Minhagim: Divinity and Diversity

We may find it jarring to come into contact with Jews who observe minhagim different from ours. We may think that their practices are quaint, or odd, or plain wrong....The hope is that through greater awareness and empathy, we will function as a stronger, happier, and more diverse Jewish community. We need a genuine recognition that in our various searches for Divinity, different Jewish communities have followed diverse—perfectly halakhic and proper—roads.

Charisma: A Note on the Dangerous Outer Boundary of Spirituality

For the past several years, I have contributed postings to a number of websites on the subject of the dangerously charismatic teacher in schools. The material was based on my book on Jewish school management that was published at the beginning of 2010. The section on the charismatic teacher was entitled “The Pied Piper.”’[i]

Ashkenazim and Sephardim—United in Education

As a young boy growing up in Queens, NY, I always knew that my family’s traditions were slightly different from those of my classmates. Halakhot and practices taught in school, generally speaking, reflected what I experienced at home, but very often my customs were different. You see, my father was born in Afghanistan and my mother in Morocco, and as such, I was raised following Sephardic/Middle Eastern customs.

An Ashkenazic Rabbi in a Sephardic/Persian Community

I began to search for the factors that made those Sephardic Jews I met so positively different. Was it the warmer Oriental, Islamic mentality? The emphasis on hospitality in contrast to the Western Christian colder tendency to withdraw into privacy? Was it the fact that in the Sephardic world there was no denominational divide, as we had, between Orthodox and Reform?

Are Gedolim Stories Good for Chinuch?[1]

According to psychoanalytic theory, emotional disconnection can be dangerous. When people deny their innermost negative feelings-- instead of protecting themselves from their impulses, they may be doubly in danger of acting out on them. If powerful feelings are repressed, they may burst out in a less controlled fashion at another time. Although this is a gross oversimplification, it can be understood via a simple metaphor of a boiler that has a safety valve. If the pressure builds up, it can be released in a controlled manner.

Orthodoxy and Diversity

The Talmud (Berakhot 58a) teaches that one is required to recite a special blessing when witnessing a vast throng of Jews, praising the Almighty who is hakham harazim, the One who understands the root and inner thoughts of each individual.Their thoughts are not alike and their appearance is not alike. The Creator made each person as a unique being. He expected and wanted diversity of thought, and we bless Him for having created this diversity among us.

A Spirituality Crisis

There is a feeling among many Jews, including many Orthodox Jews, that worship in the synagogue lacks adequate inspiration and spirituality. Among the complaints: the synagogue ritual is chanted by rote; the prayers are recited too quickly; the prayers are recited too slowly; the service is not understood by congregants; people talk too much in synagogue; the services do not involve everyone in a meaningful way.