Balfour, Maharal and the Oldest Rabbi Joke Ever
This episode is all about nuance and those who understood it. Whether in politics, in spirituality or in everyday life, we should not be asking who is right as much as how right is this one and how right is that one. Listen and find out why. (Sponsorship information at the end of the episode.)
December 30, 2021
Was Moshe a Postmodernist?
In Deuteronomy, Moshe seems to have his own narrative of the story of the spies that we read in Bemidbar. Is that because he was a postmodernist before his time? See what Abarbanel, Nietzsche and Rav Kook have to add to this discussion. To get the most of this episode, you will need to follow this source sheet - https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/331049?lang=bi
September 30, 2021
Why You Can't Trust Yourself in Elul and What to do About it
It is normal to be subjective, but when it comes to making decisions, it is wise to minimize it. While we can do that reasonably well in that department when it comes to others, it is much harder when it comes to ourselves. Here are a few strategies in how to compensate for that.
August 11, 2021
Can We Pray for Sports?
When does prayer have a role, if at all, in sports? When American political commentator, David French, echoes Ramban on this week's parsha. And whether the Israeli Olympic team might be different.
July 26, 2021
Women Rabbis and the Daughters of Tzelofehad
How does one go about seeking legitimate change and the real problem with women rabbis. Why women rabbis are less of a problem than you might think, but one that must be reckoned with nevertheless. In a short phrase ignored by most readers, the daughters of Tzelofehad show great wisdom and teach all of us important lessons about gaining the trust of community leaders. Listen and find out!
June 29, 2021
Bulls and Bears, Evolution and Why R. Yehoshua Preferred Shortcuts
Join me as we discuss our love of shortcuts and how Jewish history and texts warn us about their inefficacy. Also, why was Rav Kook so enthusiastic about evolution? And also, an important correction to one of my first published essays, because our long term is often really just the short term.
June 16, 2021
Dissent, Orthoprax and Red Lines - A Conversation with Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
Listen to this freewheeling discussion about what rabbis and teachers want to accomplish and some of the obstacles they face. Also, should we be excited about the possibly first identifiably religious Prime Minister of Israel? And when, why and how should we disagree with what we see around us?
May 30, 2021
Equal Marriages and Relating to God
Kings and servants, husbands and wives. What metaphors can still be used for the relationship between God and man? And another open question, digging into an insight from Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, z'l.
May 20, 2021
Bad Bus Drivers, Risk and Faith
It seems that the Torah wants us to be exposed to risk in certain contexts, such as with shemitah. How are we to deal with that - is there a middle road or should we try to find other avenues to God-awareness? I remain with the question but provide some possible guideposts along the way.
May 04, 2021
Is it a Symphony or is it Jazz?
Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo once wrote an essay called Halacha as Symphony, but Netziv relates to kedushah like jazz music. The importance of using the best possible metaphors and why metaphors are better than abstract explanations.
April 20, 2021
Groundhog Day, the Israeli Elections and Collective Punishment
No, our intention was not that the Israeli elections are collective punishment, though it would appear that they are. Rather what is intended is that the Torah's underlying justification of collective punishment, possibly found in this week's parsha, may be the key to getting out of the Groundhog Day cycle that the Israeli elections have become. Listen and found out why.
April 06, 2021
Is Machmir Always Better?
In view of the various stringinices Jews take on during and before Pesach, we discuss when a person should be machmir and when not; understanding that there are always considerations in both directions.
March 21, 2021
Women's Day and the Voice of Sarah
Why is International Women's Day controversial in the Czech Republic and a national holiday in Vietnam? And what does that have to do with this week's parsha and the golden calf? More importantly, what does the Jewish tradition hope we will gain by emphasizing gender differences rather than blurring them? Listen and find out!
March 08, 2021
Esther's Da'as Torah (and ours)
What does the Torah expect from us when halacha does not tell us what to do? That's when da'as Torah comes in, but what does it mean and how should we use it? More importantly, how do we develop our own da'as Torah? Reading Esther's story can give us a great deal of guidance and help us understand why it is so important to prepare oneself for such situations.
February 22, 2021
Converts, Covid and Community
What do converts have to do with Judaism' tribal consistency and why Covid present a test for our communities as we start coming out of our shells. Listen and see what Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Robert Putnam add to the discussion.
February 09, 2021
Vaccines, Scarcity and the Limits of Jewish Universalism
The stupidity of some critics notwithstanding, there is an ethical issue about Israel stepping to the front of the vaccine line. Find out what it is, why Jews tend to love the whole world so much and its limits.
January 25, 2021
Do You Speak Yosef or Yehudah?
What the limits of bilingualism tell us about why Jews (and other humans) have a hard time getting along. A little about Elu veElu and why we don't really believe it.
December 27, 2020
Was Kant More Ethical than the Avot?
While Kant says to never lie, many stories in Bereishit would seem to lead us in the opposite direction. But perhaps that is because there are some things even more important than truth. Regardless, why did Yehudah finally break out of this pattern and tell the truth, even if his father had to suffer from it? Listen and find out.
December 14, 2020
The Patriarch who Became an Ax-murderer
What is our responsibility towards those who have taken the wrong path? Midrashim and commentaries tell us that there are things our ancestors might have done with Esav to have brought about a better outcome. But also listen to how we got it right many centuries later with the young Akiva who hated Torah scholars. The question this episode leaves us with is which path are we following today?
November 29, 2020
Israel, Sudan and our Hungry Forefathers
Why does a country on the Nile need wheat from Israel? What has changed since the time of Avraham and Yitzchak when famine worked in the opposite direction; and can it ever change back?
November 15, 2020
What Makes You Pray?
Did Avraham face a "Lucy football?" If so, what was the point of the story of his prayer for Sodom? Perhaps to show us that you can tell a great deal about a person simply by what they pray for.
November 01, 2020
Silencing as Killing - Why Trump and Biden Need to Study Parshat Noach
If God taught Adam about murder, why did He teach it again to Noach? Perhaps the problem with murder is not as intuitive as we might think. And what does that have to do with Walter Kaufmann's observation that America would never elect a president that is serious about his religion?
October 17, 2020
Was Moses a Success or a Failure? - Beta Podcast 15
The final episode of the beta-series (season 1) reflects on the nature of achievements and the positive side of unrealistic goals. Had Moses been less ambitious, he may have been more successful in the short term at the cost of not making a difference in the long term.
October 05, 2020
Why Jews Need to be Missionaries - Beta Podcast 14
Thomas Cahill, Netziv and the Lubavitcher Rebbe all agree about the tremendous impact Jews can have on the rest of the world. So why are we not doing anything about it? As the world is opening to the Jewish people, we need to think about what we want to transmit and how we propose to do it.
September 06, 2020
Have an Apple and a Glass of Wine - Beta Podcast 13
As we come to the end of the summer, its time to remember to take God back with us into our routines. The best strategy to do that is to make proper blessing on the things that God has given us to enjoy. Check out one of the most important teaching of the Rambam and remember it the next time you see a sunset.
August 27, 2020
Seeing God in Nehama Liebowitz' British Hound Dogs - Beta Podcast 12
How does polite public discourse prevent us from seeing God in our world? The unspoken ground rules of liberal states should not dictate how we speak, and prevent us from mentioning God or His will as we understand it. Instead we should follow the example of Christian intellectuals like Yale University's Stephen Carter, not to mention our own greats such as Nehama Leibowitz, Seforno and Netziv.
August 09, 2020
Janis Joplin, Bari Weiss and Moshe Rabbenu? - Beta Podcast 11
What do these three very different individuals have in common? We return to the subject of what any speaker or writer must take into account when addressing others. and when listeners make it unfairly and counter-productively too constricting.
July 27, 2020
Is There Still Room for an Unpopular Idea: We are not Created Equal - Beta Podcast 10
A discussion of the intolerant climate for those of us who think differently. Am I afraid to voice an unpopular idea? Here goes: The notion that all men are created equal is a modern myth. Find out why and what it has to do with Parshat Matot. Hint: Why does Moshe only discuss vows with the tribal leaders?
July 12, 2020
Moshe's Call for Help and the Feminization of Society - Beta Podcast 9
Looking back at Moshe's earlier call for help at the beginning of Bemidbar's complaints, Rashi (11:15) says that he became weak like a woman. What does that mean and how is it brought full circle with the Pinchas' bold move.
June 28, 2020
How to Succeed in Failure - Beta Podcast 8
Looking at Moshe's strange response to God's anger in this week's parsha, something Churchill said (or maybe not) and some of the complaints about our leaders' responses to Corona can all help us be better at failing...
June 14, 2020
Complaining about Complaining - Beta Podcast 7
Things begin to fall apart with a small complaint - sound familiar? It is the story of in Parshat Beha'alotecha, but it is a story that we see all the time. The pros and cons of criticism and when and how to do it.
June 01, 2020
Anthropology, Math and Science - Beta Podcast 6
What it takes to understand the rectangular nature of the degalim in this week's parsha (and the many other rectangles in the Torah. Come and listen to a "backstage tour" of the tools of the trade and the final results: Opening up our central relationships to the commitments of others.
May 18, 2020
The Problem with Death - and Its not What You Think - Beta Podcast 5
Death, immortality and who should we quote? While the latter remains an open question, you will hear an Anglican poet of the 16th century quoted, but not a modern actor. More to the point is understanding that how we view death and immortality will shape a great deal of how we look at life.
May 03, 2020
The Interfaith Carcass and True Isolation - Beta Podcast 4
Who was the pious man that praised the carcass' teeth? We will likely never know, but the story is approved by the three great monotheistic faiths. That leads us into taking advantage of our isolation and using it for therapeutic spiritual growth, just like that which is mandated for the metzora in Parshat Tazria.
April 19, 2020
Corona and the Prayers of Nissan (Praying the Way we Always Wanted) - Beta Podcast 3
Turning the challenge of praying at home into an opportunity - what to do differently than we do when we are at the synagogue and what to do the same. Thoughts for making this Nissan a growth exercise for our prayers.
March 28, 2020
Frankenstein, Prometheus and the Creation of Fire - Beta Podcast 2
How natural is fire to man? The Jews vs. the Greeks and what R. Yose teaches us about the nature of man, God and powerful tools.
March 15, 2020
Taking Risks - Beta Podcast 1
The risks of living in Israel, studying philosophy and being chosen - all from this week's parsha - Tetzaveh. And check out the accompanying article.
March 04, 2020
Learning Torah with Your Spouse, Making it a Growth Experience and not a Battlefield
Rabbi Nataf uses a text about Rabbi Meir and Bruriah to talk with young marrieds at Yeshivat Darchei Noam/Midreshet Rachel veChaya about the benefits of learning with your spouse and some of the common pitfalls to avoid.
March 01, 2020