rabbi

She’s Black, Gay, and Soon You Can Call Her ‘Rabbi’

Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times

Sandra Lawson. Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times / Sandra Lawson / RNS

Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything, except maybe fitness. She wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism or any other religion.

And she certainly never aspired to be one of the first — if not the first — black, openly lesbian rabbi.

But this spring Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia with the help of an online GoFundMe campaign. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination in 2018.

Women Rabbis Are Forging a Path Outside Denominational Judaism

Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann. Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.

To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.

Now 38, and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one.

Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.

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.

Rabbis Push Congress on Immigration Reform

In the midst of the Jewish holiday season, more than 1,200 rabbis and cantors have urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“We thought it was a particularly good time to speak out as rabbis and cantors on this issue that really speaks to us as Americans and as Jews,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s Washington office that coordinated the effort.

“For centuries, Jews were guests in others’ lands and not always treated well.”

The Lord Says: 'Love Thy (Muslim) Neighbor': Jewish and Christian Groups Reach Out to Muslims

The racist, anti-Muslim ad in the New York Subway that used the language of civilized and savages has more than met its match.

A large group of Jews and Christians have countered that hateful message by tapping into the rich mines of neighborly love that are at the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.     

New ads by Rabbis for Human Rights , United Methodist Women, and Sojourners have tapped into the rich religious commandment to “love thy neighbor” to remind all of us to love our neighbors.

Foremost Rabbinic Authority in the World Dies at 102

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.  Image v

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel. Image via SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.

JERUSALEM — Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, considered by many the foremost rabbinic authority in the Jewish world, died in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was 102.

Born in Lithuania, Elyashiv moved to Jerusalem with his family at the age of 14, where he was recognized as a budding Torah scholar. 

Throughout his life Elyashiv wielded a huge influence not only among his fellow ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews but with many Sephardi Jews as well.

His rulings on every matter related to Jewish life, usually seen as extremely conservative, have shaped the way hundreds of thousands of haredim (as ultra-Orthodox Jews are often called) conduct their lives and run their communities.

The Hometown Blues

"If you tell a lie, it will be all over the country in a day or two. But if you tell the truth, it will take ten years to get there." ~ Eddie "Son" House

And the truth is what Jesus offered the people of his hometown in this tale from Mark's Gospel. Jesus offered his prophetic witness of truth-telling. He held up a mirror and showed them who they were. He held up a mirror and said to them, "The Kingdom of God is with you."

They were enraged that one of their own would do such a thing.
He was utterly astonished that the people who had raised him were incapable of facing their own truth.

He also knew that if they could not face the realities of their own complicated lives they would not be able to embrace the healing and forgiveness that God offered.

Jesus had the blues. He had the hometown blues.

So, rejected, he fled his hometown.

Then he sent his apostles out into the world proclaiming peace, healing the sick and the lame, and prepared to face the same rejection. People don't like to be reminded of the complications of real life. None of us like the feeling of being judged when the mirror is held up before us.

The Graduation Speech I Wish I Could Give

Image by Andresr /shutterstock.

Image by Andresr /shutterstock.

Choose carefully those with whom you surround yourself. Pay attention to that which you pursue with all your heart, all your soul and all your might -- and to what compromises you are willing to make in that pursuit. Make those compromises judiciously and with reflection, because when they all add up, you may realize that you’ve become someone you don’t recognize.

Who you will become is determined in large part not by what you acquire, but by what you give -- and how you give of yourself.

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