All posts for the month October, 2014
Politics October 29, 2014: US-Israel crisis reactions: Obama official calls Netanyahu coward, chickenshit
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 29, 2014
Politics October 28, 2014: Obama, Labor Department boosting unemployment extension by raising benefits
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 28, 2014
Politics October 27, 2014: Why are Ebola health care workers purposely trying to spread the disease in US?
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 27, 2014
Politics October 27, 2014: 2014 midterm elections guide: Republicans lead in polls, will control Senate
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 27, 2014
Judaism October 26, 2014: Women of the Wall’s historic Torah scroll smuggling reading at Kotel bat mitzvah
Women of the Wall’s historic Torah scroll smuggling reading at Kotel bat mitzvah
By Bonnie K. Goodman
Examiner.com, October 26, 2014, 3:37 PM MST
They finally did it, feminist Jewish prayer group Women of the Wall (WoW) smuggled in a tiny Torah scroll. They did so on Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, for a bat mitzvah Torah reading to the women’s section of the Kotel, Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel marking a historic first at the Kotel. In their second attempt to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section in the same morning, they were able to smuggle a “tiny” scroll into the complex. Earlier in the morning, security stopped the WOW from bringing a regular sized scroll into the women’s section. Afterward the director of the Western Wall complex Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz vowed, “This will never happen again.”
This was the first time in the 25 years of WoW existence that were able to read the Torah at their monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers, it was also the first “full” bat mitzvah at the women’s section of the Kotel. The WOW announced the history making event on their Twitter account, declaring “Today we made history for women @ Kotel. We must recreate this victory each month with great opposition.”
While Executive Director of Women of the Wall Lesley Sachs expressed on the WoW website, “This morning was historic and emotional for us all. The Torah scroll we used was probably created for just this purpose, for Jews who were banned from publicly celebrating Jewish rituals and ceremonies in the past. We read from the Torah today, in the women’s section of the Kotel, with no disturbances. So the only question remains, why does Rabinowitz, a public servant, try to deny women this right at the Kotel, a public holy site?” Sachs further commented to Ynet News, “With great excitement, today we carried out the mitzvah of reading from the Torah, which had been illegally and arbitrarily denied to us. This tiny Torah was written in order to be hidden and allow its reading despite the prohibitions on Jewish prayer in the Diaspora. For precisely these reasons we had to bring it in secretly, only this time it is Jews imposing restrictions on Jews.”
The Jerusalem District Court ‘Sobel Decision’ from April 2013 allows WoW to pray as they want in the women’s section of the Kotel. The rabbinate in charge of the Western Wall complex, however, under Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz has made it against the rules for women to read from the Torah in the women’s section or have bat mitzvahs with Torah readings. The continued policing of the group has been deemed a violation of women’s rights in a country that touts its self a democracy respectful of religious freedom. In a statement by the group made earlier this month they declared; “The Torah is central inJudaism and binds all Jews, across denominations, religiously, spiritually, culturally and historically. To deny any Jew access to a Torah scroll, as has been done so many times before throughout Jewish history, is an affront to religious freedom. To refuse women access to Torah has no basis in halacha (Jewish law) and has no place in a public site in a democratic state.”
A WoW spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post “Our tradition always included reading from the Torah and if there is a Torah in the Women’s section we are within our rights to read it. Unfortunately, we’re not the first Jews in history who have to get creative to have a full prayer service.” In 2010, Rabinowitz created the “regulation” preventing private Torah scrolls into the complex, which the Ministry of Justice “approved.” Still Rabbi Rabinowitz also refuses to allow the group to use one of the 300 Torah scrolls meant for the “public,” but used only by the men in the men’s section. So essentially his regulation is aimed at preventing women from reading from the Torah.
The group first tried to bring a regular sized Torah scroll into Mughrabi Gate entrance at 6:30 AM, but were stopped by the Kotel’s security guards who after as the WOW described as a “long disagreement.” After the fruitless demands to see Rabinowitz and requests to use one of the Torahs available at the Kotel, they went into the women’s section without a scroll. Even after they were not allowed to bring the scrolls in, the group alluded on their Twitter account they might still gain access to one at 7:30 AM when they wrote, “Finishing Shahrit, as we start Hallel, we are still hopeful. We promised Sasha she will read from a Torah for her bat mitzvah…” One member was able to smuggle in a very small Torah scroll into “prayer-shawl bag.” The scroll was so small they needed to use a magnifying glass to see what they were reading. Still, they were able to have the bat mitzvah and Rosh Hodesh services, the group of 100 sang and danced, celebrating after reading from the Torah. The group insisted despite its size the scroll is “certified Kosher,” and it meets Jewish law’s “requirements.”
The Torah used was only 28 cm and 200 years-old, owned by John and Noeleen Cohen of London, according to the family the Torah made in Lithuania was brought by Cohen’s great-grandfather when he left there to move to South Africa in 1880. The Cohen family specifically loaned the scroll to the WOW to read at their Kotel services. Sachs explained, “The Torah scroll we used was probably created for just this purpose, for Jews who were banned from publicly celebrating Jewish rituals and ceremonies in the past.”
What was a triumph for WOW was for Rabbi Rabinowitz a tragedy, the rabbi serves as “the Supervisor of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel and the Chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.” In a statement released by his office immediately afterward, Rabinowitz acted as if the group’s reading from the Torah was a national security breach. The official statement read; “The Rabbi of the Kotel expresses his regret that group’s actions in its attempt to compromise the sanctity of the Western Wall, and to enlist the help of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, and the Chairman of the Jewish Agency in the process.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz later released a personal response, stating; “A small group of ‘Women of the Wall’ acted deceptively this morning and after they were prevented from bringing in [to the Kotel plaza] a large Torah scroll, they deviously snuck in a small one to the women’s section.” Continuing, he said he feels “sadness over the activities of this group, which wants to prevent the compromise at the Western Wall that the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], cabinet secretary [Avichai Mandelblit] and Jewish Agency chairman [Natan Sharansky] are trying to reach.”
The rabbi was referring to the plan to make a place for the Women of the Wall to pray and read the Torah at the egalitarian section in the Western Wall Plaza now called Ezrat Israel. The Robinson’s Arch area is in the archaeological park and is referred to as the “Southern Wall.” The group agreed in October 2013 with the Chairman of Jewish Agency for Israel Nathan Sharansky’s proposal to make the Robinson’s Arch area the group’s permanent home. Negotiations, however, are ongoing between WoW, Cabinet Secretary Avihai Mandelblit and Rabinowitz. They failed to reach a final agreement, and meet WoW’s demands “that the new area be accessed through the same entrance as the existing gender-segregated area, that it be in full view of all visitors, and that it be considered an intrinsic part of the holy site.” The plan faces opposition, which led some members to defect from the group.
Rabbi Rabinowitz explained the reason he allowed security to let this Torah reading by this time, was “not to intensify the event,” and he was concerned about the Torah school, worried it could possibly get damaged, saying it was “out of a concern for harming the sanctity of a Sefer Torah.” He, however, promised; “In the future, efforts will be made to ensure that this event is not repeated.” The rabbi concluded with a promise that “No Torah scroll will be brought in to the Kotel [plaza], something which is not permitted for anyone – men and women alike.”
The ultra-Orthodox group Women for the Wall and their director also denounced Women of the Walls plans to read from the Torah on Thursday, Oct. 23, a day before Rosh Hodesh. Leah Aharoni, the group’s co-founder, stated, “I find the use of a Sefer Torah as a PR prop extremely painful. The Sages have taught us not to use the Torah as a spade with which to dig, yet this is exactly what is happening here – an insensitive group co-opting religion to promote a political agenda. Women of the Wall claimed to want to pray quietly, but now that peace has been restored, they are trying to reignite the controversy. They can read the Torah at the Ezrat Israel section, just a few yards down the same exact Wall, but they are bent on imposing their anti-traditional worldview upon other women.”
The bat mitzvah was for Sasha Lutt of Beer Sheva. Lutt moved to Israel with her family as a baby from Russia. Sasha’s mother Irina Lutt has been participating in the prayer group’s monthly service for the past 18 months according to the New York Times. Sasha told Haaretz after the ceremony “I feel happy that I had a real Bat Mitzvah and not just a party.” Sasha was one of the four girls that appeared in bus ads that were part of the Women of the Wall campaign to hold bat mitzvahs in the women’s section, which has been strictly prohibited.
Women of the Wall launched their ads on Oct. 13 to promote their new program for bat mitzvahs with Torah reading at the Kotel’s women’s section. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation runs a similar program for bar mitzvahs, but as per usual, there is inequality among the sexes and girls are forgotten. The WoW’s program attempts to do for bat mitzvahs as the groups were able and still tries to do for women’s prayer and Torah reading. The ads all in Hebrew that appeared on buses read, “Mom, I too want a bat mitzvah at the Kotel” showing a girl in a prayer shawl holding a Torah scroll with her mother also wearing a prayer shawl. The second ad reads “V’zot Hatorah, in English “Here is the Torah, Now it is my turn,” The ads featured the four girls aged between 11 and 14 years-old that have and will be participating in the WoW’s program, with one girl wearing a prayer shawl and holding the Torah scroll. WoW received about 60 calls for their Bat Mitzvah program, 15 percent of which had been prank calls.
WoW, director Sachs explained the campaign’s purpose, “These brave young girls and others have the right to have their bat mitzvah at the holiest site for Jews. That is one of the things we are fighting for, and that is why we have launched this campaign- so that girls and mothers will call the number on the ad and find out more about how to join Women of the Wall. We will be able to tell them how to make this wonderful time in their lives into a meaningful, fulfilling bat mitzvah experience.” WoWs public relations director Shira Pruce explained the dual goals of the program in addition to gaining more group members, “We want to be able to offer the main event. We’re waiting for the day when we can offer girls a Torah scroll, making the event at the Western Wall their main and only bat mitzvah.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz denounced the program, calling it inflammatory and “irresponsible.” Rabinowitz stated, “I am saddened that there are people who want to fan the flames of argument, and to employ bullying media tactics, as the Women of the Wall have done to our regret in recent days, through an irresponsible campaign whose goal is to prevent an arrangement that is acceptable to all sides.” WoW responded by arguing; “In practice, the rabbi of the Western Wall misuses his authority, while harming the freedom of worship for women at the holiest site for Jews.” Rabinowitz’s reaction mirrored the ultra-Orthodox, Haredi reaction to the campaign, ads in their Mea She’arim neighborhood, the ads were defaced, half were torn down, and some bus tires slashed. Sachs “call[ed] on ultra-Orthodox leadership to strongly denounce this act of violence and all others.” She said; “It is sad to yet again see the ultra-Orthodox men take the law into their own hands and using Judaism as an excuse for the use of force, threat and violence against women.”
It is a clash between liberal Judaism and ultra-Orthodox practices, and in Israel, Orthodox traditions are the officially accepted by law. Rabinowitz sees WoW’s prayer service as “the open disregard of Jewish tradition,” especially women reading the Torah with blessings. The blessing is the major issue, because as Arutz 7 explained: “Jewish law mandates that such blessings can only be made by someone fulfilling a Torah obligation; since women are exempt from the time-bound obligation of reading from the Torah, the blessings are recited in vain which is strictly forbidden.”
This, not the first time the group tried to smuggle a Torah scroll into the Western Wall complex. On Thursday morning, Jan. 2, 2014 the WoW tried to smuggle a Torah scroll into the women’s section at the Western Wall at their prayer service honoring Rosh Hodesh Shevat, an accusation the group denied. Unlike the last time, the group was proud they were able to smuggle the Torah scroll and make history by performing the first bat mitzvah in the women’s section. WoW posted photos and updated their statues on Twitter showing the Torah reading and celebration.
The feminist prayer that the Women of the Wall are practicing is a form of liberal prayer that does not conform to the Kotel’s norm. Israel’s Haredi, ultra-Orthodox object to the women’s praying because they choose to wear tallits; praying shawls, and tefillin, which according to the Jewish Orthodox tradition are religious garments only men are allowed to wear during prayer and have been considered illegal for women to wear by Israeli laws. The women also read the Torah, another ritual activity that only men do, and read their prayers aloud. The WoW’s practices are against the religious hegemony of the Kotel and have led in the past to arrests and protests.
The Women of the Wall have been attending their monthly prayer service at the Kotel for 25 years. Formed in 1988, the group of women is predominately composed of Americans Jews that have moved to Israel of liberal denominations and women rabbis, but also some who are traditionalists. The group sees their largest support in North America. Since their formation, they have been fighting for their legal right to gather, pray publicly and read the Torah at the Kotel, Western Wall’s women’s section.
Speaking of the historic Torah reading to Haaretz, Sachs conveyed, “I’m just so excited, this is just something so obvious and natural, and it is unbelievable that we had to sneak it in.” The director of WoW does not know, however, if the group will be able to continue their Torah reading next month, after Rabinowitz’s promise saying, “Hopefully, we have to see. We have to be so creative every month, it’s just unacceptable.” While Pruce has said until the egalitarian section at the Kotel would be created and run by the Women of the Wall they will continue their fight for the right to read the Torah in the women’s section, “There’s no other solution for now.”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes JBuzz & Together with Israel. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are Northern American Jewish news, Israeli news & politics, and Jewish history, religion and cultural news.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 26, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 23, 2014
Politics October 19, 2014: Obama rules out West Africa Congressionally supported travel ban over Ebola
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 19, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 12, 2014
Judaism October 12, 2014: Bible Lands Museum oldest siddur on display despite mystery surrounding the book
Bible Lands Museum oldest siddur on display despite mystery surrounding the book
By Bonnie K. Goodman
Examiner.com, October 12, 2014, 11:05 AM MST
Until Oct. 18, 2014, the public can have the opportunity to view what is being touted as the oldest known surviving siddur, Jewish prayer book. This 9th-century medieval manuscript is currently on display at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem in Israel and is part of their Book of the Books exhibition. The medieval prayer book might be the earliest known example of the siddur containing prayers that are still part of the liturgical canon today. Before the exhibition’s opening, the prayer book’s owner Steve Green and Amanda Weiss, Executive Director of the Bible Lands Museum previewed the siddur to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 18, 2014, in his Jerusalem office. Scholars, however, are questioning the prayer book’s origins, and it is the subject of much debate about its history and genuineness.
The 50-page manuscript includes both “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” texts and is entirely in Hebrew. The siddur is divided into three sections; Shabbat Shacharit, morning prayers, liturgical poems, and elements from the Haggadah, the Passover, Pesach seder text. The majority of which are still used today, which part of the reason for its historical value. The prayer book is not just a snapshot of the history of Judaism in the 9th century but proves that the religion is a living, breathing continuity that has been praying and conducting services using the exact same texts for over 1200 years. As Bible Lands Museum pointed out the siddur, shows “the earliest attestation of these primary liturgies in the history of Judaism.”
At this point, very little is known about the prayer book’s provenance, but it is believed to have been a family’s personal prayer book and “handed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries.” The book still has its original binding and measures four inches long by 2.75 inches. Green had the book carbon dated and the testing determined that the prayer book was from the “first half of the Ninth Century AD” 820 AD. The siddur is presumably from the Babylon area, where Geonim, the leaders of the Jewish community, biblical and Talmudic scholars headed the academies in Sura and Pumbedita. Geonim was as Encyclopedia Britannica explains securing the “Jewish legal traditions by adjudicating points of legal controversy.”
One of the physical aspects that makes unique is that it is a codex, a bound manuscript, and each page has writing on both sides. Historically, before that point, most Jewish religious texts written up to the 5th or 6th century had been written on parchment. Israel National Library’s academic director Haggai Ben Shammai commented to the Associated Press telling them; “I have no doubt it’s an important thing. We don’t have very ancient examples of Jewish codexes.” Shammai although indicated that it might not be the oldest Jewish prayer book, there is one in Germany that might be older.
The book’s plan seems unbelievable putting the Shabbat morning service prayers in the same book as non-liturgical poems, and certain sections of the Pesach Haggadah. The handwriting varies and 10-15 different scribes probably wrote the text, and the pages are in sizes that vary slightly as well. There are also so few Jewish texts in codex form from the period, in the between the end of Dead Sea Scrolls being written 318 CE and Cairo Geniza primary documents in 870 AD.
Many scholars are questioning the text’s authenticity as a medieval codex. Israel National Library’s Judaica Collection curator Aviad Stollman has doubts that it was even originally a codex, thinking that it seems like a collection of prayers bound together, but that was not its original intention. Stollman described; “Perhaps it is a collection of papers. In some ways, it looks as if someone took a bunch of papers and collated them.”
Stollman is not the only expert having doubts about the prayer book’s authenticity. Matthew Morgenstern who is “professor of Hebrew at Tel Aviv University” also wonders. Morgenstern spoke to the Times of Israel about his opinion, saying; “Having only seen photos of the book, and not the original, it looks like the pages are genuine, but the unity of this item is an issue that remains to be clarified.” He cannot reckon why those varying texts would be bound in one book. Additionally there is the other evidence that proves that it might have been separate pages of parchment bound together more recently. Morgenstern questioned; “There’s an enormous amount of hype here. It’s not logical; where’s the evidence?”
Adding to mystery of the prayer book’s authenticity is the fact the prayer service liturgy was not formally organized until Amram Gaon, Amram bar Sheshna did so. The siddur is considered to be from even before the time of Amram Gaon, who held the title of Gaon of Sura 857 to 875 AD. The timeline is problematic, because Amram Gaon was the first to create a synagogue liturgy, the order of prayers for the Jewish service, referred to as the Siddur Rab Amram or Seder Rav Amram; “the order of prayers and blessings for the entire year… according to the tradition which we possess, as laid down by the Tannaim and Amoraim.” The liturgical order he created is the basis of the prayer service used to this day by Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. The order was written in a responsum, and it was first sent to the Jewish community living in Barcelona. Spain had one of the largest, most vibrant and secularly successful Jewish communities at that time. No manuscripts exists from his time that includes his exact prayer order. The siddur from the Green Collection however, is supposedly dated at 820 AD, before the seder siddur was even made making questionable how the manuscript could have included the Shabbat morning service.
For years the book remained for sale by different “antiquarians and book dealers” because of is questionable provenance, universities or museums did not want to purchase it as a result. Despite having, the largest collection of Hebrew Manuscripts Cambridge University Library chose not to add the prayer book to its collection when it had the opportunity. Ben Outhwaite, who “head[s] the geniza research unit at the Cambridge University Library,” also spoke to the Times of Israel and recounted why; “It’s been around for a good few years, but people were loath to have anything to do with it. They wanted to be sure. In Cambridge we could never have had anything to do with it because the origins were obscure.”
The scholars who have questioned the siddur think much research needs to be done about the prayer book’s origins. Professor Outhwaite believes it resembles more an 11th century manuscript rather than a 9th century one. Outhwaite noted the reasons for the questions is because there is nothing to compare it to; “This is the first instance of a manuscript from a dead period. It’s really important if it’s genuinely from that period. We’re just waiting for that information to come out.” The prayer book has already been digitalized for scholars to have access to. Morgenstern believes the prayer book should not have been displayed and touted as authentic, when it has not been proven. “It’s being put on display as a siddur, without the questions having been answered in public.”
Green and Weiss brought Netanyahu the siddur to view first hand before the exhibition’s opening. The Israeli Prime Minister commented on the historical “value” of text, declaring, “This prayer book is a most important find. The prayer book is written in Hebrew and contains the prayers that the people of Israel say to this very day. It is a connection between our past and our present and that is something of great value.” Green also gave Netanyahu a gift, a “parchment originally found in the Cairo Geniza from the 12th to 13th Century,” which “contains a dialogue written in Arabic about the relationship between man and his creator.”
The siddur was officially “unveiled” on Sept. 18, 2014 at Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Speaker of the Knesset MK Yoel ‘Yuli’ Edelstein attended the opening, in his remarks he expressed; “Not only are we the ‘People of the Book’, we are the people of the same book, the same language and the same prayers. These are the exact same words millions of Jews say every morning and this is the best example of Jewish continuity.” While the museum’s director called the prayer book a “treasure of the Jewish people.” Continuing Weiss stated; “The book is evidence of a thriving and creative community and cultural life 1,200 years ago and we are honored to have it in our Book of Books exhibition. We are happy for the opportunity to provide our visitors the privilege to see in person the ancient prayer book during the final month of the exhibition.”
The prayer book’s owner Green, is a businessman from Oklahoma, a devout Christian, who won recently won the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby case, which permits his family’s crafts stores from not covering contraceptives as part of their employee’s health insurance. Green is also the Chairman of the Museum of the Bible, which he and his family, the Green Foundation is building in Washington, DC next to the National Mall and is scheduled to be opened 2017. The building will be eight stories and is costing $800 million to build. The museum will house his vast collection, called the Green Collection of approximately 40,000 “rare biblical artifacts,” the largest private collection. His collection makes up most of the Book of Books exhibition and consists of both old and New Testament scriptures and range from the second century through the middle ages.
Among the 200 manuscripts being exhibited included are illuminated manuscripts, “fragments” from the earliest copies of the New Testament, the Septuagint, Cairo Geniza fragments, and even some pages from the original Gutenberg Bible. The focus is on the history of the bible looking at both the Jewish and Christian texts as the museum explains, “This exhibition will trace the Jewish roots of Christianity and the dissemination of monotheistic faith.” Green bought this particular siddur last year. The exhibition actually began on Oct. 25, 2013 with the prayer book only showing in the exhibitions to last month from Sept. 18 until Oct. 18, 2014.
Prior to the prayer book going on exhibition, the Bible Lands Museum’s director Weiss expressed; “We are honored to have the prayer book in our Book of Books exhibition. The book is evidence of a thriving and creative community and cultural life 1,200 years ago. We want to give the world the opportunity to see this remarkable piece of document.” While Green spoke to the press about the manuscript, “I know that the Jewish people have a great appreciation for this prayer book. It’s been through many travels and I’m glad that it has made its way here to Jerusalem.”
Despite all the questions, surrounding the book Green maintains that it is the real deal, trusting the carbon dating testing, and the three experts researching it in more detail for him. Green acknowledged that there is “a lot of intrigue about the book,” and that it was written by “more than one hand.” Green also admitted that “There are many questions to answer. It will take our experts years to determine its significance. But we felt it would be of value to the collection.” The only comfort scholars have is knowing that considering Green’s collection, he would never have allowed the prayer book to be displayed in an exhibit if he thought it might not be. Weiss’ comment that “I’m sure it’s going to be the subject of many PhD doctorates,” is true, because they will want to unravel the book’s mysterious origins.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 12, 2014
Politics October 8, 2014: Netanyahu, Obama Administration fight over Jerusalem building, American values
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 8, 2014
Politics October 6, 2014: Long-term jobless rate remains high Obama, Boehner ignore unemployment extension
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 6, 2014
Politics October 5, 2014: Obama praises September jobs report pitches raising minimum wage in midterm push
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 5, 2014
Politics October 5, 2014: GOP make midterms referendum on Obama, as president refocuses on the economy
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 5, 2014
Politics October 3, 2014: Is Texas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan a terrorist, criminal or victim?
Posted by bonniekgoodman on October 3, 2014