Posted: August 16, 2014 in My moral code, On Compassion, Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel today. I’ve been very sad about all the death in Gaza. But, considering how Israel could destroy most of the region with their military might, they have shown an incredible amount of restraint.

It saddens me very deeply when I think about the fact that no one seems to protest the vicious murder of Yazidi and other Christians in Iraq but so many people are perfectly happy to protest against Israel. Every single human life is precious. So maybe it’s time that people stopped protesting against Israel and started to protest against those evil killers who don’t show any restraint.

It seems to me that most of the world is overloaded with an amazing amount of anti-Semitic double standards. It’s time to lay off Israel and to protest against the indiscriminate rape, kidnapping, shooting, and beheading of people just because they won’t convert to Islam.

My levain is now nearly 9 months old. Because of my business travel schedule it has sat in the refrigerator for 5 weeks. Ken Forkish says it can stay there for “about a month” so I was starting to worry. I still don’t have time to bake bread now; but I decided that I’d better spend a couple of days feeding and refreshing Monsieur Blob anyway. After all, 5 weeks is definitely more than “about a month”.

Last night I removed Mr. Blob from the fridge, tossed all but 100 grams, added 100g of wheat flour, 400g of white flour, and 400g of 95 degree water. By this morning, I had a very active culture. Even after 5 weeks in the fridge, Mr. Blob has been resurrected with no problem!

When I opened my levain tub to feed my reactivated culture just now, I stuck my nose in and took a deep whiff. Holy shit!!! Mr. Blob has been hitting the bottle big time! My hyperactive levain nearly bowled me over with the smell of alcohol. Not only has Mr. Blob again reincarnated but he is totally KICKING ASS!

Bread makers, Forkish fans, levain lovers of the world unite! I can tell you conclusively that, at least in my refrigerator, a Ken Forkish levain will happily refrigerate for at least 5 weeks. Whohoo!


On this day in Jewish history, this day in 586 BCE,  the Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash) of the ancient Jews was destroyed. Our Orthodox and many Conservative coreligionists believe that, on this day, the Jewish world was draped in darkness. On this day, they believe, it became impossible to comprehend our daily opportunity to rise above the physical realm and to make all life a spiritual experience. The Orthodox tell me that after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, it became far more difficult to experience God in our everyday lives. We Reform Jews don’t believe that. We believe that we carry on the tradition of the Pharisees in adapting our spiritual practice to the the times. We don’t mourn the Temple. But that does not mean we have a shortage of things over which to weep!

In the 21st century we do not long for the daily sacrifices of the temple cult. Much as Spinoza adapted to the Enlightenment, we have replaced our longing with a Religious experience that borrows from the Zeitgeist of Post-modernity. This is not necessarily good in my view, because the Postmodern embodies much I dislike. In fact, I refuse to be called “a postmodern” because it associates one with the irrationality of the likes of Derrida and the post-structuralists. Yet, if you think about it, our method of Torah study now has much in common with Gademer’s notions as described in “Truth and Method”; so, it’s fair to say we are Postmodernly influenced. But, my point is simply that we don’t blindly hold on to the past. We grow. We believe that revelation is a daily occurrence if you just look deeply for it.

Still, the result of Jerusalem’s destruction can be seen throughout history and into modern times. Not only do we often feel distant from the divine but we are still regularly attacked by fanatics who have an obscene conception of a God who they think likes death. Violence against us, not just by fanatic Muslims and neo-Nazis, but even among crazed irrational crowds who would storm a French Synagogue or hold banners depicting us drinking blood in a place like Seattle, is still viewed as a viable tactic.

Amid this, now increasing, antisemitism we Jews can not abandon our people and our culture. The first and second Temples are long gone; but what we call pintele yid (the Jewish spark within our people) must live on. My Orthodox friends may tell me that our Covenant insures that it will never die. I think differently. Anything can die – and will die – if not maintained and cultivated. I believe that only through our action can that Jewish spark remain. We must look at the Crusades, the centuries of ghettoization and marginalization,  the ashes of the Shoah, the persecution of the Russian Jews, and even the past month’s dead Israeli soldiers and, within them,  find the fragments of our culture upon which to build. We must never give up. Yet, I must add my view that the life of the spark is not just maintained because of some Brit with God; it is we humans and our commitment to responsible action, that is the only way to keep the”pintele” afire.

As we mourn the destruction of Tisha B’Av, my wish is that every Jew will stand with pride against those who hate us. My bigger wish is that each one of us will commit ourselves to taking personal responsibility for building a brighter spark from the ashes of the ever existing, ever unwarranted, hatred we see perpetrated against us.

On August 2nd, 1944 – 70 years ago tomorrow – the Nazis murdered every remaining Roma and Sinti “Gypsy” at Auschwitz in the Birkenau gas chambers. Approximately 3000 men, women, and children were lulled into brief complacency with a tiny portion of bread and sausage and loaded into trucks. The vehicles headed away from the gas chambers but soon turned back. No longer complacent, these 3000 human souls quickly came to know their fate. Kicking, screaming, crying and in intense fear, every one of the remaining  3000 inmates of the “Gypsy Section” of Auschwitz would soon be murdered by asphyxiation and burnt in the fires of the Birkenau crematoria.

We Jews take pride in the horribly sad but critically necessary task of remembering our 6,000,000 murdered martyrs. But, this Shabbat, it is equally important to remember that these 3000 human lives were just as important as the lives of any of our murdered family members. They each had families and friends, dreams, passions, brains, hearts, spirits, individual value, and unrealized potentials – as much as any Jew or any other human being. This Shabbat I urge us all to remember them: In out thoughts, our prayers, our Kaddish, and our discussions and study.

At the hour during which we will celebrate Havdalah and bid a fond farewell to this week’s holy Sabbath , 3000 humans (with as much value and humanity as our own) were – at that same moment 70 years earlier – being murdered by a tortuous Zyklon B asphyxiation and burnt like trash in the fires of arrogant, nationalistic, unspeakable hatred.

This Shabbat may we all remember the Roma and Sinti of the final Gypsy liquidation; may their lives and spirits serve to guide our unending commitment to the words “Never Again”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally posted on The Mike Report:



As Hamas Rockets continued to rain down on Israeli population centers, a large anti-Israel rally took place in Seattle’s Westlake Center this Saturday, July 12. Protesters screamed anti-Israel slogans calling for the destruction of the Jewish state while waving signs and marching through the downtown sidewalks. But this was more than a rally in opposition to Israel or her defensive operations.   The signs being waved and the chants hollered  constituted a shocking public display of shameless Jew hatred right  in the heart of Seattle.

Signs comparing Jews to Nazis were commonplace (see below).


Comparing Jews to Nazis was a common theme.


This sign (below) compares Jews defending themselves to the Nazi slaughter of Jews. “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionist Jews do to Palestinian Arabs much of what the Nazis did to Jews“.


More comparing…

View original 431 more words

If you know me then you know that I am a huge supporter of Israel. I am deeply saddened by the recent murder of 3 Jewish teenagers in Israel. I have spoken up about that anger as best I can. I have also spoken out against the ridiculous conspiracy theories that invariably emerge from such tragedies. I stand up for the cause of Israel to the very best of my ability.

Now a young Palestinian boy has been murdered, supposedly in retribution for the 3 other murders. I’m sad to have to say this, but it’s necessary to speak out even when I will always stand by my position on Israel in general. Let me just say this: The murder of a Palestinian boy to avenge the earlier killings does not help the cause of Israel. It is vile; criminal; perhaps worse than the killings that came before it; and, perhaps more presciently, in no way even remotely condoned by Judaism.

Deuteronomy 32:35 specifically says: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense…”. It does NOT say that vengeance is in the domain of we humans. In fact, in Leviticus 19:18 we are specifically taught that it is NOT for us to avenge, specifically:  “You shall not avenge” . Maimonides discusses this further in his code of Jewish law, saying: “Taking revenge is an extremely bad trait. A person should be accustomed to rise above his feelings about all worldly matters…” R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi says similar things in his code of Jewish law: “One should erase any feelings of revenge from one’s heart and never remind oneself of it.” Vengeance is prohibited by Jewish law.

Let’s say that you disagree with my simple quotations and still think the murder of 3 young Jews is worthy of revenge. Try this.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself when you were 14 years old. A group of people abduct you while you are minding your own business. You have not hurt them. They grab you and, in a way that no ethical system could possibly condone, set you on fire. As you are dying in excruciating pain your lungs are charred while you inhale the flames. Now, open your eyes and try to imagine any scenario in which those who abducted you would have been justified, ethically or morally, in bringing upon you such a horrific death. NO ONE could possibly be justified in doing that to you!!! NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY BE JUSTIFIED IN DOING THAT TO ANYONE!

This whole idea of taking revenge, especially this way, is completely abhorrent to me. If someone killed the kids who killed the other kids, I would still be disgusted; but at least I might understand. But this is far, far worse because a poor Palestinian youth was painfully and terrifyingly murdered just because he was young and Palestinian. THERE IS NO EXCUSE. There is NOTHING that permits this to be a viable act of retribution. This is part of a group-think mentality that ignores the innate value of the individual. It makes NO sense!

Israeli officials and the Israeli government have spoken out against this crime. They have already arrested 6 people. Today, I strongly urge the government of Israel to do what they say they will do and to bring these criminals to justice. Israel has all the right words; now I pray that they will take the right actions.

My friend and teacher, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana said some things (as is always the case) better than I could. Rabbi Cahana said this:  “Israel is a nation of laws. Judaism is a people of law. Those who are responsible for this terrible murder must be brought to justice. And if it should be found that the murder of this young teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was perpetrated as an act of revenge – then we all bear the shame.” It may be hard to hear this, especially for me the individualist,  but Judaism is firmly grounded in communitarianism and for our people, Cahana is absolutely right.

Revenge is always wrong.

Hate crimes are always wrong.

Inflicting suffering on another individual is always wrong.

All we can do now is to work ever more diligently to stop this horrible violence. Jews murdering Palestinian children out of vengeance is utterly antithetical to Judaism. Something tells me that most Muslims would agree but would also condemn the horrible murders of Israelis that started it. Let us all mourn all of these deaths and may it be that Jews mourn the death of Abu Khdeir as deeply as they mourn the death of their own. Whatever one thinks God is, I hope that he or she does.



I am completely beside myself with a combination of rage and sorrow. Of those two emotions the latter massively  predominates. This week I stand firmly with the citizens of Israel in mourning the loss of the three blameless young men who were brutally murdered by the blatantly evil, completely repulsive, animals who have no respect whatsoever for the sanctity of human life.

In the mature societies of the 21st century, both Americans and Israelis,  Jews and Gentile,  believers and atheists, and millions of loving, mainstream, Muslims must stand together against the seemingly endless, barbaric terrorism that engulfs the Middle East. To anyone with even a drop of rationality such incendiary crimes must not be tolerated. I will state my believe as succinctly as I can: Hamas is an adversary of peace, harmony, humanity, honor, individual human dignity, and respect. To my mind, anyone who takes a position counter to that is simply exacerbating the problem.

In Jewish law, the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments. This is a Talmudic teaching with roots in Leviticus 18:5 where it says:

אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת-חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. (“You shall therefore keep my statutes and ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live by them.”)

In the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Yoma 85b) the rabbis added this: “That he shall live by them, and not that he shall die by them.” Accompanying this is a corollary teaching in Tractate Sanhedrin 37a – Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9 that says: Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. In other words, every time you destroy human life it is as significant as if you have destroyed the entire world! Our sages have much to say on this and I am certainly not educated enough to be qualified to discuss most of it. Still, I want to share my own opinion.

Every human being has not only his or her own potential but also the potential to procreate. Procreation has the potential to continue לדור ודור (L’dor VaDor), from generation to generation, ad infinitum.  Every human being also has the potential to save other lives and to enhance the lives of those around them. Between procreation and the general promotion of life, every single individual human being is a link in a potentially infinite series of generations. Thus, if you destroy a single life you have destroyed infinite potential and have destroyed an infinite succession of futures. You have destroyed an infinitely large potential population, or, the whole world!

 Thrice, with these despicable murders, Hamas has destroyed entire worlds! Worse still, through the murders of Eyal Yifrah (19), Gilad Shaar (16), and Naftali Fraenkel (16) Hamas has thrice destroyed the most precious subset of all human life YOUTH! All humans have the infinite potential I described above. Young people, though, have the greatest potential to contribute to the world in THIS LIFE. The senseless murder of 3 teenagers is arguably the most heinous of all murders. What is not arguable, but indisputable, is that such murders are surely the saddest.

At the memorial for Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, the finance minister of Israel said what I said above in a yet more poignant way when he remarked:

“We are burying a child today; a child who could have been the child of any one of us. Therefore, he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”

So, why am I enraged? Because this is the 21st century and once again some excruciatingly evil people have acted like it was the 10th century and have destroyed infinite human potential.

And my sorrow? If you have to ask that, then read this over and over again until you get it. How can one not weep uncontrollably over the irreverent disregard for dignity and the senseless destruction of infinite potential?