28 December 2011

שלשים לכח: Introductory Comments

Both before, during, and after turning thirty a few months ago, my mind turned to perhaps the most famous rabbinic statement regarding changing ages - that of Yehudah, son of Tema, found toward the end of the fifth chapter of tractate Avot, wherein he goes through every decade of ones life and a few other ages, as well and characterizes them.  Regarding turning thirty, he says simply "שלשים לכח".  It's not simple to translate it - there are multiple options: thirty to power, thirty to ability, thirty to strength, thirty to energy, etc. (or strength at thirty, ability at thirty, etc.).
     Now that I'm thirty, what does this mean for us aged 30-39?  There's no simple answer; furthermore, inasmuch as traditional commentators have penned much regarding the earlier ages, there is very little written on 30.  By the way, 30's an exciting age, so it should be a special one.
      In any event, here is what some traditional commentators have written on the matter:
Rabbi Menahem Meiri, wrote (in his Beit haBehirah): "כלומר שאז נתמלא כחו והוא בתכלית הכח יתבונן שלא יוציאנה רק לעבודת השי"ת כמו שנאמר בלוים שלא היו כשרים לעבודת משא אלא מבן שלשים ומעלה".  Rabbi Shimon, son of Zemah, Duran wrote (in his Magen Avot): "למדנו מלויים, שמבן שלושים שנה היו מקימין המשכן ומפרקין אותו, וטוענין העגלות ונושאין בכת".  Similarly, Rabbi Ovadiah, son of Abraham, of Bertinoro, wrote (in his commentary): "שהלוים היו מקימים את המשכן ומפרקין וטוענין את העגלות ונושאין בכתף מבן שלשים שנה ומעלה".  Rabbi Israel Lipschitz wrote (in the Yakhin part of the Tiferet Yisrael) "כבר נתבשל כחו שבגופו בכל האפשרי".
      The upshot is that some of them say that hitting thirty is the apex of one's strength, and they commonly say that there is a connection with the levites who, at 30, are able to carry the implements of the tabernacle and generally serve there.  It's interesting to me to consider the strength element, especially since I took a two and a half month hiatus from lifting, before getting back into it.  For me, generally, I have enjoyed lifting weights and have seen it as an integral part of my identity.  I was kind of sad that I let it go for a few reasons, but it has been reinvigorating to get back into it and I am totally enjoying returning to work on my strength-building, which is very much in line with the Mishnah!

22 November 2011

An Excellent Place for QR Codes in Jewish Life: Kashrut Certificates

While on vacation in Florida, a difficulty presented itself to us: we would see a kosher certificate with a rabbi's name on it, but know nothing about the rabbi. Thus, even when there is a kashrut certificate (תעודת כשרות), that gives the [potential] consumer very little information regarding either the kosher supervising agency or the rabbi providing the supervision. Although for big cities, people may frequently not know who the particular rabbis or certifying agency is, but especially so when travelling and one has no sense of the local rabbinate. Now while one could do a quick google search on one's smartphone while pondering the restaurant, there could be an easier way of informing the consumer.

Just as I have suggested for zoos and for Jewish communal agencies, it would be helpful if, on the kashrut certificate, it would include a quick response (QR) code (it looks like a two-dimensional barcode). The QR code that would appear on the kosher certificate would send the potential consumer to a webpage either on the supervising kosher agency's website, the supervising rabbi's website, or the restaurant/supermarket's website.

(As an aside, this would also be helpful in the case of the Tav HaYosher, which would send the potential customer to either a page with information about the Tav HaYosher in general, a Tav HaYosher page with information about the particular restaurant, or a page on the restaurant's website.)

The inclusion of a QR code (or Microsoft Tag or any other similar products) would be a quick and easy way for informing customers and it wouldn't be much more difficult to include on the kashrut certificate.

03 November 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Tosefta IV: סדר נזיקין

Onward on my quest to count up the most prevalent mentions of rabbis in the Tosefta, I finished yesterday on סדר נזיקין (you can see previous posts on סדר זרעים, סדר מועד, and סדר נשים). Of note, Rabbi Yehudah was, once again, far ahead of everybody else in the seder. After him were the חכמים, followed by a bundle of of the next three, all pretty close to each other. I am listing the top fifteen, all of which have double digit mentions or more. One peculiar note, though, is that עדיות was somewhat anomalous in that there were many more rabbis being mentioned than is typical when compared to others.  (For a comparison of this סדר in the Mishnah, see here.)
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - חכמים
3 - רבי יוסי
4 - רבי מאיר
5 - רבי שמעון
6 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל
7 - רבי עקיבא
7 - רבי שמעון בן אלעזר
9 - רבי
10 - רבי אליעזר
11 - בית הלל
12 - רבי יהושע
13 - בית שמאי
14 - רבי ישמעאל
15 - רבי אלעזר
For the most mentions in each tractate, here is the listing:
בבא קמא - רבי יהודה
בבא מציעא - רבי יהודה
בבא בתרא - רבי יהודה
סנהדרין - רבי יהודה
מכות - רבי יהודה
שבועות - רבי שמעון
עדיות - חכמים
עבודה זרה - חכמים ורבי מאיר
הוריות - רבי יהודה ורבי מאיר ורבי יהושע וחכמים

02 November 2011

Reading Dani Shapiro's Devotion

For our first gathering of Clal's Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship (of which I am among the participants of the cohort) next week, we are to read Dani Shapiro's Devotion: A Memoir. I am not used to reading such books - most of my reading consists of either the New Yorker or academic articles - in fact, this book is probably the first memoir I've read (unless there were some in college I read (but that's been a while)).  This book was both interesting to a read because it was an unfamiliar genre as well as somewhat frustrating to read because of Mrs. Shapiro's perspectives.  As this book was assigned reading to a bunch of rabbis coming together to discuss, my initial thought was that it was about a woman seeking to connect Jewishly and how we can learn from her and trying to reach out to Jews who are on the periphery - I was sort of correct.
       Fortunately, due to my 2.2 mile walk to shul, I read 1/5th of it walking to shul on Thursday on the first day of Sukkot, the second 1/5th walking back, the third fifth walking there on Friday on the second day of Sukkot, the fourth walking back home, and finishing the last fifth on Friday afternoon before shabbat. It was nice to have such an enchanting walking partner as this book, for it was definitely a book who desires an attentive reader and I was certainly sucked in, even thinking about the book whilst in shul.
     Shapiro presents herself in this book as seeking out an emptiness in her life - a spiritual emptiness which he has tried involving herself in yoga but still looking for more.  The most salient expression of her place is found early on (10-11):
I needed to place my faith in something.  I didn't want our family's life to speed by in a blur of meals, schools, camps, barbeques, picnics, vacations - each indistinguishable from the next.  I wanted to slow it down - to find ways to infuse our lives with greater depth and meaning.  My own childhood had been spent steeped in religious ritual.  There were rituals for eating, speaking, sleeping, praying.  I never knew why we did what we did - it was simply the way it was.  I had fled this at the earliest opportunity, but replaced it with nothing.
        What greatly frustrated me about her telling her Jewish journey was how many lacunae there were! If a/the central point of this book is her trying to wrestle with incorporating Jewish practices into her life, her family and especially with her son, what happened on the opposite end, so to speak? How did she drop what she had Jewishly growing up? She mentions (frequently) that she grew up not only going to Jewish schools, but yeshivos, no less, so she presumably learned a lot about Judaism. Where did that go? She mentions that she learned by rote and understood nothing, but then what? That would seem to me to be a big crux of her story - how and why did she drop her Jewish upbringing? She briefly mentions going to college and changing things, but she doesn't mention what caused or underlied that decision....
      I wonder if a part of that lack of description of her drifting away isn't a part of a broader issue of her being somewhat - for a lack of a better term - fuzzy relationship with Judaism.   It seems that whenever it comes to Jewish matters, there is a fuzziness and uncomfortability with what is going on through her telling. Why is her relationship with Judaism so? It seemed throughout that she made decisions about guiding her life in certain ways and then doesn't understand why she arrives at such consequences in her life. It seems like she's gone through life worrying about a career and a husband and a child and hasn't really thought, aside from her yoga practice, much about her life.
     Anyways, she has plenty of frum family members and her Jewish identity is largely wrapped up in her parents. While she struggles throughout with her deceased mother, she loves her deceased father greatly. It is him to whom she largely attributes her Jewish practices and greatly admires. She views him as representative of Jewish tradition.  It is a really dear and sweet relationship she has with her father, I must say.
     As a Modern Orthodox Jew, it was interesting to see that her family has a significant connection to the YU world.  She mentions that Rabbi Zev Reichman and Rabbi Daniel Feldman are in her family (80), but the most significant piece was an excerpt about the Rav (195):
I remembered a story my aunt Shirley had once told me.  A famous Orthodox rabbi, Joseph Soloveitchik, paid his respects to my grandmother during her convalescence after a massive stroke following my grandfather's death.  My grandmother had already lost use of the left side of her body, and had lost most of her ability to speak.  But through Shirley, she managed to convey her question to the rabbi.  why, she wanted to know, would God visit such hardship on an ordinary woman?  She understood the trials God inflicted on great men like Abraham and Isaac, but why on someone like herself?  The rabbi's answer was this: Mrs. Shapiro, do you realize what you're asking?  You're asking to have a dialogue with God.
     She deals with other topics in the book, but the Jewish pieces were the real points of interest for me.  I look forward to discussing it next week when our fellowship gathers :)

01 November 2011

Watching "UN Me"

Yesterday afternoon, as part of a Beach Hillel program, I saw the movie "UN Me".  Now, while I attended partly because of my job and association with Beach Hillel, I was interested to hear criticisms of the UN.  It wasn't a topic I had ever particularly given any thought, let alone any attention.  So, I watched.
     The movie, itself, discusses what the UN is supposed to be and provides several in-depth examples of how it is sadly incompetent/ineffective, such as peacekeeping operations in Rwanda & Cote d'Ivoire, the IAEA & Iran, and the terrorism specialist not dealing with terrorism, amongst others.  The movie would've been horribly depressing were it not for the amusing string of humor woven throughout the movie by the "star" of the documentary, Ami Horowitz.  
      One of the cool things about the showing was that Mr. Horowitz was on-hand to take the audiences questions, both on-stage and off.  Some of the students, it should be noted, were certainly tremendously appreciative of such an intimate audience with Mr. Horowitz.
     Coming away from the movie, I felt two things: 1) Thankful to be informed about the dysfunctionality of the UN and, more strongly, 2) Frustrated and sort of upset about the whole situation with the UN.  Although Mr. Horowitz said an important course of action that people can do is to contact our congressional representatives and express our concern with them, I wished more could be done directly.  A severe issue is peacekeeping, which the peacekeepers often fail at doing - I wish I could bring a team or multiple such teams to an area such as either Darfur or Southern Sudan to enforce the peace and protect the innocent people there, whether by myself or, if I had millions upon millions of dollars, to provide for such personnel.  Ah well, I am sure more can be done by people, but, ultimately, the simplest method is what Mr. Horowitz suggested.  
    I look forward to when the finished version is released in the springtime and hope it receives a large viewership.

05 October 2011

PDF of Minhah for the Ten Days of Repentance

These last couple of days during this time on the Jewish calendar known as עשרת ימי תשובה - the ten days of repentance - I was struck with a challenge: in the afternoons, I am typically somewhere out and about and I need to daven מנחה (the afternoon prayer).  Now while during the rest of the year, I can do so by heart, there are several liturgical insertions for this time period and I haven't yet memorized them.  But, I was thinking, what if there was an on-the-go version for which I wouldn't need a סידור (siddur - prayerbook).  So, mostly going off of a Word document template I had been sent years ago, I put together a file of the prayers for minhah (also transliterated as minchah or mincha).
However, I know I am not the only one in the world facing this issue, so the pdf version of the file is online here and you can feel free to print it out, download it to your mobile device, etc....  

I have two things I would like to note about it: 1) It is really a simple file and nothing fancy about it - it's just the straight Hebrew and 2) There are no choreographical directions, etc....
Enjoy and גמר חתימה טובה.

26 September 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Tosefta III: סדר נשים

Yesterday, I finished up going through סדר נשים of the Tosefta in counting up how frequently our sages appear (just as I've done with סדר זרעים and סדר מועד).  Below, you will see the top fifteen sages (for a comparison of everything that follows below, see the posting for the same סדר in the Mishnah): 
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי מאיר
3 - רבי שמעון
4 - רבי יוסי
5 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל
6 - רבי עקיבא
7 - רבי אליעזר
8 - חכמים
9 - רבי שמעון בן אלעזר
10 - רבי
11 - בית הלל ובית שמאי
13 - רבי יהושע
14 - רבי אלעזר
15 - רבי טרפון ורבי יהודה בן בתירה
For the most in each מסכתא:
יבמות - רבי יהודה
כתובות - רבי יהודה
נדרים - רבי יוסי
נזירות - רבי שמעון
סוטה - רבי יהודה ורבי עקיבא
גיטין - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל
קידושין - רבי מאיר

At this point, I've tackled half of the entire Tosefta, so I wanted to provide an update on who the most popular are thus far. What follows are the top twenty most frequently mentioned sages in the Tosefta in the first three sedarim. Of note is that the top ten all have been mentioned more than 100 times, whereas the next ten are mentioned between 30 and 73 times, so the top ten (and especially the top four) have quite some separation between them and the rest. 
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי יוסי
3 - רבי מאיר
4 - רבי שמעון
5 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל
6 - חכמים
7 - רבי אליעזר
8 - רבי
9 - בית הלל
10 - בית שמאי ורבי שמעון בן אלעזר
12 - רבי יהושע
13 - רבי אלעזר
14 - רבן גמליאל
15 - רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה
16 - רבי אלעזר ברבי צדוק
17 - רבי אלעזר ברבי שמעון
18 - רבי טרפון
19 - רבי אליעזר בן יעקב ורבי נתן
 Thus far (halfway through the Tosefta), the leaderboard for most references in most tractates looks like this
 1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי שמעון ורבי מאיר
4 - חכמים ורבי יוסי ובית שמאי ובית הלל
8 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל ורבי עקיבא ורבן יוחנן בן זכאי ושמעון בן אלעזר

19 September 2011

9/11 Reflections Ten Years Later as a Student in Jerusalem

On 11 September 2001, I had been in Jerusalem for two weeks, where I was studying at Ohr Somayach through Yeshiva University, where I had studied the previous semester. On the day in question, I had woken up late, although the planes didn't crash into the buildings for another couple of hours.  It was actually still during our big lunch break that the planes went into the buildings.  Now, although I had spent the previous spring in New York City, I wasn't familiar with what the World Trade Center buildings  were (I grew up in central Ohio, after all), so I neither understood their significance nor how many people were there....  
There are two other important pieces of the context of my experience of 9/11: the first of these was that there had been numerous bombings - suicide and otherwise - in Israel and we had to be careful about riding buses and going certain places because of Arab bombers. With these planes being led into the towers by Muslim extremists, this wasn't so peculiar, as we were acutely aware of Muslim/Arab terrorism in Israel. You could almost say that Arabs/Muslims wanting to do harm to do Jews and to the West was already on our radar.
The second of these was that, being at Ohr Somayach, we didn't have tvs around - so I never saw the news breaking about the planes hitting the Twin Towers. Moreover, to this day, I still have not seen the footage of the planes hitting the towers. Now, granted, I've seen a brief clip or two of the plumes of smoke emanating from the towers, although I've never seen either the full clips of them being hit, nor have I ever seen any of the coverage. Now, in our day, I'm pretty sure I can easily find coverage of it, but I feel somewhat weird about it, as it would simply be watching an historical event, almost like watching the Hindenburg go down or violence in Rwanda - it's trying to understand a historical event that happened somewhere. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on September 11th, we heard (whether rightly or not) that America / President Bush had given essentially a carte blanche to deal with it's Arab terror issue, since America now understood, to some degree, what it's like to deal with terrorism. Now, having been at yeshivah, we didn't get newspapers nor have any tvs around (although we could go to Internet cafes and catch up on what was going on in the world, check email, etc.), so I wasn't terribly aware of how people back in the US were dealing with the events on 9/11. However, I remember a week or so following the attacks that I was on a bus (yes, I know not the safest activity...) and seeing a newspaper discussing it, but not having seen anything about it at all afterwards.
When I returned Stateside in January 2002, there were two strange things that I noticed: 1) there was a greater sense of nationalism/patriotism in the US, which was not simply strange, but was significantly different than when I had left. When going to another country, I know that things are going to be different than they are in the US, so I don't encounter culture shock. However, when I returned home, I experienced the most significant culture shock of my life: I didn't expect that my own country would be different when I returned(!).
The second thing that was peculiar to me was that the terrorist attacks in September were still in the newspapers(!). Every day, there was something being discussed about the attacks. In Israel, there were attacks, they got covered, and people moved on. 
Anyways, I would say that we in yeshivah did not experience the same panic that gripped my fellow America citizens in the US at the time and that being aware of terrorist attacks by Arabs/Muslims was already part of our world. I also imagine that other college students studying abroad at the same time may also not have experienced 9/11 the same way those still Stateside did....

11 August 2011

Some Reflections on the Second Annual Hillel Institute

snippet of Tweeting about the conferenceA week ago, I left and returned from attending the second annual Hillel Institute. In the spirit of some of my recent posts (including my conference anticipations), I'm going with ten reflections on the conference:
1) I was happy to see more tweeting (cf. picture to the right) taking place at this year's conference than at last year's conference. It seemed that not only that there were about twice as many people tweeting about the conference, b
ut the plenary address by Wayne Firestone had some active tweeting, which was excellent, allowing even people not there to follow along with his address. I am hoping that next year's address will have an even more robust parallel conversation taking place!
2) The highlight for me was the rabbi
s sessions. It wasn't just hanging out with the other YCT graduates (which was great(!)), but engaging in discourse about delivering Jewish content to the students, which is a core element of rabbis in discussion at Hillel InstituteHillel. Moreover, one of the fascinating aspects of the rabbis' discussions was that we bring much different view of Hillel and the Jewish world than do engagement or programming associates, for instance. We are critical of Hillel because we want to see good Jewish identity growing - it's fascinating stuff :)
3) Once again, we visited the very tripp
y City Museum, which seems to get stranger and more random every step one takes in a mind-blowing way....
4) Wayne Firestone turned in another Steve Jobs-like performance.
5) The Richard M. Joel Exemplar of E
xcellence Awards and Milestones once again went smoothly, quickly, and excellently! (Pictured to the lWayne Firestone handing out awardseft: Wayne Firestone speaking at the awards ceremony)
6) When I read the paper that was sent out to conference attendees, I was enthralled and impressed by the author's understanding
of leadership and how to employ that through the vehicle of narrative. Granted, my skills as a raconteur are lacking, but it's a tool I need to develop....
7) The bulk of our sessions were "Track sessions" which were based around the aforementioned paper. I think they weren't that great
: they were based off of a good idea, but we didn't need that much time to deal with it (and it was a fair degree of writing). (For a more positive assessment of these, see this post.) Interestingly, over the weekend, I then realized it actually was more helpful than when I was in the moment (nevertheless, it was too much time...). Personally, it would have been nice to have a couple of sessions of didactic information (e.g. How-Tos)....
8) Now that I've sort of beaten up on the aforementioned sessions, we did develop a better sense of where we wanted to take Beach Hillel this coming year, which would not have occurred were it not for the conference.
9) There was some great networking there - whether it was with other Hillel professionals there or representative of organizations at the organizational fair. For some organizations and
Southern Californian Hillels, it was how could we work together, which is eminently helpful. For some people, it was nice to meet such interesting and good people. For others, it was who I might want to work with me in the future.
10) I got to hear a tremendously simple, yet helpful guiding question of What are we trying t
o accomplish in any given activity, whether it is a shabbat dinner, class, or Rabbi's Hours? For me, sometimes the answers are so obvious I don't even think about it/them. However, re-investigating the questions and then articulating the answers can better serve me in being effectual.

Overall, the conference was good, once again, and I look forward to attending next year (if possible).

10 August 2011

Once Again, Some Great YCT Representation at Hillel Institute

Most of the YCT rabbis at the second annual Hillel InstituteLast week, during our last night at the second annual Hillel Institute of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, someone asked me about the seemingly numerousness of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) graduates in Hillel. In truth, in no way were YCT graduates the majority of rabbis there, but it was noticeable. For one thing, when we began the Beit midrash session on Wednesday morning, Rabbi Andy Kastner opened it up while Rabbi Ben Berger framed it for everybody. There were lots of options of Rabbi David Kasher teaching at the second annual Hillel Institute while Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz looks on pensivelysessions, although I chose to go to the one led by another two graduates, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz and Rabbi David Kasher.
I've already listed most of the YCT graduates at the conference, with the other three being Rabbi Seth Winberg, Rabbi Josh Feigelson, and myself. And while we have different positions,* we all are involved in our respective Hillels.
Having enjoyed not only the presence of YCT graduates last year, but also the responses regarding them, I was tremendously looking forward to seeing my fellow YCTers at the conference. I wasn't disappointed. Although the foremost reason for being excited to see them was having been trained in the same, special environment of YCT where there was not only a concerned discourse of general matters, but certainly when it came to Judaism (especially in (North) America), an intensive involvement with texts, and over
Rabbi Andy Kastner leading the introduction to the beit midrash session at the second annual Hillel Instituteall awesomeness. However, what may have contributed not only to seeing each other being special and catching up with each other, but also another matter: while at YCT, there is a feeling (largely unarticulated, but something that I felt nearly every day there) that we had a lot of potential in revitalizing the (North) American Jewish community; at the Hillel Institute, we got to hear and see some of the amazing energy being actualized by our fellow graduates. Not only that, but we got to hear further ideas and be inspired by each other.
By far, my favorite aspect of the conference was the sessions where all of the rabbis got together (which is another discussion altogether); however, again, the YCT graduates stood out, especially since three of them were Senior Jewish Educators at their Hillels. I could see how the person who mentioned to me that YCT guys were all over could get that impression....
*Aside from me, there was Rabbi Ben Berger ('09), senior Jewish educator (SJE) at the Hillel at The Ohio State University, Rabbi Josh Feigelson ('05), previously campus rabbi at Northwestern Hillel; Rabbi David Kasher ('07), SJE at Berkeley Hillel; Rabbi Andy Kastner ('10), campus rabbi for Washington University; Rabbi Seth Winberg ('11), associate director at U. of Michigan Hillel; Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz ('10), SJE at the Hillel at UCLA.

08 August 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Tosefta II: סדר מועד

I have now finished going through and counting up the most frequently mentioned sages in סדר מועד of the Tosefta (see here for סדר זרעים). Once again, Rabbi Yehudah is the most frequently mentioned sage (if it were otherwise, it would be a surprise), although some rabbis who appear more frequently in the Tosefta than in the Mishnah are, just like with סדר זרעים, are Rabban Shimon, son of Gamliel, and Rabbi Shimon, son of Eleazar. Also, Rabbi Eleazar, son of Rabbi Zadok, appears with a surprising regularity. Also noteworthy is that Rabbi Eliezer appears much less frequently in the Tosefta than he did in the Mishnah.
Instead of the typical top ten, I figured it would be more interesting to see the top fifteen this time (see here for the Mishnah's top ten of סדר מועד):
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי יוסי
3 - רבי מאיר
4 - חכמים
5 - רבי שמעון
5 - רבי שמעון בן אלעזר

7 - רבי אליעזר
7 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל

9 - בית שמאי
10 - בית הלל
11 - רבי
12 - רבי עקיבא
13 - רבי יהושע
14 - רבי אלעזר
14 - רבי אלעזר ברבי צדוק

And now for the most frequently mentioned sage(s) in each tractate:
שבת - רבי יהודה
ערובין - רבי יהודה
פסחא - רבי יהודה
שקלים - רבי מאיר
כפורים - רבי יהודה
יום טוב - בית שמאי
סוכה - רבי יהודה
ראש השנה - רבי יהודה
תעניות - רבי יהודה
מגלה - רבי ינודה
מועד - רבי יהודה
חגיגה - בית הלל ובית שמאי ורבן יוחנן בן זכאי

07 August 2011

Five Quick Thoughts on the OC Fair

Hall of VendorsHaving gone today to the Orange County Fair for the first time, I had some thoughts:
1) It was great that we were able to get in for only $2 instead of the regular price of $11. This rate is only good between 10-11am on Saturdays and Sundays, which is awesome and we did it, although I was surprised on our way out that the lines for getting tickets were long!
2) Not enough tables outside: whenever looking for a table at which to
sit, they were typically full. Next year, they ought to put out more of them.
3) It's unfortunate that most of the really yummy food is not kosher, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - I don't need fried frog legs, pepperoni pizza rolls, or pork butts, amongst other items....
4) Although the tag line is "Let's Eat", my favorite part was the halls of vendors selling products (pictured above). Granted, this probably was on account of my not being able to eat most of the food there. OTOH, they did have the largest Dippin' Dots stand I'd ever seen (with different options).
5) People walk so slowly. This was crazy how slowly people were walking - I know people are taking their time and enjoying their surroundings, but when you are in a hurry to get to the restroom or meeting up with other people, it gets annoying how slowly people walk there.
I think I would go back (probably only with the $2 admission fee (I don't think I'd spend $11 to get in)), although in no way does it compare with the Ohio State Fair, which is what I grew up with....

03 August 2011

Meeting Some of the Best & Brightest: Picking a Professional Dream team

While staffing BBYO's ILTC last month, I met some staff members who impressed me in certain ways and I thought "If only I had the opportunity to start some sort of organization (or head up something), I know who I would choose to work with me and get things done." What struck me was that I had never had such a thought cross my mind of picking people to work together in an organization with me.
For the past few days, I have been at the second annual Hillel Institute (essentially a Hillel professionals' staff conference) and have met several people that, given the opportunity, I would love to hire certain people and create a team. Granted, I know neither the organization nor when nor how any of it would take place. Then, again, that's why it's a dream team - it's not in actuality....

I guess I haven't been used to being in such positions (although having put together some events this past year (most recently the Tikkun Olam Institute) might have influenced my thinking about finding people to be involved in running certain elements of programs and, more broadly, organizations), which makes it somewhat of a new ability to consider.

31 July 2011

Some Anticipations, Expectations & More for This Week's Second Annual Hillel Institute

Tomorrow, I am heading off to attend the second ever Hillel Institute and thought I would type out some things I am looking forward to and expecting, etc. Having attended last year's first ever Hillel Institute, which was a re-branded staff conference, I am excited to go back and have numerous thoughts about it.
1) It'll once again be ridiculously hot and humid in St. Louis, which won't be great. However, the air-conditioning was excellent last year and the Washington University campus is gorgeous.
2) I am stoked to re-connect with people from last year, from previous experiences in BBYO, and elsewhere. My favorites, though, are meeting and reconnecting with other rabbis, since we are a rare and unique breed. The best, though, is meeting up with my fellow YCTers, who represented nicely last year.
3) Twitter discussions. This includes not only conversations taking place on Twitter, but also conversations about Twitter. Last year, there were a dozen or so people tweeting at the conference, perhaps a dozen and a half. However, the real story was not only how little Hillel was tweeting about he conference, but how pathetic their tweets had been from the previous school year. However, they have really got their act together in the past year and picked things up in the fall, the highlight of which was their tweeting during the GA, which was certainly excellent. The rest of the year has also been good and my hopes are that Hillel does some tweeting about the conference from the conference. I also wonder how much I will get comments about my Jewlicious piece about Hillel's tweeting last year (linked above)....
4) This year's institute will be taking place during the Nine Days - I will be bearded up this year as opposed to last year and I hope I don't scare anybody off. Also, there won't be any meat served, aside from the first night where a siyyum will be taking place. So, that means a lot of dairy meals (poor lactards).
5) One really well done piece of last year's conference was the bar/beer night, where there were a selection of several beers along with cookies that they had a great supply of and it was a nice touch. I thought it was a splendid way to mingle and hang out in a very informal setting with our Hillel colleagues. I hope they do it again.
6) Another great plenary speech ....
7) Checking out the funky City Museum once again.
8) We'll be bringing our four-month old with us, which we will have babysitting handle for us, which shouldn't be a problem throughout the daytime, as she's pretty low maintenance. This is in stark contrast to last year when we came to babysitting on the second day last year of the new professionals institute to find our 16-month old crying on one of the couches in babysitting (needless to say, we did not bring her back there again) - babysitting for her there was a disaster! (We ended up scrambling and hired someone to take care of her during the day for the most part, but occasionally having to take turns miss out on sessions or events to take care of her.) I understand that there will be kinks with any event the first time it is run, but there were way too few babysitters for all the children that were at the conference last year. I truly hope that they fix that atrocious shortcoming. (Thank God we are able to leave our older daughter with family and not take her to the conference.)
9) Although I would like to see some discussion of the potential of QR codes and Microsoft Tags, etc., as I have previously written about, I doubt much of it will be discussed.
10) More social media: Last year, I was probably the only one or one of less than a handful of attendees using Foursquare - I hope there are more this year.... Also, last year, I came up with a Twitter hashtag for the conference, while Hillel FJCL has clearly been proactive in coming up with their own this year, which is a change and I imagine there will be more Twitter conversations going on this year, as there will [hopefully] be more tweeting going on this year....
Alrighty - I've gotta get going - my flight leaves in about ten hours....

26 July 2011

Reflections on Starting A New AZA Chapter

Having been at BBYO's ILTC recently gave me some consideration about my BBYO experience, primarily because participants would ask me "Were you ever in BBYO?" and, if so, how involved I was. So, I would say I had been and that I was chapter Aleph Mazkir, Aleph Godol and Aleph S'gan followed by Regional Aleph Mazkir and Regional Aleph S'gan, the latter of which are pretty good and in which I expended a good amount of energy. However, what brought a smile to my face was when I described having started my own AZA chapter. Moreover, there was an opportunity one afternoon for participants to go around and talk to staff who had been in BBYO and a particular experience of theirs. I chose to speak about my experience of starting my own chapter. (As an aside, one of the interestingly unforeseen aspects of it was that many of those teens who decided to attend my particular discussions (there were three rotations) were either interested in starting their own chapters, wanted to start another chapter elsewhere in their regions/councils, or wanted to know how to deal with the chapter off of which their chapter had split and there was not such great relations there.)
In speaking about the chapter I started, I realized there were several animating reasons that I did it: 1
) Every week at the same time and the same place at the JCC, the AZA and BBG chapters would have their meetings. While this provided a nice opportunity to meet other BBYOers and there would be the occasional program for everybody to join in, most chapters just had meetings at that time. What Heart of Ohio would do is pretty much have meetings on those evenings and perhaps an occasional program here or there. The problem with that modus operandi is that having meetings is not the point of joining BBYO - they are meant to support the activities (primarily the programming) of the chapter, which are to be more primary. In other words, teens don't want to go to lots of meetings - they want to be involved in activities, programs, etc. We shifted the focus in my new chapter to having programs on a fairly weekly basis on Sunday afternoons and whenever we would have the occasional meeting, we would go and do something afterwards. This approach yielded us having the most programming of any AZA chapter within the region that year, which was satisfying.
2) When I finished my term as Regional Aleph S'gan, I wanted to invest the knowledge and experience of BBYO I had into Heart of Ohio, so I figured the best position would be Aleph Moreh. When elections came around a few weeks after Regional Convention (which I had co-coordinated) and didn't win, I realized that my efforts would be better expended elsewhere. However, not getting elected by the chapter was really reflective not so much of me, but of a pervasive ideology of electing underclassmen in order to give them experience and, more significantly, to give them a better opportunity to make it on to regional board. One problem with this approach is that it sacrifices the chapter for the sake of the individual's gain. Rather than letting members gain experience before getting onto chapter board in order to use their experience or any training (especially LTI or other regional conventions (or ideally CLTC, but not many people from Columbus BBYO went, probably because there was never an established desire for it to be attended)) to bolster their term serving the chapter and, by extension, their chapter, the idea was to get them on board to get "experience". This "experience" was primarily, albeit not exclusively, having been on board and could be used to get onto board for a higher position later on and hopefully regional board. Oftentimes, once elected, these board members wouldn't necessarily know what was to be done due to their lack of training and/or experience. They might get some things accomplished but not as much as otherwise.* Gain experience perhaps through planning programs or on committees and chairs, then through that earn their way on to board with experience. If there are members who are particularly talented or good, they can make it up the ladder, by not giving preference to younger (read: inexperienced and not knowledgeable about BBYO) members
3) Heart of Ohio AZA #55, the chapter in which I had been for my first three and a half years in high school, had members who were primarily in Bexley and got together there and also had their own social networks there, etc. In starting my own chapter, I had known other guys in my town of Gahanna and surrounding areas who would be interested in joining our new chapter.
4) One innovation I made was by rethinking the board positions and duties. Whereas a standard chapter may have an Aleph Godol, an Aleph S'gan, Aleph moreh, Aleph Shaliach, Aleph Gizbor, Aleph Mazkir and Aleph Kohen Godol, I felt that the positions could be a little different and also the duties could be better split up. From this, I merged some positions, resulting in a board that had an Aleph Godol, Aleph S'gan and Aleph Moreh as per usual, and an Aleph Shaliah whose duties were the Jewish programming solely (no community engagement), Aleph Mazkir, whose duties included note-taking and money tracking. Aleph Sofer for the newsletter and website; Aleph Modia, whose job was to inform the members of what's going on in the chapter, inform local media (primarily the local Jewish newspaper) of upcoming events (and past events). These last two were a bit novel in my KIO region and I liked it because it made sense and because I had created it, I felt a special connection to it.
5) A last reason was to set up from the outset certain activities or other practices (such as an annual or semi-annual AIT overnight or chapter convention) that might have received pushback or rejection from an already existing chapter due to "not having done it before". Thus, we were able to get those set up.

The question that I would receive, though, after talking about having set up my own chapter would be "What happened to it? Is it still around?" Sadly, the answer is no. I think it lasted 2-3 years afterward, but ultimately folded. Although, on the one hand, I feel like I had graduated and was no longer in high school and, by extension, AZA, I needed to move on and no longer involve myself with it, I also felt, on the other hand now that I probably could have checked in with the chapter and offered my assistance more than I did. That's life. I didn't have any further involvement with BBYO until
I staffed two KIO RCs (2001 and 2002) and LTI in 2002 as well as international programs in 2002-2004.

* This really occurred originally on account of less than optimal circumstances: prior to my joining Heart of Ohio (in 1995-1996), he chapter had had a very strong senior class and a freshman class. I'm not sure how much the seniors passed along heir knowledge to the freshmen. When I joined the next year, the freshmen who had become sophomores were doing what they could, although they didn't totally have their act together. Less than a month after joining, I became the Aleph Mazkir (really because no one else wanted to take notes at meetings and I was fine with stepping in and doing so (despite never having done so and without any training (as a result, they weren't properly formal or adhere to any particular standards (but hopefully they had the important information)) (later, when I saw how the Regional Aleph Mazkir took notes, I was impressed by how it was done))). While at KIO's Regional Convention that December (1999, which I co-coordinated), I realized we weren't having any programs which was why I had joined in the first place and wanted sports stuff, which was kind of tough with our current chapter make-up, but I realized that we could have a Super Bowl party the following month. So, we did :) By the time the next election came up, I ran for and won Aleph Godol (I did run against someone this time, but I think because I did a good enough job and put in work at Aleph Mazkir), they trusted me to take over (I think they were also largely apathetic, probably largely because they didn't want to have to work on the chapter, having had the seniors run it. Anyways, the following year, it was primarily sophomores and freshmen and a junior here or there, with heavier underclassmen involvement.

25 July 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Tosefta I: סדר זרעים

Having gone through the entirety of the Mishnah and counting up how frequently various sages were mentioned, I decided I would turn my attention to the Tosefta and do similarly (both because of curiousity and because I had developed a nice system for it (creating grids and working פרק by פרק in tallying them up (yup, old-fashioned(!)))).
So, I started off with סדר זרעים and found that, once again, Rabbi Yehudah is the most frequently mentioned sage and that his colleagues are also up there (if you would like to compare/contrast this with the Mishnah, see here). This סדר also prominently featured the two houses along with the חכמים. However, Rabban Shimon, son of Gamliel featured much more prominently than he did in the Mishnah (and his primary בר פלוגתא, Rebbe). The special honorary mention goes to Rabbi Shimon, son of Elazar, who seemingly came out of nowhere and was pretty frequently mentioned - the twelfth most mentioned in this סדר (the 11th was Rabbi Akiva). Here is the top ten:

1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי יוסי
3 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל
4 - רבי שמעון
5 - חכמים
6 - רבי מאיר
7 - רבי אליעזר
8 - בית הלל
9 - בית שמאי
10 - רבי

As to the most frequent mentions in each מסכתא, voila:
ברכות - רבי יהודה
פאה - רבי יהודה ורבי שמעון
דמאי - רבי יוסי
תרומות - רבי יהודה
שביעית - רבי יהודה
כלאים - רבי מאיר
מעשרות - חכמים
מעשר שני - בית חלל
חלה - חכמים
ערלה - רבי יהודה ורבי שמעון בן אלעזר
בכורים - רבי שמעוןLink

06 July 2011

Some Physical Changes at B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp

Fence by LTC Dorm 6 (which is now not in use)
Fence by LTC Dorm 6 (which is now not in use)
As mentioned previously, I am staffing BBYO's International Leadership Training Conference currently and already discussed some of BBYO's summer programming changes at B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp (BBPC); additionally, there have been some physical changes, as well, to the grounds. One noticeably apparent change has been the addition of a fence between the camp and the adjacent road, extending from the camp's main entrance all the way up to just past dorm 6 [of the Bernard Ehrenreich Youth Leadership Village (henceforth, Leadership Village)]. This fence also has a gate which is typically closed/locked at the adjacent road's entrance into the Leadership Village (which is frustrating for us who drive in and out of the Leadership Village, as we now have to drive around and out through the main gate, rather than just out of the one right by). In addition to whichever security advantages the fence affords, it also serves as a huge part of the eruv surrounding the Leadership Village. Also, the gateway into the Leadership Village has been taken down....*
         I remember the ILTC I attended was one of the fullest they've had in a while: they used all 9 dorms of the Leadership Village as well as a "tenth dorm", putting those participants in the Adult Lodge ("A-Lodge"), and there were certainly a lot of participants! This year's ILTC is also really large, perhaps larger than the one I attended in 1998, with 198 participants. However, for some reason, Dorm 6 has been condemned or shut up for some reason (one rumor I've heard is that there's a rare tree in there (although I'm not sure about that)), so they have one less dorm available for use. So, instead of leaving four participants to a room with five participants' rooms per dorm, they have now put more bunk beds in each room, with most Leadership Village rooms containing 3 bunk beds to hold six participants each - along with cubbies for them. In order to help with the cramped quarters, the program stores the participants' luggage elsewhere. (If there is a concerned [potential] donor out there, I'm sure BBYO/BBPC would welcome a donation of a dorm or two....)
CLTC Classroom 1 now with exercise equipment inside
CLTC Classroom 1 now with exercise equipment inside
     A new addition to the campgrounds has been the addition of a new soccer field that replaces dozens of trees that were adjacent down the huge hill to dorms 8 and 9 of the Leadership Village. While it's gorgeous, I remember staffing ILTC in 2004 and sadly watching those trees being cut down to make room for it.... Nevertheless, they basically took away the goal posts that were in the Leadership Village soccer field between the baseball field and tennis courts and now have new ones up at the new soccer field (along with some powerful lights there).
     Also, due to the awful smell and dirtiness of the carpeting in the Music and Performing Arts Center (commonly referred to as the Performing Arts building), it was ripped out and simply concrete flooring in the building....
Since the sessions of the Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) are no longer being held there (the last one was held there in 2005), the four CLTC classrooms are now available for use by ILTC and Kallah, which is great for spreading out. However, for some reason, staff from the Perlman kids camp has moved in a bunch of their workout equipment into CLTC classroom 1 (pictured).... Although it's a bit odd that they would take over a room of BBYO's use, it is, nevertheless, a boon to those of us who would like to get in a few reps (it's perfectly located next to the Adult Lodge, where I'm staying, and en route to the dining hall - perfect for some pre-meal lifting...)....
         One random thing: since BBYO's International Convention is now no longer taking place at BBPC, I wonder what will happen to the time capsule that was "buried and Dedicated on August 19, 1999 in honor of AZA's 75th Anniversary To be opened at International Convention 2024, on AZA's 100th Anniversary" (the caption was from the plaque above the time capsule (which I wrote down eight years ago), although I haven't seen the plaque anywhere this summer....
*According to the plaque on the gateway (which now no longer stands), the Bernard Ehrenreich Youth Leadership Village was "presented and developed by the Boys' and Young Men's Apparel Lodge No. 2460" in July 1973. As to after whom it was named, the plaque continues: "Bernard Ehrenreich represented a perfect example of a three "c" man - he cared. He was concerned. He was committed. And these words sum up his long devotion to public and community service. He gave of himself to many worthy causes and was a lifelong foe of suffering, iniquity and inhumanity... a proud son of Israel.... A true son of the covenant." Although I am not definite, I believe this is the same Bernard Ehrenreich as Rabbi Bernard Ehrenreich, who was one of the founding members of Zeta Beta Tau and also started Camp Kawaga.

05 July 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally]

As mentioned previously, I went through the Mishnah and counted which sages were mentioned the most times (see I, II, III, IV, V, VI for previous posts on individual סדרים), tallying them up yesterday and here is the list of the top ten sages mentioned the most times throughout the Mishnah:
2 - חכמים
Rabbi Yehudah was clearly at the top of the list, with nearly 650 references - he was the most referenced in each of the six סדרים of the Mishnah and was frequently the most commonly appearing rabbi in the tractates. The חכמים were all alone in second place, with no one near them at more than 450 references (see the earlier post in which they are mostly voicing their opinions against fourth and fifth generation tannaim). Then, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yose, and Rabbi Eliezer were all pretty close in positions 3-6. Rabbi Akiva wasn't too far behind them with more than 300 references throughout. The two houses of Shammai and Hillel were pretty close to each other (which makes sense since they mostly appeared together) above 200. Closing out the top ten as well as the last rabbi to receive over 100 mentions in all of the Mishnah is Rabbi Joshua/Yehoshua.
Basically, Rabbi Yehudah and his colleagues' generation (Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Yose) were the most frequently mentioned, in addition to Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues' generation (Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehoshua), along with the two houses....

04 July 2011

Some Changes to BBYO Summer Programs at B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp

As mentioned before, it's been seven years since I've been to B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp (BBPC) and, while here, there have been changes that have occurred. In this post, I wanted to discuss some changes to the summer programs taking place here (for some background to this, see here).
The first is that no longer is there four weeks of Kallah, three weeks of International Leadership Training Conference (ILTC), followed by International Convention (IC), nor are there any Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) sessions. First off, the last time there were any CLTCs held here were 2005, one year after I staffed two CLTCs here.
Also, 2005 was the last time IC was held here, when it was held in Atlanta and has switched cities around since.* And since ILTC usually led into IC, there's no more reason for ILTC to follow Kallah, so they switched it, as the mood from Kallah to ILTC often was a sense of a Jewish let-down (allowing for increased Jewish learning and living from ILTC to Kallah). Moreover, instead of ILTC lasting three weeks and Kallah four, they have reduced their lengths to two weeks for ILTC and three for Kallah.
* Since 2005, the cities in which BBYO's International Convention has taken place are as follows:
2006 - Atlanta, GA
2007 - Bruceville, TX
2008 - Chicago, IL
2009 - Long Branch, NJ
2010 - Dallas, TX
2011 - Los Angeles, CA

03 July 2011

Against Whom the חכמים Were in the Mishnah [Top Ten]

As mentioned previously, I went through the Mishnah and counted which sages were mentioned the most times (see I, II, III, IV, V, VI for previous posts on individual סדרים) and discovered an interesting element: sometimes sages were mentioned and then חכמים disagreed with them. Although I don't have any particular speculations as to anything about them (I would love to see what people have to suggest), I wanted to list the most frequent amongst the sages against whom the חכמים had a different opinion:

1 - רבי מאיר
2 - רבי אליעזר
3 - רבי יהודה
4 - רבי עקיבא
5 - רבי שמעון
6 - רבי יהושע
7 - רבי
8 - רבן גמליאל
9 - רבי ישמעאל
אדמון ורבי יוסי

27 June 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VI: סדר טהרות

While flying last week, I finished up my project of counting the most referenced sages in The Mishnah with סדר טהרות (see previous posts on זרעים ,מועד ,נשים ,נזיקים, and קדשים). Once again, as with the other five orders of the Mishnah, Rabbi Yehudah was, by far, the most commonly referenced sage (and, thus, the most throughout the entirety of the Mishnah). Without further ado, here are the top ten most referenced sages in סדר טהרות:
Top Ten
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - חכמים
3 - רבי יוסי
4 - רבי שמעון
5 - רבי מאיר
6 - רבי אליעזר
7 - רבי עקיבא
8 - בית שמאי
9 - בית הלל
10 - רבי יהושע
For the most commonly referenced in each tractate, here is a listing:
כלים - רבי יהודה
אהלות - בית הלל
נגעים - רבי יהודה
פרה - רבי יהודה
טהרות - חכמים
מקואות - רבי יוסי
נדה - בית שמאי ובית הלל
מכשירין - רבי יהודה
זבים - רבי שמעון
טבול יום - רבי יהודה
ידים - חכמים
עוקצין - רבי יהודה
I am glad and quite happy that I finished this project; next up: tabulating the results....

22 June 2011

Back to B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp for ILTC

I am heading off tomorrow to Pennsylvania to be one of two Judaic Educators at B'nai B'rith Youth Organization's 53rd annual International Leadership Training Conference, taking place at the B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp. This will be my fifth time at ILTC, as I went as a participant in 1998 (my first ever international BBYO program (followed by three International Conventions and Kallah (in 1999))) and then returned as administrative staff in 2002, 2003, and 2004. It has definitely been a while since I've been back (seven years), plus I've not been much in touch with BBYO or even thinking about it, but I imagine it will be nice to be back in that environment, especially as a rabbi.

21 June 2011

Selling Sahara's Stuff

Yesterday, before departing from Las Vegas, having visited for my third Father's Day, we checked out the liquidation sale going on at the Sahara. LinkThe sale was going on at the Sahara, which closed a little over a month ago, and begun five days ago previously to sell off everything on the premises. We were there the first day that admission was free, as National Content Liquidators charged $10 for entrance the first four days. I had never heard of NCL, but it kind of felt nice, as they had brought employees from Ohio with them, my home state.
I had only stepped in briefly last August to get some half-shot glasses, so I was largely unfamiliar with the hotel and casino. However, walking around, I could tell why it was time for the hotel to go: it wasn't particularly nice and several decades behind the time decoratively-speaking.
In the end, I got a dozen half-shot glasses at 50 cents a piece and a couple other glasses for the same price. Many items from the guest rooms were decently-priced, as they had hundreds to sell off, especially the credenzas with tvs attached to them, selling for $25 a piece. However, there were also numerous items that were priced higher than they should've been. I'm glad we were able to check it out.
The sale will be going on for another 52 days and they will still probably have lots of things for sale....

20 June 2011

"Plants Versus People?": Considering Environmental Concern As a Social Justice Issue

Six and a half years ago, while walking in El Salvador with Rabbi Sid Schwarz, the topic of our trip came up. I was among a couple dozen rabbinical students who were there for ten days as part of the second Rabbinical Student Delegation trip of the American Jewish World Service, which focuses on social justice. I hadn't been aware of "social justice" before going to rabbinical school, but in my first semester there, I heard of this neat winter trip to engage with "social justice work" and classical Jewish texts related to it. While there, we spoke a lot about helping people(s) in the world, which didn't resonate much with me, but was an interesting idea (although I found the idea of doing it as Jews an amazing kiddush hashem). The thing that did tremendously interest me was the environment - having heard in school growing up about the terrible things humans have been doing to our environment and how sad it was to see the oceans becoming dirtier, the ozone layer depleting, etc.
So I let him know that the trip was interesting, but social justice just did not compel me, whereas the environment did and I phrased it by apologetically saying, "It's not that I necessarily think plants are more important than people....".
However, I was thinking Thursday night about this exclusion of interest in the planet's health to my interest in helping people around the world and realized, aside from how simply awful it was to see the world changing for the worse, what animated me about this concern - it's really about the condition of the world and worrying about how our living conditions will be in the near future, let alone in our children's and grandchildren's lives(!). By air quality getting worse, it affects our breathing; by water being worse, how much of it can we drink without being adversely affected; with decreasing amounts of fish, how can we feed people as adequately (or fishermen make a living)?
I realized, my concern for the environment isn't instead of people, it's for people. What this means, I believe, is that helping achieve a healthy environment is fundamentally a social justice issue: I believe that humans should be able to live in the world God gave us - it is something that people deserve.

29 May 2011

A Second Introduction to the Stammaim: A Description by Michael Chernick

I have discussed the stam(maim) before and found this fantastic description by Michael Chernick within a pedagogical context:*

Dividing the sugya into its chronological components helps the student see how historical forces may have influenced the development of talmudic law and rabbinic thought, and how talmudic law and rabbinic thought have influenced the history of Jewry and Judaism. The identification of a redactional level in the Talmud also means that we can help the student account for the Talmud’s discourse style—and take control of it—by separating the original material from the redactional matrix into which it has been placed (or forced)

While I have mentioned the redactional level of the Talmud, I have not yet offered a detailed picture of what its redactors did. There are a number of redaction theories, but for clarity’s sake I will present only one. It proposes that originally the “proto-Talmud” consisted of more or less chronological lists of tannaitic and amoraic material closely or loosely connected to the Mishnah. The basic elements of these lists generally had attributions and were formulated in Hebrew. The anonymous redactor(s) (the stam) took the elements of these lists and transformed them into a running argument called in Aramaic sugya. The connectives necessary to create this argument were in Aramaic, which is one of the identifying marks of stammaitic intervention, and were anonymous. Once we remove the redactional “glue” holding together the individual pieces of tannaitic and amoraic material, we restore the original extra-mishnaic tannaitica and amoraic dicta in Hebrew and the basic infrastructure of what became a sugya. This has the effect of showing that the Talmud’s discourse was, without its redactional level, more linear, and therefore more understandable. For those familiar with mishnaic Hebrew, a talmudic passage’s essential content becomes immediately visible. Students not familiar with Hebrew can have a similar experience if we take the time to use separate fonts or colors for the tannaitic, amoraic, and stammaitic strata in a translated sugya.

Once we are in a position to recognize how the Talmud’s redactors created a discursive matrix out of individual tannaitic and amoraic teachings, we can reverse the process and separate those strands of teachings out of the Talmud as a completed product. This allows us to consider what might have been the original meaning of tannaitic or amoraic teachings, independent of the meaning anonymous later interpreters assigned to them. This contributes to a less mythical, more historical understanding of Jewish law and rabbinic thought. Once students see clearly that halakhah and aggadah are developing and changing entities, re-interpreted over and over, teacher and student can consider together the developments in Jewish practice, ethics, and thought that have taken place throughout Jewish history, as well as the paths that Judaism might take today as it tries to navigate between the Jewish past, present, and future.

In pages 9-10 from his "Neusner, Brisk, and the Stam: Significant Methodologies for Meaningful Talmud Teaching and Study" as part of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education's Initiative on Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies (previously mentioned in January and in March).

09 May 2011

JSpace beta Housewarming for AJWS

On Friday morning, JSpace beta hold a housewarming gathering for its newest member to move in to its office, American Jewish World Service.
Although AJWS' west coast office is in San Francisco, this new space gives them a presence in Southern California.

Shawn Landres, co-director of Jumpstart, welcomed AJWS in with some opening remarks, "For me, this is wonderful, because we look for ways to do good in the world Jewishly. Because being Jewish for us, I think, is not just a noun and it’s not just an adjective, it’s an adverb – it’s a way of being in the world. And AJWS gives us a way of doing in the world that’s very powerful. "
Joshua Avedon, the other co-director of Jumpstart, then remarked on what JSpace beta is, saying that "Jumpstart undertook with a number of partners throughout the LA Jewish community to create a center that would allow emerging non-profits and established non-profits that were working within the Jewish space to find a place to have a hub where they can work together, think together, think creatively, and find new collaborations. "
Then Ruth Messinger, the executive director of AJWS, spoke, remarking that, "With great happiness, we are now building these partnerships by getting in on the ground floor, as it were, of shared space in a Jewish community which is a vibrant Jewish community with lots and lots of interest in social justice." Messinger continued:
As an organization, this is part of our challenge, because, as you all know, our work is thousands and thousands of miles away. And that means we have a tremendous amount to do to decide when a country for an in-country consultant; how often to take donors or supporters to actually visit our extraordinary grassroots, social change partner projects who are, in fact, changing the world. But as we focus energies there, we have this other huge responsibility, which is to grow a sense of global social justice in the Jewish communities of North America. And part of figuring out how to do that is, of course, figuring out where to rely on friends, where to actually put staff, and how to grow ourselves in the United States. And we've tried to do that in a minimalist way, so we save most of our resources for Ghana, Burma, and Peru. But, we have a west coast office in San Francisco. And, since the founding of that office, which has a handful of staff people, the notion was "How can we tackle LA?" The first big piece of that answer came literally with Allison Lee. And we are very happy to say that our commitment to LA means that we are now doubling the size of our LA staff.
But I think, most importantly for us, is not just getting a physical space, but getting a physical space that has meaning, that is about the Jewish commitment to social justice, that is about Jewish commitment to growing our community so that it has a variety of new progressive points, out of which more and highly relevant and pertinent Jewish community for the 21st century will grow.
Messinger finished off by saying "
So we are honored to be here."Rabbi Sharon Brous speaking
Lastly, Rabbi Sharon Brous, the senior rabbi for Ikar, shared a devar Torah, including describing the importance of AJWS' work:
In a world of immense brokenness, of terrible human suffering, and great tragedies that unfold on a daily basis. So it's ultimately completely irresponsible to just thrive in our freedom. And, for many, many years, that's where the Jewish community was in this country: just living in a place of abundant privilege and great pleasure and not really knowing how to connect what was happening, brewing in our hearts when we hear about terrible things with what we could actually do to help make the world a better place.

Following the speeches, everyone in attendance proceeded down the hall to AJWS' new space, where a mezuzah was affixed to its doorpost, followed by singing.

More pictures of the event are here.