Jewcology Blogs


No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments

A Book Review of No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments By Ana Levy-Lyons Published by  Center Street/Hachette 2018 Reviewed by Rabbi Natan Margalit, Organic Torah Originally published in Tikkun Magazine (link) It is evident from the first page that this book is swimming against the current in our contemporary political and spiritual landscape. Author Ana Levy-Lyons tells a story in her preface about how one of her teachers back in high school liked to entertain the kids by listing oxymorons: pretty ugly, jumbo shrimp, etc, and he sometimes ...

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In Defense of Jewish Liberals

There have been many recent articles and letters in The Jerusalem Post critical of Jews who are liberals. Somehow the word “liberal” has become a negative one for many Jews. However, there is much in Jewish history and teachings that is consistent with Jews being liberals and even radicals, in the best sense of that word. From its beginning, Judaism has protested against greed, injustice and the misuse of power. Abraham, the first Hebrew, smashed the idols of his father even though his action challenged the common belief of the time (Genesis Rabbah, Chapter 38). He ...

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Passover: The Beginning of an Answer to Short-Circuit Thinking

After hearing the speeches given by brave, heart-broken teenagers at the March for Our Lives rallies, my heart can’t help but be broken as well. The plague of gun violence in this country is out of control and, as they have said, “enough is enough!” Yet, invariably, close behind hearing these speeches on the radio or reading about them in the newspaper, I get the balanced reporting about arguments from the pro-gun advocates. These pro-gun arguments invariably center around the idea that if the good guys have more guns and are trained to use them, then we’d all ...

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Three Updated Passover-Related Articles

1. Freeing Ourselves at Passover from diets that hurt us and the Planet. Jews commendably go to extraordinary lengths before and during Passover to avoid certain foods, in keeping with Torah mitzvot. But at the same time, many continue eating other foods that, by Torah standards, are hardly ideal. On Passover, Jews are prohibited from eating, owning, or otherwise benefiting from chometz, foods such as breads, cakes, and cereals, that are made from one of the five grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats) that ferment from contact with liquid. These prohibitions are ...

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Purim: The Dangerous Holiday

Purim is a dangerous holiday. That’s probably why we in the Jewish community often trivialize it and pretend it’s just a kid’s holiday where the children dress up like Mordechai and Esther and we eat hamentashen and everyone has a nice time. We may be afraid to see what it is really saying to us. There is a lot of violence in the Purim story: the Scroll of Esther (in Hebrew, Megillat Esther) includes the king forcing his queen, Vashti, to either dance naked or be killed or exiled; there is evil Haman’s threat to wipe out the Jews of Persia; and there is also the ...

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For many years I have believed that my religion, Judaism, has been stolen. Why? Because Judaism has powerful messages on peace, justice, compassion, sharing, and environmental sustainability that can help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. Yet, most Orthodox Jews, while doing many  commendable things, are in denial about climate change and other environmental threats and are increasingly supporting politicians who promote benefits for the wealthiest Americans and highly profitable corporations, at the expense of average Americans. I ...

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What People Are Saying About My Book, “Who Stole My Religion?”

The many endorsements below are included to show that it is not just the author, but many other people also - including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews, as well as Christians, and Muslims - who think their religion has been "stolen" by right-wing politics, but who still believe that compassionate religious values have relevance to current crises. Provision of a blurb here does not imply that the person who provided it agrees with everything in my book. However, it is hoped that the voices of the people who submitted the statem...

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Respectfully Turning the Tables When Challenged by Jewish Non-Vegetarians

Vegetarians and vegans, especially those who have recently changed their diets, are generally on the defensive. They must deal with many questions from nn-vegetarians. Those who eat meat have the support of society, and thus they never consider the consequences of their diet. It is vegetarians who are asked to explain the reasons for their diet, rather than those who support the cruel treatment and unnecessary slaughter of animals that an animal-centered diet requires. Perhaps there are times when vegetarians (and vegans) should take the offensive in conversat...

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Starting a Major Campaign to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet

Shalom, It is time for a major effort for committed Jews, preferably joining with others, to apply Jewish values to help heal our imperiled planet. Here are some issues to be considered: The world is rapidly heading toward a climate catastrophe. Many climate experts think we are close to an irreversible tipping point when climate change will spin out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless very significant positive changes soon occur. My article: “Climate Change: An Existential Threat to Israel, the US, and the World,” published in the Jerusalem Post ...

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Questions That Can be Discussed at Tu Bishvat Seders and Suggested Answers

by Richard Schwartz ~ It is hoped that the questions below will be helpful to people leading Tu Bishvat seders as a way to increase audience participation. Suggested responses are given following the questions. Suggestions for additional questions & answers are welcome. 1. What is the origin of Tu Bishvat? 2. Where is Tu Bishvat mentioned in the Tanach? 3. Why are we considering trees, fruits, and nature in the middle of the winter? 4. Why was the 15th of Shvat singled out for special consideration? 5. What was the dispute between Hillel and Shammai ab...

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The Magic of Emergence

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is an old adage, but it could be one of the most important keys to a healthy, meaningful life. People yearn to be a part of something. When we are a part of something, we feel whole. When we see how things connect and relate to form a whole, they make sense and resonate: they come alive. In 1973 I arrived at Camp Swig, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Big Basin, California as a shy 15 year old kid from Hawai`i. My parents were New York Jewish intellectuals who moved to Hawai`i when I was a baby. They wanted nothing more ...

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Please Help in this Important Effort That Can Avert a Climate Catastrophe and Help Shift Our Imperiled Planet Onto a Sustainable Path

There is increasing evidence that the world is rapidly heading toward a climate catastrophe. An exaggeration? Please consider: 2017 was the third warmest year since temperature records were kept in 1880 and this follows three consecutive years of worldwide temperature records, In 2017 there were three category 3 or 4 hurricanes, three extreme wildfires in California, followed by a major mudslide there,and other severe climate events in many of the world’s areas. Climate experts are predicting even more severe climate events as temperatures keep rising. Points that ...

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My article in the January 12 Jerusalem Post on “Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump.”

Israel is going gaga over President Donald Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. More than 110 “God bless Trump” signs dot the city; there are plans to name a future rail station near the Western Wall after Trump; and the Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise. A major reason is that Trump – along with a majority of US Republicans – denies climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US and the world. Despite overwhelming ...

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Proposal for an Interfaith Conference on Climate Change in Jerusalem

Proposal for Interfaith Conference on Climate Change in Jerusalem Need Statement For decades, conflict and turmoil in the Middle East have gripped the world and made the region an epicenter of international focus and concern. At this time, some wonder whether Jerusalem can be a source of anything but violence and hatred fueled by religious extremists. In this region’s persistent unrest, many attempts have been made to bring the two sides together. Most of the attempts focus on the differences between the sides and work toward resolving these differences. Yet the ...

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The Case Against Eating Fish

There are standard questions that vegetarians are often asked. Perhaps the most frequent one is, "How do you get enough protein?" Another common question is, "Do you eat fish?" Many people, including some who call themselves vegetarians, think fish are less capable of suffering than mammals and birds. These would-be vegetarians may avoid eating mammals and birds while continuing to eat fish, sometimes arguing that the problems associated with the production and consumption of other animal products don't apply to fish. After all, they reason: fish aren't raised in the ...

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Ten ideas For Creating a Vegetarian/Vegan World

Please note that whenever the word vegetarianism is used below it implies vegetarianism or veganism, and that veganism is the ideal. ------------------ In spite of the increasing need for a shift toward vegetarianism to counteract the present epidemic of diseases and the many environmental threats caused by the production and consumption of animal products, progress has been relatively slow. it is time for a consideration of new strategies to promote vegetarianism more effectively. The ten ideas suggested below are designed to start a dialogue that will ...

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Please Consider Organising a Tu B’Shvat Seder or Encouraging Others to Do So

by Richard Schwartz ~Tu B’Shvat, the 15th day in the Hebrew month of Shvat, the ‘New Year for Trees, January 30-31 in 2018, has been increasingly popular, with more and more Tu B’Shvat Seders held annually, especially in Israel. It is important that vegetarian and vegan Jews organize such Seders, encourage rabbis and other Jewish leaders to conduct them, and/or attend Seders that are scheduled by others. Here are several reasons why: Tu B’Shvat is a completely vegetarian, actually vegan, holiday, featuring mainly fruits, along with other vegan foods. So, ...

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Some Challenging Questions

I believe there is always a need to consider if we are doing all we can to apply our Jewish teachings toward creating a better world. This can help avoid  complacency and self-satisfaction. Therefore I would like to pose some respectful questions (aimed at least as much at me as at anyone else). * What would the prophets say about our society today? about Judaism in our time? about Synagogue activities? * Why so few dreams of a better world based on the application of Jewish values? * Are we segregating God In our synagogues? If ...

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Imagining a Vegan World

The late Senator Robert Kennedy often stated: "Some see things as they are and ask why, I dream of things that have never been and ask why not?" Yes, why not? Why not a vegetarian world? Or, even better, since we are dreaming, why not a vegan world? When one considers all the negatives related to the current widespread production and consumption of animal products, it is hard to believe that so few people have seen the importance of shifting to such a world. What would a vegan world be like? It would be a world with far healthier people. There are numerous ...

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My Green New Year’s Resolutions

I want to be "greener" this year and here are my plans: Resolution #1: Reduce. I am going to buy less — especially those things that have a negative impact on the environment, such as plastic tableware when I have company coming for dinner. I am also going to reduce my energy needs. I am going to wear more layers of clothing at home this winter, for example, so I can lower my thermostat without feeling cold. Resolution #2: Reuse. When we go out to eat, I am going to try to bring my own containers to take home the leftovers. Styrofoam can take hundreds of ...

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