JewishBoston.com: Fathers and Sons: A Special Blessing

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

As Fathers Day approaches on the secular calendar, I find myself thinking about the traditional Jewish blessing fathers bestow on their sons. This tradition has its roots in a scene towards the end of the book of Genesis, in which Jacob says from his deathbed:

By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” (Genesis 48:20)

Every Shabbat evening, Jews around the world bless their sons with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement from the end of the book of Genesis. I did not grow up with this particular tradition in my family, so when I learned about it, a question immediately sprang to mind: what’s so special about Ephraim and Manasseh that we pray to make our children like them? Continue reading

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JewishBoston.com: Complicated Emotions on Yom Yerushalayim

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.

I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take. It makes it easy for politicians, generals, and their supporters to confuse luck, skill, and power for divine right. It’s not surprising that the term demagoguery originates in Ancient Greece — that’s also where the habit of proclaiming religious holidays for military victories started. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chanukah? Continue reading