A pair of hands (the author's) holding a shofar (the author's) - a ram's horn hollowed out and used as a trumpet on some Jewish holidays.

What Are You Doing for Rosh Hashanah?

Do you live near Indianapolis? Do you want to try something different this Rosh Hashanah, something that speaks to your Jewish identity and your secular convictions? Do you know someone who might?

Here it is–a secular humanistic Jewish Rosh Hashanah celebration on September 15, 2015 at 6:15 p.m. We’ll be in the auditorium of the Nora Branch Library, located on the northeast corner of East 86th Street and Guilford Avenue.

No tickets–no charge! Or, you can sign up at EventBriteMeetup.com or Facebook. (After all, we need to know how much challah to bring!)

Still not sure about this Humanistic Judaism thing? Take this short quiz.

Humanistic Rosh Hashanah Celebration Poster for Indianapolis in 2015

Sept. 15, 2015 in Indianapolis – Rosh Hashanah Celebration! – Poster by Mrs. Humanistic Jew!

Video still of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) from "The Princess Bride," with captioning of dialogue reading, "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

See?! I Told You!

What did I say? I’d announce, “Hey, no posting for a while,” and then within days I’d have something to talk about.

And sure enough, here we are. But, hey–you were warned.

The Forward‘s “Seesaw” feature, a frequent source of consternation for me, is back on my radar, with the same original consternation flavor I know so well! This week’s Seesaw column bears the title, “How can I show her that Judaism welcomes lesbians”? The three advice-givers on this one have all manner of suggestions: don’t make it about religion; don’t make it an obligation, make it a celebration; talk about how welcoming it is and make it a celebration, etc.

Video still of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) from

Let Inigo Montoya explain. Or at least sum up.

I have a different answer: Judaism doesn’t welcome lesbians. Your Judaism welcomes lesbians. Mine, too. But not everyone’s.

Here, Inigo Montoya can help.

I don’t think there is one Judaism. There is a broad Jewish tradition–Jewish culture, if you will. Contributing to that is a religious component. Post-Exilic Judaism, Karaism, Sadduceeism, Essenic/Enochic Judaism, Pharasaism, Rabbinism, etc., all have contributed to Jewish culture. (So, too, has a non-Jewish offshoot of Judaism. You know the one.)

So, too, have Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, Haredi (Hasidic and non-Hasidic), secular, cultural, Secular Humanistic, and Renewal Judaism.

At least three of the varieties above–Modern Orthodox, Hasidic Haredi, and non-Hasidic Haredi–have largely said that lesbians are in fact not welcome, or at least they are not welcome with that identity.

Are they not Jewish? Are they not Judaisms? Of course they’re Jewish. And of course they’re Judaisms. But they are not Judaism. Nor is Reform Judaism. Or Conservative Judaism.

And so, the answer to the letter writer should, I think, have been: “Show how your Judaism welcomes lesbians–and show how your Judaism is different.” It borders on dishonesty to pretend that one’s own Judaism is Judaism, writ large; it is not–even, pace the Haredim, when you believe that your Judaism is the only Judaism.

We live in a world that can be, let’s say…less than nuanced. I’m not sure we help ourselves when we don’t add that nuance back in.

And we can be nuanced, even when we let Inigo sum up.

Alexander Gierymski's "Feast of Trumpets," depicting taskhlikh, the ritual casting off bits of bread as a symbolic shedding of the prior years' sins. (1884)

The Run-Up to Rosh Hashanah

Alexander Gierymski's "Feast of Trumpets," depicting taskhlikh, the ritual casting off bits of bread as a symbolic shedding of the prior years' sins. (1884)

Alexander Gierymski’s “Feast of Trumpets,” depicting tashlikh (1884)

It’s been quiet here…again. That’s entirely on purpose.

At the moment, in addition to the usual things I do (work, parent, spouse, student), I’m writing a service for the first organized Humanistic Jewish Rosh Hashanah event in Indianapolis…like, ever…writing a sermon for services I’ll be leading the following weekend for a community in Tucson…and planning out a talk I’ll be giving the day after the service in Tucson.

So, you know, busy.

If you’d like to go to the Indianapolis Rosh Hashanah service, you can visit this post for links and more information.

If you’d like to go to High Holiday events in Tucson, you can visit the website for Tucson’s Secular Humanist Jewish Circle for more information.

If you’re looking for Humanistic Jewish High Holiday events in your community, please visit the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s website to find a local group.

I’ll be back. And as I’ve observed before, that probably means that tomorrow, after I’ve resigned myself to not having anything to post about, I’ll see something and feel compelled to write.

Which I guess means, stay tuned.

A photograph of an opened Torah scroll, housed at the Glockenglasse Synagogue

An Apology Isn’t Enough

There’s a pattern, and I should know it exists by now: I will post a note saying, “I’ll be silent for a little while.” Then, I’ll see something and just need to post about it, ordinarily within two days of the post saying there would be no posting.

And so it goes.

A photograph of an opened Torah scroll, housed at the Glockenglasse Synagogue

Torah at the Glockenglasse Synagogue

At InterfaithFamily, Rabbi Mychal Copeland has a post entitled, “When Sacred Text Hurts Others.” In it, Rabbi Copeland describes her experience at a largely Christian interfaith gathering where after she blew the shofar, texts from the Gospel of Matthew that excoriated the Pharisees (almost certainly the main predecessors to rabbinic Judaism) were recited, the pastor who cited the text apologized, and the entire gathering recited a liturgical piece of apology for harms done in the misuse of and abuse of scriptural texts. Rabbi Copeland goes on to wonder about what to do with texts that are harmful to members of her own community, and whether placing the text in historical context is enough:

But at a time when more interfaith couples are choosing a Jewish life for their families, I feel what the pastor felt for me — that our texts, attitudes and parts of our liturgy may be doing harm to their hearts even as they gift us with their presence and the presence of their children.

If you could reach out to someone who may be hurt by our texts, who would it be?

What, then, of this problem?

I think the answer for liberal Jews should actually be straightforward. It starts with acknowledging, as Rabbi Copeland does, that the texts are products of their times. And you then need to use the texts with intention each time. You have to think about why the text is going to be used, what it says, and, after you know the harm the text can do, whether the text should be used. If the text can’t be used without doing harm–or can’t be used unless you make the reason for its use known clearly and immediately so that you can prevent that harm–perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be used in that setting.

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A Brief Announcement, then Heads-Down for a While Longer

I’ve been in and out of Indiana of late, once for a meeting of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis (because I’m a student rabbi), and once for a class on congregational leadership and management (also because I’m a student rabbi). Thus, limited posting here.


Picture of the cover of the journal, Humanistic Judaism.

Humanistic Judaism

I wanted to announce that I’m now one of two co-editors (along with a fellow IISHJ student, Susan Warrow) of Humanistic Judaism, the journal for the Society for Humanistic Judaism. You can read recent issues online, subscribe, and even join the Society if you’re not a member. Who knows? You may even encounter something in the journal that was written by me or others you’ve encountered on the web, like Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in the Chicago area (blogging at Shalom from Rabbi Chalom), Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple in the Detroit area (blogging at The Atheist Rabbi–which is now part of the Patheos network!), or Rabbi Denise Handlarski of Oraynu in the Toronto area (blogging at her personal website), or Rabbi Susan Averbach (blogging at Musings of an Agnostic Rabbi).

Susan and I have been brought on board due to the passing of the prior editor, Ruth Duskin Feldman. Ruth was an amazing editor (there was never something of mine she touched that didn’t improve significantly as a result) and an amazing person. You can read her NY Times obituary here. It’s a little intimidating to step into her place.

Give the SHJ site a visit. Go for the journal, stay for the Humanistic Judaism!

Photograph of Francesco Hayez's painting, "The Destruction of the Second Temple"

Tisha B’Av and Secular Humanistic Judaism

Photograph of Francesco Hayez's painting,

Francesco Hayez’s “The Destruction of the Second Temple”; from Wikimedia Commons

This year, Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, begins on the evening of July 25.

The core concern of Tisha B’Av is not merely commemorating the Temples’ destructions; it is beseeching Yahweh to restore the Temple through, for example, the recitation of the book of Lamentations, which focuses on the sinfulness of Israel and asks for restoration:

Cause us to return, O Yahweh,
To you, and we shall return;
Renew our days, as of old. (Lam. 5:21)

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A Quiet Spell

It’s been busy here of late. As I observed to some of my Facebook peeps, that article on dues really stirred up the pot, leading me to conclude that people are either 1) really interested in what I have to say, or 2) really just don’t want to pay synagogue membership dues!

It’s going to be a bit quiet for the next few weeks, however. I have two–two!–trips to Farmington Hills, Michigan (home of the Birmingham Temple) in the next few weeks, including one for a week-long class. Prep for that will be occupying good portions of my time.

In the period between those two trips, I’m lecturing on commercial law on negotiable instruments and payment system for graduate public accountancy students. Reviving all of that material in my brain, preparing slides and group exercises, etc., will take up lots of mental energy. And while I’m certain there are many things I could write about that you’d be interested in, I’m absolutely sure you would not be interested in anomalous endorsements and Federal Reserve regulations on funds availability and check processing. (Okay, well, I know one of you would be, but that person works in banking already.)

All of which is a long way of saying that things will be sedate around here for a few weeks, unless something really grabs my attention.

Never fear, however. As the Austrian Oak would say, “I’ll be back.”

A stack of $100 bills, bundled together with a strip of paper.

Due You Feel Like I Due

In a few weeks’ (two? three? it’s close) time, I’ll be in Michigan for another week-long, in-residence course with IISHJ for the rabbinical program (this in addition to the numerous regular, weekly live interactive sessions, etc.). This one is on congregational leadership, so it covers things like organizational dynamics, roles of the rabbi and other leaders, etc.

A stack of $100 bills, bundled together with a strip of paper.

Bills, bills, bill. From 401kcalculator.org.

It also addresses synagogue membership and dues models. This is an issue that gets a lot of attention and a lot of press–not the least of which is a result of the negative feelings of many about the notion of dues payment to begin with. I’ve written about this before, and I’m obviously far from the only one to have done so. I claim no particularly special insight on this topic.

But something about the discussion concerns me, and it’s the overlap of reading a book on alternative dues models, seeing yesterday a Kveller article making “The Case for Pay-What-You-Can Synagogue Dues,” and reading various other items that prompted me to express the concern.

It is this: synagogues and synagogue-supporting think tanks are latching onto changing dues structures in response to financial pressures associated with reduced membership, on the thinking that much of the reduction in membership is related to dues structures. No doubt some of this is true; some synagogues have seen a rebound in membership numbers and in dues-derived revenue after leaving the fixed-price dues structure and adopting a different model.

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A pair of hands (the author's) holding a shofar (the author's) - a ram's horn hollowed out and used as a trumpet on some Jewish holidays.

Humanistic High Holiday Celebration in Indianapolis

Big news, I think. (I’ll admit to bias and a little self-promotion.)


My hands and my shofar! Photo by Paul D’Andrea.

The very first organized, community-accessible Humanistic Jewish High Holidays celebration for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be conducted on September 15, 2015 in Indianapolis! We’ll be in the auditorium of the Nora Branch Library at 8625 North Guilford Avenue, and the celebration will run from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

There will be no charge–no tickets needed, all may attend, and kids are welcome. We’ll have some music, some talk, challah, apples and honey–and of course, the shofar! (Though you’ll probably have to endure my shofar stylings. You’ve been warned.)

Details/RSVP (nice but not necessary) at EventBriteMeetup.com and Facebook. (These links may require registration.)

Who’s a Jew? Maybe you!

I’m still working on another post that I think says things that need saying about a fundamental tension in modern liberal Judaisms. But I’m taking a moment here to put down a marker on a different issue–Jewish identity.

A post by Elad Nehorai at Hevria, entitled “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews,” is making the rounds and provoking considerable anger. (Elad Nehorai also blogs as Pop Chassid.) Hevria’s “About” page includes the following:

We are a group devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context. We want to make this world beautiful. And we want you to join us.

This statement has proven itself to be a little ironic in the last few days as Nehorai’s “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews” has made its rounds.


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