Sedarim

Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:33 pm
richardf8: (Eating)
First Night:

Friend S. Hosted. Wife M. Led. 16 People.

It's official: we've outgrown The Concise Family Seder. The term "Concision" was coined for the property of which this haggadah contained excessive amounts. The youngest, W., complained that the brief was too brief, which was very heartening. Our institutions are doing well by our youth, creating a generation that is more engaged than the parents. The maggid was considered too brief, and a factual error was observed in this haggadah's assertion that Abraham met Sarah in Canaan. It served us well for 5 years, but it's time to move on. The layered Kugel I made was a hit. It comprised a layer of yam kugel, a layer of spinach kugel, and another layer of yam kugel.

Second Night:

I hosted. I led. 8 People.

Friend J. lent us a bunch of the Baskin Haggaddah. Slightly different crowd from first night, so lots of different energy in the room. I was leading this one, and we had enough in the way of students of Hebrew and native Israelis at the table to be able to look at some of the differences between the Hebrew and the English, which was fun. Then R., the 14 year old who had not been around on Monday, raised all kinds of thorny issues around chosenness, and how can we reconcile the plagues and drowning of the Egyptians with the merciful God we Liberal Jews like to believe in. So midrash was shared, various personal theories explored, a discussion of the balance between mercy and justice and she was, of course, assured that this is one of the questions that never stops being asked. The Baskin Haggadah served us well, except for missing the handwashing. Food was my low-effort lamb-packets. There was lamb from the meaty, broiled shankbone in our Hillel sandwiches, because Reform Judaism does not long for a return to temple service. B. and A. brought a marvelous Potato thingy, L. some steamed veg, J. supplied Matza ball soup and I supplied some vegetarian borscht.


Lamb Packets, per serving:

2 Lamb Loin chops (a nice lean cut)
6 Stalks of asparagus
1/2 tsp of Astringent (Lemon juice most years, but this year it was Balsamic Vinegar)
a few aromatic sprigs (I usually use lavender, but I could see rosemary working well.

Stack it all on foil, seal it, and put it in a 250 degree oven about an hour before the Seder starts, and then don't spare it another thought until you're ready to eat. The beauty of this food prep method is that it will wait for you.

X-Posted to http://reformbaaltshuvah.blogspot.com
richardf8: (Default)
הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהִים
Slack off, and know that I am God (Psalms 46:11)

וַיֹּאמֶר נִרְפִּים אַתֶּם נִרְפִּים עַל־כֵּן אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים נֵלְכָה נִזְבְּחָה לַיהוָֹה
And he said "Slacking! You've been slacking, therefore you say 'Let us go offer to Adonai.'" (Exodus 5:17)

וּמֹשֶׁה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת־צֹאן יִתְרוֹ חֹתְנוֹ כֹּהֵן מִדְיָן וַיִּנְהַג אֶת־הַצֹּאן אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר וַיָּבֹא אֶל־הַר הָאֱלֹהִים חֹרֵבָה: ב וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל: ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אָסֻרָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת־הַמַּרְאֶה הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה מַדּוּעַ לֹא־יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

And Moses was shepherding the flock of Yitro, his father in law - the priest of Midian and he had driven the flock beyond the wilderness and he came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. And the angel of Adonai appeared to him in the heart of the fire from within the bush, and he looked and behold, the bush burned in the flame and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said "let me turn away and I will look at this great sight - why won't the bush burn up?" (Exodus 3:1-3)


Moses doesn't just notice the burning bush - anyone could notice the burning bush - he stops and turns away from his task to look at the bush. He is curious, and outside of Egypt, away from the pressures of the court and the hurry of urban life he stops just to check out something cool. And from the freedom to stop and look comes a relationship with God. Freedom is the key to this - had a Hebrew slave in an Egyptian chain-gang hauling bricks to the builders seen this, he may have indeed been every bit as curious as Moses was. But he would not have been able to relent, to turn away, to "slack off" as it were from his task. He is giving himself permission to do this, hence the combination of a jussive form with the supplicative particle נא. He can - a slave cannot.

This distinction is not lost on Pharaoh who, when the Hebrew representatives ask him why he is overworking them notes that when they had slack-time, time for reflection, time for a kind of spiritual healing (the root רפה giving us the word for healing as well as the word I here render as slacking), it occured to them to go offer to Adonai. Leave them no time for a thought other than that of work, and thoughts of the holy would be banished from their minds. This root shows up in Psalm 46:11 as well, in a phrase generally translated as "Be still and know that I am God," but which I rendered with "slack off" so as to underscore the commonality.

It is the quiet moments available for reflection, contemplation, contact with something bigger than ourselves that make any kind of mystical experience possible. Our days amuse us to death with trivia, and separate us from the reality that the world is a far larger system than we can control. The sabbath, "first among our sacred days," is a reminder of that, and the creation of a sacred space in time to allow us the opportunity to slack off, turn from our often all too narrow paths, and take the time to indulge our curiosity and in so doing open ourselves to a relationship with God.
richardf8: (Default)
But it's going to be hard. Daniel Matt is going to be at Temple Israel this weekend as a scholar in residence. He will be speaking from the Bimah tonight, leading Torah Study tomorrow morning, speaking again after lunch tomorrow, and again on Sunday morning. To all intents and purposes, it's a Shabbaton.

Daniel Matt is a rabbi and scholar currently working on a solid, academic translaton of the Zohar, one of the texts comprising the Kabbalistic tradition in Judaism. This is no fluffy, feel-good translation for the red-string crowd, but a serious academic treatment being published by Stanford University Press. He is working from a text he edited using standard paleographic methodologies from multiple manuscript sources and some early print editions. His translator's preface details his methodology, and calls to mind many of the same textual issues I remember wrestling with in grad school. The text, as he edited it and is translating from it, is available as PDF's from Stanford's Web site, in all its unpointed Zoharic Aramaic* glory. Matt's translation is not afflicted with victorian coyness that hampered the Soncino translation published in the early 20th century, which is good because one can ill afford such coyness when working with a text that relies heavily sexual metaphor to carry its meaning forward. Another area in which Matt's translation/edition excels is in his notes. The Zohar has lots of inputs - Torah, Prophets, Writings, Talmud, Midrash, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, classical (i.e. Greek) sources, and texts that, while referenced by name, no longer appear to be extant - and is nearly incomprehensible unless you can follow what is being referenced where. Matt's notes do an excellent job of citing and summarizing these references, allowing the reader to be able to understand the text before him. Notes range in purpose from citing a source, to illuminating a bit of wordplay being made in the original, to demonstrating the relationship between vaious elements of metaphor and the nodes of the sefirotic paradigm to which they refer.


But in addition to being an amazing Scholar, he is also a great theologian.

He wrote God and the Big Bang, a magnificent work that goes beyond merely "reconciling" religion and science to viewing scientific observation and discovery as a path to belief. It probably won't convince hardcore rationalists or young-earth creationists, but I tend to regard it as an excellent work of natural theology.

So anyway, I'm excited about this weekend. I hope I don't drool on him, and I hope my expectaions are not unreasonably high. The two things one worries about when one is a hopeless fanboi I suppose.





*Zoharic Aramaic is a bit of a different animal from biblical or talmudic Aramaic. It is rife with loan words, from not only the spanish spoken in the area, but from Greek as well. As if that weren't entertaining enough, it is also full of neologisms, often combining roots from mutiple language families. This is another thing discussed at length in the translators preface.
richardf8: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] _wastrel, here is the response you sought to your post at http://www.livejournal.com/users/_wastrel/70786.html

The difference between magic and religion is where the power lies. In magic the power lies with man, in religion it lies with God. Magic, as you are using the term, means the exertion of human will over the supernatural. This is strictly forbidden in Judaism. The denomination does not matter. I would also be extremely cautious about the source you are using, since it seems to be retrojecting its own interpretation of the bible into the biblical period. I would not view it as authoritative.

Now to deal with the issues you raise:  )
richardf8: (Default)
I am a person of faith. So are many people, Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist who read my journal. And I feel that there is a war being raised against some of the fundamental tenets of my faith, from people like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. (I don't know who the speaker of the House is these days, so upstaged has he been by DeLay).

These people have been seeking to put into law very specific elements of the very specific splinter of Christianity in which they engaged. And every time Liberals talk about "the separation of Church and State," these wingnuts have a cow about how evil secularists and atheists are on a crusade to destroy Christianity in America. Their perception seems to be that they are being oppressed if their beliefs, and their beliefs alone are not being legislated, are not forming the basis for jurisprudence, and are not being enforced at home and on the world stage.

As many conservatives will point out, there is no "separation of Church and State" in the constitution. And they are right - this concept is the result of judicial interpretation. The Constitution gives us the "establishment clause" in its first Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ."

Let's take a good hard look at this, leaving behind for the moment the notion of "separation of Church and State" and asking ourselves why it is there at all. First and foremost it codifies an important religious sentiment that we find in the Concessions and Agreements establishing the colony of New Jersey, written by William Penn, namely that "that no man, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters" (Joseph Story). This is an important notion to understand: the establishment clause is there not to prohibit prayer in schools, necessarily, nor to prohibit display of the Ten Commandments, necessarily, but to guarantee the the state does nothing to compromise the individual's relationship with God. Now this remains true regardless of whether that relationship is one of disavowal, a belief in an abstract "creator," or a belief in a personal God or gods.

Justice Thomas Black, writing in EVERSON v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF EWING TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947) illuminates for us the historical milieu from which the establishment clause arose:
A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws which compelled them to support and attend government favored churches. The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife, and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to [330 U.S. 1, 9] maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. With the power of government supporting them, at various times and places, Catholics had persecuted Protestants, Protestants had persecuted Catholics, Protestant sects had persecuted other Protestant sects, Catholics of one shade of belief had persecuted Catholics of another shade of belief, and all of these had from time to time persecuted Jews. In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of non-belief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them.


What we are witnessing today is precisely this scenario: a particular flavor of Christianity is seeking to forge an alliance with the government, though which it can force loyalty to its notion of "family values" or "morals" or whatever the buzzword of the day happens to be. The first amendment is intended to safeguard the relationship between man and God, such that it cannot be hijacked by any single religious persuasion.

So this, then is the right wing War on Faith: If you are Presbyterian, Quaker, United Church of Christ, Reformed Jewish, any kind of Jewish really, Muslim, Buddhist, etc, then according to these people YOUR FAITH IS NOT VALID. And here comes the sticky part: because we are not so prideful as to say "You're wrong because God said so," we do not appear to speak with the moral authority that they do.

So what can we do? For starters, we need to invoke God. Seriously. Even in a war of prooftexting, we can win this thing if we so choose. We tend to be afraid to do this, because we can't know that God is on our side. However, I don't think that's true - I think God IS on our side, and that it can be demonstrated from any holy text we care to cite. I was once asked by a fellow learner in Torah Study "How can we know?"

It's a valid question. The answer is a matter of history and projection - if we examine the pattern that has given us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and look at what it parallels in the past what do we see? I see a Holocaust survivor in my congregation describing how, upon being seen with a scrap of Army blanket she had found to keep herself warm, she was made to kneel with her arms over her head for five hours, during which she fainted three times. Her treatment was virtually identical to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as described in a report by the ICRC:

The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time. . . .


It's not difficult to see where the policy leads. And as for the notion that it is hyperbole or hysteria to draw on the Holocaust for comparison the only thing I can say is that the notion that the Holocaust was somehow a unique or aberrant evil is the greatest assurance that it WILL happen again. All of us have within us not only a spark of divine goodness, but an evil inclination as well, and when that inclination is appealed to on a national stage, it scales up better that a Linux Beowulf cluster. We insist on believing that the holocaust was perpetrated by inhuman monsters, when in fact is was perpetrated by people JUST LIKE US, to whose worst instincts a simple megalomaniac appealed. When we see a nation being encouraged to vote against granting a right to a particular population, when we see a nation that looks the other way when it's citizens are denied justice and due process, we see a nation that has not God, but the evil inclination perched on it's shoulder.

We need to understand that as people of faith we have the RESPONSIBILITY to invoke God. Because if we do not, then we sell Him into slavery to the false prophets who invoke the divine crown for the sole purpose of increasing their power and wealth.



Works Cited

Story, Joseph. COMMENTARIES ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES; WITH A PRELIMINARY REVIEW OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF THE COLONIES AND STATES, BEFORE THE ADOPTION OF THE CONSTITUTION. Harvard University, 1833.
richardf8: (Default)

Today, at our congregational "service in the round" I had an Aliyah, i.e, I read from the Torah before the congregation. I'ne spent about the past three weeks rehearsing for this, learning how to read trope markings, using a .wav file I ripped from a tape our cantor made for me. After I learned the first couple of verses from the tape the trope marks began to make sense to me and I could read them on the fly. Trope, in this case, means the little snippet of melody with which one chants a given word. By the time I got to the synagogue this morning, I knew my verses cold, and felt confident and eager. I made this aliyah in honor of what I guess must be the 15th anniversary of my father's death (yahrzeit, in yiddish).

It went well. It was not a big deal, and that was something that I appreciated. When I was done most of the people present took the time to comment on how well I had done. I was pleased by this because I spent some time working on delivery and performance. I wanted to be able to deliver my chant from my diaphragm, to fill the room with a confident voice, rather than the stage fright-induced waver that so often attends these things. I delivered, my voice only mildly restrained by having to bend over a slightly too-low table while I read. Most gratifying were the words of praise from Rabbi Glaser, the member of the clergy I hold in the highest regard, during kiddush.

This is one of the great joys of being an adult - the ability to have an Aliyah and not have it be a big, anxiety loded deal, like my bar-mitzvah was.

"Getting Bar Mitzvahed" is a bit of a strange thing. Or at least it was for me. I barely remember the event itself, but I understand it went well. But the runup itself was a trauma. No discussion of how the trope system worked (I learned more about the trope system from about 20 minutes of an overheard hebrew school class at the beginning of this year that rabbi Wildstein was teaching than I ever learned in my own Jewish training). Instead I was sent to our synagogue's Bar-Mitzvah trainer who handed me a tape, a few pages of tikkun , and had me back every week to drill me, harangue me, and give me the general impression that if I screwed the smallest vowel point up, God himself would appear before the congregation to call me a fool while the Angels wept for me. All this from a man with a perennial booger hanging half out of his left nostril - a source of disturbing distraction for a 12 year old.

In many ways, over the past four years or so, I have been reclaiming my Judaism, rehabilitating it from the small, weird traumas of growing up Jewish in a decidedly neurotic family (My mother treated the Dars of Awe almost like lent, giving up Bacon, which if she were making more than a pretense of observation, she should not have even been eating in the first place). I have been doing this within the reformed movement, whose values better reflect my own than do the conservative or orthodox. And today, I feel particularly triumphant, because I have performed that most quintessentially Jewish act, reading the Torah, because I chose to and having studied for it in a way that involved no duress, harangues, or boogers, but was rather intellectually rewarding in its own right.

So today, I feel quite happy, and very much like I have taken ownership of a faith that I, at first, and thrust upon me, and then avoided. Living that faith is going to be a worthy challenge, but one I must undertake, as the life I have right now is not filling anything I would describe as a compelling need in the world, and I need to consider how to go about answering a call that came to me 2 1/2 years ago in a northwoods lake. Things seem to be clicking in the right direction though. In a couple of weeks there is a seminar being offered by some of our local clergy on life in the rabbinate, I will go, filled with questions.

richardf8: (Default)
Well, I just ate a breakfast sandwich. Egg, Turkey, and Pepper-Jack on an English Muffin. Mmmm wonderful, yeast-leavened English Muffin.

Passover's a wonderful holiday. From the Haroseth and Maror on the Seder Plate to the dark Chocolate covered Egg Matzah, to the ritual of the Seder itself the emphasis is on the bittersweet.

Sweet that God led the Israelites to freedom, bitter that he had to unleash the plagues to do it. Sweet that he led the Israelites to safety across the red sea, bitter that he had to drown Pharoah's army.

And of course, for a week we shun leavened bread to commemorate the fact that when the Israelites fled egypt, there was no time for bread to proof. So, that means that now I have a renewed appreciation for the wonder that is leavening. The leisure to let bread rise is emblematic of safety and freedom. And so it was with renewed delight that I ordered a breakfast sandwich for the first time in just over a week this morning.
richardf8: (Default)
Well, by this time, Thanksgiving has been and gone. Leftover turkey waits (or lurks) in the fridge until such time as it is redeployed as "another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat," and the countdown has begun: N shopping days left until . . . The Holiday Which Must Not Be Named.

This bugs me.

If you've been reading this journal for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm Jewish. You'll also know that I am very direct, if not downright rude, in my assessment of the world. I don't believe in what is derisively called "political correctness."

I got an e-mail from a Co-Worker asking me if I would object to any Christmas Holiday Which Must Not Be Named (HWMNBN) decorations. I told her that as long as she didn't want to turn our entire work area into a creche I was cool with it. In fact she wanted to display a small creche that she did not feel she would enjoy at home, because it would become lost in the clutter. I told her to go ahead. This was an interaction between two adults, one showing the sensitivity to ask before placing religious iconography in a mixed-faith work area, and the other showing the tolerance to say "go for it." I thought that this was what "diversity," "multiculturalism," and "tolerance" were all about. Apparently, I was wrong.

An E-Mail went out to our entire organization from our facilities people explaining that seasonal decorations would be allowed (most gracious of them) but must be secular in nature (my co-worker was not free to display her creche, nor would I be free to display a menorah, if I wished). I am so glad that I can count on facilities (and truth be told, probably legal as well) to save me from having to make any decisions about what I may or may not consider offensive.

So anyway I get home and [livejournal.com profile] morgan1 is searching around frantically for some antlers we bought to put on the cats. She was planning to wear them for her company's holiday picture. We find them, and she gets some wrinkles ironed out of them and the holiday picture is taken. A day later, her company announces that the holiday picture must be retaken because some people had worn Santa hats or Antlers. They were evidently trying to avoid a holiday theme in their holiday picture.

Now, I just need to ask, what the HELL is going on here? What's so bad about Christmas that we must scrub the word from our national vocabulary? True, not all Americans celebrate it. Some of us celebrate Chanukah, some Solstice, some of us, nothing at all. And why solve the "problem" of creating a potentially "hostile" religious environment by creating an environment uniformly hostile to religion? I know that the answer lies in corporate fears of liability.

But I have another question. What if I did bring in a Menorah? My coworker has been forbidden her creche, but since mine is not the religion of the dominant regime would anyone say anything to me? Or would they too be afraid of being accused of discrimination because I am a minority? I have a hypothesis, of course, but the failure of the only experiment I can design to test it could result in major loss of income for me, so I shall refrain.

But it occurs to me that both my coworker and I are being discriminated against. As people who might be inclined to actually show a shred of spirituality, we are being denied the freedom of speech to do so. Which raises another question in my mind -- for all the right wing talk of this being a "Christian nation," for all the disputation about whether to cut "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (itself a prayer to an idol), and the inscription "In God we Trust" on our coins, for all the separation of church and state, do we perhaps have a state religion which has nothing to do with spirituality? Of course we do.

Every year, those Mammonite priests called "analysts" take measure of our shopping habits, spending, "confidence," and other factors, and are ready to tell us as early as December 26th whether we have upheld our religious duty to provide the economy with a good "holiday season" or if we have failed, and will be punished by Mammon himself with that most horrible of plagues, a "downturn." If you're unemployed, its because you didn't spend enough during the holiday season.

Indeed the admonitions begin the day after Thanksgiving, when we are all supposed to hit the malls in a great horde, and the very size of that horde may be sufficient to divine whether Mammon will inscribe us in the book of "growth" or the book of "downturn" for the coming fiscal year.

And the Christian who thinks about Jesus may just decide to go to church on Christmas.
And the Jew who contemplates the miracle of the oil may decide that the lighting of the Menorah and eating Latkes, and giving the kids some Chocolate to gamble at dreidel with is enough.
And the Wiccan who thinks about the Solstice may just decide that a really big Bonfire is the best invitation for the sun's return.

In short it serves the needs of commerce very well to cut us off from our spiritual centers, and the despiritualization of America is less about not offending anyone than it is about leaving us all with a void that we seek to fill at a mall.

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