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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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sarah - Names and Responsibilities

Genesis 17:15-19

Revisit Circumcision – spiritual meaning
Leon Kass – In pagan society it was a rite of passage, In Jewish society it is a paternal duty. The obligation of the father.
- reminder of the generations
- reminder of the spiritual obligations and the gift of a child
- reminder of heritage
-easy to sire – not easy to raise a child
- symbolic gesture and reminder
- mothers also affirm that the child is a gift that is dedicated to the covenant.
- focus is on the responsibility to teach the child.

V15 – Sari becomes Sarah
The yud – possesive singular is replaced by the hey
Becomes a princess who is responsible to others (Rashi)

Gamatria answer – yud = 10 divided into two heys – 5+5
Yud ascends to heaven and cries to God because it was removed. God comforted the yud and added it to Joshuah’s name 4 books later!

Proverbs 12 – mothers – virtuous woman.
SR Hirsch – on Jewish Women – Sarah – the tone setting marks the influence about morality and decency of Jewish women. Women hold a dignified place in the home.

Women dependent on men financially / Men dependent on women spiritually

Sarah now has a new spiritual role.

v16: I will bless her – said twice – a double blessing
Rashi – asks what blessing:
she returns to her youth – smooth skin.
blessed with breast feeding – ability to nourish her son.

Eli Munk – double blessing
Birth of son without pain – overcome the curse of Eve
Raising her son without sorrow, anguish or grief.

Talmud : Name Change / Change of Fate
4 ways to avoid the decree of evil:
  1. Tzedakkah
  2. Cry to God
  3. Change deeds
  4. Change name

Superstition – to change the name of a sick person to confuse the angel of death.

The announcement of the son:

Abraham’s response – he falls on his face and laughs. His laugh is in joy.
Sarah’s response – she laughs in derision – disbelief

Book: You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother by Joyce Antler

Power and Promise
Abraham never tells Sarah – that is why God tells Sarah in the next chapter.

Christian perspective: Walter Brugaman – Abraham and Sarah are models of disbelief in this story.
Shows the difficulty in having faith.

SRHirsch – Birth of Isaac is prophetic of the future of the Jewish people – difficult to believe but true.
History should have wiped out the Jews many times – but it didn’t – God must be intervening somehow.

David Ben Gurion - “ A Jew who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist”

Mark Twain -
“All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.”

Tolstoy - “ The Jew - is the symbol of eternity. ... He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.
The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

More quotes like these:

And the paradox of Free Will that we live with!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A sign to strive for improvement!

Genesis 17:9-19

More on Circumcision: Symbolic meaning of circumcision
Rabbi David Kimchi- asked why circumcision – why not have created men without the foreskin.
It is an important sign because it IS done by man. It is a symbol of the covenant.

Man is not born perfect – must strive for perfection.
Man must attain his own perfection through his own actions
Man is associated with the act of creation
Fundamental purpose to continue to improve self and world

Why is the sign hidden?
Diminish sexual passion a reminder for self control
Differentiate man from animals.
Adds a level of morality

Question of women’s role.
Question of the slave as part of the covenant / part of the family.
Parents enter our children into the covenant – it is not a decision for the child.

Confirmation is a recent development and more part of the Reform movement – started in the 1800’s

SR Hirsch – the meaning of the ritual of the brit.
First Jewish Law.
Dual aspect – idea symbolize and the act itself.
Only good if its meaning becomes part of the people – belief & action

Heschel – behavior / psychology – between God and man.
Religious behavorism - relation of attitude and belief
More than doing rituals.

Name Change: Hey – added to Avram’s name = God

  1. Foreskin = blockage or impediment in the Torah closed / barrier
  2. 7 days = natures 8th day = rising above nature / transcend the basic biology.

Sarah – Sari
Sar = prince / Sari = princess
Add the Hey – for the relationship to God
Rashi – Add the suffix of the yud (= mine)
God’s princess. Makes Sarah the “Ultimate Jewish Princess”.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Covenant - survival – and the role of the women

Genesis 17:1 – 9

v2 “I will establish my covenant with you”

Samson R. Hirsch - “I will give...” make the decision to enter this on your own accord.
The destiny of a Jew – no pragmatic history!

Isaac – the archetype of the Jewish “phenomenon” - an unlikely or improbable set of circumstances!

It is extraordinary that the Jews survived and continued – this is due to an element of divine (or is it)

Jun 4, 2010 ... Chosen, but Not Special. By MICHAEL CHABON :

Hirsch says – Jews ARE special!

Jeffrey Goldberg – on Sechel – Wisdom and more
Clever Jewish ‘head’
Not some type of super intelligence
No miracle that Jews survived.

Hisrch – links survival to divine.

Paul Johnson – History of Jews (book) - refers to a formula for Jewish sustainability.

* A POEM by Jacob Gladstein, YANKEV GLATSHTEYN, "Without Jews", was most moving:
Without Jews
Who will dream You?
Remember You?
Deny You?
Yearn after You?
Who will flee You,
Only to return
Over a bridge of longing?

Link to the whole thing:

See Feb 19 entry.

Philip Roth: “look there are stupid Jews” ( referred to in the Chabon article NY TIMES)

On to the question of Women and the Covenant:

Link to a related poem – found by Amy Asin:

My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him

I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me there
It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby... (more on the link)

Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai (book) link about it:
In the 1980’s women were locked out – a lot has changed – position that women were always part of the covenant.

Controversy about the way Ex 19:15 reads and it seems definitely to exclude the women.
Rachel Adler - challenge to ‘re-covenant’

Shabbat is another sign of the covenant – women are included.

Henrietta Szold – story of when a man offered to say kaddish for her father and she held that she wanted to do it herself.

(Some people link feminism among Jews with the Christian focus on the Virgin Mary)

Avram “fell on his face” - prostrated himself
An act of gratitude and humility

Rashi – a sign of physical weakness

Some will do this at Yom Kippur – based on this passage.
A sign of listening and focus on the words of God – not seeing
Linked to the reason we close our eyes when saying the Shema.

Name Change to Abraham...
Abraham – multitude of nations – the promise.
Eli Munk – Abraham is afraid of the isolation / barrier between him and others.

Abraham’s work is to bring God to the people – how will this effect his work?

The act of naming adds a deeper dimension to the personal relationship/

Eli Munk – the Goal of the Covenant is Mutual Love – a Covenant of Love
Song of Solomon:
“I am my beloved, my beloved is mine”

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Relationships with God

Genesis 17:1 –4
The Covenant Ceremony - Walk Before God
The repeating pattern of individuals making a covenant with God in Torah is a focus of this week’s Torah Study.

Name of God – El Shadai – – used 9 times in Tanach
different translations/interpretations:
- Almighty
- God of the Mountain

Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras by Diana L. Eck
In India the sacred mountain is wider on top – more space ...

El Shadai midrash:
Rashi - “I am the one who has enough” - enough to protect everyone

“I am the one who said to my world: “di” - enough” It is time for Avram to stop suffering and to become Abraham.

‘Shin Dalet Hay’ = breast = connect God to fertility and nourishment

Iben Esra & Rambam – from Shadad – the one who dominates and controls the natural order.

“God is sufficient unto himself – God is enough”

Batia - (11th Century Spain) “Because God stopped creation – man can also cucumscribe their own energies – Man can master oneself – can control your sexual energies”

A new element of divinity:

source: Acadian text – to be loyal to one’s king – in Torah a dimension is added - live in relationship with God.

Hirsch: “Walk before” rather than “with” God. Keep God’s presence in mind at all times. God sets limits. Hints are found in the law.

viti – A piece of art or paper that says “I have Placed God Before Me Always” which is put on the eastern wall of the home. A focal point. Consciousness of God – Decoupage for the soul
(an example)

Musar Movement – (wiki) mussar (מוּסַר, properly transliterated as musar), is from the book of Proverbs 1:2 meaning instruction, discipline, or conduct. The term was used by the Mussar movement to refer to disciplined efforts to further ethical and spiritual development. The study of Mussar is a part of the study of Jewish ethics .

Heschel –related message: see the divine in other people. Always in God’s presence

Bal Shem Tov – A way to deal with stress and disruption – focus on the sheviti.

Avram is changing – compare to Noah:
Noah walked with God (dependent) / Avram walked before God (independent)

Connection to Circumcision:
And to be Tamin – without blemish – to be perfect.

Rashi – 1. To be perfect in all tests, trials and challenges.
2. Walk before – reference to circumcision – by doing this is will be perfect.
3. Can’t control 5 organs – 2 eyes, 2 ears, and the head of the membrane

Adding a hey to the name - hey = God
Gamatria – Avram 243 Abraham 248 - (same as the number of parts in the body)

More next time!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Circumcision & Name changes - part 1

Genesis 17:1

Torah Study with Rabbi Rosenwaser

Set up – name of God – El Shadai
God of the Mountains

Robert Altar – Exodus 6:3 God talks to Moses – Parallel to here where God talks to Abram
Rashi – Shadai = Dyanu = It would have been enough
signals of strength form somewhere else.

Name change – Abraham = father of multitudes

Why Circumcision?
It was a widespread practice in other cultures of the time – also a passage of puberty
Adding the covenant attached to it makes it different.

Robert Altar – 3 part interpretation
  1. promise
  2. circumcision
  3. name change

Dr. Ross De Hovitz – a perspective on circumcision from his practice:

Rabbi Adam noted another point of view – Jews Against Circumcision - Letter from a father
“I write this letter to explain to you and my family & community why I choose not to perform a circumcision upon you.“

A lot of opinions from this...