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Acts of Loving Kindness

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

Shiva is a time when we reminisce, remember, recapture memories of a loved one. As such, what we usually do during a condolence call is listen to memories that the mourner wishes to share, or talk about other subjects initiated by the mourner that may have nothing to do with his or her loss.

It is traditional to not knock or ring but rather just to enter a house of mourning, so as not to bother the mourners. Many Reform Jews do not observe this custom today, but it is a good idea to keep it in mind and try the door before you ring the bell when paying a shiva call.

As you enter the house of mourning, a member or friend of the family may meet you and usher you into the living room. It is customary to wait to speak until after the mourner speaks. But, once you are acknowledged, all you need say is “I’m sorry.” That simple phrase, a touch, a hug will mean more to the mourner than you can ever know. Usually, you need not stay more than thirty to forty-five minutes. During your visit, supporting, listening, and responding to the mourner should be your primary goal.

Except for food, it is not customary to bring anything with you to the house of mourning. Again, your presence is the main thing. If you wish to “do something,” make a contribution to the deceased’s favorite charity or synagogue fund. A particularly meaningful gesture for many Jews is to plant trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund.

Source: Rabbi Daniel B. SymeThe Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (URJ Press, 2004)

See also: Preparing for a Jewish Funeral: A Checklist, The "New" Jewish Funeral, What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral, Preparing for a Jewish Funeral: A Guide.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell
young girl giving bouquet of roses

While Judaism does not have an equivalent to the secular Mother’s Day, Reform Judaism has been at the forefront of including women in religious life as equal partners. Sally Priesand was the first woman to be ordained a rabbi in 1972. In 1975, Barbara Ostfeld became the first ordained woman cantor. Both were ordained by the seminary of the Reform Movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As early as 1994, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which publishes prayerbooks for Reform congregations, began using gender-inclusive language and adding the Matriarchs – Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel to the liturgy. The Religious Action Center, the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C., has been at the forefront of advocating on women’s rights issues. In partnership with the Women of Reform Judaism, RAC has addressed issues of women’s economic empowerment, through the focused lens of paycheck fairness. Over two decades ago, the Reform Movement began lobbying on behalf of legislation supporting the enforcement of existing laws prohibiting all forms of violence against women. Since 1935, the Reform Movement has been advocating on behalf of reproductive rights and women’s health. What better way to honor our mothers than by working for their equal rights and treatment.

a wheelchair

Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. We are taught “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5); accordingly, we must prevent anyone from being separated from the community against their will. 

In Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 14, we are taught, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Stumbling blocks come in many forms, from less-than-accessible buildings, Shabbat services, prayer books and web pages to health care that is harder to access or isn’t sufficient for people with disabilities. We are obligated to remove these stumbling blocks; this is why Judaism cares so deeply for the rights of people with disabilities. 

And in the first chapter of Genesis, we read that each of us is created in the image of God. These verses influence Reform Judaism’s commitment to disability rights and to creating Jewish communities that are welcoming and accessible to all. From our work on behalf of disability rights to groundbreaking work on involving people with disabilities and their families in Jewish life, Reform Judaism strives to make each congregation a “house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:5)

Here are additional Jewish texts to inspire inclusive practices.

Indeed, ensuring that people with disabilities are welcome and may participate fully in the Jewish and the broader secular communities has long been a priority of Reform Jewish advocacy. The Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism have each passed numerous resolutions on the issue of disabilities. Every February, our Reform Jewish community joins Jews worldwide in observance of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

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Answer By: 
Rabbi Howard L. Jaffe
a line of brown cows

As far as how Jewish tradition, and the Torah in general speak of God's love for animals, there is a rabbinic concept of tzaar baalei chaim - literally the woe/pain of living things - roughly rendered as concern for cruelty to animals, but runs deeper than that. The principle is that animals experience pain and suffering, and although are not equivalent to human lives, they must still be dealt with caringly and thoughtfully.

One of the most obvious traditions that reflects this is that of kosher slaughtering - that while it is permissible to eat meat, the animal must be slaughtered in a fashion that is as painless as possible - so one swift motion, with a blade that must be inspected and found free of nicks and cuts. One of the less obvious is the prohibition of plowing one's field with two different animals, specifically, an ox and an ass (Deuteronomy 22:10), although the rabbis enlarge the boundaries greatly and generalize the principle to the mixing of any kinds of natural animal products. The reason most commonly understood is that they work at different paces, and either the ox would be slowed down and frustrated by the ass, or more likely, the ass would get hurt by the ox's strength and size.

In addition, the prohibition against working on Shabbat does include one's ox and ass (Exodus 20:10) - although this is different than observing Shabbat as I mentioned in my first paragraph - it is the consequence of being a part of a Jewish household (i.e., if the cow is sold to a person of a different faith, it can be put to work on Shabbat).

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