Thursday, May 8, 2014 | return to: views, editorial


DIY culture asserts itself in remaking Jewish rituals

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If America is the land of rugged individualism, it should surprise no one that a burgeoning do-it-yourself movement has taken hold in many areas, including in the Jewish world.

As our cover story on page 16 this week shows, a number of Bay Area families eager to partake in Jewish life are eschewing synagogue membership and rabbinic guidance, choosing to organize their children’s bar and bat mitzvahs on their own. Many hire freelance bar/bat mitzvah tutors and Jewish educators to teach their children and officiate at the ceremony.

While this trend poses a threat to synagogues — and, some might argue, to organized Jewish life — it must be understood within the context of a generation unafraid to grab the reins of Jewish ritual life and reframe it to meet their needs.

A different aspect of the growing DIY trend in Jewish life is illustrated in our follow-up story about the cancellation of an educational workshop at Berkeley’s Urban Adamah, at which 15 hens were slated for kosher slaughter.

Our article on page 3 describes animal rights activists threatening to protest if last week’s slaughter took place. That is their right. But it should be noted that the focus of the workshop was not to celebrate killing, but rather to bring meat production out of the dark (where some might prefer it stay) and show what is actually involved in bringing kosher meat to the table. And if that causes some observers to give up meat, it’s all part of the mindfulness central to the new Jewish food movement, of which Urban Adamah is a worthy local example.

It’s also worth noting that only one person, a trained shochet (kosher ritual slaughterer), would have wielded the knife at the workshop. Field shechtings conducted by Jewish food activists are done with reverence for Jewish tradition and respect for the animals involved.

The point is that whether attempting a DIY bar mitzvah, a kosher shechita or any other sacred ritual, Jews are obligated to immerse themselves in the relevant texts and acquire the necessary liturgical and practical skills required of the task. And if this is more than we can master, we must turn to those who have attained mastery, or the ritual loses its holiness.

“Anything goes” is not the Jewish way. Claiming ownership of your own Jewish experience can yield great beauty and spiritual nourishment, or — if handled without proper care — it can mean nothing at all.


Posted by robertgrillo
05/15/2014  at  07:35 AM
Witness to ritual slaughter

The logic presented here is that we must perform rituals of violence and killing, rather than show restraint and mercy, in order for people to understand why violence and killing is wrong, and we need to witness it first hand to know that it is wrong. Why, I wonder, is this not true in the case of atrocities and violations committed against human beings? In fact, all most people need is to see a bit of grainy footage of past atrocities and from this see the horror and suffering and appropriately conclude that such acts are immoral. Do we actually need a live demonstration of animals suffering to convince people of the reality of their suffering? And to carry this idea to its logical conclusion, how many animals would need to be “sacrificed” to educate a desensitized human population of 7 billion into realizing how ugly and brutal slaughter really is? Would it not in fact need to become a “factory farm” model in order to meet the demands of our population? What if instead people were to witness slaughter from the many videos of kosher slaughter? This seems to me like another disingenuous attempt to apologize for the gratuitous suffering so called “sustainable” farms like Urban Adamah cause, not to mention the perpetuation of a flawed belief that animals are here for us to dominate and use and all we need is their “blessing” to violate them. As Voltaire famously wrote, “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

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Posted by Veggie18
05/15/2014  at  11:11 PM
Slaughter is NOT sacred ritual

I would only add to the article & Robert’s excellent comment, kosher slaughter is not a “sacred ritual” in Judaism, but Urban Adamah and others keep referring to it as such to give some excuse or positive slant for doing it en mass with the public. Again, encouraging people to do horrible things themselves doesn’t make the things less horrible.

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Posted by Veggie18
05/15/2014  at  11:19 PM
Famous rabbis say no to harming God's creatures

Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Professor (etc) Jonathan Sacks, is a vegetarian!

He says so in this interview with Cambridge University’s VarsiTV, before adding:

I don’t miss the Chicken soup, and life is short enough without my inflicting pain on innocent chickens.

From Yeshiva University’s student magazine:

R. Soloveitchik takes a very strong position regarding carnivorous practices. He calls it “ta’avah” (lust)[xxi] and an “illicit demand.”[xxii] “The insistence upon flesh, his [man’s] lusty carnal desire,” R. Soloveitchik says, “arouses the divine wrath.” [xxiii] Those who choose to eat meat, the “animal hunters and flesh-eaters” are “people that lust.” [xxiv]

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