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01 March 2018

What does the Torah mean when it says, “You shall not take God’s name in vain”?

Written by Rabbi Brian Stoller

Rabbi Stoller 2015 150We usually think of this meaning that you’re not supposed to use God’s name in curse words, or throw it around willy-nilly.  But Jewish law understands this mitzvah much more specifically to mean: “do not swear falsely in God’s name.”  It’s about taking an oath: swearing to God that such-and-such is true when you know it’s not.

It’s interesting that, right after telling us that there is only one God and we shall have no other gods, the very next mitzvah is this one – not to swear falsely in God’s name – a mitzvah not about action, but about speech.  Why is that?

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger says it has to do with the fact that we are created in God’s image.  Just as God’s created the world through speech, we have the power to create and impact the world with our speech. 

The bottom line: Our words matter.

15 February 2018

Reverend Bud Heckman Named Executive Director of Tri-Faith Initiative

Written by Cat King

Today the Temple Israel hosted the Tri-Faith Initiative as they announced their founding Executive Director, Reverend Bud Heckman. Opening remarks from Dr. Maryanne Stevens, RSM, our Tri-Faith Initiative Board Chair, highlighted his impressive background and extraordinary readiness to guide the Tri-Faith Initiative to the next level. “To,” in his words, “make the impact of what happens here in Omaha be felt around the world.” Rev. Heckman emphasized how excited, truly excited, he is to be part of something he described as bold, unique, beautiful, and intentional. 

08 February 2018

The First Commandment: Do Reform Jews Have to Believe in God?

Rabbi Stoller 2015Do Reform Jews have to believe in God?

With so much pain and suffering and chaos in the world and in our own lives, a lot of people have a hard time believing in God.  And yet, the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai is to believe in the existence of God.


The sages say it’s because God is the foundation of the whole Torah, and without God, the other 612 mitzvot simply wouldn’t have any authority.

My student Judy came up with a great analogy to explain this: Suppose you drop your kids off at grandma’s house and tell them, “You better follow grandma’s rules.” The only way they’re going to follow Grandma’s rules is if they believe that Grandma is really in charge. And in order for them to believe Grandma is really in charge, they have to believe there actually is someone called Grandma, who gave them rules to follow.

It’s the same with the Torah.

01 February 2018

New Year of the Trees

Written by Rabbi Deana Sussman Berezin

Rabbi Sussman 150

This week, we celebrated the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, which is also the New Year for the Trees. It is a time to celebrate the bounty and the beauty of our Earth and our connection to it. One of the ways people observe this holiday is through a seder. When we hear the word “seder,” many of us immediately think of Passover. But, over the centuries, several different seders have been developed for holidays, for Tu B’Shevat, and also for Rosh Hashanah. The Tu B’Shevat seder is unlike the one we conduct on Passover in many ways, but there are some key similarities as well; namely, that we drink 4 glasses of wine and that we have a seder plate.

17 January 2018

"The Song at the Sea"

Written by Cantor Shermet, Cantor Wendy Shermet

cantor web 200pxShabbat Shira takes its name from “The Song at the Sea” (Shirat HaYam), in Parsha B’shalach from Chapter 15 in the book of Exodus. The language is poetic; it is one of the places in the Torah that is instantly recognizable due to its use of a column layout. This is said to reflect both the waves of the sea and the bricks that the Israelites labored with as slaves in Egypt. Shabbat Shira is dedicated to the crossing of the Red Sea, after which we sang joyfully the words of Mi Chamocha: “Who is like you, O God, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders? Adonai will reign forever and ever!” It is a Shabbat dedicated to music and song.

09 January 2018

Do Reform Jews Have to Do All 613 Mitzvot?

Written by Rabbi Brian Stoller

Rabbi Stoller 2015Do Reform Jews have to do all the mitzvot (usually translated as “commandments”)? The answer, says Reform theologian Eugene Borowitz, depends on who you believe wrote the Torah. If you believe, as our ancient Sages did, that the Torah came directly from God’s own mouth, then you know with absolute certainty what God wants you to do – and you’d be kind of crazy not to do it. But we Reform Jews tend to accept what modern scholarship has shown – that the Torah was written not by God, but by human beings seeking to know, and experience, and explain God. Personally, I believe the voice of God can be heard in our sacred texts – in the collective wisdom of our ancestors, who, in each generation, have uncovered a little bit more of the mystery.

04 January 2018

Doing and Understanding

Written by Rabbi Deana Sussman Berezin

Rabbi SussmanThis Shabbat will mark the beginning of our deep dive into the 613 Mitzvot. These mitzvot are meant to serve as a framework for how we live our lives each and every day. At Sinai, the Israelites stood before God and said na’aseh v’nishmah, we will do them and we will [seek to] understand them. Now this may seem oddly phrased to some– shouldn’t we understand something before we do it? In some cases, the answer is yes. We understand the mitzvot; they make sense to us, and so we do them.

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