28 October 2007

Recent Health News in Drew: Knee Surgery!

By far, the biggest news in my life recently, has been my recent knee surgery. This past Wednesday, I had an arthroscopic meniscectomy, to remove torn cartilage from my left knee. While I am still on crutches as of my typing this post, I hope to be walking crutchlessly within a week. This latest chapter in the ongoing story of my "bad knee", will hopefully resolve well, with me getting back on my feet and, within time, being able to get back to jogging and playing basketball, though I may need to do some physical therapy.
In other health news, I just found out last week, that I have mild asthma, and now I have an inhaler. I guess that helps explain why I've had some breathing troubles previously when jogging, though I thought it was just me being a little bit out of shape. Hopefully, when my legs get back ready to start jogging, I will be able to start getting back into shape and hopefully be somewhat unheeded by breathing problems.

03 October 2007

מענה Your נפש: The Annual Hegemony of the Mind Over the Body

Yup, another posting I had meant to put up a couple of weeks ago - part of my back-blogging (no, not that back blogging) - is this posting on Yom Kippur. Some of the significant Biblical phrases for our discussion are the following: "וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם" (Lev. 23.27 & Num. 29.7) and "תְּעַנּוּ אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם" (Lev. 16.29).
In the week leading up to Yom Kippur, Rabbi Berman spoke to us students at YCT about this topic, painting a broader picture of the context of Yom Kippur and what these verses are doing. I will neither be summarizing his speech, nor presenting all of his ideas, but rather certain elements. All quotes to follow are from that speech.
Rabbi Saul Berman speaking at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in mid-September 2007 on the topic of innuy nefesh on yom Kippur
Framing the discussion, R' Berman queried "When the Torah says some five separate times תענו את נפשותיכם, what does that mean?" Yes, he said, that "the ספרא says תענו את נפשותיכם is a particular set of forms of withdrawal," however, he, said, "I would like to explore with you, generally, what is the meaning of עינוי? And, in particular, since the Torah keeps using that term over and over again, what's the meaning of עינוי נפש? It's not just תענו - it's תענו את נפשותיכם, כל הנפש אשר תענה, ועניתם את נפשותיכם - what's the sense of עינוי?"
Further, he queried,
If, in fact, these are not wrongful activities, why does the Torah prohibit them? My core suggestion is that whenever the Torah forbids an activity for a limited period of time, the purpose of the prohibition is for us to engage in the evaluation of that activity. That is, these activities are indeed so powerful that if we fail to engage in a periodical evaluation of these activities, they can begin to take over our lives in ways that ultimately will corrupt these good activities.
He then embarked on an exploration of the term עינוי as it is used in the Torah in four different ways: "The term עינוי in the Torah is used in a variety of different contexts. The one that's probably best known is the עינוי of slavery, the עינוי of מצרים (Egypt)." That is, "the עינוי of מצרים was that someone else had gained mastery over our productive energies. The עינוי was the coercive force that someone else was exercising over our productive energies."
The second is "the עינוי of rape, as in the case of Dinah." He then succinctly defined this as "the עינוי of rape is the forceful gaining of mastery over another person in their sexual expression."
"Then there's a third form of עינוי in the Torah which appears a number of different times", that of the "עינוי of the abandonment of one's culture," pointing to the beautiful woman and Sarah's and Hagar's relationship.
The last of these is that "there's a term עינוי used in the Torah in regards to particular kinds of economic oppression."
After surveying these different uses, his concluding definition is that "עינוי is fundamentally an act which compels another to submit." I am convinced!
So, now that we have one part of the equation, that being עינוי, what about the other? Regarding נפש, a term I explored in my last posting, which denotes the physical body, we now have a more complete picture: The point is to compel one's physical body to submit.... But, to what? It may seem, actually, that one is to utilize their לב (mind) to compel their physical body to submit - to submit to not being fulfilled - keeping it down, as it were. I could leave it there, but one wonders if, perhaps, it may serve to help one better enjoy the holiday which shortly follows it.... Just a thought as we are concluding Sukkos this year and entering into Shemini Azeres - חג שמח - Happy Holiday(s)!

02 October 2007

לב & נפש: Their Translations

(Another posting that's been percolating....)
One of the pieces about which I spoke a few weeks ago was on the verse " וּמָל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת-לְבָבְךָ, וְאֶת-לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ: לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ--לְמַעַן חַיֶּיךָ" (Deut. 30.6) - I mentioned an idea that was raw to me and undeveloped, saying that נפש (nefesh) meant body (as opposed to the contemporary understanding of this term to be "soul") and לב/לבב (lev/levav) meant the seat of the intellect (as opposed to the contemporary understanding of this term to be "heart", seat of the emotions). After thinking about it some more, I realize the latter should be the seat of all thought: whether emotional or intellectual, or otherwise. (BTW, one of the neat things about Deuteronomy 6.5 (וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ) ("And you shall love the Lord, your God with all of your mind(s) and with all of your body and with all of your me'od") is that it has this progression from abstract (mind) to physical (body) to material (מאד - not sure precisely how to translate this yet, perhaps we'll leave this for a future posting).
However, I cannot claim to a novellum in this realm, for Maimonides has already written about these terms in his Guide of the Perplexed (in I:39 & I:41).
Also writing about לב is Ethan Dor-Shav in his Hebrew-Wisdom Dictionary in a four-part series ((1) "The Core of a Unified Self", (2) "Mind Your Idioms!", (3) "The PURE MIND of Revelation", (4) "When the Mind Loves"). Part of his introduction (in "The Core of a Unified Self") is stating that there are
...well over 800 cases where lev is figurative: the "seat" of mental capacities. But which kind? Emotions? Sure. Lev feels sadness (Genesis 6:6), dread (Genesis 42:28), joy (Exodus 4:14), hate (Leviticus 19:17), agitation (Deuteronomy 28:65), courage (2-Samuel 17:10), and more. These are, however, a small minority. As any lexicon would state, for the most part lev is the seat of rational "intellect," and other cognitive smarts such as memory and creativity. The lev thinks! Indeed, in dozens of verses it is explicitly the seat of Wisdom....
He goes on to define לב as
the discerning mind: "a mind to know"; a "brilliant mind" to conceive; a "breadth of mind" to grasp the universe (nothing to do with a "heart expanding" in emotional delight...). Figuratively, then, as well as physically, lev means "core" - the mental center of our being. It is the inner screen upon which our cognition plays.
And then he warns against mistranslating our term:
Detrimental is an understatement for translating lev as the figurative "heart," a concept that has an innate emotional connotation, almost anti-rational; the effective opposite of "mind."
In his concluding posting ("When the Mind Loves"), he once again strongly urges the reader care in the translation of לב by saying that "mistranslating lev as “heart” strips its characters of their innate rationality" and that "there is zero “literal” merit to translating lev as “heart”, anywhere, anytime".
Furthermore in his last posting, he sums up the translation of לב:
  • (a) the non-figurative "lev" never meant the anatomical heart;

  • (b) the figurative use of lev is, first and foremost, as the seat of rational thought, awareness, intent and reflection; and

  • (c) by correcting the mistranslation of lev (replacing the excitable “heart” with the perceptive “mind”) the bible’s fundamental teaching about the soul, prophecy and transformation emerges dazzlingly from the text.
What has been fascinating to me to approaching this topic is thinking about when this shift occurred when considering the term לב/לבב and when this shift might've occurred. If I had to make a wild guess, I would suggest sometime several centuries ago, but I'll leave the research for someone else to do.
In a future posting, I hope to do some translations of rabbinic terms involving לב now that I have a better understanding of the term.

01 October 2007

Kol 'Ishah & Women's Krias haTorah

As one of the postings I had wanted to post in my hiatus from blogging, this was one I definitely wanted to do a couple of weeks ago and just didn't - it's the third in my series on women and krias haTorah.
In Rabbi Mendel Shapiro's "Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis", he includes a section on kol 'ishah, running pp. 40-41 and pp. 41-43, nn. 228-230 (yes, one of the annoyances of the editing of the article to me was that footnotes to sections in the text were on one or two pages ahead). A big selection of that small section is the following (pp. 40-41):
The question of whether qeri’at ha-Torah by women in accordance with the prescribed musical notations (ta`amei ha-miqra) violates qol ishah has not, to my knowledge, been directly addressed by poseqim. There is, however, ample collateral evidence that normative halakhah does not prohibit the practice on this ground. First, as R. Ovadiah Yosef points out, the Talmud’s declaration that women may not read the Torah because of kevod ha-tsibbur (sic), and for no other reason, is strong evidence that the rabbis did not regard qol ishah as a relevant consideration.
The footnote at the end of this selection refers the reader to two selections from R' Yosef's Yehaveh Da'at, the latter of which is not particularly relevant to kol 'ishah. The first selection is a brief quote from the third section, the 51st chapter (I am trying to access Spertus right now to get the full text of the responsum, but I think Spertus' Bar Ilan feature is down for the time being):
...ומכל מקום, קשה לי מהגמרא "הכל עולים לקריאת התורה למנין שבעה אפילו אשה וקטן, אבל אמרו חכמים אשה לא תקרא בתורה מפני כבוד הצבור", הרי שלא חששו לאסור משום קול באשה ערוה, אף על פי שסתם קריאה בתורה עם טעמי המקרא. וצ"ע.
...And in any event, it is difficult for me from the Talmudic statement "Everybody ascends to the reading of the Torah for the counting of seven, even a woman or a minor, but [the] Sages said a woman should not read of the Torah on account of the congregation's honor" - behold, they were not concerned to forbid because of "a woman's voice is a nakedness", even though that a normal reading of the Torah is with cantillation. And [this matter] requires looking into.
(Yes, by the way, he wrote כבוד הצבור and not כבוד צבור.)
I must point out, however, that the reason that the Sages that were quoted in the beraisa (on Megillah 23a) did not mention the woman's voice issue is because it had not yet come about. The kevod zibbur issue was brought up by tannaim, the woman's voice issue came about at the beginning of the amoraic period, derived by Shmuel (Berakhos 24a (and also quoted by one of his students in Kiddushin 70a)) : "
קול באשה ערוה, שנאמר 'כי קולך ערב ומראך נאוה'" ("A woman's voice is a nakedness, as it is said, 'because your voice is sweet and your appearance is pleasing.'")
However, it is possible that the stammaim could have inquired about this issue, but I'll leave that be for now (thus, it could be that even where a congregation waives their honor, there would still be an issue of women singing [publicly] - but I'm not going to get into that).

Why My 20-Day Blogging Break Happened

Although I haven't blogged in 20 days, it wasn't meant to be that way. It happened for mainly two reasons: 1) I dropped off my computer to get fixed as it would not charge (just like a year and a half ago) and 2) the week at school between Rosh haShanah and Yom haKippurim was busy enough to keep me away from blogging (insert sad face here). However, my wife graciously allowed me the use of her computer, and it's past YK. Nevertheless, I just hadn't gotten around to blogging since then.
Well, we got me a new computer, which should be a BIG help. In sad news, I got my "old" computer back today and, although they fixed the charging situation, they also replaced the hard drive. Unlike the previous time I had my hard drive replaced (when I at least knew my hard drive was malfunctioning), I didn't know my hard drive wasn't working. Fortunately, unlike last time, this time it didn't cost any money (just data (thank you warranty about which I didn't know)).
Oh, also, my lovely wife got me a new iPod, since my first one had a smashed screen since this past winter. Yay!