In planning this tribute dinner honoring Carl, Ina and Susie, the Tribute Committee faced a difficult choice: In what order should they list the names of the honorees? There are six possibilities.¹
It turns out that the question of order was debated long ago by our sages. Carl will recognize this text from our Thursday Talmud study group.²
According to the Mishna (Sanhedrin 7:1), the second-century law compendium created by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi based on the mishna of Rabbi Meir, student of Rabbi Aqiba:
There are four means of execution imposed by the Supreme Court:Stoning, burning, the sword, and strangulation.
Rabbi Shimon says: Burning, stoning, strangulation, and the sword.
Under Jewish law, capital punishment has not been legal since 70 C.E. and was very rarely imposed before that. Nevertheless, the obsolete law is recorded for didactic purposes. And when our honorees were asked to accept this tribute, some of them sounded as though they had been sentenced to judicial execution. But the Committee appealed to their sense of civic duty, and here we are.
Nevertheless, the text is instructive. The sages state four means of execution. Rabbi Shimon is then quoted, with the
same list, but in a different order. This would seem to imply that the order matters. But does it? If not, then why site Rabbi Shimon’s statement?
There is a lengthy discussion in the Talmud about this passage.
Some sages said that the order doesn’t matter. But among those who say the order matters, what is the significance of the order of the listing of the forms of execution? Does it go from harshest to most gentle, or the other
way around, or is there some other meaning?
So my answer to the Tribute Committee’s predicament was that the order might not matter; but if it does matter, then there are multiple interpretations for any order chosen.
So the Tribute Committee, in consultation with our honorees, came up with the present order.
But what does it mean?
Maybe it was merely alphabetical: Goldfield, Silverman, Voigt. Or alphabetical by first name: Carl [Goldfield], Ina [Silverman], Susan [Voigt].
Maybe it is by order of importance; but if so, which convention is used – is the first most important,
or, as the Talmud has it, aharon aharon haviv, is the best saved for last?
But where does that leave Ina? Perhaps
she is it like a queen traveling with
part of her retinue in front and part behind.
There were six possible orders, but 70 possible reasons for the order.
That is why Talmud scholars can’t
navigate – by the time they have
considered all of the possible interpreta
tions of the highway sign, they are
long past the exit. Bump Ahead? But
head to bump?
So deciding the order of listing may have been difficult.
But it was
difficult to choose whom to honor.
We had another civic leader, Alderman Phil Voigt, of blessed memory,
Susie’s late husband. Phil was a loya
l Catholic, and at the same time, he
was the greatest friend of our Congregat
ion and a most admirable leader of
New Haven. Phil was part of the
BEKI community, and we were proud of his
good works and appreciative of his co
ntribution. In my heart, we are
honoring Phil tonight, as well.
It is not only
that we honor Carl, Ina and
Susie for their leadership at
BEKI and the civic community; it seems almost
We feel angry at some of our civic
leaders – present com
pany excluded – for
thievery, deceit, exploitation, w
armongering, and incompetence. It is
therefore all the more important to
honor our leaders
who are honest,
intelligent, community-minded, self-sac
rificial and hard-working people with
high ideals and shared values. They
are people who are dedicating part of
their lives for the common good, to fulf
ill the mission of the
Jewish People of
making the world better through the
and values taught by our sages.
As Rabban Gamliel, son of Rabbi
Yehuda HaNasi, taught (Avot 2:2):
All who serve in behalf of the comm
unity, they should serve for the
sake of Heaven, for then the accumulated merit of our forebears will aid
their efforts and their righteous de
eds will have eternal
Almighty will reward them abundantly
as if they had done it all
Susie, Ina, Carl: Thank you for giving
us hope in government, for giving us a
model to point to for our children, for tr
ying to build a city and society that
strives toward basic decency and
maybe even our highest ideals.
¹To list them, using their first initials: CIS, CSI, SIC, SCI, ICS, ISC.
²The Sanhedrin Study Group meets Thursday’s at
Isaiah Cooper’s law office from 12:30p to 1:30p