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Apr
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If The Seder Plate Could Speak…

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The great sage Rabban Gamliel declares that one who has not mentioned three themes on the night of the Seder has not fulfilled his obligation. They are: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.  Minimally, on the first and second nights of Passover, we must highlight the Korban Pesach – the Paschal sacrifice; secondly, we are mandated to discuss the origins of the mitzvah to consume Matzah; thirdly, we should reflect on the bitterness of the hundreds of years of Jewish enslavement in Egypt.

Question: How are we to inspire our children, grandchildren, families and friends with these themes?

In a nutshell, the evening’s foods remind us of how G-d killed their first-born, saved ours, how disorganized we were, how we left in hurry, and how rotten life was back in Egypt!

One would think that the most “educable moment” of the year – the Seder night – would be utilized to convey some lofty ideals, some sort of eternal message that would resonate for the 21st century Jew, young and old! What ultimate impact does Rabban Gamliel’s declaration make on us at a moment of heightened spiritual sensitivity, Leil HaSeder?

I would like to suggest re-examining Rabban Gamliel’s statement as a reflection of three core themes:
a) The Jew as a member of Klal Yisrael, the community of Israel;
b) The Jew as a model of frugality and simplicity;
c) The Jew as one who sees the value in all of life’s experiences

The Jew as a member of Klal Yisrael

Rabban Gamliel first focuses on the Korban Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice. Let’s examine some of the laws associated with the sacrifice: The lamb is to be selected “according to their fathers’ houses”; if there are not enough people in one family to consume an entire lamb, “then he and his neighbor should take one….”; the meat must be roasted, and not boiled or cooked in another liquid; the lamb must be roasted whole and no bones should be broken; none of the meat must be taken outside the home in which it is being eaten.

Now, what one theme runs through the various halachot/laws of the Korban Pesach? I would like to suggest that it is the theme of family and community unity.   Why else is there an insistence that the Pesach meat be consumed within the family or neighborhood, and that the meat not taken outside of the home in the course of the meal? The theme of unity is also evident in the requirement to roast the lamb whole. Commentaries have noted that roasted meat also retains the shape and form of the original animal, while boiling causes the meat to fragment and disperse within a given pot.  The message: Jewish unity.

Let’s take this theme to the next level: On the night of the Exodus, G-d gave the Jewish people a directive to begin to view itself as a nation, and not as a mere collective of individuals.  We are also not the tiny family that descended, seventy souls strong, into Egypt hundreds of years before. We have crystallized into a nation with all of the responsibility this entails.  This idea is brought out best by the following verse:  and you should keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter [the Pesach] at dusk.”

The Talmud states: “R. Nathan said: How do we know that all Israel can discharge [their obligation] with one Passover-offering? Because it is said, and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at dusk: does then the whole assembly slaughter the lamb? Surely only one does! But it teaches that all Israel can discharge [their duty] with one Passover-offering.”

In other words, it is not necessary that each one of us actually consumes the meat. It is sufficient that one lamb is taken for the entire nation.  The Korban Pesach is an offering that unifies and defines our nation.

I think that this template, in which every Jew lives a life of responsibility for his fellow Jew, as a member of a unified nation – is reflected beautifully in an article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Atlanta. Rabbi Feldman writes of the need to create a “model community” rather than an “observant community”; in such a model community, Jewish law/halacha “is observed rigorously, and is seen as the means to fulfill the mission to reflect G-d in the world. Communities are models of the human capacity to connect to the Divine; the goal of observance is to give expression to that glorious spiritual nature of man. Torah is powerful, and secularism and materialism, while capable of attraction and spiritual destruction, are no match for the expressed neshama of man. The vocabulary of such a community is one of connection, of inspiration, of inclusion, of confidence. Its language is that of purpose and mission. There is a sense of custodial responsibility for the Torah, and for other Jews. Non-observant Jews are essentially divine, even if masked by superficial secularism. In looking at other Jews, the goal is not to see how they measure up, but to discover their innate greatness.”

The Jew as a Model of Frugality and Simplicity

The great sage, Maharal, offers a fresh understanding of Matzah, referred to by the Torah as “lechem oni”.  One interpretation of this concept is “Bread of Affliction”; another “The Poor Man’s Bread”.  Maharal disagrees: Matzah is truly a bread of redemption simply because it is “poor” in terms of its ingredients: just flour and water. A poor person has little aside from himself and his body, the basic minimum for existence. His being is independent of anything outside of himself and his essence. Matzah, too, has nothing besides the basic minimum for making up the dough, flour and water. Matzah Ashira/egg matzah has additives that remove it from the category of “lechem oni.”

Redemption, Maharal explains, means to leave the state of being controlled by others, independent of any external attachments. Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky explains: “A slave is not independent, since he is attached to and controlled by his master. A wealthy person, too, is not independent, since his identity is the result of his attachment to his money and possessions, and can he be controlled by them... But a poor person, having nothing but himself, stands completely separate and independent from anything outside of himself, and he portrays redemption and freedom. Matzah doesn't represent a poor person. Rather it represents the process of going free from slavery, which is accomplished by removing any bonds or dependencies on things outside of oneself. Severing those bonds is exactly the process of redemption.”

Dr. Dale Archer recently wrote in “Psychology Today”: “With every passing day, technology is overtaking our daily lives. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, career or economic status, you're probably packing a smartphone right now. In fact, 56% of all Americans own one. The phone, computer, tablet and other high tech devices have become not just an object, but for many a best friend. Many suffer from anxiety if they lose their phone, even if only for a few minutes. We rely on it to do everything from saying I love you to breaking up, from checking bank balances to investing…”

Man’s technological prowess, then, has created a greater degree of dependency on forces outside of himself. 

When we decide to purchase a home or a car, or plan a wedding, what percentage of our decisions are governed by that which is absolutely necessary vs. what is expected of us by our peers?

Matzah calls on the Jew to confront his inherent freedom and release himself from the bondage of excessive dependencies!

The Jew as one who sees the value in all of life’s experiences

Traditionally, Maror, the bitter herbs, are cited as the symbol of our embittered lives while slaves in Egypt. A comment by Rambam, Maimonedes, however, sheds new light on the nature of Maror: Rambam writes that whereas the mitzvot of the Pesach sacrifice and Matzah are stand-alone obligations, Maror is not.  The verse that mandates the consumption of the bitter herbs, Rambam notes, views Maror as peripheral to the meat and Matzah. Rambam asserts: “If you ate Maror without the meat, you did not do anything halachically relevant, and we don’t say that you’ve fulfilled the mitzvah of Maror.”

What is the symbolic message here?

Rabbi Arye Stern suggests that we are bidden never to view our lives as presenting anything “purely bitter”. We could easily look at the story of the Exodus as featuring two separate elements: the torturous years in Egypt followed by the sweetness of redemption. We could say that the enslavement was truly bitter.

The mitzvot of the Seder night (in their Torah formulation) are encouraging us to transcend this view: The Maror is only relevant to a Jew when consumed within a “wrap” of Matzah and the Pesach meat. Both the Matzah and the meat are symbolic of redemption; similarly, there are elements of our bitter years that are also redemptive.

In fact, any traumatic emotional, financial or health event in one’s personal, family or communal life, can be looked at as either as purely bitter or ultimately beneficial. Personal crises can often be the springboard for a reassessment of one’s values and a new direction in life; the necessities associated with financial hardship can help bring to the surface certain latent talents and inner strength.

Even the bitter herbs can be sweet: This is the message of the Maror!

A Jew who internalizes this message can begin to see the ultimate goodness and the value in ALL of life’s experiences.

Pesach Alegre!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12
Mar
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March 30th - One Show Only!

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12
Feb
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Defenders of the Negev

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In the past, we've spoken about the issue of yeshiva students and the IDF draft.  At the time, we noted the changes that are coming about as a result of the socioeconomic situation of the Haredim, political changes (ie "Yesh Atid) etc. I firmly believe that if we publicize developments like the one in this video (that I have shared on Facebook) - see my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ravronami.meyers...we will go a long way in integrating our "ultra Orthodox" (don't love that term) brothers into the IDF and thereby into Israeli society as a whole. What a Kiddush Hashem!

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26
Jan
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EB @ JFS

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art2Members and newcomers to EB joined the Jewish Family Service today for its first “Families Fight Hunger” program.  We packed dry goods: beans, rice, oatmeal, planted parsley to be used in a few months as “Karpas” in Passover gift baskets, and did “fight-hunger”-related arts and crafts…Looking forward to a continued partnership with JFS! For more information on JFS programming, visit http://www.jfsseattle.org/

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16
Jan
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EB to Host Seahawks Game This Sunday

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A full-service congregation, Ezra Bessaroth is proud to announce that it will be hosting the AFC and NFC championship games this Sunday, starting at 12 noon. We have rented a large, 65" TV for your viewing pleasure.  Popcorn, pretzels, drinks, and chips available throughout the day. The entire community is invited. Only $5 to join us for both games!  You can pay online at our website by clicking here and selecting "Seahawks" under "select campaign". Look forward to seeing you!

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10
Jan
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On the Eve of the Seahawks’ Shabbat

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My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Hassan, recently posted a piece about the Seahawks game and the laws of Shabbat. You can see it here: It’s going to be very challenging for the community of devout Jews to wait until after Shabbat, but I am certain we will rise to the challenge! Kol Hakavod to Rabbi Hassan for clarifying proper Shabbat behavior.

Which brings me to the broader issue of being a fan. I may have told several people, perhaps even announced publicly, a couple of years ago, that I was planning to discontinue my role as a spectator of professional football. At the time, it seemed obvious to me that NFL football is the modern equivalent of the ancient gladiators.

My assessment seems to be supported by various writers out there, including this article in the Guardian, here and this article by a blogger, to name but a few…. here

Add to that the recent findings in the PBS documentary: “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis”.  Football is a dangerous sport!

To see the full film, click here

Everyone is going to have to answer to his/her actions (hopefully, after 120 years!), and I guess I am going to have to justify my continued interest in football, expressed in my decision to watch healthy portions of NFL games and highlights; I will have to explain to the Creator the additional snacks, be they popcorn or pretzel-based, consumed by yours truly at the two-minute warning.

I will have to somehow reconcile the fact that my own children’s safety (“Put your helmet on when you go bike riding!”) weighs heavily on me, while I exhibit supreme indifference to the 10,000 mini-concussive events experienced by the average lineman in the course of his NFL career…

Being a fan of any professional sport simply does not make much sense. It’s essentially a vicarious experience. When our team wins, we win. For significant streteches of time (how long is the football season, five months?) we experience emotional ups and downs along with our team. 

A head coaching job is a major promotion for an offensive or defensive coordinator, both professionally and financially. Head coaches earn between 2.5 and 7.5 million dollars a year. The pride that a fan feels for a team and its coaches is rooted in one’s pride for his city, since the players and coaching staff represent the city. And yet minutes after a Super Bowl, the devotion to the team may well make way for a lucrative offer from a rival city…..

I recently heard on the radio that the current offensive and defensive coordinators of the Seahawks are on the verge of interviewing for positions with other NFL teams.

Money talks!

In a recent article, University of Akron psychology Professor Ronald Levant explained that rooting for sports teams and athletes provides a sense of belonging for fans — known as sports identification. And sports offer an escape from the daily grind of work and life. Rooting for a team also bolsters self-esteem and creates a sense of pride. Even if it is basking in the glow of a single victory. “Identifying with your sports teams is one of the ways you can vicariously experience success, and in real life, success is hard,” said Levant, who specializes in the psychology of men and masculinity. “We have ups and downs, a lot of things don’t always go our way ... especially in this economy.”

In a surprisingly frank comment, Levant said, “I would experience kind of the July thrill and the August depression,” referring to his team’s late-season slumps. “Just because I’m a psychologist doesn’t mean I’m any saner than any of the other people.” 

Well put!

Prof. Allen McConnell of Miami University notes that some who are not sports fans sometimes “pooh-pooh sports fans as boorish (and) people who just live for tailgating or ... for the playoffs. Everyone has those needs, so the person who may pooh-pooh the football fan or the basketball fan may be a vehement supporter of local opera or ballet.”

I’m not sure I completely understand McConnell’s comparison; after all, a supporter of the arts values that art form per se.  Sure, football is entertaining; but it’s an entertainment rooted in stirring up an often intoxicated fan base obsessed with hard hits, intense competition and fierce rivalries. Take the noise level at Century Link Field. With all due respect to Prof. McConnell, I don’t remember the last time the Seattle Opera’s audience applause registered as a seismological event.

Here’s wishing the entire community a meaningful and restful Shabbat.

Oh, and yes…GO HAWKS!

 

 


 
 

 

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30
Dec
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A Profound Response To Gordis' Farewell to Conservative Judaism

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Some weeks ago, Daniel Gordis wrote “Requiem for a Movement”, in which he chronicled the decline of the Conservative movement in the North American Jewish community. The full article can be found here: http://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/566/requiem-for-a-movement/ Responses from the Conservative establishment came fast and furious. Typical is Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe’s “Not Dead Yet” – published in Ha’aretz. You can read that here: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.559173 (Recall that Wolpe is famous for arguing that the Exodus from Egypt never actually happened as the Torah describes. For more on that, see my blog post from the early fall, “Wondering about Wolpe”, here: http://www.ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/wondering-about-wolpe)

This past weekend, David Goldman published a superb response to the Gordis article entitled, “Was the Conservative Decline Inevitable?” I encourage you to read it here: http://torahmusings.com/2013/12/was-the-conservative-decline-inevitable-a-baal-teshuvas-perspective/

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25
Dec
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Random Thoughts on a brief trip to Israel

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Tomorrow night, I trek back to Seattle after a brief one-week trip to Eretz Yisrael. 

I had the great merit of walking around Yerushalayim yesterday in the area of Sarei Yisrael, the Central Bus Station, Givat Shaul, Bet Hakerem etc.

I had lunch with our daughters who recently returned to Israel to learn at Machon Tal and Machon Da’at in Givat Shaul. Tuition is 10% of a comparable program at an American college.

Before meeting them, I stopped by the local Café Aroma for a drink. Like many restaurants in the Jerusalem area, the standards of kashrut have risen dramatically over the past couple of decades; this has been in response to the increasing percentages of the local population living by these higher standards. That said, the crowd there was a real cross-section of Israeli society, and it was a pure pleasure to just sit in the cafe, amongst my people, sipping on what was unquestionably the best ice coffee on earth.

Although Israelis complained about it for years, the Jerusalem light rail seems to have solved quite a few traffic problems in the city. It’s clean, efficient, reasonably priced, and safe. The bus service from the capital to our children’s town outside of Jerusalem has greatly improved: the condition of the buses, the number of buses and routes, the smoothness of the ride....

One of my rebbes in yeshiva used to tell great [albeit exaggerated] jokes about the cumbersome Israeli bureaucracy. As an Israeli citizen (we lived here for 17 years), when I visit, I usually have some business to take care of during the visit. This time around, I settled matters through logging on to a website or two, a phone call, a fax…no long lines and days wasted being told to come back again with the document I’d forgotten…

We Jews spent 40 years in the desert for uttering disparaging words about the Land of Israel; we must not repeat that transgression. Let these brief words be a "tikkun"/rectification of that sin:

For me, Israel is....intense Torah study, warm people, a spoonful of sweet yogurt, a crisp cucumber..

The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot reports:

When Rabbi Zeira went up to the Land of Israel and could not find a ferry to cross a certain river, he grasped a rope bridge and crossed. Thereupon a certain Sadducee sneered at him: 'Hasty people, that put your mouths before your ears, you are still, as ever, clinging to your hastiness'. Rabbi Zeira replied. 'The spot which Moses and Aaron were not worthy of entering, who could assure me that I should be worthy of entering?'

Rabbi Abba used to kiss the cliffs of Akko. 

Rabbi Hanina used to repair its roads. 

Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi used to rise from their seats to move from the sun to the shade and from the shade to the sun. 

Rabbi Hiyya bar Gamda rolled himself in its dust, for it is said in Tehillim (102:15) "For Your servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust."

 

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05
Dec
0

Philipine Relief Goal Met!

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Thank you to all members of EB who donated to the typhoon relief effort!

We surpassed our $1000 goal and will be sending a check to the American Jewish World Service on behalf of those in need in the Philipines!

עזרה בצרות = Help in time of need

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05
Dec
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In Memory of Jewel Capeluto

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Mrs. Jewel Jacquline Capeluto was born on February 24, 1932.  She leaves behind her beloved sister Ina Willner, husband Morrie Capeluto, son Ralph, daughter Linda and her husband Leon, daughter Wendy and her husband Stan, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Jewel was predeceased by her sister Geraldine and by her parents, Fanny and Abe Danz.

Needless to say, the immediate and extended Capeluto family and our entire community is trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of Jewel. Today, the fifth day of Hanukah, we are in a unique situation: At one and the same time, we are pulled in two opposite directions: We want to show our utmost respect to Jewel and eulogize her on her passing. At the same time, Hanukah is a joyous holiday, and as Jews, we are bidden not to engage in the same level of public mourning as we would during the rest of the year. So if you detect a difference in the nature and the length of our words today, we do not mean, G-d forbid, to detract from the honor we wish to show to Jewel’s memory; we are all just trying to carefully balance the Jews’ national celebration of our miraculous history, with the intense mournful feelings of Jewel’s grieving family and community.

Before I offer various members of the family and a friend an opportunity to speak, I would like to offer a few words of reflection:

Early on in the book of Bereishit, the Book of Genesis, G-d observes that Noah is a wholly righteous person; of all mankind, only Noah and his family are therefore be spared from the desolation of the impending flood.  Essential to the atmosphere in the ark is the “Tzohar”.

G-d commands Noah: צהר תעשה לתיבה  - “Make a Tzohar for the ark”

Rashi cites two approaches as to what this “Tzohar” is:

יש אומרים חלון – there are those that say it was a window

 ויש אומרים אבן טובה המאירה להם – and there are those who say it was a precious gem that lit up the ark for them.

The approach that says that it was  a precious gem suggests that even if there was little or no light coming in from the outside – which was being pelted by the storm – internally…inside the Teva, the ark, there was a self-generating light.  A Tzohar, a precious gem, a sparkling Jewel that lit up the ark.

Some commentators ask: How could one gem, one Jewel, light up this vast area?

There are those that respond: The Torah uses concise language.  In fact, they say, there were many such stones around the interior of the ark and they jointly illuminated the area.

The plain meaning of the text seems, though, to indicate otherwise.  There seems to have been just one Tzohar.  Sometimes a single light source can give off a disproportionate amount of light.

In keeping with the spirit of Hanukah, I would like to suggest that Jewel Capeluto had just this kind of impact. Walking into Jewel and Morrie’s home, you instantly feel a warm glow, the warmth of a self-generating light; a shiny countenance that both came naturally – but make no mistake about it – was also consciously cultivated by Jewel throughout her lifetime. The warmth and the light were contagious, with Jewel’s family and community the beneficiaries of this light. It was a light of confidence. It was a light of clarity of purpose. It was a light of pure kindness.

There is a debate in the Talmud on the manner in which we are to kindle the Hanukah Menorah. One view, that of Bet Hillel, says   מוסיף והולך…we add candles each successive night of the holiday; another approach, that of Bet Shammai, says פוחת והולך…we subtract candles each night.  In the broader Jewish world, this week of Hanukah is joyous – it’s one of מוסיף והולך, of adding light.  For us here today, for her loving family and community, there is one less gem, one less precious light; together, this Hanukah, we are   פוחת והולך: we are jointly experiencing a loss of that light.

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27
Nov
0

EB's Philipine Relief Effort in Full Swing

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Below is a letter that we wrote to the local Philipine community last week, in the wake of the devastation of the typhoon.  Those wishing to donate to the EB effort, the funds of which are headed to the American Jewish World Service efforts, should log on to the EB site and donate through the rabbi's discretionary fund. Under "Select Campaign" choose "Rabbi's Discretionary Fund" and write a note that the donation is for Typhoon Relief. Thank you! 

http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb

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22
Nov
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A Mirror Image

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Perashat Vayeshev is a very surprising Torah portion on many levels: How could hatred escalate to such an extent amongst brothers all raised in the house of Ya'akov Avinu? Why does Yosef insist on taunting his brothers with his prophetic dreams, all the while knowing the impact of this behavior on them? Why does Ya'akov, who surely understood the depth of the animosity, still send Yosef on a mission alone -to Shechem to see how the brothers and their sheep are doing? This epic story of providence, of the divine Hand that guides the children of Israel into Egyptian exile- has many perplexing twists and turns.

Early on in the story , the Torah introduces us to the relationship between Ya'akov and his son Yosef.

וישראל אהב את יוסף מכל בניו כי בן זקנים הוא לו
Israel loved Yosef the most of all of his sons, because he was the son of his old age

The preferential treatment given Joseph served to inflame the brother's jealousy and hatred of him.

Now, aside from the plain meaning of the text - that Ya'akov Avinu's emotional tie to Yosef stemmed from the fact that he bore Yosef in his later years, Rashi offers two other approaches:

ואונקלוס תרגם בר חכים הוא ליה כל מה שלמד משם ועבר מסר לו

דבר אחר

שהיה זיו איקונין שלו דומה לו


Onkelos translated it as "the son of his wisdom" - everything that he learned from Shem and Ever, he gave to him.

Another explanation:
(It's an acronym indicating that) Yosef's facial appearance was similar to that of Ya'akov.


These two approaches paint seemingly diametrically opposed pictures of what drew Ya'akov to his son Yosef. According to one view, it was the depth of the learning relationship that he forged with his son that drew Ya'akov to Yosef. Whatever the content of the Torah of Shem and Ever consisted of at the time, what bonded them was a deep spiritual connection generated through the Talmid-Rebbe relationship. The second view seems relatively rather superficial: Ya'akov was drawn to Yosef because Yosef looked like him?

I would like to suggest that these ideas are actually two sides of the same coin: A Torah teacher invests his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy in his student. The payoff of this investment is the degree to which the rebbe sees his talmid transformed by the Torah taught by the rebbe. A rebbe not only conveys the content of the section of Torah being taught, but educates his talmid on how to think in a logical, disciplined manner. The Torah teacher hopes that well into the future, the student can approach new questions with the system of thinking that he learned in his youth. He hopes to fill the student with the tools to grapple with new circumstances with logic and a sensitivity to the question: What does G-d want of me?

With this in mind, perhaps Rashi's second explanation means just this: that Ya'akov began to see in Yosef a true reflection of himself; Yosef had internalized his father's knowledge and his values. "His face was similar to his."

This could also be the key to understanding one of Rashi's later comments: What held Yosef back from engaging in illicit relations with Potiphar's wife? It was the "image of his father" that appeared to him, pre-empting the sin.

Given what we've said above, Rashi may not literally mean that Yosef had a vision of his father. Rather, the standards and values that his father had taught him had succeeded in becoming part of him. Instead of a mystical vision of his father warning him not to indulge- Yosef dug deep into his own moral fabric, and experienced the imprint of his father's teachings. When Yosef saw a vision of Ya'akov, he was essentially peering into his own face.

Shabbat Shalom!

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08
Nov
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The Continuing Saga of Open Orthodoxy

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I"ve spoken on numerous occasions about my distaste for the denomination concept within Jewish life. The latest in a long list is "Open Orthodoxy" which had its origins in the work of Rabbi Avi Weiss in the late 1990's. I wrote earlier this summer about the comments of Zev Farber, who is an alumnus of Weiss' YCT, and his embracing of Biblical criticism. In conversations with representatives of this camp, I expressed my surprise and dismay at their ongoing trek outside of classical Torah Judaism as I understand it.

Well, the story doesn't stop there. Asher Lopatin, who replaced Avi Weiss as head of YCT, recently wrote a piece in Ha'aretz lamenting the Modern Orthodox reaction to "Open Orthodoxy" and its policies. To read the Lopatin piece, you have to purchase the article as part of Ha'aretz premium, so I can't reprint it here.

RCA colleague Rabbi Arie Folger has just written an article pointing out that the Modern Orthodox concerns are not part of a "witch hunt", but rather a genuine response to the developments in the Open Orthodox camp.

You can read Rabbi Folger's article here: http://5tjt.com/its-not-a-witch-hunt-but-the-expression-of-genuine-concerns/

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01
Nov
0

My Article in the JT NEWS

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For most Americans, November means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This year, in an unusual confluence of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, Hanukkah falls out on Thanksgiving. According to my sources, it will only happen again in the year 79,811! This year’s reality, then, offers a unique opportunity to reflect on Hanukkah independent of the atmosphere of the American holiday season. 


We are all familiar with the Hasmoneans’ unlikely military victory and the miracle of the cruse of oil. But if we delve deeper, we should ask: What was the root of the conflict between ourselves and the Greeks? Our sources state that on the Greek agenda was the spiritual annihilation of our people; since the Greeks knew us as the “People of the Book,” they attempted to rob us of this identity. In the words of the Hanukkah prayer Al Hanisim, inserted into the Amidah and the Birkat Hamazon, the plan was “to cause us to forget Your Torah and have us transgress Your statutes.” 

And yet the Greeks themselves, immersed in art, literature and philosophy, were anything but anti-intellectual. Why, then, does Jewish tradition characterize the Hellenistic influence as “darkness?” What was there about the Greek orientation that posed such a threat to Jewish survival? 

The answer may lie in the nuanced language of the Al Hanisim: We don’t assert that the Greeks opposed Torah learning per se, but that they threatened hukei ritzonach, Your statutes. The Hellenists supported Torah study only as a branch of Greek wisdom, as another intellectual discipline. Jewish resistance against such an orientation, and the ultimate rediscovery of the flask of oil, prompted the sages to institute the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah for eight consecutive days. Each Hanukkah night we celebrate “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah or” — “A candle is a mitzvah, and the Torah is light.” The pure oil with the Kohen Gadol’s stamp mirrors the rekindling of an authentic, Godly Torah that had been withheld from us. 


In the wake of the Pew Research Center survey on American Jews, many of us parents, educators and communal leaders have begun to re-examine the messages we are conveying and the direction in which we are taking our respective Jewish families and communities. Along with an emphasis on Jewish engagement and the appreciation of diversity within our communities, it’s now time to ask some tough questions: Are we, the Jewish leadership, also successfully conveying the eternal, immutable components of Jewish belief and practice? Are we effectively transmitting the profundity and beauty of a personal life built on Torah study and mitzvot? Are we igniting the uniquely Jewish flame in the souls of our fellow Jews? 


In a recent blog post in the Times of Israel, Prof. Jeffrey Woolf of Bar Ilan University remarked on the stark contrast between the Pew findings and a parallel Israeli study. Prof. Woolf notes: 
The findings are almost symmetrical opposites. Israeli Jews believe in God (over 80 percent). There is a Jewish Renaissance (in Study, Culture, and Observance) in Israel that literally boggles the imagination (even as it confounds the usual definitions of Religious and Secular). And, while individualism and individual expression are certainly not absent, the sense of national cohesion, what we call bayachad, is movingly strong.

Woolf observes that while Judaism protects and values the individual, it makes demands upon him. Instead of striking a balance between Jewish particularism and universalism, “American Jews,” Woolf laments, “have attempted to effect that separation by totally recasting and denuding Jewish tradition, in order to align it with contemporary mores.” 

On the eve of Hanukkah 5774, we as a Jewish community must consider certain existential issues that we have been avoiding until now. Comfortable in our respective “denominations,” preaching to the converted, many are realizing that we have been lulling ourselves into believing that everything will be just fine. 


Question: If the Jews of the first Hanukkah took such an approach, what would the Jewish world look like today?

Rabbi Meyers is rabbi of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, head teacher of the new women’s learning program, “The Midrasha of Seattle,” and a rebbe of Talmud and Chumash at Northwest Yeshiva High School.

 

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Dennis Prager's Post-Pew Ponderings

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I am reprinting this article as part of our ongoing pondering over the results of the Pew Report. As I have discussed, I do not love the denominational thing; in fact I think it's one big sham, categories that have been devised to divide the Jewish people. But the labels are part of the reality of the Jewish world, and Prager's article should be read in that light.  What he effectively is saying - if I could rephrase it - that the beliefs, practices and commitment of Jews who guide their lives by Torah help perpetuate the Jewish people. This is not a triumphalism, but a call to all Jews to see themselves as life-long learners - RM

Why Orthodoxy is growing

BY DENNIS PRAGER

As almost every Jew knows by now, according to major reports on American Jewry — such as the most recent and most highly regarded Pew report — Orthodoxy is growing, while Conservative and Reform Judaism are shrinking.

Before presenting my explanations, I think it important to note that I have no denominational ax to grind. I was raised Orthodox, and went to yeshivas through the end of high school. But I left Orthodoxy early in life and have always been involved in Jewish life — Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Chabad, Jewish federations and writing for Jewish publications.

In a nutshell, I wish all Jewish endeavors well.

I believe that Orthodoxy is prevailing and that the non-Orthodox denominations are diminishing for the following reasons:

First, Orthodoxy makes more religious demands on its followers (and they are demands, not suggestions). Orthodoxy demands strict religious ritual observance — at the very least, Shabbat, kashrut, daily prayers with tefillin (for men), and regular attendance at synagogue on Shabbat and all the holidays (how many non-Orthodox Jews can even identify Shemini Atzeret, as much a Torah holy day as Passover?).

I can cite a personal example to prove this point. Non-Orthodox Jews nearly always assume that I am an Orthodox Jew when they learn that I do not broadcast on Shabbat or on any of the Torah holidays. If many Reform and Conservative Jews took all those days off from work — as the Torah demands — few Jews would make that assumption. (I do broadcast on yom tov sheni, the rabbinically added day for Jews outside of Israel.)

Like all other religions (with the prominent exception of Protestant Christianity), Judaism has not been able to survive without ritual observance.

Second, the more Orthodox one is, the more he or she is likely to live among Orthodox Jews. One’s entire social life (outside of work) revolves around fellow Orthodox Jews. That makes it, to put it gently, very difficult to leave Orthodoxy. If you do, you are likely to lose your whole support system and probably most of your friends, as well. You may even risk alienating your family.

Third, the great majority of Orthodox Jews send their children to Orthodox Jewish day schools — usually through high school. The Orthodox child rarely has close non-Orthodox, let alone non-Jewish, friends, thereby reinforcing Orthodoxy both experientially and socially from the earliest age.

Fourth, more Orthodox Jews marry; they marry younger, and they have more children than non-Orthodox Jews. Among other reasons, many non-Orthodox Jews bought the nihilistic nonsense — and the Jewish dead end — of the zero population growth movement. And fewer and fewer of them believe that marriage and children are mandatory. On the contrary, many consider a successful career at least as fulfilling as marriage and family. It would be instructive to conduct a poll among non-Orthodox young Jewish women, asking them this question: “Would you rather have a great marriage and family or a great career?”

I have asked this of many young Jewish women, and at least half have responded that they would choose the great career. Just this week the Huffington Post published a column titled, “6 Reasons Never to Get Married.” The author? A woman named Leah Cohen.

It is hard to get further from Judaism and imperil Jewish survival than having Jewish women value career more than, or even as much as, marriage and children.

Fifth, as if all of the above were not enough, Orthodox Jews believe God chose the Jews and is the ultimate author of the Torah. Very few non-Orthodox Jews believe God is the author of the Torah; but it is inconceivable that Judaism can long survive among Jews who do not believe that God created the world, took the Jews out of Egypt and gave the Torah.

Sixth, Israel is central to almost all Orthodox Jews. Incredibly, and tragically, it is increasingly peripheral to many other Jews.

Seventh, the further from Orthodox Judaism one gets, the more one is likely to adopt leftism/progressivism as one’s moral code and worldview. Just as the Orthodox Jew is steeped in Judaism from the earliest years, most non-Orthodox Jews are steeped in leftism at home and in school from elementary through graduate school. How else to explain the phenomenon of young women thinking career will give their lives as much or more meaning than marriage and family? How else to explain the alienation from Israel among so many non-Orthodox Jews?

I write none of this to make the case for Orthodoxy. I find most of the reasons admirable and a few disturbing. But truth is truth. Any one of the seven reasons would suffice to explain why Orthodoxy is increasing and non-Orthodoxy isn’t. All seven make the case incontrovertible.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

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Oct
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Would Our Forefathers Have Sanctioned These Relationships? The Latest from "The Times of Israel"

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Here is another in a host of articles detailing the complete chaos in the value system of significant parts of the modern Jewish world. Despite its rather bizarre content, I am very thankful that the Times of Israel has gone ahead and printed the article. I think it beautifully illustrates what happens when we Jews depart from the halachot set forth by the Torah. 

Note the rather frail response by Elliot Dorf to the phenomenon described in the Times: 

“First of all, the depth of the relationship is much greater if it’s monogamous,” Dorff said. “The chances that both partners are going to be able to fulfill all the obligations of a serious intimate relationship are much greater in a monogamous relationship. I would say the same to gay or straight couples: There should be one person you live your life with.”

An example of the halachic reasoning of Elliot Dorf can be found in the famous 2006 Conservative rabbinical assembly ruling you can find here: 

http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20052010/dorff_nevins_reisner_dignity.pdf

The full Times of Israel article can be found here:

http://www>.timesofisrael.com/polyamorous-jews-share-love-seek-acceptance/

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Oct
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Social Changes in the Israeli Haredi Community

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tovposterThis post is a follow-up to the various discussions we had several months ago - in the context of our Fundamentals class - of the political and social changes taking place in the Israeli Haredi community. At the session on yeshiva students serving in the IDF, I emphasized the economic realities - and not ideology - as ultimately determining the direction of this and related issues.  Back at the RCA convention in June, Dov Lipman was a keynote speaker. It seemed clear to me at the time that Rabbi Lipman, now an MK for Yesh Atid, presented a direction that was in sync with the vast majority of the rabbanim at the convention.  Though to some, the economic and political moves initiated by Yesh Atid seemed to be aimed at, G-d forbid, eradicating Torah learning in Israel, to others, the changes are paving the way for a more sustainable religious life for both Haredi Torah scholars and lay people.

Today's Times of Israel reports on another manifestation of the social changes within Israel's religious community. You can see the article at http://www.timesofisrael.com/new-haredi-movement-is-pro-work-military-service/

 

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Joint EB-SBH Program in Memory of Rav Ovadia Yosef

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updatedravovadiaMy wife Miriam reminded me that the first birthday gift she bought me after we were married was the set of Yabiah Omer by Rav Ovadia ZT"L.  He was truly a halachic genius and a "Gadol Hador"!

EB and SBH are proud to be co-sponsoring a special joint program, starting with Tefilah at SBH this coming Sunday morning at 8 am.  As the poster indicates, this will be followed by words of Torah from the Rabbanim of the Sephardic community, a light breakfast, and three concurrent mini-shiurim on the life and work of Rav Ovadia.

Please join us and pay tribute to the life of this great Talmid Haham!

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06
Oct
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A "P.S." to Wondering about Wolpe

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A short PS to the Wondering about Wolpe blog post: In the course of the Shabbat discussion (and my Derasha earlier that morning) I proposed that the observant Jewish community begin listening more to what our fellow Jews - either unaffiliated or associated with liberal Jewish communities -are saying.  Perhaps if we did so, we could meaningfully impact on a future Pew Forum survey. One EB member asked if I had made a point of entering into a dialogue with my Reform and Conservative colleagues in the rabbinate.  I answered that although I have had some contact with some of the individuals in question, my strong leaning is to follow the approach of joining these colleagues only when it comes to matters of common communal interests, be they charitable, Israel-directed, and the like. I choose not to engage in "interdenominational dialogue" because I do not view myself as a representative of a denomination of Judaism.  In fact, I noted that one of the great strengths of Sephardic Jewry throughout the world is that it never succumbed to the concept of three (or more!) denominations of Jews. We were all at Mt. Sinai, receiving the Torah as one people. The fact that in practice, we hold at different points along the continuum of observance and belief, is no reason to institutionalize those differences. A Jewish community that does so encourages fragmentation and dissolution. In contrast, a classical, Torah-based Sephardic congregation such as EB is uniquely positioned to cultivate the authentic sense of what it means to be part of a nation.

In the course of pondering the results of the Pew Forum survey, I came across these words of Reform scholar Eugene Borowitz, cited by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen:

When the Bible was G-d’s book and the Oral Torah had been given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai, there was no question why one should give them reverent attention. They were God’s own communications and, in a time when there no longer was prophecy, the best way one could be in touch with the Divine. When Reform Judaism insisted that the various books of the Torah tradition were largely human creations, that had the advantage of allowing unprecedented innovation. It also devalued the old texts and made them less sacred. A simple experience brought the point home to me tellingly. I was teaching a group together with… an Orthodox scholar. After reading a rabbinic passage to the group he put his book down on a desk, but so near the edge that it became unbalanced and fell off. He quickly retrieved it, kissed it, and put it more carefully on the desk, not stopping in the development of the theme he was presenting. Kissing books, particularly when they have fallen, is a nice old Jewish custom which reflects very much more than respect for authors and publishers. It is related to our belief that our books derive ultimately from G-d – that in loving G-d one loves G-d’s words, the Oral and Written Torah. I wonder if liberal Jews with their sense of the humanity of our sacred literature could ever come to such regard for Torah that – leaving aside their sense of propriety – they could ever think of kissing one of its volumes.

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Wondering About Wolpe

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gggggThis week, in the context of our Fundamentals of Judaism class, we engaged in a lively discussion about the Pew Forum Report. To read a full version of the report click here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

Nationally-renowned Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe responded to the report in a recent blog entry in the Washington Post. Wolpe correctly notes that Judaism “is a behavior-centered tradition.  It is primarily enacted in a language strange to most American Jews (Hebrew) and requires an extensive education to understand its fundamentals. Americans are not distinguished by diligence in acquiring cultural literacy.  That which is continually diluted will eventually disappear. ‘Being an ethical person’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish.  ’Fighting for social justice’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish.  Wearing Tefillin, praying in Hebrew, Torah study, Kashrut, Jewish communal adherence and activities —….are activities that keep the core of the tradition alive. As Jews have left the latter and profess the former, adherence weakens.” You can see the whole blog post here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/03/can-liberal-judaism-survive/ 

There is much that needs to be examined in light of the Pew survey, and it’s not a time for halachically-observant Jews to pat themselves on the back; more than any other sector of American Jewry, we should internalize this crisis and work tirelessly to respond to the challenges it raises.

That said, I cannot help but comment on the irony of Rabbi Wolpe calling for a return to traditional Jewish values and practices.  More than any high-profile Jewish religious leader in recent memory, Wolpe has gone out of his way to erode key foundations of our tradition.  Without entering the dilemma of how Orthodox congregations should respond to openly-homosexual members of the Jewish community (a topic that is of great interest to the Modern Orthodox rabbinate) I refer you Wolpe’s recent policy-change.  The July 5th edition of the New York Times speaks for itself: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/06/us/rabbi-takes-a-stand-for-gay-marriage-and-a-segment-of-the-congregation-rebels.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I asked those who attended to today’s class if there was one recurring theme central to Jewish identity and practice, and several quickly responded, “Yetziat Mizraim” – the Exodus from Egypt.  It concludes the Shema, Shabbat, Passover and the other two Torah festivals.  The Seder night is the “educable moment” of the Jewish year! Yet it’s the same Rabbi Wolpe,  calling on Jews to embrace Torah study and traditional Jewish practice - who has declared the Exodus a sham!  

Blogger Mark Nigro writes Wolpe:”Rabbi, how can you simultaneously accept the falsity of the exodus account while holding onto the 'deeper meaning' of its truths? Either the event happened as Moses declared, and we stand on its historicity with the authority of its teachings, or it did not happen, in which case the integrity of the Pentateuch is lost and the rest of the teaching should be rejected. For if it didn't happen, the best we could say was that someone made a mistake, and the worst, that someone intentionally deceived the masses. And neither of these options offers a very stable ground for the feet of faith or the authority of YHWH.”  I think this response would typify the kind of reaction that a young Jew would have to Wolpe’s theories, which pull the rug out from under the potential for inspired, dedicated commitment to a religious Jewish life.

To see the original LA Times report of Wolpe’s 2001 sermon, click here: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/13/news/mn-50481; to see Wolpe’s 2004 article trying to explain himself anew click here: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx?p=1

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