Friday, July 14, 2017


Heather was a girl raised in an observant Jewish family that belonged to my synagogue.  She was deeply into the congregation’s youth groups, enjoyed socializing and went off to college with hopes of securing a bachelor’s degree and perhaps an available Jewish bachelor as well.  During her years at college, she came to me on several occasions disillusioned with her social life on campus.  There were plenty of Jewish boys at the university she attended and she was close on a couple of occasions to settling into a long-term relationship, but in the end, something always got in the way.  It was her religious observance.  She liked to go to services on Shabbat—not every Shabbat, but periodically.  She spoke about belonging to a synagogue someday.  She kept kosher, not of the “I can’t eat in a non-kosher restaurant” variety, but she was careful with what she ordered outside her dorm room, yet for some reason, her observance was a turn-off for the boys she dated.  The tears would slowly make their way down her cheeks when reflecting on her frustrations. 
Years later, now in her early thirties, Heather contacts me with good news—she was engaged.  “Mazal Tov,” I said, to which she replied, “But he’s not Jewish.  Rabbi—he’s the first guy I’ve ever dated who hasn’t made fun of my keeping kosher.”  She wasn’t a young lady to exaggerate or beg for sympathy.  She was truthfully telling me her experience, and from a purely liberal Jewish sociological perspective, it was a deeply sad tale.  To make matters worse, I was about to make matters worse.  She asked if I would officiate at her wedding, and I responded, as do all rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, “I’m so sorry, but no, I cannot.”
Heather (with the exception of her name) was a real person with whom I had a very positive relationship.  She was unique.  She actually went off to school and eventually entered a white-collar work force, living on her own terms, with the intent of marrying a Jewish man.  Many of her contemporaries, and I dare say an increasing number of young Jewish people today, do not share her biases.  To the contrary, they leave home to mix and socialize with many different people of varied ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds where they are accepted as equals.  And these young people are, within the context of the American Jewish experience, what we would call success stories.
What makes them success stories are the ways in which they have so thoroughly integrated into their personal lives, the values that predominate the liberal world of western democracies, values that the liberal Jewish world have promoted to varying degrees.  These values include a respect for all people regardless of their ethnic, religious, or racial background; a distancing if not a total rejection of any notion that Jewishness is a superior tradition or that Jews are in some way chosen; and a suspicion that seriously religious people are in some way simple-minded or foolish.  These values are the very values that predominate the universities that young Jewish people compete to enter.  Jeffrey K. Salkin, author and a Reform Rabbi of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida, writes:
I was a college freshman, and I was in a psychology class. The subject of religion came up, and I publicly admitted that I believed in God and was a committed Jew.
The professor grew pale. I will never forget what he said to me. “This makes me very sad. I am hoping that as you become more educated, you will, at the very least, question your faith.”
I had not thought of that professor (who was Jewish) and that experience for several decades—until this week with the release of a Pew study on the correlation between religious attachment and educational levels.
More than half of Jews who have not completed college say they believe in God with absolute certainty.  But, only about thirty percent Jewish college graduates would say the same.
39% of Jews who have not completed college say religion is very important in their lives.  Only 25% of Jewish college graduates say religion is very important to them.
--Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, “Are Jews Too Cool for Shul?”  April 28, 2017
In addition to the highly secularized liberal messages transmitted to young Jewish people, there is one other very non-western message that parents and rabbis sometimes throw into the mixture: “Non-Jews are fine, but don’t marry one.”  It’s a message that for all intents and purposes, given all the other messages, is a glorious non-sequitur.  It simply doesn’t follow.  How can one embrace a philosophical diet of—all people are equal; respect everyone regardless of background; do not regard yourself as superior; don’t get too religious…and “DON’T MARRY A NON-JEW”?  At another period in Jewish history, when Jews may have regarded themselves as chosen, and their Judaism as superior to other traditions, the “Don’t marry a non-Jew” message followed logically.  But the liberal Jewish world has changed the way it views itself and others, and suddenly, the message of endogamy, that is of marrying within the group, is a heavy message hanging by a cord of diminishing threads of justification!  Given all this, has the time come for Conservative rabbis to acknowledge our altered perspective on ourselves and the world, abandon the tradition of endogamy, and begin to officiate at interfaith marriages?  Has the time come for someone like me to accommodate someone like Heather?
This question is hardly a new one.  It seems as if it has been hotly debated for at least half a century if not longer.  And having dealt with the matter periodically over the years, I can tell you that the issue is one that raises the passions and emotions of the Jewish people, whether one is for or against.  In 2000, an American Jewish Committee survey found that 50% of Jews interviewed agreed with the statement: “It is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages.”  But that left 50% of the community believing that it was not racist.  That’s about as divided as a community can get.  Any rabbi thrown into that divide is either going to disappoint one half of the congregation or the other, or be able to speak at length about nothing thus keeping everyone in suspense.  Which, on occasion, is not a terrible tactic.  But it does seem as if the issue has come to a head so as pleasant as sitting on a fence may be, it’s time to get off, and the question is, on which side should the rabbi disembark.
The fence metaphor is here by design for it should be clear that the issue at hand is one of where to draw the line.  And this, in and of itself, is a very interesting question because we are presently caught in a world in which lines themselves are under attack.  The sentiment here seems to be that there is something ghastly unholy about the lines drawn in the world, even those imposed by nature, or perhaps it should be said—especially those imposed by nature.  For example, most of the world grows up thinking that there are essentially two genders, male and female, and that these genders are based on unique anatomies which are typically easily identifiable.  In contrast, contemporary gender studies would have us believe that gender is a social construct separate and apart from one’s biology.  That is to say, a person who is biologically a man may think of himself as a woman, in which case, he is really a she.  Or the opposite, a person who is biologically a woman may think of herself as a he, in which case she is really a he.  This is not to say that such people are lying or engaged in a grandiose hoax, but it is a radical departure from how thousands of generations of humankind have identified male and female.  The academic world, the world of so many liberal universities, are lobbying for such identifications to be based on personal choice.  Silly as this may sound, the boundary issue here has practical ramifications in how we determine who is permitted in the Men’s Room as opposed to the Women’s Room.  And for those whose gender identification remains ambiguous, there is a movement afoot for public institutions to offer a third alternative, a restroom for gender neutral.  The point of this observation is not to be critical of those who are engaged in gender reassessments, but only to offer an example of how boundaries that were once solidly in place are now either questioned or done away with altogether.
This resistance to nature’s boundaries manifests itself in serious and expensive surgeries to physically alter one’s genital anatomy, or in the far more innocuous act of dying the hair in completely unnatural colors or in physical piercings that distort the shape of the body.  Such alterations seem to be coming increasingly commonplace. In one particularly egregious example of how boundaries are challenged, a president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was forced to resign after it was discovered that this heretofore black female president was actually born white.  Rachel Dolezal has since stated that racial fluidity is just like transgenderism—race is how a person chooses to identify oneself regardless of biology.  Apparently, the NAACP leadership didn’t buy it.  In their view, race is biological, not philosophical.
It is no wonder that one of the hottest items on the political agenda these days is the security of national borders.  This is not an issue debated solely by Americans.  The wars and conflicts around the world that have ignited an explosion of refugees fleeing for their lives has forced otherwise liberal countries to question the effectiveness of its own borders.  Is there a border in place that allows for the controlled entry of foreigners or not?  And should that boundary be as thick as the armor on a tank or as giving as the curtains on one’s windows?  Do we or do we not need borders?  That discomfort with boundaries is writ into the social consciousness of good people who want to help the world as in such organizations as Doctors Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, Teachers Without Borders, etc.
              The liberal Jewish world has also struggled with the issue of borders or boundaries, most notably that border between Jew and non-Jew.  For example, many synagogues have had to debate the merits of allowing a non-Jew onto the bimah.  There was never a question of allowing a non-Jew into the synagogue.  But the bimah somehow seemed different and till this day, there are synagogues that permit non-Jews onto that bimah while others do not.
The seriousness of boundary-ambivalence should not be underestimated for the Jewish community, as Jewish communal life for years has been based on sacred, and in most cases inviolable, boundaries.  At the end of Sabbath, the last blessing in Havdalah, the ceremony of bringing the Sabbath to an end, reads as follows:
Praised are You, YHVH, our God who leads us through the universe, who distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the Seventh Day and the six days of creation.  Praised are You, YHVH, for having distinguished between the sacred and the profane.
Actually, the term for sacred in Hebrew is “kadosh,” which carries with it the sense of being separate or apart.  This understanding of the term flows naturally from an inventory of those items or concepts listed in the Torah as kadosh.  So, for example, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem is kadosh because it is the exclusive home of God; offerings to the Temple are kadosh because once so designated, they cannot be used for anything other than what the priests do with them; Shabbat or the Sabbath day is Kadosh because it is a day during which we create a unique environment, sui generis as compared with all the other days of the week;  and  additionally, the Jewish people are kadosh, because as the Chosen ones of God, they are to act in a way that is different from all the other nations, presumably in a way that distinguishes them as completely moral in their decisions and mindful of the godliness with which the world is imbued.  As Rabbi Martin S. Cohen, the spiritual leader of Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, NY, once put it, “The essence of Jewishness is the quest for kedushah.”  In other words, the Jew lives to create holiness, and that is done by observing and maintaining the boundaries that elevate and spiritualize life over and above that which would otherwise be regarded as mundane or profane, vulgar or meaningless.
One of the scariest metaphors for traditional Jews is the one that defines America as a melting pot.  It is, on the one hand, a loving image of a place where people of diverse backgrounds come together and become one.  But the function of the melting pot is to dissipate boundaries, and for a traditional community whose understanding of sanctity is the guarding of such boundaries, the metaphor itself is an attack on Jewish self-definition.
Then again, this was true only for the Jews who held fast to traditionalism.  As for the tens of thousands of Jews who immigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were only too eager to blend into America, and do whatever necessary to achieve that objective.  Those rituals that may have distinguished Jews from the community at large—resting on Shabbat, maintaining the dietary laws, daily prayer, clothing codes and so forth—were increasingly abandoned in favor of an assimilation that made Jews look and behave more American.   And as Jews became increasingly assimilated, they were also increasingly welcomed into clubs and institutions that in an earlier era were restricted to them.  For a people locked out of the mainstream for so long, every opened door was like manna from Heaven.  The melting pot was steaming; the boundaries were finally evaporating.  In the last few decades of the twentieth century, it was becoming abundantly clear that not only were Jews and non-Jews socializing together, but they were marrying one another.  The most guarded and sacred boundary of all, that boundary between Jews and everyone else, was melting away.  And ever since then, this new and disruptive reality inspired a communal debate that continues to rage:  Do we accept the new reality and abandon a boundary that is so widely ignored, or do we embrace the boundary even against all odds?  There should be no mistake about the broader message to the Jewish community should rabbis agree to officiate at interfaith marriages.  The broader message will be: the boundary no longer exists.  There is simply no way for a community to value in-marriage while its communal leadership officially sanctions interfaith marriage.  That is a paradox that no community can sustain.
If a Judaism for a contemporary world is to be at all appealing, it must first and foremost be honest.  It is therefore important to begin with an admission that a message which conceives of all people as equal, worthy, and precious in the eyes of God regardless of ethnicity, religion or race, coupled with the caveat “Please don’t marry them,” sounds contradictory.  It is no wonder that the American Jewish Committee survey of 2000 found 50% of Jews understanding the opposition to interfaith marriage as racist.  So many of the boundaries between Jews and non-Jews had been dismantled, what remained was some vague notion of gentiles being in some way deficient, inferior, or unworthy.  And that is racist.  So if in-marriage is to remain a sacred Jewish value, and if the Jewish community continues to view all God’s children as equal, what exactly would the rationale be for promoting in-marriage, Jew marrying Jew alone?     
Membership in Jewish peoplehood requires very little.  But Jewish peoplehood is only one aspect of Jewishness.  There is a spiritual dimension to Jewishness that exists and is real.  Some Jews embrace it fully, others reject it in toto, but most Jews are somewhere in between.  That dimension of Jewish spirituality, summarized in 25 words or less, would run something like this—Jews partner with God, God acting as the ultimate source of hope and inspiration and Jews acting as God’s emissaries on earth of all that is moral, just, and sacred.  That was 30 words but the partnership demands flexibility and compassion so the definition stands.  Because this covenant between the Jewish people and God passes from generation to generation, some people are born into it.  Jews by Birth may reject it all at some point—it is after all a free world—but the idea here is that Jews are born into a spiritual chain that began with Abraham and continues on to this day.  That’s a powerful spiritual heritage.  Jewish children, the day of their birth, are already 3500 years old.
The succession of Jewishness through the generations is not, however, based on genetics.  And this is clear because if it were, conversion into Judaism would be impossible.  But conversion is possible, and the community should welcome such transformations.  Anyone may choose to enter Jewish peoplehood via protocols that have existed for centuries.  And when people choose to do so, it is reason for celebration.  And when people choose not to, that is a decision that deserves our respect.  Judaism is a profound and inspirational path to God, but only one of many.  And for some, finding a relationship with God may not be an issue at all.  In our day, for so many, that is the predominant reality—a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.
The Jewish wedding ceremony is known in Hebrew by a word that ought to sound familiar by now: kiddushin.  Kiddushin is a term from the same root as kadosh or holiness and as such, carries with it implications of separateness and apartness.  When a couple enters kiddushin, the two are establishing a relationship that is unique.  They are vowing to be faithful to one another, that is, to establish a relationship that is exclusive, a relationship that is separate and in that way special.  By the same token, they are vowing to establish a relationship that is exclusive in another way.  The kiddushin blessing begins with a formula familiar to all Jews—asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu—[God], You have distinguished us via your mitzvot and have directed us to…  That is a blessing that applies to Jews, but to no others—not to Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus.  It is a blessing that acknowledges Jews as part of this sacred covenant, the partnership that commits us to a special kind of life.  There is a boundary in that blessing as clear as the boundary established when the bride circles seven times around the groom.
The fifth blessing of the Sheva Berakhot, the traditional seven blessings of the Jewish wedding ceremony reads as follows:  “May Israel, once bereft of her children, now delight as they gather together in joy.  Praised are You, God, who lets Zion rejoice with her children.”  One might legitimately ask why it is necessary to drag Zion into the Jewish wedding ceremony.  What does Zion have to do with two young people choosing to marry?  The answer lies again in kiddushin, this idea that the marriage begins as a call to the couple to shape their lives and their relationship in line with 3500 years of Jewish tradition, values and continuity.  It is a blessing that is designed for Jews, and not for Chris or Christine, and not for Mohammed or Fatima. 
As far as that goes, it may not even be a blessing for Josh and Deborah.  They may no longer feel the call to Zion, to a God that is in covenant with Jews, to a morality that emanates from Torah, or to a narrative that stretches back 3500 years.  And it should come as no surprise that there have been plenty of Jewish couples who have chosen a Justice of the Peace or a mayor of a town, or just a friend to officiate at their wedding precisely because they no longer want to identify with values that for them have become provincial or passé.  We do not live in a world favorably disposed to serious religious belief.  But the point is this:  the Jewish wedding creates a partnership of two people who are committed to the covenant, either by virtue of birth of by virtue of choice.  When the family unit no longer needs to be bound by the covenant, when that boundary dissipates, the spiritual dimension of Judaism takes a serious hit, and may just be a hit from which it cannot recover.  When rabbis grant their seal of approval to marriages in which covenant no longer figures, they are undermining the very Judaism they are supposed to promote. 
Clearly, it wouldn’t be the first time that Jews in leadership chose to so alter Judaism as to make it more palatable to a larger audience.  Our people did this some 2000 years ago.  At that time, the argument was we could get more people to be Jews if we didn’t require brit milah, or kashrut, or sabbath observance.   These efforts evolved into something that turned out to be enormously successful, the culmination of which we are very familiar with today: it’s called Christianity.  But Christianity, for all its glory and magnificence, is no longer Judaism. 
Some time ago, a man approached me to unburden himself of an issue that had bothered him for years.  He had been married twice.  His first marriage ended in divorce, a bitterly contested and ugly divorce, but in the very least a separation that brought to an end 15 years of misery.  That was his Jewish marriage.  His second marriage, to an Italian Catholic, was a loving, mutually respectful and beautiful marriage.  This man was, for all intents and purposes, a devoted Jew, a member of the congregation, a man who could lead prayer if so asked, and one who was forever stymied with the fact that his marriage to the “right woman” could have ended so badly while his marriage to the “wrong woman” could be so loving and fulfilling.  How was he to reconcile that?
It should have been obvious, but it simply wasn’t to him or to most Jews, that the issue of in-marriage deals with a Jewish communal existential issue.  Can a Jew and non-Jew share a very loving and mutually respectful relationship together?  Absolutely!  And when that happens, it’s a blessing of a deeply personal nature.  But that is not the issue.   The issue of in-marriage is about communal viability and continuity.  Even where children are to be raised as Jews, the integration with family of other religious backgrounds, celebrating with them non-Jewish rituals, an erasure of the boundaries, as it were, creates too great a potential for a child to see another way of religious life as viable.  In truth, there are far worse things in the world than a Jew converting to another religious tradition.  But the role of Jewish leadership should be, in large part, the creation or maintenance of those standards designed to minimize that potential.  To look a blind eye at that potential is communal suicide.
Religion in our day has sadly become extra-curricular, an activity like hockey or ballet.  The argument that rabbis ought to refrain from interfaith marriages grants religiosity or spirituality a dimension of importance that many contemporary Jews and non-Jews may find puzzling.  What’s the big deal?  Does it matter that much?  That sentiment must be understood within the context of a liberal western world that has beat up on the Judeo-Christian ethic for centuries, leaving it fairly wounded and bloodied by now.  Modernity would be more honest were it to equally reject its infatuation with non-European cultures which it claims the white male patriarchal society has ignored for too long.  The liberal university, having raised the profile of non-European cultures at the expense of its own European Judeo-Christian roots, exposes its disdain for its own roots.  The result has been an erosion of religious passion and commitment reflected in the number of college-educated people who have distanced themselves from religion.  There are parents who fear for their children falling into religious behaviors with the same suspicion or fear as when speaking of alcohol or drugs.  But in the end, disregard of religion has made us stupid, for it is impossible to understand ourselves without understanding and appreciating our roots, and it is utterly impossible to understand America without understanding its European Judeo-Christian history.  Is Jewish religiosity a bigger deal than most would care to acknowledge?  Yes—it’s a very big deal.
It isn’t easy saying “No.”  Ask any parent of the twenty-first century and they will admit that “No” is the hardest word to speak.  And that, too, is an affliction which emanates from the erosion of boundaries.  It’s an affliction which manifests itself in unacceptable dress, inappropriate language, and disrespect for figures of authority—teachers, police, clergy, and even political figures.  “Yes” does not identify a boundary, but “no” does.  Rabbis, too, suffer from this affliction.  They love to say “Yes” and hate to say “No.”  But rabbis have an obligation to preserve long-standing traditions, and when it comes to interfaith marriage, it is the “No” that is said today which will best preserve the Judaism of tomorrow. 
One more point: because I am a Conservative Jew, I acknowledge that I am completely uncertain about the rightness of my decision.  I may be 1000% wrong in all this, and my colleagues, some of whom will choose to officiate at interfaith marriages, may be 1000% correct.  But I am emboldened by the fact that they, too, however committed they may be to the rightness of their decision, cannot be certain either.  In a few generations, there will be greater clarity as to which side chose the wiser.  And when that day comes, whatever the verdict, I hope later generations will understand that my decision was made with the best interests of the Jewish community at heart.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


The Western Wall or “kotel” (literally: wall), as it is known in Hebrew and among Jews around the world, is an icon of Jewish identity. That it be regarded as among the holiest sites in Jewish tradition is somewhat debatable, but there is no doubt that it serves as the most concrete reminder and proof of an ancient Jewish presence in Jerusalem. One of the highlights of the Six Day War was the reunification of Jerusalem and the “recapture” of the kotel, which the Jordanians had kept off-limits to Jews since 1948. Virtually every new visitor to Israel will make a stop at the kotel and perhaps place a kvitel (a note of prayer) between the hoary cracks of its golden stone blocks.

Worship at the kotel is under the control of the Rabbi of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, who as a functionary of the Ministry of Religion, keeps the kotel operating under strict Orthodox law. As such, men and women cannot prayer together, a mehitzah or divider separates male and female sections (the women’s section only a third the size of the male section), and women who dare to read from the Torah risk arrest by the police stationed at the wall. Some years ago, during a Midway trip to Israel, our group of 20 stood together for Kabbalat Shabbat about as far from the kotel as one could be without leaving the plaza. We were cursed at a couple of times, spat at, and a police officer told us that we were not allowed to do what we were doing. We were praying! Jews praying, inconspicuously, at a Jewish holy site, in the Jewish state, were told by a Jewish police officer, to stop praying. Needless to say, the incident was as bizarre as it was outrageous. And it is incidents of this nature, experienced countless times by other liberal Jewish groups, which has exercised the international Jewish community to the point of demanding equal access to the kotel, an issue that has gone straight to the upper echelons of the Knesset, to Prime Minister Netanyahu himself.

We never secured equal access, but we got a compromise. In January 2016, the government decided to expand a small swath adjacent to the kotel, not presently under the jurisdiction of Rabbi Rabinovitch, with the intent of dedicating it to all liberal Jewish groups who wish to pray at the kotel free of Orthodox harassment. In truth, I was conflicted over the agreement. First, because it left the most recognizable section of the kotel, that part of the kotel that everyone recognizes as the kotel, under Orthodox control. That was wrong because an international symbol of Jewish identity ought to be a place for all Jews, not just some Jews, and certainly not as few Jews as the Orthodox represent. Second, I had many apprehensions about the area to be renovated. That area has never been “cleaned up” as has the main plaza in front of the kotel. That area, also known as Robinson’s Arch, is a living testimony to the Temple’s destruction, complete with stone blocks that fell from the Temple Mount, emptied store fronts, and broken pathways. Whenever I visit Jerusalem, I go to that spot and recite the following:

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was once walking with his disciple Rabbi Joshua near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Joshua looked at the Temple ruins and said: “Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of the Jewish people Israel through the ritual of animal sacrifice lies in ruins!” Then Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness.” For it is written: “Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).  Avot D’Rabbi Natan 11a

I did not want the Israeli government to “clean up” the powerful reminders of destruction in order to allow enhanced access. I want those exhibits of destruction staring us in the face and the face of all Israel, warnings of what could again be, should we ever let down our guard.

As they say, be careful what you wish for. At the end of June 2017, Prime Minister Netanyahu froze the plan to expand the egalitarian prayer space. He did so under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties who threatened to leave and thus break-up Netanyahu’s delicate government coalition if the plan came to fruition. Netanyahu’s retreat from his word and his kowtowing to the Orthodox parties outraged liberal Jews the world over. And there you have it: the kotel has been kidnapped by the ultra-Orthodox of Israel, disenfranchising world Jewry. What to do?

During my service as an officer of the Rabbinical Assembly, I had suggested that the Conservative/Masorti Movement get involved in politics, create our own political party which if sufficiently popular, could win us some seats in the Knesset. It’s a good thing I was generally well-liked because if not, I would have been shot on the spot. No one liked the idea. They raised some good points: Church and state (in this case, synagogue and state) ought to be separate; politics is dirty; let’s never become one with power because it keeps us from speaking truth to power, etc. Then there were my points: We have been speaking truth to power for a long time, and guess what—the Israelis don’t care. We are not part of the government, our indigenous Israeli demographic remains relatively modest, and most Israelis don’t need the kotel as a place of worship. This issue is very much our issue, not theirs. Some have suggested, not without reason, that we be more conscientious in our giving to Israel, assuring that our dollars go to those organizations that reflect our values, that is, Masorti organizations. I have no argument with that, but we still must support Israel through Federation, Israel Bonds, AIPAC, Jewish National Fund, and sundry other organizations whose raison detre is the strengthening of the greatest Jewish miracle of the 20th and 21st centuries—Israel. Nonetheless, however targeted our future giving may be, our fundamental message of egalitarianism and freedom of worship will remain where it presently is, in the sal p’solet (Hebrew for waste-paper basket).

All this should resurrect the political option. It’s not a terrible idea. The fact is that Israel is a Jewish state, and a place where Jews are welcomed to exercise political power as Jews. We don’t need to soft-pedal our Jewishness as we might in America in order to participate in the political process. Israel is different. It is a democratic state and a Jewish state. Our decision to live on the sidelines has simply left us on the side lines—and in the dust. As for the tendency of politics to corrupt, we ought to be a tad more honest. Not every politician is corrupt and the clergy’s distance from the Halls of Government has not made it immune to corruption. Jewish clergy have fared better than others, but we’ve had our share of shondas (embarrassments) with politics playing no role.

The liberal Jewish world is prone to getting sidetracked by issues that ultimately don’t matter. The kotel should be free of Orthodox control, free to all Jews to worship as they please, and a symbol of Jewish unity, not divisiveness. But right now, we are in danger of the kotel crisis directing our energies away from issues that deserve even greater attention. What the Conservative/Masorti movement needs to focus on more than anything else is not why we cannot pray at the kotel, but why so many liberal Jews, see no reason to pray at all. That kotel has been kidnapped. Very sad! But the kotel may end up as a kidnapper, keeping us away from the problems we face right here in North America. Let’s be sure that does not happen. As for our friends in Israel who want to make serious change, start with changing the faces in the Knesset. You’ll get my support.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The other day I went shopping for a dress. Not to worry—it wasn’t for me. Actually, it wasn’t for anybody. I just decided to get on the Internet and google “Bat Mitzvah dress” to see what fashions are being touted these days. I knew I had landed an authentic site when minimizing each close-up of a model, the screen flashed me a “L’chayim!”
One of the last people on earth who should be writing about fashion is me. This may be one of those subliminal, oppositional responses to my father who was a custom tailor men’s clothing designer (in his language—a cutter), or just a personal distaste for shopping. If I need a couple more shirts or a new pair of pants, I head for Sears, and if I don’t find anything there, my safety store is Costco. Iris Apfel, had she the power, would have me arrested for crimes against clothing. Nonetheless, I do think about clothes because Jewish tradition does, and believe it or not, the Torah has what to say about it.
For example, the Torah is concerned about materials, and forbids the combination of wool and linen, known as sha'atnez (pronounced: sha-at-NEZ; see Deuteronomy 22:11). In another example, the Torah instructs us to place tzitzit, fringes, on the four corners of our garments in order to “look at [them] and recall all the commandments of the Lord” (Numbers 15:39). And in the Talmud, we read: “Rav Huna bareh d’Rav Yehoshua wouldn’t walk four amot (literally “cubits,” a cubit approximating about 16 inches) with an uncovered head. He said: the Divine Presence is above my head” (Kiddushin 31a). His custom evolved into the widely-observed tradition of kippah or head covering which we wear during prayer, study, and meals (since prayers are recited at that time).
Dress at synagogue on holy days has become increasingly casual. This is a national trend not only in synagogues but in churches as well. I welcome the change because over the years, many women (and some men) have complained about the burden of having to dress up on a Shabbat, and how if they didn’t have to, they would be more likely to attend services. I know that some might question the sincerity of that complaint, but any barrier to attendance that can be reasonably lifted is worth the risk. Still, that should not be a license to dress thoughtlessly or carelessly. Given the trend toward greater informality in synagogue-wear, what values should our dress convey?
The rabbis speak often of tzeni’ut or modesty in how we behave and how we dress. Tzeni’ut is the value observed by people conscious of living within a divine matrix, in which every point in space is in some way a God point, and every point of our body is, in kind, a connection with God. Modest dress would be simple and unflashy. Tzeni’ut fashion would be dress that covers the body more than it reveals, but not necessarily hiding the body as shameful. There is nothing shameful about our bodies, but within Jewish spiritual consciousness, the holy is always covered. Like a Torah in the ark, or the hallah before the hamotzi blessing, our bodies are not for public display.
Back to my own internet shopping spree, here are a few descriptions of Bat Mitzvah dresses that I came across which are “suitable,” for the big day:

The sultry strapless bodis has a chic sweetheart neckline and is cinched at the waist (Terani)
…this beautiful ensemble drapes to the decadent mid-thigh hem (Rachel Allan)
The seam-sculpted bodice boasts halter styling that shows off your shoulders (Ellie Wilde)
Sweet and sassy, this darling cocktail dress… (Mac Duggal)

The models displaying the various dresses looked far less prepared for praying than they were for clubbing, and none of them looked like thirteen-year-olds.

As I was “shopping,” I was trying to reconcile what was being passed off as legitimate feminine fashion with decades of feminists railing against the objectification of women. What exactly were these revealing, flashy, sexy, “synagogue-friendly” fashions conveying? Was it—
It’s my body and I have the right to show it off, however I want to show it?
I am on the cusp of sexual maturity and I can now declare the lure of my biology?
I remain, as I have been for centuries, a sexualized object, and I willingly embrace that status, no matter how demoralizing it may be?
In all honesty, my shopping spree didn’t last that long, and I did come across sites that offered more modest fare. That’s the good news. Even better is the fact that in our congregation, the people who tend to the modest and unflashy predominate. But there are those Shabbatot when the violations of all good taste are on display, particularly at B’nei Mitzvah ceremonies.
It is said that at the age of 13, our children become adults. And I say—What were the rabbis thinking! The truth is we adults transfer very few responsibilities to B’nei Mitzvah precisely because we know they are not ready. We are not going to give them the right to vote, a license to drive a car, or permission to drink liquor. As parents and grandparents, I hope that we don’t let the sexy and sassy fashion designers or marketers turn them into sexual objects at a time when they are still working through healthy approaches to body image and their own sexuality. Exactly when would be the right time for that anyway? Mommies and Daddies have a very powerful word to keep their children, particularly their daughters, from provocative dress. The word is “No.” It’s not a dirty word and if used, children will not hate parents even as they throw a tantrum for their parents having had the hutzpah to exercise a little parental authority. The tantrum is all about their fear of being unable to withstand the peer pressure to dress as provocatively as their friends. But actually, they do have the inner strength to withstand that pressure. And parents are in a perfect position to help their children discover that strength. Now that’s a fabulous message to pass onto a young person standing on the threshold of maturity!
I’m no fashion maven and as Sears moves closer to bankruptcy, I’m beginning to angst over where to shop in the future. And now I know the Internet will be no substitute. But I do worry about a world in which wardrobe chic is developed by people whose values are antithetical to those of the Torah, and I suspect, feminism as well. It’s time to give a little more thought to how our families dress for synagogue. We owe it to our daughters and sons: when we walk into the synagogue, we should walk in a Jewish way, and not on the runway.

Monday, April 10, 2017


In the following reflection, the bold print represents the traditional words of the Haggadah,
whereas the plain print represents some responses by Rabbi Rank

The Torah refers to four sons:
Not really.  No where do “four sons” appear in the Torah, but the rabbis of old use the paradigm of four to teach us ways of responding to the different kinds of people who may be seated at our seder table.  That’s not a bad idea—one response does not fit all, and we should know how to respond to different people given their particular temperament.  So let’s begin by acknowledging the multiple differences among the Jewish people and the fact that about 50% of them are daughters (i.e., not sons). 

One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question.
If only it were that easy to categorize people.  Let’s make no assumptions about who anyone is.  There’s a little bit of wisdom, wickedness, simplicity and cluelessness in us all.

What does the wise son say?
The translation ought to read, “What does the wise one ask?”

"What are the testimonials, statutes and laws Hashem our God commanded you?"
That’s not what the wise ones ask anymore.  Today the wise ones ask—If there is no evidence of the Israelites being in Egypt beyond the testimony of the Torah itself, why is this story worthy of so central a position in the consciousness of the Jewish people?

You should tell him about the laws of Pesah, that one may eat no dessert after eating the Pesah offering.
Actually, no—that answer is not going to work at all.  The answer to the wise one’s question is this.  It’s a challenging question because on the surface, it alleges Judaism to be based on a lie—which would not be a great thing.  Two responses:  1) the absence of evidence does not mean that the history of the exodus never took place, only that it cannot be verified; 2) but let’s assume the exodus did not take place.  If so, another question would be in order.  What does it say about the character of the Jewish people to have fabricated as its foundational myth a story about redemption and faith?  This is not a story about victory in war or the amassing of wealth, superior intelligence, or some other triumphalist myth.  Rather it is a story of an impoverished and oppressed people with little hope in the future, leaving the certainty of a miserable existence for an uncertain future based solely on their faith in God.  Gutsy—no?  That says a lot about our ancestors and the risks they were willing to take in life to improve their lot.

What does the wicked son say?
Before the question is asked, already this individual is judged.  Let everyone ask the questions they need to ask on a night when questioning itself is evidence of freedom.
"What does this drudgery mean to you?"
Wow—what a loaded translation.  The literal translation of the question is “What does this service mean to you?” and there’s nothing wrong with that question.  Perhaps it is framed as a wicked question only because it is so difficult to answer.  The Haggadah states that “In every generation, it is incumbent upon us to see ourselves as having left Egypt.”  So when this question is asked, it penetrates, because it demands that we actually talk about exodus and freedom from the heart, not the head.  How often we find ourselves in Mitzrayim—a place of plague, darkness, and death.  Will we remain trapped or find a way out? Tonight is the night we need never feel trapped by the Mitzrayims of personal circumstance.  Our faith has shown us a way to exit the place of darkness, but it will be a move not without risks or dangers. 
To you and not to him.
But this is the question—What does this service mean to YOU?  If he knew what it meant to HIM, he may not be so curious as to know what it meant to YOU.  The possibility exists that he knows full well what this service means to HIM, and now he wishes to know in what way his meaning compares or contrasts with yours. 
Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism.
Anyone seated at your seder table has not excluded themselves from the community.  Sitting at the seder table is an affirmation of being part of the community and all who are hungry (for knowledge maybe?) are welcome to come and eat (i.e., ponder the mystery and mythology of Jewish peoplehood).
You should blunt his teeth…
No, no—not after thousands of dollars of orthodonture!!  But in all seriousness, anyone whose intent in answering a question begins with an attempt to put down the questioner is a person who has no idea how to answer a question.
…by saying to him: "It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.
This is almost a real answer.  We do the matzah and the marror and the reclining and the karpas as a way of solidifying our lives with fellow Jews across nations and across continents, across generations both past and future, to be part of a Jewish fabric that professes a Power greater than us and a will to forever evolve toward deeper and deeper levels of freedom.
For me and not for him. If he was there he would not have been redeemed."
Actually, according to a Midrash, only a fifth, 20% of all the Jews in Egypt actually left.  The move to freedom with all the uncertainty such a move entails is not a popular choice.  Choosing the sacred is not and never has been a popular choice.
What does the simple son say?
Whether a question is simple of complicated, all questions deserve our attention.
"What's this?"
I wish we knew what the “this” referred to.  Maybe the answer is “What’s what?  What are you referring to specifically?”  This is a very general question and in order to answer it, we may need to inquire as to the specifics of the query.
You should say to him "With a strong hand Hashem took me out of Egypt, from the house of servitude."
If you can tell a tale of personal redemption, you have become an example for others to emulate.  When Henry would tell the story of his survival in Auschwitz, and how he emerged from the Hell of a Death Camp to become a successful architect, a loving husband and father, a connected Jew, his tale was worth more than 100 readings of the Haggadah.  But his tale also pointed to the deeper truth of the Haggadah, that redemption is real.  Redemption is possible.
And the one who does not know how to ask, you start for him, as the Torah says: "And you should tell your son on that day, saying 'It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.'"
To the ones who do not know how to ask, we should remind them that to ask is a sacred action.  And never be afraid to ask for only through inquiry, curiosity and questioning do we learn, and only through learning and knowledge and wisdom, do we attain freedom.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


When I started out in the rabbi business over 35 years ago, it was rare that any family or friend of the deceased would rise before the gathered and give a eulogy.  Eulogies were left to the professionals and personal reminiscences found their expression during the shivah.  There has been a dramatic change in that paradigm, as anyone who has been to a funeral recently can attest.  Both family and friends take to the podium for some good words, which is precisely what eulogy means, “eu” from the Greek meaning well and “logia” from the Greek meaning speaking.

This protocol shift is probably due to a confluence of changes.  The clergy, in general, have not been living up to their holiness standards, as the media has exposed—as well they should—a host of disillusioning scandals.  The growth in a more casual approach to ritual has diminished the need for clergy at all.  And finally, there is the fact that sometimes clergy just underperformed in the eulogy department, speaking at length philosophically, and perhaps poetically, with little having to do with the deceased.  Or speaking of the deceased at length—but not necessarily the one that was being buried.  A good friend of the family could easily walk away from a funeral with the question—“Who was that rabbi describing anyway?  Not the character I knew…”  And so we have what we have today, lay eulogies in abundance.

When I arrange a funeral, I typically meet with family a day or two before, both to serve as a basis of the eulogy I hope to write, but even more importantly, for the family to remember and reminisce.  It really is very therapeutic.  I begin by asking if anyone from the family would like to speak and nine times out of ten, some of them do.  I will never give a eulogy prior to the family speakers (though once a family demanded that I do) as I’d rather the family say what they need to say without the rabbi doing it for them.  In the final analysis, I have heard some outstanding eulogies penned by personal friends and family of the deceased.  And then there is the occasional disaster.  So again, having had a certain degree of experience in the field, I present the following recommendations for your consideration.  I realize that there is a certain degree of danger in trying to reign in a family’s need for expression at such an emotionally-laden time.  And there is even a tradition that would have rabbis rule as leniently as possibly during a time of sorrow—a sense that whatever is going to bring solace to the family should be permitted even when not 100% within kosher boundaries.  I get all that.  But again, you be the judge regarding the following:

1)      Please do not ask, on the spot, if there is anyone who would like to say a few words about the deceased.  This may work when only a few people are in attendance, but at a large gathering, it opens the possibility of Uncle Sid coming to the podium, unprepared, and beginning to ramble for the next 15 minutes about well…who knows?  It’s Uncle Sid and sometimes he’s on task and sometimes he’s on a flask and you just never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.  Before the first words are spoken at the funeral, there should be a general consensus by the family as to who will be called to speak.

2)      Try to have whatever it is you want to say written down.  In other words, come prepared.  Public speaking may look easy, but it can be very intimidating.  People typically think what they have to say is far briefer than the time it actually takes to say it.  It’s that old quip, attributed to many though true nonetheless, that the people who speak for over an hour do so because they didn’t have enough time to write a shorter speech.  Brevity is beauty and the one who can speak succinctly will hold the attention of the listeners best. 

3)      If you know yourself to be an emotional person, and the possibility exists that you will dissolve into tears mid-eulogy, it’s a good idea to have a back-up speaker who can take over and finish the good words you have prepared.  Watching a person weep in public is heart-wrenching, and trying to hear the words of a person who is sobbing through a eulogy is virtually impossible.  Have your pinch-hitter waiting in the wings.

4)      Granted, it’s no easy task limiting the number of speakers to speak, but the fact is listening to ten speakers speak can be a burden.  It is especially so when the first four speakers have now said about everything that ought to be said at the funeral, the remaining six simply repeating with little variation what already has been said.  You can tell when an audience has reached their eulogy limit when the majority of the chapel consists of people whose heads are bowed low, mostly because they are checking their email.

5)      A great eulogy is one in which the truth is told with dignity.  This is the reason why some funerals will present a greater challenge than others because the truth about a person’s life is not necessarily a story of dignity or integrity.  A eulogy can be colorful and even humorous, under the right conditions, but it shouldn’t be ribald or vulgar.  No one needs a listing of the deceased’s favorite strip clubs, or how he relieved himself the night that he and the speaker were totally smashed.  There’s a place for those stories, and the funeral is not the place.

6)      Finally, and this has got to be my favorite recommendation of all those given, please don’t use the F-word in the eulogy.  There are a number of other words that ought to be avoided but I suspect you catch my drift.  I once sat through a eulogy where the speaker said the F-word eight times (I counted)The first time, people laughed.  The second time, not so much.  Every time thereafter, it was just irritating.  As an addendum, people sometimes feel compelled to apologize to the seated clergy before they actually curse.  I’m not exactly certain why this happens.  Either the apology renders the curse kosher, a sort of soaking and salting of the curse before consumption, or maybe there’s a concern that if a curse enters the rabbi’s virgin ears, his or her head will explode.  I hereby disabuse you of that illusion.  I have personally heard many a curse and so far, my head is intact.  My hair isn’t, but  not due to any profanity, as far as I can tell.

There you have it: six recommendations to help the lay person navigate the emotional waters of speaking well of the dead.  When a child speaks of a parent or a devoted nephew or niece of their loved one, it can be a beautiful moment.  I’ve witnessed those moments.  But we do need some ground rules going forward.  One last recommendation.  You may need to consult this piece at some time in the future.  Cut it out of this paper.  File it, and may you never have to use it for at least 120 years.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


What role does clergy play in Mr. Trump’s America?  To raise hard questions, challenge the pols, and keep the flame of faith burning.

Which was the greater Democratic liability—a flawed candidate or the over-confidence of: we’re right and can’t lose?

Media is inherently biased because people, who make the media, are inherently biased.  That’s why freedom of all presses is essential.

Is it a genuine victory if the final total includes a substantial number that are not votes for you, but votes against the other candidate?

The day after the election was marked by silence and shock.  I tweet it only because I never want to forget it; it was eerie and unsettling.

Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  Sometimes the president is brilliant and sometimes not so much.  That’s called democracy.

The election of 2016 exposed the “sensitive” and liberal Northeast to be oblivious to its neighbors in the Midwest.  Not nice and not smart.

The right wing is plagued by neo-nazi, white supremacists; the left wing by BDSers and atheistic bullies.  Jews need their own new party.

Mr. Trump is not ideologically committed which may be an advantage.  Ideology often keeps us from out-of-the-box solutions that could work.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem may create a Palestinian incentive to negotiate, if they fear it is the first of more losses to come. 

Could Mr. Obama have been more gracious to Mr. Trump in creating a peaceful transition and welcome to the White House?  I think not.

Give Mr. Trump a chance to succeed?  Absolutely!  His success is our success.  Only a fool prays for personal failure.

Whether attended by a multitude or not, the Inauguration was a triumph in representing the peaceful transition of power.

God grants length of years, great wealth, and communal honor to the purveyors of fake news.  Uhm, just kidding…

Ivanka and Jared got Orthodox dispensation to ride during the Shabbat inauguration.  You see—us Conservative Jews were right all along!!

Mr. Trump and Bibi are on good terms.  That is a very welcomed change.  Maybe our allies will begin to think of America as an ally again.

Jared Kushner from New Jersey, special envoy to the Middle East, will bring peace.  Also, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

His followers are not deplorable, but in referencing “American carnage,” depicting an America the equal of a Warsaw ghetto, his language is.

Mr. Trump’s harping on a dystopian America makes him sound like a religious crackpot.  Recommendation:  a new set of speech writers.

For those who despair a Trump presidency, remember that the system is stronger than the man and only diamonds, not presidents, are forever.

I hope the president has thoughts that exceed 140 characters in length.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Being Jewish and being politically liberal almost go hand-in-hand. On average, 75% of Jewish voters have gone Democrat since 1928. That’s higher than any other distinct ethnic grouping. Judge Jonah J. Goldstein (1886-1967), the 1945 Jewish Republican candidate for Mayor of New York City, once quipped, “The Jews have three veltn (worlds): di velt (this world), yenne velt (the next world) and Roosevelt.”

The beginnings of Jewish liberalism can be traced back to a brainy, humble, and influential Sefardic philosopher by the name of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza is sometimes referred to, not inaccurately, as the father of modern Judaism. He was certainly a champion of freedom of thought, freedom of worship, and freedom itself, the value above which there could be no other. He rejected the idea of Jews as the chosen people, or that the Torah was authored by God, or that the prophets were any more than powerful men with deep insights, sometimes correct and at other times wrong. So much of what he believed in, we as liberal Jews, embrace without question. But in 1656, the Talmud Torah Congregation of Amsterdam excommunicated him, forbidding anyone to speak with him, associate with him or help him in anyway. He was ostracized by the Jewish community and in spite of many attempts to lift that ban since, it never was.

Being influential and being right are not the same. Spinoza influenced us for better or worse, and within the “worse category” is the idea that Jews are no better than anyone else. Granted, some among us have used this doctrine as proof of our superiority—intellectually, socially, etc.,—a shallow rendering of an otherwise healthy concept. Chosen-ness is not superiority over others, but is mission among others. We have a mission, dictated some might say by God, to pursue justice and fill an otherwise cruel world with compassion. Denying Jews their chosen-ness is mean-spirited. It is akin to telling proud Americans that their pride is mere arrogance. It’s like telling a child—You’re not special; you have no unique talents. The only one who benefits from lines like those are the psychiatrists who will be earning thousands off your offspring’s future therapy.

Today Jewish liberals pursue a host of causes: advancing the rights of African-Americans, homosexuals, the LGBT community, women, the elderly, the disabled, etc. But if you look closely, another afflicted demographic draws the attention of liberals—Palestinians, who apparently are choking within the stranglehold of Israel. The intermingling of the Palestinian issue with the others caught my attention one day when an impromptu Minneapolis Black Lives Matter demonstration was televised on CNN. Among the signs prominently displayed at the gathering was “Free Palestine.” Free Palestine? What did that have to do with the unarmed black man that a police officer had shot and killed? But such is the new philosophy of the Left: all the oppressed, wherever they are, whatever the cause, must unite for they fight a common enemy—the wealthy and the empowered. Wealth and power are virtually always synonymous with oppressors and despots. The one with authority is the enemy. Of course the Palestinian cause must be championed. Israel is wealthy and empowered, ergo, the enemy. The blithe logic of this equation is so off-base, it is amazing that anyone would fall for it. But Jews do.

Michael Lerner, an American political activist and editor of Tikkun magazine, has long been an exponent of the Left, and in particular, the American Jewish Left. Following the death of Elie Wiesel, he wrote a scandalous piece about Wiesel—a Jewish saint if ever there was one!— in which he exposed the true sine qua non of the Jewish left:

Indeed, Wiesel, though receiving universal fame and honors was no prophet nor someone who really understood the Jewish prophetic tradition. A prophet doesn’t only challenge the errors of other peoples, s/he challenges the distortions and faults of their own people or nation. Wiesel was largely silent about the War in Vietnam, and more importantly, the oppression of the Palestinian people. (The bold print is the publication’s, not mine; Tikkun, A Variety of Perspectives on Elie Wiesel, July 4, 2016)

According to Lerner, the true “prophet” must take on “the distortions and faults of their own people and nation.” What Lerner is really saying here is self-promotional. He is identifying himself as the great prophet of this generation for he, more than anyone else, has earned his reputation by slamming the Jewish American establishment and Israel in particular. It’s his way of saying my credentials are impeccable because I can oppose my own people. Lerner thinks he is being courageous and noble. But Jews who too eagerly scold Israel are playing goody two shoes to a world that does not want an Israel and does not like Jews who are too Jewish. If Lerner were truly speaking to power, he’d try speaking to the powers that want Israel dismantled. But it was the likes of Lerner whom Robert Frost had in mind when he wrote, “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”  

If I sound dismayed with the Left it’s because I am. I am as dismayed with the Left in the teens as I was with the Right in the sixties. The Israel bashing of the left, it’s refusal to assign responsibility to the Palestinians for their own plight, their whitewashing of Palestinian violence as political protest, even blaming the police shootings in America on Israel, is their contribution to helping maintain a conflict that should have been resolved decades ago. Sometimes the rich and powerful are just and the poor and powerless are criminals. That’s not always the case, but the inverse is equally false. Simplistic formulas do not reflect reality.

Not to worry. I would never ask anyone to abandon their liberalism or pursuit of justice. That would make no sense. But should someone tell you that you’re not a true liberal until you demand freedom for Palestine from the hand of the oppressive Zionists, tell them three things: 1) Palestine will free itself when its leadership consents to peaceful co-existence with Israel; 2) people who cherish free thinking don’t tell others what to think; and 3) denying one’s own interests is not proof of objectivity, but the absence of self-esteem, the effects of generations of anti-Semites and Jewish reformists blathering about the evils of chosen-ness, as if feeling special about oneself or one’s people was some moral wrong.