Can a Jew Pray Directly to the Divine Attribute of Compassion?

Can a Jew pray directly to the Divine Attribute of Compassion? Yes, in just one prayer each year.

On Yom Kippur in Neilah, in the final series of the prayers of compassion that we call the selihot, we utter the catalogue of God’s thirteen mainly emotional attributes over and over again, the familiar:

“Lord, Lord, God, Compassionate, with loving kindness, patient, with kindness and truth; keeper of mercy for thousands, forgiver of iniquity, transgression and sin; clearing us. Forgive our iniquity and sin and accept us.” (cf. Exodus 34:6-7)

Within this sequence of repeated meditations, the tenth century Italian payetan Rabbi Amitai ben Shepatiah presents in his prayer a direct appeal to the divine attribute of compassion to intercede for us:
Attribute of compassion, pour upon us
In the presence of your creator, cast our supplications
For the sake of your people, request compassion
For every heart has pain and every mind is ill
(Goldschmidt, YK, p. 778)


Does the Talmud say that Gay Sex Causes Earthquakes?

I'm quoted  in the Pacific Standard as an authority on the cause of earthquakes, "Gay Sex Caused the Earthquakes in Nepal."

On 8/23/2011 I wrote this post:

Does the Talmud say that Gay Sex Causes Earthquakes? In 2010 I covered this nonsensical topic after the Haiti earthquakes. (At that time Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic cited me on this subject.)

Here it is again.

Yes, the Talmud does say that gay sex causes earthquakes.

I mused, That must be some awesome gay sex.

But seriously, if one can get serious over this bizarre idea, some cockamamie rabbis were going around preaching that gay sex caused Haiti's earthquakes.

See here and here for the reports about Rabbi Yehuda Levin and the Rabbinical Alliance of America. (These materials are gone now.)

Now not only is this a strange teaching. I must chastise these rabbis for not doing their Talmud homework and for not paying closer attention to the text in Yerushalmi Berakhot (9:2), which several years back I translated and published through the University of Chicago Press.

According to the Talmud text, earthquakes are caused by any one of a number of acts: yes one of them is gay sex, but others are by disputes, and also by not taking heave offering and tithes from your produce, and also because God is just upset that the Temple is in ruins and there are theaters and circuses in Israel.

Rabbis ought to know better than to cherry pick among the Talmudic reasons for earthquakes.


Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End?

Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? (Repost for 9-11-2022)

I always feel deep sadness as I recall - as if it was this morning - that awful day 21 years ago when I saw the planes fly into the towers from my vantage on a hill in across the river in Jersey City. 

Mark Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, lays out five ways that the reign of religious terror can come to an end. Let's consider each. First consider the end will come with the forceful eradication of the terrorists, what appears to have been the US response to the 9/11 attacks, continued with the more recent killing of OBL.

Juergensmeyer outlines,
The first scenario is one of a solution forged by force. It encompasses instances in which terrorists have literally been killed off or have been forcibly controlled. If Osama bin Laden had been in residence in his camp in Afghanistan on August 10, 1998, along with a large number of leaders of other militant groups when the United States launched one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles into his quarters, for instance, this air strike might have removed some of the persons involved in planning future terrorist acts in various parts of the world.