The Bone in the Butcher’s Neck

For a while now, I’ve held back on making a comment about an article in Tablet Magazine. The more time I spend thinking about the article, the more I feel that it’s necessary to write something about it. It first appeared around Yom Kippur in the wake of the disputes over refugees from Syria. In the wake of the attacks on Paris, I was drawn back to this draft post.

Here’s the article I’m responding to, by Liel Leibovitz. It’ll open in a new tab or browser window. Go ahead and read Leibovitz’s article. I’ll be here, waiting. (You do have to read it to understand what follows.)

You’re back? Good.

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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

Think

True confession: I love The Blues Brothers. The first movie, not the second one. Does anyone actually like that one?

In the original movie, there’s a scene where Jake and Elwood go to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy for the band and his wife musically and …gently?…discourages him. (Aretha Franklin is, as always, fabulous.)

So, why bring this all up?

The song is called, “Think.” And the movie takes place in Chicago.

And I was just in Chicago. At a talk that has everything to do with thinking: I attended the “CRASH” lecture that Rabbi Benay Lappe of Svara delivers just before the beginning of each new go-round of the Svara Beit Midrash.

Svara, by the way, means (in part) thinking. (See what I did there? Chiastic parallelism–one of the patterns of construction in Biblical Hebrew poetry.)

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A photograph of an opened Torah scroll, housed at the Glockenglasse Synagogue

Hypotheses, Theories, and Biblical Criticism, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love “Higher Antisemitism”

(Warning–this is not a post written for the linguistically or intellectually faint-of-heart. If you’re a casual reader, you’ve been warned.)

In response to my post a couple of days ago about the implications of biblical criticism for Jewish thought–which was itself a response to Jay Michaelson at the Forward–the Society for Humanistic Judaism in its Facebook feed asked when a hypothesis becomes a theory. I’ve been mulling that over a bit, and came belatedly upon TheTorah.com‘s meme about what biblical criticism is:

Bible Criticism – From TheTorah.com

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Program Review: Fundamentals of Talmud

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a book review; it will likely still be a while longer, not because I’m not reading books, but because I’m not reading things in which I have enough expertise to provide a useful review. But I do retain an interest in studying rabbinic texts, and I’ve always been intrigued with how we can teach people to work with them. So I do have a review for you in that vein.

R. Ayson Englander, presently a sofer stam in Baltimore, developed a program called Fundamentals of Talmud while working as an educator in various schools around the country. I’m always interested in how independent Talmud study skills can be taught to those without ready access to chevruta (partnership-based learning) and/or in-depth, in-person learning opportunities, so I decided to give his program a look after seeing it mentioned in a conversation thread on the “Mi Yodea” area of StackExchange. (For those unfamiliar, StackExchange was developed in part by Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software, and is a kind of peer-rated discussion exchange, divided into particular topics–many of them not at all STEM oriented. Mi Yodea is aimed at Torah-observant Jews.)

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Musings on Historical Approaches to Judaism and Problems of Is and Ought

DovBear has a discussion on his blog today about the implications of a “rational and historical” approach to Judaism. He quotes a question posed about the practice of tikkun leyl Shavuot–staying up all night on erev Shavuot to study–and whether, if someone will be exhausted and “lose Torah” as a result, it is better to “quit while you’re ahead” or stay up all night. The response to the question says, essentially, tikkun leyl Shavuot is only about 500 years old and its origin story with Rabbi Joseph Karo (author of the Shuchan Arukh) is sort of dubious, and none of the rishonim or Talmudic-era rabbis did it. So if you’ll “lose Torah” by staying up all night for the tikkun, the quote says, it’s better that you sleep your ordinary schedule than try to stay up.

DovBear doesn’t particularly agree with this (I’m soft-pedaling his response a bit).  Continue reading

Review of Koren Publishers’ Steinsaltz Reference Guide to the Talmud

This is the promised review of the newly released Koren Publishers’ Reference Guide to the Talmud. I know, I know, I promised at some point to continue the Constructing a Pitch for Humanistic Judaism series; that promise stands. I have a second post partly composed, but I need to get through a few rabbinical school-related tasks before I can return to that; it will be a few weeks yet, I think.

So–onto the review. 

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Pass(ed)over

So this morning I had a moment of stark realization. My son has never attended a real Passover seder.

We’ve given ourselves some passes on this; a seder is long and difficult for adults to sit through, let alone children, and a kid with autism and non-stop chattiness…well, a seder just didn’t seem like a great fit.

Then I realized that Humanistic Judaism is perfect for constructing a meaningful Passover experience for a special needs child, because we don’t consider ourselves bound to the rules.

(I know, I know, I promised a series on a Pitch for Humanistic Judaism, and I’ll get back to that, though in a way this post will be a great pitch in itself.) Continue reading