Radio Show

Rabbi Brad: Roseanne, Shavuot, and the Holy Spirit


Friend of the show, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, stops by the studio to discuss a number of topics, including the recent Roseanne Barr scandal, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, and Jewish belief about the Holy Spirit.

Father Dave points out that the Jewish religion recently celebrated Shavuot, and he asks him to explain it. “It means weeks. It actually has a parallel that you know from your liturgical calendar as well. In fact, you know it as Pentecost. It means Pentecost, which people might not know comes from the notion of 50. According to Biblical tradition, it’s the 50th day following Passover. Of course, people will know from the New Testament, it is the time when Jesus returns and manifests himself to his students and sends them out to the world. It is the parallel experience in rabbinic literature of roughly the same time, of the revelation at Mount Sinai. So it turns out, that both of our traditions shows that Passover celebrates that we’re free. But it doesn’t answer the question of free to what purpose? Free to what purpose takes some weeks to figure out. It takes some time in the desert. … That’s what Shavuot is. People tend to stay up all night and study. We decorate the synagogue with lots of greenery, and the meals are different. We eat dairy. It is keeping the tension alive to remember that the rules really matter.”

Rabbi Brad also discusses the recent relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “I think it is a big deal for good and for bad … I can give you every good historical and intellectual reason to justify moving the embassy to Jerusalem. In fact, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. … I can tell you that for thousands of years every Jewish aspiration towards the land was towards Jerusalem. And I can go on and on and explain to you why anyone who cares in any broad way about the story of Israel from biblical times to modern day was utterly delighted by the move. And then I can tell you, it may have been the dumbest thing in the world to do. And I mean both. This is the best way to understand almost everything you ever read in the Middle East: Most people spend their time trying to prove who is right, as opposed to asking what is wise. The move was by all accounts, historically, theologically, politically justifiable. And in that sense it was right. It just turns out that how often in our lives is being right not good enough? You’ve got to be wise. You have to actually know how even doing the right thing can land wrong for someone else. In which case, what have you achieved?”

Father Dave mentions that Roseanne Barr’s show was recently cancelled. “There is talk of racism, mental illness is even being brought in, or was it drug induced? What are your thoughts on this?” Father Dave asks. Rabbi Brad responds: “I get that what she did was despicable, hateful, ugly, and pretty much any other word. But then I also began to think, I get the desire to shout, ‘You’re fired,’ at her almost instantaneously as ABC did. … I’m not sure how it makes anything better. All it did was provoke some people who are going to get angry, no matter what, to get angrier. And other people, to start making really stupid defenses of an indefensible action. It just added to the polarization that saturates our society. Let alone, they fired her for being the same woman she was that they hired her for. This is not new that she is a provocateur … So, ABC would have to be called to account because they knew these things. For them to fire her was a little bit of scapegoating. Because it allowed them not to take responsibility for the fact that they were making a lot of money playing on this behavior. But more importantly, what would it have looked like if they gave her a choice? What if they said, ‘Why don’t we try this: You can keep your job. You can keep making the show. But at least two episodes and at least 25% of your paycheck have to be given up towards fighting racism and hatred. Because you don’t get to keep 100% of your paycheck when you put vile things like that out in the public square. You don’t get to be a TV star who just laughs at everything when you said things that people get killed over. And if you can’t do that, you leave us no choice. Then we will fire you.’ I think that would have been a much more constructive response.”

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Moving on to another topic, Christina asks Rabbi Brad if Jews believe in the Holy Spirit. She shares that when she was in college, a professor told her that Jewish people do not believe in the Holy Spirit. Rabbi Brad responds, “The short answer is yes. From the very first time God creates the first human, and God breathes the breath of life into that first human being. That’s the beginning of Holy Spirit in the teaching. So, the answer is yes … where your professor was not wrong is that the understanding of the Holy Spirit in Jewish tradition is not exactly the same as Catholic tradition. It is not the third person of the Trinity. In fact, God is one and only one. Not one and also three. So, we don’t make that distinction. But there is no question that in biblical times this notion of the spirit of the Lord shot through the biblical story. Later on, the phrase will be used in rabbinic culture, Sacred Spirit, which is some kind of post-prophetic awareness. It means that you are dialed in to what God is asking of you in a way that most people are not. So, there is no question that to this very day, the idea of God’s presence is active in the world, can we call that the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. The difference is that it is less defined for Jews. But it is a part of the experience of God who remains one, not a manifestation of God who is one, but can be experienced as three.” (Original Air 5-31-18)