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Showing posts from March, 2010

For the Sake of Heaven

In the spirit of machloket l'shem shamayim (argument for the sake of heaven) I share here the views of my good friend and colleague, Rabbi Sam Gordon of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Chicago, about the current crisis between the United States and Israel. I believe that President Obama wants what is best for Israel and the Middle East. He is fully in favor of the “Two State Solution” for the Israelis and the Palestinians, two states for two people. The Two State Solution should not be seen as a gift to the Palestinians or some kind of surrender by Israel. It is rather the best solution for Israel itself. Israel cannot remain both democratic and Jewish unless the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have a state of their own. The Zionist dream of a democratic Jewish state is impossible to achieve as long as Israel controls another people within its borders who are denied the basic political rights of self determination, while Israelis, living in that same area, are g

On Jerusalem

This week Netanyahu spoke before the AIPAC Convention and declared, "Jerusalem is not a settlement.  It is our capital.  The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied.  The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today."  Amen.  This is the point that Obama does not seem to understand or appreciate.  Judging by his words in Cairo last year, Obama's view of Israel is more along the lines of Herzl's vision of the Jewish state.  Israel is a response to antisemitism.  Israel is recompense for the suffering in the Holocaust.  This of course is partially true, but it fails to address the historical connection to the land of Israel.  And this point is at the heart of the issue today. Even today's Times called Jerusalem holy to Muslims, but failed to use the same adjective when describing Jewish claims.  The continued failure of the Palestinian leadership (and the world) to reco


At services tomorrow evening I will discuss the upcoming holiday of Passover, which begins on Monday evening, March 29.  For most, Passover is first and foremost about family and food.  The Seder is of course about more.  It is a meal filled with rituals and symbols.  All of these are intended to remind us of the joy, privilege, blessing and responsibility of being free.  One of my favorite symbols is haroset.  This apple, walnut, cinnamon and wine mixture is intended to be a remembrance of the harshness of slavery.  Unlike many of the other Seder foods this mixture’s symbolism is all about looking like something, like mortar.  It can be a mixture of just about anything.  At my family’s seder we have at least three different haroset recipes and have a haroset tasting.  For some of Claudia Roden’s haroset recipes follow this link .  My son Ari has been adding his own haroset recipe to our seder since his early years.  It has always had the perfect look, although not always the perfe


Today I inaugurated a new weekly email.  It is not about upcoming programs.  It is instead about Torah.  I hope you find it meaningful.  During good times and bad we should draw from the wellspring of Torah.  Interestingly this week’s Torah portion is Vayikra.  It is all about sacrifices.  It is all about stuff we no longer do.  It is about killing animals and sprinkling blood on the altar.  Pretty gross if you asked me.  Pretty foreign if you asked just about anyone.  But we believe there has to be something for us to learn even in a portion all about stuff we no longer do.  Otherwise why keep reading the Torah.  The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban.  It comes from karov, meaning to draw near.  The ancients believed animal sacrifices were therefore about how you get closer to God.  That desire is still part of our discussion and it is my question for this Shabbat.  How do we draw closer to God?  You are welcome to email me your thoughts about this question and I will have m

On Settlements

While the world appears to treat every Jewish neighborhood outside the 1967 green line as a settlement, settlements are not in fact a unified term.  The Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo that is now in question is not a settlement.  I don't know any Israeli who considers it as such.  It is part of the Jerusalem municipality.  There are large settlement blocs (Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel) that all agree will have to become part of Israel proper in any deal with the Palestinians.  There are just far too many people who live there to withdraw.  The pain (and continued price) of the Gaza withdrawal is not some distant memory.  As I have stated before, the issue, at least from the Israeli side, is not Ramat Shlomo or Maale Adumim but those settlements that are geographically and ideologically isolated.  These should be withdrawn for Israel's sake.  The practical costs of supporting them are too much for Israel to bear.  Even more important are the ideological issues.  M

Follow Up

Yesterday's papers presented a number of articles about the ongoing political crisis in Israel and between the Obama administration and Netanyahu government regarding Biden's visit. Tom Friedman in the Times compared settlement construction with driving drunk. "...Israel needs a wake-up call. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, and even housing in disputed East Jerusalem, is sheer madness. Yasir Arafat accepted that Jewish suburbs there would be under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal that would also make Arab parts of East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. Israel’s planned housing expansion now raises questions about whether Israel will ever be willing to concede a Palestinian capital in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem — a big problem." Again I would suggest that the crucial issue is the acceptance of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and the land of Israel not so much housing. The Washington Post explored the perceived growing divide b

Donniel Hartman Article

My teacher, Donniel Hartman, wrote a worthwhile article about the place of Israel advocacy in the Jewish pantheon. In light of last week's imbroglio and the upcoming AIPAC conference in Washington, it makes for interesting reading. Click on the post's title for the complete article. What follows are a few excerpts. Since Operation Cast Lead and the subsequent Goldstone Report, there has been an increasing sense that anti-Israeli opinion has moved beyond criticism of some of Israel's actions and policies to the delegitimization of the Zionist project as a whole. We Israelis and Jews must have no problem with constructive criticism. Our tradition has taught us that criticism is first and foremost an act of love and loyalty. We welcome it as a necessary check-and-balance in ensuring moral behavior. In fact, we have always been our own greatest critics. When we define all criticism of Israel's policies as anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic, we are neither accurate nor serving

Clinton's Rebuke

Today's papers reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu by telephone yesterday offering him a stern rebuke regarding the planned expansion of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.  According to the papers President Obama was furious over the ruckus created during Vice President Biden's visit last week.  Clearly Netanyahu's government erred in the timing of the housing permission's issuance.  Then again perhaps this is exactly what the right wing Interior Minister Eli Yishai intended.  Here is my view for what it is worth.  Jerusalem is not the same as the West Bank.  Call it East Jerusalem if you want, but the city is unified and must remain so under Israeli sovereignty.  Only under Israeli sovereignty have Jews, Muslims and Christians had access to their holy sites (except of course when rioting).  Israel gained control of these areas from Jordan during the 1967 war.  The ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo sits n

Biden's Visit to Israel

Vice President Joe Biden just returned from his visit to Israel.  He was there to reassure Israelis (and American Jews of course) of the United State's commitment to the State of Israel.  All was going according to plan until Israel's interior minister, Eli Yishai announced plans for the construction of 1,600 homes in a Jerusalem neighborhood on the other side of the green line.  "You see," everyone now says, "Israel is not really interested in peace."  Actually Israel and the vast majority of Israelis, as well as Jews everywhere, have been bending over backwards to make peace for generations.  Israel has steadfastly declared Jerusalem a unified city and not part of the West Bank.  That the timing of this announcement was mishandled by Yishai is of course true and Netanyahu has since publicly chastised him, but the more fundamental truth is that it is always easier to blame others than take responsibility for your own problems and failures.  So how about thi

No More Snow, Please

Winter has waned and with it my sorrow, the fruit trees flower like my joy. Spikenard and myrrh send up their scents, and orchards of treasures blossom and thrive within them hearts of friends delight.... So wrote Nahum in late thirteenth century Spain.  I echo his sentiments!  I heard the birds singing this morning.  For more Hebrew poems from medieval Spain see Peter Cole's The Dream of the Poem .

More Earthquakes

Bret Stephens writes in today's Wall Street Journal: "Earthquake magnitudes are measured on a logarithmic scale. The earthquake that hit Northridge in 1994 measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. But its seismic-energy yield was only half that of the 7.0 quake that hit Haiti in January, which was the equivalent of 2,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs exploding all at once.  By contrast, Saturday's earthquake in Chile measured 8.8. That's nearly 500 times more powerful than Haiti's, or about one million Hiroshimas. Yet Chile's reported death toll—711 as of this writing—was a tiny fraction of the 230,000 believed to have perished in Haiti."  Stephens goes on to extol Chile's superior building codes and far superior economy as explanation for the vastly different number of casualties.  I don't know enough about economic theory in general and Milton Friedman in particular to make a judgment on the question that he addresses.  But it is of course obvious to e