h o v e h e b r e w c o n g r e g a t i o n
Rabbi Samuel de Beck Spitzer was born in North London to French/Indian parents of Transylvanian and Iraqi descent respectively. His formative years were spent under the guidance of Rabbi Samuel Shmelke Pinter "לזצ to whom he became a beloved תלמיד and adherent.
Subsequently, he attended ישיבות and Kollel in ירושלים Israel, where he received his 'Semicha / סמיכה' in איסור והיתר from Dayan Zalman Nehemia Goldberg in 2001.
Simultaneously, he received his teaching Diploma in religious Studies from the Ministry of Education, Israel. Prior and Post Rabbinical Studies, Rabbi Samuel studied Piano and Voice at the London College of Music, graduating with Honours and then entered the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester UK, on the Postgraduate Opera Course, where he was awarded the Professional Performers Diploma.
A passionate and committed Baritone singer who has enjoyed rave reviews, Rabbi Samuel has performed principal roles in five different languages and to standing ovation.
As well as holding the Official Post of Rabbi to Lisbon, Portugal in 2015, Rabbi Samuel trained as a Medical Clown at Haifa University and has worked in this capacity at the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, Jerusalem, Israel. Rabbi Samuel shall imminently be assuming the post of Community Rabbi to the Hove Hebrew Congregation, UK.
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“Where is the love?” (The Black Eyed Peas - 2003)
by Rabbi Samuel de Beck Spitzer
This calendar month takes us on a numerical journey. At the very outset, the second day of the festival of Passover, we embark on that which is known as the ‘Counting of the Omer’, a 49 day count culminating in the Festival of ‘Shavuot’, Pentecost. This counting is based on a verse in Leviticus (23:15-16), whilst it is the majority view amongst the Halachic authorities that this ‘Mitzvah’ is purely Rabbinic nowadays rather than a Biblical requirement, as it begins from the day on which an omer, a sacrifice containing an omer-measure of barley was offered in the Temple in Yerushalayim, which is no more. For those who wish to delve beyond the mere 7 week count and agricultural implications of grain based ‘Omer’ Temple offerings, there is of course the Kabbalistic computations of the Sefirot each relating to one of the 7 days within the 7 weeks. One would hope, that with all this insight and self-perfecting effort, it would lead to an enhanced preparation for the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot.
There also exists within this period another phenomenon at play which I would like to focus on. That is that for the first 33 days of this count we are expected to conduct ourselves in a state of minor mourning. For the duration, weddings are not scheduled, people abstain from listening to live music, hair-cuts are put on hold and if possible, court cases are postponed. This is based on the tradition that during this period, 24,000 students of the great Sage Rabbi Akiva (c. 50–135 CE) perished in a plague. We are told that they were smitten with this plague because, although great in scholarly stature, they lacked the respect and honour required for one another, for men of such rank. It seems that the commonly known dictum promoted by their Master Rabbi Akiva “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”, “Love thy neighbour/friend as thyself” was not adhered to and instead, there was rivalry, unhealthy competition and bigotry to be found amongst them.
It seems a harsh punishment to say the least. 24,000 dedicated students of Torah die a painful death on account of not affording reverence and sufficient respect for one another. It is indeed a subject unto itself. What I would like to bring to your attention is the fact that their Torah insights and study is not considered or noted as being worthy for posterity. They are not rated to be worthy carriers of the tradition and are forgotten into oblivion, save for the fact that we commemorate their rather gruesome death by refraining from celebration during the first 33 days of the Omer, by the end of which the plague came to a halt.
This ‘Wagner’ debate has been the subject of much passionate consternation, resulting in many taking personal offense and the storming of Concert Halls. Allow me to elaborate: Is it morally correct to laud and applaud someone based on their creative or academic achievements, irrespective of their personal conduct? Are we to acknowledge advance in a particular field even when it is abundantly apparent that the individual in question harbours distorted ideologies or when this person’s behaviour falls far short of common decency? Indeed, are we permitted to divorce the individual from his/her output? Or, should we?
There is no shortage of examples of people who are extolled for their achievements, yet who are known to be less than ‘desirable’. Whether that be in their interpersonal relationships or private conduct, they are sometimes heralded as great people of history. It is increasingly apparent to me that the same criteria do not apply when considering great Torah luminaries. Erudition in Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Halacha does not receive authentic accolade unless the individual has mastered piety, purity and exemplary conduct. It is not merely an added bonus or a ‘nice’ addition to the picture of the personality, but rather a pre-requisite. The mystic who offers insight, yet indulges himself at the expense of others, does not exist in genuine Jewish thought.
If we are to develop this principle a stage further (as demonstrated by the ‘Talmidim’, the students of Rabbi Akiva), we must arrive ultimately at the conclusion that we are not exclusively interested in exceptional intellect or talent spotting when evaluating greatness in Torah, but rather the promulgation of love between man and his fellow and the enhancement of mankind. If this is lacking or fundamentally flawed, then we seem to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’!
I am aware that this attitude may come as a shock surprise to some readers and I can perfectly understand why. After all, why should we not be able to enjoy the sublime Overture to ‘Tristan und Isolde’, simply because its composer was vociferously anti-Semitic? The debate continues and Maestro Daniel Barenboim has had much to say on the subject. In my opinion, his views hold validity and make for healthy debate, though inevitably they emerge insensitive to some.
However, within the realm of ‘Limmud haTorah’, the study of Torah, there can exist no such concession. Clearly, this is not merely another ordinary discipline of study inhabiting the halls of another University faculty and the greater the stature of the man involved, the higher the moral demand on the perfection of his personality.
21st September •12 Tishri
22nd September •13Tishri
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