Category Archives: holidays

Pesah Sheni as a therapeutic holiday

It seems that before our eyes Pesah Sheni is becoming a holiday of second chances, of no one to be excluded from Israel, of confronting the other, and GLBT identity. It seems to have happened very quickly both here and in Israel.

Traditionally, pesah sheni Torah was about those who carried Yosef’s bones. In the middle ages it was the last chance to see the miracle of the Exodus and bask in how God is above the natural order. And there is some Polish Hasidic Torah about hametz and matzah being at the same time.

In the 1920s, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson taught about how no simple unlettered Jews is far from God – in contrast to the rigid hierarchy of Lithuanian Jewry. He developed the Lamed-Vavnik stories. A burning heart is more important than cold intellect. And Pesah Sheni is a second chance for all those who where far away. It was a noble message for an era of immigration and dispersion. Simple yidden, however, went out of fashion in the post WWII era

In, 1978 the Rebbe, Menachem Schneersohn told over the teaching of Pesah sheni as a second chance.

Pesach Sheni gives those who did not offer the Pesach sacrifice the first time the opportunity to do so a month later. Its message is that nothing is irretrievable, that a Jew can always rehabilitate himself.
One clear lesson from Pesach Sheni is that a Jew need never give up hope. In the words of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe: “The idea of Pesach Sheni is that nothing is irretrievable; we can always rectify our behavior. Even one who was ritually unclean or who was on a distant journey – even willingly – can still rehabilitate himself.” A Jew is intrinsically good, his soul “a part of G-d Above.” Sin is completely antithetical to his nature. If he does transgress, it is an aberration that cannot touch his essential self. He may be temporarily unclean, but he is of the loftiest levels. Thus no sin, no omission of service to G-d, is irretrievable. A Jew can always return to his real identity. Likkute Sichos XII 5738, emor 216-220

That same year Reb Shlomo Carlebach added it to his repertoire of holy sinners and deepest desires. By the millennium it has shifted into English Breslov, BT literature, and web Torah, but as part of other homilies.

But about two years ago, we see a combustion. This is now a time when all those who need a second chance have their holiday. Almost any metaphors of 12 step, broken pieces, shattered lives has made its way into pesah sheni Torah, from all sorts of kiruv and self-help sources. (There is enough for grad student to collect and sort it out.) Here is the holiday to ask for a second chance. A holiday to celebrate out therapeutic individualist Judaism. Whereas Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak was dealing with actually displacement of war and famine, now we have a acute sense by many in the community they do not share the idealized image of the frum community and need to be made welcome again.

The holiday picks up steam last year there was a widely circulated blog post discussing it as a holiday for GLBT exclusion.. In addition, Rav Cherlow gave a pesah sheni talk on the need to confront the other and this year on the need to accept gays in the community. Finally, this year Kolech proclaimed it a day of inclusion of all. Here is a Forward Blog giving a post to the topic from the lesbian and Kolech angle. There are articles in the Israeli papers worth reading on the event.

But what I am noticing on this one is that the individualism of the kiruv organization, yeshivish self help and Neo-hasidism is overlapping in a metaphor and a holiday with the liberal voices of Kolech. There is a social reality of exclusion needing homilies of inclusion and a reality of therapeutic Torah. Next year, let’s see how this plays itself out.

Haggadot 2010

I never got around to posting this after Passover, so Pesah Sheni reminded me to get this posted ASAP. All of these are impressions from their use at the table, not in depth studies.

JPS Tabory- he is an expert on the topic and I like his scholarly articles on the Pasover seder but was disappointed with the haggadah. I blame it more on the editor. There are points where the comment on the bottom states “Popular theories are not true” without giving his own opinion. For a popular haggadah just to state that others are false is not good editing. The introduction was more trendy in scholarship than I expected, cutting edge debates around Israel Yuval’s work and whether Christianity is the source of the Haggadah and not visa versa. I would have liked more of the basics from his scholarship. And of course he discusses “Pour out they love upon the gentiles.”

This year, I listened to Jonathan Sacks through someone else reading from its comments. Sacks quotes Primo Levi on the same page as the Hartman’s Haggadah, we have noted in the past his reliance on Hartman’s but the Primo Levi is also quoted in the classic Schoken haggadah by Nachum Glatzer. Sacks was consistently in favor of community at the expense of faithless spirituality and individualism. He even manages to twist a Kotzker statement about letting God into one heart into the need to affirm the future of the community. I was most piqued by his statements about the need for the hope of Jewish history and peoplehood- and the message of the haggadah is not the details of Temple law. Having been acculturated into Brisker appreciation for Temple law- this was unexpected. His language of peoplehood and continuity sounded like a 1950’s Conservative haggadah, I pulled one or two off the shelf, finding the sentiment, but I could not find Sacks exact language

The Carlebach Haggadah was more Holocaust oriented than I remembered.

The MM Kasher Haggadah where everything is explained as messianic and golly gee whiz we can have a return to the Temple does not seem as innocuous anymore.

Marge Piercy’s mix of Jewish renewal, poetry, and foodie recipes is a nice gift for right person.

The Artscroll Vilna Gaon Haggadah remain a gem for conveying the traditional Lithuanian understanding of the Haggadah. “Zekher Yetziat mitzrayim as a chance for unending Talmud Torah.” The Haggadah was not actually written by the Gra. When the Gra died in 1797 – he left behind 10 official books- 8 of them in Kabbalah. There were some early fragments of the Gra on the Haggdah published in 1813 but in the 1850’s there was a full commentary created. Most people knew the Gra only through this accessible entry point of the haggadh. When ordinary rabbis quoted the Gra this was the volume that they could understand. The volume had an effect on the nusach of the haggadah both on Russian printings and on the American Hebrew Publishing company. I could pick issues with the translation but is nice to have some real Torah transalted.

But I wonder why they don’t translate the Nesivos Haggadah? The Haggadah Maaseh Nissim of Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum called by his legal commentary Netivot was the major shaper of Eastern European drush on the Haggadah. All these people claiming to wait the view of the mesorah of eastern Europe are not referring to anything spoken at the seder in Europe if they don’t have the Maasah Nissim.

On the other hand, Artscroll did waste their time putting a pile of haggadahs from various contemporary gedolim that are gibberish. I don’t blame the rabbanim and I wont list which ones. But they are quite a few that were sent out as fundraisers by various yeshivas that have vorts that the reader cannot tell if the gadol is telling over the Gra? Differing with the Gra? Offering his own approach to the Gra? Collections of random butchered quotes of Aharonim that only a high pitched tenth grader proving he is stark could love. They should have done the Nesivos instead.

Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes

It has been an annual sighting in the newspapers for the last four years, several Muslim appreciations of Passover. This holiday and the exodus from Egypt is discussed in the Koran. These human interest pieces allow modern Muslim to show their interfaith and tolerance credentials. The first is one of the best on the web, the second is the one that came to my attention as this year’s syndicated version, the third is a famous one from an Egyptian author 2007 that made the Israeli papers.

Out of Egypt By Prof. Shahul Hameed

Many Jews may be surprised to learn that Islam as preached by Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the same religion preached by Abraham, as well as of all other prophets mentioned in the Torah and the Bible. Muslims honor all the prophets of the Jews – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon among others – as their own prophets.

Here is how Allah ordered Muhammad to follow the religion of the Patriarch Abraham:

[And lastly, We have inspired thee, O Muhammad, with this message: Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.] (An-Nahl 16:23)

In fact, the most important belief that unites Muslims and Jews is the faith in the One God as the Creator, Sustainer and Law-Giver of the universe. Both religions teach the need for establishing the Law of God on earth, so that there will be peace and harmony flourishing everywhere.

As Muslims have a Shari`ah (Law) to live by, the Jews have their Halakha (a compendium of laws, based on the Torah).

It is particularly noteworthy that in the Quran, there is no story that is recounted as many times and with as much emphasis, as the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel and their subsequent deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh. The Quran quotes Moses as saying to his people:

[O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the world.] (Al-Mai’idah 5:20)

It was Moses, with the help and guidance of God Almighty, who led them out of Egypt towards a land of promise. Allah in the Quran says what means:

[O children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favored you above all other people. And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be received from it, nor will they be helped. And remember the time when We saved you from Pharaoh’s people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaughtering your sons and sparing only your women — which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer; and when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh’s people to drown before your very eyes] (Al-Baqarah 2:47-50)

The story is narrated elsewhere in the Quran, where we may read these verses:

[We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit to Allah.” It was said to him: “Ah, now? But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! and thou didst mischief and violence! This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou may be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!”

We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them, that they fell into schisms. Verily Allah will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.] (Yunus 10:90-93)

The torments inflicted on the Children of Israel by the Pharaoh were continuous and harsh; and so God sent His prophets Moses and Aaron (peace be upon them) to warn the tyrant that he should stop the oppression of the Children of Israel and free them.

But he was arrogant and refused to free the Jewish slaves, until the last of the plagues God sent as punishment. The first-born of both man and beast were destined to fall down dead on that fateful night. Pesach, or Passover, means protection in Hebrew, and the name refers to this last of the plagues sent by God to the Egyptians. While the Egyptians suffered this plague, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites. To protect themselves, the Israelites had marked their homes with lamb’s blood so that the angel of death could easily “pass over” their homes.

Under guidance from God, the Israelites fled Egypt; while the Pharaoh and his men pursued them. It seemed like their journey would end at the Red Sea which prevented their escape.

But a miracle happened when Moses struck the water with his staff: The waves of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites hurried along the passage between the parted waves. Pharaoh and his soldiers followed; but by the time the Israelites reached the other shore, the sea closed in engulfing their pursuers. Thus the Israelites were delivered from bondage, and the Pharaoh and his people perished.

Muslims are in sympathy with the Jewish celebration of the Pesach, as the fast on `Ashura’ amply demonstrates. When the Prophet Muhammad came to Madinah on the tenth of the lunar month of Muharram, he found that the Jews there were fasting.

The Prophet asked them why they were fasting on this day, and they explained that it was the day that God saved the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh, and that Moses fasted in thanks on this day. The Prophet said, “We have more claim to Moses than you.” He fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on the day. (Al-Bukhari)

Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to the Reading Islam Website. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.

StarTribune.com March 23, 2010
Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes By Zafar Siddiqui

This past Sunday, I attended an interfaith Seder at the Temple of Aaron synagogue in St. Paul. It was a beautiful event. By the end of the Seder meal, I could not but come to a conclusion that the story of Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers’ struggle against the tyranny of the Pharaoh will continue to inspire countless people, communities, and countries in seeking the freedom and dignity that God bestowed on the children of Adam.

It may come as a surprise to a lot of people that Muslims observe the fast of ‘Ashura to commemorate the day when God delivered Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers from slavery. The day of ‘Ashura falls on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram.

Moses is called Musa in Arabic. He is also called “Kalim Allah” (One who spoke with God). He is the most mentioned prophet in the Qur’an. The Muslim narrative about the exodus story is detailed and has a strong parallel to the Biblical narrative. Some excerpts from the Qur’an are given below.

Moses’ Childhood
“And We had already conferred favor upon you another time, when We inspired to your mother what We inspired, [Saying], ‘Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.

[And We favored you] when your sister went and said, ‘Shall I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?’ So We restored you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve. And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a [severe] trial. And you remained [some] years among the people of Madyan. Then you came [here] at the decreed time, O Moses.” (20: 38-41)

The Burning Bush
“And has the story of Moses reached you? – When he saw a fire and said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance. And when he came to it, he was called, “O Moses, indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwā. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you]. Indeed, I am God. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” (20: 9-14)

Moses and his brother Aaron confront Pharaoh
“So go to him and say, ‘Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance.” (20:47)

Moses and his duel with Pharaoh’s magicians
“They said, “O Moses, either you throw or we will be the first to throw.” He said, “Rather, you throw.” And suddenly their ropes and staffs seemed to him from their magic that they were moving [like snakes]. And he sensed within himself apprehension, did Moses. God said, “Fear not. Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is.” So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, “We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.” (20: 65-70)

Freedom at last
“And We had inspired to Moses, “Travel by night with My servants and strike for them a dry path through the sea; you will not fear being overtaken [by Pharaoh] nor be afraid [of drowning].” So Pharaoh pursued them with his soldiers, and there covered them from the sea that which covered them.” (20: 77-78)

As I was going through the Haggadah at the Seder, these parallel narrations came to my mind. In a world where injustices, occupations, and wars abound, the story of Moses gives us hope that God will never let any injustice thrive for long. The challenges may seem like the veritable sea in front of us, but, as a follower of Moses, I believe that nothing is impossible for God. Peace is inevitable.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN). He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press).

And here is a link to one from 2007 that made the Israeli papers because it acknowledged the plight of Arab Jews and the Jewish lineage of many current Arabs.

In an article on the Arab reformist websites Aafaq (April 9, 2007) and Middle East Transparent (April 8, 2007), Egyptian author Hisham Al-Tuhi rejects the view that Muslims should not convey holiday greetings to non-Muslims on their holidays, reviews the history of Jews in Arab countries in the 20th century, and wishes Jews still living in Arab countries a happy Passover.

The Jews Who Remain “Still Celebrate Their Holidays in Silence, Forgotten… Is Not the Least We Can Say to Them: Jewish Arabs Happy Passover!?”

“Despite this despite the nationalization, the expulsion, the banishment, the bombings, the racism, the enmity, and the marginalization; despite their being reviled with the ugliest abuse in the prayers of the Muslims, in all of the Arab mosques and in some of the churches; despite their being called infidels and cursed, and being accused of treason, in the books, the newspapers, and the TV stations, [both] governmental and private despite all this, they still live in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, and in other countries of the Arab Middle East!

“And they still celebrate their holidays in silence, forgotten. And they still passionately love their countries who treated them cruelly, and will no accept any substitute [for them].

“Is not the least we can say to them: Jewish Arabs happy Passover!?”

Hag Sameah

Have a Hag Kosher ve Sameah and א זיסן פסח

I have a backlog of about 12 posts ready to post but I realized that I should not put them up when everyone, myself included, is busy before the holiday.
So check back during Hol Hamoad and I will put up a whole batch of already written posts. Topics covered include more on Kugel and the Bible, Art Green’s new book, more on day schools, a few conferences, and the British movement of radical orthodoxy. There will be dates for more book signings. I will also have time to continue the discussion of Buddhism and Judaism.

Rav Shagar z”l, Purim, the Princess and the Plebian

In the fairy tale of the princess and the frog, how does the frog turn into a prince? In the modern versions the princess kisses the frog. But in the early modern versions, she throws the frog at the wall to smash him. During that era, only by doing the opposite can one achieve one’s goal.
In addition during that time period, they distinguished between the inner and outer self. Shakespeare’s character Polonius advised Laertes  about both of these aspects: “to thine own self be true,” and also to dress well: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

During these three centuries, the Purim Torah was filled with sinning for the sake of heaven, fortunate falls, fortunate faults, this day is a tikkun for haman, the need to do the opposite of intellect and get drunk, things not appearing what they seem. Each in his own way, Maharal, Shelah, Ramhal, Yonathan Eybeschutz, and the Izbitzer had these approaches. (If it was still Purim time, then I would give lots of examples, maybe next year.)

But what I find interesting is that Rav Shagar Z”l advocates going back to this material in what he considers the post-modern condition, the needs of what he calls “the Jewish intellectual.” His Purim Shiurim were translated three years ago as a small book, ideal for giving as mishloach manot, which I did when I received a bunch when they came out. But his Torah does not catch on here.

In his book Change and Providence, he advocates drinking to oblivion, we need to get beyond intellect and cognition, all divisions are meaningless to the eye, all is an inner divine providence, there is a holy haman in our “”will to power” needed to create, we need to get beyond Torah as a burden or as neurosis, we rejoice through destroying the ordinary categories, Purim is beyond history and celebrates the loss of all categories, it is the holiday of the fragmentary nature of our lives.

Can one group go back and understand reality in a different way. Can one adopt the cosmology of a different era? In 1700 many people thought that way as their natural cosmology, does it have the same affect if it is artifice and constructed self?

Yet, the Tablet had an article that Purim may be the holiday for this generation. “Sanctioning a host of transgressive behaviors—from drunkenness to masquerading in costume—and commemorating a tale of Jewish valor that culminates in the slaughter of 75,000 Persians more than 2,000 years ago, Purim is increasingly providing Jews of all backgrounds and ages with an opportunity to engage with whatever concerns them personally and politically.”
Thoughts?

Modernist Postscript:

Rav Soloveitchik as a staunch advocate of the intellect, generally used the midrash on Ahashveros as foolish to show how America and Jewish values are different. He generally stuck up for a Boston Brahmin position as the Jewish position. In my era, he used this moment to make fun of President Reagan as plebian, uneducated, a fool, and not someone the Torah thinks should be in leadership. He seems influenced by the rhetoric of Richard Hofstadter, which was also emphasized in the secular curriculum at Maimonides.

The Second Characteristic (Persia versus U.S.) In Persia there was an anti-aristocratic movement where the average citizen was the hero. He was the ordinary and mediocre man. (In America who is the all American boy? Is it the great student, the researcher, the scientist? No, the all American boy is the uncultured basketball or baseball player.) Then, the ordinary man was looked upon as the right man. Achashueros celebrated his rise to power in a common way. He himself was a usurper to the throne and he hated the cultured. He was sly, a Stalin, cunning, who wrangled his way to the top. Achashueros hated the nobility! Yet, why did he invite them separately to a party for no less than 180 days? He needed them because they controlled the army. The megilah terms it “Chale, Paras u’Madai” (the commanders of the forces). Those who control the army are the bosses. They were responsible for his security, and he needed them. But, Achashueros felt out of place in their company. Their fine manners irritated him because he was a plebeian. Then he invited his “crowd,” the citizens, the uncouth of Shushan Habirah. How do we know that he enjoyed the common? Because the megilah tells us that on the seventh day “the heart of the king was merry from wine.” During the 180 days before the cultured, he was not merry.

It would have been nicer for Queen Vashti to appear before the aristocracy, but instead, when did he summon her? Before the ordinary people! What does it mean that he told her to “appear before the people?” It means that in his intoxication he wanted to “shame and to humiliate her.” Vashti came from royalty-was the daughter of Balshazar, the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezer. He wanted to degrade her before the common people. Why did she refuse? She knew that he wanted to degrade her because otherwise, he would have come personally instead of sending servants as if she were a slave. It was as if sending a guard to degrade her. She returned a message, “My father drank wine in front of thousands and never got drunk. You got drunk on a little wine! You are a vulgar usurper! It was an exchange of derogatory messages, each wishing to destroy the other. Full Version Here.

44 years later, how would he look at our communities? What does the community value? Do they even have a concept of ordinary people (hamon am) anymore? Would he like the all-American values of Centrist orthodoxy?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

History – the Orthodox Way: Without Causality and with Presentism

Here is a good article that I missed when it came out and it does not seem to have gained notice of the Jewish education circles.  The article is about a Lubavitch girls school, but most of the observations that I excerpted apply equally well to Modern Orthodox students on both college and graduate level.  In addition, the article is on the Holocaust but can apply equally well to most other issues in Jewish history.  I have found students unable to apply any causality to the Middle East, to modern religious movements, or anti-Semitism.  I have also found students who treat theological statement of Rabbis or Rabbis working out theology as if it was real history. Theological statements about halakhah are used as causality for events. The lack of social science thinking about Judaism is wide spread despite the required Jewish history in high school. Absurd forms of presentism are acceptable for debate. This article harshly calls this accepted orthodox approach narcissistic, social isolationism, moral arrogance and religious triumphalism. Any thoughts?

Simone Schweber, “Here there is no why”: Holocaust education at a Lubavitch girls’ yeshivah. Jewish Social Studies Volume 14, Number 2, (Winter 2008) 156-185

Numerous authors have elaborated the discourse of the Holocaust’s unintelligibility, expounding on the Shoah’s unspeakability, unimaginability, and fundamental unknowability… Few, however, have considered the disciplinary limitations of such a theoretical position. The stance of unintelligibility may work for literary theorists and cultural critics, but it hardly aids educators. What might it mean, for example, to teach toward unintelligibility? Can one teach despite, through, or with a Warumverbot? [Asking why is forbidden]

When I set out to study the teaching of the Holocaust at a Lubavitch girls’ yeshivah in the Midwestern United States, I was not aware, naïvely perhaps, that a Warumverbot could serve as a pedagogical platform. How might students who believed in divinely driven history, for example, understand human perpetrators? When would contingency trump eschatology and vice versa?

First, as a result of the culture of argumentation, the students’ presentist orientations toward history surfaced. Because they thought of their religious dictates as being ahistorical or transhistorical, they could argue over whether it was “okay” for Jews in hiding to recite Catholic prayers; their investment in prayer and religious obligations trumped historical circumstances in their understandings of the Holocaust. Second, because some of the girls thought of Jewish teenagers as being basically the same across time and space, they could argue over why European Jewish teens would return to their homes. The girls’ assumptions about Jews, in other words, were personally based (and similarly presentist). In most public or Christian school contexts where the Holocaust is taught, Jews are easily exoticized, but for these Hasidic girls, Jews were noticeably normalized.

Rather than blaming assimilation, secular Jews, the advent of Reform Judaism, Zionism, Zionists, or the lack of or dedication to a Jewish homeland—all of which are common refrains in Israeli haredi materials—these girls located the root of persecution in envy. In response to the interview question “Why were Jews persecuted?,” each of the other four focus students supplied an answer that involved jealousy or difference… Because chosenness bounded the girls’ historical meaning-making, other victim groups fell out of their Holocaust narratives…. Hashem used the Holocaust as testament to both the endurance and enduring nature of the Jewish people…. By contrast, later in the unit, when they read about Japanese-Americans being interned in camps, a student asked, “What did they do to deserve that?”

Although Mrs. Glickman taught about the Holocaust during her secular studies block, she taught about it as a religious event. She did not include miraculous stories that so frequently populate Hasidic sources, but her course relied on the miraculous as explanation; for much of her Holocaust curriculum, rational explanations for events were not proffered.

The special status of the Holocaust in their classroom deprived them of basic historical understandings. None of the girls at the end of their unit knew about the history of antisemitism, the reasons Germans voted for Hitler, or the ways perpetrators were socialized. None could answer even basic historical questions like why the Holocaust occurred without resorting to all-encompassing theological rationales.

As I see it, Mrs. Glickman taught toward fundamentally narcissistic ends: she did not expand the girls’ notions of others, of otherness, or even of Jewishness itself

Moreover, in considering Nazi behavior to be abnormal, unknowable, and unable to be investigated, Mrs. Glickman fed the girls’ moral arrogance and religious triumphalism. Not only did the girls believe themselves to be incapable of compromising behavior, but they could not deign to discuss it even in others. The starkness of the moral divide… reified the girls’ righteousness and supported their narrow-mindedness. In the process, the contingencies, complexities, and even overly simplistic explanations that sometimes masquerade as history were occluded, rendered invisible to these girls.

Mrs. Glickman’s Holocaust education thus did not serve to complicate the girls’ worldviews but rather to narrow their world’s vistas and support its moral simplicity, religious clarity, and, ultimately, social insularity. Rather than opening up moral questions, Mrs. Glickman’s pedagogy closed them down.

Simone Schweber is the Goodman Associate Professor of Education and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Making Sense of the Holocaust: Lessons from Classroom Practice (2004) and, with Debbie Findling, Teaching the Holocaust (2007).

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Tu bShevat Seder -with Text

One year on tu b’shevat someone (a second career retiree) brought Rav Soloveitchik some bokser before shiur. After chuckling, Rav Soloveitchik told a story about how Rabbi DZ Hoffman would ask on his oral semikha exams – where is Tu bshevat in the shulkan arukh? (ANS-tahanun). Then someone (I don’t remember who) mentioned that Rav Kook on is exams would ask: what to do when you fnd a mistake in the Torah during Torah-reading?

Tu bshevat generated a piyyut for the amidah – found in the Cairo Genizah and is mentioned already by the Maharil in the 15th century. But by the end of the 17th century, in grand baroque age, the holiday generated a detailed seder of collecting 30 fruits. (There is a ton of painfully incorrect history about Tu bShevat on the web)

Twenty years ago, it was still hard to collect 30 fruits. But with the revolution in eating habits and the opening of new markets (Fairway, Whole Foods) one can now collect 30 fruits with ease. In 19th century Russia, even mid-summer one could with great difficulty only collect half the number.

It has made a come-back in certain circles. The seder will probably remain limited in its practitioners for a variety of reasons.

1] To collect 30 fruits based a set typology is a very tactile, crunchy, foody, techie activity. Most American Orthodox Jews don’t regularly shop for papaya, fresh lychees, gooseberries, dragon fruit,  guavas, tamarind fruit, hickory nuts, and kumquats.

2] The seder assumes that one is comfortable with Zohar as one’s table talk. In America, this limits it to academics, Renewal Jews, Neo-Hasidim, and Moroccans.

3] The seder is a performance ritual. Most modern orthodox Jews have a difficult time with ritual. performance. Watch them struggle to get into hoshanot.

4] One has to have a visionary and narrative religion.

5] One has to have a meaningful understanding, beyond rationalism and irrationalism, of tikkunim, theurgy, magic, and religious cause and effect.

6] When you are told that Rav Kook avoided onions because they are all kelipot – it must resonate with you. .

Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)

For those emailing me requesting sources:

Here is the traditional Pri Etz Hadar in English. This is the entire Seder- go for this.

Hillel Collegiate shortened version

A Chabad crib sheet

A nice article- with footnotes Tu Bishvat in Contemporary Rabbinical Literature

Reb Shlomo on Tu Bshevat

Excursus on Hemdat Yamim.The printed edition of the seder comes from the beautiful work Hemdat Yamim, which teaches the “customs of Safed” in a first person narrative, pretending to be a 16th century person from Safed. .According to current research, the work includes quotes of various Kabbalist customs from 1550 to 1715 from a variety of kabbalistic groups in Jerusalem, Safed, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Amsterdam. Much of this material was attributed to the Ari, since anything based on Safed must be Ari. In this 150 period, there are over 300 little minhag books of Safed custom. Hemdat Yamin has many of them and collates them for us. To do any serious work on these customs one has to really be prepared to look at a large number of these books.

Isaiah Tishby places the editor in the circle of Kabbalists from Smyrna, and Benayahu attributed it to one member of the group, Israel Yaakov Al Ghazi, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

The book mixes customs based on Cordovero, Luria, Azikiri, ibn Makir, the Peri Hadash of Amsterdam, Nathan of Gaza and others. A recent article by Moshe Fogel in JSJT, shows that even if it has Sabbatian hymns written by Nathan of Gaza (such as the Atkinah Seudata for Yom Tov), it has no explicit Sabbatian theology or belief in Shabbati Zevi. And for those following Lithuanian tradition,  both the Gra and Haayim of Volozhin accepted Hemdat Yamim.

(Think of using a potential Sabbatian custom as similar to the tune to Birkat Hamazon sung today in every Day School, which was commissioned by Mordechai Kaplan. It does not make those schools into Reconstructionist ideologically. It only shows that there are cultural overlaps and that one is part of a larger set of concerns called American Jewry. )

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