Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wide Eyed and Ready to Go

As readers of my blog many of you know that I posses a deep struggle between living my Judaism and how the Halachic (Jewish legal system) framework fits into my life. After many conversations with friends, one recommended that I join her for a lecture given by Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute here in Jerusalem. Man oh man, am I glad I went!

Here are my notes of the evening. All thoughts are Rabbi Hartmans unless stated otherwise:

Standing Before God Mitzvah (Commandment) and Halacha: Their Significance for Modern Jewery--Rabbi Prof. David Hartman

-It is essential for there to be the empowering of the individual to take personal responsibility for Halachic behavior, when there there is a conflict between morality and Halacha. This specifically is in reference mostly to Family law (Marriage, Divorce, etc...) and how Judaism percieves the 'other'.
*It is within these cases that Individual choice trumps Halachic Authority.
*Question: Can the Halacha (a collective normative structure of practice) make
room for the individual to do so? In doing so dows the individual abandon

-Personal initiative vs. Responsibility
*There is a paradigm found within our biblical stories of Abraham. Sedom vs.
Sacrific of Isaac
1. Story of Abraham arguing with God over the destruction of Sedom. He did so
with no precedent set for such an interaction.
2. The Akedah (Sacrifice of Isaac). In this instance there was a total
submission by Abraham to God. This is not what Judaism is about. This was a
moment of weakness by God to self assert authority over man. This was not the
covenant. The Akedah should not be the model, the pillar for Jewish life.

-Sense of Self is not a diminishing aspect of religious life. Religion will die if it is not nurtured by moral vigor, empowerment and individuality.

-The covenant God is saying to man is: "I need you, I want you". It is a call for responsibility to translate Torah for everyday life. A personal question of "What does God want from Me?" should be asked by each one of us as we make our choice in life.

-Halacha should not be relied upon to be the rule book for life. It should not be untouchable for questioning. It is not a book of legislating rules. It is a book that was created by Rabbis who needed to solve the problem of the absence of God in history. There were no more prophets. There was the realization that there is no reward/merit for the Mitzvot (commandments of the Torah) in this world. So they offered a book that dictated merit and consequence for a transgression.

-You are responsible for your life as a religious Jew. Do not hide behind the Shulchan Aruch (codified book of Halacha made for the masses who were unable or unwilling to decide their own choices through educated decision of their [individual or local communal] understanding of the Talmud). There is a demand for consciousness. It is our responsibility for individuality that holds us in the presence of God.

-Sense of 'Jewishness' today and Jewish identity are: The Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. These two things are what drive Jews to live, to survive. They have created a shared destiny, a family defined by historical commonality. We are not defined by Halacha. Halacha is a shared commitment of normative practice. Jews do not define themselves by normative practice rather the idea of being part of a family. If it were normative practice how could you ever step out of it?
*Question today: Who feels like they are part of the family?
How do we define our family?

-Since Halacha is no longer THE foundation of Jewish life, we must look to individual responsibility instead of normative practice. Halacha is however a necessity (still R. Hartman speaking). For me, atleast. Therefore I must find morality within it. why be commited to this system of Halacha? It is one that ignores 1/2 the population of the Jewish people (i.e. women) and lookes negatively upon non-Jews! This is my struggle, but it is not the question that takes priority today. The question that takes priority is why aren't Jews connecting to Judaism? Why aren't they connecting to one another? The focus should be the survival and continuity of the Jewish people, not the emphasis of Halacha. This idea is found at the essence of Zionism. It is the desire to be a part of the people.

-The Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements get this idea of survival. Orthodoxy however still places priority on halacha. As a resuct the rift between them is growing wider and more divisive. It will be a nasty troubling divide.

-Crisis of Modern Judaism is that the virtuality of Halachic life that does not mesh in the reality of Jewish life. To debate how much a true Kazayit measurement is, or how high a mechitzah should be is just not relevent!

-We need to create vessels of receptivity, not slap people with a line in the sand dictated by the Shulchan Aruch.


The Man ended with the EXACT statement I have been wanting to hear all year!!! To have validation on so many of my concerns, to hear that I am not the only person out there thinking this way was SUCH a discovery.

If only the Orthodox world were listening more closely to R. David Hartman and R. Yitz Greenberg...where would Orthodox Judaism be today??

For more information on the lecture series or on the Shalom Hartman Institute please visit: www.hartmaninstitute.com

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Good Advice

These past couple of weeks I have been feeling somewhat frazzled. You may have gathered that from my last post. A combination of turning 26, hitting the mid-way part of my year of study at Pardes, and being the dead of winter, has seemed to stir up a cocktail of confusion, and mild panic. I was in the desert on a school trip for 3 days last week. Each time I leave Jerusalem I seem to gain a bit more clarity---and yes I will be doing it more often! I have narrowed down a lot of my choices in life and have given a lot of thought and consideration to staying here in Jerusalem for a second year. I am waiting to hear back about a possible job option and if that works out I think I am going to stay. I know that I wrote that I wanted to make a commitment of 5 years to the next place I call 'home' but I am going to take a loophole out by saying that if I stay in Jerusalem its not really the 'next' place. Life just seems to move a bit slower here. A friend commented the other day how there is something to living your life surrounded by people who are in touch with themselves. Almost everyone here is living opposed to just getting by.

Still in the process of coming down from my height of stressed out confusion I got three independent voices of wisdom from various friends that I would like to share with you.

1. "Sometimes things just aren't worth thinking that hard about."

2. "I guess that is what life is all about: change and adjustment. If we aren't changing we aren't really existing."

3. Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to
love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books
written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to
live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions
now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.--Rainer
Maria Rilke, from "Letters to a Young Poet"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Our Freedoms, Our Slavery

This past week we read the Torah portion Va'Era. A portion that covers what is commonly known as the 'Passover Story', I helped facilitate a session about the hardening of Pharoh's heart. I am going to steer clear of issues of fate vs. choice but rather what the definition of a hardened heart is. For me it is the inability to feel, to let what is around you to penetrate you, it is apathy, it is indifference. I asked people to think about what we identify as slavery: slavery found throughout history, slavery in the world today. What do we do when we are confronted by it? Do we let it penetrate us? Or, are we indifferent?

I also asked participants to think about and share their personal slavery and their personal freedom(s). I participated in a similar exercise months ago which begged the questions of what is your personal poverty? What is your personal wealth? I don't know what was more challenging, sharing them or identifying and internalizing them.

When I think of my own slavery and freedoms today I find that sometimes I can't clarify them from one another. I am enslaved by the struggle between living for myself and living for what I am thought to be by others. I am enslaved by the inability to find a community in which i whole heartedly identify and connect with. I am enslaved by the need to find/create that for which i yearn. I am enslaved by the unknown, and the fear of what comes next and making the wrong decision. My freedoms are the unconditional support and love I feel I recieve from my family and friends. My freedom is the ability to travel almost anywhere I wish. My freedom is my education. My freedom is my ability to not be indifferent.

I left Jerusalem this weekend for the first time since early November. Until the bus pulled out of the city I had no idea just how much I needed to leave. I spent Shabbat on kibbutz Gonnen just about 20 minutes outside Kiryat Shimona in the Golan Heights. The fresh air was wonderful, the quiet was peaceful, and just for a couple of days I was able to shift my frame of mind. It wasn't until I left that I realized I have been feeling bogged down in Jerusalem. I am feeling pressure from myself to make immediate decisions of what's next. I am finding myself lingering on my confusion which is only leading to a downward spiral. This weekend allowed me to gain a bit more clarity. I have not come to any WOW discoveries, but I did just take the long deep breath that has been long needed.

Some of you may have known that I was toying with the idea of going to Rabbinical school in the next coming years. In recent weeks I publically announced the idea to peers at an informational session by the Jewish Theological Seminary. I have also met with representatives from the University of Judaism and have chatted with students from Hebrew College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Council. But at the end of the day I don't know if I identify with any of the movements. In each conversation I asked the question 'Why did you decide to become a Rabbi?' and although each answer was different from the next, none of them resonated with me. I am not called to the pulpit, I don't want the recognition. I want to study, I want to work with people, I want to be engaged in higher education, and I want to be engaged in the emerging conversations that surround the future of the Jewish people. Becoming a Rabbi would give me all of those things, but I believe there are other avenues to get there as well. I am just not ready to commit myself to an ideology when I haven't yet figured out where I fall on the theological spectrum.

I have a call back for a job that may keep me in Jerusalem for another year. I am interested in the organization but want to hear more about the job itself. I have made the decision that I want to start planting roots down somewhere and that the next city I live in will be a multiple year commitment. I have been hoping around for too long. I just don't know right now if that place is Israel.

We go on tiyul (hiking trip) to the mountains near Eilat Tuesday. The sunglasses I found on my parent's coffee table 2.5 years ago finally broke and so it is my number one priority tomorrow to replace them before the trip. It will be good to breathe some desert air.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What The Hell Am I doing With My Life?

This is the question of the hour. Suggestions welcome. Big things to decide:
1. Do I stay in Israel for another year or do I move back to the States?
2. If I move back to the States which of the following cities do I choose:
B. Boston
3. What will I do in these cities?

Again, suggestions welcome.

Monday, January 15, 2007


This is a small clip from our party last Thursday night. Talent show themed, Max brought down the house with his Sweedish Chef act. Unfortunately it would only upload 2 minutes of the 5.5 on tape. Will keep working to get you folks more!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Chlorine in the Morning

Last night the party was rocking. At it's height there must have been 50 or so people here, I think we may have pissed off the neighbors just a bit...It was great to celebrate with all those who were here, everyone else you were missed!

Like most mornings after I drink I was up bright and early (I can't control it as much as I try). About a 1/2 hour later I got a phone call from Tal. It was so nice to chat with her, it's been a while since we had a long talk. Birthdays are good for reconnecting if nothing else.

With so so energy and an apartment full of empty bottles and plastic cups I started to clean. The garbage is picked up, the floors are swept, and I even pulled out the squeegie (sp??) As odd as it sounds I find the smell of chlorine comforting. Maybe its from all of my past times at the swimming pool.

Tonight I am having Shabbat dinner with friends. It should be a good way to ring in the year.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Celebration of Life

Today has been an emotional day. I just returned from the funeral of the Mother of one of my teachers. Although I never met the woman, I know she was a Holocaust Survivor, a cherised Mother and Grandmother. She lived a long life passing at 94. None the less it is always hard to watch those who you care about and respect go through hard times. On the way home from a friend's parent's funeral a couple of years back my Mother reminded me that just as it is so important to honor and remember the lives who have passed so too it is essential to celebrate the lives we have.

Tonight in coordination with 4 others who are celebrating their birthdays this month we are hosting a birthday celebration. Drained from crying I just wanted to come home and take a nap. Then our electricity blew. Nothing like 60 people arriving to a dark apartment! Luckily our electrician is in the neighborhood and is currently hard at work. Here's hoping that there will be light to usher in the night...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Photo

She's getting so big!

Tarni I can't wait to meet you!!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Seattle Loving

It started off with a letter from Stephen Singer and then a run in with Hannah Zommick on the street. It was then followed by a conversation with Will and then a sleepover with Josh Furman, Talya Gilman and Avi Zellman. Yesterday I got yet another beautiful postcard from Darcy Johnson in Thailand and realized how much I miss all my Seattle folks. It has become an official reality that I am opting not to go back to the PNW. Although an anticipated choice it is still hard knowing how many amazing folks I left behind. Good thing the Moishe house always has a couch to crash on!

In addition to all the Seattle connections it has been so great to hear and see from so many people over the last couple of weeks. And although my exhausstion levels are on the high side it has all been worth it. I spent some good quality time with Mindy Hirsch who is here as a Racezet for Taglit-birthright israel. Sometimes amongst all the craziness of life all you need is to kick back with some burgers bar and a good friend.

The end of semester is nearing--Thursday--and although not many of my classses officially change it has been hard to give my full concentration to the classroom. We get one day off, Sunday between the two semesters and begin again on Monday. I will surely be using the weekend towards my advantage! and maybe I will get some sleep too.....

Friday, January 05, 2007


I have thought about it over and over again and I cannot seem to remember for the life of me where I spent New Years Eve 2006. It must not have been that memorable... Yet as I look over the year as a whole so much took place. I could not have imagined a year ago that I would be where I am now. Geographically, theologically, socially, etc... In entering 2007 I can only hope that I again will not be able to fully predict where I will be January 2008. For if I had known all I know now this time last year I would not have grown half as much.

I know it has been a while since I last posted something substantial. Life has been busy, in good ways, and I kinda hoped that by posting colorful/animated links it would keep you entertained.

In our Gemara shiur today we were discussing the concept of Tikun Olam. A phrase that is commonly used today in the context of Social Justice/Activism. The literal translation is 'Repairing the World'. A beautiful idea. In our text however we were trying to grapple with what context it was being used in. There is high doubt that the scholarly Rabbi's meant it in the same way we use it today. It is used in our Mishna in reference to land distribution after one party has damaged the property of another. So what were these Rabbi's trying to fix and in what world were they refering to? As we continued to learn we talked about where in the Torah we learn about payment for damaged property and how it is understood by different scholars. Like most conversations in Gemara there was a dispute. This dispute is based on interpretation of the text. According to Rabbi Yismael (the scholar the Mishna appears to hold by) the text in the Torah needs amendment on who's fields are assesed to base the repaymet-the damaged party or the one who damaged. Therefore the Tikun (fixing) is placing Rabbinic ruling above the ruling of the Torah text. This begs from me two categories of questions:
1. What was going on that the Rabbi's needed to discuss this repairing? What wasn't working in society? All society? The court system? Social circumstances? Problems within the Rabbinic community?
2. What other statements found in the Torah may be able to be overturned by this idea of Tikun Olam? Who/ What determines them?

This comes back to the question I struggle with--why has the conversation closed? Why are we so afraid of re-opening the Machlokets (arguments/discussions full of conflicting opinions) and the possibility of change. I think my teacher stated correctly today that we are much more fearful today of these arguments than ever before, why do we not trust ourselves to approach them in the same passion and humilty that was done years ago? Why is what is in the past so untouchable by traditional Judaism today?

Okay, so what have I been doing all this time that has kept me so busy? Well, Taglit-birthright Israel buses are on the ground and running. Most of my work with them is complete since all the logistical stuff was taken care of months ago. However I am still the point person between the scholars and the groups and so the quiet won't return until after Jan 20.

A couple of weeks ago I confronted the Fellows about my dissapointment and frustration with the program. A program that is promoted as a leadership program in reality appeared to be students who wanted a free seccond year at Pardes and at the end of the day were not all that interested in taking on roles in either our program or the Pardes community. As a result I sat down with the head of our program and then typed up a 3 page proposal on how I think they should redesign/enhance the program for next year. In short what it proposes is to place the Fellows program on par with the Pardes Educators program. The Educators program (which is known for turning out some of the best young Jewish educators in North America) is challenging, selective in candidates, and prepares students to be good Jewish professionals. So too the Fellows program should give participants opportunities to meet with various Jewish leaders and organizations, teach them about different models of leadership, and engage them more in leadership opportunities at Pardes (If you want to know more or more specifics I am happy to share but don't want to type them all out). It was recieved very well by the staff and we are looking for ways to start implementing it now. It was submitted to current Fellows and students for feedback (I requested to stay anonymous in the process) and it looks like its got real potential. I am proud of it. It not only was a affirmation of my own frustrations but it is exciting as well to be part of a process that will hopefully actualize the real potential of the program for years to come.

I have had a lot of visitors in the last few weeks which has been really nice. As mentioned in an earlier post, it's hard to go for long periods of time without friendly and familiar faces.

I have lots more to write about this new year but again I am out of time.

Enjoy the first Shabbat of 2007!