Men, Women, and the Language of Minyan

"How many more people do we need for a minyan?" An apparently innocent question, posed daily in Orthodox synagogues across the United States and Canada. Or, in another context, "Despite the fact that there is no explicit mitzvah to cover one's head, it has been the universal custom of observant Jews to wear yarmulkes or kipot." What could be objectionable?

Especially for those of us men who identify ourselves as Modern Orthodox Jews, we ought to make a sustained effort to become more sensitive, beginning with understanding why such seemingly routine statements are problematic. Even as men who advocate for expanding the roles available to women in the synagogue, we subtly betray long internalized and damaging biases.

Words of remembrance by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, December 17, 2014

“Thus said the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are not. Thus said the Lord: refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, said the Lord; and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, said the Lord; and your children shall return to their own border” (Jeremiah 31:15-17).

Guest blog by Lily Chapnik

Note: This account is a single author’s experience of adopting the Jewish traditional practice of tzniut, or “modesty”. She does not seek to speak for anybody else’s experience with this aspect of Judaism.  

Saf, Taf, Loshon HaKodesh, and Pronunciation of the Prayer for the State of Israel
By Alan Krinsky

In my Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist synagogue, when we sing and recite Avinu ShebaShamayim, the prayer for the State of Israel, we pronounce the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet as taf, and not saf, despite the fact that the Rabbi and most members of the congregation are of Ashkenazi descent.[1] In truth, the synagogue has no set pronunciation rules—the Ashkenazim are more or less split on taf and saf in their davening and our regular baal koreh uses taf—but lately I have been wondering about the proper pronunciation of the Avinu ShebaShamayim prayer for otherwise saf-saying Ashkenazi Jews.

A sad but recurring fact of life is that people do not always act nicely and compassionately. We come across unscrupulous, cruel and vindictive individuals—often who think they are “winners” in life. They have the power to hurt and oppress, to squeeze out illegal profits, to crush those who stand in their way.

But these people are not “winners” at all. They ultimately lose the respect and trust of others, even of their closest relatives and friends. If they have any degree of realism, they also ultimately lose respect for themselves. And in the long run, they will one day face the Judge of all judges, the One True Judge who cannot be fooled or bribed.

With profound sadness I (and so many others) read a full page article in the Sunday New York Times (May 31, 2015) dealing with the bizarre behavior of a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi. This rabbi, well known as a thoughtful scholar and leader, was described as having taken male students with him to steam baths and spending time with these students while he and they were in a state of undress. This pattern has apparently been going on for a number of years and involves more than a small group of students. While the described behavior may or may not be illegal (we’ll leave that to lawyers and judges to determine), it is certainly immodest and irresponsible.

Oh, Jerusalem

A Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, June 9, 2015

Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of Israel,” is not considered to be in Israel according to a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court. Jerusalem’s status, as per President Obama and the Supreme Court, is undetermined, and will ultimately depend on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Americans born in Jerusalem may put on their passports that they were born in Jerusalem or in Israel, but not that they were born in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Supreme Court’s decision has deeply upset Israel and has elated the Palestinians. Putting a question mark on the legal status of Jerusalem is another step in undermining the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereignty over its own capital city.

We’ve all been troubled by news of recent scandals relating to rabbinic misbehavior. Rabbis who had served as “spiritual leaders” turned out to be very imperfect human beings, betraying the trust of their congregants and the community at large. Fortunately, the vast majority of rabbis are fine, upstanding people who serve with honesty and integrity.

A popular quip has it that "I love humanity; it's the people I don't like." It sometimes seems easier to love an abstract concept like humanity, or the Jewish people, or the community--rather than to love actual individuals. After all, individual human beings are not always pleasant, nice, courteous or considerate. Individuals can be rude, obnoxious, violent, immoral. We can more easily love the abstract concept of humanity, rather than having to deal with the negative features of particular individuals.

This essay is not about same-sex marriage. It seems amply clear from Torah and halakha that marriage entails a union between a man and a woman.

This essay is not about whether the United States Supreme Court should have legalized same-sex marriage, or whether such marriages should or should not be performed by civil magistrates.

We are confronted with a reality, whether we approve or do not approve. The reality is that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States; that “Gay rights” activists have convinced much of the public that their cause is a “human rights” issue and that those who oppose same-sex marriage are “on the wrong side of history.”