Essay on Conservative Judaism. The 2014 edition of the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practice invited me to update an essay on Conservative Judaism originally written by Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen for the 2005 edition. Worldmark Encyclopedia (2014) Conservative Judaism_Vol 1_pg 577 to 587.
Covenantal Judaism. Perhaps the core concept of Jewish religion is that the Jewish people exists in a covenant (brit) with God that imposes mutual obligations upon the two parties. In this brief statement, I describe four pillars of the covenant: Study of Torah, Practice of MItzvot, Creation of Sacred Communities, and the Pursuit of Justice. This essay was intended as a positive program for the constellation of congregations, camps, schools and other organizations that have historically identified with Conservative Judaism, but it intentionally addresses and includes other Jews whose practice is deeply grounded and broad minded.
Environmental Prayers. Back in 1989 when I began JTS Rabbinical School, my teacher Rabbi Allan Kensky challenged our class to write our own prayers. My “al chet,” expressing guilt for environmental damage, evolved over the years into, “For the Sin of Destroying God’s Creation”, which was published in The Rabbinical Assembly’s Mahzor Lev Shalem in 2010. I have recently written a new environmental prayer for the forthcoming Siddur Lev Shalem, and will post it here when it is edited.
Tzedakah. Judaism has a great deal to say about communal and individual obligations to support the poor, and to provide for other important religious activities such as prayer, Torah study, and the health and dignity of all who are vulnerable. Yet it is not obvious how norms developed for an ancient agrarian society should be applied to a modern capitalist economy. Moreover, modern philanthropy highlights the generosity and even heroism of those who give, rather than cultivating a sense of mutual obligation. Sh’ma invited me to contribute this essay to their October 2011 issue on Jewish charity, Rebranding Tzedakah: From Charity to Sacred Spending. As an extension of this study, I tried to apply the ancient categories of the various tithes and other gifts to contemporary forms of income. The result was Form 199: A Tzedakah Spreadsheet. I am currently working on a chapter comparing Jewish and Muslim teachings on charity for the Judaism and Islam in America project.
Mishnat HaShavuah. In this project I selected a single Mishnah (a paragraph of early rabbinic teaching) from each tractate, explaining the text and presenting several questions for conversation. This is a relatively easy point of entry into the world of the Talmud. It is available as an archive on the JTS web site.
Mourning and Memory. After the death of my mother and teacher Phyllis B. Nevins, z”l, in 2005, I began to inquire into the origins and meaning of the standard expression of consolation, “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” The resulting article, A Place Among the Mourners of Zion, was published in the journal Conservative Judaism in 2006, and dedicated to her memory.