From The Blog

E-mail Print PDF

After working through a series of scriptural passages on the dangers of intermarriage, I asked my grade eleven students if they understood the text.  One particularly bright girl - and high performer - said she understood the text completely but the text was irrelevant.  She would marry (or not) on the basis of love, not religion.   The future of the Jewish people as a people was important to her, but not at the expense of personal happiness.   Following a unit on Shabbat, another student voiced the opinion that each person should be entitled to personally determine what leisure activities should characterize the day.  It is simply unfair for the rabbis to impose their views on others.  Both students tested well.  Each could identify, describe, and explain the mitzvot related to intermarriage and Shabbat respectively.  But this did not particularly cheer me.   My students knew well what the pertinent mitzvot were and how they were supposed to be observed.  They were simply unprepared to observe them.

This phenomenon is not restricted to day school students.  University students and adults are just as likely to share the same view. Accordingly, I have come to what I call “Allen’s Observation.”  Among the lessons I have learned in my extensive teaching career is that unless you can convince Jews of the value of mitzvot you cannot expect Jews to observe mitzvot.   Making the case for mitzvot must become the single-most important educational strategy for rabbis, teachers, and parents if we are going to preserve Judaism as way of life based on common practice and shared obligations. 

Read more...
E-mail Print PDF

Kinesiologists have determined, according to a report in a July 2014 issue of Time magazine, that human beings can run a race of one hundred meters no faster than 9.29 seconds.  This time is actually 15/100 second faster than a reporter for the BBC determined after consultations with mathematicians in 2012.  The terminus in racing time is determined by the laws of physics and the limitations of human anatomy.  This means that as athletes continue to reach the maximum of human potential, such races will be increasingly closer, with the winner outpacing his or her rivals by only thousandths of seconds.  To the observer, the race may be thrilling but the speed at which the athletes actually run will be entirely lost without context.

Read more...
E-mail Print PDF

Proponents of Judaism often cite the fact that Judaism conforms to the highest and noblest ethical standards.  Indeed, there is so much to support this contention in the Torah itself.  For instance, the Torah demands the use of fair weights and measures and honest business practices (Leviticus 19:35-36) and fair treatment of servants and workers (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:14-15).  The Torah insists upon compassion for the disabled (Leviticus 19:14) and special treatment for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:21).  The lowly condition of the poor must be improved, not tolerated (Leviticus 19:9-10) and even the poverty stricken must be treated with dignity (Exodus 22:24-26).  The Torah insists upon equal justice under the law (Exodus 23:3, 6-8; Numbers 15:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:19-20) and even love of strangers (Leviticus 19:34) as well as neighbors (Leviticus 19:18).  Human life must be preserved (Leviticus 19:16) and animals, too, must be treated compassionately (Exodus 22:4; Deuteronomy 22:6-7).  The Torah demands giving attention to public safety (Exodus 21:33-34; Deuteronomy 22:8) and to environmental issues as well (Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 20:19).  Not only did these rules set Israel apart from its ancient neighbors, it makes Judaism appear progressive even today.

But critics of the Torah in particular and Judaism in general are not entirely convinced; primarily because of passages that paint a picture of cruelty rather than nobility.

Read more...
E-mail Print PDF

One of the consequences of foreign investment in Saudi Arabia is the Saudi’s encounter with Western civilization.  To the xenophobic and historically isolated kingdom certain Western affects were particularly perplexing, like women drivers and pet cemeteries.  How beasts could be mourned was puzzling to the Saudis; but not so much to Jews.  The essentials of animal welfare are generated from several key verses in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:1, 6-7).  And based on Judaism’s concern for animals, three medieval Jewish philosophers go so far as to consider whether animals go to heaven after death.

Read more...

Words to live by

We’re all so busy chasing the extraordinary that we forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.

- Professor Brené Brown