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In the Jerusalem Post

The Laughing Rebbe Stands Up for Renewal” The Jerusalem Post

y Amanda Borschel October 27, 2002

f you have a question as to whether your chicken is kosher or not, don’t look to Reb Moshe Waldoks for a halachic ruling. He isn’t that kind of rabbi.

If you’re having a relationship with the chicken, on the other hand, then you should come to me,” says Waldoks.

urrently in the country as part of last Thursday’s Laila Lavan, an all-night comedy marathon which took place in Haifa under the auspices of the Boston-Haifa Connection, the very unorthodox rabbi tours the world spreading his message of humor as the path to spirituality.

nd as coeditor of The Big Book of Jewish Humor, now in its 24th printing, Waldoks has evidently given this matter a lot of thought. He has spent the past 25 years lecturing, telling stories, doing stand-up, and teaching about the history of Jewish humor at a variety of universities and yeshivot, including Brandeis University and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

ore recently, however, Waldoks shifted from academia and returned to grass-roots Jewish humor when he became a rabbi at the tender age of 47. Ordained in a private ceremony by Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Arthur Green, and Everett Gendler as a “post- denominational” rabbi in 1996, Waldoks has been one of the pastors of the non- denominational Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Massachusetts since 1998.

ut Waldoks eschews the term “rabbi,” preferring to be called “Reb Moshe” as in the hassidic tradition. And with this wisecracking rebbe at the helm, it’s small wonder that attendance has grown tenfold at his “dying” synagogue over the past three years.

aldoks, if pressed to label his particular brand of Judaism, says his synagogue could be considered “egalitarian hassidic.”

It’s a self-selected group: It’s a synagogue in an area filled with synagogues. We’re for people who are looking for a non- orthodox environment,” says Waldoks.

ith its blend of enthusiastic singing and meditation (picked up during the first Jewish-Tibetan Buddhist encounter with the Dalai Lama and his community in Dharamsala, India in 1990), the place is not for those who are looking for what Waldoks calls the “Protestant Reform” style of call and response prayer.

aldoks has a long history of creating what he calls “people- building relationships.” In addition to the famous India visit that was the subject of Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus, he co- led a historic Jewish-Catholic Pilgrimage to Israel and Rome with Rabbi Samuel Chiel, Lenny Zakim, and Cardinal Bernard Law in the fall of 1999.

aldoks says that his style of Judaism is not for everyone and is attractive to “seekers not interested in a label,” but who are looking for a way back into Judaism. To this end, the rabbi has stepped off the pulpit and attempted to bridge the gap between the pastor and the community – largely through the use of self-critical humor.

orn in 1949 to Holocaust-refugee parents, Waldoks feels that humor is one of the best ways to prevent fanaticism. In his lecture/ performance “Beyond Laughter Through Tears” Waldoks presents a short history of Jewish humor and explains why it is so healthy to laugh.

I’ve yet to meet a funny fanatic,” he says, claiming that a fanatic cannot grasp two disparate worlds in their mind at the same time and laugh at themselves.

s far as politicians are concerned this isn’t always so easy for them. But, says Waldoks, as evidenced by the amount of satire on Israeli television and in the print, this country’s politicians seem to have a pretty healthy sense of humor.

One of our great strengths as people is that we have the ability to be self-critical,” says Waldoks. “Its just much more effective to do it in a funny way.”

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