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Cyrus the Messiah - January 19, 2019

01/20/2019 07:45:49 PM


To anoint someone means to indicate that person is put in a position of prominence. Today, we might anoint a successor in business. In biblical times if someone was anointed it meant that God had indicated that person will be of importance to the community.

Biblically, when a person is anointed, oil is put on the person. We can imagine that a person who has oil on them appears to have a special glow, or an inner translucence, that...Read more...

Messenger of Death - January 12, 2019

01/13/2019 08:13:14 PM


William Tyndale was an English scholar who lived from 1494 until his execution in 1536 CE. Using the Hebrew and Greek editions of the Bible, in 1530 Tyndale translated the Bible into English. The Church believed that allowing people to read the Bible for themselves would detract from the authority of the Church; therefore making the Bible available in English was against the law. Tyndale was convicted of heresy and executed by...Read more...

Sibling Rivalry - January 5, 2019

01/05/2019 07:32:32 PM


Numbers 16 tells the story of a group of Israelites, led by the levite Korah, challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron. Korah says, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” God responded to this challenge by opening the ground beneath Korah and his followers. The people were swallowed by the earth, they fell...Read more...

The Midwives - December 29, 2018

12/30/2018 02:27:37 PM


The Book of Exodus opens with Hebrew people having lived in Egypt for several generations and being, “fertile and prolific.” (Exodus 1:7) Pharaoh was concerned that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous and could, potentially, rise up against Egypt. Pharaoh instructs his people to oppress the Hebrews and put them into forced labor, with the hopes of decreasing their numbers. However, “the more they were oppressed, the more they...Read more...

dem dry bones - december 22, 2018

12/23/2018 12:52:10 PM


When the State of Israel was established in 1948, “HaTikva” became the unofficial national anthem. It was not until 2004 that the song became the official anthem of Israel. The lyrics are:

As long as in the heart within,

The Jewish soul yearns,

And toward the eastern edges, onward,


Divination - December 15, 2018

12/15/2018 04:50:50 PM


This week we continued with the Joseph story. As a refresher, Joseph was the 11th son of our patriarch Jacob. Joseph was clearly his father’s favorite, which made his brothers resentful. To get Joseph out of their lives, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their father that Joseph was eaten by beasts. Joseph came to be in Egypt where, after a series of incidents, Joseph rose in stature. Pharaoh told Joseph that, “only...Read more...

Truth & Faith - December 8, 2018

12/08/2018 04:06:30 PM


The biblical character of Joseph goes through many ordeals in the book of Genesis. The one we looked at last week was when the wife of Potiphar, Joseph’s owner, sexually assaulted Joseph. She claimed it was he who assaulted her, which resulted in Joseph landing in jail. The inspiration for this story comes from an Egyptian story that was recorded in the 12th or 13th century BCE.

The story, known as The Two Brothers, tells the tale...Read more...

Eunuchs & Sexual Harassment - December 1, 2018

12/02/2018 12:14:06 PM


This week we begin the Joseph narrative. At 13 chapters, Joseph’s story is the longest and most coherent narrative in the Torah. Joseph was the 11th son of our patriarch Jacob, and the first-born son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel.

Let’s start with a very quick summary of the Joseph story: Because he was a child of Rachel, Jacob favored Joseph over all his brothers and his brothers were jealous. In addition to being the...Read more...

Warring Neighbors - November 10, 2018

11/10/2018 08:55:18 PM


The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible with only 1 chapter containing 21 verses. The book is a prophecy that the people of Edom will be “the least among nations.” (Obadiah 1:1) Why? According to the prophecy, when Judea was destroyed by the Babylonians the people of Edom looked on with glee and gloated. Then the Edomites went in to Judea and looted the wealth of the Jews and slaughtered Jews trying to run away....Read more...

The Power of Words - November 3, 2018

11/04/2018 02:26:25 PM


Strict adherence to the Torah is simply not possible. Not because we are not believers, or we are too busy, or we like to eat bacon and shrimp. No. A significant part of the Torah is about sacrifice in the one-and-only Temple in Jerusalem; the Temple which was destroyed in 70 CE.

Even so, Rabbi Jaech freely admitted to us that if the teachings of the Torah were all she could follow, she could not subscribe to those teachings. The...Read more...

Miracle Workers - October 27, 2018

10/28/2018 09:56:19 AM


Our Torah portion for this week opens with the words, “The Lord appeared to him (meaning Abraham) … Looking up he saw three men.” (Genesis 18:1-2) Why did Abraham see three men? Over the centuries people have tried to square this incongruence in different ways. Maybe God, like celebrities today, traveled with a posse. Or maybe these were different aspects of God that could not be contained within the image of one man, so he is shown as...Read more...

Human Nature - October 13, 2018

10/15/2018 06:22:51 PM


If you go to the Museum of Natural History you can see representations of what early man looked like and how we evolved in our position in the animal kingdom. Our earliest ancestors did not have the benefit of evolutionary scientific knowledge. But our texts show us that for thousands of years, just as today, people struggle to understand the human condition and to attempt to answer questions like: Who are we? What is our nature? How are we...Read more...

Being Mortal - October 6, 2018

10/08/2018 11:46:34 AM


There are two distinct creation stories in the Torah. The first story says, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) In this story God created man and woman at one time. In the second, more popular story God created man first, and then woman out of man’s rib.

The second story was likely written first and has echoes of Atra-Hasis, which is a Near...Read more...

Secret Codes in the Bible - September 29, 2018

09/30/2018 09:59:35 PM


We are at the end of the Festival of Sukkot, known in the Torah as the Feast of Booths. In Leviticus 23 we are told that this is a time to, “rejoice before the Lord.” And in Deuteronomy 16 we are told, “the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.”

Sukkot is a joyous celebration at the end of the harvest. In the agrarian society of the early Israelites the success...Read more...

New Under the Sun - September 22, 2018

09/22/2018 03:49:22 PM


This week we were guest-led by rabbi Professor David Sperling.

Professor Sperling is a professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College and he led us in a discussion of the book of Ecclesiastes. In Jewish scholarly circles the book is referred to as Koheleth because it begins by telling us that the words are, fittingly, the words of Koheleth. Some of the words of Koheleth are best known to us today because of the song Turn! Turn! Turn!...Read more...

09/22/2018 03:49:06 PM


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Sin at the Door - September 15, 2018

09/15/2018 08:18:39 PM


Murder is a terrible, terrible crime which has always been a part of the human condition. According to the Bible, it was just the 2nd generation of mankind when there was the first murder – the fratricide by Cain of Abel.

Cain is the oldest son of Adam and Eve. The name Cain means, “acquired” which is reflected in Genesis 4:1 when Eve says, “I have gained a male child with the help of the Lord.” Cain’s younger brother,...Read more...

Unforgivable Sins - September 8, 2018

09/08/2018 10:16:39 PM


Orthodox Jews will read on Yom Kippur morning: “For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Lord.” (Leviticus 16:30)

The High Holidays start next week and, as a reminder, Yom Kippur is a time when we pray for forgiveness for our sins. The Torah portion for Yom Kippur for Orthodox Jews is Leviticus 16 where we learn how the shrine is cleansed. And we also learn...Read more...

Dirty Money - September 1, 2018

09/02/2018 04:50:52 PM


Last week we looked at a passage in the Torah that identifies cult prostitutes. Prostitution was an acknowledged and accepted fact of biblical life, but we also saw that money earned by a prostitute while plying their trade cannot be used to fulfill a vow to God, because God would find that to be abhorrent.

Rabbi Jaech led us in a discussion of modern-day questions about money coming to a synagogue from, what some might call,...Read more...

Salacious Stories - August 25, 2018

08/26/2018 09:07:57 AM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech has returned from her summer hiatus of professional development and, perhaps inspired by the news cycles of one shocking development after another, zeroed in on a passage in this week’s Torah portion from Deuteronomy 23:

No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the pay of a dog into the...Read more...

The devil made me do it

07/01/2018 12:40:55 PM


According to Numbers 22, the prophet Balaam was called upon by the Moabite people to curse the Israelites. Balaam asked God if that was ok, but God said, “You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12)

Balaam is offered riches to ask again, and God tells Balaam to journey toward the Israelite enemy in Moab. However, after telling Balaam to make the journey, God sends an Adversary to block Balaam’s way....Read more...


06/23/2018 12:44:12 PM


Part of today’s Torah portion is from Numbers 21 and it contains a passage where the Israelites, who were still wandering in the wilderness, ask for permission to pass through the land of the Amorites, but permission was not granted. A battled ensued and the Israelites won, “So Israel occupied the land of the Amorites.” (Numbers 21:31)

The Haftarah for this week comes from the Book of Judges and it offers a retelling of how the...Read more...

a sterling reputation

06/16/2018 12:38:54 PM


Our session today started with a brief civics lessons: Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, cited a passage from Romans 13 of the Christian Bible to address the separation of parents from their children at the border between America and Mexico. Romans 13 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been...Read more...

caleb the spy

06/09/2018 12:50:42 PM


The Torah portion for this week is from the Book of Numbers. In the portion, the Israelites are at the end of the wandering and are ready to go into Canaan to claim the land as their own. 12 spies are sent ahead to scout the land and 10 of the spies come back saying that, although the land “does indeed flow with milk and honey,” the land is inhabited by giants who cannot be defeated. In fact, a cluster of grapes was cut down and brought...Read more...

Narizrite vows

06/03/2018 12:51:30 PM


Last week we looked at the nazirite vow in the Torah. As a reminder, we learned that when a person takes a nazirite vow they are becoming holy to God, in a similar fashion that a priest is holy to God. However, the restrictions on a nazirite are even more strict than on a priest: Nazirites must abstain from all grape products, they must not cut their hair, and they must not come close to a dead person. Also, at the end of the term of being a...Read more...

who were the Nazirites?

05/27/2018 01:07:26 PM


In Numbers 6 we learn what it means to take the vow to become a nazirite. Anyone, man or woman, can utter the vow to become a nazirite (but in this blog I will use male pronouns simply because it is easier for me). A nazirite must not eat or drink anything that comes from grapes: wine, raisins, etc. A nazirite must never cut the hair on his head. And a nazirite must never be close to a dead person, including close relatives. If a nazirite...Read more...


05/19/2018 01:10:05 PM


This year the holiday of Shavuot begins at sundown on May 19. The holiday is less familiar to American Reform Jews, but it was an important holiday in Biblical times. The holiday has its root in the Torah, where it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Reaping, and the Day of First Fruits.

Biblical Israelites lived in an agrarian society and Shavuot was celebrated at the end of the grain harvest. According to...Read more...

The AmidaH

05/16/2018 10:21:21 AM


The Amidah, which in our Reform liturgy is called The Tefilah, is the central prayer of our service. The word “Amidah” can be translated as “Standing,” and many traditional Jews stand during the entire prayer. Reform Jews do not stand for the entire prayer, so in the Reform liturgy it is referred to as The Tefilah, which simply translates to “The Prayer.”

Most Reform Jews are more familiar with the Shabbat Amidah, which is an...Read more...

Mon, January 21 2019 15 Sh'vat 5779