A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Human Rights? Watch!

A very surprising article (Thanks, for sending it along, Bill) in the New York Times: The founder of Human Rights Watch criticizes that organization for their biased treatment of Israel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

They Don't Call it Um Shmum for Nothing

The abbreviation U.N. (United Nations), when translated into Hebrew, becomes "um" (pronounced 'oom'). Among Israelis, the U.N. is derisively referred to as "um shmum." Why? Things like the following, from Ha'aretz:

Goldstone slams UN council for ignoring Hamas war crimes

South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who headed the United Nations investigation over the Gaza offensive, criticized on Friday the Human Rights Council's decision to endorse the report his commission had compiled.

Goldstone told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps before the vote that the wording of the resolution was unfortunate because it included only censure of Israel. He voiced hope that the Human Rights Council would alter the wording of the draft.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Words Create (Editors Destroy)

In this week of Bereishit, in which we read again and celebrate again, the story of creation, my thoughts drift to the power of language (a concise, if not completely accurate summary, of Bereishit would be "Words, Matter" If you think of a more concise summary, let me know).

Genesis postulates that there is a relationship between words and language. God says y'hi or (let there be light) va'yhi or (and there was light). I do believe that a words opens up a universe of meaning and this is how I understand the relationship between the importance of language in the creation story and the importance of language in the brit between the Jewish people and God. Whole realms of ethics, subjects for theological speculation, are opened up by Divine articulation. More than that, though, words of the tradition inspire actions and personal transformation. Language leads to creation.

This is why Judaism is constantly renewing and developing: the texts are always opening to people to take on new meanings and to discover in our own lives how language leads to creation.

Why all this? Because I'm working creating a new Kabbalat Shabbat service (starts this Friday at 6pm, come check it out) that is going to be truly great. It will draw on the psalms of a full Kabbalat Shabbat service. But I can't use the Reform prayerbook for the service. Why? Because the editors (some of them former teachers of mine for whom I have a great deal of respect) decided to remove large chunks of the readings in this (and many other) parts of the prayerbook.

To be fair, this most recent prayerbook has restored much language that had been removed from earlier Reform prayerbooks, so this has to be seen in context. But Reform Jews are robbed of the possibility of new creation, new meaning, by editors who have decided that it is not a priority that Reform Jews have access to certain traditional readings in their prayers.

The great contradiction of Reform Judaism: it is on the one hand a very democratic movement. It values individual Jewish experience and the search for meaning in the establishment of communal practice and in the articulation of individual obligation. But there is another anti-democratic strain, in which the intellectual elites of the Movement make editorial decisions to remove large swaths of prayers that have existed for centuries, essentially making spiritual choices for millions of Jews, choices that preclude the creation of universes of meaning.

This is why I encourage people to own our Reform siddur but to also own many other "traditional" prayerooks that have all the other good bits...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Sukkah Born Every Minute

I actually don't have a post to go with that title, though we could think of one.

So, if you don't know, Sukkot it coming up Friday night. (At Har HaShem, by the way, there is a Sukkah-decorating program for families at 5:00 on Friday, followed by a family service and picnic. The "grown-up" services are at 7:00).

Anyway - a couple of thoughts. Each year the chagim (Jewish festivals) have a different meaning for me (and for all of us). This year, there's a sort of anti-materialism tradition that I'm digging.

There's a whole social critique connected to Sukkot that we can read as an anti-consumerist impluse, cutting against the insane bounty of our society. Even in a time of economic difficulty - and I'm sure some reading this have been personally affected by job-losses - Americans live with expectations that we should have cell phones, stereos, enough food to make us flabby, cars, computers, iPods, BlackBerry's huge TVs, etc.

Maimonides writes that Sukkkot reminds us of our time in the desert in order "to teach people to remember, during time of prosperity, harder times. We will then want to thank God repeatedly and to lead a modest and humble life."

Can hanging out in a booth with gourds hanging from the roof really bring us to that level of awareness and modesty? What do you think?