In Defense of the Synagogue

Aug. 10 2022

This century has seen the proliferation of alternatives to the synagogue, mostly spearheaded by younger people eager for new and fresher modes of association. But to David Wolpe, himself a congregational rabbi, these ultimately can’t provide replacements for shuls:

While new models of communal life will arise, such as Moishe House (where Jewish young professionals live together and create programs for their peers) or retreat centers, the question remains: which model will be continuously available throughout the life of a Jew? What happens when you outgrow the organization or the time for the retreat ends? A synagogue is for all ages, at all times. No other institution in Jewish life has that comprehensive commitment.

If other institutions assume the roles of the synagogue, the entire financial model of synagogues becomes imperiled. Synagogues don’t charge people to attend services, except for High Holy Days. Over time we have seen High Holy Day services spring up for people who either go to Shabbat services at synagogues for free or who don’t go at all. So synagogues are increasingly unable to survive financially.

The problem is one of [what is known in Jewish civil law as] hasagat g’vul, transgressing someone else’s boundary. . . . One solution is to fund more partnerships. If other organizations wish to assume functions traditionally done by synagogues, let them do it in some sort of conjunction with local synagogues. This could be a win-win for both parties.

New organizations have their role to play, but the shul is the backbone of Judaism. Once the synagogues are gone, it will not be easy to bring them back.

With that being said, as Wolpe’s coauthor Yaffa Epstein points out, the Talmud does recognize the importance of healthy competition to maintaining quality—even in religious matters.

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Read more at Sapir

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Synagogue

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam