What kind of justice do you pursue? Thoughts on parshat Shoftim and textual adoption.

Remarkably quickly, it seems, we’ve marched through the traditional Torah reading cycle and are several parshiyot into Deuteronomy. This week’s traditional cycle takes us to parshat Shoftim, which starts us off with the appointment of judges and the necessity that they blinker themselves as to the status of the parties before them.

Like many other parshiyot, Shoftim has lots of little verses (or parts of verses, anyway) in it that are often cited as grounding the principles of liberal Judaism in the Torah. And I and many other lawyers have often pointed to Deut. 16:20–“Justice, justice shall you pursue”–as a lodestar. (I put that verse in my law school application essays, and Mrs. Secular Jew gave me a gift with that verse on it–it’s one of the Mickie Caspi pieces.)

But perhaps we’re too quick on the draw. Continue reading

A Stumbling Block

I mentioned in an earlier post that I follow the Jewish Special Needs Education blog. That blog invokes the phrase, “removing the stumbling block,” a reference to the traditional commandment of lifnei iver from Leviticus 19:14, which warns not to place a stumbling block before the blind. This is interpreted, in traditional rabbinic law, to require something far beyond not causing blind persons to trip. (The rabbis viewed this as obvious without the biblical text commanding otherwise.) Rather, the text was interpreted to mean that one should not take an action that would cause someone else to sin, often by giving bad advice.

Friedman, in her blog’s title, means it somewhat more literally: removing from the paths of those with differing levels of need the obstacles to participation in Jewish life and education. While I appreciate the metaphor, I find it troubling. Continue reading

We’re MASS Communicatin’!

Well, the hiatus didn’t last as long as I thought.

One of the topics that we addressed during the philosophic counseling class was that of special needs children, a subject near and dear to my heart. (I know you’re not reading, but, “Hi, Secular Jew, Jr.”!) Since I spend a lot of time thinking about those issues, it was good to have someone else talk about them–being inside a conversation makes you forget what it looks like from the outside. Continue reading

A Quick Update

Just a quick note. I was out of town all last week for rabbi school, so attention to that (a full week of work on counseling and guidance–what is often called “pastoral care”) took precedence to trawling the Intarwebzes looking for eyes in which to poke my finger (all for your amusement, of course). I’m sure I’ll be back to that soon enough–but there’s work to be done for four classes, a wedding I’ll be co-officiating (my first!), and a series of talks on modern American Jews I’ll be giving at a local Catholic parish in October and November that will require no small amount of preparation.

While there are so many things I would love to comment on, professional ethical responsibilities preclude some; time precludes the rest. So it may be quiet around here again for a bit. I’m sure I’ll be back with something in the next two weeks–quite likely tied to the counseling class’s material, as there’s fodder there for a blog post or two.

But not tonight.

P.S. – Many thanks to Mrs. Secular Jew, who diligently and lovingly held down the homefront and watched after Secular Jew, Jr., whilst I developed the ability to be less of a logic-dominated automaton when interacting with people. I love you!

Tish’a B’Av (and counting)

I had planned to post yesterday for Tish’a B’Av. I started writing a post, but the draft didn’t save, and by the time I noticed the draft hadn’t saved, it was too late in my day to start again. It was going to be a barn-burner, too, an approving response to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s article on Salon.com, and his subsequent post at the Tikkun Magazine website, about how Israel is destroying Judaism as he knows it.

But then the draft didn’t save. (Side note to the WordPress admins: why is it easier to create a post where there won’t be an automatic save of the draft? Not a very friendly feature, I think.)

So here we are, Tish’a B’Av (and counting). (Using the Hebrew number isn’t going to get any search engine hits.) Continue reading

All Quiet on the Western Front

I’ve been a bit silent over here. I’m still lurking about; just busy reading for rabbi school, doing research for papers for rabbi school, looking over edits for a book review, and various other things. I’m sure I’ll pop in with something substantive here any day now; there are a lot of thoughts floating about in my head, but there remains some organization to do (and some sleep to get).

And on Israel, as I’ve said, I’m remaining silent. My concerns remain, for the moment, tied to the sheer level of human wreckage–death, destruction, and physical and emotional trauma. I’ll say no more beyond that.

Menachem Av to those for whom it is meaningful.

Of Pills and Panic

It’s astonishing just how finely tuned our brains are–and how small changes in what goes into our brains can change so much about how and who we are.

Back in late April and much of May, Secular Jew, Jr. (“SJJ”) was hospitalized twice in pediatric “stress center” units. “Stress center” is the euphemism du jour for temporary place to put people with acute psychiatric symptoms that cannot be managed at home and that may be resolvable without permanent institutionalization, usually due to substance abuse or severe depression. SJJ is not yet even a preteen, and most of the kids in these units were teenagers, so these were really very extreme places for SJJ to be. But after two stays, in the course of less than a month, the issues SJJ was experiencing seem to have boiled down to medication issues; medications were removed, SJJ stabilized, and things seemed pretty okay.

Until yesterday. Continue reading

On the Worrying Economics of Torah Observance

Tablet Magazine recently ran a story about the rising costs associated with maintaining Orthodox-level Jewish observance (the article focuses on Toco Hills in Atlanta, a heavily-Orthodox suburb). From food to housing to education, the article notes, it’s always been costly (when compared with how others fare) to be strictly Torah observant. It’s expensive to keep kosher in a manner that will pass muster in those communities. Housing costs get driven upward because of the need to live within an eruv (a legal fiction that defines a kind of private space in which the laws for carrying items between public and private spaces on Shabbat do not apply) or otherwise be within walking distance of a synagogue. And public education simply “won’t do” because no one teaches Torah and Talmud in the public schools.

(“Legal fiction,” by the way, does not mean that something is false. It means that the entity, concept, etc., is created by a legal enactment because it would not otherwise exist. Your Latin lesson for today: “fiction” comes from the same Latin verb–facio–as our words “fact” and “manufacture.”)

You could say many things about the economic circumstances at work here. It’s possible, for example, to “blame the victim.” I won’t do that here, and wouldn’t do so in any case. My concern is a systemic one.

Continue reading

It’s just a commandment

I’ve spent some amount of time thinking about (male) circumcision. It’s a fraught topic; some regard it as barbaric, some as hygienic, some as a sacred sign, and still others as a foolish impairment of sexual pleasure. I’m not well-informed enough to sort out the validity of the various back-and-forth claims about the hygienic aspects of circumcision, nor capable of investigating the sexual health perspective. What is “barbaric” largely depends on the culture that issues the judgment, though a circumcision performed by a clinician seems a bit different from one performed with metzitzah be-peh (a practice where upon circumcision by a mohel, the mohel draws the blood off orally).

But I can evaluate it from a Jewish perspective, and from a Secular Humanistic Jewish perspective, at that. And sitting down and thinking that out led me to a new view on the subject of male circumcision.

My result: “it’s just a commandment.” And that conclusion is interesting to me.

Continue reading

A quick note on Israel, etc.

I haven’t posted much on Israel, the two Palestinian boys (one murdered, one beaten), the current exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas, etc. I won’t post much on that, for a few reasons.

First, there’s no piece of this that isn’t heartbreaking to me. I have my own opinions on the matter. But I find it difficult to move past that to articulate much else that hasn’t already been said, or that I wouldn’t disagree with myself later.

Second, I occupy a privileged position. That is to say, I live here (in Indiana), not there. I don’t live in Israel, or in Gaza, or in the West Bank. I’m in the cheap seats; I don’t like to write posts from the cheap seats. And I definitely don’t like to write posts from the cheap seats when the matters are of such great significance as this.

Finally, work gets in the way. I don’t feel at liberty to discuss political matters–because I understand myself to be legally bound not to do so. So I don’t, and won’t.

I expect, then, that this will be my last post on the matter. Not because I’m not thinking about it or worried about it. But because it is, for me, literally unspeakable.