It has been 7 months since I was in the Pardes Beit Midrash. 7 months since I walked the streets of Jerusalem, honoring my ancestors and being part of the Jewish story. 7 months since I actively and constantly questioned my religion, my spirituality, and my relationship with Hashem. 7 months since I watched the sun set over modern Jerusalem, personally fulfilling Biblical prophesies of our presence here forever. Walking down Rechov Rivka and in through the small and hidden front door of Pardes, I have never felt more like I am coming home.
Though the entrance code has changed and there are new faces, it feels like I never left. Exiting the familiar elevator and stepping into the narrow hall that is Pardes, I felt my heart swell and tears build up behind my eyes. I was welcomed with enthusiastic hugs and knowing glances from faculty, staff and students alike and I knew this was home.
After spending an academic year studying and living here (Sept 2011-May 2012), while it was difficult to leave, I was ready. I have since moved to NYC, Upper West Side, into a Jewish communal apartment and started graduate school at Columbia Teachers College to get my masters in Mental Health Counseling… finally pursuing my dream job of being a therapist. But gradually, as time went on, I could feel something was missing. I knew I missed Israel, Jerusalem and Pardes, but I also knew I’d be visiting in December-January with my family so I was not too worried.
Winter Break finally came and my family trip was beginning. My younger brother, Doron (18), is on his gap year program with Habonim Dror, living and volunteering in Israel. His being here gave my family and I an opportunity to travel and while we were coming to Israel eventually, we first had a week of touring Istanbul, Turkey. It was our first time there and it was very interesting, beautiful and inspiring. However, walking down the narrow streets, bargaining at outdoor markets and seeing some of the familiar walls built by Sulieman I, made me long for Israel in a different, deeper way. Continue reading →
This week really started last Shabbat afternoon as I sat in a corner of the Tayelet (promenade overlooking the Old City and East Jerusalem) reading the opening chapters of James Carroll’s Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Carroll begins the book by discussing the tension between the two Jerusalems, the earthly and the heavenly and how, when the two rub up against each other it generates “a spark that ignites fire.” He then describes the city’s importance in the 3 Abrahamic faiths, takes a tour modern Jerusalem (a chill went down my spine as I read his description of how “Jewish intellectual elite” gather on Emek Refaim as I sat in my apartment on that very street earlier that day. I mean, I know Continue reading →
A high-five across the mechitza when the tenth woman walks in.
Women’s liberation and Orthodox Judaism together, to some of my friends, sound like an oxymoron. Some argue that a legal system that doesn’t count women for thrice-daily prayer is inherently unequal. Others argue that to compromise an incredibly sustainable tradition that has weathered three thousand years for the sake of the trends of the last fifty years wounds the integrity and future of Judaism. How do we balance amidst this tension?
A high-five when the tenth woman walks in – really, whan any woman walks in – is a scene I have never seen in a traditional Orthodox minyan. I was walking by a synagogue just the other week and was asked to join a minyan for kaddish. That’s because I am a man, so I count. But the room holding its breath, waiting for one more woman – I had never seen that happen before in Orthodox space. I am proud that we have been able to create just such a space at Pardes where it does.
One of the unadvertised perks of Pardes is that after studying holy texts in their original in the Beit Midrash for a whole year, no matter how advanced your Hebrew level, you come away with a black-belt in using dictionaries. Yet I have noticed that for all the dictionaries we have for Jewish religious language, there is, incongruously, not a dictionary of “Pardesian,” that unique jargon you learn upon entering the Orchard. Until now. As a gift to any incoming students who may be reading this and as a memento to those who are leaving, I present this necessarily abridged first edition of ThePractical Dictionary of the Pardes Lexicon, heretofore to be known as “The Kwait.” You’re welcome.
Avoda Zara – Idol worship, literally “foreign service.” This is an all-encompassing term used to describe worship of foreign deities and/or the self, and commonly used around the Pardes Beit Midrash to describe any “Jewish” subject that does not involve learning Gemara and/or Halakha. There is a Makhloket about the Tanakh.
It is with excitement that we present the new and improved community davening policy. We hope that these new guidelines will create a more inclusive davening space that will support all members of the community and remain grounded within a halachic framework.
Community Davening–A Halachic Partnership Minyan Policy:
In the past, our policy specified that if we did not reach our goal of 10 men and 10 women before Yishtabach, we would transition into an egalitarian framework with a mechitza. In practice, however, we discovered that this policy can be divisive and that it has put members of our community in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between their practice and davening with the community. This is not acceptable.
Therefore, if we do not reach our goal of ten men and ten women, we will transition into a learner’s service and move into room 5 (moving the mehitza with us). The decision to transition will be made before “Yishtabach” and no later than 7:25 AM by the gabbais.
In order to make this davening a success, we need the support of the whole Pardes community. Pencil it into your calendar–our minyan meets weekly: every Monday at 7:10 AM starting up again April 16th (first day back after break). Please let us know you can make it.
We hope this will be an incredibly powerful and empowering davening experience for us all. Get excited!!!
Best regards and much love from the Gabbai team.
This week I read Torah for the first time with an egalitarian Orthodox minyan at Pardes. While enjoying a festive breakfast later that morning, my friends turned to me and asked, “So, how did it feel? What was that like? What’s next?” Truth be told, there’s something almost anti-climatic about the experience because it felt natural reading Torah in a community that is home. But I think what I found most profound in those moments of reading Parshat Naso this past Monday was my proximity to the Torah scroll itself.
That may sound funny considering the fact that I spend most of my days studying Torah. But there is something incredibly powerful about reading and following along in the sacred scroll itself. As I read, I felt like I was able to tap into the spiritual energy of the words themselves. Like I was making a personal connection to each letter, each sound.
As I sit here studying the parsha I am revisited by this deep connection to its first words. The parsha opens with a census as follows:
23 from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old you shall number them: all who are subject to service in the performance for the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:21-23)
The translation of the word נָשֹׂא (which is the name of our parsha) seems to allude to some form of counting. However, this same verb is used later in the parsha, in the famous priestly blessings, which many congregations still invoke today.
In this context, the word יִשָּׂא which stems from the same Hebrew root as נָשֹׂא is translated as “lift up”. Clearly, elevating something and counting are entirely different actions. They are not synonymous. So why are these linguistically-related words translated so differently? In their respective contexts, these translations seem appropriate. But side by side, they are unrelated.
I’d like to suggest that hidden behind these inconsistent translations is a window into the genius of the Hebrew language. When a person is counted in a group, it signifies the importance of his/her role in the community. And when an individual lifts her/his head, s/he is looking to acknowledge another and to be acknowledged. In this sense, a person who joins the mission of the collective is essentially asking for recognition and simultaneously recognizing the community around her/him.
When the Torah describes the counting of the sons of Gershon in the beginning of the parsha, the aim is to highlight and designate their roles in their public sphere of religious worship. Later, when the Torah describes the blessing of the kohanim, the priests bless the people that God will lift up God’s face (as it were) and acknowledge God’s congregants. In doing so, God seeks recognition from the Jewish People in return.
Reading from the Torah this week, I was privileged to recognize the blessings that my community at Pardes has given me, and in particular the tremendous opportunities for spiritual growth and ritual involvement. Reading Parshat Nasso, I affirm that not only am I fortunate to receive from my community, but I am also able to contribute. This past Monday morning I acknowledged the Pardes community and felt a glimmer of God’s “countenance” bestowed on me.
I am truly grateful for this experience of reading Torah at Pardes and bless us all that we have the good fortune to live in communities that support and bolster our spiritual growth. May God acknowledge us and grant us a personal fulfillment and solidarity with our communities’ spiritual goals.