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07
Jan
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This past week's theme song

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06
Jan
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"I got a name"

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igotanameMazal tov to Elana and Josh Zana on the birth of their new baby daughter, Miriam Hila.  We share the joy with the extended Zana, Behar and Okrent families on this great occasion.  This past week, our daughter Yosifa gave birth to a baby girl in Eretz Yisrael, and they named her several hours ago.  Only after Shabbat here in Seattle, will we find what name they gave her!

This occasion is very auspicious as this week's Perasha is called “Shemot” – also the name of the entire Book of Exodus.  In Hebrew, Sefer Shemot means the Book of Names

But this title, Shemot, seems somewhat problematic. How so? Each name that our sages assigned to the various books of the Chumash - fit the theme of the book.  Bereshit - Genesis - is so named because it does not just record the Genesis of the world, but of the Jewish people - as it traces the lives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and the foundations of our nationhood. Vayikra begins with Hashem calling to Moshe from the Tent of the Meeting, and focuses on the principles and laws of the proper worship of G-d in the midst of the  Israelite camp.  In Bamidbar, in the desert, we learn of the various events of the Israelites'  40 years of travel in the desert.  Lastly, Devarim is so-called as it includes Moshe Rabenu's final speech on the eve of Am Yisrael's entry into the Land of Israel.

But if we look at Sefer Shemot, while it is true that  the first few verses recall the names of the sons of Ya'akov, the Torah immediately tells us that these sons died along with the entire generation.  From that point on, there is almost no mention of "names." In fact, the Torah seems to deliberately avoid bestowing names on the various personalities in the narrative.

Here are some examples:

  • פרעה - מלך מצרים -Pharoah - the King of Egypt.  Both of these expressions reflect a role rather than a proper name.
  • המילדות העברית - the Hebrew midwives.  Even when the Torah declares that one of their names was Shifra, the other Puah, Rashi - following the lead of our sages - explains that these reflect roles and not actual names.  Shifra cleaned up the babies upon their birth, while Puah cooed and calmed the newborns.
  • איש מבית לוי אשה מבית לוי - a man from the house of Levi marries a woman from the House of Levi.  This reference to Moshe's parents sidesteps their actual names, later revealed to be Amram and Yocheved.
  • הילד, נער – The (young) boy, a reference to Moshe
  • בת פרעה - the daughter of Pharoah.  She also is only presented only relative to her father, Pharoah.
  • Even Moshe's sister, Miriam is referred to merely as אחותו, his sister, while Yocheved, his mother, is soon referred to as אם הילד.

Why does the Torah go out of its way to avoid naming these personalities? Why are they only described in terms of their roles and relationships and not their actual names?

I would like to try to answer this question by pointing to another pattern in the first chapters of Sefer Shemot. It seems that the narrative is saturated with the theme of "rebellion":

Here are some examples:

  • Pharoah shows ingratitude and rejection of the Israelites: “A new King arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef."
  • The midwives resist Pharoah's order to kill the Jewish baby boys at birth, choosing to feed him a farfetched story that the Jewish women gave birth well before the midwives could clandestinely kill the Jewish baby boys.
  • According to Rashi - following the Midrash - Amram had divorced his wife Yocheved, fearful that producing more babies would only lead to the babies' death; given his prominence, Amram is followed by men throughout the Israelite nation.  Miriam, inspired by a heavy dose of “Chutzpah", condemns her father for what she feels is a policy worse than Pharoah, who only decreed death to the Jewish boys; in contrast,  Amram, through divorcing Yocheved, had set an example that could ultimately sentence the entire nation to death.
  • We would have expected that if anyone would adhere to the official Egyptian policy to drown the Jewish boys, it would be Pharoah's child.  Instead, בת פרעה, Pharoah's daughter, comes to wash on the Nile; upon discovering a baby she identifies as Hebrew, בת פרעה saves the baby, and even returns him to a Jewish woman (his actual mother!) to nurse.
  • As an adult, Moshe rebels against his Egyptian upbringing by killing an Egyptian taskmaster attacking a Jew, only to eventually flee to Midian, where he rescues the daughters of the Priest of Midian from bullies at a local well.   Why are the daughters of the Priest of Midian being bullied? Rashi explains: Re'uel's family had been excommunicated once he abandoned idolatry for monotheism.

So whether it's the midwives, Miriam, Pharoah's daughter, Moshe, or Re'uel, Moshe's father-in -law, a strong current of resistance and rebellion runs through the early chapters of Sefer Shemot.  What is the connection between this resistance movement, if you will, and the absence of names at the start of Sefer Shemot?

When Adam HaRishon, the first man was assigned the task of giving names to all of the animals in the Garden of Eden, he wasn't simply asked to choose arbitrary labels for the different species.  A name represents the essence of something.  It follows that when Adam called a horse סוס - he had identified an aspect of the essence of a horse that warranted the name סוס. Our tradition prohibits calling another person by a derogatory nick-name.  Why? A person's name reflects his essence, and mocking that is an affront to the essence, the soul of a person.  This is a very inspiring idea.  In fact, when I was growing up, one of my favorite songs was Jim Croce’s “I got a name”.  I have a clear identity!

The characters at the start of Sefer Shemot are sadly in a state of chaos - their surrounding culture, their belief system, societal expectations - are all calling on them to act unethically, improperly.  The king bids the midwives  to act unethically, to murder innocent children.  The man and woman from the House of Levi feel the pressure to end their marriage due to futility and emotional drain presented by the campaign to drown Israelite boys in the Nile; Bat Pharoah is torn between her father's decree to drown Israelite boys and her humanity and sense of compassion.  The initial "anonymity" of these characters, I would like to suggest, reflects this tension, this pressure, inhibiting their strivings to connect to their essence, their "names".

It's only after Pharoah's daughter rescues the baby, and names him Moshe that actual names begin to appear in the narrative.

  • ויגדל משה - and Moshe grew (in stature)
  • וַתָּבֹאנָה, אֶל-רְעוּאֵל אֲבִיהֶן - and the (Midianite) girls came to their father Re'uel.  Moshe links up with Re'uel, also known as Yitro...In fact, our sages tell us, Yitro has no less than seven names!
  • וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-צִפֹּרָה בִתּוֹ, לְמֹשֶׁה - and he gave his daughter Tzippora to Moshe

Immediately afterwards, Moshe names his son,

  • וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ גֵּרְשֹׁם:  כִּי אָמַר--גֵּר הָיִיתִי, בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה. - She gave birth to a son and (Moshe) called his name Gershom, saying "I was a Ger (stranger) in a strange land."

With the pivotal event of Pharoah's daughter rescuing and naming Moshe - the verses begin their transition to reintroducing characters with names into the story.

Bringing the two themes together - the one of conscientious objection and rebellion together with the absence and reappearance of names, I would like to suggest the following: Before they resist the influences and pressures pressing them to make outright unethical decisions or holding them back from courageous statements of faith, the personalities in the first chapters of Shemot are "nameless" because they are unable to connect to their essence.  Once they display the courage to act on their ethical impulses, these same characters pave the way for a return to essence.  This return to essence expresses itself in the reintroduction of "names" into Sefer Shemot.

This message: the ongoing need to re-examine assumptions and influences that govern our lives --- is true on a communal, congregational, family and individual level. We must always strive to live lives consistent with our essence.

This is a Shabbat of names and we join together with the entire congregation wishing our best to the Zana family on the occasion of the naming Miriam Hila, whose name carries special meaning for members of her family.  May we continue to celebrate many s'machot together!

 

 

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02
Jan
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Mazal Tov

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....to our family!  Our daughter Yosifa (Lehman) gave birth to a healthy baby girl this evening in Jerusalem.  Rubisa Miriam is headed to help her readjust to home life on Jan. 16th, for two weeks. May we only share good news!

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30
Dec
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Thoughts on "Don't Bury Me In Egypt"

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In this last perasha of Sefer Bereishit, Ya'akov Avinu asks his son, Yosef  to do חסד ואמת -- "Kindness and truth"

...אל נא תקברני במצרים

Please do not bury me in Egypt

Instead, transport my remains to the Land of Canaan, and bury me with my fathers in the Cave of the Machpelah.

Our sages understand the term חסד ואמת as an act of true kindness - not just חסד ואמת -kindness and truth - but חסד של אמת - a unique form of kindness: true kindness, with no strings attached: Preparation and burial of the dead will not be reciprocated by the deceased.

This foundational Jewish idea, though, falls somewhat short of being the simple meaning of the text.  Contextually, Yaakov seems to refer to חסד ואמת not simply as a request for burial per se - but as a specific request to be buried in Canaan.  To ensure compliance, Ya'akov even presses Yosef to swear that he will carry out this mission.

R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch has an original explanation of חסד ואמת: Ya'akov is asking Yosef to ensure that the Hesed, the kindness of burial, be done in Canaan, the true homeland of our people."  He understands that B'nai Yisrael had begun "to see the Jordan in the Nile", that the family was losing a sense of what it truly meant to be in Galut, in exile. Paradoxically, Yosef's successful integration of B'nai Yisrael into Egyptian culture threatened our intrinsic connection to our homeland. 

In response to his father's charge, Yosef says:

אנכי אעשה כדבריך

I will do as you say

Sforno explains:

 אנכי מצד עצמי אעשה כדברך בכל כחי

I will - on my own - do what you ask - with all of my power

The simplest understanding of Sforno is that Yosef is offering some push-back to the idea of an oath.  As if to say, "No need to formalize this, Abba, I will make sure that your wishes are fulfilled!"

But in the next verse, Ya'akov insists on the oath, and Yosef consents.

Ramban is puzzled by Ya'akov's hard-line stance: According to Ramban, Ya’akov was not suspicious of his beloved, righteous son – that he would not follow through on his father's commandment, after saying "I will do as you say".  Rather, Ya’akov did this in order to strengthen the matter in Pharoah’s eyes; otherwise, Pharoah may not have given Yosef permission to leave Egypt, preferring Yosef to send his brothers and servants to bury Ya'akov.  Another possibility: Pharoah would want the prophet, Ya'akov, to be buried in his land as an honor and merit to the Egyptian people. 

Ramban suggests yet another reason for the oath: “Yosef would now have to put in more effort because of the oath…."

In other words,  Ya’akov understands that in order to guarantee fulfillment of the mitzvah,  he must transform his commandment into an internal imperative for Yosef. 

A similar thought is echoed in the famous statement by the great Hillel in Pirkei Avot:  אם אין אני לי, מי לי? “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”  Rabbeinu Yonah explains that fundamentally,  receiving rebuke from another person is fraught with the limitation that the pressure to change one's behavior is external rather than internal. I, says Hillel, must engage myself in a “self-reproof”, critical self-evaluation – and inspire myself to make that change.  While external pressure to alter behavior has only temporary impact, one who engages in self-reproof is more likely to experience permanent change.

After writing these words, inspired by Rabbi Maury Grebenau, I was thinking: According to our sages, the forefathers fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given.  If so, Yosef presumably adhered to the mitzvah of honoring parents.  That means that Yosef would have felt the religious imperative to implement his father's request to be buried in Israel by virtue of Kibud Av V'em - honoring parents.  If so, how does Ya'akov's oath trigger a greater internal imperative for Yosef?

 

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28
Dec
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Shabbat "Fundamentals": PED from a Torah Perspective

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PEDAs many of you may (or may not!) know, despite my attempt to "kick the habit", I remain a fan of professional football, and of the Seahawks in particular. (Always root for the home team!) Today, the Hawks' Richard Sherman won his appeal against a four-game suspension for allegedly having used performance-enhancing drugs.  I thought that it would be a good opportunity to revisit the topic, from a Torah perspective, in the context of our weekly "Fundamentals" class.  Join us after Kiddush this week @ EB for what promises to be a lively discussion !

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26
Dec
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Rabbi Sack's Latest Piece - from the NY Times

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Special thanks to Dan and Barbara Melber for making me aware of this op-ed.

The Moral Animal—New York Times Op Ed—12/23/12

By JONATHAN SACKS  --  London

IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West’s newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?

At first glance, religion is in decline. In Britain, the results of the 2011 national census have just been published. They show that a quarter of the population claims to have no religion, almost double the figure 10 years ago. And though the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation — double the number a generation ago.

Looked at another way, though, the figures tell a different story. Since the 18th century, many Western intellectuals have predicted religion’s imminent demise. Yet after a series of withering attacks, most recently by the new atheists, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising.

The irony is that many of the new atheists are followers of Charles Darwin. We are what we are, they say, because it has allowed us to survive and pass on our genes to the next generation. Our biological and cultural makeup constitutes our “adaptive fitness.” Yet religion is the greatest survivor of them all. Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animals, from chimpanzees to dolphins to leafcutter ants.

Neuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animals.

The precise implications of Darwin’s answer are still being debated by his disciples — Harvard’s E. O. Wilson in one corner, Oxford’s Richard Dawkins in the other. To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

No one has shown this more elegantly than the political scientist Robert D. Putnam. In the 1990s he became famous for the phrase “bowling alone”: more people were going bowling, but fewer were joining bowling teams. Individualism was slowly destroying our capacity to form groups. A decade later, in his book “American Grace,” he showed that there was one place where social capital could still be found: religious communities.

Mr. Putnam’s research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. This may go to show that God has a sense of humor. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God.

Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords

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24
Dec
0

Order Your Mathemagics Tickets Online!

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Mathemagician Art Benjamin is coming to Seattle for one performance only at EB on Monday evening, Jan. 14th at 7 pm.  Tickets are only $5, and $7 at the door on the night of the show.  Starting today, you can order your tickets online.  Just go to http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb and under "Campaign" select "Mathemagics".  Payment is via Paypal.  In the comments section, let us know if you want to pick up your reserved tickets at the door or whether you would like to receive them in advance. For a brief preview of what's in store for you, see the following YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4vqr3_ROIk

See you at EB on January 14th!

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24
Dec
0

Klal Perspectives

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I would like to warmly recommend check out a relatively new online (and hard copy) pubilcation; "Klal Perspectives" has many thoughtful articles dealing with the issue of outreach - and inreach - in the Jewish community. To see the online version, click on http://klalperspectives.org/

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14
Dec
0

YU Statement on Allegations of Past Staff Sexual Misconduct

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The revelations of the past 24 hours of molestation at Yeshiva University during the 70's and 80's -- are truly horrifying and disturbing.  Just as I posted the RCA statement regarding the scandal in the Satmar community, I am posting the RCA response to the YU scandal.  Below that, the statement of President Richard Joel, whom I have the pleasure of meeting on several occasions - both here in Seattle and in New Jersey - immediately follows.  It is crucial that in these types of matters, we distance ourselves from institutional and philosophical allegiances - and openly condemn all such behavior and the Chilul Hashem (Desecration of G-d's name) that comes in its wake - RM

Dec 13, 2012 -- The Rabbinical Council of America is deeply troubled by the allegations made in the Jewish Forward regarding abuse at Yeshiva University's High School some twenty-five years ago. Abuse is an issue of concern to all denominations, institutions, and communities and cannot be condoned or excused. 

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated, "Our sympathies and support are extended to all victims of abuse. It is especially hard to confront improprieties which may have occurred in our own house, yet that is where the responsibility lies. We are confident that Yeshiva is equal to the task."


The RCA commends President Richard Joel for his forthright response and statement of concern.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Statement from President Richard M. Joel in Response to Allegations of Past Abuse

Dear Yeshiva University Community,

The safety and well-being of our students is Yeshiva University’s highest priority. The inappropriate behavior and abuse alleged by The Forward to have taken place in the past, and described in statements attributed by The Forward to Dr. Lamm, are reprehensible. The actions described represent heinous and inexcusable acts that are antithetical both to Torah values and to everything that Yeshiva University stands for. They have no place here, in our community, or anywhere at all. The thought that such behavior could have occurred at our boys’ high school, or anywhere at this institution, at any time in its past, is more than sufficient reason to express on behalf of the University, my deepest, most profound apology.

At this institution we continually review and strengthen policies and practices addressing the safety of all members of the Yeshiva family. We are vigilant and responsible, and always will be. While we cannot change the past, I can say with absolute certainty that Yeshiva University has implemented, and will continue to maintain and enforce the policies and procedures necessary to assure a safe environment. Such policies and procedures, established in consultation with outside experts, include:

  • At each and every one of YU’s schools, including Yeshiva University High School for Boys, there is zero tolerance for abuse or sexual harassment of any sort, of students, faculty or staff. If, despite our best efforts, they should occur, procedures exist both to swiftly deal with the perpetrators and aid the victims. These policies are posted on our website and are communicated directly to all employees annually.
  • Members of our own faculty and staff, at every level, undergo training designed to increase sensitivity to these issues, including mandatory training for new hires concerning sexual harassment.
  • Students are encouraged to report any incidents of abuse to the University administration and should feel safe knowing that their security is our number one concern. A hotline exists to enable confidential reporting of such complaints. The hotline number is 866-447-5052.

Yeshiva University’s many programs in this area for rabbis, teachers, care providers, community leaders, parents and children widely impact the broader Jewish community:

  • The Comprehensive Abuse Response Education (CARE) program at YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership works with day schools around the country to keep children safe in their schools by addressing abuse issues with research, training and consultation.
  • YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration offers a NYS workshop and certification in preventing and identifying child abuse.
  • Members of our faculty advocate on behalf of victims of child abuse; consult and advise around the world, including with child protective service organizations, and in communities across the spectrum; and present educational programs designed to prevent abuse both to parents and children.
  • A curriculum developed at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future called “Life Values and Intimacy Education: Health Education for the Jewish School,” is now taught in grades 3-8 in many day schools around theUnited States.
  • CJF offers continuing educational programs to rabbis and rebbetzins, including a certificate program, to help them recognize and address all forms of abuse in their communities.
  • Before embarking on service learning and experiential education missions where they will work with children, students are taught to recognize warning signs of child abuse and to refer concerns to appropriate authorities.
  • All candidates for ordination at YU’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary are required to complete a course that addresses the role of rabbis in preventing and identifying child abuse. Additional related coursework, including simulation, is required for students planning to become congregational rabbis or chaplains.

Anyone who may have suffered harm is invited to contact us in confidence. By emailing  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , counseling resources of the University will be made available to you, and I welcome the opportunity to personally and confidentially discuss any issues with anyone who may have suffered harm. I can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "  or (212) 960-5300.

Thank God, communities across the nation are well aware of these issues today, and hopefully address them appropriately. At Yeshiva University we are committed to our sacred obligation to ensure that best practices are set and followed on our own campuses, and to play a key role in the broader community in keeping our most precious resource, our children, safe from harm.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Joel

President and Bravmann Family University Professor

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05
Dec
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Rabbinical Council of America’s Statement Regarding JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality)

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A topic that has not received a lot of attention in observant circles is the question of the Torah position of therapy for same-sex attraction. Please read the following statement published by the RCA earlier this week.  Comments welcome!

Nov 29, 2012 -- In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America's first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), "the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight" in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions. Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions.

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH. Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered. As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, "We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error."

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients. The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session. Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, "Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality," the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH. In response to the negative reports about JONAH's activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

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20
Nov
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Seattle Solidarity Vigil

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19
Nov
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"Bomb Tel Aviv" with the Hamas Boys Choir

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19
Nov
0

Hamas Human Shield Strategy

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Mark Regev, Netanyahu Spokesman, on CNN

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15
Nov
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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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14
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IAF Liquidates Hamas Commander

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Nov
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Idol-Sniffing Camels

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Posted in memory of Yehudah Ben Moshe, Z'L, whose Bar Mitvah Perasha was Chaye Sarah 

On Shabbat, I wished, on behalf of the congregation, a hearty Mazal Tov to Yehuda Yegudayav, who celebrated his 75th birthday over the weekend.  The Bukharian Jewish members are a true institution at Ezra Bessaroth, and we are delighted to share in all of their joyous occasions.  

Hearing about Yehuda’s milestone got me thinking about family; in a couple of weeks’ time, I head once again to Canada to visit my Mom, who just turned 84 years old עד מאה ועשרים שנה.  A few months ago, the doctor told her that her new aortic valve should be good for 17 more years!

502As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the world’s greatest traveler.  Especially intimidating to me are the bomb-sniffing dogs at the airport.  Speaking of trained dogs, this past week, the drug-sniffing dogs at Sea-Tac airport had their hours slashed with the passage of Initiative 502.  Following the vote, Reuters reported that “prosecutors in Washington state's two most populous counties plan to dismiss scores of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases following passage of a landmark voter initiative earlier this week to legalize pot for adult recreational use.”

Not only are there bomb and drug-sniffing dogs, the Torah recognizes the possibility of idol- sniffing camels! 

The evidence? In this past week’s Torah portion, Avraham’s servant Eliezer arrives at the home of Rivka and is warmly greeted by her brother Lavan, whose hospitality knows no bounds:

 וַיֹּאמֶר, בּוֹא בְּרוּךְ יְהוָה; לָמָּה תַעֲמֹד, בַּחוּץ, וְאָנֹכִי פִּנִּיתִי הַבַּיִת, וּמָקוֹם לַגְּמַלִּים.

And he said, come in, the blessed one of Hashem, why are you standing outside? I have cleaned out the home and a place for the camels.

At first blush, this is a pretty innocent verse: Lavan invites Eliezer in, assuring him that there is plenty of room in his home for both Avraham’s servant and his animals. 

On location, Rashi explains the term פניתי הבית I cleared out the house – as Lavan assuring Eliezer that all traces of idolatry have been removed from the house.  Avot D’Rebbe Natan takes this idea one step further: Lavan is also saying that he has cleared away the idols so that the camels would agree to enter the home.  “I cleared out the house – and a place for the camels – by removing the idols.”  According to Avot D’Rebbe Natan, the camels had previously “sniffed out” the idols and were refusing to enter….. 

So not only are there bomb and drug-sniffing dogs, but there are idol-sniffing camels!

This recalls a Gemara in Tractate Hulin, where we learn of the famous donkey of Rabbi Pinchas Benpinchas Ya’ir: R. Pinchas is on his way on a mission to redeem captives, when he stops at a lodge; the innkeepers place some barley in front of his donkey, but it refuses to eat.  They sift and clean the grain, to no avail; the beast remains recalcitrant!

R. Pinchas asks the innkeepers if they had purchased the barley from someone who may not have tithed the produce; they reply in the affirmative.  R. Pinchas’ response? He reprimands the innkeepers,

“This poor beast is on its way to do the will of its maker, and you are giving it untithed crops? “

The Gemara goes on to question the halachic problem referred to in the story – does one really need to tithe crops fed to animals? It brings a proof that only human food needs tithing.  The Gemara’s resolution? If the crops were initially designated for an animal, they need not be tithed; if they are initially designated for a person - and only later served to an animal - they need tithing. 

The ultimate message of this story?  G-d does not bring about misfortune and transgression through the animals of righteous people – how much moreso does He protect righteous people themselves! In other words, divine intervention prevented the beast from consuming the untithed produce. 

I would like to extract a slightly different point from this piece: When someone is on his way to do a mitzvah, all of his resources, his property: inanimate objects, animals….become subsumed within this mitzvah activity.  The property is viewed as an extension of him.  Just as Hashem wishes to facilitate the performance of mitzvot, He paves the way for all of their resources to aid in that effort.

If that’s the case, then it behooves us to begin to appreciate all of the financial and other resources at our disposal – and to utilize them for the purpose for which they were granted us.

This same concept appears in a Rashi in Perashat Vayishlach.  After Ya’akov crosses over the Nahal Yabok, he returns, and soon engages in the famous wrestling match with the angel.  Grappling with the idea of why Ya’akov would remain alone, Rashi explains that he returned to collect some small earthenware vessels.   At first blush, it seems that Ya’akov Avinu is quite petty!  The deeper understanding, though, is that Ya’akov was aware that every person has a purpose for which he was created; G-d therefore also gives everyone exactly what he needs to carry out his individual mission. These earthenware vessels, as minor as they may seem, Ya’akov saw as essential to fulfilling his life’s work.  Like the donkey of R. Pinchas ben Ya’ir, the vessels of Ya’akov were an extension of him.

This perspective reinforces a very refreshing and inspiring theme that we have developed on previous occasions.  Rambam quotes the verse בכל דרכיך דעהו Know Him in all of your ways…. Should someone, engaged in a mundane activity like shopping, have the intention to purchase and prepare healthy food that will energize him to do more mitzvot– the shopping trip itself becomes an extended mitzvah event! 

Eliezer is an extension of monotheist Avraham and the idol-sniffing camels are an extension of Eliezer; they therefore interact with their reality as would their owner.  

This is also hinted at in R. Pinchas Ben Ya’ir’s words in the Gemara in Tractate Hulin: “This poor beast is on its way to do the will of its maker, and you are giving it untithed crops?” R. Pinchas surely did not believe that this beast had the capacity to appreciate that it was on its way to do the mitzvah of redeeming captives!  Rather, R.  Pinchas was actually saying, “I am using this animal to carry out the will of my Maker…..” 

 

 

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04
Nov
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Storms

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obamastormThe theme of this past week seems to have been “storms”: A political storm, in the form of a hotly-contested battle for the Presidency, as the polls show a virtual dead heat; the big storm on the east coast, Hurricane Sandy, that brought with it billions of dollars in damages and claimed dozens of lives; and finally, the storm in this week’s Perasha: the graphic description of the destruction of Sdom and Amora: “God made sulphur and fire rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah - it came from God, out of the sky.  He overturned these cities along with the entire plain, [destroying] everyone who lived in the cities and [all] that was growing from the ground.”

I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on the Torah response to the latter two types of storms.

We’ve mentioned it before, but it’s such a fundamental point, that it bears repeating:

The Netziv, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, in his commentary on Sefer Bereishit, asks a basic question: Why would Avraham Avinu, ethicist, the champion of Ancient Near East Monotheism, petition G-d to spare the idolatrous, immoral cities of Sdom and Amora?  Does the survival of these people not run counter to everything that Avraham represents and seeks to accomplish?

Netziv’s answer: Our Avot, our forefathers, were “Yesharim”; they were people who were not just sdmamorahonest and ethical; they were invested in the קיום הבריאה – the maintenance and success of G-d’s creation.  Our forefathers played a key role in the Genesis, the building of the infrastructure of G-d’s world.  Abraham’s intervention on behalf of Sdom and Amora represents just that.

The Netziv’s approach appears in other classical Jewish sources, as well. In his commentary on Pirkei Avot, Rabbenu Yonah states:

שיש לאדם להתפלל על שלום כל העולם ולהצטער על צער של אחרים

A person must pray for the peace of the entire world and feel anguish at the pain of others

In a parallel comment, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook states

Love of People must be alive in our heart and soul – the love of every unique individual.  Also, love of all of the nations, and the desire to see their economic and spiritual well-being.  Hatred must be directed only at the wickedness and impurity of the world.

The thread of Netziv’s approach to Avraham’s prayer on behalf of Sdom and Amorah, then, runs through a variety of our classical sources.

A somewhat different approach is taken by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch.  Sensitive to the nuances of language in the text,

אוּלַי יֵשׁ חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה וְלֹא תִשָּׂא לַמָּקוֹם לְמַעַן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבָּהּ:

Avraham asks if G-d will spare the city on behalf of fifty people “within” the city? G-d’s response utilizes the same language.

Rav Hirsch: A Tzaddik who is בתוך העיר – in the midst of city – rebuking and correcting the behavior of others –  is the type of person Avraham invests in during tefilah.  A smug and self-righteous person, satisfied with his own religious level, would have no interest in getting the locals on a proper moral track.  

My inference from Rav Hirsch is that Avraham’s intervention on behalf of Sdom and Amora did not flow solely from his concern for the קיום הבריאה – the maintenance and success of G-d’s creation; rather, Avraham Avinu seeks signs of life that there is a potential for moral improvement in Sdom.  If there are Tzaddikim who are בתוך העיר  - in the midst of the city, who care about the moral fabric of the town.

What the two approaches do have in common, though, is that they both focus on Avraham Avinu’s commitment to others.

Millions of people, including many members of the Jewish community, were harmed, physically and financially, during Hurricane Sandy.  Though we should have our eyes to the plight of all the victims, our first priority is of course to our fellow Jews.  Before Shabbat, I received two emails: one from the Young Israel synagogue movement, and one from the OU.  Both are reliable organizations, collecting funds to help members of the Jewish community.   Please donate to my discretionary fund and I will direct the funds to these fine organizations. 

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30
Oct
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Ezra Bessaroth Statement regarding the Desecration of the Rhodes Holocaust Memorial

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Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, founded by Sephardic immigrant families from the Greek island of Rhodes, is horrified and disgusted by this weekend’s defacing of the Rhodes Holocaust Memorial. Dedicated in 2002, the monument stands in the Jewish Martyrs Square with a replica in our congregation’s courtyard in Seattle.

It reads: “Do not ever forget the eternal memory of the 1604 Jews of Rhodes and Kos who perished in Nazi death camps”.

Israel Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, himself a survivor of the Shoah, visited Ezra Bessaroth this past summer. Upon hearing that our memorial is modeled on the original Rhodes monument, Rav Lau stood looking at it in silence, touched it and kissed his hand as if the monument was a mezuzah. "Ze Makom Kadosh" ("This is a holy place"), he said.

This weekend’s hate crime - a pitiful, cowardly attempt to blot out the memory of Kedoshim of Rhodes and Kos - simply serves to strengthen our resolve to perpetuate the profound values and rich way of life of those that perished.

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29
Oct
0

Rhodes Memorial to Holocaust Victims Defaced

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A shocking incident in Rhodes:  
See Michael Behar's link at http://networkedblogs.com/E4ulj

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