What Business Are We In?

sjewindy:

This is worth your reading. I don’t agree with everything Hoffman says in all cases (it would be weird if I did, being a humanistic Jew)–but in this case, I think there’s much to learn.

Originally posted on Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D.:

Synagogues should be asking, “What business are we in?” That may seem obvious, but it isn’t, and most synagogue leaders get it wrong – with disastrous consequences.

The usual answers are things like Jewish education, Shabbat and holiday services, social action, or even all of the above, in the tried and true triad of religion: Torah (study) avodah (prayer) and g’milut chasadim (good deeds).

Religion may be what we do, however; it is not our business. The two are not the same.

The question arises compellingly in Peter Drucker’s 1954 classic, The Practice of Management. Drucker’s 1950s example is Cadillac. What it did was manufacture cars; its business, however, was not automobiles but status. Recognizing its business aright led to the realization that its competitors were not Chevrolet and Ford but high fashion and diamonds.

So what is the synagogue’s business?

During the years following World…

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A photograph of Shmura Matzo - matzo baked specifically to stringent Jewish legal guidelines

A Passover Panoply

Passover is fast approaching. Last week I left you some links to posts on the blog that were on Passover-related themes. Today, let’s take a look at some Passover resources for the humanist and secularist Jewish set.

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Slouching Towards Passover

Wait, that should be reclining. Well, then.

We are less than a month away from Passover. Sometimes people say a holiday is “so early this year” or “so late this year,” and rabbis often joke that really, the holiday is right on time.

Nevertheless, Passover seems so early this year. It isn’t, really–it’s not uncommon for the holiday to start in March–but so much of the year feels as though it’s run by in a rush. (I really need to put more reminders into my calendar. A rabbinical student shouldn’t feel so darned surprised by a holiday–especially since I attended a model Seder at Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation near Chicago during my Jewish Education seminar at IISHJ earlier this week.)

I’ll do a roundup of secular, cultural, and humanistic Jewish resources on Passover next week, but I’d be nothing if not extra lazy if I didn’t post links to prior Passover-themed posts on the blog. So, in the spirit of reduced laziness–whether slouching or reclining–here goes:

  • In There Are No Four Children and A Simple Kind of Man, I questioned the use of the Four Children as a way to categorize individuals with disabilities, or simply characterize as “bad” those who pose questions in ways we find uncomfortable.
  • In It’s a Trap!, I suggested that the Torah’s telling of the story of Joseph might be a sign that we need to take a harder look at how we use biblical texts and stories of our past to understand our own place in the world and in Jewish history. (It also has a Star Wars-themed animated GIF, if that’s a draw for you.)
  • In Leavening, I talked about the problems posed by long Passover Seders and the ever-expanding text of the Haggadah in light of the somewhat oral original conception of the Seder.
  • In Pass(ed)over, I talked about the flexibility afforded by Secular Humanistic Judaism in making a Passover that makes sense for each child.

I’ll post more next week, as Passover (which starts at sunset on April 3 this year) is soon to begin.

Whoa!

Wow, I just realized it’s been a while since I posted. I haven’t disappeared–I was reading and doing prep work for a seminar at IISHJ on Jewish Education that just wrapped up yesterday.

Incidentally, the Israeli branch of IISHJ, called IISHJ-Tmura, is ordaining two Israeli rabbis this week. You can find short, English-language biographies of them at the IISHJ Facebook page.

I’ll be back soon with something substantive; in the interim, enjoy your week!

Why I Will Simply Accept Intermarriage

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky has an op-ed piece in the USCJ’s most recent issue of Pravda in The Forward, about his refusal to accept intermarriage. Rabbi Kalmanofsky essentially reiterates the Conservative Movement’s basic line on intermarriage: it weakens Judaism out of misplaced compassion.

Let’s tease this apart, because I don’t think you should buy what he’s selling. (Warning: kind of rant-y.)

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What’s New? Sunday Assembly in Indianapolis, That’s What!

Live in Indianapolis? Maybe you live nearby? Come to next week’s Sunday Assembly, from Sunday Assembly Indianapolis, on March 8, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. in the Big Car Show Room at 3739 Lafayette Blvd., near 38th Street and Lafayette Blvd.

Why? Well, other than the good stuff that comes from being with other people, I’ll be speaking on “New Perspectives in Secularism” to explore how one can believe in good, even when you might not believe in a god, and how that works in community with others.

Come out, sing songs, listen, think, and come out for lunch afterward. All are welcome!

You can learn more about the fast-growing Sunday Assembly organization; its slogan is “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.” Sunday Assembly is new to Indianapolis–March 8th will be the third monthly assembly to date–but the group has already been doing volunteer work in the community, and has a new volunteer opportunity coming up later this month.

Pencil drawing of the biblical prophet Samuel Cursing King Saul after Saul has attempted to spare King Agag, the Amalekite - by Hans Holbein the Younger

Drek and Amalek

It’s still Jewish Disability Awareness Month, but I read something related to Purim that I found provocative. Though maybe it wasn’t provocative in a good way.

Over at Mosaic, Atar Hadari has an article in the “Observations” section of the site, “What to Do When the Lord Orders Vengeance.” It’s about the Haftarah for this Shabbat, Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat before Purim. As Hadari says, the Haftarah is from I Samuel 15:1-34, the story where Saul decides to forego fulfilling Yahweh’s instruction to kill the Amalekite king, Agag; Samuel steps in, slaughters Agag, and informs Saul that his monarchy will soon come to an end.

Hadari says the story is a study in character and leadership styles: Saul vs. Samuel, or outer- versus inner-directed leaders.

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“The Forward” Considered Harmful?

(This is a rant. I’m not overly concerned if you don’t agree with its conclusions. But sometimes, enough is enough.)

Way back when I was doing software development, I read an article (really a letter) by computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra called “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” Lots of software developers read it, because it’s about a basic bit of programming technique. And because I think The Forward has continued to make the same error, over and over, and does so at the risk of harming individual lives and the broader health of the Jewish community, consider this my Dijkstra moment.

I’ve lamented before the apparent backwardness of The Forward. Once in a while, The Forward does something that gives just a little hint of promise, like starting its Seesaw column. And then it takes steps back.

Oops, it did it again. Continue reading

Garbled Graggers – Purim and Inclusion #JDAM15

I promised earlier that I would come back to Purim with a focus on inclusion–it is, after all, still Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Among the communally celebrated holidays, Purim may pose some of the very toughest challenges for inclusion. I’m going to try to put on my thinking hat here to look at what the challenges are to an inclusive Purim celebration. My purpose in this is not to suggest that every problem can be solved for every person in every place and at every time. Rather, I want to put in one place thoughts on how the traditional ways in which we celebrate Purim can work exclusion, and to prompt thought about how we might overcome some of those problems.

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