Is Independence Good?

We will be celebrating the State of Israel’s 72nd Independence Day very soon (April 29nd), an occasion for gratitude to G-d and also to the people who sacrificed so much to create a homeland and a Jewish state for the first time in over 2000 years. However, this upcoming event raised a question in my mind, “Is independence a Jewish value?”  It struck me that there are (at least) a ...

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The Best of Times; The Worst of Times

For the Jewish people who came out of Egypt, the period between the Exodus and the Revelation at Mt. Sinai was one of continuous spiritual awakening. Their relationship with God grew stronger and closer. Miraculous events occurred daily. For the Jewish people in subsequent generations, this period continues to be one of the greatest of times of the year, in which we prepare ourselves for a renewal of our commitment ...

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Kashrut Without Apologies

Kashrut and Anthropology Anthropologists have viewed the laws of Kashrut as superstitious taboos, or as a reflection of the eating habits and norms of the ancient Near East.  One author explained the prohibitions of Kashrut as purely a matter of economic necessity. A number of scholars explain the laws as being an ancient attempt at a health-food diet. The law against consumption of pork for example, is explained as an attempt ...

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Pesach: Live It!

Merely remembering the pivotal events of Jewish history or reading about them occasionally is not sufficient to imbue ourselves with these messages. God established Pesach and the other festivals as interludes in time designed to focus our attention and pick up on specific ideas and values that the ordinary activities of life usually prevent us from contemplating.  They are times when we are totally immersed in a specific concept basic ...

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How Saving a Haggadah Saved a Life

One of the most famous Haggadahs in the word, is the Sarajevo Haggadah.  It is believed to have been taken out of Spain by Jews who were expelled in 1492. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894.  During the Second World War, the Haggadah was hidden from the Nazis by the Museum's chief librarian, Derviš Korkut, who at risk to his own life, smuggled the Haggadah out of ...

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At Home with the Mezuzah

(Mostly from my book, Gateway to Judaism) Now that I have been at home for over a week, teaching via Zoom, communicating via WhatsApp, not negotiating the traffic on the George Washington Bridge, I have had the time to look around our house.  The symbol that looks back at me from virtually every door is the mezuzah.  So, I thought it would be relevant to offer a few ideas about the ...

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Being Happy, Even Now

Despite the coronavirus concerns and despite all the hardships that so many people are experiencing, we are still in the month of Adar, the month of joy. It may sound strange to speak of simcha, happiness, at this time, but it makes pragmatic and religious sense.  This is especially true for those who are now homebound.  Will you be a better spouse, parent, sibling, child, caregiver if you are happier? ...

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Celebrating Under the Influence

One of the most peculiar laws of Purim is the obligation to drink wine, and even become intoxicated.  As the Talmud states, “A person is obligated to become inebriated on Purim, until he does not know the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.’”  Excessive drinking is frowned upon by Jewish law, yet here it appears that the law specifically advocates drinking.  Clearly, a person may not become ...

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Tranquility and Tefillah

I was recently in Amsterdam where I was scholar in residence for a community Shabbaton. It was a wonderful experience, but hectic and exhausting as well. I arrived at Schiphol Airport at 6.15am in order to allow time to daven shacharis (pray the morning service) at the airport.  Thank G-d I was able to find a quiet space in an airport lounge, and although I am usually a little tense ...

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Survivor, Persia!

We will be celebrating the festival of Purim very soon, so I would like to give you an overview of the history, background and significance of this festival.  The Purim story begins about 900 years after the Exodus from Egypt.  The Jews had been living in Israel continually, since they first entered with Joshua.  For 410 years, King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem had been the focal point of Jewish spiritual ...

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