The Polymath


Freedom From The Slavery of Passover Seders

By Jay Michaelson

Passover is coming again, and with it, the irony of liberation. What irony? That while Passover is the Jewish holiday of freedom, so many of us feel enslaved to it. The cleaning, the prohibitions, the absurd details of kosher dish soap and unkosher salt, and worst of all, the endless drone of the Haggadah, which in so many households is, as Macbeth memorably intoned, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”Read More


It’s a Purim World Out There

By Jay Michaelson

Purim has always been a weightier holiday than it seems — precisely because it is the lightest. Unbearably light, to paraphrase Kundera: Purim’s message is that there is no anchor, that all is random, that carnival is real and there is nothing you can do about it. Or, to paraphrase the late and beloved Rabbi Alan Lew, everything is fake and you are completely unprepared.Read More


Environmentalism: Good for the Jews

By Jay Michaelson

Last Tu B’Shvat, I argued in these pages that Jewish environmentalism must move past the touchy-feely stage of vague values and toothless pronouncements into an authentically Jewish set of responsibilities and demands. This, I claimed, was what our tradition demanded of us.Read More


One Who Speaks Does Not Know

By Jay Michaelson

Bad spiritual writing is easy. Good spiritual writing is hard. And often for the same reasons. First, to write about spirituality is necessarily to attempt to bridge the gap between private and public. Spiritual experiences, especially as distinct from religious dogmas or myths, are necessarily private, and, perhaps even more problematic for the writer, resistant to conventional modes of description. If we define spirituality as an encounter with the numinous, then by definition spiritual experience transcends ordinary language. As generations of mystics have said, what is most important is impossible to convey.Read More


Coming Out: It’s the Jewish Thing to Do At Hanukkah

By Jay Michaelson

This month marks the occasions of Christmas and Hanukkah — and the two-year anniversary of the decision by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards that homosexuality does not violate Jewish law. Although these three events may not seem related at first, I think that each one informs the other in meaningful ways.Read More


God of Judgment, God of Love

By Jay Michaelson

Every year at this time, for at least the past decade, I have struggled with the theology of atonement, the liturgy of repentance and the challenge of tshuvah, return. When I was a child, and into my teens and 20s, the imagery was effective; I didn’t think there actually was a Book of Life up there in the sky, but I appreciated the metaphor. I felt myself judged on Yom Kippur, impelled to repent of various sins and shortcomings.Read More


Kabbalah: Ten Years After Madonna

By Jay Michaelson

Kabbalah is so… last decade. I still remember the flush of excitement, confusion, appreciation and concern that I felt in 1998 when I first read that Madonna was going to The Kabbalah Centre, and that her new tour design featured kabbalistic imagery. Then came Demi and Ashton and Britney and Roseanne, and a whole decade of references on celebrity Web sites and articles in reputable mainstream magazines. By now, Kabbalah seems like old news.Read More


Behind a Veil of Words

By Jay Michaelson

A few years ago I was sitting on an airplane, and a woman next to me was reading “The Da Vinci Code.” At some point we got to talking, and I mentioned that I study Kabbalah. She was very interested and, after peppering me with questions for several minutes, said, conclusively, “Well, I definitely believe that this” — she waved her hand dismissively — “is not all there is.”Read More


The Virtues of the Unaffiliated

By Jay Michaelson

It’s all about the unaffiliated. Ask anyone who runs a Jewish not-for-profit, and she’ll tell you: Success is measured in terms of how many “unaffiliated” Jews you get to “affiliate” — whether with Jewishness, Judaism or, at the very least, the latest program, trend or synagogue-outreach initiative. Organizations that don’t focus on the unaffiliated have a lot of trouble getting funded; those that do, even if they do so in highly debatable ways, often find generous supporters.Read More


People Of the Chapbook: Jewish Poets as Jewish Teachers

By Jay Michaelson

Not many people know it, but Jewish poetry is alive and well.Read More





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  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
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