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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