Make Your Chanukah Festive and Don’t Fight the Holiday Spirit

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“It’s the most awkward time of the year.”

For Orthodox Jews, and to a lesser extent, non-Orthodox Jews, the “Holiday Season” is certainly the most awkward time of the year. Everyone around us is in a super festive mood, lights and colors of the season are everywhere, and everything seems to somehow connect to the Holidays. Drinks at your coffee shop change, the decor in all the stores, all the music, movies or television programming morph into Holiday Season themes. I was at the Third Street Promenade this week and one Holiday tune was blasting in the first store I entered. A few minutes later, the same song started playing in the next store. Even Disneyland feels completely different. It’s unavoidable.

This season makes me somewhat anxious, and I am sure it makes many other people feel uncomfortable. Read…

Will The Real Neo-Chassids Please Stand Up?

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The Jewish Action published a nice report on a phenomenon that is gaining steam in the Modern Orthodox world. The article identifies the movement as Neo-Chassidus and describes it as a path toward connection with God. It stands in contradistinction to other strains of Judaism that are described as dry, cold, and lacking in the deeper joy that Chasiddus has to offer.

To be clear, the Neo-Chassids are embracing the 18th and 19th century versions of Chasidic philosophy and a smidge of practice. They are not converting to contemporary Chassidic sects like Ger, Satmar, Bobov, and Vizhnitz.

This is a great development. Typical Orthodox Judaism artificially constrains people to the customs and philosophy of the sect to which they are born. Read…

Misplaced Faith in The Kuzari Principle

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I promised an essay on matters of faith in Orthodox Judaism. This is the first of a mini-series (within a series) on faith.

To the ancient Greek philosophers and medieval theologians, God’s existence was taken for granted. There was no debate about whether there was a God. They had two primary areas of dispute: the nature of this God, and the proper way to demonstrate God’s existence. Thus, we have many interpretations of how God acts and what He wants from man. We also have many arguments demonstrating to Believers that there is a God.

English is a confusing language. For example, take the word “proof.” In mathematics, proof A can prove X and therefore X is irrefutable. More often, a proof does not demonstrate objective truth. Usually, a proof is an argument in favor of X and it can be sufficient, insufficient, accepted, rejected, argued against, and teamed up with other proofs for X.

This creates a problem when we moderns discuss the existence of God. Torah literate Jews are accustomed to seeing the word “proof” in the context of demonstrating God’s existence, and there is a tendency to assume  a”proof” is objectively determinative. But no God-proofs make an irrefutable point. They were not intended to function that way, and unsurprisingly, neither do they accomplish it. Read…

ReplyAll Conversation: Antisemitism and Jewish Education: What’s to be Done?

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I was invited to participate in a ReplyAll conversation about Jewish education and anti-Semitism. ReplyAll is a great format for discussing things that benefit from long, thoughtful, patient discussion. This was a great example of that kind of conversation. I learned a lot and I enjoyed the format greatly. I invite you to read our conversation below. If you have any questions for me regarding my contributions to this conversations, feel free to leave a comment on this page and I will try to respond as soon as I can. Enjoy.


The Proper Response to Hacking

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On November 24, 2014, Sony Pictures was attacked by hackers. Attacked is the proper word to describe hacking in this context. The hackers intended to harm Sony financially and instill fear into the hearts of the studio’s executives and employees. Sites like Lifehacker make hacking sound like a cutesy hobby, but it is not cutesy. It is destructive and a form of terrorism.

The victims of the attack feel vulnerable, abused, and angry. Digital burglars stole their personal information and private data. That hurts. Victims deserve our empathy and kindness. The breach itself is enough to cause real pain and suffering, but that is only a small piece of the destruction the hackers have wrought. Read…