Secular Jewish Torah

Good videos to watch for those wondering generally how we approach the Torah in the world of Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Shalom from Rabbi Chalom

One of the most common questions asked of Humanistic Judaism is, “what role does the Torah play in Humanistic Judaism?” Fortunately, since it’s a commonly asked question, we have many answers! Below you’ll find four concise answers to that question offered by four rabbis in Humanistic Judaism, including my thoughts at the end.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine reflects on the early approach of Humanistic Judaism to the Torah. Wine’s last book, A Provocative People: A Secular History of the Jews, delves deeply into the historical origins of this earliest surviving Jewish book.

Rabbi Denise Handlarski of Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Toronto is blogging the Torah portion of the week for 5775 – always fascinating!

Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the (New York) City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism explains positive and negative connections with the Torah for Humanistic Jews.

Rabbi Adam Chalom (yours truly) of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in…

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Wait and See

JTA has an article that R. Jeffrey Fox, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat (which ordains women under the title Maharat, rather than as rabbis), is going to issue a responsum (in Hebrew, a teshuva–an answer) on the question of whether a male rabbi must be present in the mikveh during conversion ceremonies. His answer–to cut to the chase–is no, a male rabbi need not be present. This all comes in the wake of the voyeurism accusations against Rabbi Barry Freundel in Washington D.C.

I’m still waiting.

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Stop killing my sacred cow!

No, not mine. This guy’s.

I literally can’t even with this.

Here’s Jonathan Jones’s basic argument: okay, King Tut was not a looker. But we shouldn’t really bring that fact up in computer reconstructions because it just ruins everything romantic I’ve constructed in my head about the past. The final paragraph:

The bodies of the dead, intentionally mummified or accidentally preserved in bogs and ice, are invaluable to archaeology and to anyone who wants to imagine the human story. Seamus Heaney’s poem Strange Fruit about a sacrificial victim preserved in peat bog reveals the lyrical power of such remains. To reduce all that to simulacra that look like characters in a video game is a betrayal of everything archaeology should be about.

Okay, got all that? There’s lyrical power in the remains, but if we develop a technique to help put virtual flesh on actual bones, well, don’t do that if I won’t like the results, because I’m the self-appointed arbiter of “everything archaeology should be about.”

No, Mr. Jones, the pretty gold mask isn’t what Tutankhamen looked like. Yet Tutankhamen in his humanity is more instructive in some ways than the mask. What was life like for a noble? It may have been not much better in some respects than the life of an ordinary person. Tutankhamen died young and had numerous physical deformities.

And the contrast of the mask and the actual person is also instructive. It’s difficult to appreciate the various values a civilization ascribes to its artistic production without knowing how the art differs from the lives of the people.

But, Mr. Jones insists, “The individuality of Tutankhamun does not matter that much.”

Of course it matters–and it matters greatly. It mattered tremendously to Tutankhamen, at the very least, but it matters to a sober assessment of history, too. That very individuality is why archaeology done right shouldn’t hold back on understanding as much as it can. One editorial writer’s notion of the romance of a boy king does not the foundation of archaeology make.

And on a lighter and completely archaeologically misrepresentative note, I leave you with this:

Again a Little Lull

Readers, it’s been quiet on the blog for another week. Again, I’ve not forgotten you–I’m still plugging away at term papers, and there’s only so much writing one can do. I’m also in the middle of teaching a class on modern Judaism for a group at a local church, so there’s not much time left for the blog.

I do hope that, before too long, I’ll have some material to post. For those interested in what humanistic Jewish Torah interpretation looks like, I do suggest stopping over at Rabbi Denise Handlarski’s blog. She is turning her rabbinic thesis (the big paper you write as a capstone to rabbinical studies at IISHJ) into a series of blog posts on the weekly Torah portions.

I’ll be back blogging sooner rather than later.

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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