The biggest challenge of this blog is finding time to write it! My schedule continues to be quite full.
Take yesterday for example. I was at the Hartman Institute at 8:30 AM -- as usual, and was treated to a shiur-- a lesson by David Hartman himself. Each morning it is a different one of the great scholars of the Institute-- the day before it was Yisrael Knohl, and before that Moshe Halbertal.
Hartman's topic was: Abraham and Moses as the key to understanding Maimodean philosophy. He opened with a few introductory remarks and then we studied from 8:45 am to 10:30 in hevruta. Hevruta for those who have never experienced it, is a unique form of traditional Jewish study -- perfected over the ages. It is two (or more) people who wrestle with a text by studying it in dialogue with each other. Yesterday my hevrutot partners were Rabbi Neil Zuckerman from White Plains and formerly our TBS intern, Rabbi David Steinhardt of B'nai Torah in Boca Raton and Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnwood, PA. We studied sources form Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed and his Mishneh Torah.
At 10:30 am we took a break for a 45 minute session which they call Havurot ( not to be confused with hevruta but all havurot come form the root Haver -- which means friend and describes some form of fellowship). These havurot, are groups of 6-10 rabbis who talk about various topics from current events to personal issues in the rabbinate.
At 11:15 we reconvene in the Beit Midrash where David Harman gave his lecture which was based on the sources we had been grappling with for the past couple of hours. In this particular case his premise was that Abraham is for Maimonides the ideal model of philosophic spirituality in Judaism whereas Moses is the model of halachik or legal spirituality. The greatest halachik mind in Jewish history (Maimonides) -- believes (Hartman contends) that halacha is not enough. Maimonides begins with Abrahamic spirituality according to Hartman because - the hero of the Bible for the greatest legal authority in Jewish history is Abraham, even more than Moses the lawgiver! (well I thought it was interesting)
The lecture concluded by 1:00 and we broke for lunch until 2:00. From 2:00 -3:30 we had our afternoon electives -- I have been taking a wonderful course with Noam Zion (many of you are familiar with him from his delightful Passover Haggadah "A Different Night"). He taught a course titled:" A Troubling Narrative -- Our Ancestors-- Oy! Avraham, Sarah & Hagar. You will probably hear more bout this as I think it will make a wonderful adult education course -- maybe for Herbert Tarr this fall (see I haven't forgotten you Florence Meyer)
At 3:30 we reconvened for our peer study -- each one of us in the Rabbinic Leadership Institute has to teach a session and this one was taught by Rabbi Jonah Layman of Olney, MD on how to make our shuls more inclusive -- reaching out to those on the fringes -- the handicapped, mentally disabled, etc. This finished at 5:00 giving us just time to run out and catch a chartered bus that was taking us to Tel Aviv for the evening .
And what an evening it was. We were treated to a most unusual experience at a unique dinner theater called Nalaga'at -- which is Hebrew for "Please touch!" There are two restaurants on the premise one is called Café Kapish, where we ate, that is fully staffed by deaf waiters and waitresses and the other is called "Blackout" which is a pitch black room where you order and are served dinner by blind waiters and waitresses. The challenge is to get you out of your world and give you a sense of the world that those who are deaf and blind live in. Following dinner we saw a fascinating play entitled "Not by bread alone…" where all the actors are either blind, deaf or both!
Billed as the only playhouse of its kind in the world, employing deaf and bind actors , -- it was an amazing experience. Not only was the subject of the play fascinating but when you contemplate what had to be done to coordinate, communicate and produce a play where all the actors are deaf and blind -- well it was quite remarkable. The simple challenge of a "blind actor" who must act on cue and create facial responses he or she has never seen before -- well, if you think about it, it is quite remarkable. The theme of the entire evening is to challenge you to get out of your own comfort zone and begin to imagine what the world is like for those who navigate it day in and day out without being able to see or hear!
Then it was back on the bus and we got back to Jerusalem after midnight. So as you can see, my days are quite full and quite remarkable.
Of course there has been much discussion revolving round the pigua -- the terrorist act where a Palestinian from East Jerusalem drove a bulldozer into an Egged bus killing 6 people. It is still not clear whether this was the isolated act of a disturbed man or a coordinated act of terror -- but regardless the dead are dead and the tragedy of innocent people going about their daily routine being at risk is a terrible feature of life here in Israel.
The fact is that a number of features of Israeli security, including the Security Barrier - have reduced these events dramatically. But that is small comfort to the few who still die. The real talk here is not about terror. The attitude regarding the Palestinians, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank -- is remarkably fatalistic. Israelis no longer have much hope that there are any real solutions in the foreseeable future -- but they feel these are problems they can live with and that can be managed.
The problem that keeps them up at nights is Iran. If the prospect of a nuclear Iran is problematic for us as Americans -- for Israelis is completely terrifying and therefore unacceptable. More and more you hear that Israel has resigned itself that no one else is prepared to do anything to prevent a nuclear Iran -- and that it will be left to Israel to prevent it from happening. For many Israelis the question is not so much "if" but "when."
They also are not confident in the current cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza and imagine that when it breaks down they will have to go in with troops and pacify it once again. Here too most Israelis speak in terms of "when" rather than "if."
But Israel is nothing, if not a land of contrast. One moment you are debating security the next moment you are dancing at a wedding. Last Tuesday, Edy and I went to the wedding of the son of good friends (and colleague) Rabbi Neil & Lori Cooper. Their son, Yoni, made aliyah last year, is currently serving in the Paratroopers and married a lovely young woman who was raised in Jerusalem.
Israeli weddings are very different affairs from their American counterparts -- starting with the fact that there were 400 people there. (Howie Braverman would love it here!) Everything was outdoors (no chance of rain till Sukkot) and the music was incredible -- including Neshama Carlebach singing as the couple marched down the aisle. It was a delightful evening and a nice chance to catch up with old friends.
So, now you are up to date. Today, we are busy shopping and getting ready for Shabbat. Things are noticeably more expensive here from last year. The combination of inflation and the weak dollar has made things 30-40% more expensive from what they were last year. And while you complain about gas -- it went up 7 shekels (more than two dollars) in one jump last week (making it $9-$10 a gallon).
Tonight we are invited for dinner at Rabbi Doniel Hartman's house, tomorrow I am walking with a friend to Services in the Old City - lest you think I am taking things too easy here -- we are meeting at 7:45 AM for our walk to shul -- so no complaints from those of you who come waltzing in after 10!
So have a nice Shabbat and I hope to write again soon -- maybe I will even remember to take my camera and include some pictures. Until then: Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.
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