Montebello Jewish Center   34 Montebello Road, Montebello, N.Y. 10901   (845) 357-2430 facebook twitter






   Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

    Phone:  (845) 357-2430  Extension 102






Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein joined Montebello Jewish Center with over twenty years of pulpit experience within the Conservative Movement serving congregations in New York and New Jersey. He received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary and his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Columbia College of Columbia University in New York. Rabbi Finkelstein was a Visiting Lecturer at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he taught the first-year seminar required of all rabbinical students guiding them to recognize and communicate the meaning and vitality of Jewish rituals and texts.

A past president of the New Jersey Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Finkelstein also served as the Chair of the Intergroup Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the UJA of Northern New Jersey. He was on the editorial board of the Community Faith and Values section of The Record. He is married to Elana Gershen Finkelstein. They have three children, Sarah, Eli, and Becky.  

Rabbi Finkelstein looks forward to speaking with you about Montebello Jewish Center and your Jewish journey. He can be reached at MJC or by email at


From the Rabbi's Study


What Makes Us Jewish?


Years ago, an Israeli academic, Akiba Ernst Simon, wrote an extended essay entitled, "Are We Still Jewish?" His question stemmed from the belief that the modern State of Israel was creating a new form of identification and that its citizens were in danger of losing the sacred aspect of Jewish life that made it Jewish. That question remains pertinent and even more imperative in our era and society.


In America, assimilation offers the individual Jew the opportunity to see him or herself as an American rather than as a Jew. For us as American Jews, the question we must ask ourselves is not "Are we still Jewish," but, "what makes us Jewish?" The challenge before us is to define those actions and beliefs that identify and define each of us as a Jew.


This endeavor becomes increasingly more difficult with the proliferation of ethnic Jewish models in popular culture. A generation was raised watching Jerry Seinfeld and his friends on television, subconsciously aware that their names and culture were in essence Jewish. One can read The New York Times and listen to talk shows on television and radio and come across more than a smattering of Yiddishisms. What makes us Jewish? It must be more than the food we eat, the jokes we tell and names we give our children. For a generation, a Jew was defined by action and belief. In our generation, those two focal points remain the foundation of our Jewish identity and we need to reinforce that foundation.

Belief is only one aspect of our Judaism. What marks Judaism apart from other religions is our acceptance of mitzvot, commanded actions. Each day as a Jew recites blessings, we say the formula "...asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vitzivanu", "...Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us." We, as Jews, recognize that being Jewish requires more than just faith in God. It also requires that we fulfill the will of God by acting, by doing mitzvot. As Jews, we can focus on a wide range of mitzvot, from ritual mitzvot of keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, praying daily, to ethical mitzvot of performing acts of charity, preserving the environment, being involved in social action projects. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the mitzvah of Shabbat.

Shabbat becomes central to our people as soon as we leave Egypt. The Israelites were not allowed to collect manna on Shabbat, nor could they build the tabernacle on Shabbat, and at Mount Sinai, in the Ten Commandments, they are told to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Interestingly, in the Ten Commandments, only the fourth commandment, to "Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy," could be said to be uniquely Jewish. While the other nine commandments speak to commonality of all human beings, the fourth commandment and the laws of Shabbat set us apart from other peoples.

I urge you to come and join us on Shabbat this week. On Friday at 5:45 pm we will be holding a "Shabbat in Pajamas" for preschoolers and younger children. At 7:00 pm, Kabbalat Shabbat services will be joined by our Religious School students for Shabbat Mishpacha. On Shabbat morning, join us for our services and stay for kiddush lunch. Your presence will strengthen and define our community. This Shabbat and every Shabbat offers us moments of prayer and connection with God. It will also offer an answer to the question, "what makes me Jewish?" And the answer will be, "I act as a Jew."

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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"And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the LORD freed us from Egypt." (Exodus 13:16)

Just a few weeks ago we read in the Torah this verse that refers to a sign and a symbol. Maybe you have sometimes asked God for a sign that everything will be okay, or that your decision was wisely made. It is not uncommon for people to look for signs or to see signs around them that reinforce their choices. As human beings, we can feel vulnerable and alone. Just imagine what the People of Israel were feeling leaving Egypt. Swept up in the euphoria of freedom was the uncertainty of moving forward. What would the future hold? Can we make it on our own? Will God be with us in the future?

It is at this point, as our ancestors were leaving Egypt, that God mentions a sign and a symbol. The sign upon our hand and the symbol between our eyes are tefillin, the black boxes containing words of scripture that Jews wear when praying on weekday mornings. Tefillin are signs that God is with us, that we are not alone, and that all will be good. Putting on tefillin is both an act of faith and an assertion of belief. We show our faith in God and our belief that in following God, we will find blessings in our lives.

Interestingly, tefillin are not worn on Shabbat. The reason according to our rabbis is that since Shabbat is described in the Torah as a sign given to us by God, we do not need the symbolic sign of tefillin on Shabbat.

Traditionally, tefillin were only worn by men, but keeping to egalitarian principles in our Movement and our congregation, we are seeing women take on this tremendous Mitzvah. To highlight our egalitarian principles, this year the Women's League for Conservative Judaism has joined with Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs in the World Wide Wrap. We are delighted that our MJC Men's Club and Sisterhood are bringing the World Wide Wrap to Montebello Jewish Center.

World Wide Wrap is an effort by our Movement to highlight the mitzvah of tefillin. In MJC we are holding World Wide Wrap this Sunday morning, February 10. At 9:00 am, we will be holding a workshop to show people how to put on tefillin. If you have never tried, come to learn and experience firsthand this wonderful mitzvah. If you already wear tefillin, join us in helping others and sharing the experience with our MJC family.

At 9:30am, we will daven together, and at 10:15am, all our invited for a brunch, sponsored by my wife, Elana, and I in memory of Elana's mother, Mildred B. Gershen, a woman who wore tefillin for many years and encouraged all to take on this mitzvah.

There are signs everywhere, but among the most important is the one we put on in the morning when we pray to God and is a reminder of God's presence in our lives. Join us this Sunday for the World Wide Wrap, a special mitzvah, and brunch.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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The Rule of Law


Two weeks ago at Shabbat services, we stood as we heard the "Song of the Sea," the song Moses leads the People of Israel in singing after they crossed the Red Sea. To further celebrate that wonderful reading, our MJC Choir sang in honor of Shabbat Shira (the Shabbat of the Song). Last week, we heard the Ten Commandments, as we read from the Torah of the Israelites arriving at Mt. Sinai. To highlight that reading, we again stood, and in what is a unique MJC tradition, the Torah was lifted off the table and the Ten Commandments were read from the Torah Scroll held upright as all stood in front of it looking at the words that were being read. 

So what happens this week?

Chronologically, we could expect the story of the golden calf, as that is what followed the revelation at Mount Sinai. That dramatic episode in our history is the downfall of our People. They turned to an idol as they feared that Moses would not return from the top of the mountain. Subsequently, they repented and the forgiveness by God of the sinful people would seem to be a fitting, dramatic denouement to the previous portions.

But that is not the way of the Torah.

While the stories we read are filled with intrigue and drama, their purpose and the fundamental principle of the Torah is to teach us about life, how to live, and our relationship with God and the world around us. For that reason, the Torah follows the Revelation at Sinai with this week's portion Mishpatim, literally laws.

In its unique way, the Torah is teaching us a fundamental lesson. It is easy to get lost in the raptures of Revelation and to speculate about Mt. Sinai, but our Torah and all that happened at Mount Sinai were meant to help us create a better, more holy world, and the key to that is the laws that are given to us. The key to Sinai is not spiritual speculation, but everyday action. The path to God is not through mystical meditation, but everyday life.

After Sinai, the Torah teaches us laws, to teach us that holiness is not found on a mountaintop, but in how we treat those around us. The key to Sinai, and the path to God, is how we act in this world, and the Torah is pointing us to that path with the laws we read in this week's portion. By placing these laws immediately after the Ten Commandments and the Revelation at Sinai, the Torah is showing us the prominence of the rule of law, and its importance to our People on our way to the Promised Land.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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