31 March 2011

An Optimistic, Intelligent, & Poetic Conversation: Elie Wiesel Speaks with OC Rabbis

Yesterday, I went to the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University and joined along with another dozen rabbis in Orange County in an informal conversation with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel. It was a special opportunity afforded us through Dr. Marilyn Harran, the director of the center.
For those who are unaware of the Rodgers Center, it's the best Holocaust center on any campus in Orange County (just as Chapman has the nicest Interfaith Center around) and perhaps generally in Orange County.
This was made possible in Elie Wiesel's third visit to Chapman (the first was several years ago on the 60th anniversary of his liberation, the second was last spring (which I attended)), as part of a week-long visit of his.
In the sit-down, Mr. Wiesel fielded questions and responded in a thoughtful, intelligent, and what I would describe as almost a poetic way.
Moreover, he was optimistic about Jewish life. One of the first questions he fielded regarded Jewish identity, to which he responded, Be who we are - seeing Jews who are authentically Jewish. That is, not saying what we want in order to be accepted, but who we are. Moreover, learning is a central and key component to Jewish identity. Instead of despairing over American Jewry these days and even more broadly, he said, "the passion for learning has never been so strong" numerically. Also, he said, "anti-semites have never shaped our identity." "Anti-semitism is not fashionable nowadays."
Another interesting piece was that of one rabbi who inquired about rising anti-Muslim sentiments, to which he said, "I'm against collective indictments." "If we say they're all bad, we lose before we start."
But the larger theme of his talk was really about the learning (maybe because he was in the company of rabbis...): "Whenever I have a problem, I go back to learning."
Also, even though he is in his eighties, he is still optimistic, as he said he is working on two books simultaneously: a book on the Baal HaTanya and a work on the Rebbe.
One interesting anecdote (amongst others) he shared with us was that he was slated to speak at the end of a meal at a UJC General Assembly in the 1970s (I don't remember specifically which year) and he heard the head of the organization yell that he would resign if something happened. Wiesel asked him what the matter was: he said some people wanted to do birkat hamazon (by the way, Wiesel noted that, out of the entire gathering - the biggest annual gathering of organized Jewish leadership in North America - there were only a couple kosher tables). To this, Wiesel said, it not only wasn't worth it to resign over something like that, but why was he upset? To this, the head replied that it wasn't on the schedule! So, the compromise was that, since Wiesel was up to speak, they announced that their speaker had requested to do it. Afterwards, Wiesel said, the head met with him in his hotel room and thanked him for that and asked what he could do - any requests. One of them, of course, was about more Jewish stuff (Wiesel noted also that there was no davening, etc. - it really wasn't much of a Jewish event(!), especially considering it was for the leadership of organized Jewish communities in North America; he said the following years (and years to come) the GA was actually Jewish(!)), but also making sure that Soviet Jewry became an issue. Sure enough, it became an issue that the UJC got behind.

30 March 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah III: סדר נשים

Continuing on from the posts from the previous two days of looking through The Mishnah and seeing which rabbis are the most commonly referenced and also those who are most common in each tractate (סדר זרעים & סדר מועד), I now present סדר נשים:
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי אליעזר
3 - חכמים
4 - בית הלל
5 - בית שמאי
6 - רבי מאיר
7 - רבי עקיבא
8 - רבי יוסי ורבי שמעון
10 - רבן שמעון בן גמליאל

Thus far (halfway through the Mishnah), the top ten looks like this:
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - רבי אליעזר
3 - חכמים
4 - רבי יוסי ובית שמאי
6 -בית הלל
7 - רבי מאיר
8 - רבי עקיבא
9 - רבי שמעון
10 - רבי יהושע
And the most commonly referenced in each tractate:
יבמות - בית הלל ובית שמאי
כתובות - חכמים
נדרים - חכמים
נזיר - בית הלל
גיטין - רבי יהודה
סוטה - רבי יהודה
קידושיו - רבי מאיר

Thus far (halfway through the Mishnah), the leaderboard for most references in most tractates looks like this:
1 - רבי יהודה
2 - חכמים, בית הלל, בית שמאי
5 - רבי אליעזר
6 - רבי יוסי, רבי עקיבא
7 - רבי שמעון, רבי מאיר, רבי יהושע, רבן גמליאל

29 March 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah II: סדר מועד

Building off of yesterday's post, I went ahead and counted up rabbinic mentions in סדר מועד and these are, again, the most commonly referenced rabbis in the משניות of סדר מועד, along with who the most commonly referenced in each tractate is (and, once again, Rabbi Yehudah comes out way on top):

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

Now, for each tractate:

שבת - רבי יהודה
ערובין - רבי יהודה
פסחים - רבי אליעזר
שקלים - רבי יהודה ורבי עקיבא
יומא - רבי יהודה
סוכה - רבי יהודה
ביצה - בית שמאי
ראש השנה - רבן גמליאל
תענית - רבי יוסי ורבי יהושע
מגילה - רבי יהודה
מועד קטן - רבי יהודה
חגיגה - בית הלל ובית שמאי

28 March 2011

Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah I: סדר זרעים

Yesterday, I seized the opportunity - partially while I was watching over my new daughter - to begin looking at the Mishnah to see who appears most frequently. It was a new curiosity of mine: I hope to look through the entirety of the Mishnah and see who appears most frequently. If I somehow find the time, I would also like to go through the Tosefta. (By the way, if somebody has already done this work, I would very much appreciate a reference to said work or listing.)
So yesterday, I went through סדר זרעים and found that Rabbi Yehudah was the most mentioned rabbi throughout the סדר. What follows is a listing of the Top Ten most commonly mentioned rabbis (or groups of rabbis) in סדר זרעים as well as a listing of each of the tractates with the most commonly referenced rabbi (or set of rabbis) within them:
Top Ten:

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

And here are the tractates:
ברכות - רבי יהודה
פאה - רבי יהודה ורבי עקיבא
דמאי - רבי יהודה
כלאים - רבי יוסי
שביעית - רבי שמעון
תרומות - רבי אליעזר
מעשרות - רבי יהודה
מעשר שני - בית הלל ובית שמאי
חלה - רבי אליעזר וחכמים
ערלה - חכמים
בכורים - רבי יהודה

I don't know yet what all this means....

27 March 2011

Academic Talmud & Lomdus Contrasted

An interest of mine is academic Talmud, as mentioned previously (III, II, & I), which is why I found the following a neat, concise distinction between academic and lomdus approaches to learning Talmud. At the outset of Rabbi Dov Linzer's "Ownership or Partnership: A Source-Critical and Conceptual Analysis of the First Sugya in Kiddushin" (delivered at YCT's 2010 Yom Iyun on Talmud and Torah She Baal Peh on 24 January 2010), I found his contrast of the source-critical method with the lomdus perspective of learning Talmud to be of interest:
In general, what has dominated for the last 150 years in the world of the yeshivot is a process of learning called לומדות, which is loosely translated as an analytical, conceptual approach. And what has dominated in roughly the same last 100-150 years in the academy has been academic Talmud, which consists of many components, but the one that I think is most interesting and most fruitful in the type of learning that would normally go on in the high school or the yeshiva level is the source-critical approach.
Now these approaches have very different assumptions in their goals. The לומדות approach – the conceptual approach - looks at the text, as the text has pretty much always been looked at for the last 1500 years: ahistorically. It does not look for – is certainly aware that the Mishnah comes before the Gemara and so on – but it assumes that pretty much all of the ideas, all of the material, all of the statements are true; at the same time, it does not look to sort of mark out how ideas might have developed over the course of history, over the course of time. And it does not try to see signs for that in the text. What it is interested in is in hearing the different voices in the text or at looking at a topic, at a sugya and asking, "What is the conceptual way of understanding what is going on here?" Meaning, it’s not just the statement that’s being made, but how would we more precisely conceptually define the issue and, through a clear, conceptual definition of the idea that will help explain to us the different opinions, the different consequences, based on sort of our theory of this particular law. And then the לומדות approach developed in its higher terminology to be used for more precise definition of these conceptual differences. …
The source-critical approach is very different. The source-critical approach, as the name indicates, recognizes that not only is the Mishnah earlier than the Gemara, but the Mishnah could be made up of layers, the Gemara could be made up of layers, and it looks, with a critical eye, towards these sources or these layers of the text and tries to understand what was at the earliest layer, what came next, how did the text develop to where it got. Now, already in the academy, for some, it’s just tracking the historical changes; but already in the academy, you do have some, like Shamma Friedman and others that try to bring in from this world of the yeshivah and ask, "Well, as the text developed and different ideas came at different times in history, how did the concept of the law change? What was the intellectual history? How was the way this law was perceived change over time?"
But, if that could be used in the academy to create a type of intellectual history, and not just a marking of changes, it could also be used in the yeshivah as well. We could ask our לומדות questions, our conceptual questions, but not just from an ahistorical lens, but actually try to find out maybe ideas changed over time. And maybe we can bring both of these disciplines together.

24 March 2011

Daughter #2 Named

Following on the heels of yesterday's birth of our second daughter, I went to shul this morning and named her. Her Hebrew name is שושנה רייזעל and her English name is Lillian Rose.
Lillian is my paternal grandmother's mother's name and Rose is my maternal grandmother's mother's name. Interestingly, after pointing that out, both sides of my family said that we have Lillians and Roses on both sides of our family :)

Amusingly, after announcing her name on Facebook, one of my wife's friends jokingly said, "I feel like Sophie and Lillian will have a great time playing Mahjong together! =)"

23 March 2011

New Baby Daughter!

With appreciation to The Almighty, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our second daughter this morning. It was really excellent to, after having gone in to the hospital early yesterday morning and waiting out the entire day and first part of the night, to have our new daughter emerge healthily. Not only that, but my wife is also, thank God, doing well :)
Although being a father is nothing new, since my wife gave birth nearly two years ago, it is still a very wonderful feeling to be a new father again :)

22 March 2011

Oy - You couldn't list the URL?

When seeing advertisements in papers, magazines, and elsewhere, a seemingly common convention is to include a Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps another one or two logos. This is nice for the marketing folks to let us know that they have a social media presence, but how do we get there? Granted, if you have a laptop or desktop, it's not too hard to search around, but it's kind of annoying and a lot of tapping to search around to find the advertised on Twitter. Even if you don't have the space to include a QR code or Microsoft Tag to link to your social media pages, please at least include the name - such as including the Twitter handle next to the Twitter logo.
As far as I know, there may already be other postings on this very same topic, but I wanted to add to the voices pushing for more than just little icons indicating your social media existence....

21 March 2011

Considering Larger Issues of Jewish Identity: Rabbi Korn book review

In the most recent issue of Meorot, Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn writes an interesting review, touching on important issues regarding Jews and the larger world. What jumped out to me, amongst other parts of the review was the following significant passage about the Jewish people in the present day (p. 6):
After Auschwitz and Israel's wars, we are indeed a nervous people feeling that Jewish destiny is determined by fate, not faith. To use R. Soloveitchik's dichotomy, berit goral (the covenant of fate) has overwhelmed berit yi’ud, our covenantal destiny of sacred purpose. Fate has seduced us into seeing ourselves as objects, robbing us of moral agency and our covenantal calling. This is spiritually deflating as well as existentially self-defeating, for in the open and autonomy oriented cultures in which most Jews live today, a Jewish identity built on fear and the specter of persecution will convince few Jews to cast their lot with Jewish destiny. Committed Orthodox Jews may do so, but if it is only Orthodox Jews who remain Jewish, we will cease to be a people and become a sect—much to the dismay of God, who demands in His Torah that we be “a kingdom of priests and a holy people.” Sacks is convinced that King Solomon was correct: “Without a vision, a people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
One thing that reading the above reminded me of was Rabbi Avi Weiss' descriptions of "Positive" and "Negative" Judaism.
Before getting to this paragraph, he wrote (p. 6):
The Jewish people has turned inward, sustained by neither hope nor purpose, but by the common cause of defending ourselves against perceived anti-Semitism. The Other is hostile and ubiquitous, be he the Christian, the secular liberal or the Middle East Muslim. Jewish politics has become the politics of fear. Contrary to our rabbinic tradition, the pagan Balaam's observation that Jews are “a people that dwells alone” (Num. 23:9) has become an ideal: We are a people that ought to dwell alone.
Rabbi Dr. Korn has a few more gems in his review piece, one of which is his discussion on the proliferation of books on Jewish practice, where he was "struck that the sefarim—both Hebrew and English—consisted overwhelmingly of volumes dedicated exclusively to" Jewish law, which is interesting as "the shelves mirror where Orthodoxy is today."
(p. 2) But this isn't bad, indeed, "Halakhah has always been the essential mode of Jewish religious expression and a necessary stabilizing force for our lives as a people" (p. 2). But, he says, it's not enough:
Even the consummate halahkic man, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, recognized early in life that an exclusive diet of halakhah leads to “a soulless being, dry and insensitive.” In the end, no amount of elaboration on the rules can nurture a spiritual personality or satisfy deep spiritual hunger; and no amount of technical logical analysis can soothe one troubled after a dark night of the soul.
He goes on (pp. 2-3):
There are also sociological and ideological implications. Like the eruv, halakhah is meant to fashion a closed communal space that is carefully circumscribed by formidable barriers. In addition to acculturating Jews to the culture of the beit midrash, it creates a private, often esoteric, language that undermines shared communication with those outside the halakhic community.
The larger problem that then arises is that (p. 3):
Orthodoxy's current pan-halakhism seems to have lost interest in the human condition per se, and is rapidly losing the language to discuss universal human concerns like ethics, justice, spirituality and human purpose.
However, he continues, "a joy to note, therefore, two recently published books that reveal the theological reflections of Rav Soloveitchik and Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom."

The essay: Eugene Korn, "Windows on the World - Judaism Beyond Ethnicity: A Review of Abraham’s Journey by Joseph B. Solveitchik, edited by David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler (Jersey City: KTAV, 2008), and Future Tense by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (New York: Schocken, 2009)," Meorot 8 (September 2010).

20 March 2011

A Purim Drinking Story: Might "עד דלא ידע" be a Stammaitic Addition?

Today is Purim - Yay! It's the merriest day of the Jewish calendar :) Purim is the celebration based off of the events of the book of Esther, in which - facing annihilation in the Persian empire - the Jews survived and, to this day, celebrate.
One of the leitmotifs of the book is drinking and partying and that is also reflected in the holiday's celebrations. Around the turn of the fourth century, a couple of prominent Babylonian rabbis, Rabbi Zeira and Rabbah had a Purim meal together and they got so drunk that Rabbah, so the story goes, killed his friend; however, he prayed for him and he was revived. The following year, Rabbah suggested they get together again for the festive meal, to which his friend said, "Miracles don't happen every year." (Megillah 7b).
A few decades later, Rava declared - perhaps basing himself off of the earlier example of his rabbinic predecessors - "מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא" - "A person is obliged to get drunk on Purim." One of the peculiarities of this statement is that while it's stated in somewhat of a formal halakhic fashion, it's in Aramaic (as opposed to a few lines later on the same page (Megillah 7b), where he states "סעודת פורים שאכלה בלילה לא יצא ידי חובתו").
What follows in the text of the Talmud then turns to Hebrew and may very well be a later addition: "עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי" - "until one does not know between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai." Typically, these two statements are read together as part of Rava's statement, but two problems present themselves: 1) The linguistic issue of switching from Aramaic to Hebrew & 2) Drinking on Purim is well and good, but to get so plastered to be unable to distinguish between extremes of morality is A LOT.
Even if one were to say the linguistic issue isn't that significant, since it could have been something changed in the oral transmission, how can one drink that much? Even when I'm so drunk on Purim that I'm throwing up, I can still distinguish between such matters.
Just some food for thought on this merry day :)

18 March 2011

Choosing Texts for Jewish Adult Education Courses

Although in my current position I mostly teach young adults, I came across Jeffrey Rubinstein's "From History to Literature: The Pedagogical Implications of Shifting Paradigms in the Study of Rabbinic Narratives", part of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education's Initiative on Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies (of which I've previously mentioned) and found his discussion on Jewish adult education interesting, particularly what he sets out as its function:
I see the main function of Jewish adult education as a type of intellectual “keruv” drawing the audience into the world of rabbinic study as a step to further study and involvement in Jewish life. I have always in this context found it easier to teach Talmudic stories than legal sugyot, with their complex argumentation, specialized terminology, and halakhic details. Likewise, midrash with its unfamiliar exegetical assumptions and, in many cases, requirement of detailed knowledge of Hebrew language, can be daunting to the neophyte. Stories, in contrast, are much more accessible.1
Therefore, he sees as his goals in doing so to be
(1) Familiarizing lay people with rabbinic texts, including the Talmudim
(2) Providing an interesting and engaging learning experience such that the audience will find rabbinic texts worthy of future study
(3) Teaching some Jewish values, topics and general content2
I found it fascinating, especially since I don't think I would've considered it in such a clear fashion. Something for me to consider in the future....
1 - Jeffrey L. Rubinstein, "From History to Literature: The Pedagogical Implications of Shifting Paradigms in the Study of Rabbinic Narratives," The Initiative on Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies, Working Paper No. 26 (April 2010), 6.
2 - Ibid.

16 March 2011

The Next New Idea for Zoos and Aquaria: QR Codes

What's missing in this picture? In my mind, a QR code. Best buy already puts QR codes on the signs for their products, so why can't zoos and aquaria put qr codes on their animal signs? I got this idea when, last week, I went with my family to the San Diego Zoo. While there, it occurred to me that there could be a new opportunity for zoos and aquaria: QR codes! Although I love reading the signs, sometimes I wonder a little more about certain animals, such as the Sichuan Takin featured above. For some animals, they seem so interesting, I want to know more about them than is listed on their information sign; for other animals, I am curious as to what is causing their demise. While thinking about it, I thought QR codes could also be used to direct one towards further information about helping particular animals or efforts underway to do so. Another possibility could be using a QR code to direct the user to a video or videos of the animals in action (especially if they are snoozing in the exhibit or if they are particularly swift animals, yet the exhibit doesn't yield for such a showing of the animal's swiftness).
After coming up with these ideas, I did see that the San Diego Zoo has used QR codes in the past, although the Santa Barbara Zoo has employed this idea in using QR codes to point to videos of the animals (press release). Further searching has also yielded someone else having suggested the idea.
In any event, one possibility could be coming up with a QR code that points to pages for animals that have lots of different options: such as videos, further information about them, about their endangerment, etc. And although probably only the bigger zoos might be able to allot web designers to come up with the material, it's also possible for an organization such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to design and allow their constituent members utilize on their signs....