The Land of the Blind

I’ve always been fond of the metaphoric statement: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. Like a good parable should, it provides a fantastic rubric for describing a particular type of situation. My father is full of these pearls of wisdom. Some of his other favorites – which have become my own favorites – include “You can lead a horse to water, but it’s still a horse” and “unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view never changes”.

This morning, I saw the source for the first saying. It appears in Bereishit Rabbah on this week’s parsha, and it is used to explain the verse “tamim haya be-dorotav”. This is also an excellent example of a mashal as a hermeneutic device which provides a rubric or narrative pattern within which one can interpret the verse. See Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Readiong of Midrash, ve-acm”l.

Here’s the text of the midrash:

רבי יהודה אמר: בדורותיו היה צדיק, הא אילו היה בדורו של משה, או בדורו של שמואל, לא היה צדיק. בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא, סגי נהור.

Rabbi Yehuda says: In his generation he was righteous, but had he lived in the generation of Moshe or Shmuel, he would not have been considered righteous. In the blind man’s market, the dim-eyed man is called “flooded with light”.


What's Next? Separate Water Fountains?

Add this to the tefillin incident of a few weeks ago, and a highly disturbing picture begins to emerge. This is plain and simple bigotry. This town has some real issues.


Beautiful Dvar Torah for Shemini Atzeret

I have a chavruta with whom I am studying the works of R. Yehuda Leib Graubart, who was a Rav in Europe and later in St. Louis and Toronto in the early part of the 20th century. We’re learning through a book of his drashot called “Devarim Kichtavam”. It’s fascinating to see how he relates to the “current events” of his time, such as the Scopes Monkey trial.

He has a short Devar Torah on Shemini Atzeret which is beautiful, and which expresses his Zionist sympathies. He contrasts the celebration of Sukkot, which symbolizes galut in that we exit our homes and bring sacrifices on behalf of the nations of the world, in which we shake a lulav that represents our subservience to foreign powers and our constant guardedness against threats that could be coming from any direction, with the celebration of Shemini Atzeret which reminds us that we will eventually return to our home with its strong foundations and steady shelter, that the galut has an Atzeret – an end. On this date (at least in Israel) we read the verse of “Va-yishkon Yisrael betach badad” – Israel shall dwell securely alone.

Hag Sameah!


Holiday Roundup

The holiday roundup thus far:

On the Yamim Noraim, I gave 2 shiurim and davened a Shacharit, a Maariv, and Neilah for the amud. Nevertheless, I emerged feeling pretty uninspired and that the Yamim Tovim were “Lo Nora”. It’s possible that I’ve been so absorbed in my new self-employment that I simply have not been able to focus on it.

Whenever I clapped at latznu, I was being “toveil ve-sheretz be-yado”.

I’ve been reading up a bit on the history of etrogim. Fascinating history. One amusing recollection that I have is of an Israeli discussing the responsum of the Chatam Sofer on the kashrut of the so-called “Yanover Esrogim”. These esrogim were actually from Southern Italy, but reached Central Europe via the port of Genoa (Yanova). The Israeli kept referring to the city of Geneva, which neither possesses the climate to grow citrons nor is a port city.

I also noticed yesterday, when visiting a religious yishuv, that they labeled an etrog tree with a short description that includes the purported fact that etrogim were introduced into Israel around the time of Ezra. I think that this is generally accepted by historians and botanists (or perhaps it is a bit early by their count), but I was under the impression that the general thinking in mainstream Orthodox circles is that the etrog goes back to the time of Moshe and the giving of the Torah. I’m not disturbed by the idea that there was some ambiguity regarding the identity of the pri etz hadar. There are some indicators in Tanach (Nechemiah 8:15) and in the Gemara (Kiddushin 70a) that the etrog was a foreign import and not initially understood to be the Biblical pri etz hadar. However, I was unaware that there were segments of the Orthodox world who took this as a foregone conclusion.


Hits from Academic Institutions

Since I began this blog while I was working at the Hillel at UMD (see this post about an fun event that took place there 3 years ago on Chol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot), it’s only natural that I get a bunch of hits from academic institutions. The past 100 page views, for examples, include hits from MIT (2 hits), Columbia, Penn, Maryland, Hopkins, Yale, Yeshiva University, Farleigh Dickinson, NYU, and Florida Atlantic. All of these institutions have a large pool of students and faculty members who could conceivably be drawn to this blog.

There are also three hits from an obscure liberal arts school in Minnesota, St. Olaf’s. I only ever heard of St. Olaf’s in Minnesota because I used to watch Golden Girls reruns as a kid. All three hits were to the same page – this one (one of my first posts ever) – and were not directed from another page; in other words, the url was typed in directly or copied from a file. My best guess is that a professor assigned it for a class. Very curious. I think I'll try getting to the bottom of this.

[UPDATE: Apparently, the Judaics professor assigned a midterm paper on Menachot 29b, and the students found the post].


Flattered but Outraged

They say that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. I understand, but it still seems outrageous when it happens. There’s also the issue of “meivi davar be-shem omro” (link is to an old but good post).

I mention it because a few weeks ago I was forwarded an email promoting “Adam Ha-Rishon’s Segulah for Parnassah”. It seemed very familiar to me, and that is because I wrote it. This mixed emotion of pride (however perverse) and outrage is new to me.

Earlier today, in shul, I was speaking with someone who mentioned that another fellow had hung this segulah for parnassah in his sukkah. I asked if it was “Adam Ha-Rishon’s Segulah”, and sure enough it was, and had been forwarded to him from a friend in the States. Apperently this has been making the rounds, so I felt compelled to put it out there again – please attribute it when forwarding it around!

Anyhow, the fellow I had been schmoozing with about it in shul put it into a good perspective for me. He (Dr. Ari [Arthur] Schaffer) penned an article in 1982 entitled The Agricultural and Ecological Symbolism of the Four Species of Sukkot (timely, no?). He mentioned that he had heard his main thesis repeated in a number of contexts and by a number of people. He took immense pride in the dissemination of the idea, even if it remained unattributed. I guess I should aspire to that attitude, but I really can’t say I do. I take pride in my chiddushim, whether they are good or not, and whether they are edifying or not (in this instance, I believe that a strong case can be made that my lampoon constitutes ‘leitzanuta de-Avoda Zara’ and is thus edifying).

So if you get this in a email, reply to the sender with a link to the original post and bring a bit of ge’ulah into the world. And to the reader who lifted it and sent it out without attribution – please try to remedy the situation.


Modiin Kid Told to Keep Tefillin Out of Public School

Link to the Ynet article

The depth of ignorance in the Jewish State is sometimes astounding. Regarding this issue, there was actually a debate in an email forum in Modiin, with some people defending the school. I'm sorry to sound so insensitive to those ostensibly well-meaning parents who fear that their children will become prey to religious coercion because a couple of classmates think its cool to wear religious symbols for a few minutes every day, but I really have no patience for this.
Are these parents that insecure? After all, it's a free world out there, and all kinds of people will be out there hawking all kinds of things in life - drugs, sex, and, yes, religion. If they're afraid that their impressionable little teenager will go over to the Dark Side because a buddy likes strapping on leather boxes, I'd hate to consider how neurotic they become when the kids goes out on weekends. Seriously, can we get a grip? Do we really think that kids being kids - and different kids are into different things - is "proselytizing" or "coercion"?
One parent compared this kid bringing his tefillin to religious or traditional kids insisting that class birthday parties not be held on Shabbat. It's a poor comparison. Here, the bephylacteried youth is not expecting or demanding that anyone else live up to his standard. Rather, the school shutting this kid down would be more akin to a parent who made a birthday party on Shabbat and then complained that when a Shabbat observant kid failed to turn up, that he "ruined" the birthday party.
I also find it laughable that a school can ban a kid from offering to share his tefillin with a classmate in the name of being against coercion. I'm usually pretty good about seeing both sides of an issue, but this is cut-and-dried. A kid can bring his tefillin to school and offer to share it with his friends. He can do the same with his sunflower seeds, his stamp collection, of whatever else is legal to possess.
By my libertarian sensibilities, a kid should also be allowed to sport a crucifix or be entitled to bust out the prayer rug 5 times a day if he or she so desires, but I don't want to go there for fear of shattering to many people's narrow conceptions of what people from which sectors ought to believe.
Now, if the kid were wearing a Yankee cap, it would be a whole different ball of wax...
May this year be one of clearheadedness and sanity in the City of the Future.