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Korach’s and the Country’s Accounting

Korach, Numbers 16:01-18:32
by Hebrew Seminary Executive Director Alison C. Brown

In contemporary commentary, Korach is sometimes described as a demagogue. Just as often, Talmud Brachot 58a is quoted: “Just as the faces of people do not exactly resemble one another, so too their opinions do not exactly resemble one another.” In our time, just about everyone, leaders on both sides of the aisle included, can be accused of responding with demagoguery. In our time, Brachot 58a can serve as a mantra to remind us that we do perhaps live in only one of multiple universes, i.e. the world does not revolve around us. Life includes infinite possibilities, an opinion that I endlessly repeat. Possibility is my working definition of God too. This definition excludes nothing and is itself nothing – Ayn Sof, the One without End.

Yet, just because all is possible doesn’t mean we don’t need to do heshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. All of the characters of our parsha this week surely weighed and measured their motives, at least after they responded if not before. Acting from possibility also allows us to, after an accounting of the soul, to apologize and try to make right our careless words and actions. “To me they’re not even people,” illustrates the level of political discourse and conflict in America’s book of life today.

Another useful mantra comes from Nachmanides, “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger…[then]…Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart.” By mantra I mean, phrases repeated over and over like a chant, as it occurs to you, throughout your day. You breathe and imbibe these inspirational words of your choosing and they become who you are. Humility rarely leads one to demean or exclude others. Our choices wire our brain to repeat that choice. Choose from life’s possibilities with humility. Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz writes, “A mitzvah does not exist in a vacumn…but rather, brings other mitzvot in its wake,”

“CS Lewis rightly defined humility not as thinking less of yourself but as thinking of yourself less,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us. “[Great leaders] are motivated by ideals, not by personal ambition….in Judaism, to lead is to serve. Those who serve do not lift themselves high. They lift other people high.” Those I consider leaders, among them Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer of course, are servant leaders by speaking from and role-modeling the possibility and importance of being our best self. We read Torah to learn how to be our best self, we practice heshbon ha-nefesh (perhaps as a nightly journaling routine) to move toward our best self, and we think of ourself less often as an act of anavah, humble modesty.

Being our best self isn’t easy to be sure. We have to love and be compassionate with ourselves as psychologists have discovered, integrated into modern therapies and augmented with meditations and mantras. Rabbi Jill Zimmerman notes, “Every time our heart opens and we then reach out to another human being, blessing flows from us.  We desperately need as much blessing as all of us can conjure up — not only for others, but for our own bruised souls.” Rabbi Zimmerman has created a Jewish version of the Buddhist Metta practice of loving kindness that I was taught by Sharon Salzburg and will now practice in the language of my people. Key this mantra into a note on your phone and repeat whenever you get the chance. As the Rabbi says, “Start with 5 minutes a day.  Start with yourself.

In Hebrew, we might say something like this [an example of openness and humility!]:

May I feel safe (b’tachon) בטחון

May I feel content (see’pook) סיפוק

May I feel strong (oz) עוז

May I feel peace (shalom) שלום ”

 

 

We Are One

How to Identify the Inner I with the Greater I

A meditation taught by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer from Healing With God’s Love.

Find a comfortable place and use this room, or part of this room, as your holy sanctuary. You should meditate in the same room every day, as then you will increase the energy in that place. The ancient Kabbalists call such a special place your mi’at meekdash – small holy place.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your back upright and your feet on the floor. Loosen any belt or tie or clothing that might bind you. Close your eyes.
  2. Focus on your breath. Be aware of your inhaling and your exhaling. Do this for about two minutes.
  3. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the ah sound, feeling it vibrate deeply in your belly.
  4. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the no sound, feeling it vibrate deeply in your heart area.
  5. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the khey sound, feeling it vibrate inside your head.
  6. Do this meditation ten times.

With this meditation we identify the Inner I within us with the Greater I of the Universe, that is, the Shechina within us with the transcendent male aspect of God, and so we become one with God. We see ourselves and we return to the recognition that we are not alone, we are not separate, but we are one with God.

Mindful Remembering

Shelach Lecha

By Student Rabbi Dr. Roberta Glick

The Torah portion this week begins with the story of the spies. It ends with the third paragraph of the Shema, perhaps our most well-known prayer. It is this paragraph I am going to focus on because I believe it frames the essence of Judaism: zakar – mindful remembering. This drash was inspired by several teachers, especially Jordan Bendat-Appell. But first as a lead into the third paragraph, I want to say a few words about the first and second paragraphs.

The first paragraph of the shema speaks to us as individuals. It’s an intimate love story. Abraham Joshua Heschel says words of prayer are a commitment. This paragraph is also an important reminder for right speech and right thought. S’fat Emet (a Hasidic master) says it is written that “we should speak of “them”, and not idle talk. To me this means, we must think and speak of ‘these’ words, words of Torah, words of lovingkindness, gratitude, justice, compassion chesed and emet. And not ‘those’ words, especially today: words of politics, fear, gossip, and intolerance. This is not Torah. I’m trying to stay in a G-d consciousness in a crazy world.

Regarding the second paragraph, as Jonathan Sacks says, it’s about us as a people, accepting the covenant and commandments. And I read it as an awareness that our actions have consequences. “If” we don’t treat each other, and the earth with kindness respect, with words and actions of Torah, “then” indeed the world and all humankind will be destroyed — by us. One of my teachers Norm Fischer says: “the survival of the world depends on how we treat each other,” and I add, the earth.

Now let’s focus on the third paragraph. Why is this one so important: it’s about reminders and memory: zakar.   From Norm Fischer’s book, Training in Compassion, he says that perhaps we are not always as loving and compassionate as we want to be. We are too busy, we are worried about family and health and jobs, and/or anxieties of the real world. We feel overwhelmed at times. He suggests that we have to train our hearts and minds to be more open, more kind, more compassionate, just as we train our bodies at the gym. We can do this by meditation, and other practices, and by right intention, kavanah: mindfulness.

For me, meditation is one of the tools in the tool box of improving my life as a human being. Other tools may include yoga, tai chi, prayer, music, art, and poetry. Each are unique.

Meditation consists of techniques for training your mind, just as you go to the gym to train your body, you train by focusing the mind, calming the mind, mastering your thoughts, creating a sense of spaciousness and expansiveness of mind. These qualities enable you to see more clearly, to be more awake and aware in your present experience, to be able to hold and observe your thoughts and feelings, and opening your heart and mind. These qualities of mind don’t result in your being a ‘great meditator’, but in your being able to respond to, not react to, life and the world as it presents itself with emet and chesed. These qualities result in your responding more rationally, and with more kindness, compassion, connection and gratitude to others and ourselves. Jeff Roth offers a snow globe analogy: when you shake it, you cannot see what is there because of the snow flakes. These are your thoughts flying all over the place. But once they settle you can see more clearly — life as it really is. That’s it. No magic or enlightenment, just practical stuff like being awake in the present moment. “Present moment. Wonderful moment” says Tichct Nhat Hahn a Buddhist master. And it’s Hineni in Judaism. And again, why do we need to train in compassion? Because the survival of the world depends on how we treat each other.

But we constantly need re-minders: to re-center, re-turn, (tsheuvah). In Christianity, there is the cross. In Buddhism, there is the bell and the mantra: “when I hear the sound of the bell, I return to my true self”. In Judaism, some of our reminders are mezuzah (first paragraph) and Tzitzit (third paragraph) of the shema.

Talmud Bavli, Menachot 43b tells us, “Look at it and be aware, and observe them.” Looking leads to awareness, awareness leads to doing. This is the essence of Jewish mindfulness, zakar, memory. Mindful remembering which is the opposite of forgetfulness and we find it in the third paragraph of the Shema, Numbers 15:37-41. As you read it, Focus on the words raitam, zacartam, and asitam: You shall see them, and remember them, and do them. Words, thoughts and actions of Torah: Commandments. All leading to a good life.

Shabbat shalom.

 

37 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: לזוַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:
38 Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner. לחדַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹֽרֹתָ֑ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת:
that they shall make for themselves fringes: Heb. צִיצִת, [so named] because of the threads suspended from it, as in,“he took me by a lock of (בְּצִיצִת) my hair (lit., by the fringes of my head)” (Ezek. 8:3) (Men. 42a). Another interpretation: [It is called] צִיצִת because of the [command], “you shall see it” (verse 39), as in,“peering (מֵצִיץ) from the lattices” (Song 2:9). ועשו להם ציצת: על שם הפתילים התלוים בה, כמו (יחזקאל ח, ג) ויקחני בציצית ראשי. דבר אחר ציצית על שם וראיתם אותו, כמו (שה”ש ב, ט) מציץ מן החרכים:
blue: The green-blue dye obtained from the chillazon [See Aruch Hashalem under חִלָּזוֹן, Yehudah Feliks, Nature & Man in the Bible (New York: Soncino Press, 1981, pp. 18-20]. תכלת: צבע ירוק של חלזון:
39This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. לטוְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֘ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַֽחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַֽחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽם:
you will remember all the commandments of the Lord: because the numerical value of the word צִיצִית is six hundred (צ = 90, י = 10, צ = 90, י = 10, ת = 400). [Add to this the] eight threads and five knots, and we have [a total of] six hundred and thirteen [the number of commandments in the Torah]. – [Num. Rabbah 18:21] וזכרתם את כל מצות ה’: שמנין גימטריא של ציצית שש מאות, ושמונה חוטים וחמשה קשרים הרי תרי”ג:
and you shall not wander after your hearts: Heb. וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ, like“from scouting (מִּתּוּר) the Land” (13:25). The heart and eyes are the spies for the body. They are its agents for sinning: the eye sees, the heart covets and the body commits the transgression. – [Mid. Tanchuma 15] ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם: כמו (לעיל יג כה) מתור הארץ. הלב והעינים הם מרגלים לגוף ומסרסרים לו את העבירות, העין רואה והלב חומד והגוף עושה את העבירות:
40So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. מלְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְו‍ֹתָ֑י וִֽהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדשִׁ֖ים לֵאלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
41I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord, your God. מאאֲנִ֞י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לִֽהְי֥וֹת לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
I am the Lord: Faithful to pay reward. — [Sifrei Shelach 75] אני ה’: נאמן לשלם שכר:
your God: Faithful to exact punishment. — [Sifrei Shelach 75] אלהיכם: נאמן ליפרע:
Who took you out: I redeemed you on condition you accept My decrees upon yourselves. – [Sifrei Shelach 73] אשר הוצאתי אתכם: על מנת כן פדיתי אתכם שתקבלו עליכם גזרותי:
I am the Lord, your God: Why is this repeated? So that the Israelites should not say, “Why did the Omnipresent say this? Was it not so that we should perform [the commandments] and receive reward? We will not perform [them] and not receive reward!” [Therefore, God says,] “I am your King, even against your will.” Similarly, it says, “[As I live, says the Lord God,] surely with a strong hand…will I reign over you” (Ezek. 20:33). Another interpretation: Why is the exodus from Egypt mentioned? It was I who distinguished between the drop [of sperm] of a firstborn and of that which was not of a firstborn. So in future will I distinguish and punish those who attach indigo-dyed [fringes, which is extracted from a vegetable] to their garments, claiming that it is sky-blue [dye extracted from the chillazon]. – [B.M. 61b] From the commentary of R. Moshe Hadarshan [the preacher] I transcribed [the following:] Why is the passage of the wood gatherer juxtaposed with the passage addressing idolatry? To inform [you] that one who desecrates the Sabbath is regarded as one who worships idols, for it [namely the Sabbath] too [just like the prohibition against idolatry] is as important as [the sum of] all the commandments. So Scripture says in Ezra (Neh. 9:13-14, which is strictly part of Ezra. See Rashi on Neh. 1:1), “You descended upon Mount Sinai… and you gave Your people the Law and the commandments (sic). And Your holy Sabbath You made known to them.” Likewise, the passage of fringes; why is it juxtaposed with these two [passages]? Since it too is equally important as [the sum of] all the commandments, as it states, “and perform all My commandments.” אני ה’ אלהיכם: עוד למה נאמר, כדי שלא יאמרו ישראל מפני מה אמר המקום, לא שנעשה ונטול שכר, אנו לא עושים ולא נוטלים שכר, על כרחכם אני מלככם. וכן הוא אומר (יחזקאל כ, לג) אם לא ביד חזקה וגו’ אמלוך עליכם. דבר אחר למה נאמר יציאת מצרים, אני הוא שהבחנתי במצרים בין טפה של בכור לשאינה של בכור, אני הוא עתיד להבחין ולהפרע מן התולה קלא אילן בבגדו ואומר תכלת הוא. ומיסודו של רבי משה הדרשן העתקתי למה נסמכה פרשת מקושש לפרשת עבודה זרה, לומר שהמחלל את השבת כעובד עבודה זרה, שאף היא שקולה ככל המצות, וכן הוא אומר בעזרא (נחמי’ ט, יג – טו) ועל הר סיני ירדת ותתן לעמך תורה ומצות ואת שבת קדשך הודעת להם, ואף פרשת ציצית לכך נסמכה לאלו לפי שאף היא שקולה כנגד כל המצות, שנאמר ועשיתם את כל מצותי:
on the corners of their garments: Corresponding to [the verse said in connection with the exodus from Egypt]“I carried you on the wings (כַּנְפֵי) of eagles” (Exod. 19:4). On the four corners, but not on a garment of three or five [corners]. [This] corresponds to the four expressions of redemption that were said in Egypt:“I will take you out…I will save you…I will redeem you…I will take you” (Exod. 6:6-7). – [Mid. Aggadah] על כנפי בגדיהם: כנגד (שמות יט, ד) ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים. על ארבע כנפות ולא בעלת שלש ולא בעלת חמש, כנגד ארבע לשונות של גאולה שנאמר במצרים (שמות ו, ו – ז) והוצאתי והצלתי וגאלתי ולקחתי:
a thread of sky-blue [wool]: Heb. פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת, so called because of the bereavement [suffered by the Egyptians] over the loss of their firstborn. The Aramaic translation of שִׁכּוּל, bereavement, is תִּכְלָא [a word similar to תְּכֵלֶת]. Moreover, the plague struck them at night, and the color of תְּכֵלֶת is similar to the color of the sky, which blackens at dusk; its eight threads symbolize the eight days that Israel waited from when they left Egypt until they sang the song at the [Red] Sea. – [Mid. Aggadah] פתיל תכלת: על שם שכול בכורות. תרגומו של שכול תכלא. ומכתם היתה בלילה וכן צבע התכלת דומה לצבע רקיע המשחיר לעת ערב. ושמונה חוטים שבה, כנגד שמונה ימים ששהו ישראל משיצאו ממצרים עד שאמרו שירה על הים:

 

The Visualization of Hebrew Grammar through Ancient Hand Signs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Skokie, Illinois, June 7, 2017. You may be familiar with Hebrew trope as the melodies you hear in services, but trope is best known for helping readers understand the texts. Trope brings Torah to today through the use of pauses to break verses into bite-sized phrases and clarify the meaning of Jewish texts. Hebrew Seminary’s summer semester begins June 27th and includes trope and text study classes in a way that facilitates a broader understanding of the present and illuminates our tomorrows.

This summer’s trope theory class with Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis includes an exploration of its ancient hand signs. Trope is an essential tool for unpacking the ancient sacred Hebrew of the Tanakh which is often written in succinct prose or poetry. 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. Hebrew Seminary’s Trope Theory & the Visualization of Hebrew Grammer through Ancient Hand Signs class is open to auditing students.

Rabbi Michael was born in England and grew up in Israel, where he trained with the Chief Cantor of the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem and in leading Israeli seminaries.  He has been a nationally recognized cantor for over 20 years and was the first president of Reform Cantors of Chicago and is founder of the Open Hillel Rabbinical Council. Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis has been on Hebrew Seminary faculty for eight years and received smicha, rabbinic ordination from President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer in 2015.

Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since its founding in 1992. Our ordained Rabbis and Jewish educators support underserved Jewish populations. Those interested in Hebrew Seminary’s rabbinic program are invited to visit a class this summer. For more information about our summer schedule visit http://blog.hebrewseminary.org/389-2/. To make arrangements to visit our program contact Alison Brown at 847/679-4113 or abrown@hebrewseminary.org.

Ministering to Body, Mind and Soul

This month I interviewed Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury.

Since your May 2012 ordination from Hebrew Seminary, your career has taken two paths –   Rabbi of Anshe Tikvah in Wheeling and Staff Chaplain at Advocate’s Addiction Treatment Program.  Can you tell us how one led to the other and how your Hebrew Seminary education prepared you?

I see them as one single path with interwoven skill sets. I encounter people with addictions in synagogue life every day. Every synagogue has people facing addictions whether a family member or a close friend. The disease of addiction is everywhere.

Addictions work is all about healing, spiritual healing. The body, the mind and the soul are attacked by the disease of addiction. This is largely recognized by the medical community and the 12-step community recognizes it as a disease of the body, mind and soul.  It just so happens that I studied healing at Hebrew Seminary and I wrote my thesis on Kabbalistic healing prayer.

If we’re honest about it, we are all addicted to something, be it drugs, food, sex, or computer gambling. We all have that thing that we go to when we are running away from the world on its own terms and hiding from God.

Can you tell us more about “hiding from God?”

Adam and Eve knew what they were doing wasn’t right so they hid from God.  Many of us aren’t honest about what we are hiding from but the impact on our soul is the same.

You took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary and you continue to explore Kabbalistic healing modalities with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.  Can you share a bit about how healing prayer and spirituality guides and supports the people you serve?

I took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary from Rabbi Eisenbach and he introduced to us clinical pastoral education (CPE). He encouraged me to take a CPE unit which I did at Lutheran General.  That was my opportunity to apply in a medical setting all the things that Rabbi Goldhamer and Rabbi Eisenbach were teaching me. I later did a one-year, 2,000 hour residency at Lutheran General. At this point I had five units of CPEs which allowed me to work on my day off from the synagogue as a staff Chaplain at a medical site.  I then went through the process of becoming a Board Certified Chaplain with the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and the Association of Professional Chaplains.

One of my more important clinical learning moments was bedside in a hospital. The family had a loved one who was in critical condition. We weren’t going to know their medical status for 24 hours.  One of the physicians said, “This is the time for a miracle. If a miracle is going to happen, this is when it is going to happen. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If in 24 hours the miracle doesn’t happen, it is time for science. Then we’ll have a medical conversation.” When it is the time for a miracle I engage in Kabbalistic prayer with the family and the patient.  When G-d answers yes we celebrate. Sometimes the answer isn’t yes. That’s when we engage in pastoral care.

Rabbi Goldhamer and I are currently focusing our prayer studies on Psalms and the energies of Psalms; how to integrate Psalms into Kabbalistic prayers to give them an energetic boost.

What are your regular prayer and meditation practices? Can you teach our readers a meditation that might be a good introduction to integrating a prayerful pause into a busy life?

I do traditional Jewish prayer every day, three times a day.  In addition to that I do hitbodedut meditation as taught by Rabbi Nachman. You can do hitbodedut for an hour or a minute.  Here’s a short version:

Stop whatever you are doing. Take a deep breath and thank G-d for any two blessings in your life, ask G-d to help you with any two material things, ask G-d to help in any two spiritual ways, ask God to help humanity in any two ways, then say, “Thank You G-d.”

Can you recommend a good translation of Rabbi Nachman’s work on this topic?

Rav Ozer Bergman’s Where Heaven and Earth Kiss

You recently received a JUF grant.  Can you tell us about that?

Anshe Tikva received a $25,000 JUF Breakthrough Grant to research faith-based sober homes and how to open a Jewish sober home.

As part of this research I brought a group of people to Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles where members of the congregation were able to see what spiritual recovery looks like and how Jewish spiritual prayer can bring about healing of the soul. We want to have a sober home here to provide the same kind of Jewish environment in a sober home. This Jewish spiritual environment is what Rabbi Goldhamer’s teachings are about, it just looks different in a different setting. Rabbi’s teachings apply to all healing — This is For Everyone.

You are a Class of 2017 Northwestern University Masters of Counseling and Psychology graduate!  Tell us about your career vision.

My vision comes out of Rabbi Goldhamer’s vision to expand people’s access to Jewish healing, with the synagogue being the central access point of Jewish healing.

 

 

Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury lives in Evanston with his wife Rachel, sons Max and Elijah and daughter Anna. He is also a Worship Leader for the Council of Jewish Elderly and Community Rabbi on the Advisory Council of the Jewish Center on Addictions.

 

Be a Light, Come What May

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observed that silence connects the Torah portion B’midbar and the celebration of Shavuot. It is the silence of the desert that counts in Judaism.  “Listening is the supreme religious art.” Having said that, Sacks reminds us that in Exodus 24:7, “’All that God says, we will do and we will hear [ve-nishma].’ It is the nishma – listening, hearing, heeding, responding – that is the key religious act.”

Reaching out to Hebrew Seminary supporters, our committee wrote, “At a time in our world when many of us see dark clouds on the horizon, others see recurring rays of hope. For 25 years amidst the flow of changing tides, our seminary has been training rabbinical students to be a Light, come what may.” I am a “recurring rays of hope” kind of person and I believe that we all bring light and a piece of the truth to our listening and responding. On Shavuot, as we reconnect with our religious and spiritual responsibilities it is in the listening that we learn a more open, broader truth. With this truth we strive to “do” immersed in the light of Anochi, the light of the Infinite who continually brings us out of narrow places.

I like Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s, z”l, recognition that the whole world is a teacher:

“Then I come to the B’rakhot [in Birkhot Ha’Shahar, the blessings of the morning] that are the ‘blessings’ of awareness and mind, and I end up giving thanks that sleep has passed from my eyes. I then prepare my mind for learning this day. So I say everything today is going to be a learning experience: Barukh attah Ha’Shem … asher kid’shanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu la’asok be’divrei Torah,  or  al divrei Torah.  ‘Blessed are You … who connects us with holiness by commanding us to engross ourselves in the words of teaching.’ So the whole world is a teacher, and I open myself to it.”

In today’s world our inclination might be to keep quiet and let things play out. Still, if we have done our open listening, prayer and meditation we need to bring our truth to the table. The listening and responding can be religious acts. As my favorite American philosopher Ken Wilber writes, “You were allowed to see the truth under the agreement that you would communicate it to others (that is the ultimate meaning of the bodhisattva vow).  And therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out.  Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.” We are all equally responsible for our interwoven future.

Shavuot then is the time to not only stand once again at Sinai to receive from God that which we spiritually know to be true, but to receive truths as they are received by others and to dialogue about those truths. “Our physical pluralism”, says Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, is matched by an intellectual pluralism for which, the Rabbis say, God is to be blessed: ‘When one sees a crowd of people, he is to say, ‘Blessed is the Master of mysteries,’ for just as their faces are not alike, so are their thoughts not alike.’” Baruch Rab-bee l’sodim.

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.