Legal Matters in the Jewish community
Supplement to Jewish News, June 25, 2012
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Legal matters in the Jewish community A
remarkable three Jewish justices serve on the United States Supreme Court: Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. While it is rather difficult to top serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, Tidewater does have its share of notable Jewish attorneys who are leaders in the community, as well as in their chosen practice concentrations of law. In fact, in recognition of the many attorneys and businesspeople who live in the area, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater recently established the Business & Legal Society. This group has an impressive board and has already had some interesting meetings, providing a place for Jewish attorneys to gather with their peers. In this section, we meet some of these attorneys and learn what motivates them to volunteer their time to the Jewish and secular communities. Also in this section, Philip Rovner, CEO of Tidewater Jewish Foundation, discusses the importance of wills and providing for the community’s future, as well as for one’s family. He suggests how to make a plan, and how critical that plan is to a person’s peace of mind. Jewish Family Service’s Personal Affairs Management Program reaches into and beyond
Business & Legal Society connects Jewish professionals
nited Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s new Business & Legal Society serves to connect emerging and seasoned Jewish professionals in the fields of law and business to UJFT and its affiliate agencies and congregations. It also facilitates connections among the members of the Society to instill within them a heightened sense of community. Membership in the Business & Legal Society is open to all Jewish professionals practicing in Tidewater in the fields of law and business. Events take place quarterly and include formal dinners with speakers and informal networking gatherings. Past events and meetings have included: • 50 business and legal professionals converged at the Simon Family JCC for the launch of the Business & Legal Society at a lecture on Counter-Terrorism by the head of the Israel Law Center in Israel and a special reception co-sponsored with CRC last November. • The Business & Legal Society co-sponsored the Virginia Festival of Jewish Films’ reception which followed the feature film A Case for Israel and special Skype Q&A with Alan Dershowitz after the film. • 40 people gathered to hear Andy Rosenblum present “How to create your own App for your Business.” The Cape Henry student was peppered with questions and inquiries as to generating business on iPhones.
the Jewish community, assisting the elderly with financial, legal and guardianship issues. An article about the program is on page 36. Chelsea Rutherford reflects on her just-finished first year of law school. Perhaps her piece will stir some fond and not-so-fond memories for seasoned attorneys. For others, it might make them appreciate their lawyer more. Who knows? In addition, this special section includes articles about the current legal activity involving the global Jewish community: Gay marriage, abortion and kosher fights with Hebrew National. And, so, Jewish News presents our case for Legal Matters in the Jewish community. —TD
Business & Legal Steering Committee 2012 Adam White, co-chair Kirk Levy, co-chair Andy Dobrinsky Byron Harrell David Leon Debbie Casey Gary Bartel Gary Kell Faith Jacobson Janet Mercadante Michael Salasky Nathan Jaffe Neal Schulwolf Barbara Rosenblatt Staff: Carolyn Amacher, UJFT community development specialist
jewishnewsva.org | Legal | June 25, 2012 | Jewish News | 31
community leader Kirk Levy Why do you contribute time and expertise to Jewish causes? We all must do our part to ensure viability of vibrant Jewish life in Tidewater. I actually enjoy the camaraderie of working with fellow Jews in helping our community.
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Do you feel that your work is influenced by your Judaism? Somewhere along the line, starting with Gomley Chesed Synagogue in Portsmouth, the notions of Mitzvot and Tikum Olam were part of my Jewish curriculum. When possible, I try to incorporate these principles into my practice. What would you like the community to know about you? I still keep in touch and get together with friends from my youth in Tidewater.
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Kirk M. Levy Sykes, Bourdon, Ahern & Levy, P.C Areas of Concentration Real Estate, particularly landlord/tenant law Education Law School—University of Richmond
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Hebrew National’s owner rejects suit’s claim that products are not up to kosher standards by Debra Rubin
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WASHINGTON (JTA)—Hebrew National boasts of “answering to a higher authority,” but several class-action lawyers are hoping to take one of the country’s largest kosher meat producers to an earthly court. A class-action lawsuit filed recently alleges that Hebrew National’s iconic hot dogs and other meats do not comport with the brand’s claim to be kosher “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.” The suit filed May 18 in a Minnesota state court accuses ConAgra Foods, Inc., which owns the Hebrew National brand, of consumer fraud. ConAgra, which has rejected the claims unequivocally, asked on June 6 that the suit be moved to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The company has until July 13 to respond to the complaint. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Hart L. Robinovitch of Zimmerman Reed, is based in Scottsdale, with offices in Minnesota. Zimmerman Reed, however, solicited
consumers through its website, where a page until recently announced a Hebrew National investigation. “Our firm has received troubling reports that some slaughterhouse plants supplying Hebrew National with its beef may not be upholding the strict kosher standards Hebrew National promises,” the page stated. “Workers are threatened with losing their job, or demotion, if they speak up and try to point out violations of the kosher food laws.” The firm advertised a free case review for anyone who purchased Hebrew National hot dogs in the past two years or had information about the preparation of the products. “The lawsuit contends that ConAgra marketed, labeled and sold Hebrew National according to the strictest standards defined by Orthodox Jews. We allege that it does not meet those standards,” Robinovitch said. “We’re certainly not alleging that they’re using pork products, or anything as blatant as that.” The lawsuit’s 11 named plaintiffs live in various states, including California, Minnesota, New York and Arizona. JTA was
community leader Alan M. Frieden Why do you contribute time and expertise to Jewish causes? It’s a legacy of my youth. My mother was extremely active in various Jewish causes and was particularly active in Women’s League for Conservative Judaism obtaining the position of National Vice President. Coupled with the example of my mother was my first hand observation of anti Semitism. The combination left a lasting impression on me, and I realized that we are a small people often abused by others, and if we do not help our fellow Jews, no one else will come to their assistance. As I became involved in community activities, I realized that the most efficient method of assisting Jews in need is to contribute to Jewish organizations that have the ability to deliver services to our people. The Jewish concept of “Tikun Olum” teaches us that if we have been fortunate we must contribute to those who have not had our good fortune.
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values in mind and realize that my role is to serve my clients to the best of my ability keeping in mind ethics and candor when giving advice. The concept of humility which is found in our religion leads me to understand that the lawyer serves the client and not the reverse.
Alan M. Frieden Do you feel that your work is influenced by your Judaism? I believe that the moral and ethical values that are ingrained as part of our religion have influenced the manner in which I approach the services rendered to my clients. In rendering services I try to keep our
Faggert & Frieden P.C. Areas of Concentration Business and Real Estate
unable to reach any of the individuals. The suit is seeking monetary damages equal to the total amount of monies that consumers in the class paid for Hebrew National meat products. Triangle-K, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based supervising agency that certifies Hebrew National products as kosher and the company that processes the kosher meat, also unequivocally rejected the allegations and contended that disgruntled former employees might be behind them. Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag of Triangle-K said in a statement that the claims in the lawsuit were “outrageously false and defamatory.” AER, which provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest, also rejected the charges. The suit alleges that the Hebrew National brand was not, as the company advertises, kosher “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox law.” As result, plaintiffs, who paid a premium price “believing
the kosher title and certification made them a higher quality product than other meat products on the market” were “deprived of the value of the goods they purchased.” Among the suit’s allegations: • Knives used in the slaughtering process were nicked, preventing a clean cut mandated by kosher law; • Organ meat was not consistently inspected after slaughter, as required for kashrut; • The blood of slaughtered animals was not consistently removed within 72 hours, as required by kosher law; • Managers took certificates that had been issued to trained slaughterers and replaced their names with individuals who had not been trained; • Kosher meat was not consistently kept separate from non-kosher meat. Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag said, point by point, that all the allegations are false.
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community leader Laura G. Gross Why do you contribute time and expertise to Jewish causes? Having grown up in a household where I watched both my parents actively involved in Jewish community causes, I saw firsthand the impact that each person can have on the Jewish community both locally and globally. I contribute my time and expertise to assisting, promoting, and participating in Jewish causes as part of an effort to help build and promote a strong and vibrant Jewish community locally, in Israel, and wherever there are Jews. I also contribute my time and expertise because I can. I have a wonderfully supportive husband, who also “gets it,” kids who quickly understood why Mom was at yet another meeting, and a law firm, Kaufman & Canoles, that has firmly supported my volunteer and pro bono work year after year, enabling me to be recognized as a local Pro Bono Legal Elite. Do you feel your work is influenced by your Judaism? I believe that my work is influenced by my Judaism and will always be influenced by my commitment to my religion. A large part of my Jewish education focused on the obligation of every Jew to do what he or she could do to repair, save, fix, help – you name it – the world, starting with your own community. Also, during law school, I took a course that explored the influences that Jewish law had on secular laws that was taught by both a rabbi and a law school professor. Through this class I learned the many ways that Jewish laws not only support but dictate the need to help others.
first person Find the right attorney and Create A Jewish Legacy by Philip S. Rovner, president and CEO Tidewater Jewish Foundation
codicil (amendment) to their will to benefit a synagogue, the Federation, or any of its affiliate agencies. This bequest may provide a specific cash here are many reasons peogift, a percentage of your estate, or specific ple never prepare a will: fear asset(s) to be given to an organization or of death, uncertainty about agency in support of its various programs estate distribution, family conflicts, the difficulty and and endeavors. A bequest may also be in the form of a gift of the remaining assets of challenge of doing an estate inventory, inconvenience, expense, procrastination, no one’s estate. Bequests, like other gifts, can lawyer, and so forth. Sometimes people drag be designated for many purposes or given their feet in creating or updating their will without restriction. Once you’ve decided to create your because they don’t know where to go to get will, the first step is to locate an attorney valuable legal help. However, the plain fact who specializes in estate planning. You is, every excuse is empty if want someone who it causes you to die withis skilled in this area, out a will. knows the right It has been said Your will says somequestions to ask and thing about you. First, it is current with tax that every parent says that you care about laws and document your loved ones. You requirements. At TJF, has one additional want to make it easier we are familiar with for them by taking care child to remember the type of attorney of legal matters relating you need to assist to the transfer of your in his or her will: you with estate-planestate. Next, it reflects the ning matters and can things that are important the Jewish help you find someto you. one you will feel My wife, Joanne, and community. confident about and I just revised our will, a trust. document which had last In any case, it is been reviewed 10 years a good idea to have a short visit with any ago. We have a blended family; our children attorney you don’t know before you engage have grown to adulthood and now have a spouse and children of their own. Our him or her as your legal advisor. Take the parents are deceased and former financial opportunity to learn about his or her services obligations to them no longer are appli- and to see whether you feel comfortable cable. And acknowledging that our family with the person. By the way, there are genwill continue to grow and change, we felt erally no charges for this initial visit. Finding the right attorney may take it was also time to formalize our legacy a little extra effort, but you will be glad commitments to the charities we support you spent the time—especially when you and would expect to support in perpetuity. Having now completed this task, for the sit down to share confidential information about your assets and your distribution time being, we are relieved of the stress of not having updated our wishes and intent wishes. TJF can be of tremendous service in and feel quite good about the decisions we helping you integrate your giving goals with have made. your overall estate plan and can help you It has been said that every parent has one additional child to remember in his or prepare to visit your attorney. TJF provides her will: the Jewish community. A bequest a free Wills Planner you may download is perhaps the easiest way to ensure Jewish at http://wwww.jewishva.org/tfj-funds. For continuity. The Tidewater Jewish Foundation more information, contact Philip S. Rovner can assist donors in preparing a simple at email@example.com, 965-6111.
Laura G. Gross Kaufman & Canoles Areas of Concentration I practice in the Employment Law Group where we represent management in all aspects of employment law. I have more than 25 years of experience representing employers before governmental agencies and defending employers in litigation but currently focus my practice on counseling employers on employment issues and training employees on human resource and employment law matters. Education Georgetown University Law Center, JD cum laude Washington University in St. Louis, AB with University Honors
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community leader Jeffrey F. Brooke, Esq. Why do you contribute time and expertise to Jewish causes? Because of my concern for our local Jewish community and the Jewish people in general; also because of the fine example of my parents who are involved in so many Jewish causes. About 19 years ago my wife Amy and I started looking for a more authentically Jewish experience. We began to learn the Torah and came to realize what a special and unique inheritance we have received as Jews. On the other hand, it is impossible to look at the Jewish world today and not be concerned. While the prior generation may not always have been fully observant, there was an obvious concern about Jewish continuity. A number of fine institutions have been built in our community, and my wife and I feel strongly that we owe it to the community and klal ysroel to do our very best to pass on the inheritance in a better condition to our children. Do you feel your work is influenced by your Judaism? Absolutely. In actuality the Torah is a book of law if nothing else. It is a constant challenge for any observant civil litigator to balance what is right for one’s client versus what is truly right. This is not always easy (Rabbi Hutner of the Chaim Brlin Yeshiva warned his students that litigation was not a job for nice Jewish boys!) but I truly enjoy what I do. I am especially fond of the work that I do as a mediator. Frequently, I am able to bring creative and win-win solutions to complex litigation which ends the pain for both sides (interestingly courts of Jewish law are enjoined to seek pesharah in exactly this manner before rendering judgment). I think we can all learn a great deal from the Torah’s system of judgment.
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What would you like the community to know about you? I am the father of a 19-year-old daughter Chana who just returned from seminary in Jerusalem and will attend Touro College in Manhattan next year. I am also the father of twin 15-year-old boys who attend Yeshivas Aish Kodesh. I have lived in the Ghent section of Norfolk for my entire married life. I am married to Amy Zukerman Brooke who is an RN at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital (where I was born). My wife keeps me humble and reminds me that I (literally) have not gotten very far in life since the hospital is less than one-half mile away. I enjoy being with my family, attending regular minyanim and Torah learning sessions at my synagogue, B’nai Israel and regular workouts at the JCC.
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Jeffrey F Brooke, Esq. Poole Mahoney PC Areas of Concentration Civil Litigation Education William & Mary
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36 | Jewish News | June 25, 2012 | Legal | jewishnewsva.org
—Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) Many of these adults vice designed to are alone and have a safeguard the personal What is Guardianship? “family” for the first and financial affairs of A guardian is a person, named by time in many years vulnerable adults by the court in a legal proceeding, to when JFS comes in to providing guardianmake all non-property decisions for their life. ship, conservatorship the incapacitated person. Two current proand power of attorney gram participants, services when appropriWhat is Conservatorship? John and Jane*, an ate. The PAM Program A conservator is a person, named intellectually disabled is a local provider of the by the court in a legal proceeding, brother and sister in Virginia Public Guardian to make all financial decisions for their mid-50s, lived and Conservator the incapacitated person. alone in a condemned Program through the house in the area. Department for the What is an Incapacitated Person? They had no running Aging and serves people The court defines an incapacitated water or electricity and of all faiths, socioecoperson as an individual that is no were dependent on a nomic backgrounds, longer capable of receiving and cousin, who collected ethnicities, races and evaluating information effectively or and spent their benefit creeds. PAM currently responding to people and environchecks, to bring them serves more than 500 ments to such an extent that the pizza once a day. individuals in Tidewater. individual lacks capacity to care for This alarming situPAM serves society’s his health and safety without the ation was reported most at risk individuassistance or protection of another. to the Social Services als—the people who Department by a end up sleeping over neighbor during vents in cities, wandering homeless, unkempt and in ill health. a particularly cold spell in December. An They may be physically, mentally, emotion- emergency Court hearing was held, Jewish ally disabled and/or intellectually impaired. Family Service was appointed their guardian They are vulnerable to abuse, crime and and conservator and they were relocated self-neglect and frequently demand the to a safe, warm group home. A few days attention of health care facilities and the later, the cousin was killed while committing a robbery. The couple would have legal system. PAM ensures that all clients receive enti- surely starved and frozen to death had it tlement benefits, gain access to health care not been for the intervention of the Jewish and are placed in residential situations that Family Service Personal Affairs Management meet their needs. Family is either non-exis- Program. Since that time, they have been tent, exploitative or has demonstrated an well cared for in their group home and inability to appropriately meet the members’ enjoy a much improved quality of life. The sister now attends day support and has a needs. A staff of 34 case management and volunteer job. JFS’ wide array of programs and services finance professionals provide medical care management, bill paying, application for enable the agency to meet the unique needs benefits, and management of investments, of each client in a way that is integrated, property and assets. The program uses the comprehensive and holistic. All of JFS’ proservices of thoroughly screened, trained grams and projects are inspired by Jewish and supervised volunteers as check writers, values and offered within an environment office assistants and friendly visitors to nurs- of caring, respect for human dignity, privacy and diversity. ing homes. PAM staff members provide services in *Names have been changed to protect privacy the least restrictive manner always consid—Dorothy Salamonsky and Jennifer ering the wishes and values of the clients. Karotkin Adut
first person Surviving the first year of Law School be a very Jewish, and very positive quality). Initially, I found this contrary to my Southern upbringing—with its stress on polite behavior and conflict avoidance. But the Israeli way of dealing with complex issues became amazingly refreshing; I learned to appreciate its value in a business context, as well as in the context of determining policies and procedures for evolutionary advancements in science, medicine and the law. This summer I am continuing to pursue my interests, working under the in-house counsel at Boston Children’s Hospital, and loving every minute of my real-world experience as it relates to what I have seen this past year (contract reformation! breach! conflict of interest!). My education to date, my Jewish values, my (burgeoning) understanding of the law, and my commitment to applying evolved ethical standards to important decisions are all in my toolbox now. And I think I’ll need them all for what’s coming next—year two of law school, The Work Year.
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science, society and morality. It was born from a realization that two or three, or 10, highly trained minds in different fields, such as medicine, law, or bioengineering, could produce results and come to cross-disciplinary conclusions that would prove more holistic and impactful than each institution trying to tackle a problem by themselves. This approach to dealing with evolving scientific and technological advancements, with an eye to looking at things from different perspectives, with input from a variety of voices, and, ideally, with the greater good in mind, resonates with my understanding and practice of Judaism. The six months I spent living in Israel on a World Union of Jewish Students internship track, working in Ichilov Hospital’s In-vitro Fertilization Unit, helped further expand my realization that there is nearly always more than one way to tackle an issue, and having multiple options available is never a bad thing. Israelis never hesitate to question, or to push back (which I find retrospectively, to
examinations, dealing with ANY issues outside of school, facing the disappointment of less-than-perfect first semester grades, presenting moot court arguments to actual judges and lawyers, facing the stress of a journal-writing competition, and, in the midst of everything, interviewing for my first “real” summer legal position. During all of these situations, and the mental challenge of having to retain an enormous amount of information, I had to cope with a style of teaching in law school, which remains tethered to ritual and tradition, that I was unaccustomed to from my previous professors at Columbia and the University of Virginia (where my underhe oft-repeated adage that grad degree was in the specialized Human incoming students hear about Biology program). the three years of law school “We have suffered,” the old cranky lawis simply worded: scare you, yers said, “and so must you. We learned work you, bore you. I had about this case from the 19th Century British consistently heard that the first year would Court of Exchequer, and you must, too.” be the hardest thing I’d ever do, academically I adjusted, though, persevered, and offior otherwise. This, of course, is contextually cially completed my first year in May. And different for everyone: What is hard? What is while I have come away from this year dazed, scary about it? tired, and yes, still a Everyone in law little scared, my comschool is, by definimitment to working in tion, a high achiever. It the legal field, specialseemed like my classizing in health law, has Israelis mates and I all went not diminished. In fact, in with an attitude of if anything, I feel the never ‘exceptionalism.’ I know experiences and chalthat I did, arriving at lenges helped me grow hesitate Boston University Law in ways I didn’t think less than a month after possible, and I learned to question, completing the coursemore than I ever imagwork for my Masters ined I could in one year. or Degree in Bioethics at I have wanted to Columbia University. work in the legal systo push back… “Oh, it will be hard for tem since I was 12, the people straight from and have not been undergrad, but not for dissuaded from that me,” I thought. I started goal—although making jokes about it people—mostly attorbeing like bootcamp neys—have tried to for my mind—basic training akin to what steer me in other directions. The field of bioMarines go through—trying to quell my ethics fascinates me, and I have dedicated uneasiness. my undergraduate and graduate careers to But then first year hit, and like it or not, learning as much as possible about it, taking what I didn’t think would happen or could classes from the world’s foremost bioethics happen, did happen. The adage proved experts and policy makers, so that I may true. I discovered there were very different knowledgably help contribute to its evoluterrifying aspects to first year: speaking in tion in the legal field. front of peers, facing four-hour closed-book In essence, bioethics is a field blending by Chelsea Rutherford
jewishnewsva.org | Legal | June 25, 2012 | Jewish News | 37
Spurred by a Shas lawmaker, abortion politics arrives in Israel by Eetta Prince-Gibson
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s paradoxical approach to abortion—the procedure is illegal unless approved by a committee, which gives the go-ahead to 98 percent of the requests—could radically change if a Knesset member has his way. Nissim Zeev of the Sephardi Orthodox party Shas, who has said publicly that abortion is akin to “murder,” wants to make the procedure illegal after the 22nd week of pregnancy unless the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother’s health or the fetus suffers from severe defects and is unlike to survive. “This has nothing to do with women’s rights,” Zeev heatedly says. “I demand that we have a public debate on this campaign of murder.” Political observers don’t think his measure will progress far, but Zeev has shined a spotlight on an issue that has never figured even vaguely in the country’s political campaigns. In fact, Israel does not even have an active anti-abortion movement. Still, many rabbis, especially haredi Orthodox, believe that the messianic
redemption will be delayed until all souls are born. As a general rule, Jewish law allows abortion in the first 40 days of pregnancy and in cases where the life of the mother is in mortal danger. “This is about the last thing we need right now—another conflict between the religious and the secular,” says one Knesset member from the coalition, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We have enough political issues to deal with. Zeev has to understand that if it ain’t broke, it don’t need to be fixed.” As a result, the legislator says, the proposal has been purposely buried in committee. Still, in Israel’s unpredictable political landscape, its existence on the dockets could bring it to the fore without warning. It’s quite a contrast to the United States, where since the 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion, the topic has been a heated political and social issue. The lack of controversy in Israel stems mostly from the large gap between law and practical reality. The Israeli penal code states that termination of pregnancy is a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years. But
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the code also broadly addresses numerous circumstances in which an abortion may be legally performed, including benefit to emotional and financial well-being. The procedure must be approved by a special committee with at least two physicians and one licensed social worker; at least one of the three must be a woman. Yet approval is practically automatic if the pregnant woman is younger than 17 or older than 40; if the conception was a result of rape, incest or extramarital relations; if the pregnancy is likely to endanger the mother’s physical or mental well-being; or if the fetus has been diagnosed with a possible birth defect. Women also do not need the consent of any male, including the father of the fetus, nor do minors need the consent of parents or guardians. Israeli medical coverage offers an array of free testing for genetic and congenital birth defects. Both Zeev and feminist organizations such as the Israel Women’s Network confirm that the committees approve 98 percent of requested abortions. Less than 10 percent of abortions in Israel are carried out after the 22nd week and some 20,000 legal abortions are performed in public hospitals every year in Israel, according to the Knesset research department. This does not include abortions performed because of concern for the mother’s physical health, which especially if there is any medical emergency are often not even brought before the committee. It is unknown how many women avoid the committee—whether because they are between 17 and 40, or because of personal preference—and turn to a private doctor. Having an abortion is not a criminal offense and, according to binding legal norms, unless medical malpractice is involved, the physician performing the abortion will not be prosecuted. Private abortions cost $1,500 to $1,750. Finally, making it impossible to know how many of the procedures are performed in total is that they can be listed as “medical interventions,” which can cover a broad category. With all that in mind, most Israeli feminists and others favoring the availability of the option have been hesitant to challenge the status quo. But Zeev’s proposal may force their hand, acknowledges Tal Tamir, the director general of Women in their Bodies, a feminist health organization. The huge gap between the law’s paradoxical contradictions and practical life, she
explains, reflect an attempt by Israeli society to live with all its internal tensions. “On the one hand, some parts of Israeli society are very liberal, while other parts are very conservative,” Tamir says. “By making abortion illegal, the patriarchy maintains its hold over women’s bodies, but by making it available, it maintains a progressive, liberal facade.” Indeed, there is a widely, liberal, even permissive attitude toward sexual activity in much of the Israeli secular culture. Secular schools provide coed sex education. The Israeli health plans don’t offer free birth control, but some high schools provide condoms through vending machines. Further, the army provides at least one free abortion to every female soldier who requests one. While there is no civil marriage in Israel, civil law recognizes common-law marriage and cohabitation is commonly accepted. Tamir says the prohibition on abortions for women aged 17 to 40 is another example of conflicting social pressures. “Israel is a very pro-natal society and carries a strong message that Jewish women should bear children, especially after the Holocaust,” she says. “We have the highest rate of IVF services—all paid for by the state—in the world. So women who are the ‘proper age to have children’ aren’t supposed to have abortions. But Israeli society also wants perfect children, so if there are defects, the abortion is considered OK.” Furthermore, Tamir adds, the situation is discriminatory. Women who have the money go to private clinics. Underprivileged women are forced to go to a committee and plead their case,” she says. “And it really gauls me that the state has the right to intervene in our bodies.” But, she says, “In the current political constellation, in which religious parties carry disproportionate weight, the situation could always be worse for women.” Unlike Tamir, Knesset member Zehava Galon of the Meretz party is determined to change the status quo. Last fall, she submitted a proposal to permit abortions for all women at any time, but the proposal failed to make it out of preliminary committees. She insists, however, that she will continue to bring it to the Knesset for debate. “The attempts by Zeev to interfere with women’s choice is making this even more urgent,” she says. “It is simply not right that in a proper, democratic country a governmental committee can deny a woman her basic right to decide what to do with her own body.”
Conservative rabbinic group issues guidelines for same-sex wedding rituals the two have committed an abomination,” says Leviticus 20:13. “They shall be put to NEW YORK (JTA)—The Conservative movedeath; their blood is upon them.” Leviticus ment—affirming that same-sex marriages 18:22 makes a similar statement. have “the same sense of holiness and joy as The Conservative movement’s decision that expressed in heterosexual marriages”— says that, “for observant gay and lesbian last month established rituals for same-sex Jews who would otherwise be condemned wedding ceremonies. to a life of celibacy or The landmark vote secrecy, their human by the Committee dignity requires susJewish law on Jewish Law and pension of the rabbinic Standards of the level prohibitions.” is flexible, Conservative moveDorff, Nevins and ment’s Rabbinical Reisner proposed two and should Assembly follows a possible ceremonies 2006 ruling by the respond to that incorporate what committee “favor[ing] they deem to be the changes the establishment of four key elements of a committed and loving Jewish wedding: welwithin relationships for gay coming the couple, and lesbian Jews.” symbols of celebrathe Jewish But the 2006 tion, a document of responsum declined to covenant and blessings community. specify rituals for estabthanking God. lishing gay and lesbian One ceremony relationships, calling hews closely to the trathem “complicated and controversial ques- ditional Jewish wedding, making changes tions that deserve a separate study.” in the language and the blessings based Last month’s position paper, which was on the couple’s gender and sexuality. The adopted by a vote of 13–0, with one absten- other departs from that ceremony, with tion, fills that void by outlining two possible three blessings, for example, instead of the marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. traditional seven. The paper’s authors, Rabbis Elliot Dorff, The Conservative decision did not call Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner, also wrote same-sex marriages kiddushin, the traditiona 2006 responsum titled “Homosexuality, al Jewish legal term for marriage, because Human Dignity and Halakhah,” which that act of consecration is nonegalitarian declared gays eligible for rabbinic ordination. and gender-specific. In the traditional kiddu“This is the next step in the process of shin ceremony, a pair of blessings is recited bringing about the full inclusion of LGBT and the bridegroom gives his bride a ring, Jews,” says Rabbi Aaron Weininger, using proclaiming that he is marrying his bride the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and “according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” transgender people. “Visibility of LGBT peoSuch a ceremony would be inappropriate ple as individuals and couples makes us for same-sex ceremonies, the Conservative stronger as a Jewish community.” rabbis suggested in their position paper. The first openly gay student admitted They also noted that the use of kiddushin to the rabbinical school at the Conservative opens the door to divorce disputes in which movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, a husband may deny his wife a religious writ Weininger received his rabbinic ordination of divorce, or get—something that “has last month. He was consulted during the been the source of great suffering in many composition of last week’s paper. Jewish communities.” The paper acknowledges that “same-sex Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who has intimate relationships are comprehensively been performing same-sex marriages since banned by classical rabbinic law,” or halachah. 2002—four years before the movement The biblical prohibition against homosexpermitted them—says that Jewish law is ual intimacy appears twice in Leviticus. “A flexible, and should respond to changes man who lies with a male as with a woman, within the Jewish community. by Ben Sales
“Modern halachah has always seen the Torah as its center, but not any one meaning as the final interpretation,” says Creditor, the rabbi of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom. “There is a growing understanding from within Conservative Jews that our responsibility is to steward our community with clarity. Conservative Judaism believes halachah changes when it must.” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who heads the LGBT Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, says that these new guidelines represent a major step forward in Conservative Judaism’s sensitivity toward the LGBT community. “We can’t be held hostage to the radical right wing of the Jewish world,” says Kleinbaum, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. “The Conservative movement is rejecting religion based on bigotry.” While the 2006 decision to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis and accept gay couples was controversial, even Rabbi Joel Roth, who resigned from the law committee in
the wake of that decision, calls this latest responsum “a very fine thing.” “The fact that they created the ceremony is five or six years overdue,” he says. “In the Conservative movement as it exists, the classical position [of forbidding gay relations] is considered nonnormative.” The Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis endorsed Jewish gay marriage in the late 1990s while acknowledging the right of rabbis to choose whether to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. Reconstructionist rabbis also may officiate at same-sex ceremonies. The Orthodox movement does not allow gay marriage. Kleinbaum says she hopes that the Conservative movement’s next step in addressing LGBT issues will be in accommodating bisexual and transgender people. Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, says that the movement’s constituency will determine its priorities. “Ultimately,” he says, “the Jewish people have a tendency of deciding what the next item on the agenda will be.”
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