Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chanukah: ENGAGE!

"Engage"- Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
When Captain Picard gave that order (or it is 'will give' since it takes place in the future? But I digress...) he was communicating "go ahead" or "fulfill the command I just gave".

I'd like to unpack a few definitions of the word "engage":
  1. To take part: PARTICIPATE
  2. To give attention to something
  3. To come together and interlock
    (via Merriam Webster)
We are quickly approaching Chanukah. With the first night being December 20th, it's less than 3 weeks away! That makes this the perfect time to begin to engage (give attention to) the story of Chanukah and prepare ourselves to engage (take part) in recounting the Chanukah story, lighting the Menorah and playing dreidel etc... Allow me to also point out that lighting the Menorah is a wonderful way to engage (come together with) the Jewish people worldwide and remember Hashem's mighty deliverance of his people, Israel.  

This year I was asked to to share some of my thoughts on Chanukah in an article for the Winter 2012 UMJC newsletter, and it made it on the front page!

I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

In case you haven't heard, the Jewish Annotated New Testament was just released.  This volume is a study edition of the NSRV translation of the New Testament with commentary and essays by Jewish Biblical scholars (including Jewish New Testament scholars) such as Marc Zvi Brettler, Amy-Jill Levine, Daniel Boyarin, and Mark Nanos.

Being the first study Bible of its kind, it's getting some attention on the web; here are some of the articles I've come across so far:

The Rosh Pina Project blog posts a review by Mark Oppenheimer entitled "'The more I study New Testament,' Dr. Levine said, 'the better Jew I become.'"

An article by Reform Rabbi Larry Bach entitled "My New, New Testament," in which he writes, "the New Testament — this New Testament, in particular — is a book that belongs in every Jewish home."

Rebecca at the Mystical Politics blog, who herself contributed the JANT article on diving beings, points to a New York Times article on the JANT quoting Amy-Jill Levine and herself

Said New York Times article.

John Hobbins from the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog asks in "Jews Reading the New Testament": "Is that just another way of saying, 'Jews behaving badly'?"

And the most extensive review I've seen, by Messianic Jewish rabbi/author Derek Leman.

Feel free to post further reviews in the comments section as you come across them.  (It looks like this volume might make a great holiday gift!)

Disclaimer: I have not received a free copy of the Jewish Annotated New Testament.  However, I would welcome one!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Quote of the Day: Daniel S. Nevins on "Rebranding Tzedakah" (from Sh'ma Journal)

From Sh'ma Journal:
Tzedakah today exists in a fallen state much more akin to "Charity" than to the obligatory actions of righteousness idealized in rabbinic sources.  We have created a philanthropic culture that lavishes honor upon donors who have the "vision to invest" in chosen initiatives.  Meanwhile, ordinary communal needs such as poverty relief, elder care, and subsidized Jewish education suffer from benign neglect.

Part of our failure is cultural.  we have internalized Western concepts of individual agency and patronage, wherever they lead, and largely abandoned the Jewish ideal of obligation. But other aspects of the failure are our inability to develop a coherent sense of priorities in Jewish spending and our graduated expectations of giving based upon financial capacity. Even as they seek to accommodate the demands of "donor relations," Jewish professionals should define and project a countercultural ideal of tzedakah, not as charity, but as the responsible and righteous use of resources.

One way to do this is to reclaim ancient categories that align with a broad set of Jewish obligations.  This is not a list of charities, but of sacred spending that is mandatory for a religious Jews.
  • Peah, shikhecha v'leket -- emergency food relief for the local, regional, and global poor. This is a mitzvah that the rabbis say has no limit, yet they advise that at least 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of income from field crops be surrendered to the poor. So, too, should contemporary wage earners give a tangible amount to support the hungry and vulnerable in their community and around the world. From the behavior of Boaz toward the Moabite woman Ruth, we see that such gifts are not limited to the Jewish poor.
  • Teruma u'ma'aser -- a tithe (10 percent?) for religious services. In ancient times, this supported the landless priests and Levites who ran the Temple, taught Torah, and represented the community. Today, we could apply these funds to the religious organizations needed by the Jewish community: synagogues, day schools, seminaries, and summer camps, which sustain and deepen Jewish identity.
  • Ma'aser Sheni -- a second tithe amounting to 9 percent, most of which was reserved for a family pilgrimage fund, while the rest was distributed to the local poor. In our day, such money could be allocated to a family's own ritual expenses (sukkah, seder Israel travel, synagogue dues, etc) and to increase donations to ameliorate the poverty of elderly, ill, disabled, and isolated individuals.
  • Machazit Ha-Shekel -- a final flat poll tax whose purpose is truly communal in that it supports central welfare organizations that serve the entire Jewish people.

- Daniel S. Nevins, "Rebranding Tzedakah: From Charity to Sacred Spending"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Jewish Thanksgiving?

With so much hardship across the world, and even here in the USA we have so much to be thankful for. Here are just a few (from the 2001 AJC Thanksgiving Haggadah):

We are thankful for the freedom from hunger.
We are thankful for the freedom to worship.
We are thankful for the freedom to challenge our minds.
We are thankful for the freedom to change our minds.
We are thankful for the freedom to chart our lives.
We are thankful for the freedom to work for a better world.
We are thankful for the freedom to celebrate this day.
Did you catch that? Go back and read it again. Yep: A Thanksgiving Haggadah.
"Wait...isn't the haggadah for Pesach?"
Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday. Whether your family came to this country 200 years ago, 20 years ago, or 2 years ago, it’s a celebration that’s easy to embrace. Sharing a meal and a feeling of gratitude transcends racial, ethnic and social boundaries. We may all eat different foods, we may speak a multitude of dialects and languages, but on this day, we share in the best that is America…For American Jews, it is another opportunity to share in a meal similar to the Passover Seder. And similar to that Seder, in which we tell the story of our people’s journey out of slavery in Egypt, on this night we tell the story of our own journeys to this country. Because of its lack of religious particularity, this is an excellent opportunity to share the feast with both Jewish and non-Jewish family and friends.”  - Rabbi Phyllis A. Sommer (author of the 3 different Thanksgiving sederim provided in the first link below)
Jews have a very distinct way of living, of praying and even of celebrating. Here are few different resources to help make your American Thanksgiving a bit more Jewish:
The official Reform blog offers 3 different Thanksgiving sederim (based off of the Passover Haggadah).
Click here to download this year’s American Jewish Committee’s Thanksgiving reader (interfaith, interracial and inter-ethnic in design).
And lastly, here is a short Thanksgiving seder using siddur Sim Shalom.

May your time with loved ones be full of blessings and wonderful memories.

“Happy Thanksgiving” from us here at Gathering Sparks!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Free Hanukkah Music Sampler from Craig Taubman

Last summer, Jewish musician Craig Taubman released a free high holiday music sampler.

Well, Craig's done it again: you can download Lights, Vol 2. A Hanukkah Sampler for free from Amazon.

Check it out!