Christian-Jewish Relations in 5776

Jews and Christians disputing scripture (the Jews are wearing the poiny hats) in a 15th c. Dutch woodcut.

Let's talk about the state of "Christian-Jewish" relations!For most of the past 2,000 years, our relations consisted of Christians alternatively killing and forcibly converting (and killing and forcibly converting and exiling) the Jews.Since the rise of the state of Israel, all kinds of power dynamics have changed and today the word “complicated” hardly begins to describe it. So as we begin the new year of 5776, let's take a look at how representatives of two of the world's most int … [Read more...]

Murderous Jewish Religious Fanaticism, Part Two

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.11.59 AM

View image | gettyimages.comBefore I take a short vacation hiatus from the blog and my congregation, here is part two of my look at last week’s murderous religious Jewish fanaticism.This time we are looking at the Haredi variety. It is not necessarily ultra-nationalist, but it is increasingly extremist in most other ways. (Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s worth saying “increasingly” any more. I think it’s increased to just about the maximum.)By now, what happened at the Jerusalem Gay P … [Read more...]

Wear Long Skirts! Cover Your Elbows! You Can Save Israel and Get Ice Cream, Too!


There is nothing in traditional Judaism that demonstrates its sexism better than the rules of tznius (modesty). The rules grow out of the assumptions that women are automatically objects of sexual desire - even from a very early age - and that men have no control over their actions when faced with these temptresses. In Haredi communities, “modesty police” are sometimes in place to ensure that women adhere to the strictest standards of covering up. In New York, they have more gentle means of pers … [Read more...]

Who Is a Jew and Who Is a Rabbi?


The newly-appointed Israeli Minister of Religious Services, David Azulai, has said something stupid. This puts him well within the tradition of his ultra-Orthodox (Sephardic) Shas Party where saying something stupid is a daily event. This stupid comment was stupid enough to be covered by the New York Times: Speaking to Army Radio, the minister said, "Let's just say there's a problem as soon as a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel. I can't allow myself to say that such a person … [Read more...]

The Holy Kabbalist and the Dead Cop

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto. By Yaacov Gross (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Last night the head of the National Fraud Unit of the Israeli Police, Deputy Commissioner Ephraim Bracha, a 55-year-old father of four, shot himself in the head. Bracha was at the center of an investigation involving corrupt Kabbalistic Haredi Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto whom he accused of bribing him back in 2012. You may never have heard of Pinto, but lots of people that you have heard of know exactly who he is. Included among his followers and admirers are many prominent Israeli and American … [Read more...]

Jewish Reaction to Gay Marriage Decision

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.35.40 AM

So how has the Jewish community responded to the marriage equality decision?My own Facebook page demonstrates 100% approval. But that’s not really so scientific. Nevertheless, it does reflect the actual American Jewish consensus. The last poll of the community indicated that 83% supported marriage equality.The Forward provided a breakdown of Jewish celebrities. We Jews do love bragging about our celebrities. The 83% support of American Jewry combined with Hollywood’s nearly 100% approval … [Read more...]

Sex Tourism, Hasidic Style

The grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine.

Today’s post falls under the category of religious morality. The Israeli news site Mako has an investigative report about the tourist activities of Hasidim (and others) who participate in pilgrimages to the city of Uman, Ukraine. Each year thousands of Hasidim and other Jewish spiritual-seekers flood the small town during the fall holidays to pray at the grave of Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect.Bu it turns out that there's more than just prayers ha … [Read more...]

Compassionate Jewish Law: When a Dead Baby Is Returned to Parents in a Cardboard Box


Early in my career, while serving as director and rabbi at a Hillel Jewish student center, I received an emergency call in the middle of the night. This was pretty unusual for a Hillel director. I got to the hospital and discovered that one of my graduate students had suffered a very, very late term miscarriage, a stillbirth really. By the time I arrived, she and her husband were holding their infant for the first and only time. I spent the entire next day trying to convince the local Reform … [Read more...]

Leaving Hasidism


In the genre of “de-conversion” books, there is a Jewish sub-category of “OTD” memoirs. “OTD” is the English acronym for “Off the Derech [the path or the way]” and refers to Orthodox Jews who leave traditional observance behind. Not all of them love that appellation, but it is what’s generally stuck.There have been many fine memoirs from formerly Orthodox Jews, most of them written by people reared in one of the Haredi varieties. One of the best is Leah Vincent’s Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvati … [Read more...]

A New Day In Israeli Politics?

I am a political junkie.  My drug is not domestic, as I prefer to feed my addiction with Israeli politics.  This current round of elections has provided me with a particularly potent dose and it’s one that’s never been concocted before.  Simply put, what’s happening now is unprecedented.Israeli coalition politics has always been a particularly rarefied specimen of the art of compromise.  No party ever accumulates sufficient seats to form a government.  This always makes the search for bedfell … [Read more...]