Israel & Texts: Online Learning!

December 19, 2014

LehrhausLogoHave you ever wished you could take a class to sort out what words like Torah, Tanakh, Gemara, Mishnah, and Talmud really mean? Wondered how “Jewish law” is related to the Torah text? Ever wished you could learn more about the history of Israel and the Jews?

Registration is open for the Winter session of Intro to the Jewish Experience, “Israel and Texts” and it includes an online option! Class meetings will take place at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 – 9pm (PST) beginning January 14. For those who cannot attend in Berkeley, we offer the option of attending via Adobe Connect, a cloud-based classroom. All meetings are recorded, so that students also have the option of watching the class recordings.

All classes are taught by me except for Jan 21 and 28. I’m honored to welcome Dr. Jehon Grist as our guest lecturer on Israel.

Class schedule:

Jan 14 – Welcome & Introductions:  Jews, Texts, and Shabbat
Jan 21 –Ancient Israel – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist
Jan 28 –Modern Israel & Zionism  – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist
Feb 4 – Torah, Tanakh & Midrash
Feb 11 – Beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism
Feb 18 – What is the Talmud?
Feb 25 – Codes, Responsa and Jewish Law
March 11 – Jewish Values, Jewish Ethics

For registration, go to the class page in the Lehrhaus Catalog. Class tuition is $105.

Check out Lehrhaus’ other online course offerings this winter and spring.

Lehrhaus Judaica is a unique non-denominational Jewish studies adult school. Every course is open to the general public, and all interested adults are welcome, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity.

 

 


True Leaders Speak Vision

November 19, 2014
Rabbi Blank

Rabbi Stacey Blank blesses a bar mitzvah boy.

Rabbi Stacey Blank, the rabbi serving Kehillat Tzur Hadassah, a Reform synagogue near Jerusalem, posted words yesterday that were the wisest I’d seen about the current matsav [situation] in Israel:

Today a great tragedy occurred — a terrorist attack. An attack that killed four innocent people in the middle of their prayers. Terror because now everyone is locking their doors and glancing suspiciously at everyone else who they are passing on the street, and perhaps even those they work with side by side. We all lose in this game – the victims and also those who encourage terror. True leaders act to end the cycle of killing. True leaders speak vision and not intimidating slogans.

I am going to remember her words as I navigate the aftermath of this crime: the grief, the anger, the politics, and the rhetoric. There are people on both sides who will use this tragedy to manufacture more misery. I can use Rabbi Blank’s wisdom to discern the difference between a “leader” who is using the tension for profit, and a true leader, who points the way out of this terrible wilderness.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Be very careful about buying anyone’s rhetoric. And should someone offer a clear path to justice and peace, may we recognize him or her and put our support behind them.

I am proud to have been a classmate of Rabbi Blank’s at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and in Los Angeles. I am overjoyed to see a colleague shine so bright as a teacher of Torah and a leader of our people.


Remembering Rabin

November 6, 2014
Probably the most famous photo of PM Rabin, taken on Sept 13, 1993.

Probably the most famous photo of Prime Minister Rabin, taken on Sept 13, 1993.

This week we observed the 19th yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I have read several remembrances of him, which I would like to share with you:

“Remembering Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin” on ReformJudaism.org

“Remembering Yitzhak Rabin, 19 Years Later” by Times of Israel blogger Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh.

“For the sake of Zion I will not remain silent,” Remembering Yitzhak Rabin on Food for Mind, Body and Spirit, Rabbi Sharon Sobel’s blog. This post includes a remarkable poem by Rabbi Zoe Klein.

“Choosing Life over Land in Genesis 13 and in Peace Politics: Following Abraham and Remembering Rabin” by Ayala Emmett, in The Jewish Pluralist

 

Also, if there are readers who are thinking, “Who was Yitzhak Rabin?” here is the official biographical material from the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Israel.

 

 


Who Saves a Life, Saves a World

October 22, 2014

Bad news from Jerusalem today: a man in a car mowed down passengers exiting a light rail train. Some were Israeli, some American. A three month old infant is dead. Video makes it clear that this was a deliberate act, not an accident.

Hamas is celebrating, although reports conflict as to whether it has taken credit or not. I do not understand people who celebrate the death of an infant.

On October 1, Ibtisam Rashid was at a checkpoint in Israel, trying to take her 5 year old grandson to a chemotherapy appointment. She had a fatal heart attack and died after being denied crossing.

I lived in Israel before they built the infamous security wall. Buses were bombed regularly. My grammar teacher came to school once after helping to pick up the bodies of schoolchildren whose bus blew up in front of his car.

I do not know the answer to the matzav, the situation. I cannot fathom the pain of the parent whose child was smashed by that car. I cannot fathom the pain of the little boy whose grandmother collapsed at the checkpoint.

This week we read the story of a man named Noach. He received word from God that his family alone was to be saved from the Flood, his family alone out of all those on earth. He followed the directions he received from God: he built the ark, he put the animals on it, he shut the door when it began to rain.

Noach (whose name is related to the word for comfort)  was comfortable with the idea that God had singled out his family for survival. He did not question the idea that others would suffer and perish. He did not ask if innocents might die along with sinners. He shut the door.

Some of our sages point out the contrast between Noach and Abraham. Noach had concern only for God’s command and his family’s well being. Abraham was concerned about the suffering of theoretical innocents, the people he thought might be in Sodom.

Let us not become Noach, concerned only for ourselves. Let none of us, on any side of this conflict, be callous to the suffering of the other. Let us be like our common patriarch Abraham, concerned for more than his own. Let us remember that every death is a tragedy, a whole world lost.

May the day come when all people on all sides can see the humanity of the other.


We Measure Our Days in Various Ways

August 25, 2014

Yahrzeit candle

Yahrtzeit candle for Jewish mourning.

Oy. I just stumbled onto a new measure of how difficult this summer has been.

I get statistics from WordPress, the nice people who make my blog work, and discovered that one of my old posts has been getting a lot of traffic this summer: Baruch Dayan Emet – Why Do We Bless God when Someone Dies? 

It didn’t get much interest when I first posted it on December 7, 2013, only 7 views. Then it was mostly ignored until June 30 of this year, when suddenly it got 187 on-site views. It seems that when you Google “Baruch Dayan Emet” one of sites on the first page of Google is my post. Suddenly everyone needs to know what that phrase means and why we use it.

Death is persistent in the news this summer. It is with us in the news from Israel and Gaza. It is with us in the news from Missouri and Los Angeles and the Ukraine. It is with us in news about earthquakes and hurricanes. It is with us in news about murders and suicides. So Jews are saying “Baruch Dayan emet” more often, and hearers are going to the Net to find out what that means.

I think I need to post about some phrases for rejoicing, just so that those explanations are waiting for their moments, too.


The Mitzvah of Rebuke

August 2, 2014

"Hatred" by Ben Slow, photographed by MsSaraKelly

“Hatred” by Ben Slow, photographed by MsSaraKelly

If someone is misbehaving, it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to rebuke them. We get this from the Holiness Code in Leviticus:

.לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, and you will surely rebuke him, and you will not bear a sin because of him.  (Leviticus 19:17)

There are three parts to the commandment: (1) don’t hate other people (2) definitely tell them if they are doing wrong and (3) don’t bring sin upon yourself in the process.

We Jews excel at part (2) of that commandment. We love to tell other people when we think they are in error. However, lately we in the Diaspora been doing a lousy job of (1) and (3).

For the past three weeks on various social media, Diaspora Jews have melted down into a frenzy of rebuke. Pro-Israel, anti-Israel, anti-Israel but anti-Hamas, pro-Palestinian but anti-Hamas, seeking one state, seeking two states, words flying like shrapnel. The name-calling is out of hand, with Jews hurling words like “Nazi” and “traitor” at one another. In some cases, these are educated Jews, too: people who should know how to conduct an argument for the sake of heaven. Our tone has too often grown hateful. If we do not yet actually hate other Jews, we are paving the way there with these words that dehumanize the other. 

And then there is the matter of “don’t bear a sin because of him.” Rebuking another person in public, causing them shame (or hoping to shame them) is a sin. In Bava Metzia 58b, the rabbis liken public shaming to murder. Immediately after that passage, they tell the story of Akhnai’s Oven, in which the rabbis cause Rabbi Eliezer shame, with tragic results.

Talking about others is lashon haraevil speech, another sin. It is not simply gossip (rechilut) or spreading lies, but also speech that damages another’s reputation. Saying about another person, “She is a traitor to the Jewish people” or “He is a bloodthirsty murderer” when your talk about it does not have an important purpose (to save a life, for instance) is lashon hara. One may say, “well, that’s my opinion” but the point is, we are forbidden to spread around opinions like that. If you have a problem with a person, talk to him directly and privately.

With the backdrop of the dreadful situation in Israel and Gaza, emotions run high. However, we can and must control our tongues and our keyboards. Hateful speech does not help Israel, and it does not help the innocent victims of violence. Statement of the facts, pointing to sources, giving tzedakah: those things can help. Organizing peaceful demonstrations can help. Letters, emails and phone calls to powerful people can help. And yes, some situations may call for proper rebuke: rebuke that happens quietly, without name-calling, that asks for specific changes in behavior.

This week, when we observe Tisha B’Av and remember the great disasters in our history, our teachers will remind us that the Temple was lost because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred.  

My brothers and sisters, we in the Diaspora cannot afford to scream at one another on Twitter and facebook. We cannot afford to hurl hateful speech at one another. We have seen in the past what comes of this behavior. 

Our Israeli cousins are running for shelters, IDF soldiers are dying and wounded, and civilians are dying in Gaza (never mind for a moment whose fault, people are dying.) Around the world, we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism that smells sickeningly like the 1930’s in Europe. Mobs are marching in Europe, chanting “Death to the Jews.” Jews were beaten in the street in Canada. Canada! 

Now is a time for purposeful action and purposeful speech. There is indeed much that must be done. It can be done without name-calling and without public screaming matches. No matter what your opinion, those are wastes of valuable time and energy, and they carry the seeds of tragedy.

Ribbono shel olam, You who know our inmost hearts, help us to act and to speak with holy purpose. 


For Beginners: Israel in Conflict

July 18, 2014

The situation in the Middle East grows more and more grim as Shabbat approaches. A couple of thoughts, especially for those readers who are beginners in Judaism:

1. Those of you who are feeling upset and disturbed, this is a time to reach out to your teachers and your community. Go to services this Shabbat. Contact your rabbi, or your teacher, and let them know what’s going on with you. Simply be in Jewish space; it will help.

2. One way to feel less helpless is to do something to help innocents who are suffering.  The International Committee of the Red Cross has an an “Israel and Gaza Appeal Fund” to assist those who are suffering in the current conflict. It coordinates and assists both Magen David Adom (The Red Star, in Israel) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The International Rescue Committee also works in this area. Every gift of tzedakah, no matter how small, will help sufferers and will also help the giver feel less helpless.

3. If you are just beginning to study about Judaism, let this be a time to learn, not a time to attempt to teach others. Some may approach you and ask you to explain the conflict, knowing that you are interested in Judaism. If you don’t want to engage on the topic, say so. All you need do is say, “The situation in Israel and Gaza breaks my heart. Can we talk about something else?”

4. Another things you can do is study. A popular recent book on the subject is My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit. Another excellent book is Israel is Real, by Rich Cohen. He is not a scholar, and I have some quibbles with details, but it’s readable and honest. Or ask your rabbi for a recommendation!

5. Do not believe everything you see on the Internet.  Again, if something disturbs you, contact your teacher or rabbi. Also, be careful what words and images you spread. Unsubstantiated rumors do not help the situation, no matter whom they allegedly favor.

I wish you a Shabbat of peace and learning, of goodness and grace, of light and love. Shabbat shalom.


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