What is Rationalist Judaism?

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The term Rationalist Judaism has been clanking around the Internet and Orthodox Jewish conversation for a while now. It’s not quite a movement, but there are some very strong contemporary voices behind Rationalist Judaism. Many people think the term is an oxymoron. Others think it is intellectually dishonest. Yet others think it is heresy. But without a working definition or at least a framework to understand what we are talking about, any conversation about Rationalist Judaism will result in people talking past one another and miscommunication. Read…

The Farmer and the Shepherd | Pre-Pesach Class 2013

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Sometimes we have trouble related to the ancient story of the Exodus. If you’ve ever wondered if the story has lessons for us in 2013 this is the class for you.

Please enjoy this class on the Exodus story. It presents the story through a R’ Hirschian lens to make the story of the Exodus relevant to a modern Passover celebration. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

This class is appropriate for all levels of observance, experience, and interest.

Frankfurt to Tel Aviv in 2012: A Pesach Message

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I am blessed to be able to spend Pesach in Israel this year. En route, we made a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany.

I know many people who are uncomfortable with anything remotely German. They do not buy products from Germany, they would never visit for recreation, and they have a general distaste for the German language. I understand these people. I am not one of them.

It can be difficult to let go of the feelings that associate the Holocaust to Nazis and Nazis to Germans. For some, it is disrespectful to those who perished in the Holocaust to treat Germans like everybody else. I am not judging these people. At all.

As I said, I am not one of these people. It could be that I had no family who fell victim to the Nazis so it is less personal for me. I like to think that I should bear no resentment towards grandchildren and great-grandchildren of murderers. After all, they committed no crime. The physical land caused us no harm and the people who caused the harm are long gone. It seems that hatred towards present day Germany is irrational at best.

But again, I can understand this irrational belief.

In fact, when I think of Frankfurt or Germany my mind immediately turns toward R’ Hirsch and then to the incredible legacy of German Torah and Judaism stretching back to the first exile 2500 years ago.

Just because I have positive feelings towards modern Germany does not mean that the recent significance of the place is lost on me. I felt a particularly strong stirring inside me as our El Al jet raced down the runway and took off towards Israel. The surge of emotion that I felt brought tears to my eyes. It relates to Pesach and I think provides us a nice message as we begin this year’s Pesach celebration. Read…

Rational Reading and Gift List

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In anticipation of the upcoming gift giving season I have compiled a short list of books that I think would make a great gift for the orthodox Jewish Rationalist in your life. If that happens to be you, ask for an Amazon gift card and buy these books for yourself!

Get an Amazon gift card here: Amazon Gift Cards

I have read all these books. I wholeheartedly recommend them. I have not done full reviews of most of these books on the blog but I have included a brief description and the rationalist significance of each of these books. I hope that if you have other books to recommend you will leave your suggestions in the comments.

The list:


In Defense of Yom Tov Sheni (The second day of Yom Tov outside the Land of Israel)

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Tablet Magazine tells us that there is a new crisis in the orthodox Jewish community. Keeping two days of yom tov outside the Land of Israel is under attack.

The Torah commands the Jewish people to celebrate certain holidays with restrictions on creative activity akin to Shabbos. There are 6 days like this in the Torah. Rosh Hashanah (1), Sukkos (2), Shmini Atzeres (3), Pesach (4,5) and Shavuos (6). In the Diaspora these days are celebrated for two days of restrictions on creative activity akin to Shabbos. When these days fall out on Thursday and Friday it creates the proverbial 3 day yom tov. For 3 straight days, one is bound by those restrictions and it can make even the most fervently religious and observant person uncomfortable.

It seems that the discomfort is becoming so great that liberties are being taken with the “2nd day”.

An article in Tablet describes one orthodox family that allows their family to use “electronic entertainment” on the 2nd day. They have basically abandoned the 2nd day but supposedly keep everything else. Over time they have found more families that observe similarly and they feel less guilty. In fact the mother was quoted as saying “Mostly, I feel like I know a fabulous secret that no one else knows.”

The article assumes that the backlash and difficulty in keeping the 2nd day comes from a lack of understanding or appreciation for why we keep the 2nd day. I tend to agree.

As a rabbi in a very diverse community I have been asked this very question in many way, shapes, forms and formats. Perhaps my understanding of the issue will help illuminate some of the people who are on the fence or even if they are not on the fence, curious, as they should be about the observance of 2 days in modern times. Read…