Friday, August 2, 2013

Re'eh, Devarim 12:30-31. Despite everything, they love Yiddishkeit.

I'm in Staten Island for a few days, and in this part of the Island, you can't even buy the NYT, one of my shameful habits when I come to New York.   So I bought the /Staten Island Advance.  I came across this article, about yet another Jew with an absurd vision of Judaism.   Please note the Tzitzis.

 In case the link doesn't work, here it is.

Staten Island's Congregation Om Shalom blends Judaism with yoga, meditation, Buddhism and Hinduism 

Joanie Sobsey and Rabbi Samtosha, also known as Sam Steinberg, strike a yoga pose as they stand in front of 320 St. Mark’s Pl., where they plan to open Congregation Om Shalom. (Staten Island Advance/Hilton Flores)

Maura Grunlund/Staten Island Advance By Maura Grunlund/Staten Island Advance
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 02, 2013 at 9:00 AM, updated August 02, 2013 at 12:50 PM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Sam Steinberg, newly ordained as Rabbi Samtosha and guided by an image of G-d as Stevie Nicks in purple robes, is developing a new synagogue in St. George that will blend Judaism with yoga, meditation, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Rabbi Samtosha, whose religious name means “contentment” in Sanskrit, is forming Congregation Om Shalom, a name that incorporates a yoga chanting sound; the logo is the Star of David with the symbol of Om in the middle. The first service of what the rabbi describes as “Jewish fusion” is planned for Rosh Hashanah, with the observance beginning the night before, on Sept. 4; the rabbi, who was ordained on June 27, is negotiating to rent space at Brighton Heights Reformed Church.

The synagogue where Joanie Sobsey of Dongan Hills — the rabbi’s significant other, and a yoga instructor and nurse practitioner — will serve as spiritual director, is welcoming to people of all faiths and lifestyles. The rabbi, who is divorced with two adult children, and Ms. Sobsey met on and have been together for more than eight years. She works for Teen Rap at Staten Island University Hospital.
“My girlfriend once asked me what is my image of G-d,” the rabbi said. “My image is Stevie Nicks onstage in purple robes. Maybe three times a year when I’m praying I get so connected, tears come to my eyes — and that’s when I’m praying to Stevie.”
As part of his course study at the Rabbinical Seminary International in Manhattan, Rabbi Samtosha read the holy books of all the major religions; he feels that incorporating aspects of all faiths helps to reduce or eliminate animosity between various religions and factions within religions.
“I want anyone looking for spirituality to come to us,” said the rabbi, who is a teacher with the Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) program and the son of Holocaust survivors Alex Steinberg and the former Helen Klaczko Steinberg.
“We are open to everyone, Jews, non-Jews, atheists, agnostics, interfaith couples, LGBT,” added the rabbi, whose brother is Lev Raphael, the author of books about the children of Holocaust survivors and his experiences as a gay Jew.
The rabbi who lives in St. George and has called the Island home since 1998, plans to marry any couple who obtains a valid marriage license.
“We will perform all marriages anywhere, anytime, interfaith and LGBT,” the rabbi said.
The yearly dues at the bargain price of $18 will include tickets for Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi especially hopes to attract the many unaffiliated Jews who live in the borough and don’t go to services or attend only on high holy days because thus far they haven’t been engaged spiritually or they can’t afford to join a synagogue and/or buy high holy day tickets.
“It’s a lot of money to belong to a synagogue,” the rabbi said. “It’s also boring.”
Congregation Om Shalom services will be markedly different from those offered at any other synagogue on the Island. The atmosphere will be comfortable and informal, with participants encouraged to take off their shoes.
“I don’t want them taking the dirt of the outside world into the spiritual place,” the rabbi said.
Ms. Sobsey, who teaches at Integral Yoga in Manhattan and whose spiritual name is Jayasri, which means “victorious and glorious goddess” in Sanskrit, will help members slowly into the service, using breathing exercises to help them banish thoughts of work and weekend to-do lists, so that they may be “in the moment” and thus find contentment based on Buddhist teachings.
“Half of all the Buddhists in America are Jews,” the rabbi said, adding that he was asked to do a service by fellow Jews who happened to attend a recent yoga retreat that he was at in the Berkshires.
Integral Yoga participants of various faiths also have said that they want to attend services. The new synagogue will be located near the ferry terminal in St. George to accommodate potential synagogue members from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Rabbi Samtosha won’t be droning on for long periods of time in Hebrew as some religious leaders do during the services.
“Ninety percent of my service is going to be English because Hebrew intimidates people,” the rabbi said, stressing that his New Year’s message will take less than three minutes.
Services will have a “lot of singing and dancing” and towards that end the rabbi is contemplating Stevie Nicks tunes and has complied a list from YouTube of interfaith songs such as “Heaven and Earth” by Neshama Carlebach, “What if God Was One of Us” by Joan Osborne and “My God is Real” by Krishna Das.
“I posted our congregation’s playlist in Facebook and Neshama Carlebach, the daughter of the late Shlomo Carlebach, liked it,” the rabbi said.
Rabbi Samtosha plans to rent space by the hour until he raises the $100,000 per year needed to operate a permanent location. He will be writing to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Jewish philanthropists throughout the city asking for donations. But Rabbi Samtosha said that if each of the estimated 34,000 Jews on Staten Island gave $2, Om Shalom would be close to reaching its financial goal. Services are planned for Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to noon. To buy tickets or for information, e-mail or call 718-710-0599.

I am not printing this to make fun of this man.   He's just another nebach, and it's not news that we have plenty of those.  And he is not alone; there are many like him.  As King Achish said, חסר משוגעים אני?   I want to point out two very important things.

1.  It is as if the Staten Island Advance wanted to print an illustration of this week's parsha by providing a perfect and timely illustration of the passuk that warns us not to inquire after the religious behavior of others, lest we imitate them.  Parshas Re'ay, 12:30-31:
השמר לך פן תנקש אחריהם אחרי השמדם מפניך ופן תדרש לאלהיהם לאמר איכה יעבדו הגוים האלה את אלהיהם ואעשה כן גם אני.   לא תעשה כן לה' אלהיך  כי כל תועבת ה' אשר שנא עשו לאלהיהם כי גם את בניהם ואת בנתיהם ישרפו באש לאלהיהם

How embarrassing it is to read “Half of all the Buddhists in America are Jews,” the rabbi said ....  Judaism, the mother of so many world religions, the basis of that which elevates Western Civilazation, the fountainhead of ethics and morality, it is the Jews that run after the most absurd alternatives, so long as they are foreign, as if a person would run away from a beautiful and kind and wise woman to consort with some woman he picks up in the street- she may be ugly, she may be dirty, but at least she's a shiksa.
This never ends well.  See the Beis Halevi in the Drashos #12.

2.  Here's a question.
Why is this man wearing tztizis?  Why is this man wearing a Yarmulkeh?  Why is he calling himself a rabbi and calling his spirituality space a Shul by the name of Om Shalom?  Why can't he simply make a new religion, or call himself and dress as a Swami or a Lama?

On one level, one might answer that he's trying to take advantage of the brand recognition of Judaism.  He needs to fill  his Temple with paying customers.  There isn't much interest in a Swami or a Lama in Staten Island.  So he's looking for followers by saying that he's an exponent of Judaism.  By calling himself a Rabbi, he can tap into the market of people that feel a need to go to shul on the High Holidays.

But I don't think that's the pshat. We've seen it with the YCT graduates that say apikorsus and claim to be Orthodox.  Why is it so important for them to claim Orthodoxy?  The answer is that they love Yiddishkeit.  They love what it means to be a Jew, and they refuse to abandon it.  They need to convince themselves that they are being loyal to True Judaism.  Unfortunately, they never had the teachers that could make Yiddishkiet beautiful and embracing, so they went off לחצוב להם בורות בורות נשברים אשר לא יכילו המים,  But they need to think of themselves as Jews, so they say this nonsense about syncretism and eclecticism and modernity.  The bottom line is that the Torah warned us about them long, long ago.  They want to be Jews.  They love Yiddishkeit.  Unfortunately, they lack the background to properly appreciate it.

Great unknown, in private communication, pointed out that bastardization often comes from love.


  1. It's too much already. It just makes you want to cry that we have reached such a low point in Jewish history. The only bright spot is that this must be a sign that Moshiach is very near. May he come immediately b'rachamim.

    1. You're so right. With each passing year even those that sincerely try to maintain a pure mesora are drifting. After seeing that cartoonish picture I was stricken by a horrifying thought. I wondered if some of the things we do might look equally grotesque to Moshe Rabbeinu.

  2. How many people would come to a lecture that was advertised as "the truth"? Why do so many attempts at getting people to return to yiddishkeit have to be so watered down. Yes, becoming frum is a gradual process. But why do so many things have to be so apologetic or ridiculous (Hookah in the Sukkah? Come on! (besides the dira srucha issues) And this one is from an observant group!)

    The people I know that became frum and have the most Yiddishe nachas from their children are the people that were motivated by the emes. They attended, but were not motivated by barbeques and other similar events. If the Torah is enough to remove the various yokes described in Pirkei Avos (and at greater length in Avos D'Rebi Nasan, which I cannot find at the current moment), it should be able to make a dent in people's heads.

    The people that would join such a circus are most probably people who are influenced by the idea that spirituality is something that has to be felt.

    Hashem Yirachem

    1. I like the hookah in the Sukkah thing. I'm not going to Google it because it might be someone I know doing it. Anyway. I don't think this lost and confused soul is doing it for kiruv. It's hard to know whether he's a charlatan or a simpleton or an in-patient.

  3. please remove picture.thank you.

  4. I'll be happy to comply, if you would explain why you think I ought to, and it's a reasonable request. Pritzus? Chillul Hashem? Intellectual Property issues?

    Even if it's an unreasonable request, I would remove it if you could demonstrate that leaving it there would cost me a chaver that has something worthy to contribute.

  5. Lubcha's comment says it all. Yasher Koach!

  6. Why should we be surprised at stuff like this when an Orthodox shul advertises, "Shalom Yoga with BNOT - Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM sharp in the Social Hall. Classes are dedicated to the memory of xxx xxxx." I have a hard enough time understanding how my eating a piece of cake helps anyone's neshoma upstairs, let alone trying to understand how my doing yoga might help.

    I think the pshat is that Judaism for many, if not most people, is treated as synonomous with a quest to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Tikun olam and liberalism = Judaism. M'meila, anything and everything that falls under that umbrella goes.

  7. I used to do Yoga. The problem is that Yoga is associated with and stems from Hinduism, for which it was developed to attain a certain state of mind, although it can be parev when just used for tranquility and health. What we ought to do is use another name for it- like Rashi in Bamidbar 32, on מוסבות שם. This guy is using it in the original context.

    Your second point is consistent with the theme I was using. There are many Jews who want to run away from Orthodoxy, from our theological mesora, but still feel a love for what Judaism means to them. From our perspective, their Judaism is a nothing more than an echo. But they cherish it, and see in it wonderful things. I'll bet Achav was like that, too. He probably told everyone that what they were doing was true Yiddishkeit, before it was ruined by those Rabbis in Yehuda.