Tishah B'Av 5771


(Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Francesco Hayez)

For Tishah B'Av today, excerpts from "Temple and Synagogue" by Rabbi Neil GIllman, from Sh'ma in June 2007:

The Bible knows two models of sacred space. On one model, what may be called “intrinsic sacred space,” God chooses one point on earth to reveal God’s presence. That point becomes axis mundi, the center of the world, around which the rest of the world is structured in descending levels of sanctity. The
source for this model is... the binding of Isaac. Abraham is dispatched to “the land of Moriah,” to offer Isaac as a sacrifice “on one of the heights which I
[God] will point out to you.” Subsequently, in II Chronicles 3:2, Moriah becomes the spot on which Solomon builds the Temple...

...The second model may be called “extrinsic sacred space.” Here, any spot on earth can become the center of the world. In the Bible, this model is illustrated by the Israelite encampment during the desert wanderings. The camp could be located at any place in the wilderness, but wherever it stood, the sanctuary was at its center...

...The Temple, intrinsic sacred space, could only be in Jerusalem. But the synagogue could be wherever a minyan of Jews with their Torah scroll chose to settle. God sanctifies intrinsic sacred space; the community sanctifies extrinsic sacred space.

Jeremiah 29 contains the text of a letter sent by Jeremiah to the community of exiles in Babylonia. It is an extraordinary document. In it, God counsels the exiles to “build houses and live in them, plant fields and eat their fruit, take wives and beget sons and daughters; . . . multiply there. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” Then, “When you call Me and
come and pray to Me, I will give heed to you. You will search for Me and find Me. I will be at hand for you and I will restore your fortunes. And I will gather you from all the nations, and I will bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you.”

This letter... affirms the religious legitimacy of extrinsic sacred space. Its theological basis is a statement about God. God’s power is not bounded by geography... One of the traditional names for God is HaMakom, literally “The Place.” But according to the rabbinic understanding of that name, God is “the place” of the world, not the other way around. God does not inhabit space. The exiled community can flourish but it cannot have a Temple; that is reserved for Jerusalem. But it can still worship God without a Temple, without sacrifices, through the words of prayer. “Instead of bulls, we will pay [with] the offerings of our lips.” (Hosea 6:3)

This pattern goes a long way toward explaining the ambiguities of our relationship to Israel, both land and state. For centuries, we prayed and dreamed of a return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple; we worship facing Jerusalem; we conclude Yom Kippur and our Passover sedarim with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Yet we remain here. Ironically, it is precisely our religious structures that make it possible for us to live an authentic Jewish religious life anywhere on earth. We carry our religion on our backs. Halakhah enables us to worship God at every moment of our lives, wherever we may be...


Publications for Ramadan

Hodesh tov, it's Av. And Ramadan mubarak, it's Ramadan.

Here are a few highlights from our publications relevant to the Muslim community and Jewish-Muslim relations:

See also Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's Ramadan greeting:

Independence Day J-Vault: Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas


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Happy Independence Day! Today, a special patriotic installment of the J-Vault:

Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas "The Patriot Jewish Minister of the American Revolution" (1905)

In this excerpt from the 1905 American Jewish Yearbook, N. Taylor Phillips profiles Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas, the Hazzan during the American Revolution of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (which happens to be the oldest congregation, though not nearly the oldest synagogue building, in the USA).

...He was an ardent patriot during the preliminaries to the struggle for independence, and it is related that when at length the crisis came, rather than continue the Synagogue under British auspices, he closed the doors of the edifice, which act was fiercely contested, even families being split apart as the result of it. Many of the members of the Congregation were merchants in active business in New York City, and their interests naturally were with the Tories rather than with the feeble little band of patriots endeavoring to secure freedom for the Colonies. When the patriot members of the Congregation were about to flee from the city upon the appearance of the British fleet in New York Bay in August, 1776, preparatory to the occupation of the city by Lord Howe, the Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas preached a sermon in English, in which he feelingly stated that the service on that occasion might be the last to be held in the historic old edifice situated in Mill Street (now South William Street), then approaching the half-century mark, and we are told that it was delivered with such force and eloquence that tears were shed by all present, men and women alike...

...[T]aking with him the sacred objects of holy worship, [he] established at Philadelphia the Congregation Mickve Israel, a majority of the members being patriot refugees from New York...

[Note: Mikve Israel's own web page traces the congregation's history back to before Rev. Seixas's arrival. See this page.]

Hazzan Seixas

...On the inauguration of President Washington as the first President of the United States, at New York, 1789, the Rev. Mr. Seixas with thirteen other clergymen of various denominations participated in the ceremonies, which notable fact may serve to remind American citizens for all time that our republic is founded on the very broadest principles, tolerating every race and creed, and American Israelites should ever recall with pride that the lives of Hebrews like the Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas and his brothers, who cheerfully offered their lives and fortunes for the establishment of American independence, give to their brethren throughout the world a right of asylum on these shores which no truehearted or grateful American will ever have the temerity to challenge...

Download this publication...


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Happy Canada Day!


Today, of course, is Canada Day, which used to celebrate Canada's unification as a country within the British Empire, and now celebrates Canada's independence from the UK.

A small selection of gems from our Canada-themed holdings:

 Bonne fête du Canada to the Canadian Jewish community (which, by the way, is currently facing a significant institutional reorganization), and to all Canadians!


Jewish Fatherhood


In honor of yesterday's celebration of Father's Day, read Chaim Waxman's The Jewish Father, Past and Present, an exploration of Jewish conceptions of fatherhood from the Talmud to the shtetl to contemporary Israel and the United States. Written in 1984 for the American Jewish Committee.

Click here to download the PDF.

Jewish Text for Shavuot

Wheat harvest

Tonight begins the holiday of Shavuot, an agricultural festival which also commemorates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

In honor of this celebration of the Jewish Urtext, why not browse our holdings of over 800 publications on the topic of Jewish Text?

Chag Shavuot sameach!

Mount Sinai

Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day


Happy Yom Yerushalayim! On this day in 1967, Israel captured and reunited Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

 Here are just a few of many BJPA publications having to do with Jerusalem:

J-Vault for Memorial Day: American Jews in WWI

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This week, from the J-Vault, in (slightly belated) honor of Memorial Day: American Jews in the World War (1920)

 "From the day that the United States entered the war," writes Julian Leavitt in the American Jewish Year Book, referring to the conflict that would later be called World War I, "the Jews of America perceived the wisdom of keeping an authentic record of Jewish service in the common cause."

The American Jewish Committee therefore assumed this task in November, 1917—at its first annual meeting after the American declaration of war—and has since prosecuted it, with the unstinted co-operation of the Jewish Welfare Board, vigorously and systematically, until to-day it may properly claim a collection of historical and statistical data of the very first importance...

The best available evidence indicates that there were from 200,000 to 250,000 Jews in the service, or from 4 to 5 per cent of the total forces of the United States... The entire Jewish population of the country, according to the latest estimates, is about 3 per cent of the total population. The Jews in the military and naval forces of the United States, however, have constituted from 4 to 5 per cent of the total personnel. On the face of these figures it would seem that the Jews of America contributed at least one-third more than their share to the armed strength of the United States...
[T]he total of Jewish deaths will probably aggregate 3500, or about 5 per cent of the total American deaths recorded to date... [T]he number of Jews who have either given their lives for their country, or shed their blood for the American cause, will probably aggregate from 15,000 to 16,000.

Download publication...

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From the J-Vault: An American Zionist Vision from 1948

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This week from the J-Vault: Implications of the New Developments in Palestine for Jewish Culture (September 1948)

Today Israelis, Jews, and Zionists all over the world (both Jewish and non-Jewish) celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, and this week's J-Vault selection was published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service in September 1948 during a cease-fire between the second and third phases of Israel's War of Independence. In the midst of that uneasy lull in battle, which would yield to open war again one month later, Alexander M. Dushkin focused not on the immediate military, diplomatic or humanitarian situation of the newly declared State, but on the place of that new State in the wider scheme of Jewish history and culture, as well as in Diaspora life -- particularly in America.

"My thesis," wrote Dushkin, "is that the reconstituted Jewish Homeland—both in the State of Israel and in international Jerusalem— will have a three-fold effect on Jewish cultural development in America. It should help us (a) clarify the character of our culture; (b) change our attitude toward it and (c) enhance our own cultural creativity." The result, he predicted, would be that world Jewry will assume a new overall shape. "Our Jewish world of today and tomorrow is like a great ellipse with two foci—one focus is in ourselves, in American life and effort; the other is in the Hebraic cultural center in the new Palestine. Culturally, they are both necessary to each other, and their spiritual symbiosis is our grand task in the days ahead."



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Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah

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This Monday, May 2, marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this important occasion of communal memory, we have prepared a special installment of our J-Vault series, which highlights historical materials in BJPA's holdings.

The publications below, written by American Jewish communal professionals in 1937 - 1939, offer a fascinating (and sometimes chilling) glimpse into American Jewish perceptions of the situation of Europe's Jews during a time when Nazi antisemitic persecutions had begun to unfold, but had not yet nearly reached their horrific apogee. They are all from the journal Jewish Social Service Quarterly, which is now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

This week from the J-Vault: Publications from the late 1930s

Jewish Morale in the Present Situation (September 1937)
Distressed by the oppression of German Jews, Morris D. Waldman nonetheless held out hope for the project of emancipation and Jewish integration into Diaspora societies. He saw in certain Jewish and Zionist perspectives echoes of the Nazi "theories that the Jews are a distinct race, alien, unadaptable in the western world". "Despite intolerable provocation," he wrote, "...we must place our faith in the substantial values of civilization and submit to the restraints of civilized people."

Jewish Problems and Activities Overseas (September 1937)
Joseph C. Hyman described the coordination of Jewish relief efforts abroad. "The tragedy that is today taking place in Germany," he wrote, is "symptomatic of almost world-wide anti-Jewish activity."

Race and Race Prejudice (December 1937)
Franz Boas endeavored to "show the absurdity of the whole race-theory which is the basis of Nazi political theory." He also discussed prejudice in America: "Unfortunately, we are not free of tendencies that point in the same direction. Prejudice against the Negro is the most striking and probably most dangerous one."

Problems of Minority Groups (September 1938)
 Oscar I. Janowsky described in depth the situation of Jews and other vulnerable minorities in the Europe of 1938. "The Jew is attacked first because he is the weakest and safest enemy," he wrote. But "Behind the smokescreen of anti-Semitism, the liberties of all are destroyed... So long as Nazism and Fascism prevail, there will be no peace for the true Christian, for the true scholar, for the true proponent of a better world, any more than for the Jew."

 The Social Pathology of the Refugee Problem (March 1939)
Melvin M. Fagen examined the web of causes he perceived to be behind the crisis facing Jews. "Though our course is not clear," he declared, "and the future uncertain, there is one thing we can do, one duty we owe to ourselves and to posterity. It is to know why these wars have come about, why the refugee problem or the Jewish problem or the problem of Fascism arises."

Jewish Ideology in the Present Crisis(March 1939)
"[S]ince 1933, millions of Jews have been deprived of either their lives or the means to their livelihood," wrote Ira Eisenstein. "Political rights and economic opportunities have been ruthlessly taken from them and, at the present writing, it appears that no less than four million Jews in Central Europe alone will be compelled to migrate from the lands in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries." Unaware that the immediate future would yield events far more monstrous than these, Eisenstein nonetheless realized that the happenings of his day would necessitate a reconsideration of the "various alternatives, which Jewish thinkers contemplated as the solution to the so-called Jewish problem during the whole post-emancipation era". Strikingly, he wrote: "It is not assimilation which has failed; it is democracy which has failed, that very democracy which made possible assimilation."


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We welcome your reactions in the comments section below.

Have a meaningful Yom HaShoah.

Publications on Difference at Passover

Four Cups

Across Barriers


Publications on the mixed, modern Seder


The First Cup: Mixed Marriages

Passover, a Lesson in Inclusiveness

Adam Bronfman, Kerry M. Olitzky, 2009


The Second Cup: Jews and Christians

Is Every Seder Kosher for Passover?

A. James Rudin, 1999


The Third Cup: Jews and Palestinians

Sharing Pesach with a Palestinian

Lawrence Baron, 1988


The Fourth Cup: Jews and Jews

Keeping Peace at the Seder Table

Sally Shafton, 1984


Explore many more publications about Passover at bjpa.org

From the J-Vault: Jews in Uniform

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This week, from the J-Vault: Jews in the United States Army and Navy (1917)

In 1917, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) sent out letters to regimental post commanders in the American military in order to attempt to determine the number and proportion of Jews serving in uniform. The estimate they arrived at was roughly 6%.


Today, the blog Jews in Green estimates that this number is less than 1%, although there is still no truly accurate way to tell.

Whatever the proportions, however, many Jews do serve in the US armed forces. Click here to sponsor a Passover meal for a deployed Jewish soldier via koshertroops.com. The Aleph Institute also conducts programs to support Jewish life in the military.

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International Agunah Day

Today is Ta'anit Esther, and also International Agunah Day, a day recognizing the struggles of agunot, "anchored/bound ones," Orthodox Jewish women whose husbands refuse to grant their wives a get (religious divorce), even though the two no longer live as a couple -- preventing the woman, according to traditional Jewish law, from remarrying.

A few resources: Dr. Rachel Levmore, a rabbinical court advocate and anti-get-refusal activist, has articles on International Agunah Day in both the Jewish Press and the Jerusalem Post. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) also has a page of resources and links on the agunah issue. (In 2007 they placed this six-page advertisement in the NY Jewish Week on Ta'anit Esther / International Agunah Day.)

BJPA holdings include many publications touching on this issue. Among them are:

Purim Publications

With Purim approaching next Sunday, and in the spirit of "Purim Torah," we offer you the following Purim Policy Documents:

 A Responsa for Our Time: the historic coexistence between Judaism and "Nuddhism".

Lubavitch and Reform Join Forces

Wisdom from the Leftover Rebbe

A Memorandum on increasing synagogue attendance

Rejected Jewish Books

All of the above are from the Sh'ma Journal, which transforms itself every year on Purim into such august publications as Sham, Shame, Smash, and Amish.

Links for International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day!

Celebrate by browsing our holdings on the topics of "Women" and "Gender". Or dip back into our March 2010 newsletter on women in Jewish leadership roles, or our January 2011 newsletter on the changing Jewish workplace.

In the Jerusalem Post, Rachel Levmore reminds us that this day "is used as a platform for what is known in Jewish tradition as cheshbon hanefesh - a combination of account-taking and reflection." In eJewish Philanthropy, Naomi Less examines "Gender Balance in the Spotlight".

Not everyone is celebrating; Haaretz reported that the Israeli cabinet "will not support any of the bills presented before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday in honor of International Women's Day".

Want to get involved? American Jewish World Service provides this resource page, including ways to get involved in their work on behalf of women in the global South. You can also find an International Women's Day event near you by clicking here.

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