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From the Rabbi - December 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

The period between mid-November and the end of December is a time when we traditionally assess our lives.  We are particularly conscious of the physical blessings that we have been given, our health, our shelter, our nourishment and, especially, our families.  To be sure, each of us has areas of concern, needs that are not fulfilled and problems that have yet to be resolved.  Our lives are hardy perfect.  Yet, compared to the lot of many other people, even people in Corpus Christi, we do have a lot with which to be satisfied.  As we add up our achievements and our acquisitions at the end of the year, the word “Thanks” easily comes to our lips.  In Pirke Avot, an ancient rabbi, Ben Zoma, asked “Who is rich?”  His response to his own question was that a rich person is “content with what he already has.”  There’s a great deal to make us content.

But the prophets of biblical Israel (and their successors through the ages) have stressed that we ought not to look at the world as it is, but as it ought to be.  It’s hard not to be aware of the imperfections of our society.  In areas of our city, there is a high propensity for violence, drug use, gang activities.  I spoke at King High School the other evening, and the principal told me that of roughly 800 students who enter as freshmen, only about 550-575 graduate.  Some, of course, move out of the city and some go to other schools, but the majority of this nearly 30% loss end up with marginal literacy and minimal employable skills.  How sad!  And then there are the bigger, world-wide issues of which we are all aware: disease, poverty, malnutrition, war, prejudice, disasters of every sort.

As satisfied as we may be with our lot in life, we cannot be smugly complacent in the face of the indignities with which fellow human beings are confronted every day.  So this period of reassessment and gratitude ought also prompt us to think about ways in which we can improve the world in which we live.  There are so many things – large and small – that each individual can undertake.  All it requires is a little determination and motivation.  It would be very nice if our good fortune would prompt each of us to find something to do that would move our world away from what is and toward what ought to be.

            Shalom,
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - November 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

The word Torah has been translated into English in a variety of ways.  Many of us simply refer to it as “The Torah,” while others call it “The Pentateuch” and still others refer to it as “The Five Books of Moses.”  Maybe the most appropriate English translation is “instruction.”   For the last nineteen hundred years, however, the Torah has often been termed “The Law,” following the usage in the New Testament’s Epistle to the Galatians (2:16).

“Law” has connotations of severity and rigidity, and anti-Jewish preachers during the first three or four Christian centuries played on these themes, contrasting Jewish harshness with Christian love and forgiveness.  Accordingly, those who kept the law could not look forward to salvation, while people of faith were easily reconciled to God.  Eventually, the legalistic dimension of the Torah was superseded by the love and faith proposed by the New Testament.
    
I am often conscious of these different concepts as the Torah year comes to a conclusion and begins again at Simchat Torah.  The recycling of Genesis leads me to recycle all the historical associations connected to the idea of Torah as law.  Calling the Torah “law” evokes notions of inadequacy and ineffectuality, of unthinking adherence to a legal structure without any thought as to its meaning or values.  It is, perhaps, the ultimate put-down of the early Christian centuries.

When I turn to these thoughts, as I do almost every year, one figure in more modern Jewish history always comes to mind.  His name was Rabbi Israel Lipkin, and he lived in Lithuania from 1810 to 1883.  He is often known as Israel Salanter, since most of his career was centered in the town of Salant, just twenty miles from the Baltic Sea in western Lithuania.  He was, by everyone’s admission, a great Torah scholar who worked tirelessly to strengthen Orthodox Judaism.

But his major contribution to our life was to popularize the so-called Musar movement.  Musar as a word comes from the second verse of the book of Proverbs: “[The goal is] to know wisdom and ‘musar,’ to comprehend the words of understanding.”  Here, the word takes on meanings like instruction, discipline and right conduct.  Salanter stressed the need to further ethical and spiritual development, even creating a separate learning environment where students would leave the legalisms of Torah and Talmud outside the doors and focus on the values that underlay the law.  A simple lesson involved the oft-repeated Torah dictum that we should be especially considerate of the poor and less-fortunate in society, since we had our own experience with misfortune as slaves in Egypt.  The key for Salanter was not the giving of alms or tzedakah, but the understanding of the ethical lesson that supported acts of compassion and charity.

In his rabbinic life, Salanter practiced what he preached.  In 1848, during a cholera epidemic, he commanded the Jewish population of Lithuania themselves to engage in any necessary relief work on the Sabbath, even if there were non-Jews who could do the same work.  The ethics that underlay Jewish law, he taught, demanded that Jews actively violate the Sabbath in order to save the lives of ill Jews.  So, too, he ordered Jews who were ill not to fast on Yom Kippur.  Saving a life, he reasoned, overrode the strictures of Jewish law.

What Salanter taught was that it is not enough to act in accordance with the prescriptions of the law.  One also needs to understand the values, ethics and morality that underwrite the behavioral norms of Jewish life.  For him this internalized sensitivity to the often-concealed rationales was even more important than the external acts of compliance.  As we turn the Torah once again from Deuteronomy back to Genesis and initiate the annual repetition of the cycle, I am intensely conscious of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter.  Unthinking repetition of actions and rituals is, according to his thinking and teaching, insufficient; you always need to look for the meaning and strive to understand the ethical rationale for what you are doing.

                Shalom,
                Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - October 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story entitled “The Birthmark.”  This tale recounted the story of a scholarly man who married a woman whose only evident imperfection was a birthmark on one cheek.  She perceived the mark as part of what made her who she was and, in fact, an element of her beauty.  He, on the other hand, thought of it as a defacement that detracted from her.  Finally, he persuaded her to have the birthmark removed through a difficult medical procedure.

When the birthmark was no longer there, the woman felt that she had lost her identity.  She began to wither and eventually died.  In his quest to make her perfect, her husband had lost the one person that he cared about and ended up with nothing.

The quest for perfection finds little sympathy in the Jewish tradition.  The Bible teaches us that everything God made was “very good.”  But “very good” is not “perfect;” in fact, it is considerably short of perfection.  To be “very good” is hard enough; it’s a goal that is worthy of our most serious efforts and striving.  To attempt to exceed “very good” and to become “perfect” is the ultimate of hubris; it is an attempt to go beyond what God designated as the fundamental character of being a human being.  Are we prepared to say that we know better than God what it means to be a person?

The High Holydays offer us the opportunity to evaluate our lives, not in relationship to perfection, but in comparison to the standard of “very good.”  That’s hard enough, and we inevitably fall short of even that mark.  We freely and openly admit that being human means that we shall make mistakes; “to err is human,” the poet said, and we do not disagree that this is the case.

Our shortcomings and sins are sometimes unintentional and sometimes deliberate.  Whichever is the case, we come into the congregation determined to change, convinced that during the coming year we can approach nearer to the ideal of “very good” without holding out before ourselves the ultimately frustrating standard of perfection.

It would be wonderful if, a year from now, each of us could return to the Sanctuary and stand upright before the Judge of Truth to affirm: “God, my life is closer to your ideal of ‘very good’.”

Phyllis and I wish all of you a very happy, healthy and satisfying New Year.

                                
                                Kenneth D. Roseman

 
From the Rabbi - August 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends,

By now, you have received a folder in the mail describing Corpus Christi’s Religious Remembrance of the awful and tragic events of September 11, 2001.  Eight congregations have combined their commemorative efforts in a very special way, and I hope each of you will find it possible to participate.

We decided early in our interfaith discussion that just having a service or services, even with lots of appropriate words, would not be adequate.  I recalled the rabbinic adage that holds that “study and discussion are not the important things, but action.”  My colleagues all had the same idea.  We believe that we can best honor the sacrifices of the men and women who were killed ten years ago and their survivors who today live with the pain of loss by helping create a better community in which to live.  We believe that the most appropriate response to the cowardly and dastardly actions of terrorists is to assert as strongly as possible and with as many people of as many different faiths as possible that human beings can make a real difference in how we forge a righteous and equitable society.

To this end, we are asking our members to sign up for one of a list of social action projects in Corpus Christi.  They are described on the inside of the mailed-out folder.  If you don’t have it anymore, we’ll be glad to send you another copy.  What we want you to do in response is to call us and put your name on the list for one of the projects, then show up and make a strong statement about what Judaism and religion, in general, demands that we do.

The biblical prophet, Isaiah, told his listeners that the day that would be acceptable to God involved removing the fetters of wickedness, undoing oppression, promoting freedom, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – in short, what God wants from us is tikkun olam, repairing this broken and imperfect world.

Of course, we shall also speak words of prayer and solace.  Our service on Friday, September 9, will be connected thematically with the destruction that occurred ten years ago.  And then, at 6:00 PM on Sunday, September 11, members of all the congregations will gather at the First United Methodist Church for an interfaith commemorative event.

I look forward to working with you in some of the projects and to seeing you at the services on the 9th and the 11th.
    
            Shalom,
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - June/July 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

As I write these words, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are sitting the White House, discussing their significant differences.  I listened with care to what our President said about Middle East peace yesterday (Thursday, May 19) and then read both the transcript of his speech and various commentaries about it.  As you know, he certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy with his suggestion that the only borders that could serve to define Israel and a new Palestinian state are the 1967 borders.

    It is entirely possible that a return to the 1967 borders could serve as a framework for peace between Israel and its neighbors.  Certainly, it is what the Palestinians have been saying for decades, at least in their public pronouncements.  (What they say privately may be altogether different.)  I want to give you my analysis, including the reasons why I am enormously skeptical about our President’s proposal.

I am not, it should be noted at the outset, opposed either to the creation of a Palestinian state (It’s coming, whether we like it or not.) or to the assignment of some of the land captured in 1967 to such a new state.  The land cannot, I suggest, be “returned,” since it never belonged to a Palestinian state before 1967; it was part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and no one is proposing that we return the land to Jordan.

The 1967 borders were not constructed on a rational basis, but because they happened to be the cease-fire line between the Arab armies and the Israel Defense Forces after the War of Independence in 1948-1949.  They were not justified then on the grounds of defensibility, nor are they today.  To go back to them just because that’s where the troops stopped fighting does nothing to enhance Israel’s ability to defend itself against further attacks.  The first criterion of any new geographical arrangement needs to be Israel’s military security, and the 1967 borders make no sense in that regard.

In the thirty-five years since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, mostly Jews, have settled in areas that are outside the 1967 lines.  Some of them did this illegally, and I have no brief for their rights; they can be removed at any point and probably ought to be.  They are a significant impediment to peace.

But there are many more who were settled in the territories with the permission and encouragement of the State of Israel.  Among the areas under question is a large tract just east of Jerusalem called Ma’alei Adumim which forms both a major bedroom suburb for the capitol city and a defensive bastion, high on a hill overlooking the Jordan valley.  The rights of people like these must be taken into account, and it would be foolhardy for Israel to expect them to relocate.  Unless the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate modifications of the 1967 lines to accommodate these residents, the proposal of President Obama is a dead letter.

Speaking of negotiations, one might wonder if the new alliance of the Palestinian government of the West Bank and the Hamas government of Gaza bodes well.  Hamas has been intransigent in its insistence that it would never recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  Israel is 100% right to refuse to sit down with anyone who states so categorically that it will not recognize one partner in the discussion.

Further, every time the Palestinians have seemed ready to make a deal with Israel, they have changed the rules of the game, added new conditions or otherwise made it impossible for the negotiations to reach a positive conclusion.  It is hard to know why they ought to be trusted as legitimate partners in any serious discussions; nothing of which I am aware has changed.

Finally, one might be entitled to suspect that the so-called Palestinian state is not the real goal.  Hamas has made it clear that their ultimate ambition is to complete eradication of any Jewish state and either the expulsion or destruction of the Jewish population presently in the area.  Until that ambition is retracted and denied, there is no reason to negotiate with Hamas or any of its partners.

    As much as I respect our President and assume that, at least in his view, he has the best interests of the Middle East and world peace at heart, in this instance I think he is naïve and wrong.  This is, as we are wont to say in this region of the country, a dog that will not hunt.  I am going to stand by Israel and its security until such time as a credible proposal that respects the integrity of the Jewish state is laid on the table.  I hope you will take the same position.  
     
                            Shalom,
                            Kenneth D. Roseman

 
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Friday, November 3
Shabbat Service @ 6:30 pm

Saturday,  November 4
Shabbat Service @ 9:00 am

Friday, November 10
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Friday,  November 17
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