by: Howard Cooper on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Purim is often made into a Jewish Mardi Gras, but the story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zera invites us to look at a darker core of Purim. Credit: CreativeCommons / StateofIsrael.
There’s a curious Purim-related story in the Talmud about two scholars, Rabbah and Rabbi Zera. One year they got together to celebrate the festival and, as is the custom, they got completely drunk. So drunk that Rabbah attacked Rabbi Zera and killed him. On the next day, the Talmud goes on, Rabbah prayed on Rabbi Zera’s behalf and brought him back to life. The next year, Rabbah went to Rabbi Zera and said “Will my honoured teacher come, and we can again celebrate Purim together?” To which Rabbi Zera replied: “A miracle doesn’t take place on every occasion”(Megillah 7b). Once bitten, twice shy.
What do we make of this story? Obviously it’s a fable—not quite a parable, but a piece of imaginative playfulness: we know that (pace the New Testament) once they are dead, people don’t come back to life. So what is the story getting at? Is it a critique of the dangers of drunkenness? Is it an implicit acknowledgement—a millennium and a half before psychoanalysis and Melanie Klein – that aggression, murderousness, is just below the surface of even the most educated or pious of human hearts? And that it doesn’t take much, just a few drinks, to loosen up inhibitions and for this innate and powerful energy in us to burst out in violent and destructive fashion?
by: Dahlia Abraham-Klein on January 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Every week before Shabbat in the sanctuary of observant Jewish homes, we are graced with a special capacity to meditate and to converse with God while kneading dough to make challah. The kneading is an action meditation, best understood as the performance of commandments and rituals. While meditatively kneading, you can clear the mind for a holy intention and open the channel as a springboard to reach God.
The first step to having the right intention is through practicing breath control. When God created Adam, the Torah says, “God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man [thus] became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for breath is neshima, while the Hebrew word for soul is neshama. We can understand from this verse that breath and soul are intimately connected. God breathed into man and by doing so, bestowed upon him a spark of the divine – a soul. God did not breathe into any other creature but Adam. Only man has the ability to use his breath in order to control his mind and thereby body, to draw closer to God.
by: Audrey Lichter on January 25th, 2015 | No Comments »
Credit: Chai Mitzvah
Rabbi Tarfon, a member of the third generation of the Mishnah sages, once said “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to accept tochecha?” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a 1st-century CE Palestinian Mishnaic sage, added, “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give tochecha?” (Babylonian Talmud, Arachin 16b). Tochecha, at times translated as reproach or admonishment, is the mitzvah of compassionate critique in the Jewish religion. The general injunction against negative speech, lashon hara, (“you shall not wrong one another” in Leviticus 25:17) does not negate tochecha because the latter is focused on how the correction is made. “Although you are required to reprove wrongdoers, you will be sinning if you do it the wrong way. Be careful not to embarrass them” (Rashi; Sifra).
“These quotes could have been written today,” says Ann Pava, Chair of National Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), as she recently reflected on her study of tochecha through her participation in her local Federation’s Lion of Judah Chai Mitzvah class.
Chai Mitzvah is an international adult Jewish learning initiative which encourages participants to combine group study with a set curriculum and with individual exploration of study, spirituality and social action. One of the topics in the curriculum is “Interpersonal Relationships”, addressing responsibilities between an individual and the community.
When I received a phone call from my cousin Larry Lerner whom I deeply esteem asking me to be part of the slate of HaTikvah for the World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, I had to decline. Though I am pro-Israel and brought my son to high school in Israel and supported him by living in Israel while he was serving in the IDF, I am equally pro-Palestine and have never described myself as a Zionist, so how could I become a delegate to this convention? Moreover, upon reading their platform, I know that I’ve been a strong critic of the Israeli Labor Party and its failure to attempt to educate Israelis about what kind of a peace settlement would actually work, much less endorsed anything like the one I’ve proposed in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (which you can order at www.tikkun.org/eip).
Credit: Creative Commons / Lilach Daniel
I am particularly unhappy with all those Jewish organizations which oppose the Occupation of the West Bank solely on “Jewish self-interest” grounds without ever really addressing the ethical issues involved in that Occupation causing so much pain and violence to the Palestinian people. When the Torah commands us to “love the stranger” and “do not oppress the stranger,” it must be read today as applying to the Palestinian people – and Meretz and the Labor Party should say that clearly in their platform. Nor could I sign on to a platform that summarily opposes the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement. I reject a general boycott of Israel and I am aware that when talking about their demand of “ending the Occupation” some activists in the international BDS movement believe that “the Occupation” started with the creation of the State of Israel and hence aim at ending its existence. On the other hand, I do support BDS in regard to the Occupation of the West Bank, and favor using that tactic against any products produced in the Settlements or any firm that produces goods or services that are used primarily to support the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza (e.g. Caterpillar).
After weeks of controversy over “Selma” and especially the scenes of head butting between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson, I was a little surprised when I finally saw the movie during this MLK day weekend (I do not live in a city that was graced with the pre-release). As I quickly learned, “Selma” is not essentially about MLK or LBJ. It is, of all things, about Selma.
Its 42-year-old director, Ava DuVernay, says of “Selma”, “It honors the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.” This it does faithfully and movingly. “Selma” illuminates a struggle – movement of church ladies, teenagers, and old men – that materialized in a small town long before King entered the picture.
Still, there are questions. These begin with the portrayal of Johnson but extend to other gaps in the film – including what I’ll describe for now as the case of the missing yarmulkes.
by: Abba A. Solomon on December 24th, 2014 | 20 Comments »
Zionism and Its Discontents: Radical Currents in Israel/Palestine
by Ran Greenstein
Pluto Press, 2014
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh. This assertion, that “All Jews are responsible for each other,” has the crux of the situation. How are Jews to work out their relationship and “responsibility” to the “national home of the Jewish people”? To act decently, we must face what happened, face what the “return to Zion” led to.
Zionism and Its Discontents by Ran Greenstein reviews opposition to the Jewish nationalist state project in Mandate Palestine and after the State of Israel was proclaimed, May 14, 1948. Israeli-born Greenstein’s focus on Israel/Palestine is enriched by his study of South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid ideology.
Reading of pre-State opposition — from Arabs, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, and Zionists who rejected the “Jewish state” goal — reminds us that the consequences of making a Zionist state, consequences of perpetual conflict and injustice, were foreseen.
As I found, while researching a book on the American Jewish establishment and Zionism, the records of Jewish organizations are full of predictions of disaster that would come from taking possession of Palestine as a matter of right, over the interests of residents of that land.
by: Aryeh Cohen on December 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off
Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia entry: Jewish holidays
The deepest yet also the simplest truth of Hanukkah is that it is a holiday about a miracle. The real power of the miracle, however, is not that one cruse of pure oil was found after the Temple was defiled by occupying forces. Neither is the real power that that one cruse of oil burned for eight days when it should have burned for only one day. The real power is the story of the miracle itself.
by: Aryeh Cohen on December 18th, 2014 | Comments Off
Credit: Creative Commons / Elvert Barnes
The Talmud reports that the reason for adding a candle to the menorah every night of Hanukkah is that “one may raise up within holiness but one may not lower within holiness.” This principle usually governs an action that may or may not be taken with regard to vessels, materials, and foodstuffs that are dedicated to the Temple. In one example, a priest’s worn clothes may be used for wicks in the Temple candelabra but not for more mundane purposes. How might we understand this in relation to our more modest candelabra?
We are moved to the deeper meaning of the candlelight. Just as with each added candle there is more light, we must constantly add to the quantity of holiness in the world. How does one expand holiness in the world? The Torah (Leviticus 19) commands “you shall be holy, for I God, your God, am holy.” This general statement is followed by a list of specific actions, including this: “You shall do no iniquity in justice. You shall not favor the wretched and you shall not defer to the rich. In righteousness you shall judge your fellow … You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow. I am God.”
As Jews throughout the world light candles this evening, many across America are simultaneously shining a light upon police violence and affirming that black lives matter in protests and social action efforts in over seventeen cities.
From Boston to San Francisco and Albany to Durham, Jews are committing themselves over the next eight days during Hanukkah to not just mark a historical moment in which the shackles of occupation and oppression were overthrown by ancient Jews, but to illuminate the racism and state oppression ripping America apart.
Hundreds of Jews and allies in Boston block traffic and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Image via Michelle Weiser.
by: Mitchel Davidovitz on December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Credit: Creative Commons / Robert Couse-Baker
Despite having nearly no religious significance, not appearing in the Tanakh, and only warranting a few passing references in the Mishna, Hanukkah seems to stand out as an important cultural event for American Jewry and is largely viewed as the quintessential Jewish holiday to non-Jews in America. This is largely due to its calendar proximity to Christmas and inclusion on television programs which provides illusions of multicultural inclusion. Jewish symbols featured in advertisements are used to latch the Jewish population into participating in “holiday season” consumerism. This is a part of television’s much broader role in assimilating Jews and other minority/immigrant groups into America’s capitalist culture. It is a great irony because the premise of Hanukkah stems from a revolt against those attempting to acculturate the Jewish people.