Holidays Jewish Jewish Law

New Fruits

It has long been a pet peeve of mine that most Reform congregations only observe one day of Rosh Hashanah. According to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is just one day, but it has been celebrated for two days for over a 1,000 years. With the exception of Yom Kippur an extra day was added to all Torah-mandated holidays.

What differs about the extra day added to Rosh Hashanah is that it is observed in Israel (whereas the extra day of the other holidays is not observed). Truth is, the two days of Rosh Hashanah are not really even seen as two separate days, but rather as “one long day” (yoma arichta in the Aramaic of the Talmud). It is because of this that there is question as to whether Jews should recite the Shehecheyanu blessing on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. Thus the custom of having a new fruit (one that hasn’t been eaten yet this season) on the table when lighting the candles and reciting Kiddush on the second night of the holiday. The new fruit gives us a reason to make a Shehecheyanu blessing.

I’ve always liked this custom since eating new fruits is both delicious and adventurous. There’s also no shortage of exotic fruits, especially with new fruit breeding taking place as in the case of Apriums and Pluots.

Last year I posted something about William (the Jewish Robot) Levin’s viral marketing animations called “The Adventures of Todd and God”. Well, another episode of Todd and God has just been released and it focuses on the custom of eating a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah!

Here’s the new Todd and God video:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp Jewish Law Philosophy

Elliot Dorff

The other day I had the chance to listen to Senator Barack Obama on a conference call for American rabbis. The most impressive part of the phone call was not the Democratic Presidential nominee’s ten minute talk. Rather, it was a rabbi who spoke on the call before Obama. Rabbi Elliot Dorff (right) of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles spoke beautifully and powerfully about his political views.

Rabbi Dorff’s latest book has just been published by the Jewish Publication Society. (It seems that he has been publishing books at the rate of Jacob Neusner lately.) This book, For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy of Jewish Law, presents an intelligent and accessible guide to the philosophy that shapes Halakha (Jewish law). While the book is about the Jewish legal system, Dorff also answers the difficult theological questions concerning the relationship of belief in God and the revelation of Torah with observance of Halakha.

Jay Michaelson wrote a praiseworthy review of Dorff’s latest book for the Forward. In his review, Michaelson laments the fact that no such book was available to him while he was growing up in the Conservative Movement. In his closing paragraph, Michaelson asks whether this book would have satisfied his philosophical questions when he was a young camper at the Conservative Movement’s Camp Ramah. Michaelson dismisses the question because he was more of a rationalist back then anyway. Regardless, I appreciated what Michaelson had to say about Jewish summer camp and how the feelings that occur at camp might just be enough of a reason to subscribe to the system of mitzvot (commandments). Michaelson writes:

“…one of the great successes of Jewish summer camp is how it provides an immersion experience: The love is felt, obviating the need for explanation. Who knows? Maybe I could have been told, ‘You know that feeling you get, when the davening is beautiful and the weather is fair; when your friends put their arms around you and sing ‘Lecha Dodi’? That is the reason we do this — because what you feel inside is love, and God is the name we give it.”

Amen to that. And to Rabbi Elliot Dorff for writing a book that will help so many work through their difficult questions concerning belief and the observance of Jewish law in our modern times.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Politics

Politics Politics Politics

It’s been almost two months since my last post due to a combination of being too busy and not really wanting to blog about politics. It seems that everything is being overly-politicized right now.

A simple rally to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations has turned into a Democrat vs. Republican battle royal. According to the JTA, Hillary Clinton was confirmed to speak at the rally back in August. However, when Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin agreed to address the rally, Clinton announced she would withdraw because the rally had become “a partisan political event.” Barack Obama wasn’t even invited to speak. Bottom line is that Palin has been disinvited and Clinton has backed out. Fortunately no one will oppose Elie Weisel’s legitimacy to speak at the rally!

And isn’t it possible for a Jewish person to just wear a kippah (yarmulke) without making a political statement? The kippah color, size, material, and position on ones head is already making a religious statement, so why the need to endorse a candidate with a religious head covering? Even this has spun out of control.

The Gore-Lieberman kippahs were popular during the 2000 campaign and since then it’s been common to see the candidates names on suede kippahs. However, one company ( is now selling a Sarah Palin kippah that says “Sarah Barajewda: Eishet Chayil.” They also sell the McCippah, the Obamica, and one for Michelle Obama fans that reads “Michelle is my Rebbetzin.”

Oy, I can’t wait for this campaign to be over!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |