Havurat Shabbat Shalom – 3/27/2015
Rabbi Englander's Blog

Havurat Shabbat Shalom – 3/27/2015

Erev Shabbat Shalom,

It is Shabbat HaGadol…which means we must be celebrating a Koolik bar mitzvah. Let me check…yes indeed, we are!  Mazal tov to Joshua Koolik who celebrates in Havurat Shabbat tomorrow as his older brothers did in years past.  Mazal tov to Gary and Tania and to Havurat Shabbat regulars Beatriz and Harold Jacobsohn and to the whole family.  As Claudia was getting the Shabbat bulletin together she said I have a problem, I don’t have the usual amount of space to list multiple readers for Havurat Shabbat.  I said that’s no problem – we only have one reader tomorrow!  And that is Joshua.  We look forward to a very special morning.

Shabbat HaGadol…the great Shabbat.  Maybe it was because the rabbi would give a “gadol” sermon to explain the laws of Passover.  That of course is not possible to do in one sermon so I wonder if that is actually the reason.  It is great because we are “greatly” anticipating our opportunity to re-tell the story of the Exodus, our foundational narrative as a people.  Every re-telling is also a reenactment, as we try to feel (and if not feel, at least taste) something of what it was to be a slave to Pharaoh in Egypt, a re-telling and re-experiencing which is ingeniously designed to do at least two things.  First, it is meant to insure that we will not forget and in fact we will try to do something for those in the world who are not yet free.  Second, it is meant to help us to underscore and emphasize our gratitude for the many ways we are able to enjoy our freedom.  When we contrast our experiences – even with everyone’s challenges – with that of the Israelite slaves, we understand that we would not trade with them.  Gratitude, in the form of blessing, prayer, conversation, and ritual is part and parcel of the seder and Passover experience.

Take a look (if you dare) at the slightly updated Rabbinical Assembly Passover guide of 5775.  There is not much new, though there is a teaser that a potentially major statement on kitniyot is being prepared by the Law Committee (hummus, here we come??).  So we will have something to talk about this time next year!  Here is the link.

I came across a pretty good list of family friendly ideas for your seder – you can find it here.

For more ideas, including recipes, activities, and some welcoming thoughts for your uninitiated guests,  see the BTC Passover guide that was e-mailed this week.  You can find it here.

Around this time I usually report on Passover kashrut questions that were raised this season.  Maybe it will be a big week but I have to say that there have not been many.  One interesting one though was whether a Keurig machine can be made kosher for Passover.  Some say yes, some say no.  If one drinks only plain, unflavored, “regular” coffee it is possible that the Keurig can continue to be used.  If one drinks flavored coffee (or other hot drinks that I have no use for) or decaf (keep reading) coffee, then to use the Keurig on Passover with plain, regular, unprocessed K-Cups the machine would have to be made kosher.  It seems to me that this is a process that is ‘not worth it’ and I’m not so sure would be fully effective in any event (though there are guides to trying it online).

So I asked the person who asked me this question what kind of coffee he drinks and he said only plain decaf coffee – no flavors.  I was hoping that would be ok but it turns out that according to one of the major Kashrut certifying agencies:  “Coffee is often decaffeinated by means of ethyl acetate, which is derived from either kitniyot or chometz.  Therefore, decaffeinated coffees are not acceptable for Passover unless specifically listed in the section of the Passover guide which contains items that do not require Passover certification.”  That list, if you are curious, includes a bunch of Folgers ‘decaf’ products and some other smaller producers as well.  If you need details…let me know. Or just drink tea.

The traditional Passover greeting is Chag kasher v’sameach, but a while back I wrote to the same Rabbi Elliot Dorff who wrote the introduction to this year’s RA Passover guide and he wrote back with the greeting “Chag sameach v’kasher” which I thought was nice and I’ve been using it ever since.  So I wish you, your family, our community and the Jewish world a Chag sameach v’kasher, a joyous holiday during which the unique rules associated with it help to enhance our focus on the eternally important themes that are raised, discussed, and committed to at the seder and throughout the holiday.

We will plan to have a service on the 8th day of Passover (April 11th) which will include a full Yizkor.  I’m including the Torah readers here first to confirm with them and second to see if anyone can pick up #1. Please let me know.


  1. 14:22-29
  2. 15:1-18         Scott
  3. 15:19-23      Alan
  4. 16:1-3           Linda
  5. 16:4-8          Ed Levine
  6. 16:9-12        Judy
  7. 16:13-17       Alan

Maftir:          28:19-25       Alan (Bamidbar)
Haftarah:  Isaiah 10:32-12:6 Simon

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi David Englander

Below, what I meant to say two weeks ago. (I was away last week at a family bat mitzvah – which was lovely except for the weather…nice to be home!)

Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudey 5775
Rabbi David Englander

I want to begin this week by looking back to last week.  In Parashat Ki Tissa we learn of the cheit ha-egel, the sin of the golden calf.  One wonderful bit of textual interpretation teaches about those who participated in this sin by giving up their gold for its fashioning and those who didn’t.  Of course it was the Israelite women who did not participate in this way, and they were rewarded, as our tradition would have it, with the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month.  Women are better in tune with the monthly cycle of things in any event and it is likely that this ‘award’ was an affirmation of women already being the best half of the species to mark a monthly holiday as special, but either way – it is a credit to the way our rabbis interpreted the Torah that the award was for something right that they stood up for, and not “simply” (though not so simply!) a matter of biological or anatomical difference.

The textual interpretation is striking to me.  The Torah tells us in Parashat Ki Tissa that “the people” came to Moses’ brother, Aaron (remember that Moses was up on Mount Sinai at the time) and ordered up the idol.  Aaron told them to get the golden rings from their wives and their sons and their daughters.  So how do you know the wives didn’t participate?  If they had, then Aaron would have told them to get the rings from their wives and their husbands.  Then later the Torah says “the people” broke off the golden rings that were in their ears – you remember who “the people” were in this case, right?  The men!  The women did not give up the gold for the idol.

I was reminded of this tribute because of a verse in the first of the two Torah portions designated for this Shabbat, Vayakhel-Pekudey.  The Torah tells us who participated in the next ordering up of something to be constructed using gold, which is the mishkan, or parts of it.  And we learn “ vayavo’u ha-anashim al hanashim” which is translated by JPS as “Men and women” but even those who know a little Hebrew also know that there is a much simpler way to say “men and women”, which is ha-anashim v’ha-nashim.  What is with the ‘al hanashim’?  To which a number of commentators including Ibn Ezra say that it is better explained as “the men as well as the women,” meaning the men followed what the women did.  In his words:  ‘the women brought their gifts and afterward the men did so.’

The other “heroine-clue” we find in our parasha is a rabbinic interpretation of something else the women donated to the cause, which was the “mar’ot” that they had.  You may hear the root – resh-aleph-hey – which is to see, and the mar’ot were what they saw themselves in – their mirrors.  Now that may have been a needed material for part of the mishkan, but the rabbis push further.  They say that Moses wanted to reject them because they are a sign of vanity, not fit for the mishkan.  But God said “they are more precious to Me than all the rest!”  Do you know why?  When they were in Egypt and the husbands came back exhausted the women would use the mirrors both to beautify themselves and also to lovingly tease their husbands.  They would say look at us – I’m better looking than you are!  And that would lead to some future Israelites, which represented hope and belief that redemption from Egypt would come.

I think my eyes were drawn to these comments lauding the heroism of women Israelites because somewhere in my consciousness is the knowledge that March in our country is Women’s History Month.  It is a fairly recent innovation, but a worthwhile one.  Naming the biggest influencers on U.S. history off the top of your head will generally lead to a list dominated by males.  Same thing in the Torah and the rest of the Bible.  While we have to go a little out of our way, or out of the way of the ‘standard record’ to note the great, unmistakable, and irreplaceable contribution of women throughout history around the world, we should find the means to do just that.  Women’s history month brings to light underreported stories of people like Delilah L. Beasley, a journalist, Eleanor Flexner, a historian and independent scholar, Polly Welts Kaufman, writer, teacher and activist. And you would say ‘I’ve never heard of any of them’ but you could probably name impactful male journalists, historians, activists…and maybe, hopefully, some women too.

The writing into the commentary these midrashic narratives about heroic women does not, I’m afraid, even the score on how men and women are represented in the Biblical or even the rabbinic tradition.  Just as our culture has come far in properly valuing women, and has not come far enough, so too does the Bible and its commentaries not focus heavily enough on telling us about the lives of impactful women through the ages.  Thankfully we live in a day and age in which some parts of the world and scholarship are committed to excavating that record, correcting it, and living with a truly egalitarian mindset today and tomorrow as well.

And just as our tradition fell short at times on this front, and just as our own country still sometimes falls short, we would note that around the world it is more often than not the case that women’s rights are the exception rather than the norm.  Through my fellowship with AJWS this year I’ve come not quite face to face with, but certainly more knowledgeable about statistics, stories, and individuals who face gender-based discrimination and violence in ways that make us shudder.  Hopefully they also make us want to do something about it, by becoming more knowledgeable, by being involved in and supportive of good organizations that make a difference in people’s lives here and around the world, and knowing very well that political engagement makes a difference.  One example is a bill called IVAWA, the International Violence Against Women Act, which after a lot of work was recently introduced in the House and the Senate and may, possibly, just become a law in bipartisan fashion.  It will put these issues onto the radar screen of diplomats around the world in a way not previously done, and empower government officials to communicate to their counterparts that the U.S. will devote time and resources to “prevent and respond to” acts of gender-based discrimination.

In this and many areas, our world has a long way to go.  The trajectory of how much attention has been paid to women’s contribution to the Jewish narrative – going from “some but not enough” to “more but still a ways to go” represents what I think is a core Jewish commitment of valuing every human being, and where that value is unfairly diminished, to try to do something about that.