I grew up with the understanding that to be a Jew meant being on the side of justice. As a child, I watched my parents donate money to have trees planted in Israel in the name of their parents, who had survived the pogroms of Eastern Europe. From them I also learned the value of Tikkun Olam: "healing the world" in Hebrew -- that to help those who are suffering was an integral part of Judaism.
For a Jewish, middle class, Montrealer, I've spent a lot of my life in the company of the Buddha. I have had an 18-year on-again, off-again relationship with the Buddha. He's been by my side during the ups and downs. I never practiced Buddhism, but I have been a student of the religion for half my life.
I understand the importance of free thought and the necessity for societies to allow for variant perceptions on God including atheism. It is for this reason that I, as a religious person, strongly advocate for freedom of religion and decry these nations who persecute those who, in the process of thought, arrive at different perspectives.
I'm not fasting because the oldest symbol of "unity"--the Western Wall--is a battleground for religious pluralism, and I imagine that if the Cohanim were still around they would be on the side of the Haredim, not on the side of those women who, like me, want to be full participating Jews with tallit and a Torah.
Think of the many cultures throughout history that have disappeared, some for which we've no account, and others now only known by artifacts or bits and pieces of written history. Rather than focus on the cultures that have been lost, First Nations can focus on the one that has survived thousands of years,
Though we were both raised Catholic, my husband and I made a conscious decision to eschew religion when raising our son. I'm a big believer in love over rites and rituals. Like many parents, we want him to make an informed decision about his own spirituality when he is old and mature enough to do so. Yet part of me wonders if agnosticism is truly the right move.
That Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins are disappointed that religion hasn't gone the way of the dinosaur perhaps speaks to the fact that religion provides something of great importance to human beings, an importance that is beyond their grasp. Science provides the cold hard facts of life. Religion provides meaning. Even Dr. Krauss agreed that we make the meaning in our lives. Why can't that meaning come from religion?
There is an interesting disconnect in our world today regarding religion. Being an adherent to a certain religion is simply seen, to most people, as a description of the way by which this individual achieves spirituality. This is not, however, the way that religions -- even more so, traditional religious systems -- actually view themselves.
Passover is a Jewish holiday that extends for eight days, requiring observers to avoid leavened bread. That's the basic rule. No problem. I don't remember the last time I ate leavened bread. Beyond this -- the rules get a little fuzzy. You could join 10 different families for Passover on the same street and have 10 different experiences of what Passover is.
As a Rabbi, I have always found it somewhat curious the way the general North American public looks upon the festival of Chanukah. While actually a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, it is given much significance in Western society. But what I also find fascinating is the way that North America had to simultaneously transform Chanukah into a festivity that relates to the North American consciousness. If people are going to be celebrating this holiday then it better have a meaning with which these individuals can connect.
In 1994, while in the employ of the United Jewish Appeal and Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, I was given the task of overseeing former Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Shamir's trip to Toronto. But of course, as fate would have it, Saudi Arabian sheiks were staying in the same hotel as he was. What was I to do?
On June 21, a Jewish woman was detained for hours by Israeli police for praying at the Western Wall. Why? Because she was wearing a tallit -- a prayer shawl. Some say that women who are wearing the tallit are flaunting their piety, but is this really the case? Shouldn't we, as a Jewish people, give women the benefit of the doubt when they honour Hashem?
In September 2012, a successor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the current Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, will be appointed. The new rabbi will begin his tenure in September 2013. If the post will not undergo a major transformation and become purely one of spiritual and educational leadership, then it is far better to leave the post empty than to continue the institution of a chief rabbi.
I find myself disheartened by the direction that the conversion debate is unfolding in Israel and the Diaspora. While we cannot hope to be, nor should we strive to be, uniform in our views, we have an obligation to be united as one Jewish people. It makes no sense that Orthodox converts, including those looking to make aliyah (moving to Israel), face the possibility of seeing their fully halachic conversions retroactively annulled.
Last week, the chief rabbi of Britain decried the late Steve Jobs, specifically consumerist society. Of all Orthodox rabbis, he is the one who is supposed to understand the intrinsic value of an iPad, because that device, and the consumerist culture that ultimately begat it, represents choice and the prospect of greater knowledge.