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Local youths score as Bible scholars

Two Bergen County teens took top honors in the national and international rounds of the prestigious Hidon HaTanach (Bible Contest).

Isaac Shulman, a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior from Englewood, placed second in the high school division last Sunday in Manhattan.

Joshua Meier, a home-schooled Teaneck 14-year-old, came in sixth in the international round on Israeli Independence Day, April 20, in Jerusalem (see sidebar).

In addition, Ben Sultan from The Frisch School placed fifth in the high school division and Elisha Penn of Yavneh Academy placed seventh in the junior high division. Both schools are in Paramus.

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Isaac Shulman

Isaac qualifies for a free trip to Israel for next year’s International Bible Contest. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the World Zionist Organization, the annual event is open to young scholars from across the world who place first or second in national rounds on each levels. Finalists this year included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.

TABC Principal Rabbi Yosef Adler called Isaac “a real ‘ben Torah’ and mensch who excels in Judaic and general studies.” Isaac play tennis and soccer, competes on TABC’s Torah Bowl team, and reads the Torah at Cong. Ahavath Torah’s early Shabbat services.

The son of Elliot and Victoria Shulman, Isaac said he had attended an after-school Hidon preparation class with Rabbi Neil Winkler when he was at The Moriah School of Englewood, but never passed the qualifying test. This time, he added, “I studied.”

Based on a syllabus that included Genesis, Samuel I, and parts of Hezekiah and Psalms, contestants had to identify common themes and details, such as matching biblical grandsons with their grandfathers. Isaac sometimes studied with friends Sruli Farkas and Yakir Forman. Yakir won fourth place in the international round in 2007 when he was a Moriah eighth-grader.

Sunday marked the 20th consecutive year that Moriah has sent finalists to the nationals. Its students compose a large percentage of past winners.

Principal Elliot Prager said that Winkler “has transformed an after-school club into an annual focus of pride and excitement for all of our students. Above and beyond his superb command of Tanach, and the knowledge and text analysis skills which he imparts to his students, it is his ‘ahavat Torah’ — the passion for Torah learning — which Rabbi Winkler embodies and which has produced several generations of Hidon finalists and winners at Moriah.”

Winkler has taught Judaic studies at Moriah for 32 years and has offered his weekly prep class for a quarter-century. Many of his Hidon protégés went on to become prominent rabbis and teachers.

He does not stress winning, Winkler said, but encourages his students to “enjoy and absorb the forest of [biblical] knowledge. In the end, you will know the material so well you will know every tree in that forest.”

Six students qualified for the nationals by answering multiple-choice questions such as: Which of the Egyptian plagues was described in Psalms as having entered “the royal chambers”? What practice was said to have become “a law and statute in Israel”? Why did David accuse Abner and his men of deserving of death? How high did the waters of the flood reach? Which gifts did Abraham not receive upon leaving the house of the Pharaoh?

Promising Israeli students get half-days off from school to study for the nationals, while foreign students lack that luxury. “You can tell which kids have a fire burning within them and push themselves to study on their own time,” said Winkler, who is rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee. “When kids pick up some passion for it, then my job is finished.”

 
 

Rabbis explore Jewish views of sexuality at Kaplen JCC forum

Rabbi Yosef Adler, who is Orthodox, said he might rejoice if his own child established a loving same-sex relationship, but that the Jewish community at large would not rejoice.

Adler, religious leader of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, spoke during a forum on sex roles at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last week. He was answering a challenge from a young gay Orthodox man as to whether Adler would be as pleased as his own rabbi father would be with this son were he in that kind of relationship.

Three rabbis — Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform — spoke during the forum, and while there was disagreement among them about homosexual unions, their tone was civil. And Adler pointed out all of them agreed that bullying in general was to be condemned.

Still, Adler said, homosexual unions are contrary to Jewish law, and he opposes the publication of announcements of engagements between homosexuals, as The Jewish Standard had done in September. He contended that the publication of the announcement was a celebration of the union and suggested that if such announcements were paid advertisements they might be more acceptable to the Orthodox community.

Disagreeing with Adler about homosexual unions was Jordan Millstein, religious leader of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, who had officiated at two same-sex Jewish marriage ceremonies — which did not have legal standing — in the late ‘90s, at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Ill. A Reform rabbi, he asked who has the right to decide that male and female are the only valid categories. As for the biblical injunction against homosexuality, Millstein said that the Bible has diverse views and people “cherry-pick” whatever ones they agree with. The ideal with any relationship, he went on, is that it be fully committed and honest, with trust and exclusivity. He added that homosexuals should feel that they have a place in the Jewish community. Temple Sinai and the Reform movement, he said, are dedicated to this notion.

David-Seth Kirshner, rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, said that whatever people do in private should remain private. Adler agreed, and went further: “If someone desecrates the Sabbath, that doesn’t mean that he has no right to be active in the Jewish community.”

Kirshner said that he had enjoyed the hour’s talk he had with Adler at an earlier date and was pleased to see in how many areas they agreed. He suggested that North Jersey rabbis from the different streams of Judaism communicate with one another more often and that there should be one board of rabbis from all the streams. At present, Orthodox rabbis belong to the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis belong to the North Jersey Board of Rabbis.

Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey introduced the session, co-sponsored by UJA-NNJ and the Kaplen JCC. The moderator was Rabbi Reuven Kimelman, professor of classical rabbinic literature at Brandeis University. Two more rabbinic forums are scheduled, one at the YM-YWHA in Wayne and the other at the Bergen YJCC in Washington Township.

 
 
 
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