Tag Archives: Love Finer Than Wine

Three short essays by Matt Eisenfeld, z”l, come to light

3 Feb

Matt Eisenfeld studying in yeshiva, 1993-94.

Matt Eisenfeld’s 3 papers, First Year Rabbinical Seminar, Rabbi Joseph Brodie 1994-5

This post is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Eisenfeld, z”l, whose 49th birthday would have been on February 5, and Sara Duker, z”l.

My teacher Rabbi Joe Brodie called me out of the blue last month. The now retired Vice-President for Student Affairs at the Jewish Theological Seminary noted that he was going through old papers and came across three short essays written by Matt Eisenfeld, z”l, 25 years ago in the academic year of 1994-95.

Rabbi Brodie was Matt’s teacher that year in the JTS Rabbinical School First Year Professional Seminar. Students are encouraged in seminar to reflect upon their personal theology and visions for the rabbinate. Each year has a particular curriculum and the instructors guide students to articulate responses to issues in contemporary Jewish life as expressions of their developing philosophical thinking, pastoral skills and communal leadership.

Rabbi Brodie was aware that I collected many writings of Matt and his girlfriend Sara Duker, z”l, after their murder on the Jerusalem #18 bus on February 25, 1996.  I initially assembled the writings in a memorial album that was displayed in the Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker Beit Midrash. On the occasion of their 20th yahrzeit in 2016, I was blessed, with the help and support of the Eisenfeld and Duker families, to be able to publish the contents of the memorial album as the book Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker. Now, thanks to Rabbi Brodie, some additional material has been recovered, and I’m pleased to be able to share it more widely.

In Love Finer Than Wine, several essays written by Matt in the early 1990s reflect a certain spiritual struggle and turmoil as he sought to find his home in the Jewish world. He was shaped in significant ways by all three major streams of American Judaism, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. A true pluralist, he found good in all of them, while at the same time he critiqued them all as well.

In the academic year of 1993-94, Matt and I both spent the year studying in Israel at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat, an Orthodox institution led by charismatic Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Chaim Brovender. Other JTS students over the years had studied at Hamivtar as a means of deepening exposure to classical rabbinic texts prior to continuing studies at JTS. Nevertheless, there was often subtle, occasionally overt, pressure from the rabbis and students in the yeshiva community to obtain Orthodox smihah (ordination), rather than Conservative. Matt and I each struggled and questioned our future plans. We ultimately resisted the appeals of the yeshiva community and entered JTS Rabbinical School as we each planned in Fall, 1994. Nevertheless, Matt still had questions as he entered JTS, and he did not rule out transferring to an Orthodox institution.

As I note in the introduction to Love Finer Than Wine, I believe that during our second year of Rabbinical School in Jerusalem, 1995-96, Matt made peace with Conservative Judaism and would have returned to JTS in New York the following fall. By the time of their death, Matt and Sara had a very strong loving relationship that likely would have resulted in marriage. Sara was a Torah scholar in her own right even as she pursued a career in environmental science.  She was active in the Jewish community and was passionate about active and equal participation of women in Jewish public ritual and leadership. Based on the state of their relationship and the trajectory of their shared spiritual journey in 1996, it is unlikely that Matt would have transferred to an Orthodox institution the following year.

Back in 1994-95, Matt’s spiritual search was more in flux. In the first of the three essays found by Rabbi Brodie, dated 1/31/95, Matt reacts to an essay by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, “Positive-Historical Judaism Exhausted: Reflections On a Movement’s Future, published in Conservative Judaism, Fall 1994.

In the second essay in this group (undated), Matt wrestles with the issue of egalitarianism in the Conservative Movement. Even though by this point women’s ordination at JTS was already a reality for a decade, there was still a degree of unsettled agitation in the Conservative Movement. While the majority of Conservative congregations counted women in a minyan, there were still many congregations in the early 1990s , particularly in Metro-New York and Eastern Canada, that did not. Even JTS continued to maintain a traditionalist daily minyan in which men and women sat separately and only men led services and counted in the minyan. Matt, as he expresses here, does not reject the theory of egalitarian ritual practice, but questions the Conservative Movement as a whole in its commitment to halakhah (Jewish law) and whether recent changes in the Movement at that time had adequately adhered to halakhah.

The third essay (also undated) is Matt’s response to a hypothetical situation proposed by Rabbi Brodie in which the president of a Conservative congregation resigns his position and membership in response to the rabbi of the congregation not officiating at a bat mitzvah because the student, whose mother is not Jewish, never underwent a formal conversion to Judaism and is therefore not Jewish herself according to halakhah. Rabbi Brodie asked his students to react to the psycho-spiritual dynamics of this situation. Here, we have Matt’s response from 25 years ago.

May the memory of Matt and Sara be for a blessing.

Matt Eisenfeld’s 3 papers, First Year Rabbinical Seminar, Rabbi Joseph Brodie 1994-5

National Jewish Book Award Finalist honor for Rabbi Bernstein’s book

11 Jan

 

Rabbi Bernstein at the JTS Beit Midrash, May, 2016

Rabbi Bernstein at the JTS Beit Midrash, May, 2016

I’m pleased to share that the book I edited Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker has been honored as a 2016 National Jewish Book Award Finalist in the category of Anthologies and Collections.

Remembering Matt and Sara on Tisha B’Av

14 Aug
Love Finer Than Wine Edited by Edward C. Bernstein Foreword by Mike Kelly, author of The Bus on Jaffa Road

Love Finer Than Wine
Edited by Edward C. Bernstein
Foreword by Mike Kelly, author of The Bus on Jaffa Road

On this Tisha B’Av Day, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem is paying tribute to its four alumni who were murdered by terrorism: Sara Duker, Matt Eisenfeld, Marla Bennett and Ben Blutstein. I’m honored that Pardes asked me to produce this short video and discuss Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker to be included in today’s commemoration. May their memories be for a blessing.

Rabbi Bernstein interviewed on radio by Rabbi Wayne Dosick

20 Jul

Rabbi Bernstein discusses his recent book Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker in a radio interview with Rabbi Wayne Dosick on his radio show SPIRITTALK Live!

Love Finer Than Wine in New York

23 May
Rabbi Ed Bernstein with Arline Duker, May 23, 2016, at the Town & Village Synagogue in New York

Rabbi Ed Bernstein with Arline Duker, May 23, 2016, at the Town & Village Synagogue in New York

Here’s a podcast of Rabbi Ed Bernstein‘s discussion of Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker at the Town & Village Synagogue in New York, 5/23/16.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein to speak in New York on book dedicated to friends’ memory

6 May
Rabbi Ed Bernstein will speak about "Love Finer Than Wine" at the Town & Village Synagogue in New York on Monday, May 23, 7:00 PM.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein will speak about “Love Finer Than Wine” at the Town & Village Synagogue in New York on Monday, May 23, 7:00 PM.

Love Finer Than Wine in Jewish Ledger

19 Apr

Love Finer Than Wine received lovely coverage in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.