Parshat Re’eh 5774

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, August 23, 2014 

Re’eh contains the laws of what you can and can’t eat- a system that evolves into Kashrut as we know it. And there are many rules. Rules about separate dishes and about kosher certifications, special rules that apply to knives especially if they are used to cut onions and chilis. And then there’s Passover!

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2nd day Pesah 5774

Dvar Torah given at Ramah Darom Pesah Retreat, April 16, 2014 

Hag Sameah.

Shortly in Musaf, depending what siddur you’re using, we will read the following words:

וקרב פזורינו מבין הגיום ונפצותינו כנס מירכתי ארץ

Gather our scattered from among the nations and our Diaspora from the edges of the world

והביאנו לציון עירך ברנה ולירושלים בית מקדשך בשמחת עולם

and bring us with rejoicing to your city Zion and to Jerusalem and your temple with everlasting joy.

ושם נעשה לפנך את קרבנות חובותינו … Continue reading

Installation of Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shavua Tov!Rabbis Konigsburg

It is such an honor for me to be here tonight, for the installation of my father Rabbi Randall Konigsburg.

Just this morning we read about the details, rites and rituals of the portable sanctuary. Over and over, we read that all was built to precise specification, according to God’s instructions. For example, one verse reads:

ויעש משה ככל אשר צוו ה’ אותו כן עשה

And Moses did all that God commanded him to do, so he did. (Exodus 40:16)

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Being Invisible

This morning- I got to minyan early. I’m standing in the synagogue, reconnecting with someone I haven’t seen in years when three others walk into the room. One of them says, “great we have four people.”

To be honest I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember math. When does 2+3=4? When one has the xx character trait thereby making her ineligible to count in an Orthodox minyan and apparently rendering her invisible and not a person.

This experience has happened to me before- Unfortunately, I have been relegated to non-person status in cities all over the world, almost always by  men, who, I hope, don’t realize the pain that they have caused . What makes this time different is that I’m at the Siach conference- an environmental and social justice conversation. More info here.

It is certainly a great group of very talented people. Most of the conversations that I’ve had have been with fascinating people, presenting the challenge of not wanting to extract myself from intense and good discussions. I was having a great time until this moment, and I’m not sure what to do with it. Perhaps I was tired because this morning I just stood there in silence (usually i have use some snarky reply to the effect of “no you need one more man, i’m a person too”). I expected that I might not count in the minyan. But I didn’t expect to be rendered invisible.

How can we talk about social justice when we can’t even acknowledge the personhood of those standing right in front of us?

Clearly we have work to do.

merit of tinokos shel beis raban??!

Went for the weekend to pick up my mail- and I received a letter from these guys.

The gist of the letter is really something that can’t be described, so I copied it from their website:

Our Torah leaders have recognized the increase in worldwide travel accidents. That’s why they are so enthusiastic about this powerful, protective measure: Shemirah Bidrachim – Protection on the Road.

In this revolutionary initiative, thousands of people just like you are protecting themselves with an effective method that has proven itself throughout our history: the merit of pure Jewish children whose prayers and Torah study keep the world in existence

To quote Hagaon Harav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, shlita,The pure and holy prayers of Jewish children have the ability to cease the casualties of vehicle mishaps!

For just a few pennies a day, you too can gain this protection for yourself and your family.

In exchange for a contribution made to the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project, the pupils will study and recite pirkei tehilim daily, and entreat G-d to protect and save the insured from any trouble and distress and lead him toward peace, emplace his footsteps toward peace, and have him reach his desired destination for life, gladness and peace, and send blessing and success in all his endeavors, wherever he may turn.”

Seriously?! This raises a number of questions:
  1. How did I get on your mailing list? (no idea)
  2. Will they insure females, or since they should be at home anyway, they won’t be covered?
  3. Who takes this seriously? (from their website, Rav Eliyashiv, Ovadya Yosef and others)
  4. Do people buy this? (at least a couple people with a faulty sense of logic)
  5. Are they aware that their claim that the prayers of children studying torah might not work?
Apparently so, their website includes the following disclaimer:

This agreement is a spiritual agreement! It does not constitute any grounds for the Insured to claim money from the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project.

I guess the prayers of tinokos shel beis raban are not as effective at protecting against lawsuits.

Parhsat Vaera- 5770

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, January 2010

Shabbat Shalom.
Parshat Vaera opens with these words:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נֹודַ֖עְתִּ לָהֶֽם׃

“G-d Spoke to Moses and said to him “I am Hashem, I appeared to Abraham, Issac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name Hashem…”

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After checking in for our flight we decided to davan at the synagogue in our terminal. JFK is strange in that it has separate chapels for different religions. I hadn’t seen this before. To be honest, I think I might be more comfortable doing my airport davaning in a space that is not dedicated only to Jews. This eliminates the problem of someone else thinking that they have any right to be judgmental about my observances. Also, the room looks like a shul, complete with mehitza. You can see pictures here. This doesn’t bother me when I don’t have to stand behind it, but as I walked towards the end of the hallway where the synagogue was, it became clear that also headed in the same direction was a haredi gentleman, who was headed to the same place.

Uh Oh.

We got there first and we proceeded to do our thing. The haredi enters and quickly figures out that A Girl Is Wearing Tefilin!!!.

Uh Oh.

Actually he says hello and is just curious. He has never heard of this, let alone seen it. He asks if he can take pictures. I sigh and reluctantly say okay.
His English is weak and he asks if we speak Hebrew. I answer in the affirmative and the conversation switches to Hebrew.

He’s from Bnai Brak, and his mind is spinning, trying to process what is happening.
-Are we Reform?
No Conservative.
-Do we keep halakhah?
Yes shabbat and kashrut and everything.
-You don’t eat milk and meat together? You keep the rules of family purity?
Yes… everything.
-And you put on tefilin?
Every day… well except for shabbat.

He tells me that his wife is careful to davan three times a day, and actually seems to be quite understanding about women taking on extra mitzvot.

-So how are you different from Orthodox?
Well, we’re egalitarian.
-Apart from that?
Well, we tend to rely on leniencies in halakhah from time to time… (I hadn’t had this converstion in a while, so I did not answer as articulately as I would have liked).
-So do you follow the shulkhan arukh?
Yes, most of the time. Except for places where we don’t.
-Do you have other books that you use?
Yes, we have teshuvot and other codes.

I start to davan, and soon he comes over to interrupt and ask:
-Wait, so you wouldn’t say the blessing that thanks G-d for not making you a woman?
No I don’t. I use a different liturgy (and start to explain the historical origin of the positive brakhot).

He stops me. He’s just trying to figure out how this works. If Judaism doesn’t have to be the way he is familiar with, what has to change and what has to stay the same?

-Are there communities of people like you?
Yes, the shul that I go to gets 150 people regularly.

He asks if we have a problem with assimilation and intermarriage. I answer honestly that intermarriage isn’t generally accepted in the community, but some people do it, and not everyone observes kashrut and shabbat the way that I do.

Throughout the entire exchange he was pleasant. Smiling and not mocking. His questions were genuine and not antagonistic. In fact, much of the time he was unhappy with my answers not for the content, but because I was being defensive- like I had something to prove.

Walking away I was relieved but also sad. I used to be able to have these conversations without being defensive, without preconception for the way that others would react to me.

I’d like to get back to that. I’m glad to be wrong in the way that I think of haredim. I hope that when I run into other haredim, I will be able to assume they are as open-minded as this man. Reading the radicalization of Jerusalem in the press has had an impact on me. Clearly there is no substitute for face to face encounters.