Friday, April 24, 2009

The Divine Tweet

Passion Play on Twitter

Love this idea. Who wants to do a Twitter Seder next year? Hannukah? Torah study? There is a certain degree to which Talmud study is replicated by the Twitter/Blog comments format; a central text followed by a series of thoughts, some independent and others referring to previous posts.

What we need is non-linear posts; the top down post list creates the illusion of relatedness and precedence that doesn't really exist. True Talmud looks more like a large series of notes in the margin. How can we replicate this with a blog?

Will Yom HaShoah fade away?

From a few years back:

Yom HaShoah's Uncertain Future

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. On the one hand, "never forget" is an important Jewish holiday, and this is definitely an event of sufficient magnitude to warrant permanent specific mention. On the other, why can't we roll this into one of the many other "They Tried To Kill Us, We Survived" holidays? Is adding a new and wholly depressing holiday any more or less reasonable than expanding the meaning of, for example, Passover? Or making Tish B'Av last an extra day?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This is an excellent piece of writing and one of the saddest things I've read in a long time:

T'filin - The perspective of a Conservative convert, Reform Jew

Very well written; I love the structure of "...Now, I told you that story to tell you this one...", which I plan to steal immediately and use at the first opportunity.

The sad part is his conclusion:

I am secure in my Jewishness and being an American Jew has allowed me the fantasy to believe that I am as Jewish as the next Jew. So it is with some disappointment that it appears I will have to settle for trips to Israel as a secular tourist and remember that I am a Jew in America.

I wish I could refute that. I wish I could agree with it. Sadly, I've seen it myself. I am a Jew who can trace his ancestry back to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and the founders of Chassidism; I have grown up and lived actively Jewishly my entire life to date, and the only questioning, lost wanderings, and uncertainty about my personal participation and commitment has been which denomination fits me best. But when I went to Israel, when I went to the Wall, I was informed I didn't know what it meant to be Jewish by a man with bushy beard and big black hat. Ironically, because I was not wearing t'filin.

There are people out there who, for whatever reason, really hate Jews and will go to great lengths to deny them comfort, participation, and an independent religious identity. It's a shame so many of them are Jewish.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Reality

Another stub.

Reading David Brin's "Tomorrow Happens", with its speculation on the nature and levels of reality. How can we tell what's real, how do we know if the Matrix has us?

Reminded me of a comic book. The super heroes gradually realize they're trapped in an illusion, created by one of their enemies. They valiantly fight their way out of it, celebrating freedom reclaimed, only to discover the successful fight for escape was just another layer of illusion. In the end they do escape, making it back to reality, defeat the villain and thwart his plans...but they're still characters in a comic book.

Look back at world religions: many believe the afterlife is essentially like this one; you have a job, you have needs, you go on with the "business of living" in a slightly different context. Reincarnation is similar; when we die we briefly "exit" reality only to "reenter" from a different direction.

How does morality apply if life really is just a dream? We have to accept what we perceive as real, and base our moral and ethical decisions upon that assumption. Is the beggar asking for money really a homeless, hungry, "deserving" individual or a deceitful trickster trying to rob us a quarter at a time? We cannot know; we have to accept the reality that there is someone in front of us asking for help, and we have to determine how we can help them.

Praising God and Breaking Stuff

Just a stub for now:

What is it about destruction in Jewish ritual?

-Breaking the glass at a wedding
-Breaking the middle matzah
-Breaking fasts at many points during the year

Dig farther back and there's animal sacrifice; a burnt sacrifice not only takes the life but also destroys the flesh.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why theology doesn't belong in politics

[I wrote this post to be part of Blog Against Theocracy 2009, but had internet problems and couldn't get it posted in time. Here's my late contribution.]

Because our interpretation changes. There's a passage describing Moses coming down from the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments, his face radiating with divine light (
karan ‘or panav). At some point the line was misread as keren ’or panav, the light from his face was a horn. From this people naturally assumed that all Jews had horns, a bizarre prejudice that endures to this day.

Because our understanding changes. It was just last year that giraffes were declared kosher. Will this have a huge impact on many people's lives? Probably not. But the point is our understanding and definitions of words like "life", "slavery", "moral", and "marriage" have changed a great deal since our holy texts were first written, and they continue to change today.

Because our application changes. In the past three years the Catholic Church eliminated limbo and introduced several new mortal sins. These changes made sense within the Church at the time, and still do, but are of such magnitude and touch on such central issues as to give the lie to the idea of religious constancy.

Because the wording changes. To misquote my favorite Biblical exegesis scholar, there are more variations between known versions of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament ("
There are approximately 150,000 variations in the manuscripts we have today" according to The Interactive Bible).. We cannot base our legal system on a book, any book, when we don't even know what words it uses.

Religion influences people. It influences the way we develop, the people we become, and yes even the laws we make. Key word there is influence. The final decision still must be made by the person. Our government, our laws must be in the best interest of the country, not the best interest of a book.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Interesting post at the Jewish Journal: Reclaiming Passover Priorities I take issue with this section of it though:

Whereas the particular Jewish experience of subjugation and liberation was once the central expression of the seder, the persecution of others and their need for liberation has influenced the great majority of the changes to both the haggadah and the seder experience for American Jews.

In discussing this phenomenon with people planning seders over the last several years, they’ve often shared their concern that their non-Jewish guests or family members might feel excluded, if not offended, should their seders focus too much upon the historical Jewish experiences of subjugation and redemption or the threats facing Jews today. Some have shared that they omit entire passages in the traditional haggadah that reference the Jewish experience of persecution and liberation beyond that of the exodus from Egypt.

Ironically, I’ve found over the years that non-Jews attending seders come with the expectation, and often the hope, of experiencing a particularly Jewish occasion. When we opt to universalize the theme to the exclusion of the unique historical Jewish experience, we may be responding to our own discomfort with a particularized focus on our history of persecution or our desire to concern ourselves with the welfare of Jews living with less freedom than we might enjoy today.

I reject the notion that fighting for universal "persecution of others and their need for liberation" is separate from being "particularly Jewish". We are commanded: "Justice, justice you shall pursue!" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

This does not specify uniquely Jewish justice, nor does it imply we may rest when all Jews are free. The obligation to fight for the freedom of all people is in the core of Jewish thought, right at the intersection of "You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 16:23) and "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow".

Switching to a different Hillel, when I worked at Hillel we talked about being "universally human and distinctively Jewish", the idea being that there is a Jewish way to be a good citizen of the broader world. From that perspective I understand this essay; giving up the Jewish "flavor" (no, matzah doesn't count) devalues the seder as much as would ignoring the suffering of others.

"Let all who are hungry come and eat!", says the Haggadah, whichever version you may use. This is not diminished by the addition of universal themes to the seder; it is enhanced.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Passover Moments

My most profound Passover moment came while watching the movie The Prince of Egypt. It was released when I was a sophomore in college, and I went to see it with a Catholic friend when we were home on break. We wound up the only people in the theater (gotta love early afternoon mid-week showings!) and had fun mocking the previews, yelling at the screen, and providing…”helpful insights” to the characters throughout the movie. Let’s just say it wasn’t a kid’s movie anymore when we were done with it.

Then halfway through the movie something happened. I don’t know what, or which scene, or why that moment, but like a comet it hit me; if I was there, they would have done that to me. They wanted to do that to me. The only reason they didn’t do it to me was I wasn’t there. They did this to me.

Suddenly I was crying. Quietly – I’m not sure my friend even noticed, or if he did he made no mention. Everything quickly followed from there. The Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms; every time and place Jews were attacked, enslaved, and destroyed, those responsible also wanted to do it to me and only the fact I was born hundreds of years and thousands of miles away saved me.

Do you realize how embarrassing this was? I’d heard this story countless times. I’d seen more Holocaust movies than I care to think about. Schindler’s List? Completely unimpressed and unmoved. Sure, what happened was terrible but no worse than the mini-series I watched with my family when I was eight. I picked up Maus once in our Temple’s library thinking I was getting a funny comic book. The story inside was excellently written and drawn, but there was no emotional space left inside me for outrage about Jews being killed; it had all already been used. And now this, this…children’s movie reduced me to tears.

Maybe this is why we tell the story every year. Maybe this is why we tell the story in so many different ways; eventually one will connect. The first time I heard the story of the Exodus it was like some scary campfire story, complete with evil kings, magical events, and food to eat while we listened. We gasped when Pharaoh was cruel, laughed when Moses was tricky, and cheered when the Jews reached freedom. Then it was hunt for the affikomen, eat dessert, check Elijah’s cup, and go to bed.

This moment has stayed with me through the years. Now whenever I see Jews being attacked for being Jews, in fiction or in life, I hear that voice again reminding me they did this to me. Even now, in writing this, I am choked up with tears remembering that I was a slave and oppressed until HaShem freed me.

Thank G-d we have children’s movies.

Happy Passover, enjoy your matzah and marror (it’s a small price for freedom), and next year in Jerusalem!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Is it "Jewish" to hate?

The Virtue of Hate

Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.


This article bothers me, chiefly because I have trouble disproving it. It feels wrong; even though I can't find any irrefutable textual proof I know in my gut that Judaism is not about hate.

On the other hand, releasing hate is not the same as forgiving.

We do have "Love thy neighbor as thyself", but that does not address the full issue. Especially since many people seem capable of hating themselves - often because of the exact same events that make them hate others. A quick read through the Torah shows a bloody, vengeful history. And it's not like we have nothing to be upset about.

Emotion is different than action. Hate is different than vengeance. Never forget; never forgive. You can be as angry as you want at your foes, but you may not strike them down. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.

Hate is left to humans.

Except for one spot. Yom Kippur. It took me this far into writing to remember, but I am glad that I did. We are taught that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive lest we be omitted from the Book Of Life.

So there it is. You can keep your hate if you need it, but your vengeance will be taken upon yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let My People Post!

This is awesome!

The Facebook Seder

Next year in MySpace!