Rabbi tries to spell out the ‘whys’ of Judaism
April 20, 2012 | Shlomo Kapustin - CorrespondentcloseAuthor: Shlomo Kapustin - Correspondent
Name: Shlomo Kapustin
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TORONTO – When Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov recalls his American childhood, he recalls a pallid spirituality.
“We learned about the whats and hows of Judaism,” said Yaakov, “but not about the whys…. The whys seemed like somehow they were passed over.”
Rabbi Yaakov, who grew up in an Orthodox household, eventually embarked on a search that took him to yeshivot, or Jewish institutions of higher learning, of many colours, in Israel and the United States. He studied philosophy, Chassidic pearls and Kabbalistic wisdom – all in search of big answers to questions of why.
Today, the searcher has become the teacher. Yaakov lives in Jerusalem’s Old City, one of the world’s great search capitals, and teaches at programs for English speakers, among them Oranim and Taglit-Birthright.
“I try to get involved in places that don’t have so much Jewish content,” he said, especially volunteer programs.
He also hosts Friday night meals that attract an average of 18 guests from around the world.
“I can now sometimes distinguish between not only a South African and an Australian accent,” he said, “but between a London and a Manchester accent.”
On Monday, Yaakov also published his fourth book, Jewish by Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life and Judaism, which mixes Jewish philosophy and Kabbalistic thought to form a down-to-earth, conversational overview of some of Judaism’s basic concepts.
“It’s an all-inclusive, systematic, explanatory model for reality according to Judaism, and our place in it,” said Yaakov. “Many books talk about a piece of this or that; this book talks more about a system.”
With topics such as G-d, free will, the soul and suffering treated in the book’s 300 pages, he has targetted a wide readership.
“Anybody on planet Earth,” he said in describing his audience, “with an open mind, an open heart and a brain. In particular, Jews would read it.”
Yaakov counts famous outreach rabbis Motty Berger (of Aish HaTorah) and David Aaron (of Isralight) as influences, and he received his ordination from Rabbi Nachum Chaimowitz, who headed Yeshivas Lev Yisrael, one of Yaakov’s stops along the way.
Now, in an effort to answer “why should I care?” he is paying this education forward.
“I’m comfortable with different types of Judaism,” he said. “This is what spoke to me.… I’m trying to give it to others.”
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