Friday, December 18, 2009

A Rabbi and a bomb-sniffing dog walk into Montana

Did you hear the one about the Rabbi and the Israeli bomb-sniffing dog in Helena, Montana? Check it out.

My favorite line of the day? Clearly it’s:

And yet, in a minor revival, Montana now has three rabbis, two in Bozeman and one (appropriately) in Whitefish.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Standing up to all fanatics – even our own

Last week, some Jewish settlers in Israel vandalized a mosque in a Yasuf, a village south of Nablus. These representatives of our Loving God:

set fire to a carpet and to a library in the mosque's second floor, destroying holy books.

They also sprayed abusive statements in Hebrew on the walls and floor. Graffiti messages included …"We will burn the lot of you."

Upon hearing of this desecration of a holy place, Rabbi Avi Weiss, the leader of what’s being called “Open Orthodoxy” led a small contingent of religious Jews to the mosque to stand in solidarity with the Muslims of that community.

Wearing their kippot, Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Rabbi Yair Silverman, formerly of Beth Israel of Berkley CA and now rabbi of Moed in the Zichron Yaakov community in Israel, told a crowd outside the mosque: “We come in peace to express deep pain for what occurred. We condemn it with all our hearts and souls. As a people that has experienced such desecration, we come to reach out to you in the spirit of brotherhood.”

It’s important for us all to remember that fanatics come in all shapes, colors and religions. A Jewish fanatic is no better than a Muslim, Catholic or Atheist Fanatic. Someone who sets fire to another person’s holy place and sacred books is a criminal – in both religious and secular terms.

I think that it’s absolutely incumbent, especially on those who are of the same religion, to speak out when these travesties happen. Thank God for people like Rabbi Weiss who are willing to, in this case literally, reach out to members of that community and let them know that Jews who understand the core messages of our tradition do not condone or accept these kinds of vicious attacks. This is not Judaism, and if I were in Israel, I would gladly had stood with Rabbi Weiss and the residents of Yasuf, and never with those who desecrated their mosque in the name of our God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

“C” is for “Chanukah,” that’s good enough for me

OK, so maybe it isn’t quite as historically accurate or nuanced as that Op Ed piece, but Talia will certainly enjoy this one more:


The Real Op Ed of Chanukah

Chanukah is not a cute holiday. Despite the cutification* of the day, the real story of Chanukah is violent, ironic, troubling and very relevant to us, politically and religiously.

* cutification (n): to make something cuter. I just made that up.

Much to my surprise, the New York Times ran an Op Ed this morning, written by David Brooks, explaining the real story. It is, quite frankly, one of the most cogent and concise descriptions of the holiday – the actual story, and some important, often overlooked morals – that I’ve seen.

They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt, brutal and reactionary. The concept of reform had been discredited by the Hellenizing extremists. Practice stagnated. Scholarship withered. The Maccabees became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into Jerusalem.

But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.

If all you know about is some oil that burned for longer than it should have, then take 5 minutes and give this a read!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greatest. Recording. Ever?

So, if Neil Diamond were to ever cover Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” would it create some kind of kitsch, pop-culture black hole, which would immediately suck up all of the universe into it’s so-uncool-it’s-cool vortex?

Wonder no longer, people.


God help me. I can’t stop listening.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I don’t have much to say about this, by way of commentary. Just try to find 10 minutes and a quiet room, and watch this beautiful, powerful short.

Basic Religion, as taught by a rebel Evangelical

An old friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook. When a Rabbi posts an Esquire article by an Evangelical, which had been pointed out to him by a Catholic scholar, it’s probably worth checking out.

Shane Claiborne is, apparently, an Evangelical who isn’t too popular with other Evangelicals, because he keeps preaching that they (the Evangelicals) should be more like Jesus. His article is, essentially, about how we (he is mostly talking about Churches, but I’d include Jewish organizations, and probably all religious institutions) keep forgetting the actual, core teachings of our religious traditions:

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

It’s obvious that Claiborne and I have very different theologies and beliefs – he clearly believes in the literal Divinity of Jesus, and I can only assume that, when he talks about the Afterlife, he is talking about something in which I ardently do not believe. But, when he says things like:

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David...

it becomes apparent that, as different as our theologies might be, our philosophies, and our values, overlap quite a bit.

“They” pray that God’s will will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven. “We” pray that we, with God, will “perfect the world under God’s rule.” There isn’t a whole lot of difference there, I’d wager. I’m not saying that Jews and Christians are all the same – I strenuously believe that, in many important, even fundamental ways, we’re very, very different. I’d generally rather celebrate and embrace those differences, rather than try to smooth them over. But, it’s at least as important to remember that, deep down, we share very much in common. And, in the end, what we’re all trying to do is create a world which is better, kinder and more holy than the one which we inherited.

Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter.

Amen, brother. Amen.