Thursday, March 19, 2015

WOMEN – WHAT WE WANT….IS IT A REVOLUTION OR ...?

Last week, my wonderful amazing husband forwarded the following article to me, which I am now sharing with all of you:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/orthodox-feminists-say-they-dont-want-a-revolution/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=6c4b23fdaa-2015_03_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-6c4b23fdaa-54937205

I read it (please do access it and at least go through a bit of it) and was constantly shaking my head. I remember when Malka Bina began her ground-breaking institution of Matan; have been involved with so many people who are part of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance), have watched the development of the YCT community and its addressing of women scholars and leaders, and so on. Here is another issue in which I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, in that I WAS THERE as these things happened!

And now we have Maharat, Rabbah Yoetzet and other titles for women to take leadership roles in Halachically oriented communities, if not in all Orthodox and right-pitched Jewish observance spaces. When I explain the contours of my life to others, they often reply “Oh so you are a Rabbi.” Well…… not exactly! While I have often been asked why am I not a Rabbi or the appropriate analogous role, I reply that I may function in a very similar manner, but do not carry the title because that was just not part of my experiential context in my formative years. Yes, I teach and lecture in many different venues, I advise people on various matters of Jewish observance, teach potential converts, learn Jewish texts, run a Partnership Minyan in our home monthly, and do answer various questions that are asked of me regarding Halachic matters, using appropriate resources. Professionally, I carry the title of Dr. as an academic degree. I can honestly say that I am not sure whether or not I would do anything differently if the soul that inhabits my body was born and exposed to the opportunities that are available today. Yes, I would have loved to have a Drisha or a Hadar or a Hartman Institute or PARDES or any number of other learning options that abound today when I was in my 20s, but alas, it is my colleagues and friends who have created these institutions and we have collectively paved this road for women today to take their place in our more observantly based Jewish world of learning and scholarship and leadership.

My dearest Aunt Sandy, with whom we often spend wonderful time in Israel, reminded me some time ago that when I was little, I apparently stated that I wanted to be the first Orthodox woman Rabbi. Funny to be reminded of dreams and aspirations from so long ago! But the reality is that I am in fact living those dreams and aspirations, just in a way somewhat different than new options that are available to women today.

So is this a revolution, to revisit the question posed in the article that was brought to my attention? I have a very distinct memory of that word from a high school play with this line and its double meaning, “Yes, the peasants are revolting!” Ha! Ha! No, I do not think this is a revolution but rather an evolution – a process that has taken time, decades really, to evolve as those of us in religiously observant spaces really continue that time-honored process of Gemara (Talmud) in which we consider what it is we are doing, are allowed to do, should be doing, have developed a custom of doing, and so on. We follow our Talmudic teachers in looking around, considering all of the options and possibilities, interface various aspects of our lives as observant Jews, and then reconsider the possibilities, sometimes retracting earlier positions and taking on the practices of others we have observed.

As a mother of three daughters, I am thrilled with the options that they and my younger colleagues have to achieve notice for their scholarship, skill sets and leadership in Modern Orthodox and other religiously observant spaces. I am so glad that we have evolved to this point.

As we do so, we should not forget that this is not only NOT a revolution; nor is it a totally new phenomenon. Pesach is coming and here we speak of Miriam, Yocheved, Shua and Puah, four women (and here we should include Pharaoh’s daughter as well) who took on important leadership roles, meaningful initiatives, saved lives and did so much. Truly they and so many others from the narratives of our Tanach and Talmud and years of Jewish History that has evolved are wonderful role models for today’s Jewish observant scholarly women who take their place amongst our leaders. This is what women want – the respect, consideration, and notice to which they are entitled. Hopefully we have evolved to that point!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sanctified Texts, You Gotta Love Them



Every now and then in my learning I imagine meetings between people and what those conversations might entail. So, in that vein, Charles Kimball (When Religion Becomes Evil) – I would like to introduce you to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning).

You see, both of you love texts. Both of you are committed to protecting the integrity of the institution of religion and sanctified texts that serve to define it. Both of you speak about the potential problems of reading texts out of context, especially when one desires to make a case for what they believe (ahem, KNOW) to be true. Both of you talk about the need for humility, to remember that there are many ways to interpret the texts that are foundational to who we are and what we believe.

Mr. Kimball, as you speak so eloquently about the danger of misusing and abusing these important texts, so too does Rabbi Sacks. Allow me to use his words:

Every religion based on a body of holy writings, a sacred scripture, contains hard texts: passages which, if taken literally and applied directly, would lead to results at odds with that religion’s deepest moral convictions. There are passages in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran that, taken in isolation, are radically inconsistent with the larger commitments of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons as bearers of God’s image. (The Great Partnership, pp. 251 – 252)

In these words, Rabbi Sacks gives us all clear warning. God gives us our sanctified texts to use and wrestle with, NOT to claim ownership and absolute knowledge of them. How true it is that too many people in our world riddled today with religious extremism just love to claim that ownership and knowledge, using what amounts to no more than slight and misused soundbites to further their own sense of correctitude and slam the rest of us over the head with their “I know better than you” stance. Mr. Kimball, you most correctly point out that religion does indeed become a force for evil, and not good, when this is done.

How sad and painful this is for us; how horrifying it must be for God. God, who wants to guide us and help us to be better, to rise above the challenges and missteps so overwhelmingly present in our world, gives us the gift of these sanctified texts – to pour over, to think about, to use carefully and humbly.

I learned a pithy but quite dangerous saying from a colleague of mine a while ago that goes like this: ‘My Leviticus is better and bigger than your Leviticus!’ Remembering that the book of VaYikra, or Leviticus, is about ritual purity – that is trying to be the best we can in our world, resisting the practices of Egypt that went against every standard of human rights we uphold, observing discipline in eating, remembering the purpose of worship, balancing what it means to be a human being in this world while confronting its challenges and so much else.

As I often like to remind all of us, the very middle of this book, which is the middle of the Five Books of Moses reminds us to LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD. Beautiful! If you want to take one phrase out of context, I cast my vote for this one. Yes, there are wars that are difficult to read about in the Torah, annihilations that we do not fully understand, practices of other people that were heinous, rebellion and so much more. But, all of this is part of the much larger picture of which the central message is LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD.

Just imagine what kind of world we could build if THIS was the text we would take out of its framework and throw around all the time. So here is an idea, for those of us who JUST LOVE text, choose the text the best exemplifies the best of who we are and what we can become -- Here are a few suggestions -- Do not judge another until you have reached his place; Judge the other one favorably; Do not place a stumbling block before the blind, etc. -- and just point that text with a loving finger and gentle voice at everyone you know. Leave the “I will take you down” texts in favor of the “I want to build you up” texts. That is the point of Torah, of the New Testament and the Koran…. And too often that is forgotten or lost. Thank you Charles Kimball and Rabbi Sacks for reminding us how much we should just … Love those texts!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Parshat Terumah, Masechet Ta'anit, and an Upcoming Simcha

During the last two weeks, there has been a flurry of emails going back and forth between Yoella, Rachie (two of our daughters) and me regarding dresses for everyone for Rachie and (her fiancĂ©e) Liz’s upcoming wedding ceremony in June. Rachie stated that she thinks this detail has been one of the most exciting in the planning process. I find that interesting, as her own style is rather tailored and no-nonsense and pretty detailed dresses are generally not her thing. Of course, she and Liz have also determined colors and other visual details of the day and ceremony. So I am particularly excited that fashion has now become an item in Rachie’s life, well sort of anyway.

This week we read Parshat Terumah. It too is about pretty colors and materials and all that is glittery and valuable. Of course, this discussion is related to the myriad of details regarding the Mishkan, the sanctuary that the B’nai Yisrael are to make for G-d during their travels in the desert. There are actually 13 different materials that go into the process of creating the Mishkan just as instructed by G-d, through his agent, Moshe. Everyone is to participate in the process. In verse 8 of Chapter 25 in the beginning of our Parsha we read: They shall make a sanctuary for me, so that I can dwell amongst them. Rashi teaches us that that the value of the sanctuary is precisely that G-d is to dwell in it and only in this way is it truly a MIKDASH. As such, while all of the materials and fabrics and woods and other prescribed details are complicated and specific, they are all related to the special nature of what makes this MIKDASH a place worthy of G-d’s SHECHINAH, dwelling in it.

The Tabernacle itself, the Menorah, coverings, special tables, utensils, wood planks and all other details are every so carefully indicated, each and every one contributing to the entirety of this place and space being worthy of G-d’s presence. Rashi and Rashbam teach that the Menorah should be designed so that lit candles all point to the center, showing unity and an upward lifting towards G-d and G-d’s presence. Sforno adds that the six branches of the Menorah represent the six different domains of intellectual knowledge that we as humans pursue, and that all such endeavors should always be directed towards the central branch, indicative of the authority of Torah and Ribbonu shel Olam.

There are ten curtains of the Tabernacle, which the Or HaChayim states are reminiscent of the ten statements with which G-d created our world as we are taught in Pirke Avot 5.1. Martin Buber and others actually show the correlation between each detail of the process of creating the Mishkan and the ten utterances of G-d in the creation of the world. Everything means and stands for something. Just as G-d carefully and intentionally created space for us in our world, we create space for G-d in carefully constructing the Mishkan. It is in this spirit, according to the Gur Aryeh, that G-d does aid us in every detail along the way, through the noted directives given.

Interestingly enough, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posits that many think of this as one of the most boring aspects of the Torah. Who gets so wrapped up in design detail? But, in fact, we do NOT know the details that went into G-d’s plan as briefly narrated in the beginning of Bereshit, as it appears to us as merely fiat – G-d said and it was – and we see this TEN TIMES. However, the fact is that it must have been extremely detailed, as we have discerned in so many attempted explanations of how our world came into being. Think of it as somewhat like when you go to a beautiful affair, say a wedding, or walk into a gorgeous house or building and are not bothered with all of the details of the work that went into creating or building it.

The multitudinous degree of details indicated for the Mishkan and later the Beit HaMikdash do not even come close to what G-d must have done in planning and bringing our world and existence into being. Perhaps, just perhaps the beginning of this lengthy text of such detail in Parshat Terumah is to remind us of this. In fact, we see the use of these elements in so much of the ritual practice of the B’nai Yisrael during, for example, the elaborate and highly detailed service of the Kohen HaGadol in the Avodah service of Yom HaKippurim in Masechet Yoma of the Talmud, and reflected in our Machzorim.

The Aron (Holy Ark), the Shulhan (table) and the Menorah are to represent the integration of our reaching for G-d, our intellectual pursuits and the prosperity of the lives we have been granted. So this Mishkan and the later Beit HaMikdash are clearly planned intentionally and carefully to remind us, that within the beauty of the ceremony, we are to be mindful of its purpose.

I completed Masechet Ta’anit one week ago today, so allow me to share a thought from that text. Ta’anit is clearly about Fast Days and difficult times in our calendar as suggested by the name, but I want to think about how it ends for a moment. Ta’anit begins with extensive discussion about rain and the many different types of rain. Water is quickly equated with life early on in the Masechet and this theme is carried through the pages of this text.

On the other end of the discussion about the declaring of emergency fast days in the presence of tragedy or threat to well-being, often associated with the lack of much needed rains, the text ends with the joyfulness and details of Tu B’Av, stated to be one of the two happiest days in the Jewish calendar, the other being Yom Kippur. This has come to be thought of the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day, if you will.

There is much talk again, of adornment and beauty, as we have seen in Parshat Terumah, this time regarding the young maidens who will go out to find their future mates, the jewelry with which they will be adorned and how this gathering is to proceed, probably so it would not devolve into some type of superficial speed-dating. Within this discussion, there is a very interesting, many would say, curious detail. All of the maidens are to borrow their dresses and all of them are to be of white linen. This was so that no one would feel that they were not worthy of being included – in fact the higher-class girls would borrow their dresses from those of a group that was not as high in society. The important factors were indicated as girls were to be valued for their inner beauty and character traits, not some superficial notion of external beauty, which withers and dies with time. So here the focus is not on the beauty of things, but on personality traits.

This is likewise true in the representation of the various design elements of the Mishkan as reflected in our Parshat this week. So too it is the focus for the simcha our family is planning. The dresses will be beautiful, the place bucolic, but what is most important is the people that will be participating in the ceremony and the intentionality and meaning of the ceremony itself, as was the case with all of B’nai Yisrael participating in the specific details of creating the Mishkan.

Shabbat Shalom to all.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Let it rain; let it rain (or snow)! The simplicity and complexity of a rain dance

So first of all, I must begin with a disclaimer. I am writing from the land of the storm that never happened as opposed to our daughters, friends and all those in Tundra Land aka Boston. While I am still singing “let it snow, let it snow” – you can sing along to “Let it go” the new anthem of so much – I know that those in our northern states have had quite enough. DAYENU!

Did you know that in Masechet Taanit, the Talmudic tractate on fasting (not eating, and refraining from other activities that bring pleasure) we learn that a snow storm is worth five rain storms and that any meteorologist could learn a great deal about different types and purposes of rain from our Rabbinic teachers of the first five centuries of our Common Era? So maybe THAT was what they were doing in their spare time – creating the first ever Weather Channel!

At times in my learning, I am not sure if I am reading a graduate level course book on rain and its science (well sort of) or a part of the Talmud. It really is rather impressive on many levels, even if not scientifically sophisticated so to speak, given their lack of technology and the American weather model and the European weather model, etc.

There are instructions of what to do when there are droughts, what prayers to say, what practices to refrain from and how to ask God for rain! There are practices indicated for individuals and for the community collectives. Like an intellectual and multi-faceted rain dance, if you think about it!

I kept wondering why most of this tractate on taking on fasts in which one deprives oneself of food and drink and so much else is so focused on RAIN and types of RAIN WATER. Oh, right, that is because as we learn in the pages of the tractate, WATER = LIFE! It’s really a rather simple equation.

I always thought that there was something truly beautiful and soulful about the verbal pageantry of the Prayer for Rain that we all say at the end of Sukkot in the fall to ask God for rain in Israel during the identified season for meaningful precipitation. But now, as I am living with this text for two hours daily for a few weeks, I have an increased understanding of the true meaning of rain and water in our lives. We cannot take it for granted and we must remember that its very presence in our lives is critical for survival and health. So first of all for those of you in schools and shuls and learning spaces, go to your favorite environmental sustainability learning resources. One I highly recommend is www.canfeinesharim.org

It is no secret that in Israel there is so much work and efforts expended in this area and water is clearly not taken for granted. That water is what provides us with our food and drink, materials for our lives and work, the means to create shelter and so much else. It is for that reason that the communities of the time of the Talmud are told to withhold these basic aspects of their lives and beseech God for water, for rain.

In so many of our texts, water and water images are used to speak of God, Torah (even the image of being a tree of life as trees need, yup you guessed it, water!) and every aspect of life itself. We see this in our pretty literature books, such as Psalms/Tehilim.

Equally powerful as the Prayer for Rain is the Prayer for Dew that we say at the end of the rainy season, on Pesach/Passover. I am acutely aware of what congregations do continue to pray “Moreed HaTal” – God, who brings down the dew – and those who do not. I consciously say this during the rain-free months, to acknowledge that God sustains us during these times as well.

Native Americans historically and continue to do elaborate rain dances in the hot days of the summer, particularly in regions in which rain does not fall (Oh, so where did this idea come from?) and these have their physical as well as spiritual pageantry as the adherents acknowledge that without water, they will not survive. This appreciation of the environment and what we get from it as well as the responsibility we must show in using its resources appropriately is so important. Perhaps we should all think for a moment and realize that water is indeed life, it is Torah, it is our healthy crops and food, it is God providing for us in this world, and we need it and need to use it properly and with gratitude.

So as Boston braces for more snow, and we are promised more in the Philadelphia region, I will sing, “Let it snow!” – maybe here and of course, in Israel, not so much in Boston. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Siyyum Masechet Yoma: Saving A Life Trumps All

We are taught in our Torah that the purpose of Mitzvot is to enable our meaningful living process and that we are to live by them, not die by them. This is a foundational value and teaching that provides the underpinning for so much of Halacha. Our most important teachers of Jewish Law constantly remind us of this in their writings while holding onto the importance and the centrality of Mitzvot as a set of dictates for how we live.

Today, I have just completed learning MasechetYoma, the tractate about Yom Kippur. Most of the tractate, seven of its eight chapters, is about the pageantry of the Yom Kippur sacrifices and the role of the Kohanim as we recall during our recitation of the Avodah service on Yom Kippur. While sacrifices and the preparedness of those who offer them is the central subject of so much of this Tractate, it is important for us to consider Chapter Eight which references practices with which we are more familiar and associate with this day in our annual cycle of Jewish living – fasting, refraining from bathing and anointing ourselves, and other practices that are part of our daily lives.

As we complete learning this important text, the last four topics are most interesting, and I believe, the most pivotal. First of all, we again amplify the point that saving a life is tantamount to all other things. It is in the context of this discussion that we learn about the laws requiring us to feed those who need food and are physically unable to fast. We are taught that if there is even a doubt that someone’s life is at stake, we err on the side of caution, remembering this is not meant as a test of deprivation per se, for its own sake. For only in this way are we observing the basic principle that we are to live by the Mitzvot, not die because of them. We break down doors to save babies who are locked in rooms, we pull apart the rubble of a building that has collapsed to save lives, and we are strongly reminded of the importance of life above all else. Not only that, but we are adjured to rush to do these things and not question them. We are taught that the person who runs to save a life, even while “breaking” other prohibitions, is to be greatly praised. And yes, this COUNTS for Yom Kippur as well!

After this discussion, we learn about Teshuva, true and honest and intentional repentance in which we are dedicated to being better and more refined human beings. This is a soul-searching and dedicated process that is not to be taken glibly and it must be sincere. This is for ALL of us, including our leaders and those that would have us believe that they have some type of authority.

As this text and discussion continues, we are shown stories of acts of humility by the greatest of those leaders at that time, including the great lengths they would go to ask for forgiveness if they had wronged another. I kept thinking about the unique characteristic of Jewish leadership as taught in our sources that they are to lead by following the authority of G-d, not by doing as they please because of their position. It was for this precise reason that we are taught in Deuteronomy in one of Moshe’s last speeches that our leaders are to keep a Sefer Torah (book of our law) by them at all times. This was to remind them that they are stewards who act on behalf of G-d, nothing more. If this sense of accountability is not maintained, then these are not leaders! What a standard to truly think about and apply.

These stories of humility are to teach us that we all stand before G-d, that our leaders are to exemplify this standing before G-d, and that we are all to work together to protect life and preserve the dignity of each other. This is what Yom Kippur is about and this is what we are to carry with us every day of our lives as we consider how we are to purify ourselves before G-d: Remember the importance of life – yours and that of those around you; lead with compassion and empathy; always be ready to acknowledge your weaknesses as a human being; and intentionally act at all times with humility.

As we look around us at the leaders of our world and the many abuses in which they engage and the lack of consideration for others that is too often thrown in our faces, we must remember that these lessons are at the heart of our lives as those who believe in a Greater Power to Whom we are accountable. This is, I think, the BEST of religion!

We say a special prayer when we complete such a learning unit. This is mine -- to truly live and exhibit these foundational teachings in our lives!

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, January 12, 2015

WHAT A WEEK!!!!!!!! Remembering who we are and what we are supposed to be doing here in our world!



Where do I begin? Okay, what about here… “Je suis Charlie, je suis juif, je suis Ahmed.” This quote by Harvey Weinstein regarding the past week in France and the incredible assault on free speech and our basic freedom to believe, think and say as we believe captures so much of what is going on at this moment in time as we begin 2015. I am reminded by the events of this past week both internationally and even in my own personal life of the poem ‘The Hangman” by Maurice Ogden in 1951 – you remember that one, right? The Hangman comes to town to hang the Jew, the black, the communist, the homosexual, and everyone else while the bystander just looks on and does nothing, and then in the end, he too is hanged. It is chilling, terrifying, and way too real when we consider how an amazing historical reminder of a film called Selma is out during Ferguson and other cities of unrest; and free speech is being attacked in our world reminiscent of the book burnings of Krystallnacht and so many similar attacks through the Middle Ages and into present time. And of course, this is 2015!!!! Haven’t we evolved!?

We read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) the following sentiment: What was will be and what will be was; those who say it is a new phenomenon were not paying attention the many times before the same thing happened. Or in the words of Frances Bacon and so many others who reformulated this thought (kind of like re-tweeting in today’s world), “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

I have written here and elsewhere often as well as spoken about the fluid identity of our younger generation, their reluctance to claim allegiance to a specific ideology and just be. Can one wonder? I think clearly we are on to something, because these allegiances and our adherence to them are too often fulfilling the words of Ogden’s horrific prophecy.

Returning to France for a moment, do you know who Lassana Bathily is? I certainly hope so, and if not, you should. Lassana is a Muslim employee at the Kosher grocery where more people were killed in France this past week and hostages were taken. Due to his quick thinking and action, he was able to save many of the people who were in the store at the time by putting them in the walk in freezer and disconnecting the electricity so they would be alright until they could be ushered out. Here is a Muslim man who said, when he was interviewed, that "We are brothers. It's not a question of Jews, of Christians or of Muslims. We're all in the same boat, we have to help each other to get out of this crisis." Parenthetically it should be stated that when police first encountered him, he was arrested because they thought he was with the terrorists. Sadly, he understood and just stayed calm. Of course, now everyone knows what a hero and a human being (“mensch” if you will) he is!

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks teaches that we all have to work together to end this hatred. We have heard voices recently asking for mainstream Muslim sanctions against the extremist behaviors that we have seen too often in our world. I was looking at a montage of world events this past year and too often and in a disproportionately large amount, the horrors were related to Islamicists, whom we MUST distinguish from Muslims, who are people of faith and ethic like so many others in our world.

As Tom Lehrer taught in his own philosophical treatise penned as a popular song, this group hates that group and the other group hates this group and EVERYONE hates the Jews.

ENOUGH!!!! Let 2015 be a year of standing together with other peoples of faith and collectively protect our freedom to believe, write and think and just live! “Je suis Charlie, je suis juif, je suis Ahmed.”

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Thought for the New Year of 2015…. An Antidote to the Tom Lehrer anthem

We all remember the song about hate. This group hates that group and that group hates another group and everyone hates the …. So it goes, and so it has gone for way too many decades, centuries, since the beginning of recorded history as reflected in the Torah/Jewish Bible, when Cain and Abel had their tragic altercation. Our Rabbis tell us that there is an important missing text in that story, namely WHAT EXACTLY WAS SAID from one brother to another before our first recorded incident of fratricide. There have been a plethora of theories about what words could have possible led to such horrible results. What could they have possible been?

The day after New Year’s, here I am playing “Sunday morning,” you know, sitting with my coffee and croissant and reading the paper. Lo and behold, I come across this great commentary by E.J. Dionne entitled “Great questions about the future of religious faith” in The Philadelphia Inquirer. It can be found at http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/inquirer/20150101_Great_questions_about_the_future_of_religious_faith.html It is a quick and highly recommended read.

His point is beautiful in its simplicity. He explains that the desired mark of our pluralistic society is that we ask questions of each other and begins by quoting the well-known story of Rabbis from long ago. One asks the other “Why is it that you Rabbis almost always put your teachings in the form of a question?” The answer – That is a very good question! We learned long ago that “Questions unite, answers divide.” There is actually a question, interestingly enough, as to whom that was attributed. Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel are the leading contenders. Does it really matter? The point is that questions open doors for dialogue; declarative and absolute statements close door and draw boundaries, too often resulting in disastrous results.

Throughout the same issue of our local paper, there are many articles about QUESTIONS in the New Year. What will happen in the Palestinian debate over statehood and self governance? What will be the future of too many places in the world that are presently mired in conflict? What is going on in this country between our police forces and the people that they are supposed to be invested in protecting? How are we to heal these insurmountable rifts in our fractured world?

Dionne goes on to laud the new Pope who is really dedicated to addressing so many of these questions of conflict from the position of his foundationally held Christian values? What are those values, you ask? GREAT QUESTION!!!! These values, interestingly enough are more often than not shared by people who uphold different variances of religious faith as central to their lives. The problem is that too often those same people are so wrapped up in the accuracy and correctitude of their personal beliefs, that these become facts and the questions are lost.

I am an avid Law and Order fan. I skip the first three minutes because even with scripts and stage blood, I cannot stand to look at violence. I then LOVE watching the process. In this process, supposedly hardened people adamantly hold on to their stories of what happened and justify their despicable actions vehemently with declarative statements. As the hour winds down, the guilty party will often break down and move from statements to questions (e.g. What was I supposed to do? Can you understand how I thought that …?) Imagine if they would have begun with questions, the script would have been so different. While this might not make for great television and ratings, it definitely is something to consider in looking at the real life conflicts that are so part of our existence daily.

So what might these questions look like? Let us join John Lennon for a moment and IMAGINE. What if the Jews asked the Christians what Jesus means to them and show respect for that perspective? What if the Monotheists who fight over whose understanding of G-d is better ask Buddhists about their ways of peace? What if Protestants could ask Catholics about the importance of sacraments? What if Moslems really considered what submission means? What if religious and self identified ritualistically observant persons of faith could ask the questions that would have them look at less observant individuals with new found respect for their ethically informed behaviors? And what if we all remember what our Rabbis (teachers) of old show us – that questions are far more compelling than answers, for one question can and does spark many answers, and there is not just ONE correct way!

As 2015 dawns, let us commit ourselves to these questions. Let us resolve that we will work to understand each other and ourselves better and come to terms as much with what we are not sure that we know and ask, while questioning what we are so sure that we know along the way as well. Maybe then and only then will we learn to listen and share the beautiful ways of our religious faiths instead of using them as the weapons they were never meant to be. Then we will be able to write the new version of the Tom Lehrer song together and show that finally we have learned the lesson of Cain and Abel – NOT TO LEAVE OUT QUESTIONS! KUM BA YA!