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Showing posts from May, 2018

Three Great Ideas of Shavu'ot

Shavuot Sermon Agudas Achim 2018 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Three Great Ideas
I read a very interesting article by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, one-time Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary on Shavu’ot that really shifted my perspective on the holiday. See, Shavu’ot is the ‘orphan’ of Jewish holidays. Overcome by its more assertive siblings on the Equinoxes – Pesach and Sukkot – Shavu’ot has to fight its own corner. But why? Why is Shavu’ot so much less popular than Pesach and Sukkot? Rabbi Schorsch has a simple and elegant explanation: it’s about the theology, stupid.
“As the liturgy for the day constantly reminds us, Shavuot commemorates the divine gift of Torah received at Mount Sinai, in consequence of which Judaism spawned a text-centered religious community, possibly the first in human history. Shavuot, then, is about the essential and unique nature of Judaism, a portable religion based on a canon susceptible to unending interpretation. At Sinai, freedom from slavery was recast into…

Sermon: Last Service B'nai Jacob (Ottumwa Synagogue)

Sermon Ottumwa Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Counting In
This beautiful synagogue here in Ottumwa has a meandering history, carried on the ebb and flow of Jewish demographics in the American Midwest. The Ottumwa Jewish community, as many of you know far better than I do, was founded in the late 19th century, in 1898. This beautiful sanctuary, however, wasn’t built until 1915, for the grand total of $10,000. Upon its inauguration, the local newspaper reported that both ‘Gentile joined with Jew Sunday to observe the dedication of the newly erected synagogue of the congregation of B’nai Jacob.’ It was a real milestone for a community whose numbers had fluctuated and would continue to fluctuate. At the time of the dedication of this prayer space, the community numbered 412 souls, its demographic peak, up from 15 members only a decade earlier. Hence, I imagine the building of the Ottumwa synagogue to have been a fairly risky and daring endeavor (can you imagine those board meeting?): no-one knew wh…

The World As It Could Be

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Sermon Congregational Church Iowa City Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
The World As It Could Be
I would like to invite you to close your eyes and draw a deep breath. Take this moment to center yourself; to remember who you are, created in the Image of God, neither beast nor angel, but made of hope and love. Breathe, and imagine the world as it could be. Take a moment and conjure one image of a better world, a redeemed world.
What image comes to you?
What dream would you dare dream?
The Hebrew Bible is a record of this dream: God’s dream for humanity woven through, from the Garden of Eden to the days of the Prophets. A dream in the forms of whispers and visions, still small voices and roaring flame. Abraham dreamt it as he heard the call to leave his homeland. Moses dreamt it as he confronted Pharaoh in the palace. Deborah dreamt it as she charged into battle. David dreamt it as he strummed his lyre. 
Still, the power of this dream lies not in the stories of remarkable individuals but in individual s…

The Affliction and the Cure

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Parashat Emor Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
The Affliction And The Cure
There’s a beautiful passage in the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Kiddushin 30b to be exact.
“The Holy One, of Blessing said to Israel: My children, I created an evil inclination, which is the wound, and I created Torah as its antidote.”
There are many praiseworthy things we call our holy Torah. A tree of life, an elixir of life, a love letter of God to the Jewish people, a ketubah (wedding contract). Verses 7 to 10, from Psalm 19, which is recited during the traditional Shabbat morning service expand on this idea:
“The law of the Eternal is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Eternal are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Eternal are right, giving joy to the hear The commands of the Eternal are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Eternal is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Eternal are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; th…