Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Velveteen Rabbi returns to the subject of gay marriage, civil and religious. She mentions Virginia's passage of the Marriage Affirmation Act (boo, hiss), and links to a few articles on the Shalom Center website. I'm particularly interested in the ceremony described by Eyal Levinson in this piece. In general I like it, though it could really only work in a Reform context.

Sometimes I think that Conservative Judaism makes less sense than any other denomination. Oddly enough, that's part of the appeal. But it can be frustrating.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

In spite of being academically doomed, I can't seem to pull myself away from the Keshet site. I volunteered to give a d'var Torah this shabbat (parshat Acharei Mot), but haven't yet figured out how to make my point in under ten minutes.

By the way, have you heard the one about the Gilgamesh movie? Oh, that was serious...

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I'm pretty conservative when it comes to prayer and ritual. We Jews have plenty already, and -- for tradition's sake if nothing else -- learning to appreciate existing prayers and rituals seems a better use of energy than inventing new ones.

Nonetheless, there are occasions on which innovation is required, and to suggest that new rituals cannot be accommodated strikes me as absurd. All Jewish practices were invented by human beings at some point in history. When did the rules change?

Equally absurd is the practice of some Orthodox congregations to accept new rituals and prayers while making sure to indicate, in some way or other, that they aren't "real." God's name is deliberately avoided in the composition of new prayers, and acts that are normally accompanied by blessings are performed without. On Yom Ha-Atsma'ut, these congregations recite a selection of prayers without God's name, and/or recite Hallel without a blessing. Some even read from the Torah and Prophets without reciting blessings, presumably because they aren't really reading, or it isn't really Torah. Or something.

One of the wiser decisions of the Conservative movement was to model Yom Ha-Atsma'ut observance on the two other post-biblical holidays, Chanuka and Purim. An al ha-nissim prayer is inserted into the Amida and birkat ha-mazon, thanking God for another act of redemption. Hallel is recited in its entirety, accompanied by the appropriate blessings, as on Chanuka. A selection from the Torah is read, with blessings. (Okay, so they added a haftara, too. There are all sorts of random haftarot.)

You're probably expecting me to tie this up somehow, but my mind isn't quite that organized. Also, I have work to do. So that'll be all. Chag Sameach.
Out of Step Jew shares his thoughts on aliya (moving to Israel).
While we were wrapping the Torah at our Yom Ha-Atsmaut service this morning, we sang Bashana Ha-Ba'a, Naomi Shemer's song about how everything is going to be better next year. The tune is very upbeat, but it always brings tears to my eyes, because -- well, things never do get better in Israel, do they?

It's amazing to hear Jews sing, Od lo avda tikvateinu, "Still, we have not lost hope."

Naomi Shemer's politics were pretty right-wing. But we sang Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu after services, which I guess balanced things out. For whatever that's worth.

Monday, April 26, 2004

PaleoJudaica brings us new reviews from the Review of Biblical Literature. Why do I always want everything? (*whine*)
Lawrence responded to my earlier post on Yom ha-Shoah with some beautifully articulated insights on the sanctity of time in Jewish tradition.

"Time works for Jews very much the way space works for other peoples," he wrote. Yom ha-Shoah is "there just to be there, even if we don't have any rituals or readings that come with it. Memory is how we do monuments."

I commented: "Still, I'm not sure what to do..."

Later, I realized what it was that was troubling me. A monument is a device for marking sacred space. Space doesn't have to be marked with a physical monument in order to be recognized as sacred, but we do tend to erect something physical whenever possible, as a reminder. Similarly, it helps to mark sacred time in some concrete way, whether by holding a service or ceremony, changing our behavior, or simply lighting a candle.

I mention this now because it is Yom Ha-Zikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. Our minyan marked Yom Ha-Zikaron by reciting a special El Male Rachamim in memory of "Israeli victims of war and terror." (Think about it -- five year-olds are now in the same category as combatants.)

In Israel, today as on Yom ha-Shoah, a siren was sounded and a moment of silence ensued. Though there's no source in Jewish tradition for the practice of having a "moment of silence," there is, as Lawrence notes, something very Jewish in setting aside sacred time. Sounding a siren is one way to mark it.

This IDF website features photographs and biographies of fallen soldiers (link via Out of Step Jew). It's worth taking a moment to look at some of the photographs, even if you can't read the biographies (which are in Hebrew).

May their memory be a blessing.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Apologies for the recent lack of blog activity. It's been a ridiculous week. I have, however, finally updated my LiveJournal.

I'm thinking of expanding my use of the LJ. The way I'm using it now really doesn't maximize the potential of the medium. My journal is also in dire need of a makeover. But, this isn't the time.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Major Geek points for anyone who enjoys this piece on linguistic features of Yeshivish as much as I did.

Tonight begins Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. I'm never sure what to do or think when Yom ha-Shoah comes around. Halakhically, the date has no significance. No fixed prayers or rituals set it apart from other days. Some people think that Yom ha-Shoah should not exist, that mourning for the Holocaust, like all other Jewish tragedies, should be relegated to Tisha B'Av. If we commemorated every tragedy that befell the Jewish people on its own day -- so the argument goes -- we would mourn all year. I used to agree, but now I think that approach is unrealistic. The Shoah looms too large in our communal memory not to have a day of its own.

But how do we mark it? With each generation, we inch further out of the shadow of the Holocaust. Now, we have to go out of our way to "remember" it. Berger says that he often isn't certain "what people mean when they talk about remembering the Holocaust." I am often confused, myself. Are we trying to learn? To preserve a memory at risk of being forgotten? To prevent other horrors from occurring? To bring ourselves to tears? To mourn? At this distance from the awful events, I'm not even sure what it means to mourn.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Here's a decent column on Kerry and the Church. Rather reminds me of the attitude some Orthodox Jewish leaders had toward Lieberman.

Monday, April 05, 2004

From The Commentators' Seder: A companion volume to The Commentators' Haggadah including additional inspiring halachic insights and homilies, by Rabbi Yitzchak Sender:

"The story of the Exodus must be recited in response to questions. This was mandated by our Sages based on the pasukim which state, 'and you shall tell it to your son'; והגדת לבנך, and similarly, 'and when your son will ask': והיה כי ישאלך בנך. . .

"The question then arises, what about a daughter? Is she permitted or even obligated to ask? . . . The opinion of the Aruch HaShulchan. . . is that a daughter is allowed to pose questions on the Seder Night, but only if there is not a son present.

"Related to this halachic principle of בן קודם לבת, a son taking precedence over a daughter, there is an inspiring story which I heard from Ha Gaon Rav Moshe Hershler, of blessed memory. As the boat which was carrying Rav Yisrael of Sklov, that eminent student of the Vilna Gaon, neared the shores of Eretz Yisrael, a violent storm arose and the boat sank. Rav Yisrael, who was traveling with his small son and daughter, proceeded to grab them each under one arm and swim to shore. Because of the strong current, he soon realized that he would not make it to shore unless he released one of the children and had one hand free with which to battle the waves. Turning to his daughter, he explained to her, with a broken heart, that the halacha required that she be the one he must release (based on the Mishnah in the last chapter of מסכת הוריות, where it is clearly stated that saving a son takes precedence over saving a daughter, because a son is obligated to fulfil mitzvos and a daughter is not). His small daughter replied to her father as follows: 'If that is the halacha, so be it, dear Father.' She then proceeded to grab her father's beard and hang on to it tightly with all her might, refusing to release her hold. Explaining to her puzzled father why she was doing this she said: 'Your halacha says: בן קודם לבת, and this is what you must do; but my halacha is different, it tells me: וחי בהם: the mitzvos were given to live by, and I must do everything I can to preserve my life.' As she was speaking the storm suddenly subsided, and Rav Yisrael was able to wade to shore safely with both children under his arms.

"“Rav Hershler concluded this story by saying that when it was told to Rav Yehezkiel Abramsky, tears welled up in his eyes and he remarked; 'Ribbono Shel Olam, how great are your people that a father could say to his beloved daughter with such unswerving faith that this is the halacha; and that a daughter could reply with such loving acceptance and could display such genius in applying the halacha so appropriately to her own situation!'"”