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An Unforgettable Forty-Year Shabbos Journey

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Once the eating was over, the host would briefly discuss the week’s Torah portion. Professor Zlotnick would then shift the agenda to politics – not politics in a generic sense, but more specifically the past week’s events as they related to the well-being of the Jewish people, particularly in Israel.

Professor Zlotnick followed the news closely. He saw news through an ideological prism – Jewish survival depended on political strength. He reserved special ire for secular Jewish liberals for what he considered their self-destructive illusions.

Similarly, he objected to relativism in religious standards, complaining about the leftward drift in Conservative Judaism, at whose seminary he taught, especially its decision to ordain women rabbis.

Though most members of the shiur seemed at least tacitly to agree with his politics, he was not unchallenged. One retired professor and bibliophile strongly stood his New Deal ground. When the amiability of the previous two hours seemed threatened, shiur participants could be counted on to wisely drown out debate by spontaneously singing the introductory verses to the benching (Grace after Meals), thereby bringing the meal to a close.

Now that the shiur belongs to the ages, I pursue my Talmud study most Saturday afternoons by attending the Daf Yomi class at the Riverdale Jewish Center. Since a lot of text must be covered each day in order to fulfill this group’s seven-year cycle of completing the Talmud, I feel a sense of nostalgia for the graceful rigor with which Professor Zlotnick guided us in grappling with complicated concepts (quite a few of which were over my head), and for the camaraderie provided by those in the shiur who accompanied me on an unforgettable four-decade Shabbos journey.

About the Author: Ron Rubin is a senior political scientist at CUNY and author most recently of “A Jewish Professor's Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press, 2013).

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