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I am presently working for the Quad-Cities and I am currently in my second year. My synagogue is about 200+ families and we are quite active for a small but traditional community. My background in somewhat unusual. I am the child of a Holocaust survivor. My father Leo Samuel z"l came from a long line of rabbis and he lived in what use to be known as Czechoslovakia. My father continues to be my inspiration and mentor -- even as I grow older each day. I recently discovered that on my mother's side of the family, she was related to some of the famous 19th century rabbis (e.g., R. Yisrael Salenter, R. Yitzchak Elchanan) Ultimately however, each of us must establish our own lineage, and become worthy ancestors for the future generations. At age 16, I became a Baal Teshuvah (over 29 years ago!) and later went to the Lubavitch seminary in Israel where I studied in Kfar Chabad and in Jerusalem at Yeshivat Torat Emet located in the Old City. I later went to the Lubavitcher Seminary at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn New York. After receiving my semicha in 1976, I later went on to the Kollel where I studied for Yadin Yadin and eventually received my Yadin Yadin semicha in 1978. Although I do not consider myself any man's "Hasid," I still have a fondness for the Hasidic tradition and the Kabbala which I critically examine in light of the ideas of Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Tillich, Freud, Jung, the Vedanta and the New Physics. As a personal philosophy, I believe that Judaism is capable of enduring the harshest critiques of science, anthropology, linguistics, history, not to mention "common sense." Judaism honors the great questions humankind has asked since the dawn of civilization. All traditions deserve to be questioned, if they are ever going to be properly understood. I do not believe that God placed us in this world to be mere pious automatons who are slavishly subservient to a collective mentality which is incapable of rational thought and self-reflection. Therefore, I am critical of all authoritarian religious expressions which diminish and devalue the infinite worth of human beings -- regardless what faith it masks behind. My experience has taught me that a strong faith can be integrated with modernity, without having to give in to blind faith, dogma and narrow- mindedness. I think one of the great problems of our times is the tendency to subordinate our creativity and personal identities to the forces of denominationalism. This is not just a problem which adversely affects the Orthodox communities, it is also afflicts the Conservative, Traditional, Reform and Reconstructionist brands of Judaism. The herd mentality and hierarchy that governs much of organized Judaism, in my opinion, threatens to undermine its potential and growth. All denominations of Judaism must learn to purge themselves of the political intrigue and lust for power, that governs so much of its structure. We need to become authentic in such a way that honors and beautifies our faith and tradition. Judaism must be more than just a cognitively preached from a pulpit. Jews of all ages are tired of being bored and schnorred while having their spiritual needs ignored. Today's Judaism must reclaim its sense of heart and soul. We possess a wonderful tradition that reflects diversity and creativity. The humanistic element of Judaism that celebrates the gifts of the human spirit, abound everywhere. I am convinced that such an approach will do much to heal the wounds we have suffered as a community since the time of the Holocaust. My philosophy of Halacha is similar to the Israeli thinker David Hartman, and I think the innovative spirit of Halachic reasoning can be creatively employed to make our world into a better place. For over 20 years I worked as a Talmud and Bible teacher at various different Torah Umessorah Day schools around the country. In 1988, I finally became a full time pulpit rabbi having served in both Orthodox and Traditional congregations. In 1995, I completed my doctoral degree in pastoral counseling. I enjoy writing immensely since my days as yeshiva student in Israel. I have recently written my first book, The Lord is My Shepherd -- the Theology of a Caring God. (See Amazon.com for a short review) which was published by Jason Aronson. The book represents a modest attempt to reconstruct a new exposition of metaphorical theology based upon the ancient shepherd imagery of the 23rd Psalm.
A couple of years ago, I finished writing a new commentary on the Book of Genesis entitled: Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Post-Modern Traditional Commentary. For those of you who enjoy the Hertz Commentary, think of Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Post-Modern Traditional Commentary as a new major update that in many ways go far beyond what Hertz envisioned. It combines lexical, exegetical, theological insights into a holistic medley. I have been working on this project for the last five + years. At present, a well-known NY literary agency is shopping the manuscript, and I hope to have a new contract by next spring. I have completed the other books of the Torah as well, and hope to be finished with the entire project by next summer. After that, I plan on writing a new commentary on the Book of Samuel (one of my personal favorites).