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Showing posts from July, 2010


This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, offers us a classic formulation of reward and punishment contained in the second paragraph of the Shema: If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late.  You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.  Take care not be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them.  For the Lord’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Lord is assigning to you….  (Deuteronomy 11:13-17) This formulation is troubling because it conflicts with how the world works.  It offers us a stark, and perhaps even harsh, correlation between the observance of mitzvot with reward

Vaetchanan Discussion

At Shabbat Services we discussed the Shema and V'Ahavta, and in particular the command to love the Lord your God.  I asked how does one love God?  When is it easy?  When is it difficult?  The answers varied, but many agreed that love of  God is most pronounced when one needs God, especially when one is asking for healing.  When such prayers are not answered, when our struggles intensifies and is even lost, many feel it is difficult to love God.  This view is analogous to the parent-child relationship where the child defines love by needs.  I also suggested that there are those who profess a love for God but do not live it and there are others who live day in and day out a loved of God but find it difficult to profess.  We discussed two opposing views from our tradition, that of the Midrash who argues that we love God by loving people and the Sefat Emet who suggests that our natural inclination is to love God but the daily grind and clutter of living gets in the way.  I am unsure if

Faces And Faiths | The New Republic

Faces And Faiths | The New Republic This is another phenomenal and challenging article by Leon Wieseltier. His critique of Israel's Chief Rabbinate is extraordinary and well articulated. ...The problem is the very existence of the Chief Rabbinate. It is a poisonous institution. It has diminished Judaism into an apparatus of the state and conflated it with power and patronage. It disguises low politics with high theology. Its resort to coercion in matters of belief is a mark of spiritual emptiness. In its outrageous pretension to central religious authority, it is a deeply unJewish office that would abolish the local and improvisatory and variegated character of Jewish religious life since the Sanhedrin. The Chief Rabbinate was not created by God at Sinai; it was created by the attorney general of the British mandatory government in Palestine. Many of its occupants (though not the one who was my cousin, of course) have been intellectually mediocre. It has become the mo


This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, contains one of our most well-known prayers, the Shema and V’Ahavta.  “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) We recite this prayer every time we gather as a community, but have we ever paused to think about its meaning and ponder its words.  What does it mean to love God?  Moreover, how does one love God?  Love can be challenging and difficult.  This is why there are so many songs and poems about love, especially about losing love. The ancient rabbis recognized this difficulty.   So let’s turn to some of our tradition’s commentaries and look to the wisdom of our predecessors. The Sefat Emet, a great Hasidic master, teaches that everyone wants to love God, but distractions and obstacles always get in the way.  By performing mitzvot, he taught, we remove these obstacles and distractions an

A Call for State-Sanctioned Religious Tolerance

A Call for State-Sanctioned Religious Tolerance More on the Conversion Bill and the arrest of Anat Hoffman at the Western Wall by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College. He concludes: For Jews in both the Diaspora and in Israel who are committed to Israel as both a democratic and a Jewish state, these episodes call into question whether the state itself actually possesses those commitments. The impediments and restrictions placed before non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism by the Israeli government are matters of serious concern because they reveal that the State employs coercion and imposes a limited range of acceptable practices on Jews who have diverse conceptions of Jewish religious authenticity. This struggle for Jewish religious freedom is a principled fight for justice that expects the state to be impartial in defining authentic religious Judaism. It is high time that the legitimacy and authority of different branches of rel

Rabbis for Israel Mission Statement

Mission Statement This is worth signing!  The statement says in part: "We, the undersigned, believe that Israel has a legitimate right to exist as a sovereign, democratic Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. We support a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that will recognize two independent states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace, security and prosperity.  We call upon the Arab and Muslim world to accept unequivocally and publicly Israel’s permanent right to exist in peace."  Amen.

Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World

Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World - Great article about creating a sense of Shabbat in the modern world.  Here is one quote to tantalize: "'The second you write down the rules, it doesn't work for me,' Reuben Namdar said.  He believes that the Sabbath of everyday Jews, rather than the Sabbath of the disputers and the thinkers, was never as strenuous or elaborately thought-through as the Orthodox Sabbath is today: 'You ate well, you slept well, you had sex, you were in a special state of mind, you did not chastise the kids.  It was organic.'"

Tisha B'Av 2010

Tisha B'Av 2010 - Why Mourning AND Recovery are Sacred I appreciate Brad Hirschfield's take on the video of a survivor dancing at a concentration camp to the tune of "I Will Survive."  (You can find the video at the below link.)  Rabbi Hirschfield writes: In that spirit, I found this video of Holocaust survivor Adolk Korman dancing with his family in the very places where he was victimized 65 years ago to be truly beautiful. I appreciate that others may find sacrilegious what I find to be sacred, but how different is that than those early rabbis who were busy creating Judaism 65 years after the collapse of the Temple in Jerusalem? Like Mr. Korman and his family, they chose to celebrate life even in those places where they had suffered. Like Mr. Korman and his family, they sang and danced in the shadow of those places where they had seen their loved ones perish and their spiritual center burned. I am sure that then as now, some people felt that such beha


Franz Rosenzweig, the great 20th century Jewish philosopher, argued against Zionism believing that sovereignty would inevitably corrupt morality. Recently The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof has offered numerous op-eds about Israel and in particular its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. And this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, reiterates God’s promise to the Jewish people of the land of Israel: “See, I place the land at your disposal. Go, take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to assign to them and to their heirs after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8) I have spent the past two weeks studying Zionism and Israel and exploring the complexities of life here in the land of Israel, examining for example the morality of war and the difficulties of fighting terrorism. These are no easy topics and the sessions have been both enlightening and at times disturbing. On Monday, I traveled with Friends of the Earth Middle East to the Jeru

Graduation Ceremony

Follow this link to read more about my graduation ceremony.  The occasion marked the conclusion of three years of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute.  I was named a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Institute.

Jerusalem Film Festival

On Thursday evening I again attended the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival.  It is one of my favorite summer activities here in Jerusalem.  This year a French film, "La Rafle--The Round Up" opened the festival.  The film stars Jean Reno who was present to open the festival.  David Broza, the Israeli folk singer, also appeared to open the event with a few songs.  The movie tells the story of the round up of Parisian Jews during the summer of 1942, through the lens of a few families and in particular their children.  The film is not an extraordinary work of art, but the film and experience were extraordinary nonetheless.  This French Jewish film shows the active participation of French leaders and officials in the Nazi genocide.  It accurately portrays them as active decision makers, not forced accomplices.  It is most important that this have the widest viewing in France.  Even more remarkable was the experience of watching this film in Sultan's Pool, the ancient, out


Thoughts of war and reports of conflict preceded my arrival to Jerusalem.  I however found none.  I discovered only a city intoxicated with life. This week’s Torah portion describes Israel’s war with the Midianites.  It is an ugly affair.  Moses instructs his commanders to spare no one.  “Moses became angry with the commanders and said, ‘You have spared every female!  Yet they are very ones who induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord...’” (Numbers 31)   Today in Israel the papers reported a different approach to waging war.  They reported that Israel would prosecute a soldier for manslaughter in the Cast Lead operation of January 2009.  The staff sergeant is accused of shooting and killing a Palestinian woman.  The army’s advocate general has investigated 30 similar cases. Most Israelis appear proud that their country seeks to live by the highest moral standards, even when waging a conflict with terrorist organizations who refuse to follow


What is the worst sin?  According to the Bible and Talmud it is the sin of idolatry.  Why?  If you start bowing down to idols you will end up attaching too much importance to things rather than family, friends and people.  Such is the logic behind the story of Pinhas. The Torah relates the following story.  The people are gathered on the banks of the Jordan river, poised to enter the land of Israel.  They have become intoxicated with the religion of the Midianites, sacrificing to their god, Baal-Peor.  They participate in its orgiastic festivals.  Moses tries to get them to stop, issuing laws forbidding such foreign practices, but the people refuse to listen.  God becomes enraged.  "Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions...  When Pinhas saw this he left the assembly and taking a spear in his hand he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly.&qu