Friday, July 29, 2011

Fill your hand, pardner

Years ago, when I read Black Elk Speaks, I was struck by how often he used "rubbed out" to mean "killed".  I learned later that Black Elk's son, who translated, was fascinated by 1920s gangster fiction.  I was reminded of this reading about the consecration of Aharon and his sons.  A Hebrew expression meaning literally "fill their hands" is used repeatedly.  In cowboy parlance, it means, "draw one's pistol", but here it means consecrate, make fit for service as priests.  It seems to come from the manner of separating the grain offering/minchah:  The priest/kohen takes all the frankincense/levonah and a handful of the fine grain mixed with oil/solet b'lulah b'shemen to burn on the altar/mizbe'akh.  The rest is eaten by the kohanim.

I also find it interesting that there is a separate verb for to serve, to minister (l'sharet) to and to act as priests (l'kahen).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why do Jews put stones on grave markers?

My guess, they are cheap, almost universally available, and (here's the actual Jewish angle) incapable of accepting ritual impurity (tumah).  They are inherently pure, from a Jewish legal/religious (halachic) perspective, and thus perfect for placing on the memorial of those of whom we say, zichrono,ah livracha, may his/her memory be a blessing, referring I think to those Biblical figures of whom H" said, all the peoples will be blessed in you.

Another thought:  Many cultures put some of their native soil in or on a grave in a foreign country.  This could be a vestigial version of that.

Haftarot: Familiar, but how familiar?

We all know we read a portion of the Torah (Teaching, Instruction), the first five books of the Tanakh ("Bible") every Shabbat, and that each is accompanied by a Haftarah, a reading from the Nevi'im (Prophets), the second section.  There are also Haftarot for special occasions.  One the readings comes from three books.  The Haftarah for VaYelekh, near the end of Devarim (Deuteronomy), comes from Hoshea, Mikhah, and Yoel.  Altogether, there are sixty-four prophetic readings in the course of the year, excluding major holidays.  Are the readings evenly spread throughout the Nevi'im, or do a few books dominate the list?

Out of those sixty-four, twenty-eight, slightly less than half, come almost evenly from just two books:  fifteen from Yeshia (Isaiah) and thirteen from Melachim (Kings).

Shmuel (Samuel), Yeremiah (Jeremiah), Yechezkel (Ezekiel) each have five to ten readings drawn from them.

Yehoshua (Joshua), Shoftim (Judges), Hoshea (Hosea), Michah, and Malakhi are the sources for two to four readings.

Yoel (Joel), Amos, and Zechariah each provide one reading.

All the historical books of the "Primary Chronicle" are represented, but Shmuel prodominates.  All three major literary prophets are well represented, but Yeshiah gives as many as Yeremiah and Yechezkel combined, more than any other individual book.  Six of the twelve minor prophets are included, but only Hoshea provides more than two Haftarot.

As we approach Rosh haShana

The shofar or ram's horn has been used to call Jews together at least since the Exodus from Egypt (Yetziat Mizrayim).  Today it is played in the synagogue on weekdays after morning services (Shacharit) throughout the month of Elul, culminating on Rosh haShanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in the month of Tishrei.  In the Jewish tradition, this represents the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai betreen the incident of the Golden Calf (Egel haZahav) and the gift of the second set of tablets (Sh'nei Luchot haBrit) containing the Ten Commandments (Aseret haDibrot).

There are four "notes" played in various patterns throughout the High Holiday services.  T'ki'ah ia a long, uninterrupted blast.  Sh'varim (broken) is three short blasts.  T'ruah is approximately nine very short toots.  T'ki'ah g'dolah is basically a T'ki'ah held for as long as one has breath.

Playing a shofar requires practice.  It is very similar to playing a trumpet, or any brass instrument, except that the mouthpiece is not as easy to use.  Basically, one presses one's lips together and forces breath out through them, producing the sort of vibration we all remember from kindergarten.  Holding the shofar against one's vibrating lips produces the clarion, inchoate call we all know so well.

But here's the catch:  Each shofar is unique, and most are not deliberately worked into a nice, symmetrical, trumpet-like mouth piece.  The only way to get one to work is to hold it up to one's mouth and try and try and TRY……. until that sound starts coming out.  

B'hatzlachah!  (Best of luck!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oil spots, garbage dumping, divorce.


Two stories just screamed at me from the Israeli press this morning.  Perhaps I should say, they made me feel like screaming

It wasn't that the German government is apparently willing to subsidize a sixth Dolphin class nuclear missile capable submarine.  Two were delivered a decade ago.  Two are still under construction.  The navy says it doesn't NEED a sixth submarine, but Ehud Barak knows better.

It wasn't that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, is visiting Israel for the last time in that capacity, or that several Republican congressmen are planning a visit to Yehudah and Shomron communities.  Peaceful visitors are all welcome.

It was the war of attrition being waged with oil and garbage.

Outside of Ofra, "someone" seems to have gotten the idea of oiling the road on a descent.  The way it was put, "the accidents that do not fail to happen are reported in the local paper, and nowhere else."  Brilliant!  One teenager with a pint of used motor oil on a dark night can make a road impassable for days, until it is cleaned, and then he can do it again the next night!  

Oil spots on the road

Apparently, the Temple Mount is not the only place for which some people have no respect.  No, history is not alone, nature is also on their "who cares?" list.

The Waqf dug out huge quantities of of archaeologically sensitive material, no permit, no notice, from under the Dome of the Rock, and dumped it in a ravine.  Remember that, it speaks to pattern.  If you are a fan of The Naked Archaeologist, you know that it took a prominent Israeli scholar, Gabi Barkai, five years to get permission to examine the contents of the midden.   

More recently, "someone" has been dumping toxic garbage in nature areas.  Ah, for America, where they are just growing marijuana in the National Parks!  

Garbage dumping, not a huge problem?  But it's such a simple, easy, cheap way to make an area unsafe, unhealthy, unpleasant, and once the Jews leave because the government doesn't clean it up or punish the culprits, guess who moves in?  

Simultaneously, the government is legalizing bedouin encroachment in the Negev.

Oil spots, indiscriminate excavation, indiscriminate dumping, "settling" (squatting) all over the place.  Anyone else see a pattern?



Two horrible rabbi stories recently.  All you see on the crawl is two horrible rabbi stories.  But they're so different, if you just know a few details.  Both are divorce stories.

In one, the rabbi of a prominent New York orthodox synogogue is in the middle of what appears to be a nasty divorce.  His wife has revealed that the man has been consorting with prostitutes.  On Shabbat.  Ewww.

In the other, a rabbi and his wife apparently kidnapped and threatened a man with bodily harm because he was holding his wife captive, an Aguna, "chained" woman, a so-called grass widow.  They were attempting to get him to agree to allow her to remarry.

This ought to have been solved long ago, and in fact it was, but modern batei din (Jewish courts) are reticent to apply any pressure to some guy who wants this sort of revenge on his ex-wife.  One guy sat in an Israeli jail for years.  He was happy as a clam:  plenty of exercise, plenty of sleep, three squares a day, unlimitted time to study.  Ultraorthodox heaven.  That he was destroying his wife and children's lives didn't seem to bother him.

But anyway, two rabbis in the news.  Both sound horrible on the crawl. They're NOT both "bad rabbi" stories, though.