Saturday, May 23, 2015

Religion strives to find a balance between tradition and change.

Greetings to everyone and Hag Sameah
I am sending this recent newspaper column about how all religions are striving to innovate  and to preserve the ancient and traditional aspects that give meaning to the faith. I was just in new york attending a conference as an orientation for  the new high holy day prayerbook (mahzor). The conference got to thinking about why change is needed in religion and why it is important that we are careful about how we change traditions. Enjoy the read and your comments are always welcome.
Shalom and Good yom tov

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shalom to everyone.
I wrote this piece in my newspaper column. It relates to the pain that I feel about the events in Baltimore this week. As a native who grew up in Baltimore and lived in the downtown area when I was a graduate student, I could not watch these events on television without feeling sick to my stomach. I hope you will take the time to read and react to this column.
Let Peace and Justice prevail in Baltimore.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

For you Civil War Buffs this month marked the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Grant. Take a look at the history of what clergy on both sides of the war said about the mission of religion.

Thanks for taking the time to read my column in the newspaper. Your comments are always welcome.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

How business and the almighty dollar saved the religious freedom restoration act

It has been a few months since I visited my blog. Here is my recent column from the newspaper. I hope all my readers are well and I thank you in advance of  you taking the time to read it. All the best.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Blog at the Central Conference of American Rabbis Meeting in Philadelphia.

Day One: Blog at the CCAR convention in Philadelphia

Dear Linda & Rabbi Brad,

Shalom to all of my congregants! Wherever I go to a conference you are there with me so I have a few highlights of programs I attended that I hope will be of interest to you. Enjoy and please feel free to express your opinion.


I have arrived in Philadelphia at the CCAR conference. First I want to thank the Congregation and the Board of Directors for supporting my professional growth with my rabbinic colleagues. As always there are lots of workshops and programs. So it is my practice to help you feel that you are right there with me as I continue to learn and listen.


On Monday afternoon I attended a panel discussion of Professor Sylvia Fishman of Brandeis University and MSNBC analyst Johnathan Alter who grew up in a Reform Congregation in Chicago. Dr. Fishman talked about the Jewish community and the data academics use to assess the planning for policy of local Jewish communities now and in the future. She emphasized the impact of marriage patterns for the future and discussed the profound differences between families who choose not to send their kids to religious school after B'nai Mitzvah versus those who do.


That really makes a difference in contributing to a greater likelihood of Jewish affiliation in the future. Secondly, Dr. Fishman discussed the interfaith marriage issue with a more urgent view on why Jewish communities need to do what they can to encourage Jewish youth to marry Jews and to be more proactive in recruiting converts to Judaism.  All of what she was speaking about plays into the formation of Jewish identity in America. She sees the American Jewish community as robust but not without serious challenges to our future coming from unaffiliated and uninvolved youth in our communities.


Johnathan Alter took a completely different approach. He had just returned from two weeks in Israel. He was less sociological and more pragmatic on a political level. He drove across the point to the rabbis that we need to be more outspoken on our views about Israel and to resist being afraid of the consequences of creating angry congregants. He likened it to rabbis who spoke out against the Vietnam War and to the Civil Rights Movement. He talked about the impact of what he perceived as souring relations between the American administration and the nations of the world versus Israel. Yes, he discussed the upcoming elections in Israel which are today. He tried to draw a connection that the impact of these political issues is having a direct effect on the sense of Identity that Jews have about themselves.


The upshot is that we continue to study demographic patterns of Jewish birth rates, voting patterns, temple affiliations and the results seemed to be mixed blessings in America, fear in Europe, danger in Israel, anti-Israel feelings spreading around the world and, on the other hand, opportunities to express our religious beliefs like never before. So being Jewish requires us to be proactive on many different levels.

The next program I want to focus on is the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe today. This was sponsored by the World Union of Progressive Judaism.


There were several speakers including a liberal Reform Rabbi serving a congregations in France. He is a native of France and received his ordination at the liberal rabbinical seminary in Germany that trains rabbis to serve Progressive Jewish congregation throughout Europe. Another speaker represented the United States Religious Freedom Institute which is sponsored by the US State Department. Our own Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, recently retired, was confirmed by the Senate to become the Ambassador of Religious Freedom. More to come on that institution.


This issue of anti-Semitism is truly a complex problem in Europe from many different areas ranging from the politics of Europe, to the emergence of Islamic anti-Semitism, to economic issues with the Muslim communities all have contributed to the problems Jews face.


The first problem discussed is the right wing movements gaining momentum throughout Europe. The right wing French National Front, which has long been hostile to Jews, has taken on the Muslim population but they have not let go of their feelings against the Jews either. This seems to be the case for what we would call right wing Christians in Europe, whether it is in France or other countries in Western Europe. The Jews are caught in the middle again.


Another issue that is hot right now in Europe is the attempt in many countries in Western Europe to outlaw ritual circumcision and laws of kosher slaughtering. Much of that comes from the left wing in Europe. On those issues we find Jews and Muslims joining together. Yet it is a real battle for Jewish communities to fight the onslaught of opposition.

The French Rabbi in Paris said that the internet is the most serious problem. His insight was that these Muslims live physically in France or any other nation in Europe but emotionally and spiritually they live far away in the lands of jihad. They live in the dream of ISIS and other groups. That is the greatest threat. They told us that the French government had decreed to shut down jihadi websites. Too little too late.


Hungary is the newest hot spot of anti-Semitic activity. The government puts up monuments to those who lost their lives in WWII but never mention Jews. The new leadership refuses to acknowledge Hungary's collaboration with the Nazis. Right wing political groups hostile to Jews and Romas (Gypsies) are flourishing. There is real concern in Hungary.


In Russia you find that while the government has not overtly endorsed anti-Semitism, the tone of the Russian government's controlled media is increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.


From the Reform perspective Rabbi Friedlander spoke about the problem of what the World Union of Progressive Judaism should do in Europe for its congregations. The Israeli government takes care of getting Jews out of the country. The Joint Distribution Committee provides social services to struggling Jewish communities in Europe. Friedlander says WUPJ is about taking care of spiritual needs and focusing on youth in the congregations. They have seen a definite decline in Jewish youth participating in summer camps and other activities. That may in part be due to the hostile climate against Jews. So the World Union is now struggling to find a role that is helpful to progressive congregations.  They understand that American Jews seem to be uninterested and "blind," to the problems of European anti-Semitism. American Jews focus on their own nation and Israel but not Europe. So who keeps up the pressure on European governments to oppose anti-Semitic political groups and hate speech? That is a major concern of Jewish communities in Europe.


Thanks for taking the time to read this blog from Philadelphia. More to come.

Rabbi Brad L. Bloom

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torah from Around the World: Parashat Vayetze

Torah from Around the World #248

Jacob and Rachel Facing Infertility // Parashat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
By Rabbi Brad L. Bloom, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Yam, Hilton Head, South Carolina and doctoral student in modern Jewish history at the Hebrew Union College

The Torah describes a particularly difficult conversation on the issue of infertility between Jacob and his cherished Rachel. She is frustrated and angry that she has not been able to conceive a child and she reaches out to Jacob for support. The Torah says: “When Rachel saw she had borne no children to Jacob, Rachel became envious of her sister [Leah] and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or I will die’” (Genesis 30:1).

One would have hoped for a more compassionate reply: “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel and he said, ‘Can I take the place of God who has denied you the fruit of your womb’” (Genesis 30:2). The sages were also perplexed by the seemingly callous response to her plea. The commentator Rashi taught that ‘Rachel asked Jacob to pray for her or else the world would die.’

Our sages of blessed memory in one Midrash criticized Jacob. “Said the Holy One blessed be He; ‘Is this the way to answer the troubled?’”(Genesis Rabbah). 

In another Midrash God said to Jacob, “Is this how one replies to an embittered woman? By your life, your sons will stand before her son (Joseph) and he will tell them (Genesis 50:19) ‘Am I a substitute for God?’” (Genesis Rabbah). The point here is that years later, Leah’s sons will ultimately stand before Joseph, second in command to Pharaoh, fearing that Joseph will take vengeance on them after Jacob’s death. All of this, according to the Midrash, is because Jacob spoke harshly to his wife Rachel in her time of distress.

Some commentators try to explain that Jacob was not trying to be hurtful to Rachel but that he was frustrated that her petition should have been presented to God and not him.  The commentator Radak wrote, “Jacob was angry with her for attributing powers to him rather than God alone. If she had merely asked Jacob to intercede for her she would have been justified and he would not have become angry.” P.334

Other sources demonstrate that Rachel did not take kindly to her husband’s harsh reaction. In one Midrash, Rachel confronts Jacob on his behavior reminding him that his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham acted with more compassion than he did. In fact, she criticizes him that both men prayed for their wives. Why couldn't Jacob have done so? Rachel was not afraid to stand up to Jacob and register her disappointment with him implying that he was not the man his father and grandfather were. (Genesis Rabbah)

Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel all contended with initially not being able to conceive and they all directed their prayers to God for a child.  His response in the eyes of some sages was deemed inadequate in those days as it would be for a husband to respond that way to his wife today. A husband has to think carefully how to react to the pain of his wife who is having trouble conceiving a child. By responding the way he did, Jacob does not seem to share with her the deep seated hurt she is experiencing. Is his seemingly insensitive and caustic response indicative of his true underlying feeling of helplessness?  

There is a great deal that this story in Genesis can teach men and women struggling with fertility issues. Medical technology can determine which gender is potentially the source of the medical issue. Mental health professionals provide counseling for the couple. The reality today is that it can be a man who cannot impregnate his wife. He too now can feel shame and a blow to his self esteem and ego that often times characterizes the state of mind that a woman feels. How would he want his wife to respond to his plea or prayer to be able to fertilize her egg?

We cannot change Jacob’s response to Rachel. Yet, men need to think carefully about what they can say to their wives in order to be comforting and supportive of them during this difficult time.

Why couldn't Jacob have just made a prayer instead of reminding her that he was not a god? Men can learn that understanding and compassion goes a long way towards helping a spouse cope with the issue of infertility. Moreover a man should remember that his role in this kind of situation is not automatically to solve the problem. Instead it is to stand by his wife and offer the emotional support she needs.  

Prayer can certainly make all the difference in the world in how the couple together faces the emotional and spiritual challenges of trying to become pregnant. It is true that Jacob or any man cannot simply grant his wife’s request to conceive as it is not in her power to grant his hopes to all of a sudden be able to impregnate his wife. Now that there are so many avenues both medical and psychological available to couples it becomes clear why this is a journey shared together. Progressive Jewish congregations treat this issue seriously. With men and women serving as rabbis and some congregations even offering programs that help couples find the support they need from their religious community, couples can blend the medical, mental health and religious communities into a positive tapestry of hope. Hopefully the strength and consolation that a couple can receive in their prayers from the Eternal One can support them to fulfill their dream towards receiving the blessing of a child. Neither man nor woman can play the role of God nor should they close their hearts off to the prayers of the other.

Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Yam in Hilton Head, South Carolina and is a doctoral student in modern Jewish history at the Hebrew Union College. You can follow Rabbi Bloom on his blog 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The dome of the Rock and the Western Wall: When symbols become the source of a religious conflict.

Shalom to everyone
I have written in my newspaper column a piece about the recent conflicts on the Temple Mount. We have Islam's Dome of the Rock and the El Aksa Mosque and the Western Wall. This piece discusses the history of these two sacred spaces. Thank you for taking the time to read this column. As always your reactions and feedback is always appreciated.