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Repentance and Atonement for Jews and Non-Jews

treeretold by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Her mother once gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper or insulted somebody she must hammer a nail into large tree in the back of their house.

The first day the girl hit 14 nails into the tree. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the tree.

Finally the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper. The days passed. Finally, she told her mother that all the nails were gone.

The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the tree. She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at all the holes in the tree. This tree will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these.” You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It does not matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is almost as bad as a physical one.

“How can I fix thetree?” asked the girl. “Will it have to remain damaged forever?”

“Yes and no” said the mother. “Our Rabbis say that if the tree is a special tree called a tree of life, and she responds to the way you have changed, she too can change and heal herself. If the tree is not a tree of life, and is dead to the possibility of your repentance, it will carry its scars onward. The tree will never be as it was before, but she doesn’t have to become like new to be a good tree of life. If you do your part and change, and the tree of life does her part in response, God will do something wonderful.

God will promote a healing that will make you and the tree of life better. This process is called repentance and atonement. It means that the changes that come about from repentance and forgiveness lead people to higher levels of relationship than was the case before the wound took place.”

“What happens if the tree doesn’t respond?” asked the girl. “Can I ever make it whole?”

“Our rabbis say you should try on three different occasions,” said the mother, “but if the tree remains dead even after you have changed, YOU can’t force it to become whole. In that case you should fix another tree somewhere else. There are always lots of other trees that need fixing, and most of them are trees of life.

Whenever you fix a tree of life God will make something wonderful happen. That is the miracle of repentance and atonement. God always responds to our attempts to change for the good, by helping us change; and then always responds to our change for the good, by giving us new and wonderful opportunities for repentance and atonement. This is why we have a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) ten days after the beginning of every New Year; so the New Year will be a better one than the last one.”

tree1Yom Kippur is September 23 in 2015 and everyone is invited to fix things up with the trees of life in your life.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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Rabbis Who Move Us: 13 Woman and 20 Men

Memorial tablet for Regina Jonas, first woman ...

Memorial tablet for Regina Jonas, first woman rabbi ever. Berlin, Krausnickstr. No. 6. Detail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The Forward newspaper has published a list of 33 rabbis nominated by lay people, who have had a great influence in their Jewish life. The authors state: Thanks to hundreds of nominations by our readers, we’ve identified 33 of the most inspiring men and women from North America, who are defining and redefining what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century. To read more about the individual rabbis go to:

In reading these stories, I am struck by the way the modern rabbinate continues to successfully dedicate itself to the traditional qualities of religious and moral leadership. These stories proclaim the power of personal connection through; Jewish study, social action or simple acts of kindness to create more Jewish Jews.

To me as a rabbi who was ordained in 1964, several years before the Hebrew Union Collage ordained the first female rabbi, it was satisfying to see that female rabbi make up 40% of the 33 rabbis; and thus make up a more than half of the non-Orthodox rabbis on the list.

Just think how much better off the Jewish People would be if there were an equal percentage of female rabbis among the various Orthodox groups in North America.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is


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Jewish Souls In Bodies That Do Not Look Jewish

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

(RNS) Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything (except maybe fitness), she also wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism, and she certainly never aspired to be one of the first black, openly lesbian rabbis, according to Religious News Service.

But in May Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination as a Rabbi in 2018.

“Sandra,” explained Rabbi Josh Lesser, the rabbi who prepared Lawson for her conversion, ”is an ‘all-in’ kind of person.” When Lawson, now 45, told him that she wanted to become a Jew 11 years ago, he said he felt that “some kind of leadership would emerge from this.”

No one has been purposefully mean to Lawson, but not long ago, a stranger saw her in a store, noticed her yarmulke and asked her if she was Jewish. She said she was and asked him the same question. “He looked shocked,” Lawson said of the man who turned out to be Jewish. “Like I was not allowed to ask him what he had just asked me.”

There was a picture of M. L. King in her parents’ home while she was growing up; there was no picture of Jesus’. Her family was not particularly connected to her father’s Baptist roots, and her mother didn’t talk about religion. But as a child, she was drawn to a story her mother told about an Ethiopian Jewish ancestor. “I don’t want people to think I grew up searching for this Jewish identity,” Lawson said. “It was just a story.”

But through a Jewish girlfriend in Atlanta, she was exposed to a full year of Jewish observances and holidays. At Shabbat dinners, Lawson loved how parents blessed their children. At the family’s Passover seder, she felt what Jewish tradition wants participants to feel — that in telling the story of the liberation of the Israelites, they are telling their own liberation story.

The relationship eventually ended. Then in 2001, she met Lesser, who hired her to be his personal trainer at the Urban Body gym in Atlanta. At first, Lawson knew her client as Josh Lesser. Later she found out he was Rabbi Josh Lesser. He invited her to Bet Haverim, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Atlanta founded by gay Jews.

The congregation was laid-back but serious about issues she cared about — gay rights and inequality. “I was looking for a community and I thought: ‘I want to be Jewish. And I want to be Jewish here,’” Lawson said. After her conversion, and when she felt herself more drawn toward leadership in the Jewish community, she found out that “there is a school that trains people like Josh.”

Although Sandra Lawson would probably be surprised , there is a good chance she has always had a Jewish soul. There are hundreds of thousands of people from Africa with Jewish souls. Their Jewish ancestors came to Africa during Roman times. Most of them lived in the area around Ethiopia and never lost their connection with the Jewish people. Almost all of these Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel.

Many other Jews who lived in smaller communities in east and west Africa eventually lost contact with the Ethiopian Jewish center and assimilated into African pagan culture. In later centuries these assimilated Jews were drawn to Islam and Christianity because it reconnected them to their Jewish origins. In the last century some of their descendants inherited a Jewish soul from one of their original Jewish ancestors.

This led them to return to the Jewish people by forming separate Black Hebrew sects (both in Africa and in America) or by individual conversion (like Sammy Davis Jr, the grandfather of opera singer Marian Anderson and Julius Lester, author of Lovesong: Becoming a Jew). How can one know if he or she has a Jewish soul?

Signs of a Jewish soul.

1- You like to ask questions? But when you asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied you, although others didn’t seem to have a problem with this view.

2- The trinity never made any sense to you even as a young child.

You couldn’t believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus couldn’t go to Heaven.

Even though you were told to pray to Jesus, you preferred to pray to God the father, rather than Jesus, the Son of God.

3- You always related to the stories in the Hebrew bible more than to the stories in the New Testament.

4- You found you related well to Jewish people you met at work or at school even though they were very different culturally and religiously from your own family.

5- When you first learned about the Holocaust you reacted more emotionally than did other members of your own family or your friends.

6- When you started to learn about Judaism; you felt Jewish ideas and values were very reasonable, and Jewish traditions and heritage were very attractive. You felt you were coming home.

If most of these statements apply to you, you probably have a Jewish soul. If you can find a possible Jewish ancestor you definitely have a Jewish soul.

To learn more about Kabbalistic beliefs in reincarnation, and the reincarnation of Jewish souls in the non-Jewish descendants of Jews who were cut off from the Jewish People, read God, Sex and Kabbalah by Rabbi Allen S. Maller or visit Rabbi Maller’s website:

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Philo-Semitic Poles And Others

Nazi-German annoucement of the introduction of...

Nazi-German annoucement of the introduction of the death penalty for Jews leaving the ghettos and for Poles helping them; dated Nov. 10th, 1941 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

On November 23, 1939, Hans Frank, head of the Nazi Government General that ruled central Poland, declared that all Jews above ten years of age were to wear a white badge with a Star of David on their right arm.

By October of 1940, almost 400,000 Polish Jews had been confined in a 3.5 square mile ghetto in Warsaw, an area which normally housed about 160,000 people. The Warsaw ghetto was surrounded by a wall 10 feet high that was sealed off on November 15, 1940. Jews were forbidden to go outside the area on penalty of being shot on sight.

One day, a young Jewish woman who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto a few days before it was sealed shut, was riding on a streetcar when Gestapo men boarded and began checking identity papers. The woman had no papers and was not wearing the Jewish star.

In a panic she turned to an older Polish gentleman sitting next to her, and in a whisper begged his help. He yelled, “Foolish woman, how can you be so stupid?”

A Gestapo officer quickly walks over asking, “What is going on?” The man looks at the Jewish woman and says, “I tell her every day to remember to carry her papers with her. Now this idiot tells me she left them in the hall closet.” The Gestapo officer smiles, shrugs his shoulders and passes by.

Months later the woman tells her story to some other Jews who are also in hiding. The story survived. I do not know if the woman did. There must have been thousands of incidents like this, where a Jew was temporarily rescued by a Philo-Semitic Pole or other Gentile, and then later caught by the Nazis and murdered.

Warsaw Jews being held at gunpoint by SS troop...

Warsaw Jews being held at gunpoint by SS troops. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These incidents have never been reported to the Israeli organization Yad V’Shem since the Jews involved did not survive, but those who did survive have already reported to Yad V”Shem over 6.400 Poles who have rescued Jews.

After the end of the communist oppression in Poland, a small but increasing number of Poles found out from older family members, that they had Jewish roots from one or more of their ancestors. Some of these Poles have been drawn to Jewish music, culture or religion and some of them have even become Jewish.

I am an American Reform Rabbi, and a teacher of the Jewish mystical tradition called Kabbalah. Over the last four decades in America and especially during two six to seven weeks visits to Poland in 2010 and 2012; I found many people who were drawn to Jewish life, especially those who become Jewish in Poland, already had a (gilgul) Jewish mind/soul that they inherited from one of their own Jewish ancestors.

Most new borns do not have a gilgul mind/soul. Most people have a new ‘first time here’ mind/soul.

Those who are certain they have no Jewish ancestors for at least five to seven generations back, may be new mind/souls; or they may be a descendent of a Pole or other Gentile who once helped rescue a Jew who was in great danger from a Polish denouncer or a German soldier.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

Yellow badge Star of David called “Judenstern”. Part of the exhibition in the Jewish Museum Westphalia, Dorsten, Germany. The wording is the German word for Jew (Jude), written in mock-Hebrew script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An example of this rare pattern of a descendent of a helpful Non-Jew becoming Jewish 3-4 generations later, occurred more than a decade ago in New York, where the great-grandson of President Roosevelt (FDR) became Jewish.

He is now a Reform Rabbi in New England. Rabbi Boettiger says he isn’t sure how FDR would have reacted, (FDR refused Jewish requests that he order the U.S. Army Air Force to bomb the gas chambers at Auschwitz) but Rabbi Boettiger is sure that FDR’s wife Eleanor, who was much more liberal, and helpful to minorities than her husband, “would have gotten a kick” out of his decision to become a rabbi.

If Rabbi Boettiger does have a Jewish gilgul mind/soul; it is probably from Eleanor Roosevelt.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:


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Non-Jews or Pre-Jews

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish People have been a small and often persecuted minority. So it is not surprising that less than ten thousand non-Jews convert to Judaism every year.

But very surprising is when an Israeli newspaper (HaAretz) reports that British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, and a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference in early November. claimed that the number of non-Jews who believe they are descendants of Jews or ancient Israelites, about equals the total number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses.

Twenty five hundred years ago the prophet Zachariah declared: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary identification with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon, which only began in the five decades following the recreation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa, he said.

In many cases, the global spread of Evangelical Protestant Churches, with their emphases on eschatological thinking, in the decades after the resurrection of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, has stimulated a self selecting group of the ‘locals’ to relate so strongly with ancient Israelites, that they have found vestiges of Jewish identity within their own souls.

For example, Matthew Fishbane reports in Tablet Magazine (July 8, 2010) that he traveled to Medellín, Colombia to see how a part of an evangelical megachurch called the Centro de Terapia Integral Para la Familia, or the Center for Integral Family Therapy, has morphed into a Hebrew-speaking, Sephardic, Orthodox Jewish community complete with daycare, a Hebrew school, a self-managed kosher market, and claims to an ancestry that makes them more returnees than converts.

But other Judaizing communities in Africa have an even more amazing connection with Jewishness. Parfitt, an emeritus professor of modern Jewish studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says, “I think one of the interesting, paradoxical things is the effect of the Holocaust on the way that people want to identify as Jews. You’d think that it would be the opposite, but in the case of both the Igbo and the Tutsi tribes in Africa, for example, they both had their own genocides, and they increasingly perceive themselves as Jews as a result of that.”

Among these millions of Judaizing non-Jews are small communities in Asia and Africa that see themselves as descendants of the 10 lost tribes (the part of the original 12 Hebrew tribes deported from the Kingdom of Israel after it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian empire in about 720 BCE).

Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on the lost Israelite tribes, said the growing worldwide Judeophile phenomenon was motivated partly by a desire for economic improvement. since many of those claiming this status were members of impoverished and marginalized communities.

But, Weil said that this was not the primary motivation and that globalization in general was a more important factor. In particular, she noted the tendency of young Israelis to explore remote corners of their world, including places where locals may not otherwise have had much interaction with Jews.

Thousands of backpackers go forth from Israel each year on post-army trips, “where they come into contact with exotic and wonderful people and begin to see similarities with their own religion,” Weil noted.

Another factor explaining the proJewish identity she said, was the worldwide rise of evangelical fundamentalism, with it’s messianic fervor. “Eschatological visions have always been associated with the 10 lost tribes,” she said.

While some of these communities, like the Bnai Menashe of Israel, have undergone official conversion processes so they could emigrate to Israel, most of them have not been driven to move to Israel as part of the realization of their Jewish identity.

In Africa, among groups I work with, there doesn’t seem to be a large number that want to come to Israel,” noted Parfitt. “They love Israel, they support Israel, they want to study, but they’re not dying to come.”

I myself think they would be happy to just be welcomed into the worldwide Jewish community without the traditional Orthodox suspicion of potential converts, in fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of prophet Zachariah: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:


Are Non-Jews With Jewish Identities Welcome?

English: Map of the distribution of Jews in th...

Map of the distribution of Jews in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The number of people who believe they are descendants of Jews is almost equal to the number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses, according to British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, who was a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference held at the Van Leer Institute according to HaAretz newspaper.

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary affiliation with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon. Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa.

The new identifiers also include millions of people, mainly in Latin America (primarily Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua), who see themselves as descendants of Jews forced to convert – also known as Conversos or Bnai Anusim – during the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago.

Several experts addressing the conference noted that the rise of evangelical Christianity in Latin America in recent years, at the expense of Catholicism, has made it easier for these people to identify as Jews and to practice Judaism, because the Jewish People and Judaism play a big role within the messianic ideology they have heard about.

As they learn about Jewish practices they sometimes remember things their great grandparents did when they were children. “Once I started looking, there was never any question,” said Medina-Sandoval, a poet and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher k...

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher kitchen in Wrocław (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She finally understood why she had an uncle who raised pigs but didn’t eat them; why her aunts put aside some dough as with the Sabbath challah bread; why she never really felt like she belonged in the Christian faith. Then she discovered she was Jewish.

Or at least her family had been Jewish, back in Spain, more than 500 years ago. Through her great grandfather’s journals and other genealogical research, she discovered her Jewish roots and eventually decided to return to the faith of her ancestors.

Then there are people like Blanca Carrasco, who grew up Catholic in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. But by the time she reached her 20s, Catholic doctrines seemed lacking and she became an evangelical Protestant. It wasn’t until she was invited to a Passover Seder at a Messianic Center in El Paso that she really felt connected to God.

“We felt it was familiar—it felt like home,” she said about herself a

nd her husband, Cesar. “Right in that instance, our life changed. I needed to know more.” That led her to a decade at the El Paso Messianic Center, where the couple learned about Jewish history, holidays and Crypto-Jews.

“The `Anusim’ feel maybe there’s something Jewish in their family,” she said, using the Hebrew word for forced converts and their descendants.

Carrasco, 43, researched her family and found names like Espinoza, Israel, Salinas, and a great aunt who said her grandmother spoke Ladino, the hybrid Spanish-Hebrew dialect. Three years ago, Carrasco and her husband decided to leave the Messianic congregation; last year, they formally converted to Judaism in what they called a “return ceremony.”

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema ...

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema (or tebáh) is in the foreground, and the Hekhál (Ark) in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“People would tell us, `You don’t have to do it,’ but we just love it and want to learn and want to do it,”she said. “It doesn’t matter if you call it a conversion or a return. What matters is once you convert to Judaism, you’re going to come out a different person.”

Others, like Rabbi Stephen Leon of (Conservative) Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, see helping people like the Carrascos return to Judaism as a kind of divine mission.

“God said to me, `I cannot bring back the 6 million who were killed in the Holocaust. But there was another group before that who are alive in much larger numbers than Holocaust survivors because it’s been 500 years, generation after generation after generation. Their souls are still alive,” he said. “God told me, `You have to do something about it.’”

The big question is: will some people people in the established Jewish community reach out and encourage these Jewish identifiers to formally become Jewish; or will the Jewish community continue to avoid out reach to non-Jews?

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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Religious New Year Values for Christians, Muslims and Jews

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions.

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Each year millions of people make new year resolutions to improve their lives. This autumn is an especially good time to do so, because three ancient New Year festivals fall in the 99 days between Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year (September 25, 2014), the Muslim New Year (October 25, 2114) and the Christian New Year (January 1, 2015).

And the simplest way to improve your future is to improve your attitude to the present by learning to down play the media’s constant emphases on all that is bad and elevate your attention to all that is good in your life.

For example, American highway fatalities rose during the 50’s and 60’s until they peaked in 1972, at 54,589. Since then they have declined by more than 40% even though the number of cars and drivers has more than doubled.

If traffic deaths occurred at the same rate in 2012 as they did in 1950; over 180,000 more people would have died in the U.S. last year. This fantastic achievement in increasing traffic safety has gone largely unheralded.

Why does the news media devote so much attention to bad news and so little attention to good news? Why do people seem more interested in the occurrence violence than the absence of violence?

The Abrahamic religions teach us that we should count our blessings.
Politicians and the news media teach us to count every single thing that is wrong; everywhere in the world.

How can people keep their optimism, sanity and balance in our media driven democracy? A religious answer for Jews, and a good way for all others, is to say a hundred blessings every day.

A person who can sincerely voice a hundred blessings a day will feel truly blessed.

The best way of influencing yourself to think positively about your live is to learn the importance of saying blessings for the many things we experience, both in our ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.

Thus, it is a Mitsvah for a Jew, and everyone else, to say blessings at every meal over food and drink.

Every morning when we awaken it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. There are blessings for daily prayer and the weekly celebration of the Sabbath.

Their are also many blessings to say for special occasions. The rabbis urged everyone to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are.

Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed. Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage.

There is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering in order to experience the ‘very good’ of the sixth day of creation. Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:

On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.

On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

This last one is one of my favorites, because it sanctifies the human value of being non-judgmental in most areas; and the Divine value of plural opinions and human physical variety.

According to the Talmud (Berakhot 58a) when you see a large crowd of people you should say: Praised be the Sage of enigmas, for just as no one person’s opinion is the same as another, so are their faces different from one another.

The best way to preserve your sanity and balance in today’s world is to make a New Year’s resolution to count your blessings every day.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:


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