Archive for June, 2011


Perhaps the moral fatigue of living in a pluralistic society, surrounded by many competing ethical systems, makes us long to turn to legislation as the master source of what is right and wrong. When we do this, consciously or unconsciously, we are inevitably disappointed in the law. A great many of these disappointments stem from the fact that we are looking for something that is not there: a coherent moral code. This disappointment is, in my opinion, to the greater good: as long as we are disappointed by law when we try to read it ethically, one hopes we will be less likely to mistake it for a moral code.

Alice Sturm, “The Amoral Law”, Hypocrite Reader, Issue 2 (March 2011).

Giving tzedakah offers us a tangible way to combine our agenda for social justice and preserve the Jewish people. In America, we have been blessed with wealth; we must use it to bring blessing on all Jews, America and the world.

Scott A. Shay, Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem & New York: Devora Publishing, 2008), 252.

We are hindered in our ettorts to understand the Mishna and its relation to preceding traditions by our lack of evidence for exactly what Judah the Prince did with the earlier traditions and for what purpose. Albeck has claimed that he was writing a law code, others a textbook for study, others a suggestive summary of the law meant to lead the reader to other sources. See the outlines of theories in J. Neusner (ed.), Modern Study of the Mishnah.

Anthony J. Saldarini, “‘Form Criticism’ of Rabbinic Literature,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 96, No. 2 (June 1977), 264, n. 26.

The challenge for American Jewry is to harness the heritage and impulse that all Jews have for social action and direct it within a Jewish context. Social responsibility must be a part of our identity as Jews, with our particularistic impulse and universalistic impulse balanced in an ever-shifting duality determined by the needs of the times. However, one side can never be to the exclusion of the other. While social action has served as an exit lane for Jews, there is no reason it can also not serve as an entry lane. Many Jews, certainly young adult Jews on campus and in the early post-college years, are seeking social action opportunities. American Jewry needs to provide a Jewish context for these opportunities. Our heritage makes this a natural opportunity for Jewish engagement. Jewish social action must be linked with Jewish learning. As such, opportunities for social action should be an entry point for a deeper commitment to Judaism.

Scott A. Shay, Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem & New York: Devora Publishing, 2008), 236-237.

What concerned Jews was the freedom to practise their faith, not a desire to convert others to it. Judaism admits converts but does not seek them – not because it is exclusive but because it does not believe that you have to be Jewish to achieve salvation, a place in ‘the world to come’. What interest could a non-Jewish public have in the Sabbath, Jewish dietary laws, Jewish marriage and divorce, circumcision or any other particularistic Jewish practice? Jews were and are a minority in every country except Israel, and have lived with that situation for millenia. They have no desire to impose their views on the majority. Their interests coincide with the basic principles of liberal democracy: minimum government interference with private religious practice and a public policy that is, as far as possible, neutral or inclusive on controversial moral issues.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 115.