Does Religion Cause War?

Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end.

War and Religion seem to get along. The truth is not so simple.

This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just promote division or hatred? Is it because of its religious significance that Israel remains a place of tension? Or is faith, at its core, a force of peace?

If we listen to most voices in the media and pop culture, we would answer this question without hesitation. Religion is bad, primitive, and dangerous.

We would agree with late writer Christopher Hitchens, who said “The Bible

How to Speak Our Truth: A Spiritual Lesson from Robin Williams’ Dead Poets Society

Coming home recently on a long flight, I had the chance to watch the classic film Dead Poet’s Society.

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One of the late Robin William’s most poignant films, it tells the story of a charismatic teacher who unleashes the passions of students at a New England Prep School.

The Jewish Genius of Robin Williams: 4 Examples

In Jewish tradition we have a special greeting for a genius. Upon meeting such a person, we say, Blessed are You, Eternal God, Source of Life, who has given from His wisdom to flesh and blood. 

Had I ever met Robin Williams, I would surely have said it.

Robin Williams tweeted this picture of himself last year and said "Rabbi Robin?"

Williams was a singular genius. He brought joy and comfort to so many. Yet, that same joy and satisfaction continued to elude him.

A debate with another Rabbi over the Israel and Gaza turned into a seminar on the history of Zionism and Israel. Glad I stayed awake in rabbinical school.

Which Book of the Bible Should You Start With?

The Bible was never meant to be studied alone. This past year, a Christian colleague and I gathered periodically to study. He suggested we explore Deuteronomy.

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The study expanded us both. While we differ in our view of the Old Testament, we both came to see Deuteronomy as strikingly modern. The God it describes is accessible and universal.

The moral vision it presents challenges and enlarges us. The society it reflects resembles our own.

If you are Christian or a Jew beginning to study the Old Testament, I suggest starting with Deuteronomy.
Here’s what you might discover.

Can the Bible Explain the Violence in Israel?

I just finished writing a book on Passover and the Exodus from Egypt. One of the parts I struggled most with is Pharaoh’s violence and  God’s hardening of his heart.

Hardened-Heart

Recall the setting: It is Exodus chapter nine, and Moses and Aaron have urged Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Thus far, Pharaoh has refused, and God has responded by inflicting five plagues on Egypt.

The Egyptian people are miserable. They want Pharaoh to just let the people go. Even Pharaoh’s top advisors are urging him to relent and tell Moses the Israelites can leave.

Yet, we then read “But God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them.” (Exodus 9:12)

What is the Bible Trying to Tell Us? 

The Secret to Healing from Pain

I sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral.

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As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three of us sat spell-bound.

A Sad Journey

She described how she moved to Chicago from Belize after her youngest son died.

Please Call Me a Pharisee

While sometimes political correctness can rise to the level of foolishness, the words we use do matter. My book editor recently reminded me of this truth.

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I had used the phrase “Southern leaders” in referring to political leaders of the Confederacy. My editor pointed out that Blacks in the South were Southerners as well.

To equate Confederate and Southern does an injustice to those African-American Southerners. I should, she suggested, refer to political leaders in the South as “White” or “Confederate” Southern leaders. Lesson learned.

How “Pharisee” Became an Insult

Do You Know What Hurts Me?

A great rabbi went into a bar. He overheard a conversation between patrons.

One said to the other, “Friend, do you love me?” “Of course I do,” the second man replied. “We’ve known each other our whole lives.”

“Then tell me, friend,” said the first man, “What hurts me?” The friend had no reply.

The first man continued “How can you love me, when you don’t know what hurts me?”

 

When Lies Become Truth: Why You Should Care About Antisemitism

It feels like a bad dream. Last week, while hundreds of Jews prayed in two synagogues In Paris, rioters surrounded the buildings and trapped them inside.

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It took the arrival of battalions of French police to secure a safe exit. The story triggered my heart and mind. See, while I have never experienced overt antisemitism, I have studied it.

My focus in college was modern European history. One of its defining moments was the so-called “Dreyfus Affair,” in which the highly-decorated Jewish French Colonel Alfred Dreyfus was accused of treason.

The accusation was accompanied by riots in Paris in which thousands yelled “Death to the Jews.”