The Heat is On: A Time to Act A Response to Orlando - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Beha’alotecha 5776

June 17, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

Perhaps you have seen the weather predictions for this weekend: according to the soothsayers, fortune-tellers, and diviners who get paid to guess our future atmospheric conditions professionally, the high temperature in Tucson this coming Sunday is projected to be 117 degrees Fahrenheit.  If true, this will tie our all-time record hottest day in Tucson, which happened in June of 1990, 26 years ago.  It will also be so hot that all the jokes about frying eggs on the pavement, and it’s-a-dry-heat-but-so-is-the-inside-of-a-pizza oven will actually come true.  And our common defensive response—“it’s hotter in Phoenix!”—will be only marginally appropriate.  They are expected to hit 118 degrees, a statistically insignificant difference.

Frankly, my friends, the heat is on.  Of course, as has been noted before, that while everyone talks about the weather no one does anything about it.  They simply kvetch.  Like me.

Which, at times, seems to be what we Jews spend much of our time doing, kvetching, complaining.  In fact, you can make a case that the two principle Jewish occupations are kvetching and eating. 

But that’s not actually what our tradition teaches us.  Pirkei Avot, the great ethical chapters of our ancestors in the Mishnah, tells us Lo hamidrash ha’ikar, ellah hama’aseh—the main principle is not study, but practice; or, to put it more succinctly, “it’s not the talking that matters, it’s the doing.”

I thought a lot about this principle this past week, in the wake of the horrifying shooting in Orlando, Florida early Sunday morning. 

Read more: The Heat is On: A Time to Act A Response to Orlando - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Beha’alotecha 5776

Yom Yerushalayim—City of Peace? - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Bamidbar 5776

June 3, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

This Sunday in Israel they will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim on the Jewish calendar, the holiday that commemorates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in the miraculous Six Day War of 1967.  It has been 49 years since we Jews were finally able to return to the Kotel, the Western Wall, the holiest place on earth for Jews; 49 years since the commander of the troops who captured the Old City from Jordanian forces, Motta Gur, announced, Har HaBayit B’yadeinu—the Temple Mount is in our hands.

Read more: Yom Yerushalayim—City of Peace? - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Bamidbar 5776

Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

May 20, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

A friend of mine asked me recently, “Does anyone go to services Friday night anymore?”  It was an innocent question, reflecting the fact that he doesn’t go to services on Friday night, of course.  But it highlights a cultural change in American Jewry over the last forty years. 

Today there is a sort of consensus opinion in the American Jewish community that Reform and Conservative Jews simply don’t go to synagogue on Shabbat any more.  I am here to tell you that while there is a kernel of truth in that assumption, it is not actually true.  The week my friend asked that question we had three different Friday night services, Shabbat Rocks! in the sanctuary with Avanim, the Chapel service with Adult Choir, and Downtown Shabbat with Armon Bizman at the Jewish History Museum, the Old Stone Avenue Temple, our original home.  There were 140 people at Shabbat Rocks!, 35 in the chapel service, and a full house of 65 downtown.  All three were filled with active, engaged, Jews energetically enjoying Shabbat. 

But the overall perspective on the “Who goes to services anymore?” question is relevant nonetheless.  Things have changed in recent years, and we feel the effects in every non-Orthodox temple in America.

Read more: Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776

March 4, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

I had an interesting discussion last week about the difference between Judaism and Christianity with a congregant.  She noted that in her view the key difference between the religious traditions was that Christianity believes that faith is the most important thing of all, while Judaism believes that actions are the most important.  That is, for Christians, belief is the highest principle, and underlies all action; while for Jews, belief matters, but what matters much more is the way that you act.  I agreed with her that Judaism, while cognizant of the importance of belief, highlights action above all.

Read more: Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776

Rebellion, The Jewish Act: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Ki Tisa 5776

February 26, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

Last night my daughter Cipora and I went to see the latest Coen brothers’ movie, called “Hail, Cesar!”  A farcical tribute to the old studio-controlled movie business of the early 1950’s, with broad parodies of Cold-War themes, it centers around the making of a kind  of Quo-Vadis/Ben Hur Hollywood epic with Christian religious themes.  At one point the studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, calls in four clergymen to inoculate the studio against charges of impiety and being sacrilegious.  It is a very, very funny scene, mostly because the other clergy—the bishop, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Protestant minister—are mostly agreeable, while the rabbi pretty much disagrees with everything.  No great surprise…  Of course he does.   

Read more: Rebellion, The Jewish Act: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Ki Tisa 5776