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The Jewish debate over human composting + Biden launches antisemitism task force


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Jewish law forbids human composting, but for some Jews it’s the way to go

 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has until Dec. 31 to sign into law a bill legalizing human composting. Several Jewish lawmakers were among those who voted for the practice, which is already legal in five states: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

 

What is it? For starters, it’s different from cremation. Using a scientific process that takes about a month or two, the body is decomposed into usable soil. Proponents say it aligns with an ecological mindset that sees human beings as part of nature, obligated to care for the Earth even after they die.

 

Dust to dust: Anne Lang of Boulder, Colorado, told her family she wanted this kind of burial before her death, of lymphoma, in May. “She is still with us,” said her daughter, Zoe Lang. “I think she would be thrilled to know she is coming back as a flower or a tree with a beautiful view.”

 

A grave error: Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, who leads a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan, argues that there is a difference between returning a body to the Earth, as Jewish law dictates,  and having those left behind receive a tangible benefit from the process. That’s why, he said, “it’s dishonorable to eat fruits or pick flowers growing directly above graves, nourished partly by decomposing human flesh.”

 

Read the story ➤

ALSO FROM THE FORWARD

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The memorial to Charles Lindbergh is on private property, but in a very public place. (Getty)

Why is there still a bust of Charles Lindbergh, a Nazi sympathizer and antisemite, in Rockefeller Center? From now until Jan. 1, more than half a million people will view the Christmas tree at the iconic New York landmark each day. But while public tributes to Lindbergh have been debated or taken down around the country in recent years, this monument evaded the attention of the press, politicians and activists. Until now. Read the story ➤

 

FBI says antisemitic crimes plunged – but report skips major Jewish areas: For months, politicians, advocacy groups and law enforcement leaders have been wringing their hands over a rise in antisemitism. Which made the FBI report released Monday saying that antisemitic hate crimes had plunged from 959 in 2020 to 396 last year something of a shock. Turns out the number of law enforcement agencies sharing their data with the FBI plunged too, from 83% to 62%. Those declining to participate after the FBI switched its reporting system include the major Jewish centers of Los Angeles and New York, which alone reported 198 antisemitic hate crimes in 2021 that are not in the FBI report. The data is “essentially useless,” sniffed one expert. Read the story ➤

 

Opinion | I’m a convert who used to love Hanukkah: “It was love at first light,” writes Winnie Hahn, who grew up in a Korean immigrant family and converted when she met her husband. For years, Hahn decorated their home and bought presents for their children for each night. But that mass-marketing of a Jewish festival left her feeling empty. This year, she writes, “all I want for Hanukkah is Hanukkah. I want a rededication to this holiday that celebrates Jewish resilience, particularly in a year when antisemitism is once again scratching barely healed scars for so many Jews.” Read her essay ➤ 

 

But wait, there’s more…

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and New York political leaders vowed Monday to stem the tide of violent antisemitism by strengthening efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.
  • It’s Taylor Swift’s 33rd birthday, and we’re wondering if that’s a Hebrew letter on the cover of her latest album. Coincidence or Kabbalah?
  • Our lox columnist lost his keys in the back room at Zabar’s. He turned to Sherlock Holmes and Orson Welles for help.

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

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The Biden administration heeded calls from Congress and Jewish groups who urged a ‘whole of government’ approach to combat antisemitism. (Getty)

🇺🇸  President Joe Biden formed a new group Monday to combat antisemitism, Holocaust denial and Islamophobia. And, after last week’s antisemitism summit at the White House, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt and Shelley Greenspan, the White House’s Jewish liaison, plan to host a Zoom conversation on Friday that is open to the public. (JTA, AP)

 

🤦  Elon Musk, Twitter’s new CEO, continues to revamp the platform toward what he has called his “free speech absolutist” ideals. He disbanded the company’s Trust and Safety Council on Monday. When the independent group was set up in October, the Anti-Defamation League praised it as a potential stopgap for antisemitic content. (NBC News)

 

🏫  Parents in New York who want to withdraw their children from yeshivas over poor secular education are often blocked by social pressure and rabbinical courts, according to a New York Times investigation. The courts also often limit school choices as part of divorce. “This is really the only way to perpetuate this way of life,” said one aggrieved mother. (New York Times)

 

🍄  A Denver rabbi who promotes psychedelic use as part of spiritual practice will no longer face prosecution after Colorado voters legalized psilocybin, the chemical compound found in psychedelic mushrooms. “We look forward to getting back to practicing our religion,” said Ben Gorelick, who is also known as the “mushroom rabbi.” (JTA)

 

🇦🇪  The first kosher supermarket in the United Arab Emirates opened Monday night in Dubai, catering to the thousands of local Jewish families as well as tourists and those visiting on business trips. The store will also offer cooked meals-to-go for Shabbat. (Twitter)

 

🍺  Shmaltz Brewing, maker of He’Brew beer, shut down in 2021 after 25 years. Now the company is being relaunched by a 26-year-old rabbinical student. “What about our Jewish values can be used to inform our food practices?” he asked. “How, through beer, can we embrace the values of welcoming in the stranger, freeing the captive, opening the eyes of the blind?” (JTA)

 

Quotable ➤  “What the cartoonish Kanye clown show distracts us from is what’s going on under the big top — how the virus of antisemitism and hate and division is spreading and attacking the foundations of our culture.” – Ari Emanuel, Hollywood uber-agent, in a Chicago Tribune OpEd.

 

Shiva call ➤  Lord David Young, a politician who advised Margaret Thatcher and other British prime ministers, died at 90. He was also involved in several Jewish charities and served as the chairman of the Jewish museum of London.

What else we’re reading ➤  American Jews confront antisemitism with resolve and worry … Israeli artificial intelligence startup helps firms like Nike and PayPal hire for diversity … Meet the Iranian American rabbi that Lizzo championed in her People’s Choice Awards speech.

ON THE CALENDAR

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Carl Reiner, center, on the set of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ with Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. (Getty)

On this day in history (1925): Dick Van Dyke was born. The Dick Van Dyke Show was conceived and run by the Jewish comedian Carl Reiner. Reiner initially envisioned himself as the show’s lead, but when CBS demanded it be recast, he picked Van Dyke, inaugurating a longtime comedic partnership. Reiner later wrote the film The Comic specifically for Van Dyke, who throughout his life spoke of Reiner as one of his foremost creative influences.

 

Last year on this day, Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister to visit the United Arab Emirates.

 

In honor of National Violin Day, we’re remembering that time in 2018 when Albert Einstein’s violin sold at auction for $516,500.

 

On the Hebrew calendar, it’s the 19th of Kislev, when the founder of Chabad, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was freed in 1798 after being imprisoned on charges that his teachings threatened the authority of the Russian Czar.

Tonight at 7 p.m. ET: Join Jodi Rudoren, our editor-in-chief, and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times for a conversation about Donald Trump, antisemitism, and the current state of politics. Register here ➤

VIDEO OF THE DAY

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Nissim Black, an Orthodox rapper, released the music video to his new Maccabee-themed single. “With ‘Victory,’ I tried to pull the miracle of Hanukkah closer to the individual,” Black said. “A lot of times, Jewish holidays seem to be remembering something that happened in the past and to our ancestors we don’t have a connection to. By calling the Hanukkah miracle ‘my victory’ it brings it closer to home. Which it should be.” 

 

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Thanks to Lauren Markoe, Jodi Rudoren and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter.

You can reach the “Forwarding” team at editorial@forward.com. 

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