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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

Video Mocking Rabbinic Sermons Was in Bad Taste

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

A viral-ish video (almost 3k Likes) released before Yom Kippur poked fun at the rabbi’s sermon. The video featured puppets teaching the viewer how to write a High Holiday sermon. They said to start with a joke (see: Why Do Rabbis Make Jokes at Serious Times?), then tell a story, then make your point, but keep it short and interesting, unless the audience wants to sleep longer, har har har. It’s classic lowbrow sarcastic humor.



It seems to me that the joke was “funny” because rabbi’s speeches are predictable and formulaic. Further, this is seen as a very bad thing because things that are predictable, especially rabbi’s speeches, are no good.

People thought the video was funny. I didn’t. But I actually have a problem with the concept of the video.

The underlying assumption behind the joke is that speeches should not be formulaic and that rabbis should not follow a script. I think both of these assumptions are wrong.

Things that are formulaic can be amazing. Baseball is formulaic. Pitch, hit, catch, throw. Political speeches are formulaic. Hit the talking points, wait for applause, repeat. Movies and TV shows are formulaic. Law and Order is as formulaic as can possibly be. A good meal has an appetizer, main, a salad, and a side dish. Predictable. But delicious. Formulas can be wildly successful. Just because something has a formula hardly means that it’s not impressive or worthwhile. Some of the most successful things in our world are formulaic. Ted Talks are incredibly formulaic. And incredibly popular. It’s pedantic and petty to harp on the formula of the rabbinic sermon. It’s not a valid criticism.

The second assumption is also wrong. That is, rabbis are usually decent teachers and orators. But to be those things rabbis should follow a script. Rabbis are teachers not entertainers. We don’t want baseball players to juggle chainsaws and we don’t want politicians to tap dance. Why would anyone expect rabbis to do anything other than teach and lead their congregations? Why should rabbis be expected to become entertainers?

Sure, rabbis should attempt to spice up their talks and not be stiff or boring. But the video implies that because rabbis use a basic formula for their sermons they should be mocked. They shouldn’t. Rabbis must be creative within the bounds of the expected formula but that’s it. What do they expect? A variety show starring the rabbi? Improv? Ludicrous.

Spontaneity and quirkiness have their place but a sermon is neither the time nor place for either of those. Perhaps our society overvalues surprising and thinking different. Sometimes we need to not think different and certainly not to mock thinking “the same.”

Using a video to make fun of the traditional rabbinic sermon just before the High Holidays was not only in bad taste, but it only served to subvert the important role that rabbis play this time of year. It was a poor choice to produce the video and an even poorer choice to release it just before the High Holidays.

Ultimately, the sermon formula is not going to change. Nor should it. Different rabbis will have varying levels of success at speaking from the pulpit but it will almost always be within the same framework. This video only undermines rabbis without making a case for how rabbis could even do it any differently. Rabbis are not going to sing their sermon like Operaman sings the news. Rabbis are not going to mime their sermons. Rabbis are not going to direct a three part play. They are going to speak and they are going to use common speaking techniques to get their point across. They are going to make jokes and tell stories to bolster the attention of the audience. That’s the formula. Making fun of it is just dumb.

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For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

Colorado Floods Close Boulder Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A killer flood in Colorado submerged a synagogue and a rabbi’s home in Boulder County, and the Chabad synagogue rabbi is thankful that Torah scrolls were saved with the help of students from the nearby University of Colorado.

“Thank G‑d, the students have been immensely helpful moving the Torahs and other sacred items to higher ground” before Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Yisrael Wilhelm told a Chabad website.

Several deaths have been reported, and 500 people are unaccounted for, with more rain expected Sunday from Denver to the Wyoming border.

Thousands of people have been evacuated or have fled their homes during the flood that has drenched some areas with up to 14 inches of rain, seven times the average amount for the entire month of September.

JTA contributed to this report.

 

 

 

Did Your Shul Pocket $660,000 from Maftir Yona?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

“Auctioning” off the honor of being called to the Torah and for the privilege of reading the “Haftorah,” or “Maftir” section of the Prophets, is common in the Diaspora and also in many urban and more affluent communities in Israel, but it takes a lot to top an unidentified Moscow millionaire, or perhaps billionaire, who paid $660,000 for the honor to read the Book of Yona (Jonah).

Hadrei Haredim reported that the money was pledged at Moscow’s central syangogue for Jewish institutions and a yeshiva.

Several Israeli Hassidic synagogues did not do as well but can’t complain. Tzvi Frank of the United States paid $17,000 to read ‘Maftir Yona” during afternoon prayers on Yom Kipper at the Navdorna yeshiva synagogue, according to Kikkar Shabbat. Navdorna is a town that was in Poland between the two world wars and now is Ukraine.

At the Erlau Hassidic synagogue, the same honor was “sold” for $28,000 but Bnei Brak’s Luvlin yeshiva settled for “only” $6,200. However, one person paid nearly twice that sum for opening the Holy Ark continuing Torah scrolls.

The Holiest Day of the Year: How IDF Soldiers Observe Yom Kippur

Friday, September 13th, 2013

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 serves as a stark reminder why the IDF must be on alert every day, especially on the holiest day of the year, and rabbis guide soldiers on the best way possible to maintain the delicate balance between a soldier’s obligations to national defense with his or her religious needs.

Day-to-day work in the IDF comes to a halt on all holidays like Yom Kippur, but essential security work must be active 24/7 as a result of constant threats posed by Israel’s enemies. In 1973, Syria and Egypt abused the holiness of the day by attacking Israel while most of soldiers were fasting at home or in the Synagogue.

For IDF soldiers who are on duty, some of the laws of Yom Kippur are not possible or even dangerous to observe fully. Yom Kippur is well known for its 25-hour fast, it also is forbidden to wash, bathe, apply lotions or oils to the skin or wear leather shoes.

Some soldiers observe the custom of immersing in the mikveh, the ritual bath before Yom Kippur. For soldiers who do not have access to a ritual bath, they fulfill the tradition by taking a three-minute shower, the equivalent of 12.5 liters of water.

All soldiers are exempt from wearing the leather IDF boots that are part of the standard uniform. Soldiers are entitled to wear their own personal shoes made from canvas, rubber, or in some cases, sandals. Troops who are in areas that require sturdy footwear, such as in fields with snakes or scorpions, are permitted to wear their leather boots until they are finished with the work, after which they can switch back into non-leather shoes.

Almost every base has a synagogue in one form or another. Before the holiday, the IDF Rabbinate ensures that every IDF base has enough of the special Yom Kippur prayer books. Cantors are sent to many bases around Israel in order to lead the intense prayer services.

Soldiers who are not on active duty are able to fast, but while on duty are allowed to have the equivalent of a capful of water and a tiny amount of food every nine minutes. The intervals are shortened depending on the intensity of the situation.

One new innovation to comply with the law allowing a certain amount of water is to use popsicles, which perfectly portion water out .Individually-wrapped mini ice popsicles work well not only because of their easy portion control but because they also provide a small amount of sugar for soldiers who need it.

Some soldiers are not able to fast at all due to their line of work. Refraining from food and water while on duty be dangerous for the soldier and for national security since it could distract from a soldier’s abilities.

Lieutenant Colonel Malakhi Ra’avad, head of the branch responsible for interpreting religious law, said that a soldier’s health and safety comes above all else. “We would not allow a pilot, for example, who will need to fly a plane during Yom Kippur, to fast at all. It would put his life in danger. Keeping our soldiers out of harm’s way is our most important concern.”

Soldiers who have questions regarding observance of Yom Kippur while on duty have several options in the army. In addition to advice from their own personal rabbi, soldiers can speak with the rabbi of their base or call the Rabbinate Hotline to get quick answers about observing Jewish law in the army.

Even the soldiers who go home for the holidays must still be prepared to be called back to base at a moment’s notice. Some soldiers keep their cell phones with them, even if for religious reasons they would not otherwise touch electronics during Yom Kippur.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Brigadier General (res.) Avraham Baram saw firsthand what happened to the holiday: “The very second the war broke out, Yom Kippur ended for us.” He said that whoever was at synagogue during the holiday did not find out about the war or emergency call-up until many hours later. “It would have been so different even if I had this plain phone,” Brig. Gen. (res) Baram said, pointing to his smartphone.

Numerous Reasons for Fear, One Reason for Joy this New Year

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Amalek, Torah, Moses, Egypt, Hamas, Taliban, terrorists,Israel marks on the Sabbath the 40th year of the Yom Kippur War that nearly destroyed the country. Today, being the island in a sea of Arab storms threatens the country no less, but slowly, slowly, the Big Lies of evil are crumbling at Israel’s feet.

If the “peace process” and existential threats of Syrian President Bassar al-Assad and the Iranian regime and their Russian sponsors are a measure, Israel can start saying the Kaddish mourning prayer for itself.

President Barack Obama is dead set to shrink Israel to what former Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban, far from a right-wing hawk, called the “Auschwitz borders” that existed from 1949 until 1967.

Obama is only the latest, if not the last, American president to interpret the Middle East through the eyes of the Arab world, which not coincidentally is an oil-rich world.

Israel no longer can depend on logic. Explaining why it is not an ‘occupier” is an exercise of the frustration of an idiot. Exposing Palestinian Authority incitement and highlighting Arab terror simply encourages the one-line mind that Israel has brought its woes on itself.

No matter what the Obama administration says, its actions, and those of every American government the past decades, have forgiven the Palestinian Authority for every violation of the Oslo Accords while demanding that Israel live up to every word and letter.

Foreign media have swallowed hook, line and sinker the Arab world argument that “settlements” are an obstacle to peace, and nothing will change that fallacy,

Except the truth.

Israel’s real strength is rooted in the Torah. In the Sinai desert, where Amalek preceded Hamas , Moses led the people around its enemies instead of fighting them, unless attacked first.

The anti-Semitic Big Lie is inherent in foreign governments and foreign media. It was inherent in the media during the Holocaust, which was ignored as much as possible until the truth defeated evil, all too late for 6,000,000 Jews.

The Big lie has been crumbling, and the media, slowly but surely, have no choice other than giving up the anti-Zionist fight.

Neither The New York Times, nor CNN, nor the U.S. State Dept. will admit they were wrong. Like old generals, they simply will fade away.

The Big Lie began crumbling years ago, at least as far back as Israel’s middle-of-the-night flight from the Security Zone in southern Lebanon, but it took the 2005 expulsion of Jews and the withdrawal of the IDF from Gaza to wake up the world out of its peace and love slumber.

When Hamas attacked southern Israel with rockets immediately after the Sharon government destroyed the lives of 9,000 innocent Jews, President Shimon Peres, Israel’s eternal Minister of Peace, actually said out loud he simply cannot understand why Hamas would do such a thing after Israel was so nice.

When the Palestinian Authority staged its first and, until now, its last democratic election, Hamas won. Condoleezza Rice who then was Secretary of State, simply could not believe that Arabs would democratically vote for anti-democrats. The State Dept. did not and still does not understand that Arabs will accept democracy only if it is a means towards destroying Israel. Otherwise, it is useless to them.

The Big Lie crumbled in Iraq but it took the war in Afghanistan to wake up the American people. A war weary United States is preparing to leave Afghanistan in the hands of a government that operates in the shadow of Taliban. In the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. Army won the battle and defeated Saddam Hussein, but it lost the war. Suicide bombings are weekly events in Iraq today. The government is a shell that does not even thinly disguise growing anarchy. Good luck, Afghanistan, on your inheritance from Washington.

The Big Lie of the romantic Arab Spring rebellion for freedom, by Western standards, crumbled in Egypt, and it has collapsed in Syria.

“Freedom” for Islamists is the right to end freedom for others.

The cheers for the Muslim Brotherhood, after the “despot” Mubarak was deposed, turned out to be jeers after it was clear that the Brotherhood is no less despotic. And the military regime is no better.

Syria would be a laughable situation if it were not for the fact that it is not funny when hundreds of thousands of people are killed indiscriminately, starved, tortured, and gassed. Lest anyone forget, the Obama administration, and Kerry when he was a senator in the Bush administration, “engaged” Assad. So much for their choice of marriage partners.

Rav Bina’s Yom Kippur Message – 5774 (Video)

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Rav Bina, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh at the Kotel, had the following video message for his students and alumni (and you can listen in too) for Yom Kippur.

White House Briefs Reform and Conservative Rabbis on Syria

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Nearly 700 rabbis and other Jewish communal officials were briefed by a top White House aide on President Obama’s Syria plans.

The call Tuesday with Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, was organized by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and attracted 691 callers from all religious streams, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the RA’s executive vice president.

She said that rabbis were eager to be briefed on Syria so they could better discuss the issue in their Yom Kippur sermons.

Rabbis on the call pressed Rhodes on the moral underpinnings of striking Syria, distinctions between responses to the use of conventional weapons on civilians as opposed to chemical weapons, what the administration’s endgame in Syria was, and on how its Syria considerations affected its relationship with Israel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/white-house-briefs-reform-and-conservative-rabbis-on-syria/2013/09/12/

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