Jewish Journal

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

  • A night at First AME Church

    June 22, 2015 | 2:22 pm

    The first surprise came when I typed 2270 S. Harvard Blvd into my phone, and discovered that it's only 4.8 miles from my synagogue, Congregation B’nai David Judea, in the Pico Robertson neighborhood. I had always assumed that it was much farther away than that. Actually, that it...

  • Judge with generosity

    April 30, 2015 | 2:12 am

    “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”

    So reads a verse in this morning’s parsha (Leviticus 19:15). The rabbis comment, “From here we learn, that we are required to judge others favorably, to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

    This is a beguiling sort of...

  • Ensuring the spirit of halachic marriage

    April 9, 2014 | 2:26 pm

    Each time we hear of yet another heart-wrenching and infuriating agunah story, we tend to point an accusing finger at the Jewish legal system that has created these circumstances, in which spiteful, angry husbands can cynically abuse the divorce laws to extort and torment their...

  • Israel Meir Kin is a threat to all Jewish women

    March 28, 2014 | 1:22 pm

    A little over a thousand years ago, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, the leading scholar of Ashkenazi Jewry, enacted bold legal measures to protect Jewish women from abuse.

    Last week a fellow named Israel Meir Kin poked his finger in Rabbenu Gershom’s eye, and now every Jewish woman is...

  • Kindness connection: Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

    October 23, 2013 | 4:54 pm

    Did Avraham attend Yitzchak’s wedding? Well, in the closest thing we have to a wedding description — right at the end of this parasha — Avraham is nowhere to be found. The servant who made the match is there, and the spirit of Sarah is there as she looms large in her son’s memory,...

  • Looking inward, forward

    April 10, 2013 | 2:55 pm

    “For there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” -(Kohellet, 7:20). 

    Everyone has their moments of failure, when they transgress. Not necessarily out of malice, but in response to temptation or opportunity or out of fear. Rarely do we see such...

  • Willing to sacrifice

    March 21, 2013 | 4:49 am

    The mind of the midrashist drifts effortlessly over the face of the Tanakh as verses from the Torah conjure up similar verses and phrases from other sacred books. Thus, our parasha’s descriptions of the thanksgiving offerings and the free-will offerings call to mind a phrase found...

  • Drawing close: Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

    December 19, 2012 | 2:51 pm

    With his brother Benjamin’s fate hanging in the balance, Yehuda “draws close” to the Egyptian viceroy (whose true identity is not yet known). Yehuda had sworn to his father he would return Benjamin safely to Canaan, but now Benjamin is facing confinement and servitude in Egypt. Why...

  • A more modern view of homosexuality

    December 5, 2012 | 10:29 am

    The American Modern Orthodox community has just entered uncharted territory. Last week, our largest rabbinic organization, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) formally withdrew its support of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality). JONAH has long been the...

  • Shine a light

    May 30, 2012 | 12:01 pm

    The words of the priestly blessing are among the most resonant and familiar to us in all of Jewish tradition. Whether they are being pronounced by the kohanim themselves in synagogue, or invoked at the Friday-night table, or at a baby naming or wedding, they generate as much emotion...

  • A love story

    February 9, 2012 | 6:41 pm

    Many of us are familiar with the rabbinic image in which God lifts Mount Sinai above the heads of the Israelites, threatening them with death if they refuse the Torah. Less familiar but no less prevalent in rabbinic literature is a strikingly different take on this scene. In the...

  • Appreciating the Tension

    January 5, 2011 | 1:48 pm

    Nature abhors a vacuum. And so do biblical stories.

    If we take a minute to read the story of the Exodus not from our point of view — that of the liberated

    victims — but from the objective view of an outside mediator, we will likely find ourselves asking the following...

  • Letting go of the big lie

    September 8, 2010 | 9:49 am

    One of the talents of our sages was their ability to simultaneously hold the text of the entire Torah in their minds. When they saw an unusual word or phrase in one week’s parasha, other appearances of that word or phrase, from elsewhere in the Torah, popped into their minds...

  • Harlot as Hero

    December 8, 2009 | 10:53 pm

    Back in grade school, the story of Yehuda and Tamar was always deemed too racy to teach. Our teacher skipped that one episode, and looking back it’s difficult to argue against the omission. Can you imagine explaining to elementary school students what a harlot is?

    The annual...

  • Who by water, and who by fire?

    August 31, 2009 | 7:35 am

  • Beyond Obedience

    August 25, 2009 | 8:12 pm

    Why shoo away the mother bird before taking her eggs or chicks? The Torah doesn’t say why we are commanded to do this. There is a major school of Jewish thought that regards this omission as being quite deliberate. This is the school that produced the Mishnah’s teaching...

  • Light the Fire

    May 27, 2009 | 3:52 pm

    “My words are like fire, says God.” This is what the prophet Jeremiah relayed to the people of Jerusalem of his day, in the hope of rousing them from their indifference and apathy toward the word of God. Many centuries later in Babylonia, the Talmudic sage Rabba, the grandson of...

  • Work of Your Hands

    March 18, 2009 | 2:34 am

    When every last acacia-wood board had been fashioned, every last curtain woven and every single vessel of gold or copper produced, Moshe stood in awe of the people’s accomplishment. “And Moshe saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it! As the Lord had commanded, even so had...

  • Noah’s deadly lack of curiosity

    October 29, 2008 | 8:58 pm

    It is a question that has dogged Noah for millennia. When the Torah characterizes him as a tzadik (righteous person) in his generation, is this an objective measure of his character?

    Was Noah someone who would have been recognized as a tzadik in any generation? Or was Noah only a...

  • The power of speech

    July 9, 2008 | 10:38 pm

    The Torah records that the human being was the final item created by God. But the Mishna (Avot 5:8) proposes that a variety of mysterious things were actually created just a little bit later.

    As the sixth day was ending, but not quite over, and as Shabbat was arriving, but had not...

  • In lieu of perfection

    May 1, 2008 | 6:00 pm

    Two Jews once came before the Talmudic sage Rav Yannai.

    "The branches of his tree extend into the public domain," one claimed. "They're a public hazard, interfering with the camel traffic. Master, you must surely rule that he is obligated to remove the tree."

    The tree owner...

  • Obligation or choice?

    February 7, 2008 | 7:00 pm

    Were contributions toward the building of the Tabernacle voluntary or compulsory? Those of us who have stood before our communities during a building campaign have always tended to favor the latter option, as this makes for a more effective appeal. But the classical commentaries on...
  • Own your problems

    November 22, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    Jacob's route, as he returns from his uncle's home in the land of Haran to his parent's home in the land of Canaan, does not take him anywhere near the territory of Esau. His brother has already moved his growing tribe to the land of Edom, well to the south of anywhere Jacob would be...
  • An Orthodox rabbi’s plea: consider a divided Jerusalem

    October 25, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    The question of whether we could bear a redivision of Jerusalem is a searing and painful one. The Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and a variety of other organizations, including Christian Evangelical ones, are calling upon their constituencies to join them in urging...
  • Finding Our Fourth

    September 20, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    We plead for life, yet the Talmud teaches there are three circumstances under which we must be willing to give up our lives. If we should be forced -- on pain of death -- to worship pagan gods, to murder an innocent person or to engage in incest or adultery we are instructed to...
  • Israel’s Darfur refugees require worthy action

    August 23, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    I was in Jerusalem in early July when a news story about Sudanese refuges demonstrating in front of the Knesset caught my eye. From the press accounts, it was difficult to fully understand who these refugees were or under what circumstances they had arrived in Israel. Some seemed to...
  • Mourning Miriam

    June 21, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Moshe was one of a kind. "None ever rose again like Moshe."

    At the same time, in very powerful ways, Moshe and Miriam were two of a kind. Their personalities and passions overlapped generously. And despite being separated over decades during Moshe's extended sojourn in Midian,...

  • Willingness to Sacrifice

    March 22, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Animal sacrifices are rather messy, and most of us would have a hard time imagining ourselves offering them up upon a Temple altar.

    I'm probably not going too far out on a limb in suggesting that when we come to shul each year to begin the book of Vayikra, we feel quietly relieved...

  • Witness to Redemption

    November 9, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    The episode of the Akedah, or the binding of Isaac, presents so many difficult questions. One of the most basic is: For whom is this human and Divine drama staged?

    Who comes out ahead as a result of the Akedah playing out? Is it for Abraham's benefit? Abraham receives no new...

  • Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role

    December 8, 2005 | 7:00 pm

    A window has opened to the Orthodox community. We are being invited to help reshape the social dynamics of the American

    Jewish community. With courage and vision, we need to act on this opportunity by understanding the important changes that have occurred over the last decades and...

  • Will IDF Soldiers Oppose Gaza Orders?

    November 4, 2004 | 7:00 pm

    A group of prominent rabbis has called upon Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate Jews from Gaza. If the Gaza disengagement plan goes through the Knesset, many soldiers will face a bewildering dilemma, as they must choose between the orders of their commanding officers and...

  • The Fruit of Peace

    June 27, 2002 | 8:00 pm

    What did Moshe want? When it all came down to it, after Moshe accepted that he wouldn't be leading Israel into the land, what did he request of God? Not surprisingly, he asked nothing for himself, focusing instead on the people who would need to go on without him. As we read this...

  • Silence and Rage

    April 4, 2002 | 7:00 pm

    In a parsha that features spectacular displays of sound and light, the most dramatic moment is actually the quietest one. In fact, it sometimes feels like the opening chapter's tumult and noise only serves to draw us even deeper into the second chapter's thunderclap of silence.


  • Action and Reaction

    December 27, 2001 | 7:00 pm

    In the parsha four weeks ago, Shimon and Levi, sons of Jacob, got the last word. But on his deathbed in this week's parsha, Jacob has one final opportunity to deliver his rejoinder.

    Four weeks ago, we also read of the rape of Dina at the hands of the prince of Shechem, and the...

  • A World for Me

    September 20, 2001 | 8:00 pm

    The Shabbat of teshuva (repentance) has a special quality among the other 10 days of Teshuva. The Shabbat of Teshuva is obviously a more focused day than, say, the Tuesday of Teshuva, yet it's not nearly as high-pressure as Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur are. As such, there's a unique...

  • Spies Like Us

    June 14, 2001 | 8:00 pm

    When thinking about the fiasco of the Israelite spying venture into the Land of Canaan, we often focus on the question "How did it go so wrong?" How could Israel's elite, entrusted with the task of preparing Israel's conquest of the land, become so frightened? And how could they have...

  • Benefit of Doubt

    February 8, 2001 | 7:00 pm

    Want to be a partner in redemption? Then don't overlook a surprising message in this week's parsha.

    As Pharaoh and his chariots bear down upon the Israelites on the bank of the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites react in two seemingly contradictory ways. First, they cry out to God. After...

  • Rosh Hashana 5761

    September 28, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashana always strikesme as odd. For starters, the section focuses primarily on Hagar and Ishmael,characters that are ultimately marginal in Jewish historical terms. On topof that, the story that the section deals with is arguably the...

  • Worth the Effort

    May 25, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    So what are you worth? Does it depend on how the market did today? What's your next-door neighbor worth? Does it change as real estate values fluctuate?

    If you're figuring that the Torah probably has a different way to answer these questions, you're figuring correctly. Strangely...

  • Torah Portion

    April 6, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    Unworthiness is not a quality that carries positive connotations. It's usually thought of as a state to be overcome, or a situation to be avoided. Perhaps, though, it has a redeeming feature. Perhaps feelings of unworthiness should actually be reveled in and appreciated -- at least...
  • Lighting the Way

    February 17, 2000 | 7:00 pm

    A parable from the Midrash: Once, a sighted person and a blind person were walking along the way. Said the sighted person to his fellow traveler, "Come and grab my arm." He did, and in this manner did the blind person walk. When they arrived at the house, the sighted person spoke...
  • On the Outside, Looking In

    December 30, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    A bush that is on fire but doesn't burn is indeed a mysterious phenomenon. But arguably, there is a far more mysterious element in the story of God's commanding Moshe to go down to Egypt to the palace of Pharaoh. And that mysterious element is the very selection of Moshe. On the face...
  • Tangled Web

    November 11, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    These are the weeks that we read of our heroes. The book of Genesis tells the stories of the faith and tenacity of the fathers and mothers of our nation for whom every day was another stride in the uncharted waters of living in covenant with God. It was their passionate determination...
  • The Value of the Temporary

    September 16, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    So have you heard the one about the two rabbis on a boat? It's actually a story told by the Talmud in its discussion of the laws of the sukkah. It seems that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Gamliel were on a boat during the days leading up to the holiday of Sukkot, and it became clear that...
  • Following the Rule of Law

    August 5, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    Some of the Torah's laws are difficult to comply with. Others are easier. One that certainly belongs in the latter category is the law that prohibits us from engaging in child sacrifice. For us, it is hard to imagine anything more morally and emotionally repulsive than this ancient...

  • Moses: A Neglectful Parent?

    July 1, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    Can you name the sons of Moses? You're probably in good company if you can't. The fact of the matter is that other than their names, the Torah tells us virtually nothing about them. Their deeds and destiny are unknown.

    What accounts for this? How do the children of so central a...

  • Personal Power

    May 6, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    Let's face it. We love the feeling of power. We love it at work, we love it at shul, we even love it at home. The capacity to exert power over the people and things around us not only enhances our general feelings of personal security, but also satisfies our primal, subconscious urge...

  • Doing the Dirty Work

    March 25, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    Rabbi Safra roasted the meat. Raba salted the fish.

    According to the Talmud, this is what these two great sages did every Friday afternoon, in preparation for Shabbat. The Talmud regards this information as noteworthy because, although both sages certainly had others in their...

  • Creating Order in Our Lives

    October 15, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    Isn't technology great? I'll tell you why I'm asking. The first chapter of the Torah is always presumed to be about creation, and God's power and wisdom in His role as Creator. In a book published about a dozen years ago, Harvard Divinity School's Dr. Jon Levenson takes issue with...
  • On the Eve of Simchat Torah

    July 30, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the...
  • Torah Portion

    June 25, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    The True Meaning of Freedom

    By Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

    They're coming! The fireworks, the concerts and the barbecues are all happily bearing down upon us as the Fourth of July approaches again. Instinctively, and...

  • Torah Portion

    April 2, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    By Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

    Here's a riddle: What do leprosy and the State ofIsrael have in common? Hopefully, nothing leaps to your mind rightaway. I, however, needed to solve this riddle before I could begin towrite this week's parasha column: For the week that we celebrate Israel's...

  • Torah Portion

    March 19, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    Context is everything. Certainly, this must besaid concerning the curious opening of this week's Torah portion. Forthe portion opens with a command that has been issued many timesbefore: the command to observe the seventh day as a day of rest.There is no new information here. The...

  • Torah Portion

    February 19, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    Deeply ingrained ideas die hard. This week'sparasha,however, helps to ring the death knell for one such idea. Many of ushave been trained to believe that the Torah's commandments can bebroken down into two basic categories. These re: the mitzvot we do for God and themitzvot we do for...