Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


The Task Is Never Finished

It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman’s post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time […]


Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews

Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced […]


Spitzer’s Mask

It may be a twist of fate that Eliot Spitzer faced his downfall a few days before Purim, the Jewish holiday that entertains how people are often not what they appear. Spitzer appeared to be someone who defended and upheld […]


Haman, Anti-Semitism, and the Internet

It has been said that if you say something often enough and emphatically enough, more and more people will believe it. Something that at first may seem obviously ridiculous with repetition becomes accepted fact. That is why Holocaust deniers are […]

How ‘Kosher’ Is Kosher Food?

If the term ‘kosher’ means fit, or done right, is the food we eat ‘kosher” if it’s produced using unethical practices? What if it meets all other technical requirements? Conservative Rabbi Morris Allen says, “no”. For Rabbi Allen, it is […]

Stop Jewish Smear Tactics Against Obama

Rabbi Stern is right to protest that we should not be judging someone on their religious affiliation. However, he is wrong to uncritically pass along the very information that has been circulating in anti-Obama email smears. If Rabbi Stern had […]

Barack’s Brave Stand Against Anti-Semitism

Sen. Barack Obama has shown himself to be a strong friend of Israel, as Florida Congressman Robert Wexler makes clear in a recent Jerusalem Post article. Obama also made his position clear in the most recent debate in Cleveland this […]

The Faith to Give

Rabbi Stern is right that it takes faith to get through a recession, but I would suggest a different type of faith is in order: the faith to give. A scene in “Fiddler on the Roof” captures the dilemma: A […]

Deja vu and the Dimona Bombing

This past year has been a relatively quiet one for most of Israel. (Though not for the citizens of Sderot who continue to be bombarded regularly by rocket fire from Gaza.) The security barrier has been working, saving lives. If […]

Fair Play, Jewish Law and the Writers’ Strike

Rabbi Waxman is right that it is hard to feel sympathy for striking writers who may make millions of dollars a year. However, I disagree that the fact that many other workers in other industries are severely underpaid should prejudice […]

Protecting the Life of the Mother

Rabbi Stern misrepresents Hadassah’s position in supporting choice. Hadassah, the Conservative Movement’s United Synagogue of America, Women’s League and a host of other Jewish organizations support choice because choice is the only appropriate civic option, allowing all peoples in our […]

Is It a Mitzvah to Carbon Offset?

Monday night begins Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. According to Jewish tradition, God judges trees’ productivity for the coming year. Our trees are in trouble and so is our world. That should worry us every day of […]

Shul, Shabbat and Hanging Chads

Will the scheduling of Nevada’s caucuses during Saturday Sabbath services be the “hanging chad” of the 2008 election? After all, the top candidates in both parties seem to be running neck-and-neck, so much so that every state primary election counts. […]

Israel’s Conversion Stalemate

Rabbi Stern makes an important point in advocating that the moderate Orthodox stop relegating a monopoly to the haredi over religious policy in Israel. They certainly should help Yisrael Beiteinu’s efforts to fast track conversions in Israel for the 300,000 […]

Top 10 Wishes for 2008

To paraphrase someone else who was called upon to make predictions, “I am not a prophet nor the daughter of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Therefore I will not be joining those who make predictions, serious or otherwise, about what the […]

Muslim Rescues Jew in NY Hanukkah Miracle

I was in New York this week and actually bought a New York Post for the first time in my life. Why? Because it featured on it’s Dec. 12 cover a photo of Walter Adler, a Jewish subway passenger, with […]

Hitchens: Got History?

Rabbis Stern and Rabbi Waxman are right that our Hanukkah rituals are multi-valanced, as is any ritual that has lasted thousands of years. As such, Hanukkah responds to the human needs for light and hope at this darkest time of […]

The Truth About George Washington’s Hanukkah

For centuries, the lights of the Hanukkah menorah have inspired hope and courage. They may have also been responsible for inspiring then-General George Washington to forge on when everything looked bleak when his cold and hungry Continental Army camped at […]

What Would Judah (Maccabee) Do?

We Jews have our own WWJD: What Would Judah Maccabee Do? Judah lived at a time much like our own. A large number of Jews spent their days enjoying the pleasures of modern (for them Hellenistic) society, not really caring […]

Give Peace a Chance

Rabbi Stern has many good reasons to be pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of the peace discussions begun this week at Annapolis. However, not everything appears as dark to me as it does to Rabbi Stern. Why? For several reasons. […]

Is There ‘a Jewish Position’ on the Health Care Debate?

According to an article in this Sunday’s Washington Post, “The debate over how to overhaul the nation’s health-care system is underscoring a dramatic chasm between the two parties, as Democrats battle over which candidate will most quickly expand health insurance […]

When Soldiers Pay for the Sins of Those Who Send Them

In memory of our valiant soldiers who gave their lives in this travesty of a war in Iraq, in honor of all those who have come home wounded in body and spirit, and in mourning for the destruction of lives […]

Is Poverty a Jewish Issue?

There is a growing gap between rich and poor in this country, which should concern us, as Jews and as Americans. In the olden–i.e., Biblical–days, the gap between rich and poor was regularly realigned. Every seven years, during the sabbatical […]

Can Hebrew Schools Be Saved?

Like most rabbis, I get frustrated at what I wish we could accomplish in our religious school. I wish I could get parents to let the students use the skills they are learning in school–like kiddush and Havdallah–more regularly in […]

Torah: The Original Self-Help Manual

I haven’t had a chance to read Rabbi Jen Krause’s book yet, but I agree with her that the rabbis were the first self-help coaches. I would add that was so because they had the first self-help manual: the Torah. […]

Al Gore, Our Modern Day Noah

Last Shabbat we read about how God commanded Noah to collect an ark load of the Earth’s biodiversity and ride out the mother of all storms, which cleansed the earth. When Noah and his family finally emerged from the ark […]

Is America a Christian Nation?

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain caused quite a stir recently when he stated–in a video interview on Beliefnet–that he believes the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation. His comments should have caused a stir for a number of reasons. […]

Too Much of a Good Thing?

If the Jews are so smart, why is it we bundle five holidays together in a row, one on top of the other, through an entire month in the fall? Of course, every month, except one, does include a Jewish […]

Greening Sukkot

Wednesday night begins the holiday of Sukkot, a time when Jews around the world move temporarily out of our comfortable homes and eat, and sometimes also sleep, in sukkot, fragile structures with three to four walls and a roof that […]

Why Next Year in Jerusalem?

Why do we end our Yom Kippur services with the prayer: “Next year in Jerusalem?” Why not: “This year in Jerusalem?” Last year when we ended our holiday services, many in my congregation meant just that: this coming year in […]

The Language of Sin

Someone once told me that the number of words a culture has for a particular idea or phenomena reflects its importance to that culture. The Yupik Eskimos are reported to have 24 words for snow, which makes sense since much […]

Isaac and Ishmael Side by Side

I agree with Rabbi Waxman that we must be proactive in working towards strengthening the relationships between our various Jewish movements to facilitate closer cooperation and deeper respect within the Jewish community here and in Israel. However, I also agree […]

‘God’s Warriors’ Flunk Out

Honest Reporting gives Christiane Amanpour and CNN a C- for her reporting of the six-hour series “God’s Warriors,” in which she looks at religious fundamentalism in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. However, I would give her and her producers an F. […]

Kosher Consciousness

The kosher laws are supposed to raise an awareness of what we eat and a sensitivity to the needs of all living creatures–that is why the disconnect between kashrut and the humane treatment of animals is so discordant to Jewish […]

The Purpose-Driven Jew

There are many reasons to be Jewish: religious reasons, family reasons, emotional reasons, communal and historic reasons. Rabbi Stern’s summary of a conference he co-hosted for the Bronfman Foundation came up with four good answers to the question “Why Be […]

Lebanon One Year Later

“No one feels safe in their home anymore,” is how my husband’s cousin Nina explained the impact of last summer’s Lebanon War. She lives near Tel Aviv. Last summer she hosted her mother, her husband’s mother, his brother’s family, and […]

Intermarriage, Expectations and the Feldman Factor

I feel sorry for Noah Feldman, but not for the reason he wants us to feel sorry for him. Feldman is important: a Harvard law professor who helped shape the Iraqi Constitution. Nevertheless, the Orthodox community in which he was […]

Retooling Our Mission to Our Youth

For all the efforts that are going into attracting and retaining the next generation of Jews, one step is sorely missing: adequate and effective training for youth leaders. Most congregations hire staff for youth groups who are self-taught. Perhaps they […]

Tisha B’Av: A Time for Mourning

Centuries ago, our sages ruled that the destruction of the First and Second Temples would be commemorated together on Tisha B’Av. Early after World War Two, some suggested that Tisha B’Av also serve as the memorial to mark the Holocaust. […]

What Can Jews Believe About Jesus?

There are some things Jews can believe about Jesus. We can believe that he was a Jewish man who lived during the first century CE. He was well versed in the ways of the Pharisees, who he often quotes. (Do […]

Jews, Money and the Military

When I lived in New York, the only congregants I knew in the military were veterans from World War Two and a few from Korea and Vietnam. However the demographics are very different where I now live, in the greater […]

What Are We to Make of Gaza?

Commenting on the violence in Gaza, Jon Stewart quipped that those who hate Jews were overthrown by those who HATE Jews. So why should we care? The people in Sederot care, because they have suffered unrelenting rocket attacks since Israel […]

Boycott the Boycotters

Thirty eight reporters are arrested in Iran. The most-watched independent television station in Venezuela is shut down. Palestinians kidnap two FOX journalists and a Palestinian radio journalist. Who does the British National Union of Journalists vote to boycott? Israel: the […]

Finding Commonalities Amidst Differences

I agree with all that has been said by rabbis Stern, Hirschfield, and Waxman about agreeing to enter into dialogue with those with whom we disagree while being careful not to be duped or give up articulating our own concerns […]

The Six Best Jewish Books of 2006

I have always steered away from best book lists. How does one define “best” for a book? Most riveting story line? Most lyrical? Most moving? The book that made me think the most? That made me the angriest? A book […]

In Search of the Next Great Jewish Band-Aid

Gary Rosenblatt’s op-ed in the Jewish Week titled “The Next Great Jewish Idea” should read “The Next Great Jewish Band-Aid.” What is remarkable about the piece is that it contains not one idea. Instead of realizing that Jewish outreach and […]

Too Much Information?

Andrew Sullivan has raised the issue of Mitt Romney’s Mormon underwear. Sullivan, usually a very astute and articulate voice, goes a bit too far on this one. Rabbi Grossman is right on this one. Who really cares what undergarments Romney […]

Jewish Genes vs. Jewish Identity

There have always been two sides to the “Who is a Jew?” question. There are those who identify Jews primarily through blood and genetics, and those who see being a Jew as being more about choosing to identify with the […]

Called Off

So the gay community has called off their march scheduled for this weeken, averting a showdown with a violent haredi (extreme Orthodox) community. This should not be seen as a form of capitulation, but rather the maturity of the gay […]

Rights Don’t Make Right

Ohhh please…Rabbi Grossman’s position is a caricature of just the kind of simplistic, clichéd liberal thinking that has got us into this mess to begin with. Firstly, I just want to be clear: If one haredi lifts up a hand […]

Hypocrisy vs. Violence in the Holy Land

The gay pride parade planned to take place in Jerusalem on Friday has created a fierce debate over the limits of freedom of expression in Israel. Israel’s extreme haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups are threatening violence–they’ve been staging violent demonstrations for weeks […]

Borat, Bunker, and Election Day

Rabbi Stern suggests a 1-10 ratio of those who lionized Archie Bunker vs. the majority who laughed at him. I have no idea if the ratio is accurate but I think the more important analogy is that those who laughed […]

Our Biases and Borat

I think Rabbi Grossman’s analogy to Archie Bunker is excellent! Did many white 50-year-old men identify with Archie, thereby creating a racist cultural icon? Sure they did, but for every 50-year-old white racist bigot laughing along with Archie there were […]

Borat vs Jewface: The Politics of Jewish Humor

Truth be told, my first three years watching Sacha Baron Cohen was spent fast-forwarding through Borat on to Ali G. And for the last year or two Bruno has replaced Ali G as my favorite character. But recently–maybe only the […]

Is Borat the New Archie Bunker?

Maybe I am dating myself, but when I hear one of Borat’s tirades, I immediately think of Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.” That TV show broke ground a few decades ago because it exposed in humorous fashion the […]

McMansions and Orthodox Bashing

All too many times the “McMansion” issue is just a socially acceptable form of Orthodox bashing. “Why do these Jews have to destroy our communities?” “The Orthodox have no respect for our aesthetic.” “Don’t they have any shame?” These are […]

Jewish McMansions and the American Dream

I see them everywhere, in new suburban developments and in urban neighborhoods: gigantic homes that could house a tribe, let alone an average family, and sometimes contain such perks as indoor pools. Labeled McMansions in the 1980s, Jews are building […]

Can We Trust our Leaders?

Today’s front page New Times article on Israeli machismo is very telling. It highlights how even those who speak in the most universal ethical/religious terms can locally act in the most unethical and anti-religious manner. The Israeli machismo issue is […]

Katzav Meets Foley’s Folly

Rabbi Stern points out the distinct irony of Israeli President Moshe Katzav refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform rabbis on the basis of Orthodox law as interpreted by Israel’s Religious Ministry while engaging in personal behavior that, […]

Katzav’s Piety

If there is any truth to the mounting rape and misconduct charges facing Israeli President Moshe Katzav, it will be a sad day not only for Israel but all religious Jews. The truth is that at this point there is […]

Of Love and Torah

I don’t share Rabbi Waxman’s ambivalence about whether kissing the Torah smacks of the very idolatry Judaism has always been so vigilant against. I think of it more like kissing a love letter: a physical expression of a passion for […]

Why Sukkot Trumps Yom Kippur

I don’t mean to sound heretical, but if given my druthers, I would rather Jews observe the seven days of Sukkot than the 25 hours of Yom Kippur. (Of course, I would prefer they do both, but this is one […]

Fast Food for Thought

For Rabbi Stern, fasting on Yom Kippur is sociological and familial. He does it because the people around him are doing it. That may be enough of a reason for him, but it is certainly not for me. I fast […]

Finding the “High” In the High Holidays

Rabbi Waxman rightly points out some of the cognitive dissonance we confront in the High Holiday liturgy that makes it hard to get the most from services. Largely written in the Middle Ages for a population who viscerally understood their […]

No Membership Required

Does the high cost of membership in synagogues deter membership? Absolutely. It doesn’t matter that my synagogue is dedicated to never turning anyone away for lack of funds. I personally know individuals who do not want to have to ask […]

Who Needs Hebrew?

I agree with Rabbi Stern that Hebrew is often an impediment to getting the most of the High Holy Days. But I disagree that Luther was right about the vernacular. There is a place for English in the service but […]

Jews for Jesus: Who’s Who & What’s What

If you believe Jesus is the messiah, died for anyone else’s sins, is God’s chosen son, or any other dogma of Christian belief, you are not Jewish. You are Christian. Period. We Jews may not like to admit it, since […]

Hezbollah, Hamas, and Lord of the Rings

Reading the news the other day, I felt like Frodo Baggins does as things look grim in “Lord of the Rings.” It seems we have our own Two Towers. On one hand, we have the Shiites: Hezbollah, rather than being […]

God : The Biography

Maimonides once explained that we can only know God by what God is not: God is not limited. God has no end and no beginning. God has no corporeal form and therefore no gender (which is why I use only […]

Can There Be Jews Without Zionism?

Zionism is as old as Judaism. It began when God first spoke to Abraham and told him to leave his homeland for a land that God would show him. That same land would be promised to his great grandchildren, the […]

Force Alone Cannot Win This Battle

Former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir was once asked if she could ever forgive the Arabs for seeking Israel’s destruction. She replied by saying that she could forgive them for killing her sons, but she couldn’t forgive them for […]

Cremation in the Face of Hitler’s Ovens

I took my seventh graders to the U.S. Holocaust Museum the other day. We stopped in front of the crematorium door as the students took in what it meant: that the Nazis burned the bodies of their mostly Jewish victims […]

Are We Our Brothers’ Keepers Even When They Hate Us?

If someone wants to destroy you, are you obligated to help them? How humanitarian is aid when it supports hate? This stopped being a theoretical question when Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinian people, because Hamas continues to be […]

Sex, Lies, and the Internet

Should the Internet be used to publicize the names and alleged improprieties of alleged sexual predators? Is such use justified to protect victims and potential victims from sexual predators even if it runs roughshod over the requirement to protect innocent […]

What Happened At Sinai?

According to tradition, God gave the people of Israel the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot, the holiday we will celebrate Thursday night through Saturday. There is no way to truly know what–if anything–happened at Mount Sinai. Ultimately, it is […]

The Problem with Jewish Education

Thirty years ago (way before the 2000 National Population Survey shocked everyone with its intermarriage figures rising above 50 percent), a group of forward-thinking Jewish educators charged the Jewish community with devoting significantly more resources to Jewish education and improving […]

Who’s More Jewish?

This past summer in Israel, on a long walk to a friend’s house for Shabbat dinner, I passed groups of young people hanging around street corners. Looking through the lit windows of Germantown’s cafes, I saw numerous individuals sitting alone […]

Keeping Up With the Steins Or Not

When our son Yoni was 12, he begged us for a Bar Mitzvah disco party like all his classmates were planning. He was not initially pleased when we replied with plans for a Saturday night largely home-cooked dinner and talent […]

God, Television and Same-Sex Marriage

When Vince, aide to President MacKenzie Allen on ABC’s “Commander in Chief,” chooses to secretly tie the knot with his partner to protect the President during an election year (Episode 15, “Ties that Bind”), the writers are suggesting that our […]

The New Anti-Semitism and the Questions Left Unasked

I never would have thought that two American professors from prestigious American universities would have much in common with Osama bin Laden. But then I noticed that in the most recent tape attributed to him, Bin Laden identified those in […]

Six Reasons to Remember the Holocaust

There are many reasons to remember and commemorate the Holocaust, which we will do this coming week around Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 25. Here are six reasons, each an important lesson we can learn from the Holocaust, lessons […]

Why Is This Feast Different?

I was wondering the other day why family gatherings for Passover are so different than those for Thanksgiving? So many people find Thanksgiving to be an exercise in family dysfunction. In fact, an entire niche of the travel business is […]

The Purpose Driven Jew

I wasn’t surprised to read in The New York Times that Rick Warren, mega-church pastor and best-selling author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” is advising Jewish religious leaders on how to draw more Jews into synagogue life. It’s very Jewish […]

Immigration Reform and the Justice of Being a Refugee

Where should we stand on immigration reform? If not for the closed-door policies and quotas held by America and other countries barring Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, the Holocaust would not have claimed its millions of victims. As Jews, we […]

A Time for Peace and a Time for War

We should never have gone into Iraq unprepared and under false pretenses. If we had waited for the inspectors to do their thing, if we had waited for the support staff to be in place to bring back electricity and […]

A Diet for the Soul

South Beach. Atkins. Low Carb. Each diet has its proscriptions and restrictions. Each has its high-cost items that begin to add up when you eat them every day, whether snack bars or supplements. Though I doubt a study was done, […]

The Power of Purim

Purim is visceral. We yell, stamp our feet and wave noisemakers like crazy to drown out the name of the villain, Haman, who sought to kill every Jewish man, woman and child. If only it were that easy to make […]

Brit Milah, a Greater Good

Why is it that when we might die if caught observing our traditions we hold them precious, but when we can freely observe them we all too easily abandon them? Take brit milah, ritual circumcision, and the debate over whether […]

CPR for Jewish Denominations

Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, sees the collapse of social groupings, from fraternal organizations to bowling leagues, as symptomatic of the modern desire to relate on one’s own terms and schedule with like-minded and demographically similar people. What is […]

Converts Welcome Here

When Sex in the City’s Charlotte is rebuffed by the rabbi in her attempts to begin conversion training, series writers evoked the Jewish tradition that potential converts be turned away three times to test their sincerity. There was good reason […]

Cartoons and Oil

It was insensitive and inappropriate for the Danish and Norwegian press to print political cartoons that were disrespectful of Muhammad, in particular, and stereotypical of Muslims, in general. We Jews know how painful, and dangerous, such images can be, especially […]

My Top Four Reasons to Care About Israel

Here are my top four reasons American Jews should care deeply and passionately about Israel: 1) Security. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg argues that absolute powerlessness corrupts as completely as absolute power because it invites persecution. Jewish history is a catalogue of […]

Piety, Polity, and Darwinism

Thank God U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III ruled that intelligent design (ID) is not science and therefore has no place in the classroom. Thank God that the concerned parents in Dover, PA, had the courage to fight their […]

Divining Divine Wrath

Why is it that those who seek to make peace don’t get to fulfill their vision? Pat Robertson would answer that peace at the cost of giving away parts of “Greater Israel” is a sin, so God struck down Yitzhak […]

Whose Right to Life?

Judaism is a pro-life religion. It sees all life as precious, including the potential life represented in the fetus. The stirring of life is a miracle, a gift from God. All things being equal, a fetus should be brought to […]

Abramoff Fails the Shanda Test

What Jack Abramoff did is a shanda. It is unethical and illegal. On top of the laundry list of legal counts against him, Abramoff used racist and defamatory language about his Native American clients. Nice Jewish boys shouldn’t do such […]

Jews are the Canaries of the World…

They are easy to miss. They are displayed way above eye level in a corridor that one passes through from one exhibit to another. Interactive booths with seats line the walls, attracting everyone’s attention down instead of up. Perhaps the […]

Who’s Attacking Whom in the “Attack on Christmas”?

I was hurrying through Reagan National Airport on the way to the United Synagogue convention last week when I passed an enormous Christmas tree on the lower concourse. I appreciated the beautiful decorations and automatically looked around to see if […]

A Hanukkah Epiphany

Epiphanies can happen in the strangest places. We had gone to see a movie. I don’t remember which one. It was years ago. My son was young, perhaps six or seven. It was holiday season. A large Christmas tree stood […]

Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in ...

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe ...

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s ...

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the ...

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced ...

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »


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