Category Archives: Hebrew

sweet new year

rosh hashanah and parshat ha’azinu

There’s a custom to dip apples, Challah and pretty much anything else into honey on Rosh Hashana… for a sweet new year.  It’s important that we begin the new year with transparency, so let’s come clean… the honey of “milk and honey” is not bee honey… it is fig honey.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, let’s note that bee honey’s kashrut bona fides is problematic.

If you pay attention to the Rashi on Deuteronomy 32: 13 you will note that honey, when mentioned in the bible is fig honey….

He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag.

יַרְכִּבֵהוּ עַל בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וַיֹּאכַל תְּנוּבֹת שָׂדָי וַיֵּנִקֵהוּ דְבַשׁ מִסֶּלַע וְשֶׁמֶן מֵחַלְמִישׁ צוּר

Says Rashi:

He let them suck honey from a rock: It once happened in [a place in Israel called] Sichni, that a man said to his son, “Bring me pressed figs from that barrel.” The son went [to the barrel, but instead of finding pressed figs,] he found honey flowing over its brim. The son retorted, “But this is [a barrel] of honey [not figs]!” His father responded, “Dig your hand deep into the barrel, and you will bring up pressed figs from it!” [Pressed figs are as hard as a rock. Thus, we have an illustration in the Land of Israel of “sucking honey from a rock.”]- [Sifrei 32:13]

ינקהו דבש מסלע  מעשה באחד שאמר לבנו בסיכני הבא לי קציעות מן החביות. הלך ומצא הדבש צף על פיה. אמר לו זו של דבש הוא. אמר לו השקע ידך לתוכה ואתה מעלה קציעות מתוכה

So if tradition wanted us to start off the new year with sweetness… why not good old fig honey from the land of milk and honey ? (Exodus 3: 8  אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ)  Afterall… “sucking honey from a hard date, might even make a good sermon….

As for the presumed kashrut of bee honey….

The Talmud in Bekorot 7b is discussing the Mishnaic principle that: That which goes forth from the unclean is unclean and that which goes forth from the clean is clean”

An objection was raised.  Why did [the Sages] say that honey from bees (   דבש דבורימ   ) is permitted? One opinion suggests that the bees do not excrete honey as an animal does milk, but rather that bees just produce it: “Because the bees store it [from the sap of flowers and plants) up in their bodies but do not drain it from their bodies”  (literally “They (the bees) bring it into their bodies, but do not bring it out of their bodies”

devash

 

 

 

Clearly, not all the sages were satisfied with this explanation… “As Rav Yaakov says, saying “Honey, the torah ( רחמנא  “Rachmana” from “Rechem” womb meaning merciful) permits it (by Divine decree)..

So this sweetness that we begin the new year with, is a complex sweetness.  It is a sweetness that proclaims that sweet, pure and holy things can come from forbidden places.  It is a sweetness that proclaims that good can come from bad, that every dog has his day, that even the sinners among us, nay maybe, only the sinners among us, can produce the nectar of our God.  The bee honey produces sweetness from a hidden, secret place… an unexpected place… or as the great Shlomo Carlebach sang… “you never know, you never know, you never know..”

At the end of the day, the sweetness of the honey is permitted only by God’s decree.. God’s concession to mankind.  Our first taste of the sweetness of a new year is by the grace of God.. It’s as if God is smiling and reminding us with a wink … ‘Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ (Proverbs 9: 17)

מַיִם-גְּנוּבִים יִמְתָּקוּ;    וְלֶחֶם סְתָרִים יִנְעָם

…. not such a bad message for a deviant jew such as I….

It’s nice to know that we not only start the year with this sweet touch of the perverse, but to know that, by tradition, children who learn the Hebrew aleph bet for the first time… learn it with this same sweet bee’s honey.

cheder honey 1

Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe ,  by Ivan G. Marcus

Sweet……

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still crazy after all these years

Ki Tavo

Call me crazy, but I love it when I spot the first time a word is used in print, especially when it’s a Hebrew word in the Bible.  And I go Crazy-Eddie crazy when it’s a seminal word whose meaning and associations are closely associated with our people.

So what’s the word of the day? It’s Meshugah and it first appears in Deuteronomy 28.

In the original version of the Sermon on the Mount, Moses has half the tribes stand on one mountain; Gerizim, and the other half stand on an opposite mountain; Ebal, and details all the blessings the chosen people will receive if they obey the commandments. So far so good and so ends the similitude to the other Sermon on the Mount.  It’s in detailing all the curses that will befall the Jewish people for disobedience that Meshuga, the quintessential word for Jewish idiosynchronicity, even exceptionalism, gets it’s first mention.

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee…. (28: 15)

The LORD will smite thee with madness, and with blindness, and with astonishment of heart. (28: 28) [see Strongs H7697]

 יַכְּכָה ה’, בְּשִׁגָּעוֹן וּבְעִוָּרוֹן; וּבְתִמְהוֹן, לֵבָב

The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed away:
so that thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. (28: 33-4) [see Strongs H7696]

 וְהָיִיתָ, מְשֻׁגָּע, מִמַּרְאֵה עֵינֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה

In it’s first instance, being meshugah is not a good thing.  It’s a curse and relates to the primal response one has when viewing something so abhorrent and hurtful that one loses one’s mind.

The word always retained this meaning as in Zachariah

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all the peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be sore wounded; and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together against it.
In that day, saith the LORD, I will smite every horse with bewilderment, and his rider with madness; and I will open Mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the peoples with blindness.  (Zechariah 12 3-4)

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא נְאֻם-יְהוָה, אַכֶּה כָל-סוּס בַּתִּמָּהוֹן, וְרֹכְבוֹ, בַּשִּׁגָּעוֹן

But madness also was used in conjunction with creative genius and vision.

First as a false prophet as in:

for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in the collar. (Jeremiah 29: 26)

 לְכָל-אִישׁ מְשֻׁגָּע וּמִתְנַבֵּא; וְנָתַתָּה אֹתוֹ אֶל-הַמַּהְפֶּכֶת, וְאֶל-הַצִּינֹק

And next as a prophet of truth to a false people – the man of spirit to a people without spirit:

The prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad! For the multitude of thine iniquity, the enmity is great. (Hosea 9: 7)

 אֱוִיל הַנָּבִיא, מְשֻׁגָּע אִישׁ הָרוּחַ–עַל רֹב עֲו‍ֹנְךָ, וְרַבָּה מַשְׂטֵמָה

Ultimately, when the world becomes crazy, it is the crazy who speak the truth.

As it says in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 12b): Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.

But it is madness as a strategy that seems to have really resonated with our leaders and our people.. starting with David.

David is running away from King Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. David’s reputation precedes him and the servants of Achish  question: “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying: Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?”  David takes these words to heart and is fearful and plays the madman.

And he changed his demeanour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
Then said Achish unto his servants: ‘Lo, when ye see a man that is mad, wherefore do ye bring him to me?
Do I lack madmen, that ye have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?’ (1 Samuel 21: 11-16)

 חֲסַר מְשֻׁגָּעִים, אָנִי, כִּי-הֲבֵאתֶם אֶת-זֶה, לְהִשְׁתַּגֵּעַ עָלָי; הֲזֶה, יָבוֹא אֶל-בֵּיתִי

And thus was born the Meshugenah Defense.

The word Meshugah is more well known as a Yiddish word than as a Hebrew word, because it was in exile and using the language of exile that we Jews really perfected craziness as a defense mechanism. Was it not meshugah to think that we could survive without a land or borders.  Was it not crazy to believe that one day we would be back in Jerusalem.  Jewish humor, at it’s core is a survival mechanism, and at its best, it reveals and helps us cope with the absurd.  Only a madman can believe in mankind after the atrocities of the Holocaust…

Thomas Friedman, cannot be accused of being an apologist for the State of Israel or the current Netanyahu government, but even he understands that in a world gone crazy, you are forced to act crazy.  In a recent column he characterized the recent Israel strategy in in Gaza:

No one here will explicitly say so, but one need only study this war to understand that Israel considers it central to its deterrence strategy that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will “outcrazy us.” I don’t believe Israel was targeting Gaza civilians — I believe it tried to avoid them  — but, at the end of the day, it was not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties. Hamas used Gaza’s civilians as war-crimes bait. And Israel did whatever was necessary to prove to Hamas, “You will not outcrazy us out of this region.” It was all ugly. This is not Scandinavia. (Thomas Freidman, Dear Guests; Revelations in the Gaza War).

What’s the lesson to all of this mushugas?  I suppose we need to always remember that one day’s curse is another day’s blessing.  We need to nurture and cultivate the life of our language and explore our cultural tics. And for the survival of the Jewish People and the good of the world, we Jews need to stay still crazy after all of these years.

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judaism as a language

Ki Teitzei

It should come as no surprise that a significant number of jews do not observe, or even strive to observe all the commandments. The truth is, that this lack of homogeneous observance is not new.  There was probably never a period when the body of card carrying jews kept all the commandments.  And I’m not talking about minor commandments like putting on tephilin or wearing fringes.  I’m talking about the big ones, like the Sabbath and the Passover.

We know that when the book of Deuteronomy was “found” in the middle of the reign of King Josiah (ruled 640 – 608 BCE) the Passover was no longer observed.  2 Kings Chapter 23: 21-22

And the king commanded all the people, saying: ‘Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.’
For there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah;

We know that the Prophets castigated the Jews for not observing the Sabbath and the fact that in the early Rabbinic period the Rabbis would promise that that the Messiah will come if every Jew properly observes two consecutive Sabbaths.  [1] It would seem that strict Sabbath observance was a challenge not unique to the post Enlightment.

So there was always a significant portion of the Jewish people whose observance of the commandments was less than perfect.  What is more intriguing is the notion that it may never have been the intent or objective that the laws all be observed… all the time.

If one reads the Hebrew Bible it is full of crimes punishable by death, but the Talmud basically neuters the death penalty by suggesting that: “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called a murderous one. R. Eleazar ben Azariah says ‘Or even once in 70 years.” Mishneh Makkot 1:10

There are those who believe that the 49 year cycle Jubilee where loans were forgiven and property returned to its original owner… was purely utopian and never put into practice.  Could it be that not all of the laws and rituals in the Torah were actually meant to be kept or if kept… kept without exception.

Which brings us to the law of the rebellious son:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that will not hearken to the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them;
then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
and they shall say unto the elders of his city: ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he doth not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.’

And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.  (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

כִּי-יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ, בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה–אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ, בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ; וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ, וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם

 וְתָפְשׂוּ בוֹ, אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ; וְהוֹצִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל-זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ, וְאֶל-שַׁעַר מְקֹמוֹ

 וְאָמְרוּ אֶל-זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ, בְּנֵנוּ זֶה סוֹרֵר וּמֹרֶה–אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ, בְּקֹלֵנוּ; זוֹלֵל, וְסֹבֵא

וּרְגָמֻהוּ כָּל-אַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ בָאֲבָנִים, וָמֵת, וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע, מִקִּרְבֶּךָ; וְכָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ

Says the Talmud: “There never has been a ‘stubborn and rebellious son’, and never will be. Why then was the law written? That you may study it and receive reward.” Tosef. Sanh. 11:6 Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 71a).

Here we have an outright example of one of the so numbered 613 commandments which is a fiction and whose purpose is to create a learning moment.

It seems to me that the above examples, and many more that I could mention, give us a license to take off the legalistic glasses of Halacha and look at the statutes and rituals of the Torah in a different way.

The way that appeals most to me is that we look at the corpus of Jewish law and ritual more as a language than as an instruction manual.

As we say in the Sabbath morning prayers in the piut Ezrat Avotecha:

אשרי איש שישמע למצותיך

Happy is the person who can listen to your commandments.

It may not be the only way we wish to look at the corpus of Jewish Law, but certainly it is a lense worth looking through from time to time.  Judaism as a language.  For some it is a mother tongue, for others a second language.  For some it is their primary form of communication, for others, not so much.  It is a language that expresses certain emotions and ethical standards in a unique and powerful way. Some words lose their meaning, go out of fashion or become socially incorrect. Some words take on new meaning or have different meanings when used in different contexts or situations.  Some words are reinvented or take on a meaning diametrically different than their origin.  Judaism as a language is no less serious of an endeavor or subject of study or commitment, but besides its many other benefits, it does not have the same artificial line of demarcation between those who observe and those who don’t. The tent that holds those who listen and speak the language of the commandments is large.

When I was studying philosophy, back in the day, the philosophy of language was a primary area of interest.   Philosophers such as Noam Chomsky argued that the structure o language was built into our DNA.  Not everyone agrees with Chomsky’s linguistic philosophy and fewer still with his political views, but this son of Hebrew teachers understood that a language reflects the DNA of the speaker.  In that regard, Judaism as a language becomes an act of discovery of who we are and who we can be.

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[1] R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: If Israel were to keep two Sabbaths according to the laws thereof, they would be redeemed immediately, for it is said, Thus saith the Lord of the eunuch that keep my Sabbaths,( Isa. LVI, 4.)  which is followed by, even them will I bring to my holy mountain, etc.(verse 7)  (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 118b)

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practicing judaism and ethics

parshat ekev

In a recent op-ed in the NY Times, Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans, Shmuel Rosner  references an Israeli  song “Ein Li Eretz Acheret”  “I have no other country,”.   Writes Rosner:

“I was reminded of the song in recent days as I read a string of articles by smart, savvy, knowledgeable, non-Israeli Jews, who say that the brutal war in Gaza has made them question their Zionism.

What unites these writers, of course, is that all of them do have another country. And that’s why, when push comes to shove, the Israeli government doesn’t — and shouldn’t — listen to them.”

It’s a powerful op-ed and it should be read in full.  This is not the first time a social commentator has identified the profound difference in perspective that living in or out of the land of Israel can have on one’s Judaism or opinion of the Jews.

In popular culture, the term Am Ha-Aretz” is used to refer to an ignorant Jew.  Since this derogatory label translates as “People of the Land” it makes sense that this pejorative actually refers to Jews who had a special connection to the land of Israel.  Writes Aharon Oppenheimer in his classic: The Am Ha-Aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic-Roman Period, 1997 (note to page83):

AmHaaretz

The Jews in Babylonia, led by Ezra and Nechemia had changed the face of Judaism.  When the first temple was standing, washing and purification before eating food was relegated to the priests and Levites and to eating temple sanctified food.  The returning Babylonian Jews had extended this requirement to every Jew and for all foodstuff.  Similarly tithing was continued by the Babylonian Jews, even though the priests, who benefited from such tithing, no longer had a Temple to work in.  The Jews who had remained in Israel, known as the Amei Ha-aretz had not gotten this memo and probably thought that the Babylonian Jews were living in denial… there was no longer any reason to ritually wash nor tithe.

The point is not which of these groups was in the right.. the point is that Jews in Israel see things in a unique perspective which can, and maybe should unnerve outsiders.

This is not the last time that Jews living outside of the land of Israel looked down upon the religious practice of indigenous Israelis.  How many Jews (both religious and non-religious) come to Israel expecting Israelis to be more observant and are disappointed that they are not.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Rabbis were equally critical of Jews and Judaism outside of the land of Israel.

The second paragraph of the Shema (Deuteronomy 11 13-21)  is a repetition of the first (Deuteronomy 6: 5-9) in terms of providing that Jews teach their children the Torah and put on Tefillin and mezuzot. The difference is that the second paragraph admonishes the Jews to: “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside… and ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.” (Deuteronomy 11: 16-17)

Rashi, commenting on Deuteronomy 11: 18 is bothered by why the commandment to put on tefillin is repeated in this second commandment and quotes the Sifrei.

Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 11:18)

וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה, עַל-לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל-נַפְשְׁכֶם; וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל-יֶדְכֶם, וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם

And you shall set these words of Mine: Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments: Put on tefillin and make mezuzoth , so that these will not be new to you when you return. Similarly, it is said, “Set up markers for yourself” (Jer. 31:20). – [Sifrei]

ושמתם את דברי אף לאחר שתגלו היו מצויינים במצות, הניחו תפילין, עשו מזוזות כדי שלא יהיו לכם חדשים כשתחזרו. וכן הוא אומר (ירמיה לא, כ) הציבי לך ציונים   [2]2

This is a remarkable text, because what it is saying is that Judaism outside of the Land of Israel is just a rehearsal… just for practice.  Israel is not the main stage, it is the only stage. I have written about this text, including the opinions of the classical commentaries and the double meaning of “Zion” ציונ  in another post: the hiker’s guide to zionism

But here’s my question.  If you practice something for 2,000 years doesn’t it get a little stale?  Practice may make perfect, but too much practice leads at best to  an empty shell of robotic activity and at worst אם an overacted and overgrown perversion.

Salt can preserve meat and fowl and refrigeration can preserve perishables, but ultimately the salt must be washed away and frozen food must be thawed.  The great Zionist thinkers all observed in one way or another that, the return to Zion would not only provide a refuge for a persecuted people, but just as importantly would provide for the rejuvenation of a people that had lived an anemic existence for 2,000 years.

By way of example, A. D. Gordon the great labor Zionist wrote:

The Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for two thousand years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor- of labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest effort of will for such a people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for national life. We lack the habit of labor… for it is labor which binds a people to its soil and to its national culture, which in its turn is an outgrowth of the people’s toil and the people’s labor. … We, the Jews, were the first in history to say: “For all the nations shall go each in the name of its God” and “Nations shall not lift up sword against nation” – and then we proceed to cease being a nation ourselves. (see)

Similarly, Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew writes:

“True literature can emerge only in a social environment speaking the language in which that literature is being written.  Haskala literature in Russia is artificial, alienated from the sources of true artistic creativity – life itself. (see The Making of Modern Zionism, Shlomo Avineri p 85)

For each Zionist thinker, there was another vision for what the new Jew would be and for what 2,000 years of life without a land, language, army or economy had done to the Jewish People.

But 2,000 years of Jewish life produced more than just an oversized religion.  Two thousand years of a sterile existence in exile also produced an overgrown moral and ethical sense, divorced from the responsibilities of land, government, politics and defense. If the Jews greatest gift to Western thought was our fine-tuned morality and social activism, it may also be our most questionable gift.  Certainly our gift of morality divorced from political life is one that has come back to bite.

If one is willing to question a Jewish Religion that developed in such an artificial and sterile existence, certainly one needs to question the other intellectual  legacies of  the Jewish People brewed in the same petri dish of exile.

This is the question that Jewish thinkers and Western thinkers who have been so influenced by the best of Jewish thought ought ask.

As for Israelis, it’s a little more simple… they have nowhere else to go.

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[1] for more recent scholarship on this subject see Daniel Boyarin , Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity p. 251 note 122

AmHaaretz boylerin

[2] Here is the complete text of the Sifrei Deuteronomy 43…

sifrei Ekev

Another thing “and ye perish quickly from off the good land.. and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand”  Even though I exile you from the land to exile, you are still commanded in the commandments so that when you return they will not be like new.  Analogous to a king of flesh and blood that is angry with his wife and casts her to the house of her father.  Says he, you should adorn yourself with your jewelry so that when you return they should not be like new. So said the Holy One to Israel:

Set thee up waymarks, make thee guide-posts; set thy heart toward the high-way, even the way by which thou wentest; return, O virgin of Israel, return to these thy cities.
ow long wilt thou turn away coyly, O thou backsliding daughter? For the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: yet again shall they use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall turn their captivity: ‘The LORD bless thee, O habitation of righteousness, O mountain of holiness. (Jeremiah 31:20)

“waymarks” these are the commandments that Israel was commanded, “guide-posts” this is the destruction of the Temple. And also as it says “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy” (Psalms  137:5).

“even the way by which thou wentest”  (Jeremiah 31:20)  Says The Holy One to Israel “See in these ways you walked and have repented, immediately you will return to your cities as it is said: “Return O virgins of Israel, return to your cities.”

 

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gimme shelter

parshat massei

Sanctuary: 1. A place of refuge, especially for political refugees 2. immunity from arrest

The Concise Oxford Dictionary

With the army of a victorious Henry VII bearing down on him, a terrified Francis Lovell made for the only place he knew he would be safe – a church.

It was 1485 and his master Richard III had just been killed on the battlefield at Bosworth and Francis had every reason to believe his head would be next.

But he made it in time to St John’s Abbey in Colchester where he invoked the ancient law of religious sanctuary. It made him untouchable.

Claiming sanctuary in a church to avoid being punished for a crime was abolished in England in 1623 but the idea persists to this day. (see)

The antecedence for refuge in a sanctuary hark back to Numbers 35: 9 –

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer that killeth any person through error may flee thither. And the cities shall be unto you for refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation for judgment.

 דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם:  כִּי אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן

 וְהִקְרִיתֶם לָכֶם עָרִים, עָרֵי מִקְלָט תִּהְיֶינָה לָכֶם; וְנָס שָׁמָּה רֹצֵחַ, מַכֵּה-נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה

 וְהָיוּ לָכֶם הֶעָרִים לְמִקְלָט, מִגֹּאֵל; וְלֹא יָמוּת הָרֹצֵחַ, עַד-עָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה לַמִּשְׁפָּט

The six cities of refuge were designated for all inhabitants regardless of citizenship “For the children of Israel, and for the stranger and for the settler among them,” and where designed to break  the pre-existing rules of Blood Feuds whereby a relative of the murdered was required to redeem the blood    גֹּאֵל הַדָּם of his relative by killing the murderer, even if the murder was accidental.

The City of Refuge is first and foremost the antidote to the negative aspects of clan  and tribalism.  The refuge cities עָרֵי מִקְלָט along with the monetization of lex talionis (eye for eye see Lev. 24:19 and Talmud Baba Kamma, 83b–84a) represented the Hebrew Bible’s frontal assault on the zero-sum mechanics of blood-for-blood honor killings.

Ironically, Israelis call a bomb shelter a Miklat  מִקְלָט.    The connection between the modern day bomb shelter and the Biblical city of refuge is profound. The modern day Miklat protects Israeli citizens from the attacks of  terrorists who wish nothing positive, but only to take revenge for prior injustices and to redeem the blood of fellow clan members.  In a very real sense, the Iron Dome Missile Defense system, the Miklat, and the security wall are all designed to end the cycle of violence.

When these same terrorist shoot rockets without  sheltering their own citizens  from the inevitable return fire, they are striving to escalate the blood feud, ditto for the use of their citizens as human shields.

The cinematic image we share of the fugitive finding refuge in a church shows how this legal institution of the City of Refuge survived in Church law and popular culture, but what is less well known, is how primary this message was to Muhammad’s message and early Islam.

According to Joseph Schacht, the celebrated Columbia professor of Arabic and Islam, Muhammad reformed the norms of retaliation with the introduction of  blood-money “because of the main aim of the Prophet  – [was] the dissolution of the ancient tribal organization and the creation of a community of believers in its stead.” [An Introduction to Islamic Law, Joseph Schacht, p 13-4)

See Quran Sura 4: 92

And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] unless they give [up their right as] charity. But if the deceased was from a people at war with you and he was a believer – then [only] the freeing of a believing slave; and if he was from a people with whom you have a treaty – then a compensation payment presented to his family and the freeing of a believing slave. And whoever does not find [one or cannot afford to buy one] – then [instead], a fast for two months consecutively, [seeking] acceptance of repentance from Allah . And Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

According to Schacht, Islam after Muhammad continued this evolution away from tribal revenge killings and toward the rule of law and restitution.

The Umayyads did not interfere with the working of retaliation as it had been regulated by the Koran, but they tried to prevent the recurrence of Arab tribal feuds which threatened the internal security of the state, and they assured the accountancy for payments of blood-money, which were effected in connexion with the payment of subventions. ibid. Schacht p. 24

Schacht, who was not Jewish, believed about Islam what many of his contemporary Jewish Scholars had concluded about Judaism, namely, that there was at one time a  “living tradition” where ideas took on a life of their own and evolved forward, even if projected back to engender authenticity. (see Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902‑1969) by Jeanette Wakin) [1]

With regard to the subject at-hand, Schacht concludes that:

 The considerable restriction of blood feuds was a great merit of Muhammad’s. According to Bedouin ideas, any member of the tribe of the killer, and even more than one, could be killed if homicide had occurred. Islam allows only the killer himself (or several killers for one slain), to be put to death, and only if he is fully responsible and has acted clearly with deliberate intent; Islamic law further recommends waiving retaliation. Ibid Schacht p 185

It’s a shame that, in the Islam we encounter today, the movement by the Prophet Muhammad and early local schools against tribalism and blood feuding was not permitted to develop further.  It’s a shame that both Jews and Muslims do not have a miklat, a shelter, refuge and sanctuary to protect them from the evils of bloodletting and the cycle of violence that it drives.

In the meantime, the civilized world should honor and emulate the shelter that Israel provides it’s citizens as not only an acclimation of life but also as a concrete and practical strategy to break the cycle of violence and bloodletting.

 

———————

[1]  Writes Wakin: “Not surprisingly, scholars in the Muslim world in general are unable to accept Schacht’s discoveries or face their implications. … The understandable fear among modern Muslim scholars is that the great edifice of the religious law, and thus Islam itself, will collapse if it is shown to have been the product of human minds. Schacht’s findings can, of course, conceivably be put at the service of a liberalizing movement, but this has not yet been attempted.”

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the compromised land

parshat matot

Previously, when Moses is confronted with a difficult question requiring a pragmatic solution he lets God do the heavy lifting.  As the Children of Israel stand on the cusp of the Promised Land, Moses finds the moxy to craft the compromise.

Moses is approached by the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad.  These men are herders not farmers.  They have noticed that the land on the East Bank of the Jordan River is more suitable for livestock.  Following in the footsteps of Zelophehad’s daughters and Jethro before them, they approach Moses and the Elders. (Numbers 32)

The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: … the land which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.’ And they said: ‘If we have found favour in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’

 וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-גָד, וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן; וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְאֶל-נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה לֵאמֹר

 הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה ה’ לִפְנֵי עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל–אֶרֶץ מִקְנֶה, הִוא; וְלַעֲבָדֶיךָ, מִקְנֶה

  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִם-מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–יֻתַּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, לַאֲחֻזָּה:  אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

One can just picture Moses’ face dropping in disbelief and sadness.  Here, the land of Israel had not even been possessed and already two of the twelve tribes want to modify and dilute the dream.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad were the first post-Zionists, only they hadn’t even settled in Zion yet!

Moses’ anguish is deeper. The student of the Hebrew Bible will recognize that from the days of Cain and Abel, there has always been a biblical tension between the farmer and the herder.  While both are necessary, it is an agricultural society, with laws of tithes and sabbatical years that fill the Hebrew law code for the new land.  The slaughter of animals is relegated to the sacrificial cult.  The farmer invests in the land and lives off the sweat of his brow; the herder takes from the land and moves on. The life of the nomad, the hunter and gatherer had served the people well in exile, but now that they were settling in the Promised Land, it would be sustainable agriculture which insured the future.

It was not just that these two tribes didn’t want to complete the journey, their chosen profession manifested a rejection of something deeper.  Just as the word for Cain קַיִן  is derived from the word possessions (see Genesis 4:1) so too does the word for cattle  מִקְנֶה has a materialistic  sense to it.   Rashi picks up on the misplaced materialism of these two tribes projected in the text…

They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. (Numbers 32:16)

 וַיִּגְּשׁוּ אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, גִּדְרֹת צֹאן נִבְנֶה לְמִקְנֵנוּ פֹּה, וְעָרִים, לְטַפֵּנוּ

We shall build sheepfolds for our livestock here: They were more concerned about their possessions than about their sons and daughters, since they mentioned their livestock before [mentioning] their children. Moses said to them, “Not so! Treat the fundamental as a fundamental, and the matter of secondary importance as a matter of secondary importance. First ‘build cities for your children,’ and afterwards ‘enclosures for your sheep’” (verse 24) – [Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 7]

 נבנה למקננו פה –חסים היו על ממונם יותר מבניהם ובנותיהם, שהקדימו מקניהם לטפם. אמר להם משה לא כן עשו, העיקר עיקר והטפל טפל, בנו לכם תחלה ערים לטפכם ואחר כך גדרות לצאנכם

There is another element inherent in the request of these tribes that must have peeved Moses.  The promise of the Promised Land was to put an end to the incessant wandering of the Hebrews.  The Hebrews (עברים) were the descendants of people like Abraham and the wanderers in the desert, who had forged (passed over עבר) the river and come to settle in the land.  These tribes, like Cain were choosing the life of the wanderer. they were asking permission not to cross the Jordan both physically and ideologically.

אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

Moses barely hides his anger.  He points out that these two tribes are setting a bad example and missing the whole point of the episode of the 10 scouts who were responsible for the 40-year delay in returning to the Land of Israel (Numbers 32: 7 – 13)

And wherefore will ye turn away the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them? … Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. .. Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed Me; … And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.

   וְלָמָּה תנואון (תְנִיאוּן), אֶת-לֵב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–מֵעֲבֹר, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָהֶם, ה

   כֹּה עָשׂוּ, אֲבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּשָׁלְחִי אֹתָם מִקָּדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הָאָרֶץ

 אִם-יִרְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָעֹלִים מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, אֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב:  כִּי לֹא-מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרָי

  וַיִּחַר-אַף ה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיְנִעֵם בַּמִּדְבָּר, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה–עַד-תֹּם, כָּל-הַדּוֹר, הָעֹשֶׂה הָרַע, בְּעֵינֵי ה

Writes Rashi (picking up the Cain motif):

He made them wander: He moved them about from place to place, as in נָע וָנָד “a wanderer and an exile” (Gen. 4:12).

 וינעם – ויטלטלם. מן נע ונד

Knowing Moses’ frustration and anger management issues, one would have expected him to lash out.  And while he does engage in a vigorous debate with these non-settlers he resolves the issue with a grand compromise.

The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad agree to participate fully in the conquest and only once their brethren are settled will they return to their outpost on the East Bank of the Jordan. (Numbers 32: 18-19)

We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.

For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and forward, because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side of the Jordan eastward

לֹא נָשׁוּב, אֶל-בָּתֵּינוּ–עַד, הִתְנַחֵל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אִישׁ, נַחֲלָתוֹ

 כִּי לֹא נִנְחַל אִתָּם, מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן וָהָלְאָה:  כִּי בָאָה נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אֵלֵינוּ, מֵעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן מִזְרָחָה

In a sense, the permission by Moses for these outlier tribes to settle on the East Bank of the Jordan, was a testament to his maturation and growth as a leader and his understanding that ideologies need to be compromised in order to achieve dreams.

Three thousand years later when Ben Gurion and the mainstream Zionists were given the choice of a partitioned promised land they too accepted the compromise.  Ironically, those rejectionists let by Ze’ev Jabotinsky who rejected the Partition Plan used Reuben and Gad’s East Bank settlement as the basis for an argument against compromise and for a Greater Israel.

The East of the Jordan (Hebrew: שמאל הירדן‎) is a poem written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Revisionist Zionist leader, a song that became one of the most known leading songs of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar. The song includes four Stanzas. Each stanza ends with the following line which is the main political message and theme of the poem:

Two Banks has the Jordan
This is ours and, that is as well.

The main theme of the song also influenced other Zionists’ poems, and its main theme appears also in Raise Up the Barricades, by Michael Eshbal, also one of the Betar youth movement’s well known poems, which says of the Jewish state: “To establish the state on both sides of the Jordan”.

(see Wikipedia  The East Bank of the Jordan) and see note below with complete lyrics and background of the heated debate between Jabotinsky; the uncompromising revisionist, and Weizman; the pragmatist. [1]

The rift between these two groups culminated in the Altalena Affair where in 1948, Ben Gurion, the heir to Weizman and the leader of the month-old State of Israel squared off against Menachem Begin, the heir to Jabotinsky and head of the now illegal paramilitary group; the Irgun.  To make a long story, short, Ben Gurion ordered the sinking of the Altalena. Sixteen Irgun fighters were killed and more than 200 were arrested.  Begin never forgave Ben Gurion, but in 1979, it was Begin who made the ultimate compromise in returning Sinai to Egypt.

The Altalena was our Hamas moment.  The Palestinians have absorbed many ideas, concepts from the Zionists. The Palestinians use words like “right of return” and “diaspora” and also have adopted a nationalistic desire for a state similar to the Zionists.  It is time that they also learn to compromise their ideals and unconditionally reject rogue players and ideologically driven militarists.  There was no room for the Irgun once the State of Israel was established, and there is no room for non-state players like Hamas if the Palestinians are to have their own state.

Today, as once again Israel is forced to wage war with Palestinian rejectionist and terrorist groups, we need to remember and remind the world not only regarding the sacrifices that we have made, but also the equally courageous compromises that we and our most idealistic leaders have made.

We will have peace with our neighbors not only “when they love their children more that they hate us” (Golda Meir), but also when they learn, that in order to deserve a Promised Land, you need to accept a Compromised Land…

—————–

[1]

In 1922, in an effort to appease Abdullah, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill excluded 77% of Palestine from all legal stipulations dealing with Hebrew aspirations. The first in a series of four White Papers was issued, significantly limiting Jewish immigration and severely truncating the Israeli homeland’s borders. A Hashemite Arab kingdom was consequently established in the majority of Palestine. This artificial state came to be known as Trans-Jordan. Thus the Jews were left with only 23% of what the Balfour Declaration and League of Nations had stipulated.

During Jabotinsky’s stay in the United States, he received news of Britain’s perfidious White Paper. While the more pragmatic Zionist leaders, led by Chaim Weitzman, were willing to accept whatever borders they could receive, Jabotinsky contested the injustice on principle and even composed a song championing Israel’s claim to both banks of the Jordan River.

As a bridge is held up by a pillar
As a man is kept erect by his spine
So the Jordan, the holy Jordan
Is the backbone of my Israel.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

Though my country may be poor and small
It is mine from head to foot.
Stretching from the sea to the desert
And the Jordan, the Jordan in the middle.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

From the wealth of our land there shall prosper
The Arab, the Christian, and the Jew,
For our flag is a pure and just one
It will illuminate both sides of my Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

My two hands I have dedicated to the homeland,
My two hands to sword and shield.
Let my right hand whither
If I forget the East Bank of the Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

In the wake of Zionism’s meek response to Churchill’s treacherous White Paper, Jabotinsky condemned what he called the “erosion of Zionist demands” – the leadership’s apprehension to clearly state that the goal of the Zionist Movement is a sovereign Hebrew state. He argued that Zionism no longer demanded but instead adopted the exile attitude of “shtadlanut” – trying to curry favor in gentile eyes. The issue of Trans-Jordan and the evolutionary leadership’s inability to state clear Zionist goals became issues of heated discussion within the Movement, leading to Jabotinsky’s resignation from the World Zionist Executive. His resignation, however, did not stem from disillusionment with the Zionist ideal, but rather with the officials at the helm. It occurred to Jabotinsky that his generation was not ready for the revolutionary character of Herzlian Zionism. A movement had to be born that would create a new type of Jew, free from the idiosyncrasies and inferiority complex of the exile – like the champions featured throughout the Hebrew Bible. By bringing about a revolution in values and self image, Jabotinsky hoped to revive the ancient spirit of the proud Israeli hero. Along with a number of veterans from the Zionist Movement, he established the Union of Zionist­-Revisionists (Hatzohar) which called for the immediate establishment of a Hebrew state with an Israeli majority on both sides of the Jordan. (see:  Zionist Freedom Alliance)

Revisionist Zionism came into being as a direct challenge to the policies of Chaim Weitzman. Two diametrically opposed ideologies were now battling for commandjabotinsky over the Zionist Movement. Jabotinsky advocated a forthright approach of presenting fundamental Zionist aims explicitly. He was against the propounding of half truths, whether to the Hebrew masses or to the gentile nations. Like Herzl before him, Jabotinsky rejected “muted Zionism” and refused to “turn the Zionist Movement into a fraternity of whispering, conspiratorial smugglers”. Opposing him, Weitzman advocated a cautious struggle and the application of “one step at a time” tactics. But Jabotinsky demanded a return to Herzlian Political Zionism with stated goals set forth in a charter.

 

 

 

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judaism: a dirty business

Parshat hukat

The Red Heifer is actually a rather simple ritual.  Death, the result of man’s original sin in Eden and the ultimate insult to our spiritual immortality; makes us ritually impure and is in need of an antidote.  The Red Heifer is that antidote.

The sacrificial cult and culture contained in the Hebrew Bible provides the mother of all sacrifices, an unblemished red cow, which is to be sacrificed, and whose ashes are to be mixed with water and sprinkled by a priest onto those defiled by contact with the dead.  End of story.

But for reasons to be explored below, the Red Heifer represents THE puzzling paradox of the Jewish Religion. (Numbers 19: 2-10)

This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke. [1] And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification from sin. And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even; and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.

 זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לֵאמֹר:  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל.

[2]

 וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו הַכֹּהֵן, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמַּיִם, וְאַחַר, יָבֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וְטָמֵא הַכֹּהֵן, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

וְהַשֹּׂרֵף אֹתָהּ–יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו בַּמַּיִם, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמָּיִם; וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

  וְאָסַף אִישׁ טָהוֹר, אֵת אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, וְהִנִּיחַ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, בְּמָקוֹם טָהוֹר; וְהָיְתָה לַעֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת, לְמֵי נִדָּה–חַטָּאת הִוא.

 וְכִבֶּס הָאֹסֵף אֶת-אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב; וְהָיְתָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם–לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם.

Rashi immediately goes on the defensive:

This is the statute of the Torah: Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]

זאת חקת התורה; לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה 

Sprinkling some water and “poof” your sins are washed away give us moderns the Heebie jeebies, but also seemed to trouble non-Jews of the 1st Century. (Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4 Parah Aduma)

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 1[3]

But what really made the Red heifer into a theological flash point was the fact that while it purified the impure, the priests involved with it’s preparation and with the sprinkling, were made impure.

מטהרת את הטמאים ומטמאה את הטהורים

[as formulated by Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 3:10] [4]

 

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 2It is hard to understand what made this paradox so perplexing.  After all, if you take a glowing piece of molten metal and put it into a cold pot of water…. The water gets hot and the metal gets cool.  In physics, we call this the law of conservation of energy which states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change.

Which brings us to God and religion…

The Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna devotes a whole chapter to the Red Heifer and starts as follows:

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 1

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 2What makes the Red Heifer so audacious is that ultimately it is God who purifies the world and according to the law of the Red Heifer (and the law of the conservation of energy) … God must become impure in the process.

This heresy lies behind the Lurianic Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum (צמצום   contraction/constriction/condensation/withdrawal”) that God began the process of creation by “contracting” his infinite light in order to allow for a “conceptual space” in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist.  If God’s purity is in His infinite nature, then to allow a finite world to exist, He had to contract, or compromise His purity.

This heresy lies behind a lesser known concept sported by Maimonides known as the “gracious ruse” a concept perhaps borrowed from the second-century-C.E. philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias who developed the theory of divine condescendence (Greek synkatabasis; cf. Arabic talattuf Hebrew:   הערמה האלהית  ibn tibbon ).  Maimonides uses this concept of the Divine trick to explain why God permitted Judaism to be compromised with so many artifacts of paganism:  “It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God (literally “gracious ruse”), as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man.  Part III, chapter 32

Ultimately, this is the heresy that gave birth to the concept that the suffering, even death of a holy person can purify and redeem the Chosen People. (read Isaiah 53 excerpted below )

He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions; he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution אָשָׁם נַפְשׁוֹ, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, and their iniquities he did bear.  Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many וְהוּא חֵטְא-רַבִּים נָשָׂא, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Of no surprise, scholars, even Jewish scholars, have seen this Suffering Servant as a precursor of the, initially Jewish expectation that a messiah will come who will die for our sins (see The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin pp150-)

See also “Said R. Ammi, Wherefore is the account of Miriam’s death4 placed next to the [laws of the] red heifer?5 To inform you that even as the red heifer afforded atonement [by the ritual use of its ashes], so does the death of tie righteous afford atonement [for the living they have left behind].  (Moed Katan 28a)

It’s a slippery slope and a short walk to go one step further and require that not the messiah, but God Himself must commit the ultimate compromise and …. Die, so that we can live.

It’s no wonder that when Moses goes up to heaven to visit God he finds God studying the Torah portion of the Red Heifer!

When Moshe went up to the heights of heaven, he heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, as He sat engaged in the study of the passage on the Red Heifer, citing a law in the name of the sage who stated it: “Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.”

Moshe said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, worlds above and worlds below are in Your domain, yet You sit and cite a law ascribed to flesh and blood!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “Moshe, there will arise in My world a righteous man who, [in his concern for the purification of Israel], will begin his instruction of the Oral Law with the passage on the red heifer, and so I, [also concerned for the purification of Israel], say: ‘Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.'” [Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4] [5]

Fortunately for us Jews, Christianity took this heresy and ran with it.  We Jews replaced the laws of the Red Heifer and the sacrificial cult with prayer and water works… washing our hands and dunking in the mikva (ritual bath). Mishna Yoma 8:10

Rabbi Akiva says: Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? [And] who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified” (Ezekiel 36:25), and it is further said: “The hope [dewn] of Israel is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:13), just as a mikvah purifies the defiled so too, does the Holy one Blessed is He, purify Israel

אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא

אַשְׁרֵיכֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל

לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מִטַּהֲרִין

וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם

אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם…

וְאוֹמֵר, (ירמיה יז) “מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיָ” –

מַה מִּקְוֶה מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְּמֵאִים

אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

Akiva changed the model.  Unlike the water of the Red Heifer, the water of the ritual bath (mikveh) is not a zero sum game.  The impurity removed from the impure in the mikveh is not transferred to the living water (בְּמַיִם חַיִּים) of the mikva (Leviticus 15:13), and so presumably God need not be compromised and made impure when He purifies His people.

Judaism may be a dirty business, but fortunately we have Akiba and God Himself reviewing the texts and massaging the data.  As for me… and it’s hot outside… I’m going to take my pre-shabbat dip.

—————–

For a wonderful (hebrew only) source of texts on Parah Adumah go here.

[1] And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, and she shall be brought forth without the camp, and she shall be slain before his face. And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burnt in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall be burnt. And the priest shall take cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.

[2]

וּנְתַתֶּם אֹתָהּ, אֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן; וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו.

וְלָקַח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, מִדָּמָהּ–בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ; וְהִזָּה אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, מִדָּמָהּ–שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים.

וְשָׂרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה, לְעֵינָיו:  אֶת-עֹרָהּ וְאֶת-בְּשָׂרָהּ וְאֶת-דָּמָהּ, עַל-פִּרְשָׁהּ יִשְׂרֹף.

וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן, עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב–וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת; וְהִשְׁלִיךְ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה

[3]

שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי: אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין [הדברים האלה שאתם עושים] נראין כמין כשפים. אתם מביאים פרה, ושורפין אותה, וכותשין אותה, ונוטלין את אפרה, ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו שתים ושלוש טיפין [=טיפות (של מי הפרה)], ואתם אומרים לו: טהרת

[4]

R saadia gaon egel arufa-english1

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

R saadia gaon egel arufa

R. Saadia Gaon, Emunah Vedayot, 3:10

[5]

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 moshe up at sinai

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the first fashion statement

parshat korach

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when clothing designers wouldn’t dare put a logo, let alone a product endorsement on clothing.  It’s all the fault of a French tennis star named René Lacoste, nicknamed “The Crocodile“ who, in the late 20’s developed a shirt that was more accommodating to movement.  According to the Smithsonian, Lacoste “had a logo of the reptile embroidered onto his blazer. It became his personal brand before there was such a thing.”

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

According to Wikopedia “One of the earliest examples of T-shirts with a logo or decoration can be found in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”. Three men attending to the Scarecrow at the Wash & Brushup Company in Emerald City are seen wearing green T-shirts with the word “Oz” printed on the fronts.”

dorothy-gets-cleaned-up-at-the-wash-and-brush-up-company-3

The rest, as they say, is fashion history.  Nowadays, every commercial and celebrity brand, let alone political position, hosts clothing that carry their graphic message.

The Biblical source for clothing with a message lies at the feet of a radical named Korach who made a political argument from an all blue prayer shawl. The impact of his fashion statement was so profound that an expression in Modern Hebrew was coined to describe someone who thinks too much of himself.

In modern Hebrew idiom, the sarcastic expression, “a completely blue tallit” (טלית שכולה תכלת) is widely used to refer to something that is ostensibly, but not really, absolutely pure, immaculate and virtuous. .. The phrase “more kosher than tzitzit” is a Yiddish metaphoric expression (כשר’ער ווי ציצית) with similar connotations but is not necessarily used in a sarcastic sense. It can refer, in the superlative, to something that is really so perfect and flawless as to be beyond all reproach or criticism. (see Wikipedia – Tallit)

Poor Korach.  He made a good argument to democratize religion, but instead of wining the debate he was forever remembered as the guy guilty of the fashion faux pas of wearing the blue tallit and who, in the words of Isaiah 65:5 (following the King James translation) strutted as though he was “holier than Thou”.

Here’s the backstory:

Numbers 15 ends with the commandment to all Hebrews to put fringes on any four-cornered garment

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Numbers 15:38)

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת

Followed immediately with the narrative of the Korach Rebellion.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16: 1-3)

  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם

וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה ; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה

Writes Rashi:

What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors. ….. He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require fringes [’tzitzith’], or is it exempt?” He replied, “ It does require [fringes].” They began laughing at him [saying], “Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? – [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Num. Rabbah 18:3]

מה עשה, עמד וכנס מאתים חמישים ראשי סנהדראות, רובן משבט ראובן שכיניוץ…. והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

Notice , that Korach didn’t just make a hypothetical argument… he actually hired a tailor and put on a fashion show!

One could argue that the ultimate sin of Korach was that by making his fashion statement, he separated himself from the congregation.

Writes Rashi:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2).

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם

But it’s also the way he did it.  Talk about wearing our religion on your sleeve, he exploited a ritual mitzvah to make a syncratic point…. Forget about the fact that the blue die techelet was a royal blue which had a price to match… these blue prayer shawls were ostentatious and elitist…  Come to think of it… Korach wasn’t making an argument for every plebian Jew, but rather for his caste…

But I digress… here’s the pet peeve that Korach raises …. The growing trend to imprint one’s eschatological beliefs on your kippah.

It used to be that if you had something to say, you’d get it imprinted on the inside of the kippah…. “Joey’s Bar Mitzvah”, “Harvey and Sheila’s wedding” … no big message here.

I don’t know if it was the Jews for Jesus who started this trend

jfor j shirts

But any observant Jew will admit that eschatology has hit the kippah industry in a big way.

First there was the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (Hebrew: נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן‎) kippah.

4967_22_centimeter_black_knitted_na_nachman_breslov_kippah_with_tassel_view_1

The phrase is a Hebrew language name and song used by a subgroup of Breslover Hasidim colloquially known as the Na Nachs. The complete phrase is Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman. It is a kabbalistic formula based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The words come from an alledged “Letter from Heaven” from the Rebbe which reads:

my fire will burn until
Messiah is coming be strong and courageous
in your devotion
Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

Most Breslover Hasidim do not use Na Nach Nachma (some groups actually oppose it) and not everyone believes it is an authentic writing from Rebbe Nachman. (see more: Wikipedia)

So while it is escatological, it is also divisive…..

Next came the kippot of those Chabad Hasidim who believe that the recently deceased Rebbe; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah. The Chabad “Yechi” yarmulkes have the slogan “yechi adonaynu moreynu v’rabbaynu melech hamoshiach l’olam va’ed,” “long live our master our teacher our rabbi king messiah forever and ever” embroidered or printed on them.

Chabad kippah

According to Wikipedia (I have left the links to the footnotes) “While some believe that he died but will return as the Messiah,[3] others believe that he is merely “hidden”. A very small minority believe that he has God-like powers,[4][5] or is the “creator”[6] while others negate the idea that he is the Messiah entirely. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed,[7][8][9][10][11] though very few will openly say that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah.[7]

Once again, this escatological kippah is divisive.

To prove the point, the IDF has recently ruled that it is prohibited for soldiers in uniform to wear a kippa with writing on it.

I believe that our prayer shawls should be nondescript in color and that our kippot should not advertise an end-of-days message.  But…. Following the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, I am pleased to announce that Madlik has decided to offer it’s own eschatologically correct kippah to be known as the LoBa™ Kippah…. Stay tuned!

 

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rashi, women and wine

parshat nasa

Daf Yomi, the custom of reading a page of Talmud every day until completion in a seven and a half year cycle is covered in the national press. Lesser known is the custom of studying the portion of the week with Rashi’s commentary every week.  I was pleased to find that Chabad honors this custom with a web site that breaks the week’s portion into daily sections to study every day (Chumash with Rashi).

As a yeshiva student I followed this custom, religiously. Rashi’s comments, but mostly his choice of midrashic quotes serve me till today as buoys to navigate the Five Books of Moses. I don’t always agree with this 12th Century Rabbi (see Judaism as an Adventure) but every week, it is his comment that triggers ideas, thoughts and impressions that I have lived and struggled with my whole life as a student of the Torah.

Rashi undoubtedly served as the model for IB Singer’s Yentl the Yeshiva Boy …. in spades.  Rashi had three daughters who allegedly put on tefillin* but most certainly studied Torah with their father.  All of the daughters married prominent scholars and gave birth to scholars, many of who were known as the Tosephots, who in typical Jewish fashion wrote comments in columns facing Rashi’s with strident questions and alternative opinions.

Of note, Rashi’s youngest  daughter, Rachel (also known as Belle Assez lit. “rather beautiful.”) and her husband Eliezer were the parents of Shemiah, a prominent French Tosephot, but their marriage ended in divorce. Rachel is credited with having written a responsa on a question of Talmudic Law for her father when he was sick. (see: RASHI AND HIS DAUGHTERS: ENLIGHTENMENT IN THE DARK AGES, by Maggie Anton and check out her three volume set: Rashi’s Daughters by Maggie Anton.)

By my read, Rashi never misses an opportunity to shed light on gender issues (see: Immaculate Conception), sexual preference and women.

Parshat Naso is a splendid example.  See Numbers 5:18 where the Torah describes what happens to a woman suspected by her husband of infidelity.  The woman, known as a Sotah is forced to submit to a trial by ordeal, which started with a public dressing down of the suspect.

Then the cohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the cohen’s hand.

וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּפָרַע אֶת-רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה, וְנָתַן עַל-כַּפֶּיהָ אֵת מִנְחַת הַזִּכָּרוֹן מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הִוא; וּבְיַד הַכֹּהֵן יִהְיוּ, מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרְרִים

Rashi: and expose He unravels the plaits of her hair to humiliate her. From here [we derive] that a bared head is considered a disgrace for the daughters of Israel. — [Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot. 72a]

ופרע:  סותר את קליעת שערה כדי לבזותה, מכאן לבנות ישראל שגלוי הראש גנאי להן

It is not often that Rashi points out the source of a custom or law so I have always wondered why he chose to do so here.  The Talmudic source that he quotes is in the context of a discussion of acts done by a women which are grounds for divorce.  The Talmud actually suggests that from the verse under discussion, a married woman need not cover her hair in a semi private courtyard (or according to another opinion, when she is carrying a basket on her head).  But the Rabbis required that even in these cases she does have to wear a head covering. **  In any case, whether it be by biblical injunction or Rabbinic embellishment, a woman being seen in public with uncovered hair is grounds for divorce.

Since covering one’s hair and modest dress in general figures so prominently in the daily life of an observant woman, it always seemed to me that the Bible should have been more direct in the teaching of it.  To learn it tangentially from what the cohen does to a woman suspected of infidelity, is neither compelling nor convincing.

Looking at Rashi again, I wondered whether Rashi was providing the source of something that was grounds for divorce, or was he simply reporting how this verse was used (or misused) to justify divorce?

The Hebrew word used by the verse, and translated as “uncovering” is פָּרַע para. As anyone who knows the Israeli children’s book; Yehoshua Peruah, (a translation of the German Der Struwwelpeter), “peruah” means unkempt… not uncovered.

YehosuaPeruah

Certainly, the term used for uncovered is suspect.  It is used in three other places in the Torah to mean unkempt or un-cut (see Leviticus 10:6 [Let not the hair of your heads go loose] , 13:45, [the hair of his head shall go loose], and Numbers 6:5 in the next chapter [let the locks of the hair of his head grow long]))

If, as I believe, peruah means unkempt or un-cut, then we might actually have a biblical source for a fashion crime rather than one of immodesty!

It actually makes sense… a woman is suspected or gallivanting around town and carrying on an extramarital affair, the first thing the cohen does is muss up her hair.  And the traditional misreading of the text makes no sense… a woman is accused of infidelity and immodesty so the Cohen removes her kerchief or sheitel?

Knowing that Rashi’s third daughter was a first rate Torah Scholar and posek (legal decider) who was not shy about displaying her scholarship in public, combined with the fact that she divorced her husband (and not because of being barren)… one wonders (at least I do) whether she (like Bruriah before her) questioned and rebelled against those customs which kept Jewish women in the courtyard and it cost her, her marriage.

Is Rashi paying tribute to his daughter and other liberated Jewish women here when he writes: מכאן לבנות ישראל שגלוי הראש גנאי להן “from here (this verse) to Jewish daughters  uncovering the head became degrading to them.”

Moving on…. to my second Rashi commentary in this weekly portion….

All great Jewish Scholars did not earn a living from their Torah learning.  Maimonides was a doctor, Yehuda HaLevi was a poet etc. Rashi lived in France, and while we have no documented proof, the contention is that he had a vineyard and made a living from his winery.  Writes Elie Wiesel:

How did he earn his living? Solely from the produce of his vineyard—there again, if he had one? He did write a lot about wines. He had no salary (in those days, rabbis were not paid), and his students received free instruction.

Wiesel, Elie (2009-08-06). Rashi (Jewish Encounters) (p. 18). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

With that in mind, it is easy to appreciate the next Rashi which explains why a Nazirite who has taken a vow not to imbibe wine brings a sin offering: Numbers 6: 11

The cohen shall prepare one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering and atone on his behalf for sinning by coming into contact with the dead, and he shall sanctify his head on that day.

וְעָשָׂה הַכֹּהֵן, אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת וְאֶחָד לְעֹלָה, וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו, מֵאֲשֶׁר חָטָא עַל-הַנָּפֶשׁ; וְקִדַּשׁ אֶת-רֹאשׁוֹ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא

Rashi: for sinning by coming into contact with the dead: Heb. מֵאֲשֶׁר חָטָא עַל הַנֶּפֶשׁ, lit., for sinning concerning the body… Rabbi Eleazar Hakappar says: He afflicted himself [by abstaining] from wine, [thus, he sinned against his own body]. — [Nazir 19a, B.K. 91b, Ta’anith 11a, Sifrei Naso 1:18, and other places]

מאשר חטא על הנפש: שלא נזהר מטומאת המת, רבי אלעזר הקפר אומר שציער עצמו מן היין

Here is the source that Rashi cites: Babylonian Talmud Nazir 19a

For it has been taught: R. Eleazar ha-Kappar, Berabbi, said: Why does the Scripture say, And make atonement for him, for that he sinned by reason of the soul. Against what ‘soul’ did he then sin? It can only be because he denied himself wine. If then this man who denied himself wine only is termed a sinner, how much more so is this true of one who is ascetic in all things!

L’Chaim!

—————–

* There is actually a very heated debate going on in the Orthodox community right now over women wearing tefillin (also referred to as partnership minyanim).  See WOMEN IN TEFILLIN: Rav Hershel Shachter Slams Rabbis Permitting Women To Wear  and see: Rav Ysoscher Katz: Translation of a Letter to Rav H. Schachter shlita

** AND WHAT [IS DEEMED TO BE A WIFE’S TRANSGRESSION AGAINST] JEWISH PRACTICE? GOING OUT WITH UNCOVERED HEAD. [Is not the prohibition against going out with] an uncovered head Pentateuchal [Why then is it here described as one of mere Jewish practice?]; for it is written, And he shall uncover the woman’s head, and this, it was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a warning to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered head [Why then was this described as traditional Jewish practice]? Pentateuchally it is quite satisfactory [if her head is covered by] her work-basket; according to traditional Jewish practice, however, she is forbidden [to go out uncovered] even with her basket [on her head].  R. Assi stated in the name of R. Johanan: With a basket [on her head a woman] is not guilty of  [going about with] an uncovered head. In considering this statement, R. Zera pointed out this difficulty: Where [is the woman assumed to be]?  If it be suggested, ‘In the street’, [it may be objected that this is already forbidden by] Jewish practice;  but [if she is] in a court-yard  [the objection may be made that] if that were so  you will not leave our father Abraham a [single] daughter who could remain with her husband!  — Abaye, or it might be said, R. Kahana, replied: [The statement refers to one who walks] from one courtyard into another by way of an alley. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 72a)

***  It is not beyond Rashi to reference family members.  The choice of midrashic source for the first Rashi on the Chumash which is in the name of Rabbi Yitzhack has been seen as a tribute to Rashi’s father, as in Rav Shlomo ben Yitzchaki (see Eli Weisel Rashi)

His impressive commentary of the Bible starts with a question asked by a Rabbi Yitzhak: why does the Bible begin with the description of the genesis of the world rather than with the first law, which concerns the calendar? We will return to this question. For the time being, let us just recall that for some exegetes, this Rabbi Yitzhak is none other than the author’s father.

Wiesel, Elie (2009-08-06). Rashi (Jewish Encounters) (p. 11). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah, women's rights

judaism as an adventure

parshat bechukotai

I recently reunited with a heredi guy who knew me from my orthodox youth.  In response to his question regarding the state of my Judaism, I responded that I am no longer observant, but Judaism and Torah study still play a major role in my life.

“So your Judaism is like a hobby” he said.

I’m sure I was supposed to be insulted, but actually the concept of Judaism as a hobby put a silly smile across by clean shaven face.

After all.. people are pretty passionate about their hobbies, but tolerate those who don’t share the love.  People get dressed in special clothes and follow certain rituals to engage in their hobbies, but don’t (or shouldn’t) get too bent out of shape when they miss a game or an event.  Normal people keep their hobbies in check; don’t let them interfere with family life, their love for their kids or earning a living and certainly don’t expect society to support their hobbies.  Most people (maybe some European soccer fans excluded) don’t get violent over a hobby.  If memory serves.. John Lennon imagined a world without religion …. but hobbies are cool.

One of my real objections to religion is its inconvenient requirement that it’s followers stay consistent. No exceptions or time-outs. That’s not the case with a hobby or even a life style.  You can watch your cholesterol but have a steak once in a while. Somehow the consensus is that if you keep kosher, you can’t make any exceptions. What’s with that?

Which brings me to Leviticus 26: 21 “And if you treat Me as happenstance (קרי), and you do not wish to listen to Me, I will add seven punishments corresponding to your sins.”

  וְאִם-תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, וְלֹא תֹאבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ לִי–וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה, שֶׁבַע כְּחַטֹּאתֵיכֶם

Although Rashi brings multiple translations of (קרי) keri, it is his first that has always stuck with me and that is the accepted interpretation amongst traditional Jews.

Heb. קֶרִי. Our Rabbis said that [this word means] temporary, by chance (מִקְרֶה), something that happens only sometimes. Thus, [our verse means:] “If you treat the commandments as happenstance, a temporary concern.

ואם תלכו עמי קרי: רבותינו אמרו עראי, במקרה, שאינו אלא לפרקים, כן תלכו עראי במצות. ומנחם פירש לשון מניעה, וכן (משלי כה יז) הוקר רגלך, וכן יקר רוח (משלי יז כז), וקרוב לשון זה לתרגומו של אונקלוס לשון קושי, שמקשים לבם להמנע מהתקרב אלי

According to Samson Raphael Hirsch “keri” means “accident”.

“keri” derived from karah (see Commentary, Bereshis 24:12) – denotes anything that happens without intention or beyond our reckoning.  Accordingly, it is a purely relative concept.  Something in it self can be intentional and premeditated, yet we did not intend it or plan it; it just happened to us and came to us by chance….
Your going with Me is only keri.  Your acting in accordance with My Will is not your only intention and is not the result of a decision on your part.  Your foremost resolve is not to obey ME, not to do only My Will.  You no longer are opposed to My Will as a matter of principle, but My Will is not important to you.  Other considerations determine you way of life, and you leave it to chance whether this brings you into conflict or accord with Me.   The troubles that befell Israel accomplished at least one thing; their defection ceased to be extreme opposition, directed – as a matter of principle – against God and His Torah.  But heeding God is still not their first and only aim.  The illusory interests of prosperity and power remain their primary concerns.  Their walking with God remains incidental: they keep God’s commandments only if these happen to coincide with their own interests.

The truth is that the correct translation of “keri” is hostility.  As Baruch A. Levine writes in his commentary to Leviticus “Hebrew keri, “hostility” and the idiom halakh ‘im … be-keri, “to walk with … in hostility,” are unique to this chapter. Targum Onkelos translates be-kashyu, “with hardness, obstinacy” deriving keri from the root k-r-r, “to be cold.” Compare the noun form karah, “cold wave,” in Nahum 3:17, and mekerah, “cool chamber” in Judges 3:24

What is fascinating to me is not how this word may have been mistranslated, but the enthusiasm taken to use the mistranslation as an opportunity to preach the gospel of consistency.

Shmuel David Luzzatto in his commentary to this verse, wonders why there is so much conjecture on the part of the commentators as to what keri means since, after all,  Onkelos preceded them all and not only gives an obvious translation, but also clearly follows the translation that was accepted on the street, at the time. [I’m no expert in ShaDL, but he seems to take real offence at the mistranslation… he calls it a “perversion” עיוות )*

In Genesis when Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who is by the well looking for a bride for Isaac prays to God:

And he said: ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, make it happen  (  הקרה  ) to me this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. Genesis 24: 12

  וַיֹּאמַר–יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם, הַקְרֵה-נָא לְפָנַי הַיּוֹם; וַעֲשֵׂה-חֶסֶד, עִם אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם

Here Hirsch writes: “Nothing is farther from the Jewish concept of “MiKreh” than the idea of “chance”, with which it is usually taken to be associated.”  Ironically, this is exactly how Hirsch takes keri to be in the verse under discussion in Leviticus.  But the point is, that Hirsch is voicing an unquestioned assumption, that it seems is universally accepted in Judeo-Christian theology (probably Islam as well) that the infinite, omnipotent God is also all-knowing.  That everything is preordained and that “chance” is only a human perception.

There is a clear bias against happenstance, serendipity, temporarily fealty, chance, accident, the unintentional, the unexpected, or as the King James translators put it in their notes as an alternative translation of “keri-contrary.” if ye walk at all adventures with me.  (Leviticus 26: 21 King James Translators’ Notes) **

When did chance and adventure become a dirty word?

I suppose one could argue that God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient (all knowing) so we must act accordingly but..  The God in the Hebrew Bible did ask Adam: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 9), and on seeing the corruption of man, God changed His mind and regretted/repented on creating the world (Genesis 6: 6-7).  Surely my consistent religious friends would answer that these are just anthropomorphic expressions, not to be taken literally.  I would argue that the Torah speaks in the language of man, and that while it is true that God does not play hid and seek and does not repent, clearly the sacred text wants us to behave as though He does… that’s why it used these human terms. The biblical text, in its choice of anthropomorphisms chose to re-present a God who is not always around, doesn’t always know where we are and.. changes His mind and mindset.  This is the God that God wants us to be like.

I believe that a straightforward reading of the Bible actually shows that it not only has no problem with “chance” and adventure but it embraces it.

Remember when Jacob “chanced” upon a spot only to realize he was at the gate of Heaven (Genesis 28 11-17)?

Not only was Eliezer praying that he would get lucky, but when we pray for healing for the sick, we pray for a fortuitous moment  (עֵת רָצוֹן)  eit ratzon “and as for me, let my prayer come before you God at a favorable time”.  (Psalms 69: 14) There are some times and some places where we can “chance” upon a unique spiritual experience.

If the Bible favors consistency in it’s God and leaders, why do both zig zag so much.  Why does God need to “remember” His people and his promises?  Why does God hide His face and reveal it?  Why do our saints and heroes fall short so often?  Why do we favor teshuva – return/regret so much?

Think of Moses and David and the model is not “as straight as an arrow”, but rather of a boat tacking, or as they say in the great movie The In-Laws… walk serpentine!

I would argue that when it comes to finding a connection to one’s religion, to the spirit, to God, consistency is not a good thing.

I am actually less guilty than some of my co-religionists, for going through the motions.  You have to put on tephilin every day to catch yourself doing it out of habit. If and when, I put on tephilin, I savor the moment. The same goes for prayer, and I follow the Rabbis of the Mishneh on this one:

Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, Rabbi Shimon says, when you pray, don’t make your prayer keva, fixed (routine).

וכשאתה מתפלל, אל תעש תפילתך קבע

I advocate a Judaism which favors happenstance, serendipity, temporarily fielty, chance, the accidental, the unintentional and the unexpected. In fact, everything that the quoted Rabbis and Hirsch find wrong with keri; I embrace….

In closing…. As one finishes the Book of Leviticus (VaYikrah), one cannot but be struck by the fact that the Hebrew word for calling (Vayikrah) and happened (Kara) are very similar.  They are linked by the concept of mikra-gathering.  A holiday is an event that occurs because it is announced and people happen together.

So for example, for the upcoming festival of Shavuot the Bible writes:

And ye shall make proclamation on the selfsame day; there shall be a holy convocation unto you; ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. (Leviticus 23: 21)

 וּקְרָאתֶם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם–כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם בְּכָל-מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם

That’s the Torah I’ll be accepting this Shavuot.  Maybe someday you’ll join me…. C’mon, it’ll be an adventure! Kef!

* Shmuel David Lazzatto, Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah, Leviticus 26:21

 

SDL on ker **

Leviticus Chapter 26  (Original 1611 KJV Bible)

King Jame Lev 26-21

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