In Appreciation of Doi Cohen

By action of the Board of Trustees of Vassar Temple
April 29, 2014

WHEREAS Doi Cohen has been a very active member of Vassar Temple for 40 years, and

WHEREAS Doi has served on the Board of Trustees on and off over approximately 25 years, including terms on the Executive Committee, starting her Board service as the Sisterhood representative, and

WHEREAS Doi taught our children in confirmation classes and chaired the Reyut committee for many years, and

WHEREAS Doi’s exemplary work on Temple publicity kept all members aware of temple activities, and

WHEREAS Doi’s friendship, advice and leadership on many topics has benefited many Vassar Temple members over the years, and

WHEREAS Doi served all of her Temple roles with intelligence, skill and integrity, giving generously of her time and knowledge; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that the officers and Board of Trustees of Vassar Temple, on behalf of the entire congregation, thank Doi Cohen most sincerely for her devoted service to so many facets of Temple life, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be attached to the minutes and a copy of it presented to Doi Cohen.

By action of the Board of Trustees of Vassar Temple
April 29, 2014
tablet in star

Torah Study Notes 4-26-14

April 26, 2014
NOTICE TO READERS. THESE STUDY NOTES MUST BE READ IN CONJUNJCTION WITH THE PASSAGES AS THEY OCCUR IN PLAUT’S “THE TORAH – A Modern Commentary” the revised edition published in 2005 by the Union for Reformed Judaism.
p. 798
19:1 “The Eternal One spoke to Moses…” We are immediately given three of the Ten Commandments. Is the speaker here God or Moses? Or a subsequent narrator? The mention of golden idols is clearly a reference to the Golden Calf. This almost has the feel of antiphonal reading – a call and response. The congregation speaks and takes God into themselves. It is a communal response.
19:5 Details as to the offering of sacrifice. This seems a non-sequitor but may refer to the preceding “You shall be holy…” in terms of purification. Letting the food go to the third day means turning what is holy into something commonplace – no longer sacred.
19:9 Charity is part of holiness and reflective of one’s internal relationship to God. AF: Are these sections an amalgam of the J, P and E traditions reflecting different authorship? PG: Usually these differences can be spotted by the name of God – here “the Eternal One” is used throughout. There is nothing here to suggest an amalgamation. Starting with parsha 18 and continuing through 20 is usually known as “The Holiness Code” and is treated as a single entity that could be abstracted from the Book of Leviticus without effect on the Book. HF: How many people could actually write at this time? PG: This was a literate community but scribal abilities were usually separate. Writing was primarily used for documentation of transactions. These were “The People of the Book”” but there was also a strong oral tradition.
19:11 Note that the rules might be different beyond the immediate community. Fraud can be a difficult subject and frequently involves a subjective determination of value. See footnote 13.
19:15 “You shall not render an unfair decision…” Although this seems to be addressed to someone sitting in judgment we all make decisions every day. Many of these “rules” were found in the Code of Hammurabi but that was notoriously more favorable to the rich.
19:17 You shall not hate your kinfolk in your heart…” This parsha is what Rabbi Akiva ( ) termed the central tenet of the Torah. It is very similar to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Who is the neighbor that you are to love – the person who lives next do you? But Jews started to live among others. This text is problematic for both rabbinic Judaism and Pauline Christianity. Each tradition develops its own justification from the same text. Hillel said “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” This is based on the premise that we best know what we don’t like.
19:19 through 22. There are a number of subtle things here. Two different kinds of cattle, seeds and material. This may be respectful of boundaries that have been established by creation. LL: But it may also be read as a metaphor against miscegenation, PG: That would be a misunderstanding of this text.

Passover is in the Air at Vassar Temple’s Religious School

Grades 4 and 7 Engage in an Enthusiastic Passover Competition

Grades 4 and 7 Go Head to Head in an Enthusiastic Passover Competition

The students and faculty at Vassar Temple’s religious school prepared for Passover with reviews, food-tastings, games, stories, projects, and even a friendly class-to-class competition, all in honor of the yearly celebration that combines themes of freedom and spring in addition to the better-known prohibition on leavened bread.

Students Stay After School to Set up for the Congregational Seder

Students Stay After School to Set up for Vassar Temple’s Community Seder

Torah Study Notes 4-5-14

April 5, 2014

p. 753

We are in the middle of a discussion of ritual purity. The key is to think about this in the abstract – not from the perspective of material. The rabbinic focus is on the underlying cause of illness and to some extent presages the work of Sigmond Freud.

14:1 “This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified…” Note that none of this has anything to do with medicine. This is a priestly text. There were separate physicians who addressed the physical needs of the people. CL: Historically the role of the doctors before the 17th C. was very minor as compared to the role of spiritual advisors. PG: The role of doctors was circumscribed through the 19th C.  because of the limits of medical knowledge. This has to be considered metaphorically. Here, illness is considered a manifestation of spiritual unease – hence the need for spiritual purification. This addresses the disruptions that can infect a community – such as evil thoughts or fear. A deep and pernicious guilt occupies a person that expresses itself superficially. AF: How can one person handle the multiple instances of sin that would be expressed in such of a large community? How is the determination made as to who should be treated? PG: We know that this is all unrealistic in terms of a large population. This is “idealist” literature and assumes that all of this could happen. LL: Is one person singled out to suffer for the sins of others? PG: That concept of vicarious victimhood does not appear in the Torah. There is a discussion of suffering for the sins  of one’s parents or grandparents. This poses the question as to how we should expect atonement for one’s sins. Is a bank robber who has served his time still a bank robber?  Note that the monarchy could not be re-established after the return from the Babylonian captivity and the priests then became the cohesive presence in the community. DC: Read: The New Jim Crow – Incarceration and Color-Blindness:  which emphasizes how convicts are branded for life in our society and kept from participating in it. SF: We have no process in our larger society in which an offender can be cleansed of their sins. See the work of Emil Fackenheim and his discussion of the 614th commandment. See:,10,0,0,1,0

He argues that one must avoid otherworldliness or “magical thinking” and despair. There are both Israeli’s and Palestinians who believe that the others will magically disappear. AF: In Catholicism one is cleansed of sins by confession. PG: But that is a personal cleansing. Yom Kippur is designed to promote communal order – starting again – not a place in heaven. SF: I studied with a rabbi in Jerusalem who gave me a way, via a series of exercises, to focus on God’s presence but fewer than 1% have this knowledge or capacity. PG: Franz Rosenzweig argued for “infinite responsibility.”” Our responsibility is not only to Jews.  Look at the beginning Ch 13 in Exodus where a lamb is sacrificed prior to the 14th plague – there are echoes here of that procedure. Note the common use of hyssop. KB: This promotes a lovely “us-ness” in which a community is established.

14:12 We shall take one of the male lambs… as an elevation offering. A detailed description of what the priest must do to achieve expiation of sins and achieve ritual purity.  There are two things gong on here: two steps to purification. Ritual purity must be achieved before entering the community but then there is a second level for reintegration into the community.  Note that the priest is putting blood and oil on himself – as a community representative he is accepting the atonement and signaling forgiveness. Imagine all of this as a tableau in the presence of the people. What are they feeling and reacting and understanding? SF: Isn’t this the primary challenge of the modern era? We now are each expected to have a direct personal link with God without an intermediary representing the community. PG: Jeremiah addresses this. He assails what might become pure theatre and urges a return to the real world and a commitment of the individual. The priest can become like Dumbo’s feather. Dumbo could fly without the feather. The great insight of rabbinic literature is that we do not need priests. We need dynamism and creativity more than ritual. By the time of 1st C. the people were going through the motions and had lost the significance and personal investment. LL: The priesthood had failed.

“Torah To Go” Visits the East Fishkill Public Libary

Caring for Vassar Temple’s Torah means that on a periodic basic the parchment scrolls are unrolled and rolled back up in order to keep the materials (sheepskin and ink) from becoming brittle and cracking. We have called the group of faithful members who perform this task the “Holy Rollers.” Recently, we adopted the phrase “Torah To Go” to describe the concept of taking the scrolls from the Temple’s Ark out of the Temple to some outside location to do the rolling.
Traditionally, we’ve done the Torah rolling in the East Chapel, and more recently, members have hosted the occasion at their homes. We’ve had lovely experiences doing this. But this time the board and the ritual committee chose to try something new. We wanted to go into the community to a publicly accessible location and invite the public to join us for a unique experience. *We chose the East Fishkill Public Library. After all, getting up close and touching a Torah is not something many people have ever done. So our activity served a dual purpose which now included Outreach, as well as generating good will in our community. All faiths can find something in the Torah To Go experience.
This past Tuesday, April 8th at 5PM we went to the East Fishkill Public Library. Bob Abrams, Jeff Brenner, Joel Kelson, Bob Ritter, and Ron Rosen, we’re joined by 8 guests. Rabbi Golomb explained the reasons for what we were doing, and Dr. J. Hoffman gave a brief lecture on the history of Hebrew and the fascinating relationship to our modern alphabet.

Torah To Go was a success on a few levels. So now the only question is where and when we do it again. And, hopefully you’ll join us.


Vassar Temple on the Air

While Vassar Temple Sisterhood was carrying out their annual LunchBox recently, community activist John Flowers happened to drop in. He was so impressed that he invited Sisterhood President Jennifer Dahnert to appear on his radio show on station WHVW. Jen went on the air and spoke about all the projects sponsored by the temple’s Social Action Committee, the many activities of the Sisterhood, and how we involve children of the congregation in mitzvah projects early on. Hearing Jen on the air made us proud to be associated with Vassar Temple and proud to have Jen as a spokesperson to the community.

Vassar Temple Lunch Box Volunteers