2710 Genesee St.
Utica, New York 13502
Phone: (315) 724-4751 ✡ email: tbeutica@gmail.com

A Conservative Jewish Congregation Established for
the Worship of God, the Study of Torah,
and the Practice of Righteous Deeds


Nov. 1 - 4:35 PM
Nov. 8 - 4:27 PM
Nov. 15 - 4:19 PM
Nov. 22 - 4:14 PM
Nov. 29 - 4:10 PM

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A Message from Cantor Socolof

CantorAt one point in Junior High School I shared a desk with a particular young lady. Between things, we would talk about this and that and in time the conversation turned to religion. She was an Episcopalian. I told her that I really didn‟t understand the idea of the trinity. She admitted that she didn‟t, either. I suggested that she ask her priest to explain it to her, and then she could relay what he said to me. She agreed to this. A week or so later, she told me that she had told her priest that she didn‟t understand the trinity. His response was, "You don‟t have to understand it, you just have to believe it." Then and since I found this answer to be quite unsatisfactory.

I am currently teaching a conversion class at Temple Beth Joseph in Herkimer under the auspices of Rabbi Dan Ornstein of Temple Ohav Shalom in Albany. As part of the preparation, Rabbi Ornstein has the students write a series of essays to consider and evaluate their expectations and understanding of Judaism. Part of the first essay asks the students: "At this (relatively) early stage in your study of Judaism, write about three aspects of Judaism and Jewish life which interest you. Describe them a bit and explain how they might affect your thinking and your life." Almost to a person, the students said that one of the three things they found attractive about Judaism is that you are allowed and encouraged to ask questions.

Especially for those of us who grew up with Judaism, the freedom to question is a given. After all, the telling of the story during the seder, the centerpiece of the evening and the whole reason for the enterprise (sorry, it‟s not the charoset), is framed by the asking of questions. The section about the four different kinds of children is focused on answering the questions that we know will come, and we are specifically instructed to start the child on the path to asking if they are not able to.

Learning leads to knowledge, which in turn leads to understanding. A person, of whatever age, who asks questions wants to learn. This is a behavior we should endorse. Yes, sometimes questions are not so much to learn as they are to annoy, obfuscate or delay. Such instances are fairly easy to identify for what they are. There are those who perceive questions as a threat, often to their authority. This says far more about them than about the questioner.

Isadore Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics, was once asked why he went into science. He replied, "My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, "What did you learn today?‟ But my mother used to ask: "Izzy, did you ask a good question today?‟ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me a scientist." Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has observed, "Judaism is the rarest of phenomena: a faith based on asking questions, sometimes deep and difficult ones that seem to shake the very foundations of faith itself."

Given my job, it is not surprising that I get asked a fair amount of questions. When someone asks a question I see it as an opportunity. It is a chance to fill in gaps, broaden horizons and foment a more complete understanding of how to best live our lives. Sometimes I don‟t know the answers. There is nothing wrong with saying so. Not only that, but it is a chance for me to do more learning myself, so that I may be able to provide an answer after some study.

I shall close with an old piece from Dear Abby:

Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?
How should they answer?

Cantor Socoloff

Contact him at uticacantor@verizon.net