Reflections on our Community Shavuot Tikun and Jewish Unity -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

June 17, 2011

This past Tuesday night, the first night of Shavuot, over 100 people from five different shuls and institutions, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, came together  to spend the night (some even made it all night!)  learning Torah together; to stand again as we did at Sinai, no matter our differences, as “one person with one heart”.

Classes ranged from Pirkey Avot, to Jewish mysticism, to Midrash.  Jews who rarely pray together and might not share the same visions of how Jewish observance should look none the less placed those differences aside in light of the big picture –that we are all one.  As Richard Joel, the president of Yeshiva University often used to say regarding the Jewish people, “One size does not fit all.”  Yet at the same time it is imperative I think that we are able at times to put aside those different “sizes” and be one people learning Torah together -especially on Shavuot.  As the Midrash says, “The Jewish people came together as one person with one heart in order to receive the Torah with love.”  According to the Midrash the Torah must be received in love and this is only possible if the Jewish people can, even if only for one day, see each other as wholly unified.

Some people in the Orthodox community have asked me how I can allow teachers who do not share Orthodox views of Torah or observance to teach at Bais Abraham on Shavuot.   I do not believe it is forbidden to read or hear what other Jews believe and often I find they have much to teach us.   I have not once had any of my congregants tell me they considered not being Orthodox from hearing a non-orthodox rabbi speak on Shavuot at my shul.   I have faith that the Torah is true and can protect itself.

I was once discussing our annual community Shavuot Tikun with the head of an Israeli yeshiva and that some people have been critical of this interdenominational learning since they were afraid of having teachers teach who were not Orthodox in belief or observance.  His reply was: “They should be afraid of being too afraid”.

What does indeed come from the annual Shavuot Tikun, thank G-d, is a deep sense of the unity of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people).

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Shanda for the Muslims: Quds day is the 30th of Safar, not June 8. By Rabbi Asher Lopatin

June 7, 2011

Shanda for the Muslims: Al-Quds Day is 30th of Safar, not June 8!

That’s right folks: I’m stunned that Muslims who want to celebrate Al-Quds day have been co-opted by a Christian world, and a Christian calendar, and follow the Christian, Gregorian dates to determine when to protest the re-unification and freeing of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, or al-Quds in Arabic, was re-united during the Six Day War on the 30th of Safar, 1387, a.h. (a.h. = al-Hijra, the year Muhammad, in the Muslim tradition, moved to Medina from Mecca). For Jews that is the 28th of Iyyar, 5727, from the creation of the world. That is why millions of Jews around the world celebrated Jerusalem Reunification day last week on the 28th of Iyyar, which happened to fall on June 1. Tomorrow is the sixth of Sivan, 5771, and Jews throughout the world will not celebrate Jerusalem day, even though June 8th is the anniversary on the Christian calendar of the reunification of Jerusalem 44 years ago; we are celebrating Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks (Pentacost), which commemorates the receiving of the Torah 3500 years ago on the sixth of Sivan.
Muslims should first of all celebrate Jerusalem Day and Yaum al-Quds as a day when all religions can worship the One God in Jerusalem. However, if they are going to protest freedom of religious access and the freedom for Muslims, Christians, and Jews to all live together, then at least they should protest it on the right day for Muslims: the Muslim anniversary of the uniting of Jerusalem, which was the 30th of Safar this year, 1432, a.h., and it has long past; it was on February 3, 2011. The 30 of Safar in the next Muslim year, 1433, a.h., will be on January 23, 2012. I would love to sit down on the 30 of Safar or the 28th of Iyyar and discuss with my Muslim brothers and sisters whether Jerusalem was better under the Jordanian occupation, or under the British or Ottoman occupation, or today, as a part of democratic Israel, where everyone in the city, Jewish, Muslim or Christian has the vote.
All I ask is that Muslims be true to yourselves: Naqba day needs to be on the Muslim anniversary, as well as Naqsa and Quds day. Let’s protest or celebrate properly, not corrupted by a calendar that is foreign to both the Jewish and Muslim people.
Thanks to Apple for providing both the Islamic Calender App, and also the Pocket Luach App. All good Jews and Muslims should have it on their IPhone!
Chag same’ach – happy Torah day in Jerusalem, Chicago or wherever you are!

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Seeing the sincerity in those with whom we disagree

June 1, 2011

It is not easy for the Jewish people to see themselves as one. They label each other heretics and fanatics, and deem each other guilty of undermining the welfare, identity, and religious underpinnings of the Jewish people as a whole.

Some have noted that unfortunately it often takes persecution to bring Jewish unity.   Hitler for instance considered all Jews, even those who did not consider themselves Jewish, as part of the Jewish people.   The Jew who lived a fully assimilated life in 1940’s Germany, the Jew who converted to Christianity, and the Jew who did not look Jewish and perhaps did not even know they were, were all equally Jewish in qualifying for extermination.

In several weeks Jewish people all over the world will celebrate the Biblical holiday of Shavuot.  Though as described in the Bible this holiday is very much about thanking God for the wheat harvest, today a different aspect of the holiday, its commemoration of the divine revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai to the whole Jewish people, is more central.

The Midrash, Judaism’s most ancient commentary on the Bible, writes that the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Sinai together, “As one person with one heart.”   Perhaps this upcoming holiday of Shavuot can be the day when we put aside our differences, and reclaim that Sinaitic sense of being “One person with one heart.”

Each time I study what someone else in Judaism believes and hear how they see the world, even though their ideas are different from my strongly held religious beliefs, I am pleasantly surprised. I may still think that their views are incorrect, but what I see, with fresh eyes, is their good intentions and their integrity. Each time it becomes clear that they see what they are doing as best for their community, for the Jewish people, and for the world.  Jewish people and groups whom I thought were damaging the Jewish people, I found were actually engaging  in what they saw as correct religious life and values, caring much more about the Jewish people than I could have imagined.

For instance, the liberal rabbi  whom I thought was out to undermine Jewish tradition and herald assimilation turned out to be someone of deep faith and integrity, trying to the best of their ability and with good intentions, to engage the Jewish people in religious life and values, caring much more about Jewish tradition than I had imagined.  Or the fundamentalist rabbi that I thought was out to separate the Jewish people entirely from other Jews and from the outside world, whom I imagined was trying to compromise much of the light that Jews are commanded to bring to the nations, turned out to be a loving, caring, understanding human being who was much more open minded than I had imagined.

The great miracle of learning about the other, of seeing through another’s eyes if even for a moment, is not only appreciation of their integrity, not only a greater sense of unity with them, but taking something productive away, learning something I did not know before that could relate to and deepen my own beliefs, no matter how different from theirs.

The common denominator of all the Jewish groups is their claim to the Torah. In the spirit of this unity, Jewish people from all denominations will come together to study Torah all night long this Shavuot, Tuesday June 7th, at 11pm at Bais Abraham Congregation.   The event is sponsored by the Orthodox Bais Abraham Congregation, the Conservative Sharee Tzedek Synagogue, the Reform Central Reform Congregation, the Jewish Community Center and many others.   For more information call Rabbi Hyim Shafner 314-721-3030 or email rabbi@baisabe.com.