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Showing posts from July, 2015

Vaetchanan and Swimming Torah

This week we find the words of the V’Ahavta in the week’s portion. “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) Two words found in the V’Ahavta summarize life’s most important work: 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. The Talmud explores the specifics. Parents must teach their children Torah. Okay we expected that answer from the great repository of Jewish wisdom. The Talmud continues: parents are required to teach their children a craft. Why? Rabbi Judah responds: Those who do not teach them a craft teach them thievery. And some say: to teach them to swim too. Why swimming? It is because their lives may depend on it. (Kiddushin 29b) I love that ancient rabbinic statement—and not just beca

Tisha B'Av, Tragedies and Celebrating

According to tradition Tisha B’Av marks far more than the destructions of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Mishnah adds even more calamities. On this day the ten spies returned to Moses with a negative report about the land of Israel, sowing discontent among the people and ensuring our wandering would last 40 years. On this day in 135 C.E. the Romans crushed the Bar Kokhba revolt, killing over 500,000 Jews and leveling the city of Jerusalem and its Temple Mount. In 135 our wanderings outside of the land began yet again and did not of course end until the modern era with the birth of the State of Israel. Later tradition suggests even more tragedies occurred on Tisha B’Av. The First Crusade in which nearly one million Jews were killed in Europe began on the ninth of Av. On this day as well, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, France in 1306 and Spain in 1492. On this day, in 1941, Heinrich Himmler (y”s) re

Mattot-Masei, History, Hope and Worries about Iran

On the day that images from Pluto were beamed back to earth from 3 billion miles away, we are debating the inner workings of something far closer to home, the intricacies of the human heart. It is around our view of the heart that the arguments about the recent Iran nuclear deal spin. President Obama appears to believe that within every human being there is a seed of evil and that therefore all people are redeemable because all are sinful. It is this view that colors his foreign policy decisions and in particular his approach to Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu by contrast believes that some are unredeemable, that there are those so inclined toward evil that we can only say, “Do not cross this line.” While hope might be on Obama’s side, history stands on Netanyahu’s. I do not trust the intentions of Iran’s leaders... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Pinchas, Shas, Reform Jews and Our Inheritance

Yesterday Israel’s Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, suggested that Reform Jews should not be considered Jewish. He said, “Let's just say there's a problem as soon as a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel. I can't allow myself to say that such a person is a Jew." This week we read about Zelophehad’s daughters. They approach Moses demanding that the law of inheritance be revised so that their father’s memory will endure. They say, “Our father died in the wilderness…. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27) Justice demands the law be changed. Right wing parties often criticize Reform, accusing it of picking and choosing from the tradition... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Balak and the Eye of Faith

I am presently in Jerusalem studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute where I am once again participating in its annual conference. I feel privileged to return to this place year after year to recharge my spiritual batteries and reacquaint myself with the tradition I so love. I am surrounded by colleagues who share my love of learning, debate and even argument, as well as devotion to Israel. I remain grateful to my congregation and its leadership for allowing me this time for rejuvenation. Given this yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, I realize that for the past fifteen years I have only observed July 4th from afar. Every year I have found myself here in Jerusalem for July 4th. I have also by the way marked Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, in May while at home on Long Island. It occurs to me that these days look far different from a distance. I cannot of course see the fireworks from here, but I wonder is it possible that the miracles of Israel and the United States shim