Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hebrew Words

Lisa pointed out that the Hebrew for "word" and "thing" are the same. I want more on this!

Definitely "words" for thought.

I looked for more information on this on the web ... while I didn't find exactly that information I did find a fascinating site about Hebrew words:

Hebrew Words and Thoughts a really interesting site if you are studying Hebrew words.

One of my favorites from this:

Hebrew nouns for father and mother are descriptive of action.
The Hebrew word for father is (av) and literally means "the one who gives strength to the family"
and mother (em) means "the one that binds the family together".

Kol Nidre & Trouble

Kol Nidre is the prayer to absolve one from vows made to God. NOT to other people.

But this is so misunderstood that is causes trouble. It has been used by anti-Semites to spread the word that Jews cannot be trusted because their vows are released in the Kol Nidre prayer.

Because of this many have tried to take the Kol Nidre out of Yom Kippur. But it is a tradition that holds so much more meaning for Jews than the translation and impact of the words themselves. The music associated with the Kol Nidre, the part without words, so often played on a cello with its haunting tune sets the mood for the service that gives us the opportunity to reflect on the past and resolve to make the next year better.

The words give us a reason to think we can always be better. But the reality sets that vows to God are often difficult to fulfill.

Deuteronomy 23:22-24 tells us to fulfill vows to God promptly.

Later defined by Rashi as 'within a year' or 3 festivals.

But vows are often problematic in that they are made under duress or in ignorance. They needed a way to make certain vows no valid. So the wisdom of those who interpreted the mitzvot encouraged people not to make vows. But when vows are stated there are defined four conditions under which the vows were not validated:

Constraint of external circumstances

It was for the other vows made to God that Kol Nidre holds true. Specifically it holds truth for those who during the Spanish Inquisition were forced to renounce their faith and accept Christianity. Or for those who have transgressed in significant ways to be welcomed to pray and be welcomed at the Yom Kippur service.

Nevertheless, we need to always remember that vows between people are not absolved with Kol Nidre. But it is a good time to resolve any conflicts between people and to fulfill any vows that are open. The time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is set aside just for this purpose. To make peace and do tshuvah with others when it is needed.

This is one thing about Judaism that I find to be both practical and fulfilling.

Kol Nidre & Fringes

We usually only wear the tallit at morning or day services when Torah is read. But we do wear the tallit on the night when Kol Nidre is said.

Kol Nidre is read prior to the service and the sunset. So you CAN see the fringes as they remind you of the mitzvot.

I found a good explaination on a site:

"A tallit is traditionally worn at the evening Kol Nidre Yom Kippur service. The Kol Nidre service takes its name from the Kol Nidre prayer that is recited at the very beginning of the service. This prayer asks for the absolution of vows and oaths forced upon us under duress. It pulls at the emotions, evoking images of forced conversions and martyrdom.

The Talmud explicitly forbids asking for the absolution of vows on a Yom Tov [Jewish Holiday] such as Yom Kippur. Therefore according to Jewish tradition, the Kol Nidre prayer that requests the absolution of vows cannot be said on Yom Kippur. The traditional practice is to recite Kol Nidre before Yom Kippur actually starts, during daylight. [Jewish days officially start at sunset.] Over the course of time, It became customary to put on a tallit for Kol Nidre since it was still daylight, and leave it on throughout the entire evening Yom Kippur service."

Link: more information on when we wear the tallit

Link: A good site with details about the Tallit

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What is a Vow?

Deuteronomy 23:22-24

"Neder" a conditional promise - a vow. The subject of this study is about vows and procrastination.

There are vows that are easy to understand, such as the marriage vow, which is made in public to inspire us to to live up to the promise stated. But there are also examples of problematic vows, such as the one made by Jepthe to sacrafice the 'first' thing that comes from his home which turns out to be his daughter. Or the vow made under false precepts, such as the case of Joshua when he was up against the Gideonites.

Sometimes a vow is made to God under conditions that are not conducive to clear thinking. Vows are often made from fear, insecurity or desperation. There is the case of Hannah promising the service of her son to the Temple. There is the vow in Numbers 21 promising the bounty of victory to God in the conflict with the Canaanites.

Link: Interesting analysis of different types of vows

And next time we are going to discuss Vows and Kol Nidre… and a release from vows as set by Rabbis in the Mishna.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Equal Stadards for Sexuality

Deuteronomy 23:18 "No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute" Plaut

- R. Sampson Raphael Hirsch noted that the prohibition from practice of prostitution was equal for men and women, Kadesh AND Kadesha. This is expanded to a discussion of the 'double standards' toward sexuality in our society.

With the changes in attitudes toward sexuality - increased visibility, more open discussions, improvement in equal rights for the sexes - has this double standard changed as it relates to sexual behavior?

Not really. Girls are still mostly looked down upon for promiscuity and boys are typically praised for sexual activity outside of marriage. It may be changing a bit but not overall.

This reminds me of an article I recently read about memes that seems to address this issue in its current status:
- "memes are the cultrual counterpart of genes"

example from - Link: more about memes

The Gender Idea Virus 
There is the male, and the female, idea virus. Associated with the male idea virus are stereotypical thoughts such as men are stronger, prefer the color blue, are more aggressive and ambitious and all the rest. We know them well. On the other hand, the female idea virus is that women are more submissive, like pink and pretty things, are gentler, more emotional and more family orientated. In modern times, many people have cured themselves of these 'traditional' idea viruses, and they've busted free of the narrow precepts of those particular memes. The remnants of those meme idea viruses live on in people unwilling to explore beyond them. And the gender idea virus itself seems to be fighting for its survival in pockets of resistance around the world. It is also perpetuated by marketers who know that there is money to be made from pitching to the infected.

I did a small survey after Torah Study of some teens and young adults on this topic and conclude that the 'equal standards' goal set by R. Hirsch just has not happened in our community today.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

NO Jewish Prostitutes: What About Donations?

Deuteronomy 23: 18-19 - Clearly it was discouraged for the Israelites to be prostitutes.

AND it says that money from prostitution should not be used to 'fulfill any vow' in the temple.

And so the discussion goes to the issue of accepting donations of funds that are earned in a not so reputable way.

In Talmud Tractate Sukkot: "A stolen etrog is not kosher" - extends to the use of any ritual object that is obtained in an illegal way. And is pertinent for many items acquired by the Nazis in WWII.

And then there was the scene in Gone with the Wind: Scarlet is the only one who accepts the donation of the prostitute to help the war cause.

Conclusion: in some cases it is ok to accept tainted money but never to accept a naming donation because it will cast a poor image on the whole community and be a desecration of the Name of God.

Slavery - Torah vs 1850 Fugitive Slave Laws

Torah clearly states in many places that the 'slave' must be treated well.

In Dueteronomy 23:16-17 it says you should not return the slave who seeks refuge with you and that you should treat the slave well.

Link: Gary Charlestein reviews laws about slavery in Torah

And yet in the 1850's in the south of the US the slave laws prohibited 'harboring slaves' with very severe penalties. This law was anulled in 1862 but these laws were clearly in conflict with Torah laws.

Torah Prescribes A Sanitation System

Deuteronomy 23 10 - 15
Someone in the class said, "Moses was the first public health officer"! And in fact this part clearly describes the function and purpose of building a latrine outside of camp. And specifically notes the need to dig a hole and 'cover up your excrement'.

The reason stated in the passage is because 'God moves about in the camp and God should not find anything unseemly'. Now we know there are many more reasons why this is very important.

This passage is, yet another example of a simple and yet practical directive with so much more to it.

Not only does it refer to the latrine specifically but has been extended to keeping the 'camp' (or our community) pure in other ways. We cannot make our place 'filthy' in how we treat each other as well as our sanitation practices. Purity is both in physical cleanliness as well as in our moral code.

A BONUS Rabbi Marder pointed out -

There is a Talmudic interpretation that is a 'pun' of the term for 'gear' I found a good web reference to this:


When you encamp against your enemies, be careful to refrain from any wrongdoings.... You should set aside a place outside of the encampment and you should go there [to relieve yourselves]. You should have a shovel ("Yated") in addition to the rest of your equipment ("Azenecha"). When you go out [to "relieve yourselves,] you should dig with it and cover up your excrement. [Do all this,] because Hashem goes in the midst of your encampment to save you and to place your enemies in your power. Your camp must remain holy, lest He see in you a repugnant doing and He will cease helping you.
(Devarim 23:10, 13-14)

Bar Kapara said: What does it mean: "You shall have a "Yated" (shovel or peg) in addition to "Azenecha" (your equipment)? Don't read the word, "Azenecha" but rather "Aznecha" (your ear).

If a person hears something improper being discussed (e.g., Lashon Hara -- slander or gossip), he should place his fingers in his ears. [That is, the verse is hinting that one should use the handy "pegs" Hashem gave him to stop his "ears" from hearing what they shouldn't hear.]

(Ketubot 5a)
Bar Kapara's interpretation of the verse at hand certainly seems bizarre. The end of the verse clearly states that the Yated of the verse is to be used to dig and cover excrement.

How can Bar Kapara interpret this verse as referring to fingers, ears and Lashon Hara?
Secondly, why did Bar Kapara read the word as "Aznecha" against the Massoretic "Azenecha?"

Link: Mordecai Kornfeld Commentary