Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Dial-a-Rabbi
By Lizzie Widdicombe   |  Dec 16, 2007
nw

Hanukkah Rabbi Stuart Shiff, one of six New York rabbis employed by Aish HaTorah, a nonprofit Jewish-education organization, carries two pieces of equipment: a BlackBerry and a book of the Torah. Weekdays, he treks to businesses around the city on behalf of Aish’s Executive Learning Program — for a voluntary donation (average: ten thousand dollars), bosses who are too busy to go to shul can have a rabbi meet them at the office. “Studying the Torah took my mind off the stress,” Lisa Shalett, the C.E.O. of Sanford Bernstein, says in an Aish brochure.

“What this program does is it blows away all the excuses,” Shiff explained recently, in one of Aish’s conference rooms in midtown New York. “We have almost a postal carrier’s motto: nothing stops us.” It was 9:30 A.M. on the day before Hanukkah, and Shiff — who was wearing a black velvet yarmulke — had a meeting with Seth Horowitz, the former chief executive of Everlast, the boxing-supply company (which he had just sold for a reported hundred and sixty-eight million dollars). Horowitz, who is thirty-one, started studying with Shiff eighteen months ago. “I just needed to talk to someone,” he said, turning off his iPhone. “I’ve gained so much knowledge. This is the beauty of the program — the rabbi comes to your office, you discuss the Torah, and you talk about life.”

“Basically, I’m a quasi disbeliever,” he explained. “I like talking to the rabbi, because I challenge him on a lot of the stuff. I like to ask my questions, which are mostly about the rigidity of religious beliefs. I’m probably his worst patient, if you want to call me a patient.”

When the session was over, Shiff got on the No. 6 train and headed uptown, to meet his twelve-thirty appointment — a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai Hospital who was looking to the Kabbalah to illuminate his findings on postpartum depression. “We go everywhere,” Shiff said on the train. “We go to J. P. Morgan, Bear, Bloomberg, Goldman — and everybody is so different.

It’s not about conforming to anything. That last guy, I think sometimes he thinks he’s not living up to my expectations of him. But I don’t have any expectations. My whole job is helping him to stay connected. We like questions.”

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