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Showing posts from July, 2013


I am often asked whether or not Judaism believes in heaven and hell.   Usually the question is framed in the following manner.   “Rabbi, Judaism does not believe in heaven and hell, right?”   The answer comes as a surprise to most.   On the contrary, Judaism does believe in heaven, and even hell.   Of course with all things Jewish the answer does not end there. First of all our terminology is different.   We call heaven, olam haba, the world to come and hell, gehinnom, or as it is sometimes rendered in common parlance, gehenna.   These ideas developed during the rabbinic period, alongside their development within early Christianity.   Our images for these otherworldly abodes, however, are different.   Judaism hesitated to codify a description of olam haba and gehinnom.   It left their details to rabbinic imaginations and preserved disagreements about its contours.   Nonetheless it resolutely affirmed these ideas. Judaism believes that if God is all-powerful and just, then the


This week’s Torah portion contains one of our most well-known prayers, the Shema and V’Ahavta.  “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) We recite this prayer every time we gather as a community, but have we ever paused to think about its meaning and ponder its words.  What does it mean to love God?  Moreover, how does one love God?  Love can sometimes be chall enging and difficult.  This is why there are so many songs and poems about love, especially those about losing love. The ancient rabbis, in their wisdom, recognized this difficulty.    The Sefat Emet, a great Hasidic master, teaches that everyone wants to love God, but distractions and obstacles often get in the way.  By performing mitzvot he taught, we remove these obstacles and distractions and let our souls fulfill their natural inclination of loving God.  In his worldview righteous


Proclaim Liberty to the Wall The Talmud reports that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among Jews.   On Monday, on Rosh Hodesh Av, the day that begins the intense mourning period for the destruction of the Temple, I witnessed the Talmud’s words come to life. I accompanied my wife and 300 other women and joined Women of the Wall for their monthly prayer group.   We were called Nazis and Amalekites, Israel’s ancient sworn enemy.   A few eggs were thrown.   My friend’s daughters were spit on.   We continued to pray.   We sang, “Ozi v’zimrat yah—my strength and songs to God will be my salvation.” (Psalm 118:14) The morning began, ironically enough, at Liberty Bell Park where the police insisted we gather before traveling to the Wall.  There we boarded buses for the short drive to the Dung Gate.  We were accompanied by police cars and then escorted by officers through the entrance to the Western Wall plaza.  Haredi, ultra-Orthodox, leaders had bused


Although I am currently in Jerusalem studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute, my thoughts turn to today’s holiday of July 4 th .  I have been thinking about the soldiers who over the centuries fought to gain our independence and still, continue to fight to guarantee our freedom.  I have been thinking about the pain these battles and wars continue to take on our soldiers. This past fall there was a powerful article in The New Yorker (Dexter Filkins, “Atonement”) about one soldier’s journey to gain forgiveness from the Iraqi family he harmed.   On April 8, 2003 he and his fellow Marines had mistakenly shot twenty innocent Iraqi civilians.   That day continues to haunt many of the soldiers of Fox Company, Second Battalion, Twenty-Third Marine Regiment.   Years later, one of its soldiers Lu Lobello sought out one of the survivors.   Margaret Kachadoorian had made her way, along with her only surviving child, to Glendale California.   She agreed to meet with Lobello.   From th