3/30/2017

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.

3/09/2017

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.

3/02/2017

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.