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Showing posts from October, 2009

Evolutionary Judaism

I love Conservative Judaism.It is a great blessing to the Jewish world.I believe in its message and its wisdom.I know it has real limitations, yet it is poised to address the needs of the Jewish people in the 21stcentury.For decades, our movement has wisely embraced tradition while acknowledging the importance of change as generations go by.Most significantly, I appreciate Conservative Judaism’s embrace of honesty, truth, and intellectual integrity.When we study texts of Torah, we don’t suspend disbelief.We don’t ask our adherents to check their critical thinking at the door.We invite our communities to apply their intellectual vigor and the breadth of their learning from many disciplines—Jewish and non-Jewish-- to discern the meaning and the context of our teachings.We are Halakhic:we uphold the binding quality of a Jewish law that has brilliantly grown up over our 3,000 year heritage. We respect that tradition, and seek to change those laws and practices judiciously, only when caref…

Being the Earth

It’s hard not to love the character of Noach.He’s always depicted as that dotty little old man who builds the ark, and collects the animals two by two.His ark graces the walls of countless nurseries and preschools.It might come as a surprise the Noach doesn’t quite come off so well in the Jewish tradition.Rashi explains that Noach was only a tzadik bedorotav, which means that, while he is called a Tzadik, it was only in relation to his generation (which, of course was all wanton sinners) that he looked good at all!The midrash (the rabbinic story) in Tanhuma goes even further, and calls Noach a ‘sinner,’ because he did not publicly speak out against the sinners of his generation, and only retreated into the safety of his ark.Pretty harsh words for poor old man Noach!But this is all very strange, because if you look at the literal text of the Torah, it says that Noach was Ish Tzadik Tamim Hayah bedorotav, that he was a righteous and whole-hearted man in his generation.In fact, no other …

Creation: Thou Art That

The texts of today’s Torah reading are the source of one of the greatest controversies of our time.Namely, the Creation verses evolution debate.It seems like you can barely turn on the television or open the papers these days without seeing some reference to this debate.Just look at the New York Times bestseller list this week and you see Richard Dawkin’s ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ arguing vehemently against the intelligent design argument, and there’s also Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Case for God.’When Frances Collins was selected to head up the NIH, a veritable storm of controversy was kicked up by his scientific colleagues who could not abide his belief in God.There seems to be a modern obsession either with attacking or explaining away the biblical account of Creation in light of evolution.Richard Dawkins and his militant atheist friends seem to reduce all religion to fundamentalist literalism—that if you believe in God you MUST be a supernaturalist, and you must believe the biblica…

Death is Not as Real as Love

There’s a very fitting connection between Shmini Atzeret and the service of Yizkor.The term “Shmini Atzeret” literally means, “stopping on the eighth day.”Numbers always have great symbolic significance in Judaism.The number seven, of course, has obvious significance as the symbol of completion—like the completion of the seventh day of creation, and the completion of the week with Shabbat.But what of the number eight?When we consider the symbolic references to the number eight, we are reminded of the brit milah, the circumcision rite that always happens on the eighth day.It’s rather strange, isn’t it?Why indeed have rituals and holidays on the eighth day, when the seventh day has such a biblical connection to significance, completion, and perfection?Our tradition teaches us to think of the eighth day as the fullness of seven, of completion… plus one more!It is true perfection, because when you reach the natural completion of seven, the eight makes a perfect circle: think of the eight-…