It has been 10 years since Gregg Rothstein’s mother, Joanne Rosett Rothstein, died, and each year since then, he has organized Jewish Voices, a community event held in her memory.
This year, Rothstein said, he and his committee decided to offer a day of lectures focused on a subject they feel many people are unfamiliar with — the role of the beit din, the Orthodox rabbinical courts that many Jews turn to to settle conflicts.
The topics will cover matters both age-old and arcane and intensely personal and current, from the halachic approach to business deals and wills, to the tangled conflicts around Jewish divorce and agunot —“chained women” — and illegitimacy. One talk, for example, will deal with the predicament of Orthodox women widowed by the 9/11 attacks.
This year’s Jewish Voices/Day of Learning, which is open to both men and women, will be held on Sunday afternoon, May 16, at the YM-YWHA of Union County.
Rothstein, an architect who lives in Hillside, is a past president and member of the executive committee of the Union Y and a vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. He is also a member of the board of Yeshiva Be’er Yitzchok Kollel of Elizabeth, and belongs to Adath Israel, Adas Jeshurun, and Bais Yizchok, all of Elizabeth.
He said, “We have other days in the community with cultural events and things like shopping. There are many study groups in Elizabeth, but in the broader community we don’t give much time for serious learning. We wanted a program that brings the community together with knowledgeable people in their field, to sit down and really learn.”
About 10 rabbis have agreed to take part, including a group from the Lakewood Yeshiva, Bais HaVaad Institute of Talmudic Law. Rabbi Elazar Teitz, the head of the Jewish Educational Center and head of the beit din of Elizabeth, will give the introduction. Participants will then choose from among about 10 topics offered in three 45-minute sessions. That will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of rabbis, and closing remarks by Rabbi Yona Reiss, dean of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and former director of the Beth Din of America.
David and Aliza Feuerstein of Elizabeth are chairing the organizing committee. David said getting so many distinguished speakers to participate was a challenge. “Most of them are very busy, and it was a matter of coordinating plans,” he said.
For last year’s Voices event, which focused on how to speak to others about Judaism, around 100 people turned out. Rothstein said that he is hopeful that more will attend this year. The timing, he said, feels particularly beshert, or apt; the event is taking place two days before Shavuot, the celebration of God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people. In many communities, it is marked with an all-night session of Torah study.
Rothstein said his mother, though she was not very observant, would have been very supportive of the events he has organized. “She was very active in the synagogue and with the sisterhood. She had an affinity with Jewish teaching,” he said.
He became Orthodox as an adult, and made Torah study part of his daily life. “I have been studying on my own for many years and have been attending Rabbi Teitz’s Daf Yomi lecture every morning at 6:30 with my son since this series began, even when I was on vacation in London or Israel,” he said.
“Learning is an integral part of being a Jew. Everything that we do must be done in a way that follows our laws and minhagim [customs]. Hashem has blessed us with the Torah. It is our privilege to have been given this gift, and we must not waste it.”