DEFINING AMERICA 

I’ve written about America’s regional differences and similarities—physical and cultural. A difficult question nags. Short of a defensive war, what defining aspect of America can put the United back into the United States? I’ve exchanged thoughts with an American friend in Poland, who teaches university classes on American life. We agree that “freedom” is too…

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CHRISTMAS AND “SEX EDUCATION” 

A British TV dramedy about high-school teens involved in endless sex ultimately reveals a lot about the challenges Christmas often poses. Carolyn and I just finished season four (the final) of Netflix’s Sex Education, starring Gillian Anderson and a wonderful cast. Each season starts with copious sex but soon segues into the subject of relationships with…

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VIOLENCE AND CHOICE 

In 1992, Rodney King, a Black man viciously beaten by Los Angeles police a year earlier, asked during violent riots, “Can’t we all get along?” Last week’s Torah portion, “Genesis,” and this week’s, “Noah,” address this sorry aspect of human nature.  Gen. 1:26 states: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after…

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THE RABBIS AND THE CONSTITUTION 

Given the nation’s political turmoil, Rabbinic thinking can shed light on “loose construction” of the Constitution. A personal experience reinforced that concept. In 1998, I traveled to Israel with a group from New York. On the way to our hotel, we stopped at Mount Scopus for a sweeping view of Jerusalem. It struck me that…

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LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR MEANS WHAT? 

Jesus preached a version. Hillel said it before Jesus. But Hillel was picking up on the Torah. Still, after 2,000 years and more, many people don’t have a clue. Americans of all faiths are familiar with the injunction of Leviticus 19:18—”Love your neighbor [sometimes translated fellow] as yourself.” This seemingly simple verse poses complex challenges, starting…

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THE HANDWRITING ON THE WATER 

You may be familiar with the phrase “the handwriting on the wall.” It comes from the Hebrew Bible. We find a parallel in this week’s Torah portion. Both are worth looking at. The Book of Daniel (chapter 5) presents a mysterious hand writing strange words on a wall in the palace of Babylonian king Belshazzar.…

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POST-THANKSGIVING THANKS 

Not everyone stuffed themselves with Thanksgiving turkey yesterday. I ate fish. I had my reasons. Getting older, Carolyn and I sometimes celebrate holidays differently. As to yesterday, our kids wouldn’t be coming over. Another couple, Joan and Joe, faced the same situation. Neither Carolyn nor Joan wanted to cook.* So we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at…

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ADAM, EVE AND THE MIDTERMS 

Adam and Eve relate directly to the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants and America’s upcoming midterm elections. Let’s start at the beginning.  This week, we begin the annual Torah reading cycle. It commences with the initial portion of Genesis—B’reishit. “In the Beginning” is one of several translations of that first word.  The portion…

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HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? 

What constitutes the great American sin? Consider an antecedent in this week’s Torah portion, “V’Etchanan” (“I implored”)—Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11. My commentary involves door-to-door sales, carried interest and mega yachts. Re Torah, Moses implores God to let him lead the Israelites into Canaan. God, angered by Moses’ previously striking a rock, rather than speaking to it, to…

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FAITH GONE AWRY 

This week’s Torah portion, “Shelach-Lecha” (“Send” or “Send for Yourself”), shares something with Texas Republicans’ 2022 platform. It’s frightening. Numbers 13 tells of twelve Israelite chieftains sent by Moses to scout out Canaan, the land God promised to Israel. On returning, ten “spies” display a grievous lack of faith. They concede that the land “does…

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NUMBERS—BIBLICAL AND AMERICAN 

The British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli is cited for mentioning “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Numbers can confuse us. This is true of Torah and American gun violence. This week, we begin the Book of Numbers. One year after the exodus from Egypt, God commands Moses to conduct a census of Israelite males age 20…

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FREEDOM AND WATER 

The Israelites fleeing Egypt, and Albert Sobel, the transgender protagonist of my novel Lola Flores, share something in common. Their freedom requires traversing or immersion in a body of water, source of life. Following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Reed Sea. “Then Moses held his arm over…

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WELCOME TO THE GRAY ZONE 

Americans hoping Ukraine can resist Vladimir Putin share a common trait with many of the most memorable characters in the Hebrew Bible. This may discomfort us. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, David, Solomon all exhibit real flaws. (David takes Bathsheba to wife after sending her soldier-husband, Uriah the Hittite,…

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WHEN SMALL STUFF IS BIG 

A 6th-century mosaic, an ancient proverb and this week’s Torah portion all relate to a recent post, “Hopping Off the Treadmill.” They comfort me. The colorful mosaic map on the floor of the Church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan—I was there—details the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem. Originally, it contained more than two million small…

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JACOB, ESAU AND THANKSGIVING

For Jews, Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is two months past. But Thanksgiving is days off, and all Americans might bear in mind a story from Torah that suggests we pay attention to atonement daily. Jacob, the younger twin of Isaac and Rebecca, purchases his brother Esau’s birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Deduct points…

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