Rabbi Israel Salanter stated: “Any rabbi whose congregation never considered firing him [her] is no rabbi. Any rabbi whose congregation does fire him [her] is no mensch.”
This statement captures the essence of the debate – should rabbis become involved in politics? On one hand, if rabbis do not take a stand to lend a voice to contemporary issues, then are they really engaging in leadership? On the other hand, the rabbi’s role is to welcome members of the entire Jewish community, and how can one do that in a mench-like way if he or she isn’t able to address the needs of all of their constituents?
What Kind of Jew Are You?
When I was a hospital chaplain, a patient once asked me, “what kind of Jew are you?” I responded, “hopefully one who is compassionate, kind, and caring.” He responded, “no, no, no that isn’t what I meant…Reform, Orthodox, or what?” He needed to understand my religious values and thought that affiliation would give him the information that he was seeking. But, the truth is that even though I am a JTS ordained “Conservative” rabbi I have never really had an answer to this question. In my family we have a deliberate and thoughtful Shabbat practice, which is informed by halacha (Jewish law), family values, and spirituality but is not solely dictated by Jewish law. We observe kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), but eat out vegetarian in restaurants and have meat-heckshered and dairy non-heckshered dishes in our home. I work at the J, belong to a Conservative synagogue, and send my kids to Reform day school and religious school. I often feel there is no single space for me in organized Jewish life. At the same time, I believe we are forging a path that will keep our family Jewishly connected and fulfilled for the long-term. Then it dawned on me...
The following blog post gives the view and opinions of its author, Rabbi Jill Levy, and does not represent an official opinion or position of the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC of Houston, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinion and views of any member, employee or board member of the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC of Houston. The purpose of this blog, and specifically this post, is to present how Jewish texts can enlighten contemporary issues. We do not expect that everyone will draw the same conclusions. As Rabbi Ishmael teaches in the Talmud, “A Biblical verse is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces... just as the rock is split into many splinters, so also may one biblical verse convey many teachings.” (BT Sanhedrin 34a). We hope you’ll share your thoughts and opinions with others in the comments section below.
Anyone who causes one life to be lost from Israel, it is as if they have destroyed the entire world. Anyone who saves one life from Israel, it is as if they have preserved an entire world. – Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.
If gun ownership can save even one life then shouldn’t we support this practice? So far, in 2015, there have been 687 defensive gun uses. After all, the Talmud teaches that everyone has the right to self-defense. It states, “If someone comes to kill you, act first and kill him.” (Brachot 62b)
At the same time, there have also been 1071 accidental shootings, 1840 children ages 0-17 killed/injured, 7439 deaths and 14,781 injuries this year. Ratios typically range around one justifiable shooting for every 32 murders, suicides or accidental deaths annually. You can read about victim stories here from the bradycampaign.org.
As Jews, we have a tradition that cares deeply about the importance of human life, and as Americans we have a public safety issue that we cannot ignore. The United States currently leads the world in firearm ownership and firearm-related deaths, averaging 88 guns per 100 people and 82 deaths each day due to gun violence, including eight children under the age of 18.
We all want to be safe and secure in our own homes and outside. The question becomes what is the best way to achieve that security and should guns play a role?
There are a number of texts that we can draw on from Jewish tradition that speak to this issue. I am presenting the following three texts that guide my beliefs:
My summer camp challenge this year: To teach every camper, in every camp, the same dance, and come together to perform it.
You may not see this as a major challenge, but with seven different camps, at least eight camp directors, numerous counselors and hundreds of children, there are a number of different people and personalities at play. While this may still seem like a simple task, I can assure you, it is not...
December is literally the darkest month of the year, with sunset starting just after 5:00PM each day. The celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of lights, which begins on December 16, 2014 stands in sharp contrast to the darkness of our winter months.
Hanukkah itself is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah so the earliest accounts of its celebration comes from the Talmud. The Talmud even asks Mai Hanukkah, or what is Hanukkah? The answer is “…Eight days of celebration on which mourning and fasting are prohibited. Because when the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the Maccabees triumphed, they looked for oil to light the Eternal Flame, and only found one container with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained enough oil for only one day, but a miracle occurred, and they were able to keep it lit for eight days from that container...” (Shabbat 21b).
"Today I completed a challenge that I never thought possible. Today is Labor Day, Monday, Sept 1, 2014, and I competed in, and finished, my first triathlon."
-- Rabbi Jill Levy
This may not seem like such a huge accomplishment for those who are "fitness people," but I have never been particularly skilled in the sports and fitness department. However, there was something driving me to train for and to participate in this event. Since I work at the J, where we have an amazing fitness center, trainers and two pools, I knew I had the resources, I just had to use them.
After 12 weeks of training I received my race number and stood at the bank of the lake ready to enter the water at the start of the race. At that point, I asked two of my friends if they would say the shecheyanu blessing (Blessed are You, God, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season) with me, my way of praising and thanking God for the ability to reach this moment in my life. It was not until I was on the bike that I realized I had a choice. I could have said the blessing at the race finish instead of at the beginning.
In that moment, I realized...