Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

A rabbi should be able to change his or her mind

Rabbi John Moscowitz

Full disclosure: I wrote this review, not entirely without bias.

The truth is: I am quite biased in favor of the author, Rabbi John Moscowitz, rabbi emeritus of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple.

John and I met, almost 42 years ago, as we both started rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.

John is one of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors — and I’d like to think that he returns the compliment.

A fuller disclosure: to read John’s collection of sermons and small essays, Evolution of an Unorthodox Rabbi with its overarching  autobiographical themes, is not simply to encounter the intellectual and spiritual fruits of almost four decades of pulpit activity.

It is, in a large sense, to look in the mirror – and to see my own evolution as well.

John is a few years older than me, but in many ways, our life journeys are almost parallel.

We are both, religiously speaking, baalei teshuvah — returnees to a tradition that our grandparents would have abandoned and that our parents only partly or begrudgingly accepted.

That act of partial return, by the way, would have typified the life journeys of many of our fellow rabbinical school students.

There is yet a second way that John’s life mirrors my own — and that is our joint apprenticeship with the Left.

This is where John’s three year seniority over me makes a difference; he got to really live the life that I could have only fantasized — actually hanging out with Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda.

With that apprenticeship comes the second parallel: yes, the embrace of traditional Judaism (John, I think, even more than me), coupled with the gradual, painful, disillusionment with the Left.

Despite the fact that we were both still liberals, we had come to two similar conclusions about the hard Left (to be clear: as opposed to liberalism).

First: the hard Left was hardly always right.

Second, the hard Left had been waging a never-ending intellectual war against Israel.

Both of us refused to be part of that war.

Quite the opposite; if there was a war to be fought, it would be for Israel’s legitimacy; of giving Israel the benefit of the doubt; and of refusing to engage in moral equivalency between Israel and her enemies.

Example: a sermon, in which John ponders the question: When we name Jewish victims of terror and say kaddish for them at worship services, should we also name and say kaddish for innocent Arab victims?

Let us say unequivocally: Palestinian lives are worth every bit as much as Jewish lives; their deaths are as much a dent in God’s image as are Jewish deaths. However, when the survival of our homeland is at stake, when our people are in peril, we will put ourselves first. Therefore, when we say Kaddish here in synagogue, while we value the lost lives of all innocents, we shall mention the Jewish innocents in this horrible mess alone.

But, finally, the great gift of John Moscowitz is his ability, that I share and admire, to abandon previously held positions — even and especially when it means moving from a more conservative to a liberal position.

The most profound example? John’s evolving position on same-sex marriage.

…As the years went by, more and more I felt like the guardian at the gate saying no entry, no way, even as the gates no longer held and had been broken through.

The only thing worse than having to change is becoming irrelevant. As the winds of powerful and positive change swept past me, I felt not only irrelevant but wrong, at least in some of my stances….too much no, too much posturing and policing; not enough yes and welcoming and affirmation.

I could have written those words. In fact, I have said them – at least, in their essence.

The late Rabbi Harold Schulweis, whom both John and I deeply admired, once said something along these lines. Judaism believes in polarities. Judaism is a pendulum, that keeps swinging from left to right, and from right to left.

In Rabbi Schulweis’ words:

Any attempt to freeze the pendulum is to tamper with the vitality and sweep of our religious civilization…Our minimal task is to provide vehicles to keep the pendulum swinging, to keep the polarities from polarization, to keep opposite views in contact with each other.

John and I have been riding that pendulum, together, for several decades.

That back and forth movement has not resulted in motion sickness.

Rather, it has offered me an invigorating friendship that, I pray, will continue for many decades more.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

20 Comments

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  • Palestinians are not God’s people.
    God does not change and homosexuality is as much as sin as it was after S&G and Gibeah.

  • Sandinwindsor is also NOT one of Gods people, but he and that is irrelevant.

    I also admire those who admit that change is needed, that they were wrong–had taken a wrong turn, and need to get back on the right track.

    One problem the Christian Church ( i.e. the Catholic Church which carries over to over Christian churches) is they never allowed for change, for growth, for maturing, for enlightenment. Societies and people grow and change but THE CHURCH and some of her people refused and continue to refuse to grow.

  • There isn’t any homosexuality in either story, as well as, a lot of doubt regarding the authenticity of the second as an original telling. It is very much a retelling of the first in a different location.

    It’s disgusting that you can equate the loving relationship of two people to rape & murder.

  • I’m washed by the blood of the lamb Susan. My sins are forgiven and I follow Jesus. Yes, I do belong to Christ.

  • “The most profound example? John’s evolving position on same-sex marriage.” No need for doubt – Sodom wanted to engage in homosexuality.
    There is no love in sending the recipient of your sex drive to their death.

  • I would be most gratified to know both Rabbis’ clearly stated definition of “relevance,” or conversely, “irrelevance.” The nature of such a definition has grave implications for both their philosophies and doctrines.

  • What your opinions call for are sins–prejudice, persecution, discrimination against those that reject your opinions. That is the sin.

  • Telling people what pleases Christ is not persecution, prejudice, discrimination. If it has hit a nerve, what is the Lord saying to you?

  • You aren’t telling people what pleases Christ, you are telling people what pleases you and those like you. There is no “Lord”, there is no “Christ” they are simply figments of your imagination designed to sanctify your fears and prejudice. There is no excuse (justification or sanctification) for folk like you that promote fear and hate.

  • Sodom wanted to engage in homosexuality.

    There isn’t anything about homosexuality in the story. The story speaks of the emasculating rape of strangers. That has nothing to do with being gay. That was common degrading behavior practiced by heterosexual men against other heterosexual men during that time in human history by every known culture in the Levant. It is still practiced in certain aspects even today. Such as when US high school & college athletes rape their new, younger teammates with broomsticks, pipes and sports equipment during hazing.

  • Israel wouldn’t have enemies if the Israelis didn’t rob the Palestinians of their homeland. Israelis slaughtered and stole to get what they have today and the shame is that Israel is still doing it to this very day. Israel commits crimes against humanity daily and its soldiers make videos of the slaughter as they curse those whose lives they have taken and then proudly post it on the internet so all the world knows that Israel is no different and no better than those they have made enemies.

    If every religious group, ethnic group, tribe, clan, etc. decided that they had the right to take over an area because at one time in the distant past their ancestors lived there, what kind of a world would we live in today. Should we aboriginal peoples of the Americas rise up and drive you Europeans into the sea and take back our homeland?

    You’re a hypocrite Rabbi Salkin and you have blood on your hands that will stain them still when you meet your Maker, as you try to justify the deaths of 1000s of innocent people when your own law states You shall not commit murder.

  • What a disappointment. I would have thought an unorthodox Rabbi would value life more than unorthodox sex. Yes Palestinian life is as sacred as Jewish life.

  • Where does it say such in scripture?
    The term “to know” is the same term as that used between Adam and Eve, so I would say you are mistaken When turned away, they attempted rape because their lust was so overwhelming. Still, a penis inserted into a male behind is homosexual. It does not take away from homosexuality whatsoever.
    The angels brought no righteous homosexuals out of S&G and initially intended to destroy them all for unrighteousness. Lot, who offered his daughters to the men’s refusal was seen as more righteous than anyone there.
    It was homosexual, please don’t fool yourself.
    The other reason one knows it is homosexual is
    Jude 1:7 – In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire

    2 Peter 2:6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);

  • There are many holes in your logic and prooftexting. The first being how you force your 21st century ideas onto a culture from 4000 years ago.

    The NT pericope states sexual immorality & perversion. It doesn’t state homosexuality. You are reading into that what is convenient for you. I contend that actual homosexuality isn’t part of that.

    You are also saying that ALL of the men of S&G had arrived at Lot’s house for a sex party. Not so, violence against the strangers is intended from the very start. Male rape isn’t an act of homosexuality, it is an act of emasculation to drive home the victim’s shameful vanquished state.

    Hundreds of millions of heterosexual men have raped their vanquished foes on the battlefields of earth throughout time, that doesn’t make them gay.

  • 1. ‘ The first being how you force your 21st century ideas onto a culture from 4000 years ago.’ Easy – if you want to be a Christian, follow Christ.
    Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)

    2. “The NT pericope states sexual immorality & perversion.”
    1 Corinthians 7: Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”
    no exceptions

    ‘You are also saying that ALL of the men of S&G had arrived at Lot’s house for a sex’ party’
    .All of the men arrived at the house to have sex. Genesis 19: Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Same verb as that used between Adam and Eve and we know that Adam did not rape Eve.
    Had it been “an act of emasculation” Lot would not have offered his daughters understanding that. It was lust.

    2 Peter 2:6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);
    rape is not considered “sensual conduct”, neither is trying to “emasculate”

    ‘Hundreds of millions of heterosexual men have raped their vanquished foes on the battlefields of earth throughout time, that doesn’t make them gay.’
    Heterosexual men do not have homosexual sex.

  • Like I have told you before, those English translations are incorrect, but since you don’t read Biblical Hebrew, you wouldn’t know. And like always before, you keep making the same faulty arguments which you quote from conservative writers. Nothing about you is original because you lake the capacity to read and write the biblical languages required to understand what they say.

    Your lack of education is astounding. As to straight men not engaging in gay sex, perhaps you should do the research on straight men serving long term prison sentences. Not gay when they went in and not gay when they come out, but engaging in same sex relationships while nothing but men are around.

    Moving on. You aren’t smart enough to not come back with the same things that you repeat over and over.

    DA, AA, BA, ThM

  • Oh, it’s the “english translations are not correct” now. What is your next excuse for not agreeing with scripture?

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