Followers

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ON GETTING OLD; A CONFESSION


Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D

July, 2019


According to the biblical legend, Moses was 120 years old when he died; “his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated” (Deut.34: 7). Today, rare is the individual who can reach this limit, if ever. Furthermore, most people age at different speed, some much faster than others. I am almost 81 years old, and in relative good shape, even if I have a small belly that I never had before. I work as a part-time university professor, teaching Ethics at Framingham State University. I publish a blog (“SONSINO’S BLOG”) that, at the present time, has more than 430,000 viewers around the globe, and I give public lectures in my community. I go to the gym every day. My wife and I live in the independent living quarters of a large complex called, “The Willows” in Westborough, MA, and continue to travel to various places of interest. However, I am aware of the fact that I am getting older, and am going through a number of changes, both physical and emotional. For example:


1.     My memory is not what it used to be. Even though I can easily recall various details in history, both past and more recent, and still lecture using only  notes, and not a full text in front of me, I now have some difficulty with visualizing how to go from A to B in my own community. So, in order to compensate for it, I create little maps to help me navigate through the streets of Boston. Similarly, in the past, as a Rabbi and a university teacher, I did very well with the names of my students and members of my congregation. But now I am having problems with remembering the names of the people with whom I interact daily. These changes are starting to bother me. 


2.     I left Istanbul, Turkey, at the age of 21, after law school and military service, to study for the Rabbinate, with no intentions of returning. I wanted to create a new life for myself in a totally different culture. I studied in Paris and Cincinnati, and served in Buenos Aires as a newly minted Rabbi, before coming to the States in order to get my Ph.D. in Bible. But as I get older, I remember and even yearn for the food that I used to eat as a child and the music that I used to sing and listen to in my youth. So, I go to Middle Eastern restaurants and listen to well-known singers of my adolescence, both Jewish and non-Jewish, knowing full well that they belong to a long-gone era of my life that cannot be repeated. 


3.     There are some cultural trends that I now find difficult to understand or appreciate. For example, I cannot relate to rap music or the popular music of the present age. Nor do I understand the appeal to tattooing or piercing that is becoming so prevalent among the young people of our time. 


4.     I am slowing down a bit, and I am getting tired much faster than before. 


5.     I am becoming more impatient. In the past, I used to tolerate diversity of thought with resilience. But, having developed a philosophy of life and a theology based on reason and rationality, I now have the tendency to roll my eyes when I read or hear statements that are so incredulous. 


6.     Because I have a mild case of IBS, I find myself restricting my activities to places where facilities are at easy reach. Many adults and younger people, and especially my grandchildren, have a hard time understanding these personal limitations. That saddens me, because I cannot participate in many of their activities. 


7.     In the past, I lived in the moment, and rarely thought about the distant future. Now, I realize that, with good luck, I may have, at most, 10 more years to live. And if I am given more, that would be the icing on the cake. So, I have started to think about how I would be remembered, if at all. Having written a book entitled, What Happens After I Die, and having argued against resurrection or reincarnation, I now believe in living through my deeds. I assume that my body will disintegrate, and the energy I represent will return to the source of life. My sincere hope is that I will be remembered with blessing through my books and articles, and for all my teachings and all the good that I tried to do in my limited time.  


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Thanks to my viewers

I just checked the Stats of my blog and I am very impressed by the number of viewers around the world. I have more than 400,000viewers!!!!!!wow. I don’t know how to explain this popularity. Most of my readers come from Germany , followed by US, Argentina and Ukraine. I even have a large following in the United Arab Emirates. I am humbled by this positive response. I will continue to write and hopefully keep my readers informed about issues that concern me.
Please send your comments. 

Dr. Rifat Sonsino, Boston. 



Friday, June 21, 2019

OUR RECENT TRIP TO SPAIN



Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D



June 21, 2019



My wife, Ines, and I have been going to Spain for the last 12 years, each time for about two weeks, to help out Bet Shalom, a small but vibrant Reform congregation in Barcelona that does not have a full-time Rabbi. This year too, in early June, we made our trip, this time, primarily to attend and officiate at a family Bar Mitzvah. Here are some impressions of our visit:




1.     Bet Shalom is thankfully growing slowly but steadily. They now have about 120 members, a small religious school, and an active social action program. On Friday nights, they have services at around 8 pm, followed by a dinner for all the participants at 10 pm. Many people bring food, and all help out in the clean-up. This creates a great Sabbath spirit for all present. 




2.     The Bar Mitzvah of my brother’s grandson was memorable for the wonderful way in which he, the Bar Mitzvah boy, did his part, and for the fact that more than 20 people, mostly family members, travelled to Barcelona to share this special event. I conducted the Saturday morning service in English. (Other services are in Spanish, of course). 




3.     For us, going to Spain is special, because it enables us to see old friends and to reconnect with our dear ones and leaders of the congregation. A few of us also spent two days in southern France, visiting the walled-cities of Perpignan and Carcassonne. In Barcelona, in addition to the Bar Mitzvah, I also officiated at two Friday night services, dedicated a Torah (a scroll containing the Five Books of Moses), did a conversion, a wedding, and gave a few lectures.




4.     Unlike our synagogues in the United States, which are visible and clearly identified as religious institutions, often with a star of David at the main entrance, Bet Shalom is located not too far away from Gaudi’s famous church, Sagrada Familia, but, for security reasons, it does not have any identifying Jewish sign. The main door has rolling-down metal shutters, but it does have a small Mezuzah on the right door jamb. There are about 10,000-15,000 Jews in the country, but they watch what they do as Jews, and stay away from activities that will provoke extremists. 




5.     Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but there are a number of Christians who still preserve family memories regarding their Jewish background. The groom at the wedding, a prominent doctor who was the mayor of a town near Barcelona, told me that his mother or grandmother used to light candles on Friday nights, as it is customary in Jewish tradition before the Sabbath, and would always tell her kids, “We are not like the others,” meaning, we have our own traditions that we need to keep.




6.     Early in the year, I felt that Bet Shalom could use a second Torah. So I inquired among my colleagues in the States and was able to locate one in New Jersey. This was send to us to Boston, and, we, unopened, took it to Barcelona, all the time worrying that it could be lost or damaged. But the Torah travelled well, and we brought it safely to Bet Shalom. I dedicated it through a special ceremony on the first Friday night. The congregation was very moved and grateful. We also donated our own Yad (“pointer”). Now, the congregation can use both scrolls. 




7.     The food in Barcelona is exceptionally good, but daily meals are held at different times. Lunch, the main meal of the day, is about 1.30 to 2 pm, and dinner is rarely earlier than 9 pm. I had a hard time adjusting to this schedule.




8.      Spaniards love to drink their special kind of coffee and eat delicious pastries all day long. Across from our hotel in the Maria Christina area, we had 3 or 4 coffee shops, at times, one next to another, each with a small counter. They were busy all day long. In one case, Ines got her “cortadito” (a small cup of coffee) at a store manned by two individuals. I asked them: how can you make a living in such a small place, especially when you also close during the weekends? Their answer: we have the best coffee in town! And they did. 




9.      In Judaism, a Mikvah is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in order to achieve ritual purity. When a person emerges out of it, it is considered as if he/she were a newborn. Converts, in particular, are expected, by Jewish law, to immerse, as part of their conversion ceremony. However, there is no Mikvah in Barcelona. We have to use the public beach. This year, after examining one candidate in the synagogue before the Bet Din (the religious court) as to her knowledge about the basics of Judaism, we, the members of the court (3 of us) along with the candidate, her husband, and Ines, went to the seashore, where the prospective convert had to undress inside the water, and prepare to dunk. But the waters were wavy and cold, so she had a hard time doing it. So, a lady, a member of the court, had to get into the water with a bathing suit, and help her get under the water in order to achieve the desired goal. No one, especially, the candidate, will ever forget the details of this ceremony. Then, we all went out to eat and celebrate.





Ines and I will continue to keep in touch with our friends in Barcelona who continue to do a remarkable work with few resources but with great enthusiasm.








Friday, May 17, 2019




JEWISH LITURGICAL MELODIES FROM TURKEY
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino
May 17, 2019

 Translation of the first text:
At this time when the gates of good-will are soon to open, on this day, when I spread out my hands to you, please remember me! On this day of trial, the binder, the bound, and the altar.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

GREAT PEOPLE GENERATE GREAT LEGENDS-PART II




Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.

May 2, 2019



In my previous blog on this subject I discussed the cases of Moses and Jesus, two great historical personalities that generated unbelievable amount of legends. In this blog I will discuss the cases of Kings Solomon and Alexander the Great.



1.     KING SOLOMON



According to the Hebrew Bible, King Solomon (10th cent. BCE) was the son of King David and the second son of Queen Bath-Sheba. He rained for 40 years (a popular number of years attributed to other kings, like Saul and David), and died at the age of 80. He built the first temple of Jerusalem. Because of his reputation as a wise person, a number of books were attributed to him, such as the biblical books of Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes, as well as The Wisdom of Solomon (2nd cent. BCE). He represented the Golden Age of the United Kingdom in ancient Israel.



The legends about King Solomon are plentiful. Both the Talmud and the Quran consider him a major prophet. The Greek Orthodox Church views him as a saint. According to the Bible, “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines” (I K 11:3), but, as he grew older, he turned idolater under the influence of his many foreign wives. He frequently conversed with the demon, Ashmedai. In a midrashic account, the Queen of Sheba heard of King Solomon’s great wisdom and declared: “I will go and see whether he is wise or not, and I will come to test him with riddles.” She came to Solomon and asked him: “Are you the Solomon about whose kingdom and about whose wisdom I have heard?” He replied that he was. She then said to him: “You are truly wise, now I will ask you something, and we shall see if you are capable of answering me,” to which he responded: “For the Lord grants wisdom; knowledge and discernment are by His decree” (Prov. 2:6). The Queen of Sheba asked: “What are the seven that issue and nine that enter, the two that offer drink, and the one that drinks?” Solomon answered: “The seven that issue are the seven days of menstrual impurity. The nine that enter are the nine months of pregnancy. The two that offer drink are the breasts, and the child is the one who drinks.” (Midrash Proverbs [Buber ed.] 1). Rabbinic legend also tells us that Solomon was punished for his overbearing pride when he was impersonated by the demon king Ashmedai, and removed from the throne. He died in abject poverty. 



2.   ALEXANDER THE GREAT 



He was a Macedonian ruler, who established the largest empire in the ancient world. Born in Pella, in 356 BCE, to king Phillip II and Queen Olympias, he became the student of the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle. After his father’s death, he took command of the army and conquered much of the civilized world of his time-from India to Egypt. He founded the city of Alexandria, and died at the age of 33.



Alexander also generated various legends: he was the son of the god, Zeus; he undid the Gordium knot, which was tied by Gordius, the King of Phrygia, to be untied by the future ruler of Asia; in the Quran (Sura 18), he is portrayed as “the two-horned One” like the Egyptian god, Amon-Ra. According to the Talmud (Yoma 69a), Simon the Just, the High Priest, came along with other priests to the Gates of Jerusalem to meet Alexander the Great as he strode on his famous horse, named Bucephalus. When Alexander saw Simon, he dismounted and bowed down to him, out of respect. Alexander treated the Jews well, and they agreed to name every child born the next year as “Alexander.” 



So, once again, when we deal with great personalities of the past, one must be careful about the legends that they also generate, and do not take them literally.