Monday, November 12, 2018

Could It Be?????

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with personal unction that my politics have shifted to the right over the years.  Part of the reason for that has been the increased anti-Semitism I feel growing on the left, as well as the embracing of some of that anti-Semitism either by openly accepting it, or at least by failure to condemn.

My unease is not going away anytime soon.

Nonetheless, it is important to note when those who are associated with the left put their foot down.  In that regard, it is incumbent to point out that over the last week, actresses Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing have both publicly stated that they will have nothing further to do with the Women's March until a full-throated condemnation of Louis Farrakhan is stated from the leadership.  Good for them.

They should probably not hold their breath.

It is important to give praise where it is due.  Thank you to Ms. Milano and to Ms. Messing for speaking out not only against what they perceive as the excesses of the right (whether or not I agree is irrelevant), but also to the excesses of the left.

Have a good day everyone.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sermonic Response to Pittsburgh...

Good afternoon everyone....

I am away from my congregation right now.  I wrote this sermon in response to the attack in Pittsburgh.  My ritual director delivered it on my behalf.  For those of you who were not in shul this past Shabbat, here is the sermon.


            Friends, I am away this Shabbat.  I wish that I were not.  I would like to be standing in front of you, sharing the impact of what happened last Shabbat in Pittsburgh with you.  I have asked Larry to share my thoughts with you.  He has graciously agreed.

            You are familiar with this by now.  When one of these attacks happens, I start my sermons with a list of attacks.  I will do so again now.  York, 1190. Expulsion from Spain...1492. Hevron, 1929.  Kristallnacht, Babi Yar, Warsaw, Nehariyah, Toulouse, the Hyper-Cachere in Paris, and now, Pittsburgh.  I would love to be able to say that we should be surprised. However, the long chain of Jewish history sadly says only that we have only been witness to another chapter.

            We are all familiar with Mr. Rogers' famous statement - "look for the helpers."  As this attack took place in Mr. Rogers' neighbourhood - he lived in Squirrel Hill, we should look to those words.  Why should we look for the helpers?  It is not to cast aside our own responsibility.  Not at all.  Rather, looking for them reminds us that despite the fact that evil happens, the helpers, those who will not accept such evil, are there.  They are there, and they are the clear majority.  And no, they do not accept such evil.

            Let us look at both the helpers and at those who do not accept such evil.  We take note of the Pittsburgh police chief, who was holding back tears as he reported on what happened.  And we take note of his policemen, who were injured in the line of duty trying to protect the congregation.  We take note of thousands of people in Pittsburgh, here in Toronto, and in many places beyond, who made makeshift memorials at the scene, who stood side by side with their Jewish neighbours at countless vigils and said "no!  You are part of our community.  You are our neighbours.  You are our friends."  

            The shul's MP, Ali Ehsassi, delivered a note and a small gift for the shul this week.  His note says that our community has no place for hate.  MP Blair and Premier Ford spoke to the Jewish community on Monday at Toronto's vigil.  This was not about the vote.  This was about human decency, and we have seen far more of that than the violence that the shooter was able to muster.

            Many doctors take the Hippocratic oath upon graduation.  Jewish doctors do not.  They take the Oath of Maimonides, which says "may I never see in the patient anything other than a fellow creature in pain."  We take note then of Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, who led the medical team that treated the shooter.  "He is some mother's son...My job is to care for him."  All Dr. Cohen saw was a fellow creature in pain.  The hate that drove the shooter has no place in the Jewish community, and Dr. Cohen made sure of that.  

            And now we come back home.  You, my friends, in our home, have joined thousands of our fellow Jews everywhere doing what now carries significance far beyond the simple act of going to shul.  Your presence here today is an emphatic statement that we will not be cowered. We will not cease walking into our shuls.  We will not allow those who wish to chase Jews away from their synagogues to succeed. This is our home.  We claim it.  We will never be scared in our home, and we will most certainly not be chased from it.  

            At the beginning of our parashah this week, we learn of the death of Sarah.  As we draw towards the end, we learn about the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah. Rashi brings an absolutely lovely piece of Midrash on this text.  He writes: 

שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשָּׂרָה קַיֶּמֶת הָיָה נֵר דָּלוּק מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וּבְרָכָה מְצוּיָה בָּעִסָּה וְעָנָן קָשׁוּר עַל הָאֹהֶל, וּמִשֶּׁמֵּתָה פָּסְקוּ, וּכְשֶׁבָּאת רִבְקָה חָזְרוּ

            When Sarah was alive, there was a candle that burned from Shabbat to Shabbat, blessing was found in the bread, and a divine cloud hovered over the tent.  When she died, that ceased, and when Rivkah came, it all returned.

            And we look.  Someone tried to snuff out that candle.  For 11 Jews, he succeeded.  But when we look and see the outpouring of grief from the entire world, when we see those who rush towards gunfire, when we see a police chief hold back tears, when we see a doctor give vivid testimony to his oath, when we see makeshift memorials, when we see vigils, the light of what is good and proper in the world is relit, and will burn from Shabbat to Shabbat ever more brightly. And when we see all of the response, truly that divine cloud continues to hover over us.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

MAGA!! No....Really....

Top of the evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

We have been entranced over the last several months watching the confirmation hearings for a justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Whatever else can be said about this, it has brought out the absolute worst in so many people.  And frankly, my friends, the entire political spectrum is knee-deep in this horrendous muck.

It is simply inconceivable that it has now become acceptable to harass people.  That White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was chased out of a restaurant is deplorable.  That Professor Ford was forced to move her family out of their home due to death threats is also deplorable.

I cite these two cases, among many, because they drive home the point that the venom comes from both sides.

And so, I implore my fellow citizens.  MAGA....let us accept that perfectly decent people can disagree.  Let us find our sense of humour.  Let us laugh at each other and at situations.

MAGA!  Make America Goofy Again.

Have a good evening.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Stare Decisis....

Top of the evening everyone...

For reasons that are lost on me, I have been watching some of the political theatre of the nomination hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States.  One of the things this distinguished judge has emphasized and re-emphasized has been the binding nature of legal precedent.  The Latin for that is stare decisis, and thus the title of this blog entry.

On the one hand, precedent is important.  It is the utmost in arrogance to ignore over two centuries of jurisprudence to render a decision.  The Supreme Court of the United States has been graced by legal brilliance that is difficult to match.  As well, to adjudicate without consideration of precedent places law in a vacuum.  It will lose a sense of coherence in such a vacuum.

However, there are other considerations that make stare decisis a concern.  For starters, sometimes precedent is wrong.  Two famous cases come to mind.  Both are connected to issues of racism.  Dred Scott vs. Sanford has been called the "Court's greatest self-inflicted wound" by none other than a Chief Justice of that Court.  The other is Plessy vs. Ferguson, which decided that separate but equal was Constitutional.  The latter case suffered a unanimous verdict overturning it with Brown vs. Board of Education.  These two precedents are just horrendously bad decisions.  They needed to go.

Other concerns....while precedent is important, it should not be an anchor.  A court must be able to consider a precedent and overturn it.

Related to that, again, while precedent is important, a judge should never lose his/her ability and obligation to reason.  The Court considers about 100 cases a year.  For the millions of cases that the legal system sees every year, that is a tiny percentage.  That a case makes it to this level means that something in existing law needs to be addressed.  Precedent cannot be binding.

Listening to some of the questions to the judge, one other matter comes to mind.  We were taught in our senior halakhah classes that there are two types of halakhic questions.  The first type has an a priori answer.  Is pork kosher?  No.  The other type of question is far more common.  It involves reconciling two or more competing halakhic issues.  Most legal issues are of the latter type.  As such, the ability to reason and to discount or even overturn precedent is a crucial requirement of a judge.

On a side note, I would like to congratulate Senator Feinstein of California.  Her politics are not mine.  However, she deserves a great deal of credit for asking intelligent and probing questions and for giving Judge Kavanaugh a chance to answer.  Wow....civilized discourse between two people who do not see eye to eye on many issues...who would have thought it was possible??

Have a wonderful evening everyone.


P. S.  One of my readers is a lawyer.  BR...if you wish to respond to this entry, I will add your comments to this blog entry.  Obviously, it can wait until after the bat mitzvah.

Monday, August 13, 2018

We Have a Situation Here....

Top of the evening folks....

I have been following the news on the goings-on at the White House over the last couple of days.  Specifically, we are learning more about the dismissal of a White House staffer.  The dismissal took place in the White House Situation Room.  Apparently, the staffer brought her cell phone into the Situation Room and recorded the conversation between her and White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, USMC-Ret.

The purpose of the Situation Room is to be able to monitor and respond to worldwide events.  There are representatives from various US intelligence services at work in there on a constant basis.  Despite being military, I do not have the clearance to be in that room.

With respect to General Kelly, the room's purpose is likely not to have conversations about dismissal. It is to monitor and react to events as they happen.  On an aside, the picture of former President Obama and his staff watching the takedown of Osama bin Laden was taken in that room.  To dismiss an employee in there is misuse of the room.  As well, it is likely that no one was paying attention.  This was not a good move.  I hope that General Kelly had the good sense to have someone with him when this conversation took place.

On the other hand, had General Kelly known that the woman had her phone with her and was recording the events in the room, that alone would have been grounds for immediate dismissal.  By immediate, I mean " have your phone.  This meeting is over.  Go clean out your desk."  It is a flagrant violation of WH security, and therefore national security.  It may well be a felony.  I am sure that the powers that be are checking that even now.

The woman who did this....good riddance, even if the reason is only after the fact.  As for General Kelly, I would strongly urge him in the future to make sure that all HR matters always have a witness and never take place in that environment.

Have a good evening everyone.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Top of the evening everyone...

It has been a while since I have written.  I do not know why the need to blog has just not been there of late.

On my mind these days....

You are hopefully aware that the City of Toronto has decided to allow open warfare on cyclists and pedestrians.  If you are not aware of this, here is an article: Toronto Takes Action.

People have been getting killed.  When this is reported on our local radio station's website, there is the usual motley crew of voices talking about how it is that cyclists are directly responsible for the problems in the Middle East and so on.  Soon after the cyber-blame is laid, the actual facts of the event become known.

Thank God that the folks at City Hall have realized and responded to the problem.  Mayor Tory has promised to kick in $13,000,000 to solve the safety problems in the city.  Here is that article: Vision Zero Plan.  The money comes from a surplus in the city's 2017 budget.

And no one has complained about this?!

I have the following questions.

1.  If there was a surplus, why did property taxes go up as much as they did?
2.  If there was a surplus, why was that money not refunded to the taxpayers forthwith?
3.  Did it occur to anyone on City Council that if perhaps these steps towards safety, for which the money clearly exists, might have saved a life if they had been taken before people were killed?  Why does it take a death, or deaths as the case may be, to cause the city to realize that safety is a worthwhile investment?

I am confused.

Have a good evening everyone.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Laws that Do Not Exist...

Top of the afternoon everyone...

When I was but a wee lad, my brother had a subscription to 'Mad' magazine.  This was back in the day when it was still good.  Besides the general stuff that was always in there, e.g. "Spy versus Spy" and "The Lighter Side of...," I only remember a couple of specific things from it.

The first thing I remember was the spoof on the animated film "The Hobbit," set to music.  One of the songs was song to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."  The lyric was 'how many days can a hobbit go on, when he's hungry and tired and hurt."

The other was about laws that do not exist but do not.  I only remember one of those laws, but am happy to add in another.  The one I would like to add is along the lines of...if you are having a really loud cell phone conversation on the bus, we all have the right to listen and comment.

The specific law that I remember is quite relevant in Ontario right now.  We are in the throes of an election right now.  The law from 'Mad' was that politicians were required to eat any campaign signs remaining in place more than three days after the election.  A good law that could be.

Have a great day everyone.  Vote carefully.