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SERMON: Immigrants, Refugees, Liberals and the Pesach Experience

PASSOVER – 1ST DAY • APRIL 11, 2017

Last night Jews did what Jews have done at the Pesach Seder since the time of the Temple – they asked four questions. But this year I did one better. I asked a fifth question. The question, “Why do I care about Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants?”

I do care – I really do care! This is one of the issues that very much divides our country; going in some ways to the heart of the Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative divide. I find it hard to understand why, on this issue, I stand strongly and firmly on the liberal side. It’s just not like me! Generally speaking, my humanitarian side makes itself manifest in my support for the people of Israel. Social action has never been my “thing.” I don’t recycle. Global warming only affects my suntan.

And yet, I am deeply disturbed by the plight of the Syrian refugees and the Mexican immigrants to the U.S. And I do this fully knowing the arguments against them … the effect on our economy, the challenge to our culture and the more immediate fear of terrorism. I am the one who has never hesitated to refer to it as “radical Islam” and “Islamic terrorism.” So what is with me suddenly becoming a “bleeding heart liberal,” wanting our doors to remain open to refugees and immigrants?

There is only one answer I’ve been able to come up with for this fifth question. The answer is found in one word – Pesach. READ MORE

SERMON: Syrian Refugees: A Matter of “Moral Licensing?”

December 1, 2015 Leave a comment

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