Archive | December, 2007

Gregorian year in review

In an ideal world, the first day of January would be meaningless to me. In an ideal world, I would have a hard time remembering what order the Gregorian months go in. Instead, the first of January is an important date year in and year out and I can’t for the life of me remember what order the Jewish months go in. So here we are, on the 22nd of Tevet and the 31st of December on the cusp of a new Gregorian year. What a year.

365 days ago I think I was truly a happier person. I was in Israel, for one thing. I had a girlfriend, for another thing. Since then, I have come back to the United States, gotten dumped, graduated high school, worked at Kutz, composed four and half drafts of a siddur (I’m on draft five as of now), made a grandiose claim that I’m not returning to Kutz in 2008 (which is looking more diminishingly true every day), moved my life all the way across America to New Jersey to go to college, and somehow, against all odds, passed four college classes.

That girlfriend I mentioned weighs on me still. I spent the first half of the semester at school pretty damn depressed and blaming it on her. I know, intellectually, that my current situation is not really due to her. I’m depressed about something else and I don’t know what. Emotionally, however, I want to place blame where it isn’t deserved. Whatever nonsense I may have told some of you about being over her or about not blaming her is probably a lie. My goal is to get to a place where she doesn’t weigh on me all the damn time and to stop blaming things that go wrong her. It’s not fair to her.

So. My New Year’s Resolution: Get back to life, get back to reality, and push this nonsense out of my head.

Shanah tovah. Again. But in English. So happy new year. Whatever.

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The paleo-future of religion

The blog Paleo-Future is an ongoing catalog of what people in the past thought the future would like. Today, Paleo-Future reports on a 1980 theologian’s concpetion of what the future of religion will look like. His idea is that relgion will become commoditized. Unlike most posts on Paleo-Future, this prediction is not laughable, but may be increasingly true.

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Mi Shebeirach. WTF?

I hate the Mi Shebeirach. I don’t like the fact that in most Reform outfits we don’t just say it. We use a really bad to tune to say it half in English and half in Hebrew. If our leaders are wondering why no men come to services anymore, I’ve got their answer: It’s because of tunes like those that we use for Mi Shebeirach. That’s not really my point though.

My point is that it ought not be said on Shabat. There I said it.

We have, six days a week, a nineteen-part Amidah. On Shabat, it gets radically reduced to seven blessings, none of which ask God for anything that would require God to work to fulfill. One of the blessings we remove is the prayer for healing. And yet, we’ve somehow decided it’s okay for another prayer for healing, which asks the same work of God, to appear elsewhere in the service on Shabat. I don’t get it.

(BDS—the following is not meant as a criticism at all. It is merely an observation). Something entirely strange happened in shul on Friday night. Not only did we do a Mi Shebeirach, which I expect, we did it during the Amidah! Maybe we’ve always done it there and I just never put it together before, but there is was.

So we removed healing from the Shabat Amidah. Then we put a different healing prayer elsewhere in the Shabat service. Then we put it back in the Amidah. Full circle. WTF, Mi Shebeirach?

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Christian Quote Watch: Pslams 40:2

I saw a t-shirt on the bus today with a big cross on it and this sentence: “Let him give you a hand.” It attributed the quote to Pslam 40, verse 2. I looked it up. In fact, the verse this was attributed to says:

קַוּה קִוִּיתִי יהוה וַיֵּט אֵלַי וַיִּשְׁמַע שַׁוְעָתִי

JPS gives is a rather different translation:

“I put my hope in the Lord;
He inclined toward me,
and heeded my cry.”

I’m totally baffled in the face of the rather succinct, but wholly unrelated version I saw on the bus today.

Shabat Shalom.

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Highlights from the Shabat deck of cards

I want to thank the dozen or so people I heard from during the URJ Biennial who all told me about the new Shabat initiative. See, URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie has somehow got into his head that, in most synagogues, Shabat morning has been taken over by the Bar Mitzvah. I wonder where he got that idea. The goal of the initiative is, simply put, to fix that. I’m ecstatic about it.

As part of the initiative, everyone at Biennial received a box of 52 playing card-size cards. One of the cards explains: “You hold in your hands fifty-two different ways to celebrate the gift of Shabbat—one for every Shabbat of the year [blogger’s note: God forbid they should use the Jewish year to arrive at this number]. Each is a ritual which serves to punctuate time and space, marking Shabat as special, holy, set aside—kadosh.” It then goes on to note how each card carries an idea from some Reform Jew somewhere in North America. “Mirroring the diversity of our movement,” it says, “these rituals are both traditional and creative.”

Okay, so I’m gonna admit some bias here. I love these cards, not just because they’re a pretty good idea, but because, well, I’m on one of them. What follows is my review of some of my favorite and most thought-provoking cards in the deck.

“I only drink Coca-Cola on Shabbat because it’s my favorite beverage—it helps sanctify the day. I wrote a brachah—blessing for my first glass of Coke each Shabbat: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, hamotzi caffeine min egoz hakolah—Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who brings forth caffeine from the cola nut.”

So obviously I think this one is genius. I came up with it. My ego grows daily.

“Vegetarianism is something I aspire to but, as yet, feel unable to maintain. But I do keep vegetarian for Shabbat—beginning with Friday night dinner. It helps heighten my awareness as different and as truly holy time.”

I love it. One of the major ideas Jewish thinkers have advocated about Shabat over the years is that Shabat is a sort of foreshadowing of the world to come—a perfected world. In this case, here’s a person who uses Shabat as a time to be what they see as a more perfected version of themselves—a version that they are “as yet, unable to maintain,” just as we are unable, as yet, to maintain a perfected world.

And the prize for sounding the most like something I would say and wish I had said goes to….

“I have something special for lunch; often it’s falafel—Texas style—with salsa.”

“We ask our guests and each person in our family to bring an object from the weekly Torah portion to share during Shabbat dinner or lunch.” And this similar card: “Table d’rash! I try to decorate the table with something that relates to the weekly Torah portion. Sometimes I copy the Union’s Family Shabbat Table Talk, a few lines of Torah or a relevant newspaper article for discussion. Sometimes I’m more creative: putting out red lentils, a bowl of water, toys or artwork that is related.”

This is so good. I’m already giving some thought doing this myself some day. I love the idea of having little trinkets or whatever on the table to remind us of parshat hashavuah.

These next two are very telling examples of what moves people—not me, but some people—in our movement these days: “Our synagogue doesn’t have regular Shabbat morning services so I attend a yoga class on Saturday morning. It’s an opportunity for reflecting, meditating, reconnecting with my neshuma [sic] [soul] , asking for God’s guidance….” And this one: “When possible, we spend Shabbat out of doors: hiking, at the beach…. Something that puts us back in our bodies an in touch with nature.”

“When we’re on the road in our RV we attend services if there is a synagogue nearby. Otherwise we make Shabbat on the coach and do Torah study in the morning together….”

Brings new meaning to Wandering Arameans.

“When my kids were young we started a family ritual of “Shabbat snack” [sic]. It was a late Saturday afternoon event, the best snacks of the week with a game or family read-aloud time….”

Good idea. It’s called seudat shlishit.

“I save new clothing I buy for its first wearing on Shabbat. That gives more meaning to the acquisition, and it enhances Shabbat.”

I love it. I ordered a new t-shirt recently and I shall wait till Shabbat to wear it.

Big thanks to Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman for putting the deck together and a big bravo for Rabbi Yoffie on making Shabat a URJ priority.

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Who knew the end of Galut would be so sad?

I love reading stories of Jewish communities in places I’ve never heard of. At camp three summers ago, I was totally blow away by Noam Katz’s story of his trip to visit the Abayudaya—Ugandan Jews. Today, I was pointed to this news story of the last Jews of Azerbaijan.

What blows me away about the story is the paradox at work. On the one hand, galut (exile), is mostly over for the Jewish people. Though there may still be economic barriers, there are few political barriers left keeping Jews from going to Israel. And yet, the sadness in the communities where people are leaving is intense.

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Lone Star Sidur Project – Eilu D’varim, part II

First, an update on Sidur Eilu D’vareinu, the sidur that I have been working on since June: Finals over, I am now deep in the throes of draft five. Many changes are afoot, due largely in part to the serious thought I have forced myself to put into writing through the Lone Star Sidur Project.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the portion of Shacharit that deals with Torah study. I determined at some point that I would examine the actual texts that we are intended to study in this section in their natural habitat. The quote from Torah? Check. It’s good. The quote from Mishnah? Check. Tov m’od. The one from Gemera? Hold the phone. Not so good.

As it turns out, this is not a quote! It is an amalgamation of the similar statements that two separate Rabbis make on page 127a (that’s 127a[4] for those of you playing along at home with your Schottenstein edition).

I suggest as a replacement, the two actual sayings of the Rabbis being “quoted” in the sidur:

שִׁשָּׁה דְבָרִים אָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקּֽרֶן קַיּֽימֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא וְאֵֽלּוּ הֵן: הַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים, וּבִקּוּר חוֹלִים, וְעִיוּן תְּפִלָּה, וְהַשְׁכָּמַת בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ, וְהַמְגַדֵּל בָּנָיו לְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה, וְהַדָּן אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת.
אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם עוֹשֶׂה אוֹתָם וְאוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקּֽרֶן קַיֶּימֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא וְאֵֽלּוּ הֵן: כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם שֶׁבֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֽגֶד כֻּלָּם.

These are six things, the fruits of which a man may enjoy in this world, but the principal reward for which remains in the world to come: Welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, concentrated prayer, rising early to visit the house of study, and raising children learned in Torah, and judging a friend fairly.
These are things, which a man does, the fruits of which a man may enjoy in this world, but the principal reward for which remains in the world to come: Respecting one’s father and mother, acts of kindness, bringing peace between a man and his friend, but the study of Torah is equal to all of these.

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Biennial-goers liberal. Big shock.

Originally, I had wanted to go to the URJ Biennial, now in full swing in San Diego. I wanted to see friends, go to some sessions, daven, etc. Sadly, the Union, in another display of it’s complete indifference toward college students, scheduled Biennial at a time when many of us are in the midst of finals. I’m even more upset that, now that I know my finals schedule, I have a huge gap in the middle of my finals and it looks like I could’ve gone anyway. Oh well.

If you’re interested in the political atmosphere at the URJ Biennial, listen to this, from JTA. JTA seems to have stumbled across the fact that most Biennial-goers want to see a democrat in the White House. No shit.

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Charedim have HDTV and bus route-inspired aneurisms

A couple of days ago, I pointed you to a humorous Israeli television comercial for HDTV.

Now, the Charedim have all flipped out.

Failed Messiah, and excelent Charedi hypocrisy blog, reports here on the reaction to the ad as well as a Charedi bus-related coniption fit.

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Eight lights later…

I wrote here about a page of Talmud I had never seen before that I found to be somewhat Chanukah-related. If you missed that post, go back and read it first. I asked for comments before I gave my interpretation.

Elfsdh found it interesting that Adam takes a naturalistic view of the occurrence rather than “the more obvious conclusion to the hypothesis: ‘Because of my eight days of fasting, God forgave my sins, and now the days are getting longer!’” Though it might seem like the most obvious conclusion, if we slip into a Talmudic rabbinic mindset, it isn’t. The rabbis here transform Adam into one of them. The Talmud generally takes the viewpoint that the world works like clockwork in an order that God ordained from the beginning. Check out this, and scroll down to 5:9 for more.

My main point with this text is that even though it is perhaps not intended to be about Chanukah directly, but rather about pagan celebrations, there is some great intertextuality to be had here. We too have an eight-day winter festival. Ours, we might say, is a Jewish reclamation of Adam’s pure celebration of God, which was corrupted by pagans.

I also like that the rabbis acknowledge and attempt to explain the near-universality of a winter light celebrations in cultures that experience winter. They offer us a uniquely Jewish explanation for that phenomenon.

With that, a final Chappy Chanukah to you all.

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