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Monday, May 04, 2009


Makom Torah is a state of the mind, not a city on the map.

The Mishna in Avos tells a story that should, on it’s surface, trouble any out-of-towner:

“Said Rabbi Yossei the son of Kisma: Once, I was traveling and I encountered a man. He greeted me and I returned his greetings. Said he to me: “Rabbi, where are you from?” Said I to him: “From a great city of sages and scholars, am I.” Said he to me: “Rabbi, would you like to dwell with us in our place? I will give you a million dinars of gold, precious stones and pearls.” Said I to him: “If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a place of Torah. Indeed, so is written in the book of psalms by David the king of Israel: `I prefer the Torah of Your mouth over thousands in gold and silver’ (Psalms 118:72).

The same story is told of Elijah the Prophet in the Tanna D’vei Eliyahu.

Abravanel explains that Rav Yosi ben Kisma’s road was the pathway of life. The Man who tried to change him was not a person but a culture, an establishment and a set of arbitrary rules. Rav Yosi told the man to let him Be: “I will remain rooted forever”, he said “in a Place of Torah”.

I’m too young to really know much about The Man , but Rav Yosi ben Kisma was not. The Man offered Rav Yosi the gold and silver of the world but Rav Yosi stood up to him, “Keep your trinkets”, he said, “I’ve got the Torah and it is my strength and guide!”

We are all guaranteed to meet Reb Yosi ben Kisma’s Man at some point in life. The Man will try to entice us and we must reject him. We need to keep our Roots in Torah. Rav Yosi Ben Kisma, Eliyahu Hanavi and all of our great leaders met The Man and rejected him out of hand.

Even Torah Jews living in Torah cities need to deal with the Man. All Jews need to examine their decisions (even religious ones) and determine whether they are rooted in a Place of Torah or in the society around them.

Here is one unpopular, but very true, example of the Man getting his way:

According to Halacha a married woman should cover her hair, preferably with a hat or scarf. As a ‘second-best’ option she may add a ‘fall’ with false hair coming out of her hat. If a woman is uncomfortable with either of the above she may dispense with the hat altogether and use only a wig. (Igros Moshe EH 2:12)

A look at societal norms in many large (non-Chasidic) communities reveals a trend that directly counters this Halachic hierarchy: Religious women wear hats, really religious ones wear hats with falls, and really, really, ultra-super-religious women would not think of wearing anything other than a sheitel.

Without belittling our in-town cousins, it is instructive to observe that these large-town attitudes are primarily rooted in Social realities and not in Halacha.
Rav Aharon Shechter, Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin once asked me if I felt like I was up to the challenges of out-of-town living. I told him that as a point of fact, I found in-town living to be the greater challenge, and the one that I might not be able to handle.

I explained that I need the latitude to base my actions on halacha and not be restricted by the pressure of societal norms. Personally, I prefer not to deal with the challenges of arbitrary rules that are dictated by the frum community but have no basis in halacha.

Rav Aharon asked for a f’rinstance and I gave him my Hat-Fall-Sheitel illustration. He wouldn’t agree or disagree, but he did recommend that I stay in Norfolk.

So, if you are out of town, take advantage of your location. Base you decisions on what the Torah says without worrying about how they act in the big city. And if you do live in the big city, consider this: Are your actions really rooted in a Place of Torah (Like Reb Yosi ben Kisma) or are they based on the societal, economic, and political standards of the people around you?

Note: This is the second installment in a trilogy on Makom Torah. The first essay can be found here.


Posted on 05/04 at 03:56 AM • 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