What Judaism Is & What It Isn’t

This video is a reflection of Judaism at its best!
The story below is about Jews protesting in the name of God to protect/enforce the practice of Jewish law.  In point of fact, this story doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Judaism at all:
By Anne Barker of ABC News
As a journalist I’ve covered more than my share of protests. Political protests in Canberra. Unions protesting for better conditions. Angry, loud protests against governments, or against perceived abuses of human rights.I’ve been at violent rallies in East Timor. I’ve had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. I’ve come up against riot police. But I have to admit no protest – indeed no story in my career – has distressed me in the way I was distressed at a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday involving several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews.

I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest – in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats. They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour – to me – was far from charitable or benevolent.As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the
 sound. Suddenly found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on
spitting – on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms. It was like rain, coming at me from all directions – hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses. Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face. Somewhere behind me – I didn’t see him -a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me. I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because
I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough? In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

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They Just Don’t Get IT!

INTRODUCTION:  JTA reported today (1/21/09) that the Rabbinical Council of America had condemned  Rabbi Haskel Lookstein for participating in the National Prayer Service on the morning of President Obama’s inauguration.



It never fails to amaze me how Orthodox rabbis inevitably miss the forest for the trees when it comes to setting priorities and criticizing the behavior of people.  In spite of countless reports and warnings, the OU rabbanim told us for years that Rubashkin meat was kosher even though its production process was a Chillul HaShem!  Spiritual leaders of good will gather together at a special moment in as American history to celebrate and ask for God’s love and blessings and the RCA has no better response then condemn one of their most esteemed members for participating?  Duh!!! The word halacha doesn’t mean “the goal,” it means the way!  Nonsense like this reminds us that regardless of where they live or what knowledge they now have access to some people have never intellectually left the shtetel..  Judaism in general and the RCA in particular would be better served by Rabbis who know that holiness is not limited to the Jewish people and that every path to HaShem is sacred and worthy of our respect.

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The Burning Question…..

Are Jewish Republicans guided by Jewish or Republican scruples?
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Why I Won’t Be Mourning George Carlin

I can’t tell you the exact date when it happened, but I do remember the circumstances.  I was sitting at the kitchen table in my Vancouver condominium (that means it was 1995-1999) eating  dinner while watching TV.  George Carlin was on doing one of his hysterical shticks about the irony or inappropriateness of the names somethings have, e.g. why do they call a graduation a commencement?  It’s the end of school, not the start.  Why do they call it a station wagon? Is it a car that’s not meant to move?….etc.  You get the idea.


Suddenly to my shock, hysterical ol’ hippie-left wing satirist George Carlin comes out with:  “And why do they call Palestinian freedom fighters, terrorists?  And why do they call murderers, Israel Defense Forces?” 


Now I’m not a right wing conservative when it comes to much, including Israeli politics. I supported the Oslo accords and was proud to work at the only Jewish Federation in the North America that annually allocated funds for programs in Israel that brought social services to both, Jewish and Arab children. I don’t believe that everyone who criticizes Israeli policies is an anti-Semite.  I myself have been at times angered and ashamed of how Israelis often treat Arabs, particularly Israeli Arabs.


But the dictionary (Word net) defines a murderer as “a criminal who commits homicide.” Hmmm, according to George Carlin then, a person of Arab descent who carefully implements a plan that  kills dozens Israeli men, women and children on a public bus is a freedom fighter.  And the soldier who tries to foil such efforts and often times ends up killing bombers in an exchange of lethal force is a murderer.  Nope, I must be missing something.  I don’t get it.


Apropos a similar comment about Israelis, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan years ago made the observation that words lose all meaning when the victims of the worst evil man has ever perpetrated on man are themselves accused of being the most evil people on Earth.  Was George Carlin simply guilty of hyperbole in stating his support for the Palestinian people?  Sorry, but this son of a Holocaust survivor who is named for an uncle who is now just some dust around the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is not willing to give Carlin the benefit of doubt. George Carlin knew exactly what he was saying.


Mitchell S. Gilbert

June 23, 2008


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Hearing God’s Voice; It’s Not Just for Folks in the Bible

The following column appear the weekly Shabbat Shalom email-newsletter of Congregation Agudas Achim







If you can conceive of the idea that the simple act of study, learning about anything at all, is actually a form of Divine Revelation, than you can appreciate why for 4,000 years the Jewish people have considered acquiring knowledge the highest priority before saving a life.  To learn something new, is to experience the wonder and awe of God’s creation.


On Monday and Tuesday, June 9th and 10th the Jewish world will celebrate one of the three major Pilgrimage Festivals on our calendar, the holiday of Shavuot.  Considering what Shavuot commemorates,  it’s ironic that it is probably the least observed of the 3  festivals (the others being Sukkot & Passover).     Shavuot celebrates that incredible moment when 50 days after having been freed from slavery, our ancestors met with their Liberator at Mount Sinai.  And it was there that God revealed the Divine Will to them.  The former slaves went from having to answer to taskmasters who ruled over them, to having to answer to a Higher Power that wanted to protect their new found freedom.


Some say God gave the Children of Israel the Ten Commandments (in Hebrew, the 10 Statements); others say the entire Torah, written and oral laws were given in their entirety at Sinai.  Regardless of what documents or specific words you believe were communicated in those momentous moments when the earth  quaked, thunder roared and God’s voice rang out for all to hear, we can all agree on what God was trying to accomplish.  The message was clear and simple regardless of the actual words: you are not alone; there is an order to this universe that you may not be able to readily comprehend;  to know Me is to study that which I have created -so never stop learning; live with one another in civilized communities that are governed by laws that protect your freedom to think, learn, worship and love;  you did not create this world, I did; remember to  treat one another with the same respect and compassion you expect from Me.


Since that fateful-pivotal moment in Jewish history, we have been study God’s words as our ancestors understood them and put them to paper.   We have committed ourselves to learning and following God’s instructions.  Our collective accumulation of our understanding of God’s will we call, Torah.    Personally, I believe that the encounter at Sinai figuratively continues every moment of everyday in every corner of the world where people are growing intellectually. Death is not limited to the cessation of bodily functions, we die spiritually and emotionally when we lose the capacity to continue learning.


Join your community on the evening of Sunday, June 8th at 8 PM when we will gather at Agudas Achim to welcome Shavuot; study some sacred texts together, enjoy a festive meal and hopefully experience the joy and satisfaction of Revelation by learning together as a community.



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Reflections on Parshat Vayehi

This Shabbat we will read of the passing of two of the most important figures in Jewish history.  First, we will conclude the reading of the Book of Genesis with parshat Va-y’hi which reviews the final words and moments of the Patriarch Jacob.  The Haftorah for this week tells of the closing words and moments of King David.  These two monumental figures, each in their own way, had a significant impact on the history and destiny of the Jewish people.  It is surprising  and a bit disappointing to read that Jacob and David depart from this world with words of anger, vengence and bitterness on their lips. Aren’t the learned great characters of the Bible supposed to die grateful for God’s blessings and  proud of the lives and legacies for which they will be known?


At first glance, one might be inclined to wonder if Jacob and David  were not so great after all?  Actually, the fact that these two final episodes in the lives of Jacob and David are included in our sacred texts speaks volumes about Judaism.  We recognize and accept that there the hero’s, kings and prophets of Jewish history were imperfect human beings like the rest of us.   Jewish people are prepared to accept that the contributions of any individual, famous or not, are not  diminished by their character flaws or moments of poor judgement.  Judaism is not a religion that creates astonishing myths and deities out of charismatic figures who were present at the birth of our faith. Rather, we are a practical and humble people who celebrate the privilege of life in this world.  We seek to learn from the accumulated wisdom of our very human ancestors and the loving God who is continually opening our eyes to the wonders of life and creation. 
Hopefully, when that inevitable moment comes when each of us must take stock of our lives and our contributions to this world, we will be as kind and forgiving of ourselves as we are of the Jacobs and Davids of our Jewish past who’s legacies we still celebrate in prayer and song.

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One cannot help but wonder if David Ben Gurion, the founding father of the State of Israel, were alive today he might have any regrets about the powers ceded to the Chief Rabbinate and the unilateral decision to turn the Ministry of Religion over to the exclusive control of Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate.

A quick review of the history of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate would clearly show that it has never been in the business of Tikun Olam (repairing the world) or seeking social justice. Regrettably, the Chief Rabbinate has expended most of it’s energies on maintaining and extending its power over the lives of the people.  It alone maintains the power to determine who is a Jew; who is a rabbi, whose conversion to Judaism is acceptable, who can be married to whom, who can be buried in a Jewish cemetery in Israel, which women are free to remarry and start new lives, which women must stayed “bound” to a marriage that no longer exists.  

For the past three years I’ve had the privilege of teaching an Introduction to Judaism class at the Conservative Synagogue I belong to here in Las Vegas.  Most of the students in the class are taking the course for the purpose of conversion.  In the final weeks of the course we usually turn our studies to the state of world Jewry today.  I’m inevitably embarrassed to have to tell my students that the ordination of the Rabbi of our Conservative congregation would be recognized and he could in turn perform weddings in any country in the world except the Jewish State of Israel!

When a distinguished Orthodox Rabbi such as Marc Angel finds it necessary to publicly deride the office of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, it is time for world Jewry in general and the government of Israel in particular to sit up and take notice of this chronic institutional ailment that is only getting worse with the passage of time.  Rather than being an articulate voice for promoting the noble ideas and values of Judaism, the Chief Rabbinate has become nothing more than a means by which an elite group of Haredi (ultra Orthodox) rabbis work tirelessly….not on the interests of Torah and the Jewish people, but in protecting and concentrating their hold over life in the Jewish State.  Is this what we would ideally want from the people who are supposed to be the primary teachers and spiritual leaders of the people Israel?

I encourage you to read Rabbi Angel’s article and pass it on to others.




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Slipping Out of the Noose


"I see dead people”  Nora Ephron observed to Arianna Huffington apropos Imus and a number of other public figures who find themselves these days in career-ending danger.  Ms. Huffington went on to speak about the tribulations of Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, and John McCain.  I have some reflections on three other individuals in the public spotlight who I believe qualify as "dead people walking" and who I believe are no more or less honorable than Imus except that they know how to slip out the noose of public self implosion.

The Friday evening after Imus made his notorious comment, Jay Leno made the following joke:  "If the jokes don’t seem as good today, the Jewish writers are off for Passover. The Christian writers are off for Good Friday, so the entire monologue is written by Muslim extremists."

Are all Muslim’s exremists? In the days that followed I was confident that we were going to view a press conference that would include 10 young Muslim adults describing how their lives had been shattered and all their good deeds vanquished on the altar of late-night TV humor. I don’t know if Jay Leno is anymore or less bigoted than Imus, but his comment in my book was no less insensitive and intolerant of an American minority group.  Does Leno deserved to be fired?  I guess that’s a moral judgment for his sponsors to make.  As the Imus lynching suggests, the bottom line financial interests of big business determine American values and morality. 

Just a week after Imus showed his racist hand for umpteenth time, the Attorney General of North Carolina declared the innocence of the 3 Duke Lacrosse students charged with rape.  The only victim of this travesty appeared to be the local DA Mike Nifong who was roundly condemned for his rush to indict the 3 team members.

Excuse me, but what about all the race hustlers who hastened to declare back in March, 2006 that had the victim been white, justice would have been swifter?  What  about the remarks of the heroes of the Imus lynching, Rev.’s Sharpton and Jackson who wrote and spoke about the diabolical racist behavior of the Duke Lacrosse team and defended the character of the victim and her struggles as a single African-American mom?  I’m still waiting for these two ministers who are themsleves no strangers to making derogotary comments about minority groups and who have built their careers out of defending Black people who have or may not have been victims of racism, to offer some expression of regret. I’m not holding my breath.

All things considered, I respectfully suggest that the Imus’ rehab program need not consist of anything more than learning how to slip in and out of the noose of self implosion without any mutil-national corporations losing money or showing blood to preditory demagogues.

Mitchell S. Gilbert                                                                                                           April 16, 2007

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Dotty & the Moonies


            Dotty maneuvered between the tables of the diner like a NASCAR driver on his favorite track.  Like any good driver, she sensed the direction and speed of everyone moving within a few feet of her.

            The quite unassuming guy reading the paper thanked her as she placed his tuna on toasted whole wheat with fries down in the space he created upon lifting the paper.  Neither Dotty nor the paper reader really needed a diet that included French fries, but neither were they of a mind these days to miss the opportunity for some satisfying tasty comfort food.  And besides, he was having a Diet Coke with his lunch.

            Back in the kitchen, Renaldo was, as usual, staying a couple of steps ahead of the lunchtime crunch.  In spite of the protestations of Billy, the manager du-jour, Renaldo always kept a few extra burgers cooking even though they hadn’t been ordered; there were enough fries in the works to satisfy any number of old and new lunch patrons looking for affordable quality food without frills.

            The Moonlight Diner had 4 full-time waitresses and an even greater number of part time on-call gals who helped out in a crunch or asked to be scheduled when they were in need of a little extra cash. Not withstanding her 19 years of seniority, the crew of the Moonlight as well as their dozens of regular customers who sought nourishment at one of the diner’s 22 tables or at the counter that sat 12, also called the trough, thought of the place as “Dottie’s.” 

            Dotty had the kind of extroverted, always friendly personality that endeared almost everyone to her.  No matter what the hour, no matter how little sleep or however lousy Dotty physically felt, she always had a smile, a few “darling’s, sweeties and sugars” to sprinkle on all her customers and fellow “Moonies” as the diner’s crew like to refer to themselves.

            Renaldo and Dotty had been working together for almost 9 years now.  While they hardly ever saw each other outside of diner, Renaldo considered her to be his best friend.  When he first came on board, she was the only waitress who was patient with him and didn’t bust his chops during the few weeks it took for him to pick up the speed and contrasting rhythms of Moonlight’s daily schedule.  Six years ago when the call came in the middle of the breakfast rush that his daughter Imelda had been rushed to the ER, it was Dotty who quickly reorganized the Moonies to ensure that food was prepared and the customers served.  That evening, after one of the most gruesome days at the diner, Dotty showed up at Imelda’s hospital bed with a Raggedy Ann doll. 

            While Renaldo was incredibly efficient at managing the kitchen crew and making sure that all of the waitress’s orders received timely attention, you could bet the farm that Dottie’s orders were always given the highest priority.  The feeling of affection and respect were mutual after all these years.  Dotty and Renaldo probably knew and enjoyed each other’s friendship more than they appreciated their aging marriages that were now sustained more out of familiarity and loyalty than love and companionship.

            As he finished the last of his Diet Coke, Dotty presented the tuna’n fries guy with a fresh full glass before he even asked.  “Damn your good” he observed with a grin and a semi-intimidated chuckle. “I better be darling after 19 years of trying to live off tips” she replied.  “Message received” he replied, appreciating the wink sent his way.

            Dotty couldn’t help but notice the big picture of Danny Radcliffe in the middle of the page the tuna’n fries guy was reading.  Without hesitation, she bent back the corner of his paper and observed to his startled face, “That must be a story about the final Harry Potter book that’s coming out soon.” 

            “Exactly” responded tuna’n fries.  “People can’t decide if they should celebrate or mourn the fact that this will be final book in the series,” he noted.

            This brief exchange confirmed what Dotty had a initially suspected when tuna’n fries first sat down, this guy was no dummy and probably didn’t get his hands dirty at whatever job he did for a living. She loved trying to guess the occupations of her customers.

            “Have you read the Harry Potter books?”   Appreciating Dottie’s informality and effort to make conversation, tuna’n fries said “actually no….. I’ve seen all the movies so far, but I haven’t read any of the books.”

            “Read the books Dotty” she demanded.  I don’t know how Rowling’s mind comes up with the stuff she writes about.  Just incredible.  And can you imagine how rich she is?”

            Not lifting his eyes up from the page, tuna’n fries volunteered that “the final book will sell for $35 each.”  Dotty reflected for a moment, “but think of what she’s made from the movies alone!”

             “I’d settle for a day’s interest on her money.” The two smiled and returned to their respective pursuits.

            “Joey, did you clean up table 4?” Dotty screeched.  “Uno momento seniorita.”

           For those who didn’t know her, Dotty might initially seem brazen and pushy.  To Joey and the other Moonies, she was a mom, a big sister, someone they knew they could turn to for advise, a shoulder to cry on, or to cover for them when nature or the telephone called.  

            The rest of day was predictable.  The Friday evening dinner rush was busy, but manageable.  Dotty was glad to be able to call it a day when she got off at 9 PM.  It never failed that she found herself suddenly and totally exhausted as she found her way into the driver’s seat of her 12-year-old Camry that she never remembered wash.

            One would never imagine the boundless energy she displayed at work now watching her climb the stairs to the second floor two-bedroom garden apartment she, her husband Dale of 33 years and their 26-year-old daughter Cathy had called home.

            Dotty always felt sad and rung out when she came home.  She knew exactly what she would find when she opened the door.  The first thing to catch her attention would be the smell.  Since the car accident 6 years ago, Dale had been bed ridden and incontinent.  Cathy, frankly, did a lousy job of taking of her Dad.  She changed and cleaned him up once a day, if she remembered.

            Dotty would find Cathy in front of the tube watching some reality show, munching on salty garbage snacks or chowing down on a gallon of ice cream.  She really hadn’t done much with her life since high school.  And she used Dad’s accident as an excuse to not look for another job after she got canned from the supermarket for always being late and punching out early.  Her depressed disposition, weight and overall surrender of hope condemned Cathy to a life that revolved around food and TV.

            After cleaning up Dale and getting him something to eat, Dotty tackled the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink and made herself of bowl of soup. She took her usual place on the sofa though she only made believe she was watching the TV.  Her mind was someplace more pleasant.

            Tomorrow, she remembered, the usual Saturday customers would be in.  Francine from the dress shop might come by and tell Dotty about some perfect inexpensive pants suit she had put aside for her.  Bobby and Nell will have their usual Saturday brunch about 11 AM and hopefully remember to bring pictures of the new grandbaby.  Howard, who spent the better part of every week on the road with his 18-wheeler would come in about noon and remind Dotty that whenever she was ready he and she would escape on his rig to some far off place where no one could find them.  Wasn’t he just a sweetheart?

After the lunch rush, all the Moonies will pool their lunch time tips and buy a mess of lottery tickets at the convenience store down the block.  Was this the smartest thing for a bunch of struggling slave-laborers to do with their hard earned money?  Probably not, but as they like to tell you in the commercials, you never know, and besides, somebody has to win!

Dotty heard, but didn’t listen to something Cathy was saying about someone on TV.  She leaned back on the sofa, slipped her shoes off, closed her eyes and left the apartment.

 February 2, 2007 – Mitchell S. Gilbert




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Regarding the Status of Gays In the Conservative Movement


The following Letter-to-the Editor appeared in the    January 12, 2007 edition of The New York Jewish Week

The contradictory resolutions of the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly regarding the status of gays certainly leave most Conservative Jews with something to agree or disagree with.

The resolutions that suggest that homosexuality is wrong and that sodomy in particular remains prohibited seem reactionary at best.  Such views are out of step with contemporary perspectives in psychology that reject the idea that homosexuality is symptomatic of developmental dysfunction. With all due respect for the role of the Law Committee, this gay Jew is troubled by the idea of a group of assumingly straight theologians daring to define how I may love my life partner in private. Shall we review the not too short list of Biblical injunctions that have been relegated to the bin of “no longer reasonable, feasible or practical?”

On the other hand, the decision to approve of the ordination of gays is reassuring in that it acknowledges the capacity of gay men and women fulfill the sacred role of being a preacher and teacher in the House of Israel. And it is certainly exciting to know that two gay Jews who have made a lifetime commitment to one another can now enjoy the privilege of celebrating their loving relationship with their friends, family and community through commitment ceremonies.

No significant changes in social roles have taken place without the cries of traditionalists about the undermining of faith and society. In spite of the cognitive dissonance such changes may inflict on a few, the widening of the proverbial gates of society to be more inclusive of those who have been marginalized out of fear and ignorance has yet to result in the dissolution of our maturing civilization.

Mitchell S. Gilbert

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