This was written shortly after my book, Leviticus: You Have No Idea was published almost a decade ago. To read the full book review, click here or on the image below.
A teaching about the daughter of Pharaoh in the Exodus story
Interview I did with Rachel Burgess and Bryan Schwartzman of the Podcast #TrendingJewish
ABOUT THIS EPISODE
Taking a page from the Judaism Unbound podcast, Rachael and Bryan ask the questions: What does Judaism do and what it is for? What does it do for those who don’t feel compelled by God to live life according to Jewish law? Rabbi Maurice Harris fields these questions, and also explains why he avoids “outing” himself as a rabbi while he’s a passenger on a commercial flight.
To give it a listen, click here or on the image below!
Dr. Elsie Stern’s interview with yours truly
Here’s the intro:
In this Community Learning call from November 21, 2017, Rabbi Maurice Harris talks about the strange way the Torah tells us about Moses’ up-close encounters with God, contradicting itself purposely within the space of nine verses. Two consecutive stories in the Book of Exodus confront us with a crucial paradox about how it is or isn’t possible to encounter the Divine, leaving us as readers with something like an “impossible” mental picture that we may be tempted to try to resolve or to hold as a fruitful paradox. Either way, the mental image these two texts generate beckon us to keep trying to look again and again, despite the endless loop the image generates in our minds.
Just click here or on the image below to give it a listen!
(This is parody in case it’s not obvious.)
Earlier this week, the Reconstructionist Publishing Service House (RPSH) announced the indefinite suspension of operations and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the district court of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The news sent shockwaves through the liberal Jewish world, as RPSH had built a reputation as an innovative progressive Jewish influencer. RPSH’s profits used to soar on reissues of the works of Reconstructionism’s founding thinker, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. The publishing house holds the copyrights to all of his works, including his classics, Judaism as a Civilization, The Future of the American Jew, and the surprisingly popular Not So Random Thoughts. But even Kaplan’s lesser known works have done well, especially the “Judaism as a…” pamphlet series that reshaped mid-20th century Jewish thought with editions such as “Judaism as a Hypervigilant Neurosis,” “Judaism as a Needle Nosed Pliers,” and the forever beloved “Judaism as a Confusing Morass – Parts 1, 2, and 3.”
But the major success came in 1998, when synagogues of many denominations bought massive numbers of Jewish, Alive & American, a brilliant curriculum for a 30-week course that was simultaneously part “Intro to Judaism,” part conversion-to-Judaism prep course, and part sociological history of Judaism. Accessible yet well-researched, and filled with exciting group activities, JA&A, as it became known, raised the profile of the smallest liberal movement of Judaism, and brought unexpected profits to RPSH.
Perhaps the dazzling success of JA&A fomented the subsequent overreach that appears to have sunk RPSH. At first, Chief Editor Bartenura Bartzilam sought to amplify JA&A’s success by creating multi-media editions. This was the turn of the 21st century, so RPSH released a CD-ROM version as well as a DVD lecture series. Neither did all that well, but Bartzilam doubled down, committing millions to the development of an audio book series in 16 languages that lost money. Bartzilam nearly was fired, reportedly, after having funded a traveling puppet theater company tasked with the mission of bringing JA&A to untapped audiences among interfaith families with children ages 3 to 8. It turned out that there was no interest in the program at all, and in the lone public performance offered at a Jewish day school in Denver several of the children reported having nightmares in reaction to some of the scarier-looking puppets.Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Reconstructionist Publishing Service House”
Rabbi Mira Wasserman currently serves as director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. LINDA JIMÉNEZ of RadioSefarad.com interviewed her recently, and Rabbi Wasserman offered a concise and clear portrait of the movement of Judaism that trained me as a rabbi and that is my spiritual home base.
You can find the interview at this link.
D’var Torah – Parashat Re’eh 5770
Rabbi Maurice Harris – Temple Beth Israel – Eugene, OR
Shabbat shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh, and in it we continue to listen to Moses’s final review of the laws and statutes that the Israelites are to observe as part of their covenant with the One who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, the Eternal One. Moses goes over many different topics in Re’eh, and tomorrow morning Ethan, our bar mitzvah, will focus on an area having to do with kashrut, the laws governing how we make eating food a holy act. In another part of this parashah, however, Moses gives an overview of the rituals involved in the celebration of the great festivals of the people of Israel. The three pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, get special attention. Tomorrow morning, when Ethan chants the maftir, or last few verses of the portion, he’ll be chanting words that describe some of the things we’re supposed to do on Sukkot. Listen to what the text says:
After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths, chag ha-sukkot, for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities. You shall hold a festival for the Eternal you God seven days, in the place that the Eternal will choose; for the Eternal your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.
You might have noticed the emphasis on happiness and joy in this passage. There’s a key word that recurs in the Torah’s discussion of sukkot, and that word is sameach, or grammatical variations on it. Sameach is the word for happiness or joy, and in fact one of the various names for the holiday of Sukkot is Zman Simchateynu, or “Season of our Joy.” In the passage I just quoted above, the Hebrew root sameach comes up twice. We hear it first with the words “you shall rejoice in your festival” – v’samachta is the Hebrew for “you shall rejoice.” Then, towards the end of the passage, it says “ you shall have nothing but joy.” The Hebrew reads, v’hayitta ach sameach.
Eric Mendelsohn, a past President of Congregation Darchei Noam, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Toronto, writes the following:
The grandchildren of the great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, building on his commentary, note that the word “Simcha” … – “Be happy !” occurs three times in the description of Sukkot (and with the extra command “Ach Sameach” – “[really] be happy”, it is almost like a parents’ reminder — “Have a good time and by the way, have a good time.”) On the other hand, [even though this Torah portion also describes the other 2 great pilgrimage festivals, the word] “Simcha” is mentioned only once for Shavuot, and not at all with regard to Pesach.
In a d’var Torah he gave at his synagogue, he asks why this might be. Here’s some of what he writes:
The agricultural basis of these holidays provides a simple explanation. Passover is the time of lambing and the sign of spring, but there is great apprehension about the crops to come. The winter wheat is in but the barley and vegetables will take seven more weeks. At Shavuot – the barley is in and one can breathe somewhat easier. But Sukkot is the grand Thanksgiving feast, at which rich and poor alike are assured enough sustenance. Judaism teaches that one has the right to enjoy the material benefits of this world and we are enjoined to rejoice in having them.
The Rabbinic linking of the three festivals to history also provides a reason for the differing amounts of required happiness. At Pesach – Egyptian soldiers have been drowned; we cannot rejoice when others are suffering. At Shavuot we can be happy that we have received Torah, but there was the incident of the Golden Calf which mutes our joy. But Sukkot celebrates the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle of the desert). It provides the wholeness of having a spiritual center that moves with one — and that is cause for unbounded joy. Continue reading “D’var Torah – Re’eh (5770 / 2010)”
This is a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2010. Though it is now almost a decade later, and we continue to lurch from Gaza-Israel crisis to crisis, as I just re-read it, it seems very applicable to this time.
In this week’s Torah portion, called Shelach Lecha, we find the Israelites at a critical crossroads in their early history as a free people. A little over a year has passed since they escaped slavery in Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of their destination – the Promised Land. God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.
After spending 40 days scouting out the land, the team returned to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran. They brought samples of the land’s produce, including a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large wooden pole and carried by two men.