Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What Happens in Hharan, Stays in Hharan

So one of the big questions in this week's parsha, Vayeitzei’, is how the heck could Ya‘aqov have confused Rahheil and Lei’a on his wedding night? Was she wearing a "dek tichel" or something? Were they, you know, with the mythical hole-in-the-sheet?

An idea came to me today, which I don't remember seeing anywheres else before; probably because it isn't nearly as edifying as, for instance, the interpretation that it was really dark and Rahheil gave Lei’a her and Ya‘aqov's secret signals so that her sister wouldn't be ashamed.

וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל לָבָן, הָבָה אֶת אִשְׁתִּי — כִּי מָלְאוּ יָמָי, וְאָבוֹאָה אֵלֶיהָ. וַיֶּאֱסֹף לָבָן אֶת כָּל אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם, וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה. וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב, וַיִּקַּח אֶת לֵאָה בִתּוֹ, וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו; וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ. [...] וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה!...

And then Ya‘aqov worked for Rahheil seven years; but they were in his eyes as just a few days, in his love for her. And then Ya‘aqov said to Lavan, “Give me my wife — for my [contracted] days have been fulfilled, and I want to come to her.” And then Lavan gathered all the people of the place, and he made a drinking-party. And then it was in the evening, and he took Lei’a his daughter, and brought her to him [=Ya‘aqov]; and he [=Ya‘aqov] came to her. [...] And then it was in the morning, and hey, she was Lei’a!...

from Bereishit/Genesis 29:20-25
Notice the sequence. First Lavan makes a big party. Then, later, he brings his daughter and gives her to Ya‘aqov. It may very well have been that in accordance with the term משתה, from the root 'drink', this was, as they say, an "open bar" wedding reception — before the wedding itself. Ya‘aqov Avinu could have been quite seriously and happily sloshed by the time his bride showed up; with this trick up his sleeve, Lavan would have made sure to ply him with as much alcohol as possible, in order to dull Ya‘aqov's senses enough so that he wouldn't notice the switch!

And then in the morning?

Oy what a headache. In many more ways than one.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Galut Sefarad asher bi-Mueva York

Happy Thanksgiving!

This morning I went to the special Thanksgiving Shahharit service of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue of New York. Although I've known about the Spanish-Portuguese shul for a number of years now, and went twice during college to see a friend's mother perform in their לאדינו (Judeo-Spanish) drama festival, I had never made it to attend an actual tefilla.

I found out about it a little over a week ago, when I was getting ready to go down to Philadelphia for Shabbos. I looked at the website of Mikveh Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese shul there, and found out that both communities celebrate Thanksgiving in an official way.

The davening proceeded in a brisk weekday manner, with a number of changes that I saw:
  • Shirat Hayam (Az Yashir) was sung.
  • No Tahhanun, as well as other prayers associated with Tahhanun in the Sefardic tradition, such as Lamnatzeiahh between Ashrey and Uva’ Letziyon.
  • Before the Torah reading, the rabbi said the prayers for the Government of Here and for The Medina. As I noticed on Shabbat in Philadelphia last week, the Prayer for Here lists in a highly specific manner not just the President and Vice President, as in other shuls' traditions, but also the local officials including Mayors and members of the State Legislature (no names, just titles).
  • Torah reading? For Thanksgiving?! No, silly — just your normal weekday Thursday leining (since after all, Thanksgiving always falls out on Thursday).
  • Ein Keiloheinu was sung.
  • After the regular davening was finished, one of the rabbanim announced from the bima that in accordance with the custom of Shearith Israel dating back to the first Thanksgiving as proclaimed by President Washington, we would then say some of the sections of Tehillim that make up Hallel.
  • Halelu Et H' Kol Goyim (appropriately enough) was sung, followed by the rest of the body of Hallel (no berakha).
  • Breakfast of cupcakes and cookies.
  • It is also the minhag to drink cocoa.
  • Then people went out to the front steps of the synagogue to watch the Parade go by.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

H o d u   L ’ h o d u :
a Thanksgiving zemer
by Ross Wolman

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. Just like Shabbat and Jewish holidays, you can get together with friends and family for a large festive meal. Unlike Shabbat and Jewish holidays, on the other hand, there is no prohibition on melakha, creative labor. So you can cook (instead of the day before) and drive and buy stuff and harvest pumpkins and various other activities of a creative nature.

You can also have a folksy guitar jam and sing songs such as Hodu L’hodu by Ross Wolman:
Hodu l'hodu
Let's take a trip to Hodu
Hodu m'itanu

[note: it's probably more grammatical to say hodu itanu, "give thanks with us" instead of hodu mei’itanu, "give thanks from us" depending on what the author's intentions were]
Happy Thanksgiving to you

For almost a month on the Mayflower boat
The Pilgrims sailed ‘cross the great sea
And all they could eat was potatoes and goat
And slices of cheese they called Brie
And when they arrived and made home of that place
They knew that now they’d be free
So when they sat down, gave thanks and said grace
They ate of a free-range turkey


The Pilgrims they made lots of friends in the land
That they thought was eastern Indi...a
All of the men had an axe in each hand
But seemed to us rather friendly
Then one day when they ran out of food
The “Indians” shared theirs with us
So we said to the chief “thanks Indian Dude!”
Then gave thanks and ate with no fuss


One thing that I learned from a friend who is Druse
Will shock you right out of your socks
Did you know on the boat was a handful of Jews
That survived on some bagels and lox
They saw all the people that lived in this land
And said after the meal was complete
For your kindness to us we shall make all the same
One word for India, for thanks and meat



I'd like to add in the guitar chords but have no idea how to make them line up with the proper words. If you want a copy of the original PDF with guitar chord letters, email me and I'll send it on.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nigerian Jewish Musical Inspiration???

In September, FailedMessiah posted two videos from Google Video of Nigerian Jews davening. The singing was beautiful and very inspiring, and I wanted to learn to reproduce the tunes they were using. Unfortunately, not that long afterwards, the videos were removed from the Web before I realized that Google Video lets you download the videos, so I lost the chance to keep copies of them myself.


Note: I don't mean the four videos on youtube.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Non-Halakhically Jewish

Am I the only one out there who thinks that it's possible to be Jewish, but not halakhically so? I mean, it wouldn't have much bearing on anything halakhic, since someone whose Jewishness doesn't conform to Halakha obviously (=tautologically) wouldn't be able to effect Halakhic reality in a way that only Jews-as-defined-by-Halakha can. They couldn't fulfill my obligation for ḳiddush, or read from the Torah for the community, or marry my hypothetical child, but what would be the problem with accepting their Jew-ish-ness?

I have a friend whose parents converted Reform, and raised him as a Jew. Eventually, as he became more Orthodox in belief and practice, he realized that his parents' conversion was non-halakhic, and therefore halakhically he wasn't Jewish. But he was still Jewish to me and his other friends; just not halakhically so. So what if he couldn't count in a minyan? His thoughts were Jewish thoughts, his words were Jewish words, his actions were Jewish actions; if I were the kind of person who believed in a qualitative difference between Jewish and Non-Jewish souls, it'd be obvious to me that he always had a Jewish soul, even if it couldn't fully express itself through the stipulations of our Contract with God. Eventually, he was finally able to convert in a halakhic manner, but to me he never changed. His identity as a Jew never changed. It just got the lacking halakhic gushpanqa (stamp of approval).

What am I saying? I'm not quite sure, but look at those tribes in Africa who were converted to Christianity but then saw through it to the Jewish truth on the other side, did a hell of a lot of research, and started to live Jewish lives, raise their chidren as Jews, and even be persecuted as Jews by their neighbors. How could anyone deny their Jewishness? They may not be halakhically Jewish, and they should know that, but just pushing them away as 'imposters' is not the way to get them to make the final leap of Faith.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Broken Glass Is A Powerful Symbol

Protest/Counterprotest alert at The Back Of The Hill

Thursday, November 09, 2006

וְאָבִֿיו קָרָא לוֹ בִנְיָמִין

About ten months ago, if you remember, I wrote a post about Efrayim and Menashe, and how their grandfather Ya‘aqov's reversal of his hands upon blessing them corellates with the geography of their eponymous tribes' territories in The Land:

Menashe, blessed with the left hand, inherits the North.
Efrayim, blessed with the right hand, inherits the South.

This is all relative, after all; there were tribes north of Menashe and south of Efrayim; however, Efrayim was the southernmost tribe in the eventual Northern Kingdom.

What I noticed this week, though, is that this geographic corellation extends to the third tribe of Rahheil, Binyamin. Binyamin, whose name means "son of the right", was also the tribe with the rightmost, i.e. southernmost territory out of the three tribes of the House of Rahheil!

See map here or other places on the Web.