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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged abortion, Broward, fetus, fort lauderdale, Gosnell, Jewish law, Jewish view, Jews, Judaism, Kermitt, life, opinion, Plantation, pro-choice, pro-life, rabbi andrew jacobs, Ramat Shalom, South Florida on May 13, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
With Dr. Kermitt Gosnell being convicted this afternoon of first-degree murder of three babies that were born alive during abortion procedures (and involuntary manslaughter of an adult patient), I felt it was important to share Judaism’s stance on abortion. This is not an easy subject and there are many different opinions. The Jewish position does not in any way condone the horrendous actions of Dr. Gosnell. The Jewish position does, however, capture many of the complexities involved with the abortion issue. Some of the texts below are difficult to read and will get you thinking and feeling lots of emotions; these texts can also be interpreted differently. When it comes down to it – Judaism teaches us that abortion is an extremely difficult, emotional, spiritual issue that forces us to wrestle with life and death.
At the foundation of the Jewish view of abortion are the teachings that state that a fetus is not a life (yet). Until forty days after conception, an embryo inside its mother is referred to as “mere fluid”. Furthermore, an unborn fetus is not considered a person until it has been born. Until it begins to leave the mother’s body during childbirth, a fetus is regarded as a part of its mother’s body and not a separate being. This being said, as part of the mother’s body, a fetus is indeed something special. Certainly, Judaism sees the creation of life as a holy process. As such, Judaism fights for the life of the unborn child, while, at the same time, making abortion permissible in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The Torah teaches that “should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries but there is no other misfortune, he shall surely be punished, when the woman’s husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges’ [orders]. But if there is a misfortune, you shall give a life for a life” (Exodus 21:22‑23)
The medieval scholar, Rashi, teaches that “no other misfortune” means that the woman is not killed. (If she is “you shall give a life for a life.”) Because of this, the attacker only pays financial compensation for having caused the miscarriage.
Many Jewish scholars agree with Rashi’s interpretation. The focus is placed upon the attacker paying damages to the woman and her husband for the loss of the fetus. As troubling as it might be for some that there is no discussion of killing an unborn child, the fact that there is no discussion of manslaughter or murder is important: the unborn fetus is not legally a “person” according to Judaism.
In the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides taught: “if one assaults a woman, even unintentionally, and her child is born prematurely, he must pay the value of the child to the husband and the compensation for injury and pain to the woman.” Maimonides does not discuss the status of the miscarried fetus. Again, it is part of the mother and belongs jointly to her and her husband, and thus damages must be paid for its death. The one who was responsible for the miscarriage is not guilty of murder, since the unborn fetus is not considered a person.
The Torah teaches that “he that smites a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12) and “he that smites any person mortally shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:17) The rabbis teach that these verses apply to a person and since they did not see a fetus is as a person, the destruction of an unborn fetus is not considered murder. Consequently, one who causes the miscarriage of a fetus is not to be given the death penalty.
While the fetus is not considered to be a person, the rabbis teach that the fetus does have the potential to become a person. As such, the rabbis struggle with its status. In a text that is hard to read, the Mishnah teaches: “if a woman is having difficulty in giving birth [and her life is in danger], one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus. But if the greater part was already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.” This section of Mishnah refers directly to abortion – teaching that a pregnancy may be terminated if the life of a woman is in danger (and there is a lot of room for interpretation here). However, once the majority of the fetus has emerged (some argue just the head) from its mother, it is considered a “life” and may not be harmed in any way.
Dr. Gosnell has been convicted of killing babies that were born alive. What he did was not only a violation of American law – it is a blatant violation of Jewish law. There will be much discussion about this case in the coming weeks and months. American law should guide this discussion; however, knowing where we stand on this complicated and emotional issue is important.
I welcome any questions or comments.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Broward, iTunes, jewish, Jews, Judaism, lessons, online, Plantation, Podcast, Rabbi, rabbi andrew jacobs, Ramat Shalom, Reconstructionist, South Florida, teaching on May 12, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged 5773, Broward, fort lauderdale, jewish, Jews, Judaism, Moses, Plantation, rabbi andrew jacobs, Ramat Shalom, Shavuot, sinai, South Florida, synagogue, temple, Torah on May 10, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
3,316 years ago (give or take a few years), something incredible happened to the Jewish people. It was so incredible that we still celebrate it. The celebration begins in a week and a half, on Tuesday night May 14th, and lasts for one or two days depending upon your tradition (here at Ramat Shalom we observe the celebration for one day). We call the celebration “Shavuot” and it commemorates a pivotal moment in our history. Tradition teaches us that in the Jewish year 2456, on the 6th of Sivan, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and received the Torah from God. It is at this moment that our ancestors received the stories, laws, and rituals that guide us to this very day. Whether we believe that God literally gave the Torah to the Jewish people on 6 Sivan 2456 or not, there is no question that the Torah has been and remains the rock and the foundation of the Jewish people. Whether it was written by God or written by authors who were divinely inspired does not matter. What matters is that for centuries it has defined who we are and made us a holy community.
Some of us feel little to no connection with the Torah. Our knowledge of it is limited to our own bar/bat mitzvah training. The stories remain confusing and completely unrelated to our own lives. Some of us have never read the Torah. For us, it remains a mysterious book that is beyond reach. Some of us know the stories well but have not taken the time to make a connection between the lessons they teach us and the issues we struggle with. And there are those of us who read it, get it, live it and love it.
Every Shabbat, from my vantage point on the bimah, I watch as a mixed multitude of people take part in a Torah service. It is usually pretty easy to pinpoint how people feel about the Torah by observing how they relate to the scroll when it is walked around the sanctuary. Those who are comfortable with the Torah are often the first to approach it and use a siddur or a tallit to kiss the scroll. Those who feel that the Torah is beyond their reach keep their distance or timidly touch the scroll. Those who have yet to make a connection between the Torah and their own lives often let the Torah pass them by without touching it – yet they watch it closely. And there are those who have no feelings whatsoever about the Torah – they are the ones who talk to others while the Torah processes around the sanctuary, paying no attention to the rituals going on around them.
While it is interesting to watch people’s reactions to the scroll as it passes them by, what always fascinates me is that the scroll leaves the protective confines of the ark and the relative safety of the bimah (where I could quickly grab it if need be) and travels around the sanctuary – often in the sweaty, shaking hands of a pre-teen as s/he becomes a bar/bat mitzvah. I have no fear as it travels into the congregation. It always makes it back to the bimah to be read and put safely back into the ark. In synagogues across the globe, this ritual of processing the Torah takes place over and over again. The scrolls that are carried around are sacred, precious, holy. Like our own scrolls, many are very old and delicate. But this does not stop us from processing our Torah. We do it because this is what Moses did as soon as he came down from Mt. Sinai on the very first Shavuot. He brought the words of God to the people.
The Torah was not created to be kept away from us. It was created for us. It is there to read, study, question, challenge, learn from….It belongs to us – each of us – equally. It belongs to the person who rushes to kiss it when it is carried around the sanctuary. It belongs to the person who is afraid to kiss it. And it even belongs to the person who lets the Torah pass by without doing anything. The Torah belongs to the people.
For those of us who go out of our way to protect and respect and study Torah, the idea that the Torah still belongs to someone who sees no value in her might seem unfair. This is because we fail to realize that people come to appreciate Torah in different ways and at different times. Shavuot reminds us that the Torah does not belong solely to those who have discovered great meaning in her – but to those who are struggling to find the meaning and those who have yet to begin the struggle. Shavuot is there to remind those of us who love Torah to insure that everyone gets a chance to kiss the Torah. Shavuot is there to remind those of us who crave for an opportunity to learn from the Torah that the stories are waiting for us to read and explore. Shavuot is also there to remind us that the Torah is an unconditional gift of Judaism. It is always there, waiting patiently to share precious lessons. And, as many of us know well, sometimes it takes years before we let these lessons speak to us.
Please plan to join us on Tuesday night, May 14th at 7:30PM for our special multi-generation Shavuot program: “The Ten Commandments – Relevant or Rewrite Needed?” which will be followed by cheesecake treats! Yizkor begins at 7:00 that evening.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Broward County, Florida, fort lauderdale, online Hebrew, online Hebrew school, online Jewish education, online learning, Plantation, rabbi andrew jacobs, Ramat Shalom, South Florida on April 30, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
This week’s Torah portion begins with a very important verse: “G‑d said to Moses: Say to the priests, Aaron’s sons, and you shall say to them: ‘Let no priest become ritually impure through contact with a dead person…’” (Leviticus 21:1) While I don’t want to get bogged down with the issue of ritual purity mentioned in this verse, I do want to draw your attention to what appears to be a very bad editing job. Why does the verse repeat itself? “Say to the priests” is immediately followed by “you shall say to them”. Certainly this could have been written better! Unless, of course, this poorly written verse is trying to teach us something deeper. This is exactly what many wise Torah scholars argue: the first “say” is a command given by G-d to Moses, teaching him what to teach the priests; the second “say” is, according to scholars, a command given by G-d to parents – telling them what to teach their children. Putting aside what exactly the parents are commanded to teach to their children, this verse is crucial because it is, according to many, the first time in the Torah that G-d instructs parents to educate their children. We all know the emphasis Judaism places upon teaching our children – and, according to many Torah scholars – it all began here.
One of our most important goals at Ramat Shalom is to help you teach your children about Judaism. Without a knowledgeable, dedicated next generation, Judaism will have no tomorrow. We are determined to make the words “l’dor va’dor/from generation to generation” a reality.
As our children get busier, as our lives grow more complex, Jewish educators find themselves facing more and more challenges. Providing high quality, engaging Jewish education in a world where people barely have time to breathe, is no easy task. Exciting our students and keeping them connected in a day and age where Instagram, Facebook, Instant Messaging and so much more are all just a click away, requires a great deal of creative thinking. We must ensure that Jewish education evolves with the times. This does not mean that we water it down and make it simpler. On the contrary! With today’s technology and our children’s willingness to embrace this technology, we have the ability to offer our children richer educational opportunities that are cutting edge and more accessible than ever.
As you know, beginning next school year, we are adjusting our Torah School schedule. Our Sunday program will be expanded to three hours for our K-6th grades. 7th grade will meet on Wednesday evenings. For our 3rd-7th grade students, we will be offering an optional Hebrew enrichment program on Wednesday afternoons at no additional cost. Family days and special programs will be spread out throughout the year to encourage hands on learning and discussions. In addition to all of this, I am excited to announce that Ramat Shalom is partnering with FYI Online (http://www.fyionlinelearning.com/), a leader in online learning, to create a unique, interactive online classroom for our older Torah School children. The program, which I have been working on for months and will be ready by the end of the summer, will be an incredible new tool for our teachers, parents and students. It will not be “busy work” or a high-tech computer game. It will be an educational experience that will connect our students with their teachers and with important lessons in ways that will enrich their Jewish learning. Through technology, the Torah School classroom will be accessible to busy parents who want to join their children in the learning experience. Plus, the online experience ensures that a busy schedule is not an obstacle. Torah School is there when you want it to be. Keep in mind, our online program will not be a substitute for community and classroom learning. It will be an amazing supplement to our Sunday and Wednesday programs and I can’t wait to introduce it to you towards the end of the summer. One more important thing, thanks to the generosity of one of our families, our online program will be free to all of our Torah School families. I am so proud that Ramat Shalom is doing so much to ensure that the next generation of Jews will be strong!
More horrific event have rocked our nation to the core.
In response to the terrorist attack in Boston, I am hearing how many Americans are feeling anger instead of fear. In some ways, this is good as the terrorists want us to be afraid. But, walking around angry is not going to help us. What we need to do is focus our energy on finding ways to make our country safer. The events that have unfolded in Texas, while most likely a horrible accident, have added to the sadness and awful sense of unease in our nation – making the attack in Boston even more difficult to comprehend.
We need to deal with the fact that the events in Boston have scared our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We might be angry – but lots of our kids, especially our older ones who are connected to the internet – are seeing and hearing the nightmare play out over and over again in gruesome images and videos. I have heard from our older kids/teens and many of them are frightened. Somehow, we need to disconnect them from the horror show that is running 24 hours a day online. We need to talk to them about what they are feeling. We need to remind them that we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe. And we need to teach them that they can play a role in protecting themselves by being alert and reporting anything that seems “off”. They need to feel that they have some control in this crazy world. I suggest that those of you with older kids visit this link to learn about the national “See Something, Say Something Campaign” and figure out ways to talk to your kids about helping us all stay safe and secure: http://www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-campaign
For those of us with younger children (and older ones too!), these link might be helpful:
As we struggle with more national tragedies, I know many are struggling with issues of good and evil, why bad things happen to good people and where is G-d at these moment. I will tell you that I saw countless examples of G-d as I watched the footage and read the stories coming out of Boston. If we somehow manage to turn our attention away from the horror and focus on the amazing stories of people selflessly giving of themselves, putting themselves in harm’s way to save the injured, donating blood after running a marathon – you will see how even in the midst of terror, there are holy sparks. We can never stop looking for the good in this world. It is there – lifting people up at the lowest of moments.
Too often I have had to share the words of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav: ”the world is a very narrow bridge; the essential thing is to have no fear at all.”
Remember, in order to have ”no fear” as we cross this newest “narrow bridge”, we need to hold each other’s hand as we cross. Together, we can move forward.
May those who were injured in Boston on Monday and in Texas yesterday be thoroughly healed. May the families of those who lost loved ones
be supported and comforted. And may the memories of those who were lost serve as blessings.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Broward County, camill hoffman, czechoslovakia, Holocaust, Kolin, my town kolin, Plantation, rabbi andrew jacobs, Ramat Shalom, South Florida, Torah, Yom HaShoah on April 7, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
I recently received
My Town Kolin, a newly published English translation of the story of Kolin, Czechoslovakia. There are many moving and incredible aspects of this book – but one that sticks out to me is the list of close to 40 Torah scrolls from Kolin synagogues that were stolen by the Nazis and now safely at home in synagogues across the world. Right in the middle of the list is Ramat Shalom. As so many of you know, we are so blessed with our 300-plus year old Holocaust Torah scroll from Kolin. To see our community’s name in print, linked to the story of Kolin and its Jewish community is so powerful.
A chilling aspect of My Town Kolin is reading the stories and seeing the photographs of Kolin. The book gives us names and photographs of her residents, Jews who most certainly came in contact with our Torah scroll – Jews whose lives were destroyed by the Holocaust. The book also shares poetry and other writings of people from Kolin, including this poem from writer Camill Hoffman who was born in Kolin on October 31, 1878 and perished in Auschwitz in 1944:
How strangely, from the depths to afar they chime,
As if a dream of fairy tales in them slept,
The old bells in the hometown of mine!
Many a man in wonder shook his head.
In the rotten belfry suddenly
The dark gold sounds…and in the evening,
Later, through the quiet valley,
Grim song carries on fluttering.
When abroad, at midnight
A pain, suddenly interrupts my dream,
I can hear the chime in the distance, faint…
As from a town, sunk in depths and quaint,
At sea, a swimmer hears the bells’ flight.
And nobody knows how it saddens him.
After reading Mr. Hoffman’s words, every time I see our Holocaust scroll, I hear the bells. And, as I do, I feel the sadness, the pain and the loss. But, at the same time, I see the faces of our b’nai mitzvah students who carry our Holocaust scroll through the congregation during their service. As I do, I can’t help but imagine that Mr. Hoffman (whose picture is in the book) would smile as he watched one of his Torah scrolls being held by the next generation of Jews. And, I believe, that with the help of our b’nai mitzvah, the sound of the bells is evolving into a sound of hope.
This Sunday, we mark Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. We will be having a special community-wide service Sunday morning followed by a presentation by our member, Hannah Temel, who is a survivor. Tonight, we will talk more about Kolin and My Town Kolin. Please join us.
Shabbat Shalom and may the memory of all of those we were lost in the Shoah be the blessing of our future.
In January of 1980, Rupert Holmes’ “Escape”, also known as the “Pina Colada Song”, was the number one musical hit. Many of us can remember singing it as it played on the radio in our station wagons or, if we were totally tubular, as it blasted through our Sony Walkman’s earphones!
As we prepare to celebrate Purim this weekend and return to the good old 1980’s (services tonight at 7:30PM – come in a 1980’s costume!!!), how totally righteous is it that Rupert Holmes rewrote his classic just for us this Purim!
Escape: The The Manischewitz Song
Rupert Holmes with some help from Rabbi Andrew (Psych!)
I was tired of my rabbi, we’d been together too long.
Like a worn-out recording, of my not-so-favorite song.
So while he stood there praying, my texts I went and read.
Thank G-d I put my phone on vibrate,
Cause I got this new message that said:
“If you like sweet Manischewitz, and think most Jews are insane.
If you take hot yoga at Ellen’s, if you have half-a-brain.
If you like the tuna at Marian’s,
And think the new restaurant’s shipshape,
I’m the new rabbi you’ve looked for,
Text me back, and escape. “
I didn’t think about my rabbi, I know that sounds kind of mean.
But me and my rabbi, had fallen into the same old dull routine.
So I sent a text back during services, I know that’s bad.
But even though I felt kind of naughty, I also felt pretty glad.
“Yes, I like sweet Manischewitz, and think most Jews are insane.
I prefer TooJay’s tuna, but, who am I to complain?
I’ve got to meet you by Friday sundown,
And cut through all this red tape.
At Lime in the Fountains, where we’ll plan our escape. <3″
So I waited with high hopes, then he walked in the place.
I knew the kippah in an instant, I knew that look on his face.
It was my own special rabbi, and he said, “Oy, it’s you.”
And we kibbitzed for a bissel, and I said, “I never knew!”
“That you liked sweet Manischewitz,
And think most Jews are insane.
You search for bargains at Marshalls,
But say that the Broward Mall has gone down the drain.
If you think Ramat’s Oneg is lousy
And think that they should serve chocolate crepes
You’re the rabbi that I’ve looked for, come with me, and escape.”
“If you like sweet Manischewitz, and think most Jews are insane.
If you take hot yoga at Ellen’s, if you have half-a-brain.
If you like the tuna at Marian’s,
And think the new restaurant’s shipshape,
I’m the new rabbi you’ve looked for,
Text me back, and escape.”
Please! Join us tonight for Shabbat/Purim services, a festive 1980’s Oneg and a radical 1980’s song fest featuring “Escape: The Manischewitz Song” and many other “classics”.
You will laugh a lot and there is nothing wrong with that!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim (Our children’s Shabbat/Purim service is at 6:30 tonight and remember the carnival is Sunday!!!)
Rabbi Andrew Jacobs