The Evils of Tikkun Olam Exposed

Here’s my recent satire piece published in The Forward. It speaks for itself…

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https://forward.com/opinion/404120/theyre-right-tikkun-olam-is-fake-judaism-a-modest-proposal/

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Really sick of being insulted

As a liberal rabbi, I am so sick of being ridiculed and insulted by people on the religious right. I get so full of anger that I see red, and all I want to do is fight back. And then I remember traditional Jewish wisdom on giving in to anger.

Here’s Rabbi Jonathan Sacks summarizing several classical rabbinic sources on the dangers of letting anger be one’s master:

“The life of those who can’t control their anger is not a life,” [the sages] said (Pesahim 113b). Resh Lakish said, “When a person becomes angry, if he is a sage his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet his prophecy departs from him” (Pesahim 66b). Maimonides said that when someone becomes angry it is as if he has become an idolater (Hilkhot Deot 2: 3). (For the entire piece, visit here.)

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Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 – 2013.

The general understanding of these texts, as I’ve been taught them, is not that we should try to suppress or banish the experience of feeling anger; rather, that we should beware of letting it be our guide. We will rarely make good decisions while in an angry frame of mind.

Continue reading “Really sick of being insulted”

Fighting back against family separation at the US-Mexico border

There are several actions that I’m seeing among progressive clergy networks and the Indivisible network. I just signed up with these folks and I encourage others to do so too (the image below is hyperlinked):

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Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center is helping these families, and they have an Amazon wish list that you can visit and buy needed items for them to distribute.

You can also donate to a bond fund that helps move forward the legal process of reuniting separated families.

This past weekend, I attended Shabbat services on Friday night at Congregation Beth Israel in Media, PA, where Rabbi Linda Potemkin read this poem by Rabbi Paul Kipnes: Continue reading “Fighting back against family separation at the US-Mexico border”

The gates of the ancient rabbis

This essay appeared in the RRA Connection, the newsletter of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, in 2014.

I’m guessing that many of us have given a d’var at some point that cited the passage in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 32b, that reads, “From the day that the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer have been closed . . . but even though the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are not closed.”

I’ve always been struck by what this, and some of the surrounding passages in the Talmud, appear to reveal about the attitudes of the early rabbis towards God. For instance, right after this sha’aray dimah [gates of tears] passage, we also read, “Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has been established between Israel and their Father in Heaven.” (I left the male God imagery unaltered because it offers the poignant metaphor of a child unable to access his or her parent.)

Llagrimes_(tears),_pastel_portrait_by_Robert_Perez_Palou
       Llagrimes (tears), pastel portrait by Robert Perez Palou.      By Rpp1948 [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

As one studies the whole of this page of Talmud, one also finds passages that nevertheless offer reassurance that, with great effort and sincerity, we can still reach God and move God to compassion. For instance, “Every person who lengthens their prayer – their prayer will not be returned empty  (ayn tefilato chozeret ray-kam).” And, “If a person sees that s/he has prayed but it is unanswered, s/he should pray again, as it says in Scripture, ‘Wait for the Eternal, be strong and let your heart take courage,’ etc.” Continue reading “The gates of the ancient rabbis”

D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010

This is a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2010. Though it is now almost a decade later, and we continue to lurch from Gaza-Israel crisis to crisis, as I just re-read it, it seems very applicable to this time.

In this week’s Torah portion, called Shelach Lecha, we find the Israelites at a critical crossroads in their early history as a free people.  A little over a year has passed since they escaped slavery in Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of their destination – the Promised Land.  God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.  

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Logo from an Israeli winery featuring the Israelite scouts carrying the ginormous grape cluster as told in the Torah story of this week’s parashah.

After spending 40 days scouting out the land, the team returned to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran.  They brought samples of the land’s produce, including a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large wooden pole and carried by two men.  

Continue reading “D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010”

Judaism and the Death Penalty – “UNESCO Chair’s Prisons, Compassion, and Peace Initiative”

UNESCO CHAIR’s Prisons, Compassion, and Peace Initiative – University of Oregon – Eugene, Oregon

Lecture Series

Jan 31, 2013

Rabbi Maurice Harris – Judaism and the Death Penalty

I’ve been asked to give a talk this afternoon on Judaism and the death penalty, and it’s an honor to be here. Judaism is a religion that is over 3,000 years old, and it is built upon a foundation of literally thousands and thousands of pages of sacred texts developed over many centuries. So when someone asks me, as one solitary rabbi trained in one of the liberal denominations of Judaism, to give a succinct presentation on how Judaism views the death penalty (or any other issue), the first challenge I have to face is that the tradition I am representing to you today is one whose sacred literature is voluminous, non-systemmatic, and sometimes interpreted quite differently by the different contemporary denominations of Judaism (actually, we use the term movements instead of denominations).

Furthermore, much of Jewish sacred literature – especially the Talmud and the Medieval commentaries – is organized around vigorous debates over ethical, moral, spiritual, and legal questions. Much of this literature is presented as a series of sacred arguments, often involving half a dozen or more different rabbinic opinions on a single question. The Talmud in particular tends to present these debates in such a way that, usually, there’s an opinion that is ultimately acknowledged as the majority viewpoint, but even so the Talmud takes care to preserve all of the minority viewpoints. Dissenting views are included in the sacred literature itself. (Now you see why there really are so many Jewish lawyers.)   Continue reading “Judaism and the Death Penalty – “UNESCO Chair’s Prisons, Compassion, and Peace Initiative””

D’var Torah: Shelach Lecha (2011)

D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha 5771

Presented by Rabbi Maurice Harris at Temple Beth Israel in 2011

This Shabbat we read from the parashah called Shelach Lecha, in the book of Numbers. A little over a year has passed since the Hebrews have escaped Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of the Promised Land.  God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.  

After 40 days surveying and investigating the land and its inhabitants, the team returns to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran.  They’ve carried back samples of the land’s incredible produce, including figs, pomegranates, and a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large pole and carried by two men.  

The Israelites convene to hear the scouts give their report. That’s when things turn disastrous, especially for Moses and his hope to lead these former slaves into the land God had promised to them going all the way back to Abraham.

The majority of the scouts offer a terribly demoralizing report.  They start out on a positive note, describing the natural bounty of the land, but then they anxiously exclaim that the nations that live there are far too mighty and muscular to confront.  There is no hope, they announce, in making an attempt to enter the land. It’s a suicide mission. Continue reading “D’var Torah: Shelach Lecha (2011)”