Letters Winter 2014

Exercise for Torah
Cardiologists Drs. Charles and Elie Traube write (“Becoming Heart Healthy” [fall 2014]) that far too many painful stories could have been avoided had patients exercised “self-control.” They also write: “We’ve heard plenty of rabbis at the bimah speak about the importance of including more Torah study in one’s daily and weekly schedule . . . . However, shouldn’t our religious leaders also discuss maintaining a healthy lifestyle—specifically, the importance of exercise and moderation of food intake? . . . why is health not a rabbinic concern?”

Of course the cardiologists are right on all counts. However, in addition to negative motivation, behavior change can perhaps be better effectuated by positive motivation. When one exercises and is disciplined in food intake, and thus has a healthier heart, one adds a spring to his step; one adds an hour or two a day of productivity; one has more energy, stamina and joie de vivre. Further, one can enjoy Shabbos more, for if one is disciplined in food intake all week long, he can allow himself to splurge a bit on Shabbos, whereupon Shabbos stands out from the rest of the week. If one is overeating all week long, Shabbos cannot be special.

As for Torah study and health, I would say that the issue isn’t either/or—either Torah study or exercise—and the issue isn’t even both/and—exercise and study. Rather, when one is past the age when he can simply rely on youthful energy, then exercise and Torah study actually become one and the same in this sense: exercise enhances one’s capacity to focus on Torah study. Besides the health benefits of exercise, there are Torah study benefits as well. To work to maintain one’s health isn’t a separate mitzvah; it underlies all the rest.

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
Executive editor, Intermountain Jewish News
Denver, Colorado

In the Footsteps of Avraham Avinu
I read with bemusement Rabbi Akiva Males’ article “A Yom Kippur Guest” (fall 2014). I am the volunteer hachnasat orchim coordinator for House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, a small but vibrant OU shul situated at the foothills of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Every year, a dedicated group of ten or so families provide meals and accommodations to well over 100 Jewish guests from all over the world, be they business travelers or tourists. What is impressive is that the hosts have never asked for their guests’ references (and the guests have never asked for their hosts’ references either). While it is not always easy to accommodate every request, we find that each guest adds something special to our Shabbat, and the hosts have formed many life-long bonds with strangers-turned-friends from around the Jewish globe.

Marina Segal
Calgary, Alberta

How fortunate Rabbi Males and his community are to receive so many requests for Shabbat hospitality. How unfortunate that he seems to present this fact as a burden.

Certainly, there should be some sort of screening process in place, but why is this idea such a revelation? After checking the reference for his Yom Kippur guest, Rabbi Males writes, “He proved to be a charming and wonderful guest.” But what if he wasn’t charming? Suppose the guest was a little depressed or talked too much? Surely there are “shomrei Torah u’mitzvot” individuals who are quirky or have poor table manners. Would such guests be disqualified?

More troubling was the rabbi’s mention of what constituted a “legitimate” request. He states: “I only seek Shabbat accommodations for those who have a good reason to spend Shabbat in our community.” While I can appreciate that there may be a limited number of families who can host, why not have a running list of families who are willing? Why not find creative solutions, such as one family hosting meals and another providing the sleeping arrangements?

Over the years, my family and I have been guests in many homes, which has allowed us to attend semachot, visit colleges, participate in conferences and vacation.

In return, I feel obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim by saying “yes” whenever possible to hosting meals or an overnight guest. It isn’t always easy or convenient, but I am always glad when I do.

Evelyn Krieger
Sharon, Massachusetts

If the article by Rabbi Males truly represents the attitude of American Orthodoxy regarding the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, then one can only reflect with sadness on the weakening of Jewish values such as trust and acceptance. And should this in fact be the prevailing communal perspective, then why unidirectional? Should not all guests seek references for their hosts, including (forgive me) the local rabbi?

Perhaps Rabbi Males and his family, or some members of his community, have been the victims of egregious behavior on the part of guests in their homes. If so, then those stories should have been included in the article.

For many years we have hosted literally hundreds of American yeshivot, michlalot, ulpanot, mechinot and university students during their time in Israel. We often do so on the basis of a brief phone call and we all know that this is what parents of these children expect of unknown families just like ours. So now what? Intensive screening? Reference letters for each of them? Background checks for the host families?

Rabbi Males’ recommendation clearly comes from genuine concern, but the implications of his approach distance us from a tradition that has for centuries epitomized our interconnectedness.

David S. Ribner, DSW
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel

As members of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Hospitality Committee, Rabbi Males’ article struck a resonant chord. Located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, our gracious hosts who are members of LSS provide Shabbat meals to hundreds of guests from all over the world each year.

The space limitations in Manhattan apartments preclude us from providing lodging, so we have compiled a list of local hotels accommodating Shabbat observers. Our screening thus far has been to request potential guests to provide the name of their synagogue. We strongly recommend that other synagogues create hospitality committees so that more people can participate in this wonderful mitzvah.

Lincoln Square Synagogue Hospitality Committee
New York, New York

Rabbi Akiva Males Responds
I commend Lincoln Square Synagogue’s Hospitality Committee for involving so many of their congregation’s families in the rewarding mitzvah of hachnasat orchim while simultaneously taking steps to ensure their safety.

While I strongly applaud Ms. Segal, Ms. Krieger and Dr. Ribner for their enthusiastic embrace of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, I do hope they will consider exercising some reasonable degree of caution moving forward.

Shouldn’t one performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim take precautions to safeguard his health? Hospital visitors are often asked to don a mask, gown and gloves when entering a patient’s room. Often, this is to protect the health of the visitor—not the patient.

Exercising caution when engaging in bikur cholim in no way diminishes the mitzvah; it is simply the responsible way to fulfill God’s will.

Rather than calling to end the cherished Jewish practice of hachnasat orchim, my article essentially asked people to treat hachnasat orchim in the same manner as bikur cholim: recognize the potential risks involved, and take reasonable precautions to avoid putting one’s self and family in harm’s way.

Like the Kohanim of the mishnah I cited (Yoma 1:5), I “cry” over the fact that today’s unfortunate realities indicate that such precautions are necessary.

A profile of Nechama Salfer in our fall 2014 issue incorrectly stated that she lives in Cleveland. Salfer actually lives in Miami, although her business is based in Cleveland.

This article was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Jewish Action.
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