Judaism for the Thinking Person
Eco-Burial and Jewish Law

Eco-Burial and Jewish Law

November 20, 2022

Is it right to use arable land --often very expensive in populated areas -- for graves, then pollute the environment by keeping them "dignified" through maintenance and pesticides, with the hollow promise of "perpetual care," and say this is all required by Jewish Law, when Jewish Law itself is the source of the requirement for eco-decomposition and of prohibitions against costly burial?  I explicate the sources using the Conservative Movement's oficial responsum, "Alternative Kevura Methods" by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, which can be found at bit.ly/3tMa4RG

Listening Like It’s Shivah

Listening Like It’s Shivah

November 10, 2022

In this ten minute teaching I used to begin the 10 Days of Awe, I connect several teachings.  The first is the Rabbinic teaching that following a calamity upon a village, one should try to give the luxury rations to those who are used to luxury because being unaccostomed to hardship, their anguish might be even greater than others' though we are tempted to believe the opposite.  The second is that during Yom Kippur, we approach ourselves and our relationships in a state of aninut, of affliction -- the same word used when one has suffered calamity, and the same word used when one is burying a loved one and then heading into the week of shivah grieving.  The third is that it is forbidden to say, "How are you?" to someone who has just experienced aninut, and instead one must practice a special form of active listening.  Following two years of calamitous pandemic, where many of us put on brave faces because we are scared to share our emotions due to our perceived privilege or we may not have suffered as much as others, we must acknowledge that our pain is nonetheless real, very real, and that the directives of actively telling our stories and actively listening are the imperative way forward.

The Spiral of Progress/History

The Spiral of Progress/History

November 3, 2022

Is the Jewish concept of history that of linear progress, or that of Ecclesiastes' cyclical vanity?  This teaching was delivered during a 12-Step friendly Serenity Shabbat.

Learning from 12 Step: The ”El Anon” Theology of the Exile Prophets

Learning from 12 Step: The ”El Anon” Theology of the Exile Prophets

November 1, 2022

The theology of the haftarot of the exile prophets like Deutero-Isaiah is hard for most people to relate to:  "You are in exile, your life is full of tragedy, and I love you, I remember you as you were before, but I won't be getting you out of the situation you got yourself in, and which I warned you repeatedly about."  This is the kind of "unloving" God that Christian theologians for millenia have accused Jews of having.  Yet do those in Al-Anon understand it in a way they can teach us?  

Those in 12 Step Recovery are Our Teachers (Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2022)

Those in 12 Step Recovery are Our Teachers (Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2022)

October 21, 2022

For too long, Jews have associated the Recovery movement with Christianity, and we have seen those in recovery, or with addictions, as outsiders to Torah.  This is far from reality.  The main example of vows-of-change --the essence of High Holidays-- in the Torah itself is the vow to abstain from alcohol and other intoxicants, involving emulating priestly service and separating for a period from one's family and social triggers.  The very process of High Holiday teshuvah is recognizing our wrong behavior, feeling bad about it, and then releasing that guilt feeling through doing a cheshbon nefesh --an accounting-- of exactly how we have harmed others and ourselves, then making amends, then embracing a different path, and then serving God and others.  This is the teaching of 12 step.  (Jewishly, the teshuvah steps are enumerated sometimes as 4, sometimes as 6, and sometimes as more steps, but they essentially mirror the 12 steps of recovery.) Whether the 12 Step Movement has roots in Christian founders is irrelevant:  it embodies the sacred teachings of High Holidays.  This sermon is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Twerski z"l, who died in 2021 from complications from COVID.

Chatter and Our Relationship with God through Our Relationship with Our Inner Voice

Chatter and Our Relationship with God through Our Relationship with Our Inner Voice

October 9, 2022

My Yom Kippur sermon in 2022.  Using Ethan Kross's book Chatter along with Jewish sources and my own observations about life, I challenge us to form our relationship to God through our relationship with our inner voice, which these days tends to be taken over by CHATTER, the stress brought on by the takeover of our inner God voice through the Satan voice.  It's time we challenge it head on.

Moses the Mother in Transition (Ilana Kurshan’s Teaching)

Moses the Mother in Transition (Ilana Kurshan’s Teaching)

August 28, 2022

I share Ilana Kurshan's teaching on rabbinic midrash seeing Moses as a mother in transition, as they question whether, at the promised land border, God's refusing his entry is frustrating his desire to mother the people more, or frustrating his desire to claim "his turn" to actually have a life now that the children are leaving the nest.  I include my own glosses, but make no mistake that this is Ilana Kurshan's teaching.

Eikev and the Torah of Ambivalence

Eikev and the Torah of Ambivalence

August 21, 2022

In this d'var Torah, I discuss how parashat Eikev is the section of Torah most frought with ambivalences, from the text itself through the Rabbinic commentaries: blessing as bounty and overextension, independence and dependence, hardship and privilege, closeness and distance. I relate this to our lives directly in the examples of the college experience and of our relationship with God.

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.)

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