Tuesday, January 10, 2012


By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, from his book DOWN-TO-EARTH JUDAISM: FOOD, MONEY, SEX, & THE REST OF LIFE (Morrow).

By looking at Jewish approaches to food from the Biblical era to the modern age, we have brought ourselves to the edges of the present. If now we want to get a glimpse of possible futures for Jewish attitudes toward food, let us begin with four unconventional questions:

1. Are tomatoes grown by drenching the earth in pesticides “kosher” to eat, at home or at the synagogue’s next wedding reception?

2. Is newsprint made by chopping down an ancient and irreplaceable forest “kosher” to use for a Jewish newspaper?

3. Are windows and doors so carelessly built that the warm air flows out through them and the furnace keeps burning all night — are such doors and windows “kosher” for a home or for a Jewish Community Center building?

4. Is a bank that invests the depositors’ money in an oil company that befouls the ocean a “kosher” place for me or for a UJA to deposit money?

If by “kosher” we mean what we have so far called by that name — the traditional law-code of proper ritual slaughter, proper separation of meat and milk, proper tithing of fruit — then the accurate answer to all these questions is that the category of “kosher” does not apply to them. (Even to the first question, which is at least about food!)

But what if we both draw on the ancient meaning of “kosher” and go beyond it? What if we move the word and the idea to a new place in the spiral of Jewish thought, and test out a new word — “eco-kosher”? What if by “eco-kosher” we mean a broader sense of “good practice” in everyday life that draws on the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom and tradition about the relationships between human beings and the earth?

Then perhaps the answer to these questions is that these ways of behaving may not be eco-kosher.

Friday, September 16, 2011

In prep for this provocative program, here are some related texts:

Buber once described a moment of realization in 1914 when he was asked, "Do you believe in God?" He assured the questioner that he did, but after he began to walk home, he really began to consider whether he had spoken truly. Then, in a moment of clarity, it came to him - "If to believe in God means to be able to talk about him in the third person, then I do not believe in God. If to believe in him means to be able to talk to him, then I believe in God." Later he would, write, God is the "Thou that by its nature cannot become It." Schlipp & Friedman, eds., The Philosophy of Martin Buber; Martin Buber, I and Thou.


Here are some texts from Maimonides (theologian, physician, philosopher, 12th century Egypt):

From The Book of Knowledge, Vol. 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides:

The basic principle of all basic principles and the pillar of all sciences is to realize that there is a First Being who brought every existing thing into being. All existing things, whether celestial, terrestrial, or belonging to an intermediate class, exist only through His true Existence. If it could be supposed that He did not exist, it would follow that nothing else could exist.

From Maimonides' 13 principles of faith, recited daily during prayer:

1. I believe with perfect faith that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
2. I believe with perfect faith that God is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our God He was, He is, and He will be.
3. I believe with perfect faith that God does not have a body. physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.
4. I believe with perfect faith that God is first and last.


A rabbi's son returns from his first semester at college to sit with his father in the office above the synagogue.
"I don't believe in God anymore," the son says.
"So, why not?"
"Nietzsche," the son says, and pulls a philosophy book out of his bag.
"So, I have a book, too," says the father. He takes Maimonides' "Guide for the Perplexed" down from the bookcase.
"And Christopher Hitchens." The son takes out another volume.
"I'll see your Hitchens and raise you an Abraham Joshua Heschel," says the father.
The two of the them argue for several hours until the father looks at the clock. "Time for Minchaand Ma'arev," he says.
The two of them go down to the synagogue to davenn the afternoon and evening prayers, then return to the rabbi's office to continue their argument about the existence of God. 


Also, here are some links of interest:

From Rabbi Jeff Falick's blog, The Atheist Rabbi:

And here is a related recent article from the New York Times:


From the current issue of Moment Magazine, Can There Be Judaism Without God? featuring many well-known voices in response:


Monday, June 27, 2011

Join Us Wednesday, July 20 at 7pm for our next New Sanhedrin program

Check out some related reading at the following links:

Can You Raise A Genderless Child? By Ana Veciana-Suarez, Miami Herald

The End of Gender? by Linton Weeks, NPR.com

Let's start the conversation here! Please comment!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Sanhedrin, Wednesday, Nov.3rd

The New Sanhedrin meets Wednesday, November 3rd, at Next @ 19th Street – 137 NE 19th St, Miami.

The New Sanhedrin argues issues on the cutting edge of Jewish culture and tradition, using a dynamic developed at the National Havurah Summer Institutes (havurah.org). Even if consensus is not reached, tangled knots are loosened.

The topic of this Nov. 3rd program is: Questioning the Covenantal Cut: Circumcision.

I’ve been asked to prepare some material in advance. Following are two posts, one with Biblical texts, the second Rabbinic.

I haven’t posted modern secular sources. Texts supporting and decrying circumcision are easy to find with an internet search.

Thanks for visiting this blog. I look forward to seeing you when the New Sanhedrin meets.

Biblical sources:

Covenant with Abraham: (Genesis 17:9-14) - Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Commandment to Moses: (Leviticus 12: 1-3) - The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.’ ”

Moses did not circumcise his own son: (Exodus 4: 24-26) - At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met (Moses) and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched (Moses') feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the Lord let him alone. Then she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.

There was no circumcision during the 40 years in the desert: (Joshua 5:2-4) At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeat Ha-aralot (lit. - the mountain of foreskins). Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the desert on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not.

Rabbinical sources:

Rabbinic law: It is a Jewish father’s duty to have his son circumcised (Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh Dayah 260:1). Should he neglect to do so, the rabbinic court must do so (ibid. 260:2). It is not a sacrament, and any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not. If a boy should reach maturity uncircumcised, it is his responsibility to have himself circumcised.

The unique sign of the Jewish people: Maimonides, Guide, III:49 “According to me, circumcision has another very important meaning, namely, that all people professing this opinion - that is, those who believe in the unity of God - should have a bodily sign uniting them . . . ”

Maimonides on foreskin and sexual function: ibid. “The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him. In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.”