Category Archives: women’s rights

Sinning for God

Esther’s Purim message and how women save the world

Using Esther and other Biblical heroines we explore a feminist take on a Rabbinic theme of women sinning for the sake of heaven and for a greater good….

Listen to the madlik podcast:

The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS – The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

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notes:

Esther

Esther sent a message to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night and day; I also and my maidens will fast likewise, and so will I go in to the king, not according to the custom” (Esther 4:16). Rabbi Abba said: It will not be according to my usual custom, for every day until now when I submitted myself to Ahasuerus it was under compulsion, but now I will be submitting myself to him of my own free will. And Esther further said: “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). What she meant was: Just as I was lost to my father’s house ever since I was brought here, so too, shall I be lost to you, for after voluntarily having relations with Ahasuerus, I shall be forever forbidden to you. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 15a)[i][ii]

לך כנוס את־כל־היהודים הנמצאים בשושן וצומו עלי ואל־תאכלו ואל־תשתו שלשת ימים לילה ויום גם־אני ונערתי אצום כן ובכן אבוא אל־המלך אשר לא־כדת וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי עד אשר לא כדת אמר רבי אבא שלא כדת היה שבכל יום ויום עד עכשיו באונס ועכשיו ברצון וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כשם שאבדתי מבית אבא כך אובד ממך

Tamar

Ulla said: Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with her father-in-law, Judah (see Genesis, chapter 38),] and Zimri ben Salu also engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with a Midianite woman (see Numbers, chapter 25).]  Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse and merited that kings descended from her and she also merited to be the ancestor of prophets [e.g., Isaiah, who was related to the royal family]. Conversely, with regard to Zimri, several multitudes of Israel fell due to him.

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: Greater is a transgression committed for its own sake, i.e., for the sake of Heaven, than a mitzva performed not for its own sake.

The Gemara questions this comparison: But didn’t Rav Yehuda say that Rav said: A person should always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot even not for their own sake, as it is through acts performed not for their own sake that good deeds for their own sake come about? How, then, can any transgression be considered greater than a mitzva not for the sake of Heaven?

אמר עולא תמר זינתה זמרי זינה

תמר זינתה יצאו ממנה מלכים ונביאים זמרי זינה נפלו עליו כמה רבבות מישראל

אמר ר”נ בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה והאמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפי’ שלא לשמן שמתוך שלא לשמן בא לשמן

Yael

Rather say: A transgression for the sake of Heaven is equivalent to a mitzva not for its own sake. The proof is as it is written: “Blessed above women shall Yael be, the wife of Hever the Kenite, above women in the tent she shall be blessed” (Judges 5:24 Etz Hayim p 425), and it is taught: Who are these “women in the tent?” They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Yael’s forbidden intercourse with Sisera for the sake of Heaven is compared to the sexual intercourse in which the Matriarchs engaged.[iii]

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That wicked one, Sisera, engaged in seven acts of sexual intercourse with Yael at that time, as it is stated: “Between her feet he sunk, he fell, he lay; between her feet he sunk, he fell; where he sunk, there he fell down dead” (Judges 5:27). Each mention of falling is referring to another act of intercourse.

אלא אימא כמצוה שלא לשמה דכתיב (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נשים שבאהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

א”ר יוחנן שבע בעילות בעל אותו רשע באותה שעה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כז) בין רגליה כרע נפל שכב בין רגליה כרע נפל באשר כרע שם נפל שדוד

Lots Daughters         Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Avin said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa said: A
person should always come first with regard to a matter of a mitzva, as in reward of the one night that the elder daughter of Lot preceded the younger for the sake of a mitzva, she merited to precede the younger daughter by four generations to the monarchy of the Jewish people. The descendants of Ruth the Moabite ruled over the Jewish people for four generations: Obed, Yishai, David, and Solomon, before the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose mother was Naamah the Ammonite. (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Nazir 23:b)

א”ר חייא בר אבין א”ר יהושע בן קרחה לעולם יקדים אדם לדבר מצוה שבשכר לילה אחת שקדמתה בכירה לצעירה

זכתה וקדמה ארבעה דורות בישראל למלכו’

Eve

Starting with Eve and that damned apple, women have been depicted (and mostly condemned) as the willful and wily seducers of men: …Even the daughter of the patriarch Jacob, a woman who is the apparent victim of rape, is blamed by some of the more misogynistic rabbinical sages for provoking her rapist. And a minority tradition in the rabbinical literature reaches a similar conclusion about Lot’s daughters: “Lot is a warning example to men to avoid being alone with women, lest [they] should entice them to sin, as did Lot’s daughters.”

However, “an open-eyed reading of the Bible reveals that women play a crucial and dynamic role in the destiny of humankind, in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Inevitably, a woman figures decisively in the recurring theme of “the birth of the chosen one,” starting with the matriarchs of the Hebrew Bible and culminating with the Virgin Mary in the Christian Bible. As we have already seen, Lot’s daughters and Judah’s daughter-in-law are examples of how the bearer of the “chosen one” is not passively impregnated with the seed of a patriarch; rather, these women take it upon themselves to defy the will of powerful men and sometimes God himself in order to bring about the crucial birth. Indeed, the Bible frequently singles out “the woman as initiator of events,” as Ramras-Rauch puts it. “From Eve through Sarah and Esther, women have shaped sacred history through word and deed.””[iv]

Contemporary Feminist Interpretations of the “Sin” of Eve [v]

Mieke Bal[vi] does not see the action of eating the fruit as sin. Rather, Bal views the woman’s choice to eat as a way to gain the wisdom that will make her like God. Ironically, her choice also fulfills God’s intention of humanity made in the divine image (Gen. 1:27). By choosing to eat and gain knowledge, including sexual knowledge, the woman makes the continuance of the species possible, even though the individual will not be immortal. Her choice is a choice for reality. Her choice puts an end to the fantasy of individual immortality. It opens up reality as we know it.

Lyn Bechtel asks, why, if humans were created immortal, were they also created sexual? If they were created immortal, why were they made of finite clay? Why after eating the fruit do the humans fear their nakedness rather than death? Why is it considered punishment for Adam to be sent into the world to be a farmer, when Genesis 2:5 tells us that humans were intended to cultivate the ground? Bechtel interprets the Adam and Eve story as the story of human maturation…. Thus it is better to interpret this to mean that those who eat will become aware of the reality of death. That is what gradually happens as we mature. … After the humans mature, they are ready to enter the world where they will take up their life’s work, the work God intended them to do from the beginning. Although Bechtel sees the story as androcentric, she does not believe it is sexist. In addition, her reading has the advantage of placing life in the real world in a positive light. It is not a punishment for sin, but the world God created for mature men and women to share as partners.

Dutch scholar Ellen van Wolde discusses this problem in her treatment of the Adam and Eve story, which is similar to Bechtel’s. She sees the clue to the whole story in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” She writes: As man leaves his father and mother to become independent, so man, male and female, leaves YHWH God by means of his transgression of the prohibition in 3:1–7 to become independent. . . . The realization that verse 2:24 presents man’s process of development in a nutshell and the realization that a similar behavior can be observed in man’s attitude towards YHWH God, makes the reader aware of the fact that Gen 2–3 is really one extensive description of this growth.  Van Wolde sees the transgression as a necessary disobedience, because freedom is the one thing that God could not build directly into the universe. Freedom cannot be conferred. It can only be grasped.

Carol Meyers, one of the most important recent interpreters of the Adam and Eve story, treats Genesis 2–3 as a narrative of human origins, as a story that explains why certain human conditions are as they are, and as a parable or wisdom tale.  … The prominent role of the female rather than the male in the wisdom aspects of the Eden tale is a little-noticed feature of the narrative. It is the woman, and not the man, who perceives the desirability of procuring wisdom. The woman, again not the man, is the articulate member of the first pair who engages in dialogue even before the benefits of the wisdom tree have been produced. This association between the female and the qualities of wisdom may have a mythic background, with the features of a Semitic wisdom goddess underlying the intellectual prominence of the woman of Eden.

[i] See also Tosefot Ketubot 3b “Lidrosh”

[ii] According to Rabbinic tradition, Esther was married to Mordechai: The verse states: “And when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter” (Esther 2:7). A tanna taught a baraita in the name of Rabbi Meir: Do not read the verse literally as for a daughter [bat], but rather read it as for a home [bayit]. This indicates that Mordecai took Esther to be his wife. (Babylonian Talmud Megilla 13a)

ובמות אביה ואמה לקחה מרדכי לו לבת תנא משום ר”מ אל תקרי לבת אלא לבית

[iii] Alternative reading in Babylonian Talmud Tractate Horayot 10b: Who are these “women in the tent”? They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and Yael is more blessed than they are. Apparently, a mitzva performed not for its own sake is a negative phenomenon.

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקיני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נינהו נשים באהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

[iv] Kirsch, Jonathan. The Harlot by the Side of the Road (pp. 58 and 251-252). Random House Publishing Group.

[v] See: Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes – Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible by Alice Ogden Bellis, 2007 chapter 2 The Story of Eve

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introducing the LoBa Bramulke by Vashti®

Shushan, New York – 15 Adar II 5776

(for press release click here)

799_yarmulkebra

In a move that took fashion industry pundits by surprise, LoBa Kippa today announced its entry into the lingerie market.  Noticing a spike in sales of its popular Loba Kippa 3-pack the Loba Google analytics team realized that women were buying one loba Kippa for their husbands and keeping two for themselves. A closer reading of Megillat Esther confirmed what women have known for over two thousand years… That “Lo” means “Lo” and when a woman says she’s not coming she means Lo Ba.. I’m not coming!  Taking the LoBa message to feminists and cross-dressers, the LoBa Bramulke supports an individual’s inalienable right to stand up to sexual exploitation and to anointed kings and saviors.

הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אָמַר לְהָבִיא אֶת-וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לְפָנָיו–וְלֹא-בָאָה

The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought before him, but she came not (Esther 1:17)

The LoBa spokesperson would not reveal any further details relating to the bramulke other than to say that due to the organization’s aversion to magical thinking  Loba intimate wear would provide a stark alternative to the Miracle Bra™ and would provide consumers with extra support and lift using hard work, sustainable materials and other natural means.

Furthermore the bra like the loba movement itself will reveal universalism and visions of eschatological harmony as no longer fashionable. The loba bramulke will lift up the related parties while enthusiastically preserving and accentuating the natural contours and healthy cleavage necessary for independent movement and divergent activities.

Asked if there is any competition, the spokesperson recalled that in the’60s there was a lobra movement, but that today LoBa is in a world unto itself.

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About LoBa Kippa – LoBa is the next big movement in Judaism.  It’s a growing group of thought leaders who believe that while the idea of a Savior and Final Redemption have played a role in the past, in today’s world of religious fanaticism, Messianism has become the most destructive concept shared by the world’s monotheistic religions.

LoBa  (לא בא) is Hebrew  for “not coming” and the LoBa store is for those of us who are not waiting. We’re not waiting for the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Second Coming, the Caliphate, the hidden Mahdi, hidden Imam or any other end-time magical solution.

Based on lyrics from a popular Israeli song our products proclaim that the Mashiach isn’t coming, he’s not even calling…   משיח לא בא – משיח גם לא מטלפן

LoBa customers reject any theology or ideology that wishes to change the world with a bang.

We’re not a negative group, we just reject those who feel empowered to disregard the rules of society and rights of others in order to bring a new age or end-time. Rather than wait, we engage in making the world a better place one step at a time and for its own sake.

Our products make a great gift for a loved one.. including yourself.  And you don’t have to be Jewish to love LoBa.  It’s just that we Jews introduced the world to Messianism, so it’s only fair that we lead the way in getting rid of this unhelpful and oh too many times, destructive idea.

Web site: www.lobakippa.com
Contact: info@lobakippa.com

LoBa Logo

 

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celebrating women and ending tribalism

parshat pinchas

There are followers of the Supreme Court who monitor decisions like baseball fans keep batting statistics. I’ve been keeping track of the Divine Court and by my count we do really well when we go directly to God.  It’s a shame we don’t ask more difficult questions of our Spiritual leaders and go directly to God more often.

First in Exodus 18:24-26 Jethro questions Moses’s top down judicial system and, with God’s input, we get a workable court system.  Score 1 for the people.

In Numbers 9:8 Moses was asked by men who were impure or had travel plans, whether they may bring the Pascal offering at a later date, and again, with God’s intercession, we get the one and only make-up ritual sanctioned by God. Score 2 for the people.

And then there’s the daughters of Zelophehad Numbers 27 1-12:

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, … And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying: Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.’

And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. …. And it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.’

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Get thee up into this mountain of Abarim, and behold the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.

 וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד

 וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְלִפְנֵי הַנְּשִׂיאִם, וְכָל-הָעֵדָה–פֶּתַח אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, לֵאמֹר

  אָבִינוּ, מֵת בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְהוּא לֹא-הָיָה בְּתוֹךְ הָעֵדָה הַנּוֹעָדִים עַל-יְהוָה, בַּעֲדַת-קֹרַח:  כִּי-בְחֶטְאוֹ מֵת, וּבָנִים לֹא-הָיוּ לוֹ

 לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן; תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ

לִפְנֵי ה’ וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטָן

 וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר

 כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת–נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם; וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת-נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן, לָהֶן

 וְאֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תְּדַבֵּר לֵאמֹר:  אִישׁ כִּי-יָמוּת, וּבֵן אֵין לוֹ–וְהַעֲבַרְתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְבִתּו…ֹ

 וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עֲלֵה אֶל-הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה; וּרְאֵה, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Three out of three decisions for the people is a pretty good record.  It’s a shame the Children of Israel did not approach the divine bench more frequently, but the lesson is clear, we have to badger our leaders with inconvenient questions and force them to question the status quo and acknowledge those annoying facts.  If they don’t have the answers we need to go to a higher authority.

Rashi wonders why the biblical editor chose to place Moses’s iconic  “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” moment next to the account of the daughters of Zelophehad.

Go up to this mount Abarim: Why is this [passage] juxtaposed here [with the previous passage]? When the Holy One, blessed is He, said, “You shall certainly give them…” (verse 7), he [Moses] said, “The Omnipresent commanded me to allocate the inheritance! Perhaps the decree has been annulled, and I will enter the Land?” The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “My decree remains as it was” (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 9).

 עלה אל הר העבריםלמה נסמכה לכאן, כיון שאמר הקב”ה נתן תתן להם, אמר אותי צוה המקום להנחיל, שמא הותרה הגזירה ואכנס לארץ. אמר לו הקב”ה גזרתי במקומה עומדת

It’s a sad and unsatisfying explanation….  God gives Zelophehad (the father) the ability to retain his tribal plot of land in the Promised Land and Moses asks: “What about me?” ..  I think it misses the point.  Moses didn’t take God up to the Mount of Abarim to teach God a lesson, God took Moses to the mountaintop to teach Moses a lesson. More to the point, the daughters approached God primarily to claim what was theirs, not to insure that their father had a legacy.  Sure they diplomatically couched their argument in terms that would appeal to a patriarchal society: “Why should the name of our father be done away” לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ but what they were really looking for was equal property rights: “Give unto us a possession”  תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה

Moses and all the men gathered in front of the Tent of Meeting lacked the vision thing….  They couldn’t see beyond their male chauvinism and they couldn’t see beyond the confines of tribalism.

God took Moses up to the mountaintop to let him see the vision of a Promised Land which was not to be confined to male dominance and tribal paternalism… that’s why the Mountaintop moment is placed right after the daughter’s day in court.

To their credit, some Rabbinic sages saw this enlightened message too.  Listen and smile…

“Their eyes saw that which Moses’ eyes did not see” (that is that there are times when women can see something that even someone as great as Moses, who spoke with the Shechina “mouth to mouth,” did not see.) And God consented to their words unequivocally: “Correctly have the daughters of Zelaphchad spoken.”  God listened to their claim (“God conceded the truth!” Avot D’Rebbe Natan Ch. 37) and changed the laws of inheritance to make them more egalitarian (relatively, as should be understood) see this quote in a lengthy polemic between R. Ysoscher Katz in a letter to Rav H. Schachter in Hebrew on page 3 here.

R Ysoscher Katz Letter to Rav H Schachter

R Ysoscher Katz Letter to Rav H Schachter

ומודה על האמת – זה משה, שנאמר: (דברים ה) “ויאמר ה’ אלי וגו’ הטיבו (את) כל אשר דברו”. וכן הקדוש ברוך הוא הודה על האמת שנאמר: (במדבר כז) “כן בנות צלפחד דוברות”

Yalkut Shimoni (Yehoshua 15, also appears in at least one other midrashic source): see comment by Emma here

Since the daughters of Zelophehad saw that the land is divided to males and not females, they gathered everyone together to get advice.  They said that the benevolence of humans are not the same as the benevolence of God.  The benevolence of humans (lit. flesh and blood) is [favored] on males more than females, but He who said “Let the world be” is not so [biased] in His benevolence to males and females, and on all [other genders?], as it is written “He gives bread to all flesh, He gives to animals bread.. and as it is written “God is good to all and His benevolence is on all of his creations.

כיון שראו בנות צלפחד שהארץ נתחלקה לזכרים ולא לנקבות, נתקבצו כולן זו על זו ליטול עצה, אמרו לא רחמי בשר ודם כרחמי המקום, רחמי ב”ו רחמיו על הזכרים יותר מהנקבות, אבל מי שאמר והיה העולם אינו כן רחמיו על הזכרים ועל הנקבות, ועל הכל, שנאמר נותן לחם לכל בשר, נותן לבהמה לחמה, ואומר טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו

Similarly, but with less nuance regarding the male chauvinistic bias it is written in the Sifre’ (quoted in Torah Temimah)

And the daughters of Zelaphchad came close: Since the daughters heard that the land will be divided by tribes and not to women [ed interesting juxtaposition] they all gathered to get advice.  They said, “Not like the benevolence of flesh and blood is the benevolence of the Holy One.  Blood and flesh is benevolent on males more than females, but the Holy one is benevolent on everyone as it is written (Psalm 145) “and His mercy is on all His creations”

 

Sifre Tzelofchod

Much as been written lately about using the way a society treats its women as a gauge to determine whether that society can support democracy and the rule of law. It seems to me that that in the biblical text and in the Rabbinic texts we have visited, there is an additional link made between women’s rights and a post-tribal society.  It is afterall, tribalism that is responsible for so much of the blood-letting, honor killings and cycle of revenge killings that mars our world today.

What did Moses see at the mountain top?  Maybe he saw into the future, in the streets of Jerusalem, women dancing and celebrating the end of misogyny and tribalism….. The 15th of Ab when not only could women inherit, they could also marry outside of their tribe. Let’s hope that such a vision is in our future too….

Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 30b

Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30b

 

tanit aramaic

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wear big tzitzit and follow a rebbe whose not afraid

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on parshat shalach

Earlier this week I was randomly browsing SoundCloud and I came across an audio recording of a young  Shlomo Carlebach.   There are only three audio files posted and one,  from a late 80’s Ruach Retreat in upstate New York was on parshat shalach.  Ok, Ok,.. so when it comes to Reb Shlomo, maybe there’s no such thing as random….

Carlebach, known as “The Singing Rabbi” who wrote melodies that have enhanced every aspect of every denominational liturgy also wrote Am Yisroel Chai;  the anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement.  You may have also heard his stories preserved in a CD set.  But he was much more than a singer or story teller.  Carlebach was an original thinker and charismatic leader who affected thousands of change makers in the Jewish world.

The audio talk that you are about to listen to is brilliant in its audacity and passion and surprisingly timely.  It relates to those living outside of Israel who criticize Israel.  It relates to “small” and fearful rabbinic authority and leadership and, with a little extrapolation, it relates to a modern Israeli trend of secular Jews (hilonim) taking back Judaism on their terms.

I am pleased to share this audio file on Madlik and in the tradition of the Yeshiva, I provide below the imagined sources (mareh mekomot) and context of Rabbi Calrebach’s talk below.

 https://soundcloud.com/carlebach-legacy/reb-shlomo-on-shlach-how-does-one-make-it-in-this-world

  1. Meraglim – These are the 12 biblical “spies” appointed by Moses to scout out the land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel) in Numbers 13.  Ten of these scouts returned with a negative report which resulted in a 40 year delay in entering the land of Israel.
  2. Carlebach talks about the positive commandment to wear ritual fringes (tzitzit) and he talks about the morality play of the biblical scouts.  These two themes adjoin each other in the text of Numbers 13 – 15 and Reb Shlomo, like Rabbinic scholars before him provides an explanation for the connection between the two seemingly unrelated subjects.The traditional answer relates the word  “to EXPLORE (la-tur) the land… TO EXPLORE the land of Canaan” (13:16-17) with “You shall not EXPLORE AFTER (lo taturu acharei) your hearts…” (15:39) (for more see: “You Shall Not Explore After Your Heart and After Your Eyes…” By Rav Amnon Bazak).  The scouts sinned by what they observed, the fringes are meant to correct one’s moral vision. Carlebach takes this implicit connection further by contrasting “little” tzitzit to small vision (see below)
  3. Reb Shlomo talks about little ztitzit and big zitizit and compares them to the little Shabbos and the Big Shabbos.  This is based on a statement in the Talmud Berachot 57b that our weekly Shabbat is one sixtieth of the world to come.  This concept is the source of the prayer in the Sabbath grace after meals “May the Merciful One grant us a day that shall be entirely Shabbat and eternal rest.הָרַחֲמָן הוּא  יַנחִילֵנוּ לְיוֹם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שַׁבָּת וּמְנוּחָה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָמיםand the sixth stanza of Ma Yedidiut, a song sung at the Shabbat Table: Meayn Olam haba Yom Shabbat Menucha
    מעין עולם הבא יום שבת מנוחהI believe that Carlebach’s extension of this concept to another commandment, such as tzitzit is novel.  In any case, his point is that the spies or scouts could only see the small fringes, and we need leaders or rebbes who have the large tzitzit.
  4. Reb Shlomo tells an outrageous miracle tale typical of Hasidic stories about a student (talmid) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic Movement).  You can hear the smile in his voice and laughter in the background. The Zanser Rebbe is reputed to have said of such miracle tales, “If you believe them, you’re a fool (“tippish”). If you don’t believe them, you’re a heretic (apikoris).”
  5. Baal Teshuva – A Baal Teshuva is literally a master of repentance and is traditionally a term applied to a sinner who changes his ways and returns to a life of observance.  In the 80’s, in large part through the efforts of Chabad and outreach yeshivot such as Eish HaTorah, many young Jews (yiddin) who were searching for their spiritual roots returned to Judaism and gave birth to what has been called the Baal Teshuva Movement.  Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi  both started as Chabad emissaries but as they addressed the spiritual needs of the children of the ‘60s they broke out of the constrains of Orthodoxy and created a Jewish Renewal that has enhanced all aspects of Judaism.  There is a tension between these newly inspired Jews and the pre-existing Orthodox community that Carlebach makes reference to. (his quote that Baal Teshuva is a nechtiga baal avera and a hyntica Am Ha’aretz Yesterday’s sinner is today’s ignorant Jew; is priceless..)
  6. Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), Israel’s national poet, famously exclaimed, “we will be a normal state only when we have the first Jewish prostitute the first Hebrew thief, and the first Hebrew policeman.” Carlebach uses this quote as if he is quoting a traditional Jewish text.  This is radical in and of itself.  What is more radical is where he takes it.  Reasons Carlebach, if we will be normal when we have secular Jewish thieves and a Jewish Underground, then we will really (mamash) become normal when we have our own [secular Jewish] Rebbes.  I’m not sure Carlebach envisioned the secular (hiloni) movement in contemporary Israel to take back Jewish texts and learning spearheaded by Bina, Elul, Beit Hillel and Ein Prat and other organizations, but his Bialik proof text works for me.
  7. Shietal is a wig for head covering
  8. Majority decides – see Exodus 23:2 “after a multitude to pervert justice”
    אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת
    and Babylonian Talmud Hulin 11a “From here we learn we go after the majority”. See also the story of The Oven of Akhnai (Babylonian Talmud Baba Metzia 59b) which ends with the punchline  “the Torah was already given on Mt. Sinai, and it says in it, “Follow the majority’s ruling” (Ex. 23:2). So we do not obey voices from Heaven.”Carlebach argues here, that when it comes to big decisions like going to the Land of Israel and seeing it’s potential, or …. Choosing a mate… or women learning Torah… we should not follow the majority, nor any rebbe, but follow our inner voice.
  9. “Thousands of Jews would have stayed alive if they had not listened to their Rebbes” Carlebach’s family fled Germany and where spared the Holocaust.  Carlebach is here squarely putting the blame for the death of thousands of faithful Jews on their rabbinic leaders who advised them not to emigrate to the secular yishuv in Israel.  Those same Rabbis are advising us on whether women can study Torah, and I would add are advising us (on the left) to take part in BDS boycotts of Israel and (on the right) to indefinitely occupy land located in Greater Israel.  I think that Carlebach is saying that we learn from the meraglim that we cannot be governed by fear, rebbes or majority opinion … we need to consult our conscience.

I believe that this SoundCloud recording was posted by the Shlomo Carlebach Foundation which can be supported with a tax free contribution via PEF Israel Endowment Funds here.

young shlomo

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rashi, women and wine

parshat nasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YehosuaPeruah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L’Chaim!

—————–

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

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

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

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

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

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say it like it is

parshat emor

After the Bible adjures us to be Holy….  as God is Holy, pay the laborer on time and embrace the stranger, we can be forgiven if we are disappointed that when it comes to leadership positions, the Bible exhibits such a Neanderthal bias against the less-than-perfect. When it comes to serving God, the Bible excludes the handicapped explicitly, and women, without even the courtesy of honorable mention.

18 For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath anything maimed, or anything too long,
19 or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed,
20 or crook-backed, or a dwarf, or that hath his eye overspread, or is scabbed, or scurvy, or hath his stones crushed;
21 no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, that hath a blemish, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire; he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.
22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.
23 Only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not My holy places; for I am the LORD who sanctify them. (Leviticus 21: 18-23)

  כִּי כָל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ מוּם, לֹא יִקְרָב:  אִישׁ עִוֵּר אוֹ פִסֵּחַ, אוֹ חָרֻם אוֹ שָׂרוּעַ.
אוֹ אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר-יִהְיֶה בוֹ שֶׁבֶר רָגֶל, אוֹ, שֶׁבֶר יָד.
אוֹ-גִבֵּן אוֹ-דַק, אוֹ תְּבַלֻּל בְּעֵינוֹ, אוֹ גָרָב אוֹ יַלֶּפֶת, אוֹ מְרוֹחַ אָשֶׁךְ.
כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ מוּם, מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן–לֹא יִגַּשׁ, לְהַקְרִיב אֶת-אִשֵּׁי יְהוָה:  מוּם בּוֹ–אֵת לֶחֶם אֱלֹהָיו, לֹא יִגַּשׁ לְהַקְרִיב.
לֶחֶם אֱלֹהָיו, מִקָּדְשֵׁי הַקֳּדָשִׁים, וּמִן-הַקֳּדָשִׁים, יֹאכֵל.
אַךְ אֶל-הַפָּרֹכֶת לֹא יָבֹא, וְאֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא יִגַּשׁ–כִּי-מוּם בּוֹ; וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל אֶת-מִקְדָּשַׁי, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה מְקַדְּשָׁם.

If we ever needed proof that the Torah is a product of it’s time, it is here.  I do not believe that it detracts from the value or holiness of Scripture if it speaks in the language of it’s time.  The onus is on us; the student, to separate the chaff from the grain.  We modernists are open to the claim that we are arbitrary and carry our own bias as we pick and choose what stands the test of time and what is dated.

The counter argument is clear.  If you accept and rationalize a woman’s second class status with:

“the glory of the King’s daughter is within” Psalms 45:14

Then you must also rationalize the Torah’s depreciation of the handicapped, the deaf, and the blind etc.

And these politically incorrect prejudices do not stop with the tribe of Levi and the High Priest… take a look at Maimonides Code, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Witness – Edut Chapter 9 . These and more are disqualified to give testimony in a court of law or sign a contract.

This week, I was privileged to hear a speech from a young woman.  It was a thoughtful and emotional speech that one would expect from a graduate student in a top university, except that this young woman was deaf and was speaking (and hearing) without an impediment because she had a Cochlear implant … so that, thanks to science and some great doctors… she was not deaf or mute.

So, even the great Maimonides is wrong on this one….

Halacha 11

A deaf-mute is equivalent to a mentally unstable person, for he is not of sound mind and is therefore not obligated in the observance of the mitzvot. Both a deaf person who can speak and a person who can hear, but is mute is unacceptable to serve as a witness. Even though he sees excellently and his mind is sound, he must deliver testimony orally in court or be fit to deliver testimony orally and must be fit to hear the judges and the warning they administer to him.

A lot has been written to rationalize these arcane biases. The take-away for me is that we are now free…. Or better yet, obligated, to update biblical law based on it’s context and intent. We neither need to apologize for the Torah’s bias, nor do we need to change the text and pretend that the Bible did not share opinions that were common in the age it was written. HaTorah dibra b’loshon benei adam. The Torah speaks in the language of people …..at the time it was written…

Once we accept this bias we can handicap the bible and say it like it is. We can stop wasting our time splitting hairs, justifying but ultimately delegitimizing whole segments of our population, whether by gender, sexual preference or physical or intellectual handicap and begin to tackle the really big, profound issues…

How to be holy…..

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purim torah

purim

Did you know that on Purim we celebrate the acceptance of the Torah.

The Talmud reveals that the original acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, was under duress and therefore non-binding:

And they stood under the mount (Exodus 19:17)

וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר

R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If ye accept the Torah, ’tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ R. Aha b. Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah. Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahasuerus, for it is written, [the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them (Esther 9:27) what they had already accepted.

ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם

את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה – , מוטב ואם לאו – שם תהא קבורתכם. אמר רב אחא

בר יעקב: מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא. אמר רבא: אף על פי כן, הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש . דכתיב

קימו וקבלו היהודים, קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר

[Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath 88a]

One wonders what was going through Raba’s mind that Purim popped into his head in terms of the final acceptance of the Torah…. What was he thinking… or drinking?[i]

Maybe Raba was on to something.  There’s something special about Purim and the Esther Megillah. Purim is the last Biblically ordained holiday and the scroll that we read on the evening and morning of Purim is actually the last book of the Torah.  Could it be that for Raba, Purim and the Book of Esther represented the last chapter, the Jewish people’s last chance and God’s last word? Could it be that for Raba, Purim celebrates the last echo of revelation?

If we are right, then Raba’s association of Purim with the acceptance of the Torah is both profound and ironic given that the Book of Esther’s claim to fame was so tenuous. Megilat Esther does not contain God’s name, was not written in or mention the Promised Land of Israel and includes highly unorthodox behavior including Esther’s marriage to a non-Jew, probable ingestion of non-kosher food (Megilah 13a) and no reference to any Jewish practices or the Temple. [ii]  It’s inclusion in the Canon (Torah, Prophets and Writings – Tanakh) was openly debated. [iii]

To my mind, the winning Talmudic argument for including the Scroll of Esther in the canon of the Hebrew Bible provides an insight into Raba’s understanding of the last revelation.

The Talmud[iv] asks “What is the source in Torah for Esther?  And cites Deuteronomy 31:18  “I will surely hide my face from you on that day” playing on the meaning of the name “Esther” to hide.

In a brilliant essay, Richard Elliot Friedman identifies the underlying plot of the Hebrew Bible.  He writes:  “Specifically, the major unifying component of the biblical plot is the phenomenon of the continually diminishing apparent presence of Yahweh among humans from the beginning of the book to the end, the phenomenon of Deus absconditus or, in the book’s own terms, Yahweh hammastir panav [hiding my Face]…”. Over a number of pages, Friedman shows how there is a clear transition, from Eden, when God takes care of everything through Noah, where Noah must build his own ark and to Jacob where Jacob must steal his own birthright. “Something is happening. For whatever reason, Yahweh is transferring (relinquishing?) ever more control of the course of human affairs to members of the human community.”

“In Moses’ own time, ..the people’s experience of the divine is mediated through Moses, or “masked” through the Kabod [glory] and the anan [cloud], or channeled through a series of layers…. Finally, Yahweh’s last words to Moses before summoning him to Abarim, he says, “I shall hide my face from them..” “After Moses, prophets are to experience only dreams and visions….” [v]

Commenting on The Book of Esther, he writes: “The narrative from Genesis to Esther has come full cycle from a stage on which God is alone to one on which humans are on their own. Through no longer in control of miraculous powers, humans have arrived at complete responsibility for their fortunes.”

For my fellow Feminists, interested in the connection between Eve and Esther go to the footnote[vi], but be assured that the Humantasch is the antidote for the Apple of Eden!

(see The Hiding of the Face: An essay on the literary unity of Biblical Narrative, by Richard Elliot Friedman in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel ed Jacob Neusner Wipf and Stock publishers 1987).

On Purim, let’s celebrate the final giving and acceptance of the Torah. The lesson of reading the Esther Megillah with a blessing (the only one of the Ketuvim to be read with a blessing)  is to finalize what began at Sinai. On Purim we accept the end of revelation and the end of magical thinking and complete acceptance of our responsibilities as humans. We masquerade to remember, that at this giving of the Torah, we do not see or hear God, He is hidden from us and maybe we from Him. We exchange food with each other in the way that two lonely humans touch. Whether lovers, neighbors or strangers, that touch, hug or deliver a box of welcome-brownies we show that we are not alone. We experience real Simcha knowing that we as a people and as individuals have survived against all odds. And….  and like survivors since Noah after the flood… we might need a drink.  And finally, we celebrate women.. who may get us into trouble.. but more often… like Esther… save us.

Purim as a holiday celebrating the acceptance of the Torah, is transformed.  Think of the audience participation… the shouting, cheering and booing as a variation, maybe an improvement on the custom to solemnly stand as the Ten Commandments are read. Look to the side at the cross-dressing Jew standing next to you, and reflect that now that we are all alone, we are also all together, and yes, we all stood at Sinai and maybe we didn’t look that different than this crazy mixed multitude in attendance.

L’Chaim!

Esther


[i] As long as we’re connecting the story of Purim to the giving of the Torah, we might as well mention the Fast of Esther.

Before Esther goes, uninvited to the King to  plead for the Jews she tells Mordechai:

‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ (Megilat Esther 4:16)

A three day fast appears in only one other place:

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready against the third day; for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19: 12)

[ii] see A Jewish Reading of Esther, Edward L. Greenstein, pp 231 – 233 in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel ed Jacob Neusner Wipf and Stock publishers 1987.

[iii] Reb Judah said in the name of Samuel “The scroll of Esther does not defile the hands (unlike a Sefer Torah) and as such was not divinely inspired [Megilah 7a). “All of the Hebrew scripture is represented at Qumron (Dead Sea Scrolls) except for the Scroll of Esther [and] it is possible that the sectarians did not observe the Purim festival and rejected the book which enjoins its observance. (see pp 106-107, 113 – 114 and note 301, The Canonization of the Hebrew Scripture by Sid Z. Leiman, Archon Books, 1976)

[iv] Hullin 139b

[v] The last major public miracle… is that of Elijah at Carmel (Kings 1:19). … In a fascinating juxtaposition.. is followed by the portrayal of Elijah at Horeb. Again we see a lone prophet on Horeb/Sinai, but Elijah’s experience there is a reversal of Moses. In the place of the supreme theophany come three phenomena… (earthquake, wind, and fire), each followed by the specific qualification “Yahweh was not in (it),”.. With the destruction of the Temple at the conclusion of the Book of Kings, the last channel is removed. The prediction that Yahweh’s face will be hidden is fulfilled… Yahweh plays no apparent role whatever in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and he is not mentioned in Esther.

[vi] Friedman continues: “Seen in the light of the increasing responsibility ascribed to humans through the course of the narrative, Esther is no less interesting,… Woman, Eve, has been blamed for millennia for entering upon the course of action that brought humans out of their initial state of harmonious relations with Yahweh (Genesis 3). It seems only fair, ironic, and appropriate that the narrative concludes with a story in which humans, now in a world, in which the presence of god is hidden, turn to a woman as their chief hope of rescue. One may interpret the Eve-to-Esther connection differently, but one can hardly ignore it. Each of the Bible’s bookends has a woman’s face carved on it.”

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