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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.

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In Preparation for the High Holidays, Check Your Vision!

Part II, by Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

During the month of Elul, our Kabbalah teaches us that each of us needs to create a Prayer Vision.  That is we need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year.  When we create a prayer vision, our Kabbalah encourages us to create a vision of spirituality that is a vision in which we are doing good deeds, mitzvot and prayers in the coming year.  Inherent in our prayer vision and vision of spirituality is that we come to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with a written proposal in hand to God and we say it whispering very softly during two to three of the prayers: Hashem it is worth investing in my life and making my prayer vision a reality because this is what I’m going to do for you this year.  The return on investment (ROI) is definitely worth your while.  This is the contribution I intend to make to your global of tikkun olam.  You might propose, I will give more to the poor; I will help in the food pantry at my temple; I will become much more spiritual; or, just as I am doing Modeh Ani in Elul, I will do it regularly during the year; I will go to shul at least once a month; and/or I will read at least one book next year on Judaism.  A small investment of blessings by you on me will pay off because I will be generous in so many ways next year, you won’t regret your investment in me.

We write on the paper that we are bringing to shul what we promise to do to make this a kinder more gentler year, and in exchange we ask God to bless us with good health for us and our family; a strong financial earning for the coming New Year; and that the cancer that my family member is experiencing go into remission this year.

This prayer vision and proposal of spirituality should be written and spoken every day in the month of Elul and also during the silent prayers during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  The last thing we do to make Elul the most powerful spiritual month of the year, is to read Exodus 34: verses 6-7 in Hebrew.  The words in these verses contain highly charged vibrations that move Hashem to automatically send blessings to you when you recite them aloud during Elul.  With the reciting of these verses, you create a spiritual gravity wherein God cannot help but send down blessings for the entire year for you and your family.

All of this is what makes Elul the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.  Do it and God will send to you great blessings which will heighten the power of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your life.

Our Country Welcomes You & Your Vote!

From the desk of Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Alison C. Brown, Executive Director

We recognize that a very serious federal election is approaching.   We also recognize that it is crucial for everyone to vote and to exercise this liberty that our country has granted each one of us.

Our Torah is very clear when it talks regularly about everyone’s rights to speak their mind.  We are taking advantage of Judaism’s commitment to free speech to maintain that we believe this election is perhaps the most serious election we have ever faced in this generation, maybe even in our country’s history.  Before you cast your vote, please remember that it is so important to have a president who welcomes and embraces all minorities.  As a matter of fact, all of us or most of us reading this have members of our own family who were once refugees and this country opened it door widely in accepting people of all religions and races and colors.  This is what has made America great and this is what makes Judaism great.

Remember the words of our prophets, “Proclaim freedom unto to all the land.”  We can be so proud that the teachings of Torah and the teachings of our constitution are identical in accepting the rights of all people regardless of national heritage or background.

Love,

Rabbi Goldhamer and Alison

Check Your Vision

 

You’ve Got Your High Holiday Tickets, but Before You

Consider What to Wear, Check Your Vision.

 

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The month of Elul, the last month before the Jewish New Year is the most important theological month of the Jewish year.  In the month of Elul, God is closer to us than at any other time and our prayers are more powerful than at any other time, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If we focus our thinking on God during the month of Elul, we will be so much in God’s thoughts that during the High Holiday services, when we pray in temple, we will “hear” God answer.  The word “hear” can be either hearing with your ears or feeling intensely a separate being inside of you speaking to you.  I pray so intensely during Elul that when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes around, I actually hear by feeling a separate being answer me who lives within me.  It is an amazing, frightening and yet inspiring moment.

We know it is our tradition to say the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon wakening, but if you say the Modeh Ani prayer during Elul you will feel the intensity of the prayer greatly.   You will feel the power of God flowing through you like in no other month.

Modeh (feminine: Modah) ani l’fanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemlah rabah emunatecha.

I thank you with my very being, living, enduring King, for restoring my Divine Soul to me in compassion.  You are faithful beyond measure.

The Modeh Ani prayer strongly opens the gates of our soul so that when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer during the month of Elul, God not only returns our soul to us every morning when we wake up, but our soul becomes so pure.  This is because, with a minyan of ten, the channels or gates open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we can hear God.  There are two channels to the soul that allow us to hear God, if these channels are open.  The first channel is Nefesh, that part of the soul that resides in our blood stream.  When that channel becomes open, it allows us to hear God from the bottom up.  The other channel that opens during Elul, when we recite the Modeh Ani, is that part of our soul called Neshama.  The Neshama resides in Keter, in the crown of our head.  When the channel Neshama opens, we hear God from the top down.  So on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah both channels open when we say the Modeh Ani during Elul and our godly experience is enormously intensified.  The Modeh Ani is the single most mystical prayer that is said in the month of Elul.

Here is the optimal way of saying the Modeh Ani meditation during month of Elul: 1) Say the Modeh Ani prayer.  2) While you are saying the prayer, there should be a concomitant internal dynamic that we are thanking God for the channel of the Neshama that opens up and allows the presence of God to come down to us from Ayn Sof (the One without End).  3) Also imagine that there is a channel within us, Nefesh within our bloodstream that opens up and allows God to enter into us from the bloodstream up through our whole body.  4)  Imagine a lighted candle before you.  Visualize it.  See it.  5)  With your eyes closed, imagine the candle coming closer and closer to you as you say “The light of the Lord is my soul.”  (Proverbs 20:27).  6)  Visualize the candle entering you, see yourself filled with the light of God augmented by God’s extra light coming down into you through Neshama and God’s additional light coming up to you through Nefesh.  Like a booster shot, God’s extra light adds punch and power to light you already have now with the two channels open.  Up and down, these two sparks ignite the light that already is in you.  Know that this Elul morning experience will have tremendous mystical ramifications on hearing God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Watch for Part II Proposing a Prayer Vision!

 

Yes, Jews Do Believe in Reincarnation!

Judaism maintains that there are five levels to the human soul.  As a result, our actions not only have a direct impact on our soul, deciding how, when and where we will reincarnate – but a person’s actions also have a direct impact on the corresponding spiritual worlds which exist in our physical universe.

When we perform good acts, it unifies the levels of our soul to the extent that, when we pass, we will either reincarnate in another person, or as an angel of God.  The study of reincarnation, or in Hebrew gilgul, is an extremely fascinating disciple and practice in Judaism.   Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, master Kabbalist, says, “I am more excited about sharing my Aramaic and Hebrew research of the soul in Judaism than any other discipline I have ever taught.”

Get your soul in shape!  Call 847/679- 4113 to register.  Ask about our other fall courses!

Hebrew Seminary’s Reincarnation Class
begins October 30, 2016
12 noon – 1:30 pm for 10 classes
non-credit tuition $150

The 21st Century Rabbi

I recently asked Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Laurence Edwards, Ph.D, what areas of Jewish studies do you view as most important to the 21st century Rabbi?

In some ways it might seem that Jewish study for rabbinic students today would be pastoral care, psychology, crisis counseling, and such.  Yes, it is important to know these subjects, but in my view it is most important that a rabbi be a teacher and student.  One must never stop studying and delving deeper into Jewish studies.  That is the only thing that gives the title of rabbi any credibility.  Rabbis need to know the history, the texts, and the literature.  We need to be competent in both text and tradition.  If we don’t have that, then the authenticity is gone.  I don’t feel that I totally live up to this standard, but I aspire to it.

 

Hebrew Seminary invites those considering the rabbinate to sit in on a class during the upcoming fall semester.  Or, better yet, audit a class and experience the learning, capture the connection!  847/679-4113

Fall Semester 2016 – 2017

September 18, 2016 – February 3, 2017

(Breaks: Oct. 2–18; Oct. 24-25; Nov. 24-27; Dec. 25 – Jan. 7)

Kabbalah: Reincarnation – Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Zohar – Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin

Biblical Hebrew – Rabbi Shari Chen & Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Talmud – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis & Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub

Practical Rabbinics: Liturgy for Life Cycle Events – Rabbi Rob Jury

Practical Rabbinics: Weddings & Funerals – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Psychology: Interviewing Skills for Rabbis – Dr. Stephanie Kutzen

 

“Why did God create man?” “Because he wanted to hear a good story!”

We met with Hebrew Seminary alumni and faculty member Rabbi Shari Chen to share her passion for the stories of the Bible, as so beautifully manifest in her 2005 thesis for rabbinic ordination on the Midrashim of Our Mothers.  This is the second half of that interview.

You conclude each of your thesis chapters on the different women in Genesis with your own midrash exemplifying their faith.  How did you go about this and is the retelling of midrashim part of our Jewish tradition?

Our Talmud teaches that, Torah m’daberet b’lashon adam – Torah speaks in the language of man. There is no greater way to relate to the Torah than through midrashim.  It is asked, “Why did God create man?”  “Because he wanted to hear a good story!”  God wants us to create new midrashim to share his words with new generations in a contemporary language that they can relate to.  It was my hope in creating these new midrashim that I would be able to inspire young women to want to learn Torah and to learn more about the women we came from.  My midrashim of Eve Naamah (Noah’s wife), Eidit and our matriarchs, all based on Judaic sources, not only brings them to life but illustrates the often unsung goodness within each of them.

This summer we read the Torah portion Chukat in which Miriam dies.  Rabbi Shefa Gold, renown for her teaching of sacred, Hebrew chants, writes, “Miriam had a way with water.  She could touch the depths with her song and call forth spiritual nourishment.  No matter how difficult the journey, Miriam’s dance would bring ease and beauty to the process itself.  She carried with her the feminine wisdom that could not be written down.  Upon her death we are given a spiritual challenge: to reclaim the source of her wisdom, to discover the song in our voice and the dance in our step.”  Is there an ancient or modern midrash that can help us with this spiritual challenge?

Midrash tells us that after pharaoh’s decree that every Hebrew newborn son be cast into the Nile, it is said that Yochevet and Amram, Moses’ parents, separated so that they wouldn’t conceive any more children.  Miriam goes to her father and convinces him that he shouldn’t do what pharaoh wants, stop bearing Hebrew children.   Because of Miriam’s wisdom, Yochevet and Amram reunite and Moses is born.

Miriam’s great spiritual wisdom is also clearly illustrated in a midrash relating to the crossing of the Red Sea.  It is said that when the waters first split, the men began to argue about which tribe should have the honor of going first into the sea.  While the men are arguing, Miriam instructs the women to all take hands and enter the sea together and the sea splits into twelve distinct paths.  This is an example of how not one of us is any better than any other and that God wants us to join together to celebrate as one people, equal in the eyes of God.

When you counsel congregants, how do you use Torah text and in what ways have you found the texts to be helpful?

I often use midrashic text and stories to help congregants.  There’s a beautiful midrashic story about seeking the perfect object that will bring the wealthiest, most content person to tears, and yet brings gladness to the ones who are suffering the most.  The object, which is found after much effort, is a ring with four simple words engraved within it, “this too shall pass”.  I feel that all of us need to remember this truth at some point in our life.  When we are going through hard times there are many different midrashim that can offer us hope.  For thousands of years we have sought answers to the greatest question: why?  Why must we suffer?  Why is life sometimes so difficult?  Our inspiring and cherished midrashim help us to understand that we are not alone and that we, like our ancestors, will not only survive but we will endure guided by love and by faith.

What Midrashim collections can you recommend for us?

Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary

Chaim and Rabinitsky Bialik, Sefer Ha’agadah: The Legends that are in the Talmud and Midrash (HEBREW)

Gerald Friedlander, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer

Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of Jews

Jill Hammer, Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women

The Midrashim of Our Mothers

I recently met with faculty member Rabbi Shari Chen to share her passion for the stories of the Bible.

In 2005, you completed your thesis for rabbinic ordination on the Midrashim of Our Mothers.  What is midrash and what did you learn in your research that might inspire us to read midrashim?

The word midrash comes from the Hebrew root drash, which means to seek, study, and inquire.  Our midrashic literature seeks to help us understand the reasons behind the actions of our ancestors and in so doing brings them more fully to life for us.

I learned in my research that there are so many midrashim that can enrich our Jewish life, as well as help us relate to and connect with our heritage.  For example, many of the woman of Genesis are unnamed.  They are only referred to as eishet or “wife of”, but these women do have names and significant roles to play in our history.  Women, in a basic reading of the Torah, are often portrayed in a negative light.  The midrashim redeems them by examining the circumstances of their lives and why they did what they did.  A perfect example of this is Lot’s wife, whose name according to midrash is Eidit, meaning witness.  Eidit in the bible is portrayed as a woman whose curiosity leads to her ultimate demise because she did not obey, but instead turned back to see the destruction of the city.  This story is seen as a warning to women to do what they are told.  But through midrash we learn that the reason she looked back, was not out of curiosity, but out of motherly love.  She was searching for her two older daughters who remained in the city.

As you studied the women of the midrashim you were seeking ways to better understand and portray Genesis’ female characters to young readers.  What did you discover as you did your own translations of the Hebrew texts?

I discovered that these women were to be admired; that Eve, in particular, got bad press!  Through the midrash you realize that she was not entirely to blame for her actions in the garden.  One of my favorite midrashim regarding this says that God did not create Eve until Adam asked him to, because God knew that the first time something went wrong, Adam would blame him for creating the woman.  Which is exactly what Adam did, saying, “The woman you gave me….”

Another midrash portrays Adam as having no faith in Eve.  He told her not to touch the tree, but God never said that.  Adam thought saying that would keep her away from it, but ultimately that embellishment becomes a convincing lie for the snake, who used it to demonstrate for Eve that just as there is no dying from touching the tree, there is no dying from eating from it.  To illustrate his point, the snake pushed Eve into the tree.

If you look at the Hebrew in Genesis 3:6, when it talks about Eve giving Adam the fruit of the tree, it uses the word “she gave it to the man with her.”  Ayinmemhey with a dagesh in it.  The original Hebrew says that Adam was with Eve while the snake was deceiving her and thus Adam tacitly approved of her eating the fruit, as he did not stop her.  Most translations, by excluding the word “with her”, make it appear as though Adam came upon Eve eating the fruit and then he ate of it unknowingly, but Adam was with her the whole time.  According to most translations, Eve was responsible for the transgression, not the two of them together.

 

Jewish Wedding Traditions

This is the second of a series of postings from an interview with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer about Jewish wedding traditions.

I want to talk about several of the Jewish wedding ceremony traditions and their symbolism, but first let’s explore the core Jewish beliefs surrounding marriage.   Pope Francis recently released an “apostolic exhortation” called “The Joy of Love” welcoming into the faith single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.  This is an important milestone for Catholics but the door is still closed on same-sex marriages.  The Jewish Reform movement has been advocating for change in civil laws pertaining to same-gender relations since the 1970s.  In 1996, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform movement’s governing organization, passed a resolution that they “support the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage.”  When you are asked to officiate a wedding wherein the couple is of different faiths or of the same sex how do you decide your involvement?

When I am asked to officiate at a wedding when the couple are of different faiths or the same sex there is a thinking process that I embrace that doesn’t necessarily involve the same thinking process when the couples are of the same faith or of different sex.  When I first came to Chicago and established a congregation of deaf people (our congregation has since that time transformed into a community of hearing and deaf people) and most of my parishioners were deaf, I was faced with the Jewish law that two deaf people could not get married to one another unless they showed a strong sense of mental competency.  The Talmud taught that people who are deaf are not necessarily on the same mental playing field as we are.  When the ancient rabbis saw that the deaf person could understand her situation in life by processing an excellent knowledge of sign language, the ancient rabbis were glad to officiate at a wedding of two deaf people.  (A deaf person in Talmud is called a heresh which means she who cannot speak, cannot hear and is born this way.)  If two people of the same sex today visit me and ask me to marry them, I apply the same principle that the ancient rabbis apply if two deaf people are entering a marriage agreement.  They need first and foremost to show me that they love one another deeply and secondly they need to illustrate that they fully understand the ramifications that might ensue when they marry as two men or two women.  The Talmud uses the expression “ben deah.”  This means complete mental acumen or awareness.  If the gay couple has a strong sense of ben deah, a love for Judaism and a love for one another I welcome them under the Chuppah.

When two people of different faiths ask me to officiate at their marriage, I ask if the non-Jewish partner wishes to convert to Judaism.   If she doesn’t, we enter into a period of study where the three of us regularly meet to learn Torah and see how it differs from the Christian scriptures and Christian holidays.  When the wedding day arrives, both participants to the wedding ceremony have a firm understanding of Torah academically and spiritually.  I have hopes that they will use their new found knowledge to create a healthy marriage.  My aim throughout this study period with the two participants is to teach that, even though we come from different religions, each one of us will use that which is the same and that which is different to make for a healthy marriage.  In essence, I don’t want to build walls separating us, I want to tear down walls so that we can become one family under one God.

Moses and Miriam’s Friendship of Trust

Our sidra this week is Chukat which includes the mysterious telling of Moses emotionally striking the rock in the wilderness of Zin to bring forth much needed water for the people of Israel (Num. 20:10-11). For this, Moses was not allowed to enter the land of Canaan.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes this is the first trial that Moses had to face as a leader without his sister Miriam who had recently passed away. Rabbi Sacks explains that the early life of Moses suggests that Miriam was Moses’ trusted friend and confidante. “Maimonides calls it the ‘friendship of trust’ (chaver habitachon) and describes it as having someone in whom ‘you have absolute trust and with whom you are completely open and unguarded.’” Even Moses needed a human friend that he could trust.

My fellow student Tirtzah says this is also what we need to help heal our world today. My heart has been aching since the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas policemen Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens. I asked Tirtzah what can we do? She told me of her Englewood neighbors and their ‘network of trust’. These eight households began neighbor-by-neighbor to be open, unguarded and authentic with each other. Leaders such as Moses and neighbors such as you and I need friends and family we can trust.

This is one thing we can do. Give those we meet reason to trust us. Be a kind listener. Be a trusted problem-solver. Talk openly about your fears and sanctify the gift of each day by being kind.

Here is another thing we can do. Jewish law influenced Roman law, English law, and our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The Men of the Great Assembly said, “”Be deliberate in judgement,’ because there is no greater act of loving-kindness than saving the oppressed (from those who would wrong them) by rendering fair judgement.” (Kehati on Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2.)

In the words of contemporary author George Saunders, “… to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespear’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret, luminous place. Believe that it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”

 

 

 

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer’s teacher, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Dresher taught:

“Your lungs expand and contract, responding to the universe.  Imagine the universe as a vast Being that is alive, and that you are a cell in this body.  And you, the cell, are kept alive by the Ru’ach of the universe.  In Ezekiel 36:26, we read, ‘I will place a holy Ru’ach within you.’”  This Ru’ach is the Spirit of God that every living being inhales, this Ru’ach is our breath; and it is through breathing that we focus on the present and not the past or future.  When we are in the NOW, we are alive, filled with the Breath of God.”

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah
as taught by Rabbi Goldhamer:

  1. Go to your mi’at meekdash and sit in a comfortable chair with your back in the upright position, and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Wear comfortable clothing and loosen up your tie or belt.
  2. Breathe in deeply and gently through your nostrils and count silently 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10: this is the numerical equivalent [Jewish Gematria/numerology] of Yod. As you breathe in, don’t try to visualize God’s breath coming in through your nostrils; instead, visualize with your ko’ach dimyon, imagination, that God’s breath or energy is filling your head area.
  3. Without holding your breath between inhaling and exhaling, exhale through your nostrils silently, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: this is the numerical equivalent of Hey. The exhaling should take half as long as the inhaling.  As you breath out, don’t try to visualize God’s breath leaving your nostrils; instead visualize God’s breath or energy flowing from your head into your heart and through your heart into the world.
  4. Repeat this cycle four times, for a total of five times for the entire meditation. When you inhale or exhale, maintain the internal dynamic that you are breathing in the Life Force of God, and that your breath and His breath are becoming One.  Recognize within the depths of your soul that you are becoming one with the Holy Spirit, Ru’ach HaKodesh.  When we breathe in God’s Ru’ach with kavvanah, we create Ru’ach HaKodesh; that is, we become One with the Holy Spirit.