What is Jewish Hospitality?

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a community focused on the practice of Jewish hospitality. The Jewish hospitality traditions go back to Abraham and Sarah in chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis. Abraham greets and feeds guests soon after he had circumcised himself. The Rabbis saw his readiness to welcome guests even when he was physically uncomfortable as an indication of his extraordinary kindness. In rabbinic literature, the act of hospitality (hachnasat orchim) is greatly cherished and is regarded as a sign of good character and generosity.

The term “panim hadashot”-new faces is found in the Talmud to refer to the practice of inviting people in the community to share in the joy of bride and groom by inviting them to the ancient tradition of seven days of feasting and singing for the bride and groom following a wedding. The guests at these parties had to be new faces who had not attended the wedding celebration. The purpose of inviting new faces was to share joy and abundance with others beyond the bride and groom’s family and friends.  We draw inspiration from this old hospitality tradition.  We reintroduce this practice to modern Jews by helping households to practice home hospitality and the making our Sabbath and Festival tables a welcoming space for new faces-“panim hadashot.”

Jewish hospitality is associated with the observance of the Sabbath. It is traditional to invite guests to the home Sabbath table either on Friday evening or during the Sabbath day.  One sign of a strong synagogue community is an invitation to a newcomer at a home for a Sabbath meal after the service.

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is committed to reviving and adapting the Jewish hospitality traditions in our modern context in which Jewish households are spread out over a wide geographical area and many Jews are not observant or are regular synagogue attenders.   We see Shabbat home hospitality as a way to revitalize a sense of Shabbat in people’s lives. We do this by sharing with our hosts and their guests the best of Jewish music and teachings while opening up the joys of hospitality, relaxed conversation, and sharing a bountiful meal.     

Our hope is that our hosts will endeavor will also open their home to new faces, people outside their family and friendship circle. Welcoming the stranger is a very important feature of classical Jewish hospitality. When we practice hospitality we are able to share our Jewish values as an expression of living in a free, diverse society as well as to learn about the values of the those we host. In a troubled world where people talk of building walls, we wish to do the opposite.  The words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks express the vision guiding our understanding of Jewish hospitality in a world of diversity.

“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others. Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying, ‘if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.’ Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”

“Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?” 

And Abraham came forward and said (to YHWH).  “Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?  Maybe there are fifty virtuous who are in it (the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah)?  Far be it from you to do a thing like this, to kill the virtuous with wicked–and it will be the same for the virtuous and the wicked-far be it from you. Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” Genesis 18:23-25

Here is an excerpt from a story today in The New York Times about a family impacted by Trump’s ban.

Had all gone according to plan, after an overnight flight from Doha, Qatar, Hamidyah Al Saeedi, 65, would have landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on Saturday and then boarded a connecting flight to Raleigh, N.C., to meet her son Ali Alsaeedy, whom she had not seen in five years.

It was not by chance that her new life as an American immigrant would begin in North Carolina. Her son is a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Bragg.

When she did not show up at the airport, Sgt. Alsaeedy’s immediate fear was that his mother, who does not speak English, had somehow gotten lost.

He flew to New York, where another reality awaited him. His mother was not lost: She was being held somewhere in Terminal 4 by authorities who were threatening to deport her. “They wouldn’t even let me see her,” Sgt. Alsaeedy, a newly minted American citizen, said by phone on Sunday morning from the airport, where he was still waiting for his mother.

A native of Baghdad, Sgt. Alsaeedy has been working for the American government for much of his life. After the 2003 invasion, he was an interpreter for seven years, working for the American military and the United States Agency for International Development. For his service, he eventually received a special immigrant visa and emigrated to the United States.

He joined the Army and returned to Iraq in 2015, this time as a United States soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I cannot tell you what I was doing,” he said when asked about his role. All he would say was this: “The mission we were doing there, I was a part of it.”

For years, he had been filling out endless forms so that his mother and his father could join him in America. “I started the process five years ago to bring both parents to this country,” Sgt. Alsaeedy said.

In December, his father died. A few weeks later, his mother’s visa was approved. He immediately booked a flight for her. At the moment that the president signed the immigration order, at 4:42 p.m. in Washington on Friday, she was probably waiting to board her flight in Doha.

The ban issued by the president is arbitrary, sudden, and cruel.  I also believe it is counter to American interests and will not keep us safe from terrorism. 

As a Jew I am outraged by the President’s action.  Abraham’s “hagasha” coming forward to God, sets a precedent for us to come forward and protest this cruel order.  As an American and a descendent of immigrants I find this action reprehensible and contrary to the powerful words expressed by another Jew that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty.  

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yesterday, I spoke with my adult children who are fighting despair over the reckless acts of this new administration.  We had an extended discussion on what these times will demand of us and ultimately, what the God of Abraham demands of us.  It is time “l’hagish” to come forward to protest and to work together with others to reverse these evil decrees. 

I hope you will join with me. 

Please share my words with others who may take them to heart, and please share with me  your thoughts about what the present moment demands at dov@panimhadashot or in the comment section to the Panim Hadashot Blog at www.panimhadashot.org. 

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Monday, January 30, 2017