May 20, 2013 ~ Shabbat BEHA'ALOTEKHA. Maqam SIGAH.
When approaching the study of Torah one must become proficient in all areas of the Torah, beginning with the most basic knowledge, and then progressing gradually to more advanced studies. The foundation of proper Torah study is reading correctly. Therefore all students must become proficient in reading skills (preferably at a young age).
The study of the entire Tanakh is a requirement for any serious student of the Torah. At first, the focus should be on the simple meaning of the text with an emphasis on the meaning of each word. Knowledge of the Hebrew language and an understanding of Hebrew grammar are necessary; an appreciation of Hebrew poetry is most favorable. Generally speaking, Midrashic interpretations should be left for the next stage of study and eventually, for the most part, should be understood allegorically, as containing profound messages that the Hakhamim chose to encode in a Midrashic form.
Our approach in general, and with regards to Talmudic and Midrashic statements in particular, is in accordance with the writings of the Geonim and early Spanish Rishonim, including most notably HaRambam and Ibn Ezra.
The next stage is Talmud study, beginning with the Mishnah, then Gemara with Rashi, then Tosafot, then MaHarsha and the super-commentaries of our Tunisian Rabbis. At all stages, the true meaning of the text should be derived by properly reading and explaining the texts in a genuine effort to reach the true intention of each commentator. Intellectual presentations that stretch the imagination by not remaining loyal to the words of the Talmud and Rishonim are frowned upon.
Halakhah is decided based upon the rule "Qibalnu Horaot Maran" which is well attested to by our Sephardic Rabbis in general and Halabi Rabbis in particular. Legitimate grounds for leniency are sought in an effort to make life more livable for the people. Stringencies are appropriate for some in certain situations, but are unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate in other situations.
We stay true to our Sepharadi/Halabi customs, traditions and Halakhic practices. We are familiar with our Hakhamim and with their writings. We continue to conduct our prayers, read religious texts and sing Piyutim and Pizmonim in accordance with the traditions of our forefathers, as we consider all links to the past generations essential in maintaining authentic and legitimate practices to pass down to future generations.
We have a genuine respect for the Mequbalim, but we view their teachings as intended for those that possess a profound understanding of Qabbalah. Their teachings are not appropriate for the masses or even those that are knowledgeable in the standard teachings of the Torah. We only follow the Mequbalim in cases where the custom has been firmly established according to their teachings. Otherwise we adhere to the teachings of the Shas and Posqim.
We are instilled with the utmost respect for the great figures of the Tanakh, the Rabbis of the Talmud and all of the Rabbis of the subsequent generations. We find any disrespect of our great Jewish figures to be repugnant.
In accordance with the approach of HaRambam, we believe that in addition to Torah studies, which are of paramount importance, it is necessary to acquire general knowledge (secular studies) as a supplement to our knowledge and understanding of the Torah.
Furthermore, with the exception of a select few, all should engage in gainful employment to support themselves and their families financially. If it is possible, it is even praiseworthy for Torah scholars to support themselves independently of their religious activities. This is all part of viewing participation in society as an important aspect of the Torah's program. When participating in a non-Jewish society we reject those aspects of non-Jewish culture that contradict the Torah, but we may accept those aspects that do not. Oftentimes, we use elements of our surrounding culture in a modified way and integrate them into our religious observances.
Consistent with our approach, is a positive attitude towards the establishment of the State of Israel and a heartfelt desire to settle there. While we all hope for a much improved state of affairs, we are thankful for what we have so far and feel obligated to show our appreciation publicly at the appropriate opportunities.
All of the above must be practiced together with fine character traits that include modesty, humility, tolerance, kindness and generosity towards others, and an effort to maintain peace and unity in the local community as well as in the larger Jewish world.