A Story from the Front Lines: Special Guest Post by Rachel Kohl Finegold, Education and Ritual Director, Anshe Sholom

August 11, 2011

A Story From the Front Lines

Guest post by Rachel Kohl Finegold

Education & Ritual Director, Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, Chicago

 

I share this story because it is often helpful, alongside halachic or philosophical argument, to look at a sociological reality that arises as a result of minhag yisrael.

 

For many years, I worked as a counselor and eventually a division head in a Modern Orthodox camp in the Poconos. This is a co-ed camp which draws kids from many NY/NJ communities (and beyond), including Teaneck, Brooklyn, West Orange, and so on. As anyone who has been in camp knows, the dining room often becomes a place of cheering and singing, even playful competition between bunks or divisions in camp. It was not uncommon for the girls’ side of the chadar ochel and the boys’ side of the chadar ochel to be engaged in this kind of cheering at each other. This would usually be the teens, who were most interested in what was going on on the other side of the room, but often the younger kids would chime in as well.

 

The boys and girls would get up on their benches and the boys would chant something like, “Back to the kitchen! Back to the kitchen!” and the girls would respond perhaps “You’re sleeping on the couch tonight!” It was obviously funny to them because they were playing on gender stereotypes, and it was fun to try and get the boys or girls mad! One of the chants that the boys would use would always be “Shelo asani isha! Shelo asani isha!” Although I would sometimes hear a few girls respond with “She’asani kirtzono!” they usually didn’t retort with that, because it didn’t quite pack the punch they needed to get the boys back. They would find a better comeback. Maybe “Boys smell” or, if we were lucky, something wittier.

 

I emphasize, once again, that these are kids who come from mainstream Modern Orthodox Yeshiva day schools, some single-sex and some co-ed. These were not just a few kids, but the vast majority of the 9th and 10th graders in camp chanting. My goal is not to reprimand the camp itself, because I do not think these perceptions can be formed in a single summer, or even multiple summers. These children had been saying these brachot all their lives – in school, in shul and in camp.

 

Even if we adults feel comfortable with the matbe’a of “shelo asani isha”, clearly, our children perceive an undercurrent of male superiority in this bracha. Whether we choose “she’asani yisrael” or some other solution (I have been saying “she’asani isha” for years, because I am truly grateful for being female and because there is liturgical precedent for it), we must recognize that the negative messaging is getting through. Even if our girls and boys absorb negative gender stereotypes from our surrounding culture, I would not want them to perceive them from within our holy tradition.


The Scotch Counter Boycott is Moral and Just: It Is about Drinking Responsibly! By Rabbi Lopatin

June 23, 2011

I love Scotch, and I paskin like the London Beth Din that every single Scotch is kosher.  But I love Israel as well, and I particularly don’t like people picking on Israel. So, I support fully counter-boycotting against Scotch’s made in the area where their local council is boycotting Israel.   From the best analysis I have seen, Auchentoshen is the Scotch to boycott.  Now, Auchentoshan is not my favorite Scotch, so I’m kind of happy that it is really the only Scotch, readily available in America,  that is clearly  produced and distilled  in the West Dunbartonshire (WDS) part of Scotland, where a majority of the local council has voted various boycotts of Israel – including not allowing Israeli books in the local library.  The most precise report of what is and is not produced in this shire comes from Joshua E. London, of the Jewish Single Malt Whiskey Society, who is critical of the boycott.  But even he admits the viciousness of  the WDS local council toward Israel, and that Auchentoshen, while owned  by a Japanese conglomerate, is distilled and produced in WDS.  

I don’t like boycotts because of policy differences, but when someone boycotts Israel, we must send them a clear message that not only will they suffer, but all their supporters suffer.  People in WDS need to understand that if their elected officials pick on Israel,  it is their responsibility to remove them from office.  I want the world to know that there are millions of consumers and advocates who will fight against any boycott of Israel.  These boycotts are not only ignorant and vicious, they are immoral as well.  The distillers and producers of Scotch, have to tell that to elected and unelected officials: if you live in a place that discriminates against Israel, or if you are a school which allows students to harm pro-Israel students and speakers, your competitors will benefit and you will lose.  That’s the new order.  Maybe these crazy socialist/communist/Marxist councils will pick on someone else.

I’m not impressed that Auchentoshen is working to get KLBD hashgacha for their drinks; Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, refused to give hashgacha for any Scotch in his days, because he believed all of it was kosher.  I still hold of the London Beth Din’s rule that it is all kosher.  In fact, I would suggest that the KLBD, the hashgacha of the London Beth Din, raise the issue of the WDS boycott of Israel in their discussions regarding the kashrut of Auchentashen.  The Scotch companies claim that it is not their fault that the local council has voted to boycott Israel; they are just a company and cannot influence elections.   I ask then, that these companies who feel they can’t speak up, and universities who claim that they have to allow free speech to students that disrupt Israeli speakers, make a donation to the Friends of the IDF to show that they have nothing against Israel.  Or, make a donation to Zaka or Hatzala or even Magen David Adom, any Israeli program that helps victims of Arab terrorism. If they make those donations, and are open about those donations, then I would accept that as a demonstration of their good will.

We in the Diaspora are generally not sending our kids to fight for Israel, nor are we living in Israel and subjecting ourselves to all the risks that Israelis face every day.  We are enjoying the bounty of America or some other foreign land.  The least we can do is send a message of support for Israel with everything with partake of – whether it is Scotch, higher education, or anything else that God has blessed us with the means of purchasing.  Let those who support Israel be blessed and let those who would want to harm Israel face the consequences. God has given us the means of making this world a little more just – let us not shirk our responsibility.  Yes, let us drink responsibly!

 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Rabbi Marc Angel, Firebrand of Modern Orthodox, Comes To Your Shabbat Table, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

January 3, 2011

Angel for Shabbat, by Rabbi Marc B. Angel

($18 online at Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, www.jewishideas.org )

Reviewed by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Rabbi Marc Angel has just come out with a unique book entitled “Angel for Shabbat.”   It is a semi-autobiographical, Modern Orthodox manifesto and Bill of Rights, using the back-drop of the parshiot and chagim to illustrate the key points of Rabbi Angel’s thought.  This book is Old World and New Age: it quotes classic Hassidic and Sefardic masters – from Levi Yitzchak of Bardichov to the Kotzker Rebbe to Rav Chaim David Halevi, Chacham Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Benzion Uziel – and classic secular thinkers such as Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, Eric Fromm, Paul Johnson, and a half-dozen former presidents of the United States.  You just don’t see books written today which cite Rabbi J. H. Hertz who quotes Marcus Jastrow or which spell mitzvos, “mitzvoth”.  The book will bring you back to a different era in Jewish thought, where it was OK to entertain the idea of the world being several billion years old or the idea that superstitions are actually bad and not integral to Judaism.

On the other hand, Rabbi Marc Angel does not hold back on expressing his views on every contemporary flashpoint in Orthodoxy, from the Gedolim, to discrimination against Sefaradim in Emanuel, to Postville and the Rubashkins to parking lots and protests in Jerusalem.  Whether you agree with Rabbi Angel or not, it is fascinating to see how a pulpit rabbi of a 17th century colonial New York congregation can use the language of the Rambam to leap from the text of the parsha to blast charlatans who would espouse an irrational Judaism or teachers who would demand a literal interpretation of Midrashim.  Was Rivka really three when she decided to marry Yitzchak? Can we view Mordechai and Esther as assimilated Jews?  This book will get you off your comfy chair to shout out either “How can Rabbi Angel say this!” or “Lead the way Rabbi Angel!  We are right behind you!”

This is parsha book like no other – in a sense it is a gorgeous and tender polemic, where Rabbi Angel’s father, wife and congregants come into the picture as being part of the story of a former president of the RCA and leading Orthodox rabbi (he is now Emeritus at the Historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) who has only gotten more passionate and self-confident to try to make a difference in the world.  Parsha after parsha, in pithy two-page essays, I found  myself saying, “Don’t hold back Rabbi Angel!  Tell us what you really think!”  Tell us how you think it might be morally dubious to reject Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday!  This book is a must read because it recreates  a time in Orthodoxy where doing Thanksgiving and reading the Hertz chumash and quoting Harry Truman were all very much part of the “frum” Jewish experience.  But at the same time the ideas in this book, and Rabbi Angel’s uncompromising style, bridges the generation gap and addresses issues that the Modern, Centrist and Chareidi world are struggling with today.  Nostalgia is just the start; this book wants to take you to a world of independent thinking, bold questioning  and strong “inner calm” that will wake you up.  It’s not a book to read just every week – it’s a book to go through in one setting, and then to ponder it again as our Jewish year, and our Torah, unravels before us.  Good luck putting it down!


Scorecard for Jonathan Pollard: Ask your Representative! by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

October 22, 2010

I have been pushing for a letter of clemency for Jonathan Pollard that Rep. Barney Frank was circulating to members of the U.S. House of Representatives to ask President Obama to extend clemency to Mr. Pollard.   My information is that it was presented to President Obama with thirty signatures: all of them Democrats, none Republicans.  I have been trying to get Mark Kirk, a Republican representative running for Senate in Illinois to sign, to no avail.  Rep. Eric Cantor has refused to sign it;  Minister Hagee and Gary Bauer – two fundamentalist Christians – tried to get him to sign it, but he wouldn’t.  I am gratified that my own Rep., Jan Schakowsky did sign it, and that  the Republican candidates for House in my area, Joel Polak and David Ratowitz as well as Democratic senate candidate Alexi Gionoulias have all agree that they would support clemency.  Unfortunately, Rep. Mike Quigley – in our shul’s district – did not sign the letter and has not gotten back to me with his position after weeks of emails and phone calls. Can you please call your Rep, or the opposing candidate for Rep in your district and find out what their position is on this?

Many people feel that the only important issue is Israel and the Jewish people. If so, find out if the candidate that everyone is proclaiming is so pro-Israel or pro-Jewish is supporting this request for clemency.  In my state, Mark Kirk has been hailed as the best person for Israel: So why can’t his campaign answer me regarding his lack of support for clemency for Jonathan Pollard who was acting as an Israeli agent for the sake of Israel, and the lives of Jews in Israel.  Even if it was a crime by American law, he has been punished more than anyone else who has spied for a friendly country, and the charges that he caused the capture of 11 Americans by the USSR have long been shown to be incorrect – it was the Russian mole Aldrich Ames who compromised their lives.

On erev Shabbat as we read of Avraham’s plea to God for justice for Sodom and Gemora, let’s start demanding of our politicians – from whatever party – that they start showing the courage to really stand up for Israel and fair justice, not just when it suits them.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Understanding Orthodox Halachic Innovation: Rabbi Lopatin’s Tribute to Rav Hershel Schachter, shli”ta

May 5, 2010

Rabbi Shai Held, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Hadar in New York,  recently wrote an Op Ed critical of Rav Hershel Schachter’s position prohibiting the ordination of women as rabbis.  Rabbi Schachter, perhaps the preeminent Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and a student of Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l, was one of many speakers at the recent Rabbinical Council of America convention where the issue of women rabbis in Orthodoxy – and, women’s roles in Orthodox Jewish communal leadership in general – was discussed and eventually voted on.  Rabbi Held mentioned, accurately, that Rav Schachter put the ordination of women in the category of “yehareg ve’al ya’avor” – those things that a person has to give up his or her life for rather that doing them.  Rav Schachter further invoked the ruling of his rebbe, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, that it was halachically impermissible for a woman to be a rabbi.  Many of the speakers at the convention, some of whom are poskim, halachic decisors like Rav Schachter is, disagreed with this understanding of the scope or application of Jewish law.  Moreover, even Rav Schachter, to the best of my understanding,  is in favor of women’s Torah learning and teaching on the communal level;  everyone at the convention, including Rav Schachter, would agree with Rabbi Held’s view that, “one of the crucial mandates of the hour is to create more opportunities and contexts [within halacha (ed.)]for women’s voices to be heard in Jewish life.”

Where I want to strenuously, and lovingly, disagree with Rabbi Held is in his implication throughout his Op Ed that Rav Schachter, and those of his ilk, are against “chidush bahalacha”, new, innovative ways of understanding the classic texts and traditions.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, especially since Rav Schachter’s speech at the conference delved specifically into the requirement  of every contemporary halachic decisor to examine the tradition and the text based on his (or her) own understanding: “l’fi r’ot eini hadayan” – according to the way the judge – of any era –sees it.  Rav Schachter spoke eloquently and passionately of how all the rules which seem to prohibit a lesser and later court from ruling against a greater and more numerous earlier court did not apply to understanding halacha, but, rather, only to rescinding a “takana” an edict.  When it comes to understanding the infinite word of God, especially in the world of Halacha, Rav Schachter proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that that understanding cannot  be based on “status quo”, as Rabbi Held claims, but, rather, by the most contemporary understanding of the halachic decisor who is examining it.

Rav Schachter gave as examples of this new and fresh approach that is required in learning and issuing halachic rulings, Rav Moshe Feinstein of the 20th century and the Vilna Gaon, the great Lithuanian decisor of the 18th century.  The Vilna Gaon regularly disagreed with Rishonim and Gaonim, authorities of the centuries and millennium before him.  He had no choice: he had to be honest, and if he felt they didn’t read the tradition and the texts (Talmud and Midrash) correctly, he had to disagree with them.  When it came to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Schachter said that Rav Moshe, zt”l, wasn’t even so familiar with many of the opinions of the Acharonim, the big names of the three or four centuries before him,  and that he didn’t feel a loss: It’s always interesting for a halachic decisor to see what others are thinking,  but in the end of the day it doesn’t matter: halachic decisions are not just copied from the past, they are based on the latest, freshest thinking of the individual halachic authority.  Independence and, yes, innovation, where it is called for to bring out the truth of the Torah, are the hallmarks of the Orthodox halachic process, and from what Rav Schechter said at the RCA convention, he was their biggest advocate.

In fact, even though, in general, the authorities of the Gemarra (Amoraim) committed themselves not to take on the understandings of their predecessors, the authorities  of the Mishna (Tanaim), Rav Schachter showed how in some ways the great Amora Rav actually did disagree with Tanaim, as an Amora, not under the guise of a Tana himself, though he is sometimes called a Tana.  The great halachic and aggadic authority, the Netziv (19th century), Rosh Yeshiva of the storied Volozyn yeshiva developed this concept of “chidush bahalacha” – innovation in the halacha – long before any of the later authorities that Rabbi Held quotes, and Rav Schachter is squarely in the tradition of the Netziv, having studied with Rav Soloveitchik, himself a scion of the Volozyn tradition.

The very idea of ordaining women being “yehareg ve’al ya’avor (die rather than violate)” is based on an innovative understanding of the law in the Talmud of “arkesa d’mesana” – “laces (?)of the shoes”.  Rav Schachter explained this Talmudic concept in his talk that even the smallest infraction can become “yehareg ve’al ya’avor” – even how you tie your shoe – if it is in the context of “she’at hashmad” – a time when Jews are being persecuted for keeping Judaism, even down to the smallest detail like how Jews tie their shoes.  The innovative read on this Talmudic concept was pioneered by Rav Schachter’s teacher, Rav Soloveitchik, in taking on what the Rav saw as the “she’at hashmad” in the and ‘50’s and ‘60’s, when the Conservative and Reform movements’ popularity in Jewish circles created an atmosphere of pressure on Orthodox Jews to compromise their halacha and conform to Reform and Conservative styles of Jewish worship.  Thus, even davening in a Reform or Conservative synagogue, with mixed seating and other infractions of halacha (in the eyes of Orthodoxy), while not normally seen as a central violation meriting “yehareg ve’al ya’avor”, in the context of the social pressures and climate of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s were classified by the Rav as “yehareg ve’al ya’avor”.  Wow!  While we may recoil from this ruling, to use Rabbi Held’s term, it is certainly an innovative and revolutionary way of viewing a two thousand year old halacha from the Talmud.  Rav Schachter continues in Rav Soloveitchik’s innovative interpretation, by seeing the act of ordaining women rabbis as Orthodox Jews knuckling under pressure from a climate of feminism in society and amongst the other movements of Judaism.

Orthodoxy believes in a divine, infinite and eternal Torah that was revealed to Moshe at Sinai and through the 40 years in the wilderness.  To understand that Torah properly, requires each Torah scholar and halachic authority, in every generation, such as Rav Schachter, to think for themselves, to figure out what God told us, to understand the texts of our tradition in a way that feels true to the person reading them.  The halachic process, within the theological underpinnings of Orthodox Judaism, thrives on new understandings of the ancient texts and traditions; these new and innovative understandings, “chidushei halacha” are  celebrated as the contribution of each individual mind, in every era, to give us a better understanding of what God commanded Moses and the Children of Israel in the written and oral law so many years ago.  It is ever fresh, ever eternal, and ever open to debate and new challenges.     RAL


Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer – Rabbi Barry Gelman

September 27, 2009

I know this is not my regular posting day but I wanted to make some Kavanot 0 prayer enhancers available before Yom Kippur.

Gmar Tov,

 Barry

 

 

Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer

The Yom Kippur davening is challenging in that it is very busy ,full of choreography and very long.

Some find it difficult to focus and create moments of quiet introspection.

Do not feel rushed to keep up. It is more important to internalize the prayers.

The Yom Kippur Mussaf is an amalgam of prayers with High Holiday themes as well as recreations of the Temple service, mourning dirges and the account of the Ten Martyrs.

Use this guide during the silent Mussaf Amidah or the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah to help you focus on the prayer themes.  Various sections of Mussaf will be briefly described followed by some questions to help us focus on each theme.

Instead of talking to your neighbor when the service starts to feel too heavy, use this sheet to redirect your thoughts.

Fasting:

Did you ever wonder why we are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur? How can fasting help us return to God? The Torah considers the Yom Kippur fast an act of affliction. One the one fasting makes perfect sense. A day on which we are judged is hardly a day on which to be concerned with food.

Perhaps we can consider the idea of self denial a positive spiritual practice. On Yom Kippur fasting reminds us that it is very often the material aspects of our lives and the need to supply them (like food and shelter) that take us away from spiritual pursuits. On Yom Kippur we are told not to worry about food and we find outselves under the protection of the synagogues. With our basic needs either cared for or removed we can focus on spirituality.

Fasting may also remind us that we have the capacity to survive with far less than we usually have.

 

Ask yourself:

  • How does fasting help me attain a deeper spirituality on Yom Kippur?
  • Would Yom Kippur “work” the same if we were allowed to eat? If not, what added benefit does fasting bring?

 

Mussaf Amidah

 

Seder Ha-Avodah (Description of the Temple Service)

We recite or even re-enact the temple service that cannot be performed today because of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. It is not really a prayer, but rather a detailed description, in poetic terms  of what used to happen in the Temple.

 

What purpose does the Seder Ha-Avodah serve?

  • To keep alive the ancient tradition in a vivid way
  • To reassure us that even in the absence of the Temple service we can achieve forgiveness and closeness to God
  • Create a longing for the Beit HaMikdash.

The seder ha-avodah is introduced with a magnificent prologue  – essentially a brief summary of Jewish History from creation to the Temple service.

There is heavy concentration on God’s interaction with and direction of the world in the prologue. Perhaps this is to indicate the cosmic importance of the Avodah.  Consider the “path” of the prologue: descent to sin thought Adam and Chavah, Cain and the generation of the flood and the subsequent ascent from Noach to Avraham to Yaakov and his sons – from whom came Levi, eventually entrusted with the service of the Beit Hamikdash.

 

Ask Yourself:

  • Has the progress of the spirituality  expressed in the prologue continued? Do we live in an age where people feel connected to God? Do I feel connected to God? If not, why not?

 

Rabbi Solovetichik defined spirituality as: “the descent of divinity into the midst of the concrete world.” Perhaps the recitation of the Temple service is supposed to give us a chance to relive the divine descent as the Yom Kippur service represented the pinnacle of divine revelation as the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies.

 

Ask Yourself:

  • How can I experience the Divine descent?
    • Choose one area in life that you will work on this year in order to be more God aware.

The section of the Temple service ends on a celebratory note when we say: “True – how majestic was the Kohen Gadol as he left the Holy of Holies in peace, without injury. “

“Why The Happiness in reciting  the end of the Temple service? Why was it sung with such a happy tune? The answer is that the Kohen Gadol reflected the radiance of God. Throught witnessing the radiant appearance of the Kohen Gadol, there could be no doubt of God’s acceptance of the prayers of the children of Israel” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik).

 

Ask yourself:

  • Who in my life helps me feel like I am in the presence of God? What experiences have I had where I truly felt like I was in God’s presence? How can I recreate those moments?

 

The Ten Martyrs

Immediately after the joy of reciting the Avodah, we recite mourning dirges. “Suddenly Yom Kippur is transformed in to the Ninth of Av, the morning reaching its most intense point when we read of the ten martyrs.

 

What role do these dirges play on Yom Kippur?

  • Perhaps we are pleading to God: “We have suffered enough. Put an end to our torments and tormentors. Show mercy not only by forgiving us but by bring complete redemption.
  • We remind ourselves of a sin not listed in the long list of “al chet” – the admission that our sins have extended the state of the destruction and delayed redemption.

 

Ask Yourself

  • How does the contrast of the joy and the mourning enhance our prayer experience? What does it take to fully appreciate what we had and what we lost? How can I be more appreciative this year of the people and blessings in my life?

“The startling contrast of the joy of the avodah recitation and the pain evoked by reciting the mourning dirges immediately following serve a basic cognitive purpose. In order to truly feel a loss, a person must internalize two key points:  1) how wonderful life was before the loss and 2) hoe terrible life is after the loss. In the words of Jeremiah: “Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old” (Eicha 1:7). (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

Ten Martyrs: What Are You Willing To Die For?

The inclusion of the Ten Martyrs in the Yom Kipur prayers is noteworthy. Why is it included and whay it is supposed to add to our prayer experience? Perhaps the inclusion of the Ten Martyrs is supposed to help us focus on what is really important in life by compelling us to ask ourselves: asking: What are we willing to die for? These sages were willing to give their lives for Torah and Jewish life. What are our ultimate values?

Perhaps we are asked to judge what is really important in life by the answer to the question of what are we willing to die for.

Is there anyone who would willingly sacrifice his life for wealth? Or honor? For a high position? On the contrary: We would readily give up all this in order to buy health… On the other hand, are there not mothers who would sacrifice even their own lives for the life of their children? Aren’t there many who would die for freedom and peace?

Ask yourself:

What are my ultimate values? How are they similar or different to those of the ten martyrs?


Don’t Let a Good Sin Go To Waste – Rabbi Barry Gelman

September 1, 2009

Sounds like strange advice. Let me explain.

 According to Rabbi Solovetichik there are two kinds of Teshuva (return). One type of Teshuva calls for a complete obliteration of the past. “Certain situations leave no choice but the annihilation of evil and for completely uprooting it. If one takes pity and lets evil remain, one inexorably pays at a later date an awesome price…Repentance of the individual can also be the kind that requires a clean break, with all of man’s sins and evil deeds falling away into an abyss, fulfilling the prophecy, “An thou will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Not only are the sins cast into the depths of the sea, but, also, all the years of sin – ten or twenty or even thirty years of the sinner’s life. It is impossible to sift out only the sins and leave the years intact.

Many have experienced this feeling or the desire to erase parts of our life. We feel nothing good can come out of those particular experiences or memories. We blot out the memory completely. We may be so successful at this that we really cannot remember the event even if asked about it or reminded of it. This type of Teshuva is useful and neccesary in certain situations.

There is another type of Teshuva. Says Rabbi Soloveitchik: “…there is another way – not by annihilating evil but by rectifying and elevating it. This repentance does not entail making a clean break with the past or obliterating memories. It allows man, at one and the same time, to continue to identify with the past and still to return to God in repentance.” Read the rest of this entry »


Man In Search Of Heschel – Rabbi Barry Gelman

August 18, 2009

If you understand the title of this post you are ahead of the game.

I wonder why the Modern Orthodox community does pay more attention to and study the works of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Aside from his book The Sabbath, much of his work goes unnoticed and certainly unstudied in our community.

Rabbi Heschel wrote and spoke about so many of the challenges of religion in a free society. He concentrated the need and difficulty of balancing the regularity of Jewish religious practice with spontaneity, referring to these to contrary principles as kevah and kavanah, the religious ideal of living a life of, what he called, “wonder” and “radical amazement” by never taking God’s world for granted and fundamental importance of Halacha as an ingredient of the life of a spiritually healthy Jew.

While many are familiar with Rabi Heschel as the rabbi who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma Alabama, many are unaware his focus on Halacha. I sometimes wonder if the popularity of the picture of Rabbi Heschel with King in Selma has diminished focus on the other aspects of his career.

Part of the reason why Heschel goes unnoticed in the Orthodox community is because he spent most of his career at the Jewish Theological Seminary – the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism. As such he is deemed “treif” by large segments of our community. To my mind this is a terrible shame and we continue to ignore his writings and teachings to our own peril. We should be teaching Heschel in our schools and in our shuls. Read the rest of this entry »


Hearing the Divine –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

August 14, 2009

This week’s Torah portion Re’eh-“See” begins “See I place before you today blessing and curse, the blessing that you will listen to the Mitzvot….”  The Midrah on these verses quotes the two additional verses to bring to bear on our portion, “The mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light” and “The human soul is the candle of God.”   The human’s candle is the Mitzvah and God’s candle is the human soul.   What is this reciprocity?

The Sefat Emet, Rabi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger writes on this Midrash that in everything physical there is a Divine life force from the Source of Life.  (Indeed as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes in the Sha’ar Ha’yichud V’haemunah, without this Divine life force nothing would exist.  The state of non-existence is the status quo, therefor it takes a life force from the Divine to give all things, even inanimate objects, a “soul” which gives them existence.)

Rabbi Yehudah Leib continues to explain that our job is to raise up these Divine sparks of Divine life force that are hidden in all physicality, which we do through Mitzvot.  God’s candle is the human soul means that God’s light is dependent upon us to liberate it from its hiding place within the physical, in this way God and God’s light is “dependant” upon us.

He writes that the blessing and curse the Torah speaks of at the beginning of our parsha is not a reciprocal reward and punishment, rather the inner point of Divine light in all things is itself the blessing that the Torah refers to that we will “hear” and “see” when we “listen to the mitzvoth.”

Similarly regarding Shabbat the Torah writes, and God “blessed” the Shabbat.  This notion of blessing regarding Shabbat is said in the same vain as what we have explained.  The Shabbat is (the most) conducive time in which to become aware of the inner Divine in all things.   On Shabbat just eating, just having pleasure is holy and can reveal the Divine life force in what we enjoy.  Not to separate ourselves from the world but to utilize it so we can hear the divine in all things, this is our mission on earth.  Shabbat Shalom.