Friday, April 16, 2021

Heroes of Learning part two Nov. 2000

Librarian's Lobby
November 2000

 Heroes of Learning part two

Last month after I finished writing my column, I learned that a Chicago Rabbinical Council member, Shmuel Jablon, just had his first book published. My criteria for heroes of learning state that the person should have an influence far beyond their original time and place. Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is a future hero. Through his writings and teaching his influence is reaching a large audience. Professor George Foot Moore made significant contributions to Jewish scholarship and helped non-Jews better understand the Tannaic age of Judaism. The last example, Aaron Copland, was not an academic hero, but a musician, composer, teacher of music and conductor. Aaron Copland, who was one of the definers of American symphonic music, donated his papers to the Library of Congress. Now we can learn more about this musical genius through a digital on-line collection.

Rabbi Shmuel Jablon[1]

I first met Shmuel when he was a simicha (rabbinical) student at Hebrew Theological College and taught American history in their high school. He impressed me as a teacher who cared not only for academics, but also for the relationships between students and history. When he said, "Remember you are B'nai Torah,"[2] he was talking about their behavior and how the outside world perceived them. Several of his former students remembered that his method of teaching demanded original thinking. He prepared them for learning at a college level. One assignment was a constitutional convention with students taking the roles of each of the thirteen states. The assignment taught the students about history and the human interaction required to make agreements. Another assignment was a term paper on an aspect of American history. Usually students of this age have a hard time figuring out the scope of a research paper. Shmuel was able to guide the student to do some original historical research. Several of the students wrote about family members and their contributions to the Jewish community. These papers shed light on the institutions' history that was not in any history books. These students later donated copies of their papers to the library.

After receiving his simicha (rabbinical ordination) he became the director of the Sephardic Hebrew Day School (Skokie, IL). Later he was recruited to be the associate headmaster of South Peninsula Hebrew Day School (Sunnyvale, CA) and in September 2000 he became is the head of the lower school (grades k-6) of the Fuchs Mizrachi School (Cleveland, OH).

From 2008 until 2014 he was the principal of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia.  In 2008 he published The Student's Pesach Haggadah[3] aimed at students grade 3-12.  In Cleveland and Philadelphia, he contributed comments on the Torah portion for the local Jewish newspapers. 

In all of his positions he guided school curricula that were strong in Hebrew language and a connection to Israel.  He and his family made Aliyah in 2014 because of his love of the land, desire to be at the center of Jewish history and to give his children the opportunity to be in the place they'd always dreamed of living.  He hopes that his aliyah served as an example for his students and their families in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Currently Shmuel lives in Efrat, Israel with his wife and unmarried children. He celebrated the birth of his first Israel grandchild 10 months ago. Since 2015 has been serving as the executive director of Shapell’s/Darche Noam in Jerusalem. 

As the executive director he brings his expertise in organization and education to make sure the institution runs well and remains financially sound. Shapell’s and its women's seminary Midreshet Rachel V'Chaya have English-speaking men and women students [4] coming from North America and the rest of the world who study from a month to three years, emerging with a greater understanding of Torah, Israel and Jewish texts.  They then go on to make an impact in their communities- whether those they came from or in Israel (where 25%+ of the alumni live).  Though his classroom teaching has been placed in the background (though he teaches the Megillot and Israeli history at Midreshet Rachel), he is quite proud of his role in making sure that the organization remains strong and able to continue to succeed in its mission.

His classroom teaching has been placed I the background so that he can help the faculty do their job working with students to master text and inspire spiritual and religious growth. Shapell’s has English-speaking men and women students[4] coming from North America and the rest of the world who study for a year and then return to home with a greater understanding of Torah, Israel and Jewish texts. Shmuel’s influence on faculty and the organization help students return home and make contributions to their home communities.

His book, Jewish Answers, was published in 2000 by iUniverse and Writers' Club Press (ISBN: 0-595-12231-0). The book is a compilation of answers he has given as one of the rabbis on "Ask a Rabbi" panel on Jewish.com. The questions range from everyday issues to holidays and religious Zionism. Some questions require a halakhic (according to Jewish law) response while others require the compassion and understanding of a teacher or social worker. (Shmuel refers difficult legal questions to others who are more qualified to answer.) His answers demonstrate an unusual ability to understand the motivation of the questioner and give a sensitive, compassionate, modern Orthodox answer. You may read sample pages on the Internet before deciding to purchase. The book is aimed at two audiences, the person seeking to learn more about Judaism and experts such as rabbis, who may want help when they receive similar questions.

George Foot Moore (1851-1931)

From 1902 until his retirement in 1928 George Foot Moore was a professor of religion at Harvard University. Moore, the son a Presbyterian minister in West Chester, PA, was so bright that he entered Yale University as a junior and graduated second in his class. After studying privately, he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York and graduated in 1878. He was a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Andover Theological Seminary [5] for twenty years before Harvard. He contributed to scholarly journals and wrote several important books including, Commentary on Judges (1895), The Literature of the Old Testament (1913), and The Birth and Growth of Religion (1923). He did much to shape the idea that religion is a universal human activity. He shaped the study of religion with German logic, methods, and standards and mixed in his own enormous base of knowledge. He had the traits of a great soul and a great scholar.

His influence on Jewish studies was his three volume work, Judaism in the First Centuries: the age of Tannaim. (1927-1930). His understanding of the Talmud, rabbinic literature, and rabbinic Judaism was combined with his understanding of religion and the history of religion. This work was his contribution Jewish studies. In an era when few universities had experts in Jewish studies, Moore stands out as a leader and example for younger scholars. [6] Moore thanks his colleagues, Harry A. Wolfson for checking all the references and Louis Ginzberg for his words of advice and encouragement.

There is a generational gap in the appreciation of Moore's scholarship. I asked several CRC members about George Foot Moore. The ones who are my age or older, readily recognized his name and his Judaism. Younger members had never seen this book. Moore's books were written in an era that saw few English scholarly works in Judaism written in English. Before World War II, scholarly Jewish books were written in Hebrew or German. Moore's work cannot be recommended without caution. Moore looks at Judaism as a critical historian and Christian theologian. His work did much to bridge the gap between Christian theologians and Jewish scholarship. He does not hesitate to quote from the Christian Bible and Christian teachers. No doubt modern scholars using sources revealed after 1930 could disagree with some of his conclusions, but his contributions influenced students and scholars for more than 50 years.

The idea that religion is a natural human activity should help understand not just organized religions, but also corporate and personal behaviors that border on religion. Consequently, George Foot Moore's influence has transcended his time and place and as a hero of learning. For a portrait of Moore and more information see: http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/exhibitd/mooregf.html.


Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Copeland in Israel 1968
When I performed Copland's works in high school band, I had no idea that he was Jewish. Copland devoted his life to composing "American" music. Copland was born in Brooklyn to Russian-Jewish immigrants. From the time he was 10 he wanted to be a composer. This was difficult as an American during a time when composing symphonic music was a European activity.

November 14, 2000, marked the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Aaron Copland. The new online Aaron Copland Collection (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/achtml/) was created by the National Digital Library Program in conjunction with the Library on Congress's Music Division. It forms part of the Library of Congress's homage to this distinguished American. This digital collection has digital copies of Copland's manuscript scores with the composers handwritten notes.

Copland wrote several books [7] to help us understand and enjoy music. He stopped composing in the 1970's, but continued to conduct and teach until the mid 1980's. Because his ballet, music, Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and his simple Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) still ring in my ears, he is one of the heroes of learning.



©2000, 2021 CRC36. Last revised April 15, 2021



[1]  This section was edited and updated in April 2000 and is substantially different than the original Nov. 2000 article. Rabbi Jablon is a hero of Jewish learning today and not just a “future” hero whom I met in 1995.

 The other sections had only minor changes.

 [2]  Loosely translated, B'nai Torah means properly behaved gentlemen.

 [3]  The Student's Pesach Haggadah by Rabbi Shmuel Jablon.. Mazo Publishers, 2008

ISBN: 978-9657344453.

 [4]  Men and women are in separate programs and don’t learn in the same classes.

[5]  For the first centuries of their existence Andover and Harvard Divinity School (HDS) had a rivalry. In 1910 after a decline in enrollment Andover and Harvard signed a joint operating agreement. Andover spent $300,00 to build Andover Hall, which became the joint library of HDS and Andover. The library's name is Andover-Harvard. HDS is a non-denominational divinity school that offers academic graduate degrees in religion.

 [6]  Moore did graduate studies in Germany in 1895 and was an exchange professor in 1909-10 and evidently learned German. He did publish a few articles in German. However, it is interesting to note that his magnum opus, Judaism has not been translated into German or Hebrew. During the 1920's even American scholars in religion and social sciences published in German.

[7] Books include: What to listen for in music (1939), Our new music (1941), and Copland on music (1960). What to listen ... was frequently used as a text in music appreciation classes.  

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Heroes of Learning

 

Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
October 2000

 

In the September 2000 column I talked about knowledge and a definition of learning. This month I want to share some personal thoughts on heroes of Jewish learning.

Heroes of Learning

Rabbis of the Talmud -- Collectively the rabbis and the teachers recorded in the Talmud bridged the gap between the written Torah and everyday life. They mastered both the physical sciences and the social sciences of their day. They understood that law was more than a written commandment. Understanding the law involved an understanding of the physical world and the social, political and economic conditions of the people. The Talmud contains more than one opinion on many topics. Sometimes we choose one opinion as better; sometimes both or all three answers are right. Because of the scope of Talmudic knowledge, we learn that no one has a monopoly on truth, justice, or understanding of the neshama (soul).
 

Saadia ben Yosef Gaon (882-942) was born in Egypt and served as the leader of the Babylonian Jewish community. In His time Babylonia was the most important Jewish community in the world. In 921 Saadia disputed Aaron Ben-Meir was to the starting day for Pesah. Ben-Meir, head of the Jerusalem academy, said Pesah would start on Tuesday that year. Saadia and his followers said, Thursday, and his dismissed the halakhic arguments of Ben-Meir. Saadia eventually won as he  established both his interpretation of the calendar and the importance of the Babylonian academies. Saadia translated the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) into Arabic, both for the Arabic speaking Jews and the Arabs. He used Arabic characters for the Bible though most of his Arabic works and the works of other scholars of his time were in Arabic with Hebrew characters. His polemics against the Karaites further enhanced Rabbinic Jewry. No fewer than 49 works were written by Karaites against Saadia. In his Emunot ve-De'ot Saadia writes the first comprehensive work on the fundamental problems in Jewish philosophy. This work deeply influenced all later Jewish philosophers.

The editing of the Siddur is his most important influence on our lives because it affects us every single time we pray. His Siddur was not the first and he did not author the prayers. He codified the customs of his time, used his judgment in selecting between various texts and explained what he did. He comments on and explains both the prayers and the selection process. His Siddur had only one preserved manuscript and was published in 1941. In the preparation of the Siddur for publication the editor consulted fragments found in the Cairo Genizah. In my study of prayer, I have frequently consulted this work.(1) Saadia's work and influence are of monumental importance in establishing the Jewish people as "People of the book"

Solomon Schechter (probably in December 1850-1915) was born in Focsani, Romania. He received his early education from his father, a Habad Hasid from Russia, who was a shohet. Schechter was named in Hebrew Shneur Zalman after the Lubavitcher rebbe. The unusually


gifted boy learned to read Hebrew by age three and by five mastered Humash. He went to a yeshiva in Piatra at age ten and at age thirteen studied with one the greatest Talmudic authorities, Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson of Lemberg. He acquired his life-long devotion to the scientific study of Judaism and its sources while learning at the University of Berlin and the Hochschuler für des Wissenschaft des Judenthums. In 1879 he went to England and eventually became professor of Hebrew at University College, London. In 1887 he published an edition of Abot de-Rabbi Nathan, an important Talmudic book, included in most Talmud editions, but its text had suffered from non-learned copyists. Schechter read through many manuscripts and compared the texts with Greek translations and quotations found in other books. This volume put Schechter in the front ranks of Jewish scholars.

His fame was established when he made possible the scholarly study of the manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah. This discovery started a series of events in Jewish learning that continue until this day. Among them is the rediscovery of the Hebrew texts of books previously known only in translation. For example, the Hebrew original of Ben Sira was published in 1899. His Saadyana changed our understanding of Saadia ben Joseph and his period of history.

Dr. Schechter's contributions to positive-historical Judaism led directly to the study of Judaism at the university level. The founding of Yeshiva University more than ten years after Dr. Schechter's death and the departments of Judaica on college campuses are directly related to Schechter's learning, belief in the universality of the message of Judaism (an early Lubavitch missionary?), leadership and personal charisma.(2)

Alexander Dushkin (1890-1976) was born in Suwalki, Poland and came to the United States in 1901. In 1910 he was part of a program of the New York Kehillah to provide planning and


direction to the great chaos to the growing mass of New York Jewry. He started a training program at Teacher's College in New York City that led to his earning the first American Ph.D. on a Jewish education theme. This thesis was published as, Jewish education in New York City, New York, Bureau of Jewish Education, 1918. One idea he advocated was for bright children to be sent to Jewish day schools and trained for Jewish leadership.

Dushkin's most important idea was the Jewish summer camp. This was a new venture in Jewish education. He was associated with Camp Modin from 1921 to 1942. Albert Schoolman had already started Cejwin Camps as community summer camps for children of the Jewish "masses." Upper-middle class Jewish parents were sending their children to private summer camps as a "proper" vacation for their children. The first summer, 1922, had 45 boys. The second year had 110 boys and ten girls. Some of the early campers went on to start camps of their own. All the current Zionist and Jewish educational camps can find their roots in the work that Dushkin did at Camp Modin.

Space limits what I can say about his time serving the Board of Jewish Education of Chicago, the Jewish Education Committee of New York and the Hebrew University. He was important as a leader and philosopher. One of his major goals was to make sure that Jewish education is a communal responsibility. He believed in pluralism and stressed the need to find common goals and values. While I was a student in Jerusalem, I heard him speak once in 1970 and he immediately became one of my heroes of learning.(3)


Footnotes:

1. For more on Saadia ben Joseph see: Essays in Jewish Biography, by Alexander Marx. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1947; Encyclopedia Judaica "Saadia Gaon" vol. 14, col. 543-555; and Saadia Gaon, his life and works / by Henry Malter. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1921.

2. For more information see: Giants of faith: great American rabbis / by Alex J. Goldman. New York, Citadel Press, 1964; Essays in Jewish Biography, by Alexander Marx. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1947; Solomon Schechter / by Norman Bentwich. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1938.

3. For more information see: Living bridges: memoirs of an educator, by Alexander Dushkin, Jerusalem, Keter Publishing House, 1975.


©2004  by  Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised April 8, 2021    CRC35