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22
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Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l

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With sadness I share the news of the passing of Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l (not to be confused with YU RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter yltv”a), beloved husband of Mrs. Penina (nee Gewirtz) Schacter, beloved father of my beloved teacher and mentor Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, beloved father of Dr. Miriam Schacter of Riverdale, beloved uncle of my colleague and friend Rabbi Gershon Gewirtz of the Young Israel of Brookline.  Although Nissan is not a time period during which Hesped– eulogy is permitted, the Halakah exempts a great rabbi and/or teacher from this proscription.  And although, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik tz”l (whose 20th Yahrzeit will be observed this Chol HaMoed Pesach) taught, the purpose of a Hesped is partly to make us cry, my purpose with these reflections is to inspire and honor a life dedicated to the Jewish people.

 

Rabbi Herschel Schacter graduated Yeshiva University in 1938, and in 1941 became the first musmakh of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l at RIETS.  He was also a student of the Rav’s father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik zt”l. Rabbi Schacter was the former Director of Rabbinic Services at YU/RIETS, and the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  He was the Rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center for more than 5 decades.  There was a very poignant article about the Mosholu Jewish Center’s last Shabbat (close of an era…) not too long ago in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/22/nyregion/final-sabbath-for-spiritual-hub-synagogue-that-embodied-earlier-bronx-closed.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm  For more of his communal and rabbinical achievements, I append below the New York Jewish Week Obituary for him that appeared today.

 

Although emphasis should be given to the community building, Jewish education and pastoral work he did as a rabbi for over five decades, these essential sacred activities remain primarily unseen and untold.  Rabbi Schacter’s place in the history books stems from the role he played in the Shoah and its aftermath.  During World War II, Rabbi Schacter was a chaplain in the Third Army's VIII Corps. and was the first US Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 and later aided in the resettlement of displaced persons.   

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, tells of Rabbi Schacter’s role in liberating him at Buchenwald.  In his must-read inspiring memoir, Out of the Depth’s http://www.amazon.com/Out-Depths-Story-Buchenwald-Returned/dp/140278631X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363963616&sr=8-1&keywords=from+the+depth+lau,  Rabbi Lau writes: "I remember the looks of horror on the faces of the American soldiers when they came in and stared around them. I was afraid when I saw them. I crept behind a pile of dead bodies and hid there, watching them warily…Rabbi Herschel Schacter was the Jewish chaplain of the division. I saw him get out of a jeep and stand there, staring at the corpses. He has often told this story, how he thought he saw a pair of living eyes looking out from among the dead. It made his hair stand on end, but slowly and cautiously he made his way around the pile, and then, he clearly remembers coming face-to-face with me, an eight-year-old boy, wide-eyed with terror. In heavily-accented American Yiddish, he asked me, 'How old are you, mein kind?' There were tears in his eyes. 'What difference does it make?' I answered, warily. 'I'm older than you, anyway.' "He smiled through his tears and said, 'Why do you think you're older than me?' "And I answered, 'Because you cry and laugh like a child. I haven't laughed in a long time, and I don't even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?'"

Here is an iconic picture of Rabbi Hershel Schacter leading a Shavuot Service at Buchenwald on May 18th, 1945. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buchenwald_Religious_Services_26278.jp

 

Rabbi Schacter had previously led a Pesach Sheini Seder at Buchenwald on April 27th, 1945.  In the Torah, Pesach Sheini is the holiday of second chances.  The Pesach sacrificial observance for anyone who for reasons beyond their control could not participate in that year’s Passover.  This was probably the first Pesach Sheini Seder since the time of the Beit HaMikdash.  Could you imagine a Pesach Sheini Seder for liberated concentration camp victims?!

 

Shiku Smilovic, in his autobiographical memoir,  "Buchenwald 56466," tells the following about that day http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/ce/cc/nf-camps-buchenwald-01.htm:

“All Jews were invited by Rabbi Schacter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn't observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date. Rabbi Schacter brought Matzos and distributed them to everyone. Rabbi Schacter started to deliver his sermon, when suddenly he was interrupted by a fellow prisoner. When he heard the Rabbi say, "We know what you have gone through" The man screamed and said: "No one, but no one, can dare say that he knows what we went through unless, he or she was there! Only they can say, I know what you went through!" He continued at the top of his voice with quotes from the Torah and other scriptures. He was no plain ordinary every day Jew. He spoke with authority. "Why did G-d forget about his children? And we were devastated, just because we are Jews?" he continued. "Before we make a blessing and eat this Matza. We want a Din Torah with the REBONEH SHEL OLAM (Hold Court with the All Mighty): Why? Why the little children? They didn't have a chance to sin yet? Why so many thousands of true dedicated Talmidei chachomim (Jewish learned men), that were sitting and learning JOMAM VLAJLA day and night? You can take your matzos back to America. I don't want them, as far as I am concerned. The rest of you: you are free! You can do what your heart desires!" Rabbi Schacter did not interrupt the man and he let him finish. He moved his fists towards his heart and said, "Chotosi Uvisi Pushati Lefonecha: Please, may I have your forgiveness?" The man raced up to the Rabbi and embraced him for a while. The rest of us just stood there in silence, and our tears did the talking. After that scene we all decided to have some Matzo anyway. We made the blessing of ACHILAT MATZOT in unison. I am sure that this blessing was heard in heaven, and all the Angels answered Amen.”

 

Shiku Smilovic also tells how after visiting Buchenwald post-liberation, General Eisenhower ordered that the men, woman, and children from the nearby city of Weimar, about 10km away, be forced to tour the liberated camp.  “[After] being herded into Buchenwald through the main gates. They were then shown all the corpses and all the killing facilities in Buchenwald, some of them couldn’t take it any longer, some fainted, some of them were holding their hands over their eyes, but the G.I.s removed their hands and told them: "Look, look good and never forget what you have seen here today. Maybe you will be able to tell your children, and grandchildren, what your beloved Fuhrer Adolf did to mankind in the twentieth century. In your fatherland, and all over Europe." When the exhibition was completed, they were all assembled on the Apell Platz, where Rabbi Schacter, the Chaplain of the American first and second division of the liberation Army, spoke to the German population of Weimar from the top off a military truck. In his hand, Rabbi Shachter held a young Jewish boy who looked about 6 years old. He raised the child for everyone to see and with his great voice declared: "This child was your Fuhrer's greatest enemy! Can you imagine a greater enemy?" he asked. Their faces were stiff, frozen and ashamed, being part of this devastation. Rabbi Schacter continued and said, "This child will be a witness to your persecutions, and also a witness, that over one million Jewish children never made it." 

 

That child was Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the future Chief Rabbi of the Modern State of Israel!

 

I met Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l many times during my tenure as a rabbinic intern and then Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi J.J. Schacter at the Jewish Center in 1993-95.  He was an exquisitely nice, soft-spoken, older Jewish man, a mostly-retired rabbi who took great-pride in his increasingly prominent rabbi son.  I had heard some of his stories from him, from Rabbi J.J., and through the rabbinical grapevine.  I remember him as being kind, gracious and complimentary to me.  I remember thinking then, as now:  He seems so kind, so nice, so normal.  A consummate Zeide figure.  But I also knew that he was a giant of a man, a “Bemakom she-‘ein Ish” type of mensch, and a rabbi of our time and for the ages.  Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”  Rabbi Herschel Schacter’s greatness stemmed from all three sources.

 

May his living memory inspire all of us on this Pesach to find the greatness within ourselves and our community.  May we, a people once enslaved, who walked with faith across the dry bed of the roiling Sea to Sinai, and then onward the Land of Promise, may we find within ourselves the courage and compassion, strength and determination, to rise above everydayness to a measure of greatness as modeled by Rabbi Herschel Schacter throughout his life.

 

The funeral took place today, Friday March 21st at 10 am at the Riverdale Jewish Center, 3700 Independence Avenue, Riverdale, NY.  Shiva will be observed until Midday Monday at 3701 Henry Hudson Parkway (Corner 237th St.) Apt. 7B.  The phone number there is (718) 543 3919.  Minyan times are Sunday: Shacharit 8:30 am, Mincha/Maariv 6:50 pm, and Monday: Shacharit 6:45 am.  Rabbi Schacter can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

May the Omnipresent comfort the extended Schacter family and all of Klal Yisrael with all those who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim

 

3/21/13 The New York Jewish Week, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Chaplain At Buchenwald Liberation, Dies At 95http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/national-news/rabbi-herschel-schacter-chaplain-buchenwald-liberation-dies-95

 

Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a national Jewish leader and the only Jewish chaplain present at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, died Thursday at the age of 95. The first rabbi to be ordained by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, the resident of Riverdale led the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx for more than 50 years and held leadership roles in numerous national Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which he chaired from 1967 to 1969. A statement from Richard Stone, chair, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference, described the rabbi as “an exemplary leader who often spoke of his `deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity.’” The rabbi’s son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, and daughter, Miriam Schacter, a psychotherapist, recalled: “Our father modeled for us the great importance of caring for other Jews and devoting one’s life and efforts to the Jewish people.” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, described the senior Rabbi Schacter as “a warm, friendly man and an orator’s orator, someone his colleagues would turn to [for guidance on] speeches and sermons.”  While serving as a chaplain in the VIII Corps of the Third Army of the United States Armed Forces, Rabbi Schacter participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp and brought comfort to many survivors.  He then led a UNRRA Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland after World War II. In 1956, he was a member of the first rabbinic delegation to the USSR, and he escorted a transport of Hungarian refugees from Austria to the U.S. His communal activities included president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi; founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry; chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board; and director of Rabbinic Services at Yeshiva University. In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife, Pnina (nee Gewirtz, who he married in 1948), four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Rabbi Schacter should not be confused with Rabbii Hershel Schachter, who is Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

 

Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels

Congregation Shaarei Tefillah

35 Morseland Avenue

Newton, MA 02459

(857) 636-8489

Pager (781) 748-7790

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

http://www.shaarei.org

 

 

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22
Mar
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Sources for the "Four Sons" Shabbat Hagadol Derasha

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4sons3
Just click on this link - and you can see the sources for this Shabbat's class at 5:40 at EB

http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/another-look.pdf

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19
Mar
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New Maccabeats - Les Miserables - Passover Story

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18
Mar
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From the Tent of the Meeting

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Two days ago, Pepsi released a commercial that has gone viral in a big way. On its first day, it had 2.95 million hits; By erev Shabbat, the number stood at 15 million...and as I write, the video has over 24 million views.


usedcarIn the video, race car driver Jeff Gordon arrives at a used car lot somewhere in North Carolina, presenting himself as a simple guy looking for a used car. A series of hidden cameras, including in Gordon's eyeglasses, his Pepsi Max can mounted on the dashboard of the car, and elsewhere, film the ensuing spectacle. The victim? Unsuspecting used car salesman, Steve, who joins Gordon on a test drive in a 2009 Chevy Camaro. What ensues is a five minute terror trip, as the Camaro reaches breakneck speeds, salesman Steve curses Gordon - and hangs on for dear life! As they screech back to the dealership, Steve is furious and runs to call the police. Gordon reveals the prank: fake moustache and beard, cameras all around.... a 2013 version of "Smile- you're on Candid Camera!"

At the recommendation of my wife, I consulted Snopes.com and read of the many clues indicating that the entire event was staged. A stuntman, not Gordon, drove the vehicle and salesman Steve is an actor: Were Steve to have been a real salesman, he could have sued Pepsi for tens of millions of dollars!


A couple of days have passed since I first saw the commercial, and I've had some time to let things gel, so that I can present what I hope is a mature response.


Perashat Vayikra opens: 

 וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר

He called to Moshe - Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of the meeting

On this verse, the midrash says:


ד"א ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה' מיכן אמרו כל ת"ח שאין בו דעת נבלה טובה הימנו תדע לך שכן צא ולמד ממשה אבי החכמה אבי הנביאים שהוציא ישראל ממצרים ועל ידו נעשו כמה נסים במצרים ונוראות על ים סוף ועלה לשמי מרום והוריד תורה מן השמים ונתעסק במלאכת המשכן ולא נכנס לפני ולפנים עד שקרא לו שנאמר (ויקרא א) ויקרא אל משה וידבר להלן הוא אומר (שמות ג) וירא ה' כי סר לראות וגו' בסנה הפסיק אליו בין קריאה לדיבור באהל מועד אין כאן הפסקה בסנה

"He called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him"...From here, the sages taught: "Any Torah Scholar who lacks wisdom, an animal carcass is better than him!" We can learn this from Moshe, the father of wisdom, the epitome of prophets, who took the Israelites out of Egypt, and through whom a number of miracles were wrought in Egypt along with wonders at the Red Sea; Though he rose up to the heavens and brought us down the Torah and was involved in the construction of the Tabernacle, he did not enter into the holy of Holies until Hashem called him. 


The Midrash goes on to say that in the merit of Moshe's caution, Hashem spoke to him directly and consecutively from the Tent of the Meeting; this stands in contrast this to the manner in which Hashem spoke to him years earlier, at the burning bush, where communication was less direct.

What is the concept of a Torah Scholar who lacks wisdom? For the Torah scholar, what is wisdom but Torah knowledge ? How is a Torah scholar without wisdom worse than a carcass??

The answer, I think, lies in a commentary by Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner, the Pachad Yitzhak. Rabbi Hutner distinguishes between pure Torah knowledge - the intricacies, ins-and-outs of the minutae of halacha, vs. what he calls "elective acts" - mundane matters that a person faces on a daily basis not specifically governed by halacha. Following the Rambam, Rav Hutner notes that the extent to which mundane activities are subsumed under the rubric of "mitzvot" depends on the degree to which the individual chooses to imbue them with meaning by approaching them from a Torah perspective; the דעת referred to in the midrash is this second type of understanding: an intuitive sense the Torah's perspective on matters unlegislated by Jewish law. 


Technically, it is possible, therefore, for a Talmid Hacham to lack דעת. Though he may have the entire corpus of Torah under his belt, this is no guarantee that this knowledge impacts on his life in general.

The meat of an animal that was killed or died on its own is halachically forbidden. Though its value is questionable, everyone would agree that the animal during its liftetime was worth something, a purposeful creation. A Talmid Hacham who lacks the faculty we have been describing, however, is completely worthless. Torah knowledge stripped of its ability to impact on our broader lives is absolutely pointless!*


Rambam, following our sages, points out that there are two crowns - Keter Malchut and Keter Kehuna - the crowns of kingship and of priesthood; these crowns are inaccessible to most Jews, since they are positions that one must be born into. Keter Torah, the crown of Torah scholarship, on the other hand, is open for all to access. True, the midrash speaks of a classic Talmid Hacham, but it is relevant for all who engage in Torah study. We must all make sure that our Torah learning impacts on our lives as a whole!


The Torah prohibits something called אונאת דברים, verbal abuse. If I give someone advice that's not in his best interests (especially if I have some self-interest in his decision) or remind a penitent of his past or a convert of the idolatrous deeds of his ancestors, I am guilty of verbal abuse.

Ya'akov Avinu, our forefather Jacob - after whom we are named - is encouraged by his mother Rivka to dress up like his brother Esav in order to acquire the birthright. His response? אולי ימשני אבי -"Maybe my father will feel me and discover that it's really me." The use of the word אולי - denotes a hopeful "maybe", says the Talmud. Even though it was for a right cause - guaranteeing the Jewish future - Ya'akov hoped against hope that he would be found out! So greatly did he detest שקר, deception....


Can the Jewish revulsion towards abuse and deception impact on the sphere of our "elective thought process?"


What should be our response to the Pepsi commercial? It depends on a frank answer to the following question: When we watch the commercial - and the camera hones in on the mortified "used car salesman", why are we laughing? Are we laughing out of nervousness, empathizing with the fear of the terrified passenger? Or is our laughter more sadistic? Do we identify with the perpetrator of the prank?


My guess is that the video's general appeal to the viewer is that we identify with Jeff Gordon; that explains the video's 24 million hits.


As heirs to the legacy of our father Jacob, the deception that frames this prank - real or staged - should be inherently repulsive to us. And if a mere harsh word is a Torah prohibition, we should distance ourselves from the torment - real or staged - that takes place in the film. The דעת that we should have as faithful students of Torah demands no less.

Responding in the spirit of our tradition is an indicator that we have allowed Jewish law to mold our personalities.  If we have been successful in doing so, we will ultimately merit, as did Moshe Rabeinu, being summoned by Hashem, directly -- from the Tent of the Meeting!.


*Commentary of Artscroll Vayikra Rabba

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14
Mar
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Were We Duped, too?

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My wife Miriam, Rubisa of Ezzy Bezzy, advised me (in the heat of my passion over the Gordon commercial) to look at Snopes.com, which I have done.  "Snopes" attests to the fact that this commerical is fake: the car salesman was an actor, Gordon didn't do the stunts, but stuntman Brad Noffsinger did them; liability issues make it impossible for Pepsi to have really tried to pull it off.  I was sensing something similar after writing the first blog post, figuring they must have paid the salesman millions of dollars not to file a lawsuit...

At the end of the day, I don't think it makes a difference if the salesman was real or an actor.  Pepsi clearly wished to create the impression that it was a true practical joke.  For that reason, I still consider the commerical an assault on our common humanity.

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14
Mar
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Cruelty Gone Viral

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It's a reason NOT to purchase Pepsi products. In fact, as a protest against the basesness and cruelty of this practical joke, I urge all clear-thinking people to specifically boycott Pepsi products until there is a formal apology for this assault on our common humanity.

In the video, race-car driver Jeff Gordon dupes an unsuspecting used car salesman into thinking Gordon is a geek who does not know much about cars - only to take him on a five minute drive of terror; it has no doubt evoked laughs in the 2.95 million people who have already viewed the film on YouTube, but when the dust clears - we have to ask ourselves: what are we laughing at ?

At the discomfort and terror of the salesman? A laugh expressing our tension, as if we were the salesman ? 

Or is our laugh instead a sadistic laugh of Gordon and the people at Pepsi who so cruelly abused this man during the prank? 

Back in the 1960's, many of us remember Candid Camera.  I submit to you that the difference between CC and the Pepsi prank is not just a difference in degree, but in kind.  

See for yourself.  First, the Pepsi prank, which I call "Cruelty Gone Viral", and then the Flying Phonebooth of CC of the early 1960's.

 

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13
Mar
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Fundamentals Class to Explore the Kashrut of Locusts

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Last week saw a plague of locusts of Biblical proportions in Egypt and reaching as far as Israel.  Locust enthusiasts were excited,  a chance to eat the rare kosher species....This week's "Fundamentals" class will explore the issue of Kashrut of locusts from a number of perspectives.  Join us after Kiddush in the midrash!

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13
Mar
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Indepth Study of Hagadah this Shabbat Afternoon

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JOIN US THIS SHABBAT AFTERNOON AS WE DELVE INTO THE HAGADAH SHEL PESACH.  
BOTH MEMBERS OF EB AND OF THE BROADER COMMUNITY ARE INVITED TO COME AND LEARN IN EB'S FAST-PACED, INTERACTIVE FORMAT !

hgdh1

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01
Mar
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Rambam Hilchot Leil Haseder 8 am Shabbat Morning in the EB Library

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Click on the link to see the PDF file of the Rambam:

rambamleilhaseder.pdf

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01
Mar
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"Fundamentals" to focus on Bedikat Hametz - Searching for Hametz

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To access the article that will the basis of this week's Fundamentals discussion, click on http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/bedikat-hametz.pdf

Our session immediately follows the Kiddush in the EB foyer

See you there!

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27
Feb
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Pre-Pesach Learning Starts This Week @ 4:10 pm

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27
Feb
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Jews for Judaism Seattle Shabbaton!

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21
Feb
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Collecting Matanot La'evyonim for Distribution this Sunday

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Please bring your donations for Matanot La'evyonim to Kehilla this afternoon at 5:10 pm or Saturday night at 7:15 pm at EB - thanks!

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15
Feb
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Hatikva Through the Prism of History

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aryeankriDr. Galit (Ankri) Eliahoo, a newcomer with her family to Seattle and Ezra Bessaroth, will be presenting a special mini-lecture in honor of the memory of her father, R. Arye Ankri, on the occasion of his first Meldatho.  You are invited to join us Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm, following Arvit, in the EB Social Hall to hear Galit share her research on "Hatikva Through the Prism of History" Light refreshments will be served.

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15
Feb
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Re-release of "Outside-Inside" - Last Year's Tribute To Hacham Behar

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hachambeharThis Shabbat, Teruma, is the annual Shabbat honoring Hacham David Behar. Here's a re-release of the Dvar Torah I wrote for the occasion:

This past Shabbat, I had the unique honor of delivering a drasha in honor of the late Hacham David J. Behar.  Each year, on Shabbat Perashat Terumah, the Behar family honors his first Shabbat in 1917 as Hazzan of Ezra Bessaroth.

The Torah describes the ark that carried the Tablets of the Covenant: It must be covered with gold on both the outside and the inside. According to the Gemara in Tractate Yomah, there were actually three pieces to the ark: an outer box; set into it was another box, and yet a third box.  The two boxes on either side are to be layered with gold while the inner box is made of wood.

Our sages understand the Aron (ark) homiletically: “Any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside – תוכו כבורו – is not a true Torah scholar.”  The scholar is compared to the Aron, in that they are both repositories of Torah; just as the outside and the inside of the Aron are gold, so too,  the Torah scholar’s outer presentation must accurately reflect his inner qualities.

The normative understanding of this dictum is that a Torah scholar must be genuine: He should not put on airs and feign a high level of religiosity, when he is actually lacking spiritually.  The same goes for everyone one of us who professes a connection to Torah study and observance: we have to strive for authenticity.

The Talmud, Tractate Berachot, discusses the transition from the leadership of Rabban Gamliel to that of R. Elazar ben Azaria.  The former had a restrictive Bet Midrash (study hall) entrance policy: Only a student whose outside matched his inside would be allowed in; when R. Elazar took over, the Gemara reports, he removed the guard at the door, and Torah learning became more democratic.

Reading the principle as we have to date raises an obvious question: how did R. Gamliel know whose demeanor matched his inner self? How could he possibly be tuned into the degree to which a student was authentic or not?

Rabbi Aryeh Stechler suggests that the Talmudic principle we cited – תוכו כבורו – has a different meaning: Rather than requiring a person’s external appearance to match his inner essence, the imperative is to have your external actions impact on your internal ethical and spiritual development.  The Sefer Hachinuch is known for his theory that more than anything else, our actions impact on our thought processes and emotions; instead of “waiting” to be inspired, we should, says the Chinuch, avail ourselves of the power of mitzvot to impact on our growth.

Viewing תוכו כבורו this way, it is quite understandable how R. Gamliel would assess students: Those he detected were not going the extra mile in mitzvah performance, he sensed were not growth-oriented.  A lax attitude towards Jewish observance was, for R. Gamliel, a sign that the student was on the road to stagnation.

On the other hand, the ability of action to impact on one’s personal growth is no “quick fix”; change is not guaranteed. This is the symbolism of the wooden box, the possible impediments to this process.

I did not know Hacham Behar personally, but from all the anecdotes of his sons and grandchildren – and from Jewish commitment of those descendants,who ably led the Tefillah this past Shabbat - it’s clear that for Hacham Behar, תוכו כבורו was a guiding principle on both levels: He was a genuine, unpretentious man whose outside matched what was going on inside. He was also a “doer”, someone who understood that, at the end of the day, it’s action that cultivates the Torah personality.

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12
Feb
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Purim: Seeing the Big Picture

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purimdrinkThe Purim story truly has something for everyone: costumes, treats and surprises for little children, a nail-biting story of suspense and intrigue, and for the more spiritually and intellectually-oriented crowd: profound lessons of irony and Divine Providence. 

That’s why it’s so surprising that one issue attracting so much attention is the mitzvah to imbibe alcohol. The practice traces its way back to the Talmud, where Rava apparently instructs us to drink wine until we do not know the difference between “Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai.”

That’s like saying that a Jew should drink so much that he cannot differentiate between Ahmadinejad and the Chief Rabbi of Israel!

Many commentaries have noted that the follow-up to this directive – in which Raba becomes intoxicated, “stands up” and kills compatriot R. Zeira - illustrates the dangers of excessive drinking.  Within this view, one commentator suggests that Raba did not directly murder R. Zeira, but merely served up so many drinks that R. Zeira almost succumbed to alcohol poisoning; it was only Raba’s last-ditch fervent prayer vigil that rescued R. Zeira from a tragic demise!  In recent years, the Union of Orthodox Congregations (of which Ezra Bessaroth is a proud member) has warned parents and their teenagers to refrain from excessive indulgence.  Moreover, DUI is not just a violation of American law, it is a violation of Torah law.  Celebration is one thing – putting yours and others’ lives in danger, quite another.

One esoteric interpretation of the story suggests that during their feast, the two scholars indulged in deep mystical secrets, and Raba "stood up,” - rose to a higher level of understanding - and drew R. Zeira after him, sharing Raba’s mystical insights. R. Zeira, whose soul was more limited in its capacity to grasp such concepts, nearly died from the spiritual intensity of the encounter. This interpretation finds support in the names Raba, which means “large” or “great”, in contrast to “Zeira”, which means “tiny” or “small.” According to this view, the limited perspective of R. Zeira simply “couldn’t handle” Raba’s lesson!

At times, modern Jewish life seems to suffer from the Raba-R. Zeira tension. Two centuries ago, the enlightenment ushered in a new vision of what it meant to be Jewish; the Reform movement encouraged the abandonment of what it deemed to be ancient small-minded practices in favor of a broader vision. Put simply, Reform promoted a gradual sell-out of what was hitherto known as Mitzvot Ben Adam Lamakom – Mitzvot between Man and God: Kashrut, laws of family purity and other associated mitzvot were relegated to the dustbins of Jewish history. In the 1888 Pittsburgh Platform, for example, the Reform clergy asserted “that observance [of many of these early mitzvot] in our days is apt to obstruct rather than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

Eretz Yisrael, with Jerusalem at its center, also ended up on the editing-room floor of early Reform. It wasn’t until 1937, when its naïve position on Zionism was called into question by historical and political realities, that Reform backtracked.

As one Reform rabbi notes:
"...from the earliest days of Reform Judaism, back in the 19th Century, long before the Holocaust, anti-Zionism stemmed from an ideology that we may actually consider praiseworthy. The founders of Reform Judaism dreamed of a beautiful and all-encompassing redemption. For them, the mission of the Jewish people was to serve as God’s partners in tikkun olam, repairing a broken and troubled world, for all humanity. They were turned off by a narrow Messianic vision, focused on the Jewish people’s return to its homeland. Instead, they worked for the betterment of all humanity. In their minds, the Jewish people could best do God’s work by remaining dispersed throughout the world, laboring alongside men and women of every race and religion to make the entire Earth a better place.” (Rabbi Barry Block, Anti-Zionism in Early American Reform Judaism)

Seeing itself as the visionary “Raba” of Purim, Reform was determined to slaughter the parochial, insular, small-minded “R. Zeira”, the old world-Jewish perspective. Predictions –bordering on quasi-prophecies - abounded in the 1960’s – foretelling the death of Orthodox Jewish life in America. A smug brand of triumphalism developed: Raba would finally overcome R. Zeira, once and for all!' 

To be sure, parochial elements within the Torah-observant community abound; scholars throughout the Jewish world have documented these inward-looking trends in books, journals and in classes over the past couple of decades, and continue to critique these developments from within the Torah tradition. Yet the past few decades have also seen the increasing professionalization of Jewish education and outreach, with an ambitious mission to reframe the classical Torah tradition for the modern world. With scholars such as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik at the helm, the minutiae of halacha, of Jewish law, and the splendor of Jewish thought have been able to express their essence: Correctly articulated, the true “Raba” is none other than the resilient, eternal, Torah tradition of our past! Paradoxically, approaches within the Jewish world once thought to be leading the way towards broad new horizons, have begun to expose themselves as small-minded efforts to curry favor with popular opinion in both the general and Jewish community, in religion, ethics and politics.  

With Purim around the corner, it’s time to reflect on what it means to be Jewish, to identify which approaches best epitomize “Raba” in his struggle with “R. Zeira.”


Purim Alegre !
Rabbi Meyers

 

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11
Feb
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Jews of Sephardic Origin Needed for Bone-Marrow Transplant

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Shalom from Israel.  

Our son, Guy Bar-Yosef, was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia this past April 2012.  He  underwent aggressive chemotherapy for 8 months, and now the doctors are saying that there is hope for recovery only if he receives a bone marrow (=stem cell) transplant from a matching donor.   We are turning to everyone and anyone who may be able to help.  

Because of Guy’s genetic lineage, we are specifically looking for donors with mixed genetic backgrounds, and hence this letter to your synagogue membership.  My husband Ami's parents were, respectively, of Moroccan and Lithuanian origin, and my parents hailed from Latvia (Baronovich, Russia, and nearby). (My father was a Conservative Rabbi - Morris Gordon from Washington, DC).  In Israel the organization which does tissue typing and matching is “Ezer Mizion”, and in the USA it’s “Be The Match” or “Gift of Life”.  Healthy donors are accepted into these international registries between the ages of 18-45.  Blood type does not matter.  There are not enough people of Sephardic origin in the international bone marrow donor registries.  This is a chance to save a life!

People in the USA can ask for a kit to do the test at home and mail it in.  All other developed countries have similar setups, and the Israeli hospital is conducting a worldwide search on our behalf.   The initial test is merely a saliva swab taken from inside the cheek.  It is painless and quick.  If someone is found to be a tissue match, he/she will be asked to come and donate blood on a given day, at the hospital in Tel Aviv.  The procedure is similar to donating blood.  No surgical procedure is involved. If the person is from abroad, his/her flight to Israel and all expenses will be paid. 

Another way to assist us at this time, is by a monetary donation, in any amount to "Ezer Mizion".  They claim that it costs them 250 NIS ($65) to process each test, and as they don't have the necessary budget, they seek donations to cover the costs.   The website is: https://www.ezermizion.org/Donate   (tax-deductible receipts will be issued).  There is a place to mention the name of the person in whose honor the donation is being made - in this case, Guy Bar-Yosef.  Tests take a few weeks to process.  Therefore, Time is of the essence. Anyone who has Facebook or other social network media, or who work or study in places where they can notify friends, colleagues, etc., is kindly asked to help spread the word.  We sincerely appreciate every and all effort made on Guy’s behalf.

Guy is a licensed tour guide in Israel, and works in Jewish education.  He has led many Jewish high school groups and Birthright groups, as his way of interacting with youth is special, and highly valued by various sponsors of  Jewish tour groups.  He is married, and the father of 5 young children who need him.  He deserves any help, and we are seeking every possible avenue.

Thanks so very much.   Arlene and Ami Bar-Yosef, Moshav Sittrya, Israel

Questions can be addressed to me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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10
Feb
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Ladies Bake Sale ON NOW

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07
Feb
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"Crossing Delancey" Tickets Now On Sale

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The Seattle Jewish Theater Company will present Crossing Delancey on stage in the Ezra Bessaroth social hall at 3:00 p.m.on Sunday March 17.

The charming, romantic comedy was written by Susan Sandler for the New York Jewish theater where it was well-received. Sandler later adapted her stage play for the hit Warner Bros movie starring Amy Irving. The play has none of the racier scenes that appear in the movie and focuses on traditional Jewish values. It is a sweet, family drama that all ages can enjoy together.

The New York Times called the play, "An amusing romance that tells its story believably, rarely trying to make its gag lines, of which there are many, upstage its narration or outshine its heart." Isabelle “Izzy” is a single young Jewish woman working in an upscale Manhattan bookstore who longs to be part of the intellectual literary scene. But her old-world grandmother and a matchmaker are trying to fix her up with Sam, a quiet young man who runs a pickle store in the neighborhood. The conflict is resolved with a generous dose of humor, affection, and wisdom.

Crossing Delaney will be directed by SJTC founder and artistic director Art Feinglass who launched the company in 2011. “The mission of the Seattle Jewish Theater Company www.SeattleJewishTheater.com is to bring quality Jewish plays to the Seattle area. Crossing Delancey is a warm Jewish story with themes of love and family and the value of old-world tradition that are universal. It’s a very enjoyable play with a great cast. The audience is going to love it.” To buy tickets, contact Susan in the Ezra Bessaroth office at 206-722-5500 or go to our website and click on "Support EB", choose "Campaigns": http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb

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01
Feb
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The Many Faces of Yitro

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yisroName-Calling

In the second chapter of Bereshit, Adam gave names to all the living creatures. Ramban comments:

והענין, כי הקב”ה הביא כל חית השדה וכל עוף השמים לפני אדם, והוא הכיר טבעם וקרא להם שמות, כלומר השם הראוי להם כפי טבעיהם

The Holy One, Blessed be he, brought every beast of the field and bird of the sky before Adam; he identified their essence and gave them their names – ie the name appropriate to them in accordance with  their nature…

In other words, for the Torah, names reflect essence.

Elusive Character

Speaking of names, Yitro, who appears briefly again in Perashat B’ha’alotcha – has multiple names: no less than seven, according to Rashi.

Since names reflect the essence of a person or being, the inquiring classical Jewish mind will want to ask: “What do the various versions of Yitro’s essence have to teach us?”

Religious Coercion

Flashback: In Moshe’s first encounter with him, Yitro is Kohen Midian – literally: the Priest of Midian.   A man of great influence, he imposes his religious views on others.

In fact, the Yalkut Shimoni states that Yitro only grants Moshe Tzippora’s hand in marriage once the Egyptian fugitive dedicates his firstborn to a life of idolatry. For the midrash, it is this commitment that triggers G-d’s “attempt” on Moshe’s life on the way to Egypt.

Only a quick-thinking, resourceful Tzippora rescues her husband from the spiritual and physical abyss: A last-second circumcision redirects Moshe and his family back onto a monotheistic track!

Fast-Forward….

.. to chapter 18 of Shemot, Parshat Yitro:   Moshe is the leader of B’nai Yisrael.   Ten plagues and a miraculous battle with Amalek later, Yitro now rethinks his beliefs:  As Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religious at MSU (Midian State University) the former cleric crowns the Creator, the “greatest of all gods!”

One of the glaring features of the perasha is not so much the wide array of names, but of descriptions used in reference to Yitro: (in the following order): Yitro, the Priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law ; Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law (x3);Moshe’s father-in-law (x2); Yitro (x2); Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law; Moshe’s father-in-law (x6).

A proverbial field day for Bible Critics!  In Perashat Bha’alotcha, yet another reference labels him as “Chovav ben Reu’el the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law.” Surely, the patchwork “four editor” theory can explain the inconsistency of the text!?

Look Again

Classical Jews, holding firm to the conviction that deep messages are embedded in an eternal Torah, will look to the context of these references to unravel the intent of its Divine author…

In other words…

Only once is Yitro labeled as Kohen Midian (Ch. 4)  That’s when we first meet him.  Moshe, fleeing from Egypt, is a foreigner while Yitro is in a ‘good place’ both religiously and professionally.

It is from this comfortable position that “Yitro, the Priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law” begins to read the breaking news out of Mizraim.  With open eyes, he interprets the events of the day.   Distancing himself from his previous beliefs, he seeks to connect himself to Moshe; at this point,  he is now, “Yitro – Moshe’s father-in-law”.

Moshe reaches out to Yitro, now only referred to as Moshe’s “father-in-law”.   In fact, no less than six consecutive references at the end of the chapter use the term, “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

The Message

Consistent with the Mechilta’s declaration that, though Yitro “lived amidst the greatest honor of the world,  his heart prompted him to go forth to the desert wasteland to hear words of Torah” – the text leads us subliminally through the change in labels…. marking Yitro’s shifting values and self-perception.

With his new identity as “Moshe’s father-in-law”, he could have settled with passive membership in the community of Israel.  Instead, he draws on his intuition and talents to streamline the Jewish judicial system.  This is what earns him a perasha in his name.

More life lessons:

  •     Newly-adopted values must not remain theoretical, but need to express themselves practically
  •     Existing talents garnered from past experience should be channeled in creative and productive ways
  •     Altruistic, constructive criticism of the religious status quo does not threaten a society governed by Torah, it enhances it!

Two PS’s

PS #1

Earlier, we noted two mid-story references to Yitro by his personal name, stripped of both the titles “Kohen Midian” and “Moshe’s father-in-law”; the text is followed by a return to “Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law”, then by the six references to Yitro as simply “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

Why?

The answer may lie in another midrash cited by Rashi.  Upon hearing the details of the Exodus, including the demise of Pharoah and Amalek,  “Vayichad Yitro”.  This either means “Yitro rejoiced” – or “Yitro got goosebumps…”

Change comes hard, and he greets the graphic retelling of the events with a degree of ambivalence.  After all, these were his former neighbors and fellow idolators!

“Yitro” here hints that he is not yet fully comfortable with his new identity.  Only after Yitro fully digests the story, is he able to return to his identity as first -”Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law”, then, simply: “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

PS #2

Chovav ben Reu’el the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law.“  This is the name used in Perashat B’ha’alotcha.  Rashi teaches us that he was called Chovav because of his love for Torah.  The term “Chiba” in Hebrew means love…

Why, then, recall that he is the son of Re’uel the Midianite, then label him “Moshe’s father-in-law”?

A theory: Here we have a more sophisticated Yitro.  He is no longer giving technical advice; he’s someone who has spent time absorbing the sanctity of what it means to be part of the community of Israel.  What was once a fascination has now become incorporated into his very essence.   No mere outsider or consultant, he is a Jew who possesses Ahavat Torah, love of Torah.

He reflects on and appreciates his path towards religious growth: From the son of Re’uel the Midianite to the father-in-law of Moshe, he matures into a “Chovav”..

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