Book Club - "Putting God Second," by Donniel Hartman

 The book is available for a 20% discount from Schuler Books, 28th Street, on the book club table under “Ahavas Israel.” The first book group meeting will be at 7:00 on Monday, April 25. We’ll decide at that point how many times we’ll meet. Please let Rabbi Krishef know if you are interested in reading the book with him by phone, 949-2840, or email,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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About the book

Why have the monotheistic religions failed to produce societies that live up to their ethical ideals? Donniel Hartman answers this question by looking at Judaism and offering a way for religion to heal itself.

In Putting God Second, Rabbi Donniel Hartman tackles one of modern life’s most urgent and vexing questions: Why are the great monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - chronically unable to fulfill their own self-professed goal of creating individuals infused with moral sensitivity and societies governed by the highest ethical standards?

 To answer this question, Hartman takes a sober look at the moral peaks and valleys of his own tradition, Judaism, and diagnoses it with clarity, creativity, and erudition. He rejects both the sweeping denouncements of those who view religion as an inherent impediment to moral progress and the apologetics of fundamentalists who proclaim religion’s moral perfection against all evidence to the contrary.

Hartman identifies the primary source of religion’s moral failure in what he terms its “autoimmune disease,” or the way religions so often undermine their own deepest values. While God obligates the good and calls us into its service, Hartman argues, God simultaneously and inadvertently makes us morally blind. The nature of this self-defeating condition is that the human religious desire to live in relationship with God often distracts religious believers from their traditions’ core moral truths.

The answer Hartman offers is this: put God second. In order to fulfill religion’s true vision for humanity - an uncompromising focus on the ethical treatment of others - religious believers must hold their traditions accountable to the highest independent moral standards. Decency toward one’s neighbor must always take precedence over acts of religious devotion, and ethical piety must trump ritual piety. For as long as devotion to God comes first, responsibility to other people will trail far, far behind.

In this book, Judaism serves as a template for how the challenge might be addressed by those of other faiths, whose sacred scriptures similarly evoke both the sublime heights of human aspiration and the depths of narcissistic moral blindness. In Putting God Second, Rabbi Hartman offers a lucid analysis of religion’s flaws, as well as a compelling resource, and vision, for its repair. 

Helping Refugees

In response to Rabbi Krishef’s Rosh Hashanah sermon on the Syrian refugee crisis, Karen Libman asked her daughter Michelle Kachman, who works for Lutheran Social services, what we as a congregation could do to help. On Shabbat morning, November 21, Troy Howley, volunteer coordinator, will share information about how we might co-sponsor a newly arrived family.

Each year, close to 700 refugees from all over the world are resettled in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. Refugees are people who are forced out of their homeland by violence, persecution, or torture. Lutheran Social Services of Michigan is in need of volunteers who can assist us in welcoming and walking alongside new refugees as they attempt to start a new life here in our city. All volunteers can expect ongoing training and communication from our local office in order to meet your needs.

Co-sponsors play a key role in the successful resettlement of newly arrived refugees in the United States. By providing a warm welcome, basic needs and practical help, co-sponsors see that the newcomers become self-sufficient and independent as quickly as possible. Co-sponsorship occurs in various ways by helping to meet the practical and emotional needs of the newly arrived refugee family. It is a commitment to welcome the stranger by providing assistance with the sometimes-overwhelming process of cultural adjustment and resettlement. It is not only primarily a matter of financial commitment, but rather of time and energy that often brings life-changing friendships and a greater understanding of uprooted people around the world.

Junior Congregation

thumbs up shabbat

Junior Congregation, Saturday, March 19, 10:30 a.m.

Come in costume to celebrate a Junior Congregation Purim on Saturday, March 19, 10:30 a.m. Be sure to come back on Wednesday night, March 24, for the real Purim.

JCong will meet on Saturday, March 19, April 16, and May 21.

Study Groups

Rabbi Krishef’s study groups:

• Thursday Tanakh study, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m., Schuler Books and Music, 28th St. (either in the back of the store or in the café). We are studying the book of I Samuel. Exciting narrative! Intrigue! Politics! Backstabbing! Join us.

• Jewish mysticism/Zohar study group, Mondays, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m., Ahavas Israel library. We are reading through Daniel Matt’s translation and commentary of the Zohar. Currently, we are finishing Parashat Hayyei Sarah.

Betzalel Art Group

BETZALEL ART GROUP, Thursdays, 2:30 - 4:30 p.m., room #1

Join the fun at the Betzalel Art Group and be inspired by others as you work on your own projects. Bring your fiber art project or oil painting or any other art or craft you enjoy doing. Everyone is welcome. This is an open and flexible group, so come as your schedule allows.

For more information, please contact Pat Weller, 453-2954 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Family Promise

The next opportunity to provide meals and support to our partner congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church, 2700 Fulton St E, will be Tuesday and Thursday, June 7 and 9. Please help - we need volunteers to bring part of a meal, participate in organizing children’s activities, and stay overnight at the church. If you have any questions about the program, contact Mort Hoffman, 616-949-6088 or 616-361-2738.

Delving Into Our History

With the help of Peg Finkelstein from the Temple Emanuel Archives, significant progress has been made on Ahavas Israel's Gen and Jack Finkelstein Archives, generously funded by Mort and Peg Finkelstein and Raleigh Finkelstein in memory of their parents. Contributions to the Gen and Jack Archive Fund provide continued support. The committee is working at the synagogue Wednesday mornings from 10AM until noon.  If you are interested in being a part of this important project, please contact Toby Weiner Dolinka at 949-6528.
 
If you have materials (especially photographs) that would be valuable for the archives, please contact Toby.
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