A Review of The Night That Unites Passover Haggadah

by Rabbi Jack Riemer TheNightThatUnites9789655241532

How would you like to sit at the seder with three of the giants of the last century — the Rav, the Rav Harashi and the Reb — and listen to them exchange insights into the haggadah? This new Haggadah makes it possible for you to do just that.

The Rav was Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leader of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. The Rav, as he was known to his many disciples, was the inheritor of the Brisker dynasty, which developed a whole new method for analyzing the Talmud, and he came to America with a doctorate in Philosophy that he had earned at a German university. He is the icon of those who believe that it is possible to combine an enormous knowledge of the tradition with an understanding and appreciation for modern culture and philosophy.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook was the first Rav Harashi — the Chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British mandate. He combined an enormous knowledge of the Jewish mystical tradition with a poetic soul and with an understanding of the need to appreciate and not rebuff the pioneers who were building the land of Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach,ֲ “Reb Shlomo” as he was known to his followers, was a travelling troubadour who crossed the country, reaching the souls of both involved Jews and young people who were on the periphery of Jewish life with his songs and his stories. Few of us realized when we listened to him how great his knowledge of Hassidic literature was, and how serious was his desire to reach out to those whom mainstream Jews had given up on.

It is hard to imagine these three sitting at the same table, celebrating Pesach together, but this new haggadah: “œThe Night That Unites” does the next best thing. It chooses some of the very best insights of the three, edits and simplifies them so that the general reader can understand them, and puts them together side by side on each page of the haggadah.

Every year I try to call attention in this column to the best haggadah of the year. This one wins the prize this year hands down. Most of the new haggadot are based on the premise that in order to have a seder that speaks to our generation, we must make it as brief as possible, and we must spell out the parallels between the Exodus andֲ the freedom stories in the world around us. So the black spiritual: When Israel Was in Egypt Land-Let My People Go, and the story of Soviet Jewry’s liberation in our time, and discussions of America’s policy in Vietnam and elsewhere have become staples of the seder. This book is different. It leaves nothing of the traditional haggadah out, for it believes that this is a night for study, and that if we invite our guests to stretch their minds and work hard, they will respond. And this haggadah does not draw any parallels between the Exodus and any of the freedom movements of our time, because it is based on the premise that this is the night for telling our story, and that the parallels to those of others that may be in it, people can find by themselves.

I love the artwork in this haggadah, starting with the three seder plates on the cover that stand for the three thinkers whose work is found inside. And I love the fact that each unit contains questions that can be asked at the seder in order to make it a participatory experience. I started out marking the pages that I liked the best so that I would be sure to study them at the seder, and I soon found that I had marked almost every page.

So this is, at least in my opinion, the best new haggadah of the year, and I recommend that you bring it to your table on seder night. It is the next best thing to having three of the giants of Jewish life sitting there with you.

This review originally appeared in the South Florida Jewish Journal

The Night That Unites Passover Haggadah: A Review

by Alan Jay Gerber TheNightThatUnites9789655241532

Perhaps three of the most iconic and beloved rabbis of our time are Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Each in his own way has given to our faith and people valued insights and teachings that have helped enhance the spiritual quality of our lives for now, and for generations to come.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise to note the almost complete sellout of a new haggadah that features the work of these three rabbinic greats.

“The Night That Unites,” edited by Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider with artwork by Aitana Perlmutter and published by Urim Publication, envelops into one volume some of the best teachings that each of these Torah luminaries brought forward in the last century. The choice of teachings, stories, and questions contained in this collective work represents some of the finest Torah learning for presentment at your Seder table.

Several years ago Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, of Woodmere’s Congregation Aish Kodesh, wrote an excellent English commentary on Rav Kook’s classic “Orot HaTeshuva.” The following segment was extracted from that work and included in this haggadah under the title, “Learning from the Holocaust.” It is inserted at the midpoint of the magid section before the recitation of the ten makot. Please read this segment carefully and consider the personalities and the wise words they uttered.

“Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik went to a Farbrengen, a special joyous Hasidic gathering, on the occasion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 80th birthday. He had come to honor the great sage and that night. The Rav was very impressed by the brilliance and erudition of the Rebbe.

“On the way home, Rabbi Soloveitchik commented that there was one thing with which he did not agree. When he offered the Rebbe a l’chaim, a toast, the Rebbe said, ‘Now the descendants of Rav Chaim Volozhin and the family of the Ba’al Ha Tanya have finally come together.’

“The Rebbe was referring to the split between the two great families and their followers. Two hundred years previously there had been a great schism between the Jews of these two streams. The followers of one group took a more scholarly and learned approach to Judaism, while the followers of the other adopted a more joyous and spiritual approach. Symbolically, the Rebbe felt that sharing the evening represented a unity that had been missing until that time.

“Rabbi Soloveitchik said that this was not true. They had indeed come together earlier. When Hitler had put the followers of Hassidism and the followers of their opponents, the Mitnagdim, together in the same gas chambers … he said that it was THEN that we realized that there is no difference between one Jew and another.”

At the appropriate time, right before we open the door to, G-d willing, hopefully greet Elijah, this segment will be recited at my Seder.

This review originally appeared in The Jewish Star

Spinoza’s Sub Specie Aeternitatis, Yeshiva Students and the Army

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

Whenever I think of the huge demonstration of Chareidi yeshiva students at the beginning of this month, I think of Gateshead Yeshiva in England where I spent many years studying Talmud. It is Europe’s most famous yeshiva and a bastion of Torah study in the Chareidi world. Paradoxically, I also think of Spinoza’s incomparable masterpiece, the Ethics, written in a small room in Voorburg, the Netherlands.

I come from a completely secular background with no Jewish education, but good schooling in secular philosophy where Kant, Hume and Wittgenstein reigned supreme. When I ventured to have a look at Gateshead Yeshiva with the intention of learning Talmud, I did not know what was awaiting me. I expected a Jewish university for talmudic studies where enlightened teachers and students would discuss the latest problems in theology and talmudic historiography. But nothing was further from the truth. This was not even Yeshiva University. It’s not just that there were no secular studies and no talk about Plato’s theory of immortality or Leibniz’s famous theodicy; this was an altogether different planet. There was nothing but one supreme endeavor: learning Talmud, combined with Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller’s (1) classic Ketzos HaChoshen and Rabbi Yaakov ben Yaakov Moshe Lorberbaum’s (2) Nesivos HaMishpat, two brilliant talmudic works.

There were 300 of us, and we slept in our overcoats in what some people called a bedroom, where the temperature was far below zero. Our neigel vasser (3) was frozen in the morning. There was no lobby in the yeshiva where we could relax, nor was there a cafeteria. We knew that the food we ate was practically taken from the mouths of our roshei yeshiva. Our menahel ruchani (spiritual mentor), Rabbi Chizkiyahu Eliezer Kahan z”l, was as poor as a church mouse but looked like a king in his spotless frock coat and with his long, carefully combed white beard. He was a “Nevardoker” – a student of the famous Nevardok Yeshiva (called after a city in Lithuania) of pre-Holocaust Europe, which was dedicated to strict discipline and unfailing religious devotion. The non-Jews in Gateshead knew that when Rabbi Kahan, who walked as upright as a soldier, passed by in the afternoon, it was exactly 4:00 p.m. – not a minute later and not a minute earlier. They could not help but take their hats off to this remarkable human being who was a great tzaddik.

When you entered the yeshiva, you were no longer sure in which century you were living – the 5th, 12th, 17th or 20th. This was a world unto itself, made up of singularly focused people. There was no walking out to the street for a few minutes to get some fresh air; no option of going to a kosher restaurant to get a cup of coffee or have a falafel; no chance of meeting a religious girl studying at the famous Gateshead Seminary. Although 150 of them were right around the corner, they were light-years away from our yeshiva. Not only was it dangerous to walk in the streets, since so many drunken people wandered around, but no one even had any interest in doing so. It was considered bitul zman (a waste of time). There was one supreme goal: shtaigen in lernen (excelling in learning). The roshei yeshiva showed incredible integrity, deep religiosity and a total absence of any personal agenda. There was no competition between them, no scandals and no quarrels. Just Torah in all of its splendor. What counted was the service of God through learning the Talmud, a holy text of infinite sublimity. This monumental text took them back to Mount Sinai, and through its pages they relived the greatest moments in all of Jewish history. There was much naiveté, a withdrawal from the world, which made the rabbis seem like human angels while studying the laws of damages and injuries. There were also mussar shmoozen. These were not intellectual discourses like Kant’s sophisticated insights about ethics; they were emotional, often spontaneous, outbursts of love for God and man. Through the singsong chants, they would lift us up to heaven and ask of us to be supreme human beings and Jews. Nothing in this world comes close to those religious experiences.

I spent 12 years in yeshivot, and then completed my Ph.D. Today, when I speak with many people who reject the yeshiva world and criticize it harshly for its faults, I realize that although I agree with many of their critical assessments, they fail to understand the inner music of these institutions. They do not realize that this introverted but remarkable world somehow lifted the Jews out of their misery throughout history and gave them the strength to survive all their enemies under the most intolerable conditions brought on by anti-Semitism. It was this denial of time that made the Jews eternal. The yeshiva world was no doubt very small compared to what it is now, but until the emancipation it was the pride of the entire Jewish world. The Talmud afforded the Jews wings, enabling them to fly to other worlds; to return to the past that no longer existed; and to look toward worlds that were still to come. It became the Jews’ portable homeland, and their complete immersion in its texts made them indestructible even as they were tortured and killed. The Talmud became their survival kit, which ultimately empowered their offspring to establish the State of Israel, nearly 2000 years after they were exiled from their land. This is unprecedented in all of the history of mankind.

For nearly 2000 years the yeshiva world made Jews view life sub specie aeternitatis, as Spinoza called it – from the perspective of eternity. Indeed, it allowed them to leave behind ordinary history and become a-historical. Jews stepped out of history because it was the only way to survive in history. And so the yeshiva world gave the Jewish people a tool for survival, which no one could match for the last 2000 years. Had the yeshiva world not done so, the Jewish people would never have endured, the State of Israel would not have been created, and no Jews – neither religious nor secular – would have lived in this wonderful country. All Israelis owe their lives to the wondrous yeshiva world, whether they like it or not.

In some way, Spinoza was a yeshiva student. He lived in his small room in Voorburg, and that was his beit midrash. Like the yeshiva students, he nearly never left it. There he built his universe and wrote his magnum opus. Consistent with his own philosophy, he too lived outside of history. His deep thoughts, insights and noble feelings are not of this world. They too are the product of sub specie aeternitatis and therefore suspect. In the long run they will break down, because one might be able to escape this world, even for a long time, but ultimately one needs to return. Thoughts that are eternal and untouchable are too beautiful and, for most people, unreachable. And so it is with the yeshiva world. Learning Talmud without being able to put much of its teachings into practice is too abstract and too unworldly.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were forced to re-enter history. But after 2000 years of living as yeshiva students and followers of Spinoza’s saintly teachings, it is a painful transformation. Most of our leaders, our government, and the roshei yeshiva have not yet realized that we are still hanging in suspense. We live with one foot in the world of the yeshiva and Spinoza, and the other foot on the ground with all its challenges and harsh realities. Our political leaders want us to come down and stand with both feet on the ground, while the yeshiva world wants to stay in the beit midrash of Spinoza, in heaven. Both will have to realize that their goals are unrealistic. It is much too early to decide whether we should come down with both feet on the ground, or continue to stay in heaven with at least one foot. We still find ourselves at a crossroads. One is reminded of the story told about a former premier of China who was asked what the impact of the French Revolution was on modern European history. His reply was, “It’s too early to say.”

What our political leaders have to ask themselves is whether it is already possible to fully return to history. Our enemies surrounding us are getting stronger and stronger. Their hate increases daily. Israel now finds itself in an unprecedented and precarious situation, more and more isolated. We are close to becoming, once again, a nation that “dwells alone,” as our biblical arch-enemy Bil’am stated thousands of years ago. (4) Can we really afford to fully enter into history bound by its normative rules, and be defeated by these very rules because we are not yet strong enough? Wouldn’t it be better to stay with one foot in the world of sub specie aeternitatis, outside of history? In fact, isn’t the very existence of the State of Israel a bit too miraculous to fit the norms of history? Perhaps we should make sure that some of our people, our yeshiva students, continue to live outside of history so that they can rescue our nation if history does not accept us as real players and we would otherwise disappear. Isn’t it true that we are treated as a people with no history, as the United Nations, many European countries, and even the American administration use double standards when judging us, not allowing us to be part of conventional history? We are still living through the birth-pangs, as yet unable to say what the baby will look like.

On the other hand, it is our Chareidi roshei yeshiva and those recognized as the gedolei hador who are guilty of not realizing that we Jews must return to history at some point, and if they don’t want to join us they may lose us altogether and they themselves may not survive. They seem to be completely oblivious to the radical change that has taken place in the Jewish world – including their own yeshiva world – after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. We have been taught that in the long run it is impossible for all of us to stay outside of history. The Holocaust has taught us that we cannot survive ad infinitum without entering history. We have too much eternity and too little geography. To argue that our yeshiva students are the ones who really defend us against our enemies, and that we do not need soldiers, is an escape from reality and as anti-halachic as can be. It is a rewriting of Judaism that the Chareidi leadership cannot even accuse the Reform of doing.

Both the secular and the Chareidi utterly lack historical perspective. The secular have to learn that we may need to keep some people outside of history, and the Chareidi leadership will have to realize that now that we have a state of our own, all of us, without exception, must serve in Tzahal because we are trying to get back into history. In fact, every young Jewish male outside of Israel should feel it his absolute moral obligation to serve for a few months in the Israeli army, because by now world Jewry is depending on the State of Israel, if only so that when it really goes wrong in Europe or the United States there will be a haven for them.

It cannot be denied that the Israeli government made a major blunder in the way it handled the need to draft yeshiva students for army service. Some Knesset members believe that they won, but in reality it was a monumental loss and they became the laughing stock of Israeli society by arguing for equal service by all. Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as equality in the army. Some people risk their lives, others do not. If all were equal, the army wouldn’t function. We also know that a Jewish State will never be able to put people in jail because they learn Torah.

Both parties should have learned from the great British Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin who states that there are no ideal solutions in this world. There are only tradeoffs. “You cannot combine full liberty with full equality… Justice and mercy, knowledge and happiness can collide,” says Berlin. It is not that such perfect harmony cannot be created because of practical difficulties. It is that “utopian solutions are in principle incoherent and unimaginable… so there have to be choices.” One can only choose how much equality and how much liberty, how much mercy and how much justice. Belief in a perfect world “cannot but lead to suffering, misery, blood, terrible oppression.” (5)

The only thing the government can do is suggest that Chareidi yeshiva students go for basic training and build yeshivot in the army. The students would have to walk around in uniform and learn full time, learn with other soldiers, do community service, or something similar. Fair? Certainly not. But fairness is not a value that can always work in the military. Only a tradeoff can work; there is no other option. And by allowing these students to study while in the army, we at least remind ourselves that we may still have to be an a-historical people and that we cannot yet afford to live solely within history. It is still too dangerous. If some of us are full-time cooks in the army, others can be full time learners in the army. Much too expensive? Sure! But you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

Still, the greatest mistake was not made by the government but by the Chareidi leadership. When it organized a demonstration in which nearly 600,000 black-hatted yeshiva students participated to show their love for Torah, one could hear a pin drop just before the crowd burst out in an unprecedented cry of Shema Yisrael. That was the perfect opportunity to prove their love for our brave soldiers and all of Israeli society by having all 600,000 men and women recite prayers for the welfare of the soldiers and all Jews in Israel. That would not only have been a great kiddush Hashem; it also would have turned Israeli society around and healed much of the animosity between the Chareidi and non-Chareidi communities. Yeshiva students would have been seen in a different light. Instead of having upset hundreds of thousands of Israelis, among whom many have lost their sons and daughters in combat, it would have created an entirely different atmosphere in the country. There is little doubt that most yeshiva students would have done it with great love. The failure to ask them to do so is not just a missed opportunity. It is completely irresponsible and a terrible tragedy. When the world-renowned, Chareidi halachic authority Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach z”l was asked to which graves of tzaddikim one should go to pray, he said to go to the military cemeteries. The fact that the Chareidi leadership did not tell 600,000 of their followers to pray for our soldiers proves beyond doubt how small-minded are those who are recognized as gedolei hador.

To paraphrase Spinoza: All noble men are as great as they are rare.

1. Rabbi, talmudist and halachist in Galicia, 1745-1812.

2. Rabbi and respected posek in Lissa (today known as Leszno), Poland, 1760-1832.

3. Water put near one’s bed at night for washing hands upon arising.

4. Bamidbar 23:9.

5. Ramin Jahanbegloo, Conversations with Isaiah Berlin (London: Halban Publishers, 2007) pp. 142-3.

– See more at: http://cardozoacademy.org/current-thought-to-ponder-by-rabbi-lopes-cardozo/spinozas-sub-specie-aeternitatis-yeshiva-students-and-the-army-ttp-385/#sthash.BoG3KZQk.dpuf

A Review of A Journey Through Torah

by Rabbi Dr. Simcha RosenbergDocumentaryHypothesis-fullCover_1.5

The author feels that, in light of modern scholarship, “the strictly traditional approach… especially as it has come to be espoused in our times, is no longer tenable” (p. 129). However, “there is a middle-ground approach within Jewish tradition for a critical approach” that “a serious, yet open-minded person of faith” can accept (p. 130). Jewish tradition has been able to accommodate ideas about the age of the world and evolution through the creative and judicious use of traditional source material, and Ben Zion Katz believes that this can likewise apply to the findings of academic biblical scholarship.

This is a well researched and thoughtful book, which takes an unflinching look at a very serious matter facing traditional Jews today. Even if one does not agree with the author’s conclusions, it is necessary to open up a discussion of this issue and endeavor to reach some sort of modus vivendi with it for intellectually honest traditional Jews….

This book is heartily recommended, and Urim Publications must be commended for publishing this unique, daring, and very much needed work.

This review was originally published in The Jewish Bible Quarterly