We Return to Health When Our Body and Soul are Balanced

 

Well-being includes physical and spiritual health.

We return to health from sickness when our body and soul are balanced.

Join Hebrew Seminary for a panel discussion on

 

NEW DIMENSIONS IN MEDICINE:

Where Body and Soul Meet

 

Sunday, October 28, 2018 from 2:00-3:30 pm 

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, Hebrew Seminary President and Professor of Jewish Mysticism, and author of two books on Kabbalistic Healing Prayer.

Dr. Roberta P Glick is a Professor of Neurosurgery at Rush University and Rosalind Franklin Chicago Medical School. She worked for over 30 years at Cook County and Mount Sinai Hospitals where she was dedicated to improving care for low-income patients with malignant brain tumors and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Gary Slutkin is founder and CEO of Cure Violence and Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He initiated the first national programs for AIDS in Central and East Africa for the World Health Organization (WHO) and created and led WHO’s Intervention Development Office.

 

HEBREW SEMINARY

A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING

4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076

847-679-4113  info@hebrewseminary.org

ASL interpreted      Refreshments served

Where Body and Soul Meet

Well-being includes physical and spiritual health.

We return to health from sickness when

our body and soul are balanced.

 

Join Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, Dr. Gary Slutkin

and Dr. Roberta Glick for a panel discussion on

 

NEW DIMENSIONS IN MEDICINE:

Where Body and Soul Meet

Sunday, October 28, 2018 from 2:00-3:30 pm

 

HEBREW SEMINARY
A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING
4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076
847-679-4113
info@hebrewseminary.org • hebrewseminary.org

 

ASL interpreted                                                     Refreshments served

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

 

Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life

“Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life”

A ten-session class

With Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Sundays, February 25 – May 6

12:00 – 1:30pm

Kabbalah has many important practical applications that can impact your life on a daily basis – your health, your finances, your relationships with others.  Learn how to connect with Hashem, and activate the Divine within you.  In this class, noted scholar and author Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer will focus on the fundamental principles of Kabbalah and how it can change your life for the better.  If you are new to the mysteries of Kabbalah, or want to learn practical applications of Jewish Mysticism for your life, this is the class for you.

 

Hebrew Seminary’s 2018 Spring Semester
begins February 11.

Visit Hebrew Seminary and visualize your possibilities!

847 – 679 – 4113

 

Divine Your Words

This week we begin to read the first and only book of the Chumash that it is written in first person. Moses had so surrendered his ego to the Divine that his words were also God’s words, explain the commentators of this week’s parsha Devarim.

“Moses’ utter identification with the divine wisdom empowers our own lesser souls, each of which possesses ‘a spark of the soul of Moses,’ to do the same (albeit on a lesser level): to create of ‘our own words’ receptacles for the divine wisdom,” writes Rabbi Yanki Tauber.

This interpretation strengthens the possibility that we might make our thoughts worthy to ascend the Four Worlds to God, as Kabbalists assert they do. At the meta-level, what we think matters, what we think empowers our lesser souls and the world of which we are one with, not separate from. Our words represent our thoughts and our soul. Words carry more long-lasting, impactful weight than a 140-character tweet might indicate. Ours words are our personal ambassador, just as Moses was God’s earthly ambassador.

“We understand the Hebrew Language to be very sacred,” writes Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. “According to Jewish tradition, inherent in each letter are electric-like forces that God uses to create the Universe. ‘For when the world was created, it was the supernal letters that brought into being all the works of the lower world, after their own pattern….Jewish tradition maintains that God continually creates day and night.”

“The laws of language are identical to the laws of the universe,” Rabbi Goldhamer adds. The door to my office is made up of the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. When I touch my door, I am touching the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. This imagery resonates for me, especially as it compares to what we know from science. “Push your finger down on the table top and it feels solid. But no solids are ever contacted, not for an instant. Rather, the outmost atoms of your skin are surrounded by negatively charged electrons, and these are repelled by the similar electrons in the table. The sense of solidity is illusory; you feel only repulsive electrical fields. Fields. Energies. Nothing solid, ever,” Robert Lanza, MD, teaches in Beyond Biocentrism.

Words, made of letters, have the weight of energy and their energetic motion continues beyond the brain or two in their path. Words create. Moses knew this. He knew that he needed to relay God’s guidance to emphasize that a  Jewish path leads to the marvels of a Promised Land.

An Invisible Bee

Look how desire has changed in you,
how light and colorless it is,
with the world growing new marvels
because of your changing.

Your soul has become an invisible bee.
We don’t see it working,
but there’s the full honeycomb.
– Rumi

 

Human desire, as referred to in Pirkey Avot 1:4, is above all the desire for lifelong learning and growth asserts Rabbi Reuven. Your soul, sparked by the Divine, is an invisible bee. You experience and witness the material world and with a searching desire become aware that you are part of an Divine energy field. Energies are exchanged. When your thoughts and words are light and colorless, ie. kind, your soul becomes one with the energies of others. God creates the world’s marvels anew each day with the Hebrew letters and, Rabbi Goldhamer writes, the 22 Hebrew letters “are codes that allow us to connect the divine principle within us to the divine principle outside of us.” Moses shares this code with us in Deuteronomy. Reading Torah will change you.

This Is What Made Moses Great

by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

This week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, is always very traumatic for me.  First, we have the death of the great prophetess Miriam, which is described in one sentence, “…and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation…”(Numbers 20:1-2)  Later in the same chapter we experience the death of Aaron, “…and Aaron died there in the top of the mount…and when all the congregations saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (20:28-29)

But, the most difficult part of this Torah portion for me to understand is that, in this same chapter, God tells Moses that he will not live to bring the people Israel into the Promised Land.  After Miriam’s death, the people complain that there is no water to drink – the well has dried up.  So, God tells Moses “Take the rod, …and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; ….And Moses lifted up his hand and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly…. And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron: ‘because ye believed not in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’”(20:8-12)

Why should Moses be denied entrance into the land of Israel because he struck the rock,  instead of speaking to the rock?    Most times I see Hashem as a compassionate being, but at other times, I see God as someone who has no patience for the greatest of all the prophets.

Why is my favorite prophet Moses, “our teacher,” lifted up on God’s highest mountain (Numbers 12), yet when Moses asks Hashem to transform him into a bird so that he can fly over Israel, or into a soldier just so he can allow his boots to feel the mud of Jerusalem, why does God say “no.”  This is the same God, whom King David describes in Psalm 145 as, “slow to anger and of great mercy.”

Imagine being so close to your goal—having led the Jewish people through the desert for 40 years, only to be told that you will not be allowed to cross the finish line, into the Promised Land.  When Moses strikes the rock, he has just suffered the loss of his sister Miriam.  Is he not allowed to feel grief? Is he not allowed to sit shiva for his sister? Is he not allowed to misunderstand God’s direction? Why does God have no patience for his circumstances?

These are the questions I wrestle with every time I read this Torah portion.  And every year, as I study this, I feel frustration for the fate of Moses.  But, perhaps it is because Moses is such a great leader that he has to die outside the Promised Land.  Now, it is up to the rest of the “team,” led by Joshua, to enter Israel.  God and Moses both know that it is time for the people to accept responsibility for themselves.  They are no longer slaves, following directions – but they are free men and women, who will have to build this new land, which has been promised to them.  It is time for the next generation to take charge.

I find solace in knowing that, while Moses is not allowed into Israel, he goes to a much better place – he is drawn next to the bosom of the Lord.  The death of Moses, a true tzaddik, is a terribly sad time, but, it is also a time of rebirth, an illumination of life.  When a child is born in this world, she departs from the world of souls. When a tzaddik dies, he undergoes the reverse – he departs from this world and returns to the other world.  And, perhaps the actions that happen in this week’s Torah portion, have to happen, so that the next generation is empowered to assume new leadership roles, with Joshua at the helm.

The Midrash frequently mentions that the death of a tzaddik atones for the sins of a generation and of the whole world (Exodus Rabba 35:4), because the greater the individual who is taken from the world, the more significant the changes generated by the transition are. Hence, when Moses leaves this world, the void that is created changes the nature of the world forever.  Perhaps Moses has to die, so that this new generation can get a clean slate.

Moses will always be remembered not as an angel, but as a man of flesh and blood who God remembered, not as the Messiah, but as a man, who loved the Lord with all his heart and soul and might. And yet, he was not afraid to challenge the greatness of God when he felt he had to .This is what made Moses great.

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

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 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.