Archive by category "Musings"

Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

 

Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

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Can acts based on moral imperatives lead to appalling results? Knowing that I am a rabbi, a friend troubled by the daily doses of ever more dreadful news these days — by the dilemma of what is considered ethical and what is not — has just asked me this question. Yes, I think this statement can be true. The reverse is also true: acts based on moral imperatives can also lead to wonderful results. (That’s why Kabbalistic thinking presents a life-long balancing act as the pathway to increasing moral and spiritual growth.)

So here goes:  Early societies committed acts we consider appalling now, but they didn’t then: They sacrificed designated tribe members on altars to propitiate their gods and thus protect their society.  Some societies, like the mathematically brilliant Maya, tore out their victims’ hearts before consigning them to the volcano. They believed it was the moral thing to do to protect their society. The Spartans thought it was moral to throw malformed babies and people they considered physically or mentally unfit off cliffs to their death. Thus their society would not be contaminated by misfits. Today in America, our political “rulers” aspire to eliminate the elderly by simply denying them medical care. At the age of 82, it’s nice to know I won’t be thrown off a cliff.

In my own life span, the Nazis thought ridding society of “mongrel” Jews (labelled as globalists, communists, and fascists, all at the same time) was good to maintain the purity of the German master race. Although many Nazis remained Christian at heart, the moral imperatives of the Nazi philosophy were secular. Similarly, Communist societies horribly punished those who did not conform to their (and later Chinese Maoist) ideology with prison or death. So yes, acts based on moral imperatives can lead to appalling acts. Think of 17th century Salem in the U.S. or the McCarthy period in the 1950s. Or now. Unfortunately, for our current U.S. administration, the prevailing moral imperative appears to be the push of Mammon — with its battle cry sweeping “Me Too” under the carpet in favor of “Me First”.

By contrast, think of what the Bible tells us: The purpose of the seven Noahide laws was to instill universal moral laws into a new society after the old one was destroyed by flood for disgusting moral behavior. These Noahide values were divinely enhanced on Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments (and perhaps, as some Orthodox Jews still believe, the whole Torah as well), precepts later carried into Christianity and adopted into early Islam. Most great Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism (or Confucianism, which is a philosophy rather than a religion) also try to enunciate and instill universal values, but, in practice, their followers don’t always live by them. Or subvert them for self-interest. 

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has committed appalling acts in the name of righteousness. The Crusades — and the Inquisition — were prime examples of appalling behavior that resulted from moral imperatives, much like the violent Islamic jihads of today.

It was unsettling, to say the least, to read in an Israeli newspaper that “righteous” elements in Israel are advocating a new Nation-State law (allowing particular communities to vote to keep non-Jews out) that supposedly will keep them pure. History reminds us that the 19th century European Nation-States turned out to be venal. As for the U.S., we are supposed to be a nation “under God, indivisible.” Our still valid currency declares “In God We Trust.”

I am a rabbi. I believe in the Judaic purpose “to do” in accordance with a moral code intended to be both particular and universal. Our laws are supposed to be particular to Jews, who in turn, by their behavior will be a light unto the nations; that is, set an example of moral behavior accompanied by good actions that will encourage other nations to do the same. “Believe in God because God is good.” God is “Tov “(good). Think “tov,” do “tov” (to yourself and others). Study why we do “tov.” Study how to do more “tov.” That is our moral code. The difficulty is in interpreting what is “good,” something we have debated in our Talmud, in our houses of study, in our congregations, in our hearts and souls, for thousands of years. And now, in our open society in 2018, we are asking, “Is everything relative, a moral equivalent? What’s good?”

The Hebrew Bible sets it out plainly. “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. Then will your name achieve wisdom.” (Micah 6: 8-9)

That’s it.

These requirements seem to me to be a worthwhile political agenda too: Do good, be just, be humble (love the widow, the orphan, and the stranger — treat others the way you would like them to treat you).

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

 

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

I am deeply concerned about the moral injury, the psychic wounds, our political leadership is currently inflicting on a new American generation. Two of my grandchildren are currently college age, and a third is in high school. On a daily basis now, intentions that are morally wrong are being transformed into what is being promoted as morally good. This is done deliberately by leaders we have unfortunately elected. Their rationale is that these actions are necessary for the growth and well-being of our society. In an Orwellian kind of transformation, what is plainly evil to most thinking people is deceptively cited as the “right” path to follow for the ultimate good. Biblical quotations are misguidedly used to bolster grandiose speeches. Facts are simply overlooked in a society driven by instilled fear, divisions, and repeated lies.

Thankfully, growing segments of our society are beginning to raise their voices in outrage: Children — no matter where they come from, let alone the color of their skins — should not be forcibly separated from their parents and certainly not, to add insult to injury, without a coherent plan for reuniting them. School children should not have to worry about being shot when they go to school.

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In a poetic cry of outrage in his must-read book, The Line Becomes a River, Francisco Cantu draws on his own experience as a border agent and a human being on both sides of the Rio Grande.  He first encountered the term “moral injury,” he explains, in a veteran war reporter’s book called “What Have We Done?” This author, David Wood, “examines the pervasiveness of ‘moral injury’ among soldiers who have returned from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Cantu explains:

“Long confused with PTSD, moral injury is a more subtle wound, characterized not by flashbacks or a startle complex, but by ‘sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion’ that manifest not in physical reactions but in emotional responses as subtle as dreams….” [1]

He makes the point that people do not have to be on battlefields to be exposed to moral injury. It is something that can happen from immoral societal exposure that seeps deeply into individual consciousness. It’s a gradual process. The wounds develop slowly.  

In America we are watching these wounds begin to fester on a daily basis, through the mouths and actions – or inactions — of our leaders. The wounds first show themselves through acts of incivility, even hatred, through acceptance of lying as a new normal, through crazed individuals who take their rage out by shooting innocent people.

As a grandmother and a rabbi, I too am outraged. I know that deliberate moral injury to the generation who will be our future leaders can only have disastrous consequences. We must  — each of us — continue to speak out to sustain our values. And vote with all our conviction.

 

[1] Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018) 150-151.

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

 

Why has the Jewish Community put up barriers to conversion in the past?

What happens when we are welcoming?

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Rabbi Copnick  is a Governor of the multi-denominational Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (rabbinic court) in Los Angeles and serves as a Dayan (rabbinic judge)) for conversion.

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Once the growing number of those who express the desire to convert to Judaism have taken this life-changing step, they are no longer called converts. They are simply Jews, often referenced with the honorific “Jews-by-choice.” During the conversion process, they take Hebrew names, sometimes commemorating known Jewish ancestors in previous generations.  Since its inception in 2002, California’s Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (a rabbinic court using the awe-inspiring facilities of American Jewish University’s mikveh  (ritual immersion) in Los Angeles), has celebrated 500 conversions.

Traditionally, the Jewish religion has not sought converts. In fact, through the ages, a prospective convert has usually been required to ask a rabbi three times before being admitted to the conversion process, and the course of study is long and difficult. What is so remarkable about the Sandra Caplan Bet Din is its welcoming attitude to would-be Jews. Why put obstacles in their way? Jews-by-choice strengthen our community.

Who are these Jews-by-choice?

If we take a look at only seven profiles of people who became Jews-by-choice between 2002 -2017, their occupations range from a communicator for tribal government to a television producer, a graduate student in clinical psychology, a health educator, a woman in the fashion industry, an advertising and marketing professional, and a stay-at-home mom of two young boys.  They come from different backgrounds and cover a range of ages, including infants. But they all have one thing in common: a strong desire to join the Jewish people, spiritually, religiously, and with their own communal efforts. They are willing to dedicate themselves to studying Jewish history, religion, tradition, festivals, customs and, finally, sponsored by a rabbi familiar with their personal journey, an interview by three designated Dayans (rabbinic judges). Once they show that they are determined to undertake Jewish life, and, to make a Jewish home for themselves, their children or for those in their care, they are invited to make a Statement of Commitment to Judaism, to immerse themselves in the sanctified waters of a mikveh, and then be welcomed as Jews. Today, these seven people, represented by initials here, whose families are not Jewish, are all Jews-by-choice.

Usually, their birth families are not Jewish. It’s a huge decision to convert, even if they are planning to marry a Jewish person. Why do they do it? Is it the need for connection, the pull of the community, the sense of belonging, the social action focus? Most don’t anticipate the mystical power of the mikveh experience. Sometimes there are unexpected happenings.

C.B. explains that she had always felt a strong connection to what she calls “my Jewish soul.” It had always been a part of me, she says. “When I converted, when I emerged from the mikveh, “I was no different from the way I had always been.” Still, the road to becoming a Jew took different forms – studying with a rabbi one-to-one, participating in small study groups with others who wanted to become Jews, just thinking it through. Even then, it took a couple of years before she felt “ready” to enter the mikveh with her young daughter. The experience was “as indescribably exciting as the day I gave birth to her,” she remembers.

For C.R., a political and non-profit consultant, who is married with two children, a son and daughter, it was also “a peak life moment” when she entered the mikveh with her twelve-year-old daughter who wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah, the ceremonial moment of accepting adult responsibility for following the tenets of Jewish life.  “She needed to be a Jew,” C.R., says simply. As for herself, she experienced “an immediate and powerful sense of belonging” when she converted to Judaism. She was already active at her Temple, serving on its Board.

The mikveh experience was also especially important to J.H., who runs a fashionable clothing boutique for women. She claims that, although she really didn’t know what to expect, it turned out to be “the most spiritual, uplifting moment of my life. Without a doubt, the high point of my conversion process was my experience of the mikveh. I came away feeling renewed and grounded. For the first time in a long while, I finally felt all the pieces of my life fit together perfectly.” She has taken the Hebrew name of her great-grandmother, who was Jewish. And, for J.H., the biggest surprise of all has been the “warm reception” she has been receiving from the Jewish community.

But, for P.D., a former teacher, there was no single moment that defined her conversion experience. Every single step along the way was important, she explains, helping her to reframe her past and contributing to the whole: from her initial decision to convert, to the classes she took with a rabbi, to the conversational encounter with three rabbis composing the “court” of the Bet Din. The rabbis asked why she wanted to convert and determined her motivation and educational and emotional readiness to take this big step. And afterwards? “It’s amazing,” she told us, “how attached I feel to Israel.” P.D. is already active in a number of Jewish organizations, among them AIPAC, JNF, and David Adom.

Among the Jews-by-choice – as among the Jewish people — are those of varied races, such as K.S., who is Japanese by birth but was adopted by a Jewish, Caucasian mother. K.S. particularly appreciates Judaism’s focus on education, history, and culture. The call to right action resonates deeply with him. He claims that, although his own self-introspection led to his eventual conversion, he loves “the focus on action” in Judaism, along with “the way of being.”

For B.D., the busy television producer, the restfulness of Shabbat was the determining factor in his decision to convert. Just to leave the work week behind and transition into Shabbat was bliss for him. Although his spiritual path has been very personal, he claims, he also loves the community aspect of Judaism. With his outgoing personality, he thoroughly enjoys hosting Passover Seders, for example, and, with his regular attendance at Shabbat services, he looks forward to greeting familiar faces.

The communal aspect of Jewish life is a big thing for many Jews-by-choice. J.S. calls it “experiencing the unspoken community,” something he had been looking forward to for a long time because he knew he had Jewish ancestors. It felt like he had finally come to his “true community.” He also values receiving his Certificate of conversion because “it was the culmination of all my striving.”

There were also some unexpected surprises for some of the Jews-by-Choice. J.L., who is a health educator, did not expect her birth family to be so accepting of her choice. “They were so happy and excited about my connection to God and spirituality. It rekindled their own connection to a spiritual path.” It was so wonderful to have her family with her all the way. J.L. loved sharing with them the studies of history and literature that preceded her conversion. In particular, she appreciated the emphasis on Social Justice. She has become an active member of her congregation.

As Shavuot approaches this weekend, when Jews everywhere stand symbolically on Mount Sinai together, as if receiving the Ten Commandmens in the present tense, we are also connecting to the preceding generations, And as Jews-by—chioice stand with us, they strengthen our community. Welcome!

 ©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

Prepping for Passover

Prepping for Passover

Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Exodus 2:2

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (This verse begins the 10 commandments)

Exodus 12: 14-17: God declares Passover as a festival memorial day

“ And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the L-RD, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree.”

Exodus 13: 3

“Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.”

Exodus 22: 20-23

“You shall not wrong a stranger, neither shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt./ You shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child./ If you afflict them in any way — for if they cry at all unto Me, I will surely here their cry. My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.”

Leviticus 26:13

“I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”

Amos 2:10

“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you for forty years in the wilderness to give you the land of the Amorites.”

(Other cross-references include Ex. 6:6, 15:16, 15:26, 20:1 29:46, Deut 5:6, 7:8. Judges 2:1, Isaiah 43:3, Jeremiah 2:6, 16:14, 34:13, Ezekiel 20:7, 20:19, and Psalm 81:18.)

(Excerpted from The Whipping Boy by Matthew Lopez)

“John: I was scared, Simon. I had no choice.

Simon: No. You’re free now. For the first time in your life, you do have a choice. You have a choice, and you made a choice. When you were beating that man to death, you made a choice. When you hear from Freddy Cole, you made a choice. When you lied to me about my family, you made a choice. I see the choices you made. They tell me all I need to know about the man you are, about the free man you’re gonna be. You don’t get to be free, you work to be free. It’s what we have been praying for tonight. What you should have learned from all your reading. Were we Jews or were we slaves? I know what you are. You ain’t no Jew. You ain’t even a man. You just a Nigger, John. Nigger, Nigger, Nigger John.

(Silence)”

(Excerpted from  Religion, Politics, and the Healing Potential of Dialogue with Difference, by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb in The Huffington Post)

“…[If] one defines religion as a force to elevate humanity with a vision of the future that is permeated with Peace and Justice, it is reasonable and correct to peer out into the world and chart its progress and regress toward this ideal….But a stronger impulse inherent in the tradition, expressed by the Prophets and sages of all generations, expresses the mandate to enter the world and imbue it with values of justice, forbearance and compassions as partners in the ongoing creation of this future of peace….[While particularism promotes strengthening of identity and commitment to core values, it must not be at the expense of neglecting the universal mandate of creating a just world for all humanity.

“Some contemplative and introverted, God intoxicated temperaments, impacted by the awe of serving God are more comfortable to reach this goal through a withdrawal that leads to holiness, while others feel more comfortable to go out into the world and elevate society. Conflict arises when the boundaries of each position are strengthened and little communication exists between these two distinctive temperaments.”

(Excerpted from Putting God Second by Rabbi Donniel Hartman)

“Together with the love of neighbor came the hatred of the other. Together with kindness to those in need came the murder of this who disagreed. Monotheism became a mixed blessing and a double-edged sword.”….

“Religion will be saved from itself when navigating this tension is an integral part of religious commitment and the life of faith. Religion will be saved from itself, its autoimmune diseases [God intoxication and God manipulation] cured once and for all, when we recognize that by putting God second, we put God’s will first.”

A Cautionary Tale: “Washington Is Burning”

A Cautionary Tale: “Washington Is Burning”

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

www.washingtonisburning.com

My musician son-in-law, Ira Brown, a brain cancer survivor, has just released his digitally re-mastered, iconic statement-song, “Washington is Burning.” It is intended as a cautionary tale, originally written twenty years ago at the cusp of a new century. Hopefully our current, articulate, caring, post-millennial generation, at the threshold of their adult lives, will prevent a societal breakdown from happening in their own time.

When “Washington Is Burning” was first released in 1998, it was played repeatedly on many College Radio stations across the nation, charting in the top ten and rising to Number One on College Radio stations for many weeks.

What Happened in 1998?

For starters, an American President was impeached. Unsparing of the sordid details, radio and television stations and the print media (we did not yet have Facebook, launched in 2004, or the Social Media that accompanied its growth) relentlessly dissected President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House Intern Monica Lewinsky. Paula Jones accused him of sexual harassment. Finally, in December of that year, he was impeached. (The American public, however, still loved Bill because he loved them, and eventually he was forgiven.)

All this was happening against the chaotic, controversial background of the Iran disarmament crisis in the face of Iraq’s refusal to end its nuclear program. Nuclear tests took place in India and Pakistan. There were bombings at U.S. embassies abroad.

At home, nature was also taking its revenge through the devastating winter storms, destructive tornadoes, and floods caused by El Nino in a number of states. Gay rights issues came to the fore after a gay college student was tied to a fence, tortured by his classmates, and left to die. As if this were not enough, a number of killings, mass murders, and plots to kill took place in the U.S.:  an abortion clinic bombing in Alabama in which people died; two white Nevada separatists plotting bio-warfare on the N.Y. City subway system; military grade anthrax threats; teenagers opening fire on classmates in Jonesboro, Arkansas; sentencing for the Oklahoma bombing;  in Oregon a mentally-deranged boy with a semi-automatic rifle killed two and wounded 25, after killing his parents at home. In Los Angeles, there were the riots. And so on.

1998 was a year in which many good things happened too, but they were overshadowed in the public mind. Metaphorically, for most people, Washington, the embodiment of the American dream, was burning.

And now?

Now it is 2018. Sadly, “Washington is Burning” has become socially relevant again. Yes, it’s a cautionary tale, musically brought home. The post-millennials have been bombarded with images of horrible events on their computers and smart phones since they were born. In 2001, as babies, they experienced 9/11 and its aftermath. They began lock-down drills in nursery school. This is not the fearful atmosphere in which my grandchildren’s generation want to build their bright futures. It’s our job as a nation to give them the inspirational support to make a difference in our society.

Topical Artists, the record label launching “Washington is Burning,” was created by husband and wife team, Shelley Spiegel (my daughter!) and Ira Brown to support socially relevant music and art. In this new Alternative Rock version, Ira and his talented, teenage daughter, Rachel Genna, create a seamless vocal performance inspired by the call to action of millions of American voices in the midst of the turbulent political climate. Rachel is an anti-bullying activist in her own right.

Purchasers can opt to make a donation to Brain Cancer Research when they buy a copy of the song (https://washingtonisburning.com).

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

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