Jewish Learning Institute classes highly interesting

Posted Friday, Dec 27th, 2013
Heritage Florida Jewish News

Dear Editor:

Inundated with stories in the news and social media, I hear about medical challenges and decisions of celebrities and those thrust into the limelight by virtue of circumstance. The human-interest stories also generate vocalizations of fundamentalist religious groups, most frequently in opposition to private, heart-wrenching personal decisions. What is lacking is the Jewish perspective of these medical decisions. But, what exactly is the Jewish perspective?

Rabbi Yanky Majesky of Chabad Lubavitch of North Orlando recently offered a series of classes using the Jewish Learning Institute curriculum. A professional PowerPoint and video, textbooks and engaging, interactive presentations spanned six weeks. The topics were discussed in terms of Jewish texts, interpretations, and the laws of the United States.

Since arriving in Orlando in 1982 as an adult I have looked for classes that would serve to further my Jewish education and understanding of topics that interested me. I have spent years looking at listings for classes such as “Navigating the Siddur,” which I believe I mastered by seventh grade.   Finally, I found these classes that interested me and met in the evenings so I could attend after work.

I assumed the Chabad point of view would closely resemble those of fundamentalist religions but I was very surprised. During the classes Rabbi Majesky presented Jewish interpretations of these ethical issues and the accepted Jewish positions, which vary from those I assumed I would hear. Organ donation, autopsy, living wills, genetic testing, even when there were topics that didn’t particularly interest me, there would be an unexpected twist to additional levels and topics that I found fascinating. I am not sure how we transitioned from uterus transplants to rhinoplasty but it was fascinating nevertheless.

Faintly reminiscent of the late George Carlin’s “Heavy Mysteries,” I appreciated the questions the attendees and I were able to ask. Is it true a Jew must be buried with all of their organs? What if they donated a kidney? Can they donate their organs?  Can an unclaimed body not specifically donated to research causes be used for research? In the event of multiple fetuses, must a woman attempt to bring all of them to term, even if life is in danger? Is the morning-after pill an option? The questions go on and on. Just like George Carlin’s questions posed to the priest that included increasingly complex scenarios, so too were the questions generated and skillfully addressed by Rabbi Majesky each week. Besides that, his warm personality made it even more enjoyable, and he always managed a joke or two along the way!

I have always questioned how some Jews view the Torah as a guide for living. Attending the Chabad of North Orlando classes helped me to understand that perhaps it can be that. I am looking forward to continuing my studies in February during the upcoming series, “To be a Jew in the Free World.” It is billed as designed to help you overcome perceived incompatibilities between Judaism and modern society. If the last class was any indication, I am sure it will be that and much more. You can read about it for yourself at

Stefanie C. Shames, Ed.D.

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