Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Few Short Bursts about Community

I present a Biblical-Talmudic haiku, dedicated to my hhevrusa as well as to the king of judeoblogsopheric haiku, Rabbi Neil Fleischmann.

On page/side 13b of masekhet Sanhedrin in the Babylonian Talmud, there is a discussion of how many judges are necessary for the laying-on-hands ritual of the sin-offering of the par he‘eleim davar — a bull sacrificed to atone for an unintentional violation by the community as a whole due to an incorrect decision by the Sanhedrin.

In discussing the signals within the Torah's description of the semikha (yes this is also called סמיכה) that would indicate how many members of the Sanhedrin have to perform it on behalf of the entire court, it is suggested that the verb וסמכו and then they will perform-the-hand-laying is extra, and unnecessary for the verse to express its meaning. Dropping this verb, it is explained, the Torah could have easily been written זקני העדה ידיהם על ראש הפר — the elders of the community, their hands on the bull's head.

At some point during our learning it hit me that what the Gemara just did was turn this verse into the beginning of a haiku, to which we can easily add the next phrase in the verse, filling out the 5»7»5 haiku structure:
זִקְנֵי הָעֵדָֿה
יְדֵֿיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁ הַפָּר
לִפְֿנֵי יֲיֹיָי

For this to work, though, you need to count the initial shəva’ na‘ in the word ידיהם as a full vowel, as well as the hhataf in God's name.

I was thinking about the concept of ‘Ayin Hara‘ recently. Getting ready to become officially linked to an institution that has a stigma of delegitimization and demonization attached to it in certain parts of the Jewish world worries me. As things stood before last week, people would usually need to get to know me before hating me. You would need to read what I write, or talk to me, to find out that I hold such heretical beliefs as human beings being created in the image of God, and that caring about people and being a mensch are not asur mide’Oraita but are actually a basic goal of Torah.

Now, though, there are thousands and thousands of people out there who hate me. Personally. Without ever having met me. There are people calling for my death and lehavdil people writing slanderous newspaper articles. These are, in many cases, people who are supposedly part of my own community, who it would have been assumed share goals, ideals, and lenses on life with me.

This hatred hurts. It literally hurts. It always hurts to be betrayed. And so I was thinking... maybe this is what the "Evil Eye" is all about. You can hurt people with your eyes and with your mouth. When you hurt someone with your hands, when you beat them bloody and broken, you break them on the outside. When you use words, when you use body language, when you use that distancing double-take — "you're going there?" — you break them on the inside. You hurt them. You hurt their soul. You make them cynical, paranoid, and self-doubting.

Which I guess is no big deal if you believe that compassion and empathy are forbidden by the Torah.

whatever happened to the values of humanity?
whatever happened to the fairness in equality?
instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity;
lack of understanding, leading lives away from unity!
that's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under,
that's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down —
there's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under,
gotta keep my faith alive till love is found...

('where is the love' by black eyed peas)


Blogger Holy Hyrax said...

its ok steg, the hyrax loves you.

8/07/2007 3:27 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

awwwww thanks, that makes me feel all warm and... fuzzy...? inside ;-)

8/07/2007 3:40 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Um, yeah, actually I was gonna write to you about that (one of those years when I had a spare minute). This may seem like an odd question for a Conservative Jew to ask, but, um, isn't going to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah a bit risky for someone of the Orthodox persuasion seeking advancement in the field of Jewish education? There's a rumor afloat that YCT grads are not accepted as members of the Rabbicinal Council of America. Where will that leave *you*? I am honestly curious to know what made you choose YCT over the more widely accepted Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (rabbinical school) of Yeshiva U.

8/07/2007 5:44 PM  
Blogger Michael Koplow said...

Steg, I applaud you and think you're doing a fine thing.

No matter who you are or what you do, there are going to be people who want you dead. That was meant to be encouraging, but it probably wasn't (sorry, I'm not good at this).

8/07/2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Everything I've read about YCT and its founders and their hashkofos convinces me that we can expect much from this yeshiva and its musmachim.

I think that you chose well. And you will be a credit to your teachers.

I keenly look forward to updates on your studies and your progress.

8/07/2007 9:22 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

Hence the beautiful Rabbi Soloveitchik quote about hurting others. And the importance of kindness and recognition.

Good luck with your studies!

8/08/2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


from what i've heard from graduates of YCT, there is generally very little 'backlash' once you're out in the field. out there it's more about how well you do your job than where you went to school.

but the reason i chose YCT over RIETS is because i interviewed/interrogated everyone i knew who is or was at either place, and the more i talked to them it seemed that YCT was a better place for me programmatically, religiously, philosophically, and socially.


thanks, it was a good try :-)




thanks for the great quote; if only i didn't keep hearing about and reading examples of people who should know better not learning from him

8/08/2007 8:55 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


actually, you've inspired me to finally put up a quote or few from the R' Soloveitchik book that i just finished reading (and need to start rereading in order to fully get)

8/08/2007 8:55 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Well, there're not so few people out there who simply hate you because you're a Jew, and even among Jews, there might be some who hate you simply because you're a fanatic who won't eat shrimps, or a frei goy because you don't wear black. Or because you're not even wearing black, but shkhimps aren't good enough for you, huh?

The new thing is that you'll be attacked by people from what you consider your community in a narrow sense, i. e. MO, but it's really not something entirely new, just a shift.

Concerning the smiche, I spose if need be, you could find a sympathetic rabbi who's recognised by the RCA and ready to give you another smiche, with or without more exams. I take it the RCA do(es?)n't say YCT smiche will prevent you from being recognised, rather that it doesn't suffice.

8/09/2007 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Kylopod said...

Somebody pointed out to me once that the Shma is a haiku.

8/09/2007 2:55 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i don't care so much about organizational affiliations... and as everyone knows, i still have my ambivalencies to work through about the whole idea of semikha itself. as far as i know, the RCA didn't say "we won't accept YCT people", they just stopped debating whether they should say "we accept YCT people". i know there's more to the story, and i could probably find it out, but it doesn't seem so important.

it certainly feels new when people who are supposed to be on your side decide that you should be beheaded.



she-ma‘ yis-ra-’eil
a-do-nai e-lo-hei-nu
a-do-nai e-hhad


8/09/2007 9:03 AM  
Anonymous debka_notion said...

One of the things that kept me away from being comfortable associating myself with the frummer parts of the Jewish world for a long time was an encounter I had in high school, at a leadership weekend for Jewish youth, where a rather observant young man whom I had barely met, came up to me and told me that if I lived in Israel, I wouldn't have to be Reform, because I could walk to shul. I was horrified- to label what was then the only way I knew to be Jewish as insufficient because of something that wasn't even relevant (I could and often did walk to shul then- my parents live within a short walk of the Reform temple we belonged to.)

Affiliating in any way in the Jewish world seems to get you hated by someone- if you're heterodox, you get plenty of hatred and invalidation from the Orthodox world (I have, I do, I'm sure it'll continue to happen). If you're Orthodox you get hated by parts of the heterodox world (I've seen it plenty- heck, I've been on the receiving side that way too.) It's one of the horrors of the Jewish community, and one of its tragedies.

8/09/2007 9:53 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Yes, the Shma fits. You might say it doesn't, because a shva doeth not a syll'ble make, but I think in Japanese, even the devoiced i̥ and ɯ̥ (hope the signs show) are counted as a mora. (We better don't start with length and/or morae in LQ, though.)

Anyway, it's got the haiku groove, whatever your preferred grammatical system is.

8/10/2007 6:12 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


it's sort of funny (but mostly annoying) how people assume that everyone else must have the same motivations as them.

an every-day example of this is when i've been sitting at my computer, and people come over and ask questions like "so what's the weather today?" "what's happening in the world?" "what're you working on?" "who's online?" — whichever question they ask would seem to indicate what *they themselves* would be doing if they were on the computer... nothing to do with me or what i'm actually up to.


i was going to point out that if /n/ can also be a full mora in Japanese, we should be allowed to co-opt the sheva’ (although maybe try to be consistent), but i didn't want to get into the complexities of what's a mora and what's a syllable.

8/10/2007 7:59 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Thousands of people hate you? Since when? And how is it that there are that many people who hate you? I don't think that thousands of people even know I exist...

I don't hate you, so you can add me to that camp. And I think anyone who hates you is silly, especially since you embody an example of how a good Jew should ideally live. (And I say "an example" because I think there are many ways a good Jew can live, and you exhibit one of them.)

8/10/2007 9:41 AM  
Blogger ALG said...

Hate is a very strong word. I've read some of the crazy stuff written about YCT, but I'm not sure what they feel is hatred, as much as exclusion. Like they might say to a YCT student, "You don't count in my world." But maybe you're right--maybe it's more like, "You don't count in my world AND I think you're perverting the Torah." Which is a pretty funny combination, because of they really felt the former then they wouldn't think the latter.

Lest it wasn't clear, I will add that I am a huge fan of YCT and Rav Linzer in particular.

I wonder if people hate me for being a woman who wears pants? A woman who learns Gemara? A woman, period? I think that from within the parts of the Jewish community wehre the first two are verboten and the last is merely unfortunate, I get more of the "You don't count in my world."

8/10/2007 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Mike S. said...

I believe it was Mark Twain who said something about the one thing most people find intolerable is for someone else to worhip the Creator in a manner different from ones own. His usual reference for same was Catholics and protestants killing each other in europe, but it might apply to others as well.

8/10/2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

"i don't care so much about organizational affiliations"

i hope you will be in a position to have the same attitude when it matters

but in any case, best of luck. i look forward to hearing of your future accomplishments.

8/12/2007 12:25 AM  
Anonymous brother esav said...

"a rather observant young man whom I had barely met, came up to me and told me that if I lived in Israel, I wouldn't have to be Reform, because I could walk to shul"


"The path laid for the footsteps of the redemption is paved with the shattered shards of broken assumptions and lighted with the acceptance of the unclassifiable infinity in human community." -if I wrote a sefer midrash

"Be religiously disconcerting." -if I wrote a shulchan aruch

8/13/2007 12:15 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


check out the YU~YCT wars in the comment threads of Hirhurim some time, if you can stomach it.


i'm not sure which is worse... being called עמלק by someone who doesn't actually hate you or think you should be slaughtered, and is just using inflammatory language for some supposed rhetorical effect — or the possibility that they actually do think that you deserve to be killed.


thanks for the quote




religiously disconcerting = violating other people's assumptions about you?

8/14/2007 11:09 AM  
Anonymous brother esav said...

Yeah, pretty much, as long as "you"=the generic you.

8/14/2007 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Kylopod said...

i'm not sure which is worse... being called עמלק by someone who doesn't actually hate you or think you should be slaughtered, and is just using inflammatory language for some supposed rhetorical effect — or the possibility that they actually do think that you deserve to be killed.

I'm pretty rock-solid on which is worse.

8/14/2007 3:30 PM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Well, at least you're not going to ITJ-The Metivta. R' Wolpoe occasionally tries to encourage me to sign up there, but, well, a group that's not accepted by the Orthodox. Nor would I want to be the rav of a C shul, given what I hear about the pressures on the leadership from the non-observant majority. It's a school with no decent career path.

At least YCT graduates do get jobs in the Orthodox world.

8/15/2007 2:53 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Good luck in rabbinical school, I look forward to reading your musings on the experience.

9/03/2007 12:31 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

nice post. sorry i was so late in seeing it. thank you for the kind dedication.

gmar chatimah tovah.

9/16/2007 10:42 AM  
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