Archive for January, 2012


Leviticus is often contrasted to the New Testament teaching about turning the other cheek, which is widely assumed to be a lesson in passivity. Not true. Jesus lived in Palestine when it was ruled by the Romans, for whom it was a sign of weakness to strike another person with the back of the hand. Yet that’s precisely what happens if I turn my cheek when you and I are facing each other and you go to hit me, and you, like most people, are right-handed. You have to go past my left cheek and backhand me to get a good blow. In Roman times, that meant you were confronting your own weakness even as you exercised power over me. Jesus teaches us not to ignore the wrong done to us; he wants us to force those who would punish us to experience how they are diminished by their lack of mercy.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 95.

The real problem with the reality-show comparison is that it fails to explain what’s so enjoyable about long presidential seasons in general, and this one in particular. Unfolding over a year or more, this genre also incorporates elements distinct to the soap opera and the sporting season. Like a soap, there’s endless repetition, so you can miss half the debates and still feel current; there are implausible plot whipsaws; figures from the past return unexpectedly (like Newt Gingrich, storming in from the Clinton era to prove that 1990s-style petulance totally holds its own in today’s combative political environment). As in sports, the sweeping Monday-morning-quarterback pronouncements of the commentariat are often more entertaining than the game. And now that primary voting is under way, we’ll get a series of decisive win-lose moments, sure to be spiked with upsets and blowouts as well as poor sportsmanship, questionable calls and lots of instant replays.

Rob Walker, “‘The Best Thing Happening in Pop Culture Right Now’”, The New York Times Magazine (8 January 2012), 42.

While we talk today of the fluid and tangled nature of the many “blended” families in our society, the complexity of modern family dynamics does not even approach that of Jewish antiquity. The marital paradigm was the first marriage, and this paradigm was expressed in cultural, mythic, and ritual terms. Despite the meagre evidence, the demographics alone make it clear that most marital situations were not paradigmatic. Widowhood and divorce, both followed by remarriage, would have been common among Jews in antiquity. The possibility of levirate marriage and continuation of polygyny would have created families far more complex than we find in our own society. Our evidence even attests to stable nonmarital relationships, although their quantity and the details of they worked are obscure.

Michael L. Satlow, Jewish Marriage in Antiquity (Princeton, NY & Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press, 2001), 195.

I think Judaism’s ancient tradition can help all people find deeper meaning and greater joy in their lives, whether or not they are Jewish. I have come to believe that religious traditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her life.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 51.

We have fallen victim to a sociological and anthropological approach, which has led to the vulgarization of Jewish education. We ask whether the Jews constitute a race; a people; a religion; a cultural entity; a historic group; or a linguistic unit. But we do not ask what we are spiritually; who we are morally; what we owe the world and what our mission is.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, “Emerging Cracks”