If you haven't read pages 1-2, scroll down to them and then read up.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
"At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made-- And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth." (Gen. 8:6-7)
Given that the choices a person makes are often reflections of his or herself, even more-so when resources are unlimited (and within the context of the story Noah had animals of every kind in his ark), Noah's choice of sending the raven can be considered an an entry into Noah's immediate post-flood psyche.
The Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 33:5) confirms the semiotic significance of the raven quoting psalms, "He sent darkness, and it was dark." (Ps. 105:28) As an extension of himself, Noah chose a bird that would be at home in the scenes of horrific catastrophe. It is not hard to imagine the depression that being in a coffin of a boat with the world collapsing around him would create or the nightmares that he would have been continually facing. In fact, Yalkut Shemoni reports that upon being sent out, the raven found a carcass on one of the mountains and never returned to the boat (diverging from the text of the Torah). This symbolically presents a possible route for Noah, or one that he indeed psychologically followed. Coming out of the ark, his mind resting on all of the death around him made him unable to go on in the world. In fact, given his ignominious ending in the story, we wonder if the psychological state represented by the raven completely won out.
This psychological state can be further understood through the conversation that Noah had with the raven in the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 33:5)-- the raven playing the darker part of Noah's psychology. We can imagine Noah having both sides of this conversation, a madman blurring the lines of his own consciousness and the world around him.
R. Yudan said in the name of R. Yehudah bar. R. Simon, "It (the raven) began to argue with him: ' Of all the birds that you have here You send none but me!’
And Noah replies, "What need then has the world of you? ' he retorted; 'For food? For a sacrifice?’ (Gen. Rabbah 33:5) implying of course, that he is fit for neither.
True, God saved him, but why did God send him into the unknown? What good was he? Did a God who valued his righteousness and pureness of heart expect him to fashion a world of righteousness and pureness of heart but a world also willing to accept all of this death as his God just did? Would he get any guidance how to balance all this?
Noah eventually moves away from the darkness and moves to the more pleasant symbol of the tranquil dove, sending it out not once, but twice-- persistence sometimes being necessary when trying to make lightness and goodness dominate your motivations. In the Midrash, the dove also reminds Noah of another side of his psyche (again, from the Yalkut Sheomi Noach) that his will and preferences are worth less than the will and preferences of God. The dove or the other part of his psyche says, "I would rather have this olive branch, that which is bitter, from the hand of God than something sweet from your hand."
The raven is not forever doomed to the negative images that are associated with it-- and in the Talmud there are Cassandra-ish associations (Gittin 45a), predicting doom, being ignored (but being right). The Midrash also talks about the awful way that the raven feeds it's children (from its own refuse) (Vayikra Rabba 19:1). But the ravens eventually textually emerge in I Kings 17:6 to become the feeders of Elijah, as he hides from Ahav, after Elijah pronounces a drought on the land. This future forces Noah in the midrash to have to rescind his "What good are you?" condemnation of ravens as reported in Gen. Rabbah 33:5. From this we can learn the Midrashic perspective that our purpose on earth is not always immediately apparent and furthermore that darkness can help to nourish.
My cousin Danielle suggested an entirely different possibility, one that I had not imagined: That Noah sent out a raven because the raven had a shrill call, as opposed to other birds. The raven would be best to alert survivors of the flood that other life still existed, like a fog horn or a shout in a mine.
Picture of Raven from: http://www.jrcompton.com/photos/The_Birds/J/West/_JR30131-raven-close.jpg
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
This picture was brought in by Joel Silberstein, a collector, historian, congregational secretary and Cohen at the BRJC. Joel, who was born in Germany and got out before World War II, often speaks of how the Jews were courteously treated in Germany and the corresponding positive Jewish attitude towards Germany during WWI and after the war. Joel's private collection of curiousities contains post cards and other print material that show Jews proud of their German heritage and demonstrate how the Germans, at that time, treated the Jews fairly as equals. Of course, Joel would insist, some of that was just surface pleasantry and that deep down there was resentment and antipathy; but at times, such as that which is depicted here, certain German institutions seemed to accommodate Jews.
This is a picture of a Jewish prayer service out in the field. One of the amazing things about, of course, is that this occurred during World War 1, in Germany. This service took place, as stated here, by order of the Army of His Magesty the German Emperor on 29/30 September 1914 which corresponds to the 10 of Tishre, 5675-- Yom Kippur. The field Rabbi was Dr. Sonderling, in Hamburg.
I am not sure what the formal arrangement was here. I am not sure if the man standing in front of Dr. Sonderling (who I assume is the man in front) was reading Torah or davenning or giving a dvar Torah. Perhaps this formation is some kind of military ritual? If anyone knows, it would be interesting to hear. If he was reading Torah, its curious that there is no one else next to him (gabbaim) and if he is davenning, perhaps he is doing so in the German Reform style instead of as many do today, facing the same way as the congregation.
Looking for more information about Dr. Sonderling, I began to learn what a remarkable life he led and what kind of impact he had in the Jewish world. I was particularly interested in how broadly he approached his Jewish life, becoming involved in scholarship, communal affairs, and even in cultural patronage.
While still in Germany, he had a synagogue in Hamburg, serving in the New Dammtor Synagogue with Dr. David Leimdorfer. He had originally worked in the Neustadt district of Hamburg starting in 1908.
According to one site (see citations below): "He was army rabbi during the First World War and after the war described the horror. He emigrated to the USA in 1921. A synagogue attender later related that the sermons of both preachers were well structured and were masterpieces of oratory. Many members of the Synagogue Society also attended the New Dammtor Synagogue to experience these sermons."
He eventually made his way to America and served as the Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, in Rhode Island, installed around Oct. 3rd, 1929. He seemed to have been loved and revered in the Reform movement. Sometime after Rhode Island, he made his way to Los Angeles where he served at the Temple of Fairfax. There, he commissioned music to be written by Ernst Toch (the rabbi wrote the libretto), which resulted in the Cantata of the Bitter Herb. He also wrote the text for Schoenberg's Kol Nidre. (see links below if you would like to hear some of this)
Sonderling was mentioned in a commencement speech in 2004 by Alfred Gottschalk at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles:
Sondering had "a small congregation of German refugees in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles.... He died on Simchas Torah and was born on Simchas Torah some 93 years apart, hardly a coincidence..... One day, (towards the end of his career as Rabbi of Fairfax Temple, which eventually was sold with the proceeds coming to support the fledgling new campus of the Hebrew Union College going up at the University of Southern Calimfornia) Sonderling arrived at the Appian way campus, huffing and puffing his way up our sole staircase. He had in his arms a thin tall scroll wrapped in an antique frayed Torah cover. I met him as he reached the top of the stairs and he said, "This scroll it was in my ark for over forty years. Take it! Now it is yours! I give it to the college to preserve."
It was a parchment scroll of the prophets. A rarity. In the first world war Rabbi Sonderling served in Kaiser Wilhelm's army on the eastern front. He was a Jewish Chaplain and moved with the troops, one night as the army was pushing eastward, Sonderling realized he was in a shtetl. There was a light on in the small synagogue he was passing in his vehicle. He ordered hsi driver to stop. Sonderling entered the synagogue. In a corner in the dim light he saw a man cowering. Sonderling approached him and said, "Ich bin oycha yid was tust du hier is a sakanah nfashot."
The man replied, "Ich bin der shames von der shiel und wir hoben a sefer im open hakodsh."
Sonderling said, "Ich bin a rav und ich will sein shomer for seder" I am a rabbi and will become guardian of the scroll in your stead.
The Shames handed it to him carefully. Sonderling took the scroll and said to the shammes, "Yetzt loif." Run, it's dangerous here.
He once remarked, "The seminary made me a rabbi. The university made me a doctor. But my experience in Eastern Europe made me a Jew."
On Sonderling and music:
If you want to hear the Schoenberg Kol Nidre, the Schoenberg Center has made some original recordings, with Schoenberg's voice available here: http://www.schoenberg.at/6_archiv/voice/voice2_e.htm
Gottschalk's commencement speech:
On Sonderling in Hamburg:
(http://www1.uni-hamburg.de/rz3a035//1vonmellepark.html)that documents old German synagogues