Shabbat Chanukah Suggested Reading

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Get ready for Shabbat with these suggested readings!

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SERMON: It’s Always Something!

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

The late actress, Gilda Radner, will long be remembered for the many roles she played, but she is most immortalized for the character she played on Saturday Night Live, Roseanne Roseannadanna, who used to proclaim from time to time: “It’s always something!” Those words, “It’s always something!” became the title of the book written about the life of Gilda Radner. But the reality is, according to Jewish tradition, those words: “It’s always something!” can be used to describe most all of our lives. The words find their root in a commentary on the first verse in this morning’s Torah portion.

Our Torah portion began with the seemingly innocent words: “Vayshev Yaacov b’eretz migurei aviv–Yaacov settled down in the land of his fathers.” But, the rabbis come along and say it wasn’t so. “Bikesh Yaacov leshev bishalva, miyad kafats alav rugzo shel Yosef–Jacob wanted to settle down in peace and he thought that at last he was going to be able to do so, but just then the tragedy of Joseph came upon him.” The rabbis go on to say that Jacob should have known better. He should have known that “ein shalva l’tzadikim b’olam haze–there is no rest and there is no peace for the righteous in this world.” It’s always something! READ MORE

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SERMON: Tattoos and Sexting…Are They Good for the Jews?

December 9, 2014 Leave a comment

We are happy to welcome the High School students from across the country who have come to Beth Tfiloh this weekend for the Weiner Tournament and have joined us at this time. My words are addressed to them, and to all of you. This morning I am going to speak about a word that many of you in the synagogue know, and many of you do not know. It’s a word that some of you have experienced, and many of you never will. And whether you know the word, or have experienced it, will depend very much on how old you are and where you are sitting in the synagogue at this time. The word is “SEXTING.”

First a few words of comfort for our high school students. Let me tell you something about Jewish law that I don’t think many of you are aware of. In my first 30 years as a rabbi, I was never asked about it. But in the last 10 years it has become one of the more frequent questions: Can a Jew with a tattoo be buried in a Jewish cemetery? And the answer is: no matter what anyone has told you, if you have a tattoo you CAN be buried in a Jewish cemetery! That’s a fact! Let no one tell you differently! A person with a tattoo cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery is a “wives’ tale.” Or, more likely, a Jewish mother’s tale … a way of your parents scaring all of you into not getting a tattoo! Now, I don’t want you to go home and say that Rabbi Wohlberg said it’s okay to get a tattoo – it’s not! It is prohibited by Jewish law, where we are told in the Torah: “And a wound on your soul you shall not put in your flesh and a tattoo you shall not place in you. I am the Lord.” So, it’s clear that a tattoo is prohibited. But there are a lot of things that are prohibited and if we did not allow a Jew who has violated a Jewish law to be buried in a Jewish cemetery we would have a lot of land available to build condominiums! READ MORE

SERMON: American Culture, Jewish Culture, Arab Culture

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Should a Jew celebrate Thanksgiving? I know the answer seems obvious, but it’s not as obvious as it seems. Some of the major halachic sages of the 20th century disagreed on this question. After all, Thanksgiving can’t simply be dismissed as being a secular holiday, when American court decisions have ruled Good Friday and Christmas and Chanukah as being secular as well. So how is one to view Thanksgiving?

- On the one hand, my teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik, used to conduct the Talmud class for his students earlier on Thanksgiving Day so that he could fly home to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.

- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said that as long as you don’t consider yourself obligated to eat turkey, then you can celebrate the holiday.

- But Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner felt that the establishment of an annual holiday that is based on the Christian calendar makes it a Gentile holiday and, therefore, a Jew should not observe Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Soleveitchik’s position has certainly become the most accepted one, although truth to say, in some Orthodox homes no big deal is made over the Thanksgiving meal. After all, Orthodox Jews have a Thanksgiving meal every Friday night with family, friends and all of the trimmings. I don’t remember Thanksgiving being a major event in my youth. In fact, I remember the first year we were married … Sherry invited her parents and mine for dinner on Thanksgiving Day … and served chicken cacciatore! READ MORE

SERMON: Esav is Alive and Well and Living in Ramallah

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

I wish I were a more spiritual person. I really do! If I were, I think I’d be able to make more sense out of the terrible massacre that took place this week in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem where two Palestinians entered a synagogue with guns, knives and axes and brutally murdered four Torah scholars while they were praying in their tallit and tefillin, and then killed a Druze policeman who gave his life trying to protect the other worshippers. It was horrible, disgusting … but there were some people – spiritual kind of people – who are able to find some positive lesson, some moral purpose, out of all this:

- Rabbi Chaim Kenievsky, one of the great sages of the generation, said the attack showed that we are living in the ikvasa d’mishicha – the beginning of the coming of the Messiah. I wish I could see it that way! I really do.

- Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, a renowned Torah scholar in Brooklyn, said that the fact that these rabbis were killed while wearing tallit and tefillin is a call from God to tell us to wear our tallit and tefillin for the whole davening, and to watch every word we say when we are wearing tallit
and tefillin, and not to walk out of davening into the halls while wearing tallit and tefillin. Four people who dedicated their lives all day to learning Torah were axed and shot to death to teach us these lessons? I wish I believed that.

- In the Har Nof neighborhood, signs immediately went up proclaiming: “In light of the tragedy let us turn inward and to teshuvah – repent.” That’s a very typical Jewish response but I’m enough of a cynic to ask: Repent for what? What did we do wrong? READ MORE

SERMON: It’s All in the Stars? A Tale of Two Rabbis …

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Recently one of the most important figures of the 20th century passed away, and although her death was noted in some newspapers, very few people paid any attention to it. I’ll tell you her name and I can almost guarantee that you won’t know who she is, but the fact remains: she changed the course of history! Her name was Joan Quigley and she was Nancy Reagan’s astrologer.

According to Nancy Reagan herself, after the attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan, she said: “I’m scared every time he leaves the house.” And she looked for guidance from Ms. Quigley. During seven years of Reagan’s presidency, Ms. Quigley told the Reagans when he should have press conferences, election debates, negotiations with foreign governments, fly on Air Force One and when Ronald Reagan should have his cancer surgery … all depending on the alignment of the stars! When the word got out about the Reagan’s astrologer, Mrs. Reagan started to downplay her importance after she heard a joke which suggested that a Cabinet post should be created to be in charge of “voodoo.” READ MORE

Is it all in the stars?

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment

This Shabbat, my sermon is, “It’s All in the Stars?  A Tale of Two Rabbis,” where I discuss astrology, and two rabbis in the news right now, for very different reasons: Rabbi Barry Freundel and Rabbi Yehuda Glick.

New this week…I am introducing my new Suggested Reading for Shabbat!

• The Temple Mount: In Whose Hands?, Mosaic Magazine

• Modern Orthodoxy: A model for the great American Jewish dream?, The Times of Israel

• Now the World Fiddles as Gaza Cries, The Algemeiner

• The Kindness of Strangers, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks


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