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Showing posts from July, 2011


The news is filled with murder and violence.   Our city recently witnessed the grotesque murder of an eight year old Hasidic boy.   Last week Norway was savaged by mass murder.   Yesterday in Iraq twelve were murdered in a double bombing outside a bank.   Against these painful images we recently watched as Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her baby daughter. Such killing is not new to society.   The Torah offers great detail about how to approach murder and killing.   In fact this week’s Torah portion, Masei, suggests several important details.   Premeditated murder for example is a capital crime punishable by death.   Intent is determined by the weapon used.   “Anyone who strikes another with an iron object so that death results is a murderer.”   Anger and hatred as well suggests premeditation.   “So, too, if he pushed him in hate or hurled something at him on purpose and death resulted…” (Numbers 35:16-21)   However two witnesses must publicly testify against the accused


This week’s Torah portion is Mattot and begins with a discussion about vows and promises. “If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.” (Numbers 30:3) It should be noted that the Torah offers different laws about the vows made by women. I, however, read the opening verse as applying to both men and women. Often we pledge to go on diets, exercise more, perhaps study more Torah, not yell at our children (or parents), or reconnect with friends. We have the best of intentions when we make these vows, yet we often find it difficult to fulfill these promises beyond their initial days or weeks. The summer is filled with the best of intended promises. We hear such words, “I have more time now so I will finally read that book I have sitting on my shelf.” At the wedding ceremonies that fill the summer months, couples recite ancient vows affirming their newly claimed


As people ascend to the main exhibition halls in the newly renovated Israel Museum they walk alongside water cascading down a constructed rivulet.  James Snyder, the museum’s director, explained its symbolism to the group of rabbis.  The water cleanses.  We enter the exhibitions with unencumbered souls.  Water washes away whatever we bring in and we enter the museum with open minds. In ancient times sacrifices were offered on the heights of the Temple.  On Sukkot especially the sacrifices reached their zenith.  This week’s Torah portion offers details of the Sukkot sacrifices.  70 bulls were slaughtered on the altar, in addition to 14 rams, 98 lambs and seven goats.  It was a bloody week long celebration.  At the conclusion of Sukkot was the long since forgotten holiday of Simhat Beit HaShoeva, the water drawing celebration.  Copious amounts of water were poured over the Temple and its altar. In a land where water is so scarce it is remarkable to reflect on the central ritual of this

The West Bank

Yesterday we boarded buses and set out for a most interesting tour about the landscape and topography of a future peace agreement. We first met with Danny Siedemann, a lawyer and leading proponent of the Israeli peace camp, who argued that any peace agreement begins and ends where we stood in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah.  Despite the neighborhood's overwhelmingly Arab character in recent years Jews have moved into a number of homes and established a Jewish enclave there.  They have made the grave of Shimon HaTzaddik into a Jewish pilgrimage site.  In Danny's view if such "settlements" are allowed to continue it will destroy any hope of a two-state solution, by eliminating the possibility of Palestinian contiguity. A divided land represents the only hope for peace.  It is ugly but it is the reality of this place and promises the best future.  Two nations for two peoples. From this overlook we traveled to the West Bank community (settlement) of Beit Aryeh. 


“How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!  ” (Numbers 24:5) I arrived in Jerusalem Sunday evening as the sun was setting on the first day of the week.  I found again a city filled with life and vitality. The rabbis suggest that the world was granted ten measures of beauty, but nine were given to Jerusalem.  I have read this Talmudic text many times.  Often I have found it to be exaggerated.  I have been privileged to see many beautiful cities.  I love San Francisco with its hills and jagged Pacific coastline.  I hear that Paris is an extraordinarily beautiful city and Venice a lover’s paradise.  There are even days when the beauty of our very own Long Island is stunning. Yet when I am here I feel the rabbis’ sentiment.  I believe that this city of Jerusalem does indeed hold nine measures of beauty.  It is difficult to fathom when we sit in New York reading of Israel’s struggles and Jerusalem’s conflicts.  We see only problems and difficulties.  From afar the city’