Tag Archives: Jewish

How Do We Receive Torah

At Shavuot, how we receive the gift of Torah is one of the great questions posed.  I found a path towards understanding in a passage of the Talmud.

One is really two and two is really four. This is not a set of alternative facts but an insight from the Talmud (BT Shabbat 2a) about the nature of things. Shavuot is the time of the giving of Torah. But in any transaction there are two components, giving and receiving; one is really two. But it doesn’t stop there.

Both giving and receiving are either active or passive. In giving, we can thrust it towards another actively or we can be passive and open our hands for the other to take it. Similarly, in receiving, we can actively take the gift with eagerness and enthusiasm, or we can open our hands to passively receive the gift that is to be bestowed upon us. Two is really four.

So at this time of matan haTorah, the giving of the Torah, how do we receive it? Our tradition focuses that this is a gift from God to us and it is about the giving. The Eternal gave it once but we are always receiving Torah. And although we think of ourselves as all being at Sinai in this incredible moment, each generation comes to Torah to take it as their own. It is entirely up to us to accept it passively or embrace it actively.

How will we come to Torah?

Will you grab the Torah with gusto or just accept it. Is it truly a gift a living thing that brings meaning to us, something extraordinary to be treasured, loved, and lived; or is it some musty manuscript kept safely away in an Ark in a place we rarely visit if ever? The choice is ours, collectively and individually.

Perhaps it is this distinction in the way we receive this gift that helped God understand that the generation that received Torah was not the generation ready to enter the Promised Land. For the way we receive a gift can affect how the giver gives the next gift, which builds on the first. If we receive it enthusiastically and with gratitude, the gift giver might be more excited to bestow the next gift. And if we receive it passively perhaps the giver might consider whether, in fact, the recipient was ready for it or for the next gift.

This brings to mind the phrase mitzvah goreret mitzvah (Pirkei Avot 4:2) a good deed encourages more good deeds. So at this special time and place, are we able to exclaim a special Shehecheyanu, enthusiastically offering gratitude to God for this amazing gift of Torah, and use it to live our lives fully and with meaning, and preparing ourselves for God’s next gift?

 

Every Leaving Always Late

Modesty and a seat too far

seating chart The current seating spat aboard El Al planes reminds me of seating elsewhere in the Jewish world. When planning the wedding, the seating chart seems to rank as important as the Chuppah. Aunt Sophie wont sit with Uncle Benny who would be upset if he didn’t sit next to cousin Terri who is rooming with Sophie’s daughter. The brouhaha about certain men refusing to travel next to a female other than his wife on a plane seems easy enough to overcome long before there is a confrontation on the airplane. This on board argument helps reinforce the old expression that EL AL was an acronym for “Every Leaving Always Late” and is an unfortunate commentary on our ability to get along.

 This is an issue for the men in question, not the rest of the passengers. The easiest solution is for men who have this need to be required to buy the seat(s) adjacent, if other El_Al_Boeing_777-200such observant men do not also book seats. Preflight booking can ask if this seating issue exists. If the yes box is checked, then a new level of scrutiny is developed. If the box is not checked, there is not consideration. The seating chart can be developed using computer algorithms. Alternatively, sections can be set aside for the observant. If seats are not available, the section can be expanded or the plane listed as sold-out for that section.  Maybe business class could be reserved for all women who find they are bearing the brunt of this bad treatment. Maybe we do a first come first served approach. The balagan that is the El Al boarding process would look much the same as it does now.

 There seem to be a multiplicity of solutions available long before boarding takes place. For a land touted as among the technology centers, this problem seems far from daunting.  To create an argument on the plane or make some passengers feel unwelcome seems to be the worst possible alternative.  My guess if that if the airline were held accountable, a workable solution would be quickly found. Maybe the pending lawsuit is the needed catalyst.

Nisiyah Tovah!

Klal Yisrael- Unity against hatred and bigotry

BOR letterFortunately there is pushback

 The rise of Islamophobia in our country is deeply troubling. All people who embrace American Ideals should be troubled, speaking out and pushing back against this racism. Only those overwhelmed by fear or hatred can find the anti-Islamic message comforting. We Jews find this particularly problematic because our history is rife with persecution of the most horrific kinds.

 Klal Yisrael is speaking out. All our denominations, all of our respected institutions are renouncing acts of hatred and the perpetrators. Whether it is the desecration of a mosque in Philadelphia or the vitriol of hate mongers, Jewish values do not abide the despicable acts that are eerily similar to those historically experienced by our people.

 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbinical Reconstructionist College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Aleph, just to name a few, have spoken against xenophobia and hatred.   Our own Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and our Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s JCRC under the leadership of Adam Kessler have also expressed support of the Moslem community in response to the Mosque desecration.

 I am heartened as an American, as a Jew and as a Rabbi that we reaffirm our Jewish values at this time. Regardless of how we practice, our Judaism commands us to take this principled stand. Although Chanukah has passed, the miracle of light continues to shine for all of us.

Jewish Refugee Letter

November 19, 2015

Dear Senator/Representative,

We, the undersigned Jewish organizations, write to express support for refugee resettlement. We urge you to oppose any legislative proposals that aim to halt U.S. resettlement efforts or restrict funding for any groups of refugees, include Syrian refugees.

In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps. That moment was a stain on the history of our country — a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion, and antisemitism.

Last week’s devastating attacks in Paris and Beirut are examples of the brutal violence that Syrian refugees are fleeing. We are disheartened to see many U.S. politicians citing these tragic events as a reason to put safe haven further out of reach for refugees. At this critical moment, when there are more refugees and displaced persons than at any time since World War II, we must protect refugees and asylum seekers, not scapegoat them.

The U.S. government has extensive security measures in place to distinguish between those fleeing violence and those seeking to commit it. In fact, refugees are the most thoroughly vetted of all types of immigrants entering the country. Security is an important part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, as it must be, but so is compassion.

In 1939, our country turned away victims of persecution and violence. We implore you to not make that same mistake today.

Sincerely,

Ameinu
American Jewish Committee (AJC)

Anti-Defamation League
Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA)
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)
Habonim D’ror North America
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
HIAS
National Council of Jewish Women
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
Uri L’Tzedek

Happy Holidays

TurkeyWhen is it okay to participate in holidays traditionally reserved for others?

 Most of us are preparing for Thanksgiving. We have embraced Thanksgiving as the quintessential American holiday, and as such, we will be planning travel to visit other relatives, prepare a bountiful table and of course watch the Macy’s parade in the morning and football thereafter. American Jews embrace Thanksgiving, just like all other Americans, but we struggle with other American holidays. Although almost all of us celebrate Thanksgiving, many of us still wrestle with Halloween and most of us would not consider celebrating Christmas.

 These three holidays are iconic parts of living in America. And all three share religious backstories. Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ is certainly the most obvious. Halloween is grounded in pagan rituals and Thanksgiving is essentially a Christian Sukkot, rooted in a Christian religious tradition of gratitude for God’s bounty. What makes the secularization of this holiday such that we are able to embrace it and celebrate, stripping it of its original grounding and retelling the story in a way that it can become ours, and why are we unable to do likewise with the others?

 Many of us kept our children from Trick-or-Treating worried that dressing up in a costume and participating was an affirmation of a pagan ritual of witches and warlocks. However, Halloween has been stripped of its religious meaning. I read recently how one rabbi used a creative Jewish lens through which the celebration included sharing excess candy collected by her children with the less fortunate. One of my fonder memories is taking my son by the hand, dressed in a costume that mom created, while I was dressed up as a giant hamburger. The only bad part of Halloween was the stomach-ache and crash after my sugar high from over indulgence.

 Christmas is a more complicated situation. But in this age of acculturation, interfaith couples and of course commercialization, there are places where we can enjoy the holiday. I say that very cautiously and carefully because I do not want to be disrespectful of those that hold this as a sacred holiday. However, the Coca-Cola inspired Santa Claus and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer both pale in comparison when I faithfully listen as Bing Crosby sings White Christmas in the movie of the same name (Bing also sang it in Holiday Inn). Irving Berlin’s classic homage yearns for us to be able to embrace this American holiday as our own. As many of you know, coming from an interfaith background, I am familiar with the beauty of a family gathering, honoring my grandmother, and sharing gifts on a day devoted to love and togetherness. We as modern American Jews need to figure it out.  And in our own unique way, we have already begun.

National Menorah Lighting

National Menorah Lighting on the Mall

 We have substantially ramped up the Chanukah holiday celebration.  This is however a contrived response to a Christmas in which we long to participate. Without reservation I fully support the increase in joy we bring to our “minor” religious holiday including the latkes, Chanukah cards, 8 days of presents, parties and so on.  We go a step further in our “Chinese food and a movie” ritual on December 25. The question is whether we maintain a fictional “Chinese wall” separating holidays, holding steadfast to our modern re-interpretation of Chanukah, or can we consider an American Secular Christmas?  I submit that celebrating one holiday does not preclude the other, nor does such a celebration threaten our core beliefs. Instead, acknowledging Christmas in a modern American Jewish context can bring us in closer alignment with the Jewish dream of acceptance in America and more importantly, serve as a significant learning opportunity to share with our children what these holidays might mean metaphorically and Jewishly.

 Happy Holidays and Chag Sameach!

Shabbat Bereshit- In Beginning

set_martin_luther_king_quote5

Shabbat Bereshit, takes its name from the first word of Torah. Be-Reshit means “In Beginning.” In Beginning creation, God looked to fundamental principles upon which to build. We remember this as we read from the first Parasha of the Torah that takes its name from the first word and guides us forward in our journey.

 How interesting that we begin this journey observing Shabbat Bereshit juxtaposed against preparations around our country for a two-day Global Anti-Islam protest. A group of armed protesters will spew hatred for an entire religion and its billions of adherents because of the actions of a radical distortion of Islam by a barbarous hateful sect. Are these the principles upon which our country is founded?

 We can be a voice that rejects unbridled radical hatred. Our principles, our Beginning, as Jews and Americans command us to do better. Shabbat Bereshit compels us to look deep within ourselves and examine the core principles we will use in our creation building the world we would hope it should be.

 Catch up with the conversation on Twitter and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1712773322284720

 Shabbat Shalom

The Sukkah and the Pope-e-que

Our Sukkah is underway.  This Sunday, erev Sukkot, we will celebrate.  In honor of the Pope’s arrival to Philadelphia we will have a combined Sukkah Decorating and barbecue, that we have affectionately dubbed the Pope-e-que.  IMG_0737

The Pope’s presence is bringing havoc to the area with the faithful throngs coming to see and hear him while the roads are shut down for security purposes.  Rather than be cynical, I am thrilled by his message of hope, love, joy and action to make a better world.  He is a disruptor in the best of ways.

Although your schedule is full Your Holiness, you are most welcome to Lashev baSukkah, grace us with your presence and enjoy some of the best kosher beef ribs around!

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!