What’s in a Name?

Well, now is as good a time as any, no?

I’m no longer a Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis. Mrs. HJ, HJ, Jr., and I have made the trek from Indianapolis to our new home in the Columbia, Maryland area. Why?

Because this is me. Up at the top, under “Rabbi.” So, now you know what I’m doing–in November, I’ll be ordained a rabbi (I better get all those papers done, then…), and I’ve already taken on the role at Machar, a Humanistic Jewish congregation in the Washington, D.C., area.

I haven’t quite figured out what this blog will be called–but, hopefully, I’ll have more time to blog than I have in quite some time. Hopefully.

We’ll see, then, I guess.

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!

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


(Warning: juvenile humor)

So, Mrs. Secular Jew let me know that a video link I posted in a prior blog post was to a…um…”choice” video. Not what I thought it was. It’s been deleted from that post.

So, if you got the email version of the post, and you watched it without the warning, sorry.

If you didn’t, well…here it is. It’s juvenile, but I just can’t help myself.


Honey Letters

“Chocolate cookies?”
(He asks)
“They have white inside.”
(They do)

There’s a Christmas book on the table.
(From school)
“Read a sentence and I’ll give you a cookie.”
(He reads)
“Okay, here you go. Good reading!”

I think about years past.
(Honey letters)
In Eastern European cheders.
(Old School)
When the first lesson
was to learn letters and lick honey
to see that learning is sweet.

Back now to the computer
to watch old TV ads.
“It’s Face!”

We’re still learning to teach.
“Veggie Tales!”
Some sugar and a film.
“Little Joe!”
Is this our modern Torah?
“Nick Jr.!”


So, I’ve been a bit lax in posting recently. In part, I’ve been busy with various other things–Passover, classwork, grading student papers, working, parenting, etc. But in part, my podcast consumption has been down. I usually find something of interest in podcasts, but I just wasn’t listening to them as often because, during the winter, it can be hard to concentrate on driving safely and on keeping continuity of attention on the podcast. With winter mostly over, though, I’ve got a bit more mental bandwidth during commutes, and podcasts are coming back into the listening diet.

I subscribe to a number of podcasts–lots of New Books Network podcasts, some Jewish-oriented ones, some humanism-oriented ones. I try to enjoy what I find, but in the humanist-oriented podcasts, especially, I find this difficult because much of it is shrill and self-congratulatory.

Continue reading

Digging for Gold. Or Brimstone.

Rabbi Gil Student’s Torah Musings blog picked up a link to an online-only article from Christianity Today, “Searching for Sodom.” The article calls into question the conclusion of an archaeologist, Steven Collins, that the Tall el-Hammam site in Jordan is the location of the biblical Sodom. Biblical Archaeology Review carried an article about this about a year back, as well.

Rabbi Student’s–and Christianity Today’s–agenda is to undercut Collins’s conclusion as to the timeline for the destruction of Sodom. This, of course, is expected; Christianity Today’s focus is evangelical, and Rabbi Student’s approach is Modern Orthodox, which doesn’t much debate with the biblical timeline. (He’s also quibbled with recent conclusions concerning when camels were domesticated in the ancient Middle East and how that might or might not affect our view of the veracity of the patriarchal narratives.)

While I understand the stakes for everyone, I think we’re asking the wrong questions when we engage in this kind of debate because we’re assuming the Bible is reliable historical evidence. That is, we’re begging the question.

If you stop begging the question, you stop trying to say, “Tall el-Hammam is Sodom.” You instead say, “here’s what we learned at Tall el-Hammam.” If you find evidence that this was the site of Sodom–either good evidence from which you can derive a reliable inference, or evidence of a sort that really identifies the place (e.g., large numbers of inscriptions)–then you’ve found it, and we can maybe then start to talk about timeline.

If not? You’ve found a fascinating archaeological site. You’ve gained insight into a time and place long lost that, though it may not confirm or disprove the biblical timeline, may still have much to tell us about what life was like, and can illuminate a historical understanding of the biblical texts.

That is, you’ve done the actual work of history and archaeology–things that, however interesting they may be, the biblical texts were not designed for.

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Nothing profound for the moment. Just this link to an article on Tablet about Thanksgivukkah food. Specifically, turkey-stuffed donuts and taquitos, one with deep-fried turkey, brussels sprouts, cranberry, and gravy, and another with latkes, apple sauce, and sour cream.

There is no part of me that is saying “Yum” to any of this right now. I am, however, wondering when–or if–this newly-found acid reflux will die down.

Now, if Mrs. Secular Jew could persuade a donut place to use her cranberry relish as a filling…