Archive | February, 2008

An edible Mishkan

Aaron Freeman and Sharon Rosenzweig, the funny yids behind the Comic Torah have this oddity of a video for us this week.

I don’t even know what to say about this.

It’s. Yeah. Well. Just watch it.

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And you shall piss these words which I command you this day on your trees

This post is about m’zuzot. I have previously written about m’zuzot here.

Two things led to this post: One is the arrival in the mail of the three m’zuzot that my house ordered to place on the two entrances to the house and the kitchen doorway. The other was a discussion in my Human Evolution class about how lower primates use odors and urine to mark their territory.

My non-profound thought about this: What if m’zuzot are just a more culturally evolved version of the urge to piss on trees to mark them as ours?

The real reason for this post is that I just wanted to use the above graphic.

I apologize for this post.

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“A different look at Israel”

Shabat Shalom, everyone.

The blog Jewlicious points us this Shabat to the photography of Gilad Benari, an Israeli photographer.

Benari says of his photography, “I love Israel, and I find it a wonderful place. Israel suffers an Image of being a desert land, or simply a war zone, when showing it all over the world news. Being a photographer and a writer, I have a chance to show otherwise.”

 See more of his work on flickr.

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Where have all the shofarot gone?

Through a highly academic survey of this article on Wikipedia, I have determined that the shofar was once used for all of the following (the following list does not include the obvious military applications of shofarim a la Sefer Yehoshuah) :

-Causing folks to tremble, by blowing the shofar from the midst of a cloud of smoke from atop Har Sinai
-Announcing the commencement of Rosh Chodesh
-Announcing the commencement of “solemn feasts”
-Announcing the commencement of a jubilee year
-Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur (welcome to the “no, duh” bullet of the list)
-Ceremonies, such as processions
-In an accompanying orchestra to a psalm of praise
-Announcing the commencement of Shabat
-Marking the moment of reunification of East and West Jerusalem in 1967

And so I ask you, gentle readers, WTF? What happened? Where did it go? Why have we restricted the use of perhaps the most primal and arousing of our ritual objects to two days a year?

Frankly, I think we ought to use them more often. And not in the sanctuary. I think we ought to use them in a muezzin-like fashion, outside calling out for all, Jew and non-Jew, to hear.

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“Our own little Mishkan” — or — “David gets all poetical”

On Shabat mornings, I take a half-hour walk from campus, through bustling downtown Madison, New Jersey, to the Madison Masonic Lodge. There, every week, an eccentric assortment of Jews, all of them multiple decades my senior, meet for study and prayer and, of course, food. We’re called Chavurat Lamdeinu. It is a remarkable group.

The Torah portion this Shabat, Terumah, got me thinking deeply for the first time about our ark.

First, let’s all just take a moment to admire the above picture and how pretty this ark is. It’s very nice. And it’s portable. Every week, we arrive, build this ark, daven, take it apart, put it in a closet, and go home.

This ark is composed of several interconnecting pieces of copper pipe, a few gorgeous pieces of quilted fabric that Velcro around the pipes, and a wooden bottom piece that keeps the sifrei Torah in place.

Here’s a closer look at the beatiful craftsmanship involved in this structure.

And a look at the Torah inside. Even when you’re looking at the Torah in real life (as in not in a very flash-obscured picture), it is hard to make out what the breast plate says. It says “ללמוד וללמד,” “lilmod ul’lamed,” a reference, of course, to the group’s name, Chavurat Lamdeinu.

Here’s the meat of what I’ve been thinking about: a problem, and a beauty. When I say a problem, by they way, I don’t really mean that. As we all know, I am zocher, rather than shomer Shabat. In other words, I’m not the most stringent of Shabat observers out there. I do observe it though. But what if someone came to Chavurat Lamdeinu who did consider themselves shomer Shabat? They would be unable to assist in the weekly creation of our own little Mishkan.


Shabat is, on one of its many levels, a remembrance of the fact that on the seventh day, after creating the world, God rested. Rest in the case meant a cessation of creation. No new things would be built for the day. And so when we recall this on Shabat, the most stringent of Shabat observers among us refrain from acts of creation. No writing, no building, no constructing.

This is especially connected to this week’s portion, in which the construction of the Mishkan is going on. The Rabbis of the Talmud built their list of actions prohibited on Shabat based on their understanding of the actions that would’ve gone into constructing the Mishkan, the original ark. And so what do we do here in Madison? We build a damn Mishkan ever week.

So that’s the problem, if you can call it a problem. And what’s the beauty I refered to?

Here I am, wandering through this desert called college. And every Shabat, I get to help build the Mishkan.

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Praying with Lior

I haven’t seen this film, but I’ve met (and prayed with) the titular Lior. He was a sort of omnipresence at Limmud last month.

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Notes from class

Two quick things today, both from classes.

From my Hebrew class: Did you know that in modern Hebrew techelet, the word use for the type of blue that on strand of a tzitzit is supposed to be, has come mean simply sky blue?

From Religions of Japan and China (totally unrelated to the usual topics of this blog): Professor Johnathan Gold, who teaches the class was decribing today the personality of Confucius. “Confucius,” he said, “is not the kind of buy who would wake up the morning after a big kegger and just eat the cold leftover pizza on the coffee table.”

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My birthday and its constant state of flux

Much to the confusion of my parents (and everyone else I’ve spoken to about this), I decided last year to begin observing my birthday according to the Hebrew calendar. With the aid of the wonderful website HEBCAL.COM, I went back to the March 3 of 1989, converted it into the corresponding Hebrew date, and found that my birthday was actually on Adar 27.

Since 5768 will only be the second year in which I’ve done this, it my first year to observe my birthday in a shanah me’uberet (leap year). Since a shanah me’uberet contains two months called Adar (Adar I and Adar II), this causes a bit of confusion. I assumed that Adar I is the real Adar and that Adar II is the additional Adar. With this assumption in my mind, I calculated that my birthday would fall this year on March 4. This, as it turns out, is wrong.

Thank God for Faithhacker, one of the many excellent blogs of Tamar Fox, wrote on Faithhacker a great little article on the month of Adar. In the article, I learned that Adar I is actually the additional month and that Adar II is the real Adar. Yahrtzheits and birthdays that occurred in Adar in a normal year are apparently to be observed in Adar II of a shanah me’uberet.

And so my birthday is actually on April 3 this year!

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