When Tablet Magazine published this piece last week about a Torah-writing-robot, I was astounded and excited and generally freaked out. For those who don’t know, here’s my brief explanation of the art of Torah writing:
A sofer is the Hebrew name for the scribe who painstakingly writes Torahs. For those who don’t know, it can take over a year to write ONE Torah scroll. And it’s not like typing on your computer or writing in your notebook – if you mess up, you have to restart the page you’re on or sometimes carefully scrap the ink of the mistake off thepage. It’s certainly not as easy as pressing “delete.”
So when the Jewish Museum Berlin opened an exhibition called “The Creation of the World” featuring a robot that can write a 260-foot long Torah in THREE MONTHS, my jaw dropped. I thought it was brilliant! That would save time and animal hide and who knows what else. So why was I also totally uneasy about it?
Maybe it’s because I’m in the midst of watching Battlestar Gallactica, but it seems to me the more power we give to robots, the more power we lose. Robotic devices already do plenty, from manufacturing food to cleaning; it seems to me having them do sacred tasks is a bit, well, blasphemous. Or is it?
I’m not really sure. If we don’t want robots writing our Torahs, what else don’t we want them to do? What do we want them to do? Are there any religious tasks that could be done with robotic aid?
I’m well aware that the process of writing a Torah isn’t just about the writing. According to tradition, a sofer must use a certain kind of pen and there are blessings that need to be said throughout the undertaking. Would it count if the robot read the blessings? Or if someone said the blessings on behalf of the robot? Or is this a task we should leave to the humans?
Like the zombie living dead trend,Torah manicures fever just will not die.
Starve the cold, feed the fever, or the reverse. Kill it, already. Why is this still being talked about as though it were an innovative thing? It is NOT.
Look, the idea seems innocuous- in order to make Torah attractive to girls, let’s have a middle school club in which they give themselves manicures with things related to the Torah, parsha scenes, perhaps, and (eventually) discuss them. (How bold, how innovative! came the cry from the innovation alter kockers.)
Guess what Midrash Manicures is not, other than innovative? Innocuous. It trivializes both the girls and the Torah. It doesn’t (as some claim) make Torah more accessible, it makes it “cute” – compared to what “boys do” – which is, study commentaries, and use Torah to make laws and meaning. (When boys do things like get manicures, as they sometimes do for events like Manicure for the Cure, it’s funny, because what girls and women do is seen as trivial and silly. Even though they’re stepping outside of traditional masculinity, they can do it in this instance, as long as they make a joke out of it.)
But, everyone howls, it makes girls more interested in Torah! Well, does it really?
Let’s say it does: So, why aren’t they interested in Torah without it then? What is the structural problems with the way we teach Torah that makes girls think, Nope, not for me? The reason girls maybe don’t love the Torah or whatever is that it’s not cute or cool or sexy for girls to be smart, ESPECIALLY in middle school, when this whole manicure thing is going down. Girls are socialized to not be openly smart or bold or interesting because boys don’t like it. (And boys are the most important thing. Duh.) Instead of openly challenging that-or anything else- Midrash Manicures is buying right into it. It’s not unlike fraternities and sororities who coordinate massive efforts around philanthropy and raise money for kids with cancer-it looks like a great thing to do, so no one questions it, or their failure to work on any level for structural change or systemic roots.
It’s not that, in and of itself, there’s something wrong with getting a manicure. It’s the idea that painting one’s nails with the parshah is an innovative way to teach girls Torah instead of a regressive reinforcement of ideas about gender and both the importance of Torah (it’s so simple you can put it on your nails, if you’re a girl) and how girls can be induced to learn. But in several of the articles lauding this innovation, when the girls were asked about it, their responses were along the lines of: My friends say I’m so lucky because I get to do my nails in school. Clearly the Torah study is sinking in.
Rainbow Tallit Baby has written about this as well, and nailed it (pun intended): “While the manicure program may get more girls in the door than a regular midrash class, offering this program sends the message that torah study is not a serious occupation for women and that torah is not appealing on its own and needs to be sugar-coated (or Ravishing Red coated) to be made palatable to them.”
Aviva Richman is on the faculty at Yeshivat Hadar in Manhattan, the only full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America, where she teaches Talmud, Jewish Law and midrash. She is also pursuing doctoral studies in rabbinic literature at NYU, as a Wexner fellow. Other interests include niggunim, classical piano, and making all manner of soup!
We live in a world where many people offer conflicting advice about what to eat and how. Should meat be a crucial part of my carbs-free diet or should I avoid meat because it is unhealthy – or unethical? Is fresh, organic, and local the way to go – or does that make food too expensive and less accessible? In this whirlwind of food movements and media, there is perhaps no better time to engage the complex discourse around food in our own tradition. To use the words of a fifth-century midrash, “Is there such a thing as Torah in the gut?” (PDRK, 10)
The idea of “Torah in the gut” arises from a puzzling verse where the Psalmist turns to God and says: “I desire to do you will, my God; Your Torah is in my gut.” (40:9) The midrash can’t make sense of this visceral image. Torah is made of written words, not food; it is processed in our minds, not digested in our stomachs. What kind of Torah resides in our digestive tract?
Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
Here is a list of five places unlikely to sell menorahs, but do anyway.
5.) Artful Home’s “Modern Menorah.” Price: $290. Not my cup of tea, but at least it’s modern:
4.) Unica Home’s artfully named “Cement Candlesticks.” Simply a steal at $120. The “cubes can be rearranged,” but I think the way it’s currently arranged could make for an interesting eighth night:
3.) The MoMA Store’s “Flexus Menorah.” You can find it under the ever-useful category Living>Candlelight. However, as MoMA customer Knit-Picker sez: “3 stars. This is a Hannukia, not a Menorah.” I dont’ think I’m pretentious enough to call it that quite yet, though, myself. $125.
2.) Crate & Barrel’s “Tovah Menorah.” Sounds like a good menorah. $32.95.
1.) Toys R Us’s “Mini Menorah Set,” for those (like me) who aren’t above using birthday candles. $7.99. Candles may or may not be included.
My vote for the most expensive menorah: This one from the Jewish Museum, $375.
So Leon Wieseltier got a little pushback for his review of The American Haggadah in the Jewish Review of Books. To recap: In the review, in addition to criticizing the translation and the commentaries (except for Rebecca Goldstein’s commentary), he also went to town on the cultural and linguistic illiteracy of American Jews. In any event, Wieseltier gives again as good and better than he gets. His style is pedantic, rude and snobbish, but some of his points are spot on. What do you think? (The letters he is responding to are here. You might want to read them first, but I’m not sure its necessary)
I am sorry if I ruined anybody’s Pesach. The eight days are hard enough without such polemical nastiness, I know. I had hoped to welcome the New American Haggadah to the world, not least because its editor is (or perhaps was) my friend, and its translator, with whom I have enjoyed cordial relations, seemed well equipped for his task. But I take these things—Hebrew, English, my duty as a scholar, my duty as a critic, my duty as a Jew—very seriously, and in my view the fault for any unpleasantness lies not in my insistence upon demonstrating the inadequacies of this Haggadah but in the inadequacies themselves. Presenting a new version of a central text of Judaism, and making large claims for its superiority to previous versions, is not a trifling matter, and the standard by which it must be judged is not Maxwell House, unless of course everything Jewish is to be prized mainly for its ethnic cuteness. Nathan Englander is no more “defenseless” than any writer or translator who puts a book before the public. Indeed, too many American Jewish readers are defenseless against his mistakes and misrepresentations. More »
Introducing: The first-ever Orthodox LGBT Vacation Retreat in the Midwest
July 5th through 8th, 2012 at Ronora Lodge and Retreat Center, Watervliet, Michigan
Whether you are Orthodox, Traditional or just want to spend a relaxing Shabbat with others, this retreat is for you.
Retreat will include inspiring learning, spirited davening (prayer), delicious locally grown kosher food, and an Eshel Speaker and Leadership training. Retreat will take place in a beautiful, natural setting with lots of time in between for relaxation, beauty and summer fun, including trip to Warren Dunes. Stay tuned for more details! Have questions about the summer retreat? Email email@example.com
*Eshel builds understanding and support for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in traditional Jewish communities. www.eshelonline.org
Jewschool founder Mobius aka Dan Sieradski is part of the panel at this very interesting event at the 14th Street Y on “The Future of Jewish Culture.” A full press kit is here. A quick look at the panel shows it covers not only various sectors but geographies and aims to address a significant amount of ground in an evening:
“After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale
back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing
issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:
New perspectives on American Jewish identity
Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future”
May 15, 2012 7pm, 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003
If you’re in the area and are interested, sign up here. Naturally, this is a subject that deserves and requires significantly more time than a single evening. The need to advocate for, plan and implement a national Jewish Cultural Policy could be the focus of a week long conference with representatives from major communal institutions and umbrella organizations, local presenting arms and various elements from artists and performers to independent organizations. It could also be a great panel to recreate at the General Assembly because the message points need to be heard by people who hold the purse strings and those who put the money in that purse
As someone who runs a Jewish cultural initiative, I’m very interested in this and am excited that its taking place. I’d be interested to know who’s attending and if any funders or folks from the institutional community will be within earshot. And of course, as a non-New Yorker, I’m glad to see there’s three other regional centers represented on the panel.
I could probably just about build a raft and sail around the world with all the books advocating for Jewish Social Justice that have come out in the last couple of years. Several of them are very good. I particularly like Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ first book, which is both thorough and excellent.
But I want to recommend a book that’s a little bit different.
Rabbi Shmuly Yankelowitz, the founder of the Orthodox social justice movement Uri L’Tzedek, has just come out with a book very simply titled Jewish Ethics and Social Justice (Derusha Publishing). Unlike most of the the other books in this burgeoning genre, Rabbi Y’s book is a collection of essays previously published in newspapers journals and blogs. This is both a strength and a weakness, which I will touch on later. More »
Urgent question: Anyone out there have a concise statement about Occupy Wall Street that would be a show of solidarity with the protesters. I need one suitable for a rabbi to read to his/her congregants on Kol Nidre this coming Friday night. The Collective Statement of the Protesters is a powerful manifesto, but the strong tone of confrontation on a night that stresses self reflection does not feel in the spirit of vidui (confessing sins) and forgiveness. If a well crafted statement that acknowledges the galvanized efforts of people around the country around the issues of economic justice and corporate responsibility exists, it should find its way to many pulpits this Yom Kippur.
Zak Braiterman has penned a strong indictment of the Tikvah Fund. In a long essay he connects the dots and fisks the public organ of Tikvah—The Jewish Review of Books. Zak’s essay articulates the fear that many of us had articulated in private conversations but had not done the leg work. Here is the punch line:
No one of us is free from ideological bias and no one contests the right of anyone inside or outside the academy to pursue this or any other ideological agenda. The argument is that the Tikvah Fund enters the university without proper respect for the rules of open transparency that a university ideally embodies. The Tikvah Fund acts as an interloper by setting up closed shops inside the university under the guise of misleading mission statements. Surely, any set of principles and practices should be subject to the free exchange of ideas and open argument. The intertwining of money, ideological content, and university life is one that needs to be examined much more forthrightly by all of us who seek to negotiate the creative lines between public political life and the critical and self-critical exploration of ideas inside and outside the university.
Those who are familiar with the oddities of the Jewish calendar may be aware that a largish holiday begins tomorrow night (called Passover). Fewer people may be aware that on the second night of Passover begins… well, it’s not a holiday exactly, but it is a holy period, called the Omer.
Beginning the second night of Passover, every adult Jew is supposed to count off the 49 days (seven times seven weeks) that make up the period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah. I have to say, it’s a bit of a pain. Not he counting, which is fine, but remembering to count properly, keeping track of which day it is, and so on. It’s enough of a difficulty that the Jewish legal code has instructions about what to do if you forget to count at the right time, or for a full day. You’ve got to count every day, or you lose your obligation to say the full blessing as you count.
The counting itself is a lovely tradition: each of the weeks represents one of seven traits of God, as does each day, so one develops a spiral of thoughts throughout the counting period (for example the trait of strength during the week of mercy… consider what that might mean as we approach the giving of the Torah… etc.)
Well, I decided that the best way to do this would be a sort of advent calendar, with little treats each day as you opened up the proper box to say the blessing for that day (hey, why should Christians get all the calendar fun?). At one time, I thoght the best way to do this would be through carpentry, but it’s been some time since I had any access to the proper tools,a dn I just didn’t want to wait anymore this year, so for pretty cheap I made one out of things that one could glue together – namely cardboard, cardboard, and , uh, some glue and glitter paper.
Almost everything came from the container store, and it took me about three days to make (including some glue drying time. Not labor intensive, but pretty sturdy anyway).
I’m happy to share instructions with anyone who wants to build one. I used a hard cardboard ornament storage box and three by three folded gift boxes (seven of which fit perfectly across, although you need two ornament boxes cut to size and glued together to get the height as only five rows tall fit, if you pop open the top edge of the ornament box).
The numbers for the days (written out in blue in Hebrew letters) as well as the blessing on the inside (which has the blessing, the day and date – in other words, everything you need for each day… no looking anything up!) are printed on clear sticky labels cut to size.
For your delectation:
(Not sure why the blessing box is shown on its side, just ignore that, it opens upwards (although you can make yours open any direction you want, of course)
I don’t think I”m quite done decorating it – obviously this is pretty simple, but the plus is that the boxes make it so that magic marker will write on them perfectly nicely, so if I go for color, that’s probably the way I’ll go. Stickers work fine too, but I’ll probably eventually go for a large picture that covers the entire front face of the Omer Counter. Happy counting!
Over the past several years, we have seen quite a number of Jewish or pseudo-Jewish practices picked up by non-Jews. While this isn’t exactly a novel occurrence – Christians sort of invented it with the creation of their new religion not quite two millenia ago, and Christian “Passover seders” of various sorts have been going on for some number of decades- it’s worth considering how Jews should react to the “democratization” of Jewish practices.
Whether it’s the pseudo-Jewish kabbalah center (whose practices misrepresent kabbalah quite a huge amount) and its superstitious practices, or Justin Bieber saying the Shema before concerts, we can expect to see more of this kind of thing.
To a certain extent, a certain amount of syncretism is inevitable. More »
After you watch the video you should read the whole issue—which is about metaphor in all its religious and linguistic complexity. (Okay, some of its complexity.) For JSers keeping count, Danya Ruttenberg has a piece in the issue, as do I.
My mother remembers when Devon was a classy street with quality merchant stores, but that was in the 50′s. Since I can remember it from the mid-70′s it was always a bit run down, heavily ethnic (it is the most diverse mile of pavement in all of Chicago) but not without its charm. The Indo-Pak part of the street is now far more dense, lively and even clean.
Jewishly speaking, the locus of W. Rogers Park has been rapidly shifting North toward Touhy and even Howard. The Russian immigrants who once kept the shift at bay have moved to the burbs. In the last five years we’ve seen several new shuls open on Touhy, including Sharei Tzedek (aka Bais Barnaby’s), Mkor Hayyim, Sephardic Ohel Shalom and the new Adas Jeshurun. These are joined by Or Menorah and the Egal Minyan in the Temple Menorah building closer to Howard, where a ‘Kosher’ jewel opened 5 years back.
Is Devon dying? Of course it is. But it has been dying for three decades now. Someday I’ll drive my kids through the neighborhood and show them what once was, just as last week I drove through N. Lawndale, where my grandfather grew up a century ago. There too are the shells of shuls by the dozen, now Baptist churches. Undoubtedly the Sentinel or Forward back in the 50′s decried the “Demise of Douglas Boulevard.” And fifty years from now, my grandchildren will read a post on their iPads about the “Downfall of Dundee,” around which there is now another great cluster of Jewish life.
It’s advertising a “Torah Scroll 400 Years Old Approx 10.8 Feet Long” and you can see from the picture that something’s seriously, seriously wrong.
People have been selling pieces of sifrei Torah on eBay for years. They get old sifrei Torah, hack them into pieces, and sell the pieces to goodness-knows-who on eBay. (Not that this is anything new; Jews have been buying and selling talisman pieces of holy books for centuries. But just cos it’s an old custom doesn’t mean we have to respect it.) I used to cruise eBay with some regularity looking at them, but I don’t do that any more because it makes me too sad. Poor little lonely pieces of a Torah scroll being sold off as artwork or curios, ugh.