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Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Re-imagining Orthodoxy

Orthodox Judaism in the ideal is very different from Orthodox Judaism as it is today.

In the ideal, Orthodoxy is a beautiful way of life that inspires an abiding spirituality and an ethical lifestyle. It links us to thousands of years of Jewish texts and traditions, to time-honored mitzvoth and customs. At the same time, it allows us—and encourages us—to develop ourselves as thinking, feeling and creative human beings. At its best, Orthodoxy provides a worldview that is intellectually vibrant, compassionate, and inclusive. Torah and mitzvoth provide us with a framework for developing ourselves as full and vibrant human beings, drawing on the wide range of our talents and propensities.

Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge

The Jewish community underwent cataclysmic changes during the course of the nineteenth century. While most of world Jewry was religiously observant in 1800, a large majority were no longer devoted to halakhic tradition by 1900. Nineteenth-century Orthodox rabbinic leadership had to cope with the rise of Reform Judaism, the spread of Haskala, the breakdown of communal authority over its members, the defection of Jews from Torah and mitzvoth-and from Judaism altogether.

Another Kind of Scandal in our Communities: a Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

We’ve all been troubled by news of recent scandals relating to rabbinic misbehavior. Rabbis who had served as “spiritual leaders” turned out to be very imperfect human beings, betraying the trust of their congregants and the community at large. Fortunately, the vast majority of rabbis are fine, upstanding people who serve with honesty and integrity.

Eulogy at Wounded Knee

We stand at the mass grave of men, women and children—
Indians who were massacred at Wounded Knee in the
bitter winter of 1890. Pondering the tragedy that
occurred at Wounded Knee fills the heart with crying and with silence.

The great Sioux holy man, Black Elk, was still a child when he saw the
dead bodies of his people strewn throughout this area. As an old man, he
reflected on what he had seen: “I did not know then how much was
ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still
see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all
along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young.
And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was

Masquerade: Thoughts for Purim-- by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

At least since the sixteenth century, Purim celebrations have included costumes and masquerade parties. Various explanations have been given.

The Purim story is replete with surprises. Things are not what they initially seem to be. Esther pretends not to be Jewish and masquerades as a Persian Queen. Mordecai wears sackcloth and ashes but is later dressed up as viceroy to the king. The king appears to be all powerful but he is an indecisive hedonist who allots real power to others. Haman seems to be in control but ends up being hanged on a tree on which he had hoped to hang Mordecai. When the Jews ultimately prevail, many of their one time enemies were “mityahadim,” appearing to be Jews themselves. Even God, whose name is not mentioned in Megillat Esther, seems to be hiding.

The Jews of Rhodes and Cos: In Memoriam

One of the great writers of the 20th century, himself a Holocaust survivor, was Primo Levi. In his book, Other Peoples’ Trades, he reminisces about his childhood home in Turin, Italy. In his nostalgic description, he remembers how his father would enter the house and put his umbrella or cane in a receptacle near the front door. In providing other details of the entrance way to the house, Primo Levi mentions that for many years “there hung from a nail a large key whose purpose everyone had forgotten but which nobody dared throw away (p. 13).”

Beyond Ferguson: Thoughts on Maintaining a Free and Just Society: A Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

“Rabbi Hanina, deputy high-priest, would say: pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for respect for it, men would swallow one another alive” (Pirkei Avot 3:2).

All good people want to live in a stable, safe society. All good people want to live in a society that promotes justice, fairness and equality for its members. An effective government is a vital ingredient for maintaining good lives. Without a properly functioning government, society runs the risk of falling into chaos.

In recent days, we have been witnessing a crisis in Ferguson Missouri—a crisis which goes far beyond that town. Aside from the protests and rioting in Ferguson itself, there have been demonstrations and protests throughout the United States.

Thoughts on the Latest Rabbinic Scandal: Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

We have all been shocked and saddened to learn of the immoral and illegal behavior of a prominent Orthodox rabbi who was recently arrested for voyeurism, i.e. for planting a hidden camera in the mikvah of his community. This behavior is reprehensible beyond words, and the women who used that mikvah are understandably indignant over this breach of their privacy. They came to the sacred precincts of the mikvah for ritual purification—but now learn that their trust has been betrayed by their own rabbi.

Eyes Open and Eyes Shut

Paul Gaugin, the famous 19th century French artist, commented: “When I want to see clearly, I shut my eyes.”

He was referring to two different ways of perceiving reality. With our eyes open, we see surface reality—size, shape, color etc. But with our eyes shut, we contemplate the context of things, our relationship to them, the hidden meanings.
With our eyes open, a dozen roses are 12 beautiful flowers. With our eyes shut, they may be full of memories and associations—roses given or received on our first date; roses at our wedding; roses growing in our childhood home's back yard; roses on our grandmother’s Shabbat table.

Attending Synagogue Services, Yes or No? A blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Here is an excerpt of a letter I received from a young person who was raised in an Orthodox home.

The Holy Day season is approaching and I dread it. Year after year, I’ve attended services with my family, sometimes at one synagogue and sometimes at another. We are supposed to feel awe and religious uplift during this season but I only feel frustration and discouragement.

In our shul, the lay leaders strut around like peacocks. The chazen doesn’t pray but only sings to show off his voice. The rabbi tells stories and jokes, and kisses up to the rich, and his sermons never make me feel closer to God. The Holy Day services are a charade of prayer, but not prayer.

What can I do? I don’t want to go to synagogue on the Holy Days…or maybe never.

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