Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg z”l

April 26, 2006

Kehilat Kesher was privileged to call Rabbi Hertzberg a member of our shul.  In the beginning he was a minyan man and a regular teacher of Pirkei Avot in the summer.  Soon after we moved a little further from his home he took ill and was not able to make the walk on a regular basis. 

I had the pleasure of sitting and talking with him about the local community and the larger Jewish community.  His insights and advice were always powerful.  He loved to share stories about his chasidic roots, his learning and his adventures in Jewish politics.  Our conversations would meander from faith and doubt to wine and cheese to Talmud to Rabbi Solovietchik and whatever or whomever was on his mind.

When I would tell my non-Orthodox colleagues that he was a member of my shul they would all open their eyes widely and ask, "what's that like?"  Some were surprised that he would join an Orthodox synagogue, still others that he would join a shul of which he, or his father, were not the rabbi. 

I look forward to reminding my eldest son Shamma of the time that he sat on my lap at the 70th anniversary of Rabbi Hertzberg's Bar Mitzvah.  Here was this very powerful man, sharing with all of us about how he does not feel worthy to wear the Tefillin of his grandfather.  At some point he came to shed a tear, at another point he yelled at everyone in the room not to be apathetic.  My son said to me, "why is that man roaring like a lion?"  And roar he did!

Those same tefillin were put on him almost every day by Rabbi Chanan Jacobson.  Whether his arms were hurting or had bandages, he would do his best to lay tefillin.

I hope that Rabbi Hertzberg is remembered not for his controversial stances on Israeli politics and not for his involvement with the AJC or WJC.  Rather, he should be remembered as a man who struggled with Judaism and our mission in this world.  He was also able to inspire others to seek involvement in the Jewish Community.

Few funerals today would be attended by Belzer and Habad Hasidim, Dr. David Ellinson, several dozen Conservative and Reform rabbis, a few Modern Orthodox rabbis and several hundred other jews and non-jews.

May his memory be for a blessing – yehei zichro barukh


Yom ha-Shoah

April 26, 2006

Every year I wonder about our community Yom ha-Shoah Memorial.  It is one of the most well done commemorations that I have ever attended.  Richard Friend does an amazing job at varying speakers with AV with music.  It is both touching and uplifting.

And yet, something is missing. 

 Rabbi Weiss has a designed a Yom ha-Shoah seder which is quite powerful.  It is interactive and experiential.  His program does not allow you to be passive.  All of you senses are impacted.

And yet, something is missing.

Avigdor Shinaan wrote a Megillat ha-Shoah which is also quite powerful.  It is a beautiful, creative liturgy laced with references to many places in Jewish literature.  It forces the listener to think.

And yet, something is missing.

How might you create a ritual for Yom ha-Shoah?

Does Yom ha-Shoah need its own ritual?

Counting Time – Sefirat ha-Omer

April 24, 2006

Why do we count time?  What is the meaning of counting our days?  What, if any, is a Jewish Philosophy of time?  Two writers of recently published books shared their thoughts on this topic – Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Jonanthon Sacks.  Allow me to share their ideas, in hope to gain a deeper understanding of the Omer.

First, Rabbi Soloveitchik.  In the newly published Festival of Freedom the very last essay is entitled "Counting Time."  (a shorter version appears in David Shapiro's volume entitled Me-afeilah l'or gadol: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Pesach, Sefirat ha-Omer and Shavu'ot – published by the Soloveitchik Institute ob"m.  Some of the ellipses from this article are filled in by this longer piece – See Section B of Excursus II of Chapter 6, pgs 150 -153).

Rabbi Soloveitchik, in his inimitable fashion develops a dialect in his approach to time – that of youth and old age.  A young person anticipates what will be and experiences time with great rapidity.  As a child I remember the summer lasting at least as long as the rest of of the year.  He quotes a midrash that says, "At the Red Sea the beheld God as a young warrior, and at Sinia as a gray-beard who teaches children." (The citation offered is Otzar ha-Midrashim [Eisentein ed.], 486 – I was unable to locate the original and would love some help!)

Time, for the Rav, is a "merger of past and future, of recollection and anticipation."  This is symbolized by counting.  When we count a day of the Omer it only has meaning as part of a continuum.  When is say that this is day 14 which is two weeks, that has significance only because of the prior 13 and coming 35 days.

I think that the greatest experience of this merger is in the naming of a child.  We try to merge the characteristics of a loved on from the past with a prayer for the future.

Rabbi Sack's, in his new hagaddah, has some beautiful opening essays.  Two of these essays deal with time – "The Omer and the Politics of Torah" & "Time as a Narrative of Hope."  Here Rabbi Sacks develops the radical change that the Bible offered to our understanding of time.  All ancient religions saw God as part of nature.  For the Bible, God is part of history.  Not only is there a Creator God of Genesis, but also a Redeeming God of Exodus.  God cares what goes on in this world.

This concept of time is referred to by Lord Sacks as "covenental time."  That it is our job to imagine a future that is different, and better than the past or present.  This is symbolized by the overthrow of the great and mighty Egyptian empire, which, by all rights, should have been their forever.  Came God and the Jewish People and we taught that no empire can last forever.  "The overthrowing of this structure and the unprecedented release of a whole nation from slavery showed that societies are not immutable…Injustice, oppression, dominance, exploitation, the enslavement of the weak by the strong, are not written into the constitution of the universe…"

These two concepts of time – as juncture of past and future and covenental or redemptive – provide a framework in which the counting on the days of the omer are given new meaning.

Kitniyot – Soy Milk

April 17, 2006

It would appear to me that soy milk should be as permissible as peanut oil.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (ig"m o"h 3:63) permitted the consumption of peanuts in a community that did not have a custom to the contrary.  I would assume that it was on this basis that the OU used to give a hashgacha to peanut oil.  Despite Rav Moshe's lenient approach, it is clear that the "community" chose to be more strict. 

Based on Rav Moshe's logic, soy milk should be the same a peanut oil.  Peanuts were not part of the original decree of kitniyot.  That being the case, we ought be permitted to be lenient regarding the liquid form of peanuts.  Soy beans were not part of the original decree.  That being the case, we ought to be permitted to be lenient regarding the liquid form of soy beans – soy milk!

Despite the fact that my entire family drinks soy milk on a daily basis and that my kids never drink regular milk at all – I was not willing to be lenient. 

The raises the extremely challenging question of who defines the parameters of our "community"?  I am not sure what the answer to this question is, but I would be curios what people think about this issue.  Are we defined by the teshuvot of Rav Moshe Feinstein or the writings of Rav Soloveitchik?  Is there a single person, or group of people that would define the boundaries of our community?  Please share your thoughts…

Sefirat ha-Omer

April 17, 2006

Much has been written about the nature of the mitzvah of counting the Omer.  It is one of the few mitzvot that take place over an extended period of time.  Whenever there are a number of minutes, hours days, or weeks, between the start of a mitzvah and its conclusion there are problems that arise in the Halakha.  What happens with only partial fulfillment? 

In a more general sense it seems that Jewish Law has a hard time with causation in general.  What happens if a press a button that causes a light to turn on in 5 or 10 seconds?  Gramais a problem in Shabbas and in Nezikin.  What is my responsibility for the results of an action that are not experienced for several minutes, hours or days?  What is my responsibility for the carrying out of a mitzvah over the course of seven weeks?

This question leads to the following common misconception – if I "lost" the berakhah I should just stop counting.  This is only the approach of the Behag, and many (maybe even most) disagree.  However, no one says that losing the berakhah means that you should no longer count.  The berakhak is not the essential part of the actions, the counting is.

Once we have understood that the mitzvah is one of counting days / weeks one has to ask why?  What is the significance of such a counting?  What are we supposed to accomplish over the course of these seven weeks?

I am going to begin to answer these questions over the course of the next few posts – stay tuned!

My appoligies

April 17, 2006

I am sorry that I was not able to post for the last week and a half. I was simply bowled over by Pesach.  I will try to be more regular.