I found myself consumed in the liturgy by the phrase “HaYom harat olam” (today the world is created) and with questions about the purpose of creation and of my personal existence. As we reflect on the direction of our lives between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we might ask ourselves why humans, generally as well as individually, were created.
Some Jews have a medieval custom to sacrifice a chicken before Yom Kippur, “kaporos.” One grabs the chicken’s legs while pinning its wings back and swings it around one’s head. These chickens are packed into crates before this procedure and then usually sent to be slaughtered after. Others are often just left in crates to die.
In Paris, last week, when a Muslim cab driver picked me up I noticed a slight discomfort came over me. I realized, at that moment, that American religious fanatics had succeeded at convincing me to be afraid. Religion, at its best, furthers deep value formation and creates bridges and connections whereas religion at its worst is destructive and spreads fear throughout society. There is a growing religious fanaticism, with diverse manifestations, that seeks to promote fear of the other and that fear almost inevitability leads to hate. This fear and hate is unfortunately not absent from major segments of the Jewish communal discourse.
I recently spoke with young former gang members undergoing tattoo removal at Homeboy Industries, a job-training site in LA for at-risk and gang involved youth. Their tattoos serve as serious barriers to employment and acceptance into mainstream society. A Harris Poll taken in 2008 estimated that 14 percent of Americans now have tattoos and the Pew Research Center shows that a whopping 26% of those between 18-25 have at least one tattoo. Is the typical Jewish perception toward these individuals with body art fair?
I have returned to Switzerland this week as the Rabbinic Representative to join global partners and interfaith leaders at the World Economic Forum. Here, we continue to plan the annual gathering in Davos this winter and to think-tank the greatest moral, economic, and political issues of our time.
A Spiritual Strategy for Resisting Ethical Temptation
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Jewish Week Online Columnist
Walking in Seattle yesterday, I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?
Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?
The Orthodox Jewish community in the United States for the last few decades has been experiencing a move toward higher ritual observance, as demonstrated by Samuel Heilman’s study, “Sliding to the Right,” and, in many communities, prioritizes ritual observance and religious conformity over spiritual leadership, natural morality, and common sense ethics. Instead of committing time and effort to addressing local poverty, many devote resources to the search for the perfectly-shaped etrog.
How should the American people treat a population which only has a marginal economic impact yet still manages to stimulate job growth and consumption in the country? The presumed answer is sadly far from the reality of how America behaves towards “illegal immigrants.”
Ever stop to ask the salary of the woman washing dishes on Shabbat in your neighbor's home, or the gentleman mowing your friend's lawn about his vacation, or the nanny raising the children down the block whether she had time to sit down for lunch today? If you did, you most likely discovered an unpleasant situation of inadequate pay, few or no breaks, no paid sick or vacation days and perhaps even bullying or verbal abuse. But how can it be? Those employers (neighbors) seem so nice, and their domestic workers always seem to be smiling and content.
Will we ever end poverty, hunger and genocide? Is there hope that tomorrow will look brighter than today? The social justice movement is guided by a messianic vision that a world that is more just and free is possible. Can we, as Jews, embrace this promise of progress?