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May 18, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 18, 2012 By Elie Kaunfer Sh&apos;ma Revelation is often con- sidered the most intimate moment between God and the Jewish people. It is compared to a wedding the culmina- tion of a love affair, albeit a complicated one. But what if revelation were not a model for exclusive attachment but a narrative of universal relevance? How might that change our un- derstanding of the critical moment of law-giving on Mount Sinai? Two midrashim go down this road, each from its own angle. The first midrash (Pesikta DeRav Kahana Ba- Hodesh 12:24; Pesikta Rab- bati 21) addresses the ques- tion: What is the language of revelation? The answer is somewhat surprising: R. Nehemia. playing on the interpretation of the word Speaking in the captor's language Torah is meant for a people who speak a foreign language. It is designed for a population deeply enmeshed in the larger culture. It is not limited to the refined elite who speak the holy tongue. Torah is, fundamentally, meant to be understood. Godwill take any step necessary, even speak- ing in the language of the captors, to get the message to the people. The second midrash re- frames the entire narrative of the giving of the Torah. The narrative most of us know refers to an intimacy at the moment of revelation: The people of Israel are the only nation to merit Torah. because, unlike other na- tions who were offered the law, they accepted the words unconditionally. But one midrashic reversal of this view is preserved in Midrash Tehillim (68:6). - "When God spoke the word [on Sinai], God's voice split into sevenvoices. Those seven voices split into the 70 lan- guages of the world, so that everyone could understafid." According to this midrash, the audience atMount Sinai is the entire known universe of people. There is. shockingly, nothing particular about the content of a revelatory moment that mentions the seemingly exclusive relation- ship between God and the Jewish people, as expressed through the Exodus. Revela- tion is a timeless moment when we receive divine law: it is meant to be comprehended by everyone. This is perhaps we believed that the words of revelation are so critical that we would don any cultural cloak in order to deliver the message? How would Our houses of study and our houses of worship be different if we were to speak Torah "in the language of the" captors"? And what if we took to heart the possibility that the Torah is saying something of universal relevance? Would we stop being embarrassed by the demands of revelation?Would we feel confident that living a life in accordance with God's will expressed at Sinai has enduring value for all people? At the very least, these the best expression for the midrashim challenge us to expansive view of the appli- cation of Torah to real life. Torah is relevant not just for every Jew but for every person on earth What if we acted in accor- dance with the suggestion of these two midrashim? What if stop imagining Torah as only for the clergy and the elite. Outside Of Orthodoxy, American Jews have largely ceded the content of Torah to the people who learn and teach professionally. The rationale often runs: PAGE 5A "My Judaism is expressed through acts of justice, and I don't have the time or ex- pertise to learn Torah." We have to stop telling ourselves: "Ido social justice; other people do Torah." We would never limit the quest for the pursuit of social jus- tice. or charity, or service. to a few elite. Why do that with Torah? We suffer and Torah suffers when we sell its relevance short. We often have trouble articulating why Judaism matters. We cast about for the "next big idea." Torah always has been the big idea. Let's bring it back to its place of glory. Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is the co- founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar <mechonha->. Reprinted with per- mission from Sh'ma <shma. corn> May 2012, as part of a larger conversation about Torah and God, - "anok" ("I," in Egyptian), claims that God revealed the Torah to the Jewish people in Egyptian (beginning with the word "anokhi"). R. Nehemia compares this to a story about a king whose son was taken captive by foreigners. Before the king came to res- cue his son, he learned the language of his captors. In order to communicate with his son, the king spoke in that language. So. too. when the Israelites came to Sinai, God realized they didn't un- derstand any language but Egyptian. So God revealed the Torah in Egyptian. The midrash doesn't ex- plain this choice of language as an act of convenience or expediency. Rather, it suggests that this choice of language reflected an act of love (leshon ahava, leshon hibah). God loved the people so much that God chose to speak in their language. Ordaining cantors is mostly good for congregations gregations will have two types of clergy with the same level of authority. In an egalitar- ian era this is bound to lead to a tremendous increase in conflict between rabbis and cantors. While I see institu- tions where rabbis and cantors get along fabulously, even before ordination I witnessed a tremendous amount of dis- sension. Two examples of major tu'f battles between rabbis and cantors: In one con- gregation, a new rabbi is appointed to find the can- tor has so much charisma that he feels overshadowed. People love listening to her voice and gravitate to her after services, bypassing the new and now marginal "rabbinical appointee. In another, the senior rabbi departs suddenly and the associate rabbi is promoted. The cant'or refuses to accept his authority, arguing that she contributed more to the synagogue both profession- ally and organizationally and should have been made the effective CEO rather than the associate rabbi. Neither conflict endedwell. either for the individuals or the institutions. As revolutionary changes go, this is relatively minor. It is, however, one more in- dication that the American Jewish religious marketplace is becoming a more com- petitive environment. Under such circumstances, neither denominational labels nor professional credentials are going to mean all that much. help to bring new life to cer- tain moribund synagogues, allowing them to choose from a boader pool of spiritual leaders. Synagogues are struggling to explain to congregants why they,re worth thousands of dollars ayear in dues at a time when there are so many other ways to be Jewish. I just com- pleted a CLAL-sponsored fel- lowship program called Rab- bis Without Borders in which One of my colleagues started an online congregation that now interacts with more than 10,000 people a year from all over the world. And I just finished a manuscript on Re- form Judaism for the Jewish Publication Society in which I wrote about rabbis who train the children of unaffiliated Jews for their bar and bat mitzvahs over Skype and take them to the Grand Canyon or the Colorado Rockies or even Alaska to mark their entry into adulthood. With society changing so rapidly, synagogues are des- perate to find formulas that will keep them functionirig. They want as many options as possible and don't want rabbinical organizations effectively labor unions to dictate to them. I've seen the breakdown of the rabbinic placement struc- ture from a rigid protocol to a very loose situation in which congregational profiles are posted on password-protected websites and CVs are forward- ed to search committees with few restrictions, limitations or stipulations. For these By Dana Evan Kaplan committees, what matters is whether candidates can motivate their congregants and draw in unaffiliated Jews andpotential converts. Where they studied and what their connection might be to the Reform movement is of less importance a triviality, if we are to be blunt. For a small congregation. it makes good sense to hire a cantor instead of a-rabbi. I know of a small congregation in Florida that engaged in a lengthy search for a Reform rabbi but found that nobody reasonably competent was interested. With limited re- sources, and located in a less attractive part of the state, the congregation eventually hired a cantor to become its spiritual leader. He later was ordained privately and served with distinction until his untimely death. In contrast, I led Congrega- tion B'nai Israel inAlbany, Ga., for 10 years before my move to a historic synagogue in the Carribean. Not being blessed with a goodvoice, Iwas reliant on a classically oriented choir. When the temple decided to modernize the music and make it more participatory, the choir was resistant. If I had been a cantor, l could have stepped in and helped to create a dynamic musical experience that could have enriched the spiritual experi- ence of our services. All of my scholarship in the world could not compensate for sounding like a frog. The change to ordaining cantors is not all good. Con- KINGSTON. Jamaica (JTA)--Six graduates of the cantorial program of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of, Religion were ordained Sunday at Temple Eminu-E1 in New York. The key word here is "'ordained." Since the cantorial school was established at HUC in 1948. cantors have been in- vested rather than ordained. The difference, as JTA put iL was more than "aword." It is a declaration of independence, a certification of equality. In preparation for the change, the HUC cantorial program already had been expanded from four years to five, thus matching the rab- binic program. A concerted effort was made to argue that cantors are full members of the clergy, with diverse and challenging duties, and not just "singers" who show up on Friday nights and Satur- day mornings and disappear ufltil the following week. The seriousness and intensity of the cantorial'program was stressed. The change was inevitable. so there is little pint in argu- ing that it should not have been made. The Academy for Jewish Religion. a non- denominational seminary in New York City, already ordains cantors: HUC needed to stay competitive. While the change is going to make professional life more difficult for rabbis and deprive them of certain job opportunities in smaller communities, it may Help Wanted From one perspective, this is a long overdue shaking- out of the deadwood. From another viewpoint, we are entering into a Darwinian phase that may see increasing numbers of rabbisand pos- sibly also cantors fighting for their professional positions under increasingly adverse conditions. Let us hope and pray that the consequences will be a more vital and dynamic Jewish religious experience. The odds of that happening, unfortunately, are no more than 50-50. Dana Evan Kaplan is the rabbi of the United Congrega- tion of Israelites in Kingston, Jamaica, and teaches Judaism at the United Theological College of the University of the West Indies. His most recent book is "Contemporary American Judaism: Transfor- mation and Renewal." Many ofhis writings can be found at Remember loss of Ethiopian Jewish life Dear friends of Ethiopian Jews: We Ethiopian Jews remain eternally grateful for the love and aid that concerned Jews around the world have given us with an enthusiastic outpouring of joy when our dream of aliyah was realized. However, over 4,000 Ethiopian Jews tragically lost their lives for Judaism enroute to and in the refugee camps in Sudan before their dream of aliyah could be realized. Their righteous memory will be observed throughout Israel on Sunday, May 20, 2012. Please join Ethiopian Jewry in remembering this loss of precious Jewish life in your prayers and thoughts on this upcoming date. B' Shalom, Dr. Habtnesh Ezra, president Los Angeles Dry Bones TEL AV00/UNP,0000 / A J 01: THE STATE Of: Advertising Sales Full or Part Time Call Jeff at 407-834-8787 o