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An Orthodox woman says she is no longer welcome to pray at a New York synagogue because she is trans

(JTA) — When Talia Avrahami was asked to resign from a job teaching in an Orthodox Jewish day school after people there found out she was transgender, she was devastated. But she hoped to be able to turn to her synagogue in Washington Heights, where she had found a home for the last year and a half.

The Shenk Shul is housed at Yeshiva University, the Modern Orthodox flagship in New York City that was locked in battle with students over whether they could form an LBGTQ club. Still, Avrahami had found the previous rabbi to be supportive, and the past president was an ally and a personal friend. What’s more, Avrahami had just helped hire a new rabbi who had promised to handle sensitive topics carefully and with concern for all involved.

So Avrahami was shocked when her outreach to the new rabbi led to her exclusion from the synagogue, with the top Jewish legal authority at Yeshiva University personally telling her that she could no longer pray there.

“Not only were we members, we were very active members,” Avrahami told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We hosted and sponsored kiddushes all the time. We had mazel tovs, [the birth of] our baby [was] posted in the newsletter, we helped run shul events. We were very close with the previous rabbi and rebbetzin and we were close with the current rabbi and rebbetzin.”

Avrahami’s quest to remain a part of the Shenk Shul, which unfolded over the past two months and culminated last week with her successful request for refunded dues, comes at a time of intense tension over the place of LGBTQ people in Modern Orthodox Jewish spaces.

Administrators at Shenk and Y.U. said they are trying to balance Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law, or halacha, and contemporary ideas around inclusion — two values that have sharply collided in Avrahami’s case.

Emails and text messages obtained by JTA show that many people involved in Avrahami’s situation expressed deep pain over her eventual exclusion. They also show that, despite a range of interpretations of Jewish law on LGBTQ issues present even within Modern Orthodoxy, the conclusions of Yeshiva University’s top Jewish legal authority, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, continue to drive practices within the university’s broader community.

“I completely understand (and am certainly perturbed by) the difficulty of the situation. Nobody wants to, chas v’shalom [God forbid], oust anybody, especially somebody who has been an active part of this community,” the synagogue’s president, Shimon Liebling, wrote in a Nov. 17 text message to his predecessor. But, he continued, “When it came down to it, the halachah stated this outcome. As much as we laud ourselves as a welcoming community, halachah cannot be compromised.”

Liebling went on, using the term for a rabbinic decision and referring to a ruling he said the synagogue rabbi had obtained from Schachter: “A psak is a psak.”

The saga began this fall, several weeks after Avrahami lost her short-lived job as an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn, which she had obtained after earning a master’s degree at Yeshiva University. She had been outed after a video of her in the classroom taken during parent night began circulating on social media.

Around the High Holidays, when Orthodox Jews spend many days in their synagogues, Avrahami learned that people within the Shenk Shul community were talking about her, some complaining about her presence. As she always had, she had spent the holidays praying in the women’s section of the gender-segregated congregation.

Concerned, Avrahami reached out to the new rabbi, Shai Kaminetzky. He confirmed the complaints and told her he wanted further guidance from a more senior rabbi to deal with the complex legal issue before him: Where is a trans woman’s place in the Orthodox synagogue?

For Avrahami and some others who identify as Modern Orthodox, this question has already been resolved. They heed the rulings of the late Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, known as the “Tzitz Eliezer,” an Orthodox legal scholar who died in 2006. He ruled that a trans woman who undergoes gender confirmation surgery is a woman according to Jewish law.

But Waldenberg’s determination is not universally held among Orthodox Jews — and one prominent rabbi who does not accept it is Hershel Schachter. In a 2017 Q&A, Schachter derided trans issues, saying about one trans Jew, “Why did he decide that God made a mistake? He looked so much better as a man than as a woman.” He also suggested that a trans person asking whether to sit in the men’s or women’s section should instead consider attending a Conservative or Reform synagogue, where worshippers are not separated by gender.

“We know we’d have no problem if we were at a Reform or Conservative synagogue when it comes to the acceptance issue. The thing is, that’s not the only thing in our life,” Bradley Avrahami told JTA.

The couple became religiously observant after spending time in Israel and the two now identify as Modern Orthodox. They were married by an Orthodox rabbi in 2018, and when they had their baby via surrogate in 2021, it was important to them that the infant go through a Jewish court to formally convert to Judaism. Avrahami seeks to fulfill the Jewish legal and cultural expectations of Orthodox women, wearing a wig and modest skirts. The pair both adhere to strict Shabbat and kashrut observance laws.

“We didn’t want to be the only family that kept kosher at the synagogue, we didn’t want to be the only family that is shomer Shabbat and shomer chag,” Bradley Avrahami added, referring to strict observance of the Sabbath and holiday restrictions. “It kind of becomes isolating.”

Kaminetzky kept both Talia Avrahami and Eitan Novick, the past president, in the loop about his research, in which he consulted with Schachter. It was a natural place for him to turn: He had studied at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and learned from Schachter there. And while the Shenk Shul includes members not affiliated with Yeshiva University, it is closely entwined with Y.U., occupying space in a university building and hiring rabbis only from a list of options presented by the university.

After speaking with Schachter, Kaminetzky reached a conclusion, according to messages characterizing it by Liebling, the synagogue president.

“He made an halachic decision that Talia isn’t able to sit in the women’s section for the time being,” Liebling wrote Nov. 17 in a message to his predecessor as president, Eitan Novick. But Liebling left the door open for change, writing, “All in all, the ‘official shul policy’ is still being decided.”

He said Kaminetzky had spoken extensively the previous evening with the Avrahamis and had been determined to share his judgment in a way that was respectful “despite the difficult-to hear halachic conclusion.”

Liebling added a parenthetical: “I honestly can’t imagine how difficult it is for them. If I were told I couldn’t sit in the men’s section, I’d be beyond heartbroken and likewise feel displaced.”

Talia Avrahami did indeed feel heartbroken. She told Kaminetzky and others that she felt like she wanted to die, alarming her friends and prompting some of them to reach out to the rabbi. “The concern about Talia’s well-being is likewise the #1 — and only — factor on my mind right now,” Kaminetzky told one of them that night.

The Avrahamis stopped attending the Shenk Shul, but they held out hope for Kaminetzky to change his mind, or for the synagogue to set a firm policy that would permit her participation. Over the next six weeks, though, they heard nothing — a situation that so disappointed Novick that he and his wife also stopped attending. (Kaminetzky’s third child was born during this time.)

“We really feel like this is a pretty significant deviation from the community that we have been a part of for 11 years, which has always been a very accepting place,” Novick said. “This is just not the community that I feel comfortable being a part of if these are the decisions that are being made. It’s not just about the Avrahamis.”

While Avrahami waited for more information, Yeshiva University and Schachter were already in the process of rolling out what they saw as a compromise in a different conflagration over LGBTQ inclusion at the school. Arguing that homosexuality is incompatible with the school’s religious values, Yeshiva University has been fighting not to have to recognize an LGBTQ student group, the YU Pride Alliance, and has even asked the Supreme Court to weigh in after judges in New York ruled against the university. This fall, the school announced that it would launch a separate club endorsed by Schachter, claiming it would represent LGBTQ students “under traditional Orthodox auspices.” (The YU Pride Alliance called the new club “a desperate stunt” by the university.)

Multiple people encouraged Avrahami to make her case directly to Schachter. When she headed to a meeting with the rabbi on Jan. 1, she hoped that putting a face to her name and explaining her situation, including that she had undergone a full medical transition, might widen his thinking about LGBTQ inclusion in Orthodoxy.

The meeting lasted just 15 minutes. And according to Avrahami, who said Schachter told her she was the first trans person he had ever met, it didn’t go well.

In an email to another rabbi who attended the meeting, Menachem Penner, Avrahami said Schachter had called her “unOrthodox” and accused him of “bullying Rabbi Shai Kaminetzky into accepting bigoted psaks.”

Penner, the dean of Yeshiva’s rabbinical school, characterized the conversation differently.

“Rabbi Schachter rules that it is prohibited to undergo transgender surgery and does not accept the opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer post-facto,” he wrote in an email response that day in which he denied that Kaminetzky had been pressured to follow Schachter’s opinion.

“That’s simply a halachic opinion that many hold,” Penner wrote. “He did not call you ‘unorthodox’ — you come across as very sincere in your Judaism and he wished you hatzlacha [success] — but simply said that the surgery was unorthodox, meaning it was not something that is accepted by what he feels is Orthodox Judaism.”

The meeting so angered Avrahami that she asked Liebling to refund her Shenk Shul dues that day, saying that Kaminetzky had kicked her out of the congregation.

“Of course! I’ll send back the money ASAP!” Liebling responded. “I’m so sorry how things are ending up.”

Yeshiva University and Schachter, through a representative, declined to comment, referring questions directly to the Shenk Shul. Kaminetzky directed requests for comment to a representative for the Shenk Shul.

“We have had several conversations with the Avrahamis and we understand their concerns,” the Shenk Shul said in a statement. “It’s important to emphasize that the Avrahamis were not asked to leave the congregation.”

That response doesn’t sit right with Novick, who said blocking Talia Avrahami from praying on both the men’s and women’s sides of the synagogue was tantamount to ejecting her.

“They seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it, too,” he said of the synagogue’s leadership. “They may not be wrong in saying they didn’t tell Talia she was ‘kicked out’ of Shenk, but they’ve created a rule that makes it impossible for her to be a full participant in our community.”

Bradley Avrahami argued that the rabbis who ruled on his wife’s case were short-sighted, giving too little weight to the fact that Jewish law requires Jews to violate other rules in order to save a life. Referring to that principle and pointing to the fact that transgender people are at increased risk of suicide, he said, “It was pikuach nefesh for the person to have the surgery.” His brother, he noted, survived two suicide attempts after coming out as trans.

“They really just don’t understand the harm that they caused when they make these decisions and put out these opinions,” Bradley Avrahami said. “A rabbi should not take a position knowing that that position will cause someone to want to harm themselves.”

Bradley Avrahami said he has received several harassing calls to his work number at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School, where he is liaison for student enrollment and communications and taught Hebrew in the fall 2022 semester. Talia Avrahami, meanwhile, has struggled to find a job to replace the one she left under pressure in September, although she recently announced that she had landed a temporary position.

For now, they are attending another synagogue in Washington Heights, though Talia says she and her husband would consider returning to Shenk Shul if she were invited back and permitted to participate.

So far, there are no signs of that happening. On Jan. 1, after her meeting with Schachter, Talia sent a WhatsApp message to Kaminetzky.

“We elected you because you said you would stand up for LGBT people, not kick us out of shul,” she wrote.

The message went unanswered.


The post An Orthodox woman says she is no longer welcome to pray at a New York synagogue because she is trans appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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