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President's Message Mar./Apr. 2019

May 05, 2019 11:02 AM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

A Message from the President

Michael Fishbein, President

Most people who are acquainted with me know that I like to bore people by talking about my hobby⎯juggling. So now I am going to use this opportunity to link this passion with another I have⎯Judaism.

There are many of our faith who juggle and quite a few have achieved legendary status in the juggling community. Israel itself is home to a great many extraordinary jugglers who can be seen on YouTube and other sites that feature videos of jugglers. Watch, for example, Ofek Snir of Israel who set a World Record by juggling 5 balls nonstop for 2 hours 41 minutes and 27 seconds! The annual Israeli Juggling Convention draws about 2,000 jugglers every year, making that gathering the second largest juggling festival in the world.

A little research establishes that the link between juggling and Judaism goes back at least two thousand years and is actually noted several times in the Talmud. The earliest juggling mentioned in the Talmud speaks of the feats of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel (circa 10 BCE-70 CE), a great sage who was head of the Great Sanhedrin (court) in Jerusalem. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel was a direct descendant of King David and a great-grandchild of Rabbi Hillel. The legend is that, during the festival of Sukkot, Rabbi Shimon juggled as many as eight homemade torches in the courtyard of the Temple before thousands of spectators who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While thousands may have witnessed the Rabbi’s juggling, the account is likely exaggerated. Anthony Gatto, perhaps the greatest juggler in history, only managed to juggle seven torches.

The Sukkot celebration continued even after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. Levi bar Sissa (circa 150-220 CE), a sage who assisted in compiling the Mishna (the earliest major work codifying Jewish law), juggled eight knives before Sukkot celebrants. Levi bar Sissa later lived in Babylonia where he had a student, Shmuel bar Abba (180-275 CE), who became a great Talmudic scholar. Apparently, Levi and Shmuel had some spare time during which they had fun juggling together; Shmuel bar Abba reportedly could “manipulate” eight cups of wine without spilling a drop. (Shmuel had expertise in science and may actually have used his knowledge to produce this feat.)

A little later, a Babylonian scholar, Abaye (280-339 CE), reportedly juggled eight eggs before his congregation. (Abaye was a successful farmer and must have also raised a lot of chickens!)

The last mention of juggling in the Talmud involves a wedding at which the officiating rabbi juggled. He juggled three myrtle branches in fulfilling the mitzvah of “gladdening the bride and groom,” a juggling tradition⎯using modern props like balls, clubs, torches and knives⎯that continues at many orthodox weddings today.

What we see from these examples of great Jewish sages and scholars is that fun, performance and commitment to a challenging art mixes well with study and teaching.

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