26 December 2010

Poetic & Difficult Language of Iyov

I posted a couple of months ago on a lecture given by Rabbi Eric Levy at this year's YCT's Yemei Iyun in Tanakh and thought I would share another great quote from him at the same conference. Speaking on "Job: How Does One Understand God's Ways?", Levy responds to a question about the difficulty of the language in the book of Job (or Iyov (איוב), in Hebrew), saying "The language of Iyov is unbelievably difficult." He then provides an example:
That happens actually quite a few times in Iyov, where, for instance, הנותן לשכוי בינה, so לשכוי everybody just assumes means the rooster, but, in Iyov, it’s clearly not. לשכוי is like the heart or another part of the body. So, with Iyov, you just sort of have to use context, because the words he’s plucking….
And then he goes onto an excursus on language use:
Poets always use the most ancient forms of language. A poet always reaches out. Whether he’s writing English poetry or whatever, they’re always reaching out to the most obscure words, because they need to really fine-tune their message. I doubt there’s a finer poet than the author of Iyov. And the words he reaches out to are words that can only be understood from the Arabic; there are words there that are clearly Aramaic. He is really reaching out to into the farthest reaches of the Hebrew vocabulary.

And, of course, as Ibn Ezra tells us, don’t forget Hebrew was a dead language. Hebrew died out; half of the Jews in the Second Temple spoke Greek and half of them spoke Aramaic, but essentially nobody spoke Hebrew, which means that our entire vocabulary of Hebrew is limited to the books of Tanakh and a little bit of Mishnah. In Mishnah, sometimes they use words like “Where’d that word come from?” So, scholars will tell you they just made it up and people with a little more faith will say Judaism had some vocabulary beyond the Tanakh. But we are kind of limited – there are a limited number of words in Tanakh because, as a dead language, you’re stuck with what you have there. And, in Iyov, apparently there’s some usages that are just a little bit beyond our ability to understand, otherwise, from context.

24 December 2010

AJS 2009 Day 3

Orthodoxy Revisited PanelWith the 2010 conference of the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) having occurred this week, I realized I still hadn't posted my summaries of the third and last day of last year's AJS conference (I posted the first day and the second day much earlier). As much as I had wanted to go this year, making it the third straight AJS conference for me (and I could've stayed with my sister and her husband in Boston), we decided that I would stay here in California instead. Nota bene that this isn't exactly the best written, as it is primarily the notes I took whilst the sessions were in progress.
- - - - -
For the third and last day of the conference, after arriving and some schmoozing, I first went to the session on "Orthodoxy Revisited". The first paper delivered was “Samson Raphael Hirsch: The Chimera of ‘Self-Explanatory’ Scripture” by Alan T. Levenson, although I showed up about a halfway through, so I didn't quite catch everything from it. Levenson said that Hirsch found Mendelssohn philosophically wanting. Alan Levenson speaking
Hirsch advocated reading the Bible in its original versus in a German (vernacular) language. When he was in Frankfort in 1860s and 1870s, worked on his translation. Differences in keri and ketiv, trop, and big and small letters. He resisted Christian readings throughout. It was unique – pronouncing universalism. It appears as culmination of the study of bible. Hirsch was not haredi – he stands within German tradition of elevating Torah study.Martin Lockshin speaking
The second presenter was Martin I. Lockshin, who spoke on “Dueling Prayerbooks: ArtScroll, Koren, and Contemporary Orthodox Values”, which, he said, arose from a book review about the Koren siddur. The “Artscroll Takeover” took place 25 years ago and the best known product, published 1984 is their siddur. Many orthodox shuls have them, even MO, but notes are haredi. But now there is competition in the prayerbook market with the Koren-Sacks siddur. Professor Lockshin (who was one of three IRF members [that I counted] at the conference (him, Professor Don Seeman and me)) spoke on the differences between the Artscroll Siddur and the Koren-Sacks siddur, success of the Artscroll siddur, as well as the broader shift to the right, the resulting liberal shift and his conclusion on The Siddur Wars of 2009.
In the q and a:
The translation wasn’t done solely to sanitize the language, but also in a fashion to effectuate strangification, that is, the language used is not the same usage we use in a daily fashion, so it was successful in what it was trying to do.
Artscroll came out at a time when Modern Orthodoxy was not lekhathilah, but as an outreach method for haredi Jewry; it was “nicely timed” as presenting haredi values to a modern audience.
The third paper
(”A Woman on the Bima means an ignorant man”?) Jessica Rosenberg “’Blessed is he who says and does’: Jewish Law, Gender, and Communal Identity”
Turning to theoretical models outside of halakhah to give us a better understanding of response literature

Successful in what it is doing
Not a sanctifying factor but differentiating discourse

Jessica Rosenberg
How do they set their boundaries? How do they …agenda
Creating communal narrative versus community deciding
An ingroup attempting to redefine the nomos is seen as attempting to create a new one
Opened up attacks from both sources and goals – Shapiro
Undergird with own notions of halakhic legitimacy
Jessica second half and conclusion. Jerome Chanes said – 2 Riskins: 1969 – courageousness – 2009 – conservative mostly off the deep end
Artscroll came out at a time not when MO was לכתחילה but as outreach method. It was “nicely timed” as presenting haredi values to a modern audience.

After speaking with some of the presenters and o
thers following the first session, I then went to the second session, "Social Attitudes and Cultural Constructions in Biblical Israel", albeit missing the first half of Elaine Goodfriend’s “Another Look at Animals in the Hebrew Bible”. Elaine Goodfriend speaking
Names of people with animal names; Animal life central to the concerns of Israel; Humans dependant upon animals
Dung for fuel;
Food, leather, wool; Shared habitation.
The second paper delivered was “The Assembly of Yahweh’s People: Judahite Pilgrimage and Israelite Muster” by Stephen Russell. I don't have anything to note from that paper....Stephen Russell speaking
The third paper was given by Esther Fuchs on “Intermarriage in the Hebrew Bible: Gender, Exogamy, and Nation”. Esther Fuchs speaking
Intermarriage is legally proscribed.
Performance of identity is gendered – endogamy is feminine, the body of the nation; exogamy = masculine
When there are foreign men and Israelite women, the men are violently dealt with, such as the King of Gerar and Avimelekh, so, too, with Shkhem. In Genesis 34, rape is racialized. Realizing the gravity of the sexual laws. The story pokes fun at Shkhemites for their sexual mores – to have sexual intercourse first and then to take her is not the proper way, that is the way of prostitutes. “Exogamy with an Israelite woman leads to mayhem and violence.” Proscription of exogamy w/ Shkhem may not just be sexual transgression, but also national. Domestic space versus foreign nation.
Book of Esther implies that only in national crisis is it permitted - no mention of legal, political, etc. stuff with her. Mordechai giving her over in keeping with.
Exogamy with erasure.
Israelite woman is neither inside or outsider ; she has potential to deconstruct rather than produce binary. Focusing on Israelite women’s endogamy and problematic of exogamy for them; men different.
The fourth paper, “Impurities and Gender in Ezra-Nehemiah”, was delivered by Elizabeth Goldstein. Elizabeth Goldstein speaking
Niddah as nation in Ezekiel and then now with Impact of foreign women. Collective impurity affects how we think of gender. Woman’s body as useful for reproducing, but when menstrual, not (expendable). There's always a link between niddah and gender. Moral impurity seen with having these foreign women. Collective nature of the impurity makes it important for us to consider.

Having had trouble parking at the nearby mall (presumably due to it being heavy shopping season as Xmas occurred during that week), I missed the first twenty minutes of Richard Hidary’s “Indeterminacy and Codification in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds in Light of Roman and Sassanian Legal Cult
Richard Hidary speakingures” during the third and last session of the day, Rabbinic Worldview.
One of the causes for the difference in deciding law between the two Talmuds seems to be the different cultural contexts. He also stated that another difference is that, in Babylonia, there was a greater geographical distance betw
een the communities, which allowed for a greater amount of diversity, versus in Israel, where they were closer together.Jonathan Crane speaking
Jonathan Crane then spoke on “Shameful Ambivalences: Legal and Ethical Dimensions of Rabbinic Shame (בושה)”
Shame simultaneously damns and redeems. Because of time, he only dealt with the ethical dimension. He focused on how shame
is described my focusing on Maimonides and Levinas, not so much the rabbis, themselves. He said they tried to avoid shame, but they needed it, just the same.
Trying to avoid, while needing it

19 December 2010

Radio Shack Promotion Fail

Last week, while on an errand at a Home Depot, I saw that a nearby Radio Shack had a Special Offer on Foursquare. I checked it out and found that just by checking in, one gets a discount and can get a further discount by being the mayor of that store and even a further discount by unlocking the Holiday Hero badge. That sounded really exciting. I looked up further and RadioShack posted online further details about their promotions on Foursquare.
So, I went to the Radio Shack, unlocked the badge, then went to purchase the small battery I had gone there to get. The screen on my phone said that I had unlocked it and would be eligible for the discount (screen showed at right). I showed it to the sales associate and he would not give me the discount. Clearly, a communication fail between corporate RadioShack and the individual stores. Fortunately, it was just a battery, so I wasn't being cheated out of dollars worth of discounts. But it was still frustrating.... Note to businesses thinking of running social media marketing strategies involving stores: communicate.

14 November 2010

Some Rabbinic Position Ideas as a Rabbinical Student

A couple of years ago, while still a student in rabbinical school, I was talking with my mother and came up with three different positions that would be interesting to take:
1) Disney World Rabbi - This position would be to supply a rabbi for Disney World primarily for providing kosher supervision on making various foods around the theme parks (probably primarily confection shops, but there may be a number of other possibilities that could easily be made kosher (aside from the meals that are kosher)), for officiating at weddings on Disney property, for helping put together prayer minyanim for travellers visiting the parks, and general availability for consultation/counselling. I haven't let go of this dream yet and it doesn't hurt that my current position has me living only 20 minutes away from Disneyland....
2) Work for Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - I didn't think there would be any sort of likelihood of this happening, but in the spring of my last year in rabbinical school, a position opened up in his organization and, lo and behold, I got an interview with Rabbi Shmuley! But I wasn't picked - I imagine that that was a smart decision: I probably wasn't ready for it yet. At least I hope I made a positive impression on him that he would think of hiring me down the road.
3) Director for the Center for Modern Torah Leadership - After having spent my summer of 2006 in Boston for the Summer Beit Midrash of the CMTL with Rabbi Klapper, I not only grew to appreciate him and his intelligence, but also generally the thrust of his initiative. For over a dozen years, his Summer Beit Midrash existed as the only program that he did aside from teaching. However, he then decided to branch out and create the CMTL, which had the SBM as its cornerstone and has since had several summer conferences of educators. I know that Rabbi Klapper has a vision of publishing a journal as well as, perhaps, a year-long learning program. That would be awesome, although he would need someone to direct those activities to free him up to work on his scholarship. That would be me. And although I did my last year of rabbinical school's internship with the CMTL - including running a program for it - there would need to be funding for such a position. Drumming up that much money in this economy: not going to happen. I'm still keeping this one in mind, as long as Rabbi Klapper would hire me (and money suddenly appears, as well).

Anyways, those are the three positions I had in mind but did not come to fruition. Ah well, I'm in sunny California, meeting lots of great people and working for the Jewish people :)

31 October 2010

Abraham Picking Up and Moving On

Gad Dishi does an excellent job of describing Abraham's picking up and moving to Gerar after the destruction of Sedom - something about which I had not previously given thought:
Abraham must feel quite surreal as he hears God's intent and proceeds to see two of his guests arise and embark to carry out the mission. He realizes that he has hosted the very destroyers of Sodom. His nurturing of these destroyers and their circuitous pit stop at his tent may symbolically represent Abraham's nurturing of Sodom's treachery. Abraham's complicity in Sodom's treachery may be attributed to his allowing Lot to depart from his company earlier in favor of encamping at Sodom (13:8-14) as well as Abraham's failure to seize control and reform Sodom after his successful campaign to free Lot from the four kings (14:15-24). As such, God is now turning to Abraham to demonstrate the results of his actions and inaction. Abraham's contemplative overlook at the destruction the morning after his failed attempt to save the cities (19:27-28) crushes him and Abraham is too pained with the memories of his failure in Hebron and decides to travel in a southerly direction and moves to Gerrar to open a new chapter in his life (and perhaps to see if Lot survived) (20:1).1
1 - Gad Dishi, "Saving Zoar: How Did Lot Succeed?", Jewish Bible Quarterly 38, no. 4 (October-December 2010), 218, n. 7.

22 October 2010

Biblical Prophecies as Op-Eds

Found this interesting quote from Rabbi Eric Levy describing Biblical prophecies (From his "Hoy, Ariel, Ariel: Isaiah 28-35 - Politics and the State of the Union in Judea"):
...politically, we're getting a picture: there's treaty-making going on. See, normally, you don't see this - you just see the words of the prophet. And the prophet is like the op-ed pages of the New York Times: if you haven't read the first pages, you don't know what the op-ed pages are talking about. Because sometimes they allude to things you just assume that we know. And, a lot of times, when you read the prophecies, you only get the allusion, because the prophet is assuming that everybody knows what the historical background is here.

05 October 2010

Are We Doing Enough About Darfur?

A month ago, a schoolmate of mine, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, wrote a piece in the Jewish Journal of LA entitled "A Jewish Apology to the World", in which he points out some things for which the Jewish community has come up short. One of these is "only 65 years after the Holocaust, we have not done enough to try to stop the genocides in Darfur, the Congo and other countries around the world."
When I went to a big rally in DC over four years ago on the issue of Darfur, it was a big showing regarding the issue and there was a lot of hope that some diplomatic pressure could yield some positive results on the plight of the Darfurians. However, there wasn't a whole lot of headway and, still to this day, not a whole lot has been successfully pulled off. People can still go to rallies or give money, but how much good do either do? The rallies probably aren't going to accomplish much and the money, even if it isn't handled improperly, will go to food that hopefully will get to the right mouths, but it still could get stolen or the Darfurians could still have horrible things happen to them.
So what is left to do? Yes, as Rabbi Yanklowitz has pointed out, we have not done enough - but what is enough? I think that the one thing that will succeed will certainly take a lot of money, but it will be a more efficient use of money than has gone on thus far. It would effectively be an insertion of mercenaries functioning as peacekeepers to defend the Darfurians from the Janjaweed. That way, they could be certain to be safer than they have been for most of the past decade. Granted, the concern could be that the small force could be seen as a threat to the Janjaweed, which the Sudanese government could then try to bring in bigger and better weaponry....
In any event, does this fall on the Jewish community's shoulders that we have fallen short? I don't think so.

Harsh Repercussions for Debtors (In 17th Century Poland)

This morning, while ellipticalling, I read the following regarding Jewish debtors in 17th century Poland:
When the circumstances of the debtor made it impossible for him to obtain a moratorium from the king or a lesser official, he renegotiated the loan or declared bankruptcy. Therefore, the kahals and the Council of Four Lands evolved elaborate and harsh provisions for bankruptcies. Among these was the requirement that the bankrupt person swear a solemn oath before the open Ark of the Torah stating that he was, in fact, without resources. Similarly, his wife had to make such a declaration before the beadles of the community. All his property was seized by the elders to be sold within six months for the benefit of his creditors. A ban was pronounced against him in the synagogue and he, his wife, and his children were required to be present. If he failed to surrender his property or was otherwise recalcitrant despite the ban, he might have been jailed by the community for periods ranging between eight and thirty days. The bankrupt person might be placed in the stocks (kuna) at the entrance to the synagogue for three days prior to his imprisonment. If he held a position in the kahal he was immediately removed from office, and, even more severely, he lost the "right of settlement" in his community. These provisions applied to persons who were without funds because of business losses. If someone could not pay his debts because he had expended large amounts to provide dowries for his children, he was treated as a thief and subject to imprisonment for a year.1

Wow - that would be considered practically barbaric nowadays! Hundert further explains that
the procedures outlined were clearly intended to deter fraudulent claims of bankruptcy which might have had serious consequences for the community as a whole. Even legitimate bankruptcies might have reduced the credit available to the community. Further, despite royal edicts warning against the practice, the kahals were often held responsible for the debts of defaulting Jewish individuals.2

Thought it was interesting....

1 - Gershon David Hundert, "Jews, Money and Society in the Seventeenth-Century Polish Commonwealth: The Case of Krakow," Jewish Social Studies 43, numbers 3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1981), 267.
2 - Ibid., 268.

15 September 2010

Not the Way the Jewish Community should be operating

I found the following excerpt particularly on-point about the ills of Jewish organizational life:
We have been living on yesterday's fumes for too long. Old fashioned anti-anti-Semitism, unrealistic Zionism, superficial and, in the end, meaningless congregational life (including painfully unspiritual Bar and Bat Mitzvahs) are finally taking their toll.

- Michael Steinhardt, "Counterpoint," Contact 12, number 3 (Spring 2010), 15.

03 September 2010

Foursquare on the Rise on College Campuses (at least in my area)

The number of Foursquare check-ins on college campuses is on the rise this fall. Since starting to use Foursquare in January, I saw how infrequently people were checking in on campuses in the Southern California area (primarily CSULB, CSUF, UCI, Chapman, UCR, and a few others) in the spring. Not so in the first week or two of classes this fall - I have seen many people checked-in on campus at a time, sometimes at multiple places. Also, at CSUF, I've noticed places offering specials and to check-in, typically restaurants, which I don't think I would've seen in the spring. I believe that the rise in Foursquare use may primarily be attributed to the rise in smartphone use amongst students. Granted, there could also be a greater awareness of Foursquare, especially after its first birthday in the spring, or even people seeing their friends' check-ins being sent to Facebook, but for whichever reasons, it's starting to grow on campuses.... Fun :)

17 August 2010

Shorter Davenings & "Siddur Baseball"

In this past weekend's issue of the Jewish Journal, Dennis Prager wrote a column entitled "Siddur Baseball", in which he bemoaned how lengthy shabbat morning services are - they are not only long, but boring, etc. The shul I attend here in Long Beach has figured out how to handle shortening services. The shul is called Shul by the Shore and the structure is that from 10-11, the rabbi has a discussion on the weekly parshah; then from 11 and onwards, Torah reading is held, followed by musaf and then kiddush, with those who daven shaharit as well as pesukei dezimra and Shema and its blessings doing so beforehand. Now, if I were to start a davening like this, I would be called non-Orthodox or otherwise trying to ruin the tradition; however, it is led by a Chabad rabbi, primarily for a non-observant constituency. I enjoy the set-up of it and, for the rest of the time that we are here in Long Beach and can continue walking to it will continue to enjoy.

16 August 2010

Hillel & Twitter Follow-Up

Apropos of my post on Jewlicious last week regarding Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life not operating a solid Twitter account, I asked around and about why Hillel's Twitter account was so lacking. The answer I basically got from having discussed it was that the resources just aren't there, as opposed to Hillel:FJCL just not recognizing either the significance of social media or understanding how Twitter can factor into their PR. In better times, the department that handled these matters had a few more staffers, but, as with the rest of the economy and many other non-profits, staffers are on the short side of the budget (especially for social media). So, even though I got many people agreeing with my online as well as at the conference, but it doesn't seem like this will change Hillel's social media strategy on account of the economy (unless a donor out there decides that it's important (c'mon, you know you're out there - Hillel is a 501(c)3...)).
As an aside, during the last night of the conference (held at the awesomest museum), there was a presentation held in recognition of some of the Hillel professionals for having served for such a long time. For a visual, they put up a screen behind the speakers with a Twitter feed for Hillel Institute. But here's what's peculiar, although there exists a Twitter feed for HI, it only includes one post. Which means, instead of actually inputting and actually tweeting, they created a computer simulation of the HI account tweeting about such and such person (pictured above).
I don't know whether that indicates that they get Twitter, in that they are using it in a presentation, or the opposite: that they get that it's hip, but don't know how to use it. Either way, it was still strange and I think that they haven't realized how they can harness Twitter to work for them yet.
While talking this over with someone afterwards, I realized they should incorporate what they are doing, much like what goes on in some classrooms and at other conferences: which is to put up a screen with a live feed of a certain Twitter hashtag that is germane to the discussion. This allows not only a fuller conversation to take place (because there are more people contributing to the conversation than simply the people speaking in the room), but the speaker(s) can reference some discussion points taking place in the Twitter hashtag feed. Moreover, not only does the conversation in the room become more robust, but also people not in the room can participate or at least be aware of the discussion underway.
Hopefully, Hillel will catch up soon....

11 August 2010

Shepping Nahas for Rabbi Weiss: Musing on "Kiddush Open Orthodoxy" at the Hillel Institute

This week, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is holding its inaugural Hillel Institute, along with a Pre-Hillel Institute for new Hillel hirees that took place prior to the conference, which I am attending. One thing that has struck me is that a few people to whom I've introduced myself have remarked, once I identify which rabbinical school I attended, "I've not met a YCT guy I didn't like" or something along those lines. Although at first I caught myself wanting to facetiously say "You haven't met many have you?", I realized YCT does graduate good guys (which I like to call a 'kiddush Open Orthodoxy'). But it's not simply that, but also specifically within a Hillel context: that YCT graduates are excellent for enriching the lives of Jewish college students.
Moreover, there has recently been an explosion of YCT rabbis going into the campus rabbinate: there have been more graduates in the last two classes in the field than there were in the previous four. If you want numbers, out of the total 62 guys who have gone through the program and graduated, of the 20 graduates in the last two years, 7.5 of them have gone into the campus rabbinate (one of them is splitting his time between working in a shul and on campus), while six of the first 42 graduates went into it (and four remain in it at present).
And those numbers have been showing a little bit this week: the YCT guys are bringing a robust Judaism to the table. Interestingly, the primary theme for guided discussions this week has been balancing breadth and depth and, although Hillel has been working on the breadth aspect for years,
the latter of which is something to where YCT graduates are poised to bring Jewish knowledge, wisdom, and tradition. What's fascinating to me is that, while a YCT student, I thought many times while in the course of discussions being held at school, speakers talking to us, or certain topics being tackled, we were at the forefront of rabbinic education and poised to lead the Jewish world to greater heights - but, at the time, it also seemed like mere pie-in-the-sky musings. However, seeing the YCT graduates here is definitely starting to make it seem a little bit more realistic.

16 July 2010

Tabling for Hillel at the ZBT Convention

Yesterday, my wife (who is the Director for Beach Hillel) and I manned the table representing Hillel at the national ZBT convention in the Marriott in Manhattan Beach. Hillel was one of a half-dozen organizations tabling, most of whom were Jewish (Young Judea, Chabad on campus, and Maccabi World Union along with OmegaFi and Movember).
ZBT, which are the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew initials צב"ת, stands for ציון במשפט תפדה - "Zion shall be redeemed with justice" (from the first half of Isaiah 1:27),1 is the first Jewish fraternity, which makes sense why there would be so many Jewish organizations represented. However, over time it became simply a historically Jewish fraternity (or, as it was described to me, a non-sectarian Jewish fraternity).
Although we were situated next to Chabad (yes, they had tefillin and were ready to help the Zebes wrap), the interesting ongoing amusing interaction took place at the table across from us. The lady at the Young Judaea table was primarily trying to get the Zebes to sign up for Birthright Israel trips, in which many brothers were interested. However, when she asked if they were Jewish, many of them said they weren't, whereupon she asked if they could pass on the word to their Jewish fraternity brothers. I found it amusing, but probably somewhat confusing to the gentile Zebes.
One further thought: an organization which was not subtly founded as a Jewish-Zionist organization, as mentioned above (and with an inspiringly hopeful phrase behind it, to boot), one would hope that it would be the same today. Although there was a ZBT chapter at the university from which I graduated, I wasn't very familiar with it. But, when I was looking recently into ZBT, I discovered what it's acronym stood for and thought that it was not simply a Zionist/pro-Israel group, but could be an advocate for Israel. Moreover, especially in light of what's been happening recently (e.g. the Goldstone Report), it would be a group that would yearn for Israel to be justified and advocate for it. Moreover, amongst the three Jewish fraternities (AEPi and SAM being the other two), it would be the one to attract students who would advocate and defend Israel on campus, perhaps being partners with either pro-Israel groups (e.g. Anteaters for Israel) or Hillel to strategically deal with anti-Israel activities, speakers, or other such matters (such as the traveling "Apartheid Wall"). However, just because that's the organization's name, doesn't mean that that's what they stand for, as they took out the Zionist part of it shortly after starting up.2 Nevertheless, it will still be interesting working with the local ZBT chapter, as a minority of the Zebes are Jews - but it should be fun :)

1 -
The initials ZBT and the group's chosen Hebrew motto, Zion be-mishpat tipadeh (Zion shall be redeemed with justice), a quotation from the book of Isaiah, well-known in learned circles, had been the suggestion of the men's Bible instructor, Rabbi Bernard Drachman (1861-1945). The ancient phrase had already been taken up by the budding Zionist movement, and the full quote - Zion be-mishpat tipadeh ve-shaveha be-tzedaka (Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her , with righteousness) - is emblazoned in Hebrew on the delegate's badge, which Gottheil himself wore to the fourth Zionist Congress in August 1900 in London."
Marianne Rachel Sanua, Here's To Our Fraternity: One Hundred Years of Zeta Beta Tau, 1898-1998 (Hanover, NH: Zeta Beta Tau, 1998), 11.
2 - "The group's formal objectives, according to its first charter, were "to promote the cause of Zionism and the welfare of Jews in general; and to unite fraternally all collegiate Zionists of the United States and Canada." - Ibid., 12. However, soon, the Zionist part was taken out:
As one of the founders, Maurice L. Zellermayer, reported, in an early history of ZBT, "Zeta Beta Tau: The First Twenty-Five Years, 1898-1923," "It was found that it would be for the best interests of the Fraternity not to limit ourselves solely to the question of Zionism, that, as a Jewish College Fraternity, we ought not to shut out those Jewish college men who were desirous of entering our Fraternity, but had not, as yet, taken any definite stand on the Zionist question." Within a year (November 1901), ZBT's administration had revised its charter to eliminate the goal of promoting Zionism and had resolved that the new object of the fraternity would be simply the "promotion of Judaism."
- Ibid., 13-14.

15 July 2010

Excerpts from David Patterson's 2009 May Smith Lecture on Redemption, Anti-Semitism & the Messiah

On Sunday morning, while ellipticalling, I read David Patterson's lecture "Though the Messiah May Tarry: A Reflection on Redemption in Our Time,"1 and I wanted to select a few interesting passages from it: one on belief, one on anti-semitism/anti-messianism, one on redemption, and one on time and the Messiah. The selection of his regarding anti-semitism is, I believe, the most novel of these quotes (although time and the Messiah is also neat).
Here is an interesting quote regarding
belief (17-18):
The word faith appears in the Christian Scriptures one hundred times more frequently than in the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew Bible is about six times longer than the Christian Scriptures. Because of this accent on the faith of the individual, Christians generally view redemption in terms of a personal salvation, so that salvation belongs to the individual believer. And it rests at least as much upon the content of belief - on accepting Jesus as the Savior in accordance with John 3:16 - as it does upon the actions of the believer. This is not to say that from a Christian standpoint actions are meaningless; rather, it is to say that belief is essential.

In Judaism, belief is not so essential, at least not in the same way. Hence, in Judaism, we have the concept of the Righteous among the Nations, people who are near to God, even though they are not followers of Judaism. Because the Jewish accent is on living in such a way as to assume responsibility even for the actions of others, redemption is a matter that concerns the community. Because redemption is not about me - because it means serving others in spite of myself - it require getting rid of the one thing most precious to me: my ego. Perhaps here lies the key to waiting and working for redemption, both for Christians and for Jews. Here, too, lies one key to the animosity that both face in the effort to bring about the redemption of humanity, from left-wing intellectualism to Islamic Jihadism.
One on anti-semitism/anti-messianism (pp. 18-19):
...in the contexts of the Jewish wait for the Messiah, we discover the essence of anti-Semitism: it is an anti-messianism. The "wandering" Jew turns out to be the waiting Jew and, therefore, the hated Jew, for the Jew's wait unsettles those who would have things settled through the totalitarian rule of one worldview. The presence of the Jew is a constant reminder that we are forever in debt and that no payment will do, because payment is always due. And so, among the anti-Semites, it is a truism that the Jews control the ledgers of the world. The hatred of the Jews is the oldest hatred, because the challenge from the Jews is the oldest challenge to the ego that would curl up in the comfort of looking out for Number One. Both the religious and the ideological forms of anti-Semitism seek a final solution in matter of redemption. In their totalitarian appropriation of the other, both would either assimilate or annihilate the Jew, whose very existence disturbs their sleep with the insistence that the wait for the Messiah is an interminable service to the other person.
One on redemption (p. 20):
...the Jew waits not for the world to adopt a certain creed, but for the world to take on a certain character. One thing is clear, at least from a Jewish standpoint: the matter of redemption is not settled. What is clear to Judaism, however, may create some confusion in Christianity, where, according to traditional understanding, the redemption was accomplished with the Resurrection. Where redemption is concerned, most Christians believe there is nothing to wait for.
And, finally, one on time and the Messiah (pp. 20-21):
...in the Talmud, it is written that there will be no Messiah for Israel, because those days have already passed, in the time of Hezekiah (Sanhedrin 99a); the point is not to put an end to the wait and the expectation, but to underscore its endless duration. The Talmud also maintains that all the dates for the ultimate redemption have passed (Sanhedrin 97b). Once again, the teaching is not that we should leave off with waiting; rather, it is that now only we can bring the Messiah, for only we can wait infinitely, through the continual effort to meet an infinite responsibility to and for the other person. Only we can wait, and not God, because only we operate within the narrow confines of time. Time is the tarrying of the Messiah; that the Messiah tarries is what gives meaning to life, for the dimension of meaning is the dimension of time.
1 - Delivered on 26 January 2009 as the May Smith Lecture on Post-Holocaust Christian/Jewish Dialogue (published as a booklet in 2009, with an introduction by Alan L. Berger, Administrator for the May Smith Lecture Series at Florida Atlantic University)

14 July 2010

Crown Heights Riots, Protesting, and Harmony

Yesterday, Shemspeed released a press release that starts off with the title "20 Years After the Crown Heights Race Riots, Black and Jewish Community Leaders Endorse DeScribe's "Harmony" Music Video as a Constructive Tool for Unity and Racial Harmony in Brooklyn" with a link to the aforementioned music video. One of the paragraphs contained within include the following background:
It's been almost 20 years since the Crown Heights riots showed the ugly face of racial tension that exists between the Black and the Jewish communities in this Brooklyn neighbourhood. Many efforts since then have been made to create multi-cultural programming and social structures to work towards peace and mutual understanding between the two communities, but still today the lack of real communication remains, and most of all, the tension still remains. In a recent wave of violence and rising crime in Crown Heights it has become obvious that we must push for "raising an awareness of the need for racial harmony in Crown Heights and in the world."

Reading the press release in my inbox along with just having finished reading Rabbi Avi Weiss' Spiritual Activism, compels me to quote from that book regarding the Crown Heights issue. But before I get to that quote, let me quote a more relevant one first from an earlier book of his:
In August of 1991..., when Yankele Rosenbaum was murdered during the Crown Heights riots, we went directly after the big guy. We accused New York City mayor, David Dinkins, of holding the cops back in order to allow the raging mob to vent. Our language was precise: The mayor, like all of us, saw what was happening. If he remained silent, he - not a lower level official or police captain - is culpable.

There's no question that our accusations got through to Dinkins. In one of the most successful rallies we ever mounted, a mock coffin was brought to Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence, as our way of placing accountability at the mayor's door. The mayor was incensed, and, that evening, on the local news, accused me of racially dividing the city. But an important point was made: The man at the top was responsible. Over the ensuing period of time, a large group of activists, mostly from non-establishment grassroots organizations, led by Yankele Rosenbaum's brother, Norman, militated against the mayor until he was voted out of office.1

Now, on to the quote from the book I just finished (and recently quoted on my blog):
The propensity to not listen, to discourage and stifle dissent, is by no means the exclusive characteristic of the right. At times, some of the most liberal and reputedly most tolerant voices in the Jewish community are equally guilty of refusing to listen.

In the fall of 1992, for example, I vigorously protested former New York City mayor David Dinkins's handling of the Yankel Rosenbaum case. Dinkins was the scheduled speaker at the Conservative rabbinic school, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in New York. From my seat in the front row, I rose to shake Dinkins's hand as he entered the auditorium. This was my way of communicating to him, in my mind, at least, that our conflict was not a personal one.

Throughout his talk, however, and particularly when criticizing some in the clergy for inflaming racial tensions, Dinkins, as the New York Post described it the next day, "stared directly at Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of his harshest critics in the case." When Dinkins completed his talk, the chancellor of JTS, who was chairing the event, invited questions from the audience. The chancellor obviously saw my raised hand, a clear indication to him that I had no intention of disrupting the proceedings. However, he refused to acknowledge me. He knew I disagreed with the mayor and, therefore, my views could not be tolerated. For good measure, the next day New York Newsday quoted him as labeling me "the Jewish Al Sharpton."2

1 - Avraham Weiss, Principles of Spiritual Activism (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 2002), 54.
2 - Rabbi Avraham Weiss, Spiritual Activism: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008), 148.

09 July 2010

Some Elements of Jewish Spiritual Activism

One of my job responsibilities is to be an activist, primarily on campuses. The amusing thing is that even though I went to YCT, I was one of the least inclined students to attend rallies, etc. Nevertheless, one of the factors (as I understand it) as to why I was hired was on account of having attended YCT, which Rabbi Avi Weiss founded and was supposed to be a social activist rabbi. In any event, I've been trying to figure out how best to utilize my resources and achieve results on campuses in the area, primarily with regard to anti-Israel occurrences. So, to that end, I started reading Rabbi Weiss' book Spiritual Activism a month or so ago, although I had put it on hold to read other things. However, recently, when I saw Rabbi Weiss at the IRF conference, he suggested I read it - so I recently resumed reading it. Although there have been a variety of interesting pieces in the work, I wanted to pull out a couple of particularly interesting points: one on "positive" vs. "negative" Judaism and one on speaking out for others and for ourselves.
With regard to his idea of "positive" vs. "negative"Judaism, he wrote that it is important
to recognize that the essence of spiritual activism is to ignite the Jewish spark within each of us. The activist who is grounded exclusively in physical defense - demonstrations, rallies, protests, political lobbying - doesn't understand the higher purpose of activism. If I am a Jew only to fight anti-Semitism, that is negative Judaism. If, however, I am a Jew because I appreciate the Sabbath, I treasure the Jewish laws and rituals that ennoble the life of the Jew, and I devote time to reading Jewish books and to Torah study, that is positive Judaism. Negative Judaism will not endure; positive Judaism will.

Yediat Yisrael, "Jewish knowledge," including the Torah education, is inextricably bound with ruach Yisrael, "the spirit of Israel." Yediat Yisrael is crucial to Jewish identity, Jewish activism, and Jewish survival. In its absence, Jews are in danger of forgetting who they are, of ceasing to stand up for Jewish causes, and of casting away Jewish values and rituals, which become meaningless without learning and understanding. The inevitable result is assimilation and loss. Yediat Yisrael, "Jewish knowledge," and ruach Yisrael, "the spirit of Israel," together encapsulate positive Judaism.1
And here is what he wrote upon the topic of speaking out for others and speaking out on behalf of one's self:
Speaking out for others carries relatively little risk and even brings acclaim and approval from the larger community. Speaking out on behalf of our own interests, on the other hand, touches upon our insecurities and heightened sensitivity to what others may think of us - insecurities and sensitivities that we, as Diaspora Jews, have acquired and absorbed over the years. As a result, we feel strong and unhampered when fighting for others, yet deferential and afraid when fighting for ourselves.2
Rabbi Weiss continues on and writes
As Jews, we have a responsibility to be both universalists and particularists. While our spiritual activism shares the universalist agenda, it can never be at the expense of the commitment to our own people. We easily remember that our sage Hillel asked, "If I am only for myself, what am I worth?" Yet we too often forget his more important question that immediately precedes it - "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"3

1 -
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, Spiritual Activism: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008), 36-37.
2 - Ibid., 56.
3 - Ibid.

08 July 2010

Gahanna & Gehenna

I grew up in a suburb of Columbus, OH called Gahanna and it was a nice place. Gahanna, in the local native American language means "three in one", since there are three rivers that converge into one river.
When I got to high school, I would tell people where I live and would sometimes snicker, saying "Like Hell?" Although at first, I had no idea what they were talking about, but they said Gehenna. It's also been weird to tell people I'm going back home to visit my parents and people say, "You're going back to Hell?" since it's actually a pleasant place. In any event, whenever I've told people where I grew up and/or where my parents live, I've said "The city where I grew up rhymes with 'banana'" and then proceed to say "Gahanna."
Since I'm on the topic of Gehenna, I thought I would quote a couple of articles regarding its name:
The Greek noun gehenna, usually translated as hell in the English New Testament, is used in a bewildering variety of ways in ancient sacred literature. In the Bible and related literature, it occurs in three senses: as an ordinary geographical location in Jerusalem; as an extraordinary place of punishment for the wicked, located in the area of Jerusalem; and as an otherworldly place of punishment for the wicked after death. Eventually, the name Gehenna for the geographical valley became a term for the underworld.1
The New Testament renders Gê...Hinnōm by Γεέννα, "Gehenna," a term which has become a name for hell. Both Old and New Testaments use other terminology, such as Hades, Sheol, the Pit, the Grave, and so on. By the time of early Christianity, they seem to have more or less coalesced in meaning, though they will have had slightly different shades of meaning. While Gehenna occurs 10 times in the gospels (Matthew 5:22, 29, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5 and also in James 3:6), occurs 11 times (Matthew 11:23, 16:18; Luke 10:15, 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; I Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 14). This suggests a conception, probably still fairly fluid, which shares elements of contemporary Greek and Roman cosmology, themselves heirs to the Mediterranean koine, together with Jewish elements, which themselves seem to have absorbed earlier Egyptian or even Zoroastrian ideas (such as the Lake of Fire).2

1 - Lloyd R. Bailey, "Gehenna: The Topography of Hell," The Biblical Archaeologist 49, no. 3 (September 1986), 187.
2 - N. Wyatt, "The Concept and Purpose of Hell: Its Nature and Development in West Semitic Thought," Numen 56 (2009), 180.

06 July 2010

IRF Conference 2010

While away on my recent trip out east, where we attended a couple of friends' weddings, a bris milah of a baby boy of our friends', and saw friends and family, I also attended the annual conference of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF). It was held at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD, which was a very lovely facility - I would definitely like to return there for any conference, it was just that pleasant. The conference itself was a good time and I am certainly glad I attended. Although for the content of the conference, I will simply defer to the press release issued by the IRF about it, which can be seen below, I enjoyed the conference for both getting together with rabbis who were either in YCT with me or I had known elsewhere and getting to catch up with them, as well as being with and discussing issues with fellow Open/Modern Orthodox rabbis, which provided for an excellent atmosphere. I'm not sure when I will be able to go to the next IRF conference, but I look forward to when I can return.
Press Release:

International Rabbinic Fellowship

347 West 34th Street

New York, NY 10001

Press Release

Contact: Rabbi Jason Herman, Executive Director

Phone: 917.751.5265

Email: jlherman@jlherman.net


9 A.M. EDT, July 2, 2010


The International Rabbinic Fellowship, an organization of over 150 American, Israeli, and world rabbis met this past week at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center outside Baltimore, Maryland to strengthen collegial relationships, study torah, and discuss ideas that impact rabbinic practice. The group voted on and adopted several policies and resolutions that will guide Orthodoxy’s future.

A highlight of the conference was the presence of Rav David Stav, Rabbi of the Shoham community in Israel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva and founder of Tzohar, a large Israeli Rabbinic group. Conference attendees were privileged to discuss at length with Rabbi Stav critical issues facing the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Resolutions that were discussed in depth and adopted by the IRF included the official establishment of the IRF’s conversion committee (Va’ad Giur) that will oversee, guide, and ensure the thoroughness of conversions performed by IRF members. The committee consists of several American and Israeli well known rabbinic scholars and has been constituted as a body not to centralize conversions but to help guide the group’s members in conversions that they may effect for their own congregants and constituents.

Said Rabbi Barry Gelman, IRF president, "The IRF's Vaad Giur will serve to ensure that each rabbi retains the proper ability to care for and guide their own candidates for conversion. The IRF Giyur process, which includes a very important mentorship component, guarantees that candidates for conversion will be well prepared and that the Rabbis are provided with ongoing guidance and support."

Orthodoxy’s broadest resolution yet outlining the role of and opportunities available for women working in Orthodox synagogues in Rabbinic capacities was also adopted at the conference.

The following is the text of the resolution as adopted by the International Rabbinic Fellowship:

IRF Resolution on Women in Communal Leadership Roles

The International Rabbinic Fellowship is thankful and grateful to the Almighty and to a cadre of visionary educators, rabbis and communal leaders of the Modern Orthodox community for the amazing growth of Torah learning for women, in all its forms, which has transformed the face of the Orthodox community for the better in the last fifty years.

We strongly support the work and efforts of the myriad of Torah learning programs and institutions for women, both long-established and new, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. We hope that these institutions continue to grow and that even more opportunities for talented women who would like to continue on to the next level of Torah scholarship, involving multi-year opportunities for serious Torah learning, will emerge in the years to come.

We express our support for the sincere desire of the graduates of these learning programs to contribute their spiritual talents to the Jewish people as teachers, spiritual guides and mentors. We also affirm the dedication and sacrifice of so many women in our community, and their desire to serve their congregations and their people in formal leadership capacities, while affirming the specific areas that Halakha delimits.

We strongly encourage communities and their rabbinic leaders to create opportunities to discuss this important phenomenon in an open and reflective manner, in order to enable continuing progress in a spirit of shalom and communal harmony.

In an effort to outline some practical guidelines that we believe our communities should consider – recognizing that each community and its rabbinic leadership retain the authority to determine what is appropriate for their communal context – we affirm that:

Observant and committed Orthodox women who are learned, trained and competent should have every opportunity to fully serve the Jewish community:

1. As teachers of Torah, in all its breadth and depth – Shebikhtav, Shebe‘al Peh and Practical Halakha – to both men and women.

2. As persons who can answer questions and provide guidance to both men and women in all areas of Jewish law in which they are well-versed.

3. As clergy who function as pastoral counselors – visiting the sick, helping couples work through relationship difficulties, taking care of the arrangements for burial, speaking at life-cycle events and giving counsel to individuals and families in distress.

4. As spiritual preachers and guides who teach classes and deliver divrei Torah and derashot, in the synagogue and out, both during the week and on Shabbatot and holidays.

5. As spiritual guides and mentors, helping arrange and managing life-cycle events such as weddings, bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrations and funerals, while refraining from engaging in those aspects of these events that Halakha does not allow for women to take part in.

6. As presidents and full members of the boards of synagogues and other Torah institutions.

For more information about the International Rabbinic Fellowship or its conference contact any of the following IRF officers:

Rabbi Barry Gelman, tel. 713.723.3850, email

Rabbi Hyim Shafner, tel. 314.583.4397, email

Rabbi Nissan Antine, tel. 301.279.7010 x 209, email<rabbiantine@gmail.com>

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, tel. 310.276.9269, email

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, tel. 212.724.4145, email <mdangel@jewishideas.org>

Rabbi Jason Herman, IRF Executive Director, tel. 917.751.5265, email