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More and more Jews are choosing cremation. These rabbis aren’t happy about it.
More than half of Americans – 58% –who died in 2020 were cremated. Rabbis, funeral directors and others who work closely with bereaved families are estimating that the portion of Jews is not much smaller, though traditional interpretations of Jewish law frown on the practice. One person pushing back is Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, who wants rabbis to dedicate their sermons this Shabbat to combatting what he calls “the cremation crisis.”
Why this weekend: This week’s Torah reading includes Jacob’s death and the directive to his children that he be buried in Israel. Zohn said he expects more than 650 synagogues to participate, and suggests rabbis also talk to their congregants about “purchasing a grave and about having a living will and life insurance.”
Historical resonance: Jews who are trying to get other Jews to reject cremation also invoke the Holocaust, in which many were killed in crematoria. The Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis discourages the practice, which it describes as being linked with “one of the darkest periods in Jewish and human history.”
Honor and acceptance: Rabbi Elyse Wechterman of the Reconstructionist movement said she would not choose to be cremated herself, but honors those who do – including her parents. Her 82-year-old father, Ira, sees cemeteries as a waste of land. “I would rather have my children go to a place that was meaningful to us,” he said, “they can go to any body of water and think of mother and dad sailing.”
Read the story ➤
The latest meme parodying George Santos and his web of lies captions this image of him with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, ‘My Jewish ancestors created those Jewish space lasers up there.’ (Getty)
In questioning George Santos’ ‘Jew-ishness,’ critics are overlooking a much more important angle: Much of the coverage of the representative-elect from New York’s embellished biography has focused on his “Jew-ish” status. But Andrew Silverstein, who broke that aspect of the story, says what really matters is his spurious claim that his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Noting that Santos also claimed his mother was in the World Trader Center on 9/11 and that he had employees at the Pulse nightclub when it was attacked, Silverstein says this, “fits into a pattern of the congressman appropriating the suffering and tragedy of others.” Read the story ➤
In the wake of Pope Benedict’s death, this fringe group is hoping to claim the antisemitic part of his legacy: Traditionalist Catholics, known as tradcaths, embraced Benedict, especially in contrast to the liberal Pope Francis. Online, on discussion boards and on YouTube, some in this movement claim that Jews have rejected God, and detail theologies about Catholicism eradicating Judaism. “They harp on the need to reject modernity and acceptance,” writes our digital culture reporter Mira Fox, “sometimes even going so far as to glorify the Crusades, joking about the need for another round of religious wars.” Read the story ➤
Opinion | Law professors are panicking about how to teach Dobbs. I use the Talmud: Family, health and constitutional law professors now have to work the Supreme Court’s June ruling that reversed the constitutional right to abortion into their syllabi. Discussing such a sensitive and controversial topic can be daunting, but one professor, Roberta Rosenthal Kwall, is using the Talmud to showcase the value of respecting dissenting opinions. Read her essay ➤
And one more: Roughly half of Israelis say the future of the country’s democracy is in grave danger, according to a new poll.
Current Jewish professionals are eligible for 100% combined scholarship coverage with the Midcareer Fellowship.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
It took TikTok 75 minutes to deliver Nazi content to a new user who did not seek it. (Getty)
📱 The committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol wanted to test how fast it took social media to get to radical content. The answer, when it came to TikTok and Nazis, was just over an hour. (JTA)
🇵🇸 U.S. officials met with representatives of the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem on Thursday to return stolen property: a 2,700-year-old cosmetic spoon made of ivory. It was the first time the United States had repatriated a looted relic to the Palestinian government. The spoon was among 180 stolen antiquities worth $70 million that investigators seized from billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, who has agreed to a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities. (New York Times)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, had a routine colonoscopy on Friday. Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas Party, filled in as acting premier while Netanyahu was sedated. (Times of Israel)
👮 Israeli police arrested two teenagers on suspicion of vandalizing the Christian cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. Video showing two young men who appeared to be wearing tzitzit and yarmulkes hurling rocks at graves, drew international condemnation earlier this week. (Haaretz)
🩺 A Jewish woman donated a kidney in 2015 and, ever since, has been running “KidneyMitzvah,” an organ-matching service, out of her Brooklyn apartment. She’s helped about 70 people so far. “She does it purely because she wants to help,” said one transplant surgeon. (Washington Post)
🎭 How does New York’s Yiddish-theater scene stay fresh in the 21st century? With two theater companies devoted to the Yiddish canon — and hits, like Fiddler on the Roof — there’s a rich ferment in the ongoing tension between accessibility versus authenticity. (American Theatre)
Mazel tov ➤ To Mitchel Aeder, a retired accountant, who was unanimously elected to be the new president of the Orthodox Union … and to Andrew Morse, a former leader at CNN and recipient of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Media Visionary Award, on becoming the new publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Shiva call ➤ Henry Grossman, a photographer for Life magazine, died at 86. He is best known for his portraits of celebrities and other public figures, including the Beatles, President Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.
Long weekend reads ➤ Prayers for Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills show bond between football and faith … Israel’s fastest sprinter takes aim at the 2024 Olympics in Paris … New trilogy of detective novels merges murder mysteries with Talmudic introspection.
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We’re globetrotting in this weekend’s edition of our print magazine: A visitor to Paris finds a dark Jewish history in the City of Lights; a Ukrainian soldier shares his story from the frontlines; a Munich high school pays tribute to a Holocaust victim; billboards with biblical inspiration are popping up in Los Angeles; and how a Jewish family saved Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Download your copy now ➤
Lionel Bart was called the ‘the father of the modern British musical’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Wikimedia)
On this day in history (1963): The musical Oliver! made its Broadway debut after premiering in London. The music, which is based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, ran for 774 performances before closing in 1964. It was written by Lionel Bart, who came from a family of Galician Jews, and took a winking approach to adapting Dickens’ novel for the stage. Bart once said he wrote the music for the story’s Jewish villain, Fagin, who has long drawn accusations of advancing antisemitic stereotypes. with the image in mind of “a Jewish mother-hen clucking away.”
Last year on this day, our colleagues at the JTA reported that a judge in Brazil fined American Airlines for not providing the promised kosher meals for two passengers who claimed it caused “emotional suffering.”
Today is the second anniversary of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Read about a group of Hasidim who went to Washington, D.C. in the aftermath to give thanks — and chocolate — to the National Guard.
In honor of National Shortbread Day, check out this recipe for tahini shortbread cookies, courtesy of Michael Solomonov, the award-winning Israeli chef.
You People is a new comedy starring Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy. The trailer released Thursday includes a Jewish lifecycle event, a contentious conversation about the Holocaust over Shabbat dinner and a Louis Farrakhan joke. The movie premieres on Netflix on Jan. 27.
Thanks to Nora Berman, Samuel Breslow, Mira Fox, PJ Grisar and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at [email protected].