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New resource for the holiday

 
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Few scholars have been able to communicate with equal efficacy in both the beit midrash and the pulpit. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm has long excelled at both.

A “rabbi’s rabbi,” he enjoys renown both as a talmudic luminary and a masterful darshan. When I received semicha from him 25 years ago — and in subsequent conversations over the years — he has always left me with the same charge and challenge: “Go be ‘me-chadeish.’” Bring novel dimensions to your deliberations.

Lamm has remained steadfast and insistent in this simple statement, yet difficult assignment. Certainly over this last quarter of a century, I have heard the rosh yeshiva in this rabbi exhort his students to toil in the fields of new and novel interpretations. In an address to Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary rabbinic alumni, for example, he lamented the rise of a generation of scholars who distinguish themselves more by what they gather and relate in the names of others and less by their own new insights and inspirations.

“Sadly, we have become a generation of ‘me-laktim’ and not ‘me-chadshim,’” he said. In his new haggadah, he is clearly taking a stand against this tendency of “hunter gatherers in learning.” Absent from its liner notes are the commonly used pithy points that one can easily peruse and pick off the page as easy droplets to sprinkle onto the ongoing seder ritual.

While handsome in its layout and still easy to read, this is very much the thinking person’s haggadah. It is not set up for an easy appropriation of text and texture. Instead, it invites the reader into carefully considered discussions of the weighty subject matter that rightfully defines and distinguishes the haggadah as Jewish life’s signature pedagogy, and the seder context as the ultimate classroom and teachable moment.

Understanding the seder ritual as such, he uses his homiletical talents and intellect to provide the reader and would-be seder participant with brief but strategically composed essay-like presentations on many of the seder’s generative themes. He takes on the big questions of theodicy and human suffering, as seen in his comments on Jacob’s suffering and King David’s despair. The rabbi lends his own social commentary to diverse themes and ills in society, an example being his treatment of the dual nature of the plague of darkness. Humanism, history, and halacha are woven together in an integrated whole that brings the timely to the timeless.

One noteworthy example of his penchant for chiddush, of his ability to lend a novel approach and new voice to a text well-traveled in time, emerges from his commentary on Chad Gadya, perhaps the most quixotic of the seder songs.

Borrowing from the recurring thematic and typological associations we make throughout the Pesach rituals by our use of the number 4, he introduces the typology of the Four Fathers and with it a new level of profundity, for this highly favored but otherwise hardly understood seder ditty.

Throughout this haggadah commentary, while dutifully citing numerous sacred sources, Lamm expands upon each to better illustrate the lessons for life and the effective construction of community that — of necessity — must emerge from this annual exercise.

This is not the haggadah to simply go through for easy comments, but rather one that will pass through and rest on its readers, leaving a new claim to a serious consideration of our contemporary Jewish condition.

The author is religious leader of the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

 
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The Jewish Slandered

Bridgegate motives revealed

Christie supporters say the new finding proves their contention that what was initially reported as a traffic study blocking three lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge was simply a mishearing.

“It was a truffle study,” said a Christie confidant.

“Truffles, not traffic. Chocolate truffles, of course.

“We had heard that the shalach manot may have fallen off the truck, so we dispatched policemen to look for them. We knew people might be inconvenienced, but it was a small price to pay to permit the governor to enjoy a festive Purim, however belated.”

 

The Jewish Slandered

Yeshiva students call for renewed focus on day school education
 

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SLI targets shuls with new pilotless project
 

RECENTLYADDED

The holiday kiddush

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My gang of pals always called me Dunderhead. Was it because I refused to study? Well, that wasn’t the only reason. Truth is I didn’t want to study. Who does? Did they dub me Dunderhead on account of my wooden head? Maybe. Truth is I was a numbskull. Nothing penetrated, my teacher complained. I had to work my head to the bone before I understood anything.

But, on the other hand, my memory, knock wood, was pretty weak too. I couldn’t remember a blessed thing. In one ear, out the other. Absolutely nothing sank in.

 

Considering ‘Next year in Jerusalem’

On a recent trip to Jerusalem, my son decided that his favorite color was gold. Whenever he’s asked why, he replies with a wry smile befitting a 5-year-old.

“Jerusalem is the city of gold, of course,” he says.

When we told him our family was moving to Israel this summer, he was quite pleased.

“Ima, will we live there until I’m a grown-up?” he asked.

That’s the idea, we nodded.

While I know what my family will mean when we reach the end of the Passover seder this year and say “next year in Jerusalem,” what do these words mean for those not making the trek to the Holy Land anytime soon? Are we being disingenuous? Or, as the rabbis encourage with every other part of the Haggadah, are we expounding, embellishing, interpreting, and reading ourselves into the story of the Exodus from Egypt?

 

Love, marriage, motherhood

And other uncomfortable seder table talk

We had just closed our Haggadahs to begin the dinner portion of the Passover seder when the conversation abruptly, yet not surprisingly, turned to my singlehood.

There is a curiosity to some about a single, childless woman in her early 40s, and a guest at the table, a married mother of three, couldn’t hold hers in. The Four Questions all single women of a certain age know by heart were about to begin:

“You’ve never been married?” the woman asked as the youngest of her three children tugged on her sleeve and she sat him on her lap.

“No,” I responded, hoping my frank, curt answer would shorten the conversation.

No luck.

 
 
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