Benjamin B. Ferencz (center) at the Nuremberg Trial IX, also known as the Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

American culture today is entranced by the exploits of superheroes of movie screens, but how often do we forget about the heroes living among us? Surely, we all read about those special individuals who perform generous deeds, sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others, or help transform communities through selfless displays of love and devotion. In my life, I seek out these unsung heroes whose superpowers include displaying untold amounts of radical empathy for the vulnerable and the desperate. …

Charlottesville. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

An anecdote about a rabbinic ethicist helps us understand how to welcome immigrants seeking lives of freedom in the United States. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founded Judaism’s modern character development movement (the mussar movement). One spring, before Passover, he was called to certify the kosher status of a particular matzah factory. As he inspected the factory, he observed the conditions thoroughly. He saw that the unleavened bread, important to Jews the world over, were made according to the letter of “halacha,” law. Yet, after inspecting every aspect of the factory, Rabbi Salanter refused certification. In explaining why he refused to certify…

There is no doubt that, for many, the covert’s journey in Judaism is arduous. Even when done with love and compassion, the process is still a challenge that can take years and can be filled with many mental and emotional challenges. But at the special moment when the conversion happens — and all the bureaucratic hurdles are finished — a renewed soul joins the Jewish people to fulfill its mission in the world.

Jewish tradition is firm on the notion that once someone converts to Judaism, reminders of his or her past life among the nations are generally forbidden. Unlike…

Professor Saru Jayaraman. Photo courtesy of ROC United. Used with permission

With so many of us engaged by the intractable nature of partisan politics, it’s easy to become cynical that nothing can be won or that even moderate social progress can be made.

At the heart of the matter is the seeming colossus of institutional inertia that stalls meaningful change. With so many levers of power that appear to be out of reach to the ordinary citizen, many give up without realizing the impact that is made on narrower, less visible efforts. I’ve seen this phenomenon in my own work as a social justice activist. But where do we find the…

Our nation is in the midst of an ethical firestorm.

Each day, we are battered by news of another scandal, lie, or crime perpetrated at the highest levels of society, even within the highest echelons of government. These revelations can seem relentless. But in the eye of this storm, there may well be a simple remedy. This remedy is repentance, and it is needed now more than ever.

In Judaism, teshuvah — repentance — is among the most significant of acts. On the evening of September 9, 2018, millions of Jews worldwide welcomed the Jewish new year, not with parties…

Syl Ko (left) and Aph Ko provide a much-needed perspective on contemporary vegan philosophy. Source: Aphro-ism on Facebook.

Supremacy comes in all forms. Not only is it related to the horrible mistreatment of various groups of people by weak-minded bigots, but it also extends beyond the interpersonal realm. As we are only now beginning to realize fully, how the mistreatment of animals is, in and of itself, a form of supremacy that leads to a horrible amount of suffering. While the killing of animals for food has been justified for the means of sustenance for millennia, the rapid growth in plant-based alternatives to most meats means that, inevitably, the exploitation of animals will end sooner rather than later…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When people observe others who have limited communication skills or who have extraordinary (but narrow) abilities, we may brashly dismiss them as simply being “autistic” of having Asperger syndrome without much thought to what is really going on in their brains. The general understanding of autism, however, has undergone recent and subtly positive revisions. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) redefined autism as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), no longer dividing autism into five subdiagnoses (e.g., Asperger syndrome). …

Be kind to everyone.

The sudden losses of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain last week displayed publicly the all-too-private pain that countless people experience on a daily basis. The shocking and unexpected nature of these losses, compounded by newly-released data on depression and suicide, have shown unequivocally that our nation is sick — culturally and spiritually — and that we as a society have to do more to raise the level of compassion for others at all times.

Photo by author.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz: As someone who has been at the forefront of the issues of the more humane treatment of animals, many of us really look up to you.

Dr. Temple Grandin: I’ve worked with improving conditions in slaughter plants for over forty years. When I first started, I thought I could fix everything with equipment. But the other half of the equation is management: management’s got to care. I developed a simple scoring system. We used to evaluate animal handling and welfare at a regular slaughter plant and then also at a kosher slaughter plant.

You mention things…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

By this point in time, it should be obvious that the Trump Administration does not have a priority on their agenda of honoring human dignity. Or the dignity of any creature, as a matter of fact. But I was still surprised to read the following news about a recent policy proposal that the Administration undertook:

The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Activist. Educator. Author. Social Entrepreneur. Newsweek - “Top 50 Rabbis in America”; Forward - “50 most influential Jews”

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