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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

By Invitation Only

Living a Torah life in a spiritual wasteland is like making a Minyan on an Airplane.

Davening in shul can be inspiring for participants and spectators; Davening on a plane is often inspiring to neither.

Reb Yosi Ben Kisma held that Torah should not be brought to places where it is not wanted. When Rav Chanina Ben Tradyon insisted on teaching Torah amidst Roman persecution, Rav Yosi criticized him. “You will burn”, he said, “and so will the Sefer Torah you are holding”. The Sefer Torah did end up burning with Rabi Chanina but Rebi Chanina’s neshama and the letters of the Sefer Torah separated and flew to heaven unscathed.

Where Reb Chanina, Rabi Akiva and others felt that the presence of Torah among Jews was non-negotiable and worth any sacrifice, Reb Yosi could not condone bringing Torah to a place where it would be unwanted disgraced.

Rabi Chanina said that Torah must be studied wherever there are two Jews and that that alone would bring the Shechina; Reb Yosi said that Torah should be studied only in a pre-existing Makom Torah.

Reb Yosi ben Kisma said: “Even if you give me all of the money in the world, I will only live in a Makom Torah”. Reb Yosi was not againt money and he was not motivated by comfort and self-preservation. Reb Yosi wanted what was best for the Torah, he did not want to see it scorned or burned.

While we are not in a position to choose between Reb Chanina or Reb Yosi, it is important for us to understand Reb Yosi’s directive to live in a Mokom Torah in the context of his disagreement with Rabi Chanina. Reb Yosi’s concern was not for the Jew living outside a Makom Torah - His concern was for the Torah itself. A makom torah is defined as a place where the Torah will find respect and honor. When we bring Torah to a new circumstance or venue, we need to be sure that we are bringing glory to the Torah and not, G-d forbid, creating opportunities for disdain and degradation.

About Thirty years ago my father walked each day from his home in a non-religious neighborhood in Jerusalem to his Yeshiva in a religious one. A non-religious neighbor finally called him on it: “Rabbi”, he said, “You are going the wrong way! Why do you live among the uneducated and study with the educated; come and study with us!”

My father was struck by his words and asked his Rosh Yeshiva if he should leave Yeshiva to study with his neighbors. Better yet, perhaps he should return to his hometown and teach Torah there?

Rav Sheinberg’s answer was clear: Leave Yeshiva to teach - but only if you are wanted. (A short time later he was offered a position which he immedately accepted).

Should a person leave his comfort zone to bring Torah where it is not wanted? Reb Yosi seems to say no. Should a person make a minyan on an airplane when it will draw ridicule? Again, maybe not. In both cases the Torah (or the practice of it) is being introduced to a less than optimal location with less than desirable results. Even if the long-term benefits are great, the short term disgrace may never be justified. This is the lesson of Reb Yosi.

In Lakewood, the entire community surrounds the Yeshiva. Schedules are set up around the Yeshiva timetable and opportunities to learn are countless. Lakewood wants Torah and is the Makom Torah Reb Yosi insisted upon.

In Australia, boys returning from overseas Yeshivas is asked to address a crowd of over one hundred men to share what he has learned. Melbourne wants Torah and is likewise Makom Torah.

All across the fruited plain individuals study Torah Lishma late at night and early every morning. They leave work early to daven Mincha and they often form the elite nucleus that keeps Torah organizations alive.

It seems to me that even Reb Yosi ben Kisma would agree that any community that wants Torah- regardless of size - is a Mokom Torah.

Do the people around you want Torah? Are you in a Makom Torah?

(Sources: Avos 3:2, 6:9, Avoda Zarah 18a, Lev Avos)

This article is third in a trilogy on Makom Torah. The First and Second can be found here and here.


Posted on 05/13 at 06:34 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at