Wow, I just realized it’s been a while since I posted. I haven’t disappeared–I was reading and doing prep work for a seminar at IISHJ on Jewish Education that just wrapped up yesterday.

Incidentally, the Israeli branch of IISHJ, called IISHJ-Tmura, is ordaining two Israeli rabbis this week. You can find short, English-language biographies of them at the IISHJ Facebook page.

I’ll be back soon with something substantive; in the interim, enjoy your week!

A brief quiet spell


At the moment, we’re in a brief quiet spell on the blog–I don’t like to go a week without a little update, so here you are!

These things happen–as it turns out, I’m revising one paper and helping out around the house while Mrs. Secular Jew bounces back from a minor outpatient procedure. Nothing serious–no great illness or anything like that. She’s doing well.

But I can announce that I’ve recently been endorsed as a Humanist Celebrant by the Humanist Society, which is (from where I’m sitting, at least) exciting. And I will be speaking on neurodiversity and ableism at an upcoming Sunday Assembly program here in Indianapolis this coming Sunday.

I’m mulling over a little post tomorrow on this week’s Torah portion; we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, it’s still Jewish Disability Awareness Month; maybe learn a bit more about inclusion in Jewish communities.

A New Year

It’s December 31, 2014. 2015 begins tomorrow.

As a quick look back, there have been some accomplishments that I’ve personally been pleased with. I co-officiated a wedding for the first time. I’ve published a couple of book reviews in Humanistic Judaism, the “ideas” journal for the Society of Humanistic Judaism. I’ve posted a lot here. I’ve worked, taught, and learned. I think I’ve grown in some areas, and I know I’ve grown in others (ahem, waist-line).

But I have no grand hopes for next year. Enough of this year’s events have been difficult so that if next year is easier, I’ll be pleased with that outcome.

I’d be more upbeat, but sometimes I’m happy just muddling through. Sometimes that’s the best many of us can manage–and there are times when muddling through is no mean feat. 2014 was one of those for me, Mrs. Secular Jew, and Secular Jew, Jr.

So, here’s to a hopefully less difficult new year.

Thanksgiving 2014/5775

It’s been a rough week or so here in the U.S. And it hasn’t been a banner time in Israel over the last few weeks, either.

I don’t mean to downplay the problems out there. There will be no end to problems, which is perhaps a nice subtext for reading (very much out of context and its original meaning) the statement Pirke Avot attributes to Rabbi Tarfon: it is incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you a free person so as to be able to cease from it (Avot 2:16). Continue reading

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.

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.

We’re MASS Communicatin’!

Well, the hiatus didn’t last as long as I thought.

One of the topics that we addressed during the philosophic counseling class was that of special needs children, a subject near and dear to my heart. (I know you’re not reading, but, “Hi, Secular Jew, Jr.”!) Since I spend a lot of time thinking about those issues, it was good to have someone else talk about them–being inside a conversation makes you forget what it looks like from the outside. Continue reading