By

Rabbi’s Recommended Reading

February 12, 2018

The Abraham Lincoln We Tend to Forget: A Deeply Religious Man

We tend to fall into the natural habit of misunderstanding the past, because we automatically and mistakenly apply our present-day default assumptions to other eras.

Since the 1940’s, our understanding of the separation of Church and State has developed in the direction of getting the government out of the business of recommending public prayer. This development has, in some ways, been beneficial for American religious minorities, such as Jews. Most people who worship are conventional in their mode of expression. Christians are apt to pray in the name of Jesus, as their religion mandates. Since the majority tends to be insensitive about just how exclusive their prayer language can be, the result is a quandary for the Jew: where is the Jew to find his place as an American, if “American prayer” is offered in the name of Jesus?

But the secularization of our public square is not only a gain. The basic Jewish advice regarding prayer is, “when you stand in prayer, know before Whom you stand.” This is the motto written upon the curtain of our Holy Ark in Temple Israel, and it is repeated in almost every synagogue.

Among the ills facing America in our day is a coarseness and mean-spiritedness that threatens the basic institutions of civic discourse. I have to wonder if some of this degradation of our spirit is connected to our forgetting, on a massive scale, before Whom we must render account?

In that spirit, and in honor of the birthday of our 16^th President, Abraham Lincoln, I am offering for your recommended reading two of his presidential proclamations. In each, he asks the nation to dedicate time to repentance. Prayer and fasting are transparent to us today, but “humiliation” requires elucidation: “Humiliation” in the language of the 18^th and 19^th centuries meant that people should stop being slaves to their egos. Instead of being totally energized by winning the debate and destroying the person holding opposing views, Americans needed to “Get over themselves” and focus on becoming far better versions of the people to which they had allowed themselves to regress

On Lincoln’s birthday, perhaps we, as a nation, could take more of his message to heart—
Rabbi Michael Panitz

ABRAHAM LINCOLN
XVI President of the United States: 1861-1865

Proclamation 85—Proclaiming a Day of National Humiliation, Prayer, and Fasting
August 12, 1861

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation
Whereas a joint committee of both Houses of Congress has waited on the President of the United States and requested him to “recommend a day of public humiliation, prayer, and fasting to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnities and the offering of fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessings on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace;” and

Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people at all times to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God, to bow in humble submission to His chastisements, to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action; and

Whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy–to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved; that our arms may be blessed and made effectual for the reestablishment of law, order, and peace throughout the wide extent of our country; and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellence:

Therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do appoint the last Thursday in September next as a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting for all the people of the nation. And I do earnestly recommend to all the people, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship in all humility and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed, this 12th day of August, A.D. 1861, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-sixth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State

President Lincoln repeated this gesture, a year and a half later:
PROCLAMATION APPOINTING A NATIONAL FAST DAY

Washington, D.C.
March 30, 1863
Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced this Resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The Resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The Resolution was adopted on March 3, and signed by Lincoln on March 30, one month before the fast day was observed.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN
XVI President of the United States: 1861-1865

Proclamation 97—Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer
March 30, 1863

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation
Whereas the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation; and

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;

And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too
proud to pray to the God that made us.

It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this my proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at
their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 30th day of March, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State .

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Recommended Reading from Rabbi Panitz

Tu B’Shevat Seder
BY RABBI ZOE KLEIN MILES | PUBLISHED JAN 24, 2018 | Jewish Journal.com

————————————————————
In ancient Israel, Jews wouldn’t eat a tree’s fruit in the tree’s first three years so that the tree could grow strong. In the fourth year, they would bring its fruit to the Temple as an expression of gratitude. Only in the fifth year would they start enjoying the fruit. Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the month of Shevat), the New Year for the Trees, began as a way to keep track of the trees’ age. In the tradition of the 16th-century mystics of Tsfat, who marked the day with a Tu B’Shevat seder, the Journal offers these meditations and activities to celebrate the trees.
The Centrality of trees
Trees are so important, the rabbis tell us, that if the messiah should arrive while you are planting one, you should finish planting before greeting the messiah. The prophet Micah’s vision of paradise is a time when “All shall sit under their grapevine or fig tree.” We call Torah a Tree of Life, but it’s an inverted tree: Torah has its roots in heaven, and its fruit is so close that its sweetness is already in our mouths.
Plant a Seed
Plant parsley seeds on Tu B’Shevat and you’ll have parsley by Passover, linking the celebration of trees to the spring festival of freedom. But we should also plant something that takes years to grow. Just as we enjoy trees that our grandparents planted for us, says our tradition, so should we plant for future generations. Place a sapling in the earth and offer a prayer that, with love, it will one day grow to nurture countless creatures, great and small.
Caring for the Earth
Even in times of war, Torah tells us, we shouldn’t cut down fruit trees. In the Garden of Eden, God told the first humans to serve and protect the land. Yet, each year humans destroy more than 5 billion trees in tropical rainforests — ecosystems essential to sustaining life on earth. Countless species are threatened with extinction. The world gives so much to us. Trees remove harmful gasses and give us pure oxygen. We have forgotten our obligation to be stewards of this precious world.
The Four R’s
We’ve all heard “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” As Jews, we add “Remember.” Consider these categories and commit particular
actions.
• Reduce: Cut back on paper by printing less or decrease waste by borrowing instead of buying.
• Reuse: Drink from a reusable water bottle instead of plastic ones, use cloth grocery bags and eliminate plastic tableware.
• Recycle: Start a compost bin and choose products made from recycled materials.
• Remember: Create art as a reminder that we are stewards of the earth, all part of the same ecosystem.
Trees in Israel
Israel is the world’s only country whose territory has more trees today than it did a century ago. Its trees are special. Almond trees are the first to bloom, with white and pink petals and sweet perfume. Ancient olive trees, thousands of years old, hold history in their twisted trunks. Swaying palms drip with date honey. Cedars hold up the sky. Pomegranate trees yield fruit as full of seeds as life is with blessings. Early pioneers planted eucalyptus trees to drain the swamps, and the Jewish National Fund planted the Mediterranean cypress.
Which Fruit are You?
In the tradition of the mystics, choose a variety of fruits: hard outsides / soft insides (banana and kiwi); soft outsides / hard insides (peaches and plums); and entirely edible (figs and starfruit). Which one are you? Do you wear a protective shell around a tender heart? Are you vulnerable, with a strong core? What do you hope to peel away this year and what weight do you want to dislodge?
Who Owns the Earth?
Rabbi Ezekiel Landau of Prague tells of two people fighting over the same piece of land. “The land belongs to me!” one shouts. “No, it belongs to me!” replies the other. They finally bring the matter to a judge. The judge listens to each person, then kneels and puts an ear to the ground, listens to the land and stands up. “The land does not belong to either of you,” says the judge. “Rather, you belong to the land.”
Listen and Share
Spend time amid the trees by taking a hike, enjoying a park or just lying in your backyard. For 10 minutes, be silent — just listen, feel, be. Listen for the rustling of breezes in the leaves. Notice how it is all in sync with your own heartbeat and your own breath. Smell the complex bouquet around you and savor your place in the river of life. Finally, share the bounty: Perhaps you, a friend or a neighbor have a fruit tree bursting with produce. Gather a group to glean ripe fruit for a local homeless shelter.

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz

5778 TEN COMMANDMENTS PROGRESS REPORT

DATE: 15 Shevat, 5778
FROM: Moses ben Amram, Headmaster
TO: Americans
RE: Early Warning Notice

It has come to my attention that your nation requires remedial work to improve your grades in the Ten Commandments part of the One God’s course for meaningful living. The following is a detailed explanation of where Americans are failing to master the Sinai Curriculum:

FIRST COMMANDMENT: I am the LORD.
You have become sophisticated, my students, or so you think. You believe in at most One God, and all too often, that God is a reflection of your desires, not an acknowledgement that you are the creatures, not the Creators. From this failure, all the other failures follow. If you worship yourselves, and not the Only True One to be worshiped, you will make your own lives far worse.

SECOND COMMANDMENT: Do not bow down to idols.
You have new idols, new incarnations of the familiar Baal and Asherah before whom your ancestors prostrated themselves. Your new idols are money, sex and power… come to think of it, not so new; only new names for old realities. This past year, quite a few of you have made an idol out of your nation’s flag. New idols may be fashionable, but like the old ones, they are ultimately things of naught.

THIRD COMMANDMENT: Do not take the Heavenly Father’s name in vain.
There has been a lot of pious posturing in your country this year; but very little of the invoking of Father’s Name has been motivated by any true desire to do Father’s will. Rather, it is your own greed and ambition that you seek to advance, and then you dress it up by saying that you are seeking the Good and the Transcendent. Father says: If you are going to worship only your own narrow interests, keep Me and My Name out of it.

FOURTH COMMANDMENT: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Your country is filled with houses of worship that you build, and then leave empty, from Sabbath to Sabbath. Why did you raise and spend that money, if your intention all along was to honor the Sabbath only sporadically, when it coincides with one of your life-cycle passages? Nor are you honoring the Sabbath in your homes. I see some of you inaugurate the Sabbath with candles, with family togetherness, with song and blessing; but for most of you, Friday night is just so much more ordinary time. If you do not make the extraordinary manifest, you will eventually cease to be able to perceive it.

FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Honor your father and your mother.
You have a mixed record here. You provide health care for the elderly, in some ways exceeding generations past. But your wisdom has not grown apace with your technological mastery. You continue to consign the elderly to neighborhoods, and then in institutions, where children and grandchildren are absent. Some of your elderly commit this foolishness themselves. In my song (Deuteronomy 32), I mandate: “ask your parents, and they will narrate God’s story for you; your grandparents, and they will inform you.” How can you accomplish that when you practice generational segregation?

This concludes the first tablet of the law. Your society needs significant improvement in this tablet. But your record with respect to the second tablet is of still greater concern:

SIXTH COMMANDMENT: Do not murder
Do not boast that with respect to this commandment, other countries are worse. It is true that your country does not equal those places where people blow up each other’s mosques or glorify murder in Father’s name; but do not rest on your laurels. You continue to allow individuals access to weapons of mass murder. The results are one horrifying massacre after another; and in the past year, even your capacity to sustain a sense of horror shows signs of waning.

SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Do not commit adultery.
Your record here has been poor for quite some time. In the past century, the number of your elected presidents, from both of your major political parties, who have broken this commandment is higher than the number of those who have kept it. The news revelation that the current one paid hush money to a pornographic actress, on the eve of your recent election, is of course not news to us in Heaven. The fact that your country can not manage even a significant show of outrage at this revelation is evidence as to how low your standards have fallen with respect to this commandment.
But that is not even the most significant area of your neglect of the Sinai curriculum in matters of sexual ethics. This year, your long-standing record of the abuse of young and helpless men and women by the high and mighty was finally exposed, and a wave of revulsion has energized you. That is a hopeful sign. But the revulsion is far from universal within your society, and even as you stage entertainment events supposedly decrying the abuse, you commodify it. The actress hawking a fancy watch to make money out of the “Out of Time” sentiment is an indictment of your inability to keep the desire to repent pure.

EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Do not steal.
The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof. Our gracious God has allowed you to own private property, provided that you use it responsibly and remain mindful of God’ ultimate ownership. But you treat your property as absolutely yours, not heeding the hunger of the impoverished or considering the future needs of the very children you are siring. You create societies in which the haves and the have nots are separated by ever greater legal and social barriers. You are not proving yourselves worthy of the divine gift of property ownership.

NINTH COMMANDMENT: Do not lie.
Truth is the seal of the Almighty. Your offenses against truth have been magnified this year beyond the already problematic record of previous years. You used to ignore the truth. Now you deny that it is the truth. You honor people who make a show of subordinating truth to partisan bickering. You balkanize the truth, ignoring what you find inconvenient.

TENTH COMMANDMENT: Do not covet.
Your nation is guilty of coveting the natural resources of the planet, created by our Father in Heaven as a blessing for all time. You are robbing the riches of the earth at a rate far in excess of what the earth’s natural restorative capacity can withstand. Your homes are filled with timber logged illegally from the Amazon and other protected forests, and then cynically and falsely mislabeled, so that American purchasers can pretend to be unaware of the true source of their prestige woods. Some of this wood has recently been identified in Mar-a-lago.

For this last commandment, and for all the other areas in which you are failing to master the Sinai curriculum, you need to understand that the retribution that will come upon you is not some sort of Sunday School deus ex machina intervention– those who teach my texts are often stubbornly wrongheaded in their mindless literalism. No; the retribution that will fall upon your heads is the natural consequences of your actions. Your creation of societies addicted to violence will claim ever more lives, sparing neither young nor old. Your disregard of the holiness of the individual and your corruption of the relationships among peoples will bring to pass the curses that you fancy are the wrath of the Father. Your destruction of the earth’s balance will lead to natural catastrophes of “biblical” magnitude. Already, your port cities flood for many days each year; your savannahs turn into deserts; your polar oceans thaw and threaten to disrupt the circulation
patterns that sustain the environment as you know it and enjoy it. All this you are doing to yourself. Don’t blame God for the inevitable consequences of your own sins.

My students, you must think me a scold, and you fault our Heavenly Father for being wrathful. The truth is just the opposite. This entire curriculum is in place because our Father loves you. Return, o Children.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Michael Panitz

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz – Take 2

5778

TWO TIMELY MESSAGES FROM RABBI PANITZ:

Shalom, readers.
1. Tomorrow is Shabbat Shirah.In celebration of this special day, we will hold our annual celebration of Jewish song. For this year’s Shabbat Shirah song-fest, I have prepared a booklet of well loved Yiddish songs, with words (in English transliteration), translation, and music.So please join me and lift up your voices in the mamaloshen of most of our Ashkenazi ancestors! (For our Sepharadi and Edot Ha-Mizrach members: the music is wonderful, even if not familiar, and I am sure you will enjoy it!)
2. Today is the yahrzeit of my father, Rabbi David H. Panitz, who died on 10 Shevat of 5751.He was a proponent of ecumenical dialogue and action.He was a leader in the National Conference of Christians and Jews.After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my father teamed up with a leading African American Baptist pastor in his home town of Paterson, NJ, to go to the angry streets and restore peace.

So in the spirit of his kind of reading of our tradition, I will share the sermonette I gave at last night’s evening service:

Our tradition is rich in “sidebar stories”, known as midrash. These are stories that amplify the basic story of the Hebrew Bible, spinning yarns based on all sorts of incidental details of the original text.

In this week’s torah reading, we hear about the manna, the miraculous food that, in the Bible story, miraculously rained down from Heaven to feed the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert. One of the verses contains a seemingly superfluous detail:
They would gather it each morning, every man according to his
appetite; and when the sun warmed, it would melt. (Exodus 16:20)

What does it add to the story to give the detail that the manna would melt in the warming weather after dawn? One midrash gives a charming interpretation of this verse, to furnish “added value” explaining the inclusion of that detail:
The manna remaining in the field would melt and turn into streams.
Rams and deer would drink from them. The nations of the world
would hunt those animals and taste the flavor of manna in them.
They would thus know the praiseworthiness of Israel [for whose sake
the manna had come into the world.] (Midrash Mekhilta to Exodus 16:20)

My “take” on this little story is probably different from the intent of the original rabbinic author. The Rabbis of Old loved to build up the People Israel, and they loved to multiply the miraculous. This story does both. But in my reading—an orientation I learned from my father—the story makes a point about the role of the Jew in the wider world:
Blessings have come into this world because of Judaism, and because of Jews.

We are more familiar with the latter, and enumerate the inventions and discoveries by which Jewish men and women have improved our world: the polio vaccine, drip irrigation, the minimum wage and the weekend… it is an enjoyable sport to enumerate the ways in which Jewish creativity has brought good things to life.

But Judaism, too, has been the conduit through which key religious insights have become the property of much of humankind. Principally, the idea that God is One, and that the One God is ethical, is a Jewish discovery. Abraham challenging God to be truly just, true to God’s nature, and spare any innocents who might be in Sodom and Gomorrah from the impending destruction of those wicked cities—that ethical stamp on theology has been the key Jewish insight for all the millennia of our history. Other nations who believe that have inherited it from our tradition. The lesson is even today only imperfectly understood. Those who blow up the houses of worship of other faith communities have not yet learned the lesson of Abraham.

And here is the final point: the blessings that have ennobled Judaism are not fully in this world until they are shared more widely. The Jew fulfills the meaning of being a Jew when he or she engages with the world. The goal is not to subvert other religions, but to ennoble human life. People will tell whatever stories about God, and use whatever names for God, that their own cultures make special. But when their action exemplifies the love of God’s other children, then they are truly living out God’s will, as Judaism has taught. As my father’s own father, Ezekiel Panitz, wrote in his ethical will, “There are people in this world who believe in God even though they do not use God’s name.”

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Michael Panitz

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz 

5778      NEW METHODS FOR A NEW GENERATION

From our years in Sunday School, most of us know the Bible story of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert, getting water miraculously from the rock.

In fact, the Bible has two iterations of this story. There are some significant differences between the two. In Exodus 17—part of this week’s Torah reading– Moses is told to strike the rock so as to produce water. By contrast, in Numbers 20, God tells Moses to speak to the rock, which will trigger the miracle of making waters gush forth. Still, Moses strikes the rock. God then tells Moses that he has sinned; that he has failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people; and that the punishment of Moses will be to die in the Wilderness.

For many generations, Jewish readers have wondered: what was the sin of Moses? While there are several answers, one widely-repeated interpretation is that in the second narrative, Moses did not follow God’s instructions. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck the rock with his staff, when he had not been commanded to do so. Why would Moses have done that? Presumably, because he recalled the previous time, thirty nine-plus years before, when he had faced a similar situation and striking the rock had been the method then.

The lesson for us from this is that last generation’s technique may not be adequate for this generation’s problem.

Let us think about this with respect to the crisis of the synagogue today. Throughout the country, our Conservative/Masorti movement congregations are struggling with declining membership. Some congregations have closed, and others have merged. Most report either flat or shrinking membership rolls.

There are doubtless several reasons for this demographic trend. I will suggest two: Inter-faith couples contemplating marriage tend to affiliate, some for only a year but some for longer, with Reform congregations. This is one “growth stock” for the Reform movement and, conversely, an obstacle to the ability of our own movement to retain the younger generation as members. Another cause may be the pattern of institutional affiliation of the millennial generation. In a number of areas in life, they display the preference to purchase individual services rather than to pay dues to become members of institutions.

In the face of this crisis of continuity, it is time for our movement to have two conversations:
1. Should we revisit our policies regarding Conservative rabbis and intermarrying couples?
2. Should we revisit the institutional structure of our congregational life, and move away from the dues model to a fee-for-service model, or some model of more flexibly defined membership?

Our association of Conservative rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, is now looking closely at the first of these issues. As you may expect, there is much internal debate. I will share with you the evolving thinking of our fellow Conservative Jewish leaders as it becomes public information.

With respect to the second of these issues, we may note that some Jewish movements, such as Chabad, have done well without congregational dues. It is an open question, however, whether a non-orthodox Chabad-type institution might flourish. The chavurah movement, for example, is an alternative to traditional dues-structured synagogues. After a promising start in the 1970’s, the chavurah as an institution has more or less just held its own, still functioning in a few places, but not growing appreciably.

What is clear to me is that the time has come for us to think frankly about what new answers to perennial questions will be correct for today and tomorrow. They may not be the answers that were correct for yesterday. When we have our necessary conversations, we will need to clarify what is temporary, and what is permanent, in our Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Michael Panitz

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz 

5778 Moses and Lady Liberty versus Pharaoh and Latter-Day Nativists

(Emma Lazarus, American-Jewish Poet)
We are Jews by virtue of the stories we tell and the patterns of behavior, grounded in those stories, which we perform. The most fundamental of all of our stories is the saga of the birth of our nation in the iron cauldron of Egyptian slavery, our extraordinary liberation, and our subsequent “Mt. Sinai moment”, where we reached the take off point on our journey through history as one nation, indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

No wonder that we, as Jews, feel the parallels to the story of the United States of America! Our America is a land where people oppressed in other countries can arrive, pursue their happiness, in keeping with the fundamental rights endowed on all by our Creator, and in so doing build up this country to greatness. That’s the story of your grandparents and mine. They came here as the “wretched refuse of the teeming shores” of countries where they had no citizenship, but only persisting civil disabilities. Upon arrival, they found, not streets paved with gold, but a land of opportunity. They seized those opportunities, worked hard, sacrificed present consumption for the education of their children, and made America better even as they improved their own lives.

Well…. That’s not quite the consensus story of America. Our Jewish parallel is with one particular story of the United States of America. As it turns out, our story as Jewish Americans is often challenged by other stories, also told by Americans, but with a very different moral. A story coming out of both governmental and red-neck circles, with increasing venom, is that we are not quite equal to other Americans. According to this counter-story, the America of the Founders was a Christian country, and since we are not Christians, in some sense, we are not quite first-class Americans. Others, too, suffer from that put-down: Latinos, people of color, those with gender identities other than the majority…

Our Jewish-American story is in line with the constitution of the United States, and with what Dr. King called the arc of history, slowly bending towards justice. America the real was never America the ideal, but in some ways, it has approached it with every advance of liberty, every extension of the voting franchise, every incremental egalitarian transformation of the aristocratic or plutocratic privilege brought here by Old World bigots and selfishly promoted by their American-born followers.

Our story of America is grounded in our story of the Exodus. As a Jew, I believe that our story is the correct one, because the Bible clearly shows us where the roots of the counter-story, the bigots’ story, lie. Those who think that Jews are not full-fledged Americans, even if they go to Church every Sunday, are not followers of Moses. They are followers of Pharaoh:

Pharaoh began the enslavement of the Israelites by a demagogic appeal to the nativism of Egyptians: those foreigners are growing too numerous for us! Let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they harm our country!

Pharaoh’s words were echoed by the immigration restrictionists in Congress, one hundred years ago, who succeeded in slamming the door to this country, barring most of the people arriving from “undesirable” countries (I won’t stoop to repeating the words attributed to the president about such countries). Then, as now, nativists wanted Nordic immigrants. The leading American nativist of a century ago, Madison Grant, warned that unrestricted immigration would lead to “The Passing of the American Race”, which, of course, meant the race of White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants.

The answer to Pharaoh was given by God, through Moses: “You shall be a kingdom of priests [all of you, first-class citizens], and a holy nation”. Much later, the answer to the Madison Grants of this country was penned by the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus and inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Michael Panitz

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz 

January 11, 2018

THE MOST SURPRISING PART OF THE STORY…

We all know the story, because it is a key part of our identity: Our ancestors were slaves in Egypt. God heard our cries and sent Moses to tell Pharaoh, “let my people go!” But Pharaoh resisted, so God sent the Plagues, and finally, when the plagues reached Pharaoh’s own house, he relented. That’s our story, and we have the matzah to prove it!

Based on this story, what do you think would be the Bible’s attitude towards Egyptians? It would be unsurprising if the Bible retained a negative attitude… but this is the most surprising part of the Biblical response to slavery: it commands us not to abhor an Egyptian, because we were aliens in that land. (Deuteronomy 23:8)

Why does the Bible command us not to abhor an Egyptian? Is it because the Egyptian people were not to blame for the dictatorial actions of the Pharaoh? It is commonplace to say that we are not at war with an enemy people, but only with its government, and that when the wicked regime will be replaced, peace will ensue. That is a hopeful approach, and sometimes it helps to shape reality.

But sometimes it is simply naïve. The German people, for example, voted Hitler into power. Perhaps they did not foresee in 1933 that he was going to take them to a ruinous war, but they continued to support him, so long as Germany was winning.

I believe that the Bible is not telling us that the common Egyptian peasant was free of anti-Israelite prejudice, and therefore, we ought not abhor him. On the contrary, in Genesis 46:34, narrating the beginning of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, the Bible suggests that already then, the Israelites were headed towards unpopularity. Joseph has his brothers explain to Pharaoh that they are cattlemen, so that Pharaoh will settle them in the land of Goshen, away from the Egyptians, since cattle-herding is abhorrent to the Egyptians. (That same word, “abhor”, again!)

Perhaps there is a sort of caste-distaste here. Or perhaps it is a religiously-inspired hatred. That exact problem arose in an Egyptian-Jewish community, centuries later, in the Persian period. There was a colony of Jewish mercenaries and their families in the Nile island town of Elephantine, near the Great Cataract of the river marking the southern border of the Persian empire, 2500 years ago. The Persians were tolerant of the Jews, and some of our ancestors found employ as border guards. But their Egyptian neighbors resented them. The Egyptians worshiped a ram-god, Khnum, and they were offended by the Jewish practice of offering sheep up as sacrifices on the altar of their Temple. (Yes, the Jews of Elephantine had their own Temple, much to the consternation of the authorities of the “official” Temple in Jerusalem— but that is the subject fit for another column.) Eventually, the Egyptians bribed the Persian governor to turn a blind eye, and they massacred the entire
Jewish community.

Back to the Bible, and from there, to our own world: If the Bible is not telling us that relations with the average Egyptian were good, then why is it commanding us not to abhor an Egyptian? Precisely because we had experienced the worst, when we were aliens. So, in the society that we were charged with creating, the majority would treat aliens well. Our mandate was to revolutionize inter-personal behavior, to create societies in which the Universal Parenthood of the One God would result in our treating our fellow humans, at last, as brothers and sisters. The great sage, Hillel, put it simply: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

This is a lesson for today, no less than the Bronze Age, and for America, no less than the storied lands of the Bible.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Michael Panitz

============================================================
Copyright © 2018 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.

 

By

Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz 

QUESTION: I need to teach tolerance as a Jewish value. What Jewish texts can I use?

ANSWER:

For the purposes of this answer, I will assume that the questioner is envisioning teaching in settings where the primary Hebrew sources need to be available in English translation and the secondary sources will be in English. If in fact there is need for other languages (Russian for recent immigrants, etc.), that can be handled in a follow-up question.

Tolerance is a key Jewish value—although, given the high degree of polarization of Jewish opinion in both Israel and the USA, tracking the liberal vs. conservative debate that is at the heart of western political life, this claim is perhaps more challenged today than in recent times. Nonetheless, Jews ought to resist having our own tradition’s clear teachings hijacked by the compartmentalization of topics that characterizes, each in its own way, both liberalism and conservatism. Judaism has insights claimed by each camp. Tolerance belongs in both.

The Jewish notion of tolerance is rooted in the basic Jewish understanding of the relationship each of us has with the Other. Ever since Adam and Eve, the process of human development, as portrayed in Judaism, involves learning to live with the Other. Our first book, Genesis, depicts one strained relationship after another, until Joseph, at the end of the book (Genesis chapter 50) expresses the heart of the matter: we do not stand in the place of God, and therefore, we must be forgiving.

Tolerance of the Other is actually about tolerance of differences. This is the essence of the matter, because precisely by virtue of being different, the “Other” poses challenges to the “Self”

The Hebrew value concept encompassing this is “kevod ha-b’riyot”, meaning “The honor of the Other.” The word for the Other literally means “[God’s] creations”. This phrase underscores the Jewish understanding that all people are children of God. As Rabbi Akiva phrased it, “Beloved is the human, for the human is created in God’s image.” Pirke Avot 3:14.

Clearly, the chain of Jewish sources, both Biblical and Rabbinic, expressing the religion’s exhortation to Jews to obey the “Golden Rule”, is also appropriate to this discussion. Leviticus 19: 18, “v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha—love your neighbor as yourself” is the base text for this value. One of the founding fathers of the Rabbinic movement, Hillel, couched it as “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”; he also expressed the fundamental obligation to balance self-respect with responsibility to others: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14).

Within the broadest category of the “Other”, there are those concerning whom our tradition especially preaches and commands tolerance:

One such group in need of—and receiving—the protection of the halakhah (the system of Jewish law) consists of people whose physical and mental abilities are different from most others’. In the Talmud, Tractate Berakhot 58b, the Rabbis formulated a benediction to be recited upon seeing a differently-abled person, “Barukh ata… meshaneh et ha-b’riyot: Blessed are You, LORD… who makes people different.”

This rabbinic celebration of physical and mental diversity, in turn, rests upon the Biblical insistence that everyone is created in God’s image, as mentioned above: See Genesis 1:26-27. The Bible itself translates that insight from the realm of narrative into the realm of law, by prohibiting various actions that would harm the disabled either physically or in reputation: Leviticus 19:14: “Do not curse a deaf person, and do not place a stumbling block before a blind person; Fear your God.”

It follows that the worth of an individual is not limited to that person’s economic or social utility. We are commanded to be tolerant, regardless of whether the Other can be useful to us, because that is an essential part of our understanding of what it means to be human.

Hence, the Jewish description of deeds of loving kindness performed on behalf of the dying or the dead as “hesed shel emet– true deeds of loving kindness”; true, in the sense of being wholly altruistic and therefore undiminished by an expectation of reciprocity. This phrase is first attested in Genesis 47:29, when Jacob uses it to describe the request he makes of his son Joseph, to see to it that Jacob will be buried not in Egypt, but back home, in the Promised Land.

The halakhah also specifies instances where people are at risk of harming each other because of their different histories:

Classically, Jewish texts teaching tolerance are often presented as mitzvoth (commandments) concerning social and economic interactions. For example, the Jewish insistence that tolerance of others overrides narrow economic self-interest finds abundant expression in rabbinic laws about the ethical conduct of commerce. Mishnah Bava Metsiachapter 4 is an elaborate discussion of the concept of “’ona’ah”, “oppression”. For example, it is oppressive for the shop keeper to take advantage of the gullibility of children.

In that chapter, the Rabbis themselves extend their legal development of the prohibition against “oppression” to include verbal, as well as commercial, manifestations. One is not allowed to remind a penitent of his former, sinful ways, nor a convert of his immoral conduct prior to his embrace of Judaism. (To be sure, that last stricture reflects its times. Today’s converts would surely not all be presumed to have lived immoral lives prior to their becoming Jewish.) Again, in their commentary to the conclusion of Psalm 104, “yitammu chata’im min ha-‘aretz” (“Let sin disappear from the land”), the Rabbis emphasize: “sin”, and not “the sinner”. The import of this is to welcome the person whose past behavior violated the norms of our tradition, but who is now penitent. This, in turn, is connected to the theme of tolerance because it concretizes the value of suspending negative judgment on the Other.

In recent years, our society has focused increasingly on those whose sexual orientation is not fully expressed by traditional categories. The discussion has lamentably become a political wedge issue.

In adapting pre-modern Jewish sources for this contemporary discussion, it is important to remember first principles. One may read the classical halakhah and find various categories in which the tumtum and the androgenus (two categories of people whose sexual characteristics were either undeveloped or androgynous) were distinguished from males and females; but the overarching ethical reality is that all people are the Other whom we are bidden to love and respect.

The Torah devotes much attention to enjoining tolerance of those belonging to groups other than Judaism. The commandment to “love the ger” (resident alien, living in the midst of Jewish society) is a leitmotif of the Biblical law codes.

Broadly speaking, Judaism develops two arguments in favor of tolerance of the non-Jew: first, our common humanity, and second, the need for Jews to seek peace by means of deeds of kindness to all.

The first argument: The Jewish people is one branch of the human family, a family that, following Biblical narrative, is envisioned by the Rabbis as proceeding from Adam and Eve, our universal parents. Rabbinic discussions of the universal parenthood of Adam and Eve focus on the ethical implications of asserting that humans are all members of one family, and therefore, that no one can claim to be a superior breed of human to other groups. See Mishnah Sanhedrin chapter 4.

The second argument: The Rabbis codified a number of deeds of loving-kindness that Jews are expected to perform on behalf of Gentiles, as part of our commitment to darkhei shalom, the “paths of peace.” For example, Jews are bidden to visit the sick of the other nations, help in burying their dead, and so on.

In the Jewish vision of y’mot ha-mashiach, the ideal future traditionally terms “the days of the Messiah”, tolerance replaces the fratricide of current-day inter-group relations. The prophet Isaiah expressed it in stirring terms: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isa. 2:4) Thus, the broad tradition of Jewish teachings about the high importance of achieving and maintaining peace is also a resource for the teacher, looking to show students our texts on tolerance.

A SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. General and Encyclopedic Treatments of Jewish Ethics, including topics dealing with tolerance:

Amsel, Nachum, The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues. Jason Aronson, 1996.

Birnbaum, Philip. A Book of Jewish Concepts. Hebrew Publishing Co., 1975.

Dorff, Elliot N. The Way into Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World). Jewish Lights, 2005. See especially the concluding section, “Forward”, articulating a vision of how tolerance helps actualize a repaired world.

Freeman, Susan. Teaching Jewish Virtues: Sacred Sources and Arts Activities. A.R.E. Publishing, 1999. See especially chapter 3, “Dan L’Chaf Zechut: Give the Benefit Of the Doubt”, chapter 13, “Ohev Zeh et Zeh/ Mechabayd Zeh et Zeh: Loving and Honoring Others” and chapter 21, “Somekh Noflim v’rofay Cholim: Supporting And Healing”

Isaacs, Ronald H. Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values. Ktav, 1999.

Klagsbrun, Francine. Voices of Wisdom: Jewish Ideals and ethics for Everyday Living. Jonathan David Publishers, 1980.

Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers. William Morrow and Co., 1994.

______________. A Code of Jewish Ethics, vol. 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Bell Tower, 2009/

2. Toleration in Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism:

Barukh Levine, “Tolerance in Ancient Israelite Monotheism”,

Jacob Neusner, “Theological Foundations of Tolerance in Classical Judaism” and

Alan J. Avery-Peck, “Tolerance of Idols and Idol Worshipers in Early Rabbinic Law…”, all in Neusner, Jacob and Bruce Chilton, editors, Religious Tolerance in World Religions. Templeton Foundation Press, 2008.

3. Philosophical Discussions of Tolerance within the Discourse of Jewish Ethics:

Fox, Marvin, editor, Modern Jewish Ethics: Theory and Practice. Ohio State University Press, 1975. See especially the role of tolerance in the ethical systems articulated by Ernst Simon, “The Neighbor Whom We Shall Love” and Emmanuel Levinas, “Ideology and Idealism”.

4. Jewish Sources and Perspectives on the Differently-Abled:

Astor, Carl, Who Makes People Different: Jewish Perspectives on the Disabled. United Synagogue of America, 1985.

Siegel, Danny and Michael Katz. Jewish Perspectives on Beauty and Ugliness. Leader’s Training Fellowship publication of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 1978.

Rabbi Michael Panitz

Masorti/ Conservative

Rosh Chodesh Tevet, 5778

============================================================
Copyright © 2017 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Rabbi’s Recommended Reading

Dvar Torah

Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz, Conservative Yeshiva of Jerusalem, Director of North American Engagement

Sigmund Freud considered dreams the “royal road to the unconscious” – glimpses of the way we wrestle with repressed material our ego hides from our conscious minds. For Freud, it is the dreamer who is revealed to the dream interpreter.

It would appear that this is how Joseph’s brothers understand dreams – the bowing wheat and celestial bodies signs that Joseph wants to, expects to, or thinks he already does rule over them. So they resent him, mock him, and punish him, taking the one who thinks he is above them, and casting him down.

But perhaps the real reason the brothers seek Joseph’s death, and eventually sell him into slavery, is that they fear that Joseph’s dreams reveal the future itself, not just how the dreamer feels about the past or present. If so, the brothers’ act is their desperate attempt to avert the prophecy.

But did Joseph know that his dreams were visions of the future? When Joseph tells his brother about his dreams, he does so without interpretation, so it is unclear if Joseph has already seen how everything is to unfold. Our only evidence is his silence and inaction. Before leaving to find his brothers, he speaks with his father. When he reaches Shechem, he speaks to the man who find him there. But from the moment he finds his brothers to his being taken away to Egypt, he says nothing. He does not ask them what they are doing or why, he does not cry out for them to stop, and he doesn’t bemoan his situation. He seems to accept it all, if not expect it. Whether or not he has seen the specifics, he seems confident it will turn out alright.

For the cupbearer and baker, however, Joseph not only explains the general message of the dreams, but also how and when they will come true. He delivers the pronouncements flatly, and both the cupbearer and baker accept them wordlessly, further indication of their collective belief that the future cannot be altered – either due to its very nature or the limited options available to an imprisoned man with only 3 days to live.

For Pharaoh’s dreams Joseph again interprets both their meaning and the how and when they will come true. But here, something changes. Even though the dream says that the seven bad years will fully consume the good years, such that “no trace of the abundance will be left in the land because of the famine thereafter” and that “the matter has been determined by God” he convinces Pharaoh that it is nevertheless possible to avert the negative prophecy, if only he adopts Joseph’s plan and puts a certain guy in charge of it all.

But if human action can change Egypt’s future, that opens up the possibility that the brothers’ actions had altered Joseph’s future, and Joseph is roused to action. After meeting 10 of his brothers, he sets in motion a complex and convoluted plan to get them to bring Benjamin, the 11th (42:20). Why? Because in his first dream (37:7) ALL of the brothers’ wheat sheafs bowed down to his! When all of the brothers are present in Egypt, Joseph’s first dream has come true. But in order to make the second come true, Joseph must reveal himself to his brothers and get them to convince Jacob and Leah (and the rest of Jacob’s house) to come down to Egypt (45:9). Why? Because in his second dream (37:9) the Sun and Moon bowed to him as well!

Over the course of his life, Joseph goes from one who sees, to one who interprets, to one who acts. He understands that the future is not always given; human action can prevent a negative prophecy from coming true, a positive prophecy from coming true, and can even fix a prophecy that has been broken.

As Rabbi Akiva says in Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, and free will is given.” And as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: “if you believe that you can damage something, believe you can fix it”.

============================================================
Copyright © 2017 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

 

By

Rabbi’s Recommended Reading

** Israel ‘expects’ its chess players to make history by playing in Saudi tourney**
World Chess Federation says it is making ‘huge effort’ to ensure visas are approved for upcoming competition in Riyadh

————————————————————

Israeli chess players could make history by participating in a tournament in Saudi Arabia after the international chess governing body on Tuesday said it was pushing to allow it to happen.

A spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation told AFP seven players had filed requests for visas to participate in the games to be held in Riyadh on December 26-30 as part of the world rapid and blitz chess championships.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations. The presence of Israelis there would be highly unusual, and comes as officials from the Jewish state increasingly hint at covert ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common fear of Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region.

Georgios Makropoulos, deputy president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), said that the papers of the seven Israeli chess players — five men and two women — had been handed to the Saudi organizers “and the visa status is currently pending.”

“We are making a huge effort to assure that all players get their visas,” Makropoulos said in a Tuesday statement.

The Israeli chess federation said it “supports FIDE’s policy to hold the tournament in Saudi alongside FIDE’s commitment to ensure the participation of Israelis would not be subject to limitations,” spokesman Lior Aizenberg told AFP.

“We expect the Saudis, aided by FIDE, to approve our requests for visas to play,” he said.

Aizenberg noted the Israeli chess federation chairman Zvika Barkai had discussed the issue of the Saudi visas with Makropoulos as well as with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who recently visited Israel.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said he didn’t believe there would be a problem for the Israelis to participate in the Riyadh games if the visas were granted.

Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing around the Middle East due to hostility toward their country.

In a recent incident, an Iranian wrestler was lauded by his government after he intentionally lost  an international bout at a tournament in Poland over the weekend to avoid having to face an Israeli opponent.

————————————————————

============================================================
Copyright © 2017 Temple Israel, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive notices from Temple Israel.
Our mailing address is:
Temple Israel
7255 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23505
USA

Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp
http://www.mailchimp.com/monkey-rewards/?utm_source=freemium_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=monkey_rewards&aid=483892614cb7718af81d3231b&afl=1
** unsubscribe from this list (https://templeisraelva.us6.list-manage.com/unsubscribe?u=483892614cb7718af81d3231b&id=3077fe0150&e=0defe36426&c=9d2e4423f1)
| ** update subscription preferences (https://templeisraelva.us6.list-manage.com/profile?u=483892614cb7718af81d3231b&id=3077fe0150&e=0defe36426)