Monthly Archives: August 2012

No One Man Should Have All That Power

by Julia Glauberman

The 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle famously claimed that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” While many historians have since disagreed, Michael R. Cohen seems to have taken Carlyle’s assertion to heart in his new book, The Birth of Conservative Judaism: Solomon Schechter’s Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious Movement.

Drawing on the framework for understanding authority established by German sociologist, philosopher and political economist Max Weber, Cohen deftly lays out a well-researched argument for Schechter’s significant impact on American Jewry as a charismatic leader. From there, Cohen explains the development of Conservative Judaism as fundamentally linked to Schechter’s influence even after his death. This leads Cohen to his overarching thesis, which can essentially be boiled down to this: “Schechter’s rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary–-his disciples–-created Conservative Judaism to spread their teacher’s ideals and carry out his legacy.”

Along the way to proving Schechter’s importance to Conservative Judaism, Cohen addresses two noteworthy counterarguments: the local school (sometimes referred to as the laity/congregation theory) and the historical school. These counterarguments, and Cohen’s refutations of them, are particularly interesting because they represent the two most widely held impressions of the Conservative movement’s beginnings. Advocates of the local school claim that Conservative Judaism cropped up in a number of American synagogues whose congregants were second-generation immigrants seeking a balance between the Old World orthodoxy and Reform Judaism. This is a school of thought that, from a historiographical perspective, seems to have come about to reinforce modern ideas about the power of laity.

By contrast, the historical school claims older origins for the Conservative movement. This is the Conservative Judaism origin story I grew up learning in Hebrew school, set in mid-19th-century Germany and starring figures like Zacharias Frankel. Proponents of the historical school maintain that Conservative Judaism has always been characterized by a distinct ideology that separated it from more Orthodox practices, and that the movement emerged from the rejection of Reform “non-observance” that accompanied assimilation. Cohen suggests that this theory’s popularity stems from a desire to give Conservative Judaism a greater sense of historical gravitas.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1919 that Conservative Jewish leaders decided that “the time had come… to state frankly and emphatically what we believe in.” Cohen argues that even after this realization of the importance of creating a clear definition, nearly a decade passed before Conservative Judaism actually solidified into a movement in the proper sense of the word. Throughout this period of uncertainty, many of the leading figures in the United Synagogue as well as other JTS alumni found themselves occupied by the kind of bureaucratic infighting and political jockeying that often seems to accompany organized religion.

The fascinating dynamics of the splintering factions within American Judaism at the start of the 20th century are at moments drowned out by Cohen’s focus on the minutiae of Schechter’s disciples’ lives, as well as their seemingly endless words of praise for their mentor. Nonetheless, Cohen manages to weave together an engaging and cohesive narrative as well as a convincing argument for the primacy of Schechter’s influence in the early evolution of Conservative Judaism.

Interfaith Partners Go Green

by Kara A. Kaufman

As The New York Times reported last month, Jewish laws and customs regarding the environment can affect everything from when to let lands lie fallow to where to build a staircase. To better understand the role of religion in the choices people make regarding the environment, Moment spoke with Matthew Anderson, the director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE). In a political climate where polarization is the norm, his organization brings together Jewish and Christian partners who share similar goals of environmental sustainability and advocacy. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

What first got you interested in this work? What does NRPE accomplish?

I had an adult conversion experience to Lutheranism about seven or eight years ago, and that corresponds pretty closely to the amount of time I’ve been doing faith-based environmental work. Our partners do a whole range of things—everything from worship materials and study guides, theological conferences and funding and supporting scholarship. We do some direct programming. We get into God’s creation. And then lots of education around different issues, be it water or toxics, and certainly advocacy, for people to bring their distinct theology and the values and ethics that flow from their religious convictions and practices.

What do you see as the differences, if any, between the Jewish and Christian approaches to the environmental movement from within your organization?

I don’t know if there are differences. There are different things that COEJL [the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life] emphasizes in its work that are rooted in the fact that it is distinctly Jewish. COEJL encompasses all of the main streams of Jewish life in America. [It’s interesting to note that] we don’t have an umbrella Christian partner, but we do have an umbrella Jewish partner. One of the things COEJL has always done, and done well, is to communicate environmentalism in the Jewish call to care for the environment in the Jewish year, the Jewish calendar, and to anchor it around the holidays.

Seventeen years ago, the endangered species coalition that involved COEJL and the Evangelical partnership [the Evangelical Environmental Network], formed something called the Noah Alliance. It was a head-turner 17 years ago and is probably even more so now. For both to claim fully and passionately this call to care for God’s other creatures and to both work under that same banner—that was really something. You still hear people talk about it.

Your website notes that the religious community has been slow to address environmental issues. One explanation is that “many religious persons have been so enmeshed in modern technological culture that they have had a hard time questioning the assumption that the earth is merely an inexhaustible warehouse.” How do your partner groups counter this tendency?

Our work on this comes in a number of different forms. You see that with the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign and its focus on conservation. There is an effort to recognize that resources and life-sustaining resources on this planet are abundant–that they were made to be abundant and fruitful by God–but not infinite. That’s a tough thing to wrestle with. There’s a segment of society in which it is okay to talk about discipline and self-restraint and on occasion the nobility of sacrifice—it’s the religious community. If not us, then who? Who’s going to talk about sufficiency, not just what’s efficient and possible, but what’s enough?

One story that pops to mind is the story of manna, and the clear warning that [story] gives us about hoarding. It’s a tough thing, thinking about [the limits of the planet] as an individual; think about how tough this is for us as a society. Certainly different segments of society can raise these questions, but the religious community is uniquely poised to offer time-tested solutions. Maybe not the practical how-to-fix-it solutions (there’s nothing in our traditions that tells us how to reduce energy use directly), but it certainly provides us with the motivation to be willing to reduce consumption.

Have you witnessed any conflicts between the Jewish and Christian organizations within your partnership?

I have not seen that directly; I am not aware of it. I think it’s a testament to the caliber of the people who work with the partner organizations and who work on our board. Some of the most moving moments have been personal exchanges between members of different religious communities and the deep abiding respect they have for each other—not in spite of their differences but because they’ve remained distinct. Our unofficial mantra is “Walking together, separately.” We don’t try to find most common denominators, but rather, [try to find] the unifying elements and the distinct elements, and then figure out how to move forward in terms of our vision and our goals.

Do you feel environmental issues provide opportunities for interfaith dialogue?

I think so very strongly. You can look at the work of leaders like Patriarch Bartholomew (the head of the orthodox church); he’s known for work on the environment and on interreligious dialogue and cooperation. Those two things go hand in hand; they have to go hand in hand, because whether it’s water pollution or air pollution or climate change, these things impact us and our homes and families and communities regardless of our religious orientations or beliefs. In the face of crisis, religion often helps us be the best versions of ourselves. That’s hopeful.

How do you deal with people who hold different interpretations of sacred texts, and who feel that their religious traditions allow humans dominion over the environment?

Our partners definitely come across that. There’s one very common response, which is: “We’ll talk about it.” There’s a willingness to talk about it rather than just a lobbing of a very forceful derisive statement. Our partners more often than not will take up that opportunity–“Let’s look up these texts.” That’s the most common response from us: “Let’s visit that together.”

What are the highlights you’ve seen since you began your tenure?

One of the things I hear is [how remarkable it is] that this interreligious effort, this formal collaboration—that we’re still here and that we’re successful. A lot of efforts might not last or be very effective. You find very few folks now who think that religion has nothing to do with the environment.

Recently, I’d point to the work our partners did to support the EPA’s mercury air toxics standard. Also the launch of COEJL’s [Energy Covenant] campaign. Collectively, the four partners worked together to protect the health of families, and particularly women and children, and that work has been acknowledged by lots of different folks at the EPA, within Congress, within the environmental community. All four partners were able to make a real-world difference in the lives of women and children and the whole of the environment, and were able to work in their own unique way—that is a real highlight for us.

Listen to Moment’s interview with the director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life here.

But Can You Do Israeli Folk Dance To It?

by Daniela Enriquez

As the men entered in capsule-shaped cubicles, images started to appear across the entirety of the stage-wide screen—all present felt transplanted to a wild forest, surrounded by brownish mushrooms as tall as trees.

No, it’s not the beginning of a 3D movie on environmental issues, but the start of an Infected Mushroom concert. The psychedelic trance band, currently on worldwide summer tour, landed in Washington, DC’s famous 9:30 Club on Thursday night.



The club was packed with fans wearing all kinds of expected clothing: animal-shaped hats, feeders, phosphorescent colored bracelets and rings to shake to the persistent rhythm of the music. Infected Mushroom arrived at a punctual 11:30—after the crowd had been warmed up by house beats from DJ Randy Seidman—and set the club on fire, with people of all ages dancing, jumping and frenetically shaking their bodies.

As I am guessing is also true of many of our readers, I am not a habitué of trance party music. But this time I had a reason to go: the musicians, Amit Duvdevani and Erez Eisenare, are Israeli.

Duvdev and Eisen, as they prefer to be called, both had classical training at an early age, during which they learned to play, respectively, piano and organ and piano. While Eisen wasn’t an unfamiliar with trance music, having collaborated with several DJs, Duvdev had a background in punk-rock and metal. At the age of 17,he went to his first trance party and describes the event as “a life-changing experience.” The two boys, one bald, the other with long black hair, met in Haifa in 1997 and, within a year, began their musical work together.

Infected Mushroom became revolutionaries of psychedelic trance music, well known all over the world for their innovative and experimental use of synths, computer and electronics sounds.

Don’t be scared by their CD covers—which depict angry sharp-toothed mushrooms, babies holding open hearts, and hook-pierced brains—or by the aggressive titles of their songs: “Converting Vegetarians,” “Smashing the Opponent,” “Vicious Delicious,” to name just a few. It’s not quite Idan Reichel. You won’t find a lot of Middle Eastern sounds in Infected Mushroom’s music; in fact, the only clues to their Israeli background are some of their song titles, like “Legend of the Black Shawarma” or “Dancing with Kadafi.”

They did include a tribute to their native land in their last CD, “Army of Mushrooms”: a cover of “מלאך לי שלך” (“Send Me an Angel”), a famous song from the 1980s by the Israeli band Meshina.

I was skeptical at the beginning, and even if the concert won’t change my musical tastes, it was worth seeing. Their music is deeply engaging, and if you go to one of their concerts you can’t help but dance.


Can Politics Stay Off the Field?

By Rebecca Borison

Israeli judokas practice on their side of the barrier, separated from the Lebanese athletes (photo courtesy of the Israeli Olympic Committee)

For 15 minutes, a group of boys lived their dream. These boys met their idols and played soccer during the half-time break of a game between Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Madrid. And after the game, those boys returned home…to their Israeli and Palestinian families.

The game was sponsored by Children United, hosted in L.A., and supervised by Jose Mourinho, the coach of Real Madrid. As the world struggles to find the “solution” for the Middle East, groups like Children United are trying to think outside of the box and employ sports.

According to Spanish journalist Henrique Cymerman, “People like the Real Madrid manager have more power than governments, in many cases, because football is like a religion. We strongly believe that the fastest road to peace isn’t with political agreements but through education and sport. Football is a very useful instrument to encourage different people to live together.”

Even though we may all have different political views, Cymerman thinks that we can put that aside for the name of sport. These young boys all share this passion for soccer, and by creating these opportunities, we can bring them together even though they come from entirely different backgrounds.

If only it were that easy.

While soccer-loving kids may be able to put aside their differences, there are still entire governments that can’t seem to put aside politics in the name of sportsmanship. Just look at the current Olympics, and you will unfortunately find an abundance of examples.

For starters, Iran has long maintained a policy of prohibiting their athletes from competing against Israeli athletes. And while this year, Bahram Afsharzadeh, secretary general of the Iranian Olympic committee, promised that Iran would “be truthful to sport” and “play every country,” no Iranian athlete ended up facing an Israeli athlete. The only hope of a show-off was in judo, but the Iranian judo champion, Javad Mahjoub, mysteriously dropped out of the competition because of a “critical digestive system infection.”

Last year, Mahjoub reportedly told the Iranian newspaper Shargh that he threw a match against a German opponent, explaining, “If I won, I would have had to compete with an Israeli athlete. And if I refused to compete with the Israeli, they would have suspended our judo federation for four years.”

Mahjoub had some issues leaving politics out of the arena.

And apparently, so did Lebanon.  After the Lebanese judo team refused to practice in the same gym as the Israelis, the Olympic organizers agreed to place a barrier between the two teams.

But before we get too depressed about the power of sports to overcome any obstacles, Itamar Marcus has a bit of good news for us.  While there may be no way of sugarcoating Olympic conflicts, we can at least find a slight improvement on the Palestinian policy towards competing against Israelis.

Reporting on the Children United soccer game, the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida had only positive things to say about the tournament. In the August 8th issue of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the newspaper reported, “[The game] aims to create a warm atmosphere in order to draw the nations together, and support peace between them… Mourinho’s influence may be much stronger than the influence of the governments, and football is capable of achieving what political agreements and treaties have been unable to achieve”

According to Marcus, “the official PA policy is to ban sporting events promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” And the PA has been known to condemn such events in the past. In 2011, for example, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported on a similar tournament in Canada, but wrote that the PA was planning on forming a investigative committee which would “submit its recommendations before legal steps are taken against the players.”

The fact that the newspaper was able to report on the LA soccer game without any condemnation is a big deal.  We can’t be sure that this represents a total shift in policy, but it is definitely a step up.

So while it may take awhile for this sports over politics philosophy to fully permeate, I can’t help but think that it can’t move much more slowly than the current peace process.

What Would Randy Cohen Do?

by Sarah Breger

On Monday, at least 5,000 round-trip tickets to Israel from New York on El Al airlines were sold for under $400 (tickets usually cost $1,600). It turns out that the price was a mistake due to a glitch from a third-party company. Upon discovering the error, El Al first announced they would honor the tickets, but are now undecided and said via Twitter that they would announce their decision later today.

Should El Al honor these tickets? It’s hard not to be rooting for the ticket-holders, as this seems like a classic big corporation vs. little guy story. But is that the ethical thing to do? To get some answers, I spoke this morning with Randy Cohen, the former New York Times Ethicist and author of the new book Be Good: How to Navigate The Ethics of Everything. Below is a condensed version of his answer.

El Al should offer to honor all those tickets, and the customers should decline the offer.

El Al, like other companies, has a duty to honor the advertised price. If it is a third party mistake, then El Al should seek compensation from that third party that actually made the error. Part of the reason to honor prices as advertised is to keep markets honest. In some jurisdictions–and check with a lawyer on this–companies have a legal obligation to honor every advertised price. But besides that, this prevents unscrupulous people from doing “a bait and switch”—hooking people with one price, but then charging another. No one here has said it is anything more than an accident on El Al’s part.

However, even if El Al offers to make good on the tickets, we are not supposed to exploit someone. If you see someone’s wallet on the ground you are supposed to return it, not keep it. If you see a bank vault door open, you shouldn’t just go in and take the money. There is a notion of symmetry here: If, say, the El Al website had the price for a coach ticket set at $10,000, you would most likely say something–call to confirm–because it is a price that doesn’t make sense. And if El Al confirms the price, so be it. The same goes for prices under $400–from the reports, it sounded as if people who bought the tickets knew it was a bizarre price.

For example, if you are in a supermarket and a steak was marked at 12 cents a pound, you know it is a mistake and you have a duty to at least inquire from the merchant if that is the correct price. You have to show tolerance for others people’s errors or else we would be walking around always looking over our shoulders, scared that if we make a mistake the hyenas would swarm.

[I interjected to say my mother would most likely hold the merchant to his advertised steak price- SB] Most places would honor the mismark as a kind of customer relations, but if she saw the steak marked $85, wouldn’t she inquire about it? If you do it one way you have to do it the other way. You have to have a consistent ethical principle, whether you will benefit or lose by asking.

So, readers, what are your thoughts on the El Al ticket fiasco?

Kosher Couture

by Daniela Enriquez

One of the obstacles Orthodox women face is finding a good “kosher” fashion line, that is wearable and respectful of tradition. Designer Marina Rahlin is easing the sartorial woes of Orthodox women with MaRa, her line of Orthodox-friendly fashion. Rahlin was born in the Ukraine, and made aliyah with her family when she was four years old. She now lives in Los Angeles, where the new line has been released.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation I had with Rahlin about her life, her love for Pop art and her new line.

When and why did you decide to create MaRa?

I started my first line, Popavina, after attending a school for fashion designers in Los Angeles. Later on I met my fiancé, whose family is religious: his father, his brother and his sisters are all Orthodox Jews. I met with other religious women and they all told me the same thing: how difficult and challenging it is to wear beautiful clothing and be modest. Whatever they saw in fashion shops was beautiful although not appropriate: the sleeves weren’t long enough, the skirts’ length was too short. So I thought, “There has to be a way to create something fashionable and modest.” I came up with the idea of creating dresses that could cover elbows and knees, and whose length avoids the need to wear an undershirt or a petticoat.

Was it difficult to combine old fashion rules with new ideas?

Yes, it is challenging. Sometimes people are not so open to or interested in new ideas and things. I always have to keep in mind religious girls’ point of view. [Venturing] into Orthodox fashion is risky, so whatever I create has to be a little bit classic even if the color is bright pink. I don’t want to invent something too crazy–I know they want to wear my clothing to go to shul. Thus, the items must be wearable for that occasion, too! I have to think about these restrictions.

What kind of materials do you use?

I usually use cotton, linen, and silk–for me it’s important that the dresses are comfortable. Orthodox women are often pregnant and need to wear something without being worried about their belly or back. That’s why I use a lot of stretch fabrics.

Even if your line is totally “kosher,” it’s innovative. Do you think this could scare Orthodox women who are used to dressing in black and white?

Young girls are really open to new colors and changes. They are sick of dead colors and want to look attractive. Everybody wants to look attractive, everybody wants to wear colors that match the skin. As I said, young Orthodox girls are ready for that–they look for ways to look beautiful but appropriate. One way is wearing a lot of jewelry, because that is not incompatible with modesty. Those girls are very happy with my new line and they give me very good feedback.

Tell us about your first collection, Popavina.

Popavina dresses are meant for cocktail parties. I founded it because when I went to events I couldn’t find dresses that weren’t overly sexy. I like clothing that is cute and feminine, inspired by the 1950s, and I couldn’t find anything like that at that time. Thus, I decided to create this line of very cute and feminine dresses, with bows and bright colors.

Popavina takes its name from Pop art. When did your love for this art start?

When I was a kid, I used to go with my parents to museums and Pop art was my favorite painting style. My mother understood my love for it and started buying me books about Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. I became more and more interested in them—Frida Kahlo and other artists. My parents really encouraged my love for Pop Art and for whatever else I was interested in as a kid.

Is there something of your love for Pop art in MaRa?

Yes, the bright colors and the particular patterns and details that I use are elements of my style. I try to use in everything I do. They represent me and what I am. You will never see me wearing black. It’s not part of my personality.

Ukraine, Israel and the United States: Which one of these countries influenced you the most?

When somebody asks me if I feel Ukrainian or Israeli or American, I always answer that I feel Jewish. Even if I am not religious, Jewish is what I feel. Design-wise, I would say that I feel Ukrainian, because I see Ukraine as home. Russians and Ukrainians love colors, and I think I got my love for colors from this part of my life and family.

Would you recommend MaRa to non-Orthodox women?

I think so. It’s not just Orthodox women who are interested in my new “modest” line. Mormon women like my dresses, too. Any woman who loves elegance, and doesn’t want to show too much of her body likes my line. It’s stylish without being weird: I want women to be beautiful and modest.

Telling Mitzvah Stories

by Daniela Enriquez

According to halacha, Jewish law, there are 613 mitzvot that a Jew should fulfill during a lifetime. Some of these are daily duties, like the recitation of the Shema; some involve the relationship between a single Jew and the other human beings, i.e. the commandment of tzedakah; and some can’t be fulfilled without a Temple, as in the case of animal sacrifice.

Still, there are many mitzvot one can do, but people often seem too busy to remember their importance. Rabbi Goldie Milgram, founder of Reclaiming Judaism Press, is working to make mitzvot more meaningful and accessible in the modern world. Her latest project is called the “Mitzvah Centered Life”: using her book, Mitzvah Stories, and a specially created deck of cards known as “mitzvah cards,” Milgram travels the country leading workshops on mitzvot and Judaism. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation I had with Milgram in her house in Philadelphia.

What led you to start a new publishing house in the era of the Internet and a declining book market?

I approached my previous publisher with the idea of a book that would look at Jewish spiritual direction through the eyes of the 30 leading innovators in the world. I wanted to make the book in honor of Rabbi Shohama Harris Wiener—the first and only woman to have a seminary in Jewish history. The answer I got from my publisher was, “We don’t do that. We don’t publish books that honor people.” So I thought, “You know what? I am going to do it by myself. I am going to start a publishing house.”

I approached Rabbi Wiener and then I called 30 of my colleagues who are very active in the field of guiding people in their Jewish connection; they were all excited and donated a chapter for the book.

We started with two books. In the new book, Mitzvah Stories, we have stories from 60 leading Jewish authors, storytellers and clergy in the book from across the entire spectrum of Judaism. One of our goals at Reclaiming Judaism Press is to have respectful pluralism between the covers of a book. We want to help Jews see and share mitzvot together by telling stories and bringing a mitzvah to life in a creative way. Many authors entered the competition, and a jury chose the stories that are in the book. Most of them are juicy, provocative and make people think and expand their understanding of the mitzvah, in order to make them understand the meaning of a mitzvah-centered rather than a self-centered life. Isn’t this the mission of the Jewish people?

You use your mitzvah stories in your regular workshops. How do people react?

We have been travelling the country doing mitzvah story festivals and workshops. In these, we engage all kinds of interactive activities with the associated mitzvah cards. In telling stories, people become very engaged and interested in the dilemmas and how they would handle a particular situation.

Let’s talk about the special deck you created.

The deck has 52 mitzvah cards, each one of which has the mitzvah written in Hebrew and in transliteration, along with a simple explanation and a spiritual one that shows how the mitzvah can be activated. Instead of saying, “You should do this, you should do that,” it creates an opportunity to say, “I want to do that, I love the idea that that is in Judaism.” People have a chance to rejoice in living a mitzvah-centered life as a way to experience Judaism as meaningful.

Which mitzvah card do you have in front of you?

I have “Shalom bait.”

As you can see, “Shalom bait” is translated as “co-create peace–undertake conscious acts of self-restraint.” What we are trying to do is to help people reflect on the meaning of each mitzvah and activate it in their lives.

What’s your favorite mitzvah story from the book?

It is hard to choose, but one story touched me the most. It is the one by Benji Levene, an Orthodox rabbi I never had the chance to meet, who contributed from Israel. He told the story of his grandfather who was the tzadik of Jerusalem. When the British controlled Israel, he walked with prisoners who were condemned to death. He used to walk with them, and be their spiritual guide. Thus, the story is called ‘The Escort’ and emphasizes the importance of fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, accompanying guests. Transplanted in modern times, this mitzvah teaches us that when someone leaves our home, we should walk him a few paces to his car or to the elevator.

Apart from the world-renowned authors represented, like Anita Diamant, the jury picked a number of stories by young writers who have never been published before. One of them is Miriam Grossman, whose story is about the American government trying to take over Native American lands. That happened recently and brings different mitzvot and question to bear. How do we handle ourselves with the first people? How do we live a mitzvah-centered rather than a self-centered life?

Is one of your stories in the book, too?

In addition to a story in the book, I also wrote a chapter where I explained all about mitzvot: their history in Judaism, how they developed and famous commentaries on them.

My story is called “The God of Curried Fish,” and it is about an encounter that I had in a Jamaican restaurant. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, so I will just tell you that is about how you would handle yourself with someone who has just lost his job and is about to become homeless. What would you tell him?

I guess we need to read the book to know how you handled the situation. Do you have any new projects at the moment?

We do! We have two new major projects. The first one is a family treasury of mitzvah stories. While Mitzvah Stories honors Pennina Schram, world famous storyteller and one of my mentors, this treasury honors Danny Siegel, who created the Ziv Tzedakah foundation and who is famous for generating millions of dollars and mitzvah-centered projects all over the Jewish world.

You said you have two new projects…

Yes. My teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who founded Jewish Renewal, became famous after the Holocaust for inspiring meaningful, creative, spiritually profound Jewish living, restoring the spark to Jewish life. We had the forms, but not the energy and the spark.

Following his example, and in his honor, we are creating a multimedia online siddur which will have different innovators, musicians, Jewish yoga teachers, and movement and meditation teachers. You will be able to go online and click on videos that will take you to a service in a multimedia experience. There will also be videos to help you with Shabbat and holidays.

The Ultra-Economic Opportunity

by Rebecca Borison

Most companies today are struggling to boost sales and make a profit. Some may try to broaden their customer base or find a niche product. And some have simply been banking on the ultra-Orthodox.

The New York Times recently published an article about a hat store in Spain that is funded mainly by Satmar Hassidim. The Fernández y Roche factory in Andalusia has been evading the Spanish economic crisis by raking in around $175 a hat from Hassidim in Brooklyn.

“They are saving us in the crisis,” said Miguel García Gutiérrez, the managing director of the Roche factory. “Our exports are rising for hats for Orthodox Jews.”

Satmar Hassidim in both Brooklyn and Jerusalem tend to purchase three types of Roche hats: Bent Up, Snap Brim and the Clergy. While each hat may just appear to be a simple black hat, for Hassidim, the slightest change could make all the difference.

And not only are the factories benefiting from this niche market–so are individual inspectors. Albert Ehrman travels to Spain every year to inspect the hats before they are brought to American stores. He spends hours measuring the hats to ensure that they have a “good, sharp edge.”

Betting on a slightly more obscure market, a new start-up company in Israel has been working on producing glasses that actually impair your vision. Why do such a ridiculous thing? So that haredim can avoid having to see inappropriately dressed women, of course.

According to Vos Iz Neis, the glasses blur the wearer’s vision so that he can’t see more than three feet away. To make sure the wearer can see where he’s walking, the glasses also have perforations at the bottom of the lenses so that the wearer can look down.

Now the obvious question is, what about haredim who already wear glasses? Not to worry. The company will also be selling blurrying stickers to apply to one’s normal glasses.

At $6 a pair, these glasses may not be making anyone a megamillionaire, but one has to give some credit to this start-up for creativity.

So what’s next–ear plugs that only block out a woman’s voice?

A Pioneer of Jewish Music

By Rebecca Borison

Born in Odessa in 1879, Jacob Weinberg was a talented and prolific Jewish composer, who sought to preserve and promote his Jewish heritage through his music. He is survived today by three granddaughters, and one of those granddaughters, Ellen Mausner, is working to revive and foster her grandfather’s legacy. As apart of that effort, Mausner is producing an hour-long concert version of Weinberg’s opera, The Pioneers, on Monday, August 20, in Manhattan. Moment was able to talk to Mausner to learn a bit more about her grandfather and the relationship between music and Judaism.

Can you tell me a bit of background about your grandfather?
He was a trained concert pianist and composer. He composed many works that have been published. In 1924, he wrote an opera called The Pioneers, or Chalutzim in Hebrew, that won an international composition contest. With the prize money of $1,500 he was able to bring his wife and son to New York City from Israel. He then joined the music faculty of Hunter College for many years.

How did he become interested in music?
I know he took piano lessons sort of as a cultural enrichment sort of thing, but he really loved it. And that became his life instead of following in the law practice his family had. I know he had an uncle, Peter Weinberg, who was a translator and a well-respected scholar. If you go on YouTube, there’s a clip of a young woman in Paris who was playing the clarinet in a recital and doing one of my grandfather’s pieces. I emailed her, and she was so excited that his relatives were still alive.

Were any of his pieces performed during his life?
He got several productions of The Pioneers concert version. It was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1946 and 1949 and at City Center in the 1930s when it was called the Mecca Temple. It was also performed in Jerusalem and in Berlin in the 1930s by a group called Kulturbund. The cast of the full production is actually a large cast, so it was more economical to just do the highlights. But The Pioneers have not a revival since 1949.

Why did you decide to put on a performance of the opera?
My father passed away a few years ago, and I’ve been looking more and more into his father’s work almost as a way of getting closer to my father and preserving his legacy. I feel closer to my own past. I’ve also been doing some genealogy research online. It’s only in the last few months that I even found out where my grandfather was buried because my parents never mentioned it. But I went to visit it at Westchester Hill Cemetery.

How did you go about putting together the performance?
I got a score of The Pioneers. We had auditions, and I hired four opera singers and a musical conductor, Cynthia Hiltz. We’re doing a concert version—no set, no props, just highlights. I’ll be the narrator.

Can you tell me about the opera itself?
The music is very beautiful. There are some comic numbers, love duets. It’s basically a tribute to Palestine. When people first left Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms they went to Palestine and lived on kibbutzes. That was the beginning of the State of Israel. The opera is 223 pages long. And this is just one of his many works. He was a brilliant man. He wrote a lot of fugues and rounds, and the way they blend is just beautiful. He also wrote the words, which are all in English. There’s a love story in the opera, sort of a Romeo and Juliet plot.

How have you been trying to publicize your grandfather’s work?
I’m hoping to get enough interest in this, so people will want to do a full production of it. I sent copies of the scores to the Israeli opera company. I’ve been in touch with the Milken Archives, which records classical Jewish music and honors composers of Jewish heritage. They’ve already recorded two CDs of Jacob’s music. I spoke with the director to see if he would do a recording of this opera. This music needs to be heard. It’s very enjoyable and catchy. We want to revive and promote this work so that Jacob Weinberg’s name lives on. The world can always use beautiful music. He has written so many wonderful things in addition to this opera. A lot of his clarinet songs are popular around the world. There’s so much that still hasn’t been recorded. It’s been published, but not recorded. They didn’t have the technology we have back then.

Did you receive your grandfather’s musical genes?
I do love music, and I’ve taken singing lessons, but I’m not an accomplished pianist. My father used to give me lessons, so I can play a little. I do acting and standup, and I played a psychiatrist on the Sopranos. My stage name is Ellen Orchid and you can see clips of some acting I’ve done on I’ve written some plays. One of my plays is a solo piece called Rest in Pieces.  It’s a stand-up tragedy about the story of my father’s death told as a dark comedy. I use my grandfather’s music in it.

Why do you think music is important to Judaism?
Jewish music, the music that is part of the services, Passover, Sabbath, etc., all of the songs and traditions and the cantorial music is unique and beautiful and has unique musical features. Jacob used the traditional folk tunes and melodies of services, and even Hatikva, the Jewish national anthem, is included in The Pioneers. He wanted to preserve the uniquely Jewish music so that the music would be preserved and appreciated. What was unique to Jewish music is exactly what he wanted to promote by writing original music that included these folk tunes. He also wrote three different compositions of music for the Sabbath service as well as multiple Jewish hymns.

What is your next step after putting on this opera?
I’m not sure what the next step is. I’m fortunate enough, living in Manhattan there are a lot of collections of Jacob Weinberg’s papers. I’m going to be Xeroxing some papers my father donated to the Yivo archives. It contains handwritten music and orchestrations. I’m going to make it into an e-file so that I can send it to libraries around the world and the music has a chance of living on.

2,711 Days of Talmud

by Rebecca Borison

This evening, Jews around the world will gather to celebrate finishing all of the tractates of the Talmud. Over seven years, participants have studied a page of Talmud every day, either by themselves or in group lessons, for 2,711 days. And while the majority of these Jews are male, there is a strong number of women who participate. Up until the 20th century, you would have been hard-pressed to find a woman learning Talmud. Dating back to the Talmud itself, it was thought to be licentious to teach a woman Torah, let alone Talmud. Today, however, most rabbis encourage women to learn Jewish texts.

One woman who decided to brave the traditionally male waters is Ora Tenenhaus. Raised in a secular home in Israel, Ora travelled a unique path to this year’s siyum (finishing of the Talmud). Ora was introduced to religious study by her college roommate, and she just couldn’t get enough. After moving to Texas with her husband, Morti, Ora decided to partake in the Daf Yomi Talmud study, and will celebrate the conclusion of her study in Israel at Matan, a women’s institute for Torah studies. Ora spoke with us from Israel about her journey to the Daf Yomi siyum; below is a lightly edited transcript.

Can you tell me a little bit about your  background?

I grew up in Kibbutz Dvir in the Negev. At 18, instead of the army, I went to college. My roommate, Shula Roth, was from a religious kibbutz, and she introduced me to religion.

What made you want to study Daf Yomi?

When I went to college, I started learning about Jewish philosophy and religion, and it always struck me. I slowly became more observant. Since then I was always looking for something. Shula was older than me and was my mentor through college. I was young and didn’t know about the world. She helped me with everything in college and life. She influenced me to start learning. I went to one class in the Knesset Gadol, the big synagogue in Tel Aviv, where I learned the Kuzari. I started taking any class I could, but I was never able to take Talmud because women could not do Talmud. When I heard about the Daf Yomi siyum, and it was on the radio, and it was a big deal, it was my husband who said, “You can do it, too.” So I said, “Okay, I will.” That’s how it started.

Did you learn with one specific group or class?

At first, I downloaded the pages and started listening to classes online—I didn’t have an actual Talmud in front of me. At the same time, there was a group of men at the synagogue who were learning Daf Yomi. When they heard I was studying, they mentioned that I could join them. I learned the first two tractates by myself—I listened to shiurim (classes) online. After I finished the second tractate, Shabbat, I heard that the class at my synagogue was doing a siyum on Shabbat so I asked if I could join. Of course I didn’t lead the Kaddish (prayer traditionally said by men) but I spoke a little. And after, I went to the rabbi and asked if I could join the class. It took place at 5:45 a.m.—before Shacharit (morning services). He was kind of surprised that I wanted to join the men, but he said, “Yeah why not.” It was a group of five men—it bothered one of them that a woman was learning, but the rest didn’t mind. They were inclusive. The rabbi, one other person, and I finished all of the Talmud. It was hard for me to go to class every time. It was too early in the morning. When I didn’t go to the classes, I would listen to recordings online from Yeshiva University, the OU, and Hadaf Yomi—a program from Bnei Brak.

How do you think the rabbis from Bnei Brak would feel if they knew a woman was listening to their Talmud lessons?

About a year after I started studying, I was in Israel, and I wanted to visit some of the rabbis from Hadaf Yomi. So I sent an email to one of the teachers, Nachum Strum—I really enjoyed all of his classes—and never got a response. I finally told my husband to email him, and he got a response, and we went to visit him. He was very happy to see us. I was dressed right for the occasion—I had a hat and a long skirt. When we sat to talk, we sat at the table and at the head of the table was Rabbi Kubalski (another rabbi from Hadaf Yomi), and on the other side was Nachum, and the other side was my husband Morti. Every time the rabbi asked a question, he asked Morti the question, and Morti asked me the question, and I answered. They really didn’t get it. Before we left he gave us a book as a present, and then he went to Morti and said, “Are you telling me the truth? Is it really her that’s studying?” But he was very polite. Until the end he didn’t want to believe it was me and not my husband.

Do you usually get negative responses like that?

Some people are really impressed after they ask two or three times “Is it really you and not him that studies?” and then they accept it. On our recent trip to Warsaw and Lublin, we went to Chabad in Warsaw for Shabbat dinner, and there was a young guy that was there. We told him how I was celebrating finishing the Talmud. He looked at me and said, “I don’t think women need to learn Talmud.” I got a lot of different reactions from people, but never really negative.

Why did you decide to go to Israel for the siyum?

I decided to do something for the siyum that would be more than the siyum in Dallas. My husband initiated the trip. We went to Lublin first, where Daf Yomi started in 1923. There’s a synagogue there that used to be a big yeshiva. Then we’re going to celebrate the siyum on Thursday with Matan, a women’s yeshiva. My husband started researching to help me do the siyum, and to go to New York with thousands and thousands of men wasn’t good. They wouldn’t feel comfortable with me. He said, “Let’s look for a place where women do it.”  I asked around, and they suggested Matan.

Do you plan to continue your learning?

I don’t think I will continue Daf Yomi.  There were a lot of things that I didn’t study that I should. Maybe I will do Nach Yomi (daily learning of Prophets and Writings) and study the Bible some more. I want to continue studying, I just need to decide what.

Does your family share your passion for Jewish learning?

Not as much as I do. My husband did Chagiga (a Talmudic tractate on the holidays) with me one time. He learned Masechet Megillah (a Talmudic tractate on Purim). He studies more Jewish philosophy. My daughters are not studying as much. My younger daughter is thinking of doing Daf Yomi.

Is there anyone who especially helped you achieve this goal?

Definitely Shula. She passed away this year, and I want to dedicate this to her. I also lost my father this year. This should be in his memory. He was not a religious man, but he always encouraged me to study, and he would be proud of me. And of course my husband supported me the whole time.