Added English abstracts

I added the English abstracts to my previous post.

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  תכנית ותקצירים–ירושלים ערבה ונתניה–15-19 פברואר הרצאות ורב-שיח Seth Ward’s Lectures and Round Table, Jerusalem, Arava and Netanyah, February 15 through 19, 2018   Schedule and Abstracts

Dr. Seth Ward

 תכנית Schedule

15-16 Feb.:

Limmud Aravah (Sapir, Israel)

One lecture Thurs. PM and One Fri. AM on connections between Islamic and Jewish texts   (In Hebrew)

חיבורים בין יהדות לאסלאם:  “כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא”—במשנה ובמקורות יהודיים, בקראן ובאסלאם – על טכסטים מקבילים ועל קושי הדו-שיח

Connections between Judaism and Islam: “All who preserve a single life, Scripture considers as if they preserved an entire world”—in the Mishnah and Jewish Sources, and in the Qur’an and Islam: On parallel texts and the difficulty of dialogue.


“חיבורים: בית המקדש וירושלים בקוראן–ובמקורות מקבילים יהודיים “Connections between Judaism and Islam: On the Temple and Jerusalem in the Qur’an and in parallel Jewish texts.


16-17 Feb.:
Beit Bart (Jerusalem)

Scholar in Residence: One 45 minute talk, probably on similar topic to one of the Limmud talks, One 5 minute Dvar Torah on “Terumah” the weekly Torah reading (In Hebrew). There may be an additional opportunity to speak in English.


19 Feb. 4:45 PM
Netanya Academic College, Senate Hall.

Main Lecture for Round Table; title: התעוררות לשורשים יהודיים:גישות לזהות יהודית בקרב אוכלוסיית צאצאי האנוסים בארה”ב    (in Hebrew)

Awakening to Jewish Roots: Approaches to Jewish identity among populations of “Converso Descendants” in the USA.


19 Feb. 8 PM
AACI Netanya Beit Oleh America.

Current Trends in American Judaism: American Jews and Judaism in the light of Pew, Trump, Birthright, and “None of the Above” (In English)


 ותקצירים Abstracts


חיבורים בין יהדות לאסלאם:  “כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא”—במשנה ובמקורות יהודיים, בקראן ובאסלאם – על טכסטים מקבילים ועל קושי הדו-שיח


Connections between Judaism and Islam: “All who preserve a single life, Scripture considers as if they preserved an entire world”—in the Mishnah and Jewish Sources, and in the Qur’an and Islam: On parallel texts and the difficulty of dialogue.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב


האיסלאם הופיע בסביבה שבה הייתה תודעה רחבה לרעיונות יהודיים ונוצריים. לפעמים ברור שרק קווי היסוד של הסיפורים היו ידועים, אבל לפעמים בדיקה של טקסטים מקבילים מראה זיקה טקסטואלית בולטת בין שתי המסורות. בין הדוגמאות החשובות ניתן למצוא את המשנה המפורסמת ” כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא” המוכרת כיום בישראל מכמובן בהכרת יד ושם לחסידי אומות העולם, ממגן דוד אדום, ומקורות אחרים. המשנה ידועה גם מתוך הסרט רשימת שינדלר – (וככל הנראה ההתייחסות היא היסטורית; “יהודי שינדלר” באמת נתנו לשינדלר טבעת עם הכתובת הזאת). משנה זאת גם מופיעה בסרט תורכי על הצלת יהודים בשואה. להיסטוריה הטקסטואלית של טקסט זה במקורות היהודיים יש הרבה מה לומר על האוניברסליות היהודית – האם היא אכן חלה רק על יהודים או על האנושות כולה? ההקבלה הקוראנית משקפת בבירור את המקורות היהודיים, כולל התייחסות לקין ולהבל המצויינת במשנה – וכן יש פה אישור מוסלמי מובהק לתפיסה מסורתית למקורו של תורה שבעל פה בסיני. התפתחות של רעיון זה במקורות האיסלאמיים מראה הן את הבסיס האפשרי לשיתוף-פעולה בדו-שיח, ועם זאת גם את הקשיים הכרוכים בדיון משותף אפילו בטקסטים המראים בבירור קשר בולט בין יהדות לאסלאם.

Islam arose in an environment in which Jewish and Christian ideas were well known. Sometimes only the basic outlines of the stories were well known, but sometimes examination of parallel texts shows striking textual coherence between the two traditions.

Among the important examples is the famous statement “Those who preserve a single life preserve an entire world” familiar today of course from Yad Vashem’s recognition of Righteous Gentiles, from Magen David Adom, and other sources. This statement from the Mishnah is also well known from the film Schindler’s list. Apparently, the reference is historic; the Schindler’s Jews actually gave Schindler a ring with this inscription. It was also used in a Turkish film about saving Jews in the Holocaust.

The textual history of this passage in Jewish sources has much to say about Jewish universalism and exceptionalism—does it indeed apply only to Jews or to all humanity?

The Quranic parallel clearly reflects Jewish texts, including a reference to Cain and Abel found in the Mishnah—and a striking Islamic confirmation of the concept of the divine origin of Oral Torah, as the Qur’an cites the saying as a pronouncement of God.

Nevertheless, the development of this idea in Islamic sources show both the promise of shared discourse between Muslims and Jews–and also the difficulties involved even in texts that clearly show striking interdependence.


“חיבורים: בית המקדש וירושלים בקוראן–ובמקורות מקבילים יהודיים ”

Connections between Judaism and Islam: On the Temple and Jerusalem in the Qur’an and in parallel Jewish texts.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

לעתים קרובות שומעים כי הקוראן אף פעם לא מזכיר את ירושלים ואת בית המקדש, בעוד התורה מזכיר את ירושלים פעמים רבות. כמובן, המסורת היהודית מוצאת את ירושלים ואת בית המקדש פעמים רבות בחמישה חומשי תורה, אפילו שאינם מוזכרים במפורש (אם כי מוזכרים לעתים קרובות ב-נ”ח). באופן דומה טקסטים קוראניים ואסלאמיים מעידים בקלות על התייחסות לירושלים, לבית המקדש, ואפילו לבחירת ישראל כעם סגולה–וחלקם מקבילים בצורות מעניינות ומאלפות למה שנמסר בתנ”ך ובמדרש. אכן, אפשר לקרוא את הקוראן כספר ציוני! אבל קריאה זו אפשרית רק אם בוחרים בכמה פסוקים–ומתעלמים מאחרים שמציעים שעם ישראל נפסל והוחלף ב”מאמינים” –היינו באיסלאם. בהרצאה זו אעבור על מספר טקסטים מקבילים על ירושלים ועל ביה”מ בשתי הדתות ואנסה להסיק מסקנות על הדומה והנבדל והשלחותיהם.

One frequently hears that the Quran never mentions Jerusalem and the Temple, while the Torah mentions Jerusalem many times. Of course, while Jewish tradition frequently finds Jerusalem and Temple references in the Five Books of Moses, strictly speaking neither is mentioned by name (although both are mentioned often in other biblical books).

Qur’anic texts just as readily suggest reference to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and even to Jewish chosenness. Some have important and instructive parallels in Bible and Midrash. I’ve argued that the Qur’an may be read as a Zionist book–but only if one picks some verses and ignores others, that suggest that the Children of Israel have disappeared or are invalid or have been superceded by the “Believers” that is, by Islam. In this lecture I will discuss a few of the verses refer to Jerusalem and the Temple in both religious traditions, and offer some conclusions about what is similar and different, and the ramifications of these parallels.

[In editing the English version of this abstract it occurs to me that in this talk–and in the others I have put together for this tour–my professional / topographical perspective—teaching in the USA, and specifically in Wyoming—informs my topics. Jerusalem and especially the Temple Mount are explosive topics today in general. Something in the news at the time of presentation may well reshape the discourse of the session! In this topic especially, Islamic ways of reading the Qur’an are reflected in much of the contemporary Arab/Islamic discourse about this issue—parallel problems pertain to Israeli and for that matter US discourse as well. Deeper understanding of the sources won’t solve the issues necessarily, but the opposite—avoiding understanding, avoiding addressing the issues, cannot possibly be the best all-around strategy. –SW]


רב שיח: התעוררות לשורשים יהודיים: גישות לזהות יהודית בקרב אוכלוסיית צאצאי האנוסים בארה”ב

Awakening to Jewish Roots: Approaches to Jewish identity among populations of “Converso Descendants” in the USA.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב


בארצות הברית, כמו במקומות רבים אחרים בעולם, התעוררה התעניינות בשורשים היהודיים בכשלושים השנים האחרונות.  ההרצאה זאת תתמקד ב”קהילה” אחת באמריקה שבה בולט הדבר—בני האנוסים.  יש לציין שנאראטיבים יהודיים והיספאנים על האנוסים, באמריקה שלאחר מלחמת העולם השנייה, לא ידעו על סרידי יהדות בצאצאי האנוסים בזמננו. נעביר סקירה של ההיסטוריה והממדים של תופעת “חזרה ליהודות” בקרב קטע מהאוכלוסיה ההיספאנית באמריקנית, תחילה כיחידים, ולאחר מכן כתנועה רחבה, החל מפירסומים ושידורים באמצע שנות השמונים. כמו כן אזכיר התפתחויות שונות מאז ועד היום. לאחר ההקדמות האלה אמסור תוצאות המחקר שלי על גישות לזהות יהודית –ולהנחלת זהות יהודית—בקרב אוכלוסיה זאת– מחקר שנעשה ב 2016 עד 2017 ב”החברה למחקרים  קפריטו-יהודיים” (Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies). סקרים אלה מראים מחויבות עמוקה לזהות היהודית, אם כי לעתים קרובות בדרכים מפתיעות, למשל רבים מדגישים גנטיקה יותר מתוכן יהודי—ומאפיינים לתנועה זו נבדלים מאוכלוסיות שונות בארצות אחרות.  יש גם מקבילות מעניינות עם  ה”משיחית” (ובנצרות בכלל)  בארה”ב ועם החיפוס לשורשים אצל האפרו-אמריקנים גם באמצעות האיסלאם וגם באמצעות הרומן “שורשים” של אלכס היילי.

I propose to start with some background about the phenomenon. There’s no need to go back to the Iberian Peninsula in the 14-17th centuries, when many Jews became Christians; some hiding their Jewish identity (and most hiding their Jewish ancestry). But it’s important to include a brief overview of “remembered history” how the story of Converso loyalty to Judaism was told in the USA into the early post-World War II period, and to a certain extent in the Hispanic community of that era.

The early stages of what can be called the “US Crypto-Jewish movement” involved individuals discussing this heritage. It emerged as a movement with broad responses to publications and broadcasts in the mid-1980s, and various strands from then to the present. The final segment of my presentation briefly goes over some of the unique approaches I detect in the USA Crypto-Jewish phenomenon, including results of informal surveys at meetings of the Society for Crypto-Jewish Studies in 2016 and 2017.  These surveys show a deep commitment to some aspects of Jewish identity. And there are interesting combinations of identities, or narratives about how respondents came to this identity.

Often the most important mode of expression in this group is genealogical and genetic. In the past, I’ve noticed that those active in this group have a sense that Judaism is something that they are proud to have inherited, not so much something they have chosen, despite the reality that in the USA today, religion is more often in practice chosen rather than inherited. (This is so even when the choice is to continue an inherited religion). Even ethnic identity is something that is claimed rather than ingrained.

More important, speaking in Israel about the members of a group like the Society for Crypto Jewish Studies, many in this group have not made the kind of unambiguous association with Judaism that would be associated with Aliyah or with conversion or becoming active in a mainstream synagogue. Some have, but many prefer to assert that there is no need for them to do so, or to lament that a kind of Sephardic Judaism they wish for does not exist today. Moreover, the Society tries, sometimes sparking a lot of “drama,” to be a warm and welcoming environment for those seeking to express a Jewish identity, and for those interested in Jewish heritage but not interested in identifying as Jews by religion or ethnicity.  Conversations about identity of the next generation are as or more difficult than in any other segment of American society interested in passing along aspects of their identity but unsure about how best to do so.  There are interesting parallels with Messianic Judaism and “Jewish Roots” Christianity, and with the roots movement that perhaps should be traced to African-American search for roots via African-American Islam, or via Alex Haley’s novel Roots.



מגמות עכשוויות ביהדות אמריקה:

יהודי אמריקה ויהדותה לאור מחקרי “פיו”,  תופעת טראמפ, תגלית ו “אף אחד מן הנזכרים מעלה ”

Current Trends in American Judaism: American Jews and Judaism in the light of Pew, Trump, Birthright, and “None of the Above”

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

Seth Ward

Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies

University of Wyoming

The Pew study of Judaism published a few years ago kick-started a broad discussion about the directions of American Judaism. So too has a very divisive 2016 US Presidential election campaign. Birthright has been resoundingly successful in building a common Israel experience, but its long-term results for Jewish identity are not yet clear in a society in which “none of the above” appears to be the fastest growing religious denomination and radical religious shifts are personal and institutional norms. Religious, cultural and social activities are flourishing in traditional and quite a-traditional ways, yet face substantial challenges: funding, assimilation, participation. My views are colored by the specific situation in Denver, where I live—and in Wyoming, the least populous U.S. state, where I teach–neither of which is like the East or West Coast.

מחקר שפירסם המרכז למחקר ע”ש PEW על היהדות בארה”ב שפורסם לפני מספר שנים התחיל שיחה רחבה על כיוונים עכשוויים  ביהדות האמריקאית. כך גם הבחירות ב 2016 לנשיאות ארה”ב גילו פילוגים גדולים בקהילה. “תגלית” הצליחה באופן מהדהד בבניית חוויה ישראלית משותפת, אך תוצאותיה ארוכות-הטווח לזהות יהודית עדיין אינן ברורות בחברה שבה “אף אחת מהנ”ל” היא הזהות הדתית שצמיחה המהירה ביותר – ושינויים רדיקליים הן בנורמות אישייות והן בנורמות מוסדיות חלים בתדירות. פעילויות דתיות, תרבותיות וחברתיות פורחות בדרכים מסורתיות ולא מסורתיות, אך הן ניצבות בפני אתגרים משמעותיים: מימון, הטמעה, השתתפות. הדעות שלי צבועות לפי המצב הספציפי בדנוור, שם אני גר – ובוויומינג, המדינה המאוכלסת לפחות, שבה אני מלמד, שאף אחת מהן אינה דומה ל חוף המזרח או לחוף המערבי בארה”ב.


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For Heschel and Maimonides Yahrzeit: emphasizing common humanity

I was kept away from giving a talk at Kavod (and reading much of Menachem Kellner’s “They too are called Human”) by the “Bomb Cyclone” so I quickly wrote up some comments. –Shabbat shalom

Good Morning and Shabbat Shalom

I am truly sorry that I cannot be with you today! My flight back from the East Coast was cancelled. But this gave me more time with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren though, a great benefit! As of this moment, I am not sure there will be anyone coming to help with services, so I am writing out remarks I might have said today. Of course if there is someone who has prepared remarks, their remarks can replace mine and I’ll talk about this in the future.

As you may recall, we have been planning to devote some time in January to talk about the common humanity of all people.

The problem is a complex one for a synagogue, as our tradition has – and has to have – complex notions both about “Jewish exceptionalism”–its unique value and rightness—and about “Jewish universalism” – the way Jewish teachings include the all people. On the one hand there is the “Chosen People idea,” often thought to emphasize the uniqueness of the Jewish people and of its teachings, and visible in nearly every aspect of Jewish law and ritual.  On the other hand our tradition insists on the common humanity of all people: all people were created in the Divine Image, all people are descended from a common ancestor, “The First Human” – the translation of  אָדָם רִאשון literally “First Adam.”

I scheduled speaking about this topic for January in memory of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose Yahrtzeit was yesterday, of Moses Maimonides, whose yahrtzeit is tomorrow, and of Martin Luther King, who is celebrated with a national holiday, this year on his birthday, January 15.

Our congregation here at Kavod Senior Living reflects traditional Jewish sensibilities, ritual and teachings—but we also stress the famous words of the Prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” Over the past months and years, we have returned to this theme from time to time. We repeat this line often over the High Holy Days. Our theme for the International Shabbat Project Shabbat was שבת שלום בעולם שלום  “Shabbat Shalom, Ba-Olam Shalom”“Shabbat Peace, World Peace.”[1] Among many other things, we’ve discussed Menachem Kellner’s observation that Maimonides’ conclusion to the Laws of Hanukkah—by careful attention to wording–avoids the military aspect of the festival, and instead emphasizes the theme of world peace. This despite the prominence of this theme in the justification for the festival—which after all reflects the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, and—in domestic politics, of pious Jews over assimilationist Jews committed to the Greek way of life.

I return to Menachem Kellner—a colleague of mine from the days I taught in Haifa—to discuss his most recent assertions about the common humanity of all persons in Maimonides’ work. The book is called “They too are called Human: Gentiles in the eyes of Maimonides” but it is at home and I am in New York!  So my remarks reflect only small sections of the book available online. Kellner wrote it, he says, because over recent decades, the tendency has been to overemphasize the special nature of the Jewish people, in ways that are problematic—indeed appalling. In Kellner’s view (and my own) this contradicts the tradition of recent generations, as well as classic Jewish teachings. In the introduction to the book, Kellner identifies some examples. One is quite extreme, and is represented by an Israeli publication, Torat HaMelekh. This work created quite a stir, among other reasons, due to its argument that ultimately all non-Jews are illegitimate, and, for example, hardly even able to overcome this status even by conversion to Judaism. A prominent Rabbi, Rabbi Shelomo Aviner, suggests that the People of Israel received the Torah because of their special status—and that no other people were suited to accept it. Of course, traditionally, Israel’s acceptance of the Torah is the source rather than the result of this status. Rabbi Aviner draws some conclusions that might have frightening implications—implications he rejects but are easily drawn nevertheless by some of his students.

A large part of Kellner’s writing over the past many years has been to talk about ideas of chosenness in Maimonides; this most recent book argues that for Maimonides, all humans are—human. All have the potential, all have the capacity, all are created in the Divine Image.

In this book, he focuses on three passages from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah–the Code of Jewish Laws; he could easily have given many others of course. At the very beginning of the Code, Maimonides asserts that (paraphrasing) “the basic foundation of all wisdom is to know God.” Maimonides’ comments about non-Jews, for example, about the Greek philosopher Aristotle, make it clear that he believes this learning about God is possible for anyone. Indeed, it seems to me that Maimonides, like many in his time, believed that certain classes of humans—slaves, women, children, even people born in the wrong regions—would rarely in practice reach certain levels of intellectual development. But unlike his contemporaries he seems to believe that with effort and training it would be possible for anyone—even people in these categories—to do so. Judah Ha-Levi, his older near-contemporary thought quite differently about these issues. (I like to think that Maimonides and Judah met in Cordoba or nearby Lucena when Maimonides was five or six years old; maybe at a reception for Judah, then already an old man, before he left for the Land of Israel). Judah HaLevi’s book Kuzari is designed as a dialogue between a rabbi and a king, in which HaLevi implies that the Jews have a special “Divine Matter” and – for example—the King, even if he were to convert, would still be distinct from, and less than, those born as Jews. To be sure, the King does see that Judaism provides the pathway in life he is seeking, and he becomes Jewish.  My colleague Danny Lasker likes to say that HaLevi gives us the impression that Judaism is computer hardware; in any case, Judaism works best or even fully works only with “original manufacturer’s equipment”— a comparison to computer hardware.  Whereas for Maimonides Judaism is clearly “software” that can work with any human being. And all humanity can achieve good results even if they use philosophy rather than Judaism, as Aristotle did.

The second text is at the end of the Laws of Sabbatical Years. Maimonides says that the status of the Levites and Priests is open to all the inhabitants of the world:

any one of the inhabitants of the world27whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and   to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.28 God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.29  (emphasis mine; text is from a Chabad website)

Chabad seems to be surprised but correctly says in the note that this could apply to gentiles. This is precisely the point of Maimonides’ statement—what else could it refer to?

It seems to me that it is crucial to our community today to write and teach in ways that make it unlikely for anyone to see this as surprising.

The final text Kellner chose was the end of Maimonides’ Code of Jewish Laws, in discussing the age of the Messiah—a text that clearly suggests that all people will benefit from wisdom and knowledge. Indeed, Maimonides often refers to “The Religion of Truth” –I do not know how many of those who read Maimonides in Hebrew or English translations are aware of this, but Maimonides’s Arabic writings show this is a familiar term from Islamic religious usage: the Arabic is “Din al-Haqq” – found in the Qur’an.

And so, Maimonides believes that ultimately whatever benefits are conferred by Judaism are open to anyone who comes to the correct philosophical, moral and intellectual conclusions about God and about the World. It is not so simple though, as Maimonides may be said to be “stuck” with some of the conclusions of Jewish law, which sometimes distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, and sometimes in ways that we find indefensible today. Almost always, Maimonides finds a way to remind his readers that family and community can and often should indeed come first, but that humanity is universal.

I’ll now turn briefly to Heschel. Active in Germany during the rise of Nazism, Heschel’s biography of Maimonides paints a chilling portrait and denouncement of the prejudicial policies of the Almoravids iu Spain—one that clearly had echoes in Germany in the 1930s. After the War, in the USA, Heschel’s publications included general works such as God in Search of Man, and for that matter the English translation of his The Prophets – which spoke to all religious traditions – or at least to the Protestant, Catholic a950nd Jewish traditions of the USA. Alongside these works though he also wrote about the Sabbath—describing it as the Holy Time of the Jewish people; after 1967, he had to write about Israel, the Holy Space if the Jewish people as well.

Heschel’s public practice was also divided: he is most famous for his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Christian-Jewish rapproachment, but he was also active in general American issues, including Civil Rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Famously, he taught in a generation that had witnessed the horrors of Nazism and Soviet Communism; he taught his students that in our age, people of all religious traditions need to band together to oppose evil in our society—be it antisemitism or racism, murder in American ghettos or murder by soldiers in American uniforms. The Talmud seems to suggest that one cannot sell a synagogue to build a church—in an age in which this was typical anyway, he is famous for saying that indeed when Jews leave a community, they should be happy if their building is repurposed to serve others who are committed to the values promoted by religion.


So We have developed a few ideas – Jewish tradition has elements that promote “Jewish exceptionalism” and universal ideas appropriate to a World Religion.  IN recent decades, in some circles, the tide has turned towards “Jewish exceptionalism” in surprising ways, some of which have very unfortunate ramifications. I briefly quoted Judah HaLevi’s idea that Judaism was inaccessible to converts—one that could not have been so terribly off-putting since he had the King convert to Judaism! ON the other hand Maimonides’ teachings include great commitment to Torah, but also a commitment to the ultimate improvement possible for all people, and that all people are created in the Divine image. My colleague Menachem Kellner has spent much of his career suggesting that ultimately this is the important conclusion to be drawn from Maimonides’ works, and the real message of Judaism today. Heschel’s response may be more practical for us though: a commitment to Jewish values symbolized by the Sabbath and by the Land (and State) of Israel, and to social and religious justice for Jews—but recognizing the need to also have teachings such as those in his philosophical works that are accessible to all—and social justice work that addresses societal wrongs that transcend the narrowly conceived needs of the Jewish people.


The next installment of this theme will turn to Rabbi Hammer’s essay about balancing Universalism and Exceptionalism in Jewish ritual and thought.

Shabbat Shalom.


[1] (by the way, the wording mimicked a famous statement of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, “peace at home, peace in the world”).

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Eric Weitzner’s “Jewish Bach” blog

I wrote this piece in late 2013 or early 2014. I continually find things I wrote that are suitable to the blog but never published here. I found this piece, never posted, in Dec. 2017 while “cleaning up” some computer files. I spent some time reading the blog that is the subject of this post, and made a few edits before posting it today.

I started reading the blog of Eric Weitzner after noting that a public read-through of his version of Bach’s B Minor Mass, with his Hebrew text, was to be mounted at HaBonim Synagogue in January 2014. Here is where the announcement was posted: (but I do not think this is currently available as I review this post–SW). It was billed as “adapting Jewish prayers and theological ideas to Bach’s transcendent music.”

Weitzner discusses this work in his blog: — a blog he concluded a few months after the HaBonim Synagogue event, but which, as of this writing, is still viewable on line. And the blog still makes curious reading.

There are of course Hebrew translations of the B Minor Mass, for example this one, by Ada Brodski, a very serviceable literal translation of the B Minor Mass text (with some further comments in Hebrew, mostly about the music rather than the text.) Some Catholics in Israel are Hebrew speaking, because they are converts from Judaism—or because Hebrew is the local language. Click here for the pages of the St. James Vicariate, which has links to could easily be adapted for the B Minor or any other Mass (currently these links may be found here).

Of course, the Hebrew translations of the Mass are literal. Weitzner’s version is not, nor is it meant to be. Instead, it uses or adapts Jewish liturgical texts—trying to match and adapt Jewish ideas to the music and text of Bach’s masterwork. I read through a lot of Weitzner’s blog, and it is pretty interesting as an exercise in reshaping the Mass text to conform with a very different set of theological considerations in Judaism.

He ascribes the Hebrew version of the B Minor Mass to Sara Itzig Levy (1761-1854), an important Jewish figure, well-connected, and an organizer of Berlin Salons. She may very well have been responsible for the revival of interest in J.S. Bach: she was a noted student of W.F. Bach and a collector of his father’s J.S. Bach’s manuscripts. She gave her young relative Felix Mendelssohn the St. Matthew Passion manuscript, the performance of which in 1829 created the upsurge in interest in Bach’s music. Weitzner’s blog though reads like what it is: a classic instance of ascribing his own work to a “found manuscript” – one never displayed on his blog, nor does he give the full name of the collector who brought it to his attention. (Instead, he takes pains to describe why the supposed collector “Robert” does not identify himself further or publish any image of the manuscript). The Dessoff Choirs website did not engage in this literary trope; the site simply described the text as a “version created by Eric Weitzner.”

Of course, there are some very strong parallels between the Mass and the Jewish liturgy. The most obvious being the Sanctus and Kedusha. The Kedusha—with its Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh – to my mind—is the most relevant parallel between Jewish liturgical usage and the Mass, not merely because it has nearly the same wording as the Sanctus, but because it comes in the context of “sanctification” in the Christian Mass, the sanctification of the Host. The Aramaic and Arabic terminology most often used by Christians for the Mass, involving the term quddus – Sanctification (rather than something based on Mass or “Missa”)– i.e. the same term as Kedusha.

It’s hard to think about Weitzner’s endeavor without thinking about two Jewish musical giants who approached the idea of writing their own Mass, and came up with new music and quite different approaches to the text.

Ernest Bloch came to the conclusion that his Mass would be a setting of the Union Prayer Book, Avodath HaKodesh, and his setting is quite faithful to the version of the UPB in use when he composed his piece. Nevertheless, Bloch’s musical settings (especially for the Adon Olam), his use of the English “Kaddish,” and his comments about the piece enlighten us about his own views regarding the theology of the piece. (The Bloch Avodath HaKodesh should be thought of as a concert piece although it was written to enable synagogue use; the “Kaddish” in concerts not the traditional Aramaic texts, but an amazing English-language piece).

Leonard Bernstein envisioned his Mass as “A Theatre Piece,” which indeed it is, and wrote it for the Kennedy Center’s opening. Bernstein’s libretto may indeed be an attempt to re-make the Mass in such a way that he, Bernstein, could write a Mass—a benchmark for composers!–although his endeavor could never be considered liturgical in spirit. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that either of them would have entertained the idea of translating the Mass text into Hebrew (beyond replacing the Sanctus with the Hebrew original, as Bernstein did), and if so, translating it in a way that adapted Jewish liturgical texts and was more consistent with Jewish theology.

This was—I should say lehavdil—the approach though of endeavors of “Judaizing translations” of non-Jewish pieces. In some translation, such as most Yiddish translations of Gilbert and Sullivan, the transformation is largely in a signature section—not the entire work. Thus translations of Pirates of Penzance might have the Modern Major General’s song refer to traditional Jewish knowledge alongside and instead of some of the items in the W.S. Gilbert text. Of course, this is also satirical, a far stretch from the realm of liturgy—and the satirical adaptations are standard outside the realm of “Jewish versions” anyway. Yiddish theatre was replete with Shakespeare and other classics totally transformed into their new Jewish settings for the Jewish stage.

Another issue worth discussing is the need or desire to make some of the great Christian music palatable to Jews who might feel uncomfortable or indeed feel it is inappropriate or halachicly inadmissible to sing texts invoking Christ’s mercy or referring to an only begotten Divine son–indeed, anything mentioning the name of the second part of the Trinity. One could imagine a note similar to one found in some contemporary Jewish choral programs (“members of the choir sing Adomai”) one may well imagine that the notice would be along the lines of “members of the choir sing ‘Priced’ or ‘Rhesus’ ” (although probably not exactly these suggestions!)

Weitzner’s solution is, for such singers, a lot more elegant and a lot more thoroughgoing than that.

It’s hard for me to envision Weitzner’s opus—the Bach B Minor Mass re-worded with what is purportedly the Jewish prayer of Sara Itzig Levy—will ever be more than a curiosity or be mounted in a formal concert. But it was fun to read Weitzner’s blog, and I was happy to re-read some of his postings while updating this post.

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Torah Reading and Haftarah for Shabbat Hatan

I do not know if I would have written up these comments except that the discussion of the Torah Reading for Shabbat Hatan came up a few days before Shabbat Chayei Sarah, the parasha where the readin is taken from. 


Something related to custom of a special Torah reading and/or haftarah was mentioned at the annual meeting of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies on Tuesday of this week.  I mentioned to my friend and colleague Rabbi Merrill Shapiro that I had encountered this in my research. I could not remember more at first but a survey of the Internet found that the haftarah is Sos Asis (Isa. 61:10ff.)— the last of the “Seven Haftarot of Consolation” and always read right before Rosh Hashanah.


The Torah reading passage is Ve- Avraham zaqen ba bayim  (Gen. 24:1-7). As it happened, this passage is from this week’s parasha, so covered it in my Wednesday lunchtime Torah study (WUTSup: Wyoming Union Torah Study). We primarily do “Humash with Rashi” and some other sources, such as Targum, as relevant. So we read the passage with Rashi, and I also covered a Targum Pseudo-Jonathan from a little later in the chapter, in which the generosity and hospitality of Abraham is contrasted with a supposed rapacious murderousness of Laban, who sought to poison Abraham’s messenger—whom he thought was Abraham himself—and steal his wealth. This reading explains why Rebecca’s father is not mentioned after the meal served to Abraham’s servant: the poison did not hard Abraham but instead killed his own father.


Back to the Torah and Haftarah for the Hatan:


Since the reported custom of a Torah reading for the Hatan is relevant to tomorrow’s Parasha, I spent a little more time on it erev shabbat.


Rabbi Yehoshua Glazman writing here:  gives the reference for the Haftara Sos Asis for a newly-wed man diring the week of Sheva Berachot as Rema (R. Moses Isserles) on  Orah Hayyim 428:8 – and he and many others refer to the haftarah as an Ashkenazi custom on this basis. He also found a reference to Ashkenazim in Safed having a version of this custom. But he also thinks the custom may be as ancient as the 7th century and mentioned in Saadia’s Siddur (which would be 10th century).   “Shtaygen” has some further sources, including Abudarham and a few others, and is mostly about the Torah reading rather than the Haftarah. This is about the reading from our upcoming Parasha—Chayei Sarah, VeAvraham Zaqen Ba Bayamim. Sources gathered by the Shtaygen website suggest to me that there were various customs as to whether it was read from a second scroll, recited by heart, or from the same Torah as Parashat HaShavua and rolled to Chayei Sarah. There are a few traditions about how many verses are read, but the usual one is 7 verses—up to “you shall take a wife for my son from there.” This is about getting a wife for Isaac. The passage could be interpreted as a warning about intermarriage—not marrying a Canaanite woman (or perhaps, if you are going to have to intermarry, at least it should be with a relative!). The reasoning for selecting this passage is more likely to underscore the difficulty of making good matches. Personally, I think the reading would make more sense in these cases for the Aufruf before the wedding, rather than for the Shabbat hatan (i.e. the Shabbat that occurs in the week of Sheva Berachot), although the custom of an Aufruf prior to the wedding, so widespread today, was probably not so common centuries ago.


As far as I can tell, this tradition is rarely upheld today. A quick internet search is not a replacement for serious research; nevertheless, the on-line responsa that show up quickly about these subjects basically suggest that this practice is rare today and there’s no need to start it where it does not currently exist.


Rebecca’s generosity and enthusiasm is explicitly documented in the Torah, so is the love of Isaac and Rebecca, and Isaac appears to be a model Biblical patriarchal monogamous marriage. It seems fitting to me that Abraham’s charge to his servant, resulting in this match, provides the text used by some communities to celebrate a marriage.


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Mut’a Marriage

Mut’a Marriage

Seth Ward

(This was an ISIME Position Paper, written for Shaul Gabbay, who was at that time the Director of the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East (ISIME) at the University of Denver. Disclosure: I had a small role in proposing the Center for Israeli Studies in what was then the Graduate School of International Studies; ISIME was the outcome of this proposal. The text below was last edited Dec. 31 2007). 

Islamic law and tradition defines a status of “temporary marriage.” In commenting on traditions ascribed to Muhammad, the 13th century scholar Al-Nawawi notes that mut’a marriage is as “marriage for a specified time, without inheritance, the end of which results from the end of the period, without divorce.” (Commentary on the Sahih of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, chapter on Mut’a marriage).[1] Al-Nawawi notes, as is typical, that at the end of the period, this status can be renewed. Al-Nawawi further notes that no witness or guardian is necessary, as is the case in normal Muslim marriage, and that it was typically done for short periods in cases of great duress, and that there are traditions prohibiting and those allowing the practice.


Complexity of Personal Status issues


When dealing with personal status issues, we as a society often assume that the status is binary—one is either married or not, alive or not and so forth. Nevertheless, there are always “grey areas” which test the limits of personal status, and in such cases, definitions may vary between various jurisdictions and contexts. In some of these cases, legislation or regulations define more precise boundaries at least within specific applications, often yielding complex guidelines. In recent years to much ongoing public discourse, debate in churches and government, and professional considerations in hospitals have focused on beginning- and end-of life issues, where the complexity of medical, legal and ethical issues is obvious. There is no societal agreement about the precise moment when various rights, prohibitions and obligations inherent in the personal status of “living person” begin and end, and such cases can become contentious and complex.


U.S. Marital status continues until terminated by death, divorce or other decree dissolving the marriage


Debate about married status can be similarly complex. For example, Internal Revenue Service regulations use a Federal test to determine who is able to claim “married” status for Federal tax purposes, but State-level actions define a once-married individual as “single” for Federal tax purposes. (2006 1040 Forms and Instructions pp. 16-17).  The IRS language is consistent with the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, Pub. L. 104-199, 100 Stat. 2419 (Sept. 21, 1996) (DOMA) which defines marriage for all Federal purposes as the “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” requiring Federal agencies to use a different definition than might be in practice in certain States or other jurisdictions. Its reference to “legal union” does not address what statutory requirements make the union legal, nor does it establish a single, Federal, regulation for marriage throughout the United States.


Nevertheless, multiple types of marriage are recognized in the United States. In this state, Colorado, certain unions are recognized as marriage which would not be valid in a majority of the other States. According to Colorado State Attorney General, John W.  Suthers, “Common law marriage is a term used to describe a marriage which has not complied with the statutory requirements most states have enacted as necessary for a ceremonial marriage.” In Colorado, this type of union has the status of marriage, although it is not considered valid in the States. One ramification is that the “common law marriage,” like the ceremonial marriage, can be “terminated only by death and divorce.”


Note that termination only by death or divorce is thus a feature of the Colorado A.G.’s office understanding of marriage, as it is (with legal separation or court decree) of Federal IRS regulations.


The Defense of Marriage Act was not designed to address termination of marriage, although those who framed this legislation no doubt presumed that marriage is a status terminated only by death, divorce or equivalent decree, as in the IRS and Colorado regulations.


The point is not to review applicable Federal and State regulations regarding marriage, but to introduce the proper subject of this memorandum with a reminder that personal status can be a complex issue, with status differing for different jurisdictions and contexts. Nevertheless, U.S. discourse generally recognizes marriage as an institution that continues indefinitely, requiring death or a specific act for termination. If termination of marriage is by death, divorce or other decree, a relationship uniting a man and a woman for a specific period of time which specifies that no such act is necessary cannot be a marriage.


Temporary Marriage, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the Pre-Islamic tradition


As we have seen, American society considers marriage to be a union between two parties who cohabit and maintain a joint household, with marital status continuing indefinitely, terminated only by death, divorce, or another act of separation or annulment. “Temporary Marriage,” or “limited-duration marriage” as practiced in Shi’a Islam occurs when the union ends at such time as contracted by the parties at the beginning of the union. In other words, instead of specifying the marriage lasts “’till death do us part” the temporary marriage provides “until next Thursday” or some other specified term.


The idea that marriage is “one man, one woman, one lifetime” (“’till death do us part”) reflects New Testament considerations, in both the Gospels and the letters of St. Paul; the influence of Saint Augustine (d. 439 CE), especially his work The Good of Marriage,  and the Justinian Code (534 CE), which allowed sexual activities only within monogamous, permanent, heterosexual marriage.


While it might appear that this yields a situation in which there is only one type of marriage, note that the Hebrew Bible provides multiple models for marriage. For example, Abraham is depicted as having a full wife (Sarah), a slave woman functioning as a surrogate for purposes of procreation (Hagar) and later a concubine (Keturah). Nevertheless, it does not appear that any “time-delimited” unions were characterized as marriage in Hebrew Bible. Rabbinic discussion of marriage contracts devoted much attention to possible variations of the statement “behold you are consecrated to me,” including various stipulations. But there is no reference to a betrothal “for such and such a period of time,” and in any case, marriage cannot be conditioned on any stipulation limiting it in this way (see, e.g., Yevamot 94b) and regardless of any such stipulation the woman would be considered married until death, legal separation or divorce.


In American culture, a time-delimited arrangement a man and woman which includes a financial consideration for the woman is not considered marriage. Indeed, especially if it is short term and involves sexual activity, it is usually considered more like prostitution than marriage in many jurisdictions.


Nevertheless, in ancient Arabia and probably parts of adjacent Africa, this type of union was well known, and it continued on into Islamic times especially but not only in Shia areas.  In Arabic, “temporary marriage” is almost always called mut’a marriage. Mut‘a is an Arabic word meaning “pleasure.”  There are references to the practice in the pre-Islamic Middle East, including ancient Egypt and Erythaea; and a Roman source refers to this Arabian practice in the 4th century. (W. Robertson Smith, Kinship in Islam pp. 80ff). Islamic-period works make frequent reference to this as a practice remembered in pre-Islamic times, sometimes even at the woman’s initiation and even in cases where the woman was married to someone else but her husband was absent for long periods of time.


  1. Mut’a Marriage


Temporary marriage survived into early Islamic times, and may have been referred to in the Qur’an:


“Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess. Thus hath Allah ordained (prohibitions) against you; Except for those, all others are lawful, provided you (seek them in marriage) with gifts from your property desiring chastity not lust. Seeing as you derive Benefit from them (!) give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed.” Al-Nisā’ (4): 24. (translation follows Abdullah Yusuf Ali).


In this text, the word translated as “benefit” is istamta‘tum literally “you had pleasure of them” or “you had a mut‘a relationship with them.”


There is a robust literature on the precise meaning of this term.  As we have seen, Abdullah Yusuf Ali translates the term “had benefit of them” in The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, (originally Lahore 1934; edition used is Amana, Beltsville MD 2001). In this popular Sunni-oriented Qur’an edition, there is no reference to “temporary marriage;” the term is understood to mean “surrendered her person.” Based on Islamic law, which distinguishes between marriages which have been consumatged and those which have not, presumably this refers to consummation of the marriage.


The Mir Ahmad Ali translation (Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 2002) is a Shi’i translation, and renders this as:

“ye had ‘Muta’ with them.” The margin notes: “Ar. ‘Muta’ or a limited wedlock allowed in Islam—current during the whole lifetime of the Holy Prophet—during Abubakar’s Kalifate—and also for two or more years during Omar’s Kalifate—but Omar prohibited it of his own accord—against the sanction of the Qur’an. Ali renewed it & none thereafter prohibited it.”


Footnote 516 (p. 370) observes that even Umar, who cancelled it, recognized that it was practiced in the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The note explains that neither party inherits from the other after the term of the agreement, and offers a number of justifications. Among them are a lengthy citation from A.F. Badshah Husain’s commentary on the Qur’an, written in 1931. Husain notes that there a situations in which permanent marriage is undesirable, in part when the woman is one “incapable of permanent marriage, for whom a permanent wedlock is nothing but misery.” Husain says further that

“Nothing can be more cruel than to marry one day on promise of an all-life union and to cast away the next day on some fantastic reason. … it is infinitely better for him to marry for short periods and to extend time later if it suits the, so that the other party may know of its true position. It wants that persons who are not sure that they will abide by their contract for their whole life should not deceive the other by an unexpected divorce. It is really meant to put a stop to this nasty practice which is so much growing in this modern civilization.” (Citing The Holy Qur’an, Lucknow 1931; I have been unable to view this work).


Note that Husain is writing a half century before the Iranian Islamic Republic.




Alongside the Qur’an, Islamic practice is based on reports about what Muhammad said, did or accepted tacitly when done in his presence. Shi’a’s also privilege similar reports ascribed to Ali and his descendants. Reports about the acts, statements, or agreements of early Muslims, who knew Muhammad or Ali, often also quoted as having some value.


Normally, the next stage in discussing any matter of Islamic law would be to examine sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and to other early Muslims.


The situation is clear enough for our purposes: there are ample attestations that “temporary marriage” was practiced in the times of Muhammad, and at least on some occasions, had his blessing; that Umar—the second caliph–cancelled it.  Shi’a revile Umar as an imposter, and consider mut’a to continue to be valid. Shi’a consider that it is supported by the Qur’an test cited above, and by the references to Muhammad and Ali allowing it.


Modern Iran


Ayatollah Ruhollah Khumayni—the leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolution—published a book called Risalet Tawzih al-Masael “A Clarification of Questions.” As explained by the translator, J. Borujerdi, this is a stereotypical work—the answers offered by Khomeini are pretty much the same as are offered throughout the relevant Shi’a literature.[2]


Questions 2421ff. concern the “concubine” (mut’eh) or “formula [woman]” (seegheh) wife; terms defined before Question 2363 (p. 311).  Among the stipulations are:


2423: If a woman who becomes a formula [woman] conditions that the husband has no intercourse with her, the contract and the condition are correct and the husband can only get other pleasures from her…


  1. A formula woman, though she becomes pregnant, has no right to sustenance.


  1. A formula woman has no right to sleep with the man and will not inherit from the husband, nor the husband inherits from her.


  1. If the formula wife did not know that she has no right to sustenance and to sleep with her husband, her contract is correct, and she shall find no right upon her husband for her ignorance.


  1. A father and a paternal grandfather can marry a woman to his minor son for a period of one or two hours for the purpose of becoming intimate….


  1. If the man spares the woman the term of the concubinage he must give her all those things they had agreed upon if he has had intercourse with her, and if not he must give her half of that.


2432 A man can (permanently) contract for himself the woman who was his concubine and whose waiting period [the period she must wait after the end of a marriage if it was consummated] is not yet over.


The next Question begins a section entitled “Precepts of Looking”


  1. A man’s look at the body of a woman who is a stranger, whether or not with the intention of pleasure, is unlawful. Further it is an obligatory caution that he does not look even without the intention of pleasure [In other words, it is unlawful to look, and it is obligatory to avoid looking]. (These Questions are pp. 319-320).


This is typical of modern Iranian practice: temporary marriage may be sexual, but also may be asexual, and may be followed by “permanent” marriage. It can be with a minor and for a short period of time, only for the purpose of becoming intimate. It involves payment to the woman, reduced if no sexual activity has occurred, and does not involve inheritance or the requirement of a mutual household. These questions do not talk about renewal of terms of concubinage, but state that a permanent marriage can contracted after the end of a temporary marriage. Finally, there are “Precepts of Looking” which are responsible for temporary marriages even when no sexual activity is involved. In Iranian society, even looking at fully clothed persons of the other sex may be considered to fall within the type of activity described in this passage.




Classic Shi’a jurisrudence sometimes praises the mut’ah or “pleasure” marriage as a type of relationship found in the Qur’an and allowed by Muhammad and Ali. Although some classic cases of “99 year” mut’ah marriages are reported, the discussions make it clear that the term applies equally well to relationships lasting a few days or even for an hour or two, whose only purpose is intimacy. By definition, the parties do not establish inheritance or financial support beyond the terms of the contract for the temporary relationship: a pregnant mut’a wife is not even entitled to sustenance. Moreover, she is not entitled to assume that she has any such rights, and the man can “spare” her part of the period they agreed upon—without any divorce or decree—as long as he pays what he agreed to if they have had sexual intercourse.


Given the strictures about “looking” at persons of the opposite sex, as well as the positive attitude towards it in Shi’a Islam, it is easy enough to see why this practice is fairly common in modern Iran. Yet, any “pleasure” or “formula” relationship undertaken for a relatively short period of time is far short of the definition of marriage in Sunni Muslim most other non-Shia environments.  The differences involve such things as the nature of inheritance, the lack of divorce, and in reality, often the lack of a common household.  The typical arrangement is for a few hours, days or weeks, but even when there is a long-term mut’a arrangement such as a 99-year marriage, in practice, a lifetime commitment, the mut’a arrangements remain distinct from those of a permanent marriage.


Marriage is considered in our society and in Federal legislation to be an institution in which one man and one woman are married until death, legal separation or divorce. They are assumed to establish a joint household, to have various rights of inheritance and succession, rights to sustenance and so forth. None of these conditions apply to the “pleasure wife” in Shi’a countries, indicating that such relationships should clearly not be considered to be “marriage” in the U.S. definition of the term.


Seth Ward

University of Wyoming.









[1] In the margin on vol. 6 p. 122 in the edition of al-Qastallani’s commentary of al-Bukhari.

[2] Boulder: Westview, 1984.

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Uploaded video about Bahai faith

Today I uploaded a video based on a PowerPoint I’ve used in my classes on World Religions. There is some additional information in the Description box. The occasion for loading this is the anniversaries of the birth of the Bab and Bahaullah, marked by Baha’i’s (since calendar reform in 2015) on the two days following the 8th New Moon after the Spring equinox. This year, this was earlier this week.

Over time, I hope to load a larger selection of videos, essays written for class,rs etc., into this Blog.


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