Voices of WRJ: Naso

by Linda Kates

I had never thought of asceticism as a Jewish practice until I read Naso, the second portion in the book of Numbers, which explains the procedure for a man or woman (yes, it specifically mentions women) to become a nazir, or one who dedicates his or her life to God. The nazir takes a vow, usually for a specific period of time, to refrain from wine  and grape products, contact with dead bodies (even of their own relatives), and cutting of the hair. At the end of the stated period, the nazir sacrifices a burnt offering, a sin offering, and an offering of well-being.

Biblical commentators disagree on the merit of being a nazir. Some see virtue in separating oneself from worldly passions and pleasures, and in serving as an example for those who need to moderate their behavior. Others, such as Maimonides, believe that there is holiness in all the good things on Earth and that they should be enjoyed in moderation unless they are forbidden. Indeed, Rabbi Eleazar points out that it is because of the sin of denying themselves the enjoyments of life that nazirs must make a sin offering at the end of their vows.

Read more…

A Mountain of Blintzes: Children’s Book Review and Discussion Guide

by Sheilah Abramson-Miles

Though we celebrated Shavuot last weekend, we wanted to highlight this review and guide of a PJ Library book by our very own WRJ Board Member Sheilah Abramson-Miles.

Title: A Mountain of Blintzes
Author: Barbara Diamond Goldin
Illustrator: Anik McGrory
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children
Intended for Ages: 5-6 years
Jewish Customs: Shavuot, the custom of eating blintzes.
Additional Topics Mentioned: Working as a team, facing challenges and misunderstandings.

Read more…

Voices of WRJ: B’midbar

by Andrea T. Cannon

This week’s Torah portion is B’midbar, from the book of Numbers: a book that begins our people’s journey through the wilderness into the desert. At the start of B’midbar, a population census was taken of the Israelite community. As I read through the various numbers throughout this portion, I think about Women of Reform Judaism’s numbers, the impact we have made, and how WRJ has contributed to the Reform Jewish community.

On the first day of the second month, Moses and Aaron conducted the census by gathering the whole community, who were registered by the clans of their ancestral houses—the names of those aged 20 years and over were listed, head by head. The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s first born; the descendants of Simeon; the descendants of Gad and Judah; and so on.

Read more…

Stronger Together: The Role of Women’s Groups in Today’s Reform Congregations

by Julie Bressler

Today, we are pleased to share the winning essay from this year’s WRJ/HUC-JIR Essay Competition. Through this competition, WRJ seeks share in the spiritual journeys of HUC-JIR students as we continue to invest in the future leaders of the Reform Movement.

We were still wiping the tears of laughter from our eyes from the annual women’s retreat skit that had brought the house down just minutes before. It had been an evening of frivolity, costumes and merriment. Everyone was in high spirits and laughing about the seemingly infinite Mishkan building puns that had been squeezed into the script. As I emerged from a guided meditation with a few of the other retreat participants, Sasha greeted us in the hall. She looked somber and sullen. She asked us all to join her in the main room. I did not ask what was wrong, but I could tell that something serious had occurred. This group of joyous, vibrant and chatty women was sitting silently. As we took our seats in the haphazard circle of chairs, you could feel the weight of the silence. After a few moments, we learned what had happened.

Read more…

Voices of WRJ: B’har-B’chukotai

by Judy Silver Weisberg

Sometimes we have to dig deep to find a connection of a particular parashah to contemporary society; but the lessons of B’har-B’chukotai are very clear and relevant.

One theme revolves around the care of the land and distribution of its products. The portion states that the land must lie fallow every seventh year. Not only is this is good agricultural practice, but it reflects the supremacy of God, to whom Israel and the land belong. During this fallow time, “… you may eat whatever the land may produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and the bound laborers who lives with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield” (Leviticus 25:2-7).

Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Emor

by HarrietAnn Litwin

Parashat Emor delves into rituals of the priests and the prohibitions about coming into contact with the dead, marriage, the eating of ritual food, and instructions around the major Jewish holidays and festivals, and ends with a story about a blasphemous young man. Initially, I had difficulty identifying ways to link these topics. When I realized that they all dealt with separating, or not separating, people and rituals, I saw the connection.

For priests, it is forbidden to come in contact with a corpse. For most priests, an exception is made for his mother, father, son, daughter, brother, and virgin sister. Notably separate is the priest’s wife. In marriage, the priest must follow a set of rules in selecting a wife who is ritually clean. She may not be a divorced woman or a harlot. Similar rules exist around the partaking of the ritual food, which is allotted only to the priests and their relatives. A woman from a priestly family who marries outside the priestly class is no longer entitled.

Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Acharei Mot-K’doshim

by Trina Novak

During this Torah cycle we combine Parashat Archarei Mot and Parashat K’doshim. Parashat Archarei Mot continues to define ritual purity, and includes details regarding how to purify the holy shrine, commandments about animal sacrifice and food, limitations on sexual behavior, and a description on how to ritually observe what will become our holiest day, Yom Kippur. Parashat K’doshim extends the concept of holiness to all aspects of life, including ritual, family, civil, and criminal conduct, and how we are to feel and act toward others. The laws are not limited to the priesthood and to the male heads of households; the laws encompass the entire community.

When Moses encountered God at the Burning Bush, he asked God to tell him God’s Name. God’s response was, “I will be what I will be.” Our God is one of transformation, and because we are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we, too, are capable of transformation. How does a person undergo transformation? How does a community change?

Read more…

Where to Donate to Nepalese Earthquake Relief Efforts

From the URJ

Following a deadly 7.9-magnitude earthquake on Saturday, April 25, 2015 – the worst to hit that Nepal since 1934 – thousands of people in Nepal and in neighboring India are in need of immediate help. The United Nations predicts that tens of thousands are likely dead or injured and that up to one million people will become homeless as a result of the devastation. Reports on the ground say that historic buildings and seven major temples have been destroyed near Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and that the force of the quake triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.

The Reform Movement encourages donations to the following organizations providing disaster relief on the ground in Nepal and India:

Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Tazria-M’tzora

Ten years ago I became a bat mitzvah, and I read from M’tzora. I still give the same summary of the parashah that I gave then: it tells us how to clean lepers of leprosy, how to clean houses of mold, and clean women when they menstruate (a ritual more commonly known as the mikvah). This year, we read Tazria and M’tzora together—Tazria adds how to clean women after childbirth and begins the remarks on leprosy. People’s eyes still widen as I tell them this. “But that’s the worst one of the year!” they exclaim. I cannot disagree.

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, along with whatever translation I read back then, emphasizes the treatment of lepers, moldy houses, menstruating women, and new mothers as ‘ritual purification.’ Certainly, as presented, that is the tie that binds these acts together. But that was never what struck me about this portion. Reading M’tzora, all I could see was exile. The lepers and the menstruating must leave their homes and molded homes must be left.

Read more…

WRJ 2015 Mission to Israel: An Ever-Evolving Landscape

by Rozan Anderson and Lizabeth McOsker

Perhaps you followed our travels on Facebook a few weeks ago as six of us from the WRJ Executive Committee traveled to Israel. Our delegation included WRJ President Blair C. Marks, First Vice President Susan C. Bass, Vice President Abigail S. Fisher, and Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman. How wonderful it was to meet with our Reform Movement partners in Israel! From the leaders of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and Women of the Wall, to young, dynamic rabbis and rabbinical and cantorial students and those creating community in kibbutzim and other kehillot, there is nothing that helps strengthen relationships than being with people in person and in their home environments.

We had a marvelous time, filled with camaraderie and song. And lots of wonderful food, of course! Most importantly, though, we shared ideas and discussed ways in which WRJ might support others in Israel and worldwide. We came home invigorated and bursting with thoughts, too, about our communities in North America.

Read more…