Over these past few weeks I have been reading Steven R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as part of my coursework in Jewish educational leadership. Covey’s message and delivery are inspiring, and I highly recommend to this book to anyone and everyone. Its main premise is that leaders are most effective when they are, first and foremost, committed to and guided by principles of a universal and eternal character ethic. These principles enable them to prioritize their goals and forge authentic relationships with their colleagues in a way that cultivates their talents and spurs them toward greatness. Ostensibly intended for a business management audience, The Seven Habits has implications for every individual. Continue reading
Pardes is pleased to present the second episode of our new podcast series by Rabbi Daniel Landes, Unexpected Encounters: The Jewish Holidays and the Other. This episode is on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Episode title: Yom Ha’atzmaut and the Naqba–Is a Jewish Theology of a Palestinian State Possible?
Pardes thanks the Alexander Soros Foundation, the sponsor for the series.
On the 9th of Adar, the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution (PCJCR) sponsored its first annual Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict. According to the Shulchan Aruch, this was the day that the arguments of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai deteriorated from a respectful difference of opinion into violence. Rabbi Daniel Roth prepared sources for the day, which was observed in numerous venues around the globe.
At Pardes, alumna Malka Landau (Kollel ’00-’02) facilitated a workshop in which the entire student body practiced skills of deep listening, asking open questions, and mirroring, essential elements in constructive dialogue. After the workshop, students broke into discussion groups where they had the opportunity to Continue reading
This week, Rabbi Daniel Roth discusses Parashat Truma in “Mutual Respect or Conflict?”
Click here for more information about the first-ever Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict sponsored by the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution on February 19 (9 Adar), including the resources referenced in the podcast.
By Suzi Brozman
If you’ve spent any time in the Beit Midrash (and what Pardes student hasn’t?), you’ve at least seen the tall, lanky man seated in the corner, earbuds in his ears, study volume open. And chances are good that he’s approached your table and asked, “Is everything good? Any questions?” If, like me, you’re just beginning to test the deep waters of Torah, Tanakh, Rambam, Ramban, Rashi et al, Hayim Leiter’s presence is as good as a life preserver on a boat. He’s always there, always available to help or just to provide reassurance that you’re staying on course. And if he doesn’t have the answer to your question, he’ll be back with it before you know it. He’s Pardes’ own Shoel Umeishiv—our question and answer man.
But who is he? Super surfer dude? Mohel in the making? Yes on both counts. And what’s he doing here, away from beaches and babies? Leiter answers—“I needed a place to learn, working on Hilchot Milah to prepare for certification as a Mohel from the Rabbanut. So I trade. For a place to keep my books and study, I lend a helping hand at Pardes, doing night Seder, answering questions for students during the day. I do some substitute teaching and have a number of chevrutot, people working on parsha, Gemara, Halakha, how to use various texts, a lot of reading and grammar to help students move ahead.”
Away from Pardes, knives are Hayim’s main obsession, as he’s learning to use them skillfully in that most Jewish of professions, being a Mohel. “What made you decide to do that?” I asked him recently. He responded, “In the beginning, it was a great source of side income if you have a pulpit in the States. I started watching. I was in the front row of every bris I went to, getting used to the sight, learning, speaking to Mohelim. I had thought a baby was not Jewish until he had the bris. I learned that this is wrong but that change at the moment of joining the covenant is a very inspiring process to be part of. My family has always been very child-centered. This wasn’t the angle I thought I’d take to have children in my life, but it’s great for me. I felt with my experience, I could do it well, better than many others, with a more sensitive, better touch.”
He has the same confident attitude toward teaching. “It’s clear to me,” he said, “as I ask students if they have questions, that students are all over the spectrum of their classes. Many need to make up in specific areas. I work with them so they can function in the classes they need or want to be in, especially the educators’ classes. There is no doubt in my mind that this is what I’m best at. I work well with beginners, approaching a text as a beginner would, understanding the issues they face as they enter a text. Sitting down with students who don’t, for instance, know how to use a Shulchan Aruch…I understand where they are. I relate to them and their approach. That gives me an edge helping students.”
I can vouch for the efficacy of his approach personally. Ever since I arrived at Pardes in September, barely able to sound out a Hebrew word, much less understand text, and without even a casual acquaintance with many of our classical texts, Hayim has been there, always ready to offer suggestions, to sit down and guide me through troublesome passages, explain concepts and difficult words. He seems to watch out for those of us who are still stumbling, and especially figures out how each student can best be helped. Whether obstacles are intellectual or physical, he finds a way to ease us along the path of learning.
Okay, that’s the scholar. What about the surfer? His love of waves began at a hang gliding camp in North Carolina, right on the beach. Already a good swimmer and an accomplished board athlete—skate boarding, snow boarding and even scuba diving (no board needed for that one), “I saw these guys surfing. I thought they were floating on air! It was so cool.” Later that summer, at Cape May, his parents told him there were surfboards for rent. “I went out, got up on my first wave, and that was it. I did not set foot on the beach until they forced me!” Later, he surfed up and down the east coast and taught surfing on the west coast.
He says it’s lucky that Israel has the Mediterranean Sea. “Otherwise I don’t know if I could have made aliyah.”
He visits Tel Aviv and Caesaria beaches whenever there are waves (except on Shabbat of course), and goes as often as once or twice a week. Except when there are “dry spells”—no wind, not any water!
Originally from Philadelphia, Hayim studied at the University of Rhode Island (near the beaches and not more than 5 hours from home), learned at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshivat Chovei Torah before receiving smicha from Yeshivat HaMivtar in Efrat. He made aliyah two years ago, his wife Lea came 9 years ago. They have a 16-month-old daughter, Maytal Batya, and are expecting another child in April. If the baby is a boy, one student asked in a multi-part class on brit milah, will Leiter do the brit? His answer was a resounding Of Course!!!
Over the past weeks, I have used afternoon seder to study the laws of aveilut (mourning). As with many areas of halakha, there are numerous details and caveats. I have found myself troubled by the seemingly impersonal details of the halacha, which is brings me to Chayei Sarah, our parasha this week. Sarah dies in the first verse, and is mourned in the second verse by her husband, Avraham. We are told that he mourns (hesped) and cries for her. At the end of Chapter 23 (verse 19), Avraham buries his wife in the place that he has purchased, the cave of Machpelah.
Reading about the preparations for Sarah’s burial got me thinking about my own learning and other places in the Torah that we are told about the deaths of significant characters. Just to highlight two, Aharon and Moshe. When Aharon dies the Torah informs us of the location of his burial, a place called hor ha-har, and the length of time of the weeping, but nothing about any sort of eulogy. When Moshe dies, we are told about the length of the mourning, but not about the place of his death. The place of burial becomes very important in later halakhic literature, as an expression of kvod met. This hodgepodge of information about the deaths of these important figures, brought to my mind a question that is asked in the Rabbinic literature, for whom are mourning rites intended, the living, or the deceased? As we might expect to find, there is evidence in both directions.
The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, 6b, teaches that there is a reward for wailing for the dead, which could suggest that it benefits both the bereaved and the deceased. The Shulchan Arukh, the code of Jewish law in Yore De’a 344:1presents the eulogy as a great mitzvah. Other sources, Masechtot Ktantnot 4:10 and Yore De’a 341:1 however, teach that we should not embellish on the eulogy, or make up falsehoods, lest the living come to resent the dead. In cases where the person has few merits, we are also instructed to find praise, even about the family of the deceased.
Before his death, a dying person can instruct his survivors to dispense with the eulogy, but they may not dispense with other mourning practices, even at the insistence of the dying person (Yore De’a 344:9-10). It would seem then that the eulogy, like that which Avraham gave to Sarah is for the deceased, supported by a braita (tanaitic statement) in Sanhedrin 46b-47a, but the crying and mourning is designed for the mourners parallel to the crying that the Torah presents following the deaths of Aharon and Moshe.
One final dimension is the kavod that must be given to the dead, an idea that Avraham espouses when going through the process of purchasing the cave for Sarah’s burial. Throughout the halakhic discourse, kvod meit (honor of the dead) remains a strong theme, one that is expressed with a proper burial and the marking of the grave, thus creating a place to which visitors may return, and a location that should be respected by the community.
So what can we take away, now that we can say with relative comfort that portions of the mourning practices are for both the living and the dead? My read of the kavod and mourning that Avraham does in honor of Sarah is an indication that it is incumbent upon us to live lives that our successors will be proud to remember, with deeds that they will be proud to recall once we have departed this world. Therefore, our goal should be create a legacy that endures because of our compassion and loyalty.