Sunday, 8 December 2013

Wonder, & no wonder.

I've been meaning to write a kind of 'chanukah reflections - year 2' post. i guess i am a little late. i won't take up much of your time.

It's interesting to see how much year 2 is different to year 1. on the whole, better. 300% better. And it makes year 2 stand out in its own way, since at every landmark on the path of time, we're remembering how it felt this time last year, and feeling thankful that we no longer feel that way any more.

Sometimes, as i walk down the street to pick up yc from school, and i gaze across at the undeniably Judean hills that march across the horizon, and pick out the site of an biblical canaanite kingdom in the distance, and reflect that i really am living here, walking one-two-three-mitzvah! on holy soil, and i feel the need to pinch myself. So many years i wished i was here, i asked Hashem why i couldn;t be doing exactly what i am doing now, and it's hard to believe that it really happened. is happening, every minute.

and yet sometimes, i take it all for granted. sometimes i am just living my life, cooking dinner, helping with homework, doing the shopping, working, looking after my children, and i just somehow slip between the moments of wonder without quite touching them. and i pull myself up and ask how i just went past that vista, the view i love the best from ramat aleph, where, on a clear day, i can see ashdod, and yet today i just went past without noticing. and i am so grateful for that, too. i am so grateful that living in the holy land can feel so normal. so much like real life. and that i can get so accustomed to it (although i do try to live more mindfully).

some moments are still full of wonder. when our daughter has no qualms about picking up the phone to call an israeli friend to arrange a playdate in ivrit. when i realise that our children sat down and did their homework in ivrit in a reasonable amount of time, and that i didn;t once have to translate a question. when i remember that this day a year ago, there were tears and fears that we would never understand and never feel at home. when it's a cloudy day and i think, hang on, the sun's not shining, that's really unusual. i still find it exciting when the buses say 'shabbat shalom' or 'chag sameach'.

some things are so so special about living here, and many of them are not the things i thought would be, or even was aware of, when we made aliyah.
i love that our children are in school with children who speak russian, ethiopian (amharic), french, spanish, english, or hebrew at home, but they are all israelis together in school and play together in ivrit.
i love that if i forget to take maaser from our home-grown fruits before shabbat, we will have to spend 25 hours looking regretfully at the mound of clementinas that we can't eat.
because i come from a country with very few towns with sizeable jewish communities, i love that even small villages can have shuls, mikvaot, kosher stores, and orthodox jews.
i love having major archaeological finds made almost on my doorstep.
i love how astonishingly, blurringly fast plants grow here, so that i haven;t yet slipped into the rhythm of when to expect to see fruits and vegetables in the shops (whoever heard of strawberries being ripe in december? wimbledon hasn;t even begun yet!).
i also, because i have friends from so many different points in my life and quite a few different countries, love that so many dropped threads and old friendships can be picked up again here, now that we are in the same country again.
i love the small things that remind me that we are all jews together keeping the same (or very similar) minhagim, like that the local supermarkets not only had special offers on oil and candles and potatoes before chanukah, but also on icing sugar, jam, and super-absorbent kitchen towels.
i love that the shop assistants chide my daughter not to suck her thumb, because we are all one family, after all.

and so, we move on to the next stage of aliyah. that of living life, the same as ever before, but this time in the right place. we move slowly into finding a new balance between wonder & excitement, and routine & the common-place. because we are no longer tourists or olim chadashim, pointing excitedly at every israeli experience. but we are & always yehudim, who are so grateful that we are blessed to live in our own holy land that we try to hold on to that wide-eyed, fresh-off-the-boat astonishment that all this could be real.

Baruch Hashem.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Women & Chanukah: Halachos, Heroines & Holiness

To go to the sources, click here.

A Review of the Chanukah Time Period:

  • Greek rule 3468-3621/323-140bce begun by Alexander the Great (positive period).
  • Increasing hellenization of Jews; rise of the Misyavnim: Jews change their names, attend gymnasiums, Torah-jews are forced to flee from cities. 
  • Misyavnim fight Torah Jewry to gain political & cultural control. 
  • Rule of Antiochus 3 (c.200-190bce): Misyavnim openly confront Torah-Jewry; impose control through taxation.
  • Antiochus 4 (‘wicked King Antiochus’) forbids torah observance (shabbat; milah; taharas hamishpacha; rosh chodesh; possibly Jewish ownership of possessions); the Misyavnim begin to hide their milah in competitions, usurp the Kehuna & turn the Temple into pagan temple.
  • 3597/165 BCE - Miracle of Chanuka. Temple rededicated, but Syrian-Greeks & Misyavnim control all the rest of the country. 
  • 3621-3725/140-36 BCE - Hasmonean Dynasty. Jews in control of the country. 
  • Ongoing conflict from tzadokim (breakaway Jewish sect) towards Torah Jews; 
  • King Yannai murders Torah Jews in a 6-year purge c. 70 bce; 
  • Eventually civil war b/w Hasmonean brothers Hyrkanus & Aristobulous leads to Hyrkanus calling in the Romans to settle their dispute. Romans then take control of country through puppet king Hyrkanus (from 63 bce). Hasmonean dynasty ends w/Herod’s murder of remaining Hasmoneans in 36bce

This is neither an article about halachah, nor to be taken as a psak halacha (halachic ruling). We are just going to do some intersting tracing of a practice through halacha.

We’re going to hear 3 stories of women today: Judith, Chana & her seven sons (which I’m sure you all learned in school or cheder); and the daughter of the Kohen Gadol, or at least of someone. There is a problem with the Judith and bat kohen-gadol stories, as we shall see; the sources are somewhat confused & not very reliable. All of them are all v late sources - midrashim are not real midrashim in their period of provenance but medieval, or are found in apocrypha which only survived to modern times through its inclusion in the Greek Septuagint of the Bible, and so because Jews did not keep them as holy texts, there is every likelihood that the text became corrupted at some point in its history. The versions we have today of the apocrypha were not even preserved in their original Hebrew, but in Greek, and then re-translated back into Hebrew.

You’ll find a translation of each of these stories - or a version of each of these stories - on the source sheet.

1-Judith: this is the most famous, and almost most confused, story. We have 4 versions of what happened: 1 is in the apocrypha, and 3 are medieval texts (so there is no reliable documentation of it from the time period in which it occurred). Furthermore, various important details were edited in the apocrypha so as to make it more acceptable to the Romans: for example, the name of the city was changed from Jerusalem to Betulia, the general in the story was named Holofernes even though the dates are wrong for this man, in order to make it not seem like the populist uprising propaganda which it secretly was.

(have a look at the story of Judith here).

Ok. So it may not come across in my translation, but the original - all the versions - borrow v heavily from megillas esther, especially, and also from the story of yael cutting off the head of sisera, and other good-sounding pesukim in tanach.

There is huge confusion about who Judith was - the Apocrypha & 2 of the medieval midrashim call her Judith & a widow, but they give different genealogies for her, and one just says she was a girl in the city and that’s all. None say that she was the daughter of any kohen or kohen gadol.
This medrash is the only one which mentions milk at all, and none mention cheese, which she is most famous for. The main point, in all the version, as one might expect, is that the general got drunk on wine. It is possible and necessary to ask how much of this can be relied on as having happened. We’re going to come back to that, because this story as well as the next one are quoted by rishonim and acharonim as having really happened, but as we will see the details are not at all clear.

Ok, so we will come back to the story of Judith and how it was transmitted in halachic literature, but first will look at another woman of Chanukah, who it seems is often confused with Judith. I’ve given you the translation of the whole thing because it is not as long. You can read it here.

Ok. As you can see, this is the one about a bride who avenges having to submit to this droit de seigneur-type practice. There is also another midrashic version of this, in which the girl is the daughter of Matisyahu Kohen Gadol - but this is always a problematic title. Was Matisyahu ever the Kohen Gadol? probably not, because the Misyavnim took over the priesthood before his time, so likelihood is that this girl was a daughter of Matisyahu, who was the son of Yochanan Kohen Gadol, and this was elided into the phrase we are so familiar with. Otherwise the second version is very similar, in that she tore her clothes and stood naked, her brothers were furious, and then she inspired them to avenge what she’d otherwise have to go through. But here it was not the woman who did the killing, but her brothers. This is a detail left out when elided with the story of Judith.

Right. Last story-you probably all learned about Chana & her seven sons. I'm not going to discuss this one so much because does not make a halachic appearance, but i've included it for the sake of being thorough. Chana is probably not a chanuka woman. Her story is included, in far more gruesome detail, in the Book of Maccabees in the Apocrypha, but this version is also in the Talmud, along with many other sad stories about the terrible things that happened during the Hadrianic persecutions after the Bar Kochba revolt, & seems likeliest it happened then not at chanuka time. You can read that here too.

Also while arguably heroic, Chana's story is not in the same catergory as judith & bas matisyahu (or whoever they were).

Halachic Impact:

Ok. Now lets  see what impact those first two women had on halacha.

The Talmud, in Masechet Megilla regarding Purim, and in Masechet Shabbat regarding Chanuka, says about women that they have to keep the positive mitzvot of those holidays, even though they are mitzvot aseh she’hazman gerama (positive, time-bound commandments from which women are usually exempt), because ‘af hen hayu b’oto hanes’- 'they too were incuded in the miracle'. I’ve given the source from Masechet Shabbat because that’s the one about chanuka, but the 5-word-phrase is the same. (see source 1)

שבת כג. דא"ר יהושע בן לוי נשים חייבות בנר חנוכה שאף הן היו באותו הנס:

I am not going to discuss what the halacha is practically, or give any psak or say what anyone should do. I am interested in this: what does ‘involved in the miracle’ mean?

So let’s jump around a bit - going to begin with Tosfos (a group of commentators writing about halachic issues in gemara b/w 1100-1500approx). You can read it here - it's source #4.

Tosfos includes 2 opinions - that of the Rashbam (earliest of the Tosfos and often taken on his own right), that women were primarily responsible for the miracle, in uniquely feminine ways (not just happened to be a woman not a man), thus women could/should join primary mitzva.
But then Tosfos rejects this and brings the version from the Yerushalmi that ‘women were included in that danger’: Ie, women join in the primary mitzva b/c they too were threatened by the enemy from which we all were saved.

The Mordechai (ashkenazi halachic commentary on Talmud who mostly follows Tosfos) gives a subtly diff middle-of-the-road view. See source #5 here. He accepts the opinion of the Rashbam that the miracle was done through women, but qualifies that miracle was done for them just as for men: not that miracle happened only because of women, also not just they also suffered, but they shared in the miracle AND in the suffering.

Now look at Rashi in sources 2 and 3 here. Rashi comments on phrase of 'they too were included in the miracle' in two different palce. 1st time seems to be saying that women shared in making the miracle, but in the second comment, he's saying that women shared in the danger.

Why does he give 2 different explanations? notice what his dibbur hamaschil is (the words one which he comments). In one, it is ‘af hen’ - that is, how were they included? because they were also included in the threat. In the other, it is ‘hoyu b’oso hanes’: ie. What miracle were they included in? that he was killed through a woman. So Rashi holds that a woman was the instrument of the miracle, but seems to hold that she is included in the mitzva on the strength of having been included in the danger.

Ok. Now moving on to halacha. Note that everyone agrees that women are involved in the mitzvos of Purim & Chankah because of their involvement in the miracle in some way:  either it came through them, or they too suffered, or the miracle was for them as well as for men. the stories seem to have meshed.

See source 5 here Shulchan aruch/rema.
Notice no reason is given here for the first custom, but later halachists do give a reason. The mechaber seems to be agreeing with rashbam that women had uniquely femenine role in the miracle.

Rema -he is not the only one to make the cheese point. The Rishonim (early Sages 1000-1500 CE approx) are all very adament about the role of cheese in the chanuka story, despite the fact that as we saw cheese never comes into anything (though milk does, once) and really, the point seems to be the wine which got him drunk.

Mishna brura in source 7 shows a real mix of the 2 stories. There is no version of the stories which says that Judith was the daughter of a kohen gadol, or that she was a bride. Equally, the story of the daughter of the kohen gadol did not involve cheese, nor did she cut off his head herself (it was her brothers who did it). Many rishonim - almost all of them actually - conflate the 2 stories in this way. It makes it quite hard to unravel what mish the Mishna Brurah thinks ‘af hen hayu’ means.

See source 9 here: the Mishna Brurah explains the ruling of the shulchan aruch that we saw above, that women can light the chanukah lights. It seems that he follows the opinion of the Mordechai, that the ‘miracle was for their sakes’, but in source 7  the Mishna Brurah seems to say that Judith carried out the miracle. The Shulchan Aruch seems to rule that 'af hen hayu' means that the miracle happened through the women's hands (like that Rashbam does).

So it’s v interesting that the Acharonim (later sages post 1500 CE approx) all say that 'af hen hayu' refers to either women doing the miracle, or that the miracle was done for their sakes - not just that they also suffered.
All the acharonim are adament that:
1. the judith/bat kohen gadol story really happened, even if they conflate the two,
2 about the cheese/milk involvement even though the important point is the wine, and only one version inplies it at all.

The interesting question is, why do they take the stories so seriously? I have several thoughts/possibilities, and maybe you can think of more.
A friend pointed out that since the midrashim about judith - & bat kohen gadol- are all late sources, it seems likely they were trying to inspire heroism and fighting-back with these stories.
Also, the idea that the miracle was done by a woman is v important in the theme of ‘lo bakoach lo bachoyil ki im b’ruchi’ ("neither by strength nor by valour will you succeed but rather by G-d's Will") - or as judith herself says, Hashem’s Name will be glorified even more if enemy is killed by a weak woman.

Regarding the cheese/milk theme:
1. possibly more feminine, more weak, and therefore more of a miracle if someone is killed through use of milk/cheese than wine.
2. milk we know is a metaphor for torah, so it is maybe better metaphorically to say he was killed with the milk, that is, killed through torah - again lo bakoach lo bachoyil idea.
3. maybe not a popular thing to say, but may be echoes of yael coming through.

The main and most important point is that someone was killed by a woman - this is definite, the details are unclear - and that’s what the halachic discussion centres on and also the central concept of the might of Rome/Greece being overthrown through the medium of a weak woman...

Final idea from the Bnei Yisaschar.  You're probably familiar with the thought that redemption came through women. He quotes the Ari - essentially, women's involvement in the miracle is not happenstance, but rather it had to be this way. See source 10 here.

The opinion of the Beni Yisaschar is that this redemption from Greece needed to come through women just as all previous redemptions had done. It's not that this story was made up to be a ‘woman’ story, but that a woman’s vital involvement was divinely prescribed. That redemption, like all the others, had to come about in a feminine way. And the Beni Yisaschar says that the future, final, ultimate redemption will come about through G-d's attribute of netzach, which is masculine - that is to say, through men.

There is a footnote of Rabbi Ellinson in his books 'Women and Halacha', stating that these differences of opinion over whether 'af hen hayu b'oto hanes' means that women were the instrument of the miracle of salvation, or that women, like men, were in danger from this threat, can have halachic ramifications. His example is that of women saying hallel on yom haatzmaut. Should women also say hallel, because women, like men, were part of nation which was threatened? Or should women not say hallel, because there was no uniquely feminine role in the miracle of salvation that was the establishment of the State of Israel (this presupposes that you would say hallel at all on yom haaztmaut. Just go with the assumption for now, ok?).

So i wonder, perhaps this is part of what the Bnei Yisaschar writes in the name of the Ari? In all the past redemption, we’ve had women bringing about the miracle of salvation specifically through their femininity, in the most feminine way. Whether Judith and the daughter of the Kohen Gadol are 2 events, or one, or more than that, is not important ideologically. What matters is that there was a woman who instigated the uprising, who encouraged men to fight, who through her femininity - like Esther, like Yael, like the Righteous Women mentioned in Egypt - conquered the enemy.

This matters, because it places Chanukah firmly in the annals as a real redemption, not just a pause in fighting. It also ensures that our focus is not on the military victory, which was anyway v small and temporary, but on the spiritual victory which did endure. Possibly without this tag of women's involvement in the miracle, we would not be sure that the Chanukah story could really be called a redemption, but rather a small, local, temporary victory.

So regardless of the halacha, the role of women in the Chanukah story is vitally important, not just for women, but for all of the Jewish nation, in making Chanukah into an enduring story of redemption. The exile of Greece is often described as a separate exile that segues immediately into the exile of Edom/Rome (which we still live within today). With the involvement of Judith and the bat-kohen-gadol, we now have a story of redemption from the Grecian exile which follows the same pattern as our redemptions from the exiles of Egypt, through the 'righteous women', and of Babylon/Persia through Esther. As the Bnei Yisaschar continues, we have now only one redemption. left to go, which this time will be masculine in its nature (presumably carried out by men, so the pressure is all on them, i reckon), and will be complete and final, bimheirah biyameinu - amen.

Women & Chanukah: Halachos, Heroines & Holiness - Sources

These are the sources to a chanukah shiur i gave. Write up of the shiur in article form is to follow.

The long midrashim in English are my slightly free translation of the version in Otzar Hamidrashim. Note the parallels to Esther and to Yosef.

1. Shabbat 23a

R’ Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘women are obligated to light Chanukah candles, since they too were involved in that miracle’.
דא"ר יהושע בן לוי נשים חייבות בנר חנוכה שאף הן היו באותו הנס:

2. Rashi, Shabbat 23a

Since the Greeks decreed that all virgins who marry must lie first with the local governor, and a miracle was made through the hands of a woman.
היו באותו הנס. שגזרו יוונים על כל בתולות הנשואות להיבעל לטפסר תחלה ועל יד אשה נעשה הנס:

3. Rashi, Megilla 4a

Since Haman also decreed to kill the women; ‘to destroy and to kill and to wipe out, from young to old, infants and women, etc’.
שאף הן היו באותו הנס. שאף על הנשים גזר המן להשמיד להרוג ולאבד מנער ועד זקן טף ונשים וגו':

4. Tosfos, Megilla 4a

They too were involved in that miracle: The Rashbam explains that the real miracle occurred through women’s hands; at Purim through Esther, and at Chanukah through Judith, & at Pesach they were redeemed through the merit of the righteous women of that generation. But the language is difficult here, because the words ‘they too’ imply that their role was secondary, ... therefore it seems to me that ‘they too’ were subject to the uncertainty of being destroyed and killed, and similarly on Pesach, they were also enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt, and on Chanukah the decree affected them greatly.
שאף הן היו באותו הנס - פירש רשב"ם שעיקר הנס היה על ידן בפורים על ידי אסתר בחנוכה על ידי יהודית בפסח שבזכות צדקניות שבאותו הדור נגאלו. וקשה דלשון שאף הן משמע שהן טפלות ולפירושו היה לו לומר שהן לכך נראה לי שאף הן היו בספק דלהשמיד ולהרוג וכן בפסח שהיו משועבדות לפרעה במצרים וכן בחנוכה הגזירה היתה מאד עליהן

5. Mordechai, Pesachim ch10

Since they too were involved in that miracle; ... They are obligated to hear the megilla because the miracle came about through Esther, and similarly in the chanukah lights because the miracle came about through Judith ... In the Yerushalmi it says that ‘also they were involved in that danger’, therefore it seems that ‘they too were involved etc’ is to say that the miracle was also done for them, just as as for the men.
שם ע"ב שאף הן היו באותו הנס פ"ה ע"י הנשים בא הנס ... וכן חייבות במקרא מגלה לפי שבא הנס ע"י אסתר וכן בנר חנוכה שבא הנס ע"י יהודית כדאיתא בשבת [דף כג א] ... מדקאמר אף ועוד דבירושלמי קאמר שאף הן היו באותו ספק לכך נראה דהכי פירושו שאף הן היו כו' כלומר שאף להן נעשה נס כמו לאנשים:

6. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 670:1-2

1. The eight days of Chanukah begin on the 25th of Kislev ... we are permitted to do work. Women have the custom not to work while the candles are burning, and there are those that say that one should not take this lightly.
2. Rema: Some say that we eat cheese on Chanukah because the miracle was made with the cheese which Judith fed to the enemy.
א) בכ"ה בכסליו (מתחילין) שמונת ימי חנוכה ... אבל מותרין בעשיית מלאכה: ונוהגות הנשים שלא לעשות מלאכה בעוד שהנרות דולקות, ויש מי שאומר שאין להקל להם. ב) הגה: ... יש אומרים שיש לאכול גבינה בחנוכה לפי שהנס נעשה בחלב (י) שהאכילה יהודית את האויב

7. Mishnah Brurah, 670:10

Which Judith fed: She was the daughter of Yochanan Kohen Gadol, and there was a decree that every bride lie with the governor first. She fed the leader of the enemies cheese to intoxicate him, and cut off his head.
י: שהאכילה יהודית: היא היתה בתו של יוחנן כ"ג והיתה גזירה שכל ארוסה תבעל לטפסר תחלה והאכילה לראש הצוררים גבינה לשכרותו וחתכה את ראשו וברחו כולם:

8. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 675:3

Women light the Chanukah lights, since they too are obligated in it.
 אשה מדלקת נר חנוכה, שאף היא חייבת בה

9. Mishnah Brurah, 675:10

Since they too are obligated in it: Since the miracle was also for their sakes, since the decree was that every virgin who marries  must sleep first with the governor. And also, the salvation occurred through the hands of a woman, since the daughter of Yochanan Kohen Gadol cut off the head of the leader of the enemy.
ס"ק י שאף היא חייבת בה-שהנס היה גם להן שהגזירה היתה על כל בתולה הנישאת שתבעל להגמון תחלה וגם התשועה נעשה ע"י אשה שבת יוחנן כ"ג חתכה ראשו של ראש הצוררים:

10. Bnei Yisaschar, Kislev-Teves 3

The Ari z”l writes, all redemption that have ever been have all come about through the illumination of the attribute of hod, therefore all redemptions have occurred in conjunction with a woman, through whose hands the miracle has occurred. (Hod is a feminine attribute, in opposition to netzach, which is masculine.) Thus, redemption from Egypt began to shine through the hands of Batya the daughter of Pharaoh; against Sisera, it was Devorah; ... from the Persian & Medean exile, through Esther; and from the Greeks through the hands of Judith, as we know. But the future redemption bimheirah b’yameinu, when we will leave the Edomite exile, will be through an illumination of netzach ... & this seems to me to be similar to all song being written in the feminine, but future song bimheirah biyameinu will be in the masculine. (& realise that after the Greek exile there is only this long exile over us, from which we will be redeemed through netzach...)
יח) והנראה דהנה כתב האריז"ל כל הגאולות שהיו מימות עולם הכל היה על ידי הארת מדת הוד, על כן כל הגאולות היו בצירוף אשה אשר נעשה הנס על ידה (כי הוד הוא בבחינת נוקבא איהו בנצח ואיהי בהוד) על כן גאולת מצרים התחילה להתנוצץ על ידי בתיה בת פרעה, ובסיסרא היתה דבורה ... פרס ומדי על ידי אסתר, יון על ידי יהודית כנודע, אבל הגאולה העתידה ב"ב בצאתנו מגלות אדום תהיה על ידי הארת נצח ... וזה מה שנ"ל שעל כן כל השירות היה לשון נקבה [ע"ח שער ל"ה פ"ה] שירה ולעתיד ב"ב אז יושר השיר הזה [ישעיה כו א] לשון זכר, הבן הדברים, (והנה אחר גלות יון שוב לא נשאר בחוב עלינו רק הגלות הארוך הזה שתהיה הגאולה ב"ב על ידי הנצח...

Midrash Chemdas Yomim: The story of Judith (abridged)

In the 12th year of the reign of Holofernes, the king of greece, he went up to conquer Jerusalem, and gathered 120,000 soldiers and 92,000 archers. All the people went out in to the streets and prayed all night.
The next day, Holofernes gave the order to go out to battle with the Jews. Holofernes ordered his soldiers to guard all the water sources around the city, so that no one would have any water and they would be conquered without a pitched battle. 20 days later, Jerusalem had barely any water & the people were very thirsty. The people gathered against Uzziah, men, women and children together with one voice, saying ‘Hashem has judged us & will give us over to the king. Let us give ourselves up to him. Isn’t it better for us to serve G-d as slaves to Holofernes than to die of thirst and be killed? When they had finished crying, Uzziah got up with his eyes swollen with tears, & said ‘Be strong and have courage! We may find chessed from Hashem. Allow another 5 days, and then if there is no salvation we shall do as you said’.
Judith the widow, daughter of Be’eri, was very beautiful & found favour in the eyes of all who saw her. She was G-d-fearing, & when she heard Uzziah’s words she sent to call the him and the chachamim to her. She said to them, ‘What is this that you have planned, Uzziah! To give this city into the hand of the enemy if there is no salvation after 5 days! Who are you to test Hashem!’ Uzziah and the kohanim said to her: ‘You are right in all that you say.’ Judith said, ‘I have a plan. At nighttime I will go out with my maidservant at night, and you will not ask me where I am going’. Uzziah said to her, ‘Go in peace, and may Hashem help you’.
Judith took off her widow’s weeds and sackcloth, washed and anointed herself, curled her hair and placed a tiara on her head, dressed in expensive clothes with gold and jewels, & scented herself so that any man would be charmed by her. She gave her maidservant a container of milk and a bottle of wine, little cakes of oil and honey, and bread and cheese, and she went.
Judith went out of the city with her handmaiden, until she encountered Holofernes’ guards.  She said to them, ‘I am Judith, daughter of the Jews. I am fleeing to you because I know that the city will be given into your hands. Please take me to Holofernes, so that I can tell him the secrets of the Jews and to show him the way to go to take the city’. When they heard this and saw her beauty they were befuddled, so they brought her to the king. As soon as the king saw her, he strongly desired her. Judith bowed down, and the king said ‘Do not be afraid, for I will not harm you, but tell me why you have come’. She said, ‘oh my king, we have sinned before our G-d, and our prophets have told us that we will be given into your hands. We are all so scared because we are dying of hunger and thirst. Soon we will be forced to ransack the holy Temple to eat the sacred wheat, wine and oil, for we will have no other food left. When that happened, G-d will surely abandon us for that sin, and we shall be given into your hands’. This was good in the eyes of the King and his servants. The king ordered her to be brought to his house and to eat at his table. Judith asked permission to go out at night and at dawn to pray before G-d. She went outside the camp and immersed in the mikvah. On the 3rd day the king made a great feast for all his princes, and told his harem-keeper to bring Judith. She said, ‘All the king says I shall do’. So she got dressed in her beauty, and came to stand before him. When the king saw her beauty immediately he was lovesick for her, and he said ‘Eat my bread with joy, and drink my wine, because you have found favour in my eyes’. And she sat and ate, and opened the container of milk and drank, and also the king drank. He drank more wine than he had ever drunk before. Then all his servants when to their own places and only Judith remained with Holofernes in his bed, and he slept as though he was dead. Judith told her handmaiden to stand outside and keep guard before the tent. Judith got up form the bed and took Holofernes’ sword which was hanging there, and she seized the hair on his head and cut at his neck until she had cut off his head. She called her handmaiden, and together they cut up the rest of his body into pieces, and then she put his head into her handmaiden’s basket, and they went out together to pray as was their way. They crossed the camp safely and came to the gates of the city.

Otzar Hamidrashim pp.189-90: The daughter of the Kohen Gadol

When the Greeks saw that Israel was not affected by their decrees, they arose and decreed a bitter and foul decree, that every bride must go from her wedding canopy to spend the first night with the Hegemon of that place. When Israel heard this their hands were tied and their strength diminished; they stopped getting married, and the daughters of Israel grew old as virgins. The Greeks raped the virgins of Israel, and this continued for 3 years and 8 months.
Until the case of the daughter of Matisyahu Kohen Gadol, who married the son of one of the Chashmonaim whose name was Eliezer. At her wedding she was sitting in a throne, and all the great men of Israel came to her wedding-feast to give honour to Matisyahu and the son of the Chashmonai, because there were none greater than them in that time. And when they came to eat, Chana bas Matisyahu arose from her throne, and she took hold of her gown in her two hands and tore it open, so that she stood revealed before all of Israel, her father and mother, and her bridegroom.
When her brothers saw, they were embarrassed and they bowed their faces to the ground and tore their clothing, and then arose to kill her. She said to them, ‘Listen to me, my brothers and loved ones! Why, when I stand before tzaddikim naked and free of any sin, are you jealous (to avenge) me, but you are not jealous for me when you give me into the hands of an uncircumcised one who will defile me?! Why do you not learn from the example of Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina, who were jealous for their sister and killed the town of Shechem even though there were only two of them. They gave their souls over to the unity of G-d, and He saved them and they were not destroyed. You are five brothers, and there are more than two hundred more of the finest youths of the priesthood. Place your trust in Hashem, and He will help you’. And she opened her mouth and wept. She said ‘Master of the Universe! If you do not have pity upon us, have pity for Your holy great Name, with which we are called, and avenge our vengeance today’.
At that moment, her brothers were filled with jealous zeal and they said ‘Come, let us consult about what to do’. They discussed it with each other and decided: ‘Come, let us bring our sister to the great king, and we will say to him ‘Our sister is the daughter of the Kohen Gadol, and there is no one in the whole of Israel who is greater than our father. It is not fitting for our sister to lie with the local hegemon, but only with the king who is as great as we are.’ Then we will go in to him and kill him, and go out, and then we will begin on his servants and princes, and Hashem will help us.’
This is what they did. Hashem made a great salvation for them, and they heard a heavenly voice coming out of the kodesh kedoshim saying: ‘All Israel has won over Antiochia; thus G-d has made a salvation for them in these our days’.

Channah and her Seven Sons

R’ Yehuda said: This refers to the woman and her seven sons. They were taken and brought before the Emperor. The Emperor said to (the first son): ‘Serve the idol’. The son said to him ‘It is written in the Torah ‘I am Hashem your G-d’. They took him and killed him. They brought the next one before the Emperor and told him ‘Serve the idol’. He said, ‘It is written in the Torah ‘Have no other gods beside me’. They took him and killed him. They took the third son and said to him ‘Serve the idols’. He said, ‘It says in the Torah ‘Offerings to other gods anger Him’. They took him and killed him. They brought the fourth son and said, ‘Serve the idol’. He said, ‘It says in the Torah ‘Do not bow down to another god’. They took him and killed him. They took the next son and told him ‘Serve the idol’. He said, ‘It says in the Torah ‘Listen O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One’. They took him and killed him. They took the sixth son and said to him ‘Serve the idol’. He said, It says in the Torah ‘You know this day and repeat it upon your hearts that Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other’. They took him and killed him. They took the youngest son and said to him ‘Serve our idol’. He said, ‘It says in the Torah ‘Hashem says this to you etc and Hashem swore to you today.’ We have already promised the Holy One Blessed be He that we will not leave Him for any other god, and He too has promised us that He will not leave us for any other nation.’ The Emperor said to him, ‘I will throw my ring down before you and you can bend down to pick it up, so that they will think you have obeyed my command (to bow down)’. The boy said to him, ‘I pity you, Emperor, I pity you. If your honour is so great, how much more so is the honour of Hashem!’. They took him to kill him, and his mother said ‘Give him to me so that I can kiss him a little’. She said to him ‘My son, go and tell Avraham your father ‘you sacrificed one son, and I have sacrificed seven sons’. Then she went up to the roof and flung herself down and died. A heavenly voice came and said ‘Happy is the mother of sons’.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

a response to rabbi kimche's open letter about limmud.

A guest post from my mother:

Dear Rabbi Kimche 

I read your open letter about Limmud  on Friday afternoon, and my menuchat shabbat was greatly challenged by what I read.   Having thought about it and reread your letter, I hope you'll consider my response. 

Yes, let's be honest:   Limmud is fun, different, vibrant, entertaining and a challenge to Orthodox Judaism.  Anglo-Judaism has by and large (rather successfully) avoided any challenge, particularly one that involves learning and education, creative thinking, discussion outside its own dalet-amos, or teaching its children/ young adults how to respond to the occasionally difficult and often daft things that the outside world (including non-orthodox, non-observant Jews) consider important.     

Let's be honest:   there is some stuff at Limmud that is apikorsus [and then some], and some of it is just plain incredible.  The Conference has no hidden 'agenda' -- it is an open opportunity.   Information in the handbook makes clear the affiliation of all presenters, and there is much that is good and valuable.   Since Limmud exists and is flourishing, I think that the Orthodox should be there, to teach and to talk and to share authentic Torah--  their continued absence creates a vacuum and suggests that they have nothing to give [or nothing they want to give] to their fellow Jews 

Yes, Ruth Gledhill entertainingly compares Limmud to Glastonbury;   I think 'university' would be a better analogy.    Universities offer serious courses, and at the same time, provide lots of spare-time discussion opportunities over meals and coffee and just hanging about time, and also have space for special interest groups and clubs that are entirely optional.   Let's be honest:   living and learning involves thought and challenge and choice.       

Let's be honest:   after a shiur, never has the teacher/rabbi/ rebbitzen/ educator said to the four or five people who hang about at the end anything like 'come, let's find somewhere to sit down and continue this discussion'.   Never has it been said:   there are important ideas here,  good questions,  let's continue now or arrange to continue …    

Let's be honest:   North-west London Jewry discourages radical thought.  The community is so worried about other influences that its young are cautioned about university,  encouraged to live at home if they want tertiary education, put in fear of losing their yiddishkeit and their souls to a world that is only interested in corrupting them.    How often are youngsters at university asked 'how many frum Jews are on your course?'  as if that's the main consideration.  They scurry in to classes and race back to the safety of Hendon, Golders Green, Edgware.   Better they should do Open University!   Their intellectual worlds are shrinking as surely as their geographical boundaries -- they cannot imagine living anywhere other than the gilded ghettoes where everyone acts and dresses and shops alike;   how welcoming are we to those who are different?   

You mentioned a young man who should have known better than to fall for Reform Bible Criticism;   your description is not an indictment of Limmud but a ringing condemnation of his educational, religious, and social background and upbringing....   why does he [and the many like him in  our community] not know 'mah lehashiv'?     More than 40 years ago,  I encountered these ideas when I went to university and had a hard time with it precisely because my teachers of Kodesh subjects, whenever I asked a question, thumped the desk and told me to do and not ask.     

If you don't want to go to Limmud, fine, so be it.   If you don't want your children to attend, that's between you and them.   But please:  attending Limmud is not like attending Reform or Liberal Sabbath Services;   making that connection is inaccurate,  a false analogy, and a fine example of an attempt at marginalising thinking Jews.   

- Sandy Littman is an experienced educator, teaching regularly at LSJS and at many other forums for women's education around London. She is a veteran teacher at both Ner Yisrael Synagogue and at Limmud. 

'An Open Letter About Limmud - R' Dr. Kimche'

Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche

By all accounts Limmud is an amazing experience. It's a residential learning experience for over 2000 participants enjoying a week in the winter which is warm and friendly, interesting and engaging, non-judgemental, open minded, feel-good and politically-correct, -it's clearly all this and more. But there's one thing it most definitely is not. It's not Judaism, --at any rate it’s certainly not anything close to the Judaism which would be recognised by 3000 years of mitzvah-observant, Torah-learning, Israel-loving, God-fearing Jews. It would not be recognised by Ezra or Hillel, by Rashi or the Rambam, or indeed by the grandparents of most of the attendees. Let's be honest.

At Limmud you will hear a Reform rabbi from LA speaking about how wonderful it is that he officiates at same-sex marriages in his Reform Temple; or a professor of bible from Chicago (author of ‘Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking’) explaining that all that you ever learnt about Judaism was merely a man-made metaphor and folklore; or a fellow of the Hebrew Union College teaching Archaeological Speculation on the origins of the Second Commandment?’ venturing a secular historic meaning of one of the Ten Commandments on the basis of archaeological findings; or a well-known agnostic teaching ‘How to Pray Without God’, or a senior Masorti rabbi (a movement which does not subscribe to the Sinaitic origins of the Oral Law) presenting the history of Rabbinic Judaism, --it soon becomes crystal clear that in this conference, Judaism is essentially whatever you want it to be.

As for the Jewish social parts of the programme, I think Ruth Gledhill of The Times got it right when she referred to it as the ‘Jewish Glastonbury’. When the programme amazingly includes sessions such as: ‘Fifty shades of Hummus’, ‘Old Jewish Jokes’, ‘Kaddish for deceased Pets’, ‘Pyjama Party Disco’, and a ‘drumming workshop’, --one realises that this is indeed Glastonbury, a place to celebrate the absence of any structures and beliefs, a place of great fun where anything goes.

At Limmud you will often be told that there are no immutable Truths only personal narratives, in fact there are no Divine origins of anything. The Exodus from Egypt that we love to recount on Seder Night probably never happened, heterosexual marriage is not the only way for men and women to live together, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are probably all mythical individuals created poetically by ancient authors. The Limmud week is the time of year when the most articulate and lucid presenters of ‘Progressive Judaism’ are activated and imported here to sell these ideas. This is a celebration of Pluralism where nothing is ultimately true, everything is optional, and all is great fun.

Let's be honest. This has always been the agenda of Reform Judaism. Since its creation in the 19th century it has encouraged generations of Jews to abandon their beliefs in Torah-Min-Hashamayim. It has created the illusion that a Jew without Rabbinic Halacha, without mitzvot, without the Talmud, without Shabbat, without tefillin, without the mikva, and without Emunah, could withstand the inducements of assimilation and still transmit his or her faith to the next generation. History has proven otherwise.

But I have heard it asked, why are senior leading orthodox rabbis denouncing Limmud, surely we live in a world of choice, in a supermarket of ideas? Let everyone come together, teach together and learn together, and let everyone choose to believe what they find meaningful? 

Let’s be clear. Orthodox rabbis believe passionately in the Divine Origins of the Torah, the commitment to Rabbinic Halacha, the sanctity of marriage and family life and the divinely ordained connection between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel. These principles are not negotiable. They alone are the exclusive guarantors of Netzach Yisrael, the indestructible sanctity of the Jewish People. When Limmud promotes a systematic denial of all these foundational beliefs, the feelings this arouses in the orthodox rabbinate are comparable to, for example, the reaction of pro-Israel activists when facing anti-Zionists the likes of the Neturei Karta. Limmud celebrates a rejection of all that is precious to Orthodox Judaism.

It is absurd to claim that arrogance or fundamentalism drives orthodox leaders to denounce Limmud it is rather their clarity of vision, and their objective is only to defend everything that is precious and vital to Jewish continuity and authenticity. It is leadership.

And it’s not only traditional religious principles that are being abandoned at Limmud. What about the passion that Anglo Jewry has had over the years to support Israel? Attendees at Limmud are given a very different message. Far-left Pro-Palestinian speakers make sure that your sympathies are entirely with the suffering Palestinians in Gaza and how terrible a crime of human rights has been perpetrated by building the Wall. Furthermore your indignation will be ignited against the human rights violations of the checkpoint searches of the IDF, and alleged Zahal war crimes. Screening a far-left film like ‘Poisoned’ about four young men enlisted into the IDF and how it impacts destructively on their lives as –‘ the rhetoric of combat they are fed turns bitter in their mouths, they begin to question the ideologies and consequences of their actions, leading to mental collapse and desertion.’ This is not a balanced agenda, and it’s driven by several far-left organisations and funders.

Interestingly I couldn't find any speakers about the systematic incitement to jihadist hatred of Jews which is commonplace in Palestinian schools and universities. The many millions of copies of The Protocols of Elders of Zion, that infamous anti-Semitic forgery, constantly taught and reprinted and translated as part of an openly hostile Islamist programme to inflame every generation of Islamist youth to believe that the Jews are the source of all the evils in the world.

Conspicuously absent also are speakers about the high-calibre moral code of Zahal, the rapid economic growth rate of the Palestinian economy in Judea and Samaria under ‘Israeli oppression’, the growing number of Palestinians treated in Israeli hospitals, or the increasing number of East Jerusalem Palestinians in a 2011 survey who greatly prefer being citizens of Israel rather than a new Palestinian state, because Israeli Arabs have more civil rights than anywhere else in the Middle East.

Is it a part of Jewish teachings to promote LGBTQ (you don’t know what it means? Look it up in the Limmud brochure) lifestyle as an attractive alternative new way of Jewish life? Is it Jewish Education to violate the meaning of the Torah and the Talmud by claiming to find support in it for homosexual life? (see: ‘Queering Eden: Another look at Bereishit’ with Idit Klein).  Is it Jewish education to have sessions like: Pride and Prejudice? Being young, Jewish and queerbilled as ‘interactive talks by young LGBTQ members of our community who offer a personal perspective on life being young, Jewish and Queer.’ Homosexuality is certainly an issue the community needs to face up to, but who can claim with a straight face that advocating LGBTQ life is part of teaching Judaism, or that Steve Greenberg’s claim to be an orthodox gay rabbi is anything other than incoherent and absurd? Let's be honest.

One particularly eye-catching form of non-authentic Judaism is the bogus mysticism of ‘’ teachings. The profound teachings of genuine Kabbala were designed to deepen our grasp of the mystical truths of the Torah and to enhance the practice of mitzvot by a rich symbolism and transcendent meditations. It was for many centuries the Holy of Holies of Judaism to be used only by the most knowledgeable and dedicated of devout Jews. This system of ideas has now been stripped away from the observance of mitzvot and the words of the Torah and tefillot and popularised as a type of self-help lets-be-spiritual-with-no-commitments feel-good system hyped up by non-Jewish Madonna-type celebrities who dabble in it. This is prime material for Limmud under various titles and Reform presenters, who create an illusionary connection to Judaism which is popular and easy but is certainly not going to connect anyone to the mitzvot of authentic Judaism.

I am not suggesting for a moment that those orthodox speakers who do participate in Limmud are teaching anything other than genuine authentic Torah. Exceptional educators such as Rabbi Cardozo and now our Chief Rabbi himself, with their considerable Torah scholarship and outstanding talents, do indeed teach genuine Torah superbly. What I am suggesting is that they are unwittingly being used as 'window dressing', a fig leaf for a conference which is overwhelmingly Reform oriented, and that their presence confuses Anglo Jewry about what is authentic and what is bogus Judaism. Members of the wider community are being largely taught an aberration of Judaism, which is widely seen as being sanctioned by the presence of these orthodox rabbis and could mistakenly be perceived as having their hechsher. This creates confusion in foundational matters that require certainty and clarity.

A short personal anecdote: a few years ago I was walking home from Ner in the company of one of my congregants. This young professional man from a modern religious observant home is a regular participant in shiurim and tefillah. He had gone to an orthodox school and then to yeshiva for a year or two, and sends his kids to religious education. In our discussion he remarked in an offhand way that a particular mitzvah is not a real Torah obligation, since, he argued, it is only found in Sefer Devarim, and we all know that Deuteronomy was written many centuries later at the time of Isaiah!! I was thunderstruck. Where would he have been taught this bit of Reform Bible Criticism in a convincing way? Before he told me I knew the answer: - the only likely source that could have persuasively taught him this apikorsut was at Limmud, as it would be unlikely for him to be present at any other lectures of Reform Judaism.

One of the greatest achievements of Anglo-Jewry for generations has been to successfully defend the boundaries of mainstream orthodoxy, differentiating it clearly from the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements. In doing so we have consistently and unswervingly succeeded to ensure that the core of Anglo Jewry is affiliated to authentic Orthodox Judaism, an achievement that other countries observe with envy. Even a brief look at the line-up of presenters and titles at Limmud clearly shows that the agenda of this conference is exactly the opposite of this. Limmud blurs exactly those boundaries that have been so jealously protected in the UK for centuries.

So why indeed are several orthodox speakers regularly teaching there? The pragmatic answer is that since in fact so many of Anglo Jewry attends we should be there to teach Torah. This is definitely a cogent answer, but I suggest that it totally misses the bigger picture, the overall message given to anyone attending the Limmud conference, that Judaism is a pick-and-mix affair and that all the strangest variations are as equally valid as authentic Torah.

So what is it exactly that I am advocating? To shut down Limmud? Absolutely not. I believe firmly in the live-and-let-live policy of tolerance. However, tolerance is light years away from the muddled relativism of pluralism.

Let's just give this conference its true name. Let’s rename it as the ‘Limmud conference of Progressive Judaism’, and leave the orthodox rabbinate out of it. As for the orthodox community, they will no more attend such an event than they would join a Reform or Liberal or Masorti synagogue on a Shabbat morning. Let's call a spade a spade. Let's be honest.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

this is not the beginning of the end...

So i'm sure you are all pleased to hear that i have calmed down somewhat and am no longer quite so angry. at least, i am no longer angry towards people who have voted abutbul - friends who have please take note, i won;t shout at you any more ;-) - i understand, with my head at least if not my heart, that there are people who feel that 'abutbul was an ok mayor, better the devil you know than the devil you don;t, and don;t talk to me about politics, lies or anything else cos what else do you expect from politicians, i don't want to hear it.' which means that they would not have discovered quite how unequally the nastiness was spread. and also that most people would have voted before all the voter fraud was known about.

 i read a long letter written by an anonymous charedi, which was sent to me to show me that the charedi fear of eli cohen was very real. i believe him: it was very very real. that, however, does not make it legitimate. it was clear from the undertone of the letter that the letter-writer believed that the mayor of beit shemesh should not consider the needs of the non-charedi residents. he wrote about how dreadful it would be to vote for eli cohen, because he had promised to have establishments open on shabbat for those who are not shomrei shabbat, in non-shomrei shabbat areas. clearly, he is confident that a charedi mayor will not let this happen. equally clearly, he is opposed to such a thing ever being allowed to happen. ergo, he does not want the needs of non-charedi residents to be met; or at least, not when he disagrees with their validity. he showed exactly what the non-charedi real fear of charedim is: that they will take a non-charedi town which happens to have many charedim living in it, and turn it into a charedi town which does not permit entertainment establishments, modes of behaviour, dress, or leisure that are not in accordance with a charedi lifestyle.

i am still annoyed at abutbul, his campaign machine, and the rabbis who supported him. i am angry that the election race was turned into a jew-vs-jew affair when it did not need to be. i am angry that the rabbis used inflammatory religious rhetoric to support one candidate, even if they were not aware of the depth of the lies and nastiness due to rather selective exercising of 'see no evil, hear no evil'. i am angry that these rabbis ignored the fact that beit shemesh was already a place of tension between right and left, and instead of calming charedi fears of a dati-leumi-masorati-chiloni conspiracy against them, they fuelled them. i am angry that abutbul's campaign machine cynically exploited charedi fears just to keep power. (and i do understand that many charedim heard their rabbis tell them about the terrible threat to their charedi lives in beit shemesh from a cohen-lapid-bennett plot, and believed them, because why would they not trust their rabbis? and were scared, and voted accordingly. they were obedient tools.)

i am most angry out of a very personal sense of hurt, that these rabbis rejected me, and others similar to me, as 'not good enough' for not sending our children to the 'right' school, for not wearing tights, for wearing denim skirts, and yet they accept as 'good enough' someone who carries out lies, intimidation, and general hotzaas shem ra. i understand very, very well now how a child would go off the derech and reject judaism because of having seen hypocrisy and unethical behaviour coming from people who are honoured and acclaimed as 'frum'.

i am not opposed to daas torah, but this is where daas torah breaks down. it has been over-used. i do think that the concept of daas torah exists; however, i think that it is misunderstood and abused.
misunderstood, because it was never intended to take the place of thinking things through for yourself. you were meant to think for yourself, weigh up the pros and cons, and ask daas torah for advice and guidance when you could not work out for yourself what would be best.
abused, because just like you cannot shop around for the opinion you want, you cannot manipulate the information you give your daas torah, and then expect his advice to be accurate. the gedolim whose wish was carried out by the rabbis 'on the ground' were not told the truth. they were told lies about cohen's intentions, lies about who was backing him; sometimes they were quoted from when they were making a generalistic statement of recommendation and not when talking specifically about beit shemesh and it's 2 possible candidates.

from where i stand, i see 2 options for daas torah. either it will become stretched to breaking point; people will no longer believe that the voices of daas torah possess any wisdom, insight, or understanding, because they have heard the statements of daas torah invoked so often, to support behaviour which is more wild, more unethical, more hypocritical than before. if this is daas torah, then daas torah is foolish. and sadly, they will all revolt against the whole concept of kavod to rabbonim and deference to gedolei hatorah. i think this is already happening - viz last week's attack on rav shteinman, and death threat ot rav shmuel auerbach.

or, there will be the opposite effect. daas torah will be venerated so much that no one will dare to make a decision without checking with daas torah first. it will not just be asking the advice of a rav when unsure which school to choose for your child. it will be asking daas torah without even looking at the options first. it will be fearing to take a step without getting the daas torah ok. and i think that this has already happened also.

one point in the election campaign which amused me: one of the fake posters produced by the abutul machine claimed that the rabbinic leaders of the dati leumi community said to vote abutbul. as soon as it was spread around, the dati leumi community said 'we are not listening to this, because voting is not a halachic issue in which we need a psak. all that this can be is a guideline, and we are not following it'. it was funny, because it was followed by an official statement from said rabbinic leaders that the statement was a fake. evidently, the dati leumi community showed that they were true talmidim of these rabbonim; they were right, their rabbonim would not produce such a statement telling their communities how to vote in beit shemesh.

over shabbat, i heard people saying that this is not the end; there are lawyers working on getting the election redone, or overturned, or whatever the right word is. i applaud their optimism, but as far as i am concerned, this is the end. it ended a week or two ago, when the abutbul campaign machine upped its level in lies and divisiveness, and rabbis and charedi leaders continued to support charedi fear of fellow jews. i do not know how we can live together, when charedi leaders, both rabbinic and from the laity, encourage divisiveness and hatred in place of acceptance and unity.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

'the story of the jews'

'blog on this one, O historian!'
Alright then, i am.

but it's gonna be rather short.

i've finally watched only 2 of the 5 episodes of simon shama's 'story of the jews'. here's my 2 cents, for all that that may be worth (considering inflation, not a lot).

i think that covering 5000 years in 5 hours forces shama to concentrate only on the broad sweeps and patterns of Jewish history. His theme: that the story of the Jews is that of survival, both physical but, more importantly both to the theme and to Shama himself, religious & spiritual survival. his over-arching message and the thread running through his work is that Jews have always been concerned with keeping the religious flame alive through religious life. Jews have faced the problem of how to keep a religious alive without a land or tangible focal point, and in this documentary he traces how, in each era and in the face of each new threat, Jews have changed and shaped Judaism to keep it vibrant & relevant, and yet recognisably authentic.

To me - and to most of my friends, i expect - the sweep of Jewish history is already familiar. I've most enjoyed the way in which Shama wonders at the beauty of the structures which Jews have built in every land in which we have settled; and yet, as he says, always reaching for the suitcase again. There is an eternal, touching pathos which comes through - of the Jew perpetually packing the suitcase and heading out yet again, but each time we come to rest, we yearn to stay at rest and not to have to pack up again. and so we build these big and beautiful synagogues, but leave them behind with barely a backward glance.

and i've really enjoyed Shama;s personal story of jewishness - the friend he's argued with about gemara, the passion with which he declares his zionism, the sadness as he admitrs that he mourns for all of those jews in 18th-19th centuries who thought that by succeeding in wealth and secular culture, they could rise above their jewishness, only for it end in ashes.

there are a few details i did not know, but mostly i'm enjoying watching an acclaimed secular historian share his Jewish identity, express his passion, and trace a pattern of jewish history over the centuries.