Monday, November 18, 2013
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Have you ever wondered just who, exactly, is reading all of these blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates? Who has the time? I'm sure there's a groundbreaking study somewhere that shows most of these blog-tweet-updates are most often read by the one who actually wrote them in the first place. Really, who else has the time?
Well, if you're reading this blog, and you're not me, than: Thank You! And secondly, where do you find the time?
Okay, so I'm joking...a little. But this next part is serious, and seriously impressive: Congregation Beth Knesset Bamidbar has recently unveiled it's totally remade, entirely re-imagined, and brand-new website! And while he'd be reluctant to agree, it's our Congregation's President, Mr. Butch Ryti, who deserves the most praise and credit for making it all happen. But just take a look through our equally re-created, re-imagined, and re-newed Bulletin, The Chai Desert News and you'll begin to see what makes this Congregation as special as it is: it's those active and involved and committed members who are so remarkably giving of their time and energy that, when they do give, it's often before they're asked.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Most – if not all – are spoken of as members of the family; many share the family portrait; and quite a few enjoy privileges not bestowed upon other (human) family members. So it didn’t surprise me when I was recently asked, “What does Judaism say about how we should treat animals?”
Today, many of us experience a relationship with our domesticated family members (I’m referring to pets, not children or spouses,) unlike any previous era of human history. Nevertheless, within the sacred texts of our ancient past, Torah (The Five Books of Moses) and Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible), as well throughout the whole of Rabbinic Literature, it is made exceptionally clear that not only is cruelty to animals absolutely forbidden, but that compassion and mercy are demanded of humankind by God.
There is no question that Judaism consistently values human life more than that of other living things. And while the Ancient Rabbis were not completely opposed to animals coming second to the priority of human needs – they were completely and entirely against the causing of pain to animals. We know that many prohibited activities on Shabbat are permitted, even obligatory, when the purpose is to save a human life. Similarly, many activities that the Rabbis did not allow on Shabbat are in fact permitted when the purpose is to relieve animals’ pain. Their justification is found in their understanding of a particular verse, Exodus 23:5, “When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” Talmudic sages hold that this commandment is meant to benefit the animal as well as its owner, and therefore cite it as the basis of our obligation to prevent animals from suffering (in Hebrew, צַעַר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים, tza’ar ba’alai chayim) (BT Bava Metzia 32a–b). Thus, it is permitted to unload a burden from a laboring animal, even on the Sabbath (BT Berachot 40a).
A question: When you wake up, who eats first: you or your pet?
Perhaps most moving, if not most telling, are the mitzvot (commandments) found in Deuteronomy 22:1-3, in which we read that, “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow...You must not remain indifferent.” As Jews, we are obligated to not only prevent animals from suffering, but much more: we are taught to never turn away from it; never ignore it; to never turn a blind eye to the plight of those most in need of advocacy, shelter, and care. Which is only one of the many important reasons why Congregation Beth Knesset Bamidbar and our Sunday School Religion Class, taught by Kim Kilgore, selected as their Class’ Mitzvah Project, Operation Blankets of Love, which collects and distributes blankets, towels and other pet items to animal shelters and rescue groups – and they need our help! We have been enlisted to collect blankets, comforters, bath-size towels, pet beds, and pet toys – and to drop them off in the large collection boxes in our lobby and Sanctuary. Studies show that soft bedding in shelters can immediately relax and calm an animal – and relaxed, calm dogs and cats have a much higher adoption rate.
When you’re looking into the eyes of your loved one (the furry one this time), and thinking to yourself, “I could’ve named him ‘Jackpot’ because he sure hit it with me!” – take a moment to think about those dogs and cats who haven’t – yet – hit their own jackpot. And then help make it happen – not necessarily by adopting them all, but by making them better fit to be adopted and thereby expressing our genuine love for all animals, not just the ones fortunate enough to share our family portraits.
Monday, October 3, 2011
As any one of us looks back on our lives, whether it's the past one year or the past ten, we remember what we wanted to do - and did; what we needed to do - and tried; even what we should have thought twice about doing, before doing it.
We've all probably heard, ”To err is human, to forgive is Divine"? Well, here's my retelling of a Jewish version of that, from 18th C. Eastern Europe:
To err is human... and brings us closer to The Divine. How? Every one of us has our very own connection with God, as if we are tied to God by a rope. Our errors and wrongdoings -- those weaken our connection, as if to fray the rope, even causing it to come apart. But when we see this and repent, ask for forgiveness, and refrain from repeating those same wrongs - our connection is repaired. It's as if where that rope had frayed and come apart has now been knotted back together. And with that knotting comes an even closer, even stronger connection. So yes, to err is human... and so is doing something about it. For it is in our doing something about it that we not only reconnect ourselves with The Divine, we strengthen that connection.God, however frayed or broken we think our connection to You might be, help us to know that we are also blessed with whatever -- and whomever -- it will take to strengthen our reconnection to You.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
And so much more - it's endless really, all that fills our days. So much to do. So much. And sometimes it can seem like our being so busy actually makes life easier. Perhaps you've found yourself as I have, too busy to make certain choices, sometimes certain difficult choices. It is as if our being busy, our acting and our doing, is all that defines us and determines who we are: that who we are is what we do; and what we do is who we are.
And yet, we are not merely animals acting on instinct. We do more than just "do." We do more than just "act." We are human beings, and we are not so simple as to act without choosing. For before we act, before we do, we must choose. That's what it is to be human: to be human is to choose. For the gift of free will is precious; we all make choices: good and right, bad and wrong. We all do. But as busy as we are and as busy as we make ourselves, our lives and our legacies are determined not only by our actions; our lives and our legacies are also defined by our choices.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I have co-authored an article with Rabbi William Cutter, Ph.D which is based upon my research and rabbinical thesis, "Yehuda Amichai’s Open Closed Open and Ecclesiastes: An Autumnal Intertextual Relationship."
The article is titled, "Opening and Closing with Qohelet: The Late Work of Yehuda Amichai: A Discussion of Patuaḥ sagur patuaḥ (Open Closed Open)."
[Some background: Qohelet (קֹהֶלֶת) is the Hebrew title of the biblical book Ecclesiastes. Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) is Modern Israel's most well-known and deeply beloved poet - and one of the Modern Hebrew Language's most important, as well. His final work is translated as Open Closed Open, and in its original Hebrew: פָּתוּח סָגוּר פָּתוּח, Patuaḥ Sagur Patuaḥ.]
The article has been published in the latest edition of Hebrew Studies, Volume 51 (2010). Hebrew Studies is an academic journal devoted to scholarly articles on Hebrew language, linguistics, literature, and culture of all periods, which is produced by the National Association of Professors of Hebrew. You can view the Journal's Table of Contents (as a .pdf) here; the article begins on page 175. (The journal is available through the managing editor, Dr. Rick Painter.)
You can read the article's first four pages by clicking here; it begins with the following abstract (summary):
Many critics have noted the densely wrought structure in Patuaḥ sagur patuaḥ, and have called attention to its rich intertextual allusions and use of refrains and key words. (One thinks of Kronfeld, Bloch, Arpali, Alter, Band, and Gold.) But the major articles have not fully treated the heavy burden of association to the book of Ecclesiastes, Qohelet. In Patuaḥ sagur patuaḥ, Amichai created a multi-layered foundation in classic sources which serves as an underpinning to the overall autumnal stance and skeptic’s vision of the 300 poem-units. In addition to the specific Qohelet allusions, there are nearly one hundred more elusive associations that emerge once the reader accepts the importance of the boldly etched references to Qohelet. The authors argue that, once Qohelet becomes the dominant metaphoric “trope,” other more transient and innocent associations to the biblical scroll take on greater significance. While resisting a glib “allegoresis” (a tendency to see Qohelet in every possible space), the fact is that the Solomonic wise preacher lies in wait in a surprising number of corners of this extraordinary and weighty collection.
The basis of the article, my rabbinical thesis, was the result of seemingly countless - and endlessly enjoyable - hours that I spent both translating Amichai's final collection in full, as well as identifying the truly overwhelming amount of biblical citations, references, and allusions. This was all a result of what I had discovered while reading and studying the book: there exists an intertextual relationship with Ecclesiastes that is profound in both depth and breadth.
I welcome your interest in the article and thesis and would happily make them available (although the thesis is rather comprehensive and a sure cure for insomnia).
I am deeply humbled, not only by Amichai's (greatest) work which continues to inspire, challenge, and delight, but also this work: what it took to do it, and what has come of it. It could not have happened without the assistance and guidance of so many exceptionally wise and remarkably patient people in my life: family and friends, mentors and professors, authors and scholars. Thank you all.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Some background: Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, in August, 2005 gave Gaza's Palestinian people the opportunity of self-goverance; they freely elected to be governed, not by the Palestinian Authority (the "PA"," the governing party of Palestinians in the West Bank who have been partnered with Israel in peace negotiation and policing since the mid-1990's); but by Hamas. While similarly Palestinian, Hamas has been and is categorized by The United States, Canada, The EU, and Israel as a terrorist regime, and have frozen funds to the Hamas government since 2006, recognizing it as a terror organization. Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with Hamas, as they launched upwards of 10,000 rockets from Gaza, bombing civiilian targets in Israel - very often with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.
Our policy is simple. We say: any goods, any humanitarian aid to Gaza, can enter. What we want to prevent is their ability to bring in war materiel - missiles, rockets, the means for constructing casing for missiles and rockets. This has been our policy and yesterday we told the flotilla - which was not a simple, innocent flotilla - to bring their goods into Ashdod. We told them that we would examine their cargo and allow those goods that could not be used as weapons or shielding materials for Hamas into Gaza. Five of the six ships accepted these terms without violence.
“This is an Islamist charity, quite fundamentalist, quite close to Hamas,” said Henri J. Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. “They say they do charity work, but they’ve been accused of gunrunning and other things, and their rhetoric has been inflammatory against Israel and sometimes against Jews.”
..... On Tuesday in a bustling neighborhood in Istanbul, the Turkish organization was celebrating a strange success. “We became famous,” said Omar Faruk, a board member of the group, Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by its Turkish initials, I.H.H. “We are very thankful to the Israeli authorities.”Five times the Free Gaza Movement sailed from Cyprus, where they are based, to Gaza. Israel ultimately came to believe that a threat was evolving, fearing that ships coming into port could transport weapons. Israeli officials said they feared the prospect of Hamas being as powerfully armed as Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
In the first quarter of 2010 (January-March), 94,500 tons of supplies were transferred in 3,676 trucks to the Strip: 48,000 tons of food products; 40,000 tons of wheat; 2,760 tons of rice; 1,987 tons of clothes and footwear; 553 tons of milk powder and baby food.
[During] the week of May 18, 2010 there were more than 100 truckloads of animal food, 65 trucks of fruit and vegetables; 22 truckloads of sugar, some 27 truckloads of meat, poultry and fish; and 40 trucks of dairy products. At holiday times, Israel increases transfers. During the Muslim holy days of Ramadhan and Eid al-Adha, Israel shipped some 11,000 heads of cattle into the Gaza Strip.
Already in the first quarter of 2010, 23 tons of iron and 25 tons of cement were transferred to the Gaza Strip....
Huwaida Arraf, a flotilla organizer, foreshadowed the violence with her statement that: "They [the Israelis] are going to have to forcefully stop us." Bulent Yildirim, the leader of the IHH, one of the primary organizers of the flotilla, announced just prior to boarding: “We are going to resist and resistance will win." The militants whipped up the boarding crowd by chanting "Intifada, intifada, intifada!"
It is time for all those of decency to declare, "Enough." It is time to begin a new conversation, one in which legitimate acts of self defense on Israel's part are no longer labeled automatically as acts of aggression and war crimes. Nor should attempts to better the plight of Palestinians, including those affiliated with Hamas, be labeled by definition as anti-Israeli and political....Amos Oz writes:
People of decency can disagree. Decent people can make mistakes. It is only, however, if we recognize that decency can be found on both sides that a different future will become possible.
Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land, and the Palestinians are not alone in this land. We are not alone in Jerusalem and the Palestinians are not alone in Jerusalem. Until Israelis and Palestinians recognize the logical consequences of this simple fact, we will all live in a permanent state of siege — Gaza under an Israeli siege, Israel under an international and Arab siege.
...I do not discount the importance of force. Woe to the country that discounts the efficacy of force. Without it Israel would not be able to survive a single day. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative — to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom.And I write:
Injury and suffering ought to be prevented, and loss of life is tragic, particularly when unnecessary, and that is always the highest price, regardless of the stakes.
This entire incident reminds me of that math problem from 5th grade: If train A is traveling west, and train B is traveling east.... does it really matter how fast they're going? Would it help if either train warned the other, if neither chose to alter their set course?
The two trains will meet. But trains don't just "meet." They collide.
They always collide.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
He makes many good points (although he's a little hard on Israel's political Left). Before I comment on his political observations (in a forthcoming entry), I'll first share some memories brought forth by the article.
He mentions the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo; I knew a woman who still lives there with her (very secular) family.
He mentions what came to be known as "Camp David 2," when Ehud Barak, Arafat, and Clinton met to hammer out a deal. It's well-known that Barak offered as much as Israel had ever offered (sharing Jerusalem, etc.). Arafat infamously declined, repeatedly. Shortly thereafter, (with his and Fatah's, the still-dominant Palestinian political party, blessing and direction,) the Second Intifada erupted. I was living in Jerusalem at the time.
I lived in downtown Jerusalem, across from the Tattoo Parlor and pizza place that served sausage, shrimp, and pepperoni. (I loved that, in the middle of Jerusalem, there was a relatively vibrant and young counter-culture.) Anyway, as I'm watching the news' coverage of Clinton's concluding press-conference, as he's telling us how disappointed he was in Arafat (and, it's assumed, his own evaporated hopes for a peace-treaty crowning glory for his second term,) the pizza delivery-guy rang the doorbell. (No, no pepperoni.)
As I'm paying him, he looks at the television, and says, in his well-accustomed to this kind of thing tone of voice, in Hebrew:
"Ain shalom....Mah la'asoat?"
"No peace. What're you gonna do?"And that was that. I paid, he left, I ate the pizza, and weekly suicide bombings began shortly thereafter.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
"The housing shortage in Jerusalem has become more acute in recent years, especially in ultra-Orthodox areas, pushing thousands of ultra-Orthodox families a year to the Haredi cities Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit, in the West Bank. The West Bank construction freeze has increased the pressure to create more housing in Jerusalem."
Sunday, January 10, 2010
A photo and a memory: Rabbi Kipnes and I, draped in our tallitot, Torah Commentary in our hands, following verse by verse, as the week's portion was chanted aloud on Shabbat. This scene plays itself out in countless synagogues — but what has made Or Ami, and my internship, different? One hebrew word with many meanings: ruach [רוּחַ]. Commonly translated as wind, soul, spirit, or breath, it also conveys intellect, passion, direction, and courage. As an intern over two years (2002-2003 and 2007-2008), you and your families, Rabbi Kipnes and Cantor Cotler, you nourished my soul, stimulated my intellect, strengthened my direction, and renewed my courage. I was given opportunities to teach every age, lead services, and deliver sermons. I studied under the careful, supportive, and exacting tutelage of Rabbi Kipnes. I say to you, Or Ami, what a child says to a parent, "If it weren't for you, there would be no 'me.'" A photo and a memory. One hebrew word with many meanings. One synagogue, with many defintions. Congregation Or Ami, thank you.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
And what is true humility? Rabbi David Wolpe, in his new book, Why Faith Matters, recounts his wife explaining just this to him, as a young rabbi overwhelmed and intimidated by his first "deathbed" visit.
That night I came home and my wife asked me how it went. I told her I felt like a fraud, that I had an overwhelming sense that I was not up to shepherding a soul in its final moments on earth. Who am I to do this? I felt unworthy. ‘You are right,’ she said. ‘You are unworthy. Anyone would be unworthy. But it is OK, because you are not doing it. It is being done through you.'
A similarly powerful sentiment is articulated by Bruce Springsteen, in which he recounts life after 9/11, and his experience with Americans' need for him to return to the music scene as both a source of artistic strength and a conduit of collective sentiment.
Interviewer: So you feel the call from your heart?
Springsteen: Yeah, I can hear the bells chiming. I’ve had a long life with my audience. I always tell the story about the guy with “The Rising”: “Hey, Bruce, we need you!” he yelled at me through the car window. That’s about the size of it: You get a few letters that say, “Hey, man, we need you.” You bump into some people at a club and you say, “Hey, man, what’s going on?” And they go, “Hey, we need you.” Yeah, they don’t really need me, but I’m proud if they need what I do. That’s what my band is. That’s what we were built for.Humility, expertly explained by a rabbi's wife and a guy named Bruce.
Friday, January 1, 2010
This question is a familiar one to those of us in the field of Palliative Care. As a Rabbi, Spiritual Counselor, and Spiritual Care Coordinator of The Skirball Hospice, I experience these very questions, every day, with virtually every patient and family. It is, of course, far from easy, with a seemingly unending list of variables and facets. But there remain constants: our primary goal is to keep our patient as pain-free, comfortable, and as safe as possible. One must also remember that our unit of care is not just our patient - we are meant to care for the patient's family, loved ones, and friends.
As a program of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, we are Los Angeles' only Jewish Hospice, and our Spiritual Counselors specialize in in facing these issues, and more, from a Jewish perspective. (We, of course, treat patients of every religion, race, and nationality.)
As I previously posted in "All It Takes Is One," human life is of absolute primacy in the Jewish Tradition. Judaism insists that we endeavor to cure with the patient's well-being as our goal, and, traditionally, forbids the hastening of death. At the very same time, we must not prolong the dying process. The codified compendium of Jewish Law, The Shulkhan Arukh, states that, "One in a dying condition is considered living in all respects.” We call this patient, who is typically within 72 hours of death, a Goses (גּוֹסֵס), one who is moribund, unable to swallow; his life is like "a flickering candle." (A Goses exists in a state of gessisah.) It is forbidden to treat the Goses as if he is already dead. It is forbidden to actively hasten his death, as he is alive and this would be considered murder. However, according to Rabbi Isserless’ (16th c., The Rema) gloss on this religious law (his gloss elucidates Ashkenazic Jewish Practice, as it differs from Sephardic custom), it is permissible to remove that which is hindering his death. In the words and time of the text:
It is forbidden to do anything to hasten the death of one who is in a dying condition... If, however, there is something that causes a delay in his death, for example, a nearby woodchopper making noise; or if there is salt on his tongue - and these prevent his speedy death [lit: "delay the soul's leaving the body"] - then one can remove them, because this does not involve any action at all, but rather, is only the removal of the preventative obstacle (to death). [Author's emphasis] [S.A., Y.D. 339:1-2] [Transl. Elliot Dorff, Matters of Life and Death, JPS: Philadelphia (2003) p.199 and Louis E. Newman, "Woodchoppers and Respirators: The Problem of Interpretation in Contemporary Jewish Ethics," Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, A Reader. Oxford University Press: new York (1995. p. 145]
On the day that Rabbi Judah [Rabbi Judah Ha Nasi, 2nd C. CE, editor and redactor of The Mishna, the foundational rabbinic text] was dying, the rabbis [his peers and students].... offered a prayer for heavenly mercy [so he would not die]. Rabbi Judah's handmaid, instead, went up to the roof, and prayed [so that he would die]. The rabbis below kept on with their prayers that he might continue to live. From the roof, she took a jar and threw it to the ground below, interrupting their prayers. As they stopped their praying, Rabbi Judah died. [Transl. based upon Louis E. Newman, "Woodchoppers and Respirators: The Problem of Interpretation in Contemporary Jewish Ethics," Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, A Reader. Oxford University Press: new York (1995. p. 141-142.]
The above story was interpreted by Rabbeinu Nissim (11th c. CE), as meaning:
Sometimes one must request mercy on behalf of the ill so that he might die, as in the case of a patient who is terminal and who is in great pain. [Commentary to BT Nedarim 40a; Transl. based upon Louis E. Newman, "Woodchoppers and Respirators: The Problem of Interpretation in Contemporary Jewish Ethics," Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, A Reader. Oxford University Press: new York (1995. p. 142.]
If we return to how we started, with, "Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Sedation," we read the words of Dr. Edward Halbridge, a Hospice Medical Director, who states:
“Do I consider myself a Dr. Death who is bumping people off on a regular basis?... I don’t think so. In my own head I’ve sort of come to the realization that these people deserve to pass comfortably.”
And so we see, in this extremely abbreviated form, Jewish Tradition's different responses to death and dying: As pertaining to Halakha, or Jewish Law, which relies on precedents and analog; theory and general principles; moral intuition, conscience and specific decisions; and the larger societal, and medical influences. [See Aaron L. Mackler, "Cases and Principles in Jewish Bioethics: Toward a Holistic Model," Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, A Reader. Oxford University Press: new York (1995. p. 177-193.]
Now what? Prepare yourself. Visit the following sites for valuable resources:
Create Your Advance Directive
Download a Legal Guide for the Seriously Ill
"End-of-Life: Jewish Perspectives," by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, PhD
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
The Hospice Foundation of America
Saturday, December 26, 2009
"I just jumped over all the seats. I was thinking, Oh, he’s trying to blow up the plane. I was trying to search his body for any explosive. I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking, and I tried to put out the fire and when I did that I was also restraining the suspect.”
"Tradition glorifies whoever saves a single soul, for it is as if he has saved an entire world." [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a]
Friday, December 11, 2009
The poll... found that nearly half of the public, 49 percent, report having a "Religious or mystical experience… a spiritual awakening." That's up from 22 percent in 1962.... And 29 percent of Americans say they've felt in touch with someone who died -- that's up from 18 percent in 1996.The poll went on to find that, "nearly six in 10 Americans from all religions blend their faith with New Age and Eastern beliefs, and....yoga." It's comforting to know that, from the perspective of Jewish Tradition: "More than one path leads to the top of Mt. Sinai."
You can read the article here:
Americans and Faith
Incredible. The man has faced - and faces - loss of all types and magnitudes with humility, determination, and courage. He continues to inspire."I decided I will not to let anyone destroy what I have done with my life ... I am not bitter."
Read the article below:
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Israeli Rock on iTunes
Another tremendous source for Israeli music of all kinds (and movies) is:
In my opinion, the rock band, Synergia [Synergy] puts out some of the finest, loudest, most intelligent ROCK, from Israel, or elsewhere for that matter.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Noa, Shira, Yael, Tamar, Maya, Talia, Hila, Michal and Adi.Most popular for boys:
Noam, Itai, Daniel, David, Idan, Moshe, Yosef and Yonatan.What is MOST interesting, however, is the third most popular name for Muslim, Israeli girls: Miriam. That's right: "our" Miriam, Moses' sister - her name is not only claimed by Muslim women, but is popular too. Could it be Miriam's selflessness, leadership, courage? Whatever it may be, it's only one more aspect of ourselves which we share with each other.
Read the article here: