Friday, February 14, 2020

Pizza and Common Sense

Pizza and Common Sense

At Touro Synagogue February 8, 2020 By Aaron Ginsburg edited by Beth Ginsburg Levin With thanks to Rabbi Marc Mandel Also at

On Shabbat morning at Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island, Rabbi Marc Mandel discussed the latest news. Rabbi Mandel dealt with skepticism about science and fake news, although he didn’t use those terms. The latest news was not in Washington, D.C. or Iowa, but China. In China, things are theoretically managed from the top down. Often the people who are running things don’t want to cause any static with their superiors, and fail to pass on bad news. This backfired in the case of coronavirus, since it delayed the response. Of course this can happen in any society.
“This week Dr. Li passed away,” began Rabbi Mandel. “He was the whistleblower about the coronavirus. This week's parsha (Beshalach) addressed the issue of pandemics and illness. After the Jews crossed the Red Sea, they were concerned that a plague would wipe them out in the desert. God said to them, ‘If you follow my commandments, any illness that I struck upon the Egyptians, I will not place on you, for I am your doctor.’
“If God is our doctor, does that mean we can't have a human doctor? Would that be an insult to God?
“This contradicts a passage in the upcoming parsha of Mishpatim, which says, if you injure someone you must pay their doctor bills!
“There seems to be some tension in the Torah about this, the same way there is tension today in China. The Chinese doctors want to save people and warn people, but the government says, slow down, don't overdo it. Both these cases can lead to problems. Last year, there was a measles epidemic in the United States because some people, including some orthodox Jews, didn't trust the doctors. In China, had the government listened earlier to the doctors, less people would have died. In leading our lives we must take advantage of medical expertise, while we still have faith in God to help us.”
At the kiddush, we discussed Daf Yomi, Masechet Brachot, page 35. This chapter discusses what brachot (blessings) to make on certain foods.
Lorenzo's Pizza sign on South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Highsmith, Carol M., 1946-, photographer
A lively discussion about certain foods indicated that this is not always a simple matter. For example, what bracha does one make on hummus? Although hummus is made from chickpeas which grow from the ground, we make a shehakol, because the texture has changed. This is similar to orange juice, which also gets a shehakol. This soon degenerated into a discussion about recipes, and people offered to share their favorites.
Rabbi Mandel said he usually defers to his wife, Jackie, when there is a food question.
Then came the great pizza question. Is pizza bread? Apparently not since we don’t say hamotzi over it. Rabbi Mandel pointed out that if we have bread with a meal, once we say the hamotzi we don’t need to say a blessing over the other items in the meal. The congregants heaved a sigh of relief, and resumed eating their pizza!
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Teamwork and Knishes

Teamwork and Knishes
At Touro Synagogue
January 25, 2020
By Aaron Ginsburg edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine 
Thank you to Dr. Irene Glasser and Rabbi Marc Mandel

Taking the census Harpers Weekly 1870
after asketch by 
Thomas Worth.
On Friday before services at Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, congregant Dr. Irene Glasser spoke about her work for the Center for Survey Measurement which is a part of the Research and Methodology Directorate of the US Census. Rabbi Marc Mandel introduced her, “This week's parsha, Parashat Vaera, has a census of its own, as they listed the names of the leaders of the tribes.”

Certain populations,” Irene told us, “are chronically undercounted including people experiencing homelessness, people living in very rural areas, people who are Hispanic, African American, Asian, and American Indian. In 1989 and in 2009 I conducted research in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, out of doors, and with individuals and families who were ‘doubled up’ with another individual or family because they had nowhere else to go. I recommended strategies to try to better include people experiencing homelessness and evaluated how thorough I thought that the homeless count would be.

“The United States census figures are the basis for the number of Congressmen from each state in the US House of Representatives and the basis for much of the federal funding sent to the states. This year the census will be especially challenging in terms of complete coverage because, among other reasons, the census is not as well funded as it has been in the past and the citizenship question, although ultimately not asked, is thought to have scared US communities.” 

Census employees are expected to respect the privacy of the public. Irene took an oath at the Census Bureau to hold as confidential for life any personal information she learned by working on the census. Confidentiality is a major reason people will answer the US census. 

Many people work together as a team to make the census work.

In his brief words of Torah on Shabbat morning, Rabbi Mandel spoke about another team. “Moses and Aaron worked together in Egypt to help bring the redemption of the Jews. This is charting new territory, as in earlier Torah readings there was very little brotherly love.

“Cain and Abel were not friends, nor were Isaac and Ishmael, nor were Jacob and Esau, and not Joseph and his brothers. Suddenly we see two brothers, Moses and Aaron, working side-by-side, seamlessly, without mutual envy, towards the goal of Jewish redemption. 

“Rashi tells us that in last week's parsha, “Moshe was concerned that Aaron would be envious of him since Aaron was the older brother, but it was quite the contrary. Aaron was very happy for his brother and was later awarded the title of the Kohen, because of this unselfishness.” 

Moshe expressed his concern to God, who replied, “Don’t worry about it. Aaron will be happy to speak for you.” And so it was.

Rabbi Mandel pointed out, “Today things are different and families don't usually live so close together and don't work so closely together. It might not be so central anymore because the family unit is able to be more self-sufficient than in the past. But the kernel of the idea is still very important, that in order to be successful, teamwork is essential.” 

At kiddush, Rabbi Mandel introduced the initiative to have Touro Synagogue participate in Daf Yomi (page of the day). “Thousands of people all over the world are studying the same page of Talmud each day. This unites all Jews and brings a sense of community to the global Jewish world.” 

The Babylonian Talmud has 2,711 pages (each page consists of two sides). A cycle takes seven and a half years. The idea came to fruition when Rabbi Meir Shaprio proposed it at the first World Conference of Agudath Israel in Vienna in August 1923. The first cycle began on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, 1923.

The cycle concludes with a celebration, Siyum HaShas, the completion of the six Orders of the Talmud. On January 1, 2020 over 90,000 people gathered at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, including Touro member Jay Shottenstein, who recited the kaddish. Jay’s family underwrote the Schottenstein Talmud, published by Artscroll.

When ArtScroll was founded in the 1970s, David Nathanson told us that he helped to print its first books. The best part was when the founder of Artscroll, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, arrived from New York City with fresh knishes for all.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Knishes from Jewish Newport!