Living Judaism

The Living Judaism section focuses on Jewish Spirituality, Meaning and Activism with invited columns written by Jewish clergy and others across the full spectrum of Jewish life and learning. Please contact Living Judaism editors Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Rabbi David Levin at judaism@pjvoice.org if you would like contribute your thoughts.

Smartphone Addiction Inspires New Maccabeats’ Shabbat Video

“I wish there was a thing like Shabbat … a worldwide day where we’re not on our phones … an actual day of real rest.” This quote comes from a rather unexpected source: Katy Perry, in an interview with Cosmopolitan. The quote also appears in the opening shot of a new music video — not a video by Katy Perry, but one by the Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats.

This video was produced by the organization Jew in the City. According to its website, the group’s mission is to “break down stereotypes about religious Jews and offer a humorous, meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism,” which the group describes as being “just as relevant today as it ever was.” The Maccabeats’ video demonstrates this point by juxtaposing the quiet isolation a of a cell-phone-obsessed society with the robust joy and interconnectedness of Shabbat.

In the video, our technologically imposed solitude is aptly played out against the backdrop of the Maccabeats’ rendition of the 1960’s Simon & Garfunkel classic The Sound of Silence. Some of the lyrics are so spot-on that it is shocking to think they were composed over 50 years ago. For example, “People talking without speaking” is a perfect description of texting or communicating via social media. And, “the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made” conveys our dependence on our devices.

In contrast, the joy of Shabbat is depicted in the video during the singing of Lecha Dodi — “Come, My Beloved,” which is the traditional song for welcoming Shabbat. During this part of the video, every sound is audible, from birds chirping to children laughing to glasses clinking. Alluding to the mitzvah of intimacy on Shabbat, the song ends with a tender moment between husband and wife and the tagline “Turn off the Sound of Silence. Turn on the Sound of Shabbat.”

This video was shared by Rabbi David Levin, the Radmal, on his Jewish Relationships Initiative blog. The video is covered by the Standard YouTube License.

“To Bigotry no Sanctions, to Persecution no Assistance”

George Washington. Painting: Gilbert Stuart

George Washington. Painting: Gilbert Stuart

I love the Fourth of July, my second favorite American holiday after Thanksgiving.  My family invites our friends and neighbors to watch the neighborhood parade that passes in front of our home with us, but how else to celebrate?  One year I went to the special exhibit on “To Bigotry No Sanction,” that was at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

The most thrilling part of the exhibit was seeing that the famous phrase, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” was first coined by a Jew — Moses Seixas, in a letter on behalf of the Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, also known as the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.  (The Hebrew name sounds like a contemporary merge.) [Read more…]

Happy Independence Day

We celebrate Independence Day because we are blessed to live in a land where liberty and equality are the founding principles. As a Jew, I am profoundly grateful to be a citizen of a country where I am free and safe from the hatred that has sadly been a part of Jewish history. As Americans, we need to remain vigilant, protecting and expanding the rights of all citizens. We need to understand that our greatness comes from all of our people and from our core beliefs. [Read more…]

Cuban Jews: Help Our People Thrive!

Photo by NatalieMaynor https://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/

Photo: Natalie Maynor

Cuba has never been on my list of countries to visit. With the uncertainty regarding individual travel, I have always been concerned that I might be entering a country that I may not be able to exit. In 2014, president Barrack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for United States citizens. Since his election, president Donald Trump has proposed to reinstate many of these limits. Last week I took advantage of this current window of opportunity and participated in an organized trip to Jewish Cuba. During my time there, I discovered a community that was effectively forbidden to practice communal Judaism for thirty years, much like the community in the former Soviet Union. Now, Judaism is blossoming again in Cuba, and many young Cuban Jews are choosing to make aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.

[Read more…]

What Race Are You?

Desert Road.

Desert Road.

What Race do you identify with?
A Marathon!

(Rimshot)

Actually, that isn’t the opening joke in my lounge act, but part of an important recent conversation.

I was asked this question in the Red Cross Blood Drive pre-screening. The inquirer, an African-American, was completing the questionnaire and asked me to identify myself by race. There was a time when I would have responded Caucasian/White. But I uncomfortably paused and then quipped Marathon. We laughed and then we skipped the question. But, I actually do not know how to answer that question anymore.

I am not ashamed of what is now called my “white privilege.” As a Jew in America, the ability to call myself Caucasian/White is on some level a sign that we made it and have gained popular acceptance. But perhaps this acceptance remains elusive. This simple gathering of data for statistical tracking purposes has become a marker of something more complicated and fraught. [Read more…]

Should My Husband’s Text Messages Be Private?

— by Aron Moss, rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. Reprinted with permission of Chabad.org, the Judaism website.

Question: Are text messages private? My husband and I have a major disagreement over this. He gets furious when I look at his phone, saying I have no business reading his private messages. I feel that as a married couple we should have nothing to hide from each other. I am not saying I am at all suspicious of him, I completely trust him. But should his inbox be totally out of bounds to me?

Answer: The answer to your quandary is right there in front of you — on your finger. Just look at your wedding ring.

[Read more…]

Do You Grab Hold of the Torah on Shavuot?

Artistic Styalization of Two Hands Giving and Receiving

Hands Giving and Receiving

At Shavuot, how we receive the gift of Torah is one of the great questions posed. I found a path towards understanding in a passage of the Talmud.

One is really two and two is really four. This is not a set of alternative facts but an insight from the Talmud (BT Shabbat 2a) about the nature of things. Shavuot is the time of the giving of Torah. But in any transaction there are two components, giving and receiving; one is really two. But it doesn’t stop there.

Both giving and receiving are either active or passive. In giving, we can thrust it towards another actively, or we can be passive and open our hands for the other to take it. Similarly, in receiving, we can actively take the gift with eagerness and enthusiasm, or we can open our hands to passively receive the gift that is to be bestowed upon us. Two is really four. [Read more…]