The Health & Wellness Benefits of Synagogue Attendance

By Levi Brackman, 02-19-2016.

Proven Health & Wellness Benefits of Religious Attendance
1. Lower Risk of Depression: Researchers found that those who attended religious services at least once a month compared with those who do not attend were 22% less likely to suffer depression (Strawbridge et al., 1997).

2. Better Time & Life Management: Youth who attend religious services have better time management skills and are more likely to achieve their goals (Freeman 1985). 

3. Grades and higher education aspirations:  Religious attendance was related to gretaer math and reading test results as well as greater educational aspirations in a group of at risk-youth (Regnerus 2000; Regnerus 2001). Religious involvement also adds to social capital that makes academic success more likely (Muller and Ellison 2001).

4. Lower Mortality Rate: Frequent religious attenders have lower mortality rates (Stra... READ MORE...

An Eye for An Eye

By Levi Brackman, 02-12-2016.

There are parts of the Bible that if interpreted literally would be cruel and violent. For example the Bible (Exodus 21:24 -- this week's’ Torah portion) says that a violent attacker should pay "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Another example is the law where the bible says that “if someone has a rebellious son who does not obey his parents.. they should bring him to the elders.. and say, “Our son is rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death,” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

Imagine a society that enacted these laws. Killing rebellious children and having a judicial system that delimbed people as a form of punishment. Thankfully if you are reading this you probably cannot imagine a society with that level of barbarity. And although this is what the Bible teaches, Jewish sages have ever taken these laws literally. Instead they say an eye for an e... READ MORE...

The Relationship Between Religion and Truth

By Levi Brackman, 02-05-2016.

Many of my beliefs (as distinguished from things there is evidence for and therefore have knowledge of) have been influenced not just by intellectual arguments but in a large part also by exceptional teachers. Indeed, beliefs, by definition, cannot be verified with certainty by empirical evidence. Could it be that I have been deceived by charismatic teachers? Could the beliefs that have been inculcated in me since my youth be fantastical?

The question is a frightening one, because it turns the very things that most convince us into a reason for doubt. When we find a teacher inspiring and compelling, when we are enthused by people who seem spiritual and pious, how can we be sure that they are not just megalomaniac, demagogic charlatans who are playing on our vulnerability for their own selfish gain? Is there a way of ensuring that we do not become conned into accepting religious beliefs that are in fact false?

A fascina...

Must We Constantly Struggle?

By Levi Brackman, 12-04-2015.

As the plane landed at Ben Gurion airport, the Captain made his announcement: "Please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened until this plane comes to a complete standstill and the seat belt signs have been turned off. To those who are seated, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and hope that you enjoy your stay ...and to those of you standing in the aisles, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, and welcome home.

We can all imagine the scene.

We Jews always seem to be struggling, be it the Arab – Israeli conflict, the United Nations, anti-Semitism, between ourselves, with ourselves; we are constantly&n... READ MORE...

A Rabbi’s Guide to Celebrating Thanksgivukkah

By Levi Brackman, 12-01-2015.

(This blog post that's still timely and relevant--so reposting it)

Jews, especially those who keep to the traditions of Judaism, are often uncomfortable celebrating secular or non-Jewish holidays. We make it a point to let people know that we have enough of our own holidays to celebrate and are in no need of extra festivals. In fact, even secular Jews tend not to celebrate Christmas. Recall Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings saying that on Christmas Eve she can usually be found eating at a Chinese restaurant. Because they are the only restaurants that open on Christmas.

In fact, last year I was in Las Vegas with my wife on December 25, and we went to see a mentalist perform. We noticed that the stand-in performer was Jewish and so was most of the audience. In short, we Jews on the whole do not generally celebrate Christmas and for good reason. It is fundamentally a Christian holiday, and besides we have our own festival Chan... READ MORE...

A Life Worth Recording

By Levi Brackman, 10-19-2015.

An old lady walked in to her local travel agent and asked to buy a ticket to the Himalayas. The agent tried to convince her that the Bahamas or the Canary Islands would be a more suitable holiday destination. Seeing that the old lady was insistent and after explaining all the dangers inherent in her trip he sold her a ticket.

Upon arriving she started out on her trek. After a number of days she reached a very distinguished looking temple in the middle of the mountains. She knocked on the door and asked to speak with the guru. She was told that the guru is not holding audience for the next six months. She begs and pleads - but to no avail. She insists that she only wants to say three words to the guru, and must be granted entry.  The assistant goes inside, checks once more and finally she is allowed in. As she enters she sees the guru sitting on the floor surrounded by a handful of his followers meditating. The guru looks up and their eyes meet:

“Mos...

Parenting Guide

By Levi Brackman, 10-09-2015.

More than a decade ago I was invited on to the Esther Rantzen show to talk about whether children need fathers. Obviously I was arguing for the motion, but one of the women arguing against it had a son conceived by artificial insemination. Her son would never know the identity of his biological father. When asked why she wanted a child, she said that she felt a natural urge to be a mother, that her biological clock was ticking away and that she saw no reason why she should she lose out just because she did not have a partner with whom to have the baby.

It seems that the Torah in Beraishit agrees with her. Nowhere do we find Adam, the primordial man, called the father of humanity. Eve, by contrast, is called aim kol chai, the mother of all living. Adam is not given any credit for his role in the creation of the human race.

Rav Soloveichik points out that the story of creation is really about the natural world and in the natural world it ... READ MORE...

The Legitimacy of Difference

By Levi Brackman, 10-04-2015.

Many refer to Sukkot as the festival of Jewish unity. The Midrash (Agadah Leviticus 23) tells us that the "Four Species" (the citron, palm branch, myrtle and willow) that Jews shake on Sukkot represent four disparate types of Jews. Holding the "Four Species" together symbolizes the unity of all Jews. In fact, if one of the "Four Species" is missing the Mitzvah cannot be carried out. Similarly, each Jew is a vital part of the Jewish nation; if even one Jew is missing the nation is incomplete.

The Sukkah also represents Jewish unity. According to the rabbis, the verse that states, "All citizens of Israel shall dwell in Sukkot" (Leviticus 23:42) implies that all of Israel - the pious and the wicked - are able to sit in the same Sukkah without compromising the Mitzvah (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah, 27b).The festival of Simchat Torah continues with the same theme. On Simchat Torah we celebrate the reading of the last Torah portion and the... READ MORE...

The multicultural concern of Judaism on Sukkot

By Levi Brackman, 09-27-2015.

One of the things I love about Sukkot (starts tonight) is the fact that it is a holiday that is not only non ethnocentric but it highlights the multicultural concern of Judaism. It is an example of how Judaism see all of humanity as connected and precious in the eyes of the Creator.

The Torah (Number 29) tells us that over the week of Sukkot 70 bullocks are offered up as sacrifices on the altar of the Holy Temple. The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) states that the ancient Jews offered 70 bullocks over Sukkot in order to beg God to protect the 70 nations of the world - representing the entire human populations on earth besides the Jews.

In this vein, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Jochanon said that it is tragic that the gentiles destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem without knowing that they themselves lost out on the deal. “When the Temple stood the altar atoned for [the sins of the nations] and now [that they have destroyed it] there is no one to atone for them” ... READ MORE...

Sukkot - The Festival of Wellness and Gratitude

By Levi Brackman, 09-25-2015.

This Sunday we begin the Jewish festival known as Sukkot. Jews all over the world have built huts outside of their homes and will eat their meals in them for the next seven days. They will also gather together a citrus fruit, one palm branch and a few willow and myrtle branches and wave them in a number of directions. All of this is taken directly from the Torah (Leviticus Chapter 23).
However, there is another name for this holiday also taken from the Torah, one less talked about but maybe even more significant and that is: The Festival of the Ingathering (Exodus 23 and 34). 
This is the time of the year when in ancient Israel the harvested produce was brought into the storehouses and the agricultural work for the year was complete. Interestingly this festival comes directly after the most serious and solemn day of the Jewish Calendar the Day of Atonement known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur--a day when we spend our time asking God to bles... READ MORE...