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Showing posts from August, 2010

Tshuva as the Foundation for the Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Discourse

By Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute In a provocative and thoughtful column, my teacher, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, writes: ...The refocus of our High Holidays on the human responsibility to change is founded on a number of essential principles which are of great significance, especially this year. The first is the belief that change is possible. Our tradition is not naive about human beings. It knows that in general perfection is impossible and failure is endemic to the human condition. At the same time the deepest meaning of our belief in free choice is that no particular failure is inevitable, and at the same time that no particular failure is incapable of being overturned.  ...A Jewish society is one where there is a constant openness to confront one's own failings and which is in regular search for paths of self improvement. To assume one's righteousness and concentrate one's efforts on pointing out the failures of others is again to ignore the princ

Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah portion begins with the rituals we are to perform when entering the land that God promises us. After harvesting the first fruits of the season the farmer performs a special ceremony.  He brings a basket of fruit to the priest who then places it on the altar.  The farmer then recites the following ritual formula: “My father was a wandering Aramean.  He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there…  The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.”  (Deuteronomy 26:5-10) In this brief formulaic encapsulation of Jewish history, the Torah emphasizes our journey from wandering to landedness.  God brought us from slavery to freedom and from the wilderness to the land of Israel. It is interesting to note tha

Ki Tetze Discussion

At Shabbat Services we discussed the following mitzvot found in this week's Torah portion. If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.  If your fellow does not live near your or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.  You shall do the same with his donkey; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent. (22:1-3) If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.  Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.  (22:6-7) When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not b

Peace Cannot Be a One-Way Street | We Are For Israel

Peace Cannot Be a One-Way Street | We Are For Israel The following post by Rabbi Micky Boyden captures many of my sentiments about the current peace negotiations.  He writes: I have friends, who today are supporters of J-Street, and were involved in Peace Now at the end of the 1970’s. I was there too, back in the old days. I voted for Yitzhak Rabin z”l, and remember him saying: “We shall fight terror as though there were no peace, and make peace as though there were no terror”. I still have a bag bearing the stickers “Peace Now” and “A Whole Generation Seeks Peace”. But then came the 2nd Intifada, Intifada Al- Aqsa , which claimed the lives of over 1,100 Israelis and left many thousands more wounded, some of whom still bear the physical and mental scars of their injuries to this day. None of us will forget how the Palestinians danced on their rooftops as Scud missiles fell on Tel Aviv, and rejoiced as the Hizbollah rockets pounded our northern towns and villages. I un

Ki Tetze

Many people think that a mitzvah is a good deed.  Jewish tradition however understands this term to mean a God given commandment, a sacred responsibility.  According to the tradition there are 613 mitzvot gleaned from the Torah. There is the familiar, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and the obscure, “You shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen.”  There are ethical mitzvot and ritual.  There are positive and negative.  There are laws that are dependent on the ancient sacrificial cult and therefore no longer applicable and there are other laws that are only incumbent upon those living in the land of Israel. Genesis gives rise to only three commandments.  Exodus provides us with the familiar commandments to observe Passover and Shabbat as well as the demand that we not oppress the stranger.   Leviticus gives us the laws of keeping kosher and those surrounding the incomprehensible sacrifice of animals.  Numbers commands us to wear a tallis and Deuteronomy to give tzedakah

Op-Ed Columnist - Islam and the Two Americas -

Op-Ed Columnist - Islam and the Two Americas - In yesterday's Op-Ed, Ross Douthat offers more on the debate that I suspect will rage for some time. He begins: "There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims. But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — a


This week’s Torah portion begins: “You shall appoint justices and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people with due justice.  You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. (Deuteronomy 16:18-19) Last week Elena Kagan became a Supreme Court Justice.  In affirming this duty she took the following oath of office,  “I, Elena Kagan do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and grant equal rights to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as Associate Justice under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.” There is a great deal of confluence between our American system of justice and that of the Jewish tradition. Both begin with a written text

Reeh Discussion

At Shabbat Services we discussed the mitzvah of tzedakah contained in this week's Torah portion.  Many questions were raised.  How do you determine a person's need?  Is it simply a matter of what s/he says s/he needs?  What if s/he refuses the offer of food or clothing and insists only on money?  Despite these praticial difficulties, Judaism counsels that it is our responsibility to support the needy.  Tzedakah is a fundamental commandment.  While it is our social responsibility to give tzedakah to those less fortunate than ourselves Judaism does not believe in a socialist ethic.  We must care for others, but we are not to impoverish ourselves in these efforts.  Most importantly, we discovered in Maimonides' ladder of tzedakah, that tzedakah is first and foremost about the recipient.  The giver's feelings are secondary.  The essence of tzedakah is about its root, tzedek--justice.  It is not about the charitable spirit but instead about re-balancing injustice

Why Jews Should Support Mosque Near Ground Zero

Guest Voices: On Faith at by Rabbis David Ellenson and Robert Levine The authors conclude: Since 9/11, many Muslims have felt similar broad brush rejection just because they practice the faith of Islam. No distinctions among Muslims are made by their critics. Blame and derision are unconscionably hurled upon an entire faith. History has well taught us how indecent and immoral it is when an entire faith group is held culpable for the acts of a few. An Islamic Center and mosque north of Ground Zero will make the powerful statement that persons of all religious faiths can stand together as children of God. Historic memory requires us to behave with simple decency and affirm the proposed plan of our moderate and law-abiding Muslim sisters and brothers to construct this Center. We look forward to the day when we can join together with our colleagues of all faiths in dedicating this religious center which will represent the triumph of love over hate, hu

Start Up Nation

This is a feel good video about the roots of technological innovation in Israeli society. We would do well to take to heart the observation that Israel is a nation of risk takers!


This week's  Torah portion Reeh discusses the mitzvah of tzedakah. “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.  Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.  (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) In order to clarify this commandment, the great medieval thinker, Moses Maimonides, delineates a ladder of giving. There are eight degrees of tzedakah, each higher than the next. 1. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment. 2. Below this is that of the person who gives tzedakah to poor people, but the giver doesn’t know to whom he is giving nor does the recipient know from whom he is receiving. This constitutes giving for i

Mosque at Ground Zero

For several months I have been reading with keen interest the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic Cultural Center at 9-11's Ground Zero.  The $100 million center would be called Cordoba House.  You can read more about the proposal on the group's website .  I have a mixture of feelings about this idea. First the positives.  It appears that this initiative and in particular its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a moderate Muslim who is at home in America and most importantly at home with its ideas.  He has as well been active in interfaith affairs for many years.  In an age where religion in general and Islam in particular is becoming increasingly radicalized we would do well to help nurture moderate forces who wish to integrate Islam with Western values.  I am even willing to support their efforts despite their apparent refusal to distance themselves from the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.  I must say that I prefer and most admire denunciations of specific terrorists