Friday, April 18, 2008

A Davar Torah in Honor of the Smichah of Rabbi Hazzan Glenn Gelman

A Davar Torah in Honor of the Smichah of Rabbi Cantor Glenn Gelman

Offered by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Shabbat Morning Services, April 12, 2008


A young rabbinical school graduate was hired as the second rabbi of a large Conservative congregation. One of his new duties was to officiate at an overflow service on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. The senior rabbi tells him "You must be aware of one thing. Our cantor is stubborn and refuses to permit us to hire a second cantor. Therefore the cantor prays with one congregation and his voice is piped into the other. We must make sure, therefore, that our sermons are of the exact same length. On the second day of Rosh Hashannah, the cantor is praying with your congregation. I have prepared a thirty two minute sermon. Make sure you do the same."

The young rabbi went home and prepared a 32 minute sermon. On the Second day of Rosh Hasahnnah as he was giving his sermon, he noticed that his digital watch had gone blank. He became nervous and lost his timing, but ultimately he finished the sermon. When he finished the talk he signaled to the cantor, who immediately began chanting the Kaddish for the Musaf service, "yitgadal veytkadash."

Unfortunately the new rabbi's nervousness caused him to deliver a 32 minute sermon in 26 minutes.

5 minutes later the senior rabbi came running in, yelling, "You made a fool out of me in front of my entire congregation!"

"What happened?" The new rabbi stammered.

"I had just reached the emotional high point of my speech. I was saying: 'Today there are those who say that God is dead. Is God dead?' And the cantor's voice piped in: 'Yitgadal veyitkadash.' "

This funny story illustrates the challenges that rabbis and cantors have sometimes when they work together. One of the pleasures of coming to Beth Shalom is to work and collaborate with Cantor Glenn Gelman. Glenn loves to share the pulpit, to include his colleagues and the congregation in worship. He is exquisitely sensitive to the needs of others and does not seek the limelight. Yet when he leads the service he brings a wonderful presence and spiritual beauty.

Now our beautiful Cantor has achieved a great milestone in his life. He has studied for the rabbinate and received smichah. In honor of this great accomplishment I would like to share some teachings about the rabbinate in honor of Rabbi Cantor Gelman.


Rabbi Akiva said:

If a person studied Torah in his youth,

He should also study Torah in his old age;

If he had students in his youth

He should also have them in his old age.

A verse indicates this,

"Sow your seed in the morning,

(and do not hold back you hand in the evening.)

Since you do not know which is going to succeed, the one of the other,

Or if both are equally good."


ו בַּבֹּקֶר זְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֶךָ, וְלָעֶרֶב אַל-תַּנַּח יָדֶךָ:  כִּי אֵינְךָ יוֹדֵעַ אֵי זֶה יִכְשָׁר, הֲזֶה אוֹ-זֶה, וְאִם-שְׁנֵיהֶם כְּאֶחָד, טוֹבִים.

Kohelet 11:6

Yevamot 62b


One of the most impressive things about Rabbi Cantor Gelman's accomplishment is that it reveals his lifelong love of Torah. To be ordained as a rabbi requires hours and hours of study. We all know how busy you are, running an accounting business, caring for your family, and your continuing voluntary service to Beth Shalom. But despite all these demands, the love of Torah is central to your life.


Here is another teaching from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah

"Among the greatest sages of Israel were woodcutters, water drawers, and blind people. Nevertheless, they were involved in Torah study day and night."


The original rabbis were not professionals, who drew their livelihood from serving as rabbis in congregations. Maimonides himself, one of the greatest Rabbis of all times was a full time physician. Rabbi Cantor Gelman follows a great tradition of the rabbi who does not serve with expectation of financial reward, but instead serves out of the love of Torah and the love of the Jewish people.


Here is another text that illuminates a quality we love about Rabbi Cantor Gelman:


And raise many students (PA 1:1)

The School of Shammai says:

A person should teach only those who are wise, humble, a descendent of distinguished people, and wealthy.


The School of Hillel says:

A person should teach everyone, for there were many Jewish sinners who became attached to Torah study, and, as a result, righteous, pious, and decent people came from them. Avot De Rabbi Natan A3


Our Rabbi Cantor clearly follows the school of Hillel. You are a person who teaches all the people. You do not want to exclude anyone from your Torah. You are always concerned that your words and your melodies are accessible to all. You want to make your Torah and your Shirah like low hanging fruit, easy to pick, easy to enjoy.


I want to share with all of you another teaching from Maimonides about one of the vulnerabilities of the rabbinate and the cantorate:


"It is a duty to honor every scholar even if he is not one's teacher, as it is said, "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man"

מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.

(Lev 19:32). "Old man refers to one who has acquired wisdom. (Hilchot Deot Talmud Torah 6:1)


The obligation to honor a Torah sage always caused problems, because it often caused many Rabbis and Cantors to conduct themselves as if they deserved honor because of their titles. In more traditional Jewish society-Rabbis especially- were revered and treated with the utmost deference. It is an understandable and very common foible for people with such a title to be become full of themselves and to laud it over everyone else.


This is illustrated by a Hasidic story:


R. David Moshe of Tchortkov once met R Aaron of Tchernobil. R. Aaron asked the former how may beadles he employed and received the answer that he had 5. R David then began to list their duties: "One of them stands on duty at the door of my study, the second is responsible for finding accommodation for my Hassidim, the third looks after the cleaning, the fourth sees to purchases, and the fifth oversees all travel arrangements. "


He then asked how may R Aaron had, and the latter replied that he had six. Five of them, he explained performed the same offices as those of R. David.


"What then is the function of the sixth? R David asked curiously.


"He is the most important of all." Replied R. Aaron. "He stands behind me all day and whenever I say anything, he murmurs devoutly, 'Wonderful, absolutely marvelous!'"


That is why Maimonides adds the following teaching concerning the honor due to sages.


"It is improper for a sage to not put the people to inconvenience by deliberately passing before them, so that they should have to stand up before him. He should use a short route and endeavor to avoid notice so that they should not be troubled to stand up. The sages were wont to use circuitous and exterior paths, where they were not likely to meet those who might recognize them, so as not to trouble them." (Hilchot Deot Talmud Torah 6:3)


This teaching of Maimonides made me think of you Rabbi Cantor Gelman, because you are the one who takes a circuitous path so as to not draw attention to yourself or to catch the virus of arrogance. You embody one of our tradition's great virtues-Tzniut-modesty. Your modesty is more than a virtue; it enables you to teach and to let others to shine for the good of the community and for the good of the Jewish people.


The Talmud has another wonderful expression which I have as a signature on all my emails. Rabbi Cantor Gelman, I aspire to it, but you embody it.


Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz


יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ


The study of Torah combined with kindness is very beautiful.


Mazal Tov on becoming a Rabbi.





A Renewed Koshrut for American Jews

A Renewed Koshrut for American Jews

Abandoning the Western Diet

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg



As Jews we have a thing about food. Especially around Passover when we become a mass of food inspectors, looking for evidence of Hametz in our homes and in the foods we buy. No matter your relationship to koshrut, Jewish culture has a concern about the food we eat. Food for us is connected to story. The foods we eat on Passover remind us of the traumas of slavery and the going out from Egypt. Food serves as symbols that teach us empathy, the bitter herb helps us to remember the bitterness of the slaves, the matza connects us to the experience of the poor.

The regular kosher dietary laws also reflect a moral passion about food. We are supposed to drain the blood from an animal that we kill for food. The rabbis teach that if an animal is to be slaughtered for food, it must be killed in a way that reduces suffering to a minimum. The consumption of meat, while permitted as a concession to human natur,e is constrained by laws of slaughtering and the limitation of the number of animals that can be eaten. The level of detail of these laws leaves us with a proud legacy (something which I think many of us misunderstood) as a people that is very concerned about what enters our mouths and the impact of the way we eat both on creatures and the world around us.

I just finished an amazing book by the award winning author, Michael Pollan, called In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. It is a book of remarkable clarity and powerful argument about the ills caused by the way we eat in America.

"The chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains: the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy."


"Various populations thrived on diets that were what we'd call high fat, low fat, or high carb; all meat or all plant; indeed here have been traditional diets based on just about any kind of whole food you can imagine. Lesson: That human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet is not one of them. "


"An American born in 2000 has a one in 3 chance of developing diabetes in his lifetime; the risk is even greater for a Hispanic American or African American. A diagnosis of diabetes subtracts 12 years from one's life and living with the condition incurs medical costs of $13,000 a year (compared with $2500 for someone without diabetes)."


"This is a global pandemic in the making, but a most unusual one, because it involves no virus or bacteria, no microbe of any kind-just a way of eating."


I know, because I am one of its victims. I found out last year that my body crossed the boundary to become vulnerable to Type two diabetes. There is no history of it in my family, no predisposition. I had to change my lifestyle or face the harsh realities of a condition that worsens over time. Most of all it made me aware of our food choices that are all around us.


Our ancestors accepted koshrut on themselves in part as a moral stance in relationship to their world and to affirm their identity as Jews. As modern Americans living with the ills of the Western diet we have an even more difficult challenge before us that demands a new koshrut. I want to introduce this to you tonight, albeit in a brief form. I urge you to get the book and read it with me. Here is one part of what Michael Pollan argues we must do to reverse the ills of the Western Diet.


There are three rules to this new Koshrut:

  1. Just Eat Food:
  2. Not Too Much
  3. Mostly Plants


    Under each of these categories there are several helpful rules-halachot. I just want to cover tonight in this short talk the rules of "Just Eat Food".


First we must acknowledge our confusion around food. The key to overcoming the confusion over food is to simplify and to avoid industrialized food.


"Real food has disappeared from large areas of the supermarket and from much of the rest of the eating world. Taking food's place on the shelves has been an unending stream of food like substitutes, some seventeen thousand new ones every year." Avoid as much as possible processed and refined foods. Here are 8 rule to start off with.


  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Because even our mother's and grandmothers are confused.


  1. Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.


  1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are as unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or that include high fructose corn syrup.


Consider Sara lee's Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread


Enriched bleached flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin monoitrate (vitamin B,) riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], water, whole grains [whole wheat flour, brown rice flour (rice flour, rice bran)] high fructose corn syrup, whey, wheat gluten, yeast, cellulose. Contains 2% or less of each of the following, calcium sulfate, vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed oils) salt, butter, cream, salt) dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: mono-and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, ascorbic acid, enzymes, azordicarbonamide), guar gum, calcium propionate (preservative, distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate) corn starch, natural flavor, betacarotene (color), vitamin D, soy lecithin, soy flour.


The plastic wrapper ads: "Good source of whole grain and low fat".


  1. Avoid food products that make health claims:


    "for a food product to make health claims on its package, it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food. Don't forget that trans fat rich margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim it was healthier than traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. "


  1. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.


  1. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.


  1. CSA box Community Supported Agriculture. Subscribe to a farm and receive a weekly box of produce or from your garden. Shake the hand that feeds you.


  1. Food is about pleasure, about community, about family, and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world and about expressing our identity. As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology.