Thursday, February 24, 2011

How many Jews are there in the Northern Territory?

...Or for that matter, Tasmania?   Hardly a minyan.
But anti-Semites? Plenty!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where to now, Tzemach Tzedek?

Sydney boy writes:

Now that a date has been set for the departure of their popular and respected Rav, what does the future hold for the Tzemach Tzedek community?

Do they continue to operate as an independent Shul? Will they appoint another rabbi? Do they want another rabbi? Can they afford a rabbi?

If the answer to those questions is "yes", then the next question is: "Where will they find another leader with even some of the qualities of Rav Braun?“

While Rabbi Braun was always valued and admired in Sydney, his elevation to one of the highest posts in the Chabad rabbinical world indicates how fortunate we have been to have him in our midst for the past few years. At the same time this makes the selection of a replacement an even more difficult task.

Meanwhile I am sure that everyone joins me in wishing him and his family Hatzlacha Rabba in his new position.

Friday, February 18, 2011

NSW KA: Protecting its turf?

Penkivil writes:

The NSW KA is again going all out to defend its turf, this time publishing, in my opinion, a libelous statement about the Kashrut organization known as Kosher VeYosher headed by Rabbi Meir Gershon Rabi. Personally I know very little about supervision issues; however I get very suspicious when the 2 majors - the KA twins - jump upon anyone who dares to raise his head and provide an alternative supervision. (If you don’t know exactly what I mean, do a “KA” search on this blog and you’ll soon get an idea.)

Did Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, prior to issuing his statement, give Rabbi Rabi the courtesy of a telephone call to discuss any misgivings? Or did he mimic his colleagues in Melbourne when they too publicly attacked Rabbi Rabi and his organisation without offering him an opportunity to respond? A certain Talmid Chacham that I respect and consult with told me that there is a minimum obligation of שמוע בין אחיכם – and indeed simple mentchlichkeit - requires one to listen to the other side before lashing out. I doubt that this happened in the case of KA v. Kosher VeYosher.

Another seemingly grave Halachic issue is the admission of KA (in their statement) that they are the current supervisors of that establishment. Can they inform us of how that happened? Who made sure that KV were kicked out so KA could get the business? Was there bad-mouthing by one Kashrus ‘business’ against another? Was there any Lashon Haa, Sheker and Rechilus involved? Is there any Halachic justification for such behaviour? And what about Chilul Hashem? What do they think that the non-Jewish proprietors think of rabbis after such an episode? To a layman like myself this sounds quite despicable and appalling. Of course I may have missed some details and if that is the case, I look forward to KA responding here or in another public notice.

Being a Sydneysider, I don’t know Rabbi Rabi. But I am an anti-monopolist and a believer in free trade. And I am convinced that if NSW Kosher consumers had more than one certifying agency, all of us would benefit.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

AJN: Still the same old nasty

We were actually hoping the AJN would've learned its lesson following its infamous and malicious front cover seeking to destroy the reputation of a hard-working and devoted rabbi - who was later absolved from all claims and accusations.
This was especially so after the previous editor was given the heave-ho and we dared to hope that his replacement would raise the AJN’s journalistic standards and move away from yellow journalism. (See also here.)

Sadly, the front page of last week's Sydney edition put paid to such dreams. The same mean approach and the same disregard shown by the newspaper in the Rabbi Engel episode is repeated.

Not the slightest concern about how their front page - which is displayed in dozens of newsagencies - will affect the thinking of the ‘friends’ of our community. And as we see from the J-Wire report, the AJN incorrectly claimed that “…Yeshiva College has refused a request by the Education Department to return $400,000 in Government funds.”

This case again shows that we cannot rely on the so-called voice of our community to show seriousness and responsibility towards its constituency. It’s about time that the JCCV and the NSW BoD took them to task and demand that they act in the interests of Australian Jewry and not to its detriment.

Government investigating Yeshiva funds

AJN February 11, 2011

YESHIVA College has refused a request by the Education Department to return $400,000 in Government funds.
The Bondi Orthodox school was awarded $925,000 by the Federal Government under the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program. That money came with a caveat that it must be used within a specified time frame.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AIS) and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) are now investigating whether the $400,000 already given to the school has been spent, and if so, on what.

While DEEWR has not confirmed it has asked for a refund, college principal Rebbetzin Pnina Feldman said she was not able to give the money back, even though Yeshiva has not built what it had planned to. An electricity company’s plans to build a facility close to the campus left the school¹s building intentions up in the air.

“EnergyAustralia is building a substation within 200 metres of the school, which is considered dangerous, so we can’t build what we were going to because it would be dangerous for the kids,” Rebbetzin Feldman said.

“I went to AIS and asked if we could use the money for something else, but they said no because they said the money was a stimulus for builders, not schools, so there is no point spending the money elsewhere in 2011. They said we had to give the money back or use it on that building, but I don’t want to give the money back because I have already spent a lot of it and if we have to move because of the substation, we need money to relocate.”

AIS executive director Geoff Newcombe said the investigation into Yeshiva is ongoing. “The matter is in the process of being handed over to DEEWR for further investigation, and we will continue working with the department to assist them in their inquiries,” he told The AJN.

AIS administers the grants on behalf of the Education Department to private schools in the state. Newcomb could not comment further on the specific investigation, but he did explain the circumstances under which a case could be handed over to DEEWR.

“If we conclude that the school is not satisfactorily carrying out all requirements of the agreement, we have the option of terminating the agreement we have with the school and notifying DEEWR, so that they can investigate further as they are the owner of the funds.”

A DEEWR spokesperson confirmed the investigation is currently underway. “The department is currently investigating the use of BER funding by the school, and is working closely with the Association of Independent Schools NSW to ensure it has been appropriately spent,” the spokesperson said.

And here's the J-Wire report on the same matter:

Sydney’s Yeshiva College and the Government’s $400,000

February 11, 2011 by J-Wire Staff

Rebbetzin Pnina Feldman has told J-Wire that if all negotiation attempts to use funds allocated to Sydney’s Yeshiva College under the Building the Education Revolution [BER] fail, the College will return the money to the Government.

The College had received $400,000 being the first instalment of a $925,000 grant made by the Federal Government and administered by the Association of Independent Schools of NSW. The money had been earmarked by the Government not primarily for schools…but to stimulate business for the building industry. It came with a caveat stipulating that it had be used within a specific time frame. That time has passed and the Government wants its money back.
In a prepared statement, the College’s Shalom Feldman said: “The building project was delayed due to the threat of a sub-station being built by Ernergy Australia next door which may preclude small children from being safely schooled at the site.”

College principal Rebbitzin Pnina Feldman told J-Wire that within the last few weeks Energy Australia had confirmed that the sub-station was going ahead.

The College is now attempting to negotiate with the authorities to use the funds for the seniors boys’ school. Rebbetzin Feldman said that she was pursuing every available avenue to be permitted use the funds for other building purposes. She added that she believed there were around 80 other schools being audited as to the use of the funds, saying that if all else fails the money will be returned.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, EMployment and Workplace Relations said: “As an investigation in to the use of the funds is underway, the Department can make no comment.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Double-ring ceremony - prohibited by Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ''ל

Sydney Rabbi writes:
I am surprised that none of my Melbourne colleagues knows of the Tshuva by Rav Moshe Feinstein ז''ל where he clearly and unambiguously writes that it is assur for the bride to give the groom a ring under the Chuppah. They should look it up themselves in Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer vol 3, siman 18.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Christians adopting Jewish culture and traditions - but what about our rabbis?

Astounding article in the NY Times.

While locally we are getting reports that some of Melbourne's orthodox rabbis are permitting deviations from traditional Chuppah ceremonies, it seems that non-Jews, davka, are adopting some of our minhagim!

A little bird told us that at the recent meeting of the RCV the majority of attendees, despite agreeing that it is unacceptable, couldn't bring themselves to officially condemn one of their members who has incorporated a 'double-ring' ceremony under the Chuppah.

While our rabbis these days have wider, blacker hats and longer beards than those of the post-war years, they seem far less ‘allergic’ to reforms than their predecessors. Whilst our research revealed that the 'double-ring' thing was invented by the American jewellery industry in the late 19th century it has been adopted by many churches as well as Reform clergy.

Hopefully the rabbi/s permitting this type of deviation will not go all the way and use the procedure and ritual for such ceremonies composed by L. Ron Hubbard the founder of the "Church" of Scientology.

But seriously, seeing that most of the rabbis are deeply orthodox and Chabad they should seriously consider the words of one of their colleagues, Rabbi Yosf Resnick on, who states that such a ceremony 'cancel's out' the Halachicly required ring-giving by the groom to the bride.

To quote: "...When a woman gives a man a ring in return, they are simply exchanging articles of value. They could exchange blenders, too. Now they have just made a trade, and not effected a change of her status, to a married woman. The legal transaction implied by the groom giving the bride a ring has now been matched one for one, and thereby cancelled. Her status remains unchanged. It is as if the bride has not received anything at all, or as if she has given back the gift..."

It would be wise of our rabbis to take urgent action and heed the words of Chazal: יפה שעה אחת קודם

The Austins’ was not an interfaith marriage. Nor was their ceremony some sort of multicultural mashup. Both Sally and Mark are evangelical Christians, members of Oak Hills Church, a nationally known megachurch. They were using the ketubah as a way of affirming the Jewish roots of their faith.

In so doing, the Austins are part of a growing phenomenon of non-Jews incorporating the ketubah, a document with millennia-old origins and a rich artistic history, into their weddings. Mrs. Austin, in fact, first learned about the ketubah from her older sister, also an evangelical Christian, who had been married five years earlier with not only a ketubah but the Judaic wedding canopy, the huppah.

 “Embracing this Jewish tradition just brings a richness that we miss out on sometimes as Christians when we don’t know the history,” said Mrs. Austin, 28, a business manager for AT&T. “Jesus was Jewish, and we appreciate his culture, where he came from.”

Beyond its specific basis in Judaism, the ketubah represented to the Austins a broader concept of holiness, of consecration. “We wanted a permanent reminder of the covenant we made with God,” Mrs. Austin said. “We see this document superseding the marriage license of a state or a court.”

Such sentiments have been reshaping the market for ketubot (the plural in Hebrew) in the past decade. Michael Shapiro, an observant Jew from Toronto who sells artistic ketubot through the Web site, said he had seen the non-Jewish share of his customers rise from zero to about 10 percent. He is forming a spinoff site,, that concentrates on non-Jewish consumers.

While evangelical Christians like the Austins make up part of that niche, Mr. Shapiro said, the concept of marital sanctity they expressed is one he hears from many gentile buyers. “There’s an idea of this being significant and lasting, a nod to something greater at work in a couple having come together,” he said in a telephone interview. “For some, it’s about God and faith. For others, it’s almost a sense of a miracle. In Jewish terms, we have the Yiddish word bashert, for ‘meant to be, intended for each other.’ ”

The decade of non-Jews discovering the ketubah coincides with three relevant social trends: the rise of Christian Zionism, the growth of interfaith marriage, and the mainstreaming of the New Age movement with its search for spirituality in multiple faith traditions. As a result, an increasing number of gentiles have taken up Judaic practices: holding a Passover Seder, eating kosher food and studying kabbalah, the Jewish mystical movement.

“A lot of these things are grass-rootsy,” said Prof. Jenna Weissman Joselit, a historian at George Washington University, who has written extensively on Jewish popular culture. “They have to do with the growing popularity of intermarriage — openness, pluralism, cultural improvisation. And for those who are more religiously literate, they add another level of authenticity or legitimacy.”

What makes the ketubah boom among non-Jews more striking is that even for Jews the present concept of a ketubah — simultaneously a work of fine art and a religious document — took centuries to develop and spread.

The earliest known version of a Jewish marriage contract dates to the fifth century B.C. in Egypt. Roughly 1,000 years later, during the Talmudic period in Palestine and Babylon, a formally codified version of the ketubah emerged.

Ketubah from 1942 in the Sydney Jewish Museum

And in its original form, far from declaring marriage as an everlasting bond, the ketubah largely served to protect a wife’s right to financial support in the event of a divorce, which under traditional Jewish law is entirely a husband’s decision. To this day, the standard Orthodox ketubah still contains language requiring a divorced man to pay his ex-wife “200 silver zuz.”

Sephardic Jews, though, wrote ketubot with specific provisions for each marriage. And, of more enduring aesthetic importance, they began to illustrate the documents elaborately with images and calligraphy. With the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, refugees carried that artistic tradition to Italy, Germany and Holland, where the decorative ketubah began to seep into Ashkenazi culture.

But the style never reached into the Eastern European heartland of Jewry — which itself was the source of most of America’s Jewish immigrants — and by the mid-20th century the ketubah was back to where it had started as a document of religious law to be signed and stowed away.

All that suddenly changed with the “Jewish counterculture” of the 1960s, a movement by young Jews to participate in worship actively rather than just follow a rabbi, and to create their own prayers, liturgies, ceremonies and ritual objects, very much including ketubot.
By now, the ketubah is such a standard part of American Jewish life that even the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia exhibits and sells them. Next month the Jewish Museum in New York will mount a major show of ketubot.

“You have an interest in a beautifying ritual and you have disposable income,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who is curating the Jewish Museum exhibit. “There’s both the wherewithal and the interest. Now you’d hang your ketubah on the wall. In the past, you’d just keep it in a safe or something like that.”

As for Sally and Mark Austin, they Googled their way to, selected a version with the image of a flowing river, and chose one of several texts from the Reform Jewish movement. After their wedding day, they hung it over their bed.

“One of the characteristics of a covenant,” as Mrs. Austin put it, “is a tangible sign. And this piece of paper, this beautiful piece of art, is the sign of our covenant.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Parsha did they lein in your Shul last Shabbos?

The Haaretz apparently thinks it was parshas "Blah Blah"
(Hat tip BeChadrei Charedim")

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spodiks for Cairo craniums?

These photographs depicting some unbelievable "protective" head-gear used by the revolting Egyptians in Cairo gave us the idea to launch an appeal to supply them with unused and unwanted Shtreimels and Spodiks. It's the elast we can do for our cousins.
After all, they wouldn’t offer any less protection than a bread-roll, discarded plastic soft-drink bottles, or even a cardboard carton. And no doubt that the 'spiritual' effect of Chassidish fur will also do them some good.

The chap sporting the concrete slab atop his skull probably has a better chance against flying rocks and shrapnel than his mate with his nut in the plastic waste-paper basket. Though appending it only with a scarf may be challenging.

So let's go for it, chaps...