Friday, April 27, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Acharei-Kedoshim and Standing on One Foot

A story is told of the Roman soldier who wanted to play a trick on some Jews. He first went to Shammai, one of the great sages of the time. He said, "I hear you're a good teacher. Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?" 

Shammai became angry. He said it would be an impossible task; there are just too many laws to learn. Knowing this was a joke, he turned the soldier away and told him never to return.

The soldier next went to Hillel, another great sage. The Roman soldier asked the same question, "Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?"
Image result for standing on one foot hillel

Hillel answered: "Yes. What is hurtful to you, don't do to others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. No go and learn."

The soldier was so taken with Hillel's answer that he went and learned, and eventually converted to Judaism. 

Hillel's answer stems from what is probably the most relevant teaching in this week's parsha: Love your neighbor as yourself. Beautifully simple, beautifully complex, it's the perfect place to start when beginning to teach children right from wrong.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Mikvah

At this same time last year, I wrote, "This week's parshaTazria-Metsora, is about leprosy and ritual purity. Try as I might, for the first time I'm struggling with a way to bring these lessons down to a relatable level for young children."

I have the exact same challenge this year. I still can't find a way to relate Tazria-Metsora to the experiences of young children, so I'm going to write a little about the mikvah instead.

A mikvah is a ritual bath. It's discussed in this week's parsha, primarily as a way of dealing with the aforementioned leprosy and ritual impurity. Most traditional communities have mikva'ot, and in recent years many progressive Jewish communities have rediscovered the mikvah and found new meanings in old rituals. Currently, I serve as a mikvah guide at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, the only community, pluralist mikvah between Baltimore and Richmond.

As a mikvah guide, I've had the privilege of witnessing conversions to Judaism. Some of these have been adult conversions, and some have been children's. Sometimes, in interfaith families, the choice is made to formally convert the children to Judaism. If this is a choice your family has made, and you belong to Agudas Achim Congregation, you might very well see me at the mikvah!

This experience has been very rewarding for me on many levels. I'm proud to be a mikvah guide, and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about the mikvah.

Click here for more information about the Adas Israel mikvah, and here for information about Mayyim Hayyim (living waters), the movement that's inspired a 21st understanding of an ancient, biblical tradition.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Shemini

In Shemini, we learn the laws of kashrut, or the kosher laws. While some view these laws as needlessly complicated, I think they're rather simple: there are certain kinds of meat we don't eat, the meat we eat must be slaughtered in a certain (humane) way, and we don't mix the food of life (dairy) with the food of death (meat).

Whether your family keeps kosher or not, or whether you're vegetarian or vegan, I think it's important to take time before each meal and be thankful for it. Of course, Jewish tradition provides a way. See below for the various Jewish blessings for food. Note that foods are categorized based on how the food grows. B'tayavon! (Bon Appetit!)

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