Bringing Back the Broken Pieces: The Afikoman and its return to the table

March 23, 2017

Taken from The Night That Unites Passover Haggadah
Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach asks, ‘why do the children bring back the broken piece of matzah at the end of the Seder? The afikoman, the broken matzah represents the brokenness in the world. There are so many broken hearts…broken many tears. But do you know who will fix the world? Do you know who will bring wholeness to the world again? Our children. Our children will bring back the broken piece to make the world whole again.

Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi thanks Lenny Ben-David for American Interests in the Holy Land

March 17, 2017

American Interests Oded Revivi.jpg

“This morning I received a complimentary copy of the book “American Interests in the Holy Land – Revealed in Early Photographs from 1840 – 1940″, signed by the author, Lenny Ben David, a resident of Efrat. Can’t wait to read the history of the period and judging by the pictures, it looks like a fascinating book. Lenny, thank you very much.”

(Posted by Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat)

On the Fifteen Steps of the Passover Seder, from Rav Kook:

March 16, 2017



Taken from The Night That Unites Passover Haggadah
Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook teaches that the 15 steps of the Seder are to be viewed as rungs in a ladder and are intended to to move us toward a spiritual ascent on the night of Passover. He was once asked, “Who is on a greater spiritual level, a person on a low rung or on a high rung of the spiritual ladder?” He answered: “It depends which direction the person is moving. If the person on the low rung is climbing and growing day by day, he/she is spiritually alive and engaged. Conversely, if a person on a high rung is moving downward, he/she has lost spiritual elan and may continue to sink.


Review of Between the Lines of the Bible: Exodus: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary

March 2, 2017

by Amos Lassen

The beauty of Torah is that there is always something new and fascinating to learn with each reading. Personally, I never tire of reading Torah commentaries. Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom shares how when traditional study meets academia and it’s rigor, we get even richer meanings of the written word. His emphasis is on how the academic fields of anthropology, archeology, philology, and literary analysis let us glean new meanings and more profound thoughts about the various writings in the book of Exodus and we can then better understand how these writings have become the backbone of the Jewish faith for thousands of years.

Rabbi Etshalom looks at what many see as the gap between academia and tradition and then successfully presents an argument for integrating archaeology, philology, anthropology and literary analysis into religious study of the Bible. It seems that academic and Torah have been at odds for so long and we now see that there are indeed methodologies that bring them together and believe it or not, this has brought about a revival of serious Torah study. (I am reminded of my mother’s standard answer to almost every question, “Do we really have to know why?”).

This is the second volume of “Between the Lines of the Bible” (I have yet to read the first) in which Rabbi Etshalom examines the sacred stories of the book of Exodus through his nuanced understanding of the Torah’s timelessness. I see this book as a “How To” guide and have enjoyed keeping it along side the original text as I make my way through the Exodus tale. Each chapter addresses a specific question that is raised by the text. That question then takes us to step-by-step answers that are the result of clear and understandable reasoning that in most cases uses modern Bible study methods. This does not mean that these new methods take the place of the old ones— they do not, they supplement tradition. Tradition is important and it has kept our religion alive— I do not see it ever being replaced by anything else. I believe that what makes this such a valuable book is that we are guided through the thought process as we read it. Remember that in Judaism there is more value in studying with someone else than in studying alone. Here you get to study with one of the best. By opening new windows to the study of Torah does not mean that we have closed other windows. The more windows we open, the more breeze we feel. Becoming comfortable with Torah is the goal but we should never feel so comfortable that we can close it off.

This entry was posted in Judaica on February 12, 2017.

Review of Kosher Movies

February 26, 2017

by Amos Lassen

It has been one hundred years since D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” was released and even though it was considered to be controversial (and remains so today because of its racism, it is an important milestone in the history of cinema in that it remains responsible for the movies to be the dominant and most influential medium of visual arts in the modern age. It revolutionized movie storytelling with its cast of hundreds and its nearly three-hour length. Because of the way it was received, we understand just how important it was culturally and socially. We later learned that the leaders in the film community were Jewish men who were working hard to raise an industry to become part of the cultural expression of this country.

Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Marcus Loew, William Fox and Irving Thalberg were among the principal founders of such important motion picture studios and production companies as Paramount Pictures, Fox and MGM. Because of these men, the film industry contained a significant Jewish element and it was interesting that the first film with sound was “The Jazz Singer”, the story of a traditional Jew who seeks fame and fortune as a popular entertainer and the tension of assimilation that is caused by this. The movie made the movie-going public aware of Jewish values that were to become mirrored by society at large. These values included overcoming adversity, the triumph of hope and the belief in second chances. These values were soon part of the American mind and this came about by the way there were seen on the screen.

In “Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema”, Rabbi Dr. Herbert Cohen looks at there values— the very same ones that have not changed with the movies and we come to realize that Jew and Gentile aspire to them. Rabbi Cohen goes a step further and looks at the peculiarity of the Modern Orthodox approach to engagement with popular culture and film as a way to glean from it “common experiences of life that can and should enhance an Orthodox expression and appreciation of the world, and humanity within it”.

“Kosher Movies” is a collection of short essays on movies that reinforce this Modern Orthodox ideal. The films are grouped together by themes (i.e. parenting, relationships, sports and adversity, ethics and self-improvement) and the essays themselves usually run about two pages in length. They look at the overarching leitmotifs and ideas that the films themselves convey to reach almost a “homiletical conclusion of some of what Orthodox Jews should garner from watching movies.

Rabbi Cohen’s book is not to be confused with other

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Review of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

February 22, 2017

by Amos Lassen

Rabbi Joseph Polak won the 2015 Jewish Book Award with “After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring”, a memoir about a mother and child who were able to survive two concentration camps and then deal with the past when they tried to reclaim their lives. They were forced to deal with rejection by society, disbelief and invalidation making it very difficult to come back into the world.

I am sure that it is beyond any of our thought processes how to deal with a world where we are not welcome especially after near death experiences in the most of all living conditions. We meet a child who decides early on that when he grows up he will pursue the only career that speaks to him—he is to be a teacher about the role of God in history; he will become a rabbi. And that is what Joseph Polak did and he is today a rabbi and an academic.

As you can imagine, this is not an easy book to read. This is Polak’s story of how he was reunited with his mother after the war and went on to Canada and became a rabbi.

This is also the story of the deportation of Dutch Jewry to Westerbork, and from there how Polak was sent to Bergen Belsen where he as a three-year old child was liberated. The author tells more than his own story— he poses questions about what happened, about the meaning of survival, about God and the Jewish people. He gives us brilliant depictions of scenes of torment and humiliation. He writes about how the inmates of the camps came together in solidarity and how those who survived maintained that solidarity. He writes about how his life has been troubled and how the influence of what the victims have gone through remains always with them even when they would deny it.

This is about learning to be human again and he raises questions about how man can be so evil. Because he survived, Polak has had his entire life to try to make sense of the Holocaust to find a way to reconnect with the God who seemed not to be there while his people were being killed.

Joseph has the rest of his life to make sense of the Holocaust, to find a way to re-connect with a God painfully absent from the destruction of his people. He and his mother faced years of starvation, brutality, and deplorable conditions.

After the war, the government of the Netherlands forced surviving Jews to prove that they were parents of children who survived in a different location. We can only imagine how difficult that must have been for Polak’s mother whose son’s earliest memories of Bergen-Belsen include playing hide and seek among mountains of skeletal bodies. There were no happy memories.

Instead of forgetting about God like so many others, Polak struggled to understand God’s role in the terror and genocide. He became a rabbi and later he eventually realized that he would be one of the last Holocaust survivors, one of the final firsthand witnesses to the horror. Hence he wrote this book as a way to try to recall those events that so terribly impacted his life and his mother’s life.

This entry was posted in Judaica on January 22, 2016.

Review of Maimonides: Between Philosophy and Halkhah

February 20, 2017


Rabbi Johnny Solomon 
Ktav/Urim, 2016

‘In 1950-1951, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, better known to all his students and admirers as “the Rav”, gave a year’s course on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Unfortunately, we do not possess the Rav’s own lecture notes of the course… We are fortunate, however, in possessing a complete set of students’ notes on the course taken by Rabbi Gerald (Yaakov) Homnick… These very full notes allow us to reconstruct the Rav’s lectures with a high degree of confidence.’

This is the opening paragraph of Lawrence J. Kaplan’s Preface to Maimonides: Between Philosophy and Halakhah which lets the reader know that this scholarly book is an attempt to recapture the insights of “the Rav” on Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim (‘Guide of the Perplexed’).

However, as is evident from Rabbi Dov Schwartz’s Foreword, this endeavour of reconstruction is not merely driven by a desire to better understand the Rambam. As he explains, the ideas, terms and approach of Rav Soloveitchik appear to shift in the 40’s and 50’s, while, at the same time, ‘R. Soloveitchik carried on a constant dialogue with the thought of the “great eagle”’ (ie. Rambam).

Thus, Maimonides: Between Philosophy and Halakhah ‘is an important work of R. Soloveitchik that fills a void by opening window into a relatively unknown period in his philosophical development, while also enriching our knowledge of the connection between him and Maimonides’.

The book is divided into two halves.
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