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Orthodox and Non-Orthodox: Can We Learn from Each Other?

The halakhic status of Jews who publicly violate Shabbat and/or publicly deny key elements of the Jewish faith (e.g. Torah mi-Sinai [1]) is well known. Those Jews are not to be counted towards the quorum for public prayer, nor are they to be learned from or with. It is even questionable whether one should perform the public mourning rituals upon their passing [2]. The question that became pressing for the 19th century European rabbinate[3] was how to interpret within a halakhic framework the unprecedented amount of public desecration of Shabbat, coupled with open rejection of key tenets of traditional Judaism.

Pulpit Rabbinate and Halakhic Diversity

The prophet Amos warns the Jewish people, "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, and I will send a famine in the land, not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of God... and they will run about to seek the word of the Lord and shall not find it" (Amos, 8:11,12). Rav Shimon Bar Yohai commented: "Heaven forbid that Torah will ever be forgotten from Israel." If so, then what is the meaning of the above verse? It means that a time will come when Halakha will not be monolithic. There will be no definitive Halakha. There will be diversity (Shabbat 38b-39a).

Authority or Authoritarianism? Dynamics of Power in the Contemporary Orthodox Rabbinate

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." -Abraham Lincoln

The Observer Effect and Postmodern Orthodoxy

One of the enduring themes of my religious life has been the reconciliation of my Jewish and American cultural identities. As the daughter of a Modern Orthodox rabbi who taught me to look critically at the ways in which religion can be variously used and practiced, I became very aware of the pushes and pulls of different religious factions and how they have informed my beliefs. As a student of science, I gained insight into the importance of empirical knowledge and learned to look critically at the claims of universality and objectivity of research theories.

David Mamet: The Return of the Native

I. The Native

If by chance, a curious stranger were possibly permitted to enter David Mamet's private study, he would suddenly find himself facing, among an assortment of general works, copies of his host's many publications, all reflecting his catholic interests and tastes. Those publications consist of 36 plays and five collections of them; six screenplays; three novels; 13 prose works; three children's books; 15 film scripts; 21 critical and biographical studies of his life; and, undoubtedly, the current and past issues of the Mamet Quarterly, which dealt critically with his life and works.

Metzitzah B'Peh--Oral Law?

Recently I attended a Hassidic wedding and was seated next to one of my Hareidi co-religionists. During the course of the evening, it became known that I was a mohel. The question of metzitzah came up. I explained that I was a "modern" mohel and that I did not perform metzitzah b'peh (i.e. direct mouth-to-wound contact to perform metzitzah.) I used either a sterile plastic tube or a gauze pad to perform metzitzah. Having been in this situation before, I began to ask a few gentle, probing questions. "What if we know that a baby could possibly transmit a disease to a mohel or the reverse?" "What if the mohel and baby both appear healthy, yet there was something which could cause illness in either one of them?" The responses were typical.

Report on Institute's Work: Our First 30 Months

The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals was established in October 2007 in order to foster an intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive Orthodox Judaism. During our first 30 months, we have made impressive strides forward. We need to build on our successes, and to expand our work to combat the extremism and authoritarianism that have become so prevalent. 

Observations of an Observant Ophthalmologist

In 1969, a very precise and intelligent law student approached me in a rather confused state of mind. He had just studied the proofs for the existence of God as presented by Maimonides in the Guide of the Perplexed. These proofs were disappointing to him, as they said little to his practical twentieth-century Western mind. Did I read them, he asked. Yes, I answered, but they also said little that resonated with my way of thinking. At least all but one (the proof from design) lacked the punch that one expects from such "proofs."

Rabbinic Consultations: The Case for Specialist Rabbis

We are confronted on a daily basis with choices that require us to consult others before making a decision. We may call a lawyer for advice on a legal issue or an accountant for advice on our taxes. We do this because although we may be very good at what we do, no one person knows everything-and it is helpful to be guided by a professional who deals with the issue at hand on a regular basis. If one has a sink that is leaking or an electrical outlet that is malfunctioning, one might ask an electrician or plumber for advice, and will likely follow the advice if it sounds reasonable. When it comes to issues regarding our health-and specifically issues that have significant impact on life-and-death situations-we likely consult with a physician.

"Am I My Brother's Keeper?" A Tale of Two Brothers and Health Reform

The Underlying Question of Health Reform

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