These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on January 5, 2011 by Shibley

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Last week I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum with fellow Pardes students. I had never been to Yad Vashem at night before, but I was surprised to find that the lack of natural light emphasized the murder of the Shoah. As I worked my way through the permanent exhibit, I encountered two instances where my current learning intersected with stories of the Holocaust.

The first, a man was recounting a story of another gentlemen who went to a rabbi with a question about his son. The questioner wanted to know if it was possible to save his son from an impossible situation that would surely result in the son’s death, knowing that saving one child would inevitably cause the death of another. The rabbi was unable to give psak (a Halakhic ruling), because in Jewish law capital cases require a court of 23. At Pardes we are leaning sections of Tractate Sanhedrin which deals with the court system and the different requirements for the courts that hear capital cases.

The second, inside one of the many display cases was a get (Jewish bill of divorce). Upon closer examination, I realized that it was a get al t’nai (conditional get). Conditional gets are used to protect the woman in event of the disappearance of a husband. In this case, the gets was being used so that the woman could remarry if the husband could not be located. As part of my night seder learning this year, in Tractate Kiddushin, the gemara introduces texts that address get al t’nai.

These two intersections brought me to the brink of tears. More interestingly, however, is the fact that the realization that I, holocaust victims, and holocaust survivors were learning and living by the same texts. If that’s not an intersection with both the horrors of the Shoah and the beauty of the tradition, I’m not sure what is.