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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Meeting With The Rema

Almost 30 years ago I contracted a pretty severe case of the flu. We were living in Buffalo, NY or more specifically Williamsville, and I was going totally stir crazy lying in bed. My wife, always at my side, offered to go to the library and get me some books; she had one simple question, “What do you like to read?”

She couldn’t have asked me a more difficult question. I was stumped! I had been years away from novels and mysteries, my interest was Torah and Halacha which was not a specialty of the Buffalo Public Library, and I was way too embarrassed to ask for some back copies of MAD magazine.

For some reason, unclear in my memory, I asked her to get some books about Jesus.  I was somewhat curious about the founder of Christianity who popped up smack in the middle of Hillel and Shamai. Having left the incubator of Kiryat Mattersdorf and Kollel in Jerusalem, I felt I should know more.

An hour or two passed and in walked my wife with a pile of books that would outlast even the worst case of influenza. Books with titles like Rabbi J; Jesus the Assyne; Christianity in the Second Temple era and more.  Over the next three days in bed I learned more about Yushka and Paul than any Yeshivah Bochur would ever want or need to know. I felt like walking downtown and daring the first missionary to an open debate – but I fell asleep instead.

Then the phone rang.  “We don’t know each other!” the caller said. My caller was a professor at Buffalo State College. He was a really nice man and a very intelligent one.  He explained that he was involved in an intellectual discussion group with a group of his colleagues who are all very strong believers in Christianity. They are urging him to get involved or at least give Christianity a try. The caller was torn between his assimilated but still Jewish Neshama and the peer pressure of his colleagues. He needed an intelligent response and he needed it quick.

Well he came to the right place. I was an expert in Christianity and had been so for over an hour! I quoted him chapter and verse from the New Testament pointing out the historical background of Paul and the textual contradictions that could not be resolved. By the end of the conversation not only was he convinced and knowledgeable but we were friends. I thanked G-d for giving me the flu and finally asked the man his name.

“My name is Morey Isserlish!” The very name made me tremble. “There was a great 16th Century Rabbi by that name,” I said. 

“The Rema of Krakow is my direct ancestor” he answered.  “My Hebrew name is Moshe. I am named after my grandfather who was called Reb Moishela of Krakow who was a direct descendant of the Rema.” He explained to me that he didn’t know much about this illustrious rabbi and if I had information he’d love to know more.
So Morey came to classes, we studied Torah together and we became close.

Today, Lag B’omer , is the 437th Yortzeit of the Rema.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rema . I hope the Rema stands before Hashem and asks Him to watch over all of his children like he watched over Morey. May his neshama have an Aliya.

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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at yhaber@torahlab.org