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Jewish Ideas

Pessah on My Mind, by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

In his book “Crowds and Power,” the Nobel Prize winning Sephardic author, Elias Canetti, writes of the tremendous diversity among Jews. He theorizes: “One is driven to ask in what respect these people remain Jews; what makes them into Jews; what is the ultimate nature of the bond they feel when they say "I am a Jew"....This bond...is the Exodus from Egypt.” Canetti suggests that the Israelites’ formative experience as a vast crowd leaving Egypt is the key to understanding the nature of Jewish peoplehood. As long as Jews—however different they are from each other—share historical memories of the Exodus from Egypt, they continue to identify as members of one people. We are bound together by the shared experience of redemption.


The Purim Paradox: Guest blog by Rabbi Alan Zelenetz

Arguably the happiest day of the Jewish year, traditionally originating in the time of the ancient Persian Empire, perhaps the fifth or fourth century B.C.E., Purim is considered an occasion so joyous that its festive atmosphere pervades the entire month of Adar in which it occurs.


When Jews Undermine Israel: a blog by Andrew Apostolou

(Andrew Apostolou is a historian based in Washington D.C. He has a D.Phil. in history from Oxford University and has worked on human rights campaigns in the Middle East.)

A recent New York Times article “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel” illustrates the luxurious nature of American Jewish life. The article provides a tiny sample of self-proclaimed observant American Jews (“As a religious Jew” one of them declares modestly) who announce that they care about Palestinian human rights (a good cause that is entirely independent of religion. This just in: atheists can be for human rights too). These observant Jews support a boycott of Israel or oppose the nature of the current Jewish state.


Women and Tefillin: a blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Several Modern Orthodox High Schools have recently allowed female students to don tefillin during the morning prayer services at school. This decision has generated much controversy, rancor and name-calling. On one side are those who think this is an outright break with halakhic norms, and on the other side are those who think this is a wonderful step forward for halakhic Judaism.

This article is not going to pass halakhic judgment on this issue. Halakhic cases can be made on both sides. This article, rather, will deal with the larger question of the nature of prayer and the mitzvah of tefillin.

The goal of prayer is to come closer to God, to bring God into our lives, to experience in some way the reality of the Divine Presence.


Thoughts on the Conversion Crisis, by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The Conversion Crisis

This article appears in Haaretz, February 8, 2013: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/converts-to-judaism-are-victims-of-israel-s-insulting-and-cruel-rabbinate.premium-1.502333

Reflections on the Conversion Crisis and the Rabbanut.
By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(Rabbi Angel is Founder and Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (jewishideas.org); and Rabbi Emeritus of the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City, founded 1654. Author and editor of 31 books, he is Past President of the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), and a co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an association of modern Orthodox rabbis.)


In Memoriam: Rabbi Ezra Labaton

A Memorial Tribute to Rabbi Ezra Labaton
from Rabbi Marc D. Angel

We join the Labaton family in mourning the passing of Rabbi Ezra Labaton, one of the great American rabbis of our generation. Rabbi Labaton served for many years as rabbi of the Magen David Congregation of West Deal, New Jersey.

My personal and professional friendship with Ezra goes back about forty years. To me, he was one of the bright stars in the contemporary rabbinate in general, and in the Sephardic rabbinate in particular.


Hanukkah and Religious Freedom: a blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(This article originally appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Ha-aretz, December 2012)

Hanukkah is widely observed as a holiday that celebrates religious freedom. The persecuted Jews of ancient Israel waged battle against their Syrian/Hellenistic oppressors, and won the right to rededicate the Temple and to restore Jewish worship and religious practices.

Religious freedom is a wonderful thing. It allows us to worship God freely, without being coerced or intimidated by others.


Salaries of Executives in Jewish not-for-profit organizations: Thinking about our Charity Dollars--a blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Last year, the "Forward" (December 10, 2012) published an article listing the salaries of executives in Jewish not-for-profit organizations. Eighteen of these individuals are earning over $400,000 per year, with the top salary at over $879,000.

I subscribe to the notion that Jewish not-for-profits need to pay proper salaries to their employees. Unless proper compensation packages are offered, these institutions will not be able to attract the best and the brightest executives. Good executives are essential to the fulfillment of the missions of those organizations for whom they work.


Synagogues for the Glory of God...or the Glory of Human Beings? A blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

A story is told of the great Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. He had been visiting a town and attended prayer services in the local synagogue. One day, he stopped at the synagogue door and did not enter the sanctuary. The many people who were accompanying him were perplexed. Why did the Rebbe not enter the synagogue? Rabbi Levi Yitzhak told them: “I am not entering the synagogue because it's too crowded.” But the synagogue was empty! The Rebbe explained: “The synagogue is full of prayers, there's no room left for us.


The Invisibility Cloak: Guest Blog by Rabbi Leonard Oberstein

(Rabbi Leonard Oberstein is the only native of Montgomery, Alabama to have ever attended a yeshiva. He was a member of the YU Debating team in 1964-65 when Rabbi Marc Angel was captain. Since then, he attended yeshivot in Israel and Baltimore . He served as a pulpit rabbi in Baltimore for 25 years and is active in a variety of roles in that community.)