Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 16, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 22, 2010 Page: 22 of 24
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22 I April 22,2010
This is an only-in-America story,
something to reflect on in the month
marking the 42nd anniversary of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s assassination:
Alysa Stanton, the first black woman
rabbi, is a living success story deep in
America's South. This may be despite,
or perhaps even because of, some fac-
tors besides race: She's in her mid-late
40s, and the divorced mother of a teen-
Chosen over six others for the pul-
pit of 60-family Conservative/Reform
Congregation Bayt Sha-
lom in Greenville, N.C.,
she was selected, its presi-
dent said, because "We're
a one-synagogue town, so
we need a rabbi who can
reach out to all members."
She has certainly reached
the community's youth:
ment has almost doubled
since she assumed her po-
sition there last October.
Stanton recently gave
a speech (she called it "a
one-woman monologue about my
journey to the rabbinate") at the Uni-
versity of Pittsburgh. A senior, Carly
Adelman, arranged it: "Pitt's got a
Cross Cultural and Leadership Devel-
opment Department, and this is an
individual who's had experiences [with
diversity]. She exemplifies how being
part of many groups can be a struggle,
and how you can learn from that."
We learn that Stanton moved away
from her family's Pentecostal faith
during her Ohio childhood. "There
was a rule in my house that you had to
go somewhere to worship God. Didn't
matter where. I was allowed the free-
dom to choose...."
She tried out several faiths, includ-
ing Eastern and Evangelical, until fi-
nally finding her religious home while
attending Colorado State University in
her 20s. Studying Judaism along with a
major in psychology, she was convert-
ed at Denver's Conservative Temple
Emanuel. After graduation, she worked
as a grief and loss psychotherapist, and
was one of the counselors called to
Columbine following the 1999 school
At first, because she also loved mu-
sic, Stanton thought about becoming a
cantor. But learning trope—tradition-
al Hebrew prayer settings — "opened
the doors of my soul," she said. "I had
a hunger and thirst to learn more."
That desire took her to Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion in
Cincinnati, where after seven years, she
was ordained last June. Time maga-
zine then ran an article calling her "an
outsider who's become the ultimate
A rabbinic spokesman for the Unit-
ed Synagogue of Conservative Juda-
ism cautioned, "The color of her skin
shouldn't be a distinction. But I under-
stand that historically, intellectually
and culturally, it probably is. [Howev-
er,] if we're a light among the nations,
and there are people interested in be-
coming a part of that light, we should
At first there had been some trepi-
dation in the Alabama synagogue
where Stanton served as student rabbi,
but people soon got over it. And
interestingly enough, the South
has made things easier for her,
in a way. The pastor of Green-
ville's First Presbyterian Church
points out that Christians there
"have many prominent female
African American religious
leaders, so another black female
minister isn't a surprise. I don't
think when she walks into the
room [at an interfaith event],
people say, 'Oh, there's that
black female rabbi.' People just
see her as the rabbi. They just
think, 'Oh, there's the rabbi who hap-
pens to be female and black.'"
Stanton says much the same thing
herself, emphasizing color over gender:
"I'm foremost a rabbi who happens to
be African-American, not THE Afri-
can American rabbi."
She is, however, THE first female
black rabbi anywhere. Learning that
she would be making Jewish history
actually came as a surprise to her after
she started her rabbinic studies. "I'm
glad I didn't know at the time," she says
now. "I would've been scared away!"
The San Francisco-based Institute
for Jewish and Community Research
said last year that a surprising 20 per-
cent of today's American Jews are not
Caucasian; they are converts like Stan-
ton, or adoptees, or children born of
mixed marriages. IJCR was founded
by Gary Tobin, whom locals may re-
call as the engineer of a major Dallas
Jewish community study a number
of years ago. He passed away last year,
just a few weeks after Rabbi Stanton's
Now Diane Tobin heads the "think
tank" in which she worked side-by-side
with her late husband, and offers a cur-
rent-day assessment: "Due to assimila-
tion and intermarriage, the stability of
the American Jewish community has
never been more vulnerable. If we are
to survive, we must become more wel-
coming to people, not just send them
Certainly we must not send away
Rabbi Alysa Stanton, or others who
Dear Rabbi Fried,
You recmtly offered two columns in reference to the
"Bodies" exhibit in which you elucidated your opinion that
it flies in the face of the sanctity of the
human body. I have trouble fathom-
ing what sanctity there is to the hu-
man body any more than any other
animal body. I assume you would
not take such issue with an exhibit of
animal bodies showing their anato-
my, and would like to understand
why your perspective is so different
for humans, necessitating burial and
The holiness of the human body
can be understood on a few levels.
One area where the Torah reveals
this is the prohibition to maim or to inflict any wound
upon the body unnecessarily. Even if one wants to do so,
we do not have that license as our bodies were not given to
us to do as we want, rather entrusted to us as a sacred trust
from the Al-mighty to use this body owned by Him —
much as we do not own our children to do with them as
we please, but were entrusted with them to help nurture
them to grow in their own paths and lives.
The body is said to be a partner with the soul in its
struggle to serve G-d in this world. There isn't a single
mitzvah that the soul can perform without its cohort, the
body. G-d purposely set up the world in that way; there
are animals that are all body; angels that are all soul; and
man, who is the combination of the two. This is the un-
derlying foundation for the Jewish belief in the eventual
Revival of the Dead. That period, also known as "olam
haba" or the Next World, the final world of the ultimate
reward, must first be ushered in by the reunification of the
bodies with their souls. Why is this so? Why cannot the
souls themselves, which are eternal, receive that reward?
My late mentor, R' Shlomo Wolbe, explained that it is
only fair that both partners, the body and the soul, should
together share in the final, ultimate bliss which could
TEXAS JEWISH POST $ SINCE 1947
come about only as the result of their partnership. Since
all the mitzvot were performed with the body, the soul
could not possibly receive that reward alone. This speaks
volumes about the way we look at the human body.
The Kabbalistic writings closely connect every limb,
muscle and sinew of the humanbody to a specific mitzvah
of the Torah. There is said to be a count of 248 limbs and
365 main sinews of the body, corresponding to the 248
positive mitzvot (the "dos") and the 365 negative mitz-
vot (the "don'ts"). Every time a mitzvah is performed, the
part of that body which parallels that mitzvah becomes
elevated and sanctified.
Throughout the Torah we find G-d described in hu-
man terms: He took us out of Egypt with an "outstretched
arm," His "eyes" are upon us, He "hears" our affliction,
etc. This is difficult to understand as it is a core belief of
Judaism that G-d has no physicality.
One answer given by the commentators is that these
are anthropomorphisms, a way for us to have an inkling
of what G-d brings about using human experiences we
can appreciate and fathom.
The deeper answer given by the Kabbalists is that all
that G-d performs in this world is parallel to similar at-
tributes in the human body. There is a type of "spiritual
human body" which is the sum total of all the upper,
spiritual worlds. G-d created the physical human body in
sync with all that He wishes to relate and express through
His divine providence throughout human history. This
is an entirely new insight on the loftiness and holiness
of the human body; its very essence is nothing less than
an expression of G-dliness in the world. This is implicit
in the verse that man was created "in the image of G-d"
This explains the tremendous responsibility we hold
to be the proper stewards of the gift of the body we have
received, and our obligation to treat it with the proper re-
spect and sanctity it deserves.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous
works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean
of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him atyfried@
continued from p. 19
16. Who had his hair cut by
Delilah while he slept?
17. Who was given a coat of many
colors by his father, Jacob?
18. What is the Hebrew word for
a Chanukah menorah?
19. What was the name of Adam
and Eve's third son?
20. What do you call the pointer
used to read the Torah?
21. In English, what is the first
word of the Sh'ma?
22. What word is said after a
23. Who was Moses' sister?
24. Near the end of the Pass-
over seder, for whom is a door
25. How many stars must appear
in the sky as a sign that Shabbat
26. Who had a dream about a lad-
der that reached up to heaven?
27. What is the first book of the
28. What is the Hebrew word for
29. What does the word rabbi
30. In the Book of Genesis, whose
wife turned into a pillar of salt?
31. What is the Hebrew name
given to a Jewish prayer book?
32. What is the Hebrew word for
the canopy used in marriage cer-
33. What does the word Havdal-
34. Which holiday is known as
"the Feast of Weeks" and comes
seven weeks after Passover?
35. Who was Abraham's wife and
36. How many sons did Jacob
37. The ancient walls of which city
fell down when Joshua shouted
and people blew shofars?
38. Which person in the Bible
was also known as Israel?
39. What were the names of Isaac
and Rebekah's two sons?
40. Who succeeded Moses and
led the Jewish people back to Ca-
41. What are the two official lan-
guages of Israel?
42. Which book of the Bible is
read during Shavuot?
43. What was the name of Jo-
seph's youngest brother?
44. What was the name of Moses'
45. How many daughters did Ja-
1: Shabbat. 2: Rosh Hashanah.
3: The Garden of Eden. 4: Sha-
lom. 5: Noah. 6: Jonah. 7: Purim.
8: David. 9: Moses. 10: Exodus.
11: Sulckot. 12: Abraham. 13:
Dove. 14: Cain. 15: Mt. Sinai.
16: Samson. 17: Joseph. 18: Cha-
nukiah. 19: Seth. 20: Yad (hand).
21: Hear. 22: Amen. 23: Miriam.
24: Elijah. 25: Three. 26: Jacob.
27: Genesis or Beresheet. 28:
Tzedakah. 29: Teacher. 30: Lot.
31: Siddur. 32: Chuppah. 33:
Separate. 34: Shavuot. 35: Sarah.
36: Twelve. 37: Jericho. 38: Jacob.
39: Jacob and Esau. 40: Joshua.
41: Hebrew and Arabic. 42: Book
of Ruth. 43: Benjamin. 44: Zip-
porah. 45: One — Dinah.
Laura Seymour is director of camping
services and Jewish life and learning at the
Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
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Wisch, Rene. Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 16, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 22, 2010, newspaper, April 22, 2010; Fort Worth, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth188289/m1/22/: accessed July 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .