Category Archives: ritual

Pour out thy Love Upon the Nations and Miriam at the Seder-Updated

Years ago before the computerized library age, I was asked to check if a certain library in Europe possibly had a copy of a small book “Shefokh Ahavatkha” by Chaim Bloch, the famous Neturei Karta forger. Bloch claimed in another work that he wrote such work and it provided evidence for a medieval tradition of “Pour out thy Love upon the nations.” Since he forged the Anti-Zionist letters and was involved in the Kherson forgeries, it was more of a wild goose chase. What is interesting is that in recent years both the Mekhon Hartman Haggadah and the Midrasha Oranim include the forged version in their haggadot, with a very mild caveat that “scholars debate the issue.” They like the universal sentiment regardless of its source. To see it in the Hartman’s Haggadah see pages 142-143 in A Different Night.

This year I noticed that in 2009 an Israeli paper helped spread the false story as true, So I was gratified to see there is a nice article by Rabbi David Golinkin on the topic. Golinkin also has a nice discussion of the custom of dressing up a Elijah, but his discussion of the forged Maharal Haggadah and the prayer for salvation did not catch that one of prime reasons for the forged Maharal Haggadah was to spread the Kotzker-Izbitz practice of drinking a fifth cup.

In Hatza’ah L’Seder, a new Israeli Haggadah published by the staff of the Midrasha at Oranim Teachers’ College in 2000, the following addition appears after the three traditional Shefokh verses:

A piyyut which exhibits a different attitude to non-Jews (found in a Haggadah manuscript from the early 16th century):

Pour out your love on the nations who know You
And on kingdoms who call Your name.
For the good which they do for the seed of Jacob
And they shield Your people Israel from their enemies.
May they merit to see the good of Your chosen}
And to rejoice in the joy of Your nation.

This prayer was first published by the bibliographer Naftali Ben-Menahem in 1963. It was supposedly discovered by Rabbi Hayyim Bloch (1881-ca. 1970) in a beautiful manuscript on parchment from the estate of Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer (1658-1724).

The Haggadah was supposed to have been edited in Worms in 1521 by “Yehudah b”r Yekutiel, the grandson of Rashi”, but the manuscript was lost during the Holocaust.

However, a number of scholars have pointed our that this prayer was probably invented by Hayyim Bloch himself, who was born in Galicia and later moved to Vienna (ca. 1917) and New York (1939). He was one of the rabbis who published the Kherson letters attributed to the Besht and his disciples, which later turned out to be forgeries. He also published a letter from the Maharal of Prague, whose authenticity was already disproved by Gershom Scholem.

Finally, from 1959-1965 he published three volumes containing over 300 letters of great rabbis opposed to Zionism, but Rabbi Shemuel Hacohen Weingarten has proved that these “letters” were invented by Rabbi Bloch himself. Therefore, we may assume that “Shefokh Ahavatkha” was not composed in Worms in 1521, but rather by Rabbi Hayyim Bloch ca. 1963.

On the other hand, the traditions of connecting Miriam to the Seder are traditional as are customs connecting Bitya to the Seder. From an article in Ynet in 2006.

The most basic practice was a piece of fish placed on the Seder plate to commemorate Miriam.

We have two cooked foods on the seder table – an egg and a shank bone.The Talmud explains this as reflecting the holiday’s two sacrifices, the special Paschal lamb and the general holiday offering.

It turns out, however, that the number of dishes at the seder wasn’t fixed.

Rabbi Sherira Gaon of 10th-century Babylon noted a custom of putting three foods on the plate.
“Those three cooked foods are fish, meat, and an egg corresponding to the foods that Israel will eat in the Time to Come; fish corresponding to Leviathan, egg to Ziz (an enormous mythic and fabulous bird), meat corresponding to wild bull.” The foods symbolizes the mythic creatures from the realms of sea, air and land that will be eaten in the Meal of the Righteous in the Messianic times.

A second reason offered by R. Sherira , however, is one that resonates more strongly with our generation: “There are those who put an additional cooked food in memory of Miriam, as it says, “And I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6, 4). According to this, Miriam and the role she fulfilled in the redemption from Egypt is represented by the third cooked food on the seder table.

Another rabbi cognizant of the importance of women to the Passover story was Rabbi Abraham Grate of Prague. His 1708 Haggadah commentary explained several seder rituals, including the initial hand washing, as referring to Pharaoh’s daughter Bitya and her rescue of Moses from the Nile.

And if these proto-feminist commentaries are from relatively forgotten sources, how to explain the fact that a basic interpretation of haroset revolves around women – and almost nobody knows it? According to the Talmud, haroset is in memory of the apple tree, and Rashi in his commentary makes reference to the midrash in which, the women would go to their working husbands and would conceive children between the fields. When the women were ready to give birth, they would leave their homes out of fear of the Egyptians. They would lie underneath the apple trees and give birth. Apple haroset, then, is about the fact that the Jewish women did not lose hope in those difficult times.

Update- It turns out that Jonathan Sacks also has the pc version of “pour out your love.” but he puts it below the line as an “there is a manuscript.” The Tabori JPS haggadah places this version in the introduction

The official source is Heichal l’divrei chakhamim upithgameihem (1948) where Bloch adduces this quote, and in the extensive footnote
says he published a reproduction of this page-and the shaar of the manuscript in his fictitious book Der Judenhas. Here is the source Look at both pages 591 and 592.

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Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Haggadah

One of the most interesting commentaries on the haggadah of the last decade was the one by
Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Haggadah: The Passover Story (Paperback)

Ouaknin, a follower of Levinas and Lacan who teaches at Bar Ilan, when he is not busy writing profitable coffee table books, does some serious engagement with contemporary French thought, especially in his The Burnt Book. For him, the Talmudic project of the Eastern European beit midrash has no closure, ever changing, ever forgetful and driven by desire. He freely mixes R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Rav Nahman, Reb Zadok with psychoanalysis, symbolist poetry, and semiotics. Ouaknin has a reading of Judaism as indeterminacy. “Man must reject the illusion of thinking that life is already written and the way is drawn.” He are various fragments from the web that give some indiation of his approach to the Passover haggadah.

My favorite section is his explanation of Yachatz, breaking the middle matzah, as the Lacanian Real sending us on our quest through the seder for our ever receding Real , creating a symbolic order in the Lacan sense. Breaking the matzah creates an open space for our symbolic registry to occur. We are throw in the seder just as we are thrown into our quest for the recovery of the real.

On the telling of the Passover story, he writes:
“The words of telling emerge from that break, from the empty place left between the two pieces of matzah.”
The act of telling the story of the Exodus occurs through an exchange of conversation and ideas. We take the one whole matzah and break it in half because discussion and conversation occur when there is a minimum of two — me and the other.

On opening the door for Elijah, Ouaknin quotes the story in which Elijah goes alone to a cave on Mount Horev in the desert. God brings a great wind, and then an earthquake, and then a fire—but God was not in any of these. Instead, after the fire, he finds God in ‘a still, small voice.’ (1 Kings 19:11-13) Ouaknin comments that one must reach the level of Elijah, self-forgetfulness in the desert.

One must have sharpened one’s hearing, to be led to the absolute level of attention, to become capable of perceiving such a tenuous breath. One must have sounded oneself, have explored oneself in the darkest places of consciousness, to the furthest of thoughts, to have made the circuit of one’s inner domain many times, in constantly growing but nevertheless tightening circles, so as to attain the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness, to be able to be stroked lightly, touched, visited by such an inaudible sigh.
The point of concluding the seder with opening the door for Elijah is to signify that this journey in ‘the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness’ is the ultimate intention of the seder. While we aim to find ourselves on seder night, to reconnect with the story of our people and see ourselves as having personally left Egypt, remembering who we are paradoxically requires losing ourselves at the same time.

For his approach to “my forefathers worshiped idols” he quotes J.L. Marion about idols as false forms that distort reality and fill in the gap between us and the divine.
What the idol tries to reduce is the gap and the withdrawal of the divine… Filling in for the absence of the divinity, the idol brings the divine within reach, ensures its presence, and, eventually, distorts it. Its completion finishes the divine off… The idol lacks the distance that identifies and authenticates the divine as such–as that which does not belong to us, but which happens to us. (Ouaknin, The Burnt Book, p. 65)

Zayin Adar

I wanted to get this post in before Purim changes the mood. I went to a Zayin Adar dinner and expected to come home with lots of vignettes of how modern Orthodox Jews view death as about the living and not about a journey into the afterlife. Instead I sat next to an RCA committee member who just spoke about the Rabbah troubles and kept using in every sentence the words left, right, and center.

The one thing that did come up, which surprised the younger RCA Rabbi was that before the recent re-establishing of local Chevra Kadisha, the tahara and burial needs were taken care of by various old-time Jews of less than stellar reputation looking to make a buck. The sort of bottom feeders looking to take advantage of people’s grief. They did the traditional ritual as Jewish reverends offering people the old customs.

Rabbi Zohn,
who is one of the leaders in the reclaimed Chevra Kadisha, wrote:

Prevalent in many other communities was the Chevra comprised of those people who could not make it in the business world, who found a way of making a dollar by doing a job no one else would do. They commercialized the Chevra. Their concern was not the respect for the work they were doing, and if necessitated by time or convenience, the Tahara would be done quickly, without sensitivity, without any real standard of excellence. Their purpose was served as long as it was done and they were paid, and the service was provided to the basic satisfaction of all.

I was looking more for a discussion of how modern Orthodox books said we know nothing about the afterlife when the very nature of the rituals of tahara and Chevra Kadisha are based on Hibbut Hakever and the needs of the soul as it journeys through its purification to get to heaven, as described in Maavar Yabok. How we have replaced discussion of the soul and hibbut hakever with new this-worldly understanding of avelut. Also from Rabbi Zohn:

A second accepted Jewish belief is that while the soul departs from the body upon death, it nevertheless remains nearby, fully aware of what transpires to the body and around it. This contradicts the oft-cited belief that funerals are for the living. In fact, the dead are very much “present” at their funeral.

Since most rabbis are trained to ignore the traditional 16th-18th works of the journeys of the afterlife- the actual basis of these rituals, but at the same time have little Talmudic resources on the topic, they tend to have to rely on their conflicting intuitions. I wanted some stories of how contemporary rabbis use analogous thinking to create new practices. I have older stories but I wanted some new ones.

For some of the traditional practices in English- Here is DHL dissertation from HUC by Rabbi Steve Moss that translates many passages from Maavar Yabok. It is 300 pages so be prepared before you print it.

In general, here is a great collection of sources on late 20th century issues.

Here is a great collection of first hand stories of Chevra Kadisha work and even better tahara stories

I want to compare the ritualism of Tahara to our discussion of the Tu Beshevat Seder. What are the issues that mitigate against the tradition? I will probably return to these issues again, but in the mean time. (1) Our medical and hospital model of death- the tradition was hospice and then taharah by the same people. (2) our lack of ritual sense (3) Our treating the death as about the mourner (4) Our rejection of Jewish teachings on the afterlife (5) Our security at home- where Tu beshevat can celebrate our eating but death is not part of our lives (6) The general denial of death in the community. What else?

For a sense of the baroque era ritualization- from the taharah process.

As the clothes are cut away (the body is at all times partly covered to protect its modesty), one of the participants recites Zechariah 3:4-5: And He raised his voice and spoke to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the soiled garments from him” And he said to him, “Behold, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will cloth you in fine garments.”

In Zechariah, the prophet is having a dream-vision where he sees Joshua, the High Priest of his time, being tried in an angelic court. Joshua is clothed in filthy clothing, symbolic of the spiritual corruption that threatens the disintegration of the sacred community of Israel. In the midst of the trial, God graciously intervenes and declares Joshua fit, having endured the ordeal of exile, and ready to take on new, priestly duties. The angels strip him of his outer garments in a gesture signifying his spiritual purification… his soul has been cleansed, even as his material covering is cleansed – also indicating that sin, like the garments, are incidental, not integral to who he is.

By reciting these verses while stripping the body (perhaps in dead the body itself is the covering that is removed, revealing the soul beneath), the Chevra Kadisha is acting out a memesis of Zechariah’s vision. We become the angels preparing the dead for his/her elevation to a new and holy state. The deceased is Joshua, sullied and stained by transgression in life, undergoing the ordeal of death, but now he/she is readied by us to take a new form, a new role, to become a being akin to the priesthood.

What are our gaps from this way of thinking? How would someone armed only with halakhic thinking deal with it? Do we still like drama and ritual or must everything be didactic?

Here is a wonderful Reb Zalman article on the topic trying to reclaim the tradition. (plus his usual detour through the religions and psychology).
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Contemporary Orthodox Death

Doreen Rosman in her book The Evolution of the English Churches: 1500-2000 describes the early modern concern of religion as death centered. She asserts, “People’s passage from this life to the next and their entry to heaven were…matters of major concern.” Inherent in Rosman’s assertion is the idea that since people thought that most believers did not enter heaven, they had to work very hard to earn their eternal reward through belonging to con-fraternities, appealing to saints and to the beyond, engaging in magical rites, and practicing esoteric wisdom. Modernity changed that major preoccupation.

Michel Vovelle in his La mort et l’occident de 1300 à nos jours (1983) and Ideologies and Mentalities (1990) traces the slow process by which people in the 19th century stopped referring to the afterlife, how tombstones stopped having acute references to the next stage, and people no longer related to the next life as the longer part of one’s existence. Shadal in the beginning of the 19th century was already of a modern mind, yet the American Reform movement was still producing English guides to the afterlife based on Maavar Yabok at the end of the 19th century. Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning oriented modern Orthodoxy away from the traditional concern with the afterlife and claimed that there are no Jewish teaching on the afterlife.

Recently, I went to a funeral and the rabbi spoke about how the deceased will return to be at the wedding of the children and at the wedding we will invite the deceased back.

The formulation for this idea is the Zohar.

Even though the father and mother have left this world, the joy of the [wedding] is attended by all of its partners.. Because we have learned, when a person joins Hakadosh Baruch Hu to the joy of his [wedding], then Hakadosh Baruch Hu comes to Gan Eden and takes from there the other partners, the father and mother and brings them with Him to the joyous event. All are in attendance, and the people are unaware.

But modern circles do not generally follow the traditional Kabbalistic customs; they are not listed in Maurice Lamm’s Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. I emailed a number of my older, and more rationalist, pulpit rabbi friends to find out how customary this was. The general response that I received was that this started at modern weddings in the 1980’s and at that time it seemed surprising to them. It has grown more prevalent since then. Let me know if anyone has any more information about whether it would have been heard at a wedding in the 1970’s or how it came back in.

This comes back because of our current vision of the family staying together after death. There were several studies a decade ago that the American vision of the afterlife is where the family stays together. This was one of the attractions of Mormonism in 1980’s and 1990’s because that is a specific part of their teaching and firmly grounds the idea of family values.

It also comes from our acceptance of the long and complex process of mourning, beyond anything in the halakhah, where mourning becomes a process of temporary magical thinking. People continue to relate to their deceased long after the death. The most poignant reckoning with our current worldview is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005).

We claim to be rational and project magical thinking onto other religious groups, but we should first look at ourselves and the function the irrational has in our lives. (This may come up again when we return to Habermas’ critics who state that he does not give enough credit to the irrational.) The Zohar did not return because of the study of Kabbalah or haredi influence, rather from our own need to make sense of our losses.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Restoring Sacrifice viewed from Nepal

There are many who look forward to re-instituting sacrifice in Judiasm. Notice the reaction that it gets in Hinduism. Would we get the same reaction? Would Judiasm and Hinduism now be linked, with pejorative intent, in peoples minds as the two religions of sacrifice?Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism do not have sacrifice of animals as part of a regular order – Jews and Hindus do.

Mumbling something about Rav Kook writing that the restored sacrifices will be vegtable does not seem to have much clout when Kooks current followers are assiduously studying Kodshin and growing their nails long as they long for the Temple mount.

Now if I gave out this article to eighth graders while teaching Leviticus they would probably be appalled but what of 11th graders? How about kids after a year in Israel?Is there a way to create a modernist or contemporary approach to kodshim? What would be a contemporary approach seeing that since it is our sacred texts, we will witness a return of the repressed.  How seriously is everyone taking kodshim? I like the study of kodshin, whether Griz or Chofetz Chaim, and especially Mishnayot. But are we heading back to actual practice? As you read this, think of how different Jews will react and is this the Judiasm of the future?

Here is a conflated account from two versions

“Animal slaughter fest” begins despite protests in Nepal November 24, 2009

Kathmandu, Nepal — Despite appeals to halt the centuries-old custom of animal sacrifice, Gadhimai festival on Tuesday started in southern Nepal with millions of devotees flocking from various parts of the country and India. It is estimated that some 35,000 to 40,000 buffaloes, which are brought mostly from India, for the world’s largest ritual sacrifice at the temple.

India’s noted animal right activist Maneka Gandhi had also written a letter to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal appealing him to stop the sacrifice. Meanwhile, Animal Welfare Network Nepal and Anti-Animal Sacrifice Alliance has written to head priest Mangal Chaudhary and organising committee chief Shiva Chandra Kushwaha to stop the mass sacrifice.”We beg you to consider our plea. As the two important persons you have the ability to show wisdom, compassion and courage by doing everything to stop the killing of innocent creatures in the name of the God,” the letter said.

The government has, however, remained non-committal on its role in ending the custom. We will not interfere in the centuries-old tradition of the people, an official said.

Around five million people, 80 per cent from India, will arrive to observe the festival this time. Some 3,00,000 to 5,00,000 animals will be sacrificed during the two-day festival.

Hindus in Nepal routinely offer animals for sacrifice to appease deities, Especially power goddesses, for good luck and prosperity. But the festival held every five years at the Gadhimai temple in southern Nepal was condemned this year by animal rights activists.

Scores of butchers carrying big curved knives killed the animals in an open field as thousands of devotees stood by, witnesses reached by phone said. More than 80 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people are Hindus.

“It is a tradition and people’s faith. How can any protests stop that,” asked Mangal Chaudhary, chief priest of the temple, adding there were no protests.Some devotees said they were offering animals for sacrifice in the hope of being blessed with a son, preferred by many parents in Nepal and India.