Orthodox Rabbis Charged in Jewish Divorce Shakedown Plot

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Water Initiatives Get Congregations to Pledge to Conserve

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

Jewish Feminists Say They’d Accept Western Wall Prayer Compromise

RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Women praying at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.

For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.

After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke

Jon Stewart at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20, 2009. Photo via RNS/courtesy Shutterstock

Yoo-hoo! Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Larry David! No matter how unreligious you comics may be, American Jews seem proud to claim you.

Well, mostly. You know the joke: Two Jews, three opinions…

But seriously: A sweeping new survey from the Pew Research Center, “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” finds humor is one of the main qualities that four in 10 of the nation’s 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews say is essential to their Jewish identity. The survey was released Tuesday.

5 Reasons People Think Prince George is Jewish (Even Though He’s Not)

Screenshot of T Mobile video featuring actors as William and Kate.

Screenshot of T Mobile video featuring actors as William and Kate.

A Royal Bris! A Royal Bar Mitzvah! Hanukkah at Buckingham Palace!

From the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged, a rumor ran happily through the Jewish blogosphere (and menacingly on many anti-Semitic websites): the couple’s progeny, the heir to the British throne, would be Jewish! And then, on July 22, a son was born — a Son of Israel!

Um, no.

Can a Hebrew Charter School Teach the Language but Not the Faith?

Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center.

A classroom at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn, a public charter school. Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center

WASHINGTON — What’s one way to ensure that a new Hebrew-immersion public charter school isn’t a Jewish school? Hire a priest to run it.

Sela, which means “rock” or “foundation” in Hebrew, opens in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. As a public school, Sela may not teach or show preference to any religion. But the intimate connection between Hebrew and Judaism makes some people wonder whether the separation is truly possible.

The question is not just for Sela, but for the dozen or so other public Hebrew charter schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to San Diego that have started since the first one opened in Florida in 2007. And more Hebrew language charters are in the design stage.

Making things even more complicated is Hebrew’s ties not only to Judaism but to Israel. When the Sela staff began naming classrooms for major cities in Israel this summer, the school’s executive director, Jason Lody, said there would be no class named after the disputed capital of Jerusalem.

“We want to be a public school of excellence,” Lody said. “We don’t want to be sidetracked by political conversations that don’t focus on getting our 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten.”

Anti-Semitism on Downward Slide but Still Rampant Online

Photo courtesy RNS.

A car in Alexandria,Virginia was spray-painted with swastikas and “Jew” in bright yellow paint. Photo courtesy RNS.

The Anti-Defamation League’s study of anti-Semitism in the U.S. shows a 14 percent decrease in incidents during 2012, the second consecutive year of a downward trend.

Overall, the ADL counted 927 anti-Semitic incidents — including assaults, vandalism, and harassment — down from the 1,080 incidents reported in 2011. Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the trend “encouraging.”

“While these numbers only provide one snapshot of anti-Semitism in America, to the extent that they serve as a barometer the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Jewish hatred,” he said.

Thousands of Athletes to Compete in “Jewish Olympics”

Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/

An envelope and postage stamp in honor of the 4th Maccabiah Games in Israel. Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/

More than 1,100 American Jewish athletes will be competing in the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics” and held in Israel once every four years.

This year’s event, which begins July 18, brings together more than 9,000 athletes from 77 countries to compete in 38 sporting events. The American contingent is the largest visiting delegation.

The Maccabiah attracts well-known and lesser-known athletes. This year’s participants include swimmers Garrett Weber-Gale, who won gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and Mirjam de Koning-Peper, one of three medal winners in the London 2012 Paralympics.

‘Princesses’ Embraces a Stereotype, Leaving Some Jews Uncomfortable

Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Long Island: Princesses, Season 1 cast, Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Meet Amanda, Casey, Ashlee, Chanel, Joey, and Erica. They spend their time and their parents’ money shopping for designer labels, searching for rich husbands, and lounging by the pool with a glass of wine in hand.

They’re self-admitted “Jewish American Princesses,” and Bravo’s built a whole reality series, "Princesses: Long Island" around their exploits. The show follows six unmarried 20-something Jewish women living with their parents on New York’s Long Island. The first two episodes were titled “You Had Me at Shalom” and “Shabbocalypse Now.”

“Everybody has a stereotype of a Long Island Jewish girl,” cast member Ashlee White said on the show’s June 2 premiere. “People get so offended! I’m like, ‘Bring it.’ I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a princess.”

And that’s where some Jews — and even some Long Islanders — have a problem.

Creating Connections by Erasing Boundaries

discpicture / Shutterstock

Paper chain surrounding the globe. discpicture / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — I sat with my gospel choir colleagues, in a pew, while the host choir at Park Avenue Synagogue rehearsed a lovely Psalm setting in Hebrew.

Some sang the Hebrew text with ease, some with difficulty — a reminder that faith generally means learning a language other than one’s own.

After the synagogue choir sang in their other-language, we joined them to sing in our other-language: swaying to the beat, getting one’s body into the praise. They responded gladly, as our combined choirs rehearsed Richard Smallwood’s epic “Total Praise,” a setting of Psalm 121, which Christians and Jews share.

When two choirs from Park Avenue Christian Church and two choirs from Park Avenue Synagogue, plus some jazz musicians, performed Sunday, at a Psalms festival, we disrupted 2,000 years of animus between Christians and Jews. In the eyes of the creator God who made us all, we said, we are more alike than different, more connected than separated, more eager for shared faith than for separate and superior faith.