Midrash

Hebrew for “delving,” specifically of a religious text. In this context, the text is also life.

Pithyism #10,000

2011.08.30
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A MODERN SENSIBILITY IS THE greatest impediment to understanding ancient traditions. (And sometimes vice-versa.)

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O G?D, DEAREST AND WISEST One, Maker of mercies and miracles, Describer in line and form, please: Save us from those sincere souls who know what You really meant.

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Torah Study: Worshipful Wordplay

2011.08.19
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THERE ONCE WAS A RABBI who was so lost in his studies that when the congregation called on him to deliver a sermon for that week’s Torah portion he didn’t know which one it was. Undaunted, he stepped to the bimah and said:

“A sermon should be true, from the heart, and based on the weekly Torah portion. I do not know which portion is this week’s reading from our holy Torah. This is true, I am sorry from my heart, but it is all that I can say about the portion. Amen.”

This week’s portion is Eikev. It means “heel” and “because.” So “because” we’ve all had a tough week, you are cordially invited to help “heel” yourself by studying Torah with us tomorrow morning. This is true, it is from my heart, and I hope to say more about it when I see you.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal.

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, August 20, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3

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Echo (Pithyism #18)

2011.08.19
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Fig. 1.

YOU REALLY FEEL LIKE A Jewish Teacher when a former student says “This needed to be here” and gives you a rock he picked up at Masada.

(Thanks, Nick. May you also be blessed to know the difference you make.) (Photo by Ann.)

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“Self-Deleting Jews”

2011.08.16
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(Feel free to skip if you’re not hot for ethnoapologetics.)

THERE’S AN UGLY MEME IN the Jewish community that may or may not have analogs among other minority groups: the so-called “self-hating Jew.”

This term, most often used in online Jewish fora (the Forward, Tablet, Jewschool, et al) when someone Jewish posts a critically outre comment about Israel, is more generally used to describe one who turns his or her back on “the tribe” and spends some significant time publicly railing thereupon. (Peter Beinart and Adrienne Rich come most prominently to this writer’s mind, but someone once used it to describe me when I naively asked in one forum, “Is there such a thing as ‘too Jewish?’” I don’t think so, but some apparently do.) Read more »

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Punch-drunk Piety

2011.08.09
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WE ARE THE WRESTLERS-WITH-God,
the ones grabbing His lapels and hollering “Speak up, sonny!”
and don’t worry about staining the carpets.

And we like It that way.

You who put God on a shelf
Who pull Him out once or twice a year to look at and sigh over
Who wrap Him in chains of fear and “can’t”
Ought to be ashamed of yourselves
For not knowing all the Fun you’re missing.

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HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU are reading this?

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Torah Study: Deutero Is The Best Nomy

2011.08.05
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THIS WEEK BEGINS THE TALE of Moses, and his five-week testimonial to the nascent nation of Israel.

Unlike the Torah’s first four books, tradition ascribes Deuteronomy strictly to Moses’ hand. Like the second creation story in Genesis, the Moses-eye view of the Egyptian Experience and Sinai Event differs somewhat from the first account in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: most famously, in the wording of the Fourth Commandment and the “guard/remember Shabbat” dichotomy. I like to think that’s deliberate, to encourage us to think instead of blindly obey. It’s certainly part of a pattern.
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Another Definition Of Judaism

2011.08.05
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ETHNOTHEOLEGALITY. (IF YOU WANT TO get more specific, then Levantine ethnotheolegality. Or pedantically: a Levantine people’s god’s code.)

Eh?

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“Judaism is more than ‘tikkun olam’”

2011.08.01
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THAT’S THE TITLE OF A provocative but understated op-ed today on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website, and it’s a point of view with which I find myself agreeing: that if one sees Judaism as only an excuse for right action, and ignores its religious and intellectual aspects, one is shortchanging both oneself and any interesting sort of Jewish future. (“Tikkun olam” = “rectifying/repairing the world,” a qabalistic doctrine which has been a big focus for Jewish leadership and study since the 1970s.)

This shortchagement is not new; people (including me) are always trying to “define” Judaism: is it a Faith? A Folk Tradition? A People? An Intellectual Puzzle? A Way Of Life? The answer, of course, is that it is all of these and more. And one of its most important qualities is that it fosters, in the diligent, a different way of thinking than the Aristotelian two-value logic on which most of Western Culture is based — a way of thinking that seems to me better suited to the complexities, complications and contradictions of modern life.

Mr. Alperson is more worried than I am about assimilation (after all, he’s a Jewish Professional), but his piece is definitely worth a read: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/07/27/3088736/op-ed-judaism-is-more-than-tikkun-olam. (Also referred by the always-interesting Jewish Ideas Daily website: a rousing cry to study the Mishna independently of the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmuds which are derived from it (http://thetalmudblog.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/protestant-mishnah/). It’s still a good world, where websites and debates like this can exist.)

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Slake The Bitterness

2011.07.20
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FOR MY NEXT TRICK, I will attempt to adapt 1st-century Judaism for 21st-century Americans.

Fig. 1.

Yesterday, the 17th of Tammuz, marked the 1,941st anniversary of the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Romans (and the 2,597th anniversary of the same action by the Babylonians). For traditional Jews, 17 Tammuz begins the annual semi-mourning period of the Three Weeks, which culiminate in a commemoration of the Temple’s destruction on the 9th of Av, colloquially known as Tisha B’Av (this year, August 9).

For untraditional Jews, it’s a time of wondering why traditional Jews are so upset over something that happened so many years ago — and deprived us of nothing more than the old-time religion of animal sacrifice. But let’s look past the sheen of nationalist memory and peer into the realm of psychological function.
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“Judaism As Art”

2011.07.14
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or, There and Back Again Without Leaving

(BECAUSE OF WORDPRESS, I’M REPUBLISHING this 2002 piece — it works better as a “post” than as a “page” — and although my kippa-wearing has become a bit less pronounced of late it still reflects my approach to finding a place in Judaism. If you’re not hot for apologetics or manifesti, you have my permission to read something else.)

Despite that I’ve worn a yarmulke most of the time since 2000, I don’t define myself as Orthodox. Or Reform. Or, for that matter, as Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal or otherwise adjectivally Jewish.

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