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.
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
In This Moment: Coronation with Representation: Jews, Muslims and Sikhs Play the Palace; Jerry Springer in Stamford
In This Moment
Our 7th grade class's mock wedding took place last Sunday.
And for the first time in Jewish history, the rings doubled as dessert!
Coronation With Representation
King Charles bucks tradition, adds (some) inclusivity
In the Sh'ma's opening paragraph, the one that begins "You shall love," it states that "these words shall be on your heart."
Why on your heart and not in it?
The Kotzker rebbe responds. "We should at least keep these words "on" our hearts, for everyone has a time when his heart opens, and if we have kept the words on our hearts, then they will be ready to fall in, in that short moment of openness."
The British royal heart seems to have grown a few sizes since the last time a sovereign assumed the throne.
At this weekend's coronation, representatives of faith groups other than the Anglican Church, including Jews, will be participating, which is unprecedented. Not only that, but because it will be on Shabbat, Charles has made special accommodations so the Chief Rabbi will be able to attend. Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, will have the rare honor of staying with the King and Queen Consort. And Israel's President Herzog will also be staying close by, within walking distance.
Rabbi Mirvis told the BBC: "This showed his deep concern for other faiths, his respect for other faiths. It’s great—he’s now the head of the church but at the same time, he’s the champion of other faiths.”
Mirvis will also be speaking his part without having to use a microphone on Shabbat.
Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders will take part in various aspects of the coronation. All of these groups, which constitute a significant and growing percentage of Charles' subjects, will now be able to feel included in this grand celebration. But ow far can this inclusiveness go? Could any of those religious representatives themselves qualify to become king or queen? And what about Catholics?
Here's what you can't be in order to qualify as a British monarch:
You can't be a Catholic
You can't be a bastard
It helps to be a male
Did I say you can't be a Catholic?
Non Anglicans need not apply.
If you are divorced, or marrying someone who is, it gets complicated. It's now allowed, but discouraged.
Unless you are Catholic. Then it doesn't matter.
Interestingly, it would appear that mental illness is not a disqualifier for the throne. Here's a (very partial) list of mentally ill monarchs. Evidently the British royal family has dropped their "stiff upper lip" and now will more readily admit to these kinds of challenges.
There are strange qualifications for leadership in various cultures. Which brings me to our Torah portion.
I've always encouraged our students to challenge the Torah if they find a verse problematic or offensive. I see it as a sign of true religious maturity to ask tough questions of the text. One part of this week's portion of Emor has prompted more consternation than most. It's where the qualifications for the priesthood are discussed. The list from Leviticus 21disqualifies priests who are blind or lame, who have a limb that is too short or too long or broken, priests who have a hunchback or who are short, priests with a growth in their eye, and priests with crushed testes (ouch!).
The fact that disabilities or deformities are grounds for disqualification is anathema to many Jews, and many of our b'nai mitzvah have close relatives who are physically or mentally challenged. These prohibitions really bothers them, more than almost any other controversial prohibition in the Torah.
So how could this have been allowed? It's not so far fetched to disqualify people who appear impaired when you think that a generation ago, before the advent of TV, a US president had to hide the fact that he was wheelchair bound.
But the restrictions on the priesthood in Leviticus are not as much of an indictment of Jewish ethics as it seems. The priest was more of a figurehead than an actual leader. Aaron, the first cohen, spoke beautifully, but it was Moses' words that he spoke to Pharaoh, not his own. Moses, who was speech-challenged, was the actual leader; he made all the decisions. The priest never actually legislated, judged or ruled in ancient Israel. He hardly made any decisions at all; not on policy, not on diplomacy and not even on what to wear. Everything was laid out by protocol (and by his priestly dressers). Like the British monarch, the cohen was there to symbolize the state, on coins, at festivals, wherever a figurehead was needed. They were asked to keep their opinions to themselves, much as Charles has toned down his advocacy for pet projects like Climate Change since he's become King.
Still, the mere fact of such a lack of inclusivity is disquieting.
Rabbis have no restrictions on their appearance or skills. Basically, any Jew can qualify as a rabbi. In a few weeks, on Pride Shabbat on June 2, we'll have as our guest a well known rabbi who happens to be blind - the first female rabbi with that challenge. Rabbi Lauren Tuchman (no relation to a TBE'er with a similar name), will speak of theTransformative Power of an Inclusive Torah, also the title of her Eli talk.
Judaism is not about keeping people out, especially since talented leaders are so needed.
The British monarchy? Not so inclusive. But improving. We just need to hope that the heart will eventually open wide and those words of love and inclusion will fall in. At some point there will be no outsiders, no strangers, and Jews, Muslims - and Catholics - won't have to act so overjoyed with simply being tolerated and invited to the feast.
Listen to this brand new version of "Adon Olam"
composed in honor of the Coronation of King Charles.
As part of the Jewish community’s celebrations in honour of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III on May 6th 2023, a brand new adaptation of an ancient Jewish song composed by Stephen Levey and arranged by The Portnoy Brothers is being released digitally on Friday 28 April 2023. A musician ensemble based in the Ukraine participated in the production by providing all the strings and orchestration.
‘Adon Olam’ – which translated means ‘Lord of the Universe’ – is a hymn that has been part of the Jewish daily and Sabbath liturgy since the 15th Century and which speaks of God in both cosmic terms and as a personal presence in our lives.
Wienerworld worked in partnership with the United Synagogue to invite 200 primary school children from five Jewish schools in the London area to learn the song and come together to record this new composition together with featured artists The Portnoy Brothers. The United Synagogue is the largest synagogue body in Europe, supporting some 60 Jewish communities across England.
King Charles III has always been a stalwart personal friend to the Jewish community. It is hoped that this new recording of ‘Adon Olam’ will act as further recognition of the community’s affection for the Royal Family and our gratitude that Jews can observe their customs and traditions safely and openly in the UK.
Here's an excerpt from my first piece on Springer:
Some would claim that Jews are disproportionately represented among rabble-rousers. That category, loosely constructed, includes union activists, politicians, journalists and lawyers, all very “Jewish” professions. But I’m talking about the real rousers, people with the rare combination of charisma, sarcasm and political savvy — people like Lenny Bruce, Harvey Milk, Bella Abzug and shock jocks like Stern and, yes, Jerry Springer. The Torah calls the rabble afasfsoof, an alliterative expansion of the word for “gathering,” suggesting an arena full of unhappy hockey fans. Demagogues like Korach manipulate the mob, while organizers like Moses channel their anger and craving into constructive, world-repairing activity. That’s where Bella and Harvey succeeded, and where Jerry continues to fail.
But why give up hope? Jerry, former mayor of Cincinnati, clearly has a talent for leadership. He might be one good High Holy Days sermon away from tossing off all that craziness and channeling that asafsoof anger into the kind of compassion that could make miracles happen. Imagine all those Springer fans leaving the studio and heading for their pickups, but instead of hopping back onto I-95, they cruise on over to the local food pantry to stock the shelves.
Imagine how much good Jerry could do.
The Colosseum’s Jewish Connection (AISH) to the ancient Colosseum in Rome are awed by its sheer size. Measuring 620 by 512 feet, it’s a massive structure; six and a half football fields could fit inside its space, with room to spare. Rising four stories into the sky, the Colosseum has 80 entrances and used to hold more than 50,000 spectators who flocked to this landmark to watch games during the height of the Roman Empire. But few guidebooks mention why the Colosseum was built or how its sponsors could afford to build what was the largest amphitheater in the ancient world. The Colosseum was built to commemorate the sacking and destruction of Jerusalem, and was funded by loot stolen from the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Harold Kushner asked God tough questions and shared the answers with all of us (NPR). From "When Bad Things Happen to Good People": The idea that God gives people what they deserve, that our misdeeds cause our misfortune, is a neat and attractive solution to the problem of evil at several levels, but it has a number of serious limitations. As we have seen, it teaches people to blame themselves. It creates guilt even where there is no basis for guilt. It makes people hate God, even as it makes them hate themselves. And most disturbing of all, it does not even fit the facts.
Israel of the earth (TOI - Sarah Tuttle Singer)Come meet the Israel I know, where I live and love - what I see and hear and taste and smell and feel. Maybe you'll feel it too. -- Israel of the earth is the life in our streets — it’s the lurch of the buses as they rumble through the city. It’s the grandmother on the bus who sees a random soldier across the aisle and thrusts a Tupperware container of chicken and rice at him and tells him he looks too skinny and he needs to eat. It’s the bus driver singing along to Taylor Swift on the radio, and the yeshiva student trying not to hum along. It’s the taxi drivers with the best stories and the advice (“Listen to your wife! Whatever she says, just do it, do it quickly, and do it with a smile!”). It’s the barista who is studying art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and will write your name on the foam, no extra charge, the chef who’s opening his first restaurant featuring a modern Israeli twist on his grandmother’s recipes from Morocco.
Parsha Packets for Emor
Food and Ethics: The Implications of our food choices - This week's portion contains one of several Torah references to the practice of gleaning (Leket) - leaving some of the harvest in the field for the poor. Read here about how this important mitzvah is put into practice.