Jewish Identity and a New Vocabulary

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By Rabbi Lee Moore

 

This article was originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy on May 30, 2016, contributing to ongoing discussions in that publication.  

“Jewish identity” is too vague and ambiguous to be a useful construct as the end-goal of Jewish education and Jewish life. In his eJPpiece “Speaking of Jewish Identity” Andres Spokoiny presents this idea and then asks exactly the right question: given that the language of “Jewish identity” is increasingly “limiting us and conditioning us in ways that are detrimental to the objectives we claim” … what words are more specific and effective that can lead us into a constructive discussion about outcomes in Jewish life?

Speaking of words, we have a vocabulary list to offer. It’s not complete, but it starts to approximate a way we might speak about how “Jewish ideas, values, languages, history, rituals, emotions, and behaviors inform particularly Jewish lenses and tools to interpret reality and flourish as human beings” – to address Spokoiny’s challenge.

Over the last two years, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah has been experimenting with a framework that we call Jewish Sensibilities. Continue reading

What is Yovel?

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By Rabbi Lee Moore

 

In the book of Leviticus Yovel or ‘The Jubilee” is presented as the “sabbath of sabbatical years.” The sabbatical year, shmittah, comes every 7 years and mandates both a rest for the land (soil is not used for production) and a rest for economic strife (all debts are released). Yovel comes with the 7th of these 7-year cycles and is either the 49th or 50th year (there is a dispute about which, of course). It is similar to shmittah in that it is a time of social and economic release.

On the day of Yom Kippur during the Yovel year, the ram’s horn was blown to ‘proclaim freedom’ throughout the entire land. ‘Freedom’ in this case meant not only forgiveness of debt as in the shmittah year, but also the release of all slaves into freedom and radical land reform. Continue reading

Water, Water, Everywhere…

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A d’var Torah for Parashat VaYakhel by Rabbi Lee Moore

 

 

This post was originally featured in “Torah from T’ruah” – a weekly emailed d’var torah sent from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.  Each week a different friend/associate of T’ruah examines the weekly torah portion and connects themes of human rights and social justice to the parashah.  To sign up for more, click here.
“I knew something like this was coming,” said the octogenarian with wizened face and farmer’s posture. “I’ve been a township trustee for over 40 years. It used to be that new drilling sites had to be approved by the township. Just a few years ago, the state took our power away. Now they alone can regulate drilling decisions. There is nothing we can do
to stop this.”

At this point, my heart dropped. This was a handful of years ago at a local meeting about fracking in my county seat. I’d seen the movie Gasland and was concerned about how fracking might impact my own region. Since that time, a multitude of injection wells have been filled in my Ohio county, each one a threat to our water supply. Of all the potentially
disturbing facts and figures about fracking, the most disturbing to me was the way that decision-making about such an important and delicate issue had been removed from my locally elected officials.

Three weeks ago, we read G!d’s instruction to ‘make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.’ This week the mishkan, or tabernacle, will be constructed without a hitch. However, before the mishkan was crafted, we can imagine a fair amount of anxiety among the Israelites. If the mishkan were not built correctly, G!d would not dwell among the people. This important and delicate task must be entrusted to the right person.

See, G!d called by name Betzalel, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge. (Exodus 35:30-31)

In the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 55a), Rav points out that wisdominsight and knowledge are the same qualities through which G!d founded the earth (wisdom), created the heavens (insight) and uprooted primordial chaos (knowledge) in Proverbs 3:19-20. Commenting on this Talmudic perspective, Rav Kook points out that “the master craftsman [Betzalel] was privy to the very secrets of creation.

Any complex system – like every natural and social system — is made up of parts that interact with each other. A leader who thinks with a systems-mindset will always try to understand the relationships among those parts, the relationships between the parts and the whole system, and what emerges beyond the parts. This awareness of the very building blocks of reality, a truly systems-perspective, is one way to imagine why and how Betzalel would be the right kind of leader for this project. To steward a process as precious as creating the human-divine meeting place, a leader must understand the essential systems by which life and world are created.

On the same page of Talmud however, another sage sees this story not as a divine decree, but as an inclusive process. Rabbi Itzchak Naphkha reads Exodus 35:30 as Moses going to the people for approval of G!d’s choice. As he reads the story,

G!d says to Moses – Moses, is he suitable for you? He said, ‘Master of the Universe, if he is suitable for you, then all the more so for me!’ [G!d said] ‘nevertheless, go and tell [Israel, and ask their opinion.’] He went and said to Israel, ‘Is Betzalel suitable for you?’ They said to him, ‘If he is suitable for the Holy One Blessed be He and for you, then all the more so for us!’

When Moses gives the Israelites veto power, they do not choose to exercise it. Still, Rabbi Itzchak deduces that ‘One may only appoint a leader over the community if they consult with the community.’ The people are not passive recipients of choices made for them. In Rabbi Itzchak’s version, Betzalel is only made leader because the people affirm him.

To steward a process as precious as water safety, a leader must understand the essential systems by which life and world are created — or at least approach that by employing a systems perspective. AND have the vote of confidence of the people whose water is at stake — whether in Ohio, Flint or elsewhere. We can only hope that those who determine water safety will be guided by wisdom that accounts for future generations’ needs, insight fueled by the precautionary principle, and knowledge of the best ways to balance public health with economic stability.

Teshuvah & Forgiveness

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A small gift to help sustain you though a meaningful fast this Yom Kippur – In this episode of our podcast Becoming Jewishly Sensible, Rabbi Lee Moore interviews writer Susan Terkel in a conversation that digs into teshuvah and forgiveness.

Susan Terkel is the author of numerous books about medical and social issues, including Feeling Safe, Feeling Strong (one of the earliest books about child sexual abuse) and Finding Your Way, a book that explains ethics for teens. Her book People Power was on the American Bookseller Association’s “Pick of the List,” and Ethics was selected as Hungry Mind Review’s “Editor’s Choice,” and recommended reading by Parents Magazine. Colonial American Medicine was selected for Science Books and Film’s “Best Children’s Books” list. She has written two books about drug policy: the first earned starred reviews; the second was selected for the American Library Association’s “100 Books a College-Bound Student Should Read.” Recently, she coauthored Small Change, selected a finalist for Books for a Better Life Award, and featured in USA Today.
Ms. Terkel is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied Child Development and Family Relationships. She also studied Social Work at Case Western Reserve University. In addition to writing, she is an artist, wife, mother, grandmother and schmoozer.

Becoming Jewishly Sensible – episode 1: Lech Lecha

We are proud to introduce our podcast: Becoming Jewishly Sensible.

Becoming Jewishly Sensible explores Jewish Sensibilities, distinctively Jewish mindsets that influence how we take in experiences, make sense of them, and choose to act.

In this inaugural episode, host Rabbi Lee Moore interviews Maggid Zelig Golden on the Sensibility of Lech Lecha.

 

Please leave us a comment – let us know what you think, and help us shape our future episodes.
Help us out – One Click and you’ll instantly Tweet: Check out the new podcast from @lippmankanfer, Becoming Jewishly Sensible http://ctt.ec/VWu8a+

What is a Jewish Sensibility?

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Have you ever seen a piece of art, encountered a new project, or heard a snippet of conversation between two people and thought to yourself, ‘hm … that’s so Jewish’? Not because of particular images or words that were used, but rather the way thoughts were processed, the way connections were made, the way people responded to each other.

All cultures have particular mindsets that get passed on from generation to generation, shaping how its people make sense of the world, as well as the spectrum of possibilities for how one might respond to it. So too, Jewish culture exhibits features that, often on a subconscious level, inform how people take in what they experience, make sense of it and then act accordingly.

In 2003, Vanessa Ochs  used the term sensibilities to describe “particularly Jewish ways of thinking about what it means to be human, ways that guide and orient a person’s actions and choices.” Merriam-Webster defines a sensibility as “an awareness of and responsiveness toward something.”  Sensibilities are like mindsets through which the core activities of perceiving the world, processing those perceptions, and responding to them take place.They cut across categories of knowledge, emotion, valuing, relationships, and behavior… and are applied toward life situations in such a way that involves all four of those levels.

How does this happen? Why does it matter? Continue reading

Joy

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Why do Jews today connect with Jewish practices and ideas? For some it may be a desire to pass on hallowed traditions. For others, an innate sense of pride. For still others: guilt. Or, all of the above (at some point or another).

There is another kind of motivation to ‘do Jewish’ that I’m interested in understanding, because I feel it myself and I wonder where it fits. I feel it when at a Shabbat meal I hear and sing a melody that resonates and reverberates around me – sometimes because it is the tune of that time of year, other times because of the beauty of the melody itself. It comes when I emerge from a pre-holiday mikvah, ready to be new again. It arises when I look around a kumtzitz campfire, take in the faces of people I am connected to and sense the way in which together we make a community.

If pressed to choose a word for this feeling, I would call it ‘joy.’ Perhaps I could call it ‘pleasure,’ but pleasure can sound so hedonistic. Better yet, Simcha is a Hebrew word that comes closer, but maybe that’s because I read more layers of meaning into a Hebrew term than into a stark English word. Regardless of what we call it, it is a very positive feeling. A Gen-Xer who grew up in a mostly ritually unobservant home, as an adult I participate in Jewish practices … because I enjoy them. Continue reading

Dynamic Balancing: Notes from our Omer Count

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Post by Rabbi Lee Moore

Shavuot is just around the corner. Meaning ‘weeks’ in Hebrew, this under-observed holiday among many North American Jews celebrates the offering of first fruits in Temple times and, according to Rabbinic teaching, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai following the Exodus from Egypt. The period between Pesach and Shavuot is marked by seven weeks of “counting the Omer” each day. As the tradition of Omer counting developed, each week and day came to be associated with its own unique set of reflections, based on the Kabbalistic concept of the Sephirot – emanations that channel the Divine creative force into the manifest world.

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This year, we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah invited a group of colleagues to offer their reflections on the various Sephirot and the implications they have for our lives today. Continue reading

Chesed

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Thoughts from Rabbi Lee Moore

Chesed is often translated as loving-kindness, but I prefer the term Grace. Chesed denotes a kind of expansiveness that we often do associate with love. Where there is a willingness to open, a willingness to accept, a willingness to allow what was previously wrong be OK – Chesed breaks through.

This kind of breakthrough feels like love in the sense that Chesed provides a truly unconditional milieu where connections are forged and closeness happens beyond what one might have thought was possible. We see Chesed at work when we reach the edge of what is possible, and then realize that we can actually go farther, expand our horizons, generate new ideas, forge new connections, embrace new ways of being, and discover new places to be. Continue reading

Why Count the Omer?

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Life speeds past us so quickly.

Jewish practice offers multiple techniques to slow down and appreciate the passing of time, the change of the seasons, the preciousness of the days that we have. Without a reminder, a gimmick of sorts, it’s hard to remember to do this kind of inhale and exhale that can help us get a handle on our lives as they otherwise speed past.

Counting the Omer begins the second night of Passover to offer such an opportunity — both to stop and appreciate the next 49 evenings, and to continue the same kind of self-reflective work that many of us begin at the Seder when we ask ourselves: where am I stuck? How can I help myself and others become free? Continue reading