On May 11, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, will be feted for his two decades of service to the synagogue. He talks in this edited version of an interview about changes in synagogue life, his theology and what he prays for.
The Torah has no title page. It has neither an author's introduction nor a preface -- nothing to tell us why the book was written or how it is to be read. The very first line begins with a complete lack of self-consciousness: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
On this line we find a remarkable comment by the most famous of Jewish Bible commentators, Rashi, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of 11th century France. Rashi cites a classical midrash: "Rabbi Isaac asked: Why does the Torah begin with Genesis? The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:2): 'This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months,' which is the first commandment given to Israel. For what reason does the Torah begin with Genesis?"
Rashi's commentary on the Torah provides the Jew with a broad survey of law, theology and wisdom -- a basic curriculum of Jewish learning. Rashi's genius is to state the most penetrating questions in the most concise idiom. This one is a gem. Within this innocuous question is a world of debate on the nature of Judaism and purpose of the Torah.
What does it mean to "resist history"? What is "historicism," and why would there be "discontents" toward historicism in German Jewish thought, or in any intellectual society?
Do you pray? Do you watch "The Simpsons" religiously? Do you pray while watching Bart and Homer and the rest of the Springfield gang?
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 like nice boys and girls. But I must tell you that unless you change your ways, you are all going to hell." I admired his honesty, but not his theology. I spent the next hour trying to think of a question that would stump him. As the class was ending, I raised my hand.
The idea is supposed to make me tingle warmly: While I sit in my home here in Jerusalem enjoying the Friday evening calm, thousands of Christian Coalition supporters will be gathering at the Ellipse in Washington to proclaim solidarity with Israel.
While the pain of the Sept. 11 attacks still churns like the smoke and dust that continue to rise out of Ground Zero, eight weeks has done something to begin our healing process.
Some of the rawness of our national wound is beginning to abate, allowing us to use the clarity and insight of the still-sharp lens of grief to encounter the big questions about God and humanity that the terrorists threw into our faces.
The questions, of course, are hardly new: How can we square the lethal expression of mass evil with our notion of a compassionate God? Were the attacks the hand of God, God's withdrawal from humanity, or simply the nature of God's universe?
I learned most of my theology not from my teachers but from my children. When my daughter, Nessa, was 3 years old, we had a routine. Each night, I would tuck her into bed, sing our bedtime prayers, kiss her good night and attempt to sneak out of the room. Halfway down the hall, she began to scream, "Abba!" An avid reader of Parents magazine, the Torah of parenting, I knew what to do: I walked back to the child's room and turned on every light. I looked under the bed. "No alligator, Nessa." I checked the closet. "No monsters, Nessa." I surveyed the ceiling. "No spiders, Nessa. Now go to bed. Tomorrow is coming, and you've got to get to sleep," I'd say. "Everything is safe. Good night." "OK, Abba," she said, "but leave the light on."