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the evil son exposed

The images in our Haggadah reveal as much about the haggadah and those who used it as any commentary.  This is nowhere more apparent than in the diverse renderings of the Rasha; the evil son.

My favorite is from a Kibbutz Haggadah.  (for a full treatment of this subject see: Rabbi Mishael Zion’s blog post: Wicked: 20th Century Lessons from the Art of the Wicked Child.. I have borrowed liberally from this post as well as from Etan Mark’s haggadah published on Haggadot.com, in the captions below).

Kibbutz rasha

Tzvi Livni 1952, in this zionist renderings of the four children, the Wicked child is the financier-speculator in the shirt and tie, dollar bills creeping out of his shirt  “What is all this ‘avodah’ to you?” is reinterpreted. While “avodah” in the traditional Haggadah refers to “services,” the “cultic” rites of the seder, here it is translated as pioneering “agricultural” work, of making the desert bloom along with the military defense of the land represented by the towers.  In other Haggadot, it is the Labour-loving Socialist who is portrayed as the Evil son.

 

Siegmund Forst, USA 1959 many American Haggadahs of the 50’s and 60’s save the Wicked child’s place to the communist cousin.

Siegmund Forst, USA 1959 many American Haggadahs of the 50’s and 60’s save the Wicked child’s place to the communist cousin.

Rasha Syck Hagaddah

Poland 1939 – the wicked figure is a middle-aged bourgeois Jew dressed to show off his aspirations to Western European modernity. The wicked figure sports a riding crop, a cigarette with cigarette holder, and a stylish monocle. He is dressed in a hunting outfit with a jaunty Tyrollian hat with a feather, an ascot around his neck, silk gloves and sharp spurs on his leather boots. His stance is self-confident, self-contained and arrogant

 

Rasha as boxer

Leon David Israel, 1920 The Boxer as Rasha, 1920, illustrated by Lola The wicked child is a new kind of soldier. The culture of the naked physique, of sports, of the aggressive boxer is contrasted with a middle class seated scholar with a tie, glasses and a book. The passivity and introspection of the intellectual whose head is supported by his arm reflects the defensive status of traditional Jewish culture, when contrasted with the rise of American sports and perhaps contemporary Zionist youth movements that praised the values of the body. For example, two in a series of great Jewish boxers of this era were “Battling Levinsky” (nee Barney Lebrowitz, light heavy weight, 1916-1920) and Al McCoy (see Albert Rudolph, middle weight, 1914-1917)

 
Rasha Passover towel

Wicked son as Roman Gladiator seems to have been a popular theme .. here’s a detail from a Austrian/German Passover Towel, circa 1900, embroidered with the image of four sons that I recently purchased at Auction in Westport, CT.


But what I have never seen, is where the evil son, besides excluding himself from the other participants, is portrayed as an ostensibly observant Jew or an otherwise good guy with a fatal flaw.
Here is the text of the Evil son:

What does the evil [son] say? “‘What is this worship to you?’ (Exodus 12:26)” ‘To you’ and not ‘to him.’ And since he excluded himself from the collective, he denied a principle [of the Jewish faith]. And accordingly, you will blunt his teeth and say to him, “‘For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8).” ‘For me’ and not ‘for him.’ If he had been there, he would not have been saved.

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם. לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִׁנָּיו וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: “בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם”. לִי וְלֹא-לוֹ. אִלּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל

The standard interpretation and corresponding image of the evil son is of the non-believer who separates himself from the Jewish community.  As Yossi Klein Halevi recently pointed out in a wonderful blog post, what indicts the evil son is not that he does not believe, but that he separates himself from the Jewish people.

“the Hagaddah’s definition of Jewish heresy offers us a precise definition of Jewish identity. The “evil child” of the Hagaddah refers to the Jewish people as “you” rather than “us.” Unlike Christianity and Islam, say, where heresy is the rejection of belief, for Judaism heresy is self-exclusion from the community.”

Halevi argues that it is not the wicked son’s lack of belief that damns him, but his self-exclusion.  It’s a great  blog post and important message… but Halevi nonetheless joins traditional commentators in assuming that the wicked son is a non-believer or non-observant.

But since, especially during the seder, every question is on the table, let me ask why don’t we assume that the evil son is in all other ways blameless and outstanding?  Who says he’s not a believer? And while I’m at it…. Why do we assume that that the community which this son excludes himself from …. is so virtuous?

Any reading of the Hebrew Bible will reveal the generation of the Exodus with a lot left to be desired. They murmured, complained and suffered from congenial stiffening  of the neck.  The truth is, even a cursory reading of the later prophets paint a picture of a Jewish People who stumbled and limped (ed the Hebrew word for lame is Pisayach פִּסֵחַ – same root as Pesach) a lot more than handled themselves in an upright fashion.

So here’s an image that I invite you to imagine for the wicked son. He’s a holier-than-thou self-righteous religious zealot…. beard, black hat and peyyot.  To be fair, maybe he’s an uncompromising liberal political activist who wishes to delegitimize the State of Israel or alternatively a religious nationalist settler who questions a secular Israeli’s connection and commitment to the Land. You probably could add a few more zealots of your own, but you get the idea.

Here are my alternative optics for the evil son.

This Haredi guy shows up at your seder and indignantly questions your right to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt.  “What could these laws and texts possibly mean to an Am HaAretz and Sabbath desecrator like you?  You, who accept same-sex marriage, support egalitarian prayer at our holy sites and convert any non-Jew who walks in the door.”

This child of the radical Left storms into the Seder screaming “How dare you celebrate  liberation and workers’s rights. How dare you Passover-wash your ties to Wall Street and your support for the Occupation and repression of Palestinians in Israel. This holiday of liberation means nothing to you!”

Maybe this child is a National Religious Settler who barges into our Seder and questions our right to sing Next Year in Jerusalem, a united Jerusalem, and laughs as we squeam when asking God to take vengeance on our enemies and conquer the land.

All of these caricatures are evil, not only, as Halevi argues, because they seperate from our community, but also, I argue, because they separate from our history and the crooked timber of our humanity.

These Evil children idealize the past at the expense of simplifying the present and delegitimizing a diverse group of people caught up in a complex world.  According to our traditions, those who left Egypt were a mixed lot (ערב רב) and we remain a mixed lot, struggling to survive in a tough environment and complicated, complex and not always solvable problems.  Those who left Egypt limped and complained and suffered from PTS, as do we.

The haggadah instructs us to “blunt his teeth” (הַקְהֵה אֶת שִׁנָּיו) ….. a strange phrase which seems to legitimize corporal punishment. In fact setting teeth on edge as the result of sour grapes planted by ones parents is short-hand for saying. Hey buddy, we all suffer the sins of our parents, we all have baggage, we are all refugees and victims. Non of our narratives are pure, non of our texts and rituals can be sanitized in accordance with your idealized version of progress. In fact sour grapes of our forebears causing their children to wince might be the seminal message of the Seder.  

The haggadah itself is an inelegantly edited compendium of conflicting texts and our liberation story, like the story of any liberation, whether national or personal … is messier than we’d like to admit.

Thus said Ezekiel 18 speaking of idyllic future times:

What mean ye, that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. … As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, committed robbery on his brother, and did that which is not good among his people, behold, he dieth for his iniquity. Yet say ye: Why doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father with him? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all My statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father with him, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son with him; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

מַה-לָּכֶם, אַתֶּם מֹשְׁלִים אֶת-הַמָּשָׁל הַזֶּה, עַל-אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  אָבוֹת יֹאכְלוּ בֹסֶר, וְשִׁנֵּי הַבָּנִים תִּקְהֶינָה

חַי-אָנִי, נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה:  אִם-יִהְיֶה לָכֶם עוֹד, מְשֹׁל הַמָּשָׁל הַזֶּה—בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל…

אָבִיו כִּי-עָשַׁק עֹשֶׁק, גָּזַל גֵּזֶל אָח, וַאֲשֶׁר לֹא-טוֹב עָשָׂה, בְּתוֹךְ עַמָּיו; וְהִנֵּה-מֵת, בַּעֲו‍ֹנוֹ

וַאֲמַרְתֶּם, מַדֻּעַ לֹא-נָשָׂא הַבֵּן בַּעֲו‍ֹן הָאָב; וְהַבֵּן מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה עָשָׂה, אֵת כָּל-חֻקּוֹתַי שָׁמַר וַיַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם–חָיֹה יִחְיֶה

הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַחֹטֵאת, הִיא תָמוּת:  בֵּן לֹא-יִשָּׂא בַּעֲו‍ֹן הָאָב, וְאָב לֹא יִשָּׂא בַּעֲו‍ֹן הַבֵּן–צִדְקַת הַצַּדִּיק עָלָיו תִּהְיֶה, וְרִשְׁעַת רשע (הָרָשָׁע) עָלָיו תִּהְיֶה

The Rabbis of the Haggadah are saying that there might come a time in the idyllic future where this proverb might not hold true….  A time that Ezekiel imagines where children do not carry the baggage left to them by their forebears and the shortcomings of their less enlightened peers do not slow them down, but… and here’s the message of the Haggadah…  in the meantime our teeth still sting from the sour grapes planted by our parents.  In the meantime, separating ourselves from our dirty past and complicated present, is not a luxury, is not idealism.. it is a sin, and it takes you off the stage.

While I have not found other sources for my interpretation, thanks to Sefira I did find a commentary called (very appropriately) Yismach Yisrael (rejoice Israel) which, while not making the evil son into a misguided idealist, does understand his question as questioning the bone fides and deservedness of the participants in the seder and the original generation of the exodus to participate in such a lofty mission.

The wicked one asks according to his wickedness: “What is this service for you?” (Page 67b) The wicked person argues that we do not deserve to be redeemed so all our efforts in performing these acts of divine service are a waste of time. Even worse, we are so sinful that these actions are really self-serving and not for the sake of God. The wicked person says that we perform them for you and not for Him!  We answer the wicked person by saying that “God did this for me” because of my trust and faith in Him. God redeemed us from Egypt even though we were immersed in the forty-nine levels of impurity and every aspect of our being was in exile. However, because we displayed real trust in God we were redeemed from Egypt even earlier then we were supposed to be redeemed. Had the wicked person been in Egypt he would not have merited this early redemption because he lacked trust in God.  (Yismach Yisrael on Pesach Haggadah p 51)

Maybe that’s a more positive answer that we can give the self-righteous evil son.. and by extension ourselves. Yes, we are the product of the mud from which we grew and yes, we sink or swim together, but if we have faith… blind as it is, that there is a spark of the divine in ALL of us, then by the grace of God, maybe together we can be redeemed…

SOnes with Question mark

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the first fashion statement

I will be launching the LoBa kippa soon and just realized that I made this post on fashion crimes exactly a year ago…

madlik

parshat korach

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

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

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

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

The rest, as they say, is fashion history.  Nowadays, every commercial and celebrity brand…

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

If you have any suggestions for how to make this blog better…. let me know!

I’ve been told that I should try to keep my posts shorter, a suggestion that I agree with and try to honor… But in many cases what makes the posts long are the quotes in the body and/or the notes to the post.  This blog is as much a way for me to preserve and offer (on the web) some of my favorite sources as it is a platform for me to say anything original… so I probably will continue in my verbosity…

It has been suggested by one of my favorite readers (she admits that she usually only gets through the first paragraph) to post the blog as a podcast.  In fact, the recent post “holy crap” served as the basis for a class I led.  I realized that I base my delivery approach of my blog on shmoozen from Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, the mashgiach at Beer Yaakov who would bring out a stack of books (sefarim) which contained the sources that formed the basis for his talk.  All the books had page-markers duly inserted and he would march through the smooze one source at a time.  If you could re-construct the sources then all you had to do was connect the dots!  his shmoozen were all delivered audibly so maybe I will try to deliver some of the posts in parallel as podcasts…

In the meantime, thanks for your readership and happy new year from Hong Kong!

Click here to see the complete report.

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the low-down on the jewish new year

If you’re interested in the low-down on Rosh Hashanah, please read my previous post you are not my boss.

Thanking all my faithful, and not-so-faithful followers for your readership and wishing us all a year of radical independence and the responsibility it implies.

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you are not my boss

parshat shoftim

When the month of Elul arrives, the Jewish High Holidays are soon to follow, but what is so Jewish about these High Holidays (ימים נוראים lit. Days of Awe)?  Unlike the three pilgrimage holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים ), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t celebrate the Exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.  Their only commonality shared by all Jewish holidays is that they are an adaptation of earlier Pagan holidays. Unlike Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot which were originally agricultural and harvest holidays, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply political holiday and it’s adaptation was not so much a transition as it was a radical paradigm shift.

As we shall see, the most important holiday celebrated in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was the annual New Year rebirth, judgment and coronation of the King as god. So the best introduction to Judaism’s rendition of this king-making celebration is to understand Judaism’s love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with kingship.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me’;
thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.
Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them;
that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel. Deuteronomy 17: 14-20)

 כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי
שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ:  מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ–לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא
רַק, לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים, וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה, לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס; וַ ה’, אָמַר לָכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, עוֹד
וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים, וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ; וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב, לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם
וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת- ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

The institution of the monarchy was the ultimate divine concession to the shortcomings and shortsightedness of the chosen people.  This same sentiment is presented in the Book of Samuel (Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

We should keep in mind that the appointment of a human King and the appointment of a human Messiah are one and the same.. both are a major concession to the lack of vision and faith by God’s flock.  Both a King and the Messiah are the anointed of God [1]

The monarchy was accepted, with legal restrictions and much of the prophetic tradition represents a check and balance on the monarchy [2]

Getting back the New Year’s Coronation Festival in the Ancient Near East, the Classical study was written by Henri Frankfort and called Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature and is available for download here.

Frankfort details how in Mesopotamia the festival of the new year lasted twelve days; it was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, the most important of which were the rites of the Sacred Marriage, and the recitation of the Sumerian creation epic, Enuma elish. It was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.  (see)

One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule. Some historians have since argued that these political elements suggest the Akitu was used by the monarchy as a tool for reaffirming the king’s divine power over his people. (see)

Likewise in Ancient Egypt there was the Sed Festival held in the Fall hat celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

Writes Frankfort: “

The Egyptian calendar started with the first day of the first month of the Season of Inundation (1 Thoth), a day originally coinciding with the beginning of the rise of the Nile.  But four months later there was another new beginning: the inundation ended the Nile returned to its bed, and the new crops were sown.  The first day of the first month of the “Season of Coming Forth” (1 Tybi) was consequently celebrated as a rite de passage appropriate to a new beginning, although it was not the Calendrical New Year’s Day.  This “New Year’s Day” in autumn was presided over by a snake-demon called Nehebkau, a name which can be translated as “Bestower of Dignitaries” or as “Uniter of the Ka’s” (of Horus and Osiris), and we have , in both cases, an illusion to the definitive assumption of power by the new king.  … it was fitting that a king should be crowned to re-establish harmony between nature and society which had been shattered by the death of the previous ruler.  Hence it is said of Tuthmosis I, when he indicates the date for the coronation of Hatshepsut: “He knew that a coronation on New Year’s Day was good as the beginning of peaceful years.” (pp 103-4). [3]

This understanding of the context of the New Year’s Festival in the Ancient Near East, radically changes our understanding to the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  What Rosh Hashanah becomes is a radical statement of independence of all human rule.

On Rosh Hashanah we declare God King as a direct and vocal rejection of the widespread and widely known (at the time) traditions of making a human of blood and flesh… into a divine king.

Although God as king always enters into our prayers (e.g. Blessed are You King of the Universe…), it is on Rosh HaShanah that we have the focal point on Malchiot – Kingship, culminating at the end of the Neilah service where we end the service with the threefold repetition of “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” that recalls the threefold declaration: “The Lord is king (present), the Lord was king (past), and the Lord will be king (future).”

Ultimately, it is in our New Year’s Festival that we reject our people’s request for a human king (and a human anointed one) as we reject the rule of any human being and we declare God is King.  For a humanist… it doesn’t get any better, because the emphasis is not that God is King… but that no human can rule us.  We say to all tyrants and others attempting to form our opinions and curtail our actions and imagination… you are not my boss.

——————-

[1]

To-morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out of the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me.’ (Samuel I 9: 16)

 כָּעֵת מָחָר אֶשְׁלַח אֵלֶיךָ אִישׁ מֵאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן, וּמְשַׁחְתּוֹ לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי, מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים:  כִּי רָאִיתִי אֶת-עַמִּי, כִּי בָּאָה צַעֲקָתוֹ אֵלָי

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. Samuel I 10:6

וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ ה’, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר

[2]

As Frankfort, Wilson, and Jakobsen write in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (p348)  “A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets.  Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of right, the same pervasive natural law as his humblest subject.  Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire attitude of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely imposed responsibility”

[3]

For further reading regarding Nisan and Tishrei as Kinmaking New Year’s festivals including actual Mesopotamian liturgy that has striking parallels to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy see Kingship and the Gods chapter 22 The New Year’s Festival pp 313-) here

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Interview about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Natan Ophir

The Book of Doctrines and Opinions:

Most people who even briefly knew Reb Shlomo Carlebach understood that he had a multifarious life with many interesting turns. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) has recently published a chronology of the events in the life of Reb Shlomo called Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy(Urim Press, 2013).garnered from an exhaustive range of interviews making it the first place to look in order to know about these twists and turns. The book is best on people, place, and dates and at many points reads like an almanac.

The book does not seek to push to understand his personality, mission, or contradictions of his persona. It mentions Reb Shlomo’s dark side but quickly moves on to other topics. The interviews are most thorough when dealing with Orthodox youth influenced by him in the 1950’s and least complete when discussing his connections to the Greenwich Village music scene or his connection…

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the first fashion statement

parshat korach

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

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the backstory:

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

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

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

Followed immediately with the narrative of the Korach Rebellion.

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

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

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

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

Writes Rashi:

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

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

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

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

Writes Rashi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

jfor j shirts

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

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

4967_22_centimeter_black_knitted_na_nachman_breslov_kippah_with_tassel_view_1

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

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

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

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

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

Chabad kippah

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

Once again, this escatological kippah is divisive.

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

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

 

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