Judaism for the Thinking Person
Our Children Need a Relationship with God through their Inner Voice

Our Children Need a Relationship with God through their Inner Voice

June 17, 2022

There is a crisis for our middle and high school students that has reached desperate proportions: they don't believe in God and they see our tradition as having nothing relevant to say about what God could be to them. Typical of immigrant cultures, we have answered them for generations that they need not worry because it's a glorious thing that Judaism allows you to be an ethical atheist. Yet is this answer best for them, or, easiest for us? Our middle and high schoolers are riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, and hopelessness, and yet we don't give them the greatest tool for managing those: a relationship with God. Using the work of Bible scholar Benjamin Sommer, I explain how to teach them that their relationship with God is their relationship with their inner voice, just as it was for Moshe, utili

Your Only Freedom is in Service

Your Only Freedom is in Service

June 2, 2022

Drawing on the Rabbinic principle that Passover celebrates our freedom --which is a temporary state that leads to service in covenant, I use 12-step principles to state my thesis:  the only freedom a human being has is in choosing whom we serve and in choosing to live with God as the 3rd party in that service.

Ableism, Torah, and ”Greatness Comes from Being Lifted Up By Your Brothers”

Ableism, Torah, and ”Greatness Comes from Being Lifted Up By Your Brothers”

May 22, 2022

How do we relate to the Torah's insistence that the kohanim who do the major rituals be without blemish or disability?  Isn't that grossly ableist?  I suggest the following.  First, the Torah is not an idealistic description of a utopia of saints -- it forces us to recognize truths about human nature, and then create a society for real people like us, so it forces us to recognize our own prejudices and ableism, which are also active today.  Second, there is a serious issue at stake involving the Offerings of Damaged Goods, which is a massive problem in our society today --which tells us a lot about ourselves and how we give.  And third, I use the commentator Bartenura's commentary to offer a way the tradition is accepting human nature but leading us to how to refine it into inclusivity.

Judaism and Abortion:  The Process of the Decision IS Religion

Judaism and Abortion: The Process of the Decision IS Religion

May 10, 2022

In this presentation, I present the Talmudic sources on Judaism's discussion of the status of the fetus, and I argue that what's been missing from the discussion --including the discussion of Jewish views -- is the fact that Judaism leaves open what the status of the fetus is between 40 days and full viability, but importantly assigns the process to the mother. Men have no say in it.  In other words, the issue is not freedom of religion in the sense of one denomination versus another, but rather the freedom of the prospective mother to have her own relationship with God, as considers that in-between state of the fetus she carries, and what it means to her and to God as she makes her decision, and not let others tell her what it is or not.  (One issue I wish I had made a bit clearer:  around the 11 minute mark, I talk about the fact that Tractate Niddah specifies that between 40 and 80 days, the miscarriage is more than a normal period, and there is an ontological leap again starting at 80 days.  The specifics here are that the woman at these two sections remains in a state of ritual impurity following the miscarriage, as she would for giving birth, because after 80 days there is even clear evidence of sexual organs.  In other words, the Talmud is acknowledging that the embryo is developing into a fetus, and while a fetus is not a baby, it is still not a "nothing."  In addition, many consider this stigmazing the woman to say she is in "ritual impurity," but recall the ritual impurity functioned as "maternity leave" and thus the Talmud is giving the woman maternity leave to recover from the miscarriage, it's not stigmatizing her.)

Believing in Miracles (or not) in 5 Minutes

Believing in Miracles (or not) in 5 Minutes

April 19, 2022

One of my "standing on one foot while answering a humungous theological question" podcasts.  "Rabbi, what do we mean by miracles?  What is up with the Red Sea splitting?"  I give my on-one-foot 5 minute answer, but we should all go and study (as Hillel famously said after answering his on-one-foot answer) afterward.

By the way, I refer to seeing a red butterfly in the answer:  at a funeral and shivah I officiated at, it came up repeatedly that a butterfly would show up in their lives just at the time of remembering the widow's husband, who had a very special connection to butterflies.

Is the Wailing Wall an Orthodox Synagogue? The Kotel Agreement, Yuval Noah Harari and Anat Hoffman

Is the Wailing Wall an Orthodox Synagogue? The Kotel Agreement, Yuval Noah Harari and Anat Hoffman

March 18, 2022

At the same time as the Torah turns its pages to describe the creation and pattern of the Temple, with men, women, and children mixed together, and the haftarah describes the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem as the same, the Israeli government reneges on the Kotel Agreement to provide a separate space for mixed gender worship near the Wailing Wall, even while turning over the Wall officially to ultra extremist fundamentalist Jews who claim that the inclusion of women --or women leading prayer in the women's section-- is a fundamental affront to the original pattern (which is a lie).  In this presentation, I quote extensively from three sources:  the Haaretz article from 2020 called "What Yuval Noah Harari Thinks About Women’s Fight for Equal Rights at the Western Wall," David Golinkin's 2011 article "Is the Entire Kotel Plaza Really a Synagogue?" and Rabbinical Assembly's 2022 "Statement on Non-Implementation of Kotel Agreement."

Self-Improvement, Judgment, and Seeing God’s Back

Self-Improvement, Judgment, and Seeing God’s Back

February 21, 2022

While Judaism demands that one does not judge oneself too harshly, nor live in a place of self-defeating criticism, nevertheless there's a vital role for self-judgment to play in our learning from the past to walk with God and expand our ability to channel holiness into the world.  In fact, since God loves us as we are, and even provides a Shabbat that makes us feel that the world is made for us as we are, it is vital we judge ourselves, because that's not the job God wants, nor is it the job for others to do.

Clothing God?  Sewing as an Act of Lovingkindness

Clothing God? Sewing as an Act of Lovingkindness

February 14, 2022

The Talmud tells us that the first great act of God's love (chesed, lovingkindness) was making clothing for Adam and his wife.  Do we return the favor?

Does God Have a Plan for Us?

Does God Have a Plan for Us?

January 29, 2022

Joseph's dreams seem to predict the future and his role in it.  So does God have a plan for us?

Lecture: Halakhic Sources, the Fetus, and the Morality of Abortion

Lecture: Halakhic Sources, the Fetus, and the Morality of Abortion

January 17, 2022

The source sheet I'm reading from is at:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1R0Txiy6QvQiHo40hKSsHyafLernFjS8tXp0tJo7gPWA/edit?usp=sharing

This is a lecture to give the listener the Rabbinic sources that create distinctions and legal status for decisions around the criminalization of elective abortion, as discussed in the Supreme Court hearings.

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