Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Moses' Worst Fear

Deuteronomy 29:15-18

Moses knows us; he knows we will be tempted by other's gods. He uses every way possible to convince us to avoid being seduced into other beliefs. His efforts to convince the people standing before him to keep their beliefs strong is essential because their continued existence depends on it.

The strategy used traditionally was to paint the alternatives as repulsive so we would not be tempted to stray.

The modern and reform strategy is more difficult. We recognize that there are other paths that are not necessarily bad. But we want to make the Jewish ways such that we embrace them and do not want to follow other ways.

In Biblical times the Pagan cultures did horrific things such as child sacrifice that by today’s standards is repulsive. Today different faiths are less repugnant and we can see that others do live by moral and acceptable standards. It is necessary to understand Moses' fear that his people must not cease to exist, but at the same time to find a balance of tolerance to live side by side with those of other beliefs.

We are exposed to so many 'unhealthy' ideas and ways of life and after a while those ways don't seem so bad and we are tempted to try them. Often intellectual curiosity can turn into an obsession and become seductive. We do have 'fetishes' that sometimes seem as if they have 'powers' and are those 'other gods'. Whether it is a symbol of our belief such as the mezuzah or a product of today's innovation like a computer, we sometimes try to find spiritual powers in things that surround us.

There is sometimes a fine line between superstition and belief. We need to understand Moses' fear to assure that our beliefs stay strong and we continue to follow the mitzvot and especially the first commandment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

View Over Time - On Us As Jews

Deuteronomy 29: 9-14 (again)

As we focus again on the introduction to Moses’ last speech and the gathering of everyone, even ‘those not here” we look at different interpretations over history.

Samson Raphael Hirsch defines that we will be different.
Isaac Abravanel from 15th Century Portugal who reminds Jews that they cannot escape from being Jewish.
Rav. Abraham Kook, chief Rabbi of Palestine 1904, saw that everyone was was part of God’s plan. He was the bridge builder between the religious and secular Jews.
Rabbi Joe Edelheit points to the difficulty in standing still as the world goes faster and faster.
Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin who removes us from time and space as he links our traditions to symbols from Torah, such as the wedding to Adam & Eve.

How this discussion moved from one era to the next and then connecting the philosophies – I am still not sure - but these are the highlights of my notes from the week!

Some relevant and interesting links:
About Isaac Abrabanel

About Rav Kook

Standing Still So We Can Go Into The New Year by Joseph Edelheit

Jewish Weddings by R. Jeffrey Salkin

R. Jeffrey Salkin on Being A Spiritual Jew

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Purim Lyrics

Well I want to share some of the amazing lyrics that our Rabbi wrote for the Purim Shpeil:

Theme: West Side Story - Transformed to Silicon Story a la "the Book of Esther"

The Jew's Song

When you're a Jew, you're a Jew all the way
From your first Bar'chu to your final oy vey
When you're a Jew, you got bagels and lox
There are cheeseburgers, too, if you're NON-Orthodox.

We never shut up; to kevetch is our vocation
We're happiest when we're voicing our frustration , in conversation!

If you're a putz with a capital P
You are STILL one of us, that is our guarantee
When you're a Jew, you stay a Jew!

When you're a Jew you are chosen for life
You're a nebbishy guy with a dominant wife
When you're a Jew there's tradition and lore
From the thing that gets cut to that box on the door!

The Jews are a tribe, a righteous congregation
So goyim take care, don't offer us salvation !

(Well if the rabbi decides to change careers - a lyricist might be a good choice)

And the costumes were good too:

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Standing Together

Deuteronomy 29:9-14

Everyone stands together to hear Moses. It is not just “standing there”; the word implies attention, alertness and purpose. This marks the end of Moses’ life and a transition to a new life for the people.

This standing is symbolic of our link to one another and our need to stand together and support one another. Why should our link to other Jews be different from our link to other people in our role as humans? What is the hierarchy of our caring and how do we convey this to our children?

It is significant that we studied this at Purim with the theme of Jewish Solidarity following in the story of Esther.

Talmud's Tractate Ta'anit points out that we are bound together in fortunes both good and bad.

“When the children of Israel fought with the Amalekites, the Talmud (Tractate Taanit) tells us that Moses sat on a stone. He was asked why he sat on a rock when he could have found something more comfortable to sit upon. Did he not have a pillow, or the equivalent thereof? Moses wisely answered, "Here the children of Israel are entrenched in pain. I will also be with them in their pain."” – source

The other example is the midrash about a bundle of sticks. It is difficult to break the whole bundle while it is easy to break it one stick at a time.

In the Shema when we end with “Echad” it is not only God that is “ONE”; we are also “ONE” as a People.

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Christians vs Jews - Big Differences

Torah Study quotes of interest:

When Christians accept Christ they gain Salvation.

When Jews accept Torah they gain Responsibility

On concerns for others:.

Jewish focus is to worry about other people's physical well being and take care of your own soul.

Christians are concerned about others souls and thus they encourage conversion to offer salvation.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Eisen on Jewish Peoplehood

Arnie Eisen spoke at Beth Am On Feb 25th about American Judaism and “where we are” as part of the modern Diaspora. The first rule in the modern Jewish community in America is “Individualism”. Today we work to build our communities, they are not "a given" as in history.

To explain his position he reviewed the contrast of philosophies of Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Kaplan represents the practical “Way of Life” position and Heschel with the “Spiritual Supernatural” approach. And while these two directives seem to be opposing they can easily live side by side in Eisen’s approach to ‘Modernity’.

In his discussion of Jewish Peoplehood he stressed that we need to bridge the gap between the secular and religious and between Israeli and American points of view. We must embrace a pluralistic point of view to move forward. Zionism must be better understood and accepted by American Jews. Israel is vital to the future of Judaism.

Due to statistical recalculations the Jewish population in the US is now 6.2 million. There are now a million more Jews than what was previously projected. Eisen sees this as an opportunity to reach out and build the Jewish Peoplehood and make Judaism stronger.



Eisen - He is going to be Chancelor of JTS

Thanks to James Jeffries for the photo