Sunday, April 29, 2012

Free Library

I spent the last three days with my friend and teacher, Andrew Harvey, at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. He was our guest speaker for Wisdom House's annual Mystic Heart Retreat. (Next April we are hosting Matthew Fox).

One of the things Andrew asked us to do is discover what we were most passionate about and then engage with that passion for the good of the planet. I have two passions: books and dogs. I chose to begin with books.

Tomorrow morning I will be opening a free library on my front lawn. This is a small book house where neighbors can share with one another books they love. When I was a congregational rabbi my community created People of the Books, an organization that worked with kindergarten and first grade teachers in some of Miami's poorer schools to buy new books for their students to own and read. For some kids these were the first books they ever owned. Eventually People of the Books expanded in a larger literacy program, but I always loved the idea of placing books in the hands of little kids. So now I am doing it again, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The "library" will hold a dozen books or so, and I hope little kids and their parents will drop by and take the books and add books of their own. If you would like to learn more about this project check out the website:

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan's 13 Wants

I found this on-line and wanted to share it with you. I wrote my MA thesis on the work of Rabbi Kaplan, and learned from him privately in Jerusalem in 1976. I had not seen this text before. It only enhances my appreciation of this great sage.

A prayer composed by Mordecai Kaplan in 1926 for the dedication of the new headquarters of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ).

1. We want Judaism to help us overcome temptation, doubt and discouragement.
2. We want Judaism to imbue us with a sense of responsibility for the righteous use of the blessings wherewith God endows us.
3. We want the Jew so to be trusted that his yea will be taken as yea, and his nay as nay.
4. We want to learn how to utilize our leisure to best advantage, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.
5. We want the Jewish home to live up to its traditional standards of virtue and piety.
6. We want the Jewish upbringing of our children to further their moral and spiritual growth, and to enable them to accept with joy their heritage as Jews.
7. We want the synagogue to enable us to worship God in sincerity and in truth.
8. We want our religious traditions to be interpreted in terms of understandable experience and to be made relevant to our present-day needs.
9. We want to participate in the upbuilding of Eretz Yisrael as a means to the renaissance of the Jewish spirit.
10.           We want Judaism to find rich, manifold and ever new expression in philosophy, letters and the arts.
11.           We want all forms of Jewish organization to make for spiritual purpose and ethical endeavor.
12.           We want the unity of Israel throughout the world to be fostered through mutual help in time of need, and through cooperation in the furtherance of Judaism at all time.
13.           We want Judaism to function as a potent influence for justice, freedom and peace in the life of men and nations.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tablet Wars

Posting the Ten Commandments in government buildings may soon become legal in Tennessee, and I for one am all for it. After all this is a central Jewish document, and if Tennessee wants to honor my people and our faith, well bless their little hearts.

What I don’t understand is why Christians would want the Ten Commandments posted. The text never mentions Christ and actually commands things that Christians have long since abandoned.

The Commandments open with a verse that makes it clear God is speaking to Jews, since we are the ones God brought out of Egypt.  The commandment against making and bowing down before graven images makes the image of Jesus problematic. Proclaiming the seventh day (Saturday) as the Sabbath makes Sunday sabbath worship inappropriate, and if we really banned all work in the Sabbath what would people do after church: restaurants would be closed, shopping would be impossible, and sporting events would be banned. We’d actually have to sit around and talk to one another! God forbid. And even honoring one’s parents is tough when so many of us are convinced that Medicare and Social Security are satanic. Of course there are the commandments against murder, adultery, theft, bearing false witness, and coveting, but I doubt anyone is in favor of only posting the last five Commandments.

I’m not saying that Christians didn’t and don’t have a right to ignore or change the Ten Commandments and worship as they choose—they do. I’m only asking why they would want to have such a clearly Jewish document posted on government buildings?

If I were a Christian and I believed that the United States was a Christian Nation, I would want to post the Beatitudes rather than the Ten Commandments on our government buildings. You know: blessed are the poor, the grieving, the powerless, the hungry, the kind, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the unjustly persecuted. In fact even as a Jew who doesn’t believe the United States is a Christian Nation I would rather see the Beatitudes than the Ten Commandments on our government buildings. Talk about an agenda for national policy! Jesus rocks. And the fact that he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than an elephant only makes me feel closer to him.

But maybe that’s the problem: Jesus is too liberal. It’s one thing to be commanded not to swear falsely in court, it’s another to imagine that we are to care for “the least of these” as Jesus called the 99 percent of his day. I wonder if passion for the Commandments isn’t a way of avoiding Jesus’ compassion for the poor?

Just asking. Please weigh in.