“Why Judaism Matters” Pre-Order My Book to be published September 26

My book “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” is a common sense guide and road map for a generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. By illustrating how the tenets of Judaism still apply in our modern world, I offer direction not only to my own sons but to the sons and daughters of Reform Jews everywhere. My sons, Daniel and David, have written the Afterword. The book will be published on September 26 by Jewish Lights Publishing (a division of Turner Publishing).

Why Judaism Matters -Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation

Rabbi John Rosove

6 x 9, 240 pp, Paperback, 978-1-68336-705-5

http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-68336-705-5

Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation – Kindle edition by Rabbi John Rosove.

Love, Sweet Love!

The world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

So said Rabbi Akiva (2nd century Palestine), who believed that The Song of Songs, a love poem in the Hebrew Bible, traditionally attributed to King Solomon as a young man, is an allegory between two lovers, God and Israel.

The allegorical interpretation of The Song of Songs is why The Song of Songs is read each year on the Shabbat during Pesach, this Shabbat, for it’s then that we celebrate our people’s redemption and liberation from bondage on the one hand and the Kabbalistic idea of the hoped-for-redemption of God within God’s Divine Self on the other.

All that being said, this extraordinarily enriched poetry seems to be a purely secular poem (God’s Name is never mentioned) celebrating young, sensuous and erotic love and the passionate draw of two lovers yearning for relief from their existential loneliness:

For love is strong as death, / Harsh as the grave. / Its tongues are flames, a fierce / And holy blaze”  (Song of Songs 8:6 – Translation by Marcia Falk)

Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook wrote of a higher metaphysical love represented by the Song of Songs in this way (Translation by Ben Zion Bokser):

“Expanses divine my soul craves. / Confine me not in cages, / of substance or of spirit. / I am love-sick / I thirst, / I thirst for God, / as a deer for water brooks.

Alas, who can describe my pain? / Who will be a violin / to express the songs of my grief?

I am bound to the world, / all creatures, / all people are my friends.

Many parts of my soul / are intertwined with them, / But how can I share with them my light.”

Tonight – Friday, April 14 at 6:30 PM,  at Temple Israel of Hollywood, we will be celebrating as part of our Kabbalat Shabbat service the Song of Songs with beautiful music set to its verse. We have invited members of our community who are celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries to join us, and we will offer them a blessing. If you are free and would like to join us, please do come.

Shabbat shalom and Moadim L’simchah!

Moses and God’s Tears – A Poetic Midrash for Vayikra

So often God called Moses. / Three times they met; / at the flaming bush, / on Sinai amidst rock and stone, / and before the Tent of Meeting / that Moses might intuit God’s mind / and soothe God’s heart / as a lover comforts his beloved.

Since creation / God yearned to bridge the chasm / when the Creator pulled away / and opened space / to share the universe.

Yet the Almighty remained alone / exiled within the Divine Self / when the vessels shattered / and matter was flung to the far reaches of space.

The upper spheres were divorced from the lower, /  male from female, / the primal Father from the primal Mother, / Tiferet from Malchut, / Hakadosh Baruch Hu from Shechinah, /  Adonai from Knesset Yisrael.

Before time and speech, / God appointed the soul of the Shepherd-Prince Moses / to be prophet / and endowed him with hearing-sight, / wide-ranging wisdom and intuitive knowledge.

No one but Moses / had ever been so chosen or / to come so near to God.

Moses saw with his ears / heard with his eyes / tasted with his mind / and remained whole in the Light.

The prophet descended the mountain aglow, / the primordial Light shielding him behind a veil / bearing on his forehead divine ink-drops / radiating and illuminating the earth’s four corners.

Moses descended upon angel’s wings, / weightless and cradling the lettered-stone / inside the eye of raging winds.

Though a Prince in Egypt / Moses’ destiny was as a lonely shepherd / gathering sheep / and drawing the children of Israel to God.

God needed much from Moses – / to bring the plagues / and show that there is no God but God, / and liberate the people, / and bring them to Sinai, / and inspire with the Word, / and create God’s house / that light might abide within every heart / and restore wholeness in the world.

After all of God’s expectations and demands / we might expect Moses’ strength to be depleted, / to be exhausted to the bone and ready to say; / “Enough! O Redeemer – find a new prophet! / I can no longer bear the burden / and be Your voice and create bridges / You are Almighty God / I am but flesh / My strength is gone / My time expired!”

“Nonsense!” proclaimed the Eternal. / “I am not yet ready for your retirement! / My world remains shattered, / My light obscured, / my heart broken and aching. / I need you to teach My people / and all people / and instill in their hearts / a love that heals My wound / for I cannot do this for Myself.”

Alas, the Creator-Redeemer’s needs were clear / to be close to Moses and the people / that the prophet and Israel together / might wipe away God’s tears / and restore God’s heart to wholeness / and heal God’s Name to Itself / and bring peace.

Poem composed by Rabbi John L. Rosove

Notes about this poetic Midrash:

The first word that appears in this week’s Torah portion Vayikra (vav – yudkuf – resh – aleph – “And God called Moses…”) ends with an unusually small aleph. This anomaly in what is called the k’tiv (written text) gave rise to much rabbinic interpretation over the centuries.

Rashi explained that the small aleph teaches the humility of Moses. Others said that the aleph is an introduction to the Levitical laws of sacrifice, which requires humility. A Midrash suggests that when Moses descended from Mount Sinai carrying the tablets of the law, he emitted a keren or (“a ray of light”) compelling Moses to shield his face with a veil because the people could not look upon him in such a state. The source of that ray of light was divine ink left over when Moses wrote a small aleph instead of one of normal size. The Midrash explains that Moses had sought to lessen his own stature by using a small aleph, but God restored the extra drops of divine ink by placing them upon Moses’ forehead.

The Midrashic literature comments at length about Moses’ experience meeting panim el panim (lit. “face to face” – metaphorically “soul to soul”) with God. Moses was first among God’s prophets. Though each prophet spoke God’s words, there never was another prophet like Moses nor, as the Torah explains, was there ever again a more humble human being on earth than Moses.

I am not normally an envious person. However, I have always envied the experience of the prophet and most especially Moses’ meeting with God on the mountain. It is my unquenchable yearning to know and my fascination with prophecy itself that inspired me to write this Midrash.

For those of you wishing more insight into Biblical prophecy, I recommend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Prophets” – publ. Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1962.

Shabbat shalom. 

A New Prayer for America – Composed by Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Compassionate One, fill our hearts with love and compassion for each other, that in truth we might be one nation indivisible. Bless our country, its government, its leaders, and its people. Bless the vision that is America and help us all to make it real. Help us to be for each other a mirror in which to see the best we are, and when we stray give to each one the courage to remind, speaking truth to power when need be.

Of qualities that built this land, help us to distinguish between their light and shadow sides, and to know the upright way, that good not be twisted into evil. Take the violence from us, so much part of what has been; and lead us on a new path to the Prophet’s vision fulfilled, of swords turned into plowshares that we shall, at last, learn war no more. Let not our confidence become arrogance, nor might the measure of right; mature enough in our independence, may we celebrate with all nations the interdependence from which a greater good will come.

Thirsting for peace, help us to sing an anthem now, not of bombs bursting, but of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties; the beauty of this land we love, your blessing manifest, not of destiny, but of goodness spreading out from sea to shining sea; and not upon us alone Your blessing bestow, but upon every nation and people in the world of Your creation.

Help us to see that we the people are America the beautiful, in all the grandeur of our colors, and in the symphony of faiths and tongues by which we sing to You and call each other’s names; in the pilgrims’ pride of roots diverse, each one of us from other lands have come, not only of a Mayflower on the sea but of steerage passage and in chains and through sweltering desert sands, wretched and poor yearning to breathe free; let us be the strength of heart and mind to sustain the hand of she who lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

In our caring for the earth, the sky, and water, may we honor those who first dwelled upon this land, and in a small measure so atone for all the wrong done to them.

With liberty and justice for all, that freedom not ring hollow, help us to insure that health and knowledge, bread and roses, be the birthright of every child born, each one free to be and become, dreams deferred no more.

Bring near the day, soon to rise, when in rainbow chorus we shall sing, we have overcome.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein is the Founding Rabbi of Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue, Jamaica Plain, MA

Israel’s High Court requires a “good cause” argument why a woman cannot read Torah at the holiest site in Judaism

In a landmark High Court decision Wednesday, the State of Israel was given 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall.

A year ago the Israeli government coalition made an agreement with a wide range of Jews from around the world that included the Reform and Conservative movements, the North American Jewish Federations, and the Women of the Wall to create an egalitarian prayer space in the Southern Kotel Plaza under Robinson’s Arch that is equal in size and in access to the Northern Kotel Plaza that would be overseen by non-Orthodox Jewry and not the ultra-Orthodox.

This was a landmark decision that affirmed Israel as the great democracy that it is and that Jews around the world ought to have the right and freedom to pray according to their custom at the holiest site in Judaism.

The agreement was led by Prime Minister Netanyahu who had appointed Natan Sharansky, the Director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to forge a consensus agreement that included the ultra-Orthodox administrator of the Wall and the non-Orthodox liberal streams of Judaism.

It took 3 years to reach a compromise agreement, and once that was done, the ultra-Orthodox members of the Israeli government dug in their heels and aggressively sought to undermine it that would essentially disenfranchise 80% of world Jewry that is non-Orthodox. These Orthodox politicians backed by their Haredi rabbis threatened to bring down Netanyahu’s government if the agreement was implemented.

At last – the Israeli High Court has ruled that egalitarian prayer and the rights of women to read Torah at the Kotel ought to be their democratic right. These reactionary forces have been given 30 days to make their case.

This is a limited victory and not the end of the struggle – stay tuned.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-sweeping-decision-high-cou…/

Government given 30 days to show ‘good cause’ why women can’t read from Torah scrolls at the holy site
timesofisrael.com

An invitation in the wake of this election

Dear Congregants and Friends:

We know what he has said. We know what he has done. We have seen evidence of his low-brow tastes, his moral failures and his unethical behavior; but we do not yet know what he will do as President.

He has taken opposite positions on the same issues. He has behaved as a cheat, a misogynist, a racist, and a bigot. He has stoked extremism and anti-Semitism. He plays badly in the sandbox and thinks nothing of kicking sand in the face of others. He shows little or no empathy. He demonstrates a self-centeredness that none of us would permit in our own children.

He lacks dignity and grace, and his pronouncements about matters domestic and foreign have worried experts on both sides of the aisle as well as past presidents from both political parties, past presidential candidates, and people far more learned and experienced than him in matters of government, policy and international relations.

He is a climate change denier, a skeptic of science, and a creator of his own facts.

But – he will now be our President, as difficult as that is to imagine for so many of us. The American people have spoken and voted, though our country is as polarized as at any time in my life time, and it is our duty as citizens to accept the decision of the majority of the American people.

Will he make America and the world unsafe or safe? With the nuclear codes in hand, will he be reckless or cautious? What will he do to undermine or support Israel’s security and our people’s place in the Middle East? Will he cause the reversal of Roe v Wade, cancel the Affordable Care Act and strip health insurance from twenty million people who have benefited while casting those of us with pre-existing conditions into the wilderness with no health insurance.

All these questions, and so many more, have yet to be answered. We do not know who he will appoint to his cabinet, or who his advisors will be. We are, at this point, groping in the dark about virtually everything. Yes, we have a strong constitutional system of government with many checks and balances – but will they hold now that there is only political party that controls all aspects of the federal government?

Like most of you, I would imagine, I am fearful about more than I can say.

What do we do?

As Jews we traditionally have turned to each other and recommitted ourselves to one another in times of uncertainty and stress. We have sought our people’s inner strength and our ancient wisdom, and we have taken faith in our capacity to adapt to whatever challenges we encounter, and thereby thrived as a people.

This is a time to turn to all peoples of faith and decency, and link our arms and hearts with theirs.

It’s a time for us Americans to remember what it is that really makes America great – not to fall victim to hostile and defensive rhetoric and bromides that pit us against each other – but to affirm the love that is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions.

This is the time to remember that we are each other’s brothers and sisters, that we have to remain openhearted and steadfast in our principles, that it is our duty to continue to perform acts of tzedakah (justice) and hesed (loving-kindness) no matter what.

We are an empathetic and compassionate people. Since the time of the Exodus from Egypt we Jews have known the heart of the stranger and we have identified with the marginalized and unsupported. We know that they are us and we are them, and we all need each other.

We Jews are something else as well – we are a sanctifying people who have striven always to bring God’s light into the world, to act as healers and repairers of all that which is wrong and unjust and cruel.

We Jews are always stronger in community than we are  alone. I therefore invite you, young and old, children and the aged, Jew and non-Jew, to come to synagogue this Friday evening and join in celebrating Shabbat together.

Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Israel of Hollywood will begin at 6:30 pm. Do arrive a bit earlier so we can greet one another. We will sing together, pray and reflect together, and take joy in each other. I will share additional thoughts and reflections.

Speaking very personally – I need you, our community, as do my colleagues Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, Rabbi Jocee Hudson, our Cantorial Soloist Shelly Fox, and our accompanist Michael Alfera. Please come.

Chazak v’eimatz – May we be strong together and thereby strengthen one another.

With love,

Rabbi John Rosove

Israel Has Failed the Jewish People Over Its Inaction at the Western Wall – Haaretz – My op-ed today

Friends – I was invited to write an op-ed for Haaretz on the demonstration yesterday by dozens of leading rabbis of Reform and Conservative Streams, Women of the Wall, and every element of the international Reform movement. The article appeared today – the link is below, but I have pasted the entire piece here.

Opinion – Israel Has Failed the Jewish People Over Its Inaction at the Western Wall  – Enough is enough. The Kotel should not be an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. It is the most sacred site in all of Judaism and belongs to the entire Jewish people.

Rabbi John Rosove Nov 03, 2016 12:00 PM – read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.750797

On Wednesday morning, Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, hundreds of liberal Jews marched into the Western Wall plaza with Torah scrolls, song and hope. I was one of many surrounding those carrying Torah scrolls and protecting them from the aggression of the ultra-Orthodox to tear the scrolls from our rabbis’ arms. One young Haredi Jew, so filled with rage, lunged at Women of the Wall’s Anat Hoffman. I jumped in front of him, blocked his advance and he fell back onto the stones. I felt a mix of defiance and grief. His behavior and that of others represent the opposite of what Judaism teaches, that we are here to love God and our fellows, to draw all to Torah and the pursuit of justice, mercy and peace.

A deal is a deal. An agreement is an agreement. Good faith is good faith. Enough is enough!

The Reform and Conservative movements and the Jewish Federations of North America have been engaged for more than three-and-a-half years in negotiations with the Israeli government to find common ground on an issue of utmost importance to world Jewry.

In January of this year, those negotiations succeeded. We Reform and Conservative leaders were proud of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, who concluded the painstaking, complicated and very long negotiations to create a new egalitarian prayer space overseen by the liberal movements and Women of the Wall in the southern Kotel Plaza. The greater values of Klal Yisrael and shalom bayit were confirmed. Religious pluralism in Israel attained as a value at this holiest site in Judaism and we had hopes that future efforts to grant rights to the non-Orthodox in the Jewish state. We imagined a day when Reform and Conservative rabbis could legally convert people to Judaism, officiate at marriage ceremonies, oversee divorce proceedings and could in the mitzvah of burial of our beloved in the land of Israel.

The agreement was clear. All would remain the same in the traditional prayer plaza and would continue to be overseen by the Chief Rabbinate of the Wall. A new prayer space would be created in the southern Kotel Plaza beneath Robinson’s arch. The agreement was the result of compromise by all parties. The Kotel as a whole would symbolize the historic diversity and unity of the Jewish people.

The ultra-Orthodox community, despite its own participation in this long and arduous negotiation represented by the Head Administrator of the Wall, decided it could not abide the deal. It has now been 10 months of prevarication, delay and retreat by the government and prime minister.

We waited and waited and waited. Our leadership was patient and in the end, it became clear to us that Netanyahu would not honor his commitment. Natan Sharansky told those of us on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency that Netanyahu said he would do everything possible to fulfill the agreement except that which would bring down the government.

Some matters, however, are greater than any particular government. The vast majority of Israelis, let alone world Jewry, supports religious freedom and diversity in Israel. In a democracy, the majority must rule with respect for the minority. The agreement accomplished both.

The arbitrary rules of the Kotel plaza disallowing the use of any Torah other than those approved by the Ultra-Orthodox Head Administrator of the Wall and the denial of the rights for women to pray using tallitot, tefilin and to read Torah are unreasonable, unfair, unjust and discriminatory.

Enough is enough. The Kotel should not be an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. It is the most sacred site in all of Judaism and belongs to the entire Jewish people.

The Talmud teaches that sinat chinam, baseless hatred between Jews, caused the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple two thousand years ago. I sadly see that same hatred in the eyes of those who attacked us yesterday.

The Israeli government has failed the Jewish people, but it is not too late to do what it should have done ten months ago – go forward and implement this historic, fair and visionary agreement. If not now, when!?

Rabbi John Rosove is National Chair, Association of Reform Zionists of America.

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.750797

Brothers

After God created the heavens and the earth, tragedy struck in a catastrophe that has never been forgotten, a tragedy now ingrained in our DNA and  repeated in every generation.

The tale of Cain and Abel is a story of envy, despair, and evil that has stained the human condition (Genesis 4:1-15).

As dramatic as this story is, in only fifteen verses does the episode unfold and resolve. The narrative gives only bare details of Cain’s and Abel’s lives and their fates. Abel (Havel) was a keeper of sheep. His Hebrew name means “vapor,” reflecting his short and purposeless life.

Cain was a farmer and tiller of the soil, the same ground that he polluted when he murdered his brother and his brother’s blood soaked the earth.

We learn that the brothers each had brought to God offerings. Cain was first – Abel followed. God rejected Cain’s gift and received Abel’s joyfully. Cain felt humiliated and shunned by the God he yearned to serve.

Why did God reject Cain’s gift? We don’t know. God, however, seemed surprised by Cain’s strong reaction and asked: “Why are you so upset? Why has your face fallen? Is it not thus: If you intend good, bear-it-aloft, but if you do not intend good, at the entrance is sin, a crouching-demon, toward you his lust–but you can rule over him.” (vs 6-7) [An enigmatic ancient poetic passage – see below]

A shame! Instead of sympathy God gave Cain a lecture. Yet, we can’t really blame Cain for his distress. He felt rejected and utterly alone. Even Cain’s parents were missing from the scene, so he struck out against the one closest to him – the only one there – his brother Abel.

Cain and Abel had spoken or argued, but we’re not told about what. The rabbis offer several explanations.

One said that the brothers had agreed to divide the world. Cain took all the land and Abel took everything that moved: but then they fought out of greed for more.

Cain said: “The land upon which you stand is mine. Get off – you may fly if you like, for I don’t own the air. But the land is mine and not for your use.”

Abel shot back: “The clothes you wear are made from the wool of my flock. Strip down. Walk naked. You’ve no right to the product of my sheep.”

A second sage said that each brother owned both land and movable property and that they fought about on whose land the Temple in Jerusalem would be built.

“The Temple should be built on my land,” said one.

“No. It must be built on mine,” said the other.

Their battle thus became a religious war each claiming that God was on his side.

A third rabbi said that Abel had a twin sister, a magnificently beautiful and alluring woman, and since there was no other woman on earth, each wanted her.

Cain argued: “I must have her because I am the first born.”

Abel too felt entitled: “She’s mine because she was born with me. Together we must stay.”

The rabbis regard Cain and Abel as symbols. Each explanation is an argument for what drives people to hate and kill each other; materialism, religious fanaticism, and sexual obsession.

“Cain rose up against Abel and slew him.” (v 8)

The Midrash claimed that Abel was the physically stronger man, and as he was about to kill Cain, Cain pleaded for his life: “We are the only two in the world. What will you tell our parents if you kill me?”

From fear or perhaps pity, Abel lowered his weapon, and at that moment Cain murdered him.

After the deed (as if God didn’t know), the Almighty asked: “Where is Abel your brother?”

Cain was cold and disengaged: “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” (v 9)

God expected moral accountability, but as he had turned on his brother, so too did Cain turn on God:

“You hold watch over all creatures, and yet You demand an accounting of me! True, I killed him, but You created the evil inclination within me. It’s Your fault! Why did You permit me to slay him? You slew him yourself, for had You looked favorably on my offering, I wouldn’t have had reason to envy and kill him.”

God emphasized to Cain the heinous significance of his murderous act, but Cain didn’t understand.

God said: “The voice of your brother’s blood(s) cry to Me from the ground.” (v 10)

The Hebrew for blood (dam) is written in the plural (damim) meaning that killing one human being is equivalent to the murder of every generation to come, of an entire world, genocide. And given that Cain killed his brother, murder is also fratricide.

As tragic as this tale is, the ending is abruptly positive. Adam and Eve chose life again and bore their third son, Seth, in the place of Abel. We are considered Seth’s descendants (v 25) and neither carry the legacy of victim or aggressor. That is for each of us to decide.

 
Note: The above is a creative compilation of the Biblical text and rabbinic commentary. The translation of the poem – vs 6-7 – is borrowed from Everett Fox’s translation of The Five Books of Moses – The Schocken Bible: Volume I.