In 1998, Rabbi Shalom Greenberg and his wife Dina moved to Shanghai, China where they established the Shanghai Jewish Center under Chabad auspices. Since then the rabbi has overseen the growth of the local Jewish community and catered to the needs of visiting Jewish travelers, business people and students. His interactions with the local Chinese community have occasionally been complicated. What incident related to Sukkot caused a problem for Rabbi Greenberg in dealing with the local Chinese population?
A. In 1998 Rabbi Greenberg was cutting down bamboo that was growing wild along a stream near his house, intending to use it as schach, the roof covering for his sukkah. He did not know that it is illegal to cut down bamboo in China unless one has a license, and was arrested and brought before the Local People’s Court. He was released after paying a fine of 100 yuan (approximately $14.00), and every year since then he has obtained a license before the holiday.
B. Rabbi Greenberg had invited some of his Chinese neighbors to eat in his sukkah, and during the evening he was explaining the holiday and its traditions. At one point he mentioned that at the end of the holiday, Jews celebrated Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Sukkot when their fate for the year is finally sealed. The guests began to giggle, leading the rabbi to wonder what he said that was so funny. He finished his talk, and after dinner he spoke to one of the guests. Said the man, “Rabbi, we are sorry if we embarrassed you by our laughter. When you said you celebrate Hoshanah Rabbah, we heard the Chinese word hoshào which means ‘belly button.’ It was funny to think that the Jews celebrate the belly button.”
C. Since arriving in Shanghai Rabbi Greenberg had been erecting a traditional sukkah every year. In 2010, he decided to alter the sukkah design slightly by adding upturned “flying eaves,” to the roof corners, as an homage to the local architecture found on Chinese temples. The rabbi was contacted by local Buddhist leaders who explained to him that his sukkah was actually an offense as it was inappropriate to utilize elements of their holy temple on a building used for religious purposes that were foreign to Buddhism. As a result, the rabbi rebuilt his sukkah, and the following year, he made a point of inviting local Buddhist leaders to dine in his sukkah and share information about the two religions.
D. When Rabbi Greenberg built a sukkah in 1998, the first time he was in Shanghai for Sukkot, he was brought before local authorities at the Public Security Bureau who investigated him for building an “underground church” for the purpose of illegal proselytizing activity. Rabbi Greenberg agreed to take down the sukkah (which he delayed doing until the end of the holiday). Subsequently he was able to educate local authorities and convince them that the tiny size of the Chinese Jewish community was proof that Jews were not a proselytizing religion and he has since been allowed to build a sukkah every year.
E. Rabbi Greenberg’s landlord noticed that the rabbi was sleeping in his sukkah and thought that he and his wife were having a marital dispute and possibly planning to divorce. When the rabbi moved back inside at the end of the holiday the neighbors rejoiced.