A Serendipitous Comment to Hillel Goldberg’s Post

letter-447577_1280

A scant few hours after Rabbi Goldberg posted his essay , I showed up at a school where I teach, only to discover that my class was preempted by some visitors who were going to address the entire school. I recognized one of them as Rabbi Benny Lau, since I had debated him on the conversion issue a few months ago in Toronto. We parted on more than good terms despite our differences, so I made a point of listening to his presentation instead of ducking out and returning to my office.

It was a good decision. Rabbi Lau related a beautiful thought, that took him back to his yeshiva days. A group of his fellow students accompanied Rav Amital shlit”a to Neot Kedumim, the famous nature preserve, a bit off the Tel Aviv-Yerushalayim road, not far from what today is Modi’in. They were met there by Nogah HaReuveni, the secular botanist who spent years putting together the park that makes not only Tanach, but Mishnah and Gemara come alive. (My favorite parts are the road lined with about every sukkah described in the mesechta, and the live demonstration of threshing on an actual threshing floor using reconstructions of period implements. They toast and salt fresh grain kernels, too, so you learn why קליות,that ancient snack food, beats potato chips in a modern taste test.)

The famed botanist addressed a question to the students. “When G-d told Yechezkel (Yechezkel 37:16; Haftarah of Vayigash) to take “etz echad” and write upon it “for Yehudah and Bnei Yisrael his comrades,” and then to do the same for Yosef, what was he asking him to do. What does “etz” mean? They responded, not sensing the trap, that etz meant a piece of wood.

HaReuveni could scarcely conceal his disdain. “You are supposed to be yeshiva students? Don’t you know that etz can indeed mean a piece of wood in the language of Chazal, but never in Tanach? Etz in Tanach always means a tree. [Note: The Targum and other standard commentaries all render etz as a piece or tablet of wood – YA] But if it means tree in our verse, how could Yechezkel then be told to bring them together and make them one? How do you join two trees?

“There is only one way. You can take the limb of one tree, and graft it on to a different tree. Often, you move a limb from a weaker tree and join it to one with rich, deep roots.

“I will explain to you what G-d told Yechezkel. The two kingdoms at the time were quite different in their commitment to tradition. In effect, there were two communities, just as exist today with the rift between religious and secular. G-d told Yechezkel that there cannot be a Jewish people without both parts! You have to see to it that they are brought together. Secular Jews have a place alongside the frum. They can be grafted on to the stronger trunk of tradition. From it, they can draw sustenance and spirit. But their limb can thrive as well!”

I never got an opportunity to meet Nogah HaReuveni. He was niftar in 2004. After hearing this vort, very much in synch with Rabbi Goldberg’s thesis, I am even more disappointed in not having had that opportunity.

You may also like...

Shaya Karlinsky
6 years 3 months ago

I think AH speaks more from an emotional reaction towards non-observant Jews, rather than having his reaction informed by our sources. Among numerous sources that justify the approach taken by Nogah Harevueini (which doesn’t need to be interpreted as a justification for Hareuveini’s possible secular ideology}: All public fast days were required to include “Posh’ei Yisrael”; The Bartenura explains the law in Masechet Megillah, Ch. 4, Mishna 9 that imputes the status of “an heretical approach” to one who says that G-d should be blessed by the good ones, by writing that even the evildoers must be included in the “agudah” of the Jewish peoples’ fasts; and Rav Volbe’s speaks at length about the idea that Klal Yisrael is composed of a range of Jews, from righteous to evil doers – “THAT is the Klal Yisrael” writes Rav Volbe.

Shaya Karlinsky

Raymond
6 years 3 months ago

I will acknowledge that some Jewish music moves me in a way that even Mozart/Bach/Handel do not. But this does not have to be an either/or situation. There are many exquisitely beautiful pieces of classical music that transcend, at least in quality, so much of what passes as Jewish music. I feel inspired when I listen to this 18th century German/Austrian/Italian music.

Besides, what happens when Jewish music actually imitates classical music? I am thinking here in particular of two of Handel’s pieces of music, that have become a popular chanukah song in one case, and part of the benching in the other case. I can imagine Jews feeling inspired by those supposedly Jewish songs, thinking they are so Jewish, yet they have allowed their bias to influence what they determine to be spiritually edifying.

What I am trying to say is that the power of music to inspire, stands independently of its particular origins. I happen to like traditional Irish folk melodies, which is pretty odd considering my origins are Eastern European. Yet that does not stop me from feeling moved by a piece when I hear it, if it happens to resonate with me.

Bob Miller
6 years 3 months ago

Raymond,

I did not say that (what I’ll call) authentic Jewish music doesn’t enhance my spirituality—read my comment 13 again. I’m talking about secular classical music.

As for JS Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, rest assured that I, too, like their music. So? What if I liked Haydn and Dvorak more? Or Bartok, Kodaly and Weiner?

Raymond
6 years 3 months ago

To Bob Miller, is that really the case that music does not enhance one’s spirituality? Does that even apply to the soulful music of the late great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach? If music does not enhance spirituality, then why do Rabbis bother leading the singing of Jewish songs at their Sabbath tables? And what about the Levites who would play music in the Holy Temple when it stood in Jerusalem?

As for the different strokes for different folks idea, I am not sure that is true either. While each person has his or her own taste in music, the three greatest musical composers of all time are overwhelmingly considered to be that of Johann S Bach, Wolfgang A Mozart, and Ludwig V Beethoven. This has to be more than a coincidence.

Bob Miller
6 years 3 months ago

cvmay,

You have to admit that many of the “kofrim” etc. are actively hostile to any manifestations of Judaism around them, their inherent “segulah” notwithstanding. Is all the responsibility for a rapprochement on us, or isn’t some also on them?

Raymond (and Garnel),

I also feel uplifted or at least pleasantly entertained by classical music (that is, mainly by some baroque, classical, or romantic era compositions) but am not ready to say it enhances my spirituality, except by putting me in a better frame of mind. Also, there’s no point in naming compositions that affect you personally and daring others to check them out. As another musician, Sylvester Stewart, said, “different strokes for different folks”.