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Rabbi David Cantor

Kedma and David Cantor at Limmud: On Seashells and Blue Dye and the Colours of Judaism, and the Kaddish and Livingston on Yoga Shalom

by Jane Enkin, March 8, 2013

To our good fortune, a fine teaching couple, Rabbi David Cantor and his wife Kedma Cantor has returned to Winnipeg with their family  this year, and both of them gave sessions at the Limmud Festival this year. David grew up in Winnipeg and he and Kedma have four children.  

Kedma Cantor gave a comprehensive history of the tallit, with clear illustrations. She started with the Biblical origins of the mitzvah of tzitzit, showed how the custom arose of attaching the tzitzit to a prayer shawl, and talked about forms and uses of tzitzit and the tallit in many different Jewish folk traditions. She talked about the rediscovery in the 1980's of the source of the dye for the blue thread in the tzitzit, centuries after the use of this dye was first banned by the Romans who reserved it for royalty, and then lost entirely. We now know that the dye is made from the shells of snails that live in the sea right by the shore.

Interestingly, Rabbi Greenberg drew attention to the same interesting fact about this dye that Cantor did – at first, enthusiastic archaeologists recreated the dye, only to find that they produced a purple colour, not blue. When they tried the dyeing process in sunlight, however, they achieved the traditional blue colour. Rabbi Greenberg taught that the word for this blue, tekhelet, can be related to kol, everything – we are covenantally bound up with sea, earth and sun, with everything in the world.

[Editor's note: On reading Jane's report, I couldn't help remembering that on the sea shore of Netanya, Israel in the spring of 2008 around Passover, my son and I, found several hands full of snail shells on the shore near our apartment that were a  stunning rich blue, with alost a purple tinge to them. We had never seen anything like them and carefully picked these delicate shells up. We collected and cleaned them all (to make sure the snails were all out) and put them in a bowl and waited to show them to our favourite archeologists Haskel and Tina Greenfield who were living in Jerusalem for the year. As we cleaned the shells, there was even some blue dye that got on my hands. When Haskel saw them, he  told us that it is from these shells that dye was made over 2000 years ago. We still have all of the shells and interestingly, we have never found them again since 2008. I would like to think that these are the shells from which dye for the blue of the tzitzit is used. ]


Kedma Cantor will lead The Colours of Judaism at Shaarey Zedek's Women's Rosh Chodesh Group on Thursday, May 9

Rabbi David Cantor's presentation at the Limmud Festival, " Dead Man Walking: Rabbi Akiva and the Creation of the Mourner's Kaddish", was interesting and challenging emotionally for his students. Does it make sense to look at the meaning of the words of the kaddish? Is the kaddish for the mourner, as most of the learners appeared to feel, or for the deceased, or for God? It seemed to me that we arrived at the conclusion that what is most important is that the Kaddish involves the mourner in bringing others together to pray and to praise.

Temple Shalom holds a Shabbat morning service called Yoga Shalom. Ruth Livingston offered Limmud learners a chance to see the video used at the synagogue, with soothing music, meditations on texts from the liturgy, and easy stretches that are accessible to everyone, even those with limited mobility. Check the Temple Shalom calendar for Yoga Shalom dates. 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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