Welcome to the weekly newsletter of Igud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, in which we share news for and about members, including communal news, announcements, publications, Divrei Torah, press releases and media mentions.
In this newsletter:
• Chaplaincy Commission Update
• Rosh Chodesh Shevat Conference
• The Rabbinical Alliance of America Statement on Comparing Covid and Other Issues to the Holocaust
• The Rabbinical Alliance of America Calls for A National Return to Civility, Dialogue and Respect
• Retirement Plan: Now Open – More Information
• Divrei Torah: Va’eira
• New Publication: Halachic Discussions vol 1 issue 2
• Upcoming Yahrtzeits 3 Shevat-10 Shevat
• NY Post: Anti-Anti-Circumcision
Please let us know about your family simchos and l"a aveilus, book publications and career changes or milestones, so we can share as chaveirim our life events. Send updates to email@example.com.
From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
Klal Yisrael recently lost Rav Shlomo Gissenger ztkl, Rav Fabian Schonefeld ztkl, and most recently Rav Yehuda Kelemer ztkl of the Young Israel of West Hempstead. Each of these Rabbonim were trailblazers in rabbones and their Avodas H. Each were so remarkable, so well loved and respected by their mispallim, fellow rabbonim, their communities and beyond. It would take me many pages to even begin to share just a miniscule of what each accomplished through the years and the legacy they left Klal Yisrael. None of these great rabbonim considered themselves above and beyond but were humble in the eyes of H and those who they offered their care from all backgrounds. Everyone was special to them. Their loss is immeasurable as so many depended on them for their chizuk, their advice, their continuous personal care given to every person who sought a connection with them. They dealt with every facet and aspect of life from “cradle to end of life”. Who does Klal Yisrael turn to if not the rabbonim, gedolim daas for their blessings, their inspiration, their encouragement, their knowledge and often for their nechama. So many are at a loss and even fearful especially of recent evens. Many seek the guidance, the reassurance, the support that the Aibershta is with us, will not abandon us and there is hope for a meaningful future for peace for Klal Yisrael and the world around us. Many of us are at a loss as to how to make sense of what is occurring in the world today, not just in our own country. There are many reports of how careful one must be to share political opinions, concerns about social media, threats, and counter threats by opposing groups and open violence not just this past week, but throughout 2020 and now 2021. However, to actually witness what occurred last week in our Nations Capitol is heartbreaking as it is the symbol of democracy for all Americans and the beacon of light throughout the world. Yet, countries with a history of their own persecutions and lack of a democracy are saying shame on us for the breakdown of civil law with more threats of violence to come. What is discerning, is how anti-Semitism is popping up throughout the world and even in our own back yards. When certain symbols are found even on flags carried by protestors who invaded the Capitol or anti-Semitic sayings on their clothing. All this plus the continuous saga of the Coronavirus COVID 19.
Why is all this happening? There are many philosophical reasons one can give, or blame, or acknowledge as to the cause, but no one reason is suffice. American’s must find solutions, find opportunities for enhancing good relations, respect for one another, promote good-will, acknowledge the goodness of so many throughout our great country of ours. We must put down the evil acts of violence and those who wish to disrupt and dismantle democracy. There is no reason not to be respectful of each other, no matter of one’s religious background, affiliations, language, ethnicity, or garments that are worn whether for cultural or religious reasons. We know the essence of Kiddush H and how important it is for us how we act and what say to amongst ourselves and to others. Yes, we are all ambassadors of the Ribono Shel Olam and for Klal Yisrael. We could try to blend in, but the world knows who is Jewish. Years ago, on one of our trips my wife and I made, we had visited the Amish Country in PA. I was wearing a cap and polo shirt and my wife a really nice summery hat on top of her sheitel. When we entered a store, the salesperson greeted and welcomed us with a hearty shalom. This occurred on several occasions. Whatever the Aibershata has in store for the world, we continue to be proud of who and what we are always promoting shalom and Kiddush H. Yiddishkeit is so important and meaningful to us, but we also have to care for each other as well. The words ahavas Torah, Ahavas H, Ahavas Yisrael are so important. In our Rosh Chodesh we include “chaveirim kawl Yisrael” A number of years ago when there were illnesses and other challenges in our community a gathering was called for Lower East Siders to meet at the Bialystoker Synagogue. The community rabbonim were each given designated tefilos to recite followed by the congregants. Rav Dovid ztkl mentioned that the tefilos in Tachanun recited Monday’s and Thursdays are for Klal Yisrael.
Whether one does more or one does less, as long as he does it with sincerity for the sake of H (with love) Menachos 110a, “How can I repay H for all the kindness He has bestowed on me? (Tehillim 116:12), “Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah” (Tehillim 119:18), “Rabbi Yishmawel says, Be yielding to a superior, pleasant to the young and be welcoming to every person with happiness” Avos 3: 16, We believe, we know that everything is Min Hashamayim. The Ribono Shel Olom has His reasons for everything. We have to do our hishtadlos, have emunah and betachem, be mispallel and in our hearts and actions always with love of H. Our achdus is so important, but we have to believe that. What good does it do to find fault and speak ill of others if our words are not beneficial and could be hurtful. Out tefilos set the tone of what we beseech the Ribono Shel Olom for, but they should be said from our hearts. Rav Gissenger, Rav Schonefeld and Rav Kelemer were tremendous role models and had a remarkable impact in Ahavas Torah, Yiras Shamayim, the essence of chaveirim kawl Yisrael, bringing shalom bein awdam lachaveiro from their hearts to the hearts of others and most of all Ahavas H. They shared their own emunah in H and hope in life. Finally, the vaccine is becoming more accessible throughout the USA and that also is a sign of hope.
I am grateful to my Rabbeim and my Ashis Chayil Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H who encouraged me to care for others in a proper derech, and not to be involved where loshon harah and the actions of others are not appropriate. To bring kindness, goodness, and good feelings to others. Much praise must be given to the Rabbonim, Rebbitzens and Chaplains who continue to give of themselves, with full hearts of sincere care to all those who are going through difficult times due to the pandemic, current events and other issues and concerns. The former Mashgiach Ruchani of MTJ Yeshiva Harav Michael Barenbaum ztkl often would mention that it is not enough to be a frumer Yid, one must be an erliche Yid.
If anyone of our readership would like to find out who the chaplain is of a specific hospital or skilled nursing facility or how to contact that chaplain who often could be immensely helpful, please feel free to contact me. Thank you. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank
Please read the following flyer from Training and Testing International
On Wednesday night, 1 Shevat 5781, January 13, 2021, the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim joined together electronically to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Shevat and learn Torah together. Below are the videos of each speaker:
The Rabbinical Alliance of America—Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis—observes the increasing behavior of prominent politicians, community leaders and media personalities of using the Holocaust as a reference and comparing to Nazi atrocities a variety of contemporary issues such as lockdown measures, reactions to Covid and the attack on the Capitol. Many times, the people making these comparisons may not be aware of the pain and hurt caused by these comments and comparisons.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “The Holocaust is defined as destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire. The Nazi Holocaust was an act of genocide, which is the intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part. The word geno-cide combines the Greek word for race or people and the Latin suffix for killing.
“Tragically, the world has witnessed multiple genocides. The most notable act of genocide was the Holocaust, in which the Nazis (may their memory be erased) killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population and traumatized the world in general and the surviving Jews in particular. The Nazi brutality continues to haunt the world in its utter lack of humaneness and compassion. Comparisons to these atrocities conjure up feelings of pain and anguish in the Jewish community and all communities affected by the Holocaust. This is especially so to the elderly survivors and their next of kin who cringe in pain when they hear these comparisons. Additionally, comparing the Holocaust to lesser crimes diminishes the Nazi sins against humanity by glossing over the sheer brutality of Nazi atrocities.
“We live in an age of diversity and multiculturalism. America is the land of freedom and democracy. People in positions of influence must be careful, when referencing the Holocaust, to do in a way that does not diminish the crimes against humanity. Sadly, anti-Semitism, racism, hate and bigotry are on the rise. We must be careful to speak and act in culturally sensitive ways and to make certain that what we say should not blow the flames of hate.
“Therefore, the Rabbinical Alliance of America requests that we, as rabbis, engage in educating the public in how we must speak carefully in everything that we say and we must, in particular, refer to the Holocaust in ways that do not cause pain nor cheapen the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”
The Rabbinical Alliance of America—Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis—calls for a national return to civility, dialogue and respect. Tragically, we live in challenging times in terms of political, racial and religious divisiveness that has torn our country asunder in so many ways. Moreover, each day we all delicately negotiate the deadliest pandemic in modern times. People are struggling on an existential basis and our collective soul has been severely challenged in ways that we never thought possible.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, stated, “The events of the last week have left us reeling as we witnessed a brutal assault on our democratic system. As Americans, we have fought so vigilantly to preserve the cherished principles of justice, liberty, freedom and the preservation of our individual rights. We remain keenly cognizant of the fact that our freedom can never be taken for granted. We constantly strive to ensure that our country’s constitutional values continue to guide this great nation. We call upon all Americans at this difficult time to summon up our best spirits and deepest reservoirs of faith and humanity in order to join together in unity, understanding and compassion.
“It is irrelevant whether one believes in the platform of one political party or another, or if one believes that one person or another should lead our country. We cannot and will not allow ourselves to morph into a nation that runs on mob mentality, acrimony and violence. This is not a nation that settles its disputes with physical assaults and the use of weaponry in the heart of democracy in our nation’s capital or elsewhere.
“With only a few days remaining until we inaugurate a new president, tensions still run high. Today, close to 20,000 National Guard troops are deployed in Washington, D.C., preparing to guard against threatened mass violence. Now is the time to tamp down the bellicose rhetoric and to rise to the occasion by changing the national narrative to one of true peace and camaraderie among neighbors, friends and relatives. Let us broadcast the message far and wide that civility, respect and decorum are the order of the day. Let us speak calmly with those with whom we disagree and allow everyone the right to express their views without the looming threat of bullying or intimidation. We protect our first amendment right of free speech by granting it to others. The charge of the day is to use this precious right wisely, in ways that reach out to others rather than close them off, in ways that break down the polarization of society rather than increase it.”
May He who makes peace in His heavens make peace on the earth. And may the Al-mighty bless the United States, and the republic for which it stands, to continue to be the hope and protector of freedom and democracy.
The Igud HaRabbanim / Rabbinical Alliance of America, a national Orthodox Rabbinical organization, is committed to the support of its member Rabbonim in all aspects of their professional lives. Thus, we offer assistance with regard to discussing and answering שאלות, networking with other Rabbonim in communal endeavors, referring litigants or couples to our Beis Din, providing Rabbonim with contract guidance and career counseling, and, most recently, providing a retirement plan that is specifically tax-advantaged for Rabbonim and Mechanchim.
Investing in one’s future retirement brings together two Ma’amorei Chazal that we are all familiar with: 1) אם אין קמח אין תורה, and 2) החכם עיניו בראשו. During our working years, we generate with Hashem’s help the income we need to pay the bills; once reaching retirement, though, how are we to manage? Don’t think that Social Security will provide the answer. In the best of times, it replaces only about 40% of one’s pre-retirement earnings; additionally, economists estimate that the federal Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 15 years. So we need to identify an additional source of retirement funds. This is where the plan of the Igud HaRabbanim comes in, providing the קמח for the תורה learning of the retirement years.
The plan, briefly, allows the Rav or Mechanech to contribute pre-tax dollars during his working years, invest them in a range of mutual funds, and then withdraw the appreciated amounts during retirement. Current income tax rules provide that a Rav who, during his years as a Plan member, claims the parsonage (housing allowance) tax exemption may also have the opportunity to receive retirement payouts as additional parsonage, tax free. The idea here is that the law recognizes the clergyman’s housing needs as tax-free even after retirement. This could potentially represent a substantial benefit to the plan member, especially when compared to corporate plans (TIAA, Vanguard, etc.) which withhold income tax upon withdrawal.
Some highlights to keep in mind when considering whether to join the plan:
כל התחלות קשות. Startup is always challenging; beginning your retirement savings is no different. This plan provides you a simplified way to simply begin, thereby getting past that first difficult hurdle.
The tax-advantaged nature of this plan could translate into higher effective returns. If you live in a high-tax state such as New Jersey or New York, where marginal tax rates (federal, state and local) easily add up to 30%, your retirement funds could gain an immediate boost.
Many organizations find it in their interest to help their employees achieve long-term financial stability. One way is by contributing to a retirement plan. A shul or school may look favorably on a Rabbinic retirement plan and match a percentage of the Rav’s contribution on a monthly or annual basis.
The funds contributed are professionally managed in a 403(b) account by PenServ Plan Services, a retirement benefits company. They offer over 30 different mutual funds in which to invest, including index funds and target-date composite funds. Please see the accompanying brochure, which includes their fact sheet and an account application.
To summarize, at the Igud HaRabbanim we seek to enhance the experience of each member Rav, whether pulpit Rabbi or Mechanech, and thereby assist his individual ability to serve Klal Yisroel. This current initiative involves finances, specifically planning for retirement, which when done properly can afford the Rav ישוב הדעת. We invite you to join the Igud HaRabbanim and thereby qualify for this plan; the annual Igud membership fee of $125 confers many benefits, beyond planning for retirement. Perhaps most importantly, it gives you a voice in a national organization that is dedicated to being מרבה כבוד שמים.
Retirement Plan Committee:
Rabbi Yaakov Klass
Chairman, RAA Presidium
Attached is a new publication of halachic essays published by Igud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Topics include the timely and the timeless, applying texts and sources from across the generations to contemporary life. While the primary language of halacha is Hebrew, for logistical reasons this is being published in English.
You can download the issue here or click on the image below: link