After the first Democratic Presidential Debate on October 13, 2015 we went to sleep in America and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a book of fiction. A year later we find ourselves in the thick of the book’s madness with the Queen of Hearts/Trump screaming, “Off with their heads.”
We recognize in our midst Lewis Carroll’s central character the Queen/Trump that the author describes as a “blind fury,” a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, irrational monarch in which the King/Paul Ryan is attempting to mitigate the awful decrees.
The death of Shimon Peres last week has been the occasion of any number of fulsome eulogies and overwrought comparisons. But the person who keeps coming to mind for us is Moses.
It’s not that we think that Peres was a prophet, ordained by God, or on some kind of a holy mission. But there are similarities. If Peres did not quite reach Moses’ 120 years, he came about as close as people come these days. And like Moses he has been around forever, in a preternaturally busy political career of some seven decades. And like Moses shaping an Israelite people to enter the land, Peres was one the Founders of a Jewish state on that land. And both men were men of war and men of peace; ruthless and generous; conniving and ingenuous; narrow pragmatists and expansive idealists. And in the end both men were able to transcend their many contradictions.
It is customary in Jewish tradition to offer a Shehecheyanu, שהחיינו a blessing to thank God for enabling us to experience a new or special occasion.
The custom of the blessing is mentioned in the Talmud and has been part of Jewish customary blessings for centuries. Shehecheyanu covers a wide range of offering thanks for new or special occasions from blessing the start of holidays, hearing the sound of the Shofar, lighting Hanukkah candles to eating the new fruit of the season. Shehechenyanu is recited by reading the blessing, or singing the verse using one of the many musical melodies.
It is not easy to confront Donald Trump, but my uncle Jack has never shied away from bullies. Trump has defeated the Republican candidates, heaping insults on them to diminish their manhood. My uncle Jack trained as a boxer, which gives him the well-known gloves-on, ready to throw a punch posture.
Even if you don’t know my uncle or not fond of the sport, you realize that boxing the fighting with fists is about super confronting. It has a long history going back to the Greeks with ups and downs in popularity throughout the centuries. Boxing gained prestige in the west to become an official sport when it got included in the Olympic Games in 1904. Uncle Jack’s training is an essential qualification to challenge Trump if you consider that boxing requires enormous courage and focused determination.
When you stand in the Esnoga, the massive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, built in 1675, you are aware that you are standing in one of the most remarkable places in the Jewish world. Standing there, alone, with a friend, as I did on a recent quiet Sunday morning, you can only gape at its ambition, its vaulted ceilings, its elaborate candelabras. (Its services are still only lit by candlelight.)
There isn’t a Jewish community anywhere quite like that in Amsterdam. There was little Jewish presence in the city before 1600. And then, as the Netherlands made its astonishing rise from minor Hapsburg dominion to the most powerful economic power in the world, Jews started to come in large numbers. Because of the Hapsburg connection, most of the Jews came from Portugal, and unlike any other Jewish community, before or since, it was largely comprised of new Jews, persons who hadn’t started their lives as Jews, but as conversos. They were primarily individuals who wanted to be Jewish, but really didn’t know much about their religion, and in this, two centuries before Jewish emancipation, they were the first modern Jewish community, having to find and create their traditions, rather than being born into one.
As women who care deeply about the future of our country, we want to build a tower of love and strength for you. We are appalled by the ignorant misrepresentation of you by TV networks that seek ratings through false controversies.
The two candidates vying for office are in no way comparable. You are an experienced stateswoman, the best-prepared presidential candidate of our time. Your opponent is a huckster. TV journalists treat the fraud with respect while they attack the stateswoman with impunity.
An essay I read recently by Jacob Neusner, the man of a thousand books, on the creation of the Torah, has got me thinking.
Most of Neusner’s 1000 or so books have been devoted to the explication of the Talmud, and his basic, though controversial thesis is that the complex corpus of documents known as the Talmud need to be read through the perspective of its final redactors. This means for the Talmud, everything it says about the Pharisees, about Hillel and Shammai, is filtered through the biases of those who lived hundreds of years later, which means it’s a poor historical source for the earlier period. And the Torah, for Neusner, especially the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah to be written, is filtered through the scribes, from the time of the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE to Ezra and Nehemiah, a century or so later, who created the Torah we know today.
Let’s begin at the end—Go see Michal Aviad’s new film Dimona Twist. This marvelous movie is also about my mother, about women who lived in Casablanca and other modern French colonial cities that resembled Paris far more than Dimona.
Women and their families who migrated with dreams of a Jewish harmonious Garden of Eden found themselves deceitfully and deliberately pushed off trucks in God forsaken far away places like Dimona, Beit Shemesh and Bat Yam, to fulfill a national dream of conquering the desert and settling the land; an aspiration that others dreamed for them. The Women could not comprehend the display of superiority by the locals and were furious at the arrogance of “the first Israel toward the second Israel,” which was, as one of the women says, without justifications.
I met Nick Clark in one of the many Torah study groups that convene in synagogues on Shabbat morning before the prayer service. Those who have been to more than one, would attest that no group is like any other, yet they are similar because they all read and comment on the weekly portion, known in Hebrew as Parashah.
While groups have different styles, they all use a mixture of the Torah text and the vast commentary that engages with the text. Over the centuries rabbinic commentaries on Torah have been building on each other offering arguments, debates, illuminations, and new insights.