Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, April 9, 2021
In This Moment: Porky's Revenge, In-Between Times, Vaccine Passports
In This Moment
April 9, 2021
Click to watch this week's Town Hall event with Senator Blumenthal
A busy week, highlighted by our Town Meeting with Senator Blumenthal (was that an official 2022 kickoff that I heard, on his home Zoom?) as well as Yom Hashoah. In Israel, Bibi received the mandate to form a government, but the numbers do not currently favor him. Read Marc Shulman's excellent analysis of what's going on there, and this piece about the racist party that would become part of a prospective right-wing government.
Tonight will mark our last scheduled Friday night that is totally virtual, although it should be noted that beginning next week, each week we will decide on Thursday whether to revert to a Zoom-only service because of weather concerns. So check your local listings. In any event, all services will still be available at home, so no one should feel pressured to attend in person.
Shabbat morning I'll be discussing the portion of Shemini, which features the Torah's most comprehensive discussion of the laws and concepts of Kashrut. Here is the discussion packet and fact sheet on Kashrut, and some links to additional "How tos" and "Whats." With its roots in the Bible, the system of defining which foods are Kosher was developed by the rabbis of late antiquity. Its application to changing realities has been the work of subsequent generations, including our own.
Tomorrow I'll focus on that most quintessential of Kashrut's foils, the pig - and did you see in today's NYT how wild boars are taking over Haifa? Sweet revenge for the porcine family! And yet, at the same time, on the front page of Ha'aretz today, archeological proof that the taboo against pork was strong even in medieval Oxford (where there is no shortage of bacon and lard, so I hear). So lots of piggledy wiggledy to discuss tomorrow.
The Place In Between
We've reached a strange "in-between" place, a moment of liminality, between one stage of our lives, and the next. Religion lives in these spaces; as we stand at a threshold, where we can shed one identity and begin to assume a new role. For many of us, as we exit from the year of Covid, we will be leaving behind loved ones who never quite got here. Our good friend Rabbi Vicki Axe is commemorating the first yahrzeit of her beloved Harold, and she has pulled together her thoughts into a podcast and lovely essay, "Love and Loss in the Time of Covid." You can link to the essay and podcast here.
Whatever our situation, the next few months are going to be transitional, and then some. Over the past several days, I've been dealing with people planning all those postponed weddings and namings - and for those who are getting married after having spend Covid under the same roof as their future spouse, it will be as if they've already been married for a decade even before the glass is broken. The consensus is that the timespan of Covid living can be measured in dog years.
So we are about to enter the most religiously charged few months of this generation. Really, we entered it a year ago. But it will not end when the doors open. It will be raised to a new level. Let's make the most of this time of growth and change.
As we prepare to cross that threshold, there has been much discussion of so-called vaccine passports, and whether vaccination should be required for admission to schools, businesses, sporting events and, oh yes, places of worship. This should not be a politically-tinged conversation (just like masks shouldn't be). Last week, the libertarian party of Kentucky was called out for what Forbes described as "an extremely poor comparison of vaccination passport programs to the yellow Star of David that was forced to be worn by Jews during the Holocaust." (See for yourself: "Vaccine Passport Comparison To Holocaust Symbols Stirs Debate.")
This midrash explains why: A group of people were sitting in a boat. One person pulled out a hand-drill and proceeded to drill a hole beneath their seat. The fellow passengers screamed at the incredulous sight and asked, “What do you think you’re doing?!” The hole-driller dismissed the question and responded, “What do you care? Am I not drilling under my seat?”
That is precisely why we will need to reenter society with our vaccine passports in hand. Below is the full quote of the midrash, for you to clip and save - and place it in your wallet, right next to your vaccination card.