Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, How to Defeat Religious Violence - WSJ

Rabbi Sacks' new book is excerpted in the WSJ in an essay adapted from his new book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” which will be published by Schocken on Oct. 13.

He speaks eloquently and intelligently. He also at times lapses into a kind of universal homiletics and we can debate whether anyone listens to that kind of discourse, for instance:
Now is the time for us to say what we have failed to say in the past: We are all the children of Abraham. We are precious in the sight of God. We are blessed. And to be blessed, no one has to be cursed. God’s love does not work that way. God is calling us to let go of hate and the preaching of hate, and to live at last as brothers and sisters, true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith, honoring God’s name by honoring his image, humankind.
My mainly academic blog posts on religious terrorism, deriving from a course that I taught at the university, are linked to this post, and other relevant posts can be found here.

Here is the extended blurb of Rabbi Sacks' book:
In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome.

But through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths. By looking anew at the book of Genesis, with its foundational stories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Rabbi Sacks offers a radical rereading of many of the Bible’s seminal stories of sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Rachel and Leah.

“Abraham himself,” writes Rabbi Sacks, “sought to be a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That idea, ignored for many of the intervening centuries, remains the simplest definition of Abrahamic faith. It is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world. The use of religion for political ends is not righteousness but idolatry . . . To invoke God to justify violence against the innocent is not an act of sanctity but of sacrilege.” Here is an eloquent call for people of goodwill from all faiths and none to stand together, confront the religious extremism that threatens to destroy us, and declare: Not in God’s Name.


What to do about Joking Rabbis and Repetitious Chanters. My Jewish Standard - Times of Israel - Column for October 2015

What to do about Joking Rabbis and Repetitious Chanters. My Jewish Standard - Times of Israel - Column for October 2015

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My rabbi often cracks jokes in his sermons from the pulpit. I feel this is wrong, mainly because his jokes are sarcastic and sound more like biting attacks on people of whom he does not approve.

What’s your take on this?

Ha Ha in Ho-Ho-Kus

Dear Ha Ha,

I was tempted to reply to your inquiry with a variant of the old Henny Youngman joke, “Take my rabbi… please!”

But seriously, I learned long ago that using humor in a religious context can be risky, and it can backfire on the would-be comedian. I lectured once at a prestigious Catholic university, and in the midst of my talk I made a rather bland joke and then I looked up at the audience. I could see instantly from the dour expressions on the faces of the pious faculty members that in the mere act of telling any joke I had committed a faux pas.

Religion is serious business, you see. Joking around about faith is frowned upon.

Out in our complex religious worlds, though, there are clerics who try to be funny at times, and there are clerics who are constantly serious. It’s a matter of personality and speaking style. The somber clerics may fear the potentially subversive nature of humor. And so they conclude that it’s best to suppress all forms of the expression. The humorous ones walk a tight rope. They risk inadvertently insulting someone, or telling a joke that falls flat.

Some clergy tell jokes perhaps because they feel they must compete for attention in a world where entertainment and amusement can saturate our lives via the many forms of instant media -- YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, TV on demand, and the like.


Attention: Rabbi Sacks has a New Book & Rabbi Steinsalz has a New Book

Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

In this companion volume to his celebrated series Covenant & Conversation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mines the weekly Torah portions for insights into the nature of power, authority, and leadership. Based on the understanding that no man is born a leader, the book explores the principles and perils of becoming one. In a world divided by struggles of power and authority, often under the guise of religious fervor, Lessons in Leadership shows not just how to learn from the past, but to build from it towards a better future.

View introduction and sample chapter here.

Talks on the Parasha
by Rabbi Adin (Even-Israel) Steinsaltz

Talks on the Parasha recreates the warm, intimate atmosphere of a personal encounter with Rabbi Steinsaltz. While providing insights that are meaningful for the Jewish collective, it speaks to every individual as well.

To Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the Torah contains within it many worlds. The themes, the language, the myriad ways in which to understand and interpret it - all of these are worlds that both exist independently and are connected to one another, inextricably linked from within and from without.
What emerges from the totality of the Torah's manifold shades of meaning is that the Torah is essentially "the book of the chronicles of man." The Torah - addressing, in particular, the Jewish people and the individual - helps the reader understand not only what happened in the past and what ought to happen in the future, but also the meaning of his or her own life.

View introduction and sample chapter here.


Was Hall of Famer Yogi Berra Jewish?

Was Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra a Jew? No Yogi Berra was not Jewish. He was a Christian. According to Wikipedia, "Berra was a Roman Catholic, and he attended South Side Catholic, now called St. Mary's High School, in south St. Louis..."

An MLB article summarizes his amazing career.

Given his name it would be fair to ask, Was Yogi Berra a Hindu? According to the MLB article, "Bobby Hofman, a childhood friend who eventually played shortstop for the New York Giants and worked for the Yankees, hung the nickname Yogi on him after noting Berra's resemblance to a Hindu holy man the two had seen in a movie."


חדשות 2: פרסום ראשון: אוניברסיטת בר אילן סילקה סטודנט מהמעונות כי לא חבש כיפה No Kippah - No dorm room - Bar Ilan U. evicts student who goes kippahless

כתבה שפורסמה בחדשות 2 ועשויה לעניין אותך.
פרסום ראשון: אוניברסיטת בר אילן סילקה סטודנט מהמעונות כי לא חבש כיפה
סטודנט בפקולטה למשפטים באוניברסיטת בר אילן לא יוכל להמשיך להתגורר במעונות בתוך הקמפוס לאחר שאב הבית הבחין בו כשהוא ללא כיפה, כך נודע לחדשות 2 Online. "הוא ראה אותי פעם אחת ממש מזמן", הדגיש הסטודנט, אך באוניברסיטה מתעקשים: "הוא התהלך מספר פעמים ללא כיפה, יוכל להתגורר במעונות מחוץ לקמפוס"
מתן חצרוני
י', סטודנט למשפטים שהתגורר במעונות הדתיים באוניברסיטת בר אילן, התבשר אתמול (ראשון) כי לא יוכל להמשיך להתגורר במעונות בשנת הלימודים הקרבה, כך נודע לחדשות 2 Online. הסיבה: אב הבית ראה אותו מסתובב במעונות כשהוא לא חובש כיפה.
רוצים לקבל עדכונים נוספים? הצטרפו לחדשות 2 בפייסבוק
"מדור מעונות הודיע לי שאני לא מתקבל למעונות של בר אילן מכיוון שלאורך השנה החולפת לא הקפדתי לשים כיפה בשטח הקמפוס. אב הבית אחראי על ההחלטה הזו", סיפר. י' הוא סטודנט שבא ממשפחה דתית, למד בישיבה ושומר על כשרות ועל שבת.
"אב הבית ראה אותי פעם אחת יחידה ללא כיפה וזה היה ממש מזמן", סיפר. "אני גר בנהריה אז אין לי פריבילגיה לנסוע מהבית וגם לא להשכיר דירה". זמן קצר לפני תחילת שנת הלימודים האקדמית ייאלץ כעת י' למצוא מקום מגורים חלופי.
"מצהיר בזה כי אני מנהל אורח חיים דתי"
מי שזכאי להגיש בקשה לדיור במעונות סטודנטים באוניברסיטה חייב לעמוד בתנאים הבאים: בוגרי בית ספר תיכון דתי המנהלים אורח חיים דתי, סטודנטים מן המניין לתואר ראשון, ועליהם לעמוד במינימום שעות לימוד אקדמיות. לדבריו, אין לו אפשרות להירשם למעונות שמפעילה האגודה כי ההרשמה תמה.
בנוסף, בזמן ההרשמה על הסטודנטים לחתום על טופס שבו נכתב בין היתר: "אני מבקש להגיש מועמדות למעונות המיועדים לשומרי אורח חיים דתי ומצהיר בזה כי אני מנהל אורח חיים דתי. ידוע לי שבאם לא אנהל אורח חיים כזה, שבו יש בין השאר הקפדה של שמירת כשרות, שמירת שבת ומועדים, לבוש צנוע והתנהגות צנועה לא אוכל להמשיך להתגורר במעונות אלה".
מאוניברסיטת בר אילן נמסר בתגובה: "מעונות הסטודנטים בתחומי הקמפוס מיועדים לסטודנטים השומרים על אורחות חיים על פי ההלכה. כל סטודנט המבקש להתגורר במעונות של האוניברסיטה חותם על התחייבות לשמור על אורח חיים דתי - וכיפה היא חלק מאורח החיים הדתי. בנוסף להתחייבות בכתב, המחויבות הזאת גם מובהרת לסטודנטים במהלך הריאיון עם אחראית המעונות לגבי הנהלים.
האוניברסיטה לא מעירה ובוודאי שלא מסלקת סטודנט לאחר פעם אחת שהלך ללא כיפה. במקרה הזה, למרות ההתחייבות שעליה חתם, הסטודנט התהלך מספר פעמים ללא כיפה ולא פעם אחת כפי שטען ולא שעה לפניות של אב הבית בעניין.
לנוכח זאת הוחלט השנה שלא לאפשר לו לשוב למעונות המיועדים למי ששומרים על אורח חיים דתי. הסטודנט יוכל להתגורר, אם ירצה בכך, במעונות מחוץ לקמפוס שבהם אין התחייבות כזאת".
יש לציין שבשיחה עם חדשות 2 Online הכחיש י' את טענות האוניברסיטה והדגיש כי מדובר היה במקרה חד פעמי.
לפניות לכתב: MatanH@Ch2news.tv
הצטרפו לעמוד הפייסבוק של מתן חצרוני
חדשות 2 - איתכם בכל מקום

NPR's "On Being" addresses The Refreshing Practice of Repentance

It is always nice to see the good things that one of your students has been doing.

Louis Newman, who got his masters at the U of M and then went off to get his PhD at Brown, now teaches at Carleton.

He nicely addresses a variety of issues pertinent to this season of the High Holy Days in a broadcast called, The Refreshing Practice of Repentance on the NPR series,"On Being" with Krista Tippett.

The show originates from the Twin Cities and covers a wide variety of spiritual topics. [Hat tip to KS.]

I haven't dealt with repentance in any systematic way. Most recently I did write a bit about apologies in general and compassion in the Kol Nidre ritual.

My favorite moment from the show was when Krista quoted Louis' reference to Rabbi Soloveitchik who says in one of his works that the practice of repentance is so bewildering that even the angels to not understand it: "Repentance cannot be comprehended rationally. It does not really make sense. Even the angels do not understand what repentance is."

Newman cites the Talmud's statement (in Berakhot 54a) that repentance was created at twilight just before the first Sabbath, which means to him that repentance is a miracle that God placed in the world.

Newman published a fine book about repentance in 2010, reviewed here.

Postscript question for 5776:
This year I am reflecting on the marathon nature of the Yom Kippur services and rituals. As an active person, as a rule I work out every day. I swim laps in a pool. I do not swim the English Channel, not even once a year. I do not engage in marathon runs or triathlons. Would it not be better for the soul and the psyche for most people, I wonder, to practice serious but smaller and more manageable rituals of repentance on a daily basis? Self reflection and improvement should be ritualized and actualized as a continuous process, shouldn't it?


The Most Popular Online Shofar Blowing Video

An Amazing Shofar Ram's Horn Synagogue Service
Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg
Uploaded to YouTube on Sep 20, 2007
Sound - not that great
Nearly 700,000 views
That's a big shofar!


Online Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Kol Nidre services, on Video, on a Live Webcast

Our sincere and heartfelt best wishes to all our readers for a Year of Blessing and Health, Prosperity and Good Cheer.

Rosh Hashanah 5776 - 2015 falls on Monday, the 14th of September and will continue for 2 days.

Yom Kippur 5776 - 2015 falls on Wednesday, the 23rd of September.

From Central Synagogue in NYC come Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur online services and videos. Scroll down to find the feed and schedule. See the LIVE webcast of Kol Nidre service this year.

The 92nd Street Y also plans a webcast of services.

Rabbis on videos at various places discuss atonement and repentance. There also are holiday video recipes for tzimmes, honey cake and tagelach that you can find online.

And see Video-streamed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services.

In these coming Days of Awe all of this is good nourishment for the soul.

Purchase some of these wonderful books below for the holidays.


My Jewish Standard "Dear Rabbi Zahavy" Column for September 2015 - Going In and Going Out of Our Community

Note to my readers about the new name for my column. 

Because of the "furor" over my bikini advice last month, my column has been renamed by the editor of the Jewish Standard. A prominent rabbi from Englewood had complained to her that the former column title, "Dear Rabbi" insinuates that all rabbis agree with my advice. Accordingly my editor offered to rename the column "Dear Rabbi Zahavy" to remove all ambiguity. The important rabbi from Englewood was not pleased with this proposed solution. LOL.

Here is my September column.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My 20-year-old son, whom we brought up Orthodox, has decided to move to the Upper West Side and lead a secular life. My spouse and I, though disappointed, respect his decision. But my friends insist on offering me consolation for my loss, because my child has gone “Off the Derech.” I feel hurt when that label is used to describe my child. And I do not feel any sense of loss. What should I say to my friends?

Pained in Passaic

Dear Pained,

To be clear to my readers, “Off the Derech” means “Off the Path.” In recent years it’s been used to describe those who leave the fold of Orthodoxy. It’s likely that of all the words in this label it’s the innocent little word “the” that is most hurtful to you. The implication and intent of OTD classification clearly is that there is one and only one acceptable path through life. In the Torah True town there is one street on which to travel. When you leave that street you are off the road. And without proper direction you are lost.

This categorization of your son may be hurtful to you for two reasons. First, no doubt there’s a value judgment built into that OTD label. One lifestyle is kosher. All others are not only treif, they are path-less. And you don’t want your child to be branded in that way. He has chosen another path.

Second, though you may not realize it, you are hurt by the realization that your community has created a metaphoric label based on a factually incorrect model of the world. Obviously, our open, modern, pluralistic society abounds with a myriad of paths, streets, highways, and byways through life. Most of them are productive, not destructive. To say that only one is valid and viable and worthy is a blunt denial of reality. It hurts you to realize that your community bases its thinking on that kind of skewed worldview. It hurts you to realize that your community believes and says there are only two ways, the way of Torah and the way of those who “sit idle.”

This worldview is expressed most clearly in one of the prayers recited at a siyyum, the celebration of the completion of the study of a book of the Talmud:

“We are thankful before you God, our God and God of our ancestors, that you have made our portion from among those who sit in the house of study and you have not made our portion from among those who sit idle. For we wake early and they wake early. We wake early for words of Torah and they wake early for idle words. We strive and they strive. We strive and receive reward and they strive and do not receive reward. We race and they race. We race toward the afterworld and they race toward destruction, as it says: ‘And you God will bring them down to destruction, men of blood and deceit will not live out half their lives, and I will trust You.’”

Right there in our liturgy is a rigidly provocative dualistic narrative depiction of the world.

Those who offer you consolation imagine that everyone must lament when a child leaves the community. In their view, the child has gone over from a pure Torah-observant life to a crude existence without direction, one that is permeated with sex and violence as portrayed by Hollywood, TV, popular music, and other expressions of modern culture.

They also expect you to grieve because they anticipate that children who leave may no longer share with their families the joys of the holidays, Shabbat, and family-based rituals and life cycle events that are cherished and make life meaningful on many levels. Your friends exhibit a genuine concern for you and your child, and may also worry lest their own children will follow suit and opt to leave the one true path.

But a comprehensive talmudic review of the world must conclude that there are many varied, wonderful, creative, and constructive valid paths through Jewish life and life in general. There are many different organized paths within Judaism: charedi, chasidic, modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Some styles may seem more secular, but all are suffused with meaningful elements of faith and observances.

Beyond those official streams, alternative paths offer a Jewish life through affiliation and identification with the Jewish community in other ways — through charity work, JCCs, classes, travel, activism, and political support for various causes. These too are vibrant Jewish paths.

So if you wish, you can tell your friends something like this. Though your son has decided to leave their path, he has found another. It will be his own road, he is on that derech, and it is well-paved. He is not lost. You have prepared him well to contribute to the betterment of humankind, and you are confident that his road will take him in a fine and proper direction.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I come from a classical Reform Jewish background. My sister has become a baal teshuva and now keeps strictly kosher. She won’t eat in my house anymore. How can I deal with this?

Boycotted in Bergenfield

Dear Boycotted,

First of all, you need to understand the nature of your sister’s choice.

The Orthodox idea of the baal teshuva is based on the belief that all Jews remain members of the tribe, no matter what lifestyle they live. At any moment a Jew leading a secular lifestyle can have an awakening and decide to repent — do teshuva — and return to the Torah-true way of life.

At one time, social scientists used the term reversion for such a decision. That label and the baal teshuva label both imply that a person has chosen to return to a previous state, practice, or belief.

These are of course metaphoric fictional ways of describing becoming Orthodox as a return. In most cases that’s not what’s going on. The person making the choice was Jewish previously, but never was Orthodox.

The choice to become frum is in fact a bold new choice of life direction, a break with a past path and a selection of a new one. That is the fact, and that is likely how you see it. And it makes you uncomfortable that your sister won’t eat with you now.

She sees it differently. She has awakened and returned. You unfortunately have not, at least not yet.

She has left what she might describe as the emptiness of a secular life, and now lives in the fullness and meaning of a busy Orthodox existence. Her life is now governed by a myriad of detailed practices that may baffle you, including all of the complex laws of a kosher kitchen.

Understand this. Your sister may once have spent her Saturdays in a perfectly proper manner of leisure. Perhaps she went shopping or maybe she had her nails done on Cedar Lane, then listened to NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” then went in the summer to swim and sit out by the pool.

But now that she has chosen another path, her Saturday is Shabbos. She goes to shul, then to Kiddush, then to the Shabbos meal, and perhaps to a nap or to a class in Chumash study (Bible). And there is no shopping, no nails, no radio, no pool.

She has opted to leave behind her previous routines for a more rigorous and structured cycle of life, governed by religious norms and prohibitions. She found her earlier life lacking and her new life more meaningful and ultimately more consequential.

And with her new way, she has decided that she now may eat only food that is kosher, prepared in utensils that are kosher, and served on dishes that are kosher. If you want her to join you in your home for dinner, you must respect and accommodate her wishes. Ask her how you can do this for her on an ad hoc basis, so that she will feel comfortable eating in your home.

It might mean you have to buy her prepared kosher food and serve it on disposable plates. There are degrees of kashrut, and you need to know her level of expectation.

Perhaps ask her to invite you over to her home so that you can see firsthand what she does to create her kosher cuisine.

If you cannot reach a negotiated mode of having her join you for dinner in your home or hers, and you do want to dine with her, then try taking her out to a nice kosher restaurant. There are many fine convenient local options for kosher dining in Teaneck and the surrounding towns.

As your question and the previous one illustrate, our community is dynamic and diverse. We need to better understand and embrace the movements in and out, and respect all of the options that are out there for living satisfying Jewish lives.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Please mail your questions to the Jewish Standard or email DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University where he studied for two years with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and for four years with Rav J.B. Soloveitchik. He is the author many books, including these Kindle Edition e-books available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

Read more: Dear Rabbi Zahavy @ The Jewish Standard