About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, October 30, 2014

Parshas Lech Lecha: Enjoyment of the Physical World

"And it occurred, as he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "See now I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance." (Genesis: 12:11)

Avraham tells Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister because he is afraid that if she says she is his wife they will kill him and take her. Why is that after so many years being married to her, Avraham only recognizes her beauty in the face of danger what might happen to him? Didn't he recognize that she was beautiful during all the previous years they were together?

The Talmud tells us that a person is not allowed to get married unless they are attracted to each other. so it could not have been that Avraham didn't look at his wife and wasn't attracted to her. The love that Avraham had for his wife is what a Jewish marriage is all about.

Even though to some the system in which religious Jews marry seems archaic, going through a matchmaker and such, the system has been successful throughout the  millennium with a very small divorce rate compared to the overall divorce rate.

The reason is that there are laws that govern marriages whereby the husband has no choice but to develop a relationship with his wife. G-d gave man this strong urge but it is supposed to be harnessed and not abused.

It is looked as a very special thing when it is used in the right way. If it is only looked at as a physical relationship, then once the novelty wears off, the relationship crumbles and there is nothing left. Avraham understood how beautiful his wife was but concentrated his life based on her virtues and character traits.

These are essential elements for a strong and vibrant marriage. Communication is key as well as having common goals and desires.This is the reason that so many people stay happily married.

Judaism in this way differs from other religions in the sense of how the world is viewed. We are created from the dust of the earth and have physical bodies. At the same time, we are given a special soul that helps us reach closer to G-d.

There is always the conflict between the physical and spiritual but no where do we say that physical acts that give us pleasure are forbidden; it depends on how we do them. Although we live in a world of instant gratification the goal is sanctify it as best as possible.

G-d has given us urges from which to enjoy this world but we have to know how to use them properly so we can sanctify His name. The physical is good and should be enjoyed the way the Torah wants us to.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3: Mishna 23: Essential Laws vs Complements

"Rabbi Eliezer ben Chisma said; The laws of bird-offerings, and the laws regarding the beginning of menstrual periods - these are the essential laws; astronomy and mathematics are like the seasonings of wisdom"

The first part of the mishna talks about the bird-pair offerings that a woman must bring shortly after childbirth (as well as in other situations).  There is great discussion s regarding these sacrifices and what happens if different women mixed them up as well.

Menstrual periods refer to the necessary calculations to determine the start date of her period. They also refer to the relevant restrictions when her period begins. These can include what types of blood indicate a menstrual flow or off-cycle spotting, blood spots found on clothing...

These are called the essential laws because they are crucial in maintaining the Jewish home. A man is not allowed to look at his wife as an object of his desires but must have a relationship that is outside the physical.

This is a great protection for women as it insures proper guidelines in this area. Although this is one of the most powerful urges a person can have, G-d gave it to us to harness it properly and not abuse it. The relationship between husband and wife is enhanced tremendously if these laws are kept because the marriage is not just viewed in terms of physical satisfaction.

Astronomy and numerical values are subjects which complement the Torah. Astronomy referred here is the calculation of the cycles of the moon and the seasons. Mathematics is important for formulating the Jewish calendar and helps to reconcile the discrepancy between the lunar calendar and solar one. Each holiday must fall out in it's proper time, Passover in the spring, Sukkos in the fall and since the lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar one, there needs to be an adjustment of the calendar to make sure the holidays fall out when they need to.

The last part of the mishna refers to numeric values or what we call gematriya which refers to assigning of number values to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet whereby alef=1, bet=2...) Certain forms of rabbinical homiletic interpretation are based on inferences made from these values.

 The reason that these two are not considered as essential is because they help demonstrate one aspect of the Torah's beauty and can illustrate the hidden wisdom of the Hebrew alphabet. We can brings hints or ideas from these things showing the power of the Torah's wisdom.

When we hear of homiletic wisdom coming from the order of the letters of a particular passage or a statement that corresponds to the numerical value of another statement is nothing short of incredible. These things enhance our study of Torah and reveal it's true hidden wisdom.

We also see the great wisdom of the rabbis who in their foresight had to come up with a way to compensate the problem that would ensue with the calendar. Without "technological" advances given to them, they were able to establish a system that would continue for all future generations.

Many often make the mistake and think that these people were "medieval", not to bright and backwards, to say the least. We see from here, just the opposite, men of great wisdom and virtue!!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parshas Noach: Noach's lack of Emunah

"They came to Noach into the ark, two by two of all flesh in which there was a breath of life. Thus they that came , came male and female of all flesh , as G-d had commanded him. And Hashem shut it on his behalf". (Genesis: 7: 15-16). 

The Torah goes into great detail explaining all the measurements of the ark and all the hard work that Noach did in building it for 120 years. The people of his generation made fun of him, persecuted him and even wanted to hurt him. This is why the commentaries tell us that there were lions and bears at the entrance of the ark that protected him.

We also know that the only people saved from the flood were Noach and his family. While he was a prophet and did what G-d commanded him, nonetheless the commentaries explain that he was somewhat lacking faith.How can we explain this?

The second of the Rambam's thirteen principles of faith is that G-d is unique and there is no being like him either physical or spiritual. This principle is based on the first verse of the Shema "Hear O Israel, The L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one".

According to this principle then, if G-d is absolute and unique in this world then it conflicts with the idea of how the righteous suffer and how evil people seem to have it easy in this world. If we were to say that there are other forces controlling things, then we may be able to live with the suffering that we around us.

If we believe, though that G-d is unique in this world and represents goodness, they questions may make us feel uncomfortable. Ultimately we don't understand how things work in this world. How does this apply to Noach?

Noach understood that the world he lived in was corrupt. Even so, he was able to overcome his environment and fulfill G-d's will. Why is then at the last second, G-d has to push him into the ark so-to-speak as the waters are quickly rising? Where was his faith that G-d was going to bring the flood?

Noach surely believed that G-d could it. He thought though that his overwhelming attribute of compassion would override His judgment and for that he was wrong. G-d does have tremendous compassion but sometimes that compassion has to be put aside and justice has to be done.

To wipe out the entire world, Noach couldn't imagine that G-d's compassion would not be stirred to save His creation. For that the commentaries explain was the flaw in Noach's emunah.

What we see around us many times does not make sense and we witness a lot of suffering in the world. We must continue to serve Him with even stronger belief  even when we don't necessarily understand why?

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 22: Actions vs Widsom

"He used to say, 'One whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, to what is he like? To a tree that has many branches and few roots, so that when the wind comes, it plucks it up and turns it over, as it is said, 'And he shall be like a lonely tree in the desert, and shall not see the coming of the good; he shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and uninhabited'. But one whose deeds exceed his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree that has few branches and many roots , so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place, as it is said, 'And he shall be like a tree planted by waters that spreads out its roots beside a stream; it sees not the coming of the heat, and its leaves are ever green; in a year of drought it is not troubled, and ceases not to bear fruit'.

The Mishna here teaches us the fundamental principle that knowledge by itself will not last and make a person a moral individual. The reason is because knowledge doesn't necessarily change a person.

If a person learns something which they feel will have no impact on their lives, what is it worth? Torah is about taking action. Learning Torah teaches us what is permissible and forbidden. They are not lessons just for the sake of learning ie like mathematics; they are principles for a meaningful life.

The first book of the Torah tells us about the roots of history and the character traits of our ancestors. It goes into great detail about the actions of these incredible people which have made a lasting impression throughout the generations. One may mistakenly look at these "stories" as just that, describing our historical roots.

This is tragic. Noach, for example gave us the ability thousands of years later to have the strength to fight against our environment and become great people despite who are neighbors may be. After all, he and his family were the only ones that survived the flood!

We have seen through the generations the "greatest, most intelligent people" who were immoral and outright cruel. How do we explain that the doctors, lawyers and academics were the first ones to join Hitler's third Reich and believed in his doctrine to wipe out the Jews.

Did they really believe that treating animals properly was better than treating a Jew as if to Jews weren't even human and deserved everything that they received? This is where education and wisdom left to its own elements cannot produce moral individuals.

If it is not harnessed properly and given the right values then wisdom can only take a person so far. The famous example of this is with Bertram Russel, the famed university teacher of ethics. When one of his students asked him how he could teach ethics and be unethical, his response was "if I would teach mathematics you would expect me to be a square"?

Our actions and what is behind them is what matters. A person could perform a mitzvah with all the kabblastic intentions and receive unbelievable merit for what he has done while at the same time, a simple Jew could do the same mitzvah and also receive great merit.

The more we learn, the more we understand our limitations and the great responsibility we have to serve G-d properly. This will in turn give us true wisdom which allows us to control our desires and do the mitzvos properly!