Saturday, July 17, 2010

Click here for information links on conversion bill

You'll find a wealth of information: key players, talking points, news articles, and a conference call with Rabbi Steve Wernick, director of USCJ.

Please send letter to Netanyahu regarding conversion bill

Clicking on title of post should take you to a site containing the letter that the combined Conservative organizations are asking all to send. Please do so and show your concern.

Urgent in Israel: sad twist on Tisha B'Av

We observe Tisha B’Av because Israel and its capital Jerusalem is – has always been – the beating heart of Judaism.

We mourn the destruction of the first Temple in 586 bc – and the destruction of the second Temple in 70 ce. Both happened on the same day in the Jewish year, the ninth day of the month of Av.

The first Temple stood for nearly four centuries. The second Temple for nearly six… We are talking about a full thousand years of Jewish life. That’s a long time.

The loss of those holy sites, dayeinu, it would have been enough to cause widespread mourning.

But it was more than the destruction of the Temples – it was the destruction of a way of life – the land was pillaged, the people killed, exiled, or sold as slaves.
Tisha b’Av marks our first two holocausts.

The events of Tisha B’Av sent us into exiles that left us vulnerable to other holocausts. We were weak, had no government supporting us.

However as we compare the tragedies of Tisha B’Av to the Inquisition, or the Shoah we see that the main difference between Tisha B’Av these later tragedies is that back then, we – the Jewish people – brought it on ourselves.

We sinned. The prophets said that the First Temple was destroyed because we committed adultery and incest – prayed to idols – and were guilty of bloodshed. We polluted the land with our misdeeds.

But we focus tonight on the traditional reason for the second destruction: sinat hinam, baseless hatred.

We were not a united people, we were at each other’s throats, we spoke ill of each other. We were unkind.

The Talmud gives other reasons for the tragic events of 70 ce, the destruction of the second people and the terrible exile that followed:

1.Rabbi Hamnuna blamed the destruction on Jerusalem’s neglect of children’s education. That makes sense. Of course the effects would be far-reaching. If children don’t learn, how will future generations know about our covenant with God?

2.Rabba said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people of integrity there ceased.

That also makes sense. How can any society survive when people lack integrity? … Scary, huh …

3.Now I have an explanation that you may find surprising, but I am quoting directly from the Talmud: Rabbi Yochanan said that Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments in accordance with the law of Torah.

Sound odd?

The problem was obviously not Torah, but it was a refusal to look beyond the strict – the strictest letter of the law.

The Talmud is not saying that rabbis should disregard Torah. However, while we must respect the law, we cannot let it blind us – cannot let it bind us, and it cannot keep us from our primary purpose on this earth - to a greater good.

Torah should be a vehicle connecting Jews to each other in love and unity

In the time of the 2nd Temple, rabbinic insistence on following every single letter – down to every dot – led to self-righteousness and divisiveness.

As we approach Tisha B’Av, our people-hood is being threatened … in and by Israel.

I love Israel dearly. Talking about these issues … is sad.

Judaism does not have a pope. We do not have a central religious authority. Religious authority is invested in our rabbis. And when I say rabbis, it it important to note that we have never ever been invested in words and opinions of one single rabbi. To allow a “chief” rabbi to assume the powers of a pope is Jewish heresy.

Two thousand years ago, we had a high priest and a Temple. Since then, we have had rabbis … plural … again, not one rabbi … interpreting Torah.

Today – in s[ite of the warnings of Torah, and the horrific examples of our own history, the chief rabbinate of Israel is trying to become the Pope – trying to make itself THE central authority of Judaism.

Many of you know that a cornerstone of Israel has always been the Law of Return. Israel is the Jewish homeland. Any Jew immigrating there automatically becomes a citizen.

The reason is simple: Jews have always been bound to the land of Israel. When Jews move there, theoretically … they are going back home.

However, right now, there are members of the Israeli government seeking to change that with the “Rotem” bill.

This bill would give the chief rabbinate the power to decide who can move to Israel and be accepted as a Jewish citizen.

Here are some of the consequences of the Rotem Bill’s passage:

1. Any non-Jew who visits Israel, returns home, and converts to Judaism, would automatically be denied citizenship under the Law of Return.

2. It automatically follows that every conversion would have to be under the auspices of the chief rabbinate. Citizenship would be denied to anyone that did not meet their extremely rigid conditions.

Standards that many of the great rabbis of the Talmud would disagree with because they SAID so in pour texts!

3. The bill would affirm that there is only one legitimate stream of Judaism … ultra-Orthodox … not Reform, not Conservative, not Reconstructionist - not even modern Orthodox would count.

4. The bill includes many provisions that definitely send a strong message to the Jews of the United States. That message is that American Jews aren’t welcome in the Jewish homeland.

Reform, Conservative, and secular Jews constitute nearly 90% of American Judaism. We’re the ones who encourage and lobby our representatives to support Israel. We’re the ones who support AIPAC!

God forbid, Israel would push American Jews away.

But that is at risk IF THIS BILL PASSES – and this is a very dangerous time for Israel – especially given the aggressive posture of Iran – and their threat of nuclear destruction. Many groups – including churches – are taking their investments away from Israel. That’s a serious problem I’ll address in the coming weeks.

There is never a good time for shenanigans like the Rotem Bill – but with all these dangers – and the approach of Tisha B’Av – this might be the worst.

We need unity! We don’t want to be driven away from Israel. We SHOULDN’T be unwelcome in Israel.

Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, firmly opposes the Rotem bill. He has been clear on that subject. Sharansky has publicly stated that the Israeli government should not do anything to divide the Jewish people.

However, the Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, has been silent.

While many think he will oppose the bill, his silence … and the silence of his Likud party … tells us this is not a sure thing.

Earlier to today, I sent you all an informational email. If you haven’t looked at it, please do. There are links to email the Prime Minister, to let him know how seriously we take this.

Everything I have said tonight is born of a deep love of Israel. I know that you here share that love!

We can combat the sorrow of Tisha B’Av by working to make Israel a place that welcomes all Jews … that keeps the Zionist dream alive.

May the Kadosh Baruch Hu strengthen us all – may we work together to make us … and the land of Israel … worthy of redemption,

V’nomar, amein.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BP, our culture, our responsibility

We’ve heard it so many times, we tune it out.

When natural disaster strikes, clergymen of all faiths blame it on sin: Katrina, the tsunami, all these bad things because people sinned. Never mind that the clergy didn’t agree on the sins that led to these catastrophes. They blamed it on sin.
We’ve heard that so often that when bad things do happen – because of sin – we don’t want to say that out loud.

In Judaism, we don’t like to speak about sin because of the cultural implications. In many religions, sin means you’re damned to everlasting hell. Jews do not believe in everlasting hell. So we stay mum on sin.

However, we’re approaching Tisha B’Av and the anniversary of the destruction of both our First and Second Temples. Both of these tragedies were brought about by sin. Not all the Israelites sinned – but enough of them did so that the consequences destroyed the only way of life they knew.

Friends, actions do have consequences. Sin does bring negative consequences in its wake.

The sins of our entire society have threatened our way of life in a scope even more devastating to us than the destruction of the Temples.

Our culture – and its insatiable greed for oil, for plastic – for things – led directly to the BP oil spill and the potential destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and its coast.

Our Torah portion, Matot, discusses the nature of collective guilt. The Torah specifically talks about “bloodguilt” which is caused by idolatry, adultery, incest, and murder. Before we entered the Promised Land, God warned us that if we insulted the land through our transgressions, it would vomit us out.

“Vomit us out” – how’s that for an image.

Our lust for oil – and oil companies’ lust for profits – has again shown us that we do have the power to destroy the world.

We worry about terrorism and war. I worry about those things. But I worry even more about our values that drove us into the BP disaster.

We all have to take ownership. We have to pressure our government to do a better job safeguarding the oil wells and coal mines that are the source of so much of our energy.

It’s a tough balancing act. It’s hard to know when we’ve crossed the materialistic line that left God and true spiritual values far behind.

Later, in the book of Deuteronomy (8:11-14), we’ll hear God explicitly warn us:
"Take care...lest you eat and be satisfied and you build good houses and settle, and your cattle and flocks increase, and you increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything that you have will increase--and your heart will become haughty and you will forget the Lord your God…"

A great rabbi of the 16th century, Rabbi Ephraim Luntchitz, known as the Kli Yakar, warned that "the nature of wealth is to make its owner arrogant."
This is certainly not to paint with a broad brush and say that all wealthy people are arrogant!

However, it does come to warn us that we must actively embrace a value system that values our souls more than it values materialism – even comfort.
We have to learn to prioritize our values. As a nation, we’ve drifted along comfortably, until we were rocked by a recession, catastrophic weather patterns, and now the Gulf Coast Disaster.

Environmental awareness is a large part of the correction.

Beyond that, we have a deep responsibility to care for the beautiful world that the Almighty created. Hashem does command us to care for His world.
To do less, is a sin.

I spoke earlier about collective sin. No one in this room is INDIVIDUALLY responsible for the BP disaster!

On the other hand, we must all COLLECTIVELY and as individuals carefully assess and evaluate our priorities, our lifestyles. This is a constant balancing act. After all, we have competing activities and values in our own lives.

If we are not working toward a safer environment – even if it does lessen our physical comfort, we are part of the problem. If we don’t do our part to guard the great treasure of God’s Holy Creation, we are participating in communal sin.
“Sin” is not a word I use often. But our national/communal lusts allowed deep-sea drilling that had no safeguards. If we don’t start solving these problems, we have a bleak future.

Right now, we have:
Oil gushing at rate of 4 Exxon Valdez per week

An estimated 250 million gallons of oil spilled so far

One fifth of children in Louisiana now live in poverty

One third of state is now closed to fishing – the main livelihood of many

Louisiana has 8000 miles of tidal shoreline that are in danger

The oil will destroy the nursery for 30-40% of seafood for the United States

Even after this crisis is over, it will take decades for the fishing nurseries to recover, consequently, the way of life for these fishermen is gone

If oil gets to roots of flora in wetlands, the flora will not recover; marshlands are permanently lost, diminishing protection against hurricanes

30%-40% of Coastal Wetlands in the Lower 48 States are in Louisiana

Two million people live in Coastal Louisiana

Mississippi River Basin touches 31 states

Every 30 minutes, we lose a piece of wetlands the size of a football field
This isn’t even a complete list.

The oil spill has continued for so long, it’s all too easy to forget it’s there.

On a recent tour of the devastated area, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Rabbinical Assembly, said: "We all need to turn from short-term gratification ... rather than indulge ourselves with this unlimited consumption," she said.

This is our task – our obligation!

We cannot ignore the oil spill or its causes. To do so, we risk the world and with that, our own souls.

Our ancestors, in the events leading up to the horrors of Tisha B’Av, ignored many warnings and therefore, watched their world – their entire way of life – disappear.
Communal responsibility can be used for good. We all have an opportunity to examine our own consumption-oriented value systems and turn that around – and start fixing the world.

We can only do it a little at a time. But we have to start. And we have to encourage others to start.

You and I don’t have the power to clean up the oil, but we do have the power to work on changing our culture.

May the Holy One above grant us the strength, courage, and wisdom to do so, v’nomar amein.