Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torah from Around the World: Parashat Vayetze

Torah from Around the World #248

Jacob and Rachel Facing Infertility // Parashat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
By Rabbi Brad L. Bloom, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Yam, Hilton Head, South Carolina and doctoral student in modern Jewish history at the Hebrew Union College

The Torah describes a particularly difficult conversation on the issue of infertility between Jacob and his cherished Rachel. She is frustrated and angry that she has not been able to conceive a child and she reaches out to Jacob for support. The Torah says: “When Rachel saw she had borne no children to Jacob, Rachel became envious of her sister [Leah] and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or I will die’” (Genesis 30:1).

One would have hoped for a more compassionate reply: “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel and he said, ‘Can I take the place of God who has denied you the fruit of your womb’” (Genesis 30:2). The sages were also perplexed by the seemingly callous response to her plea. The commentator Rashi taught that ‘Rachel asked Jacob to pray for her or else the world would die.’

Our sages of blessed memory in one Midrash criticized Jacob. “Said the Holy One blessed be He; ‘Is this the way to answer the troubled?’”(Genesis Rabbah). 

In another Midrash God said to Jacob, “Is this how one replies to an embittered woman? By your life, your sons will stand before her son (Joseph) and he will tell them (Genesis 50:19) ‘Am I a substitute for God?’” (Genesis Rabbah). The point here is that years later, Leah’s sons will ultimately stand before Joseph, second in command to Pharaoh, fearing that Joseph will take vengeance on them after Jacob’s death. All of this, according to the Midrash, is because Jacob spoke harshly to his wife Rachel in her time of distress.

Some commentators try to explain that Jacob was not trying to be hurtful to Rachel but that he was frustrated that her petition should have been presented to God and not him.  The commentator Radak wrote, “Jacob was angry with her for attributing powers to him rather than God alone. If she had merely asked Jacob to intercede for her she would have been justified and he would not have become angry.” P.334

Other sources demonstrate that Rachel did not take kindly to her husband’s harsh reaction. In one Midrash, Rachel confronts Jacob on his behavior reminding him that his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham acted with more compassion than he did. In fact, she criticizes him that both men prayed for their wives. Why couldn't Jacob have done so? Rachel was not afraid to stand up to Jacob and register her disappointment with him implying that he was not the man his father and grandfather were. (Genesis Rabbah)

Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel all contended with initially not being able to conceive and they all directed their prayers to God for a child.  His response in the eyes of some sages was deemed inadequate in those days as it would be for a husband to respond that way to his wife today. A husband has to think carefully how to react to the pain of his wife who is having trouble conceiving a child. By responding the way he did, Jacob does not seem to share with her the deep seated hurt she is experiencing. Is his seemingly insensitive and caustic response indicative of his true underlying feeling of helplessness?  

There is a great deal that this story in Genesis can teach men and women struggling with fertility issues. Medical technology can determine which gender is potentially the source of the medical issue. Mental health professionals provide counseling for the couple. The reality today is that it can be a man who cannot impregnate his wife. He too now can feel shame and a blow to his self esteem and ego that often times characterizes the state of mind that a woman feels. How would he want his wife to respond to his plea or prayer to be able to fertilize her egg?

We cannot change Jacob’s response to Rachel. Yet, men need to think carefully about what they can say to their wives in order to be comforting and supportive of them during this difficult time.

Why couldn't Jacob have just made a prayer instead of reminding her that he was not a god? Men can learn that understanding and compassion goes a long way towards helping a spouse cope with the issue of infertility. Moreover a man should remember that his role in this kind of situation is not automatically to solve the problem. Instead it is to stand by his wife and offer the emotional support she needs.  

Prayer can certainly make all the difference in the world in how the couple together faces the emotional and spiritual challenges of trying to become pregnant. It is true that Jacob or any man cannot simply grant his wife’s request to conceive as it is not in her power to grant his hopes to all of a sudden be able to impregnate his wife. Now that there are so many avenues both medical and psychological available to couples it becomes clear why this is a journey shared together. Progressive Jewish congregations treat this issue seriously. With men and women serving as rabbis and some congregations even offering programs that help couples find the support they need from their religious community, couples can blend the medical, mental health and religious communities into a positive tapestry of hope. Hopefully the strength and consolation that a couple can receive in their prayers from the Eternal One can support them to fulfill their dream towards receiving the blessing of a child. Neither man nor woman can play the role of God nor should they close their hearts off to the prayers of the other.

Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Yam in Hilton Head, South Carolina and is a doctoral student in modern Jewish history at the Hebrew Union College. You can follow Rabbi Bloom on his blog 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The dome of the Rock and the Western Wall: When symbols become the source of a religious conflict.

Shalom to everyone
I have written in my newspaper column a piece about the recent conflicts on the Temple Mount. We have Islam's Dome of the Rock and the El Aksa Mosque and the Western Wall. This piece discusses the history of these two sacred spaces. Thank you for taking the time to read this column. As always your reactions and feedback is always appreciated.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Homily on the Torah Portion Vayetze Genesis 28. "When you see a fateful moment, do not stand against it but give way to it."

What does it feel like to experience a moment of truth? It does not have to be a bad or tragic thing, but, any juncture or crossroads when we are compelled to follow a new course in our lives. I can imagine several examples such as beginning a new venture, deciding to retire and relocate or taking a new job or to get married or even to mourn a loved one’s passing? How about a medical diagnosis and the process of deciding the course of medical treatment?  Making a choice between priorities at work with family or a personal decision about one’s identity such as for example revealing one’s sexual orientation?
In this week’s parasha, Vayetze, Jacob, the precocious kid, flees the wrath of a betrayed and revenge seeking brother Esau. On his journey back to his native Haran for refuge with his uncle Laban, Jacob encounters in a dream a moment of truth. How did the sages understand this transcendent occasion in his life? What does the Torah teach us about reacting to the moments of truth that move us to change course in our life as well?
 In Genesis chapter 28 it is written, “Jacob left Beer-Sheba and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night for the son had set. Taking one of the stones of that place he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  He had a dream, a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.  And the Lord was standing beside him and said, “I am the Eternal One, the God of your father Abraham, and the god of Isaac, the ground on which you are lying, I will give to you and your offspring.  Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.  And the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.  Remember I am with you and I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to the land I will not leave you and I have done what I have promised you” (28:10-15).
Clearly this dream was an unexpected moment of truth for Jacob. His reaction to the dream reflected his willingness to embrace change and a new course in his life. Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it.,” How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God and the gateway to heaven,” (28:16-17).
 The sages of our tradition had many interpretations but one stands out above the others. The Midrash says regarding Jacob’s dream, “When you see a fateful moment, do not stand against it but give way to it” (Tanhuma Midrash). Was he facing the reality that even though he was in the midst of running away from his immediate family drama and deception with Esau that one day he would accept his destiny to return to the Promised Land and be Patriarch? In other words could he run away in the short term but not run away in the long term from his newly defined purpose in life?
“When you see a fateful moment, do not stand against it but give way to it.” I feel the intention here is that life often times brings us unanticipated moments of great decision and the Midrash is saying that we are supposed to embrace change rather than resist it. For Jacob the dream of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending along with God’s covenantal promise helped him expand his awareness of a new life direction. He knew not what would come next in his life but maybe now he understood that his purpose was to fulfill a divine promise that he Jacob would one day be the Patriarch of this tribe. The future is not always clear to us initially in so far as what change means in the short term but somehow if we open our eyes we eventually grasp a long range perspective in the direction of our lives.
“When you see a fateful moment do not stand against it but give way to it.” I heard something like this from a man who had lost his beloved to a disease and refused to ever consider another life partner again until that special person entered into his life. He then fought the moment of feeling that he could love again but eventually embraced those feelings and ultimately married her.
A woman told me a story about a time when she was notified that she was pregnant and experienced a conflict inside her regarding to have the child or choose an abortion. She gave way to the powerful emotions of being a mother and chose to carry the unexpected child to full term.
I recall a college student’s confession of his decision to change his major and pursue a new course of study where his real passions were and risked his parent’s disapproval. Change is the most threatening thing and, parenthetically, the most exhilarating experience. I am not sure Jacob made peace with this change of discovering his destiny but he followed it like an adventurer on a long journey not being sure of the outcome but committed to the journey.
“When a fateful moment comes do not stand against it but give way to it.”  These historic moments occur sparingly in a lifetime. Sometimes we stop for a moment and ask, “Am I in charge of my life or am I being guided on a much larger scale drama than I could ever imagine?

That is one of the major questions that religion asks of us which is to ascertain our purpose in life. For Jacob he received his marching orders from God that his role was to father a family and represent the Jewish people one day. That was his fateful moment. Can we recall an encounter or a fateful moment that would shape a new direction for our lives? Thanksgiving is an excellent time to reflect on the journey each of us has travelled to be here. Maybe we did not welcome that change at first and quite possibly it scared us or challenged us to the core of our being but at the end of the day we accepted this new direction anyway. That was the challenge that Jacob finally embraced and it is one which happens to us when we least expect it. As Isaiah said at the conclusion of the Midrash; “Go my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind me. Hide just for a moment until my anger passes” (Isaiah 6:20). The message is hiding to avoid the challenges of a change of course is understandable. At the end of the day change is inevitable and a call to action for a new opportunity at life can be a gift in the long run. The Sages say don’t resist it but embrace change.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Story of the Shakers in the history of religious life in America

I visited the Berkshires and wanted to learn more about this unusual religious group which was founded by a woman and created religious communes that existed from the 18th century to the 1960. They lived and work the soil and kept their faith. Their commitment to a simple and religiously based lifestyle is admirable and stands out in the annals of American history.
Have a good read and your comments are always welcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on the murders at the Har Nof synagogue in Jerusalem

It is telling about the nature of the Jewish people in response to terror when those in the Jerusalem neighborhood let alone in the shul that was attacked this week respond to media inquiries by saying that ‘we go back to the business of living.’ It is practically impossible to fathom the outrage, anger and desire for revenge that must be pulsating through the veins of Israelis in this most recent barbaric action.  We read reports of Israelis, definitely shaken to the core of their souls, yet still able and willing to live and not give in to the terrorist’s goals.
At the outset I want to stand in solidarity with my rabbinic colleagues in condemning these murderous acts and extend my personal condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in this terrorist attack. There can be no justification or excuse for this kind of abominable action. I hope that all of us will share our thoughts with our national elected leaders including our congressman and senators.
Media reports show video footage of observant Jews at this Jerusalem synagogue praying in the streets. They wait for the Messiah. They are believers in their theology with a deep seated faith turning to God for strength. They do not call out to destroy Arabs and Palestinians.  They do not summon the faithful to carry out an Intifada against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. They do not call for a Jihad against all non-Jews and chop off heads. They mourn and grieve. They pray and even dance through their grief knowing that God is listening and giving them consolation.
Their martyrdom is not to walk through mosques and Arab storefronts and blow themselves up because God is great. Jewish martyrdom is about enduring the pain of exile and the pain today of terrorism. It is the courage to resume life knowing one has sustained a serious wound to their body and soul that distinguishes our martyrs from those of the radical Muslim terrorists.
Tragically we have seen these kinds of despicable actions many times in the past. Do we ever get used to or accustomed to the brutality?  What will be the consequences of these young men’s’ crimes? Will Israel build a security fence? I hope not. Jews in Jerusalem remain vulnerable since there are no barriers constructed between East and West Jerusalem. Anyone can drive anywhere they want to in Jerusalem. As always there are more questions lingering from these events than answers. I pray that the city will never be divided due to fear.
Are there Americans who enter the fray of Israeli- Palestinian politics saying, “This is what Israel gets for its policies in the territories”? Others will remain silent because they know the hypocrisy of the position that says, ‘I am a friend of the Jewish people but I just hate Israel.’ Are all the academic associations who condemned Israel and the religious organizations which supported the Boycott Divest and Sanction Israel declarations now rejoicing in the same way that Palestinians do in Ramallah and Gaza City at the so-called martyrdom of two murderous cousins from East Jerusalem?
Four Rabbis and an Israeli Druze policeman have entered eternity. The bullets and knife wielding terrorists did not care whether there victims would be rabbis or an Israel Druze police officer. Their hatred and dedication to their cause blinded them to the basic values that are supposed to be universal. Human life is sacred. “Whatever is hateful to you do not do to another”( Talmud Shabbat). “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:19).
We will say kaddish for the deceased and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded. May God accept the victims of terrorism in his Heavenly embrace? May Israel resist the pressures to respond with vengeance and may it remain on the moral high ground. May God bless the memories of the departed and sustain them in our hearts and souls and, finally, heal those recuperating from their wounds. Zichronom L’vrachah-May their memories be for a blessing.

Rabbi Bloom

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In memorium: Rabbi Isaac Neuman cherished Rabbi and friend.

In Memorium: Rabbi Isaac Neuman
I can still remember walking into his rabbinic study at Sinai Temple in Champaign, Illinois back in 1987. Soon I would sit behind that desk as the congregation’s new rabbi and Rabbi Neuman, the new Rabbi Emeritus would have his spot which was in the Temple library. Some people predicted that we would never get along. We were too different and from such different backgrounds. Yet I can say that none of those predictions came true. We were different and were from different worlds. From my vantage point I grew to respect and have deep admiration for Rabbi Isaac Neuman. He was a rabbi to me in the best sense of the term. He was my teacher and inspiration. For these reasons and more I mourn his passing.
Isaac opened a door for me and I walked down a pathway into many other worlds. No other rabbi has had a greater influence on my theology and learning as did Isaac. He introduced me to the study of Hasidism. He taught me how to read Elie Wiesel and other theologians. What Isaac did for me was to teach me firsthand about the Holocaust and then to understand those writers who like Wiesel began to combine Jewish sources with real life theological issues that emerged out of the Holocaust. I am greatly indebted to him for opening my eyes. One example was to teach me how to develop and implement a Yom HaShoah service. Every year since I left Champaign in 1995 to this day I have presented in the congregations I have served an annual Yom HaShoah service and program. From Isaac I learned to treat it like a miniature Yom Kippur with the best readings, poetry as well as music.
Isaac also taught me to appreciate Jewish music. He really took music seriously. In my days at Sinai Temple we brought out many of the greatest contemporary composers of contemporary Reform liturgical music. Working with a professional choir along with his advice provided me with the knowledge that would become invaluable to me as a rabbi in the future congregations I would serve and still do today.
What I loved about knowing him was that as long as he was in the library reading magazines like Commentary and others I could sit down with him and we would talk. We talked about his youth, his children and about the scholars of old as if he knew them intimately. Maybe he did. What he achieved in his life to have his sons, his beloved Eva and his rabbinic ordination and devoted congregants over the decades was a true achievement given the history he had from Poland to the  concentration camps and then to America. I stood in awe of this man. I remember saying goodbye to him when I was headed out to California and how I cried then when I embraced him.
The years went by and I was thrilled to have him out as a scholar in residence at my congregation in Sacramento. In addition each year before the High Holy Days we spoke and he gave me some of the greatest texts from the Talmud and Hasidism for my sermons. When my family and I would visit my parents in South Florida, we always made sure to visit Isaac and Eva in Miami Beach. He loved to speak about politics and Israel and often times bemoan new gimmicks he saw in the Reform Movement as shallow.
I feel bad, I must confess, that I did not keep up with him as I should have over the last five years or so. I regret that and ask from god forgiveness. I just hope he knows in Olam HaBa that I am carrying on his work and that I loved him.
It is true that sometimes he was short of patience and could be sharp tongued when something irritated him. Yet he was so kind to my family and especially affectionate to my daughter Leah. I shall never forget when he announced to me that he was going to East Berlin to be their rabbi at the reform congregation. He told me, “I’m putting my head in the lion’s mouth.” What a man to have the courage to do that given his experiences in life! Then he came home with Eva and the next thing I know I am standing with Gary Porton co-officiating with me under a huppah at the wedding of Eva and Isaac. Eva, my heart and condolences go out to you. You are a beautiful spirit and Isaac was blessed to have you as his wife. In addition I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to Mark and David. One could not ask for two devoted sons like them.

I will say kaddish for him at my congregation and I hope that everyone who reads this blog who did not know Isaac will realize that he was a special man with incredible gifts. While he opened up worlds of spirituality and learning for me, I used to also believe he lived in different worlds as well. Reform Judaism, Hasidism, the Holocaust were all worlds he inhabited and knew somehow how to balance them all while serving honorably his congregations as a pulpit rabbi. He gave the best of what Judaism offered and taught it to Sinai Temple. His storytelling and his passion for preserving Jewish memory filled us all with a glow. His teaching from the words of Nahman of Bratslav will always stay with me. “The whole world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is not to be afraid.” Nahman wrote those words but Isaac Neuman taught me them and how they could protect and strengthen me in the challenges I have faced in my life. I am a better person and rabbi for having known my beloved and cherished teacher Rabbi Isaac Neuman. Zichrono L’vrachah-May he be remembered for blessing.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Veterans Day Column

I wanted to express some thoughts on Veterans Day in my newspaper column. I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Again your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

The Torah Portion Chaye Sarah: Do Men want their wives to be like their mothers? The case of Isaac and Rebecca.

Parashat Chaye Sarah: Do men want their wives to be their mothers? The case of Isaac and Rebecca.
I’m taking a risk tonight by speaking about a potentially controversial and divisive topic. Race Relations?  The Middle East?  Immigration? None of these I am relieved to say. Instead my topic, based upon the Torah portion Haye Sarah, is something deeper and more perplexing in the annals of human events. Do men want their wives to be in part like their mothers?
The Torah portion describes the directives that the aging Patriarch Abraham hands down to his chief of staff Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac. To cut to the chase Eliezer travels back to Padan Aram-the old country- on this journey to find the perfect match for his Patriarch’s cherished son. He meets up at a well with the lovely young maiden Rebecca and believes that she is the exact one, the B’shert, for Isaac. After negotiations with Rebecca’s family, Rebecca decides to accept the invitation to be Isaac’s wife. Rebecca journeys back with Eliezer to meet him and to assume her duties as matriarch of the Abrahamic clan.
The Torah then says, “And Rebecca lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. She had said to the servant, ‘what man is this who walks in the field to meet us?’
  And the servant had said, “It is my master”; therefore she took a veil and covered herself.  And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.  And Isaac brought her to his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:61-67).
Does this text intimate that his new wife was replacing his mother? How does he see his new wife? Is she his mate or a surrogate for his mother? Or was her role two-fold? Was he ready for a wife, a life partner? Or did he seek out a woman who would care for him in not too different a way than his mother had done do for him since his youth? I have heard the old expression, “I want a girl that’s just like the girl that married dear old dad?” Really? Is that what men are really searching for, that is, a woman will play both roles that of the intimate as well as the caretaker like a mother and fulfill the same kinds of functions that his mother performed for him? Is this typical or atypical of what most men secretly if not unconsciously want in the role of the wife?
In one Midrash (Genesis Rabbah) based upon chapter 24:67, “Isaac brought her into his mother’s tent and behold she was like his mother Sarah.” In different ways the sages give examples of how Sarah was able to have the divine  cloud of glory over her tent, her doors were open to wayfarers, the dough she used to bake was blessed by god, and a light was always on in her tent from one Sabbath to the next. All these things stopped after Sarah died and they all miraculously returned as soon as Rebecca assumed her place in her deceased mother in-law’s tent. Finally, the Midrash concludes by saying that when Isaac saw all these blessings return in his mother’s tent with Rebecca he knew that “she was like his mother Sarah” (Genesis Rabbah).
This midrash opens even more questions not just about how men in those times believed their spouses were supposed to be like their mothers but it also raises the question for men today who are searching for a wife. Has anything changed after all these millennium? I have heard countless times women today say jokingly that their husbands are kids and that they feel they have to be the parent to the men as they do to their children. Men usually roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders symbolizing a kind of half hearted acknowledgment of the truth about this role their wives play. 
Today we are living in an age when marriage in the secular world represents new expectations about how couples care for each other. Of course the traditional kind of role still exists when the man is the provider and the woman cares for him and his children as primary care parent. We know, on the other hand, the division of labor has changed radically over the last few decades as men and women have begun to work at their jobs and split the duties of nurturing each other and the children.
Sure the economics have changed the way we live today with most couples working. My question is that at the end of the day do women still hold onto the primary care role for their spouse and children? Is it a matter of biology or social conditioning? Sometimes men have a hard time understanding their own expectations regarding women being their life partners versus the role of caretaker to them and to the family. Women are well aware of this dilemma and are quick to tell me that they absolutely do not want to be seen as his mother nor want to replace her even though in many cases they end up in that role.
Many women tell me, for example, that they believe men have a hard time living on their own especially if their wives pass away. Thus they need a woman to take care of them! One receives the impression that Isaac was lost when Sarah died. Maybe that is another reason why it is written in the early chapters of Genesis,” that it Is not good for a man to be alone.” Other patriarchs like Jacob were blessed with two wives. Even after Sarah died, the Torah tells us that Abraham married Keturah and had many children with her.
Marriage for the younger generation is changing in terms of roles, work responsibilities and parenting. More and more we see that whether the reasons stem from economic demands or a greater consciousness about how women and men relate to each other that men and women are reevaluating and adapting to new paradigms for emotional support. Does that mean that men will become more independent of their need for a woman’s nurturing as it will be that women will be less dependent on a man to take care of her in the traditional sense of the term? Will the future Jewish family be better off in the long run?
That future is here now. Clearly Isaac goes on to have children with Rebecca. Yet one receives the impression that Isaac never became the leaders his father or his son would be. We cannot conclude it had anything to do with never quite recovering from his mother Sarah’s death. He was, however, able to move forward and make a life for himself and his family.

We are living in a new age when many different models for woman and men taking care of each other abound. Men are challenged today to figure out what they want and what they need from a partner. How they react to changing realities and to history will make all the difference between successful and troubled relationships in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"No Foundation for Considering Ebola Wrath of God."

o foundation for considering Ebola wrath of God

www.bethyam.orgOctober 24, 2014 
Liberia Ebola-Cremation Fears
A team in protective gear buries a person suspected to have died of Ebola on Oct. 18 in Monrovia, Liberia.
ABBAS DULLEH — The Associated Press
What are religious leaders saying today about the Ebola virus? A lot depends on geography as well as religion.
According to one newspaper article in Lagos, Nigeria, a pastor explained that the Bible forewarned about the Ebola virus by quoting Isaiah 66:24, which says, "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me, the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched and they will be loathsome to all mankind."
The minister was reported as saying, "Go to Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries where it is found, including Nigeria, you will see that people live dirty lifestyles and involve themselves in dirty deals, dangerous and disgraceful lifestyles."
Once again, there are always clergy who use Scripture as a moral hammer to slam the people for the moral failings that supposedly cause disease. We saw this same paradigm with the AIDS virus years ago.
According to the Religion News Service, there was a council meeting for African Christian clergy back in August on how to explain the reason for Ebola and what it means from a spiritual perspective. A retired bishop from the Lutheran Church in Liberia said, "People are having different misconceptions that (Ebola) is a curse from God. This is depending upon how they are interpreting the Bible. I do not think God is angry and is issuing a punishment."
According to the report, 100 Christian clergy met and declared that God was, in fact, angry and that the people should seek forgiveness and repent their sins, particularly "corruption and immoral acts such as homosexuality."
I have heard opinions expressed by some who believe that Ebola is a divine warning that we are reaching the point of the apocalypse and the end of days. We want to turn to God for support and to the clergy for answers to questions from their parishioners such as "Why is this happening to us? What can we do to stop this virus?"
Some use the Bible and such stories -- for example, the generation of the Great Flood in Genesis or God destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah -- to verify a theology that God rewards and punishes us. The condemnations of the biblical prophets against the moral decay of ancient Israel become a treasure trove of verses taken out of context to prove that disease is a tool God uses to punish humanity.
I am reminded, however, of the way the Bible treated the infectious skin ailments, which we typically call leprosy.
The first thing the priests did in those days was to isolate the patient and then disinfect the house and treat the patient, until the time came that the patient was healed and could be returned to the community. Never do we read in Leviticus that the reason for the disease, which was contagious in the Israelite community, had to do with moral failings.
Time and again we see the theme that illness -- and especially infectious disease -- is connected to sin and that God's way of punishing us for those sins is to inflict a virus upon us. Surely religious leaders can find inspiration from the Bible to comfort and give hope to the people in Africa and around the world to use their faith to work hard to treat the sick with compassion.
The World Wide Methodist Church, in its checklist for clergy working with communities where Ebola is present, got it right when it chose a verse from Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you," the Lord declares, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
The religions of the world, working in partnership with international health organizations and government, need to give hope to the people, now more than ever, that they can survive this terrible plague.
Even though some countries may close off their borders to Ebola patients to protect their own populations, hopefully the world will not close off its hearts to those who need our financial resources and medical expertise, as well as prayers and compassion, now more than ever.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at and follow him

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Can Liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity open up a new dialogue on peace between Israel and Palestinians?

Can Liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity open up a new dialogue on peace between Israel and Palestinians?
Delivered at the Chapel without Walls worship Service
Sunday 10-26-2014

As I watch the national movements of liberal Christianity vote in favor of resolutions targeting Israel and advocating Boycott Divest and Sanctions against the Jewish people, I along with many ask; “What happened?” Our friends with whom we have we shared our values to pursue a more just society in America have now turned against us and betrayed all those years that we worked together for the common good.” Many Jews in America are awakening to the impact of Presbyterian, Methodists and United Church of Christ proclamations, resolutions and sermons from the pulpit which invoke Christian theological doctrines of prophetic faith that lead them to identify with the suffering of the Palestinians in the West Bank. That mounting energy has begun to turn the decades old solidarity between liberal Christians and Jews on its head.
What is the dilemma for Jews in light of the increasing political activism against Israel from liberal Christian denominations? How are Jews understanding the changing landscape of liberal Christianity in terms of its leadership and the support that leadership gives to causes that enact policies to punish Israel? Is there still ground for ecumenical cooperation and resolution for this growing estrangement between liberal Jews and Christians?
This past summer’s decision by the Presbyterian movement at its convention in Detroit sounded a wakeup call for Jews when they passed a resolution to Boycott and Divest and Sanction Israel by protesting against American companies who do business with Israel in the West Bank territories. Rabbis, Jewish community leaders and a growing base of the Jewish community were deeply hurt and disappointed by this resolution. It is by no means the only example of liberal denominations of Christianity voting to punish Israel for the settlements but this time the Presbyterian vote caught the attention of the Jewish community.
What we learned was that there is a deep gulf between clergy and lay leaders in this BDS movement and the mainstream Jewish community. We learned that Christian clergy who are involved in these issues have expressed deep hostility towards Israel and the idea of Zionism because of the West Bank settlements. We recognized that we had ignored the facts that many of these clergy have been involved in outreach to Palestinian Christians in this area and have developed a deepened sense of empathy and solidarity with Palestinians in refugee camps. We also learned that we had taken for granted our cherished colleagues and friends support for Israel while we were working with them on domestic causes which we shared the same commitments. Now Jews are rethinking those relationships and questioning what they see from their lens as actions tantamount to anti-Semitism from the liberal branches of Christianity.
I have spoken to colleagues from the UCC, Methodists and Presbyterian denominations and they all disavow that accusation but at the same time they tell me we are the ones who do not listen and do not see the injustices Israel has created and fostered by having those settlements which they view as illegal and by the administration of the territories where Arabs live. This has become a launching pad for the more leftists elements of these religious bodies to accuse Israel of being an Apartheid State like the old South African regime. All of these remarks and ideas are an anathema to Israel and to most Jews. Jews hear those kinds of accusations as attacks upon not only Israel but upon them as well. In many cases I see that we are speaking past each other and that each side is entrenched in their own ideologies.
As I see it now Jews feel caught in a bind between the mainstream Christian denominations who they feel betrayed by and the more conservative branches of Christendom in America who avidly support Israel but who also carry a very different political agenda that often runs contrary to liberal Judaism’s social justice orientation in America. The Jewish religious leadership asks, ‘How can we possibly work together with our cherished friends and colleagues on domestic issues when they put their efforts to resolutions that we feel are blatantly anti-Israel?
I believe that Jews feel not only betrayed but misunderstood and that still after all these decades liberal Christians do not get our connection and ultimately not just our commitment to Israel but also our fear that criticizing Israel, especially through the vicious BDS movement, leads to anti-Semitism and threatens the future of Israel and world Jewry. Jews, it is fair to say, are not absolutely united in the different ways we all speak about how to make peace with the Palestinians. What we feel is that despite Israel’s immense and powerful military infrastructure, it is still vulnerable to Arab terrorism and especially Iranian nuclear technology. Seven million people living in a region with over a hundred million Arabs. Those demographics are the lens that Jews must wear and we wonder why Christians choose not to see that aspect of our concern? The wars that rage on in the Middle East contribute to the wariness that Jews and Israelis harbor about how to make an enduring peace. The fact that Palestinians, many of whom are resistant to peace, resent Israelis and Jews’ right to be in the land contributes to the ongoing stalemate as well.
Furthermore what Christians forget is that Israel does an amazing job with its 500,000 Arab citizens by granting them full citizenship. There is an Arab jurist on the Israeli Supreme Court. Israel protects holy sites for all religions. There are some groups like the Druze community who actually enlist in the military for Israel. Are there Arab Israeli citizens who complain that they have second class status? Yes, just as there are ethnic and racial groups in America who are angry and accuse white America of racial discrimination. For a country that is 66 years old it has accomplished a great deal in these areas and it has much more work to do just like America must do with its minorities. I wonder why liberal Christians refuse to see this side of the story and only focus on one narrative of this ongoing dispute.
Jews also question why Christians, liberal Christians in particular, refuse to raise their voices to other Christian denominations in the Middle East who suffer at the hands of Arab terrorism? Why aren’t more Christians angry about and passing resolutions when the entire Christian population of large cities in Iraq like Mosul and other cities are exiled by ISIS and forced to convert to Islam if they want to live? Why aren’t Christians pointing their concern for justice against Christians who ally themselves with the Syrian President Assad? Why does it appear that their efforts and attention seem to focus exclusively on Israel? From our vantage point there seems to be a double standard and a huge disconnect between what liberal Christians say about prophetic justice and how it is applied.
We ourselves struggle with our own values as American Jews who whole heartedly support Israel and embrace the concept of Zionism with policies that individual Jews may disagree with the government of Israel. Jews have a hard time offering that critique for fear others will use it as a justification for their own deeper agendas to discredit Israel on the world stage. Of course there is a feeling that Israelis and Jews have around the world that supports Israel to the extent that we are sometimes blinded to the harsh realities of what justice means and that it must apply to Palestinians in the West Bank as well.
Jews are seeing the outbreak of anti-Semitism around the world particularly in Europe that frightens us. Today Israel is the scapegoat and with the second generation of Arabs in Europe it only heightens the concern that Jews are no longer safe not just in Israel but in Europe and ultimately the fear is that could be in America sooner than later.
We need more dialogue today than ever before. We need to bring together Jews and liberal Christians to discuss these issues rather than passing resolutions which only create more fear, enmity and alienation between long time friends. We share common Scriptures and we should use them to open up more dialogue to see to it that we do not have a parting of the ways but a pathway towards greater cooperation and understanding. I would personally like to see my Christian colleagues join me in visiting Israel and talking to all sides in this conflict and not just one sided vitriolic diatribes against one side or the other. What is tragic is that liberal Christians have missed the opportunity to be a bridge for peace and instead have taken a partisan position. I do not see it bringing the parties closer together.

I never, on the other hand, lose hope and despite the concerns I have presented this morning I am counting on the idea that leaders will take a step back and reassess the importance of keeping the communication going and working through these issues. If we can talk and even visit Israel together there is a chance we can make a difference. That would signal greater hope that peoples of faith could do more to advance the peace in this part of the world and prove how religions can make a difference towards making our world a better and safer place.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jihad today and in history.

Here is my most recent newspaper column on the idea of Jihad in Islam. What do you think?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Understanding the Jewish idea of Sin and the meaning of the High Holy Days

I have inserted the link from my most recent newspaper article on the High Holy Days. All the best and enjoy.

Yom Kippur Day- Making Peace in the World starts by Working for Inner Peace.

Yom Kippur Morning

It feels like we are living in a chaotic world nowadays, does it not? The Middle East is engulfed in war; Ukraine is barely holding back the onslaught of the Russians who want to reestablish their old iron curtain; while Iran poses the greatest threat in the Middle East to Israel. We watch the gamesmanship of negotiations as Iran postures with the U.S. to arrive at a deal for peace by November 24. Religiously speaking, we see in the Middle East the Shia-Sunni divide metastasize into even more hatred. And finally, the United States is engaged now in a war against ISIS. In a recent speech at a security conference in Israel on 9.11, Prime Minister Netanyahu characterized radical Islam’s view of itself as becoming the master faith of all religions, drawing upon the historic quotation from Hitler who described the Aryans as the Master Race.
Obviously world peace is not something we will achieve today.  We can shrai “gevalt” but it will not make a bit of difference. Achieving world peace may very well be beyond our scope of influence,but, I am reminded of a statement of a sage who said, “Before there is world peace I must begin with an inner peace. For only when a person makes peace in him or herself are they able to make peace in the world.” What was that teaching about? What was his underlying message? Judaism teaches us that our mitzvah is to pursue peace as well as justice. Especially on Yom Kippur there is a role for us to play in balancing between inner peace and world peace.
Judaism has always cherished seeking peace, even to the point where in one Midrash the sages say that the Torah itself misrepresents the truth between Joseph and his brothers in order to preserve peace between them after Jacob their father dies.
When Jacob died, the midrash teaches that the brothers were afraid that Joseph would now wreak vengeance upon them for the cruel act of selling him into slavery years ago. That is why they said to him, “Before his death, your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Joseph, ‘Forgive I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly” (Genesis 50:16).
However, nowhere in Scripture, according to the midrashic text do we find that our Patriarch Jacob had actually given such an instruction! The upshot is that the Torah sometimes stretches the truth by using fictitious words for the sake of peace” (Deuteronomy Rabbah Shoftim 15).
Apparently there are many pathways to achieving peaceful relations with those who are estranged from us, let alone finding a measure of peace within ourselves. How can we do this?
There are two ways that we can pursue peace where it will make a difference in our lives. Start with peace inside us. Second, make peace with someone whom we have been at odds with recently. Of course we cannot ignore the cause of world peace while exclusively pursuing peace in our own inner recesses. Yet, Judaism teaches us to embrace all these pathways to a better world.  The best starting for peace starts inside us and extends to the entire world.
 Peace is not about only maintaining quiet in a conflict between two individuals or two nations. Peace is a state of mind and a state of being. Peace means affirming shared values and working for a common good. Peace inside our souls refers to a deep sense of awareness and contemplation that our life’s meaning and purpose is good. Inner peace can include harmony and connectivity within us, our loved ones and with God.
Remember that famous statement from Rabbi Zusia who when asked by his students what he was thinking about now that he had reached his last moments of life? He answered, “I do not fear when people say why you weren’t like this one or that one? What I fear most is when someone asks; “why you weren’t more like Zusia?” Finding inner peace is often a lifetime struggle. Maybe the hardest question on inner peace revolves around whether we lived up to our own potential? Are we true to ourselves and to others whom we interact with in the world?
I have met individuals at peace within themselves. Sometimes they were great teachers and other times they were simple people who could look over the valley of their life experience and recall traumatic events but still find the spiritual high ground. Being at peace does not mean that life was perfect or that it all went well. It just means that some people learn how to cope with their life issues in a way that transcends challenging times and painful moments and ultimately find an inner strength to transform those moments to wisdom. This is one reason why I love this holy day of Yom Kippur, because it affords us the opportunity to take a break and survey the big picture of our lives. Peace is a challenge to us to work for on Yom Kippur. Taking hold of our issues, facing them and generating hope is one pathway towards embracing shalom in our lives.
One of the hardest things for humans to do is make peace with someone whom we have hurt or are distant from. This is the one day, ordained by God, where we are commanded to make peace with others. It is the day when God is cajoling us to go ahead and reach out to someone and say, “I’m sorry.” God is coaxing the other to say, “I forgive you.” We all know the feeling of being humbled and submitting ourselves to the judgment of another person. We know how awkward it can feel to forgive someone out of convenience or to just get it out of the way and not truly mean it. The same applies for fake apologies as well.
Still our mitzvah today is to change not only our lives but someone else’s life for the better. So I am challenging us this morning to be committed this year to healing one relationship in which we have unfinished business. Take a risk and put your pride on the line for a greater achievement. The Talmud says that turning an enemy into a friend is one of the highest mitzvoth we can accomplish. Even the Siddur says oseh shalom bein adam l’havero: namely that, a person should make peace between one person and another. Even if we cannot make peace with another and ourselves, maybe we can find an opportunity to make peace between two other individuals. Whatever we can do to encourage our neighbor to reconcile with a friend or relative and or even an adversary is making a difference in the world.
A rabbi told his students that God helps us to make peace since God was able to make the heavens at the dawn of creation by making peace between the two extremes of fire and water. So if God could make peace between these two extremes, then surely God can bring people together in peace.
Later on that rabbi visited a town and discovered the residents were involved in a huge communal quarrel. He came into the town on the 9th of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the leaders asked the rabbi to arbitrate the dispute that was growing and dividing the entire community. Others said, “He will not do so since it is a fast day on the 9th of Av and we will be in schul.”  The rabbi heard that comment and exclaimed, “No day is better than this one, for it was because of an idle quarrel and baseless hatred amongst the Jewish community that Jerusalem the city of God was destroyed.”
Do we give up too easily towards working for peace in the community? Is it fair to say that the older we get, the more we become focused on our own issues and let go of the world’s problems? What is it about aging that lures us into retreat from the challenges in our world?  Clearly not everyone does that but how often do we hear someone say; ‘leave the world’s problems to the next generation to deal with.’ Yet is there not still time to impact events in small ways that help others find their own shalom?
Peacemaking is an arduous task. It takes hard work and patience, whether we are talking about inner peace or world peace. But what comes first is looking inside and checking our own attitude about the life we live and those who are near to us. What is the most important quality for peace making? Rabbi Pinhas used to say, “I am always afraid to be more clever than devout.” And then he added: “I should rather be devout than clever, but rather than both devout and clever, I should like to be good.”
That is the important ingredient to peacemaking whether it is between us and someone else or if we are helping others make peace. God wants us to be good at heart and not play the chess game of life, out-strategizing our friends or adversaries.
Rabbi Baurch of Huza often went to the marketplace at Lapet. One day the prophet Elijah appeared to him there: and Rabbi Baruch asked of him; “is there anyone amongst all these people who will have a share in the World to Come?”
Elijah answered, “There is none.”
Later, two men came to the marketplace and Elijah said to Rabbi Baruch; “Those two will have a share in the World to Come.”
Rabbi Baruch asked the newcomers; “What is your occupation?”
They replied; “We are clowns. When we see a person who is sad, we cheer her or him up. When we see two people quarreling, we try to make peace between them”(B. Ta’anith 22a).

Remember if we look at peace making in terms of winning and losing then we have lost sight of the inner peace and the outer one. The sages say “Seek Peace and Pursue It, “and that must be our life’s goal, on this day and every day.

Yom Kippur Evening Kol Nidrei- Judging Ourselves by the same standards we judge others

Yom Kippur Evening 2014
Why is it that people are so quick to judge their neighbors but unwilling to focus the same moral lens upon themselves? When a public personality or an elected official makes a poor judgment or an unpopular decision, how fast do the media lead the charge to eviscerate that individual and, as is often the case, how often do we the public jump on the bandwagon and feed off the media spectacle that follows?
Now let’s think closer to home about how tolerant we are with our neighbors and friends about the errors we believe they commit in their relationship with us. Think about the person who we feel snubbed us at a party. How about the person who raised their voice to us and hurt our feelings?  How about the time when a friend did not come through when we needed their help?
We have expectations about how others are supposed to act, and when they fail our standard don’t we end up putting ourselves in the position of judge and jury? Our responses range from anger or disappointment to ignoring, shunning and ultimately scorning them. Typically the drama that percolates inside us leads us to sharing our anger with anyone who will listen. How often do we see this trajectory of emotions?
Yet when it comes to our own lives, how fast are we to hold up ourselves to the same bar that we set up for others? Are we just as critical of our own actions as we are when we focus our righteous indignation towards others we feel have failed us? I would like to focus on these questions in terms of judging ourselves with equal rigor as we judge those around us. I do not believe it is a sin to judge others because it is human nature to be judgmental. But is it sinful behavior when we create a double standard for ourselves by judging others and not applying those standards to our own behavior?
I believe that the answer is yes, in three ways. Do we not by being exclusively judgmental of others  lead to the sins of gossip and slanderous speech?  Second, do we not damage our own reputation when others listen to us denigrate or criticize our neighbor? Third, would we not be better and wiser if we focused more on practicing forgiveness instead obsessing over how disappointed we are  or how we can get revenge against the alleged offender?  Judaism teaches us that holding up someone’s reputation and dignity is one of the most important things we can do to keep peace. Gossip, slander and bearing a grudge move us farther away from the best in ourselves.
The Hebrew word for gossip is rachilut. We will read the Torah and its admonition against gossip tomorrow afternoon from the book of Leviticus. Lo Telech k’rachil bamecha,” “Do not go about as a gossip amongst your people.” The root of this verb rachil to gossip means to peddle. In actuality, one who gossips is likened to a person who traffics in the commodity of information. Candidly isn’t this the one sin that all of us know is wrong and, yet, the same sin which most commit without regard to the consequences? This is so serious a sin that the Talmud tells a story of a student in the academy who held a secret for 22 years and then revealed it to his classmates. Upon hearing this revealed secret his teachers banished him immediately from the House of Study for the sinful behavior of gossip (Sanhedrin 31a).
Not only does our tradition declare gossip and slander as sins but also even listening to gossip and slander is a sin. The sages teach that when one is gossiping or slandering a person we are to interrupt the person and refuse to listen. Is it not one thing to judge a person we dislike or disrespect and keep our opinions to ourselves and quite another thing to go out and tell all how we feel , that is, how what so and so did hurt us or how it was shameful behavior so that everyone should know how bad a person they are? News media outlets exploit every opportunity to spread information sometimes completely unrelated to the problem a person is having. What happens when the media report is incorrect? How does one reestablish their reputation if it turns out the reported information was wrong? Similarly what is the difference between that kind of insidious news reporting and us talking about and embellishing or exaggerating what someone allegedly said at a party or in a committee meeting? The answer is not much!  Do such people who peddle information fall under the admonition of Isaiah who said, “The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned their pathways into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will no peace”(59:8).
The problem with gossip and slander is that the person committing it feels empowered by the attention that they receive.  So, a person calls all their friends and tells them what  happened, repeats and embellishes  the story five to ten times, and never stops to think that what they are saying damages their own credibility as much as the reputation of the person they are talking about. The truth is that people are inherently judgmental about others. It becomes a problem when playing out a grudge means validating ourselves in a conflict situation that leads to gossiping and or slandering that person. This is the underlying meaning of the verse in Leviticus, “You shall not wrong him”(25:17).
I am sure we are all equally cognizant of how important maintaining a good name or reputation is in life. Jewish sources abound with teachings and maxims to reinforce the moral imperative to preserve one’s name and reputation by the way we treat others. Rabbi Simeon said, “There are three crowns; the crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood and the crown of royalty.  But the crown of a good name surpasses them all” (Pirke Avot 4:13). Rabbi Eliezer said, “Let the honor of your fellow be as dear to you as your own” (Pirke Avot 2:10).” Finally a sage Ben Azzai exclaimed, “Never say since I have been humiliated, let my neighbor who I am angry at be humiliated; since I have been cursed or abused by others then let my neighbor be cursed. For as Rabbi Tanhuma said, “If you act this way, realize who it is you are willing to have humiliated? - “the one whom God has created in his own image” (Genesis Rabbi 24:7).
When we judge others who deserve our condemnation and criticism, Judaism delivers a message of restraint. We only diminish our own standing when we go out on the attack against others. I am focusing on the spirit of these teachings in reference to our own social crowds and circles of community that we live in and interact with every day. If we feel wronged by someone does that give us the liberty to go out and destroy them? Of course we have the right to defend ourselves and clarify the truth. At the same time our right to protect our own honor or reputation means that we should strive to restrain or carefully focus our efforts to demonstrate the truth lest we succumb to the same transgression we are trying to combat.
One instance years ago comes to mind when a disgruntled congregant spoke to me about how upset he was to hear how another had spoken about him with exaggerated stories about the cause of a failed marriage. I suggested that he go and sit down with the individual and clarify the situation and express his hurt feelings for the false accusations. It only took a few days when another person sought my counsel after having heard this person telling others how the person who had originally hurt his feelings was involved in shady business deals. This is exactly how quickly the victim becomes the perpetrator and the matter escalates while many others are dragged in and the hurt feelings multiply. Who wins here?  The reputation of the offended party is diminished as well as the first person who started it all in the first place. No one wins and many are hurt.
Whatever happened to the mandate to take the moral high ground? What happened to the value of forgiveness? Why is it that we are so quick to judge and so slow to forgive and make peace? When do, for example, adult children learn how to get beyond their anger at their parents for something they did thirty years ago? When will parents forgive their children for longstanding hurts? Let’s face the facts that we are not always going to get an apology just because we think we are owed it. When are we going to stop punishing everyone who does not meet our expectations or our standards? Are we so perfect and so blameless in all things that we cannot find it within ourselves to let old grudges go which in the long run do not really matter anyway?
There is an old Yiddish word, forbissen, which literally refers to a dog who refuses to let go of a bone. In other words, when we hold on to a grudge or hold on tenaciously to anger against another person with fierceness like a dog who will not let go of their bone, we diminish our own humanity, not to mention our own reputation and appear intransigent and stubborn to the point of being self destructive. My best advice is to stop for a moment and take a step back before we go on the war path. Think about the anger as well as the solution to the hurt before going out to degrade the offending party. Before going to others and spreading the story think about how we can resolve it before things get out of hand.  Finally, consider how we will appear to others before we slander this person in public. Are we so much better than the other when we attack in an unforgiving way?
Should we not judge ourselves before we go out in public judging others? Yom Kippur is the one holy day when we ask God to judge and ultimately to forgive us. But this is also the day when we are supposed to apologize for hurting others. If the Torah teaches that everyone is created in the image of God, then let’s be careful before we hurl accusations against others. Feeling hurt by others does not automatically give us the license to repeat the same behavior towards them. For when we give in to our emotions we risk escalating a situation into an even bigger drama and involve others unfairly in our own problems. We end up spreading the hurt for all to cope with and that does not represent the spirit of Jewish teachings.
In fact the Talmud warns us that God sees through the deception that people often create in their minds and before friends to use the victim role to humiliate the accused party. The fine imposed upon one who wounds another person is based upon two factors, “the first is the reputation of the offending party. The second is the well being of the  offended party” (Baba Metzia 58b).The upshot is that defending ourselves by cutting down someone who offended or  hurt our feelings is not simply judging others but it is also shaming them even if what we say is the truth. Judging the hurt against us by slamming or shaming that person only leads to further hurt. Our tradition says, “One who shames another is likened to a person who draws blood from the other.” That act is tantamount to murder.
Remember, we just finished saying during the Kol Nidrei that we forgive all sins committed against us from this Yom Kippur to the next year. If we betray our own words and rush to judge someone who wronged us, haven’t we really contradicted ourselves before God?

The point is, to stop the attacks and to preserve everyone’s dignity and reputation which will create more respectful and reverent human beings to each other and with God. Ecclesiastes said, “A good name is better than precious oil” (7:1).  “How far does the oil’s fragrance go -From the bedroom to the dining room? But a good name goes from one end of the world to the other” (Exodus Rabbah). Treat your friend’s imperfections with the care you would have others treat your own. With that in mind we might have a more humane world.