Hidden meanings in the Passover Seder by Rabbi Hyim shafner

April 11, 2014

In a few days the Jewish people will celebrate the holiday of Passover. The central observance of Passover is the seder meal with matza (unleavened bread), maror (bitter herbs), a festive meal, four cups of wine, readings related to the Biblical exodus from Egypt 3500 years ago, and above all, dialogue including questions, answers and discussion.

The Bible itself frames the seder this way: “When your child shall ask you, “What is this service to you?” You shall answer, “With a strong hand did G-d take us out of Egypt.”” It is a meal of interaction, of questions, of hearing each other out, of family, and of connection.

According to Jewish tradition the function of this meal is to reenact the exodus from Egypt every year. But why is this so important? There seem to be other moments in Jewish history that could have been equally, if not more, significant.

The Rabbis tell us that the lamb which the Jewish people were told in the book of Exodus to slaughter that night before leaving Egypt, and to put its blood on their doorposts, was actually an Egyptian God. In fact the lamb is the zodiac sign for the month during which Passover always falls, Aries. This nation of Jewish slaves is told in the Bible that they should take this lamb and tie it up for 4 days, then roast it in fire and eat it in groups.

This was a meal like none other that the Jewish slaves had ever eaten. Slow roasted meat, eaten in pre-invited groups, consuming the deity of their captors. This is a meal of rebellion and unity. A meal of connected, free people, no longer acting like slaves. The Jewish people through this passover meal, are born together in rebellion.

Many claim that something more though is going on here. The Jewish people went down to Egypt because at the end of the book of Genesis Joseph’s brothers violently threw him in a pit. They took his coat of many colors from him, which Jacob their father had given him as a sign of his love, dipped the coat in blood and sold Joseph to a caravan bound for Egypt. They brought the coat to their father claiming that Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal.

Joseph ends up becoming the viceroy to Egypt and is there to provide food for his brothers when they come to Egypt during a drought, since due to the Nile Egypt always had crops. Ultimately it is the the hatred of Joseph’s brothers for him that lands the Jewish people in Egyptian slavery for 210 years and from which they are now being redeemed.

The vegetable that we dip in salt water at the beginning of the seder meal is called in Hebrew “carpas,” which is also the word for a fancy colored garment, a coat of many colors! This is a meal of dialogue, of sons all talking together, a meal with blood only on the doorpost outside.

A large group must come together to exactly finish the lamb, no bone of the lamb may be broken, it is a meal of freedom that unifies. That brings together the slave children of Abraham in Egypt as a united nation that can be redeemed. This meal of redemption and discussion, of unity and hearing each other out, of dipping but not in blood, recalls for us, and perhaps in the process attempts to repair, the rift among Jacob’s 12 sons that produced the exile to begin with.

In Christianity, a particular 1st century Passover seder that was had by 12 men and their leader is a central motif. A meal in which blood was, or became, a profoundly important spiritual theme. Could this perhaps also have emerged from the hidden meaning of the Passover seder, the unifying of and atonement for, Jacob’s 12 sons’ sin of “spilling” Joseph’s blood, ultimately the seminal event from which emerged the entire Biblical exile and redemption?


IRF Passover Supplement 5774

April 10, 2014

With Contributions by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Rabbi Jon Kelsen, and Rabbi Menashe East

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1xGwp0vdYtgTnhzTXdfd3kxckFvUk0tQ1hXczV3dWZHTk9z/edit?usp=sharing


Israel Meir Kin is a Threat to all Jewish Women, by Yosef Kanefsky

March 25, 2014

A little over a thousand years ago, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, the leading scholar of Ashkenazi Jewry, enacted bold legal measures to protect Jewish women from abuse.

Last week a fellow named Israel Meir Kin poked his finger in Rabbenu Gershom’s eye, and now every Jewish woman is at risk.

In his day, Rabbenu Gershom began to notice a disturbing and outrageous trend. Husbands, who found that they now fancied another woman, were taking advantage of the Biblical law allowing them to divorce their wives unilaterally and virtually without cause. And with the stroke of a pen, and the cold delivery of a divorce document, they were shattering the lives of their wives and families. Rabbenu Gershom strode into the breach and proclaimed a ban of excommunication against any man who divorced his wife without her consent. And to insure these husbands who lusted after another woman wouldn’t simply marry their new love without divorcing their first wives, he placed the same ban of excommunication on any man who married more than one wife, effectively ending the practice of polygamy in Ashkenaz. Rabbenu Gershom was determined that Jewish women would no longer be subject to this kind of abuse at the hands of their husbands.

In our day, Israel Meir Kin has undone Rabbenu Gershom’s work. This past Thursday, as about 30 of us stood in protest, he blatantly violated Rabbenu Gershom’s ban, by marrying a second woman without divorcing his wife. As if it were not enough that for the past 9 years he has spitefully been refusing to grant a Jewish divorce to his wife Lonna (allegedly unless she were to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars), he has now completed his journey of shame by toppling the age-old ban on polygamy. (See the articles in this past Saturday’s New York Times, and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/us/a-wedding-amid-cries-of-unfinished-business-from-a-marriage.html?_r=0″; and http://www.jewishjournal.com/bloggish/item/modern_orthodox_protest_against_agunah_wedding_in_vegas”>)

Make no mistake. Israel Meir Kin’s actions are not merely outrageous and despicable. His actions threaten all of our daughters and all of our sisters. I can guarantee you that at this very moment there are men who are watching, waiting to see whether Israel Meir Kin gets away with this. And if he does, there will be more Israel Meir Kins. And every single married Jewish woman will be shorn of the protection Rabbenu Gershom had afforded women for the past millennium.

If you know Israel Meir Kin, a physician’s assistant now residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, or if you know someone who knows him, you must act now. Bring whatever legal form of social or economic pressure to bear on him that you can. This is a moment that has the potential to wreak havoc and misery for generations to come. Unless we act to stop it.


Reflecting on Reflecting – Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 24, 2014

The only way we can discuss prayer is on the basis of self-reflection, trying to describe what has happened to us in a rare and precious moment of prayer. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; The Insecurity of Freedom: Prayer as Discipline pg. 255)

 

This is the great paradox of prayer. As Rabbi Heschel says a few lines later: “You  cannot, of course, analyze the act of prayer while praying.” Doing so would be to violate the sacred nature of prayer as total immersion (See pg. 255 in the Essay Prayer as Discipline for more on this). On the other hand, we cannot afford not to spend time self-reflecting on our prayer experiences. Like anything else in life, events that we let go by without contemplation, leave little impact on us.

So, we have no choice but to find time after we have prayed to try our best to recollect how we were feeling when we prayed. Maybe this is the companion to Adonai Sifatai Tiftach….” said before we pray. That statement is actually a request for help that we pray with Kavannah.

After we have prayed, we should look back to see if it worked. Was there a particular time during Tefilla that I felt moved? Was there a particular time I felt distracted? How can I duplicate the times i found moved and minimize the distractions?

We should also do this institutionally. if there was a particular teffila that had the community engaged, consider the elements and see if they can be duplicated on a regular basis. And, if there are elements of tefilla that do not engage the people, it may be time to envision a different approach.

Meaningful prayer is so difficult. We can attain success in prayer more often if we take time to reflect on how we pray, what works and what does not.

 


My Teacher and My Mentor. A Tribute to Rabbi Avi Weiss. by Yosef Kanefsky

March 17, 2014

This coming Sunday evening Rabbi Avi Weiss will be honored by Yeshivat Chovevai Torah. As this is the first time Rav Avi has ever allowed himself to be publically honored, the tribute speakers will have decades and decades of monumental accomplishments to select from. I’m suspecting that lost among these numerous accomplishments will be the powerful influence that he had upon the young rabbis who were lucky enough to learn the rabbinate from him. I was one of those lucky ones, having served as Rav Avi’s assistant rabbi for six years. Even today, 18 years after I left his professional side, there is not a single day that unaffected by what he taught me. So I’ll try to sneak this in now, alongside the many tributes that will be coming.

What did I learn from Rav Avi (and still don’t do as well as he does)? Here are just a few things:

(1) No matter what else is going on in the world, in the moment that someone is sharing his or her personal struggles with you, there is nothing else going on in the world. For each person is a world unto himself.

(2) Try your utmost to love everyone. If you can’t, the rabbinate’s probably not for you.

(3) Don’t be afraid to be different. Especially when you are being different in the name of including and embracing those who would otherwise be left out.

(4) A shul is family. And like any family, it has older people, and younger people. Healthy people and sick people. People who are more typically “abled” and people who are in some way disabled (and we are all in some way disabled). People whose Judaic knowledge is strong and people who are just now learning. When you look around shul on a Shabbat morning, it’s got to look like a family.

(5) Not everyone who is ritually observant is religious, and not everyone who is religious is ritually observant. Rabbis need to deeply understand this.

(6) Don’t sit on the bima. That’s not where the Jews are.

(7) It’s (almost) never a bad time for a niggun.

(8) Lifecycle ceremonies are teaching times. They are precious moments when people’s hearts are open in an unusual and wondrous way. Don’t let these moments become mechanical rituals.

(9) It makes no difference whether you’re teaching a class of 3, or giving a sermon in a room of many hundreds. You always give it your all.

(10) Your wife is the most important person in the shul.

Thank you Rav Avi. As I recently affirmed to the blessed members of Bnai David –Judea, “what is mine and what is ours, is yours.”


Some St. Louis History: Bais Abraham Congregation Celebrates 120 years -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

March 7, 2014

 

The Orthodox Jewish community of St. Louis dates back to the early 19th century.  Though it began small, in the 1880’s and 1890’s waves of Orthodox Jews from Russia and Poland emigrated to the United States and to St. Louis.  By the 1940’s there were close to 25 Orthodox synagogues in St. Louis.  These congregations for the most part did not have official Rabbis at their helm and instead were established and led by laity interested in having a place to pray with a minyan.   Eventually many of these developed into full service synagogues with communal events, cemeteries, and holiday and life cycle celebrations.

 

This model of Orthodox community in St. Louis was akin to that in much of Eastern Europe; small synagogues in which to pray, run by knowledgeable and not-so-knowledgeable laity, all under the auspices and direction of the Chief Rabbi of the city.  In the late 19th century the Chief Rabbi, well known for his scholarship and community leadership, was Rabbi Zacharya Yosef Rosenfeld.   Rabbi Rosenfeld was the first Rabbi to, against much opposition, establish an eruv in a large modern city.  

 

Though by the 1960’s most of St. Louis’ still extant Orthodox synagogues had their own rabbis, St. Louis did maintain the position of Chief Orthodox Rabbi and indeed was the last American city to do so.  Several illustrious Rabbis Held the position and Rabbi Sholom Rivkin, St. Louis’ last chief rabbi , passed away only a few years ago.

 

Most of those early Orthodox synagogues are now gone, their members having passed on and their children and grandchildren, due to the relative lack of Jewish education in America in those days, having assimilated or moved to cities with larger observant Jewish populations.  Only a handful of St. Louis’ Orthodox synagogues remain from that era, – the oldest among them Bais Abraham.

 

Bais Abraham Congregation was founded by 25 members in 1894 in downtown St. Louis.  “Bais Abe,” as it is often known, settled in its present location in University City, near Washington University, in 1973, under the leadership of the much-beloved Rabbi Abraham Magence who served as a Rabbi in St. Louis, a mohel and shochet for close to 50 years.

 

Born in Suvalk, Poland to the Av Bais Din of the city, Rabbi Abraham Magence learned in the Grodno Yeshiva with Rabbi Shimon Shkop.  He left the Yeshiva to flee to Russia from the war, where he was imprisoned and tortured by the KGB for teaching Torah to children.  Ultimately Rabbi Abraham Magence was brought to St. Louis by his brother Rabbi Tzvi Magence, author of the Magen Tzvi, a learned work on the holiness of the Land of Israel, a student of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook and Rabbi of a shul in St. Louis, Beis HaMedrash HaGodol.

 

Rabbi Abraham Magence, Rabbi of Bais Abraham for over 30 years, was famous for his outreach to new Russian Jewish immigrants and to Washington University students, for his love of children, for his inclusion of women, and for open-minded relations with all—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—while maintaining the Orthodox character of Bais Abraham.

 

 Ten years ago I was honored to take over from Rabbi Magence and to continue building on this unique community’s glorious heritage.  Today, with G-d’s help and the community’s help, Bais Abraham is an active, dynamic shul with increasing numbers of young couples and families, a strong relationship with nearby WashingtonUniversity students, and a model for other Jewish communities.  Bais Abe is well known for developing new programming and fostering new relations with Jews previously distanced from synagogue life.

 

Bais Abraham Congregation, presently St. Louis’ oldest Orthodox synagogue, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.  The thriving congregation, now located in the Delmar Loop at 6910 Delmar Boulevard, will hold a Gala celebration on March 30th, to pay tribute to its long and notable history. 

 

The gala celebration will recognize me and my wife, Sara Winkelman, for our ten years of service to Bais Abraham.  Lay leaders Keren and Gabe Douek will receive a Young Leadership Award.  A native St. Louisan, Gabe and his wife Keren represent the vibrancy of Bais Abraham’s next generation and its second 120 years of growth.   The evening will feature dinner and musical entertainment by acclaimed new Jewish-klezmer-jazz-garage-punk band, Juez.

 

All are invited to celebrate this historic milestone together with the Bais Abraham community. Please see http://www.baisabe.com for more details.

 

 ImageL

Leaders of Bais Abraham in 1973, standing with then chief Rabbi of St. Louis, Rabbi Menachem Eichenstein, author of Shaylot U’Tishuvot Pri Yehoshuah.

 

 


Crowd-Sourced Bibliography on Tefilin, Partnership Minyanim, and the Future of Orthodoxy

February 28, 2014

Will Rogers once quipped, “I don’t belong to an organized political party; I’m a Democrat.”  To which I would respond, “I don’t belong to an organized Jewish denomination; I’m Orthodox.”

Dozens of scholarly articles, essays, and blog-posts, have been published in the past month exploring the question of women and mitzvat tefillin and the phenomenon of Partnership Minyannim. This may all be a “tempest in a teapot” or this may become a milestone in the history of our community and its self-definition. To help record and organize all that is being written on this topic, I am creating a crowd-sourced bibliography. Please post links in the comments to articles/blog-posts/essays and I will add them to the bibliography once each week or two.

Reflecting the mission of this blog, priority will be given to articles that focus on how these issues percolate within the Orthodox community. I will also prioritize those writings that contain original analysis of primary sources. But, if there is something that you have read which you think should be part of this bibliography, paste a link in the comments and make a case (please also list which section the source belongs).

Part I: Girls Wearing Tefilin at Orthodox High Schools

The Jewish Week: Ramaz Would Permit Girls to Wear Tefilin

Rabbi Josh Strulowitz: It’s Not About Tefilin But Embracing School Choice

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark: SAR Principal Explains Decision to Allow Girls ot Wear Tefilin at School Minyanim

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein: Much Ado About Something: Women and Tefillin

Rabbi H. Schachter: Transcription of a letter by Rabbi H. Schachter on Women Wearing Tefilin, transcribed by Rabbi Josh Yuter

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt: Reflections on the Tefilin Debate

Part II: Analysis of Women and the Mitzvah of Tefilin

(With a strong representation from Harvard Hillel in the 1990’s…)

Rabbi Ethan Tucker: Gender and Tefillin: Possibilities and Consequences

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper: Gender and Tefillin: Assumptions and Consequences

Shira Fischer, MD: In Pursuit of Intellectual Genorisity: A Rejoinder to R. Aryeh Klapper on Gender, Tefillin, and Normativitiy

Rabbi Shlomo Brody: Women and Tefilin: A Response to Ethan Tucker

Rabbi Shlomo Brody: Women, Tefilin, and the Halakhic Process

Rabbi Jeff Fox: The Truth About Women in Tefilin

William Friedman: Why Women Can – And Must – Wear Tefillin

Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber: Tefillin and Clean Bodies Part I

Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber: Tefillin and Clean Bodes Part II

 

Part III: RCA Documents on Partnership Minyanim and Reactions

Partnership Minyanim in the Pages of “Tradition.”

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz: A Response to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz: A Resposne to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita (English Translation)

Professor Aaron Koller: Women in Tefillin and Partnership Minyanim: A Response to Rav Schachter

Rabbi A. Goridmer: The Boundaries and Essence of Orthodoxy: A Response ot Aaron Koller

“Menachem Mendel” Partnership Minyans in Israel

Rabbi Dr. Yoel Finkelman and Professor Chaim Saimon: A Next Step in Debating Partnership Minyanim and Women in Tefillin

Part IV: Opinions and Advocacy

Dr. Elana Sztokman: Orthodoxy Must Not Reject Its Most Committed Women

Rabbi Avi Shafran: TefillinGate Unraveled: In Orthodoxy Women Just Don’t Wear Tefillin

Avigayil Halpern: You Say I don’t Need Tefillin: Here’s Why I Do

Eden Farber:  Not-So Blurred Lines

Professor Aaron Koller: On Submissiveness


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