July 24, 2016
Who Stole My Religion?
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel [ Judaism]
demands no abdication of my mind.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks every
possible sacrifice of my soul.
I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears
and suffering the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of
despair is heard the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most
ancient and the most modern.
I am a Jew because Israel’s promise is a universal
I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished;
men will complete it.
I am a Jew because for Israel man is not yet fully
created; men are creating him.
I am a Jew because Israel places man and his unity
above nations and above Israel itself.
I am a Jew because above man, image of the divine unity,
Israel places the unity that is divine.
— Edmond Fleg, “Why I Am a Jew”
I fervently believe in the above sentiments and many other
positive aspects about Judaism, and I am proud to be a Jew. Judaism
has wonderful, powerful, and universal messages, and applying them
is essential to move our precious, yet increasingly threatened, planet onto
a sustainable path.
I wrote this book to urge Jews to apply basic Jewish teachings at a time
when they are needed more than ever before to the many tumultuous
crises facing humanity and all of God’s creatures. By encouraging Jews
to apply Judaism’s eternal values to current issues, I hope this book will
help revitalize Judaism and will make Judaism more attractive to many
About My Modern Orthodox Synagogue
I have been a member of Young Israel of Staten Island, a modern Orthodox
synagogue, since 1968, and I have served as Vice President for Youth,
Cultural Director, and co-editor of the synagogue’s newsletter. Over
the years I have seen the dedication of members of my congregation to
Judaism and Jewish issues. The amount they donate to charity is truly
outstanding. The acts of kindness and concern for the well-being of fellow
congregants are also remarkable, and there is always great communal
sharing at occasions of joy and sorrow. There are gemachs that provide
free wedding and other gowns, furniture, centerpieces for celebrations,
and clothing for people who need them, and there is a food pantry. There
is a unique group called Nachas (joy) Unlimited that collects money to
help cover medical expenses for ill children.
Especially commendable are the actions of the voluntary group Hatzolah,
whose members will drop whatever they are doing at a moment’s
notice – whether they are at work, taking part in a Passover seder, or just
relaxing with their families or friends – to respond to medical emergencies.
Many synagogue members make weekly visits to patients in hospitals and
nursing homes. Many of the synagogue’s young attendants work with
great compassion and dedication at special summer camps, taking care
of children with cancer and other health problems.
To continue reading this excerpt, click here.
Who Stole My Religion?, written by Richard H. Schwartz and published by Urim Publications in 2016.
This chapter was excerpted with permission by the author.
July 20, 2016
The Daughters of Tzelofchad and the Elders of Menashe – Identity, Interests, and Differentiation
The first two chapters of Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis discussed the Bible’s interest in teaching us about real-life trade-offs. We already know from our own lives that we truly cannot “have our cake and eat it too.” And because we would prefer to ignore this truth, the Torah makes a point of frequently repeating the notion that we must make choices about what is the most valuable – or alternatively, the least undesirable – course of action. This means that biblical characters rarely live “happily ever after.” They make difficult choices and have to live with the resultant consequences.(1) Yet, had it been otherwise, the Bible would have been a book of fairy tales that would not have had the tremendous transformative and inspirational power that it has had for so much of human history. In the book of Bemidbar, the theme of trade-offs is examined again with the petition of the five daughters of Tzelofchad from the tribe of Menashe and the subsequent counter-petition of that tribe’s elders. These fatherless, brotherless sisters come out of nowhere,(2) questioning an assumed status quo that their late father’s portion in the Land of Israel will go to the male next of kin. They are successful in their petition, and God reveals that the assumption was actually faulty and that it is, truly, daughters who are next in line in such a situation. Several chapters later, the tribal leaders from Menashe challenge the new status quo with their own concern: that if these women marry men from another tribe, their birth tribe will end up losing part of its inheritance. They too are successful, and the women appear to be commanded to marry only within their tribe. But whether this is an actual commandment or not,(3) the story goes on to tell us that the daughters of Tzelofchad do indeed follow God’s preference and marry within their own tribe.
To continue reading this excerpt, click here.
1 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chap. 2.
2 Their story appears in Bemidbar 27:1–11. The first we hear of the existence of the sisters and the fact that they did not have brothers is in Bemidbar 26:33, in a general genealogical list.
Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers, written by Rabbi Francis Nataf and published by Urim Publications in 2014.
This chapter was excerpted with permission by the author.
January 7, 2016
Exile, Alienation and the Jewish Mission
When a man is in his place, everyone knows him, and respects him according to his worth and according to the rank of his forbears. He, too, is familiar with his surroundings, knowing what he should say and what he should not say, what he should do and what he should not do. Once uprooted from his landscape, a man is at a loss, bewildered and perplexed. (Haim Sabato, Aleppo Tales)
In the last chapter, we explored the unusual self-awareness that Moshe brought into his first set of interviews with God. Of course, this perspective did not appear in a vacuum – as with everyone, Moshe was shaped by his life experience. In this chapter we will look at part of this experience, which will both resemble and yet be at variance with many other Biblical Jewish leaders. Looking at Moshe’s early life, we find a fascinating paradox: The greatest Jew to walk the face of the earth spent his childhood and youth in a completely non-Jewish culture. This forges the great irony that, as opposed to all the other Jews whom the Midrash praises for preserving their Jewish identities through keeping their Israelite names, language and dress, (1) young Moshe’s name, (2) language and certainly mode of dress were all Egyptian.
Read the rest of this entry »
October 22, 2015
The resurgence of the study of Tanakh in Israel – in dati-leumi circles, in particular – has been justly welcomed as a most positive development. Constituting both an expansion of the horizons of Talmud Torah and an expression of bonding with the cradle of most of Tanakh within the context of shivat Zion, this renascence has unquestionably enriched and enhanced the spiritual life of a revitalized community.
Unfortunately, however, this enterprise has, at times, been accompanied by negative elements, as well. Perhaps most regrettable has been the tendency on the part of some scholars, students, or observers to constrict the content, scope and significance of much of Tanakh. Familiarity with the text, in one sense, has, in some circles, bred familiarity with the Scriptural narrative and the events and their protagonists presented therein, in another. The sense of reverential awe and the awareness of heroic stature may become jaded and replaced by what is cried up as “eye-level Tanakh study.”
To read more from Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein click here.
This excerpt was taken from Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis by Rabbi Francis Nataf with permission by the author.
October 19, 2015
Redeeming Our Souls: Avraham’s Ninth Test
We are not always sure what to think of our Biblical ancestors. Sometimes their feats appear superhuman, and at other times their mistakes are too painfully clear. For the inexperienced student, this creates a certain cognitive dissonance, which may lead to hasty and forced interpretations aimed at creating more homogeneous characters. As a student becomes more experienced and sophisticated, he will likely become more comfortable with this lack of uniformity, realizing that rather than a weakness, the Torah’s nuanced portrayal of our ancestors is quite true to real life. Thus, if the Torah is trying to teach us about the lives of real people, we should not expect to read about artificially one-dimensional characters, as this is not the nature of actual men and women. While appropriately sophisticated, this realistic complexity still creates some confusion as we attempt to find a proper perspective on the Torah’s great figures. Read the rest of this entry »
October 7, 2015
GUN CONTROL – THE JEWISH VIEW
The numerous shootings of many innocent people in the past few years, which have occurred in public places such as schools and movie theaters, have caused renewed debate and attempts at legislation regarding prevention or limitation of gun ownership, popularly known as gun control. This issue is especially acute in the United States, where the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”, gives each citizen the legal right to protect himself, even with guns obtained legally and quite easily. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions officially establishing the interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Read the rest of this entry »
September 24, 2015
SACRIFICE ONE TO SAVE MANY
The dilemma of killing one person to save many people seems to be a simple enough concept to understand. But a classic moral dilemma always pits two different values against one another. What are the two values in conflict here? It is the ethical concept to save life versus the ethical prohibition to kill and end a life. In this case, the only way to save many lives is to do the unthinkable, and actually kill someone innocent and end his or her life. Rather than discuss this dilemma in the abstract, actual scenarios based on real-life cases will be presented. However, instead of having to decide what to do in a matter of seconds, as is the situation that occurs quite regularly in reality, this chapter will present what Judaism believes is the right action based on the myriad of ancient sources.
Click here to read more.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values
By Nachum Amsel
Urim Publications, 9789655241631
(Those who would like to see all of the original quotations in Hebrew can find this in the printed appendix to the book.)
Excerpted with permission from the author.