Yom Kippur

After the Death

This morning’s Torah reading begins with the words, acharei mot–“after the death.”  This verse refers to an odd and upsetting episode from a few chapters earlier in Leviticus.  Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought the wrong kind of offering into the Mishkan, into the Holy of Holies, and were zapped by a deadly fire.  This reminder serves as an introduction to what follows:  a set of instructions for the High Priest when he would go into the Holy of the Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Mishkan, once a year on Yom Kippur

Removing the Stumbling Block: Talking About Race

My favorite book by Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, is called The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, first published in 1937. In it, Kaplan seeks to “reconstruct” our thinking about God, using Shabbat and the Jewish holidays as frames within which to think about the meaning of Divinity. Each holiday, he suggests, offers a different way in which to both understand and experience the sacred.

The Narrative of Compassion

Last year on Yom Kippur, I spoke about the broken communal narrative on Israel within the American Jewish community. I spoke about what should be a rich and complex discourse having devolved into a constant negotiation of which “side” one is on, and the constant pressure to choose sides, to take a position and then defend that position against all challenges. The other option is silence, or simply walking away, disengaging.

Hesed in Community

Today’s haftarah, those powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, were a call and a challenge to a community that had fallen down on its obligations. To our ears Isaiah’s charge may sound radical, like a call for a new type of community or society. But in the context of the Bible, the prophet’s call was not for something new, but for a return to something old: a call to the Israelites to return to the terms of the covenant that God had established with them hundreds of years before in the wilderness. To

The Seat of Rachamim

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

I want to talk today with you about a topic that is difficult, in many ways, a topic that can create tension in families, divide communities, that we often want to avoid because it is so contentious. That topic is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So. Why do I want to tackle this issue today, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year?

This is the Fast: Isaiah's Challenge

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

I want to engage with you with the text that Elaine has just read for us, the section of Isaiah that was chosen by the ancient rabbis to be read every year on Yom Kippur morning.

This portion of the Book of Isaiah was most likely written in the 6th century BCE, after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish community to Babylonia. The prophet’s words were directed to that exile community, and perhaps were spoken on Yom Kippur itself.

From Buffet to Brit, Part 2: Building our Jewish House

On Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about the challenge of creating “Jewish houses” for ourselves to live in. I posed the question, what would it look like if the basic frame, the basic structures of our lives, were rooted in what Mordecai Kaplan called our “Jewish civilization”?

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