Tag: Judaism

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The so-called “New Atheists” are desperate to demonstrate that one can have morality without God, and in fact that morality is baked in to our genetic code via the process of natural selection. Now, I’m not against the thesis that there’s an evolutionary component to morality or that natural selection isn’t a factor, but the […]

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Next Year in Jerusalem!

 

I had no sooner walked through the front door with Son #1 when I was attacked and hugged by a delighted child, Son #5. I have never, ever been greeted so enthusiastically, anywhere. Son #5 had seen me the past two years when I went to the @iWe home for the Passover/Pesach celebration. He was either very pleased to see me (or was counting on my reading him some stories during my stay). Then Son #1 instructed him matter-of-factly to take my carry-on bag and backpack up to my room, two and one-half flights up. And this same Son #5, uncoached, pulled out my chair for me at the Seder meals. Did I mention he is seven years old and 4’1” tall (so he tells me)?

When I entered the iWe home, I had entered the space of timelessness and antiquity, of celebration and remembering the suffering in leaving the slavery of Egypt. This Pesach celebration, like the past two years, was a time of sweetness, poignancy, history, and memories. The iWe family takes both seriously and joyfully their celebration of Pesach, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else to connect to my Jewish roots with both moments of sadness and much happiness.

Although I’ve only been to one other orthodox Seder, I believe iWe when he says theirs is not the ordinary Seder. We follow the order of the meal (seder means order), but everyone is encouraged to ask any question about Pesach. Silly questions don’t earn a piece of candy, but good questions do. I even asked a pretty good question this year, and iWe kindly acknowledged its relevance (although I suspect he says that to all his guests). The three oldest boys carried on a fascinating discussion about one portion of the Exodus story, running up and down the stairs to bring Jewish source books to back up their arguments. Their joy in possibly identifying a new way of looking at this 3,000-year-old story was palpable. (It’s hard to know if anyone outside the room would have accepted their theory, but it was very bright and creative.) And the singing, ah, the singing. When iWe sings with his older boys in sweet harmony, we are all transported to a time of deserts, hardship, freedom, and joy.

A Jew Sings Christmas Carols

 

I was touched by @qoumidan’s post on attending plays at Christmas time. It reminded me of the times I was in the school choir and we learned Christmas carols in preparation for the Christmas concert.

I love to sing. I have a fair voice and loved singing in the middle of a group of my friends in school. But Yuletide was always awkward, especially the first time we had a Christmas concert. I was probably around 10 years old. I wanted to sing and I wanted my parents to attend, of course. Only we were going to be singing Christmas songs; some were secular but some of them were clearly religious. I guess Jewish parents were supposed to be comforted by a Chanukah song like “I Have a Little Dreidel.”

Gratitude

 

“‘This time I will thank God’ and she called him Judah.” Leah references her unhappiness with how her husband feels about her when naming her first three sons. But for her fourth son, she becomes the first Biblical character to express gratitude.

Jews (the name derives from Judah) are the people who thank. Or at least we should be. The first words we say each morning are “thank you.” On festivals the verse we recite most often is “Thank you God for it is good, for His kindness is forever.”

Judaism – The Unnatural Faith

 

From the artificial seven-day week, to its refusal to recognize any deity within the forces of nature, the Torah pioneered the idea that G-d is not found within nature. G-d is not in the ocean or the sun, or any physical force. When Adam was created, he was not described as being an animal (though physiologically we are, indeed, animals) — but was instead described as being made of dust, and also ensouled by the divine breath. G-d in this world is only found inside each person.

As Rabbi Sacks points out in a brilliant piece, the descendants of Avraham who were rejected from the covenant that became Judaism were similarly described as being like animals, great men of nature. In any other culture, being a passionate man who was a great archer would make one a hero – think of Davy Crockett and many other classic and folk heroes. But not in Judaism. The archer, Ishmael, was likened to a wild donkey, while the great hunter in the forest, Esau, was described as having “game in his mouth,” evocative of a cat with a bird in its teeth. Both were rejected, replaced by Isaac and Jacob, respectively.

After Israel, Final Thoughts: What Does it Mean to be a Jew?

 

I’m home in sunny Poinciana, FL, and so glad to be back with my husband! This trip was life-changing for me in many ways — in small ways and (I hope this won’t sound like an exaggeration) existential ways. All these outcomes have transformed the fabric of my life.

The smaller ways include the fact that I can travel alone and feel safe. The first part of my trip I traveled with friends, but after that time I made my way alone. When I got lost, people offered to help; when I couldn’t decide how to travel, people made suggestions. Even when there was no one around, I sought help and found it. I learned that when I travel, even when I feel most vulnerable, I can find my way.

The Refiner’s Fire: The Place of Hell in Judaism’s Sister Religion

 

The same man who wrote this blissfully mournful setting of “Hear my prayer, O Lord” also wrote an annoying little ditty which begins, “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain, / Since I am myself my own fever and pain.” Despite the musical love present in the former composition and lacking in the latter, the words of the latter are expressive enough: love, whether sacred or profane, is a fever whose cause isn’t incidental, its cause is you – who you are and what you love.

That might be a strange way to begin any theological musing, no matter how speculative. But bear with me. Judaism and Christianity are sister religions, springing from the same source. To put it in the driest of secular terms, Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish teacher. Not all Jews believe in an afterlife, but among those who do, this description of its punishments that @susanquinn shared with me seems fairly standard. This essay of sweeping scope by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also contains several illuminating passages. Both writings describe Gehenom, hell, as a cleansing, either of the “dirt” of our sins (like socks getting “punished” in a washing machine) or of the “static and jamming” that reduces our awareness of our sins’ rightful shame. In neither description are sinners “sent to a different place” from the righteous. Rather, all souls go to the same “place”, and what makes it heavenly or hellish is the state of each soul experiencing it – how “dirty” it is, how much it still has to be ashamed of. As Peter Kreeft, a once-Calvinist Catholic theologian, put it, “In reality, the damned are in the same place as the saved—in reality! But they hate it; it is their Hell. The saved love it, and it is their Heaven.” Still, descriptions of hell as cleansing – as purification which educates the soul for God’s presence – ought to remind Christians more of Catholics’ conception of purgatory than the Christian descriptions of hell most of us are familiar with.

Hell is, after all, described in the New Testament as the place where “their worms do not die, and the fire is never quenched.” “Repent or perish,” we are admonished. And this perishing isn’t just physical death or blissful oblivion – no – but agonizing wormy flames of flaming judgment – forever! Because “the fire is never quenched”, those worms remain stubbornly alive. That same passage continues, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” So the wicked – scratch that, make that everyone – will be salted with fire. Fire is meant to season all of us, through which fire some of us, presumably, are in fact redeemed. This fire, moreover, is the fire of love:

From Israel, Part 3: Jerusalem and the Temple Destructions

 

The Old City in Jerusalem, I’m convinced, can best be appreciated through the eyes of a guide. And if the guide is a religious Jew, all the better.

Rather than recount the story of Jerusalem, I’d rather share my experience of the day there. History and my impressions are intertwined as they are impossible to separate; my focus is on the most memorable moments. My friends, Alizah and Menashe joined me as our guide, Avi, took us back in time.

We entered the Old City at the Jaffa gate, where we could see the Dome of the Rock site with its golden sheath. This was known as the precise spot from which Muhammad entered heaven; it is said that the hoof of his horse left a permanent mark in the rock. Unfortunately for the Jews, the Dome was built over the rock where the Holy of Holies (the place where G-d dwelt on earth in the First and Second Temples) had been located hundreds of years earlier; it is the most sacred spot in Judaism.

Traveling, Alone

 

I am not only taking a momentous trip abroad by myself, but there is an aloneness that will accompany it. I’m still processing that idea as my travel time approaches.

It’s not like I never travel alone. But when I was young, my international travel was with others. Since I’ve been married, I have traveled alone for week-long retreats. My husband and I have always traveled together, although I threatened to go to the U.K. without him, because he couldn’t make up his mind about going. But even then, I had family over there. And he decided to accompany me after all.

This time I am going to Israel. For two weeks. I’ve made all the appropriate plans, have all the documentation I need, and even have Ricochet meet-ups planned. I also will be staying the first two-thirds of the trip with my Torah study partner and also with a friend. But I still feel like I’m traveling alone.

The Mating Call of the Jewish People

 

The Torah describes the process of rapprochement between G-d and the Jewish people in a dance of oscillating words: the people do X, and G-d does Y. Then the people respond with Q, and G-d moves onto P, and so on (see Deut. 30). There is fluid movement on both sides, changes in posture and attitude and desires, sometimes flexing in toward each other, sometimes bending away or even – when things go very wrong – one of the dancers abruptly breaking it off and leaving the dance floor.

It is this sort of language that helps us understand that G-d is not some kind of great static thing: a strong but silent gravitational force or a distant and proud king. On the contrary, the Torah’s words show us that G-d is a full participant in this dance, able to be distant or near, equally capable of being inflamed with anger or with love.

The dance of the Jewish people with G-d is, and always was supposed to be, a dance of desire and a dance of love. Our relationship is meant to contain every element found in a good marriage: love and respect and trust and desire. And like any good marriage, there are good times and bad, times of head-spinning romantic flight, and times of hard, but cooperative effort: and then there are times when it is sufficient and beautiful to merely sit together, to enjoy being close to each other after a hard day, or year, or life. (See Rabbi Sacks’ beautiful explanation here.)

Rabbis Won’t Forgive Trump

 

In an article at The Federalist, Menachem Wecker explained that a tradition that began with Barack Obama was going to be boycotted by a group of US rabbis, including conservative, reform, and reconstructionist rabbis. The conference call was originally scheduled with thousands of rabbis to consult with them and convey the president’s best wishes to them for this especially holy time of year, the days approaching Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

This year, however, this particular group of rabbis determined that Donald Trump’s comments following the events in Charlottesville were “so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred” that they refused to organize the call. In fact, they published a statement that included this paragraph:

Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Spain?

 

The terrorist attack in Barcelona has once again caused many of us to reflect on the ominous effects of Muslim immigration in Europe. Although all citizens of every country in Europe are at risk, Jews in particular feel vulnerable to the intense hatred that is part of the radical Muslim ideology. The Jews in Spain are no exception.

As a result of this latest bombing, Barcelona’s Chief Rabbi warned Jews in Barcelona to leave while they could:

I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better (to leave) early than late.

Politics Belong on the Pulpit Too

 

There is a strong case to be made, not only for keeping religion out of politics, but for keeping politics out of religion. “A rabbi should never discuss politics on the pulpit,” the rabbi of a large Conservative congregation told me. “Everyone who walks through the door of the synagogue should feel welcome, and any discussion of politics will alienate someone.”

This sentiment is echoed by Bruce Bialosky in a recent article at Townhall.com. Non-Orthodox Jews are notoriously left of center, and Bialosky finds himself a distinct minority in his Reform Jewish congregation and the movement generally. He describes his rabbi’s alienation of his right-of-center congregants, and asks: “At a time when Temple membership is floundering across the nation, why would any rabbi antagonize part of their congregation because of their personal political views?”

No Escape from the U.S. Political Left—In Israel

 

A week ago the Israeli Knesset froze implementing a plan to open a new mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Originally the change had been endorsed, even by the ultra-Orthodox Jews, but the effort was shut down at the last minute. Not only was Israel’s political Left furious, but our American Jewish Left was, too, making subtle threats over financial support of Israel.

What’s the fight about?

The Western Wall is honored as a portion of the ancient Second Temple complex, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Jews are not permitted to worship on the Temple Mount to assuage the Palestinians, who claim it as their sacred site. Since the Wall is a holy site to Jews, both men and women pray there. Orthodox Jewish Law states, however, that men and women must pray with a separation between them. In August 2013 temporary prayer areas were constructed, separate from the Wall but nearby; in 2016 a joint committee was set up with two Reform leaders, two Conservative leaders, two non-Orthodox women representatives, the Jewish Agency chairman and six government officials overseeing a southern area in a repurposed archaeological park to establish a larger mixed-gender prayer area.

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Good Afternoon! Next on Thinking It Through with Jerome Danner (Podcast):  My next guest is Bethany Mandel, a stay-at-home mother of 3 children, a freelance writer on politics and culture, a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, amongst other publications, such as the Forward and First Things.  She also just so happens to be on The LadyBrains Podcast.  I invited her to […]

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The question of allegiances came up regarding Muslims, as part of @docjay’s post  on Sharia and Islam. One person made the comment that if we needed to screen Muslim residents at some point, it would be important to know whether they considered themselves to be Muslims first or Americans first. This suggestion was made in […]

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If you’re confused by Jews’ response to Trump, whether the support he has from the religious and particularly the religious Israeli Jews or the powerful, loud opposition he faced from the non-religious American Jewish community, it will pay to remember The Pianist. The story: A talented Jewish pianist from Warsaw is saved from certain death by […]

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Gratitude: Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition!

 

We see what we choose to see. No set of data forces any rational thinker to accept that one theory or explanation is incontrovertibly true and all others are incontrovertibly false. This explains how good and intelligent and wise people on Ricochet can consistently arrive at different conclusions, even though we have access to the very same data. Whether we are talking of science or of politics, there is no objective inevitability to any of our arguments.

Instead, we are left with the things that we accept as true. Most people take our assumptions and presuppositions for granted, but some people (probably a very few), can and do freely choose to see things a certain way. And here we arrive at the nub of the matter, because of all the things that we can choose to accept or deny, gratitude is both the most optional, and also the single most important for our state of mind, the state of our families and the health of our society.

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Great piece on the Jerusalem March.  “As they march, the People of the Word reach out to the People of the Book, holding hands, touching hearts, reaching past what divides us and focusing on what we share. They affirm our heritage and connection to this land as they affirm their own, and stand with the […]

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