“Why are Rosh Hashanah and especially Yom Kippur so important to my Jewish partner? He almost never attends services the rest of the year, isn’t observant and doesn’t even know what he believes about God. Yet, at this time of year, he insists on attending services. What’s the big deal with these holidays?”
There are both “official” and “unofficial” answers to these questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the unofficial explanations are often the more significant ones. The official answers (to which I’ll return shortly) speak in terms like judgment, sin, repentance, life and death. The unofficial answers have something to do with the complicated puzzle of American Jewish identity.
For many Jews in this country, attending High Holiday services (particularly, the first evening service of Yom Kippur) is a way of affirming that we still are part of the Jewish people, a way of demonstrating that we haven’t yielded to assimilation or broken the ancient chain of the Jewish people’s survival and continuity. Being with our people at services says: No matter how far we may have drifted from active involvement with Judaism, we’re still proud to be Jews. We still care about being Jewish — even if we’re not very religious and are not sure how we feel about the content of those services. Many times, our participation also says that we’re still connected with the values of parents and grandparents, for whom our attendance (or absence!) is a very powerful symbol.
Notice that these “unofficial” answers have little to do with theology or even with the religious significance of the prayers and rituals. That’s because for many American Jews, their “Jewishness” is not first and foremost a matter of religion. Many American Jews will tell you that their Jewish identity is primarily ethnic or cultural or communal. They speak about Jewish holiday customs or Jewish ethical values or a feeling of connection they associate with being Jewish that seems, to them, to be somewhat separate from the Jewish religion. What’s important for understanding this High Holiday commitment is that in the mind of your loved one, the urgency of attending services may not be primarily about the religious significance of the ritual.
Nonetheless, if you will be joining your partner to sit through an unusually long and crowded synagogue service, you might want to know a little more about what to expect and what the ritual means officially. For most Jews, the term, “High Holidays” is the title given to a period of 10 days that stretch between the holy day of Rosh Hashanah — which means, literally, head of the year — and Yom Kippur — the day of atonement. Both holy days have their earliest roots in the Torah, although the name, “Rosh Hashanah,” was not used until significantly later in Jewish history.
Rosh Hashanah ushers in the Jewish New Year (on our calendar, the coming year is 5766) and with it a period of profound self-examination and repentance. It is, therefore, a day of joyous celebration balanced against a humbling and solemn consideration of how well (or poorly) we have used the gift of the previous year. Tradition teaches that God judges each of us individually and our community as a whole on Rosh Hashanah. Tradition also teaches that the result of God’s judgment will be a matter of life and death (either figurative or literal, depending on your theological orientation). Our prayers, songs and rituals, therefore, focus on confessing the ways in which we’ve gone astray, asking forgiveness for occasions on which we’ve missed the mark, and committing ourselves to acts of repentance (teshuvah).
We go through this process collectively. We ask for forgiveness and repent almost exclusively in the first person plural! This use of “we” vs. “I” reflects Judaism’s emphasis on community. Our first concern is how well the Jewish community as a whole has fulfilled its covenant with God. Our first responsibility is to live in such a way that we help the community be the kind of holy people God has challenged us to become. Of course, our Rosh Hashanah observances also celebrate the possibility of a new beginning that comes with the new year — God’s gift to us if we engage in this cleansing process with sincerity.
Some distinctive observances to watch and listen for on Rosh Hashanah: the extensive ritual for sounding of the shofar during the morning service, which is mandated by the Torah and serves as a deeply moving call to renewed awareness and action; eating apples and honey for a sweet year, and greeting others by expressing the hope that they will be judged for a shanah tovah. Depending on the congregation you join, you also may participate in tashlich ceremony in which we symbolically cast away our sins by throwing bread crumbs (or other, less traditional things such as little stones) into a body of water.
Yom Kippur begins in the evening 10 days later. Its mood is one of deep solemnity, contrition and humility. According to tradition, the judgments begun on Rosh Hashanah are sealed and finalized on Yom Kippur. Because Leviticus (23:27) instructs that self-affliction should be part of this day dedicated to repentance, most Jews will observe a complete fast for at least part of the day. In fact, many will spend almost the entire day at the synagogue engaged in fasting, prayer, reflection and repentance. The observance ends with the setting of the sun, a final sounding of the shofar — dramatically marking the end of this intensely spiritual day and as a reminder of ancient practice in the Jerusalem Temple–and then, gatherings to break the fast together.
Yom Kippur’s opening evening service centers on an ancient formula known as Kol Nidre, which absolves us of vows and oaths we may take between this Yom Kippur and the next one. I suspect that the prayer is revered as much for its haunting and powerful music as for its somewhat complicated message.
While Yom Kippur services vary, all will focus on communal confessions and introspection, requests for forgiveness and the effort to obtain perspective on our present lives by placing them in the context of the past. More specifically, synagogues hold a special Yizkor service to honor loved ones who have died and to gain important insights from both their lives and deaths. Many synagogues also honor the martyrs of the Jewish people throughout history and, again, seek to learn important lessons from the humbling example of their sacrifices. Then, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the observance concludes with the Neilah, or locking, service — a final chance to repent before the symbolic gates of repentance are closed and locked.
Of course, there are many interesting and important details for which I haven’t had room here. For now, let me be one of the first to wish you a year that is healthy, happy and fulfilling. Shanah tovah!
The Ugly Bug Ball
In Parshat Shemini, we learn which animals are kosher. A young friend of mine asked: Why did God create both kosher and non-kosher animals? The sages of the Talmud ask the same question. They said there is something we can learn from every animal – kosher or not.
For example, the Sages say we can learn honesty and industriousness from an ant. Ants are hardworking, and they are “honest” in that they don’t steal from each other.
King David tried to uncover the meaning behind each animal and he succeeded – but he couldn’t figure out the spider. So, God showed King David how the spider could even save a life. When running for his life from King Saul, David hid in a cave. King Saul and his soldiers were searching everywhere. God sent a spider to spin a web over the opening of the cave in which David was hiding. When the soldiers came to his cave and saw it was covered with a spider’s web, they moved straight past, not realizing that the web was freshly made.
All Creatures Great and Small
Did You Know?
The word for “kindness” in Hebrew is chesed. In the Torah, the Hebrew word for stork is chasida. The rabbis say that the stork was given this name because this bird is very kind and generous with its food and shares with other birds.
1. Where are koala bears from?
a) United States
2. Whales and dolphins are large fish.
3. What is the largest flying bird alive today?
a) Bald eagle
Answers From Last Week
Tell Me a Story: Hamantaschen
This week, we start a new year – and a new book. Shemot (Exodus) is the second book of the Torah. The Israelites are in the deepest winter of their lives – a dark slavery. In this book, we will read about their move toward freedom, rebirth and spring.
So many of you wrote in with answers to our puzzles this last week. Congrats to all those who answered correctly and you will receive a gift certificate.
Winners receive a gift certificate to either Baskin-Robbins or Munchies.
For four months, religious school students in the Noah’s Ark Reading Contest at Temple Isaiah read “From Rain to Rainbows.” Students read any type of Jewish book at their grade level, and then report on it to librarian Ellen Cole. Each book gives students a point toward prizes; biblical stories count double. The more competitors read, the more they win. Last year’s big winner read 99 books.
If you want to create a program like this at your school, call Temple Isaiah at (310) 277-2772 and ask for Ellen
At the Jewish Children’s Bookfest at Mount Sinai on Nov. 14, children were given a journal and asked the following question:
“What does being Jewish in America mean to me?”
Here is our first response, by Caleigh Gumbiner, a fourth-grader at Balboa Magnet in Northridge: “To me, being Jewish in America means I can be free to study Torah when I like and how I would like to study it. It also means I don’t have to be treated differently or badly because of my religion.”
The pilgrims came to America so they could practice their religion in freedom, just like Caleigh practices her Judaism. We must all work together to make sure that America remains a country of freedom.
Here are some of the things the kindergartners at the Westside JCC are thankful for:
“I am thankful for my parents even though they’re kinda silly. Sometimes, if they’re mad, I’ll come to see what I did wrong and sometimes when they’re sad, I can make them feel better!”
“I am thankful for my strawberry plant because my Mommy gave it to me and it’s very special.”
Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!
So, what do math and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, have in common? On this day, Jews are supposed to do a cheshbon hanefesh.
This literally means “accounting of the soul.”
We count up and categorize all the actions we’ve taken
and all the thoughts we’ve had during the year:
How many good? How many bad? How many generous?
How many selfish? How many useful? How many just a waste of time?
Then we decide which actions and thoughts we want to repeat
and which ones we will throw away.
Yom Hooledet Samech!
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world. The Jewish/Hebrew calendar follows the cycle of the moon. The English/Gregorian calendar follows the cycle of the sun. Both calendars are divided into 12 months.
Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to email@example.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next week!
Day of Sadness
Tisha B’Av means the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is the saddest day in the Jewish year, when we remember some of the terrible things that have happened to our people since ancient times. This year, Tisha B’Av starts at sundown on July 26 and ends at sunset on July 27.
This Day in History
Many terrible things have happened to the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av. Do you know what they were? Answer the quiz questions correctly and send the answers to firstname.lastname@example.org for a prize.
It’s the home stretch. A few more weeks and you’re free! So here’s a lesson about freedom and food: In the movie "Supersize Me," the actor experiments with eating all the fast food he can eat and always ordering it supersized. He gains a lot of weight and gets very sick. In Parshat Behalotecha, the Israelites complain that they have no meat, God gives them so much meat that they never want to look at meat again.
Just because you are free to eat anything you want, that doesn’t mean you should. Be careful, be responsible, help your parents keep you healthy by eating healthy.
by Devorah Friedman of North Hollywood
This is an odd-looking carrot
But it is so very neat
It could be a poor guy’s legs
So I can bite his feet.
Or it can be some chopsticks
For the Chinese.
So when they eat neatly
Their mothers will be pleased.
Or it can be tweezers
for my ears and nose
So I won’t have to worry
If my ear hair grows!
Well, since this carrot
has been here for so long,
I think we should put it away.
So we’ll send it to my stomach
Right now, without delay!
For her poem, Devorah gets a scoop
The 11th Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar will
be held July 25-Aug. 13, 2004. Do you feel you are a young Jewish leader? If you
do, download an application to this seminar and send it to the Consulate General
of Israel in Los Angeles, attention: Yariv Ovadia, no later than June 10, 2004.
Applicants will be interviewed and nominated by each Israeli Consulate.
Applications may be downloaded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site at
A Productive Vacation
For many of you it is spring break. Do you feel like a newly
freed Israelite, having escaped from the hard work of school? For a whole week
you can get up at whatever time you want! But remember, even when we are free —
especially when we are free — we have the responsibility to take care of
ourselves and others.Â
So, don’t just loll around the house and watch TV. Help your
mom with the groceries; play catch with your little brother; plant a garden for
Chefs in the Making
by Batya Shultz, age 10, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, in
memory of her great-grandmother who died on April 1, 2003.
12 ounces cooked
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 red delicious apples
3/4 cup sweet
cinnamon to taste
by Jacob and Jordan Pardo, ages 8 and 4, Sinai-Akiba Academy
3 cups chopped walnuts
of homemade date
syrup (made from
by Katie Lu, age 9 1/2,
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons grape juice
Mel Gibson’s Jesus movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” became controversial long before its release when learned critics, Christians as well as Jews, who had been invited to read a draft of the script objected that the film was, if not actually anti-Semitic, then all too apt for anti-Semitic exploitation. The initial response of the Gibson camp to these charges included a lawsuit charging the critics with a malicious attempt to sabotage the film.
From the sidelines, industry insiders speculated that the controversy was a publicity stunt engineered to pump up the audience for a film that had cost its producers more to make than any Jesus movie was likely to earn at the box office (for a review of “The Passion,” see page 25).
Be that as it may, here, for moviegoers who might not keep a Gospel (or a Torah) at bedside, is a crib sheet for — you should forgive the expression — the post-mortem.
Q. This movie is supposedly based on the New Testament. What is the New Testament anyway?
A. In literary terms, the New Testament is the Christian Bible’s epilogue to the Jewish Bible or Tanakh. Like the Tanakh, the New Testament is almost entirely the work of Jews1. Only one of its authors is definitely known to have been a non-Jew.
The term testament is itself something of a linguistic fossil. It is an English descendant of the Latin word testamentum, which in antiquity translated the Hebrew brith, meaning “covenant.” Inconveniently, testament no longer means “covenant” in English.
Imagine Covenant or Brith as the title of Judaism’s Bible. Christianity’s new brith — memorialized in its enlarged Bible — sought to extend Israel’s covenant with God to the entire human race. That is what was new about its “new covenant.” Mind you, the whole human race wasn’t exactly begging for inclusion. Who but Jews would ever have had the chutzpah to think up such a thing and declare it the salvation of the world? But chutzpah they had, those first-century Jewish dissidents, and the non-Jews went for it.
Besides letting everybody into the Jewish country club, here’s what else was new about the Christian New Covenant. In place of Jews sacrificing animals to God to atone for their sins or ransom their firstborn or otherwise set things right between the Creator and themselves, God now sacrificed himself — in the person of Jesus — to himself and thus set everything right for all time and for everybody in one fell swoop. Thereafter, animal sacrifice could be dispensed with. The animal-sacrifice equivalent for the children of this new covenant would be simply a memorial reenactment of God’s once-and-for-all self-immolation at the crucifixion. The core of traditional Christian worship, beginning with the Catholic Mass, consists of this ritualized reenactment.
As St. Peter, whom Christian tradition honors as the first pope, saw the matter, the human beings involved in the death of Jesus were all just a part of God’s eternal plan. Speaking as a Jew to his fellow Jews in the first big-time sermon of his career, he said:
“Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; but this was the way God carried out what he had foretold when he said through all his prophets that his Messiah would suffer” (Acts 3:17-18).
So, then, whatever the historical answer to the question “Who killed Jesus?” the overriding Christian theological answer is, in effect, “God killed him.”
Q. Why did the Jews reject Jesus?
A. Is it any surprise that not all Jews were charmed at the notion of obliterating the distinction between Jew and non-Jew? Was this not a distinction set up and sanctified by God himself? Though Jewish ethnicity survived as such under Christianity (Christian Jews were still Jews), it survived as no more than that. What had made being Jewish so special — a special relationship with God — was now transferred to a “New Israel” to which everybody and his brother was invited. Maimonides had reason to say that “Jesus of Nazareth … interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment.” In his own way, St. Paul had said the same thing.
And there was a deeper reason. Jewish intellectual accommodation could be made, if just barely, for an Incarnate Word of God2. But for a Messiah defeated as horribly as the Jews themselves were in the catastrophic, six-decade Roman-Jewish wars? That was too much to bear. You can easily imagine a Jew in Peter’s audience objecting: “Take another look at the Prophets, Pete. Our Messiah is supposed to be King David redux. He is supposed to rescue us, not suffer for us, much less substitute himself for our sacrificial animals. What a cockamamie notion! A lot of good that does us!”
On the other hand, beware of anybody who tells you that “the Jews” accept or reject anything. In the time of Jesus, there were many Jews who went to war against Rome believing that as God had done to Pharaoh, so he would do to Caesar. But not all shared this suicidal faith. Before fighting the Romans, the Jewish rebels had to fight those of their fellow Jews who correctly foresaw a holocaust and wanted no part of it. Meanwhile, there were a few Jews who had long since concluded that their God would never again come through for them on the battlefield and who had begun, daringly, to imagine him suffering alongside them instead: a crucified God for a crucified people. These were the Jews who founded Christianity.
As for the privilege of being Jewish, what exalted some Jews discomfited others just as it does today. This question seems to have been particularly pressing for the Jews of the Greco-Roman Diaspora precisely because like the Jews of America, they were thriving spectacularly in the international culture of their day. Significantly, the New Testament was not written in parochial Aramaic. It was written in the international Greek spoken by this relatively comfortable Diaspora and, at the start, mostly for this Diaspora as well. The Jews of the Mediterranean Diaspora were not less Jewish than the Jews of Palestine, but they were definitely different. Think of synagogue life in Israel and in the United States: neither is “more Jewish” than the other, but who can deny that they are different? It was through Diaspora synagogues that Christianity spread around the empire.
In sum, then, there were some strong and obvious Jewish reasons to reject Jesus as a divine, pacifist, crucified Messiah enlarging God’s covenant to include the whole world, but there were a few emotionally powerful reasons to accept him in this role as well. The latter reasons may have been particularly persuasive in the Jewish Diaspora.
Q. OK, but now what about that historical question that you hurried past a moment ago? What was Jesus’ life like before the crucifixion? What is the backstory here? Does anyone know?
A. Historically, the time of Jesus was a time of steadily mounting Jewish resistance to Roman rule in Judea. The Romans tried to rule through Romanized local proxies — above all, through the dynasty of Herod. But when its proxies couldn’t quite handle things, the Empire was fully prepared to move to direct rule, even to military occupation.
Jewish resistance to Roman rule went hand in hand with apocalyptic religious thinking, a kind of thinking unknown in the Jewish Diaspora. Apocalyptic scribes and preachers read the older Hebrew scriptures as a key to the future, and the future they saw was one in which God would inflict catastrophic punishment on his foes before restoring Israel to its ancient glory. Apocalypticism was only too suitable, then, as background music for militant, violent resistance to Roman rule.
And yet not every apocalyptic thinker was an armed rebel. Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and wonder-worker who believed that he was destined to be the star player in God’s final, definitive intervention in human history. Yet Jesus renounced violence. The Galilean rabbi may well have thought he was Messiah. He probably did not think he was God incarnate. After his death, his followers saw and wrote things about him that went beyond his own words. But none of them ever remembered him as a warrior, though his Hebrew name — perhaps by a deliberate irony — was Joshua3.
Josephus — a sometime Jewish soldier writing in Greek about the Roman-Jewish wars of the first and second century — mentions various prominent religious leaders of his day, including Jesus. He has least to say about those whose methods vis-à-vis the Romans were peaceful, including the earliest sages of the rabbinic tradition; but the background historical information that the Gospels indirectly convey is quite consistent with the world that he describes. Jesus, just one rather obscure preacher in a crowded landscape, would be little more than a bit player in Josephus had Jesus’ followers not told his story to the entire known world.
There was a clear conceptual distinction, in any case, between Jesus and the kind of apocalyptic preacher who most worried Rome and the Jews collaborating with Rome. But there was also a dangerous rhetorical similarity between the two. When Jesus left provincial Galilee and began attracting large street audiences in Jerusalem with his special kind of apocalyptic preaching, the Romans’ Jewish collaborators were predictably alarmed at what the Roman reaction might be. To quote the Gospel of John:
What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation. But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish (John 11:47-50).
The irony of this key passage is that, ruthlessness aside, Caiaphas’ willingness to acquiesce in Roman rule was matched by Jesus’ own. Not only was Jesus not a militant, he was a radical pacifist, a Joshua who would not fight; and his position regarding Rome was the scandalously compliant: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Imagine Moses saying “Render to Pharaoh the things that are Pharaoh’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and you have some sense of the change that Jesus and his Jewish followers were prepared to make.
In historical terms, then, Jesus can be regarded as the victim of either a tragic mistake or a cynical calculation. But in either case, it was not the Jews but some Jews who made the fateful first move against him. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem days before his death, he was greeted by an adoring Jewish throng, according to the Gospels. When he was condemned to death, he faced a bloodthirsty Jewish mob, according to the same Gospels. Same Jews, different day? Different Jews?
Who knows? Ancient Jewish as well as ancient Christian sources attest that Jesus had influential Jewish enemies. Strikingly, however, in view of early Christian fear of hostile Roman attention, the words of the most ancient summary of Christian belief blame the Roman governor if they blame anyone. The key words of the “Apostles’ Creed” state that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.”
Q. But what about the long history of Christian persecution of Jews as “Christ killers”? Haven’t even some Christian commentators proposed excising certain anti-Semitic lines from the Gospels? And if Gibson is true to Gospel anti-Semitism, then isn’t he just serving up a Hollywood version of the anti-Semitic Oberammergau Passion play?
A. The smoking-gun line for the claim that the Gospels are anti-Semitic — a line now reportedly4 deleted from Mel Gibson’s film — is Matthew 27:24-25:
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be upon us and upon our children!”
Most scholars recognize in the Gospel of Matthew the most Jewish of the four canonical Gospels. It was almost certainly written by a Christian Jew for other Jews like himself and against their Jewish opponents. Imagine, if you will, the anger of secular Israelis about the ultra-Orthodox Israelis who called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin and who applauded Yigal Amir when he did the deed. Intense as it was, that anger was not an anti-Semitic anger, for all parties to the transaction were equally Jewish. So it may have been here as well — originally.
Alas, when a Gospel containing such anger migrates out of its initial all-Jewish context into other contexts where Jews are a minority, the notorious line takes on a fearsome new anti-Semitic potential. In my judgment, it retains that potential down to our own day. Theologically, the death of Jesus is not a wrong that could be set right if his murderers could somehow be brought to justice. Theologically, Jesus’ passage from death to life in his resurrection is a new Exodus, bringing the human race as a whole to the new promised land of immortality. Theologically, those who killed Jesus, even if they sinned, were tools in God’s hands; and God’s enemy was not his people Israel but Satan. Theologically, it was Satan and Satan alone who was defeated when Jesus rose from the dead: Paradise lost, paradise regained. But when have anti-Semites ever cared, really, about theology?
I hope that “The Passion” does not live up to the worst of its advance notices; but if it does, the result will be more a pity than a peril. Anti-Semitism is not best confronted by bowdlerizing “The Merchant of Venice,” censoring Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” expurgating the Gospel according to Matthew 5 or editing the latest Jesus movie to come down the pike. To think this way is to treat anti-Semitism as something like the genitals of human thought and of ourselves as a frail Victorian damsel who might faint dead away if her innocent gaze ever fell on the dread organs. We are stronger than that, I dare to think — strong enough, if you will, to stare the obscenity down. The anti-Semites among us only rejoice when we act otherwise.
Jack Miles, senior adviser to the president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, is the author of “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God” (Vintage Books).
1 The Israelite authorship of a few books of the Tanakh — notably Job and Ecclesiastes — has long been in question.
2 Though it is commonly claimed that the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity is an “un-Jewish idea,” its nearest theological kin is actually ancient rabbinical memra or “Word” theology — a kind of religious speculation that arose from the Tanakh’s way of speaking of God’s Word (Aramaic memra) as endowed with something like a life of its own. Without a Jewish initiation, pagan Greeks would scarcely have known what to make of what the Gospel of John has to say about the divinity of Jesus.
3 Greek Isous, which yields Latin Iesus, translates Hebrew Yehoshua or Yeshua — alternate forms of the name Joshua. It has become common enough for New Testament scholars, Christian as well as Jewish, to refer to Jesus as Yeshua. Yeshua, however, though it has the merit of reinforcing Jesus’ Jewishness, otherwise says nothing. Joshua speaks volumes.
4 New York Times, Feb. 4, 2004. According to The Times, the film placed the now-deleted line in the mouth of the high priest, Caiaphas. The Gospel of Matthew, the only one of the four New Testament gospels to include the line, attributes it to Jewish demonstrators outside the palace of Pontius Pilate. Though the change is typical of the sort of liberty that screenwriters take in turning a book into a shooting script, it would have had the effect of making the assumption of responsibility for the execution more nearly official. In the Gospels, as noted, different Jewish crowds hold different views about Jesus and sometimes engage each other in public dispute.
5 It was reliably reported to me, some years ago, that a Christian professor in a prestigious Eastern liberal arts college was proposing in class that the Book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua be purged of their “anti-Semitic” portions, these being those portions in which God commands genocide against the Canaanites, and Israel obeys. One can imagine, of course, how Palestinians might quote these passages against Israelis. One can imagine, in other words, how in contemporary context the passages could be used to anti-Semitic effect. But the claim being made, apparently, was that the ancient authors of these works were writing to disgrace their Jewish contemporaries — in other words, that the authors were anti-Semitic. This I found, and find, quite incredible, but note well: The expurgatory genie, once out of the jug, may not stop where Aladdin would have him stop.
Ring in the New Month
On Saturday, we will welcome the new month of Shevat.
Q: Which holiday do we celebrate on the 15th of Shevat?
A: Rosh Chodesh
What does this head have to do with the words rosh chodesh or new month?
So, nu? It’s a new, new!
What Hebrew word does chodesh come from?
Ma chadash? What’s new?
What do you think the word chadashot means?
(Hint: You watch it on TV.)
What Else Is New?
Here are the names of three places that start with new. Fill in the blanks for a gift certificate:
1) New J __ __ __ __ __
2) New H __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
3) Newf __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Our friends in the Midwest and East Coast could sure use some sun. Finish this maze and maybe they’ll have sunny days ahead
Eliana Willis, Tamar Willis and Dalya Silverstein solved the backwords and the slice of pie puzzles. They win gift certificates to Baskin-Robbins.
Answers From Last Week
Plagues by Math: Vav and Alef add up to seven — so seven in Vayera; Bet and Alef add up to three — three in parshat Bo. Palindrome Play: Tevet.
Plagued by Math
It’s post-vacation back-to-school time — again. Here’s some math to get you started: The 10 plagues appear in two parshot — Vaera and Bo.
How many plagues appear in each parsha?
Here are your clues:
The two Hebrew letters that make up the name
of parshat Bo add up to: _____
The first two Hebrew letters of Vaera add up to:_____
We are coming to the end of another Hebrew month. Its name is a palindrome in English. Which month is it?
Answer this for extra credit: Are there any Jewish holidays during this month?
E-mail your correct answers email@example.com for a
gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins.
Shemot, the new book of the Bible we begin this week, is the story of the Exodus — of how the Israelites were freed from their bonds of slavery and sent out into the desert on a long journey. They were free, but they also had many dangers they would encounter before they reached their home. It is as exciting an epic as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — there are miracles and magic, enemies who must be fought and internal conflicts among the characters.
What is your epic? What dangers will you need to be careful of this year? What fears will you need to overcome? Remember, there is always a Gandalf or a Moses who will help you on your way!
Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien named some of his characters based on Hebrew language roots? Can you guess who was named for what?
“To rule” in Latin is regere — it is related to the Hebrew word arag (to weave). Guess who?
The golem was a monster that a great rabbi made out of clay. Guess who? ( See page 38)
My Gandalf or My Favorite Teacher
Write an essay and you can win an ice cream party for your class.
Interview and/or write about your favorite teacher:
What does he/she do besides teach?
Is he/she active in any charitable/environmental organizations?
What are his/her hobbies?
Why is he/she your favorite teacher?
What are his/her favorite part of being a teacher?
Discover the answer to these and/or other questions that
you want to ask your teacher. Send essays to firstname.lastname@example.org . Deadline: Feb. 17, 2004
Answers From Last Week: Wonderful Words: 1)
Conservation; 2) Conversation. One Cool Rebus:
A time to Live
Vayechi is the last portion of the book of Genesis. We have read all about the creation of the world, Noah’s ark, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives and the 12 tribes. The family ends up in Egypt, which is where the Book of Exodus picks up.
The meaning of the word Vayechi is "and he lived," but, ironically, two important people die in this portion: Jacob and Joseph. And what’s even more interesting is that we are told that their bodies are preserved as mummies.
Jews have always lived in different cultures, and they often adopt and adapt to the culture they are living in. In Egypt, they adopted the tradition of preserving their dead.
Looking for Letters
It’s almost back to school for many of you. Oh well — let’s
keep having holiday fun anyway. Answer one or more of these puzzles that have
to do with the calendar and win a gift certificate for Baskin-Robbins Ice
Search for the letters that aren’t there. Each letter
appears once, but four do not appear at all. Find the missing letters, and then
arrange them to spell a word that appears in these pages.
Mitzvah (Im)Possible — Guide Dogs
For The Blind
Justin Skootsky and Mathew Wunderlich have won our Mitzvah
They will each receive $10. Congratulations and great work,
We learned about the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind
(IGDCB) from a flier our temple publishes. We thought that raising money would
be worthwhile because it combined helping Jews in Israel with the appeal of
people’s love for puppies. We were able to get See’s Candy to donate lollipops.
We sold the candy at temple after Sunday school.
We were in contact with Norman Leventhal, president of the
IGDCB and sent him $1,000 to sponsor two puppies.
He asked us to help him develop a program for bar and bat
Celebrate Our Home
At the end of Parshat Vayetze, Jacob sets out to return to his parents’ home. He has spent 36 years making money and creating a family. And now he can finally look forward to seeing the land that he loves.
Many of us feel this way about Israel. We want to visit this beautiful country that holds so much of our Jewish history. It is so exciting to be there, eat the food and learn things about ancient times. But some of us just can’t get there yet, so we pray for the well-being of Israel and its inhabitants.
Riddle Me This
Charan is the name of the town that Abraham left; where Isaac returned to in order to find his bride, Rebecca; and where Jacob fled to escape the wrath of Esau and marry Laban’s daughters, Rachel and Leah.
Mount Ararat is the mountain on top of which Noah’s ark landed. In which country can we find both of these biblical sites?
E-mail the answer for a gift certificate.
An Acrostic Poem
Important to all Jews
Sad things are happening
in the Jewish homeland.
Jews everywhere are
hoping for peace.
A place of great beauty.
Every Jew prays for you.
Land of milk and honey.
Leila Hakim, fourth grade, Sinai Akiba Academy
When I went to Israel,
I felt very spiritual
Since I touched the Western Wall.
When I went to Israel,
I smelled falafel and shawarma.
When I went to Israel,
I met a lot of friendly people.
They were very kind to me.
When I went to Israel,
I felt very relaxed,
Floating on the Dead Sea.
It tasted very salty.
When I went to Israel,
I heard a lot of good music.
When I went to Israel,
I saw lots of old buildings.
I love Israel.
Brandon Moghimi, fourth grade, Sinai Akiba Academy
Famous Jewish Immigrants
Jews, like the pilgrims on the Mayflower, came to America so that they could practice their religion without being persecuted. Your grandparents and great-grandparents probably did the same. Some of these immigrants helped shape American culture:
Levi Strauss is one famous 19th century immigrant.
Emma Lazarus became a famous Jewish poet. She wrote a poem about freedom, titled “The New Colossus.”
A Harvest Lei
It is believed that the pilgrims modeled their first Thanksgiving after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. On Sukkot we give thanks to God for the bounty of the harvest and welcome guests into oursukkah. This is a Thanksgiving craft that combines these two Jewish ideas.
You will need:
A large needle (be sure to have
an adult nearby to help you)
Edible dried fruits
Nuts (that are moist and arge enough to
pass a needle through without crumbling)
Family Friend’s New Beau Not Welcome at
Close family friends have recently separated after 20 years of marriage — the wife left her husband for someone else. She won’t go anywhere without him and is intent on making sure that her friends recognize them as a couple. My daughter is getting married and does not want to invite the new boyfriend, whom she has never met. Frankly, we are all a little concerned that the wedding will turn into an opportunity for our friend to show off her boyfriend rather than to celebrate the bride. Furthermore, we plan to invite her estranged husband. How do I tell my old friend that she is being invited solo?
Mother of the Bride
You don’t. It is your daughter’s wedding and it is her job to deliver the news. Moreover, it will be easier to swallow if it comes directly from the bride rather than the bride’s mother. I don’t imagine your friend will take the request well — and she may even decide to boycott the event. There is nothing like the passion of a new love affair to blur one’s better judgment. The easy (read: cowardly) way out would be to avoid the conversation altogether and to address the invitation to your friend alone. But don’t even think about it. If she is a dear friend she is entitled to hear the news firsthand, not to discover it on the outside of an envelope.
Is Graveside Video Kosher?
I recently received a brochure from a Jewish funeral home offering a service I find appalling: a personalized video of the deceased that can be viewed at the funeral and on demand whenever you visit the gravesite. Surely this cannot be in keeping with Jewish law?
Consulting Jewish texts about the “legality” of videos for the dead is like asking the framers of the constitution if they made allowances for Internet dating.
Against Jewish law? No. Against any semblance of good taste, religious or secular? Absolutely. Tacky. Embarrassing even.
This is the kind of thing that makes the Dark Ages look good. And with good reason. Tempting though it may be to immortalize your loved one this way, a family picture album, sprinkled with bobka crumbs at the kitchen table, is probably a more tasteful way to go. No one needs a posthumous Emmy, after all.
Challenging a Scrooge
My friend and I are hosting a benefit for children with disabilities. She invited her boss for whom she has worked for 12 years and who is a wealthy man. He donated the smallest amount specified on the R.S.V.P. card. Frankly, we are both shocked that his donation could be so meager. Is it fair of me to comment? Obviously my friend would not feel comfortable since he is her boss.
Few people would be willing to make that call. I respect your chutzpah; you are obviously a good friend, and one committed to a good cause.
But you are way out of line. There are any number of explanations for this man’s donation: he is a generous donor to causes closer to his heart; he gets hit up for funds daily; he feels awkward having been solicited by an employee; he is a cheap bastard. There is no graceful way to address any of the above.
It is always easy to spend someone else’s money — particularly when that person is wealthy — or we think he is. But just because we think a wealthy person should be more generous, doesn’t mean that the individual does. Probably it’s wise to keep in mind how we might feel about someone else spending our money. If you want to raise more for a good cause, expand that invitation list. But leave the reply cards to your guests.
My Mother Is Archie Bunker
My mother is extremely sensitive to remarks she considers to be anti-Semitic. But when we went out to dinner last week, she made a disparaging remark about the individual who served our dinner. She fails to see that she is as guilty of prejudice and bigotry as the next person.
Most people are blind not only to their own shortcomings, but to their own double standards as well. You can gently point it out if you are that kind of daughter and if she is the kind of mother who will not only hear your point, but will take it well. Otherwise, I am a believer that it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. Your mother has got away with this bias for some time; it’s unlikely you will change her now. You needn’t point out the error of her ways in the expectation she will change them. You do need to speak up to let your mother know that you are uncomfortable with her hurling slurs in your presence.
Send letters to Ask Wendy at email@example.com or 954 Lexington Ave.
Suite 189, New York, N.Y., 10021.
Fanning the Flames
Where do you live?
If your home is in Simi Valley or Moorpark, you were probably pretty scared when the fire came close.
You know, wildfires are nature’s way of clearing the way for new plant growth. But, when you live in a home that is in a fire zone — watch out! That is when our heroic firefighters must battle nature.
Helping our Firefighters
These cards are from the 6th grade Sunday School Class at Congregation Beth Emek in Livermore, California. Their teacher, Eileen Vergino, told us that her 6th grade class is studying Mitzvot and the diaspora this year and are delighted to have the chance to fulfill the mitzvah of K’lal Y’israel.
The word for book in Hebrew is sefer. The word for counting is sofer. On Yom Kippur, we count all the good and bad deeds that we’ve done in the past year and it gets recorded in the Book of Life. God also wants to put your story for the past year in that Book of Life. What great things happened to you this year that you want to happen again? Did you do really well in math because you worked hard?
Did you make a new friend because you offered her your water on a hot day? Well, make sure all that gets written up.
On YOM KIPPUR there is a lot of talk about TESHUVAH, saying you’re sorry for last year’s mistakes,
and starting the new year off clean.
The Yom Kippur Diet
On Yom Kippur we are supposed to fast for 24 hours. Here’s a good Yom Kippur riddle.
Send it in fast and you can win.
What can you never eat for lunch or dinner?
Synagogue is never mentioned in the Torah. — Leo Rosten
Like many unaffiliated Angelenos between 30 and marriage, I face a problem every Rosh: How to benefit from this diverse Jewish community while remaining a sort of post-sect/noninstitutionalized member of the family. Intending to find and feel the most righteous things I can, I plan on attending four or five houses of worship over the 10 days of atunement (a word I heard from a New Yorker suggesting letting 3,000 shofars boom at Ground Zero as a wake-up cry).
Where can a single, grazing Jew-without-portfolio go to seek some awe and a cheap place to pray? The first of Tishrei will find me among redwoods in a sloping garden behind the Zen Center of Los Angeles on Normandie Avenue. A shul grows in Koreatown!
The rabbi there is given to delightfully long, serene silences. He lets the smell of the damp trees and a paper handout with a Bal Shem Tov story awaken something within us. What is it about the “Avinu Malkeinu” that taps into our collective unconscious so sacredly? Family memories overwhelm me as the rabbi talks about 2,600 years ago, when Jeremiah saw a friend crying after the destruction by the Babylonians and exhorted to him: “You have your life!”
I wonder what the neighborhood thinks when they hear the blast of the shofar, but I don’t get paranoid about it. As a breeze blows through the Normandie garden, women pull shawls over the heads of their babies, making them look like tiny Muslims. I’ll take that as a good sign.
On Tashlich I like to take part in an annual tradition on the Santa Monica-Venice border. Everyone on the Westside goes down to the sea to cast off bread I believe they buy at Trader Joe’s. They chant for the great ocean (“Oseh ha yam hagadol!”) and watch the gulls try to grab the hunks before the waves send thick, gooey globs — “my sins?” — back to shore. One can see chaverim from different Santa Monica houses of worship gathered on the beach north to Malibu. Imagine 100 years ago celebrating here like this. What a shtetl! Do the rituals make a community? In Jewish tradition, the community is responsible as long as even one sinner is left on earth.
Watching families dancing, singing and picnicking on the sand, I will desire the living drama of a Brechtian Jewish wife. I’ll covet one, even. Kids maybe, too.
The 3rd of Tishri is called the Fast of Gedaliah, but I don’t know what that means so will no doubt not observe. On the 9th, I’ll be at the Directors’ Guild Association on Sunset Boulevard for Kol Nidre. Theater One is usually full, so in Theater Two they beam in the rabbi on a 50-foot screen.
The Directors’ Guild influence gives the whole presentation a more dramatic flair. Just the right amount of over-the-top Hollywood progressive prayer to tickle your Yiddishkayt, or set your tuchus on edge, if you know what I mean. Announcements for seminars at Esalen (“Course books are available in the lobby”) can be way too-L.A. for all but the most nonpraying customer.
For Neilah I like to attend the Laugh Factory, just a breezy walk down Sunset Boulevard. A true “only in Los Angeles” — comedy club converted into synagogue.
Hot and packed with the poor and the humorous, the miskayt and the unaffiliated, it looks like Prague in the 1400s and smells like old sugary club hooch stuck to your shoe. The macher of the place stands in the back like my uncles Louie and Willie Kimmell used to stand at the back of their moviehouse in Royal Oak outside Detroit. There may be one joke circulating about “Bush Hashanah,” but most remains appropriately solemn and spirited and actually quite rejoicing. A folksy, guitar-accompanied “Aleinu” usually gets everyone going.
High Holiday prayer is a mix of faith and memory, openness and solace.
There will be stirring Holocaust readings, and at least one rabbi will lay into us pretty good. One may say the message of Yom Kippur is: “We are our own best destiny!” Another says Jews attend services every New Year “with so many questions.” I disagree. I think I go because this is where I know I’ll find answers. This year I can add to the Book of Life instead of just showing up on page 5764. Otherwise, why bother showing up at all? That would be so 5763, wouldn’t it?
Hank Rosenfeld is a storyteller on public radio’s “All Things Considered” and “The Savvy Traveler.”
Sharing Your Blessings
The people of Israel are about to step across the border of the Promised Land, a land of abundance, full of fruits and crops. In this portion, the children of Israel are told that they must put all their first fruits in a teneh (basket), and bring it to the Temple. They are also told in this portion that they must set aside 10 percent of all their crops for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
Have you ever opened your lunch box and found an entire package of cookies? Probably not. But if you did, you would likely share half the package with your friends. When you feel blessed with great abundance, it is easy to give part of it away. Here is a good practice: When you wake up, think of all the wonderful things in your life — your parents, your comfy bed, your bike, your freezer full of ice cream — then put a dime in your tzedakah box.
The Temple of New York City
Two years ago this week, the World Trade Center fell. In a way, it was like our Temple in Jerusalem — a place that people would come and visit from far away; buildings that were the crowning glory of New York. And, like our Temple, it was destroyed because of hatred.
“Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to Sept. 11,” compiled by Shelley Harwayne (Heinemann, 2002) is an inspiring book that brings
together letters, poems and artwork by children from New York City and across the country. Read it, remember and think ahead to a time of peace. If you want
more info on the World Trade Center, the Sept. 11 attacks and other related subjects, go to: www.infoplease.com/spot/wtc1.html.
I’m getting married in a couple of hours. My little brother is coming to pick me up and take me to the hotel to marry my long-suffering fiancée, Alison. This is the last article I’m writing from this side of the fence. The next time you hear from me, I will be a married man. You won’t have the single J.D. Smith to kick around any more.
I feel like taking Single Guy out for a drink to say goodbye, let him down easy now that we’re breaking up the act. "It was great fun, but it was just one of those things." Actually, a couple of friends did just that last Thursday night, and I’m here to tell you that we just don’t rebound as quickly as we used to.
Lots of people have asked me, "Are you getting excited, are you nervous?" Well, no. Not nervous, exactly. I don’t want to put a damper on things, but a lot of the wedding is just about getting from here to there. It’s like a test of your emergency relationship system. I’ve been so busy with work and planning the wedding the past couple months, I haven’t had time to devote to being nervous. By now, however, enough people have asked the question that I’m beginning to think they know something I don’t know.
I am excited, but I will never be as excited as my mother, who now answers the phone by shrieking, "I’m so excited!" It’s possible she will physically explode from joy before we get down the aisle. She started crying three days ago. I explained to Alison that there would be moments in the years ahead when my level of enthusiasm does not rise to meet her expectations, and that these would be good times to call that woman.
We’re getting married on a Thursday night. I’m going to a bar mitzvah on a Thursday night later this summer. The rabbi gave me a lengthy explanation as to the reason why it’s OK to get married on a Thursday, which boiled down to this: Thursday is the new Saturday. (In the exchange, Tuesday is the new Wednesday, and there is no Monday at all anymore. Sunday is right where it always was.)
I like having a rabbi on call. He rang up from his cellphone to ask our Hebrew names for the ketubah. I reminded him that we already passed this information on, but it seems his PalmPilot crashed and…. I have a rabbi with a cellphone and a PalmPilot! That is so cool.
I’ve had a good time being engaged. People are really nice to you. Strangers wish you "Congratulations!" and "Mazel tov!" Thank you, everyone. As the date has gotten closer, I noticed that people go a little bit insane when I tell them, "I’m getting married — on Thursday." They all seem to think that I should be doing something. What, exactly, I don’t know. Baking a cake, maybe.
I have to admit I’m a little disappointed that the whole dowry thing went away. That was a right fine idea, if you ask me. In lieu of a dowry, now there’s something called a bridal registry. This is a bit like selling time-shares in the marriage to everyone you know. I simply had no idea how much stuff one needs to get married. It seems I need 12 to 16 of everything. Sixteen place settings? My table only seats eight, but why not? If I’d known what a great deal this was, I’d have gotten married years ago — several times.
All the women who are coming to the wedding know exactly what all the other women are wearing. "What are you wearing to the wedding?" has been a kind of mantra around our place. I think that the guys will all be in dark suits, but I’m not sure. When my little brother called to ask what, exactly, the "elegant attire" on the wedding invitation meant, I suggested that he should reconsider anything with a Montreal Expos team logo on it.
From the time you’re little, you get this playbook about life that says: you go out on a (blind) date, you fall in love, you get engaged, you get married, you have babies. A-B-C. Do-re-me. What did I think was going to happen? So now it’s actually down to the wire and I’m not nervous, because, well, I’ve been getting ready for this moment my entire life and I’m so happy it has finally come. I am truly blessed.
Listen, I hate to run, but my ride is here. I’ve got a date with the woman I’m planning on spending the rest of my life with — and I’d hate to keep her waiting.
J.D. Smith and Alison are honeymooning @ www.carteduvin.com.
Assimilation. How Jewish children should best be educated. Oppression against Jews and the Jewish State. Whether faith can provide meaningful answers.
Those topics lead to unexpected plot turns in “As a Driven Leaf,” a historical novel selected by Orange County’s Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) for “To Read as One,” its first communitywide reading initiative, which began last month.
Written by Milton Steinberg, the book is based on a historical character, a renegade rabbi who lived during the Roman conquest of Judea and was excommunicated. The novel provides a context both historical and cultural for many dilemmas confronting contemporary Jews, said Howard Mirowitz, of Newport Beach, the BJE’s treasurer.
“It makes us realize where our own reactions are coming from,” said Mirowitz, who with his wife, Ellen, co-chaired a group that organized “Driven Leaf”-themed events. “To Read as One” aimed to reach a segment of the Jewish population that is unaffiliated, Mirowitz said.
“If nothing else, they read a book that’s really worth reading,” he added.
The age-old conflict between contemporary standards and
tradition that confront the book’s characters will be discussed by Rabbi Claudio
Kaiser-Bleuth in a final “To Read as One” event, May 4, 10:30 a.m. at Tustin’s
Congregation B’nai Israel. A study guide for the book is posted online at www.bjeoc.org.
A week before his bar mitzvah, Ed Feinstein recalls in his
new book “Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish
Life” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003), he was in a panic. “I was scheduled to
stand up in front of the rabbi, my family and the congregation and tell
everyone how proud I was to be Jewish. But I was so full of questions: ‘Why am
I Jewish? Do I really believe in all this? Do I really believe in God?'”
The teenage Feinstein expressed his concerns to his Uncle
Mottel, a rabbi at an Orthodox college in Chicago, and he was relieved when his
uncle responded by saying, “Every day, I wonder why I’m a Jew. But that’s part
of being Jewish. Wrestling, asking, wondering, searching is just what God wants
us to do. God loves good questions.”
More than three decades later, Feinstein continues to be
inspired by that long-ago conversation. Spending the last 10 years at Valley
Beth Shalom in Encino, he has embraced and encouraged his own congregants —
particularly children — to ask him “the questions that won’t go away.”
Feinstein compiled the questions youngsters ask most
frequently, along with his responses, in “Tough Questions.”
“When you’re respectful of their questions, [children] open
up,” the new author said. “If you make a kid feel embarrassed to ask, you end
up with a person who has a sour feeling about being a Jew.”
Without realizing his ideas would culminate in a book,
Feinstein began writing down his thoughts more than six years ago. He collected
the most common questions children asked him — most having to do with why bad
things happen to good people.
With a note of sadness in his voice, Feinstein remembers
youngsters questioning God when dealing with a parent’s battle with cancer.
“Who do you go to [when that happens]?” the rabbi said. “[A child might
wonder], ‘How does my life have any order now?'”
In response, Feinstein handed each distraught child a packet
containing his thoughts on the topic. Soon, his collection of tentative answers
had grown to the point that it was clear to him that he had the beginnings of a
While the book is targeted at children and teenagers, it is
also relevant for adults, who may have the same questions — or may be called
upon by their children to provide answers.
With the current political climate of the world, Feinstein’s
book comes at a time when spiritual quests are growing. While books such as
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner (Avon Books, 1981)
address theological questions for adults, Feinstein’s has created a primer that
is accessible to teenage and adult readers, who might be seeking a simpler approach
“The secret of the book is that you don’t answer theological
questions, but you provide a framework for helping people think about them,”
In a chapter titled, “Why Are There So Many Different
Religions? Aren’t They All the Same?” a student asks the question after
attending church with a non-Jewish friend. In response, Feinstein gives the
analogy of his childhood experiences of eating dinner at different friends’
houses and noticing the differences between each family, including the variety
of conversations, jokes, foods and attitudes toward table manners.
“Religions are like families,” the rabbi explains in his
book. “Each religion has its own stories, its own ways of celebrating special
days and its own ways of talking to God.”
Feinstein, who sets aside time each Tuesday morning to
answer questions raised by Valley Beth Shalom Day School students, admitted
that he continues to ask questions, as encouraged by Uncle Mottel.
“There are questions built into the human condition that we
never stop asking,” he explained. “You find that thinking helps you pursue
tentative answers to the great questions, and my goal is to engage [people] in
the ability to think deeply and to give them resources.”
Rabbi Ed Feinstein will offer his insights at a book signing
at Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventural Blvd., Encino on Tues., April 1, at 7:30
p.m. “Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish
Life,” now available in bookstores, will also be available for purchase at the
book signing. For more information about the event, call (818) 788-6000.
Remarriage After Divorce
When can a woman remarry after divorce?
Since marriage is itself a religious enactment (called
kiddushin in Hebrew), it requires a religious ceremony to terminate a Jewish
marriage. And since rabbis also act as agents of the state in performing
marriages, most rabbis require a civil divorce to be completed prior to
proceeding to deliver a get (the document of divorce).
So, once a woman has completed the civil divorce and has
received her get, she is free to remarry, provided that the man is himself
single (either having never been married, or himself having already finished a
civil divorce and given a get to his previous wife).
Should They Convert?
I was adopted at birth in 1970. In 1992, I located my birth
mother, though the family and historical information I have received has been
very little. I am under the impression that there may be Jewish roots in my
heritage. How can I confirm this? I have been studying Torah since last fall. I
am aware of the Noahide laws and how they pertain to me, a gentile. However, I
have been considering possible conversion. Am I more accountable before Hashem
to convert if it is confirmed that I do come from a Jewish background? My
mother’s surname is Glazer and I was told that part of the family is from Germany.
My husband is also in a similar predicament, as his mother was adopted and has
recently found that her families’ surnames were Kopp and Hart.
We want to be pleasing and find favor in the eyes of Hashem
and are stumbling over what the right thing would be to do.
What an amazing journey of faith and devotion you and your
husband exemplify. And what an interesting example of the complexities of
According to Jewish law, a person is Jewish if his or her
mother was Jewish or if he or she converts. If your mother (or her mother) were
Jewish, then technically so are you. In that case, you would not be converting,
you would be reaffirming your true identity, a homecoming.
Whether or not you and your husband establish that you came
from Jews, you are most welcome to find a program to learn about Judaism and to
explore the wonder of living a life of Torah and mitzvot. Find a local rabbi
who can teach you and guide you.
May you both continue to grow in God’s service, and may you
be a blessing.
To Read or Not to Read
We are a small congregation of four families in the hills of
West Virginia. We aren’t formally a member of any of the movements, but our
level of observance is between modern Orthodox and Conservative. We currently
hold services on Shabbat eve and would like to expand services to Shabbat
morning and afternoon. However, we do not have a sefer Torah and it will be
sometime before we can obtain one.
Would it be permissible to read from a Tikkun when we have a
minyan during Shabbat morning and afternoon services until we obtain a sefer
Torah, or should we forgo the Torah portion of the service until a scroll is obtained?
It is wonderful and commendable that you and your community
are keeping Judaism and Torah alive in such an unlikely circumstance. You are
an inspiration, and evidence that the continuation of Torah doesn’t require
much more than devoted Jews, dedication and willingness to work together. The
light of your blessings illumines us all.
Since you do not have a sefer Torah yet, you should not read
from a Tikkun as though you do. Having an aliyah and reciting the blessings
requires a kosher Torah scroll. Until you have such a scroll, you should pause
when you get to that point in the service, and you can conduct a Torah study
group, or have someone read the parsha without reciting the blessings before
May your congregation continue to grow, and the devotion you
show spread to the rest of us!
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson serves as the dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, and is the author of “The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions, & Dreams” (McGraw Hill, 2001).
When the Israelites built the mishkan, the Torah says:
“Take from yourselves a portion for Hashem, everyone whose
heart motivates him shall bring it, as the gift for Hashem — gold, silver,
copper; turquoise, purple and scarlet wool; linen; goat hair; red-dyed ram
skins; acacia wood; oil … spices.”
What does the Torah mean when it says: “Take from yourselves?”
The rabbis tell us that the Torah is saying: Everyone is unique. Each person
has a unique talent. Therefore, each person will give what they know how to
give of themselves. So, when you do a group project at school, or something
with your family, think about your unique talent: Are you great at drawing? Building?
Math? Acting? Whatever it is, give of that. Not only will people love it, but
you will enjoy the act of giving much, much more.
Elections in Israel were held on Jan. 28. The head of the
Knesset (the Israeli parliament) is not a president — he is prime minister.
Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party got more votes than anyone else, which means
they won. The number of votes is measured in Knesset seats.
Answer this question:
How many Knesset seats are there?
When Is It Too Late?
A close friend of my parents passed away six months ago and I never wrote a card or paid a shiva call. Is it too late to right this wrong, tactfully?
Belated Condolence Conundrum
Your dilemma is a familiar one. Most people — including myself — will do anything to put off paying a shiva call unless it is that of a very close friend or relative. It’s an awkward moment and it’s never clear what to say, where to sit, whom to speak with. Of course there is no right thing to say and there are no words that can offer comfort at a time of great loss. However, that does not excuse the failure even to try. If your parents’ friend had died two or three years ago I would have let you off the hook — as my sister did for me after I was still bemoaning my failure to write a friend 10 years after her husband had died. But within the first year, it is still acceptable to write a condolence note. If you don’t write, your parents’ friend will probably not notice, but you will never forgive yourself. Moreover, a heartfelt condolence note sent today might carry more weight than one that arrived with the storm of them six months ago. It’s a blessing to know you and your loss are still on someone’s mind — if only for reasons of guilt.
Hubby Needs a Hand
My husband relies on me for everything, and when something doesn’t get done to his liking he blames me. He won’t make his own doctor appointments, but when I make them he says, “Why did you put me down for that time?” I don’t mind helping out every now and then, but he is not my child. How do I convey to my husband that I am not responsible for his affairs?
You are already accustomed to taking the blame, so let me heap on some more. If you had balked the first, second or third times your husband asked you to make him a dentist appointment, you wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in now. Believe me, when he could no longer drink a cup of hot coffee or eat ice cream without experiencing acute pain, your husband would have called the dentist on his own. Ditto for making an appointment to have his car serviced or his television set repaired. And the list goes on. It is your behavior that has to change, and I would suggest going cold turkey. Stop treating your husband as if he is your child and he will be forced to stop behaving as such. But buckle up; the transition is going to be rocky. Parents and children have years to prepare for adulthood and the responsibilities that accompany it. Your husband is going to be jolted into adulthood overnight. And you may experience symptoms of empty-nest syndrome. If you do, go the time-honored route: Get a dog.
Jews in the Military
I believe that national defense is particularly important now for the United States, and even more so for the Jewish population. Yet how many Jews do you hear about who enlist in the armed services? Our children should forego college (for a while, at least), join the military, share in our defense and not expect or allow others to do our dirty work. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if more Arab Americans than Jews served in the armed forces?
True, I have yet to meet a Jewish mother who readily lists the military along with medicine and the law when describing her child’s projected career path. But religion is not the point. No parent brings a child into the world at ease with the idea that he or she will perish on a battlefield. Specifically mothers. And because I am a mother, even as it appears inevitable that our country is on the verge of war, I cannot root for any child to enlist in the military. Of course I understand that, not only does my reaction fail to address your question, it is highly unrealistic given our country’s current state of affairs. What I do know for certain — and I will tell you even though you did not ask and — is that if women were in positions to resolve wars and military conflicts, your query would be moot. Political, territorial, and religious conflicts would be resolved, at any cost, to prevent having to put the lives of our children at risk. I bank on this.
And I don’t mean the New Year that falls on Jan. 1. I mean the New Year of Trees. This year, Tu B’Shevat begins at sundown on Friday, Jan. 17 and ends Saturday, Jan. 18. This week’s and next week’s pages will be devoted to Tu B’Shevat.
Tu B’Shevat is a time of renewal; the winter rains are falling and we sense that a period of new growth is about to begin as each day grows longer.
Many people like to celebrate the holiday with a seder, similar to the Passover seder. More about that in next week’s pages.
Important Tu B’Shevat Facts:
Tu B’Shevat simply means “the 15th of Shevat” — the Hebrew month that coincides with January/February in the western calendar.
The 15th of the Hebrew month is always the full moon, so Tu B’Shevat is the full moon of Shevat.
Tu B’Shevat is the New Year for Trees, because on the 15th of Shevat in ancient Israel the new year’s crop of fruit trees were tithed (that means that one-tenth of the crop was set aside) and brought to the Temple as an offering to God and to give to the priests and to the poor. With the full moon on the 15th of Shevat, a distinction was easily made between the old crop of fruit trees and the new year’s crop.
Torah Tree Test:
In this week’s portion, Bo, something eats up all the fruits and greenery on the trees.
Who or what is it?
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for the winner’s name on an upcoming For the Kids!
Bring a picture of our earth and nature to Camp JCA Shalom, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, this Sunday and you could win a prize in the Tu B’Shevat Art Contest.
"So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt." (Exodus 8:2-3) That is how Parshat Vaerah portion describes the plague of frogs.
Did you know that sometimes our rabbis like to have fun when they interpret the Torah? Rabbi Akiva said: "Waddya mean ‘the frog came up?’ Why doesn’t it say FROGS?" And this is his explanation: A big, giant frog — the size of Godzilla — came up out of the water and went on a rampage over Egypt! Isn’t that a funny thing to imagine? The words of the Torah, and the way you think about them don’t always have to be serious and solemn. You can have fun with them too, and use your imagination when you read the stories!
Created with love just for you
Because everyone needs a friend or two
During winter break there’s lots to do —
Maybe I can play with you?
Submitted by:Tal Chesed, 7, Los Angeles