Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Did God Create The Earth?

No, says Professor Ellen van Wolde.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".

The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

No alternate theory on where the earth did come from. An interesting, exceedingly fine distinction. Practical impact? None at all. God still created man, after all, and very few commandments or rituals - apart from the occasional words in a prayer - are based on God as creator of the earth. Actual impact? Probably huge. Can't wait for the Religious Community's response. Google search results for "blasphemy" this coming week should be interesting.

Does this actually threaten anything in religion? Is God less important, meaningful, powerful, or authoritative if Prof. van Wolde is correct? I think not. What is interesting to me is how does this change the dialog between religion and science?


Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Judaism Is Like Shaving

(It should be noted my girlfriend does not approve of this post)

I've been kicking this idea around for a while now, never quite getting around to actually writing it, then today I heard this podcast on The Art of Manliness about Allan Peterkin's book One Thousand Beards, and figured it was time. How much more of a sign could I need?

I've always enjoyed shaving; it was one of the few signs of manhood that did not bring with it some corresponding burden. But more than that I enjoyed spending the time with my face. It's a nice time; quiet, reflective, personal. I let my beard grow in full for a time, but wound up shaving it off again because I missed my face too much. About a year and a half ago I passed by an Art of Shaving store in Las Vegas, and my life changed.

Within a few months I had a razor stand, a brush, and a fancy razor that moved smoothly across my face and felt good in my hand. My morning routine had evolved from a quick washcloth and spray can to a ritual involving oils, lotions, and a lot of hot water. Soon I was learning more, researching, debating the merits of straight versus safety razors, and looking forward to my morning shave more and more.

In other words, it's a lot like how I rediscovered Judaism as an adult.

That got me thinking further. Shaving, it turns out, is not as old as most people think. Oh, there's always been some way way to remove facial hair, but they were usually painful and difficult. It took significant advances in technology to produce sharp, affordable blades, and even more before mass-production made the clean shave common. Which means shaving and Judaism are about the same age, give or take a millennium.

Both have changed a lot in that time, in keeping with technology and culture. Some people still shave in a traditional method (not the original method, but what they think is the original way); most people use a more modern razor and shaving cream; unfortunately, they frequently don't understand what they're doing, why they're doing it, or how to make it easier and more comfortable, so it becomes a painful, uncomfortable chore usually undertaken out of a sense of obligation.

So how do I shave? I shave in a fairly traditional method, but using the most modern and up-to-date tools and supplies. Again, much like how I do Judaism. The more I learn, the more I enjoy shaving. It has gone from a chore to an important part of my day.

A little bit of knowledge, a little bit of tradition, a little bit of modernization, and a little bit of ritual. Yep, that's Judaism.