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  • 6 Dec 2023 4:57 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Muriel Dance, PhD

    The spiritual significance of lighting candles each of eight nights and bringing in brighter light on each succeeding night—and doing so in the season of darkness--is profound. We are taught that these candles and their light are sacred and we have no permission to make use of them. All we must do is “to just look at them.” That is, gazing at the candles is the meditative contemplation we are commanded to do on Hanukkah, to truly perceive the visible symbol of the increased light that we bring into the world, the enactment of Proverbs 20: 27, which identifies the human soul as the “candle of the Divine.”

    On the first night we say three blessings after lighting the candles and on each subsequent night we say two blessings. 

    The First Blessing Hebrew:

    .ברוך אתה יי, אלוהינו מלך העולם, אשר קידשנו במצוותיו, וציוונו להדליק נר ש חנוכה


    Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.


    Praised are You,Our God, Ruler of the universe,Who made us holy through Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah lights.

    The Second Blessing


    .ברוך אתה יי, אלוהינו מלך העולם, שעשה נסים לאבותינו, בימים ההם בזמן הזה


    Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, she-asah nisim la’avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.


    Praised are You,Our God, Ruler of the universe,Who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in those ancient days at this season.

    The Third Blessing

    (First Night Only)


    .ברוך אתה יי, אלוהינו מלך העולם, שהחיינו, וקיימנו, והגענו לזמן הזה


    Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’zman hazeh.


    Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.

    These blessings have traditional melodies which you can hear here:

  • 5 Oct 2021 4:08 PM | Georgia Gruzen

    The Ability and Responsibility to Change

    Written by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, PhD

    A few weeks ago, I was part of a rabbinic court (beit din) for someone who was converting to Judaism.  In his essay to describe his journey to Judaism, he mentioned that he had grown up as a Protestant Christian.  During the conversation, I mentioned that the High Holy Days were coming and asked him what he thought their meaning was.  He rightfully said that they were a very serious time when we are prompted to evaluate what we have done in the past year, seek forgiveness from anyone we have wronged, and plan ways to improve our relationships with others and with God during the year to come.

    I then said that I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, and so the next question I was going to ask may be too abstract for him to address, and, if so, he should just tell me, and we would move on.  I asked him what he thought were the differences between the way Protestant Christianity teaches its adherents to think about sin and the way that Judaism does.  He immediately responded that Protestants believe in Original Sin, according to which every person is, in his or her origins, sinful, and, as Paul says in the New Testament, there is no salvation by deeds (Romans 3:20-23, 4:1-7, 9:31-32; Galatians 2:16, 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:8-9; etc. ) – that is, nothing you do can redeem you from your sinfulness.  He found that doctrine to be inconsistent with Protestant Christianity’s insistence that we are created in the image of God. In any case, because nothing we do can redeem us from our sinfulness, the only path to redemption is through belief in a supernatural intercessor, Jesus.  In contrast, he said, in Judaism we are born with the ability to do bad things but also good things, and we have the ability and therefore the responsibility to avoid doing bad things, if we can; to repair the damage we have done, if we do something wrong; and to do good things to repair the brokenness of the world and to make it ever more supportive, loving, and whole.  

    Right on!  We Jews tend to think that the whole world is Jewish – or, at least, that the whole world thinks exactly as we do.  There are, of course, some important perceptions and values that we Jews share with other religions and secular philosophies, but Judaism is indeed distinct in a number of ways, and this is an important one.  We do have free will and the ability to act in accordance with it, and so we do have both the ability and responsibility to change bad attitudes and behaviors and nurture good ones.   As I put it to Christian and Muslim groups in some of the interfaith work that I do, “Judaism spells ‘responsibility’ with a capital R.”

    Furthermore, Judaism does not see sinfulness as ingrained in our DNA and beyond our ability to repair.  Just think of the words used for sin in our Bible and liturgy:  

    חטא, het, which comes from the world of archery and means missing the mark

    עון, avon, which comes from the verb meaning to go astray

    פשע, pesha, which means intentionally violating the law, and so in modern Hebrew the word for a criminal is based on this root.

    None of these ways of acting, of course, is good, but they each can be avoided or changed.  When we miss the mark, we can practice to hit it right the next time.  When we go astray, we can find our way back to the proper path.  When we intentionally violate the law, we can relearn why we must adhere to it and follow it in the future.  

    In each case, we probably will need to do some repair of ourselves and of the injury or damage we caused, but the words for doing that indicate another important difference between Christianity and Judaism.  English is a Christian language: it was created by Christians, and still to this day the vast majority of people who speak it as their native language are Christians.  You should not be surprised, then, that English words, especially those relevant to religion, have Christian connotations. That is certainly true for “messiah, “salvation,” and “holy,” but it is also true for “prayer,” which misleads you into thinking that prayer is about asking for things (“Do this, I pray”).  Jewish liturgy does include some petitions, but the vast majority of it is about thanking and praising God.  

    The English word for making up for past bad acts is “repentance,” coming from the Latin  root meaning to punish, as in other English words based on that root, namely,  “penal” and “penitentiary.”  To make up for something bad you did, you have to be punished.  In contrast, the Hebrew word for making up for doing something bad is teshuvah, from the Hebrew root meaning to return. When we miss the mark or go astray, or even when we intentionally violate the law, our task is to do what we must to return to the proper way to live and to the good graces of God and the community.  

    So on this Yom Kippur, may we use our ability to evaluate our actions, take responsibility to change what needs to be changed, and then do specific things to make this a better world.     

    Written by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, PhD, co-founder of the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din and Rector and Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University.  Rabbi Dorff wrote this commentary on Yom Kippur after serving on the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din overseeing a conversion.  This piece was first published on the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies website. 

  • 9 Feb 2021 10:22 PM | Georgia Gruzen
    1. Black Power, Jewish Politics by Marc Dollinger

    2. The Danger of a Single Story:

    3. Legos and the 4 I's of Oppression; a film by Eliana Pipes and produced in conjunction with Encompass at the Western Justice Center:

  • 24 Jan 2021 1:59 PM | Georgia Gruzen

    Workbooks, Definitions and Similar Resources

    Definitions of terms by Tzedek Lab (THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO START):

    Jewish Social Justice Roundtable: Racial Justice Framework

    Dismantling Racism: 2016 workbook:

    Aware L.A. Toolkit, written in part by SCCBD Dayan and Rabbi Susan Goldberg:


    Skin in the Game by Eric K. Ward 

    How Studying Talmud Helped Me Understand Racism in America by Avi Killip

    I Told Jews To Think About What Being ‘White’ Means. Then The Racism Exploded by Nylah Burton 

    I’m Not White, I’m Jewish by Paul Kivel


    Black Reconstruction in America by W.E. B. DuBois

    A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

    How To Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

    The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race and American Identity by Eric L. Goldstein

    How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America by Karen Brodkin

    The Color of Love by Marra Gad

    Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

    The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

    Traditional texts/re-visioned texts

    The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible. Marcia Falk, trans.; Barry Moser, illus.

    Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: 

    The first human was created alone…This was done for the sake of peace among humankind so that no one could say to another, “My father is greater than your father”…and to demonstrate the greatness of God in that if a person stamps coins with one seal, they are all alike, but the Holy Blessed One stamped each person with the seal of the first person and not one is like another.

    Black Lives Matter Haggadah Supplement by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice:

    Truth, Reconciliation and Repair in Engaging Racism: “Al Chet” By Yavilah McCoy


    Jews for Racial and Economic Justice:

    Bend the Arc:

    Be’chol Lashon:

    Dismantling Racism:



  • 18 Aug 2020 4:59 PM | Deborah Schmidt (Administrator)

    Published in The Summer, 2020 edition of the CCAR Journal: Reform

    Our Rabbis taught that ALL Jews—past, present, and future—were at Sinai.  They specified that this aggregate included  Jews by Birth and Jews by Choice (Shevuot 39a).

           For half-a-century, it has been my privilege to reconnect with hundreds of souls whom I surely first encountered on that Shavuot day now only sensed through the shroud of long history. Indeed, my rabbinate has—in large measure—centered around my work with those entering the Covenant—something I would  scarcely have imagined during my student days at HUC.

           Just as one recalls first love, so I clearly remember the very first person I accompanied on this sacred path:  The year was 1970.  I arrived at my student pulpit and was greeted at the airport by the newly-elected congregation president.  He was a young chap, who had recently completed law school and returned to town to join his father and uncle in their family’s legal firm. He also followed in their path of temple leadership.

           I was invited to the president’s home for Shabbos dinner. He and his bride proudly showed me photos from their recent wedding.  In the very first portrait of the album, they joyously stood together under a cross in the sanctuary of the Methodist church where their nuptials had been solemnized. I was rather nonplussed internally, but—somewhat uncharacteristically— managed to keep a poker-face.

           The new bride explained that since the synagogue had no rabbi, she and her beloved had chosen to be married by a dear family friend who was a Methodist minister.  However, she quickly added, she very much wanted to live a Jewish life, and asked me if—during my year in this student pulpit—I would guide her through conversion to Judaism.  I happily agreed, of course without admitting to her that I had no idea of how to do this.

           When I got back to Cincinnati, I immediately made an appointment with my faculty advisor.  Though an HUC ordainee, as a full-time academic his total congregational experience had been his own student pulpit and several years of leading High Holy Day services for an isolated synagogue.  He asked me if I would be teaching a Confirmation class at my student pulpit.  When I answered in the affirmative, he responded, “Well, whatever you cover in that class will be appropriate preparation for this conversion student.” And this constituted my complete HUC training for handling conversion in my future rabbinate!

           In a very significant way, Reform Judaism—indeed, the Jewish world as a whole—was altered immeasurably by a speech delivered by Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler in 1978.  In that address, in his role as President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, he boldly proposed that we enthusiastically welcome non-Jews into our fold.  Strong reactions were felt immediately from a variety of sources.  Many envisioned—in  horror—teams of Jewish missionaries going door-to-door “hawking” our religion.  Some feared an anti-Semitic backlash. Others understood that what came to be known as Outreach had a simple, but vital message:  Synagogues should open wide our doors and let all people know that they are truly welcome in our midst. 

           In the pre-Schindler period, there was widespread skepticism regarding conversion.  In my own family, a great uncle had married a woman who had converted to Judaism, but on her death-bed, called for a priest. The attitude of numerous Jews was: “I could never conceive of converting to another religion; how can others sincerely leave their religion and become Jewish?” And..if the people wishing to enter the Jewish community were non-caucasian, “well, they just don’t look Jewish.” It was widely believed that the real reason most people wished to convert was “just to marry a Jew.”

           Over the ensuing four decades, attitudes in the Jewish community toward Jews-by-Choice have become much more positive.  Every Reform congregation can boast a significant percentage of members who have chosen Judaism.  Nearly every Jewish family has members who have joined the Covenant People.  But...honesty requires us to say that we are not totally “there” yet.  Disturbingly, one still hears untoward comments regarding converts within our walls.

           One factor leading to a greater appreciation of Jews-by-Choice is the practice that has been adopted in many congregations to have a welcoming for them during Shabbat services.  In some synagogues the actual conversion takes place within the context of the service.  In others, the conversion is formalized  in a private ceremony, followed by a joyous observance on Shabbat.  Whereas years ago most Jews had never witnessed a conversion, now it is very common to have participated in a congregational celebration of a person joining Am Yisrael.

           Upon ordination, my first position was as a solo rabbi in a small congregation.  As there was no Introduction to Judaism class within reasonable commuting distance, when a man approached me with a desire to convert, I decided to teach him on a one-on-one basis.  I gave him a short reading list—books on basic Judaism, Jewish history, and Reform Judaism—which we discussed over the course of several months.  When it came time for him to complete the process, I wrote a letter to my HUC/LA Talmud professor, asking whether I should require Hatafat Dam  B’rit  and T’vilah.  He responded that he could not see the Reform Movement making these rituals a requirement, though I was certainly free to encourage them, which I did.  I found two mikvaot in Northern New Jersey which, though under Orthodox auspices, allowed their use for my conversions.

           My second position was in Southern California.  When I arrived, there was only one Orthodox Mikveh that permitted my use.  When it closed a few years later, the nearby Pacific Ocean (actually Newport Bay) was my go-to location for T’vilah until the Rabbinical Assembly built a Mikveh at the University of Judaism (now known as the American Jewish University) which was open to the entire Jewish community. 

           In 1976, as many of us do at some point in our careers, I suffered a professional dislocation.  The rabbi who had been teaching our community-wide Introduction to Judaism course called me to commiserate and said, “Steve, I need this job...but you need it more.”  I couldn’t disagree.    So began my weekly teaching of Introduction to Judaism in Orange County, California—a role that continued for the ensuing 41 years.  Over these decades, I taught—literally—thousands of students, and personally mentored hundreds through the process of conversion.

           Before I commenced teaching Intro, I met with my mentor, Rabbi Samson H. Levey, who had—with Rabbi Albert M. Lewis— created the course in Los Angeles two decades earlier.  He impressed upon me this key notion, which I truly took to heart: He stated emphatically, “In instructing students who take this course, you must not only teach must BE Torah.”

           I will comment on a number of changes in the make-up of the classes over the decades.  In the 1970s and 1980s, most of the people who attended the class were couples.  In 90% of the couples, the male was born Jewish and the female was not.  By the first decade of the twenty-first century, the breakdown was more like 60% males born Jewish, 40% females born Jewish.  The ethnic background of our students changed, as well.  As the county became more Asian and Hispanic, so did our student body.  Similarly, as society became more accepting of LGBTQ individuals, several students who entered the Intro class now self-identified as LGBTQ.  Finally, whereas in earlier decades, almost all participants in the class were couples, increasingly we had individual spiritual seekers taking the course.   

           Our Intro class was sponsored by the Orange County Board of Rabbis and administered by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now called the Union for Reform Judaism). After teaching the Intro course for a few years, I got a call from our Union Regional Director, Rabbi Erwin L. Herman:  “I have a woman who keeps bugging me.  She says that the Intro courses we offer in Southern California give people a good knowledge base, but don’t provide them the tools to live a Jewish life.  Will you meet with her?”

           Thus began my collaboration...and dear friendship...with Lydia Kukoff.  Lydia (who had recently earned her Masters in Judaic Studies at HUC) and I put together a team of rabbis and educators.  Together, we created a new curriculum for Introduction to Judaism that gave equal emphasis to cognitive and affective learning.  The curriculum was published by the UAHC Press (Introduction to Judaism: A Course Outline, 1983) and before long was in use in Basic Judaism courses throughout North America. 

           There was a great deal of new material being produced during the 1980s and 1990s.  With the assistance of three rabbinic interns—Lisa Edwards, Marjorie Slome, and Hara Person (all of whom later became wonderful rabbis)—Lydia and I revised the curriculum, which the UAHC Press published in 1999 as Introduction to Judaism:  A Sourcebook.

           While these curricula were meant to be used in a classroom setting, the approach we had taken had wider applicability.  So, the UAHC Press invited Lydia and me to use the same formula and create a book that interested readers could use outside of a class.  This resulted in Every Person’s Guide to Judaism (1989).

           During my years as a rabbinical student on the Los Angeles campus, I used to see rabbis attending doctoral-level classes.  I promised myself that if I ever returned to Southern California, I would do the same.  I believe I may hold the longevity 1995, after 21 years of traveling the freeways for weekly classes, I earned my DHL.  While my coursework, comprising my minors, was in Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic Theology, my major was in Contemporary Jewish Studies, as my dissertation focused on what had become a core element of my rabbinate.  The title:  “Conversion:  What Do Rabbis Want? A Study of Southern California Reform Rabbinic Attitudes and Practices that Culminate in Conversion”  One key finding I would note here:  Rabbinic practice regarding the traditional entry rituals (Milah/Hatafat Dam B’rit and T’vilah) greatly corresponded to the period of study.  Those who were ordained in the 1960s rarely encouraged these rituals while those ordained in each succeeding decade were more  inclined to push for them.

           For over 20 years, I was honored to serve as Rabbinic Co-Chair of the URJ-CCAR Commission on Outreach, Membership and Caring Community.  This ideals of this Commission were put into daily practice by an outstanding staff, headed successively by truly dedicated Directors—Lydia Kukoff, Dru Greenwood, Kathy Kahn, and Vicky Farhi.  The impact of this Commission’s work on Reform Judaism in the late twentieth/early twenty first centuries cannot be overstated. 

           Many years ago, one of my former students published an article in “Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility.” This sentence stands out in my mind: “I didn’t convert to become a convert; I converted to become a Jew.”  And what a fine Jew she became!  Eventually she served as president of my congregation.  And she wasn’t the only Jew-by-Choice to do so.  It was our Minhag to give Aliyot to past presidents on Yom Kippur.  What special joy I felt as I called up, one after the other:  ... ben/bat Avraham v’Sarah!

           One of the first questions the Outreach Commission had to face was:  Should congregations sponsor programs particularly geared to recent converts?  After all, our Tradition teaches that once a person has converted, we are not to point out that s/he was ever not Jewish (Bava Metzia 4:10).  Still, those who are new to the Jewish community do, in fact, have particular needs that ought to be addressed.  Mastering the details of Jewish living takes time and guidance; it cannot be fully accomplished within the parameters of any Introduction to Judaism class.  So, Outreach developed programs to help integrate newcomers into the Jewish community. 

           One of the Commission’s goals was to have an active Outreach Committee in every Reform congregation.  To this end, we set up a training program for Outreach Fellows on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR. During several summers, I was privileged to serve as part of the faculty which gave to these exceptional lay leaders tools to take back to their communities. 

           One of the concerns of virtually every person who converts to Judaism is the question of authenticity.  They often raise questions, such as: Am I REALLY Jewish? When will I feel COMPLETELY Jewish? How much do I have to DO to BE Jewish?

    A long-time congregant, who had converted years before I met her,  was accustomed to saying, “I’m just a convert, but....” I finally got her to stop when I pointed out that she had been a Jewish woman for decades already.

           The tendency of many Jews-by-Choice whose spouses are Jewish is simply to follow their spouse’s pattern of observance.  In light of this,  I point out to them that while their spouse may have been Jewish longer, they now have an equal vote in the Jewish lifestyle of the family.  Furthermore, it is perfectly fine for spouses to observe their Judaism differently.  An example:  A couple may decide not to serve pork and shellfish at home, but outside the home, one spouse might  choose to eat these foods  while the other spouse  refrains from doing so.

           A very helpful way of enabling new converts to integrate into Jewish life is by assigning them a mentor.  Synagogue Outreach Committees have often paired those who are new to Judaism with congregation members who can model active Jewish living for them.  In recent years, this practice seems to have become less common.  It is often difficult to find mentors, as seemingly fewer of our members are, themselves, leading active Jewish lives.  Also, this type of program is dependent upon an involved Outreach committee or, at least, a strong Outreach chair to select and train mentors, and then follow up. 

           Congregational Outreach programs seem to wax and wane.  They need to be regularly reinforced and reinvigorated.  For many years, this was done by the Outreach Commission developing  new programs and Regional Outreach Directors promoting them, as well as recruiting and training congregational Outreach chairs.  With the demise of Regional Outreach Directors and the Outreach Commission, there seems to be much less emphasis on Outreach at the local level.  I, for one, am greatly saddened to witness the diminution of what was for decades the jewel of our Movement.

           Over the past number of years, as a rabbinic mentor to HUC students  I have witnessed first-hand how the training in Practical Rabbinics has strengthened since my student days.  With the support of a major grant, HUC-JIR has established the Gerecht Institute to provide rabbinical students with intensive training in effective modalities for preparing candidates for conversion.  It has been a delight for me to serve as an instructor in these workshops.

           During two periods, I was a member of the CCAR Ethics Committee—a total of twelve years, six of them as Chair.  One of the areas of rabbinic service that provides rabbis great satisfaction is also one that can, sadly, lead to rabbinic misconduct.  In working with people preparing for conversion, rabbis engage in deep conversations.  The relationship that often develops is one that might well be described as soul-to-soul. As I reflect on a number of conversion-related instances in which I was called upon to intervene as Ethics Chair, I am moved to state the great importance of rabbis maintaining appropriate emotional boundaries in all areas of our work, and especially in this realm. 

           My sense is that while an increasing number of people are interested in learning about Judaism and participating in Jewish life, fewer individuals are formally converting to Judaism compared to a decade or two ago.  I suspect that one reason for this is the greater number of rabbis who will now officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies.  While securing a rabbi to officiate at  a wedding ceremony was never a sufficient reason to convert, if an individual was desirous of living a Jewish life, it made sense to complete a conversion prior to marriage and have the rabbi with whom the person had established a relationship during study now officiate at the wedding.  As more and more rabbis became available to officiate at a wedding where one party was not Jewish, many individuals have come to feel that a formal conversion could occur sometime in the future rather than in the midst of planning a wedding.

           Another factor that may well contribute to the lower incidence of conversion is the wide acceptance of non-Jews in Reform congregations.  Many people feel that they can live fully as Jews without needing to convert.  Some years ago, Reform Judaism magazine invited two members of the Commission on Outreach, Membership, and Caring Community to write a brief article on the topic:  Should Reform Rabbis Encourage Conversion? My essay was an emphatic YES!  My colleague responded with the opposite view, contending that conversion is not really necessary.  In her congregation, no distinction is made between people who are Jewish and those who are not.  All have completely equal roles.  Of course, the rules regarding both governance as well as ritual honors vary from synagogue to synagogue.  However, the overall ethos in Reform congregations is that ALL are completely welcome.  Hence, many do not feel any urgency to make their Jewish status “official.”

           When people convert to Judaism, they may choose to affiliate with a Reform congregation, but they are becoming part of K’lal Yisrael.  In order to emphasize this reality in a palpable manner, some years ago Rabbi Richard N. Levy (past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis) and Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff (past chair of the Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) developed a plan for a joint Bet Din for conversion.  This plan grew into the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California, a pluralistic mode of entry into the Jewish community.  This Bet Din is endorsed by the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly Western Region, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and the Musmachim of the Academy for Jewish Religion/California.  I have been a Governing Board Member of Sandra Caplan since its inception and was recently elected Co-Chair.

           So, I am grateful to God that my 50 years of remeeting Sinai partners goes on....

    Stephen J. Einstein (Cincinnati 1971, DHL Los Angeles 1995) is Founding Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, California. Co-editor of Introduction to Judaism: A Course Outline and Introduction to Judaism: A Sourcebook and co-author of Every Person’s Guide to Judaism, he served as rabbinic co-chair of the URJ-CCAR Commission on Outreach, Membership, and Caring Community for two decades.




  • 20 Jun 2019 10:39 AM | Deborah Schmidt (Administrator)

    This essay was written in 2008 and formed the basis for Rabbi Jeremy Kalmonofsky's Keynote Speech on May 7, 2019.

    Spiritual Citizenship1.pdf

  • 14 May 2018 6:39 PM | Deborah Schmidt (Administrator)

    As we approach Shavuot, perhaps we might gain a unique perspective by reflecting on the stories of the Patriarchs in B’raysheet.  As we consider celebrating Matan Torah on Shavuot, read Megillat Ruth and fete the phenomenon we call conversion, what do we do with Genesis, and with those Mamas and Papas, the Avot and Imahot, our Patriarch and Matriarchs? Are we celebrating the first Jews?  Were the Patriarchs, and by association their wives, Jews?

    Like many of you, I was taught, and I have taught for decades that Abraham was the first Jew, right? But we could also ask, when did real and authentic Judaism begin? We really cannot begin with the Tanach for that Bible begins with Adam, and Eve in the Torah, but we would all surely agree that the Torah does not apply to Adam. He ostensibly receives only one Mitzvah, p’ru u’rvu, propagate! And one could argue, perhaps he also received one negative mitzvah, the first no-no, namely to NOT eat from a specific tree.

    Noah receives one Mitzvah before the Flood, but God’s command to Noah to build the Ark is but Hora’at Shaah, an emergency edict applying only this one time and situation. After the Flood he receives seven commandments, the Noahide Laws, and they become Mitzvot for his descendants, B’nai Noach. Now, we have a religion for humanity. But stay with me.

    Abraham receives the Mitzvah of Brit Milah, and is Promised the Land, and several references are clearly made regarding righteousness and justice and the transmission of those values to our children, but let’s face it, Avraham is father to many children and to many nations, and many of them could not even marginally be considered to be Jews.

    Ishmael and Esau yield to Isaac and Jacob to inherit the blessing of Abraham. 

    Jacob has only Jewish children and very few mitzvot to give them: Milah, Gid Hanasheh, plus perhaps those same seven Noahide Mitzvot, and they as Jacob become Israel, they gradually also become B’nai Yisrael – but not Jewish in the way we understand the term today. So are they actually B’nai Noach at this point in time?  Perhaps we could state that they are Jews, but without Torah, without the full range of Mitzvot. 

    Yet these are our roots – and this is also our ancestry.

    And we know that in a true sense, Judaism begins with Moshe and with Mount Sinai.  And it is at that place, at Horev, that all physical and ethnic Jews are converted to Judaism, through Milah (ritual circumcision), through Tevilah (immersion), through Korban (offerings & sacrifice), and through Kabalat Ol Ha-Mitzvot, the acceptance of the yoke, the burden of those Taryag, those 613 Mitzvot.

     Consider these texts from Maimonides in Mishnah Torah, Isurei Biyah (Forbidden Intercourse):

      רמב"ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יג הלכה א

     בשלשה דברים נכנסו ישראל לברית במילה וטבילה וקרבן.

    With three things did Israel enter the Brit, enter the Covenant; with Milah, Tevila and Korban

      רמב"ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יג הלכה ד

     וכן לדורות כשירצה העכו"ם להכנס לברית ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה צריך מילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן, ואם נקבה היא טבילה וקרבן שנאמר ככם כגר, מה אתם במילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן אף הגר לדורות במילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן.

    And so for the generation, when a gentile wishes to enter the covenant, and to be added under the wings of the Shechinah and accept the burden of Torah, he needs Milah and Immersion and Korban. If it is a female she needs Tevila and Korban. As it said: As with you, so too with the Ger, (just) as you are with Milah and Tevilah and Korban, so too for the Ger for the generations with Milah, Tevilah, Korban.

    So along these lines, one could posit that Judaism authentically began at Sinai with the conversion of all the Jews who had departed from Egypt. And you might therefore ask, what were Avraham and Yitzhak and Yaakov? Well, they were essentially B’nai Noach, ‘sons of Noah,’ with those seven mitzvot of the B’nai Noach, plus circumcision, and Gid Hanashe (no hind quarter, no filet mignon) – and P’ru U’vu (be fruitful) which was given to Adam. 

    So, it seems to follow that If all Jews are ultimately descendants of converts, then current converts are as good, as authentic, and as real as we are. This could be an interesting shiur for our people to consider, and for others who incorrectly and inappropriately feel that even a committed conversionary process does not make a person a true and authentic Jew.

    This concept might also serve as a humbling reminder to we rabbis, who serve as teachers and sit on Batei Din to truly evaluate and judge the acceptability, the readiness, the honesty and sincerity of the candidates who come before us, of our sacred charge to open our arms as lovingly and broadly as we possibly can.  It is our unique responsibility to see the splendid beauty of their desire to join the Jewish People, just as we each did so many generations ago.

    Rabbi Mark Hyman delivered this D'var Torah at the Board of Governors meeting, May 1, 2018; 16 Iyar 5778

  • 21 Dec 2017 6:33 PM | SCBetDin Admin (Administrator)

    BY Esther D. Kustanowitz | PUBLISHED Aug 9, 2017 | Community

    For Liz Davenport, it was ladies at the mikvah. For Susan Brownstein, it was reading library books to her kids. For Jackie Lara, it was the community spirit she felt among Jews.

    These were among the inspirations cited by the recent converts — or, as they’re often known, Jews by Choice — who gathered with community leaders on Aug. 6 at the Skirball Cultural Center to celebrate a milestone: 500 conversions performed by the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din. The Bet Din is the only program in Southern California that brings together Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and transdenominational rabbis to cooperate in the conversion process.

    Read Full Article at Jewish Journal

  • 20 Dec 2017 10:46 PM | SCBetDin Admin (Administrator)

    For selected presentations and handouts from our May 10th Yom Iyun, click here.

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