Sunday, August 8, 2010

Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work

A point that I occasionally make to my students is that there is no word for "fun" in the Hebrew language, and that the very concept of "leisure time" is a modern one.

I discussed this most recently while teaching a group of eighth graders in Camp Moshava, where I spent my summer "working vacation." It has been some time since I can recall taking a "real" vacation. I have succeeded in carving out time when I change my schedule so that I travel or enjoy experiences that break my routine, but invariably those, too, involve work at the same time (e.g. the recent conference that I attended in Sharon, MA).

So this article in last week's New York Times was a reminder that I should be more careful to take a break from things.

According to research quoted in the article:

Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.

The article notes that most of the research has been done with Christian clergy, although many Jewish congregations are now open to the concept of offering Sabbaticals (a Jewish concept, if I ever heard one) to their congregational leaders.

“We now recommend three or four months every three or four years,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, a past executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis. “There is a deep concern about stress. Rabbis today are expected to be the C.E.O. of the congregation and the spiritual guide, and never be out of town if somebody dies. And reply instantly to every e-mail.”

It's a good start, but how about Jewish educators!

I hope that you are taking it easy this summer.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is Chelsea Good for the Jews?

Chelsea Clinton's wedding was held on Saturday, July 31, 2010 - before sunset (aka on Shabbat), co-officiated by a rabbi, under a chuppah, with a ketubah, where the Sheva Brachot were recited, with her groom wearing a kipah and talit. Chelsea Clinton was raised Methodist and her groom, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish. Since Chelsea did not convert, they have begun an interfaith marriage. Why does this matter and what are the implications for the larger Jewish community? Amongst Jewish educators, rabbis, everyday Jewish citizens, this debate is swirling the blogosphere and the Twitter feeds.

When one of the most visible young people in the world enters into a very public interfaith union, in what is a seemingly very Jewish ceremony, is this good for the Jews? The arguments I have seen offered up in the last few days have included:

· Having a Jew being the son-in-law of the Secretary of State is good for Israel, so it’s good for the Jews.

· A rabbi creating an interfaith marriage is atrocious. We should be fighting this damaging trend, not publically supporting it.

· The ceremony gave Judaism some amazing free media. Non-Jews all over the world now know what a chuppah, ketubah and talit are.

· The fact that the majority of Jews aren’t even flinching is a bad sign for the future of the Jewish people.

· It was done so tastefully; they are great role models for other couples trying to meld two faiths in one ceremony.

· Intermarriage is the downfall of the future of Judaism. Recent statistics estimate that one in three U.S. couples are in religiously mixed marriages and half of all Jews marry outside their faith. This will only get worse, and then we will have nothing.

For the past decade, Jewish leaders have taken incredibly diverse stands on interfaith marriage. Reform rabbis are given the personal choice to decide if they will officiate (or co-officiate) at ceremonies involving two religions, while Conservative rabbis are not only NOT allowed to officiate, but cannot even attend one as a guest. The consequence for doing so is being removed from the Rabbinic Assembly. In the Reform movement, interfaith couples in most congregations enjoy equal status (or mostly equal) to Jewish couples in terms of membership, ritual ability, and sometimes even in taking on leadership roles. In Conservative congregations, the non-Jewish partner is not considered a member and most often does not even appear in the synagogue directory. The non-Jewish spouse isn’t allowed to participate in rituals and in many cases is excluded from leadership and volunteer positions. In the Orthodox communities, there is little to no tolerance for interfaith unions. Those religious groups opposed to interfaith marriage based on Halacha, primarily based it on this text from Deuteronomy 7:3, “You shall not intermarry with them" and this text from Talmud Yevamot 23b, "Jews are not allowed to intermarry with anyone who denies that there is the Jewish God (in this we take the Christian trinity as not believing in Adonai - the Jewish God)."

If marrying a non-Jew is directly against Jewish law – should our rabbis perform interfaith marriages? In what ways should be be addressing this current event with our Jewish students? How should we address it with interfaith couples/parents we work with? Why does this matter and what are the implications for the larger Jewish community?

NOTE: I would attribute the photo, but the photographer was not listed on the site I found the pic on. Apologies in advance to him/her.