The Polymath


Peoplehood Vs Israel

By Jay Michaelson

Peoplehood and support of Israel are two major values of the American Jewish community. But they are in direct conflict, both in principle and in practice.Read More


Memento Mori: Jewish Spirituality and the Sanctification of the World

By Jay Michaelson

Western religion can, at times, devalue the world. With eyes turned toward heaven, or the afterlife, it can ignore or denigrate the manifest world, criticizing those who love it too much as “pagan” or, in our time, “humanist.” This is true even in the worldly religion of Judaism, which, notwithstanding our legion of ethical and ritual requirements regarding the material world, can often lead to either valuing the legality of a thing more than the thing itself (as Rav Soloveitchik memorably proposed) or, quite simply, to spending too much time indoors.Read More


What Religious Arguments Are Really About

By Jay Michaelson

‘All of a sudden, there was hope in my heart I’d see my father again.”Read More


It’s Complicated

By Jay Michaelson

Can you have déjà vu for something you don’t remember? Watching the news about Iran these days, I feel as if it’s 1967 all over again. Once again, a leader of a large Middle Eastern country, a man with ambitions to be the leader of the region, threatens Israel with annihilation. Once again, evidence appears that he is amassing the arms to do it. And once again, the international response seems too slow and halting to ensure Israel’s safety.Read More


Un-Righteous Indignation

By Jay Michaelson

For a columnist, there’s no such thing as a bad reaction. Agreement feels good, of course, but disagreement is better than apathy, and bitter disagreement means, at the very least, that one’s managed to say something. Thus, over the past few months, I’ve relished the opportunity to engage with smart critiques of my opinions on Israel, spirituality, authenticity and other subjects, and have been gratified by the seriousness with which these conversations have proceeded.Read More


Taking Avatar Seriously

By Jay Michaelson

The hit film ‘Avatar’ — with its pantheism, mysticism and surprising dash of monotheism — “departs from classical Kabbalah and Hasidism is in its environmentalism,” Jay Michaelson writes in this Polymath column.Read More


Religion Is Actually Spirituality

By Jay Michaelson

Religion vs. spirituality. We hear the opposition all the time. “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” increasing numbers of Americans say every year. Conversely, many Jews insist that they follow Halacha, Jewish law, not out of any subjective spiritual motive, but because it is commanded by God.Read More


A 'New Jew' Goes to Auschwitz

By Jay Michaelson

I am not a Holocaust Jew. Though Auschwitz loomed large in my Jewish education, and though as a child I was duly traumatized and outraged by what my teachers described as the inexplicable and unprecedented evil perpetrated against us, it plays only a small role in my current Jewish identity and practice. This is by choice, as I have long regarded our community’s obsession with “what they did to us” as misguided in a number of ways.Read More


Allowing the Yetzer Tov To Win

By Jay Michaelson

It happens to me every day. Although I know that yoga, meditation, exercise or prayer will make me feel better than updating my Facebook status or grabbing a snack, I have to fight myself to do them. If the yetzer tov (the “good” side) wins and I do my spiritual practice, eventually I won’t remember what all the fuss was about. I’ll be grateful to my various spiritual traditions, and to myself for using them. I’ll be centered, calm, and focused on what matters most instead of what matters least. It’ll be great.Read More


Why Straight People Go to Gay Synagogues

By Jay Michaelson

In the next few weeks, gay and lesbian synagogues and Jewish organizations will be marching in New York, San Francisco and other cities around the country as part of gay pride parades. But many of the people marching won’t be gay themselves: More and more “gay” or GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) synagogues have significant percentages of “straight allies” among their membership — in some cases, even majorities. Although there are no precise statistics quantifying this trend, it is unmistakable to anyone who visits one of these congregations, and, in an era of shrinking synagogue affiliation, prompts the question of why these institutions are growing among a population they do not even try to serve. Maybe all of us have something to learn here.Read More





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  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
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