Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hebrew School Play

The following, in three segments, is a play the Hebrew School students performed last Wednesday, January 23, 2008. The subject: how did Moses get his stutter?

Part 1

Part 2:

Part 3:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Orthodox Stance -- Go See It!

ORTHODOX STANCE will begin its exclusive NYC theatrical engagement at Cinema Village on January 25th and tickets are now on sale!

The film will screen daily at 1:30 PM, 3:20 PM, 5:10 PM, 7 PM, 9 PM, and tickets can be purchased at and at the box office:

Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street (University Place & 5th Avenue)
212-924-3363. N, R, 4, 5, 6 or L train to 14th Street/Union Square

This film has been getting a lot of attention largely because the subject, Dimitry Salita, struggles in a respectful way with living in both the secular world of boxing and the religious world of Judaism. He is a solid young man with a lot of talent and he tries his best to live a life according to the mitzvot. As I am sure you have heard, he won't fight on Shabbas (listen up kids!)

I am always taken by these kinds of stories, stories where people try and bring holiness into a place where holiness is not often found, because it takes a lot of a person to be a pioneer in this way, or to stick to their convictions when not sticking to their convictions would be easier. I will have more to say about the film after I have seen it. I have seen earlier versions of it and have met Dimitry (and seen him fight).

What I would like to emphasize here is the dedication and the tenacity that the film maker, Jason Hutt, has brought to this, his work for the last couple of years. Jason likes to avoid attention and so I will not say too much about him here-- about his own ability to navigate the different worlds of Judaism and secularism, his own gentlemanly and pugilistic spirit, his own powers of observation and how they help to create a better world, but I will say that Jason deserves a lot of appreciation for sticking with this project and making sure that it was something that would be compelling, honest and engaging. He has believed in Dimitry, the film, the struggles of living in this dual world, the capacity of film to enter people into new worlds and important struggles, for a long time. If the fly on the wall had as much talent and passion as Jason for its art, we would surely put down the swatter and invite it to lunch (or fund its next projects).

Many of you have seen Jason Hutt at the shul over the past couple of years. He has been one of the supporters coming from Park Slope, dancing Tango at the Purim Bang, davenning Tisha b'Av on the floor with candles, and davenning with us on occasion on a Shabbas. He speaks kindly of our shul and we should make sure to return the support by spreading the word about his film and going to see it.

If you can, please try and see it this weekend so that interest will continue to be generated and it will get a longer run at Cinema Village. This way more people will get to see it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Take off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy."

This question recently came up in a class at the shul when we were talking about the life that Moshe found in Midian.  It seemed that he was finally comfortable there, finding a wife and a life away from the oppression of his fellow Israelites.  He must have appreciated being away from all of the violence and the culture of oppression that he was around in Egypt.   It would be interesting to see how he would have been affected psychologically from killing a man (I am not sure anyone has done a comparison between Moshe and others who have taken lives), and interesting to consider that he would have appreciated being away from the place of that incident.  In Midian, he could have found peace.  

When Moshe names his son Gershom "I was a stranger there" most people (see the Hertz Chumash) read this as "I was a stranger in Egypt.  I was not royalty, but one of the Others" which most take to mean a move towards solidarity with the Israelites.  But it seems just as plausible to mean "I was a stranger in that environment.  I wasn't comfortable despite my luxurious surroundings.  That was not my place."  He could only know his discomfort and a sense of dislocation  when he found a place where he did fit, namely Midian.

This heightens the personal drama and highlights the sense of self sacrifice of Moshe.  Moshe left Midian after seeing the burning bush and re-entered Egypt where he would be uncomfortable and in danger.  He, in effect, chose dislocation for a sense of conviction.  He cast aside fashion and comfort for a cause he believed in.  

A question:  Most commentators read God's command to Moshe to remove his shoes near the burning bush as a desire to keep refuse which could have accumulated on Moshe's shoes away from the ground which was holy.  But could it be that when God appeared to Moshe and said, "Take off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy" that God meant to teach that Holiness has nothing to do with comfort, fashion, or intermediaries (as represented by the shoes), but it has to do with engagement and real feeling (whether good or uncomfortable)?    

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Halacha like Love?

This is a playful and interesting poem by W.H. Auden about the Law-- What is it? From where does it derive its authority?  How should one think about it?

I think its helpful when thinking about Halacha.

W. H. Auden
Law Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyvay:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.