Thursday, February 14, 2013

Purim with Warren Buffett

Last year before Pesach we sold Warren Buffett our chametz. 

Besides being a great story, it raised awareness for the local food bank- and we had the most successful pre-Pesach food drive ever.

As the holiday season was approaching, I decided to give him a call and ask the wizard if he would  participate again.  And he did.

This year however, I decided to introduce him to the holiday of Purim.

On the day of Purim every Jew has two obligations.  The first is to give gifts of food to friends.  This is called Mishloach manot  The second obligation is to give gifts to the poor.  This is called matanot l'evyonim. 

The Rambam writes that it is better to give to the poor than to give to one's friends because Purim is a day of joy and "there is no greater joy than gladdening the hearts of those in need." 

Purim, Pesach, and all Jewish holidays are a great time to think of your local food bank. 

My wife Miriam made up two mishloach manot to give to Warren Buffett. One special for him with Coke and Sees Candy- two items that we knew he would enjoy. 

The larger one was filled with all of the most needed items found on the Food Bank for the Heartland's website. 

The list included pork and beans.  We of course did not give him pork, Instead we gave him a can of Heinz vegeterian beans - which in 1927 became the first product to proudly display the OU kosher symbol on the label.  I can't help wondering whether that had some influence on his recent purchase of Heinz- which happened the very next day. 

Immediately upon receiving the larger basket Mr. Buffett donated it to Sue Ogborn from the Foodbank for the Heartland who accompanied us.

The real highlight of the visit was getting to have a chevruta with Rabbi Kripke and Warren Buffett as we learned together the passage in the Megillah that contains the mitzvot of mishloach manot and matanot li'evyonim. 

Mr. Buffett was his usual witty self.  When we told him that we came to perform the mitzvot of Purim he said, "I hope I don't qualify for the gifts to the poor!"

We had some fun, he told some stories, and we made this commercial promoting Purim and Sees Candy - a Berkshire subsidiary. 

Many thanks to Warren Buffett for once again helping us with our food drive and of course thanks to the Food Bank for the Heartland for all of the great work that they do. 

May we all experience the true joy of Purim - helping those less fortunate and celebrating with family and friends.

Monday, February 11, 2013

OU solving the tuition crisis in Nebraska

The most pressing issue facing the American Jewish community is what people call the "tuition crisis."
Study after study has demonstrated that the key to Jewish continuity is Jewish day school education.
The problem is tuition keep getting higher and higher making it more and more difficult for families.  In some cities tuition is upwards of 20,000 per child.  That is quite a burden for a family with 4 children in school.

The Orthodox Union (OU) has committed a great deal of its resources to alleviating this burden and making day school affordable for everyone.

Leading the charge is the OU's Institute for Public affairs (IPA). 

Last week the IPA hosted a summit in Washington DC bringing together all of the Jewish communities in States that have been working on legislation that will help promote school choice.  One of my lay leaders and I attended the one day summit.  We had a chance to hear from the OU professionals as well as from the lay leaders and Jewish professionals from all over the country who have experienced success or challenges.

The entire day was filled with important and practical information and there was not a second of wasted time.

  • We learned how to find government money that is already available for non-public schools.
  • We learned how to identify and build relationships with the important local legislatures who are advocating for school choice.
  • We also learned how to identify and partner with other groups interested in school choice.
  • We learned how to navigate through proposed legislation for school choice and which points affect our community the most.
In the afternoon we broke out into states and met with professionals to discuss the current issues.  
In Nebraska we are currently looking to pass legislative bill 14 (LB14) which would "enable the greatest number of parents to choose among quality educational opportunities for children."

The bill provides tax credits to corporations who give towards scholarship funds for non-public schools.  

Thanks to the OU we have already been in close cooperation with the Catholic community and other partners who want to see this bill passed into law.  

The bill is up for a public hearing on Thursday, February 21 at 1:30pm in Lincoln, Nebraska at the state capital building in room 1524.  

A couple of leaders from the Jewish community and I will be testifying on behalf of the bill and I encourage anyone who can to come out and show support for this legislation that is good for the Jewish community and good for Nebraska.

Much thanks to the OU for taking on this issue and teaching us how we can make our voices heard.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Female Orthodox Rabbis? We Already Have Them

Guest Post by Rabbi Dan Friedman
The pressure on Orthodoxy for the ordination of women has been mounting for many years. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that women cannot be teachers of the Law; halacha merely precludes women’s judicial roles. Why is traditional Judaism so steadfastly opposed to women’s rabbinic leadership roles?
The job of a pulpit rabbi is multifaceted. He is a teacher, a pastor, a counselor, a preacher, a political advocate, a halachic advisor, a marketing executive, a shul director, a fundraiser, a life coach. Which of these roles would be a halachic obstacle to women’s involvement?  Many women could fulfill these roles just as successfully as men, if not better. The only role that stands out as a potential cause for concern is perhaps the halachic advisor. And interestingly, Orthodox women have already begun to enter this sphere with relatively minor opposition. The positions of toenet (advocate) and yoetzet (advisor) are fast achieving widespread approval and approbation.
While there are clearly rabbinic roles that are judicial in nature and problematic for women from a Torah perspective, the average pulpit rabbi rarely acts in such a capacity. He is not a dayan (judge), almost never attending to Beth Din (legal) matters. He is not a posek (halachic authority), posing most major questions to experts in the field, or referring the inquirer to the expert. For most rabbis, their halachic rulings extend only so far as the knowledge of basic everyday decisions, the likes of which are accessible to any learned individual with the capacity to open up and understand a Mishna Berura.
Given the apparent lack of halachic difficulty with women serving in a rabbinic capacity, why then has mainstream Orthodoxy not opened the doors of the rabbinate to women? 
The answer is that it already has. Orthodox women have served in the rabbinate for centuries, if not millennia. They have a unique title – rebbetzin, or rabbanit. The role of rebbetzin has traditionally encompassed many of these duties – pastoring, counseling, teaching, advising. In traditional Judaism, the rabbinic role has both masculine and feminine aspects. And that is why no serious shul will employ a rabbi without a rebbetzin. In fact, most shuls today insist on the rebbetzin being present throughout the interviewing and hiring process. She is not merely the first lady; she is an integral part of the spiritual leadership of the community. 
Contemporary viewpoints calling for the complete equality of men’s and women’s roles in every facet of life fail to recognize the unique contributions that women and men have to make. The problem lies not in women’s lack of traditional involvement in the rabbinate; the issue is that many of her traditional roles have been taken over by men.  Women, as nurturers, often have a greater capacity as pastors and counselors. And yet, the institutionalization of the rabbinic role and the contemporary mistaken view that only one person is the rabbi of the shul have pushed men into roles that they may be less capable of performing than women spiritual leaders. This does not mean that men should not be involved in pastoral work. Rather, it means that we must recognize the important contributions that women have to make in this area and never take them for granted.
Which aspects of the rabbinate are closed to women? Not even preaching – most Modern Orthodox shuls today invite female guest lecturers to address the congregation. True, they do not speak in the middle of the service, but that is a minor amendment that could be made – how about both men and women speak at the end of the service to avoid differentiation?  As it turns out, most rabbinic duties not only may hypothetically be performed by women; indeed, they already are.
The big question is how a woman may pursue a rabbinic career, short of marrying an ordained man? There are a number of ways to remedy this issue. One is to extend the limits of the title ‘rabbi’ and recognize that it is not synonymous with rov. A rov is someone who paskens, or determines halacha. While certainly there are some outstanding rabbonim and for certain shuls that is an absolute prerequisite for the position, it is not the realm of most contemporary Orthodox rabbis. A rabbi is not a rov.
The thought of an Orthodox woman ‘rabbi’ probably remains an inadequate solution, given the longstanding association with the title. In addition, despite the usage of the term ‘rov’ since Talmudic times, the fact is that we do find earlier in our history – during the Mishnaic era – that ‘rabbi’ was the title of preference. Thus, a second solution would be to elevate the title of ‘rebbetzin’ and recognize that this has always been a rabbinic designation. The rebbetzin already serves in a rabbinic capacity; she is essentially a female rabbi. If that is the case, then following a period of study and examination, why not qualify women as certified rebbetzins or rabbanits? In a similar vein, a yeshiva day-school first-grade male teacher magically earns the title ‘rabbi,’ independent of ordination status. In contrast, the female teacher is known as ‘morah’ (teacher). Why does she not become ‘rebbetzin’ by virtue of her role? 
Proponents of women’s ordination would probably find the ‘rebbetzin’ solution unsatisfying, given the longstanding association with that title. Thus, the only solution remaining is to invent a new term for women serving in the Orthodox rabbinate. That term might be maharat, it might be rabba, or it might be something else. The point is current opponents to Orthodox female clergy have failed to understand that women have always served in the rabbinate, albeit primarily in partnership roles together with their husbands. In an age when women are encouraged to pursue all manner of career path, independent of marital status, there is no good reason to deny them an independent role in the rabbinic field. We are only depriving ourselves of the potential leadership roles of a significant percentage of our community. 
Would Orthodox communities accept women rabbis, even if they were officially called rebbetzins or an alternative title? Some would, some would not. Many female graduates might end up in more pastoral lines of rabbinic work, such as chaplaincy.   But the first step is that we, as a community, recognize the important contribution that women have to make, and allow them the opportunity to qualify to serve in a rabbinic capacity.
For starters, shuls must openly acknowledge that they are hiring a rabbinic couple, and let the couple determine – in consultation with the synagogue leadership – who is to fulfill which rabbinic duties.  
There is nothing in halacha that excludes women from the rabbinate. Ultimately, however, we need both sides to compromise.  Opponents of women’s ordination must accept that women have always served in the rabbinate; and proponents of women’s ordination need to be sensitive to the psychological, sociological, and historical implications of the rabbinic title. Most importantly, it is high time we recognized the spiritual partnership that leads Jewish communal life and allow rabbinic couples to decide whether he or she will play the more active role.
(This article was inspired by my wife, Rabbanit Batya’s recent participation in the Rebbetzin Esther Rosenblatt Yarchei Kallah, under the guidance of Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter and Rebbetzin Meira Davis of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.)
Daniel Friedman is rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Canada.