Archive for the '1.3 Yom Kippur' Category

Generous Orthodoxy: Revisiting Welcoming LGBT on Yom Kippur

As an Orthodox Jewish in preparation for Yom Kippur I pause to take stock of who I am individually and who we are collectively. Am I doing everything I should be doing to make this world a better place? A couple of years ago I was is in a similarly reflective mode when I got to thinking about our tradition of reading a list of sexual prohibitions  in the Yom Kippur afternoon service (Leviticus 18:1 – 30). Why would we read the primary religious source used to substantiate homophobia on our most holy day of the year? While I still do not have an answer to this question, I feel that silence on this issue is its own sin. At that time I wrote a letter to my children if they are gay with 8 promises. What has happened since that time?

While there have been some efforts to be more welcoming to LGBT members of our Jewish community, advancement is really slow going at best. While it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do towards making it safe to be an LGBT member of our community, this year I got to thinking beyond just our community. There have been horrible set-backs in society at large. Bigotry, hate, and even violence toward LGBT people world-wide is a real problem. I would be fool hearty to think that this passage in Leviticus is the cause to this hatred and bigotry. People tend to fear what they do not understand. Nonetheless as an Orthodox Jew I feel that I have a responsibility to relieve this suffering and not to contribute toward it. We are the People of the Book, we have to take responsibility for how we share that story. The day of Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins between us and God. We still need to do the work of healing the wounds of sins between us and other people.

I was thinking about this recently I was listening to Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. In this podcast Gladwell shared the powerful story of Chester Wenger, a 98-year-old Mennonite minister who chose to confront his own church over a question of deepest principle. As pastor in one of the most traditional of religious communities he made the hard choice to officiate at the marriage ceremony of his gay son. Gladwell argues that this is a case of what theologian Hans Frei called Generous Orthodoxy. This paradox of Generous Orthodoxy seems resonant with my ideals of Open Orthodoxy. Wenger offers us a master class in the art of deeply respectful, openhearted, and religiously important dissent.

I will be thinking about this idea of Generous Orthodoxy this Yom Kippur when saying the Unetanneh Tokef prayer. There we say:

Teshuva– Repentance,

Tefilah – Prayer,

and Tzedaka– Charity

will annul the severe decree.

How will we confront our own day of Judgement before God? We will strive to do Teshuva.  It is clear that we all have work to do to make sure we are the best people we can be. On Yom Kippur we will do plenty of Tefilah. There is much to be said for recognizing that we do not have all of the answers. We come together to seek out support from each other and Beyond to make meaning in our lives. And we will give Tzedaka– charity. Wait- I will not being carrying my wallet. Will any of us give charity on the day of Yom Kippur? Might I suggest that on the day of Yom Kippur the charity we are being asked to give is not monetary. Maybe we are being asked to be generous in our orthodoxy itself. So yes I will read the passage from Leviticus, but I will also stand in judgement saying the Unetanneh Tokef. Saying these works I will try to be offer up my wholehearted understanding of orthodoxy. If I need to risk my own sense of self to ensure that everyone feel safe and welcome so be it. Maybe if I could just be a little bit more like Chester Wenger my severe decree against me will be annulled.

Also see:

Unforgiven: Preparing Myself for Yom Kippur

Yesterday I was walking from Grand Central to work listening to Pandora. Seeing that we are in the 10 Days of Repentance  between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur it seemed particularly timely hearing Iron Horse‘s  bluegrass cover of Metalicca’s Unforgiven. Here is a sweat live recording that is worth listening to:

 

The song deals with a person’s lifelong struggle against the forces that try to subjugate him. He is dubbed ” Unforgiven” because he has not actualized his full potential. The day of Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins between us and God. We clearly use it as an occasion to heal the wounds of sins between us and other people. Listening to this song, I pause to reflect on the possibility that I need to spend some time atoning for the sins between me and myself. As we learn in the song ” that old man here is me”.  Each of us are simultaneously the protagonist and antagonist in our own personal narratives. Have we actualized our full potential? The good news is that the story is not yet over. We can still decide where it goes from here. As we prepare for Yom Kippur, how can we forgive ourselves for the past and work harder to be the person we want to be in the future?

Möbius Torah: The Media and Message of Torah and Teshuva

Recently my dear friend Shalom Orzach was in touch because he wanted explore making another contemporary daf of Talmud. Together we had made one exploring Leah Goldberg’s Pine and the Landscape of Israel  and it was a lot of fun. Despite being very busy I was up for the challenge. It seemed like a great way of preparing for the High Holidays. Pretty quickly we started batting back and forth different texts that we might want to play with in the project. You really have to love Google Docs. Out of this process emerged two interested strands dealing with Teshuva and the question as to where or when is the beginning of our story.

In general this project was in pursuit of putting modern and relevant content in the standard form of the Vilna Daf.

Image result for daf talmud

In general it is an amazing way to portray a conversation over time, but seeing the themes involved I thought we might push ourselves.

Marshall McLuhan once coined  the phrase “The medium is the message“. What would it take for us to find a way to ensure that the form of a medium would embed itself in any message it would transmit? This inspired our creation of Where To Begin: Unending Learning for the 10 Days of Repentance  (Möbius Torah 1.0). To make a Möbius Torah please:

  1. Print this page our on Ledger (11×17) sized paper. This will ensure it is big enough to read.
  2. Cut out the table on the sheet.
  3. Fold along the dotted line with the writing facing outwards.
  4. Bend Paper  into a circular shaped cuff.
  5. Tape the ends to create a möbius strip as in this picture.Image result for mobius strip
  6. As you learn it turn it and turn it again because there is no beginning and no end to learning Torah.
  7. Alternatively you can just learn the text without the arts and crafts project, but that would not be as much fun.

With Möbius Torah 1.0 we hope to create a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message the Torah is perceived. Please print this out and enjoy. It has been a pleasure playing with Shalom in the bringing you this Torah. As always I would love your input and ideas for other ways to make revelation relevant, engaging,  and more accessible. So please do be in touch.

Gmar Chatima Tova

Shabbat of Shabbats: Yom Kippur and Camp

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of reading a very touching piece by Dr. Oliver Sacks z”l in the New York Times. In the piece, the world-renowned neurologist reflects on his youth growing up in a traditional Jewish house and having Shabbat with his family. He shares the heart-wrenching story of his leaving that world. Through a turn of events before the end of his life, he revisits Shabbat with family. About this rediscovery he writes:

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived? (Sabbath- NYT August 14, 2015)

This depiction of the Sabbath brought me back to camp. Camp was really the first place that I truly connected to “a stopped world”.

Is there anything better than Shabbat at camp? What is there not to love? It is amazing, you get all cleaned up, get on your nicest clothes, partake in better food, have some less structured time with people you love in a place filled with beauty and memories. It is the gold standard of food, folks, and fun. I often hear from people, “I do not keep Shabbat at home, but for me Camp is the Shabbat of my year.” On one level, this is so beautiful. This sentiment expresses their love of camp and Shabbat. They have found holiness in their lives in these amazing immersive experiences. On another level, it makes me sad. Do Shabbat and camp need to be all or nothing? These peak experiences at camp two months a year might preempt other amazing experiences 10 months a year, or worse for years in their lives when they can no longer come to camp.

I pause to reflect on Shabbat in preparation for Yom Kippur a day described as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Leviticus 16:31, 23:32). On a simple level, it means a day of complete cessation of work, but on a deeper level is a day to reboot our system. Yom Kippur is a day in which we spend time reflecting on how we can repair what is broken and return to a better version of ourselves. For me, that means going back to camp.  It is a day we can give ourselves permission to take the best part of camp and Shabbat and bring them into our lives. What would it mean to take time every Shabbat to grab some unstructured time within a beautiful place and eat some yummy food with people you love? Yom Kippur asks us not to let perfection get in the way of success. We do not need to wait until the end of our lives to “wonder what if“.

Gmar Chatima Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Promises for My Gay Children: Reflections of an Orthodox Rabbi for Yom Kippur

As I prepare for Yom Kippur, I have been giving some thought to all of my and our collective sins. To paraphrase the Al Het Prayer, I have been thinking about both the sins which I have committed intentionally or unintentionally. What have been my sins of commission and my sins of omission? What have I done inadvertently by not doing anything at all? How will I be judged for my actions?

I was thinking about this yesterday when I read a profound blog post by John Pavlovitz, a pastor of North Wake House Church in North Carolina. In his piece entitled If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent he boldly came out as a person of faith in support of his and other peoples’ children who might be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning.

Reading this, I got to thinking ahead to the Torah portion we traditionally read in the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This portion is comprised of a list of sexual prohibitions (Leviticus 18:1 – 30). Why would we read the primary religious source used to substantiate homophobia on our most holy day of the year? While I might not have an answer to this question, I do feel that silence on this issue is its own sin.

As a human being, I feel a need to speak out on this because there are those for whom it is not just their comfort or happiness that are at risk, but their very health, safety, and actual lives. As a Jew, I cannot stomach senseless hatred toward people because of who they are. An integral part of our Jewish identity comes from our experience as victims of the world’s hatred. We cannot stand idly by as other people suffer from bigotry. As a Rabbi, I feel a need to speak out for justice.

I feel a visceral need to speak out on this issue, not despite my being an Orthodox Jew, but because of that fact. As it says in the Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in the Orthodox Community, which I feel honored to have signed, “Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.”

To this end, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, I wanted to make my own promises to my children. Amen to Pastor Pavlovitz (1-4 paraphrased from his blog):

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.
My children won’t be our family’s best kept secret. If my children come out, we’ll be out as a family.

2) If I have gay children, I’ll pray for them.
I won’t pray for them to be made “normal”. I’ve lived long enough to know that if my children are gay, that is their normal. I will pray for them just as I pray for all of my children.

3) If I have gay children, I’ll love them.
I don’t mean some token, distant, tolerant love that stays at a safe arm’s length. It will be an extravagant, open-hearted, unapologetic, lavish, embarrassing-them-in-the-school cafeteria, kind of love.

4) If I have gay children, most likely; I have gay children.
If my kids are going to be gay, well they pretty much already are. They are today, simply a younger version of who they will be; and today they’re pretty darn great.

5) If I have gay children, I expect them to participate in community.
Not only are my children a critical part of my family, but they need to know that they are a critical part of the larger Jewish family. We are a kehilah kedosha– sacred community. Bigotry and hatred pose a much bigger risk to this sanctity than the issues that one might profess regarding my children’s orientation. I promise to fight with anyone who would want to limit their involvement in school, camp, synagogue, etc.

6) If I have gay children, I will learn Torah with them.
Learning Torah is a central Jewish practice. Engaging Torah writ large is the life blood of our people. I believe in the Torah. My commitment to my children is to have them join the conversation of our people and to have their voices heard. I promise to learn with my children– not just the nice parts, but also the Torah portion we read traditionally in the Yom Kippur afternoon service. I expect to listen and promise to have their interpretation heard. And when my time comes, I look forward to giving God some feedback. They should have the confidence that I will be waiting there for them when they meet the Judge on high. My commitment to my children is unwavering and eternal.

7) If I have gay children, I will celebrate their partnership.
My wife is my ezer k’negdi– she is my helpmate. She pushes me to make sure I am my best self. The key to sustained happiness and a life of meaning is finding a partner with whom to share your life. Having a healthy partnership is not just the key to surviving in the world; it is the key to thriving. This partnership is the bedrock for a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael, a faithful home in Israel, which is the basic building block for Jewish society. I hope that we were good role models for partnership and my children should expect that we do not just tolerate their life partner, but that we find ways to celebrate that partnership.

8) If I have gay children, I will celebrate their family.
Our children are the greatest joy in my life. While my children might not have children in a “traditional” manner, it does not mean that they should not feel the obligation of Pru uRevu– to procreate and raise another generation of proud Jews. I promise to be a great Zayde to link the next generation back to our past. While my gay children will have taught me about liberation, perhaps being older I have what to share with their children about exodus from Egypt. It is my job to hide the Afikoman; I expect their children to read the four questions. I promise that they will never question their connection to Jewish history and their role in our lustrous future.

There is no doubt that some of you may be offended by what I have said here. But as Pastor Pavlovitz wrote, “This isn’t about you. This is a whole lot bigger than you.” It is about my children and the parent I aspire to be. On these issues I could not stay silent. That is how I hope to be judged on Yom Kippur.

-Reposted from the Canteen

 

Camp Transforms Me to We

During Yom Kippur we pray the “Al Chet” confession of sins ten times. We repeat again and again the phrase, “On the sin we have sinned…”.  While there is a lot to be said about the particular sins that we are trying to atone for with this prayer, it is notable that the prayer is not in the first person singular but in the voice of “we”.  While enforcing collective punishment can be unjust, taking collective responsibility is transformative. Before we can talk about repairing our own sins, we have to spend some time repairing our sense of being part of a collective. We might struggle to get into the rhythm and tunes of the High Holidays because we have spent the rest of the year listening to our own playlists. In many ways, we are all still bowling alone.  Judaism might have lost being sticky because society in general has lost its glue.

One of the amazing aspects of Jewish camp is that it is a special place where community really comes together. And this past summer, we saw examples of camps working together on new initiatives to further expand on that idea of community. First, URJ’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp (a Reform camp based in Mississippi) and Camp Darom (an Orthodox camp based in Memphis) came together to celebrate the 4th of July (see story). We also saw a joint Maccabiah games for teens from the leadership programs of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and teens from BBYO (see story). An amazing Matisyahu concert at NJY camps (Camp Cedar Lake) gathered campers from URJ Kutz Camp, Habonim Dror Camp Na’aleh, and Camp Tel Yehudah (see story).  Through these camps, an amazing “we” is developing.

When I think about the “Al Chet”,it is easy to get stuck thinking about all the bad things that I did last year. However, when I look back on this summer, I am inspired. It is at camp that the kind of community that teaches us to speak in the first person plural is created. Camp is a place where all of the “me’s” can be transformed into a “we”. Together we can accomplish anything.

May we all have a very meaningful New Year.

– from FJC Blog

Sacrifices of Israel

Like most years as I am getting ready for Yom Kippur I try to think through and make sense of the liturgy. And as always, I get stuck at the Avodah, which retells the Temple Yom Kippur sacrifice. It is hard to imagine being into it even if I was actually at the service in the Temple. Thousands of years later and in a synagogue which does not resemble the Temple it is really hard to relate. It seems that I am just out of touch with the sacrifices.

This past Sunday I read in the New York Times of the passing of Haim Hefer.  He was one of the great song writers from the founding of  the State of Israel.  Curious to learn about the impact that he had on Israeli music I looked into some of his writings. I was amazed to see how many of the songs that I took for granted as always being there were actually penned by him. I believe the most famous of these was Hafinjan. Please feel free to watch this classic video:

I always thought it was simply a song about a coffee pot until I read the lyrics. There he wrote:

The cool wind blows,
we’ll add a chip to the campfire,
and thus in scarlet
it will rise in the flames like a sacrifice.
the fire flickers,
its song rises up
the coffee pot spins, spins around.

The fire will whisper to the chip,
our faces grow so red by the fire
if more fuel is prepared for us
from every broken branch stub in the garden,
every tree and log
will sing so softly
the coffee pot spins, spins around.

When looking at the lyrics we see that this song was not written as a simple song of the Founding Fathers of Israel to sing around the camp fire. In a profound way Hefer was evoking the Temple sacrifice. Over time the fire which was “like a sacrifice” made their faces grow “red by the fire”. Hefer was not just playing with the language of the Temple in the reestablishment of a Jewish State, he was pointing us to the huge sacrifice made by that generation.  We need to make sure that we do not take their sacrifices for granted. Unfortunately for many of us it is as hard to relate to the sacrifices of that generation as the sacrifices of the Temple.  This Yom Kippur I will try to rekindle my connection to all of the sacrifices of Israel.


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