Monthly Archives: April 2018

Pesach Sheni as a therapeutic holiday

This is an update of a short 800-word post from 2010, now it is seven times larger. It is another one of my loose observations of lived religion. 

It seems that before our eyes Pesach Sheni became a holiday of second chances, reminding everyone to make sure that everyone is included and that no one is excluded. This folk practice has connections to Chabad, contemporary American sociology, and current trends in theology

Traditionally, Pesach Sheni was a minor vestigial day, which some especially Hasidim treating it as a minor festival. The practice of Pesach Sheni was originally a day for those who could not bring the Passover sacrifice to be allowed to bring the sacrifice a month later. There are customs among some Hasidim to eat a piece of matza on this day or to hold a seder – a tisch for Hasidic Torah.

The homiletical Torah in later centuries for this day was about those who carried Yosef’s bones. In the Middle Ages it was the last chance to see the miracle of the Exodus and bask in how God is above the natural order. And there is some Polish Hasidic Torah about hametz and matzah being at the same time. There was an important section in the Zohar and it was the holiday of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes charity (see below).

A decade ago, about 2008 there was a burst on the scene of this Pesach Sheni practice within the broader Jewish community. This day became a day when all those who need a second chance have their holiday. Almost any metaphors of 12 step, broken pieces, therapeutic religion, or shattered lives have made their way into Pesach Sheni Torah, from all sorts of outreach/kiruv and self-help sources. (There is enough for grad student to collect and sort it out.)

Originally, it applied to those released from prison, recovering from addiction, or having mental health issues. In the last five years it was further extended to broader questions of diversity to include feminism, LGBTQ. In 2010, Kolech – the Israeli Orthodox feminist organization and initiated by Bat-Kol, the organization of religious lesbians, proclaimed it a day of inclusion of all. The holiday picks up steam in 2016 year when was a widely circulated blog post discussing it as a holiday for GLBT exclusion. In addition, Rav Cherlow gave a Pesach Sheni talk on the need to confront the other and this year on the need to accept gays in the community. In 2017, Pesach Sheni was a declared religious tolerance day.

But what I am noticing on this one is that the individualism of the kiruv organization, yeshivish self help and Neo-Hasidism is overlapping in metaphors and folk holidays with the liberal voices of diversity. There is a social reality of exclusion needing homilies of inclusion and a reality of therapeutic Torah.

Since the practice of Pesach Sheni had little current actual practice except for the pietistic custom of eating a piece of matza. It was an ideal underdetermined date with underdetermined practice ready to be filled in by a contemporary cosmology. Much of the language for this holiday comes from Chabad sources.

rebbe-pesach sheni

Origins in Chabad Theology

The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn arrived in the United States, first as a visit in the 1929 and then permanently in 1940. Already from his first trip the United Sates, he emphasized the piety of the common person over the Rabbinic elite. In his sermons from his visit to Chicago, he categorically stated that the simple Jew who burns in his heart is greater than the intellectual scholar who is religiously cold. He also produced many stories of holy people who appear as sinners or ordinary people. He taught about how simple unlettered Jews are not far from God – in contrast to the rigid hierarchy of Lithuanian Jewry. He was showing inclusiveness for those whose journeys took their personal narrative far from the imagined ideal in contrast to the Rabbinic establishment seeking to exclude.

In 1944, the Rebbe Riyatz (Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn) wrote that Pesach Sheni is a second chance for all those who were far away. It was a noble message for an era of immigration and dispersion. This concern for simple yidden and their probelms, however, went out of fashion in the post WWII era.

In his diary of daily advice (edited by his future successor Rabbi Menachem Mendel) he wrote:

Iyar 14, Pesach Sheini, 29th day of the omer 5703

The theme of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was tamei (ritually impure), or one was far away, and even in a case of lachem, when this (impurity etc.) was deliberate – nonetheless he can correct it.

Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn in his sermons was dealing with actually displacement of war, famine, and struggles to survive. Now we have an acute sense by many in the community that many people are excluded and need to be made welcome again.

In 1978, his successor the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn told over the teaching of Pesach Sheni from the prior Rebbe as an opportunity for a second chance.

Pesach Sheni gives those who did not offer the Pesach sacrifice the first time the opportunity to do so a month later. Its message is that nothing is irretrievable, that a Jew can always rehabilitate himself.
One clear lesson from Pesach Sheni is that a Jew need never give up hope. In the words of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe: “The idea of Pesach Sheni is that nothing is irretrievable; we can always rectify our behavior. Even one who was ritually unclean or who was on a distant journey – even willingly – can still rehabilitate himself.” A Jew is intrinsically good, his soul “a part of G-d Above.” Sin is completely antithetical to his nature. If he does transgress, it is an aberration that cannot touch his essential self. He may be temporarily unclean, but he is of the loftiest levels. Thus no sin, no omission of service to G-d, is irretrievable. A Jew can always return to his real identity. Likkute Sichos XII 5738, emor 216-220

In later talks, as paraphrased on the Chabad website, the holiday is an opportunity to change our lives. However, this opportunity is available specifically to those fell from the envisioned path. Their fall is the catalyst for greater growth. A form of spiritual decent for the sake of ascent.

Pesach Sheini embodies the approach of teshuva. In order to return to the proper path, it is not enough to merely avoid impropriety; the individual must address the fact that he has succumbed to the forces of evil and use this fact to strengthen the weak point in his relationship with G‑d. When he does this, he transforms the power of evil into holiness and his previous sin into a source of merit, thereby obtaining G‑d’s forgiveness for his misdeed. This capacity – the ability to change that which is already done and to overcome wrongs that have already been perpetrated – is drawn from a source of transcendent spirituality, a level beyond merit or iniquity. It taps into the essential relationship between man and G‑d, which is not predicated on our obedience to His will. This connection can never waver, for it is intrinsic in nature; the essence of the Jewish soul is one with G‑d whether they obey His will or not.The leaven need not be banished, since we are ready to elevate it…

Because Pesach Sheini, is an exercise in transcendence, it does not require the methodical preparation required by the regular Pesach. The leaven need not be banished, since we are ready to elevate it, too. Earlier impurity no longer matters, for it cannot destroy this intrinsic connection. And one day is enough, for this connection transcends time as well as behavioral issues.

If, as has been explained, Pesach Sheini embodies a higher degree of divine service, why is it reserved for those who became defiled? Why could one who brought the sacrifice on the first Pesach not enjoy the sublimity of the second? How was he to achieve the advantages of transcendence?

It was only those who had deviated from the proper path and had never begun a proper journey of growth that needed to skip directly to the transcendent. They required a catalyst, an offering to be brought in the second month, because without that “jump”, they would have remained helpless and unchanged.

Why do we celebrate the Pesach Sheini nowadays? We were not obligated to bring the sacrifice on the first Pesach. Why do we mark the secondary choice?

The answer is that we celebrate its spiritual meaning. We celebrate the added capacity to achieve a higher degree of spiritual connection. And, we celebrate its lesson: no matter what may have happened in the past, no matter what we may have spoiled, it’s never too late. We still have the ability and opportunity to change – not only our futures, but even the effects of the past.

Typically, Chabad spirituality since the Tanya has stressed the proper path of Torah teaching that one should avoid sin or things that take one from the path. In Chassidic language. It is overcoming temptation (itcafya). However, here we have the other Hasidc option discussed more in other groups of transforming the spiritual energy of the deviation to a higher service (ithafcha). This is closer to an Izbitz of transforming sin into merit teaching than popular Chabad approach.

Nevertheless, this homily follows from the other homilies of Rebbe Menachem Mendel teaching there is a transcendental place, a higher connection, that can transcend ordinary approaches. In most places, the Rebbe calls this Kesser (keter), the point of pure devotion and giving of the will higher than medieval sefrotic hierarchies or specific mizvot. Here we have an ordinary day in which we can work and eat leavened bread that is paradoxically higher then Passover itself.

There is also speculation that the Rebbe’s Pesach sheni teachings are somehow also connected to the yahrzeit of Yisroel Are Leib, the Rebbes brother, who left the religious path.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach added these ideas to his repertoire of stories from Rebbe Riyatz on holy sinners, ordinary people, and deepest desires as a path to a high service. The Carlebach Torah for Pesach Sheni was already on the web back in the days of Web 1.0 and majordomo mailing lists letting the ideas diffuse widely.

By the new millennium these ideas had migrated into English Breslov, outreach literature, and web Torah, but as part of other homilies. It was turned into a day of second chances for convicts, addicts, abuse, sexual and gender alienation, divorce, second marriages, and GLBT identity.  It seems to have happened very quickly both here and in Israel.

Prison and Released Prisoners.

The first group to make use of these ideas was for Chabad organized conferences for prison chaplains. Prisoners and those families touched by cycles of incarceration needed a second chance.

But there is a deeper story here; once again a Chabad story.  Chabad under the Rebbe Riyatz and Rebbe Menchaem Mendel reached out in their outreach to prisoners, mentally and psychologically challenged in mental hospitals, the elderly and infirm, the substance addicted, the handicapped, soldiers, and the deeply assimilated.

I recently supervised as an outside reader an Israeli social work MA on the principles of inclusion of the Rebbe. Whereas, most Jewish communal work is focused on the core of those committed or bringing people into the core, Chabad as expressed in the Rebbe’s talks includes everyone. They can fill an empty synagogue space by going door to door and inviting the elderly and infirm, or bring people from a local institution or assimilated merchants. They can ask tattooed musicians or intermarried storekeepers: “Are you Jewish?” Many say they want to learn from Chabad in doing outreach but then miss the point by doing outreach only to comfortable and well-organized suburbanites. Then you are only doing marketing and not imitating Chabad who are doing inclusion. I am not saying that Chabad always has the knowledge and professional skills to handle the problems of these constituencies, but they include them.

Hence, one of the first groups to make much of this day were the Chabad groups engaged in outreach to prisoners.

It’s a most opportune day to change for the better, notes Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel, the executive director of the northeast chapter of the Aleph Institute, an international organization that aims to help incarcerated Jews and their families, in addition to Jewish service men and women in the U.S. military.

The nonprofit entity will host its seventh annual Re-Entry Symposium, a training program for Jewish chaplains who serve people in prisons, hospitals or group homes. “The way forward is to teach” people who are incarcerated, emphasizes Vogel, “and give them the rehab they need to become productive citizens.”

“We all trip in our own ways, and we have to know that there is a second chance,” says the rabbi. “We can always repent. We can start off life anew. We can fix the errors that we have made.”

Here is where this blog post comes in. These concept of second chances and these activities of inclusion are mainstream in the 21th century among many Americans. When the Chabad chaplains were organizing, so too the Christian and non-affiliated groups have been organizing for the last decade. Most of you are probably unaware that in April 2017, the month of April was adopted in a bipartisan action as “Second Chance Month for those affected by Crime and Incarceration.” The United States has institutionalized April as a time of Second Chances and it coincides every year with Pesach Sheni

In 2017, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring April “Second Chance Month,” a time to focus on giving those who have committed a crime, done their time, and have been released back into the community a second chance to be productive and contributing citizens. The 65 million Americans with a criminal record experience limited access to jobs, education, housing, and other things necessary for a full and productive life.

Make your church a welcoming place for people affected by crime and incarceration with a message on redemption and a special prayer time for impacted families.

Someone even wrote a speech for President Trump on this theme of reintegration in society after incarceration.

During Second Chance Month, our Nation emphasizes the need to prevent crime on our streets, to respect the rule of law by prosecuting individuals who break the law, and to provide opportunities for people with criminal records to earn an honest second chance.  Affording those who have been held accountable for their crimes an opportunity to become contributing members of society is a critical element of criminal justice that can reduce our crime rates and prison populations, decrease burdens to the American taxpayer, and make America safer.

pesach sheni

Further Extensions to the Holocaust and to Acceptance of our defects.

As noted, this idea of a second chance moved to many directions. There are dozens of applications online, but I only want to note a few.

It has been extended as a way to understand how Holocaust survivors were given a second chance, helped by the proximity of Holocaust Remembrance day to Pesach Sheni. There are stories online connecting Pesach Sheni to the liberation of Buchenwald and the Passover eating of matza held that year on Pesach Sheni. “All Jews were invited by Rabbi [Herschel] Schacter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn’t observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date…The prisoners of Buchenwald never dreamt they would be given a second chance.

Here is one where the Holocaust theme become a model for accepts our defects and moving beyond things that hold us back.

The Gift of Second Chances 

Some apply the concept to their personal narratives as children of Holocaust survivors and their own having to learn compassion as second generation of survivors. “My parents’ lives were replete with second chances. My mother lost her entire family, yet she was able to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a physician. My father survived numerous dramatic encounters with death…”  Yet this author notes they became critical and perfectionist with their children.  “My parents survived on second chances, but they were unable to offer me (or my siblings) the same. Perfectionism ruled our home. Mistakes were not an option. Compliance was survival. Criticism was the language of lullabies; I was nursed on negativity.”

Today I have compassion. I know that my parents could not have done any differently. With their pain, they built the best lives they could. They endured unimaginable horrors. They lacked the gift of faith.

In their plea for a second chance to bring the Passover offering, our ancestors gave expression to our own inner truths: Just because we have inherited traits and adopted behaviors that do not serve us well, why should we miss out on the joys of life? We, too, want fullness and richness and serenity in our lives, true closeness in our relationships.

The same author then extends this framework of not  missing out on the joys in life to brader issues of Judaism and serving God with our imperfections.

The gifts of recovery stem from our connection with our Creator. Biblically, bringing offerings was about coming close to G‑d. In our days, we, too, bring our offerings as a way of coming close to G‑d. We present our defects of character. We offer our addictions, our passions, our habits. We beg G‑d to remove the obstacles to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well being.

Many recovery groups study Step Five this month. We admit to G‑d, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is Pesach Sheni/Second Chance work! In admitting our shortcomings in this manner, we have another opportunity to renew our relationship with G‑d. We can become acquainted with our true selves.

Pesach Sheni as a holiday for Feminism and LGBTQ inclusion

Pesach Sheni can represent the inclusion of women for example using the daughters of Tzelophechad as an example.  This Year JOFA is hold a women’s seder on Pesach Sheni as part of a message of inclusion. An example of an Orthodox feminist application is the following:

Nowadays Pesach Sheni is a symbolic date on our calendar, but we can imbue it with contemporary significance by lending it to the ongoing debate around the inclusion of women in rituals from which they have traditionally been exempt. The debate, comprised of numerous elements, both halakhic and hashkafic, would be richer if it included the sociological role of belonging that many of these rituals invoke.

It may well be that in strict halakhic terms a woman is exempt from a particular ritual, but as Pesach Sheini informs us, exemption often comes at a cost. In the case of women and ritual, the cost can be alienation and disconnection from the sacred community. The important question then is, can we afford to bear this cost?

An analogy between the celebration Pesach Sheni and the allowance of same sex marriage as an act of inclusion. Several online statements argue that this Torah portion tells us God instituted a new holiday to enable all people to be involved even if they were different.

They usually connect this inclusion to general diversity issues related to gender and sexuality, but also race, ethnicity, and class

Our Torah portion tells us God instituted a new holiday to enable all people to be involved even if they were different. Putting this notion into modern times makes it easy to believe God wants us to be able to marry if we choose to, since today, marriage can be perceived as analogous to Pesach observance for our ancestors many millennia ago: it demonstrates a kind of “fitting in” or adherence to “expectations” and we all deserve to be able to do this if we feel so inclined.

Second, all people, according to the Torah, are held to the same standards no matter when they celebrate Pesach. Similarly, no matter whether a marriage is same or opposite sex, God expects the same level of commitment, respect, etc. within the relationship; simply being different doesn’t mean we are held to a different-no matter whether it’s lower or higher standard than other people are.


American Popular Psychology Applications of Pesach Sheni

This topic of second chances is playing a bigger role in American culture. For example, there is a journalistic pop psych book “The God of Second Chances,” by Marcia Z. Nelson in which the author traveled the United States in search of people whose lives were transformed by religion.  She found people who returned to religion as a second chance after drugs, after tragic loss of family in premature deaths, after involvement in extreme political groups.

None of her stories told how everything has been wonderful since they found God, the struggles continue, even after divine presence has entered into their lives and transformed them. Rather the book showed that shows something that American organized religion tends not to see: “the extreme highs and lows that characterize the lives of many people, including people of faith.” And it showed the complex ebb and flow, the forward and backward movement of divine transformation. “Sometimes, there are permanent scars. The Jewish man, for example, lost his once-powerful voice to throat cancer – an experience he understood as God taking him by the throat and insisting, “Shut up. Stop talking. Start listening.” The important thing about second chances is that the past can and will influence your life forever. A person uses their struggles to fuel the second chance.

In a similar manner, there are human-interest stories from Jewish journalists about their second chances and their overcoming a sense of disconnection. Websites such as Aish can sanctify people getting their lives in order as part of the Torah concept of Pesach Sheni.

Pesach Sheni: The Holiday of Second Chances Karen Wolfers Rapaport

Disconnection is often a byproduct of unconscious living. When we let our conditioning be our compass so that our paths never change, neither will our landscape. Whether it’s in relation to ourselves or to others we will feel disconnected from the inroads that lead to our essential self.

But life gives us many second chances. And each time we choose to live consciously and move from judgment to compassion, apathy to care, idleness to activity, we begin to reconnect and travel towards home… Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover, thus represents the power of rerouting to our core, to our Divine connection.

American Society and Second Chances

Prof David Newman, a sociologist at DePauw University delivered a paper on “The Practice and Promise of Second Chances in American Culture” and will have a forthcoming book The Promise, Practice and Price of Second Chances in American Culture (Lexington Books), projected to be published in 2019 (Lexington Books). He shared his unpublished paper delivered at the ASA with me.

Newman notes that the news is filled with stories of high-profile people making serious mistakes, crimes, or acts of bad behavior, followed by apologies, then a period of non-visibility (in rehab, in prison, on the disabled list, under suspension, or simply in seclusion). The conclusion is inevitably the individual claiming to experience an epiphany about the misdirection of his or her former life and promises to be a better person from now on, allowing him or her to make a comeback.

But our American lives are filled with adults shifting the trajectory of their lives, divorces remarrying, or fortunate patients overcoming a life-threatening medical condition. According to Newman, “in every facet of our lives” including “intimate relationships, academic performance, occupational choices, financial well-being, run-ins with the law, spiritual happiness, physical health” Americans “expect and seek out opportunities to overcome past misfortune, fix past mistakes, amend past transgressions, or correct past failures.”  Newman notes that the concept of a second chance is a “quintessential cultural paradox,” which represents “individual hopes for redemption, while at the same time it reminds us of our harshest proscriptions and darkest suspicions about the intransigence of human nature.

We find the concept of a second chance “in some form, in societies around the world, it has an especially American appeal.” It combines “Judeo-Christian tradition’s allowance for sinners to repent or atone for their sins and be fully redeemed” with American “therapeutic ideology, providing a progressive, optimistic, curative setting for individual rehabilitation while simultaneously rebuffing the notion that people are inherently, permanently flawed.”

Newman counted over 2,000 listings in the Library of Congress “for novels with “Second Chance” or “Starting Over” in the title.” In addition, “second chance imagery is especially strong in our popular cinema.” We use the phrase second chance in diverse aspects of our life ,” there are second chance checking accounts, second chance credit cards, second chance auto loans, and second chance low-rent.”

In short, we want each phase of our lives to lead logically and progressively to the next… By connecting past transgressions or mistakes to future opportunities for a second chance, we allow our life stories to unfold in a comprehensible trajectory. We are thus able to create order out of a life that might appear on the surface to be muddled and aimless.

When you combine this sort of cultural ethos with the equally powerful western value of individual achievement and the drive for success, it is not surprising that a narrative has taken hold that rhetorically and pragmatically provides people who have somehow fallen short with opportunities to reboot and start over. The second chance serves as road repair—renovating the cracks, filling the potholes, and ultimately smoothing the route to future accomplishment and fulfillment.

As the therapeutic second chance industry has grown, it has become highly specialized. Yet Newman’s analysis of these agencies revealed that they are split roughly equally between those that exist to help people whose misbehaviors have gotten them into trouble, including ex-prisoners, former substance abusers, rebellious teens. And those that seek to help people who are victims of some unfortunate life turn that they couldnot control, including homeless people, transplant recipients, cancer survivors, domestic violence victims.

Newman notes with surprise “that a significant number of agencies… make no distinction at all between the various types of suffering that lead people to a point where they need a second chance… “Indeed some agencies pride themselves on the fact that they attempt to serve the needs of anyone who needs a second chance, no matter who or why.” The philosophic and theological concept of a  second chance takes precedence over the causes of that need. Hence, troubled teens, substance abuser or ex-criminals are treated together with cancer survivors, homeless, and violence victims.

Newman contrasts this new narrative with the concept of the permanent stigma narrative. One cannot have any do overs or second chances in this model. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This more traditional alternative stress that  “Once a ________, always a ________,” for Newman this model “resonates in this culture just as much as the redemption rhetoric.”

Contemporary Theology

These popular ideas of second chances and finding a means for inclusion of those who were excluded is also important in contemporary theology. There are dozens of books on the topic and American theological schools and seminaries offer courses on inclusion and second chances. Courses teach about offering hospitality to those in our population considered strangers and to enable students to use that moral framework in developing a pastoral response to contemporary issues of diversity and inclusion in church and society.

Persons with disabilities help theologians to rethink theological assumptions about God, humanity, and the church. They are also helping ministry practitioners to make worship more inclusive and hospitable to all people. For example, religion cannot only be for the smart, able, and wealthy.  The courses discuss diversity, race relations, homelessness, refugees, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities.

The goal of these courses is to teach that we are not our limitations and our limited bodies, or conversely we are our bodies and limitations. The community has to learn to be accepting without being patronizing, rather the fundamental anthopology has to be inclusive.

Here are some examples:

On Disability read Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God  and Amos Yong,  The Bible, Disability, and the  Church. Then discuss How do contemporary perspectives about disability change how we think of human nature? How does our view of disability affect pastoral care and welcome for those with disabilities?

When I read these theological works on physical disability, I wanted to blog about how that changes our views of Maimonides, of Soloveitchik, and of Modern Orthodoxy but never had the chance. If most of our conceptions of our prior conceptions Torah are intellectualist then where do the mentally challenged, the person with cerebral palsy, or the deaf fit in? Not the question of whether they can be called to the Torah for an aliyah but what is our religious anthropology?

On Gender read Sarah Coakley,  God, Sexuality, and the Self,  then discuss how do women’s voices change discussions of gender and sexuality? What is the relationship between theology and pastoral care in matters of gender

Older classics from twenty years ago on these topics that won awards include:

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.; Bernard Adeney, Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World. InterVarsity Press, 1995;Brett Webb-Mitchell, Unexpected Guests at God’s Banquet: Welcoming People with Disabilities into the Church. NY: Crossroad, 1994.


Traditional Sources on Pesach Sheni not related to Second Chances

Pesach Sheni is the Yom Hillula -Yahrzeit of the Tanna, Rabbi Meir “Baal HaNess” (“Master of the miracle”), on which the charity Kupath Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess Kolel Polen, founded in 1796 in Poland named after the tanna Rabbi Meir.  The charity was founded by Rabbi Abraham Kalisker, leader of the Hasidim in Tiberias. He secured the assistance of Rabbi Mordecai of Nieschiz, who issued a proclamation urging all Jews of Poland regardless of age, gender, or living conditions, to pay a fixed sum every week for the support of their countrymen who had settled in the Holy Land. The amount was to be paid quarterly, in addition to special donations at weddings, circumcisions, and other religious rejoicings.

In the Ra’aya Meheimna (The Faithful Shepherd) section of the Zohar, an early 14th-century work that makes Moses the faithful shepherd, not Shimon bar Yochai as the hero and protagonist. In this reading the divine Matron descends to be seen in her full regalia for a full month which ends on Pesach Sheni. (It is like a darshan of Shakhti in Hinduism). This second passsover is from the left-handed side of gevurah from binah in which all human impurity is burned off in the fire of gevurah.

It is a commandment to make a second Pesach for those that were unable or were defiled by any other uncleanness. If the secret of Pesach, which is the secret of the faith in which Yisrael entered, dominates in the month of Nissan and then it is the time for rejoicing, how could those who were unable to prepare it on time, or were defiled, make up for it in the second month, seeing that its time had already passed?

Once the Congregation of Israel is adorned with its crowns in the month of Nissan, she does not remove these crowns and adornments from herself for thirty days. The Matron sits in her adornments all these thirty days, beginning with the day of the exodus of Israel since the Pesach lamb and all her legions are in a state of happiness. Whoever wishes to see the Matron may look.

A proclamation calls: Whoever did not get a chance to see the Matron should come and look before the gates are locked. When is this proclamation proclaimed? It is on the fourteenth day of the second month, since the gates remain open from then on for seven days following. Following that, they lock the gates. Therefore, this is the second Pesach.

The Shekhinah is the first Pesach from the right side, and the second Pesah from the left. The first Pesach is from the right where Hokhmah prevails. The second Pesach is in the left where Binah prevails. In Gevurah all foreign fires are removed, which are like straw and chaff in relation to the fire of Gevurah. The unclean are delayed until the second Pesach.

For an example of a non-hasidic homily, I offer Rav Gedalia Schorr who read Hasidut including Izbitz and Rav Zadok, yet treats the holiday as our chance to show our yeshivish effort and earned merit unlike Passover itself which was God’s hand.

Rav Gedalia Schorr in Ohr Gedalyahu explains that Pesach is a great gift from Hashem.  Normally for us to get something from Hashem we must make the first move towards Hashem and then he reciprocates by opening the floodgates.  You open up a miniscule opening for Hashem and Hashem will open a gigantic opening for you.  We didn’t make the slightest move towards Hashem in Egypt yet Hashem ignored that and came our rescue anyway.

Sefira is a time where after having received Hashem’s great chesed on Pesach we go back slowly and earn it day by day… When we demanded Pesach Sheini Hashem opened up the Heavens and graced us with this wonderful opportunity.  The whole point of this second Pesach was that the inspiration come from us below.

Finally, as I was writing this blog post a lecture with a restrictive message of not missing the boat appeared on YUTorah on Pesach Sheni. It was given in Israel by an Ivy League law graduate and former law partner whose entire emphasis was about exclusion or a narrow life boat. We need to find a way to submit to the fixed system in order to be counted, the opposite of all these recent trends. The lecturer basic showed how without keeping Passover you are entirely excluded from the Jewish people and without believing in God’s miraculous hand in the Passover story, you are excluded and deserving of excision from the people (karet). If one is excluded, then one is outside the foundations of Torah and hence excluded regardless of the reason. Pesach Sheni is way to make sure you don’t miss the boat in submission in thought and action and find yourself excluded or cut off (karet).

Shlissel Challah, Bread Baking, and the Relief of Anxiety -An Update

This is an update of a post from 2016 with revisions based on extensive Facebook discussion. New posts are coming within a few days.

For those who do not know, in recent years there has been a revival of the folk practice of baking a key into Challah (Shlissel Challah) during the week after Passover as a charm to insure successful livelihood.

In short, I will treat the ritual as modern home ritual focusing on baking bread after Passover, not as a magical act, and sometimes as an act done to relieve the anxiety for making a good livelihood because people are very concerned about paying their bills and making a living especially after the economic downturn.  But, it is more connected to the trend of challah baking parties and contemporary spirituality. It has become a form of annual symbolism, the same way one buys a round challah for Rosh Hashanah, one buys a key challah this week.

This post is not about the Hasidic community or  those who were doing it thirty years ago. It is only about the progress of the custom in the modern community within the last dozen years. If you were from a community doing it thirty years ago, then I am not addressing you. 

Malinowski in Teaneck

For more than decade, I have wanted to do an article entitled “Malinowski in Teaneck.” This is just the tip of the iceberg of many related observations on this topic. I do not think one needs to accept all, or even most, of the functionalism of Malinowski, but the insights are valuable.

Already fifteen years ago, I was taking note of the huge amount of magical acts, healing practices, segulot, and rituals to affect or change bad situations that took place among the modern Orthodox Jews of Bergen county. Keeping track and documenting of the magical practices was easy through the local community shul list serve, currently at over 14,000 members, where invitations to practices were openly posted.

The famed anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski  (d. 1884-1942) wrote seminal articles in the 1920’s and 1930’s showing that people turn to magic when they are doing everything right but things are still coming out wrong.  For example, when a person did everything right in one’s farming or fishing, but one still had well-placed anxiety about this year’s harvest since life is never certain. One released the tension through magical practices. One did magical practices to ensure a good catch even though you still knew it was based on skill and hard work because life remains fragile and contingent.

My original intention was to post about the magic practices by those in Teaneck stricken by illness. Last decade there was a boom in these new practices. They know they have to go to doctors and specialists, along with second and third medical opinions; they know it depends on modern science and the best procedures. But when that fails they turn to magic to deal with the anxiety about the failure and that they have exhausted all possible means. In addition, in their minds they did everything right religiously, they went to the right gap year programs, they followed the rules for social and professional success-so they are left the question: why did this happen? The halakhic universe of duty and obligations does not address their anxiety. Telling them it is nonsense or forbidden is beside the point in relieving anxiety and fear. They will just seek the relief elsewhere.

According to Malinowski:

Wherever there are situations of danger or uncertainty, rift between ideals and realities, or human crisis and resulting in anxiety and fear, religion and magic steps in and attempts to resolve, mediate and/or lessen, and provides chart and procedural knowledge to give order and control.

He must admit that neither his knowledge nor his most painstaking efforts are a warranty of success. Something unaccountable usually enters and baffles his anticipations…Man feels that he can do something to wrestle with that mysterious element or force, to help and abet his luck.

There are no peoples however primitive without religion and magic. Nor are there, it must be added at one, any savage races lacking in either the scientific attitude, or in science, though this lack has been frequently attributed to them.

Malinowski wrote that: “Magic therefore, far from being primitive science, is the outgrowth of clear recognition that science has its limits and that a human mind and human skill are at times impotent.”  These practices are non-pseudo- science; people know what they have to do rationally.  Rather, they are means to deal with the frustrations of real life.  Malinowski confirms the Talmud when it says: “Most sailors are pious, He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea,” (Mish. Kid. iv. 14).

Magic is to be expected and generally to be found whenever man comes to an unbridgeable gap, a hiatus in his knowledge or in his powers of practical control and yet has to continue in his pursuit. Forsaken by his knowledge, balled by the results of his experience, unable to apply any effective technical skill, he realizes his impotence. Yet his desire grips him only the more strongly. His fears and hopes, his general anxiety, produce state of unstable equilibrium in his organism by which he is driven to some sort of vicarious activity.

Malinowski still acknowledges the rituals of social order and heightened tension but some are the result of psychological anxieties. What he is rejecting it the approaches of the 19th century E. B. Tylor who developed the evolutionary scheme where people need to be taught to move past their superstitious past based on a lack of knowledge of science and accept the rational world of science.  For Tylor, magic is attempt of bad science cause-effect For Malinowski, magic reduces anxiety and is integrated within proper knowledge of procedures for success, hence it is still part of the life of modern scientific people.

According to Malinowski, the ritual eases stress, mental conflict and possible psychic disintegration. In addition, magic serves not only as an integrative force to the individual but also as an organizing force to society when the stress is collective.

Most practitioners of anxiety magic are middle-class professionals. To take a noticeable case that has been subject to several studies is the great American pastime of baseball . Most baseball players , similar to Talmudic sailors, engage in various magical practices because one can still have bad days despite their training, hard work, and skills.  They have million dollar contracts, managers, and coaches. Yet, they engage in many magical rituals to relieve the stress of winning. They are not following Hasidic customs or pagan practices; they are not ignoring their training or thinking that is all they need. Rather, they are attaching their hope and fear onto a practice as a way of relieving anxiety. Many professions, even those in the upper middle class, or maybe especially those in the upper middle class, partake of a variety of magical practices.

Alternately, Michael Taussig, the Australian anthropologist,  points out the role of magical ritual in capitalist production of wealth, in that, wealth is a limited commodity and requires magic and contact with the devil to obtain a share of it. Michael Taussig’s discusses how societies that come into contact with capitalism for the first time tend to find this fetishistic process pretty weird, and associate it with magic and sorcery—Columbian rural farmers, when introduced to capitalist agriculture, developed myths about how one could, by dealing with the devil, plant money in hope that this money will grow, a practice which only strikes outsiders as strange because the would-be devil worshipers weren’t going about it the right way, using savings accounts, mutual funds etc. The observant life style would be be a form of creation of capital. The desire for wealth creates a need to perform magical acts. This would be a fruitful alternate line of thinking to Malinowski.

Shlissel Challah and Segulah

Now to the segulah of Shlissel Challah, which is to either bake a key into a challah, or to form the challah in the shape of a key for the first Shabbat after Passover . The key is supposed to allow the opening of the gates of heaven for money and making a living. The custom has early 19th century roots in a custom of the Ukrainian Hasidic Rebbes, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz and Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, popularly known as the Apter Rebbe (d. 1825).  (For the current Ultra-Orthodox debate on the topic, see here.)

In addition, there are scores of practices involving the connections of the sacredness of the twelve loaves  of show-bread, the manna in the desert and sacred eating go back to Second Temple times and are further developed in Midrash and Zohar. These themes of the holiness of sacramental bread have not been emphasized in recent history.

Segulot are the Jewish magical and folk charm and remedy practices, of which there are thousands.  Some date back to Second Temple times and the tradition of using them continued unabated through two millennium of Jewish life. They collected in large volumes with names like Sefer HaSegulot, Sefer Ha-Refuʾah Ve-HaSegulah, and Sefer haZekhirah. The Talmud advises that Psalm 91 wards off mazikin (evil spirits or demons), the priestly blessing has been seen as having healing powers since antiquity, and there are dozens of segulot to help retrieve lost objects, prevent fire, remember Torah, to use as love potions, or ward off wild beasts.

A widely accepted magical practice in Judaism is to spill wine while reciting the ten plagues of the Passover seder as a means of either inflicting punishment on our enemies by sympathetic magic or as a general prophylactic against evil forces. For those who want a catalog of thousands of medieval Jewish magical practices from the Ashkenaz lands, one should see Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion (1939), dated but still offering a window into traditional folk Jewish practice.  (The book is available online here.)

For a wonderful up to date book on magic in the Talmud and rabbinic Judaism, see here in my interview with Yuval Harari on his excellent book Jewish Magic Before the Rise of the Kabbalah (2017).

Non-Jews also do magic, have symbolism in their baked goods for the holidays, and have folk customs, not only Jews. There is no reason to assume influence. These practices go back at least a millennium. And Gruenbaum’s Kosher bakery in the Heights used to bake a variety of Christian symbolic cakes and breads during Holy Week for their Christian customers.

In the early 20th century, the most common Jewish magical practices were done to ensure a successful pregnancy, to ward off small pox, and to prevent croup, crib death, and other dangers to infants.  Every child’s room had a talisman to ward off childhood illness. With the rise of modern medicine they receded from common practice.   But the practices returned in the twenty first century.  Much of it is due to the loss of faith in progress and science conquering all. Susan Sered, in her book Women as Ritual Experts (1992) noted the role of amulets for infertility in 1980’s Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, a current sociologist notes that there has been more magic in the West in the last 35 years than the entire 200 years prior in the age of Enlightenment


So Why Shlissel Challah?

Shaping challah into seasonal shapes was a regular family practice in the old county as part of weekly baking. Ukrainian Jews shaped the challah before Yom Kippur in the image of birds for an ascent and that sins should fly away, they shaped them into a hand for Hoshanah Rabbah for our fate to be sealed, birds also for shabbat shirah, a key for Iyyar in that the manna stopped falling, and a ladder for Shavuot for a ladder to heaven (and sulam numerically equals Sinai).

Of all the varied traditions of baking, only the custom of the challah in the shape of the key returned about 12 years ago as a quaint custom but caught on about five years ago. It became widespread 2011-2012 and continues to be mainstreamed.  Of all the various Challah customs, this one was specially chosen and the others ignored because of the anxiety about making a living and as a transition back to bread baking after Passover

All of the well-rehearsed discussions of the high cost of Orthodox living show the anxiety about making a living, This ritual acknowledges the very unspoken knowledge of people unemployed or underemployed or have lost their homes.There is a real anxiety about making a living even among those with good jobs, even dual income with six figures each.

(As a 2018 update, the staying power of this custom has more to do with the return to chametz after Passover. People are looking forward to Challah this week. Now Bagel stores and bakeries make key-challah this week for the symbolism. You do not see Bagel stores engaged in other segulot, this custom has now become like the symbolism of round challot for Rosh Hashanah, not like the segulot done by faith healers.)

I must point out that this is not a general turn to Hasidic customs. People are not picking up the very traditional and pious ritual practice of celebrating the seventh day of Passover as a holiday of God’s power, or dancing through water to celebrate the splitting of the sea, despite the hundreds of sources nor are they following the dozens of other post-passover segulot.

Challah and Home

But why choose Challah? The contemporary books of segulot list many practices to insure a livelihood and most of them can also be given Hasidic approbation.

Segulot for making a living include sharpening knives for the Sabbath, buying a new knife for Rosh Hashanah, putting Havdalah wine into one’s pockets, letting Havdalah wine overflow in abundance, and not to throw out any bread. The table and Rosh Hashanah are the traditional locations where the anxiety to make a living plays itself out.

The most famous practice to make a livelihood as quoted in the Shulchan Aruch is to say with intention the section on the giving of the manna every day after prayers, a practice fallen in observance.

Rather, than these traditional practices that are in the Shulkhan Arukh, people are picking something home based and originally gendered as a woman’s activity. The anthropologist Tamar El-Or in an article  “A Temple in Your Kitchen” notes the treating of the separation of challah at home as a Temple service, as a special new collective ritual activity beyond just the need to make weekly bread

She argues that there is currently an inversion in the categories associated with the Temple sacrifice: “The placement of the Temple and the kitchen side by side in the public hafrashat hallah ceremony challenges the division between the public and the private, between male and female…” The Biblical commandment of sacrifice meant to be carried out in the public space of the Temple, moves into the home. “Instead of a private act accomplished by each woman inside her house, the ceremony offers a public spiritual event.”

The renaissance of hafrashat hallah is an “event.” A halakhic practice… has been refashioned to suit contemporary audiences. It has become a celebration of womanhood, an opportunity to shop, to pray, and to learn new recipes. The mass hafrashat hallah ceremonies are policing entertainments, fun targeted toward education and discipline, and a good traded in a bustling and competitive spiritual market. These ceremonies mark a gendered old-new realm of action and a creative initiative within the teshuvah industry.

In the busy schedule of America, this is a chance to create a home ritual in the context of the recent return to cooking and being a foodie. The baking of shlissel challah is an artisan endeavor and part of the new custom of the large group challah-baking events, which I see as a related phenomenon. Far fewer people bake or cook consistently compared to a half a century ago but they like episodic cooking and baking. The bread is not baked out of necessity rather a sense of do it yourself.

This leads to the ritual being picked up on Kosher cooking and Jewish family interests blogs  even for a wider Jewish audience who do not have the anxieties. It becomes a once a year nice Jewish home activity. The internet has played a tremendous role in the rapid spread of this custom in the wider community, which in turn normalizes the activity. Synagogues now have events this week for a collective baking of challah.

Some have made claims that this is a return of chassdic custom but as stated above chassidc practice was to make special challot many times in the year since they had to bake every week. And there are thousands of other chassidc customs that modern orthodoxy is ignoring.  I even have found several who say this is a way to reconnect to almost world of Europe in that it cannot be a “coincidence that Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Rememberance Day, falls around the time of the shlissel challah.”  They are using the Chassidc label to create an aura of authenticity to a do- it-yourself artisan activity.

The custom also points to the role of women in needing to generate income and take on the struggles of the family. But this week, they take the time to bake a challah symbolic of making a living.



There is another element -the new found binary relationship between Chometz and Passover. A clear demarcation of donut and matzah.

In our age of Passover plenty and also weekly plenty, few are looking forward to the Passover treats. Rather we like our routines.  No, I should say that we love our routines. There is a new widespread folk ritual in local modern Orthodoxy of specifically going to Dunkin Donuts for one last Coolatta  and donut, or to the bagel store for one last everything bagel with a smear. You see the new Jewish ritual of waiting in the long lines at Dunkin Donuts, then sitting with the little kids on the curb in a strip mall or walking in circles around the block as one eats one’s last leaven bread.

On the other side of the holiday,  the transition back to normal life after Passover  is an anticlimax and involves a great deal of work in returning the house to the normal non-Passover dishes. People need a transitional ritual of a return to leavened bread and what could be a better practice than baking challah. (Update- there is an increase in pizza parties and Maimouna among Ashkenaz Jews on the night after Passover. As noted above, people are looking forward to challah this week.)

Most busy people ran back to work and had little sense of closure so challah is a treat after two weeks without fresh bread.


I received this week from two rabbis statements of the meaning of the ritual for their congregants in both cases the message is connecting to God.

The first one addressed the critics of the ritual and the second one made a spiritual case for it.  “I think if you are the kind of Jew who thinks – ‘what does working have to do with earning a living, G-d will provide, especially if I do shisel chalah?’ – then they you should NOT do it. But if you are the kind of Jew who thinks ‘What does God have to do with earning a living, I have a great job?’ then you should do it!”

The second one said the purpose was  spiritual engagement . One takes something mundane and elevates  it to a higher level. The Biblical, Rabbinic and Hasidic sources connecting  this challah making to a form of self-sufficiency and helping others as part of a community. The key message is how to improve our connection with the HaKadosh Barukh Hu (the Holy One Blessed be He)and use this as a moment to be spiritually engaged.

The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah teaches us that on Pesach we are judged on how much grain we will have for the coming year. The Apter Rebbe connects this to the Shabbos after Pesach to wit baking the challah in the sharp of a key. When Israel finally arrived in the land  after Pesach the manna stopped and they ate from the produce of the land. It was at that point that they had to make their own food . So the Apter Rebbe said now they had to move from passivity and complete reliance on Hashem to actually being productive with the ability to create things and support things and move towards self-sufficiency. Parnassa then means taking the wheat and making the bread-taking what G d gives us and then in partnership building on that.

The Forward posted a nice piece on the topic similar to the second rabbi based on the need for self-sufficiency. It concluded:

The movement from manna to bread, the movement from Egypt to Israel and the movement from Passover to Shavuot are all linked through the commitment to human activity. I’m putting a key on my challah this Shabbat to remind myself of that moment, that first communal moment where we stopped waiting for bread to fall from the skies and started making it ourselves — and perhaps to remind myself that the keys to those gates may be in my hands.

Another homily was found on the Aish HaTorah website in the name of Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller. It should be noted that during her long and successful career she contributed to making many long forgotten midrashim,  wild aggadah, and kabbalistic legends into mainstream Torah. She makes ordinary activities fraught with spiritual meaning.  The reader should notice in this excerpt of a long article how she moves from the universal to the feminine and then to why this is not idolatry.

Everything is in its essence holy, kodesh, and always will be. God gives us permission to use His world for a “mundane, chol” purpose, under one condition: that we preserve its holy essence…”Ordinary” life has a holy source, and it is our responsibility to use it well. This is especially true in regard to bread. Nothing is more “ordinary” than eating. Yet on an intuitive level we can connect to the mystic energy of the earth itself while making bread, in its feel and texture. It is meant to touch us deeply, and halacha (literally, “the way to walk”) tells us how use its power well.

Humans, as a combination of body and soul, flour and water, are like a dough.

The Shlah explains that everything we observe in this world has a spiritual parallel…  The Torah is telling us that while bread alone may sustain the body, it is the word of God — concealed within the physical properties of the bread — that sustains one’s soul. And separating challah initiates this process of spiritual nurture.

It is instructive to note that in the biblical text (Numbers ch. 15), the mitzvah of challah is juxtaposed to the laws prohibiting idol worship. What possible connection exists between uplifting bread and polytheism? The nature of idol worship is to see the Creator as being removed from His creations… By taking challah, we are saying that God is here! He is the source of our souls, bodies, and the forces that sustain them. He is One, and nothing is separate from His transcendental unity.

Our matriarch Sarah achieved this level in her own lifetime. The Talmud tells us that her bread stayed fresh from Friday to Friday. The life force that she was able to identify — the Shechinah presence of God — did not depart. In her role as matriarch, Sarah laid the foundations for the future of every Jewish woman’s spiritual journey. God allowed her to experience a miracle week after week — leaving an indelible imprint not just on her, but on each of her future descendants.

In the last few days there have been posts from Reconstructionist rabbis and new age-Chabad rabbis and cooking blogs all giving spiritual and symbolic interpretations of the new practice.

The Best of Physicians is destined for Gehenna

The same Talmudic passage above about the the piety of sailors (and baseball players) continues by decrying  that “the best of physicians is destined for Gehenna.” Why? The most common answer is because they see their lives as not dependent on God. They trust their skill and personal talents to solve problems without seeing anything higher.

The public face of Modern Orthodoxy is very professional and ordered -trusting in its skill as doctors, lawyers, accountants, and IT personal to solve problems.  They do not say I wont become a physician because the Talmud condemns doctors. Their religion is very self-sufficient and not magical. But how does this play in an era of spirituality and placing greater emphasis on the spiritual self over the organizational?

Ordinary people, for whom the anxieties of life are still the traditional concerns of “children, health, and livelihood” still need to turn to divine help. They need something to relate to their fears and hopes against a backdrop of the age of spirituality. For them the magic and supernatural and the possibility of faith remains a concern, even if they live in a scientific non-magical world. For many, if not most, ordinary people, religion is about having God in their lives life.

As a side observation, last decade there was a local synagogue based drive for better prayer. They mailed everyone an Orthodox book that said that the way to pray is to ask for all your personal needs to God: health, children, job stress, cooking stress, laundry stress, computer problems, burnt food.  It had follow-up by speakers teaching the same points. One turns to prayer in order to solve daily problems. In a ritualized world, it was inevitable to generate ritual. This was one of the many moments of the last decade that laid the groundwork for seeing God in one’s daily problems.

It is interesting to note that members of both the right and left of the Orthodoxy world unite in having written articles condemning the practice as superstition  For them, their deep anxiety is over the boundaries and purity of Orthodox. The left is anxious  about the perceived right wing distortion of Orthodoxy and the right is worried about the left wing distortion of Orthodoxy. For both of them, the practice of turning to God does not relate to their concern for the future of Orthodoxy.  And for both of them it does taint their rational visions of a legal centered Orthodoxy that keeps direct experience of God out of their lives.

The critics mistakenly think  that the performer of segulot is practicing bad science and superstition in the nineteenth century E. B. Tylor patronizing way of telling the natives that their practices were just bad science. It also similar to the 19th century works ascribing Jewish rituals such as dietary laws to bad science.

The same 19th century anthropologists such as Tylor and Frazer cited to show the cross-cultural phenomena of such practices also showed the pagan superstitious totemistic sources of tefillin, shofar, and four species. Many books of the early twentieth century use these arguments to show that all Jewish ritual is just pagan. The current Orthodox rationalist critics of the practice are selectively using sources that undercut the very roots of any observance.  There are magical aspects to spilling drops of wine at the seder and many other practices.

The critics think that the person baking a key in the challah needs to be demeaned by being told that if they want a job they should learn to polish their resume or get job training. They are oblivious that every modern Orthodoxy article and sermon viewed it as a holiday of self-sufficiency or as only symbolic. They are not using it as magic, just a nice shape of challah. At most it is the need for the relief of anxieties of making enough of a livelihood done in a spiritual content. The critics are projecting magical thinking onto others when those who do it only treat it as a symbol, and even a symbol of self-sufficiency.

In addition, many of the critics have a clear sense of mansplaning against gendered women’s challah practices and practices outside of communal synagogue life.

There are similar phenomena among Evangelical Christians who create a rational understanding of their faith and then decry the popular practices of Christmas and Easter with their eggs, bunnies, and magical practices, which they reject. These Evangelicals separate out a core rationalist belief from their personally perceived popular and pagan elements. They assume that if one removes these practices as non-rational then the rest of their belief system becomes rational. One sees the same trends here. In both, the rationalism of their personal views overrides the imaginative, symbolic, and human.

In the end, I do not think one needs to accept all the functionalism of Malinowski and almost no one takes it as primitive science the ways the critics portray it. All we have is a ritual of challah baking, new women’s customs, and using the mundane a a way to turn to God, nice for families, and a special event of challah after Passover done in an age of anxiety.

h/t and deep thank you to all those who responded to my FB call as I was writing this and the two years of FB comments that modified the original.

Still Here- Will Resume This Week

Yes, I am still here.  People were beginning to contact me asking me what is the story with my three months of blogging silence. Basically, I had the horrible flu that you heard about on the news combined with a very busy speaking and travel schedule. Every time I returned from a trip, I started coughing again. Only to have to prepare for my next speaking gig.  (Don’t worry, I am under medical care & I know about things like Ayr for the flight). Now, I am better and Passover is done.  So I will resume blogging.

Among blog posts that have been waiting since January include a book review of Rav Dov Zinger’s book on prayer, a look at the Orthodox Rabbinic statement Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate, an interview with Alon Goshen-Gottstein, an interview with Prof Eliyahu Stern about his new book Jewish Materialism: The Intellectual Revolution of the 1870s,   another half dozen interviews in the pipeline, some pomo process theology, maybe some Jewish reflections on Billy Graham, and much more.

Among the activities that kept me busy, sick, and away from blogging include a fun popular talk on Judaism and Hinduism.”Rabbi on The Ganges” or directly here at the Valley Beit Midrash. 

A talk at the Center for Catholic Jewish Studies at St Leo’s in Tampa on the recent Vatican document “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable–  “Can the Vatican Recognize Rabbinic Judaism?”

A presentation on the theology of Peter Berger at a conference at CUNY as well as a whole bunch of Shabbat Scholar in Residences.

BERGER poster 3-page-001