Tag Archives: Judaism

Why do Jewish women Rule?

Why and when did matrilineal descent become the norm within Judaism?

In this Mother’s Day episode of the Madlik Podcast we explore the emergence and stature of matrilineal descent within Judaism, an otherwise male dominated and patrilineal religion and legal society.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut we come to the surprising conclusion that the introduction of matrilineal descent might have more to do with removing any stigma attached to a captured and redeemed single-mother and less to do with the status of the child.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Featured Links:

Yael Deckelbaum / Prayer of the Mothers – Official video https://youtu.be/YyFM-pWdqrY

Three Part Series by Rabbi Ethan Tucker of Hadar Institute on

MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PARTS 1-3

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-1

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-2

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-3

Podcast Notes:

  1. Breaking News

As part of the historic handover of Japan’s imperial throne on Wednesday, the incoming emperor, Naruhito, will receive a sword, a jewel and official seals in a sacred ceremony that dates back thousands of years.

But the new empress, Masako, Naruhito’s wife of 26 years, will not be allowed to attend — another illustration of the diminished status of women in the imperial family, and of the challenges women face more broadly in Japanese society.

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the line of succession as well as most matters of protocol related to Japan’s monarchy, women in the royal family are not permitted to be in the room when the new emperor receives the sacred regalia signifying his rightful succession to the world’s oldest monarchy.

But the prohibitions go much further. Women are not allowed to reign. In fact, women born into the royal family must officially leave it once they marry, and none of their children can be in line to the throne.   NY Times April 29, 2019

  1. In the Torah

You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and the LORD’s anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.

Deuteronomy 7: 3- 4

וְלֹ֥א תִתְחַתֵּ֖ן בָּ֑ם בִּתְּךָ֙ לֹא־תִתֵּ֣ן לִבְנ֔וֹ וּבִתּ֖וֹ לֹא־תִקַּ֥ח לִבְנֶֽךָ
כִּֽי־יָסִ֤יר אֶת־בִּנְךָ֙ מֵֽאַחֲרַ֔י וְעָבְד֖וּ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֑ים וְחָרָ֤ה אַף־יְהוָה֙ בָּכֶ֔ם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ֖ מַהֵֽר

  1. In Tanach

Now then, let us make a covenant with our God to expel all these women and those who have been born to them, in accordance with the bidding of the Lord and of all who are concerned over the commandment of our God, and let the Teaching be obeyed.

Ezra 10: 3

וְעַתָּ֣ה נִֽכְרָת־בְּרִ֣ית לֵ֠א-לֹהֵינוּ לְהוֹצִ֨יא כָל־נָשִׁ֜ים וְהַנּוֹלָ֤ד מֵהֶם֙ בַּעֲצַ֣ת אֲדֹנָ֔י וְהַחֲרֵדִ֖ים בְּמִצְוַ֣ת אֱ-לֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְכַתּוֹרָ֖ה יֵעָשֶֽׂה

  1. In Rabbinic Judaism

Wherever there is [a valid] betrothal and no sin, the child follows the male [with regard to familial status].

Which is this? This is a Kohenet, a Levite woman, or an Israelite woman who married a Kohen, a Levite or an Israelite.

Wherever there is [a valid] betrothal and there is a sin, the child follows the defective one.

Which is this? This is a widow married to the Kohen Gadol [High Priest], a divorcee or a chalutzah [the widow of a childless man released from the obligation of levirate marriage by a ceremony performed by her brother-in-law] [married] to an ordinary Kohen, a mamzeret [the female offspring of certain prohibited relationships who may not marry into the general Jewish population] or a Netina [female Gibeonite] to an Israelite, a female Israelite to a mamzer or Netina.

[With] any [woman] for whom there is no betrothal to him, but there is betrothal to others, the child is a mamzer.

Which is this? This is one who has sexual intercourse with any one of the forbidden sexual relations [mentioned] in the Torah.

Any [woman] for whom there is no betrothal either to him or to others, the child is like her.

Which is this? This is the child of a [non-Jewish] maidservant or a non-Jewish woman.

Mishna Kiddushin 3: 12

כָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁיֵּשׁ קִדּוּשִׁין וְאֵין עֲבֵרָה, הַוָּלָד הוֹלֵךְ אַחַר הַזָּכָר

וְאֵיזֶה, זוֹ כֹהֶנֶת, לְוִיָּה וְיִשְׂרְאֵלִית שֶׁנִּשְּׂאוּ לְכֹהֵן וּלְלֵוִי וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל.

וְכָל מָקוֹם שֶׁיֵּשׁ קִדּוּשִׁין וְיֵשׁ עֲבֵרָה, הַוָּלָד הוֹלֵךְ אַחַר הַפָּגוּם.

וְאֵיזוֹ, זוֹ אַלְמָנָה לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל, גְּרוּשָׁה וַחֲלוּצָה לְכֹהֵן הֶדְיוֹט, מַמְזֶרֶת וּנְתִינָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַמְזֵר וּלְנָתִין.

וְכָל מִי שֶׁאֵין לָהּ עָלָיו קִדּוּשִׁין אֲבָל יֶשׁ לָהּ עַל אֲחֵרִים קִדּוּשִׁין, הַוָּלָד מַמְזֵר.

וְאֵיזֶה, זֶה הַבָּא עַל אַחַת מִכָּל הָעֲרָיוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה.

וְכָל מִי שֶׁאֵין לָהּ לֹא עָלָיו וְלֹא עַל אֲחֵרִים קִדּוּשִׁין, הַוָּלָד כְּמוֹתָהּ.

וְאֵיזֶה, זֶה וְלַד שִׁפְחָה וְנָכְרִית

  1. Rabbinic Judaism (more) 
  2. Aha Sar Ha­Birah and R. Tanhum bdR Hiyya from K’far Akko redeemed captive women… one of whom had been impregnated by a Gentile. They came to R. Ami, who said to them: R. Yohanan, R. Elazar, R. Hanina all say: When a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is a mamzer. Said R. Yosef: Is it a great trick to mention many names? Rav and Shmuel in Bavel, and R. Yehoshua b. Levi and Bar Kappara in Eretz Yisrael… all say that when a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is kasher! … When a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is a mamzer. R. Yehoshua b. Levi says the child is mekulkal. Abaye said to him: Why do you rely on R. Dimi [to establish that Rabbi [Yehudah Ha­Nasi]’s position was that the child is a mamzer], rely on Rabin! For when Rabin came, he said: R. Natan and R. Yehudah Ha­Nasi rule permissively… Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 44b­-45b[i]

רבי אחא שר הבירה ור’ תנחום בריה דרבי חייא איש כפר עכו פרוק הנהו שבוייתא דאתו מארמון לטבריא הוה חדא דאעברא מעובד כוכבים ואתו לקמיה דר’ אמי אמר להו ר’ יוחנן ור’ אלעזר ור’ חנינא דאמרי עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד ממזר

אמר רב יוסף רבותא למחשב גברי הא רב ושמואל בבבל ורבי יהושע בן לוי ובר קפרא בארץ ישראל ואמרי לה חלופי בר קפרא ועיילי זקני דרום דאמרי עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד כשר

אלא אמר רב יוסף רבי היא דכי אתא רב דימי אמר רבי יצחק בר אבודימי משום רבינו אמרו עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד ממזר

רבי יהושע בן לוי אומר הולד מקולקל למאן אילימא לקהל הא אמר רבי יהושע הולד כשר אלא לכהונה דכולהו אמוראי דמכשרי מודו שהולד פגום לכהונה

מק”ו מאלמנה מה אלמנה לכהן גדול שאין איסורה שוה בכל בנה פגום זו שאיסורה שוה בכל אינו דין שבנה פגום

מה לאלמנה לכהן גדול שכן היא עצמה מתחללת הכא נמי כיון שנבעלה פסלה

דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון מנין לעובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על הכהנת ועל הלויה ועל הישראלית שפסלוה שנאמר (ויקרא כב, יג) ובת כהן כי תהיה אלמנה וגרושה מי שיש לו אלמנות וגירושין בה יצאו עובד כוכבים ועבד שאין להם אלמנות וגירושין בה

אמר ליה אביי מאי חזית דסמכת אדרב דימי סמוך אדרבין דכי אתא רבין אמר רבי נתן ורבי יהודה הנשיא מורים בה להיתירא ומאן רבי יהודה הנשיא רבי

6.   Reform Responsa

The concept of paternity as the determining factor in progeny being considered as having Jewish descent is a constant in the Hebrew Bible, as the authors of the Report elaborated: “both the Biblical and the Rabbinical traditions take for granted that ordinarily the paternal line is decisive in the tracing of descent within the Jewish people.” Numerous examples in the Hebrew Bible determine a child’s status by the father’s tribe. The Report further asserts, “in the Rabbinic tradition, this tradition remains in force,” citing as prooftexts examples of Priestly status–“the child of an Israelite who marries a Kohenet is an Israelite” and the Talmudic precept, “the most important parental responsibility to teach Torah rested with the father (Kiddushin 29a; df. Shulchan Aruch, Yoredeah 245.1).” Only in the case where “the marriage was considered not to be licit, the child of that marriage followed the status of the mother (Mishna Kiddushin 3.12, havalad kemotah).” The Report offers a sociological interpretation of the reason for matrilineal descent in illicit unions: “the woman with her child had no recourse but to return to her own people.[ii]

  1. In Contemporary Israel – The Problem

Lev Paschov, an Israeli soldier who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return from the Former Soviet Union, was killed while on active duty in Southern Lebanon in 1993, and buried twice. He was first interred in a regular Israeli military cemetery, but after it was discovered that his mother was not Jewish, his body was exhumed, and Paschov was buried a second time, in a cemetery for non-Jews.

For many Israelis, the macabre end of Paschov’s brief life journey was deeply disturbing. How was it possible that someone could be welcomed to Israel under the Law of Return, serve the Jewish state’s army, and die defending his adopted homeland, and still not be considered Jewish enough to be buried alongside his comrades?[iii]

  1. Return to Patrilineal descent in Israel

Responsa of Rabbi  Ben­Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the chief rabbi of Israel in the 1940s and 1950

…From here we learn,that a patrilineal Jew brought by his father for a conversion should be accepted by the beit din. Even though this child is called the child of the Gentile woman, he is still considered zera yisrael (of Jewish stock)… everyone agrees that children of a Jewish man born to a Gentile woman are called zera yisrael, therefore, when the father brings him to convert, the child reverts to his original lineage. Responsa Piskei Uzziel Be­She’eilot Hazeman #64[iv]

 

…מכאן אנו לומדים במכל שכן כשגוי זה הוא בן ישראל מנכרית ואביו מביאו להתגייר שבי”ד נזקקים לגרותו משום דאע”ג שהוא נקרא בנה של הנכרית אינו יוצא מכלל זרע ישראל… הלכך כשאביו הביאו להתגייר חוזר הילד לעיקר זרעו, … הא למדת דבן הבא מן הנכרית נקרא זרעו של ישראל ועובר עליו משום ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר למולך, הלכך אם בא לגיירו מצוה עלינו להזדקק לגרותו כדי לכפר עון האב מאחרי הגרות ולבל ידח ממנו נדח. ואין לחוש שמא יגרר אחרי אמו דאדרבא אם דוחים אותו ועוקרים אותו ממקור חייו וזרעו שהוא אביו ודאי שיטמע בין הגויים ויכפור באלהי ישראל, וישנא תכלית שנאה את היהדות ותורתה…

 

  1. Feminist Response – Irony

I hope it is not impertinent, for someone writing thousands of miles distant from the great country in which the women’s liberation movement has made such rapid strides, to express astonishment that the clamor to change an ancient law which makes Jewish status depend on the mother should have originated in that very country.

There is no problem of Descent, Lous Jacobs[v]

10. Feminist Response – The Jewish Community’s “Need” to Punish Men Who Intermarry

Judith Hauptmann, a Talmud scholar widely known for her work in advancing feminist scholarship of Judaism … proceeds to argue that the modern Jewish community should not rescind matrilineal descent because doing so would have the effect of removing a punishment against Jewish men who intermarry.[vi]

  1. Matrilineal descent Redux

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh  Genesis 2: 24

 

עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃

Rashi  ONE FLESH — Both parents are united in the child.

לבשר אחד. הַוָּלָד נוֹצָר עַל יְדֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם וְשָׁם נַעֲשֶׁה בְשָׂרָם אֶחָד

 

Genesis 17: 21

וְאֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י אָקִ֣ים אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק אֲשֶׁר֩ תֵּלֵ֨ד לְךָ֤ שָׂרָה֙ לַמּוֹעֵ֣ד הַזֶּ֔ה בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הָאַחֶֽרֶת׃

But My covenant I will maintain with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”

A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman[vii]. Exodus 2: 1

וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִ֖ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־בַּת־לֵוִֽי

[i] MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PART 1 Rabbi Ethan Tucker

[ii] 1 “Reform Movement’s Resolution on Patrilineal Descent,” Report of the Committee on Patrilineal Descent, adopted on March 15, 1983. Can be accessed at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/source/Judaism/patrilineal1.html

[iii] WHAT, NOT WHO, IS A JEW? Daniel Gordis March 1, 2011

[iv] MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PART 2, Rabbi Ethan Tucker

See also: https://books.google.com/books?id=MlImAQAAIAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=Irregular+marriages

[v] Originally published in Judaism 34.1 (Winter 1985), 55-59.

[vi] Patrilineal Descent–an Examination of Non-Lineal Descent.” Judaism, Winter 1985, pp. 46-50.

[vii] Laws regarding a Bat Levi as relates to the redemption of the first born son: If the father is a kohen or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch 305:18).

If a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas levi, there is also no mitzvah of pidyon haben since his mother is the daughter of a levi. However, if a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas kohen, a pidyon haben is performed. Since the daughter of the kohen has violated her kedusha by having relations with a gentile, she loses her hallachic status as a bas kohen (Shulchan Aruch 305:18). Similarly, if a bas yisroel has a child with a non-Jew, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that in this scenario it is difficult to ascertain who is obligated to perform the pidyon haben. The father, who is not Jewish, is obviously not obligated to perform this or any mitzvah. The mother is exempt as well, as this mitzvah is never the obligation of the mother (as we shall explain). Rather, in this case the child should perform his own pidyon when he reached the age of thirteen. Other poskim disagree and feel that the beis din should perform the pidyon right away- see Igros Moshe Y.D. 195 and Sheilas Yeshurun page 140.

 

The mishna taught that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur.

However, what is the special joy of the fifteenth of Av? Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: This was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe, by intermarriage. It was initially prohibited to intermarry between tribes, so as to keep each plot of land within the portion of the tribe that originally inherited it. This halakha was instituted by the Torah in the wake of a complaint by the relatives of the daughters of Zelophehad, who were worried that if these women married men from other tribes, the inheritance of Zelophehad would be lost from his tribe (see Numbers 36:1–12).

What did they expound, in support of their conclusion that this halakha was no longer in effect? The verse states: “This is the matter that the Lord has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: Let them marry whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry” (Numbers 36:5). They derived from the verse that this matter shall be practiced only in this generation, when Eretz Yisrael was divided among the tribes, but afterward members of different tribes were permitted to marry. On the day this barrier separating the tribes was removed, the Sages established a permanent day of rejoicing.

 

א”ר שמעון ב”ג לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמשה עשר באב וכיוה”כ: בשלמא יום הכפורים משום דאית ביה סליחה ומחילה יום שניתנו בו לוחות האחרונות

אלא ט”ו באב מאי היא אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל יום שהותרו שבטים לבוא זה בזה

מאי דרוש (במדבר לו, ו) זה הדבר אשר צוה ה’ לבנות צלפחד וגו’ דבר זה לא יהא נוהג אלא בדור זה

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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.

——————————–

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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The Choice Challenge

Every week I am reading Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah and in his second essay on parshat Va-’era’ Held once again demonstrates the depth of his scholarship and the breadth of his reading.  In discussing the age-old question of how the biblical God could harden Pharaoh’s heart yet maintain Judaism’s belief in our God-given right to freedom Held makes a suggestion.

Held suggests that freedom is not so much:

… a fact, but it is also—and perhaps primarily—an aspiration. Real freedom requires, R. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) writes, “a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility by man without even a moment’s inattentiveness.” [Soleveitchik, On Repentance p. 143] Mindfulness and constant, exquisite attention are necessary for freedom to flourish. Freedom needs to be nurtured and attended to, not taken for granted.

R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914–2005) adds that “freedom is not at all part of humanity’s daily spiritual bread. It is, rather, one of the noble virtues which one must labor to attain. It is not lesser than love, and fear, and cleaving to God, acquiring which clearly demands great effort. We can acquire freedom, and therefore we must acquire it.” [Wolbe, Alei Shur p 155]

Freedom is, in other words, a spiritual project. In order to thrive, it must be brought into awareness (Soloveitchik) and actively cultivated (Wolbe). Then, and only then, can we soften our hearts. Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Joseph Soloveitchik is widely known, especially within the modern-orthodox world as the head of Yeshiva University and scion of a famous Lithuanian Rabbinic Dynasty, but R. Shlomo Wolbe is hardly known outside of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) world which he joined at the tender age of 19.  Wolbe transferred from the University of Berlin and ended up at the Meir Yeshiva in Poland. Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 was considered the last of the great mussarniks, he was also my rebbe during the two years I studied at Yeshivat Beer Yaakov where he was the mashgiach ruchni (spiritual guide).

Rabbi Wolbe lectured and wrote extensively primarily for the “yeshiva world” on subjects such as a progressive approach to education for children and adolescents and intense introspection for adults. But there was one singular point of departure that ran through all of Wolbe’s teachings. Never take the easy road.

If he saw a yeshiva bachur (student) who had previously concealed his tzitzit, wearing them exposed, or a previously clean-shaven student, sporting a pious beard, he would call the student over and ask: “What happened to you… did you become a tzadik (saint)?” For Wolbe there were no shortcuts to piety, certainly not by a superficial change in outward appearance. The higher level of spiritual consciousness of the mussarnik could only be reached by the hard work of the heart (hovot halevavot) and the sweat of the soul.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once asked a pupil: “Did you ever say the Shema Yisrael?” “Of course!”, said the student. “Did you say it with kavana (intention and attention)?” The pupil replied, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.” Said Rabbi Wolbe, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you follow the teaching of the sages and accept the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven?” “Of course” answered the exasperated student. “And did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?” “Chas v’shalom,” replied the pupil, “God forbid, of course not… never.” “Then you have never said the Shema” replied the Rabbi. [This is how I remember the story… for a more toned-down version see a Nice Patch of Grass by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair]

Such an unvarnished challenge to religious caution and timidity lies at the heart of Rabbi Wolbe’s concept of choice insightfully cited by Rabbi Held.

But the few pages allocated to his weekly essay  does not permit Held to expand on the depth of Wolbe’s challenge and his explicit critique of his coreligionists.

I have posted the complete text below from Wolbe’s book Alei Shur, and you can follow the Hebrew text and listen to Rabbi Yoram Bogacz read and translate here (start at minute 10:38) with a great South African accent!

Permit me to provide a further excerpt.

Wolbe writes:

“It is possible that an individual can live out his days and never make a choice! Imagine a person with a pleasant disposition, who has not moved from the upbringing that he received at his parents home, he fulfills the commandments … as he was taught, his predispositions strengthen him in his [rote] behavior (he is considered a tzadik – righteous person) and no trials occur [to shake him up]. Amazingly, he could live out his days, with  good name and without him having actually chosen a path through independent intellectual review!”

Wolbe continues:

“Its an extreme example, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is on rare occasion that we make choices in our lives.  “Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given” [Ethics of the Fathers 3:15] but in truth we are governed by our natural disposition, our education, habits and biases both in terms of the fateful decisions in life and also the small day-to-day decisions… and where is the choice?” ואיה הבחירה

Between Rav Wolbe and Rav Held, we are fortunate to have teachers who challenge us to choose… and now the choice to choose is all ours!


ale shor 3

aleih shor 2

aleih shor 1

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Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

Jerusalem is and will always be the capital of Israel – my thoughts.

I despise the concept of Intersectionality, which at its core holds that if you believe in one thing you must believe in another. For example: If you object to the discrimination of people based on sexual preference and you support LGBT rights then you must also support the delegitimization of all Israelis as oppressors and colonialists… and support BDS.

As a student of the history of ideas, nothing could be more regressive and repressive than suggesting that if you hold one truth, you must hold another. Innovation occurs not only when new ideas are conceived but also when existing ideas are combined in novel ways. I love nothing more than when women’s rights groups include both pro choice and pro life feminists. I dream of the day when fundamentalists embrace environmentalism and global warming because, after-all, God created the world and left us humans as custodians.

Which brings me to Jerusalem, the de facto and historical capital of Israel.

Here is something that both those Jews and Israelis on the right and on the left can and should agree upon. We should savor such opportunities.

Those of us on the left (I am guilty as charged) should welcome the opportunity to join all informed Jews and Israelis in acknowledging the historical and unbroken ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem as our capital. As in… Next Year in rebuilt Jerusalem… ירושלים הבנויה (not necessarily… greater Jerusalem).

The fact that Trump has spoken this truth is actually a blessing in disguise since it sugar-coats this truth to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the most light-handed way possible. Trump is not known for speaking the truth, so when he does speak the truth (even a broken clock is right twice a day) it is arguably easier to swallow.

We in the West, on the left and the Palestinian leadership do our Palestinian brothers and sisters no favor by reinforcing an unattainable belief that a united Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian State.

West Jerusalem was liberated by the Jewish State of Israel in the 1948 war initiated by the surrounding Arab States and supported by the indigenous Arab population (aka the Palestinians), and is not up for negotiation as long as the State of Israel exists.

There are other truths that we (Jews and Israelis on both the right and left) can and should embrace.

Notwithstanding the proclamations of another institution which has a problem with the truth (UNESCO), the Temple Mount was first and foremost…. the Ancient Hebrew’s Temple Mount. The fact that from time immemorial conquest of a foreign nation entailed the conquerer erecting their Temple on the ruins of the vanquished’ temple erases historical truth no more than does the piss of a dog marking territory previously inhabited by a prior canine.

The Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, and other historical facts are not negotiable. As far as I am concerned the Muslims are welcome to keep their mosque on the Temple Mount and maintain the status quo as long as they respect and protect the right of all religions to pray there (which, regrettably, they don’t.. another un-truth).

So does truth-telling destroy the non-existent peace process? Or should we ask whether treating our Palestinian brothers and sisters as children who cannot handle the truth destroys any chance for compromise and realism?

Does truth-telling undermine the honest-broker status of the West? Or should we ask whether propping up a Palestinian leadership which profits from and feeds it’s people ahistorical and unattainable untruths promotes conflict resolution?

I can say and ask all of the above and still believe in a Two-State Solution and mourn the injustice (as in אי צדק) of the Occupation. So much for Intersectionality…..

[Sorry for the picture, but it got your attention.]

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kosher sex and jacob’s heel

parshat toldot

“Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.” famously quipped Haim Nachman Bialik.

I would love to see this quote as Bialik as published or documented verbatim and in the original Hebrew. I’m suspicious that what I find attributed to Bialik as it may just be a translation or paraphrase:

תרגום דומה לנשיקה מבעד לצעיף

I’m sure that reading Bialik in translation is a similarly less-than sensual experience.  Did he say bride or girl, did he mean just a kiss or was he suggesting something more intimate and finally was it a veil or the proverbial sheet?  In any case, I do agree with Bialik that learning Torah can be like sex and in this regard it should not be practiced safely with an interfering translation… it should be done … in the original Hebrew.

While we’re on the subject of kosher sex, let’s consider one of the best examples of lost-in-translation in the Bible.

Genesis 26 sets the stage wherein Isaac fibs about his wife and tells Abimelech that Rebecca is his sister.

8 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.

The Hebrew word that the text uses for “sporting” is metzahek which comes from the same Hebrew root as does Isaac’s name: listen: “Yitzhak metzahek”.  It is clear that the biblical writer, along with Isaac, was having some fun here. This is the only place[i] in the Bible that metzahek is used to imply sexual activity…. Unless, of course, we now re-read the texts associated with the original association of Yitzhak’s name with the laughter of Sarah and Abraham ….. and realize that his parents laughed at the thought of procreating a child…. (see Gen 17:17, 18:12,13 and 15 and 21:6).  So maybe Yitzchak’s “sporting” makes us realize that there was always sexual innuendo in the glee, gaiety, and amazement with a-touch-of-self-mockery that his parents, he and maybe we feel at the joy of sex. Hey.. It’s not me… it’s the Hebrew talking.

The modern day scholar who focuses most closely on the original Hebrew sounds of the biblical text is Everett Fox, who has written a translation of the Torah following on the heels of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig.  Fox takes the Bible, if not as an oral document, certainly as an aural one.  Fox believes that using echoes, allusions, and powerful inner structures of sound, the text of the Bible is often able to convey ideas in a manner that vocabulary alone cannot do.  Fox argues that virtually every major (usually male) character in Genesis has his name explained by a play on words many time hinting at an eventual fate or character trait.

Let’s listen to the story of Jacob in Genesis 25:26

26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them.

וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן יָצָא אָחִיו, וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו, וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, יַעֲקֹב; וְיִצְחָק בֶּן-שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, בְּלֶדֶת אֹתָם

The association of Jacob – Yaakov with a heel is strange.  Jacob is not the only mythical hero with a famous heel, but in Achilles case, he was the owner of the heel.  Jacob’s relationship with his brother’s heel is vicarious.  If the biblical author, let alone his parents, want to be flattering, they do a lousy job.   Jacob is to be known, at best, as a “hanger on”. Fox’s translation: “Heel-Holder”

Even if we choose to think of Jacob as a bootstrapper, we can’t forget that he pulls himself up by a bootstrap attached to his brothers heal.  And let’s not forget that Esau’s heal, like Achilles, is his most vulnerable body part. Metaphorically, the heel[ii] is the exposed rear of an army (see Joshua 8:13 and Genesis 49:19).  When God curses the snake for tempting Eve, it is on the snake’s metaphorical heel that man shall forever stamp (Genesis 3:15).  Attacking an enemy’s heel is an insult to both the attacker and the victim.

Our unflattering association is echoed by Esau himself latter in the story.  After Jacob steals the birthright, Esau taunts (Genesis 27:36):

And he said: ‘Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.’ And he said: ‘Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?’

וַיֹּאמֶר הֲכִי קָרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב, וַיַּעְקְבֵנִי זֶה פַעֲמַיִם–אֶת-בְּכֹרָתִי לָקָח, וְהִנֵּה עַתָּה לָקַח בִּרְכָתִי; וַיֹּאמַר, הֲלֹא-אָצַלְתָּ לִּי בְּרָכָה.

Here Ekev-heel is used in the sense of “to throw one down, to trip one up, to supplant, to circumvent, to defraud.[iii]  Fox’s translation: “Heel-Sneak”. Check out Jeremiah 9:3

Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother acteth subtly, and every neighbour goeth about with slanders.

אִישׁ מֵרֵעֵהוּ הִשָּׁמֵרוּ, וְעַל-כָּל-אָח אַל-תִּבְטָחוּ:  כִּי כָל-אָח עָקוֹב יַעְקֹב, וְכָל-רֵעַ רָכִיל יַהֲלֹךְ

Jeremiah is pulling no punches, he uses “ekov Yaakov” the “heel of Jacob” as a synonym for acting subtly.

What kind of parents would the biblical author have Isaac and Rebecca be?  Who gives a child such a name?

Clearly, Jacob is in need of a name change… and in fact, this is what happens after he wrestles with the Angel at the River Jabbok (literally: wrestling river).

There is nothing flattering that one can say about Yaakov’s name.  His name can only portend a change.  A change from a swindler, a scrapper, a kniver… someone who by choice or circumstance is forced to steal his blessings and eke out a living and a life.  Yaakov is the outsider, the Ghetto Jew, but his name portends another name, where he crosses the river into his homeland and can stand on his own feet and pull himself up from his own bootstraps … attached to his own heel.  This is what hopefully lies ahead for him in his future name and this is what presumably is up for grabs in the blessing that he steals.

So far in the text, you don’t have to listen to the Hebrew words of the text, you can look the words up in a dictionary or Biblical Lexicon… but when it comes to the patrimony and blessing that Jacob coveted… you have to listen: (Genesis 26: 3-5)

3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father;

4 and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these lands; and by thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves;

5 because that Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.’

גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, וְאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ וַאֲבָרְכֶךָּ:  כִּי-לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, אֶתֵּן אֶת-כָּל-הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל, וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-הַשְּׁבֻעָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ.

וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנָתַתִּי לְזַרְעֲךָ, אֵת כָּל-הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל; וְהִתְבָּרְכוּ בְזַרְעֲךָ, כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ.

עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי.

The word translated as “because” is our old friend “ekev”[iv]. Used in this fairly rare sense, it has the sense of “as a consequence, a gain, a reward, end”.  It is that which results from a long, tedious, painful, tortuous and circuitous journey. A pilgrimage full of blisters and maybe a touch of plantar fasciitis.  Esau, might have been, like Achilles, the golden boy and favorite son and Yaakov, the parasite, but Yaakov struggled with what little he had.  Esau may have been well heeled, but Yaakov had the fortitude and faith in a God of history to grab steadfastly for a better future[v].  He deserved the blessing… it had his name on it.

Listening to the lyricism of the words in the original Hebrew and opening our ears to the playful and suggestive way the writer weaves one word; ekev into the narrative, we can do what Fox[vi] suggests we do; move explanation and commentary from the footnotes, back to the body of the text and in so doing.. we can finally… kiss the bride.


[i] See Strongs Biblical lexicon tsachaq H6711

Lexicon :: Strong's H6711 - tsachaq

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6711 – tsachaq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ii] See Strongs Biblical lexicon aqeb H6119

Lexicon :: Strong's H6119 - `aqeb

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6119 – `aqeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[iii] See Stongs Biblical Lexicon aqab  H6117

Lexicon :: Strong's H6117 - `aqab

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6117 – `aqab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[iv] See Strongs Biblical Lexicon 86118

Lexicon :: Strong's H6118 - `eqeb

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6118 – `eqeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[v] It is no surprise that this last sense of Ekev, came to represent the promise of the future and messianic times.  The bad times and trial preceding the coming of the messiah were referred to as the “footsteps [heel steps] of the messiah”  Sotah 49a-b
R. ELIEZER THE GREAT SAYS: FROM THE DAY THE TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED, …. THERE WAS NONE TO ASK, NONE TO INQUIRE. UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE MESSIAH   עקבות המשיח  INSOLENCE WILL INCREASE AND HONOUR DWINDLE;  …  THE GOVERNMENT WILL TURN TO HERESY  AND THERE WILL BE NONE [TO OFFER THEM] REPROOF; THE MEETING-PLACE [OF SCHOLARS] WILL BE USED FOR IMMORALITY; …. THE WISDOM OF THE LEARNED6  WILL DEGENERATE, FEARERS OF SIN WILL BE DESPISED, AND THE TRUTH WILL BE LACKING; YOUTHS WILL PUT OLD MEN TO SHAME, THE OLD WILL STAND UP IN THE PRESENCE OF THE YOUNG, A SON WILL REVILE HIS FATHER, A DAUGHTER WILL RISE AGAINST HER MOTHER, A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, AND A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD;  THE FACE OF THE GENERATION WILL BE LIKE THE FACE OF A DOG,  A SON WILL NOT FEEL ASHAMED BEFORE HIS FATHER. SO UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.

[vi] Although I must admit that Fox does not pick up on the ekev of the blessing, possibly because it does not appear directly in the blessing, but in the patrimony preceding and in the narrative.  I would argue that it is nonetheless intentionally placed in the literary piece.

achilles

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Solar Power and the Jews

As the new “non-Jewish” New Year approaches, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to explore the bias we Jews have developed against the Sun and Solar Time.

It all starts with the Midrash explaining the relative size of the moon visa vi the Sun:

R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says, And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues, The greater light…and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, “Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown?” He answered, “Go then and make thyself smaller”. “Sovereign of the Universe!” cried the moon, “because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller?” He replied, “Go, and thou wilt rule by day and by night.” “But what is the value of this?” cried the moon. “Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight?” He replied. “Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years.” “But it is impossible,” said the moon, “to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written, And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years.” “Go.The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small.” Talmud, Hulin 60b. and for more detailed treatment see http://www.js.emory.edu/BLUMENTHAL/moonmidrash.html#1

So size does matter… and we Jews, the eternal underdogs.. the start-up nation.. the David versus their Goliath.. are to be compared to the moon. Not only is the moon smaller then the Sun, but it is also more dynamic… it waxes and wanes. You can never count the moon out. Like the remnant of Israel (sharit yis- rael Micha 2:12), the light of the moon may disappear, but it will surely be reborn (molad).

Here is the blessing that Jews say once a (lunar) month on the first appearence of the first sliver of the moon.. Birkat (kiddush) HaLavana: 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who created the heavens by Your command and their entire host by Your mere word. You have subjected them to fixed laws and time, that they not deviate from their set function. They are glad and happy to do the will of their Creator, the true Author, whose achievement is truth. He ordered the moon to renew itself as a glorious crown for those he sustained from birth, likewise will they be renewed in the future, and worship their Creator for His glorious majesty. Blessed are You, Lord, who renews the months.

Blessed is your Maker; blessed is He who formed you; blessed is your Creator; blessed is your Master. Just as I leap toward you but cannot touch you, so may all my enemies be unable to touch me harmfully. May there fall upon them terror and dread; by the great [strength] of Your arm let them be still as a stone. As a stone let them be still by Your arm’s great [strength]; may dread and terror upon them fall.

Say three times:

דוד David, King of Israel, is living and enduring.

The following greeting is exchanged three times:

שלום Peace unto y O U . The other responds: Unto you peace.

Say the following line three times:

סמן May there be a good omen and good mazal for us and for all Israel. Amen.


Notice how the first part of the blessing refers to the “heavens” (sun and stars) as unchanging, immutable and “them” .. while the second part of the blessing references …. in a much more personal and warm manner, the renewal of the moon (who is, afterall the subject of the blessing) and the special relationship with the people governed by the rule of the moon “those he sustained from birth”.. the Jews.  Notice also the emphasis on the protection of the vulnerable Jews from their enemies “them” and the reference to David (sic the small)…

But enough with lunar power and the Jews (aka the Lunacy of Hope).. what about the sun and the 365 day static year it represents and whose new year we are about to celebrate.

Remember this one about the significance of 613 (Tarya’g) commandments? “There are 365 negative commandments, corresponding to the number of days in a solar year and 248 positive commandments, ascribed to the number of bones and significant organs in the human body” Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a

What’s up with that? All of a sudden our Rabbis are referencing the solar 365 day year? Well fortunately, this past April 8, 2009 we had a once in 28 year opportunity to go to the top of our roof and bless the sun (Birchat HaChama).

Here’s a few excerpts from that blessing:

For HASHEM God is a Sun and a shield; HASHEM bestows grace and honor, He does not withhold good from them that walk uprightly.

PSALMS 72: 5 יִ They shall fear You so long as the Sun and the moon endure, throughout all generations.

PSALMS 75: 2 ה We have acknowledged You, HASHEM, we have acknowledged, and Your name is near; they tell of Your wondrous works.

MALACHI 3: 20 וְ But unto you who fear My name the Sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings; and you shall go forth and be fattened as calves in the stable.

PSALMS 97: 6 ה The heavens declared His righteousness; and all the peoples saw His glory.

For the full text go to: http://www.kehillaton.com/en/docs/birkat_hachama.pdf

Clearly the Sun and the Stars are compared to God and the unforgiving laws of nature/creation. This is God as Judge and once in 28 years sounds about right to me! For we Jews, built from the Crooked Timber of Humanity (Isaiah Berlin)… I’ll follow the moon!

Which brings this little rant to a close.. with a parting shot at the worst manifestation of solar power… namely the sign of the Zodiac (Hebrew – Mazal-Mazalot plural). My opinion of the Zodiac and Horoscopes (and fate and destiny.. for that matter) is pretty straightforward… it’s not for us!  Or as Rabbi Yochanan says, “The stars do not influence Israel.’ Ein Mazal LIsrael there are other opinions..(Shabat 155b-156a)  but it’s my blog…

So… to summarize… we Jews are like the Moon, we wax and wane, bob and weave… just when you think we’re going to disappear.. we are reborn. We depend on the merciful God to sustain us (The God of rightiousness and judgement… not so much) . We’re made of blood and bones and we like to think positive. Yes, there are immutable rules and cycles and even a bunch of negative commandments (“you can’t do that!”).. and yes.. there is a God of Justice too… and we could even sneak a peak at our Horoscope.. but for the most part we like JFK say: ‘Other people, ‘see things and say: why – but I dream things that never were and say: why not.’ http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Quotations+of+Robert+F.+Kennedy.htm

Shana Hama Tova and Mazalot Tovot!


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