Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah: If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess. But if we say we value goodness above everything else -- and surely Judaism does -- why aren't there more good people? A big reason is that it is easier to value other things -- including, and especially, positive things -- more than goodness. So it's much easier to be just about anything rather than good. It’s easier to be religious than to be good.
An advisory governmental institution in an Australian state is recommending that it ban non-medical circumcision on boys "except for religious reasons."
Czech Jewish leaders said they hoped their Senate would approve restitution of confiscated religious property.
In some prayer books, the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion serve as a preparation for prayer. The verses repeat over and over again that a perpetual fire shall continue to burn on the altar. Why the focus on the need to keep the fire burning? And what does it mean to us now, after the destruction of the Temple and the end of the sacrificial system, when there is no longer a literal fire?
Films that offer profound philosophical lessons are a rarity. I remember watching The Matrix several years ago, noting that the movie was really a sci-fi version of Plato’s “Metaphor of the Cave,” which posits that most people are living in a false reality of shadows. More recently, Inception explored the similar epistemological concept of solipsism, that we’re really all just dreaming and physical reality is only a construct of the mind. Such films, which tickle one’s philosophical funny-bone, are slim pickings among a feast of mind-numbing cinematic banalities.
Harking back to an era when Jews ruled the ring, two devoutly observant boxers are fighting to make this the best year for Jewish boxing in seven decades.
The service was heartfelt, but it was also unsettling. There was a kind of emotional chaos in the air -- almost a reluctance to accept that a beautiful life could be taken away from someone so God-fearing and life-giving.
Propelled by curiosity, I asked, "By the way are you Jewish?"
"Not at all," he answered. "I was born Presbyterian, and now I am a Baptist. Maybe one day I will become Jewish. What do you think of that?"
Deciding it would be best not to answer, I acted Jewish and responded with a totally different question: "How do you know so much about Judaism and Chanukah?"
With total seriousness he said, "You can't claim to be a religious Christian without knowing Judaism. All religious wisdom starts with Judaism."
Honestly, I'm glad that the recent vote of the Conservative movement has opened the door a bit toward acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews. Now that this teshuvah, or legal interpretation, was one of two that received a majority vote, I know that this helps some of my gay "friends and family" squeeze sideways through the now partially open door. I nevertheless remain sad and disappointed that the door has only opened a little, and the idea that it is a qualified acceptance is troubling to me.
"If we don't have something to yearn for, some dents in our life to fix, some messiness, some crucial quality of our life is missing," Kula tells the audience. "Yearning can be a path to blessing."
When Tali Rosenthal moved to Los Angeles eight years ago, she landed in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on the Westside. It was near her office, and besides, it was where many of Los Angeles' Orthodox singles live.
Obituary for crusading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci.
Gone are the days when observant Jewish students suffered for their absences from class or exams on the High Holidays or Passover. The California Education Code fully protects students' rights to observe religious holidays free of academic penalty.
Looping is plugging in background sound for movies after they are shot so they sound more realistic. I had done some looping sessions before, but they were all in English. While this movie was also in English, there were plenty of scenes with Hebrew and Arabic in them. My Hebrew is far from perfect, but I can still pull off the Israeli accent so I was pretty sure I could do the job.
Our ancestors understood that when we make a vow, promising to give something to God, or take an oath regarding our own actions, this was the highest and most serious endeavor, as the power of speech is what separates us most critically from the animal world. "Baruch She'amar V'hayah Ha'olam, God spoke and the world came into being."
"There's a challenge for Reform Jews around the observance of Tisha B'Av, and communities make all kinds of choices," said Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, the Union for Reform Judaism's director of worship, music and religious living.
Haruach sings with a modesty and softness that enhances the simple and good-natured spiritual messages of her songs. That, in itself, is an unusual trait, because audiences have come to expect artists who make spiritual/new age, religious music to have overproduced studio performances.
Warren told Wolfson his interest is in helping all houses of worship, not in converting Jews. He said there are more than enough Christian souls to deal with for starters.
In the beginning of the Nazi era, my father, thanks to his international reputation, was offered various positions abroad, including, oddly enough, at the main hospital in Tehran, but he couldn't conceive of leaving Germany. Like many old-time German Jews, he looked on Hitler as a temporary aberration, which the good sense of the German people would soon reverse.
Proponents of gay marriage were "pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment -- religious liberty," said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.
Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to "wiped off the map" late last year.
The Haggadah tells us "you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Here is the interesting thing -- because we were strangers, we are supposed to learn not how the Israelites should have acted, but -- how the Egyptians should have acted. We are supposed to learn how not to oppress others. Don't treat others the way we were treated.
Moshe Hammer's pieces look like quirkier, black-ink versions of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The Hebrew letters dance and morph into images based on his intensive studies of commentaries on the sefarim. Apparently, Hammer was feverishly working on such drawings when he took one of his late-night walks to clear artist's block in July 2004. He had trekked miles from his Fairfax area apartment when the truck hit him at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue, killing him instantly, according to a coroner's report.
Freud famously called dreams "the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious." And his own dreams and their analysis revealed to him a whirl of conflicts around his Jewish identity.
"Keeping Up With the Steins" proves that you don't have to be Jewish to make a funny, insider Jewish film, or that if you grow up in the Bronx or went to school in North Hollywood, you become a Jew by osmosis.
Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel, "Everything Is Illuminated" (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Houghton Mifflin) released a video earlier this month in which he argues that the slaughtering practices employed by modern factory farms are out of step with the spirit of the kosher laws. The film ultimately calls upon viewers to consider vegetarianism.
Today, Judaism is undergoing a transformation, as we seek to embody the words of Rav Kook, who said we must make the old new and the new holy. Prayer must be made spiritually meaningful, whereby it becomes what Heschel described as the language of the soul, not just the language of the past.
In anticipation of Easter, a slightly modified version of "The Passion of the Christ," the film by actor and director Mel Gibson, and screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald, has been re-released. The second coming if you will. This re-cut version is widely available in a DVD gift format.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza last summer, and Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pledge to withdraw from isolated settlements like Avne Hefetz by 2010, haunts the settler community.
Rashi, the most famous of our medieval biblical exegetes, quotes a beautiful Midrash to explain the unusual grammatical construct.
"Calling," Rashi writes, "preceded every statement, every saying and every command. It is lashon hibbah, the language of love."
I expected to be dealing with an empty nest when my daughter started college. I projected my availability to friends who had yielded my attention during my childrearing years. I dragged writing projects onto my computer's desktop to await the plane ride from NYU to the rest of my life. Instead, the levees broke in my hometown. I spent the next three months as a relief worker with the Red Cross and the New Orleans Jewish agencies in service to those displaced and/or traumatized by Katrina.
Here's a verse that should be written in Psalms: "He who is lenient about Purim is a truly unhappy person." Or, as one rabbi put it: "Who doesn't enjoy a bacchanalian feast where it's a mitzvah to get drunk?"
As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons -- many of them in the Arab press -- Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.
But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.
Let's face it. Every marriage between two Jews is an intermarriage. I'm not talking about the obvious ones, like a marriage between an Orthodox Jew and a Jew-by-birth who is not at all religious. Clearly if one spouse davens three times a day and the other spouse uses Mapquest to find her way to synagogue on Yom Kippur, a silver anniversary is not in their future. I'm talking about the rest of us.
At Temple Beth Israel, the planting project, which is being done in phases with funding and physical assistance from a Jewish environmental group, has transformed congregants' preconceived notions of drab native plants.
Letters to the Editor
Ten ways to begin greening your synagogue from Barbara Lerman-Golomb, associate executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life:
The letter writers wanted The Journal to reprint cartoons of the prophet Muhammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. The cartoons have sparked international outrage among Muslims, including riots, kidnapping, diplomatic reprisals and death threats.
Last week, The Rev. Pat Robertson apparently decided that he'd better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Move over fountain pens. If the Blue and White Fund has its way, the trend in bar and bat mitzvah gift giving might be instruments of the financial kind.
"We are blessed in Los Angeles with a plethora of adult learning opportunities," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. "Synagogues offer literally hundreds of courses for adults as do many other fine institutions."
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 rethinking the way we engage the broader Jewish community.
Often pictured in Christian iconography as solitary figures, lost in a unique and incommunicable holiness, Rice's "holy family" of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, by contrast, is part of a large, boisterous, affectionate Jewish clan, living a full, observant Jewish life together, full of rituals and prayers and the rhythm of the holy day feasts.
Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian Right leadership that intends to "Christianize" all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to "SpongeBob SquarePants."
I dream of a summer night long ago. I'm a 17-year-old usher in a neighborhood theater. We play second-run films. Most of that summer we show "Pursued," starring Teresa Wright and Robert Mitchum.
The annihilation of Israel is the raison d'etre of the "holiday" that the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is marked with anti-Israel demonstrations in some Islamic countries, as well as in cities with large Muslim populations outside the Islamic world.
Until now, there has been no full-scale biography of Henry Roth, whose 1934 novel, "Call It Sleep," is considered a masterpiece of American literature.
For more than 25 years, Shofet worked alongside his father, Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the community's longtime spiritual leader, who died last summer.
Following the public criticism, 14 commissioners voted last Friday against adopting the Oxford materials, and one commissioner abstained. Their rejection came as a surprise, because a special review committee had recommended its adoption to the commission.
Only a few minutes have passed in the Israeli film, "Ushpizin," named after the holy guests invited into the sukkah, and there's something wrong with this feature about an ultra-Orthodox Israeli couple.
Last week the Washington Post reported that the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is funneling money to religious groups, including churches and other houses of worship, that are providing a variety of services to displaced Gulf Coast residents.
The High Holidays bring a special dilemma to American congregations. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur attract more Jews to synagogue -- and more attention to American Jews in general -- than at any other time of year.
Located at Beverly and Crescent Heights boulevards, Beth Israel was founded in 1899 as the first Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, and was also known as the Olive Street Shul.
As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, a perhaps even more fundamental issue divides the American body politic. From stem cells, abortion and human cloning to the Schiavo case and physician-assisted suicides, the question of life has become this generation's great ideological battle ground.
Just in time for the High Holidays, U.S. Air Force officials are disseminating new guidelines for religious tolerance, in hopes of improving an atmosphere that some airmen say is unwelcoming to religious minorities.
However, while some are calling the new regulations a good first step, others remain concerned that little will change at the Air Force Academy and bases around the country.
The Skirball Cultural Center, in the most ambitious artistic project in its nine-year history, will present the first American survey of the painter's life and works in "Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism."
People are judged by the friends they keep.
The disengagement plan from Gaza and the northern Shomron communities has not yet begun, and yet, Israelis witness daily TV scenes of right-wing teenagers, mothers with children and yeshiva boys donning orange hats and T-shirts and struggling with young soldiers and policemen as they show common cause with the settlers in Gush Katif -- and attempt to break through to stand side-by-side with them.
Where Jewish terrorist Eden Natan-Zada lived -- first in Rishon L'Tzion, then evidently in Tapuach -- there is ostensibly an ideology that encourages the murders he committed last week in Shfaram.