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We are a community of Hebrew Seminary faculty, staff, rabbinical students, lifelong learners, Kabbalists, scholars, spiritual seekers and kind supporters.

The mission of Hebrew Seminary is to train women and men as rabbis and Jewish educators to serve all Jewish communities, including the deaf community. Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1993.

We hope that within this blog you will discover moments of insight and inspiration, practical and spiritual guidance, as well as a path to further study.

Along the way, let us know your thoughts!

Summer Semester 2017

HEBREW SEMINARY

Summer Semester 2017

A Purposeful Torah Pause

June 25  –  August 24, 2017

 

Pause with us this summer.
Pause with purpose
to pursue rabbinic ordination or consider it.

 

Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury returns this semester with a practical rabbinics class, Shabbat Liturgy, and Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub is offering a “companion” Talmud class, Ancient & Modern Approaches to Shabbat.

Rabbi Shari Chen is offering a new Practical Rabbinics class: Preparation in Reading & Signing the Torah.  Students will learn how to prepare themselves to read Torah at the Bimah for services.  This will include reading without vowels, translating from Hebrew to English and an introduction to biblical ASL signs.  ASL interpreter Cathy Silvern will instruct the students in key signs for select readings.

The focus of the Torah readings will be Jewish holidays beginning with the High Holidays.  Among the reading will be: Bereshit – Vayeira 22:1; Devarim – Nitzavim 29:9; Devarim – Nitzvin 30:11; Vayikra – Kedoshim 19:1; Vayikra – Emor 23:1.

Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis is offering two new summer courses:

Trope Theory &

the Visualization of Hebrew Grammar through Ancient Hand Signs

You may be familiar with trope as the ancient art of chanting Torah and Haftarah. In fact, there are at least seven different systems of trope within the Eastern European modes alone, the system that is standard in the U.S. Outside of our Ashkenazi tradition there are many other Jewish musical systems, equally varied and ancient.

What unifies all these trope traditions is their grammatical function as a set of syntactical markers. Trope is a highly sophisticated system – much more so than English punctuation. It is an essential tool for unpacking the ancient sacred Hebrew of the Tanakh which is often written in succinct prose or poetry. The commentators through the ages have used trope as a means of interpretation through punctuation.

Chironomy, or hand signals, is an ancient way of indicating the musical turns of chanting. Combined with an understanding of the grammar of trope, this is a way of performing the language of the Torah through hand gestures. 

Jewish Peoplehood in Modern Times – A Study of Zionism(s)

A central challenge that faced Judaism in modernity is how to self-define as a people in an open society. One of the solutions to this challenge has been Zionism in its many forms: cultural, political and religious. “Zionism(s)” exist as systems of thinking and being that are separate from either the Israeli or the American Jewish communities. We will study the context, content and implications of various forms of Zionism as well as their reception.

Our main textbooks with be: “The Zionist Idea” ed. Arthur Hertzberg and “The Jew in the Modern World” eds. Paul Mendes-Flohr and Judah Reinharz.

Also, allow us to share a taste of Fall 2017 when Rabbi Goldhamer will be offering two classes:

Sundays 12:00 – 1:30 pm starting October 15th, 2017
Chassidic and Kabbalistic Literature featuring the Baal Shem Tov and Levi Yitzchak Berditchev and including Sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim and Kedushat Levi.

Students should be familiar with Hebrew.

Rabbi Goldhamer writes: I look forward to teaching this class because even though both teachers, the Baal Shem Tov or Besht and Levi Yitchak Berditchev, lived several hundred years ago they were very involved in the current politics of their time especially as it affected the Jewish community.  Yes, they were very serious scholars but they were all very serious political commentators.  The Besht invited all people, including a cossack or two, to study with him.  And Hebrew Seminary invites you!

Biblical Commentary
Enrollment open to Hebrew Seminary graduates, thesis students and students who have completed their Hebrew language requirements.

Commentators will include Rashi, Ramban, Kedushat Levi, Degel Ephraim, and Maor VaShemesh.

Students will translate biblical commentary from two schools of exegesis: Nigleh-Revealed and Nistar-Hidden.  Students will see that translated texts from the Nistar school are very similar to one another and translated texts from the Nigleh school are very similar to each other.  Nistar commentaries are full of hidden secrets and include metaphorical, remez and sod interpretations.  Nigleh commentaries s are very straightforward.  None-the-less, Nigleh commentary can be quite tricky at times.  Therefore the students’ ability in the different translation styles will constantly be tested.

Students will use the following texts:

Mikraot Gedolot : Meorei HaChassidut (5 vol.)
hard cover (184362)
Mikraot Gedolot – Hamaor : Torah (medium size – 5 vol.)
hard cover – boxed set (18722)

Hebrew Seminary graduates serve in a variety of roles – as pulpit rabbis, educators, chaplains, in public service and serving those with special needs, including the deaf community.  Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1992.  Our ordained Rabbis and Jewish educators support underserved Jewish populations.

Hebrew Seminary has the highest commitment to traditional scholarship. This includes Talmud, Bible, Kabbalah and Hebrew, all taught by an outstanding faculty led by our President, Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.  Hebrew Seminary is all about learning to hear the voice of God in our texts and in each other.  Our program is intensive and inspiring.

HEBREW SEMINARY
A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING

4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076
847-679-4113 • fax: 847-677-7945
info@hebrewseminary.org • hebrewseminary.org

 

The Languages of God

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

When I was ordained as a rabbi in 1972, there was one person who had more influence on me than any other human being. It wasn’t my wife. I wasn’t married yet.  It wasn’t my mother. She was living in Canada.  It wasn’t God. It wasn’t any rabbi.  The person who had the most influence on my life was a Baptist preacher, and everyone in this room will recognize his name.  I was in my 3rd year of Rabbinical school.  I decided to cut my class on education—too early in the morning. I had a late night date. Anyway, I’m lying in bed in the dorm at Hebrew Union College, and I turn on the TV.  And there’s the man who changed my life. The man who indirectly made my ministry possible—the Reverend Pat Robertson. And I’ll never forget his words. He said, “There are over 40,000 Jewish deaf people. There are no rabbis serving them. We can save them for Christ.”  You may well ask, why were there no rabbis working with the Jewish deaf?

When I told my fellow students that this was my plan—they were outraged.  “Goldhamer, don’t you know what the laws of Torah and Talmud say about the deaf?” The law was quite clear during the time of Jesus that the deaf person, or the heresh, or the person who could not hear or speak—was exempt from all the rules and laws governing Judaism. And why was he exempt?

He was exempt because he did not have bar-deah. He did not have mental competency to assume bat mitzvah or leadership in any temple. He did not have the mental competency to be part of a quorum of 10.  He did not have the mental competency to read a service where there might be hearing people in the service.  The law was very clear, that a deaf person did not have the right to lead someone who hears to fulfill the mitzvah obligation.  Every member of my graduation class, with the exception of the first woman to graduate as a Reform Rabbi—Sally Priesand, was not happy with my choice to become a minister of the deaf.

Over thousands of years, people who are deaf and grew up even in an observant Jewish home got lost because there was no special attention or focus for them and on them.  It’s as if the deaf Jewish community has a present, but not a past.  As a result, many deaf Jews have a minimal identity as Jewish people, or even no identity as Jews.

So, how does a deaf person participate in public prayer? According to most Jewish Halachic rulings, deaf people can be part of a minyan if they can follow the prayers, and with mouth, say Amen.  However, don’t appoint a deaf person to lead prayers.

What about the Shema, the most important prayer of the Jewish faith—it affirms the Oneness of God. “Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord Is One.”  Does a person have to hear the Shema to fulfill his obligation, or is understanding enough?  At Bene Shalom, we sign this important prayer this way. We sign “Hear O Israel…” We don’t sign Hear, which is this—but we sign understand—because what is most important is understanding.  On Purim the Jewish community gathers to read the Megillat Esther.  But, according to Halacha, you have to hear the Megillah read to fulfill the obligation. But the Deaf do have an obligation to read it themselves. But, they can’t read it for others.

Several years ago I received an email from a woman whose son was fluent in American Sign Language—but he couldn’t speak.  Her son was 14 years old. Because he doesn’t speak and only uses American Sign Language, the Rabbi refused to call him up to say a blessing at his cousin’s bar mitzvah.

In Skokie, at Congregation Bene Shalom, we understand that the deaf person has full parity with the hearing person.  It doesn’t matter if your method of communication is sign language or oral language, we are all one before God.  Every week, we interpret God’s word, using a language of God—American Sign Language, together with Hebrew and English.  And we have a loop system that enables those with hearing aids to better hear the prayers being communicated to God.  The synagogue was founded by myself and a group of 12 deaf families who were members of the Hebrew Association of the Deaf.  Originally the congregation was all deaf—a combination of oral Deaf and Signing Deaf.  But over the years, we have added many hearing members.  But we still make sure that the temple is accessible to everyone–deaf and hearing.  I and my assistant Rabbi are both fluent in American Sign Language.  Our Sunday school has a deaf teacher, who uses her voice when she teaches the hearing children.   It’s especially moving when a deaf girl or boy from our synagogue comes to the Torah and receives bar or bat mitzvah. It is inspiring to see a deaf girl interpret the words of Moses and Aaron in sign language; it is inspiring to see the Torah of Moses read by a deaf boy using his heart and soul and hands to communicate the word of God.  And our hearing children also learn to sign their Torah portion out of respect for their deaf friends.

You know, one of the most moving experiences in my ministry was my study with a deaf man named Steve.  We studied together when he was an adult, so he could achieve bar mitzvah—when he was 13, his parents’ Rabbi said it was impossible for him to have bar mitzvah because he used Sign language. He was also oral, and loved to speak the Hebrew prayers—but his childhood rabbi said he could not have bar mitzvah. So, when Steve was 30 something, we studied together and he not only learned the Hebrew of the Torah and the blessings, but he learned Israeli Sign Language, so he could sign the Hebrew –not just in English transliteration.  He drew the Hebrew characters in the air, and spoke them, “Baruchu et Adonai…”  Every word brought him and us closer to God.  And years later, Steve became one of the first students at the Seminary that I founded, Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf.

Each one of these wondrous happenings of deaf people reading Torah, learning Hebrew, becoming president of our synagogue, achieving bar mitzvah, defies what the ancient rabbis said about the deaf. During Talmudic times, when our religions was being established, the ancient rabbis misunderstood deaf people and deaf culture. During rabbinic times, a little deaf girl was brought before Jesus and the mother of the little deaf girl asked Jesus to heal her daughter. “My poor daughter is deaf.  She will never speak.  She will never hear.  She will never communicate with the world. My poor daughter is deaf.” And so Jesus puts his hands on the little girl’s ears, and the book of Matthew tells us that an ugly and awful sound escaped from the little girl’s ears.  It was the sound of an evil spirit. The girl was healed. The wild demon left the girl. She was no longer deaf. She could hear; she could speak.  “Praise the Lord.”  This was the thinking at that time about deaf people.

During rabbinic times, the rabbis questioned, “Who is a deaf person?”

And they ruled that a deaf person is “Anyone who can’t hear, can’t speak and is mentally incompetent.”  Indeed, the Rabbis at that time said that because deaf people were “lav bene daya neenwho,” they were exempt from all the commandments of the Torah. The deaf are not required to read Torah, put on tefilin, observe the holidays and even pray. Furthermore, a deaf person was not permitted to lead a hearing person in prayer.

Because of his physical impairment, the deaf person was considered mentally incompetent and unable to actively participate in the religious activities of the community.  This Jewish thinking prevailed for 20 centuries.

And then we established Congregation Bene Shalom—we are celebrating our 45th anniversary in May. We founded the only full time deaf synagogue in the world, where deaf boys and girls achieve b’nai mitzvah, where deaf men and women achieve leadership roles in the Jewish community.   Where deaf Catholic and Jewish Senior Citizens come together every month to share lunch and talk together for hours.  Where deaf and hearing people come together as equals in prayer and camaraderie. Where adult education classes are interpreted for the deaf and hearing.  Where the Rabbi preaches using his voice and his hands. Where the signing choir interprets the Hebrew chants of our Cantorial soloist. Where the hard of hearing are totally comfortable because of our loop auditory system.  And all this happens because deaf people are “bene deya.”   In the words of the former president of Gallaudet University, King Jordan–Deaf people can do anything but hear!

And so, 20 years ago, Alan Crane, Joan and Stan Golder and I established the first seminary in the world that trains not only hearing people, but deaf men and women to become rabbis.  There are deaf Jewish communities all over American and Europe—and I have seen that we need deaf and hearing rabbis to serve deaf and hearing communities. Hebrew Seminary recognizes that deafness is a unique culture and part of the Jewish multi-cultural experience.   Right now, we have 10 students studying to become rabbis—and two of them are deaf!  One wants to work with deaf children, and the other wants to start a congregation for deaf and hearing Jews in her community of Englewood.

The ancient rabbis identified speech with thought. The ancient rabbis maintained that the rational soul – that part of us that thinks – is called nefesh mi da beret – the soul that speaks.  Even Greek philosophy used the same word for thinking and speaking, logos.  Even Moses identified thought with speech.  When God chose Moses to liberate the Jewish peole, Moses was dumbfounded and said, “I am a man of heavy speech.” But God recognized there is no correlation between speech and thought. God gives Moses a speech interpreter—his brother Aaron.  Moses confronts the pharaoh and liberates the people from Egypt.

Many Jewish deaf people are unable to do the mitzvah of saying the required blessings—every Jewish person is mandated to say 100 blessing every day. And even though there are two ways to articulate a blessing, with each way being legally legitimate, the deaf person cannot embrace either of these 2 ways.  They could either say the words themselves, orally, in order to do it themselves—which most ancient deaf could not do – or, they could hear the reading of others—aurally —so as to do the mitzvah through listening. However, the ancient Jewish law provides an alternative way of doing the mitzvah. Those unable to say their prayers and blessings with their mouths, should think them in their heads instead. Their thought is accepted in place of the spoken word. This was the way that our ancient rabbis included the deaf into equality. This is the way we include the deaf through two contemporary methods—1. A sign language interpreter who is fluent in her work, or 2 an equally valid method of interpreting—the loop system which amplifies sound to someone wearing a hearing aid.

Our seminary follows the thinking of God, and we know that hearing and debur or speech is not necessary for a rabbi.  The language of signs is exquisite and inspiring. It brings us close to God. It touches our souls and hearts.

I dream that every deaf Jewish boy and girl in America will have bar mitzvah, and will interpret his Torah portion in sign, Hebrew and English, and they will be taught by deaf and hearing rabbis dedicated to teaching our faith.  I have a vision that Jewish deaf leaders will sign Torah in their synagogues, sit on the boards of major Jewish organizations and become spiritual leaders of deaf and hearing congregations, which are fully equipped with loop auditory systems.  I have a vison where rabbis who assume pulpits will make their congregations deaf friendly by introducing sign language in the religious services, using captioning devices, and loop systems, teaching Torah and Hebrew to deaf children in their religious school using sign language and sign language interpreters.  I have a vision where every synagogue in America will be accessible to deaf people because sign language and deaf culture will be part of the curriculum. I have a vision of hearing and deaf rabbis establishing deaf congregations across the country so that deaf people will have a choice of going either to a deaf congregation or a hearing congregation that is deaf friendly. I have a vision of a seminary in America where rabbis and Ph.D. scholar are in daily contact with deaf Jewish men and women and that God’s prophecy is realized, because, through our Seminary, the deaf shall understand even though they do not hear.  It is true that deaf can do anything but hear.

 

The Earth As Sanctuary

From the Pen of Executive Director Alison C. Brown

Parsha Tezaveh discusses the materials and steps necessary to perform service to God in the Sanctuary. As a metaphor, “Achieving any form of spiritual growth requires sustained effort and daily rituals.” [1] We call this avodah, service. Our intentional efforts and rituals create a space, a groove, carved into our life through practice that allows a flow of ideals into actions.

Just as water naturally flows to join its watershed, so too practiced meditation and prayer flows through our thoughtscape along God created paths of peace and purpose. Perhaps these paths run parallel to biological paths of self-preservation and bias, but meditation, prayer and ritual creates neuropathways that we can utilize to do our avodah, our service. These paths of compassion lead to doing right by others and doing right by creation. The earth is our sanctuary and so many of our mitzvoth recognize that with rituals of appreciation.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes of Exodus 28:33:

“The numerous seeds inside pomegranates symbolize a life full of active duties, which are the fruit that ripen in the field of earthly life. The diversity of the duties corresponds to the diversity of life itself, and all of man’s various traits and qualities have a role to play in the fulfillment and realization of all these duties.” [2]

Our duties are as numerous as the diversity of life itself and it is life itself that we seem to take for granted. Since Tu B’Shevat, I’ve been worried that our duty to the earth will be neglected under the stress of all else that is at stake these 2017 legislative sessions. However when I recently visited my twin daughters at college in Iowa, I found front page headlines that usurped all other news and called dramatic attention to the fundamental need for reducing nitrate levels in our surface waters.

The article included a stunning photograph of the Atlantic Watershed as it flows pollution-laden into the already oxygen-deprived Gulf of Mexico.   The report read, “Momentum for improving the quality of Iowa’s degraded water peaked Nov. 8, when 74 percent of Linn County voters approved a $40 million conservation bond.” [3]  Caring for the earth is on the radar in Iowa because the voters understand how interconnected we are to the environment.

Consider utilizing your meditation and prayer flowing neuropathways to brainstorm and advocate with your legislators and friends about environmental concerns in your state. A number of agencies and hard-won regulations are on the line as you read this. The earth is our sanctuary and she needs you to nurture and protect her life-giving, God given flow.

Weaving Our Thoughts With a Wise Heart

From the Pen of Executive Director Alison C. Brown

It is said that the tabernacle described in Exodus is a metaphor for our inner realms, the way our spirit works together with our mind to negotiate life.  Parsha Terumah delineates the myriad details necessary to construct the Tabernacle.  Commentators note, “God’s presence is not found in a building.  It is found in the hearts and the souls of the people ….”   It is our spirit, soul and mind that fashions a tabernacle, a mishkan, for God’s presence.   Accordingly, our thoughts must be intentionally fashioned.

Later Torah verses describe the making of Aaron’s priestly vestments including the ephod (a short coat “girded” on over other garments).  The ephod, say commentators, protects the wearer against the dangers of idolatry and symbolizes a right relation between man and God.  Those who were “skillful” (hochme-lev, wise of heart) would cunningly “weave” (hoshev, thinking) gold with blue, purple and crimson yarns into the ephod’s fine linen.   These materials were woven with thought and a wise heart to create a relationship with God.  Our relationship with God includes our thoughts.   If my microwave is beeping to remind me of the coffee I reheated, I can either weave thoughts of annoyance because the beeping won’t stop and I’m busy or I can skillfully and cunningly weave thoughts of appreciation for the gift of coffee and offer up this moment of thankfulness to the Source of Being.  A mind, spirit and soul steeped in prayer and meditation will default to the latter.

What if we took care of our spirit as we, often without thinking about it, take care of our body?  Create a Jewish practice.  Five minutes here and five minutes there creates space for a mishkan, a place inside that is nurturing.  That is what the Torah alludes to.  “Make Me a sanctuary for Me to dwell in.”  There is a space inside of us that is dynamic, upstanding and attuned to the One-ness.  Think about that when you walk down the hall at work. There is a space inside of us that is dynamic, upstanding and attuned to the One-ness.

Learn to hear the still small Voice of God

Learn to hear the still small Voice of God.

Experience the ease of your Greater Mind.

It takes practice.

Be inspired to practice.  In his online video course, Enriching Your Life Through Kabbalah, Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer will teach you how to access higher levels of consciousness and draw on the energies found there.

The course is free!

Registration and related course information about this remarkable online 4–part, self-scheduled video is available at HebrewSeminary.org.

For more information about Hebrew Seminary
call 847/ 679-4113.

Heavenly Opportunity

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Our Torah portion this week, called Mishpatim, identifies the theory of reincarnation in many of our Judaisms. Our Torah portion begins, “These are the judgments that you shall place before them. “  According to the Kabbalah, and the Divine Rabbi who wrote the ZOHAR , Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,  this verse means “This is the order of judgments and laws and rewards and punishments, that dictate the reincarnation of souls.”  Every individual receives the appropriate GILGUL or incarnation, corresponding to the life he previously led.

When a person is born, he receives the first part of his soul, Nefesh. If he does good deeds and meditations and practices Torah all his life, his Nefesh soul will develop two more parts – Ruach and Neshoma.  IF he does indeed receive all these three parts of his soul – Nefesh and Ruach and Neshoma—she does not need to reincarnate.

But he goes back to the world of souls at the time of his death in this world. But if a person does not achieve Nefesh and Ruach and Neshoma, they may need to reincarnate over a number of lifetimes.

Each person goes down to earth several times in different reincarnations, and the purpose of these reincarnations is to correct all the harm and injury that he has created in his lifetimes. And so, sins originate from a person who was born with bad attributes at birth. This does not mean we believe in Original Sin – just the opposite.  Each person has the right and responsibility and opportunity to correct the sins of his previous lifetimes and then, when he succeeds in this, he is given the opportunity to go to heaven. That is why souls come down again and again, through reincarnation.

Earth is the school for souls. Each one of us learns how to be a better person through our incarnations or our gilgulim. And just as earth is a school for souls, heaven is the graduation that is offered to each one of us. And many of our Judaisms do believe that we do visit with family members once again after we leave this earth.

Over the years, people have come to me for an exorcism. They feel that their husband or child has been possessed. And, they wonder if I could exorcise the demon from within them. Do we Jewish people do exorcisms, similar to the Catholic priest?

Yes, there is a form of reincarnation which is called a dybbuk. It is referred to as “being possessed.” This means that a person’s soul becomes possessed by another person’s soul or by an evil spirit. This dybbuk is a separate soul that never becomes unified with one’s own soul, and when a person is possessed by this other soul, he feels there is something external to his own life, living in his body. The Torah calls this Ruach Ra’ah, an evil spirit. We see this In the Bible, when the first king of Israel, King Saul was suffering from great depression, and the Torah says, “A spirit of the Lord which is evil troubled King Saul.”  In the Bible, this phenomenon was called Ruach Ra’ah, a Demon. But in later years, in the 18th century onwards, this was called a dybbuk.

Once upon a time, there lived two friends—both wives became pregnant.  “I promise, if your wife has a boy and my wife has a girl, they will marry.”

Later on, one of the friends and his wife, went on a business trip out of town.  There was an accident on the road, and the husband was killed.  The wife, subsequently gave birth to a boy, and moved to another town.  The other wife gave birth to a beautiful girl.

But the vow was forgotten.

The boy grew up and he came to study in the college of the same town as the girl.  HE even stayed as a guest in the home of that girl. He didn’t know it.  The boy and girl fell in love.

The girl’s stepfather—who didn’t know about the vow that had been made—said, “You are not rich. You cannot marry my stepdaughter.”

But the girl loved the young man.  AND he loved her. But the boy understood that they could not marry.  And with a broken heart, the boy died.

The girl’s parents found a rich suitor and arranged for their marriage. Before the wedding, the girl visited the boy’s grave and begged his soul to break through from the worlds above and come to her wedding.

As the girl cried at his grave, the soul of the boy entered her body as a dybbuk. She began acting like him, speaking like him.  The rabbis tried to do an exorcism but failed.

In the end, the girl died, in love with the soul of her beloved boyfriend.

This type of experience occupies a place in Jewish literature, because it reflects the spiritual history of our people.  Reincarnation, exorcism, dybbuks have played a part in Jewish spiritual history.

I do believe that we experience reincarnation. I am sure that some of you have experienced déjà vu.  Déjà vu is so real, and at times so powerful that, while having this experience, we think “I know this man. I’ve met him before.  Oh my God. I have experienced this exact same experience. I just can’t remember where or when.”  Anyway, I do believe that déjà vu is just another way of expressing this week’s first line in our Torah, which teaches reincarnation.

 

Kabbalistic Services: Saturday Morning Supercharger!

Our lab school, Congregation Bene Shalom invites you to join them for Saturday morning Kabbalistic services.  These services are quite wonderful in that they offer not only scholarship in Jewish meditation but Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer also makes every effort to compare Jewish meditation with other meditation systems.

All are welcome!  Saturdays at 10:30 am:
February 25
March 11
March 25
April 8
April 22
May 13
June 10
June 24
Congregation Bene Shalom
4435 West Oakton, Skokie, IL
www.beneshalom.org 847-677-3330

A prayerful, joyful, spiritual experience led by Dr. Rabbi Goldhamer, Rabbi Chen, and Cantorial Soloist Charlene Brooks

We Founded Hebrew Seminary on the Principles of Inclusion and Equality, by Douglas Goldhamer and Tom Giller

We founded Hebrew Seminary on the principles of inclusion and equality. We at Hebrew Seminary join with other Jewish religious institutions throughout the United States in condemning President Trump’s executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim countries.  We find discrimination against any religion to be antithetical to our Torah and to the beliefs of our founding fathers.

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison proposed the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which would be the basis of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  When certain devout Christians wanted to substitute the words “Jesus Christ” for “Almighty God” in the opening passage, they were overwhelmingly voted down, because Virginia’s representatives wanted the law “to comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahomedan (sic), the Hindu and infidel of every denomination.”

In August, 1790, President George Washington, wrote “The government of the United States, gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no tolerance, and requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens….” These words were written by our founding president, after visiting the first Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. Prior to this time, President Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson also showed their support and compassion to the Roman Catholics by attending services at a Roman Catholic church, whose parishioners were not warmly embraced by many Americans at that time.

There is no religious obligation more important in Judaism than the protection of the refugee and the immigrant.  “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20)  The Torah admonishes us at least thirty six times to treat “the other” with fairness and compassion.  In this country, “strangers” have added greatly to making us the strong, diverse land that we are today.

According to the Talmud, “he who saves one life, saves the entire world.”  It does not say “one Jewish life, one Christian life, one Muslim life.”  It says “one life,” because all lives are equal before Hashem.  We applaud those who have protested President Trump’s attempted ban, and we are grateful for the wisdom of the Federal judges that have stayed the ban.  We are especially grateful to our Founding Fathers for their brilliance in establishing our system of checks and balances.

Let us not fear the stranger but let us have faith in God that He will inspire these strangers and our citizenry to come together to form bonds of friendship that will enrich all our lives.  As Jews, we must remember the horrible consequences of closing U.S. borders to those facing persecution, and speak up to prevent that shameful history from repeating itself.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, Ph.D., D.D.
Hebrew Seminary President

Thomas Giller, J.D., L.S.W.
Hebrew Seminary Chairman of the Board

 

Under the Wings of the Divine Presence

From the Pen of Executive Director Alison C. Brown

We read in Midrash Tanchuma Yitro, “However, Yitro heard and was rewarded.  He had been a priest of idolatry, yet he came and attached himself to Moshe, and entered beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.”

The cozy, safe, loving image of v’nichnas tachat canfei HaShechina, entering beneath the wings of the Shechina, invites me to eschew the earthy pleasures and distractions that, by all indications, I so worship.  Netflix for example.  My life was crazy, as most everyone’s was, from this past November until the first week of January.  Afterwards, I settled in.  My house was warm. I had a list of television series touted by my friends.  I escaped into Netflix as often as I could.  I forgot those pesky New Year’s resolutions, forgot the books I was so excited to read, and forgot that when the house was quiet I could meditate myself v’nichnas tachat canfei HaShechina.

Netflix certainly offers opportunities for growth.  I’ve learned addiction to prescription drugs can ruin your life.  I’ve learned that English midwives are dedicated, adorable game changers.  I’ve learned that a pretty Italian seamstress can make a clever spy.  And now, I am SO rested.

I am ready to ascend the mountain again.  I have texts to study and people to befriend.  I want to be aware and motivated by God, the Source of All who creates me anew every moment.  I want to turn off the t.v. and walk past all the other so accessible idols that beckon me – including the lovely cellophane wrapped brownie cookies that caused me pause at the grocery store.  In every moment I am face to face with God.  Al panai, before me, interpreted in the Mekhita de Rabbi Ishmael as a reference to both time and place.  We are always in God’s presence, we all stand at Sinai.  And, on occasion we need refueling.

We need entertainment too.  Movies, music, dancing, and yes t.v.  But I also want to grow into some version of my best self.  I am reading Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.  He explains that large scale human cooperation is based on myth.  Change the myth, tell a different story and you can make large scale change.  While I’m open to all stories, I most appreciate the Jewish story.  I like having the opportunity to partner with a divine source who inspires me to think and do from Mochin de Gadlut – from a Greater Mind.  The change I want to see, that I want to be, is a world where problems contain within themselves a myriad of solutions.  Acting on them however, entails getting off the couch.

Zoning out with idols is easy.  Rabbi Arthur Green says that living a meaningful life requires creativity and moral action.  He learned this from our story.  This is why Yitro said, Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods.”

Tu B’Shvat – Sing Praise, Happy Birthday, Then Back to Work!

“From the mystical perspective, reality is always both broken and perfect all at once,” Rabbinic Pastor Estelle Frankel says in an allusion to Isaac Luria’s Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World.

This week we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, which in contemporary times signifies the birthday of the trees.  Even here in Chicago in February there is potential for spring, for becoming, as tree sap begins to rise with the fluctuating temperatures.  The trees express their perfection even as the earth heats up to record highs for the third year in a row and regulations protecting God’s creations are rolled back by the government.  Ask the Artic, African and even Miami’s communities what this means on the ground.

In the air, circling the trees and the plants are the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.  These pollinators create seeds and fruit.  Tu B’Shvat asks us to pause and be thankful for this Bee not only as a keystone species that contributes to healthy ecosystems, but as part of nature’s perfection.  On January 10th of this year, 2017, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was listed as an endangered species.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service casts this dire news in terms that must speak louder than the fragile web-of-life that we are co-dependent on: “The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”

On Saturday, February 11th take pause. “Ask what you can do for your country,” was coined by John F. Kennedy and yet the foundation of our union is just the opposite. Our government is supposed to serve us.  When it doesn’t, when it doesn’t serve to honor and protect the perfection of God’s creations but rather chooses to break it, whether through ignorance or greed, it is time to be a Jew.  Jewish theology and thus ideology asserts that our mission is to improve life and we act in partnership with God to do that.  We have responsibilities as Jews.  As Americans, with our individualist vision of people with rights, not so much some would say.

But I am heartened by our country’s taking to the street and working together to right the wrongs that are especially salient today.  Tu B’shvat further reminds us to not forget the environment.  Our responsibilities weigh on a multitude of fronts.  ‘Wake up and smell the roses’ means wake up to reality: reality is both broken and perfect and we are responsible for it.

“We are an amalgam, an entity consisting of the outside world and the body/mind.  Like trees whose roots branch down and outward and those whose topmost, thinnest branches reach up and outward, we too are it all.  Air, water, electrical current, the planet itself, and our body/minds, all built as an interrelated living organism.  We didn’t arise from the universe.  We don’t even merely express the cosmos.  We are it.” Robert Lanza , M.D.

Here’s one thing you can do to offset climate change: https://www.arborday.org/takeaction/carbon/offsetting-with-trees.cfm

And here’s one thing you can do for the bees:
http://pollinator.org/guides

You can do these things at your own home and/or volunteer to do them at a senior center, a park or for a neighbor!

For more information on Tu B’shvat:
http://www.aish.com/h/15sh/mm/Tu-Bishvat-Past-and-Present.html

Other blog sources:
Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N., To Do The Right and The Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics, (2002: Philadelphia,JPS).

Lanza, Robert M.D., Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death, (2016: Dallas, BenBella Books Inc.), 184.