Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Shavuot Contribution

My conservative Rabbi sent out the following notice:

"For this year´s Tikun L´Eyl Shavuot the theme will be, "My Most Favorite Torah Portion or Torah Story." I´m recruiting volunteers to speak at our Shavuot Torah Study Session on this topic."

This Is My Contribution

Brief Overview

Korach stages a rebellion against mosha, accusing him of a power grab. He and his entourage are swallowed up by the earth. Others are burnt to ash. The people protest, and a plague ensues. staffs are submitted by all the tribes, only Aaron's blossoms; proving that he is G d's chosen. The Israelites are instructed about the various presents due to the priests and Levites.

Why this Parsha, this story?

From the first time I heard it read, remember that is only three year ago, this story has remained for me one the most dynamic, confusing and difficult stories of the torah. The issue of the complete and total annihilation of Korach and everyone and everything associated with him is for me the major example of the wrathful deity taking it out on the innocent. I remember sitting in synagogue on that Saturday and turning to Robert, my husband, and saying babies and dogs too?

Thus starts my musings about Torah, and this parsha in particular. If taken literally with only the torah as a reference , this is a devastating story who’s message to the modern ear is one of repression “DO NOT question authority" and “everything is preordained.”

On first glance Korach’s statement, his blasphemy:

"The entire community is holy, and G-d is within them; why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G-d?"

sounds somewhat progressiv, almost democratic. It is only in the response attributed to Mosha in the parsha that we get a glimpse that something else might be afoot.
Mosha’s response "Is it not enough for you that the G-d of Israel has distinguished you from the community of Israel, that you also desire the priesthood?"

Yet from a purely torah interpretation of the events there are no other hard and fast facts given. The next place to go is the vast amount of commentary and Midrashim on this parsha.
The paradox of korach appears time and again in the various accounts of the mutiny. Korach comes across a champion of equality, railing against a "class system" that categorizes levels of holiness within the community. Yet, in the same breath, he contends that he is the more worthy candidate for the High Priesthood. He is both described in the most negative terms, but surprisingly also in positive terms.

To confuse this even more a large portion of the Midrashim, particularly Midrash Hagadol, focuses on creating an entire moralistic back story for the behaviors alluded to in the actual torah portion.

Briefly, this back story consists of a compare and contrast between two woman, the wife of Korach, and the wife of a once mentioned conspirator Ohn ben Pellet. This is a technique seen over and over again in the various texts books and torah. The wife of Korach fueling his greed and ambition and the wife of Ohn Ben Pellet who dragged" him out of danger and saved his life, by giving him strong drink to make her husband sleep and by sitting at the entrance of the tent with her daughter, each with uncovered hair to keep the messenger from getting him to join in.

Although I found these commentaries interesting and compelling none of them truly go to the heart of my issue, the total destruction of innocence, babies and dogs.

Therefore I am compelled to take on this story more in the realm of metaphor and parable. I see this story as the eternal tension between two distinct paradigms.

This tension was described by a modern commentary as follows:
Whether Korach spoke out of ego, or because he proposed a new communal and religious structure for which the people weren't remotely ready -- Korach erred, and the earth swallowed him up. The resulting communal furor plagued the community, yielding grave casualties. What ended the plague was Moses and Aaron's willingness to step up and to smooth things over, to facilitate forgiveness for everyone. Only then did the staff, symbol of power-over, flower and bear fruit. Only when those in positions of leadership are able to rise above the conflicts of the community can leadership reach its fullest potential and flower-forth something remarkable and new. Thusly the tension between the two forces the emergence of a new third paridghm.

Psychologically speaking The tension between change and status quo is an on going for most humans and it is inherent in most relationship and in our spiritual communities as well.
From the more spiritual stand point I offer the following in conclusion
Later in the book of Numbers we read “B’nai Korach lo maytu” “The children of Korach did not die,” concretely this could mean they did not die in the great disaster that ended their father’s rebellion. Yet In many of the midrashirm and commentaries there is a more metaphoric suggestion made that this means that in every generation there are people who are ready to assume autonomy because they believe that they are as close to God as they need to be.

We live in a state of constant tension between listening to the voice of God and answering our own inner conscience sometimes it is the same, yet sometimes the interpretations of our leaders diverge from our own. There are no easy answers or simple solutions. We continue to struggle with this tensions of status quo vs change in Jewish life and in our lives in general.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Making and Keeping Jews

Chaviva on her blog "Just Call Me Chavia" posted a discussion point, subtly and artfully may I add, about inter marriage and Jews...
below is what I wrote for a comment.....

ok....I think it is never so clear cut.....my daughter is paternally Jewish...she had a mom who was not Jewish(me....Jew by choice in 2nd marriage)

I believe she was raised with loving care exposed to all her root spirituality and ethics.

although not "Jewish" to most, she identifies with that part of her being.... I believe if her future life involved marriage to a Jewish man there would be a strong possibility of her becoming Jewish in the formal way...if not a Jewish man she is strongly grounded in her root spirituality that she would still be able to pass on good and strong values....and her offspring would be exposed to her Jewish roots...and supportive of the Jewish people.

my rabbi talks about "keeping our kids" all the time...and I get it....I understand the fear and concern...

But may I add that the Jewish people loose as many of their youth from totally Jewish families...

perhaps there is something to be looked into there...I watch it, many folks are involved enough to "get" the bar mitzvah. they "send" the kids to do the schooling but after the party....the kids AND the parents are gone.....

finding ways to make a Jewish life valuable beyond several holidays a year...to make our communities, open to all, inviting and a worth while investment.

I could go on and on...but it starts with the parents...and how they choose to raise a child, with what values? My daughter may not be Jewish to most, but I can tell you she is more "Jewish" in her values, respect of tradition and holidays than a lot of "Jewish" 21 year olds I know.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Funny Pages


The Jewish Outreach Institute, JOI, has a wonderful, Illustrated, (read as cartoon!) version of the book of Ruth. It fun to check out. I have found the JOI to be another wonderful resource for me as a Jew by Choice. From their website the JOI is

" a national, independent, nondenominational organization dedicated to creating a more inclusive Jewish community for intermarried families and unengaged Jews, by working to transform existing institutions and by creating new programs where necessary"

JOI also developed the Empowering Ruth program and list serve as another resource for women in the conversion process and also for those post conversion. This list serve is a great way to learn and find support. It has been a great way to connect with other women who are on the same path as me.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Women are an Abomination"

Another uplifting story from the holy land!

Thanks to JTA for following this...
Conservative woman attacked for tefillin imprint
May 13, 2010
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- A Conservative Jewish woman was attacked in Beersheba reportedly for having the imprints of tefillin lines visible on her arms.
Noa Raz was physically assaulted Tuesday morning by a fervently Orthodox man in Beersheba's Central Bus Station, where she was waiting for a bus to her job in Tel Aviv, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the Israel Religious Action Center.
According to the release, the man asked Raz twice if the imprints were from tefillin. When she told him that they were he began to kick and strangle her while screaming “women are an abomination.” Raz reportedly broke free from the man and boarded her bus.
Raz is a member of Women of the Wall, which holds a monthly Rosh Chodesh women's prayer service at the Western Wall. In March, fervently Orthodox men threw chairs at the women as they prepared to pray at the Wall.
Raz filed a police report on the incident on Wednesday. The Israel Religious Action Center has called on the Beersheba police to treat Raz’s assault as a hate crime.
Anat Hoffman, executive director of IRAC, stated that the assault on Raz for wrapping tefillin “should not be seen as an isolated incident, but as taking place within an atmosphere of growing violence toward and intimidation of women who seek to pray freely and equally. Too often these acts of violence are tolerated. The fact that this man thought it acceptable to attack a woman for performing a religious act in private is an example of the escalation of violence targeted against women and against religious pluralists in Israel."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Didn't Know You Were Orthodox!

I have been informing my patients this week that I will not be working next Wednesday and Thursday. Sometimes I let my guard down a bit and say it is a Jewish Holiday. Mostly, the non Jews shrug and wish me a happy holiday. The more problematic folks are those who are Jewish and are secular or considerably less observant of such things than me. I try to remember not to mention the personal stuff, holiday etc. but sometimes it gets away from me.

Today as I was telling a patient, and I accidentally mentioned "holiday" and she asked what holiday is that? I felt that wave of upsetness wash over me. "I should not had let this slip," I thought to myself. When I said "Shavuot" she answered "I didn't know you were Orthodox." with some serious reaction in her voice. So now here is the classic therapeutic conundrum bumping directly into my religiosity all because of a slip of self disclosure. Now I was stuck, either I let her think I am Orthodox, with all the complicated psychological associations that may bring for her, or I self disclose more. I was between that much talked about rock and a hard place.

So I attempted to go for the disclosure light! I say "well it is the cheesecake holiday!" in my best let's get off this topic voice. No luck! She repeats"cheesecake holiday?" "I never heard of such a thing." Now here I am telling this patient that "traditionally ...yada yada yada......" Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are laughing at me now!

She goes on to say "well I never heard of this dairy thing...what type of synagogue do you go to?"
I am absolutely dying now, breaking all the self disclosure rules for therapy..."Conservative" I answer. this painfulness went on for a few minute more. When I was able to extract myself from the conversation I reminded myself NEVER AGAIN.

FYI article on My Jewish Learning and the "dairy thing." (see below)

From The My Jewish Learning Web Site

Excerpted from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook. Reprinted with permission from Jason Aronson Inc.
Although everyone agrees that the food of choice for Shavuot is cheese (most typically blintzes, crepe-like pancakes filled with farmer cheese, or a Sephardic [Mediterranean Jewish]equivalent such as burekas, cheese-filled dough pockets), there are differences of opinion (some quite charming) as to why it is a custom.
Some derive the practice directly from scripture, saying we eat dairy to symbolize the "land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8) promised to the Israelites, or that "milk and honey are under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). These passages, along with "The precepts of the Lord are… sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19:9-11) also indicate we should eat honey, which is customary in some communities.A sage discovered that the initials of the four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26, which describe the sacrificial meal offering on Shavuot, spell mei halav (from milk), suggesting that dairy food is the acceptable dinner for the festival. At Sinai, the Israelites were considered to be as innocent as newborns, whose food is milk.
Those of kabbalistic [mystical] bent equate the numerical value of the word halav, 40 ('het'=8, 'lamed'=30, 'vet'=2), with the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and other teachings (Exodus 24:18). Others look to the mountain itself, which is termed in Psalms mount of gavnunim (68:15), meaning many peaks. They connect that description with the Hebrew word g'vinah, meaning cheese.
Scholars who trace all Jewish customs and rituals to practices common among various ethnic groups claim that spring harvest festivals characteristically featured dairy dishes, perhaps because cheese was produced during that season.
There is also support for the custom based on the spiritual development among the Israelites in the wake of Sinai. After the Torah was given, they were obligated to follow its laws, including those governing dietary practice. As they returned to the camp from Revelation, they could not eat the previously prepared meat, which had not been done according to the laws of kashrut [dietary restrictions]. Since butchering and cooking fresh meat would take too long for the tired, hungry Israelites, they took the dairy food that was readily available. Symbolizing modesty, the dairy was also seen as appropriate for the occasion of receiving the Torah, which should always be approached with humility.
In some Jewish communities, it is customary to follow the traditional dairy meal with a meat dish (after waiting the requisite 30 minutes per the laws of kashrut, except in places where the rabbis waived the normal separation). The two foods represent the two loaves brought on the festival. We are also supposed to eat meat as a contribution to our joy on a festival day. This can cause practical problems, however, not only in terms of the time lapse, but because you cannot mix milk and meat dishes and utensils. Therefore, it is more common to have a dairy meal on the first evening of Shavuot and then serve meat the next day.
Along with blintzes and burekas, cheesecake is a widely popular Shavuot item. Some eat kreplach, three-cornered dumplings that are often filled with meat but can be cheese filled or even vegetable filled. They are supposed to remind us of the Torah, which is comprised of three sections (Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim / Torah, Prophets, and Writings), which was given to Israel, which is comprised of three categories (Kohanim, Leviim, and Yisraelim) through Moses, who was the third child of Amran (after Aaron and Miriam), following three days of preparation (Exodus 19:11) in the third month of the year (Exodus 19:1).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tikun L´Eyl Shavuot Time!

Ok, I'm a little too enthusiastic about this, but I just love being able to dig into a text and wrestle with it. This is when I wish I could just sneak into an Orthodox shul and go all night!

My conservative Rabbi sent out the notice yesterday:

"For this year´s Tikun L´Eyl Shavuot the theme will be, "My Most Favorite Torah Portion or Torah Story." I´m recruiting volunteers to speak at our Shavuot Torah Study Session on this topic."

So one thing came to mind instantly. It is the story/portion that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it three years ago. "Korach", Numbers 16:1-18:32.
Ok I realize this is not likely what he is looking for. This isn't warm and fuzzy, it's not Mt. Sinai or the parting of the Sea...But in my opinion it is one of the more spectacular, hard core smiting sections, post Genesis, of the Torah.

The first time I heard it read I remember turning to my husband aghast and said "the children and dogs too?"....

Since that time, this portion has been somewhat of an inside joke between my husband and I. Any time we encounter a situation where we are being challenged we will look at each other and make a gesture with our hand, imitating the earth opening up. And if we are in a little argument with each other, one of those minor married power struggle type of things, all one of us has to say is "watch out the earth is about to swallow you up!" we both laugh, ending the silliness.

I am not too sure what direction I am going to take my presentation in. I do love the back story of the good and bad wives also I could go with the straight up ambition thing....Any ideas are welcome!

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life