Category Archives: Sabbath

A Sabbath Bride – Marriage on Shabbat

An exploration of traditional Jewish sources regarding weddings held on or before the Sabbath and a discussion of how they might guide us as we re-create Jewish wedding rituals for contemporary times and culture.

 

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Notes (on last week’s podcast)

Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage
Brandeis University Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

 

See also:  Study: 1 in 4 US intermarried couples wed by Jewish officiant

Notes

לא חולצין ולא מיבמין ואין כונסין ולא מקדישין ולא מעריכין ולא מחרימין ולא מפרישין תרומות ומעשרות ואין פודין הבן ואין מגרשין אלא אם כן הוא גט שכיב מרע {{רמ”א|(דתקיף ליה עלמא)}}. וכולם אם נעשו שוגגין או מזידין או מוטעין מה שעשוי עשוי

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים שלט

The following is a responsum of the Remah, explaining his decision to perform a wedding late on Friday night long after Shabbat had begun. Although he rules that marriages should not take place on Shabbat, he holds that there are a few exceptional authorities such as Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbi Moshe of Coucy who permitted. “Although it is not the law that we may hold marriages on Shabbat we have these two exceptional opinions to rely upon in times of emergency; for great is the principle of protecting the honor of human beings, and at times the parties are unable to agree on the dowry until Friday night and the wedding is then held.”

וגדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה לא תעשה דלא תסור מכל הדברים אשר יורוך

and shalt not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. Deuteronomy 24:18

“I heard behind me the sound of a great noise. Voices passed through the camp saying, Look at that man Moshe (Exodus 33:8).”

After the Golden Calf when Moses separated himself from the people…..

It concerned the action taken by me recently when I arranged a wedding in the usual way. All knew the state of the bride as she entered under the wedding canopy. It was in the dark of night on Friday evening, an hour and a half after night had fallen. The circumstances which impelled me to this action are clear. It is known to all who live in our city and this is what happened:

There was a poor man in our land who had betrothed his elder daughter to a suitable mate. During the period of the betrothal, which was of considerable duration, the father went to his world and left life to all of Israel. The daughter was left bereaved, without father and mother, except for relatives who lived far from her. They shut their eyes to her plight, all except one relative, the brother of her mother, who brought her into his house, for she had no relatives closer than he.

Then, when the time came for her marriage and it was time to prepare for the feast and the requirements of the wedding canopy, she did not see anything of the dowry and the other needs which the relatives had promised her. But she was told to take her ritual bath and prepare herself for the marriage, and that the dowry would be forthcoming. This maiden then did as the women neighbors commanded her. They deck her with the veil on the sixth day, as virgins are decked. When the shadows of the evening began to fall and Shabbat was approaching, her relatives who were to give the dowry closed their fists and refused to give a sufficient amount, so that at least a third of the dowry was still lacking. Then the groom absolutely refused to marry her. He paid no attention to the pleas of the leaders of the city that he refrain from putting a daughter of Israel to shame for the sake of mere money. He refused to listen to them, “as a deaf serpent does not hear the voice of a charmer (Psalms 58:5).” Nor did the voice of the Rabbi move him.

Because of these quarrels, time drew on; as the saying goes, “There is no marriage settlement without dispute,” and the work of Satan prompted them until the time mentioned above came. Then they finally agreed and the groom consented to enter under the wedding canopy and no longer to shame a worthy daughter of Israel. Thereupon I arose and conducted the marriage at that hour.

Now, since people are complaining against me, I have come now to remove their complaints from me and to bring the proof and the reasons upon which I relied in this matter, saying: In this way beholden and sanctified.

Thus says Moshe, the son of my father and teacher, Israel of blessed memory, the one called

Moshe Isserles of Krakow (Translation Rabbi Simcha Weinberg See)

For Hebrew text and discussion of The Orphan Bride see: קידושין בשבת    הרב אביעד ברטוב –

בטעם האיסור דאין מקדשין וכונסין אשה בשבת

 שולחן ערוך אורח חיים שלט ד

משנה ברורה על אורח חיים שלט

Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage

Rabbeinu Tam

Moses Isserles

 —————-

Musical Selection: Avi Perets – Boi Kallah – An Aaron Teitelbaum Production – אבי פרץ – בואי כלה

 

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A Cathedral in Time – A Tabernacle in Space

it all starts with the story of two Rebbes in a sukkah…..

 

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source notes

———————-

a cathedral in time – a tabernacle in space

1.

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space­minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, quality­less, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

——-

Note: Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3

The essence of Yom Kippur brings attonement for thos who repent as it says: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD. Leviticus 16:30

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם  עצמו של יום הכיפורים מכפר לשבים שנאמר

——

Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances–the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year–depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year. It is, for example, the evening, morning, or afternoon that brings with it the call to prayer. The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days.

——

Moed – Holiday

Ohel Moed – Ten of Meeting

——

In the Bible, words are employed with exquisite care, particularly those which, like pillars of fire, lead the way in the far­ flung system of the biblical world of meaning. One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.

This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place–a holy mountain or a holy spring–whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first. When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time. When at Sinai the word of God was about to be voiced, a call for holiness in man was proclaimed: “Thou shalt be unto me a holy people.” It was only after the people had succumbed to the temptation of worshipping a thing, a golden calf, that the erection of a Tabernacle, of holiness in space, was commanded.

The sanctity of time came first, the sanctity of man came second, and the sanctity of space last. Time was hallowed by God; space, the Tabernacle, was consecrated by Moses. While the festivals celebrate events that happened in time, the date of the month assigned for each festival in the calendar is determined by the life in nature. Passover and the Feast of Booths [Sukkot], for example, coincide with the full moon, and the date of all festivals is a day in the month, and the month is a reflection of what goes on periodically in the realm of nature, since the Jewish month begins with the new moon, with the reappearance of the lunar crescent in the evening sky. In contrast, the Sabbath is entirely independent of the month and unrelated to the moon. Its date is not determined by any event in nature, such as the new moon, but by the act of creation. Thus the essence of the Sabbath is completely detached from the world of space. The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

The Sabbath (FSG Classics) Paperback – July 28, 2005 by Abraham Joshua Heschel

2.

After the destruction of the Second Temple there … was no High Priest, no sacrifice, no divine fire, no Levites singing praises or crowds thronging the precincts of Jerusalem and filling the Temple Mount. Above all there was no Yom Kippur ritual through which the people could find forgiveness.

It was then that a transformation took place that must constitute one of the great creative responses to tragedy in history. Tradition has cast Rabbi Akiva in the role of the savior of hope. The Mishna in Yoma, the tractate dedicated to Yom Kippur, tells us in effect that Rabbi Akiva could see a new possibility of atonement even in the absence of a High Priest and a Temple. God Himself would purify His people without the need for an intermediary. Even ordinary Jews could, as it were, come face to face with the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. They needed no one else to apologize for them. The drama that once took place in the Temple could now take place in the human heart. Yom Kippur was saved. It is not too much to say that Jewish faith was saved.

Every synagogue became a fragment of the Temple. Every prayer became a sacrifice. Every Jew became a kind of priest, offering God not an animal but instead the gathered shards of a broken heart. For if God was the God of everywhere, He could be encountered anywhere. And if there were places from which He seemed distant, then time could substitute for place. “Seek God where He is’ to be found, call on Him’ where He is close” (Is. 55:6) -— this, said the sages, refers to the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur (Yevamot 105a). Holy days became the surrogate for holy spaces. Yom Kippur became the Jerusalem of time, the holy city of the Jewish soul.

Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (Hebrew and English) Hardcover – August 15, 2012 by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks  pp xv-xvi

3.

During Sukkot, we add a prayer: “May the All Merciful establish (raise) for us the fallen Sukkah of David”

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת

The notion of the “fallen Sukkah” come from the prophet Amos (9:11)

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם

4.

From the first day of Elul until the last day of Sukkot we read Psalm 27 every day.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.  or He concealeth me in His pavilion (lit. Sukkah) in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.

אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-ה’,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

Musical notes:

Achat Sha’alti mei’eit Adonai otah avakeish (2x)

Shivti b’veit Adonai kol y’mei chayai

Lachazot b’no’am, b’no’am Adonai ul’vakeir b’heichalo (2x)

This melody, written by Israel Katz. See The Chazzan’s Tisch here and Velveteen Rabbi here for an Hebrew/English version and some background into Israel Katz the composer.  Here’s the track I play on the podcast 1:10 seconds in and available on iTunes here

Cho Rachman (Rebuilt) composed and sung by Shlomo Carlebach on his 4th LP, In The Palace Of The King (Vanguard, 1965) and available on Amazon here.

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Filed under Bible, Judaism, Pilgrimage, prayer, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashannah, Sabbath, Shabbat, sukkot, Torah, Uncategorized, yom kippur

to the yeshiva and back – part one

Beer Yaakov

A yeshiva bachur is a young man who studies in a traditional Talmudic academy; a Yeshiva.  It is said that you can take the bachur out of the yeshiva but you can’t take the yeshiva out of the bachur.  I define myself and my relationship with Judaism in many ways. I’m post-orthodox, traditional but not halachic, evolved and evolving, but one thing I will always be; is a yeshiva bachur. Guilty as charged.

If there is one concept or disposition that I cannot shake it is Bitul Torah. Literally the nullification of Torah, but more precisely the prohibition against wasting potential Torah study time. According to no less of a source than halachipedia: “It is imperative upon a person to use his free time for Torah study. If one wastes one’s free time on useless means, one is in violation of Bitul Torah.” The very concept of time is redefined in the Yeshiva world (and it is a world unto itself) where there are texts to be studied and concepts to be argued from morning to night and every second is literally… fleeting.  The Talmud has a powerful expression to emphasis the point.

אם תעזבני יום יומים אעזבך

“If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.” [i]

This is an early allusion to the economic concept of opportunity cost.  There is always Torah to learn and it does not wait for you, it keeps moving. You cannot return to where you left off, it has already left and gone. If you miss a day of learning you have lost both the day you could have had and the day you had.  This heightened sense of time, especially as relates to study, is for me the essence of the yeshiva and that sense has never left me.

Said Professor Saul Lieberman; when his learning was interrupted by someone asking for his time “money I have, time I don’t”.  A contribution he could make, an appearance, not so much.

In the yeshiva, learning has less to do with the knowledge gained than with the act itself.  A learned scholar who does not constantly add to his knowledge is of less worth that a less intellectually endowed student who sits and learns… day and night.  When shown a very learned businessman, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the head of the yeshiva of my youth was unimpressed and quipped “If you know how to steal but don’t steal, does that make you a ganif (thief)? … If you know how to learn but don’t, does that make you a lamdin (learner)?” … not exactly.

The second most impactful characteristic of the bachur yeshiva is purity verging on naiveté.  A popular song, actually a chant, sung over and over again in a trance-like hora is from the Shabbat liturgy:

וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶאֱמֶת

Purify our heart to serve You in truth

see

Ironically this song was also taken by the Israeli secular pioneers (halutzim) to celebrate their pure and undivided and untarnished focus on the labor (avodah) necessary to build a new land.

Listen[ii]:

The pioneers translated this purity into the simple life of the kibbutz which eschewed makeup, jewelry and bourgeois accouterments. For the yeshiva bachur it was the simple life of the monk, lehvdil.

פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה ובתורה אתה עמל

אם אתה עשה כן, אשריך וטוב לך, אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא

Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, “fortunate are you, and good is to you” (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.[iii]

Which brings me to my return to the yeshiva, part one.

I was near Beer Yaakov on a recent visit to Israel so I decided to return… return to the yeshiva of my youth.

As a nineteen year old, I went to Yeshiva Beer Yaakov at the advice of my cousin Aviezer Wolfson, a businessman, scholar and composer. Aviezer had studied at the yeshiva and my grandfather, Charles Wolfson and his brothers had financed the buildings and sefer Torahs at the Yeshiva.  The main attraction was the Mashgiach Ruchni (spiritual guide), Harav Shlomo Wolbe who was considered when he passed away, the last of the great Mussarniks. Rav Wolbe was a card carrying Haredi who was raised in a secular home and graduated from the university of Berlin in 1933.  He ended up (it’s a long story) at the Meir Yeshiva as a student of Rav Yerucham Levovitz a student of the Alter of Kelm a disciple of Rav Yisroel Salanter the founder of the Mussar Movement. Learning under Rav Wolbe, especially in small, by invitation only, vaadim, was a unique privilege and opportunity to be directly connected through him to Rav Yisrael Salanter, this founder of a  lesser known but unique movement that coincided with the emergence of Hasidism and the haskalah. Rav Wolbe took one student every year to study Chumash with Rashi every morning.  In my second year at the yeshiva, I was that student.

Lieberman and Wolbe

Prof. Saul Lieberman and Rav Shlomo Wolbe

Lieberman Wolbe and Stern

don’t ask.. I don’t remember what we were discussing…

Liberman Wolbe and Sterns

Rav Wolbe, Geoffrey (Shlomo), Orna, Jane and Chaya

Wolbe and SternHere are previously unpublished photos of Rav Wolbe at my Sheva Barachot with Professor Saul Lieberman (who was mesader kiddushin at my wedding).

Wolbe speaking

 

 

 

 
It took me a while to find the Yeshiva.  In my day, it was isolated amongst orange groves and it’s students emerged from their isolation only once in every six shabbats to return to the civilized world.  Now it is pluck in the middle of the urban sprawl of a bustling city of Beer Yaakov, necessitating a privacy curtain (those Halutzim had built well…).

prviacy curtains

Even with all the privacy, I could already tell from the signage that the Yeshiva had fallen….  on hard times.  I couldn’t get over the fact that my isolated yeshiva was now in the middle of a city. There used to be orange groves there now it was a major thoroughfare.

panorama

Once I made my way past the privacy curtains I saw the students gathered around a printed notice on the door to the study hall.  I made my way in and read with disbelief that the yeshiva had been without electricity since the beginning of the month and the administration was pleased to announce that they had finally negotiaated a payment plan with the electric company.

According to matzav.com (The Jewish world at your fingertips)

no electricty

Here’s the notice posted the day of my visit on May 23rd:

notice

The notice thanks the students for their savlanut (patience and endurance) and thanks God for helping to craft a deal with the power authority.  That said, there are strict regulations, punishable with fines for misusing electricity for private air conditioning in the dorms.

Here’s a picture of the aforementioned generator, which in my day was used every Shabbat so that the yeshiva was not powered by electricity produced by Jews on the Sabbath.

generator

The yeshiva baring my Uncles name was in disrepair.

Isaac

 

But inside, I was just in time for the afternoon service.  When I pray now, I am usually one of the last to finish…  but here at my roots, I was amongst the first.  At Beer Yaakov, on a simple everyday afternoon mincha service no prayer is finished before its time… prayers are savored like a fine wine, not gobbled like fast-food. I guess that stayed with me.

beit medrash

My  visit to Beer Yaakov that day was spontaneous and I was not dressed in the uniform white shirt and black pants.  I had no jacket and only my LoBa Kippah, which I turned inside out (ונהפכו).  I felt very comfortable and no one either approached me to say Shalom Alechem nor did they stare at me…. I was just another guy coming in, probably to say kaddish. I started walking around the “campus” and a student approached.  “I studied here” I said… under “Rav Wolbe” I added.  Now there was interest.  Now I was a link.  Students gathered as I described how it was and asked to see and describe the dining room and dorm as I remembered them.  “Where is Rav Wolbe’s house” I asked.  To my shock, the home were we gathered late at night for a vaad was now condemned.

Rv Wolbe's house

It  was sad, but maybe fitting.  The master had passed and so had an era.  The student who showed me around had the purity and simplicity that I had remembered and the food in the dining room was as sparse as I remember it…. and the Torah was being studied with only bread and water and apparently no electricity.  For me and the students, Rav Wolbe’s wisdom still echoes in the hall.  It was time for me to go.

There is much written in the agadata (non legal texts of the Talmud) about a grove (pardes) and a destroyed edifice (chorvah).  On my return to the Yeshiva of my youth I found a pardes that is no more and a chorvah that contains much of my core.  I left the Yeshiva that day.  Needless to say, the yeshiva remains in me.

———————–

[i] Sifrei on Deut. 11:22, Yerushalmi Ber. 9:5, Midrash Shmuel 1 as quoted in Rashi Deuteronomy 11:13 Similar is [the meaning of]“And it will be, if you forget” (אִם שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח) (Deut. 8:19): If you have begun to forget [the Torah you have learned], eventually you will forget all of it, for so it is written in the Megillah 1: “If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.”

[ii]Vitaher Libeynu (And Purify Our Hearts). 5:58 – 7:25 here.

[iii] In the name of Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi Pirkei Avot 6:4

 

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Filed under Bible, Israel, Judaism, prayer, Sabbath, Shabbat, Torah, yeshiva

in defense of jewish universalism and liberalism – a rampage

This past week I was assaulted twice by attacks on Jewish Utopianism.  I am not blameless.  I choose to expose myself to briefings and podcasts that run the gamut of Jewish and political thought, but I was nonetheless taken aback by a similar message from disparate sources all on the same day.

Daniel Gordis, during an AIPAC briefing and latter in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed [i] argued that the problem with Europe, the EU, The Left, our college youth and/or Conservative and Reform Rabbinic students (pick any or all of the above) is that they have missed or forgotten the core message of Judaism, Zionism and the State of Israel.  Gordis is actually coming out with a book in August; The Promise of Israel (I have not read but see pre-publication review here). According to Gordis, these misguided leftists believe in a utopian universalism best optimized by John Lennon in his anthem “Imagine”.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Gordis is not original in his distaste for this, one of my favorite songs. His colleague at the Shalom Center, Ze’ev Maghen wrote a whole book, or in his words; rampage on it. (see: Imagine John Lennon and the Jews: A Philosophical Rampage)

I have also heard Michael Oren make this argument and Lennon reference. The water at the Shalem Center might be a tad bitter. [ii]

Gordis sets up a false dilemma by arguing that the opposite of Universalism is Nationalism.  He and those making the argument are either ignorant or disingenuous in suggesting that Judaism and Zionism, at their core are Nationalistic to the exclusion of Universalistic.

In a wonderful example of reduction ad absurdum, Gordis argues that any movement, political or cultural uprising which rejects any form of universalism (such as the EU, the UN, NATO etc.) is a de facto vote for Israel.  Ergo…. the vote for Brexit and the popularity of Trump …. is good for the Jews.

An understandable reaction to Gordis’s remarks would be to sit our college kids down, pull our Rabbinic students out of class and explain (with pained sensitivity) that their problem is that they are too idealistic.  Given the holocaust and continued enmity faced by our people, not to mention, a careful re-reading of Judaism and Zionism, Gordis would have us instruct our youth to spend more time defending the nation-state and less time imagining.

After listening to Gordis I drove home only to listen to the next podcast in my que from the Tikvah Fund: Norman Podhoretz on Jerusalem and Jewish Particularity .  Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary Magazine discusses what he calls the “scandal” of Jewish particularity.  Podhoretz argues that the Western Liberal world is scandalized by the Jewish idea of particularism. One would be excused if one left this interview believing that the Jews introduced the world to excessive paternalism, tribal pride and nationalism.

Hasn’t Podhoretz seen My Favorite Greek Wedding I and II?  The truth as Gordis and Podhotetz well know and as is easily demonstrated by the exploits of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Muslim, Nazi and Soviet empires… nationalism was alive and well before and without the Jews.  To the contrary…. with their eschatology and non-cyclical concept of history the Jews may have actually introduced Utopianism and Universalism to the world (for better or worse…. mostly worse).

That the Hebrew Bible talks about a nation state, boundaries, military conquest and defense is hardly exceptional…. That it talks about a day when man will learn war no more, where boundaries and languages will disappear and all mankind will worship one God in peace… that was a novel idea.  And yes… where in addition to a physical Jerusalem there was and will be an ideal Jerusalem and an idealized temple (see Ezekiel 40 – 44 especially 43:11) and where the commandments of the Lord will be written not on tablets but on the heart of all man… That all predated Christianity and came from the Hebrew Bible and that was the scandal of Judaism . [iii]

I am not a big fan of eschatology and messianism but I am not guilty of the intellectual dishonesty required to proclaim that these utopian and universalistic ideas did not originate and grow in Judaism.

As to Zionism, for anyone to argue, as does Gordis, that for the majority of the secular Zionists (and the overwhelming majority of Zionist thinkers were secular if not downright anti-religious) the Jewish State was not some version of a utopia… is crazy. [iv]

Gordis and anyone who argues for Jewish particularism over Jewish universalism are misreading the real innovation of Judaism and setting up a false binary and a straw dummy.

The opposite of universalism is not nationalism. Nationalism is only the flip side of the coin… the opposite of both of these isms is realism, rationalism, compromise, nuance, common sense, critical thinking and in all other ways an appreciation of the crooked timber of humanity.  The opposite of Universalism is liberalism.

This middle way had no better spokesman than Isaiah Berlin who argued in the “steadfast defense of liberal values against their rivals both on the Left and on the Right.” Illiberals like Podhoretz critique Berlin’s Liberalism for authenticating relativism [v] and who am I to defend Berlin, but I do believe that if Nationalism can be critiqued for being tribal and Universalism can be critiqued for being naïve then Liberalism should have a place at the table. If we are to see a brighter future and connect with our youth (and the youth within us) then surely more focus and critical thinking need be brought to bear on Liberalism… with all its potential detours and warts.

I would prefer to engage our college age youth and young rabbinic students with respect for their idealism and to challenge them to subject their universalistic aspirations to the rubber of reality.  To follow Berlin in recognizing nationalism “with the insight that belonging, and the sense of self-expression that membership bestows, are basic human needs” and as Jews we/they more than anyone should appreciate these needs by our own people and by others. [vi]

There is a ten-year-old institute in Israel The Jewish Statesmanship Center which is systematically revising Jewish and Zionist thought in line with the Nationalism and particularism reflected in Gordis and Podhoretz… and successfully educating a new generation of leaders.  Those of us who have a more nuanced understanding of Jewish and Zionist thought need to support those who wish to establish a similar institute to educate and spread the best of liberal thought where universalism and nationalism, chauvinism and multiculturalism, heaven and earth       שָּׁמַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ are given equal weight and permitted, nay encouraged to dialectically advanced as the Jewish State prospers. (stay tuned).

One of the lectures that institute might offer could be on the utopian vision in Judaism and Zionism of a world without religion too… The lecturer might review the majority of Zionist thinkers who thought that religion was an archaic tool, the outgrowth of an unnatural life of a people deprived of country and language to be tossed once we have our state.  She might guide us through Talmudic texts that claim in the end-of-days there will be no mitzot (religion).

The commandments will be abolished in the future world (Babylonian Talmud Niddah 61b)

מצוות בטלות לעתיד לבוא – במסכת נדה דף ס”א ע”ב

We might even learn that the reason a pig is called a Hazir is because in the utopia of the future it will again be permitted (hozer) to the Jewish people….

“למה נקרא שמו חזיר שעתיד הקב”ה להחזירו לישראל” [vii]

Ahh … but I digress…

All I know is that on Shabbat I sing of Shabbat being a little taste of Imagine

Like the World to Come, the restful day of Shabbat (Mah Yedidut, Shabbat Zemirot)

מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא, יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה,

And let myself indulge momentarily in an Imagine day that never ends…

May it be Your will that we merit a day when it is always a restful Shabbat – (Birkat Hamazon, Shabbat)

הרחמן הוא ינחילנו יום שכולו שבת ומנוחה –  ברכת המזון של שבת

And that I would feel very comfortable singing Imagine at my Shalosh Suedot…

Getting back to my week in podcasts…. Fortunately, the next podcast in my que was from Machon Hadar on a prayer that even Daniel Gordis says every Shabbat and at the apex of his celebration of our particular national deliverance from Egypt during the seder. [viii]

Nishmat Kol Chai, The breath of every living thing …. A prayer that while leaning universal, nonetheless seamlessly integrates the particularism of the Jewish people into a utopian and universal vision of the future….

The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Lord our God, the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. From this world to the World to Come, You are God, and other than You we have no king, redeemer, or savior. He who liberates, rescues and sustains, answers and is merciful in every time of distress and anguish, we have no king, helper or supporter but You!

God of the first and the last, God of all creatures, Master of all Generations, Who is extolled through a multitude of praises, Who guides His world with kindness and His creatures with mercy. Hashem is truth; He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He Who rouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberers. Who raises the dead and heals the sick, causes the blind to see and straightens the bent. Who makes the mute speak and reveals what is hidden. To You alone we give thanks!

Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us. At first You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem our God, and liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine You nourished us, and in plenty you sustained us. From sword you saved us; from plague you let us escape; and from severe and enduring diseases you spared us. Until now Your mercy has helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. Do not abandon us, Lord our God, forever. Therefore the organs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere, be devoted, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall prostrate itself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as it is written: “All my bones shall say, Hashem who is like You? You save the poor man from one who is stronger than he, the poor and destitute from the one who would rob him.”

The outcry of the poor You hear, the screams of the destitute You listen to, and You save. And it is written: “Sing joyfully, O righteous, before Hashem; for the upright praise is fitting.”

By the mouth of the upright You shall be exalted;

By the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed;

By the tongue of the devout shall You be sanctified;

And amid the holy shall You be lauded.

And in the assemblies of the myriads of Your people, the House of Israel, it is the duty of all creatures, before you O Hashem, our God and God of our forefathers to thank, laud, praise, glorify, exalt, adore, render triumphant, bless, raise high, and sing praises – even beyond all expressions of the songs and praises of David, the son of Jesse, Your servant, Your anointed.

And thus may Your name be praised forever- our King, the God, the Great and holy King – in heaven and on earth. Because for you it is fitting – O Hashem our God and God of our forefathers – song and praise, lauding and hymns, power and dominion, triumph, greatness and strength, praise and splendor, holiness and sovereignty, blessings and thanksgivings to Your Great and Holy Name; from this world to the World to Come You are God. Blessed are You Lord, God, King exalted through praises, God of thanksgivings, Master of Wonders, Creator of all souls, Master of all deeds, Who chooses the musical songs of praise – King, Unique One, God, Life-Giver of the world [universe הָעוֹלָמִים  ed].

נִשְמַת כָּל חַי תְּבָרֵך אֶת שִׁמְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וְרוּחַ כָּל בָּשָׂר תְּפָאֵר וּתְרוֹמֵם זִכְרְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָּמִיד. מִן הָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵ-ל. וּמִבַּלְעֲדֶיךָ אֵין לָנוּ (מֶלֶךְ) גּוֹאֵל וּמוֹשִׂיעַ. פּוֹדֶה וּמַצִּיל. וְעוֹנֶה וּמְרַחֵם. בְּכָל עֵת צָרָה וְצוּקָה. אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ עוֹזֵר וְסוֹמֵךְ אֶלָּא אָתָּה: אֱ-לֹהֵי הָרִאשׁוֹנִים וְהָאַחֲרוֹנִים. אֱ-לוֹהַּ כָּל בְּרִיּוֹת. אֲדוֹן כָּל תּוֹלָדוֹת. הַמְּהֻלָּל בְּכָל הַתִּשְׁבָּחוֹת. הַמְּנַהֵג עוֹלָמוֹ בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרִיּוֹתָיו בְּרַחֲמִים. וַה’ אֱ-לֹהִים אֱמֶת. לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן. הַמְעוֹרֵר יְשֵׁנִים וְהַמֵּקִיץ נִרְדָּמִים. מְחַיֶּה מֵתִים. וְרוֹפֵא חוֹלִים. פּוֹקֵחַ עִוְרִים. וְזוֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים. הַמֵּשִׂיחַ אִלְּמִים. וְהַמְפַעֲנֵחַ נֶעֱלָמִים. וּלְךָ לְבַדְּךָ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים: וְאִלּוּ פִינוּ מָלֵא שִׁירָה כַיָּם. וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה כַּהֲמוֹן גַּלָּיו. וְשִׂפְתוֹתֵינוּ שְׁבַח כְּמֶרְחֲבֵי רָקִיעַ. וְעֵינֵינוּ מְאִירוֹת כַּשֶׁמֶשׂ וְכַיָּרֵחַ. וְיָדֵינוּ פְרוּשׂוֹת כְּנִשְׁרֵי שָׁמָיִם. וְרַגְלֵינוּ קַלּוֹת כָּאַיָּלוֹת. אֵין אֲנַחְנוּ מַסְפִּיקִין לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ. וּלְבָרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ. עַל אַחַת מֵאֶלֶף אַלְפֵי אֲלָפִים וְרוֹב רִבֵּי רְבָבוֹת פְּעָמִים. הַטּוֹבוֹת נִסִּים וְנִפְלָאוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּנוּ וְעִם אֲבוֹתֵינוּ

מִלְּפָנִים מִמִּצְרַיִם גְּאַלְתָּנוּ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ. מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים פְּדִיתָנוּ. בְּרָעָב זַנְתָּנוּ. וּבְשָׂבָע כִּלְכַּלְתָּנוּ. מֵחֶרֶב הִצַּלְתָּנוּ. מִדֶּבֶר מִלַּטְתָּנוּ. וּמֵחֳלָאִים רָעִים וְרַבִּים דִּלִּיתָנוּ. עַד הֵנָּה עֲזָרוּנוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ וְלֹא עֲזָבוּנוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ. עַל כֵּן אֵבָרִים שֶׁפִּלַּגְתָּ בָּנוּ. וְרוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּפַחְתָּ בְּאַפֵּינוּ. וְלָשׁוֹן אֲשֶׂר שַׂמְתָּ בְּפִינוּ.הֵן הֵם. יוֹדוּ וִיבָרְכוּ. וִישַׁבְּחוּ. וִיפָאֲרוּ. אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָמִיד.כִּי כָל פֶּה לְךָ יוֹדֶה. וְכָל לָשׁוֹן לְךָ תְשַׁבֵּחַ. וְכָל עַיִן לְךָ תְצַפֶּה. וְכָל בֶּרֶךְ לְךָ תִכְרַע. וְכָל קוֹמָה לְפָנֶיךָ תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה. וְהַלְּבָבוֹת יִירָאוּךָ וְהַקֶּרֶב וְהַכְּלָיוֹת יְזַמְּרוּ לִשְׁמֶךָ. כַּדָּבָר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כָּל עַצְמֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה ה’ מִי כָמוֹךָ מַצִּיל עָנִי מֵחָזָק מִמֶּנּוּ. וְעָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן מִגֹּזְלוֹ: שַׁוְעַת עֲנִיִּים אַתָּה תִּשְׁמַע. צַעֲקַת הַדַּל תַּקְשִׁיב וְתוֹשִׁיעַ. וְכָתוּב רַנְּנוּ צַדִּיקִים בַּה’ לַיְשָׁרִים נָאוָה תְהִלָּה: בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְרוֹמָם: וּבְשִׂפְתֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ: וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ: וּבְקֶרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְהַלָּל: בְּמִקְהֲלוֹת רִבְבוֹת עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁכֵּן חוֹבַת כָּל הַיְצוּרִים, לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהוֹדוֹת. לְהַלֵּל. לְשַׂבֵּחַ. לְפָאֵר. לְרוֹמֵם. לְהַדֵּר. וּלְנַצֵּחַ. עַל כָּל דִּבְרֵי שִׁירוֹת וְתִשְׁבָּחוֹת דָּוִד בֶּן יִשַׁי עַבְדְּךָ מְשִׁיחֶךָ:

וּבְכֵן, יִשְׁתַּבַּח שִׁמְךָ לָעַד מַלְכֵּנוּ הָאֵ-ל הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ כִּי לְךָ נָאֶה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד  שִׁיר  וּשְׁבָחָה. הַלֵּל  וְזִמְרָה עֹז. וּמֶמְשָׁלָה. נֶצַח. גְּדוּלָה. גְּבוּרָה. תְּהִלָּה וְתִפְאֶרֶת. קְדֻשָׁה. וּמַלְכוּת. בְּרָכוֹת וְהוֹדָאוֹת לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ. וּמֵעוֹלָם וְעַד עוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵ-ל. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל וּמְהֻלָּל בַּתִּשׁבָּחוֹת. אֵ-ל הַהוֹדָאוֹת. אֲדוֹן הַנִּפְלָאוֹת. בּוֹרֵא כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת. רִבּוֹן כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים. הַבּוֹחֵר בְּשִׁירֵי זִמְרָה מֶלֶךְ אֵל חַי הָעוֹלָמִים.

Shabbat Shalom

——————————–

[i] See: A Dose of Nuance: Brexit and the validation of Zionism, By DANIEL GORDIS  07/02/2016 see also The Spirit of Jewish Conservatism by ERIC COHEN APRIL 6 2015 Mosaic.

[ii] especially when drunk by 60-something expat American immigrants to Israel… for more on this see Alan Argush’s fine analysis here.

 

[iii] And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2: 2-4

וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית-יְהוָה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים, וְנִשָּׂא, מִגְּבָעוֹת; וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם

 וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים, וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל-הַר-יְהוָה אֶל-בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו, וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו:  כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם

וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם, וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים רַבִּים; וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LORD’; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (Jerimiah 31: 30-33)

 

[iv] Gordis, in a verbal response to my point that most of the Zionist thinkers were socialists was that he had said universalists and not socialists which is mute… all of these political movements called for a disruption in the existing capitalist and political structures in order to herald in a new age based on communal ownership and governance.  According to Gordis the only universalist Zionists were Buber, Einstein and the early Ahad HaAm (??)

[v]https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/a-dissent-on-isaiah-berlin/

[vi]  See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/berlin/#5.5

[vii] See footnote 30 http://www.aharit.com/A-12.php

[viii]https://www.mechonhadar.org/torah-resource/nishmat

imagine_peace_by_mcullenhightopp-d4fnfxf

 

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Filed under Bible, haggadah, Israel, Judaism, Martin Buber, Passover, prayer, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, Torah, tribalism, Zionism

prove it

The problem with proofs is that they convince only the believer. The upside, is that proofs can provide an innovative out-of-the-box way of thinking. I will get to Yehuda Halevi’s proof for the authenticity of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai…. But first my favorite example of an unconvincing proof which gave birth to innovative, nay, paradigm-shifting thought.

Saint Anselm (1033 – 1109) proved God’s existence in the “ontological proof” as follows:

Agreed that God is a being of which nothing is greater. So …. since to exist is profoundly greater than not to exist…. [Think 1 million imaginary dollars as compared to 1 million real dollars] …  It follows that … God must exist.

Not convinced?  Want to construct a similar argument for unicorns or based on a crazy person’s imagination? It’s all in St. Anselm’s mind, you say? Well, according to the history of ideas, there’s a direct link between St. Anselm’s proof and the birth of the modern Cartesian philosophy of René Descartes who famously opined “I think therefore I am” …. All we can know is that we know….. Which gave birth to Phenomenology and Existentialism where all we can intelligently talk about is not any “real” world, but only experiences and phenomena as we perceive them, and on a higher level, patterns, perceived conflicts within the structure of our own thought. Ontological thinking gave birth to Emanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative and to logical positivism where the only thing that is necessarily true, moral or intelligible is what our minds can conjure up themselves as not dependent on experience or can articulate in a language the mind can produce.

St. Anselm – Not bad for a Medieval Saint!

So, here is Yehudah Halevi’s (1075 – 1141) paradigm shifting proof (also referred to as The Kuzari Principle[i]):

The proof that the Torah was given at Sinai and that Judaism is superior to all other Abrahamic faiths is that you can’t bullshit 1.5 million people. [ii]

That’s it. If 600,000 men plus an equal number of women plus some precocious kids don’t disagree with a text which says they heard thunder and saw lightning from the Mt. and received the Torah, then it must be true. If the Torah, which these million-plus parents are willing to pass down to the next generation, contains prohibitions which make life difficult and opinions which are not popular, all the more reason not to question the veracity of the event that occurred at Sinai and the authenticity of the text in question.  [iii]

Halevi is convinced and his literary or actual King of the Khazars is convinced as well.  The public nature of the event at Sinai witnessed by a multitude is contrasted to the establishment myths concerning Jesus and Mohamed which were experienced, witnessed and documented by a select few.

Similar to Saint Anselm’s proof this proof is problematic and wouldn’t convert any non-believer.  We live in a world where conspiracy theories arise simultaneously with historic events, even if witnessed by billions of humans…. Think of the moon landing, or better yet, 911.  Humanity witnessed these events together, but there are millions of us who claim the events never happened, happened differently than meets the eye or that they were entirely fabricated.

Parents don’t pass on to children difficult or destructive character traits, beliefs or practices you say? Try that on any abuser, child of an abuser or anyone caught up in the cycle of generation’s old ethnic conflict perpetuated by hate and bias feeding on hate and bias.

So what’s the Paradigm shift hidden in Halevi’s argument? It is nothing less than a radical new understanding of “tradition” מסורה

If from Anselm we intuit that the individual and his interior mental perceptions are all that we can really know, from Halevy we are lead to conclude that as a social entity, a community, as a people, maybe even as a species, all we really know is our narrative of history, our story, our Tradition (מסורה).  As social animals all we really know is what has been passed down to us and which we pass on to our children…. not that it is true mind you… but that it is ours.  “we transmit therefore we are”. The activist corollary is that while we cannot create change by changing the “facts” we can own and create change by changing our interaction to those “facts” and to our history. Ultimately, receiving the Torah (קבלת התורה) means taking ownership of what, how and to whom our narrative is transferred.  By truly accepting the that which was given at Sinai we become בעל מסורה  Masters of Tradition.

The most forceful modern-day thinker to articulate this conception of Jewish faith as reaction and action triggered by communal experience is Emil Fackenheim who wrote God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections 1970.  Fackenheim is most famously known for his 614th commandment which exhorts us to continue Jewish life and deny Hitler a posthumous victory.  But what lies behind this one-liner is a complex and multidimensional philosophy of God as or in History מסורה

For Descartes and Kant, the surest belief is not what we experience or perceive but that we experience.  If for the phenomenologists and existentialists the only certain process that we can discern is the dialectical processes of the mind as filtered through the categories of our mind.  For Fackenheim the faith that constitutes and energizes us as social beings is not based on any historical event per se, but rather on the reaction to that event in the past, present and future and the action caused by that reaction.[iv]

Fackenhiem bases his thesis on a Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus 15:2 “this is my God, and I will glorify Him” זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ

In a well—known Midrash it is asserted that what Ezekiel once saw in heaven was far less than what all of Israel once saw on earth. Ezekiel, and indeed all the other prophets, did not see God but only visions and similes of God; they were like men who perceive a king of flesh and blood surrounded by servants of flesh and blood, and who are forced to ask, “which one is the king?” In the sharpest possible contrast, the Israelites at the Red Sea had no need to ask which one was the King: “As soon as they saw Him, they recognized Him, and they all opened their mouths and said, “This is my God, and I will glorify Him’ “

Fackenheim coins a term he calls a root experience which he attributes to Martin Buber.  For the Jewish people, root experiences include the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the holocaust.

Buber writes:

What is decisive with respect to the inner history of Mankind . . . is that the children of Israel understood this as an act of their God, as a “miracle”; which does not mean that they interpreted it as a miracle, but that they experienced it as such, that as such they perceived ” it.. . .

The concept of miracle which is permissible from the historical approach can be defined at its starting point as an abiding astonishment.  The . . . religious person . . . abides in that wonder; no knowledge, no cognition, can weaken his astonishment. Any causal explanation only deepens the wonder for him. The great turning-points in religious history are based on the fact that again and ever again an individual and a group attached to him wonder and keep on wondering; at a natural phenomenon, at an historical event, or at both together; always at something which intervenes fatefully in the life of this individual and this group. They sense and experience it as a wonder. This, to be sure, is only the starting—point of the historical concept of wonder, but it cannot be explained away. Miracle is not something “supernatural” or “super historical,” but an incident, an event which can be fully included in the objective, scientific nexus of nature and history; the vital meaning of which, however, for the person to whom it occurs, destroys the security of the whole nexus of knowledge for him, and explodes the fixity of the fields of experience named “Nature” and “History.” . . . [Highlighting here and throughout by ed]

Fackenheim elaborates:

The divine Presence thus far considered is a saving Presence. Salvation is not here, however, what it might be in a different religious context. It occurs within history, not in an Eternity beyond it, nor for a soul divorced from it, nor as an apocalyptic or Messianic event which consummates history. … At the same time, the divine presence requires the self and its freedom in the very moment of its presence.  There is no abiding astonishment unless we exist who can be astonished; moreover, the divine Presence – saving as well as commanding – remains incomplete unless human astonishment terminates in action.

Like Halevi (who surprisingly along with Saadia Gaon is never cited) Fackenheim requires the public nature of a root experience.  He writes:

At the Red Sea, however, the whole people saw, the lowly maidservants included, and what occurred before their eyes was not an opening of heaven but a transformation of earth – an historical event affecting decisively all future generations. … Moreover, as regards private, authoritative experiences, no Jewish believer could ever stake much on these.  Ezekiel’s vision may have been an experience of this kind.  What happened at the Red Sea and Sinai, in contrast, were public events, accessible even to the maidservants to the extent they were accessible to all. (pp 10 and 42)

Where Fankenheim goes beyond The Kuzari Principle is with regard to authentication and validation.  Fackenheim and Buber imply an open invitation for nondoctrinaire and heterodox reactions to the root experience.  For Fackenheim the root experience implies a challenge to participate and includes a risk of commitment. Fackenheim compares the multiplicity of reactions to the root event to the multiplicity of reasons a hypothetical Jew might participate in a Passover Seder:

… whereas as a historian he may and must suspend judgment, he cannot do likewise as a man and Jew, if only because every Passover Seder constitutes a challenge to participation. How can he participate? No longer in a religious immediacy which has never thought of stepping outside the Midrashic framework. Not at all in a stance of critical reflection which stands outside only and merely looks on. Nothing is possible except an immediacy after reflection which is and remains self-exposed to the possibility of a total dissipation of every divine Presence, and yet confronts this possibility with a forever reenacted risk of commitment.

Fackenheim’s essay is primarily focused on the Holocaust and the possibility or impossibility of God in history after that root event… hopefully my extensive quotations of his poetic and profound writing will entice you to read the original.  But the final element that Fackenheim introduces to Halevy’s “proof” paradigm is the fragmentary nature of any root experience, least of which being the experience at Sinai.

For Halevy the proof of Sinai is in the fact that everyone at Sinai not only shared an experience, but that they shared the same experience.  For Fackenheim the greatest threat to the root experience is reflective philosophical thought which would have us believe that the experience is uniform; general, unchanging and abstractable from history. (p16).   In contrast God’s presence in History requires Midrashic thinking which reflects upon root experiences but (i) is not confined to their immediate reenactment, (ii) becomes aware of the contradictions in these experiences, (iii) refuse to destroy the immediacy of these experiences even as it stands outside and reflects upon them, (iv) is conscious of the contradictions and fragmentary nature of these experiences and (iv) these experiences can only be expressed in story, parable and metaphor. For Fackenheim we must retell the old Midrash  – or create a new. (pp 20-21).

A contemporary scholar at Machon Hadar; Rabbi Jason Rubenstein has recorded a wonderful 3-part lecture on Revelation with the third and final part titled: Between “Mosaic Authorship” and “mosaic composition”: Hearing Conflict in Revelation and Revelation in Conflict (see here).  What Rubenstein argues, quite compellingly is that while in prior generations, the concept of truth and value was inherently connected to the concept of uniformity, consistency and harmony.  With the emergence of science and the internet of ideas, our concept of truth and value is rather associated with dissonance, multiplicity and a cacophony of ideas, images and sounds.  When describing what could be described as Yehudah Halevi’s concept of 1 million plus people all hearing the same message a Sinai, one of Rubentstein’s students exclaimed… if it were so “it would become flat, it would become dull ”

 

The truth is that pre Internet-of-ideas, this same confluence of passionately argued and differing opinions and visions was always present in the Midrash and Talmud and I would argue…. also at Sinai.

 

When all is said and done, our reading of Halevi through the lens of Fackenheim produces a radical new conception of what happened at Sinai (Mesorah) and for that matter our concept of God… which it turns out is God in, through, and by, human history.

“ ‘Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God’ (Isa. 43:12).   וְאַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם-ה’, וַאֲנִי-א-ֵל That is, when ye are My witnesses, I am God, and when ye are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not God?“  (p23)

The concept of God in and as history is ultimately that we need to live a life… as individuals but more so as a society… where we are and become the Proof itself.  What lies implicit in the giving of the Torah is an imperative on the part of the recipient to receive and transfer.  Implicit in the giving of the commandments is the underlying command to become the proof of the giving and transmission itself.  … to prove it….

—————–

[i] For the Kuzari Principle see here and for critiques see here, here , here  and here….

[ii] Kuzari Book 1:9

 

  1. The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. Then came the manna and the quails during forty years, His speaking to Moses on the mount, making the sun stand still for Joshua, and assisting him against the mighty. [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?

 

  1. Al Khazari: Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth.

 

  1. The Rabbi replied: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, and subsequently thousands of prophets, who confirmed His law by promises to the observant. and threats to the disobedient. Our belief is comprised in the Torah — a very large domain.

 

  1. The Rabbi: Surely the beginning of my speech was just the proof, and so evident that it requires no other argument.

 

  1. The Rabbi: In this way I answered thy first question. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him:’The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,’ viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: ‘The God of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and thine sent me.’ In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator. Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these, things. first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.

 

  1. The chronology was established through the medium of those sainted persons who were only single individuals, and not a crowd, until Jacob begat the Twelve Tribes, who were ail under this divine influence. Thus the divine element reached a multitude of persons who carried the records further. The chronology of those who lived before these has been handed down to us by Moses.

 

  1. Al Khazari: An arrangement of this kind removes any suspicion of untruth or common plot. Not ten people could discuss such a thing without disagreeing, and disclosing their secret understanding; nor could they refute anyone who tried to establish the truth of a matter like this. How is it possible where such a mass of people is concerned? Finally, the period involved is not large enough to admit untruth and fiction.

 

  1. Al Khazari: Let us now return to our subject, and explain to me how your belief grew, how it spread and became general, how opinions became united after having differed, and how long it took for the faith to lay its foundation, and to be built up into a strong and complete structure. The first element of religion appeared, no doubt, among single individuals, who supported one another in upholding the faith which it pleased God should be promulgated. Their number increases continually, they grow more powerful, or a king arises and assists them, also compels his subjects to adopt the same creed.

 

  1. The Rabbi: In this way only rational religions, of human origin, can arise. When a man succeeds and attains an exalted position, it is said that he is supported by God, who inspired him, etc. A religion of divine origin arises suddenly. It is bidden to arise, and it is there, like the creation of the world.

 

  1. …. they came to the desert, which was not sown, he sent them food which, with the exception of Sabbath, was crested daily for them, and they ate it for forty years.

 

  1. Al Khazari: This also is irrefutable, viz. a thing which occurred to six hundred thousand people for forty years. Six days in the week the Manna came down, but on the Sabbath it stopped. This makes the observance of the Sabbath obligatory, since divine ordination is visible in it.

 

  1. The Rabbi: I do not maintain that this is exactly how these things occurred; the problem is no doubt too deep for me to fathom. But the result was that everyone who was present at the time became convinced that the matter proceeded from God direct. It is to be compared to the first act of creation. The belief in the law connected with those scenes is as firmly established in the mind as the belief in the creation of the world, and that He created it in the same manner in which He–as is known–created the two tablets, the manna, and other things. Thus disappear from the soul of the believer the doubts of philosophers and materialists.

 

  1. … The prerogative of Isaac descended on Jacob, whilst Esau was sent from the land which belonged to Jacob. The sons of the latter were all worthy of the divine influence, as well as of the country distinguished by the divine spirit. This is the first instance of the divine influence descending on a number of people, whereas it had previously only been vouchsafed to isolated individuals.

 

See: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/kuzari.html

 

[iii] See: Saadia Gaon: The Book of Beliefs and Opinions  Introduction, part VI pp 29-30.  Both Yehuda Halevi and Saadia Gaon cite the Manna as a proof to the existence and requirement of observing the Shabbat… and as the best example of a miracle, viewed by many, occurring multiple times and over time whose acceptance by subsequent generations is proof to its veracity.

 

When, furthermore, He says: And ye are My witnesses (Isa. 44:8), [Fear ye not, neither be afraid; have I not announced unto thee of old, and declared it? And ye are My witnesses. – הֲלֹא מֵאָז הִשְׁמַעְתִּיךָ וְהִגַּדְתִּי, וְאַתֶּם עֵדָי   ] He alludes to the marvelous signs and the manifest proofs witnessed by the [Jewish] people. These [were revealed] in many forms, such as the visitation of the ten plagues and the cleaving of the [Red] Sea and the assemblage at Sinai. Personally, however, I consider the case of the miracle of the manna as the most amazing of all miracles, because a phenomenon of an enduring nature excites greater wonderment than one of a passing character. Aye it is hard for the mind to conceive of a scheme whereby a people numbering something like two million souls could be nourished for forty years with nothing else than food produced for them in the air by the Creator. For had there been any possibility of thinking up a scheme for achieving something of this nature, the philosophers of old would have been the first to resort to it. They would have maintained their disciples therewith, taught them wisdom, and enabled them to dispense with working for a livelihood or asking for help.

 

Now it is not likely that the forbears of the children of Israel should have been in agreement upon this matter if they had considered it a lie. Such [proof] suffices, then, as the requisite of every authentic tradition. Besides, if they had told their children: “We lived in the wilderness for forty years eating naught except manna,” and there had been no basis for that in fact, their children would have answered them: “Now you are telling us a lie. Thou,

so and so, is not this thy field, and thou, so and so, is not this thy garden from which you have always derived your sustenance?” This is, then, something that the children would not have accepted by any manner of means.

[iv] See also: Fackenheim’s Jewish Philosophy: An Introduction Michael L. Morgan, and review by Michael Zank here especially:

 

According to Morgan, the early Fackenheim’s conception of the manner in which human agency is transformed into a religious response to revelation is reminiscent of the neo-Kantian conception of “self-fashioning.” It is within human consciousness that the contents of Jewish history, literature, folklore, and custom are elevated to the level of absolutely binding commandments. This transformation of the products of human inventiveness into the contents of revelation is also similar to what we might find in other mid-twentieth century hermeneutical theologians, especially Paul Tillich. But there is also a Barthian (or Rosenzweigian) element entailed in it, namely, when the condition of the possibility of any human response to revelation is seen as implicit in revelation itself. Without the “event” of revelation, no answer to revelation would be possible. Revelation remains initiated by God (though possibly eclipsed by the acute absence of God in the face of human suffering), which may be another way of saying that we are conditioned and embedded beings rather than absolute selves.

proof

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Filed under Bible, Emil Fackenheim, haggadah, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, Martin Buber, miracle, Religion, Saadia Gaon, Sabbath, Shabbat, shavuot, Torah, Yehudah Halevy

of noah’s ark, cathedrals in time and jewish ships – parshat noach

Shabbat is a “cathedral in time” suggested AJ Heschel by which he meant that Judaism emphasizes the sanctity of time over space.  In making a distinction between the Sabbath and the cathedral, the iconic edifice of institutional religion Heschel was following a time-honored Jewish tradition.

The Torah follows the laws regarding the building of the Tent of Meeting (Mishkan) with an admonition to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 31: 12-17) from which the rabbis learnt that any of the 39 tasks used to build the Mishkan, were forbidden as work (melacha) on the Shabbat. The lesson is clear: The Mishkan and later the Temple were built as an accommodation to our need for edifice and to accessorize… or as Mel Brooks would say: merchandising.  The Sabbath – a sanctuary in time – with its aspiration to sanctify time, activity and state of mind supersedes any temporal temple.

The Mishkan was not the first biblical construction commanded by God. Moses & Bezalel were not the first master builders.  Biblical scholars have noted the parallels of the divine architectural specifications to build the Mishkan to similar specs provided to Noah to build an ark.

See: R. Jonathan Sacks: The Architecture of Holiness and a Mormon scholar who recently wrote an extended article on the subject: The Ark and the Tent: Temple Symbolism in the Story of Noah [especially notes 134-]

If Noah’s ark is the first biblical temple then as such it represents our tradition’s first clear compromise and recalibration to the shortcomings of humanity and our need for building campaigns, clergy, chapel and sacrifices to the Gods (see previous blog post honor thy sources and Genesis 8:20 ; the first biblical sacrifice burnt by Noah).  Noah was the first religious leader who had to quantify the message … (see: Bill Cosby’s “What’s a Cubic”)

But if Noah’s Ark was the first cathedral, where is the offsetting “Cathedral in time”?  Where is Shabbat and it alternative and aspirational message of the sanctity of time over thing?

Here at the emergence of organized religion where one man; Noah, was chosen from amongst others to lead, where sacrifices were brought and institutional religion and government, with corrupt (or at least, drunk) leaders were born… Where was the reminder that these were all accommodations, that the real ideal, the real prize … was the Shabbat?

Fortunately, there are those like me, who have Shabbat on the mind and who read the story of Noah’s Ark (Genesis 8) and found Shabbat:

ח  וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת-הַיּוֹנָה, מֵאִתּוֹ–לִרְאוֹת הֲקַלּוּ הַמַּיִם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.

8 And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground.

ט  וְלֹא-מָצְאָה הַיּוֹנָה מָנוֹחַ לְכַף-רַגְלָהּ, וַתָּשָׁב אֵלָיו אֶל-הַתֵּבָה–כִּי-מַיִם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וַיִּקָּחֶהָ, וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו אֶל-הַתֵּבָה.

9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark.

י  וַיָּחֶל עוֹד, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים אֲחֵרִים; וַיֹּסֶף שַׁלַּח אֶת-הַיּוֹנָה, מִן-הַתֵּבָה.

10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.

יא  וַתָּבֹא אֵלָיו הַיּוֹנָה לְעֵת עֶרֶב, וְהִנֵּה עֲלֵה-זַיִת טָרָף בְּפִיהָ; וַיֵּדַע נֹחַ, כִּי-קַלּוּ הַמַּיִם מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ.

11 And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

יב  וַיִּיָּחֶל עוֹד, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים אֲחֵרִים; וַיְשַׁלַּח, אֶת-הַיּוֹנָה, וְלֹא-יָסְפָה שׁוּב-אֵלָיו, עוֹד.

12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.

As if the reference to the dove not finding Menucha “rest”, the fact that the name Noach is a cognate of the word rest-menucha and the repeated seven day intervals were not enough, the Rabbis calculated that by the calendar the dove actually landed on Shabbat.

Based on this tradition, we sing a song  called Yom Shabbaton attributed to Yehuda Halevi  on shabbat afternoon (see verse 11 above “eventide”) which celebrates the magnificence of the Shabbat with a refrain that connects Shabbat to Noah’s Ark:

The day of rest should not be forgotten: On it the dove found rest, there shall rest exhausted​​ ones.

For Halevi, the Shabbat was not only a sanctuary in time; it was also a refuge in time that transcended the daily humiliations and exhaustion of his particular time and space.  Shabbat was a weekly refuge from the Inquisition and the indignities of the exile from his beloved land of Zion. (press to hear my favorite melody for this zemer).

For Halevi and for generations of our people, the Shabbat was a life raft…. The Shabbat provided relief not only from a misreading or compromise of the world of the spirit, but more critically, it provided a refuge from physical persecution, poverty, hunger and pain suffered by a people. It was a Jewish boat.

The father of my VERY good friend Eileen Posnik was a Yiddish writer named Usher Penn who lived in Cuba and in 1943 wrote the following poem called Di yiddishe shif.  It is about a ship that was not built in time to save the six million, but is a ship… a fleet of ships, that represents the power of an ideal… the ideal of the weekly Shabbat and the ideal of the return to the Jewish homeland.  Heschel’s Sanctuary in time, Halevi’s ark of refuge and Penn’s Jewish boats represent that which transcends time and space, institutions and edifices, persecution and insult.  In them lies the secret of our survival.  After all the necessary accommodations, humiliations and physical and moral exhaustion of the work week and the construction of institutions, structures and states (and associated compromises and accommodations) we need to refresh ourselves with Shabbat menucha …Shabbat rest

The Jewish Boat – Usher Penn 1943

I have learned to design ships

Pleasure ships and warships

Now, after thousands of years, the time has come

To build a ship for the wandering Jews

A wondrous ship, a new design

With all the latest modern techniques

A ship that can swim deep under water

And soar over the stars

A new ship for a very old people

Whom the sea has swallowed more than once,

Hounded from shore to shore

And drowned like disease-ridden rats.

I will build you a ship, my brothers,

Refugees from the Shturme and the St Louis

You, upon whose heads has fallen the rage

Of all the vampires and wild beasts

I will build you a ship,

An entire fleet,

And I will hide it deep it the depths of the sea;

It will come to save you,

When it hears the cry of the ancient wandering Jews.

Di yiddishe shif

Ich hob gelerent tzu shifn, tsu tsaich’nen

Shifn far kreig un far frid’n.

Di tzeit iz shoyn raif

Efshr toizenter yor’n

Tzu boyen a shif

Far farvoglte idin.

A shif gor bazunder

A plan gor a nayer

Loit der letzter technik un modern,

A shif, vos zol shvimen tif unter’n vaser

Un zol kenen oich fliyen

Heit iber di shter’n

A shif gor a naiye

Far a folk gor an alten

Vos hot shoyn nit einmol

In yam zich getrinken,

Getrib’n gevor’n fun alerlay breg’n

Vi kretzike shtoshures

Gevor’n gezinken

A shif vel ich boyen

Far eich, meine brider

Ir vogler fun  “shturme” un fun “st louis”.

Vos oif ayere kep

Iz gefal’n der tzor’n

Fun alle vampir’n

Un chayus royus.

A shif vel ich shaf’n

A flot gor a gantz’n,

Tif oif dem opgrunt

Vel ich im bahalt’n

Er vet kum’n aich dinen

Ven er vet derher’n

Dem ruf fun dem idish’n vogler

Der alten.

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holy crap

Ashar Yatzar

To the best of my knowledge, there is no other religion that has a blessing upon taking care of one’s business.  Washing hands after relieving oneself is just good hygiene and probably prescribed by many religious orders, but saying a blessing prior to and after a visit to the loo is, to my mind, unique to Judaism.  [students of comparative religion and anthropologists: please correct if you know differently].

For better or worse, we no longer recite the prayer before entering a bathroom (in Hebrew בית הכסא lit. house of the chair) [1], but the prayer prescribed after-the-fact is not only still recited by the faithful, but preserved in the standard prayer book and part of the daily morning prayers.  It is called Ashar Yatzar (אשׁר יצר ) Here is the text of the prayer:

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for one hour). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

ברוך אתה ה’ א-להינו מלך העולם אשר יצר את האדם בחכמה וברא בו נקבים נקבים חלולים חלולים גלוי וידוע לפני כסא כבודך שאם יפתח אחד מהם או יסתם אחד מהם אי אפשר להתקיים ולעמוד לפניך  (אפילו שעה אחת ***)  ברוך אתה ה’ רופא כל בשר ומפליא לעשות

All bathroom humor aside… the blessing is actually quite beautiful and the English does not do it justice.  “many openings and many hollows” actually echoes the biblical method of emphasis by repeating a word (Epizeuxis) such as “Justice Justice shall you [certainly] pursue of Deut. 16:20.   Or more appropriately, think of Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions”  Here it is “openings and [more] openings, hollows and [more] hollows… it is a paean of awe to the workings of the human body, in all it’s incomprehensible and unquantifiable complexity.  No wonder so many Jews became doctors! [2] From the most humble and humbling activity comes a prayer of radical wonder.

The Talmud records the discussion regarding the exact text of the closing benediction.

How does the blessing conclude? Rab said: ‘[Blessed art Thou] that healest the sick’ (רופא חולים). Said Samuel: Abba has turned the whole world into invalids! No; what he says is, ‘That healest all flesh’. R. Shesheth said: ‘Who doest wonderfully’. R. Papa said: Therefore let us say both, ‘Who healest all flesh and doest wonderfully’.

אמר רב רופא חולים אמר שמואל קא שוינהו אבא לכולי עלמא קצירי אלא רופא כל בשר רב ששת אמר מפליא לעשות א”ר פפא הלכך נמרינהו לתרוייהו רופא כל בשר ומפליא לעשות

According to Rab, this could have been our blessing for the healing of the sick..  The final form of the blessing relates to healing and wonder, in equal measure.

According to Maimonides [3], we recite the Ashar Yatzar in conjunction with the other blessings upon rising and dressing, but according to our prayer book, the Ashar Yatzar is placed right before the prayer for learning Torah.  The irony is not missed by Ellen Frankel, a commentator in the My Peoples Prayer Book series, who also brings a feminist perspective to her comments.  She writes:

“what a strange juxtaposition it is – thanking God simultaneously for teaching us Torah and for giving us internal plumbing that works!  Could any two spheres be further apart?  And yet in this odd pairing we find the genius of Jewish prayer: on the one hand, if our tubes and valves fail to function, how difficult it is to focus our minds on study!  But on the other, how healing it can be for us to “make the words of Your Torah sweet to us and to the house of Israel, your people,” despite physical distress.

Frankel continues: For women, whose anatomical system is far more complex than men’s, this blessing is especially meaningful.  The very word for duct “n’kavim (נקבים), shares its root with n’kevah (נְקֵבָה), the Hebrew word for “female.”

Frankel  goes on to point out, that while, by tradition, every human is a vessel and a void created to hold holiness and life, yet it is a woman whose spaces and hollows permits the birth and wonder of new life.    For those of you who are students of Jewish mysticism, you certainly appreciate the meaning of a void and how mankind redeems the world through filling the void… מלא את החלל‎ל.. this sense of “hollows and hollows” חלולים חלולים was certainly not lost on the author of this prayer.

If I am even partially correct that this prayer does not exist or at least feature in other religions and cultures then I  wunder … Did it come out of a vacuum, what were its author’s intentions?  Were the original authors aware of it’s radical nature and potential for derision?

I first came across a derogatory reference to this prayer as an undergraduate student while reading… of all people, Karl Marx. It’s possible that this unique prayer was part of a long list, compiled by anti-Semites to demonstrate Judaism’s embrace of the physical, mundane and crass.  It may be that it was his own innovation, due to a rabbinic background or a fixation on feces [4], but in one of his earliest works written in 1843 called: On the Jewish Question Karl Marx writes:

The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism which makes even the lavatory an object of divine law. Practical need, egoism, is the principle of civil society, and as such appears in pure form as soon as civil society has fully given birth to the political state. The god of practical need and self-interest is money. (see )

I would argue that it was Judaism’s embrace of the physical and material which made Marx possible.  Afterall, it was Marx who championed Historical Materialism with its focus on material modes of production.  Marx would not be the first thinker to distance himself and rebuke his mentors and those antecedent thinkers who influenced his thought.  In fact the “Jewish Question” was itself a diatribe against his mentor Bruno Bauer.  In any case, the uniqueness of Jewish law’s attention to the lavatory and the Asher yatzer and it’s materialism was noted in 19th century thought.

In a Pulitzer Prize (1974) work named The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker dedicates a complete chapter to the bathroom (The meaning of anlality).  I quote this student of 19th century psychoanalysis at length because it seems to me, more than any contemporary thinker, Becker appreciates the significance of literature and, in our case, a prayer relating to the movement of the bowels.  He writes:

The tragedy of man’s dualism, his ludicrous situation, become too real… We now understand that what psychoanalysts have called “anality” or anal character traits are really forms of the universal protest against accident and death. …  To say that someone is “anal” meant that someone is trying extra-hard to protect himself against the accidents of life and danger of death, trying to use the symbols of culture as a sure means of triumph over natural mystery, trying to pass himself off as anything but an animal.  … We read that men of the Chagga tribe wear an anal plug all their lives, pretending to have sealed up their anus and not to need to defecate.  An obvious triumph over mere physicalness. Or take the widespread practice of segregating women in special huts during menstruation and all the various taboos surrounding menstruation….

Anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their Truth with a capital “T”. …. The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals that all culture, all man’s creative life-ways, are in some basic part of them a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition, and an attempt to forget the pathetic creature that man is.  …

Excreting is the curse that threatens madness because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams.

But even more immediately, it represents man’s utter bafflement at the sheer non-sense of creation; to fashion the sublime miracle of the human face, the mysterium tremendum of radiant feminine beauty, the veritable goddesses that beautiful women are; to bring this out of nothing, out of the void, and make it shine noonday; to take such a miracle and put miracles again within it, deep in the mystery of eyes that peer out – the eye that gave even the dry Darwin a chill: to do all this, and combine it with an anus that shits! It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live to torture.  pp 55 – 58

In my reading, the Ashar Yatzar prayer, by itself, embraces physicality and implicitly rejects a worldview that claims that the spirit, the intellect and beauty are all mocked by our finite, putrid and decaying nature.  Combined with the prayer for Torah learning, the Ashar Yatzar is a radical rejection of any attempt to insert a wedge between body and soul.

But is my read, also the rabbi’s read?  Did the authors of the Ashar Yatzar prayer recognize, nay, intend it to be such a rejection?

As they say in the Talmud…. Come and listen.

God instructs Moses to meet with Pharoah, in the morning at the Nile (Exodus 7:15)

Go to Pharaoh in the morning; behold, he is going forth to the water, and you shall stand opposite him on the bank of the Nile, and the staff that was turned into a serpent you shall take in your hand.

Rashi comments:

behold, he is going forth to the water: to relieve himself, for he had deified himself and said that he did not need to relieve himself; so, early in the morning he went out to the Nile and there he would perform his needs. — [from Mid. Tanchuma, Va’era 14; Exod. Rabbah 9:8]

הנה יצא המימה – לנקביו, שהיה עושה עצמו אלוה ואומר שאינו צריך לנקביו ומשכים ויוצא לנילוס ועושה שם צרכיו

Like Becker’s Chagga tribe, Pharaoh knew that gods don’t shit.  If he wanted to be taken as a god, he needed to hide this aspect of his being.  More importantly, for our purposes, the Rabbis who composed the Ashar Yatzar were aware of the conflict between the most basic bodily movement and any aspirations to godliness.

I will argue below, that for the authors of the Ashar Yatzar the emphasis on the wonder of man’s physicality not being at the expense of his spirituality differentiated Judaism from paganism but also differentiated Rabbinic Judaism from some emerging ascetic sects; namely the Essenes who are considered by many to be precursors of the early Christians.

It is only when we visit the “latrines of the Essenes” that we understand that the Ashar Yatzar was not simply an embrace of physicality.. it was a polemic against those that would have us deny our physical nature and aspire to be angels.

In The Jewish War, Josephus writes of Jewish sects in the First Century AD including the Essenes who, he explains, had a year-long trial before joining the sect in which they:

 “Observe the same rule of life as the members, receiving from them a hatchet, the loin-cloth mentioned above and white garments.”..  He goes on to explain that “they abstain from seventh-day work more rigidly than any other Jews; for not only do they prepare their meals the previous day so as to avoid lighting fire on the Sabbath, but they do not venture to remove any utensil or to go and ease themselves.  On other days they dig a hole a foot deep with their trenching-tool (for such is the hatchet they give to the novices) and draping their cloak round them so as not to affront the rays of the god, they squat over it; then they put the excavate soil back in the hole.  On these occasions they choose the more secluded spots; and through emptying the bowels is quite natural they are taught to wash after it, as if it defiled them.”  (See The War of the Jews, Excursus I – Jewish Sects)

To be sure, the Bible includes provisions to take care of one’s needs outside of the camp:

And thou shalt have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be, when thou sittest down abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee. (Deuteronomy 23: 14)

 וְיָתֵד תִּהְיֶה לְךָ, עַל-אֲזֵנֶךָ; וְהָיָה, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ חוּץ, וְחָפַרְתָּה בָהּ, וְשַׁבְתָּ וְכִסִּיתָ אֶת-צֵאָתֶךָ

But this provision is only for an individual who becomes impure and in order to purify himself must leave the camp. (Deuteronomy 23:11)

It was the Essenes who universalized the shameful nature of the most basic bodily function to the extent that moving one’s bowels on the Sabbath became prohibited!

Josephus is no longer our only source for this animus to the anus… The Dead Sea scrolls provide additional support.  Temple Scroll prohibits the act of defecating in the city of Jerusalem.

Note: While the rabbis refer to the bathroom as a “house of the chair” בית הכסא in the Dead Sea scrolls it is referred to as “place of the hand” מקום היד …

(11Q19 46.13-16a)

Temple Scroll

 

 

 

13 And you will make for them a place of the hand outside of the city where they shall go;

14 outside to the northwest of the city – houses with beams and pits in their midst

15 into which excrement shall drop and shall not be visible to anyone at a distance

16a from the city of three thousand cubits vacat

Similarly, the Qumran community built latrines to the northwest of Khirbet Qumran in the War Scroll:

(1QM 7.6b-7)

War ScrollTemple Scroll

 

 

 

 

6b And there shall be a distance

7 between all of their camps and the place of the hand two thousand cubits. And any immodest nakedness shall be seen around any of their camps.

(see A SCROLL IN ONE HAND AND A MATTOCK IN THE OTHER: LATRINES, ESSENES, AND KHIRBET QUMRAN by Ian Werrett, Saint Martin’s University for a review of the current literature/controversy over the Dead Sea Scrolls and this issue).

I believe that the Rabbis who wrote the Ashar Yatzar were profoundly aware of the asceticism, escapism and rejection of the physical that characterized the Essenes and the author’s of the Dead Sea scrolls, living in the desert.  Which brings us to our closing text and the rejection of the Jewish version of the Greek’s nectar of the gods.

The Rabbis record a tradition whereby the manna contained nutritious matter only, without any waste products, so that during the whole time the Israelites lived upon it the grossest office of the body remained unexercised. The Israelites, nevertheless, complained of it [seemingly anticipating Modern medical science which suggests that the lack of microbes associated with feces would cause severe bowel problems]

but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nought save this manna to look to.’—(Numbers 11: 6)

 וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל–בִּלְתִּי, אֶל-הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ

 

“Shall a human being not discharge of what he eats? our bowels will surely be swollen” (Yoma l.c.; Sifre, Num. 87-89; Tan., l.c.). see and  see

שהיה המן נבלע באברים ולא היו צריכים לנקבים, והתאוננו שמכיון שאין מוציאים מה שמכניסים הלא עתיד המן לתפח כריסים, כי כלום יש ילוד אשה שמכנים ואינו מוציא.

According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the Jews of the Exodus rejected the godliness of the manna for continence …which confirms the punch line of most Jewish bathroom humor and also confirms the intention of the Ashar Yatzar.

Ultimately, the Ashar Yatzar is a radical rejection of those who would have us be angels, of those who would have us live our lives devoted to a future life not confined to the physical and the material.  To paraphrase the famous Midrash [5] … The angels want God to give them the Torah and not Moses.  According to the Midrash, God asks the angels, do you earn a living that you need a commandment not to steal, do you eat that you need commandments on being kosher… to which I would add: do you crap that you need to elevate the mundane and spend a moment every morning in contemplation of holy crap?

latrines of the essenes

 

 

 

 

 

 

————————–

[1] see BT Berachot 60b

On entering a privy one should say: ‘Be honored, ye honored and holy ones (angels) that minister to the Most High. Give honor to the God of Israel. Wait for me till I enter and do my needs, and return to you’. Abaye said: A man should not speak thus, lest they (the angels) should leave him and go. What he should say is: ‘Preserve me, preserve me, help me, help me, support me, support me, till I have entered and come forth, for this is the way of human beings’.

הנכנס לבית הכסא אומר התכבדו מכובדים קדושים משרתי עליון תנו כבוד לאלהי ישראל הרפו ממני עד שאכנס ואעשה רצוני ואבא אליכם אמר אביי לא לימא אינש הכי דלמא שבקי ליה ואזלי אלא לימא שמרוני שמרוני עזרוני עזרוני סמכוני סמכוני המתינו לי המתינו לי עד שאכנס ואצא שכן דרכן של בני אדם  [ברכות ס ב]

Shulhan Arukh (Orach Chaim 3) Misha Brura (Chovetz Chaim) writes that this is a prayer to God that the angels who accompany a person should wait until he returns from the bathroom. We no longer say it since people are no longer presumed to be God fearing people who have angels accompanying them. The Sharay Teshuva writes that many authorities disagree and say one should say this.  (see note 1)

[2] Not surprisingly, on the previous folio of Talmud that establishes this blessing is a discussion which records rav Aha who takes the position (similar to the Christian Scientists) that people should not practice medicine and that healing should be left to God  שאין דרכן של בני אדם לרפאות אלא שנהגו to which Abbai responds:

Abaye said: A man should not speak thus, since it was taught in the school of R. Ishmael: [It is written], He shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. (Exodus 21: 19)  From this we learn that permission has been given to the physician to heal.

אמר אביי לא לימא אינש הכי דתני דבי רבי ישמעאל (שמות כא, יט) ורפא ירפא מכאן שניתנה רשות לרופא לרפאות

[3]

Mishneh Torah: Ahava: Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim – Chapter Seven Halacha 4

When one hears the crow of a rooster, he recites: Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who gives the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.

When he puts on his clothes, he recites: Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who clothes the naked.

When he puts his cloth on his head, he recites: Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who crowns Israel in glory.

When he passes his hands over his eyes, he recites: [Blessed…] who opens the eyes of the blind.

When he sits up in his bed, he recites: [Blessed…] who unties those bound.

When he lowers his feet from the bed and rests them on the ground, he recites: [Blessed…] who spreads the earth over the waters.

When he stands up, he recites: [Blessed…] who straightens the bowed.

When he washes his hands, he recites: [Blessed…] who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the washing of hands.

When he washes his face, he recites: Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who removes the bonds of sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. May it be Your will, God, my Lord and Lord of my fathers, that You accustom me to the performance of [Your] commandments and do not accustom me to sins or transgressions. Cause the positive inclination to rule over me and not the evil inclination. Strengthen me in Your commandments and grant my portion in Your Torah. Allow me to find favor, lovingkindness, and mercy in Your eyes and the eyes of all who see me and bestow upon me benevolent kindnesses. Blessed are You, God, who bestows benevolent kindnesses.

Halacha 5

Whenever one enters the toilet, before entering, he says:

Be honored, holy honorable ones, servants of the Most High. Help me. Help me. Guard me. Guard me. Wait for me until I enter and come out, as this is the way of humans.

After he comes out, he recites:

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who formed man in wisdom and created within him many openings and cavities. It is revealed and known before the throne of Your glory that if one of them were to be blocked or if one of them were to be opened, it would be impossible to exist for even one moment. Blessed are You, God, who heals all flesh and works wonders.

Halacha 6

When one fastens his belt, he recites: [Blessed…universe,] who girds Israel with strength.

When he puts on his shoes, he recites: [Blessed…universe,] for You have provided me with all my needs.

When he walks to depart on his way, he recites: [Blessed… universe,] who prepares the steps of man.

[Also,] every day, a person should recite:

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a non-Jew.

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a woman.

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a servant.

Halacha 7

These eighteen blessings do not have a particular order. Rather, one recites each of them in response to the condition for which the blessing was instituted, at the appropriate time.

What is implied? One who fastens his belt while still in his bed recites [the blessing] “who girds Israel with strength.” One who hears the voice of the rooster recites [the blessing] “who gives understanding to the rooster.”

Any blessing in which one is not obligated should not be recited.

 

[4] see

An insight into Marx’s psychology may be garnered by examining his attitudes towards bodily functions. According to Weyl “his favorite expression in his correspondence with Engels is “shit”. In his attack on the Jewish editor of the Daily Telegraph Marx wrote that just as “all the lavatories of London spew their physical filth into the Thames” so too did all the “social filth” pour into the “central sewer called the Daily Telegraph.” He suggested that, as Levy was the presiding alchemist of this sewer system, he should have a plaque on his office building inscribed “Wayfarer, stop and piss”. In attacks on everyone, Marx would call them “that shit”. Even when he was tired of writing his own books, he would describe his work as “this shit”. When an infant daughter died, Marx wrote Engels that “this time the whole shit has affected me deeply”. After his death, Marx’s youngest daughter made a diligent effort to piece together scraps of information about her late father’s childhood in Trier. Although she “idolized her father and made up the most beautiful legends” there is a ring of truth to this vignette of his childhood:

“I have heard my aunts say that as little boy, he was a terrible tyrant to his sisters whom he would ‘drive’ down the Markusberg in Trier at full speed. And worse, he would insist on their eating the ‘cakes’ he made with dirty dough and dirtier hands. But they stood the ‘driving’ and the ‘cakes’ without a murmur for the sake of the stories Karl would tell them as a reward for their virtue.”

Two familiar Marxian characteristics emerge from this story. First, Marx’s passionate need to dominate others; and second, his almost obsessional preoccupation with dirt and excrement, or as he would put it in his correspondence with Engels, crap (“Dreck“) and shit (“Scheiss“).

[5] Devarim Rabba, Parasha 2, Section 37

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