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October 23, 2016 / 21 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘shul’

Planting Next To A Shul

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

In the beginning of this week’s parshah, the Torah warns us against planting trees adjacent to the Mizbeiach: “lo sita l’cha asheirah kol eitz eitzel mizbach Hashem” (Devarim 16:21). Rashi explains that this prohibition applies not only to the area adjacent to the Mizbeiach, but to the entire Har HaBayis. The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 6:9) and the Ramban (in his commentary on this pasuk) argue that the prohibition to plant trees only applies to the area adjacent to the Mizbeiach and the azarah (courtyard); the rest of Har HaBayis is not included in the prohibition.

Rav Akiva Eiger, in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 150), quotes, and agrees with, R’ Arma’ah who says there is a rabbinic prohibition against planting trees adjacent to a shul. In contrast, the Netziv (in Teshuvos Meishiv Davar) and Binyan Tzion (1:9) maintain that planting trees next to a shul is permitted. They believe the prohibition only extends to the Beis Hamikdash, which has greater kedushah than a shul.

One simple explanation of this dispute is as follows: Rav Akiva Eiger and R’ Arma’ah equate the kedushah of a shul – on some level – to that of the Beis Hamikdash (this fact is evident in other places of halacha). The Netziv and Binyan Tzion, however, maintain that a shul is on a lower level of kedushah than the Beis Hamikdash, and the prohibition against planting trees therefore doesn’t apply to it.

The sefer Harirei Kedem suggests an alternative solution. Perhaps the Netziv and the Binyan Tzion agree that a shul’s level of kedushah is indeed great enough to prohibit planting trees in it. Its courtyard, though, is a separate entity – one which doesn’t possess kedushah. (Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah [154:3] cites the Maharit [2:4], who that says the garden of a shul possesses no kedushah.) Therefore, one may plant trees in it. It’s true that the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash did possess kedushah, but we cannot compare the two courtyards since the place of the entire Beis Hamikdash was chosen and made kadosh by Hashem.

When I first encountered this explanation, I took issue with it. For even if a shul’s courtyard does not possess kedushah, planting in it could still be prohibited. The prohibition of planting a tree next to a shul is derived from the prohibition of planting a tree next to the Mizbeiach. It is not at all evident that the place next to the Mizbeiach needs to be kadosh for the prohibition to be in effect. For example, if a flowerpot (with no holes in it) was magically suspended in the air adjacent to the Mezbeiach, I believe planting in it would be prohibited even though the flowerpot is clearly not kadosh. The same, therefore, should be true of the area next to the shul. It should be prohibited to plant there even if the area possesses no kedushah.

I called the author of the sefer Harirei Kedem, my rebbe, Rabbi Shurkin, and he immediately responded that the prohibition of planting next to the Mizbeiach is definitely dependent on the kedushah of the area.

As proof, he cited a machlokes Rishonim whether the prohibition applies only in the azarah or if it extends throughout the entire Har Habayis. According to the Rishonim who opine that the prohibition only applies to the azarah, there are places on Har Habayis that are closer to the Mizbeiach than the furthest parts of the azarah. And yet, one may plant in those places, but not in the azarah. This proves that “proximity” is determined solely based on the kedushah of the area, not geographical distance.

Thus, the explanation given by the Harirei Kedem that the Netziv and the Binyan Tzion maintain that it is permitted to plant next to a shul because it possesses no kedushah remains sound.

Rabbi Raphael Fuchs

The Ancient Susiya Synagogue

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

The Israel Museum has reconstructed part of the inside of the ancient Susiya (Susya) synagogue. You can see what a magnificent building it must have been.

The excavated Jewish synagogue in Susiya dates from the 4th to the 7th century CE and was in continuous use until the 9th century CE.

(The Israel Museum) The magnificent synagogue of Susiya in the southern Hebron hills stood for hundreds of years and underwent many renovations. Its bema (podium) was built next to the long northern wall, which featured three arched niches. The central one likely held the Torah Ark, and the two others each held a menorah. The bema’s carved and incised motifs included menorahs, animals, and plants. Numerous donor inscriptions on the walls and floor attest to the community’s active participation in the building’s construction.

Susiya Synagogue in the Israel Museum 2

The Susiya Synagogue in situ:

1024px-SusyaSynogogueInterior Source: Yaacov / Wikipedia

Susiya Synagogue Explanation

Photo of the Day

To Prey or To Pray: Child Molesters in Shul

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

In life, we all have our heroes. And I, like everyone else, have a few people whom I consider heroes. One of those heroes is a survivor. No, not of the Holocaust–but her own personal Holocaust. Rivka Joseph is a survivor of molestation, abuse and other horrors that she had to face. Fortunately for many others, she is not only a survivor but also an advocate in the arena of child sexual abuse. With regularity, I follow her posts and the various threads in which she comments.

This afternoon, I began to follow a post of her’s and also even commented on it. That thread (for which I have her permission to share and can be seen on her Facebook page link above) discusses a very important topic. Convicted sex offenders, child molesters: Do they have a right to pray in a synagogue. Should a shul open its doors to a child sex abuser? Should we worry that the abuser is there to PREY and not to PRAY? Should we try to be welcoming and perhaps enable this soul to repent in our midst?

The answer to that question is a resounding NO! Under no circumstances should a convicted child sex offender be permitted in the walls of a shul. No exceptions! You chose to molest, rape, fondle, abuse a child: YOU HAVE FORFEITED YOUR PRIVILEGE TO PRAY WHERE KIDS ARE PRESENT! Why in the world would you even think it would be ok? On what planet would it be ok to put a child molester into a place (shul) that is supposed to be a safe environment?

If you want to have a minyan, ask nine other men to come over to your house and daven with them. But, never ever feel you are entitled to go to a place where children are davening. Rather than listen to MY words, listen to the words of an expert–Rivka Joseph:

“There are a number of reasons why we cannot allow these abusers in our shuls. The first being that it is impossible to keep an eye on our children every single second in shul. That is not a reflection on our parenting. It is the reality of life- and good parents allow their children age appropriate autonomy. Shul should be a safe place for our children, somewhere were they feel comfortable coming to daven and hear the Torah. It should be associated with pleasant memories, not ones of abuse.
The second reason is that when you allow someone into the shul, the children view that person as someone who is “OK.” That is where the grooming process starts, even if no abuse happens within the shul walls. If the abuser approaches a child later and says “come on, you remember me. You see me all the time in Shul on Shabbat,” then, the child associates this person with someone who is good and ok to be with. This is a very dangerous road to go down.”

I echo every word Rivka says in her post. And it is for this reason I urge every single shul to have a WRITTEN policy in their by-laws that strictly prohibits convicted child sex abusers from EVER entering into their building. Shuls have rules about which caterer can work in their kitchen out of concern to maintain a high level of Kashrut. Yet, in most cases, these same shuls are bereft of a policy regarding molesters.

We, as a community, have a responsibility to our children! We can not foster a situation in which our children are not safe. Please, in the strongest terms possible, I urge you to take action at your next Board Meeting or through whatever mechanism you use in your shul to pass a motion to add rules that will protect your children–our children. And never say “it won’t happen here.” That kind of statement, sadly, has led to many children becoming victims of child sexual abuse.

Rav Zev Shandalov

Preparing for Shavuot

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Shul Shavuot

Photo of the Day

Orthodox Shul Will Keep LGBT Shabbaton Despite Neighborhood Rabbis’ Objection

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

The members of the Stanton Street Shul community on Thursday night received an email from their board announcing that the inclusive event of hosting Orthodox LGBT in an Eshel Downtown Shabbaton. This despite a warning letter from neighborhood Orthodox rabbis who declared that “No Jewish institution that allies itself with such a group can rightfully claim to be Orthodox.” (See: Lower East Side Rabbis Hint at Excommunicating Orthodox Shul for LGBT Shabbaton)

The Stanton Street Shul board wrote: “We want to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to hosting the Eshel Shabbaton this Shabbat and to being an Orthodox shul where all Jews can feel safe praying, learning Torah, and finding fellowship with each other — a place where all are welcome and all feel welcome. We are proud of our members, our rabbi, and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue for fostering the kind of inclusive community that respects the dignity of all people, recognizing that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim, in God’s image.

“We encourage you to show your support by coming to shul this Shabbat for services and for the Shabbaton programming, and we welcome your feedback, questions, and notes of support.”

However, the Stanton Street Shul website’s page announcing the Eshel Shabbaton has been removed.

For its part, the Eshel organization, whose mission is to integrate Orthodox LGBT in the community, started a petition online titled: Support Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino (the spiritual leaders of the Stanton and Sixth Streets shuls). The petition reads:

“Dear Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino,

“We are Orthodox LGBTQ Jews, parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews, and allies. We believe in inclusive Orthodox communities that welcome LGBTQ Jews and their families.

“We are disheartened to learn that both of you have been attacked for hosting Eshel in your synagogues. However, we want both of you, and your synagogue members, to know how much we support you and appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

“We thank you, Rabbi Bodner and Rabbi Bellino, for giving us hope with your commitment to Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests). We thank the leadership and membership of both synagogues for agreeing to host us. You are a model for what warm, compassionate, and inclusive leadership should be.”

As of Friday morning, the petition has received 259 signatures.

In our original story, JNi.media referred to the local Lower East Side rabbis’ letter as hinting excommunication of the “erring” shul. But in the reality of a diminishing Orthodox Jewish presence on the Lower East Side, which comes with the weakening of the Orthodox “establishment” in the neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine what steps the local rabbis might take to make good on such a threat. The relationship between the shul and the neighborhood Orthodox leadership (as opposed to the neighborhood rank and file Orthodox Jews) has always been tense, with the Haredi leaders being critical of the Stanton Street Shul’s egalitarian policy regarding women (the shul maintains women’s minyanim several times a year; shul women dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah; the shul invites women scholars in residence for Shabbat lectures). The dispute over the LGBT Shabbaton may just fizzle away without any tangible negative consequences. At the same time, as has been expressed several times in online debates over the story Thursday, there’s also little chance of an honest dialog between the Stanton Street Shul community and the neighborhood rabbis over the serious issues facing the declining Orthodox community on the Lower East Side.


Lower East Side Rabbis Hint at Excommunicating Orthodox Shul for LGBT Shabbaton

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

If things go according to plans, the Stanton Street Shul, which has been hosting Jewish worshipers on the Lower East Side since 1913, will be participating in the Eshel Downtown Shabbaton this coming Shabbat. According to the shul’s email, received by JNi.media, Eshel’s mission since 2010 has been to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities. The theme of the Shabbaton is Creating Welcoming Communities.

This event has been denounced in benign but clear language by local Orthodox rabbis, and as things stand, should the Shabbaton take place, the Stanton stands to be cut off from the mainstream Orthodox community, with possibly devastating consequences.

A later email from the shul reflected the discomfort some congregants may have felt regarding the Shabbaton. It read: “In preparation for the Shabbat, we would like to invite you to an open forum tonight, May 31st at 7:30 PM at the Stanton Street Shul on the topic of ‘Why we are hosting the Eshel Shabbaton.’ At this time, we will hear from [shul Rabbi] Rabbi [Aviad] Bodner what the goals of the Shabbaton are and why we are hosting it. This will be an opportunity to express support, voice concerns, and ask questions.”

Although many of its regulars reside in the Grand Street Co-Ops near the East River in downtown Manhattan, and are part of the Orthodox community there, the Stanton Street Shul since the 1990s has charted a somewhat different path than the largely Haredi community south of the Williamsburg Bridge. The Stanton is located north of the bridge, in the hip/Hispanic community of Alphabet City (named after its north-south Avenues A, B, C, and D). As such, the Stanton, which at some point was salvaged by its congregants from being sold and converted into a church, caters to the unaffiliated Jews scattered in the neighborhood. On the high holidays and on a few other key dates during the Jewish year, the Stanton is packed with Jews, from Israeli NYU students to fallen Hasidim, to secular folks who miss that bit of traditional sweetness in their lives.

Needles to say, the Stanton Street Shul has also been more accepting and tolerant than most. Shabbat morning services often start at 10:30, Friday night kiddush includes a sampling of quality whiskeys, and the congregation has integrated several gay and transgender members with the kind of ease one doesn’t easily find outside New York City and Tel Aviv. The LGBT Shabbaton was another step in that direction of affiliating the shul more with uptown than with the Lower East Side.

On its website, Eshel writes that “through community gatherings Eshel helps LGBT Orthodox people pursue meaningful lives that encompass seemingly disparate identities while also fulfilling Jewish values around family, education, culture, and spirituality.” On that part, regarding the definition of Jewish values through the spectrum of the LGBT lifestyle, the Stanton Street Shul received its stern rebuke from the local rabbis.

The signatories at the bottom of a letter titled “An important Message to the Community” are well known beyond the Lower East Side: Rabbis David and Reuven Feinstein, the sons and spiritual heirs of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the universally accepted halakhic authority in North America; Rabbi Yeshaya Siff, of the Young Israel of Manhattan, possibly the sweetest and easiest going man of the cloth in downtown Manhattan; his son, Rabbi Azriel Siff, whose Chasam Sofer synagogue stands next door to the Stanton, but is well to the right of its hipster neighbor; and Rabbi Zvi Dovid Romm, whose Bialystoker synagogue hosts the largest congregation this side of 42nd Street.

“All Jews, whatever their challenges or levels of observance, are welcome in all of our shuls,” write the exulted rabbis. And they’re right, for an ultra-Orthodox community, the Lower East Side is probably the most open and accepting on the planet. Some have suggested that the reason for the sense of comfort that is so typical of this community has to do with the nature of the co-op apartments: everybody in the neighborhood is living in the same Soviet-style, square, low-ceilinged apartments — there are no secrets, no really rich and really poor. Things may have changed since privatization, people have been buying up and connecting strings of apartments, but the community is still humbler than most. But we digress.

“However, the basic mandate of the Orthodox synagogue is to promote fidelity to our Torah and our mesorah,” the letter continues. “Sadly, Eshel demands that we change the Torah’s timeless standards to accord with prevalent secular attitudes.”

Notice how instead of saying they’re furious, the rabbis stress their sadness, many times: “We are saddened that the Stanton Street Shul and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue have unilaterally chosen to associate our community with an organization which we cannot consider to be Orthodox, one whose stated aims are at odds with the verses of the Torah itself.”

Next, the rabbis deliver the only threatening line in their letter. It may not sound like one, but it’s a herem, an excommunication, as unmistaken as the herem that was imposed on Baruch Spinoza and Uriel da Costa in 1656 by the Amsterdam rabbinical court: “No Jewish institution that allies itself with such a group can rightfully claim to be Orthodox.”

That’s heavy. It means that many of the committed Orthodox members of both shuls, who preferred them over the Grand Street shuls for a variety of political and emotional reasons, are likely to leave. Excommunication is serious stuff. The letter calls on both shuls to disassociate themselves from the Eshel group and cancel the Shabbaton. We’ll keep you posted, if we can.


Torah Ohr – A Thriving Shul In Boca Raton

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Boca Raton boasts one of the fastest-growing congregations in the U.S. In an area of burgeoning communities, Modern-Orthodox Torah Ohr is not a typical family synagogue but a congregation of 900 members ranging in age from 60 to 90. Located in the beautifully landscaped enclave of Boca Century Village West, Torah Ohr welcomed nearly 150 new members last year.

Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton

Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton

“We are a huge welcoming community with people from all over the United States and elsewhere, coming together to pray, learn, and socialize,” said Josh Samborn, president of Torah Ohr.

This past season, from late November to early April, full-time residents, snowbirds (seasonal residents), and snowflakes (residents who travel back and forth from their northern homes) enjoyed up to five Shabbat morning minyanim. The shul building buzzes with learning activities that include daily daf yomi, chumash, Mishna Berurah, and classes on such topics as the parshah of the week, hilchot Shabbat, and ethics in the Bible. There are also various women’s educational programs.

Guest speakers visit frequently to share their knowledge and experiences while social activities fill the calendar. Sisterhood events include hat shows, boutiques, a pushka party, annual luncheon and fashion show, and catered seudot for Chanukah, Purim, and other occasions. The men’s club is known for its fascinating book review and lecture evenings and the social action committee has an active agenda. Bikur Cholim and a hospital volunteer group are essential for helping the sick.

This past winter was notable for the dedication of two sifrei Torah at Torah Ohr. One was loaned by Pinny and Ann Davidman. The other, presented by Jerry and Shelly Abramson, was inspired by a trip to Lithuania in 2012. Jerry, the son of Holocaust survivors, and his wife were deeply moved on witnessing the remnants of centuries of what had been a thriving Jewish life. The Abramsons commissioned a Torah to honor the six million who died in the Holocaust as well as his mother Miriam and their children.

The Sefer Torah, written by sofer Rabbi Sholom Michalshvilli of Jerusalem, weighs only about 12 pounds. Mr. Abramson says this was intended to make it easier for older congregants to be able to lift the scroll and continue to participate fully in davening.

With all the excitement comes a challenge: the shul is running out of room for all its activities. After exploring various options, shul president Josh Samborn announced, “To accommodate our growing community, we have design committees working with architects and planners on an important expansion plan to the kehilla.”

The congregation is located at 19146 Lyons Road in Boca Raton. For more information, visit www.torahohrboca.org or call (561) 479-4049.

Helen Garfinkel

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/south-florida/torah-ohr-a-thriving-shul-in-boca-raton/2016/04/25/

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