Select Section Jewish Culture & Yiddish: 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection videos and feeds in each section

Rabbi Shmuley Debates Richard Dawkins

 02.05.2008 to purchase full video.
The 1996 debate at Oxford featuring four eminent participants, including noted biblical scholar Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

The panelists tackle the issue of whether or not God, and by extension, religion, is needed for there to be goodness in the world. Rabbi Boteach boldly asserts that the greatest tragedies of the 20th century were not only removed from religious motivations, but were responsible for more casualties than religious wars in all other times put togethe

JVN Fundraiser w. Elie Wiesel


On October 5, 2008 This World: The Jewish Values Network ( held a fundraiser at the home of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in NY. Prof. Elie Wiesel, winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, lectured on Forgiveness, followed by a celebration of his 80th birthday.

Will Jews Exist?


Produced by LNC Productions

The spiritual work of wrestling with the both/and

The spiritual work of wrestling with the both/andPosted: 20 Feb 2014 08:06 AM PST

OldcityI always try to hold on to the both/and. To see things from both sides. To celebrate what is wonderful without ignoring what’s problematic: in Torah, in the literary sources I read, in my relationships, in my life. This is one of my central life-values. And I also try to live out this value when it comes to the contemporary Middle East.

“Which Israel?” wrote my friend and teacher Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan earlier this winter [see Which Israel?On Sophia Street.] “Mediterranean get-away? Holy land? Zionist dream? Occupying power?” My simplest answer to her rhetorical question is: E) All of the Above.

How to describe this place which has such a profound hold on the American Jewish imagination?

The Israel of lofty ideals [see its Declaration of Independence] and beautiful music, of open-air markets and communal farms, where our holy language of prayer is revived on the modern streets, where people live according to Jewish rhythms, gathering to share coffee and dreams for a transformed future?

2641379402_2b16d4ac47_nOr the Israel of violence toward African migrants, imprisonment of refugees [see Detained African asylum seekers in Israel+972magazine], occupation [see Reason #12,807 that I hate the occupationIn My Head] and separation barrier and checkpoints?

Most of the public discourse focuses on one of these visions, ignoring (or attempting to discredit) the other.

I’m always feeling at least two things when I think about Israel. This is why I assembled that Complicating Israel Reading List a few years ago. Trying to hold these contradictory truths in my head and heart is never easy, but the alternative — choosing to view Israel only as good or only as evil — seems insufficient to me on both intellectual and spiritual levels.

It is tempting for some American Jews, when thinking of Israel, to see only the good. The regal beauty of the Negev desert, Jerusalem’s limestone pinked by sunset light, Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan beaches and night life [see Tel Aviv declared world’s best gay destinationHa’aretz]. Extraordinary water-saving agricultural practices [see Kibbutz Lotan]. Glorious new liturgical music [see Nava Tehila]. Pioneering social justice work which aims to protect and uphold the rights of those on the margins. [See NIF: The Social Justice Fund.] For two thousand years our liturgy spoke of the yearning for Jerusalem, and now Hebrew flows once again in those ancient streets — who could fail to rejoice?MarketIt is tempting for others to see only the bad. The pernicious system of checkpoints [see מחסום Watch] and the system of privilege which allows some people to move freely while others cannot [see Queue JumpingBethlehem Blogger], the practice of home demolitions and the separation wall which often divides Palestinian villages, Palestinian children rousted from their beds at night [see Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian Children Imprisoned by Israel+972 Magazine.]

Both of these visions of Israel are true. Neither of them contains the whole picture. I believe that a mature relationship with this place requires me to hold these competing truths in balance.

When I am fortunate enough to be able to travel to the Middle East (and when I’m at home, reading blogs and newspapers as widely as I can) I try to stay open to the tension between these truths. I try to remember that the reality is always more nuanced, more beautiful and more painful, more complicated, than any of the easy stories anyone wants to tell.

What this means for me in practice is that I’m always thinking “yes, but…” I read one friend’s account of an amazing sojourn of hiking and prayer and community, and I think yes, but don’t forget the occupation. I read another friend’s account of a harrowing sojourn as a witness to injustice, and I think yes, but don’t forget the beauty of the dream fulfilled.

SunsetEarly in this post I linked to my short essay about loving something while acknowledging what’s problematic about it. That can be a difficult tension to maintain, but I think it is among my most valuable spiritual practices. Holding on to my love for something even as I recognize its serious flaws. Not allowing the flaws to erase the love; not allowing the love to cover over the flaws.

I’m not interested in the simplistic narratives which make either side (Israel or the Palestinians) into a persecuted innocent or a pariah with no conscience. I’m far more interested in the ideal of “resilient listening,” which allows a person and/or a community to live with tension and to hold multiple perspectives at the same time. [See the communication guidelines at Encounter.] This is hard work. It’s rarely comfortable. And I think it’s vitally important.

I recognize that this is a position of privilege. For those whose children wake crying in the night (in fear of Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide bombings, or in fear of Israeli shelling, arrest, interrogation practices), what I aspire toward may sound impossible or naïve (or both.) I come to this as a Diaspora Jew, from the safe distance (usually) of thousands of miles. And yet, I truly believe that learning to live out this nuanced balancing act matters.

2699288340_d80d284774_nI believe that learning to hold conflicting truths in tension is part of how we grow as spiritual beings. On the Israel front, for most of the people I work with, that means learning to see (and then work toward healing) Israel’s flaws and injustices alongside the rosy vision we were reared to cherish. For others, it means learning to see (and then work toward celebrating) Israel’s ideals and beauty alongside the mistrust and anger they already carry.

When you love someone, it’s easy to see only the best in them. Conversely, when you dislike someone, it’s easy to see only the worst in them. I know that it’s not easy to choose to complicate one’s understanding of Israel in the ways I’m suggesting. (It’s also hard for many rabbis to suggest doing so — see A Third of Rabbis Afraid To Speak Honestly About IsraelThe Jewish Week — or for a more heartfelt and personal take, my Rabbis Without Borderscolleague Rabbi Justin Goldstein’s The Status Quo Is We Don’t Speak About the Status QuoSh’ma.) But I think that making our sense of Israel more nuanced and complicated is spiritually worthwhile, no matter what our existing views.

2715162042_e1f0ff4069_nI believe that Israel is beautiful and extraordinary — and also in ardent need of increased justice and transformation. And: I know that one of my challenges as a rabbi is creating a container which can lovingly hold people who aren’t, or aren’t yet, able to wholly follow me into this balancing act. To invite those people into the spiritual work of discerning: why am I comfortable seeing this side, but not comfortable acknowledging that side? What is it in me that pushes back against that other perspective? What am I afraid will happen if I allow my perspective to be complicated?

Sometimes saying “it’s complicated” can be a way of papering over uncomfortable tensions. [See “Jerusalem is Palestine” and other reasons why I love IsraelThe Jerusalem Post.] Saying “it’s complicated” isn’t an endpoint to the conversation or to the work which needs doing. But (especially for American Jews) I think there’s value in moving beyond either/or into the tension of multiple perspectives. Israel is always this and. Beautifuland flawed. Problematic and worthy of love. For many of us, this is a difficult spiritual wrestling match to take on. But that wrestling is the central act for which our patriarch Jacob, and our entire religious community, and for that matter also this nation-state, are named.

All photos are my own: Old City; separation wallmarketsun settinghospitalityvalley of the gazelles. Most links in this post go to my own posts from earlier months and years; links to other websites are so noted, in square brackets.

Comments are welcome, but if you are new to Velveteen Rabbi, please read this blog’s comments policy before chiming in. Thanks.


Feeling Old
Adar I 20, 5774 · February 20, 2014

Dear Rachel,

I’m in my mid-fifties and am facing a midlife crisis. I don’t have energy for a lot of the things I used to do, which is robbing me of joy. I feel like my looks are fading, and I’m afraid of becoming like a lot of older women who try to look thirty and end up looking ridiculous. I feel like I’m in a rut and don’t know how to crawl out. Please help.

Growing Old

Dear Growing,

The youth culture of today robs many people of happiness and satisfaction. But only if they let it. Judaism doesn’t worship youth; it venerates the elderly and shows respect to older people. The first step to surviving middle and old age is to switch to a Jewish mindset,

The youth culture of today robs many people of happiness and satisfaction

which has completely different definitions of beauty, self-worth and value to society.

King Solomon wrote, “Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven.”1There is a time for everything (even age spots), and every age has its beauty. But for some reason, Western culture gets stuck idolizing the decade between 20 and 30. That 1970s advertising slogan is right, though—you’re not getting older, you’re getting better.

I know it’s frustrating to have less energy, but rather than focus on what you can’t do, discover what you can do. You might not be able to keep up at Zumba, but you can take a Pilates or Feldenkrais class. You might not be able to hike the Himalayas, but you can enjoy leisurely walks in the park or nature reserves. The same way we adjust our activity level from ages 7 to 14, we can adjust our activity levels when we get older. You also might want to consider spending more time on intellectual pursuits. Perhaps you can set a goal to master a book of Torah or Tanach with commentaries, or you can start a study partner session with someone.

Many people enjoy more leisurely activities as they age, as opposed to the frenzied activity of their youth. Time spent with grandchildren can be more relaxing and enjoyable than the harried years of childrearing. And studies show that the older you get, the higher your level of satisfaction, as goals become clearer, priorities more defined, and expectations lower. That’s something you can look forward to.

Another problem is that we tend to identify with the younger image of ourselves, when that may no longer be an accurate point of reference. Time and experience shape who we are and what we want, but we often forget to update our own hard drives. It’s important to take inventory every once in a while and make sure we’re living our lives in tandem with who we’ve become.

As for looking young—again, that desire stems from our youth-obsessed culture. The matriarch Sarah was abducted by two monarchs because of her great beauty—the second when she was in her eighties. The Midrash states that Queen Esther was 40, 75 or 80 years old when she was chosen as the most beautiful maiden in the land.2 Miriam led the women of Israel in song when she was 86 years young. Beauty and talent are not limited to age.

The Jewish laws of modesty help de-emphasize our focus on the body, so that we can focus on inner beauty—the

Time spent with grandchildren can be more relaxing and enjoyable than the harried years of childrearing

beauty of the heart, mind and soul. I agree with you that it looks ridiculous when older women wear clothes, makeup and hairstyles that befit a 25-year-old. And their attempts to reverse the aging process with plastic surgery or aesthetic treatments usually make them look like, well, women trying to reverse the aging process with plastic surgery.

Age with dignity! Choose clothes, makeup, hairstyles and colors that complement your age without attempting to conceal it. Enjoy your life; a happy glow and a smile will do more to enhance your beauty than any cosmetic treatment. It’s also important to alter your diet and exercise regimen so you stay fit and healthy.

My advice to you (and I can give it because I am over 50) is to accept your age, focus on the benefits of being older and wiser, don’t mourn the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future. On average, women today live well into their 80s. That means you have a few more decades to enjoy age-appropriately. It should be as unnatural for a 50- or 60-year-old woman to want to be 30 as it is for a 20-year-old to wish she were 5 again. Although youth certainly has its perks, it also has its problems and limitations, which we tend to forget when we look back through the romantic mists of time.

As it says in Desiderata, “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” But don’t stop there; embrace the things of middle and old age.

In Ethics of Our Fathers there is a list of ages and stages, and the fifties are described as a time of counsel.3 One is considered to have garnered enough life experience to dole out advice to others and actually be listened to. As Rabbi Yossi said, “Who is an elder (zakein)? One who acquired (Heb. zeh she-kanah, related to the word zakein) wisdom.”4

I wish you a long life and the wisdom to spend it well.


1. Ecclesiastes 3:1.
2. Bereishit Rabbah 39:13.
3. Avot 5:21.
4. Talmud, Kiddushin 32b.

THE FREEMAN FILES: Progressive Ancient Jewish Education

Progressive Ancient Jewish Education
Adar I 20, 5774 · February 20, 2014
How does our site score on answers and dialogue?

Hello Chabad,

You rabbis seem to take it as a given that wisdom flows from the vast amount of writings, biblical and more recent, history, interpretations, opinions, etc. that it has accumulated. You appear to think that wisdom flows in one direction only. The supplicant asks and the rabbi answers. A particular rabbi may not have the answer at hand. But he knows where to look, can find it and supply it. That is the way it flows.

There is a tacit assumption that there is an answer to every question. It is only necessary to find the applicable source or the appropriate expert and the answer is there.

I think that there is a great deal of wisdom in Chabad and want to benefit from it. But I find the basic process to be too rigid, too frozen. I think that the communication should be two way, not one way.

You appear to think that wisdom flows in one direction only.

I think the universe is understood very poorly, there are more questions than answers. The Chabad assumption that it has all the important answers already is a turn off.

A modern university where one can ask anything and try to find the answer, is the place to seek wisdom.


Thank you for sending this. I found your critique very helpful.

I’m especially concerned about your feeling shut out of the dialogue because before I came to yeshiva, at 20 years of age, that’s just how I felt. A healthy rebellion against “top-down” secular education motivated me at the ripe old age of 14 to get involved in what was called, and what I then thought was “progressive” education. A group of us decided to drop out of the system and start our own school. We applied for government funding, and called it “Total Education High School.” (Among ourselves, that was “Total High.”)

To me—and this is what I tell my kids, over and over—learning is something that emerges out of dialogue. Books are great, but without bouncing ideas back and forth, debating, reiterating yourself, defending your position, hearing the other and coming back again with a refined argument—there just is no real learning.

That’s what we attempted to achieve at Total High. But, admittedly, it didn’t really work out because, for one thing, we didn’t know (nobody told us) how to properly contain and frame an open conversation. At every age, it can really be useful for somebody top-down to tell you what the next right thing to do is, no matter what you think. I ended up going elsewhere to get my high school diploma at age 15, and soon after was getting an education hitch-hiking the world. (Eventually, yes, I did end up entrapped in a university.)

The system of learning for which we had been searching had been around for thousands of years!

So when I walked into a yeshiva study hall six years later, I was shocked and delighted to find the system of learning for which we had been searching—and it had been around for thousands of years.

In yeshiva, you learn in “chavrusa.” That means, with a partner. What does the partner do? Principally, he argues with you. However you understand things, he tries to see if it could be understood differently. Then the two of you try to work it out.

Sometimes, a debate erupts and sends shockwaves through the beis hamidrash (study hall), until everyone else is sucked into the discussion. A school library is quiet as death, but a beis hamidrash is afire with life.

It also struck me that yeshiva classes were not the frontal lecture with which we are all too familiar (how many times can you count the holes in the drop ceiling?). Instead of rows of desks, in yeshiva we sat around a table. The instructor began to talk, and immediately discussion ensued. Everything was up to question, and every question lead to new dialogue, new insights, new perspectives on everything we had learned.

So when you write this critique of our site, I start to worry. Perhaps we have failed at bringing that flavor of the yeshiva to our site.

Our job is not to answer questions. Our job is to answer people.

I have trained almost all our Ask-The-Rabbi rabbis. I’ve given them a mantra: “Our job is not to answer questions. Our job is to answer people.” And quite often, the last thing the person needs is a pat answer. Sometimes it’s more information. Sometimes it’s an open mind with a listening ear. Sometimes it’s just someone to come back and affirm what he knew all along, but didn’t have the confidence to believe.

For every rabbi, Chabad or not, there are questions, and there are questions. There are the kinds of questions that have a straightforward halachic answer, and for most of those, yes, there is a “top-down” response that is the result of scholarly research and something close to a kabillion conversations that have taken place over thousands of years. These are almost all of the “what should I do about this?” variety. And yes, even in universities, especially in medical and engineering schools, there are plenty of direct, top-down answers, thank G‑d. Then there are the questions that require your participation, input and insight, questions about meaning, purpose and intention, these are of the “what do I think about this?” and “why is this the conclusion?” variety.

In our articles, we attempt to present multiple views, when appropriate. . Of course, we’re principally an information site. People come expecting authoritative opinions and well-researched facts. But even then, we encourage reader comments, moderated in order to keep them from being dominated by the bullies and the beasts.

So if you could point us in any particular direction where you feel we’ve failed, we would love to hear. Give some real examples, and tell us how you would like to see it done better.

BTW: Have you yourself been in yeshiva? Have you considered the possibility of giving it a try?

MIL from Hell?; Finding Soul Mate; The Man at the Western Wall – February 20, 2014

The Man at the Wall

by Yvette Alt Miller
Rabbi Meir Schuster introduced me to the beauty of Shabbat in Jerusalem. I never got the chance to thank him.

5 Tips to Help You Find Your Soul Mate

by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
A few thoughts on how to better navigate the dating scene.

Am I the Mother-in-Law from Hell?

by Emuna Braverman
How can I fix this mess so I don’t lose my only grandchild?

Video: Alcohol and Jews

by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon
It’s time to take this problem seriously.

Video: The Verdict

by Mrs. Lori Palatnik
Three things can change a decree.

Video: What Does It Mean to Be Created In the Image of God?

by Rabbi David Fohrman
What does the construction of the Tabernacle have to do with the Sabbath?

Way #17: Marriage Power

by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Intimacy is a powerful drive, second only to survival itself. Use it wisely.

NEWS: New Summer Camp Program for Deaf Jewish Boys

This Week’s Features
Adar I 20, 5774 · February 20, 2014

By Menachem Posner
A group of 11 young men helped jump-start Jewish learning in the Miami area.Post CommentPost Comment  |  Read Story
Free online app helps train as you go, highlighting each word to be sung in two different reading stylesPost CommentPost Comment  |  Read Story
Some 700 women gather for an important ritual and an evening of sisterhood.Post CommentPost Comment  |  Read Story
University of Florida in Gainesville reveals grand, ‘green,’ state-of-the-art new facility with amenities galorePost CommentPost Comment  |  Read Story
Chabad couple hopes to inspire a Jewish revival in a well-known urban neighborhoodPost CommentPost Comment  |  Read Story
Talk of the Planet
Former Governor of Hawaii Regales Students Over Shabbat Dinner
At her Californian alma mater, Linda Lingle discusses charity, adversity and Jewish identity
Ottawa Students Take Study Break to Bake for the Homeless
Chabad Student Network in Canada stresses the need to help others, and by doing so, help yourself

More News Briefs  

In the Media
At Sochi Olympics, Online Kosher Meal Orders and Extra Rabbis for Visiting Jews
ReutersRabbi Fosters Jewish Revival in Downtown Detroit
APRabbi Fostering Jewish Community Downtown
Detroit NewsHandwritten Torah a Labor of Faith
Herald Tribune – FL

Chabad Unites UCF and Orlando Jewish Student Community With Shabbat 613
Heritage Florida Jewish News

Super Sunday Raises $1.3 Million
LA Jewish Journal

“Shabbat In An Hour” Gourmet Kosher Cooking For Women On The Go
Hartford Courant – CT

Chabad in Ethiopia Helps Jewish Heart Attack Victim at Airport
Arutz Sheva

Two Women to Be Honored at Feb. 23 Chabad Program
News Transcript – NJ

Torah Lessons in Sochi Amid Fears of Terror

Athletes In Sochi Honor Memory Of Munich 11
Jewish Week

More Media Stories  

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