This week I couldn’t help but think about the words uttered by the Godfather, Don Corleone, to the gangster, Virgil Sollozzo, when he says to him: “It don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living you understand, but your business is a little dangerous.” It is shortly thereafter that Sollozzo gets gunned down by Michael Corleone in the famous restaurant scene. I must tell you that I never considered my business dangerous. Yet recently there was something in the news that, if true, could put me out of business, permanently! Strangely enough, it was a study found in the journal Current Biology.
The authors of the study, led by a scholar at the University of Chicago, involved nearly 1,200 children from Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and the United States. Their research discovered that children raised in religious homes were significantly less likely to share and demonstrate altruism than those coming from the homes of atheists or non-religious families. The study went against everything that every religious leader has preached; the belief that being religious helped make someone more empathetic and morally sensitive. In the words of the researchers: “Overall, our findings cast light on the cultural input of religion on pro-social behavior and contradicts the common sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others.”
That is an absolutely mind-boggling statement, seemingly going against what every religion, and certainly our religion, preaches. Rav, the codifier of the Talmud tells us: “You think it really matters to God how an animal is slaughtered. Know that the purpose of the mitzvot is l’tsaref et habriyot – to refine man, to make man a better person.” This study seems to say that it doesn’t work! Being religious doesn’t mean being better. And if that’s true, that is not good for my business! READ MORE
Last week I had a sad experience. I was reading an Israeli newspaper online describing the situation in Jerusalem where tourists had disappeared, trips were called off, people were fearful to stand at bus stations, no one was going downtown … and then I saw an article with the headline: “The Choir That Didn’t Cancel.” Before reading the article for some reason I said to myself: I bet you it wasn’t a Jewish choir. And sadly, I was right. The choir was 150 singers from an American group called “The Singing Men from Georgia.” This is a group of Baptists who were giving a concert called “Bringing Hope to the Peoples of the Holy Land.” They didn’t cancel … would you? Honestly, would you book a trip to Israel these days given the situation there? I would! I can’t go now, but this past week I booked a flight to go to Israel in January. Would you? The truth of the matter is, anyone reading the newspapers would certainly agree that given the situation there, this is far from the perfect time to visit. But I wouldn’t hesitate to go. I don’t make light of the situation but I can’t help but feel right now I would be safer in downtown Jerusalem than downtown Baltimore. READ MORE
It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. If that be the case, the picture that appeared in the New York Post and went viral on the Internet before Yom Kippur speaks volumes about the contemporary Jewish condition and helps explain why I already miss the Pope, and perhaps provides the beginning of an answer to one of the greatest challenges confronting the Jewish people. (Now if you had trouble understanding that sentence, how do you think I feel?)
Let me explain. It took place two days before Yom Kippur at a time when Jews around the world have a custom of participating in the Kapparot ritual. The ritual itself has a long history of controversy and some great rabbis wish ed to completely ban it. The ritual used to involve a chicken … you swing a live chicken over your head, proclaiming in effect that you, yourself, deserve to die for your sins but instead this chicken will be put to death as expiation for your sins. Sort of, instead of a scapegoat … a scape chicken! READ MORE
Today I want to take back something I’ve said to you countless times on this day of Shemini Atzeret. So many sermons I delivered on this day began by pointing out that this festival of Shemini Atzeret is very strange. Unlike most other festivals, it has no special ceremony nor does this day mark any historic occasion. Shemini Atzeret is a holiday unto itself… independent of Sukkot and independent in its manner from any other major observance. Today I want to take that back! This year on Yom Kippur I was reminded that there IS something unique about this day … there is something special we do on this day. And what we do has tremendous contemporary relevance. READ MORE
We can all picture the images before our eyes. They are fleeing, not by the hundreds and not by the thousands, not by the tens of thousands… they are fleeing by the millions. History will never be the same! Of course, I am referring to the two million refugees who fled the land of Egypt, whose travails we remember during this festival of Sukkot, when the Jews having fled the bondage of Egypt, found themselves not in Hungary, not in Germany and not in Turkey… but in a wilderness, living in booths for 40 years.
We Jews are sensitive to the plight of refugees for a good part of our history that is just what we’ve been – refugees – from Egypt, Israel, England, Spain and on and on. And then came the Holocaust when the world would not even allow Jews to become refugees… when all doors were slammed in our faces by the civilized world. So what we now see taking place in the Middle East, across the Mediterranean Sea and entering Europe, cannot help but touch us as Jews and as Americans; a country made up in large part of refugees. READ MORE
Before we get to this year, let me first give you an update about last year. Last year in my Yom Kippur Yizkor sermon dealing with my 70th birthday, I told you that I had bought a watch which you program with some information about your age and your health, and then the watch tells you the present time … and how much time you have left until you die. And then you watch the minutes tick down. Well, after Yom Kippur I put that watch away. I didn’t think about it again until shortly before Rosh Hashanah. I took it out of the drawer to see how much time I had left. And lo and behold, I looked at the watch … and the battery had died! So much for last year’s prop. Now, for this year’s!
What is this? (Holding up selfie stick). If I had asked you that question two years ago most all of you would not have known the answer. Had I asked this question last year most everybody under 50 would have known the answer. This year everyone knows the answer, especially if you have recently traveled. Sherry and I were in Rome and Venice with our granddaughters this past June. People were selling these on every corner. And they weren’t doing such great business because everyone already seemed to have one! It is a “selfie stick.” READ MORE
Here’s the story: this is the holiest night of the year and this is the most difficult sermon for me to deliver. You sit here stuffed and tired. I stand here stuffed and tired … not the most positive setting in which to speak. So here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to tell you a few stories, primarily about people you know or know of. And then I’m going to ask you to write your own story. And if you get it right, you will have earned your place in the World-to-Come. So let’s start!
What happened on the streets of Baltimore the last week of April marked a terrible blow to our city that will not soon go away. The scenes that followed the troubling death of Freddie Gray reverberated around the world. Seemingly overnight, civil society as we know it broke down; divisions erupted between the Mayor and the Governor, the police and the community, the State’s Prosecutor and the media, between blacks and whites. Little wonder that CNN’s coverage was headlined: “Baltimore is Burning.” READ MORE