As an orthodox Rabbi who studied in the ultra-Orthodox Gateshead Yeshiva in England for many years and who has read all of Spinoza’s works, I am of the opinion that Spinoza sometimes deliberately misrepresents Judaism. I am also aware that Spinoza wrote remarkable, noble observations about human beings, nature and society which have helped all of us. I strongly object to deeming anyone who studies, researches and teaches Spinoza a “persona non grata.”
Living Like a Jew: Playing Music and Saying “to Me”
Only something placed in relation to the sum-total of the human being bears significance – for such an act indicates complete commitment: “Till death do us part.”
This may be the most crucial message for Jews today. Despite the pursuits and activities that occupy them, as long as Jews are not inspired to feel a total, personal commitment to authentic Jewishness, the right conditions for continuity and renewal will never be created.
What Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Said to the Women of the Wall
Our Torah is wide enough and deep enough to cater for everyone. The Torah can speak to each and every person; however, sometimes one aspect will speak to a specific individual while not another. In this impromptu dialogue, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach expresses a number of very significant, critical thoughts about Judaism, God, the Torah, and our own relations with our fellow.
The Wisdom of the Bus Driver: Love Your Fellow As Yourself!
Loving one’s fellow as oneself is a central tenet and practical commandment of our religion. And yet, as simple as it sounds, its application is extremely difficult. Even those well-versed in the intricacies of the significance and laws governing this precept have difficulty incorporating it into their inner selves and actions. On occasion, it takes the insight and words of a bus driver to properly inculcate this love for one’s fellow.
The Rabbi’s Gift and the Mashiach
When my oldest granddaughter became Bat Mitzva I wrote a book for her with advice and stories. Here is one such story.
Children’s Toys and Trivializing Torah
Human beings are uniquely blessed with the faculty of imagination, and they possess nearly unlimited potential for constructive fantasy. Imagination is essential for advancement and progress throughout the world, which is also the case for Torah study. And yet, the sophistication invested in the production of toys for our children limits their processes of pretense, and thus the possibility for innovation and new insights in Torah learning.
The Mystery of the Missing Verse and the Problem of Evil
There is a pasuk (verse), missing from the Torah, a verse that is the most important of all—without which the Torah is not complete! This missing verse should have been written before the first verse in the Torah: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” This verse should have told us why God “decided” to create heaven and earth, the millions of stars, black holes, animals, vegetation, and above all, human beings. The absence of this verse is deliberate—for there is no way to write it; it could only have been “written” in God’s personal “language” that is beyond the capability of humankind to understand. The implications of this missing verse have profound meaning for human existence.
A Short Introduction to God
While in pantheistic and other non-monotheistic philosophies, the Divine has no moral input, nothing could be further from the Jewish concept of God. For Judaism, God is the source par excellence of all moral criteria. And yet, on occasion He Himself seems to violate these very moral criteria — such as in the case when He causes a devastating flood in the days of Noah. God is a conscious Being Who created the world with a purpose. And this world is real and by no means a mirage. The human being’s deeds are of great value, far from an illusion; they are the very goal of creation. Judaism objects to the pantheistic view of the human being since it depersonalizes him, ultimately leading to his demoralization.
Parashat Bereshit: The First Divine Commandment is to Enjoy the World
It is often thought that God’s first commandment to Adam was the prohibition regarding the Tree of Knowledge. This would mean that man’s first encounter with the will of God was a negative experience: a restriction. However, this isn’t actually true: This was not the first commandment! Careful analysis of the text shows that the first commandment to Adam and Chava was to eat from all the other trees and enjoy them.
Yom Kippur: Repenting Religious Exhaustion
What is the source of religious passion? It is the awareness that something cannot become exhausted. To appreciate Judaism and see it as a blessing is to understand that just as the ocean is unfathomable, so Judaism transcends all interpretations. Understanding Judaism cannot be attained in the comfort of observing its laws or studying its texts. It occupies infinite space, beyond the limitations of the human mind and heart.
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the Curse of Indifference
In the last century during which our people narrowly escaped total extinction, the most remarkable thing in all of history happened. As in a dream, we, Jews, were privileged to return to our ancient homeland after nearly 2,000 years of exile. We now have our own army to defend us, and many of us live in great comfort and joy, with opportunities that we, as Jews, could never have envisioned. This is nothing less than an astounding blessing that God has granted us; an open miracle.
But here too lies our greatest challenge: living under these miraculous conditions, we are in great danger of falling prey to the curse of indifference – indifference to the miserable and impossible situation of our fellow humans who are threatened by suffering and death.
Humor, Rosh HaShana, and the Impossible Shofar
It is Divine humor that tells us to live with absurdity, and supreme holy witticism that asks us to live with laughter. We are asked to enjoy the journey and realize that there is no arrival.
Chapter 13 – Prayer, and Authentic and Unauthentic Sexuality
The beauty of the human body in the eyes of another human is beyond comprehension just as God’s “splendor” is. However, when the beauty of the body is used for the wrong reasons it becomes vulgar, and the inner Divine beauty is exposed and violated.
Chapter 12 – The Encounter with the Divine, Prayer and Sexuality
I am often asked whether I actually experience moments of God’s Presence. This is a difficult question to answer, because it relates to things that cannot be verified by conventional means. It touches on something that does not fall within the parameters of any other experience.
Tractatus Dialogico Philosophico De Faceta – A Modern Humorous Dialogue
A humorous look at the problem of human communication. Enjoy!
The Map Problem and the Fly
Some have said that only what can be proven is of value. True, if we limit ourselves to that which can be proven, we run less risk of error, and yet, by limiting ourselves so, we also run the risk of missing out on that which is most important. After all, the things that bring us the greatest meaning are those very things that cannot be proven.
Parashat Vayikra – The Challenge Of Tisha B’av And The Temple Sacrifices
Regardless of the many traditional approach to offering sacrifices in our day, there is no question that the Temple and its rituals once played an enormous role in Judaism, and that offering sacrifices was at the very center of its holy service. So, what was it that made sacrifices such an essential part of Judaism in bygone times? Was it merely primitivism? Or was it something that we are no longer connected to today and are missing out on? What holiness could there have been in the offering of sacrifices? And were we to discover this holiness, would that mean we should reintroduce the sacrificial rites in our own contemporary times?
Chapter 11: My Father, Spinoza and I
My father constantly spoke about the famous, highly controversial philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza was raised in the Portuguese Spanish Jewish Community whose members had fled from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands after the Inquisition in 1492, a fate shared by my own family. Spinoza’s attacks against Judaism made me wonder what Judaism was all about and why he so strongly opposed it. Thus, paradoxically, it was Spinoza who set me on the road to Judaism.
Belief in the Hereafter
Is belief in an afterlife a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith? I personally believe that a human being’s life does not come to an end with death, but I do not believe that this is a fundamental tenet of our faith. In fact, I believe that to consider this as such harms the integrity of Judaism.
God as an Idol: The tragedy of being religious
It’s high time that we who consider ourselves religious have an honest look in the mirror and ask ourselves what brought us to this lifestyle. Was it a genuine longing for religion and mitzvah observance, or was it an insurance policy?