Monthly Archives: September 2013

Birth Control and Health Care

With the impending arrival of the new health care law(s) the question of whether an employer has to pay for health insurance that might be used for birth control has come back to the table.  Here is my take.

The argument has been made (and is being made) that forcing an employer to pay for medical insurance that might be used for health care can be a violation of that employer’s religious freedom.  That is to say, in a case where the employer believes that the use of birth control is religiously prohibited he or she should not be put in a position to potentially (albeit indirectly) provide access to birth control for employees.  As the argument goes, this violates the employer’s religious rights, because he/she is being legally compelled to do something they believe to be religiously wrong.

I actually see it the other way around.  What right does an employer have to impose his/her religious views on his/her employees?  Imagine the following scenario:  a new law is passed, requiring organizations that employ over 50 people to provide their employees with a $100 food card to the local food store each month.  Then imagine if a Jewish organization said we don’t want to give the food card, because we don’t want it used by people to buy pork products.  After all, Judaism teaches that pork is a prohibited food.  It sounds absurd, because first of all what people eat is their own business, and second of all a Jewish organization would not impose its religious system on others, especially when some of those people might not even be Jewish.

And yet this is exactly what is happening with the birth care/health control argument delineated above.  The employers are essentially saying ‘we want to tell our employees that they should follow our religious belief system.’  If the law was forcing people to use birth control that would be an entirely different story.  But it isn’t.  Some employees may take advantage of that benefit, while others may not.  The truth is the employers don’t know how their employees are using their health care benefits, nor should they.  It is not  their business, and they shouldn’t worry so much about their own religious freedom when they are so ready to violate the religious freedom of others.  


Filed under Uncategorized

A Few Days Off…

Just a reminder that I maintain a ‘screen free’ policy on Yom Tov and Shabbat.  As much as I can during those days I don’t set my face in front of a screen, whether a computer or phone screen.  This of course means no posts for the next 72 hours.  Staying away from the internet might sound like a restriction, but knowing that for the next few days I don’t have to worry about the machines that more and more seem to regulate our lives is actually a kind of freedom.

Give it a try!  The first few hours you will find yourself reaching for your handset or sitting down at your computer.  But after you get used to it you might remember what it feels like to have some actual uninterrupted time.  To think.  To rest.  To talk with someone (face to face).  To read.  To nap.  To take a walk without a phone ringing or a text coming in.  To eat a meal without looking at a phone.  The possibilities are almost endless.  Explore them!  You might miss a text or a call, but you’ll gain something much more precious – sacred time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A New World for Israel?

If someone had said even a few weeks ago that in a year or two Syria would be without its chemical weapons and Iran would be without a nuclear weapons program, you would have said ‘no way, that is not even close to possible.’  And yet here we are, looking at a potential scenario in the Middle East that might be described in exactly that way.  With the Syrians (so far) cooperating in the early stages of a program to eliminate their chemical weapons, and the new Iranian administration exploring with the West a way to retain nuclear power for energy but not for destructive purposes, it is looking like a kinder, gentler, less dangerous Middle East is a possibility.

Israel couldn’t have imagined a more ideal situation.  Yes, there is a long way to go, and a lot still needs to happen.  But if things continue to move in these positive directions, a ‘new’ Middle East would emerge, and that would be a Middle East where Israel was very comfortable.  Her greatest existential threat would be taken off the table (a nuclear armed Iran), and there would no longer be a single country in Israel’s neighborhood harboring weapons of mass destruction.  The dynamics that created this unforeseen situation will be analyzed by policy experts and historians for many a long year.  What will happen in the end we may not know for some time.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend our time trying to figure out not IF peace in the Middle East is possible, but instead HOW it actually came about?  That, as they say, would be a good problem.  Maybe even a great one.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

God Wrestling

Well, we’ve become a bit international.  Yesterday there were hits on the blog from Israel, Germany, Switzerland, and France.  Go figure.  I am not sure how the algorithm works.  I know that certain words are automatically entered into a wordpress database that will cross reference them, and also that the blog posts are searchable.  Whatever the case, that last post about crickets generated some interest.  Are there a lot of cricket fans out there?  Not the sport, the bug, of course.

If I had to guess I would say it was probably the word ‘theology’ that was in the post’s title.  The idea of God is still powerful in the world, and people are continually wrestling with it in their own lives.  People who believe want to find more compelling ways to express their beliefs.  People who don’t believe want to explain why they don’t, want to support their rejection of the Divine with facts and figures.

And then the rest of us.  Those who sometimes do, sometimes don’t.  Those who feel God’s presence, but only briefly and rarely.  Then in the long stretches of wilderness-wandering the vision of God grows fainter and fainter.  Last night the Big Dipper was in the northern sky, but just on the horizon.  Its handle was visible, but the bottom of the ‘pot’ was faded, just hinted at.  For many of us, perhaps most of us, that is our sense of God.  Just there, an outline, on the periphery, but when you turn to look for a full view it has faded, leaving only glimmers and traces.

One of the Torah’s great stories is that of Jacob wrestling with the angel.  That is God-wrestling at its finest.  Not sure what we have in our grasp, something that seems so familiar, and yet wholly strange, even alien.  But we hold on for dear life, clinging, challenging, refusing to let go.  In a sense we are all God wrestlers, the believers and the non-believers alike, engaged in  the process and wondering what it means.  As Woody Allen said, ‘to you I am an atheist, to God I am the loyal opposition.’  The truth is we need both.  We can keep each other honest, keep an eye on each other.  Neither side will ever win the argument, but if we can have the discussion with respect and honesty, both sides will learn from it.  And I sense, in that alone, God will say ‘well done.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Cricket’s Theology

During the night a cricket found its way into our sanctuary.  It settled somewhere near the organ, in a corner not far from a door and daylight.  Worshippers began to arrive in small groups of two or three.  They greeted one another with smiles and handshakes, kisses and the occasional hug.  Gradually a community formed, preparing for a service, for prayer and standing before God, continuing traditions that are thousands of years old yet still meaningful today.

 The cricket was oblivious to it all.  It chirped away as the organ began to play, as the first words of prayer were offered.  Hopes and dreams were privately expressed, prayers recited, songs sung, a sermon delivered and sacred scriptures chanted.  There is an ebb and flow to the service, quiet moments juxtaposed with loud exultations, praises to God, the shaking of palm fronds and willow branches, the fragrant smell of the etrog.  An arc with an intended apotheosis, long sought, seldom achieved.  A holy grail?  But glimpses, from the periphery of our vision.

 The cricket never knew.  Chirping away, adding its own note to the music and song, punctuating a phrase here and there and quieting when anyone drew near.  It had no concern for God and history, no questions about fate and purpose.  The service concluded.  Greetings and wishes for a good holiday, a good Shabbat, were extended.  Food, that other form of communal worship, waited in another room.  Within a few short minutes the chapel was empty again.  The eternal light flickered while the ark stood silent, the Torahs resting until called forth the next time.  Just the cricket was left, and it paid it all no mind.  Continuing its song, attending to its business.  Perhaps it sensed a quieting, and in that space found its own light.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Guns and the New Normal

This is the new normal.  A gunman enters a crowded place, whether a school, a movie theater, or a place of work.  In a few short minutes a tragedy ensues.  Multiple dead, many wounded.  Lives forever altered.  The gunman dead.  We stop for a few moments, watch with horrid fascination as the news covers the story, listen to the pundits, and then we move on, close the chapter, and get back to our own lives and concerns.  

I don’t know what is worse – that we’ve gotten used to it, that it has become almost common place, just another shooting, or that we’ve given up challenging the gun lobby about the crazy gun laws (or lack thereof) in this country.  Is it worse to be disinterested or hopeless?  Do we now accept the fact that we live in a country where these shootings happen with some regularity?  It seems that way.  There has been almost no response from the gun control side of the debate.  I suppose they figure that if nothing changed after children were gunned down in an elementary school in Connecticut, nothing will change when adults are gunned down in a military facility in Washington DC.  The new normal.  I imagine the NRA leadership is toasting itself over the last two days:  ‘Look how far we’ve come!  No one even blinks an eye!  No one even challenges us!’

I wonder if they believe the DC gunman should have been able to purchase his weapons with impunity.  That a man with a troubled history and two gun related brushes with the law should be able to just walk into a gun shop, pass a background check, and walk out with shotgun is a bit mystifying, to say the least.  

Judaism is quite clear on this issue.  The rights of the community trump the rights of the individual every time.  If the individual right to own a weapon is impinging on the communal right to be safe, the individual’s rights are curtailed.  That is the old normal.  Maybe it is time to figure out a way to get back to it.


Filed under Uncategorized

Sukkah – a TEMPORARY Dwelling

IMG_1661The visual image of the sukkah at my shul (rather large, although you can’t tell in the photo) next to the enormous wall that is the outside of our main sanctuary is in a way THE message of Sukkot. One a beautiful, strong, symbol of success and permanence. The other a temporary hut that could be blown over by a strong wind. That we are fortunate to spend most of the year in one and not the other is something to be deeply grateful for. And seeing them together reminds us that the line between one and the other is so fine, the distance between them so small.

Leave a comment

September 18, 2013 · 7:54 pm