Category Archives: Uruguay

Press Release: Uruguay introduces prayer for Israel Independence Day

Uruguay introduces prayer for Israel Independence Day

May 9, 2016, Montevideo, Uruguay — The Chief Rabbinate of Uruguay announced that on Israel Independence Day, the Jewish community of Uruguay will hold a community-wide celebratory prayer on the evening of May 11th, coinciding with the celebrations in Israel. At that service, a new prayer will also be introduced besides the additions suggested by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

The prayers will be held at the Hebraica-Macabi sports complex of Montevideo and is being organized by the Zionist Organization of Uruguay, under the leadership of their president Sami Mylsztejn. “I am extremely happy that we have been able to bring together the entire Uruguayan community for this special event,” stated Mr. Mylsztejn. “This is what gives our people strength. Unity.”

At the communal service an additional prayer will be recommended for the festive liturgy. The prayer, titled “Al Hanisim le’Yom Haatzamaut” (meaning, For the Miracles for the Day of Independence), is a new prayer that was composed by Chief Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz, together with Dr. Avi Shmidman of Bar-Ilan University in 2009.

The prayer follows the style and form of other prayers of thanksgiving, specifically those composed for the Jewish holidays of Hanuka and Purim. In the years since Spitz and Shmidman composed the prayer it has made its way to individuals and communities around the world who recite it on Israel Independence Day. However, this is the first time it has been embraced by the Jewish community of an entire country.

“It is a great honor that so many people have found meaning and an articulation of spiritual joy through our prayer,” Rabbi Spitz explained. “The formation of the State of Israel is nothing less than a modern-day miracle for the entire Jewish people. It is our obligation to thank God for his overt involvement in its creation, for returning us to our homeland after our exile of two thousand years. We are witnesses to a historic process, and for many Jews, observant or otherwise, they connect with the words of our liturgy on this day of celebration either as a stand-alone prayer, or as a part of the prescribed liturgy.”

The full text of the prayer as well as translations into English, Spanish and Portuguese can be found at http://alhanisim.blogspot.com

English translation below:

And for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

In the days of the ingathering of the remnant of Israel from the lands of darkness and the shadow of death to their beloved inheritance, pioneers of the nation arose, raised the flag, composed a declaration, and claimed the right of the nation to be established with its own consent, as a Jewish government in the land of its birth. With song and dance, women and children, the old and the young, celebrated on the streets with joy and rejoicing. At that same time, their enemies converged forthwith, to eliminate all trace of Israel from the land, and to push into the sea all the keepers of its faith. But You hurried forth to rescue your nation. You strengthened the hands of their defenders, and destroyed the weapons of their enemies. A revival of glory you made, a country of beauty you established, the beginning of the longing of the generations, a refuge and a fortress for the return of all Your people.

Microsoft Word - AlHanisimFullPage.docx

Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Seder 5776 Recap

 April 28, 2016

Seder 5776 Recap

Seder KearaGabriel and I were nervous until everyone was seated. The hotel was being very strict as to the number of participants we could have.

We had worked for weeks on the program, getting speakers, layout of the hall, placements and more. I had already consulted the previous year as to what is the minimum of the Hagadah that must be performed according to Jewish law. As people filled the hall there was a palpable energy in the air. For many years, the Seder had been exclusively for needy families and individuals, who all participated at no cost to them, many of them coming mainly for the meal. This year, we reserved many spots for those willing to pay (a subsidized fee). The mix gave it a much greater community feel.

Finally, most of the guests had arrived and we were ready to start. It is no simple thing to have your voice heard by 280 people sitting at their tables, and with no microphone. But we pulled it off. There were a few key principles:

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it moving
  • Keep it interesting
  • Keep changing
  • Sing whenever possible.

We sang the Shalom Aleichem for Friday night (each verse only once). Kiddush, check. However, the wine glasses were particularly big, and as per Jewish law I drank at least half of it. On an empty stomach I immediately felt it. We had ten washing stations in the hallway, which most of the guests used. Dipped the potato in the salt water, check. Broke the Matza, check. Sang Ha Lachma, check. Then our first speaker took the floor, young Mica Kreiner. She enthralled the audience with her succinct and powerful speech. I immediately noticed that more people paid attention when our guests spoke than when I spoke – guests speakers – good.

Ma Nishtana was sung with great gusto by children and adults alike. Sang Avadim Hayinu. Spoke briefly about the 4 sons, then talk from our next speaker, Marcos Israel, an eloquent and seasoned community leader. Sang Vehi Sheamda, performed the Makot in simultaneous Spanish translation and then the final guest speaker, community veteran Simon Lamstein with a moving tale of how an Annus (converso) family kept Pesach. At the point where we mention how in every generation an enemy rises to destroy the Jewish people, we remembered David Fremd z”l, who had been murdered in Paysandu, and sang his favorite song, Hine Ma Tov, emotionally.

Boisterous singing of Dayenu. Loud proclamation of Halleluyah. Massive declaration of “Pesach, Matza, uMarror.” 2nd large cup of wine. Now it really hit me and I’m starting to see double. I think I conducted the rest of the Seder half drunk, which might have contributed to its great success.

Everyone returned to the hallway to wash their hands, including a special guest, my friend Cardinal Daniel Sturla, the Archbishop of Montevideo, who sat next to me. I instructed the participants not to speak between washing hands and eating the Matza. Someone approached him after he washed hands to engage him in conversation and he signaled that he couldn’t speak. At least one person knew how to follow instructions well. He thoroughly enjoyed the Seder, participated fully and came with his own bright red kippah, which is used only by Cardinals.

People seemed to actually take the commandment of eating Matza seriously, as they did the Marror and Hillel’s sandwich. Then came the main event most people were waiting for: dinner.

The catering by Burcatovsky was superb. After the first course of gefilte fish, delicious chrein and a selection of salads, I had everyone stand up and exit the hall. In the hallway, the large crowd was blocked by a wall of blue (tablecloths). With suitable introduction the wall parted, allowing the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptians and make it back to their tables in time for a hot and tasty matza ball soup, as we sang Siman Tov Umazal Tov in celebration.

The main course was outstanding, of stuffed chicken, potato kugel and tzimes, with one participant claiming it was “the best chicken he had eaten in years.” This was followed by a delightful fruit salad concoction.

We ate the Matza of the Afikoman. Sang the beginning of Birkat Hamazon, had the 3rd cup (at this point I switched to a mixture of grape juice as I had trouble keeping my balance), sang Echad Mi Yodea fully, 4th cup (also a mix), sang Leshana Haba and released everyone to go home.

The responses of gratitude and appreciation were immediate. Many, many people approached me and thanked me for the best Seder they had experienced in many years. They were pleasantly surprised by what they expected would be a worse experience than what they might have had at home. The place was great, the food was fantastic and they liked the conduction and the program very much.

Though there are already plans to build on the success of this Seder and have an even better one next year, a part of me also prays as we do in the Hagadah: Beshana Haba’a Beyerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem.

 

Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: David Fremd’s Last Challah

 March 14, 2016

David Fremd’s Last Challah

There was a Jewish man in a small town that remembered fondly the days of a thriving Jewish community and an active synagogue. He always sought to bring back those glory days. But the community had shrunk. The synagogue was decrepit and barely used. Yet he never gave up hope. With great effort the synagogue was rededicated. Someone donated some badly needed tables. And then in a fit of enthusiasm, the man decided that Friday night services needed to commence again. He convened the community for the Kaballat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service and ordered Challah (the special bread eaten on the Sabbath) for after the services.

But it was a Thursday. The response was lukewarm. There was not a quorum ready to commit to attend. The service didn’t happen. The man’s family ate the Challahs. One remained and was placed in the freezer.

Undeterred, the man decided he will try again the following week.

On Monday he pushed again, only to receive another lukewarm response. Ever optimistic, he stated: “No worries. It’s still early in the week. A lot can happen between now and the Sabbath. But we WILL have Kaballat Shabbat. And we will use that Challah.”

He was stabbed to death the following day for being Jewish. His name was David Fremd.

The murder itself was shocking, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky.

Amidst all of the grief, shock, anger and resolve, the family decided that a correct response would be to open the synagogue and conduct Shabbat services. And that is what we did.

Friday night, after a moving service with close to one hundred participants, more than had prayed there in decades, we served David’s Challah after the services. Everyone made sure to eat a piece. David had been right after all. We did have Kaballat Shabbat. His family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances had come from near and far, including many from Montevideo, 400km away and from as far north as Artigas on the border with Brazil.

For those unfamiliar with the story or context of David’s murder, below is some more background.

The tranquil town of Paysandu, all of Uruguay, and the entire Jewish community was rocked last week with the brutal murder of David Fremd for the singular fact of being a Jew. David was on his way to open his store, when a local man brandishing a knife, attacked him from behind, stabbing him repeatedly. The local man, who a number of years previously had converted to Islam, and claiming inspiration from Allah, left his home with the singular purpose of killing a Jew. He succeeded.

The national media has reported extensively on the murder, the circumstances, the background of the murderer, the effect on the family, the community and the Jewish population, the aftereffects, the alacrity of the political response, the tremendous show of support and solidarity, including an unheard of march in Paysandu of thousands of people. However, there was almost no mention in the international media and some in the Israeli and Jewish media.

I have had the responsibility of accompanying the family since I found out about the attack and rushed to the hospital, where David had already died by the time I arrived. This has been the first free moment I’ve had since the murder.

Just to give my readers some background: Paysandu is a small town. Its center consists basically of a square of four city blocks punctuated by an old but stately church and a reasonably maintained plaza with some patches of green. Beyond the small city center there are barely any buildings taller than two stories. Most have not seen a coat of paint since their original construction which must go back many decades.

While the roads are bumpy and cracked, there are no major potholes. There is a relaxed quality to driving, walking or anything anyone does in Paysandu. It is on the shore of the river Uruguay, whose banks have a tendency to overflow, and has done so quite recently forcing people we know from their homes.

Nonetheless, the people of Paysandu are generally proud of the little spot on earth they call their own. It is one of the older cities in Uruguay, with its own respected history and heritage, once being a major trading hub, but that was decades ago.

The Jewish community of Paysandu has likewise seen stronger days. At its height, it counted over 200 families amongst its membership with an active synagogue, Hebrew school and Zionist youth movements. However, the majority of those families have since move out, either making Aliyah (emigrating) to Israel, moving to Montevideo, or other locales, or simply assimilating so completely into the surrounding culture as to have no identification whatsoever with the Jewish community.

Today Paysandu claims less than 10 Jewish families in its membership. The extent of the synagogue use is only for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, where they struggle to have a minyan (the quorum of ten men required to conduct communal prayer).

Last year, I had the privilege of participating in the rededication of the synagogue of Paysandu where I met David Fremd, much of his extended family, and other members of the community. The reason for the rededication is that after a legal battle lasting several years, the community finally managed to evict a squatter that had taken over control of the synagogue.

To give the story some biblical overtones, it turns out the squatter was a prostitute and saw her customers on the synagogue grounds. It immediately brought to mind the tale of how Titus, the destroyer of the Temple in Jerusalem, went into the very Holy of Holies, and on a Torah scroll had relations with a prostitute. I told the community members that evicting the prostitute and rededicating the synagogue, in a way, is also a correction of that horrible defilement that occurred in our Temple. David in particular had liked that connection.

The day of David’s funeral was unusually cold, windy and rainy. As we arrived at the cemetery there was an army’s worth of policemen guarding the perimeter including a SWAT team. All the TV stations had set up cameras outside the cemetery as they were not allowed inside. Despite the inclement weather, there were more people than I had ever seen in the cemetery, including notable political figures.

The mourning family showed tremendous strength and force of character, especially the sons who spoke so powerfully, with no rancor or hate. The mourners with a busload of family and friends returned to Paysandu.

Paysandu is almost 400 kilometers away from Montevideo, on roads that alternate between somewhat reasonable highways, to barely paved country roads.

As all understood, the attack against one member of the Jewish community for being Jewish, was an attack against all of us. We needed to respond. I had suggested to some of the family that an appropriate response would be to open the synagogue this Sabbath. They responded enthusiastically. We then decided to extend the opening for the entire week of mourning and the Rabbis of the community have taken turns in accompanying them.

I arrived for Kaballat Shabbat, the Friday night service, and was surprised to see more than 100 people participate in the services. The majority was from Montevideo, but even the only Jewish family from Artigas, all the way on the northern border of Uruguay, had made the long journey.

There was singing, and joy and a sense of peace and comfort. David’s sister mentioned to me that his favorite song had been the classic “Heni ma tov uma naim shevet achim gam yachad” (How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to sit together). We sang it emotionally, with family members in tears as they embraced and swayed to the melody. Then the family got up and formed a large circle where we all embraced, swayed and sang it again.

However, of all the moving moments, memories and events that have taken place, the one that has struck me the hardest is the story of David’s last Challah.

 

 

Interview about Uruguay’s introduction of obligatory rabbinic pre-nuptial agreements

Interview with Chief Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz on Uruguay’s introduction of obligatory rabbinic pre-nuptial agreements.

Interview by Ana Jerozolimski of Semanario Hebreo in Spanish. English translation below.

Q: Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz, with good reason it was communicated a few days ago with what I would say were dramatic tones, the achievement of requiring a pre-nuptial agreement of all couples who marry under your auspices as Rabbi of the Kehila. (click here for original announcement). I understand that there are no parallels to this in other Jewish communities in the world, right?

A: The idea of a Jewish pre-nuptial agreement to deal with the issue of giving a get has been around for some time. I was first introduced to the idea in 1991 by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Yeshurun of Manhattan, where I worked for him. He was a strong proponent of the requirement of a pre-nuptial agreement to prevent agunot.

A friend of mine and expert on the subject, Dr. Rachel Levmore of Efrat, Israel, informed me that in the 1950s in Morocco, the Jewish community there likewise had a pre-nuptial solution.

The Rabbinic Council of America (RCA) as well as other Beit Dins around the world have been offering such a contract for many years now.

It should be clarified that our agreement obligates both parties. A woman who refuses to accept a get from her husband also “chains” him, preventing him from marrying according to halacha (Jewish Law). Therefore, the woman also needs to agree to receive the get.

Q: The challenge was to adopt a human approach that copes successfully with the social problem of agunot, women who become locked and tied because their husbands refuse to divorce according to halacha, and on the other hand, precisely the religious law. How was it possible to find this formula?

A: Our approach was very simple and direct. Given the unfortunately high rate of divorce and because many people in our community are even unaware of the requirement to give a get in order to end a marriage, we drafted a contract that connects the event of finalizing a civil divorce with the obligation to give the get.

The RCA version, which we initially worked with, spells out and assigns clear financial penalties for every day that a spouse does not give a get. However, we found out that such an agreement is illegal according to the Uruguayan civil code. We needed to come up with something different that on one hand creates an obligation to cooperate with the Rabinate in order to perform the religious divorce, but on the other hand is respected by Uruguayan law. We believe we’ve reached that balance. After the fact, we found out that ours is similar to the one in use by the Bet Din of London.

However, the major achievements of this agreement are as follows: greater awareness that this is an issue, education as to the need for a get and mindset that a get must be given upon divorce. Here and in many communities, the get has been considered an afterthought, optional, and when a man realizes it could be leverage, they use it accordingly.

Almost all the couples that we’ve presented the agreement to, have signed it without a problem.

Q: This agreement is not a specific topic of the Jewish community of Uruguay. I mean it can serve all Jews living outside Israel, because in Israel there is no civil marriage. Would you take steps to share this experience or, for now, this idea, with your peers in other parts of the world?

A: As I mentioned, this theme has been well known by many communities in the USA, though unfortunately many Rabbis still refuse to use or recommend pre-nuptial agreements, which have led to some very sad stories. The initial version of the agreement, I actually received from Rabbi Shai Froidlich (former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay) who has been using his version for his community in Mexico. I shared both the Mexican version and ours with Rabbi Feigelshtock of Buenos Aires, who is adopting it for use in his community. I have since consulted with Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu of London, who explained to me some of the details of the British version.

Q: Is it conceivable that someone would object to this? Or perhaps beforehand I should ask you if before using this agreement you needed to receive approval of the Central Rabbinate in Jerusalem?

There are two types of objections to the use of such pre-nuptial agreements. The first is a halachic concern. According to Halacha, a get that is “forced” is not valid. However, I believe that the RCA-version, our version and most others that are being used avoid the issue. The agreements do pressure and obligate the spouse to see the get through, but it is not “forced” according to my understanding. But that is an issue that legal and halachic scholars will most likely continue to debate. I likewise welcome further input of scholars, judges and lawyers familiar with the Uruguayan civil code. The RCA version took many years and revisions to reach its current format and I don’t expect our version will be perfect from the start. As I write, we have additional experts reviewing the document.

The second objection is that by forcing a couple to sign such a document, it may scare them off from performing a Jewish halachic wedding and they may opt to perform a non-halachic ceremony that is not recognized by the Kehila or by the Rabbinate of Israel. This is a serious concern that we gave much thought to. There is also an element of this that has been debated within religiously observant circles for some time, especially regarding halachic weddings of non-observant couples.

In order to understand the dilemma, we first need to discuss the repercussions of different actions according to halacha. The first is that the bonds of marriage are sacred, binding and performed in a public act in front of witnesses. If a woman should have children from a different man while still halachically married to the first man, the children of the second union are considered mamzerim (halachically illegitimate) and those children are forever prohibited from marrying another Jew.

I am guided on this subject by one of my Rabbis, Rabbi Yaakov Medan of Yeshivat Har Etzion, one of the leaders on the subject of secular-religious relations in Israel and co-author of the groundbreaking initiative on the subject, the Gavison-Medan Covenant. One of his arguments is that it is much more important that divorce be done according to halacha than that marriage should be done according to halacha. The repercussions are just significantly more severe.

Getting back to the debate about halachic marriage of non-observant couples; on the one hand when performing a wedding we want it to be real, meaningful, binding. We want the couple to be joined body and soul with the full force that halacha implies. However, there is always the fear of what happens if such a marriage falls apart. As opposed to observant circles where the spouse will never remarry until a get is received, in the non-observant world, there is a different problem. For non-observant couples, we are worried that they may be unaware, forget or ignore the need for a get, and that the woman will remarry without receiving a get. Besides the halachic adultery that such an act means, any children from this second union will become mamzerim.

I think that any responsible Rabbi, realizing the statistics that one out of every two couples he marries will likely divorce, may be acting with negligence by allowing couples to marry without the insurance of a pre-nuptial agreement. He is almost guaranteeing that the couple will risk halachic adultery and mamzerim down the line.

In Uruguay, we are a small, shrinking and self-selecting club. The number of marriages of Jews to non-Jews is significantly greater than that of Jews to Jews. The annual amount of halachic weddings in Uruguay is small compared to the size of the Jewish population. It is by free choice (or family pressure) that anybody in Uruguay today decides to have a halachic wedding. Rabbis are not forcing anyone to conduct a halachic wedding. But if a couple freely decides they want a halachic wedding, I think that it is not only reasonable, but now should be a requirement that the couple obligates itself to conduct a halachic divorce, if God forbid, they divorce civilly.

In terms of the Rabbinate of Israel, we follow their guidelines on all matters of halacha, however, we did not contact them formally regarding this issue. At the most basic level it is really an administrative question. We are not relaxing our standards as to whom or how we conduct marriages or determine Judaism. We have undertaken the process together and with consultation of the recognized agent of the Israeli Rabbinate in matters of divorce, who has been entirely supportive and encouraging of our efforts and is familiar with both the general legal issues and many of the particular cases we are dealing with.

Q: How can this agreement, or the idea that it is based on, help to solve the problem in Israel, where there is no civil marriage? Can it contribute anything?

A: In Israel, there are solutions available that don’t rely on the civil status. They have not been promoted as widely as they might be, in some cases for many of the reasons mentioned above.

Q: I understand that this agreement would not have been possible if not for the awareness of a problem arising from religious constraints. As an Orthodox Rabbi, yet a man of the modern era, do you think there are other challenges to be solved, problems of halacha, like Agunot, which should end? Or must Halacha always be above the rest? Recall that in the case of agunot by the despicable behavior of some men, halacha in practice ignores the misery of the women that these men left.

A: Halacha, our understanding, interpretation and application of it, is what must guide the actions of an observant Jew. We cannot change halacha. However, our understanding of halacha does adapt and evolve, within limitations and constraints, to the developments of society, technology and culture. In the case of the aguna, we are not changing any halacha. We are providing a solution that takes into account the realities of divorce, the power of the secular court to enforce law and agreements, and the binding nature of contracts.

It is true that the abuse of the halachic system can lead to hardship and pain to others. That is true of the abuse of any system. It is ironic that the difficulty in divorcing a woman was initially instituted to protect her. Now it is being used against her. Nonetheless, halacha cannot be changed, and our solution does not change halacha. The form, manner or content of both halachic Jewish weddings and divorces have not changed at all.

One of my favorite examples of the interaction of halacha and modernity is the Tzomet Institute in my hometown of Alon Shvut. Run by engineers (!) they come up with technological, halachic solutions to modern challenges.

Q: What can you tell me about the importance of coordination and consultation within the community? The statement of the Rabbinate highlighted the role of the much appreciated Sara Winkowski. Furthermore, she always symbolized the struggle for the rights of the Jewish woman, inside and not outside of Judaism. To what extent do the rabbis have to listen to those who know the community, but do not necessarily come from a religious perspective?

A: Sara Winkowski is an extraordinary woman. She has single-handedly kept the flame of this struggle alive for more than two decades. She has withstood being unheard, ignored and even ridiculed on this vital subject for so long. But she never gave up. She walked into my office full of determination and passion to solve this issue.

However, I must also thank the Board of Directors of the Kehila and especially the President of the Kehila, Alberto Buszkaniec, for their complete support of this initiative.

One doesn’t have to be religious to have insight into the needs of the community or to care and support the religious and halachic norms of those who do observe halacha. I think the Kehila is an incredible example of this. A large percentage of the Kehila membership and leadership is not observant, however they are fully supportive of religious efforts and activities. They are supportive of the Rabbinate, of the Chevra Kadisha, of Kashrut supervision and certification, of Jewish education and more. I seek council regularly and receive valuable input from non-observant members of the community on religious matters and always walk away with greater insights and perspectives.

Q: And what can you tell me about the problem of agunot in Uruguay?

It is the same as in the rest of the world. It hurts more when it is close to home. It hurts more when it is people you know. It hurts more when the woman is crying in front of you on your desk and you are limited in what you can do. It is infuriating to know that all the pain and heartache might have been avoided by a simple document. If every marriage going forward takes such precautions, in a generation, this issue will be a problem of the past.

Press Release: Uruguay Institutes Rabbinic Pre-nuptial Agreement

Uruguay Institutes Rabbinic Pre-nuptial Agreement

Montevideo, Uruguay – January 22, 2014 – The Rabbinate of Uruguay has instituted the requirement for all Jewish couples that marry under its auspices to sign a Rabbinic Pre-nuptial Agreement. The agreement states that in the case of the couple divorcing civilly, the husband is obligated to immediately deliver to his wife a Jewish divorce contract, also known as a “get”, as per Jewish law.

The initiative was launched by Sara Winkowski, a director of the Kehila, the Comunidad Israelita del Uruguay (Jewish Community of Uruguay), who is also a Vice President of the World Jewish Congress and longtime activist for the rights of women within Jewish law. “For over 20 years we have been struggling for a solution to a problem that affects many women. I have tremendous gratitude to Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz for having understood the problem and sought a solution that does not contradict the Halakha (Jewish law), and will benefit many women, our community and all of Judaism.” Winkowski stated.

After writing and testing various drafts of the agreement, together with a legal and judicial committee, Chief Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz authorized the use of the current version that is in consonance with both Jewish and Uruguay laws.  “It is a milestone event for the Jewish community.” Spitz explained. “There have been a growing number of cases both in Uruguay and around the world, of husbands who refuse to divorce their wives according to Jewish tradition. Such refusal in essence prohibits these women from remarrying according to Jewish law, causing significant anguish in the lives of these chained women and their families. This is also known as the “aguna” problem.  By instituting the wholesale signing of the pre-nuptial agreement, and without discriminating between couples who may or may not choose such insurance, we have presented a solution to this long-standing problem for all families that will marry under the auspices of the Kehila.”

The Kehila is also the keeper of a registry of Jewish weddings in the community dating back to 1950, which is the basis for issuing certificates of Judaism, which is one of the few ways for Jews from Uruguay to be recognized as Jews by the State of Israel. Besides not conducting marriages of couples who will not sign the Rabbinic Pre-nuptial Agreement, the Kehila will no longer enter into the registry or issue certificates of Judaism to families who do not participate in the Pre-nuptial agreement.

About the Kehila

The Kehila, the Jewish Community of Uruguay, was founded in 1916, originally as the Jewish Burial Society, (Chevra Kadisha), of Uruguay. Since that time, the Kehila has expanded to provide a spectrum of religious, social, cultural, welfare and communal services to the Jewish population of Uruguay.

About the Rabbinate of Uruguay

The Rabbinate of Uruguay, which is supported by the Kehila, has direct responsibility for the Jewish Cemetery of Uruguay, Jewish burial preparations and services, Kosher certifications and a variety of other religious and educational programs.

Contact

If you have any questions, or would like more details, please contact:

Gabriel Silberberg, Secretary

Rabinato, Kehila

Canelones 1084

Montevideo, CP 11100

Uruguay

Tel: +598-2902-5750 x119

rabinato@kehila.org.uy

http://www.kehila.org.uy

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Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Spotlight Yom Kippur

September 15, 2013

Spotlight Yom Kippur

I was literally in the spotlight. The shul was well lit, however, where I sat on the podium there was a spotlight pointed directly on me. It was only blinding if I looked at it or within ten degrees of it. It only inhibited eye contact with a small percentage of the women on the upper level of the shul, but nonetheless I pointed my head in that direction from time to time during my multiple speaking occasions.

Kol Nidrei started with taking out of about twenty Torah scrolls. It was a long process as each dignitary and honoree was called up slowly by name. It is interesting how different people have different memories of the same Yom Kippur. Listening to one opinion about past practices I led the procession of Torah scrolls through the synagogue. Then, with the blessing and encouragement of the president of the community we all climbed the stairs to the women’s section above. The twenty scrolls dispersed amongst the large women’s section to the extreme delight of the female participants. They touched and kissed the Torah lovingly, some of them clearly emotional, their eyes moistening.

Besides introducing Kol Nidrei, the importance of ones words, and Yom Kippur, I recreated the flag-waving verse repetition to a larger crowd. Worked well. Big crowd. All very happy. Netanel was again an integral and successful part of the choir.

I could tell that a significant part of the crowd was not ecstatic with the Kol Nidrei liturgy, especially the younger contingent, usually accompanying parents or grandparents. I explained that once-upon-a-time in New York the bagel was considered a particularly Jewish food. To eat a bagel was to connect with one’s Judaism. But that is superficial. I asked that coming to shul on Yom Kippur shouldn’t be like having a bagel. Our Judaism should not be defined by listening to what one considers unfamiliar alien music. Judaism is significantly deeper and more meaningful than that. Some people seemed to squirm a bit as if I had touched a raw nerve, others nodded in agreement, others I think either weren’t listening, didn’t understand what I was saying or were thinking fondly of eating bagels.

We slept in my office in the synagogue building. Comfortable during the day, but not designed for sleeping – need to remember for next year.

Morning services called for 8:30am, no minyan until 10:00am, even though composed almost exclusively of staff. Next year just need to start at 10 or 10:30.

While the Hazan handled the prayer part, I managed everything else. I’m realizing that even more critical then someone to read the Torah is actually a Gabai, someone to call people up, to tell people when to open the ark, when to close it, to be on top of what page the Hazan is up to and the general smooth handling and connection of the audience to what the Hazan is doing, especially when the audience is so unfamiliar with the rituals. Note to self: arrange top-notch experienced Gabai/ark caller-upper/page announcer.

The Torah reading led to some technical excitement. It turns out the second Torah we took out from the Ark was pasul (not kosher). We needed to return it to the Ark and we rolled the first one from where we read in the Book of Leviticus until the Book of Numbers. It was a teachable moment, as we rolled the Torah I explained the technicalities to the surprise and education of most of the congregants.

I interspersed more comments and explanations during the prayer. For Yizkor, the second crowd-graber, I had the honor of introducing three speakers: a representative of Keren Hayesod; the head of the department for the disabled, who herself is a disabled woman with an incredibly inspiring story; and finally the Ambassador of Israel.

Immediately after Yizkor a lot of people made for the doors. Many of them congregated near the back, talking. I thanked all the Yizkor-comers for coming and asked them that if they were finished, they should leave to let us continue with the prayers. The shul quieted noticeably, but not enough for my liking. I got off the podium, walked to the back of the shul and accosted three different groups of talkers, asking them politely that if they wished to continue talking, they should go out. They each apologized and left.

I returned to the podium. The noise level was much improved, but still not sufficient. I spoke again, saying there were currently four types of people in the shul: Those that want to pray, those that want to talk, those that want to talk and pray, and the fourth, those that are working. I suggested a deal. I would give those that wanted to talk two minutes to finish their business and afterwards they would be quiet. The crowd looked at me in utter confusion, much quieter than before, though some understood right away and continued talking. In order to show that I was serious and to encourage the now quieter members to talk, I descended from the podium and announced I would talk with my friend, Bernardo Olesker, one of the senior people of the community. He was thrilled and I sat next to him. Conversation ensued all around. A young man, one of the principles of the local Hillel movement came over and asked if he could have one of the two minutes. Bernardo protested saying he would owe him the minute. We spoke briefly, but then the Hazan tired of all my shenanigans started the Musaf prayer. I returned to the podium to a much quieter shul.

We finished Musaf around 2pm. Together with the president and his wife we walked to a nearby shul, Vaad Ha’ir, which I had promised to visit after Yizkor, but which totally escaped my mind and wouldn’t have been good in any case, given the extent of my involvement throughout the prayer service. Vaad Ha’ir is a very pretty synagogue built in a very European style. It is actually legally a protected historic site in Uruguay. A little bit more than a minyan was present for the Musaf service.

I made it back to shul in time for the now-famous Marijuana round-table. While everyone was very happy with all of the prayer services, numbers up, significant congregant participation and satisfaction — “the best Yom Kippur in many years”, the Marijuana panel was a wonderful success. What was typically a quiet interlude with 15 drowsy men became a community event with more than 60, most of which came especially for the event and some of who had not been inside a shul for many, many years. Men and women of all ages and Jewish affiliations arrived for a passionate presentation about the reality and dangers of substance abuse and what Judaism has to say about it.

The conclusion that both me and my co-panelist came to is that the law for legalization of marijuana is neither an important nor significant factor in the fight against substance abuse and addiction. Addicts will continue to get their drugs. How exactly the law will be implemented and what the ramifications and repercussions will be, no one knows for sure. The people most at risk for both long-term addictions and neurological damage are teenagers. The most important factor to keep a teenager or any other person away from damaging substances and habits is a strong home atmosphere. If a child has good examples, a loving, nurturing, caring, quality attention-giving environment, they will be less susceptible to seek to self-medicate the existential pain of loneliness, confusion, lack of clear identity, low self-esteem and the spectrum of angst that people from difficult homes carry.

Some participants claimed that “marijuana is the door to all drugs”. I responded that “the home is the door to all drugs”. If parents and grandparents can’t be a significant positive part of their children’s lives, no law, however well-intentioned will protect them. We cannot cede responsibility of our children’s lives, education and maturation to schools, youth organizations or the government. They can never replace a parent’s role.

We plumbed the depths of the steps that lead from experimentation to recreational use, to abuse and dependency. We covered a gamut of related Torah themes including the restrictions on damaging oneself, the sin of not enjoying permitted aspects of our world, the Torah view on legalized abortion, and much more. The discussion carried over for more than the hour and a half we had allotted, with incisive questions and lively discussion. Participants walked away educated, thoughtful and perhaps even inspired. For some people this was the most meaningful part of the fast and I think of much greater quality than listening to mostly incomprehensible prayers. I’m thinking to make more changes to the mix of prayers and education for the coming year.

The Minha prayer had the great story of Jonah and the Whale which I summarized before the reading. The crowd grew as we got closer to Neilah. I introduced the president of the community, Alberto Buzcaniek, who spoke before the repetition of Neilah and then it was my turn.

After almost 25 hours in the synagogue I was struck by the phenomena of the people flooding in for the three “highlights” of Kol Nidrei, Yizkor and Neilah. It made me think of skipping stones. Of stones moving at high speed, skimming the surface of the water, bouncing lightly off the ocean. Then it made me think of a powerful story by one of my most favorite authors, science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card.

I recounted his story where he tells of a future where mankind has perfected the ability to cryogenically freeze people. People can go to sleep for days, weeks, years, decades and wake up without aging a second. It was of course an expensive process available only to the wealthy. They took advantage of it, slowing down time. Remaining young while their friends and family aged. In the space of one day a year they could catch up on all the latest news, meet the people they needed to meet and remain youthful and vigorous as those around them grew weary and old. There developed a group of the exceedingly rich who would push the limits of this technology, sleeping for years, for decades, remaining eternally young, global superstars, paparazzi favorites, witnesses of history. The momentous days of their awakening were frenzied, event-filled media super-productions. They lived for centuries this way, until one day they realized that they hadn’t really lived at all. Their lives had become superficial, meaningless, lacking relationships, friendships, depth, presence.

I warned that we must beware of superficiality. In our lives, with our families, friends, children, work and even religion. Then I got into the speech I had prepared. What gave me the right to stand in front of this audience spewing ideas and claiming they were Torah-inspired, Torah-based.

As I was talking, our staff was handing out a rolled up paper tied in a blue ribbon to each congregant. I instructed everyone to remove the ribbon and open the three page-long scroll. It was a list with 130 names on it. The first name was Moshe (Moses). The second was Joshua. The third was his disciple and then the next disciple and then the next. The list was an unbroken chain of tradition, of the conveyance of rabbinic conferment from rabbi to student for the last 3,300 years until today. The last name on the list was mine. The list was published by a student of the Rabbi who gave me my ordination. I substituted my name and translated it to Spanish. The chain of tradition is what gives me the right and the authority to stand up and say words of Torah to the congregation.

But I am only a link in the chain of tradition, and I know that my mission is to not be the last link. I then pointed at the audience. Each and every one of you are links in your families and of our people. And we must continue the chain of tradition.

At this point the shul was filling to capacity (1,000) with more people streaming in. I gave some technical pointers and explanations regarding the Hazan’s repetition of the Neilah and then we commenced.

I explained again the importance of the one verse we would repeat over and over the next few minutes. I had the crowd repeat slowly with me, word by word. I waved my flag at each instance the verse arose as the choir together with the congregants sang the stirring melody.

And then before I knew it we were at the end. I had been watching my watch closely, trying to plan that we didn’t end too early or too late. There was just half a page left to the services (isn’t that how we measure time on Yom Kippur?) I stopped the Hazan. I said, pleaded, that we just have a few seconds left to Yom Kippur. A verse, a word, a thought can make a difference. Let us make it a good one.

The entire congregation said the fundamental Jewish verse of “Shma Yisrael” together. We said with the Hazan the two other verses at the end. I had explained the story of the very last verse that “God is the God!” of the prophet Elijah’s miraculous success in his sacrificial battle with the false Baalite prophets of evil Queen Jezebel. How by repeating the verse seven times we are escorting God from his proximate, intimate presence amongst us back up through seven heavens to his normal abode above.

As if to continue my thoughts of Orson Scott Card, an army of children marched into shul waving LED flashlights (Card is the author of Ender’s Game, a classic sci-fi book now a major motion picture, starring Harrison Ford, coming soon to a theatre near you). They marched right onto the podium with me, filling it from one end of the large hall to the other. The lights were turned off. The shofar blew. The choir and the crowd sang “le’shana ha’bah be’yerushalayim” (Next Year in Jerusalem). Then the entire congregation, having been on its feet the whole Neilah service, sang “Hatikvah”, the Israeli national anthem with great force and emotion. At the end, people hugged and cried for joy. Food appeared out of pocket and candies rained from above.

There was an excited rush to the doors. The Hazan yelled out “Havdalah!” (the “Separation” ceremony that must be done at the end of the Sabbath and Holidays). From 1,000 people we had a little bit over a minyan left. The Hazan did Havdalah and then I led a quick Maariv prayer, letting the choir and others who stayed for me go home with limited wait.

As I’m preparing to leave, a young mother with two young children comes up to me and begs forgiveness for having arrived late and if I could blow the shofar and bless the children. With a very dry mouth I blew the shofar and gave the traditional blessing of the sons on her young boy and girl. She was so thankful, I thought she would break out in tears.

I was complemented and congratulated by whoever could get my attention for a fantastic Yom Kippur. They were happy, inspired, educated, entertained, challenged, reprimanded, and quieted like they hadn’t been in a long time. People who hadn’t come in years came because of the publicity, and the word of the young, charismatic Rabbi. People who came for just a bit promised they would come for more next year.

Later on I got text messages from friends who had heard from their relatives how good the services had been and commenting on the new Rabbi.

It had been a fantastic success. The president of the community was beaming. All had complemented him on his choice of Rabbi. But I felt lacking for completely personal reasons.

It was my first Public Yom Kippur where previously I had spent a lifetime experiencing Private Yom Kippurs. I like the Private Yom Kippur. I like the quiet introspection. I like the deep soul-searching. I like finding meaning in the prayers. I like being uplifted by the songs. I like focusing on my inner self. I had very little of it this year.

I had to think of what I would say next and when. I had to gauge the feeling of the congregants. Were they with us or not? Were they distracted, bored? When was the level of talking too much and when did I need to intervene? What page was the Hazan at and had the page-changer noticed and turned the large numbers on the podium to the right page? That and so many other thoughts and concerns for the congregation distracted me even during my quiet private prayers, which I didn’t want to prolong as I knew the Hazan was waiting just for me in order to start reciting the repetition of the prayer.

But then I figured that’s part of being a Rabbi. Thinking of the congregation. Concern for the congregation often overrides personal concerns. So what if I was tired and hungry and my head was throbbing. Where in the past I would have put my head down, now I had a job to do. I pulled from the inner recesses of my mind memories of previous Yom Kippurs. Of the tunes I loved that we had skipped. Of the Rabbis I had heard who had inspired me. Of the powerful prayers in Yeshiva with hundreds of voices singing and understanding and meaning the words they are shouting to God.

But I had my small victories, my small reminders of my Private Yom Kippurs. I had taught the Hazan my favorite song, “Mareh Cohen” and together we attempted to teach it to the congregation, with some people picking up the tune.

At the very end, at the final Maariv, after Havdalah, after 1,000 people had left the synagogue, I gave a short speech to the bare minyan we had. I said this is the first prayer after Yom Kippur – let’s make it a good one. And one man, someone who hadn’t prayed the entire Yom Kippur, opened up his siddur and prayed. I guess a Public Yom Kippur means engendering other Private Yom Kippurs.

The Spiritual Journey of Yom Kippur

The Spiritual Journey of Yom Kippur

by Chief Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz

There are some things that can only be understood when experienced. There are some things that only by living through them, by feeling them personally can we finally gain the insight, sense the power of the moment. A Complete Yom Kippur is one of those experiences.

What is a Complete Yom Kippur? A Complete Yom Kippur is much more than coming for the “highlights”: Kol Nidrei which starts the fast, Yizkor in the middle of the day, when we remember our beloved departed, or Neilah, the last moments of Yom Kippur just before the heavenly gates of prayer metaphorically close. To come to synagogue for just those moments is to merely nibble at the edges of a sumptuous spiritual feast.

However, a Complete Yom Kippur is more than coming and being present in the synagogue for the entire service. It is more than being in attendance for all of the night services and then for all of the day services — from the morning blessing until Havadalah. It is much more than even that.

A Complete Yom Kippur is spiritually elevating. A Complete Yom Kippur connects you with your inner self, finds the quiet place in your soul that is you and then introduces the intimate, precious, unique you to God. How does that happen? How does saying and listening to prayers, sitting in the synagogue and fasting accomplish such a spiritual journey and why is it important at all? Why do we need a spiritual elevation?

Because we have a soul. We have a soul, joined to a body. For many of us, the body is in the driver’s seat. The body dictates our wants and needs and their fulfillment. Our body dictates our choices. That is often good, sometimes vital, but then something sad happens to our souls. Our souls dry up. Our souls are not heard. Our souls remain hidden, unheard, unfulfilled, lost in the inner noise of our daily lives and needs. Our lives become eroded, materialistic, less meaningful, less satisfying when the partnership of the body and the soul is in such an imbalance. A Complete Yom Kippur can rectify that.

The first step is fasting. By fasting we are signaling to the body that today is the soul’s day. No more giving in to cravings. No more listening to our stomach. Today is the soul’s day. The soul needs spiritual food. Real spiritual food. Not chocolate or ice cream or meat or whatever our palate enjoys. No. We need food that bypasses the stomach and directly feeds the soul, even if it’s unconscious. It may be the prayers written by our ancestors, it may be a tune we heard with our grandfathers, it may be a word the Rabbi says, it may be a thought we had in the quiet of our minds. We need a diet of spirituality for 25 hours. That is part of what will rejuvenate our souls.

The second step is prayer. Prayer is not only listening to the choir. There are two types of prayer. Personal and communal. We need both. We need the direct communication of our inner selves with God. It takes time to find that inner self. We need to close our eyes, take a flashlight and search for the self that is hiding in the quiet places of our mind and our heart. It takes time. It can take hours. It can take a full day, only to be discovered at the very end of the services. However long it takes – it is worthwhile, perhaps even critical.

We need communal prayer. We are and always have been a people that put a high value on community, on doing things together. We need to raise our voices together and in our unity bring our prayer to God. There are few things in creation that are stronger and more powerful than communal prayer. It breaks through guardian angels and all of the heavens above. God has no choice but to listen to communal prayer. Our souls want, need and beg to be a part of that.

But what is the magic of a Complete Yom Kippur? How does the fasting, the prayer, the community transform Yom Kippur into a spiritual event? How do these ingredients elevate the soul? What does one need? What does one need to do?

I think the third and final ingredient that one needs for a successful Complete Yom Kippur is endurance. One needs what we call in Yiddish zitsfleish, the ability to sit down, to stay put. In our world of instant communication it is almost impossible. Turn off the cellphone. Tell people you are taking the day off to talk to God. Yom Kippur is a test of endurance. It is a test to see if for at least once a year we can set aside a full day for God. To stay exclusively in His house. To talk to Him and to listen to Him. We’ve been given the rare opportunity to spend an entire day with the Chief Executive Officer of Creation, the President of the Universe, the King of all Kings. How can we give up the chance?

For those that can endure, something strange and wonderful begins to occur. It is usually not during Kol Nidrei, Yizkor or Neilah. It is most often during the quieter times in between. It is neither hunger pangs nor delusions from being faint from fasting. What happens is that the soul begins to stir. The quiet of the mind and the spirituality of the day awakens the other ignored but more important half of our selves. For many it is a surprise, like meeting a long-lost relative. For some it is uncomfortable, almost like meeting a stranger in the night. For others it is a relief, the saving of a brother from drowning in a stormy sea. And for others it is a joy, the union of a parent with a child or of one loving spouse with the other after a long absence. That is the effect of the stirring of the soul.

But the experience does not end there. Now that the soul has awoken from its long slumber it gasps for air. It needs to reach out. It needs to talk to God. It needs to transverse the crudeness of our bodies, the banality of our mundane thoughts and reach out to its source before it is buried once again under the triviality and numbness of daily life. It must connect with its maker; establish its presence before it is submerged in the long coma of the spirit. A soul fully unleashed will make you cry. Tears of a newborn may slip out of your eyes. You may start to remember what you have done in your life. You may come to regret parts of it. You may search for new meaning in your life. New direction. You may seek to correct old wrongs and perform new rights. That is repentance. That is what a Complete Yom Kippur is about.

It is a special, unique, powerful day that God has given as a gift to our souls. It requires fasting, it requires staying in the synagogue as long as possible, it requires endurance that will surprise you when you discover it and it leads to the liberation and elevation of the soul. That is Yom Kippur. Don’t miss it. Come to the synagogue for fuller instructions and directions.

Celebrate and Grow! Jewish Holidays as Signposts for Personal Development

The Chief Rabbi’s New Year Message

Celebrate and Grow! Jewish Holidays as Signposts for Personal Development

The same holidays arrive year after year. We say the same prayers. Conduct the same rituals. Gather with the same relatives. Eat the same foods. For some it is a comfort. Our traditions provide the security that little has changed in the Jewish religion. I hear the same shofar that my ancestors heard thousands of years ago. I eat the same apple dipped in honey that my forefathers ate in Europe. I say the same prayers that my grandfathers said throughout the centuries.

But for many it is also boring, repetitious, lacking meaning, innovation or relevance. Our ears no longer understand the meaning of the prayers. Our mouths are not accustomed to saying them. Our stomachs may no longer enjoy the traditional foods. I will borrow a concept from the philosopher Descartes. If “I think therefore I am” validates the existence of man, then “I understand therefore I appreciate” must be the motto for anyone seeking greater spirituality, greater personal growth – and there is a sea full of what to understand and appreciate about our ancient, sacred, long-held and hard-fought laws, traditions and customs.

What is the inner significance of the Jewish Holidays? Besides all of the detailed rituals, besides the lengthy prayers, what is it supposed to do for me as a person? How does it speak to my soul? Why the different holidays and why are they spread out as they are throughout the year?

In Jewish tradition, and especially in more Kabalistic sources, each holiday connects to some a different aspect or need of the human condition. Pesach celebrates freedom, and based on Kabala is a most opportune time for each person to free himself from the shackles of enslavement. Shavuot, seven weeks later, the day we celebrate receiving of the Torah, is a time to rededicate ourselves to familiarity and acquisition of our ancient, world-influencing texts. Tisha B’Av, the national day of mourning over the loss of the Jewish Temple and homeland, is a time to understand the reasons for our exile, how disunity doomed us and how only unity will lead to the successful gathering of the exiles.

Then we reach the festive month of Tishrei, filled with holidays. We start the year with the two-day holiday of Rosh Hashana. More perhaps than an accounting between God and ourselves, where He lays out His plans for us for the coming year, it is the ideal time for self-accounting, for introspection, for making our own plans for the coming year.

Then comes perhaps the most powerful day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur. We believe that the day itself has the power to forgive us of our many sins. But we also must forgive those around us, and perhaps most importantly we must forgive ourselves. We must let go of our failings, our mistakes, our sins, and discard them as we would old clothing. We must take on the mantle of a new persona, a better one, a cleaner one, one that will think more of the needs and sensitivities of others. One that will try to understand why they are in this world and all the good they can accomplish. One that seeks God in our lives; that seeks to be spiritually aware and morally correct. That is the power of Yom Kippur that according to tradition elevates us once a year to the level of angels.

But the cycle does not end there. After reaching the spiritual heights of Yom Kippur, God invites us to a more intimate celebration, that of Sukkot. The commandment of sitting in huts for a week reminds us of our dependency on God and of where our blessings truly come from. We feel in our very bones that God is the one that provides shelter, food, success and abundance and it changes our perspective for the coming year. It takes the stress off of many of the decisions and concerns of our lives, reminding us in a very concrete way that God is our partner and that He is with us – if we let Him in.

The weeklong celebration of Sukkot is capped off with the joy of Simchat Torah, when we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah. We hold, embrace and dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the written source of our identity, what our people brought to humanity. We start our own cycles of personal learning, of being another chain in the longest transmission of wisdom in the history of the world.

We have Hanukah, the festival of lights, which celebrates the triumph of Jewish identity over assimilationist forces. It reminds us to successfully strengthen our own identities in the face of overwhelming odds.

There is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees. We remember our stewardship of this planet, our responsibility to the environment, that we are also passengers on this planet Earth and must care for the beautiful, precious home and resources that God gave us, to make the world a better place while caring for all His other creations.

To complete the year we have Purim, celebrating our salvation from utter destruction. It is the happiest month of the year. It is the month with the greatest good fortune. It is the month before Pesach, the happiness before the salvation. It is where we show friendship and unity with all of our brothers, for that is what saved us then and that is what will save us in the future. Though God was hidden during the miracle of Purim and He may be hidden to many of us today, upon further inspection it becomes obvious that He was there all along, directing events, placing people in positions of challenge, to see whether they will rise to the test, whether they will seek Him out, whether they will choose the high road, the moral path, the way of goodness and blessings.

Those are just some of the themes of the holidays of the Jewish calendar. May we celebrate them and grow!

Ktiva Ve’chatima Tova,

Ben-Tzion

 

 

Exciting New Lecture Series in Montevideo

And now for a little self-promotion:

Coat_of_arms_of_UruguayThe Chief Rabbinate of Uruguay, under the auspices of the Comunidad Israelita del Uruguay, is proud to announce the inauguration of a new Judaic Studies lecture series, to be given by

The Chief Rabbi of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay

Rabbi Engineer Ben-Tzion Spitz, Shlit”a

The title of the series is: Maimonides against The World

Language of Instruction: Crude Venezuelan Spanish with insertions of Hebrew and English with simultaneous crowd translation into eloquent if chaotic Uruguayan Spanish.

Date of Lecture: Every Wednesday.

Time of Lecture: Approximately 8:30am, when the morning services end. Lecture will last approximately 30 minutes, though participants may enter further sophisticated discussions thereafter.

Location: The Yeshiva of Yavne, 2nd floor, 1st building on the right, 2800 Cavia, Pocitos, Montevideo.

Inaugural Lecture will be held this coming Wednesday, June 5.

Title of Inaugural Lecture: The Maimonidian Revolution, or Why Did Jews Burn His Books.

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RSVP to bentzispitz@gmail.com. Please feel free to forward this invitation to other people of an intellectual bent. All residents of Montevideo should consider themselves invited and welcome. Light refreshments will be served. Bring brain in gear. Coffee will be provided.

This lecture is sponsored in part by the wildly successful, heavily read and much-discussed blog series, Adventures of a Chief Rabbi.

Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Bus-hawkers

Friday May 17, 2013

Bus-hawkers

Today, for the first time, I ventured onto Montevideo’s public transportation. They don’t have subways, but they do have what appears to be a reasonably efficient bus system. The bus stop is conveniently a few meters away from my new bachelor pad (perhaps more on the apartment another time). I wasn’t sure exactly where to get off, but I had informed the driver of my destination and hoped for the best.

On the following stop, a man jumped onto the bus with a bouquet of leggings flowing out of his hands. He immediately proceeded to give his song and dance as to the quality of his merchandise, as to the special price and that due to his injured arm this was the best way he could make a living. If I closed my eyes I would be transported to the subways of New York. He even had the same rhythm of voice, the same practiced pitch of feigned excitement that was suitably ignored by all the commuters. Some things are universal.

One woman however did buy a pair of the warm-looking leggings. I felt that hawking on a bus was somehow a greater invasion of privacy (harder to ignore?) and yet more effective for the salesman.

The successful merchant got off at the next stop, and was quickly followed by an old man selling bandaids. He was less successful and also got off a stop later, not surprised or moved by the lack of clients.

Anxious to find the street I needed to get off on, I got a good look at the main drag of Montevideo, Avenida 18 de Julio. It reminded me very much of London’s Oxford Street with an eclectic mix of fancy stores and modern stores interspersed with older, more rundown cousins, underneath offices and apartment buildings. Various street-vendors were thrown into the mix. There are two main differences though between 18 de Julio and its British counterpart. The Uruguayan version is much more rundown, with unartistic graffiti sullying the walls.

The second difference, and I think I finally figured out part of the special charm of Montevideo, are the statues. This is not a scientific study, but I get the sense that Montevideo probably has a higher per capita presence of statues than other comparable cities. The classic architecture of Montevideo is European with a hodgepodge of different eras next to each other. In general it gives the city a pretty character beyond the more modern or utilitarian buildings. However, interspersed throughout the city and often in unexpected nooks and crannies, one will find a classic bronze statue. I don’t know if there was a sale decades ago on bronze statues, but for the most part they are very well made, some quite stately and noble looking, though rusted and dirty. One statue reminded me of the scene from Lord of the Rings with the gigantic stone statues guarding the approach to Minas Tirith.

In any case, despite my enrapture with the local scenery, the bus driver remembered my request and told one of the other passengers, who told me where to get off.

But now, back to things Jewish and Rabbinic.

Shavuot was wonderful. It’s been many years since I’ve celebrated a two-day holiday (besides Rosh Hashana), but there was something nice about an additional enforced day of rest. The holiday was filled with fantastic energy in the all-night learning, delicious food, generous hosting and thought-provoking theological discussions. I ended up giving a lecture on the questionably adulterous origins of King David (always a fun and popular talk). The first time around I gave it in English to a small group. Later in the night I received another request and gave it again. The following day word of further interest got around and I gave it in Spanish to a larger audience. I think the talk actually improved as the languages got harder for me.

Next week should be the first normal week on the job for me and I am looking forward to it, though I suspect there is nothing “normal” about this job…

Shabbat Shalom!