Rabbi Greg Harris

Is the Constitution Judeo-Christian?

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

ConstitutionThis week, all eyes have been focused on the US Constitution.  Not only did we hold primary elections this week (refer to Article 1 of the Constitution) but we began to absorb the implications of Chief Justice John Roberts majority opinion on upholding President Trump’s travel ban.  Further, we learned of the retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.

Opinions about the severe consequences of all these matters is pervasive but I thought it would be good to step back and look at the Constitution itself. Continue reading →

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David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan, St. Mark’s Portobello, Scotland

David and Jonathan, St. Mark’s Portobello, Scotland

St. Mark’s Portobello is an Episcopal church in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It was one of the first Episcopal churches to be built after the Jacobite risings in the 18th century. While I have never visited, there are many pieces of art which adorn this church.  Of particular interest is a stained glass window of the biblical figures David and Jonathan.  The window’s inscription reads, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1).

Many believe David and Jonathan were not just comrades but lovers.

People have grappled to understand the Tanach’s “opinion” on same sex relationships.  The reality is there is not a single clear statement.  Leviticus has an opinion (Lev 18:22) while Genesis acknowledges we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27).  Thus, as homosexuality is not a choice but simply how we are created, this too must be in God’s image.  I believe Judaism expects us to nurture consensual, respectful and caring relationships – regardless of your partner’s gender.

I appreciate there is not unanimity in the Jewish world around acceptance of same sex relationships.  But as we continue to strengthen the Beth El community, I want to be clear that loving relationships focused on building Jewish homes are all welcome. Continue reading →

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Remembering on Memorial Day

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day should not be just another day for hot dogs and barbecues though.  Memorial Day originated following the Civil War and was called Decoration Day.  Some claim it began in Waterloo, NY on May 5, 1866.  In 1971, Memorial Day became an official national holiday.  Too often, we are not sensitive enough to the true sacrifice men and women in uniform make in the name of our country.  Memorial Day is an opportunity as a nation to honor those who have died in the service of our country.  Jewish soldiers are among them. Below is a blog post from the National Museum of American Jewish History.  The museum is located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Cpl Roger Briskin

Cpl Roger Briskin

I hope you are touched by these letters and remember the deeper meaning of Memorial Day.  Many Jewish men and women have been moved by core Jewish values to service within the military. As Corporal Roger Briskin wrote below, we’re going to play quite a significant role in bringing this world to a place of peace.

May the memories of all the fallen ones bring humility, gratitude and an appreciation for the demands of a free nation.

Excerpt from “Friendship stronger than bullets”:

A small position, but put us all together and we’re going to play quite a significant role in bringing this world to a place of peace; knowing this I don’t mind the war so much, although I don’t really like being shot at… Click here to continue reading “Friendship stronger than bullets and bombs: the message of Cpl Roger Briskin.”

 

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Lag B’Omer

Today (Thursday) is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Passover and Shavuot.  For almost two millennia, it has been a day of celebration attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who lived in the 2nd century CE.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai authored the Zohar which explored the mystical aspects of the Torah.  Legend says the Rabbi felt such devotion and gratitude for the blessings in his life, on his death bed he told his students to make this day a time of celebration rather than mourning.  He died on Lag B’Omer.  Since then, there have been celebrations and even bonfires and dancing to mark the day.  Many festivities are focused on the village of Meron in northern Israel where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Continue reading →

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Donating Life

This week is the fourth week of the month.  For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world.  These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

Organ donation saves lives and Jewish law allows us to donate.  Currently, 3 people in our community are waiting for kidney transplants and you might be able to help.  Evan Sultan, Jan Maxwell, and Dan Yastrov all suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease and require a transplant.  The special nature of kidney transplants is that ‘live donors’ are possible.  Since we are born with two kidneys, but only require one for healthy living, we have the opportunity to give a kidney to another.

It is a profound gift. Continue reading →

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Nurturing Love

“My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.  For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing bird has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

(Shir HaShirim 2:10-12)

Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, is a beautiful book about two lovers longing for one another.  It is the type of love which inspires poetry, dance, and song.  The custom is to read Shir HaShirim on the Shabbat during Passover which falls this week.  Chazal, a term referring to the collective rabbis of our tradition, understand this book as an allegory of love between the Jewish People and God.  It is read on Passover because the greatest act of love that God extended to the Jewish People was the freedom to develop into the People Israel – Am Yisrael. Continue reading →

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Unpacking Fault Lines in Israel

This week is the fourth week of the month.  For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world.  These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.  These outside pieces are brought because their ideas are worth struggling with even as they might challenge us.

Since we are about to say, “Next year in Jerusalem” and our congregational theme is Israel, I want to point our attention towards Israel.  I am proud Beth El is a community which is unwavering in its love and commitment to Israel as it also recognizes Israel’s complexities.  In that vein, I want to offer a thought-provoking podcast produced by The Forward called “Fault Lines.”  The series is an on-going conversation between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart.  Respectively, Gordis and Beinart have come to represent the Right and Left political streams of American Jewry regarding Israel.

Gordis and Beinart state in the podcast they want to model a relationship which may be energized by disagreement but grounded in respect for the other.  They are united in their mutual commitment to a strong and secure Jewish State though they disagree on how that is actualized.

Here is a link to their first Podcast: Fault Lines with Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart  (Click on this link or the graphic above.)

At Beth El, let us never shy from expressing our love of the Jewish State, voicing our opinions on policies as needed, and never forget or become indifferent towards Israel and Jerusalem.

Le’shanah ha’ba’a b’Yerushalayim — Next year in Jerusalem,
Rabbi Greg Harris

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Israel Always Surprises Me

The hallways and exhibit spaces of the DC Convention Center were energetic with the 18,000 pro-Israel activists attending AIPAC’s annual conference this week.  This is a conference I attend each year to understand the nuances of the Middle East, hear the inspirational stories of Israel such as when this tiny county acts as a first responder to global disasters including earthquakes in Mexico or caring for Syrian refugees.  I also listen to the difficult stories of Israelis and Palestinians struggling for mutual security. Continue reading →

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Welcome to Beth El’s Clergy Blog

Beth El Clergy

Finding my expressive ‘voice’ is not an easy undertaking.  I do not mean my voice which emerges through my throat.  I am focused on my expressive voice which arises from my heart.  In this regard, my voice is what makes me or you an interesting conversationalist to some people yet disagreeable to others.  My voice is my ‘take’ on the world and my comfort in letting it shape me as a person.  With the quantity of communication we undertake today, I would have thought the idea of an authentic voice was easy to describe but I was mistaken. Continue reading →

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