Monday, July 27, 2015

ELI Talk: The Problem of Eicha

Dara Horn Explains: The problem of the Biblical book of Eicha (Lamentations), which we just read out loud during Tisha b'Av. Was it all our fault?

By way of introduction, here is what Dara's website says about her:
Dara Horn was born in New Jersey in 1977 and received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006, studying Hebrew and Yiddish. In 2007 she was chosen by Granta magazine as one of 20 “Best Young American Novelists.”  
Her first novel, In the Image, published by W.W. Norton when she was 25, received a 2003 National Jewish Book Award, the 2002 Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and the 2003 Reform Judaism Fiction Prize.  
Her second novel, The World to Come, published by W.W. Norton in 2006, received the 2006 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, the 2007 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, was selected as an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times Book Review and as one of the Best Books of 2006 by The San Francisco Chronicle, and has been translated into eleven languages.  
Her third novel, All Other Nights, published in 2009 by W.W. Norton, was selected as an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times Book Review and was one of Booklist’s 25 Best Books of the Decade. In 2012, her nonfiction e-book The Rescuer was published by Tablet magazine and became a Kindle bestseller.  
Her fourth novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, was published by W.W. Norton in September 2013, and was selected as one of Booklist‘s Best Books of 2013 and was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  
She has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Sarah Lawrence College and City University of New York, and currently holds the Gerald Weinstock Visiting Professorship in Jewish Studies at Harvard, where she teaches Yiddish and Hebrew literature. She has lectured at over two hundred universities and cultural institutions throughout North America, in Israel and in Australia. 
She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.
Abq Jew must also point out that the entire Horn family, may they all be happy and well, davened at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, New Jersey - where the entire Abq Jew family also used to daven.

Dara has two sisters, Ariel and Jordana,, may they live long and prosper, who are also writers, and who have been written up in The New York Times. The three sisters also have a brother who is not a writer (go figure).

By way of further introductionELI stands for
  • Jewish religious engagement (E), 
  • Jewish literacy (L), and 
  • Jewish identity with Israel and peoplehood at the core (I). 
ELI Talks (sort of the Jewish version of TED Talks) are 12 minute presentations covering innovative ideas and inspiring concepts exploring Jewish engagement, literacy and identity.

ELI Talks are meant to inspire Jewish people to become active participants of Jewish life and community – they are the starting point for new dialogue and exploration within the Jewish community.

The innovative ideas presented in the talks provide food for thought, sparking follow up discussions and activities that encourage investment in Jewish life.

In her ELI talk, Dara Horn submits that the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) is the source of Jewish understanding about anti-Semitism, but that a more appropriate text for today may be the Book of Job.

Ms Horn introduces her subject by talking about her children and Doctor DeSoto, one of their beloved bedtime stories. She shows the connection between Dr Desoto’s story and the archaic, "Eicha (Lamentations)" concept of anti-Semitism - in which it's all our fault.

At the close of her talk, Ms Horn suggests that not Eicha, but rather Job should be the foundational text for Jewish thinking on anti-Semitism.

Program Notes: Certified Thanatologist Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death ®, will speak about her favorite subject at TEDxABQ on September 12. Learn more here.

And if you have an inspired idea that could change the Jewish community as we know it - you might think about preparing your own ELI Talk. Learn more here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

By the Rivers of Babylon 2015

There We Sat; There We Wept:  As we prepare to begin our observance of Tisha b"Av, there are many web sites that offer lists of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People on this day and explanations of why these terrible things have happened.

Here is what Abq Jew has learned over the years, from many different sources:

One reason for the destruction of the Second Temple
was sinat hinam - causeless hatred; and one thing that can bring the Messianic Age is ahavat hinam - causeless love.

Until then, we mourn - for the way things are, for the way things might have been. And each of us mourns in his or her own way - even with music. No, music is not the Tish b"Av tradition.

 But if one needs music to mourn, J.J. Goldberg of The Jewish Daily Forward has a playlistMr Goldberg says:
I agonized over this. We’re now in the nine-day mourning period approaching Tisha B’Av. Music is not appropriate. Can we observe by listening to music of the season? Well, I decided to go with it. It’s for those who haven’t thought of observing the mourning period, to get you in the mood.
The first number couldn’t be anything but “Al Naharot Bavel,” By the Waters of Babylon. The words are from Psalm 137 and tell of the exiles weeping after the destruction of the First Temple on the ninth of Av, 586 BCE: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion.” This is the classic version many of us remember, performed by Basya Schechter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The 39 Steps

To Traditional Shabbat Observance: Abq Jew would like to apologize to his loyal readers who believed, up until this very moment, that this was going to be a Jewish review of the famous 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Instead, Abq Jew is going to talk about this Table of the 39 Avot Melacha.

Abq Jew downloaded this table from the Facebook page of Rebbetzin Rivkah Wittenstein of Kol BeRamah, a traditional Orthodox synagogue in Santa Fe. He then Sephardicized it and placed it within a border. Is it not splendiferous?

The Table of the 39 Avot Melacha is, of course, a take-off on the Periodic Table of the Elements

which we have all come to know and love, and which Tom Lehrer has famously put to song (see Tikkun Leyl Shavuot & The Elements).

So now, Abq Jew surmises, you are wondering

What's an Av Melacha, and why are there 39 of them? tells us that
In the Mishnah, the Rabbis enumerated 39 major categories (with hundreds of subcategories) of labor that were forbidden (avot melakhah) based on the types of work that were related to the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, which ceased on the Sabbath (Shab. 7:2).
The chiddush (innovation) of the Table of 39 is that it color codes the primary subcategories of forbidden work. For further tells us that
Activities that cannot be performed on the Sabbath are:
  1. Green, First 2 Rows: Basic tasks connected with preparing the showbread (sowing, plowing, reaping, binding, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking).
  2. Blue, Next 2 Rows: Work related to making the coverings in the Tabernacle and the vestments used by the Kohanim (shearing sheep), bleaching, carding (changing tangled or compressed material into separate fibers), dyeing, spinning, stretching (material), making two loops (meshes), threading needles, weaving, separating, tying (a knot), untying (a knot), sewing, tearing.
  3. Orange, Last Row: Activities concerned with writing and the preparation of parchment from animal skin (trapping or hunting), slaughtering, flaying (skinning), treating skins (curing hides), scraping pelts, marking out (to make ready for cutting), cutting (to shape), writing, erasing.
  4. Various, 2 Columns on Right: Construction (building, demolishing), kindling a flame (lighting, extinguishing), carrying (from private to public domain, and vice versa), and putting the finishing touches to a piece of work already begun before the Sabbath.

To your average (as if there were such a thing) modern, city- or suburb-dwelling Jew, this list of 39 appears pretty easy to follow.

But just wait.

First of all, continues
The Rabbis decreed that one not only should avoid forbidden acts but also must not do anything that (1) resembles a prohibited act or could be confused with it, (2) is a habit linked with a prohibited act, or (3) usually leads to performing a prohibited act.
The rabbinic enactment of measures to prevent these possibilities was termed “putting a fence around the Torah” (Avot 1:1). 
 Let's look at Av Melacha #1: Sowing. We're not farmers, right? So what do we have to worry about?

This: As it turns out, adding fresh water to a vase of cut flowers is prohibited on Shabbat. Why? Because the Rabbis defined "sowing" as "any activity that causes or furthers plant growth." And as the King of Siam poignantly observed

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Why oh why, Abq Jew hears you ask, would our Rabbis define "sowing" (et al) so broadly? Did they really, really have it in for us?

To which Abq Jew, after his years of study at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (see Wanna Be A Rabbi?) must answer:

Abq Jew is not a rabbi.

But Abq Jew does believe that the Rabbis did their best at all times in interpreting the Bible to determine how The Holy One, Blessed Be He, wants the People Israel to behave.

The question facing us is

How do we interpret and respond to G-d's requests
(and the Rabbis' rules) today?

It will come as no surprise that Wikipedia, in its discussion of the 39 Avot Melacha, further informs us
There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of the Sabbath. 

We are now preparing for the Nine Days that lead up to the fast of Tisha B'Av.

May our disagreements be for the sake of Heaven.

Let us recall that the Rabbis viewed sinat chinam - baseless hatred - as one of the causes of the Second Temple's destruction.

And let us recall that Rav Kook, of blessed memory, identified the only way to overcome it - with ahavat chinam, loving others freely without judgment.