Seattleâ€™s rabbinic community is showing they are truly a spiritual family by coming to the support of Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath Congregation while its spiritual leader, Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, spends six months in Israel with his family.
While on sabbatical, Kletenik, who is available to his congregation by E-mail, is writing his upcoming book, Contemporary Issues of Jewish Law. His wife Rivy, on staff at the Jewish Education Council and a well-respected educator, and their children will stay an additional six months to complete a full academic year of study. Between strategically planned visits back to Seattle and the Internet, the rabbi feels that BCMH is in good hands during his leave.
“We have been planning this for many months,” said Kletenik during one of those recent, brief visits to Seattle in December to check the status of operations. “Rivy is studying at Hebrew University and we had to place our kids in schools. It also took time to arrange for all of the fine people who are helping us out. E-mail makes a tremendous difference. I get E-mail on a daily basis from congregants with questions on Jewish law and other issues.”
Some of those fine people are the eight members of the Seattle Kollel, a group of Orthodox rabbis who are dedicated to teaching and serving the spiritual needs of the Jewish community at large. They have pitched in to take over many of the teaching responsibilities in the congregation during the rabbiâ€™s trip.
According to Rabbi Avrohom David from the Seattle Kollel, who is responsible for some of the more immediate concerns that congregants may have, the “transition of power” was seamless and comfortable.
“We have unofficially stepped into other situations like this,” said David. “Ten years ago we helped out there for just the Torah study aspect, so in this role we are very well connected to BCMH. We are extremely sensitive not to render legal decisions but we are somebody to learn with. When Rabbi Kletenik went to take a sabbatical, we took over daily Talmud study and answering questions about halachah [Jewish law]. Most of the people in the congregation we study with on a daily basis, so the transition was extremely smooth. But my heart still flutters a bit when I answer a question on behalf of the rabbi. You know, you want to get it right. But I think he trusts us enough to follow the code of Jewish law.”
David makes himself available to congregants of BCMH for questions that need immediate attention, and particularly those problems that need a trained eye for a legal call in an individual circumstance.
“Some of the questions I deal with are questions of family purity where you need a visual inspection,” said David. “Also, for the mikveh, any barrier between the skin such as a broken nail or a cast would be a question. There are also questions about what is or is not exactly a doorway in the home and if the architecture is such that it would require a mezuzah. And, of course, questions about kashrut. What if someone mixed milk with meat, what should they do with their pot.”
But many of the day-to-day operations of an Orthodox synagogue are ritualized and prescribed by time, such as daily prayers or Shabbat services. They must also be carried out with precision, dedication and care.
Along with David, Rabbi Mordechai Farkash of Eastside Torah Center is helping with immediate needs of the community. Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld of Congregation Shevet Achim is conducting funerals. Rabbi Phillip Katsman, a BCMH member, is overseeing the mikveh. Scholar-in-residence Rabbi Osher Werner, is teaching at the Capitol Hill Minyan. Rabbi Morton Moskowitz, a BCMH member, is holding Talmud classes. Rabbi Elisha Paul of Yeshiva High School and Rabbi David Twersky, a BCMH member, are trading off on Shabbat service sermons. Other members of the Kollel are holding classes on halachah on a daily basis.
“Classes are still going on, funerals are being held and the sick are being visited,” said David Grashin, vice president of the BCMH board of directors. “Rabbi Kletenik made sure he had good replacements when he left. The Kollel really fills the void and he left various other very competent people in charge. Rabbi Kletenik has been with us for six years. Everybody needs a break. I think itâ€™s important to refresh your spiritual juices. It will be good for him and it will be good for us.”
Although different congregations find different options for getting through the sabbaticals of their rabbis, Kletenik believes this option is working well for them.
“I guess it depends upon the makeup and resources of the community,” said Kletenik. “Everyone has been helpful, willing and gracious. Iâ€™d like to express my appreciation to my congregation and the community.”