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No Laughing Matter

Barbara Bensoussan

Underneath the shtick, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman (Rav Gav) delivers serious Torah, navigating the modern minefield of political correctness while captivating the unaffiliated with no-frills learning

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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Rav Gav has learned to look past the jeans, tattoos, and earrings to the Jew inside, and has helped his students see him as a unique person inside the white shirt/black pants chareidi uniform “I talk about what I feel passionate about,” he says. “Every class I give reflects something I went through myself, be it anger management or judging others favorably.”

R abbi Gavriel Friedman — “Rav Gav” to his delighted audiences — doesn’t stop moving when he speaks. He gestures, he acts things out in funny voices, he paces. His persona changes like a high-speed chameleon, as he switches seamlessly from English (American) to English (British) to street slang, Spanish, and taxi-driver Hebrew. He’ll recite pesukim in Talmudic singsong or break into a few bars of an old television theme song, sometimes in the same sentence.

All this, of course, is designed to keep his audiences of potential baalei teshuvah engaged and entertained — and eager to come back for more. But Rav Gav’s goal isn’t to be a stand-up comedian with a gift for imitation and quick one-liners. His patter is laced with profound content, slipped so adroitly into the entertaining delivery that listeners barely notice they’re getting a strong dose of medicine in that spoonful of sugar.

One of the most in-demand speakers on the kiruv circuit, Rabbi Friedman spends much of the year on the road. His perpetual-motion schedule brings him to Aish conferences, Project Inspire, JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) shabbatons, Pesach hotels, and scores of other venues. That’s all in addition to his day job as a rebbi at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, where he passes on his love of learning to motivated newcomers to Judaism.

As with his high-speed talks, his entertaining style also pays benefits with his students, according to Rabbi Yossie Friedman, COO of Aish. “A student might ask if G-d exists, and Gav will give him five examples that are hysterical, practical, and real,” Rabbi Friedman says. “He’s the best teacher I’ve ever heard — even more than he is a speaker.

Torah isn’t just information, it’s mesorah, passed down from teacher to student in the context of a rebbi-talmid relationship. That relationship is key

After one of his Essentials classes, he’ll be out in the lobby for an hour and a half, and the guys there aren’t looking to be entertained. They’re looking for answers. He reaches them, because he doesn’t preach. He shares like a friend and contemporary.”

Rav Gav says he developed his signature speaking style over time, through trial and error. One key is that he refuses to teach “canned goods” — or other people’s material. “I talk about what I feel passionate about,” he says. “Every class I give reflects something I went through myself, be it anger management or judging others favorably.” 

His wife Tamara says he’s constantly working on new classes and lectures, writing ideas down on stray scraps of paper. “He’ll tell me, ‘Don’t throw out that napkin in the cupholder in the car! It has an idea on it for a class!’ ”

Rabbi Shimon Kaufman, CEO of Aish Israel and Rav Gav’s chavrusa, says that in “real life,” Rabbi Friedman the funnyman is a “mevakeish” who is focused and deep. “He doesn’t want to be just a funny rabbi,” Rabbi Kaufman says. “He wants to be a rabbi who uses his talents to give over life-changing information. He’s like the doctor who wants to get medicine into a stubborn child, so he tells him jokes until he laughs so hard his mouth opens and he manages to pour it in.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 696)

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