Category Archives: Zionism

The Tisha B’Av Syndrome

Tisha B’av: Is it time to celebrate?

Now that we have regained sovereignty should we mourn our past powerlessness or celebrate that we Jews are finally coming to terms with power?

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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The Tisha B’Av Syndrome[i] – Podcast notes

  1. Humor“the Frenchman, the German and the Jew who are walking in the desert. They trudge in the heat for days, gasping for a drink. The Frenchman says: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some French wine.” The German pipes up: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some German beer.”  The Jew says: “Oy! Am I tired! Am I thirsty! I must have diabetes.”

    Howard Jacobson’s Booker-prize winning novel, The Finkler Question

  2. Josephus[ii]Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed –

The burning of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE/AD created a profound dilemma for faithful Jews of the time. Hadn’t religious observance throughout the land reached new heights in the years preceding the war? Wasn’t the revolt against Rome directly the result of zealous people vowing to have “no master except the Lord?” (Ant. 18.1.6  23). Then why did the Lord allow the Romans to crush the revolt and destroy his Temple?

Josephus offered a variety of solutions to this problem. His overall goal was to defend the Jews against the accusation that their Lord had deserted them. A further goal, which he only hinted at, was to pave the way for approval by the Roman authorities, at some future time, for the rebuilding of the Temple.

  1. “I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the assassination of Ananus [the High Priest by the Zealots]”
  2. “I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire”
  3. “Certain of these robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments; and, by thus mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew Jonathan [the high priest]; and as this murder was never avenged, …..  And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred to these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the Temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery – as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.
  4. The Slaughter of the Guards – by Zealots
  5. Oh most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy internal pollutions! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer survive, after thou hadst been a tomb for the bodies of thine own people, and hast made the Holy House itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine. Yet mayst thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.
  6. Jesus in 63CE cursed the Temple and foretold its destruction. (War 6.5.3 288-309)
  7. Ruth Wisse“Is it not curious that the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth came to be known from the perspective of a Jew determined to vindicate its destroyer? Josephus became an esteemed emissary to the Gentiles, the interpreter of the Jews to others as well as to themselves. Jews not only lost the war against Rome, but they supplied the historian who held them responsible for their downfall. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Josephus had been translated into every major western European language. Gentiles and Christians among whom the Jews resided learned from him that the Jews had deserved their ruin.”

Ruth R. Wisse. Jews and Power Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

  1. Israel Jacob Yuval“Jesus already prophesied the Destruction of Jerusalem: “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44). The Destruction is described as the vengeance of; God: “For these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). From the fourth century on and throughout the Middle Ages, these verses were included in the pericope (the weekly reading from the Gospel) read at Mass on the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, that is, during the week, of Tisha b’Av, thereby clearly paralleling the Jewish day of mourning for the Destruction of their Temple.”

    Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Israel Jacob Yuval, p.39

  2. Anti-Zionists – exile as release
    Intellectuals:

    1. “Herman Cohen, the main spokesman for liberal Judaism in Germany in the early years of the twentieth century, held that Jews had been able to develop a universal ideal of messianic redemption because they had been freed of the burdens of a state. In his view, Jewish religion alone was the driving force of modern Jewish life, having become more ethically advanced because it was freed of nationalism and a state apparatus.”[iii]
    2. Similarly, Franz Rosenzweig writes that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should eschew. In his pre-Holocaust book ‘The Star of Redemption he expressed his belief that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should shun. He viewed Judaism as a “supra-historical entity” whose importance lies in the fact that it is not political but presents a “spiritual ideal” only. He saw the creation of a nation-state as a blow to the Jewish ideal of an apolitical spiritual life…
  3. Pietists:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;
let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.

Psalm 137

“Yet for all its rhetorical severity, Psalm 137 does not exhort Jews to take up arms on their own behalf. Assuming full moral responsibility for the violence that war requires, it calls on the Lord to avenge the Jews’ defeat and on other nations to repay Babylon “in kind.” This reflects the historical record: It was the Persians, not the Jews, who defeated the Babylonians, and King Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their Temple, thereby inspiring Isaiah’s reference to him as “the Lord’s anointed,” the messenger of God’s will. God’s hand, not the soldiering of Israel, is credited with the Jews’ political recovery, for had the Persians not prevailed and acted magnanimously, who knows how much longer it would have taken the Jews to return to their home?” (Ruth Wisse)

R. Yossi ben R. Chanina: What are these Three Oaths?
One, that Israel should not storm the wall [Rashi interprets: forcefully].
Two, the Holy One adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Three, the Holy One adjured the nations that they would not oppress Israel too much.
Babylonian Talmud, Ketuobot 111a[iv]

  1. Yitz Greenberg – The Third Era of Judaism“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but absolute powerlessness corrupts the most.”[v]

    The destruction of the Second Temple and the extended exile caused an even greater crisis of faith. Some Jews despaired and gave up, some Jews (such as Christian Jews) concluded the covenant was finished, and left. The fundamental answer of the Jewish people was the rabbinic one. God had self-limited in order to call humanity to greater responsibility in the covenant. For the first time, in rabbinic literature, we get the term “partnership” between God and man. ….[vi]

In our lifetime, we are living through another major transformation of the covenant. The crisis of the greatest destruction of all time — the Holocaust– raises the question of the credibility of the covenant altogether, and whether God exists or cares…. In effect, the Jewish people has concluded that God has even further self-limited in order to call the human being – in this case, the Jews – to greater responsibility…

From the beginning~ of Jewish history the conflict of power and its limits, particularly the covenant, was a source of difficulty…. The Rabbis came to leadership in the second era of Jewish history.  In that era, exile and dispersion left the Jews relatively powerless in a world which was hostile.  The rabbinic tradition proceeded to develop a sort of ‘ethic of powerlessness’. This ranged from the assurance that God is with the people in exile and there is no need to revolt, to the conscious suppression of hostility.  In later centuries, the concept of the Jewish people doing its work through a sort of cosmic mysticism developed. Meticulous observance and the expanded list of observances would eventually evoke the messianic redeemer to come and restore life and faith to its wholeness.  …

The ethic of powerlessness is relatively pure ethically, because it is unchecked by the needs of power politics or daily political reality. That, too, became part of the Jeish ethic, side by side with a focus on passivity.  This period came to its tragic reduction ad absurdum in the catastrophic Jewish powerlessness of the Holocaust. …

The primary challenge of this era is the acquisition and exercise of power.  Costs of acquiring that power have been enormous, — thousands of Israeli lives, tens of thousands of wounded, months of reserve duty and personal…. A moral army causes as few innocent casualties as possible, but it is impossible that it never cause innocent suffering….

8.            Rav Kook

“All who mourn [the destruction of] Jerusalem will merit to see it in its joy.” (Ta’anit 30b)

“There are some Jews for whom international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its land fails to inspire joy. This is because the primary focus of their mourning is the spiritual destruction of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. The bitter humiliation of the Land of Israel being subjected to foreign rule does not trouble them.

But for those who always felt a deep sorrow, not only for the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of the Land, but for the absence of Jewish sovereignty in our land… the international declaration that the Land of Israel must return to the people of Israel is a source of joy. These individuals merit ‘to see Jerusalem in its joy.

The nation’s jubilation over sparks of redemption will rebuild that which baseless crying destroyed.”

“Baseless crying” — bechiyah shel chinam — refers to the spies sent by Moses who spoke against the Land of Israel, causing the people to despair and weep in vain. What is the tikun for this sin? How do we correct their cries of despair?

We repair the sin of the spies, Rav Kook explained, with teshuvat ha-mishkal, with a good that counterbalances the evil. We must show excitement and joy as the Land of Israel is rebuilt, stone by stone.[vii]

In messianic time Tisha B’av (and all other fast days related to the loss of Jewish sovereignty will become holidays.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Seventeenth of Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (9th of Av), and the fast of the seventh Fast of Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth (10th of Tevet), shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace.    Zechariah 8:19

We know from Berl Katznelson. Leader of the Social Zionists until his death in 1944 who came in 1909 from Russia, that his party’s youth movement held celebratory campfires on Tisha B’Av. [viii]

  1. May 2018 – Gaza – The parallel Universe of Israeli Liberals and non-Israeli Liberals

Facebook Post – Sarah Silverman May 17, 2018

Is there anyone on the political left who sees — and has the courage to say — that Israel is truly defending ourselves right now? Hating Israel is super cool, I know. Can I have someone, anyone on the left, speak out about Israel not killing for fun on the Gaza border right now? Or are the consequences too great for your lefty credentials? Dear Lord. This is a modern day blood libel. PS Stick to my particular question.

Susan Silverman is a Reform Rabbi living in Israel.  She has been a vocal supporter of the African asylum seekers, Founding Director of Second Nurture which advocates adoption of children in need of a home, she is a supporter of Women of the Wall and an egalitarian prayer space… she also has a son in the IDF. Listen to the Promised Podcast discuss this post here: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/patreon-posts/YI459NgAAByjq5VEIpDQbdr2oEKIk1VfMGy2Prd8lXr35Zq__Kxe2ELvaaIvvkXs.mp3 here is a link to her FB post and comments: https://www.facebook.com/susan.silverman.927/posts/10214732140511432

10           Josephus redux

Last reason given by Josephus: It was ordained: “Now, although any one would lament the destruction of such a work as this was, since it was the most admirable of all the works that we have seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the glorious reputation it had for its holiness; yet might such a one comfort himself with this thought, that it was fate that decreed it so to be, which is inevitable, both as to living creatures and as to works and places also.

However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were not observed, as I said before, wherein the Holy House was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.

[i] The term “Tisha B’Av Syndrome“ was coined by Isaac Herzog (leader of the Opposition and grandson of the 2nd Chief Rabbi of Israel) in 2015 when he accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of leading with a politics of fear and despair see: https://www.timesofisrael.com/herzog-netanyahu-suffering-from-tisha-bav-syndrome/

[ii] See: http://www.josephus.org/causeofDestruct.htm

[iii] Wisse, Ruth R.. Jews and Power (Jewish Encounters Series) (Kindle Locations 138-143). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[iv] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Oaths

[v] See: http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-embattled-voice-of-modern-orthodoxy/ hear: http://www.judaismunbound.com/podcast/2018/1/4/judaism-unbound-episode-100-the-third-era-yitz-greenberg-2

[vi] Israel Jacob Yuval understands this “partnership” as a nefarious linkage between the suffering and martyrdom of the Jews forcing the hand of God to bring the redemption and associated retribution.  Cf. the last stanza of Maoz Tzur: Bare Your holy arm and hasten the final salvation, Avenge the vegenance of Your servants’ blood from the wicked nation… see Two Nations p106-7

[vii] (Adapted from Mo’adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 567-568) http://www.ravkooktorah.org/TISHA58.htm

[viii] See: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/secular-zionism/

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A Thanksgiving Meal – סעודת הודיה

This week’s madlik podcast:

This week in the US we will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal, so what better opportunity to explore the sources and traditions of a Seuda Hodaah – סעודת הודיה  a thanksgiving meal in the Jewish tradition… and survey a collection of Thanksgiving sermons…. We’ll even explain why turkey is called Hodu… which means “thanks” in Hebrew…

If you like the madlik podcast please subscribe at iTunes.  And for your Andoids, the podcast is now available on Google PlayMusic and Stitcher.  For easy links go to madlik.com

Listen to the madlik podcast:


notes

In the Bible: After the battle of the five kings: Genesis 14: 18


יח
  וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן.
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
יט  וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ, וַיֹּאמַר:  בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 19 And he blessed him, and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth;
כ  וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר-מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר, מִכֹּל. 20 and blessed be God the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.’ And he gave him a tenth of all.
כא  וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ-סְדֹם, אֶל-אַבְרָם:  תֶּן-לִי הַנֶּפֶשׁ, וְהָרְכֻשׁ קַח-לָךְ. 21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram: ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.’
כב  וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם, אֶל-מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם:  הֲרִמֹתִי יָדִי אֶל-יְהוָה אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom: ‘I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth,
כג  אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם. 23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich;
כד  בִּלְעָדַי, רַק אֲשֶׁר אָכְלוּ הַנְּעָרִים, וְחֵלֶק הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר הָלְכוּ אִתִּי:  עָנֵר אֶשְׁכֹּל וּמַמְרֵא, הֵם יִקְחוּ חֶלְקָם.  {ס} 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion.’ {S}

RASHI:

And Malchizedek: The Midrash Aggadah (Targum Jonathan, Ned. 32b, Mid. Ps. 76:3) states that he was Shem, the son of Noah.   ומלכי צדק: מדרש אגדה הוא שם בן נח:

 

The weaning of Isaac:

Genesis 21: 8

8 And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

                                חוַיִּגְדַּ֥ל הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַיִּגָּמַ֑ל וַיַּ֤עַשׂ אַבְרָהָם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה גָד֔וֹל בְּי֖וֹם הִגָּמֵ֥ל אֶת־יִצְחָֽק

RASHI: a great feast: for all the prominent people of the generation were there: Shem, Eber, and Abimelech. — [from Tan. Buber, Vayishlach 23] Cf. Gen. Rabbah 53:10.

 

משתה גדול: שהיו שם גדולי הדור, שם ועבר ואבימלך

חיי אדם כלל קנ”ה סעיף מ”א ומשנה ברורה סי’ תר”ע סק”ט בשם המהרש”ל

The Thanksgiving Sacrifice: Leviticus


יב
  אִם עַל-תּוֹדָה, יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ–וְהִקְרִיב עַל-זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה חַלּוֹת מַצּוֹת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשֶּׁמֶן, וּרְקִיקֵי מַצּוֹת מְשֻׁחִים בַּשָּׁמֶן; וְסֹלֶת מֻרְבֶּכֶת, חַלֹּת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשָּׁמֶן.
12 If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour soaked.

 

 

Vayikra Rabbah 9:7

ר’ אלעזר ור’ יוסי בר חנינא ר’ אלעזר אמר: שלמים הקריבו בני נח. רבי יוסי בר חנינא אמר עולות הקריבו בני נח  …  מתיב ר’ אלעזר לרבי יוסי בר חנינא (שם יח): ויקח יתרו חותן משה עולה וזבחים לאלהים. דא מה עבד לה רבי יוסי בר חנינא? עבד כמאן דאמר לאחר מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. איפלגו רבי חייא בר אבא ורבי ינאי חד אמר: לאחר מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. וחד אמר: קודם מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. אמר רבי הונא: ולא פליגי. מאן דאמר קודם מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו, כמאן דאמר, שלמים הקריבו בני נח.חת

Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan [said] in the name of Rabbi Menachem from Gallia: In the time to come, all sacrifices will be annulled – but the sacrifice of thanksgiving will not be annulled. All prayers will be annulled, but the prayer of gratitude will not be annulled. This accords with what is written [Jeremiah 33:11]: “The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say ‘Give thanks to the LORD of hosts’ etc.” – this is the prayer of gratitude. “Those who bring [the sacrifice of] thanksgiving to the House of the LORD”: this is the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Thus David said: “I owe You vows and will offer you thanksgivings” [Psalms 56:13] – not “thanksgiving,” but “thanksgivings,” [indicating both] the thanksgiving prayer and the prayer of gratitude.

In the Talmud: Tractate Berakoth  46a

  1. Zera once was ill. R. Abbahu went to visit him, and made a vow, saying, If the little one with scorched legs1 recovers, I will make a feast for the Rabbis. He did recover, and he made a feast for all the Rabbis.

Modern Times:

Chabad Hasidim celebrate the 19th of Kislev to commemorate the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe;  Schneur Zalman from jail…. also considered to be the Rosh Hashana of Chassidus.  Also the day the Rebbe walked out of his room for the first time since his heart attack on shemini atzeret (1978)..for the Chassidim this was huge and still is for they  feel that this day is hodoo of his recovery and hence his subsequent relationship to them. So in this sense- yes, it’s and seuda hodoo despite the length of time. Also 12 tammuz the previous Rebbe release from prison in Russia. (all events that allowed the next frame to occur which leads to today )

The 30th day of Nissan

See a reference in a luach (הלכה יומית) here to the custom to have a  on the anniversary of the UN Vote for the partition of Palestine and the resulting birth of Israel:

א‘ ל‘ ניסן. מה משמעותו של יום העצמאות

יום היום בו הוכרזה המדינה בשנת תש“ח, הינו יום שמחה ותודה לבורא עולם, על הנס הגדול שעשה לנו בהקמת המדינה. אף על פי שאויבנו לא רצו בהקמת המדינה היהודית, הכריזה המועצה הזמנית על הקמת המדינה היהודית, ונחתמה מגילת העצמאות

יש לקיים סעודת הודיה ביום זה, ולברך את ה‘ על כך

Prayers:

See Alan Brill’s: The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality.

Service for Thanksgiving Day 1905- In Commemoration of 250 Years of Jews in the US.

by Rev H. Pereira Mendes of the Spanish- Portuguese synagogue of NY offered in 1905 at a special convocation to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the settlement of Jews in the United States.  2005 was 350 years….

 

Throughout the past ages Thou hast carried Israel as on eagles’ wings. From the bondage of Egypt, through the trials of the wilderness, ….From nation to nation Thou didst lead us, until the hand of the oppressor was weakened and the day of human rights began to dawn

Thou hast opened unto us this blessed haven of our beloved land. we lift up our hearts in gratitude to Thee, in that two hundred and fifty years ago Thou didst guide a little band of Israel’s children who, . seeking freedom to worship Thee, found it in a land which, with Thy blessing, became a refuge of freedom and justice for the oppressed of all peoples.

O Lord, look down from Thy holy habitation from heaven and bless this Republic. Preserve it in the liberty which has been proclaimed in the land, and in the righteousness which is its foundation. Bless it with prosperity and peace. May it advance from strength to strength and continue to be a refuge for all who seek its shelter. Imbue all its citizens with a spirit of loyalty to its ideals. May they be ever mindful that the blessings of liberty are safeguarded by obedience to law, and that the prosperity of the nation rests upon trust in Thy goodness and reverence for Thy commandments.

Bless the President and his counselors, the judges, lawgivers, and executives of our county. Put forth upon them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and the spirit of might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. May America become a light to all peoples, teaching the world that righteousness exalteth a nation.

Our Father in Heaven, Who lovest all nations, all men are Thy children. Thou dost apportion tasks to peoples according to their gifts of mind and heart. But all, are revealing Thy marvelous plans for mankind. May the day speedily dawn when Thy kingdom will be established on earth, when nations shall learn war no more, when peace shall be the crowning reward of a world redeemed by justice, and all men shall know Thee, from the greatest unto the least.

————–

Service for Thanksgiving Day 1940 – Rabbi Joseph Lookstein at Kehilath Jeshurun in New York

We thank Thee for the beauty and utility of Thy creations, for the flowers which are the stars of the earth even as the stars are the flowers of heaven; for the fertility of the soil and the abundance of its products; for the food that is borne within its bosom and the waters that flow from its deep and inner fountains; for the air that surrounds all creatures and that holds within its invisible self the secret and power • of life.

Almighty God, we pray that we may remain true to the destiny for which we were created. We pray that the dignity of human per­sonality may be preserved and the reverence of man for man may continue. We pray that the beautiful heavens that Thou didst spread over our heads may not be darkened by the clouds of hate and that the magic carpet which is earth may not be disturbed by the tramp of hostile feet. We pray that man’s inhumanity to man may forever end and that human genius may continue to strive for greater perfection and for nobler fulfillment. Let man come to understand that he is closest to God when he is nearer to man, that he worships at Thy holy throne when he serves Thy creatures and that he is within Thy holy shrine when he is at one with his fellow-beings.
We pray sincerely for America and the ideals of democracy and freedom that are here enshrined. May she be strong to withstand all the currents that assail her and all the forces of evil that would invade her sacred precincts. A tower of light to her own citizenry, may she cast a steady beam and light up all the dark areas of the world and show to a perplexed and straying humanity the path of freedom, of life and of peace.

Rabbi and Congregation.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to Thee, oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

 

Cf Leonard Cohen “if it be your will” 

—————–

1951 The Faith of America: Readings, Songs and Prayers for the Celebration of American Holidays by Mordecai Kaplan; Williams, J. Paul; Kohn, Eugene Kaplan

faith-of-america

 

Intro

THANKSGIVING DAY: a day devoted to a grateful awareness of the blessings of American life. A blessing not appreciated is easily lost. If we take for granted the blessings that we enjoy by virtue of our living in a land of almost boundless opportunities and take no thought to the moral foundation on which the welfare of our people rests, those blessings will sooner or later be lost. Thanksgiving should be used to make us aware of those moral foundations, of our dependence on divine justice and love for the continued enjoyment of the blessings of American life.

Prayer

The Significance of the Day

OUR GOD AND FATHER, it is good to give thanks to Thee and to acknowledge Thy blessings. Only thus

can we savor them to the full. In the hurried pace of our lives and in our preoccupation with the petty and the trivial, we are prone to take Thy gifts for granted. Oblivious of thy bounties, we sinfully waste the opportunities they afford us for living the good life. Therefore, do we set aside this day for thanksgiving.

We thank Thee for the land and for its fruits by which we live. We thank thee for the vigor of body and mind that enables us to exploit the fertility of our country’s fields and forests and the buried treasures of its mineral wealth. We thank Thee for the varied beauty of its landscape, for the grandeur of its mountains, the hospitality of its plains and prairies, and the gleaming vistas of ocean from its coasts.

We thank Thee for the inspiration of our country’s history—for the courage and hardihood that sustained its explorers and pioneers, for the heroism that inspires its fighters for freedom and equality, for the enterprise that builds its teeming cities, for the arts that express the beauty and meaning of its way of life, for the just laws and free institutions that enable its people to work together in peace and harmony.

Grant, O God, in Thy grace, that we may perfect our national life to the measure of Thy bounty. Grateful

for the gifts Thou hast bestowed upon us, may we use them to extend the area of freedom, justice, and good-will among men. May our use of Thy, gifts bear. Witness to mankind that life is good when lived according to Thy benign will, O gracious Giver of all good. AMEN.

————-

George Washington – Thanksgiving Proclamation Issued on October 3, 1789

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us)

———–

In hard times

A THOUGHTFUL MIND will perceive propriety in a service of thanksgiving on the ground, not only of any exceptional benefit, but of the continuance of those ordinary blessings which give its gladness and beauty to life. The preservation of our life itself from casualty or from disease, which might have fallen upon it, is no less a sign of God’s goodness than a narrow escape from what seemed certain death. And so, though any given year may not have been marked by what we should call conspicuous blessings, it is right and proper that we should meet to give thanks for that bounty of heaven which has not failed, for our personal life, and health, and happiness, for the undisturbed serenity and tranquility of our homes, for the maintenance of public order, content and liberty, for the peaceful progress of industry, for the regular and beneficent operations of nature. The hand of God is in all this, as well as in the events which more strikingly exhibit His goodness and His power . . .

The year that is ending has not been what we commonly call a “good” year. It has been rather a bad year in the history of other nations, in business and in politics within our own borders.

How then shall we meet the call which invites us to give thanks today to God for His goodness. We might try to banish from our minds these gloomy facts….
And yet it is more likely to be useful to look at the facts as they are and to ask whether, if we should judge them aright, we should not find, not in spite of them, but in them, traces and tokens of God’s goodness and occasions for praise. We mourn, for example, the decline of our material Prosperity, but it is a shallow view of things which regards material prosperity as an unmixed good for a man or for a nation. The psalmist who said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” uttered a truth which finds abundant confirmation in national as well as in personal history. Look at your neighbor whom you knew as a poor boy and who now is worth his millions. . . . He used to be considerate of others, helpful to those who needed help, nobly generous with what little he had to give. Now he seems to think that poverty is a crime, and it is easier to get a flame out of an iceberg than a dollar out of his purse. Once he judged men by their moral character. Now he speaks of them as “worth” whatever their property would sell for in the market. . . . What has made the change in him? Nothing but his success. . . .
And the same thing is equally true of a nation. The unparalleled development of the material resources of the American people in recent years has astonished the world, but it has also awakened the gravest solicitude of thoughtful minds. The ever rising tide of wealth, the vast increase and wide diffusion of luxury, the reckless extravagance and waste which have been common, the senseless rivalry in vulgar display, the growing tyranny of money in the hands of rich men and rich corporations, the wild fever of speculation, the prostitution of public office to an unrestrained desire of wealth, the increased inequality, and, in consequence of this, the deepening animosity of the classes of which society is composed, the swift and shameless spread of corruption in politics, the intrusion into the place of legitimate and honest business of the methods and morals of the gambling room, the growing frequency of gross violations of trust—all these things . . . have come as the direct and inevitable fruit of the era of prosperity which now—for a time at least, is ended. . . .
As you try to gather up your reasons for thanksgiving, do not turn your thoughts away from the things which at first seem dark. . . . Look at them, rather, frankly . . . and see if the goodness and the mercy of God are not manifest in them. So may your sorrows be turned into joy, and your sore disappointment into confident hope. So may you gain the height of adoring trust whereon he stood who long ago declared: “I will bless the Lord at all time: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

  • Edward B. Coe

——-

Turkey

The guinea fowl bears some resemblance to the then-recently found American bird. Though it is native to eastern Africa, the guinea fowl was imported to Europe through the Ottoman Empire and came to be called the turkey-cock or turkey-hen. When settlers in the New World began to send similar-looking fowl back to Europe, they were mistakenly called turkeys.

Every language seems to have radically different names for this bird. The Turkish word is hindi, which literally means “Indian.” The original word in French, coq d’Inde, meant rooster of India, and has since shortened to dinde. These names likely derive from the common misconception that India and the New World were one and the same. In Portuguese, it’s literally a “Peru bird,” and in Malay, it’s called a “Dutch chicken.”

Hodu – India

הֹדוּ Hôdûw, ho’-doo; of foreign origin; Hodu (i.e. Hindustan):—India.

India = “flee away” or ” give ye thanks” Strongs Lexicon H1912

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in defense of jewish universalism and liberalism – a rampage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahh … but I digress…

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

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

מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא, יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the mouth of the upright You shall be exalted;

By the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed;

By the tongue of the devout shall You be sanctified;

And amid the holy shall You be lauded.

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

——————————–

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

imagine_peace_by_mcullenhightopp-d4fnfxf

 

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

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…

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go for broke

The Fast of Gedaliah

Messianism is a go for broke technology.  “The Messiah will come in a generation that is totally righteous or totally guilty”  (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a).

  אין בן-דוד בא אלא בדור שכולו זכאי או כולו חייב

סנהדרין צח,א

Making the best of a bad situation or a bad deal hinders the coming of redemption.

During the siege of Jerusalem in the Great Jewish Revolt, the Zealots in control preferred that no deals were made and that the destruction would be total.  Fortunately, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai staged his own death and his students were able to smuggle him out in a casket.  Once on the other side, he was able to negotiate with Vespasian that Rome give the Jews “Yavne and it’s sages” (Bavli Gittin 56b) thus permitting the survival of Rabbinic Judaism.  For those who opposed him, Zakkai was a compromiser and a traitor.

After the destruction of the First temple, Gedalia was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon as governor of Yehud province.  This province was the last refuge for Jews to remain in Judaea.  It’s formation was the only thing that stood in the way of making the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth utterly complete. On hearing of the appointment, the Jews that had taken refuge in surrounding countries returned to Judah. But the zealots were incensed since only total destruction could bring the rupture and necessary disruption to force God’s hand and bring the ultimate redemption.

Ishmael, and the ten men who were with him, murdered Gedaliah, together with most of the Jews who had joined him and many Babylonians whom Nebuchadnezzar had left with Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:2-3). The remaining Jews feared the vengeance of Nebuchadnezzar (in view of the fact that his chosen ruler, Gedaliah, had been killed by a Jew) and fled to Egypt. Although the dates are not clear from the Bible, this probably happened about four to five years and three months after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BCE. (see)

The day that was chosen to assassinate Gedaliah was the Jewish New Year and by tradition a fast of Gedaliah is held on the day after Rosh Hashanah.

In a few weeks we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ideologically driven assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  This assassination is exceptional not only because, like that of Gedaliah, it is a rare instance of Jew on Jew violence but also because the assassination was so successful.   Along with Rabin a process of reconciliation was killed and arguably, Israel, driven by messianic ideologues has embarked on a go for broke strategy.

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For further reading on the catastrophic nature of the redemption see The Messianic Idea in Judaism by Gershom Sholem 1971 pp 10 -17. For further reading on the character assassination that preceded the actual assassination of Rabin and his comparison with Philippe Pétain Chief of State of Vichy France and the ultimate collaborator 1 see: Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal  and Akiva Eldar . And preorder: Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron

Subject of a future blog post: Forcing the Hand of God in Jewish Messianism and Martyrology in post Temple Judaism…

goin-broke-going-for-brok

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the next aliyah

parshat Hayei Sarah

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

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

וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אַבְרָהָם, לִפְנֵי, עַם הָאָרֶץ

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

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

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

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

AmHaaretz

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

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

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

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

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

Arik

 

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

AmHaaretz boylerin

 

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Isaac’s smile

Parshat Vayera

In a previous post Divine Birthers I, I explore the concept of miraculous birth and resurrection in Judaism.  It’s ironic that such a heavy discussion is raised by the birth and life of a guy named Isaac … יִצְחָק which literally means to laugh and in context, means to laugh at God.

And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’  And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?  Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.  Then Sarah denied, saying: ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And He said: ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh.’ Genesis 18: 12-16

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר:  אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם:  לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד–וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי

הֲיִפָּלֵא ה’, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן

וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ

 

And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him and Sarah said: ‘God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.’  Genesis 21: 6-7

וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה–צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים:  כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי

This past Rosh HaShanah, my Rabbi, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn asked why, Isaac, the “middle Father” of the three patriarchs was featured in the Torah readings of the High Holidays?  The first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael after the birth of Isaac:  Genesis 21: 9.   Ironically, Ishmael is banished by Sarah because he exhibits the same trait as Isaac… he’s a jokester….

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.

וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם–מְצַחֵק

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is admittedly not a laughing matter.

Even the Torah makes a connection between the Sacrifice of Isaac.. the Akeda and what lies before… the account of he Akeda begins with Genesis 22:1

And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’

 וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

Like any middle child, argued Wiederhorn, Isaac had a conflicted life and much to teach us…. ergo we read both of these troubling stories that revolve around him on the high holy days.

What connects Isaac and his jokester brother Ishmael is how these two brothers came to reconcile with each other, and forgive their father.

According to the the Talmudic sage Raba in Baba Batra 16b  quoted by Wiederhorn, these two feuding brothers reunited at their father’s funeral and shiva.

Ishmael repented in the lifetime of his father. [We know this] because it says, And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him. (Genesis 25: 9) But perhaps the text arranges them in the order of their wisdom? — If that were so, then why in the verse, And Esau and Jacob his sons buried him (Genesis 35: 29) are they not arranged in the order of their wisdom? What we have to say is that the fact of the text placing Isaac first shows that Ishmael made way (‘made him lead’)  for him, and from the fact that he made way for him we infer that he repented in Abraham’s lifetime. [1]

According to a conversation imagined by Rabbi Wiederhorn…. Ishmael was bitter and complained to Isaac that that their father had cruelly rejected and exiled him…. said Isaac “Dad rejected you… but he tried to kill me!”.  It was this humor shared by these two victims of exile and persecution that brought them together.

But there’s more joking going on in this narrative.  When in Genesis 26: 8 the Abimelech, king of the Philistines catches Isaac “sporting” with his wife Rebecca, many commentaries provide sexual innuendo…

And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

I must say, I have always loved the Torah’s humor in “Isaac was sporting” “Yitchak Mitzahek”  יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק  but Wiederhorn makes the point that not only does the author of the Torah make us smile with this word play… but maybe, just maybe it was not gratuitous sex that was part of this screenplay …  maybe for once we should take the text literally and Isaac was making his wife smile in a way that only one who is intimately connected can.  Isaac, true to his name, used humor, charm and a gratuitous smile to navigate through the trials and tribulations of life.  that was what Isaac was doing too…. making Rebeca smile in a way that showed the closeness of the relationship.

According to Wiederhorn’s sometimes we need to look on the bright side of life…

Writing this post in Israel, after a difficult few weeks of conflict over the Temple Mount and terror attacks with cars mowing down innocent victims waiting for a light rail, the message of Isaac could never be more timely… we … all parties.. the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar, need to smile more and make each other smile more.  We share enough tragedy to smile in a way that only those sharing the same fate and suffering can.  If we can’t smile together, we may never get out of the rut we’re in.

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[1]

baba batra 16bWiederhorn was inspired by the commentary to Genesis 25:9 in the Etz Hayim Chumash: “Isaac and Ishmael are reunited at their father’s funeral, a sign that Ishmael changed his ways as he matured [BT BB 16b].  Although he could not have forgotten how his father had treated him and how his brother had supplanted him, he seems to have forgiven Abraham for having been a less-than-perfect father.  Isaac too seems to have come to terms with his father’s nearly killing him on Mount Moriah.

Might these reconciliations have occurred in Abraham’s lifetime and be the reason for the Torah’s describing him as “contented” in his old age (Gen. R. 38:12)? Can we see this as a model for family reconciliations, forgiving old hurts? And can it not be a model for the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find grounds for forgiveness and reconciliation?”

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