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11-14-15: Derasha on Paris Attacks

Dear Friends
I share with you my thoughts in synagogue today
We should only have בשורות טובות
Rav Bendavid
What happened in Paris last night hits us close to home because it was an attack against all of Western Civilization. However, for many of you sitting here in the Beit Knesset, this hits you much closer to home because you have many friends, family, and whole communities back in Paris. You have walked the streets where these attacks occurred and so I imagine how much harder all of this must be for you.
We are about to say 2 chapters of Tehillim.
The first perek of tehillim is to pray for the healing of all the people who have been affected by this devastating attack. We have in mind the terrible pain experienced for those who lost their loves ones. We pray for anyone who was injured, and their families. We pray that Hashem provides comfort to these families and French Society at large.
The second perek of tehillim is related our Parsha, Toldot.  We are told that Yitzchak was blind –וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת. This was not just a physical deformity. It was moral blindness. Yitzchak did not quite understand the evil nature of Eisav. He was naïve and blinded by his love for his son. However, after Yaakov deceitfully steals Eisav’s first-born blessing, we are told, ויחד יצחק חרדה גדולה עד מאד. Yitzchak was deeply shaken. He trembled after realizing that he had made a terrible judgment about Eisav’s character. He realized that G-d had somehow orchestrated this reversal and it suddenly became clear to him how blind he had been.
So we recite this second chapter of tehillim to pray that our leaders will see the current situation with absolute clarity. We are facing an enemy of Radical Islam whose aim is to destroy our civilization.  We pray for clarity of vision and purpose. We pray that G-d should provide our leaders with the wisdom and the guidance to keep our world a safe place to live. We pray for democracy and peace. 


Dear Friends

Check out this unbelievably moving piece by HaRav Ben Zion Ouziel, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel

Rav Ouziel's Spiritual Will to the Jewish People

Dear Friends

My trip to Israel so far has been unbelievable! In America, I find myself getting downcast sometimes just reading the news coming from the Middle East. What is going to be the future of our Jewish state?! Etc When I arrive in Israel, my fears tend to fade away. Israel is more bustling and thriving than ever before. New buildings are going up, tourists are in abundance, children are running around, and the sun is shining.


My first day here, I spent the day with my sister’s family and their five beautiful children. Yesterday, I made my way to the Sephardic Educational Center, my home for the next nine days. The SEC is the building right in front of you when you enter the Jewish Quarter’s main parking lot. I always wondered what this place was about, but I never ventured inside…


My father always taught me to have low expectations. You end up happier this way.  Based on this advice, I was expecting my accommodations at the SEC to be more akin to a youth hostel. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that they turned the youth hostel into a beautiful hotel, “The Sephardic House”. If you are looking for a beautiful and quiet hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem decorated in Moorish-Arabic style, this is secret gem for you and your family, located right at the center of the world.


The group of attendees includes rabbanim from all parts of the world – Seattle, California, Mexico, France, Israel, and of course New York. The program is lead by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Director of the Sephardic Educational Center (Brigitte and Ari’s cousin). The primary teacher is Rabbi Yitshak Chouraqui, a Talmid Chacham who has spent his life immersed in the study of classic Sephardic Responsa . Rav Chouraqui is a community Rabbi in Bayit Vegan and the Rosh Beit Midrash of Merhav and Shaarei Ouziel, SEC’s beit midrash for Sephardic Rabbanim. The goal of this Beit Midrash is to train rabbis in the classic Sephardic tradition by studying Sephardic response with the goal of revitalizing the world of Sephardic Jewry, a world which has experienced much disruption due to geographic displacement.


The discussions have been fiery and exciting as one would expect when you stick a bunch of Moroccan and Syrian rabbis in one room for 12 hours a day!


I want to share 3 discussion points that I found very interesting from yesterday:

1)      How do we transmit Jewish tradition to the next generation? There are two ways: 1) mimetically 2) through studying books. Rav Chouraqui pointed out an important phenomenon in the Sephardic Jewish community that relates to how we pass on the masorah (Jewish tradition) to the next generation. A Hundred years ago, people learned how to be Jewish mimetically. They would go to shul and see their parents observe halakha in the home. Through observation and modeling in the family and synagogue setting, they would learn how to live like a Jew. However, in the last 50 years or so, the Sephardic mimetic tradition has broken down (this transformation happened in the Ashkenazi world a long time ago). As a result, the Sephardic world has become “book-centered” as well. Chacham Ovadia’s encyclopedic work on Halakha, Yalkut Yosef is an attempt to create unified Jewish tradition for Sephardic Jewry in our “book-centered” generation. North African rabbanim such as Rav Messas have fought against Rav Ovadia’s attempt to create a uniform Jewish tradition for all Sephardim. In reaction, Rav Messas and others have authored their own works to try to preserve their own Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and North African customs. However, this too is an aberration from the mimetic form of education. It reinforces the same “book-centered” method of transmission that it is trying to undermine. Thus, we are stuck in a quandary. How can one recreate a mimetic tradition that no longer functions in its natural way?


All of this has great consequences because a mimetic tradition tends to be more זורם with life - it flows more naturally;  it present an authentic halakha – a way to walk in life. In contrast, when one receives all their knowledge from books, they lack the life experience to know how to implement and embody the halakhic tradition in a balanced manner. For this reason, Ashkenazi pesak halakha, and now even Sephardic pesak halakha has started to deviate from its more moderate methodology to become more מחמיר (stringent).


2)      In one discussion group, we were trying to distill the “essential” qualities of Sephardic Judaism. What makes Sephardic Judaism unique? Is it the food, culture, and music, as the Jewish week would have you believe?! Or are there fundamental religious and halakhic principles that define and distinguish Sephardic Judaism from other parts of the Jewish world? If there is something fundamental, what are those defining qualities? Are Sephardic rabbis more lenient in their decision making? Are they worldlier? Are our communities more inclusive? Is the fact that there is more respect for authority? Do these qualities exist in other communities as well?  I welcome your thoughts on this issue…


3)      We discussed the famous “Takanah” (decree) of the Syrian Jewish community. The Syrian Jewish community based in Brooklyn has a communal policy of not accepting converts into their communities (please note that not all Syrian communities implement these policies in the same way). Many Rabbanim disagree with this policy and believe that it blatantly violates a prohibition in the torah of welcoming converts

מִצְרָיִם  וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ שמות כ"ב:כ -  

However, it was interesting to hear one Syrian rabbi make the case that this Takanah has singlehandedly saved the Syrian Jewish community from assimilation in America. This rabbi recognized the problems but argued, “This Takanah has saved 99% of the community for the sake of %1.”

I present this position to you, not because I agree with it. This is absolutely not the policy in our community and it never will be, but I guess this raises an interesting question of how closed or open we should make our Jewish community to the surrounding culture? Would our community be better with stronger policies against conversion or more open policies?


4)      We heard an excellent presentation about an amazing website called - חכם יומי. The website teaches about one Sephardic Chacham each day on the day of their hazkara. The website is in Hebrew, but it’s an excellent resource. If you like the page on Facebook, you can receive one chacham’s profile on a daily basis.


5)      Rabbi David Zenou recommended that I send a link to his website which contains 80,000 questions and answers about Jewish Law, all in French.


Kol tuv

Rav Bendavid

Thu, January 24 2019 18 Shevat 5779