Prayer in a Time of War

Image: from

Holy One of Blessing, we pray for all those who feel trapped,
those who long to live in freedom and peace,

who find only imprisonment and violence,
those who are wounded, those whose wounds fester,
those who have lost loved ones, and

those who do not know where their loved ones are held.

Please comfort the frightened, strengthen the fearful, and

give nourishment to the hungry:
whether they are hungry for food or for the gifts of the spirit.

Grant us the courage to speak up, and the restraint to be silent,
and the wisdom to know when each is best.

When the day is done, may we lie down in peace,
so that we may rise in the bright morning to make peace on this earth.

Choices Have Consequences: Behar-Bechukotai

Image: An Antarctic glacier calves into the surrounding sea, as even the coldest places in the world warm and cause the ocean to rise. Image under copyright.

Parashat Bechukotai records blessings and curses for keeping or breaking the commandments. At first blush this is oversimplified Deuteronomic theology: “Be good, and good things will happen. Be bad, and you will be sorry.” This theology does not bear the strain of ordinary experience: we see bad things happen to good people every day.

However, if we look more closely at the passage, there is more to discuss. The “you” is plural: these are corporate blessings and curses that fall not upon single lives but upon the whole of the people. Bechukotai warns us that if we as a people disregard Torah we can expect consequences.

The sages taught that we should treat others decently even if only to keep the peace: “Our rabbis taught: we provide for the gentiles’ poor with Israel’s poor, we visit gentiles’ sick with Israel’s sick, and we bury the gentiles’ dead with Israel’s dead, due to the ways of peace.”  (Gittin 61a) As a result, most Jewish service organizations serve not only Jews but anyone in need who applies.

Another example: If we abuse creation, we can expect nature to go awry. Midrash teaches: When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it (l’takein).”  (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13) I feel this midrash every time I see another way that climate change is upending our lives. I can make the greenest choices possible for myself, but without the actions of others, I cannot make enough of a difference. We are commanded as a people to take these things seriously. As a people, we need to make better choices.

Ask the Rabbi: Why did my bishop ban Christian Seders?

Image: A Seder in a private home. People are talking animatedly around a large silver Seder plate, books and papers everywhere. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

I recently received a very nice letter from an Episcopalian friend asking why her bishop had banned the practice of Christian Seder meals. This is my reply, with a few edits:

Dear Friend, great question.

I have mixed feelings about bans, too, but I appreciate your bishop’s support on this matter. The issue is that “Christian Seders” have become fashionable in some circles and too often are performed by people who are ignorant about Seders and Judaism and in some cases hold beliefs that are antisemitic.

Before 70 CE Jews observed Passover with Temple sacrifices. Each household traveled to Jerusalem, and each head of household took a lamb to the priests to shecht (butcher.) Some parts went on the altar for God, some went to the Temple workers, and the largest part was taken back to the hotel or camp where the family was staying. Then, as the lamb roasted, the story of Exodus was told as the family munched on greens and matzah. 

When Jesus observed Passover, that would have been what he did, too, because the Temple was still standing. 

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, there was a huge problem for the Jews: without the Temple we could not observe the holiday. We needed a way to keep the commandments, the intent of which was to create a learning experience that would keep the story alive for each new generation. 

What the rabbis did was look for the top educational methods of the time for models. Ultimately they chose the Greek symposium banquet as their framework. It combined learning and food and questioning. Hence the reclining, the fixed order of events, and the Afikomen. For the Greeks, the Afikomen was a dessert course accompanied by tasteful music and dancers.

Unfortunately the Romans had already copied the Greeks, but where the Greeks used it for scholarly inquiry, the Romans turned it into a gluttonous display of wealth and decadence. Each such Roman banquet ended with the Afikomen, a dessert/orgy combo. 

The rabbis carefully set boundaries on the Seder so that it would be a learning event. They composed the outline of the Haggadah to keep us on track with plenty of room for improvisation. They designated some elements to encourage questioning. Finally, they prescribed that the final course of the meal, the Afikomen, was to consist of a broken piece of matza and a cup of wine. Those, and ONLY those, would be the close of the banquet. Later, singing became part of that final course as well.

(I teach this in the name of Rabbi Noam Zion, from whom I learned about the origins of the Seder in 2002 in Jerusalem.)

For Jews, this is one of the holiest events of the year. It is the cornerstone of Jewish education. We practically deconstruct our kitchens and our homes to observe it properly. 

For someone to partially copy it feels to some of us as if this holy event has been used as a toy or a curiosity. A real Passover Seder is made in a home that has been prepared for Passover: if there’s any chametz left on the premises it has been confined and ritually nullified. The ritual is a combination of ancient traditions, family traditions, and this generation’s experiments. A real Seder requires real Jews.

(Imagine a group of non-Christians playing baptism or communion.)

Many Jewish congregations offer interfaith Seders or learners’ Seders at which participants learn about the Seder and about Judaism. Christians are welcome there. Christians are welcome at many real Seder tables. It’s only a problem when it is a pretend Seder, with no Jews involved, and especially when it is used as a vehicle for teaching a fantasy about “Jesus’s Seder.”

I’m sorry for the long winded reply; I hope I’ve answered your excellent question. 

I wish you and your family a blessed Easter!

Our Holy Places: Parashat Terumah

Image: Two birds sit on the edge of a birdbath. It looks as if they are communicating.

Many synagogues have words from Parashat Terumah somewhere in their structure:

“Let them build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) or, to incorporate the Hebrew more directly: “Let them build me a mikdash, so that I may use it as a mishkan.”

The Mishkan in Torah is a visible sign for the Israelites of the covenant between the People Israel and God. The structure is both a mikdash, a holy place, and a mishkan, a dwelling place. We read endless building specifications in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. That may seem mysterious until we consider that every detail is a commandment of God. One message we might take from it is that holiness is not easily achieved.

Judah Halevi takes the point a step further in the Kuzari, 3:23. He writes, “One cannot approach God except by God’s commands.” If we seek connection with the Holy One of Israel, then it is by the commandments that connection is possible.

The commandments matter in making a place that is truly holy. When we inhabit our synagogues, God will only be among us if it is truly a mikdash, a holy place. The same applies to our homes: they can be holy places, but only if we preserve them as such. When we allow things that do not belong there (racism, sexism, selfishness, xenophobia, baseless hatred, to name but a few) then it cannot be a holy place and God will not dwell among us.

Let us build our sanctuaries, so that God may dwell among us.

This d’var Torah appeared previously in the CCAR Newsletter.


Image: Gabi and I at the computer in 2013.

I have started to write a new message 25 times, and I keep stalling out. The only thing I know to do is to write about the thing that is keeping me from writing: my dog died.

Many of you who follow the blog have followed our adventures over the years. I joked about the “rabbinic assistant” who would sit by my side as I wrote and taught but the truth is that there was something to it: I’ve been a mess ever since she died. I cannot seem to write original material, and my sleep is badly disrupted.

Gabi picked me out one Friday afternoon right before Passover in 2009. I stopped by the home of a congregant who fostered adoptable poodles. Gabi climbed into my arms, and howled when I left. That night, at services, Julie informed me that the dog was still howling, hours later: “I think she might be your dog.” I took her home with me a week later.

We didn’t know much about her history: she’d been found barely surviving on the Las Vegas Strip, a tiny toy poodle with a huge tumor under one leg. Our vet speculated her age at 13, and said that the type of tumor was typical of dogs who had had too many litters of puppies. We speculated that maybe she had been fired from a puppy mill, but we never really knew. The estimate about her age was a bit high: she lived another 13 years, and it defies belief that a toy poodle survived to 26. Mostly, she was a mystery.

She loved me and I loved her.

The pandemic came, and she was pleased: finally, she had trained me not to leave the house! It suited her for me to tap away at the computer or knit, with her nearby. Then she developed another tumor, this one cancerous, and they told me she had six months, tops. She had surgery to remove the tumor and lived for another two years.

About a year after the cancer scare, old age finally began to slow her down. By the time I called the hospice vet, she’d been blind for a couple of years, and deaf, and her sense of smell seemed to be going, too. She was still the house Alpha, bossing any dogs who visited no matter their size, but then she’d collapse and sleep for hours.

The last couple of days and nights were bad. I had made an appointment for the hospice vet to come euthanize her on Dec 30, but I had to move it up, because she went suddenly from decline to misery. On Dec 29 Dr. Taddy Fick from BluePearl Pet Hospice came to the house and administered the two injections while I held Gabi in my arms. In a few minutes, she was gone.

What have I learned? I have learned that losing a pet can be profoundly disruptive. It hurts. Jewish mourning rituals don’t apply to animals, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that is appropriate. Pets are not people. Loss of a beloved person includes a lot of ambiguity: words not said, issues unresolved, unfinished business. Gabi and I had none of that: it was all affection, all the time, for thirteen and a half years. The grief for her is uncomplicated; I just miss my dog.

I did my own rituals: mostly, I assembled a keepsake box with her collar, a pawprint, and a lock of her hair. I put it on the shelf and it will gather dust. We got a new dog and he is completely different from her: a senior male, a Maltese, with no teeth at all. Ginsberg is noisy and sometimes a pain in the neck, but I can feel myself growing fond of him.

That’s where I’ve been. In the past, writing about the source of my writer’s block has proven to be the cure for it. Here’s hoping for a good result.

Registration for “Intro” is Open!

Image: Two hands fit two puzzle pieces together, with the words “Introduction” above and “To the Jewish Experience” written below. Artwork from pixabay, modified by R. Adar.


Register via Eventbrite BEFORE CLASS BEGINS January 8. No late registrations!

Introduction to the Jewish Experience, or “Intro,” is a 24-week online class in Basic Judaism. The series is for anyone who hasn’t had a basic Jewish education, or who wishes to learn as an adult.

We study in three terms of 8 weeks, which students may take in any order:

In the Fall Term, Jewish Holidays & Lifecycle, we learn about the Jewish year and Jewish time as we explore the important days in the Jewish year, as well as the life ceremonies of Judaism.  Normally offered in the term following the High Holy Days, in the Autumn.

In the Winter Term, Jewish History Through Texts, we learn the history of the Jewish people through approximately 1000 CE, along with the literature of Rabbinic Judaism (Torah, Hebrew Bible, Midrash, Talmud) and we explore the concept of “Jewish Law.” We also explore the origins and history of antisemitism and Jew-hatred. (Offered Sunday afternoons, 1:30-3pm Pacific Time via Zoom, beginning 9/26/21). Will be offered starting January 8, 2023.


In in the Spring Term, Traditions of Judaism, we explore those things that the Jewish People worldwide share (Shabbat, the prayer book, the worship service) and we learn about Jewish history through the lens of the varieties of Jewish communities: Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and others. We learn about modern-day streams of Judaism (Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist) and the history of North American Judaism. We finish with an exploration of Jewish food customs. Will be offered starting March 12, 2023.

TO GET ON THE MAILING LIST: Send an email to, with:

  • Your name
  • The class you want to attend
  • A phone number
  • The name of your rabbi, if you have one.
  • I will notify you by email as soon as Registration opens.

TUITION: The cost of classes is $200 for each 8-session term. We also have a Pay What You Can option, with no questions asked.

I have had students from the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist traditions. I welcome students from many places: curious about Judaism, converting to Judaism, just want to understand Jewish relatives better, and some who just began working for a Jewish nonprofit. I welcome students from marginalized Jewish backgrounds: persons of color, LGBTQI persons, and students with disabilities. I am myself a fat woman, a lesbian with disabilities, and I became a Jew as an adult. I am a member in good standing of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and the Northern California Board of Rabbis.

Adventures on the Internet

Image: A compass stands upright on a map of the world. There are pins in the map, as if someone is marking a journey. (Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

I haven’t had this kind of fun in a long time, since the early crazy days of the Internet. Twitter went over to the sitra achra, aka the Dark Side, and I skedaddled (see Bye, Bye, Birdie if you want details.) Found my way to Mastodon, a decentralized, all volunteer, nobody’s-making-a-buck-on-me sort of affair, where you can find me at adar -at- babka -dot- social. Moderation is done by volunteers who wrangle the servers, and each server/instance has its own rules and standards.

If none of that makes any sense, don’t worry about it. The “fun” I mentioned is that I’m learning a new system, and this one is less polished but so far quite a bit nicer than Twitter. Learning unfamiliar things and mapping new territory makes my brain happy. I’ve located some old friends and made some new ones.

In other news:

Today I stumbled upon a real treasure, Stories from Jewish History, a substack written by Dr. Tamar Ron Marvin. She describes herself thusly:

I’m an intellectual historian with a PhD in Medieval & Early Modern Jewish Studies and currently a student at Yeshivat Maharat. Some of my best friends are medieval rabbis. Want me to introduce you?

She posts articles about the rabbis, the Rishonim and early Achronim, the rabbis from about the 11th century to the early modern period. I can recommend a nice video by Henry Abramson at the Jewish History Lab to explain the concept of the Rishonim, and the “generations” of rabbis, generally.

Dr. Marvin is a real-deal scholar, but also funny, and her love for the rabbis shines through every article. I hope you’ll take a look. Enjoy!

Vayera: Dysfunction in the Family?

Image: It is said that the tent of Abraham was open on all four sides. This is the tent of a modern bedouin household, also open on four sides to the desert around. (Pixabay)

A candidate for conversion once said to me, “I am glad that my name will be ‘bat Avraham v’Sarah,’ because my family of origin was so dysfunctional. It’s like I get a new family.” We had an interesting discussion.

That comment comes to mind every time I read Parashat Vayera, because it is difficult to imagine a family story more troubling than that of the extended family of Abraham.  In this parashah alone, Lot offers his young daughters for rape, Abraham offers Sarah to Abimelech as a concubine, Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael be tossed out to die, and Abraham acquiesces to her demand. For a finale, Abraham meekly accepts the command to take a knife to his son Isaac. Next to this stuff, the soaps are tame.

As Judith Plaskow points out in The Torah, a Women’s Commentary, God is implicated in the violence in the text, commanding it, supporting it, or failing to comment. She asks, can we read these stories to strengthen our resolve to hold both ourselves and God accountable?

The lone voice against violence in this portion is that of Abraham, who advocates for hypothetical good people in Sodom. Abraham is abundantly imperfect – he did not choose to advocate for Sarah, or Hagar, or Ishmael, or even Isaac. Abraham could and did speak up for strangers, even though his track record at home wasn’t very good.

Abraham was imperfect. We’re all imperfect. Some of us come from wonderful families, and some of us don’t. However, we don’t have to come from perfectly happy backgrounds to speak up for those who are suffering or under attack.

Each of us faces choices about what we will allow to go unchallenged, and when we will speak up. May we be inspired by our imperfect ancestor to stand up for what is right and good when our time of testing comes.

This d’var Torah appeared in the CCAR Newsletter in a slightly different form.

Bye, Bye, Birdie!

Image: A pretty blue bird. (Pixabay)

I just deactivated @CoffeeShopRabbi on Twitter. I’ve been an enthusiastic Twitter user since 2006, when I got an account on my son’s recommendation. I networked with rabbis there, and followed news sources I trusted there, and got the all-important California fire and earthquake info there. I advertised my classes and blog posts. People would say, “It’s a cesspool” and I would say, “Yeah, but it works for me.”

I was nervous when Elon Musk bought it, but the last straw came in a one-two punch. First, I had a conversation with my son in which he argued that there is a moral problem with giving income to billionaire bad boys, especially when they use their power and influence to spread lies. Then I heard about Musk’s tweet in which he helped to spread a vicious lie about the attack on Paul Pelosi.

I have been a great believer in social media. The thing I loved most about Twitter was that I could find someone whose point of view was different from mine, and follow them, and learn more about their lives. It was particularly helpful in expanding my understanding of people who are different from me. I found others who were doing the same thing: Christian clergy who were following me in order to learn about Judaism. We had conversations, but mostly we just quietly watched and learned.

I met some cherished students via Twitter, and I most miss the opportunity to stay in touch with them. I hope they’ll follow me here, and leave comments when the spirit moves them. Some old friends too — Cheryl in Birmingham, I’m looking at you. You’ve kept my economics education going for 34 years after I last set foot in an econ classroom, and you’ve changed my mind more than once. I will miss chatting with beloved colleagues from other movements — it’s easy to stay in touch with my Reform colleagues, but there are Conservative and Orthodox rabbis I knew only through Twitter.

I hope that Mr. Musk will grow up, but I’m not holding my breath.

Watch this space.

Intro Class Registration is Open!

Image: Hands putting puzzle pieces together, with the heading “Introduction to the Jewish Experience.”

Are you seeking an online class about the basics of Jewish life? Introduction to the Jewish Experience will be starting a new cycle of classes beginning on October 23, 2022 under the sponsorship of Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

Register for Intro to the Jewish Experience: Jewish Time and Life

The class meets in three terms of eight weeks each:

  • Jewish Time and Life – The Jewish Calendar, Holidays, and Life Cycle events. (Fall)
  • Jewish History Through Texts – Bible Times through Modern Texts (Winter)
  • Jewish Unity and Diversity – Jewish Prayer, Jewish Institutions, Jewish Food, plus the many varieties of Jews: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and secular. (Spring)

How much does it cost? – Tuition is set at $200 per term. If that doesn’t fit your budget, we offer the option to “Pay What You Can.” I will not know who pays how much.

Do I need to read Hebrew? – I assume that no one taking the class has any Hebrew background. Over the year, you will learn some phrases that you are likely to hear in Jewish environments, some of them Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino.

How much homework is there? – The syllabus lists readings for each week and you will receive a book list if you’d like to learn more. You decide how much homework you want to do, but remember that you get out of the class what you are willing to put into it.

What if I have to miss a class? – I supply short recordings of the lecture content for anyone who needs to make up a class. However I discourage people from taking the class from recordings only.

Can I take this class for conversion to Judaism? – For conversion, you need to work with a sponsoring rabbi. Many Reform, Conservative, and other rabbis send students to me for “Intro” classes, but the classes are only a part of the conversion process. I can help you find a rabbi, if you need one. This class is not a “conversion class” but it can be part of your process.

Can I take this class if I’m not Jewish? – Certainly! People have taken the class for many reasons: they are curious about Judaism, they love someone Jewish, or they have gotten a job at a Jewish institution and need to learn the lingo.

Do you take late registrations? – Sorry, no. It is better for the class if we all begin together at the same time. Registration for this class closes the same day the class begins, Oct 23, 2022. If you register on time but have to miss the first class, let me know and we can work that out.

Register for Intro to the Jewish Experience: Jewish Time and Life

Got more questions? Contact me at coffeeshoprabbi -at- gmail -dot- com and I will be glad to address your questions about the class.