandela. Ambassador Rasool gave the sermon at the jummah.

Some reports mentioned that the Islamic group that organized the service routinely holds services in one church and two synagogues.

Mixed news: Temple Emanu-El in New York City plans to hold a mock trial of Abraham for child endangerment. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan will preside; Eliot Spitzer will prosecute; and Alan Dershowitz will lead the defense.

The not-so-good part of this is that the idea itself isn’t news at all. Sixth-grade classes in Hebrew schools everywhere have been doing this for years, albeit without the celebrities. This may turn out to be a great event for the congregation, but it seems a bit opportunistic.

Weird news: Rabbi Ted Riter, in Jackson, Mississippi, reported that he was ordered to leave a Greek restaurant after the owner learned that he was Jewish. As the rabbi tells it, the he ordered a salad and the owner asked him, “The regular size or the Jewish size?” and then denounced Jews as parsimonious.

The owner says that he asked whether the rabbi wanted a Greek salad or a Jewish salad. The latter is supposedly a regular item at the restaurant but it doesn’t appear on the menu. He says it was all a misunderstanding and offered to name a salad after the rabbi. No indication of what the ingredients of a Riter Salad would be.