Jewish Affairs Caucus of the National Education Association

© National Education Association - Jewish Affaris Caucus 2021

From the Chair…

Rosh Hashanah customs require us to sound the shofar, as prescribed in the Torah, following the prescription of the Torah to "raise a noise" on Yom Teruah. Its rabbinical customs include attending synagogue services and reciting special liturgy about teshuva, as well as enjoying festive meals. Eating symbolic foods is now a tradition, such as apples dipped in honey, hoping to evoke a sweet new year. In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah, it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of the intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life and they are sealed "to live". The intermediate class is allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living forever". The shofar is blown at various points during the Rosh Hashanah prayers, with a total of 100 blasts on each day. While the blowing of the shofar is a Biblical statute, it is also a symbolic "wake-up call", stirring Jews to mend their ways and repent. The shofar blasts call out: "Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator."

With what we are experiencing in our NEA or country I really do not know what to say other than, how do you wake the sleepers or even worse fix stupid? We experienced the ridiculous NBI accusing Israel of being an “apartheid” and of “ethnic cleansing”, to Seattle Education Association passing the basic tenets of the NBI, even asking for defunding Israel, to Texas passing a bill that is designed to harm women. Not to mention Afghanistan. As we enter Rosh Hashanah and blow our shofars I sincerely hope we awaken those who are asleep. I really hope we really do not have to fix stupid.

The role of women in traditional Judaism has been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood.  The position of women is not nearly as lowly as many modern people think; in fact, the position of women in Halakha Law that dates back to the biblical period is in many ways better than the position of women under US civil law as recently as a century ago.  Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is no coincidence:  the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their ethnic culture. In traditional Judaism, women's obligations and responsibilities are different from men's, but no less important (in fact, in some ways, women's responsibilities are considered more important). Do these so called “woke” people realize that if Israel falls, it could set women’s rights back to Medieval Times? Just look at Afghanistan. There will be no Democracy in the Middle East. Blow the shofar and wake up!

Let’s talk Texas. Jewish law does not consider the fetus to be a being with a soul until it is born. It does not have personhood. Furthermore, before 40 days, some poskim, or deciders of Jewish law, have a low bar for allowing an abortion. The Talmud, in Yevamos 69b, cites the view of Rav Hisda that “until forty days from conception the fetus is merely water. It is not yet considered a living being.” If there is a threat to a woman’s life, the safety of the mother takes precedence over continuing the pregnancy at any stage. Many sources illustrate this graphically and rather unambiguously, and all modern poskim, or religious decisors, agree on this. In fact, in certain circumstances, a fetus that endangers the life of the mother is legally considered a “murderer” in active pursuit. But in America, the pro-life narrative is largely articulated by the Christian right, and there are important differences between how Judaism and Christianity view the span of time between conception and birth. What happened to the Separation of Church and State Laws? This is not just an attack on women but on us Jews. Blow the shofar and wake up!

I just visited Washington to help secure the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as a birthday gift to myself. August 28th is etched in my brain for more than a birthday. It is my commitment, my third march on this day, an act for my friend’s memory to be a blessing. While there I visited the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust started by laws similar to what happened in Texas and I am reminded of this poem which graces the hallowed halls in the museum:

 First they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.

 Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and I did not speak out – and there was no one to speak for me

A “Sweet New Year” would be to defeat these “Nazi-like” ideologies and laws by marching, speaking out, voting and becoming the truly “Woke”. Blow your shofar so we may be inscribed in the book of life and we are sealed "to live" and wicked perish.