Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another Torah Trifecta March 17

Three (3) Sifrei Torah! Abq Jew must tell you that this Shabbat, Shabbat Vayikra, is not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Shabbat. For not only is it Shabbat Vayikra - it is also Rosh Hodesh Nissan, and it is also Shabbat HaHodesh. Which means -

Three (3)! Yes, three (3)! How often, Abq Jew hears you ask, do we read from three (3) Sifrei Torah? Oddly enough (not really), has the answer (see also A Torah Trifecta).
Every year on the holiday of Simchat Torah, three different portions of the Torah are read during the morning service. a) V'zot Haberacha, the last portion of the Torah; b) the holiday maftir reading, discussing the day's Temple service; c) Bereishit, the first portion of the Torah.  
If a synagogue has three Torah scrolls, then each of these portions is read from another scroll. If not, then one of the scrolls is quickly rolled from one portion to the next between readings. 
There are three other times during the course of a year when, if various calendric variables fall in place, three portions of the Torah are read on the same day: 
1. When Rosh Chodesh Tevet is on Shabbat. Since the month of Tevet always begins during the holiday of Chanukah, in such a case there would be three readings: a) The weekly reading. b) The reading for Rosh Chodesh (head of the month). c) The holiday reading. 
2. When the month of Adar (or the second month of Adar in a leap year) begins on Shabbat. The extra portion of Shekalim is always read on the Shabbat immediately preceding the month of Adar, or on Rosh Chodesh Adar itself when it falls on Shabbat. On such a week we would read: a) The weekly Torah portion. b) The reading for Rosh Chodesh. c) The Shekalim reading. 
3. Same thing when the month of Nissan begins on Shabbat. The extra portion of Hachodesh is read on the Shabbat immediately preceding the month of Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan when it falls on Shabbat. On such a Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is read, in addition to the Rosh Chodesh and Hachodesh readings. 
In any of these cases, three Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark, if the synagogue has that many.
But what happens if the synagogue doesn't have that many Torah scrolls? Then the congregation gets to meet

Tircha D. Tzibura

Tircha D. Tzibura is known throughout the Jewish world, even (especially?) Abq. Some say she has always been here; others, that she just arrived from the Coast. With her flaming red curls, sensible shoes, and half-asleep expression, she is easy to spot.

OK ....  Tircha d'tzibura ("a burden on the congregation") is a Rabbinic / Talmudic expression that denotes an activity that takes longer than most people can bear, and that, therefore, should be avoided. While some claim that tircha d'tzibura cannot apply to shul on Shabbas - after all, where else ya gonna go? what else ya gotta do? - others are sure that it does.

The classic example: the many occasions during the year when we take two (or three!) Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) from the Ark, so we don't keep the congregation waiting while we roll the scroll back and forth to find the next reading.

Abq Jew must point out that the correct phrase is
"Sifrei Torah," and not the often-heard "Torahs." 
There is only one Torah.

Did you notice that, with all the talk of three (3) and threes (and St Patrick's Day!), Abq Jew never used the term trinity? You're welcome!

But since we are talking about trifectas, let's bring in the three-part Fugue for Tinhorns from Guys and Dolls (Abq Jew's favorite musical)!

Shabbat Shalom!
Happy Rosh Hodesh!
A Zissen Nissen!

But Wait! There's More!

When Fugue for Tinhorns concludes, YouTube brings you a video (well, YouTube brought a video to Abq Jew) that asks what turns out to be the Fifth Question at every seder:

Who did play the sax solo
on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street?
"the most famous saxophone solo of all time"

Once again, Abq Jew has thoughtfully provided the answer above: 'twas Raphael Ravenscroft, of blessed memory. And here's the video:

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ship of Fate Hits the Sand

Singing the O Fortuna Polka: Yes, that's supposed to be Ship of State. Which, these days, is no more seaworthy than a leaky rowboat. Nevertheless, the White House is happy. Everything is going swimmingly.

But for those of us remaining who live in the real world, it's time for some Sturm und Drang (a short-lived proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music that took place from 1:30 pm on March 7, 1760 through 11:15 pm on December 12, 1780).
In which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. 
O Fortuna, written in the 13th century as a medieval Latin poem (part of a collection known as the Carmina Burana), was an Oldie-but-Goldie by then. But it sure fit the moment.
[O Fortuna] literally means ‘Oh Fate’, and it is a complaint about the inescapable power of fate. Sure, this might seem a tad negative, but fate had greater relevance in the lives of men and gods in Roman and Greek mythology. 
Today - it still does.
Around 1935-6, German composer Carl Orff set the poem to music as part of his cantata Carmina Burana, which was based on 23 other poems from the medieval collection. 
His harmonic treatment, which is modal until the last nine bars, gives ‘O Fortuna’ a menacing, ominous tone which has made it suitable for a number of films and TV shows over the last 75 years.  
Here’s what it does to André Rieu:

Here (translated, of course) are the original words. Pretty dark, Abq Jew must say. But it sure fits the moment.
O Fate,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing, ever waning,
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power - it melts them like ice
Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel, you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled, you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy
fate is against me in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
so at this hour without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!
And Abq Jew just knows you'd love to sing along (in Latin, of course). Which you can now do, in full voice, along with this video:

It turns out that Judaism, the religion (civilization!) we all know and love, has a lot to say about Fate and Fortune. But boiling it down in our Bunsens, what we draw from the beaker is
There are theological problems with the idea of human free will. Jewish tradition depicts God as intricately involved in the unfolding of history. The Bible has examples of God announcing predetermined events and interfering with individual choices. Rabbinic literature and medieval philosophy further develop the notion of divine providence: 
God watches over, guides, and intervenes in human affairs. How can this be reconciled with human free will? 
There is also a philosophical problem, which derives from the conception of God as omnipotent and omniscient: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then God must know what we will do before we do it. 
Doesn’t this predetermine our choices? Doesn’t this negate free will?
Our beloved Rabbi Akiva (Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 15) has cut to the chase:

Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted

The Conservative Yeshiva explains for us:
Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choice is granted: this is one of the most deliciously paradoxical statement of the rabbis. 
It captures in just four (Hebrew) words, much of the spirit of Jewish thought. Since God is all-powerful, God must know everything, including the future. 
However, [if] our actions were totally due to fate, we would not be morally responsible for our actions. In order to hold ourselves responsible for what we do, we must assume that we have free choice. 
Judaism is therefore a religion based on these two beliefs: God is the all-powerful, master of the universe and yet human beings have moral responsibility.
How does that explanation work for you? Yeah, for Abq Jew, too.
In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. 
And yet -
[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. 
--- The Crack-Up (1936), F. Scott Fitzgerald ---
Lady Mondegreen

Which brings us over here to Lady Mondegreen, whom we first met in the classic 2015 Abq Jew blog post

There's A Bathroom [On The Right]

wherein, Abq Jew is sure you will recall but will provide here anyway, Wikipedia explains:
A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.  
Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense.  
American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay "The Death of Lady Mondegreen", published in Harper's Magazine in November 1954. 
The term was inspired by "...and Lady Mondegreen," a misinterpretation of the line "...and laid him on the green," from the Scottish ballad "The Bonnie Earl o Moray." 
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Now, Abq Jew must tell you, his loyal readers (he must! he must!) that people (ordinary people, of course) sometimes mishear the words (they're in Latin, for Pete's sake) to 'O Fortuna.'

With (depending on your level of consciousness) either mildy amusing or emphatically hilarious results.

Here is a version of 'O Fortuna' by the (apparently) Dutch group Het Nieuwe Mannheim Koor & Orkest, who must all be applauded for keeping straight faces while performing. Or maybe they're just not fluent in English ....

And as if that weren't enough ...

Here is an animated version!

And Now For Something Completely Different

Yes, the Ship of Fate has hit the sand. But you didn't think Abq Jew (there are three words that don't often go together) was going to leave you with Sturm und Drang, did you? חס ושׁלום, as they say in Dutch.

Here are The Polka-Nuts, performing in 2010 at the Polka Lover's Club in beautiful, downtown Golden, Colorado. PSA FYI: They'll next be there (see schedule here) on Sunday May 6. Make plans!

OK ... Abq Jew is willing to entertain
 the notion that it may not still be Purim.
Which means that Pesach Watch is on,
with fresh supplies expected soon at

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Happy Shushan Purim 5778!

For Those Who Dwell in Walled Cities: And for those who have therein dwelt. And for those who may therein dwell in the not-too-distant future.

The [Jewish Daily] Forward's Backward 2018 Purim Edition has just, on the eve of Purim Eve, published this expose ~
Jared Kushner’s Dad Offers Advice About Life In The Big House — Not The White House 
In a major scoop, the Backward recovered the following letter from soiled McDonald’s boxes in the White House trash cans. 
Dear Jared, 
As I’ve watched you over the last two years, your entry into public life, I’ve thought about how much you really are like your old man. 
You work harder than everyone around you. You’re devoted to family. You’re not afraid to take risks when you think it’s worth it. 
And, judging by the recent reports, you’re going to be spending time in federal prison, just like I did. 
I’m writing to you now, father to son, because I love you, and I want what’s best for you. I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been there. 
You collaborated with Russian intelligence operatives and worked to undermine this nation’s democracy while trying to secure sweetheart foreign investment deals for the family real estate business. 
I secretly videotaped a prostitute sleeping with my brother-in-law and then sent the tape to the rest of the family. 
Why? Because both of us knew that it was the right thing to do.
To read more - plenty more! - click here.
But in the meantime ~ 

And now ...

a musical interlude ....

El Dia de Purim is the 3rd track off Sarah Aroeste's bilingual (Ladino/English) holiday album, Together/Endjuntos (Sept 2017).
          Biva yo, biva el Rey             Long life to me, long live the King,
          Bivan todos Israel                 Long live all of Israel
          Biva la Reyna Ester              Long live Queen Esther
          Ke mos dyo tanto plazer       Who gave us so much pleasure

Which leaves us with T'ruah, usually
The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

But it's [Shushan] Purim ... so here is
T'ruah's Prayer for the Affordable Care Act

Think you've got it bad?
At the White House, the situation is


And as they celebrate in Acoma,
Abq Jew wishes us all

Monday, February 26, 2018

Why We Celebrate Purim in 5778

With Alpha Beta Academy: You know that Megillat Esther is not a children's story, don't you? There are more levels of meaning in Megillat Esther than you or Abq Jew can count. 

After the Messiah has come (may he come speedily, in our days) all the current Jewish holidays will be done away with, save one. You guessed it - Purim.

Why will Purim be celebrated forever? First of all, because Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther tells us so:
... these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
But more importantly - Purim is eternal in order to reward those who maintain their faith in the Almighty even when He is hidden. 

God's name is never mentioned in Megillat Esther, yet the whole megillah that transpires - especially the good ending - is because of Him.

When you're ready to get serious about Purim, Abq Jew has just the book for you: The Queen You Thought You Knew, by Rabbi David Fohrman.

Rabbi Fohrman is now the principal educator behind Aleph Beta Academy - a wonderfully lucid and modern resource for both teachers and learners. The website tells us:
Aleph Beta Academy is committed to the relevance of Jewish learning. We want to help our students struggle with some of life"s biggest questions, and to achieve answers that are meaningful and satisfying. 
We believe Torah study should be evidence-based, intellectually stimulating, emotionally gripping and relevant to your everyday life. 
Together with our world-renowned educators, Aleph Beta is building an online library making this amazing material accessible to students around the world. 
Guided by our principal educator, Rabbi David Fohrman, Aleph Beta seeks to feature world-renowned teachers of understanding. While our teachers may all have different methodologies, we pride ourselves on evidence-based instruction. 
Our students should decide for themselves what they believe is compelling, and in this way, we strive to keep our Torah-study intellectually honest.

Aleph Beta Academy has, of course, its own YouTube Channel. So if you're not quite ready for the book (162 pages), one of Aleph Beta's newest videos asks
Why do we need to celebrate Purim? Of course, it’s nice to commemorate the salvation of the Jewish people, but as many of us have been taught, God’s name is all but hidden in the Megillah’s story. 
Since when do we have holidays without God? What exactly are we celebrating here? 
Watch this video to explore some of the answers to these questions, and find brand new meaning in not just the experience of Purim—but in every single day of the year.

Happy Purim, World!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Jews and Washington

And The Jim Kweskin Jug Band: George Washington's parents (Augustine and Mary Ball Washington) celebrated his first birthday on February 11, 1732.

Note: Washington was born on February 11, 1731; when the Gregorian calendar was implemented in the British Empire in 1752, in accordance with the provisions of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, his birth date became February 22, 1732.

Yes, Abq Jew is just as angry as you are about the shooting at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
And too many other shootings. And too many other issues.
Nevertheless, we persist.

And for this year's celebration of Our First President's Birthday, Abq Jew is pleased to again present his classic blog post from February 2015 ....

Washington and The Jews

We Americans have celebrated Washington's Birthday as a Federal Holiday since 1879. But, as Wikipedia tells us,
On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.  This date places it between February 15 and 21, which makes the name "Washington's Birthday" in some sense a misnomer, since it never occurs on Washington's actual birthday, either February 11 (Old Style), or February 22 (New Style).
To include Abraham Lincoln's Birthday (never celebrated as a national holiday) in the February festivities, Americans have informally renamed Washington's Birthday "Presidents Day," aka President's Day and Presidents' Day.
Note: Because "Presidents' Day" is not the official name of the federal holiday, there is variation in how it is rendered, both in the name of official state holidays and colloquially. Both "Presidents Day" and "Presidents' Day" are common today, and both are considered correct by dictionaries and usage manuals. "Presidents' Day" was once the predominant style, and it is still favored by leading authorities, notably, The Chicago Manual of Style, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Webster's Third International Dictionary, and Garner's Modern American Usage. In recent years, as the use of attributive nouns (nouns acting as modifiers) has become more widespread, the popularity of "Presidents Day" has increased. This style is favored by the Associated Press Stylebook (followed by most newspapers and some magazines) and the Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference (ISBN 978-1582973357).
In New Mexico, Abq Jew was surprised to learn, Presidents' Day, at least as a state-government paid holiday, is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

Washington began his working life as a surveyor, then switched to the military. After some success in that field, he entered his third career, government.

A mere 160 years (1790) before Abq Jew's Birthday,Washington wrote a famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.

The Letter contains the celebrated clause
to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance
and ends with the felicitous wishes
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. 
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
So let's talk about Valley Forge (it's going to come up later). Wikipedia tells us:
Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was the site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolutionary War. It is approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed nearly 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.
That was, coincidentally, during the period known as the Little Ice Age.

This concludes the serious portion of this blog post.

Which brings us, of course, to Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band. Kweskin's website tells us
There has never been another group like Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band. The original "Americana" band, playing everything from classic blues to hillbilly country, ragtime, jazz, and rock 'n' roll, they perfectly captured the legendary 1960s mix of exuberant anarchy and heartfelt sincerity. 
Their imitators were legion, including a San Francisco jug band that became the Grateful Dead and a New York jug band that became the Lovin' Spoonful, but no other group attained their unique blend of youthful energy and antiquarian expertise, tight musicianship, loose camaraderie, and infectious swing.
Jim Kweskin, Wikipedia tells us, was born on July 18, 1940, a mere one month and 10 years before Abq Jew's Birthday. Kweskin's Birthday, like Lincoln's Birthday, has never been celebrated as a national holiday.

Nevertheless, when Abq Jew founded the Motherhood & Apple Pie Skiffle Band a mere 47 years ago (1968), it was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band that he modeled his group after.

In keeping with the theme of the day, here is Washington at Valley Forge, a favorite of both the Jug Band and the Skiffle Band.

Happy Washington's Birthday, USA!