Rabbi James Rosenberg

Rabbi James RosenbergEver since it opened on Broadway in the fall of 1964, starring Zero Mostel as Tevya, “Fiddler on the Roof” has been part of Jewish consciousness here in America, throughout the diaspora and in Israel as well. Not wanting to argue with success, the 1971 movie version, with Topel as Tevya, sticks closely to the plotline of the Broadway version. What has maintained “Fiddler’s” popularity for the past 50 years is its warmly nostalgic vision of Eastern European Jewry – more particularly, the vision of shetl life in fictional Anatevka set in Tsarist Russia of 1905.  A memorable musical score, catchy lyrics and energetic dancing serve to reinforce the nostalgia.


Rabbi James RosenbergWhen American, British, Argentine or any other Diaspora Jews visit Israel, they know that they are in a Jewish place since most of the people living there happen to be Jewish. The language most frequently spoken, read and written is Hebrew – a once dead language come back to life. Kosher food is readily available in stores and restaurants and, of course, in homes.

The rhythm of the week is a Jewish rhythm: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 … and, at last, Shabbat, the only day earning a name and not just a number. The calendar is Jewish, not Christian or Muslim. Businesses and schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and nobody asks why. On Purim, the Mardi Gras-like carnival spills out onto the public square; during Passover, just about everybody is eating matzah, while leavened bread is hard to find.

Rabbi James RosenbergWhen my father and I would drive “down the shore” on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway, heading for a boat that would take us to where the bluefish were running, occasionally we would go far enough south to pass the exit for Double Trouble Picnic Area. Whenever he happened to see that sign, my father would make the same ironic comment: “Double trouble … a Negro Jew.”

Rabbi James RosenbergIn his much-discussed article in the June 10, 2010, issue of The New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism” (2012), wrote: “For several decades the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”


Rabbi James RosenbergI found my way via a footnote in the Jan. 9, 2014, issue of “The New York Review of Books” to an essay by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, “Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Beethoven and God.” With a title like that, how could I not read it?

The essay, which first appeared in the August 2010 issue of “The Scope Magazine,” is every bit as challenging and provocative as its title; for Mehldau has taken upon himself the difficult task of exploring the complex interrelationship between art – in particular music – and religion. He begins by suggesting that music and religious experience are, at their most authentic, infused with a sense of the sublime.