How many Jewish parliamentarians are there in the Australian parliament?

I do not know the answer to this question, but non orthodox feminists may be upset to find out that males do not pass on the irrevocable portion of membership of the Jewish religion.

The press tells us there are 5 Jewish members. Of course, there may be some who have legitimately converted in orthodox tradition. Others and/or their mothers may not have.

As I recall this was a Machlokes Tanoim?, and tradition/Mesora has unquestionably gone via the mother. I guess the egalitarians should be up in arms and demand equality: viz both parents should be jewish.

Of course those who follow the modern egalitarian/equality religion with sprinklings of traditional Judaic practice, you know, the one Moses didn’t bring down from Sinai, ought to really be arguing that being a Cohen or Levi should be a matter of choice for the child, just like male circumcision. Where the mother is the daughter of Cohen and the father is a Levi, say, you’d leave it to the child to decide, and I guess they could also change their mind depending on their spiritual development at a given point in time? Come to think of it they should call up their women as cohenet or levitate, or …  I’m of course tongue in cheek, but it follows for those for whom equality is their religion and Judaism is their cultural affiliation. I haven’t got the foggiest idea what their pronouncements are in such matters with respect to Trans or fluid genders. 

There are some in the USA who are intellectually honest enough to do away with Cohen, Levi and Yisrael and make them all equal. Then again, these are also the same Bernie Sanders types, who had every mention of Zion removed from prayer books (Reform Judaism).

I know Michael Danby gets Aliyos at Elwood where the Head of the Beth Din of Melbourne is the religious authority, and is Jewish, and that Josh Frydenberg is also halachically one of the tribe, but I don’t know enough about the other three to make claims either way with the same confidence that the ‘Beth Din’ of the Jewish News does. Does the Jewish News use the Nazi definition or the ‘I fought in the IDF definition’ or I have ‘latkes and dreidels with Father Xmas rule’? I’m not sure they have ever defined Jew.

I do know that Lee Rhiannon of the anti Zionist Greens is Halachically Jewish and her surname is/was Brown. Perhaps she should have called herself Lee Green. The worst political types are often fully Jews. Jon Faine the left wing national radio personality, of course is Jewish, but unlike his mate Waleed makes every effort to distance himself from the tradition of his parents ostensibly in the name of leftist equality. We Jews are very good at apologising for our identity by running away from it.

In the Victorian State parliament there maybe one person?  I guess the Australian Jewish News is the arbiter on such matters and promulgates its pronouncements to be gobbled up by the non Jewish Press as gospel. They may in fact be gospel!

I heard or read that Malcolm Turnbull may actually be Jewish? Is that true? I don’t know what the Beth Din of the Australian Jewish News has determined, as they don’t seem to have a formal responsa on the matter.

As a side note the great modern sages: Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soleveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn both foresaw the issue of Yichus as critical in a nation prone to assimilation and encouraged men to always note in their names that they were a Cohen or Levi.

Rabbi Stav of Tzohar is visiting Melbourne this week. Perhaps someone can inform him and ask him for an authentic halachic ruling as opposed to the ‘feel good’ or ‘kosher style’ approach of the Australian Jewish News where almost anything flies.

How long till we get support for this from “progressive” Reform groups?

Sandra Lawson

Check this out from Times of Israel. [ Hat tip Magyar.]

You’d NEVER get an editorial from the Australian Jewish News on this. Might be a Magid legacy? Maybe newly honoured Jeffery Kamins would comment?

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — Sandra Lawson didn’t expect to perform a public benediction at her local pub in this city’s Roxborough neighborhood.

But when her friend Jay, who was entering firefighter training, asked her for a blessing earlier this year, she stood with him in the middle of the room and put her rabbinical school training into action.

“Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, please bless Jay on his journey of being a firefighter,” she said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Come back and have a beer with me.”

For Lawson, a bar is a natural place to create a Jewish ceremony. As a rabbi in training who herself is breaking barriers, Lawson is eager to take Jewish practice outside the traditional bounds of the synagogue.

Lawson, 45, lives at the intersection of several communities while being in a small demographic within the American Jewish world. As an African-American lesbian who converted to Judaism, eats vegan and is now studying to be a rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Lawson believes American Jews need to rethink how their community looks and where it should congregate.

“Redefining or helping people understand what the Jewish community looks like today is something I want to do,” Lawson told JTA in a vegan cafe where she holds Friday night services.

‘People can deal with a female rabbi, a queer rabbi. But, “Oh, you’re black, too? That’s too much to deal with in one day”‘
“In the US, people can deal with a female rabbi, a queer rabbi,” she continued. “But, ‘Oh, you’re black, too? That’s too much to deal with in one day.’ When you put those identities together, it’s too much to handle.”

Lawson grew up in a military family and, while Christian, wasn’t raised religious. Her first exposure to Judaism came in an Old Testament course at St. Leo University in Florida while she was serving in the Army as a military police officer. Following military service, Lawson became a personal trainer in Atlanta, where one of her clients was Joshua Lesser, a Reconstructionist rabbi and local activist for racial justice. She began attending services at his Congregation Beth Haverim, a synagogue for the LGBT community, and converted in 2004.

Sandra Lawson with her wife, Susan Hurrey. Lawson is due to receive her rabbinic ordination in 2018. (Courtesy of Lawson/via JTA)
Sandra Lawson with her wife, Susan Hurrey. Lawson is due to receive her rabbinic ordination in 2018. (Courtesy of Lawson/via JTA)

She decided to become a rabbi after representing the Jewish community at a LGBT memorial service for Coretta Scott King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife. She realized there that being an African-American Jew could allow her to strengthen connections among communities. She’s on track to graduate from rabbinical school in 2018.

“I was able to help make those connections and build some of those bridges by being someone who wants to be clergy and help build more trust around interfaith stuff,” Lawson said. She wants to get to a point where “when I Google ‘rabbi,’ I see someone other than a bearded white guy.”

(Indeed, when you Google “rabbi,” all you see initially are bearded white men.)

Lawson says “nobody’s been horrible to me,” but she has encountered different challenges to her identity, depending on where she is. At one synagogue, she was standing in a prayer shawl and kippah with a friend when a congregant approached her friend and asked him if she was Jewish.

‘Every community has their own idea of who is a Jew and what does a Jew look like’
“I don’t know anyone who goes to a synagogue, wears a kippah and a talit Saturday morning who is not Jewish,” she said. “Every community has their own idea of who is a Jew and what does a Jew look like. If you don’t fit that framework, they don’t think you’re Jewish.”

Studying last year in Israel, Lawson said she would encounter trouble when visiting the Western Wall. Attendants saw her haircut and told her on three separate occasions to go to the men’s section. Once she had to grab her breasts to show she was a woman.

Diane Tobin, founder of Be’chol Lashon, a group that advocates for Jews of color, says that in many cases, white Jews address race crudely because they lack the language skills to talk sensitively about it. Lawson, she says, “is the embodiment of a younger generation of Jews who have intersecting identities.”

Lawson wants to expand the Jewish conversation in part by taking it outside its traditional setting. She would rather lead services in a park, or address the concerns of Jews and non-Jews in inner cities, than be a full-time pulpit rabbi. Every month she runs a Friday night service at Arnold’s Way, a vegan cafe and health store near Philadelphia, which she begins with a song she wrote based on a verse from Psalms.

‘If you’re going to wait for people to come to your synagogue, your JCC, you’ll be waiting a long time’
Lawson also uses social media and live video feeds to spread Jewish content. On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, traditionally the days when the Torah is read, she will put out a stream of video content on Snapchat featuring Torah study interspersed with humorous images. On June 16, her thoughts about the weekly Torah portion came after images of her face overlaid with dog ears and her cheeks inflated.

“The model of the synagogue, where you have to pay large dues, pay to come to High Holidays, is not a model I want to duplicate,” she said. “We live in a different world now. If you’re going to wait for people to come to your synagogue, your JCC, you’ll be waiting a long time.”

Lawson’s personal Jewish practice also happens at unexpected places. Because her iPod has pop music interspersed with Jewish liturgy — like “Modeh Ani,” the prayer said upon waking up — she’ll sometimes find herself praying while working out. Because she also plays a zombie game on the device while she runs, things can become confusing. But she doesn’t let that faze her.

“I have the Bee Gees on my iPod, and the next thing is Modeh Ani,” she said. “I’m being chased by zombies and the Shema would come on. It’s Saturday morning, [I’m] wearing a Superman shirt, running, being chased by zombies, and I sing along.”

Cohen marrying a “divorcee”

We say that everything happens through Hasghacha Pratis. Today is the Yohr Tzeit of HaRav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin z”l, who was universally accepted as the most important Posek in the USA prior to R’ Moshe. While Rav Henkin was still alive, the veneration of R’ Moshe towards R’ Henkin was palpable and reflected in his Tshuvos in Igros Moshe. It was not uncommon to find R’ Moshe write a long T’shuva wherein it is clear that R’ Moshe’s opinion is to be lenient. At the conclusion of the Tshuva, R’ Moshe will write that “since Rav Henkin does not agree, one should follow R’ Henkin’s opinion.” There were a number of issues, however, where R’ Moshe stood his ground, so to speak, and Paskened differently to R’ Henkin.

Rav Henkin, z”l

One of the main issues, perhaps even the main issue was the question of the status of a Reform or Civil marriage. Was such a marriage binding in the sense that it concluded and was considered an act of Kiddushin? R’ Moshe was lenient. He held, and I believe that this is the widely held view today, that for a number of reasons, such as the fact that there were no Kosher witnesses, we should not consider such ceremonies as connoting a formal kiddushin/marriage. R’ Henkin on the other hand, basically held that if it looks like a fish, smells like a fish and tastes like a fish, it is a fish. Since the said couple had a ceremony and are known to be cohabiting, then it must be a marriage in the sense that if one or both subsequently sought a divorce, they would be required to obtain a formal Get. In addition, one ramification of R’ Henkin’s view was that if the woman in such a civil or reform marriage didn’t obtain a Get, and bore a child with another man, that child would be considered a Mamzer.

This was a critical Machlokes between the two, and in their and our day, it is just as important.

I was interested then in this article  published in Yediot on R’ Henkin’s Yohr Tzeit, which described an alleged sham civil marriage in which the couple lived together for 4 months for the purposes of a Visa. The Rabbanut paskened that since there was no real marriage, as per R’ Moshe’s Psak, above, the lady would not require a Get and could therefore now marry a Cohen (a Cohen is forbiidden to marry a divorcee).

It is difficult to extrapolate whether R’ Henkin would agree that in this case there was no formal marriage either. Perhaps even R’ Henkin would agree that there was no marriage L’Chatchila and therefore no Get was required, thereby permitting the lady to marry a Cohen?

A new challenge to Reform?

Many things that materialise in the USA eventually find their way into Australia years later. I hope and pray that this phenomenon does not. The Australian Jewish News has had a number of letters from Reform/Progressive apologists claiming that their communities enjoy the largest affiliated numbers. If affiliation is anything like the description below, then God help us. [Hat tip Reuven]

But in a growing number of intentional interfaith communities, parents are raising children who are deeply engaged with religion. Let me describe our family’s Jewish engagement, which strikes me as anything but “weak.” We always host a Passover Seder, light Hanukkah candles, go to High Holy Day services. We also light Shabbat candles, and celebrate other holidays like Purim and Sukkot. My children learned Hebrew, recited the blessings over the Torah when they turned 13, and know and use essential Jewish prayers. They have a warm and personal relationship with more than one rabbi. They are quick to identify themselves as Jewish when they encounter anti-Semitism. Oh, and we have shlepped our children to Jewish Museums on more than one continent (visiting Jewish museums is one of the forms of Jewish engagement measured in the New York study).

But we also embrace our entire family tree. We celebrate Christian holidays, go to church with extended family. And we put our children through nine years of study about both Judaism and Christianity — about the common ground and the essential differences and the points of historical connection.

It is true that my family feels alienated from the state of Israel, since none of us would be legally accepted as Jews there, and there is a troubling correlation between religious identity and civil rights in Israel. And Birthright will not take my children on a free trip to Israel unless they sign away their right to interfaith identity.

And it is true that our family would score low on connections to institutional Judaism. My children aren’t accepted as Jews by many of those institutions, and that, frankly, decreases our desire to belong to them. Our insistence that our children be educated about Christianity, our openness to the possibility that our children will get spiritual sustenance from Christian traditions, and that they have the right to choose a Christian (or for that matter Buddhist or Hindu) identity someday, is wholly unacceptable to most Jewish institutions. Interfaith families that seek to educate their children in more than one religion are expressly barred, by policy, from most synagogue classrooms.

Nonetheless, I am cautiously optimistic that this new acknowledgement of our existence represents progress towards understanding that many interfaith children both want to stay connected to Judaism and also want access to learning about both of their ancestral religions. I am hopeful that researchers will now seek to understand all that is positive about interfaith education for interfaith families. We engage the whole child, the whole family, and embrace our bothness. We don’t mind being called unconventional. We embrace that label, too.