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Truth or Dare

parshat naso, numbers 5

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 1st 2023. We compare and contrast the Biblical Sotah (Suspected Woman) and the ritual of the bitter waters to the trial by ordeal found in ancient societies up until the Salem Witch Trials. We ask, what we can learn from this primitive form of justice.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday night and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah Portion is Naso and we revisit the Biblical Sotah where a woman is subjected to drinking potentially poisonous waters to test her fidelity to her man.  This sounds a lot like a trial by ordeal where suspects were thrown into the river or a fire to let God met out justice. Sound interesting? Join us for Truth or Dare.



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Listen to last year’s episode: Rashi, Women and Wine

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The Echo of Sinai


Join Geoffrey Stern recorded live on the Madlik Tikun Leyl Shavuot . We’ll prove, with the help of Yehudah Halevi, and beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Torah was given at Sinai. In the process, we hope to share an insight into the meaning and challenge of Sinai.

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The Echo of Sinai | Sefaria

Shavuot – Judah Halevi argues that the public nature of the revelation at Sinai proves the primacy of Judaism. We reflect on how his argument transforms our understanding of Torah, history and the mission of the Jewish People until today.

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God Wants You to Serve

parsaht bamidbar, Numbers 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on May 18th 2023 on Clubhouse. The Torah counts every able-bodied male to serve in the army and to pay their share of taxes and we look at the Haredi demand that they be exempt from military service and subsidized by the State and wonder…. why?

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday night at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Bamidbar. The Torah counts every Jewish male, every able-bodied male to serve in the army and to pay their share of taxes and we look at the Haredi demand that they be exempt from military service and subsidized by the State and wonder…. why? So Join us for God wants you to Serve!



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God Wants You to Serve | Sefaria

Parshat Bamidbar – The Torah counts every Jewish Male of military age and counts every able bodied male to pay their share of taxes and we look at the Haredi demand that they be exempt from military service and subsidized by the State and wonder why.

Listen to last year’s episode: Nachshon

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rounding the corner

parshat emor, leviticus 21-24

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on May 4th 2023 on Clubhouse. This week’s Torah portion is Emor.  In it we come across the source for the tradition for Jewish men to grow beards and Peyot (side curls) and the prohibition to cut the corners of the beard. We are struck by a recurring theme of the holiness of the corner whether in beard grooming, agricultural laws or in the four-cornered garment and we wonder whether there is something more at play.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Emor.  In it we come across the source for the tradition for Jewish men to grow beards and Peyot (side curls) and the prohibition to cut the corners of the beard.. We are struck by a recurring theme of the holiness of the corner whether in beard grooming, agricultural laws or in the four-cornered garment and we wonder whether there is something more at play. So join us for rounding the corner.


Well, welcome rabbi, another exciting week of Madlik disruptive Torah.

Adam Mintz  01:02

I’m looking forward. And of course, this week talking about getting a haircut is perfect, because the holiday of getting a haircut L’ag B’Omar is next Tuesday. So I thought you chose a great topic for this week.

Geoffrey Stern  01:16

You know, I was thinking I there were two things that happened in the search preparing for this. One was every time I tried to do a search about Jewish customs of grooming the hair, grooming the beard, it is such a popular topic today that it was very hard to get anything Jewish. Men are just much more interested, are growing beards is in fashion again. So that is interesting. And as you say, here we are a part of the Jewish calendar revolves around grooming a beard, part of the mourning process revolves around grooming the beard. So whether we make light of it or not, it is a part of, of the Jewish traditions. And the other thing that was very difficult was there was a lot of focus on shaving, not shaving and stuff like this. But you will see, as I said in the introduction, this focus on the square, and rounding the square, what I call the rounding the corner, I didn’t find many people who was struck on it as much as I was. And I mentioned just a few I didn’t mention tefillin. I mentioned the Arba Kanfot, the four cornered garment. I obviously mentioned the subject matter which is grooming the corners of the beard. And I mentioned agricultural Laws, the corners of the field which you will be talking about probably on shavuot, because Ruth was one of the poor women who was gleaning the corners of Boaz’s field, but I was surprised that there was not that many, if any people that were trying to connect those points. Are you struck by this? I wouldn’t say it’s a fixation, but certainly a recurring theme of the square and the rounding of that square.

Adam Mintz  03:26

There’s no question corners are important. Borders, I broaden it a little bit. Borders; limits are important Sefirat haOmer is a limit, right? You count 49 days. The Torah is very familiar with setting limits with saying, you know, you can you can cut your hair or you can cut your hair only this amount. That’s something that’s very prevalent in the Torah. In truth, it’s prevalent in every legal system, the idea of setting limits,

Geoffrey Stern  03:58

I agree, but we’re going to focus on rounding the corner. So let’s go Leviticus 21: 5 in our Parshat Emor it says they shall not shave, smooth any part of their heads or cut the side growth of their beards or make gashes in their flesh. And we’re talking about rules for a priest; for a Cohen against what they can do during mourning. In the Hebrew when it talks about side growth of their beards, it’s talking about וּפְאַ֥ת זְקָנָ֖ם . The other translations like the Koran actually translate that as the corner of their beard. This is not the first time we’ve been exposed to this in Leviticus 19: 27. It says You shall not round off the side growth on your head or destroy the side growth of your beard, and here it does say פְּאַ֥ת זְקָנֶֽךָ , the corner of your beard, but it says לֹ֣א תַקִּ֔פוּ פְּאַ֖ת רֹאשְׁכֶ֑ם , you shall not round off. For those of you who have ever been to a synagogue on Sukkot on Simchat to add and have engaged in Hakafot, Hakafot  is when you take the Torah in the center and you go around it, you circle around it almost in a snake I think they call it or maybe is it a conga line they do at Bar Mitzvahs, but it’s Hakafot; to circle around. So here it literally says You shall not circle the corners of your beard. And in Rashi on that Leviticus 27. He says really הֶקֵּף רֹאשׁוֹ עָגֹל סָבִיב  that you should not circumvent your head and make עָגֹל   is the Hebrew word for circle and making עָגֹל   rounded into a circumvention. So, we have these two things, we have the pe’ah, which you say is a border and a boundary we will get to that. But certainly, the traditional interpretation of pe’ot especially in this regard, is more of a corner, not necessarily the corner of a square, Rashi in Leviticus 19: 27 quoting the Talmud says that there were actually five corners of the beard, we’re talking about the two cheekbones, and the chin and the temples. So, the idea is that you cannot get rid of those angles. The Ibn Ezra gives a start of a reason why? It says because non-Jewish nations do so that you shall be separated from them. So, it seems and this is the traditional explanation I I’d love you to confirm this, that for mourning rites, the tradition seems to be that non-Jews would do a bunch of things, they would gash themselves, they’d mutilate themselves, they might tear out their hair. And if you want to be very minimalistic and focused, you would say we shouldn’t mourn that way. And the key here is to be separated from them, I should say that we’ve focused on what you can’t do. But clearly, the flip side of this is that it has become a tradition for Jews to grow a beard. And more precisely, to grow side locks or those peyot. Mostly amongst Eastern European Hasidic Jews, but also Yemenite Jews. And while Eastern European Hasidic Jews called it pe’ot, the Yemenite Jews call it Simanim, which means literally in accordance with this Rashi something that is a siman is a sign that distinguishes us from them.

Adam Mintz  08:37

That’s amazing. That’s so great that you bring that up, because the you know, the the Yemenite obviously take that word from the Ibn Ezra. And it says so much more pa’ot just describe what they are right they’re sideburns, but simanim talks about the fact that we’re distinguished with the sideburns. And I think that’s an interesting thing to talk about, that what everybody else used to do, and why what we do is different.

Geoffrey Stern  09:03

Absolutely. So you could simply say that there is no deeper meaning here. It’s just they do one thing, we do the opposite. And by the way, it is kind of ironic, is it not? That today, when my father passed away, I grew a beard. There were some who who really look at this, from an aesthetic point of view, from a fashion point of view. And since in those days, the fashion was to have a beard. If you were mourning, you would rip out that beard nowadays that we shave, if I want to show that I’m in mourning, I grow the beard, but it’s so so on the one hand at a basic level, it shows you that at least the facial hair wasr or the facial hair statement is is still alive and well. It’s a way of showing your disposition. Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah goes a step further than saying simply that it distinguishes our practice from their practice. He says, we may not shave the corners of our heads as the idolaters and their priests do. So, this brings in two more elements, number one, and we came across this a little bit last week, where we were talking about rules that related to women who did certain things, could they marry a Cohen. And we really extrapolated that broadly here to these rules are really stated with regard to a Cohen. But we’re saying that these morning rituals, if a Cohen can’t do it, we extrapolate to say none of us can do it. So that’s the first interesting thing.

Adam Mintz  10:58

That is interesting,

Geoffrey Stern  10:59

The other interesting thing is that he’s saying it’s idolaters. And it’s their priests. So now it’s not simply doing what the non-Jews do, but what the non-Jews do, one would assume, as a cultic, as a religious idolatrous practice. And that, of course, has synergy with our Kohanim or priests can do it, but also why we generally can’t do it.

Adam Mintz  11:26

Right. I mean, now we’re getting into a whole little bit of a different area. And that is what are the priests have to do with this issue? Why should it be that the priests can’t do it? You know, priests are holy somehow. Why does cutting your hair and being holy? And being a priest? What are those all have to do with one another? That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  11:49

It’s interesting, and I am now going to ask you a trivia question that that just popped into my head. The Yiddish word may be the Hebrew word for a priest is a galach, is it not?

Adam Mintz  12:02

Yeah, that’s a non Jewish priest is a galach

Geoffrey Stern  12:05

A Galach. Now, does Galach have anything to do with l’hitgaleach (to shave)?

Adam Mintz  12:10

not. But that’s a good question. You know, you could always say a dirt toe or about anything. So you can say that’s our toe, right?

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

Except all of those Russian Orthodox priests that I’ve ever seen. And the Greek Orthodox have nice beards. So Yeah, that’s funny.. where does that come from ? right? So it really doesn’t hold up. 

Note from Editor:  According to Wikipedia: “Galach or Gal’ach is a Yiddish word meaning priest or, sometimes, any type of Christian minister. Its etymology is the Hebrew word galach, meaning “to shave” or “shaven”, a reference to the fact that rabbis traditionally wore beards” Hyamson, Albert Montefiore; Silbermann, Abraham Maurice (1938). Vallentine’s Jewish Encyclopedia. Shapiro, Vallentine.

Okay, so that was the trivia question. Let’s move on. So, the Mishna Torah continues, and it adds (This is Maimonides) adds another element here. And in Mishneh Torah, Foreign Worship and Customs, 12:3 it says, All the Torah’s prohibitions apply equally to men and women, with the exception of the prohibition against shaving, cutting off the corners of one’s head, and the prohibition against priests contracting impurity through contact with a dead body. And I need to say that this is before he says the more obvious thing, which is what everybody seems to know, which is that women are not required to do commandments that are dependent on time. But this is one that I had never seen. You could say, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? That a woman would not be under the prohibition of shaving a beard because she doesn’t have a beard?

Adam Mintz  13:31

Right? Of course, right…

Geoffrey Stern  13:32

The question is, and I think Maimonides gets into this. Who is the sin on? Is it the one who gets shaved or the shaver?

Adam Mintz  13:41

Right. And they say both? And that’s also fascinating. And therefore, maybe if you go to a non-Jewish Barber, that’s different because you know it the question is, who the who the prohibition is on.

Geoffrey Stern  13:55

Well, absolutely. But what is fascinating to me, is here, it brings in another element. And what it brings in is that any rules regarding the beard, at the end of the day, it’s pretty clear that they relate to manhood. they extrapolate slightly more generally; it relates to masculinity or man’s identity. One of the fascinating commentaries that I could not find in Sefira but is brought in an amazing article in one of my favorite go to sources….  I’ve mentioned it many times before is a rabbi Zeb Farber quotes R. Bachya ben Asher (1255-1340) , who says that the reason you cannot shave or you cannot round the corners of your beard, is because the beard is a main way of differentiating between men and women. And he puts this in the same category, as the prohibitions that we find in Deuteronomy 22: 5 about a man can’t dress like a woman and vice versa. So he’s really focused on the gender identity element of this rule.

Adam Mintz  15:19

Yeah, that’s interesting. Wow, that’s a good thing to find, right? So, so very much this is gendered. Which might just be practical that women don’t grow beards. You see, usually when you talk about things being gendered, it’s kind of a criticism, why does it only apply to men and not to women, but in this case, it’s it doesn’t sound like it’s really a problem, right? That’s just the way it is. And it applies to men and not women.

Geoffrey Stern  15:46

So the word that we would use in this particular instance, is emasculating… the idea that yes, we are gender neutral in the modern era. But none the less, women and men are different, they’re physiologically different. Whatever you want to say, or at least, you know, those of us who don’t want to go all the way will say, there is a word called “emasculating”. And maybe it’s a man’s problem, that he feels emasculated if he does certain things, and he should get over it. But I think the source that we just quoted of R. Bachya ben Asher, and maybe even Maimonides, see in this are trimming of the beard, and the rules relating to the beard rules that will lead to the manhood of a man so to speak, and towards the distinction between men and women. And you started by talking about the boundaries, if there are boundaries in in the Torah. This is an area where you get that you get that message. That’s my read on it.

Adam Mintz  17:06

That’s a good read on it. I think that’s 100%. Right. I think that is the read here.

Geoffrey Stern  17:11

So I said in the introduction, that there are other instances of corners. One of the great commentaries on Leviticus, and I’ve mentioned before you actually do need commentaries on Leviticus because much of it is very difficult for us who don’t have a temple who don’t have the all these rules of purity. So Baruch A. Levine writes, you shall not round off the side growth on your head. Hebrew pe’ah, is the same word used in verse 9 in Leviticus 19: 9. To designate the corner or edge of a field, Hebrew lo’ takkifu, you shall not round derives from the word n-k-f to encircle. Certain peoples who inhabited the desert areas are referred to as ketsutsei pe ‘ah men with their side growth cut off. So in this simple little paragraph, I found a anchor for what I was fascinated with, which is how does this word pe’ah, find itself this concept of corner find itself elsewhere? And what I’d like to suggest before we start looking at all of the sources is that one way or another, whether it’s in the verse that we’re going to read now about the need to leave the corners of the field for the poor and the stranger. The biblical editor establishes as an obvious thematic link between corners of the beard and corners of the field and corners seem to be holy or consecrated, which means that they need to either be dedicated to God or to chosen on Earth, that seems at least to me to be the connection between all the corners that we’re going to look at. And before I open it up to discussion, let me read Leviticus 19: 9, when you reap the harvest, and remember, it’s 19: 9, it’s in the same chapter as the first occurrence of this prohibition of the Kohanim of rounding the corners of the beard. So it’s, uh, not far fetched to say that the biblical author was aware that they were using the same word for different use cases. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, not all the way to the פְּאַ֥ת שָׂדְךָ֖  or gather the gleanings of your harvest. If you’re picking up a bail of hay and you drop some hay, you need to leave those Gleanings for the poor like Ruth. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am God, Your God. So now already, I think I have a little bit of a basis to say, yes, it’s mandated by God. But there’s an issue of holiness here of leaving those, the translation we have is edges, which is much in line with how you started Rabbi talking about boundaries, or corners of the field. But do you think like me that there is a connection here that we can’t ignore that it’s not really drash?

Adam Mintz  20:49

There has to be a connection, the fact that it’s written together has to be there’s a connection? Yeah. So what is Levine say? Levine is great. You should just say Levine was a professor of Bible at NYU for many, many decades. He was a real scholar. 

[ed] “In a 2012 autobiographical essay, Levine described the Hebrew Bible as “a repository of ancient Near Eastern heritage. It preserves language and law, religious practices and social patterns, political norms and historical memories indicating that its authors, living in a small Levantine country, were open to the world.”

Geoffrey Stern  21:04

Fantastic. Well, if you recall, he not only made the connection to the verse about the field, but he made a reference to Jeremiah and I, frankly had never looked at these verses in Jeremiah. And in Jeremiah 9. It’s talking about Jeremiah really, you know, wanting the children of Israel of what’s happening and how bad they are and low days are coming declares the Lord, when I will take note of everyone circumcised in the foreskin of Egypt, Judah, Edom, the Amorites, Moabs. And all the desert dwellers who have the hair of their temples clipped for all these nations are uncircumcised, but all the houses of Israel are uncircumcised of heart. What’s fascinating to me, is that Jeremiah mixes metaphors of circumcision with this people in the desert, who are called קְצוּצֵ֣י פֵאָ֔ה they have a clipped the corners of their beard. It happens three other times interesting what Rashi says on this verse is pe’ah, in this regard, an expression of an end, those cast off to the corner of the desert. So Rashi doesn’t even believe that these people are literally ones who clip the corners of their beard. What they are, is they are marginalized. They are at the outside of the desert. And if you take that, and the fact that when he talks about circumcision, he’s clearly also talking metaphorically, because even actually says that when I say that the Jews are uncircumcised, I mean that they are  עַרְלֵי־לֵֽב , they are uncircumcised of heart. So what’s fascinating to me, is we’ve established in a sense that part of this dialogue has to do with manhood, here we have a situation where you are on the outside, you are on the borders, or over the side of the borders. And whether it’s literal, or figurative. He’s talking about I had never thought about circumcision in terms of rounding the corner, so to speak. But here we have all of these metaphors, again, that to me, are stimulating and kind of fascinating and started me maybe it was because last week we were talking about such sexually graphic things. But but the point is that there that he puts it in the same context, and it has to do with removing or making holy, this outer outer boundary fascinating to me.

Adam Mintz  24:12

That is interesting. So the boundary becomes a sign of holiness. It’s not that the boundary is holy, but the boundary becomes a sign of holiness. Now, why is that? So, I think that what holiness is, is it separates the holy from the non holy, it’s about boundaries. Because the minute that you go too far, it’s not holy anymore. It’s mundane. It’s regular. So, holiness is about establishing boundaries. I’ll give you an example. You walk into a shul. People act differently in shul than they do outside of shul and therefore you can be having a certain conversation when you’re walking Walking to shul, and then your walk into the building, you stop having that conversation. And you might say to the person having the conversation with this isn’t appropriate for shul. That’s a boundary of holiness.

Geoffrey Stern  25:13

I think also, and I agree with what you just said. But I think also there’s always a very close line between holy and profane between what is holy, and what is Parush/Seperate and not holy. And I think we can’t kind of understand this in total, because clearly, for instance, in circumcision, the Orla is rejected. It’s the corner, if you will, that’s thrown away. And clearly, the people that he’s referring to in the desert are outcasts. But again, it just sensitized me. And I don’t think we’re going to have answers, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to connect all the dots. But I do think that I want to establish it’s a rich area of research that I don’t think has been done. Let’s move on to the tzitzit, the Arbah Kanfot. In Deuteronomy 22: 12. It says, You shall make tassels on the four corners of the garment which cover you. So here, it doesn’t use Arbah Pinot, it doesn’t use Arbah Pe’ot, it says Arba Kenafot (wings) it uses a different word. But I feel we have a license to relate it again, because it’s clear that it is those four corners. And I think what we’re dealing with is less something that is literally but more visual, something that is based on imagery based on really a core kind of conceptual notion of what these corners are and what the rounding is, In Deuteronomy 23: 1 it says, No householder, shall take his father’s former wife, as his own wife, so as to remove his father’s garment כְּנַ֥ף אָבִֽיו . So here, again, it’s that outer perimeter that is female, but it belongs to the man, I’m making a little bit of a stretch here. But I mean, that’s how I kind of I’m starting to read this. And, and before I discuss it, let’s go to the real Kanafim (wings) that kind kanafayim, if you think in terms of and we have studied this before the Charubim, that have their wings spread out, it uses the same word as it uses for the four corners of the garment,  פֹּרְשֵׂ֨י כְנָפַ֜יִם  and they spread their wings, over the, the ark. They are and they have been facing each other. So really getting back to what you were discussing before about corners or sides. In the temple, it many times were fear refers to the sides of the temple. The west side is the לִפְאַת־יָ֔ם  the the other side is לִפְאַ֛ת קֵ֥דְמָה  so we’re talking about a very symmetrical square temple, whether it’s the Mishkan or the temple, the Mikdash itself, and we are having these Kenafim (wings/corners)  on top of this square ark. And they’re facing each other. And we also have in in the use of מִפְּאַ֣ת פָּנָ֔יו the face it just made me think of the Cherubim totally differently as this again, this dialectic between this square Ark and this square temple and the kenafim… the arba kanfot somehow neutralizing it somehow embellishing it somehow making it more female and male. These I think are I couldn’t find anyone else who was really looking in this direction. But I do think it’s a very you know, when we talk about the iconography of Judaism of ancient Judaism, even the fill in them, which are these strange boxes that are we put on the the Talmud in the Babylonian Talmud says it’s a halacha L’Moshe MiSinai, that they have to be square. The Jerusalem Talmud it’s in our notes says that square is something that doesn’t ever appear in nature. One of the Midrashim that I saw is that the tefillin are called ‘Batim”… they’re called houses. And we dwelt upon this before “Veshechanti Betocham” I will have my presence within you. Why does it say Betocham in you and not betocho “in it” and this Midrash say because God dwelt Shechan” in the square of the Mem-Sofit ם  ,

Adam Mintz  30:41

Whoa  Who says that. that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:43

So I found it in a Chabad commentary that quoted it from somewhere that I couldn’t find. But it definitely said, the mem in Petocham is in the square temple. And in the batim of the tefillin. , And of course, what we do with the tefillin, I have a picture here. I had to go to images of someone who compares it’s not actually tefillin, it’s the case of tefillin with the hakafot, l’havdil that the Muslims do around the Kabba, their square shrine. And in his commentary, he says, and if you consider wrapping the retsua (strap) of the tefillin around your arm, you are in a sense making that hakafa. You are rounding the square. I have a picture from the Cairo Geniza. Of tefillin, that were found that have the base square in accordance with the Halacha, l’moshe m’sinai but the middle part is conical. and could be taken as phallic symbol, I, you know, again, you have to look at the images. And we need someone to take this further. But I was in a place called Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And I couldn’t get out of my mind that all of the temples were based on this kind of Lotus (Linga) motif where the middle part was coming straight up. And on the four corners was either a square that later became part of this Lotus motif around it the birth of the Linga. But again, there was this sense of the middle was a male and the around it was female. I think we’re coming to the end of our time.

Adam Mintz  32:36

But I think what you’re pointing out is something that’s really interesting. We don’t usually do this. But what you’re really pointing out is that it’s all about images. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  32:45

Yeah. I mean, if you look at the images, I have pictures of circling around a Chuppa, and there too, it’s based on maybe on Jeremiah that says נְקֵבָ֖ה תְּס֥וֹבֵֽב גָּֽבֶר, that a woman goes around or rounds the man, I have pictures of that square talit which is also that based on that Arba Kanfot  and of Hasidim dancing around it. It to me what I thought of, and I’m going to end here because we are running out of time, is a movie with Richard Dreyfus in it called Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Adam Mintz  33:27

I know that movie,

Geoffrey Stern  33:28

I don’t think we’re talking about influences. I don’t think that anything happened in Cambodia and Buddhism, was directly affected or came from the same source as what we have. But I do think that maybe there’s something here here clearly, a phallic image is something that is kind of universal. And there’s something that kind of unites us with the iconography of the world, and helping us to understand some of the iconography that we have in the Torah. But clearly, I challenge anyone who disagrees with any of the conclusions or maybe the ideas that I’m throwing out to deny that there isn’t something with this. squaring the circle circling the square, turning the corner, there’s a thread there. There’s a trend there, which I find fascinating.

Adam Mintz  34:30

I think that’s great. This was a great this was a great topic today. I think there were so many things to think about the images, the squares, the circles, and it really gives us something to wonder about as we enjoy this wonderful partnership. So Shabbat Shalom. Happy L’ag B’Omer, and we look forward to seeing everybody next Thursday night.

Geoffrey Stern  34:51

Shabbat Shalom. We’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet:

rounding the corner | Sefaria

Parshat Emor – We explore the source for the Jewish tradition to grow beards and Peyot (side curls) and the prohibition to shave the corners of the beard.

Listen to last year’s podcast: life after death

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women who love women and The Torah – a responsa

parshat achrei mot-kedoshim, leviticus 16 -20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Thursday April 27th 2023 on Clubhouse. A radical new Rabbinic Opinion titled Gay Women (Nashim Mesolelot) written by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox makes us read what is referred to as the Holiness Code in Leviticus in a new way. In the process we are exposed to the role of Responsa in the evolution of halacha.

Link to the Gay Women Responsa:

Link to Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Achrei Mot-Kedoshim.  It contains what is known as the Holiness code which describes and prescribes pretty much every sexual deviation. It is the perfect opportunity to celebrate and review a radical responsa that was published earlier this year. It was written by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, and called Gay Women (Nashim Mesolelot) A Teshuva and published by Maharat Yeshiva. So join us for Women who love women who love Torah.


How are you this week?

Adam Mintz  01:07

I’m well, and I’m really excited about our conversation each week is good, but this week might be special.

Geoffrey Stern  01:13

Well, as I said, Rabbi Jeffrey Fox is the Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivat Maharat, and I believe you teach at Maharat.

Adam Mintz  01:21

I sure do,

Geoffrey Stern  01:22

We are hoping that we get a lot of insight. I did say that he wrote a radical responsa. So before we even begin, even begin reading our parsha, I just want to say: if you look back at the history of biblical law, and how it is made, and how it is changed, it really is a responsa. And what is a responsa in Hebrew? It’s a She’elot u-Teshuvot (Hebrew: שאלות ותשובות). It’s when Jethro comes and confronts Moses and asks him a question. And Moses then goes to God for an answer. It’s when the daughters of Zelophehad ask a question that impacts their personal life. And Moses, the halakhic authority of the moment has to come up with an answer. And what’s fascinating about that, as opposed to what we normally do, which is just look at texts and try to analyze them is here we are looking at when the Halacha; the rubber hits the road, it’s when you capture a moment in our history, whether it’s the daughters of Zelophehad, or it’s at the foot of Mount Sinai with Jethro, you get to capture a moment in history where something has changed and demands an answer. That’s very exciting. What does responsa, She’ela u-Teshuva mean to you, Rabbi.

Adam Mintz  02:52

So, especially in this case, it means taking the traditional law, the traditional practice and applying it to contemporary modern situations. That’s the difference between a She’ela u-Teshuva, a responsa. And a just a legal book, a legal book just tells you the law, a responsa tries to apply that law to a very specific case. And this is a perfect example of someone trying to apply the law in general to a very specific issue.

Geoffrey Stern  03:27

You know, I was thinking about it. And in addition to all that, we’ve said till now, it also has a traditional form. And in that sense, it’s almost like a sonnet. And it can be almost judged by how well written it is how within the guidelines and the guide rails of how halachic discussion and argument is made, how it’s put together. And I think the other part of it, because if you download and there is a link to download the full responsa up on our Sefera source sheet, you will see that at least 30% – 40% of it is Rabbi Jeffrey Fox had the chutzpah, the gall, or I would say the self-confidence to invite peer review and attach it to his responsa. And peer review is also something that I think is so special about the responsa tradition, you are engaging with prior opinion and you’re inviting your peers, and then ultimately, future scholars to interact with you. And this responsa, I encourage everyone to read it. There’s going to be parts of it that are gonna be above your paygrade there were parts of it that were above my paygrade but it’s a wonderful example of this tradition. She’elot u-Teshuvot that has made our Torah so adoptable and such a living living Torah.

Adam Mintz  05:10

I agree with you 100%. And you’re right. I mean, don’t be put off with the fact that there’s some very technical halakhic Gemorah arguments, everybody can understand the main points of this. And I think that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight.

Geoffrey Stern  05:26

And before we take off, I should also say that some of the great writings of a Maimonides are his Epistle of Yemen, his letter to Ovadia, the Ger; the Convert. Again, many times we read pieces of Torah, Midrash, or whatever, it’s hard to pinpoint what period they were written in, what was the context of their writing. You don’t have that in a responsa to a sponsor is responding to a question. So again, the responsa is Gay Women. It’s called Gay Women Responsa. You can Google it, it’s They’re showing it on their website. And the reason we’re discussing it this week, as I said, in the intro, is in Leviticus 18. It talks about all of these sexual “perversions” it has, a man cannot lie with a man, all of this stuff. You might recognize it even if you go to synagogue once a year on Yom Kippur, because, yes, we read it on Yom Kippur. So we’re gonna focus initially on just one verse, because it’s that verse that he brings to trigger the first discussion. It’s Leviticus 18, 1-3, and it says, The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the LORD am your God. You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. , seems pretty innocuous. But ultimately, what happens is that in this long list of things that can’t be done, it says nowhere, that a woman cannot lie with a woman. So to get to that prohibition, if one needs to get to it, or if one feels that the Halacha demands one gets to it, one has to read the Sifra, and in the Sifra, it says, as the deed of the land of Egypt, I might think that means you shall not build or plant as they do, and therefore it is written and their statutes you shall not walk. So we already have that prohibition. So what does this come to forbid? What did they do in Egypt and Canaan that you’re not allowed to do? A man would wed a man and a woman, a woman?  So there were two fascinating things about this Sifra, if we are laser-focused on the issue of were, is it explicitly forbidden for a lesbian relationship? Number one, it is admitting, without saying as much that it’s not specifically listed in the Torah, and that it has to hang itself on things that were done in Egypt. And the other part of it is if we go to Vayikra Rabbah, which talks about and amplifies this, and it says Rav Huna said in the name of Rabbi Yossi, “The generation of the flood was wiped out only because they wrote marriage documents for men and women.”  So the rabbis and Rabbi Fox follows different threads within rabbinic tradition, how they took this, but this is one of the legs upon which there were arguments made, that women cannot lie with women. And it therefore has two things about it. It has one, maybe the sexual act, and two, it talks about that they wrote marriage documents for men and women. And this interpretation believes that they wrote marriage documents between a man and a man and a woman and a woman. So Rabbi Fox takes a long time to track these different ideas through the Hologic commentaries. And ultimately, the big question is, Is it forbidden? Why does it have to say explicitly that it was forbidden. I mean, there are many places in our parsha that it talks about different things. And it says it is a ToEva. It is Zima, it is a depravity, it is a terrible thing. But it doesn’t at the end of the day ultimately say that about a lesbian sexual relationship. I’d like to think and I’d love your opinion on this rabbi is yes, because he is writing within the constraints of a Teshuva, he has to literally link all of the opinions and map them. But what’s fascinating to me on a page of any page of Talmud is many scholars try to chart it out, they’ll actually get a blackboard and try to put all of the different opinions together. What I’m always fascinated, is by the multiplicity of the opinions, and as I read this teshuva, and we’re going to start picking up on some of that. What’s fascinating to me is even from the get go, the fact that the rabbi’s kind of recognized this type of relationship, and they recognize it that it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, is something to take note of, and then they bring the question of marriage, as opposed to just a relationship, we’re starting to get the different ingredients of a discussion.

Adam Mintz  11:35

So you said a lot, and I think all of it is right. And I think, you start with the verse in this week’s parsha, and you start with a Sifra, the Sifra takes it in a direction, that it doesn’t have to take it in, it means the idea that what’s wrong with Egypt is homosexual relationships is not explicit anywhere. And that’s interesting that they take it in that direction, that they were thinking, about those kinds of things. This is called the Arayot. This is the forbidden and the illicit sexual relations. This is a famous Torah reading, because on Yom Kippur, at minha, we read this Torah reading. So it’s familiar to people. And a homosexual male relationship, a man and a man is actually explicitly mentioned in the Torah as being prohibited. That’s what it says that וְאֶ֨ת־זָכָ֔ר לֹ֥א תִשְׁכַּ֖ב מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה  a man is not allowed to lie with a man תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה הִֽוא , it is considered to be an abomination. So that’s explicit in the Torah, a lesbian relationship is not mentioned anywhere. That kind of gives room for this Teshuva to be written. And that’s what he’s trying to do.

Geoffrey Stern  13:06

And in the criticisms, you could easily criticize him right there and say, Why is he putting on this narrow focus? Because in a sense, what he’s saying is, I’m not worried about the men right now. I want to focus on the women. But there is one response written by a woman, Rachel Fried is her name who, who says she feels that as a lesbian woman, she has been ignored, because I mean, you could argue that she should feel like she’s dodged a bullet. Because there are many orthodox women who would say the Torah doesn’t say anything about a lesbian relationship, so I dodged a bullet. What she is feeling is that she’s been left out, is that the Torah is not even talking about her. There are a number of quotes are one associated with Rav Moshe Feinstein who wrote beautiful halakhic Responsa who basically ….. and by the way, you said that many parts of this Responsa are very technical. They also very graphic…  he quotes from Rav Moshe Feinstein, and he sums it up as saying, you can’t have illicit sex without a penis. So in a sense, he was almost saying that women are overlooked because it doesn’t matter. The relationship between women doesn’t matter. She says that really I almost wish the Pasuk did include woman so that at least I could be part of the narrative. Instead, women are treated as if the Torah prohibitions apply to them directly when they aren’t even written in the story. To me this represents one of the worst kinds of erasure. And she, thanks Rabbi Fox for bringing her into the conversation.

Adam Mintz  15:11

There’s so much there. That’s interesting, right? You’re right that a lot of people would say, wow, you know, lesbians avoided the problem, right?

Geoffrey Stern  15:19

Yep. So so let’s talk about that for a second. Because she starts by writing something that I find the most fascinating. She says, understanding the differences between descriptions and identities is necessary in order to have a productive conversation. Meaning to say that I started by saying, you can’t have a Teshuva without a Shaialah. You can’t have a responsa, unless there’s a need. And Rabbi Jeffrey Fox defines what the need is, he says, we are living in a time when too many great Rabanim and Poskim view Torah through a lens that destroys the lives of gay women in parentheses (and men). The Gamora is trying to teach us that sometimes, even after many years of deep learning, there is a need to go back into the cave and rethink our approach. And he really feels and he must have gotten this firsthand if he was here, I would ask him what instigated this teshuvah. But I’m sure 100% And I’m sure you can confirm it to me that like the name of this podcast, it’s women who love women who love Torah. If this was a teshuvah written for non-observant, non-connected Jews who say I really want to eat brownies on Pesach. That would not elicit a teshuvah. If it was a non-committed Jewish woman who wanted to have a sanctioned lesbian relationship. That too might not elicit a Teshuvah. What has changed today is that there is a community of women who love the Torah, who love the 613 commandments, who feel they are a part of the community. And here’s where the difference lies. And here’s where this woman has hit the nail on the target. This is not a question as much about an act as it is about identity. They were created the way they were created. They love shabbat. They love mitzvot, and they want their who they are sanctioned. And I think that is the paradigm shift that elicited a teshuvah like this a responsa like this. And you can make the argument and I think Rabbi Fox has made the argument that a generation or two or three ago, maybe even a generation ago, he says that Rav Moshe Feinstein probably could not even fathom what a loving, long term committed lesbian or homosexual relationship could be, and probably could not fathom what all of the different gender identities or lack of identities that we now are understanding are. So this has taken it away from just giving a ruling on an activity to giving a ruling on an identity. And I think that is a major paradigm shift,

Adam Mintz  18:27

I would agree with you. And I think if you read some of the reactions…. , You see when you write a responsa, so it’s a halakhic responsa means it’s based on the Halacha. But clearly, he is being driven by a motive to be sensitive to lesbian relationships. And basically, if you want to talk about his, the approach, the approach is that he knows where he wants to get to, and he kind of allows the sources to evolve to reach that conclusion. And you’re right, he was courageous, not only to allow for responses, but responses that didn’t necessarily agree with him. That’s an amazing thing. Right. He actually includes responses that don’t agree with them. And they claim the following at least one of them claims the following Rabbi Clapper, he says that he jumps too far, meaning that the sources don’t say that a lesbian relationship is allowed. They say at very most, that a lesbian relationship is not biblically prohibited because the Torah doesn’t mention it. It’s only rabbinically prohibited. And Rabbi Clapper, it says that to jump from there to say that it’s permitted and maybe even a holy Relationship. He said, quote, he says, Rabbi Fox needs more proofs for that. I’m not convinced that he’s right. So it’s interesting when, when the reality that you want to create and the literature that you have don’t necessarily agree with one another, how you reconcile the two? That’s really a very interesting question.

Geoffrey Stern  20:30

So I want to get into some of the actual arguments. And there’s one, I promise Rabbi fox that I was going to send him a copy of this podcast. So there’s one innovation that I want to bring to the table. In the comments by Rachel Fried, she mentioned something that I had heard anecdotally, but see confirms it. And she confirmed that the irony of this delineation is that many rabbis and community leaders promote the idea of gay men and lesbian women marrying each other so that they can be part of the community and live normal lives in these arrangements it is often understood that those two individuals will have extramarital encounters. And then she goes on to say that there are sad phantom matchmakers who are literally set up to encourage and support this, sham. Now one of the sources that he brings in his responsa this is Rabbi Chaim Dovid Yosef Weiss, Satmar Dayan in Antwerp, Vaya’an David vol. 7 Siman 13, Section 6 (page 26) – published 5771 (2010/1) , I was also asked by a woman whose husband will not have sex with her. And in order to calm her desire, a friend of hers rubs her privates is this forbidden? What it doesn’t say is, maybe the husband is gay. And he goes on to give his advice. He says, we certainly should rebuke the husband with a strong rebuke for not fulfilling the mitzvah of onah. And nevertheless, this should not be permitted, except in a case of really great need, what he means is should not be permitted, that she should not be able to fulfill her sexual desires. And it should only be permitted in a humble fashion with a humble woman. And that he says, practically I did not permit it at all. So there were so many fascinating things about his answer. There’s something about Teshuvot, about Responsa, that you can have an opinion that is maybe a hava amina, you might think, and then you give up on the idea, but the fact that you’ve listed the you might think it already becomes a part of the Halachic record. So here we have this rabbi, dealing with a marriage that is not working, recognizing that the woman has her own sexual desires, which in and of itself, in this patriarchal society is interesting. And dealing with these issues, these are real issues. So I just find it totally fascinating how the rabbis nonetheless, try to deal with it and in dealing with it show a little bit of flexibility. Another interesting case, is an androgynous person, a person whose sex is not totally defined …. today, that is part of our nomenclature, we talk about not having pronouns or for people being able to choose their gender. So one of the Halakhot it talks about is that an androgynous person cannot marry a man because he might be considered male, he might be considered female on the side that he is male. That would be a something that was explicitly forbidden, but he can marry a woman. Because again, there is this line, there is this notion that it’s not totally forbidden. It’s a peritza b’alma. It is something that is repugnant, not accepted. Rabbi Fox brings an example of pizza ALMA, the same language that is used for a woman who eats a sandwich in the street, who dons yarn in the street, who nurses a baby in the street. And one of the arguments that he makes here is that these things are socially subjective, certain things that might not have been acceptable in the past can become acceptable now, certainly it’s not grounds for divorce if your wife eats a sandwich in this suite, and he brings all of these fascinating sources.

Adam Mintz  25:07

They’re fascinating. So there are a couple of things you just said, you know that what is considered pritzut? What is considered to be, immodest behavior is probably the right word. And what he points out is that the term immodest behavior is very broadly defined in the Talmudic sources. So to limit it to sexual behavior, it’s just not fair. I think those kinds of points are very important, because we’re, we tend to understand things in a certain way. And he makes the point that that’s not necessarily so.

Geoffrey Stern  25:41

I mean, to me, the go to is it says I believe in Masekta Megillah that a woman cannot read the Megillah. Because of kavod Hatzibur. Well, you know, that was written 1000 years before, there were men’s clubs that didn’t let a warm woman come in because of kavod HaTzibur (propriety), it just wasn’t it in those days, it was socially unacceptable. But that begs you to say that in a different generation, when women are surgeons, or women are judges were women are leaders, that no longer takes away from the kavod, from the honor of the congregation, I want to get back to another thread that he drops. If you recall a second ago, I said that when it said you can’t be like Mitzrayim (Egypt), one of the things that it says is that they condoned marriage of man to man and women to women. Actually, it goes on a full list of other marriages as well. And one of the things that every one of those relationships has in common, according to Rabbi Fox is that they are marriages made not to have children. They are marriages designed so that you can be a playboy the rest of your life and you don’t have to procreate. And his argument to that is now adays with artificial insemination and a change again, in society, you can have a same sex couple who is totally committed to procreation. So again, he talks also another thread that he has, is that really the whole forbidden nature of a same sex relationship is for a married women, because it is not fidelity, it’s not respect for her marriage is diminished by it. But a woman who defines her commitment to marriage by a relationship with another woman would be a left out. You know, in some of the comments from the rabbi’s. There was one rabbi who said, this goes much, much too far. I wouldn’t subscribe to something like this, unless you had a bunch of Talmudic Rabbi authorities who would sign in, it’s almost an invitation, it’s an insight into the process that we are watching before our eyes, which means that it takes somebody who is brave, like Rabbi Fox to be the first and then over time, maybe yes, you do get other rabbis who will sign on? And then there’s the really big question of why did he focus only on lesbian relationships? And how does this affect other non-sanctioned relationships? Is it a slippery slope? Or is it and this is where I think the insight that we talked about before becomes critical, once you take these laws outside of the realm of forbidden acts, and you start talking about identities and how we define how identities are understood. That changes everything. And yes, it is a slippery slope, but not in a flippant way. What it means is it becomes a paradigm shift that once we can see committed Jewish women who are living wholesome lives are contributing to the community or having a family life and well that it will change our conception of what the identities of people that don’t fall into some of the preconceived notions. And we will realize that once they’re no longer outliers, they can be looked at differently. I think that’s the powerful potential of a teshuvah such as this?

Adam Mintz  30:03

Well, you’re saying a whole bunch of things. Let’s take one thing at a time. The first thing is the idea of a paradigm shift. And paradigm shifts are interesting. Because you’re right, you need someone courageous like Rabbi Fox, but but the end of the story, but we would call the last chapter of the book, we don’t know what that last chapter is going to look like, means what he’s setting up is that other rabbis will follow. It’s very hard to know how the Orthodox rabbinic community is going to respond to this Teshuvah.. it’s too soon, because the teshuvah just came out right before Pesach. So we have to see how they’re going to respond. And I think that by including reactions to his teshuvah, he’s welcoming other people. And maybe you know, I don’t know, we’d have to, invite him onto the podcast to see whether he would is willing to, you know, to redo some of the halakhic arguments based on comments, I don’t know, I’m not sure how he feels about it. But maybe in order to gain consensus, and that’s when you have a paradigm shift, sometimes everybody has to give a little bit, maybe he’d be willing to give a little bit in order to make it more acceptable to a larger group of people.

Geoffrey Stern  31:18

You know, I listened to a podcast this week that celebrated the first Bat Mitzvah of Mordecai Kaplan’s our daughter, which was 100 years ago. And then it noted that 50 years later, was the first woman rabbi to occur. And there’s clearly a connection between the two. And so I think that change takes time. But clearly, what’s happening here is, when you make a change like this, the fact that the discourse is done with so much respect, and the idea that it’s coming within the Orthodox community. One of the podcasters, who talked about the Bat mitzvah says it was fascinating that it was Rabbi Kaplan At those times, they had separate seating in the synagogue, the Reform didn’t have the first bat mitzvah, it’s because they were doing confirmation at age 16. It came out of Orthodox Jewry as much as any of the other strains. And I think that it’s fascinating to me, that in Maharat where they give semicha to women, and they really fulfill that thread from bat mitzvah to smicha, and ordination, that here we have the beginning of the next move, and it’s being done strictly within the sonnet, the tradition of this peer reviewed exploration of the texts. And I just think it’s fascinating. And I think that we all feel privileged to be an observer of how this is, is happening. And I think that just to engage all of the thinkers that you have, at the end of this teshuva, in with a respectful conversation bodes well, I think, for the future of really halachic Judaism, in the biggest, broadest, richest sense of the word, even if it is a little disruptive.

Adam Mintz  33:24

I would agree with that. It’s a perfect topic for today. Shabbat Shalom to everybody enjoy this really this challenging parsha but an amazing parsha. And I just second what Geoffrey said, take a look at the Teshuvah It’s long, it’s complicated, but it’s worth every second. Thank you, Geoffrey, for the topic. Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  33:46 Shabbat shalom. And I’ll see you all next week.

Link to the Gay Women Responsa:

Link to Sefaria Notes:

women who love women and The TORAH – a responsa | Sefaria

Parshat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim – A radical new Rabbinic Opinion titled: Gay Women (Nashim Mesolelot) written by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox makes us read what is referred to as the Holiness Code in Leviticus in a new way. In the process we are exposed to the role of Responsa in the evolution of halacha.

Listen to last year’s Podcast: Scapegoating

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Cosmetic Theology

parshat tazria-metzora, leviticus 12-15

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday April 20th 2023. – We peel away the stigma of leprosy from the biblical Tzorat and instead look at it through the lens of the death-averse Tumah/Taharah paradigm …. with some insights into life.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s parsha is Tazria-Metzora and … fair warning, its about skin disease, wardrobe malfunction and mold in your abode. If you leave… please leave quietly! But for those of you who remain, we’ll peel and pick and pry and reveal what lies beneath the mold and mildew with some insights into life. So join us for Cosmetic Theology.



Sefaria Source Sheet:

Cosmetic Theology | Sefaria

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ב) אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֤ה בְעוֹר־בְּשָׂרוֹ֙ שְׂאֵ֤ת אֽוֹ־סַפַּ֙חַת֙ א֣וֹ בַהֶ֔רֶת וְהָיָ֥ה בְעוֹר־בְּשָׂר֖וֹ לְ נֶ֣גַע צָרָ֑עַת וְהוּבָא֙ אֶל־אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן א֛וֹ אֶל־אַחַ֥ד מִבָּנָ֖יו הַכֹּהֲנִֽים׃ (1) ה’ spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: (2) When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of the body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests.

Listen to previous year’s podcast: Home Alone no more

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Protest Haggadah cont.

parshat tzav, preparing for the seder

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhous on March 29th 2023. We continue our exploration of the many faces of the Torah as reflected in the Kibbutz Haggadot written at the rebirth of the Jewish People in the Promised Land of Israel.

Sefaria Source sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse  and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is tzav but since Passover will be soon upon us, we continue our exploration of Haggadot that break with the past.  Today we will focus on Kibbutz Haggadot which were written for the most part by secular Jews who had a deep understanding of Jewish texts and traditions. In these Haggadot these self-proclaimed New Jews reimagine the message of the Seder and inspire us to do the same.  So join us for Protest Haggadah continued.


Well, welcome back Rabbi. And it’s so amazing that you were in Israel over the last week.  Israel is always the center of the universe. But these days a little more.

Adam Mintz  01:09

More so this past week. That is for sure. Right.

Geoffrey Stern  01:13

So last week, we looked at some Haggadot that were really protest Haggadot they were written by the so-called Black Panthers in the 70s. In Israel, we saw Haggadot of that were written in the first DP camps coming out of the Holocaust at really pivotal moments. And we ended on a note from the Holocaust DP camp Haggadah that was talking about all the divisions within the Jewish people and how the Shelichim came and tried to grab each of these survivors to their own party. And it ended up saying that really all this diversity is good, it prepares the ground for all kinds of beliefs, so that people can go and die for the tip of every letter in their own Torah. So, we ended on a note that there really are many Torahs, we all write our own Torah. And so, I like, no matter what we’re talking about, to tie our discussion to the parsha. And this parsha begins in Leviticus 6. And it talks, as the rest of the book of Leviticus will; about sacrifices. And it says, this is the ritual of the burnt offering זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה . And Rashi explains because it’s really in a sense, you can always sense that it’s a different use of the word Torah, it’s not referring to the Five Books of Moses, it’s not referring to Revelation, and he says, שֶׁכָּל תּוֹרָה לְרַבּוֹת הוּא בָּא that the word Torah can be used to really talk about a group of laws, if I will have a little literary license, I would say, to talk about a weltanschauung, an approach to something. And the truth is that even in Samuel II, 7: 19 you have this word וְזֹ֛את תּוֹרַ֥ת הָאָדָ֖ם that there are rules for the people. And we have the most famous of all in Mishlei; in Proverbs. And it says My son, heed the discipline of your father, וְאַל־תִּ֝טֹּ֗שׁ תּוֹרַ֥ת אִמֶּֽךָ , but do not forsake the instruction of your mother. So, I really do believe that one of the things that we will see today is that you really can have a different Torah a different whole direction. And it is part of this discussion. And we don’t always have to be pinned down to a precise corpus. I think one of the surprising things that I found when I prepared this week was, I actually learned Torah from these secular Jews on the kibbutzim. Rabbi, have you ever seen a kibbutz Haggadah? I became infatuated with them about 5-10 years ago, and I have a little collection?

Adam Mintz  04:15

That’s great that you have a collection.  I have seen them. I’ll just tell you on something that’s kind of connected one step away. I’m reading a book now called the Jews of Summer, written by a professor named Sandra Fox. I don’t know if you went to summer camp growing up. Did you go to summer camp?

Geoffrey Stern  04:33

I did. Yes.

Adam Mintz  04:35

And part of the book describes the following. You know, many of the camps they were Zionist camps, they were Yiddish, his camp, they were not religious camps, Conservative camps, Reform camps. You know, Orthodox camps were only one little piece of the puzzle. And what she describes in the book, she has an entire chapter about how they rethought is only one holiday in the summer. That’s Tisha B’ Av, how these how the reform and the conservative Jews the secular Jews, rethought Tisha B’Av, in a way that made sense to them. And I thought about that in regard to the kibbutz Haggadot, they don’t reject the tradition. They reframe the tradition. I think that’s a wonderful Jewish trait.

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

And I have to say that one of my pleas last week was this. We are going through a moment in history. And my God we need a Haggadah written…  and I called it the Protest Haggadah. And sure enough, just this afternoon, it’s called Haggadah HaHerut. But if you look at the PDF, the name of the file is Haggadah, Machaa, which literally means a Protest Haggadah. But before you all rush out to get it and I, what I hope to do is if they don’t translate it, I hope to put together as a Sefaria Sheet that has all of the translations in it. They really didn’t touch the traditional Haggadah. They have little articles from famous thought leaders and, and poets and songwriters and political leaders. They did not touch the traditional Haggadah. And what we are going to do today is to see what these first-generation Jews who came out of all of the richness of a Jewish culture … they were totally literate Jews who knew all of the sources, and they re-wrote to a large degree the Haggadah, so let’s jump right in. I really suggest that you go to the Sefaria source sheet, because I have images of the Haggadot. But the first Haggadah that we look at actually begins by quoting the verses הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים  , we celebrated Parshat haHodesh, about two weeks ago, and it literally is the first commandment and it says, this month shall be to you. The first of all the years רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה , and then it says that it is in the spring, and what all of the kibbutz Haggadot do. No big surprise they’re all agricultural communes that literally celebrate the spring. And I had always seen that I think it kind of works its way into some of our Haggadot, where you have verses from Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, and I’m not even going to quote those because those seem to be so obvious, but all of them start with a celebration of spring. And in this one, it then brings up a piece of Talmud I had never heard of before. It says כל העולם כלו אומרים בו הלל , the whole world says  הלילה הזה אוצרות טללים נפתחים בו . Because tonight, the treasuries of dew are open. And I had never really seen that expression. Through the magic of Sefaria, you can put a few words from any phrase into Sefaria, and lo and behold, it comes from Pirkei D’ Rabbi Eliezer 32: 14. And it has an amazing story, we all know the story of how the birthright of Isaac was, are given to Jacob and not Esau, and it rewrites or I should say re-imagines that story, as having happened on the night of the Seder. And we have the old Isaac saying to his son, Esau Tonight the whole world is saying Hallel. And this night the treasures of dew are opened. And this the blessings of the dew so we asked him to bring him savory meat; he wants the Passover sacrifice. Rebecca hears about this, she delays Esau and she gives this advice to. And she says to Jacob on this night, the treasures of dew will be opened and on this night the angels utter a song make savory meat for thy father that he may eat while he still lives to bless thee. So, I had never heard of this Midrash and so I through my hands already and I say so these kibbutz Haggadot and the writers of them knew their Torah and they bring this beautiful story about passing on the blessing, literally on the night of Passover had Had you realized that Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  10:01

No, it’s very good. No, it’s very, very good. I did not realize that.

Geoffrey Stern  10:06

So then it goes, and it starts talking about the dew and it has Tal. And you know, again, you could assume this is a beautiful poem about Tao. But for those of us who spend a lot of time in synagogue around the holidays, we know that on the first day, I believe of Yom Tov, you have Tefilat HaTal.

Adam Mintz  10:33

And that’s important to say, right meaning Tal, it’s not just related to spring, we actually say Tefilat Tal.

Geoffrey Stern  10:42

We say it. And the kibbutzniks put this into the Haggadah, because they realized again, they were accentuating the connection between the spring and the birth of the new nation. The so we already have now with Jacob getting the blessing … the birth of the nation the first time. And then we have in the Tefilat Tal words like תְּחַדֵּשׁ יָמֵֽינוּ  rejuvenate our days הַעֲמֵד שְׁמֵנוּ  reaffirm or name in other words give us an identity…  it talks about קוֹמֵם עִיר בָּהּ חֶפְצָךְ  re-establish presumably Jerusalem, the city of your desire through dew. So now already through bringing in this, this prayer of the dew they are bringing in our homeland, our country, our capitals, our name and self-appreciation of ourselves. It’s so amazing that they’re adding things but they are taking from our rich tradition to the Haggadah that is already telling the story in a new way of the rebirth of the Jewish people.

Adam Mintz  12:04

It’s amazing and you didn’t mention the fact that on the side, there are instructions Mikra means to read and Makhela means that the choir would sing it and on the bottom, it’s called Makehla Yeladim, so they actually had a children’s choir so that everybody participated in this.

Geoffrey Stern  12:25

And it looks like this particular Haggadah is from Mishmar haSharon; a kibbutz in central Israel. To give you an idea, it was started in 1924 by 10 Russian immigrants who were later joined by immigrants from Poland. It was agricultural. It was the birthplace of Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak. And more importantly, and I’ve been to this kibbutz. It is the home to Ulpan Mishmar HaSharon.  I visited it because we (at PEF Israel Endowment Funds, Inc.) have a donor who gave a million dollars to fix up this ulpan because he was a delinquent teen in Canada. And his parents said, we got to get him out of the house. They sent him to this ulpan. It changed around his life, and now he’s giving back. But when you ask the kibbutz why they do it, they say it’s our gift to the Medina. It’s our gift to our country. It’s how we contribute. I mean, I went there, and I felt I was back forty years. They have one beit knesset there, I said, Do you have another? And he looked at me like I just screamed fire in a theater. He goes, No, we have one Beit Keneset

Adam Mintz  13:43

Do they still eat together. Does everybody eat in a Heder Ochel?

Geoffrey Stern  13:48

Yes. He said, Let’s have lunch first and then we’ll tour and I got on line with my tray and had lunch.

Adam Mintz  13:54

Tha’s great and everybody eats together.

Geoffrey Stern  13:58

Absolutely. So what I’m getting at is that this Haggadah, if you can see the source sheet, it was written on a typewriter, it was mimeographed. I mean, this was something that you can see a kibbutz council putting together and it’s real Torah here. It made me think about the Haggadah in a new way, it made me discover Perkei d’Rav Eliezer, and to look at Tefilat Tal in a new way,

Adam Mintz  14:29

And somebody knew all that to put it together And that’s really impressive.

Geoffrey Stern  14:35

Well, absolutely, and I think a lot of times we think of spring with regard to the Haggadah as a bug not a feature as they in software, but for the kibbutzniks, it was the critical message. And so, I have another picture from the Haggadah of Hashomer Hatzair and they were the Marxists, Zionist the youth movements. And they start also HaChodesh HaZeh, and then they talk about the new year starting with Nissan in the spring. And again, all they’re doing really is quoting traditional sources and setting the stage for what is to follow. It’s truly amazing. And I only have maybe four or five Kibbutz Haggadot…. this theme, this way of beginning the Seder and celebrating it, tying it to we’ll see the land, but certainly tying it to the spring and horticulture was universal for the kibbutznikim and I think is totally founded on tradition.

Adam Mintz  15:54

Yeah, I mean, all that’s true. But relevant to them, because on the kibbutz, the change of season was much more important even than it is in the city.

Geoffrey Stern  16:06

But you can almost turn that statement around and say, How can you actually, not only how can you celebrate the Seder outside of Israel, but how can you celebrate the Seder outside of being tied to the land, I mean, make such a strong point that it really becomes part and parcel of the story. So, the next thing that they all seem to do, and they’ve taken this from traditional Judaism is to have what I would call a Kavannah or an intention, or an invocation. So one of the Haggadot says Hineni Muchan uMezuman l’Kayim Mitzvot Aseh I am prepared and focused to fulfill the positive commandment, U’lesapir B’yitziat Mitzrayim ,  the positive commandment to tell the story of Ytziat Mitzrayim Yachad im Kol Yisrael. . So, there’s no mention of God. There’s mention of the Jewish people that we are doing this commandment, they’ve kept the concept of a positive commandment. And what they’ve connected it to is Klal Yisrael. Again, something beautiful. They could have easily gotten rid of this sense of obligation, this sense of you have to; are obligated to to do something they didn’t they kept it. I love that too.

Adam Mintz  17:41

Yeah, I mean, it’s really so interesting. I mean, what you really want Geoffrey is you want to be in that room when they compose this Haggadah, because obviously they composed it in the kibbutz. Right, you said it was it was created on the typewriter. There were a group of people who wrote it together. And that’s what’s so great.

Geoffrey Stern  18:02

So that last one was from Neut Mordechai, which is a kibbutz; the home of Teva Naot, a shoe factory branches all over Israel. We’ve heard of these kibbutzim and each one, the populations have dwindled. You’re talking about 600 people in each one of these kibbutzim, but you’re absolutely correct. You can almost see them sitting around a table not planning their harvest and not planning how the kids are going to be educated. But planning the Haggadah and throwing stories around, and Midrashim and prayers from the youth. So in the Hashomer Hatzair hineni; the kavanah,  it harkens to what I was talking about last year, that there’s almost not only a license to be Mahadesh to be innovative here. There’s almost a commandment because it says Bikol door Vador Haiyav adam l’rot et atzmo… that every generation we have to see ourselves as coming out of Egypt. So maybe we have to find our pharaohs and we have to find our Egypt’s and our promised lands. So here it says Ki gam anu Yatzanu m’bet avadim, because we also….  now we’re talking to the rest of the Kibbutznikim who are survivors possibly who have come from the four corners of the world? We all nidchei Yisrael al admatom… . We are the scattered of Israel back on our land. And therefore, it says And here’s a beautiful innovation. It says al ken yached layla zeh therefore let us dedicate this night mikol halelot  from all of the other nights v’narbeh l’sapir beyetziat mizrayim  and to talk about the story of going out from Egypt b’yamim haHem b’zman hazeh so picking up on the concept that we say every Hanukkah that we celebrate now for something that happened then b’yamim hahem b’zman hazeh that’s how they interpret that we have to literally and it was easy for them to see themselves coming out of Egypt and into a new promised land. But I love that innovation as well.

Adam Mintz  20:39

Yeah, and the fact that they again take the tradition and apply it to them. that’s the way they feel. These kibbutzim . You know, these are people who came from Europe, right? Mostly before the Holocaust, right? These are people who came on on the Aliya and it was very difficult living in Israel then very, very difficult. And they were making a tremendous sacrifice and to live in a kibbutz was really difficult. And, you know, in the early kibbutzim The children didn’t even sleep with the parents. So, it was a whole different kind of socialist view, and they see themselves as really being freed and, you know, and committed to building the land. It’s really, it’s so positive. You and I were talking before about this weekend in Israel and the power of peaceful protests. And like you said in the Haggadah, Haggadat Machja’a (Protest Haggadah) They were really making a statement about what the future of the State of Israel was going to be like.

Geoffrey Stern  21:46

Absolutely. And how they say…. So the next one for Mishmar HsSharon it says Savri! Nikvachei Golyiot , “Savri” we all know “Savri”  we say it before we say Boreh Pri Hagafen and before Birkat HaMazon … it’s this welcome. It says Savri to those gathered from exile. Let us sanctify my comrades and my leaders this holiday of Pesach. Let us raise our hearts the memory of the holy ones, the fighters who established Israel in our land, bless the pioneers of our people that immigrated, that prepared the way and built the earth that was barren and renewed for us a holiday of joy, festivals and times of celebration, this holiday of freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, and then it says, Kol Hanishama T’halellyah, Kol Hanishama T’halellyah the seamlessness with which it blends this renewal of the land, the renewal of spring, the ingathering of the exiled. It’s so powerful, it’s so beautiful, and they were telling all of the children in their kibbutz their own story.

Adam Mintz  23:02

Yeah, you said it. It was their story. It was the story of the Exodus, but it was their story. And it really required tremendous creativity by somebody in the kibbutz who was able to put these things together. I’m really fascinated by that. I would love someone to write an article about who actually wrote these Haggadot, what was their background? How did how did they know so much? You know, Geoffrey, you found that Pirkei d’Rav Elizer because we have Sefaria…   you know how to put in those words and it popped up But how did they find that before the days of Sefaria

Geoffrey Stern  23:42

I think this was part of their upbringing,

Adam Mintz  23:45

It was part of their culture which means that even though they were secular in the kibbutz, but they had some background, whatever that story was, they had some background, that’s also interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  23:56

So, I have to say I mentioned earlier that there is a Haggadah that just came out published by the protesters, but it leaves the original traditional text of the Haggadah. 100% intact. And to me, that’s a metaphor of giving to the traditional rabbis call them Haredi, call them religious Zionist. Give them the realm of religion. We’ll write a commentary. But these kibbutzniks felt literate enough. They owned their tradition. As you say, Rabbi, is it a protest? I don’t really know because I don’t know if they cared what anybody else thought about them, but they were harvesting their traditions for their Seder. Now in one have in the Haggadah that just came out. It’s all kind of commentary on the side. The next thing that I’m going to read, I don’t know whether it’s a prayer or it’s commentary because it’s all written in Hebrew. For me, it feels like it’s part and parcel of the Haggadah. But maybe it’s narration. Here’s what it says, “You do not have a record of historical recognition more profound than this. And you do not have a confluence of the individual and the society in the widest sense of the globe of the world. And the depths of the generations larger than this ancient pedagogic imperative.” He’s talking about the Haggadah.  “I do not know of a literary creation, that teaches a loathing for subjugation more than this, and he love for freedom, comparable to this story of enslavement and exodus from Egypt. And I do not know of any historical narrative that is so totally directed toward welcoming the future that is so totally a symbol of a vision, and to our future, such as the memory of the Exodus from Egypt, such a deep desire for freedom embedded in the heart of a nation in the spring of its days, to create a brilliant creation like this. And to transfer it from generation to generation.” You have to read it in the Hebrew, I have never heard someone speak with so much love and respect for our traditions as this Kibbutznik.

Adam Mintz  26:25

I mean, that’s an amazing thing. Because he’s really saying that our experience is their experience. He’s drawing a straight line from the exodus in Egypt 3,500 years ago, to the experience in the kibbutz. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  26:38


Adam Mintz  26:39

And that’s an amazing thing. I mean, the truth of the matter is that one of the paragraphs in the Haggadah says,  בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים . In every generation, you need to feel as if you yourself left Egypt. So the truth is, that’s the challenge for each one of us to make it feel as if we left Egypt. Now we fall short on that, because how many people think feel as if we left Egypt, how many people feel as if our year was Egypt? And now finally, we know, finally, we’re free. We don’t really feel that way. It’s so encouraging to read these, these Kibbutz Haggadot, written by basically Jews who had adopted something other than traditional religion, but they connect so much to this idea of the Exodus, and they see their experience as an experience of freedom. Now, that’s a that’s an interesting thing, you know, because the kibbutz is actually the opposite of freedom, because the kibbutz had a lot of rules, but they embrace the rules. So, they felt as if they were free. Right, there’s a lot to be said about that, you know, to analyze the kibbutz kind of mentality.

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

But you picked up on that thang that I said a second ago, where it said, mitzvot aseh it’s a positive commandment, they knew what commandments and obligations were,

Adam Mintz  27:59

That’s what I’m saying.  they know exactly what that is. Right. And they draw that direct line. What it sounds to me if I had to write a story about it, is that these people on the kibbutz, had traditional backgrounds. They gave that up, they adopted the kibbutz. But when it came to Pesach, they felt the need the desire to combine the tradition of their youth, and the reality of where they were now. And I think that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. And that’s really a model. And I want to tell you something, Geoffrey, that when I speak on Pesach, I’m going to use some of this material from these Haggadot. Because this stuff, you cannot make this stuff up. This stuff is amazing. You can’t find this stuff anywhere. So, I give you a lot of credit for finding this material.

Geoffrey Stern  28:47

Thank you. The only thing and I think we might be saying the same thing. I don’t because of the moment in history that these people were, I don’t think they were reclaiming their Judaism and taking the traditional Haggadah and picking and choosing from it. I think they were writing their Haggadah; I think that they felt that they were the fulfillment of 2,000 years of Jewish history. And they were carrying those traditions with them. And if anything, and we discussed this last week, a little bit with some of the pictures of the four sons. They were the wise son. And the people with the Payot, who was still living in medieval times, were the ones who didn’t know how to ask a question. didn’t know how to challenge themselves. So let me read just a few more. Here is from the another Haggadah for from Ne’er Rechovot. It says we were slaves in every generation and in all places, we were scattered between the nations. We were choked in the darkness of the Diaspora for millenniums, we were subjugated in every corner of the earth, we knew not rest. And our lives were dependent on our enemies. And we looked at the land that was under our feet, and it was like iron, and the heavens that were above our heads, and they were like copper. And it was like a threatening shadow to all the nations on the land, and we cry to the Lord or God, and he did not answer. And we carried it in the depths of our hearts, the wrath and fury of our sins and the glory of our hope, from generation to generation. Now, listen, and now behold, we have risen to cast off from us the yoke of the exile, and to make for us a new land and new heavens with a mighty hand and a steady arm to find a resting place for our weary feet. And to renew our covenant with the land and with the plants. And great is the path in front of us. This kind of combines all of those themes that we’ve been talking to, they pick up on the language of a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And lo and behold, it’s their hand. It’s the hand of the Halutz, they pick up on the concept of renewing the covenant. And it’s again with the land and with the horticulture. It’s just so, so strong, the biblical references to the earth that is iron and the skies that are copper. It’s all there and it’s telling their story. And I wish if I was sitting around a Seder, whether it’s in Israel today, or here, that our children have to hear our story of how we came to be identifying Jews, how we came, I think now I’m thinking of Israel, they have to appreciate yes, these kibbutzniks they had rules. Some of the children who grew up in these kibbutzim feel that they need therapy, and help. And there were a lot more Ashkenazim on the kibbutzim. They had a lot of faults, no question about it. But they did create this land and it was thoughtful and they were 10 Jews from Odessa that came and they shivered and they give their lives. We have to tell our story, because we can’t come together and do what we need to do in terms of appreciating the other story unless we can celebrate our own also.

Adam Mintz  32:44

And of course, that’s right. And I would just add to that, you know that they connect their story to the text of the Haggadah b’yad Hazakah, rightthe Yad Hazaka is their Yad Hazakah.. a great Midrash that they made up themselves. They didn’t need the rabbis to make it up. That’s a Midrash and that’s actually a good way to end. That’s really our challenge at the Seder. Can we write our own Haggadah this is what you talked about with Rabbi Bronstein last week? Can we write our own Haggadah and I want to wish everybody a Hag Samayach and Geoffrey, this is the perfect way to go into it. Our wish to everybody is that you write your own Haggadah, that you connect the traditions to our lives into our challenges, and we look forward to hearing from you if you want to share some of your ideas with us. We’d love to hear from everybody so Shabbat Shalom, everybody Hag Samaeach

Geoffrey Stern  33:38

thank you so much Rabbi Hag Kasher v’Samaeach. You’re going to be where?

Adam Mintz  33:43

we’re going to be Portofino Italy.

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

Okay, so any of our listeners who find themselves in Portofino Italy,

Adam Mintz  33:52

I’m looking forward to learning with all be well everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  33:57

So, my friends, my family, I tell you, I have so much more material here. I’m going to go through it kind of quickly because I am just so in love with these Haggadot you know most of what they’ve done is just quote selectively. One of them quotes from Ezekiel the bones coming alive. You think that would be the last thing that a secular Jew would quote, the miraculous story of the bones coming back to life. But guess what, it wasn’t miraculous to these Jews. They saw it with their own eyes. They talk about the Midrashim that we have discussed in the past. If you recall when we had a podcast called High five, and we talked about Hamushim, which is the five fingers also meant arms. Hey, guess what the kibbutz Nick came didn’t have to hear the podcast. You’ll see they quoted Hamushim aluh bnai yisrael, they quote both of the verses, then they say Byad Rama with a high hand, we came out, they are, in a sense, celebrating the military victory. They quote, The Midrash that we found in a footnote from pseudo-Philo, about there were three groups of Jews at the Red Sea or the Sea of Reeds. One of them says, let’s just jump into the sea and give up the other said, let’s go back into Egypt. And the third one says, let us fight. And they all celebrate that

Loren Davis  35:40

This takes me back 60 years because I lived in Israel in 1970.  maybe 50 years ago. And I lived on a kibbutz during Pesach. And I’m telling you, it was one of the most incredible….  I now think about what I saw. And it was the most celebrated and special holidays because these kibbutzniks brought the land into the equation, and they were proud of themselves. And they were liberated. And it was, it made Pesach so different than what I ever had ever experienced. And I remember that today.

Geoffrey Stern  36:23

Wow. Well, that just confirms what I was finding on the pages. And you can go on YouTube and find stuff in Hebrew, but it’s so richly connected to the land. The other thing that I found in every single one of the Haggadot from the kibbutzim? Some of them celebrated the military might the way the one that I just quoted did, but all of them quote, that Midrash where the angels want to sing a song, when the Jews have come through the split Red Sea, and God says, Ma’sey Yadiei Tovim B’yam v’atem omrim shira l’fanai , God says, the creations of my hands are drowning in the water in the sea, and you want to sing my praises. They were not pacifists by any means. But they were looking for peace in a sense that Midrash that they bought, where you have Esau and Jacob, both preparing the Passover sacrifice, they all have this midwife said if you would have asked me because we all know it in the States was probably introduced by some Reform or Conservative humanist, ….  they were humanists clearly. But it was all in every one of these Haggadot and certainly these people had plenty of reason to have bitterness against their, their enemies. But they, Hashomer Hatzair brings the Isaiah verses about the lamb lying down with the lion. So, it’s the verses that they pick from our tradition. These people were not going elsewhere for their inspiration. They owned Judaism. And that I believe is one of the things that has happened in Israel, from the day maybe that you were at the Seder, and where they were using Haggadot like this to where we are today, when the movement that is protesting in the streets, takes a traditional Haggadah and puts commentary on the side. They don’t seem to have the tools or the desire to actually own the Haggadah. And I was thinking recently, you know, if in America, some was to one was to outlaw all other forms of Judaism besides orthodoxy, and 20 years later, you would come back and you’d say it’s a (spiritual) wasteland out there. Would you really be surprised that it was a wasteland? You know, you have pictures of these kibbutzim, where they had to have a rabbi from the Rabbinate come and officiate at their weddings, in order to make it official. And after reading these Haggadot, you say to yourself, that’s absurd. Why would they need to reach out from anywhere else in terms of doing a Jewish tradition if they can do the Haggadah and the Seder, they can take care of Rites of Passage? It’s really such a fascinating exploration. And I would say that, you know, rather than try to import into Israel, American and European forms of Judaism, I think they just have to look back into their own very rich history. They have to look back to their grandparents, who came with that rich history to this country and rebuild it from there and take ownership of it and say, no one’s going to take my Judaism away from us. They have beautiful poems by Bialik that I encourage you to read. Anyway, I just was tied up with this oil week because I’m fortunate to have the originals of these Haggadot in my hand to feel them to touch them to look at the graphics. Some of them are calligraphy. Some of them are written on a mimeograph machine. It’s just so inspiring. So, I hope I shared with you a little bit of that inspiration, and that we can all use it to inspire ourselves to rediscover our Judaism and to reinvent and rejuvenate our Judaism at this festival after-wall of spring and rebirth.

Sefira Source Sheet:

Protest Haggadah cont. | Sefaria

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ב) צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה הִ֣וא הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מ וֹקְדָ֨הֿ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כׇּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וְאֵ֥שׁ הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ תּ֥וּקַד בּֽוֹ׃ (1) ה’ spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.

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Protest Haggadah

parshat Vayika and the Haggadah

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Avraham Bronstein recorded on Clubhouse on March 23rd 2023. Vayikra is a call to action. In every generation we are admonished to imagine ourselves overthrowing the Pharaoh of our day.  Today we’ll survey haggadot that take this challenge and re-imagine the Haggadah for their time. We challenge our Israeli brothers and sisters to join this tradition and write today’s Hagaddah.

Sefera Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. We host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Tonight, I am joined by my friend Rabbi Avraham Bronstein. This week’s Torah portion is Vayikra. Vayikra is a call to action. In every generation we are admonished to imagine ourselves overthrowing the Pharaoh of our day and liberating the People of Israel.  Today we’ll survey haggadot that take this challenge to heart and re-imagine the Haggadah in their time and for their time. As Israelis take to the streets, we challenge ourselves to join this tradition and write a new Hagaddah. Join us for Protest Haggadah.


Well, welcome, Rabbi Bornstein. It is such a pleasure to have you. You’re from the Hampton Synagogue, which I call a home. And so, I feel right at home having you as part of Madlik. Welcome, welcome. Welcome.

Avraham Bronstein  01:14

And likewise, it’s so nice to have the chance to talk Torah with you.

Geoffrey Stern  01:18

Fantastic. So, you know, as I mentioned, normally, we do a podcast on the parshat Hashavua. And I’m going to admit, with my arm hand raised, that we’re kind of like hanging this, this session on the word Vayikra which is truly a call to action. In Hebrew. When you issue a proposal, it’s called a Kol Koreh קול קורא . An exclamation point in Hebrew is a Siman Kriah  סימן קריאה  . So, we’re going to take that little liberty to launch our discussion. But I get Israeli TV at home. And today, I was watching the TV and my jaw just dropped. There were demonstrations. We’ve all heard of the demonstrations. But the police are were using water hoses. And that was, you know, in the early part of the day for us here in New York, and then the Prime Minister of Israel came on. And he made an attempt at conciliatory speech. So, this is a moment, this is a moment in the history of the Jewish people. And what I’d like to think is we are going to look at the Haggadah. And we’re going to look at those Haggadot that were written at those types of moments. And for some reason, there is a very strong tradition in the Haggadah, to use it as a vehicle, to use it as a platform to comment upon what is going on. And I think the premise for that actually comes from the Haggadah itself. We all read בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , in every generation, a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said, And you shall tell your son on that day. So, we almost have a license, I would say a Vayikra an admonition a cry, to put ourselves into the Haggadah. And that clearly has come out. We are also going to see that there’s a lot of divisions. There’s a lot of polemics within the Haggadah ad. And there too, I believe it is rooted in the message, the mantra of the Haggadah, it says, שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ in every generation, they stand against us to destroy us. I don’t know whether we’re going to come out loving the Haggadah or hating the Haggadah tonight, but it is certainly a platform for very vivid, animated, emotional discussion. Rabbi what is you’re feeling about the Haggadah?

Avraham Bronstein  04:18

I think it’s so interesting what you just said, because you said all of our texts say בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , in every generation we have to see ourselves as though we are leaving Egypt, right? So the exodus is not just something that happened, but it’s something which is constantly happening and the Exodus from Egypt is a paradigm. It’s an example. It’s a template for something which is going to keep happening. But the truth is that we don’t all have that text in our Haggadah. It’s not on your sheet, but I’m sure you know that my Maimonides, the Rambam had a text for the Haggadah. That’s the בכל דור ודור חיב אדם להראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , that a person has to make themselves be seen; portray themselves as though they left Egypt. And that has to do not with putting yourself in that mindset of seeing the Exodus as a paradigm. But it has to do with the things that you do to act out the story like people get up and walk around the table, or in some Sephardic communities, they beat each other with scallions to simulate the lashes that the Egyptians did. Or they keep the matzah next to them on the floor so that it’s like the Israelites sitting around their tables. In Egypt. It’s less about using the Exodus as a paradigm. It’s more about really kind of rooting yourself and portraying an event in the past. So it could very well be that each of these historical moments, what’s actually happening here is like a much larger conversation about what this data is really all about. Is it something about thanking God commemorating what happened in the past? Or is the whole point of it to see the Exodus as a paradigm and as a template for what’s happening to us right now, or to make the world that we want to see in the future?

Geoffrey Stern  06:17

You know, I think we both agreed that it says, בכל דור ודור in every generation, there’s this aspect about it, that says this is not simply a historical commemoration of something that happened in the past. But I love the fact that the Rambam, Maimonides, has a different text. And by the way, I was reading not from the Haggadah, but from the Mishnah in Pesachim. But this idea of seeing oneself, you know, how much is our self-image, determine our inner image? That we have to see ourselves as we expect to be seen. And I think one of the things that’s going to come out so clear tonight, is somehow the Haggadah is just, I would say, even emphasizing categories. What Reuven Rivlin, the last President of Israel, he divided Israel into four tribes. But it’s so amazing that here we are, there were many kibbutzim, Haggadot that a start with the typical traditional Hinneni Muchan U’mezuman. And I am focusing my attention, and instead of talking about God, they say L’Kol Yisrael. I mean, there is no question that there is no holiday that emphasizes Klal Yisrael, that we left Egypt, the worst thing that you can say in the Seder, and we shall see it is that had you been there, you would have been left out. But as you read it today, when we are faced with such division within our people, that all of that division is kind of so baked into the Haggadah, and returning to l’rot and l’harot  , they’re all connected. You know, many of us are part of a quote unquote, tribe or camp. And we can’t get out of the branding, so to speak, because that’s how we see ourselves. That’s how we see other people seeing us. So, I love I love the dialectic between seeing oneself or seeing how others view ourselves.

Avraham Bronstein  06:32

I love that.

Geoffrey Stern  07:48

In any case, when I say a Haggadah of protest, I could also call it a Haggadah of polemics. I mean, the truth is that as we study Talmud, you have to know the context of a statement by a rabbi, because in many cases, there’s a polemic built into it. If you read the Aleinu, and you don’t understand what happened with the Christian community, you might not understand all the nuances. So, whether it’s protest or polemic, there’s no question that in all of our texts, the rabbi’s when they make a commentary, when they make a comment, they’re taking a position and they might be referring to someone else who has another unspoken position that they’re against. But in the Haggadah, I think it’s really on steroids. And the earliest place the most obvious place that you can see it is in the four sons. And the reason that is is luckily we have illustrated Haggadot and when I grew up at the Seder that I attended, you know, we always focused on the individual. Well, is that really an evil son? Is that really a good son? Is that a son who doesn’t know how to ask…  so we really focused on why is the Haggadah, first and foremost referring to boys and not girls, and then why is it stigmatizing different types of what children. But the examples that we’re going to discuss tonight are bigger than that. Because the examples that we discuss is where the rabbis or the illustrators of the Haggadah took the tipus, took the types of Jews that were represented, and they weren’t representing members of your family, they were representing members of our tribe. And I have linked this a few notes to the clubhouse. If you’re listening to this as a podcast, it’s linked in the show notes. And unfortunately, even though we are on clubhouse, which is audible, there are some visuals here. So, the first picture is of a family sitting around the table, and the mother and father or in white, and the wise son is sitting to the left, and he’s into and of himself, he’s in white. And then there’s the evil son, and he’s cocked back on his chair, he’s smoking a cigar at presumably the Seder, he doesn’t have a covered head. And he’s in black, surprisingly, also is the child who doesn’t know how to ask, and the child who is Tam, simple, pure or whatever. It’s clear, even in this picture, that it is a social commentary. And that’s kind of fascinating that here we are, we’re celebrating Am Yisrael, the people of Israel leaving Egypt, and we have all of these, these types of images and messages that are discussing the divisions amongst us, for sure.

Avraham Bronstein  12:06

i It’s interesting, looking at the picture as you’re describing it. And there’s two rows, … the two sided table with the wicked side, and the one who’s assimilated smoking the cigar, he’s sitting at the head of the table as it were, or so the parents are facing the simple son and the son who doesn’t ask questions. But the wise son is set off to the side. He’s wearing white, just like his parents are, he’s wearing white as opposed to black, there’s three people at the table wearing white, there are three people at the table who were wearing black. But the wise son almost seems as though he’s removed from the proceedings. He’s sitting a little bit apart from his mother who’s sitting right next to his father. And instead of looking at the other people that are around the table like everybody else is he’s looking down into his book. And I think he’s the only person at the table who actually has a book. So, you can imagine kind of the commentary, right? In like modern terms, he will be kind of the geek or the nerd character in the coming-of-age movie, right? He’s the one who’s like, walking through the hallway of the high school reading the book, while life is going on around them. There’s a little bit of commentary happening there also saying He’s on our team, he’s wearing white as opposed to black. But yet, he’s also kind of setting himself aside in a way which is a little bit disturbing. I think a double commentary happening beyond the wise son is on one side of the frame, the wicked son is on the other side of the frame. And what’s happening is almost as though the four people in the middle, the father, the mother, the simple son and son who doesn’t ask are being pulled to either extreme by the two poles, which are the wise son and the wicked son.

Geoffrey Stern  13:53

What’s fascinating and I should have started by saying this that, you know, you could easily go into a default reflex and say that the Haggadah is trying to emphasize the divisions, but the actual way that it starts is בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל . You’d think that the implicit message is that God is this place, and that everybody has a place in that place, and the Torah was given to all of Israel. So there is this kind of tension between whether it’s creating division, or whether it’s trying to maybe make the tent larger, that were all included. Getting back to your comments. I think pictorially it really focuses on an aspect of the Haggadah itself, that is troubling, because as you know, the rasha, the evil son says what does this all mean to you? He says מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם . And by saying “to you”, he does the worst crime there is. And in the picture, he’s cocking himself on the chair and leaning away, leaning out as opposed to leaning in. He’s excluding himself from Klal Yisrael. He’s שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר . But if you look at the wise son, it also says, what are the Mishpatim.. אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם , you and I look at that picture. And I see both the wise son and the evil son are segregated, they’re away. And I think that is kind of fascinating. We’re going to move on, but it just shows you how much there is inside of a picture.

Avraham Bronstein  15:54

Before we move ahead. By the way, I want to make one more point which just occurred to me as you were talking about בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם God making place for everybody. Right? You were talking about already two different paradigms for making the divisions between people at the Seder. One is this paradigm of the four sons. And the other one is this paradigm of seeing yourself as though you’re leaving Egypt, meaning when it comes to sitting at the Seder, when it comes to understanding the story of the Exodus, see yourself as an Israelite, but not as Pharaoh not as an Egyptian. And there’s two different ways of breaking people up, you can break people up and say, We’re the Israelites, you’re the Egyptians, whoever they are. Or you can say, you know, we’re the wise son, you’re the wicked son, as it were. It’s interesting, the way that you’re framing it. You’re saying that under the paradigm of the sons, they’re all around the table in some context, if you’re saying that the paradigm, you’re using is Israelites versus Egyptians, then it’s one or the other. They’re both not in the same place.

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

I’m gonna skip around, but there is a woodcut picture. Where the wicked son is a soldier in the Prussian uniform with a spiked helmet. And clearly, he’s not simply rejecting Judaism. He’s almost what in modern Hebrew would be called a Boged, he he’s outside, he’s the other. He’s crossed the line. I mean, it’s so fascinating, especially for me when I grew up, and all I focused on was different children pedagogically, and aren’t they all good. But the Haggadot that we’re focused on and we’ve hand-picked them are really political in nature. They’re talking about life choices. There’s one that shows faces of different children with different emotional responses. And that’s more in line I think, with the way I grew up looking at the four children. But to me, the most fascinating one is the kibbutz Haggadah, because in the kibbutz Haggadah, the Hacham, is dressed in working clothes, and he is the one who is building the land, the Rasha is the bourgeoisie, and here is where the sense of how knowledgeable that non-religious kibbutzniks were of their tradition, because he says, What is this avoda to you? And avodat normally means ritual service. But I believe that the kibbutzniks was saying ma avodat What is this labor of the land and he’s gazing at a shovel that is standing next to a guard tower. It’s so clear that now we have flipped the paradigm we’re in so many of those four children or four sons, the one who would wear blue jeans and be outside in the fields would be considered a Sheigitz; he’s not learning and here all of a sudden he is the Hacham and the Rasha is the one who is rejecting avodah; the working of the land. And then of course the other fascinating one is the שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל , the one who does not know how to ask and he is depicted as a Jew, it’s not altogether clear whether he’s an oriental Jew or an Ashkenazi Jew. He has pe’ot and it’s looking at the religious community already. Now we’ve really flipped and it’s the religious community who is clueless is the best word that I can say. Very fascinating stuff how the four sons were used in different Haggadot at different times to make a statement about what our values are.

Avraham Bronstein  20:23

For sure, right, any other Haggadah that you would think of that comes from a more religious context. The son with the pe’ot, with the underside curls, the rabbinic looking one would be the Chacham, right, the wise son who really gets what’s going on. And in this version, specifically, he’s the one who really has no idea what’s going on. He’s completely removed from all the larger conversations that are happening. The other thing that I was thinking about when I saw this one is the very motto of the religious Zionist Movement of B’nai Akiva is Torah V’avodah. Right. It’s that combination of working the land and building the land coming from a religious mentality. And when the Rasha right the businessman, the bourgeoisie, is looking up at him saying מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם  obviously the Rasha rejects the Torah. That goes without saying; he’s a secular Jew. He’s a secular Israeli, but he’s also rejecting the Avodah; the service to the country, the way that the religious Zionist would understand that.

Geoffrey Stern  21:28

So I had started collecting kibbutz Haggadot about 5, 10 years ago, because I really feel that the generation of the founders of the State of Israel was so unique in terms of, we had educated, knowledgeable, literate Jews, who could speak the language of the Haggadah, still, and therefore could translate it in a way that this picture does. And the nuances of מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה , What does this labor mean to you? And I think that one of the challenges that we have in modern day Israel, I intimated in the beginning, what would the Haggadah of those who are arguing about issues today in the State of Israel, what would that Haggadah look like? And I think it’s a, it’s a kind of a cry in the dark, because unfortunately, we don’t necessarily live in a society that still converses and discourses on this amazing platform of 2,000 years that Jews have used to express the emotions and the ideology of the moment. But one of the Haggadot that I collected was a Haggadot written in the 70s. It’s called the Israeli Black Panthers. Haggadah, it’s literally on mimeograph sheets. It was written over a week or two period. And that has to be inspiration. We have a week or two to Passover. So, if you live in Israel, and you’re listening to this podcast, there’s still time!    But many people are talking about the current conflict as really between those in Israel, who feel disenfranchised, who feel left out, and the elite, and this is what they wrote in their Haggadah. They didn’t have four children. And by the way, Golda [Meir] was the pharaoh in their Haggadah, and they said, Golda speaks of two classes, one rich and one poor, one Ashkenazi, and even one Safadi, the rich man, what does he say? What is it to them these poor people that rise against the government who are arguing and making statements give us work give us education, housing and equal rights. Let them come to me and I will give them work in construction for 30 lirot a day. That is what the savior of the Mizrahim, Rabbi Haim Hefer, said. And the poor man, what does he say? “I did not ask for a protektzia job nor did I rise up against the government. And if Yiddish is a language that I cannot speak, then I am swiftly told off with a kick.”  and the Ashkenazi what does he say? It goes on and on. They are translating the spirit of Avdut; of servitude that they are feeling in their day. And they are translating it using the language, the vocabulary of the Haggadah. So, Rabbi, I’d love you to comment on both the format of the message and the content of the message.

Avraham Bronstein  24:45

So first, I have to say that this Haggadah is also available in English, the New Israel Fund, last year, sponsored English translation of this that was edited by Libby Lenkinski. It’s available for purchase in the states also, it’s such an incredible, fascinating historical artifact. I didn’t know anything about the Israeli Black Panther Party of the late 60s and 70s. But it’s such an incredible just time-capsule figuring out like what was going on beneath the surface of Israeli society at that time. To me it was especially powerful because like I was saying before, whenever I think about the story of the Exodus, or I teach the story of the Exodus, I’m always taking the position or taking the point of view of those who are leaving Egypt, right the Israelites, it would be incredibly mind bending, for me to be at a Seder, and to have somebody telling me, you know, actually, in the story that we’re living nowadays, you’re not the Israelites, you’re actually the Pharaoh. And we’re the Israelites who are struggling against you. And it’s such an incredible thing to have to come to grips with.

Geoffrey Stern  25:59

So the moment that they wrote their Haggadah was 25 years in to the State of Israel. And I think what happened it was interrupted by the Yom Kippur War. But I think you need to read the Haggadah in many ways to understand a little bit of what’s going on in Israel today. Which means that these messages these Haggadot, that talked at pivotal moments in our history, they’re evergreen. We need to learn from those lessons. There’s another Haggadah that I quote, which was written at another pivotal moment. It’s the Survivors Haggadah, it was the first Haggadah used and written in the DP Camps after the Holocaust. And there is amazing stuff in there where they talk about being in the DP camps, and shelichim messengers from Israel coming to them and basically trying to induct them into the different tribes that were happening in Israel. “Now that the Saved Remnant is redeemed, the orphaned children of Israel are taken in. Each group of the Remnant makes a claim on the children and is envious of other groups on their account, because each group wants to increase its number. And while the children of Israel are being collected like abandoned eggs, the contention increases as each group tries to pull them its way. The children cannot withstand the many enticements, promises, and trials, such that some children go this way and some another. And it so happens that the non-Orthodox snatch the children of the Orthodox, and the Orthodox snatch the children of the non-Orthodox. And each and every group has its own school where children learn Torah. And after they study for a time, they grow clever; and a child behaves like a man of seventy who has opinions about how the world should be run, or how or when to settle the [Promised] Land and manage affairs of state. The children argue, and all are eager to advance their own positions and views, so that brothers are set apart, unable to agree on the question of the State [of Israel], unable to sit peacefully together.”  I mean, it goes on and on, “Which group do you belong to? But the survivors do not understand them and wonder at the question. And even members of the [Jewish] Brigade in Italy reply: What is the meaning of this? Are we not, all of us, Israel? The shelichim say: You must have been sleeping for seventy years, because the unity of Israel is a fable. It’s no longer possible; each person must join a group.  The remnants answer: But was not all of Israel slaughtered together? Is not all of Israel to rebuild the land together? The shelichim say: The unity of Israel is a fable. The land of Israel is being built by different factions.”  I really encourage you to go to the source sheet, or better yet, as the Rabbi said buy the Israeli Black Panther Haggadah and the Survivors Haggadah, , We’re talking after the Holocaust, there’s no honeymoon period. It’s a sobering moment. It’s a humbling moment, for those of us who like to believe in Klad Yisroel. And maybe it makes you look back and when we left [Egypt], they were talking about the Erev Rav  [The mixed Multitude]. There’s always been these segmentations. And maybe that is the genius of the Haggadah, that it doesn’t whitewash over these divisions. It actually emphasizes them. In a sense, it’s inviting us to try to address them.

Avraham Bronstein  29:35

Well, that’s the last paragraph of this selection that you put on the sheet, right? “The emissaries say: That is impossible, the reality of Israel requires it. One could argue: This rivalry is like a rivulet; just as the rivulet flows down, riving the ground and irrigating it to make it fertile, so does division divide Israel and bestow blessings on it. For it prepares the ground for all kinds of beliefs, so that people can go and die for the tip of every letter in their own torah. Thus rivalry breeds strength which increases the might of Israel.” ..  meaning, right, it’s good to have the wicked son at the table in the matter who you think the wicked son is, because the interplay between the people at the table shouting at each other at the tops of their lungs, that’s where the strength comes from.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

You know, I have a bunch of different Haggadot that I’ve quoted, and one that just resonated with me based on what you were saying. And based kind of on my implicit question about all of this division, there was a Seder made by really, the Jewish Hipppies on the forefront of the 60s and of universalism, and, it was on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. And it’s in the notes, I want to read from it a little bit, because it’s kind of I think it addresses the fact that the Haggadah is anything but a universalistic document. It’s a particular document. So, it says “I believe in liberation for everyone. But why must I believe in it as a Jew? I want to believe in it as a human being. I don’t want a Jewish celebration of liberation. I just want people to be people and to be free. That’s a real question. Answer that one!”  and the answer is based and this comes out in many of the kibbutzim Haggadot, where they quote poems from Bialik, and this quote, Y. L. Peretz , a Yiddish writer, and this is what they quote to answer the question, Don’t assume you are fulfilling your obligation by working only for the greater entity, for so-called humanity-at-large. Humanity-at-large is an abstraction. On the world stage today are individual groups, distinct peoples, differing cultures…. We too hope for a common humanity, but we shall never achieve it by destroying unique languages, or by annihilating separate peoples, or by cutting down cultures…. We have not endured these thousands of years in order now to forget our way of life. We wish to continue it, so that we may later unite with the company of mankind as equal partners….  So it’s almost finding the universal in the particular rather than having this abstract love of humanity at-large, which means nothing. But I think maybe that is part of the answer of what the Haggadah is doing. It is not focused on the universal it might say Baruch HaMakom, but then it gets into the particulars that divide each of us. And maybe what it’s saying is it’s that mosaic that different; this Shivim Panim L’Torah (Seventy Faces of the Torah) that Elu V’elu (This and this is the word of the Living God) , you need that divergence. And maybe that’s part of the solution in Israel today. And maybe that’s part of the Haggadah that needs to be written. I don’t know.

Avraham Bronstein  33:20

That’s very, very beautifully put. It’s interesting, thinking about the lines that you’re putting down right now. Right? How people kind of sort themselves into tribes that way and the strength, the dynamism comes from the interplay between those, right? Yeah, you can imagine nowadays, thinking about the Black Panthers, in Israel in the 70s, or different aspects or different tribes within the larger protest movements in Israel today, or even different tribes within the government establishment in Israel today within the majority. It’s not by any means a homogenous group that’s running the government and pushing the various proposals down, either. How do they see themselves? Are they all the Hacham in their particular Haggadah? Or do some people really self-identify as the Rasha, but for productive ends?

Geoffrey Stern  34:16

You know, we typically keep the podcast to half an hour we’re reading over but as a studying the Haggadah that we should (continue all night), I’d like to focus on two other areas that there has been such a rich culture of reinterpretation. One of them is the MaNishTana;  the four questions and I couldn’t find it, Rabbi, maybe you can help me. I do know that our four questions are not exactly like the four questions of the Mishnah because we don’t ask a question about why tonight we eat it roasted meat because we aren’t eating roasted meat. But I thought somewhere it says Ke’ha “like these (questions) you should ask questions like these, and either there is a rabbinic text along that lines, or it was understood that these questions are only representative of the types of questions that could be asked. So if we go to the Black Panther Haggadah, it says, But what makes this night different from all other nights? That on every other night we barely eat bread and water, And on this night we don’t even have matzah and water. That on every other night we eat only vegetables. And on this night the government treats us like animals. That on every other night we all shiver from the cold²6 And on this night our sadness is clear for all to behold. That on every other night we sleep on the floor. And that’s a chutzpah that the Israeli government should abhor. . So, the translator did a very good job of translating the lyricism

Avraham Bronstein  35:57

They rhymed it. And what’s so subversive about that is what the Manish Tana is basically saying their MaNishtana is that tonight isn’t different from every other night tonight is just the night that you’re noticing what we’ve been noticing the entire time.

Geoffrey Stern  36:10

Absolutely. The contrast to that. And there have been a so many satirical treatments (of the Haggadah in general and the Manishtana in particular) . Israel has a program similar to Saturday Night Live. That is called Eretz N’hederet, and you could almost see them rewriting the Haggadah in a skit, but in the kibbutzim Haggadot. They almost have one universal line, which is so wonderful, and it’s positive. It says how is this night different from all other nights? Because on all other nights, it says, שבכל הלילו שולחן-הורים לחוד ושולחן-בנים לחוד, הלילה הזה כולנו מסובין  that and all other nights the grown-ups eat on one area, and the children who were brought up in their own socialistic kind of utopian child rearing dormitories that many people have complained about, in retrospect, they were celebrating the were writing the kibbutz into the Haggadah, and we might do another episode next week about how the kibbutzim; rich in understanding of Jewish tradition, were able to modify the Haggadah and use it as a positive. A place to explain what the “New Jew” or New Judaism was. One of the Haggadot that I have is, in the in the notes, it was written in 1940, in a kibbutz and if you look up 1940 We’re talking, after Kristallnacht, before the beginning of World War Two, and it’s just full of despair. And it talks about a “How is this night different from all other nights? Also this year we sit to celebrate and to remember the Exodus from Egypt, the Exodus from Slavery to Freedom, but has this pursued depressed nation actually gone from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light also in our generation. What can we tell? On this day – a day that has never been worse than the day we went into exile, a day of incessant fears and distrust in life for the rest of what is found, a day that is all like a long, similar sacrifice. On this day – a day that is an eye for an eye we see all the decay of the seed of Abraham” it’s a lament. And I do think that this concept of what is new, what is different, was definitely something that was picked up upon either to celebrate what was different in the case of the kibbutzim Haggadot or to decry the current situation where nothing has changed or things have gotten worse. I think the Haggadah is an amazing vehicle for having that cry of Vayikra. If Hinneni is the Jewish response, I think Vayikra is the challenge. And I think that the Haggadah in many respects, is this wonderful 2,000 year old platform for Jews to express the moment; their situation, their fears, their ideals, their aspirations. And from that perspective, it makes it a more unique to document than we already knew that it was.

Avraham Bronstein  39:35

I think that’s, that’s very, very, very well put. And I think what you just cited from the 1940 Haggadah is basically saying it’s this desire to keep seeing it in the present as opposed to seeing the Exodus as something which only happened in the past. The contrast between the present and the past is so strong there.

Geoffrey Stern  39:54

I’ll close with the sense that what makes the Haggadah so special is it doesn’t have the answers. It doesn’t even have all the questions. But it is a place for us to bare our souls and to bare the reality. And maybe that’s the best place to begin to, to rebuild. And I really wish that there were learned scholars. learned, rich Jewishly embodied Jews who in our generation could pick up the torch and write a Haggadah for our Seder this year that really talked about the divisions within us. Part of it will be highlighting those divisions. But I think by doing that part of it potentially can maybe heal those divisions, I don’t know. But I do know that we need, we need Pesach. Pesach was never easy. leaving Egypt is never easy. We will survive. But we are in a challenging moment in our history.

Avraham Bronstein  41:00

It’s keeping everyone around the table, even if you’re arguing with each other. But at least your all around the table. I’m reminded of that famous teaching or statement attributed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who’s always talked about the fifth son who’s not even at the table. It’s worth having the four sons around the table from their different perspectives, yelling and screaming at each other, or threatening to exclude each other. But they’re all there. And I think if you’re thinking about Israel today, one of the things you can certainly say that maybe you couldn’t have said, you know, maybe eight or 10 years ago is that everybody is activated. Everybody’s energized. Everybody is certainly there making their opinions heard. And maybe the entire country is kind of this very loud, raucous Seder table at this point.

Geoffrey Stern  41:47

Well, thank you so much. Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure learning with you Avraham and I wish you a Pesach Sameach. Let’s do this again. I wish everybody who’s listening Shabbat Shalom, and a Pesach Sameach,

Avraham Bronstein  42:02

Geoffrey, thank you so much. Shabbat Shalom. Hag Kasher V’Sameach; this was really a pleasure.

Geoffrey Stern  42:07

Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining

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parshat vayakhel-pekudei – exodus 36

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 16th 2023 on Clubhouse. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn?

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel-Pekudei. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn? So take out your chisels and your mallets and join us for “Man-Made”


Well, welcome, welcome, welcome, Rabbi, another week of Madlik disruptive Torah.

Adam Mintz  01:01

And we got a double parsha this week. So how could it be bad

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

A double parsha, it gives us more things to pick from. So yes, that is great. And we are building the tabernacle, we’ve talked about it. But the as I said, we’re talking about man-made. Many of the pesukim that we’re going to deal with are literal cut and pastes from previous parshiot where we were commanded to make these things, make the menorah, make the cherubs. But here, we’re actually putting the rubber to the metal. And I think this is the appropriate time to discuss making the idol and how can you do it. So I mean, to give you a sense of how much our parsha really, I would say, celebrates artistry and artifact and the ability of man to make things I’m just going to quote a few verses, but when you read it this Shabbat, you will see that there is a reason that the school in Israel that teaches art is called but Bezalel because this parsha just celebrates artifice in Exodus 35: 21. It says an everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit was moved, came bringing to God and offering for the work of the tent of meeting. And all the skilled woman spun with their own hands and put what they had spun in blue, purple, crimson yards and fine linen, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge. ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹקִ֑ים בְּחׇכְמָ֛ה בִּתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת וּבְכׇל־מְלָאכָֽה in Every kind of craft and inspiring him to make designs for work in gold, silver and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood to work in every kind of designer’s craft. So that sets the stage. This parsha is a celebration of artifice. And I can say it right from the beginning. It’s not a secret Jews and making statues and making images. There is a tight dance going on. But I had to give that context. Because if there is a case to be made for human beings; for Jews, expressing their image and the Spirit of God inside of them by creating, this is the Parsha. So now let’s get to the meat of things and to this subject that we are going to discuss in Exodus 36: 8 it says, then all the skilled among those engaged in the work made the tabernacle of ten strips of cloth, which they made a fine twisted linen, blue, purple crimson yarns into these they worked as a design of cherubim שָׁנִ֔י כְּרֻבִ֛ים these are two cherubs. So already before we even get to the iconic gold cherubs that are on top of the ark, even when they are making the tapestries. They are making images in the tapestry of these cherubs Exodus 36: 35. They made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarns and fine twisted linen. Working into it a design of the cherubim these two cherubs and then in Exodus 37: 7 we get to those iconic golden statues. He made two cherubim of gold he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the cover, one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end. He made the cherubim of one piece with the cover. As its two ends, the cherubim had their wings spread out above shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other. The faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover, Rabbi, I mean, maybe you can forget about the tapestry. But have you ever seen this kind of language of building an image besides the golden calf? In the Bible?

Adam Mintz  05:32

And it’s so central to the tabernacle, right? It kind of seems like everything is built up to the ark, and the ark is built up for the Cherubim. So, it here we have an idol on top of the ark that held the tablets, we have an idol. Isn’t that crazy? And the funny thing is that the broken tablets were also in the ark. And the tablets were broken because they built on top of the ark!

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

So I love the fact that you bring up that the broken tablets are inside of the ark. And I was going to mention this later. The first tablets were made by God, but the second tablets were made by man in Exodus 34: 1 it says God said to Moses carve two tablets of stone like the first and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you shattered. The word that it used for carve those two tablets is פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛  pesel is literally …. I knew Karl Katz, who used to be the head Bezalel then he came to the Israel Museum. And when he wanted to make a sculpture garden, the Rabbinate was all over him sculptures in Hebrew are “pesalim”.  They said how can you make a garden of Pesalim in Jerusalem? So, we already have this tension between good Pesels and bad pesels, so to speak. It is kind of fascinating. But you’re right. This is the crux this is ground zero.

Adam Mintz  07:18

Yeah, that’s so interesting. You mentioned Karl Katz. Karl Katz and my father grew up together, they went to school together. It’s a small world, everything comes back to Karl Katz. But that’s right. I mean, a sculpture garden is you know, that’s pesalim. I mean, we’re all over it everywhere you see idols, but then at the same time, idols are exactly what is prohibited. And the book of Devarim in the book of Deuteronomy, the entire book tells you about how evil pesalim are. So something crazy is going on? Absolutely. There’s a mystery here. I don’t know if we’re gonna crack it. But we have identified it for sure. So as I said, Before, we were in Exodus 37. And in Exodus 25, literally, it was almost as though paragraph by paragraph word by words. 2518 says make two of them have gold, make them have hammered work. It’s literally the same. I think it’s very appropriate that we’re talking about this tonight, even though this is not the first time it’s mentioned. Because we’re going to focus on the craft, we’re going to focus on the the prohibition but also maybe the requirements that man make them in a certain way they are man-made. And we know that this week, because we have these craftsmen but most of the commentaries that explain these verses, you’ve got to go back into Exodus 25 when it’s first mentioned, so Rashi on Cherubim says they had the form of a child’s face, you know, angelic right? Isn’t that the image that we have so much of cherubim … these little gold children with wings on their back and smiling blissfully at each other. Love it. Yeah, I mean, that is the image we have. I mean, the sources that we’re gonna study tonight are not so sure about that. But that’s the image that we grew up with. Basically, and by the way, the reason we grew up with it is because that was that’s what Rashi says, and you know, Rashi becomes like, you know, as if it’s written in the Torah itself. True, but there’s a higher authority to washi and that is the Bible itself, and the first time we’ve been exposed to two of him. I don’t think they had baby faces. If you remember Genesis 3: 24, after the original sin, it was driven out; and east of the garden of Eden were stationed the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.  So our first experience with the Cherubim we didn’t picture these two little fluttering babies with wings on them. So it’s not altogether clear, is it? Well, it’s not clear from the beginning of Genesis what they were. All we know is that they were frightened, right? They were protection. So they scared people away somehow

Geoffrey Stern  10:31

and they had a sword ….

Adam Mintz  10:33

Right… I’m saying they scared people. They had a different purpose. I mean, it doesn’t explicitly say they weren’t children. It just doesn’t seem to fit into the mood. Exactly.

Geoffrey Stern  10:43

Yeah. One thing that I think we are seeing is, you know, a cherub is a single cherub and two cherubs are cherubim. I was almost thinking of calling the podcast Cherubim Cherubum!  But, but they do come in pairs, they do come in pairs. That is kind of interesting. But the Talmud, and the rabbinic literature has so many different concepts. And you know, your wife, Sharon should be here because in the illustrated Haggadot that we’re going to use in a few weeks, they’re full of birds, there are those that believe they were a certain type of bird, the Ezekiel and in some of the prophets, we have these Ma’aseh Merkavah… the chariots, and there you have winged creatures that are four footed, the gamut of what these cherubs could be really goes from babies to birds, to large animals. And in the notes, I do, quote, a wonderful survey in, What kind of creatures are the Cherubim, it’s by Dr. Raanan Eichler. And if you’re interested, definitely take a look at the source sheet. But he concludes that ultimately, he really feels that the cherub was a combination of two things. And that’s what unites them all. So no matter whether it was a bird with a human face, or it was an ox with wings, or whatever it was, the he feels that it was this kind of combination. That was what it’s about. But the bottom line is that’s not the subject of tonight’s discussion. Whatever they are, they are real images. This is a three-dimensional figure. And that’s what we’re going to be focused on. But it is kind of fascinating what they were, and how that impacted maybe what was permitted to be shown in illustrated manuscripts and mosaic floors. Who knows, we certainly like to think that we don’t permit any images. But there certainly are a lot of images in our story. So that kind of becomes fascinating. I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing illustrated manuscripts in your day Rabbi.

Adam Mintz  13:31

I have and this is a great, this is great. So let’s, let’s continue that discussion, cuz I think there’s a lot here.

Geoffrey Stern  13:37

So, in one of the sources, I quote, you can all of a sudden see that the rabbi’s themselves was sensitive to the question that we’re raising tonight. So, in the Chizkuni after he says that they were a certain type of bird. And then he goes on to say, an even the Torah, in the second of the 10 commandments has expressly forbidden us to make anything that is like creatures on earth or in the sky. The reason why the making of the cherubs is exempt from this was it was not made to be worshipped, but to remain hidden inside the most inaccessible part of the Temple. So, this touches upon a discussion we had a few weeks ago, which is so much of the Mishkan and the later Temple was putting an enigma into an Enigma was making surrounding barriers so that almost praying outside at the wall became almost a natural thing to do. But it is fascinating that one of the reasons that the rabbi’s felt this was different than your typical graven image was that it was kind of hidden. That’s kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  14:54

Yeah, it is kind of fascinating. Yes, it is. That’s really good. Okay, good. And I was just looking Get the article in the toe rough, you know, and the article that you quote here. And that’s also interesting the idea of them being a composite, which is really the point you made. They’re always kerubim. They’re always in the in the plural Cherubim. And the question is why that is exactly. I mean, you’re interested in the fact that the plural of cherub is cherubim rather than cherubs. It should really be cherubs. I never thought, you know, in all my life. I never thought of that before. But you are 100% Right? Where does the word cherubim come from?

Geoffrey Stern  15:33

And is that an English word? I mean, is that how I mean

Adam Mintz  15:36

it looks like I’m just looking in Sefaria. Yeah, it looks like that’s the way they translate it. So I guess that that’s they made it into an English word. So this might be the only English word based on a Hebrew word that is grammatically correct. I mean, it I love it. very fine, very good. This because this, this discussion is worth it just for that. So that his Chizkuni continues, and he’s troubled, he is troubled by the fact that this is going against, oh,  I would say a “befayrusha pasuk” (pasuk mefurash)  it Exodus 20. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or a likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. It doesn’t even talk about worshipping it. And we might make the argument in a few minutes that they never worshipped it. But you can’t make it and it doesn’t apply only it says, לֹֽ֣א־תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ , which is kind of fascinating. It’s the opposite of פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛. But in any case, you can’t make a pesel but you also can’t make the image. So the woven hangings, wall-hangings that we discussed a second ago, are in the same in the same category. So one of the other answers that he gives, He says that it’s usual in the Torah, that there are exceptions to every rule. He goes, you can’t do everything that was done in the temple on Shabbat, unless you work in the temple, the Cohanim sed to bring sacrifices and kill things [on Shabbat]. We all know that if a baby is born and eight days later, it’s the Brit falls on Shabbat you break the shabbat and do the Brit ritual fringes you can have of linen and wool. So that’s another fascinating thing that it’s not the first time that we’ve seen a commandment that is broken explicitly by the Torah itself. I don’t know whether that gives it you know, a kind of “walk on the wild side” type of extra “stolen waters are sweet” or makes it a higher level of holiness. But certainly, there is precedent there. And this would be one of those exceptions. It’s a great case. Chizkuni. It’s really a good Chizkuni because the Chizkuny basically says that what the Torah is about is rules. And their exceptions. That’s what that I mean, maybe you say that’s what legal systems are about. Every legal system has the rule and its exceptions, but the Torah is like that, too. Everything has its exceptions. So, Shabbos is shabbos but it has its exception and shatnez is shatnez, but it has its exception. And idolatry is idolatry. But it has its exceptions. That’s such a great idea.

Geoffrey Stern  18:20

So in the Talmud in Hagiga, it takes it one step further. And it says it starts by saying that the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man and the forehead, the face of a lion. Now we’re talking about really the divine chariot in Ezekiel. And then it says Reish Lakish said Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it the face of the ox. He thought that the cherubim had this this ox and you can see in some Syrian and Iraqi things, they have these gigantic animals that are guarding the temple and they have wings on them. And he said before Him, Reish Lakish said: Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it, i.e., the face of the ox, and had it turned into a cherub. He said before Him as follows: Master of the Universe. Shall an accuser [kateigor] become a defender [saneigor]? As the face of an ox recalls Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, it would be preferable for there to be a different face on the Divine Chariot. He says if we have that in the temple, that’s like reminding You of the golden calf every time we come into the Holy of Holies and request mercy. You don’t wear gold on Yom Kippur and the beautiful explanation which is Greek is קָטֵיגוֹר יֵעָשֶׂה סָנֵיגוֹר  the defendant doesn’t become the prosecutor don’t remind God of gold (as in the Golden Calf).  And here we are, we have these golden; according to this interpretation, body of an ox. It is it’s taking this concept of making that which is forbidden permitted in in a fascinating moment and a fascinating day if you if you follow it through to that that it’s not simply a graven image, but it’s a graven image of a graven Ox/Calf so to speak. Fascinating, just fascinating. The Rabbi’s were aware of the issue here, no question about it.

Adam Mintz  20:06

No question about it. The Rabbis were very much aware of the issue. Now, I don’t know if they have a good answer, but they’re aware of the issue.

Geoffrey Stern  20:14

So we already established that that which is forbidden is not simply to worship these graven images, but also to make it. But certainly, the question is, what was the function of these cherubim of these cherubs? And there is no sense I think you’ll agree with me that they were ever worshipped …. we can’t force the question to the point where we say, and they built an idol because they worship these Cherubim. In Exodus 25, it says, There I will meet with you and I will impart to you from above the cover from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant, all that I will command you. In Numbers 7, it says, when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with God, he would hear the voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the ark of the covenant between the Cherubim. Thus God spoke to him. So, Rashi explains, this verse explains exactly what happened. Moses came into the tabernacle. And as soon as he had passed, the entrance, a voice fell from heaven to the place on the cover, which was between the Cherubim. And from there it issued and was heard by Moses in the tent of meeting outside the Holy of Holies. That’s kind of fascinating. What do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  21:47

You know, what’s great about these discussions? It’s one of those things that you can possibly imagine, right? Like, what was it? How did God communicate through the Holy of Holies, and through the Cherubim, and through the ark, so you love when the commentators kind of paint a picture for us, because it’s really just their imagination, also, and I think we can really relate to that imagination.

Geoffrey Stern  22:11

You know, when you walk into a room and you hear a voice, what’s the first thing you do? You look around, you want to see a source for the voice, you want to find the speaker, you want to find the person?

Adam Mintz  22:22

And the best thing is that there is when there is no source. That’s real, that’s mysterious. You see, it’s interesting that God wants to be mysterious. I don’t know what the right answer is. But you know, it’s just interesting that it’s important that God is mysterious, it’s important that no one is allowed in the Holy of Holies.

Geoffrey Stern  22:43

But what I like is he, on the one hand, he or she wants to be mysterious. But on the other hand, when you move your head from side to side, looking for the source, He’s made it so you can look at the Cherubim, he’s projecting his voice to come through the Cherubim, according to the Numbers that we just quoted, and this Rashi and it’s not so much Rashi. If you look at the verse in in Numbers 7: 89, it literally says, When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with [God], he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus [God] spoke to him.  I mean, it’s right there. You know, there’s this wonderful expression in the Talmud, when you hear a voice, it’s called a Bat Kol but here is, here’s kind of the source, it’s a daughter, it’s a child of a voice. It emanates from here; you need a place to focus. That’s how I read it, that it’s really, it provides a place to focus clearly nothing to worship, but that you need something like that is kind of fascinating,

Adam Mintz  23:55

Really fascinating, right? I think that right? I think, and this is all that’s what it’s about. Because since they’re just kind of imagining it. But it’s so interesting the way they imagine it, and they need something, you need a way to focus on God, but it needs to be mysterious, and it kind of needs to be secret. It’s kind of our secret code. You know, we have that, by the way, God’s name. We don’t pronounce God’s name, the way it’s spelt. That’s not a mistake. That’s part of the mystery.

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

You know, the next focus that I had was maybe because we’re talking about artifice here. Maybe the something that we have to focus on is how it was made. So, I looked at Exodus 32: 4 with the Golden Calf. And it says this He took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf וַיָּ֤צַר אֹתוֹ֙ בַּחֶ֔רֶט וַֽיַּעֲשֵׂ֖הוּ עֵ֣גֶל מַסֵּכָ֑ה  There’s something that’ s beautiful the Rashi on the process is for all of them, he has to old French, French, I guess, because we’re really talking about technology (techniques), how these things are made. And one of the things I was focused on for a little bit was, you know, when you mold an idol, when it’s a molten, an image, maybe that is part because in our verses, I read them quickly. But if you focused, it really did focus on how they were to be made. It says that they should be hammered work מִקְשָׁה֙ עָשָׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם , and I thought maybe it’s the process. That is the problem here. When you mold something, you’re clearly making it totally in your image, you’ve got to create the mold, you pour (the metal) into the mold, it is totally man made. And maybe why was thinking when you hammer it, you’re almost exploring what’s inside of it. I didn’t get that too far. But I really felt that there was a focus on all of these explanations that the process mattered.

Adam Mintz  26:23

Yeah, there’s no question that the process matters. That I mean, you know, we can go back to the very beginning. Why does the Torah bother telling us about the building of the tabernacle twice? You pointed out the fact that a lot of these commentaries we’re looking at are from the first time it’s mentioned in Truma. My question is, why do you need it twice? And maybe it’s because it wants to emphasize the fact that the process matters.

Geoffrey Stern  26:49

Allen, what say you?

Alan Yodel  26:51

Well, it’s really fascinating stuff. I love listening to you guys kind of working on this. But where I’m going basically has to do with taking a look at the “kiruv’ of Cherub and relating it to Merkava, Rachav (ride) from Ezekiel. And they’re all related to taking a ride of some sort. You know? So, what is this ride that Hashem is taking, you know, it’s possibly, from the unknowable, to something more knowable in the Mishkan. It says he’s taking this ride, and possibly, that has to do with the Cherub itself. And also, there’s a sense that I get them “on either side”, and they’re facing each other also, and that there’s something significant to me that I feel that the fact that they’re facing Panim el Panim. And thinking of a typewriter. They’re like the margins of a typewriter, finding the space, you know, where the Nevi’im (prophets)  are going to have a prophetic experience in between those Cherubs. So all these kinds of images come to mind.

Adam Mintz  28:09

Let me just say it’s interesting. You connect the word Cherub to Merkava because they’re not actually the same word. But it’s an interesting idea. It’s actually a flip of the letters. The Reish becomes before the Chaf. It’s not actually the same word. But you say that it’s a journey. That’s interesting. Geoffrey, that’s interesting, we all go on a journey, right? It’s part of the journey, God’s journey to us and our journey back to God.

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

Well, I think what Alan made me really focus on which I hadn’t before, is we really haven’t focused on the wing part of it. You know, when God created the world, it says, וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם , he fluttered, he fluttered above the abyss. (see Rashi on Genesis 1:2 “even as a dove hovers over its nest. In old French acoveter.) And then when he took us out of Egypt, he took us on eagle’s wings. עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים (Exodus 19: 4) And when Alan, you said something about riding that really conjured up that image to me, that if we are going to use an image, this is an image this (wings) has been there from the beginning. I do think that’s fascinating.

Alan Yodel  29:19

But what what is the ride then. What is the ride, you know?

Adam Mintz  29:23

Yeah, I just love that image of the ride. So, it takes the we said that it was, according to modern day scholarship, maybe the most easy explanation is a combination of two things. But all of those two things seem to have the wings because they have a face and they have wings. And you mentioned both you said face to face, and you also said the ride, and I do find that fascinating and I agree it’s, it’s you know, it’s a permissible image because I think it is a vivid, critical image to the narrative from the first verse of Genesis. Let’s go on a little bit more, because I did want to focus on the crafting pot, because we are in a parsha that literally repeats word for word what’s been said before, but it does it from the perspective of crafting. So this whole concept of a beaten work shall thou make it. מִקְשָׁה֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם Rashi on Exodus 25: 18 says, lay down a large mass of gold (lit., much gold) when thou beginnest to make the lid and beat upon the middle part of it (the gold) with a hammer or with a mallet, so that its ends will project upward (stand out in relief), and then shape the cherubim out of the projecting edges.  So they literally took this piece of metal, and they hammered it; it had to have been from one piece. And he says in old French, “souder” And it says and in English that means to “solder”.  So there you go. Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  29:50

And I was fascinated by that process, did that process make it something that then became kosher, as opposed to the molten image of pouring it? Just I just think fascinating stuff. The Ibn Ezra, when he says beaten work, he says beaten, כמו שוה  it has to be equal? Well, one of the things that we really haven’t focused on is that you really don’t get just one Cherub, one angel, if you will, they’re always in pairs, and I’m reminded, and you know, we can’t get into all the material right now, we always try to finish on the half hour. But I am reminded, because some of the commentary say that the faces were the faces of a man and a woman looking at each other. And that brought up in my mind the, the commentary and why the first rendering of the creation of man was He created man, and in the second is he created a male and female. And one of the explanations was that when man was single, God was a worried that he would be “like one of us” that he would say, you’re single, I’m single, you’re unitary, you’re self-contained. I am too. And at that time, some of the commentary says he was androgynous. He had everything he could even replicate himself. And then the second part was, he was taken apart to be man, and woman. And that’s what that reminded me of that you’re taking this one piece of metal, and you’re making it in two, and those two are even men and women. I think it is a fascinating area of discussion. If you are fascinated as much as I am with it, you will look into the notes. Because one of the myths that has been broken, is and I’ve mentioned this before, there was a great Israeli scholar named Yehezkel Kaufmann. And he almost was he was impacted by the caricature that the Bible uses to describe idolatry. You know, it’s all based on stuff that you can find in Isaiah that says, How can a person make a god? How can a person a God, who is a piece of stone yesterday become a God today really, really makes fun of the artifice of making an idol? And one of the follow ups to that he has his own solution to the reason why in the Bible, it was a caricature. He argues that the children of Israel had progressed so much that they didn’t understand idolatry. But if you’ll see in the notes, we do now have renderings from Babylonia where they have discussions of the two or three or four days that it takes to make a god. And actually there was much more intentionality to it (and they echo the criticism of fashioning a god similar to the Hebrew prophets).. So, we’re not that far away. I do believe what it focuses on is the intentionality (and process) was critical here. And that’s what makes the whole subject so absolutely fascinating. I think we need to focus less on the image part, and more on the intention part and the lessons that have to be learned, and that will open up new worlds to us.

Adam Mintz  35:11

Great. That is a fascinating conversation today. Thank you, Alan. Thank you, Geoffrey. Next Thursday, I will be in Israel in route back home. So, Geoffrey is going to take Vayikra on his own. We look forward to a great week with everybody. Shabbat Shalom. And enjoy your week. Be Well, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  35:33

Thank you so much. nesiah tova Rabbi, and we’ll miss you next week….  It’s just very fascinating to me that when we look at the quote unquote taboos, and we look at the quote unquote, things that one religion doesn’t do or ever does, you know, it’s like they always say what unites us is more than what divides us. And this is certainly a case, one of the scholarly articles that I quote, talks about, when Isaiah put down the Babylonians, he was just pissed that they at the temple was destroyed. And it was polemics in the old sense of the word. But we Jews also could breathe life into inanimate objects, make ourselves tablets of the law, and make ourselves Cherubim and spend an evening discussing what those two will be more.

Alan Yodel  36:34

Yeah, Geoffrey. Did he talk about the first instance of Cherubim at the Garden of Eden? because that’s really kind of interesting. I think.

Geoffrey Stern  36:51

Well absolutely. I did mention it in regard to who were the Cherubim. You know, for those who say they were little babies with innocent faces and wings on them. You have to go back to, to Genesis and to say, Well, what about the woods with the swords who were keeping us out of Eden? And I think, when I mentioned that, I used it as a segue to say that modern scholarship really feels that and I quote, an article that kind of surveys all of the literature and comes to this conclusion that it’s as much cherub is almost a generic word for a combination of two creatures. Because there are opinions in the rabbinic literature for sure that they were birds, that they were oxen with wings. I mean, the truth is, they all seem to have wings, because that’s what the verse says. They all seem to have faces, because that’s what the verse says. But what were those faces? Was it an ox? Was it a bird? Was it a guard? And, you know, we talked about the cherubim being kind of a way that God could transmit his voice through, but certainly there’s an aspect of them that guarded the Holy of Holies and guarded the, the Ark of the Covenant (as they guarded Eden).

Alan Yodel  38:22

Yeah, absolutely. So would you be up for taking a look at Genesis 3: 24 just the language of it is really interesting. I find

Geoffrey Stern  38:30

Well absolutely. So I have it here in the notes, and you know, it says וַיְגָ֖רֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם  garash is a wonderful word. It’s the same word as divorce. He exiled the human וַיַּשְׁכֵּן֩ מִקֶּ֨דֶם לְגַן־עֵ֜דֶן , and he was planted in the Garden of Eden and he put V’yashkem is almost planted אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִ֗ים  these cherubim and he put a sword וְאֵ֨ת לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת I had never noticed that that’s very similar (grammatically) to the wings that I mentioned earlier in Genesis 1: 2, but it says וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת  it’s fascinating and I had never noticed that before that these turning sword was turning in the same way as wings turn to God the way to the tree of life.

Alan Yodel  39:41

But I’m getting the feeling from the word and I might I might have it wrong הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת it’s related to Hephech. (upside down, opposite) I’m getting a sense of motion also. Moving like the ride what we’re talking about basically,

Geoffrey Stern  39:58

well that’s what הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת means the was the Spirit of God was hovering. And the whole thing was like a like a, like a winged animal that was like a hummingbird. Yes, yes, that’s my image of that combines both the sword and the wings,

Alan Yodel  40:16

right. הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת, I’m getting a sense of movement, remember, we were talking about Cherubim had to do with ride or some movement from one place to another. So, I, you know, I’m just getting that sense of taking a look at Cherubim and in the sense of some kind of movement from one place to another, and then that word הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת having to do again with something in movement. And then it says לִשְׁמֹ֕ר אֶת־דֶּ֖רֶךְ עֵ֥ץ הַֽחַיִּֽים  not l’shmor et etz Chaim… so, you know it’s the path, you know, and in a way, the two Cherubim are in a way, watching over and, and protecting and the path, basically, the Derech, you know,

Geoffrey Stern  41:09

yep. And, you know, from that perspective, where they are over the Ark of the Covenant, and the fact that it was only visited once a year is a it’s a very rare path that’s taken very seriously. And there it is. I was struck by the sense that the Bible literally says that the voice of God is kind of projected through the two Cherubim, the it’s kind of given an audible pathway type of type of thing. I think it’s fascinating, but it’s fascinating that here we are Jews talking about an image. It’s just, it’s so counter, and I didn’t have a chance to really see how Islam deals with this. Because of course, you know, Islam when it comes to images, and I and both molten and fixed is Judaism on steroids. They have no flexibility in terms of that, and I give them credit for that. But I wonder how they deal with this, whether the Cherubim feature in the Quran, or in their tradition that I didn’t have time to explore

Alan Yodel  42:26

But in our sense of prophecy from my understanding and study of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s works, that the Cherbim were really a focal point, for the Nev’e’em, prophesy. So they really functioned I think on on that level of direction of prophecy, especially for Moshe Rabbeinu, I think,

Geoffrey Stern  42:50

yeah, and when you talk about focus, you can’t not talk about Kavanaah and direction. And, you know, this is where it comes from. But again, I have argued in prior podcasts and discussions, how I think that we Jews have lost a lot of body language that used to be a part of worship and stuff like that. And here we have physical objects that are a part of worship. And, you know, we’ve kind of so gotten into this cerebral sense of religion, and maybe because we’ve become kind of polemical, and whether it’s Christianity with the bowing, or the imaging that we pulled back from it, but it’s part of us, and there’s no question, you know, when I do yoga, if you want to keep your balance, you need to focus on a particular point space. Otherwise, you’d you fall down.

Alan Yodel  43:53

Absolutely. But also like in, you know, and, and many shuls, like, more kabbalistic type shuls you’re likely to see on the wall a Shiviti, you know, which is a meditation device, you know, it’s clearly a picture, but it’s clearly there to give you focus, you know,

Geoffrey Stern  44:12

yeah, but it’s less it’s less of a picture and it’s more words, but there’s no question about it. There’s merit there, it’s an area that needs further discussion, and further exploration by Jews who are not necessarily comfortable talking about images, not necessarily talking about, you know, body movements and breath and things like that. And I love it when you can’t ignore what the Torah says.

Alan Yodel  44:41


Geoffrey Stern  44:42

Anyway, it was great having you on board cup again. And thank you much so much for your insight, because I love the concept of riding on it. And I love bringing in the Merkava as well, so, Shabbat shalom. and we’ll see you all next week

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Listen to last year’s vayakhel podcast: Jews with Tools

and last year’s Pekudei podcast: Temples with no cloud-cover

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Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture and Singing Circle – 2023

Please register for this annual lecture at HADAR INSTITUTE 

Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture 2023 |

Join Hadar for an evening of Torah and song in preparation for Pesah, with the Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture given by R. Micha’el Rosenberg, followed by a singing circle led by R. Deborah Sacks Mintz.

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