Adventures of a Chief Rabbi, May 10, 2013

Friday May 10, 2013

Rules of the Game

Rabbis are privy to a whole gamut of personal issues, domestic anguish, political intrigue and other sins and scandals that are just below the sensors of the general public. These are often dramatic stories, historical novellas and enough juicy material to make a tabloid blush.

Being the formal Rabbi of a country may brings these themes to a whole new level.

Inquiring minds however, will be disappointed. I will not be sharing much of the filth, dirt, backstabbing, idiocy, lunacy, pig-headedness and outright insanity that are the purview of successful newscasters. I will not divulge any story where there is the slightest possibility of either the innocent or the guilty being identified, or where a member of the community will find offense. It gives me very limited use of my material…

However, I am a writer. The need to write is in my blood. I look at the world with the eyes of a writer, noting setting, context, texture, story, details to populate the page. And there are wonderful stories here.

I want to write a story of the people of the Rambla, the miles-long boardwalk that to me represents the ease and tranquility of the city. Couples jogging, lovers walking, families strolling, fisherman casting their lines to the sea with faith and hope that their measly bait will entrap a scrumptious dinner. I noticed a number of people with their backs resting against the red-stone pillars that are spaced every few meters along the edge of the seawall. They were writing, drawing, sketching, listening to music. And some just sat there looking out to the sea. I don’t know what they sought there, or what they had lost. Perhaps just the soothing rhythm of the waves lapping the edge of the city gave them solace after a long day.

There must be an architectural school nearby, for there were a few people looking exactingly at seafront buildings over the top of their pencils.

But back to the Rabbi business. I had my first real halachic (Jewish law) question this week for which I did not have a ready answer. The mashgiach (Kosher overseer) of one of the Jewish schools which is under our supervision was asked if oil that was used to cook fish can thereafter be used to cook meat. We’re talking about industrial-sized cooking and a lot of oil. He had instructed the school not to, but was not sure. I suspected that he was right, but did not recall the source myself. Thanks to the support and responsiveness of other Rabbis that have agreed to be “on call” for me, I received a rapid answer. It turns out we were right. One cannot use oil that was used to cook fish for meat afterwards. For those halachically oriented some sources include Yoreh Deah 116:2, based on the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesachim 77B. Also, שות דברי שלום ב, קיב; קנין תורה ה, צא. (Special thanks to Rabbi Don Channen of Yeshivat Pirchei Shoshanim and Rabbi Michael Rubinstein, Rabbi of Yavne, Montevideo).

Part of my job, is the religious leadership of what some have termed a “non-observant Orthodox Jewish community”. For those that have grown up in a strictly Orthodox environment and even for those who choose to move from a secular life to one that is more in tune with an Orthodox lifestyle, the concept of a non-observant Orthodox community may seem perplexing. And indeed, there is a built-in dichotomy that can be maddeningly incomprehensible, illogical and even contradictory. However, it is the reality and it works to a certain extent. I believe that it requires a mental and existential balance that will only function via practice. It is probably a good thing that I have been a part of Yeshivat Har Etzion and been an avid consumer of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writings where dichotomy, apparent contradiction, differing philosophies and viewpoints can find peaceful coexistence. Hopefully, I’ll write much more on this in a politically sensitive way in the future.

This just in. Have been invited to Yitzhak Perlman concert this Sunday night. Rank Hath Its Privileges!

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