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Archive for December, 2014

SERMON: The Movie “Exodus” and the Miracle of Schmaltz

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

This year is unique because during the festival of Chanukah, I have to speak to you about the exodus from Egypt, because of last week’s opening of the movie “Exodus, Gods and Kings.”

I am not much of a movie goer. The last time I went to the movies was back in August; Sherry and I walked out in the middle. Now it is listed as one of the best movies of the year! It’s hard to get us to sit through a movie … Sherry won’t go unless she knows the movie’s ending and I won’t go if it has aliens or vampires! But the movie “The Exodus” seems right for both of us! Sherry could go knowing the ending beforehand, and I figured that as a rabbi I could get a sermon out of it! So someday I might see it, but for now here is the sermon.

The movie did not get good reviews and its opening week was well below projections. That’s for you and movie critics to decide. I speak of the movie because of articles that I had seen that spoke specifically to the religious nature of the movie. It started with a large article in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 5 entitled: “How did Moses part the Red Sea? The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians.” The article took note of the fact that this movie looked much different than Cecil B. DeMille’s classic “The Ten Commandments.” In that that movie, Charlton Heston – with God on his side – parted the Sea into two huge walls of water. This new version seems to take God out of the equation … it seems to take the miracles out of the picture. In this movie, the waters part as a result of a tsunami caused by an earthquake. So Glenn Beck proclaims: “And the miracles … they are all explainable, natural occurrences. I think this is a very subversive movie for religion.” Entertainment Weekly describes it: “Director Ridley Scott looked to science, not miracles, to part the Red Sea.” Another commentator describes it as having taken place “in accordance with the way of the world; that the wind dries out and parches the rivers.” Indeed, the plagues themselves seem to be little more than natural occurrences and ecological disasters. What happened to the supernatural? What happened to the miracles?  READ MORE

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