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Topic: Holidays

Shmita & the Unified Religious Personality

Hazon, together with the Jewish Farm School, invite you to be a part of the Shmita Project, whose purpose is to consider the role of Shmita, the Sabbatical year, in our lives. Shmita Project encourages people to do that in two ways: through using the laws and values of Shmita as the conceptual framework for creating a more sustainable Jewish community and a more sustainable world. Second, to encourage practical application of Shmita laws among individuals and communities. In honor of this week’s Torah portion which discusses the laws of Shmita, I would like to explore some of the themes behind the laws. There are three things which the Torah calls “Shabbat Shabbaton.” The first is Shabbat itself, the second is Yom Kippur, and the third is Shmittah. These three concepts: Shabbat, Yom Kippur and Shmittah, can be seen as pathways to the unification of the spiritual/religious personality. On an ordinary weekday it is all too easy to maintain the distance between our spiritual life and what we might mistakenly consider our ‘secular life.’ We are caught up in the decidedly non-spiritual routine of the workplace, the highway, and the shopping mall. On Shabbat however, we are granted a sanctuary […]

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Chanukah Miracles and Climate Change

By Daniel Bloom, Hazon Program Associate Traditionally on Chanukah we celebrate the curious episode of a jug of oil, enough for one day, miraculously burning for eight days. The rabbis debated the exact nature of the miracle. Amongst the many possibilities, one opinion suggests that the oil was divided into eighths, each of which burned for an entire day. Another opinion claims that after filling the menorah on each of the first seven nights, the jug remained full. It is apt that we will be thinking about burning oil when the world’s leaders meet in the coming days for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The Conference represents the best opportunity so far for the community of nations to tackle the issue of climate change on a global scale and discuss concrete plans and targets for the reduction of greenhouse emissions. Nonetheless, there is reason to be skeptical. First, we may assume that the leaders of the world’s nations lack the political will to commit to serious change, and second, that even if leaders were to make a commitment, a top-down nation-state driven campaign would have little impact in changing global emission patterns. These two claims are undoubtedly interrelated. […]

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Save the Earth! Save Us! Joy and Desperation on Sukkot

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith, Hazon board member Sukkot is my favorite holiday.  I love spending time outdoors in the sukkah. And I love the joyful emphasis on thanksgiving and celebration.  But the message of Sukkot is more complicated than it appears.  Sukkot encourages us to appreciate and enjoy the bounty of nature, while at the same time it reminds us that life is fragile.  Just like the sukkah, which will topple in a strong wind, we are vulnerable to the unpredictable forces of nature. The particular aspect of nature that we focus on during Sukkot is water.  In the Land of Israel our ancestors were keenly aware of their dependence on rain.  So while Sukkot is a celebration of the past year’s harvest, it is also a time to pray for the rain that will insure the harvest in the year to come.  Each day during Sukkot we wave the lulav, a bouquet of plants associated with varied water sources, and call out to the heavens to save us with life-giving rain. By the final day of Sukkot our mood has changed.  Cries of joy have become cries of desperation.  By tradition this is the final day of the high […]

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Tisha B’Av, Copenhagen and Climate Change

Rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair, Director of Education, Jewish Climate Initiative, and Hazon Rabbinical Scholar Recently I was asked an interesting question by an Israel environmental leader. “I was a bit surprised and somewhat dismayed,” he began, “to find out that the date chosen for the Copenhagen Planning Seminar was also Tisha B’Av.” A bit of background for the uninitiated: 1.         The Copenhagen Summit in December is a gathering of world leaders that aims to bash out a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol that will limit CO2 emissions going forward. It is widely seen as a critical moment in the global effort to address climate change. 2.         The particular Seminar spoken about here is a gathering of Israeli environmental NGO’s that will propose an Israeli position for the Copenhagen Summit. Israel has not so far taken an official line on global warming. That is probably about to change. The new environment minister, Gilad Erdan, is one of the very few in recent years not to see the appointment as a consolation prize for not receiving a “real” ministerial job.” Erdan gets it. He understands that the environment really matters. The Tisha B’Av seminar includes a meeting with him. 3.         Tisha B’Av […]

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The World Turned Upside Down

(A slightly different take on Tom Friedman, the meltdown, quantitative easing, the Age of Awareness, Jewish history, Purim, Pesach, Zipcar and birkat hachamah.) Dear All, Tom Friedman’s piece in the New York Times this week (The Inflection Is Near?) provides a clear summation of how most environmentalists understand our current financial crisis, and if you haven’t yet read it I recommend it – You can read the article here. My one sentence precis: we’ve been overconsuming the world, and our behaviors are no more sustainable, in aggregate, than Bernie Madoff’s investment strategy. I want to argue that he’s right, but that we’re not properly following what should be the policy implications of what he argues; and, further, that Jewish history provides a particularly cautionary note on some of where we now might be headed. (more…)

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Second Thoughts on the New Millennium

We entered the new millennium as planned, hosting a shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. We went to synagogue – in black tie – and afterwards had eighteen friends for a more-lavish-than-usual but nevertheless recognizable Friday night dinner. We made kiddush over the wine (champagne, in this case) and the traditional blessing over the bread. We had a great dinner, looked back, looked forwards, played one or two games, sang songs. At midnight we began the traditional bensching, the grace after meals, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and included a prayer for peace in the future. All in all it was a great evening. The following morning the house was devastated. We had plates and debris everywhere; streamers and balloons, leftover pudding, candlesticks, washing-up stacked in heaps. We had wine glasses and champagne flutes and little shot glasses from those important impromptu l’chaims. By contrast with how beautiful it had looked when we first returned from synagogue, it indeed seemed like terrorists had wandered in during the night and done their worst. (more…)

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The Health Benefits of Fasting

By Will Carroll Originally posted on Serendip There has been much contention in the scientific field about whether or not fasting is beneficial to one’s health. Fasting is an integral part of many of the major religions including Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Many are dubious as to whether the physiological effects are as beneficial as the spiritual promoted by these religions. There is a significant community of alternative healers who believe that fasting can do wonders for the human body. This paper will look at the arguments presented by these healers in an attempt to raise awareness of the possible physiological benefits that may result from fasting. Fasting technically commences within the first twelve to twenty-four hours of the fast. A fast does not chemically begin until the carbohydrate stores in the body begin to be used as an energy source. The fast will continue as long as fat and carbohydrate stores are used for energy, as opposed to protein stores. Once protein stores begin to be depleted for energy (resulting in loss of muscle mass) a person is technically starving. (1) (more…)

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Tu B’Shvat 2007

Friday, February 3, 2007 / 14 Shevat 5767 Dear All, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just issued a report which is front page news in nearly every paper in the world today. The Guardian’s summary is typical: The report predicts a rise of between 18 cm and 58 cm in sea levels by the end of this century, a figure that could increase by as much as 20cm if the recent melting of polar ice sheets continues. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,” the summary said. (more…)

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New strategies for an ancient tradition

At the emotional high point of one of the central prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we say “teshuva, tefilla and tzedakah avert the evil decree.” Ahead of the prayer marathons of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I wanted to write something about tefilla, prayer, the second of these three things. It is in many ways the least accessible of the three. Teshuva – returning to our best selves – segues easily into a contemporary neo-therapeutic perspective. We may struggle to improve ourselves, but the desirability of doing so seems clear. (more…)

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