Jewish Journal

Rabbi David Wolpe

  • Conservative Judaism seeks its true name

    November 24, 2015 | 8:34 am

    This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

    I grew up as a Conservative Jew, my father a Conservative Rabbi. The appellation "conservative" was not a perfect fit for the Judaism I learned as a child. Conserving ancient traditions was essential, to be sure, but the...

  • A funeral for Richard Lakin

    October 28, 2015 | 10:01 am

    "I want to thank him for teaching me how to ride a bike.  And for watching 'Charlotte's Web' with me over and over again."  The granddaughter of the gentle man lying on a bier, shrouded in his tallit, began to weep.  Her mother, one of Richard Lakin's two children, rushed forward...

  • Rabbi David Wolpe’s kavannah for Shabbat of unity with the people of Israel

    October 14, 2015 | 1:26 pm

    We invite people around the world to recite this kavannah in unity with the State of Israel this Shabbat, October 17, 2015

    El Maleh Rachamim -- Compassionate God,
    We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
    Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
    Our prayers are not...

  • Iranian nuclear deal is a win for anti-Semitism

    July 14, 2015 | 1:57 pm

    I suppose all hatred has an element of irrationality. Yet some hatreds are more irrational than others. For thousands of years, hatred of Jews has been unique.

    Sometimes acts of hatred, such as confiscating Jewish wealth or property, served utilitarian purposes for rulers or...

  • At seder, don’t bite the hand that serves

    April 2, 2015 | 3:47 pm

    At your seder, you just might be the Egyptian.

    Consider what it means to be an Israelite and an Egyptian in the Passover story. The Israelites have no power and are at the whim of those they serve. And what about the Egyptians? They have all the power, but their morality is...

  • When David slays Goliath

    September 10, 2014 | 9:10 am

    An excerpt from the chapter titled “Young David” from Rabbi David Wolpe’s biography of King David, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press). Reprinted with permission.

    Divested of armor, David is ready. Goliath takes him for a harmless lad, an insult to his own...

  • Wolpe on the murder of teens: Don’t say ‘BUT’

    July 7, 2014 | 4:08 pm

    Please, please don’t say ‘but.’  The words after ‘but’ invalidate everything that comes before – 
“He’s a nice person, but he does steal from the company.”  You see?  “But” is a meaning duster, sweeping all that precedes it.

    So everyone who has written condemning the murder of...

  • Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive’: Tips, tricks and the Torah

    June 25, 2014 | 10:48 am

    Is there a Torah of self-actualization? 

    American tradition, following Ralph Waldo Emerson, puts the individual at the pivot of the world: “When I look at the rainbow I find myself the center of its arch. But so are you; and so is the man that sees it a mile from both of us. So...

  • The language of pleading eyes

    May 7, 2014 | 2:38 pm

    “The music of his life suddenly stopped.” So reads a line in Chaim Nachman Bialik’s powerful poem, “After My Death.” 

    My mother’s music suddenly stopped 30 years ago, but she is still alive.

    At the age of 53, Elaine Wolpe, a university administrator, fundraiser and — most...

  • Matzah, en route to freedom

    April 9, 2014 | 2:37 pm

    Why matzah? It is an improbable symbol for such a grand holiday. With none of the embracing symbolism of a sukkah or the beauty of a Chanukah menorah, the unassuming cracker is the centerpiece of Passover. 

    The rabbis identify the matzah with humility. Unlike bread, which is...

  • Am I an e-slave?

    April 9, 2014 | 1:30 pm

    I am not the right person to preach on electronic servitude, given my tons of incoming mail and messages and a touch of OCD. As I’m writing this, in between tweets and Facebook updates, I have stopped to answer e-mails. More than once. They pile up, you see, and I like a clean...

  • Maimonides, the man and the exceptional genius

    April 2, 2014 | 2:08 pm

    To call someone “the greatest” in any field is to invite argument. Human achievement and its evaluation are an uncertain business and make such triumphalism suspect.  Yet, there is one man who is consistently, invariably referred to as the greatest Jewish scholar of the last 2,000...

  • Rabbi David Wolpe in Thailand: Have you ever seen a menorah dance?

    November 6, 2013 | 3:47 pm

    Traveling reminds us that the old is distinctive and the new melds together. I had never been to Thailand, or indeed to any country in Southeast Asia. As the bus rolled through the streets, nothing in the facade of the 7-Eleven convenience store or the crushed muddle of Bangkok...

  • Can liberal Judaism survive?

    October 3, 2013 | 11:33 am

    As an old Yiddish saying has it, Jews are like other people, only more so. The Pew study of Judaism in America reminds us of this truth. Although startling to some, the rise of orthodoxy is to be expected.  In a world in which traditionalism/fundamentalism is growing in...

  • A time of transformation

    September 3, 2013 | 11:48 am

    Many Jews will point to the Hebrew word het for sin, which is an archery term, and insist that Judaism teaches that sin is just “missing the mark.” That simplification does a grave injustice to the Jewish tradition. There are other words for sin in our liturgy — pesha, avon and...

  • The Bar Mitzvah, re-examined

    August 20, 2013 | 10:39 am

    Last week I penned a column about a Bar Mitzvah party video that had been circulating on the Web. I was incensed not only at the video, but the currency it had achieved, making it appear that this was a paradigm of Jewish celebrations.

    The article was written at white heat. A few...

  • Have we forgotten what Bar Mitzvahs are all about?

    August 15, 2013 | 2:11 pm

    [UPDATE] The Bar Mitzvah, re-examined

    The egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful video that is circulating ‘celebrating’ a Bar Mitzvah contains so much that is offensive that it requires restraint to hold oneself to three ways in which this display slaughters the spirit....

  • Rabbi Wolpe: Why I went to church last Sunday

    July 31, 2013 | 10:17 am

    Rabbis don't make it a practice to attend church. When I read that Rick and Kay Warren would be returning to Saddleback after their son Matthew's tragic suicide however, I resolved to go.

    Rick had attended services at my synagogue several times and was even kind enough to...

  • Jewish embrace of LGBT people recognizes the dignity of all

    June 28, 2013 | 9:45 am

    Attitudes toward same sex marriage in Judaism have undergone a dramatic change in the last quarter century. The prohibition recorded in Leviticus 18 has been affirmed by some, negated by others and reinterpreted by still others. Did the Torah intend loving same sex relationships?...

  • Men who made a mark that will endure

    June 12, 2013 | 5:43 pm

    As part of a fundraising event for Tel Aviv University, Rabbi David Wolpe interviewed four leading Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, recording their stories and thoughts on video. Rabbi Wolpe and the four men — Gil Glazer, Max Webb, Jona Goldrich and Parviz Nazarian — will...

  • Bikur cholim manners

    April 10, 2013 | 7:05 am

    Every disease is a social disease. When a person is diagnosed, his or her family, friends and community are involved as well. The shock moves through a widening circle, and the questions are always the same: How do we react; how should we react? Will I say the right thing; is there...

  • Lance Armstrong and the disease of wild narcissism and ruthless ambition

    January 24, 2013 | 11:43 am

    Lance Armstrong proved surprisingly poor at backpedaling. His stone-faced, reluctant regret made many who watched the interview wonder if this was an illness. Why did this man mow down associates, besmirch employees, lie, cheat and bully his way to the top of a sport he is now...

  • Sandy Hook: Despair gives way to hope

    December 19, 2012 | 1:51 pm

    At first it is an anguish so deep that it destroys faith in life. We are witnesses to pain and loss so immense that to yearn for a resting place, to find anything good or hopeful or healing, feels like a betrayal. In the face of such tragedy, do we seek out sparks of hope because...

  • An age of broken glances: On ‘Why Love Hurts’

    December 19, 2012 | 10:00 am

    Each time I officiate at a marriage, I perpetrate a small fraud. I read the ketubah, the marriage contract, in its original Aramaic and then I read the “translation.” The translation is actually a confection of sweet-spun phrases about creating a home of warmth, openness, and...

  • Rabbi Wolpe on Gordis vs. Brous: Don’t judge the rabbis’ Torah

    December 4, 2012 | 12:48 pm

    Rabbis Daniel Gordis and Rabbi Sharon Brous are both friends of mine, good friends, long time friends.  I have studied with them and debated with them and treasure their character and commitment.  So it was with dismay that I read Mark Parades, a Mormon with close ties to our...

  • Wolpe on Brandon’s Holocaust analogy: ‘It is stupidity on stilts’

    October 26, 2012 | 2:50 pm

    Scroll to bottom for video

    Every now and then we forbid certain things to certain select individuals: Boxers may not use their fists in casual fights; CIA agents may not write freely of their personal experiences. I think it is time for a new restriction: any mention of Hitler,...

  • A benediction for the Democratic National Convention

    September 5, 2012 | 10:09 pm

    Ribono shel olam, Dear God--

    We are grateful that our nation is founded on the highest principles of freedom and resourcefulness and creativity and ever renewed strength.  And we understand that those worthy ideals stand alongside the commitment to compassion, to goodness, our...

  • Dear Ahmadinejad: Let me tell you about cancer

    August 21, 2012 | 10:51 am

    This column originally appeared at WashingtonPost.com.

    When the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compares Israel to a cancer, I take it personally.

    On Monday, you see, I traveled to Israel to co-officiate at a wedding. And I have cancer.

    I’ve been in remission from lymphoma...

  • How to bring religion into politics

    August 15, 2012 | 12:59 pm

    For nearly two millennia politics was poison for the Jewish people.  The principle aim in understanding the machinations of power was to make oppression less onerous.  Great swaths of tradition that spoke to the exercise of power lay mostly unexplored.  Today there is a resurgence of...

  • Dybbuks, demons and exorcism in Judaism

    June 27, 2012 | 3:34 pm

    “Civilized people lose their religion easily, but rarely their superstitions.”
    — Karl Goldmark

    Rabbi Isaac Luria, one of the greatest of Jewish mystics, would walk in the hills of 16th century Safed and point out to his students the souls of the dead, often standing on their...

  • An indelible film, ‘Shoah’ also reflects an extraordinary artist

    April 11, 2012 | 1:30 pm

    Surely the most unpromising premise for a film ever conceived is this: Nine and one half hours of people speaking in languages you do not understand about mass murder.  Yet “Shoah” offers an experience unlike any other film, and its creator has written a memoir introducing us to...

  • Beinart’s Crisis

    March 23, 2012 | 2:13 pm

    Peter Beinart’s new book showcases its deepest flaw on the very first page, courtesy of his grandmother. From her home in South Africa, she says to her American grandson who is boasting about his country, “Don’t get too attached. The Jews are like rats. We leave the sinking...

  • Wolpe vs. Beinart

    February 13, 2012 | 11:03 am

    Announcing his new book in a hucksterish e-mail to J street members, Peter Beinart details the truths vouchsafed to him and his fellow enlightened acolytes. A brief sampler:

    “I’m looking forward to being with all of you at J Street, since you understand that an American Jewish...

  • Guide to a master reader’s works

    January 26, 2012 | 1:33 pm

    In a moment of unwarranted despair, the young Keats wrote his epitaph: “Here lies one whose name is writ in water.” Yet creative geniuses achieve such immortality as human memory bestows. Those who exalt them disappear. The poet endures; the critic is destined to be forgotten.

  • Christopher Hitchens: A rabbi remembers a friend and fellow debater

    December 16, 2011 | 11:02 am

    In his brilliant history of early modern England, “The Ends of Life,” historian Keith Thomas quotes a translator named George Petrie who wrote in 1581, “The only way to win immortality is either to do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading.”  Christopher...

  • Let us reap wisdom sown by tragedy of Tisha B’Av

    August 2, 2011 | 6:24 pm

    This week we observe the fast of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Last year before Tisha B’Av, The Jewish Journal published an article that loosely and foolishly spoke of the destruction of the Temple as a good thing.  Those who offer such...

  • Bobby Fischer: The decline of a troubled genius

    July 19, 2011 | 4:39 pm

    The world is rich in ability, awash in talent. But, though we use the word with abandon, genius is rare.

    Many more people play the game of chess than basketball, football and baseball combined. To reach the rank of Grandmaster requires considerable talent. Breaking the ranks of top...

  • Christian charity in Haiti is the Jewish thing to do

    January 19, 2011 | 4:33 pm

    Dona is a 14-year-old boy in Port-au-Prince. When his mother was pregnant with him, she hid in fear from his father. In time, he found her and insisted she have an abortion. She refused. They fought, and she ran. 

    After Dona was born, his father eventually found them both and beat...

  • Stories bring a life full circle

    September 1, 2010 | 10:42 am

    Elie Wiesel often recounts the tale of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov, who needed a miracle. His predecessors had gone to a particular spot in the forest, lit a special candle, said a certain blessing and were able to evoke a miracle. Throughout the generations, much had been lost. Now...

  • Obama hosts Jewish leaders at White House reception

    May 28, 2010 | 12:39 pm

    What Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg has called “Operation Desert Schmooze” continued at the White House yesterday. A group of some 150 people, mostly Jews prominent in their fields, gathered for the latest volley in the Obama charm offensive. This was the first White House event in...

  • An ‘Intellectual’ Pursuit

    April 28, 2010 | 12:14 am

    It might have been a grotesque scene out of a Dan Brown thriller: In the middle of the day, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a 26-year-old Moroccan Dutchman named Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri shot Van Gogh, then slit his throat with a machete. After the murder, he affixed a...

  • Rethinking Judaism

    March 30, 2010 | 11:12 pm

    Where do we, boots thick in the modern muddle, turn to understand our faith? Some traditionalists stand athwart the contemporary world and insist that ancient convictions and practices are all that is required; new knowledge does not demand a revision of tradition. Others, surveying...

  • Zornberg Shines Light on Biblical Silences

    December 9, 2009 | 1:36 am

    The classic Taoist text teaches: “Thirty spokes meet together in a single hub. The wagon’s usefulness depends upon their nothingness.” Everything depends upon the space between the spokes.

    Absence can be more powerful than presence, nothing than something. Often the words...

  • Five Reasons Vampires Aren’t Jews

    November 11, 2009 | 8:40 pm

    Their day begins at night, they show a certain aversion to the sign of the cross and they dress in black. Of course, I am talking about Jews.

    But add some invidious stereotypes — bloodsucking and a predatory nature, and you get vampires. So, are vampires Jewish?

    There are Jewish...

  • B’nai Mitzvah Bind Our Tradition of God, Torah, Israel

    June 24, 2009 | 9:45 pm

    Who believes that the 13-year-old standing before the congregation is really a man or woman?

    The bar/bat mitzvah ushers a child into the responsibilities of adulthood. It is not intended to magically transform a child into an adult. It is not about being a man or woman; it is about...

  • HaLevi’s Philosophic Jewel Polished to New Gloss

    April 2, 2009 | 4:42 am

    “The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith” by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, translated and annotated by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin (Feldheim, 2009).

    When “King Lear” was presented in the Yiddish Theater, the old joke has it, the sign read “translated and improved.” Well, no...

  • How Torah Revolutionized Political Theory

    February 11, 2009 | 8:46 pm

    Why do we read the Bible? For religion to be sure, but also for politics. After all, unlike the New Testament, which was written in the era of Roman rules and did not have to offer prescriptions for governance (the Romans handled all that), the Bible was a manual not only for...

  • Disraeli: The curious case of England’s Jewish prime minister

    December 25, 2008 | 6:19 pm

    Adam Kirsch, "Benjamin Disraeli" (Nextbook: Schocken, 2008 ) $21.00.

    Benjamin Disraeli was born Jewish, baptized as a boy but (mostly) considered himself to be Jewish.

    He famously proclaimed to Queen Victoria -- who began by hating him and ended adoring him -- that he was the...

  • Facing God, and the challenge of individual conscience

    November 26, 2008 | 4:16 pm

    Is there really a need to write a book in favor of conscience?

    Who opposes conscience?

    As Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis demonstrates with his characteristic eloquence, erudition and verve in his new book, "Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey" (Jewish Lights, $19.99),...

  • We were intended by God—we’re not afterthoughts

    October 23, 2008 | 1:42 am

    The magician succeeds by misdirection -- look here and you will not notice everything that I am doing with my left hand.

    Part of Christopher Hitchens' magic in his essay is misdirection: He would have us ignore ourselves. How do human beings know? If we are, as scientific...

  • Books: Epstein has a Yankee brio and a Yiddish wit

    February 14, 2008 | 5:00 pm

    "In a Cardboard Belt!: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage" (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and "Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays" (Mariner Books, 2007), both by Joseph Epstein.

    "Come to me in some grievous difficulty: I will talk to you like a father, even like a lawyer. I'll...
  • Books: Philip Roth’s Zuckerman has left the building

    October 4, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    "Exit Ghost" by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

    Can one be a major writer, talented, famous, lionized and still be a fool?

    The case for the prosecution is "Exit Ghost" by Philip Roth. Roth is a very gifted writer. His eye is keen, his descriptive powers as dazzling as the days...

  • Books: The bible and history—facts or truth?

    September 20, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    "From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible," by Eric H. Cline (National Geographic, $26).

    Consider with me the following curious intellectual position: Religions make spiritual claims, such as "God cares for me," and insist, quite rightly, that science cannot pronounce...

  • Books: Too fond of Jews

    August 30, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    "I cannot conceive why this martyred race, scattered about the world, and suffering as no other race has done at this juncture, should be denied the satisfaction of having a flag."
    -- Winston Churchill, July 26, 1944

    By the age of 26, Winston Churchill had fought in several wars,...
  • Books: Seeds of peace revealed in early coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims

    June 28, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    History is unkind to generalizations. The confident assertion is too often slain by an inconvenient fact or made obsolete by a new way of looking at the evidence.

    Yet one can be sure that each new crisis -- as well as each old, settled truth -- will call forth a new round of...
  • Chabon novel spins dizzying tale of alternative history, and Alaska

    May 17, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    In 1913, Dr. Emanuel Lasker wrote a 500-page book advancing his idea of a macheide. A macheide, meaning "son of battle," is a being whose senses are so sharpened by evolution, by struggle, that he always chooses the best and most efficient method of perpetuating himself.

    On the...
  • Atheism du Jour

    March 29, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Atheism has become chic. In itself, this might be a helpful thing, after all faith, like every other system, strengthens itself by intelligent challenge. But too much of the contemporary attack on religion is just that -- an attack fueled by grievance and not by careful...
  • When Ashkenazi and Persian worlds collide—community healing begins at shul

    February 22, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    In March of 2001 I delivered the sermon abbreviated and reprinted here. Having been the rabbi at Sinai Temple for four years, it seemed time to straightforwardly address the tensions between the Persian and Ashkenazi communities.

    Since that time, by dint of committees, school...

  • The Spin on Spinoza—Rebel or Traitor?

    May 25, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity" by Rebecca Goldstein (Schoken, $19.95).

    In high school, I read and reread two fluent, erudite surveys of philosophy until the pages of the books fell to pieces. By the time the glue bindings cracked on Will Durant's "The...

  • We Must Treat Others With Kindness

    May 18, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    I often give young people advice on dating, occasionally without their asking. I tell young women not to judge a man by his car, since you will not end up living with the car but with the man who drives it. I advise men, when they take a woman to a restaurant, to sit facing the wall,...

  • A Manifesto for the Future

    December 1, 2005 | 7:00 pm

    In early November, I spoke at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The topic was "The Future of Conservative Judaism." I prepared for the talk by asking colleagues, friends and congregants to define Conservative Judaism in one sentence. It was a dispiriting experience.


  • We Must Condemn Heartless Bilge

    September 15, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    "It is not in our hands to explain the prosperity of the wicked or even the sufferings of the righteous." So said Rabbi Yannai in the Mishna some 2,000 years ago. The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) insists "there is no reward for mitzvot in this world." We have had a long time to read and...

  • False Promises in Berg’s ‘Becoming’

    December 16, 2004 | 7:00 pm


    "Becoming Like God" by Rabbi Michael Berg (Kabbalah Publishing, $21.95).

    I have never been to the Kabbalah Centre, never studied with one of their teachers, and cannot comment on their practices. My sole direct exposure was to watch a videotape produced by the center, "The Power...

  • Lessons From Life’s Second Chance

    February 5, 2004 | 7:00 pm

    "I heard the rabbi is dying of brain cancer."

    That was the word flying around the shul. I should have expected it. Rumors were rife, and they were uncomfortably close to the truth.

    Last Oct. 23, I was speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, to inaugurate the new Hillel building...

  • The Sword and the Scroll

    October 2, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    As this Jewish year begins, we are once again assailed by the din of seemingly monumental events: the war in Iraq, the decision about our state leadership, the peril in Israel, the crises of human rights, environment, scientific progress and ethics.

    What is the most important event...

  • Anne Frank’s Words Resonate In The Center Of World Power

    June 26, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    There is no better place to understand the powerful forces and fault lines of American identity than Washington. I arrived in the evening at Dulles Airport, and my cab driver, I soon discovered, was Iranian. As we drove, he told me his life story: He had been an ambassador to Moscow...

  • Why Jews Don’t Accept Jesus

    January 9, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    Why don't Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah or son of God?

    Growing up in Philadelphia, I attended Akiba Hebrew Academy, a private Jewish school. In 11th grade, a Southern Baptist preacher came to speak to our class. He looked around the room, and with a kindly smile said, "You seem...

  • Spiritual Agoraphobia

    November 14, 2002 | 7:00 pm

    In the late Middle Ages, some Jews first banned and then instigated the burning of the books of Maimonides, the greatest philosopher Judaism ever produced. The book burning of 1232 was one episode in a controversy that lasted for some two centuries. The fight was not over Maimonides...

  • When I’m 44

    October 24, 2002 | 8:00 pm

    Dante wrote about darkness midway through life's journey. I am not sure exactly what age he thought of as midway, but by most definitions hitting one's 44th birthday has got to fit.

    It was shortly before that birthday that I read a poem titled "Men at Forty" by Donald Justice: "Men...

  • Torah to Tel Aviv

    July 26, 2001 | 8:00 pm

    We were together in a small room, about 10 of us. Four of us were from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. I stood with Jimmy Delshad, our temple's past president; his wife, Lonnie, and Temple Treasurer Kam Hekmat, as well as two members of an L.A. fact-finding mission, David Rubin and Dr....

  • The Lessons of Yom Kippur

    October 5, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    Today you die. No one pronounces that horrible sentence on Yom Kippur, but it is true. Yom Kippur reenacts death. We wear white, like the shrouds we will one day be buried in. We do not eat, wash, procreate; we are as corpses. We recite the "Unetaneh Tokef," filled with graphic, even...