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August 28, 2015 | 13th Elul 5775


  1. Feb 2005 Digest 039

    …I searched my brain and could not come up with a "Hebrew equivalent" [for “ministry]. I know some Jews (as I did Christians) whose spiritual/active involvement begin and end with certain days of the year or week and then do nothing else--and I'm not talking about proselytizing a faith or view, but showing one's faith through actions or deeds. That's what I meant by using the "ministries" word.

  2. Feb 2005 Digest 039

    … I too tried to think of a word that might have been used instead [of ministry], and so far have not been able to find a suitable English synonym. Let me put forth instead a Hebrew word that is not an exact translation, but goes in the right direction: shlichut. Nor do I really know how to say shlichut in English--but it relates to sh’liach, an emissary (and were the word not as fraught with wrong images as ministry, almost a missionary--so perhaps we could translate shlichut as mission).

  3. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    While I am not wild about the use of the term "ministry" and would suggest the use of “outreach,” we should be mindful that early editions of the Reform prayer book The Union Prayer Book, used the term “Minister and Congregation” to denote responsive reading etc. (I think “Rabbi and Congregation” was substituted in either the first or second revised edition). When I first moved to Washington some forty years ago, every year in the Christmas season, the Washington Hebrew Congregation published in the Washington Post, a letter of greeting to its Christian neighbors, signed “Rabbi Norman Gerstenfeld, Minister, WHC.”

    My para rabbinic class had many “Jews by Choice,” and they were among our most knowledgeable and devoted students. By the by I really do hate that term, after all, in our American society, we are all Jews by choice. And once one has made that choice, we all symbolically claim to have had ancestors who stood at Sinai


  4. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    This term “Jew by Choice” is anathema to me. It smacks of paternalism, political correctness, and arrogance. It appears to classify Jews and by that process, it divides and disconnects us. That is the last thing we need. To paraphrase Gertrude “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew”. Period.

  5. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    Marvin's post reminding us that "minister" does have a history and provenance in Reform Judaism was welcome, if for no other reason than it shows how words change meaning over time. (Cf. gay.) What will be our next locution to avoid saying Jews by Choice?

    Although only one has been mentioned, there are really two reasons for avoiding JBC.

    As mentioned, in this fluid society, all who identify as Jews are Jews by choice; and we are taught that the convert's former status is to be forgotten as s/he becomes fully part of klal Yisrael. And yet--who remembers that startling moment at the Orlando biennial, celebrating the anniversary of the Union's Outreach program, when all who had chosen Judaism were called to an aliyah.

    People sitting around me recoiled with distaste at the idea of singling folks out because they hadn't always been Jewish--but nonetheless, some 200 people went proudly and emotionally to the bimah. Our sensitivity, our wish not to discriminate, is appropriate and estimable, but even so, we need as part of our welcome to recognize that many of our newer Jews take great pride in having chosen to be chosen--just as we take pride in their accepting the yoke of the mitzvot perhaps more aggressively than many of us do.

    It's just a fact of English usage that the term Jews by Choice will continue to be used until someone invents a better one, and it will mean what it means even as we recognize its limitations.

    In this same context, let's look at the word “outreach,” which has a totally different meaning in the inner circles of the Reform movement (and if you're part of this list serv, you're part of the inner circles) than it does in the world at large. We should be reaching out to our own unaffiliated, and to our uninvolved affiliated (inreach, to use the word favored by my now-emeritus rabbi), and to all who need our touch. But we are all Humpty-Dumpty, in that the words we choose mean just what we want them to mean, neither more nor less--and our listeners hear them as they choose to hear them. (Cf. Hayakawa's Language in Action.)


  6. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    All these issues and labels whether PC or not have two sides of the story.

    I feel the same with the terms African American and the like. Some people are proud to say that, and yet we are all Americans and in a way it seems to put people in separate categories. Jews by choice seems to be a parallel term to African American or Italian American, etc. It would probably be better, as it used to be, to not have the label in the first place. On the other hand it is not a derogatory way if one wanted to identify themselves as being a convert. Similarly, I have often felt that the word “Reform” should also be changed. Too many people say “Reformed” instead, and I'm not sure that “Reform” really identifies the conglomerate of Jews that belong to the Reform Movement. It is called other labels in other countries which I'm not sure I like either, but it would kind of be nice if "Reform" or "Liberal" or "Progressive" Jews everywhere could describe themselves under one umbrella, so to speak.


  7. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    It's interesting that we're now trying to find a word that says what "ministry" means to the Christian community. Larry suggests "shlichut," which makes some sense. The root is “shhin/lamed/chet.” In Habad, the word for the people who lead the local groups are Shlichim (see Fishkoff's book, The Rebbe's Army for a wonderful explanation of their work). We talk about "Shlach Manot," baskets for the needy that we are bidden to take on Purim. And when there is no rabbi, the prayer leader is called a "Shaliach Tzipur". So it has some interesting and important uses.

    In the end I'm not sure it does what I think Patricia means, and I feel Larry's great suggestion isn't quite there either. And I don't have any additional thoughts on it, either.

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  8. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    Adonai gave Adam the task of naming. Why? Because few actions are as powerful as giving something a name. Names categorize, denote, predict and stereotype. Names control and are often more important and powerful than the thing that is named. A “Michael Jordan” shoe is infinitely more valuable than a plain basketball shoe, even if the quality is no better.

    Words have power, even when they have little meaning. This applies to the names we call ourselves and the names by which others call us. The name “Jew by choice” has little meaning, for, in fact, a Jew is what a Jew chooses to do. We are all Jews by choice (unless there is someone out there who was forced into conversion), and I do not think classifying a group by the particular name is clarifying or productive. The fact that people are proud to be Jewish is wonderful. The fact that they were not born Jewish is immaterial and pointing it out runs counter to our finest traditions.

    As for a substitute for “ministry”, I think we are having a tough time with an appropriate Jewish synonym because the concept is not part of our religious heritage. I use the word Tochnit (agenda, plan) for discussing what needs to be accomplished in a particular task but that is not the same as a ministry. I think “sh’liach” and its cognates are approximations but in the end, unsatisfying. “Ministry” and “minister” are not Jewish concepts and need no Jewish words.


  9. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    Shalach manot” (or “mishloach manot”) are not gifts to the needy, but gifts of food to friends. The gifts to the needy (which are also a special Purim mitzvah) are matanot la'evyonim.

    As far as the term "ministry" is concerned, I can't think of a good umbrella term but I believe there are traditional terms for each component--visiting the sick (bikur cholim), caring for the dead (chevra kadisha), hospitality, tzedakah, g'milut chesed (acts of lovingkindness)--it might be easier to choose more specific terms to describe what you want to do, or what you feel needs to be done.

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  10. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    We seem to be trying to avoid the issue of particularism: Ministry is a word that is frequently used by Christian clergy and seems to evoke even more the spectre of evangelical Christian clergy. Many Jews are apprehensive about assimilation, acculturation and evangelism, and they are therefore uncomfortable with Christian "words." On the other hand, Reform Judaism co-opted early nineteenth century German Protestant concepts, including the robes (for the rabbi), organ music, and the sermon offered form a raised bimah. The fact that we do not have a widely recognized and utilized term for ministries within the temple suggests that this function either does not exist or is only infrequently utilized. Ministry within the temple is usually seen as part of the rabbi's pastoral duty. Perhaps, this concept is no longer adequate and the congregation should be more consciously involved in pastoral ministry. Almost every temple has such ministries but they are subsumed under other names. I especially like the "shaliach" term, which is sometimes translated as "agent" or "representative." Some see the shaliach as an "officer of the congregation." I like that.

  11. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    I feel the same way about "pastor" and "pastoral" as many on the list feel about "minister" and "ministry".

    I remember reading some congregation's newsletter from not too many years ago which referred to "altar flowers". Are there any congregations that still refer to that area as the "altar"?

    Oh, and I prefer "Progressive" to "Reform."


  12. Feb 2005 Digest 040

    It helps to know the nineteenth-century background of our American prayer books, from Orthodox to Reform, when discussing the term 'minister'.

    The majority of those prayer books were published by Jewish immigrants from Germany and other Central European countries where German was spoken. The term for the person officiating at services was Vorbeter, in effect, the sheliach tsibbur, whether he was a professional, a cantor or a skilled lay person, rabbi or no. When a generation arose that no longer spoke German, several of these prayer books were translated into English, the at-the-time

    very neutral, multi-purpose term 'Minister' came to be chosen for Vorbeter. In any event, there was no attempt to Christianize or ape Christian usage. However, when 'Minister' was eventually seen as too 'Christian' in connotation, the less-denomination-specific term 'Reader' took its place.


  13. Mar 2005 Digest 041

    [Re: pastor/pastoral:]

    Although these too are terms that may have come to us from a Protestant model, I can't think of either a synonym or a Hebrew translation.

    That may be partly because the concept itself comes out of a Christian tradition. Neither the cohanim nor the leviim were charged with the responsibilities that we include in the term “pastor,” nor did our great-grandfathers look to their rabbis for those roles--our rabbis were teachers, scholars, decisors, judges, but were not differentiated from amcha (the people, the Jew in the pew) in such mitzvot as bikur cholim, leviyat met, etc. Today we look to our Reform rabbis to teach, preach, and comfort/console/counsel--pastoral roles that are clearly part of the job description for a congregational rabbi.


  14. Mar 2005 Digest 041

    Is the phrase "make a blessing" a direct translation, or is it filtered through Yiddish or another language? I've always loved the idea that when we acknowledge G-d, we bring something into being-- that "making" a blessing is somehow different from just repeating a formula. What do you think? Is there a standard explanation?

  15. Mar 2005 Digest 041

    In the earliest versions of the Union Prayer Book, printed about 1906, the "leader" was referred to as "minister." Responsive reading would alternate between "minister" and "congregation." At that time, Reform Jews wanted to be American's first and Jewish second and wanted to be like their neighbors.

  16. Mar 2005 Digest 041

    …"pastor" means "shepherd"-- we've used the same image not only for G-d (Psalm 23, among many other references) but for leaders, such as Moses and David. I certainly agree that this is not a traditional role for the rabbi, but it's a traditional analogy for a good leader.

  17. Mar 2005 Digest 053

    With reference to the appropriate nomenclature, the most commonly used expressions I have seen are: The Hebrew Bible and The Christian Bible. It will offend no one and everyone will know to what you are referring.


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