Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Jewish Birds (?)



This is a strange gemara about temptation, vanity and the evil eye.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף כ עמוד א

רב גידל הוה רגיל דהוה קא אזיל ויתיב אשערי דטבילה אמר להו הכי טבילו והכי טבילו אמרי ליה רבנן לא קא מסתפי מר מיצר הרע אמר להו דמיין באפאי כי קאקי חיורי רבי יוחנן הוה רגיל דהוה קא אזיל ויתיב אשערי דטבילה אמר כי סלקן בנות ישראל ואתיין מטבילה מסתכלן בי ונהוי להו זרעא דשפירי כוותי אמרי ליה רבנן לא קא מסתפי מר מעינא בישא אמר להו אנא מזרעא דיוסף קא אתינא דלא שלטא ביה עינא בישא דכתיב +בראשית מ"ט+ בן פורת יוסף בן פורת עלי עין ואמר רבי אבהו אל תקרי עלי עין אלא עולי עין רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר מהכא +בראשית מ"ח+ וידגו לרב בקרב הארץ מה דגים שבים מים מכסין עליהם ואין עין הרע שולטת בהם אף זרעו של יוסף אין עין הרע שולטת בהם ואי בעית אימא עין שלא רצתה לזון ממה שאינו שלו אין עין הרע שולטת בו 

Brachot 20a

Rav. Gidel would go and sit at the entrance of the (women's) mikveh. He would say to them, "Immerse this way. Immerse this way." The rabbis said to them, "Don't you worry about your yetzer hara?"  He said to them, "They seem to me like white geese."

R. Yochanan would go and sit at the entrance to the Mikveh.  He said, "When the daughters of Israel would come out of the mikveh, they would look at me and they will have children as beautiful as I am.  They said to him, "Aren't you worried about incurring the evil eye?"  He said to them, "I come from the line of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no power as it is written, 'A charming son is Jospeh, a charming son to the eye (alei ayin).'"  R. Abahu said, "Don't read it alei ayin (to the eye) rather olei ayin (over the eye)."

R. Yossi bar Chaninah said that you can derive that Yosef was immune to the evil eye from a different verse:  "And may they grow in the land as abundantly as the fish in the sea."  Just as the fish in the sea has water that covers them, so too regarding the progeny of Yosef, that the evil eye has no power over them. 
 
Or if you want you can say that an eye that does not want to enjoy that which is not its own (like Yosef resisted the temptation of Potifar), the evil eye has no power over it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Address for the Interfaith Service


This is Psalm 65, and in the spirit of the evening I would suggest imagining this being written by a farmer, finished with the days work, sitting under the stars, in the quiet with the crickets, wanting somehow to express gratitude and awe, but feeling dwarfed nonetheless by his own shortcomings.

Psalm 65, translated by Robert Alter (a fantastic new translation, completely worth acquiring for one's library and studying):

For the lead player, a psalm; for David, a song.
To you, silence is praise, God in Zion,
And to You a vow will be paid.

O listener to prayer, unto You all flesh shall come.
My deeds of mischief are too much for me.
Our crimes but you atone.

Happy whom you choose to draw close,
He will dwell in Your courts.
May we be sated with Your house’s bounty,
The holiness of Your temple.

With awesome acts justly You answer us,
Our rescuing God,
Refuge of all the earth’s ends and the far flung sea,
Who sets mountains firm in His power,
-- He is girded in might—
Who quiets the roar of the seas,
The roar of their waves and the tumult of nations.
And those who dwell at earth’s ends will fear Your signs.

The portals of morning and evening You gladden.
You pay mind to the earth and soak it.
You greatly enrich it.
God’s stream is filled with water.
You ready their grain, for so You ready it.
Quench the thirst of its furrows, smooth out its hillhocks,
Melt it with showers, it’s growth you will bless.
You crown Your bountiful year,
And Your pathways drip ripeness.
The wilderness meadows do drip,
And with joy the hills are girded.

The pastures are clothed with flocks
And the valleys are mantled with grain.
They shout for joy, they even sing.

Growing up in the city, I have never really connected to the Harvest ideas in Judaism. My understanding of religion has always had more to do with individual responsibility for the collective and the way that study can become enlightening and a creative act akin to God’s creating the world. These are ideas consistent with close urban living. Finding the magesty in texts rather than in nature. Like the psalmist here, my way into the universal, only gets edged forward bit by bit, after a recognition of my own smallness. In the way that he looks up and beyond, eventually, he probably does it quite a bit better than I.

Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesach were Harvest festivals where we connect with the agriculture of the land and bring offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. On sukkot, the ritual was totalizing and the Israelites would live out in booths in the fields and thank God for the fruits, vegetables and grains that we were fortunate to be able to cultivate. In the city, our sukkot are on cement and wedged between buildings. We try. On Shavuot, the city of Jerusalem was decorated with all of the colors of the produce. We eat cheesecake and study.

For along with these ancient agricultural festivals in Judaism, the rabbis attached literary and historical-theological events, so that we could connect to the stories of the Torah as we appreciated the bounty of the land. They would become entwined, the God of History and the God who stands outside of time, renewing the land again and again, independent of the year and the events that are going on to determine the course of history.

As a city dweller, someone who has become less and less attached to the land as the years go on, the idea of sitting back and being thankful for agricultural sustenance seems a bit inaccessible. I try to imagine what a months worth of days with my hands in the soil would do to my skin. And the feeling I would have to know that all my meals for the next eight months and the meals of my family were taken care of—at least in part to the time that I spend engaging in God’s natural world. I know that I still owe my life to the fact that food grows from the earth, especially as a vegetarian, and I still know that there are many whose livelihood depends on the fact that the earth will continue to yield its produce. But it is hard for me to approach a concept such as the Harvest. When I imagine Avraham, it is easier for me to imagine him scurrying to get home before shabbas, checking his suit for loose strings, than it is for me to imagine him taking a walk on shabbas afternoon among the corn rows. The rabbis have not helped counter this feeling of urbanized Judaism. When speaking of Yaakov being a yoshev ohalim (someone who sits in tents), they turned this from what it could have meant-- that he appreciated the outdoors in a serene way (as opposed to his brother Esav, who hunted) to meaning that he liked to stay indoors and study in the yeshivas.

Since living in Israel on Kibbutz, harvesting dates from the tops of trees overlooking the mountains in Jordan , or picking scallions for 8 hours a day, I have dwelt more indoors than out. New York, I think can do that to you.

In order to continually recognize the source of our blessings. And consequently it continue to recognize the daily connection that we have to the land, Jews say brachot every time we put something into our mouths. The blessings vary based on what one is eating.

For the apples we put in pies—one says:
Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, creator of the fruit of the trees.

For barley, one says: Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, who creates different kinds of grains.

For bread one says: Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

For sweet potatoes and cranberries (which grow in swamps) one says: Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.

For turkey one says: Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, by whose word the whole world was created.

Perhaps another reason, besides for the fact that I exist in an urban setting, that the ability to connect to the Harvest is hard to come by is that the notion of a harvest feels so satisfied and for better or worse, satisfaction is hard to come by as a Jew. Planting is easier to stomach. It feels like a mission. It is about making the world better.

In the area of Harvest, we still have rules that remind us that the local harvest may be complete, but the grand harvest, or the project of making plenty in the world is far from it. In the Harvest, a jew does not have free reign over the experience. He or she may not harvest, for example, on the 7th year of a cycle. He can not harvest the crops that fall to the ground. He may not take certain small clusters of grapes, or go back for forgotten clusters, and he cannot plow to the edge of the field – all of these must be left for the poor.

So even in the harvest there is a notion of planting. Planting for a better world.

All the same, we need to sit back to remember the necessity of appreciating the land and appreciating that which has been given us. God has created a system that allows food to spring from the ground and has make us partners in bringing that food to our tables and to the mouths of our children. It is a system that allows us to recognize the dependence that we have on God, but it also continually empowers us, rewarding us for the efforts that we expend.

If we do not sit back and appreciate what we have, then we may likely lose sight of the ultimate project of making sure that everyone is provided for and that a continual harvest happens on earth. To feel thankful is at the same time to motivate. To continue to remember the goal of all our work.

A story, Peninah Shram's version of Honi Ha-Ma'agal:

Honi the Wise One was also known as Honi the Circle Maker. By drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain, sometimes even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was, indeed, a miracle maker. As wise as he was, Honi sometimes saw something that puzzled him. Then he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery.

One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?"

The man replied, "Seventy years."

Honi then asked the man, "And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?"

The man answered, "Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees."

On Thanksgiving, as those who are enjoying the carob of those who came before us, we should be thankful for their foresight. After the shouts for joy, the songs of praise uttered, we will continue to do what we can to make sure the valleys are mantled with grain.

And break silences both in praise of God and in service of planting because we know we must.


(The picture is from www.salvationarmysouth.com)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

comic name tbd page four

click on the left side for pages 1-3 of the comic.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mazal Tov!



So as most of you know, I was gone this week celebrating my sister's wedding. It was at the art museum in Milwaukee, designed by Santiago Calatrava. In addition to how moving it was to seeing my sister get married, I loved the blend of modern and ancient which you can see here. (Picture by Richard A. Chapman). Tam and Brian seem very happy.

Weddings are so complicated and interesting because, as my friend David Koffman says, there are so many emotions in the room besides for joy. And they never get acknowledged. Sometimes there is also sadness and regret and longing over past marriages and marriages that never happened, or happened yet. Perhaps that is why it is a commandment to mesameiach hechatan v'hakallah-- rejoice with the bride and the groom-- because without it being a mitzvah, people may not be able to get past their own situations and emotions. Fortunately most people rose to the occasion.

I was also proud that during my talk, I did not utter anything about that oppressive concept called beshert (that statement may get me in trouble, were anyone reading this besides for my mother. Speaking of which, I am thinking about renaming this blog: "Blog for my mother" because she visits it more than anyone else!).

My sister looked beautiful and the transformation from fiance to husband Brian wore well. I think he was truly moved by everything that happened. It was nice to see so many people dancing and laughing at the wedding. They did a fantastic job planning everything, making it all look so regal-- the red against the white. And my grandmother who is nearing ninety seemed elated.

Tomorrow, back to work....

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kisui Rosh (covering one's head)

video

hebrew class cancelled today

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to let you know that the adult introduction to hebrew class (Thursday evenings) has been cancelled again today because the teacher is tending to a family emergency out of state.

If you email us your contact information, we will be able to inform you of the status of the class directly.

Please email: Brjc11209@aol.com

kol tuv (all the best).

Monday, November 5, 2007

“I told them: put away your phones, put away your phones, put away your phones,” he said. They ignored him.



Below is an article from the Times about using electronic jamming devices to silence cellphones. On Shabbas, this would be particularly handy, if it could be left on (and if it were legal). I am not sure how many times I have asked people not to bring their cell phones to shul on Shabbas. There are also signs all over the walls on the way up to the sanctuary. It has been amazing to me that when they go off (which let's admit, has happened to everyone in some context where they shouldn't have had them on), people actually answer them in the sanctuary. Unbelievable. I wonder if people answer them in church or in a reform synagogue where propriety is stressed.

Part of the problem is that the only enforcer in our shul is the rabbi. If the community at large would help in putting a stop to this instead of looking the other way and waiting for the rabbi to notice, the problem may begin to be solved. But when the rabbi is the only enforcer, it seems to create a dynamic similar to that of a two year old, which is that if the rabbi can't see it, then it is okay.

The boulder pushed up the hill won't stay there unless there are people at the top to keep it there.

Devices Enforce Silence of Cellphones, Illegally

By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

The jamming technology works by sending out a radio signal so powerful that phones are overwhelmed and cannot communicate with cell towers. The range varies from several feet to several yards, and the devices cost from $50 to several hundred dollars. Larger models can be left on to create a no-call zone.

Using the jammers is illegal in the United States. The radio frequencies used by cellphone carriers are protected, just like those used by television and radio broadcasters.

The Federal Communication Commission says people who use cellphone jammers could be fined up to $11,000 for a first offense. Its enforcement bureau has prosecuted a handful of American companies for distributing the gadgets — and it also pursues their users.

Investigators from the F.C.C. and Verizon Wireless visited an upscale restaurant in Maryland over the last year, the restaurant owner said. The owner, who declined to be named, said he bought a powerful jammer for $1,000 because he was tired of his employees focusing on their phones rather than customers.

“I told them: put away your phones, put away your phones, put away your phones,” he said. They ignored him.

The owner said the F.C.C. investigator hung around for a week, using special equipment designed to detect jammers. But the owner had turned his off.

The Verizon investigator was similarly unsuccessful. “He went to everyone in town and gave them his number and said if they were having trouble, they should call him right away,” the owner said. He said he has since stopped using the jammer.

Of course, it would be harder to detect the use of smaller battery-operated jammers like those used by disgruntled commuters.

An F.C.C. spokesman, Clyde Ensslin, declined to comment on the issue or the case in Maryland.

Cellphone carriers pay tens of billions of dollars to lease frequencies from the government with an understanding that others will not interfere with their signals. And there are other costs on top of that. Verizon Wireless, for example, spends $6.5 billion a year to build and maintain its network.

“It’s counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman. The carriers also raise a public safety issue: jammers could be used by criminals to stop people from communicating in an emergency.

In evidence of the intensifying debate over the devices, CTIA, the main cellular phone industry association, asked the F.C.C. on Friday to maintain the illegality of jamming and to continue to pursue violators. It said the move was a response to requests by two companies for permission to use jammers in specific situations, like in jails.

Individuals using jammers express some guilt about their sabotage, but some clearly have a prankster side, along with some mean-spirited cellphone schadenfreude. “Just watching those dumb teens at the mall get their calls dropped is worth it. Can you hear me now? NO! Good,” the purchaser of a jammer wrote last month in a review on a Web site called DealExtreme.

Gary, a therapist in Ohio who also declined to give his last name, citing the illegality of the devices, says jamming is necessary to do his job effectively. He runs group therapy sessions for sufferers of eating disorders. In one session, a woman’s confession was rudely interrupted.

“She was talking about sexual abuse,” Gary said. “Someone’s cellphone went off and they carried on a conversation.”

“There’s no etiquette,” he said. “It’s a pandemic.”

Gary said phone calls interrupted therapy all the time, despite a no-phones policy. Four months ago, he paid $200 for a jammer, which he placed surreptitiously on one side of the room. He tells patients that if they are expecting an emergency call, they should give out the front desk’s number. He has not told them about the jammer.

Gary bought his jammer from a Web site based in London called PhoneJammer.com. Victor McCormack, the site’s operator, says he ships roughly 400 jammers a month into the United States, up from 300 a year ago. Orders for holiday gifts, he said, have exceeded 2,000.

Kumaar Thakkar, who lives in Mumbai, India, and sells jammers online, said he exported 20 a month to the United States, twice as many as a year ago. Clients, he said, include owners of cafes and hair salons, and a New York school bus driver named Dan.

“The kids think they are sneaky by hiding low in the seats and using their phones,” Dan wrote in an e-mail message to Mr. Thakkar thanking him for selling the jammer. “Now the kids can’t figure out why their phones don’t work, but can’t ask because they will get in trouble! It’s fun to watch them try to get a signal.”

Andrew, the San Francisco-area architect, said using his jammer was initially fun, and then became a practical way to get some quiet on the train. Now he uses it more judiciously.

“At this point, just knowing I have the power to cut somebody off is satisfaction enough,” he said.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Blessing of Not Having a Daughter?!


In the Gemara in Bava Batra, the rabbis take up the question of whether God blessing Avraham "bakol" in everything, meant that he also had a daughter. R. Meir says that quite the opposite, he was blessed in the fact that he did not have a daughter and R. Yehudah disagrees and says that he must have had a daughter. The opinion of R. Meir, jarring and troubling as it is, is flushed out in the comment of the Ramban -- why not having a daughter for Avraham could have been considered a blessing.

רמב"ן בראשית פרק כד פסוק א

ולרבותינו בזה ענין נפלא. אמרו (ב"ב טז ב) וה' ברך את אברהם בכל, רבי מאיר אומר שלא היתה לו בת, רבי יהודה אומר בת היתה לו, אחרים אומרים בת היתה לו ובכל שמה. דרש רבי מאיר שלא היתה לו בת לאברהם, וזו לו לברכה כי לא היה יכול להשיאה רק לבני כנען הארורים, ואם ישלחנה לארצו גם כן תעבוד שם עבודה זרה כמותם, כי האשה ברשות בעלה, ואברהם לא יחפוץ שיצא זרעו הכשר משרה אשתו חוצה לארץ, ואף כי יעבוד עבודה זרה. ורבי יהודה דרש כי בת היתה לו, דאפילו ברתא לא חסריה רחמנא (שם קמא א), והיא הברכה בכל, כי היה לו כל אשר יחמדו האנשים לא חסר דבר. ובאו אחרים והזכירו שם הבת

Ramban

And for the rabbis this was an wonderful/interesting idea.-- They said, (BT Bava Batra 16b), And God blessed Avraham in everything. Rabbi Meir said that he would not have a daughter. Rabbi Yehudah said that he did have a daughter. Others say that he had a daughter and her name was “bakol.” Rabbi Meir explained that he did not have a daughter and this was a blessing, for he would only have been able to mary her off to a cursed Canannite and if he would have sent her to his land, she also would have committed idolatry like them, for a woman did according to the wishes of the husband. And Avraham did not want that his proper seed from Sarah, his wife, be outside of the land and commit idolatry. And Rabbi Yehudah, on the other hand, explained that he did have a daughter. That God even granted him a daughter (BT 141a), and she was “the blessing of everything” for Avraham had everything that people found dear, he did not lack anything. And the others mentioned the name of the daughter.

If you read this before sundown you will have a head start on our study session this shabbas--