Questions for Rabbi Philmus


Rabbi Aaron Philmus, 39, grew up in Matawan, New Jersey. He studied ecology and anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, before attending the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.


Before becoming the rabbi at Temple Torat Yisrael, in East Greenwich, Philmus was the rabbi at Brothers of Israel, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and Beth Sholom, in San Francisco.

Rabbi Philmus’ wife, Valerie, is the baker at the Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence in Warwick. They have two children, Sophie, 9, and Aeden, 6, who both attend the Jewish Community Day School in Providence. The family lives next door to Torat Yisrael.

Q: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

A: Cholent.

Q: Favorite Jewish holiday?

A: Pesach.

Q: Favorite Jewish song?

A: “Gesher Tzar M’od” [Very Narrow Bridge].

Q: Favorite Jewish movie?

A: “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Q: Favorite Jewish celebrity?

A: Jon Stewart.

Q: Favorite Israeli city to visit?

A: Jerusalem. I spent a lot of time there when I was studying in rabbinical school. There are so many magical places there. It’s living history and I love it.

Q: Favorite Israeli city to live?

A: Pardes Hanna. A friend lives there and I’ve heard it’s nice.

Q: Favorite Hebrew word?

A: Adamah [Earth], because of its connection to Adam.  

Q: Favorite Yiddish word?

A: Geshmak [delicious]. Why? I don’t think anyone else would think of that.

Q: Best part of keeping Kosher, worst part of keeping Kosher?

A: Best part: It makes me pay attention to what I’m doing with my food. Worst part: I don’t get to eat meat outside in restaurants very often.

Q: Favorite part of being Jewish?

A: I appreciate the ancestral connection to the ancient past in Judaism. There is a sense of a connection to something of a bigger destiny.

Q: Favorite part of being a rabbi?

A: Connecting with people of different ages and at different stages in their lives.

Q: Favorite Jewish memory from your life?

A: Going to Israel with my family when I became a Bar Mitzvah.

Q: Greatest piece of advice someone has given you, and who gave it to you?

A: Family is everything. Without your family, you’re alone in the world [from his grandfather].

Q: If you could have any three dinner guests, living or from history, who would they be?

A: Moses, Abraham and Moses Maimonides, a.k.a. the Rambam.

SAM SERBY is a reent graduate of Johnson & Wales University.