• July 16, 2021

    Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim
    By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06)

    There’s a profound meaning in the practice of Yiddishkayt, a beauty and depth that’s hard to describe if you haven’t lived it. That beauty explains why rabbis and cantors do what we do. In the words of the old saying, nothing worth doing is easy.

    Or, as we say in Yiddish, Shver tsu zayn a Yid. It’s hard to be a Jew.

    In a 1973 review of the Sholom Aleichem play that took its title from that Yiddish saying, Richard P. Shepard wrote that “ ‘It’s Hard to Be a Jew’ is a phrase that may not quite go back to Moses’ scaling of Mount Sinai, but it is venerable and often verifiable.”[1]

    Recent events have only served to help that verification process. We’re still Jews, and it’s still hard.

    The challenge of Jewish life starts, Read More >

  • March 25, 2021
    Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah
    A D’ver Torah for Parashat Tzav
    By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06)

    At my shul, there are indications that we’re still in “Covid times.” With cameras and control panels, the sanctuary looks like a recording studio. We still have hand sanitizer dispensers all over the building. And, in the corner, there’s a cart of siddurim with a sign instructing people not to touch them.

    This last one, of course, makes no sense. The cart is from a year ago. We swiped it from the library — much to the chagrin of the shul librarian — and put it in the sanctuary. At the time, we asked people who were still coming into the building to leave used siddurim on the cart, where we would leave them for two weeks, until they were safe to use again.

    Remember those early days of Covid? When we afraid to touch anything?

    Since then, we’ve learned Read More >

  • December 4, 2020

    Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

    What Goes Around
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayishlah
    By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06)

    The aphorism “what goes around comes around” is so ingrained in the English language as to seem timeless. I’d always assumed it was from a Shakespearean sonnet, or maybe one of Aesop’s fables.

    But a little Googling reveals it to be of a much more recent vintage. The earliest citation I found was from an African American newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, in 1952. Today it refers to getting one’s comeuppance — and not in a good way. But in what appears to be the first time the phrase appeared in print, columnist Nat D. Williams uses it to express a positive sentiment. Williams writes with pride of African American athletes finally getting their chance to prove their ability in the Olympics and in Major League Baseball, offering Black spectators “a surge of pride in seeing the Read More >

  • March 23, 2006

    Shabbat Chanukah

    By Michael Rothbaum

    In memory of Naomi Goodman, z”l, past president of the Jewish Peace Fellowship

    About 2,200 years ago, as many of us know, a ragtag group of
    insurgents known as the Maccabees defeated what was then one of the
    strongest military forces in the known world, the Syrian Greek Empire.

    A few centuries later, in deciding how to tell this story, the
    rabbis did a funny thing. They changed it. The story of the Maccabees?
    It’s found nowhere in Jewish scripture. All that war business? They it
    took out. In the Talmud, the rabbis include a brief narrative’not about
    war, but about a jar of oil.

    The rabbis, one might argue, had learned the lessons of history. By
    the time of the Talmud, the Maccabees are long gone. The Romans have
    conquered Jerusalem. Some Jews’particularly young Jewish men and
    boys’won’t stand for it. They carry out guerilla attacks against the
    Romans. Sometimes, these young people die. And sometimes, like the
    Maccabees, Read More >

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (AJR '06) is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Mass. He serves on the advisory boards of the Jewish Alliance of Law and Social Action (JALSA) and the New England Jewish Labor Committee, and is a member of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. He lives in Acton with his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell.