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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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In my imagination, I travel in my work and personal life a lot, even in the age of COVID. When I travel, I attend various
Orthodox shuls, and enjoy the varied experience my fantasy travels offer.

Two weeks ago, while in the cloud, I was in a shul for parshat Shemini. That parsha discusses not only the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, but also the criteria for kosher animals and kosher seafood.

I was taken aback when in the cloud, the local rabbi addressed the congregation and said: “This parsha talks about kosher food and the criteria for animals and fish to be deemed kosher. We are about to read some verses which will be painful for those who do not eat kosher to hear. We do not know why Hashem commanded that we eat kosher food, and why the penalties are stated so harshly. We will read it because it is Torah and we also wish to convey to everyone who is here, if you eat lobster or not, that you are loved and appreciated, and we acknowledge how much this hurts.”

That seemed odd, but it was not the first time. Several weeks before in my fantastic travels, I was in another shul in another city, and that week, the intense parsha Ki Sisa was read. That parsha discusses not only the Golden Calf, but also what happens to Shabbat violators: death. And the death sentence is repeated a few times.

I was surprised when the local rabbi there addressed the congregation and said: “This parsha talks about Shabbat violation and severe penalty for Shabbat violation. We are about to read some verses which will be painful for those who do not observe Shabbat or drive to shul. We are told Hashem rested after creating the world in six days, but Hashem does not need to rest, so really, we do not know why Hashem commanded that we observe Shabbat, and why the penalties are stated so harshly. We will read it because it is Torah and we also wish to convey to everyone who is here, if you work on Shabbat or not, that you are loved and appreciated, and we acknowledge how much this hurts.”

When I heard that, I thought it was weird, but then I remembered that earlier in the winter in my fantastic travels I was in yet another shul for parshat Bo. That parsha describes the last three plagues in Egypt, the taking of the lamb for the korban Pesach which was to be eaten, and the Exodus.

That local rabbi addressed the congregation before the Torah reading and said: “This parsha talks about eating the korban Pesach, eating meat. We are about to read some verses which will be painful for those who are vegetarians or vegans. We do not know why Hashem commanded that we eat meat, and why the penalties for not properly doing so are stated so harshly. We will read it because it is Torah and we also wish to convey to everyone who is here, if you are vegetarian or not, that you are loved and appreciated, and we acknowledge how much this hurts.”

In my fantastic travels, I realized I had heard those type of comments three times before I read in The Link an article, “A Modest Proposal for LGBTQ Jews” (April 22, 2021) by Rabbi Maurice Applebaum, who suggested these precise sentiments and words be expressed in shul before parshat Kedoshim, which bans male homosexuality.

Three times to hear the same thing, and now Rabbi Applebaum has validated the things I had heard in my imaginary travels.

Then I had a conversation with a well-known personality in the liberal Jewish community. She told me: “Isn’t it great? There are so many ‘sensitive’ Orthodox rabbis, now validated by Rabbi Applebaum in The Link newspaper, willing to marginalize clear Torah standards for those who engage in inappropriate behavior under normative Torah standards.”

She added, “It is a relief that the requirement in the same parshat Kedoshim that ‘You shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him’ (Vayikra 18:17) has now been shelved in favor of sensitivity and acceptance. What a great country we live in! Now I can go to shul again and not feel unsafe or threatened!”

Kudos to you, Rabbi Applebaum. You have succeeded in marginalizing the Torah’s mitzvot into our feel-good world environment.

Avi Borenstein
Springfield
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