Religious figures as marriage counselors.

August 6, 2008

The marriage of religious authorities and… marriage. Does it work? Does it help? Does it hurt?

Assuming you are a religious person, and adhere/subscribe to one way of life, then yes, why shouldn’t religious authorities help guide you in something as large and important and delicate as marriage? Assuming, again, that they have the proper training.

Whispered along the walls of the Jewish community, I’ve heard the horror stories of abused women and children who can’t get out of their homes because they have no support. In Judaism, there is a concept called “shalom bayit” – a peaceful house. It’s a clause used often to try and realize the greater good of your home: work towards shalom bayit, it’s the most important thing.

That is true, of course, until it is no longer true. Recently I’ve had to listen to the horror story of an old friend who is finding herself taking all kinds of crap from rabbinical authorities who are asking her to just keep quiet for shalom bayit. She is in a situation where the marriage is way past shalom bayit, and it is time for everyone, including the rabbis, to face reality.

In what seems to be a new turn, a course is now being offered by the Emunah Religious Women’s Organization to train Orthodox rabbis on giving professional advice and guidance on sexual health and marital relations. This is under the notion that “rabbis are catalysts for family change.”

And how true. Young couples, who never received a sex education beyond learning the difference between a woman’s purity and impurity, can finally get some healthy, sound advice from a figure they trust. Believe it or not, but there are plenty of people who will go to their rabbis before their doctors.

Here is a full article about the initiative, which I definitely agree with, as long as the rabbis use it for good – especially in the cases of the abused.

Rabbis offer professional sexual, marital advice
New course offered by Emunah Religious Women’s Organization trains rabbis to provide professional counseling in marriage, sexuality. ‘Rabbis are catalysts for family change,’ says Emunah deputy head Rina Wasserman

Bedroom affairs and marital problems are now open for discussion in the Orthodox sector. A newly launched course trains rabbis to engage in family and marital counseling and give advice on sex-related matters in order to help the religious sector deal with these rather sensitive issues.

“The course focuses on psychological aspects, family relationships and sexuality,” said Rina Wasserman, Vice Chairperson of Emunah (Religious Women’s Organization) Israel, which has initiated the course. (source)


The gift of perspective.

March 10, 2008

Last night I attended the burial of a 91-year-old rabbi who could boast perfect health but was involved in a tragic accident last week in New Jersey. The reason I was there, really, was because that rabbi was the father of my own hometown rabbi, who I have known and respected since… forever.

Anyway, if you don’t know the whole circumstance of his untimely death, you can read about it here. In short:

…Rabbi Zev Segal, 91… headed to Livingston, N.J., on an errand.

He never arrived.

On Thursday, Rabbi Segal was found dead inside his car, submerged in the Hackensack River.

The authorities here say that Rabbi Segal… may have driven his car… off Duncan Avenue, which dead-ends into the Hackensack River… (nytimes)

Perspectives… I think it’s important to not get too caught up in the tragedy of his death but to remember the amazing things for which he was known. He was a major rabbi in the New York area and committed his life to attaining many goals for observant Judaism, including leading a large congregation in New Jersey.

To put this in another perspective: At his funeral, it was made known he had expressed his wish that at his funeral there should be no time spent on eulogies, but instead spent on reciting the tehillim prayers.

After the burial, I waited around to pay respects to my own rabbi, this man’s son. Of course, funerals are not comfortable or happy places, but they are usually enlightening if you let them be.

He walked over to me and offered the following, his own perspective:

The death was in fact not a tragedy at all (he smiled when he said this), but one last job for him in this world. When he went missing, it is said that over 200 Jewish volunteers searched for him in the New York-New Jersey areas for over 24 hours. Hundreds – if not more – Jews spent time praying for his safe return. Hatzolah, a Jewish-run emergency service, organized worldwide, was on top of the search mission before the New Jersey police came on the scene. They were complimented by how organized and efficient they were. If this is not a kiddush Hashem – a display of good behavior honoring God – than what could be?

Now, I’m usually skeptical of religious rationalization, but when it comes to significant life events, the truth is, after seeing the peacefulness in my rabbi’s eyes as he shared this insight with me, I felt completely engulfed in comfort and peace. It was a kind of human spirit overtaking my sadness.

When you take a step back and manage to gain perspective on something – happy or tragic – I believe it adds to our humanity. The human experience is guided by perspective and it is our job to shape our skill for gaining it so that it comes to us with ease as we grow older and, hopefully, wiser.

It’s a gift we are born with, but too many of us lose sight of it… Perhaps that is something else we can take from this tragedy – that it needn’t be a tragedy at all if you see it through the right perspective.


Is there really a ‘separate but equal’?

March 7, 2008

So much for optimism in the midst of tragedy. I just found this article on Ynet news:

Poll: 51% of Israelis want separate secular, religious neighborhoods

A majority of the Israeli public believes religious families ought to live in separate neighborhoods, and even cities, to their secular counterparts, according to a new weekly poll new poll conducted by Ynet and the Gesher Organization.

When asked where a national religious family should ideally reside, 51% of respondents indicated that separating the various religious factions would be best. 29% of respondents indicated that religious families ought to live in their own specially designated communities, where as 22% supported the establishment of segregated oreligious neighborhoods within “religiously diverse” cities.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked… I would have thought that most ultra-religious would opt for religious-only communities, and sure enough, according to the survey, the majority do:

When breaking down this survey data according to religious affiliation, it appears that haredi respondents favored segregation most, with 61% of haredi respondents indicating that they preferred to live in separate communities and neighborhoods.

Not sure where the numbers fall for secular populations; personally, I’ve found that secular citizens fall under a scale of possibilities, from religious observance-tolerant, to religious observance-friendly, to religious observance-intolerant, to religious observance-spiteful.

I just don’t think ‘separate bu equal’ works, although I guess that depends what exactly you are trying to accomplish. Without any contact, the differences and view points are only going to deepend, widen and get more intense. What about those mandatory times when we must be unified? How is this one Israel, then? How does the nation stand any chance again enemies without any union?

And, perhaps, forget enemies for a moment: Where is the Jewish value of brotherhood? If the religious communities close themselves off, how do they expect other Jews to love the religion? Where is the good example? And how can secular Jews, with liberal values, expect to be followed in tolerance when they don’t show it?

But there’s always a middle ground, no matter how small. According to the survey, 33% respondents answered that they would favor joint communities with both secular and religious inhabitants.

That would be where I fit in. I’ve chosen to live in a mixed community, myself – majority secular, but religious-friendly – and I hope to raise my children here so that tolerance is ingrained in their mindset. That’s an extremely important value to me and look forward to a future where that only gets easier and easier. But if this survey has any grain of truth to it, well… It’s just more work for me and the rest of the 33%.


Jonathan Sacks: Conflict Resolution in Judaism.

December 17, 2007

I attended a lecture about conflict resolution in Judaism, given by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the recognized chief Orthodox Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Thought I’d share my notes; he is a very well-spoken person with interesting views on the meshing of Israel – a liberal democracy – with halachic Judaism.

More importantly, Rabbi Sacks is very outspoken about and for conflict resolution practices in Jewish tradition. It was very refreshing hearing a religious authoritative figure discussing conflict resolution in a realistic, proactive way.

The British rabbi recognized two challenges of modern Zionism. The first, the creation of a Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel, has been completed and is considered a task of politics. The second is the creation of a Jewish society in Israel, which is a task of ethics, and so far has not come close to completion.

Rabbi Sacks defines liberal democracy as a society where people lead different ways of life. He believes it is possible to create a liberal democracy that is Jewish – which Jews have never done before. It would be based on something like halacha, but not actually halacha, for the rest of the world – where not everyone is Jewish and aware of halacha as Jews know it.

Judaism is the most individualistic of religions. That is good for surving exile – it’s the ability to stand against the majority and preserve the nation. It’s bad for the Jews when they come together as a country, where collective action and identity is necessary. As a nation of strong individuals, it makes conflict management very difficult within the people of Israel.

On the bright side: the most fundamental form of conflict resolution in Judaism amount to words, language, speech.

His basis for this is that conflict resolution or mediation is essential in the Torah and essential in Jewish history.

In Jewish history, there are three cases of collective exile and all have the same underlying reason:

When Yosef ended up in Egypt: The family of Jacob couldn’t live in peace.

After the destruction of the First Temple: The kingdom split in two after three generations, lacking in unity.

After the destruction of the Second Temple: The schisms between different factions of Jews (for instance, moderates and zealots).

Traditions of conflict and resolution patterned in Judaism:

1. Silence is the sure way to continue and prolong conflict.

2. In order to converse you have to: speak and listen. Jews are “the world’s best speakers and the world’s worst listeners.” Listening is the essence of conflict resolution.

3. Listen to the Other: Teach your opponent’s view before you explain your own.

The grand example of conflict via words in the Torah occurs towards the beginning: the conflict between Adam’s two sons, Cain and Abel. There is a statement that is impossible to translate; it begins with, “Vayomer Kayin el Hevel achiv…” (And Cain said to Abel, his brother…). After that, the statement is fractured and ungrammatical. This teaches something important: When words break down, there is only conflict.

God created the universe by words, and humans continue the universe with words: and when words fail, the universe breaks down.