Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parshat Naso, 5772/2012 thoughts

Re Naso, nothing new, but plenty of old--here are highlights from some posts of mine on the subject:

Parshat Naso: Sotah—the “trial by ordeal" of the wife suspected of adultery (Sunday, June 11, 2006, 2:42 AM)

"I read the law this morning, in Naso, and found this interesting tidbit: If the woman were found guilty, she would be held accountable, but if she were found innocent, there’s no mention of any punishment for her husband for having subjected her to a false accusation and public humiliation. And another thing: The woman is promised fertility if found innocent. Therefore, it would appear that it’s not enough for the suspected wife to survive the ordeal unscathed: If she doesn’t have a child within a reasonable amount of time thereafter, her husband still has grounds to suspect her. An innocent but infertile woman, or one with an infertile husband, could never clear her name."

Haftarat Naso: Manoach—a sexist without seichel (common sense) (Sunday, June 11, 2006, 3:19 AM)

". . . Manoach's wife has already told him that the child is to be raised as a Nazir. Why does he not trust her word?

Then Manoach offers a sacrifice, and the angel ascends in the flame. Manoach freaks out: “We saw Hashem! We’re gonna die!” His sensible wife responds, “If Hashem hadn’t wanted us to see this, He wouldn’t have let us!”

Personally, I’m not very impressed with Manoach."

Letting one's hair down, literally--biblical version (Wednesday, April 09, 2008)

"45 And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, . . . " (Vayikra, Parshat Tazria, Leviticus, chapter 13, verse 45).

Where have I heard something similar before? Oh yes, here:

18 And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and let the hair of the woman's head go loose, . . . "(B'midbar, Parshat Naso, Numbers, chapter 5, verse 18)

Calling all rabbis, rabbinical students, Bible scholars, biblical archeologists, anthropologists, etc.: What was the significance of loosened hair in the biblical era?"

Parshat Naso: Sotah--Another look (Wednesday, June 11, 2008)

"Debbie, from the synagogue that I often attend in Manhattan, has another way of interpreting Sotah: In her d'var Torah (discussion of Torah), she said that, however humiliating the Sotah ritual was, it did have the major advantage of depriving the husband of the right to take out his unprovable suspicions on his wife, forcing him to put the matter in G-d's (or the Cohen's/priest's) instead. There being nothing in the water that could have made the wife sick (unless she was "blessed" with multiple chemical sensitivities and could have had an allergy reaction to just about anything), the "potion" given to the women "worked" only by what we now call the placebo effect--that is, if the wife believed that it would work, it might have worked. So it was almost a given that the wife would be found innocent, and the husband deprived of the right to take revenge."

And you think *synagogue dues* are expensive?! (Monday, May 24, 2010)

"For me, one of the most flabbergasting aspects of the Torah is the number of animal sacrifices required for all manner of reasons, be they deliberate, accidental, and/or resulting from normal human activities. . . . It's not only the existence of the countless sacrifices themselves that I find flabbergasting, but the fact that I don't see anyone talking about the cost. I'm far from a scholar, so please excuse me for asking what may be a dumb question, but are there rabbinic discussions concerning the financial ramifications of the sacrificial system?"

Parshat Naso—a mixed bag (Thursday, June 02, 2011)

"The Census of the Men of the Tribe of Lévi

Let me get this straight—we really needed 8,580 men between the ages of 30 and 50 to transport the components of the Ohel Moed/Mishkan/Sanctuary-of-the-Wilderness?! (See chapter 4, verse 48 here.)"

Haftarat Naso is subversive (Friday, June 03, 2011, 1:42 PM)

"Start with Parshat Naso.

Then consider the Sotah ritual described therein, in which a man could have his wife tried for adultery by public ordeal on mere suspicion (a right later restricted by our rabbis, in their wisdom).

Now consider Manoach. His barren wife tells him that a man who appeared to be an angel came to her and told her that she was going to have a child. Instead of automatically suspecting her of infidelity, he asks G-d to have the angel appear to him, too.

The obvious reason for pairing this haftarah with this Torah reading is that the Torah reading discusses the laws governing a Nazir, and this haftarah announces the birth of Shimshon/Samson, who will be a Nazir for life. But perhaps this haftarah is also an indirect response of our ancient sages to the injustice of the Sotah ritual--at least try to ascertain the truth before making assumptions."

 Monday, June 4, 2012 update:  " . . .  nothing new, but plenty of old . . . "?  On second thought, see my Parshat Naso, 5772/2012 second thoughts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Shavuot surprise re Parshat Yitro

You would think that, after reading Parshat Yitro every year for roughly the past 40 years, not to mention reading the part of Parshat Yitro that deals with the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot/Ten Commandments every Shavuot for the same 40 years or so, I would have noticed this years ago:

(From Exodus, chapter 19)
כא וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, רֵד הָעֵד בָּעָם: פֶּן-יֶהֶרְסוּ אֶל-יְהוָה לִרְאוֹת, וְנָפַל מִמֶּנּוּ רָב. 21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

כב וְגַם הַכֹּהֲנִים הַנִּגָּשִׁים אֶל-יְהוָה, יִתְקַדָּשׁוּ: פֶּן-יִפְרֹץ בָּהֶם, יְהוָה. 22 And let the priests also, that come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.'

כג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-יְהוָה, לֹא-יוּכַל הָעָם, לַעֲלֹת אֶל-הַר סִינָי: כִּי-אַתָּה הַעֵדֹתָה בָּנוּ, לֵאמֹר, הַגְבֵּל אֶת-הָהָר, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ. 23 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'The people cannot come up to mount Sinai; for thou didst charge us, saying: Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.'

כד וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו יְהוָה לֶךְ-רֵד, וְעָלִיתָ אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן עִמָּךְ; וְהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהָעָם, אַל-יֶהֶרְסוּ לַעֲלֹת אֶל-יְהוָה--פֶּן-יִפְרָץ-בָּם. 24 And the LORD said unto him: 'Go, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest He break forth upon them.'

What an unexpected word I found in verses 22 and 24.

Cohanim (Priests)?!

What Cohanim?!!!

Aharon/Aaron and his sons hadn't been appointed yet!

Yet HaShem Himself gave these instructions!

Who were these priests?  How were they chosen?  What manner of worship and/or service(s) did they lead and/or provide?  How were they compensated?  And, as long as HaShem mentioned it specifically (see verse 22), in what manner did they "come near the Lord," and how did they sanctify themselves?

The floor is open.  I would be particularly interested in knowing how the rabbis (of old and more recent) dealt with the reference to "Cohanim" at this point in the Tanach/Bible.

PSA: Tefillin Gemach for Women

Here's a public-service announcement for my readers: 

From the Jewish Daily Forward comes this good news about a "Women’s Tefillin Gemach ["g'milut chasadim/acts of kindness" group], an organization that lends donated tefillin to women — and only to women — for six months at a time."

Friday, May 25, 2012

My father's first yahrzeit . . . was actually yesterday

. . . 3 Sivan, but I was too crazy busy at the office to blog about it.

The first thing I found out was that, not having attended morning minyan as often as I would have liked, I now stumble over the words of Kaddish D'Rabbanan again.  I'll have to make sure to practice the extra paragraph that appears in Kaddish D'Rabbanan before my mother's yahrzeit.

The second thing I found out was that not only does one not say Tachanun during Sivan until after Shavuot--I should remember to check my siddur/prayer book more closely for such instructions--but the Kel Malei Rachamim (G-d Full of Compassion) prayer for the deceased is not recited during the Sh'loshet Y'mei Hagbalah, a term I just learned about for the first time roughly two weeks ago.  So I'll have to request a separate Kel Malei for my father when I go to morning minyan on my mother's yahrzeit, 20 Sivan, this year and every year.

It seems strange that yesterday was only my father's first yahrzeit.  Since he was "gone" mentally long before he died, it feels as if we "lost" him years ago.  :(

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Splitting hairs, so to speak: Shampooing on YT

With the Yom Tov/holiday of Shavuot rapidly approaching, I felt it necessary to revisit the question of whether one may shampoo one's hair on the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals.

You might want to start here, and follow the links.

Here's follow-up number one.

And you're reading follow-up number two.  :)

The issue, per a sh'elah/question posed to Rabbi Yehuda Hausman:

"Can I brush and comb my hair afterwards?

If necessary, one can comb hair for aesthetic purposes only. (Or Yitzchak OH 137) Combing hair to remove loose or damaged hair is forbidden. (Cf Yalkuth Yosef 303.13)"

The problem with shampooing on a Yom Tov/Festival is that those of us with medium-to-long hair will almost inevitably pull out hairs, knots, and/or tangles, in the process of combing for aesthetic purposes.

So I'm going to split the difference, rather than the hairs--I'll refrain from shampooing on the first (and seventh) day(s) of the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals, but I'll take advantage of the interesting halachic status of the second (and last) day(s), observed in galut/the diaspora only, and shampoo on those days.

For those whom this topic may concern, I suggest that you check the linked halachic discussions and make your own decision (in consultation with a rabbi, if that's your preferred approach.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai, 5772/2012 thoughts

Here are links to the basics of last Saturday's Parshat Behar ( Leviticus 25:1–26:2) and Parshat Behukotai ( Leviticus 26:3–27:34).

My Hillel (standing-on-one-foot) version:

See also:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tales out of shul :)

Now that my father's nine months of kaddish are over, I'm back at my old stomping grounds--our local Conservative synagogue--on Sunday for Shacharit/Morning Service.  There, I've gotten two surprises, one pleasant, one not.

The good news
I had completely forgotten that, because two of our members--namely, me and the woman who sits next to me at Shabbat/Sabbath morning services--are both hard-core davveners (pray-ers) who learned the prayers late in life and can't keep up with the average yeshiva grad, the cantor has made it a point to lead the Sunday morning service at a slower speed than he would prefer.  It's a pleasure to be able to davven/pray a weekday morning service at (almost) literally my own pace when I'm in a synagogue, and not just when I'm praying bi-y'chidut/alone at home.

 The bad news
This morning, the cantor had to leave right after Shacharit, the congregant who usually splits the divrei-Torah (study session) honors with him was not present, my davvening partner (see above) was preparing to coordinate her extended family's Mother's Day celebration later today, and my husband was teaching his usual college accounting class.  So when it came time for Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals following the "minyannaires" breakfast, there were only three people present, and, of those three, I was the only one knowledgeable enough to lead.  Much to my dismay, no one responded when I led the zimun (formal verbal invitation to say Birkat HaMazon), due to limited Hebrew-reading skills.  I had serious halachic reservations regarding whether I should "lead" the zimun in the future under those same cirmcumstances, but I thought about it on the way home, and concluded that I should treat the zimun like the chazarat haShaTz (repetition of the Amidah prayer by the prayer leader)--just as the ShaTz/shaliach tzibur (representative of the congregation/prayer leader) repeats the Amidah for the benefit of those who may not be able to read it, so one should say the zimun no matter who's there, for the benefit of those who don't know the responses.  When I lead, I will continue my practice of always slowing down when I get to the chatimah/seal/closing line(s) of each b'rachah/blessing, in the hope that the others will be able to join me (with the help of the transliteration).

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Parshat Emor, 5772/2012 thoughts

    You can read the the basics of Parshat Emor (Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1–24:23here.

    From Vayikra/Leviticus, chapter 23:
    ה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן, בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ--בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם: פֶּסַח, לַיהוָה. 5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at dusk, is the LORD'S passover.

    ו וּבַחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה, חַג הַמַּצּוֹת לַיהוָה: שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD; seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread.

    Hayyim Schauss, in his The Jewish Festivals:  History and Observance (1938) claims that, historically, Pesach/Passover started out as two separate festivals.  Pesach was a nomadic shepherd's festival, celebrated by sacrificing a lamb and smearing the blood on the tent posts.  It was a home festival.  Chag HaMatzot, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was a farmer's festival, celebrated by giving the first sheaf of the new crop of barley to the local priest.  Over the years, and especially after King Josiah's reforms centralized sacrificial worship at the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple in Jerusalem, making the smearing of the lamb's blood on the tent posts or door posts of one's home impossible, the two holidays were merged into one, Z'man Cheruteinu/The Season of Our Liberation.
    See also:

    Both sides against the middle

    I recently linked to an old post of mine, Seeking a Judaism that's good for men*&*women*&*kids, and was reminded of this conversation:

    Shira Salamone said...

    TOTJS Steve said, "I have come to believe that the gravest injury to American jewry was the rise of denominations. A tolerant orthodoxy would have provided the big tent . . ."

    You may have a point. Some among the Sefardi community still have that big-tent attitude--in some Sefardi communities, it's accepted that everyone, observant and non-observant, prays in the same synagogue."

    Half the Jewish world believes that Judaism is all about "tikkun olam/repairing the world" (social action) and being a good person.  The other half believes that Judaism is all about wearing a black hat and/or checking one's lettuce for bugs.

    What about the third half, you should pardon the expression?  What about us middle-of-the-road Jews, who believe that one can't be a good Jew without respecting both other human beings and Jewish ritual?

    This obsession among some of the most right-wing Orthodox Jews with differentiating themselves from non-Orthodox Jews at all costs, to such a point that a completely-observant man who wears a crocheted kippah ("s'rugi") instead of a black hat can have his status as an Orthodox Jew questioned, is tearing the Orthodox community apart.

    At the other extreme, an indifference toward traditional practices that distinguish Jews from non-Jews, such as keeping kosher and/or wearing a tallit/prayer shawl, is leaving many less-observant and non-observant Jews with little that's specifically Jewish in their "repaired" world.

    A return to sanity, mutual respect, and a willingness to differentiate ourselves in some ways from non-Jews are, in my opinion, essential for preserving Judaism and the Jewish People, which are, I believe, inseparable.

    A laugh from a commenter on Frum Satire

    See here.

    "Simeon the Just May 7, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Having just arrived in the TARDIS from the Temple in Jerusalem (where I live in the year 3465), I am certainly going to p--- off those crazy people in the black hats who pretend to be Jewish.

    As high priest, I know that the only proper way to show devotion to God is through sacrifice. We always use musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tovim to demonstrate our joy. While we say Shema, and the blessings before and after shema, as well as an 18 blessing prayer, all the rest of your siddur is corrupted by what I am told are “piyyutim” written a thousand years after my time, even after the time of your Gemarah, and a few psalms. We could finish the morning prayers in five minutes, not including the time for sacrifice.

    Also, this whole “kashrut” industry is absurd. Our meat came from the temple, but nobody had two separate sets of dishes, much less separate sinks. Most people were lucky if they had one set of dishes. Nobody was checking for bugs on lettuce with lightboxes since Edison hadn’t invented light bulbs yet. We ate our vegetables and we were happy to have them, and we would have loved to have corn on Pesach, since we didn’t have corn (which is a new world food) and only an idiot would confuse corn and wheat.

    Finally, those black hats are dressed completely inappropriately. Jews don’t wear those kind of clothes. We dress in tunics and girdles, with a mantle and maybe a headdress for the wealthy (but no black hats please). Almost everyone wears sandals.

    The black hats have made up so many commandments that were not given to us by God that they are clearly heretics.

    Sunday, May 06, 2012

    Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, 5772/2012 thoughts

    Too busy to blog, as you can see from my delayed posting.  Linking to previous posts.

    On second thought, this 63-year-old is posting a quick reminder  from Kedoshim/Leviticus chapter 19, verse 32 for public-transit riders, among others.

    לב  מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.  {ס} 32 Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and thou shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

    I still haven't forgiven the taxi driver who couldn't bother helping my silver-haired husband put a suitcase and backpack into the trunk.

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 update:  DovBear has a few very interesting words to say about the Azazel mentioned in Parshat Acharei Mot.

    Wednesday, May 02, 2012

    Judaism that's good for men*&*women*&*kids, cont.

     [I keep forgetting to post this, so I'd better hurry up before I get too tied up to blog.]

    This might be a good place to start.  (Here's the most recent installment.)

    And here's where Rabbi Ethan Tucker joins the conversation.  Fair warning--each session (recorded in March 2012) is one and a half hours long.  But the discussion is well worth the time.

    Caution: Slow blogging ahead

    See here.

    Hat trick :)

    "Nice hat," said the receptionist at our office.

    I resisted the urge to laugh, and said, "Thank you."

    The hat in question was the same gray wool beret that I've worn every day since this past fall.  Apparently, and much to my surprise and amusement, the receptionist hadn't recognized it simply because, with the temperature having climbed above 60 degrees Fahrenheit/15.6 Celsius, I hadn't pulled the beret down over my ears.

    Easiest compliment I've ever (not) earned.  :)
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