Monday, July 26, 2010

A Warm Welcome and Insights into Sephardic Rabbis’ Responsa

(S.E.C.’s founders Ron Nessim and Dr. Jose Nessim address those in attendance)

Tonight, nearly two dozen participants of the S.E.C.’s seminar this week in the Old City of Jerusalem were given a warm welcome by the organization’s faculty and founders at an opening dinner. Delicious food and incredible conversation were plentiful inside the dinning hall before the evening’s lecture began. The S.E.C.’s chairman Ron Nessim and S.E.C. founder Dr. Jose Nessim shared some insights about the organization’s objectives to of enhancing Sephardic Judaism through a traditional centrist direction.

Rabbi Bouskila, who organized the week long seminar in Jerusalem, introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Zvi Zohar who is a Bar Ilan University professor and leading expert on Sephardic Jewish tradition. Zohar, who surprisingly is not Sephardic, has spent his career researching and writing about the analysis of “halacha” or traditions of Sephardic rabbis during the last 150 years. He has reviewed the writings or “responsa” these various famous rabbis have had to questions posed to them by rabbis in other cities and countries. What delighted those in attendance for the lecture was the fact that Zohar presented a wide range of information from different Sephardic rabbis who were grappling with the problems of interrupting ancient Jewish traditions and laws to fit modern problems Jews in their communities faced. For example, he pointed to early 20th century Rabbi Ya’akov Mizrahi of Buenos Aires, who wrote in one of his responsa regarding women’s studying of Torah. Professor Zohar said that a time when Jewish women were not permitted to study Torah or it was not the norm for them to do so, Mizrahi states that women should be permitted to study Torah in order to keep Judaism alive when raising their children.

I witnessed something very unique for the first time, the seminar’s participants had a lively debate on how one must adapt Sephardic Jewish traditions for the modern age without loosing its key points of importance. It was nice for a change seeing average Jews discussing an essential topic without getting too loud and out of hand! Another important point Zohar made during his lecture was that “the more you know about Jewish traditions (halacha) the more wealth of information to offer those with problems other options in dealing with questions about tradition”.

On an interesting note, I had the pleasure of sitting with Professor Zohar before his meal and he shed light on the fact that his interest in Sephardic Judaism began at a young age. He said after his older eastern European teachers in school referred to Sephardic Jews as “lazy” for not being committed to strictly keeping Judaism or remaining strongly secular, he was curious to find out why Jews who were originally from Islamic or North African countries were able to maintain a happy medium between strict religiosity and strict secularism. To his surprise he discovered that Sephardic religious leaders have always managed to find a happy medium for religiosity without forfeiting their long standing traditions.

-- Karmel Melamed

Here are just some of the photos I captured this evening...

(Dr. Zvi Zohar, Bar Ilan University professor and leading expert on Sephardic Jewish tradition and religious commentaries).

(Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, S.E.C. Director of Special Projects)

(Larry Azose, S.E.C.'s World Executive Director)

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