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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 […]

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The Ways We Mourn

Of all the issues I engage with my congregants around, I find shiva–Jewish mourning practices–to be among the strangest and most challenging. The vast majority of my congregants –like the overwhelming majority of Jews in this country today–don’t understand themselves […]

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The Ritual of Silence

One of the many rituals surrounding death in the Jewish tradition is the practice of going to a mourner’s house during a seven-day mourning period called “shiva.” The mourner sits on a low stool and he/she is comforted by friends, […]

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No! The Death Penalty is Morally Bankrupt

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, David Dow writes a very interesting but ultimately morally flawed article on the death penalty. In short, he suggests: Instead of focusing on the issue of whether or not someone convicted of the […]

The Right Thing to Do

The January election of a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories immediately led to stern resolve on the part of the international community not to have dealings with or assist this regime–and rightly so. Hamas has been and continues to […]

Give Aid and Punish Hamas

I can’t stand people who invoke moral obligations regarding providing humanitarian aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. I am sorry, but a group that demands my destruction has no right to make moral and ethical claims on me or anybody […]

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 […]

A Net Gain

In the past few years, an increasing number of allegations about rabbinic sexual impropriety have come to light, beginning with charges against Rabbi Baruch Lanner and more recently against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of Bayit Chadash in Israel and Rabbi Yehuda […]

Saving the Sacred From Itself

Recently, there has been a spate of sexual abuse cases surfacing within the Orthodox community. These cases have come to the fore primarily through the constant pressure of blogs. Blogs are an important check for religious democracy. Traditional communities by […]

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 […]

Finding Ourselves at Sinai

In his masterful book “Sacred Fragments,” Rabbi Neil Gillman explores the question of revelation and asks: What really happened at Sinai? And what does our answer mean about revelation and the value of the Torah? Gillman considers, and rejects, a […]

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 […]

Doing our Home-Work

There is no question that neither the Jewish day school nor supplemental “Hebrew school” model is succeeding when it comes to educating our kids to be informed, conscientious, proficient, identified Jews. The reason is simple: both day schools and supplemental […]

Day School Education Beyond Statistics

I can go on for pages about how important a day-school education is toward ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people. Likewise, I could spend hours explaing how critical Jewish literacy is for Jewish life. There are no issues more […]

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 […]

A Complex Relationship

The Jewish press in America and Israel is abuzz about the recent comments of Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua to the effect that Jewish life in the Disapora (outside of Israel) is incomplete and irrelevant. The substance of the charges is […]

Israel: A Reality Check

The recent spat at the American Jewish Committee‘s conference in Washington is what happens when you get a lot of Jews in one room who really do not know that much about Jews or Judaism. The debacle happened on the […]

Bling Mitzvah

Sadly, the story is all too common–Jewish families trying to outdo each other with over-the-top Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties that show off wealth and status in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. For some it seems it don’t mean a […]

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 […]

Easy Target

“Keeping up with the Steins,” the new movie set to hit theaters shortly, is one of those cultural events that remind you just how different your Judaism is from your grandparents’ Judaism. The story revolves around a family preparing for […]

Orthodoxy, Halakhah, and Gay Marriage

Perhaps no issue is more misunderstood within the context of halakhah, Jewish law, than gay marriage. On the one hand, those such as my friend and teacher Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College, has radically argued that “a […]

Evolving Judaism & Homosexuality

One of the core precepts of Reconstructionist thought is that Judaism is always evolving in response to times and circumstances–and thank God for that! If Judaism had remained static, then our religion would have died out 1,900 years ago when […]

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 […]

A Conspiracy of Dunces

I recently attended a talk where Rabbi Mordechai Liebling discussed his visit to Sudan as part of an interfaith delegation. He commented wryly that this was one time where anti-Semitism worked in his favor: all of the Sudanese officials with […]

On Crusaders and Zionists

“This Zionist-Crusader war” is probably the most oft-repeated line invoked by the terrorist-madman Osama bin Laden in his latest rant against the West. As Bin Laden sees it, “A war is under way to offend the messenger of Allah, his […]

The Shame of Inaction

This April 25 we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date chosen for this observance is 27 Nissan in the Jewish calendar, associated with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 in which 13,000 Jews perished 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 […]

The Casualties of Memory

After my last post, I received a number of responses asking me to flesh out and explain a little more what exactly I was trying to say about all this Jewish memory stuff. So with Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, […]

Fragile Freedom

In our house, the experience of Passover always comes early, with the preparations. As we shop, put away, clean, dust, scrub, vacuum, and scrub some more, the transformation our house undergoes slowly begins to pervade our consciousness as well, as […]

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 […]

Why I Am Not Going to Remember this Passover

“Remember this day that you departed from Egypt from a house of bondage for you with a strong arm God took you from here.(Exodus 13:3).” If there is one thing Jews love, it’s “to remember.” Perhaps the only thing Jews […]

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 […]

Of Jews and Pews

It’s a not-so-well kept secret that recently many Jews–many Americans, in fact–have come to find traditional, frontal services where congregants sit quietly in pews to be off-putting and, dare I say it, boring. For a certain generation raised with a […]

Rick Warren’s Mega-Synagogue

Do you think Rick Warren, the author of the “Purpose Driven Life” and super duper mega-church leader, knew the joke about two Jews and three opinions when he sat down to consult Synagogue 3000 on how to attract more Jews […]

The Stranger in our Midst

In our hearts, Jews are immigrants. The very name “Hebrews,” Ivri’im, comes from the word ‘to cross over’; Hebrews are boundary crossers. Our founding story portrays us as refugees arriving to our land, and Judaism itself is a religion forged […]

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 […]

On the Border

Recently, The New York Times published an op-ed by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who expressed his indignation at HR 4437, an immigration bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in December that includes provisions for a 700-mile […]

Walking Out is Unethical

To the chagrin of many of my friends, being ethical does not entail defenselessness. Power, like anything else, can be ethical; it must be ethical. From a Jewish perspective, it’s tempting to make powerlessness a pre-condition for ethics. Jewish liberals […]

Fighting for our Humanity

In recent months, public opinion has increasingly been turning against the war in Iraq–and for good reason, as body counts for U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians continue to soar, as the situation on the ground becomes increasingly chaotic, and as […]

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 […]

Nourishing Our Connections

There are very few things more important to building community than food. Food brings us together in companionship (literally: ‘bread-breaking’), helps us celebrate joyous occasions, and connects us to one another through shared moments. Some Jews see kashrut–the system of […]

Kashrut: The Great Barrier

From the Iron Chef to Alice Waters, there is nothing more universal than food. Everyone eats. Everyone needs nourishment. If there is one thing that brings us all together it is the most basic instinct of all, hunger. Hey, what’s […]

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, […]

Being the Hidden Miracle

At various points in history, the legitimacy of the Book of Esther has been challenged as part of the Biblical canon. Although the Council of Yavneh in 90 C.E. confirmed that the book was, in fact, part of the Hebrew […]

Moving Beyond Fear Factor Judaism

Fear Factor Judaism dominates American Jewish life. Here is just a spattering of typical Fear Factor Jewish discourse: “You better support the cause against anti-Semitism–otherwise our survival may be in jeopardy.” “You better go to synagogue on Yom Kippur or […]

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 […]

Sucking the Life out of Judaism

As you might expect, contrary to “new-found scientific research,” Jewish ritual circumcison–brit milah–is not and will not be going by the wayside anytime soon. The truth of the matter is that Jews have been circumcising their children long before science […]

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 […]

The Kindest Cut

I remember very well standing over my beautiful, perfect, eight-day-old son with a knife in my hand. It was his brit milah, the day of his induction into the covenant between the Jewish people and God through the rite of […]

Being Jewish Outside the Box

The Reconstructionist movement was never supposed to be one. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism in the 1920’s, actually considered himself a Conservative Jew and taught at that movement’s seminary for more than fifty years. (He was also a […]

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 […]

Is Apathy the New Jewish Heresy?

You know something is happening to Jewish denominations when Orthodox Jews (who pray in gender-segregated prayer services) are calling women up to the Torah for honors (aliyot), while many Conservative congregations that have mixed seating still prohibit women from being […]

Conversion: A Theological 360

Should Judaism proselytize? No. Should it be more welcoming? Yes. For years most rabbis instinctly followed the Talmudic norm that one should push away converts warning them about the difficulties of becoming Jewish. God knows how many conversions stopped with […]

Being a Welcoming Community

The Reform Movement’s call to convert non-Jews is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, non-Jews are increasingly being told that they are welcome in liberal congregations and on the other their non-Jewish identity is devalued as they receive the […]

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 […]

Sick and Disturbed in Damascus

The behavior of Muslims rioting in Damascus over cartoons depicting Muhammad as a terrorist only reinforces the public perception that radical Islam is a danger to humanity. Moreover, sadly, it makes Muslims literally into caricatures of themselves. The rioters’ actions […]

Muslim Outrage: Cynicism as an Artform

I would be more sympathetic to Muslims’ anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad if it were not accompanied by rampant violence and threats, and if it weren’t being so cynically and opportunistically manipulated by Islamic leaders for […]

Nurturing a Mature Love for Israel

Many American Jews do not feel as connected to Israel as they once did, or as Jews living in many other parts of the world do. Israel is far away, perceived as scary, and speaks a language–Hebrew–which is, sadly, Greek […]

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 […]

Israel and America: Two Visions of God

What does American Jewry offer Israel and what can Israel learn from America? As my teacher Rabbi David Hartman has suggested, specifically regarding spiritual matters, both populations have a great deal to offer each other. Since its inception Israel has […]

Monkey Talk in a Biblical Key

When I was studying in Yeshiva, I heard the following sad but telling story about one of the great American rabbis of the twentieth century: The rabbi took a plane trip across the country with his extended family. After boarding […]

The Taxonomy of Wonder

Let me start by saying that I think that evolutionary science provides the best description we have of how life came to exist in its present form, that intelligent design is junk science (at best), and that Judge Jones made […]

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 […]

The Commandment Pat Robertson Forgot

Either we have all become prophets or everyone has forgotten the third commandment. Based on the Rev. Pat Robertson and Israel’s Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s prediction rate, I am inclined to think the latter. Repeatedly throughout the Bible we are told, […]

Looking for Not-so-Pat Answers

Why is it so tempting to blame others for their own misfortunes? The Jews, at least, had the good grace to acknowledge their own shortcomings when they said, “M’pnei chata’einu galinu m’artzeinu” – “Because of our sins we were banished […]

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 […]

Can Alito See the Shades of Gray?

Over the coming weeks, much time, energy, and breathless news coverage will be devoted to divining how Samuel Alito would rule on abortion as a Supreme Court justice–a subject on which he will offer no clues if he can help […]

Living Over “Life” and “Choice”

So much surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito comes down to two simple words: “life” and “choice.” Simply put, for many in Washington the question of whether he is pro-life or pro-choice is the be-all and end-all of […]

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 […]

Funny, Your Values Don’t Look Jewish

Mr. Klinghoffer, I just do not understand what you are trying to say. In your Forward article, you suggested that Jack Abramoff should be left alone because the money he got through illegal means was given to charity–an idea that […]

Guest Blogger David Klinghoffer: I’m Not Ashamed of Abramoff

posted by mkress

Eliyahu Stern, an Orthodox rabbi, should take a few deep breaths, relax, and contemplate before rushing out with another condemnation of someone else’s sincerity or good faith as an Orthodox Jew. I’m confident that if he does this, he’ll realize […]

Shame on Jack Abramoff and His Rebbes

Let’s cut to the crux of the issue: Jack Abramoff is an embarrassment to Orthodox Jews. His rabbis and the religious figures supporting him and living off his dirty money are embarrassments to Judaism. Lest you have forgotten the way […]

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 […]

A Jewish Lesson in Abramoff’s Misdeeds?

The news of Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea is, sadly, just the latest chapter in the sordid story of the intersection of money and power. Going back to the story of Purim, we see how the wicked Haman–the first lobbyist?–paid King […]

Use the Weapon of Memory Against Iran

I’m not going to waste words here on why Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s revolting remarks on Israel and the Holocaust are both patently false and deeply offensive, and to its credit the world community has largely stepped in to say […]

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 […]

Only Allah

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad‘s latest declarations that the Holocaust is a myth and that Israel should be wiped off the face of this earth speak for themselves. What everyone is trying to figure out is just how seriously should we take […]

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 […]

Putting the ‘Daze’ Back in ‘Holidays’

A lot of attention has been given lately to a small but vocal segment of the population that sees Christmas–and, by extension, Christians–under attack, with the increasing use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Exhibit A has […]

And the Loser Is…

News flash: Most Americans really don’t care what they are being told at the checkout counter. Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas. There are few moments where I favor disengagement over engagement, but this issue is one of them. This is […]

Is Hanukkah an Orgy of Consumerism?

Baruch Hashem (Thank God) for Macy’s. No matter how much Jews forget their Judaism, no matter how much they assimilate, no matter how much they intermarry, Macy’s will ensure that each and every Jew never forgets Hanukkah. For most American […]

A Celebration of Identity

Hanukkah – the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Not really, of course: Holidays like Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur and even (especially!) the weekly observance of Shabbat have far more religious significance. In fact, religiously speaking, Hanukkah hardly […]

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 postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

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 it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

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 advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

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 black and Jewish communities look to this period either

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 in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

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

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