Hebrew Seminary Celebrates its 25th Anniversary!

We cherish and honor our Board members who devote much time and energy to support our program and our students. In April we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with great fanfare and learning. We also honored the Golder Family Foundation — Joan Golder is seen here with Allen Meyer.

Because we are a 501c (3) not for profit organization, we rely on generous individuals and corporations to support our programs.https://www.hebrewseminary.org/donate_online.aspx

 

Hebrew Seminary’s 25th Anniversary also brought honor to Nona Balk who served as director for 20 years; seen in the top photo with her son David and President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. Below, Advisory Board member Allan Rosenblum greets guests.

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The Teaching of Pinchas Cannot be Condemned, But ….

By Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

In last week’s Torah portion, members of the community of Israel profane themselves by engaging in licentious behavior with Moabite women and worshiping the Moabite god. Hashem becomes incensed with Israel and tells Moses to impale the leaders committing these actions.  “The Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel.” (Numbers 25:4)  Pinchas witnesses an Israelite consorting with a Midianite woman in front of Moses and the Israelite community. Pinchas takes a spear and stabs the guilty Israelite Zimri and the woman Cozbi fatally.

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, begins with Hashem saying to Moses, “Pinchas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people…I grant him my pact of friendship…It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God.”  By killing Zimri and Cozbi, Pinchas fulfilled Hashem’s command to Moses. He directed his complete being, body and soul, to maintain the complete integrity of the Jewish people’s commitment to the covenant of God which was clearly articulated at Sinai.

Pinchas publicly challenged the community of Israel and its lack of adherence to the sacred code of the 613 commandments of Torah.  Clearly, the moral code of the New Israelite polity was put to its first public test.  Zimri and Cozbi participated in an irresponsible and despicable return to pre-Sinai morality.  If God was everything, as Aristotle teaches (“thought thinking itself”), then God was subject, predicate and object.  As Torah maintained again and again, there is nothing but God. Therefore, Pinchas’s zealotry was a religious act, determined not only to preserve the crown of God’s glory – the New Covenant of Torah—but it was also a moral act, designed to preserve God Himself.

In commenting on this week’s Torah portion, Levi Yitzhak writes in Kedushat Levi, Pinchas zeh Eliyahu. Pinchas is Elijah [Zohar II, p. 190A) and Elijah lives on forever (Zohar II, p. 197A-B.) How is this so? We must understand that our physical bodies are not deeply connected to Divine service, since the body tends to look out for its own needs.  But, our soul is always attuned to the fear of heaven. The body is unlike the soul.  It is corruptible, it dies. However, if the body could serve God like the soul at all times, no one would die….”

Pinchas accepted that in killing Zimri and Cozbi, his own life was at risk.  He might be killed for stabbing Zimri and Cozbi.  But, Pinchas did not give thought to his own physical needs. He was devoted to serving God, with both body and soul. Pinchas saw his body and soul as one, having no distinction.  And for this zealotry, God rewards him with “a pact of friendship and a pact of priesthood for all time.”

Yet, last week’s Torah portion and this week’s portion, are not that clear cut. Of course, we are all God. There is no separation between us and God. There is no empty space in the universe that is devoid of God.  This leads to all kinds of healing.  As I said,  Aristotle’s definition of God as “thought thinking itself” denies that there are some places devoid of God and affirms the Deuteronomic claim that God is everything and everywhere.   I know our Kabbalistic tradition holds Pinchas at the highest level, but I have difficulty championing Pinchas’s zealotry and murder and then God’s particular blessing.  I am puzzled that God can reward someone for the savage murder of two people.

I love God; indeed, God is love. I recognize that Levi Yitzhak’s commentary suggests that the reason Pinchas received this blessing was that he had transcended physical needs and physical concerns, and was completely devoted to God. Does this redeem the terrorist, particularly in our age of “suicide martyrs”?  Levi Yitzhak’s view is profound, but it steps onto a slippery slope. This teaching of Pinchas cannot be condemned, but at the same time, it cannot be applauded. Yes, the Aristotelian teaching that soul and body are one is very important, and is part of our Jewish faith, but each time we learn that soul and body are one, we have to recognize its context. We cannot be so open minded that our brains fall out, and we applaud the suicide martyr.

When we look at this text in our Torah scroll, the letter yud in Pinchas’s name in verse 11 is written smaller than the other letters. This teaches that, when we act with violence, the yud in us (standing for the name of God and for the name “Jew”) is greatly diminished. Let us remember that the Torah is truly the word of God. Frankly, there is no separation between the word and the writer. The Torah is indeed the Lord our God.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is the senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and the president and professor of Kabbalah at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.

For the Rest of Us, It Is Subject to Debate

On April 29 we celebrated our 25th Anniversary. Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer introduced the (Heavenly) debate: Torah v Talmud with these well-received words:

The Torah contains  the 5 books of Moses, given or inspired by God to Moses. In later years, Jewish scholars would write 19 additional books. These 24 books would be called Tanach, or the Hebrew Bible, or, by the Christians, the Old Testament.

After our two ancient temples and the Sifrei Torahs, were destroyed in 586 and 70, our sages pondered how we Jews could continue to study Torah in the diaspora- Persia, Iraq, Germany, Spain, and throughout the world. And so, over a period of hundreds of years, the Rabbis wrote a multi-volume, or multi-tractate interpretation and adaptation of the Torah , which we studied in foreign lands. These books or Tractates were called the Talmud.  And yet, after the passing of hundreds and hundreds of years, it appeared that each text was a Torah in itself.  If you close your eyes, you can manifest a vision of the rabbis studying the original Torah, and if you continue to manifest your vision, you can see rabbis of the Talmud discussing passionately the Laws of the Torah in different countries of the Diaspora, as if these rabbis were a living community of Torah scholars.

Let me share a story that one of these rabbis of the second torah tells. It’s found in

Talmud Tractate Gittin 56B. We are told that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, leader of the Jewish people, during the Roman invasion, faced a question of life and death.  Vaspasian, leader of the Roman army, and soon to become the Roman Emperor, brought the Jews to almost death.  Jerusalem fell. There was nothing to eat.  Despair and lack of faith overtook the Jews. The Jews intuited that the second temple would be looted at any moment.  The Roman Army was huge, and cruel, and had much greater weapons than the Jewish army. Yet, Rabbi Yochanan thought of a plan that saved Judaism. He hid in a coffin, and his disciples smuggled him into Vaspasian’s camp, where Rabbi Yochanan then went before Vespasian. “Why are you here?” asked Vespasian.

“We are willing to surrender on one condition,” said Rabbi Yochanan.  “Give me the city of Yavney and its sages.”  You see, the city of Yavney was the center of Jewish learning in Israel, and was the home of brilliant rabbis.

Vespasian saw no harm in such an agreement.  He did not realize that the agreement would allow the Jews to outlive the Romans by thousands of years. The Roman Empire is no more. The Greek Empire, the Moabite kingdom, the Amalakites and Hittites have also disappeared.

But Israel survives: Rabbi Yochanan understood that the issue of Jewish survival does not depend on Israel’s possession of the land or a large strong army. But rather, on a strong sense of identity and ideology and deep love and understanding of Torah, whether it be the 5 Books of Torah, or whether it be the new Torah that paints pictures of rabbis discussing loving the laws of Torah as if these rabbis of the Talmud were a contintinuous living community of men of Torah.  So the question is not which is the greater text – Talmud or Torah. But the question is which is the greater text ; Torah or Torah?

Rabbi Yochanan turned the sense of Jewish peoplehood on its head. He created what Heinreich Heine called “a portable fatherland.” This land was none other than the covenant between God and His people. This Covenant manifested itself in the first Torah and in the Second Torah. It was Torah and Torah, each supporting a covenant with God.

There is a Jewish tradition that says there is no heaven, no hell. We all go the same place when we die – where Moses and Rabbi Akiva give everlasting classes  on Torah and Talmud. For the righteous, this is eternal bliss; for the wicked, this is eternal damnation. For the rest of us, it’s subject to debate…..

 

Thank you once again to our debaters Rabbi Pinchas Eisenbach, Allen Meyer, Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum, Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub and moderator Arnold Pritsker for an excellent program!

 

 

 

Be Our Guest!

Kiddushin 29a

The Talmud says that you must teach your children Torah, how to make a living and how to swim.

At Hebrew Seminary, under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, we have been teaching these skills for 25 years!

 

We teach Torah to rabbinical students who wish to learn and teach Torah forevermore.

We prepare students to make a living by Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid, always placing God before us to assure acting with kindness, understanding, love and Jewish learning.

We teach our rabbinical students how to swim while guiding others to shore amidst the ebb and flow of life.

Be Our Guest!

29 April 2018

12 noon – 2:30 pm

Hebrew Seminary’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

at Hebrew Seminary

 

Hebrew Seminary Ordains New Rabbi

 

SKOKIE, IL, November 6, 2017 – Tirtzah Israel, from Chicago’s West-Englewood Community, was ordained by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer on October 29th at Hebrew Seminary Rabbinical School for Deaf and Hearing. Growing up, Tirtzah’s grandmother role-modeled a personal and meditative connection to HaShem that both perplexed and inspired her. As an adult Tirtzah was introduced to Jewish meditation through the works of Aryeh Kaplan. His meditations and focus on introspection resonated with her. “The genome of Jewish Mysticism found in the records of the Near East culture,” says Tirtzah, “has its origins on the continent of Africa.” As she continued to study Kaplan over the years she learned that Hebrew to English translations differ and it is important to read Jewish texts in the original Hebrew language.

Tirtzah recognized that she needed a teacher, “a person who could help me achieve what I secretly longed for; a true understanding about healing and balance as a divine connection.” We are honored and proud to say that Tirtzah found this guidance and teaching at Hebrew Seminary from Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and his faculty of scholars.

Rabbi Tirtzah plans to teach Jewish mysticism, meditation, Kabbalah and their application to serve people longing to reconnect to God. “I refer to the God that dwells, and has always dwelled within each of us,” notes Rabbi Tirtzah. “I do not want to leave this world of existence without having made an attempt towards restoring tikkun and teshuva for a people whose ancestors had been so brutally violated, stripped of their humanity, yet struggled to survive to this very day,” Tirtzah adds.

Hebrew Seminary graduates serve in a variety of roles – as pulpit rabbis, educators, and chaplains. Graduates also perform public service and serve those with special needs, including the deaf community. Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism for 25 years. Our program encourages the highest commitment to traditional scholarship, such as Talmud, Bible, and Hebrew, as well as the spiritual discipline of Kabbalah. This teaches our students to be scholars, educators, and leaders, as well as spiritual guides who can hear and share the voice of God with members of their communities.

Information about upcoming Hebrew Seminary classes can be found at www.hebrewseminary.org. To make arrangements to visit our program contact Alison Brown at 847/679-4113.

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.

 

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.