A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Airport Security, Ben Gurion Style

If you've flown from the US to Israel in the last 8 years, then you're aware of the stark contrast between American and Israeli airport security.

In America, the process of going through security takes way too long (too much time in lines), is ludicrous (pulling aside 90 year old women for explosives search) and cumbersome (mam, even though you're a seven months pregnant and traveling with a two year old, we need you to dig up containers of toothpaste and shampoo from your luggage and then to step aside so we can scan your socks). And as a reward for our lemming-like patience, we continue to find holes in the system either via TSA agents who are able to sneak explosives on planes or via actual threats that are fortunately derailed by courageous passengers.

In Israel, the process is quick, efficient, rational and there are no security breaches. This article explains why. I love the very Israeli-ness of the guy they interview.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Time Out for...Vic

Very sad news tonight in the NYTimes - the wonderful singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt has died. I've posted an amateur video (just still pics and lyrics) of his song "I'm Through" because there are very few high quality videos. Very spare guitar playing and a voice of immense power. Zichrono livracha.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is a Political Rabbi a Bad Rabbi?

The Tikkun Olam Committee at Har HaShem recently sent out a letter advocating support for the health care bill and encouraging congregants to call their Congressional Representatives and Senators to encourage the bill's passage. It was signed "Rabbi Rose and the Tikkun Olam Committee."

I have received four responses from Congregants saying, essentially, "It was inappropriate for the Rabbi to advocate a particular political position and to encourage congregants to adopt that position." I'm not capturing the nuance of the letters, some of which were particularly thoughtful, but that is the gist.

First, I want to be clear that, as we said in the letter, you can certainly be a good Jew and oppose this legislation. The Jewish tradition does not require anyone to support this bill. Going further, there are some people who will find that Jewish values require them to oppose this legislation – that is a legitimate perspective. I want everyone to feel that the Jewish tradition and Har HaShem are foundational to their spiritual lives even if they disagree with others in the synagogue about any particular issue.

Second, though, I wanted to open this for discussion. Is it ever appropriate for a Rabbi in a synagogue to encourage passage of a particular piece of legislation? If so, under what circumstances?

Guidelines: keep responses brief and respectful. This is not a place for anger-filled polemics.

My argument is
All Jews, rabbis included, have obligation to make their voices heard when their tradition calls upon them to speak out.

Because we live in a diverse democracy, all people must use neutral language that is not particularistic in their political discussions. Though you may feel that “God wants me to support/oppose this or that legislation,” in a diverse society you must use rational, secular language to be persuasive.

There is no such thing as a moral issue that is not sullied by the particulars of legislation. The civil rights debate in the 50s and 60s were not just about “Inequality is immoral and must be stopped!” It was about legal language, constitutional powers, the balance between state and federal power. So, a Jew can’t seriously advocate/oppose a moral position on issue X without rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with particulars.

Finally, Judaism is a religious tradition oriented toward not only the cultivation of individual spiritual life but also toward the creation of a just society. It requires us to look after the well-being of other people. One may say that conservative or liberal policies are the best way to achieve this, but my argument is that Judaism does not want us to disengage from political issues – which, I’m arguing, are actually moral issues.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Too good. Thanks to Yehudis for passing it on:

Unsettling II

A while ago I posted here about Netanyahu and the settlement freeze. This New York Times article on Netanyahu suggests that he does, in fact, have an endgame. I don't see it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War in Afghanistan Just?

I haven't had time to look at the President's speech. But The Times' coverage indicates that he referred to "just war" theory - or at least he argued that is a "just war."

There's information about just war theory here, which I think is not only a compelling way to approach the ethics of engaging in any particular war, but also an intellectually elegant argument in general.

You can find a paper I wrote about Jewish ethics and war here; part of the paper explains the just war theory. Judaism has no comparable theory.

Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Time Out for Fun - The Story

OK, I was trying to find a way to tie this song into Torah in some way, because most of my "Time Out for Fun" vids have some Jewish tie in. I could try to connect the "I was made for you" line to some kind of existentialist theology, or the "blessing" line into some simpler religious notion.

The truth is that I just love Brandi Carlile's music. Her voice is a formidable weapon. I have just been knocked out by the force of it on a few occasions. But she is also a sly and skilled singer, dancing around the beat, dragging out sssylables. She's a bit of a Muhammad Ali of singers: brutally powerful but also capable of incredibly subtle movement. Enough blather; give it a listen and let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Strange Frequencies

Incredible story in the jpost about correlations between the frequencies of colors and the numerical value of the words representing them:

Rabbi Joshua Rose

Thursday, December 3, 2009


This can't work. I just don't see how Israel can continue to conduct itself in this way and create any long term security for itself.

Netanyahu met with settlers in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and showed his true colors. To placate the United States, Israel has agreed to halt settlement. Netanyahu sends a signal of his contempt and his unseriousness about it though to the world during this meeting: "There are nine months and three weeks left," he tells them. In other words, we'll keep building as soon as possible; this whole thing is an illusion.

What is the play here? What is the long term goal of Netanyahu? He seems to be acting as though it is still 1989.

I can't read this without this week's Torah portion in mind. After years of bitterness and fear, Jacob and Esau see each other again. Jacob sends gifts in advance - yes, out of fear, as he seems to acknowledge - and they embrace, years of animosity dissolving in a moment.

No, I'm not arguing, as some simplistically do, that if Israel is just generous enough and warm-fuzzy enough, all will be good. That's foolish and disproven by history (Israel's history and diplomatic history in general). But what creates peace between Esau and Jacob is a genuine transformation and acts of self-sacrifice (not to mention inner transformation, at least on Jacob's part).

Diplomatic shell games are not going to do it.