Category Archives: Sabbath

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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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Judaism, miracle, Religion, Sabbath, Shabbat, Torah

the next aliyah

parshat Hayei Sarah

In a previous post (Divine Birthers II) I continue to explore the child of God in the Hebrew tradition, but since I am currently in Israel and spending most of my time meeting with Israelis and traveling the land… a welcome opportunity to revisit the notion of the “people of the Land”….  עַם הָאָרֶץ

And Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he spoke unto Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: ‘But if thou wilt, I pray thee, hear me: I will give the price of the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.’ (Genesis 23: 12-13)

וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אַבְרָהָם, לִפְנֵי, עַם הָאָרֶץ

וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן בְּאָזְנֵי עַם-הָאָרֶץ, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אִם-אַתָּה לוּ, שְׁמָעֵנִי:  נָתַתִּי כֶּסֶף הַשָּׂדֶה, קַח מִמֶּנִּי, וְאֶקְבְּרָה אֶת-מֵתִי, שָׁמָּה

I had dinner with a long-time friend of my family; a card-carrying member of the Labour Party who at 95 has participated, one way or the other, in every war and served his country in the ministry of defense for many years.  When discussing the current difficult situation, he said with a twinkle in his eye… the Problem with the Jewish State is the Jews..  I had heard the comment before and it follows a long tradition of blaming the problems in the Holy Land on those who come before or after the blamer…..

In Abraham’s case, the “people of the land” are the Hittites who preceded the Hebrew in the land of Canaan.  Abraham wants to buy his first plot of land and the Hittites would prefer that he just visit and bury his wife on land that is charitably provided to him with limited recourse. Somehow, the concept of the People of the Land always means the people that immigrated to the land before me.  Somehow these previous immigrants are always a thorn in the butt and the source of problems inherited by those that follow.

Many years latter, in Talmudic times, the term Am Ha-Aretz” was used to refer to an ignorant Jew, but the source of this pejorative which became popular with the rise of the Pharisees and Rabbinic Judaism was actually with the return of the exiled Jews from Babylonia.  Writes Aharon Oppenheimer in his classic: The Am Ha-Aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic-Roman Period, 1997 (note to page83):

AmHaaretz

The Jews in Babylonia, led by Ezra and Nechemia had changed the face of Judaism.  When the first temple was standing, washing and purification before eating food was relegated to the priests and Levites and to eating temple sanctified food.  The returning Babylonian Jews had extended this requirement to every Jew and for all foodstuff.  Similarly tithing was continued by the Babylonian Jews, even though the priests, who benefited from such tithing, no longer had a Temple to work in.  The Jews who had remained in Israel, known as the Amei Ha-aretz had not gotten this memo and probably thought that the Babylonian Jews were living in denial… there was no longer any reason to ritually wash nor tithe.  Similarly, the Jews in Babylonia had come up with this idea of the resurrection of the dead and possibly other such elements of eschatology such as belief in the world-to-come and a messianic age…. here too the Am Ha’aretz did not get the memo.  The Am Ha’aretz, were for the Pharasees an annoying reminder that they had, in fact, re-invented Judaism… not rediscovered it.

In current parlance, Am ha’aretz (or AMHA) refers to a movement arising from the early pioneers in Israel and their love of the land. Members of AMHA in Israel tend to be in elite military units and kibbutzim and reflect the traditional values of the secular Israeli pioneers. The leaders of AMHA are called Shoftim, and are elected by the membership. AMHA has also spread to the USA in recent years, where the first Shofet outside of Israel now resides. (see: Wikipedia: Am ha’aretz).

There is a profound irony about this too holy land that brings immigrants based on their love and connection to it’s history but who at the same time deride and blame the achievements of the immigrants who preceded them… the am ha’aretz.

The late Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar, in a wonderful comic skit, portray the common social phenomenon where every immigrant group is disparaged by the group that precedes it and likewise disparages the one to follow.  The skit, which I am happy to provide below,  pokes fun at the deep cultural rifts in Israel till today.  It would have been equally entertaining and relevant to make a skit about how, only in the land of Israel, each subsequent immigration disparages and undermines the contributions of those who preceded it… the am ha’aretz.

Maybe for the rifts to heal, we need a new aliya… a new immigration where we all accept our immigrant status at the same time as accepting our being people of the land… maybe we all need to live more in the moment of aliya and less in the various strata of the land.  Maybe that’s the message of the current seventh Shemita/Sabbatical year where we need to separate from the land, in order to live in it.  Shemita Shalom.

Arik

 

—————-

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

AmHaaretz boylerin

 

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the jewish cathedral

Shabbat Sukkot

There’s a story of two Hasidic rebbes sitting in a sukkah.  In answer to the question of “what’s your favorite mitzvah?”, one rebbe replied that the Sukkah was his favorite commandment, because when you sit in a sukkah, you are surrounded on all sides by the holiness of the commandment.  The other rebbe preferred the Sabbath.  “You can walk out of a sukkah, but you can’t walk out of the holiness of the Shabbat.” said he.

When hearing this story, I am reminded of Abraham Joshua Heschel ‘s insight that Shabbat is a “cathedral in time”.

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.

Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? … “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.  …. it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.

But here’s my question… what was the response of the first rebbe?  Did he fold his hands and agree that the holiness of time trumps the holiness of things?  And what about our cathedrals, our homes, our homelands and our things… can their holiness transcend or at least engage the holiness of time?

It seems to me that while you can’t walk out of the Sabbath, it’s holiness cannot be sustained indefinitely…. When the stars come out, the sabbath is over.  You can walk out of the sukkah, but it embodies a holiness that can be sustained.. at least through the complete cycle of a week.

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

And I wonder whether “the Sukkah that has fallen  סֻכַּת הַנֹּפֶלֶת is best translated as the tabernacle that has fallen, or whether it is the Fallingsukkah.  (compare Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater).  It seems to me that David’s Fallingsukkah is always in flux and engaged in a permanent dialectic between continuity and renewal, sustainability and disruption.  The Jewish Cathedral is a temporary structure, which by definition, can never be permanently destroyed nor can it achieve the stasis of permanence.  The Fallingsukkah informs the way we relate with the world of the physical.  The Fallingsukkah and it’s notion of holiness of things, continues the discussion begun by the notion of the holiness of time that Heschel began.

Ultimately, it is the Fallingsukkah which represents to culmination of theJwish New Year’s penitential season.

From the first day of Ellul 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

It would seem that the choice of this Psalmֹ  of David addresses the tension between permanently dwelling in the house of God and being just a transient visitor, the dichotomy of taking refuge upon a rock or in a tent.

Fortunately, one day every sukkot, we get to enjoy both the wonder of the temple built in time and in space… Shabbat Sukkat Shalom

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sustainable kashrut

parshat re’eh

Recently Italian archeologists dug 50 meters down and discovered small pieces of copper. After studying these pieces for a long time, Italy announced that the ancient Romans had a nation-wide telephone system. The Greek government was not that easily impressed. They ordered their own archeologists to dig even deeper. 100 meters down they found small pieces of glass and they soon announced that the ancient Greeks already had a nation-wide fiber network. Israeli scientists, not to be outdone dug 200 meters down & found absolutely nothing. They happily concluded that the ancient Israelites had a cellular network.

I was reminded of this joke when reviewing the source of kosher meat in Deuteronomy 12:20-21:

When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’, because thy soul desireth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul.
If the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to put His name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat within thy gates, after all the desire of thy soul.

 כִּי-יַרְחִיב ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לָךְ, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר, כִּי-תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר–בְּכָל-אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ, תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר

 כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם, וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’ לְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ–וְאָכַלְתָּ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּכֹל, אַוַּת נַפְשֶׁךָ

Comments Rashi:

you may slaughter… as I have commanded you: We learn [from here] that there is a commandment regarding slaughtering, how one must slaughter. [Since this commandment is not written in the Torah we deduce that] these are the laws of ritual slaughtering given orally to Moses on [Mount] Sinai. — [Sifrei ; Chullin. 28a [1] ]

וזבחת וגו’ כאשר צויתך למדנו שיש צווי בזביחה היאך ישחוט, והן הלכות שחיטה שנאמרו למשה בסיני

This is how The Stone Artscroll Chumash translates Rashi:

As I have commanded you. “Since we find no explicit teaching in the Torah regarding kosher slaughter, this verse alludes to the existence of the Oral Law that was communicated to Moses at Sinai.  Obviously, therefore, God must have taught Moses at Sinai laws that are not in the Written Torah (Rashi)”

I will explore in a future blog the concept of a “Law given to Moses at Sinai”, but for now I marvel at the honesty of our texts and commentators.  It is clear that all the laws of ritual slaughter are nowhere mentioned in the Torah or in Biblical law.  Saying that the details were given to Moses is an elegant way of saying that the details were left to us, the people to figure out.  Most probably, the traditional practices used by the people and in the Temple were codified into law for consumer meat. At the time, they were undoubtedly cutting edge…..

The Sifrei that Rashi quotes goes further. The category of meat broached here in Deuteronomy (circa 8 – 6th century BC) is meat, not eaten in the temple for the purposes of sacrifice, but  ordinary meat for consumption  בָשָׂר תְאַוֶּה    (literally: “Meat of desire”).

As Dayan Dr, I Grunfeld writes in The Jewish Dietary Laws (pp52-53)

“Through permission was given man to take animal life for human food it was only done by a process of very gradual education and adapation.  According to Rabbi Ishmael (and most authorities agree with him cf. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b, 17 [2]) the killing of oxen, sheep or goats for ordinary meat consumption – Basar Ta’avah – was forbidden during the whole period of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, unless they had been consecrated as peace offerings – Shelamim…”

Dayan Grunfeld - concession

(see Hulin 84a and Samson Raphael Hirsch Deut. 12:20)

What IS written in the Torah and what does come out clearly in the texts is an ambivalence if not distaste to the consumption of meat and the slaughter of animals.

The Talmud remarks: “The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it” (Hullin 84a [3])

One of the seven commandments traditionally given to Noah and therefore for all of mankind is the prohibition of eating a limb torn off of a living animal (Ever Min HaChai אֵבָר מִן הֶחָי) as it is written (Genesis 9; 3-4)

Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.
Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

כָּל-רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא-חַי, לָכֶם ה’ לְאָכְלָה:  כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כֹּל

אַךְ-בָּשָׂר, בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ

Says Rashi:

shall be yours to eat: (Sanhedrin 59b) For I did not permit the first man [Adam] to eat meat, but only vegetation but for you (mankind after Noah), just as the green vegetation which I permitted for the first man, I have given you everything.

לכם יהיה לאכלה  שלא הרשיתי לאדם הראשון לאכול בשר אלא ירק עשב, ולכם כירק עשב שהפקרתי לאדם הראשון, נתתי לכם את כל

flesh with its soul: He prohibited them [to eat] a limb [cut off from] a living creature; i.e., as long as its soul is in it, you shall not eat the flesh. — [from Sanh. ad loc.] [i.e., if the limb is cut from the animal while it is alive, it is forbidden to be eaten even after the animal expires.]

בשר בנפשו  אסר להם אבר מן החי, כלומר כל זמן שנפשו בו לא תאכלו הבשר

It was only after Noah, allegedly saved all the animals in the Ark, that man was given the right to slaughter the animals that he saved…

What’s our take away from the clear biblical bias towards vegetarianism, aversion for animal slaughter and prohibition against unnecessary suffering of animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim).  What is our take away from the fact that the Torah leaves the details up to us?

My take away is that what is extraordinary about Jewish Law is that it not only exhibits a profound concern for animal suffering, but creates a link between that concern and the permission to eat animals.  The laws of Kashrut are, to my knowledge, the first legislation that links ethics with consumption.  If it’s not kosher, you can’t consume it.

This past week Nestlé announced animal welfare standards that will affect 7,300 of its suppliers around the globe, and their suppliers… [5] which is unprecedented accept for the fact that Jewish law has been sanctioning such certification and labeling for over two thousand years.

Does this mean that we should be satisfied with the current state of Kashrut or rest on our laurels?  Hardly… what I would love would be to have Rabbis (and here is a grand opportunity for non-orthodox Rabbis) to have the courage to review more humane methods of slaughter than those of traditional shechita.. such as stunning the animal.  We should accept any technology that minimizes the suffering of animals… (initially in conjunction with the traditional method of shechita, but eventually, whether it includes a traditional knife or not…).. this is in accordance with the spirit of “as I have commanded thee”  ַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ   this open ended admonition, that we supply the details.

Other areas where Kashrut has an opportunity to live up to it’s first-mover advantage is in the area of fair labor laws and sustainable farming and herding practices.

Following the raiding by Federal Agents of the Agriprocessors kosher food plant, the Conservative Movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission Announced the Creation of Magen Tzedek and Orthodoxy suggested a Yashrut standard… I’m not sure what has become of either of these initiatives.  It seems to me that the biggest barrier to increasing the social component of Kashrut is cost… Kosher meat is already prohibitively priced. This does not have to be the case.  Grow and Behold Foods brings delicious OU Glatt Kosher pastured meats raised on small family farms. They adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.

There’s something special about a Kosher Home.  Those of us who grew up in one and continue this tradition know how it, along with Friday night Shabbat dinners profoundly impacts our life, family and the continuation of the best in Jewish tradition.  We need to continue to explore ways to reinvent the kosher paradigm to permit it to continue to serve our people and the world at large.  Kashrut might well be an invisible cellular network that connects us with our past and with a growing commitment by our youth to social responsibility and sustainable living.

———————

[1]

Rabbi says. The verse: And thou shalt slaughter . . . as I have commanded thee, teaches us that Moses was instructed concerning the gullet and the windpipe; concerning the greater part of one of these organs [that must be cut] in the case of a bird, and the greater part of each in the case of cattle.

[2]

AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Who is the Tanna who holds this view? Rabbah replied: It is R. Ishmael. For it has been taught: [It is written] When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’ . . . (Deut. 12, 20) This verse, says R. Ishmael, is stated specially in order to permit the Israelites to eat flesh at will.( Lit., ‘of desire’. I.e., on entering the Holy Land the Israelites would be permitted to slaughter animals at will and eat the flesh without having recourse to sacrifices.) For in the beginning they were forbidden to eat flesh at will, (When the Israelites were in the wilderness they were not permitted to slaughter and eat flesh at will. The animal had first to be offered up as a sacrifice, v. Lev. XVII, 3 and 4.) but on entering the land of Israel they were permitted. But, now they are exiled, it might be said that they should revert to the former restriction; the Mishnah therefore teaches us: AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b

[3]

Our Rabbis taught: When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: I will eat flesh. The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct, that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it. I might think that this means that a person should buy [meat] in the market and eat it, the text therefore states: Then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock. I might then think that this means that he should kill all his herd and eat and all his flock and eat, the text therefore states: ‘Of thy herd’, and not all thy herd; ‘of thy flock’ and not all thy flock. Hence R. Eleazar b. ‘Azariah said: A man who has a maneh may buy for his stew a litra of vegetables; if he has ten maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of fish; if he has fifty maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of meat; if he has a hundred maneh he may have a pot set on for him every day. And [how often for] the others? From Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve.

Of a more contemporary nature… according to the findings of a Weizmann Institute of Science research team headed by Prof. Ron Milo — in collaboration with Israeli ex-pat Prof. Gidon Eshel from Bard College in New York — beef is measurably the most environmentally draining livestock on the market. ( see )

[4]

Maimonides. Guide for the Perpexed III, 26

Thus killing animals for the purpose of obtaining good food is certainly useful, as we intend to show (below, ch. xlviii.); that, however, the killing should not be performed by neḥirah (poleaxing – hitting the animal), but by sheḥitah (cutting the neck), and by dividing the œsophagus and the windpipe in a certain place; these regulations and the like are nothing but tests for man’s obedience. In this sense you will understand the example quoted by our Sages [that there is no difference] between killing the animal by cutting its neck in front and cutting it in the back. I give this instance only because it has been mentioned by our Sages; but in reality [there is some reason for these regulations]. For as it has become necessary to eat the flesh of animals, it was intended by the above regulations to ensure an easy death and to effect it by suitable means; whilst decapitation requires a sword or a similar instrument, the sheḥitah can be performed with any instrument; and in order to ensure an easy death our Sages insisted that the knife should be well sharpened.

[5]

“In the digital world, everyone has a smartphone and they want to know where things come from and share that information,” said Kevin Petrie, chief procurement officer for Nestlé in North America. “Is it good for me? Is the quality good? Has it been responsibly sourced?” The new policy, he said, was another step in Nestlé’s efforts to address risks in its supply chains like child labor and palm oil, the production of which is damaging to forests. Consumers today know far more about how components in their food are made — and they are far more willing to share that knowledge to stir up a fuss on social media, he said.

Before Social Media, Judaism had a complete oversight of the supply chain from farm to table… (ed)

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no miracles today

parshat balak

My sister (the famed chocolatier and proprietor of Bond Street chocolate) recently told me the following joke:

So there’s these 2 muffins in an oven. They’re both sitting, just chilling and getting baked. And one of them yells “God Damn, it’s hot in here!” And the other muffin replies “Holy Crap, a talking muffin!”

I thought of this joke when reading the account of Balaam; the pagan prophet-for-hire, conversing with his talking donkey.  The donkey senses a threat on the road ahead and refuses to proceed.

Numbers 22: 28-30

And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam: ‘What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?’  And Balaam said unto the ass: ‘Because thou hast mocked me; I would there were a sword in my hand, for now I had killed thee.’ And the ass said unto Balaam: ‘Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?’ And he said: ‘Nay.’

וַיִּפְתַּח יְהוָה, אֶת-פִּי הָאָתוֹן; וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם, מֶה-עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ, כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי, זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתוֹן, כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי; לוּ יֶשׁ-חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי, כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ

וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתוֹן אֶל-בִּלְעָם, הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר-רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי, לַעֲשׂוֹת לְךָ כֹּה; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא

The story culminates with the historic blessing of the people of Israel: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!

מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

We start our prayers every morning with this blessing and it is engraved on most Synagogue Arks.  The blessing is deemed so seminal that it was considered to be included in the Shema Yisrael declaration of faith [1]

What intrigues me is why Balaam, the biblical editor or the major commentators fail to exclaim the classical Hebrew version of: “Holy crap… a talking ass!”

One can only assume that the issues raised were judged too important and the majesty of the poetry put into Balaam’s mouth, too sublime, for anyone to have a Disney moment.  But it may have to do with the deep aversion in our tradition for gratuitous miracles.

Says the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers / Perkai Avot 5: 6)

Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbat eve. These are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of [Miriam’s] well; the mouth of [Balaam’s] ass; the rainbow; the manna; [Moses’] staff; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.

The Mishna is saying that all the apparent miracles that appear in the Bible and later Jewish history, were actually pre-ordained and not miracles at all.  They were written into the DNA of creation, and like a mutation, are not outside of nature, but a force within it.

Maimonides takes this Mishna quite seriously, in his commentary to Avot, in his Shemona Perakim and again in his Guide for the Perplexed. [2]  In a previous blog I have expanded on the aversion to miracles in classic Judaism (gratuitous miracles).  For the purposes of our discussion, let’s agree that there’s no crying in baseball and no miracles in Judaism.

All miracles were pre-scripted into creation.  Some like the splitting of the Red Sea were scripted into creation on the day; day two of their creation. Some miracles which were critical to the survival of the Jewish People (the Meiri’s opinion) were scripted into creation during that amorphis and magical twilight time of sunset between the sixth day of toile and the holy habbat.

But let’s also recognize the corollary, namely, that everything in nature now becomes a miracle of creation.  Every moment, becomes a “Holy crap it talks” moment.

It is this lesson that is ultimately the lesson of Balaam and the power of his simple prophesy.

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel! מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

The tents of these simple Israelites camping in the desert was more miraculous than a talking donkey or a splitting sea.

It is this lesson that tempted the Rabbis to include Balaam’s blessing in the twice daily shema declaration of every Jew.

It’s called an everyday miracle and it’s worth remembering, every day and especially at those times between darkness and light, holy and profane, war and peace, hope and despair… it’s all we have and it’s as good as it gets.

בין השמשות

 

 

 

 

——————–

[1] (Berachot 12b

berachot 12a shma

Berachot12a copy

[2]

Our Sages, however, said very strange things as regards miracles: they are found in Bereshit Rabba, and in Midrash Koheleth, namely, that the miracles are to some extent also natural: for they say, when God created the Universe with its present physical properties, He made it part of these properties, that they should produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign of a prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to declare when a certain thing will take place, but the thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws of Nature. (Guide II:29)

In the Eight Chapters  (pp 90-91) Maimonides writes:

The Mutakllimun (Islamic school of philosophy) are, however, of a different opinion in this regard, for I have heard them say that the Divine Will is constantly at work, decreeing everything from time to time. We do not agree with them, but believe that the Divine Will ordained everything at creation, and that all things, at all times, are regulated by the laws of nature, and run their natural course, in accordance with what Solomon said, “As it was, so it will ever be, as it was made so it continues, and there is nothing new under the sun”. This occasioned the sages to say that all miracles which deviate from the natural course of events, whether they have already occurred, or, according to promise, are to take place in the future, were fore-ordained by the Divine Will during the six days of creation, nature being then so constituted that those miracles which were to happen really did afterwards take place. Then, when such an occurrence happened at its proper time, it may have been regarded as an absolute innovation, whereas in reality it was not. 1

 

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make-believe Judaism

Parshat behalotcha

If there’s one Jewish holiday and ritual that is rooted in time, it is Passover.  It’s the Festival of Spring that commemorates the night of the Exodus on the 14th of Nisan.  As it says in the Torah (Numbers 9 2-3 :

Let the children of Israel keep the passover in its appointed seasonבְּמוֹעֲדוֹ  . In the fourteenth day of this month, at dusk, ye shall keep it in its appointed season בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה …

So it comes as a surprise that of all the ordinances in the Torah, the only one that God offers a second chance at a more convenient time, is Passover.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
‘Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD;
in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs;

 וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.
דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי-יִהְיֶה-טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם, אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח, לַיהוָה.

  בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם, בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם–יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ:  עַל-מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים, יֹאכְלֻהוּ.

This make-up holiday is called Pesach Sheni (The Second Passover) and it intrigues me.

You see, the Passover Seder is the one holiday when we are asked to not only observe, but to re-enact and imagine we are actually experiencing the Exodus.  As the Hagadah says: “In Every Generation One Must Look Upon Himself as if He Personally Has Come Out of Egypt”  Mordecai Kaplan said there are three kind of believers: Believers, Non-Believers and Make-Believers…. at the Traditional Seder, we are all make-believers.

This is why this make-up seder intrigues me so.  In the second month, at the Second Pesach Sheni Seder, we are make-believers who make-believe that we are at a Seder… making believe that we are leaving Egypt!

To be sure… the Rabbis probably had their fill with Jews who make-believe so they did not want to encourage a new movement of Jews who make believe that they make believe so…..  they limited Pesach Sheni to individuals.  (Talmud Pesachim 66b from  אִישׁ אִיש).

There are groups that nonetheless celebrate the Second Passover, the most prominent being the Chabad Hasidim who view the 14th of the month of Iyar as a celebration of second chances.  This is certainly a valuable lesson worth commemorating, but my good friend Frederic Brenner discovered another group who celebrated the dialectic of Pesach Sheni that is less known and embodies a more complex message.

Frederic is currently completing an ambitious project where he invited world renowned photogrpahers to come to Israel for the first time and photograph it.  The project which will begin touring the world is called This Place  and you can read early reviews here. But in his younger years, Frederic traveled the world photographing vanishing Jewish communities and one community he cataloged were a group of isolated Conversos in Portugal.  He published a book called Marranes (in French) and a movie was made based on the book called The Last Marranos Les derniers Marranes.

Despite their deep aversion to the Church, these New Christians who will only choose a mate amongst themselves go to the church and have the local priest marry them publicly after a private secret marriage ceremony. (see: The Last Marranos, Commentary Magazine May 1967 by Anita Novinsky)

Frederic took many pictures of them celebrating Passover which, they celebrated on the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheni.

Frederic spent much time with them and even made the aquantance of the local priest who complained that while he liked these people, they should really get themselves a Rabbi.

Needless to say, they did eventually get themselves a traditional Rabbi.

They no longer go to the Priest to get married, no longer light their Shabbat candles in specially designed hidden cabinets, and needless to say, they no longer celebrate Passover a month after the holiday was meant to be celebrated.

This loss of the Pesach Sheni of the last Marranos makes me sad.  Their Pesach sheni was a tribute to the commitment of their predecessors for their heritage, it was an artifact of God’s commitment to give second chances and it showed the radical ability we humans have to survive, persevere and to make believe that we can make believe.

morranos 3 morranos 1 morranos 2

 

——————-

In 1985,1 visited one of their villages a month after the Jewish Passover. The timing was intentional. They don’t know the Hebrew calendar, but they know that Passover falls 14 days after the new moon in March, which is approximately the
start of the Jewish month of Nissan. As part of the tradition meant to fool the spies of the Inquisition, they postpone the holiday until what Jews call “Pessah Sheni” – one month later. Therefore I knew that it was Passover for them now.
Passover being their most sacred and secret ritual, I had always been asked not to come at that time of the year. From the moment we arrived we felt that we weren’t being received in the usual manner. People avoided us. Even my best friends weren’t inviting us to visit them. Knocking at their doors, we were not asked in. They apologized and asked us to come back at a different time. From the door we saw the women of the house – busy cleaning the floor. From Passover with the Anussim in Portugal, By ©Inacio Steinhardt, Saturday, May 21, 2005

Picture of famed photographer Frederic Brenner reading Madlik blog

Picture of famed photographer Frederic Brenner reading Madlik blog

 

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the gospel geniza – part 3

the great sabbath – the great son, the great slaughter and the great polemic…

The Shabbat before Passover is widely referred to as Shabbat HaGadol, the Big or Great Shabbat. Surprisingly, no Jewish source refers to the Shabbat in this way before the year 1,000. The earliest reference to the Great Sabbath is actually in The New Testament (John 19:31) where the crucifixion occurs on the Friday before Passover which.. “was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a great Sabbath.” (The Greek word used is: megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great). In fact, in early Christianity, “The Great Sabbath” denoted the Sabbath before Easter.

The Machzor Vitry)., a 12th Century Jewish source claims that Jews call it the Great Shabbat, but they don’t know why because it is no greater than the other Shabbats. Rashi actually writes that the customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol sermon makes this Shabbat drag. He suggests that this is why it is called Shabbat HaGadol – gadol in the sense of “long/protracted.” (if you’re a fan of my recent blog keep it short, enough said)

Leopold Zunz, the 19th century founder of Jewish Studies raised the possibility that the Jews had borrowed the term “Great Sabbath” from their Christian environment which makes little sense. What makes more sense, especially based on recent research by scholars such as Daniel Boyarin (The Jewish Gospels), is that Christian sources have preserved a common Jewish belief and custom which, once embraced by the Christian offshoot, was repressed within Judaism.

After close to 1,000 years, Shabbat Hagadol began to reemerge into Ashkenazi circles. “The uniqueness was expressed in the choice of a new Hafarah portion, Malachi 3, because of it’s fitting conclusion that anticipated the coming of Elijah and thereafter, “the great and terrible day of God.” Shabbat Hagadol thus took it’s place in Ashkenaz as a Sabbath equal to the four special Sabbaths designated in the Mishnah for the (prior) month of Adar.”

If you subscribe to the thesis offered in part 2 of this series, that there had originally been a 40 day period of preparation for the redemption in Nisan, then Shabbat Hagadol served the same function as Shabbat Shuvah before Yom Kippur… as an opportunity for Rabbi’s to preach an inspiring sermon.

Israel Yuval and others * argue that The Great Shabbat was originally a (2nd – 3rd century ce) Christian innovation and was only integrated into Judaism much later date and as a response to the Christian Holy Week also known as “Great Week”. Shabbat Hagadol as a polemic tool against Christianity is supported by the choice of prophetic readings and samples of sermons from medieval (especially Ashkenazic) sources. The focus is on the “great slaughter” and the “great son”.

The Haftora for Shabbat Hagadol is Malachi 3: 4-24 concluding with (23-24):

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction.
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא–לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא.
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם–פֶּן-אָבוֹא, וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

The point of the Haftorah (bedsides containing a reference to a Great Day) is that God will redeem the Jewish people and take vengeance upon their tormentors. **

But the polemics did not stop there.

The Jewish tradition addressed the Christian claim to be the younger brother (see part 1 of this series), with the counter claim that Rome was Edom in the Bible and that the progenitor of these Christian Edomites was the older or great brother Esau.

The Pesikta deRav Kehana ties the Shabbat Hagadol to the victory over the Great Brother…

And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder (lit. great) son, and said unto him: ‘My son’; and he said unto him: ‘Here am I.’ (Genesis 27:1)
וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בְּנִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הִנֵּנִי.
And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son (lit. great), which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son. (Genesis 27: 15)
וַתִּקַּח רִבְקָה אֶת-בִּגְדֵי עֵשָׂו בְּנָהּ הַגָּדֹל, הַחֲמֻדֹת, אֲשֶׁר אִתָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת; וַתַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, בְּנָהּ הַקָּטָן.

These two verses are referenced in the Pesikta de Rav Kahana in an explanation of Exodus 12:6 which deals with the preparations taken from the 10th of Nisan when a lamb is taken:

and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk.
The Pesikta, was compiled by the 8th century is thought to be based on substantially older texts similar to Genesis Rabah. It identifies the lamb with Edom, who it claims, God will make “small”:

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom: We have heard a message from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the nations: ‘Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle.’
Behold, I make thee small among the nations; thou art greatly despised.
חֲזוֹן, עֹבַדְיָה: כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה לֶאֱדוֹם, שְׁמוּעָה שָׁמַעְנוּ מֵאֵת יְהוָה וְצִיר בַּגּוֹיִם שֻׁלָּח–קוּמוּ וְנָקוּמָה עָלֶיהָ, לַמִּלְחָמָה.
הִנֵּה קָטֹן נְתַתִּיךָ, בַּגּוֹיִם: בָּזוּי אַתָּה, מְאֹד.

And will slaughter:
The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
חֶרֶב לַיהוָה מָלְאָה דָם, הֻדַּשְׁנָה מֵחֵלֶב, מִדַּם כָּרִים וְעַתּוּדִים, מֵחֵלֶב כִּלְיוֹת אֵילִים: כִּי זֶבַח לַיהוָה בְּבָצְרָה, וְטֶבַח גָּדוֹל בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם.

Can one assume that the author of this midrash was also aware that Jesus was thought to be “great” (Luke 1”32; Hebrews 1:3-4)

In any case, we can assume that when Shabbat Hagadol (re-)appeared in medieval times, it was used as a polemical tool against Christianity. Similar to the evolution of the removal of leaven, the emphasis for the week before Passover, including the Shabbat before Passover was changed from self reflection to retribution on our external enemies.. with an emphasis on the last plague, the smiting of the First Born (the Big son). (see Yuval p. 218 where he cites tosafot b. Shabbat 87b on connection between Shabbat Hagadol and the first born in Egypt). ***

Israel Yuval argues that Shabbat Hagadol did not exist in Judaism until medieval times. I side with Daniel Boyarin’s argument, that if the synoptic gospels refer to a Jewish Great Sabbath, it is unlikely that it was their innovation, they were certainly claiming an existing Jewish religious/cultural institution as their own.

So what was the nature of the original Jewish (Pre- Christian) Shabbat Hagadol?

According to a response from the thirteenth century a certain Menachem ben Yaakov writes that the Haftora read on this Shabbat was originally Jeremiah 7 (the Haftora we now read for parshat Tzav) but, says Menachem,  since that Haftora contains a rebuke by the prophet that God doesn’t want the Jewish People’s hypocritical sacrifices, it would be too insensitive to use this reading “on the day the they [the Jews] they slaughter the Passover sacrifice. (Yuval p. 223)

It is clear to me, that this is precisely the right Haftora to read when we celebrate the newly created Passover Seder…. after the destruction of the temple and without a Passover sacrifice.

It is also clear to me, that it became impossible to read this Haftora once the competition with Christianity began.   Jesus, after all modeled himself after Jeremiah when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the narrative of the Cleansing of the Temple.

But now that the competition is over… maybe we can read Jeremiah again… it’s powerful stuff for the Great Shabbat before Passover, and in my humble opinion, no one, said it better than Jeremiah.  Here’s a sampling… but you should open up a Bible and read it for yourself…

Have a Great Shabbat…..

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying: ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, are these.’
Nay, but if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour;
if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt;
then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known,
and come and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say: ‘We are delivered’, that ye may do all these abominations?
Is this house, whereupon My name is called, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, saith the LORD……
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, Mine anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the land; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh.
For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices;
but this thing I commanded them, saying: ‘Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels, even in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward,
even since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day; and though I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, sending them daily betimes and often,

——————

* For a full treatment of the repression and reemergence of Shabbat hagadol see: Passover in the Middle Ages, Israel J. Yuval in Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 6 pp127 – 160 and The Great Sabbath and Lent: Jewish Origins? By Lawrence Hoffman Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 5 pp. 15 – 35.

** Not coincidentally, Malachi 3, 1 -3 is not included since it makes reference to a messenger, which Christians would take to mean; Jesus.
Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold, he cometh, saith the LORD of hosts….. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and there shall be they that shall offer unto the LORD offerings in righteousness.

*** here are the original sources quoted above:
Pesikta

 

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the gospel geniza

getting ready for passover

In the category of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, the award for the best back-handed compliment goes to Pope John Paul II who in 1986 went to a Rome synagogue to pray with the city’s Jewish community. Noting Christianity’s unique bond with Judaism, he said, “You are our beloved brothers … you are our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. (see: Catholic News). More recently, Pope Francis described the Jewish people as the “big brothers” of his Roman Catholic flock in words of solidarity marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Why a compliment? Because we Jews are raised with a conceit… that Christians cannot possibly understand their religion without understanding Judaism, the religion of Jesus. We may be a minority and have been oppressed, but when all is said and done, our religion preceded and gave birth to Christianity… the two popes exploited this conceit.

Why a backhanded compliment? For those familiar with the Hebrew Bible, you know that the God of the Jews favors the younger brother.. from Cain and Abel until King David and on….

and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25: 23)
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר

For a complete analysis of the history of this birth-order election tug-of-war see the brilliant: Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval.

Why the Award and why now? Now that Christianity and Judaism are getting along so well, we can both agree that neither religion can achieve self-awareness without understanding the other. Both religions can lose their conceits and sense of election and need to admit that they both do not have a well thought out theology which includes the other. *

As Daniel Boyarin argues in his book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were created in the chaos formed by the loss of the temple and the Jewish Commonwealth in the first centuries of the Common Era. And…. it turns out, both “religions” increasingly defined themselves in counter distinction to the other.

For the purposes of the present discussion, what this means is that both faiths jettisoned beliefs held by the other. So in his more popular book, The Jewish Gospels, Boyarin argues that if the early Christians were looking to convince Jews of their authenticity, it would hardly make sense to cite unheard of concepts and novel ideas to prove that they were the true heir to the throne. If they claimed that Jesus was divinely born and/or needed to be sacrificed, Boyarin argues, that must have been the expectation of the general Jewish population of the day. Similarly, if early Christian Jews claimed that the Godhead had multiple manifestations, then this belief must have been resident among fellow Jews. And in his writings, Boyarin proves that these beliefs were in fact, held by Jews of the time.

As the break between the two religions grew over time, the border lines became less porous. Previously common beliefs, rituals and traditions were divvied up as in a zero sum game.

So the two Popes have my appreciation for reminding me of a once important thread in my tradition, the election of the younger brother, which we jettisoned at the border and had forgotten about to the point where most of us smile with appreciation when we’re referred to by the leader of the Catholic Church as the older brother.

The two Popes get my appreciation, because in our new world where hostilities have ceased and Jewish Christian dialog is fashionable, we Jews are now free to roam around the Gospels (and the rest of Christian scripture, liturgy and literature) to reclaim customs, traditions, rituals, expressions, beliefs and even polemics that we discarded and buried long ago in what I call the Gospel Geniza.

In my next post we’ll explore this treasure trove, hiding in plain sight, for Jewish artifacts that impact the Passover celebration.

Here are some entrées to whet your appetite:

Shabbat Hagadol – see John 19:31 (megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great)
Hametz – See Mark 8:15 “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” and the connection between purging leaven and repentance.
Afikomen – broken and hidden, a symbol of the messiah and a lost polemic

fish

* i.e Christians, especially Catholics, have not fully worked out how their older brother need not be rejected and replaced by the younger brother for their new testament (covenant) to be valid, and Jews have not expanded their rudimentary category of natural religion (Noachide Religion) to include other eschatological monotheistic religions such as Christianity which have valid but alternative conceptions of the Godhead and end-of-days.

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kavanah – modeh ani

Madlik goes to shul …

My favorite prayer is the first prayer of the day.  The prayer goes as follows:

modeh-ani

Here’s a nice melody for Modeh Ani:


What’s not to like?
The prayer starts with gratitude.
It is  לפנך …. in the moment.
The prayer does not reference God.
It is a prayer of gratitude, in the abstract, without an address… just gratitude.
It is imminently personal, in the first person (unlike the prayers to follow).
And finally, the first reference to belief (emunah) every day, is not to our faith in…. , but rather in a higher being’s faith in us.

Here’s the source in Lamentations 3:22-23

Surely the LORD’S mercies are not consumed …… They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

….חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ

חֲדָשִׁים, לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.

What’s the back story to this gem of a prayer that comes too early in the day for anyone to notice but sets the tone for the whole morning service?

It turns out that the modeh ani prayer was not written by a humanist. The simple reason that God’s name is not mentioned, is that the awakening individual has not yet washed his/her hands so God’s name cannot be spoken. Not surprisingly, the next prayer is the prayer on washing one’s hands. Which begs the question; why not wash one’s hands and then say a proper prayer?

Unlike the simple washing of one’s hands before prayer or study, this first morning wash is done with a blessing.
One is washing one’s hands after a night’s sleep and a night’s sleep was profoundly important to the Rabbis of the Talmud:

Five things are a sixtieth part of something else: namely, fire, honey, Sabbath, sleep and a dream. Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom. Honey is one-sixtieth part of manna. Sabbath is one-sixtieth part of the world to come. Sleep is one-sixtieth part of death. A dream is one-sixtieth part of prophecy. [Berachot 57b and See: On Prayer: I Thank You by Rabbi Avi Stewart ]

sleep 1 60th
I’ve always enjoyed thinking of Shabbat as a taste of Olam Haba’ah (the world to come), unfortunately, thinking of sleep as a taste of death doesn’t give me the same lift.

But the Rabbis are doing something quite remarkable here. Death lies at the heart of all impurity (tumah) טָמְאָה. Whether one comes into contact with a corpse, menstruates, gives birth to a child, has a nocturnal emission or is afflicted with leprosy, in one form or another one has been separated or deprived of life or exposed to decay. In biblical times, the opposite of tumah was access to the temple upon becoming clean.
The rabbis introduced a radical dogma to post temple Judaism.. the belief in the resurrection of the dead. And in the prayerbook they have an agenda to weave their belief in the ressurection of the dead (techyat Hametim) into our prayers. They start with Modeh Ani.

But here’s the punch line: If sleep is a taste of death, then waking up is a taste of resurrection!

…..or as R. Alexandri interpreted it: From the fact that You renew us every morning, we know that great is Your faithfulness to resurrect the dead.

I’m not a big believer in the resurrection of the dead, but even I consider resurrection of the dead, diluted to 1/60th (batel b’shishim) to be kosher! If when the Rabbis woke up they got a taste of resurrection, when I get up and read the same prayers, I am refreshed with a taste of the possibility of being re-born on a new day… every day!

With this resurrection-lite in hand, I can follow the rabbis through the morning prayers with new insight and gratitude.
If the Shabbat is a taste of a better world, the morning prayers, starting with Modeh Ani become a taste of being reborn…. radical renewal.

Washing our hands and face when we first wake up and again before prayers (something that has remained more within the ritual and sanctuary architecture of Christianity and Islam) should refresh us.

The next place we encounter rejuvenation is Elohie Neshama

elohaineshama2
The prayer is beautiful, but if you have said it before, you may not have noticed the ending.. “who restores souls to dead bodies”. Armed with our understanding of rising in the morning as an exercise in rising from the dead, not only does the prayer make sense, but, as only a taste of rising from the dead, it retains its beauty but with new empowerment.

The other morning blessings also take on new meaning. The whole list of blessings that thank God “who made me “in His image”, “a Jew”, “free” make more sense if we are newly created … each morning.

“Clothing the naked”, “releasing the bound” מתיר אסורים and “straightens the bent” זוקפ כפופים relate directly to the steps of rising in the morning… but also the steps of being born again, and tie directly into  the Ashrei (Psalm 145 and Psalm 146) and the second blessing of the Silent Prayer (amidah). We are beginning to see how central to the theme of the morning service, this thread of reviving the dead becomes.

The climax of the early morning blessings is the last one… Thank you God for giving strength to the weary…which is what I ask of my morning coffee, revival of the dead and which, it appears, is the goal of our morning prayers, if said properly.

As we move on, in the Psalm of Shabbat we pick up this theme again (Psalms 92: 3)

To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness in the night,
לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת
Here again… the faithfulness that is referenced is God’s faith for man…

With Psalm 90 “A Prayer of Moses” we catch up again with earlier, Biblical themes of morning as rebirth and night as sin, decline and death.

For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed in Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we hurried away.
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath; we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told….

O satisfy us in the morning with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים, בְּעֵינֶיךָ– כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל, כִּי יַעֲבֹר;
וְאַשְׁמוּרָה בַלָּיְלָה.
זְרַמְתָּם, שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ; בַּבֹּקֶר, כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף.
בַּבֹּקֶר, יָצִיץ וְחָלָף; לָעֶרֶב, יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ.
כִּי-כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ; וּבַחֲמָתְךָ נִבְהָלְנוּ.
שת (שַׁתָּה) עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ; עֲלֻמֵנוּ, לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ.
כִּי כָל-יָמֵינוּ, פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ; כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ-הֶגֶה.

שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה, בְּכָל-יָמֵינוּ.

As mentioned above, we encounter the sources of the early morning blessings in Psalm 145 and Psalm 146

The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that are bowed down.

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה, לְכָל-הַנֹּפְלִים; וְזוֹקֵף, לְכָל-הַכְּפוּפִים.

Who executeth justice for the oppressed; who giveth bread to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners;
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind; the LORD raiseth up them that are bowed down; the LORD loveth the righteous;

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט, לָעֲשׁוּקִים–נֹתֵן לֶחֶם, לָרְעֵבִים; יְהוָה, מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים.
יְהוָה, פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים–יְהוָה, זֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים; יְהוָה, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים.

Clearly there are other themes besides waking in the morning and rebirth which the curator of the siddur is weaving into our prayers, but this radical renewal is certainly the first theme and one that is sustained until the Silent prayer; the Amidah.

Here’s the second blessing of the Amidah which recycles many of the terms we have been seeing and adds “those who sleep in the dust לישני עפר to our repertoire:

You are mighty forever, my Lord; You resurrect the dead; You are powerful to save.

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!
You are trustworthy to revive the dead. Blessed are You Lord, who revives the dead.

2nd blessing of amidah

Our theme ends with Modim Anachnu מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ, the public version of the very private Modeh Ani מודה אני which which we began our morning. It is not only in the plural, but since the Amidah is chanted morning, afternoon and night, it covers our whole waking day, and besides repeating the sense of dependency it introduces the wonder and awe we have for the miricle that is life.  It ends, as Modeh Ani began; with gratitude (Thanks – הוֹדוֹת).

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the Lord our God and God of our ancestors forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You. And for all these, may Your Name, our King, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time. And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. God, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent God. Blessed are You Lord, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ לָךְ,
שָׁאַתָּה הוּא, ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, לְעוֹלָם
וָעֶד,
צוּר חַיֵּֽינוּ, מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵֽנוּ, אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וָדוֹר,
נֽוֹדֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ,
עַל חַיֵּֽינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדֶֽךָ,
וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵֽינוּ הַפְּקוּדוֹת לָךְ,
וְעַל נִסֶּֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּֽנוּ,
וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶֽיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתֶֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת, עֶֽרֶב וָבֹֽקֶר
וְצָהֳרָֽיִם,
הַטּוֹב, כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ,
וְהַמְרַחֵם, כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ, מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּֽינוּ לָךְ.
וְעַל כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרוֹמַם שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ תָּמִיד
לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.
וְכֹל הַחַיִּים יוֹדֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה,
וִיהַלְלוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת,
הָאֵ-ל יְשׁוּעָתֵֽנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵֽנוּ סֶֽלָה.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת.

Looking forward to exploring more themes in Jewish Prayer the future…..

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keep it short

parshat Shemini

So this guy from Crimea is having a press conference and the Russian reporter asks him to describe the “situation” in one word….. “keep it short” he says.  The Ukrainian answers “good”.
“Could you elaborate?” asks a Western reporter.   “Not so good” replies the Ukrainian.

Draw your own social commentary.  For the purposes of this post the joke dramatizes the diametrical difference between short and long.

So Aaron’s sons are consumed by fire for offering a unfamiliar sacrifice.  In a previous post I have argued that they committed the ultimate transgression… they added to God’s command… they played the dangerous game of being Holier than Thou.

Today, I’d like to make it even simpler… Nadab and Abihu committed the ultimate offense… they made the service longer….

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron: ‘This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was still. (Leviticus 10: 1-2)

nadav and avihu

The key phrase is ” before all the people I will be glorified “.

וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד

כבוד הציבור

The Mishnah (Yoma 68b) relates that on Yom Kippur the kohen gadol would read two adjacent sections from his sefer torah. A third section, whose location in the Torah was somewhat distant from the former sections, would be read by heart. The Gemara explains that rolling the sefer torah to the relevant location was not an option, “because of the honor of the congregation.”

טורח ציבור

Although the Gemara mentions the honor of the congregation, the idea clearly refers to the familiar concept tircha de-tzibura [”burdening the public.”] — causing the congregation to wait while the sefer torah is rolled. As Rashi explains, the concern was “on account of the congregation’s honor, for they would wait in passive silence[i] [while the Torah was rolled].”

An interesting extrapolation from this halachah relates to public speaking.  In principle, it is forbidden to quote Torah verses by heart: Quotations of scriptural verses must be read from a written text.  Based on the practice of the kohen gadol,  the Mishnah Berurah (49:3) suggests that it might be permitted for somebody engaged in public speaking to cite scriptural verses by heart, for looking up each verse would place a burden (of waiting) on the tzibbur [congregation]. (see: The Halachic Principles of Tircha De-Tzibura, Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer)

To put it another way: A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials.

The sin of abusing the Jewish People and needlessly lengthening the service, applies not only to the public reading of the Torah,  the Rabbi’s sermon but even to the prayers themselves.

In a statement that seems most surprising, the Gemara (Berachot 12b) writes that it would be fitting for our reading of the Shema to include the passages of Bilam’s blessing. The reason why the section is not included is on account of tircha de-tziburah—”burdening the public.”

The long and short of it is that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was that they made the service longer.

There’s a lot that our Israeli brothers and sisters can learn from the Diaspora in terms of pluralistic Judaism, but one thing that we certainly can learn from the Israelis is how to shorten our services. A 2 ½ – 3 hour service …. Just shoot me!

Would you go to a 2 ½ hour yoga or exercise class?  And what’s with all these instructions and accommodations for the visitors and novices.  If you had been practicing yoga for years, would you really go to a novice yoga class. Isn’t that what beginners services and orientation weekend are for?  If you are an opera aficionado, would you really go to an opera that was translated or where the action was stopped to explain or call a page number? And the audience is told when to clap?

So if you’re interested in the future of Judaism in a modern time-stamped world, keep in mind that the stakes are high … ask Nadab and Abihu!  Remember that the difference between short and long may be the difference between good…. And not so good.

If you want a historical perspective on how our liturgy got so long check out: WHAT HAPPENED TO SHORT PRAYERS? by Woolf Abrahams

I want to keep this post short… so I’ll end with a few quotes regarding length of service from: Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer which provides lessons from the independent minyan at Kehilat Hadar.

I was always confounded by the fact that the Orthodox Shabbat morning service started eating Kiddush while the egalitarian traditional service— using exactly the same prayers— took thirty to forty-five minutes longer. The sixth time Hadar met, in June 2001, we actually finished the entire service in two hours. This was a breakthrough that was critical for the community— we had demonstrated that we didn’t need to cut parts of the service or race through the liturgy at breackneck speed in order to finish davening in a reasonable amount of time. It is a matter of eliminating the “dead time,” finding quality Torah readers who make minimal errors (mistakes always slow down a service), starting on time, and insisting on a brief dvar Torah. [ii]

We fought the notion of Jewish Standard Time in several ways at Kehilat Hadar. We had a very strict rule from day one that we would start the minyan on time, no matter how many people were there. People often complain about the late ending time of synagogue services, but in my experience, the best place to “save time” is at the beginning.[iii]

…. there is also a cost in announcing page numbers. Besides interrupting the flow of the service and the rhythm of the emotional arc, a page number announcement sends a clear message that (1) everyone should be on that page and (2) there is one siddur to use (the one with the page number being announced). In truth, public prayer allows for individual pace and expression much more than a page announcement might imply. …. Finally, announcing pages every week assumes that the congregation will always depend on an announcement to know where the leader is. This gives very little sense of empowerment to the worshiper, even one new to the davening. At what point is he able to find his own way through the service, without the repeated guidance of a page announcement?  It is worth noting, however, that announcing page numbers as a rule diminishes personal engagement with the prayer service and should at least be considered to have costs as well as benefits.[iv]

keep is short


[i] Although I am not arguing that the Biblical source for Kavod Hatzibur and tircha de-tzibura is וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד and before all the people I will be glorified…. It is curious that Kavod is linked directly with “silence”.  In the Talmud with the bored silence of the congregation as the Priest, Rabbi or Torah reader fiddles and extends the survice and in the account of Nadab and Abihu, with the silence of their father, Aaron וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן.

[ii] Kaunfer, Rabbi Elie (2010-02-01). Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities (Kindle Locations 930-935). Jewish Lights Pub. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Kaunfer ibid (Kindle Locations 868-871)

[iv] Ibid (2240 – 2251)

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