Editorial & Opinion | Musings

07/30/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

As a vegetarian, I have given some thought to the place of animals in Jewish tradition. Differing views on the place of animals in the scheme of life is an old controversy. In the Middle Ages, Saadiah Gaon speculates that there is a reward for animals in the hereafter, but the later sage Maimonides ridicules the idea. Whatever their metaphysical status however, there are Talmudic stories where cruelty to animals is punished, and sparing suffering is consistent with all of Jewish teaching.

07/23/2014 | | Special to the Jewish Week | Musings

Hebrew has no one letter words. The word for “I” is “Ani,” which begins with the letter aleph. Aleph is a silent letter. Referring to oneself then, should begin in silence.

07/16/2014 | | Special to the Jewish Week | Musings

Professor Louis Ginzberg was the greatest scholar of rabbinic Midrash in his day, with a vast range of learning in many languages. My father told me that once, at a reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Ginzberg taught, a woman approached him and in the course of discussion, began arguing with him about a point in Midrash. After a long, fruitless argument, Ginzberg said, “Why don’t we check the ‘Jewish Encyclopedia’ — would you accept that as an authority?” The woman agreed.

07/09/2014 | | Special to the Jewish Week | Musings

Sending his son Adam some stamps, Saul Bellow wrote in the accompanying note, “Countries sometimes disappear leaving nothing behind but postage stamps.” Anyone who has studied history must indeed be mystified at what endures — the shopping lists of ancient Sumer or obscure graffiti scratched on a prehistoric cave. As in Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” what we think will survive often disappears with barely a trace.

07/02/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Why does Abraham declare, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). The Beit Halevi (Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik) offers a brilliant insight.

06/25/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

A word for a profoundly Jewish but often disrespected profession: God bless funeral directors.

As a rabbi, I have marveled for many years at the skill and care of funeral directors. My father, a rabbi in Philadelphia, would often recount how his friend, Joseph Levine, would care for those who were bereaved and frightened, and gently guide them. I have seen the same care repeatedly in my own years conducting funerals and meeting with families who had suffered a loss. Death is the most sensitive time; when a funeral director is unkind, the results are devastating. But day after day, a mortuary worker must speak with families whom he or she does not know, and be warm without being cloying, caring without presuming too much, discuss financial arrangements at a time when the family can barely add two and two.