9/29/2016

Timetable for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur 2016/ 5777

Services at Park East Lexington and East 68th
upstairs in the Gym

ROSH HASHANA

Erev Rosh Hashana
Candles 6.17pm Evening service 7 pm

1st Day Rosh Hashana Monday 3rd October
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Shofar 11.30 am
Musaf 11.40 pm
Sermon 12.45 pm
Evening service 6.30 pm

2nd Day Rosh Hashana Tuesday 4th October
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Shofar 11.30am
Musaf 11.40 pm
Sermon 12.45 pm
Festival ends 7.08pm

Shabbat Shuva 7th October
Candles for Shabbat 6.09 pm
Shabbat Morning 8th October, services as usual
Havdalah 7.01pm

YOM KIPUR

Yom Kipur Kol Nidrei Tuesday 11th
Candles Fast Begins 6.02 pm
Mincha 6.30 pm & Kol Nidrei 6.45pm

Yom Kipur Wednesday 12th
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Musaf 12.00 am
Sermon 1.15pm
Mincha 3.00 pm
Neilah 5.00pm Fast ends 6.05 pm

Please remember not to bring cell phones to the synagogue and to respect the atmosphere for those who wish to pray and mediate. If you want to talk, please do so outside the sanctuary. And please ask your children play outside and not disturb those praying. Thank You.

Shabbat Nitzavim

Candles Friday 30th September 6:20pm
Havdalah 7:15pm

Cy Aminzadeh’s Bar Mitzvah
Services this coming Shabbat only will be held at
The Pratt House
58 East 68th Street (South West corner with Park Lane)

There are several “contracts” between God and Israel in the Torah. But this final one includes a new idea, that of choice. “You may think you are blessed (if you do not want to accept this contract) and be in peace, for I am only following my heart’s desire (free will).” That looks like a reasonable deal. But then the Torah goes on to warn such a person that abandoning God will have awful consequences. Is there not a contradiction between the right to choose and the threat of disaster of the choice is a wrong one?

The Torah, given its age and context, presents God to us as a positive source of love and on the other hand as an authority. A parent, combining love and authority. We may bridle at the idea of an authority telling us what to do. But is this not how all parents have to function? Everyone knows one’s child will have the freedom to make his or her own choices to some degree. How often do children indeed rebel against their parents. Parents may know the consequences of giving a child freedom, of imposing no constraints, of not trying to argue against decisions. So we say to kids, “it is your choice but I warn you. It is not going turn out so well.” Sometimes parents are wrong. But very often children regret the lack of guidance from parents as much as too much.

Thousands of years ago, as today, the challenge is between having standards and values as opposed to self-indulgence and no constraints. The value systems are the ones that we are being asked to choose and fight for. Because, as the saying goes “No Pain, No Gain.”

9/22/2016

Shabbat Ki Tavo

Candles Friday 23rd September at 6:30pm
Havdalah 24th at 7:24pm

There’s a very unusual ceremony in this week’s part of the Torah. When the tribes cross over the river Jordan and settle on the West Bank they were commanded to gather on the two mountains, Gerizim and Eval, which can be found near the city now called Nablus. To this day they are considered holy by the Samaritans. Their Temple was on Gerizim. This was because these mountains are actually mentioned in the Torah. Unlike Mount Zion which is only hinted at.

Ceremony consisted of tribes divided into two groups, six tribes on each mountain. The priests stood in the valley between with the Ark. And they turned to the group on Gerizim and proclaimed a blessing for those who did the right thing. And then they turned to Mount Eyval and proclaimed a curse for those who did not. And everyone answered “Amen.” In this context the curses and the blessings simply meant that one path would be positive and beneficial and the other would be negative and destructive.

The Torah gives a list of actions starting with “A person who makes and idol in secret” and on through a list of other forbidden acts, like adultery, theft, dishonesty and adultery that usually are done secretly rather than in the open.

One is bound to wonder why it wasn’t enough just to bless those who keep the Torah in general and curse those who do not. Why focus specifically on actions that are secret, done in private?

We don’t know if this event ever took place. There is no record. So as with many things in the Torah we are left to discover its significance and relevance to us now. But clearly the Torah is warning people in general against being deceitful and two faced if they wanted to establish an ethical and just society.

I suggest that it is brilliantly relevant. In this era of social media we tell the world a lot about ourselves. We like to show everyone our good and the positive side. But we hide the secret and the negative. Some people don't seem to know the difference between private and public. And some have no sense of shame.

What the Torah tells is that what you do in private determines the person you really are. We can all put on a good public face. It is when no one is watching that we reveal who we really are.

9/15/2016

Shabbat Ki Teytzey

Candles Friday Sept. 16th 6:42pm
Havdalah 17th 7:36pm

What happens when a marriage breaks down irretrievably? The Torah in this week’s reading and the Talmud both say that if there is a genuine grievance, and it is not just frivolous, then one may divorce. One appears before a Rabbinic Court of Law, a Beth Din. Terms have to be agreed for financial affairs and settlements and care of any children. Then the scribe writes out the wording of the divorce bill, called a Get. It is handed to the woman. She must agree to accept it. Then after waiting a short while, both parties may marry again. Problems may arise where a husband abandons the religion and refuses to grant a divorce, but that is an issue for some other time.

Here I am concerned with the very idea of divorce. In many Christian communities, divorce is never acceptable. You know the famous phrase that is still used occasionally in their ceremonies that couple promise to love each other “till death do us part.” Judaism does not take that view. There are few guarantees in life, and the reason given for allowing divorce is the famous phrase “Love Your Neighbor.” Which is followed by “Do not hate your brother (or sister) in your heart.” We must do whatever we can to avoid hatred and tension. They are debilitating. Where two people end up hating each other, we must strive to give them both an opportunity to live without debilitating negativity that can take the joy out of life.

Divorce is not something Judaism welcomes. A happy marriage is the greatest of gifts. But marriage is not easy. We believe that relationships need to be worked on. One has to persevere. And children need a loving, stable environment. But people change. People make mistakes. Life is rarely perfect, and most of us have to overcome one sort of disadvantage or another. But if one has genuinely tried, the Torah allows for a couple to split. As the book of Proverbs says, “Better to live on the edge of a roof in peace than in a magnificent house where there is argument and strife.”

9/08/2016

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles Friday September 9th 6:54pm
Havdalah 10th 7:47

This week the Torah we read, Shoftim, contains the main elements of the Jewish Judicial process.

It includes the important proviso that if there is anything unclear in Jewish law, any unresolved disputes or new issues that have to be decided upon, one approaches the Judicial authorities for a binding “learned opinion.” It is, in its way, like having a Supreme Court.

The Torah suggests that such a court be made up either of Priests or Judges. Both types of were entrusted by the Torah with the management of the law after Moses. Over time both priests and biblical Judges, one representing religious authority, the other the civil, changed. Either because they were not longer necessary (the Temple was destroyed) or superseded (by kings).

Two thousand years ago the role of deciding on law and custom, was transferred to the great Talmudic rabbis. They included brilliant men of fierce integrity, knowledge and authority and their decisions have remained the core of our constitution. The Torah if you like is the constitution. What the rabbis introduced was like the amendments to the constitution.

Over time, as we were scattered, the authority of a single institution disappeared. Each community and its rabbis made their own decisions as circumstances arose. All based of course on or derived from the constitution. But adding according to custom and circumstance.

Now we no longer have a single authority. However, the constitution remains intact. But nowadays we have no final Court of Appeal. And that is what explains all the differences even amongst the most Orthodox. In one way the lack of unanimity and authority is confusing and complicated. But in another, we have the advantage of variety and alternatives.

It is now up to us as to decide which authority we choose to obey or which community we join. And indeed the Talmud approved of this, saying that each person should “Get their own rabbi,” that is, someone to consult. But they also said one should not just go from one rabbi to another until one gets the answer one is looking for!

9/01/2016

Shabbat Re’eh

Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 2nd 7:06pm
Havdalah 3rd 7:59pm

What was the role of the Prophet? It was to convince people to behave in a good and spiritual way. It is true that some of them, particularly in the early days, performed miracles. But Moses is known for his words not the miracles, that anyway never seemed to have had a long term effect.

This week we have the law of the false prophet. If someone calling himself a prophet comes and performs miracles and the aim of these miracles is to get us to abandon our religion and our people, we must not listen to him. This is a test of our faith. Very strange. So miracles do not mean anything unless the message is the right one.

What then was the point of the miracles in the bible? There is a difference between God’s miracles and those of humans. Human beings are adept at illusion and delusion, tricks that seem like miracles but are not. But people who do not know the tricks can easily be fooled. It is true some people are so insecure they need miracles. But really it is the message that counts.

We do not think people are great because they play tricks or make predictions that may or may not come true. We do not idolize or sanctify. That is why none of the primary figures of other religions impress us. Moses was and is great because of the Torah and it is the Torah that defines us. False prophets pretend to be what they are not. We must beware, even of those who seem outwardly to be religious. As the Torah tells, we need to look beneath the surface.

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It is traditional to start saying Selihot during the month of Ellul in preparation for Rosh Hashannah. Selichot are poems, written in medieval times that remind us of our obligation to be good people and to ask God for forgiveness for ignoring His commands. As for other human beings, we must ask them to forgive us directly. It is quality that matters not quantity. Better to say a little every day, even one line, and think about it than to say a lot of meaningless words just for the sake of it.