Chukim and Mr. Rogers

What was your first concert?

Mine was Mr. Rogers. I saw him somewhere in Culver City, or maybe it was Westchester. I don’t remember because I was only five or six years old at the time, seven at the latest. I’ve been thinking about Fred Rogers lately because of several documentaries that feature him. I haven’t seen both films yet, although I will. But I’ve encountered Fred Rogers over and over again, first in my youth and then as an adult. I also thought of him this week, partially because of the movies, and partially because of this week’s Torah portion and its connection to his sweaters.

In this week’s portion, V’etchanan, which is the second portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing the Children of Israel, who are standing at the edge of the Jordan River. They are preparing to cross over and enter the Promised Land and will encounter myriad challenges ahead. Moses is encouraging the Israelites to follow the mitzvot, the commandments, that God has given them as an expression of love and as terms of our covenant. That is, God protects and sustains us; in return, we follow God’s instructions. Two words are repeated time after time in this section to describe these mitzvot. Some of the mitzvot are classified as chukim, and others are referred to as mishpatim. The rabbis wondered why there were two different terms. What’s the difference between chukim and mishpatim? (I know I’m far afield from Mr. Roger’s sweater, but stay with me.) Rashi states that the difference between chukim and mishpatim is that chukim are laws we don’t understand, while mishpatim are laws we do understand. For instance, we are not supposed to weave wool and cotton into the same cloth. Why? I don’t know, although I actually have a theory as to why. Of course, they followed the mitzvah anyway—God gave it, so we do it. Mishpatim, on the other hand, are understandable. It is clear why we shouldn’t murder or use false weights in business. Mishpatim are simply laws that make sense.

Many rabbis—for example, Moses Maimonides—would take a chok, which no one understood, and would come up with a possible reason for the commandment. You probably know one of those reasons. We are not supposed to eat pork. Is that a chok, where we don’t understand the reason, or a mishpat, where we do understand? How many of you have been asked why pork isn’t kosher, and you answered, “Pigs carry trichinosis. Refraining from pork was a health rule.” Maimonides’s claim that pigs are dirty and unhealthy was his attempt to take a chok and turn it into a mishpat. By the way, I think his reasoning was wrong. If it was about health, we wouldn’t be able to eat chocolate babka, and if that were the case, what would be the purpose of living? Many rabbis didn’t like coming up with reasons for the mitzvot because if someone comes up with a reason and the reason changes, we may stop following the mitzvah. And that’s exactly what happened. Many Jews said, “We don’t need those laws of kashrut; we have the FDA, and bacon is delicious.

Some rabbis said we should leave the chukim as mysteries and simply follow them because God gave them. We should not act out of our reason; rather, we should act only out of our strong faith in God and in God’s Torah. I understand that those rabbis didn’t want a person to refrain from following a mitzvah just because they were unable to think of a sufficient rationale but refraining from considering reasons for our religious actions prevents us from growing and maturing as a religious community. I want my faith and practice to grow over time, and I want reason to be one of the pathways to update my faith.

I find that for many of my fundamentalist friends, faith is often worn like a suit of armor. For them, faith is meant to protect us from foreign ideas that threaten and subvert. But I don’t want to wear my faith like armor. I want to wear my faith lightly, like a sweater. Like one of Mr. Rogers’s sweaters.

Wearing our faith like a sweater changes the purpose of faith. No longer do we use faith to keep other ideas out. We explore new ideas, watch them develop over time, and use our God-given minds and hearts to incorporate true and valuable ideas into our system of beliefs and into our lives. How many years ago was it that homosexuality and, certainly, homosexual marriage were considered psychologically deviant and morally sinful? For thousands of years, our stony faith in God prevented many people from exploring other ways of appreciating this important group of people within our community and world. But as our knowledge grew, our faith grew as well. Many of us unwove the part of our faith concerning the harsh condemnations of homosexuality, and we stitched in new yarn of compassion and understanding.

There is a difference between armor-faith and sweater-faith. Armor-faith leads to beliefs impervious to change, faith that may be uncomfortable but at least is stable—faith that is ready for battle. Sweater-faith, on the other hand, is colorful and warms us. It may leave us vulnerable to the pains and challenges of life, but, in truth, armor-faith just creates a different set of pains and challenges.

Fred Rogers received his sweaters from his mother each Christmas. Every one of the twelve members of his family received a hand-knit sweater from his mother every year. His sweaters became such a symbol of the sweater-faith Fred Rogers embodied that the Smithsonian placed one of his sweaters in our country’s collection of national treasures. I want a sweater-faith. I want Fred Rogers sweater-faith about the ultimate value of humanity.

When reflecting on the meaning of love, Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” That is sweater-faith.

When asked about liking people, he said, “When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” That is sweater-faith.

I will continue to search for the reasons behind my beliefs, and I’ll update them when appropriate. I’ll do my best to leave my faith-armor in my trunk. I hope we can all remove our armor-faith. I hope we no longer have to hold onto beliefs so tightly that we can no longer hear the thoughts and experiences which lead others to develop their beliefs. In its place, I hope we can develop a sweater-faith, lightly worn—a faith that warms us and is a demonstration of love. And I hope that whatever faith we do develop, it will be knit from the yarn of kindness, Mr. Rogers’s yarn, which is so steeped in compassion and humanity. If we develop that kind of faith, we will be better people for it, and this will be a better community. So let’s take off our loafers and put on our sneakers. Let’s hang our jackets and don our sweater-faith, and say to our family and our friends, “I like you just the way you are.”

Rabbi Barry Diamond Joins Temple Adat Elohim to Lead Congregation


Diamond returns to Thousand Oaks Synagogue

Thousand Oaks, California – June 1, 2018 – After a three-year absence, Rabbi Diamond returns to lead Temple Adat Elohim (TAE), the largest Reform Jewish congregation in the Conejo Valley.

With a wealth of experience as both a rabbi and a teacher, Rabbi Diamond possesses a contagious passion for inspiring each congregant’s connection with the Jewish community. Rabbi Diamond will continue to strengthen TAE’s rich traditions and dynamic programs, particularly its outstanding reputation in youth education and adult life-long learning, as well as its strong commitment to social action initiatives.

“We are thrilled to have Rabbi Diamond and his wife, Sandy, back to TAE and we welcome them with open arms,” said temple president Sandy Greenstein. “He is well known here for his warmth, humor, and inspiring sermons that interpret the Torah through a contemporary lens. Rabbi Diamond made a tremendous impact on our community when he was here before, creating novel programs that encouraged members of all ages to form tighter connections to Adat Elohim, and inspiring greater participation in social action including the homeless shelter that we host weekly during the winter months.”

“We are honored to return to Temple Adat Elohim, this time for the long term,” said Rabbi Diamond. “It is my mission to create circles of community that are the setting for exploring our sense of responsibility to each other and the world. It is through caring connections around shared interests that we gain insight into God and feel called upon to repair our fractured world.”

Rabbi Diamond joins TAE from Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he served as interim rabbi for the last two years. Rabbi Diamond was ordained at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. In 2016, he was awarded a doctor of divinity honoris causa from Hebrew Union College. He has a psychology degree from California State University in Fullerton.

Welcoming Rabbi Diamond

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Dear Members of TAE,

We are about to welcome Rabbi Barry Diamond as our settled rabbi as of July 1st and want to begin the process of creating or re-establishing our relationships with Rabbi Diamond. While many of us have had opportunities to get to know Rabbi Diamond over his previous two years serving as our interim rabbi, he has requested to meet congregants and ECC families in a small, intimate setting so that he can get to know us, connect again, and hear our expectations for TAE and our clergy.

We are looking for congregants and ECC families that would be willing to host the Rabbi for either a lunch date, (for maybe no more than 8 people) on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon or a gathering for dinner or dessert (for maybe no more than 12 people), on a Tuesday or Thursday evening. We are envisioning that these gatherings can be anything from a light lunch, “nosh,” dessert, or a full sit-down dinner -your choice. If finances are prohibiting you from participating, please feel free to reach out to Sandy Greenstein @ 818-648-3247 or myself @ 805-796-6308.

We will be starting with dates in July and August for the summer and if the need arises to add more days we can see about extending the dates.

If you, your havurah, or anyone you may know, would like to host the Rabbi, please contact Doreen at to secure a date. Your date will be selected based on availability.

If you would like to join a gathering that is already arranged, please go to to find available locations, dates, and times of gatherings you can join.

These will be the first of many formal and informal opportunities to get to know Rabbi Diamond and for him to get to know us.

Juli Rycus

Transition Chair

TAE Shows Its Pride

This summer the members of Temple Adat Elohim are sharing their #TAEpride with each other and with friends and family via social media.

Here are just a few of the reasons why our congregants told us they are proud to be a part of this vibrant synagogue.

Temple member Marcia Stefanon Benjamin is proud of Cantor David, who is in her words “the heart and soul of Temple Adat Elohim.”

The ECC is proud of summer campers showing TAE pride!

Cantor David is proud of teen “warriors” learning self-defense techniques with krav maga expert Jason Flame as they prepare to go to college.  

Temple member and religious school teacher Gigi Dictor is proud and grateful for the friends she’s made over the years at TAE.

We are proud to share havdallah with the large group of congregants who will be visiting Israel together in 2019.

We are proud that so many of our members are involved in helping to make our community and world a better place through social action. Here a group “prays with its feet” at a Thousand Oaks rally to end family separation at the U.S. border.

TAE Receives Flame of Hope Award for Social Action

On June 30, Temple Adat Elohim and Ascension Lutheran Church were honored with the Flame of Hope Award, given by Unity of the Oaks, for their work earlier in 2018 to bring the “This is Hunger” exhibit to the Conejo Valley.

“This Is Hunger” was a high-impact, experiential installation on wheels sponsored by Mazon, a Jewish nonprofit group trying to end hunger among all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. The exhibit stopped in the Conejo Valley in February as part of a nationwide tour to more than 40 cities to educate visitors about the stark reality of hunger in America. More than 42 million Americans do not have enough nutritious food to eat, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About 500 people in the Conejo Valley toured the exhibit while it was here, including religious school students from Temple Adat Elohim.  After viewing the exhibit, the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association established a Hunger Task Force that is looking at ways to eliminate hunger in our area.

Pictured from left to right are Scott and Kaylee Searway who accepted the award for Ascension Lutheran Church, and Marcia and Harold Gordon, co-chairs of the Social Action Committee at Temple Adat Elohim, who accepted the award on behalf of TAE.