Eight colorful Hanukkah candles, lit, against a dark background

Hanukkah Is not Your Cell Phone

Eight colorful Hanukkah candles, lit, against a dark background

By אליעד מלין (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At least two organizations, PJ Library and JewBelong, are floating around memes about Hanukkah that have me…unimpressed. Basically, they tell you that your cell phone with a near-dead battery lasting for eight days is what Hanukkah is about. (I put these two memes at the bottom of this post.)

I can’t even with this idea. (And yes, here’s a preliminary “get off my lawn.”)

Let’s talk tachlis here. (“Talk tachlis” = Yiddish phrase that’s pretty equivalent to “let’s get down to brass tacks.”) These memes basically peddle the idea that modern, educated Jews should rest assured that their knowledge of the story of “the miracle of the oil” is enough to understand Hanukkah. It’s like when your cell phone is going to shut down, but somehow manages to just keep on plugging.

Um…no. Continue reading

Photograph of a long wall, at least three times as tall as the people walking next to it, trailing as far as the eye can see, with Jerusalem on one side and the Palestinian town of Abu Dis on the other.

Marking the Boundaries

Maverick Rabbi Breaks Ranks Over Intermarriage” shouts a Times of Israel title. “The Problem With Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Intermarriage Proposal,” teases the op-ed in the Forward. “On Marriage and Covenant” comes forth from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Yet again, the Conservative movement thrashes about, trying to figure out what to do about…well, any number of things. Continue reading

Another New Year

Look at this–it’s almost 5777!

I’ll be writing actual, weighty thoughts later on. Right now, though, I know people are starting to look for information on the holiday, etc.

First, you might want to look at prior posts on this blog that point to useful resources, including how to find secular and cultural Jewish communities that are conducting celebrations. But there are plenty of other posts that I’ll link to later on.

I’m in Indiana. Where Can I Go?

If you’re interested in finding a Rosh Hashanah celebration near you that takes a humanistic, cultural, or secular approach, there are lots of places to look.

If you’re in Indiana, there aren’t as many places to look. In Indianapolis, so far as I am aware, there is only one humanistic Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah open to the public. It happens to be the one I’m leading on the evening of October 4, 2016. (I made that sound so coincidental, didn’t I? It’s really not.) You can find out more, and RSVP, at Meetup.com or on Facebook. We’ll soon have a Sukkot event on the calendar, too, so don’t miss out!

As it so happens, I’ll also be in Tucson, Arizona, celebrating the High Holidays with the Secular Humanist Jewish Circle there on October 8. So, if you happen to be planning on Tucson for the High Holidays, that’s a possibility for you!

I Just Want Something to Read

I’ve got you covered! There have been plenty of posts here about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including:

In addition, there’s plenty to read at the websites for the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Congress for Secular Jewish Organizations.

Want More? Have Questions?

No problem: just comment on this post. Let’s reason together, you and I.

Interior photo of the synagogue in Oni, Georia; facing wooden pews in multiple rows, ornate columns, and a raised dais.

Everyone Belongs Here

Though he published it a couple of years ago now, for some reason I only recently encountered Rabbi Menahem Creditor’s article at Huffington Post entitled “Children in the Sanctuary.” Rabbi Creditor’s article reflects on occasions when he observed a child crying or making noise in a synagogue service. On several occasions, Rabbi Creditor observed a congregant telling a child’s parent that the child should be removed and saying, “‘perhaps your child doesn’t belong in synagogue.'” He calls these “the least synagogue-ish” words he has ever heard.

He’s right. But it’s not only children.

Continue reading

Eight colorful Hanukkah candles, lit, against a dark background

Havdal-ukah: A Humanistic Havdalah and Hanukkah Celebration

Eight colorful Hanukkah candles, lit, against a dark background

By אליעד מלין (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

After the seriousness of my last post, it felt like it was time to have a little fun. And, of course, Hanukkah is coming soon!

I posted a few resources last year, including this post with humanistic blessings, some thoughts about Hanukkah for humanistic Jews, and some general resources on Hanukkah for secular and humanistic Jews.


If you’re in the Indianapolis area and you’d like to come to a Humanistic Jewish Hanukkah celebration, have I got the event for you! Havdal-ukah!

Why Havdal-ukah? Because it’s Havdalah (the end of Shabbat) and the seventh night of Hanukkah wrapped up into one package! We’ll do a brief Havdalah celebration, light our menorahs (you can bring your own!), have latkes and other treats, and learn a little about the meaning of Hanukkah for modern (especially secular and humanistic) Jews.

So come on out! We’ll be meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 12, 2015. The Church Within has graciously allowed us to use their space at 1125 Spruce Street, Indianapolis, in the historic Fountain Square area. You can RSVP on Meetup.com or Facebook and get a notice when there’s a change.

The Bone in the Butcher’s Neck

For a while now, I’ve held back on making a comment about an article in Tablet Magazine. The more time I spend thinking about the article, the more I feel that it’s necessary to write something about it. It first appeared around Yom Kippur in the wake of the disputes over refugees from Syria. In the wake of the attacks on Paris, I was drawn back to this draft post.

Here’s the article I’m responding to, by Liel Leibovitz. It’ll open in a new tab or browser window. Go ahead and read Leibovitz’s article. I’ll be here, waiting. (You do have to read it to understand what follows.)

You’re back? Good.

Continue reading

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.

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!

Being Both vs. Jews For Jesus

Religious identity–even among those identifying as secular–is often more complex than we might think. Whatever your critique may be, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t get your facts right. Here’s a case in point.

Being Both

Being Both M&Ms

Let me be very clear. Raising interfaith children with interfaith education is not the same as being part of the Christian movement known as Jews for Jesus. Sometimes, I describe interfaith family communities as the opposite of Jews for Jesus, since many of both the Jewish and Christian parents see Jesus as a teacher or rabbi, rather than as a messiah. This is in marked contrast to Jews for Jesus or Messianic Judaism, both forms of Christianity that accept Jesus as the Messiah.

This week, a Reform Jewish rabbi wrote a post that conflates Jews for Jesus with interfaith families celebrating both family religions. I don’t usually respond to blog posts written by those determined to undermine interfaith families who choose interfaith education. But in this case, I am going to respond point by point, since this is not the first time that interfaith family communities have been confused with…

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Sacrifices for Shabbat?

It’s not a makhloket, really–it’s a davar akher. 🙂

Ah, the imprecision and semantic degradation that is English! Where I meant sacrifice as “trade-off” alone (which I thought was pretty clear in context), Rabbi Adar brought the other, “avodah” meaning–service in the Temple through sacrificing animals, oil, wine, and produce–in.

Now you can see the little semantic shifts we all use to write midrash and sermons! (I’d argue that there are several semantic shifts in Rabbi Adar’s post: she moves from “avodah” to trade-off and back as the discussion went from my comment to the Heschel idea and back again, no? Lawyers with philosophic and rabbinic training are the most annoying lawyers of all! 🙂 )

Rabbi Adar and I both know that lots of Jews regard the halakhic restrictions of Shabbat–or the traditional conduct they engage in without participation in the full halakhic regime (not that it can be done perfectly anyway)–as a set of trade-offs. Some Jews do not see any trade-off (sacrifice?) because they believe themselves commanded to take these actions. Even then, some of these decisions are reluctantly made and produce stress. Hopefully those making the trade–and Shabbat observance in all its forms is in most situations an exercise in opportunity cost–see greater benefit in observance than in non-observance. (Otherwise, why make that trade absent external compulsion?)

Then again, the “avodah” meaning isn’t in itself wrong at its core for many–it’s just that rabbinic interpretation has fritted away at what “avodah” can be permitted mean in certain contexts. Of course, on a more realpolitik view of it…

Coffee Shop Rabbi

I was delighted to see that sjewindy at A Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis left a pingback this morning to my post, Why Can’t Jews Get Married on Shabbat? entitled Jewish? Want a Saturday Wedding? Find a Humanistic Jew. He’s right about that; a humanistic Jew is one of the alternatives if you want a Saturday wedding.

However, I have an issue with something in his summary of my post, and I think it merits a post of its own. He wrote, “traditionally this [foregoing weddings on Shabbat] is a sacrifice Jews have made.” [emphasis mine]

Jews went out of the sacrifice business in 70 CE, when the Romans pulled down Herod’s Temple and burnt the broken fragments. As a Reform Jew, I am not praying for or looking forward to a restoration of that edifice, although there are folks in other movements of Judaism who are. (There’s another post for another day.)

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