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Showing posts from May, 2010

Shalom Hartman Institute - Rabbi Donniel Hartman

Using Prepared Scripts Perpetuates Hateful Rhetoric Rabbi Donniel Hartman writes about today's unfortunate news. "It is time for all those of decency to declare, "Enough." It is time to begin a new conversation, one in which legitimate acts of self defense on Israel's part are no longer labeled automatically as acts of aggression and war crimes. Nor should attempts to better the plight of Palestinians, including those affiliated with Hamas, be labeled by definition as anti-Israeli and political."

Wrong Numbers

Wrong Numbers This article is a critique of Peter Beinart's article. The authors observe: Our response to Beinart and others who share his view of a profound and growing schism between liberal American Jews and establishment advocacy organizations is not based on political differences. Rather, our concern is that he and others have allowed their own political allegiances to color their interpretation of the views of the broader American Jewish public. In so doing, they give a distorted impression of American Jewish opinion and overlook important developments in the relationship of American Jews to Israel. As a result of these [Birthright] initiatives, for the first time, in some studies a larger share of young adults report having been to Israel than older adults. For these young adults, Israel is a central part of their identities in a way that was simply untrue for the vast majority of their parents’ generation. They have more direct ties to Israel including Israe

Despite Obama’s Delusion, Changing The Words Does Not Change The World | TNR

Despite Obama’s Delusion, Changing The Words Does Not Change The World | The New Republic More on the question raised by this week's parsha. Marty Peretz writes: "It's official now. You cannot use "Muslim extremism" or "Islamic terrorism." Not because the words don't describe a real phenomenon in the world. An ugly phenomenon. And, alas, an abundant phenomenon. But because the president doesn't like the thought. And he certainly doesn't like the religious adjective."

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment | The New York Review of Books

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment | The New York Review of Books This is a very powerful article and with it Peter Beinart has generated a great deal of discussion and controversy about the failures of the American Jewish establishment. He argues that the establishment is failing to create a sense of attachment among young American Jews towards Israel. I urge you to take the time to read the article in its entirety. What follows are a few quotes from this article. Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and

Bret Stephens Article

For those who are unable to access Bret Stephens' article online here is the complete text. The Mosque at Ground Zero by Bret Stephens The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2010 The conservative blogosphere is buzzing with outrage over plans to build a 13-story mosque and Muslim cultural center just a few hundred feet from Ground Zero. As a resident of lower Manhattan, I see it differently: The center—to be known as Cordoba House and built (if it is ever built) at a cost of $100 million—might yet serve as an excellent test case for tolerance. Muslim tolerance, that is. That, at least, is how the concept is being advertised by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Kuwaiti-born imam whose brainchild this is. "We see it as a major step toward the Americanization of the Muslim community," Mr. Rauf told members of the financial district's community board, which approved the project unanimously less than a week after the attempted Times Square bombing. His wife, Daisy Khan, w


In this week’s portion, Behaalotecha, we read the words “vayihi binsoah ha-aron” sung during the Torah service. “When the Ark set out, Moses would say: ‘Advance, O Lord!  May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!’”  Long ago the Reform movement, and the Reform prayerbook we now use, excised these words from its liturgy, arguing that these sentiments were not befitting a prayer. They believed that religion should only promote peace and not use the language of war.  I wonder about this decision.  While I steadfastly believe in the importance of peace, I also believe a religion’s most important teachings are the lessons of right and wrong.  Judaism seeks to draw a line between good and evil.  And so in our tradition’s view peace can only be achieved when justice is advanced.  Peace may be furthered by sacrificing grudges and burying anger, but it is never about giving up on justice.  It is not about sacrificing right and wrong.  And this sense of ju

West Bank Settlements

West Bank Settlements Become Havens of Israeli Suburbanites - I don't typically read The Christian Science Monitor but recently received a free copy in the mail. This article by Yasmine Soiffer is a worthwhile read, even though it was written September 2009. It explores the motivations of those moving to communities outside the Green Line. What the world calls settlements most living there see as suburbs. A few excerpts: Ideology was what brought the first waves of settlers into the land Israel captured on the west bank of the Jordan River in the 1967 war, some of them keen to return to earlier settlements they'd lost in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's establishment. In the early 1970s, a socioreligious movement called Gush Emunim, or bloc of the faithful, drew to settlements people motivated by the concept that Israel's success in 1967 was divinely inspired, that the Jewish people's return to their biblical homeland si

Naso Sermon

This week’s Torah portion is Naso from the book of Numbers.  Much of this portion and the previous portions in Leviticus reflect a priestly culture.  If you need to say thank you to God, bring an animal to the priest to sacrifice.  If you have a problem go to the priest.  In fact this week’s portion details the strange sotah ritual in which a husband who suspects his wife of adultery brings her to the priest and has her drink a magic potion in order to determine her guilt or innocence.  Leaving aside the details of the ritual, the context clearly reflects the ultimate power and authority of the priest.  Everything goes through the priest, even of course the priestly blessing.  This blessing is one of the most familiar blessings in the Torah, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the light of the Lord’s face shine upon you; may you always find God’s presence and be blessed with peace.” With the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Judaism shifted away from this pri

Peace, Love and (Mis)Understanding

Elvis Costello just announced that he will cancel his concerts in Israel.  He writes on his website : "It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July. One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament. Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent...."  What a shame!  The growing anti-Israel campaign where Israel is seen as increasingly illegitimate and likened to apartheid South Africa is gaining adherents in many circles.  There are divestment campaigns and now calls for boycotts.  All of these suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation.  Israel is by no


This week’s Torah portion is Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89).  It details a number of items: a census of the Levites, the tribe assigned to priestly duties; the sotah ritual for determining the guilt of an adulterer (although I remain skeptical that drinking a water and earth mixture can actually determine guilt and so I believe the ritual was instead intended to assuage jealousy and anger); the Nazarite vow, pledging those adherents to God and setting them apart from the people by insisting that they abstain from drinking alcohol (rather un-Jewish if you asked me) and by refraining from cutting their hair (hence the most well known Nazarite is Samson); and finally in chapter seven, the last bit of preparations for the tabernacle’s use. At the conclusion of chapter six about the Nazarite’s vow occurs one of the most familiar blessings in the entire Torah, the priestly blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the light of the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to

Bamidbar Sermon

Let’s begin not with Jewish tradition but with some observations about other religious traditions.  In the Muslim tradition, Mecca is the most important city.  This is where Muhammad first proclaimed Islam.  The fifth pillar of Islam states that everyone who is able must make a pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime, to Mecca.  This is called the Haj and it is the largest pilgrimage celebration in the world. Hinduism as well has several holy cities to which people make pilgrimages.  Christianity has the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and Bethlehem where he was born.  Visiting these places, walking in Jesus’ footsteps, is an enormously important act for believing Christians. By contrast we still can’t find Mount Sinai.  Perhaps that is part of our tradition’s intention.  No place should ever become overly venerated.  Ours is a search for truth rather than a search for a destination.  Perhaps we can even say that the journey is more importa

Happy Shavuot

Tomorrow evening begins the holiday of Shavuot.  Unlike the festivals of Passover and Sukkot there is no seder to prepare and no sukkah to build and so Shavuot is the least observed of our major holidays and probably as well the least well known.  This is rather ironic given that the holiday celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  Then again given that the central act of Shavuot is studying rather than eating one can understand why it is less compelling than the other holidays.  (To learn more about Shavuot visit Tablet Magazine’s website .) Nonetheless Torah is central to our lives, specifically Talmud Torah, the study of Torah.  It has never been the mere act of reading Torah that is so important but studying and pouring over its words year in and year out.  This of course is the essence of the weekly Torah reading cycle. The mystical tradition of kabbalah gives us what has become one of the most important customs of the holiday, Tikkun L’eil Shavuot, an

Hava Nagila in Kuwait

Singer's Performance of Hava Nagila Sparks Debate in Kuwait Unfortunately most articles posted by MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute, an organization devoted to translating the Arabic media into English) paint an unflattering view of the Arab world. Such is the reality of what is said in Arabic in Middle Eastern papers. The following story, however, is thankfully atypical. Below is the introduction from MEMRI's report. You can read more, especially the debate that ensued in Kuwait's daily paper, by following the link.   On February 27 and 28, 2010, a Kuwaiti folk group headed by singer Ema Shah, which performs songs and dances from around the world, gave two concerts at the Kuwait University Alumni Club. In addition to songs in Arabic, English, Spanish and Japanese, the program included the Hebrew song "Hava Nagila," as well as some songs by Jewish French singer Enrico Macias. On the first night, the songs were received with warm applause

O Jerusalem

O Jerusalem Another Tablet Magazine article worth reading. We might prefer to believe in the mythic Jerusalem over the earthly, but Zionism means that we must face the reality.  We can no longer live in an idealized Jerusalem.  We must come to terms with how apart Jerusalem stands from the rest of Israel.  As much as I love Jerusalem, the reality is not nearly as perfect. Liel Leibovitz writes: One, of course, may disagree that a capital must, or can, represent its nation. We may argue whether or not Washington, D.C., say, embodies the United States, or what is quintessentially Dutch about The Hague. But Jerusalem has always been special: While it is an earthly city, it is, unlike most of the world’s capitals, also a theological concept, the sum of all the Jewish people’s yearnings and beliefs. When Israeli paratroopers reunified the city 43 years ago, many, like Kollek, believed that now, finally, heaven and earth would move a little bit nearer together and that the actual


This week’s portion begins the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers.  In Hebrew the portion and book are called, Bamidbar—in the wilderness, specifically in the wilderness of Sinai. Isn’t it remarkable that nearly the entire Torah, from leaving Egypt in the beginning of Exodus to Moses’ death in the closing of Deuteronomy, occurs in this non-descript place, the wilderness?  The most significant events in our early history occur in the midbar, wilderness.  The Torah, our most treasured possession, is revealed not in some sacred precinct that we visit in yearly pilgrimages but instead on a mountain that has yet to be discovered.  We know only that Mount Sinai is a mountain somewhere in the vast expanse of the Sinai desert.  Our faith was born, and God revealed, in a deserted wilderness. We spend a good deal of our lives building, decorating, painting and landscaping our homes as if they were our sacred towers, as if they contain revelation, as if they are where the

Supreme Court Justice

I have been reading with great interest the stories about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court.  I have always found the Supreme Court the most interesting of US institutions so such nominations renew my interest and admiration for the court.  The fact that liberals are complaining that she is not as liberal as they would like, especially given some of her writings on the prosecution of terror suspects and the fact that conservatives are complaining that she is too liberal on such questions as gay and lesbian rights, might make her the perfect justice.  The New York Times today editorialized that she lacks the opinion paper trail to determine her judicial mindset and therefore properly judge her credentials.  All this complaining and negative editorializing actually comforts me.  I believe there should be two simple qualifications for a Supreme Court justice.  She must be an intellectual heavyweight and be exceedingly knowledgeable about the law.  It would appear that

Song Cycle

Song Cycle Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, is celebrated on Wednesday. This day marks the reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War. The song, Yerushalayim shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold, symbolizes that event and this holiday more than any other song. Naomi Shemer's song is not without controversy. To learn more about the song and its convoluted history, this Tablet Magazine podcast is worth listening to. One question raised in the podcast should be pondered at length. Is our heavenly, mythic vision of Jerusalem a betrayal of the earthly return to history envisioned by modern Zionism?

Behar-Behukotai Sermon

A number of people have asked me to share my answers to the questions I pose in my Thursday email.  Although my sermons are mere responses to these questions, and never answers, I am thankful for the request. I share here a summary of Friday's drasha.  For the full, detailed, version you have to come to Shabbat Services. The Torah speaks with a certainty about life and death, reward and punishment that is contrary to our real world experience.  "You shall observe My laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security..."  As much as I would like to say that the more you observe the more you get it is not true. So my question for this week is why should we observe.  I reject the notion that we should observe out of reward and punishment.  I don't want our Torah to become a protective amulet.  This is demeaning to our greatest book.  Such a view makes the Torah into a mere to do list. Why observe?  Why do Jewish things?  Why eat matzah? 

Forgive Not | The New Republic

Forgive Not | The New Republic Gary Wills' recent piece is a powerful article about the failures of his Church. He writes: "All those who honor the name of Jesus are engaged in a joint search for the Jesus who will not be found in marble halls or wearing imperial costumes. He is forever on the run. He is the one who said, “Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest [ elackistoi ], you did to me” (Matthew 25:41). That means that the priests abusing the vulnerable young were doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus. Any clerical functionary who shows more sympathy for the predator priests than for their victims instantly disqualifies himself as a follower of Jesus. The cardinals said they must care for their own, going to jail if necessary to protect a priest. We say the same thing, but the “our own” we care for are the victimized, the poor, the violated. They are Jesus." This identification with the suffering victims is a Christianity I most admire.

Connect to Care

Yesterday evening our congregation helped sponsor the Jericho Networking Event for those seeking employment as well as a B2B Professional Networking Meeting for employers.  For more information about this community resource please visit the Connect to Care website here .  What follows are my remarks from the event. There are those who believe that their faith is a private matter spoken in hushed tones and observed within the confines of their homes.  There are others who think that their Judaism is best practiced within the walls of their synagogues.  We believe however that our Judaism must reach beyond our homes and synagogues.  These are places where our faith begins and from where it draws sustenance, but our Judaism must never end in the synagogue and home.  The synagogue is but a means to an end of bringing healing to our world. This evening is dedicated to this very task.  We are keenly aware of the fact that there are those who continue to search for employment. 

In the Toilet

In the Toilet Shalom Auslander writes: "I think the first question you need to ask yourself when writing a book about the Holocaust is this: Who wants to read another book about the Holocaust? About any Holocaust. Because I sure as hell do not. I was once asked to review a book about the Holocaust, and I couldn’t even do it then—and that was a paid gig. If a Jew can’t even bring himself to read a book about the Holocaust for money, then, folks, something has gone terribly wrong. And so I set out not to write a book about the Holocaust but to write a book about the endless talk of genocide, about the glorification of suffering, about the possibility that “never forgetting” and “shutting the hell up about it for one god-damned minute” aren’t mutually exclusive." Read more here !


This week’s Torah portion is Behar-Behukotai and concludes the book of Leviticus. It describes the sabbatical and jubilee years. Every seventh year the land must lie fallow. In the seventh year even the land observes Shabbat. Every fiftieth year all debts are forgiven and everything and everyone returns to its original state. Freedom is restored to all people and every acre of land on this year. While the sabbatical year is still observed, although only in the State of Israel, the fiftieth jubilee year is not. However the command about the jubilee year forms the basis of the inscription on the Liberty Bell. The description of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:10 reads: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land…” This verse was selected because the Liberty Bell marked the fiftieth anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges. In Leviticus 26 the Torah also proclaims: “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments I will grant your rains in their seaso