Reb Yudel formerly of the JTA is now back in journalism at the Jewish Standard. Besides his articles and the sidebar to the article, Reb Yudel has a corresponding blog where he gets to put the interesting stuff that does not go in the mail article.
This week his article was on Rabbi Ethan Tucker. But in his blog he got to ask a few interesting questions.
Q: What are your favorite halachic works?
A: Yosef Karo’s Beit Yosef. It is amazing in its ability to gather everything together. And the modern day analogue, the collected writings of Ovadia Yosef, is simply amazing. I love both of them in being able to see in them the full picture of what goes on halachicly.
The Aruch HaShulchan is also a masterful attempt at synthesis. That’s another one of my favorites.
Finally, a very obscure one I was introduced to by Rabbi Ovadia’s writings, Erech Lechem by Rabbi Jacob Castro (ca. 1525–1610). He went and made little glosses on the Shulchan Aruch, often kind of correcting for what he thought was the Rama’s overstepping in certain areas.
How is Mechon Hadar different than the Pardes Institute?
Some of the things are similar. A lot of faculty who teach here studied there. Some students studied in both places. Both Pardes and Mechon Hadar create a culture of Torah being exciting and relevant and a critical part of the contemporary Jewish conversation, and capable of shedding light on important issues in the Jewish community. Both have co-ed bet midrash.
At Mechon Hadar, one of values is complete and total equal participation of all the men and women who make up our community, whereas in Pardes the core minyan is not egalitarian.
Another distinction is that Pardes sees itself as a pluralistic institution that doesn’t take stands on the interpretation of halacha and doesn’t have expectations of it students, whereas Hadar has an expectation of its fellows of shmrat mitzvot, of observance, that assumes a normative vision of Jewish life. Someone who comes as as a fellow is expected to be living out daily life of Jewish commitment. The basic elements of shmirat Shabbat, kashrut, regularly giving money to tzedakah — Our fellows spend three hours one afternoon a week visiting the sick– all the various aspects of a life lived in the presence of Torah, a Torah that commands and directs us. Part of being a fellow in the yeshiva is being in the minyan for tefilot three times a day.”
It’s an interesting set of distinctions, and it points to the failure of using a single “left-right” religious spectrum to categorize contemporary Judaisms. Is Hadar more “left” for being egalitarian? Or more “right” for demanding minyan attendance?
From the “Front Page Article”
Tucker acknowledges the good and important work that denominational organizations do for the Jewish people, but says that “denominational labels threaten to make Torah sectarian. I think the Torah paints on a broader canvas. The Torah is the property of the entire Jewish people and speaks to the entire Jewish people. That means that all Jews, irrespective of their background, have the right to demand that the Torah speak to them and address who they are and give them guidance based on the lives they actually lead. It also means that the Torah commands and has expectations for all Jewish people.”
Reb Yudel a life long Dylan enthusiast has found a new focus on singer –songwriter Dan Bern.
Dan Bern can’t escape the Bob Dylan comparisons:
Songwriter who plays guitar and harmonica, solo or with a backing band – check.
Sardonic songs about love and ambiguous relationships – check.
Lyrics ripped from the headlines – check.
Name-dropping of cultural icons – check.
Small town Midwestern Jewish upbringing – check.
Lyrics that aren’t always fit to reprint in this paper – wait, that’s the ghost of Lenny Bruce, whom Bern also channels.
And where Dylan’s Jewish identity has been obscure – he changed his name, after all, from Robert Zimmerman to the decidedly un-Jewish Dylan; publicly embraced Christianity; and now attends Chabad on Yom Kippur – Dan Bern never hid from his Jewish heritage.
In one song he has played in concert but not released (Bern’s 18 albums include only a fraction of the more than 1,000 songs the prolific songwriter has composed), he sings with a twang:
I nosh me a kishke with grits and cole slaw
I blow that ol’ shofar on Rosh Hashana
I sing from the Torah while my dog chases wood sticks
The neighbors don’t like it, but they all are nudniks I’m a Jew from Kentucky that’s what I am
The good Lord foresaw it with his infinte plan
Wherever I wander
Wherever I roam
Forever a Jew with Kentucky my home
Actually, Bern, who lives in Los Angeles, is a Jew from Iowa, where he and his sister were the only Jewish kids in their school. His parents were Jews from Europe. His mother left Germany on the kindertransport; his father fled Lithuania in 1939, one of two survivors of his family; the rest were massacred with the other Jews of Lithuania in 1941. The couple met in Israel in 1950, before moving to Iowa where Bern’s father, a classical pianist and composer, taught music.
As he sings in a song addressed to his sister: You explained me to our parents
English wasn’t their first language
They spoke German
In “Lithuania,” he summarizes the lesson of history’s shadow:
I saw my dad tell jokes, and teach me how to laugh,
Thirty years after his parents, brothers, and sister were
Murdered in the streets of Lithuania