Reb Zalman was a strong advocate for the halachic process. Most of us know that he developed a new halachic principle which he called “The Psycho-Halachic Process” and which we now call Integral Halachah. But we are less familiar and also less comfortable with his corollary that contemporary halachah also needs to be backwards compatible.
As part of the coursework in the ALEPH Rabbinic Program, we assign a series of lectures given by R. Ethan Tucker at Mechon Hadar, originally titled something like “Core Issues in Halachah.” In the first of these lectures (to which I strongly encourage you to listen if you haven’t already), he makes the point that, if we are going to consult with our predecessors before making recommendations to the people who inquire of us, then we need to keep an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by them.
It’s possible that R. Tucker meant that, by keeping open the willingness to be influenced, we are allowing for the possibility that we will choose to accept the decisions of these predecessors and opt for a more traditional lifestyle. And, if so, it is also possible that this is what constrains many of us from consulting these sources, since advocates of this approach are really expecting us to see the wisdom of the past and adopt it for ourselves. In other words, the more I consult with the past, the more conservative my practice will become and this is an outcome which we know intuitively is not the one we most need. It is equally possible, of course, that R. Tucker didn’t have this as an ulterior motive and is open to being influenced by the past in other ways as well.
Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing. (And, when I challenged him in return, he said that he truly meant what he said literally and not figuratively.) Now, after several years of study and work, I’m attaching a draft of the preface to what has become a multi-sectioned book written in response to his challenge. Over these years, I have had the opportunity to consult with many sources, both primary and secondary. As will be pointed out in the pages of the book, Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. He was also quite clear that becoming a ger toshav was not permission to marry a Jew.
The more I searched the sources, the more I realized that the argument over standards for conversion was not simply about whether the rabbi made it easy or hard. Even more surprising was that there exists an ongoing discussion of the ger toshav and its applicability to changed circumstances which is mistakenly portrayed as having been settled by the Rambam. Thus, the more I learned, the more open I became to a different way of looking both at the process of giyur itself and at the possibility of a renewed ger toshav. As someone who had not officiated at marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew, my own position has become much more open and flexible as a result of this consultation with both predecessors and contemporaries.
This book will be the subject of this year’s halachah plenary and a follow-up workshop at OHALAH and, over the next few weeks, I hope to attach drafts of the subsequent units for you to review.
Blessings to all as we move through the remainder of Av and approach the season of our individual and communal introspection.
Preface to Ger Toshav book: When the Rebbe Asks
Last time, I wrote about how we Jews contain our suffering by focusing on remembering it for limited times during the annual cycle of the calendar. Truth is, I don’t see this as a profound teaching so much as a simple observation. Do you remember how we used to say that the people of the north had so many different words to describe snow? This was because being able to recognize the varied qualities of the snow reflected the need to appreciate these differences in order to enhance survival or perhaps because living in the midst of so much snow made people aware of subtle differences in its qualities.
I’ve been told that this is not really true, though I still find it intriguing. Applied to the way Hebrew reflects our values, it is striking to notice how many words we have for praise and appreciation. In those two paragraphs that conclude P’sukay d’Zimra on Shabbat morning, there are 20 different words for our primary obligation to praise and show gratitude as well as the obligation to go beyond the praises we have received. Is there any wonder, then, that our liturgy is so vast?
Here is what I think is truly amazing: No matter how much our suffering and pain tries to pull us down into despair, we continue to focus on what is positive and beautiful about our existence on this planet, where everything sings God’s praises. We therefore have so many poems and prayers of praise that we cannot include them all in our liturgy. Some are said every day, others only on Shabbat and holidays, still others are limited to specific days and times, and many others only exist in special collections, if at all.
And, this phenomenon is not limited to liturgy. Think of the incredibly vast literature of Kabbalah, whose surface we barely touch with our focus on the four worlds and the ten sefirot. Most of us have no more than a passing acquaintance with the Zohar, a brief nod to the volumes of Hassidic writings, and perhaps an acknowledgment that there is a whole literature devoted to moral and ethical development. We are also virtually unaware of the whole area of Kabbalah called Ta’amei ha’Mitzvot which I’m told (since I also have had almost no contact with this corpus) is even larger than the sephirotic literature.
Which brings me to the often disparaged area of Halachah. Here also is a corpus of work aimed at both establishing the general rules and principles of a God-centred life and responding to the specific needs and questions of lives lived in response to the Divine call emanating daily from Sinai. Here, again, the body of halachic writings divides into two major units: the codes and their commentaries which focus on the general principles and the even larger unit of responsa, responses to specific questions about the application of general principles to life’s unique challenges in each generation.
It is true that there have been times when halachists have circled the wagons. It is also true that for the vast majority of the centuries of our existence, this process has been open, respectful of people’s needs and practices, sensitive to the changing conditions of life. Because we tend to hold onto beliefs, and because the halachic process as we have inherited it is of the circle the wagons variety, we continue to think that Halachah is the enemy and that what we do on our email lists and together at conferences and retreats is something different. In truth, however, it’s really a continuation of the halachic process with additional guiding principles (i.e. Integral Halachah). It is primarily our resistance to reviewing past responses to similar questions that seems to separate our process from that of the past. And I urge us all to give more thought to the need to balance our individual needs with that of Clal Yisrael, past, present, and future.
Reb Zalman believed very strongly that the halachic process, with the additional principles he developed, is something in which we need to participate. I know that his commitment to this over-arching principle transcended any particular conclusions or positions he advocated. This will become clear as I begin to post the sections of a work on Ger Tzedek/Get Toshav which began as a response to his concerns and took a turn that ran counter to his specific proposals. When I told him that this was happening, he said that he understood and could accept that his talmidim would use his categories to arrive at their/our own conclusions.
Why is Judaism so…?
Many years ago during a Yom Kippur Torah reading, I encouraged people to ask any question they wanted about Judaism. One person asked, “Why is Judaism always so solemn?” I responded by saying that this perception came from the fact that he mostly went to shul on Yom Kippur, which is indeed a solemn day. One such day in the year. But if he would come to shul more regularly, he would see that 52 times in a solar year we spent a whole day focused on appreciation, and several more times a year the focus was on joy and freedom during the major (and minor) holidays.
I write this on the morning of the 18th of Tammuz, the day we are observing the beginning of the three weeks leading up to Tish’a b’Av, the fast of the 9th of Av. Today marks the day the outer walls of the first temple were breached, culminating in its destruction three weeks later. These are the 21 days in which we remember the terrible things that have happened to us and that we brought upon ourselves, not only when we went to war against the Babylonians back in the 6th century B.C.E., but also later when we rebelled against the Romans, when so many were martyred during the crusades, and when we were exiled from Spain. When I was a camper at Camp Ramah during high school and before Yom ha’Sho’ah was established, Tish’a b’Av was also when we remembered the destruction of the European Jewish communities.
But less than a week after the only other 24 hour fast on our calendar comes the 15th of Av, when unmarried men and women met in the fields and vineyards to seek out life partners. Only six days after we finish remembering the horror and the paradigm shift forced on us by the loss of both temples, we are dancing and celebrating love and optimism.
For three weeks we allow ourselves to dwell on the pain we have endured for bearing witness to our understanding of a God-centred world and then we get back to our calling.
שֶׁכֵּן חוֹבַת כָּל־הַיְצוּרִים לְפָנֶיךָ י־ה־ו־ה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ,
לְהוֹדוֹת לְהַלֵּל לְשַׁבֵּחַ, לְפָאֵר לְרוֹמֵם לְהַדֵּר, לְבָרֵךְ לְעַלֵּה וּלְקַלֵּס
עַל כָּל־דִּבְרֵי שִׁירוֹת וְתִשְׁבְּחוֹת דָּוִד בֶּן־יִשַׁי עַבְדְּךָ מְשִׁיחֶךָ.
For this is the [true] duty of all creatures before You, Yah our God and the God of our fathers and mothers, to acknowledge, to praise, to exalt, to make beautiful, to lift up and adorn, to bless and give more praise going beyond all the words of song and praise uttered by David, Yishai’s son, your servant and anointed one.
Our real duty is not to be sad about how hard it is to be a Jew, not to dwell on the tragedies and mistakes of the past and even the present, but to realistically face them, mourn over them when appropriate, and then pick ourselves up and get back to singing, composing, appreciating this amazing world we have been given to care for, and living in such a way that we connect our aspirations to our actions.
I’ve just finished a weekend of teaching about Integral Halachach at Or Shalom and Limmud Vancouver. Naturally, I’ve been thinking about how much better I would have done if only I had…
So rather than indulge in wishing I could do it over knowing now what I didn’t know then, I thought I would share some of those thoughts as a way of continuing the discussion beyond the time limits imposed by the events.
I had assumed that people would share the feeling that many of you have or have had, namely that Halachah as we have learned it is oppressive and overly focused on answers which establish correctness of practice. My approach was to show how the halachic process was always relevant to people’s lives, that it goes beyond the codes to a literature which is responsive to individual situations, and that it is founded on transcending ethical principles and recognition of human frailties. All this in order to keep us on the path we began to walk at Sinai and which will reach its destination sometime in the future with a redeemed world and united humanity.
While people were genuinely receptive, curious, and politely challenging (this is Canada, after all), many of them consistently turned to a somewhat different perspective. Given, they said, that people are not engaged in or even familiar with halachic conversation, how were we to reach out to them? And, of course, for many of these people, the ones to whom they wanted outreach were their own children.
My response was mostly that the forms of outreach were no longer something that I knew much about. That had been my focus, our focus, decades ago when we founded the institutions which are now the components of Jewish Renewal. Outreach is something I now leave to another generation to discover and what I could do is invite people to join the process of halachic conversation in an effort to explore the new questions of our time using both the tools we inherited as well as that of Integral Halachah. And I touched, but only touched, on some of those questions.
On reflection, though, I think that this could have been more of a focus. As R. Ethan Tucker pointed out in his lecture series on Halachah, the withdrawal of the Orthodox establishment in Germany from the rest of the community in the late 19th century also meant the retraction of the halachic process from the questions and issues facing all those who were not already committed to this Orthodox approach to Jewish practice. But if we are truly concerned about whether Generation X and millennials will engage the issues of their lives using the tools of our tradition, then our spiritual and religious conversations need to be willing to engage those issues.
I dropped one potential bombshell when I said that getting on an airplane is approaching being immoral. I said this to a room full of people who fly often, many of whom are my personal and old friends. And I still fly myself. But what is our responsibility to the planet, to our children and grandchildren? To what extent is flying an indulgence and a dangerous one at that? I have a friend on Hornby Island who will not fly on principle. Is that a moral stance which we should emulate?
This is one of the dozens of real ethical questions relating to climate change which should be on the schedule of our adult education programs, our Torah discussions, and our personal practice. God is in the details, I like to say, and what would happen if we who are now the elders engaged those details in an effort to have them reveal the presence of God in the world? How would it change the elders and what impact might that have on our children and grandchildren?
Affirming the Halachic Process is certainly one of the more difficult things for many of us in ALEPH. Like so many others, we are weighed down by the insistence of our more Orthodox colleagues that Halachah is self verifying and contained due to its Divine origin in the nighttime teachings that the Holy Blessed One imparted to Moshe Rabbeinu after each day’s writing of the written Torah. Each succeeding generation is farther from the origin moment and thus more prone to confusion and increasingly dependent on the rulings of those who have gone before us. Thus, the Halachah of the moment is uncovered by a careful analysis of the texts from the past and each new situation must be comparable to some concept or precedent from that past.
While totally aware of this phenomenon, Reb Zalman z”l was still committed to the halachic process by which we link the needs of the moment to the precedents of the past. He also believed that this was possible only by instituting a new principle which would allow the past to continue to speak to us while also providing a greater degree of freedom in determining our responses to the questions of our time. Thus, what he originally called Psycho-Halachah and which we renamed Integral Halachah was born, a new principle which both included and transcended the past and which acknowledged the paradigm shift in which we are living.
Three years ago, the OHALAH program committee inaugurated an annual Halachah Panel at the conference. Starting with the second of these panels, we began to ask rabbis who had been students in our program to present the t’shuvot which were their final projects in the area of Rabbinic Texts. Each year, now entering the third, we have edited and presented three of these t’shuvot as we also begin to gather them for more public distribution.
And, in the first three years, I gave a short introduction to the panel on the basics of Integral Halachah and why I agreed with Reb Zalman that this was a process to which at least some of us should contribute. I have now edited those three introductions into a single document, my personal introduction to this process, and offer it to you all.
Some of you may remember that Reb Zalman wrote in his introduction to the book Integral Halachah: Transcending and Including, that his thoughts on this subject were a beginning and not a final product. Thus, my small contribution can be seen as complementary to what the two of us printed in the book and the student t’shuvot also complement and add detail to the broad strokes of the earlier work.
Blessings to all for a light-filled Hanukkah and with prayers for meaningful decisions from the current climate change meetings in Paris.
Rabbi Daniel Siegel, Dayan
Founding Director: Integral Halachah Institute
“We all live in a watershed…”
I hadn’t been planning on writing something specifically for Rosh haShanah this year until I read this in the summer edition of Watershed Sentinel:
We decided to change up the masthead on the cover and since more and more of our stories are about the junction between environment and social justice, we figured it made sense to emphasize the Sentinel in Watershed Sentinel. We all live in a watershed……(Delores Broten, ed.).
For the past several decades, we have redefined the expression Tikkun Olam, adopting part of an earlier redefinition emerging from the Lurianic notion of sh’virat ha-kelim / the breaking of the vessels. The tikkun / repair refers to the releasing of the divine sparks hidden within the broken vessels. We then merged that with the growing political and social activism of Jews so that the vehicle for this repair shifted from prayer and the precise observance of ritual mitzvot to social and political action.
At the same time, the disconnection from the spirituality which had always permeated Jewish life (witness R. Mordechai Kaplan’s idea that Judaism is a “religious civilization”) allowed for the abbreviating of this concept as the now familiar Tikkun Olam, without the accompanying b-malchut Shaddai / through [recognition of] divine sovereignty.
Simply put, repairing our world and renewing her involves repairing and renewing our connection to the divine, the unifier and connector, that which helps us to experience our interconnectedness in a visceral way.
Thinking about climate change from this perspective, we have much to contribute. Yet we are also far behind many of our religious and spiritual partners. I’m puzzled that there seems to be so little discussion of climate change on our OHALAH list, in our deliberations about how to locate events and what their frequency should be, about how we model new ways of living that are at least as enjoyable and meaningful as the ones we are trying to sustain even as that effort is the most likely to severely undermine those very lives. Why is it there are only a handful of us who must seem almost obsessive in our focus on climate change?
At the beginning of this new year and the first year of the new sabbatical cycle, I encourage us all to carefully (that is, with care) examine the lives we take for granted, to learn to ask ourselves what actions can we take to reduce our carbon footprints, encourage the restoration of our forests, protect existing agricultural land, guard our oceans and fisheries, and end destructive and wasteful warfare while at the same time promoting social justice and human rights.
I write these words at the end of what was in British Columbia a hot and sunny summer, a summer which was also the driest on record, with the most wildfires, and rising river temperatures interfering with the migration of the salmon on which our First Nations and we newcomers both depend. And we had it easy compared to Oregon and Washington!
My prayer for us all is that, when the next sabbatical year arrives, we will still be on this Earth which God has entrusted us to guard and nurture, that we will have honoured the Sabbatical which has just ended by carrying its messages and sanctity forward.
1. I strongly recommend R. David Seidenberg’s new book, Kabbalah and Ecology. I know it’s pricey, but it’s worth every penny!
2. Please, please, download and read Pope Francis’ encyclical, LAUDATO SI’. I have been highlighting section after section and I call your attention especially to his references to Sabbath, Sabbatical, and Jubilee on page 53.
3. Look at the document that Esther Azar and I prepared and which you can find linked to my previous blog. All three major teachings, those of the Netivot Shalom, the Ohr haChayim, and the May haShilo’ach are rich.
4. I read three amazing local publications which you can access and which will give you an understanding of how climate change looks in a part of the developed world which provides resources to many places.
Look at the Amud haT’fillah 110 in the Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov, and how the first stage of davvenen is to become connected to all that is. You can find it here or in Menachem Kallus’ book, Pillar of Prayer, pp. 113-118. When I first began to meditate, one exercise was to sit on my bed in my room, step outside myself, and see me meditating on my bed in my room in my house in my city in my state/province, in my country, and so on. Perhaps we could use P’sukey d’Zimra more consciously to help people experience this interconnectedness within the One as the Besht suggested.
The shmita year of 5775 is drawing to a close. As with the weekly Shabbat, there is a natural tendency to view the sabbatical year as a conclusion. After all, they both are the “seventh” and what follows is the first. Shabbat is the culmination of the week, the goal toward which we work for the six preceding days. So also is the sabbatical the goal, the year off we earn for the six previous years of work.
However, both in academia and among congregational clergy, the sabbatical year serves another, concurrent purpose. A good sabbatical includes a plan of study and practice which opens up new possibilities and awakens creativity. In other words, a sabbatical (or a day of Shabbat) offers both a well-earned break and the gathering of energy for the next round of work. This second purpose, then, requires contemplating the deeper meaning of the cycles in which we live and absorbing that awareness into the way in which we approach the next work cycle.
In this spirit, Esther Azar and I have explored two Hassidic teachings on shmita, both of which speak of the inner meaning of Shabbat for the individual consciousness and for life of the planet itself. In particular, the Netivot Shalom rests his observations on a surprising commentary of the Ohr haChayim, in which he sees the weekly Shabbat as the necessary ingredient for ensouling the next six days.
We offer these teachings to you, along with some observations from the two of us and from Rabbi David Seidenberg, in the hope that they will help you carry the consciousness of shmita into the next six years. More, we hope that by more fully absorbing the essence of these teachings, that you will find ways to model a more conscious approach to consumption, to reducing your own carbon footprints, to demonstrating lifestyles that rely on relationships rather than on accumulating stuff, and to inspiring others to do the same.
This in the hope that we will arrive at the next sabbatical year on a planet which is healing and a human race that is learning to live well and sustainably at the same time.
With blessings on Erev Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh Elul
Daniel and Esther
I don’t usually write holiday messages. There are so many others who do a much better job than I can, but something happened to make this Pesach different.
This morning, (Monday, 30 March), as I was driving to catch the ferry which is the beginning of every trip (this time I was leaving for Portland where we will have a family seder), I caught a glimpse of a rainbow. Reminding me of the one after the flood and the promise associated with it, I thought of renewal after loss and of new beginnings and possibilities.
Experiencing this brief moment (the road turned and the rainbow disappeared) was an unintended benefit of the decision I had made to postpone leaving for a day in order to attend a talk given by Alexandra Morton, a biologist living in a remote community on the British Columbia coast and who has given the past two decades and more of her life to documenting the effects that salmon farms have on migrating wild salmon, in whose paths most of these farms (a number continuing to grow) are placed. I live on the Pacific coast, on an island which is on the route of significant salmon runs, and wild salmon are a staple of our diets and crucial to our livelihoods.
So my Pesach message is simple. There is clearly a momentum finally building to really do something about climate change. While it is too late to prevent it, it is never too late to make the decisions needed to mitigate its effects and ultimately to reverse it. I am therefore passing on to you what Alexandra asked from us, what I have committed to myself, and how I hope you will help us and yourselves. There is a major conference on climate change in Paris at the end of this calendar year and I’m asking you to help build that momentum.
These salmon farms are mostly owned by Norwegian companies (although I’m told that Mitsubishi has also recently bought into these farms). Alexandra started a petition to the Norwegians asking them to divest from dirty salmon. Please use this time of new beginnings to sign this petition and help her get the 10,000 signatures she believes it will take for the Norwegians to take notice (because, as she said to us, they are a good and socially conscious people).
Second, explore her website and take the pledge not to eat any more farmed salmon, no matter which coast they come from. On the west coast, they spread sea lice and other diseases to the young migrating salmon and on the east coast what kills sea lice also kills lobster on which many people depend for their livelihood. Not only is farmed salmon harmful to the environment, it is also unsustainable in the same way that any feed lot is.
In January, I had the privilege of speaking to our ordination students in the time slot that Reb Zalman had. One thing I said to them is that we, klei kodesh and spiritually conscious people, must model the lives we advocate. This can involve taking some risks and experiencing negative responses. But that is not a reason to withdraw. If we are truly aware of climate change and the rapaciousness of our extraction focused industries, from pipelines to dirty oil to fracking to salmon farming, then we are obligated to begin changing our personal and public lives and showing others the way.
So one more thing: please share this information with those who pay attention to you. Let this Pesach mark a moment of a new beginning and expansion of our commitment to this world and to succeeding generations by truly shaking free of the consumption habits that enslave us and limit our futures.
Petition Website: http://www.change.org/p/to-the-citizens-of-norway-divest-from-dirty-salmon
Alexandra Morton’s Site: http://www.alexandramorton.ca
PS: If you want, let me know that you’ve responded by posting a comment and I’ll increase my next donation to her by $10 for each response.
Giyur Documents for Children
Just before OHALAH, it was noticed that Reb Zalman’s templates included a giyur document for a girl in Hebrew with no English parallel and no documents for a boy. I looked through my files and now share with you the following:
1. Two documents, one each for a boy and a girl. These are Reb Zalman’s which he shared with me many years ago and which I have modified somewhat. These are the versions I have been using.
2. His other template for a girl, the one which has been in the collection for many years, and to which I have now added an English version.
3. There is a generic one for children which I found, also only in Hebrew and which I’ve now translated. Reb Zalman sent it to me in April of 2014 in response to something on the OHALAH list which I don’t remember. This seems to be for a non-Jewish biological mother bringing more than one child at the same time. My sense is that this document will rarely be useful, but I thought it best to include every option I had.
It’s important to remember that Reb Zalman often had more than one template for the same purpose and he may have shared different versions with different people For example, his description of the beit din adds the word “k-chadah” in two of the documents which he didn’t use in the ones I adapted. It’s also the case that his templates may not have taken into account the many variations and adjustments that I and others have realized needed to be made. Therefore, please see these as templates which can be used as is or modified further.
I am giving these to you in two formats:
1. As .rtfs (in a zip file) which you can reformat as you like if you have NisusWriter or another word processor that will read it.
2. In a .pdf form, with fields into which you can enter the specific information either electronically or by hand. The embedded font is Adobe Hebrew Bold and is about the same size as the New Peninim, but should stand out. On a Mac, you’ll need to set the input language for Hebrew and I imagine the same would be true for Windows. The space for signatures can also be filled using a digital signature or by hand. All the documents are inside a portfolio, so you will need to download the linked file below and then open it to access the individual forms.
Notes on the forms themselves:
1. I added a fourth person to the documents for girls to allow the woman who helps the mother and daughter in the mikveh to sign if no member of the beit din is fulfilling that function.
2. I left Reb Zalman’s template intact for a girl where he offered only “daughter of Abraham and Sarah.” While I cannot be sure he still felt this way at the end of his life, he did feel that even a child had to be called this at the time he composed this document (whenever that was). In the others, I offer the option of using both the adoptive parents names and that of Abraham and Sarah.
3. As much as I could, I set up multiple possible combinations of parents who bring a child for immersion. My documents still assume two parents, but they can be a mother and father, two mothers, or two fathers. And, if you are using the rtf format, you can easily modify those verbs that are in the plural and make them singular. The options are visible in the rtf versions and you can consult them when filling in the pdf. I also tested the pdf forms in Acrobat Reader and if you put your cursor inside the field to be filled in there will be a little description of the contents that will show. One thing I noticed is that the forms do not allow you to save them with the added data but rather requires you to print them and then scan in order to have a saved electronic copy. If anyone reading this knows how to change this so that you all can simply save the competed forms, please do let me know.
4. The one called Giyur Girl•Zalman is the one which has been on the template list. This is one he did on his own and I’ve reproduced it the way he wrote it. It is for a Jewish woman who has adopted a girl who is still a child.
5. For the day of the month in Hebrew:
a. On Rosh Chodesh you write – באחד לחדש
b. For 2-10 you write – בשני ימים
c. For the rest – באחד עשר יום
I hope, in the not too distant future, to repeat this same process with the documents for adults and also add in the option for a single parent bringing a child. In the meantime, I ask you to let me know if you find mistakes in language or formatting. Also, please feel free to share your own documents with me. While I can’t promise to put all of them in a manual for klei kodesh, I do want to add more possibilities as we go forward.
Giyur for Children (PDF Portfolio)
Giyur for Children (RTF Files in Zip Archive)
Hanna and I were privileged to attend the bar mitzvah of Reb Aryeh Hirshfield’s twin sons on the Shabbat of US Thanksgiving weekend. It was a powerful experience, full of both joy and sadness, as several communities gathered to honour these two young men and their mother. Reb Aryeh z”l had passed away suddenly some years ago and was among Reb Zalman’s early musmachim and part of the founding of Jewish Renewal in the Pacific Northwest. We who were Aryeh’s friends, colleagues, and family missed him even as we kvelled at the poise, maturity, and intelligence of his sons.
Among many special moments, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett of Corvallis, OR spoke about the word and name Yisra’el. The Torah reading for that Shabbat afternoon was Parashat VaYishlach, in which Jacob struggles with the angel and receives the name Yisra’el as the morning light ends the dark night. Most of the time in Jewish Renewal, we speak of this name of ours as meaning “God Wrestlers,” reflecting the reason given by the angel for this name “for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:29). Rabbi Ben pointed out that the name can also be read as Yashar El, being straight or honest with God. I resonated with this because I wrote something similar when I became rabbinic director of ALEPH back in 1997. In some sense, we are not only people who wrestle with God but also a people who maintain, as best we can, an honesty and simplicity with God, a moral and ethical core to which we are committed.
For many years, I’ve declined to speak publicly about Israel, not because I don’t care about Israel but because I’ve seen no purpose in North Americans debating the various positions on the Israeli political spectrum. These debates only seem to make us angry at each other while having no real effect on the situation in the Middle East. However, in the past three months, I decided to spend more time reading, learning about what is happening in Israel and allowing my love for this country and its people to surface. The first was reading Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The second was the decision my son urged me to make to subscribe to the English edition of HaAretz. He reasoned that this is a voice that we need to hear and so we ought to support it by subscribing.
I have learned and continue to learn much from these two decisions and I hope to share some of that with you in upcoming blogs. Here I want only to highlight that Shavit is advocating a kind of secular Israeli Jewish Renewal, urging us to renew the moral core which he believes must be at the centre of whatever else it may be that we think makes us Jews. I think it would be wonderful to connect with him, perhaps invite him to spend some time with us, so that we could learn from one another.
Reb Hanna Tiferet went to a talk he gave in Boston early last month. The sponsor, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, has made this talk available to everyone. I’ve pasted the link below and strongly encourage you to listen to it from start to finish, to experience in full the way he makes the case for a renewal of the Zionism he, and we, hold dear.
What I wrote about the name Yisra’el came from a teaching of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and was part of the proposal I made to ALEPH in the process of becoming its Rabbinic Director. Here is a link to Levi Yitzchak’s Torah and a part of my letter: Yashar El•Sources.