Posted by: jdiscover | December 31, 2010

Happy New Year or Shabbat Shalom?

Tonight we observe a quintessential yearly American, secular ritual, our celebration of the New Year. Some of us go to parties, others hang with friends (often the same group year after year), many of us count down the seconds and those of us blessed with a life partner certainly celebrate the New Year with a kiss.

And, tonight we observe a core weekly Jewish ritual, our celebration of Shabbat. We gather with friends and family, light candles, make Kiddush, enjoy a special meal and share with our loved ones a Shabbat Shalom kiss.

Many are of the opinion that when New Year’s Eve and Shabbat coincide, we need to choose. Will we skip Shabbat and observe the New Year in our regular fashion or will we ignore our New Year festivities in favor of our Shabbat rituals? What does Jewish tradition have to say about this dilemma?

You might think that Jewish tradition tells us that Shabbat trumps our celebration of the New Year, but I am not so sure. Throughout Jewish history our tradition has found ways to embrace elements of surrounding cultures while remaining loyal to Jewish practice. To name just a few examples: The seder incorporated essentials of the Greek symposium, church choral music influenced synagogue compositions and the dress of Polish nobility inspired Hasidic garb. There exist hundreds of instances, where Judaism assimilated outside culture into Jewish tradition just as there are countless influences of Judaism on the cultures of others.

So, tonight I will make Kiddush on some bubbly. Sitting around the Shabbat table I will reflect on the year past and make resolutions for 2011. I will count down the seconds and at the stroke of midnight I will enjoy 2 kisses – one for a Happy New Year, the other for Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | December 24, 2010

Back to Blog! Notice the Holy!

It has been a long while since I have written my weekly Shabbat blog. My apologies for not keeping up. The sudden death of my mother at the end of August and my chaplaincy work at NIH (which includes all day on Friday) got me out of the routine.

Now is a good time to return to the practice. I am off this Friday and this week’s Torah portion, Shmot, is my Bar Mitzvah portion.

With Shmot, we begin the story of the Exodus and the formation of the descendents of Jacob (Israel) into an am– a nation or peoplehood. This formation begins on a mountain – Horeb, where Moshe (Moses) experiences a message from God at the burning bush and reaches its peak at Mt. Sinai – which the tradition identifies as Horeb– when all the children of Israel experience God’s message.

I am fascinated by the bush all aflame that was not consumed. Of course Moshe noticed the bush aflame, it was hard to miss, but how did he come to notice that it was not burning up? That Moshe noted that the bush was not being consumed means that he must have been watching it intently for a period of time. Moshe is a keenly aware individual. Only after it was clear that Moshe was closely paying attention, did God call upon him from the bush. Experiencing holiness, the Torah is teaching, requires sharp awareness.

During the past three months I have been blessed to be in the presence of many individuals who are also keenly aware of the Holy. The patients, their families and the staff I have supported and learned from as a chaplain at NIH confront life and death realities every day. They experience life aflame and are not consumed by the fire. From this daily practice comes a sharp sense of the holiness contained in each moment of life.

But we do not need to be seriously ill or in close proximity to illness to experience the Holy. The Holy is part of our daily routines when we stop to pay attention. We all stand on Holy ground! Each moment that we are alive; each moment that the warm fire of life burns within us and does not consume us is a beautiful blessing.  When we become aware and appreciative of this nurturing fire of life, we, like Moshe and the people of Israel are ready to receive God’s manifestation and message.

In this coming New Year may we be blessed, no matter our circumstances, to experience the Holy.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | August 27, 2010


In English we usually refer to the upcoming sacred days in the Jewish calendar as the High Holidays or as I prefer, emphasizing the sacred nature of this time, the High Holy Days. In Hebrew we call this period of reflection and renewal, Yamim Norraim, the Days of Awe.  Awe? Whatever happened to awe?

Yes, we all, some more than others, say ‘awesome’, when something surprising is experienced, but awe? In earlier times, when the workings of nature were beyond all human understanding awe was a common occurrence. But for us, who can ‘Google it’, for us ‘Know-it-alls’, can we experience awe?

I certainly hope so! Without awe, what Abraham Joshua Heschel called ‘radical amazement’ there is no humility, no new knowledge, no searching for meaning, no insight, no prayer and no unconditional love. “The deeper we search,” wrote Heschel, “the nearer we arrive at knowing that we do not know. What do we truly know about life and death, about the soul or society?”

The coming Holy Days are about nurturing our sense of awe – our very appreciation for living. When we stand before the open ark and ponder; “Who shall live and who shall die?” We are reminded that living with ultimate mystery, with awe, means living fully, purposively and to the best of our abilities.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | August 20, 2010

High Holy Days: What Are They About?

Every year, during this season, I find myself telling the same story. Although it is a story I share with others, it is really a story I need to tell myself. It is a story that reminds me what this High Holy Day time is all about.

Two construction workers have lunch together every day. Every time they open their lunch boxes one of them says; “Oh no, not peanut butter, again!” After weeks of hearing her friend complain about peanut butter, the other worker says; “If you don’t like peanut butter tell your husband to make something else.” “My husband?” responds the complainer, “I have no husband – I make my own sandwiches!”

We all make ‘sandwiches’ we don’t like. We may have liked them once, but now, not so much. But change; change is difficult. We all make ‘sandwiches’ that others in our life don’t appreciate, but change; we might not even know that the ‘sandwich’ is not welcome. And besides, it was good enough before. Change? No thanks!

Welcome to the season of change! The High Holy Day season is a time for t’shuvah. T’shuvah is often translated as repentance, but t’shuvah is not just for the big sins. Others focus on the literal meaning and translate t’shuvah as turning or returning. I suggest that it simply means; change. Positive change, or in a word – growth. Change that comes about through meaningful self reflection, the invited positive criticism of others and the decision to and act of change.

How are we to know what changes we need to make? First, we look inward asking ourselves; “What is the ‘peanut butter’ in my life? What am I doing now that was once comfortable and tasty but is now no longer nourishing or sustainable?” Second, we turn to others in our lives, those we are closest to, and ask for forgiveness and feedback. We ask those who love us how they think we should change and grow; “what nourishment do they need from us?”

Then we take all that information and chart a course for change, for self improvement and for growth – for t’shuvah. Each year we repeat the cycle – “that’s what it’s all about!”

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | August 13, 2010



In this week’s Haftarah (Prophetic Reading), the fourth Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah speaks to the people of Judea languishing in exile in Babylon following the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE. The despairing people (represented by Jerusalem) are urged by Isaiah to lift themselves up. “Hitorreri, Hitorreri! – Awake, awake yourself!”

In Isaiah’s rousing admonition there is a phrase that is perfect for this month of Elul. The month of Elul is a time of preparation for the coming High Holy Days. Each morning (except for Shabbat) during this month, the shofar, our spiritual alarm clock, is blown calling out like Isaiah; “Awake, awake!” We are, this month, to awaken to our potential, examine our deeds and commit to bettering ourselves, our relationships and our actions. Isaiah asks the people of his day and us; “Have you forgotten Adonai, who is still making you? (Isaiah 51:13)” What a beautifully important question! It is an Elul question! When we awaken to this truth – that God is still making us – we realize our potential for improvement and growth.

It is easy to think that we are all grown-up, that we are finished products, but the power of this season comes in reminding us that we have the ability to do better and be better. We can each lead more meaningful, more giving and more impactful lives. God is still making each of us; let us wake up and with God’s help remake ourselves. May this be a season of growth for each of us.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | August 6, 2010

Mazal Tov! Marc and Chelsea

“See, I set before you today blessing and curse (Deuteronomy 11:26).” So begins this week’s Torah Portion, R’eih. The Israelites then and we today are instructed to see the choices before us and to choose the path of blessing. Sometimes the differences between the blessing and the curse are clear and obvious. But what are we to do when the choices are not so clear.

This past week there has been much discussion about the marriage of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky. Many wonder; is it good for the Jews? A blessing or a curse?

Some say this marriage, a powerful sign that Jews are accepted in American society is a bracha – a blessing. The groom wore a tallit, declaring his Jewish pride and his desire to continue his commitment to Judaism in his married life. The Ketubah (marriage contract) and huppah (marriage canopy) demonstrated the couple’s commitment to bring Jewish tradition into their lives. Steven Cohn, a Chicago-area lawyer, who 30 years ago married a Methodist woman who participates in synagogue and partnered with him in raising active Jewish children, says; “They (Jewish leaders) shouldn’t look at it as a loss…Although there is that risk, there’s also the possibility of gain, which it has been for us.” (New York Times 2010/08/04)

Others see this marriage as a curse. Avi Shafran, public affairs director of Agudath Israel of America, a leading traditional Orthodox organization, said in an e-mail, “The toll being taken by intermarriage on the identifiably American Jewish community is obviously a grave one.”

In my opinion, this and other interfaith marriages are in of themselves neither blessing nor curse. They just are. According to the 2001 Jewish population study since 1996, 47 percent of marriages involving a Jew were interfaith. The question in my mind is how do we make of them blessings?

We make blessings from this reality by sharing the beauty, the value and the meaning of Jewish living with the non-Jewish partners of Jews in our midst. Taught Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi: “The biggest mistake the Jews have ever made—and we have yet to correct it—is believing that Judaism is only for Jews. … We know how to create passionate marriages. We know so much about inspiring children. We have focused on these things as a people for three millennia. We ought to share what we have learned with the rest of the world.” (Moment Magazine Symposium 2010)

Let us share the joys, the worldliness, the caring for the stranger in our midst, the striving to better the world, the focus on family and the so much more that make us a covenanted, holy people with others and this reality will be a wonderful bracha –a beautiful blessing. Mazal Tov to Marc and Chelsea!

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | July 30, 2010

Name That Judaism

The Jewish Daily Forward reports that Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the academic center of Conservative Judaism and my alma mater, told its journalists “that the movement’s name is now being debated. Leaders of Conservative-affiliated organizations want to find a name that will better capture what they want the movement to represent.”

Eisen said that “I am open to suggestions; I am open to a name change.”

Debra Nussbaum Cohen of The Forward decided to solicit suggestions.

Rabbi Shaul Magid, a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University, proposes that the movement now be called “Historical Renewal,” Rabbi David Wolpe’s suggests that the movement change its name to “Covenantal Judaism.” “It should be called the ‘I Eat Treyf Outside the House’ movement,” said comedian Judy Gold.

Although I would prefer that we not choose this suggestion, I learn a painful truth from it. I love the idea of soliciting new names from those who belong to “Conservative” congregations.  We should have a campaign – Name That Judaism!

For too long, we leaders the leaders of this movement have spoken of the chasm between the laity and the leadership. Let’s work together to discover who we are. Long ago the great Hillel taught in conjunction with a halachic question “for though they (the people of the community) are not prophets, they are the children of prophets. ( Pesachim 66a)”

We are all the children of Prophets! What do we have to say?

Please help. Make your suggestions here. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | July 23, 2010

God is One

This past week we observed the fast day of Tisha Ba’Av the day when we commemorate the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. According to the Talmud the ruin of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 CE and the exile that ensued afterwards came about because of sinat chinam – causeless hatred, amongst the Jews. This observation is confirmed by the historical record that tells of brutal infighting and destructive behavior between Jewish groups in Jerusalem that contributed in a significant way to the fall of Jerusalem.

Causeless hatred – sinat chinam within the Jewish community is a malady that has cursed us in every age. Every generation of Jews has had its factions and divisions. Different viewpoints and forms of Jewish expression have been a source of creativity and growth but all too often these rifts have weakened us as a community. In our own day the schisms between the Jewish movements have deepened, undermining our ability to function as a single peoplehood. The tensions between Jewish expressions was very evident in the past weeks as the Knesset and the leadership of the Jewish world debated, hotly at times, legislation (The Rotem Bill) that would have vested sole authority over conversion to Judaism to the Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Fortunately, this crisis was adverted, for now, by the withdrawal of the legislation earlier this week.       

This pause in internal Jewish conflict is a good time to reflect on what the Talmudic rabbis meant by sinat chinam – causeless hatred. The pages of the Talmud are filled with disagreement; our ancestors did not expect us to always agree. So when do our conflicting viewpoints become causeless hatred?

The answer I believe is found in this week’s Torah reading VaEtchanan. In VaEtchanan we are introduced to the eternal watchwords of our tradition. Shma Yisrael Adonai Elocheinu Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel: Adonai our God, Adonai (is) One! Note the text reads “our God” not “your God” or “my God.” As long as we recognize that Adonai is the God of all, that no group, opinion or perspective has exclusive rights to God, we can disagree all we want. When any group argues that they exclusively have God on their side or that they know God’s will they violate the most central of all Jewish teachings. Causeless hatred is the direct result of such arrogance.

God belongs to us all. The Lord is our God. There are many paths to reach toward our God; none should ever be thought of as exclusive. Our differences are many but Our God is One!

Shabbat shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | July 16, 2010

The Conversion Bill

Once again the Jewish World is in turmoil over the “Who is A Jew?” or perhaps more concisely “Who decides who is a Jew?” question. A terrible bill is making its way through the Knesset. This proposed law would disenfranchise non-Orthodox Jews  and most modern-Orthodox Jews by not recognizing as Jews those converted by their rabbis.

The American Jewish community is up in arms. Emergency emails and petitions are flying, oy vey sermons are being preached, crisis meetings held and envoys shuttling back and forth. Withholding donations, political support and negative High Holy Day sermons are threatened.

I strongly agree with all of the critics. I am incensed that the almost 500 knowledgeable committed and now very Jewish individuals I have welcomed into our peoplehood, according to halacha, are not recognized as my Jewish brothers and sisters by this legislation. I am insulted that the country that I deeply love and as an American rabbi have very actively advocated for does not recognize me as a rabbi. Yet I do not think that the solution to this controversy lies in the American Jewish community standing up to Israel. The problem is not solely a political one. The core problem is, I believe, that most Jews, Israeli and those of the Diaspora do not recognize the vital importance of conversion.

After 26 years in the pulpit rabbinate I have now devoted much of my professional life to working with those interested in casting their lot with our people. When I tell born Jews that I am now working as a Jewish Educator primarily teaching those studying to become Jews, I often hear; “How many students can you possibly have? Surely your students are mostly young women married to Jews.” When I share the number of students that I am teaching and that they are male and female, single and married and of all ages and backgrounds, I frequently am asked;  “Why? Why, are they interested in becoming Jews?”

Often my students, particularly those who are not married females and of childbearing age, are surprised to be asked similar questions by puzzled born Jews; “Why are you converting? You know you don’t have to? You are going to how many classes!?” The questioner will then frequently, without being asked, defensively explain why he or she rarely goes to synagogue and is “not very Jewish.” My students are then themselves puzzled, they ask me; “Don’t they understand the beauty and meaning of their own traditions? Why aren’t they overjoyed that I wish to join their ranks. There are so few Jews in the world – why do some Jews not welcome me with open arms?”

When I was younger I would often hear my Bubbe and Zaidi ask of anything new to them, “Is it good for the Jews?” Were they still here, I would answer concerning conversion an unequivocal – Yes! Conversion is of vital importance for the Jewish people!

The Jew-by-Choice reminds us of the splendor and significance of Jewish living. The individual choosing to join our people receives a first rate adult Jewish education, something too few born Jews have, infusing our community with knowledgeable participants. The new Jew helps us to see and understand our heritage through different lenses. The addition of Jews of all colors, ethnicity and backgrounds reminds us and others that we are a welcoming and open people – not a closed racial minority. Those who join the Jewish people bring us all a freshness of spirit, a renewal of commitment and an enthusiasm for Jewish living. It is no wonder that the Torah repeatedly commands us to welcome the ger (rabbinic term for convert to Judaism).

At a recent Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) convened to ascertain the sincerity of converts, a colleague asked one of my students; “What do you find uniquely meaningful in Judaism that is different from your birth religion?” The almost new Jew responded: “The emphasis on intellectual inquiry, on questioning, of searching and of growing. The beauty and subtle power of Jewish ritual which now influences my life. The importance of Judaism to my daily acts at home, work and play not just when I am in a house of worship. The very wide varieties of Jewish expression and practice that coexist under the same umbrella. The fact that I am joining not just a religion but also a people and that this peoplehood transcends time, place and differences. ” When a few minutes later this individual immersed herself in the living waters of the mikvah – it was great for the Jews!  

Conversion when overseen by any authorized rabbi and Beit Din is a blessing for us all. I hope that this legislation now before the Knesset is defeated. I know that when the Jewish world recognizes the vitality and strength conversion brings such legislation will not even be proposed.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | July 9, 2010

Best For The Team

Well, we finally know where LeBron James is going. LeBron is going to the Miami Heat. He explained; “Winning is a huge thing for me….The major reason in my decision was the best opportunity for me to win, to win now and in the future also.” For LeBron, the grass is greener in Miami. The goal of his life’s journey is winning.  To reach his individual goal he chooses to part from his team.

In this week’s Parasha we read that the tribes of Gad and Reuven do not wish to move on with the other tribes into the land of Israel. They as shepherds are happy on the east bank of the Jordan where as they tell Moshe “this place is fit for livestock.” They wish to part from their team, the other tribes of Israel, because the grass is greener in Gilad.

Don’t worry, they assure Moshe, we will not completely abandon our people. They promise to send all of their men of military age along with the troops of the other tribes to capture the Land. “We will not return to our homes until the Children of Israel have inherited each-man his inheritance.”  Just one thing they must do first; “Sheep fences we will build, for our livestock here, and towns for our little-ones.”

When Moshe responds in the affirmative to their request he says; “Build yourselves towns for your little-ones and fences for your flocks.” Notice the subtle change in Moshe’s response. He reverses the order of their proposed actions. First build for your children then for your sheep. Moshe is saying, “Okay, change your life’s paths, but get your priorities straight. Families first; possessions later!” It is as if Moshe is saying, “Don’t forget the home team!”

We all, at times, need to change or adapt our life paths. Many factors can go into our decision making but we must remember it is not only about what is best for us as individuals we must take into account what is best for our team.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

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