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Rabbi Anibal Mass

Rabbi Matthew Leibl


Nov 15, 2017

Rabbi Matthew Leibl and Rabbi Anibal Mass both received their Rabbinic S’micha at a ceremony in New York held July 1st 2017 at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI). On Nov 3-4, they were formally installed as Rabbis at Congregation Shaarey Zedek at a ceremony held at the synagogue. You can see the Rabbis Installation on Shabbat Morning here (Congregation Shaarey Zedek YouTube Channel) and Musical Warm-Up and Kabbalat Shabbat Service with Rabbi Steven Blane here (Sim Shalom Online Synagogue Site).


In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Rabbi Mass indicated that Rabbi Steven Blane, who taught most of the courses at the online Rabbinical School  known as  the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute which ordained him "was a visionary in that he could see where Judaism was going." (Rabbi Blane came to Winnipeg for the formal installation of  Rabbis Leibl and Mass.)


Rabbi Mass emphasized that the S’micha given by JSLI is non-denominational (students from all denominations study at JSLI) and this is what makes the JSLI approach "so unique." 


 "Rabbi Blane would teach us what the conservative and, reform and orthodox seminaries said on a given subject. He compiled all the information and edited it and it enabled us to see different approaches. We were introduced to the views of all seminaries, not just one."  Additionally Rabbi Mass indicated that Rabbi Blane's focus was "on giving his students the practical tools to ensure they can function as Rabbis in a Jewish community."


Rabbi Blane’s philosophy is "Jewish Universalist" and the website of JSLI indicates that  Jewish Universalism (JU) espouses seven key doctrines which include that the Torah is divinely inspired and is Holy,  that Judaism seeks to repair the world through Tikun Olam, and that  Judaism is a constantly evolving spiritual practice . ( To see all seven principles , go to


According to Rabbi Mass, one aspect of what Rabbi Blane taught is that "most congregations don’t know how to change" and at times it is necessary to change certain ways a synagogue does something when it is not meeting its members' needs. "We studied how to move forward and change something that is not working for a congregation, "Rabbi Mass explained.


"For example, many congregants at Congregation Shaarey Zedek are no longer coming for Yizkor except on Yom Kippur. Very few are coming to say Yizkor on Sh’mini Atzeret. So Rabbi Blane suggested that we can say Yizkor not only on Sh’mini Atzeret, the traditional day to say Yizkor, but we can also say it on the Shabbat before. We adopted this approach at Shaarey Zedek this year and we said Yizkor on Saturday, October 7, when we had more of a crowd, in addition to saying it on  the  traditional day of Sh’mini Atzeret, when fewer people were present," Rabbi Mass pointed out.


Rabbi Mass said that one of the aspects of being a Rabbi that he learned about at JSLI was "how to deal with an interfaith family," such as "how to listen to them and to understand that they are trying to incorporate Jewish elements in their family life."


 "The idea is not to scare them away," Rabbi Mass said. 


In an interview with Rabbi Leibl, Rabbi Leibl said that Rabbi Blane is "very left leaning" but when he presented a topic "he presented a number of options on how to approach it such that we are the ones who decide what we want to do in our community."


"He didn't say here is what I do, so you have to do the same,"Rabbi Leibl explained. Rabbi Leibl added that "while there of course was an academic component to the JSLI Rabbinic course, the course focused on the practical components of being a Rabbi. "For example, the course gave a list of the things you need to ask a couple when you do a wedding, and the questions you need to ask a family in preparing a eulogy. We also had to prepare sermons every week in the course," Rabbi Leibl noted, since this is something that is part of the regular activities of  a Rabbi. 


Rabbi Leibl noted that "one hot button topic" in the course was circumcision. Rabbi Blane does not require circumcision for people who convert to Judaism with him. "We're not there,"Rabbi Leibl indicated, saying "I can't see Congregation Shaarey Zedek ever abandoning the requirement for circumcision on conversion."


The topic of Shaarey Zedek potentially conducting interfaith marriage ceremonies  is something however that Rabbi Leibl says "potentially could be raised for discussion at some point down the road in the future," albeit he he stressed that "no discussions had yet taken place" and they were not on the immediate agenda. Congregation Shaarey Zedek does not officiate at such interfaith ceremonies now.


Rabbi Leibl explained that since 2011 (long before he was ordained) he has officiated at about 50 weddings. He has done these independently outside of the synagogue by obtaining a marriage commissioner license. He indicated that about 1/3 of these weddings were weddings between two Jews, 1/3 were weddings between gentiles, and 1/3 were "dual faith" (otherwise known as "interfaith") weddings with one Jewish partner and a non-Jewish partner. In these "dual faith" weddings the Jewish partner wanted some elements of a Jewish wedding in the ceremony, but the ceremony was a  civil ceremony.


The question is whether Shaarey Zedek at some point in the future will conduct a religious ceremony for an interfaith couple, and will  conduct it in the synagogue. For now Rabbi Leibl noted that no such discussion about this has taken place and we'll have to wait and see if it is discussed at some point in the future.


Rabbi Leibl added that Rabbi Blane conducts such interfaith ceremonies and the topic was discussed in the JSLI course.


"Rabbi Blane shared some examples of how he does interfaith ceremonies, but also how others do it, as well as giving other viewpoints,"  Rabbi Leibl said. "He covered all the bases."

Rabbi Mass noted that at the JSLI "there were classes with experts about how to visit the sick at hospitals," and "students were taught how to start a conversation with a family." Students were also shown "how to conduct funerals." Rabbi Mass  said that he has had a lot of experience in conducting funerals which he first started officiating at daily in Buenos Aires Argentina, which had a large Jewish population of 200,000. Rabbi Leibl had not conducted funerals before being ordained but he has since officiated at several funerals.


At JSLI, "we had classes in the prophets, on the afterlife, on the concept of angels in Judaism, and on the holidays, Jewish liturgy, and Jewish symbols. We also had a class, for example, on animals as nowadays some people want to do ceremonies for their pets," Rabbi Mass noted


Rabbi Mass added that Shaarey Zedek tried having a Bark Mitzvah day but it was rained out. "We joked that the program was cancelled because it was raining cats and dogs! But probably in the future we'll try to do it again," he said.


Another subject explored at JSLI was "what if someone wants to be cremated?". (Rabbi Mass noted that this does not apply to Shaarey Zedek and that the subject of cremation is not up for discussion at the moment).


Rabbi Mass noted that when it first  began the JSLI catered to Rabbinical students who did not have congregations and were going to be "freelance Rabbis" who would do life cycle events and destination weddings or destination Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. But then "The JSLI Rabbis began finding pulpits,"Rabbi Mass said. "Now many of the Rabbinic students enrolled in the JSLI will not be freelance Rabbis, but pulpit Rabbis who have congregations."  (Note that  the JSLI website indicates that Rabbi Blane began his career as a cantor and was ordained as a Rabbi in 2001. The website says "Between 2006 and 2009, Rabbi Blane served as Rabbi and Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah (a Conservative community in New Milford, NJ). While he has led services in Lubavitch, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, he feels most comfortable among the most progressive Jewish movements.") 

In the interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Rabbi Mass, he said that he believes Judaism is moving into two streams : orthodox and non-orthodox. He believes the distinctions between conservative and reform and Jewish renewal and universalist in terms of how they are practiced  "are going to blur together."

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