Thursday, December 23, 2010


15 Tevet, 5771
December 22nd,
     Staples, like every other retail outlet in the U.S., is now playing nothing but nonstop Christmas carols in their stores. I’ve long since resigned myself to the corporate connection between “holiday spirit” and buying as much as humanly possible, so I’ve learned to tune these out.*
      But then Neil Diamond starting singing Christmas carols. Not a foofy one either, like “Jingle Bells,” but a real one: “Hark Hear the Angels Sing.” And my ears perked up. For two reasons.
      The first is because of that inimitable warble he’s got (you know what I’m talking about). And the second is because he’s Jewish.  
      How to relate to Christmas in this country will always be a question, for we are a minority. And because interfaith families who are active and full members of our community confront it head on, it is a particularly poignant one.
      The question is a difficult one. I readily confess that I enjoy Christmas. Not retail Christmas, religious Christmas. I was on a peace march that coincided with Christmas in Nazareth, no less. It was beautiful. Hearing Neal Diamond sing about the virgin birth, however, grated against me, which means that I have some internal line drawn in the sand. 
      I have no straightforward answer about how Jews should or should not engage Christmas, especially not for interfaith families. Rather I have a question, which has helped me in a world where identity is so malleable. Our Talmud teaches that one should bless over not only miracles that have happened to our entire people, but also over miracles made for individuals. The question is asked: who should bless over such individual miracles: the person him/herself? That person’s family? That person’s friends?
      The Rashba, a brilliant teacher of the Talmud, teaches that one should bless if one was as a partner in that miracle – if, as a result of that miracle, you are here. So this, I think, is the question as we engage the world around us: is this my miracle? Is this my children’s miracle? If yes, then we have the obligation to bless it, to celebrate it, to let its light shine. If not, then we celebrate the devotion of others, living their own lives of meaning.

Shalom u’Vrakha,
Peace and Blessing,
Rabbi Scott Perlo

*For those interested in the longstanding connection between conspicuous consumption and religion in this country, Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism remains a classic. For a lighter but still profound take, check out Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping –

Friday, December 17, 2010



9 Tevet, 5771
December 16th, 2010

A midrash teaches: An incident occurred, that a man died and left instructions in his will that "My son should not inherit anything of mine until he becomes a fool.
Puzzled, the son brought the will to court for an explanation. The provision perplexed the rabbis there, and they brought it in turn to one of the great teachers of their age: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha.
“When they arrived at [Rabbi Yehoshua’s] place they hid from his sight because they found him crawling about his hands and knees with a straw in his mouth waddling after his young son. After he had finished playing with his son, they approached him and asked him if he could interpret the will. He began to laugh and said to them: "By your lives, the matter of which you have come to inquire, just this past moment I had been demonstrating (that the man's son would not inherit anything until he became a father)." From here we learn that when a person becomes a parent, s/he becomes a clown."' (Midrash Tehillim 92:13)
            Would that we all had people to instruct us in the wisdom of foolishness. I am lucky, because our ECC kids try to remind me of this Torah every day. To live in complete seriousness is to miss the essence of life. To laugh, to sing, to cry, to be creative, to jump in piles of leaves – these things are necessary. The dry cleaning is not. This is the truth that wise people live.

            May we all be blessed with holy foolishness.

Special thanks to our ECC Moms for learning this Torah with me during Mom’s Shmooze.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


יום ז' לחנוכה
1 Tevet, 5771
December, 8th 2010

To the endangered species of our world, let us add another: the vanishing American religious male. While he’s not near extinction, he’s definitely PBS-special worthy. His disappearance isn’t just within Judaism – his lack of participation extends to every religion in the American landscape. And rabbis, priest, pastors, imams, demographers, and sociologists are trying to understand why.

            The far reaching Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey ( indicates that women outclass men in all the most important indices for religious belief and participation. It is actually quite stunning how much misogyny still exists in American religion, considering how many more women than men engage in spiritual practice.

            What concerns me most is the distance that many men hold from Torah and Judaism.  What worries me is that, as Thoreau wrote, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation,” but do not see Torah as a vessel to ascend beyond their frustrations. “…they go to the graves with the song still in them.”

            We wonder why our Torah teaches, ve’ahavta – and you will love, rather than ve’he’emanta – and you will believe. It is because belief is not Judaism’s fulcrum, but rather closeness. The secret to living a life of Torah is holding it close, and letting it give expression to our souls. We men need to ask ourselves why it feels so far away.

Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. Deuteronomy 30:12-14

I would appreciate any thoughts from our community, from both men and women, as to why they think men feel less connected to religion. This piece is not meant to invalidate, in any way, the many and real spiritual struggles that women face. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Light and Darkness


26 Kislev, 5771
December 2nd, 2010

            The thing about having known the experience of light is that we all, inevitably, will have to step back into darkness for a time, and cope with light’s absence.

            Our midrash teaches that human beings were born knowing light.  According to our rabbis, the entire saga of the garden and the expulsion happened in a matter of hours on the sixth day. We never saw a garden without light, and, also according to the midrash, the first Shabbat was entirely filled with light.
            But when Shabbat left on the evening of the eighth day, human beings knew darkness for the first time, and Adam and Eve were afraid. They thought, “maybe God has abandoned us for good?”
            But then the Holy One took two flints, and showed the first people how to strike them together so that light would come out. To this day, we light the Havdallah candle in memory of that moment, when God taught us to create light.
            It’s telling that Hannukah, Hag Urim – the Holiday of Lights – begins in darkness. If and when you find yourself in darkness beyond the physical, let the candles remind you that you are not abandoned. God, with more than a little help from those who love you, will show you how to create light again.

Hag Urim Sameah,
May your Hannukah be filled with light and joy