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).”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is Orthodoxy's most eloquent response to the challenges of modernity and to the critics of Modern Orthodoxy. A Torah giant of the highest caliber, the Rav was also a world-class philosopher. In his studies in Lithuania, he attained the stature of a rabbinic luminary. At the University of Berlin, he achieved the erudition of a philosophical prodigy.
At this time of crisis, we pray that Hashem will bless all of us with good health and wellbeing. I offer this interpretation of a passage in the Haggadah and hope it provides a framework for coping better. It originally appeared in this week's issue of the Jewish Press.
It seems to have become "politically correct" to speak of narratives, rather than to focus on historical truth. This tendency is blatantly evident in some discussions about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. We are told that each group has its own narrative, implying that each group clings to its own version of truth and should be respected for its views. This approach--seemingly objective and non-judgmental--actually leads to the distortion of facts and undermining of historic truth.
At least since the sixteenth century, Purim celebrations have included costumes and masquerade parties. Various explanations have been given.
Although we popularly refer to the upcoming fast day as Yom Kippur, the Torah calls it Yom haKippurim—the day of atonements (in the plural). The plural form reminds us that there are many roads to atonement. Each person is different and is on a unique spiritual level; each comes with different insights, experiences, memories. The roads to atonement are plural, because no two of us have identical needs.
During the Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur period, some Jews have a custom known as “kapparot.” The ceremony involves swinging a live chicken over a person’s head three times, and then slaughtering the chicken. People who follow this practice believe that the ritual is a form of atonement (kapparah) for their sins. Many people see it as a primitive, quasi-idolatrous practice. Others view “kapparot” as egregious cruelty to animals.
Rabbi Marc D. Angel delivered this sermon on July 26, 2014 at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth in Seattle, Washington. On that Shabbat, the community marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from the islands of Rhodes and Cos in July 1944, nearly all of whom were murdered in Auschwitz. We post this article in observance of Holocaust Memorial Day, May 2, 2019.
(This article originally appeared in “Sephardica: Hommage a Haim Vidal Sephiha,” Peter Lang Publishers, Berne, 1996.)
Religion produces the very best type of people: saintly, humble, compassionate, and genuinely pious. But we cannot help but notice that religion also produces—or at least harbors—the very worst type of people: terrorists, bigoted zealots, and self-righteous egotists. So religion has two faces: one that is righteous and compassionate; and one that is self-righteous and hate-filled. This article appears in issue 12 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.