Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Why They Hate Us

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

At first, the nations of the world resented and hated the Israelites because their ways of worship were different from the nations and at a higher level.  Even when the people Israel tried to imitate gentile practices, though their enemies continued to resent them.  (Etz Hayim p. 919)

In what is surely going to be one of the most important books on Judaism in the next decade, Bernard Henri Levi describes the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism.  In The Genius of Judaism, Levi maintains that the only way to be efficiently anti-Semitic is to be anti-Zionist, to disguise the hate of the Jews under the umbrella of hate for Israel.  In this latest attempt to explain anti-semitism, he simply says it has a new form but the same hatred continues.   

The context of the above quote is a moment in the Torah when the Hebrews were beginning to assimilate into the world around them.  Then, a nation on their own, not yet inhabiting their own land, the Hebrews began to practice religion as their neighbors did.  This prompts the age old discussion of why do they hate us so?  When we are different, they hate us.  When we are like them, they hate us.

Hatred is about "the other."  When we see people who are different from ourselves, "the other,"often, threatening fear grips us.  That fear then turns into hate. The only thing that can transform fear into friendship is conversation, curiosity and discovery.   Until we all find the courage to understand “the other”, we will all be locked in this maelstrom of hate..  Assimilation is not the answer.


Identity and Creativity

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam  in the Torah. (Bava Batra 14b)

The Ritva writes that Moses wrote an entire book about Balaam, but it has been lost. The Maharal suggests that this statement is necessary because one might have thought that Balaam’s words were his own prophecy and therefore lacked  the sanctity of Torah. The Baraita teaches that Moses wrote these words as well, and so the passage of Balaam has a status equal in sanctity to that of every other passage in the Torah. (Rabbi Adin Shteinsalz)

One deeply significant conversation currently happening in the Jewish community is about intermarriage and whether or not rabbis should participate in such ceremonies.  This discussion is profound in both its personal implications and its national impact.  The dialogue about who is in and who is out takes us all the way back to when we were children on the playground and being picked for a team.  We balk at clubs that are exclusivebecause we were for so many years excluded. We shutter to think of segregation in any form so we were key participants in the civil rights movement.  Yet we stand squarely opposed to intermarriage which sounds similar and, to some, identical to exclusion.

In the Talmud and the subsequent commentaries, the discomfort existed.  Trying to understand the restrictions against intermarriage in light of national survival while balancing an understanding that all people have a contribution to make and each human being has unique value is one of our eternal struggles.  

The above comment by the Talmud and that of Rabbbi Shteinsalz shows us that we must continue to struggle to create that equilibrium.  As a people we have a unique contribution to the world; other nations do as well. Identity is critical to creativity and motivation. Therefore, we must never become “ a melting pot”.  We must maintain our national distinctiveness while we appreciate what others bring to the evolution of our world.   


We Don't Glorify Death; We Sanctify Life

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

"Whoever touches a corpse, the body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the Lord's Tabernacle; that person shall be cut off from Israel." (Numbers 9:13)

The world we live in is filled with death.  Wars abound and we regularly witness terrorist acts that leave both the victims and the perpetrators dead.  Through the internet, we are exposed to horrific images by those who worship the culture of death.  Hassan Nasrallah used the phrase, "“We love death more than you love life!” in a 2004 interview to explain why Hizballah (the organization he heads) is destined to prevail over Israel. “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”

Our tradition has always valued life over death.  We don't glorify death; we sanctify life. In these times, we must affirm that ideal and do everything in our power to preserve it.