Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Amidah Ia

The first paragraph of the Amidah, or Shmoneh Esreh, is the most important. Chazal tell us that if we don't have proper kavvanah, intent, while saying this paragraph, the rest of the Amidah is ruined for us. At its least, kavvanah means intending the words and knowing their meanings. So I thought I'd share with you what I've been thinking about while reciting the first paragraph of the Shmoneh Esreh lately. Note, your mileage may vary. And I expect that as I continue to grow and learn more about it, my understanding will change, as will yours. Still, this is where I am at this moment in time (age 47, 2010).

Blessed, or (R' Schwab) we join together with:

You - which establishes our relationship to God as an I-Thou, relating to the Other as a person, implying a certain intimacy, relatability, etc. But:

O God, the Tetragrammaton, the unreachable transcendent God. How does that relate to Atah? There is a dialectic tension set up here, only partially synthesized by:

Our God, the aspect of God through which we relate, perhaps the immanent God, as the Kabbalists would say, the Ohr Pnimi, the Internal Light, the Divinity that permeates reality. The two, the Transcendent and Immanent God, are of course One, and our relation to Him is through this dialectic tension.

V'elohei Avoteinu
And God of our Fathers. We don't only relate to Him directly, but because of, and in part mediated by, the experiences of our ancestors, particularly the Three Fathers (and fore mothers? not specified, except in certain heterodox rituals, but surely implied).

Elohei Avraham
Elohei Yitzchak
V'elohei Yaakov
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob. Why repeat Elohei for each? The commentators suggest it's that each acknowledged God as individuals, not just as an inheritance from their father. I would go further, noting that each Father had a different experience of God, yet they all related to the One God.

Avraham discovered God, through an "intellective" process, and inspired by that, spread God's word and goodness to all around him, eventually converting 318 of his soldiers/retainers.

Yitzchak experienced God through being the sacrificial victim, saved at the last minute by that God - so he experienced the fear of God innately, both physical fear of death in a Godly act, and the spiritual "yirah me'ahavah", the fear of God knowing that on Him hangs one's life, and one then loves God who sustains and saves his life (viz. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev on Vayosha').

Yaakov was the wanderer. Perhaps his essence was to be a "simple man, a dweller in tents", but he was forced by circumstance to wander, spending 22 years with Lavan, and decades more in Egypt at the end of his life, praying to God at each cusp of his life to help him deal with all difficulties. Yaakov's God is perhaps closest to most of us, as we are in exile, and need the aid of the Deus Absconditus, not knowing if we deserve it or even can get it at all.

(continued later)

The Failure of the Contemporary Yeshivot

The contemporary yeshiva structure, with its thousands of young men sitting and learning for years, is a tremendous thing. It has massively increased the number of men learning seriously, and the amount of Torah studied overall. Since Torah is the heart and soul of Judaism, this is all to the good. But what was the goal of such mass learning, unprecedented in Jewish history?

It should be clear by now that R' Dessler's advice, which is the foundation of the modern movement for everyone to sit & learn all day, was empirically wrong. He advised, to replace the gedolim lost in the War, that we throw a thousand into the mill of the yeshiva, in hopes of producing one godol, and if we lose a few along the way, the price is worth it.

The problem is, gedolim are not trained by mass yeshiva learning. That may be how to start out, but the potential of true gedolim is generally recognized at an early age, and they are pulled out of the yeshiva and given private tutelage, to maximize their potential.

We see this today. We have no gedolim like the prewar Gedolim, no real Yiftach in our generation as it were. Not in any school of thought. We have ideologues, we have partisans, we have all kinds of hacks, but no real Gedolim who are looked to by all branches of Orthodoxy.

It sounds like R' Aharon Kotler, in calling Lakewood a "sh'at hadechak", a temporary measure, understood that R' Dessler's advice was meant to be temporary, an experiment, to remedy a one-time loss. But by now, too many interests are entrenched for the Charedim to find a better, more productive way in both Torah and communal life. Also, the desire to avoid army service and its corrupting social influence, for many Chareidim, means that they *have* to take the exemptions for lerners.

It will take massive social changes to undo this system, find a way for more than a few Chareidim to serve in the IDF or National Service, return Chareidim to the workforce (which is what Chasidism was meant to help - the working Jew, the hoi polloi - while learning is a goal, all-day learning is not necessarily for everyone) so that they can support the next generation of Chareidim in better than abject poverty, and recognize true genius and support it to create the next generation of gedolim.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Rambam in Yedid Nefesh

Something occurred to me during Frinite davening. We say, in Yedid Nefesh, az titchazek vetitrapei, then she will be strengthened and healed. So, Healing suggests Doctors, which suggests the Doctor (no, not that Doctor), Rambam, the most famous Jewish doctor before My Son the Doctor. But is it really referencing the prime Rationalist in a Kabbalistic poem?

Well, the words certainly suggest it. Titchazek, suggests the Yad ha Chazakah, the Rambam's primary legal opus, so called in part because the gematria of Yad matches the 14 books of the work. 14, of course, is the Rambam's magic number. Many of his works contain 14s: the aforementioned legal code, 14 chapters in the Work of Logic, 14 categories of commands in the Guide for the Perplexed, etc. The most likely reason for this is that Rambam was born on 14 Nissan, Erev Pesach, much like my wife's chavrusa, who thus never had birthday parties, but I digress.

But we need some stronger proof. So take the other word, Vetit'rapei, And she shall be healed. The gematria of Vetitrapei is 1087. Count it up, you'll see. Now, the Bach's BWV 1087 is a brief set of short pieces, written highly encoded on one sheet of paper, called the Vierzehn Kanon, or 14 Canons, a Canon being a contrapuntal work of less complexity than a Fugue. The canons are based on the theme of the Goldberg Variations - you know, Dum dum dum dum dum da dum dum. So, now we see it all. 14 canons, which is Rambam's magic number, based on a theme with one of the most stereotypical Jewish names, Goldberg, whose Bach-Werke Verseichnis number is the gematria of a medical word, tells us clearly that R' Azikri, the author of the Sefer Chareidim, and the author of the Yedid Nefesh, wanted us to think about the Rambam at that point, perhaps that his mind should be strengthened to the point where he could accept the mystical tradition which was invented a hundred years later.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lubavitcher Taqiyya?

I’ve had this exchange recently on Harry Maryles’ blog. thanbo is me, Lubavitcher and Chareidi are handles chosen by the respective posters. I’ve suspected for years that some Lubavitchers felt free to dissemble about their faith in the Rebbe as Moshiach, and the extent of that faith, because of the consistent difference in perception between insiders, who say the Moshiach problem isn’t that widespread, and outsiders, who observe that most Lubavitchers they meet seem to be Messianists. I hadn’t actually encountered a concrete example of this disconnect between claim and reality until now, when a self-proclaimed Lubavitcher lied to my screen about a concept that is, while unfamiliar to many outside of Chabad, strongly rooted in Chabad and traditional [Chazal’s] texts. This concept, as we see below, is central to the concept of Rebbe as Moshiach of the generation, and has several counterintuitive implications for Jewish thought.



That is unfortuantely an absolute lie. Who would dare compare the Rebbe to the Baal Shem Tov or chas vchalila Moshe Rabbeinu himself? No one in their right mind would make that absurd jump. Naturally we feel the most intense closeness to Nasi Doreinu but again not to such an insane degree. We don't compare leaders. Period.

And later:

No Jew in their right mind would compare the Rebbe to either the Baal Shem Tov or Moshe Rabbeinu. Such a comparison has no basis in Torah. Period. We do not compare leaders. The Rebbe is the Nasi, with all the current implications of that word. No more and no less.


Of course you don't compare leaders. Because the Rebbe is the greatest leader that ever lived. [where most Orthodox Jews would hold that Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest leader that ever lived, under the concept of Yeridas haDoros, “descent of the generations.” -jjb] It is not a lie to say that Chabad believes in an ascent of generations where everyone else in Orthodoxy believes in a descent of generations, because Chabad has this concept of "yechida klollis".

Yechida is the highest component of a human soul (narancha"i), and is possessed by great leaders. The nosi hador, the prince of the generation, has what is called a "yechida klollis", a collective soul, which encompasses the souls of every Jew in their generation. Moshe Rabbenu was the yechida klollis of the dor hamidbar. [generation of the Desert –jjb] Yehoshua was the next yechida klollis, and since he was alive when Moshe was alive, his soul encompassed Moshe's soul, and therefore was greater than Moshe's soul. This continued down the generations, such that the Mezritcher Maggid's soul encompassed the Baal Shem Tov's soul, etc., down to the last L. Rebbe, whose soul encompassed every Jew in our generation, as well as the souls of all the leaders who came before him.

So the Rebbe is the greatest single soul who ever lived. And in calling this "an absolute lie", you're if not actually lying yourself, at least engaging in the standard Chabad tactic of diverting attention from the issue at hand, by refuting a side question.

It's also sometimes called neshomo klolis, e.g
See also the L Rebbe's sicha of Vayera 5752
A similar idea is present at Zohar II 47a, if not the actual term and its implications.


On the off chance that you were actually being sincere, I followed up on the sicha you cited. Unsurprisingly there's no mention at all of any of this.

Why did I suspect you were being insincere, aside from your condescending tone? Because I've heard bfairush the exact opposite in shiurim on the history of the Rebbeim. We absolutely believe in yeridas hadoros.

I can't and am not interested in looking at Zohar. And if you're posting here, I would posit that neither can you. And I didn't bother looking at Chabad.info because frankly I don't care much for their opinion.


>Why did I suspect you were being insincere...?

Because if I were sincere, which I was, I would be pointing out a central idea in Lubavitch which is embarrassing to state in front of regular Orthodox Jews, inasmuch as it contradicts the standard idea of Yeridas haDoros. Which in fact I did.

But eppur si muove, [Galileo’s alleged last words – “and yet it moves”, referring to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun rather than vice versa –jjb] buddy boy, much as some Lubavitcher liars may like to distract us with falsehoods.

See section 14, footnote 127, in the sicha [Chassidic talk, less mystical/deep than a maamar –jjb] of Vayera 5752.


What's most impressive is how you can blatantly lie about the sichos of your own Rebbe, in order to deny principles of your own movement's belief system.

PS, I have two copies of the Zohar, one contemporary, one antique. And do read it on occasion. Not that I understand it all that well yet.

See here for an insider's view of neshomo klolis and its importance, with sources in the Zohar and Midrashim:


Here's the Zohar in question:

ויאמר משה אל העם אל תיראו התיצבו וראו את ישועת יהו"ה, אמר רבי שמעון, זכאה חולקיהון דישראל דהא רעיא כמשה אזיל בגווייהו, כתיב (שם סג יא) ויזכור ימי עולם משה עמו, ויזכור ימי עולם, דא קודשא בריך הוא, משה עמו, (מכאן אוליפנא) שקיל הוה משה ככל ישראל, ואוליפנא מהא, כי רעיא דעמא הוא ממש עמא כלהו, אי איהו זכי, עמא כלהו זכאין, ואי איהו לא זכי, עמא כלהו לא זכאן ואתענשו בגיניה, והא אוקמוה. התיצבו וראו, לית לכו לאגחא קרבא, דהא קודשא בריך הוא יגיח קרבא בגיניכון, כמה דאת אמר יהו"ה ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון, תא חזי, ההוא ליליא כנש קודשא בריך הוא לפמליא דיליה ודאין דינייהו דישראל, ואלמלא דאקדימו אבהן עלייהו דישראל, לא אשתזיבו מן דינא, רבי יהודה אמר, זכותא דיעקב אגין עלייהו דישראל, הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים קכד א) לולי יהו"ה שהיה לנו יאמר נא ישראל, ישראל סבא:

[bold text: For the shepherd of the nation is necessarily the entirety of the nation, if he is worthy, they are all worthy, and if he is not worthy, the whole nation is not worthy, and will be punished for his sake. -jjb]

For a Hebrew translation see here at the bottom:


Now who's the liar and insincere?

thanbo (conclusion from another thread):

[Harry Maryles wrote:]

What does all this mean? I think it means that Meshichism is still a problem despite all their protestations to the contrary – no matter what the breakdown is or what the percentages are of each.

I think you're right. Look at my argument with commenter "Lubavitcher" [above]. "Lubavitcher" apparently felt compelled to falsify the textual record of the Rebbe's own statements, and to dismiss the Zohar as a source, to cover up an idea that is clearly central to the Rebbe's concept of what a Rebbe/Moshiach is (the sichos of 5751/5752, the last year and a half of his compos life, focussed strongly on the idea of Moshiach), an idea which I learned about from a major Rav who is meyuchas to Lubavitch, and which is clearly sourced in the Midrashim and the Zohar.

So it would seem, that there is permission, if not an actual mandate, to hide the truth about Lubavitch messianism. IOW, you can't necessarily believe what they tell you about "Oh, I don't believe in that stuff". They may well, but because it's off-putting to other Jews, they may feel compelled to go so far as to lie about it. The Shi'i Muslims have a word for this: Taqiyya.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kaplan, Cohen and the JC

This I got from Jeffrey Gurock's book "A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community".

R Mordechai Menachem Kaplan (RMMK) graduated the Seminary in 1902, the last year it was Orthodox, along with my great-aunt's then-future brother-in-law, R Israel Goldfarb. Since the Seminary didn't ordain at the time, Kaplan went to Europe to get smicha from R YY Reines, the head of Mizrachi, and a friend of his father. He took a post as "minister" (upgrading to "rabbi" after he got smicha) at KJ on the East Side, later working with the Ramaz (for whom the school was named in 1937) as #2 rabbi. In 1910, Kaplan started writing in his diaries, and I think in some articles, his inklings of pantheism.

Kaplan and my great-grandfather's brother, coat manufacturer and philanthropist (20 years president of the Beth Israel Hospital) Joseph H. Cohen left KJ about 1916 to set up a shul for the growing contingent of West Siders who were shlepping across the park to KJ because there wasn't much else yet. They had this idea of a Jewish Center, a place where Jews would do their recreation in a Jewish context, rather than among non-Jews at the park or the Y, as a way of keeping Jews interested in Judaism (yes they were into Kiruv back then too). RMMK had been involved with an early Kiruv group for years, the Jewish Endeavour Society. Cohen didn't mind Kaplan's writings, as long as he didn't bring them to the pulpit. That synagogue was The Jewish Center on 86th Street in New York.

In 1918 Cohen's brother (my great-grandfather) Louis founded the Brooklyn Jewish Center, the second such "shul with a pool", which, unlike too many Brooklyn synagogues, is still a Jewish institution. It's now the Chabad yeshiva Oholei Torah/Oholei Menachem. The BJC was set up with the idea of having a school, a big Talmud Torah and later a day school, so they didn't have to do too much to convert it.

By 1922, Kaplan couldn't keep his ideas out of the pulpit, and Cohen turned on him. He called a vote of the board to toss him out, lost the vote by a narrow margin, but Kaplan didn't want to stay where he wasn't wanted, and left to set up his own shul up the street, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the Reconstructionist ur-Schule.

In 1927, the Reform financiers who were backing both JTS and RIETS started to wonder why they had to support two Orthodox institutions. They started to work for a merger of the two yeshivot. It came to a vote of boards of the institutions. Joseph H. Cohen was a member of the inner board at RIETS at the time, and he put his foot down - he knew Kaplan, and any institution which employs Kaplan cannot merge with the Yeshiva.

So there you have it. In a small, non-public way, my family made a major impact on the development of Orthodoxy in America.

Electoral Illogic

Congratulations to the Republican Party for retaking the House of Representatives. And congratulations to the Obama Administration for halting, if not yet repairing, the downward slide in the nation's economy and reputation in the world.

The NY Times on challenges facing John Boehner as incoming Speaker of the House:

His promises on behalf of the new House majority — reducing the size of government, creating jobs and fundamentally altering the way the Congress conducts its business — are mostly as lofty as they are unspecific, and his efforts to legislate them into reality must be done with ambitious upstarts within his own party and a fresh crop of Tea Partiers, some of whom seem to believe that it is they, not he, now running the show.

The demands on Mr. Boehner from voters are many and not all consistent. There is a craving, polling shows, to see the current system upended, but preferably without gridlock or rancor. Voters want federal spending curtailed, but jealously guard costly entitlements. They angrily reject what is, but have no clearly articulated vision for what should be.

Indeed, Mr. Boehner and his party were delivered no clear mandate from voters, who, polls suggested, were rejecting a policy agenda more than they were rallying around one. One demand resonated loudly: the reduction of federal spending immediately, a daunting goal. Yet, among the first things that Mr. Boehner has said he will seek to accomplish are reversing cuts to the MedicareBush-era tax cuts, steps that are hard to reconcile with a commitment to reining in the national debt.

But if you think about it, which evidently the voters did not in general, these are conflicting promises and desires. Cutting federal spending and reducing the size of government sound nice, until you realize that that means laying off government workers, thus ending government jobs, as well as reducing investment in private enterprise which would have created private-sector jobs. So if they live up to that promise, watch the jobs begin to disappear like they did in 2008 and early 2009. The current administration's spending stabilized unemployment at 9.6%, instead of continuing to fall to Great Depression levels.

Direct promises to increase Medicare reimbursments, and continue the Bush-era tax cuts (on top of the Obama tax cuts, which were real, if not sufficiently publicized - or don't you notice that your paycheck has you taking home more than you were a few years back, even though you might not have had a raise in several years?) mean greater spending and greater deficits - because you can't spend more money, and reduce tax revenue, without the money coming from somewhere, namely, loans to the gov't that make up the deficit.

Even if today's Republicans will be different than the Bush Republicans, with no requirement of personal loyalty to Bush/Cheney, and no wars of aggression being promoted from the White House, the Republicans will be forced into "business as usual". The same thing happens with every Israeli prime minister since Oslo. We watched candidate after candidate promote himself by opposing the Oslo accords and their aftermaths, but once in office, one could not actually stop the implementation of the Oslo accords.

Just as there wasn't a major change from "business as usual" when the Democrats took Congress in 2008, there won't be a major change now. The Democrats (Wussycrats in Harold Feld's term) still felt that any legislative change must be begged as a favor from the Republicans, even if the Republicans were the minority party. And now we'll continue that, as no party has the 60 votes to override threatened filibusters.

Change we can believe in, is pretty minor change.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Das Buch Bresith

Here's something I've long found interesting. The Morgan Library has recently put its copy of the Gutenberg Bible, Old Testament, online. Here's the beginning of Genesis:

Beautiful illumination, the text beginning A principio creavit deus (note, no capital on Deus, much like German translations of machzorim that don't capitalize gott).

But it's the rubric (the handwritten introductory line in red ink - red in Latin is rub-, like ruby, or bilirubin - hence "rubrics" are written in red ink) that's really interesting. I first noticed this when in Washington I bought a facsimile (for a dollar) of the first page of the Library of Congress' Gutenberg Bible, mostly to get change for the Metro (no change without purchase, doncha know). Here's the rubric enlarged:

Translated, that's "Beginning of the book Breshith, which we call Genesis." So the bookmakers in Germany, printing in Latin, knew the Hebrew name and first word of the book of Genesis, and thought that its proper name.

Similarly here, at the beginning of Numbers, "Expl' liber levitice Incipit vaiedaber.i.ib' nui' ". End of the book of Leviticus, Beginning of Vayedaber or Book of Numbers.

And so on through the Bible.

Interesting, no? Hebrew survivals in the first German production of the Latin Vulgate, long before the rise of Christian Hebraism among Germans in the 1600s with Buxtorff, Leusden, Knorr von Rosenroth, and others. There was some Hebraism among the English in the 1500s; Henry VIII was rumored to have read the Talmud.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Newly scanned books

Looking through the latest 730-book list from Hebrewbooks.org, a few caught my eye:
  • A 1510 Halichos Olam - I have a bit of a thing about klalim books, attempts to systematize the Gemara's internal rules.

  • The Kaufmann Codex of the Mishnah, apparently the oldest & best of the three known complete mss. of the Mishnah, dating from the 10th-11th century.

  • Another Klalim book, this one from the Mechaber, R' Joseph Caro: Kelalei HaTalmud, this one printed in Salonika in 1598.

  • The first edition of Rambam's "Milot haHigayon," Venice, 1550. I have a copy of the 2nd edition, Cremona 1566, which got me into the collecting of old seforim. I bought it at the first Kestenbaum auction; they just held their 49th today. I've occasionally thought about writing a translation of this extremely boring book. I have now several Hebrew editions, as well as copies of two mss. (thanks to the JNUL online exhibit of The Great Eagle), including R' Kafih's translation with the original Arabic (not that I can read Arabic). R' Kafih's edition includes several commentaries, including that of the un-expanded 'RM"D', which Kafih calls "the best commentary". RMD is, of course, R' Moshe of Dessau, called Mendelssohn. I'm sure he just didn't want to alienate frummer purchasers of his book.

  • Latin translations of Tractates Middoth and Rosh Hashanah from 1630 and 1645.

  • Two parts (vayikra & shmot) of the first edition of the Zohar, Mantua 1558. There are actually two First editions, both in the same year, one in plain quarto pages like our modern editions, one in folio in double columns, printed in Cremona. Yes, a century before Cremona became the greatest center of violin-making (Stradivari, Guarneri, etc.) it was a center of Jewish printing.. But the Jewish printers were chased out in the 1560s, just as Amati was setting up his first violin shop. I have a copy of the last double-column Zohar printed, from Sulzbach in 1685; it has marginal notes linking it to the by-then standard pagination of the 3-volume version.

  • The early editions of Shu"t haRema which contain the controversial Teshuvah 124, on whether we can trust someone who has a mistaken belief that wine of non-Jews is kosher.

  • A Soncino Tr. Megillah, printed at Pesaro, 1516. Note the woodcut frame on the title page. It was originally carved for Gershom Soncino's edition of Decachordum Christianum, printed 1507. He reused the frame pieces for many books, getting more and more worn over the years, finally being used in Constantinople in the 1548, by Moses Parnas. Gershom had moved to Constantinople in 1530, died in 1533 leaving the business to his son Eliezer, and on Eliezer's death in 1547, it passed to his partner Parnas. The woodcuts stayed in use for all those forty years. Gershom Soncino is responsible for the Tosfos that we have in our modern Talmuds - he claimed to have been related to the Tosfos of Touques, and used their collection in his Talmuds. Tosfos haRosh may be clearer, but Tosfos of Touques got in by nepotism, and standardized.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WotW: Reform women's group

I received an announcement of the formation of "Rabbis in support of the Women of the Wall." It's supposedly interdenominational - including rabbis of Ortho, Cons, Reform and Recon.

Um, yeah. Looking up Rabbi David Kalb, the one O rabbi, his smicha is private not institutional (i.e. not sufficient to join the RCA - you need one recognized institution or two private smichas). He's also associated with the lefty-est institutions within Mod-O. How many O rabbis, even Mod-O rabbis, are going to want to join with an overwhelmingly Reform/Recon group to support a Reform women's group?

I think it reflects reality: WotW is not really interested in appealing to Orthodox women any more, or to Orthodox institutions. It's run by a Reform activist, after all. Its chair, Anat Hoffman, is the head of the Reform lobby in Israel.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Carlebach Slichos?

I went away with a nice group of people this past weekend to a retreat center, not for a retreat per se, but for a nice weekend in the country. The food was good, the davening good, the environment and cultural opportunities wide, and the people nice for the most part. We went to see a Shakespeare play an hour away. I might have liked to go see a chamber group nearby, but as I'm Mr Mourner this year, I can't go to concerts, or so it seems.

"Now, I don't want to go off onto a rant here" (tm), but the First Slichos was a miracle of misunderestimation.

The chazan announced it would be a mix of Carlebach and traditional. So far, so good. This group likes (a modicum of) Carlebach tunes, and the gabbai (who I think had planned this) is a big fan. The rabbi had concluded his speech at the campfire beforehand, with a wish that we all go with joy into the Selichos, which should be said out of joy. Huh? Pleas for forgiveness and an answer to our prayers are joyous? Um, OK.

The (kiruv-professional guest) rabbi's little talks until that point, during davening & whatnot, had been a bit puerile, as if he were talking to a kiruv shabbaton of teens & twenties, rather than a collection of 30s-50s adults, either singles or families, already established in O communities. But OK, he's out of his element, that's what he's used to saying, so that's how he conducts himself.

The first danger sign was in Ashrei, when the rabbi took out the guitar and started playing along with the group-sing of Ashrei. At which point Debbie stomped out of the guitar mass, as she called it (she taught in a Catholic school for a year). I was thinking - wait - there are 3-4 aveilim here among the men, and I don't know if any among the women, and you're... playing guitar? to be simchadig? at ... slichos? You're forcing us to choose between saying slichos with a minyan, and keeping to our mourning regulations. And there isn't another minyan for 40 miles, so there's no real choice. Sigh. OK.

Kaddish to another Carlebach tune, verses, concluding with more Carlebach for Haneshamah Lach, and we come to the first piyut. It's a cheery one, full of death and gloom, how they kill us in every generation, and the remnant left is full of sin, how can we carry on, when will You save us, etc. So of course, it gets a cheery Carlebach tune, I think one of the Lecha Dodi's. He tries for majestic, by slowing it down at the beginning, which sorta works, but speeds up after a couple of lines, and we're singing Yay, yay, gloom and doom, yippee. more or less. This leads to more grumbling. I start walking around, looking at the other people davening, is anyone else having this big negative reaction?

He does some Carlebach tunes for the Thirteen Attributes intro (You who taught us the covenant of Thirteen,...), but comes to some approximation of the traditional tune for the actual Attributes. Carlebach for some of the shorter verses passages, falling into the common Carlebach failing of the tune ends here, but it's the middle of a sentence or even of a phrase, but so what, this is when the tune ends and we have to start the next verse-tune in the middle of a sentence.

Walking around, and muttering to a neighbor from my home shul, this just doesn't seem right, it's falling into all the complaints I hear about Carlebach - it's shlepped out too long; if the words don't fit the tune phrasing, the words lose out; and the tune doesn't bear any relationship to the words.

By the time we got into the second piyut, I could see that almost none of the men were getting into this guitar mass, the other mourners were annoyed by the guitar, people weren't singing along (except for some of the women who were getting into it more). Several of us went stomping up to the gabbai, to make it clear that we found the Carlebach stuff distracting, and the gabbi, the chazan & the rabbi quickly tried to shift to traditional more-mumbly tunes. Of course, the chazan was flustered by the shift, he had clearly prepared hard for this, and had trouble reorienting his head and voice into the traditional tunes. If it were me, being forced to change gears like that, I probably would have thrown a fit, and stomped out. He handled it with remarkable grace.

We went along like that for a while, through the pizmon which got a Carlebach tune without guitar, but one which fit reasonably well. Zechor rachamecha, more mumbling through verses, then we come to Shma Koleinu. The rabbi introduced it as a time to be thankful for the good in our lives, for what God has given us in the past year. This further dented my impression of the rabbi's understanding of prayer. Shma Koleinu is a desperate cry for help, for Divine aid, mercy, energy. Do not send us away in old age, do not take away your Holy spirit, hear our cries. Long aneinu paragraphs, one with a tune and the guitar, leading into prostration and the end.

By the end, I was thinking of the two leaders as "the comedy duo of the rabbi and the chazan."

At least it was over about 2:00, having started about 12:45. A quick workmanlike version takes about 0:45, and our local baal tefillah still manages to inspire, by choosing appropriate tunes, and understanding what he's saying.

The next morning, I apologized to the chazan for the congregation's having pushed him into changing gears, forcing him to get flustered. He responded that "in Riverdale, you go, you expect the Carlebach slichos to take 2:15 hours, elsewhere it takes 1:15". Yes, but in Riverdale or most communities where you have the choice to go to a Carlebach minyan, you also have the choice to go elsewhere. Here, it was the only game in town. And musical accompaniment at an Orthodox service, while not forbidden by any means, is definitely out of the ordinary.

It seems to me, that Carlebach wrote hundreds if not thousands of tunes, most pretty simple, and in many different moods. It shouldn't be impossible to select tunes that actually follow the mood of the words, to find ways to incorporate uneven verses into a rhythmic tune, etc. The traditional tunes usually manage it.

On the other hand, if there is one part of the year whose moods are evoked by the use of traditional (Misinai, they are called, if not literally from much earlier than the 1300s) tunes, it is the High Holidays. There is a positive value to using (mostly) traditional tunes for the Yamim Nora'im. It's not just a default position.

I was just so furious during and after the service, that they had made a mockery out of the start of the liturgical teshuvah season. They seemed to ignore the principles of my teachers which guide my approach to leading prayers:

1) from Rabbi H. Lookstein from his father, "Interpret the words." The tune must amplify the meaning of the prayer, not ignore it.

2) from Cantor Goffin, "My guideline is MODE, MOOD, & MIN HAKODESH."

How am I led to greater teshuva by starting out mad at the liturgical leaders, who only thought they were doing a nice thing?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Child prodigy

The Jerusalem Post reports that a 14-year-old was sitting for the Rabbinate exams, but his results would not be tallied or graded - IOW, they would not allow a potentially qualified minor to actually attain Smicha.

Where does this fear of a young rabbi come from? Well, I wonder. Who else in recent history was ordained young-ish? R' Moshe Cordovero, contemporary of the Ari, at 16 was given R' Yaakov Beirav's revived Mosaic Semicha. Rav Goren, at 16. yblcht"a R' David Weiss-Halivni, at 15 in Sighet before the War. That's all I can find/think of on a quick scan, and both are/were religio-politically, um, offbeat.

Although, being a prodigy is not the worst thing in the world. Take my late Dad, for one. He was admitted to Juilliard (the music conservatory) at age 15 in 1936, he went through the regular and graduate programs in 3 years (they didn't have the Pre-college Program yet), and became, at 19, the 20th century's youngest principal trumpet in a major orchestra. He also married twice, happily, raised children and grandchildren, had a long musical career, and died two months ago at 88, content with his life.

So the Rabbinate should have given this boy his chance to attain ordination at 14, and help him to grow while remaining on the straight and narrow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is Moshiach Always Shayech [relevant]?

I've been davening in a Nusach-Sfard (chasidic-style) shtible lately, because it has a morning minyan at a convenient time (7:45) without another mourner competing for leading the prayers.

I was chatting with the gabbai about my confusion between the Nusach Ashkenaz and Nusach Sfard texts, that Nusach Sfard has a lot of extra words stuck in. He commented that he once said the extra phrase in Kaddish, "Vayatzmach Purkanei Vikareiv Meshicheih" (his redemption will flower and his Messiah will draw near) at a Nusach Ashkenaz place, and they came down on him hard for it*.

At any rate, the gabbai was puzzled, who wouldn't want to invoke the Final Redemption during Kaddish?

I just came up with an answer. Look at the Kaddish. Aside from the phrase in question, it's all about God's existence, kingship, praiseworthiness, and relationship with Israel. Basically, expanding on "Baruch atah H' Elokeinu melech haolam." It's said by mourners largely as a defiant expression of their continuing belief in God in the face of ultimate tragedy, the destruction of one of the pillars of their personal worldview - one's parent.

So my return question is - while we're proclaiming the greatness of God, how is mentioning an earthly king appropriate?

* They may have feared he was a Lubavitcher, many of whom practice what I call "cultural imperialism" - they will insist on praying their nusach when leading prayers in a non-Lubavitch synagogue. Actually, I find this is mostly the position of ignorant lay Lubavitchers, while trained Lubavitch cantors who know the halacha will use the local nusach.

Monday, July 19, 2010

JOFA and Anat Hoffman

I know, people will come down on me for fomenting internecine strife on Erev Tisha B'Av, but something must be said.

I just received an email from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, whose conferences I have attended, and which I have supported financially for many years (if only a small annual donation). Last week, Anat Hoffman, chairperson of the Women of the Wall, (hereinafter WotW) was arrested at the Kotel for carrying a Sefer Torah. It is hard to comprehend why she would be arrested, Except, of course, that visibly carrying a Sefer Torah is usually a precursor to leining from the Torah, an action from which WotW was enjoined in 2003 by Israel's High Court. Should they wish to lein, the Court designated other nearby areas of the Kotel for them, which they do not prefer, but have used for some years. Still, there is nothing technically illegal or un-halachic with a woman carrying a Sefer Torah, and she should not have been arrested for simply doing so.

However, what bothers me, is Ms Hoffman's involvement in Women of the Wall, and JOFA's continued support of them.

Why on earth should I, as an Orthodox Jew, want to support/stand in solidarity with someone whose prominence in WotW, undermines the entire enterprise of Orthodox Women's Tefillah Groups?

WotW is linked to the Women's Tefillah Movement in both the popular imagination and through direct support by numerous leaders of JOFA/WTN. That would be all well and good if the WotW were not chaired by Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel lobbying arm of the Reform Movement, the Israel Religious Action Center.

JOFA decisively rejected Alice Shalvi when she defected to the Conservative movement, only days or weeks before she was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at one of the International JOFA Conferences. In doing so, they followed the principle laid down by the Rav YD Soloveitchik zt"l, that while cooperation with other denominations was OK for social/communal issues, cooperation on religious issues was impossible, because the different denominations don't speak the same language, don't assign the same meanings to key Torah words, do not speak in the same universe of discourse.

The email includes a quote from a supportive rabbi:

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, wrote in an email to his congregants:

"Orthodox Jewish law does not prohibit women from carrying a Torah scroll and leading rabbis have endorsed the practice in the past, albeit in a different setting. (For example, in 1972 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin received support from both the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik when he allowed women in his congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue, to dance with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah.) Thus, Anat Hoffman was not in violation of Jewish law. We would not tolerate the arrest of a Jew, man or woman, for carrying a Torah (especially when seeking to participate in a prayer service) in any other country, so we should not stand silent when Israel does so."

R' Herzfeld, on the other hand, as quoted above, seems to cynically invoke the Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and yblcht"a R' Riskin as justification to support Ms. Hoffman. Cynical, because neither the Rav nor the Rebbe would have stood for interdenominational religious cooperation, such as occurs in the WotW. I don't think R' Riskin would be in favor of WotW and Ms. Hoffman's involvement either.

I think it behooves the JOFA to ignore the whole incident, and to sever ties with Women of the Wall as long as their leadership includes activist members of heterodox denominations.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's a Migrash? I can't tell you, ha ha ha...

Mar Yaakov haMizrachi, Esq, gave a fascinating talk at Seudah Shlishit this week in Silver Spring, on the Migrash (open space) around the Levite cities, and what that tells us about the Torah's view of cities.

I also gave a talk about migrash at Shaleshudis, but it was not so involved, mostly explaining Shadal's (Samuel David Luzzatto, mid-19th century) attempt to understand what the Migrash was, somewhat textualist.

I recently acquired a Mendelssohn Bamidbar, pub. Wien, 1846, which came with Shadal in the back. So I was looking through it and came across his comments on 35:4-5, the migrash around the Levite cities - is it 1000 or 2000 amot?

He starts out with a long harangue about anyone who thinks it's an example of scribal error for lower criticism has rocks in their head (reikei moach).

Shadal even quotes from a "de Rossi" in Latin to demonstrate that editors tend to smooth out inconsistencies, rather than introduce them, although the online version doesn't have the Latin passage. Ah, this must the Christian Hebraist Bernardo de Rossi from the intro to his "Variae lectionis." He also quotes a couple of other Christian commentators who attempt to reconcile the 1000 vs. 2000 apparent contradiction.

To summarize,
  • Rashi said that it was a Migrash of 2000 cubits = 1000 empty + 1000 for crops. Based on a braita in B. Eruvin 56b.
  • Ramban, attempting to work out a pshat directly from the text, says the city is 1000 square and the migrash fills out to the edges of a 2000x2000 square, so the migrash itself is only 500 cubits wide.
  • Rambam says 2000+1000=3000, based on an alternate version of the braita quoted in M. Sota 26b.
  • Shadal says that his opinion is most like Rashi, in that the migrash was 2000 amot wide, with 1000 inside the city wall, and 1000 more outside, but none of it was to be used for crops, only for grazing and storage, based on historic Roman parallels in city planning. E.g. Romulus laid out a "Pomerium" surrounding Rome, partly inside and partly outside the city walls. (Is Pomerium an orchard?)
Shadal proceeds to critique all the other opinions - if the migrash is supposed to be 1000 outside the "kir" of the city, Ramban's solution doesn't work, it's only 500 wide. And are the cities really limited to 1000 cubits square? Included among the cities are the capitals of Sihon and Og, surely they were more than 5 Flatbush short blocks on a side?

Also, "kir" never means "center", only "wall" - so another interpretation which posits a square 2000 on a side centered on the center of the city, such that the migrash extends 1000 from the center to the limit, doesn't work either.

Rashi's doesn't work because it doesn't agree with historical parallels. Rambam's doesn't work because it's based on a literal reading of what is clearly an abbreviation (in the mishnah in Sota) of the longer baraita in Eruvin.

So, apparently for Shadal, textual criticism is dangerous when applied to Torah (although he himself applied it to Neviim and Ketuvim), but not historical consideration of realia.

A PDF of Rashi's, Mendelssohn's and Shadal's comments is here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Rav of Principle

Note from a neighbor:

This morning at Rabbi ____'s Shul, at __address__, a man walked in for shacharis wearing a kippa with the words; 'yechi adoneinu...' on it. Being that it is 'gimmel Tammuz,' he may or may not have been making a statement. After all, there is a Chabad practically across the street. Rabbi ____ had him ESCORTED OUT OF THE SHUL! Then, after davening, the Rabbi made a statement. Seeing that there hadbeen a little tumult, he said the following; "I don't care if there are 10,000 of them or 1 of them." This is "my Beis Midrash" and i won't have them here. It's "APIKORES"! (HERESY) He then went on to quote a Rambam about not including apikorsim in a minyan.

I'm not offering an opinion, b/c I'm not sure what I think. I do know that another rav of my acquaintance, who used to run a Daf Yomi minyan in a Chabad shul in another city, would not give an aliyah to an adult with a Yechi yarmulke. Kids wearing them, it's what's "cool" or what their friends are doing. Adults wearing them are making a theological statement. He's no longer in that city, BTW.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Remarks on Dad, hareini kaparat mishcavo, 25 July 1921 – 8 June 2010

What can I say? I’ve wondered for years what I would say when the time came, but this bit gave me a starting point. I’ve been participating in a Mussar group through the AishDas society, where we work as a group, on conference calls, on various behavioral issues. Recently, we have been reading some introductory material we should have done a year ago. The current bit tells us we should formulate an image of our ideal person, the goal towards which our behavioral improvements would grow.

The more I think about it, the qualities of my ideal person are Dad’s – what I always envied him for

I’ve been to plenty of hespedim which began with a disclaimer, such as “it’s isru chag, we don’t say hesped, but the family would like to say a few words.” So I’ll make a disclaimer – I know a mourner isn’t supposed to be involved in Torah learning, but this passage from Pirkei Avot really encapsulates what I admired about Dad.

Avos 4:1. I’m going to reshuffle this a bit, for rhetorical effect

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men. Dad’s formal education may have been a bit patchy, but he was brilliant, and always willing to learn new things. He taught himself the liberal arts education that he had missed, during long hours reading in the lulls in the orchestra pit. At 69 he learned to lein, and did his first haftarah (of many – he was the go-to guy for haftarot in their summer synagogue for 18 years). After a life as an atheist, be became a baal tefillah, which brought somewhat further along his spiritual journey.

Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions Dad is the “slow to anger” guy. It takes a lot to get him upset, but when it happens, you know he means it. But he was often happy. I never understood this. His equanimity is the biggest thing I’ve tried to acquire throughout life, since I’m the more excitable type, like Mom, or Dad’s parents. Maybe it was a survival tactic as a youngest child? I note that he really came into his own after his brothers were out of the house – he went to Juilliard at 15. I asked him once, since he was often telling me when I got upset and yelling over something trivial, or not so trivial, “you shouldn’t feel like that.” That was frustrating – what am I supposed to feel? How can I change what I feel about something? Took me a lot of therapy to get there, on some things. Anyway – how did he deal with his feelings, since he never showed much? Through his music. But he was an orchestra/ensemble musician? You have to play the same notes, over and over, day after day, as they were written decades or centuries ago? Even so, there’s room for expression, subtle shifts in timing or volume or emphasis. That was tremendous, it changed how I listen to music, and how I hear myself when playing.

Who is honored? He that honors his fellow He was always proud of us, whatever we did. It was always obvious that neither Mitch nor I had the zitsfleisch to follow in the family business – neither of us could bring ourselves to practice for hours a day, the way Laurie did. He may not have understood it, since math was not something he had picked up much of, and he never really grasped computers, but he was patient with my attempts to explain personal triumphs at work in terms relevant to him. And he always had good things to say about most people. Of course, on rare occasions he called someone a name, and you know he meant it – he couldn’t work with that person. So we worked to find things to do with him, and get that appreciation for a job well done. As Dad often said, anything worth doing is worth doing well. So it was with him – top-flight orchestra musician, self-taught (but also took classes) photographer, always aiming to improve – won prizes at the Delaware County Fair for his photography, even with amateur musical stuff, always the best you can.

Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you." "You shall be" refers to this world; and "it shall be well with you" refers to the world to come.

Maimonides reads wealth as “possessing good ethical attributes.” And that’s really the sum of Dad. Even at the end, when he had to suffer little indignities just to deal with daily life, he didn’t complain, he put up with it, what choice is there? I asked him, how is it that you’re always happy? I wouldn’t say happy, rather, content with my life. He may not have reached for the flashy positions, but he did very well with everything he did, and enjoyed his life, even the hard work – his 2-3 jobs to provide for us. Happily married twice, raised three good people who all followed different paths and have done well with them, in three good marriages, with four growing (or grown) grandchildren with great memories of this “most happy fella.” May his merits that gave him a fulfilled life in this world carry him through eternity in the light of the knowledge of Hashem.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kiruv Styles: Intellectual Depth or Simplicity

A correspondent on Hirhurim blog claimed (paraphrased):

I think that if Torah Judaism is presented as having depth, profundity and having also survived the best and worst aspects of Jewish history, it can attract anyone. The real problem-the Charedi [and kiruv] world all work from this proposition as a given.

OTOH. many MO evince an inferiority complex by obsessive navel-gazing over the future of MO.

I responded, however: (somewhat expanded)

Actually, the Chareidi world just keeps its internal politics out of the UJA-distributed paper, so the non-O world knows little of it. Internal politics leading to fistfights and thuggery on top of the sexual and financial scandals would be just as damaging to the Chareidi image as MO obsession over its future portrays internal weakness – both indicate systemic problems.

MO depth/profundity is often indistinguishable from academia, hidden from the common man, whether through erudition, language or publication in expensive academic journals and books. Meanwhile the Charedim and other kiruv organizations provide predigested pap (I'm thinking of Aish Hatorah's 48 Ways, or NJOP's "Crash Courses") pretending it's profundity. But the real profundity, if any that isn't just rehashes of medieval ideas, is hidden, just as inaccessible behind the Beis Medrash doors - because in either case, the threshhold of knowledge is very high. Profundity is not just in hearing a simple answer to a complex issue, it's understanding why the issue is complex in the first place.

Face it, extremists are better at marketing than moderates. Having a simple message (not a profound message, but a simple, if extreme, message) is easier to explain than the life of tension between kodesh and chol that was the centerpiece of much of RYBS' writing. And, as one co-congregant in my old shul put it, "I like that the (L) rabbi has a plan, an idea. I may not agree with it, but I like that he has it." As opposed to the lack of focus other than politics in his previous C-nagogue.

Right there - the L are not presenting the profundity of chassidus. To really understand that takes years of study. They're presenting the beauty of the Orthodox lifestyle, and the simplicity of letting your will go, relinquishing much individual responsibility onto the rabbi's (or rebbe's) shoulders.

People join Orthodoxy because of emotional pull. They may need to intellectually justify some of the new ideas to themselves, as I did, but that’s a rationalization of the emotional tug. Yes, there are exceptions, like the fellow I know (through the Internet) who had been in a Christian seminary, then started learning Chumash/Rashi and Rashi’s answers made more sense to him than what he was getting in seminary, so he converted to Judaism. But I wonder if there was an emotional component as well – he was a child of intermarriage, his father was Jewish.

The Charedim are not selling profundity, they're selling simplicity, whether through existential* kiruv or intellectual. Really, so does NCSY, but the Charedim have embraced the kiruv concept much more than the MO.

*existential – through emotional appeals to the pintele Yid.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Single-Issue Blindness

Honest Reporting, often a good criticism site, defending Jews against negative media portrayals, has really gone overboard. They have been congratulating themselves for convincing Comedy Central to remove an online video game based on the show "Drawn Together".

What they don't get is that Drawn Together is, if anything, a giant Jewish inside joke, while being offensive to all kinds of groups (blacks, fat people, white racists, Christian extremists, gays, children's programming, Asians, etc.) at least in part. Here are my comments to them:

Responding to this thread, where they defend themselves from critics:

You guys are just blind. You can't tell the difference between a philo-semitic parody of prejudice, and true prejudice.

Yes, philosemitic - between Captain Hero's being traditionally ritually observant, even if a sexual deviant (and the juxtaposition pokes fun at the sex scandals among the Orthodox); and Wooldoor Sockbat being a victim who kills when he has to, who poses as a nice guy, like everyone's favorite tame Palestinian, Walid Shoebat (note the similarity of names), they are parodying issues generally considered internal to the Jewish community.

To quote from the Drawn Together Wiki:

Though never stated explicitly, it is strongly implied that he and his parents are Jewish, as he calls his mother "Ima" (אִמָא), Hebrew for "mommy" (also used in its plural form, "Imahot" (אִמָהוֹת) in "Little Orphan Hero") and has been seen to observe Sabbath rituals; this is part of a running gag of Jewish in-jokes throughout the series (creators Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein are both Jewish). Since Captain Hero is a parody of Superman, these jokes may also be references to similar hints of Judaism in Superman's background; like Jeser and Silverstein, Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were both Jewish. Captain Hero's homeworld is also called Zebulon which may be a reference to one of the ten lost tribes of the Israelites.

[end quote]


In "The One Wherein There Is a Big Twist, Part II" it is revealed that most of his people, the Sockbats, were murdered in a Holocaust perpetrated by the Sweetcake people (themselves parodies of Strawberry Shortcake), who turned to eating the Sockbats as a remedy for an economic crisis.

[end quote]

The Sockbat thing parodies the ambivalent position of Israel in the world, and the parallel to the Palestinians, given the poor hasbara in Israel these days - the Pal-Arabs have become the new Jew-victims, while the Jews have become the new oppressors, in far too much of popular culture. So too, Wooldor is both a victim and an occasional killer, as well as a Christian who poses as a Jew. He is also said to have been born in 5753, and holds a Bar Mitzvah as a fundraiser. So he's portrayed as Jewish, Holocaust survivor, but with the name derived from the tame Palestinian. Shoebat is a Christian as well, not Muslim Sockbat occasionally commits cowardly terrorist acts: stealing an old man's car then shooting him as he runs away, etc.

So much of it is an inside joke, and you just don't get it, because you can't or won't look past the surface of the skin of the covering of the concept.

Good, pat yourselves on the back for stopping a bunch of JEWS from writing SELF-PARODY. Whoopee.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Maharats

I finally read the thread on Gil's blog starting from R' Kenny Brander's "clarification" of R' Herschel Schachter's lecture at the RCA convention. And I agree with it, for the most part - the issue regarding women's ordination is socio-historical, not halachic. But I have some problems with the shiur as described, and with the thread in general.

First off, many people made the main issue into one of reportage. There had been rumors that RHS had used terminology like "Yehareg v'al yaavor" in his lecture, that this was a situation where one should accept martyrdom in preference to ordaining women. IOW, that women's ordination is comparably serious to idolatry, incest or murder - the Big Three sins for which one must always allow oneself to be killed rather that be forced to violate.

RKB's report did not use such extreme language, although it did use an apparently rare Hebrew term, harisas hadas, the destruction of the religion. Gil had similarly used a rare/late term, "chikui haminim", giving strength the the heretics' cause, in earlier critiques of women's ordination. Harisas hadas, according to a Bar-Ilan search, only appears in the 19th century, and only in the 20th century is it used to describe heterodox inroads on Orthodox society.

Many commentators thus called for a tape or transcript of RHS' original speech be released, so that it could be compared to RKB's precis. I suspect, though, that given the rumors, what privately excited this call was a desire to see how RHS had put his foot into his mouth this time. After all, in a TorahWeb post, he had compared women to "parrots and monkeys". And he has had other choice words for women who wanted to expand their communal contributions within Orthodoxy. So I'm dismissing that call. Let's just deal with RKB's precis.

RKB/RHS apparently dismisses serarah, the Rambam's concern that women not be placed in any position of power, as insignificant (and R' Steg Belsky points out that in an earlier shiur, RHS had noted that serarah was not a real impediment to women's ordination) compared to the change to the fabric of Orthodoxy.

It is not just an issue of a particular halakhic issur; it is the challenge to the fabric of what defines Orthodoxy in contrast to other movements. Therefore it requires a response which is reflective of more than dealing with a particular issur.

And that's the heart of the argument for me. While RHS, who has been moving in more RWMO/Daas Torah circles, chose to frame the argument around a quasi-halachic term, so as to give it some of the trappings of Daas Torah, I feel that this is not the proper mode to convince people who are not already convinced. The Moderns characterize themselves in contrast to the Chareidim by disbelief in Daas Torah, the mystical authority granted to Torah sages to pronounce decrees on non-legal subjects for which they have no direct training.

Rather, since it is a non-halachic argument (and there really are no insurmountable halachic obstacles to women's ordination as yoreh yoreh, while there are a few rishonim/acharonim who actually support it), it should be made in non-pseudo-halachic terms.

We see this issue arising in American Protestant society in the late 19th century. As women move into leadership positions in the churches, men come to regard church as a women's realm, and stop going. Mark C. Carnes (Secret Rituals and Manhood in Victorian America) has noted that men seem to have an innate need for ritual; this male exodus from the churches fueled a rise in highly ritualistic fraternal orders, such as the Masons. For Catholics, this began to happen in the 13th-14th century, as church rituals shifted to a "bride mysticism", portraying the man/church relationship as bride/groom. Men didn't want to be cast in the role of the bride, so they left, while women's orders were on the rise.

My wife has argued that she does not like the idea of women's ordination for a similar reason to her dislike of partnership minyanim and, to a lesser extent, women's tefillah groups - it's a distortion of Judaism, in that it demeans the women's role, and promotes the men's role as the only proper role and goal for women. I'm aware of Simone de Beauvoir's critique, where there are women's roles and people's roles, and when women try to take on people's roles, they are accused of wanting to be men. But to flip that on its head, in traditional Judaism, which is largely predicated on the existence of different classes of people with complementary responsibilities to the community, to promote only the men's role, demeans and dismisses the women's role, which distorts the whole fabric of Judaism.

This shift has already happened in the heterodox movements - as women are admitted to the rabbinate and cantorate, male applications and admissions to the rabbinic and cantorial schools diminished, until in some cases, there are more women than men training for these positions. (See some statistics for JTSA - now majority women) In part this can be attributed to the general shift in perception of "women's work." As various job categories shift from men to "equal opportunity", they become "women's work," and thus not a suitable career for a man. Take bank tellers - they used to be all men, and a fairly high-status job with a lot of responsibility and trust. Then they let women become bank tellers, and today they are almost all women, and the job has become a low-status job. This is already happening in the heterodox movements.

Experience shows that such shifts will happen. Admitting women to the rabbinate will, willy nilly, disrupt the fabric and society of Orthodox Judaism. Whether this is a good or a bad thing can be debated, on halachic or social bases. But if it happens, history will probably repeat itself. And I'm not comfortable with that happening to Mod-O, the type of Judaism to which I have aspired and worked on myself to accept.

My wife thinks that this will continue the trend towards a total realignment of the Jewish movements. Mod-O will split between the Left and the Right; UTJ has fizzled, Conservative is becoming less halachic and more Reform, the right wing of C will join with an "egalitarian" LWMO under R' Avi Weiss or his successors, and the black hats will continue to grow. The Chasidim have become more Misnagdish, after all, who really follows the path of the Baal Shem Tov any more? while the Yeshivish have become more Chasidish, imbuing their leaders with a Chasidic infallibility and intimacy with God. And the melting pot of Judaism will continue to stir, queasily.

On an individual level, I can't say anything. The program exists, if someone believes that this is the right thing for them to do, and it follows from their principles, then more power to them. People should certainly maximize their opportunities and abilities. But I worry about what it will do to us as a community.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The First Notated Jewish Music

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

The First Notated Jewish Music

Historically, Jews have had musical symbols for Torah reading since the time of Ezra, and according to some, from Moshe at Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, we didn't have Jewish musicians who knew how to notate music until the late 17th century. Except for a 30 year period in 15th century Italy (Solomon Rossi), music was a closed book to all communities outside of the Church. Any Jewish music we have from before that time was notated by non-Jews.

The earliest notated Jewish music ever found was discovered in the Cairo Geniza by Solomon Shechter at the turn of the 20th century. These were two compositions written out by Ovadia HaGer, Obadiah the Norman Proselyte of the early 12th century. A monk from a noble Norman family of Southern Italy, he converted to Judaism in 1102, emigrated to the Near East, and finally settled in Cairo.

He learned Gregorian neume notation as a clergyman of the Church, and was able to compose and notate for various Jewish occasions. The two pieces discovered (actually, three -jjb) include his famed "Mi Al Har Chorev," a eulogy of Moses that was sung on Simchas Torah. Its character is typically ancient Gregorian, and is a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Jews of that period. It is also the first synagogue music ever to be notated!


(links found by JJB)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Twelve Names for the Chazzan

Twelve Names for the Chazzan
Musical Note, by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

Tazria, 5770

My teacher, Chazzan Macy Nulman, has written that the one who leads the tefillah" has been known throughout history by twelve different names in three different languages." This fascinating insight into the nomenclature of the Chazzan over the centuries reinforces the historical and liturgical importance of this vocation to many generations of Jewish communities throughout Israel and the Diaspora.

"In English he is called cantor, precentor and reader. In Hebrew he is known as Chazzan, Sheliah Tzibbur, Baal Tefillah, and kerobah. In Germany he was called obercantor,vorbeter, vorsinger, schulsinger, and sangmeister." For the position of assistant to the Chazzan, or for those who conducted the lesser important services, Chazzan Nulman cites the names of "ba'al Shacharit, hazzan -sheni (untercantor) and matchil."

Two final names for the Chazzan, which he refers to as "subtitles" are "baal musaf and hazzan-rishon (hazzan elyon)."Whatever name one chooses to use, I am proud to be your Chazzan and hope to daven with you for many more years!