Monday, October 27, 2014

Sermonic Response to Ottawa

Top of the evening to all.

You may remember that there was a terrorist attack in Boston about 18 months ago.  I wrote a sermon in response to that event.  After the attacks in Ottawa and in Quebec last week, I felt that I again needed to respond.  The following sermon was delivered Shabbat Noach, October 25, 2014.

18 months ago, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Over the week afterwards, several of you offered me condolences as an American over an attack that took place in one of the venerated cities of my birth country, and in one of the venerated cities of that nation's birth.

I went back and read the sermon I wrote in response to that event. It was a good sermon. With a few changes to the words, I could easily give the same sermon today. That sermon spoke of my condolences to all of us, as we had yet again had the point driven home that the number of soft targets that we take for granted, synagogues, subways, the ACC, or any place at which people gather, might be a target. We had all been attacked that day.

The events of this week both in Quebec and in Ottawa are a grim reminder of this continuing reality. As I mentioned then, the mundane act of looking both ways when crossing the street involves more now than just checking for traffic. As well, with Canada's seat of government attacked, this nation is forced to consider the uncomfortable possibilities of increased security at its most proudly public places. As such, I return those condolences to all of you.

But I will also again accept condolences in this regard. I accept condolences though not as an American. I accept them as someone who shares a bond with all those who wear a uniform.  It is a bond that crosses borders.  I accept them as someone who, like you, has just been attacked. I accept them as someone who has just seen the reminder that the US and Canada have far more in common than not. I accept them as someone, like you, who has had to find the balance between security and individual rights, between a visible, accessible government with the doors of Parliament wide open so that we can all see what happens there, balanced against the need to protect those inside.

I again want to point out some of the good that happened. The first responders reacted well. They secured the locations, tended to the wounded, and protected their charges. Four total strangers stood over a mortally wounded Soldier to help him, and making sure that the final words he heard were of love. O' Canada was sung at a hockey game between the Flyers and the Penguins, teams not from this country. Yet again, good people outnumbered the bad.

Words of consolation are clearly in order. As such, I remember that we stand together, Canadians, Americans, British, Australians, and all of the other nations that had to adjust their security posture this week. We do not just stand together with resolve against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to take arms against a sea of troubles. We also stand together with the warmth of genuine friendship and concern not just for ourselves, but for each other. We stand together knowing that we can no longer walk placidly through the chaos, but also knowing that we do not walk through that chaos alone.

As the locals build the Tower of Babel, there is an old midrash that as the tower got higher and higher, there would be construction accidents. The builders would sit and cry when a brick fell, but would not pay heed when a person fell. We pay heed when our people fall. We feel when our people fall. We realize that what makes the soul of a community and the soul of a nation is not contained in its bricks, but in the values and beliefs of its people. We are those people. We care when one of our own falls.

Keep safe, everyone.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jennifer's Favourite Mitzvah Redux...

Top of the evening everyone...

A few years back, I wrote an entry to this blog entitled Jennifer's Favourite Mitzvah.  It was a posting about mikveh.  I would, first and foremost, like to reiterate some of the points of that posting.

The mikveh attendants of any city should meet once a month.  Each mikveh has its own practices and customs.  Often there is a great deal of logic behind those practices that should be shared with the world.

I also mentioned that a mikveh should be a place of physical health as well as spiritual health.  To that end, the dressing rooms should have instructions for a monthly exam, as well as phone numbers to shelters and crisis counsellors.

There is a certain etiquette to the mikveh.  In general, the women who go are there for the same reason.  It is the end of the monthly cycle.  They are there to immerse.  They will then go home and resume intimate relations with their spouses after having taken an 11-day hiatus.  That is not discussed, obviously.  When we were still living in New York, there were times that I would go with Jennifer.  When that happened, I would wait across the street or across the parking lot.  There was NEVER eye contact with the women who were going.  Again, this was an intimate moment for them.  It is not to be intruded upon, especially by a stranger, and especially by a male.  I call it a secret sorority.  Most men have not been privileged with the password.

I write this now due to the pending case of a prominent rabbi in the Washington DC area.  Allegedly, he had rigged a camera in the mikveh area.  He is being charged with voyeurism.

This is appalling.  That he would (allegedly) violate both the intimate spiritual life and the intimate marital life of these women is a betrayal on a grand scale.  Frankly, it is a violation not just of the mikveh at Kesher Israel, but at every mikveh throughout the world.  Every woman now must enter the mikveh with the knowledge that if it can happen in DC, it can happen anywhere.

What to do?  First and foremost, the communities should pronounce a herem on him if and when he is convicted.  This is effectively a communal silent treatment.  He is not to be allowed to daven anywhere.  No one is allowed to do any sort of business with him.

Second, no one person should ever be allowed into the mikveh area alone.  This means the rabbis.  This means the women who go.  Usually, there is an attendant in there with the women.  This is normal.

Third, every mikveh board should have women on it.  It is in and of itself ludicrous that this needs to be said.  Women are the primary users.  Men often do not fully understand the intimacy involved.  It is the natural result of being wired differently.

I am at present wrestling with the fourth thing to do.  I have said that men should likely go on a monthly basis.  The rabbis of the Talmud teach us that the monthly observance of mikveh is to maintain a woman's enticing nature to her spouse.  Men are also involved in that.  We should also be enticing to our spouses.

There may be another level to consider men's attendance at the mikveh.

As healthy men, we have very few violations of our bodies.  We do not have to endure yearly pap smears that accompany remarkably personal physical examinations.  We have a brit milah, and then a digital exam when we become men of a certain age.  I do not think that we will ever fully understand the physical and spiritual vulnerability of the mikveh without using it consistently.  Perhaps if we can come to understand it, we menfolk might be more able to react to what has happened here.  Please note here that I have read at least six different editorials on this incident today.  Only one was written by a man.

Gentlemen: a violation of our spouses is also a violation of us.  What happens to one spouse happens to the other.

On a separate note, both the Rabbinical Council of America and the rabbanut in Israel have decided that the conversions he has thus far overseen are valid.  Out of respect to those people who have undergone conversion with him, that is the right decision.  However, putting on tefillin, keeping kosher, and observing Shabbat are simply not sufficient.  Henceforth, until the teshuvah is done, his kashrut is not to be trusted.  His testimony before a beit din is not to be trusted.  The failure to keep the national laws in my mind renders all of his Jewish practice suspect.

Have a good evening everyone.


P.S.  The synagogue and the mikveh are separate organizations.  I have looked at the synagogue's website.  If you would like to see a superb example of how to respond to this correctly, go to  I give them a great deal of credit.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Recent Discoveries in Paleontology...

Top of the evening all.

Recently, a new species of dinosaur was discovered.  It was very interesting.  There were fossils of empty eggs around it, but no real evidence of footprints other than its own.  There was ample food supply in the area, but nothing was found in the dinosaur's belly.  As well, it was clear that this species had been in some sort of tussle.  It had scars on its bones, and one bone was in fact broken.

In the world of paleontology, if one discovers a new species, one gets to name it.  This one is thus called 'OyhaveIgotsaurus.'

Have a good evening everyone.