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04/25/2023 05:33:06 PM


The Land of Israel belongs to us

This week Israel celebrates 75 years. Please check out our next planned CBSW trip to Israel in June 2024.

We know that Israel is going through a lot right now, some of it due to the continuing birth pangs of a relatively new country. We also should appreciate the modern miracle that Israel represents. After two thousand years of no Jewish sovereignty, Israel came into being. Most of the world did not care about Jews or a...Read more...

04/18/2023 03:38:27 PM


Theodor Herzl and the road to 1948

In a little more than a week, Israel will celebrate its 75th birthday. The modern Zionist movement did not begin as a celebration but as an admission of failure. Political emancipation had failed to free the Jews of Western European nations of antisemitism. As the trial of  Alfred Dreyfus showed in late 19th century France, the crowd had not forgotten to chant, “Death to the Jews!” One observer of this hate was...Read more...

04/11/2023 12:37:31 PM


Russia in the 19th Century

I am writing this before Passover, and thinking about a member of our American Jewish community, Evan Gershkovich, wrongfully detained in Russia as a spy when he is simply a journalist (and the son of Jewish emigrants from the USSR to the U.S.) We hope and pray for his freedom.

Jews being mistreated by Russia is sadly nothing new. In the 19th century, Russia tried to rid itself of Jews, either by assimilation, conversion, or...Read more...

04/04/2023 02:22:27 PM


The birth of Reform Judaism

Last week we spoke of the increasing alienation of German Jews from their tradition. Emancipation meant Jews need not be tied to their Jewish community. Enlightenment led to their questioning the foundation of their traditional beliefs. Someone like the poet Heinrich Heine converted to Christianity not out of belief but to make his way in German intellectual society. Into this crisis stepped lay people and later rabbis in Germany who offered...Read more...

03/28/2023 03:46:35 PM


The Jews of France are asked to be "authentically French"

The dawn of modernity and emancipation was a mixed blessing for European Jews. On the one hand, more freedom beckoned. On the other hand, would Jews—given a choice—remain connected to their religious heritage? A political challenge of this period was when Napoleon offered the Jews of France the chance to be full citizens but only if they agreed to live openly as Frenchmen and thus give up their “clannish” ways. Napoleon convened a...Read more...

03/21/2023 07:07:42 PM


The rise of Chassidic Judaism

In our yearlong examination of Jewish history (in honor of CBSW’s 40th birthday) we have reached the rise of Chassidic Judaism. Beginning in the 18th century, this movement began as a charismatic appeal to the spiritual in life. The rabbi was replaced with the rebbe, or tzaddik. Learning was replaced by charisma. The spiritual depression, influenced by economic problems, political persecution, and the collapse of traditional communal...Read more...

03/14/2023 03:49:23 PM


Jewish life in Poland

A few years ago, I visited in Poland the government sponsored Jewish history in Poland museum. I was surprised to discover that of the ten permanent exhibits, only one dealt with Polish antisemitism. The rest celebrated the amazing nexus of Jewish and Polish creativity that existed for centuries. It is easy to think of only Auschwitz when considering Jews in Poland, but this does a disservice to the centuries of Jewish life that began to...Read more...

03/07/2023 04:20:21 PM


Tracing today's Jewish culture to the Expulsion from Spain in 1492

Program Note: Please join yours truly for a quick delve in the history of Jews in the American Civil War, today (March 7) at noon in the Moadon. Feel free to bring a lunch if you like. Also, at 7:30 pm on March 14, I will be teaching a class in the Moadon on the Jewish view of Jesus from a historical perspective. All are welcome!

Today’s topic in our yearlong study of Jewish history is the end of Iberian Jewry....Read more...

02/28/2023 11:20:53 AM


Coming home from Israel

I am writing this short article as I prepare to return home after two wonderful weeks in Israel.  The first half of the trip was spent touring Jewish and Christian and secular Israeli sites with some wonderful people from CBSW and The Woodlands Methodist Church. We were fortunate to be a great group, with a great guide, and terrific weather. There are things I had not seen in years, and I...Read more...

02/14/2023 11:18:01 AM


The maturation of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah

A major development in Jewish history was the maturation of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah. In the Middle Ages, Jews suffered at the hands of Christians and Muslims, but they also culturally thrived. Jews in Spain deepened their spirituality by developing a new approach to mysticism. When the Torah speaks of Abraham’s discovery of God and the revelation of the Law at Sinai, structures for later personal revelations were set. On the one...Read more...

02/07/2023 11:11:56 AM


Jews found a home in the European Ashkenazi countries

In our continued consideration of Jewish history, we have reached the Middle Ages and the rise of Ashkenazi Jews. As we have learned, Jews in Muslim lands were granted more rights than in Christian countries at the same time. The competition between Judaism and Christianity was fiercer, truly a zero-sum game. For Jews to be wrong was essential to the Christian polemic; therefore, they had to be seen as suffering. The restrictions on what they...Read more...

01/24/2023 11:08:57 AM


One man stands above the rest: Moses Maimonides

This year, as we celebrate 40 years of our congregational history, we are also examining the broader journey of Jewish history. We are now in the golden age of Iberian Jewry, ca. 1000 CE. We have already reported on the rise of Islam and the numerous ways Islamic culture enriched Jewish scholarship. The golden age produced many great works of prayer, poetry, philosophy, and scholarship, but one man stands above the rest: Moses Maimonides....Read more...

01/17/2023 11:06:33 AM


The blessing of celebrating special moments

This week, instead of our usual history lesson, I am writing to celebrate starting back — almost three years after we stopped — the practice of calling up birthday and anniversary celebrants each month during Friday evening worship. This Shabbat evening, January 20, we will call up all those celebrating special moments in January. Is it reason enough to come in person to services? I hope the community feeling, music, prayers, and...Read more...

01/10/2023 11:04:14 AM


We continue our stroll though Jewish history

As we enter a new year we continue our stroll though Jewish history in honor of CBSW’s fortieth anniversary. (We will also be studying American Jewish history in person at our biweekly lunch and learns this winter and spring.) Today we have reached the dawn of the Muslim era in the world at its impact on Judaism and the Jewish people.

Islam arose in the Arabian desert in the early seventh century. Muhammad, its prophet, taught that...Read more...

12/20/2022 06:29:33 PM


The light of human awareness

As we enter the latter half of December, we know that the days are short and the nights are long. In addition, this year the moon is growing smaller each night, leading to more darkness and less light. What a great moment for a festival that celebrates light. Both Christmas and Chanukah are festivals of light that ironically occur in the darkest time of the year. Light is a spiritual metaphor in most religions. The light of human awareness,...Read more...

12/13/2022 04:26:36 PM


Making Judaism Portable

The biggest revolution in the history of Judaism was an evolution. Two thousand years ago, the leaders of Judaism pivoted away from Torah centered Judaism and began to create rabbinic Judaism. This new brand of religious observance made the best of having lost the Temple in Jerusalem and the priestly sacrificial service. Now, the rabbis became the leaders of Judaism. Prophecy had ended centuries before, the priests had no Temple, and the...Read more...

12/06/2022 04:14:34 PM


There must be a balance between hope and patience

In many ways the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 168 C.E. should have marked the end of Jewish history. After all, there would be no sovereign state, no Temple, no priesthood, and no power. But the Jewish people thrived in a more spiritual way by inaugurating the era of rabbinic Judaism, away from the fires of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, in 132 to 135 CE the Jews of Judea revolted anew against Rome in what became called the Bar...Read more...

11/29/2022 10:31:35 AM


Judaism lives to fight another day

In our journey through Jewish history, we have focused on the centrality of Jerusalem in the spiritual life of the people. We reach a point, however, where Jerusalem must be abandoned if the Jewish people and Judaism are to continue. The city is under Roman siege. No Jews are allowed to leave because the Jewish zealots want every Jew to die in Jerusalem. Yochanan ben Zakkai must pretend to be dead to be carried out of the city. Once outside...Read more...

11/22/2022 10:33:44 AM


Roman forces destroy Jerusalem and the Temple

Rome was the major superpower in the Western world some two thousand years ago. The corrupt leadership in Jerusalem gave the Romans control over the Judean state in order to solve a family “game of thrones” dilemma. When the Romans replaced the Seleucids as the great power in the region, they granted the Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus II, limited authority under the Roman governor of Damascus. The Jews resented this Roman interference in...Read more...

11/10/2022 02:24:57 PM


Continuing our Journey: The Jews of Judea are also caught up in the power struggles between Egypt and Mesopotamia

In our continued dive into the history of the Jewish people we have reached the historical dark era of the early second temple period.

Little is known about the activities of these years, during the last few centuries of before the common era. We do know that during this period Alexander the Great swept through the Middle East and encouraged a marriage between the local customs and Greek culture and technology.

The...

11/01/2022 11:16:40 AM


Jews mourn their lost home in Judea but choose to stay in Babylon

When the people of Judea – exiled for decades in Babylon – were allowed to return to Judea the typical response was, “Thanks, but we’re good here.” They had become used to Diaspora living. They mourned their lost home, but they chose to stay in their new one, much like the typical definition of a Zionist one hundred years ago: someone who raises money so someone else can move to Palestine.

This choice also meant there...

10/26/2022 03:41:58 PM


Nevertheless a new era began, and eventually a new sovereign period would arrive.

The exile of those from Judea was very different than the earlier exile of the northern Israel tribes. The biggest difference was that many Jews stayed in Judea although it was now controlled by the Babylonians. The trauma was real but the takeover was not complete. The people were able to remain a community and thus unlike in the north they remained with a separate faith and identity.

The prophets changed their message from repent...

10/19/2022 10:05:49 PM


Not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit, shall the Jewish nation prevail.

In one of the most severe events in the history of the Jewish people, in 586 BCE, the kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonians. The First Temple was destroyed, the population exiled, and the end of the Jewish people appeared certain. Before being destroyed, Judea had been a vassal state to Babylonia. The question came whether to continue paying tribute or to resort to military power, with the help of God, to end the payments to...Read more...

09/30/2022 03:26:05 PM


When did the individual Hebrew tribal identities become secondary to a common Israelite identity?

In our tour of Jewish history this year we have reached the establishment of the first Jewish state, ca. 3000 years ago. A question: At what point did the United States of America go from a motley collection of colonies to a nation. (The old usage was “The United States of America are….” Only later did it become, “The United States of America is….”). Another question: When did the individual Hebrew tribal identities become...Read more...

09/14/2022 03:52:52 PM


Forty years of wandering

Forty years our ancestors spent in the wilderness and then it was time for them to enter the Promised Land. (CBSW has spent forty years in The Woodlands, but it seems like a much friendlier place than the Sinai desert.) We were supposed to enter the Promised Land much sooner, but the people were not ready for the responsibility. Easier to take the slave out of Egypt than Egypt out of the slave. The spies sent to check out the land could not...Read more...

09/06/2022 02:36:32 PM


Sinai becomes a metaphor

Our journey through Jewish history in honor of CBSW’s 40th anniversary continues with the Covenant at Sinai. Approximately 3,200 years ago our ancestors made an agreement with God. In exchange for a close and supportive relationship with the Creator and Lawgiver, the people agreed to follow God’s commandments. Sadly, and with the notable exception of Hollywood’s Raiders of the Lost Ark – if only it were true – no archeological...Read more...

08/30/2022 02:34:48 PM


" if they had come forth from Egypt"

In the realm of religious history, there is little that compares with the Bible’s rendering of the Israelites' escape from Egyptian slavery. We get an underdog story, an evil and vain villain, and a dramatic Deus ex machina. Beyond a narrative tale, the story echoes the great theme of birth/rebirth: the people pass through a canal on the way to a new life; the birth of the nation not only frees them for a future but cuts them off from their...Read more...

08/23/2022 02:32:42 PM


Themes of the Exodus

As we continue this year exploring pivotal points in Jewish history, the next big turning point in the Torah, following the call to Abraham, is the liberation from slavery. When the Genesis saga, a family story, concludes, we begin the national account of slavery and redemption. Once again, it is impossible to point to concrete proof that the biblical events related in the Book of Exodus occurred as written, just as we do not have Joseph’s...Read more...

08/16/2022 02:29:52 PM


Abraham's journey

As I mentioned last week, this year I will be reflecting in this column on the pivot points of Jewish history, in honor of CBSW turning 40. Last week we began exploring how Abraham came to create a new religion.
Since the Bible is very terse when it comes to explaining the rationale of Abraham, we have the ancient Rabbis of 1500 years ago offering various back-stories. They are centered around the idea that Abraham was special...Read more...

08/09/2022 02:28:08 PM


Reflecting important pivot points in Jewish history

This year my column will reflect important pivot points in Jewish history. As a congregation we are turning 40 this year. As a people we are quite a bit older. Nevertheless, the pivoting of centuries past can offer us perspective on our present and future.
We begin with what might be argued the first Jewish event in history, the call of God to Abraham. Approximately 4500 years ago, the Torah tells us that God told Abraham to...Read more...

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784