Et Shaarei Ratzon: A remarkable piyyut about the Binding of Isaac, for Rosh HaShanah

This article is to introduce people to the remarkable piyyut Et Shaarei Ratzon, which I will be discussing with the Rabbinical Assembly in September 2022. See here for the text of the piyyut and two English translations. Of the thousands of piyyutim written over the centuries, only a very small fraction are still recited regularly in any contemporary synagogues.  Over the past 800 years, the piyyut " Et Sha'arei Ratzon Le-hipateach, " which retells the story of the Binding of Isaac, has become one of the best known and most beloved piyyutim in the Sephardic and Mizrahi traditions.  No one can explain definitively why some piyyutim attain great popularity in many different liturgical traditions, while others are neglected and fade into history.  However, some of " Et Sha'arei Ratzon "'s distinctive features may have been factors in its massive popularity, including its clear language, its unusually emotional content, and the poet's own unconventiona

Responding to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade

  Note sent to the United Synagogue of Hoboken community, Sunday June 26, 2022:  Dear friends,  Many of us have been especially focused on the Supreme Court decision  released on Friday that overturns Roe vs. Wade and eliminates a federally assured right to abortion. Already, trigger laws in several states make most abortions illegal currently or imminently. The comments below are excerpted from my comments during yesterday's Shabbat morning service  at the United Synagogue of Hoboken. There is a lot to say about the issue of abortion from a Jewish point of view.  And there is a lot of disagreement.  But I would like to share with you  three fundamental points of agreement across the Jewish spectrum.  In Judaism, the fetus does not have the same rights of personhood as the mother, at ANY point during pregnancy.   The classic traditional Jewish source expressing this is the Mishnah, Ohalot 7:6, Mishnah_Oholot.7.6?vhe=Torat_ Emet_357&lang=bi&with=all

Second chances: In the Torah and Jewish tradition, and in American history (Parashat Behaalotecha / Juneteenth)

(Delivered to the United Synagogue of Hoboken, June 18, 2022) One of the most fascinating rabbis in the time of the Talmud was Rabbi Akiba. Growing up in meager circumstances, he never had the chance to attend school as a child.  He was illiterate until age 40, and he worked as a shepherd.  When he fell in love with Rachel, the daughter of one of the wealthy philanthropists of Jerusalem, her father effectively disowned her because he were so appalled that she was marrying someone who was so ignorant that he couldn’t read or write.  But at age 40 , Akiba was watching his sheep and went to a brook to get some water, and he noticed that in this brook, there were drops of water that were falling on a stone, and over the course of many many years, the drops of water had carved a hole in the stone. It occurred to Akiba:  if these drops of water, just a little at a time, were able to carve a hole in this rock, maybe if I invest some effort every day, eventually I may be able to read.    At th

Seder Trivia Game, 2021-22 edition

  At our synagogue's congregational seders for the last few years, we have played the following game:  I have collected unusual Pesach stories, and shared three such stories with the community:  two true stories, and one fictional story.  Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false.   (If you listen to Wait, wait, don't tell me , you get the idea, except that only one story is false.) You can see previous editions of this game here . This is what was presented at our congregational seder in 2021.  2 are true; one is fictional. Answers at the bottom! ============================== ========================= The Passovers of 2020 and 2021 have truly remarkable in Jewish history.  Our trivia game this year includes three stories about pandemic-era Passover observances; 2 of these stories are true and one is false.  #1: Seder 2020 required a lot of changes in the seder procedure - coming a

Wordle in the Torah? (Parashat Pekudei)

With all the turmoil and tragedy in our world, some of us are glad to have Wordle to distract us. You probably know that Wordle is the incredibly popular word guessing and unscrambling game that a software developer in Brooklyn created as a present for his spouse, and in November 2021 it had been played by a total of 90 people.  Now it is played by millions every day (many of whom, for unknown reasons, are eager to tell you their score).  Believe it or not, there are connections between Wordle and this week’s Torah portion of Pekudei, which describes the garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the other Kohanim.  The Kohen Gadol would wear a Choshen Mishpat, often translated as “the breastplate of decision,” which looked a little like a Wordle grid, with four rows of three precious stones, each stone corresponding to one of the tribes of Israel and engraved with the name of that tribe.  The Torah portion goes on to tell us about the “Urim ve-Tumim,” which were to be put in the Ch

Looking up, or looking down? (Parashat Beshalach)

  Looking up, or looking down?  Let me share a memory from January 2021, otherwise known as the “middle pandemic period.”   My daughter is a student at a high school in New York City.  Last winter, she was attending two days a week in person, and three days remotely.  In a normal world she would be commuting by bus or subway, but in the winter of 2021 we were not comfortable with this -- so when she would be going to school, I would drive her in and pick her up.   Whereas Fridays were normally designated for her as remote days, there were some occasional Fridays that were in-person days for her, but only for half the day.  One such day took place in January 2021.  On that day, it was clear that it would just not be worth it for me to drive into the city, drop her off, return to Hoboken, and then less than an hour later, drive back into the city to pick her up. It would be much better for me to stay in the city and work from remote.  In a normal world, I would have parked the car, found

Sevivon Take Five....

  Last year on the 5th night of Hanukkah, I posted the piano part of this Hanukkah song. Carol Lester then added vocals. This year we re-recorded it and are excited to bring you the most appropriate song to sing on the 5th night of Hanukkah while you spin your five-sided dreidel… with appreciation to the great Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck. Happy Hanukkah!