Jewish Rituals

Yayechi. Tradition: A Democracy of the Dead

Yayechi. Tradition: A Democracy of the Dead
Twice in this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis, the dying extract promises from those who will outlive them.  First, Jacob solicits Joseph’s promise to remove his bones from Egypt and bury them in the Pr... Continue Reading »

Yom Kippur: Oh, Happy Day!

Is Yom Kippur a solemn day, or a happy one?  It may seem a strange question.  Yom Kippur is the ultimate day of Jewish prayer, humility, repentance, and self-denial, including fasting.  How, therefore, can it be “happy?” &n... Continue Reading »

Ha'azinu: Who are we? Q&As About Jews and Judaism

As I noted last week, I am again conducting High Holiday services aboard a cruise ship in Europe.  The ports are beautiful.  Yet, as Barbara and I walk the streets and admire the architecture – especially the magnificent churches and ... Continue Reading »

Ki Tavo: "Altaring" our habits

Ki Tavo: "Altaring" our habits
I read recently that the number of calories we eat is determined more by habit than hunger.  To lose weight, therefore, it’s vital to create healthier “automatic” eating habits (e.g., use smaller plates, eat with the non-domina... Continue Reading »

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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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb