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190. Where’s Moses? - October 10, 2020

10/10/2020 06:04:37 PM


The Jewish holiday season comes to a close this weekend with the holiday of Simchat Torah, or the “Rejoicing of the Torah.” In pre-covid times, at Temple Israel we would unfurl the entire Torah scroll so that the congregation can see it all – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – and celebrate this millennium-old document. A Torah reader would chant the final words of Deuteronomy and then, immediately, begin reading...Read more...

189. Changing Traditions - October 3, 2020

10/04/2020 04:13:48 PM


High Holiday services were very different this year. In prior years, some of us would have attended services in person where we might shake hands with, or hug, our friends. We would sit together closely and sing meaningfully.

This year has required changes to the standard format of High Holiday services. Change is often hard for people, but human beings are inherently creative – when we are handed lemons, we make lemonade! Software...Read more...

188. Looking to the Future - September 26, 2020

09/26/2020 03:17:47 PM


The Bible tells us that, with the help of God, Moses overcame great odds to free the Israelites from bondage to the Egyptians; then he lead the people on travels of great distances, while having to quell uprisings among his easily disgruntled followers; and, finally, Moses led the people to the Promised Land.

It would be reasonable to expect that, after all this hard work, Moses would be able to rest on his laurels and enjoy his final...Read more...

187. God Weeps - September 12, 2020

09/12/2020 02:46:36 PM


Throughout history there have been times of despair, or sadness, or loss, or social upheaval. With a pandemic impacting the entire world and close to 200,000 people dead from it in the US, and social injustice being played out on camera, and riots in the streets, and fires on the West Coast, people may find themselves asking, as we head toward the High Holidays, “How can I find meaning in my prayers?” Or, “How can I find God in my...Read more...

186. Learning From a Heretic - September 5, 2020

09/05/2020 06:11:04 PM


With the High Holidays upon us, this is the time of year when many Jews take time to think about sin, atonement and repentance. Last week we discussed the ancient scholar Elisha ben Abuyah, a man born sometime before 70 C.E. Elisha was a revered scholar who fell off the path of righteousness when he chose to stop following the Torah commandments. And, he did not seek atonement for this transgression.

Even though Elisha was a heretic,...

185. The Mitzvah Payoff - August 29, 2020

08/29/2020 04:12:16 PM


It is a Jewish-cultural norm that that when you do something nice for someone, it’s called a “mitzvah.” But, technically, a “mitzvah” is a commandment; not just something you do because you are a nice person. According to the Talmud, there are 613 commandments in the Bible.

One of the commandments from this week’s Torah portion states, “If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground,...Read more...

184. Death of the High Priest - August 22, 2020

08/23/2020 10:53:14 AM


According to biblical legend, the first homicide of mankind happened in just the first generation after Adam and Eve. The story tells us that, because of jealousy, Cain killed his brother Abel. And God told Cain, “your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).

There is a notion that bloodguilt pollutes the land. In 2 Samuel we are told about a time when there was a 3-year famine in the land. David asked...Read more...

Political Tensions - JUne 27, 2020

06/27/2020 03:27:22 PM


The Twelve Tribes of Israel are said to be descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. Each of the Twelve Tribes were assigned land, with the exception of the tribe of Levi. Those descendants, known as Levites, became the priests of all the Israelites, and the other tribes were expected to support them. Although all priest were Levites, not all Levites were priests. The priests were a subset of the Levites who had sacred responsibilities that...Read more...

Preconceived Notions - June 20, 2020

06/20/2020 03:17:20 PM


This week’s Torah portion begins with the story of the twelve spies, which can be found in the book of Numbers. To summarize, the Israelites were encamped in the wilderness, somewhere near Canaan. Moses was instructed by God to send twelve men on a reconnaissance mission to, “see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live...Read more...

Bitter Water - JUne 6, 2020

06/06/2020 04:46:45 PM


In biblical times, adultery was a capital crime. However, adultery in biblical times did not mean the same thing we think about today. In biblical times, women were the property of men. When a daughter was born, she was the property of her father (who would have been in his right to sell her into slavery - Exodus 21:7). When she married, she became the property of her husband.

Adultery in biblical times meant that an owned woman had...Read more...

The Commandments - May 30, 2020

05/30/2020 04:29:27 PM


The Jewish holiday of Shavuot was celebrated this past week at Temple Israel with an informative discussion led by our scholar-in-residence, Professor David Sperling. The holiday is celebrated on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, and it marks the anniversary of when God gave the Torah to the Israelites. Some traditional Jews may choose to mark the holiday by eating dairy foods and staying up all night long to study the Torah. Although...Read more...

Obligations of the First-Born - May 23, 2020

05/23/2020 04:43:39 PM


During Shabbat services in traditional Jewish communities, it is the norm that a Kohen be called upon to recite the blessing for the first aliyah and then a Levi for the second aliyah. In traditional communities, this privilege recognizes the claim of the Kohens and Levites that they are descendants of the priestly class of ancient Israelites and, somehow, elevated over the general Israelite population. The Reform movement did away with...Read more...

Breaking Bread - May 16, 2020

05/16/2020 03:07:17 PM


We are living in a time of general anxiety, and one of the concerns potentially increasing our anxiety is news reports about disruptions to our food supply. Rabbi Roberts noted that many religious traditions include stories about food, two of which we looked at last month when Rabbi Roberts led our group. In 1 Kings 17 we are told that during one famine in Samaria, God arranged for ravens to bring bread and meat to the prophet Elijah daily so...Read more...

Azazel - May 9, 2020

05/09/2020 04:48:37 PM


The holiday of Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and it is the time to reflect on your actions and to atone for your sins. Jewish leaders may encourage you to seek out those individuals you knowingly hurt and apologize to them before Yom Kippur. This tradition cannot be found in the Bible; it is a rabbinic innovation. The writers of the Bible were not concerned about individual sinning and they did not have the concept...Read more...

Importance of Ritual - May 2, 2020

05/02/2020 03:11:12 PM


The current pandemic has caused Rabbi Jaech to ponder social isolation from community and, specifically, to look at how people suffering from leprosy were isolated from their communities in biblical times. As a reminder, biblical leprosy is not the Hansen’s Disease that we know about today, but it is any type of white, scaly skin infliction. This infliction might have been short-lived or life-lasting. In biblical times, people believed that...Read more...

Elisha - April 25, 2020

04/25/2020 04:09:48 PM


When there is a change in leadership, a common idiom used is that the new person has “inherited the mantle,” or “assumed the mantle,” or “picked up the mantle.” A “mantle” is an article of clothing, like a cloak. This idiom has its origins in the biblical book of Kings.

Last week Rabbi Roberts led us in an introduction to the prophet Elijah. This week Rabbi Jaech introduced us to the prophet Elisha. Elisha was a...Read more...

Elijah - April 18, 2020

04/18/2020 07:51:26 PM


During the Passover Seder, many of us fill a glass of wine for Elijah and we open the door as an invitation to Elijah. The arrival of Elijah, according to a tradition passed down through the rabbis, but not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, heralds the arrival of the Messiah and a time when peace and freedom will reign for all.

Rabbi Janet Roberts led our group this week in a discussion about Elijah. We first meet Elijah in the book of...Read more...

Healing Acts - March 28, 2020

03/29/2020 09:11:44 AM


There have always been times of economic and social instability. In biblical times, the people might have looked to supernatural forces to find deliverance from their woes. Many of us living in the United States today have been fortunate to live during a time of wealth and safety, and we generally think that we have a greater understanding of science giving us greater sense of control over our circumstances. But the pandemic afflicting the...Read more...

Resetting Priorities - March 21, 2020

03/21/2020 10:56:43 PM


In a first for Temple Israel, but following social distancing guidelines, Torah Study was held via Zoom today. Rabbi Janet Roberts was our guest-leader and she pointed out to us that, although this is a novel virus, we are not in a novel place for Jews.

We can imagine that the Bible character Noah felt like the world was coming to an end when he boarded the ark with just his closest family members (and a number of animals). And the...Read more...

Remember God & Preserve Humanity - March 7, 2020

03/08/2020 10:48:10 PM


In the Torah, Cyrus the Great of Persia is referred to as the “anointed one” (Isaiah 45:1). In 539 BCE Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, who had exiled the Israelite leaders, and invited the leaders to come home to Jerusalem. Cyrus allowed the Israelites to worship their god and to make their own laws to govern their people. In return, Cyrus required loyalty from the Israelites, and the payment of taxes.

Although the Israelites were...

Stones and Stories - February 29, 2020

02/29/2020 05:35:22 PM


Part of this week’s Torah portion, from Exodus 25, describes how the Israelites are to fashion the vessel which will house the “two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). This vessel is known as the Ark of the Pact (Exodus 25:22), the Ark of God (1 Samuel 3:3), the Lord of Hosts Enthroned on the Cherubim (2 Samuel 6:2) and, most commonly known today (thank you, Steven Spielberg) as the Ark...Read more...

Witchy Women - February 22, 2020

02/22/2020 08:03:46 PM


The Torah portion for this week included one line in particular that caught Rabbi Jaech’s eye. Exodus 22:17 says, “You shall not tolerate a sorceress.” The word translated here as sorceress could also be translated as witch, and it definitely indicates a female.

The Torah has several references to the workings of witchcraft or sorcery. Isaiah 47:12 condemns the Babylonian witches by saying, “Stand up, with your spells and your...Read more...

Jews and Tattoos - February 15, 2020

02/15/2020 05:29:41 PM


According to a 2016 article in The Atlantic magazine, in 1936 6% of the American population had one or more tattoos, and by 2012 that number had increased to 21%. Empirical evidence may lead us to believe that that number has increased during the last four years. Rabbi Roberts led us in an exploration of biblical and rabbinic writings about Jews and tattoos, and what that means for Jews who have been told they cannot be buried in a Jewish...Read more...

A Community Meal - February 1, 2020

02/01/2020 07:54:11 PM


Part of the Torah portion for this week from the book of Exodus describes the Passover meal: “Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby ... Your lamb shall be without blemish, a yearling male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goat....Read more...

Forbidden Unions - January 25, 2020

01/25/2020 10:09:23 PM


Last week we looked at the traditions surrounding the birth of Moses, and we mentioned that Moses’s mother is not named in Exodus, although she is named in other traditions. Let’s review the passage:

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took for a wife a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son (Exodus 2:1-2).

That all seems straightforward. But all is not always as it seems! In biblical times,...Read more...

Boundary Crossers - January 18, 2020

01/18/2020 04:31:16 PM


The Torah portion for this week introduces us to the character Moses. The story is that the Israelites had become so numerous in Egypt that pharaoh became concerned that the Israelites would outnumber the Egyptians. Pharaoh decreed that every newborn boy should be thrown into the Nile River.

Although the biological mother of Moses is named in other traditions, in the story in Exodus Moses’s mother and father remained unnamed. The...Read more...

Do Not Be Quarrelsome - January 11, 2020

01/12/2020 04:23:33 PM


We may remember from the Joseph story that, after Joseph had reunited with his brothers in Egypt, Joseph gave his brothers provisions and money to bring to their father, Jacob. Joseph also asked his brothers to bring Jacob to come live in Egypt, in the land under Joseph’s control. And, “As he sent his brothers off on the way, he told them, ‘Do not be quarrelsome on the way’” (Genesis 46:24)

Rabbi Roberts had us focus on what...

Forced Relocation - January 4, 2020

01/04/2020 10:09:25 PM


In 722 BCE, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. The defeat resulted in what is popularly known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The Assyrian nation had a policy of forced relocation of the defeated citizens. That reality is reflected in one of the traditions in our own Bible.

The story in 2 Kings 17 is that all the Israelites were deported from their homeland and forced to resettle in Assyria. Then, the king of...Read more...

Dream Interpretation - December 28, 2019

12/30/2019 10:31:41 PM


An ancient rabbi, Rav Ḥisda, who lived about 300 CE, is claimed to have said, “A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.” In the Bible there are numerous examples of people, both Jewish and gentile, receiving messages from God through their dreams.

In Genesis 28, the patriarch Jacob had a dream where he saw angels of God going up and down on a staircase – this is known as the Jacob’s Ladder dream. In the dream, God...Read more...

Do the Ends Justify the Means - December 21, 2019

12/21/2019 02:17:21 PM


As of a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, Christians make up 31% of the Earth’s population, and 70% of the American population. A large portion of those people consider the words in the Bible to be sacred. Rabbi Jaech pointed out to us that the people who wrote the biblical stories had no idea that the material would come to be considered sacred. If they had realized the impact these words would have, perhaps they would have...Read more...

Thu, October 22 2020 4 Cheshvan 5781