Diplomats, Wheels and the Talmud

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, February 2, 2018 / 17th Shevat 5778

Summary: Rabbi Kosak notifies the community about an upcoming visit on Tuesday, February 27th by the Israeli Deputy Counsel, a Jewish Men’s motorcycle club currently forming and asks for your prayers for an important Jewish scholar. 


It’s been one of those on and off again things, but I am pleased to announce that the Israeli Deputy Counsel for the Pacific Northwest region will be speaking at Congregation Neveh Shalom on Tuesday night, February 27th at 7 pm. While she and I are still hammering out details of her presentation, this is an important opportunity to interact with a rising star within the diplomatic community. Ravit Baer has been a career diplomat for the last 14 years. She most recently served in the Europe division, which was responsible for implementing many areas of coordination and cooperation between Israel and Europe.

Although this event is being put together as a program of our Israel360 series, it was not on our normal programming calendar. Rather, we owe our thanks to Bob Horenstein at Federation for making the “shidduch” or connection between Ms. Baer and me. We can take pride in the work that our Israel360 committee is doing. With close to no operating budget, we have been able to bring a wide range of guest lecturers, scholars and organization leaders and provocative films to our community.

This is an era when most Jewish organizations nationwide are avoiding any mention of Israel because of how divisive American Jewish opinion over her government policies is. Those who still do discuss Israel tend to do so from a rather narrow outlook that matches what their constituencies already think about her. Thus, many mainstream Jewish organizations present Israel in a wholly positive light, speaking of her technological and medical innovations, for example. Other Jewish communities have staked out a stance of critique with no acknowledgement of what Israel gets rights, or which problems are not of her making. Both of these approaches suffer from intellectual impoverishment.

Against that polarized backdrop, CNS is fearlessly presenting a range of topics and perspectives on one of the most news-worthy countries in the world. We do that in an atmosphere of respect, curiosity and civility.

As Jews, examining and understanding Israel’s culture, politics, science, art and religious unfolding is essential. Regardless of what our relationship is, half of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel. As an ancient people, and not just a religion, it is fascinating and instructive to see how half of our people deals with the challenges and opportunities of self-determination.

Given all this, and although it is shorter notice than normal, I hope you can make time on Tuesday the 27th to meet the Deputy Counsel General for our region. Ms. Baer is an accomplished and intelligent individual. We are fortunate that she will spend time with our community.


Six or seven months ago, I connected with a man at our morning minyan. Frank’s not a member, but he prays with us when he is observing a yahrzeit (anniversary of a loved one’s death). That day, his leather jacket caught my eye, or rather a patch on the back that proudly declares him a member of “The Tribe.” I had a suspicion. Turns out that Frank is a motorcycle rider, and the Tribe is a Seattle-based Jewish motorcycle club. Before he moved here, he was a member. Anyway, that patch got us talking.

In my twenties, I owned two bikes (a Honda CB750K and a Kawasaki LTD for those who care about these things). I fondly remember two cross-country trips back then, and seeing parts of America unknown to me–Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, small rural communities and the large expanse of cornfields that define so much of Kansas and Nebraska, as well as the breath-stealing mountains of Colorado. Anyone who has ridden can really connect over those sorts of stories, and that’s what he and I did.

Last week, he and I grabbed breakfast after morning minyan. He is very interested in starting a local Jewish men’s motorcycle club. With the long-range weather report forecasting some 60 degree days at the end of next week, the earliest whispers of spring are in the air. I promised to reach out to our community to see if anyone is interested in joining (or forming) this new group.

After making a handful of calls to congregants who I know ride, all of whom were enthusiastic, it was time to throw a wider net. If you are a motorcyclist and are interested, please let me know and I’ll pass on your contact details to Frank. Additionally, as this will be a community group and not a Neveh Shalom affiliate (our insurance agent would never allow that!), if you know a Jewish man who rides, please put them in contact with me.

It is worth adding that the largest risk to motorcycle riders comes from drivers who aren’t paying sufficient attention and who just don’t “see” bikers or grant them their legal right of way. Because of that, riding in a group like this is an important safety measure in addition to being an enjoyable social activity.

The Talmud and Prayers for Healing

One of the world’s greatest Talmudists is ill. David Weiss Halivni fell and broke a hip, and at his more advanced years, we all know that such falls can spiral into far worse medical conditions. I don’t normally include special call outs to include people in our prayers. After all, we have a special Mi Sheberach list for those who are ill, and those individuals are recounted in our private and collective prayers. But given the prominence of Rabbi Dr. Halivni (a winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship for the Humanities, the National Jewish book award, and countless other accolades), this seemed a worthwhile opportunity to share why he is important.

One of the core motivating features of the Conservative movement is to recognize that all texts, including the holy scriptures of every religion, have a history. Regardless of the divine character of these sacred writings, human hands have been intimately involved in their transmission down the generations. On this Shabbat when we read Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Speech Acts or Commandments), that is an important theological point.

David Weiss Halivni’s background was as an old-world scholar, one of the last giants who was educated in the eminent pre-world yeshivot, or institutions of higher Jewish learning before the Nazis destroyed a thousand years of continuous development. He took our key insight that texts have a past, and applied it to the Talmud. By doing so, he was able to unravel the historical layers which compose the Gemara (another name for the Talmud). That in turn solved many intractable problems. In short, his brilliant mind has made clear that which was murky.

Please include HaRav Daveed ben Feige v’Ephrayim Betzalel in your thoughts and let us hope that our collective prayers for him will be heard.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

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