Posted on May 22nd, 2017

NUMBERS 1:1−4:20 

BY NOAM KATZ, a rabbinical student at  HUC-JIR 

On Child Soldiering

We can transform the institution of Pidyon Haben to include all those who have had their childhood stolen.

Just a year removed from the shackles of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites find themselves perched at the edge of the wilderness. Twelve tribes prepare to navigate the barren landscape that lies before them in the hopes that it will lead to a land of promise. Before departure, God instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelite community: “Count the heads of all in the tribes of Israel.”

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Posted on May 22nd, 2017

NUMBERS 1:1−4:20

D'var Torah By Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot for

Reduced to Numbers . . . Do We Count?

Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)

Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.

"Please enter your account number, followed by the pound sign."

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Posted on May 15th, 2017

Leviticus 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34 

D'var Torah By Rabbi LANCE J. SUSSMAN for

Liberty and Freedom From Religion in America

The Liberty Bell holds special fascination for American Jews, especially those of us who live in Philadelphia. For years, we lived happily with the knowledge that the Liberty Bell had been cast in England and brought to America in 1752 on a ship called the Myrtilla owned by two local Jewish shippers, Nathan Levy (the founder of the Philadelphia Jewish community) and David Franks (later one of the city’s leading Tories during the American Revolution). For better or worse, recent scholarship has changed all that and we now know conclusively that the bell was aboard a different boat, the Hibernia, captained by William Child but of unknown ownership. Moreover, the Hibernia’s docking was recorded on September 1 and the Myrtilla did not drop anchor until the end of the month.

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Posted on May 8th, 2017

Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 


Sacred Time and Space

The Jewish concept of holiness is bound to notions of sacred time and space--and reaching out to those in need.

Sarah, a member of my congregation, once explained to me why she was proudly a “bad Jew.” She had hated her traditional religious upbringing. As soon as she left home she proudly embraced a fully secular lifestyle. Although she eventually found her way back to Judaism through belonging to a liberal synagogue, Sarah told me that she was a member purely for cultural reasons, because of her connection to Jewish social justice values, and she still eschewed any form of religious observance.

“Let me tell you how ‘bad a Jew’ I truly am. Every Shabbos morning,” she told me, “I sleep late. Then I make bacon for breakfast and eat it slowly, savoring the smell and the flavor, while reading the paper and catching up on how to be involved in world events. I look forward to that moment all week long.”

“I hate to break this to you,” I told her, “but it sounds to me like you are keeping Shabbos!”

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Posted on May 1st, 2017

LEVITICUS 16:1-20:27 


D'var Torah By Rabbi LANCE J. SUSSMAN for

What Judaism Says About the Golden Rule

For the last few years, I have been a member of a local hospital’s ethics committee. The hospital is part of a university-based system and the committee’s chair is a scholarly pulmonologist with a propensity to pick cases involving life and death choices. Other members include nurses, medical specialists, administrators, and social workers. I am the only clergy member of the group. The literature we review is mostly derived from case histories written by medical doctors and generally balances such diverse factors as medical practice, hospital liability, economics, patient rights, and culture. Our purpose is not to advise but rather to review past cases, many with close parallels in our hospital. Our chair never insists we come to a group decision but always carefully opens up the various ethical dimensions of each topic we consider. For sure, sitting on this committee has been helpful to me in my pastoral work especially when it involves end-of-life decisions. However, on several occasions I have pointed out to the committee that we never refer to nonmedical ethical literature nor does the committee maintain anything resembling a scientific system or mathematical scale to rate or prioritize its moral thinking. As in so many sectors of life today, the committee is its own ethical silo.

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