A Rabbi’s Apology


September 1, 2011

Dear Members of the Board of Directors:

It has come to my attention that I may have made a few small errors in judgment over this, my first year as your rabbi. I would like to acknowledge that if I could do certain things over again, I would have made slightly different choices so as to avoid the occasional “ruffled feather” that I only now realize my style may have engendered in certain instances.

To begin with, if I had it to do over again, I would not have thrown the cheesecake at Mrs. Blumenstein during the All-Night Shavuot Study Session last summer. I didn’t believe her horror was genuine at the moment she pleaded with me not to throw the cake, and I thought a little surprise slapstick humor would help break up the mental heavy lifting of the long hours of late night study. I realize now that I read the social cues incorrectly. I am sorry.

Additionally, if I could turn back the clock to six months ago, I would not have insisted that the synagogue host an open-mike limerick contest on St. Patrick’s Day in conjunction with the Irish tavern across the street from our shul, as a gesture of cross-cultural neighborliness. I did not foresee that the combination of too much beer and the foul possibilities of the limerick as a genre would result in what some older members of our congregation ended up describing in histrionic terms as a “desecration of our sanctuary.” I also did not realize that the delicious Irish deli tray our guests provided would include items whose kashrut status was questionable. I would like to point out, however, that our building manager ultimately acknowledged that I was right when I stated that the carpet on the bimah was stain-proofed and that everything, including the vomit, would come out with a little steam cleaning, which I paid for from my discretionary funds.

I regret that I thought Deliverance would be a good movie to show our Talmud Torah students in celebration of Passover.

I see now that my attempt at humor just before the Cantor chanted “ha-melech” last Rosh Hashanah, in which I tried to pun on the English slang notion of the Divine “throne” being like a toilet, was ill-timed.  Despite my intent, the joke failed to soften the somber atmosphere of the High Holy Days and draw us closer together through its informality.  I do dispute, however, Mr. Finkelstein’s angry letter to the Board in which he stated that many congregants reacted with shock when I made the joke.  I prefer to understand their reaction as one of awe, and after all Rosh Hashanah is part of the Days of Awe. Perhaps Mr. Finkelstein and I can meet each other halfway, and agree that the congregants who were offended reacted with shock and awe.  I would hasten to remind the Board that the theme of the High Holy Days is forgiveness. Continue reading “A Rabbi’s Apology”


One of my Leviticus / LGBT jawns

First, for those unfamiliar with Philly slang, this.

Okay. This is me archiving this piece that Keshet and My Jewish Learning ran a few years ago, being re-shared now in case it’s useful to someone.

“Among LGBT Jews & their allies, Leviticus is a dirty word”

Among LGBT Jews and their allies, Leviticus is a dirty word. And not just because of its two famous homophobic verses. There are many challenging issues with Leviticus. For instance, while we support gender equality, Leviticus establishes an all-male system of ritual leadership. While we affirm the equal worth of people with physical disabilities, Leviticus excludes them from the priesthood. And of course, while we celebrate the blessing and beauty in loving same-sex relationships, Leviticus prescribes the death penalty for gay men who have intercourse.

So how do we work with a sacred text that is at odds with some of our deepest values–values that other parts of Torah affirm (like every person being created in God’s image)? For me, it starts with an approach to sacred texts that views them as human-created documents. Consistent with my Reconstructionist philosophy, I view the Torah as a record of our Israelite ancestors’ best efforts to describe their experiences of God and Truth.

Continue reading “One of my Leviticus / LGBT jawns”

“These aren’t people. These are animals.”

Legally here or not, immigrants are human.

Even gang members who do horrible things are human.

War criminals are human.

Terrorists are human.

Presidents who start wars on false intel, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, are human.

Jews are human.

Muslims are human.

Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Druze, Baha’is, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and people of every faith and no faith are human.

Black people are human.

White people are human.

Con artists are human.

Narcissists with power are human.

Lawyers who funnel hush money to porn stars are human.

Porn stars are human.

ICE agents are human.

Cops are human.

People I see on TV and can’t stand are human.

People who rant and make statements referring to others as animals are human, and so are the people who object to those statements.

To be human is to be made in the Divine image.

This is essential.

This is the Torah on one foot.

This is the Noble Qur’an, the Gospels, and the entire wisdom of the 12 steps all in one.

Rabbi Akiva would say: “Beloved is humanity for we were made in the image of God. And doubly beloved are we for God made it known to us that we are made in God’s image, as it states (Genesis 9:6): ‘In God’s image God created humankind.’”  – Mishnah Avot 3:14



“They call me Mr. Tibbs!” & “E.T. phone home”

I’ve added some new movies, great lines, and discussions to this piece in the past couple months.

The Accidental Rabbi

Screenshot 2017-09-23 at 9.44.27 PM In 2005, the American Film Institute celebrated 100 years of movies, and released its top 100 movie quotes of all time – the result of 1500 experts’ opinions.

What do the famous movie lines “They call me Mister Tibbs!” (Sidney Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs, In the Heat of the Night, 1967) and “E.T. phone home” (Pat Welsh doing the voice of E.T., 1982) have in common?

Before someone breaks the internet arguing that the actual line uttered by E.T. was “home phone” and not “phone home,” I really don’t care, the little girl in the movie also says “phone home” in that order right after the Muppet-alien says “home … phone”, so the line in that word order exists in the movie, and this post isn’t about that.

in_the_heat_of_the_night_still_embed.jpg Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier in the 1967 drama, In the Heat of the Night

What the two lines have…

View original post 1,881 more words

Thou Shalt Not Write People Off (Tazria-Metzora 5778)

The double-portion of Tazria-Metzora (Lev 12:1 – 15:33) presents a series of ritual purity instructions for Israelite priests, starting with procedures for women who have recently given birth, and shifting to the rules priests must follow to identify, quarantine, inspect, and ultimately, readmit to the community people with an ancient skin disease called tzara’at. In my first years working with b’nai mitzvah students, I repeatedly

wupj thingy
This article appeared in the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s Torah library in April 2018.

witnessed the disappointment of kids upon learning that Tazria-Metzora was their parashah. I would try to reassure them that, with help, they really would be able to find something relevant to their lives within these verses. The cultural distance, confusion, and even revulsion that many experience when encountering these parts of Leviticus are tough to overcome. And yet, with some cultural translation and an open mind, Leviticus can teach us a lot.

Our parashah offers us a good example in Leviticus 14, which describes the process by which priests would examine people to determine if they had tzara’at. If yes, then the afflicted person was placed outside the community in quarantine. Priests would then repeatedly visit to check on whether their skin was healing. When a priest verified a complete healing, he would then perform a purification ritual for the person involving two birds and a bowl of water – one of those bloody, non-rational Levitical rituals that often make us squirm. But if we can put our scientific Western mindset aside for a moment, we can explore the potential spiritual lessons for us in this part of Leviticus. Continue reading “Thou Shalt Not Write People Off (Tazria-Metzora 5778)”