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Showing posts from February, 2012


When I visualize cherubs, even though I don’t much believe in these mythic beings, I still imagine Michelangelo’s renderings.  So much of our religious imagery is taken from Renaissance art.  The great artists of those days still continue to provide us with many of our visual religious images.  This is ironic given that Michelangelo for example mistakenly carved horns for Moses rather than the Torah’s “rays of light.”  And despite our tradition’s insistence otherwise, we continue to imagine Eve handing Adam an apple.  Judaism suggests the fruit was a pomegranate, fig or etrog.  So why do we depend on Renaissance artists when these angelic cherubs are described in our very own Torah? In this week’s portion, we read of the details of the ancient tabernacle and the cherubs that adorned it.  “You shall make a cover (kapporet) of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  Make two cherubim (keruvim) of gold—make them of hammered work—at the two ends of the cove

Iran Is Not Cuba

Iran Is Not Cuba Gershom Gorenberg's wisdom and insights are worth noting. He suggests that the panic about Iran is more prevalent here rather than in Israel. ...[T]he people around me in Israeli society don't seem to be panicking. Perhaps it's because no one I know has received official notice that it's time to get gas masks from the Home Front Command—in contrast to the nationwide distribution effort during the period of real tension before the 1991 Gulf War. In fact, the low level of public preparedness suggests two possible conclusions: Netanyahu, Barak, and other top officials could be confident, or terribly overconfident, that Iran and its allies will not retaliate in a serious way. Alternatively, the bellicose public comments and sundry leaks are designed for political purposes, foreign or domestic. He also argues that the comparisons to 1938 Germany are flawed. ...[T]hinking in 1938 terms risks an even more hard-line implication: Any diplomatic engagemen


The Talmud offers the following counsel regarding abortion: “If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth, one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus. But if the greater part was already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.” (Mishnah Oholot 7:8) Two insights emerge from this text. If a woman’s life is in danger then abortion is permitted—and even demanded. Jewish authorities continue to debate what might constitute a threat to the mother’s life. More traditional authorities argue only a physical threat, more liberal offer expansive interpretations, including psychological dangers. The second insight however is the more significant and informative for our contemporary debate. The mother’s life takes precedence over that of the fetus. As I watch today’s shrill discussions I find myself growing increasingly agitated. My religious commit

Wolpe vs. Beinart

Opinion: Wolpe vs. Beinart | Jewish Journal Rabbi David Wolpe offers an important corrective to criticism of Israel from the left.  Wolpe writes: ...The parade of self-confident sophistries is confounding. “Denied rights simply because they are not Jews.” Beinart’s phrase elides a torturous history of renunciation, rejection, terror, promises of annihilation and, well, war. It places the entire burden of the conflict on the Israelis, inhabitants of the only state in the world whose existence is constantly questioned and threatened. It turns what has been a painful (and, to be sure, sometimes brutal) occupation of a population, with agonizing options on both sides and blood-strewn sidewalks, into the thinly veiled implication of racist oppression. If you said the reverse, that the Arab nations made war on Israel “just because they were Jews,” you would have a more supportable sentence.  ...Is there no room for honest dissent? I am no fan of the settler movement. I agree that two st

Going To Melody

Leon Wieseltier: Going To Melody | The New Republic This article is a beautiful meditation about the too often ignored costs of our emerging (emerged?) digital age.  We prize the immediacy of news and information.  We equate Googling with learning.  We fail to recognize that in the process we may lose the meandering achievement of knowledge.  Wiesletier writes: It is a matter of some importance that the nature of browsing be properly understood. Browsing is a method of humanistic education. It gathers not information but impressions, and refines them by brief (but longer than 29 seconds!) immersions in sound or language. Browsing is to Amazon what flaneurie is to Google Earth. It is an immediate encounter with the actual object of curiosity. The browser (no, not that one) is the flaneur in a room. Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is pre


This week’s Torah portion contains the Ten Commandments. According to Jewish tradition, these ten are delineated as follows and are called instead Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Sayings. 1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 2. You shall have no other gods beside Me. 3. You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God. 4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 5. Honor your father and you mother that you may long endure on the land. 6. You shall not murder. 7. You shall not steal. 8. You shall not commit adultery. 9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. People often place these commandments above others. In fact I often hear the following, “I am not that religious, but I do follow the Ten Commandments.” While contemporary culture gives these commandments such prominence, their place within Jewish tradition is far more convoluted. It was once the case that these c

January-February Newsletter

What follows is my January-February 2012 Newsletter article.  Sorry for the delay in posting this article. Here are my answers to our students’ Ask the Rabbi questions. Can you get the words in English for your bar/bat mitzvah? No.  I assume this question is about how hard Hebrew can sometimes be to read and chant. Every one of our students has always been able to lead the prayers.  That is why we meet with students for over six months to help get them ready.  Sometimes students write notes for themselves in their books to help them remember how to say difficult words, but you can never do that in the Torah scroll.  Every student at the JCB reads from the Torah scroll.  That takes hard work and practice.  Bar/bat mitzvah means taking responsibility for your own Judaism.  It is not always easy.  I believe that the things that are the best are not those things that are the easiest.  I know you can do it!  Besides you get to read from the most important Jewish book!  On your bar

Beshalach Sermon

In this week’s portion the people finally leave Egypt.  They do not travel very far before they are nearly overtaken by Pharaoh and his army.  We read of this famous scene describing the Israelites standing at the shore of the Sea of Reeds, fearful again for their lives.  Everyone knows the story.  God of course splits the sea and the people travel through.  The Egyptian army is drowned in the sea. There are two midrashim about this event and the questions about miracles that it raises.  The first is a modern midrash. 1. Even though the splitting of the sea was a great and wondrous miracle some people still only saw the mud beneath their feet.  They never looked up.  They only saw the mud dirtying their sandals.  The lesson is clear.  There are many miracles, all around us, but sometimes we only see the mud. 2.  According to an ancient midrash, God did not bring this miracle immediately.  God waited until the people demonstrated their faith.  And the people waited for one pers

Some Medals are Pinned to Your Soul

Bartali Honoured For Saving Jews During The Holocaust | A fellow cyclist shared this article about Gino Bartali, the Italian champion cyclist and winner of the Giro d'Italia in 1936, 1937 and 1946 and the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948.  Apparently Yad VaShem is researching whether he also deserves recognition as one of the Righteous of the Nations, those who worked to save Jews from the World War II Nazi death machine.  His long rides were not the apparent training rides that others thought them to be but instead efforts to smuggle documents to Jews seeking to escape.  These documents were hidden in his bicycle.  It is also reported that at least on one such occasion he led Jews across the Alps himself.  Explaining it as part of his training he pulled a wagon behind his bicycle with a secret compartment holding Jewish refugees.  His efforts helped to save the lives of 800 Jews.  His only public comment about these efforts was the statement: "Good is somethin


According to the rabbis every word in the Torah is perfect; every phrase has a purpose. The unusual sparks a question. A teaching follows. The rabbis ask why this week’s portion begins with the word, vayehi? “Vayehi—And it came to pass, when Pharaoh sent the people away…” (Exodus 13:17) This word adds nothing to the plain meaning of the verse. It appears redundant. From this word alone mountains of teachings are spun. Thus the rabbis of the Talmud teach that wherever the Torah states vayehi distress is implied. (Megillah 10b) And then upon this teaching later rabbis offer additional insights. The Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Rabinowitz asks: What distress was there when the Israelites left Egypt? The purpose of the plagues, which God brought upon Egypt, was to instill faith in the hearts of the Israelites and to gradually develop within them a yearning for freedom and a strong desire to free themselves of the shackles of Egypt and its depravity. In the end, after all the plag