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The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

Solar Eclipse In Judaism

Last week the world witnessed another wonder of our universe, the Solar Eclipse. This eclipse was visible from Southeast Asia and was the longest eclipse in 18 years and will remain the longest for the next 123 years.

The eclipse has long been associated with mythology and supernatural acts. If you are a fan of the TV show, Heroes, you know what I mean.

In Southeast Asia, many Hindus were gripped by fear. According to Hindu  tradition, the eclipse can cause harm to unborn children. Many ancient cultures attached mythological meaning to solar eclipses. Today, we know that the eclipse is part of the solar pattern that is predictable to the second.

What about Judaism? What do we say about the solar eclipse?

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What Is The Appropriate Reaction?

This post has been cross-posted to DovBear. – more discussion there.

In addition to my work as the Rabbi at Pacific Jewish Center at the Shul on the Beach I am also a Law Student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I am part of the evening program and completed my first year of evening classes in May.

In December I was subjected to mid-terms in each of my courses. Many Law School exams are long fact patterns that require the student to analyze the facts and apply all the law that is relevant to the facts and then argue why the law should or should not apply to those facts. Usually these fact patterns are fiction and these essays are typically 3 – 4 hours in duration.

My torts professor gave us a very interesting fact pattern. The basics of the case were, two young boys named Israel and Jacob enter an elevator on their way to school. Along the way the elevator malfunctions and the boys are suspended between the 10th and 11th floor. The doors malfunction as well and the doors are opened. The younger boy, Jacob is 5 and he tries to jump from the stuck elevator to the 10th floor below. Jacob jumps and Read the rest of this entry »

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Where Is The Outrage? | The Plight of Middle Eastern Jewry

This post has been cross posted to DovBear – great discussion there.

Do Anglo/American Jews care enough about our middle-eastern Jewish brothers and sisters?

Yesterday DovBear posted a really great Op-Ed piece from the NY Times.

In fact. before checking his blog I even emailed the article to him as I assumed he would find it interesting.

Of course, I was too late as it had already been posted!

What occurred subsequent to his posting of the article was even more interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Human Beings Are Social Beings

I have had my critiques of David Brooks from the NY Times.

But today,  I think he got it right. Really right. Like, 100% right.

He was asked about the “Big Three”. No, not GM, Ford, Chrysler. No, not Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Not, Clemenceau, Wilson, George either.

The new Big Three is Guns, Gays and Abortion. Read the rest of this entry »

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How To Avoid “Holier-Than-Thou” Syndrome

I saw a very interesting column in the New York Times today.

The column presents some evidence that a large chasm exists between what an individual will claim they would do in a given situation and what one would actually do in that given situation.

In other words our actions betray our feelings of righteousness. (How funny is it that the columnist’s named is Benedict? well, it made me smile…).

As I was reading the article, which I highly recommend I kept thinking: Why is this idea so natural to me? Where else have I seen this?

The answer was really obvious.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Genius: The Modern View and the Torah View

The most emailed column on today is this column on genius. In this Op-Ed column, from David Brooks the old question of nature vs. nurture is raised.

Are there people born with elevated talents and skill or are some people the lucky ones who were in the right place at the right time and were nurtured into their high level abilities?

I am not sure what compelled Mr. Brooks to write this column, it seems random and disconnected from today’s news.
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What Do Boys Want?

The NY Times has a very interesting article chronicling the research that Disney has been conducting to figure out what boys want.

Disney has had unprecedented success marketing to young teenage girls. With TV shows about pop-stars and princess and fairy lands, young teenage girls flock to Disney. But what about the boys? Read the rest of this entry »

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Matza in the NY Times and In Our TImes

To be fair I have had my share of criticism of the New York Times. I don’t call them anti-Semitic though, that just reminds me of Uncle Leo in the Shower Head Seinfeld episode. Uncle Leo’s burger is medium instead of rare so he assumes the chef must be an anti-Semite… That doesn’t stop these guys from going in that direction. (I found them in a google search result, I have never heard of them before…) Maybe Uncle Leo writes for the “American Thinker”.

And when the NY Times has an article that paints Jews in a positive light I feel equally compelled to raise the issue, Read the rest of this entry »

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Irresponsible Journalism From the New York Times

the NY Times has a section in their online newspaper called “The Lede”. It is often chock full of interesting links and thought on the news of the times. I have been inspired to post links to The Lede before in my blog post about “Bus Ads in London proclaiming there is no GD”.

Today, The Lede has a tremendously misleading post about women’s rights. Women have been fighting for equality of rights in America for years. Their right to vote was only recently (relatively) added to the Bill of Rights. Title VII and Title IX are recent acts of legislature to attempt to enforce equality for women.

It is not as if the United States has ALWAYS treated women equally. But now that we do treat women equally in America we are permitted to look down upon anyone who does not (sarcasm emphasized). Read the rest of this entry »

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You Have Got to See This! | It’s about Lego

I love Lego. My brother and I spent countless hours in our childhood building magnificent Lego creations. My son Rami has recently added Lego building to his skill set – he is quite good!

If I had to choose one toy to play with I would certainly choose Lego. It is the perfect toy.

Don’t believe me? You need to check this out… Read the rest of this entry »

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Our (more) Casual President

You may have noticed I steer clear of politics. This post is NOT about politics. It is about the last three presidents. It is more about their attitudes than anything else. Again, this is not about politics.

Even before this New York Times article hit the streets I had made the same observation. It seems that Presidents Obama and Bush differ on more than just politics. President Obama’s White House has a decidedly different feel.

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All About Manners

18 and Under – Making Room for Miss Manners Is a Parenting Basic –

This NY Times article written by a pediatrician follows the usual course of “today’s generation has bad manners, but it is not a new problem, it has always been this way… etc.”. The doctor recommends a book called Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children. Great title by the way. Perfect? Really? Where do I sign up? Maybe a bit of hyperbole there…?

The aforementioned book makes one very important point that we have been underlining over and over again in our Messilas Yesharim classes. The idea that we are all born as selfish children. The book has its own approach to dealing with this issue. I raise the issue here to remind myself that that childishness that we are born with, the child inside us, he never grows up, he is with us until we leave this earth. Our challenge is to channel that child and not allow the selfishness inside us dictate our decisions. When we recognize that the child inside us that used to say “gimme, gimme” and if it had the chance would eat jellybeans for every meal is actually still inside us we can begin to deal with it. The child’s message changes from jellybeans to newer more sophisticated version of jellybeans. But he is still there and always will be there. Our job is to the boss of that child and allow our adult, mature loving selves to persevere. You may find some real good advice in the Messilas Yesharim classes in this regard.

Well, actually the doctor’s favorite part of the book is to me a big mistake as well the root of these problems in the first place! Here is the excerpt from the article where the doctor praises Miss Manners approach…

“I like Miss Manners’ approach because it lets a parent respect a child’s intellectual and emotional privacy: I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.”

The message here is that you can think whatever you want just you need to keep it to yourself. This is actually good advice as a last resort but it cannot be the right way to develop good people. The only way to develop good people is to develop the skills necessary to be good people. Hiding your feelings is a useful tool but it is not the most important skill in becoming a good person.

The missing ingredient here is trying to see the good in others as opposed to finding their flaws and then “hating” them for it – privately of course. If a child says that they dislike someone then the way to help correct that behavior is by helping the child see all the good that the other person does and all the nice things about that other person. This is a very rare and very basic skill. If we only see bad in the other person to the point that we feel negatively towards them then we need to adjust how we view them. We can do this and this is actually developing the adult in us and taking charge of our child inside us.

Imagine if the entire world was teaching their children to see the good in other people instead of the negative. The world would definitely be a better place! Not to mention all the therapy and other side-effects that would be avoided by people not having to suppress their negative feelings!

I am going to start imagining that world now, so I will end this post…

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Seen On A Bus Ad In London: “There’s Probably No God…” and Humanists

I live in Los Angeles where we are famous for our billboards. I grew up near New York City famous for its Madison Avenue and advertising. Normally the danger of these advertisements is the images they supply. The images are designed to be salacious and titillating. Apparently London has another whole set of issues they need to deal with on their bus advertisements.

I have a problem with the tone of the advertisement. “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. There are 2 problems with this. First of all how is it that “you” are qualified to tell me the “probability” of the existence of God? Have you done the research? Have you even read the Bible? Seriously, you are telling me that there is probably no God? I guess I was wondering about that but now that you mention it – you’re right, there’s probably no God. Really? Second of all there is a flaw in the logic here. A logical fallacy that cannot be ignored is evident. The argument assumes that if one believes in God then they are worrying and if there is no God then you have no worries. This is false on both accounts. In fact I would say that if there is a God then you don’t need to worry as God must have some sort of plan using Godly wisdom which we cannot fathom. If there is no God then your worries are real. You are part of a random universe subject to the randomness of time. Now that is something to worry about!

The concept for the ads comes from, ironically enough, a blog post. The blogger is upset that London buses were promoting Biblical scriptures. Not everyone believes in God so she found the ads offensive. This is agree with. Scripture on buses reminds me of one of Pacific Jewish Center community member Milton Simon’s favorite ideas. “I have the truth, and you must obey”. Meaning plastering scripture on the side of a bus tells the non-believer that he is a) a bad person and b) going to hell. I find this offensive as well.

The good news is that a blog post can have a big impact!

The upshot of all this is the surging movement of Humanists. They are behind these ads as well as some others which are not as offensive. The ads which are running on Washington D.C. buses read “Why believe in God? Be good for goodness’ sake”. Interesting concept. The truth is that this would be nice. People actually being good for goodness’ sake. But again another fallacy exists in this ad. Belief in God is not so that we should be “good”. We believe that goodness does exist without God. I gave a lecture about this and you can hear / download it on this blog. God is just there to give us a hand so that we know what good is in a given situation. Sometimes it’s too hard for us to know what “good” is. Yes, most of time we have an intuition as to what it is right and what is good. We need God’s higher wisdom to help us out when we don’t know what to do! It happens. Also, sometimes we want to grow. Sometimes we want to be better than good. How can we work on ourselves to be better? We are given instructions in this regard from God as well. So it is nice for the world to be good for goodness’s sake but we want more that just good. We want a life of growth. And we can have it!

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