Kezayit: Not Every Jew Looks Like You

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Kone-Miller-family- Writing recently in Tablet Magazine, author David Margolick acknowledged the Jewish people's chauvinistic tribalism.

"Why is it we Jews are not only quick to claim someone as our own, but insist upon claiming all of him? For better or worse, though, we do: our fierce feeling of specialness is something we don’t want to share with anyone else. [...] Our chauvinism knows no bounds, and tolerates no asterisks."

Margolick made this admission in an essay exploring the Jewish antecedence of Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland, which he penned after reading a New York Times profile of Garland that included the following biographical detail.

"Friends say Judge Garland’s connection to Judaism runs deep. His father was Protestant, but he was raised as a Jew — he had a bar mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue — and he spoke movingly Wednesday of how his grandparents left Russia, 'fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.'"

Upon learning that it was "only" Garland's mother who was Jewish, Margolick "felt instantly deflated," and became determined to dig deeper to see what could be turned up about Garland's paternal ancestry. In fact, Margolick learned, Garland's father is Jewish; the Times piece had reported Garland's father was Protestant in error. When the Gray Lady printed a correction, according to Margolick, "everywhere, Jews cheered."

Actually, this Jew didn't. If Garland identifies as a Jew (and is halachically Jewish as well!), why does it matter whether or not both of his parents are Jewish?

Louis-Jeff-used-for-BART-ad_smallerMargolick's article is a reminder that, for many contemporary, secular Jews, ethnic and genetic "purity" -- or yichus -- matters as much if not more than one's behavior or personal identification. Moreover, many members of the tribe (M.O.T.s) tend to prioritize our particularistic "subtribe" (e.g., Ashkenazim discounting Sephardic practice as alien or misguided rather than simply different, or Modern Orthodox Jews looking askance at their Reform brethren), further eroding the virtuous notion of klal Yisrael (the interconnection of all Jews).

Disappointingly, I can recall numerous conversations with fellow Jews, friends as well as relatives, who observed that Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel), Indian Jews (including the Bnei Menashe), and all manner of converts (gerim) "aren't real Jews." When I blanche, they'll often add something like, "You know what I mean, not genetically."

To be fair, whereas Judaism, the religion, and Jewishness, our ethnic/cultural identity, used to be inextricably intertwined, the two are now viewed as distinct by a large majority of Jewish Americans, and the comments of my friends and relatives reflect their prioritization of Jewishness over Judaism. They accept that Ethiopian Jews are Jews in the sense that they practice Judaism, but they lack any yiddishkeit, which is what qualifies them as "real" M.O.T.s.

Enter Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz of Lehrhaus Judaica and Dawn Kepler, Director of Building Jewish Bridges, who co-curated the photography exhibition, This is Bay Area Jewry, currently on view at Temple Sinai in Oakland. Kepler, quoted in a J Weekly article about the exhibition, points out that "many refer to the Bay Area as a diaspora of the diaspora," a region where Jewish identity is complex-compound. Kepler states that the exhibition aims to “[push] folks to think more deeply about what Jewish heritage means and to realize that there are lots of Jews, and not very many of them fit into that Ashkenazi stereotype.”

If, as some leading sociologists contend, the Bay Area offers a portrait of the future of American Jewry, Margolick will need to accept the fact that many dedicated and active Jews look very different from him and/or have very different origin stories. Moreover, a great many of us may have only one Jewish parent...or none!

Kol HaKavod to Rosenfeld-Caparaz and Kepler for conceiving of This is Bay Area Jewry, and to photographer Lydia Daniller and writer Robert Nagler Miller for their efforts, as well. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

Image credits: Both photographs by Lydia Daniller for This is Bay Area Jewry, 2016 -- Top: The Kone-Miller Family, members of CBS!

Enlarging the Jewberhood: The Richmond Eruv

RabbiGlazerRabbi_RabbiZarchi_RichmondDistrict_SFCA_October2015I'm a casual birdwatcher. You’ll often spot me walking along a San Francisco street with my head tilted skyward, admiring a passing hawk, a migrating warbler, or a chattering blackbird. This past Tuesday, though, I found myself looking overhead for a very different reason. Led by Rabbi Glazer, Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi of Congregation Chevra Thilim, and a visiting rabbi from Miami, I ambled up and down 14th Avenue in search of cable wires, poles, trees, and tall hedges that might be used to help us construct a virtual wall. A virtual wall? Allow me to explain.

The Richmond District is home to the largest eruv in San Francisco. An eruv is a virtual enclosure created by Jews in order to allow religiously observant members of our community to “carry” on Shabbat. “Carrying,” in this context, simply means moving any object from one “domain" to another. According to halacha (Jewish law), Jews can move a book, for example, from room to room in their “place of the residence,” but that same book could not be carried from the house to shul; doing so would necessitate a crossing of multiple domains (from house to street to shul).

Rabbi_RabbiGlazerRabbiZarchi_RichmondDistrict_SFCA_October2015Not surprisingly, strict adherence to this rule creates a lot of tsoris for observant Jews. How can you carry your tallit from home to shul, much less your house keys? As is their wont, rabbis devised a workaround. Because the walls of a home’s courtyard are, halachically-speaking, an extension of a house, Jews could carry the aforementioned book from the house into the courtyard without violating halacha. The rabbis reasoned, then, that the walls of a city — Jerusalem, for example — delineate a larger, symbolic “courtyard” or “place of residence.” Effectively, all of Jerusalem is one home, so carrying a book from your apartment to the shul is totally kosher.

But what about cities like San Francisco — or pretty much any modern municipality — that lack city walls? In those cases, halachically-observant Jews need to create their own walls. For practical reasons, these are most often virtual boundaries traced by telephone wires, existing fences, and adjoining buildings. This virtual perimeter is technically called an eruv chatzerot (“mixed courtyard/domain") but is generally referred to simply as an eruv; it serves as a symbolic "walled courtyard,” and is therefore an extension of any individual “place of the residence” located within the eruv’s borders. Voila; problem solved! Observant Jews can carry their tallit, keys, pills, a jacket, or their newborn baby on Shabbat so long as they remain within the bounds of the eruv!

FullSizeRenderA virtual wall needs virtual gates or doorways, of course. These are created by the installation of a lechi, or doorpost, that must be connected to another lechi or suitable object (e.g., a telephone pole) by a wire; this horizontal wire forms the doorway’s lintel, or korah. Although these gates, or tzurot ha'pesach, go unnoticed by most of us, they represent a profound threshold for those in the know; passing through a tzurat ha'pesach, a Jew moves from what might be thought of as trief territory into sacred space. (One of the four entry points into the Richmond eruv is located on the southeast corner of 16th Avenue and Clement Street. Next time you’re on that corner, look up for the korah extending from lechi to lechi.)

1_EruvRevealed_Lechi16thClement_RichmondDistrict_SFCA_October2015Congregation Beth Sholom is situated just two blocks outside of the Richmond District’s existing eruv, which extends east-to-west from 16th to 43rd Avenues and north-to-south from Clement to Fulton Streets. In consultation with the Miami rabbi, an eruv specialist who flies all over North America to help establish new eruvim, Rabbi Zarchi and Rabbi Glazer are working to determine how the current eruv’s reach can be expanded. When Rabbi Zarchi constructed the eruv in 2012, he established eruv borders that were practically achievable, affordable, and didn't require an onerous city permitting process.

Nevertheless, he has always aspired to create an eruv that includes CBS and Congregation Emanu-El. Although Reform Judaism doesn’t officially mandate observation of halacha, some more traditionally-minded Reform Jews would benefit from Emanu-El’s being inside the eruv. More importantly, the more Jewish communities that are included — the bigger the “Jewberhood,” if you will — the better for klal yisrael, the whole of the Jewish people.

The process is in the early stages yet -- we're just sussing out expansion options -- but CBS will keep you posted on any progress. And, going forward, if you spot me on the street gazing up, it's possible that I won't be birdwatching or daydreaming, but checking on the condition of our eruv.
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More information on the Richmond eruv can be found in this article, which appeared in the August 1, 2013, edition of J-Weekly.

Image descriptions:
1) Rabbi Glazer, the eruv consultant, and Rabbi Zarchi walk north on 14th Avenue
2) The eruv expert, Rabbi Glazer, and Rabbi Zarchi inspect potential eruv connections
3) Lechi definition from The Talmud, The Steinsaltz Edition: A Reference Guide, 1989
4) The tzurat ha'pesach at 16th Avenue and Clement Street
5) The eruv expert, Rabbi Glazer, Rabbi Zarchi, and Angel Alvarez-Mapp in conversation under the korah of the tzurat ha'pesach at 16th Avenue and Clement Street
5) Rabbi Zarchi, Angel Alvarez-Mapp, and the eruv expert talk logistics on the corner of 16th Avenue and Clement Street