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Lo Ba’Shamayim Hi – Not in Heaven



After a long and sometimes difficult wait, resulting in part from the Covid pandemic, December 1st finally arrived, the day of my rabbinical ordination. The ceremony took place in the magnificent Rykestrasse Synagogue in Berlin (see photo below) and was marked by a change of style from previous ordinations, with a mix of ceremonial formality and intimate warmth. It was an emotional experience. For the first time, the newly ordained rabbis were given the opportunity to say a few words, focusing on the text embroidered on the collar of the tallit presented to each of us by the seminary.


Steve Brummel, Maria Loose, and her husband Ekkehard, represented the IJC community and we were joined by George Perlov and his husband Stefan Denig – members of IJC’s international diaspora.


Many IJC members in Belgium and worldwide, together with hundreds of friends and family, were able to watch the ceremony live or catch up later with the recording on YouTube (it’s still available here:


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnR_vuWPbjmuiEAOUPrHjJw)


Here’s what I had to say:


"Studying Talmud with Professor Admiel Kosman, we sometimes came to the conclusion that rabbis could be self-important and perhaps even arrogant, and often their wives had to bring them down a peg or two. The lesson learned was that being a rabbi was about service, about meeting people where they are, in the post office, at the market. Rabbis need to be down to earth, and above all unpretentious and humble.


This is what inspired my choice of Torah text embroidered on the atarah, the collar of my tallit. It says Lo ba’shamayim hi – ‘it is not in the heavens’ from Deuteronomy 30,12. The Eternal One’s instructions for life are not too baffling for us, nor are they beyond our reach. We don’t need to search too far to find them – not in the heavens or across the sea – because they are very close. They are in our mouth – in the words we say – and in our heart – in the thoughts we think. The sages of the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) also quoted from this text in the renowned story of the Oven of Akhnai. Don’t seek answers in miracles or even in a bat qol, a voice of God from the heavens. Lo ba’shamayim hi.


If I have ambition, it is to be a rabbi who meets people at their level, who doesn’t speak a language that baffles and excludes others, cancels others, but includes and affirms wherever they can. A rabbi who lives a spirituality of doing, engaging, a spirituality that doesn’t float somewhere up in the heavens either or in some exotic place across the sea – rather God is encountered in the grubbiest of places – even in the public latrine (according to another Talmudic passage) – and rarely if ever is God to be found in some vertical, exclusive conversation.


I look forward to continuing to serve my community with words and thoughts of inclusion and comfort."

I started the journey towards the rabbinate thinking that I would spend the years of my retirement from university work serving small communities without a rabbi. The universe conspired to redirect me, leading me from IJC to Berlin and back to IJC. I am proud to be IJC’s rabbi and deeply grateful for the community that has encouraged and sustained me throughout the years of my rabbinical formation.


I look forward to celebrating my commitment during the Installation Ceremony on January 22, 2023 in Brussels.

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