Image: Rabbi Adar on a scooter, admiring Cantor Ilene Key’s great Purim hat! Photo by Linda Burnett.
Image: Life preserver hanging on a wall. Photo by tookapic.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. -Deuteronomy 22:8
We often think of spirituality as a high and lofty subject, but Jewish spirituality can be a gritty pursuit. At its best, it permeates our daily lives, for the mitzvot [commandments] often address very practical matters.
The commandment above is one of my favorites. It addresses the question of home safety: put a railing on your roof so that no one will fall off. The rabbis extended this to include the principle of all home safety matters: if I have a loose stair, or an unlighted entry, or a tricky throw rug, the Torah commands me to fix it, lest someone be injured.
I’m engaged with this mitzvah right now, because I’ve begun my Passover preparations. Every year at this time I check my “earthquake supplies” (really, emergency supplies) to make sure that I can take care of myself, my family and my two elderly neighbors should a big earthquake hit or some other disaster complicate life in the Bay Area.
I do this as part of my Passover prep because it’s very convenient time to do it. One of the things I do is cart last year’s canned tuna and peanut butter to the Food Bank. It’s all still good, and someone will benefit, but when/if there’s trouble, I won’t be stuck eating ten year old peanut butter for a month. I promptly sell the renewed supplies to my non-Jewish son, who is the official owner of my emergency stash, so I can still observe a kosher Passover.
Silly? Nope. I have vivid memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was not “The Big One” but was certainly the Bad Enough One which wrecked our home and disrupted our lives for more than a year. The next big quake may very well cut me off from water and food for an extended period, so I prepare.
If you don’t live in earthquake country, you still need to be ready for emergencies. Should something bad happen in your neighborhood, can you lay hands on these things?
- Clean (probably bottled) water (1 gallon per day per person)
- Nutritious food (high in protein and/or calories)
- Can opener
- Flashlight, with extra batteries
- Battery-operated or crank radio
- First aid kit
- Prescription meds
- Emergency blanket or wrap
- Copies of essential personal documents (whatever you’d want to have if the house burned down, God forbid)
- Chargers for electronics like your cell phone
- Phone numbers and contact information
- Copies of passports and driver’s licenses
- Cash in small bills (ATMs may not be working)
- Baby supplies (if needed)
- Pet supplies (if needed)
I also have a roll of duct tape, a multi-tool knife, a bottle of detergent, a whistle, my ham radios, spare eyeglasses and a spare bottle of propane.
There are also things I don’t keep around, because they decrease the safety of anyone in my house: guns and cans of gasoline top that list.
I hope that we’ll never need this stuff. I hope you will never need your emergency supplies, either. But if you need a push to update your kit, now you’ve got it: it’s a mitzvah!
On Saturday evening or Sunday morning, someone may greet you with the phrase “Shavua tov!” (shah-VOO-ah TOHV).
It means “Good Week!” and it’s the greeting for the new week that begins at sundown on Saturday night. Remember, all Jewish days begin and end at sundown.
You’re most likely to hear it Saturday evening or Sunday morning, but it’s still appropriate (if a little belated) until sundown on Wednesday. You’ll rarely hear “Shabbat shalom” until Friday.
So if someone says “Shavua tov!” to you, you can say right back to them, “Shavua tov!” Alternatively you can say, “Gam l’cha!” if they are male and “Gam lech!” if they are female. Either way, it means “Also to you!” or “Backatcha!”
I got this tweet yesterday, and I know it is a concern for a lot of Jews. However, in keeping with my tagline, “Basic Judaism spoken here,” let’s start with a basic question: What is AIPAC?
AIPAC (pronounced “A-pack”) stands for “American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” It is a lobbying organization that promotes pro-Israel policy to the Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government. It has over 100,000 members in the U.S. According to its website, “The mission of AIPAC is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” Membership in AIPAC is open to anyone regardless of religion, age, political party, or race.
AIPAC is not allied with any political party in the U.S. or in Israel. In the U.S., its annual policy conference invites speakers from both major political parties. It does not rate or endorse candidates for political office, and it is not a PAC (political action committee.) AIPAC members are encouraged to educate their elected officials about the importance of U.S.-Israel ties, and the national organization provides a network for accomplishing this work.
At this writing, AIPAC has confirmed the following speakers to its 2016 policy conference on March 20-22: Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton, Republican Candidate Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Robert Menendez, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and behavior has made him a controversial invitee. For more about the controversy, I recommend reading the Reform Movement response to the announcement that he will be a speaker.
AIPAC advocates support for the government in Israel elected by the voters of Israel.It is not involved in Israeli elections, nor does it endorse Israeli candidates or parties.
Critics of AIPAC see it as exerting undue influence on the Congress, and some extreme critics paint it as a group that actually “controls” Congress. It is a lobbying group like many others, made up of and supported by U.S. citizens who want to make sure that their viewpoint is represented in Washington. In that respect it is like the American Association of Retired Persons or the National Rifle Association. We may agree or disagree with the goals of a particular lobby, but under current rules, lobbying is what it takes to get the attention of the Congress.
To learn more about AIPAC, take a look at their website.
Image: Tee shirt with the words “Yo Semite.” Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History Museum Store.
Actually, there’s no such thing. “Semitic” is a designation for a language group that includes Arabic, Amharic, Aramaic, Tigrinya, and Hebrew.
The term was coined in the late 18th century by August Ludwig von Schlözer, a historian, and Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, a German Protestant theologian. They derived it from Shem, the name of one of the three sons of Noah in Genesis 10, via the Greek pronunciation Σημ (“seem.”) As critics at the time pointed out, this was problematic because in that passage, the Canaanites (who also spoke a language from this group) were descended from another brother, Ham.
Academics began to refer to Jews as “Semites” in the 19th century. Pseudoscientific theories about race abounded in the West and were used to justify hatred towards Jews and other people deemed undesirable by those in power. Targeted groups included people of African descent, Irish descent, Asian descent, and those with brown skin. So-called scientists strove to identify physical characteristics which “proved” that those groups of individuals were inferior to whites. Jews were also one of the targeted groups and were referred to as “Hebrews” or “Semites” to underline the notion of a Jewish race (a concept that completely ignores Judaism’s long history of accepting converts.)
German journalist Wilhelm Marr used the term “antisemitismus” [antisemitism] as a more scientific-sounding, more elegant alternative to “Jew hatred.” in 1880 he published a pamphlet, Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthums über das Judenthum (The Way to Victory of the Germanic Spirit over the Jewish Spirit, which outlined his theory that Jews were infiltrating and damaging German culture. In the same year he founded the Antisemiten-Liga [Antisemitism League] in Germany and the term antisemitism moved into popular use.
It is probably more useful to use the term “Jew hatred” for the fear and hatred of Jews, rather than to get embroiled in arguments about whether or not Arabs are also “Semites” and therefore subject to “antisemitism.” However, courtesy of some 19th century Germans, we seem to be stuck with this misnomer.
Jewish tradition as well as Christian tradition teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God and are therefore equal:
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. – Genesis 1:27
Islam also asserts the equality of human beings, as established in the Quran. God makes distinctions among people only according to their individual righteousness:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). – Quran 49:13
Therefore the hatred of any group of people merely because of their designation as a member of that group is wrong according to all three Abrahamic religions. Nor does science perceive any difference among homo sapiens: despite differences in coloration or belief, we are all one humanity.
It is a pleasure to share this beautiful d’var Torah from Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild with my readers. It prompts us to ask ourselves, “How do I hold the torch of Jewish tradition? Do I simply hold it, or do I actively pass it on?”
אַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית–לַמָּאוֹר: לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד
And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. (Ex 27:20)
For those of us who enjoy parsing bible, this very first verse of the sidra gives us a rich seam of learning. God is instructing Moses on what will happen inside the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle used for worship in the wilderness years. The sidra gives us elaborately detailed instructions for the clothing of the priests, and about the ceremony of ordination in which they will be dedicated to the service of God. The purpose of the clothes and the rituals are made clear – it is to make the priests holy.
The holiness of biblical times was not the abstract quality we think of it today, it…
View original post 921 more words
There’s a Lehrhaus online class about to begin that may interest some readers of this blog. Here’s the description from the online catalog:
Bible Circle: The Text in its World with Jehon Grist, PhD – Tuesdays, Feb 23 – Mar 15, 7-8:30pm ($35) Since childhood, we’ve all visited some of the great Bible stories, but we’ve also sometimes scratched our heads, not really understanding everything they have to say.
To fully explore the story, you need to go full circle and discover the Biblical world from which it came. That’s what this course will do. We’ll study selected texts, covering everything from the basic story line, to the meaning of obscure words and phrases (all in English translation), to the fascinating differences found in other ancient versions of the Bible.
But we’ll also visit the places and cultures that thrived when these stories were composed, from Biblical villages and the Jerusalem temple to Egyptian palaces and more. Richly illustrated with hundreds of images and numerous video clips, we will time-travel through four selected Bible texts, bringing them and their world to life.
Dr. Grist is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Educator of Lehrhaus Judaica. He received his doctorate in Near East Studies and a California State Teaching Credential from the University of California, Berkeley with Doctoral research time at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A veteran of excavations and field research in both Israel and Egypt, Jehon has published articles and presented papers on a variety of topics, from research identifying an obscure Egyptian queen, to the conflict between Egypt, Israel and the Philistines at the beginning of Biblical history.
A personal note: Dr. Grist was my Hebrew teacher for several years before I went to rabbinical school and continues to be a friend and mentor. He is one of the most entertaining lecturers I know. I have enrolled (and will attend online and via recording) because I know that it will enrich my own study and teaching.