Because of the Memorial Day holiday weekend here in the US, we present an encore of our May 13 interview with Rabbis Rifat Sonsino and Richard Agler, editors of a new collection of essays, A God We Can Believe In.
Do you believe in God? So many people answer this question in the negative because the God they have been taught to believe in is simply not all that believable. In the twenty-first century, a Deity who intervenes in history, supernaturally responds to prayers, favors and protects his faithful and chosen, and executes righteous judgment engenders doubt and disbelief in thinking people of all faiths, as well as those of no practicing faith.
A God We Can Believe In is a response to this moment. The book includes contributions from leading rabbis and scholars that articulate paths to heart, mind, and soul with God-teachings that are spiritually compelling and intellectually sound. The authors present God in ways that are consistent with the facts that higher learning has established, the principles of reason, and our shared life experiences. In these pages you will find a God that cannot be brushed aside by educated moderns; a God that does not violate the realities of logic or natural law; a God presented in accessible language; a God that can be lived with and lived for. It is a book for thoughtful individuals everywhere.
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About the Guests
Rabbi Richard D. Agler, DD
Richard Dean Agler is a native of New York City. He is a graduate of East Meadow High School in East Meadow, New York, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from New York University. Upon graduation, he entered the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, studying in Jerusalem and New York. He earned a Master of Arts in Hebrew Literature in 1976 and received smicha–Rabbinic ordination in 1978. He was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree in March 2003 and was named to the President’s Rabbinic Council of the HUC-JIR in 2006.
Following ordination Rabbi Agler served at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. In 1984 he became the Founding Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton. During his tenure the congregation grew from four families in a living room to over 1200 member families on the Yamato Road campus. In 2011, after twenty-seven years, he retired from that pulpit and was named Rabbi Emeritus by the congregation. He subsequently served as the Resident Scholar of Congregation Ohr HaYam/the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, Florida, where he was named Scholar Emeritus upon his departure in 2020.
Today, as Director of the Tali Fund, he actively supports the work of the Talia Agler Girls Shelter for trafficked, abused, and exploited girls in Nairobi, Kenya and promotes awareness and registration for organ donation.
He currently tours and lectures on the work of the Tali Fund, as well as on the subjects of his books, The Tragedy Test: Making Sense of Life Changing Loss, and A God We Can Believe In.
Over the years he has been active in projects relating to the State of Israel, Church-State issues, Interfaith concerns (Black-Jewish, Christian-Jewish and Muslim-Jewish relations in particular), genocide, the Jews of the former Soviet Union and many other social action–tikkun olam initiatives. His joyful Purim Shpiels, co-produced with Cantor Stephanie Shore, have been performed internationally.
Rabbi Agler has an academic expertise in Hasidism and Jewish Mysticism, having written his rabbinic thesis on meditative and contemplative practices that field. He has also taught it on the graduate level at the Hebrew Union College in New York. He has been active in the movement to bring renewed faith and spirituality to the rabbinate and the nation’s synagogues.
In 1989, he was named one of the “Outstanding Young Men in America.” Since 1997, he has appeared in “Who’s Who In America.” His letters on subjects ranging from the Presidency to Jewish Law to baseball have been published by the New York Times.
He has been broadcast by NPR on the subject of politics and the Jewish community. His words on the State of Israel were quoted by Presidential candidate John Kerry. A sermon he wrote upon the death of Mickey Mantle is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His “Open Letter to the New President” (2009) can be found in the collection of the Library of Congress.
In 2010 he was named one of the “Top 33” most influential Jews in South Florida by the Jewish Journal—one of only three congregational rabbis so selected. He looks forward to the day when Jews of all ages will rejoice in their heritage and the messianic hope of peace and justice will be nearer for all of God’s children.
Rabbi Agler enjoys sports, literature, astronomy, sailing, and otherwise being on the water. He has been married since 1976 to the former Mindy Steinberg of Augusta, Georgia. They are the parents of Jesse (married to Tovah), Talia z”l, Sarah (married to Dave), and are the grandparents of two. He currently resides in Southern California.
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA.
Born in Turkey, he received his law degree from the University of Istanbul (Faculty of Law, 1959), his rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati, 1966) and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1975) in the field of Bible and ancient Near Eastern Studies. In 1991 the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion bestowed upon him a D.D.
Before coming to Needham, Rabbi Sonsino served congregations in Buenos Aires, Philadelphia and Chicago. After his retirement from Beth Shalom, he volunteered his services in Bet Shalom, a nascent Reform Jewish congregation in Barcelona, Spain, and other small synagogues in the Iberian Peninsula.
Rabbi Sonsino has authored numerous books and articles, including Finding God and What Happens After I Die? (both with Daniel Syme), The Many Faces of God , Modern Judaism, And God Spoke These Words (commentary of the 10 Commandments), and Did Moses Really Have Horns?. He was the editor of the CCAR Journal (1997-2001). Throughout his career, Rabbi Sonsino has chaired various committees, both regionally and nationally. His blog postings (SONSINO’S BLOG) are found in rsonsino.blogspot.com, with over half a million viewers. In the past, Rabbi Sonsino taught at Boston College and at Framingham State University, and lectured in many parts of the country and around the world.
Rabbi and Mrs. Sonsino now live at the Willows in Westborough, MA.