Rally the Children

Rally the Children!

I’ll be there, together with my oldest (5 yrs old). She’s old enough to understand that there are things that we get off of our collective tuchus for. I’ll be thinking about the first Mishna in Chagigah, which talks about kids being oleh regel on their fathers’ shoulders.

Participation in this type of event is a formative educational experience. I remember being at the Rally for Soviet Jewry in the late 80s, and I remember that my parents brought the whole family (my youngest sibling was about 4 at the time). I even remember that the younger kids noticed that everyone was chanting slogans, and so got in on the action themselves, chanting a Hebrew phrase that they had learned in nursery school, ‘Acharon Acharon Chaviv’. It was adorable.

Bottom line, I became a baseball fan because I went to my first game when I was 5 or 6. This is what chinuch is all about, folks.

BTW, Looks like a few other bloggers will be there, including:
Ta Shmah
Dov Bear and Jameel will be there in spirit.
Who else?
If there’s a big enough group, let’s meet somewhere (someone who knows DC better than I will have to suggest where).


On the Hegemony of the Mishna Berurah

Gil posted about the well-known psak of the MB that one may get a haircut today, because the combines joy of Shabbat and overrides the custom of not getting a haircut during Rosh ChodeshSefirat Ha-Omer. Personally, I follow the position of R' Lichtenstien and shave on Fridays during Sefirah so this doesn't affect me all that much, but in the velt, many people will be using this hetter, especially those with bad-looking beards who have no shot at winning the annual beard-growing contest (insert appropriate references to the relevant Cheers! episode here).

A Sephardic balabos asked if this works for him as well. So I started looking for others who relate to this issue, and simply couldn't find any. It wasn't the most comprehensive of searches, but there was nothing. Furthermore, the simple meaning of the Shulchan Arukh (493:3) itself would preclude this hetter. If there are exceptions to the rule that one may not get a haircut on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, especially if those exceptions occur every few years, we would expect the SA to qualify his statement.

The chiddush here is not that the Mishna Berurah manufactures minhagim. I posted a while ago on this issue (and had a great debate with bluke), particularly about the practice of saying the bracha before Kriat Shema together with the Shli'ach Tzibbur . The 'minhag' to lay tefillin without a bracha and take them off before Hallel on Chol Ha-mo'ed is another example that comes to mind. Today's example is a bit different in that it's a leniency and not a stringency.

Another example that comes to mind is the chumra of women not making kiddush for men. There are positions, such as the Shulkhan Arukh, Arukh Ha-shulkhan, and Gr"a, that hold that women may make kiddush for men. There are positions (Ba"ch, Prisha) which hold that they are not motzi men. MB creates this middle position whereby he paskens like the SA me-ikkar ha-din, but then says that a woman should not do so le-chatchila because of zila milta. All others who invoke zila milta do so to explain why it's ineffective. MB takes there logic and turns it, essentially, into an issue of tznius (See Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilcheta on this issue), where it's muttar but you really shouldn't do it. This has become THE commonly accepted attitude toward women making kiddush.

I sincerely hope that the Mishna Berurah doesn't continue to dominate comtemporary halakhic practice, though, at least in the U.S.A., its hegemony is very strong. I've had American Talmidei Chakhamim, serious and learned men, tell me that the Mishna Berurah's psak has been accepted as binding, and that one may not follow an alternative position. Even the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh is being printed in editions which record instances where the MB disagrees. Soon enough, this will be all that people know.

Problem is, MB isn't really a halakhic work. It's a compendium and guide. R' Moshe Feinstein never quotes the MB as a halakhic precedent. It takes a snapshot of the halakhic process and presents a cautious conclusion. And it's not a lone voice either. There are alternatives to it, both Sephardic and Ashkenazic. I therefore have very mixed feelings about its hegemony over contemporary practice.


Early Godol Worship

The following passage is an adaptation of an early example of the ‘Gedolim-worship’ genre of biographies, especially Rabbinic biographies. It was produced by talmidim of this particular figure, who, in the spirit of next week’s Parsha (Acharei Mot – Kedoshim) deified him after his death. This figure is also responsible for the earliest example of a genre that until relatively recently has been foreign to Judaism – the ‘Rebbe-card’, or using the image of the Rebbe as an object of reverence. Here’s the passage:

Now his parents went to Yerushalayim every year for Pesach. When he was twelve years old, they went up to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov as usual. After Yom Tov, when they were on their way home, the child stayed in Yerushalayim without telling his parents, who figured that he was traveling with his cousins. After a day, when they realized that he wasn’t with them, they went back to Yerushalayim to find him. After three days, they found him sitting and learning from some of the greatest Gedolim, and could not only follow their shiurim, but could even upshlug them. Everyone who heard him were amazed at his understanding and at his answers.
To see the full biography, see here.
[Hat Tip: ADDeRebbetzin]

Bread in the Basket

I’ve been asked several times recently about the propriety of attending an a capella concert during Sefirah. The interesting thing is that the people asking the question are not concerned with Kol Ishah (the choir is comprised of both men and women, and there are female soloists).

I truly have no good explanation for this phenomenon. Why would there be a greater concern about something which is minhag (and it’s not even that; I don’t think that a capella constitutes rikudin u-mecholos, which is the Rema’s formulation of the type of festivities to avoid during Sefirah) than about something which is halakha psukah?

I was thinking that it might be purely sociological; it’s just what people do. But then I was thinking that there might be a better, psychological reason, which might even be similar to a halakhic principle.

I refer to davar she-yesh lo mattirin. This principle states that when something is only temporarily forbidden to eat, and will later become permissible, the normal rules of bittul – nullification of insignificant ingredients – don’t apply. For example, if I have vowed not to eat chocolate for 30 days, and on day 28 an insignificant amount of chocolate falls into my peanut butter, then under normal circumstances I can eat the peanut butter immediately and disregard the minute amount of (permanently forbidden) chocolate in there. However, since in this case the chocolate will again be permissible anyhow, we say that its presence in the mixture is not annulled, and the PB remains forbidden for another 2 days.

According to most Rishonim (with the exception of the REALLY LONG RA”N on Nedarim 52a), following Rashi’s lead, the reason is that there’s no reason to ‘play chicken’ with God unnecessarily, and since the food will be permitted shortly anyway, it’s better not to take risks.

This principle understands that a temporary prohibition is easier to manage than permanent one. One can hold out when there’s ‘bread in the basket’, i.e., an end in sight. Thus, in the current situation of my correspondents, they will be more likely to observe a set of restrictions of a temporary nature than to take on some permanent ones.

This can also explain the very odd conversation that I had with a balabos that can be described as traditional non-observant Orthodox on the last day of Pesach. He asked when he could eat chametz. I asked him to clarify – did he want to know when the stuff he sold would be bought back, or just when the Yom Tov is properly over. He indicated the latter, so he can call to have a pizza delivered as soon as Yom Tov ended. Same thing – 8 days of crackers and compote is a lot more doable than a lifetime without Domino’s.

ADDeRebbetzin points out that the same can be said for people who weren’t shomer negi’ah (to say the least) before marriage, but who, once married, keep Taharat Ha-mishpacha.


Manufacturing Memories

I must admit, I’m very cynical about Yom Ha-Shoah. I posted last year about what I thought would have been a better date. But reflecting on it more, and especially after thinking about the relationship between narrative and identity, I see more and more of how the entire basis of the day reflects how the Holocaust fits within a broader meta-narrative. It’s not about particular observances – saying Tehillim versus standing silent, for example – but about competing visions. Traditionally, we link all subsequent tragedies to the initial paradigmatic tragedies of Yirmiyahu’s era, and as extensions of that same narrative. Yom Ha-Shoah wrests the Holocaust from that narrative and places it within the context of a different one – the classic Zionist narrative (i.e., in Shazar’s words, more or less, “from the fall of Beitar until the rise of the modern State of Israel, nothing important happened; now, go play soccer”).

I’m OK with different memories, and even retellings which serve different religious/social/political purposes. If I learned anything from my experiment at the Seder this year, it’s that each retelling of the Exodus narrative has a different purpose. The goals of the retelling in Devarim are very different from the goals in Yehoshua (ve-acamo”l). But is each one a new narrative? A new founding myth? No. The old one may have been manipulated or recast, but never replaced. Here, the ancient narrative of U-mipnei Chata’einu Galinu Me-Artzeinu is being replaced with something completely different.

For an excellent article on this topic, see here (hat tip: Menachem Mendel). I’m not bothered by his questions about uniformity of memory and commemoration as much as he is. Possibly, the reason for that is that I’ve read Erica Brown’s brilliant and excellent article on the topic of trends in Holocaust commemoration, which can be found here. The paradigmatic traditional mode of commemorating the Churban – leaving a blank space – allows for unity without uniformity, as it doesn’t attempt to ‘fill’ that blank space with any particular agenda-driven ‘manufactured’ memory.

Finally, I was happy to read about movements afoot to generate an alternative Holocaust meta-narrative – not just a different set of experiences or a different type of commemoration – in Israel. You can read about that here.


כל ימי חייך

There’s a Mishna from the first Chapter of Brachot which addresses the daily obligation to invoke the Exodus from Egypt. R’ Elazar b. Azarya, whose position became normative, requires that it be invoked each day and each night. Ben Zoma provides the prooftext: the verse in Devarim 16:3 which reads, “In order that you remember the day you left Egypt every day of your life”, and, in the original Hebrew, contains the seemingly superfluous word “every”. This Mishna is very well-known because it found its way into the standard Haggadah, a fact which is somewhat perplexing. On the eve of the Seder, when we retell the story, of what concern is the obligation, which remains all year, to merely invoke it?

I was once teaching a class on the Haggadah at a Conservative synagogue. We looked at this verse in the Chumash, and the most available one on the premises was the Etz Hayim. Interestingly, instead of translating it as “all the days of thy life”, at KJ and JPS do, it was translated, IIRC, as “for as long as you live”. Whereas the earlier translations emphasize, as does the Mishna, the sense of daily rhythm, the Etz Chaim captures the element of lifelong pursuit. The original, and the Halakha, I believe, really capture both senses. The ritual performance is a concretization of the constant presence of that story in the fabric of our lives. This dual sense is captured best in the operative verb – tizkor – which has connotations of both ‘memory’ and ‘mention’.

This obligation is not formulated as a mitzvah in Devarim. Rather, it is the expected outcome of proper observance of Chag Ha-Matzot (which could, BTW, answer the question of why the Rambam doesn’t count this mitzvah as one of the 613; it’s not an independent mitzvah, but an outgrowth of proper observance of the holiday). The way that the verses there are structured, there’s a central event – the Pesach sacrifice itself/ the re-enactment of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim– followed by a 7-day lingering celebration of that event, which together should generate a memory strong enough to last all year. If we introduce, as the Torah does here, that there are certain aspects of celebration which relate to the month in which it occurs, then there a full cycle – a day, a week, a month, a year. This structure is similar to weddings and funerals, where a central event is followed by a 7-day aftermath, a 30-day aftermath, and which then has ramifications that last all year. With Pesach, however, the cycle is repeated annually.

We can now understand the placement of this Mishna in the Haggadah. This section of the Haggadah, beginning with Avadim Hayinu and ending with Yachol Me-Rosh Chodesh, is really all about characterizing the mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus. The Mishna is discussing that very issue – how what we do on the eve of the Seder translates into something that remains with us every day of our lives for as long as we live.

[I’d like to thank Michael Kopinsky, who, in a comment referred to an excellent piece on this topic by R’ Chaim Yaakov Goldwicht zt”l. I was happy to find that he takes the same general approach to this Mishna in particular and to the broader structure of the Haggadah. I’ve seen a similar approach attributed to the Malbim and also on Menachem Liebtag’s site. The Yehupitzer reminds me that he posted a very similar comment here].

Will You Be There?

Next Sunday, there will be a massive rally in Washington, urging our government to take action in Sudan. I was planning on attending even before I read this. I'm going because it isn't about politics.

A few months ago, Machshavot left this comment on this post, explaining how the verse 'na'ar hayiti' is not a lie. Eichacha uchal ve-ra'iti.

I'm inspired by the degree to which I see American Jewry beginning to mobilize for the cause of Darfur. Who knows the cost of indifference better than we do?

We've celebrated our freedom. We will soon commemorate the Holocaust. Then we will salute those who gave their lives defending Israel from those who wish to finish the job for Hitler. I can't celebrate or commemorate unless I live up to the values which I'm celebrating. So I'll be there.


The Morrow of the Shabbat

What's wrong with this?
Didn't catch it? Well, then check out the fuller version here.
You can peruse the home page for more interesting features, and when you're done, you can check this out.
Both sites, in fact both groups, are incredibly fascinating.
I wonder if Christians look at Jews in a manner similar to the way we view these groups.


Who Reads This Blog?

Here's what my weekly stat-counter looks like after a three-day Yom-Tov. It's not a view of the stock market from 1929-1945.


The Terutz is Better than the Kushya

In shul, I was reading a pamphlet of divrei Torah produced by a particular American Yeshiva, which included a rather lengthy and, ultimately, thought-provoking essay from the Rosh Yeshiva. However, one thing caught my attention right at the beginning. He asked why Kiddush on Shabbos invokes Yetzias Mitzrayim. He understands why it would on the 3 festivals, but not Shabbos. Granted, he writes, all mitzvah observance is predicated on the Exodus and the subsequent giving of the Torah, but then that reason would apply to all mitzvoth, even those like treif and tefillin (his examples) which are not considered commemorative of the Exodus. The rest of the d’var Torah is an explanation of the connection between Shabbos and Yetzias Mitzrayim in that they both represent the ability of rejuvenation to overcome entropy, ve-acamo”l.

A few things really baffled me about his question. We invoke Yetzias Mitzrayim in Kiddush because the Torah does (Devarim 5:13-14), and it also is pretty obvious about the ‘connection’ between a weekly cessation of labor for all, including slaves, and the Exodus from Egypt. His examples of mitzvot that are not considered commemorative of the Exodus are, in fact, both explicitly considered commemorative of the Exodus. Tefillin in Shemot 13:9 and 16, and ‘treif’ in Vayikra 11:43-45. I wonder how many other readers caught these? I mean, these aren’t kashyas based on some Tosafos in Kodshim. It’s PARSHA (this week’s Parsha, no less) for cryin’ out loud! EVERYBODY who read this should’ve had these questions.

I’ll give this RY the benefit of the doubt that whoever transcribed or wrote this essay simply missed the boat (which is why on the VBM is a shiur is transcribed, it will always indicate whether the written version or translation had been reviewed by the maggid shiur). I can’t figure out what he really was trying to ask, or if the ‘question’ at the beginning is just a rhetorical device to get into what he really wants to get into. In that case, if I had been in the shiur, it may have gone something like this:

RY: Why do we say zecher le-yetzias Mitzrayim by Kiddush on Friday night?
AR: Because the Torah, in the retelling of the aseres hadibros, says that Shabbos is zecher le-yetzias mitzrayim.
RY: Eh, ok, ken zayn, but I have another terutz…

Pesach Ponderings

Being the Jewish cultural behemoth that it is, Pesach is usually a very fruitful (preferably dried fruit) time for thinking about all kinds of things Jewish and for generating some wonderful random associations. There are some other pieces of Torah coming (including a post on the Mishna of ‘kol yemei chayecha’ that’s found its way into the Haggadah)

We all know that matzah is called lechem oni, and we’ve all heard different explanations as to what exactly it means. I saw in the Torah Chayim Haggadah (Published by Mossad HaRav Kook) that one Rishon (and I can’t remember which one; I believe it was Ritva, but I could be wrong) explains it according to one of the dominant positions, namely, that it’s the food of the impoverished. He then explains why a poor person would eat this bread – it takes a very long time to digest and therefore the consumer will remain satiated for a longer period of time. Now that just makes a whole helluva lot of sense. Don’t we know it?! I think I can guess where this Rishon came up with this insight.

Which brings me to my next point: On Pesach, people who are normally very prim and proper all of a sudden are very comfortable discussing their bathroom habits or using bathroom humor. It’s unbelievable. And I’m sure that that matzah has something to do with it.

Took a bit of a chol ha-mo’ed trip today, and visited some Civil War sites. I felt it was very apropos for a holiday which celebrates freedom from slavery. One area that I find very interesting is the legacy of John Brown. Today, we (rightfully) call such men terrorists, even if we identify with their cause. Brown was most definitely lionized by many, and it was never overwhelmingly one way or the other. It makes one think about the need to restrain radical elements of even the noblest cause. It makes me wonder about the Altalena.

The First Seder was magnificent. The tze u-lemad experiment was a great success, and I was able, through all kinds of playacting and questioning, to communicate a lot to my 5-year old daughter. What could be better?


צא ולמד 2

[actual text of my Seder handout, which includes the sections from Bereshis, Devarim, Yehoshua, Yechezkel, and Tehillim, all of which, by the way, are cited at different points in the ‘tze u-lemad section of the hagadah]

On this night of Pesach, we are enjoined to retell and re-experience the story of our Repdemption and Exodus from Egypt, the land of our enslavement. Traditionally, our retelling takes the form of the brief summary of the events that accompanied one’s delivery of their bikkurim, their first fruits, to the Temple and its Kohanim. We expound upon the meaning of each phrase in this summary, trying to recover its embedded meanings.

The goal of this section of the hagadah is to engage, develop, and question the story, in our attempt to reconstruct all of its meaning. Unfortunately, we have become content to read and recite ancient interpretations without trying to engage the story ourselves.

Therefore, you will find, in this packet, the ‘raw material’ that Our Sages themselves used to compose the hagadah, which includes five different retellings (actually, 4 retellings and one ‘pre-telling’) of the events. We will study each of these sections, and try to answer the following questions?

What is emphasized and what is neglected in this retelling?
Where does the story begin, where does it end, and what’s the climax?
What is the context in which the story was invoked, and what is the narrator trying to accomplish with it?

Through this study, we will try to reconstruct what the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim means and has meant, how it was and is remembered, and how it influences our understanding of ourselves.


צא ולמד

The Mishna (Pesachim 10:4) selects the summary of the Egyptian enslavement and Exodus that is found in Devarim 26 as the central narrative to be expounded during the Seder. It’s very terse, in narrative form, and is written from the first-person-plural perspective of a member of the group which experienced the events recalled.
The Mishna instucts us to be doresh (expound, discuss, solicit) this segment. Our Haggadot include a standardized form of this drisha, roughly akin to the one found in the Tannaic Midrash, the Sifri. With the advent of Maxwell House (or perhaps a bit earlier), this part of the seder, which is the central recounting of the Exodus, has evolved from a drasha into a kri’ah – a recitation.
This year, with the permission of the hosts of the Sedarim I will be attending (i.e., my in-laws), we will be doing something a bit different for this part of the Seder. Each person will receive a compilation of several different summaries of the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim, all of which have the central features of a story with a plot (or, in the words of the Mishna, that ‘begin with degradation and end with praise’). We will then compare and contrast these different summaries, look for subtle meanings and turns of phrases that lead the reader in a particular direction, look at the particular context of each summary, to try and gauge its general purpose, etc. Here are the texts from which I’ll be compiling. I’ll use Devraim 26 and 2 or 3 others (I’ll provide links, rather than clutter this post up with full texts). I’d recommend having a full TaNach :
Devarim 26:5-8
Joshua 24:2-7
Ezekiel 16:2-14
Nechemia 9:7-15
Psalms 78:42-53
Bereishis 15:7-21(hat tip: Yehupitz)


כל עדת ישראל יעשו אותו

R’ S.R. Hirsch points out that the Chapter 12 of Shemot, the instructions regarding the Korban Pesach, marks the first time that the term ‘Edah’ is used to describe a group of people. In fact, the term is used several times throughout that chapter.

I had been wondering about that term. After writing the posts of earlier in the week, about Pesach and narrative, I wondered, before seeing this R’ Hirsch quoted, about the use of the term ‘Edah’. This term is clearly a derivative of ‘Eid’, or testimony, which itself might be related to ‘od’ – continuity. The job of a witness is to make the past current (I saw this in the BDB Biblical Lexicon). Similarly, the role of an Edah is to perpetuate a given memory, to collectively stand witness to certain events.

In this sense, then, the Israelites were constituted as an Edah from the outset; the very first Pesach, the Israelites were enjoined to bear witness to the events that were befalling them. Thus, at the very moment of our birth, the obligation to create and transmit a collective memory was central to our group identity.


Rachav the Harlot

I’ve started learning perek yomi in the Nach Yomi cycle, and I couldn’t help but think about the story of Rachav the Harlot, especially its conclusion in Chapter 6. She winds up saving her entire family by bringing them into her whorehouse, the only place in town that remained safe while the Israelites were annihilating it.

I can’t help but wonder how her father felt about entering that place, or about what his reaction must have been when she implored him to find ‘sanctuary’ there. The place which must have symbolized, for them, nothing but shame and ridicule, winds up being the very source of their own salvation. There seems to be a great lesson and a delicious irony in that.

I was also struck by the fact that a deal to keep this particular Canaanite family was struck and kept. What about the obligation to wipe out the 7 nations? How could such a ‘political’ solution be honored? Shall we just ignore the Torah, then? Well, perhaps it’s significant that in the very first battle in the conquest of the land, realpolitik intrudes upon the pristine and ideal world of text.


Prophetic Intuition: Reading of Pesachim 66a

Thinking about my post from last night/this morning, I had an insight into the well-known Gemara in Pesachim 66a. Hillel, who had just been appointed Nasi, had forgotten the procedure by which one would transport his slaughtering knife to the Temple when Erev Pesach fell out on Shabbat.

Hillel responds, “Leave Israel alone! If they are not prophets, they are the sons of prophets”. The people found other ways to transport the knives – sticking it in the wool of the Paschal lamb, for example, which reminded Hillel that, indeed, that is the ruling on the matter.

Granted, this story has Halakhic implications, but it should be read as aggadah, with a literary narrative structure. As I’ve mentioned previously, the lines between Halakha and Aggadah are not sharply drawn. In this instance, the same story appears in the Tosefta (Pesachim 4:1), Bavli (Pesachim 66a), and Yerushalmi (39a/6:1). Each version has slight variations, and there’s a wealth of scholarly material on this (for example, here – see especially the comparison chart at the end). My point is only that there is license to treat this story aggadically.

In both Talmuds, Hillel suggests that the collective intuition of Israel is prophetic in nature. Many have tried to minimize the implications of this idea, whose unfettered ramifications, especially in our times, would spell the end of Halakha as we know it. I’d like to suggest that those limitations are part and parcel of the narrative itself.

The population that Hillel instructs us to ‘leave alone’ consists of those who are bringing the Paschal sacrifice. As I mentioned in the last post, the Pesach is the vehicle through which our identity as Israel is constructed, and by which we transmit that identity to the next generation. Those who participate in this process, who have rooted their very identities in the ever-unfolding holy history of Israel, have gained a spark of that prophetic intuition, and can contribute to the further unfolding of that history. Those whose roots are anchored in foreign soil lack this prophetic instinct, much as true prophecy could not be attained outside of the Land of Israel.

Identity and Narrative

A while ago, I tried to set out what I thought would be my own principles of faith. I came up with 12. Upon reflection, I recognized what my own criteria were.

It wasn’t about particular beliefs or important theological presumptions. Taken together, they tell a story. That story has implications for me and the way I live my life. My 12 ‘principles’ aren’t principles at all. They form the ‘plot’ of this story, this ‘meta-narrative’, which is the infrastructure of how I see and understand myself and my world.

Meta-narratives form the very fiber of our perception and identity. For example, as I write this, the ADDeRebbetzin slumbers several feet away. Objectively speaking, we are two distinct people, albeit in close proximity. An event took place several years ago which established a formal relationship between us: our wedding. The memory of that event, in our minds and the minds of others, is what generates the reality that we’re married. All of my relationships – with my kids, my car, my house, my job – are predicated upon the shared memory of certain events. Inside this paramount reality, at present, the truth of the event plays a secondary role to the shared memory of it. The ‘plot’ of each of these stories is very simple. With my car it’s ‘this car rolled off the assembly line in 1998, was purchased by x, who sold it to y, who sold it to me. The story explains my possession and is the basis of my ownership. For further illustration, go learn Chezkas Habatim.

Some things are more complicated. When I say “I’m Jewish” (of ‘I’m American’), what exactly am I saying? Answering, ‘well, I was born to Jewish parents’ really is just giving the last installment of the meta-narrative which really cuts to the very core of my being. Where does this story start?

That’s the essence of what we’re trying to do next Wednesday night: rediscover and relive the cardinal events of our story, and doing it in a way that it becomes our children’s story as well. That’s the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim. We don’t do it to remember the facts; we’re telling our story, the story of Israel and God.

There’s a well-known question: what’s the difference between the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim of Pesach and the daily mitzvah of zecher yetziat mitzrayim? It should be clear by now that this question is the equivalent of ‘What’s the difference between an elephant and spaghetti?’ There’s more to that, but perhaps for another post.

This notion of identity as something which is born in a narrative context and of a persistent memory allows us to escape from Judaism’s version of the ‘Ship of Theseus’ problem. The problem is that if there are so many components of Judaism which are constantly being lost and replaced, then in what sense is it still Judaism? In what sense are we rooted or anchored in anything?

If we attempt to answer this paradox by reductionism, by trying to boil Judaism down to its ‘core’, by trying to find that which is ‘authentically Jewish’, then we’ll be left with a desiccated set of dogmas and truisms, if anything at all. It leaves the definition of Judaism in the hands of the historians and archaeologists who have demonstrated over the past two centuries, if nothing else, that they are unequal to the task. The final chapter of Yerushalmi's Zakhor is perhaps the most honest appraisal of this situation. The great modern reductionist enterprise is ending in a dismal failure.

Fortunately, our identity is rooted in something else. We inherit the ship from our fathers along with an intuitive sense of how to make adjustments for faulty mechanisms and different climates before handing the wheel over to our own children. I doubt that I’ll be telling them the exact same story that my Zaydie told me. But I’m confident that his story is now my story, and that I can find a way to make that story my kids’ story.

[GH- You wanted to know what I thought about your posts on 'the Real Modern Orthodox'. Well, you probably don't want to hear everything that my right brain has to say, but this is the first part of my answer].


Menagerie Minhag

The ADDeRebbetzin (boy, she hates when I call her that) was recently informed by a concerned relative that pregnant women should not go to the zoo, because of ayin hara.

This one’s a doozy. I mean, how old can this minhag be? And what are we afraid of, that a woman will deliver a giraffe? I need some help here. Anyone heard of this one before?

Anyhow, gotta run and do psicha; we’re in the third trimester.