What’s in a number? Ask anyone from Mosaic Law Congregation.
Whenever members of Sacramento’s only Conservative synagogue accept an aliyah to the Torah in honor of a birthday or anniversary, they know that Rabbi Reuven Taff will cite gematria, or Jewish numerology.
Reliably he’ll announce: “[x] is no insignificant number!” often in unison with others in the sanctuary. Then the rabbi will follow up with a Hebrew word or bit of insight that speaks to the essence of the person or the occasion.
On June 28, it was Taff himself who was being honored on a significant occasion: his retirement from the synagogue after 25 years.
So what do the numbers say? During his tenure, Taff said, he has officiated at 490 b’nai mitzvahs, 421 funerals, 350 unveilings, 144 weddings, 35 gets (divorces), 200 baby namings and 180 conversions, for a meaningful total of 1,820 events.
“I did the research,” Taff said in an interview. “The four-letter Hebrew name of God, yud-hey-vav-hey, actually appears in the Torah 1,820 times. And 1,820 also just happens to be the numerical value of the famous verse in the Torah, V’ahavta Leray’acha Kamocha: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Taff, 70, a native of Albany, New York, has served in multiple roles in a career that spans nearly 50 years. He was the music director with Camp Ramah in Ojai, a cantor and youth director at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, California, a cantor and education director at Beth El in Phoenix and the first head of Gesher Jewish Day School in Northern Virginia.
Taff, who came to Mosaic in 1995, was celebrated by more than 200 households (about half of the synagogue’s 430 families) in a virtual ceremony on Zoom prior to his final day on July 31.
Past Mosaic president Caren Rubin presented Taff with “the gift of time,” an engraved Rolex watch. “You have given this congregation endless time, endless humor, endless compassion, endless empathy and endless joy,” she told him. “We sincerely hope this conveys our sense of thanks and blessings that we feel for you as our rabbi.”
In a tribute to her husband, Judy Kahler Taff said, “You have endless compassion and boundless energy. You are never too tired to do the extra mitzvah — ever. You are not just a rabbi. You are a rock star among rabbis.”
Inspired by the rabbi and writer Naomi Levy, Taff gazed out into the virtual universe and said, “If you could only look into my eyes, and see what I have seen. If you only could enter my heart and feel the emotion, the elation and the heartbreak that I have known.
“If you look at my hands,” he continued, “you would notice they are not callused from hard labor. But trust me, these are hands that have blessed babies as they entered this beautiful world; sparked and inspired students; blessed bar and bat mitzvah kids as they entered the covenant of our people; taught 10th-grade confirmation students to stand up and be proud of who they are; blessed brides and grooms under the chuppah; offered healing to the sick and hope to the depressed; were raised bravely in protest for the cause of justice for our people and for the State of Israel; and eased the transition of the dying from this world to the next.
“These hands, my hands, daily, I have placed them in God’s hands. For these past 25 years, I have lived by doing my best in service of the Kadosh Baruch Hu [Holy One] and the Jewish people.”
Taff told of receiving an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary — a DD, or Doctor of Divinity. But “DD really stands for deracheha darchei noam,” he said. “All of its paths are paths of sweetness, from the Etz Chaim prayer. I have been privileged to walk those paths in blessing with all of you.”