Monday, July 31, 2006

Steadfastness in the Face of Crisis: A Shabbat Morning Gathering

Steadfastness in the Face of Crisis: A Shabbat Morning Gathering

Shabbat Morning 10am to 12 noon

Panim Hadashot Beit Midrash, 3827 NE 90th St. Seattle, WA 98115

Join Rabbi Dov Gartenberg for a special Shabbat morning gathering of study and discussion about the current world crisis generated by the war in the Middle East and the recent shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle. Rabbi Gartenberg just returned from a month of intensive study in Israel at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Rabbi Gartenberg will share some of the learning from his visit and will share his perceptions of what is happening in Israel. We will devote a period of time for prayer and reflection while addressing the emotional-spiritual challenges of facing a world in chaos and uncertainty. There will be light refreshment served at the conclusion of the gathering at noon.

Please be so kind to rsvp by writing to or call 877 Midrash.

Forum: What are the Long Range Implications of the crisis in Israel-Lebanon?

Forum: What are the Long Range Implications of the crisis in Israel-Lebanon? Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and Michael Newman

Sunday Morning, Sunday, August 6, 2006 10-11:30am

Panim Hadashot Beit Midrash3827 NE 90th St. Seattle, WA 98115

The events in Israel and Lebanon threaten world stability and seem to portend a new turn in the 60 year old Israeli-Arab conflict. Come join a thoughtful discussion on a complex and important topic.

Michael Newman is a close reader of the situation of the Middle East. He has taught adults, college, and high school students about the history of Israel and the Middle East Conflict. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg has just returned from a month in Israel where he was a fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He will bring perspectives on the recent crisis and a longer view from his broad knowledge of Jewish history.

Please rsvp with Rabbi Gartenberg at or call 1877 Midrash.

Reflections on a Thirty Two Year Old Relationship

Reflections on a Thirty Two Year Old Relationship

Over thirty-two years I have come to Israel, to study, to live, to teach, and to celebrate. Each time I have come, Israel presents itself anew. Each time I came, my love and commitment to Israel deepened. Over this time Israelbecame familiar to me, it was almost like home. I would spend more time with my friends and family than touring. I saw them change as well over this time.

In 1974, I came to Israel as a twenty year old to study at the Hebrew University for my junior year. I came in the summer, following the Yom Kippur War. My first experience of Israel was as a people suffering the agonizing pain from nearly losing a war. Over three thousand soldiers died despite a late and impressive victory. Many students who served in the reserves had died or had been wounded. Their absence was palpable at the university. The survivors were somber and subdued.

I came back in the summers of 1977 to 1980 as head counselor for a high school program from Los Angeles. These were times of change and hope in Israel. The opposition Likud came to power after 29 years in the opposition. Soon afterwards, Anwar Sadat decided to come to Jerusalem.

The country entered a euphoric phase with the hope of peace with Egypt. I recall those hopeful times in Israel, the beginning of a peace movement. At the same time with the support of the Likud government settlements began to grow in Judah, Shomrom, and Gaza (as the West Bank was called by the government). The settlers were young and idealisticand captured the imagination of Israelis. A few people began to warn about the impact of the settler policy, but few heeded it. There were dramatic terrorist attacks from the PLO, but they were sporadic and did not paralyze the country.

I came to live for a year of rabbinical school during the year of 1979-1980. I recall traveling to Egyptduring Passover. Travel for Israeli and American tourists had opened up that year. My trip to Luxor and Cairo was remarkable. I experienced the warm hospitality of Egyptians and felt a sense of greater optimism from most of the people I met. Also on that trip I met the first Islamic fundamentalists, students at an Islamic University in Cairo.

They came to hear a talk by Richard Murphy, a diplomat from the state department. One student from Lebanon told me bluntly that Islamic law could not tolerate a non-Islamic entity in a land formerly under Islamic rule. He promised me that the Jews would live more happily under a Muslim state in Palestinethan under a corrupt, Westernized rule of the Zionists. I thought he was a kook. This was a couple years after the Iranian revolution and I did not yet appreciate the growing Islamic fundamentalism emerging in the Arab countries.

I came back for extended visits in 1984 and 1988. These years I remember as times of growth in Israel. The Russian and the Ethiopian aliyah were beginning to take place. There were wars too, Israel was in Lebanon where it threw out the PLO, but soon got mired in a war of attrition which lasted 18 years. In 1988, I came during the first Intifada. On all my previous visits it was easy to go into the West Bank, to visit Hevron, to stop in the Arab markets or towns. But I did not go during that summer. From that point on the West Bank became foreign to me, partly out of choice, partly out of security. The settler movement was politically powerful and insisted on large resources to fuel its growth. I despised Ariel Sharon who gave the settlers power and influence. Israel was a politically divided country and I identified with the burgeoning peace movement.

During late 80s and early 90s, I came over to Israel on periodic summers, beginning my association with the Hartman Institute. I would come over for two weeks of intensive study and was brought up to date on Israeli culture and politics. I missed the gulf war when Israelis were confined to their sealed rooms to protect themselves againstthe threats of Sadam Hussein. The beginnings of a peace process were stirring, but it was slow. More and more Russians were coming and the country was changing.

My family and I came over to Israel during the year 1994-5 as the Oslopeace process began to be implemented. I recall the year as being a hopeful time, yet over the time of our stay, we felt growing suspicion and opposition to the process. Three were dramatic suicide bus bombings by Hamas, whichopposed the process. The settler movement began to organize against the accords and by the time we left Rabin and his government were vilified in posters and in public places. Oslowas extremely divisive in Israel and there was a great deal of intense political debate and struggle. A few months after we left Rabin was assassinated as this debate reached a boil.

I continued to visit Israel during summer visits to the Hartman Institute in the late 90s. These were seesaw years as a labor government of Barak replaced a right wing administration of Netanyahu. The pace of political change seemed to get faster. Israel was prospering. Israelis would talk about being independent from American Jews. The settlements continued to grow and to exert their political clout. Barak's victory sped up political change. I remember this brief period as a peaceful one. Israelis wanted out of Lebanonand Barak got them out after 18 years in a unilateral withdrawal. The peace process was heating up and moving toward a final agreement. I remember this time as one of growing hope.

When I returned for several extended visits staring in the summer of 2003 I found a very different country. For three years the 2nd Intifada had ravaged the Palestinian and Jewish population. I came toward the end of the crisis when Israel had launched operation Defensive Shield and had severely weakened the Palestinian terrorist organizations. The West Bankfence was being erected and it had reduced the incidents of suicide bombers. But with the death toll diminishing the hope index was at an all time low. My Israeli friends despaired of a peace partner. During this time a new idea emerged, Unilateralism. In the name of preserving a Jewish demographic majority, Israel was prepared to withdraw from Gaza and leave it to the Palestinians. In the summer of 2005 the drama of the disengagement played out in Israel. The result was a difficult but peaceful pullout of Gaza.

I have just returned from my most recent summer visit to Israel. This summer brought sudden and dangerous war to Israel, prompted by a vicious Hezbollah attack that caused Israel to open hostilities against Hezbollah in Lebanon. This was the first time in my 32 years that I was in Israel during a major war.

Israelis are sadly accustomed to war. This war has a different feel. It comes long after the peace process had collapsed and found most Israelis in a deeply pessimistic mood regarding the prospects of peace. Israeli young people do not speak of peace in their lifetimes. They think more about their careers, their personal hopes. They accept their national obligations to serve and understand the need to defend the country, but they have suppressed their hopes. There is a search for comfort in religion and spirituality. There is a renewed interest in Judaism among some secular youth and a widespread search for meaning among them in Eastern forms of religion.

The second thing I observed is that Israelis believe that no matter how many concessions they make, regardless if the government withdraws from occupied territory, they will be subject to attack. This is the lesson of Lebanon and Gaza. This is all the more poignant because most Israelis have abandoned their romance with the settlers and the settlements. Israelis feel that they are now is a prolonged fight for their existence; they are defending their homes.

One of the most noteworthy comments during my month in Israelwas made by Ami Ayalon, the former Shin-Beit director and member of parliament. He felt that until the Palestinians could be given hope of an improvement of their condition that Israelwould face a hostile Palestinian people. Today there is an overbearing feeling of mutual hopelessness. Maybe another round of war will create the conditions for hope, but it is a historical truth that hopelessness is an appetizer for warthan for peace. I fear that the strivings for peace will remain underground until enough people on both sides say enough. We are not there yet by any means.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the Shooting at the Jewish Federation

Dear Friends,
'Sinah Mkalkelet hashurah-Hate destroys the order of life' (from the Talmud). An act of hate descended on our community and left good and innocent people dead and wounded. We mourn the death of Pam Waechter. Pam and I shared a common passion for Jewish outreach and worked on several projects together. She also was a participant this past year in the joint Panim Hadashot-Federation long distance seminar with the Hartman Institute. We have lost a devoted servant of the Jewish community.

We pray for the quick recovery of those injured. We express our solidarity with the staff and volunteers of the Jewish Federation during this time of trial and anguish. We join the voices with the wider Seattle community, which condemn this hate crime and the virulent anti-semitism that feeds it. This is a time for all religious and ethnic communities to come to together to renew an active commitment to tolerance and civil rights. This is a critical time for inter-religious and cross-cultural dialogue to build commitment to a civil and peace loving community. I particularly support efforts for the Jewish and Muslim communities to build stronger relations and to work together to fight hatred.

It is also important to understand the broader significance of this tragedy. One of the by-products of the conflict and the current crisis in the Middle East is a hatred for Israel that spills over into a hatred for Jews. We must not be afraid to confront this hatred and to challenge those who minimize it or deny its significance. This is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away.

Panim Hadashot is an educational and outreach organization, which is devoted to sharing Judaisms meaning and relevance in the modern world. We are committed to illuminating Judaisms great teachings, whichinspire us to act justly, to enhance Jewish life, and to contribute the betterment of the world. In the coming weeks we will offer opportunities for people in the community to come together for study and dialogue.

Lech Lshalom-Go to Peace,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism

Monday, July 24, 2006

Report from Israel, 7/24/06

Just a few notes on a busy day full of learning. The best article of the day is here. Dershowitz writes lucidly about the issue of civilian casualties. This is an article to carry in your wallet when you get into discussions about the war. This is the first time in a very long time in which Israel is getting support from many quarters. It seems that much of the world is waking up to the real dangers of Islamic fundamentalist terror. However many well meaning people do not see the consequences of accomodating a terrorist organization. The Prime Minister of Israel seemed to capture the moment in his speech: "Ad Kan" (meaning in Hebrew-no more.)

The learning today at the Hartman Institute was extraordinary. Today Moshe Halbertal took us through a section of the Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 30b and 31a. We immersed ourselves in the discussion of the proper mood one requires to pray the Tefilah. This is a classic Talmudic debate on the nature of prayer. This section of the Talmud is a wonderful example of the capacity for the rabbis to accept different points of view and to challenge attempts to establish a single norm. In the case of prayer, the rabbis essentially recognize what moderns would call a pluralism of spiritualities. While all agree that a relationship with God is a critical dimension of life, the Talmud entertains several different stances toward God from submission to defiance.

The hero of this section of the Talmud is Hannah (1Samuel, chapters 1ff) who become the paradigm of a person who prays to God out of defiance. For those who are looking for one of the origins of the Jewish trait of Hutzpa, this is a passage you should definitely look at. I plan to include this text during our study sessions on the High Holidays. I consider it one of the classics of all of Jewish literature.

Beside this marvelous sessions we had excellent sessions on the Binding of Isaac (Gen 22) in comparison with 2 Samuel 24. The session could have been titled "Sacrificing before God or Sacrificing before the People. A third session in the evening was a thought provoking session on how popularization of Jewish mysticism in contemporary culture. This session was given by Yoni Garb who is one of the outstanding scholars of Kabbalah.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Report from Israel 7-23-06

Report from Israel th day of the war. I continue to stay and study in Jerusalem. Jerusalemis calm and life continues in its routine. However, we all know what is going on. The war continues to rage in the north. Hezbollah targets continue to be hit by the Israeli air force. There is a huge wave of refugees in the Lebanon along with many civilian casualties there since Hezbollah conducts its operations amidst a civilian population. The northern part of Israel continues to be hit by missiles and nearly two million people find themselves largely confined to shelters. Thousands of Northerners are in Jerusalem, staying with family, friends, welcoming strangers, and hotels. There are around a hundred in my hotel. A huge sign hangs in the on the Valley of the Healers Street (Emek Refaim), Inhabitants of the North, We are with you!

It is now the 12

It appears that this war will be long and will bring with it a high price in both human and material costs. Ultimately, there will have to be a political settlement, but that appears beyond the horizon for the time being. Israel continues to benefit from strong support from the United Statesand surprising tacit support from many other countries including several Arab states, which fear the power of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.

Israelis fighting a just war. No country could tolerate a dangerous terrorist force along its border, armed with thousands of missiles and ready to provoke and terrorize at will. Fighting such a force is very difficult and we are now beginning to see the costs that it involves. The determination of Israelis is impressive as they fight this war. More than ever Israel needs moral and material support. I call on you not to forget Israel during this new and dangerous trial.

Please give generously to organizations in the Jewish community that are raising funds to support Israelis who are suffering from the impact of this war. Educate yourself and others about Israels history to understand better what is happening in these times. Question the accuracy and depth of your media sources and seek out the best sources of information. Be in contact with Israeli family and friends and extend to them moral support. Join in uniting our community behind Israel during its time of need.

Amos Oz spoke in Seattle several years ago about the consequences of Israeldeciding to move back to its older boundaries in an effort to make peace. He argued that once Israel was fighting for its homes instead of occupied territories, the country would be united and determined in its defense. Ozs observation has come true and so Israel is in a war in defense of their homes.

While there is clarity in purpose there is still the enormous frustration and sadness about having to forced to fight again. Israelis are a very stubborn people, realistic about its enemies, and absent of apocalyptic obsessions. There are messianistsand apocalysts on the periphery, but their cultural and religious influence is minor. Last year it appears Israelgave up on its ideal of the settlers. Now Israel will have to give up on its hope of unilateralism. It is unclear what lies ahead, but it is certain that Israel will be in a defensive stance for years to come.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Weekly Message 7-20-06 Cacophany

Dear Friends,

I am entering my last week of my stay in Israel. The purpose of my visit has been to study at the Hartman Institute. We have kept to our rigorous schedule of studies, but even our teachers admit to severe distractability. When we are free we are watching the TV or looking for news on the internet. A war is like a black whole. It sucks everything up, your attention, your anxiety, your thoughts, your peace of mind. Jerusalem is calm, so I am not feeling the brunt of it like those in the North. We carry on and try to stay focused on our routine and our particular world of interest.

One of the themes for our month of study is Israeli spirituality. The theme was chosen to expose diaspora rabbis to spiritual trends arising amongst secular and moderately traditional Israelis ( who form the great majority of the Israeli population). We have heard from groups that are doing fascinating work. One group called Beit Knesset Israeli has created a community in Tel Aviv for prayer which combines traditional liturgy, modern Israeli poetry, and music. It is aimed at secular Israelis who seek a spiritual community but cannot find a home in a synagogue. Another group shared with us their efforts to revive classical Hebrew liturgical poetry, piyyut. There is a small but growing trend of Israelis who gather to sing and chant this body of poetry stretching 2000 years.

It is interesting to see the connection between Israeli and American attempts to create new spiritual and religious models. Panim Hadashot is one example. It is exciting to see the blooming of this creativity and searching in Israel and to form connections with them.
Please feel free to write me at

I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and pray for peace.
Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg 7/20/06

Monday, July 17, 2006

No Room for Catastrophizing: Report from Israel: July 17

The last 5 days have been so absorbing. Calm continues in Jerusalem, but Northern Israel and its two million inhabitants are mostly in shelters. Missles have reached the lower Galilee. But it is always worth repeating that Israelis have not paniced and that the country which overwhelmingly supports the military response of the IDF, understands that this will be a painful period.

Sacrifice has real meaning in Israel and loss here is framed in that language whether you are a civilian or a soldier. Donniel Hartman made a wonderful point about the IDF. Israelis worry about the safety of their army as much as they expect the army to protect them. The pictures of fallen soldiers are always on the front pages of the newspapers. In a citizen army everyone has someone in harms way. This puts great pressure on the leaders, whose own children serve. I remember the Michael Moore interviews of congressman in Fahrenheit 9/11 when he askes them if their children serve in Iraq. In American many parts of the population do not know people in the army. That is not so here. That means more worry, but more civic concern and greater engagement in policy debates and elections.

I am more and more impressed by the ability of Israelis not to 'catasrophize' their crises. Even now Israelis understand the need to be pragmatic and hold onto their awareness that their country is capable of bearing the current challenge. There is much courage and fortitude here. I would not call this country stoic, because people mourn here with great emotion. They play with a certain abandon. But this is a marvelously adaptive country with great inner resources.
Israelis are relieved that their leadership has embarked on its response to the attacks of Hezbollah. They will adapt to what they have to due and will laugh at the threats of Nasrallah even as they try to anticipate what he plans to do next. Israel's great accomplishment was to turn the Jews into a pragmatic and self-confidant people. This quality comes through during times of trial. It is crappy here right now, but I would not want to be around anyone else but my Israeli friends.

Friends in the States ask me what to do. I recommend that you support Israel financially to help it recover from the physical and material blows. Don't rush to come, but come in the future to study or to spend time here. Don't make Israel a place that you consider only when it is in crisis, but come here to appreciate the spirit and the accomplishments of this nation and its people. The accomplishments of Israel and its culture are considerable and worthy of attention at good times and bad. It is also fine to criticize Israel because that is a way to engage it. Israelis themselves do not treat their country like a sacred cow and are very much in touch with its flaws.

I have been critical of Israel in the past and will continue to express concern about its failings, but my concern about Israel comes from a place of love and engagement and a long effort to understand the history that lead to its creation. The drama of Israel continues to astonish and amaze. Don't despair and don't panic. Ain Bereira-No choice.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, July 16, 2006

From Jerusalem 7-16-06

Dear Friends,

Several have written me out of concern for the situation. I am glad to be here. The country is unified. Everyone is worried, but there is no panic. I know that trips are being organized for American Jews to come over to express solidarity. Come. It is important to be here.
I recommend reading David Brooks piece in the New York Times. Link It is the best piece I have read which gives perspective on the historic moment.

Here is a quote from the piece:
"The core issue is that just as Israel has been trying to pull back to more sensible borders, its enemies have gone completely berserk. Through some combination of fecklessness and passivity, the Arab world has ceded control of this vital flashpoint to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad. It has ceded its own destiny to people who do not believe in freedom, democracy, tolerance or any of the values civilized people hold dear.

And what’s the world’s response? Israel is overreacting."

During our studies today we reviewed a famous text by Maimonides (12th century) on his notion of the days of the Messiah. His vision of that time was striking: "The Sages and the Prophets did not want an end time in which Israel would rule over the world, or that it would have dominion over the ages, or that it would rule over other nations, or would enjoy a world of material enjoyment. Rather Israel would be free to engage in Torah and wisdom. "

In this medieval language, Maimonides expressed a profound ideal which in some ways remains central to a larger Jewish vision. There is no desire by to control others, to rule over others, to oppress others. In the case of Israel, a state formed by the Jewish people, the aim is to live in peace and security with its neighbors and to foster a society which can pursue peacefully the ideals of Judaism and the Jewish culture. The great majority of Israelis have no desire to rule over Palestinians and have no interests to conquer Lebanon.

The aggression Israel faces now seeks to undermine and destroy Israel entirely. Israel faces forces that deny the validity of a Jewish state entirely and thrives on a religious ideology and messianic vision that is triumphalist, intolerant, and will use any means to achieve its aims. These forces are distorting modern Islam and bear violent intentions toward the West.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Winds of War, Jerusalem 7-14-06

I am out of harms way in Jerusalem. Life is completely normal here. The streets were full of Shabbat shoppers and the cafes were crowded with tourists and locals. Of course, everyone is talking about the 'matzav'. Most Israelis I talked to said, "It is about time." Israel has restrained itself vis a vis Hezbollouh for several years, despite various provocations. In general you do not find anyone in an apologetic mood, even with the deaths of civilians on the other side. Most of the Israelis feel they have no choice because Hamas and Hezbolouh operate amongst civilians, making them hostages. Hezbolouh has made all of Lebanon hostage to its actions.

I do not fear for my personal safety, but I am glued to the internet and the tv like everyone else. My perception which is backed up by several articles I have read is that moderation in the Arab-Islamic world is in retreat and that this past week is a vivid example of how extremist groups can instigate a conflagration. The statements coming out of Iran are odious and everyone in the world should be very concerned about the prospect of that nation getting a nuke. It appears very likely that Iran is behind the actions of Hezbolouh and the Hamas militants.

The challenge for Israel is not to go crazy and to act effectively and pragmatically. That is the debate here. How do you deal with weak states which allow for rampant terror? How do you deal with governments that deny your right to exist. This was a problem for Israel from its inception and it is used to dealing with it. But now the enemies have missles that can hit Haifa and other population centers. The enemies use terrorism and target civilians. They are engaged in a war of terror and attrition.

We are entering a new period which will require Israel to be aggresive before its uncompromising enemies. This is not going to be pleasant. This is not a time for weakness. It is also not a time to bow to our own extremists who would have us sink to the level of the haters of Israel . This will require tremendous and historic leadership. I hope we have it.

My concern is that Americans will give up on the Middle East and on Israel and will let the Islamicists be victorious. I think this would be terrible for Israel, but for the West. Bush has shot himself in the foot with Iraq and American weakness is palpable in the region. That is another reason you see Hezbolouh doing what it is doing. Iran through its proxies is poking America in the eye.

I think American Jews need to come here to witness the courage and the determination of Israelis. It is impressive on many levels. I am reminded of it while we are here in the middle of a major crisis. Israelis refuse to be cowed. I heard a story about a young woman who was at a coffee shop during the worst of the intifada. A suicide bomber had entered the place and was wrested down by the guards and the waiters before he had a chance to explode his package. Everyone had evacuated the restaurant and it was closed for several hours. The young woman had just received her order when the incident took place. So she left, but made sure to come back when the restaurant reopened and reordered her plate.

I saw the same thing. Last night on TV we saw a building ablaze in Naharia from a direct hit by a missle from Lebanon. This morning the we saw the charred building and on the first floor was the fruit and vegetable stand open for business. It was crowded with Shabbat shoppers. The Israelis are brave and not intimidated. It is worth coming over here to see that.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
July 14, 2006 18 Tammuz

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Feeling the Dilemmas

The breaking news of kidnappings and Katushkas in the North has shaken a lot of people. A couple of the major newspapers (Maariv and Yediot Ahronot) had huge headlines with the word Milhamah-war. It is not war, but clearly a worsening of the security situation and Israel's leaders face very difficult dilemmas in their choice of response. I am watching TV like everyone else, so I do not have a close perspective on what is happening. I feel no direct threat to my security and it has been a very pleasant summer from the perspective of a visitor. But it is clear that Israel is entering a new period in which it faces difficult challenges of dealing with terrorist organizations who are taking advantage of weak or dysfunctional states with the aid of radical states such as Syria and Iran.

Israelis feel frustrated, but the country appears unified as it faces these new threats. The government is new and untested and people are waiting to see how it will respond. I would not be surprised to see a unity government. Meanwhile people live their lives for the most part and worry. They also know that the terrorist threats will not disappear and that the problems we see now will be with Israel for a long time. Unfortunately there does not appear to be a quick solution to the incidents we have seen in the last few weeks.

I am inserting a link to a piece by Ari Shavit which is the best thing I have read about the current situation. Link I think he is right that we are entering a new phase and the end of unilateralism.

Humor in Israel

Amidst all the tension I went to hear a comic yesterday. His monologue describes his three conversions, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, followed by a aliyah to Israel. It is a hysterical act and does exemplify the many bizarre stories you run into here in the German Colony and Baka where many American Jews have settled. The comic is Yisrael Campbell.
He had a couple of good lines I will repeat: "It does not matter which denomination you belong to as long as you are ashamed of it." "I did not want to go to hell, so I changed my religion." His stories were hysterical.

He had a good quote from Heschel

When a Jew is in pain, he cries.
When he is in more pain, he is silent.
When he has even more pain, he sings.

In the morning we had a magisterial session on the quality of humility by the scholar, Moshe Halbertal. He compared Aristotles depiction of honor and humility with Maimonides (12th century, Egypt) and the writings of Moshe Hayim Luzzato (17th century, Italy). The lesson was a window into the great cultural divides within Judaism and also between Judaism and the Hellenistic tradition. The session also reminded me of the choices we have as parents and educators in how we convey the value of modesty and honor and how difficult it is in our times to model a spiritual cultivation of humility. Great stuff!!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

"Jewish Tradition Does Not Learn From the Bible"

"Jewish tradition does not learn from the Bible. It teaches the Bible what it is saying." This was the most memorable line today in a memorable lesson on the Abraham narratives. The joy of learning at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem is the capacity of teacher after teacher to bring Jewish texts and ideas to life. In particular the faculty at Hartman demonstrates the remarkable genius of the texts of the rabbis and their capacity to reinterpret the biblical text in the most imaginative and courageous ways. It is a truism that Judaism does not find comfort in a literal reading of scripture. But Hartman teaches its students to fully engage the breadth of non literal readings and to see within them the profound debates that define their world and our own religious divides.

The question today was how the rabbinic texts shape and define the religious personality of Avraham? The Midrashic sources today reveal conflicting views of the core religious experience that is the foundation of Judaism. But one line of Midrashim depicts the religiosity of Avraham as a person of tremendous moral hutzpah, who takes initiative to challenge God and people in the world. This line of interpretation even suggests that Avraham resists God in the binding of Isaac through petitionary prayer. This vision of a fully responsible, non-submissive Avraham is not the simple reading of the Bible, but one religious perspective which emerges from a rabbinic reading of the Bible which is not chained to a rigid view of the text.

One of the reasons I chose of life of study (this is not only for rabbis but any Jew) is the distinct joy of seeing a profound insight emerge from conversations so long ago. I gain pleasure from learning that previous generations had much to teach us. When Jewish texts are taught with inspiration and insight we are able to see the profound humane and spiritual possibities that can make us better human beings. There is the joy of recognition that we are not the first to see the world in a keener way. There is also the joy of learning the understanding about human limits and foibles, a timeless sense of humor and a shocking honesty about human faillings and potential. There is always surprise, subtilty, and humor when encountering these texts and a sense of gratitude to be part of a culture that has so preserved and kept alive its past.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

July 5, 2006 from Jerusalem

Introduction to the Enewsletter, July 5, 2006

(If you wish to receive the Panim Hadashot, weekly enewsletter, please go to and sign up on the email)

I will be spending 3 weeks in July at the Shalom Hartman Institute where I am a fellow in the Rabbinic Leadership Program (formerly known as the Center for Rabbinic Enrichment). I am entering the third year of this three year fellowship of advanced Jewish studies at the Institute which is a renowned center for Jewish learning and thought. This summer I will study with my cohort of thirty rabbis the theme of "Standing before God". We explore the teachings of tradition on how we relate to and communicate with God. We study the classic texts of Jewish tradition on prayer, faith, and commandment and relate them to Judaism in our times. What are the features of a Jewish spiritual life? How do we know when we stand before God, or when we stand at a distance? What are the compromises and limits of a spiritual life?

A day at Hartman consists of 6 to 8 hours of learning together and with outstanding teachers and colleagues. I draw from this remarkable learning to teach in Seattle and to expose my students to the great sacred and literary texts of Judaism. Please check out my blog for snippets of this this learning and insight from Jerusalem.

I am also thrilled that several people who participated in the Hartman long distance seminar in Seattle have come to Jerusalem to study in the lay leadership program. I have been joining them for their sessions and am thrilled that they have discovered the remarkable learning experience that the institute offers.

Panim Hadashot continues to gain attention in the Jewish world outside Seattle. I recommend that you read the most current issue of Sh'ma. This is a journal which is read by Jewish leaders and educators as well as many serious Jews about issues facing the Jewish people. The current issue is devoted to innovation in Jewish life. Follow this link. I have an article in the issue. I recommend that you read Shawn Landres' piece which looks at the landscape of Jewish innovation. Panim Hadashot is one of the leaders nationally.

Meanwhile, Panim Hadashot is busy planning for the upcoming 2006-7 year. Please continue to follow our newsletters as we announce the details of the High Holidays. I am pleased to announce that our unique High Holiday program has been underwritten in memory of Edwin L. Bierman. Marilyn Bierman continues to support Jewish learning and innovation in his memory. Her gift enables Panim Hadashot to offer an innovative approach to the High Holidays that provides a unique opportunity for people to seriously explore the meaning of Judaism and to experience it deeply in all its beauty, joy, and wisdom.

I hope to be writing daily in the rabbiblog at about my experiences here. Please visit there and I welcome your comments.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
July 5, 2006; 9 Tammuz 5756

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Report from Israel

Dear Friends,

I arrived at Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon and took a shuttle to Jerusalem. I love the new airport, especially the crisscrossing ramp which divides the those arriving and departing. Who will arrive and who will depart? Is this a traveler's unetaneh tokef-that prayer of contrasting fates we chant during the Day of Awe.

Israel is always stories, encounters with people coming and going. I am on a shuttle going to Jerusalem reading a book called the End of Faith by Sam Harris. I have been slowly absorbing this devastating critique of religion and faith for a couple of months and I happened to be finishing it on my way to Jerusalem. The young woman sitting next to me in the shuttle asked me a question about Jerusalem which began a conversation about religion. She told me that she was coming for two months to study with Aish Hatorah, an orthodox Jewish outreach group which is based in Jerusalem. I asked her what brought her to Aish. She said she attended a seminar in her city about the nature of the soul which touched her deeply. She grew up a secular Jew and had never heard God or the soul mentioned growing up. Now she was on her way to discover Judaism, God, and faith, in Jerusalem. She did not ask me about the book I was reading. I did not have the inclination to discuss my book with her. She was reading the 'beginning of faith' and did not want to hear the end of it.

People are arrivng and departing in Israel. Going up to God, going away from God. Going up to Jerusalem, going down from Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem gay pride parade is coming on August 10th. The orthodox rabbinate, the Greek orthodox, and the Muslim sheiks are banding together to block the parade and the rhetoric in the media is too odious to repeat. In this climate my brother and his life partner came to visit Israel for the first time in 18 years. My ultra orthodox sister originally arranged to see them both, but then disinvited my brother's partner. She agreed to see my brother, but refused to acknowledge or socialize with them as a couple. The liberal side of my family was in shock over the rejection. The orthodox of my family hastily set up fences, fearing the exposure to the alien and the forbidden.

People are arriving and departing. This is a place of opposite directions, splitting roads, crisscrossing ramps. Families careening into different orbits. Last night I heard Ami Ayalon at the Hartman Institute giving a vision of hope and peace even amidst a sober assessment. Israel's security is tied to Palestinian hope. As he was speaking a Qassam hit an empty school in Ashkelon. In the morning papers the commentators predicted war. Hope and Despair.

Crisscrossing ramps of people going different ways. The topic of my studies at the Hartman Institute is "Standing before God". In Israel people think they are running toward God or away from Him. I see few standing before Him. People are either angry at Him or are falling in love with Him. And everyone is trying to sort out what He/She demands of us or if we have to figure this out on our own. At the very least it leads to great conversations in the taxis, in the synagogues, and in the cafes. July 5, 2006. As for God, more about that later.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg