Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem – Summer 2019

This summer I had the incredible experience of attending a 3-week summer session at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I’ve been to Israel as both a tourist and a student including a 10-day session at Hebrew Union College as part of my Masters program. This was my first experience, however, attending a Hebrew ulpan (immersive Hebrew language instruction) and studying Talmud and Torah using the original texts (i.e., not translated). 

At the CY, I studied Modern Hebrew 5 days a week for 3 hours a day in ulpan. In ulpan, there is no English. Everything we need to say and all of our questions must be in Hebrew! Before ulpan, my Modern Hebrew skills were limited to ordering in restaurants and asking for directions to the bathroom. The college classes I took in Biblical Hebrew were of limited help (it’s analogous to speaking Modern English v. Shakespearean English). Thanks to a wonderful teacher, Nitza, and my motivated classmates, my Hebrew improved greatly.

For three afternoons each week, I studied Talmud with Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva). The portion we studied was a discussion about the Noachide Laws. The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach) are a set of imperatives which were given by God as a binding set of laws for the “children of Noah” – that is, all of humanity. The Seven Laws include prohibitions against worshipping idols, cursing God, murder, adultery and sexual immorality, theft, eating flesh torn from a living animal, as well as the obligation to establish courts of justice. 

Of course studying Talmud is never straightforward. In 27 hours of class time we only translated and studied two pages of text! We spent many hours in small group discussion about the content of the seven laws and whether there were parallels elsewhere in the Torah and/or the Ten Commandments. We also discussed how these laws were enforced (or not) among the non-Jewish population living after the flood. 

I also participated in a Tanach (Torah) class taught by Vered Hollander-Goldfarb. Our topic was the story of Jacob and Esau which I thought I knew well. But what started out as a story of sibling rivalry and trickery quickly turned into a much broader statement about transfers of power and morality throughout the Bible. Did you know, for example, that Mordechai is a descendant of Jacob and Haman a descendant of Esau? The prophecy given to Rebecca, that there were two nations in her womb, continues to resonate throughout our Jewish narrative. 

The Conservative Yeshiva attracts students from all over the world and from all walks of life. Several students were fellow Jewish educators. Others were academics, clergy, and/or recent converts to Judaism. There were students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and Hong Kong. The collective experiences of my fellow classmates added to the richness and value of my studies.

When I wasn’t studying, I spent time wandering around Jerusalem. I prayed at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and put notes in the Wall from our Religious School students. I visited the Israel Museum, Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Museum), the Yishuv Museum, and the Hebrew Music Museum. I traveled to the shuk (market) many times and enjoyed fresh figs, falafel, hummus, bourekas, and other delicious foods.

The CY Summer Program is open to anyone who wants to study in a liberal Jewish environment in Jerusalem. You can drop in for a day if you are visiting Israel. If you are interested in learning at the CY I would be happy to share more of my experiences with you. Thank you to the congregation for supporting my learning and professional development. I look forward to implementing my new knowledge and skills in our Religious School and Adult Education programming. 

Israel Fest at the Northern VA JCC Recap

On June 2nd, hundreds of Northern VA folks came by the CEH booth at this year’s Israel Fest, held at the Northern VA JCC.

This year’s Israel Fest focused on Israeli InNOVAtions – highlighting technology, arts, food, consumer products, and song and dance from Israel. In addition to sharing general CEH info, the CEH booth displayed a large poster and shared an interactive activity about encryption: in the early 1970s, Israeli Adi Shamir, along with two co-creators, Ron Rivest and Leonard Adleman devised a novel encryption algorithm: RSA (or Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) encryption. This encryption is used every day for transmitting personal information across the internet.

Thanks to Ben Simon and Courtney Schwartz for pulling together an informative presentation and an interactive encryption demo for the Israel Fest.

Omer Learning 2019: Day 49 | Siddur Q & A: What can I do with loved one’s…

Today is 49 days, which is 7 weeks of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Sylvia G..

What can I do with loved one’s siddurim that are no longer usable?

When a siddur, or any other sacred, or semi-sacred books or documents get too worn to use, they should be buried. There’s more than one way to do that. They may be buried, or permanently taken out of use by storing them in a genizah.

Perhaps one of the most famous ones was in Cairo. Scholars have studied some of the documents found there (Cairo Geniza -Cambridge Univ.) at the Taylor-Schecter Collection.

They may also be buried in a coffin. When my Mother died, and we were disposing of her household goods, we were able to bury with her all the Siddurim and Chumashim that were in her house. Emotionally satisfying.

Learn More

You can learn more at:

https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/genizah/1

Omer Learning 2019: Day 48 | Siddur Q & A: What’s the best way to honor a…

Today is 48 days, which is 6 weeks and 6 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Jen S..

What’s the best way to honor a fraying prayer book?

The Talmud prohibits us to destroy the whole or part of G-d’s many names, which appear with frequency in the Siddur; names are powerful and even more so G-d’s name. As such, it has been a custom to store tattered prayer books in a special room called a genizah or to bury old sacred books in the ground.

But, by burying or storing the old siddur, are we in danger of accidental paganism where we put too much power on papers with G-d’s name, when G-d is so much greater? Are we not better off honoring G-d by recycling and protecting G-d’s world? On the other hand, is recycling a fitting end for much valued prayer book that accompanied its users for many years? Repairing old prayer books that has passed through many hands is most ideal, but if it is no longer useful, what would you do?

Learn More

You can learn more at:

https://www.thejc.com/judaism/rabbi-i-have-a-problem/isn-t-better-to-recyle-an-old-siddur-than-bury-it-1.472973

Omer Learning 2019: Day 47 | Siddur Q & A: What should be done with old t…

Today is 47 days, which is 6 weeks and 5 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Sophia B. & Lia S..

What should be done with old torahs, siddurs, and sacred texts?

Today, most synagogues have a closet or a box where they collect used papers and ritual objects that are considered sacred to eventually end up in a genizah. A genizah is a storage area in a synagogue designated for worn-out Hebrew books and papers on religious topics before they are properly buried. The genizah in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo is the most famous one in the world for its size and contents. Its contents are being digitized so that they can be researched by scholars all over the world. The general rule is that anything dealing with sacred subjects should be placed in a genizah, rather than thrown out. However, an Israeli newspaper, though written in Hebrew, would not need to go in a genizah, but a megillah that had been damaged would.

Learn More

You can learn more at:

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ask-the-expert-burying-the-genizah/

Omer Learning 2019: Day 46 | Siddur Q & A: In some shuls I’ve been to, ev…

Today is 46 days, which is 6 weeks and 4 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Rabbi Bass.

In some shuls I’ve been to, everyone stands for the Mourner’s Kaddish. In other shuls, only mourners do. Is there a preferred tradition?

There is not a preferred tradition. For some communities, when the mourner stands alone for the mourners’ kaddish, it is an opportunity for the community to know who is in mourning or observing a yartzeit, and approach that person to offer help as needed.

In other communities, there’s a feeling of comfort and support that is achieved by standing up together with mourners and people observing yartzeit.

In our congregation, we offer people the choice, although most people prefer to stand for the kaddish. And we are small enough that we usually know who is in mourning.

Omer Learning 2019: Day 45 | Siddur Q & A: In the Amida’s 17th blessing…

Today is 45 days, which is 6 weeks and 3 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Fred R..

In the Amida’s 17th blessing… The Fires Of Israel?

If at times, you’ve davened using different siddurim, you might have noticed that some of them omit the words “ishei Yisrael” (“fires of Israel”) from the section of the Amida which just precedes Modim Anachnu Lach. They’re shown in brackets in the excerpt below:

R’tzei, Hashem Elokeinu, b’amcha Yisrael, uvitfilatam, v’hasheiv
et ha’avodah li’dvir beitecha, [v’ishei Yisrael], u’tfilatam b’ahavah…

Find favor, Hashem Elokeinu, with your people Israel, and with their
prayers; and restore the service to the inner sanctum of your Temple,
[and the fires of Israel], and accept their prayers with love…

As with many siddurim, the Sabbath and Festival edition of Lev Shalem omits these words. My recollection (perhaps faulty?) is that Mahzor Lev Shalem includes them, but in brackets or parentheses, which would seem to indicate some ambivalence on the subject.

So the question is, why did so many editors remove those two words?

The simple answer is that those editors feel “ishei Yisrael” can only be understood as “the fiery sacrificial offerings of Israel”. That is, even if we would like to see the Temple rebuilt, we’re not anxious to see the sacrifices restored.

But even the editors who remove “ishei Yisrael” leave in the word “avodah”; literally “Temple service” in this context. But one can easily argue that sacrifices are an intrinsic part of the Temple service, in which case the editing of this paragraph is contradictory.

Furthermore (!) I recently had a short but interesting chat with a fellow congregant who pointed out that “fires of Israel” could just as easily refer to the fiery spirit of our prayers, or the fire in our hearts and enthusiasm for Judaism. In fact, it appears that this is how the two words are understood by various congregations which include Ishei Yisrael in their synagogues’ names.

So not being a fan of Temple sacrifices – either animal or vegetable – that is also how I choose to understand the phrase. That, in turn, explains why I would write a 345 word commentary on the deletion of a mere two words from the Amidah.

Learn More

You can learn more at:

https://torah.org/learning/tefilah-17thblessing/

Omer Learning 2019: Day 44 | Siddur Q & A: We add the phrase ‘yoshvei tev…

Today is 44 days, which is 6 weeks and 2 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Rabbi Bass.

We add the phrase ‘yoshvei tevell’ to the end of our kaddishes. Why?

We add the words “ve’al kol yoshvei Tevel” to the Kaddish and to a few other blessings in our services. The words mean “and for all the inhabitants of the earth.” We usually add this phrase to prayers that ask for peace. In the 1980’s, many Jewish communities around the world started adding that phrase with the understanding that while peace for Israel is a wonderful thing, peace is not achieved unilaterally. Based on the prophetic vision of a peaceful world, as reflected in the prophetic books, many communities started adding this phrase, expressing in our prayers the desire for peace for the whole world. This phrase is now added in print to our new Siddur Lev Shalem!

Adding the sentiment of universal peace is not new to our siddurim. For example, in the prayer Sim Shalom found on morning Amidah, the word “ba’olam”, which means “in the world”, seems to us to have always been there. However, this word was added in the Seder Teffilot Israel, of 1946 – then, the new Conservative Movement prayer book. According to the editorial committee,

“In Sim Shalom, the concluding blessing of the Amidah, it was felt that the universal note should be made more explicit. Basing itself upon a reading in the Siddur of Rabbenu Saadya Gaon sim shalom ba’olam, the Commission therefore has amplified the passage to read: sim shalom tovah ubrakhah ba’olam hen vahesed v’rahamim alenu v’al kol yisrael amekha.”

Adding words of peace and love in our prayers is a practice that has long roots in our tradition. We have an understanding that peace is a goal, a complex one, to be achieved. By adding this phrase, it becomes truly our prayer that the world will be peaceful and redeemed soon, in our times.

Omer Learning 2019: Day 43 | Siddur Q & A: Why is Shabbat called the Sabb…

Today is 43 days, which is 6 weeks and 1 day of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Nathan A..

Why is Shabbat called the Sabbath Bride?

We bring each week to a close and begin Shabbat with the song l’chai dodi. after each verse we sing the chorus: “Let’s go, my beloved, to meet the bride – and welcome the presence of Shabbat”. Why is Shabbat thought of as a bride?

The tradition started with the Jewish kabbalsits of Safed in the sixteenth century who would welcome Shabbat dressed in white as if they were escorting a bride to her groom.

Some reasons given for this:

“In Kabbalah, the Shekhinah is seen as the Feminine aspect of God, who is exiled from her lover, the male aspect of God, in the same way the Jews are exiled from their land, Israel. At around the 3rd century of the Common Era, the Shekhinah is viewed as a separate entity from God, and capable of influencing him. Often she defended humanity against harsh judgments from the Lord. But on Shabbat, a reunification happens. Peace fills the universe, and the Bride and Groom wed. All is whole, for a time. Shabbat, therefore, to the Jewish people, serves as a reminder not only of their exile, but of their eventual reunion in the Land of Israel. – Matthew Kessel, (https://www.matthewkressel.net/2015/09/12/36-days-of-judaic-myth-day-5-the-sabbath-bride/)

“It reflects the very powerful relationship between the Jewish People and the Sabbath (as the phrase goes, “more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews”). The Torah says that Eve was created as a ‘helpmate’ for Adam, meaning that spouses are supposed to help their partners reach their greatest potentials. The Sabbath helps the Jews reach their greatest potential. – Shlomo Shulman (http://www.jewishanswers.org/ask-the-rabbi-2913/the-sabbath-as-a-bride)

From my perspective I like to think that the metaphor will evoke the feelings that I felt leading up to wedding, seeing my bride, and the difference it made in my life between being single and looking for someone and the comfort of having a life partner. In the same way the feeling of anticipating Shabbat should be similar to how we feel standing under the chuppah looking down the aisle to see our bride.

This interpretation now holds particularly relevance for me – in my family the first time I heard the “woman of valor” psalm read was while my sister was dying, then at her funeral, and then a week later at my grandmother’s funeral. When I was married I wanted to give it a positive context again in my family and begin reading the prayer to Debbie every Friday. For years I knew that the proverb was metaphorical and that the woman referenced was just the Shabbat.
past I knew that the psalm was a metaphor. Buts as I was conducting the research for this article I learned that that the connection is that it refers to the Shekkinah. So now it becomes full circle – I appreciate the Shabbat by reflecting on my wedding day and approaching the Shekkinah and then celebrate Shabbat with my wife by invoking the Shekkinah and comparing her to her

Omer Learning 2019: Day 42 | Siddur Q & A: When did they add the matriarc…

Today is 42 days, which is 6 weeks of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating new Siddurim on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this wonderful occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to learn about the siddur.

Enjoy today’s siddur related question and answer, which was provided by Debbie D..

When did they add the matriarchs to the Amidah?

The 1998 edition of the Siddur Sin Shalom was the first to include the option of reciting the names of the matriarchs as well as the patriarchs at the beginning of the Amidah. The addition followed a 1990 decision by the Rabbinical Assembly. In a responsum prepared for the vote, Rabbi Joel Rembaum argued that including the matriarchs is appropriate because they are central to the story of the covenant between God and the Jewish people affirmed in the Amidah. He concluded that it is fitting that “a prayer that expresses the unity, commitment, and lofty aspirations of the Jewish people” be modified to speak to all members of the congregation.

Learn More

You can learn more at:

https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/19861990/rembaum_matriarchs.pdf