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entries tagged with: Rabbi David Bockman


Rabbis offer ‘full menu’ of Jewish studies

Members of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis will offer a full menu of Jewish study opportunities at the inaugural “Sweet Tastes of Torah: A Community Night of Learning,” Feb. 6 at Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck. Music and munchies also are on the bill.

“At a recent meeting, we were discussing the state of adult education in the community,” said NJBR President Rabbi Randall Mark of Wayne. Recently, regional learning initiatives including the Jewish Learning Project at the YJCC in Washington Township lost their funding.

“We thought we should do something broadly based,” said Mark. “Being a collection of pulpit rabbis, and having human — but not financial — resources, we thought of a one-night event to make use of those resources.”

Responding enthusiastically to a committee headed by Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, nearly 30 of the organization’s members and their congregations signed on.

Mark, who leads Shomrei Torah, the Wayne Conservative Congregation, is to lecture on divisions within Judaism, challenging participants to judge whether internal discord is a source of strength or weakness. Shull will lead a session entitled “Is Barbie Jewish?” a look at beauty and American Jewish identity in the 21st century based on the short award-winning documentary “The Tribe.”

The Reform and Conservative pulpit rabbis who largely comprise the NJBR talked up the [event] and created a buzz, said Mark, who expected many preregistrants before the Feb. 1 deadline. Advance registration costs $10; admission at the door will be $18. Sweet Tastes of Torah even has a Facebook and Twitter presence.

“We have more than 25 classes being taught by members of the NJBR, and topics range from the serious to the not-so-serious,” said Nickie Falk, project coordinator. “This will give congregants from various synagogues the opportunity to learn from rabbis other than their own.”

A concurrent session is planned for elementary school-aged children, who will be admitted free of charge. “That will help us reach a broader segment of the community,” said Shull. “It was important to us that this event would have a cultural and social aspect as well.”

The planning committee included the members of Shull’s own weekly study group: Rabbi David Bockman, formerly rabbi of the Bergenfield Jewish Center; Rabbi Leanna Moritt of Tenafly, who runs an outreach project for intermarried couples; and Rabbi Gerald Friedman of Temple Beth Sholom in Park Ridge.

“It is important for us to convey to the community that we’re excited about this one-time event,” he said, “but our hope is to inspire study throughout the year.” Based on evaluations of the upcoming program, the committee hopes to offer ongoing initiatives.

Registration begins at 6:15 p.m. Sessions are to commence following havdalah at 6:50. Desserts afterward are to be provided by, a co-sponsor of the event along with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The evening will conclude with a performance by Migdal Oz, a Jewish funk, rock, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues band.

To view the full program and register, click “Sweet Tastes of Torah” at the UJA-NNJ site, The rain date is Feb. 20.


Rabbis’ forum: Patrilineal dispute no bar to civility

Rabbi Ziona Zelazo (left) moderated the discussion on diversity with Rabbi David Bockman, Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, Rabbi Kenneth Emert, and Rabbi Lawrence Zierler. Larry Yudelson

Even the most contentious problems of defining Jewish status can be dealt with without rancor, a panel of rabbis from across the streams agreed.

“We can’t minimize differences,” said Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, of the Jewish Center of Teaneck, which is Orthodox, “but we can maximize connections.”

Zierler was speaking at a panel last Thursday night entitled “I Respectfully Disagree: Fostering Tolerance & Acceptance in Our Diverse Jewish Community.” The panel, at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, was also sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis. The third and final in a series of panels on civility and diversity, it drew about 25 people.

Perhaps the most contentious issue dividing the Judaic streams is the question of “Who is a Jew” — or, perhaps more bluntly, “Are you Jewish?”

It is a question that cuts to the soul of the individuals concerned, as well as to the heart of the disagreements concerning the primacy of traditional Jewish law between Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism on one side, and Conservative and Orthodox Judaism on the other.

And it is a question brought to the fore by patrilineal descent: the policy of Reform Judaism, dating back to 1983, of accepting as Jews the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. (All streams accept the children of Jewish mothers as Jewish.)

On the whole, the rabbis said, they were able to resolve the issues raised by conflicting standards through mutual respect and sensitivity to the people affected.

Rabbi David Bockman: “You don’t tell a kid — or an adult — that ‘you’re not Jewish.’”

Rabbi David Bockman of Cong. Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes said that from his perspective, as a Conservative rabbi, children of patrilineal descent are not Jewish.

“And if a person is not Jewish, he can’t have a bar mitzvah ceremony,” he said. “I would have to insist on conversion.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I very much believe you don’t tell a kid — or an adult — that ‘you’re not Jewish.’ Even if they’re not a Jew.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘your child is going from being a non-Jew to being a Jew.’ I would want to validate their Jewishness while at the same time saying that in order to be acceptable to everybody in the Jewish world, we have to go through this ceremony. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not punitive.”

Similarly, even though his congregation accepts patrilineal descent, Rabbi Kenneth Emert of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff advises parents where the mother is not Jewish to consider having their child formally convert. Temple Beth Rishon is an unaffiliated liberal congregation. Emert is a member of both the Reform and Conservative rabbinical associations.

“Probably a year before the bar or bat mitzvah,” he said, “I would speak to the parents and explain to them that at Beth Rishon we accept patrilineal descent, but this is only [recognized] in Reform and Reconstructionist congregations.

“I speak to the parents about this, only the parents. Never to the children. It’s very important.

“I follow the dictums of the congregation, but I certainly can make the family aware of what conditions the child may face later on.”

Emert told of a girl from his congregation, whose mother wasn’t Jewish, who came back from college saying that “half the guys at Hillel won’t date me. I want to go to the mikveh,” and converted.

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt is head of school at Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland. As a Conservative institution, the school does not recognize patrilineal descent. But it will accept children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers on two conditions, she said. The parents must intend to raise the children as Jews. And they must plan to have them converted.

Bernhardt told of discovering before a bar mitzvah that a child she thought was Jewish in fact was not: He had been adopted but never converted.

“The key is that I had a relationship with the parents where I could sit down with them. I brought in the rabbi of their synagogue to begin a discussion of what to do.

“Through a series of discussions and educating the parents, we were able to reach the agreement that the child would have a hatafat dam brit [a symbolic circumcision], go to the mikveh, and have a bar mitzvah,” she said.

“A lot of this has to do with the kind of relationship a rabbi or a teacher or principal has with the child, so when these tough issues come up, they can be addressed in a manner that will meet the halachic obligations,” she added.

The local dispute over patrilineality does not always end happily, however, according to Emert. He said that was one of the issues that prevented the Bergen Academy for Reform Judaism from merging with the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies.

“How do you deal with the many students where the father is Jewish and the mother is not? How do you merge those students together? That creates a real problem for some of the rabbis in the community,” he said.

Zierler said that even though he, an Orthodox rabbi, does not accept patrilineal descent, conflicts over it have no place in a school that serves the entire community.

“A school is an empowerment zone, not a playground for poor rabbinic behavior, when the casualty will be the education of children,” he said.

“The issue is touchy, but if you have children that are growing up in the framework of Jewish homes, you have to create frameworks for them,” he said.

“Why should we get sidetracked on the issue of patrilineal descent? It doesn’t belong in the classroom, it belongs in the synagogue. It’s for the rabbi’s study. If joint schooling does lead to marriage, problems of Jewish status can be rectified — in most cases — quietly and sensitively.”


Rabbis will headline Y series

Ten area rabbis to offer views on a ‘meaningful life’

Last year, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey offered a series of lectures delivered by seven area rabbis.

“It was so well-received, we wanted to offer it again,” said Cheryl Wylen, the Y’s cultural arts director. “It’s wonderful having different rabbis in the community teach here. Each congregation publicizes it, and for each program we get a good percentage [of attendees] from that rabbi’s congregation as well as those who come for the full series.”

Last year, each rabbi selected his or her own topic, said Wylen. This year, each of the 10 participating rabbis has been invited to choose a subject related to a common theme, “Towards a Meaningful Life.” That theme, she said, was based on a suggestion by Rabbi Michael Gurkov of Wayne’s Chabad Center of Passaic County. The lecture series will begin on Thursday, April 14.

“When you have rabbis working together, it brings more to the program than everyone doing their own thing,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which is co-sponsoring the series.

He recalled that several years ago, he and Rabbi Stephen Wylen, of Wayne’s Temple Beth Tikvah, teamed up with Rabbi Chaim Listfield — who formerly led a congregation in New Jersey — to offer “The Three Rabbis” educational forum.

“On three consecutive Tuesday nights we did a lecture series on a theme,” he said, explaining that the rabbis took turns hosting. “One hosted, another spoke,” he said. “Cheryl [Wylen] said she’d like to bring the Y in on this.”

Mark said all of the rabbis in the Y’s catchment area were invited to participate in the upcoming series. In addition to Mark himself, those who signed on include (in order of presentation) Rabbis Baruch Zeilicovich (Temple Beth Sholom, Fair Lawn), David Saltzman (Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque), Ken Emert (Temple Beth Rishon, Wyckoff), Wylen, Gurkov, David Bockman (Cong. Beth Shalom, Pompton Lakes), Joshua Cohen (Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, Franklin Lakes), Ellen Bernhardt (Gerrard Berman Day School, Oakland), and Elyse Frishman (Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes).

Discussion topics range from tzedakah to dealing with pain, loss, and suffering.

Mark, who will explore how text study can enhance someone’s life, said the topic “coincides nicely with what I’ve tried to do at synagogue — help my contemporary American Jewish congregants see that there is actually value and meaning in the study of Jewish texts. We can read the ancient rabbis and pull out lessons applicable to life today.”

What he may do, he said, is follow a text though the rabbinic tradition, seeing how it plays out in the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and codes.

Wylen, who has selected as his topic “The Five Questions They Will Ask You at the Gates of Heaven,” said that “one of the enduring legends that exists in nearly every culture is that when our life comes to an end, we have to explain ourselves and justify our existence at the gateway to the next world.”

He noted that the talmudic version of this legend is that there are five questions we are asked at the gates of heaven. During his presentation on May 5, “We will ask those five questions and see how they apply to our own lives. Hopefully, this will give each of us direction to discover the sacred meaning of our own existence.”

Bockman — who plays the trumpet — said he will explore how music adds meaning to our lives, using both music itself and teachings from traditional Jewish texts. While his first choice, he said, would have been to focus on prayer, the two topics are not dissimilar.

He said, “We can look at music in three ways: production, or making music; experiencing the music; and the music itself, the form of the music.” While making and listening to music “are not necessarily religious experiences,” he said, in some contexts “they can be understood as analogous to religious experiences.”

Whether music “becomes religious,” he said, “has to do with the group of people who are producing it and listening to it.”

For further information about the series, call (973) 595-0100, ext. 228.

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