Parsha Toldot by Rabbi Julia Margolis

This week’s Torah portion is called Toldot, “Generations,” and it chronicles the history of our Patriarch Isaac and the generations that he and his wife Rebecca created through the birth of their twin sons Jacob and Esau.

We read about a dramatic and unsettling tale of family disharmony, a tragic story with Esau selling his birth-right to Jacob, who then turns around and steals the blessings that his blind father thought he was bestowing upon Esau on his deathbed.

We all have our personal chronicles of our own family, perhaps because I am an only child, sometimes its easier for me to see many families from a certain perspective, and to see how they are caught up in their internal fights, there is often no affection, and togetherness. They are perhaps too busy to appreciate that every day is a privilege to spend with your loved once. In our days we are caught up in modern technology and we spend so much of our time on different networks, or group chats that we start to forget the basis of our own “chronicles”. We can so easily get drawn into arguments and foolish disagreements over nothing really. That many times one should caution oneself to Stop, to simply take a step back – and take a moment to appreciate what is surrounding you. We need ultimately to study how to recognize the blessings that we are in each other’s lives.

We need to be grateful for each moment, unfortunately many times such gratitude is often too late. We should complain less in order to teach our next generation that complaints rarely bring anything good, in most cases we find ourselves on the receiving end of the opposite. We are all very busy in our work, homes and lives – I know how difficult it is my self. I am both a mother and a rabbi. Some days I’m more a mother and some days I’m more a rabbi. One somehow does one’s best to make it all work, I just know in my heart that it all feels right, and when the going gets tough I just keep putting one foot in front of the other – and I know I will get there in the end.

The experience of coupling motherhood with a career is something women fought for in the last century. The opening of the doors to women in the rabbinate was very much a result of the Women’s Liberation Movement. And Judaism is no doubt all the better for it.

I am trying to follow in the steps of my role models: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Regina Jonas – the first female Rabbi, who was ordained in Germany in 1935 and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. And another role-model, my own mother- Rabbi Rubinstein who today serves her congregation also far away from Israel.

We must always seek truth in our world, and not be afraid to live according to those truths. And we must not be afraid to speak up when those truths are questioned. We must know that we have received a gift from our ancestors, and passed this down through the generations of mothers following them.
This Shabbat Toldot lets us think about our blessings, encourages us to focus on building our internal gratitude, and to thank God out loud for all these blessings. Perhaps if Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Rebecca had done the same, then the entire course of Jewish history would have changed for the better. But we must hold close to our faith, to the lessons we can learn from it, and even closer must we hold to and appreciate the blessings our spiritual parent continues to bestow upon us “generation after generation” even if we are only aware of a few of the many, let us be truly grateful for them.

SAUPJ calls for Israel peace

The Psalmist said, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (34:14).

The World Union for Progressive Judaism sends its message of hope and support for a swift cessation of the current conflict, which jeopardizes the lives of Israelis and those living in Gaza as well.

Having suffered over 400 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past few days alone, Israel had little choice but to react in self-defense and initiated Operation Pillar of Defense, and we unequivocally support Israel’s action at this time.

We hope for a swift cessation of armed conflict and we pray that Israel will soon be able to wage peace, to turn from destruction that comes from weapons of war, and fight the difficult battle of negotiating for peace.

For now, our abiding concern remains with Israel and her citizens – prayers from around the world focus on the protection of our sisters and brothers in the land of our history and heritage and the promise of our future.


Steve Lurie SAUPJ Chairman

Mike Grabiner WUPJ Chairman

Dr. Philip Bliss WUPJ Chair, Advocacy Committee

Israel nod to Reform rabbis

HISTORY was in the making in early June 2012, when after a prolonged legal battle, Israel’s Attorney General declared that the State of Israel will fund the salaries of Reform Rabbis who are employed by regional councils.

For years, the State has financed the salaries of thousands of rabbis throughout the country. These rabbis serve as municipal rabbis, communal rabbis, regional rabbis and neighborhood rabbis. Until today all of these rabbis have been Orthodox men.

In May 2005, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the legal and public arm of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), submitted a petition on behalf of Congregation Birkat Shalom, Kibbutz Gezer, and Rabbi Miri Gold. This petition called for equal funding of religious services regardless of movement affiliation. Over the past 7 years, the entire global Reform community has been an active partner in assisting the IMPJ in making this case a public and active issue resulting in success.

In June 2009, the High Court ordered the parties to a mediation dialogue process on how best to satisfy the funding requirements of non-Orthodox rabbis. The negotiations failed and the issue returned to the High Court. A hearing was held on May 5, 2012 to discuss the term “non-Orthodox rabbi” and it was requested that the state reconsider its position. The Court gave the State 14 days to change their position and support funding non-Orthodox rabbis in the same manner as their Orthodox counterparts. The State accepted the proposal and informed the Court that they will give equal funding to non-Orthodox rabbis.

This declaration is only the first stage and there is still along way to go. It allows for 15 rabbis to be recognized and funded by the State, but does not yet deal with the issue of municipal rabbis.

Still, this historic, precedent-setting accomplishment goes a long way towards creating real equality for all Jews. The Supreme Court will hand down a ruling on the petition shortly.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said: “the agreement of the State to fund the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, and acknowledging them as rabbis is a major breakthrough in the effort to promote freedom of religion in Israel and is truly welcome news for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who enjoy the services of Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel.

“This is the first step, but a significant one towards equalizing all Jewish streams in Israel, and we hope that the State will fulfill its court obligations, as stated. We expect that this will lead to further steps that will eventually cancel the deep discrimination towards the non-Orthodox streams in Israel.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said: “The Israeli government’s decision to recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis and community leaders contributes to the unity of the Jewish people and the strengthening of ties with the Diaspora.

“The government’s decision to recognize Reform and Conservative leaders gives official recognition to these dynamic community leaders and rabbis who work tirelessly to build strong and vibrant Zionist and Jewish communities throughout Israel.

“I believe this decision has both practical and symbolic importance. It contributes significantly to the strengthening of the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel. The Jewish Agency sees this decision as a bridge and as another step towards bringing unity to the Jewish people”.

And Rabbi Miri Gold said, “What joy! Finally there’s more than one way to be a Rabbi in Israel!”

(This article originally appeared on the WUPJ website.)

Facts to Note
  • In Israel today there are 100 Reform and Conservative congregations that are being served by more than 70 rabbis.
  • Every year about 10 new Reform and/or Conservative rabbis are ordained in Israel and between 5-10 new communities are opened.
  • The January 2012 Guttman-AVI CHAI report: A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews revealed that 8% of all Jews in Israel identify themselves as Reform or Conservative while only 7% identify themselves as ultra-Orthodox.

Reform funeral for Chaskalson

FORMER Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, revered for his contributions to human rights in South Africa, was buried in the Reform section of Westpark cemetery on Monday December 2, 2012. The funeral, attended by President Jacob Zuma, drew the largest-ever crowd of mourners for a Progressive Jewish funeral. Despite pouring rain, about a thousand people attended.

The Chaskalson family, who are members of the Beit Emanuel synagogue in Johannesburg, specifically requested that Justice Chaskalson be buried in an ordinary grave in the Progressive section of the cemetery, rather than the “Hero’s Acre” section of Westpark, which had been offered by the Orthodox rabbinate.

The service in the Ohel was conducted by Rabbi Robert Jacobs of Bet David, who is chairman of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis. The service at the graveside was conducted by Rabbi Dr Robert Ash of Beit Emanuel. Kito Holz, the executive director of Beit Emanuel, made the announcements.

Among those in attendance were President Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki, who despite their political differences, marched at the head of the procession as pallbearers, one on each side of the coffin. Also there were the current chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, several cabinet ministers and judges and Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus. The Orthodox Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein attended by invitation, his presence a landmark in itself: the first time an orthodox South African rabbi has attended a progressive ceremony.

Geoff Budlender, a co-founder of the Legal Resources Centre with Justice Chaskalson in 1979, delivered a powerful eulogy which described how they challenged the system from within the system, with remarkable results, including an early victory that made the notorious pass law system unworkable.

The SA Union for Progressive Judaism issued the following statement: “We mourn the passing of the Hon. Justice Arthur Chaskalson. A member of President Nelson Mandela’s defence team in the Rivonia Trial and first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, he remained ever true to his liberal vision of a society founded in justice, law and equality.

“Justice Chaskalson regularly stated his progressive view of life, the world and religion. He spoke at the 70th anniversary celebration of the Mother Synagogue of the Progressive movement, Temple Israel in Hillbrow in 2006. His family’s association with Progressive synagogues including Beit Emanuel and Bet David remains as an enduring statement of their commitment that their father and grandfather made to those values through his daily living.

“We extend our sincere condolences to his wife Lorraine, children Mathew and Jerome, grandchildren and the many students, disciples and colleagues whom he mentored through a long, illustrious and internationally acclaimed career aimed at building a society founded in the precept of Torah, Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Surely, it is justice that you shall pursue.