Today I saw a Forward article on a rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Maine, Akiva Herzfeld, who wanted to 'do the right thing' for Rabbi Goldfinger, formerly of a Reform temple, who had suffered a terrible brain injury and lost her ability to form short-term memories. Here's a brief excerpt:
“I tried to imagine what it would be like for me to be a
female Reform rabbi. I thought, what if I were her and she was me? I
would want him to ask me to lead services,” said Herzfeld, 34, who
joined Shaarey Tphiloh, Maine’s oldest synagogue, five years ago. He
spoke effortlessly, almost motionlessly, his red hair and pale skin
standing out against stained-glass windows behind him. Goldfinger sat
nearby, listening to the man who helped guide her spiritual ship of
“Women’s issues in Orthodox Judaism are controversial,”
he said bluntly, “but it was important to do this for her — for our
synagogue to know that we have a rabbi coming and we will respect her,
and realize that she continues to be a religious leader even if she
doesn’t have the position of rabbi of a large synagogue.”
Goldfinger stared at him with a mix of amazement and deep gratitude.
“I never would have expected you to do that, and the
fact that you did —” She paused, sniffling. “You are a bottomless well
Portland is home to a small, close-knit Jewish
community where rabbis from the area’s one Reform, one Conservative, one
Modern Orthodox, one nondenominational and one Chabad synagogue often
work together. That’s exactly what happened on a Friday evening in
November 2011, when Herzfeld and Goldfinger stood side by side in
Shaarey Tphiloh’s cavernous sanctuary. Seats on both sides of the mechitzah,
which separates the men from the women, filled with at least 100
people, far more than the handful or two the synagogue typically draws
on Friday nights. With her children standing nearby, Goldfinger led
parts of the Kabbalat Shabbat service welcoming the Sabbath, as
congregants sang along, helping when her memory failed.
I was there, numerous times, when I was in the shul rabbinate. You want to help someone, you believe you should help someone, but the most meaningful help you can envision is halachically questionable. In a synagogue world where the rabbi is generally "to the right of" the community, this comes up all the time.
Shaking a woman's hand to avoid embarrassing her, or holding it by a hospital bed to comfort her...
Participating in a funeral service in a Reform temple...
Attending a wedding at which the food is not prepared under kosher supervision...
It can be hard to keep your moral compass, and to feel confident that you are making the right decisions. When is it appropriate compromise, and when is it selling out?
Over the years, I found myself asking a simple set of questions: To what extent am I doing this because I think this is the right thing? Of what influence is my desire for people to be happy with me? Might the latter be blinding me to other options?
Of course, answering these questions is harder than asking them...