There exists, in ancient rabbinic literature, the concept of a t'filat shav- a useless or ill-advised prayer uttered in vain and therefore to be avoided. A man is not to say "I hope my wife gives birth to a boy," for the sex of a child is determined at the moment of conception, and certainly not impacted thereafter by prayer. And if you see a fire burning as you approach your home, you should not say "I hope it's not my house that's burning."
When I first came to the Forest Hills Jewish Center thirty years ago, my first day of work was July 1. The fourth fell on Shabbat that year, so I was quickly introduced to a long-standing tradition of my new synagogue. On the Shabbat morning closest to the fourth of July- that year the day itself- “America the Beautiful” was sung as a closing hymn, instead of the customary “Adon Olam.”
A front-page article in last week’s print edition of The Jewish Week introduced the greater Jewish community to the idea of “half-Shabbos-” a version of Shabbat practiced, it would seem, by a not insignificant number of Orthodox teens.
Walking back to our home from a Shabbat lunch with friends last week, my wife and I happened to pass the apartment building in which now former Congressman Anthony Weiner lives with his wife. It’s just a few short blocks from where we live.
From noon this past Sunday to noon Tuesday forty-eight hours later, I was privileged to participate in a program called “The Conversation,” held in the lovely Pearlstone Conference Center just outside of Baltimore. Sponsored by The Jewish Week and made possible through the generous support of UJA-Federation, the program brought together some fifty Jews active in one way or other in the Jewish community of New York for what seemed like an odd purpose- to talk to one another.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…"
Sir Walter Scott could not have been more right, as my congressman, Anthony Weiner, discovered this past week. The problems inherent in the lewd pictures, incomprehensibly bad judgment, and arrogant assumption of invincibility were only exacerbated ten times over by the untruths that followed. The whole affair is a tawdry mess, and an embarrassment.
Since President Obama’s much-promoted speech about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process two weeks ago, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heated reaction to it, the Jewish world has been engaged in serious if familiar impassioned conversation about exactly that. Is this President a “friend of Israel,” or something other?
On Thursday afternoon of this week, twenty-six rabbis were ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
These young men and women were not the only graduates at JTS on that day. There were undergraduate degree recipients from List College, Masters and Doctoral degrees awarded from the Graduate School and the Davidson School of Education, and new Cantors, graduating from the H. L. Miller Cantorial School, who were invested with the authority to assume their important work.
There is a member of my congregation who, at least once a year, complains to me that Jewish tradition seems incapable of letting us have an unqualified good time no matter how happy the circumstances. We break a glass under the marital chuppah, we pour wine out of our cups at the Passover Seder, we recite penitential prayers every day to remind ourselves of just how imperfect we are… why can’t we just kick back and enjoy life like others seem to be able to do?