On the High Drama of Torah Cantillation – Simchat Torah 2014 / 5775

I’ve posted before that I think there is a place for Simchat Torah in humanistic approaches to Judaism; the SHJ thinks so, too, of course. I’m just a lot more of a nerd about subversive readings, and so my own approach is very history-nerd-ish.

One aspect of Simchat Torah–and in fact, of the public Torah reading generally–that I think is particularly interesting is the performance of the reading itself. I think the way public Torah reading is usually done in synagogues is pretty much the opposite of how it was “supposed” to be done (that is, how Jews of Late Antiquity and the early Medieval period envisaged the affair). And the reading of the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, which occurs on Simchat Torah as the annual reading cycle is completed, is an excellent way of leveraging into that vision.

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A Quick Greeting

“It’s quiet…too quiet.”

Not really. I’ve spent the bulk of my waking hours this week working on papers for rabbinical school classes, and I’m afraid I just don’t have many extra words at the moment. (Shocking, I know.) I’ll post again soon, I’m sure. But having generated about forty pages of researched, cited, etc., material of a sort I don’t usually produce (I’m quite accustomed to highly productive legal writing, but it’s a highly formalized method of writing that dictates much of how good output is produced), so I’m just not in a mental space that allows easy switching. So this week is a quiet one on the blog.

For those celebrating, Chag Ha-Sukkot Sameach. In anticipation of the wrap-up to the fall holiday season, if you like, you may busy yourself with my post for Simchat Torah last year.

Yom Kippur: Jonah – a Davar Acheir

One of the biblical texts traditionally read on Yom Kippur is the book of Jonah in its entirety. This only seems daunting; Jonah is four chapters long, and the chapters are really quite short in comparison to the typical chapter in the Torah.

Most people probably know Jonah as the guy who was swallowed by a whale (though the text uses the Hebrew word dag, which means “fish”). But the “point” of Jonah is not the fish tale.

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A Humanistic Rosh Hashanah Round-Up

Rosh Hashanah starts at sundown on Wednesday this week. I’m likely to be occupied with other items this week (not the least of which is two days of continuing legal education in a facility that charges about $40/day for “real” WiFi) and thus won’t end up with an original, dedicated Rosh Hashanah post. Instead, I’ll provide links to materials from others in the Humanistic Jewish world (and some of my own), as I know this would be a helpful consolidation of resources for some of my readers who have looked for resources but sometimes find their searches coming up short.

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More musings on justice

It’s kind of amazing how quickly it feels like we get to the end of each year’s Torah reading cycle. (Cue old-man voice yelling at kids to get off my lawn.) This week’s parasha is the double portion Nitzavim-Vayelech. We’re nearing the end of Deuteronomy, and we are only a few weeks away from starting all over again at Genesis 1:1.

Deuteronomy is a mixed bag in terms of general reading interest. Sometimes it’s a slog, reciting in no particularly obvious order various legal provisions. But Nitzavim, in particular, has some of the most used (abused?) verses: Deuteronomy 30:9-20, part of the book’s beginning-of-the-end oration.  Continue reading

More Secular Humanistic Jewish Blogging!

Rabbi Denise Handlarski of the SHJ-affiliated Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Ontario has started a blog. You should follow her blog, in addition to:

  • Rabbi Adam Chalom’s blog, Shalom from Rabbi Chalom
  • Rabbi Jeffrey Falick’s blog, The Atheist Rabbi
  • And, if I might less-than-humbly suggest as much, this one (I’m just a rabbinical student, so YMMV).

This concludes your regularly-scheduled SHJ promotion for the day. Tze ul’mad: go and study!

Your Atheism is (Somewhat) Irrelevant

If you pay attention to what goes on in the world of atheism/humanism/secularism, you’ve probably seen scuttlebutt about a number of accusations of sexual misconduct by Big Names in that corner of the world. There has also been some significant worry about what these accusations and the response to it mean for the future of these movements. Questions like, “Why is it that the population of conferences on secularism are overwhelmingly male?,” and whether some Big Names who aren’t accused of misconduct are making matters worse by minimizing the problem and engaging in casual sexism and victim-blaming.

There is also the on-again, off-again furor Sam Harris creates every time he talks about Islam. Harris seems to me to have taken up the mantle left behind by Christopher Hitchens as a kind of gadfly, poking at the ability of any form of religion involving any kind of belief in any kind of divinity to be “good.” (For the record: I loved how Hitch wrote, but often hated what he had to say.)

I’m not going to talk directly about any of this–not because I don’t think these questions matter, but because they are symptoms of another problem: secularism has taken on a reactionary color that sometimes makes secularists a mirror image of those whom they cast as their enemies. The reactionary problem drags along with it gender and sexual issues, and issues about talking about religion, and it is biting the secularist movement in the ass.

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