Shabbat Vayehiy

Friday, December 29 - Candles @ 4:17pm
December 30 - Havdalah @ 5:15pm

“The scepter will never be taken from Judah, the ruler’s mace will remain between his feet, when Shiloh comes and the people will accept him as their ruler.” (Genesis 49.10)

This phrase comes from the Last Will and Testament of Jacob just before he dies in Egypt. Jacob's deathbed poem is about his sons themselves and their future. Its core message is that Judah and Josef will become the two leading tribes of the Israelites. This began only when David became king and the Tabernacle was moved from the town of Shiloh to Jerusalem. Then after Solomon died, the kingdom split. The South became known as Judah although it included Benjamin. The North was known as Israel but was referred to in the Prophets as Joseph (including the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe).

What did Jacob mean by referring to Shiloh? Long after the Biblical period, Christianity adopted Shiloh to be a reference to Jesus. In response the Talmud adopts Shiloh to be a reference to the Messiah. And there were going to be two Messiahs, one from Judah and one from Josef to symbolize the return and reconciliation of all the exiles. In the Bible the idea of the Messiah is simply the return of exiles under a new Monarch. In the context of Jewish history that makes sense. It is consistent with themes in Moses’s farewell speeches in which he says that Jews will abandon their faith, be exiled and yet return to rebuild their Temple. Which happened.

Some scholars suggest that this was written by a Judean scribe after the kingdoms had split. But our tradition is that this was written long before that. That is why I do not think this can be a reference to the Messiah. Others suggest that Shiloh is made up of two Hebrew words Shai, a Gift, Lo, for him. That could mean that Jacob was saying that at some time in the future, Judah would be gifted absolute authority. Something already evident in the role of Judah and his family in Egypt.

Jacobs blessings were less long-term references to an abstract concept such as Messianism and more an assessment of the characters of his sons and which ones he thought would be the major influences in the future of his family.


Shabbat Vayigash

Candles - Friday, December 22 @ 4:12pm
Havdalah - December 23 @ 5:08pm
Fast of Asarah BeTevet Thursday 28th December

Kiddush sponsored this week by the Zamir Family
in memory of their mother Nurit (Noushafarin) bat Chanom & Yehuda.

And in memory of Victor Ben Khadoury Shukur, Eliyahu Ben Reuben Iny,
Cheryl Cohen Bat Faigy, Meir Shlomo Hai Ben Shaoul.

Joseph, from being an outcast and a slave, is now one of the most powerful men in the world. He can use his position to toy with and humiliate his brothers. His rational side tells him he must ensure that they realize that he is in control. Make them pay and submit to him. His final ploy is to frame Benjamin so that he can claim him as his slave.

How do the brothers react? Judah pleads for Benjamin. And he also pleads for his father. He is of course trying to win over Joseph by asserting the values of respect and love for parents, brotherhood and responsibility. All things that were missing earlier. And he is hoping to change Joseph’s mind by making the brothers to be good caring people.

Joseph is deeply affected emotionally. He capitulates. But he does so in private. He cannot be seen in public to be weak. And he too goes through a transition, from identifying as an Egyptian to reasserting his Israelite identity openly and bringing his family down to Goshen.

This painful episode shows us how adversity can help people change, by looking at their predicament in life and altering values and behavior. The way both Joseph and his brothers did. A combination of mental agility and spirituality.


Shabbat Mikeyts
Shabbat Hanukah

Friday, December 15th
Hanukah lights first @ 4:09pm,
then Shabbat lights

December 16th, Shabbat ends @ 5:05pm
Hanukah lights first, then Havdalah

Special Kiddush sponsored by Justin and Setareh Adelipour.
Please come and bring your friends.

Joseph is described by Potiphar’s wife as an Ish Ivri, a Hebrew man. Then the Butler describes him as a Naar Ivri, a young Hebrew. Joseph describes himself not as a Hebrew but as being kidnapped from the Land of the Hebrews. Did Ivri mean only a descendant of Jacob? Or did it mean any stranger?

As a Hebrew he will have been looked down on by the Egyptians who regarded themselves as a superior race. When the brothers come back a second time they are sent to Joseph’s house and offered a meal, but separately, because Egyptians considered eating with Hebrews to be an abomination” ( Genesis 43.32). So Joseph and his brothers had to eat in separate rooms.

Clearly Egypt was a racist society. Hebrews were regarded as inferior. Even so when he appeared before Pharaoh, he stood firm and erect. Confident in himself. Pharaoh recognized his qualities. But before appointing Joseph felt he had to consult his courtiers and they agreed with him, that despite his background, he should be appointed to the highest position below the king. Any successful society needs to recognize talent! Even so Joseph felt he had to look like an Egyptian. He desperately wanted to fit in. To belong.That’s why his brothers did not recognize him. How far do we desperately want to fit in? To be regarded as "normal"? We often think, misguidedly, that people will accept us more if we look the same.

In fact racism in Egypt was not that deep and finding the best person was more important. Perhaps it was just that hatred of the stranger, of the other, was mainly amongst the poor and the primitive. Just like today, the hatred of the Jews, in the USA or the Arab street is mainly a pathology of the uneducated although it exists at all levels too. Some just disguise it better when it suits them!

The only antidote, as with Joseph, is pride in our identity.


Shabbat Vayeyshev

Candles - December 8th @ 4:08pm
Havdala - December 9th @ 5:03pm

Joseph is thrown down into the pit twice. The first time by his brothers, then by Potiphar. And he makes use of his gifts of dream interpretation to raise himself above the rest of the victims. In jail Pharaoh’s servants, the baker and the butler have dreams which they tell him. The question is whether his gift is Divine or the result of his own intellect and ability to read signs and people. The way mentalists or mind readers do.

In the case of his dreaming that one day he would lead all his brothers, that might be wishful thinking, inspired by his father favoring him. However, it could be a Divine message too. But in the case of the butler and the baker it seems he was relying on his own powers. They were both thrown into prison for being careless. Either because a fly fell into the cup or the dough was sour (to give one midrash of many).

The butler dreamt he had three clusters of grape buds that blossomed and flourished. He squeezed their juice into Pharaoh’s cup. Joseph’s interpretation was that he would be returned to his position. What Joseph sensed was that it had not been his fault. He might get a second chance. Besides a butler is closer personally to the king than a baker. He has a more direct relationship. He stands next to him while he pours. The king might have had more reason to forgive him. His dream reflected his optimism that he would once again serve his master personally. Joseph sensed something positive in his attitude that predicted a positive future.

Three cups, three days was easy, because he knew when Pharaoh's birthday was. All king's birthdays are cause for celebrations and usually amnesties. Not difficult.

The baker dreamt that was also going to be service carrying the bread, but that the birds of prey were attacking it. Once again, he was neglectful, as with preparing the dough. And as those who are hung are often attacked by birds of prey, it was clear his dream reflected his guilty conscience and he was doomed.

Joseph had indeed been given a special brain by his maker. But he used logic, common sense, and the ability to understand human nature. Someone with confidence like himself. It is when people give up or are defeatist that they fail to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them.


Shabbat Vayishlah

Friday, December 1 - Candles @ 4:10pm
December 2 - Havdalah @ 5:05pm

Jacob's life was dogged by one crisis after another. He had to escape from Esau. He fled to his uncle Laban who cheated him time and again. He had to escape from his crutches. Before he could get home, he risked an encounter with his brother. When he arrived back in Canaan he encamped near Shehem. His daughter Dina went out to visit the local women and was raped. Her two brothers Simon and Levi attacked the town in reprisal and massacred the population to the disgust of their father.

Jacob believed it had happened because his sons had been influenced by the pagan atmosphere of Laban they had grown up in. And after Shehem he moved on to Bethel where he wanted to live in his own spiritual cocoon. He insisted his sons get rid of all the trappings of idolatry they had accumulated. But it was clear he had not succeeded in entirely removing the negativity of Laban from his sons.

Rachel died. And then the Torah tells us that Reuben, his first born, slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhaa. Some Midrashim suggest he did not actually sleep with her. Others say that this was an act of protest because as a son of Leah, he expected his father would “promote” her to the position of favored wife and instead he preferred Rachel’s maidservant.

Once again, a son of Jacob acts against his father’s wishes and tries to undermine his authority. And this explains why Reuben was demoted and Judah took his place. But it also underlines the tension between Jacob and his sons that will culminate in the Joseph affair.

All this explains the struggle Jacob had trying to contain and educate his children in an alien environment. We think we have difficulty. But the Torah reassures us that it has always been this way. Even the greatest of our forefathers had to struggle to pass on his values and educate his children to follow in his footsteps.


Shabbat Vayeytzey

Friday, November 24th - Candles @ 4:12pm
November 25th - Havdalah @ 5:06pm

Jacob runs away from Canaan back to Haran where his mother’s family lives. There he falls in love with his cousin Rahel and marries her (after being tricked into marrying Leah first). Between the two wives and two concubines, he father’s eleven sons as he works for Lavan his father in law for twenty-one years. His relationship with his father in law is fraught and eventually he takes his wives and children and flees back towards Canaan.

Lavan pursues them and in addition to recriminating over why Jacob left in secret, he asks for his teraphim, idols, household gods back. Jacob has no idea that Rahel had stolen them. Why did she steal them? Was it because they were all brought up in a house where they worshipped idols? Didn’t Jacob have a say in their upbringing? One Midrash suggests she only stole them to prevent her father worshipping them. Which sounds a little weak because Lavan could easily have found or made new ones.

Later on when Jacob arrives in Canaan he commands his sons to “get rid of the alien gods they have” (35:2). Where did they get those gods from? From Haran or from Shehem in Canaan itself which they had sacked? From the case of Rahel it seems obvious that both in Haran and even in Canaan, the alien culture had affected them all. And now Jacob had to work extra hard to protect his family from these influences.

In a way this is the challenge that faces us all. Wherever we live nowadays, in Israel or the Diaspora, there are “alien” values and influences. We are all infected one way or another and we have to try hard to limit those external values. Even so as with Jacob’s sons this doesn’t mean we can completely exclude the external. But without ensuring our homes offer a strong alternative, we cannot ensure a Jewish future.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Shabbat Toldot

Candles - Friday November 17th @ 4:16pm
Havdalah - November 18th @ 5:10pm

Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Kislev

The Ahgravi family invites everyone to a special Younger Generation Kiddush this coming Shabbat @ 11:45am. Please invite your friends.

The story of Rebecca arranging for Jacob to get the family blessing over Esav is the main theme of this week’s reading. But there is another subplot that continues from last week when Rebecca was chosen to be the wife of Isaac. Although it was an arranged marriage, it worked out well; they fell in love.

Esav is forty years old when he marries a Hittite/Canaanite woman (who ironically was called Yehudit). He was not young. His decision was probably not a rash one. But he will have known how much emphasis his grandfather had put on finding a good woman for Isaac. But neither Isaac nor Rebecca were happy with his choice. Perhaps because although his wife had what sounds like a very Jewish name, it was only a name. It did not reflect the kind of person she really was. That was what they objected to. This is prelude to the question of who would be the better to carry on the religious tradition of Abraham and Isaac.

Later on Rebecca says to her husband that she doesn't want Jacob, who they are now both cultivating to become to the heir to Abraham’s tradition, to marry a local girl, because she is disgusted by their behavior. Having a Jewish name means nothing if you don't behave like a Jewish person should.

When Esav hears this, he finally realizes he needs a different kind of wife. So he now goes to Ishmael, his uncle, for a wife instead of taking a Canaanite woman. This helps him reconcile with his parents and his brother.

The importance of a good marriage is emphasized so many times, it is not a coincidence. Sharing the moral and traditional values that are crucial for a successful marriage that will then pass those values on to the next generation. Whom you choose for a wife (or a husband) is one of the crucial themes in the Torah.


Shabbat Hayei Sarah

Candles - Friday 10th November @ 4:22pm
Havdalah - November 11th @ 5:16pm

After the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah and his negotiation for the Cave of Mahpela as a family burial site, most of the Torah reading this week is devoted the journey of Abraham’s servant and manager, Eliezer of Damascus, to find a wife for Isaac. The journey takes him to Haran where he finds Rebecca. He negotiates with her family and brings her back to Canaan to marry Isaac.

She arrives towards evening and sees Isaac coming towards her from Be’er LeChai Roi, the name of the well where Hagar and Ishmael were living. It seems that after Sarah’s death the brothers were reconciled and lived next to each other. Isaac meets her, takes her home to replace his mother, marries her and then, notice the sequence, falls in love with her. Falling in love is an important sub plot of this week’s reading, directly and indirectly.

Abraham then marries again. Her name is Keturah and she gives birth to six other sons. All of whom establish important dynasties. But then we are told that Abraham had others sons by his concubines. Who are they? Did the Torah mean that they were Keturah’s children and Keturah was not a wife but a concubine? Silence. Either way the Torah tells us that Abraham settled his affairs by leaving his empire to Isaac. As for the rest of his children he gave them presents and he sent them east so that they would not compete or threaten Isaac and one assumes Ishmael.

The Midrash makes an amazing assumption. That Keturah is really Hagar. For as long as Sarah was alive she kept her distance out of respect. But because she loved Abraham she did not remarry and waited until the moment she could be reconciled. It is a highly romantic idea linked to a meaning of the name Keturah, which could mean sweet-smelling, like incense, but could also come from the word for what we call a chastity belt. She kept herself under lock and key, so to speak, until Abraham, her one true love was free to marry her. It is a testament to true love that can overcome all difficulties and obstacles.

Abraham was a romantic. But he was also a practical man. He knew he had to make suitable arrangements in order to avoid conflict. He had already taken care of Ishmael. Now of Isaac. But he also made sure all his other sons were provided for (we don’t know if he had any daughters). His was the ideal combination of cold wisdom and romantic passion.


Shabbat Vayeyra

Friday, November 3rd - Candles @ 5:29pm
November 4th - Havdala @ 6:23pm

Did God really want or expect Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? I don’t think so, because the Torah says very clearly at the start of the episode that this was a test of Abraham. But many people have wondered why God would want to test Abraham as if God did not know how loyal he was and as if God had not already commanded human beings not to kill other human beings, whether murder or human sacrifice.

There are two crucial messages here. The first is that a person can be so passionately committed to an idea, to a belief that he would be prepared to do anything. Just look at those murderous, inhuman Jihadis. Religion that goes to such extremes is neither a religion nor the will of God.

The Torah distinguishes between Mishpat, the Law, and Tseddek, doing the right thing. We need both. Law is crucial, both civil and spiritual. But there are times when the law is too rigid and inhuman and only an inner sense of what is right can decide what to do. That is why in Jewish law if your boss or senior officer commands you to do something you feel is immoral, you must resist. On the other hand, if we only go by what we feel to be right, our feelings can mislead us and even corrupt us. We need Law too.

This whole narrative explains why it was not enough for Abraham to feel close to God and why it was necessary to have a Constitution, given on Sinai, to ensure that no one used God as an excuse for something inhuman.

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Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com.

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Shabbat Shalom Leh Leha

Candles - October 27th @ 5:38pm
Havdalah - October 28th @ 6:32pm

Special Younger Generation Kiddush this week
sponsored by Ezra Chammah in honor of Rebecca Harary's
candidacy for NYC Council. (See note below.)

All great cultures and religions have stories of journeys and quests. Like the Gilgamish Epic, the Greek Iliad, the Odyssey or the Roman Aeneid. They involve a special person leaving home, suffering, hardships and finally returning home. Often there are awesome creatures, cruel enemies and tragedies. The objects of quests are usually things; the Golden Fleece, chalices, swords or relics.

Abraham is different. He has no intention of returning home, even if he does have to leave the destination, the land God promised, because of famine. The trials he endures are alien cultures and moralities, capricious rulers, divisions within his family, wars. All of which he surmounts and even benefits from in the end. But the fact is that his voyage is not primarily about achieving physical goals or wealth.

What really matters is his relationship with God and with human beings. His desire to be kind, hospitable, to care, is part of his quest to find the right way to live, to worship God and to get closer to understanding what God requires of him.

In both cases, human and Divine he is groping towards a resolution. He finds himself making bad decisions. He trusts the wrong people, he mistakes the will of God. Abraham is no perfect hero. In a way he is like us, everyman. And yet of course he is not. For he is the great spirit who discovers monotheism, who connects the idea of one God, with goodness. Who knows that to serve God is to serve humanity, regardless of whether people agree with his world view or not.

That is why he is the founder of our tradition. That is why he is different to all the other heroes and travelers and favorites of the gods. That is why the Bible calls him Avraham Haivri. Abraham the Jew.

* * *

Visiting this Shabbat and addressing our Kiddush, we welcome Rebecca Harary, Republican Candidate in the coming elections for NYC Council District 4.

After working for years as a successful entrepreneur, Rebecca switched gears and moved into the non-profit realm, where she has excelled in building successful organizations for people in need. Over the last 15 years, Rebecca has founded two non-profit schools; The Imagine Academy for Autism and The Yeshiva Prep High School for children with mild learning challenges.

Additionally, Rebecca was the Founding Executive Director of the Moise Safra Community Center, where she raised over $25 million for the construction of a new state-of-the-art building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for Sephardic Jewish families. She also founded The Propel Network, whose focus is to benefit Jewish women seeking to join the work force.

Today, Rebecca sits on the Board of Directors for all four organizations, and believes her personal and business experience can serve best to benefit the needs of all New Yorkers.

Rebecca is also the mother of six wonderful children, and she is also a grandmother. She and her husband of 34 years live on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and enjoy attending Shabbat services with Rabbi Rosen.

* * *

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com.

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.


Shabbat Noah

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Heshvan
Candles - October 20th @ 5:48pm
Havdalah - October 21st @ 6:41pm

Mazal Tov to Nico Moinian and Alexa Hakim on their wedding!

Two birds figure prominently in this week’s reading, the dove and the raven. One kosher and one not. One a symbol of peace, the other of evil and magic. One white the other black. One feeds on grain, the other on flesh.

In the story of Noah’s flood the ark finally comes to rest on the 17th day of the 7th month. It takes time for the water to drop further and on the 10th day of the 10th month he sends out a raven and the raven does not return. Leaving aside the symbolism of the numbers, the raven immediately found flesh to land on and eat. He did not need the ark anymore. Noah then sent the dove out and the dove returned because, there was nothing yet for the dove to eat. Noah waited another seven days. This time the dove returned with an olive leaf in its bill. A good sign but not enough to feed on. That was why the dove returned. Noah waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. This time it did not return.

The dove with an olive leaf has become the symbol of peace in cultures influenced by the Biblical story. How ironic that even the Disunited Nations has adopted it as its symbol. Though they seem to think it was an Olive branch (which has now entered the English language) rather than a leaf. Question. Were Adam and Eve covered with branches or leaves?

We project on to animals our own thoughts and interpretations. Dove good, raven bad. In truth their habits, in terms of caring for their mates, their young, competition for partners and nesting sites are pretty similar despite their different diets. If anything, ravens are cleverer both as mimics and in creativity. They can mimic humans too. Both served Noah. And from this we learn that animals, birds, all creatures, have skills we can make use of and should be valued.

But we humans are so self-centred that we think only of what serves us and in imposing our superstitions, preconceptions and cultural icons, our world on theirs. Noah’s flood is a story that reminds us of natural catastrophes but it should also remind us of man-made ones too.

* * * *

PS: After years of reluctance, I’ve decided to experiment with a pilot “conversation” podcast. The format will be for a moderator to present topics or questions to me and I will discuss them while engaging in a conversation with a moderator and/or guests and then we will post and distribute them.

I have been fortunate in that Michael Deutsch has been instrumental in helping me with my site altogether. And has offered to help gather the topics and questions for this pilot. He’s currently taking suggestions. If you have anything you would like to ask or have discuss, please send him an email to michael(at)4thbin.com. Your input goes only to him and he will withhold names. So don’t be shy.


Last Days of Sucot & Simhat Torah

Timetable Sucot 2017 & Simhat Torah

We are delighted to have as our “Bridegrooms” Hatanim on Simhat Torah:
Richard Warshak Hatan Nearim
Daniel Danesh Hatan Torah
Mousa Noorani Hatan Bereishit

Please join us on Friday morning, October 13th, to celebrate and have fun.
If you would like to stay for a sit-down lunch, please confirm with Tony Zand.

Shmini Atzeret & Simhat Torah
Wednesday, October 11th - Candles @ 6:01pm

Thursday, October 12th - Candles @ 6:55pm
Evening of Simhat Torah together with Park East:

Friday, 13th October - Simhat Torah service @ 9:30am
Reading the Torah followed by dancing @ 10:30am

Candles @ 5:58pm

Shabbat Bereishit Saturday, October 14th
Havdalah @ 6:52pm


Sucot 2017

First Days of Sucot 2017
Wednesday, October 4th - Candles @ 6:13 pm
Thursday, October 5th - Service @ 9:30 am

The Eshaghian family will be celebrating Mr. Moussa Eshaghian’s Birthday on 1st day of Sucot, October 5th, 2017. The family will be sponsoring the Kiddush in his honor and are delighted to invite the community to join them.

The Talmud gives three reasons for the commandment to build a Sucah on the festival of Sucot.

The first is that future generations would know and be reminded that in our distant past we were refugees in the desert without proper homes and the Almighty shepherded us through those difficult times into our homeland. History.

The second is protection from the sun. We live in a world of contrasts, nature can nurture and benefit and it can destroy. We need to take steps to protect ourselves. To understand the natural world and care for it and for ourselves. Nature.

The third is the temporariness of life. Its transience. It can be gone or destroyed in a flash. And that is why we need to appreciate the gift of life. It is not permanent or guaranteed. Life.

All three of these require the presence of God. And they are relevant to each one of us. But we will focus on what presents the most urgent challenge to our immediate lives as Jews and citizens.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com
I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.


Revised Timetable for Yom Kipur 2017


Friday, September 29th
Yom Kipur Kol Nidrei
Candles 6:22 pm
Fast Begins 6:25 pm
Mincha 6:30 pm & Kol Nidrei

Shabbat, September 30th
Shacharit 9:30 am
Torah 10:45 am
Musaf 11:45 am
Sermon 12:30 pm
Mincha 4:00 pm
Neilah 5:45 pm
Fast ends 7:14 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.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com
I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.


Shabbat Nitzavim and Vayeyleh

Candles - Friday, September 15th @ 6:46pm
Havdalah - September 16th at @ 7:45pm

Rosh Hashanah starts Wednesday Evening

The Torah says this week, that we were all standing at Sinai when God’s presence appeared and gave Moshe the Torah. Even those not present. That sounds very strange. How can one say that those not there, including unborn children, way into the future, could possibly have been present?

Of course, this cannot be meant literally. So, what does it mean? Similarly, the Torah also says that everyone is given a choice. And yet warns that that if one makes the wrong decision bad things will happen. Again, it is difficult to take this literally. We all know of people who have abandoned Torah and Judaism and seem to be doing perfectly well in life.

I suggest that the first part, about standing at Sinai means two things. Unlike other revelations of other religions, this was not a private one, a dream or a vision. It was a national experience. And everyone who adheres to this national, Jewish identity is heir to what happened on Sinai. Just as our children are our heirs and they can choose whether to be loyal to our memory and values or not.

The Torah is talking about the beginning of our nation, of our tradition. It promises that that tradition, the people itself, will never die out or disappear. However, individuals might and indeed do leave.

When the Torah says that bad things will happen it simply means that there are consequences to making the decision to abandon Judaism and the Jewish people. There is free choice to decide to belong or not. We who identify as Jews today are in a direct line to Sinai. If our children abandon it, they are cutting their link with three thousand years of Jewish history. If they choose to leave they will simply disappear from the Jewish people, and join the mass of humanity as opposed to being a standard bearer of Judaism. It will be their loss.


Shabbat Ki Tavo

Candles - September 8th @ 6:56pm
Havdalah - September 9th @ 7:50pm

We join Yassy Gershoony in his mourning for the loss of his brother. My he be comforted and know no more pain.

“When you come into the Land of Israel which God has given you and you settle it… you should bring some of the first fruits of the ground…place them in a basket and bring them to…God.”

For two thousand years when we were driven from our land, we were unable to obey this obligation. This expression of gratitude to God for our material needs and the benefits of tilling the earth. And we adapted to an existence that made such a law relating to the Land, inapplicable. Instead we channeled thought of gratitude into blessings, study and prayer.

Then we returned to our land. We had no Temple but as agriculture played an increasing role in Jewish life in Israel, the Kibbutzim adopted the First Fruit ceremonies and adapted them to the new reality. However, for most Israelis life was lived and increasingly is lived in cities. Agriculture plays an important part in Israel’s economy but plays a lesser role in the daily life of its citizens.

Yet the idea of giving, charitably, to other human beings and in terms of self-discipline and spirituality to God, should be playing a far greater role in our lives than they do. How often do we stop to thank God for everything, for getting up in the morning, for our bodies functioning healthily, for our loves and our lives and the benefits of our material existence?

The daily prayers start off with Modeh Ani (I thank you God). Throughout every day, we try to make 100 blessings to verbalize our thanks for everything, from a glass of water to a full meal. We are indeed grateful, for our lives, our places at college, our jobs, our businesses and the pleasures of love and life we all enjoy (most but never all) of the time.

We mean to. We think it's a good idea. But we do not do it often enough.


Shabbat Ki Teytsey

Candles - September 1st @ 7:09pm
Havdalah - September 2 @ 8.01pm

Rape is a horrible crime that is still prevalent in every society. It is not just violence against another person, though that is bad enough. But its psychological impact can affect a person’s ability to relate to others, destroy confidence, undermine a sense of security, and radically alter a person’s life. Rape affects both sexes, its use against women is a tool of war, conquest, and oppression.

In many societies today, a raped woman becomes a victim twice. She is blamed, regardless, and often isolated, rejected, and even murdered to cover the so-called shame of the family. This notion of shame, face, reputation is a pernicious artificial argument that simply indulges primitive male egos.

This week the Torah dwells on cases of rape and seduction. And the lies that are told to cover up actions that ruin people’s lives. Too often judges, police, and public opinion do not see rape for the evil it is.

The Torah distinguishes between rape in a city and rape in the fields. In the city, says the Torah, there are people all around and surely a victim can cry out, and the police or someone in the neighborhood can come to her rescue. Whereas in the countryside there may be no one around to help. As with all Torah laws, one must not take it superficially. The Oral Law clarifies. When the Torah refers to crimes committed at night time or daytime, it is not talking literally but figuratively. Something open and brazen, as opposed to secret and hidden. Field and city are metaphors.

So here the city means there are grounds for doubt, the need to look for more evidence before jumping to a conclusion. The field means circumstances where it is obvious a woman has been forced.

The Torah goes on to say that “where a woman has been raped in (in the field, where she is presumed innocent), she is not in any way guilty. It just like when a man overpowers another and kills him, so is this case.” Remarkably, the Torah compares rape (as opposed to seduction or consensuality) as murder. This was so far ahead of its time that in most societies, three thousand years later, they still have not caught up morally.


Shabbat Shoftim

Candles - Friday, August 25th @ 7:19pm
Havdalah - August 26th @ 8:12pm

The term Toevah, that I referred to last week, is applied here to “anyone who practices divination, astrology, omens, sorcery, charms or enquires after the dead” (Devarim 18:9-12).

All of this is something disapproved of by the Torah because of its association with idolatry. From its condemnation, the Torah stresses time and again that our lives should not be governed by magic or superstition. Instead we should develop a direct relationship with God. The way to do that is by living a God like life.

Having faith in God directly contradicts having faith in magic and its various branches. By knowing from the start what God expects of us. There are no surprises or weird, unpredictable spells.

Yet throughout Jewish history, we have continuously followed astrology, mediums, sorcerers and others who claim to know the future or protect against the present and the past. Even the Talmud refers to spells, magic formulae and cures. Even if Maimonides consistently says that this only reflects the credulity and ignorance of ordinary people. We Jews have continuously turned our backs on God and preferred delusions, illusions, false gods and prophets.

Why? Because most people feel insecure, lack faith and therefore need certainties, substitutes, crutches and placebos.

What is the difference between faith and superstition? Superstition is the belief that the world is random. It is full of competing gods and energies and one can never know what or when things will go wrong. But if one can find the right spell, the right formula and the secret, then one will be protected. If a black cat crosses one’s path, or a mirror breaks or a candle blows out, then regardless of any other factor, bad things will happen to us. But with the right antidote one can change one’s luck.

Being rational means knowing that actions are caused, even if we do not always see what has caused them.

Luck, mazal, on the other hand, means that there are forces in the universe that one has no control over, the sun, the moon, the stars. Just as we do not have control over the actions of crazy, or drunk or deranged evil people. The only thing we do have control over to some degree at least are our actions, what we do and how we live. And here we have been given the rules.

We know how to behave to get the best out of ourselves and life and be good people. That is what having faith means. Not doing the illogical, the magical, the nonsensical in the vain hope that these can have any effect. We need cures sometimes. But we ought not to need placebos. Having faith means that we can cope with whatever happens whether it is through our mistakes or those of others. Or just because the world we live in, runs according to its rules, not ours.


Shabbat Re’eh

Friday, August 18 - Candles @ 7:29pm
August 19 - Havdalah @ 8:23pm
Rosh Hodesh Ellul Tuesday & Wednesday

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the word used in the Torah, toevah, which is often translated as abomination. This is a very strong word of condemnation. And it is used in regard to homosexual acts in the Torah as well as lots of other situations. Some rabbis have argued that this use, proves how exceptional and heinous the issue is. I and others have argued it is a misuse and misunderstanding of the word toevah and this and last week’s Torah reading proves it.

Last week the Torah said that any gold and silver taken from pagan tribes should not be used because it is a toevah. This week when the laws of what we can and cannot eat, the Torah also uses the word toevah. Later on, (24.4) the Torah will say that a man who has divorced his wife, if she then remarries and divorces, he may not re-marry her for it is a toevah. The Torah disapproves of trading in wives, wife swapping.

The word toevah (amongst seven terms in the Torah of disapproval) is to differentiate Judaism from pagan customs both in general and specifically, without actually implying that one is either better or worse, of that there is anything intrinsically wrong or bad about silver and gold, or non-kosher animals or sexual activity in itself. The issue is how these actions can be and are abused. The implication is that there is nothing intrinsic, food or sex is not bad or wrong. Context is what defines an act.

In Bereishit it says that Egyptians would not sit down to eat a meal with the Sons of Jacob because the Egyptians considered it a toevah (Genesis 43.32). In Proverbs the word is used to describe hypocrisy or vain prayers.

I mention this not to imply that the Torah considers homosexuality normative. It sees heterosexuality as the norm for its capacity to reproduce. But that does not mean that it is any different to any law in the Torah which God requires of us. Anything can be called a toevah if it contravenes a general law. This why the Talmud (Nedarim 51a) says that the word toevah means Toe Ata Ba, you are mistaken. Mistaken in what? In assuming this is Torah normative when in fact it is exceptional.

But there may always be exceptions, circumstances beyond our control, like genes, physical conditioning, force majeur, that call for understanding and tolerance. Humans are created differently even if the law deals in generalities. As we say in the Talmud Oness patra ley Rahmanah (Avodah Zara 54a). The Almighty excuses those who are driven by forces beyond their control.


Shabbat Eykev

Candles - Friday, August 11th @ 7:39pm
Havdalah - August 12th @ 8:33pm

Six times in the Book of Devarim, the Torah refers to how wonderful the Land of Israel is. As a land “flowing (or better oozing) with milk and honey.”

In addition, in this week’s reading in Chapter 11.10. the Torah adds “The Land you are coming into is not like Egypt where when you plant you have to irrigate like a vegetable garden. The land you are coming into has hills and valleys and is watered by the rains. It is a land that God looks out for all the time. From the beginning of the year until the end.”

But the Torah also says in what became the second paragraph of the Shema, that God could shut off the supply of rain, close the heavens. Fruitfulness depended on the people and how they behaved. The Torah re-iterates that is not that we were, are, so good that we were given the land. But that the previous custodians failed!

We are so used to rational scientific approaches to the land, to GMO crops, to climate control, de-salination and technical ways of solving our problems. Important as they are, human intervention can be destructive as well as beneficial. We need a spiritual, a Divine, dimension to act as a check and balance to humanity’s “overweening pride and arrogance.”


Shabbat Vaethanan, Shabbat Nahamu

Candles Friday Aug. 4th @ 7:45pm
Havdalah Aug. 5th @ 8:40pm

The second time the Ten Commandments are mentioned, at the end of the forty years, there are some minor differences. Such as “Keep the Shabbat” instead of “Remember the Shabbat.“ Or “In order that He will be good to you” which is added in the second version of the command to honor one’s parents. “And do not commit adultery,” whereas in the first version it is simply “Do Not.” But those relating to God remain exactly the same.

Yet there is a debate amongst the early masters after the Talmud as to whether the first statement “I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt” counts as a command or not. Maimonides says yes, but Hilchot Gedolot says no.

I have always thought it strange that there is no command in the Torah that says, “You must believe in the Lord your God.” And from a philosophical point of view this makes sense. You can command someone to do something. But how can you command someone to believe anything? How can you check if they really do? Naturally this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that God underpins everything in Jewish life. Without Divine presence, Divine history, Divine Law there would be nothing to set ourselves apart from most other religions and cultures.

But the question remains, if there is no command to believe in God. What is there?

God simply says “I am.” That means there is something there that we need to relate to. But how do we? Some of us are rational, some mystical, some brilliant, others average. There are so many different ways of relating to life and reality. It is up to each one of us. We are challenged to find our way to encounter God, within the only parameter the Torah gives, that there is only one God. That remains unmovable and immutable throughout life on earth. The rest is up to us.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, in which we are promised that despite all the terrible things that happen to us, even things we bring upon ourselves, God will still comfort us and stand by us.


Shabbat Devarim & Shabbat Hazon

Candles July 28th @ 7:55pm
Havdalah July 29th @ 8:49pm

Tisha B’Av
Monday, July 31st
Fast Starts @ 8:12pm, Service @ 8:30pm
Tuesday, August 1st
Fast Ends @ 8:46pm

History is the record of events that took place in the past. This record comes from documents, inscriptions and the works of historians who try to reconstruct events that took place earlier. But we know that two people can see the same event differently. We also know that human memory is not always reliable. What happens when we have different conflicting records? Which one do we accept? Perhaps sometimes both views of the same event might be right. Just as we have different sides to our faces. They are not exactly the same. We think we have one face and it is balanced. Yet one eye might be bigger than the other or shaped differently. One ear lower than the other. When we look at others we combine both views into a single portrait.

History is like that. There are historians, each giving a personal view. We talk about fake news. But the truth is that there is no such thing as objective news. It is all biased to some degree.

When, in the Book of Bamidbar, the episode of the spies was described, it said explicitly that “God said to Moses, send spies.” But here in this week’s reading of Devarim, Moses says “ And you all got together and came to me and said, let us send spies…and I agreed.” Which version was correct? Perhaps both were correct. The Torah often tells narratives in different ways, repeats and adds an extra dimension. There is not only one history.

The Shabbat before Tisha B'Av is always called Shabbat Hazon after the Haftarah in which the prophet Isaiah condemns the corruption of the Israelites. Why was Israel destroyed twice? There are different narratives. Was the catastrophe because we were internally divided and corrupt? Or was it because the rival great powers of the times had their own policies that conflicted with ours? Perhaps it was both. That's history. Two theories and both are right!


Shabbat Balak

Candles - Friday July 7th @ 8:10pm
Havdalah - July 8th @ 9:05pm

Fast of Shivah Assar Be Tammuz
Starts Tuesday morning @ 4:04am
Ends at 8:45pm

Congratulations to the Roshanzamir family
on the wedding of Jessica to Alex.

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6) Five calamities befell the Jewish people on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:
  • Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai after they made the Golden Calf.
  • The daily tamid sacrifice could not be brought, because the Babylonian siege cut off supplies to the Temple.
  • The walls of Jerusalem were breached (the first step towards the destruction of the Temple).
  • Apostomus burned a Torah scroll.
  • An idol was erected in the Temple.
There is so much here that is both contradictory and historically uncertain. Which Temple was it? When was the tamid sacrifice discontinued? Who was Apostomus? The answer is we do not know for certain!

The Babylonian Talmud places the second and fifth tragedies in the First Temple but dates the breach of Jerusalem to the Second Temple period.

Jerusalem of the First Temple, on the other hand, was breached on the 9th of Tammuz. However, the Jerusalem Talmud states that the breach of Jerusalem in the First Temple occurred on 17th Tammuz.

Apostomus according to Josephus was a Roman soldier in 50 ACE who seized a Torah-scroll and, burned it in public. But the burning of a Torah came later at the time of the Hadrianic persecutions when Chanania ben Teradyon, one of the most distinguished men of the time, was wrapped in a Torah-scroll and burned. According to the Jerusalem Talmud Apostomus burned the Torah at the narrow pass of Lydda. Others suggest that Apostomus was Antiochus Epiphanes and another opinion is that "Apostomus" is the Hebrew transcription for the Latin "Faustinus," and that the name of Julius Severus, who was sent by Hadrian to put down the Bar Cochba rebellion, in which case the setting up of an idol in the sanctuary would have to be taken to refer to the dedication of a temple of Zeus upon the consecrated ground of the Temple.

The fact is we do not know. So why do we still insist on keeping the fast? The answer simply is this. The Seventeenth of Tammuz is the start of a three-week period of sadness and mourning that culminates with Tisha B’Av when both Temples, both Jewish States were destroyed and the people exiled.

In both cases Rabbinic tradition says that we were the cause of our own downfall because we were divided, politically and socially. The rich did not care for the poor. Half the Jews were opposed to the other half. The many of the rabbis were corrupt and we made the wrong decisions because we allowed the mob, popular opinion to influence policies.

That message is so true today. Just as relevant as it ever was. Whether in Israel or the USA. That is why we fast to examine ourselves to see if we can improve, be better and avoid the mistakes and tragedies of the past.


Shabbat Hukat

Candles June 30th @ 8:11pm
Havdalah July 1st @ 9:08pm

In this week’s parsha we have the first of several poems the Children of Israel used to sing about their time in the desert. Some of them were clearly written down, along with other songs, in a book called “The Book of the Battles of God.” They do not make sense. The names they refer to (Chapter 21:14, etc.) sound like code. Of course, the Midrash and the commentators try to decipher the codes. But what became of the original book? Why was it lost? Unless it is another way of referring to the Torah.

Then there’s a reference here to the Moshlim. Who were they? A Mashal is a parable, metaphor or proverb. As in King Solomon’s Mishlei that we call Proverbs. But who were these people? Were they paid poets, like there were professional mourners or counselors? Is it a reference to Bilaam the Magician, who next week fills the Parsaha with his poems?

The fact is we have lost so much of the background, context, and oral traditions that the Israelites had. Yes, we have the Tanach, the Bible, but clearly there was so much more that we have lost. Understanding documents of thousands of years ago is like stumbling in the dark. We may be able to decipher, but can we know the intent? To think we can manage only with the written text of the Torah is like relying entirely on what words a person says without reading his expression or hearing his tone! This is why even if Christians and Kaarites have the same text as ours in their version of the Bible, we understand it completely differently.

This is why we have always relied on the Oral Law, the Torah She Be’al Peh, to give us background and context. Even if we have lost a lot, there is still so much that has been preserved.


Shabbat Korah

Friday, June 23rd Candles @ 8:11pm
Havdalah, June 24th @ 9:06 pm

Kiddush this week sponsored by Gilbert Cavaliero,
in memory of his brother Isaac ע״ה

Korach and his co-conspirators rebelled against Moses and Aharon, claiming that they were perverting religious authority and arrogating authority to themselves. “We know better” he and his co-conspirators said, “we are the rightful authority not you.” Indeed, they use words similar to those used by Moses himself several chapters earlier, when he said in response to Joshua “Don’t worry about my position. If only everyone was a prophet and the spirit of God was upon them.” And Miriam and Aharon both say “God has spoken to us too.” Korach says “All the people are holy and God rests upon them.” Who can argue with that?

Why then do we regard them as rebels who deserved punishment? In my opinion it is not whether their claim to holiness was right or not. But because they used negative, abusive language and arguments falsely, to support their claims. They were dishonest. Moses replies “Why are you complaining about me? I have not abused power or taken anything for myself.” He realized the holiness argument was just a cover for personal gain.

The Midrash says that Korach tried to claim religious authority, that he was more religious than Moses and understood Torah better. HaShem intervened on Moses’s behalf.

I think this is exactly what has gone on these past weeks with the furor over Rabbi Joseph Dweck. People claiming to be more religious have been accusing him of not being religious enough. They have besmirched him without justification just because he holds more open minded, inclusive views. And they are using religion as a cover for personal agendas and their own political gain. Just like Korach they will not succeed not matter what titles they have, because Hashem looks into a person’s heart and pays no attention to abusive words.


Shabbat Leh Leha

Candles June 16th @ 8:09pm
Havdalah June17th @ 9:05pm

After the Children of Israel panic at the prospect of invading Canaan, they are sent back into the wilderness for another forty years. Soon afterwards we read about a man (his identity is not revealed in the text though the Midrash names him as Zelopchad) who went out in public to gather wood on Shabbat in contravention of two principles the Torah had already given. One was that work is forbidden. And secondly one should stay within the “city limits” on Shabbat. Was it neglect or defiance?

The man is brought to Moses who, it seems, does not know what to do. He goes to consult God. This is one of several cases in the Torah where Moses turns to God for advice. This, after Sinai, where according to tradition he received the whole of the constitution. One Midrashic tradition is that although Moses knew the law, in principle. He was not sure which of the various punitive options applied here.

But the Midrash often gives alternatives. One version is that this man was really righteous. He knew there was some uncertainty about the punishments. The law was unclear. And so he sacrificed himself for the sake of becoming an example for future generations. This is problematic. Jewish Law in principle does not approve of self-sacrifice this way. And if Moses had to go back to consult, maybe there were other issues that needed further consultation or would later require interpretation and innovation.

The Midrash offers another explanation. This episode illustrates how low the people had sunk, not only in morale but religious observance. That they were happy to ignore Moses, his instructions and his law. This man was typical of the sad state of affairs. This was why the people needed more time to recover from the debacle over the spies. They needed to learn the disciplines and the limitations that at first sight seemed harsh and petty. Yet in the end, firmness helped produce a people with self-control, discipline and a moral mission.


Shabbat Behaalotecha

9th June Candles @ 8:06pm
10th June Havdalah @ 9:02pm

Mariam and Aharon complain to Moshe about his wife, because he had married an “Isha Cushit.” What is a Cushit? We all know that modern Hebrew a Cushi is someone from Africa, usually black. And in our still racial world, many people would consider this a negative word, implying inferiority. But the truth is that in the Bible the term cushi is used several times of Israel itself. The prophet Amos for example has God saying that the Israelites are like “children of Cushim” to God in a positive way. That is certainly not derogatory.

The major commentators were concerned about the meaning of the word and its context. What was the complaint? Was it that Moshe had married a black woman? Was it racial? Nowhere does the Torah indicate that some races are intrinsically superior or inferior. Inferiority is based entirely on a person’s behavior--if he or she is pagan and has no moral values. So if they are complaining because she was a non-Jewish Midianite, why didn’t they complain that she was Midianite? And why now, years after the marriage, with two nearly grown up children?

In the context of the Torah, Cushi here, means special. As the midrash says, Moshe was so busy looking after the people he had little time for his children and his wife. He was sleeping alone in his Tent to better concentrate on God and the needs of the people. Miriam’s complaint was that Moshe was setting a bad example abandoning his beautiful, lovely, special wife for the sake of the community.

God’s response was anger at Miriam. Moshe, after all, was doing God’s work, and that required exceptional concentration and dedication to God and the people. Miriam and Aharon were right to be concerned about others. But not if it undermined Moshe’s position. Sadly, we know that the result was that Moshe’s sons did not follow in his footsteps. Sometimes one has to make sacrifices for the greater good.


Shabbat Bamidbar

Friday Rosh Hodesh, May 26th
Candles @ 7:57pm
Havdalah May 27th @ 9pm

Tuesday Evening, May 30th
Candles @ 8pm

First Day Shavuot, May 31
Morning service @ 9:30am
Candles and Kiddush @ 8:55pm

Second Day Shavuot, June 1
Morning service @ 9:30am
Festival ends @ 8:56pm

Bamidbar, the book and the Parasha we read this week are named after the wilderness. It is strange to give so much significance to a barren, silent seemingly abandoned part of nature where almost nothing grows or thrives and where all you hear is silence. Yet that was the painful crucible of the Israelites for a whole generation. Heat, sand and not enough water or shade. Yet it was out of those adverse conditions that a nation was formed ready to claim its homeland. The process was incomplete. There was more to do. But it was a start. And this story that has repeated itself throughout our history. It is adversity, exile, murder that seems to push us towards rebuilding and surviving.

Nature symbolizes the raw material of life. We never know where we may find ourselves. It can be nurtured and improved or destroyed. We start with very little but we can make a lot out of who we are.

Shavuot (which we celebrate next week) recognizes another geographical state, the mountain. Sinai. It is also barren, fiery, volcanic. It was where Moshe met God and then the place where Torah emerged. But whereas desert is usually flatter, the mountain has peaks and valleys. It also symbolizes the challenge of life. The ups and the downs. Sinai, Torah helps us cope with the challenges of life. It gives a framework, stability and roots in a cosmopolitan, unpredictable world.We are challenged by both desert and mountain to rise and thrive and live a good life.

We live in different places. We deal with different challenges and have different raw material. Some good, some not so. We face the challenge of making the most of what we are given or where find ourselves. It's the challenge we have. And the Torah gives us the tools to face the moral challenge in addition to the physical ones we are born with.


Shabbat Behar and Behkotai

Candles Friday May 19th @ 7:50pm
Havdalah March 20th @ 8:46pm
Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim

There are four words used in this week’s Torah reading that signify, in one way or another, freedom.

We start with Shmittah. This is the Seven Year release of bonded Israelites who have debits to pay off, either by working for their creditor or because they cannot afford to feed themselves and their children. It was also a year to leave the land fallow to help with fertility and to offer a break from hard labor. Hence our modern use of the word “sabbatical.” Some of us still keep the Shmittah by not eating produce of the Land of Israel during the Shmittah year. In addition, debts incurred were released. In ancient times lending was only an act of charity or to help someone set up in business. The Torah did not want people to be burdened indefinitely by debt.

Then came the Yovel. In addition to the Shmittah, every 50th year, all tribal lands returned to their original owners. This was to prevent anyone monopolizing the real estate and ensuring a fair division. We don’t know if this ever happened. It required lots of conditions such as a Sanhedrin of rabbis to convene and declare it’s start. But the idea of a Jubilee, also remains part of our language.

And then the word Dror. Which is a beautiful name in Hebrew and literally means freedom but it is used this way only once in the Torah. Its only other mention is one other place in the Torah where it is applied to sweet-smelling spice. Perhaps this is the origin of the phrase “freedom is sweet”.

There is another word for freedom, Chofshi. That simply means being “let out".

There are two different dimensions to freedom. One is the act of release, the removal of an obligation. That’s, if you like, negative. It’s good in that it removes a burden. But it doesn't substitute anything positive. Dror, means a positive sense of freedom. It is the appreciation of one’s free state. And that involves an obligation to use one’s freedom well and constructively. To be able to develop our inner beings and our spirituality.

Next Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim when we celebrate the Old City being freed in 1967. Which puts an obligation on us to appreciate having a State of our own, having reclaimed our heritage and the freedom and use it well.


Shabbat Emor

Candles - May 12th @ 7:44pm
Havdalah - May 13th @ 8:40pm

You might have heard the expression “Hillul HaShem.” Literally it means treating God’s name in a derogatory or a mundane manner. In ancient Israel, this was a very important concept. Society was predicated on Law and Order and Law and Order was based on the authority of the ruler and the ruler on earth depended on the authority of the Divine Ruler. Hence the concept of the “Divine Right of Kings.” Nowadays we no longer treat kings or Presidents that way. We are happy to criticize, insult and demean our leaders without a second thought. Similarly, many of us use the word “god” as if it was a swear word. We are careless with our actions and words.

Hillul HaShem has now come to mean something else. Desecrating God’s name means doing something that brings God or one’s religion into disrepute. As in: “See, another Jew who breaks the law. All Jews are like that. You can’t trust them.” Or internally, when non-religious Jews see an apparently Orthodox Jew behaving disreputably they will say, “See, Orthodox Jews are all hypocrites,” and use this to justify not following the Torah.

Maimonides quotes the Talmud when he says this is such a serious matter in Judaism that even Yom Kipur cannot atone for someone who causes God or Torah to be demeaned and disrespected.

The source for this is in Torah portion we read Leviticus 22:31 & 32: “You should keep My commandments (says God) and not desecrate My holy name, because I expect the people of Israel to sanctify My Name.”

When we are good human beings, we elevate God. When we misbehave, we diminish God’s influence in the world.


Shabbat Aharei Mot & Kedoshim

Candles May 5th @ 7:37pm
Havdalah May 6th @ 8:33pm

We talk about good, moral human beings and about bad, immoral ones. But how does one become a good, moral person? Is it what society expects or private decision making? Either way why do we need Torah?

Nowadays many people argue that our genes decide for us whether we are “good” or “bad.” The trouble is that if you are brought up as a Muslim, the chances are that you will probably feel and genuinely believe that Jews are bad and ought to be subjugated or removed. Did this come, does anti-Semitism come from society or from genes?

In believe the answer is both. Genes are made up of lots of different matter, good and bad. That's why we can inherit diseases as well as looks, longevity, and brains. But there is a lot we do not know about what goes into genes. Things called episomes can be affected by lots of internal and external factors. This might explain why certain character traits, characteristics of being Jewish might be passed on through our genes and why pathologies like prejudice continue. Is being good or bad passed on through our genes? Are some people automatically good and others bad? Can people change? Why don’t we all “Love our neighbors” as the Torah tells us to this week?

Judaism always claimed that we are born neutral, with a good inclination and a bad one. And we decide which one we give preference to. We are influenced by our own actions. Good ones reinforce the good in our nature and bad ones reinforce the bad. But How do we learn to become moral beings? Clearly some people want to be better others don’t.

Preaching--whether by parents, teachers, or rabbis--rarely makes a difference. We have to want to change--usually only when faced with a crisis. Most people don’t make moral decisions. The role of the Torah is to present us with alternative patterns of morality and behavior other than society and selfish genes. We choose if they matter enough to us. Any good decision involves weighing up alternatives. This is why the Torah presents us with a range of ethical and practical laws and says if we really want to be good people, here is a menu of what it takes and how we should act.


Shabbat Tazria & Metzorah

Candles Friday, April 28 @ 7:29pm
Havdalah, April 29 @ 8:25pm
Yom Ha'zikaron - Monday, May 1
Yom Ha'atzmaut - Tuesday, May 2

Kiddush this week sponsored by Clement & Hannah Salama
In appreciation of the community, rabbi, and hazzan

The double portion of the Torah this week deals with what are called laws of purity but purity is a very misleading translation. In ancient Israel, there were a lot of laws that required people to be in a special, elevated state, before they could enter the Holy Sanctuaries such as the Tabernacle of the Temple. This had nothing to do with what we call cleanliness. People had to be perfectly clean before they went through the process that enabled them to return to a higher state.

These chapters are concerned primarily with events that caused disruption or displacement to the normal functioning of the human body, both male and female. Sometimes this applied to sickness or disease. Other examples were the flow of bodily liquids. In addition, touching or being in the same room as a dead person also put one into a different state.

Such states primarily affected priests who could not perform their duties in the sanctuaries until they went through a process of purification. But it also prevented ordinary Israelites from coming into these special areas. Otherwise outside, and in the normal course of daily activity, being in one of these different states had no impact on daily life. One was not a pariah or forced out of normal life unless one had a contagious disease. One of the roles of the priests as the medical experts of those days was to examine and evaluate states of illness and displacement and recommend cures or corrections.

For most of Jewish history all this has been inapplicable. We have had no Temple and therefore the laws of Temple purity have lapsed. Technically today we are all in this state of not being able to enter holy places. But otherwise, despite our state of “impurity” we all lead normal lives.

So why do we spend so much time reading and some studying these ancient rules? Part of it is simply our interest in and commitment to our cultural and religious history. An interest in our past and how we have changed. There is a poetic nostalgia in recording and looking back at how our ancients acted and what mattered then. But it is also important as a lesson for us now.

It teaches us to be aware of our different physical and mental states. And this should make us more sensitive to the states that others might be going through. These chapters include sections that deal with how the body changes during childbirth, how relationships can be destroyed through deceit, how some of us choose to be more particular or punctilious in our personal lives. It is a lesson in awareness of the varieties of human conditions, states and behavior and how we can, if we choose, raise our games, try to be better and more sensitive people.

These ancient rules all focus in the end on how to be a better, more aware human being. The methods change over time. The goal remains the same.


Shabbat Shmini

Friday 21st Candles 7:23pm
Shabbat ends 22nd at 8:20pm
Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Wednesday & Thursday

Kiddush this Shabbat sponsored by
Yassi Gershoony, in memory of Moshe Ben Ezra
Tony Zand, in memory of Esther Bat Rahamim

The laws of what animals, birds and fish are permitted are given this week as part of the Book of Vayikra which deals with issue of personal purity. Purity in Biblical Hebrew has nothing to do with cleanliness as we understand it. Quite the contrary, no matter how clean a person might be, certain actions and states placed them in a category of what we would call secularism. And the contrary state would be what we call spirituality.

It is common to hear people say “You are what you eat.” So if you are a carnivore, this is supposed to say something about your character. If that were so, Hitler who was a vegetarian, must have been a very spiritual man! But there are some Jews who believe that if you eat forbidden foods, this degrades your body. This is illogical. First of all, we see that you can be perfectly healthy physically on a diet of forbidden foods. Secondly you can make yourself sick purely by eating kosher food if you eat too much or do not have a balanced diet. Meat and wine like many foods have therapeutic qualities but they also carry within them the possibility of gluttony, alcoholism and hardening the arteries. And by over indulging, sickness and disease.

Really the issue is not WHAT you eat but HOW you eat. Do you control, discipline your intake or do you simply indulge. Animals eat and excrete. Human animals do too. But what makes a person rise to a higher level is HOW he or she eats and whether they think before they eat and exercise thought and self-control. And this according to Maimonides is what lies behind the laws in the Torah, governing food.


Hol Hamoed Schedule

Friday April 14th, Shabbat Hol Hamoed
Candles @ 7:15pm

Sunday 16th, April 7th Day Pesah
Candles @ 7:17pm

Monday 17th Morning Service @9:30am
Candles @ 8:14pm

Tuesday 18th Morning Service @ 9:30am
Festival ends 8:14pm

The core difference in Jewish Law as written in the Torah, between Festivals and Shabbat is that on Festivals one is allowed to cook on flames (ovens etc) that have been kept alight from before the Festival. It makes sense of course in that there is a limit to how much food one can prepare in advance for a large family. And in hot climates before the age of refrigeration preparing for Shabbat is one thing. But preparing for Shabbat and for two Festive days in the Diaspora, would put unreasonable strains on family catering. If it was tough then, it’s so much easier nowadays.

Yet the implication is that Shabbat is stricter and more significant than Festivals because we simply cannot cook on Shabbat at all. Indeed Yom Kipur is described in the Torah as the Shabbat of Shabbats. Yet most of us nowadays treat Festivals as more important. In our community more of us come to pray on festivals than on an ordinary Shabbat.

I guess it is because most Jews find the weekly timetable of Shabbat too much to cope with and so fall back on making more out of Festivals. Of course, you might suggest that it was fine to take two and sometimes three days off work in an agricultural society but in our modern societies only professional Jews or those retired or self-employed can take so much time off.

People decide for themselves how much they are willing to give Judaism priority in their lives. No one suggests its easy. It isn’t. But the rewards are not just spiritual. Getting off the treadmill, taking a break to spend time on one’s soul is incredibly beneficial to our souls, our families and one state of mind. It is not easy I agree. But its worth it in more ways than most people realize. If a medical doctor recommended it you’d do it!


Shabbat Parshat Tsav, Shabbat HaGadol

Friday April 7th Candles @ 7:07pm
Havdalah, April 8th @ 8:03pm

The Shabbat before Pesah is called Shabbat HaGadol. It records the first command to the children of Israel in Egypt to take actions to prepare for their freedom. So it was a “great” positive event. But Shabbat HaGadol also came to be “great” for distinguishing the Rabbinic Jewish identity as against those who challenged it.

It was a matter of dispute within Judaism two thousand years ago as to whether Pesah had to be celebrated, not on the 15th of Nissan but on the Shabbat before it. The dispute threatened the unity of the tradition. And Christianity recorded the death of their founder as taking place on that the Sabbath for which they blamed the Jews and led to the cataclysmic schism and enmity.

Thus this Shabbat came to represent the greatness of our tradition, as well as the hope that, as the Haftarah says, Eliyahu will one day bring about the reunification under one God.

We face challenges from within of sectarianism and different ideologies. We face external antagonism from other religions. But it is when we come together by taking steps to safeguard our freedoms that we can maintain our integrity in a divided world.

Shabbat Shalom


You can still sell your Hametz by emailing me before midnight on Sunday.

Sunday Night 9th April - Bedikat Hametz. Search for Hametz by candlelight.
Monday 10th - Erev Pesah. Biur Hametz. Burning leftover Hametz.
One may not eat Hametz after 10:45am.
Candles 7:10 pm, followed by Maariv and 1st Seder.
Tuesday 11th - Morning Service 9:30am.
Candles 8:05pm, followed by 2nd Seder.
Wednesday 12th - Havdalah 8:07pm

Shabbat Hol Hamoed Friday April 14th

Last two days April 17th & 18th

Hag Sameah


Shabbat Vayikra

Friday, March 31 @ Candles 7pm
Havdalah April 1 @ 7:56pm

We return to sacrifices this week with the Book of Leviticus, Vayikra. To our modern minds the idea of animal sacrifices is a very difficult one to feel much sympathy with. Even though it is true that we “sacrifice” animals all the time, hidden away in abattoirs far from the eyes of consumers. We are more sensitive nowadays to animal cruelty not just in the killing but also in the rearing, transportation and treatment of animals.

Even though the Torah allows for grain, and other non-animal sacrifices the whole of the Temple service seems rooted in a bygone era. There is no way of knowing if this will all, one day, return. We talk about a messianic era but we do not, as Maimonides says, know how it will be in practice. And so, we leave such matters to Elijah!

But then how are we to deal with sacrifices in the Torah and indeed in our prayers when we often talk about the future?

I believe the broad idea of “giving” to God is important, not because God needs our sacrifices or our prayers. But rather because we need to feel we are giving of our best, that we are trying to have a relationship with a higher order and tradition. And as we know good relationships rely on giving more than taking. Sacrificing is giving party of ourselves, imposing limits and disciplines in order to achieve something higher and better.

Once we did it with humans, animals and then gifts. Now we do it by giving up work on Shabbat, by eating differently and trying to live lives of values, spirit and meaning by keeping different rules. By following an alternative way of life that we double track with civil society and its values. The more we keep of Torah the more we are reminded that we as Jews should have another set of values and a different calendar. We remember that being different can have huge benefits.


Shabbat Tetsaveh/Shabbat Zachor

Candles Friday March 10th 5:37pm
Shabbat ends 6:40pm March 11th

Kiddush is sponsored by
Nico, Jonathan, Stephanie, and Emma Moinian, and Ryan, David and Celine Elazari

Megillah Saturday Night will start promptly at 7:30 pm

We dedicate one Shabbat each year to remembering the fact that in very generation there are people who hate Jews and want to destroy and eradicate them simply for who they are and will use any pretense or excuse to condemn and set Jews apart. We call it the Shabbat of Remembrance, Shabbat Zachor. It is always the Shabbat before Purim when we celebrate the downfall of Haman who wanted to destroy the Jews in the Persian Empire simply because they were different.

We know of course that for two thousand years Christianity and then Islam have both tried their best to convert or destroy us. And when it suited them they tolerated us only on the understanding that we accepted an inferior or subjugated position. We might have thought that after the Holocaust, and in a modern so called scientific, objective world, such evil, diseased prejudice would have disappeared. But it is actually getting worse. Just think, billions of Muslims, billions of Left Wingers are all taught to be against us, not forgetting the fascist, racist anti-Semites.

Iran can declare it wants to eliminate Israel. Hamas can declare it wants to destroy Israel and all Jews too. And no one bats an eyelid. Women around the world are enslaved, raped and subjected to genital mutilation but only Israel is condemned in the UN as the source of evil. We are described as colonialists even if it was others who colonized the Land of Israel after we were driven out.

In America, Black Lives Matter and on Monday the International Women’s Strike picked only on Israel from all the nations of the world. The Teachers Unions of schools and colleges support anti-Israel prejudice and inculcate their pupils with the poison that allows disparagement of Jews who fight for their liberation and the right to have a homeland of their own. It's neither honest or objective. Anti-Semitism is an illogical disease and we must never forget it. The only way to combat it is to remember, to stand firm, to refuse to give in and to bring up children to be proud of their Judaism.


Shabbat Terumah

March 3rd Candles 5:30pm
Havdalah March 4th at 6:26pm

Next Saturday Night, March 11th, is Purim
Megillah reading at 7pm

The Torah offers two models of contributions to the community. This week we have the Terumah, the voluntary contribution that people would make towards the construction of the Tabernacle. People gave, whatever they could and of things that they possessed, such as gold, silver, skins, materials and skills. In the end, they donated so much that Moses had to tell them to stop. If only that happened nowadays.

The second model was the half-shekel that everyone had to give towards the running costs. This was a poll tax. Rich or poor, everyone gave the same. It seems unfair to tax the poor in the same way as we tax the rich. Just as consumption taxes penalize those who buy more and most societies rely on expenditure to fill their coffers. Yet it also made the important moral point that everyone was the same, rich or poor, when it came to membership of the community.

Over the years, societies have tried all kinds of taxes, voluntary, graduated according to income or wealth, poll taxes, consumption taxes. They all have their pluses and minuses. In every case there are those who try to evade their commitments. Jewish communities have experimented with different kinds of taxes during the thousands of years they tried to survive in the Diaspora where they were often heavily taxed by the regimes and religions they lived under. But no one single method prevailed

Nowadays there are no specific Jewish religious taxes levied on individuals. Though we do in practice pay a tax for kosher food preparation and supervision. And of course, we pay State taxes. But all committed Jews donate both to the poor and to maintain our communities. Some communities impose membership fees, others like ours rely entirely on donations, on Terumah rather than enforced tithes or membership fees.

And this time of the year Purim requires us to give to the poor and in preparing for Pesach there are always campaigns to raise money for those who struggle to provide.


Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Shekalim

Rosh Hodesh Adar Feb 27th & 28th
Candles Feb 24th 5:22pm
Havdalah 25th 6:20pm

Special Kiddush for Younger Generation hosted by
Justin & Setareh Adelipour and Jonathan Aghravi and their families
Everyone is welcome

Last week we read about the revelation that gave us the Torah on Sinai. This week we go into the specific religious and civil laws that expanded the initial ten principles that were inscribed on the two tablets of stone.

After going through a fascinating list of fundamental laws, the Torah returns to the revelation on Sinai and adds an extra dimension, that of individuals, having a personal revelation of God.

Academic thinkers tend to see this as an example of inconsistency, or lack of chronology and system. But the Torah is a complex document, more concerned with the religious message than a work of history or science.

It seems to me that this unusual sequence is intended to convey a very important principle in Judaism. The laws are essential. The constitution and human behavior is what preserves society and a particular way of life. But just important is what we call spirituality, the feeling of being close to that energy and power that is greater than human capacities.

That is why the civil laws are sandwiched between the revelation to the people and the revelation to individuals. We are part of a great nation. But each of us needs to find one’s own relationship with the Divine. There are three core principles that define us as Jews. A people, a constitution and the spiritual connection with God.


Shabbat Bo

February 3rd, Candles 4:56pm
Havdalah 5:52pm

“And they left Ramses to head towards Sucot, six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting children.” Tradition tells us that there were 600,000 people who left Egypt. But if we take this text at face value you would have to double the number to include women and again to include children. Could there really have been nearly two million? It’s even more difficult to understand if we were to accept the Midrash that says that only one fifth of the Children of Israel left Egypt. The rest preferred to stay behind. The sums do not add up.

Former Israeli Prime Minister, Ben Gurion, though not at all religious, loved studying Bible. He pointed out that the word for one thousand ALeF could just as well mean AluF meaning a family group. So perhaps there were only 600 extended families. That gets the numbers down but doesn’t really explain why so few slaves were worth making such a fuss of.

The other unknown is the Eyrev Rav, the mixed multitude who, according to the Torah, went out with the Children of Israel (and were welcomed). They will have been other slaves, dissidents and refugees. The Midrash often blames them when things go wrong. How many were there?

The fact is that we cannot know exactly whether the Torah meant those figures to be literal, approximate or even symbolic, Like the number 40 that recurs throughout the Bible. 40 days and nights, 40 years and reigns not to mention 400. Perhaps 40 was a general number for say “a generation,” or “lots” as opposed to “a few.” Could there have been precisely 600,000? Doesn’t it look as if the number was rounded up?

The point of the story is not to give an accountant’s report on the business. It was to describe the miraculous events, the escape, the creation of a new nation and its constitution. It's the broad picture that is so impressive. It would be silly to reject it just because different times used numbers in different ways. I am not saying there were or were not meant precisely. Only that we cannot know. In fact, our tradition, the Midrash, has always included different ways of understanding the narratives in the Torah.

Faith is a wonderful way of keeping the message without getting bogged down in too much detail.


Shabbat Vaeyra

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Shevat
Candles Friday, January 27 @ 4:48pm
Havdalah 5:45pm

Please join us for a special Kiddush this Shabbat honoring Jahan Ghadamian.
Sponsored by the Ghadamian family. All are welcome.

If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he had no choice. It wasn’t fair. I have often heard this said. But what do we mean when we talk about God hardening a person’s heart? Maybe it just means that God allows people to make bad decisions.

We are used to an idea of freedom, that we are responsible for our actions and that is why in our societies we punish people who break the law. However, freedom does not mean that there is no compulsion, that there is nothing influencing us. Or that one is completely free of any kind of constraint. Let’s just mention our genes. Some people just seem to have better genes than others. Some seem to be naturally better people than others or more religious and have always been so since birth. Why is that? Why do siblings born into the very same family and brought up equally often turn out so different?

We know about the debate between Nature and nurture. What influences a person most? One’s nature, ones genes, or the way one was educated and brought up? I don't think there is just one answer. Lots of different things affect how we think and behave.

The Torah uses the word KaVeD, we normally translate this as hard, to harden. Literally it means heavy, stubborn, inflexible in different ways. But also, dignity and, respect. Things we may either be born with or develop or come to be appointed to. So the root word KVD can be used to say He (God) hardened his (Pharaoh’s) heart. But it can say that Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart HiKViDor. Or that his heart was heavy KaVed. Hardened, perhaps by society or circumstances. There are so many ways in which we are influenced to make decisions. And God is another way of saying that somethings are in our nature, some in our genes and others the result of conditioning.

Pharaoh had a good reason for not giving in to Moses and Aharon. He was aftr all the Master of his Universe, the head of the most civilized nation of his time. It’s like the Chinese leaders who refused to make any concession to the protestors in Tiananmen Square. Or like Putin who thinks that aggression is the way to exercise power. Do they have no choice? Were they compelled? Or just that they themselves refused to see any other point of view?

The Talmud agrees that someone who has to overcome temptation to do good is regarded much more highly than someone who was good by nature.


Shabbat Shemot

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Shevat
Candles 4:40pm January 20th
Havdalah 21st at 5:35

The new Book of Shemot that we start this week has a very important theme that is often overlooked. The crucial role of women in Jewish history and Judaism.

We read about Shifra and Pua the two midwives who defied Pharaoh’s instructions to kill the Israelite male children. Their reward was establishing dynasties within the Children of Israel. It must have taken amazing fortitude and huge risk to find ways of circumventing the orders of an absolute ruler. All the more so, given that there were plenty of men who were unwilling or incapable of such heroism and just looked for an easy way out.

Then we have Zipppora, Moshe’s wife, who takes responsibility for saving her child when it seems Moses neglected his religious duties. Next week we will read about Yochebed and Miriam and their part in defying Pharaoh’s instructions too. And Pharaoh’s daughter herself who also refused to accept her father’s commands.

We learn not just about the role of women in providing the moral strength to stand up to their enemies but also the crucial role of women in preserving family life which is at the core of Jewish survival.

And we also learn that although the rule of law must be obeyed wherever we may be living, if that law is morally wrong, we have a duty to stand up against it.


Shabbat Vayehiy

Candles Friday 13th January 4:31pm
Havdalah 14th 5:27pm

Favoritism runs through the Book of Bereishit. You might say it started with God preferring Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s. God preferring Noah to all the rest. Then Abraham favors Isaac. Isaac favors Esau. Rebecca favors Jacob. Jacob favors Joseph and this week Jacob favors Efraim over Menashe. And the consequences played out over the next 1000 years of Jewish history as the tribes argued and fought, split into two rival states until eventually they merged under the tribe of Judah, to become Jews ( as well as Children of Israel).

The Torah seems to be ambiguous about favoritism. On the one hand, it supports meritocracy, finding the best person for the job. On the other hand, it favors heredity, emphasizing tribal differences, choosing a specific tribe to become priests and later a specific family to provide kings. On the meritocratic level Jews as identified through their mothers as all equal and potential leaders. Anyone can get to the top. On the tribal level as identified through fathers, they provide aristocracies of kings and priests. Only those born to it can lead. This dichotomy runs through the history of mankind.

There are many examples of where the Torah gives alternative possibilities for actions and for models of leadership. Just as the Torah allows for exceptions under extreme conditions to preserve one’s life. Or even though hating violence, it allows for self-defense and even warfare despite detesting taking human life.

People often think the Torah and Jewish Law is rigid. It might be strict and demanding but it usually offers different legal positions and opportunities. That is why there is so much debate in Jewish Law. It is not monolithic or black and white and does indeed allow for many variations. No single approach answers every scenario.