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Showing posts from January, 2014

Terumah, Dolphins and the Super Bowl

In preparing the tabernacle the Israelites slaughtered many animals, among them dolphins. These were the requirements detailed in this week’s portion. “And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece…. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.” (Exodus 25) Dolphin skins?, one might ask. Yes, even dolphins. This past week we read about Japan’s slaughter of dolphins. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has brought this practice to light when she tweeted, “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.” (The notion that virtues and morals can be reduced to 140 characters wou

SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson and BDS

Scarlett Johansson, the new official spokesperson of SodaStream, the Israeli company who has purchased a Super Bowl advertisement spot, is facing controversy from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.  SodaStream is located in the West Bank.  It is specifically located in the Maale Adumim industrial park.  Maale Adumim sits right outside of Jerusalem and has a population of some 40,000 residents.  To most Israelis it is a Jerusalem suburb.  To the vast majority of peace negotiators it is one of the three large settlement blocs that will be incorporated within the borders of the State of Israel.  Such facts are of course immaterial to the BDS movement.  Scarlett Johansson released an official statement yesterday: While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I'd like to clear the air.  I remain a support

Mishpatim, Keeping Kosher and Weaving Meaning

“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:19) With this seemingly obscure verse, repeated three times, a mountain of laws is built. From this one verse the kosher laws requiring the separation of milk and meat are spun. Jewish law derives three prohibitions: cooking milk and meat together, eating any combination of these and as well deriving benefit from this mixture. Why? The traditional explanation is that a mother’s milk sustains life. It must therefore never be combined with an animal’s flesh. Eating meat is seen as a compromise to human wants, and perhaps needs. It must then be framed by certain constraints. We cannot eat any meat we want. Hence the lists of permitted and prohibited animals. We cannot eat hunted animals. Our tradition argues that they might have suffered too much. We cannot eat meat with the milk that would have sustained its life. Such are our tradition’s reasons. It is of course possible that all the Torah meant was that we ar

Yitro and the Ten Commandments

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.   Part of the reason for this name is that the first commandment is not in fact a commandment but instead a foundational principle. 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. (Exodus 20) It is interesting to note as well that this week’s portion is named for someone who is not an Israelite.   It is called Yitro.   He is the father in law to Moses

Riding in Circles

The following is the sermon delivered at Friday evening Shabbat services. When we were younger all of us took our required math classes.   Some of us enjoyed these.   Many did not.   In those classes we learned about the basics of adding and subtracting, multiplying and in my most advanced class, division.   Later we learned geometry and there I first found out about this magical number called Pi.   Pi is a curious number.   It is a mathematical constant of 3.14159 and so on.   In recent years it has been calculated out to 10 trillion digits.   In theory it goes on into infinity without ever repeating.   It is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.   It is in a word the constant around which a circle revolves. Like a circle the Torah is perfect and so I am given to wondering, what is its Pi.   What is the verse around which the Torah spins?   Is it its opening verse: Bereshit bara Elohim—In the beginning God created heaven and earth?   Without a beginning that

Shabbat Meditation

The following is the meditation offered prior to yesterday's Shabbat services. Shabbat is about perspective. This morning although it was snowing, raining and sleeting the temperature was 30º. Compared to the beginning of the week’s -15º wind chill, I felt warm. It only takes a bitterly cold day, or few days, to appreciate and be thankful for an ordinary winter day. That is Shabbat. When life feels cold it warms us. It offers us a day to draw in that extra breath, the neshamah yetirah, that additional soul granted to us on this day. We sing our songs, we offer our prayers, we gather as a community to gain perspective on the week. Our troubles and frustrations appear less bothersome, our difficulties and pains seem more manageable. We emerge strengthened. Our perspective is restored.

Beshalach and Writing Circles

Years ago, when I was nine, my friend and I were misbehaving on the camp bus.   On that particular day there was no counselor to manage the campers, only a bus driver.   And so we were jumping up and down on the back seats, and screaming and shouting.   I know this is hard to imagine given how little I move on the bima, but we were even running up and down the aisle.   The bus driver understandably grew angry with us.   We ignored every request to stop.   Perhaps the final straw was when we burst into laughter after he yelled at us.   He pulled the bus over on what was St Louis’ equivalent to Jericho Turnpike.   He ordered us off the bus.   We happily complied, grabbing our bags and lunches as we walked off the bus.   This was not a punishment but instead an opportunity, we thought.   Rather than calling our parents at the nearby bagel store or any number of stores along the way, we decided to walk to my friend’s house.   Although we did not know the area, we could see the local h

Bo and the Plague of Silence

I have been thinking about the cost of my freedom.   In particular what is the cost to others for my freedom?   How many innocents have died in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or our continuing drone war?   To be sure the wicked have been killed and terrorist attacks prevented.   Still I wonder how many innocent civilians have been killed so that I can continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of my life, to walk around a city unafraid, to sit in a restaurant with friends, to dance at a wedding celebration. Last month we read that a drone strike killed eleven people in Yemen as they were traveling in a wedding convoy.   It was reported that those killed were most likely affiliated with Al Qaeda.   It is also possible and perhaps even likely that at least some were innocent wedding goers.   Every Spring we gather around our Seder tables and pause to recall the plagues: Daam-Blood, Tz’fardeiah-Frogs, Keenem-Lice, Ahrov-Wild Beasts, Dehver-Cattle Plague, Sh’cheen-Boils, Barad-Hail,