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Showing posts from August, 2012

Ki Tetzei

In a recent column in The New York Times ( "Motherlode," August 9, 2012), KJ Dell’Antonia writes: “To the best of my recollection, when I did something wrong as a child, my parents blamed me.  When my children do something wrong, I blame myself.  A good parent would have taught them better.  In our determination to be the very best we can be, we’ve created a catch: when our children fail, we fail.” The Torah concurs: “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)  Leaving aside the question of capital punishment, which the Torah most certainly finds legitimate and the rabbis make impossible to exact, the Bible and the Jewish tradition we have inherited teaches that an individual is responsible for his or her own crimes, sins and mistakes.  In the ancient Near East family members were sometimes punished for the crimes of others. In other words if a

Israeli Racism: Changing the Discourse

Israeli racism: Changing the discourse | Naomi Schacter | The Times of Israel It is not that I don't recognize the dangers of Iran or of Hezbullah or of Hamas.  It is just that I have great confidence in the IDF and Israel's security apparatus.  I therefore see the internal threats as more insidious and even dangerous.  While focusing on the external we tend to forget about the internal.  Or because we talk so much about the external we begin to view the internal through a similar lens. Naomi Schacter writes: Just as Israel has not just a legal but a moral obligation to act against all racist attacks by its own citizens, so it must maintain a strong moral public face and utter honesty with its own history. The validation of the Israeli Arabs’ historical suffering in the creation of the Jewish state would not invalidate the State of Israel or negate its identity as essentially Jewish. Rather, it would acknowledge that natives of this land suffered loss and deprivation as t

Say It Ain't So, Lance

Lance Armstrong's Decision Not To Fight Doping Charges : The New Yorker Martin Schoeller writes: That is why I am so deeply appalled by his announcement yesterday that he would no longer fight the charges against him. He said he was tired of the fight. Tired? Really? Armstrong made it clear on several occasions he would fight to the death. (My favorite Lance quote about pain, clearly applicable to the accusations, is, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”)  Yes, quitting lasts forever. And he did not even have the decency to admit his guilt. Oddly, two of my colleagues—both of whom had ridiculed me mercilessly for supporting Lance—wrote to me today to say that they actually felt sorry for the guy.  I do not. Lance Armstrong stood for something. He was a man who, despite the hatred, the envy, and the odds, would never quit, would

Shoftim

What is so terrible about a tree? In keeping with Deuteronomy’s near obsession with idolatry and its desire to eradicate all objects of foreign worship from the land of Israel, we read: “You shall not set up a sacred post (asherah)—any tree-like object beside the altar of the Lord your God that you make—or erect a stone pillar; for such the Lord your God detests.” (Deuteronomy 16:21-22)  Last week’s theme continues through this week. An asherah, sacred post, was apparently a standing wooden object erected at a place of worship.  In other words it was a totem pole.  It could have also been a particular type of tree that was deemed sacred by the ancient Canaanites.  Or, perhaps it was a tree that was planted near their temples.  Interestingly the name for a Canaanite goddess was Asherah.  Trees, or wooden objects, were thus associated with this goddess and explicitly forbidden.  The sentiment is clear.  Anything that even approaches Canaanite religion or worship i

Elul

A story. A young rabbi arrived in an East European town eager to serve his new congregation. During his first day he was given a tour of the town by one of the city’s leaders. Eventually they came to the Jewish cemetery where, as was the custom, all of his rabbinic predecessors were buried in a common section. As they passed by the gravestones something began to become frighteningly clear – the ages on the stones. The life of one rabbi was 34 years, another 28, and yet another was a mere 23 years. In fact there was not one person who survived past 40. As he began to realize this, the new rabbi started sweating. He began to believe that the community was so difficult; it was killing off its rabbis. His guide, sensing the young rabbi’s growing panic, and fearing that he might leave the new congregation, said, “Let me explain something. Then you can make your choice about leaving or staying. These dates are not the number of years that these people lived. They are instead the numb

Reeh

In the traditional haggadah we read the following prayer when opening the door for Elijah: “Pour out your fury on the nations that do not know you, upon the kingdoms that do not invoke your name, for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home.  Pour out your wrath on them; may your blazing anger overtake them.  Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of Adonai!” Added to the haggadah during the bloody Crusades, these words seem out of step with our modern, universal values.  Even though we are sympathetic to the origins of this prayer, our liberal haggadahs have deleted it from our Seders.  We speak instead about the messianic peace that Elijah will announce rather than the vengeance he might exact. This week’s portion begins with a similar sentiment.  Here it is not a prayer but a command.  “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, whether on lofty mountains or on hills under any luxuriant tree. 

What's Standing in the Way of Palestine's Success?

What's Standing in the Way of Palestine's Success? – Tablet Magazine This is an interesting article about Mitt Romney's recent speech in Jerusalem.  Smith examines the question about the cultural differences between Israeli and Palestinian societies.  Romney suggested that Israel is successful, and Palestinian society is not, because of their cultural heritage.  Palestinians of course cried foul and said, "No it is all because of Israeli occupation." Romney was accused of a major diplomatic gaffe.  Smith writes: "Erekat and Masri are correct—so long as the word occupation is understood in a fuller context. Instead of building a bustling economy, the Palestinians have devoted their energies to waging war against Israel for more than 60 years. The absence of a Palestinian state is proof that this war has been unsuccessful, wasting almost three generations of Palestinian talent."  This is indeed correct.  The culture of victimization in Palestinian societ

Ekev

Our hearts are joined in sorrow with the Sikh community.  What a terrible and unspeakable tragedy.  Even though this murderous attack occurred outside of Milwaukee it should be viewed as an attack here.  And even though it occurred at a Sikh Temple it must be seen against us as well.  This was not the murder of Sikhs alone but an attack against Americans.  This was an attack on American values.  There are those who wish America to be a homogeneous whole.  I prefer difference.  I value heterogeneity.  This country must always stand for pluralism.  We must stand with those of different faiths and proclaim that was not simply against one faith community but an attack on all.  This week we must stand as Americans.  My response to this tragedy is twofold: to mourn the victims and to embrace the multiplicity of cultures that make up the American landscape.  I refuse to say, “Look at what happened to them.”  Instead I say, “Look at what is happening to us!” This week’s Torah portion con

The Ugly Ways Jews Talk to One Another

Daniel Gordis on the Ugly Ways Jews Talk to One Another – Tablet Magazine Daniel Gordis offers important insights about the state of dialogue, or lack thereof, in the Jewish community.  He observes: We have no Temple now, of course. We do have a Third Jewish Commonwealth, a state that faces unremitting hatred from its neighbors and much of the international community. Without question, we need to defend it. But as Tisha B’Av looms, we would do well, I think, to ask ourselves what kind of a Jewish world we’re defending and whether, even if we’re successful at preserving the Jewish State, those whose loyalty we desperately need will want to have anything to do with us.

Vaetchanan

For the first time in my life I moved into a home where the mezuzahs were already affixed to the doorposts. Last week we moved our offices into 430 North Broadway where we will be sharing space with Jericho Jewish Center. In the previous office space we placed the mezuzahs on the doorways. We did the same at the Brookville Reformed Church after Reverend Ramirez graciously allowed us to do so. But now there was no need to ask permission. There was no need to purchase mezuzahs to place on our office doors. They were already there. They adorn every doorpost. Every house, every apartment, every office I ever moved into, this task fell on me. Even at the 92nd Street Y I had to purchase a mezuzah to place on my own office door. Here they were provided. Here others performed this mitzvah for us. Even though it was an extraordinary measure of friendship that we were allowed to affix a mezuzah in the church’s social hall, here at 430 North Broadway the plethora of mezuzahs means some