On singing pieces by Shelomo Carlebach (1925-1994) or having “Carlebach Services.”

I came across this short essay while clearing and reorganizing my computer. I wrote this some time ago; the time stamp in my computer indicated the most recent revision had been in 2015. There is a reference close to the end about hesitating to post it to the Blog, and apparently I did: at least according to the search engine, I never posted it at that time. Perhaps the reason I did not post it was that I struggled with putting the issue into a broader perspective–it seems to need one, and I added only a brief line about the broad perspective when lightly editing it now in August 2017 for posting here.

Should we sing Shelomo Carlebach’s songs? The question comes up from time to time, for example, it was raised when the Colorado Hebrew performed an arrangement of one of Carlebach’s compositions: is it appropriate to sing Carlebach’s songs or to have a whole service based on his melodies?  The issue never has anything to do with whether he was sufficiently loyal to Orthodoxy or strayed too far from the derekh, “the path.”  Rather, it has to do with reports about what today would be called abusive behavior to women; women have come forward reporting they were victimized by such activities.

I suppose I should make a disclosure, in the 1970s when I was an undergraduate at college—well after the responsum by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein mentioned below, but well before broad discussion of reports about him—we had Rabbi Carlebach visit our campus. As I recall, I was active in the committee organizing this and the Hillel rabbi would not let him be alone with women, not even to have one of our student officers meet or pick him up alone from the train station. We students were surprised, and in my recollection the Hillel rabbi did not go into any details beyond saying it was best not to have one of our female students pick him up, certainly not without another person in the car. It was clear that this was because of what today we would call inappropriate behavior, although we students probably thought it was just “unwanted hugging.” Apparently it went far beyond that, and indeed some women were traumatized by his actions. My point is that there was awareness by Hillel or religious professionals—and many who worked with them—decades ago. I do not know how much detail was “actually known” and how much was carefulness, based on unconfirmed reports. Those were different times; I do not wish to justify a less-stringent attitude of those days.

In fact, these reports had reached many in the Orthodox world—a world likely to have Carlebach services today. As I noted, they had been addressed by no less a figure than Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in 1959. There is some discussion about the meaning and reference of Rabbi Feinstein’s responsum. Rabbi Dratch, founder of J-Safe and now Exec. VP of the RCA seems to think that Feinstein would not have prohibited Carlebach’s music. http://jsafe.org/pdfs/What_to_do_with_Abusive_Rabbis.pdf   [2017: this link is down, but the article is posted here: http://theunorthodoxjew.blogspot.com/2006/07/what-to-do-with-abusive-rabbis.html]. Like Rabbi Feinstein’s responsum itself, Rabbi Dratch does not even mention the name of the singer about whom the responsum was written.  Although it is hard to imagine the responsum refers to anyone else.

But as shown by R. Feinstein and by my experience, some people, especially “professionals,” were aware of at least some aspects of Carlebach’s behavior towards women well before the lengthy article that appeared in Lillith magazine shortly after Carlebach died.

And the opening of a musical based on his songs reopened old wounds.

http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2012/08/should-the-new-shlomo-carlebach-musical-be-banned-234.html.

Scandals involving various rabbis and educators, including scandals at Yeshiva University, at Kesher Israel in Washington DC, and so forth, as well as increasing sensitivity to women’s issues in Judaism and in general society have made it imperative in some circles to raise the issue: Does the singing of Carlebach songs rub salt in women’s wounds? Is it insensitive and supportive of abuse in ways that, whatever we may have felt a generation ago, we cannot tolerate today? This should be an issue in the Orthodox world highly likely to value Carlebach’s melodies (and to treat Rabbi Feinstein’s rulings with great honor). And it should be noted that his melodies are encountered in the non- Orthodox world as well, which, also, has not been exempt from scandals.

http://hareiani.com/2014/12/07/carlebach-cosby-and-separating-art-from-its-artist/ poses the issue well.  The author probably should have discussed the quintessential rule of Lashon ha-Ra “evil tongue” –we should not speak negative things about people even if true, but if there is a purpose in doing so, it is allowed–and in some cases even expected.  I worried about this in writing this post; indeed, I hesitated for quite some time to add it to my Blog. However, the issue is worth discussing, and, unfortunately, only by including the singer’s name will the issue become clear. And it is not only an issue with Carlebach’s music: readers of this Blog are likely to be aware of parallel situations. One can ask whether sensitivity to such issues helps us move forward, or—when focused on past actors whose times were different from our own—takes energy away from moving forward. I cannot say that there is a convenient rule, or even that such a rule is possible: individuals will come to different conclusions—and it is best to be aware of the issues and be sensitive to contemporary sensitivities. [As I post this in 2017, I can think not only of Carlebach and Cosby, and for that matter R. Freundel, mentioned in this essay, but of Orff and Wagner, and in the US context, of issues raised by removing statuary, images and naming associated with support for slavery]. I know there are some people who are passionately opposed to any performance of Carlebach’s music—knowing full well that in the current situation, there are many victims who associate his music strongly with his abuse.

 

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The TORRY AWARDS 2017

The Middle East and Israel in Film course at the University of Wyoming awards the TORRYS at the end of each term the course is taught. The awards memorialize the late Prof. Robert Torry, who taught English at the University of Wyoming for many years and who, together with Paul Flesher, introduced and taught a Film and Religion course. He is greatly missed.

Students make the nominations after we’ve seen all the films, and vote at the very end of the last session. Students have great leeway in nominating. Sometimes it is not clear to me that the scene or person nominated actually fits the category, and sometimes these unlikely nominations win. For example, the “real couple” in the Egyptian classic Ghazl al-Banat are the star, Leila Murad, and the aviator character played by her then-husband–and the director of the film. This would have been obvious to Egyptians viewing the film in 1949! But students saw the unlikely couple of Leila Murad–who plays the daughter of the Pasha–flirting with a poor school teacher who disingenuously falls in love with her, despite differences in age and social status that make this unthinkable. Perhaps this provides a window into the perceptions of these films amongst college students in Wyoming.

Most of the categories are carried over from previous terms in which I taught the course. Students have a chance to change the wording or to add or delete categories; some of the categories they’ve suggested are quite whimsical. I tried to keep the wording describing categories, scenes or people as close as possible to what the students nominated—although I made some minor edits.

Of the films screened in Spring 2017, the Turkish movie Mustang was the most popular among my students. A truck driver who helps the youngest sisters in the movie was voted the Best Hero. This is a great example of recognizing the importance of a character with only a few scenes, who nevertheless plays a key role.

Once upon a Time in Anatolia was selected for screening by students, from among numerous possibilities presented them in DVD cases, but was not enjoyed at all. One scene in the film was remembered as particularly pointless by our students. Nevertheless, the filmmaker is an important Turkish artist and the film raised a number of important points for discussion about the nature of filmmaking. It was the only nominee for Worst Film and the students nominated a scene in it as particularly pointless, involving an apple rolling down the hill. Of course, they had talked about the meaning of this scene at some length, and any time a scene sticks out and generates discussion—even if it appears pointless—it is a credit to the filmmaker’s art.

In a few categories, there was an opportunity to consider Israeli films separately from other films; for the most part, any film we screened was eligible.

“The Miracle” is a chapter in Rio I Love You, in which the topic is not Middle Eastern, but the filmmaker is Nadine Labaki, from Lebanon.

The voting for Best Israeli Movie was nearly tied; Or My Treasure was only slightly ahead of the other nominees. There was a tie for “most heart wrenching” scene.

Kazablan clearly won for best music. Not surprisingly, several of its hit numbers were nominated for best song. But the “Hashishat ‘albi” song in Where do we go now? won hands down—written by the husband of director and star Nadine Labaki.  The scene in which it is sung also won for Best Scene.

We did not show a documentary, but the students wanted to nominate and vote on two films for accuracy of depicting reality. The Egyptian comedy Terrorism and Kebab won for its depiction of the reality of oppressive bureaucracy.

I am not surprised that Zohar (Dana Ivgy) narrowly lost to the Lale character in favorite movie Mustang as best female character, although students clearly regarded Zero Motivation and Or  highly. Ivgy also ran against the Lale character, nominated for the child acting category as the teenager in the film Or. At the annual conference of the WJSA this year (2017) Ivgy spoke about some of her characters being the child of characters played by the late, great Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz—whom she would call for advice about acting and address as “Mom” because of their relationship in the films. (I think she also played the child of her father Moshe Ivgy in a film, and a high school age child in Broken Wings.).  The Lale character though was an elementary school or early middle school aged character (Mustang).

Pleasing to me (and totally without prompting from me), one of the most memorable scenes in classic Israeli cinema, the cat and gefilte fish scene from Kazablan, was recognized by my students.

In the chart below, the winners in each category are underlined and in bold. The list of films we saw follows beneath the list of winners.

May Bob Torry’s name be remembered for a blessing.

MOST IMPORTANT FILM

Terrorism and Kebab

Where do we go now?

Zero Motivation

Mustang  

BEST VILLAIN

☐ Walid in Fauda

Uncle in Mustang

☐ Eye-glass General in Atomic Falafel

☐ The Lizard in The Lizard

☐ “Gulash” in Kazablan

BEST HERO

☐ Iranian Girl in Atomic Falafel

☐ German Guy in Atomic Falafel

Truck driver from Mustang        

☐ Ahmad (Adel Iman character) in Terorism and Kebab

BEST MOVIE (NON-ISRAELI)

Mustang

Where do we go now  

Marmulak (Lizard)

MOST POINTLESS SCENE

Apple rolling scene in Once Upon a time in Anatolia

BEST ISRAELI MOVIE

Zero Motivation

Atomic Falafel

Or My Treasure

Apples from the Desert

Footnote

BEST COMEDY

Atomic Falafel

Zero Motivation

BEST DRAMA

The Attack

Fauda

MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE

The Attack—Doctor finds out his wife was the terrorist

Final Scene in Or My Treasure     

Suicide in Mustang

(tie)

MOST HEARTWARMING SCENE

Ushpizin—friends come in to celebrate circumcision 

☐ “The Miracle”—in Rio I Love You Harvey Keitel character calls kid pretending he is God

☐ Dancing because they got the money scene, in Ushpizin

BEST COUPLE

Young Israeli teens from Atomic Falafel   

☐ Mom and German in Atomic Falafel

☐ Young Couple from Apples in the Desert

☐ Couple from Ushpizin

BEST MUSIC

Kazablan                 

Atomic Falafel

☐ Soundtrack of Terrorism and Kebab

BEST SONG

Hitchki from Atomic Falafel

Hashishat ‘Albi (the baking song) from Where do we go now?

☐ Respect song (Kol HaKavod) in Kazablan

☐ We are all Jews (Kulanu Yehudim) in Kazablan

Democratiah in Kazablan

☐ Rosa in Kazablan

BEST USE OF SILENCE AND/OR MUSIC

Footnote

Or – last scene

Katherine the Great

Zero Motivation—pauses

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Or

Where do we go now

Kazablan

Mustang

MOST ACCURATE HISTORICALLY

Terrorism and Kebab

Fauda

MOST SURPRISING MOMENT

Women changed religion in Where do we go now

☐ Suicide in Zero Motivation

☐ Trashcan Intercourse in Zero Motivation

☐ Carving the tattoo out in Zero Motivation

FAVORITE SCENE

☐ both generals pressing the button for nukes in Atomic Falafel

Where do we go now? when they are all united together

Baking scene in Where do we go now?     

☐ Wife says she is pregnant in Ushpizin

☐ Two girls find their teacher in Mustang

☐ “Whirlpool” of people in circling in Mugamaa in Terrorism and Kebab

BEST PICTURE

Atomic Falafel

Fauda

Kazablan

Ushpizin

Mustang    

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

☐ Zohar (Dana Ivgy) in Zero Motivation

☐ Nadine Labaki in Where do we go now

☐ Daffy from Zero Motivation

☐ Possessed Russian from Zero Motivation

Lale from Mustang

BEST MALE CHARACTER

☐ Boyfriend (Elisha Banai character) in Apples from the Desert

☐ Ahmad (Adel Iman character) in Terrorism and Kebab

Doran (Lior Raz character) in Fauda

☐ Moshe in Ushpizin

WORST COUPLE

The Attack

☐ Walid and Cousin from Fauda

Ghazl al-Banat – Leila Murad and Hammam

BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS

☐ Shuli Rand

Dana Ivgy

☐ Nadine Labaki

BEST SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE

Apples from the Desert

Mustang

Ushpizin

Zero Motivation

WORST PICTURE

Once upon a time in Anatolia

BEST SHORT MOVIE OR CLIPS

West Bank Story

Katherine the Great

“The Miracle” in Rio I Love You  

BEST CHILD ACTING

Mustang

☐ Dana Ivgy in Or

Atomic Falafel – two Israelis and Iranian

FUNNIEST SCENE

Cat and Gefilte Fish in Kazablan

☐ Video track scene from Atomic Falafel

☐ Daffy staples herself in Zero Motivation

☐ Lale tells woman dress is shit colored in Mustang

☐ Suit Scene in Kazablan

 

FILMS WE SAW IN 2017

 


Once upon a time in Anatolia 2011
Nuri Bilge Ceylan http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1827487/

 

Mustang 2015
Deniz Gamze Ergüven http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3966404/

 

O Milagre” (The Miracle) in Rio I love you

Nadine Labaki http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1456606/

 

Or My Treasure 2004
Keren Yedaya http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0388311/

 

West Bank Story 2005
Ari Sandel http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0438575/

 

Footnote 2011
Joseph Cedar http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1445520/

 

Terrorism and Kebab 1992
Sherif Arafa http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1445520/

 

Catherine the Great 2011
Ana Kuntsman http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2092416/

 

Ushpizin 2004
Gidi Dar/Shuli Rand http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0426155/

 

Apples from the Desert 2014
Matti Harari, Arik Lubetski Savyon Liebrecht  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3955672/

 

Fauda 2015…
Avi IssacharoffLior Raz http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4565380/

 

Atomic Falafel 2015
Dror Shaul http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3830312/

 

Zero Motivation 2014
Talia Lavie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3576084/

 

Marmulak (The Lizard ) 2004
Kamal Tabrizi http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416960/

 

Where do we go Now? 2011
Nadine Labaki http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1772424/

 

The Attack 2012
Ziad Doueri http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787442/

 

Arab Labor Season 1 episode 5 Passover 2007…
Syed Kashua http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0904447/

 

Ghazl al-Banat (Flirtation of Girls) 1949
Anwar Wagdi http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184512/

 

Kazablan 1973
Menachem Golan http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184512/

 

 

 

 

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Middle East and Israel in Film University of Wyoming 2012 Class Awards

In preparation for my 2017 Middle East and Israel in Film class awards, I am posting the list from the 2012 version of the class. This was before these awards were named the “Torrys” in memory of our colleague Robert Torry. 

 

Middle East and Israel in Film University of Wyoming 2012 Class Awards (“Oscars”)

Categories and Nominees
Winners are underlined

 

Most accurate historically 
Wedding Song
Paradise Now
Lawrence of Arabia
Lebanon
Waltz with Bashir

Best Picture
Lawrence of Arabia
Persepolis
Waltz
Paradise Now

Most Heartwrenching  Scene
Convicts eating citron – Ushpizin
Bathhouse Scene Wedding Song
Loss of child scene Yakubian Building

Most Gutwrentching Scene
Lebanon
Waltz-Massacre
Strangulation Scene Yakubian
Shooting Scene Yakubian

Best couple
Kazablan and Rachel
Malli and Moshe–Ushpizin
Yakubian Building
Hanna Rovina and Alexander Penn

Best use of silence and/or music
Waltz with bashir
Paradise Now
No One knows about  Persian Cats
     Kazablan
Arab Labor

Best Female Character
Marjane in Persepolis
Busaina in Yacoubian Building
Rachel in Kazablan
Zahra in Soraya M
Grandmother in Persepolis
Mali Ushpizin
Soraya herself in stoning of Soraya M.

Best Villain
Shoemaker “Goulash”–Kazablan
Malik in Yacouibian
Ali husband of Soraya M
Dawlat – Yacoubian Building
Phalangist from Lebanon

Best Hero
Kazablan
Zaki Pasha (Yacoubian Building)
French Reporter in Soraya M.
Said from Paradise Now
Tarik from For my Father
Grandfather from Arab Labor

Best “Muslim” Movie
Persian Cats

Persepolis

Muhammad the Last Prophet

Paradise Now

 
Best Israeli Movie
Kazablan

Waltz With Bashir

Ushpizin

 

 

 

 

 

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Passover Internet LInks

This is an updated copy of a page I posted at UW several years ago, and reposted on Coffeecups.  I’ve checked and updated the links. Use the search box INSIDE the blog to look for other things I’ve posted about Passover. — Passover 2017.

Happy Passover

חג כשר ושמח

From Seth Ward

 

THE PASSOVER STORY.

From my teaching: A note about Moses

Moses in the Passover story.

Based on the prominence of Moses in the movie retelling of the Exodus, it is perhaps surprising that the ritual and liturgical retelling of the Exodus gives him almost no role at all. Moses is mentioned only once in the traditional Haggadah, the order of prayers, psalms, and ritual foods for Passover eve, in the context of recalling the “Song of the Sea.”

This is not particularly surprising, as Moses does not play a large role in the daily, Sabbath or festival liturgy. On a daily basis, the prayer book recalls that Moses and the children of Israelrecited the Song of the Sea. On the Sabbath, the evening Amida service recalls Creation, with no reference to Moses, but the morning Amida service recalls revelation, with Moses depicted as rejoicing that he was called a “faithful servant” and through his agency, the Two Tablets of the Decalogue were given, with their command concerning the Sabbath. (Interestingly, this passage introduces a selection from Exodus 31 about observing the Sabbath, not the passage on the Sabbath from the Ten Commandments). All in all, the ritual and liturgy emphasize divine revelation and redemption, not Moses’ role.

Contrast this, of course, with the depiction of Moses in all the movies and bible stories. Paul Flesher suggests one possible reason why: http://filmandreligion.blogspot.com/2007/08/ten-commandments-christian-tale.html. Moses’ role is the archetypical figure for Protestant America, basing law on revelation—but revelation of the heart—and foreshadowing both the Christian savior and the American enterprise of freedom. (Flesher’s point is not less valid even though some of the motifs he points to are mirrored in Midrashic texts glorying in the miraculous birth and career of Moses; these may themselves be responding to Christian themes, or themselves be the models on which those themes are based.)

One could say, too, that Moses’ role in the Biblical books of Exodus through Deuteronomy is greater than that in the Jewish ritual. Nevertheless, these books are not simply narrative or celebration of Moses’ role in the escape from slavery, and leading the way to the Promised Land. All have very lengthy descriptions of building the Tabernacle, ritual worship, social legislation, and religious exhortations that usually do not play a role in the American retelling of the story. A typical explanation of why Moses is downplayed in the Haggadah is to emphasize the divine role in the Exodus. Passover is not about human leadership but about divine intervention—and about the redefinition of a tribe knit together primarily by memories of common ancestors,  into a coherent people. Freedom from slavery is only the starting point. While, to paraphrase the haggadah, it “would have been enough for us” simply to leave Egypt, that was not enough for the divine purpose: the journey necessarily led to definition of social and religious values, a way of worship and a way of life, and a way forward to the fulfillment of the national promise and purpose.  Hag kasher vesameah.

Passover Links and Texts.

WHY DO JEWS TELL THE STORY OF PASSOVER AFTER ALL?

Among the more compelling arguments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iU4YA9DVqyw.

You may find the Projecting Freedom project quite useful in exploring the holiday.  Although some of the links lead to a website, several years ago, the videos migrated to a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQZ9nJU4NiQxf17nfoNz-VQ

TEXTS

MISHNA Chapter 10 of tractate Pesachim http://www.bmv.org.il/shiurim/pesachim/pes10.html — this chapter is the basic guide to the Seder.

My discussion of the Seder Plate http://uwyo.edu/sward/SederPlate.doc. A source sheet I prepared: https://drsethward.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/i-have-not-had-time-to-update-all-the-links-on-my-passover-pages-from-last-year-and-of-course-not-to-check-the-links/ 

Text of my brochure on Passover http://uwyo.edu/sward/An%20Order%20for%20the%20Passover%20Eve%20Service.doc

HAGGADA TEXT AND MELODIES—ARIEL BENJAMIN SIDDUR PROJECT

Full text of the Haggadah—with transliteration! http://siddur.arielbenjamin.com/texts – look at the bottom of this page for a link to the Haggadah! (other links are to the full text of the Siddur).

Passover Tunes (with sheet music)—free access http://siddur.arielbenjamin.com/tunes

ORATORIO

A historic Performance of Israel in Egpyt by G.F. Händel. The recording was made by the Jerusalem Symphony with a choir from Edinburgh. The setting: the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat) overlooking Jazirat Far’un “Pharoah’s Island” – or Coral Island, as it was called by the Israelis. It is about ten minutes’ drive south of the current border. The castle on the Island was built by Saladin. The full oratorio includes a setting of the complete Song of the Sea (Ex. 15).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCOROhkLWt8

For fun.

Who was responsible for the Exodus?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t7a66vbrN0&feature=related

The fundamental question in Exodus narrative, and in the Passover Seder, is “Who precisely was responsible for letting the Israelites out of Egypt?”  The Haggadah’s answer is unambiguous, restated in different ways over and over. The video poses this question, but does not really reply to it.

Deliver Us—song by Ofra Haza in Prince of Egypthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GbI2Tlt55w  Ofra Haza recorded this in multiple languages, so that every release would have it in the language, sung by her, not dubbed.

Facebook:

We may not know much about Moses, but we know how he would have done the Exodus if he had had facebook! http://www.aish.co.il/v/ch/118904474.html

The same in English: http://www.aish.com/h/pes/mm/Passover_Google_Exodus.html

Matzah:

All you really need to know about the importance, taste, and ramifications of eating Matzah: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Olg1efSlvLg

 

Projecting Freedom project. This is a Matza Music Video for “Motzi Matzah.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRVfnb122z8&list=PLCsAgjSYnaChuzDvj2rVaXT0GnP01jSsp&index=15

Here is the entrance video to the project:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMSEFCQCKPo&feature=related  Michele Citrin (“Rosh Hashana Girl”)

The Passover Seder:

The Singing Seder Plate: scroll down to hear this part of the important record “Menorah’s Little Seder:”

https://rsa.fau.edu/album/40959

The recording is from the 60s I think. Stanley Sperber (founder of Zamir Chorale) is conducting the Camp Massad choir, precursor to the Zamir. The original is usually called the “Orchestra Song” and apparently is by Willy Geisler. Here is a version from Hollywood: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwqmFBttKW8&feature=related (For Hebrew readers interested in this song:http://www.zemereshet.co.il/song.asp?id=1566) and read more about it at https://drsethward.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/the-singing-seder-table/

60 Second Seder http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_htcl7LCuK0 (Hebrew)

Arab Labor: hit Israeli TV show. Season One had a Passover episode, with a sendup of almost every group within Israeli society: Haredim, Israeli Arabs, Secular Jews, Reform Judaism, “traditional” Jews (in this context, neither religious nor secular); the Reform Jewish woman is depicted in very “Beautiful-People-Leftist” terms as being something like a “flower child” in her approach. Unfortunately, I cannot find a live link to this episode at present!

This is from a movie about the most important question at the Seder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIet8kykrUM

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/mku27v/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-faith-off—easter-vs–passover Jon Stewart on Passover vs. Easter.

Songs in English (parody texts):

There are quite a few of these. Here is one: http://www.jr.co.il/humor/pass01.txt  Sample: “haggada wash that man right out of my hair” and “afikomen round the mountain”

A large number of songs and jokes:  http://www.jewishmag.com/142mag/humor/humor.htm

Songs from the end of the Seder:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYAI0Fqi_Z4&feature=related Who knows one—The “Glick/Tasky girls”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6zMGUDCwp0&NR=1 same—Sydney and Andrew.

Moishe Oysher’s most famous Passover performance piece, Chad Gadya:

Chad Gadya—a Jewish/Arab choir from Jaffa, singing Chad Gadya in Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic, with an extra verse by Chava Alberstein:

Here is Chava Alberstein singing it herself:

Other materials:

Fountainheads

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&src_vid=E_RmVJLfRoM&annotation_id=annotation_574298&v=mIyKw_GiAA8

Write me with your suggestions! sward@uwyo.edu

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Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Yahrtzeit and Martin Luther King Jr. Day–Jan 16, 2017

 

 

m Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr.

Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Jewish world was abuzz when the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving, as it did a few years ago, or with Christmas as it did this year. In truth though, the alignment of various dates in the Hebrew, with the civil calendar or with each other, often creates important opportunities for contemplation.

It seems to me that this year has a particularly significant alignment for contemporary Jewish Americans. The yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) is 18 Tevet; this year this occurs on January 16, 2017 (the day I am writing this note).  This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurs on the same day, January 16. (Officially this holiday is called Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. but it is celebrated on the third Monday of January).

This does not happen very often. In 2020, Heschel’s yahrtzeit falls on King’s actual birthday, Jan. 15, 2020. The next time Heschel’s yahrtzeit and the MLK Day occur on the same Monday is Jan. 17, 2028, and then not until Jan. 18 2044 (and again on Jan. 18 2055).

King was familiar with Heschel’s writing, and apparently sometimes would quote a biblical verse as it was translated in Heschel’s publications rather in Bible translations typically found in the pews of his church.

Heschel famously marched with Martin Luther King. Perhaps most to the point, both King and Heschel were theologians whose vocations included a strong commitment to working for the common good—making a difference by becoming active in the public sphere.

Heschel’s teachings included works on the Sabbath, and on God’s search for Man as well as Man’s search for God. His early work on the Prophets, originally written in German and translated into English after he arrived in the USA, influenced not only generations of Rabbis but also Christian theologians, such as King and many others.  His ideas about the Divine quest for a relationship with humanity, about the Sabbath as a “Palace in Time,” about the legacy of the prophets, about the need for people of faith to work together for the common good, and many other subjects are continuous with precursors in the Jewish tradition—indeed, many of these show he learned much from his study of Philosophy both secular and Jewish, and his deep familiarity with Hasidism, including the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (and his namesake ancestor the Apter Rebbe).

Heschel’s activism centered on a number of very prominent areas. He pioneered Interfaith relations, and argued that, in the realities that emerged in the post-World War II environment, Jews should see Christians as allies—fellow humans with religious sensibilities—rather than adversaries in the field of religion. He worked with the Vatican to overcome centuries of anti-Jewish discourse. His famous speech to Union Theological Seminary, “No Religion is an Island” can rightly be credited with immense influence in all aspects of Interfaith relations.  He was involved in freeing Soviet Jewry when this issue came to the fore.

His civic engagement was largely in two areas: opposition to the Vietnam War, and fighting for civil rights, especially for African Americans.

Heschel’s yahrtzeit occurs only two days before Maimonides’. Heschel’s biography of Maimonides is still an important work.

My only research into Heschel had to do with his response to Islam; I found much of interest, but in the large picture of his writings, he really wrote very little that was relevant to this theme. I had assumed that perhaps Heschel’s work on Maimonides and other medieval thinkers who lived most of their lives in the Islamic world would have sparked more interaction that it did. Heschel worked with Moshe Zucker of JTS and shared some important insights on Islam in his book Israel: Echo of Eternity, completed after the 6-day War. Early in his career, he described Almohad Islamic fanaticism in his biography of Maimonides. Heschel’s description of medieval Islamic fanaticism resonates well in our own times, but  it’s important to remember to read it in the context of the era in which it was written, when Interwar Islam was largely moderate–today’s Islamic extremism was decades in the future. But in Germany where it was written, the Nazi party had already come to power and the powerful description of Almohad extremism may have to be seen in that light. It’s quite possible to argue that Heschel’s description of God’s desire for Man contradicts mainstream Islamic thought too, although less clear that Islamic sensibilities were of any concern to Heschel. When he was writing in Germany and later in the US, the interfaith concerns of working with Muslims were simply not on his radar. This was a time when “Three Faiths One God” meant “Protestants, Catholics, Jews” not “Christians, Jews, Muslims.”

Heschel and King were giants of the American scene in the 1960s. Both were taken much too early. King of course was assassinated; Heschel died at a relatively young age, in his mid-sixties. In terms of my own research, I think that, had Heschel lived, he would have had powerful things to say about the growing importance of reaching out to Muslims the way he had earlier reached out to Catholics and other Christians.

One further thought: back in the 1960s, Jews and Blacks marched together. Both communities have gone on. I do not know if the remembered warmth of the Black-Jewish Alliance stands up under scrutiny or is more a thing of nostalgia. I don’t think African Americans perceive Jewish support for their issues to be truly significant today. And many Jews are likely to give greater weight than justified to the pronouncements of a few African Americans with decidedly negative views of Jews, or whose pronouncements are shaped within a discourse seen as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. And, really, they usually have no real reason to be sensitized to Jewish perceptions about this discourse.

But the issues of racism and bigotry are still with us. God help us, we still need a movement like “Black Lives Matter.” The coincidence of Heschel’s yahrtzeit falling on MLK Day should help all of us rededicate ourselves to universal rights and human dignity, and to the role religion and religious leaders can play in advancing them.

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Language, authority, tradition and memory and the themes of the modern Fast of Tevet Seth Ward—EDOS—31 December 2011 ה טבת תשע”ב  

Edited and enhanced January 6 2017 

 

Five Events for the Tenth of Tevet (Parallel to Massechet Taanit regarding 5 events of 17th or Tamuz amd 9th of Av)

 

The Siege of Jerusalem,

The Fast of the Faulty Translation,

The Christianity Calamity,

The General Kaddish (יום הקדיש הכללי) for Holocaust victims, and

Chaim Nahman Bialik (whose birthday is marked on the 10th of Tevet).

(I do not want to suggest Christianity is a calamity, or that such an approach is dominant in Judaism; compare for example Maimonides’ oft-cited remarks at the end of the Mishneh Torah about its positive role in the unfolding  of the Divine plan. But some Jewish writers might have seen it as a reason for a fast day. Nor is Bialik’s birthday a reason for the fast, despite the fact that some treated his falling away from Volozhon as a tragedy; rather, given the theme of the “faulty translation” and the important role of Bialik in reestablishing the Hebrew language, I think it is appropriate to include Bialik in this list. )

 

  1. The Prophetic Establishment of the Fast

 

יט  כֹּה-אָמַר ה צְבָאוֹת, צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית-יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה, וּלְמֹעֲדִים, טוֹבִים; וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם, אֱהָבוּ.  {פ}

19 ‘Thus saith the L-ORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace. {P} Zechariah 8:19

 

  1. Shulhan Arukh OH 549  

 

  • חייבים להתענות בתשעה באב ובי”ז בתמוז ובג’ בתשרי ובעשרה בטבת מפני דברים הרעים שאירעו בהם
  1. Shulhan Arukh OH 580.2

בשמונה בטבת נכתבה התורה יונית בימי תלמי המלך והיה חושך בעולם שלשה ימים. ובתשעה בו לא נודע איזו היא הצרה שאירע בו.

  1. Nebukhadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem– 10th of 10th month of 9th year of Zedekiah, or Ezekiel learns about Jerusalem’s fate (Ezek. 24:1, 33:21), see also 2 Kings 25:1-4, Jer. 52: 4-7.

 

5.       Rosh Hashana 18b

דאמר רב חנא בר ביזנא אמר ר”ש חסידא מאי דכתיב {זכריה ח-יט} כה אמר ה’ צבאות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה קרי להו צום וקרי להו ששון ושמחה בזמן שיש שלום יהיו לששון ולשמחה אין שלום צום אמר רב פפא הכי קאמר בזמן שיש שלום יהיו לששון ולשמחה יש גזרת המלכות צום אין גזרת המלכות ואין שלום רצו מתענין רצו אין מתענין . . .צום השביעי זה ג’ בתשרי שבו נהרג גדליה בן אחיקם ומי הרגו ישמעאל בן נתניה הרגו ללמדך ששקולה מיתתן של צדיקים כשריפת בית אלהינו ואמאי קרי ליה שביעי שביעי לחדשים צום העשירי זה עשרה בטבת שבו סמך מלך בבל על ירושלים שנאמר {יחזקאל כד-א} “ויהי דבר ה’ אלי בשנה התשיעית בחדש העשירי בעשור לחדש לאמר בן אדם כתב לך את שם היום את עצם היום הזה סמך מלך בבל אל ירושלם” ואמאי קרי ליה עשירי עשירי לחדשים והלא היה ראוי זה לכתוב ראשון ולמה נכתב כאן כדי להסדיר חדשים כתיקנן ואני איני אומר כן אלא צום העשירי זה חמשה בטבת שבו באת שמועה לגולה שהוכתה העיר שנאמר {יחזקאל לג-כא} “ויהי בשתי עשרה שנה בעשירי בחמשה לחדש לגלותנו בא אלי הפליט מירושלם לאמר הוכתה העיר” ועשו יום שמועה כיום שריפה ונראין דברי מדבריו שאני אומר על ראשון ראשון ועל אחרון אחרון והוא אומר על ראשון אחרון ועל אחרון ראשון אלא שהוא מונה לסדר חדשים ואני מונה לסדר פורעניות

 

  1. Hanah b. Bizna has said in the name of R. Simeon the Saint: ‘What is the meaning of the verse, Thus had said the L-ord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness? (Zech. VIII, 19). The prophet calls these days both days of fasting and days of joy, signifying that when there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness, but if there is not peace they shall be fast days’! — R. Papa replied: What it means is this: When there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness; if there is persecution, (Lit., ‘decrees of the Government’). they shall be fast days; if there is no persecution but yet not peace, then those who desire may fast and those who desire need not fast. . . The fast of the seventh month’: this is the third of Tishri on which Gedaliah the son of Ahikam was killed. (Jer. XLI, 1, 2) Who killed him? Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed him; and [the fact that a fast was instituted on this day] shows that the death of the righteous is put on a level with the burning of the House of our God.       ‘The fast of the tenth month’: this is the tenth of Tebeth on which the king of Babylon invested Jerusalem, as it says, And the word of the Lord came unto me in the ninth year in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, saying, “Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this selfsame day; this selfsame day the king of Babylon hath invested Jerusalem.” (Ez. 24:1-2) Why is it called the tenth? As being the  tenth in the order of months. [It might be asked], should not this have been mentioned first? [Soncino: The event commemorated being chronologically the first of those mentioned] Why then was it mentioned in this place [last]? So as to arrange the months in their proper order. I, however, [continued R. Simeon], do not explain thus. What I say is that ‘the fast of the tenth month, is the fifth of Tebeth on which news came to the Captivity that the city had been smitten, as it says, And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one  who had escaped out of Jerusalem came to me saying, The city is smitten, (Ezek. XXXIII, 21) and they put the day of the report on the same footing as the day of burning. My view is more probable than his, because I make the first[mentioned by the prophet] first [chronologically] and the last last, whereas he makes the first last and the last first, he, however, following [only] the order of months I [also follow] the order of calamities. http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Rosh_HaShanah.pdf

Fast of the Faulty Translation

 

  1. Megilat Ta’anit: “On the eighth of Tevet, the Torah was written in Greek in the days of King Ptolemy, and darkness came to the land for three days.”

 

  1. Tractate Sofrim, 1:7: “Five Elders wrote the Torah in Greek for Ptolemy. This day was as difficult for Israel as the day in which the Golden Calf was made, for lo hayta ha-torah yekhola lehitargem kol tzarkah the Torah could not be translated adequately.” [Sofrim next refers to the translation of the Bible by 72 elders, also arranged by Ptolemy, in which miraculously, all 72 produced identical translations even though they worked independently, and 13 places in which they diverged from the Hebrew.

 

  1. From the Letter of Aristeas:

Since the law which we wish not only to transcribe but also to translate belongs to the whole Jewish race, what justification shall we be able to find for our embassy while such vast numbers of them remain in a state of slavery in your kingdom? In the perfection and wealth of your clemency release those who are held in such miserable bondage, since as I have been at pains to discover, the God who gave them their law is the God who maintains your kingdom. They worship the same God – the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, O king, though we call him by different names, such as Zeus or Dis….Set all mankind an example of magnanimity by releasing those who are held in bondage.’….   Hecataeus of Abdera says. If it please you, O king, a letter shall be written to the High Priest in Jerusalem, asking him to send six elders out of every tribe – men who have lived the noblest life and are most skilled in their law – that we may find out the points in which the majority of them are in agreement, and so having obtained an accurate translation may place it in a conspicuous place in a manner worthy of the work itself and your purpose. May continual prosperity be yours!’. . . .

308 When the work was completed, Demetrius collected together the Jewish population in the place where the translation had been made, and read it over to all, in the presence of the translators, who met with a great reception also from the people, because of the great benefits which they had 309 conferred upon them. They bestowed warm praise upon Demetrius, too, and urged him to have the whole law transcribed and present a copy to their leaders. 310 After the books had been read, the priests and the elders of the translators and the Jewish community and the leaders of the people stood up and said, that since so excellent and sacred and accurate a translation had been made, it was only right that it should remain as it was and no 311 alteration should be made in it. And when the whole company expressed their approval, they bade them pronounce a curse in accordance with their custom upon any one who should make any alteration either by adding anything or changing in any way whatever any of the words which had been written or making any omission. …

 

Ninth of Tevet: Christianity Calamity

The 9th of Tevet is a fast day, although

  1. “no one knows why.” (SA-OH 580:2). This passage follows the Tur and is based largely on an appendix to:
  2. Megillat Ta’anit: “Our Masters did not write what this was about.”
  1. Ibn Da’ud, Sefer Ha-Qabbalah: Joseph Ha-Nagid of Granada died on this day in 4827 (Saturday, December 30, 1066):

Indeed, a fast had been decreed for the ninth of Tebet as far back as the days of our ancient rabbis, who composed Megillat Ta‘anit; but the reason had not been known. From this [incident] we see that they had pointed prophetically to this very day.

  1. Tosafot Hadashim, Vilna edition Megillat Ta’anit 22b: “I heard from a great man that on that day Oto ha-Ish was born.”

(indeed it is possible to understand 9 Tevet as being the equivalent of Dec. 25 in the year 3761 of Creation, i.e., 1 BCE).

Yom Ha-Kadish Ha-Kelali

  1. From the Knesset Website (Hebrew only)

יום הקדיש הכללי – עשרה בטבת

בעשרה בטבת פתחו  צבאות נבוכדנצר מלך בבל במצור על ירושלים, ובסופו חרב בית המקדש הראשון. יום זה נקבע כיום צום ואבל לדורות.עשרה בטבת הוא יום הקדיש הכללי לזכר נפטרים ונרצחים שיום פטירתם לא נודע ובהם קורבנות השואה. ביום זה נוהגים קרובי הנפטרים להדליק נרות נשמה ולומר “קדיש” ותפילות לעילוי נשמות הנפטרים.

בשנת 1949 קבעו מועצת הרבנות הראשית ומשרד הדתות שיום זה יהיה יום הקדיש הכללי לזכר קורבנות השואה. בהחלטה זו באה לידי ביטוי ההשקפה כי חורבן יהדות אירופה הוא חלק בלתי נפרד מההרג והחורבן שפקדו את עם ישראל משחר ההיסטוריה.

 

  1. From an essay by Roni Stauber, Merkaz Zalman Shazar http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/printitem.asp?item=16341

בעשרה בטבת החלו, על פי המצוין במקרא, צבאות נבוכדנאצר מלך בבל לצור על ירושלים.7 כיבוש העיר על ידי הבבלים, חורבן המקדש והגלות נקבעו בזיכרון הקיבוצי היהודי, בעיקר באמצעות ימי התענית,8 כאירועים ארכיטיפיים למסכת מסעי הגירוש וההרג שידע העם היהודי בימי גלותו. נבוכדנאצר וטיטוס אחריו היוו בהקשר זה פרוטוטיפוסים לדמויות שונות של ארכי-רוצחים שהביאו כליה וחורבן על עם ישראל. “צום ראשית החורבן [עשרה בטבת] הוכרז יום זיכרון לאחרית החורבן. יום שבו סמך מלך בבל אל ירושלים הוא אב-פורענות לעם שאבד עצמאותו ולבש כלי גולה. קו אחד מתוח מנבוכדנאצר עד הרוצח הגרמני. חיית-הטרף מבבל, רומי וברלין בקשה לטרוף את ישראל”, הסביר עיתון ‘הצופה’ את החלטת הרבנות הראשית להכריז על עשרה בטבת כיום זיכרון חללי השואה”.

HN Bialik1873-1934

  1. “In 1933, his sixtieth birthday was celebrated as a national holiday and a final edition of his poetry and prose was published.” http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bialik_Hayim_Nahman
  2. Misrad Ha-hinukh http://cms.education.gov.il/EducationCMS/Applications/Mankal/EtsMedorim/9/9-15/HodaotVmeyda/H-2012-5-9-15-9.htm

בעשרה בטבת חל יום הולדתו של חיים נחמן ביאליק. אנו ממליצים לציין ביום זה את תרומתו המיוחדת של המשורר הלאומי ליצירת תשתית לתרבות העברית החדשה.

This announcement is from 2012 and has two suggestions: the first focuses on Bialik’s songs for children and about children. The second contrasts Bialik’s attempt to create a “new Hebrew culture” expressing the values of the Bet Midrash but appropriate for the modern, secular and enlightened world, with Ben-Gurion’s approach that saw in the Bible the unique basis for the New Hebrew Culture.

16. Bialik, Halacha and Aggadah 

http://www.academia.edu/2235210/Bialik_Halacha_and_Aggadah

17. Because the 10th of Tevet has been recognized as “The Day of the General Kaddish” it is appropriate to reference “On the Slaughter” even though it was written in response to Kishinev, decades before the Holocaust. But a few other poems are also listed below.

אֶל הַצִפּוֹר / חיים נחמן ביאליק

 

שָׁלוֹם רָב שׁוּבֵךְ, צִפֹּרָה נֶחְמֶדֶת,

מֵאַרְצוֹת הַחֹם אֶל-חַלּוֹנִי –

אֶל קוֹלֵךְ כִּי עָרֵב מַה-נַּפְשִׁי כָלָתָה

בַּחֹרֶף בְּעָזְבֵךְ מְעוֹנִי.

 

בִּרְכַּת עָם

 

תֶּחֱזַקְנָה יְדֵי כָל-אַחֵינוּ הַמְחוֹנְנִים

עַפְרוֹת אַרְצֵנוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר הֵם שָׁם;

אַל יִפֹּל רוּחֲכֶם – עַלִּיזִים, מִתְרוֹנְנִים

בֹּאוּ שְׁכֶם אֶחָד לְעֶזְרַת הָעָם!

. . .
אַל-תֹּאמְרוּ: קָטֹנּוּ – הֲטֶרֶם תִּתְבּוֹנְנוּ

פְּנֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב הַהוֹלְכִים בַּקְּרָב;

מִימֵי זְרֻבָּבֶל יָדֵינוּ לֹא-כוֹנְנוּ

מִפְעַל אַדִּירִים כָּמֹהוּ וָרָב.

From Ba-Ir HaHarega

קוּם לֵךְ לְךָ אֶל עִיר הַהֲרֵגָה וּבָאתָ אֶל-הַחֲצֵרוֹת,

וּבְעֵינֶיךָ תִרְאֶה וּבְיָדְךָ תְמַשֵּׁשׁ עַל-הַגְּדֵרוֹת

וְעַל הָעֵצִים וְעַל הָאֲבָנִים וְעַל-גַּבֵּי טִיחַ הַכְּתָלִים

אֶת-הַדָּם הַקָּרוּשׁ וְאֶת-הַמֹּחַ הַנִּקְשֶׁה שֶׁל-הַחֲלָלִים.

….

וְרָאִיתָ בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֵיפֹה הָיוּ מִתְחַבְּאִים

אַחֶיךָ, בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וּבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם שֶׁל-הַמַּכַּבִּים,

נִינֵי הָאֲרָיוֹת שֶׁבְּ”אַב הָרַחֲמִים” וְזֶרַע הַ”קְּדוֹשִׁים”.

עֶשְׂרִים נֶפֶשׁ בְּחוֹר אֶחָד וּשְׁלֹשִׁים שְׁלֹשִׁים,

וַיְגַדְּלוּ כְבוֹדִי בָּעוֹלָם וַיְקַדְּשׁוּ שְׁמִי בָּרַבִּים…

מְנוּסַת עַכְבָּרִים נָסוּ וּמַחֲבֵא פִשְׁפְּשִׁים הָחְבָּאוּ,

וַיָמוּתוּ מוֹת כְּלָבִים שָׁם בַּאֲשֶׁר נִמְצָאוּ,

וְהֵגִיחוּ בַעֲלֵיהֶן מֵחוֹרָם וְרָצוּ בֵית-אֱלֹהִים

וּבֵרְכוּ עַל-הַנִּסִּים שֵׁם אֵל יִשְׁעָם וּמִשְׂגַּבָּם;

וְהַכֹּהֲנִים שֶׁבָּהֶם יֵצְאוּ וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ אֶת רַבָּם:

“רַבִּי! אִשְׁתִּי מָה הִיא? מֻתֶּרֶת אוֹ אֲסוּרָה?” –

וְהַכֹּל יָשׁוּב לְמִנְהָגוֹ, וְהַכֹּל יַחֲזֹר לְשׁוּרָה.

 

אִםיֵשׁ אֶתנַפְשְׁךָ לָדַעַת

 

אִם-יֵשׁ אֶת-נַפְשְׁךָ לָדַעַת אֶת-הַמַּעְיָן

מִמֶּנּוּ שָׁאֲבוּ אַחֶיךָ הַמּוּמָתִים

בִּימֵי הָרָעָה עֹז כָּזֶה, תַּעֲצוּמוֹת נָפֶשׁ,

צֵאת שְׂמֵחִים לִקְרַאת מָוֶת, לִפְשֹׁט אֶת-הַצַּוָּאר

אֶל-כָּל-מַאֲכֶלֶת מְרוּטָה, אֶל-כָּל-קַרְדֹּם נָטוּי,

לַעֲלוֹת עַל-הַמּוֹקֵד, לִקְפֹּץ אֶל-הַמְּדוּרָה,

וּבְ”אֶחָד” לָמוּת מוֹת קְדוֹשִׁים –

On The Slaughter1

By Chaim Nachman Bialik

Translated by A.Z. Foreman

 

Mercy O Heavens, beg mercy for me!

If a god be in you2, with a way in you,

A way that I never knew

Pray ye unto him for me!

My own heart is dead, prayer drained from my tongue.

The hands lie limp, and hope undone.

How long? Until when? How long?

 

Executioner! Here is my neck, for you,

Your axe and right hand. Put me down like a dog.

The world is my chopping block.

And we’re just Jews, just a few.

My blood is fair game, from the struck skull you sever,

Our blood be on you, from our children and elders,

Staining your raiment forever.

 

If Justice there be, let it now shine forth!

But if it wait till I’m killed from under the sky

To shine, let Justice die

And its throne be thrown to the earth

And heaven rot with eternal wrong.

Ye wicked, go forth in this your brute force,

And live in your blood6, a cleansed throng.

 

And cursèd be he that saith: avenge this!

Such vengeance for blood of babe and maiden

Hath yet to be wrought by Satan.

Let blood just pierce the abyss

And pierce the abysmal black of creation

And there in the dark devour and corrode

This Earth’s whole rotting foundation!

http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.com/search/label/Bialik

 

 

 

 

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On Translation, the Fasts of Tevet, the “December Dilemma,” and the Hebrew Language

Some thoughts on reviewing an essay I wrote back in 2002 about Asarah b’Tevet

Seth Ward

I posted this essay two days ago, as I wanted it to be posted before the Tenth of Tevet. I realized later that there were a few important corrections to minor points, and removed it to be reedited, which I have now accomplished.

While editing this morning I learned of the passing of Miriam Goldberg, the mother of Rabbi Goldberg, whose comments I discuss in the essay. Mrs. Goldberg was quite a lady, for decades and decades, the publisher of the Intermountain Jewish News. May her memory be a blessing.

——-

This post is largely an essay I wrote some time ago. Even these remarks, before the essay, are based on something I wrote some time ago, although this introduction has been more carefully edited in 2017 than the essay below.

This essay – as it stands – talks about the importance of Hebrew and connects it to a “season” of fasts referred to in the liturgy of the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet. The starting point was a talk at the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue by Dr. Hillel Goldberg, also published as an essay in the Newspaper of which he is the Editor, the Intermountain Jewish News.

I have used some of the ideas I first developed in this essay in various ways in talks around the time of the Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast that falls in late December or early January. I have used this and related material about the Tenth of Tevet often over the past years to talk about one or more of five themes: Translation and Hebrew; the December Dilemma; Laying siege to Jerusalem (or learning about its destruction); Ha-Kaddish ha-Kelali and the way we remember the Holocaust; and Chaim Nachman Bialik. The first two relate not to the 10th of Tevet but to the 8th and 9th of the month; Bialik’s birthday was the 10th of Tevet, and it has been declared a day for remembering him.  Usually these talks—most often at the Allied Jewish Senior Apartments (now Kavod Senior Living), where I have run Sabbath morning services for over two decades, or at the EDOS or similar locations, and they are very limited in time, so I do not have the scope to develop the ideas at length.

I strongly support arguments for the necessity of Hebrew to understand Bible, and by extension, all of what we call “Torah” in the widest sense, and as a central value in Judaism. Perhaps this should be linked to the fast of the 8th of Tevet, found in an appendix to Megillat Ta’anit and copied into the Shulhan Arukh. Megillat Ta’anith is usually considered quite early; mostly assembled in the early first Christian assembly and completed in the early 2nd century, but the Hebrew commentary and appendix are usually considered to be much later.

It has not been possible to edit the essay below very much from that time, and I do not believe that I ever published it or posted it on a weblog. I did, however, collect primary sources, and organize it as a very brief “Shiur” in the EDOS. According to my records, the source sheet was prepared at the end of 2011.

The Fast of the 9th of Tevet may have been observed in the time of the Tannaim—the putative time of Megillat Taanit or in the early Islamic period, the time in which the appendix was written down, although I do not believe there much evidence for this. The most important reference to it actually being observed may well be Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud’s discussion of the death of Joseph Ha-Nagid in Spain (30 December 1066) at the hands of a popular uprising against the powerful vizier, inspired by an inflammatory antisemitic poem.

Some modern sources (including Internet discussions) talk about a “season” described by the 8th-9th and 10th of Tevet. There is some justification for this as some of the Selihot for the 10th of Tevet mention events such as the death of Ezra which are usually ascribed to the 8th or 9th, but I am not sure that this should be considered more than an erudite reference to some fasts listed in the list of fasts included in editions of Megillat Taanit and more importantly, in the Shulhan Arukh. These are fasts that are no longer relevant and mostly forgotten by the Jewish people. It seems to me important that our normative tradition has included references to these other observances in liturgical poetry, including the poem by Yosef ben Shmuel Bonfils (Tov Elem) recited in the Selihot for the day,[1]  but resisted the proliferation of references such as “five things[2] that happened on or near Asarah Be- Tevet” as a frequently-invoked passage in Mishnah Taanit (4:6) does with the 17th of Tammuz and especially with Tish’a Be-Av, when events of the 7th and 10th of Av are included. At least it has resisted doing so until the advent of the Internet.

In modern times though, the 10th of Tevet has added some new dimensions. It is also used to mark the Holocaust, without implying that anything happened on this day. The Israeli Rabbinate has declared it “The day of General Kaddish” and, for example, the British Book of Authorized Selihot by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld has included in the ritual for the Tenth of Tevet a modern piyyut by S. Fundaminsky (and edited by Rosenfeld) memorializing the victims of the Holocaust.[3] Perhaps it is significant to note that in November 2005, the United Nations adopted a Holocaust Memorial Day on the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, January 27, closer to the 10th of Tevet, rather than Israel’s Yom Ha-Zikkaron laSho’a ve-lagevurah “Holocaust and Heroism Day” in Nisan, usually April or May—although I would not argue the General Kaddish is linked in any way to the date of the liberation of Auschwitz or conversely, the Israeli initiative to have the UN establish January 27th as an international day of remembrance is linked to the 10th of Tevet in any way, without further research; neither linkage seems particularly likely to me at this stage.

As it happens, I had the opportunity to ask Rabbi David Stav about Ha-Kaddish Ha-Kelali this morning, after Shaharit on the Tenth of Tevet—and with Rosenfeld’s Selihot open to Fundaminsky’s poem. “מדברים על זה –“—“People speak about it” he said, but no one actually does anything about it

The 9th of Tevet has been suggested to be a dies natalis “birthdate” related to what was perceived as a calamity (see my essay); in our own times the Tenth of Tevet is noted as the natal day of Chaim Nachman Bialik, whose contributions to Hebrew language in general, to poetry, to awareness of Aggadah, to Hebrew literature and Zionist thought could easily be seen as nothing less than playing a key role in the restoration of Hebrew, part of the “beginning of the flowering of redemption.” Of particular note is Bialik’s important work of translation of the Aggadah from an archaic Hebrew register with many Aramaic words difficult for modern readers of Hebrew, into a more modern Hebrew retaining the flavor of Rabbinic language but fully accessible to contemporaries.

Looking over the essay, one of the thoughts that deserves better development than given in this essay is the whole “December Dilemma” idea. I referenced this concept in the title of the essay, but it is a more serious issue that deserves more than a reference to the Ninth of Tevet (or for that matter to the curious practice of Nittl Nacht, another topic I have lectured on and posted sources about).

Finally—the source sheet I developed for the talk at EDOS was not really designed for circulation. But I have edited it and posted it as well.

Seth Ward

On Translation, the Fasts of Tevet, the “December Dilemma,” and the Hebrew Language

Seth Ward

“. . . There is no short cut to the penetration of the Hebrew Bible. There is no escaping the study of the Hebrew language.”-Dr. Hillel Goldberg, Intermountain Jewish News, December 20, 2002

The centrality of Hebrew language study to understanding the Bible—and indeed to any Jewish endeavor—was eloquently voiced last year at this time by the Executive Editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, in the framework of an editorial largely based on a Devar Torah he had offered the previous Saturday morning. Based on the date in the Jewish calendar, Rabbi Goldberg used the occasion to discuss the Fasts of Tevet, including not only the Tenth of Tevet, a fast day observed in 2002 on Sunday, December 15, but the Eighth and Ninth of Tevet, using especially the Eighth of Tevet to argue passionately for the importance of the Hebrew language to understanding the Hebrew Bible and the values it mandates for Judaism. Indeed, Goldberg grounded the importance not merely in Rabbinic thought, but in Divine inspiration: He spoke of the Tenth of Tevet, as “marking a season, not simply a day;” in which case, the prophetic establishment of the Fast of Tevet—underscored by Goldberg—would include the message of the 8th and 9th as well. (I am not necessarily convinced that there are Prophetic grounds for either the establishment or meaning of the “Tevet Season” beyond the Tenth of Tevet, and tend to prefer the idea of Ibn Ezra (on Zechariah 8:18-19) that the fasts mentioned in that verse were instituted by the community, much as had been the fasts and feasts of Adar mentioned in Megillat Esther (9:27).[1]

The crucial value of Hebrew is indisputable in some circles, yet the reality of the American Jewish community is that it bears repeating from time to time. Goldberg’s talk suggests that the fasts of the second week of Tevet are a good time to reflect on Hebrew, on translation issues, and on understanding the Bible in the Diaspora, points to be addressed in the present essay. Indeed, it may be that this “season” relates explicitly to what is often called the “December Dilemma”—and offers better correctives.

  1. The Fasts of Tevet

While Jewish tradition knows of several events commemorated in the first half of Tevet, they are independent of each other. Jewish tradition recognizes only the 10th of Tevet as an obligatory public fast. Before the Internet, the 8th and 9th were sidebars to study of fasts and feasts in the Jewish calendar—miscellaneous dates put in postscripts and marginal notes, as we shall see. The Internet has not really changed this, but it has made several essays mentioning them more readily available.

The 10th of Tevet is one of four mandatory fasts mentioned, which are discussed at the very beginning of the section on laws of fasting in the Shulhan Arukh. (549:1). The four fasts are mentioned in the Biblical book of Zechariah (8:19), which also refers to the fasts of the fourth, fifth and seventh month. While the days of the month observed as Fast Days were presumably known in Zechariah’s time, they are the subject of Rabbinic discussion, including the precise date of the “Fast of the Tenth Month.” The discussion of this issue in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18b) starts with the assumption that the fast is on the 10th of Tevet, the day in which G-d commands Ezekiel to “write the name of the day for on this very day the King of Babylonia set himself against (samakh) Jerusalem, this same day.” (Ezekiel 24:1-2). The date of the siege is also referred to in Jeremiah 39:1, and the nearly identical  passages Jeremiah 52:4-5 and 2 Kings 25:1-2. (Many commentators on the Shulhan Arukh passage combine language from Ezekiel and Jeremiah/Kings, but this is not done in the Talmud). A second view assigns it to the 5th of Tevet, when Ezekiel heard about the fall of Jerusalem from a refugee (Ez 33:21). This view is rejected.[2]

Both viewpoints recorded in the Talmud consider the Fast of the Tenth Month one of the four fasts instituted around the occurrences of the fall of Jerusalem. There is no assumption that there were multiple events associated with the same fast—as is the case for Ninth of Av and the 17th of Tammuz (Rosh Hashanah 18b). In modern times, however, the Israeli Rabbinate has declared the 10th of Tevet to be “The day of General Kaddish” (without indicating that anything in particular happened on this day. Presumably this is the reason that Rabbi Abraham I. Rosenfeld composed an elegy for the Six Million to be recited on this occasion, included his Authorized Selihot.

The 8th of Tevet is indeed one of the dates on which “evil befell our ancestors and it is suitable to fast on them,” according to a postscript to the laws of fasting in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Hayyim 580:1-2). The 9th of Tevet is also mentioned as a fast day, although “no one knows why.” (580:2). This passage follows the Tur and is based largely on an appendix to Megillat Ta’anit. The main part of Megillat Ta’anit is a list of days on which fasting and in some cases eulogies were not permitted, which mostly dates to the time just before the Temple was destroyed, but the appendix is from much later, perhaps after the close of the Talmud.[3] In any case, it was “cancelled” by the Rabbis;[4] perhaps the reason that there is no mention of the minor fasts, for example, in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, although it was cited in other major compositions.[5]

Thus we see that neither the Fast of the 8th nor of the 9th of Tevet are part of Biblical, Prophetic or Talmudic discourse, and must be firmly distinguished from the Fast of the 10th of Tevet, one of four fasts relating to the fall of Jerusalem.

  1. 9th of Tevet: “The Fast of the Dies Natalis

The link to the “December Dilemma” rests in part on the identification of the 9th of Tevet. The appendix to Megillat Ta’anit says “Our Masters did not write what this was about.” Some assume this was the date of death of Ezra or of Ezra and Nehemiah, but several other dates of death are given for these individuals, including 2 Tevet (Ginzberg, Legends 6:447) and 10 Tevet itself. Moreover, it is hard to imagine why the Rabbis would have refused to write down the reason for a fast based on this event.

The medieval historian Ibn Da’ud wrote that the ancient fast presaged the assassination of Joseph Ha-Nagid in Granada on this day in 4827 (Saturday, December 30, 1066):

Indeed, a fast had been decreed for the ninth of Tebet as far back as the days of our ancient rabbis, who composed Megillat Ta ‘anit; but the reason had not been known. From this [incident] we see that they had pointed prophetically to this very day.[6]

The late E.J. Wiesenberg, author of articles about the Jewish months and calendar in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, connected this date with what he calls “the dies natalis in 3761.” (Article “Teveth”). Dies natalis means birthday; according to the calculations used today, the 9th of Tevet in the Jewish year 3761 corresponded with 25 December, 1 B.C.E.  His comment is based on an anonymous informant cited in the commentary Tosafot Hadashim in the Vilna edition of Megillat Ta’anit 22b: “I heard from a great man that on that day Oto ha-Ish [‘that man’—a reference to Jesus] was born,” although Wiesenberg, with his interest in chronology, could and probably did check the date out for himself.[7]

The celebration of the birth of oto ha-Ish on December 25 did not become standard for several centuries in the Christian world, nor was the dating of this event to 1 BCE standard before the publication of the Easter calculations of Dionysius Exiguus in the early 6th century—but this is consistent with the post-Talmudic dating of the appendix to Megillat Ta’anit.

It is interesting to speculate about the relative value of marking this occasion by a fast determined by the Jewish calendar. In Eastern Europe at least, some Jews marked the anniversary of this event by playing card-games—but as far as I can tell, they did so on the day celebrated by their Christian neighbors, not on the anniversary of the date in the Jewish calendar. The practice of card-playing on Christmas was described, for example, by the adventurer and author of Hatikva, Naphtali Hertz Imber, in an essay for the Rocky Mountain News.[8]

  1. The Fast of the Faulty Translation

We next must explore more fully the fast associated with the Eighth of Tevet. Megilat Ta’anit says: “On the eighth of Tevet, the Torah was written in Greek in the days of King Ptolemy, and darkness came to the land for three days.” A parallel text is found in the tractate Sofrim, “Scribes,” one of the “minor tractates” of the Talmud, and, like Megillat Ta’anit, strictly speaking, outside the normal canon of the Talmud. [9]  We read in Tractate Sofrim 1:7: “Five Elders wrote the Torah in Greek for Ptolemy. This day was as difficult for Israel as the day in which the Golden Calf was made, for lo hayta ha-torah yekhola lehitargem kol tzarkah the Torah could not be translated adequately.” No date is given for this event.

The next passage in Sofrim refers to the translation of the Bible by 72 elders, also arranged by Ptolemy, in which miraculously, all 72 produced identical translations even though they worked independently, and Sofrim notes 13 places in which they diverged from the Hebrew. This story is known from the Letter of Aristeas and is also referred to in the Talmud, Megilla 9a.

Neither passage equates it with sin or darkness, thus leading us to suggest that there are two distinct stories of translations ascribed to this period—one by five and one by 72 scholars. It is not clear that the stories ought to be combined as, for example, was suggested by the medieval chronicle Sefer Yuhasin by Abraham Zacuto.  Zacuto wrote that Ptolemy originally commissioned the translation of the five scholars and, unhappy with the result, gathered the 72. (It should be noted, however, that the editors of the traditional edition of Sofrim were aware of a different manuscript in which there is only one translation). Without further details, it is difficult to know whether the result of the Faulty Translation was merely theologically problematic, linked to a physical event remembered as “darkness,” or led to a particular repression memorialized on the 8th of Tevet. (Borrowing a thought from the “Dies Natalis” idea, can this be a reference to the days surrounding December 25 in 1 BCE?) In any event, the three days of darkness—which would be the 8th, 9th and 10th of Tevet—is the only reference I found in classic sources that is consistent with the notion expressed by Dr. Goldberg of a “season” for the Fast of Tevet.

  1. Translations in Judaism.

There are many remarks about translation and alphabets in Rabbinic works, including languages or scripts which could be used, and comments about various Greek and Aramaic translators. These are highly germane but only a limited discussion can be attempted here. In practice, the Torah has been translated often since the Greek versions, and most traditional Hebrew editions of the Pentateuch include a translation—the Targum Onkelos—as well as the commentary of Rashi, who cites it liberally and has no qualms about translating individual words into French.  Translations also became intrinsic to other texts: in Eastern Europe, Torah, Talmud, the Passover Haggadah and other texts were often studied and recited with a Yiddish translation for each phrase; many Sephardic and Eastern Jewish communities had line-by-line or paragraph-by-paragraph translations into Aramaic, Arabic or Ladino. Interestingly, Soferim puts the difficulty in past tense and describes it as a partial problem, “The Torah was not able to be translated adequately”—not “The Torah cannot be translated.”

This latter opinion is in fact the standard Islamic attitude towards scriptural translation, which may be stated as “the Qur’an is itself a miracle and not able to be translated at all.” Although translations of the Qur’an into English are readily available today, traditional Islamic cultures produced Persian or Turkish extended paraphrases, rather than exact translations. Children who could not understand Arabic memorized Qur’an passages in Arabic, never translations.

Unlike the situation in Islam, translation has been an accepted part of Jewish culture. The story of the translations referred to above shows reticence about translations—which are likely to be inadequate and lead to disaster. But it also shows that translations can succeed and must reflect the unique needs of the audience. Whatever issues there were originally, Judaism has come to value a literal understanding of scripture for all, including those who needed to follow along in their everyday language, not Hebrew. In ancient times there were translators who translated each verse as it was read—and were required to do so orally, without a text. “What is written down must remain written down, what is oral must remain oral.” Written texts were no doubt used, and even oral translations may not have been extemporized but memorized, but presumably an oral translation would be more likely to keep in tune with popular understanding than a written one.

Nevertheless, the Torah is always read in the synagogue in Hebrew. The Targum, the Yiddish or Ladino, or for that matter the English is printed or recited together with the Hebrew text in books available to congregants, but an all-Hebrew Torah Scroll is retained. Torah is recited in Hebrew, but interpreted in the language of the people. The practice which the Jewish community has by and large come to adopt is thus not the Greek-only version prepared for the non-Jewish monarch, but one in which translations are available but the Hebrew text is still privileged and paramount. Understanding it—in the kind of detail that translations and commentaries offer—is also intrinsic to our approach, as is the presence of the Hebrew, telling us we must understand the interpretation only in conjunction with the Hebrew text.

Curiously, parallels with attitudes towards scriptural translation in Islam and Christianity are also instructive here. Lacking the privileged position of the Hebrew or Arabic texts in Jewish and Islamic ritual, issues of translation seem far more explosive in Christian churches than they are in Judaism and Islam, although, to be sure, different approaches to translation issues clearly differentiate the translations adopted in the various Jewish movements.

  1. Translation vs. transliteration

Dr. Goldberg’s illustration for the inadequacy of translation of individual words was the Hebrew word baheret, usually understood as a kind of bright spot in the flesh. (According to both traditional Eastern European pronunciation and the unique transliteration system adopted by Artscroll, this word is transliterated baheres). Readers of the translation in the Artscroll Bible will find the transliteration rather than a translation of this Hebrew word.

Baheret is part of a passage on tzara‘at (Standard Eastern European Hebrew: tzoro’as, Artscroll  system: tzara’as), usually translated leprosy. Here, too, Artscroll finds it better to transliterate than to translate, with a lengthy comment explaining why they did so. Of course, many of the predecessors of Artscroll, including the Targum and Rashi printed in the Artscroll edition, were able to translate this word. One could therefore say that Artscroll also “did not translate the adequately,” to paraphrase the failure of the five translators, as they did not translate it at all. In other words, one might even argue, contra Goldberg, that the position adopted by Artscroll is open to the same criticism as that which is leveled at the Faulty Translation of 8th Tevet. To be sure, the account of the two translations does not tell us more about how the five translators failed. But it does tell us how the 72 succeeded. To be sure, it required the miraculous intervention of heaven, but they rendered potentially confusing passages in ways that made the Bible palatable and understandable to Greek readers. (One might still, however, argue that Artscroll is correct to prefer not to translate, not merely because the Torah cannot be translated but because in our days ein somkhin al ha-nes “one doesn’t rely on the miracle” that their editorial board would come up with exactly the right translation, as was reported regarding the translation of the 72.)

ArtScroll came to the conclusion that we cannot translate tzara’at at all. Once having made this conclusion, it is easy to understand why they found it difficult to translate some of the markers of leprosy. While it may be that those who understand Hebrew will immediately connect baheret with bahir “clear,” as is typical of most translations, the purpose of transliterating the term is paradoxically to tell us that we cannot make this connection—for   otherwise presumably Artscroll would have translated it!

ArtScroll comes to similar conclusions about the Tetragrammaton (ArtScroll generally renders Hashem; the Hebrew means “the Name”),[10] and many other Hebrew words.

This type of question comes up, perhaps, most frequently with names of holidays or unique practices or items for which there are either no equivalents in English, or the English equivalents are considered cumbersome, archaic or “non-Jewish.” In works produced a generation ago, one may have encountered Tabernacles or Pentecost to refer to Sukkot or Shavuot; these would probably be considered more typical of Christian usage today, as would the use of “Festival of Lights” and “dietary observance” for Chanukah or Kashrut in most contexts directed at a Jewish, synagogue audience.

Dr. Goldberg’s other example is a midrash about the wagons (‘agalot) sent by Joseph to Jacob, which were said to have reminded him of the portion of the Torah they had been studying together 22 years before (about ‘eglot, “calves” or more specifically about the eglah arufa Deut. 21:1ff.). Midrash almost always addresses specific issues raised by the language of a Biblical text. As many who follow recent trends in modern literary criticism can attest, all too often the midrashic endeavor is misunderstood and misappropriated (especially by those with limited Hebrew ability). Some midrashim-like the one cited here-would not occur to anyone who studies only in translation, indeed cannot be understood by those who cannot read or visualize the Hebrew alphabet. Yet this interpretation still would likely occur only to those familiar with the midrash, and frankly, the midrash is not necessary to understand the simple meaning this of the passage.

Every page of almost any Jewish commentary on the Bible is likely to have remarks, midrash, grammatical points or other statements for which Hebrew knowledge is indispensable. Goldberg explained the midrash well, and argues that the lesson it teaches about the power of parents and children studying Torah together is an important part of the Bible text itself. I am not sure that when he suggests that such meanings are “encoded” into the Hebrew text, he means they represent the literal sense of Scripture. But all translations interpret. Indeed, even not translating, for example, by using a transliteration or by using Hashem “the [Divine] Name” to refer to the Deity (as discussed elsewhere briefly in this essay) is a kind of interpretation. And it is important to draw the line somewhere between what is in the text, and what is derivable from the text or even “encoded” in it. From a traditional point of view, perhaps we should say that anything less negates the sanctity of the interpretive process—for the interpretations, no less than the Sacred Text itself, were, according to tradition, handed down at Sinai. If it is all in the text, then why bother with noting the sanctity of the commentary?

Indeed, all Jewish values are “encoded” into the study of Torah, and this study is “encoded” into all Jewish history, into all Jewish life. The Hebraic element is more obvious in Israel than in the diaspora; even totally secular discussions by totally secular people will make use of terms taken from Jewish tradition—the use of Hebrew making the reference more obvious. The argument for Hebrew should therefore be far more powerful: “there can be no escaping the study of the Hebrew language”-not merely for penetrating the Hebrew Bible but for gaining meaning and understanding of the practices and beliefs, ethical teachings, history and community imperatives of Judaism. Hebrew language is essential for a Jewish reading the Hebrew Bible-but also for understanding the enduring cultural and ethical achievements of our tradition.

  1. Hebrew and Diaspora

The Tenth of Tevet is not “a season” but it and the other two fasts are very suggestive for us when taken together, living here in the Diaspora. Perhaps the Megillat Ta’anit edition and Professor Wiesenberg are right and the 9th of Tevet is “The Fast of the Dies Natalis.” In this case it represents a particular view of the religious culture that happens to surround us. (If we accept this, however, we should also note that this interpretation was unknown to medieval chronographers like Ibn Daud, is not preserved in the standard sources, and had to be “discovered” in modern times).

If fast of the 10th is considered to have been instituted by Ezekiel, it is especially meaningful to us as the earliest practice initiated in the Diaspora to express solidarity with Jerusalem. In any case, the Four Fasts retained their prominence, but the other Fasts of Tevet did not: ultimately it was the centrality of Jerusalem that won out over the values enshrined in the other fast days.

The Fast of the Faulty Translation reflects upon something we do every day: explain Bible and Judaism to our neighbors, and to ourselves. It warns us that translation is necessarily incomplete, and if we cannot translate it to meet our needs completely, we run the risk of bringing darkness where we hoped to bring light, indeed, of going the way of those who worshiped the golden calf. To do so, we need Hebrew knowledge.

Prophecy ceased with Malachi, but our Jewish community continues to be strong. We saw with the Fast of Tevet that Ibn Ezra emphasized the role of the community in instituting and accepting the practice. So too, here: in the absence of miracles or prophets, it is the Jewish Community which has to uphold and affirm the value of Hebrew knowledge-here in the diaspora as well as in Israel-in communal events, Jewish  identity, ethical teachings as well as Bible study. We cannot simply derive a lesson from an obscure practices based on non-canonic Rabbinic literature-or simply point out instances of transliteration or midrash. We must actively seek to integrate Hebrew study and to promote Hebrew awareness, in our schools and congregations, in our agencies, in organized courses of study and individual classes run for adults.

Newspapers such as the Intermountain Jewish News are addressed to the Jewish community and can and should also seek ways to increase the visibility and indispensability of Hebrew in our community. Perhaps they can institute a column in Hebrew, or list Jewish educational institutions and available Hebrew courses the same way they list synagogues. Merely stating the importance of Hebrew and tying it to a discontinued observance does not do justice to the transcendent value of Hebrew for which Dr. Goldberg’s essay argued.

Seth Ward

[1] Discussion of the prophetic standing is linked in some sources to the question of whether the fasts associated with the destruction of the Temple were observed while the Temple was standing, and who ruled that this should be so; all this is beyond our scope here.

[2] Although in other contexts (e.g. the date of the Flood, where the start of the flood in the “second month” is said by some to refer to Marheshvan, the beginning of the rainy season) there is a discussion about whether the enumeration of the months starts from Nisan or some other point in the year, I am not aware of any attempt to place the fasts of Zechariah 8:19 in different months.

[3] Megillat Ta’anit, Vilna 5653. Viewed on line http://www.shechem.org/torah/megtan/tsomot.html (last checked July 23, 2003). This edition suggests that the appendix may be post-Talmudic, 21b, an opinion shared by the Encyclopedia Judaica, article “Megillat Ta’anit.”  Authorship is ascribed to a pre-Destruction figure, Shabbat 13b, with the possible exception of two dates, the events in the main part of the work predate the destruction of the Temple.

[4] On the cancellation of Megillat Ta’anit: Rosh Hashana 18b, Yerushalmi Ta’anit 2:13, 16a.

[5] The Vilna edition indicates it was cited by Halachot Gedolot, Siddur Rav Amram Gaon, Mahzor Vitry p. 271, Kol Bo paragraph 63, Shahal (?) 275, and Tur OH. 580, with the Levush, Bet Yosef, and Ba”h, who cites a commentary on this by Rabbenu Asher. It has not been possible to check these sources comprehensively at this time.

[6] This comment was also found in medieval glosses to Megillat Ta’anit. Gerson Cohen, Sefer Ha-Qabbalah by Abraham Ibn Da’ud JPS 1967, English, p. 76 n., references Neubauer and Zulay for this. On sources of the fast he references Lieberman, Shkiin 10, and refers also to Margoliot Areshet 1943-44 pp. 215ff. and Zimmels Ashkenazim and Sephardim, p, 160. I have not yet been able to examine these sources.

[7] A footnote reconstructs the calendar date for Tekufat Tevet, citing the work of Refael Gordon in Nahal Eden. I have not been able to examine this source. According to my computer program, applying today’s calculated calendar to the date 9 Tevet 3761, the corresponding date is Saturday, December 25, 1 BCE.

[8] Thanks to Jeanne Abrams for originally providing me with this reference many years ago.

[9] I have used the traditional Vilna Talmud edition of Sofrim.

[10] In editing these comments, I note that overall, ArtScroll’s rendering of the Tetragrammaton—the “four letter name” of the Deity—as Hashem, “the Name,” is somewhat dependent upon the way “the Name” is pronounced, and possibly on whether it is considered “holy” or “profane.” Obviously, the Tetragrammaton remains “The Name” regardless of the pronunciation used in synagogue reading of the Torah, or for that matter in the cases where tradition asserts that the Tetragrammaton in fact does not refer to God. For example, in Gen. 15:2, Abraham addresses the Deity in a way that is pronounced the same way, according to tradition, as the Divine reference in Gen 2:5; except the usage in 15:2 is often rendered “Lord GOD,” with the capital letters refer to the fact that the Tetragrammaton is used for the second term, unlike the usage for the first term in Gen. 2:5. ArtScroll renders the Divine reference in Gen. 15:2 as “Lord HASHEM/ELOHIM” (see also Deut. 3:24).

I note with interest that ArtScroll discusses profane and holy references to the Deity (See Talmud tractate Shevuot 35b) in Gen. 18. Interestingly, the first reference to the Tetragrammaton in this chapter is not discussed as “profane” vs. “holy” but is rendered “Hashem” rather than “HASHEM.”

But note that Hashem is used in ArtScroll Bibles designed for the public reading of Torah and in prayer books, even though one does not say “Hashem” in public reading of the Torah or in actual prayer, or pronouncing benedictions. In Hebrew practice (and the everyday English practice among many religious Jews), “Hashem” is an everyday reference to the Deity that may be pronounced without worrying about pronouncing a sacred name in a profane context—but would not be used when actually pronouncing a benediction or reading the Torah in public.

[1] Rosenfeld dates this poem to 1050, and it is found in all the liturgies for the Tenth of Tevet that I looked at.

[2] דברים “things”—although many of the references talk about five “events” or five “calamities” or Mishnah text has the more neutral “things happened.” Although all of them are treated as setbacks potentially worthy of declaring a fast day, I note the neutral-language introduction because I often include a discussion of Bialik and the recitations associated with Ha-Kaddish HaKelali when I have given short talks on the subject.

[3] The Authorized Selihot apparently dates form 1956 although I was able to examine only an edition from 1984. The piyyut is very beautiful. I could not quickly find much about Dr. Shlomo Fundaminsky, who was active for years in the London Board for Jewish Religious Education, and wrote books such as Modern Hebrew Composition Course and New Hebrew Grammar. A grammarian, he was cited by a blogger for publishing a letter-to-the-editor during a commenting that there is a dagesh in the ז אשכנזי that should be respected, and the term transliterated “Ashkenazzi” (with two z’s). I do not think that this necessarily had anything to do with Fundaminsky’s beliefs about whether religious education or synagogue pronunciation should or should not switch to modern Israeli pronunciation, as the blogger seemed to infer. But I am grateful to one of his respondents, who included a brief appreciation of Dr. Fundaminsky. . http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-hebrew-pronunciation-controversy-in.html

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