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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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Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ‘lower guilt’ latkes

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz — South Florida congresswoman, chair of the Democratic National Committee, mother of three school-age children — is also, apparently, something of maven in the kitchen. Ms. Wasserman Schultz (aka @cleancookingcongresswoman) maintains an Instagram account devoted to her culinary adventures, and was tweeting over the weekend about, what else, latkes.

“Was flipping through old recipes and came across this — only 3 days to Hanukkah and more of these!” she tweeted, along with a photo of golden brown potato pancakes.

Getting latkes just right can present something of a challenge: forget to squeeze the water out of the potatoes and you’re likely to get a patty that’s heavier than it is crispy; fail to flip at precisely the right time, and the product may be more burnt than golden.

 

The Dreydl

I liked him more than any of my friends in kheder or in town. I adored Benny because he was the best looking, smartest, and cleverest of the boys. He was loyal and generous to me and always took my part. Benny was also the oldest boy in our group as well as the richest boy in kheder.

Benny was a chubby, freckle-faced fellow with yellow prickly hair, bulging white cheeks, gap teeth, popping fisheyes where a shrewd smile always lurked. The minute we met—during my first day in kheder—we became fast friends.

I got my first glimpse of the rebbe when my mother brought me to his kheder. A man with thick brows and a pointy skullcap, he was studying Genesis with all his pupils. Without the slightest hesitation the rebbe told me: “Move to that bench over there—between those two boys.”

I squeezed in between the boys and was immediately accepted.

 

Music hath charms to soothe December Dilemma

Hillel Kuttler

PHILADELPHIA — In text accompanying a new exhibition at this city’s National Museum of American Jewish History, Sammy Davis Jr. is quoted on why he converted to Judaism.

“I became a Jew because I was ready and willing to understand the plight of a people who fought for thousands of years for a homeland,” the late entertainer said.

What immediately follows is a curator’s observation: “Davis knew that becoming a Jew also meant recording Christmas songs.”

The comment, while somewhat facetious, has a ring of truth to it: Some of the most popular Christmas tunes were written and/or sung by American Jews — notably the children of immigrants, like Irving Berlin, who composed the iconic “White Christmas,” or in Davis’ case, new to Judaism.

It also encapsulates the theme of the exhibition, which carries a provocative title — “’Twas the Night Before Hanukkah.”

 

RECENTLYADDED

Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ‘lower guilt’ latkes

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz — South Florida congresswoman, chair of the Democratic National Committee, mother of three school-age children — is also, apparently, something of maven in the kitchen. Ms. Wasserman Schultz (aka @cleancookingcongresswoman) maintains an Instagram account devoted to her culinary adventures, and was tweeting over the weekend about, what else, latkes.

“Was flipping through old recipes and came across this — only 3 days to Hanukkah and more of these!” she tweeted, along with a photo of golden brown potato pancakes.

Getting latkes just right can present something of a challenge: forget to squeeze the water out of the potatoes and you’re likely to get a patty that’s heavier than it is crispy; fail to flip at precisely the right time, and the product may be more burnt than golden.

 

The Dreydl

I liked him more than any of my friends in kheder or in town. I adored Benny because he was the best looking, smartest, and cleverest of the boys. He was loyal and generous to me and always took my part. Benny was also the oldest boy in our group as well as the richest boy in kheder.

Benny was a chubby, freckle-faced fellow with yellow prickly hair, bulging white cheeks, gap teeth, popping fisheyes where a shrewd smile always lurked. The minute we met—during my first day in kheder—we became fast friends.

I got my first glimpse of the rebbe when my mother brought me to his kheder. A man with thick brows and a pointy skullcap, he was studying Genesis with all his pupils. Without the slightest hesitation the rebbe told me: “Move to that bench over there—between those two boys.”

I squeezed in between the boys and was immediately accepted.

 

Music hath charms to soothe December Dilemma

Hillel Kuttler

PHILADELPHIA — In text accompanying a new exhibition at this city’s National Museum of American Jewish History, Sammy Davis Jr. is quoted on why he converted to Judaism.

“I became a Jew because I was ready and willing to understand the plight of a people who fought for thousands of years for a homeland,” the late entertainer said.

What immediately follows is a curator’s observation: “Davis knew that becoming a Jew also meant recording Christmas songs.”

The comment, while somewhat facetious, has a ring of truth to it: Some of the most popular Christmas tunes were written and/or sung by American Jews — notably the children of immigrants, like Irving Berlin, who composed the iconic “White Christmas,” or in Davis’ case, new to Judaism.

It also encapsulates the theme of the exhibition, which carries a provocative title — “’Twas the Night Before Hanukkah.”

 
 
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