Tag: judaism

My Encounter with Hemingway

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech Judaism is a religion of life.

The year was 1956. I had just been ordained and felt I needed a vacation after completing years of rigorous study. Together with two other newly minted rabbis, we decided on a trip that in those days was considered rather exotic. We chose pre-Castro Cuba as our destination – not too far away, not too costly, beautiful and totally different from our New York City environment.

One day as we drove through Havana and its outskirts, our combination taxi driver/guide pointed out a magnificent estate and told us that this was the residence of the writer, Ernest Hemingway. “Stop the car,” we told him. “We want to go in.” He shook his head and vehemently told us, “No, no, that is impossible. No one can just come in to visit. Only very important people who have an appointment.”

With the chutzpah of the young, I insisted that we would be able to get in and approached the guard with these words: “Would you please call Mr. Hemingway and tell him that three rabbis from New York are here to see him.”

How could Hemingway not be intrigued? Surely he would wonder what in the world three rabbis wanted to talk to him about. We held our breaths, and the guard himself could not believe it when the message came back from the house that Mr. Hemingway would see us.

We were ushered into Hemingway’s presence as he sat with his wife Mary in their spacious den. What followed, we subsequently learnt, was a verbal volley meant to establish whether it was worthwhile for him to spend any time talking to us. He questioned us about our backgrounds, threw some literary allusions at us to see if we would understand their meaning, asked what we thought was the symbolic meaning of some passages in his A Farewell To Arms – and then after about 15 minutes totally changed his demeanor and spoke to us with a great deal of warmth and friendship.

Shavuot a leap of faith

At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people accepted the Torah with the words, na’aseh v’nishma – we will do, then we will understand (Exodus 24:7). Their commitment to keeping God’s Torah was not in any way contingent upon their understanding why they should do so. They were ready to do whatever God would command, irrespective of whether or not it made sense to them.

At first glance, this seems to fly in the face of all we know about Judaism. It is not a religion of blind faith. We define reality by using our mind. Our heart might tell us what “feels good,” but it doesn’t tell us what is the truth. Our emotions often blind us from seeing reality. So how could the Jewish people, at this seminal moment of history, seemingly subjugate themselves to mindless faith? It goes against so much of what Judaism holds dear.

Most of us do not understand how a nuclear bomb works. It makes no sense. You take a tiny particle, invisible even to some of the most powerful microscopes, and you split it in half. And by doing so, you release enough energy to destroy a city.

Is stem cell research ethical?

by Daniel Eisenberg, M.D.
Is the destruction of preexisting pre-embryos permitted for stem cell research?
Today, a man lies dying of liver failure in a hospital. There is little expectation that he will be one of the lucky few to receive a transplant before he becomes too ill to save. Even if he did receive a transplant, he will be burdened with taking multiple anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, which in and of themselves would significantly compromise his health.

Tomorrow, scientists develop a method to build this man a new liver, one that would be a perfect match for him, requiring no anti-rejection drugs whatsoever. There is a catch. To perfect such a solution would require the destruction of other lives. Would Judaism sanction such a solution?

Jewish law clearly forbids the taking of one life to save another. The Talmud forbids saving one’s life at the expense of another by asking how one knows that his life is more valuable than his neighbor’s. Perhaps your neighbor’s life is more valuable.


One may kill someone who is unjustly pursuing a third party to kill him.
But, what if the life that would need to be sacrificed was that of a fetus? May we permit abortion to save the life of an already born person? The Mishna clearly states that if the life of a woman in labor is threatened by her fetus, the fetus should be aborted. But once a portion of the baby has emerged, we may not abort the fetus, because “one may not set aside one person’s life for the sake of another.” The principle behind this ruling is that one may kill someone who is unjustly pursuing a third party to kill him. Since the fetus, who is not yet considered a “complete” person, is “pursuing” the mother in a way that will inevitably result in her death, we may kill it first. But, once it has even partially emerged, it is considered a full-fledged person. Now we are faced with a dilemma, states Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the most respected rabbis of the 20th century: who is pursuing whom?

George Soros is even funding J Street

“If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish. I can’t see how one could confront it directly… I’m also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world… As an unintended consequence of my actions… I also contribute to that image.”
Pro-Palestinian Authority billionaire George Soros, who once said Israeli and American policies fuel anti-Semitism, helps fund the J Street lobby that is sympathetic to Hamas, The Washington Times revealed Saturday. Soros never was a supporter of Zionist activities, and a biography of him states that Judaism “did not express itself in a sense of tribal loyalty that would have led him to support Israel.”

He has long been rumored to be behind the left-wing political lobby, but J Street previously denied that he contributed money to the group until now.

“George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched — precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization,” the J Street website stated before The Times questioned it about Soros. The site immediately was changed to read, “J Street has said it doesn’t receive money from George Soros, but now news reports indicate that he has in fact contributed.”

Times’ reporter Eli Lake said that the newspaper obtained tax forms revealing that Soros and his two children gave J Street nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

The Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding & court Jews

The media coverage of the marriage ceremony of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky took several weeks to abate. The rabbi who co-conducted the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding was Rabbi James Ponet a Reform rabbi with deep connections to some of the most radical elements of the American Jewish community and that fact went completely unreported in both the American Jewish and general media. Of interest here too is that Hillary Clinton also has a long history with these radicals and brought them to the Clinton White House when Yasir Arafat was hailed as a peacemaker by her husband when the Oslo Accords were signed on September 13, 1993.

Ponet is the longtime campus rabbi for the Hillel at Yale University. Ponet Here is a survey of Rabbi Ponet’s long record as part of a cadre of radical rabbis that have a penchant for criticizing Israeli government policies, advocating for Palestinian statehood, participating in domestic progressive politics and creating a new age, hippie brand of Judaism.

A good place to start Ponet’s story is with a November 17, 2002 article in The New York Times with the unsettling title “On Issue of Israel, Campuses Can’t Tell Left From Right.” The Times described Ponet as a “campus rabbi and sometime critic of Israel.”

Searching for My Lost Tribe

My childhood best friend’s father traced his lineage back several generations to find that he was 1/16 Native American. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to allow him to dance in the Lakota Sioux Sun Dance Festival in South Dakota every summer, something white people generally weren’t allowed to participate in. Every year my friend would tell me the most amazing stories of his summer adventures out West, and I would wish I wasn’t born “white.” I didn’t have any spiritual heritage to speak of. To me, Judaism was nothing more than baggage. Like most American Jews, I felt completely devoid of spirituality and cultural identity other than bagels and lox, which I didn’t like.

My friend’s parents had a major impact on my life. They took me camping, hiking and fishing for the first time. I loved every second. Their house was always full of interesting musical instruments, animal bones, and sage incense. When my friend turned 13, I was invited to join them in Upstate New York for his coming of age ceremony. Together with a bunch of other “born again” Native Americans, we escorted him deep into the woods for a Vision Quest. He fasted and spent the day and night all alone there, in the hope that he would have a vision that revealed his life’s purpose. Meanwhile, all those back at the camp spent the day in the sweat lodge, a small wooden frame covered in blankets.

Hebrew, nature’s way

Third in a series on people and places fostering commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.

It’s not easy for a teacher to communicate in an entirely foreign language, especially to pre-schoolers. But that is what happens in an extraordinary experiment in Hebrew-language immersion launched seven years ago at the Jacob Pressman Academy, a Conservative day school in Los Angeles. Children entering the school between the ages of two and five have the option of spending half their day in classrooms where only Hebrew is spoken.