Friday, June 21, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’ha’alot’kha 5779–Contrafacta Torah

I thought it was past time for a little musical levity (hey, there's a sort of Jewish joke in that, too.) So here are some ditties I've written based on things from this week's parasha, B'ha'alot'kha. By strict definition, these are contrafacta -  musical melodies to which new or different lyrics have been added. (To be parody, technically they would have to somehow make fun of, or refer to the song's original lyrics and musical combination.)

(To the tune of “Home On the Range”)

Oh G”d has a home, as through Sinai we roam,
When G”d’s presence descends, there we stay
When spirit lifts high, to that place we say bye,
Yet our skies remain cloudy each day

Clouds, G”d’s semaphore
When to move, to stay put, and what’s more
Where often is heard, a discouraging word
As G”d’s miracles we do ignore.

At night time the cloud would appear to the crowd
As a fire blazing over the tent
And when morning came, ‘twas no longer a flame
But a cloud that would G”d represent

Clouds, G”d’s semaphore
When to move, to stay put, and what’s more
When sometimes G”d heard a discouraging word
G”d would often then give us what for

For as long as the cloud the Mishkan would enshroud
We would stay camped in that very spot
When the cloud went away whether night time or day
Moving on would again be our lot.

Clouds, clouds, in control
To move out, to encamp, slow our roll
With a message writ large, we knew G”d was in charge
We G”ds name in our prayers did extol.

For a month, week, or day, in one place we might stay
Our movement the cloud did dictate
G”d was sieving us out, of that there is no doubt
’Tis the price when G”d’s will you negate.

Home, home, it’s so strange
It’s so near, yet so far far away
Though it might seem absurd, we will stay undeterred
Though our skies remain cloudy each day.

(To the tune of “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” from “Carousel”)

Music by Richard Rodgers, original lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Meat is coming out your nostrils
I told you be careful what you wish
You grew weary of the manna and you whined and said “We wanna
eat some meat, perhaps some quail, a tasty dish”

Meat is coming out your nostrils
Perhaps now a lesson will be learned
When Your G”d gives you directions you rebut with insurrections
Thus Your G”d has every right to be concerned.
Because it’s meat – what a treat!
Stuff yourselves with meat! Meat! Meat!

(To the tune of the Sea Chanty “Blow the man Down”)

Eldad and Medad were two Israelite guys
Oy, vey! Look what they did!
Ecstatically throughout the camp prophesied
Someone tell Moshe, look what they did

But Moses’ response came as quite a surprise
Oy, vey! Look what they did!
Eldad and Medad have the spirit I prize
Spirit I wish was in every Yid!

(To the tune of “A Little Gossip” from”Man of La Mancha”)

Music by Mitch Leigh, original lyrics by Joe Darion

AHARON:A little gossip, a little chat
MIRIAM: A little idle talk of this and that
BOTH: Just brother-sister talk about our bro
A person’s gotta vent – can’t keep it in, y’know

AHARON: “Dearest Miriam what do you think of that woman?
Why would Moshe go and wed a Cushite dame?”
MIRIAM: ”My dear Aharon it’s a shanda, one I do not understand-a,
By his marriage he has brought our family shame!”

AHARON:A little gossip, a little chat
MIRIAM: A little idle talk of this and that
BOTH: Just brother-sister talk about our bro
A person’s gotta vent – can’t keep it in, y’know

MIRIAM: Brother Moshe seems to think he’s someone special
AHARON: How he lords it over us is just not fair
BOTH: I think the time has come to tell that G”d spoke through us two as well
Our rightful place as leaders we declare!

G”D: You little gossips, you little brats
It’s time for us to speak of tit for tats
Your brother Moshe is the one I chose
Your have invoked My wrath, your faults you do expose

MIRIAM: Oh my arm with snow white scales it now is covered
Though I notice too that Aharon is unharmed
MOSHE: I cry out to You  “El na r’fana lah”
G”D: She must pay the price, for seven days disarmed.

G”D: You should not gossip, you should not chat
Of other people, saying this and that
So treat all persons as yourself you’d treat
And you might reap rewards that would be hard to beat!

(To the tune of "They Call the Wind Maria" from "Paint Your Wagon")

Music by Frederick Loewe, original lyrics by Alan J. Lerner

In Sinai land they've got a name
For adults and old-timers
Who moan and gripe the whole day long
They call those Israelites whiners!

It's sad but true most of the time
These people cause their own ache
They oft forget the miracles
That G"d has done for their sake

They're whiners, they're whiners!
They call those Israelites whiners!

(To the tune of "Seventy-Six Trombones" from "The Music Man")

Music and original lyrics by Meredith Wilson

Both trumpets in long blasts call assembly
But just one horn blown means only chiefs
Blowing short blasts says that first the eastern tribes shall move
With the next short blasts shall come the south

All Aharon's sons shall become the trumpeters
Now and for all generations to come
In times of war short blasts will remind G"d of the pact
And on chagim, they'll call us all to G"d.

When you make the silver trumpets make them hammered work
Make sure they're loud, heard by the crowd, any time of day

You shall blow them on all holidays and on the new moon,
Each trumpet tune, showing the folks the way

On the twentieth day, the second month, the second year
Since the Pharoah let Israel go, then the cloud did rise
To signify the time was nigh to head to Paran from Sinai
Years from now only will some reach the prize.

Six-hundred-thirteen that's what the rabbis say
Are the number of mitzvot found in Torah
Though at Sinai we just heard ten, we will here them once again
Somewhat differently in D'varim
Lots of things happen while we are wand'ring round
Winnowing faithless out as we trod
While we wander the wilderness, and our mighty trumpets sound
We'll be marching, all our faith in G"d.

[All contrafacta lyrics ©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester]

Hope you enjoyed this little musical interlude.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'ha'alot'kha 5777 - Of Singin, G"d, and Bathrooms
B'ha'alot'kha 5775 - Between the Nuns
B'ha'alot'kha 5774 - Zechariah's Woo-Woo and Letting Go
B'ha'alot'kha 5773-Still Ecstatic After All These Years
B'ha'alot'kha 5771 - Mandatory Retirement
B'ha'alot'kha 5770 - Ecstasy (Redux 5760)
B'ha'alot'kha 5766 - Vay'hi Binsoa - Movin' Out, Movin' On
B'ha'alot'cha 5765-Unintended Results?
Beha'alotekha 5762 - Redux 5759 - The Kiss of Moshe
Beha'alotekha 5760-Ecstasy

Friday, June 14, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Naso 5779 - Refolding the Fourth Fold

Many years back, in 1994, I wrote a musing for Shabbat Naso that has been reused and reposted a few times as I always seem to run into conflicts around this time of year that keep me busy and make it difficult to write fresh musings. This year, I ran into those conflicts the past few weeks, and had to defer to recycled musings. I had the time to write an entirely new musing this week. I didn’t. I feel somewhat guilty at again recycling some older material, but, truth be told, I really did have a new insight to add, and even though I actually started putting together several different variation o entirely new musings, I kept coming back to wanting to expand upon this one just one more time. So here it is. It starts out with the original text used in 1994, then edited and updated in 2004 and 2007. I’ve done a small touch of new editing, interspersed a few new thoughts, and then added in my new thoughts at the end.

The Fourth Fold (Refolded)

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

Y'varech'cha Ad"nai v'yishmarekha

24 The LORD bless you and protect you!

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

Yaeir Ad"nai panav eilekha v'chuneka

25 The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם

Yisa Ad"nai panav eilekha, v’yaseim l'kha shalom.

26 The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

Y'varech'cha Ad"nai v'yishmarecha Yaeir Ad"nai panav eilecha v'chunecha Yisa Ad"nai panav eilecha, vayaseim l'cha shalom.

In the Ashkenazi rite, there is a fourth line that gets left off the Priestly benediction. (It is included in the Sephardi rite.)

וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarkhem.

27 Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

Yes, omitting it helps preserve the beautiful poetic structure of the three-fold benediction. And even modern leadership and management pundits sing the virtues of the triad in writing and speaking.

But in dropping this line from this blessing, I think perhaps we are losing something.

"They shall put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (The JPS version says "link My name" which, in context, also seems to fit.)

Some might say the fourth line merely restates the obvious. In each of the previous three lines, we are told that G"d is in charge, and it is by G"d's grace that good things are bestowed upon us. So why remind us that we need to link G"d's name with our people?

But that's exactly the point. We DO need to be reminded. Sometimes we don't make the connection-we take G"d for granted. And we forget the special nature of our connection with G"d - our holy covenant.

The threefold benediction has been bandied about a lot, especially in recent times, especially by liberal Jews. (The Orthodox generally reserve this benediction for particular usages and times. In Reform, especially, the usage has seen a wide variance.)  For one thing, it's not popular these days to say anything that might seem exclusivist. (That may be another reason the fourth line has been dropped from the blessing.)  In many congregations, the priestly benediction is used regularly at services as a replacement for the whole at home evening bless by parents of children (which also includes the Hamalakh HaGoel.) Routinely now, at services, parents with children present are asked to bless their children as the priestly benediction is said.

Yet again, in our discomfort with anything exclusivist (perhaps in this case, those present without children with them) we’re modifying our prayers and services. In fact, in the congregation where I work, and in other congregations around the country, the usage of an expanded version of the three-fold benediction has been introduced. I’ve heard several variations. In our congregation, parents with children present stand and the first two verses of the blessing are said. Then, the version we’re using starts the third benediction

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ

but then stops there, at which point everyone in the congregation is asked to stand, and the following more inclusive text is recited to complete the blessing:

הָרַחְמָן הּוא יְבָרְֵך אֶת כֻלָנּ

Harachaman Hu Y’varekh et kulanu,

וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לָנּ שָׁלֽוֹם

v’yaseim lanu shalom

May the Merciful One bestow favor upon all of us and grant us peace!

Note that I’m not complaining about or critical of this practice. In fact, I participated in helping to shape it. We have a young rabbi, and she has young children, and she has opened the congregation’s eyes to being welcoming and open to the presence of young children at services. Utilizing the priestly blessing as a moment to make families feel welcome and appreciated seems a somewhat appropriate choice. I’ll admit it can still be a little jarring, largely because we’re attempting to integrate it using a modified version of Steve Dropkin’s musical setting of Y’varekh’kha.  I’m not entirely sure we’ve yet found the best way to utilize the priestly blessing in an inclusive manner, but I’m all for experimenting with prayer and the worship service.

In congregations where adults at services generally outnumber children, it makes a certain sense to not make adults without any children, or with grown children, or simply with children who are not present to feel excluded, and this extended form of the priestly blessing can help accomplish that. At the same time, I do find myself asking why every moment must always be about everybody. I am very much a universalist, but even I think there are times and places where it is acceptable for Judaism to differentiate itself, and within Jewish practice for people to differentiate themselves (i.e. adults and children) as long as the differentiation is not in service, even unintentionally, to any form of repression, exclusion (i.e. misogyny, age-ism, etc.) or  exceptionalism. These are the challenges of shaping Judaism (and Jewish education) for the 21st century and beyond.

Despite the daily horror show in which we are living, especially here in the U.S., there are good things happening around us. Our children are certainly more universalist in their attitudes, more accepting and embracing of diversity (almost to the point of not really seeing differences, for example, between a married couple of two genders or just one.) When Judaism is trying to sell the exclusivism, they’re just not buying it. If we aren’t helping them pave the way to their imagined and desired future, we simply become obstacles to be brushed aside, or trampled underneath. If we work with them side-by-side, we can help them to understand when and where there are places to allow for things that are, if not exclusive or unique, things, ideas, practices, etc. which we hold particularly dear to ourselves as Jews.

I’ve really digressed, and I’d like to circle back now to where this musing started back when it was first written. I want to come back to the priestly blessing as we inherited it. Forget any modifications for inclusivity (though ignore the inherent gendering of the language, if you can.)

From the preceding verses (22 and 23) it’s clear that this blessing was to be said by the priests. Well, they’re gone. The rabbis, through the story of the oven at Ahknai, and various other devices, seem to have made themselves the inheritors of the power the Torah grants to the priests of Aaron to recite this blessing on behalf of the people. It's been used at all sorts of occasions, and in all sorts of contexts, and by all sort of people – ordained clergy, lay leaders, people who claim the status of being a kohen or not.  It is also widely in use in Christian worship. It's my personal belief, too, that sometimes it's a bit overused-simply because it is such a powerful piece of poetry and prayer. Really, really good blessings like this one-do they lose their power and majesty when overused? Can one really overuse a prayer or blessing? Some would say not. I think we can, and I believe we are the worse for it, despite good intentions (remember Nadav and Avihu? On the other hand, remember Eldad and Medad. Sigh.) I find it a very powerful and moving blessing, elegant in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity, in the manner of Mozart. (Better, surely, than Mozart, for its author outshines Mozart in every way!) But again I digress.

I think the priestly benediction has lost the connection to its original purpose, because of the omission of the fourth line. It has become a prayer where we, as a community, or as individuals, ask and pray for G"d's blessing. In it's original form, I think perhaps it was a telling or an instruction. G"d will bless you and keep you. G"d will make G”d's face to shine on you. G"d will bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.

וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarkhem.

27 Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

This is the true and full meaning of the blessing, in my view. G"d will keep us, because G"d has a special covenant with us, and will bless the people Israel. (That doesn't mean G"d won't bless or keep anybody else. Our covenant doesn't necessarily make us better than others. If anything, it is an obligation and a burden.) This fourth line is our reminder of who we are, and that in all our prayers, we must remember G"d's covenant with us. It's hard, in the aftermath of the Shoah, in the aftermath of almost two millennia of persecution and misfortune, and in light of modernity, to sometimes remember that we, Israel, are a covenanted people. It thus being so hard, we all the more need now to include this fourth line with our use of the threefold benediction (I think all my past English teachers would shudder at that sentence...but I digress again.) When so much about us makes us doubt G"d, makes us doubt the reality and continuance of Israel's covenant with G"d, we need to be reminded.

Perhaps there’s a way to incorporate this fourth line with the additional or modified non-exclusionary language, making the prayer even more inclusive?

OK, so here I am again in 2019, realizing there’s an additional point I want to make. More than the including of the original fourth verse of the blessing serves to illuminate our covenantal relationship with G”d, I believe it serves an even greater purpose. It (like the revisions being used in my congregation and elsewhere) draws attention to this as a communal blessing. The first three verses are in the singular. (And this is also why they have become and work well as part of the normative bedtime prayers by parents for children.) Those are not plural “you” suffixes. (They could have been. The prayer could have been written as “May G”d bless y’all…”) That does not mean that we do not understand the “you” as meaning each of us – but “each of us” is not the same as “all of us” (and now, as a I think about it, this may be why I haven’t fully grown to appreciate or accept the revised version using “kulanu.”) When the priests said these words to the people, each person understood that it was being spoken to each of them, individually. It’s the missing fourth line (at least in the Ashkenazi rite) that reaffirms that the individual “yous” are all part of the blessing and the covenant as “b’nei Yisrael” the “children of Israel.” It’s a subtle difference: “each of us” and “all of us.” Or is it? This is sometimes I think we all need to think about and consider.

So I conclude as I did back in 1999:

Next time you say or hear this powerful blessing, trying adding that extra line:

וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarkhem.

27 Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

My prayer for you and yours this Shabbat: link G"d's name with the people of Israel, your people, so that you remember G"d's covenant with them-with you. I pray this for  each of us. For all of us.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 2019 (portions ©1999, 2004, 2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Naso 5778 – G'd's Roadies (Revised and Revisited)
Nasso 5775 - West-Tzorah-Side Story
Naso 5773 - Guilt. Self. It.
Naso 5772 - Keeping Me On My Toes II
Naso 5771 - The Nazarite Conundrum
Nasso 5770 - Cherubic Puzzles
Naso 5768 - G"d's Roadies
Naso 5767 (Redux 5759) - The Fourth Fold
Naso 5765-Northeast Gaza-Side Story
Naso 5763--Lemon Pledge
Naso 5759-The Fourth Fold
Naso 5760-Bitter Waters
Naso 5761-Keeping Me On My Toes
Naso 5762-Wondrous Names (Haftarah Naso from Judges)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’har 5779-The Many Rabbit Holes of Leviticus 25:23

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃

But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.

I don’t know about you, but the text here seems pretty clear. We don’t own the land, G”d owns the land.

To be fair, let’s place it in its context – a discussion of the Jubilee year. Every fifty years, land is returned to its original owner – debts are forgiven.

The presupposition here is that G”d has assigned lands to all the tribes (except the Levites) and the Jubilee allows for all lands of each tribe to return in their custody, even when given in pledge.

Many of today’s social activists see the Jubilee year as a biblically mandated from of wealth distribution. (You’ll find just as many writers taking that notion apart piece by piece.) Though I’m most often from the camp of dissectors when it comes to Torah (and especially to rabbinic interpretation of it) in this case my heart wants to be with the social activists. I want the whole notion of regular equitable distribution of wealth to be a biblically-mandated idea. Alas, wanting won’t make it so.

Then there’s my next want – my want about Leviticus 25:23. If all land belongs not to us, but to G”d, then all our territorial squabbles are meaningless. Yet how like the G”d of the Jewish tradition giving us obviously competing mandates. G”d promises a particular swath of land to Abraham and his descendants, simply in exchange for a promise of righteous behavior (a requirement that gets slowly refined over the course of the biblical story until it is a covenant in the style of a Suzerain-Vassal treaty.) However, before G”d prepares to make good on that promise, G”d reminds Abraham’s descendants to not forget that ultimately, the land belongs to G”d. Huh?

In a covenantal sense, perhaps it is just a form of the “I gave it to you and I can take it away just as easy” model of parenting. That fits in sort of nicely with our history – or at least, as we explain/rationalize our history of losing tenancy, regaining it after a brief exile, losing it again, and then regaining it again thousands of years later.

Why, I ask, do we stubbornly refuse to see these words in a starker context – that land ownership itself is but a mere chimera for humanity G”d simply tolerates our presence. We, as a species might retort “well hey there, G”d, You created us, therefore you are obligated to provide a place for us.” Who says that place is this amazing planet, stuck in such a Goldilocks zone of habitability (at least for our form of life.)

The Abrahamic faiths all have a complicated relationship with land ownership and rights. I wondered about other cultures, and soon discovered a rabbit hole so huge that I barely trusted myself to explore the very edges. Even the notion of native American culture that eschewed private land ownership has far greater nuance to it that you might imagine. Just coming to terms with Judaism’s, Christianity’s, and Islam’s history with land rights and land ownership reveals its share of surprises. I poked my head into the religions of ancient India and ancient China and came out barely able to breadth and range of the history. Religions ultimately reshape to accommodate the basic ethics and beliefs of their cultures. Perhaps it’s more of a dance, with the religions helping to shape as much as being shaped by, but it is complicated.

Yet here is one place where perhaps uncomplicating things could be so very helpful. Accepting that ultimately, all of the earth does not belong to us could go a long way to teaching us to care for it. On the other hand, it could also turn us into lazy tenants who don’t care – let the landlord fix it, we don’t own it.

Darn. I thought I had this and then I blew a hole in my own theory. I haven’t seen G”d stepping up to solve global warming.  Oh wait, that wasn’t where I was going with this initially. Maybe I can yet redeem my thesis.

Yes, G”d promised that land to Abraham’s descendants. Yes, a small remnant has remained (relatively) faithful to that covenant (but only within the confines of their jury-rigged Rube Goldberg-esque twisted-like-a-pretzel understanding – aka oral Torah and rabbinic law.) Might not be enough for G”d to consider it valid (and maybe that’s why we haven’t heard from G”d in so long?) So does G”d really recognize this third instance of Jewish semi-sovereignty over the promised land? Or is G”d invoking the “all land is G”d’s” clause? In which case, Israel, the Palestinians, and indeed all the neighboring states need to get over this “our land” thing. None of it is anybody’s land. Learn to live on it together as neighbors, in peace. That is what G”d would want.

That, of course, leads down another rabbit hole, one around whose edge I also danced this week – reviewing old readings and finding new ones on the topic of “do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same G”d?”  My personal answer to that is a resounding yes, but because I am who I am, I feel compelled to learn about all sides of that question. Not all are in agreement on this point, and I must accept that some of those who do not agree with me on this are still people of good faith.

My fall-back stance, when this sort of question comes up, is always that only a G”d who understands that within all of its creation, the beings inhabiting that creation might all need differing paths of understanding and connection with G”d. G”d, even One G”d, can still be many different things to many different people. That is the true nature, the true glory, the true awesomeness of G”d.

So, even though Il;ve lots more rabbit-hole exploring to do, and there’s always the possibility that my mind might be changed by those explorations, here’s where I stand right now on Leviticus 25:23.

1. (If G”d exists and created this creation then)All land, and I mean all land in this creation, belongs to G”d.

2. Therefore, no human culture, religious group, tribe, nation, etc. has any greater claim to any land than anyone else. (That is, on a religious basis. Secularly, it’s a whole other ball game.)

3. Israel and the Palestinians just need to cut this nonsense out right now and learn to live together. Your religious claims are all abrogated by G”d’s ownership of the land.

3a. We all share the same G”d.

There see. I’ve solved the problem.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'har 5774 - Avadim hayinu v'ata Avadim Heim
Behar 5765-Ki Gerim v'Toshavim Atem Imadi
Behar 5763-Ownership
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd

B'har-B'khukotai 5778 - Row, Row, Row Your Boat
B'har-B'khukotai 5777 - Keri Is So Very... (Revisited 5763)
B'har B'khukotai 5773 - In Smite Of It All
B'har-B'khukotai 5772 - Scared of Leaves (Redux & Revised 5769)
B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Emor 5779–Shor Spot

Anyone who is a semi-regular reader of my musings recognizes that I don’t exactly agree with a lot of the rabbinic interpretations and understandings of the Torah – informed, as they are – by, in my humble opinion, the conceived of whole cloth “oral Torah.”  Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to create, redact, and edit an entire set of understandings that undergird one’s own pre-conceived ideas?

I recognize that’s pretty harsh. The Torah clearly requires a little help with understanding a significant portion of its contents, and it’s certainly likely that some common understandings of how to interpret unclear texts developed over the millennia before the rabbis attempted to record them. So perhaps saying they come from “whole cloth” is a bit histrionic. From the evolution of praxis and traditions is probably a fairer description. The problem with assuming these laws were handed down simultaneously with the Torah is that it negates or minimizes what might have been hundreds of generations of attempting to make sense of things. It assumes G”d didn’t think we were up to the task of understanding the Torah, and, at least for me, that is in direct contradiction to the words of Torah herself in Deuteronomy 30:12 (the “lo bashamayim hi” – the Torah is not in heaven, not too difficult or baffling for us. Of course, the rabbis abrogated our  individual rights with the story of the oven at Akhnai, and made themselves the defacto interpreters and deciders.)

Right here, in this parasha, is a classic example of what I like to call FWTTOTT – effing with the text of the Torah.

וְשׁ֖וֹר אוֹ־שֶׂ֑ה אֹת֣וֹ וְאֶת־בְּנ֔וֹ לֹ֥א תִשְׁחֲט֖וּ בְּי֥וֹם אֶחָֽד׃

However, no animal from the herd or from the flock shall be slaughtered on the same day with its young [JPS]

However, a bovine or ovine, itself, and its sons (children) you shall not slaughter on the same day. [my translation]

Let’s look at the words:


A unitary noun representing a single beast of a (bovid) herd, בָּקָר,  often translated as ox (and sometimes cow) although it is a masculine noun.


A unitary noun representing a single beast of a flock צֹאן (ovine or caprine) often translated as sheep or goat

According to some linguists, both unitary nouns are meant to represent a single beast of either gender. This all gets further complicated by the fact that Hebrew has multiple words for animals, some of them synonyms, and others differentiating between species and sub-species, all of which have singular and plural male and female forms. (Though it’s my belief that this then lends greater credence to my contention that shor and se are non-gendered unitary nouns.)

As many of these others words for cows, oxen, sheep, goats and other sacrificial animals are attested to in the Torah (though some only in Nakh) this suggests that the authors of the Torah ( or The Author, if you prefer that understanding) had a choice of terms, and made deliberate choices. It would have been easy to write this text to clearly mean “a mother and its child should not be slaughtered on the same day” or “a parent and its child should not be slaughtered on the same day.” The Author/authors chose otherwise.

Given this, it would seem the plain meaning here is that no animal and either of its parents should be slaughtered on the same day (sundown to sundown.)

But no, say the rabbis. This only applies to mothers and sons. Rashi, Nachmanides concur. (Ibn Ezra agrees with me that it applies to both genders.) In Talmud, Chullin 78 there is a protracted discussion of this verse and its implications. As is typical, it cites other verses in Torah to bolster its conclusions. I agree with that methodology in principle – cherry-picking verses in isolation isn’t really fair.

But here’s the rub – I don’t find this verse difficult to understand. It prohibits slaughtering (ostensibly for sacrifice, if we take it in context with the previous verse which prohibits sacrificing any animal until it is 8 days old) any animal and any of its parents on the same day. Period. (Talmud does fairly raise the point that the structure of the Hebrew does seem to indicate it refers to only one parent

אֹת֣וֹ וְאֶת־בְּנ֔ו

– it, and its sons/children - meaning perhaps that one could slaughter one of the parents. But that seems illogical to me.)

So here’s the question. What practical end was served by the rabbis deciding that this meant only that a mother and her child could not be sacrificed on the same day? Were most sacrifices male? Did our ancestors not perceive the familial bond between father and child to be as important as between mother and child?

Did our ancestors not understand the reason for this commandment? Is it about animal cruelty, or does it have some other underpinning? Torah is not clear about the why, just the what – so the rabbis rule to adjust the what based on their understanding of the why. Something feels wrong about this process.

For that matter, why the preceding commandment to not sacrifice an animal younger than 8 days old? Quite frankly, that seems to be a pretty low barrier. By the 8th day, a good shepherd or herder could tell, even in those days, how healthy and strong an animal that 8-day-old beast might grow up to be, and easily play a game of sacrificing those that showed less promise – though this is tempered by G”d’s insistence that sacrificial animals be pure – so an obvious defect would disqualify.

On the one hand, this is the stuff that makes my head want to explode. On the other hand, this is the stuff that makes me challenge anyone who says they know, with absolute certainty, what every commandment in the Torah means.

If it’s not obvious by now, this should tell us all why the “because G”d said so” rational was created. Well, I was never that enamored of that rationale. I’m even less enamored when it becomes “because that’s what we, the rabbis, have decided that this is what G”d said.”

So why does it matter? I’m certainly not for a return to the sacrificial system even if the Temple should be rebuilt. It matters if I want to work to reclaim for each of us, as individual Jews, the right to interpret and understand the Torah. It matters if I want to see a movement that eventually leads to the creation of  new, modern 21st-Century academies of Torah in Diaspora, with the goal of creating a new Talmud, new Halakha, new understandings of our sacred heritage that will enable us to successfully navigate the survive the coming centuries. We all have a lot of studying to do to even make that even an idea worth considering. I’m game. Are you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Emor 5778 - A Quixotic Hope on the Camino Real
Emor 5777 - Mum's the Word (Revised & Revisited 5760)
Emor 5775 - Missing the appointment
Emor 5774 - Lex Talionis (Redux & Revised from 5759)
Emor 5773 - The Half-Israelite Blasphemer
Emor 5772-Eternal EffortII: We Have Met the Ner Tamid and It Is Us
Emor 5771-B'yom HaShabbat, B'yom HaShabbat
Emor 5770 - G"d's Shabbat II
Emor 5767-Redux and Revised 5761-Eternal Effort
Emor 5766 - Mum's the Word (Redux 5760 with new commentary for 5766)
Emor 5765-Out of Sync
Emor 5764-One Law for All
Emor 5763-Mishpat Ekhad
Emor 5758-Gd's Shabbat
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum's the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort

Friday, May 10, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Kedoshim 5779-Just Read It

Yes, there are a few kickers and head-scratchers, but, for the most part the contents of parashat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapters 19 and 20 contain a significant bulk of what is required for us to live in and maintain a just world of which both we and G”d can be proud.

I’ve spent the better part of this week writing and rewriting this musing, trying to highlight this wisdom and weave it into some sort of coherent system. Numerous false starts. Here is it Friday afternoon. Just not there yet.  I give up. Just go read it for yourself and see what you can make of it.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Kedoshim 5774 - Torateinu V'Eloheinu Uv'atzmeinu-Equally Imperfect
Kedoshim 5768-Unfamiliar Spirits
Kedoshim 5771 & 5763 - Oil and Water
Kedoshim 5760 & 5765 - Torah for Dummies

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778 - Same Yet Different
Acharei Mot-Kedosim 5777 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything (Revisited from 5767) (or A Hymn to Homonyms)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773 - Revisiting Schrödinger's Cat
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5772 - Don't Forget That The Goat Goes Free
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770 - Redux 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5769-Schroedinger's Cat 5769 (Redux 5761 w/new comments)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything?
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5766-Redux 5761 & 5762
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5764-Whither Zion?
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761 - Schroedinger's Cat & Torah

Friday, May 3, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Acharei Mot 5779–Once More, With Feeling

Pure fun for this Shabbat. Or is it? You decide.

It’s all about the blood, ‘bout the blood - no drinking.

Torah is pretty hung up on blood. Blood of all kinds. Animal blood. Menstrual blood. Sacrificial blood. Human blood. (insert a funny "haha" from Sesame Street's Count here.)

The consumption of an animal’s blood is prohibited to all humanity as one of the so-called Noahide laws (Gen 9:4.) It is repeated in Leviticus (3:17, 7:26) and here in our parasha in emphatic and explicit terms (Lev 17:11-15.)

וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹאכַ֖ל כָּל־דָּ֑ם וְנָתַתִּ֣י פָנַ֗י בַּנֶּ֙פֶשׁ֙ הָאֹכֶ֣לֶת אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וְהִכְרַתִּ֥י אֹתָ֖הּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמָּֽהּ׃

And if anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin.

כִּ֣י נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֮ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒ וַאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־הַדָּ֥ם ה֖וּא בַּנֶּ֥פֶשׁ יְכַפֵּֽר׃

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that effects expiation.

עַל־כֵּ֤ן אָמַ֙רְתִּי֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כָּל־נֶ֥פֶשׁ מִכֶּ֖ם לֹא־תֹ֣אכַל דָּ֑ם וְהַגֵּ֛ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶ֖ם לֹא־יֹ֥אכַל דָּֽם׃ (ס)

Therefore I say to the Israelite people: No person among you shall partake of blood, nor shall the stranger who resides among you partake of blood.

וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָצ֜וּד צֵ֥יד חַיָּ֛ה אוֹ־ע֖וֹף אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵאָכֵ֑ל וְשָׁפַךְ֙ אֶת־דָּמ֔וֹ וְכִסָּ֖הוּ בֶּעָפָֽר׃

And if any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.

כִּֽי־נֶ֣פֶשׁ כָּל־בָּשָׂ֗ר דָּמ֣וֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ֮ הוּא֒ וָֽאֹמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל דַּ֥ם כָּל־בָּשָׂ֖ר לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֑לוּ כִּ֣י נֶ֤פֶשׁ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ דָּמ֣וֹ הִ֔וא כָּל־אֹכְלָ֖יו יִכָּרֵֽת׃

For the life of all flesh—its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off.

Interestingly enough, except for one text (Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu Rabbah, 15) the rabbis state that consumption of human blood is not expressly prohibited by Torah. Of course, that never stopped the rabbis from prohibiting anything, so they, too prohibit the consumption of human blood, and it becomes halacha.  Spilling the blood of a fellow human being is another matter, and one which is, under almost all circumstances, and allowing for practical defense of one’s own life, prohibited. From my modern perspective verses 11-15, at a p’shat level, do not distinguish, and refer to any and all kinds of blood. But the rabbis don’t recognize either extreme, opting instead to prohibit the consumption of the lifeblood of cattle, beasts, and fowl. Other types of blood may be consumed - but not human.

So the notion of Jewish vampires would be problematic, nu? Yet some of the oldest vampire stories are from Jewish sources, though authorities generally agree that the stories were likely assimilated into Jewish culture from the surrounding Polish and Romanian cultures.

Sefer Hasidim has the striya (or estrie) who flies, and who needs to drink the blood of a live human to survive. Another book from the time, Sefer HaRokeah also mentions striya.

Because she kills at night, Lilith is sometimes likened to a vampire, but I think that’s a stretch, and she fits more into the succubus myth and classic demonology than the vampiric myth. “Lilith who?” you ask. Not the character on Cheers. If you;re not familiar with the myth of Lilith, it’s well worth your time exploring. Here’s a basic start:

Many Jews are uncomfortable with vampires largely because they have seen it used and associated with the anti-Semitic Blood Libel trope. Yet many Jews who would scorn the idea of a Jewish vampire might obtain an amulet to ward off Lilith or the evil eye (or, for that matter, post a picture of The Rebbe.)

Back in 2010, Jewish author Lavie Tidhar spoke of his desire to reclaim the place of Judaism in the popular mythos of magic, demons, elves, vampires, etc. He lamented how he was always bothered that it was the cross and holy water that could subdue the vampire. This was his inspiration for his book “An Occupation of Angels.” He even wrote about it for the Forward:

So why not a Jewish vampire? Think about it. A cross and holy water would have no effect. (What might, in their place? A mezuzah? A magen David? Manischewitz?) Would we have to develop a va’ad to certify kosher blood? Can a vampire who keeps kosher drink the blood of a gentile? A heretic? An apostate? An idol worshipper? How long must a vampire wait after consuming the blood of someone who has just eaten meat before he can drink the blood of someone who has just eaten dairy? Vampies, it is said, effectually proselytize, seeking to turn others into vampires. How compatible is that with Judaism? Must a Jewish vampire refuse a request to bite a non-Jewish human three times before allowing them to become a vampire? How will the intersection of vampirism and the laws of niddah be handled? Can a Jewish woman become a vampire? Can a female Jewish vampire get s’micha? and become a rabbi. How will the various movements treat the vampires among them?  What will distinguish Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructing, Renewal from each other? Where will Jewish vampires pray at the wall? Can an undead person say Kaddish yatom? Can a non-Jewish vampire convert to Judaism? Can a Haredi man sit next to a vampire on an airplane? Will a really strict ultra-orthodox vampire only bite someone through a hole in a sheet?

What would life be like for the Jewish vampire? How would the Jewish community deal with them? I can just hear the official line now, ringing with familiarity to some orthodox approaches to homosexuality. It’s OK to be a vampire, it’s just not OK to act on your desire to drink human blood. SMH.

All this is a little silly, no? On one level yes. On other levels, perhaps not.

Like Lavie Tidhar, I would like to reclaim the literary and mythical realms of our imaginations as authentically Jewish. We need not model everything after a European Christian worldview. Why not Arthurian legends recast in a Jewish framework? (The Once and Future Rabbi?)  Middle earth?  The Tanakh provides as much fodder for stories of intrigue as whatever culture George R.R. Martin based his Song of Ice and Fire stories. Where’s the Jewish Hogwarts ? (Nevermind that J.K. has already told us there were Jewish characters in the Harry Potter books.)

Maybe we can get Sandra Bullock to star in “Spice Box.”

Where is Guy Gavriel Kay’s pseudo-historical fiction based on say, the Solomonic era?

(As for serious historical fiction, you need look no further than the brilliant Israeli author Yochi Brandes.

Let’s reclaim a piece of all of it. (All of it, that is, except zombies. I just don’t get zombies. But that’s my problem, I suppose. Alright, we can have zombies. I guess I sort of already accept the premise since GOT kind of uses it. But I might never even be tempted to watch “The Walking Dead.”  Then again, I said that about GOT once, too. Sigh.)

Lavie Tidhar and Rebeca Levene edited  “Jews versus Zombies” back in 2015.

There’s Jewish sci-fi out there too.  Though they’re dated, check out “Wandering Stars” and the sequel “More Wandering Stars.” Tidhar and Levene also edited “Jews Versus Aliens” the same year as the aforementioned “Jews and Zombies.”

I just heard there’s a new Israeli series about  a Jewish vampire streaming on Hulu. Time to check it out.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

P.S. – The title is a Buffy reference.

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Akharei Mot 5765-The Ways of Egypt and Canaan (revised)
Acharei Mot 5763--Immoral Relativisms?
Acharei Mot 5760-The Ways of Egypt & Canaan

Akharei Mot-Shabbat Hagadol 5771 -  Ultimate Tzimtzum
Acharei Mot/Shabbat Hagadol 5774 - Let My People Barf
Akharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol 5768  - Why Wait for Elijah?

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778 - Same Yet Different
Acharei Mot-Kedosim 5777 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything (Revisited from 5767) (or A Hymn to Homonyms)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773 - Revisiting Schrödinger's Cat
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5772 - Don't Forget That The Goat Goes Free
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770 - Redux 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5769-Schroedinger's Cat 5769 (Redux 5761 w/new comments)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything?
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5766-Redux 5761 & 5762
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5764-Whither Zion?
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761 - Schroedinger's Cat & Torah

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Shabbat 22 Nissan 5779–So What Do I Write About?

I don’t normally like to repeat a musing with the same theme as the previous year. This year, I broke that rule – and did so by writing on the same subject without looking over what I wrote last year, just to see where else I might go, might make different choices of focus, etc. I did not disappoint myself. So before you read this year’s musing, read the one from last year:

Then come back here.

Random Musing Before Shabbat – 22 Nissan 5779 – So What Do I Write About

OK, so this is one of those odd Shabbatot. In traditional Judaism, it’s not odd at all. The rabbis of the Talmud endorsed the practice of adding additional days to calendrical chagim outside of Eretz Israel, thus endorsing the practice of observing the three pilgrimage holidays for 8 days in the Diaspora (and only 7 days in Eretz Israel.) Even though modern technology obviates the concern which prompted the creation of these extra days of observance, the Talmud urges us to keep our calendar as a surety against losing our traditions in the face of persecution.

The Reform movement officially rejects these extra days (with the exception of Rosh Hashanah, which, it can be argued, is a different situation entirely. More on that later.) Thus Reform Judaism as a movement (but not every Reform Jew) recognizes and observes 7 days for the pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot, Pesakh, and Shavuot.

In many years, this does not present an issue. But when the chag begins on Shabbat (meaning that the eighth day will also fall on the next Shabbat) there’s an issue with what Torah reading falls on that eighth day Shabbat. In Israel, where on;y 7 days are observed, the practice is that the next parasha is read, thus Israel and the Diaspora get out of sync for a few weeks. Luckily, there are rules that help us get back in sync, though not that quickly. Brace yourself for a lot of arcane rules that guide the assignment of the parshiyot  based on the Hebrew calendar. Skip if you want, but you might find it quite enlightening.

These four basic principles guide the Jewish calendar vis-a-vis Torah readings:

    1. Parshat B’reishit is always read on the first Shabbat following the 22nd of Tishrei.
    2. Every Shabbat has a weekly parshah reading assigned, unless it coincides with a major holiday (Pesakh, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, or Sh’mini Atzeret).
    3. There are seven pairs of parshiyot that can be doubled up (six in Eretz Israel): Vayakhel-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, Acharei-Kedoshim, Behar-Bechukotai, Chukat-Balak (only outside Israel), Matot-Mas'ei, and Nitzavim-Vayelech.
    4. V’zot Hab’rachah will always be the reading on Simchat Torah (or in Israel, Shemini Atzeret), whether or not it is a Shabbat.

Based on these four understandings, the yearly cycle is then governed by this halakhah from Shulkhan Aruch, Orakh Chayyim 428:4

  • In a regular (non-leap) year, the Shabbat before Pesakh is always Parshat Tzav. In a leap year, it is M’tzora (or, when Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday, Acharei Mot)

    • This requires that Vayakhel-Pekudei be combined in most regular years (except when Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday and the year is "complete," because then there's an extra Shabbat available between Simchat Torah and Pesakh). They will be separated in all leap years.

  • On the Shabbat before Shavuot, parashat Bamidbar is always read (except in leap years in which Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday, then it will be parashat Naso).

    To make this work,  in a normal year three sets of parshiyot in Sefer Vayikra are combined: Tazria-Metzora, Acharei-Kedoshim, and Behar-Bechukotai. (The exception - in Israel, in years when Pesach begins on Shabbat, because then 22 Nissan has a weekly parshah assigned, as it's a regular Shabbat. In that case, in Israel, Behar and Bechukotai are separated.) All three of these pairs of parshiyot will be separated in leap years.

  • The Shabbat after Tish'a B'Av the reading is always Parshat Va'etkhanan.

    This requires that in most years Matot-Mas'ei is combined. Exceptions – in the disapora leap years in which Rosh Hashanah is on a Thursday, and in Israel, leap years when Pesakh begins on Shabbat. In those settings, Matot and Masei will be read separately. In the Diaspora, years when Shavuot is on Friday and Shabbat, Chukat-Balak will have to be combined.

  • The Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah is always parashat Nitzavim.

    To make this work out (and still have all of the parshiyot read by Simchat Torah), in years when Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday or Shabbat, Nitzavim-Vayelech are combined and read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.

Phew.   Now, this system complicates things, so that generally, Israel and the Diaspora remain out of sync until the last of the combined parshiyot in sefer Vayikra. It would be so much simpler if we could get back in sync quicker, but the halakha prevents that.

I’ve made inquiries but haven’t really gotten a serious answer to my question of why Reform simply doesn’t following eretz Israel for a few weeks, since that is a long established tradition and custom not requiring inventing or creating something new.

(It should also be pointed out that all over North America, Reform congregations differ in their practices – some follow the URJ’s newer practice of this “half parshiyot, ” others following eretz Yisrael until things are in sync again, and yet others follow orthodox tradition and read that traditional 8th day on Shabbat reading staying in total sync with all the non-Reform Jews in North America – with the exception of some who follow Yemenite practice, which is another story altogether.)

While I can understand the logic of not following orthodox practice, I’m not sure I understand the choice to not follow Israel. There’s a part of me that wonders if this is a remnant of assimilationist tendencies from early Reform in which we sought to be like our “Christian” neighbors – only in this case, the neighbors we are seeking to be like are our fellow non-Reform Jews in North America. Let me explain that, since on its face it makes no sense. Reform creates this “half parasha” which hardly seems an attempt to be like our Conservative and orthodox neighbors in North American galut. However, the ultimate result of doing it this way puts us back in sync with our local Jewish neighbors in just a week, rather than the weeks that following the Israeli reading calendar would require until we’re back in sync again. So perhaps we’re placing the desire to be more quickly back in sync with traditional/orthodox North American diaspora Jews over following an already established tradition of readings when only 7 days of a chagim are observed as they are in Israel?

Marat ayin? Which is easier to explain to non-Jews in North America. Reform being out of sync with all the other North American Jews for a bunch of weeks, or just a week?

Personally, I think I favor following the practice in eretz Israel. We have determined that there is no need for 8 day chagim, just as it has been tradition of long-standing (even from Biblical times) in Israel to observe the Torah mandated 7 days for these holidays. A full week. 87 days. The number of completion, the number of days of creation (we’ll set aside the controversy of whether or not G”d’s “finishing” on Shabbat actually represents work done by G”d on the seventh day or not.)

Being the gadfly I am, when I raised this question on some online fora, I couldn’t resist adding a fourth option for Reform. Follow Israel, follow Diaspora, make up these “half-parshiyot” to get Reform back in sync with other North American  Jews faster, or why not simply create entirely new readings for these Shabbatot when they occur? Now, I don’t personally think that’s a great option, but I wonder if it was ever considered?

As a movement, we’ve considered and reconsidered all sorts of things. Things once removed without much objection from the siddurim of the movement have found their way back in. In early iterations of Mishkan T’filah, the second paragraph of the Sh’ma/V’ahavta was offered as an option (with some more objectionable text in a smaller type size.) That eventually got shot down, but at least it was considered. Plus the proponents at least got a partial victory with the restoration of the first section of the third paragraph (the tzitzit section.)

I mentioned earlier how many Reform congregations still follow the practice of observing two days of Rosh Hashanah (even though on the RJ website they state that most observe only one.) Why two in Israel ?It’s complicated, but the simple explanation is that it is the only holiday that falls on the first day of a month, the time of the new moon. In biblical Israel, there was no fixed calendar. Each new month was declared based on the sighting of the new moon (or to be more specific, the absence of a visible sliver of moon.) Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, as most holidays started on other days of the month. However, since Rosh Hashanah would have started immediately with the appearance of the new moon, and the witness could not report this until the next morning or later, the court had to simply assume that the 30th day after the new moon of Elul was the 1st of Tishrei, and thus Rosh Hashanah. If they were wrong, and it turns out the next day was Rosh Hashanah – well, they had already declared that day as Rosh Hashanah, and therefore couldn’t send out messengers throughout Israel to announce that fact. The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that this practice actually dated back to the time of the prophets (though this doesn’t make a lot of sense.) Once the rabbis established a fixed calendar (around the 4th Century CE) some Jews still living in Israel wanted to go back to a single day of Rosh Hashanah. However, it was determined that two days would be observed – one to honor the biblical commandment, and the other to honor the tradition of the Talmud Yerushalmi.

As I did with the arcane rules about the assigning of the Torah readings based on the calendar, I could go into far greater depth about the two-day Rosh Hashanah (and frankly, I originally did in earlier drafts of this musing) but I decided if you were really interested in al this, you could do your own research. Don’t want to burden you with too much information.

An argument that has sometimes been used in modern times to justify following the two-day practice for Rosh Hashanah is that it makes certain in years when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, that the shofar can still be heard, as that is a mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah. This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in Reform settings, where musical instruments are already routinely used on Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah. So we’ll allow the use of instruments, but we won’t blow shofar on Shabbat? Talk about picking and choosing. (Again, customs differ, and some Reform congregations do blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat.)

I remain conflicted as to what to write about for this Shabbat – thus I wrote about what has me conflicted, as a sort of cartharsis. Now I have to decided what I will write about for the next few weeks. I guess, by failing to write about Acharei Mot this Shabbat I’ve made my choice already. I’ll be following Diaspora Ashkehnazi custom, at least for this year.

So while I explored some of the same things, this year’s musing had a somewhat different focus than last year. It’s interesting to consider what led me down these different paths, what things are happening in my life that influence my writing choices. Thanks for indulging me.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Shabbat 22 Nissan 5778 - OTD: On and Off the Derekh
Pesakh 5778 - Odds and Ends
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5777 - Valley of The Donald
April 11, 2015 - Cop Out
Pesakh 5775 - Day Off (Literally)
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5773 - The Whole House of Israel
Pesach 5772 - Don't Believe This
Pesach 8th Day 5772 - The Bread of Freedom
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 - Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 - Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis

Friday, April 12, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat-M’tzora 5779-K’nega Nira Li Babayit

כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֑ה וְנָתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽם׃

14:34 When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess,

וּבָא֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֣וֹ הַבַּ֔יִת וְהִגִּ֥יד לַכֹּהֵ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר כְּנֶ֕גַע נִרְאָ֥ה לִ֖י בַּבָּֽיִת׃

14:35 the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.”

OK. I’m following directions. כְּנֶ֕גַע נִרְאָ֥ה לִ֖י בַּבָּֽיִת׃. K’nega nira li babayit.

Something like a plague has appeared on my house. In fact, something like a plague has appeared on both my houses – the one I call home, and the one that is the home of my people.

I come to you as you are a priest, and I am commanded to tell you this news. You, in turn, are commanded to order the house cleared out so that you may examine it, and so that nothing else can possibly become contaminated.

So, come take a look. See those streaks on the walls there. I have some ideas as to what might be causing them.

[Insert here your litany of ways in which our house, aka the United States of America, has become unclean]

I had originally included my own list, but I think it’s better as an interactive exercise. It also allows you, the reader, to choose the perspective. You can make that perspective political, cultural, religious, ethical, philosophical, etc. and/or any combination of those. I would urge you, at first, to try and iterate as many of those as you can off the top of your head, before resorting to entering things like “the worst things x has done since becoming President” into a Google search. I think you may find this an interesting exercise. You probably won’t have trouble creating an initial list. Then you’ll dig online and discover how the totality of your list pales in comparison to all that you can discover online. There is value in those “oh yeah, I forgot about that” moments. Creating so many moments that one tends to forget some of them is exactly the effect “they” are after, whomever your “they” is. Distraction upon distraction upon distraction. Getting that list in one place where you can appreciate its enormity is a useful exercise.

It can be an interesting exercise to try and classify the various items on your list as to where they come into conflict with Jewish teachings and values. I’ve seen a few of those exercises already out there on the internet.

Last week, I taught an adult ed session on Jewish views of lying. It’s a typically mixed bag. Motivation matters. Topic matters. Intent matters. Situation matters. The people involved matters. I offer this as a caution. In our righteous indignation, we sometimes engage in blanket critiques that aren’t as nuanced as they could be. (To be honest, I hate having to write that, but if I don’t at least remind myself, I am liable to be carried to extremes by my own righteous indignation and potentially do things I might later regret.)

Then this week comes the latest blow. For a moment, at least, there was hope that the citizens of Israel might vote to restore some sanity (and values) to their government. Alas, that appears not to be the case.

Israel, as the home of my people, also appears to be suffering from something like a plague.

I wrote on Facebook:

What's left? I live in a United States of America that elected a government I cannot endorse and have difficulty understanding or accepting, and now that the Israeli people have spoken, they, too, have made a choice I cannot endorse and have difficulty accepting or understanding. Who are my people now? At least I can't be accused of dual loyalties now. Only dual disloyalties (which is an inaccurate accusation as I remain a loyal American citizen, and a passionate supporter of the dream of what Israel can be.) There was a time when terms like the "loyal opposition" were embraced. That is no longer the world in which we live. I am very, very saddened.

It is not always safe to speak openly and critically about Israel in the US Jewish community. Those of us who love Israel so much that we dare to call her to task for her failures are sometimes accused of disloyalty, even anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. (Though even we can be accused of the anti-Semitic dual loyalty trope, it seems.)

I truly love Israel. I have been there enough times to know the special connection one feels to the land when one is there. Though it may have evolved and changed, the religion which I practice has its origins there. There is clear, unambiguous historical evidence that the Jewish people lived there, starting at least 3500 years ago, and had nation states.  Despite the many times that control of the land passed from one empire or nation to another, there has been a continuous Jewish presence there. Given our historic and long connection to the land, it does make sense for us to have a modern nation state in the region. In light of the Shoah, having a Jewish state as a place of refuge also makes sense.

Make no mistake. I am proud of Israel. It has done amazing things. It has made the desert bloom. It has been a leader in agriculture , medicine, and technology. It is a democratic state in a part of the world that is sadly lacking in them. It does grant rights to all its citizens, and has, at least outwardly, strived to be an accepting society.

Israel is under fairly constant threat. Setting aside arguments that sometimes Israel herself contributes to making herself a target, no country should be subject, on a routine basis, to the acts of terrorism and random rocket attacks that Israel suffers. Israel is an important bastion in the Levant. Israel is a remedy for the ever-present existential threat against Jews that history has shown us always seem to exist in this world.

That being said, we need to have the priest come examine the red and green stains on the walls of our Israeli home to check for plague. I recommend to you the same exercise as before – come up with your own list of problems and issues that have plagued medinat Yisrael since its birth (and even before that) and then broaden that list with some online searching.

As with our own US house, you can frame your list of medinat Yisrael’s unclean things as it works for you. You could be the most ardent supporter of Israel, even a fervent “Israel right or wrong” type and still find items for your list (and if you don’t, I would question your self-honesty, and the ethical construct that allows you to gloss over obvious faults.)

[Insert here your litany of ways in which Jewish house, aka Israel, has become unclean]

A dozen years ago Rabbi Brad Hirschfield published his remarkable book, which I still use to guide me:  “You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.” If an orthodox rabbi from Chicago who made aliyah in the 80s and became a rabid “greater biblical Israel” fanatical Israeli settler can evolve into an intrafaith and interfaith bridge builder, there is hope for this world.

We don’t have to agree about these issues. You may not have the same issues and qualms about the things which cause me to worry about the plagues that have erupted in our American and Israeli homes. Live and be well.

There are Jews who are perfectly happy with everything that is happening in this country under this administration, and in Israel under its administration. There are Jews (like me) who are equally unhappy with both administrations. Then there are Jews who are geshrying about what is happening here in the United States of America but continue to give Israel and Bibi a pass. I may not share such a belief, but I do believe I have some understanding of the motivations and reasonings behind them, and believe they are, most often, well-intentioned, and based on rational concerns and fears.

I love Israel. I also love the diaspora – and I think we’ve allowed ourselves to develop a Jewish inferiority complex relative to Israel, and it’s time to look at that, and our role as a diaspora in the perpetuation of Judaism, and not leaving our survival totally dependent upon Israel as its burden.  Personally, I think we have passed many potential crossroads over the last few decades, and failed to even consider potential alternate paths. The time has come for exploring new options, new possibilities, new understandings of Judaism, Zionism, ahavat Yisrael, Colonialism, hasbara, Jewish Education, and more. We have to be willing to challenge all the underlying and accepted understandings and conventions. Reconsidering them doesn’t mean we will change them all, but if we don’t consider the entirety, it won’t be a thorough effort. I have thought and continue to think about these and related issues. I’ve started to come to some conclusions, but I have always been the kind of person who continues to study issues from every angle even when I have developed a particular opinion. I’m happy to discuss this with folks at any time.

וְהִזַּרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִטֻּמְאָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֤א יָמֻ֙תוּ֙ בְּטֻמְאָתָ֔ם בְּטַמְּאָ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁכָּנִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them.

We’ve been warned.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Metzora 5774 - Go With the Flow
Metzora 5771 - Afflict This!
Metzora 5768 - Human Nature
Metzora 5765-Defiling the Tabernacle
Metzora 5763-Not So Irrelevant
Metzora 5760-Even Lepers Bring Good News

Tazria-Metzora 5778 - Excessive Prevention (Redux 5770)
Tazria-Metzora 5777 - The Overlooked Lesson (Revisiting 5767)
Tazria-Metzora 5775 - Singing a Song of Leprosy Again
Tazria-M'tzora 5773-Even Lepers Bring Good News-Redux, Revised, & Expanded
Tazria-Metzora 5772 - We Are the Lepers
Tazria-Metzora 5770 - Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M'tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 - Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Stuents
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy