Saturday, March 28, 2009

Palestinian children sing for Holocaust survivors

Strings for Peace, youth orchestra from Jenin refugee camp, gives a touching musical performance for Holocaust survivors in Israeli town Holon as part of Good Deeds Day.

Update - PA Dismantles W. Bank youth orchestra

Monday, March 23, 2009

Free Choice and the Tree of Knowledge

Leon Kass makes an interesting comment on the prohibition (in Genesis 3) of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad:

Every act of uninstructed free choice, the text seems to intimate, is an implicitly prideful act, presupposing as it does the possession of knowledge of what is good for a human being. Every act of choice implicitly expresses a judgment of good and bad, better and worse. Every act of choice presupposes that the human agent knows - or thinks he knows - what is good for him (or someone else), on which basis he chooses accordingly. On this interpretation of the text, the fact that God wants to keep man from the tree of knowledge of good and bad suggests that He wants man to remain an innocent, contented and unself-divided being who follows instinctively the path to his natural good. Or better, reading morally rather than historically, through God's command about the tree the text teaches the reader that it is his own freedom - and its implicitly yet necessarily disobedient character - that is the cause of all human troubles.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Palestino, 6 Euro

You can now show your solidarity in pink and lime. Keffiyah scarves, 6 Euros.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Rabbi and the Taxi Driver

A classic Jewish story: a learned rabbi and a taxi driver depart this world at the same time and arrive together at the gates of heaven. The angel at the gate signals to the taxi driver to enter, then turns to the rabbi and sadly shakes his head. "What is this?" asks the rabbi. "I am a learned rabbi and he is only a taxi driver who, not to put too fine a point on it, drove like a lunatic." "Exactly so," replies the angel. "When you spoke, people slept. But when they got into his taxi, believe me, they prayed!"

from the Chief Rabbi's weekly email.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"What does God want you to do?"

We recently spent Shabbat my ultra Orthodox sister in law and her husband. I had been looking forwards to discussing a situation that arose about 10 years ago in London: On the way home from shul on Shabat morning, I was asked to help push a car to side of the road. I was faced with the dilema of either breaking Shabbat by helping push the car, or not breaking Shabbat by refusing to help push the car.

The initial response was "don't break Shabat to help the guy out". But when I pointed out that helping out your fellow man while he is struggling is also a Mitzvah the difficulty of the situation was acknowledged.

Actually, the difficulty of the situation was summed up brilliantly with words I hope will stay with me forever. My wife's brother in law said: "What does God want you to do?"

What does God want you to do?

It's a crazy question. Or maybe its not so crazy, maybe it is simply the question. The same one that lies behind the thousands of pages of Talmud that we have in our tradition. Debates about what God wants from us.

I thought about it long and hard. (Ok, with a 20 month old, anything over an hour is long and hard).

What does God want me to do?

Its a tough one. Shabbat is so important in Judaism. But to ignore a man in trouble? For me, I can't really say I have full confidence that I made the right decision, on that day, to refuse to offer my help. Next time, I think that I might try and muster the courage to help.

But that question still lingered in my mind. It was brilliant, so deep, relevant to so much more than just one situation.

What does God want me to do?

Learn a lot of Torah.
Make movies.
Raise a family.
Set up a business and employ people in Israel.

These were all good attempts, contained a grain of truth in them. But I didn't feel satisfied. I was looking for something deeper, something below the surface, something that joins all these together. And then I had my mini-revelation. If it wasn't prophecy, then at least it was exciting.

God's wants what is best for me.

Is that obvious? I don't know. It wasn't to me. But the more I've thought about it, the more it makes sense. If my religious experience can indeed be described as reaching out to God, the elusive "Face of the Other" (as Levinas so eloquently describes God), reaching out and trying to understand what is desired of me, then what could be desired of me - by a loving God - more than what is for me? Sounds selfish? Well, maybe it is. But if I think that what is desired of me - by a loving God - is what is for me, it follows that what is desired of all others - by a loving God - is what is for them. So not so selfish!

In short, God wants what is best for us.

I guess that is the easy part. The hard part is trying to figure out what is actually best for us. And that is a question that permeates every field of human activity. Law, science, government, ethics, religion. Wisdom.

And Proverbs 1:7 comes to mind:

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom".

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Glorious Rain!

Although our ceiling has been enjoying the drought this winter - for the second weekend straight we've been trapped indoors because of the downpours!

But we're not supposed to rely on miracles.

So here's an article about boosting water supply in Israel by desalinating water from the ocean and deepening freshwater ground reserves.