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About Dov Gartenberg

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is the Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces.

Torah Scroll

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

With the Governor’s 1st phase reopening guidelines, it is possible for Houses of Worship to gather at 25% capacity. At the time of this writing, the CBI leadership is deliberating on what makes sense for our congregation.  I have recommended a cautious approach to gathering physically. While I am aware that some of our members are eager to gather physically, many of our congregants fall into the category of vulnerable populations.  Even if we were to gather, many of the restrictions that we would need to maintain would make services both awkward and unfamiliar. Everyone attending would need to practice social distancing, wear facemasks, avoid singing, among other restrictions. Such a service would be alien in and of itself.  It is my recommendation that we continue virtual services since it is the safest way to come together at the current time.

If you would like to review the most recent guidelines for Houses of Worship, please go to this link COVID-Safe Practices for Reopening.  Scroll to pp. 28 and 29 to read the guidelines for Houses of Worship. 

Given the limitations over gathering, I tried to imagine what it would take to conduct a physical Torah reading using a scroll that would be safe and meaningful for the congregation on Shabbat mornings. I would be interested in your feedback about this thought experiment. To give me feedback, first read the guidelines above about gatherings in a House of Worship. Then read the steps I have listed below. Lastly let me know your feedback by writing to me at rdg@bnaiisrael-nm.org. I’ll share the responses in my next message.  

  1. We would need volunteer Torah Readers who would be willing to attend physically and prepare the reading of the Torah in a proper manner.
  2. The Torah readers would need to be willing to appear on a Zoom video stream on Shabbat.
  3. We would need to make a determination of how much the Torah portion could be read based on those who have the skills, the time to prepare, and ability to attend the synagogue. Perhaps we try this once a month and not every week, for instance doing it once a month.
  4. We would need at least two volunteers to serve as Gabbaim-to check the Torah reader and to call virtual aliyot. The Gabbaim would need to sit some distance from the Torah reading, not their usual places next to the Torah reader at the reading stand. 
  5. Between the Torah reader (or readers), the two Gabbaim, a computer operator, and myself we would have between 5-7 people. Obviously we need to consider the choreography carefully to do this safely.
  6. It is doubtful we could do the traditional processionals.
  7. We will need to have our designated prayer books and Humashim which we have to leave in a designated place for use only by one person.  We cannot rely on an usher to pass the books out randomly. 

Moving along,  imagine all the things we need to think about if we held High Holiday services.

The Covid Virus pandemic has turned our worlds upside down. It has altered our ritual practices to a profound degree. Rituals, especially religious ones, serve to order our world, to offer us predictable ways of organizing holiness. I fully appreciate how the virtual services we are doing could be unsatisfying to many. Yet, we are forced to adapt and create meaning even in this contorted way.

I leave you with a thought-provoking article written by my colleague, Rabbi David Wolpe, entitled “The Whole World is Sitting Shiva.”  He captures the weirdness and uncertainty of the moment we are in. Here is the LINK

This is a time that requires Sovlanut-patience and forbearance. I hope that each of us finds this quality as we navigate these difficult times.

Shalom,

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Tazria-Metzora 2020: Trust and Truth Then and Now
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
April 24, 2020

These two portions, Tazria and Metzora, are difficult for us to comprehend as modern readers. The concept of Tumah or ritual impurity is difficult to understand.The term, tzara’at, which is a leprous like disease featured in chapter 13, is also difficult to understand on many levels.

While this material is difficult, I want to focus narrowly on the role of the Kohen-priest in Chapter 13. As explained by the Etz Hayim, Humash commentary, the Kohen in biblical times served in the matter of tsaraat as both a religious and medical authority. The Kohen’s role was to diagnose the condition and in specific cases to isolate (hisgir) the afflicted individual initially for 7 days. If an individual is declared impure by the Kohen, he will suffer a longer isolation outside of the camp. The Kohen also served to reintegrate afflicted individuals whose conditions had improved or disappeared.

The commentator in the Humash surmises that “When the Kohen visited the afflicted person in isolation and examined the person’s sores, the experience of being cared for by the most prestigious person in the community must have helped generate healing powers in the sick person.”

The Kohen plays this role in the community because he is trusted by the people he attends to. The Kohen has an expertise that is accepted by the community and welcomed in time of need. 

Although we no longer rely on or expect Kohanim to serve in this function, the role of the Kohen reminds us of the importance of trust as we pass through this time of unprecedented crisis. We live in a world filled with competing information, intentional distortion, suspicion toward government and authority, and a novel virus that we do not fully comprehend. Who do we trust? What sources of information help us stay safe? What are the qualities we should look for in experts, leaders, people responsible for making decisions about our health and safety?

One of my favorite passages in Pirke Avot, Wisdom from the Sages, provides us with guidelines on who we should trust in this confusing environment of disinformation, exaggeration, and conflicting information.“There are seven characteristics that typify the Golem and seven, the Hacham.  The wise person does not speak in the presence of one who is wiser; does not interrupt a friend’s words; does not reply in haste; asks what is relevant and answers to the point; replies with an orderly sequence; when appropriate, concede that ‘I have not heard this.’; and acknowledges the truth. The opposite of these typify the Golem.” Pirkei Avot 5:9

שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בַּגֹּלֶם וְשִׁבְעָה בֶחָכָם. חָכָם אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ בְחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי , וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל
אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע, אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמָעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת. וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בַּגֹּלֶם

I believe that three of these characteristics of a Hacham deserve our attention in teaching us who we can trust in the context of the pandemic. The first characteristic states that a Hacham does not speak in the presence of one who is wiser. The wise person recognizes others with greater wisdom and knowledge and defers to them.


This week I read an interview by the columnist, Tom Friedman, of Dov Seidman, an expert on leadership. As I read Seidman’s comments, I thought of this teaching in Pirkei Avot:“The strongest local leaders will be the ones who collaborate with others and, at the same time, are exceptionally clear about their plans, brutally honest about the risks, utterly specific about the behaviors they’re asking of us, constantly searching the world for best practices and totally transparent about the technologies and data they want to collect to track our movements and contacts.”Good leaders not only recognize the wisdom of others, but incorporate their wisdom to form clear, honest counsel for the community they serve. To defer to others who are wiser, is to incorporate their wisdom.

Consider the next to last teaching in our passage from Pirkei Avot,  “When he does not know, he concedes that, ‘I have not heard this.’”Seidman observes, “What people actually want in a leader, even a charismatic one, is humility. I feel more certain in the face of uncertainty when a leader says to me, ‘I don’t know, but here are the wise experts I am going to turn to for answers, and here is how we are going to hunt for the answers together.’ The more I hear Dr. Fauci say that he does not know something, the more closely I listen to him discuss what he is sure of.”“Humble leaders actually make themselves smaller than the moment. They know that they alone cannot fix everything. So, they create the space for others to join them and to rise to do big things — together.”Anavah, humility, is the ability to perceive what you do not know and to seek others who do know. The quality is like the first quality mentioned above of deferring to someone who is wiser. The difference here is a person who is acutely aware of what she doesn’t know and can identify those gaps in her knowledge to be able to seek wisdom and knowledge from others. This can only arise from authentic humility.

The last quality in the Mishnah from Pirkei Avot is that a Hacham “acknowledges the truth.”Seidman posits a similar quality. “Great leaders trust people with the truth. And they make hard decisions guided by values and principles, not just politics, popularity, or short-term profits. Great leaders understand that when so many vulnerable and scared people are so willing, so quickly, to put their livelihoods and even their lives in their leaders’ hands, and make sacrifices asked of them, they expect the truth and nothing but the truth in return. Leaders who trust people with the truth are trusted more in return.”The ability to admit the truth, even if it is difficult to bear, is a critical quality for the moment we are in. We are dependent on our leaders at every level to provide us with the truth and point out falsehood.

The final observation in the Pirkei Avot passage tells us that the Golem embraces the opposite of these qualities. 

The Golem does not defer to those who are wiser than him. He has a trouble accepting the authority and wisdom of others.

The Golem never admits to not knowing something. He has convinced himself that he knows everything and has a better grip on reality than anyone else. He is likely to hide his ignorance to embrace alternative realities as a way to cover up for his ignorance.

Lastly, the Golem cannot accept the truth. Or he actively distorts it. He only promises a rosy future because he thinks people will abandon him if he tells the harsh truth.

In an analysis of the methods of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist of Info-Wars, a journalist observes. “He instills a deep distrust in all authority, while promoting a seductive, conspiratorial alternate reality in which Mr. Jones, via his outlandish conspiracies, has all the answers.“ In another observation the journalist refers to anti-vaxers and people who trump liberty over public health: “They judge about other people’s needs or interests as a form of tyranny by definition. They do not think their choices affect other people.”

As difficult it is to understand our portion today, it is possible to understand that the Kohen was a trusted and truthful authority. While 2500 years have separated us from the ancient practices described in the portion and our own time, we need trusted and truthful leaders as much as our forebears. We hunger for the qualities of sound and wise leadership that are described in Pirkei Avot. In this confusing and distorted world, we must be especially skeptical of false prophets, corrupt and self-serving leaders, and arrogant snake oil salesmen. We must cultivate the critical skills to recognize and support wise leadership that the Torah has left for us as an inheritance.

Shabbat Shalom,
IMAGE: Rabbi Dov Sig
Rabbi Dov Gartenbergrdg@bnaiisrael-nm.org

Dear Readers,

I am reactivating and repurposing the Panim Hadashot-New Faces blog. I have not been writing since moving to New Mexico to take an interim pulpit at Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque in August of 2019. Now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been moved to witness this unprecedented and unforgettable moment in our lives. I hope to repurpose the blog for two things.

First, I will use the blog to communicate with my community here in New Mexico in a timely manner. When I am writing to my community, I will open with the words, "For the community of B'nai Israel, ABQ". That will tell you the message is local for the ABQ Jewish Community.

Second, I will bear witness to this moment in time as we live through these difficult and weird times. These blog posts will not have the words, "For the community of B'nai Israel, ABQ." They are designed for a general readership including ABQ and beyond. I will also post links to excellent articles and things I come across.

At the moment, I am not accepting comments on the blog, but if you are moved to write, please send me an email at dovgartenberg at Hotmail.com.

I wish everyone health and safety,

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Rabbi Richard Levy was a Rabbi's Rabbi

Rabbi Richard Levy, one of my mentors and rabbinic guides passed away on June 21, 2019. He was a remarkable man in his goodness, his wisdom, his insight, and his leadership. He was a leading Reform Rabbi who worked in the Hillel setting in Los Angeles and then went on to leadership roles in the Reform Movement.

Richard played a central role in my choosing to become a Rabbi when I met him in 1973 after my freshman year at college. He taught a class on the literature of the Holocaust. His powerful commentary and his empathy for suffering of the victims of the holocaust deeply moved me. During the class I met with him several times He was not only a great listener, but a man of great depth. He helped me through many challenges then and in subsequent years. I so admired his qualities, that I began to seriously consider the rabbinate as a future career. For me he was a Rabbi's Rabbi.

Over the decades I kept up with Richard and followed his career as a leader in the Reform Movement. I also know that Richard was a support for countless colleagues and inspired many young people to enter the rabbinate of all the denominations. But most of all, I found him to be a wise counselor and a caring heart. He was a remarkable man. We have suffered a great loss, but have been blessed by a magnificent life.

You can read more about his career here:

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg