Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Missing MJ in Tel Aviv

In Uncategorized on July 14, 2009 at 12:00 am

It reads:

“Blessed Be the Righteous Judge”
Shocked and aggrieved we announce the untimely demise of
“Michael Joseph Jacobson”
the singer “Michael Jackson”
His admirers who are in mourning

Sarah Palin–Rage as an organizing principle

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Beyond the Tina Fey caricature is the undeniable fact that millions–it seems–identify with her. Many who often feel, by virtue of their military service, their skin color and their religious convictions that they are the real America, but, through some bizarre sleight of hand, they have become…marginalized.

They are living in a nightmare come true when along comes Sarah. She looks like us, she talks like us, she’s kinda cute, and her kids don’t always behave the way we would like…just like us! What else matters? Identity politics is not only the province of Sarah Palin supporters, but we all, and I do mean all of us, want to identify with our leaders as somehow the most idealized version of whom we would like to be.
For frum Jews, she, like most evangelicals, is adamantly pro-right-wing Israel–so, go no further. Bibi, Ha’aretz reports is already calling Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod self-hating Jews behind closed doors. Often, frum Jews are not as interested in social policy as they are in small government and an unhindered and blindly supported Israel. The belief that ‘government will only waste my money so why give it to them’ is widespread and so is the ‘fact’ that democrats/liberals are less reliable allies of Israel than republicans/conservatives. (Pat Buchanan notwithstanding). This is an argument that has merit. I’d like my charity dollars to go where they will do the most good, so let me decide, but how should one decide if one is not going to rely on the governement for social programs?
Living in exile as we are, we may look to the Talmud as to what our responsibility is to our neighbors.

The Sages taught: One should support financially the idolatrous poor with the Jewish poor, visit their sick with the Jewish sick and bury their dead with the Jewish dead. (Babylonian Talmud Gitin)

Add to this, the understanding that how we are perceived as a people actually does matter. The Talmud further states that we have a duty to “sanctify God’s name” or at least not profane it–the most egregious and severe of all sins. How do we do that? We do that by being exemplary, that we demonstrate our love and concern for all. Such respect makes others say, “He is good, his Torah is good, and God is good.” The way we love God is by being visibly, demonstrably, lovable.
Not by being angry, not by delegitimating others when we disagree, and not be capitalizing on the rage of others. This is true for everyone, including those who are the supporters of Sarah Palin. We need to understand the origin of their generosity and compassion as well as the injustices that they have endured.
I believe many of these people have been profoundly and unfairly insulted. We know that wisdom comes in many shapes and sizes–not only from the hallowed halls of the ivy league. It is easier to have two dimensional pictures of adversaries and certainly it justifies salty rhetoric, and salacious gossip. Caricaturizing the adversary is a national past time.
It’s just not a particularly constructive one.

David Brooks Discovers Dignity

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

So do the readers of the NYT! His latest op-ed piece rates as the most emailed article of yesterday’s paper. Here’s a snippet:

(George) Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems haveto be created to balance and restrain their desires.

This is an idea that is at least two thousand years old, as it says in Pirkei Avot

Who is considered mighty, one who conquers his impulses.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

I would never use the term artificial systems because the struggle between impulses and a moral, or higher calling is a natural one. The desire to serve an ideal is as deep and natural as any other impulse. It is called a desire for a reason, and it is natural for human beings to wish to be good, just as it is natural to be selfish and narcissitic. The notion that we are flawed is also a natural conclusion from the intellect. This is not just a minor point, but it goes to the heart of the matter. Is hearkening to our better angels an artificial action to control who we really are? Or is the impulse to do so the process by which we become who we really should be. The distinction I think is a serious one.

Why does the word "Amen" loom so large?

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2009 at 10:12 am

It is true that the things that are most common to us are often the things we know the least about. They are part of our natural routine and so we don’t question them. For many, the intricacies of breathing only become understood when that process is interrupted. Otherwise, there are many of us who happily walk around totally unaware of the science behind that which allows us to function.

Our spiritual habits are no different. People say אמן or “Ayyymen” all the time, assuming they both know what they mean and what it means–or maybe mindlessly parroting an accepted mimetic tradition, and knowing neither.

Last night, in the late summer of my years, I learned and then taught about the importance of this one word–not only in liturgy, but in everyday discourse.

The word Amen makes a brief appearance in the Talmud. It is a word with power. Resh Lakish says when said with gusto that it opens the gates of heaven. Ben Azzai cautions with a severe warning that one should never “orphan” an Amen, but it should always be connected to a bracha. Amen means nothing on its own, but becomes powerful only when it is responding to a blessing.

Well, what is it doing? What does it mean? What are we doing when we say it? Most people when they say amen are affirming what has been said to them. But it is more than that. Amen is an acronym for Al Melech Ne’eman אל מלך נאמן (God, the faithful king) and by saying it we affirm that all God’s promises will eventually come to pass.

People often improvise their own wishes in life where people affirm these impromptu blessings with an enthusiastic Amen. They are indeed affirming the words of the speaker, but they are also bearing witness that the One who created the world is in charge of fulfilling these wishes. We, impudent snots that we are, invoke Him even in circumstances where we are implicating Him in promises He has not made. It’s a sort of spiritual activism in which one should engage with some care, for a misplaced Amen the Gemara says, is a dangerous thing.

Amen is testimony. Amen is affirmation. Amen, at its best is done in response to others, so Amen does not only connect us to God, but our relationship with others–it is an opportunity to unify the commandments between people and God and the commandments between human beings in just one word.

No wonder it can open the gates of heavens.

Jeffrey Goldberg interviews the very erudite and new Israeli Ambassador

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2009 at 1:08 am

Michael Oren, a fine historian and scholar is a phenomenal spokesman for the Jewish State.

Why are Men Such Bozos!!!????

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Jenny Sanford succinctly and poignantly outlines what should make a marriage last. The operative term is the “will” to persevere during the hard times.

I always wondered why the Rambam didn’t put marriage as his example for a relationship built on ideals–instead, he sees marriage as a reciprocal partnership, which, of course, it is. That was enough for Jenny Sanford, but not enough for her narcissistic husband, who needs validation that he still has “it”–which, of course, indicates that he’s lost “it” in more ways than one.

The illusory nature of romance will not sustain a relationship for a lifetime, but the will to be a loyal partner and companion, may. As many of us have learned, the will to be a faithful partner has to be shared by both parties or the relationship is destined for failure. Unfortunately, this is something that often can’t be known ahead of time, but of consenting adults who are not physically violent, or financially irresponsible, still require more than these trappings of decency to sustain a marriage. They require a mutual commitment that is not subject to the vagaries of the emotional turmoil that is part of everyday living.

It is not incidental that a wife in the Talmud is referred to as a “home”. Jenny Sanford provided a haven for a man who seems to be considerably less able and talented than she is. But why are we surprised? A politician’s job is to convince himself that hundreds of thousands adore him. Many need to be adored and why shouldn’t that need be reciprocated by more than just one woman. In fact, the truly great (looking) ones–Kennedy, and Clinton have been compromised, but have also maintained their allure and to a degree their legacy. Sanford was just following in their footsteps. Didn’t he compare himself to King David, after all?

Jenny, however, did not require the adoration of throngs, just a commitment from her husband. She was formidable in her own right, and was happy to demonstrate her competence in a way that furthered her ideals, and her commitment to her husband. This, however, was a not enough for Mark Sanford, who can only mollify himself by saying, “Well, at least she didn’t have cancer!”

Do we really believe that the Argentine home wrecker is his ‘soul-mate‘? Seriously.

Well, maybe this week.