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Showing posts from August, 2011


Parents tell their teenagers, “You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you get a tattoo.”  This often repeated tale is meant to dissuade young adults from following the example of their peers and engraving a tattoo on their bodies.  To be honest, the tale is not true. Tattooing is of course contrary to Jewish tradition, but it would not by itself constitute a reason for the denial of burial rites.  Perhaps people suggest it would do so because it is a visible sign, even following death, that the person was not observant of Jewish law.  But some people observe many Jewish traditions.  Others observe few.  The denial of burial for any person would show a supreme lack of compassion in the face of tragedy. Interestingly the biblical verses prohibiting tattooing connect tattooing to mourning rituals.  Our Torah portion states: “You are the children of the Lord your God.  You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead.  For you are a people consecrat


According to rabbinic legend a fetus knows the entire Torah when in the womb.  When the fetus is born, however, an angel kisses the baby on the lip, producing the recognized indentation, and the child forgets everything.  Now this child must spend a lifetime learning Torah.  It is a curious legend.  The rabbis imagined that we begin life knowing everything but then forget. Years ago as my grandmother withered away in a nursing home, we watched her mind become increasingly vacant.  Her body remained strong years beyond her mind’s forgetfulness.  On the day that we brought her great granddaughter for a visit she attempted to bite her.  The adult had became the infant.  My young daughter looked at me with questioning eyes.  I remember especially the early years of Nana’s dementia.  She understood that she was forgetting more and more.  In fact when she learned that she would soon become a great grandmother she remarked, “What good will that be if I don’t have my mind.”  She


Every year I study a selected text with parents of upcoming b’nai mitzvah.  As many of you know this year I shared a selection from this week’s portion, the V’ahavta.  “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.  Take to heart these instructions which I charge you this day... (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) In particular I explored the meaning of the line: v’shinantam l’vanecha--and you shall teach them to your children.  On the surface the meaning of this verse seems obvious.  Parents are obligated to teach their children everything, in particular Torah.  They are commanded to teach their children about their Jewish heritage.  They are instructed to teach their children values. In Hebrew there is a common word for teach, m’lamed.  Here the Torah uses the word, shinantam.  This word derives its meaning from the Hebrew, to repeat.  Why would the Torah use the word, repeat?  I asked parents this question “Why would the Torah


For some time after the start of text messaging between father and daughter I believed “LOL” meant “Lots Of Love” rather than “Laugh Out Loud.” To my mind “Lots Of Love” made far more sense. And so in this age of abbreviated slang I find myself lost and out of touch with my daughter. Perhaps that is part of the purpose. Youth always develop words and sayings that cast the older generation outside. Parents struggle to understand their children. This week’s Torah portion is the first portion in the last book of the Torah, Devarim. It opens with the following statement: “These are the words (devarim) that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy 1:1) The setting for this final book is Moses’ last speech to the people. Moses is getting old and is about to die. The mantle of leadership will soon be handed over to Joshua. The people are about to enter the land of Israel. The generation who was enslaved in Egypt has died in the wilderness. M