Tuesday, April 28, 2009


So, not long after posting my entry on anger this morning, I was walking outside and noticed a small SUV. It's the kind with the spare tire mounted on the back, and a cover over the tire. And, the owner had something painted on the cover - kind of a mega-bumper sticker. I've seen this car dozens of times, but it never really struck me. The slogan read, quite simply, "Life is Good."

There are definitely some people in the world, many people, for whom life truly is not good. There are quite possibly some people reading this blog for whom life is not good. And, this isn't meant to trivialize their struggles. But, for most of us, life is actually pretty good. Even in this terrible economy, with swine flu breaking out, making many of us wonder if real trouble is just around the corner*, most of us live lives which, compared to people in most times and places, are exceptional.

* as an aside, if you haven't heard, there are those in Israel's Ultra-Orthodox community who are against calling it "swine flu," because pigs aren't kosher. You know, I try to be open-minded about people from other segments of Judaism, as well as other religions. But, sometimes, they really test me on that...

Is my life perfect? Far from it. I can name any number of things which I wish were better in my life. But, I have an incredible family, a job which I love (even on days when it drives me crazy), only minor health issues (again, not to whine, but if there truly is an Intelligent Designer who is literally the Author of all creation, can someone explain Plantar Fasciitis and its purpose in the world?), food on my table every day, a roof over my head and so on and so on. Basically, if you want a status report on my life, you can just check out that SUV: Life is Good.

The Rabbis of old mandated that a person must say 100 blessings every day. Why? Is it to appease God, who is so shallow that (S)He needs constant thanking? No. It's a discipline for us. It's a challenge: to find 100 things every day which are worthy of a blessing, worthy of thanking God for them. The Rabbis came up with an elaborate system for those blessings, to make sure that the right blessing was said for the right occasion, and it's worth learning. But, for now, make it easy on yourself. Focus on that core idea of being aware of how many good things we have in life, and set yourself a challenge. Tomorrow, see if you can get to 100. Every time you come across something good in your life, simply say, "Thank you God for x," and then go about your day.

Most of us, I think, will be surprised at how good life really is.


I was following a truck the other day, and noticed a bumper sticker on it. It read: "I'll forgive Jane Fonda when the Jews forgive Hitler."

Now, it goes without saying that the sentiment on the sticker was ridiculous and offensive. Whatever you may think about "Hanoi Jane," as she still is lovingly called, to compare her, and her actions, to what Hitler did is beyond inane. But, that's not what really got me thinking (besides, picking on that part is shooting fish in a barrel).

What really got my mind reeling was the question, "why did this person put this bumper sticker on their truck?" They only had a few stickers on, and this was the only one which was issue-based. So, given that they were going to express their opinion on one issue to the world, for a long time, why was this the one?

I've had the same thought before. I see a car with one bumper sticker, and it espouses the viewpoint on one, often obscure issue. And I think to myself, "why?" Not, "why do they think that?" But, "why do they care about it so much that they needed to put it on their car?"

In this case, though, the thought was heightened because of the nastiness of the sticker. Look, I don't think a lot about Jane Fonda's activities during the Vietnam War, and I don't have much of an opinion on them. But, even if you believe, 100%, that she was wrong, and terribly so, why does that compel you to put this hateful, nasty mini-diatribe on your car? What makes you think that she's like Hitler, and what makes you want to let everyone else know that you think that? To put it bluntly (and tritely?) why do you want to share your nasty venom?

I'm not suggesting that we all try to make the world a place of pink flowers and Kumbaya sessions. I'm not advocating a world without conflict and passion. I'm just wondering, somewhat idly, what makes someone want to take an old, stale anger, hold on to it so dearly, and then tag themselves with it. It just seems that there has to be a better way to use what small platform we have in life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I just came across this, and I found it so unbelievable (and not in a good way) that I had to find somewhere to share it. The only disclaimer I'll give is that I do not believe that this Rabbi reflects the Orthodox world, or even his little corner of it.

From Wikipedia's entry on Women in Judaism:

Traditionally, women are not generally permitted to serve as witnesses in an Orthodox Beit Din (rabbinical court), although they have recently been permitted to serve as toanot (advocates) in those courts. This limitation has exceptions which have required exploration under rabbinic law as the role of women in society, and the obligations of religious groups under external civil law, have been subject to increasing recent scrutiny.

The recent case of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, the first rabbi to be expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America following allegations of sexual harassment, illustrated the importance of clarification of Orthodox halakha in this area. Rabbi Tendler claimed that the tradition of exclusion of women's testimony should compel the RCA to disregard the allegations. He argued that since the testimony of a woman could not be admitted in Rabbinical court, there were no valid witnesses against him, and hence the case for his expulsion had to be thrown out for lack of evidence.
I'm not saying I'm innocent. I'm just saying that you can't accept a woman's testimony that I'm not...

Thank God, the RCA rejected the claim. There is hope.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Harmful Religion

In today's New York Times, Judith Warner writes a very honest, interesting article about the reality of modern belief (among some). She touches on why she doesn't feel comfortable in any one religion/system, but also is honest enough to wonder about the limitations of ad hoc spirituality. It's worth reading the whole (short) thing.

I want to take issue, though, with one side-note which she makes (actually, a friend of her's makes it). When asked if she wants to attend a (Unitarian) service, she replies:

“I think that enough harm has been done in the name of religion,” said Julia, who had not long before studied the conquest of the Incas and had moved on to the colonization of Africa. “I don’t want to be a part of it.”

This has got to be one of my biggest pet-peeves in the ongoing religious vs. non-religious debates. The "I will avoid all religion because religion has done so much bad in the world" meme.

Let me be clear - I agree with the starting assertion: a huge amount of evil has been done in the name of religion. That is manifest and undeniable. Most religious people counter with how much good has been done in the name of religion. The problem is that, now, we've turned religion into a math problem - let's add up all of the good that religion has done, and all of the bad. If there is more good than bad, then I'll be religious. If not, then I won't.

There are lots of problems with this approach, not the least of which is the impossibility of quantifying, and then comparing, all of the good and evil done by religion over the centuries. But, there is a more fundamental problem with this line of reasoning. Whether or not religion has done more harm than good is an (important) academic question. But, when it comes to my own, personal religious life, there is a much more important question: will religion make me better or worse.

Let's pretend that we can all agree that religion has, throughout history, caused 3-times more pain than it has cured. On whole, religion has been a net-negative to society. But, let's also imagine that religion will make me a better person - a kinder, more thoughtful person. One who is more likely to help others, and try to improve the world. What benefit is there, to me or to the world, in my not being religious? Why should I lessen my own life, and (in a very, very, very tiny way) the goodness of the world simply because so many others have misused religion? It doesn't make any sense!

In fact, by responding to their evil by not being religious, what I have really done is ceded religion to the evil people. When, what I really want to be doing is, in my own small way, working to redeem religion - to help it be the force for good, for uplift, for redemption, that it is meant to be.

I love a music metaphor here. Most music is, let's admit it, garbage. If you turn on the radio, most of what you hear isn't very good. Imagine if Mozart was alive today, listened to the state of music and said, "well, if that's what music is, then I want no part of it." How much less would our world be for that? What would he have accomplished by bowing out, simply because so many get it wrong? Music isn't bad. Bad music is bad. And, talented artists do us no favors by reacting to bad music by becoming non-musicians.

There are lots of reasons not to be religious, and lots of good people who decide to follow that road. That's fine - that's their right. But let's stop pretending that evil acts, ancient or modern, near or far, have any real bearing on what we do with our own religious lives. If you love religion, live it, and don't let the crackpots and miscreants take that away from you.

Chag Sameach - A happy, and redemptive, Passover to all.