I Am For My Beloved – Podcast Interview

July 29, 2020

Talli Rosenbaum on love and marriage and the joys and challenges of intimacy.

“Sex is not something you ‘have’ but rather an expression of an intimate and erotic energy that a couple mutually shares.” This quote, from the recently released book, I Am For My Beloved: A Guide to Enhanced Intimacy for Married Couples by co-authors Talli Rosenbaum and David Ribner, reflects the theme that a passionate marriage is about cultivating a loving, emotionally intimate relationship.

In this episode of Intimate Judaism, Rabbi Scott Kahn interviews co-host Talli Rosenbaum, and her co-author Dr. David Ribner about the book, which helps couples improve both their emotional and physical intimate lives. Join Rabbi Scott, David, and Talli, as they discuss the challenges of writing a book about sex for Orthodox Jewish couples, the topics they chose, and the book’s relevance for Jewish couples, regardless of their background. 

Finally, listen here as Talli and David offer suggestions for sustaining passion in a long term, monogamous marriage.


Aryeh Siegel on “Giving”

July 28, 2020

Love! The Golden Rule – new review of “Giving”

July 17, 2020

Aryeh Siegel ● The Times of Israel blog

“…and love your fellow as yourself…” [Lev. 19:18]
Rabbi Akiva says: “This is a great general principle of the Torah.”
[Midrash Raba, Genesis Ch. 24]

“…God asks of us to love. This may sound simple, but it turns out that it doesn’t come naturally; and it takes time and effort to learn to do it. To love others, we must uncover hidden forms of our self-interested concerns. Only then can we direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions toward giving to others. In addition, we need to recognize the aspect of divinity in each human being we encounter. When we see the greatness of others, this awakens within us our love for them. In particular, the greatness in their aspect of divinity connects our love of them to a love of God.”*

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The Narrow Halakhic Bridge – new review

July 15, 2020

Midwest Book Review ● The Judaic Studies Shelf

Synopsis: Halakhah is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah.

The role of halakhah is to serve as a bridge between our eternal Torah and the world’s changing realities. However, the dizzying pace of developments in postmodern society and the obsession with personal freedom are generating unprecedented gaps between Torah and reality, challenging our obedience to Halakhah, contributing to the erosion of rabbinic authority and causing a growing confusion within our community.

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Perilous Escape – new review

July 14, 2020

Paul Vogel ● Midwest Book Review

Synopsis: “Perilous Escape: My Journey from Nazi Europe to Freedom” is the true and compelling account of Dr. Chaskel Wyszkowski and his courageous escape from Poland in the dark years of World War II.

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Was Yosef on the Spectrum – new review

July 14, 2020

David Greenberg ● Israel Journal of Psychiatry

Ever since the Bible was written there have been attempts to understand the characters and events of its narrative. Indeed, in The Ancient Commentary on the Bible (1993) Hananel Mack suggested that as long as there has been Bible, there has been commentary, whether Deuteronomy commenting on the preceding books of the Torah, or Psalms and Chronicles on earlier sections of the Bible. The Apocryphal books continued the tradition, as did Philo’s Bible commentary (first century Alexandria), Josephus, then the many forms of Midrash, and since Saadiah Gaon (10th century Babylon), a steady flow of authors, the most known among Jewish readers being Rashi (11th century France), Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) and Ramban (13th century Spain), and most recently Nehama Leibowitz, who have all published commentaries on the Bible text. While each commentator may ask some unique questions, many clearly duplicate each other. How is it that each commentator emerges with different answers, and that often they are distinctive to that author? The answer must lie not only in each new questioner emerging from a particular cultural background but also having different responses that are suitable for their readership: Rashi writing at the time of the Crusades and the destruction of Jewish communities, Ibn Ezra having travelled the world and seen many cultures, etc.

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Wash Your Hands! The Corona Commandment

July 13, 2020

Aryeh Siegel ● The Times of Israel blog

“The priests must not become spiritually unclean by contact with a dead person” [Leviticus 21:1]

Wash your hands! That is the commandment of the Corona era.

In the Middle Ages a person could go half his or her life without ever washing hands. But Jews washed their hands each day after awakening and whenever they ate bread. The most fatal pandemic in recorded history was the Black Death in the 14th century. At that time, fewer Jews died than their Christian neighbors. This has been partly attributed to Jewish ritual hand-washing. (See https://www.jewishhistory.org/the-black-death.)

Of course, Jews in the Middle Ages washed their hands not because of sanitary reasons. They did so out of a commitment to halachic tradition. Was it “good luck” that this saved them from disease? Or is there some providential or mystical connection? I don’t know. But the Kabbalah does reveal a hidden meaning of ritual hand-washing. And our worldwide Corona condition could well benefit from the spiritual healing invoked by its esoteric intention.

The blessing for hand-washing is peculiar. We bless God for instructing us “on the lifting up of hands.” Why “lifting up”? The instruction is to wash our hands. What does it mean to “lift up hands”?

When do we lift up our hands? When we surrender. When we give a blessing. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb* explains that in the Kabbalah the hand is considered to be the archetypal vessel. Hands are used for taking and receiving. When we surrender, we promise not to take. When we place our hands on another’s head in blessing, we ask that he or she be the receiver.

So when we wash our hands, we “lift up” our desire to receive. We raise it spiritually. According to Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal Hasulam)*, this is the essential teaching of Judaism. All of the Torah and the mitzvot – every word and every detail – come to teach us to dedicate ourselves to giving. Our intention in receiving is only to pass it on somehow. With this intention, a Jew is instructed to start each day. And before we receive strength from eating bread, we bring to mind our intention to use that strength to give and not to take.

But wait. Doesn’t the ritual washing have something to do with tumah – spiritual uncleanliness? Yes, precisely. The Kabbalah views tumah as an expression of selfish desire to receive. This is the cause of all our pain. This is the spiritual state we want to avoid – both individually and societally.

Our pure soul is like a priest within us that wants only to serve God. It calls to us to imitate the divine character of giving selflessly. But this soul can be “dirtied” when we succumb to our selfish desire to receive. We must preserve its purity by refusing to make contact with selfishness. For selfishness is spiritual death. This is the inner meaning of the above verse from this week’s Torah portion: The priests must not become spiritually unclean by contact with a dead person.

So let’s wash our hands of hoarding and hate. Let’s wash our hands of divisiveness and cut-throat competition. The Corona commandment is to give a little more and take a lot less.

*Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal Hasulam) is the greatest modern explicator of the Kabbalah. Some of his essays are translated to English in: “Giving – The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah”. This book also contains a new commentary by Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, who is a disciple of the son of Baal Hasulam. His classes in Hebrew can be watched on the youtube channel ברכת שלום.


Do We Know How to Ask?

April 16, 2020

Aryeh Siegel ● Times of Israel Blog

Remember the fourth son at the Passover seder? He doesn’t know how to ask. The holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said, “That’s me.”

In the science fiction work “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the supercomputer Deep Thought is asked “the question of life, the universe and everything.” After 7½ billion years of computation, the answer that came up was disappointing: “42”. But there was a good deal of wisdom in Deep Thought’s explanation of the failure to get a good answer. He said: “Perhaps you don’t really know what the question is.”

Covid-19 has many physical ramifications, but it also has stirred a great many people to question “why”. Why has the entire world suddenly changed? What does it mean? What do we need to learn?

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State of the Heart

March 26, 2020

Vijeta Uniyal ● Jerusalem Post

New book tells the unsung story of Israel’s humanitarianism

‘State of the Heart: Stories of a Humanitarian Israel’ puts focus on individual inspirational stories.

With anti-Israel activism sweeping Western educational institutions, and antisemitism raising its head again – this time cloaked as hostility toward Israel – there was never a better time to reacquaint one’s self with the benevolence and altruism that have propelled the Jewish state into a humanitarian superpower. Be it the tiny Caribbean islands devastated by a hurricane, or giant India hit by an earthquake, Israelis and the Jewish state are among the world’s first responders. Fortunately, a newly published book by Israeli educator and entrepreneur David Kramer tells us this very story. State of the Heart: Stories of a Humanitarian Israel is a collection of more than 50 stories, each celebrating the unsung Israeli heroes that today’s busy news cycle seldom cares to note. Written in short-story format, State of the Heart introduces readers to the selfless and courageous men and women behind Israeli non-profit organizations, charities and voluntary groups who are making a difference at home and abroad.

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Was Yosef on the Spectrum

March 24, 2020

Professor Majia Nadesan ● Canadian Journal of Disability Studies

What is autism? Although autism is ultimately a diagnostic category, people who exhibit symptoms we now label as autistic are not restricted to the modern era (see e.g. Houston & Frith, 2000). Detailed historical analyses of the concept of autism have described a constellation of symptoms that were formally delineated and medicalized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but pre-existed contemporary nosologies (e.g. Hacking, 2009; Nadesan, 2005; Waltz, 2013).

People experienced as “different” in their communication and social pragmatics have troubled normative expectations across recorded history. Samuel Levine’s Was Yosef on the Spectrum: Understanding Joseph Through Tora, Midrash, and Classical Jewish Sources argues that Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel from the Book of Genesis, was possibly autistic. Diagnosing people retrospectively as autistic raises complex “hermeneutic” or interpretive questions, including the possibility that our selective readings and attributions of recorded histories reveal more about our current concerns than past realities. Yet, while acknowledging this post-modern possibility of non-retrievable origins, the hermeneutic tradition offers a dialogic framework for understanding the mingling of the past and the present using the idea of a textual fusions of horizons (Gadamer, 2011). Roughly, the hermeneutic tradition holds that each reading of a historical text links the past and present, with the potential for a better understanding of the (“intersubjective” or social) self and its project forward. It is in the spirit of this hermeneutics that Levine’s text finds contemporary relevance.

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