B'midbar: "We're history."

B'midbar: "We're history."

According to the Etz Hayim Torah commentary: "A tradition has it that the tribe of Judah, situated at the eastern edge of the camp, marched backward when the Israelites broke camp and traveled eastward, to avoid turning their backs on the Ark.  They thus found their path to the future by orienting themselves to their past." (my italics) The last sentence is striking.  American culture emphasizes looking ahead, not behind. 

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May 25

Behar/Behukkotai: My Countries Right or Wrong

Behar/Behukkotai: My Countries Right or Wrong

Many of you grew up in the 1960s and vividly remember it.  Student occupation of college administration buildings.  Rampant drug use.  Long hair.  Bra burning.  Race riots.  Vietnam war protests.  Protesters within earshot of the Oval Office chanting: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Flag burning.  The environmental movement.  The consumer movement.  Political assassinations.  It was a time of great social and political turmoil. 

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Emor: Judaism's G-d of Vengeance?

Emor: Judaism's G-d of Vengeance?
This past Pesach (Passover), my wife, daughter, and I attended a Seder at a women’s prison.  Actually, the name of the institution is a “correctional facility.”  As we waited to go through security at the entrance, we discussed whether imprisonment for non-violent crimes is humane and effective.  I mentioned that in law school, I learned that there are three purposes of incarceration: punishment, correction, and deterrence.  The punishment aspect in America is limited by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.  
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May 10

Of Bonfires and Biases: Lag BaOmer in the “Territories”

Of Bonfires and Biases: Lag BaOmer in the “Territories”
The phrase “Hilltop Outpost in the Territories” may conjure up the following image:  A remote spot, far from “Israel proper,” in mostly, or entirely, Palestinian-occupied area.  A few, far right-wing religious zealots individuals or families flout the law and bring international scorn, consuming widely disproportionate government funds (thanks to disproportionate right-wing political support in the fractious Knesset) and other resources (security, utilities, etc.), in furtherance of what they consider their Biblical mandate.  
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Aliyah Diary Post #2

Aliyah Diary Post #2

Chance encounters and profiling Walking to synagogue for morning prayers, I approached a spot where a scrubby-looking man, perhaps in his 50s, very unkempt gray beard, dressed in what appeared to be very old Israeli army khakis, was hunched over a dirt area, busily doing something with his back mostly turned to me.  I initially thought ...

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May 04
Posted in: Israel

Playing Catch-Up

Playing Catch-Up

Shalom from Jerusalem! This morning in synagogue, I gave a D’var Torah (short teaching) regarding Parashat (Torah Portion) Emor (Leviticus 21:1-25:23). I look forward to sharing it with you next week.  Why not this week?  Because whereas it is Shabbat Emor here in Israel, everywhere else in the world it is Shabbat Acharei Mot – Kiddoshim (a double portion), which we here read last week.  This difference in reading cycles occurs only for a few weeks every couple of years. Why?  The reason, like much of Jewish practice, combines historical, pragmatic, and “religious” considerations.

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Independence Days: 1840 and 2012

Independence Days: 1840 and 2012

The Jerusalem (N.Y.) Gazette

July 4, 1840

Strike Up the Band! Our glorious nation is 64 years young today!  It’s a day to celebrate and to reflect in amazement and gratitude on the miraculous feat wrought by God through our brave predecessors!  With  unmeasured sacrifice and valor, the Greatest Generation rose up against tyranny, defeated the mightiest army on earth, and established a new republic conceived in liberty. 

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Aliyah Diary

Aliyah Diary

For nearly 2,000 years, including at each Passover Seder, our people prayed: “Next year in Jerusalem!”   Of course, we didn’t mean, “May we be able to vacation there next year!”   We meant, “May our people’s ancient homeland be restored to us, and may we once again live and thrive there as we can nowhere else.”  Yesterday, the 2nd of Iyar 5,772, corresponding to April 24, 2012, I fulfilled this dream of redemption on behalf of my ancestors, my current family, and, G-d willing, future generations of my family, by “returning” to Jerusalem.  Not as a tourist but as a full citizen of Israel.   (I also retained my American citizenship, another precious legacy from my more recent ancestors that I will pass on to future generations).  This “Aliyah diary” is intended to record and share some of my thoughts and experiences of “coming home” to Jerusalem.   I hope that others will be inspired to claim their birthright and/or support the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish state. 

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Apr 24
Posted in: Israel

Shemini: Imagining No Religion

Shemini: Imagining No Religion

I know a man who professes to be both passionately Jewish and anti-religion.  He recently commented on a social media site that “the world would be a much better place without religion.”  He is certainly not the only one to think so; many people are hostile to religion for a variety of reasons (for example, it’s fantasy, it’s contrived, it’s hypocritical, etc.).  Many more are simply indifferent to religion.  Nor is these a new ideas.  In his Age of Reason, the influential American revolutionary figure and political philosopher Thomas Paine wrote:  

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Apr 19

A Passover Pilgrimage of the Mind

A Passover Pilgrimage of the Mind

The drive from Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv up into Jerusalem takes only about 35 minutes in non-rush hour traffic.  After initially crossing the coastal plain, one begins the steady climb of about 2,500 feet into the Judean Hills.  I always watch across the highway for a glimpse of the slowly-disintegrating personnel carriers left rusting as memorials to the soldiers and civilians who died there during the 1948 War of Independence.  Then, I scan the hills for the first glimpse of the “Chords Bridge” tower that now marks the principal entry into the Holy City.  All the while, as my vehicle (usually a van-taxi) downshifts up the mountain, I marvel at the thought of my ancestors leaving their homes and making this laborious and dusty ascent by foot or donkey three times each year.  The book of Deuteronomy

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3