You Shall Pursue

April 7, 2014

Maybe this is what it Feels Like to be a Rabbi

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — Tags: — marleyweiner @ 9:42 pm

I had a remarkably good weekend at work. Some highlights:

  • Chatting about the current and recent past goings on at my alma matter with a Hebrew School teacher who is a current student there while observing a pretty intense game of Gaga.
  • Two words: Chocolate. Seder.
  • Playing Mishneh Impossible with the Hebrew High Schoolers and helping them frantically research answers to questions about Passover laws, customs, and rituals for fabulous prizes.
  • A handshake from an elderly dementia patient I have been visiting when I do my pastoral visits. Usually, he is completely non-responsive and today, we connected a little bit.
  • Watching two truly awesome young ladies that I have had the privilege of working with on their Haftorah speeches become Bat Mitzvah.
  • Hiding briefly under the table with a group of three year old girls at the dinner after family Shabbat. As they said “You can come to our party; it’s just for GIRLS.” Indeed tiny ladies, indeed.
  • Encouraging the father of one of our members to come to my adult Torah study class the next weekend that he is in town. He seemed really enthusiastic!

For the first time since I arrived at my student pulpit, I have felt a part of every aspect of this community. I recognize faces, I know stories, and I feel comfortable going up to every person, introducing myself, or asking them about things I know from the last time we spoke. It feels easy and natural, like I belong here. I know that this job is not all fun and games and beautiful moments of swelling joy and pride in my community. But when that joy and pride is there, it is the best job in the world.

February 19, 2014

On Calling in and Service

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 4:28 pm

A while ago, I read this fabulous article about engaging and building community with people even when they perpetuate oppression, and how we can build towards a less oppressive world in a loving way. The author, Ngọc Loan Trần, speaks movingly of the human cost that both oppressive speech and shutting down loving bonds as a result of speech can bring, and how to maintain loving relationships without sacrificing the dignity that comes from speaking truth to power.

This is something that I struggle with a lot as a rabbi. Part of my duty and service to my community is to stand as a moral exemplar, and I see part of my moral example is as an ally against oppression both outside of my community and (especially) inside of it. But another part of standing as a moral exemplar is loving, in a powerful and practical way, all of the members in my community, even when they hold opinions that are contrary to my own beliefs. Certainly there are certain behaviors that are beyond the pale, but most of the time, it is my duty to engage with people whose views I find oppressive with both justice and love.

A few weeks ago, the RRC student community studied on the concept of tochecha, which means rebuke. As rabbis, we are taught that it is our duty to reprimand with love in order to bring people’s behavior back in line with the values that they espouse. I will repeat here the text that we studied in full.

From Mishneh Torah Hilchot De’ot 6:6 (translated by Eliyahu Touger off

When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as II Samuel 13:22 states concerning the wicked: “And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon neither good, nor bad for Avshalom hated Amnon.”

Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: “Why did you do this to me?”, “Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?” as Leviticus 19:17 states: “You shall surely admonish your colleague.”

If, afterwards, [the person who committed the wrong] asks [his colleague] to forgive him, he must do so. A person should not be cruel when forgiving (as implied by Genesis 20:17): “And Abraham prayed to God…”

Some points, regarding the Jewish notion of tochecha. First of all, one is expected to rebuke one’s fellow. It is law, and the one who does not do it has committed an injustice.

However, the word “fellow” is really important here. In the proof text, from the horrific story of the rape of Tamar, it is not Tamar who is expected to rebuke, but rather her brother Avshalom, who is the social equal of Amnon. I would argue that this piece teaches us that true tochecha is only possible  between those in a relationship of mutual respect. While structural inequality may prove a real systemic barrier to the empathy necessary to allow for true education and rebuke, challenge and education that comes from a place of love and empathy has a much better chance of succeeding.

This means that it is up to us to create the spaces where rebuke is possible. To serve as allies, as much as possible, to those for whom, because of a variety of reasons, rebuke is difficult or dangerous. And to actively build spaces where people feel, as much as is possible, that they can engage in rebuke and that it will be met in a loving and gentle way.

Part of that is offering critique consistently, to stand up and speak out against oppression wherever we see it. But part of that is also making a space for people who are ignorant, or growing, or asking questions, or having difficulty seeing beyond their privilege to be held accountable in a gentle and loving way. The important phrase here is “being held accountable.” Holding people who are working on their privilege in love does not mean that we don’t rebuke them. Tradition teaches us that we have that duty. And certainly we don’t back down from rebuke. That is also our duty. The challenge is creating a space for people to work out why their behavior was oppressive and feel like they can still be contributing members (Jay Smooth has one potential really excellent guide to this).

Certainly this isn’t work for every activist to do. But as clergy, it’s the work that I’ve chosen to take on, and a very particular way of doing it. And I find it helpful to know that other people are thinking about and creating guides to build communities that are both loving and accountable to each other.


November 5, 2013

You Guys! I Did a Wedding You Guys!

A few weeks ago, I had the delight and privilege of performing my first wedding. Yay weddings! My dear friends H and K, who I have known for quite some time, called me last December with the announcement that they were engaged to be married and the request for me to do the wedding. It was a no brainer! I love these kids and was so amazingly blessed to help them level up to this new phase in their relationship.

The couple is both Conservative leaning and fiercely feminist, so it was important for them to have an egalitarian wedding that was founded in Jewish Law. As such, we worked together to create a ceremony based on the Brit Ahuvim, or Lovers’ Covenant, laid out in Rachel Adler’s book Engendering Judaism (learn more here!). The idea of this ceremony is to move the foundation of the wedding from traditional Jewish purchase law (how the traditional wedding works) to a wedding based on contract law. In other words, my friends bound themselves in a partnership to create a new life and family together. We spent nearly a year working out all of the details, and in the end it came off with lots of spirit, participation of family and friends, and love.

Doing weddings for friends is lovely, and stressful, and really exciting! From the beginning, I knew exactly what I wanted to say about both of my friends, and about their relationship. I was able to work in references to their favorite nerdy things  (in a moment of beautiful serendipity, I added a reference to xckd to my opening remarks, which perfectly matched the groom and groomsmen’s ties). I was able to craft something that felt like my two wonderful friends, and also like me, and it was a beautiful fit for all of us. Of course, with friends there is the added pressure to make sure that everything is good, because otherwise you have to see them socially, and well.

This weekend really reminded me of what a privilege it is to train for this line of work. I have the opportunity to be with people in their most emotional moments, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and I get to shepherd them through that. And that is a true blessing.

And now, a picture of me looking all rabbinic and such:


March 4, 2013

Amanda Palmer’s TED talk

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:36 pm

The Jewish community has a lot to learn from Amanda Palmer.

Lipstick and Pearls and Tefillin, How to Navigate Frumness and Femme

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:41 pm

Recently, I read this article written by a future Orthodox rabbi struggling with messages about her gender presentation within her religious community. I find these sorts of articles talking about the ambivalence that is so often paired with religion frustrating on a number of levels. These sorts of conversations offend me as a feminist, because I believe in every person’s fundamental right to live in their bodies without shame. But I also struggle with articles like these as a liberal Jew, because in certain ways we are not doing much better for our Jewish leadership.

The issue is one of degree rather than of kind. While I have classmates who wear miniskirts, I struggle strongly with a feeling that certain clothes (that I used to wear to work in my office job, mind you) are “not appropriate” for my clergy work, not because they are revealing, but because they are feminine. I tend to cultivate a certain degree of severity in my professional appearance these days, because I have absorbed the message that rabbis should not exude any hint of sex appeal, especially the female ones. An important part of this is that I mostly supporting myself through teaching, and I feel doubly pressured to dress frumpy in front of my students and their parents. While my choice of professional clothing was never anything but scrupulously modest, it was often selected expressly to show pride in my body and my femininity. My favorite business casual clothes are a-line or poofy dresses and pencil skirts. I feel drab in slacks. And I never wear red lipstick to teach (although I wear it to go out or just to show up for hanging out with my friends).

On the other hand, sometimes I feel as though I intentionally need to be drab. We rabbinical students are encouraged to live up to a high level of professionalism in our relationships with our students, co-workers, and congregants. This includes a clause that encourages us to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” And in our society, what bears more of the “appearance of impropriety” than a woman who is attractively and femininely dressed? You need only listen to victim-blaming comments about the length of this or that girl’s skirt to know that American society still buys into the idea of women, especially attractively dressed women, as public property, who dress to advertise availability rather than to make themselves happy. And I know that the Jewish community is none so enlightened that it is entirely free of broader American prejudices.

And now the question for my fellow femme classmates who do feel comfortable wearing more explicitly femme clothes at work: how do you rock that shit with pride and confidence? I have a red dress that I’d like to break out sometime in the near future.

March 3, 2013

Living Lomed

Filed under: Jewish Communitty — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:37 am

Living Lomed

This was written by a classmate’s mother. And it’s deeply important to hold on to stories like this. Our synagogues are supposed to be places of prayer, yes, but also learning and socializing and sharing and growing. They are called beit kenesset, house of assembly, and assembling looks different for different people. It’s so important to never forget that.

February 12, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 4:01 am

Quick note: I will be at Limmud NY this weekend. I will be attempting to blog the conference. Wish me luck; I will need it! (as I will be oh so very tired)

February 7, 2013

D’var Torah: Parshat Beshalach

Filed under: D'var Torah, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:25 pm

I delivered a version of this D’var Torah at Minyan Tikvah’s Shabbaton on January 25. I’ve been super busy, so I’m only finding time to post it now!

Today I want to talk to you about weird food. In this week’s parsha, the Children of Israel complain to Moses that they miss the flesh pots of Egypt and accuse him of bringing them to starve in the wilderness. God hears this, and tells Moses that he will rain down bread from heaven in order to test the Israelites. And then, the next day, something falls from the sky. It is white, flaky, like frost, sweet as cake, and has magical properties. The people, understandably confused, ask “Man hu?” “What is it?” and in this question, manna is named.

God lays out very specific rules for the manna. The people are to gather one omer per day, they are to eat every last bit during that day, and they are not to try to gather on the Sabbath. The Children of Israel, being the Children of Israel, go against every last one of these rules. And yet, the manna resists their attempts to mismanage it. When they gather more or less than an omer, “those who gathered a lot had no excess, and those who gathered a little bit had no lack.” When they try to hoard the food, it sprouts maggots and stinks so that even the strongest-stomached among them could not eat it. When they attempt to go out and gather on the seventh day, there is no manna to be found. And interestingly, though God says that he is sending the manna as a test, he does not punish the children of Israel for their behavior. So why, then, does God send manna?

This is a people who have been slaves for 400 years. They are not used to living on their own, managing their own lives, worshipping their own God. And God seems to know this. Rather than punishing the Children of Israel for disobeying, he creates a food that will force them to respect it, so that they can learn, slowly over time, what it means to follow God’s commandments. Before the people ever get to Mount Sinai to receive God’s full set of commandments, they have been practicing at the covenental relationship with the manna. God does not set the people up to fail. Rather, God gives them training wheels until they are ready to steer all by themselves.

For those you who don’t know me, I am in my first year of rabbinical school. And it is hard. Mostly because I wish I knew everything right now, and I feel woefully unprepared for this massive undertaking I seem to have gotten myself into. And how many of us have ever felt like that? Like we were playacting at our jobs, at our lives, at being a grownup? That at some point they are all going to realize that we don’t know what they think we know? It’s called “impostor syndrome” and it is real and it is scary.

But if the manna teaches us anything, it is that we are supposed to go by baby steps. God did not ask the people to join in covenant right away, and we should not expect ourselves to be perfectly pulled together at all times. There is room in the relationship between God and the Children of Israel for screwing up, and there is room for all of us to screw up. God will keep sending manna, and we will grow into the roles that we have chosen for ourselves, and we will flourish.

January 24, 2013

Building Relationships: One Way to do Jewish Community Well

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:40 am

This week, I’m taking a mini course about community organizing. While I was expecting a lot of instruction about how to be radical and political, all of today was about learning how to share your stories and passions in such a way that it builds relationships and common understanding. According to our instructor, the best way to effect social change is through making people talk to each other. Now, after years of talking about relationship building in the Jewish community, I feel like I’m finally developing the skill set I might need to make it happen.

I feel like we as a Jewish community keep talking about how to attract members, how to convince the members we have to take leadership positions, and how to get people to invest financially. And yet it is really rare to hear about rabbis or executive directors sitting down one on one with the average congregant (as opposed to the people already in leadership positions) and ask about why they are passionate about synagogue life, and what they hope to get out of their membership. Relationships are ongoing, built person to person and network to network, and if we don’t meet with people on a personal basis, how can we inspire in them the feeling that they should invest in the organizations that we have built?

The other important and deeply challenging piece of community organizing that I learned today is the importance of sharing stories. It’s not just about listening to the stories of others, but about opening up and feeling comfortable enough in your vulnerability to share stories of your own. Part of learning why people are passionate about an organization or a cause is sharing your own passions, interests, and worries around that cause. An organizing relationship is still a relationship, and relationships are a two way street of sharing and vulnerability.

What an amazing thing it would be if rabbis made time every summer to sit down for coffee with as many of their congregants as possible and talk about what attracts people to staying a member of the community? If the leaders of the congregation would share one-on-one the specific moments of triumph that keep them invested, whether that is a Bar Mitzvah, a meaningful adult education class, or a challenging question from a congregant. Think of how many people would feel more engaged, more welcomed, and more heard in that simple act of opening up and sharing.

January 21, 2013

New President, Same as the Old President!

Filed under: Choosing Life, Social Justice — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 9:54 pm

Barack Obama speaks so movingly and compellingly about the triumph and dignity of properly compensated, just, and meaningful labor. It’s a beautiful thing.

… I also want to take a public speaking class from him. That man is CAPTIVATING.

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