Professor Louis Ginzberg was the greatest scholar of rabbinic Midrash in his day, with a vast range of learning in many languages. My father told me that once, at a reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Ginzberg taught, a woman approached him and in the course of discussion, began arguing with him about a point in Midrash. After a long, fruitless argument, Ginzberg said, “Why don’t we check the ‘Jewish Encyclopedia’ — would you accept that as an authority?” The woman agreed.
The Talmud teaches us (Berachot, 21a) that the requirement to say a blessing after a meal comes from a verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10), and to recite it before the meal comes from a logical imperative. But the reverse is true with Torah study; the source for reciting a blessing before is from a verse (Deut. 32:3).
Rabbi David Wolpe has made a public apology to Sam Horowitz of Dallas, the bar mitzvah boy whose lavish party and professionally choreographed celebratory dance has gone viral on the Internet via a YouTube video.
The tragedies of the past week remind us why religious community matters:
1. In the face of death, religion maintains that life is meaningful. Not only because of the belief that human beings never fully disappear, but because it teaches that this pageant, with all its pain and anguish, need never resolve into despair. Life still matters; we always matter.
2. A religious community provides comfort and help. Long after others have forgotten, the congregation will be there, with everything from meals to a shoulder to a prayer.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism estimates that from 1985 to 2009, 175 affiliated congregations have dispersed or merged with other denominations. The movement’s branch of day schools, the Solomon Schechter schools, has had the sharpest enrollment decline out of any denominational schools with a 3.8 percent decrease from 2010 to 2011, and since 1998, 20 Conservative day schools have shut down nationwide.