A Dream Come True

Stained Glass Window -perla shot
Mirrors and windows are both made of glass, but what a difference. A mirror reflects our image back to us. Reflection is important as it helps us to grow. A window, it’s an entirely different thing!

The magnificent stained glass windows in our sanctuary were clouded over diminishing their beauty and the ability of light to travel through them. Because these windows represent both the great history of our Jewish heritage and the story behind this wonderful gift to our temple, it was upsetting to many of us to see them this way.

For several years leadership in the temple has wanted to bring the windows back to their full glory. I set out to make this happen in time for our new Rabbi’s arrival. Restoring and eventually rededicating our sanctuary windows seemed to me to be a perfect way to mark the transition from one Rabbi to another.

As I see it, the windows are a metaphor with important meaning. They represent our past, present, and our future. The light of the heavens that reaches us may be thousands of years old like the Jewish people. The light of our fixtures inside our temple is the present, our Reform temple today. But the light of our
Ner Tamid, we pray, is never extinguished. As we look out the windows, we know there is a world that needs our healing. As people look in through the restored windows, they see the soul of Vassar Temple.

To achieve the goal of restoring our windows without using temple funds, I turned to my childhood family friends and religious school classmates, the Effron’s. Craig, Blair, Drew, and Brooke gave gladly and generously in honor of their father, James Effron. On the evening of Rabbi’s very first service, after the windows were just restored, a little miracle happened. It fell on the yahrzeit of their father. And, I was there on the bimah to witness it all, standing to say Kaddish for beloved “Jimmy.” A dream come true.

We were short a portion and so I had also asked the family of Bea & Marty Gross, who led the effort to create and install the original stained glass windows. They were done in memory and honor of Dr. Melvin Matlin, Lila Matlin’s late husband. (A photo of Dr. Matlin is shown.) Nancy Belok, their daughter, said the family was more than happy to put us over the top. Lila was most willing to help too. But what happened the night before our call was another miracle as I see it. Nancy she was going through and cleaning out her parent’s home in order to sell it and she came across an old cassette tape. It was a recording of her parents expressing their love of Vassar Temple and the why they gave a gift of a window as well.

Love, like light, can travel for a very long time, if we let it. Removing the cloud over our stained glass windows will hopefully help us to see the light of God’s love, and in turn to shine our love of Vassar Temple and one another. That would truly be a dream come true!


Torah Study Notes 8-29-15

August 29, 2015

p. 1329

Deuteronomy 23

Last week’s question: What were the six cities of refuge? The Torah names the following six cities as being cities of refuge: Golan, Ramoth, and Bosor, on the east of the Jordan River, and KedeshShechem, and Hebron on the western side. Probably established  during the reign of Josiah. We think of taking refuge in a synagogue or church. But remember Charleston.

23:8 More laws in this Torah portion than any other in the Bible. “You shall not abhor an Edomite” etc. Why do the Egyptians get special treatment? If they co-exist for three generations they are admitted to the congregations. Is this an exclusive list or representational? RB: There are certain people that can never be admitted – seven nations including the Amalekites.   There is a fear of loss of identity because part of social interaction in ancient times is sacrificing to the God(s) of others. Ruth is a Moabite and is ultimately the grandmother of King David. LL: There has been a diffusion of Jewish culture that has made much of America more Jewish. PC: The moral and ethical aspects of Judaism are harder to see in the fabric of American society: fixing the world frequently clashes with many American attitudes. Acceptance of immigrants is another – social justice – caring for the poor. AS: Dis-aggregating the data on where Jews give money – they are the most generous in the country. RB: In the rabbinic period there was a communal organization that cared for the poor. Now the split is generally between government or philanthropic organizations. DC: Note that “Sedakah” means Justice not Charity. Note there is no mention of the Ishmaelite peoples.

28:10 Anything “untoward.” Or “unseemly.” There must be public sanitation and avoidance of impurities.  A military camp is considered a sacred place because it is assumed that God is with the Israelite army. God’s presence is essential.

28:16  You shall not turn over a slave that seeks refuge. “Dog” here is a euphemism for a male prostitute. The Bible was cited on both sides of the Abolitionist movement since there were slaves in the Bible. Note that it was very important not to have children of questionable paternity. See God vs Gay by Jay Michelson on the religious attitudes toward homosexuality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u9lSS9UEFo

The Hebrew word “Toevah” is best translated “against the custom of the place.” Instead of “abomination.”

28:20 The question of charging interest. It can be charged to foreigners. But in the 7th year and in the 50th year where there was a remission of debts. Loans were seen not as investments but as an act of charity. Hillel invented a system wherein your loan was actually transferred to a “court” that collected the loan. Jews became moneylenders because they could loan to foreigners.

28:22 When you make a vow to the Eternal your God… DC: But Kol Nidre absolves one of intemperate vows. RB: It sounds like divine forgiveness but it is actually legalistic. See recent decision on suit enforcing a promised bar mitzvah gift. http://nypost.com/2015/08/26/son-wins-court-battle-against-mom-for-5k-bar-mitzvah-gift/

24:1 A bill of divorcement for an obnoxious wife. Even today the “get” is given by a husband to a wife. Hillel and Shamei and Akiva all commented on this – questions of translation are posed. This was a “no fault” divorce. Polygamy was a way of retaining the infertile wife and at the same time having a fertile one. This was probably all fairly progressive for the time. It is better to have some legal structure or rules of conduct than to have anarchy. A Ketuba is actually a prenuptial agreement. See: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/life_cycle/weddings/The_Jewish_Marriage_Contract_%28Ketubah%29.shtml?gclid=CP2S37jKzscCFc6PHwodBSkK_Q

In Reform Judaism a religious divorce is available to both men and woman. See: Ritual of Release. http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/ritual-release

In the Conservative movement there is the “Lieberman Clause” in the Ketuba which assures a divorce.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieberman_clause

There is also a somewhat similar agreement in the Orthodox community.

Torah Study Notes 8-22-15

August 22, 2015



Handout “We seekers of God…”  from the Mishkan Tafilah. We are dealing today with the role of the Levites, false prophecy and the cities of refuge.

18:6 …They shall receive equal share of the dues… The priestly class who are descendents of Levi and of Aaron. They are sustained by the community – including getting a share of the sacrifice. This role was in lieu of having land. Somewhat analogous to the role of the rabbi today in terms of leading a congregation.  All Cohanim are Levites but are specifically descendants of Aaron. AS: Read Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts entertainment/books/reviews/outwitting-history-by-aaron-lansky-6150945.html on the subject of preserving a heritage.  AF: Is this like the public sector and private sector in modern society? JB: Those in the public sector pay taxes. A very rough analogy.  RB: Here the Levites could live anywhere. This is pre-Jerusalem before the temple was centralized. This is likely written by a Priestly author who is opposed to locating temples anywhere other than Jerusalem. Note that the rabbi’s essentially democratized Jerusalem by accepting that there would be synagogues outside of Jerusalem. Consider the story of Hannah who went to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. RB: there is a connection between the Cohanim gesture and Star Trek gesture. In his autobiography I Am Not Spock, Nimoy wrote that he based it on the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the salute. The letter Shin here stands for El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty (God)”, as well as for Shekinah andShalom. Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue, where he saw the blessing performed and was impressed by it.[2] LL: See also the University of Arizona study finding seven key alleles that could be identified with the descendants of the Cohanim. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y-chromosomal_Aaron  RB:The Reform movement is not comfortable with this hierarchy of Levites and Cohen’s.

18:9 The subject of sorcery as practiced in other nations. Also, possibly child sacrifice. LL: What was the attitude, if known, toward those who wanted to adopt the Hebrew God? RB: There is reference to  the stranger who dwells among you. The stranger could adopt the Hebrew practices but since there was a tribal  blood aspect one wonders if they were ever completely accepted. LL: Perhaps after many generations. After all, the Ephraim’s are identified as initially being Hittites. SF: There is clearly a conception on the part of the redactor as to what the Eternal will find acceptable as to practices. AF: this harks back to the time in Egypt – which is here rejected. RB: Here the word “wholehearted” signifies that we trust in God and not  other forces. LL: the modern analogy here might be the division between science and theology. RB: Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Torah is a moral document. God determines future events and we insure those outcomes by following the rules.  CL: Here the priests of another faith are described in negative terms – they become “the other.” Many of those early empires were agglutinative – in that they took on aspects of the faiths they encountered. The Hebrews refused to do that. The Roman’s are a good example. LL: Modern society in the west seems to follow the Roman example to some extent but we term it “religious tolerance.”

8:15” …the Eternal your God will raise up for you a prophet…” the problem of true and false prophets. If it doesn’t come true he is a false prophet. Also, the direct connection to God is too much for the people. They are terrified and clearly need an intermediary. Moses is considered The Prophet. AS: can there be prophets in modern times? Probably not as a speaker for God but one who “speaks truth to power.” See Francis Collins “The Language of God.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Language_of_God SF: Science establishes models for predicting the future and analyzes probability. AF: Some of this text seems predictive of Jesus Christ. RB: The New Testament is filled with references to the Hebrew Bible and builds on that. The sacrifice of Isaac is also frequently referenced as a precursor to the death of Jesus. Jews see the Book of Moses through one lens and Christians through another. MS: The selection of Moses was likely done by the Levites who wanted no further prophecy after Moses. RB: There was supposedly an oral Torah that was whispered in Moses ear and passed down through the generations. Now we have a human interpretation – the age of prophecy is deemed over. There is patently a danger in those who purport to speak for God.

8:19 When the Eternal your God has cut down the nations… you shall set aside three cities… and even add three more towns to those three. A legal distinction is made between death by misadventure and murder.  These are the Cities of Refuge. In ancient times it was the role of the clan to exact vengeance. The person avenging was known as a “goel” which translates as “redeemer.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goel They could also pay a sum on behalf of the criminal and seek exoneration. This notion can be expanded to the notion of taking care of society. Or the idea that whole community can bear responsibility for the death of the innocent.

Torah Study Notes 8-15-15

August 15, 2015

p. 1263

12:29: The effort in Deuteronomy is to create an ideal civil society. It is extremely idealistic and requires all of the members to be saintly. The question is posed: What is practical and what is merely aspirational. We must not be lured into the ways of those that are dispossessed. “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it or take away from it.”  This verse is frequently used in arguments by the orthodox about how to conduct one’s life as a Jew. There is a certain tyranny here in terms of inflexibility. It has been argued that there has effectively been a replacement of Pharaoh with a new taskmaster – God. There is a replacement of one tyranny for another. But the second tyranny has an expiration date – the still small voice. AF: But God has a permanence as evoked in the Torah. Pharaoh changed from generation to generation. PG: God evolves throughout the Torah.

13:2: “If there appears a god before you…” A draconian result for anyone who espouses a new creed. Note the use of the term “prophet” here which usually has a positive connotation. But here it is used to describe someone who comes up with a new interpretation – backed up by magic. “The dream diviner” is reminiscent of Joseph and the time of Pharaoh. The challenge is to distinguish between a true prophet and a false one. See the last chapter of first Kings where one prophet stands against the others and is proved right. Consider the book by Reinhart and Rogoff “This Time Is Different – 8 Centuries of Financial Folly.” http://www.reinhartandrogoff.com/    See the work of Emmanuel Levinas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuel_Levinas  on Torah as an evolving document. Here the Israelites are an immature group which arguably needs strict leadership. CL: There is a notion about engaging with ones enemy that would have occurred in ancient times. So taking over the land leads to that kind engagement.

13:7: “IF your brother…entices you in secret… do not assent or cover up the matter. Stone them to death. SF: Before we pass judgment we need to think of the consequences of idol worship as destructive to the social order. PG: This text is schematic and cannot be taken at face value. RR: Note that this is part of Moses final oration. PG: And that as a practical matter the development of Jewish thought rendered the application of these punishments moot. There is no recitation of any instance of anyone doing this. Talmud subverts the apparent meaning of scripture in many instances.

13:13: More draconian punishments. But see the reference to some limited inquiry and due process. LL: Why did the redactors put this in and why did they use techniques of time conflation or rearrangement, telling accounts in different ways, it is likely to engender the thinking that we are doing today; that has been going on ever since. It is a sharp divergence from the linear Greek thinking that we are used to. SB: The killing of the cattle is significant in that those administering the punishment will not profit from it.

PG: Let’s think about the redactor – around the time of the Second Temple – trying to make sense about the loss and then recovery of the land. Everything we read in D is colored by that. Compare the Book of Ruth about leaving the land due to a famine and returning when it is flourishing. Probably based directly on the Joseph/Jacob legends.

14:1 What you can eat. PG: What is the connection between verse 1 and verse 2? The outer manifestation of loss is acceptable but self mutilation is not. You do not identify with the dead by appearing to be dead yourself. Rending garments or sackcloth and ashes are outer manifestations. The overarching argument here is to choose life – not death. CL: Confucius was promulgating similar notions in China at about the same time.

3: This is a repetition from Leviticus. There is a general statement here and then a list of particulars and then the reverse.  It could be argued that the specific is designed to limit an overly broad view of the general whereas when we go to the reverse the specifics are only examples of the general rule. LL: There are similar rules of statutory interpretation in the law.