Of Fish Tacos and Otherness –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

January 3, 2014

I grew up in the 1970’s in one of the only Orthodox Jewish families in a small Connecticut town.  I did not know then that kosher keeping Jews could eat in a restaurant.  I never had eaten in one and the thought of doing so did not even cross my mind.   Once a year we would make the three hour drive to Manhattan where there were, I think three or four kosher restaurants.

 

I was recently in Los Angeles walking along Pico Boulevard near Robertson where almost every restaurant, perhaps 20 or so, is kosher.  Sitting in one of the LA kosher Chinese restaurants as my company critically evaluated the food, I remembered myself as a child eating my once-a-year lunch at Moshe Peking, eating such “exotic” food, and thinking, this must be the best food in the entire world, how lucky am I, how lucky are the Jewish people to have such a gift, a fancy restaurant to eat at in New York City. 

 

Fast forward to last week, eating fish tacos on MalibuBeach where the only restaurant, and indeed prominently located across from the Malibu Pier, is kosher.  One would not have known if they did not look for the hashgacho, the kosher supervision symbol, that it was kosher, and no doubt the many non-Jewish Asian tourists eating there did not. 

 

It seems in 40 years the relationship of Jews to restaurants has revolved 180 degrees.   To sit in one of the few kosher restaurants in the 1970’s was to feel that one had been given a perhaps all too indulgent gift, taken a bit of the non-Jew’s ambrosia.  Now the restaurant itself is Jewish and it is the non-Jew who must enter our domain if they wish to have the most trendy food on the trendiest beach. 

 

Perhaps there is a danger in this, the Jew riding at the crest of the popular wave, the Jew becoming the measure of society instead of the outcast who is allowed periodically to feel a bit like everyman when eating out.  Perhaps suddenly, the other has become everyman, the outsider can now feel not only like the insider but like the measure of all things.  I wonder how this might take its toll on what it means to be a Jew in exile, on what it means to be a Jew at all. 

 

Perhaps the greatest irony is in that our rabbis created certain food laws to keep the Jew separate from the non-Jew, for instance not eating their cooking or their bread and so making it more difficult to socialize with them, in their world.  Never did they imagine that those boundaries would erode due to the non-Jew eating the cooking of the Jew, that the Jew would become the measure of society at large, or at least of the trendy fish taco joint in the most prime location on Malibu beach.  


Purim verses Halloween -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

October 24, 2011

The leaves fall and the air turns crisp and an underlying feeling of fear and foreboding enters our neighborhoods.   Graves pop us in front yards along with skeletons and the like, bringing death out of its boundaries and into our domains.  Parents, many Jewish parents included, will encourage their children to dress up in frightful costumes along with the superhero of the moment and go door to door exclaiming- “trick or treat”, that is, in its classic intention and indeed its plain meaning: Give me some candy or I will play a trick on you.  In larger cities this might mean throwing eggs at your home (as when I lived inNew York City) or draping toilet paper all around.

I have often thought about this Halloween activity in contrast to the Jewish custom described in the Biblical Book of Esther (9:22) of mishloach manot, sending food to neighbors and friends on the holiday of Purim.  Purim commemorates the day in 356 BCE when Queen Ester saved the Jewish people from the genocidal tyrant Haman who set out to kill, and almost succeeded in killing, every last Jew in the Persian empire, the then known world.  The purpose of sending food to others on the day of Purim is to develop a sense of camaraderie and family with others.  We all eat of each other’s food and thus express our trust and familiality to each other.   In the Purim custom, one sends food that one cooked through a messenger, usually one’s child, to someone else for the holiday.  It must be fit to be a small meal consisting of at least two kinds of foods.

True, we also dress up on Purim, often as the characters from the Book of Esther, some nice and some not so nice but ultimately the difference between this practice of mishloach manot and that of trick or treating is stark.   Purim foods must be delivered in daylight, and must be sent to someone, whereas Halloween treats are taken from others in the dark while personifying the dead and celebrating the scary.

Though many join me in decrying Halloween as a holiday that teaches bad character and pagan ideals, others will say Rabbi Shafner is overreacting; kids just do it to have fun and get candy.  Perhaps.   But I think that everything we do and everything we teach our children to do subtly communicates values.   Dressing them up, often in scary costumes and sending them to the homes of people they do not know to get candy smacks of bad character development.   Who is to say that such things do not have a subtle effect on who we are as a society.  Such practice inculcates taking and even, albeit subtly, glorifies threatening.

This Halloween if you are Jewish I encourage you to give your child a treat and tell them Halloween is not a Jewish holiday.  Wait for Purim when you can give food to others in celebration of Jewish unity, instead of taking it from people in quai-pagan celebration.  If you are not Jewish I also encourage you to forgo the ritual of going door to door at night, risking errant cars and needles in apples, and instead to spend the night as a family.   If Halloween is an important religious holiday for you then ask yourself what activities your religion would advocate your substituting for trick or treating.  Perhaps spend the evening reading the bible and talking together, or volunteering with the needy, training ourselves to give rather than take.

Together may we help to build a society founded on the value that the best way of getting is to give.


Shanda for the Muslims: Quds day is the 30th of Safar, not June 8. By Rabbi Asher Lopatin

June 7, 2011

Shanda for the Muslims: Al-Quds Day is 30th of Safar, not June 8!

That’s right folks: I’m stunned that Muslims who want to celebrate Al-Quds day have been co-opted by a Christian world, and a Christian calendar, and follow the Christian, Gregorian dates to determine when to protest the re-unification and freeing of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, or al-Quds in Arabic, was re-united during the Six Day War on the 30th of Safar, 1387, a.h. (a.h. = al-Hijra, the year Muhammad, in the Muslim tradition, moved to Medina from Mecca). For Jews that is the 28th of Iyyar, 5727, from the creation of the world. That is why millions of Jews around the world celebrated Jerusalem Reunification day last week on the 28th of Iyyar, which happened to fall on June 1. Tomorrow is the sixth of Sivan, 5771, and Jews throughout the world will not celebrate Jerusalem day, even though June 8th is the anniversary on the Christian calendar of the reunification of Jerusalem 44 years ago; we are celebrating Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks (Pentacost), which commemorates the receiving of the Torah 3500 years ago on the sixth of Sivan.
Muslims should first of all celebrate Jerusalem Day and Yaum al-Quds as a day when all religions can worship the One God in Jerusalem. However, if they are going to protest freedom of religious access and the freedom for Muslims, Christians, and Jews to all live together, then at least they should protest it on the right day for Muslims: the Muslim anniversary of the uniting of Jerusalem, which was the 30th of Safar this year, 1432, a.h., and it has long past; it was on February 3, 2011. The 30 of Safar in the next Muslim year, 1433, a.h., will be on January 23, 2012. I would love to sit down on the 30 of Safar or the 28th of Iyyar and discuss with my Muslim brothers and sisters whether Jerusalem was better under the Jordanian occupation, or under the British or Ottoman occupation, or today, as a part of democratic Israel, where everyone in the city, Jewish, Muslim or Christian has the vote.
All I ask is that Muslims be true to yourselves: Naqba day needs to be on the Muslim anniversary, as well as Naqsa and Quds day. Let’s protest or celebrate properly, not corrupted by a calendar that is foreign to both the Jewish and Muslim people.
Thanks to Apple for providing both the Islamic Calender App, and also the Pocket Luach App. All good Jews and Muslims should have it on their IPhone!
Chag same’ach – happy Torah day in Jerusalem, Chicago or wherever you are!

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Welcoming Gay Jews in the Orthodox Community, by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

June 26, 2009

In the series of posts that I have been writing about welcoming various populations of Jewish people, I am not purporting to address the halachic (Jewish legal) implications of the lives of populations of Jews, I am rather exploring how we as an Orthodox community can tweak our vision of the world and of people, in order to cultivate more welcoming Orthodox communities that can in turn be open to the widest range of Jews.

Last week I wrote of welcoming intermarried families and this week I would like to address how we see another population of Jews that often feels unwelcomed -Jewish people who are not physically attracted to people of the opposite gender, but only to the same gender, and how we as communities observant of halacha can welcome them and to what extent.

Various studies estimate that anywhere from 4%-20% of the American population is homosexual.  It would be dangerous for us to believe that Orthodox Jews are an exception.  That the torah forbids men from having sexual relations with each other is testament that in the Torah’s preview such a desire does exist.

My community encompasses several gay members, some are open about it and some are not, some have partners or are married and others are not, some live a celibate life alone (or have tried to) and others do not.   Just as there isn’t one type of heterosexual person so too there is not homogeneity among homosexuals.  Ultimately people are individuals (an entire universe of their own, as the Mishna in Sanhedrin says), and must be attended to as such.

What should an orthodox Rabbi do when a congregant comes out to him?  What should an Orthodox community’s attitude be toward their gay brethren?   Should we reject them?  Accept them?  Tell them they can never live a life with a family and have children?  Find them a proper partner?

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