The most challenging course I am taking at Pardes is called “Critical Issues in Modern Jewish Thought.” There is no Hebrew involved. There is no Aramaic. I don’t even have to memorize birth and death dates of famous Jewish thinkers. What I do have to do, however, is think for myself. And it’s hard.
Cynthia Ozick, American-Jewish author and essayist
During each session, we alternate between group discussion and silent reading. We read philosophers such as A.J. Heschel, Mordechai Kaplan, Rav Soloveitchik, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and Cynthia Ozick. We covered topics such as the nature of God, the authorship of the Torah, the authority of Halahkah, and post-Holocaust theology. At the end of each unit, a few students volunteer to give a presentation: as a class, we generate a series of questions that the presenting students have to answer. Next week, I will be presenting on the topic of Feminism in Judaism. Today, while preparing to speak about this topic, I found myself spending many thoughts and minutes on each sentence; this is a tough issue that I care about greatly. It inspired a good deal of personal reflection, and Continue reading →
The incidents at the Kotel these past few months have dominated the atmosphere where I study. There is an overwhelming sense of support for the Women of the Wall and their efforts to be recognized as legitimate players in the Jewish-religious narrative. Many of my friends have donned their Talitot and Tefilin (some for the first time) and made headlines in the process. I can personally attest to the character and passion of these people and I believe their intentions are sincere.
And yet I struggle.
I struggle because I believe that Jewish history provides us with important lessons for the present. And when I view what is going on at the Kotel plaza it is as if I have been transported to Jerusalem just prior to the destruction of Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Both Josephus and the Talmud record a time of great division amongst the Jewish people and both ascribe the ultimate loss of the war with Rome and the destruction of Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to this infighting (Tradition calls it Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) while Josephus explains it along Continue reading →
Reflections on Rosh Hodesh Sivan with Women of the Wall, 5773 – 2013
Throughout the year I have studied here in Jerusalem, I have learned that the Wall has its own identity crisis. It is part of a larger structure that was built and carried, lost, built again and then destroyed, and built again, and built over again and destroyed again. There are more stages in between of deeper and deeper details. The figurative symbol of complete purity, it was more often an embodiment of utter corruption. The man who inspired the design of the particular Wall before which we stand today was a gifted, paranoid maniac, maddened by grief and riches and conflicting loyalties. The Temple itself, and the Wall it became, changed owners and took on ideologies of shocking variance over the centuries. And yet here it still stands, a testament to physical stability, containing all of its tumultuous history behind the serenity of its stones.
On the first Shabbat I was in Jerusalem, I walked with a group of very new friends into the Old City for the first time. I knew nothing about it except that it was the last of the Temple, a remnant of a Judaism from long ago, one with which I had trouble relating, but that it was “supposed to”, maybe, inspire a surge of feeling within me. Perhaps a feeling of closeness to the Divine? Perhaps an intense unification with the Jewish people? Perhaps bafflement or even, perhaps nothing? I was curious, and determined not to judge whatever feeling arose. Continue reading →
This time of year in Israel, you can’t really go a week without a holiday. This week we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim – the day that celebrates the unification of Jerusalem after the 1967 war. One year ago on this day I announced to my students and school community that I would be leaving Chicago to pursue my dream of aliyah. This is what I told them:
Yom Yerushalayim 2012/ 5772
Following the 1948 War of Independence, Jerusalem was divided. The Western half of the New City became part of the newly formed state of Israel, while the eastern half, along with the Old City, was annexed by Jordan. During this time period, many ancient synagogues, libraries and centers of religious study in the Old City of Jerusalem were ransacked or were totally and deliberately destroyed. For the next 20 years, Jews were denied access to Old City and no Jews prayed at the Kotel.
In early June, 1967, East Jerusalem was captured by the Israel Defense Forces during the Six Day War. Jews all over the world celebrated the event as the liberation of the city, Jerusalem was once again unified. Today we commemorate this day, dubbed: Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day , to celebrate this momentous victory. Continue reading →
This is my fourth summer working for NFTY in Israel. The past three summers I have been in charge of my group and logistics, but this summer I am also going to be the tour guide. I have been in a course for the past few months going around Israel to learn about the different sites that we take the participants. Our trip also includes a week in Europe at the beginning (and then 4 weeks in Israel.) The trip is called L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. We also had a trip with the other guides to Europe, to Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw. This was the fifth time in my life I have been to these locations, so the shock-factor wasn’t part of my experience. But I did feel a new sense of responsibility, more than just Continue reading →
It is usually considered good practice to connect one’s Dvar Torah about the Parshah to some current event or to an upcoming holiday. As such, I want to find some segue between this week’s Torah portion – Parshat Shemini – and Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be commemorated in Israel next Monday. In truth, it is actually next week’s double portion of Tazria-Metzora under whose purview Yom HaShoah falls this year, but Shemini, and its telling of the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, at God’s hands, because they “offered before the Lord alien fire which He had not enjoined upon them,” is often referred to as a jumping-off point for speaking about the death of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
I often find myself questioning (shocker!) whether the stories in the Torah actually happened. Don’t you? I mean, it’s a really nice idea to think that thousands of years ago, maybe before humankind was as terribly corrupted as it is now, the miracles in the bible were true. They’re great stories. But if they really happened, where has God been for the last 3,000 years? Did he just get lazy or run out of ideas?
So, Passover is less than a week away, and in my attempt to gain some spiritual value from the holiday rather than mindlessly eating Hillel sandwiches for eight days, I have been thinking about Continue reading →
As somebody who was raised by parents who self-identify as traditional, ḥiloni Jews, and chose himself to live a life committed to and guided by halakha, I’ve come to expect some form of this question from people in conversations about Jewish faith and practice.
Baal teshuva literally means “master of repentance or return (to Judaism)”. The term has historically referred to a Jew who had not kept Jewish practices, and completed a process of introspection and thus returned to Judaism and morality. In Israel, another term is used, ḥozer beteshuva (חוזר בתשובה), literally “returning in repentance”. Also, Jews who adopt religion later in life are known “baalei teshuva” or “ḥozerim beteshuva”. Continue reading →
I often find myself reflecting upon something that my father shared with me about his early impressions of Israel after he made Aliyah from Moscow in ’74. He told me about his being a security guard on Mt. Scopus before the Hebrew U. campus had been fully constructed, and gazing from his post across the hilltops of Jerusalem (the view today is obstructed). He said he felt then as though he could see his ancestors walking along those very hills… and felt deeply that he was living in the Land of his People Israel.
Even now I’m touched by this, but it is not my own, despite my deep connection to this Land – the Land of my birth – the Land that changed the course of my family’s history forever – the Land that I frequented during my childhood on visits to grandparents and cousins. My own connection feels less dramatic to me – no moment of epiphany.
While my parents’ lives were changed forever with Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), my life literally began with Israel. Continue reading →