Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rabbi Rockstar

It gets my attention when people pack a synagogue to the brim. When there literally is a case of standing room only to listen to a sermon. When people arrive half an hour early to get a seat.

Yesterday we headed to Beit Knesset Ramban to hear Rav Benny Lau give his Shabbat HaGadol drasha (sermon). Traditionally Shabbat HaGadol (the Shabbat before Pesah) features the main sermon of the season, and signs around Jerusalem advertised various rabbis and the topics of their talk. Katamon turned out en-masse for Rav Benny's drash.

The Peaceful Lion received a written copy of the talk in his e-mail today, which truly boggles my mind. From the way he spoke, it seemed like he didn't have any written text in front of him. Scanning it, he clearly read from the text only at select opinions. But here it is, what was sent to the Ramban listserv. Print it out, read it in a few sittings. It's worth it (n.b.: it's in Hebrew).

The central theme is the importance of asking questions as a model for a pedagogy of freedom. We must encourage students to ask as many questions as they can muster, and push them to ask further questions than they already think of.

His concluding political umph doesn't appear in the written copy, as far as I can tell from a quick scan. It lambasted those who silence the questions, pointing to particularly disappointing decisions by the Chief Rabbinate regarding the nullification of conversions. To a once courageous Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef for his halakhic decisions who in the introduction of his first teshuva (see the text above) placed himself as a sage who could innovate decisions and now is part of a Rabbanut establishment behind such decisions as the recent debacle in Ashkelon.

For religion to survive into the future, he implored, the educators in the room — pointing to each and every individual — had to encourage questions. Without it, religious life in Israel might as well close its bags.

I'll say that I was the choir in this audience and he was preaching directly to me. Ask questions, hold tensions in balance, learn as much as I can. Check, check, check. Doing the best I can.

More than that though, the message was couched in deep learning, an eloquent use of texts and such passion for a nation and land. I hope this trop echoes on into the Israeli landscape from a voice that must be heard more.

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