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Beresheet, Greatness, and the Spirit of Freedom

posted 17 Apr 2019, 07:19 by Charles Greene

Beresheet, Greatness, and the Spirit of Freedom

Few holidays are observed by our people with greater zeal, awe and excitement than Pesach. Promise of change is in the air – and we always want to invest the best and most of ourselves into making sure the change is for better, greater, more wonderful.

From vigorous cleaning to cooking that gefilte into the small hours of the morning to making sure as many of our loved ones as possible get together at the Seder table, we do whatever we can.

Last Shabbat, the one preceding the yontef, is known as the Great Shabbat, Shabbat haGadol. There are many explanations of the term, most of them fairly obvious, i.e. it is a great Shabbos on the doorstep of great miracle. There is a much less obvious commentary I will share with you, one featured in “Shem mi-Shmuel”, the brilliant and evocative work of the Sokhachev Rebbe that saw light almost 100 years ago.

The author explains that greatness in scriptures is typically associated with the Genesis, the story of creation. So far, so good. But then he says, Pesach introduced once and for all a new dimension into the Jewish life, that of exploit and achievement. Molding us into a free nation required not only abundant miracles from the Almighty, but also a true feat on the part of our forebearers. Nothing ever would remain the same after that. All our history was firmly split forever into two parts; before and after.

That, says Shem mi-Shmuel, is the overwhelming message of Shabbat ha-Gadol. It is the last Shabbat that is merely “great”; from now on, cometh Pesach, everything will be a cut above. No more reliant on the past greatness, this is the time for heroics.

Beresheet: Small Country, Big Dreams

As you know, Israeli spacecraft Beresheet (which means, apropos, Genesis) crashed into the moon last week during its landing attempt. The mission was still successful in many ways, and Israel joined the tiny club of countries whose crafts managed thus far to orbit the moon. Yet the best news came two days later when the project backer Morris Kahn promised to launch a second, improved version of Beresheet. Most befittingly of the season, we are past Genesis now. Greatness alone will not suffice.

As you come home and relax with the start of the yontef, be a hero. You have no choice. Be an example, a source of light and inspiration to your family, your friends, all your dearest and nearest. Find your inspiration in them, for it is their turn to be heroes, too.

The wind is changing. Can you smell the miracle in the air?

Wishing you the most beautiful, restful, peaceful, awesome, inspiring, uplifting and liberating Passover.

RE and family

For the life of us, let us bury our dead

posted 30 Oct 2018, 09:09 by Charles Greene   [ updated 30 Oct 2018, 15:12 ]

The portion Chayei Sarah, "The Life of Sarah", opens with the death of Sarah. That was - must have been - the longest day in Abraham's entire life. Having nearly sacrificed his beloved son, he comes back from the mountain Moriah just in time to bury his wife (as far as the story goes and the Midrash sees it, at least).

All the more admirable, not to say amazing, is his behaviour towards both the well-meaning but pushy Hethites and Ephron, the sleazy land-owner, the real scum of the earth who, pretending to offer Abraham the plot for free, uses his pain and urgent need to sell him the already severely overpriced piece of land at 3 times the fare. In both of those instances Abraham, with his abnormal super-restraint, merely says: "Give me a possession of burying place with you, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight". He goes so far as to bow to the Children of Heth. The result is the burying plot of the Machpela Cave in Hebron, which remains a holy site of our forefathers' burial to this day.

Following the terrible tragedy in Pittsburgh, it looks like every politician, everybody who is anybody, every public figure big and small, came out of the woodwork to use the opportunity to advance their own agenda. US Vice-President M. Pence invited a messianic Christian "Rabbi" to lead a service for the victims of the murder. Indeed, we all know the VP is a devout Christian himself. But I ask you; is there all of a sudden a shortage of Jewish rabbis in America? Does he really need to bring a J-Witness to address the grieving Jews? Was that really done out of love and compassion?

Not to stay behind the Republicans, the left of the centre exhibits similar ambitions. When a number of famous activists and journalists blame President Trump for instigating the massacre... what can I say? One can hardly suspect me of being a Hassid of the POTUS in any shape or form but calling a mass-murder at the synagogue his responsibility – doesn’t it sound a little, hmm, excessive?

To be absolutely clear; my words do not at all relate to those compassionate and gentle souls who have honestly come forth to support the survivors of the tragedy. They are inapplicable to the Muslim community of Pittsburgh who collected over US $50K within 6 hours after the attack. Nor, to the thousands who went to hold the night vigil with the victims' families. Nor the Israeli students who started reposting words of consolation and tender kindness. The note below is meant for those who see our calamity as a convenient vehicle to propel them in the desired direction.

Dear politicians, celebrities, popularity seekers craving political capital, and other disaster chasers! Please stop pretending you are stricken with grief and full of just rage (you really don't need to express it, we know you are full of it). Please cease hitching a ride with our people's pain and suffering. Let us have our burying space, so we should bury our dead out of your sight.

May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world.


Give Peas a Chance

posted 27 Mar 2018, 14:56 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

Why are beans, lentils and peas

not on your Passover shopping list?

When Purim is too happy, it might be not kosher enough. But when Pesach gets too kosher, it can definitely be not happy enough. Should you happen to be of Ashkenazi persuasion, read this pre-Passover piece.

Rabbi Eli takes a shot at convincing you to start using peas, beans, lentils, and other perfectly kosher things that Sephardim were wise enough to eat on Pesach all along.

As some of my readers may remember, I have repeatedly called for abolishment of the custom of avoiding kitniyot on Pesach.

You shall find below the response which yours truly has co-authored with Rabbi Sean Gorman of the Pride of Israel in Toronto. I tried to abbreviate it here by leaving out all of the precise sources and bibliography, as well as some of the paragraphs of lesser import; welcome to inquire if interested, and I shall be happy to send it to you individually.


Happy Passover!

Rabbi EC

Give Peas a Chance

In these days of an overall Passover stricture craze, when many of our otherwise sane and sanguine brethren seek out any hint of an excuse to ban yet another edible item from their Seder tables, when tin foil and toilet bowl detergent require the seal of Kashruth supervision, and multitudes refuse to partake of each other's victuals - all the greater is the need for careful investigation of every prohibitive paschal tradition delivered to our doorstep by our predecessors. Scrupulous discrimination between the halachic lines in the sand and the snowballing practices amplified by ages of superstitions - is our duty, not only to ourselves and to proper and accurate Halakhah, but most importantly to the generations that will follow us.

The Ashkenazi ban on legumes (from here onwards: kitniyot) is one of the most notable Passover strictures in our time. When and how did it originate, and what exactly are those forbidden "legumes"? First, one must know that the common translation 'legumes' is inadequate. The term 'kitniyot', derived from the Hebrew word katan - small - describes such seeds or beans that may be mixed up with grains. Hence, by definition kitniyot never become chametz, as chametz can only be derived from one of the five types of grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt). E.g. no rabbi, to our best knowledge, had ever attempted to forbid owning kitniyot over Pesach. The earliest prohibitive notion of kitniyot on Passover we can find belongs to the 13th century. The French tosafist Rabbeinu Peretz of Corbeil suggests in his glosses on Sefer Mitzvot Katan that the Sages of the old used to refrain from eating kitniyot on Pesach - that, to avoid confusing the people, as grains and kitniyot were commonly cooked or baked in a similar way, and the results also bore certain likeness. Later, in the 14th century, TUR (r. Ya'akov b. Asher mentions another reason for the stricture; concern that wheat or other grains might inadvertently get mixed in with the kitniyot, leading to leavening and resulting in actual chametz. However, TUR rejects the ban, calling it an excessive stringency.

Even Rabbeinu Peretz himself indicates an existing opposition to the ban, stating that his teacher R. Yechiel did eat white beans on Passover, and quoted great authorities of the old to support such leniency. Ever since, we find equally passionate rulings of stricture and leniency regarding kitniyot in the rabbinical responsa. Some refer to it as "a custom based in the Talmud and even in the Torah, "prohibition practised since the days of the ancient sages”, and a rabbinic decree not to be deviated from. Others yet call it "an idiotic habit", "distressing practice", an error, and plain "nonsense".

Prior to breaching the subject of the permissible in our time, we feel compelled to outline the boundaries of those evasive kitniyot. It is hard to speak of an "original list" of prohibited species, as the first mention of the prohibition significantly predates the earliest such list we may have. It would seem, however, that initially 'kitniyot' certainly included peas, beans, lentils, and rice; possibly, it also referred to millet and mustard seed. Gradually, the list expanded to such genera as buckwheat, sunflower and mustard seed. Later yet, with the discovery of the New World, the list grew to embrace corn, soy, canola and hemp oil, and many more foods previously unknown to the European communities.  Such expansion continues unto this very day, so that even peanuts, quinoa(!) and chestnuts(!!) are not entirely safe from the ever-expanding list. A quick look at the varied websites that list kitniyot shows foods that the medieval rabbis could not possibly know. In this regard, the great rabbi of the last century, r. Moshe Feinstein speaks clearly, forbidding adding new strictures to a minhag (custom) in his indignation against the new fashion to prohibit peanuts on Pesach. It is clearly emphasized in his responsum that the ban on kitniyot is merely a custom, and by no means an issur (halakhic prohibition).

The history of the minhag, such as it is, consists of numerous attempts at limiting its impact. Prior to rabbi Feinstein, r. Yitzchok Elhonon Spector (19 c) in his work Be’er Yizchak clearly permits liquid derivatives of kitniyot - provided that any concern of the five forbidden grains penetrating the item is mitigated.  Based on his opinion, even for those who avoid kitniyot, it is clearly permissible to use oils, corn syrup, and the like without reservation both prior to and during the holiday. In the conclusion of his teshuvah, the Be’er Yitzchak makes no reference whatsoever to when the holiday falls. That is, the use of such liquids is permissible to all both before and during the holiday.

We have noted above the objections of the TuR to excessive stringency, even when there is a legitimate concern about inadvertent mixings of real hametz.  The Be’er Yitzchak only extends that logic to the consumption of liquids. However, the TuR’s objection stands even as regards solids. Therefore, if any concern of the five grains’ presence in kitniyot can be eliminated, and all manner of kitniyot can be permitted based on the TuR’s dismissal of the concern.


The Ashkenazi ban on kitniyot should be abolished altogether.

While we do recognize the nostalgic value of following an existing custom, however vague, disputed and unreliable its origins may be, in this case that value is by far outweighed by:

- The great number of objections to the custom and leniencies voiced by leading Poskim of various times

- The slippery slope danger of the snowballing stringencies, what with the list of prohibited kitniyot being already anything but clear, and the shadow such limitations throw over simchat ha-chag, the joy of the holiday

- The notable extraneous expense required of those struggling to observe it

- The existence of the reliable contrary custom (i.e. eating kitniyot on Pesach)

- The unnecessary division it causes between groups within People Israel

- The risk that such emphasis on the minute issue of kitniyot will diminish the attention people give to actual chametz, which is prohibited by the Torah.

In the light of the above, we encourage all Israel to consume otherwise kosher for Pesach kitniyot.

Having said that, we do realize that some of our readers may be reluctant to let the practice go. Old minhagim die harder than Bruce Willis.

Should you still have reservations about kitniyot, we invite you at the very least to:

- Eat them when being a guest of (an otherwise kosher) household that serves them to you on Pesach - that, out of consideration for your host’s financial onus, and to avoid the grave sin of offending your host

- Consume kitniyot she-nishtanu (“modified kitniyot”) such as corn-derived citric and ascorbic acid, sodium citrate, maltodextrin etc. - in cases where it is absolutely certain they are of kitniyot origin, and not wheat or other chametz grain.

- Consume oils derived from kitniyot, not only for the above said reason of modification, but also based on the commentary of Sefer Markheshet on the Rama, saying the latter only forbade the oils produced from kitniyot that were not checked first thoroughly for grain

- Consume products labeled as “for kitniyot eaters only” when majority of their ingredients are not kitniyot, for in those kitniyot are betelim ba-rov (annulled within the major content).

Those who are hesitant to do that out of concern that an annulment should not be done lakatekhila, on purpose, may at the very least eat such products if the annlment took place prior to Pesach (e.g. various chocolates and commercially produced sweets, pop drinks etc).

If you are concerned for personal and familial reasons that - for you specifically - the ban may have taken the power of a neder (vow), please be advised to talk to your Rabbi; you may require a rabbinical absolution, hatarat nedarim, prior to being allowed to eat kitniyot on Pesach.

All in all, we are looking forward to the day when the entire practice of prohibiting on Passover foods that are kosher and have nothing to do with chametz will become but a memory of the past. May the blessing of simchat ha-regel shine upon us from above, and may we merit to see peas in our time.

Has the Biblical text remained unchanged through the ages?

posted 22 Jan 2018, 11:53 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

The Winter's Tale;

Sunday Nights with Rabbi Eli

Past Events

Has the Biblical text remained unchanged through the ages?

The mindset of a Jew of the late Second Temple era, and some common myths about the origins of the Rabbinic Judaism.

We are naturally biased to think of our forebears as people who held much the same values and strove for much the same goals and objectives that we hold sacred in their memory to this day - merely by using different means and ways, such as were available to them in their times. But... did they really?
Rabbi Eli Courante

Rabbi Eli explains the major paradigmatic shift that occurred in Jewish worldview with the destruction of the Temple, and dispels some common myths about the origins of the Rabbinic Judaism.

Friedlander; the man who forged the Jerusalem Talmud. A scandalous tale of intrigue and ingenuity, great talent and colossal waste.

For centuries, the Jerusalem Talmud on the Order of Kodshim was lost to the world. Since the mid-19th c. various rabbis and scholars of Jewish doubted it ever existed to begin with.

Then, one day in 1905, a man appeared to the communities of northern Hungary. Introducing himself as Shlomo Yehudah Algazi, Sephardic rabbi from Turkey, he presented the scholars with the greatest treasure that serendipitously fell in his possession...

Watch Rabbi's Eli's exciting lecture on what happens next...

Also checkout: Rabbi Eli’s Blog

As the Bard taught us, the Schule must go on.

The mindset of a Jew of the late Second Temple era

posted 11 Dec 2017, 11:00 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 11 Dec 2017, 20:17 ]

The Winter's Tale;

Sunday Nights with Rabbi Eli

The mindset of a Jew of the late Second Temple era,

and a venture into the origins of Rabbis

We are naturally biased to think of our forebears as people who held much the same values and strove for much the same goals and objectives that we hold sacred in their memory to this day - merely by using different means and ways, such as were available to them in their times. But... did they really?

Hanukkah Sameach, Rabbi Eli...

Rabbi Eli explains the major paradigmatic shift that occurred in Jewish worldview with the destruction of the Temple, and dispels some common myths about the origins of the Rabbinic Judaism.

It’s worth a look.

The lecture is exactly 1 hour long, plus Q&A.

See you at the next “Sunday Nights with Rabbi Eli”

Has the Biblical text remained unchanged through the ages?

20171112_Lodzer's Rabbi Eli Courante discusses Friedlander

posted 13 Nov 2017, 09:43 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 13 Nov 2017, 17:23 ]

YouTube Video

For centuries, the Jerusalem Talmud on the Order of Kodshim was lost to the world. Since the mid-19th c. various rabbis and scholars of Jewish doubted it ever existed to begin with.

Then, one day in 1905, a man appeared to the communities of northern Hungary. Introducing himself as Shlomo Yehudah Algazi, Sephardic rabbi from Turkey, he presented the scholars with the greatest treasure that serendipitously fell in his possession...

Watch Rabbi's Eli's exciting lecture on what happens next...

The Winter's Tale;

Sunday Nights with Rabbi Eli Courante

*** Now Playing ***

Sunday, November 12 at 6:30 PM

Friedlander; the man who forged the Jerusalem Talmud.

A scandalous tale of intrigue and ingenuity, great talent and colossal waste.

Future Events: (All welcome; No charge)

Sunday, December 10 at 6:30 PM

The mindset of a Jew of the late Second Temple era, and a venture into the origins of Rabbis.

Sunday, January 14 at 6:30 PM

Has the Biblical text remained unchanged through the ages?


As the Bard taught us, the Schule must go on.


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You Only Live Twice

posted 16 Sep 2017, 22:08 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 16 Sep 2017, 22:22 ]

You Only Live Twice

Bimah Matters: D’Var of Sept. 16

Mir Zaynen Do! We are here!

From Hirsch Glick’s Zogt nit keyn mol, written in Warsaw Ghetto, 1943

This Shabbat, we started portion Nitzavim with: ‘You are all here today, your leaders and advisors, your men and women folk, elders and children, all people Israel’. This major all-hands-on-deck family gathering is an adequate opening to the reaffirmation of the covenant.

A former congregant of mine once said, somewhat cynically, that an extended family was a group of people getting together to eat, drink and reminisce whenever their numbers change.

If you’ve been to Jerusalem, especially recently, you probably know the Mamilla district, with its luxury hotels and a posh pedestrian mall right in front of the Jaffa gate. It hasn’t been always posh and exclusive. After the Arab mob ransacked and burnt much of the neighbourhood during the 1947 Jerusalem riots, murdering some of the residents in the process, the area went into a long period of stagnation. Between the War of Independence and the Six Day War, most of the residents here were poor immigrants from Kurdistan and Iraq. Mamilla was right on the border of Jordanian-held Old City. Every few weeks, a soldier would start shooting at the Jewish population from the city walls above. Afterwards, everyone went through the motions; Israel would file a protest with the UN, Jordan would respond that the soldier was mentally ill, deemed criminally insane and unfit to stand trial, and hospitalized. That went on till the Old City returned to the Israeli hands, and even gave birth to a sardonic term meshuga toran, “the psycho on duty”.

An old-timer of Mamilla told me how after the shooting would end and everyone who took cover came out again, you’d hear women shouting across the open space:

-          Have you seen my Moishe?

-          Is Tzilah at home?

-          Chayim! Chayim?! Are you there?

Our history, sadly, remembers hundreds, thousands of those cases, when we first duck and take cover to survive, then look for our loved ones to rebuild, to return to normal. And each of those tragedies, each of those calamities, is also inevitably the story of recovery, of reclaiming our lives.

We are a survivors’ congregation. It describes not so much the history of our congregation as its mindset. We are alive, here and now, and in whatever light we view our own purpose, our very raison d'être, it always comes through a prism of debt. The debt of gratitude to those who gave us life, and made sure it will be one worth living; and the debt of memory to those who are no longer with us, the ones who did not make it through; and the debt of responsibility to pass that understanding to our descendants. Your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles who came through the inferno and lost their loved ones, lived on ever after with an acute realisation of carrying on for more than just themselves.

The institution of Yizkor itself was born out of necessity almost 1,000 years ago. After the terrible pogroms during the first crusade c. 1096, Jewish congregations would issue special books listing the victims of the massacres, sometimes along with a brief description of their deeds and lives.

All over, once again, it was children crying, and women screaming, and everybody asking whether Tzilah made it home and if anyone saw Chayimke.

Tomorrow’s Yizkor is a special one, established especially and particularly by the founders of The Lodzer for the last Sunday of the Jewish year. You will not find it as a custom (to my best knowledge) of any other Ashkenazi or Sephardic community. It is not merely a ritual but an opportunity.

An opportunity to move forward with our Teshuvah – the Return – just before the Days of Judgement by acknowledging and paying those debts, the debt of memory and the debt of gratitude.

An opportunity to find peace and consolation in the meaning of the good that we can continue doing (we cannot find meaning in the atrocities that ended so many lives of the previous generations, but we can give those lives that meaning).

Yes, we are family; but we do more than drink and reminisce about the frequent change of our numbers. We live “double lives”. Or rather, we double-live our lives.

Last week, I met someone who moved back in town after years in California. We started talking, and he said his mother was from Lodz. Naturally, I start telling him about the Lodzer Centre, and he exclaims: “I don’t believe it! You guys are still around? I remember you from years ago, back in the ‘70s! What with my parents’ Schule shutting down the other year, and my neighbour’s Schule reducing to a schtible of once-a week very small scale prayer, you are still holding services, and classes, and events? How do you manage it?”

And I tell him – we are a survivors’ Schule. Moreover, we are a Survivor Schule. Our portion says, “Not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing with us today before the Lord our God, and also those who are not here with us, this day”.

We live two lives: for ourselves and for those who are no longer with us. We are not one Schule, but two Schules in one; that one looking into its past and the one that leads to the future.

And we look around, and Tzilah is here, and Chayim made it, too.

You will come to the special Yizkor service, and you will stand tall and strong, and say: ‘Mir zaynen do. I am here, I carry on, and I remember’!

Shana Tova u’Metuka, Rabbi Eli...

that which is not pure

posted 22 Aug 2017, 14:45 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 22 Aug 2017, 14:45 ]

...that which is not pure

Typically, the Torah is concise and to-the point. It is consistent with the fact that in portion Re'eh, where we get the rules of kosher and non-kosher animals, rather than listing the kosher birds, our portion lists the non-kosher ones, as they are less numerous.
By the same token, when it comes to mammals, the kosher ones are listed, as it is easier to group and list them than the treif ones. The Torah is very specific in telling us: ‘This is what you eat, and this is what you do not; here is a pure animal, and here is that which is not pure’ (Deut, 14).

It is that last phrase that strikes an odd note. Wouldn’t it be shorter and easier to say "an impure" than "that which is not..."? Rashi is not letting it go unnoticed. He suggests that ‘that which is not pure’ is paying lip service to the gentle finesse of expression we should strive for. According to Rashi, “that which is not pure” is a politically correct euphemism for “impure”. It is as politically correct as the Torah ever gets. And yet with all that gentleness, the language is (thankfully) abundantly clear.

Here, I have a confession to make. When we moved to Canada 15 years ago, I had a period of cultural acclimatization during which it felt as though Canadian society as a whole was somehow lacking in sincerity and openness. It took a little while to realize that was a matter of cultural differences and not personalities. Being a product of Russian-Israeli background, I was never used to mincing words. As you may know, Israelis tend to be very blunt. It took a little while to realize that in Canada people say the same things, and just as straightforwardly, they only use a different language. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” may turn here into “The good, the socially disapproved of, and the alternatively appealing”. Those who may see, for instance, "cat" as an offensive term or even a slur, can always gently describe their pet as "Feline Canadian". And, as Rashi points out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with softer language... as long as the meaning is clear.

Last week, Binyamin Netanyahu was characteristically un-Israeli. Normally so quick and eager to condemn anti-Semitism (even to the point of jumping the gun, some might say), he kept stoically schtum/silent for 3 long days while the neo-Nazis were violently protesting in Charlottesville.
If you think it had anything to do with the racism targeting other ethnic groups than Jews, you are wrong. Antisemitism was blatantly ample, from the Nazi salutes and swastikas to the chants "Jews will not replace us" (you can read the accounts of the Jewish community members, whom the local police refused to protect from the "alt-right":

'Sieg Heil' and assault rifles

The president of Charlottesville's synagogue described a harrowing scene outside the temple.


Riot police protect members of the Ku Klux Klan from counter-protesters as they arrive to rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. July 8, 2017.

Everyone and their brother condemned the mob. Pope Francis condemned the mob. Arnold Schwarzenegger condemned them. Even president Putin condemned them (-ish). The Prime Minister of the Jewish State maintained silence for 3 long days.

Eventually, a brief tweet:

PM of Israel @IsraeliPM

“Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred”.

Period. That’s all boys and girls. The minister of renown verbosity goes shy on us.

Netanyahu, as explained further by his office, stayed quiet till he could be sure what to expect from Mr Trump lest, God forbid, he might antagonize him. (It is not the first time he chose to ignore the aura of antisemitism around Trump, which we can discuss on some other occasion). President Trump, as you know, chose to cautiously ascribe blame to "both sides" of the conflict when a murderous racist smashed his car into the crowd. (Which, come to think about it, makes me almost glad he managed to avoid mentioning the Jews at all when speaking of the Holocaust; who knows what revelations we could have gleaned from the colourful leader of our southern neighbour?)

Now, our bubbes and zeides were not politicians. At least, I know mine were not. When something like Charlottesville happened in their day, they did not theorize. They called it es pas nischt, and you didn't need to speak a word of Yiddish to read the expression of utter disgust on their faces.

As I write this, we are entering the month of Elul; the time dedicated to soul-searching, a time to make order in our hearts and minds. This is the the time to not be a politician... The best time ever to not be a politician!

When people around you ruminate over that “common household device for performing gardening, specifically digging”, please call it a spade. Yep, that's right. A spade. On both sides.

And when you see a racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, proud KKK member hoping for a better world "clear of chinks, kikes, negroes, faggots, etc", speak up and say what you already know: here is an animal, that which is impure”./RE

Shabbat Shalom

Chanukah cheer to all, and to all a good night...

posted 20 Dec 2016, 14:27 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 2 Jan 2017, 09:04 ]

Chanukah cheer to all, and to all a good night...

Some of our members remarked that Chanukah is late this year. There must be some misunderstanding. Chanukah will be right on time. However, it is true that December may have come a little earlier than we expected.

I love Chanukah. Who doesn’t?

I’m a quarter-latke myself. Apparently, my Zeideh was one. Or a great-great-Zeideh. Someone in the family, at any rate. A little sweet, a little spicy, sizzling hot with passion, and as Jewish as… actually, how Jewish are the latkes, really?

The earliest known potato pancakes became popular in the northern regions of Prussia and Poland, particularly in peasant homes in the cold of the winter, and the monasteries during lent. The word ‘latke’ itself came into Yiddish from Russian and means ‘a patch’. Yes, latkes in their origin were as pronouncedly non-Jewish as dreidel or Maoz Tzur…

Wait. WHAT?

Oh, didn’t you know? - Dreidel was born in the 16th century Germany, and it's maiden name was trundel. The tune to which we all sing ‘Maoz Tzur’ is an adaptation of a medieval German folk song. It was most famously utilized by Luther for church chorals. (Not the words, though.)

None of the above is there, to rain on our parade. Before crying foul play and bemoaning violated purity of our own and original tradition, consider a simple truth of life: the one way a small nation without a country of its own, dispersed between others, can survive without assimilating and vanishing, is by making the best of the situation and utilizing whatever vehicles present themselves. Borrowing all the most beautiful customs and meaningful traditions from other nations and cultures enriched us -- it did not impoverish us.

My neighbours, a couple in their 60-s, have lovingly set up a “Chanukah bush” in their window. Some of my guests commented disparagingly. Yes, I can understand their frustration, their desire to see all Jews behaving Jewishly - by common and accepted standards. And - no, I do not have a burning bush of my own, it is not part of my rites or cultural values, but neither do I hasten to lambaste it. After all, God spoke to Moses from one.

If we are to have a fit of purism, and root for cleansing our tradition from anything of even remotely ‘strange’ origin (immensely impoverishing ourselves in the process), we should cast away such entities as:

  • Choral Synagogues (borrowed from the Christian services, once the abolishment of song and music with the destruction of our Temple has been laid aside. The traditional garment worn by the cantor has, too, been borrowed from the Christians)

  • Having weddings at the Synagogue

  • Rabbinical sermon during the service

  • Recitation of a memorial prayer (El Malei Rachamim) on yahrzeit

  • Decorating the Sanctuary with green branches over Shavuot

  • Wearing Halloween-ish (God forbid!) costumes for Purim

Even some of our most prominent symbols, such as the kippah or Magen David, are not ‘Jewish by birth’.

And still, we are lucky to have them. Whatever wealth of symbols, rituals and practices we garner, they all do have to come from somewhere. And the more sources we find to feed our solace and inspiration, the greater harmony we acquire with the marvelous world that has been gifted to us.



Rabbi Eli chimes in - “Thank you for sharing your feelings.”

The fear of assimilation that you express (below) is very natural, it was a source of concern for generations of our ancestors before us, and to an extent, has prevented our people from indeed losing our unique culture, faith, and tradition, and from vanishing without a trace, being dissolved in other cultures and peoples.

JU/ I agree that we should look at the sources of our customs and acknowledge that they were taken from other cultures and traditions. There is however the risk of doing so at Chanukah -- the temptation to abandon ship.

I view a "good taking" of other traditions as taking a foreign tradition and putting it in a Jewish context to make it into a Jewish ritual is a good thing. However I find that those Jews that have Christmas trees, don’t understand or celebrate Chanukah the way it should be celebrated. It would be different if Jews gave some sort of symbolic Jewish meaning to a Christmas tree, but they do not. Without context, Christmas for Jews simply becomes a step towards assimilation - towards equalizing all religions - the secularization of all religions.

If our children have a Christmas tree and celebrate Christmas like our neighbours, then they are saying that all religious holidays are of equal value and it doesn’t matter if we celebrate Christmas or Chanukah as they are both “happy" holidays. But Christmas and Chanukah are more than simply “happy” holidays. Chanukah celebrates the survival of Judaism and Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. To celebrate the birth of Christ by having a Christmas tree is one big step to losing Jewish identity.

Canadian Jews are assimilating or intermarrying at a rate of 50%. I believe that this is because they don’t know the value of Torah and their own customs. Having a Christmas tree allows Jews to ignore their own traditions and advances the cause of assimilation. I do not think that we, as Conservative Jews, want that. /JU

In other words, like many other fears this particular one has positive survival value. Also, like many other fears, it has the potential to backfire, incapacitate us, and turn counterproductive.

Throughout our long and troubled history, we have absorbed thousands of traits initially foreign to our culture. You'd be hard pressed to find a single innovation of those thousands that was not initially met with fear and suspicion. Whether it was about starting a choir in the Schule ("the way Goyim do"), or adopting particular Christian/Islamic/Zoroastrian/ancient pagan practices (no matter how innocuous) in Jewish liturgy, you could bet doughnuts to dollars that at least some of the mainstream crowd would react in protest, asking where was this slippery slope going to end.The answer to which probably is: it isn't going to end. Judaism is a live religion and a vivid lifestyle that has never stood still, and continues to evolve, whether we like it or not (indeed, whether we want to acknowledge it or not).

As a matter of fact, if we were to build a time machine and travel a couple thousand' years back in time, we'd be shocked to discover the enormous difference between our practices and those of our forefathers. Which of us holds the "true" Jewish tradition? - I believe we all do. Evolution and adjustment is our tradition.
You suggest that Chanukah might be the wrong time to inspect our borrowed and adopted heritage. It is probably a little late for that particular sentiment, especially in the North American environment. After all, Chanukah is originally a very minor Jewish holiday; it's no match to, say, Shavuot.It's not even referred to as Chag, a festival (technically, saying Chag Sameach on Chanukah is incorrect thus, it's merely a celebration, or jubilation). Chanukah likely would have stayed minor too, both in social significance and in the extent of practices, be it largely not for its seasonal coinciding with one of the main celebrations of the hegemonic population in our land. Whether initially expanded to "keep up with the Joneses" or simply help our Jewish children feel pride and admiration for their heritage rather than perceive a deficiency in comparison with their Christian peers, it quickly turned into a major warm and happy celebration for the whole family. It could be argued perhaps that the shift devalued in some sense our tradition, even sent out the wrong message of Chanukah and Christmas being on par. Or, we can view it as a valuable tool that kept families who found themselves on the margins of Jewish ways, within the realm of Judaism.

Far be it from me to call upon anyone to put up a tree for Chanukah, even when using it as a prop for their Menorah. My aspirations are much more moderate than that. It is my hope we find it in us not to castigate someone who does that anyway. I do understand where you come from (at least I think so), and our views are not different, it's not even the matter of optics, merely of angle. Where you see a family who debased a 2,200 year-old custom by adding an alien element from a foreign culture, I see people who keep honouring their Jewish heritage even if they (clearly) have little knowledge or understanding of its wealth and intricacies.

This is the very spirit of Conservative Judaism, an ideological movement born out of embracing inclusivity; as long as you were Jewish and pursued Jewish ideals, it said, there is always a place for you in our tent.

With that thought, wishing you and yours a beautiful, warm, and inspiring Chanukah, time of family happiness, love, celebration, and miracles!

Rabbi Eli

20161210 - VAYETZEI

posted 12 Dec 2016, 17:52 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 13 Dec 2016, 09:53 ]

20161210 -VAYETZEI

It is hard to find a black cat in a dark room; especially, if there is no cat.

Allegedly, Confucius

Our forefather Jacob has gone a long way, literally and metaphorically.

His were the days when you normally didn’t have much control over the 3 factors that mostly defined your life: whom you marry, where you live, and what you do for a living. He gives himself a fresh start and gets to choose, to an extent, all three (although professionally he sticks to the familial trade of shepherding).

Now, today we are so spoiled that we take those choices for granted.

Jacob is making his way from perennial avoider to cautious confronter to leader, patriarch, and father of a nation. Not an easy path, mind you. Last week, he shied away from all conflict. He would turn to trickery, deceit, diplomacy, or just escape. In this portion, he works to establish relationships instead. And the first relationship he has to forge is with his uncle, his employer and prospective father-in-law, Laban; a man so crooked that if he ate nails he would poop corkscrews! [I was actually going to omit this poetically licentious metaphor from my post-delivery summary, but a young boy who was present told me it made his day. Thus, it stays. RE]

And how is Jacob dealing with this paragon of virtue? First, he is trying to do things at face value. For 7 years, he punches the clock, day in, day out, to get to marry Rachel. The morning after the wedding, he wakes up, looks at his bride… oops! Ve-hiney hi Leah, and there is Leah! Hocus-pocus, now you see me, now you don’t. What does he do then? – He tries arguing, it doesn’t work, so he plagens and schwitzes another 7 years for Rachel. 7 years gone by, he checked his new bride thoroughly, and this time he does get Rachel. Does he now cut his losses and run? Not at all! He painstakingly continues his work, until he gets a chance to cheat the cheater (took a fair bit of divine intervention, mind you; no way would his cute genetic experiments with sheep’ colours be successful for anything short of a miracle).

Yes, our best (and worst) intentions and plans do misfire occasionally. Let me tell you of a young man I just met on a plane last week. A smart kid, Palestinian, born in Samaria, his family found the means to send him to study in Canada. His dad worked for an Israeli chemical plant for 20+ years, was very happy with it until he got laid off last year, along with more than 200 other employees. What was the reason? – The recent boycott measures bit into the company’s profits, so they shut the plant and relocated. 200 people are out of jobs that paid 550% of anything comparable they can hope to find in the Autonomy. The very same people whom the sanctions were allegedly meant to protect from the evil Zionist hydra.

Imagine a tipsy pedestrian stopping in the middle of the night to search for the loonie he dropped under the streetlight. You stop to offer him help, you ask where did the coin fall, and he points in a staggered motion somewhere out there, in the dark. You ask why then is he looking for it here, and he looks at you as though you fell from the moon, and explains (as in, isn’t it obvious?) that’s because it’s much brighter here.

I’ll share with you a way in which I entertained myself the evening before last; I read up on the new politics of the Green Party of Canada. As you probably remember, the party shot itself in the foot (or was it the belly?) last summer when the resolution to support BDS created a crevasse in their ranks and threatened to cost them their only seat in Ottawa. Just now, they gathered to “remedy” the situation. The resulting amendment to the resolution and proclaimed change to the party policy was so vague and equivocal that at least two major national media bodies (CBC and the Post) had to publish hurried retractions the day after misunderstanding the official party release.

It’s hard to blame them; the actual meaning of the resolution is hidden in its nearly 800 words. Here it is, in a nutshell; “In August, we supported the boycott movement to punish Israel for treating Palestinians unfairly. We resolve now that we still support the BDS but we do not want to hurt Israel anymore.”

Did you ever hear of the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Someone send that memo to the Green Party, they don’t seem to have read it.

Our forefather Jacob, (about 3.5 millennia ago) took just a few decades to realize you have to change your approach and find the right focus.

The Green Party, by contrast, has hundreds of analysts, an extra 3.5 thousands of years of humankind historical experience, and a plethora of noble goals at the tips of their fingers, from protecting the Canadian environment which is the immediate stated goal, to supporting labour rights and improving animals’ conditions. If you have all that at your disposal, and still the best application you found for the three pounds of jelly in your skull was to support BDS, our environment is in serious peril.

Fortunately, it is still not too late to unravel the knot and prevent a manageable situation from becoming unmanageable, but - yes, it will require some brains.

May we all be blessed with the wisdom of our forefather Jacob who realized eventually that even the brightest of streetlights will not help you find something that just isn’t there.


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