Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Whole Prop 8 Thing

Re: marriage - how can it be a religious term, when [civil] marriages can be contracted outside the parameters of any religion? E.g., intermarriages between members of different endogamous cultures.

OTOH, I feel conflicted about signing petitions in favor of gay marriage. We have this mitzvah, "do not do as they did in [ancient] Egypt", which is pretty vague, but is defined rabbinically as "men would marry men, and women would marry women," among other things. So while I wouldn't gay-marry, not being gay myself, I feel that civil rights are civil rights, and should be maximized; on the other hand, I don't really want to enable people to sin, if either partner is a Jew. It would be like signing onto a petition that says "let Jews violate shabbos". Of course most Jews *do*, we live in the real world where people have real choices, but why should I enable them? They're going to do the nasty anyway, so why add on to their Judaeo-legal problems?

Adam, Eve and the Serpent

Rabbi Odess was talking about the Garden of Eden, and it got me thinking - seems to me the whole thing was a necessary set-up. That is, eating from the tree was necessary to complete the creation of Mankind.

Think about it - how could Eve have chosen differently? She didn't have judgment yet. Judgment, the ability to choose between right and wrong action, only comes from knowing the difference between them, between what is good and what is evil. Adam and Eve could only do what they what they had been told most recently (I used to have a boss like that). So Eve was told by Adam, "don't eat, and don't touch". The snake said, "touch", so she did. Then "eat", so she did. Which means she had no way to distinguish between the quality of Adam's command over the snake's command.

Only after eating from the tree, did they gain knowledge of good and evil, and thus the ability to choose between one and the other. Thus they truly became free-willed. And isn't that what God wanted? To create another intellect similar to His own, with the ability to will things and do them? Or, according to Kabbalah, to receive God's goodness - how could they appreciate that God's goodness was ipso facto good unless they could distinguish between good and bad?

So the whole thing was a setup. Perhaps there was a lesson in there to demonstrate that there are consequences to one's actions, such that afterwards, they could understand that their punishment was the result of a choice. But they didn't even have the freedom to choose beforehand. So it's a setup, with a moral lesson for those of us who have a choice.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Customs of the Gra

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
The Vilna Gaon at LSS?

Yes! The Vilna Gaon is with us at LSS constantly, because we follow many of the customs for davening established by the Vilna Gaon, also known as the G”ra (Gaon Rav Ayliahu) who lived in the 18th Century. He decreed that at the beginning of the Cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, the “Hashem Sefosai Tiftach” must be said out loud, as well as the “Yih’yu L’ratzon” at the end of the repetition. In addition, the words: “...umorid haGeshem (rather than the usual “Gawshem”) and the pronunciation of the word “ush’vawchacho” in the place of “v’shivchacho” at the end of Kedusha. The most obvious is “Yisgadale” when reciting Kaddish. The original Brisker Rav followed the customs of the G”ra, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a descendent of the Brisker Rav, taught these customs to his students, who were the original Rabbis of LSS. That is how we established the customs of the G”ra in our davening each Shabbat and weekday since the beginning of our shul!

Daven well and sing along!
(c) 2008 Cantor Sherwood Goffin and LSS

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We’re all connected, Baroque-era Rabbinate

While looking for info whether Rav Shach (20th century Israel, Rosh Yeshivas Ponevitch) is descended from The Shach (R’ Shabsi Hakohen, 1600s), I found someone’s genealogy back to Rashi. Some interesting tidbits in there, that I had not known before:

1) The Rema is the son of the Trumas haDeshen, R’ Israel (b. Israel) Isserlein . Just like “My Man Godfrey.”

2) Moses Mendelssohn, 18th-century Germany, is a 5th-generation descendent of the Rema’s sister, Miriam Beila Isserles Horowitz --> Hinda Horowitz Wahl --> Judah Wahl (Katzenellenbogen) --> Saul Wahl (K..n) --> Beila Rochel Sara Wahl --> Moses Mendelssohn.

3) A couple of years later, this tree picks up the line of the Shach – from whom, along with R’ Akiva Eger, the Barkai’s are descended (the family which assembled this genealogy).

4) The blog that Josh Waxman often remarks upon, for its odd ideas, Dreaming of Moshiach, has a story about the Shach and his “only daughter, Esther,” who is lost and raised as an orphan, later reuniting with her father. But that piece claims that the Shach’s son was Meir, while the genealogy has the Shach’s son as Moshe, while the Shach’s father was Meir.

5) On another branch of their tree, via the Maharal, I find that the Maharsha was a great-grandson of the Maharal.