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entries tagged with: Rebecca Boroson


He who pays the piper…


Ill-conceived ‘crusade’


Odious comparison


Louder than words


‘Even-handed’ rebuke


Elena Kagan and the rule of law


Disconnect to connect

‘The human dimension of communication is being lost’

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

“I love technology,” said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Indeed, he could not manage his many projects without it. But, he told The Jewish Standard, there have to be limits. “Unplugging” is a major component of his “Turn Friday Night Into Family Night” campaign — but unlike the Sabbath Manifesto, “we’re not asking for a 24-hour unplugging. I’m a little more realistic.” Although he himself is a lifelong Sabbath-observer, his campaign, targeting Jews and non-Jews alike, “is only asking for two — two hours without movies, TV, mp3s, texting, e-mails, the Internet. If you don’t go offline for a limited period, you will suffer extreme burnout.”

“I truly believe that the Internet is becoming an addiction,” said the Englewood rabbi. “I see it with my children, and I think most parents see it with their kids.”

As for cellphones, Boteach said, the elder four of his nine children have them. But, he added, “if a kid needs to stay in touch it’s for reasons of transportation. Our kids go to school all over New York; it’s logistically complicated, so they need a phone.”

Noting that “young people today communicate primarily by texting,” he has harsh words for the practice. “The human dimension of communication is being lost” in texting, he maintained. “When you speak face to face there’s a certain warmth, facial expressions, subtlety, intonations. When you text you can hide behind the screen. I believe that technology should enhance the human experience, not supplant it.”

The author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life” (Basic Books), he is passionate about his Friday night/family night initiative. Posted on its Website,, are startling statistics attesting to a nationwide decline of family interaction. Among them are the results of a survey of 1,045 mothers conducted by Impulse Research that “revealed that the average family spends only 26 minutes eating together (27% of families spend less than 20 minutes eating dinner together) and only 39 percent of moms said their families turn off the TV during mealtime while even fewer families (30%) refuse to answer the phone during dinner.”

At least, both Boteach and the Sabbath Manifesto would say, turn off the phone.


Kagan on the grill


From Qumran to Teaneck

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Scenes from a tragicomedy

The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery and fate — and how fragments ended up in Teaneck — “is enormously interesting,” said Hershel Shanks, the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The author of several books on the scrolls, he was instrumental in widening scholars’ access to them. (And that is a story in itself.)

The story “goes back to 1947,” he said in a telephone interview from Rehovoth Beach, Del., “when the first scrolls were found by the Bedouin” in a cave in Qumran, near the Dead Sea. More than 900 were eventually discovered in the Judean desert, in 15,000 fragments.

They are “the greatest manuscript discovery in the 20th century, certainly as concerns biblical studies,” he wrote in his 1992 book “Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Hershel Shanks, an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, says they are “enormously important to the Jewish people.” Courtesy Biblical Archaeology Review

This makes the fragments’ journey to a church in Teaneck, called “the Jerusalem of the West” by The New York Times, all the more fascinating.

Even how four scrolls came to “Mar Samuel,” as Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan (archbishop) of Jerusalem was called, is something of a comedy of errors — almost a tragicomedy.

As Shanks told the tale in his book, two Bedouin had arranged with Samuel to bring some of the scrolls from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. It was July 1947. “The tide of violence between Jew, Arab, and Briton,” which would culminate in the War of Independence, “was swelling. Jewish terrorism, mostly directed against the British, was beginning to be heavily felt in certain Arab areas…. In this atmosphere Samuel became anxious when the Bedouin and their scrolls had not appeared by noon.”

What happened? They had been turned away by a monk who saw, in Shanks’ words, that the scrolls they brought were “[p]robably old Torahs from somewhere, but filthy and covered with pitch or something else that smelled equally bad. These he steadfastly refused to allow within the monastery walls, still less into His Grace’s presence as the bearers demanded.”

The Bedouin had gone back to Bethlehem, and it took two weeks before they and the scrolls could return to Jerusalem and Mar Samuel, who bought them, according to Shanks, for what amounted to $97.

Samuel then sought authentication and scholarly help and eventually made his way to the United States in 1949.

“He tried to sell them and couldn’t,” Shanks said. Samuel exhibited them in the Library of Congress and then advertised them in The Wall Street Journal in 1954. (The ad has achieved a certain believe-it-or-not fame. Headed “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls,” it went on to say that “Biblical Manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group.” A box number at the WSJ was provided.)

The sale of the four scrolls to archeologist Yigal Yadin for $250,000, for Israel, was arranged through a front man, Shanks said, the scholar Harry Orlinsky of Johns Hopkins University posing as “Mr. Green.”

“One of the odd things that fascinate me” about the scrolls, said Shanks, is “whether Mar Samuel knew that he was selling them to Israel. The only reason Yadin got them so cheap,” he added, “is that Jordan,” which controlled the west bank when the scrolls were discovered, “asserted a claim to them.”

The epilogue to the tragicomedy of the sale of the four scrolls is that while the proceeds were to go to Samuel’s church, the legal papers were poorly drawn and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service wound up with the lion’s share.

‘Enormously important
to the Jewish people’

The Dead Sea Scrolls are “enormously important to the Jewish people,” Shanks went on. “They contain about 200 biblical manuscripts that go back to the Second Temple period…. They include every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther and the Song of Songs.”

The scrolls also include “three books quoted in the New Testament — revealing the Jewish roots of Christianity.”

It’s particularly noteworthy that the scrolls reveal “a highly developed code by this time — 200 C.E. — materials that can tell us about the development of halacha,” Jewish law, “and its variations.”

In his 1998 book “The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Shanks wrote of the stringency of the halachic rulings in the scrolls: “Take the law regarding what I call the Backward-Jumping Impurity Up a Stream of Liquid. To understand this law, start with a pitcher of water, both the pitcher and the water being pure. Now pour some of the water into another vessel that is impure. Clearly the water in the second vessel is now impure by virtue of its contact with an impure vessel. But what about the water still in the pitcher? And what about the pitcher itself? Did the impurity of the water in the second vessel render the water remaining in the pitcher (and the pitcher itself) impure? The Qumran sectarians … said yes…. Other Jews … said no.”

Another noteworthy difference is that the Qumran Jews used a solar calendar, while the rest of us use a lunar calendar. Thus, for example, “they would be celebrating Yom Kippur on a different date and yet be Jewish.”

The scrolls, Shanks said, shine “a light onto the variations of a different Judaism of the time, of different movements. The roots of rabbinic Judaism are here.”


Bringing down the house: Beth Aaron expanion ‘long overdue’

Photos from

With several mighty blows of a backhoe, the house next to Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck was razed last week, launching the long awaited expansion project of the synagogue at 950 Queen Anne Road.

The $2.4 million project calls for a larger lobby, a new multi-purpose room, a new teen minyan space, and additional youth department rooms.

The multi-purpose room will provide more functional space for lectures, community events and social programming, such as the Shabbat morning kiddush, said Larry Kahn, co-chair of the expansion committee. The new youth department rooms, located on the lower level, will accommodate the increasing number of children attending groups on Shabbat and holidays.

The construction will also add 65 seats to the main sanctuary, restoring 35 seats that were lost roughly nine years ago when the synagogue bought permanent pews and adding 30 seats on top of that, Kahn said.

Construction — scheduled to begin in the next few weeks by the Ridgewood-based firm Visbeen Construction — is expected to conclude late next spring.

The house, which Beth Aaron had owned, had been rented by Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, who has moved to the north side of Teaneck.

With a roster of some 300 member-families, the expansion of Beth Aaron’s building —which hasn’t been updated since 1986 — is long overdue, congregants say.

Pews at Shabbat services are often packed, and several minyanim need to be held simultaneously to accommodate everyone. The Shabbat morning kiddush draws overflow crowds and members have lamented for years about the cramped party room where it’s difficult to host a sizeable brit breakfast or bar/bat mitzvah luncheon.

Parents have also grumbled about the challenge of running youth groups for children on Shabbat and holiday mornings when the classroom space is inadequate for all the grades.

Indeed, said Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs, it is not easy to serve the needs of everyone in the congregation in the current building. “This project will enhance our shul in numerous ways and allow us to serve all our members from the very young to old…. We’re extremely excited about the expansion. We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of another wonderful chapter in the history of our beit knesset.”

Synagogue President Larry Shafier said the new facility will allow us to “better serve our members and guests by providing for concurrent and additional prayer opportunities, classes, children, teen and youth programming, and an enhanced and more meaningful experience for everyone.”

Plans for the expansion were first introduced to the Orthodox synagogue in 1999. The project lay dormant for a number of years and was reactivated in 2006 after Rothwachs arrived at the shul.

Some congregants initially voted against the expansion, citing concerns about its high cost in a turbulent economy. But now, many of its critics have become staunch supporters of the project.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the amount and number of donations, especially in an uncertain economy, and we’re now running ahead of projections,” said Allen Friedman, co-chair of the expansion committee. “All of this indicates to us the importance the kehilla [the community] attaches to the project.”

The donations cover close to half of the project cost. But the synagogue still continues to collect more on its website., Friedman said.

“If we want a kehilla that will continue to be warm and to flourish, we need a building that let’s that happen.”

When the plan was initially proposed to the townshp, some neighbors expressed concern that an expanded building would bring more noise and parking woes to the neighborhood. But after they were invited to spend an evening at the synagogue to review the plans, they were won over, said Kahn. The township’s board of adjustment voted unanimously in favor of the project in 2009.

Beth Aaron was established in 1972 by Rabbi Meir Gottesman in a home on West Englewood Avenue at a time when many young people felt disenfranchised with their parents’ establishment synagogues, recalls longtime member and founder Mollie Fisch. Gottesman aimed to create a congregation that would attract young people who were rebelling against their parents and joining cults or running off to the Far East, she said. A Merrison Avenue family offered its basement in 1972 as a place for the congregation to meet and, years later, Dr. Stuart Littwin offered his home on Queen Anne Road, which eventually became the site for the existing synagogue building.

Although the expansion comes with hefty bills for members, Kahn says it has been met mostly with eager anticipation. “Many people are enthusiastic about the shul beginning a new chapter in its existence,” he said. “They’re looking forward to more opportunity for social interaction as well as spiritual growth in a setting that is conducive for that.”

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