Jewish Rituals

Re'eh: Fame! Remember My Name (for a blessing)!

Re'eh: Fame! Remember My Name (for a blessing)!
Why do we bury damaged or illegible Torah scrolls and prayerbooks?  And why is there a Jewish tradition of not writing out the word “G-d?”  Both practices derive from this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh.  In it, Mo... Continue Reading »

Shelach: Cutting the Cord?

Shelach: Cutting the Cord?
When Jews recite the Sh'ma and V'ahavtah, our custom is to gather the tassels (tzizit) of our Tallit and recite aloud the following verse from this week’s parasha, Shelach, (among others):  דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְ... Continue Reading »

Behaalotecha: “Throwing the Book” at Our Enemies

Behaalotecha: “Throwing the Book” at Our Enemies
7,500 miles, and perhaps an even greater distance in liturgical philosophy, separate the two synagogues to which I belong.  One is a Conservative (Masorti) congregation in Jerusalem, a less-than 20-minute walk from where the Ark of the Covenant ... Continue Reading »

Naso: The Enzyme of Blessings

Naso: The Enzyme of Blessings
The night before I commenced rabbinical school, I opened my new copy of The Complete Artscroll Siddur, an assigned text for my first class in Jewish liturgy.  The introductory essay by Rabbi Nosson Scherman included this intriguing sentence... Continue Reading »

Answering "Intactivists:" Why We Circumcise

Answering "Intactivists:" Why We Circumcise

Thank you to all who graciously commented on last week’s “Letter to my Grandson.”  Thank G-d, Noam ben Reuven Yigdal v’Yehudit Tovah (aka Evan) and his mother are doing fine.  A few hours ago at our home, Noam entered into the covenant of Abraham.  In fulfillment of the Torah commandment, this occurred on the eighth day -- “b’yom haSh’mini” of his life.  “Sh’mini” (“Eighth”) is the name of this week’s Torah portion.  The reference is actually to the eighth day of the priestly ordination ceremony, not to circumcision.  Nevertheless, in light of this special day in my and my grandson’s life, and the “coincidence” of “Sh’mini” being this week’s Torah portion, I’ll take the opportunity to share some thoughts on the circumcision controversy.  “Intactivist” critics of circumcision ... 

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Tzav: Cost-Benefit Ritual

Tzav: Cost-Benefit Ritual

This week’s Torah portion, Tsav, is one of several describing our ancient animal sacrificial rites.  These are certainly not rituals that most of us would care to witness, nor even contemplate.  In fact, just reading the Torah text can prompt a salad for dinner! But I suspect that in Temple times, when most people were likely personally familiar with slaughtering, they found the ceremonies spiritually meaningful. “Free-will” and “thanksgiving” offerings were probably especially so as means of ritualized emotional expression.

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Ki Tissa: Shabbat in Jerusalem

Ki Tissa: Shabbat in Jerusalem

“V’shamru v’nai Yisrael et haShabbat, la’asot et haShabbat l’dorotam b’rit olam….” The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time:  Ex. 31:16  This familiar Saturday morning Kiddush verse comes from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa.  But the Torah says relatively little about how the Sabbath is to be observed. ...

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Yitro: G-d and Satan discuss the 10 Commandments

Yitro: G-d and Satan discuss the 10 Commandments

G-d and His servant, Satan, were having another conversation. (Cross-ref. Book of Job).  G-d said: “I’m so proud of My Jewish people!  This Shabbat they’ll read Parashat Yitro, which includes what they call My “Ten Commandments.”  These are the core rules that set forth how I expect them to live, both in their relationship with Me and with each other.  They’ll even stand up while the Ten Commandments are read, which shows how important they consider them.” Satan was distinctly unimpressed. ...

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Bo: How About a Date?

Bo: How About a Date?

A couple of years ago I read about a group of American Jewish teens on a Birthright or similar trip to Israel.  After a meal, one of them apparently said: “It’s time to say the Birkat.”  One of the soldiers guarding them said: “You must not even know what that word means; you can’t say “the Birkat;” it’s not a word you can use by itself.  (The subtext to the remark was, “You think you are superior Jews because you say a prayer in Hebrew, but you don’t even understand what you are saying!”   The kids responded ...

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Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

This week’s Torah portion, Va-yehi, contains a sequence that initially seems surprising.   Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, brings his sons, Manesseh and Ephraim, to see their aged grandfather Jacob for the last time.  Jacob places his hands on their heads.  The text then says “And he blessed Joseph saying …. ‘May G-d … bless the lads.’”  (Gen. 48:15)  That is, Jacob blessed his son by blessing his grandchildren! ...

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Jewish Proverb