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December 11, 2009

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PAGE 4A -The Good 00ord By David Bornein Who is a Jew? Part 2 By David Bornstein Since the birth ofthe State of Israel, no other question has continued to be as difficult and important. Who is a Jew? What criteria do we use to determine how we'define ourselves? And with automatic citizenship in Israel dependent on the answer, a greater imperative exits to an- swer the question completely and satisfactorily. According to halakhic tradition (and there is no disagreement here among any branches of Judaism), ifa child is born of a Jewish mother, or if an individual goes through an appropri- ate course of study that takes them through a formal conversion ceremony, their Jewish status is clear. But a step removed from this, everything becomes blurry. Is being Jewish an ethnic issue, a cultural issue, a religious issue, or some combination of all three? With Ortho- dox rabbis establishing the rules of halakhah in Israel, a conversion ceremony overseen by a Conservative or Reform rabbi is not binding. For Reform congregations, if either parent is Jewish and the child leads a life connected to Judaism, they are considered Jewish. But what if the mother no longer considers herself Jewish? What if the child has never identified with the Jewish people? What if Christmas and Chanukah are celebrated in an intermarried household? Who, then, is a Jew, and to whom is the designation binding? Look at it this way. According to most modern interpretations (and hard as it may be to-rationally fathom) being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents and who has not converted but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew. And a person with a Jewish mother who neither believes in nor practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox, so long as they haven't converted to another religion. In this sense, being Jewish is akin to having a nationality, and being Jewish is like being a citizen in a very select state. Reform Judaism is fine with either parent being Jewish, so long as Judaism is practiced consistently as the religion of choice in the home. Conservative Judaism adheres to the principle of a matrilineal line, as do the Or- thodox, but the Orthodox do not accept Con- servative conversions, which means that, to the Orthodox, I am the only Jew in my nuclear family. Obviously, to me and many others, this outcome is unacceptable. So what can we do and where do we go? This critical path is, to me, the crux of the conversation. One of the thirigs I love most about my Jewish heritage is that while based on an adherence to key traditions, Judaism has never been so proud it becomes inflexible. That's why the Talmud, and a history of dia- logue and critical discourse, are so important to us as a people. This great flexibility, this ability to change and reinterpret, this open- ness to new ideas without arbitrarily casting off our valued customs, has allowed Judaism, a 4,000-year-old religion, to remain vibrant and alive in the 21st century. And if we follow this line of reasoning, and believe in and accept our willingness to change and adapt, then a close look at contemporary Western societies makes it clear that a reinterpretation of certain halakhic laws is in order. Minarets are not molehills By Rebecca Kaplan Boroson New Jersey Jewish Standard Islam is making an impact on Europe--and Europe, or parts of it, see ms to be fighting back. Last week the Swiss made news--welcome to many who fear the Muslims in their midst as well as the encroachment of Islam on their culture--by voting to ban minarets next to mosques. At present there are only four of these tall, slender towers--and 350,000 Muslims in a population of 8 million--throughout the land of chocolate, cheese, and clocks, but 57.5 percent of Swiss voters apparently viewed them as a threat of more minarets and Muslims to come. We can understand a desire to maintain one's identity. The Jews have been working at that for centuries, and Israel for all of its young life. Even municipalities and gated communi- ties strive to protect their identities, imposing restrictions on what may be built where. But the Swiss ban is more than a zoning law, more than a law that a building may be just so high and no higher. You can be sure that church steeples will continue to rise. The famously neutral Swiss--some might say infa- mously, given the nation's poor record during World War II--have declared war on their own citizens, or immigrants, who may be Muslim. That is unacceptable, and Jews in particular, whose history is unfortunately replete with bans and destruction of our institutions, should speakoutagainst this brand of religious intolerance. As the Jewish Chr0nicle's Website reported, "The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities has been vocal against- the ban. Dr. Herbert Winter, its president, said: 'As Jews we have our own experience. For centuries we were excluded: we were not allowed to construct synagogues. We do not want that kind of exclusion repeated.'" The Anti-Defamation League, among other groups critical of the ban, noted in a statement that this "is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious in- tolerance. A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population." It is important to note that only 55 percent of Swiss voters turned out for the minaret referendum, called by the far-right Swiss People's Party. All of Switzerland has not gone over to the right. The ADL pointed out that the "Swiss gov- ernment opposed the initiative during the campaign and underscored its commitment to religious freedom in a statement after the vote." Switzerland should take care. While it cer- tainly should beware of religious extremism, it should also be wary of those who would limit religious freedom. Rebecca Kaplan Boroson is editor of The Jewish Standard. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT.   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE   ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 40 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Lyn Payne Mike Etzkin HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- Society Editor ' Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Harmon Kim Fischer Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage Account Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bomstein MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman * David Gaudio Teri Marks emaih Louis Ballantyne Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosky HERITAGE Today, when it is just as likely for a husband to be the cookand caregiver as the wife, when women lead dynamic lives outside the home, when the influential roles of both parents are seen as equal, determining religious identity through either patrilineal or matrilineal lines seems like a poor choice. Rather, investigating the commitment to a Jewish way of life, and determining identity on the basis of what is taught at home, not by whom, appears to make all the sense in the world. Should a formal conversion ceremony continue to be mandated? I don't see why not. There is something to be said for wit- nessed ceremonies that deepen and connect individuals to their community and their beliefs. And should this discussion be held at the highest levels possible, in the courts of By Terri Fine On Sunday, Nov. 15, I attended a lecture at Brandeis University presented by professorVered Vinitzky-Seroussi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The lecture focused on the controversy surrounding the )fficial memorial erected to commemorate Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin following his assassination Nov. 4,1995 by YigalAmir.Amir (who remains in prison on alife sentence plus 14 years for the assassination), a radical rightwing Orthodox Jew, opposed Rabin's efforts to cooperate with the Palestinians follow- ingthe 1993 "Oslo Accords." In an article on the same subject, Vinitzky-Seroussi writes: "Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv after addressing a political rally supporting his government and the emerging peace process with the Palestin- ianfi. The process was formally initiated with the September 1993 signature of Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the 'Oslo Accords.' Soon afterward, Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (together with Yassir Arafat and Shimon Peres), and at the same time he became the focus of the incitement on the part of many elements in the Israeli Right...Rabin was presented as a traitor, and threats were made that in due time he would be judged as a criminal, much like other well known traitors." The controversy surrounding the assassina- tion commemoration focused on what Rabin represented in Israeli history (his political career included serving as Israel's ambassador to the United States, Minister of Labor, and twice as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense); his distinguished military career included serving as Chief Operations Officer of the Palmach, Chief of Staffof the Israel Defense Forces, Army Commander during the 1948 War of Indepen- dence and Army Chief of Staff during the 1967 Six-Day War. Commemorating Rabin's memory was further complicated because he was the first--and only--Israeli prime minister to be assassinated, and the first native born Israeli prime minister. InVinitzky-Semussi'swords,"he was the ultimate Sabra." Rabin's participation in the OsloAccords created further divisiveness between secular and religious Jews who held diverse and complicated perspectives on what occupied lands captured in war represented within the larger context of Palestinian-Israeli relations. These conflicts continue today. The assassination site was typically used for political rallies. Named Kikar Malkhei Yisrael (Kings of Israel Square) before the assassination, it was later named Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square). The association between the place and the event are now inextricably linked. The official Rabin memorial is now at Kikar Rabin where it was unveiled on the first an- niversary of his death 'in 1996. The memorial is a street-level construction comprised of four rows of 16 uneven and broken black bronze paving stones encompassed by a wide steel belt. The shape and color of the stones is meant to represent the political and emotional societal earthquake that resulted from the assassina- tion. The belt represents an effort to hold the mourning and broken Israeli society together. One of these 16 stones is larger and higher than the other 15 and is inscribed in Hebrew with: "Here, in this place, at the conclusion of the Sab- bath, on 11.4.95, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Peace is his testament." Scholars suggestthat this phrase suggests "a morel for society--a program that defines its experience, articulates its values and goals, and provides cognitive, affective and moral orientation for realizing them." Accordingly, FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 11, 2009 Israel and the religious centers of our world? Yes, and of course these discussions have taken place from time to time at all levels of Jewish society, But there has yet to be a unified understanding that would make us all feel safe and secure in connection with our homeland. And while this could be a mandate for the Orthodox to relinquish their stranglehold on interpretation of Jewish law in Israel, it could be the best thing that has happened in a long time. Books have been written on the subject, semesters spent debating and analyzing the issue. Two short columns, then, can't pos- sibly do this justice. But perhaps, in taking a few weeks to mull the issue over, we can all become more open and more certain of what makes us Jews. "the phrase implies what Israeli society should do: follow in Rabin's political footsteps." As I listened to the lecture, and reflected on the speaker's written work on the same subject, I pondered the meaning of stones as a Jewish symbol of mourning. I remembered that those visiting Jewish graves place stones on them. Jew- ish law also requires that t()mbstones be erected on all graves so that the deadwill be remembered and the grave will not be desecrated. Is there common ground here? Can we better understand why Tel Aviv's municipal officials (and Rabin's widow) chose a memorial that is reminiscent of both Jewish law and Jewish tradition? Can one better understand why 16 black, broken, uneven stones were deemed the most appropriate way to commemorate Rabin's legacy? There are several explanations as to how and why leaving stones emerged as a Jewish practice. These explanations include that dur- ing Biblical times, because tombstones tended to be desecrated, it became the custom to erect a mound of stones instead of a tombstone to ensure that Jewish law was heeded while also avoiding desecrati6n of the gravesite. Placing a stone on a gravesite serves as a reminder of the ancient practice while it also documents the visit. Others suggest that the custom originated from leaving notes at gravesites and weighing them down with stones so that they would not be carried away with the wind; eventually, visi- tors stopped writing notes but continued leaving stones. Still others explain that adding stones to the representation of the mound of stones shows that the living are never finished building the monument to the deceased. Continuing to add to the mound makes the statement that the person is worth remembering. Or, like God, who is at times referred to as the "Rock of Israel," rocks serve as reminders of God's presence. Other interpretations suggest that leaving stones is away ofcommunicatingwith the dead; by leaving a stone, one leaves a "calling card" for the deceased, to let them know that they had a visitor. There is a belief with Talmudic roots suggesting that stones help a soul to "stay put," so that the soul cannot rejoin the living after burial. These diverse explanations can each in their own way help us better understand why a pile of rocks serves as the Rabin memorial. Rabin had the unfinished business of forging peace with the Palestinians at the time of his death. Those who interpret the phrase translated from the Hebrew "Peace is his testament" as a call for continuing Rabin's efforts also suggest that by remembering the dead with a pile of stones, Rabin himself was worth remembering, and doing so requires that one continue in his footsteps. This interpretation of the phrase is not only understood within the context of the words themselves, but in the language used to communicate them. Why only Hebrew? Why display a plaque that will be viewed by an international community in the one language indigenous to Israel only? Perhaps that is part of the message. As with Rabi n, "the ultimate Sabra," whose willingness to reach out to Palestinians for the sake of peace cost him his life, so too is it up to Israelis and those who support and understand them, to continue that process. In that way, Rabin's soul will be comforted in the knowledge that he and his legacy are worth remembering, and that, like placing a pebble on a grave is a way to document that remembering our loved ones is an unfinished process, so to is forging peace under difficult circumstances. Dr. Terri Susan Fine is a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. She can be reached by e-mail at