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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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