After All That’s Happened, I Meet God Halfway

This is a guest post by Rabbi Josh Bolton, the Senior Jewish Educator for the Jewish Renaissance Project at UPenn Hillel. You can reach him at jbolton@jrp.com.

I say the Kiddush.
I don’t say the Grace after Meals.
I study the Torah.
I don’t own two sets of dishes.
I wrap tefillin, occasionally.
I don’t ever attend minyan.
I long for the Land of Israel.
I don’t have mezuzot on all my doorframes.
I read the Jewish periodicals.
I don’t mind kindling a flame on the Sabbath.
I give charity to the poor person.
I don’t fast on the 9th of Av.
I like klezmer music.
I don’t prioritize kosher over organic.
I leave my son’s hair uncut to three years old.
I don’t live within walking distance of the shul.
I circumcised my son on the eighth day.
I don’t know, I may get more tattoos one day.
I have a social circle comprised mostly of Jews.
I don’t really care if the Torah was written by Man or God.
I have a prominent bookshelf full of traditional texts.
I don’t always behave nicely with orthodox educators.
I weep in Yad Vashem.
I don’t mind listening to salacious gossip.
I wear a kippah.
I don’t make Havdallah.
I speak Hebrew like a child – but I do speak.
I don’t regard the voices of the ancient rabbis to be more sacred than our own voices.
I hang a picture of Jerusalem in my living room.
I don’t believe continuity for continuity’s sake is a compelling reason for Jewish life.
I prayed at the grave of Menachem Schneerson — at twilight with my brother.
I don’t know how to perform the ritual of Hoshannah Rabba.
I take every opportunity to submerge in the mikveh of Isaac Luria.
I don’t think spirituality demands wearing long skirts or a yarmulke.
I have memorized large swaths of the liturgy.
I don’t believe the Va’ad Kashrut serves the interests of the Jewish community.
I am a devoted student of the Hasidic masters.
I don’t really clean my kitchen for Pesach.

My Sukkot Wish for our Queer Jewish Community

Suzie and I are hosting the big Keshet and JP Shabbat Sukkot potluck again this year! (You should come!)

Boston is a great place to be queer and Jewish, so I really just have one wish for our fabulous local LGBTQ Jewish community this year: flirting.

Why bother having separate LGBTQ community events when many Jewish institutions have become more and more inclusive of LGBTQ Jews?

Because flirting.

Imagine you are a young queer Jew looking for a date. You’re bored with OkCupid and JDate, so you try going to a singles night sponsored by your local synagogue. You get all gussied up, maybe you drag along a friend as a wingman, and you head in to the venue. What do you see? A whole bunch of straight people. (Regardless of how inclusive the shul is, this is a numbers game. There are more straight people than gay people.)

Okay, so let’s say you’re not instantly discouraged by the fact that most of the people in the room are a) not what you’re looking for and b) not looking for you. Let’s say you don’t feel super weird about either feeling invisible or feeling like you stand out in the wrong ways. You’re resilient! You can do this! So you look around the room for other LGBTQ people. Hey there’s one! But that person is not a gender you’re interested in. Oh, there’s someone who might be the right gender for you! But that person seems significantly too old/young for you. Or perhaps you just don’t find them attractive. HEY! Over there! There’s someone cute, of an appropriate gender, the right age–and they turn out to be your ex. And now you’ve exhausted your supply of LGBTQ people in the room. Dang.

This is where the LGBTQ Jewish community comes in! After feeling like there is a dearth of romantic options available for you in your shul, wouldn’t it be nice to go to an event where everyone is Jewish and LGBTQ? So many more possibilities! You could date EVERYBODY! (Okay, well, at least a significant portion of attendees.) It’s like Jewish summer camp! Yayyyy!

This is why you should come to my house if you happen to be LGBTQ and in the Boston area on October 10th. (If you’re old and married like me, you should still come, because you’ll help introduce the single people to each other. It’ll make things less awkward, and we’ll all have a good time.)

This is why you should host an event like this if you’re LGBTQ and not in the Boston area on October 10th.

This is why Jewish LGBTQ organizations should still care about hosting local events for members once in a while.

This is why Jewish institutions who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members should continue to help support Jewish LGBTQ organizations do their own things sometimes.

Because flirting.

#TBT: On 9/11 and Tisha B’Av

Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av.  This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection.  For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims.  Revisit it here.  You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.

 

Echad Asar b’September, OR A 9/11 of the Jews

By Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.

Its my second 9/11 in two months. Today its the Towers – last month, our Temples. Today, an utter hate explodes into senseless loss – in August, it was “senseless hate” bringing out utter catastrophe.  The ninth month’s eleventh day, 9/11, becomes Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the eleventh Hebrew month.  Maybe its just an exile Jewish thing.  We have two days of everything.

The dark similarities run deep and tragic.  Consider how both holidays are constructed around architecture.  Yes, the loss is truly about the lives destroyed and political trauma inspired, but in our imagery and imagination, its about two buildings razed to the earth.  Beautiful buildings; buildings conceived as a “world center”; buildings whose wreckage casts a shadow over the entire calamity.  Indeed, shadows which stretch farther and more permanent, now that the buildings are gone forever.

There was a First Temple and a Second Temple; a Tower 1 and a Tower 2.  And now, there are only memories.  More »

In Brooklyn Next Sunday? Come Make Shofar-blowing History

Calling all Jews with horns (and their allies)–

You are hereby welcomed to take part in a historical mass shofar-blowing gathering this       coming Sunday in Prospect Park. The event will consist of a shofar-blowing workshop, a  series of collective blasts, and a vegetarian potluck picnic.

At 5:30pm, we will meet at the corner of 15th St. and Prospect Park West and proceed to enter the park. Please arrive on-time so everyone can find each other.

If you own a shofar and/or a phone which can film, please bring it with you, as well as something for the potluck, if you can stay after.

Our rain location is the Park Slope Jewish Center (1320 8th Ave, located at the SW corner of 14th St and 8th Av).

This event is free, open to the public, family-friendly, and intended for experienced and novice shofar-blowers alike, so please do come and invite friends. We hope you can join us as we herald in the new year with great fanfare.

It will be…a blast

Ready for Withering Flowers: A Ritual for Elul

I’m familiar with your story
This gratitude you cultivate helps ground you
And yet, do you really deserve to ask for more?
The answer to this question will give you the balance you seek

Sometimes you need a reminder that we already said farewell to the month of Av
As it is written in Job: “Man born of woman is short of days, and fed with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers, and vanishes, like a shadow.” (Job 14:1–2)
In Elul, you are instructed to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the flowers without worry of their withering
Since t’shuva/repentance is the name of the game, instead of fearing change we welcome it in

Every morning the shofar calls you to t’shuva/repentance
Are you listening?
How might you be more awake in order to hear its sound?
Allow these blossoms a chance to bring you to the presence you desire.

Step 1 – gather flower petals into a large bowl- ideally four colors and four different species. Bowl is ideally wood but can also be glass or metal.
In New England this is a great time of year to find a diversity of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory and aster.
Step 2 – fill your bowl with water covering the petals – ideally spring water but tap water is also fine. The chance to visit a river, lake or small spring will only add to the ritual
Step 3 – ASK FOR SOMETHING. This is for real. If you’re going to open up enough to do real t’shuvah/repentance this year, you have to acknowledge that you are not yet whole – that there is something about yourself you want to change, or at least cultivate. A useful formula is “May I be…” or “Let me be…”
Step 4 – Pour the entire bowl of petals and water over your head.
Step 5 – Proclaim out loud: “Horeini Ya Darkecha – הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ – reveal to me your path” – Ps. 27:11. This is both the sealing of our request and also a letting go of wanting only one thing.

Re-posted by the author from Ma’yan Tikvah’s Divrei Earth: Spiritual wisdom from Earth and Torah.

Making Sense of Our Sons’ Deaths

My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.

This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”

Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.

As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.

Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.

More »

What Not to Say to an Interfaith Couple About to Get Married

For better or for worse, we’ve become totally accustomed to it. I am Jewish, my fiancée is not, and we are getting married. People feel they have license to say some of the most chutzapahdik things to us–mostly her–both online and in real life. We’ve chosen to have a Jewish wedding, raise Jewish children, and keep a Jewish home. Not that this is a defense, it’s just some background. Our decisions are enough of a threat to people that they feel the need to say pretty aggressive things to us. We had grown used to it and it wasn’t until my fiance was having a conversation with my mother (who affectionately calls my fiancée and her family the machatunim, as she should). My mother was shocked and appalled that people would say such things to our faces. This led me to believe that maybe there were others who thought we were skating by.

“You know your kids won’t be Jewish.”

“You’ll be living a fantasy land.”

“You won’t really have a Jewish home.”

“You’re doomed with an unpleasant process of kids who won’t be accepted by the majority of Jews” [isn’t the internet wonderful?]

Let’s be clear. I grew up under the auspices of the Conservative movement and have worked for the organized Jewish community. We’re very aware of what we’re up against and what our kids risk going through. I don’t expect our practice and observance to work for everyone, particularly those who don’t accept patrilineal descent. What I don’t understand is the vitriol.

What’s interesting is what has changed. When we were first dating, getting serious, and discussing marriage, the first question I got was either “so will she convert?” Funny enough, the variation she received was “so will you convert?” Putting aside the presumption that she would be the one to convert (that’s another whole discussion), why was she once viewed as a prospective Jew? What happened? I neither asked–let alone insisted–that she convert and she has not elected to. She’s comfortable and happy in her own faith. When it came to discuss children, there were no arguments. She was happy to support a Jewish home and children. In terms of the commitments like this that we made to each other, she’s actually in the lead. Just as I want to raise children who identify Jewishly, she wants to raise children who will identify as Latin@. To give you a sense of the score, she put Pesach dinner on the table when I got sick last year and I haven’t taken one Spanish lesson yet. No bueno.

As we approach our wedding, just two months away, I have to observe: the only person to ever say “hey, you’d make a great Jew, we’d love to have you,” is the wonderful Rabbi who’s marrying us. I understand that we’ve long been out of the business of proselytizing and I promise he didn’t make a hard sell. But, no one else has taken a look at what she’s already given to the community and suggested she join the team.

The goal should not be her conversion. I firmly believe that should be her decision. But don’t we want to make Judaism and the Jewish community look a little appealing, like a community others might want to be a part of? If, fundamentally, we’re not opposed to people joining, should we actively be pushing people away? Aren’t the people making the effort then the folks you’d want to further extend an arm towards? If we take conversion off the table, doesn’t the community want to support the parents that are trying to raise Jewish children, particularly in a time when many are pouring money into programming to keep kids Jewish? There’s a disconnect here.

Thankfully, we’ve mostly felt accepted. We’re smart enough to hang in circles where we’d be accepted. (It’s worth noting that one of the above comments came at what I thought to be a liberal-minded Jewish discussion taking place at a Reform shul.) These are the communities we’ll invest our time and love into, and we know will invest their time into us and the family we’re going to build. For those who take issue with the way we do things, consider that we’re not trying to spite your practice before you feel the need to say something.

Seeing and Being Seen: Ask Big Questions

I contributed a blogpost to our friends at At Big Questions for this month’s theme of Seeing and Being Seen, which they encouraged me to cross-post here.  Check out more of their work!

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.  When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”

– Ralph Ellison, Prologue to Invisible Man

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words.  But which words?  And how do we know?  And what is it, exactly, that we know?

To continue, click here.

 

Throwback Thursday: On Slippery Language and “Independent” Jews

Over here at Jewschool, we’ve been all about the Indy-Jews for our whole decade-plus life span.  We have spill much ink explaining the independent orientation to others who don’t share it.  Today’s #TBT is a 2009 classic from crack Jewschool fisker BZ on the slippery meaning of the term “Independent”.  Adapting some careful criticisms from Nate Silver of political pundits who talk about independent voters without saying what  they mean, BZ considers the way professional and amateur Jewish pollsters, journalists, and mavens obscure more than they clarify in their opinionating about independent Jews.  Sometimes posts slip under the radar for purely logistical issues — timing or what-have-you.  This late Saturday night post didn’t get the attention it deserved in its time, so we’re re-running it now, five years later.

jewschool.com/2009/11/21/19029/independent/

TBT: “We cannot make believe that we do not know how murderers came to dwell in our midst and how murders came to be accepted as normal.”

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re going back to July 2013, when Aryeh Cohen wrote about Trayvon Martin. If you’re wondering about why this post now, visit  #Ferguson on Twitter. 

Isaiah’s vision and Our Blindness (Justice and Trayvon Martin)

by  [] · Monday, July 15th, 2013 · Edit

crossposted from Justice in the City

Yesterday, in the Jewish tradition, was the “Sabbath of vision.” It is named after Isaiah’s bleak vision described in Chapter One of his eponymous Scripture. Isaiah, speaking, no, screaming at those who would sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem declares in the name of God: I am tired of your sacrifices, I am sated already with the fatted calves that you offer, your offerings are now abominations to me. I no longer wish for you to celebrate festival days and Sabbaths. When you reach out to me, when you raise your voices in prayer, says God, I will ignore you, I will turn a blind eye. Why? First you must “Learn to do well; demand justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

Finally, Isaiah turns to the city of Jerusalem and wails: “O! How the city full of justice, where righteousness dwelt, now dwell murderers!” It was not a true question, of course, it was the strangled scream of a prophet pointing to the everyday injustices, which led to the larger injustices, all hidden behind a veil of righteousness, of holy celebrations and fatted calves upon the altar and the smell of spices in the Temple.

As Sabbath finished and I performed the ceremony of differentiation with wine and candle and spices with my family, I turned on my computer to news of the acquittal in the George Zimmerman case. How do we answer Isaiah’s lament? What were the steps that led from there to here? From the quotidian racial injustices to the loosening of gun laws to the ignoring of the history of racial discrimination.

We cannot make believe that we do not know how murderers came to dwell in our midst and how murders came to be accepted as normal. We cannot make believe that young black men grow up with the same chance of making it to adulthood, to college, to a life which was not interrupted by a bullet or incarceration as young white men. When we turn to face Isaiah we cannot answer that we did not know that over 6000 people were killed by guns in the past six months and that most of them were black or brown. When we try to answer Isaiah’s accusation we cannot say that we did not know that loosening of gun laws, that creating laws which escalate violent situations would lead to more deaths.

On another day we need to spend time thinking of Isaiah’s solution: “Zion will be redeemed in justice, and her penitents with rightousness.” For now we must grieve for Trayvon Martin and all the young black men who will not reach adulthood because of a bullet. We must rage against a legislative system which supports and promotes the death-industrial complex of gun manufacturers and the NRA gun lobbyists.

We must all come together and say finally enough.

 

Important Thing: The Next Jewish Multiracial Network Parlor Meeting- “Ally: Using Privilege to Tear Down Racial Barriers”

New York City: Join the Jewish Multiracial Network on August 21st at their second parlor meeting (read about the first here) on allies, change making and privilege: 

From the JMN:

“Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Being an ally is deliberate choice that requires intention and understanding. Join JMN in a frank dialogue on the “role” of allies, and how to effectively act to support of Jewish diversity issues. Our facilitators will assist participants in learning ways Allies can develop strategies to assist their understanding of the issues facing the Jews of Colors and Multiracial Jewish families.

We seek to assist allies in supporting a Jews of Color to create a Jewish community where ideas and strategies for enhancing diversity awareness are embraced.”

You must get tickets on Eventbrite, and this event is  limited to 20 participants.

Tonight at Grand Army Plaza: “If Not Now” group observes Tisha B’Av

If Not Now Observes Tisha b’Av: Mourning Destruction in Israel & Palestine
Monday, August 4 at 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm EST
Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY
RSVP on Facebook 

On the Ninth of the Jewish month of Av every year, we lament the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition, and innumerable other severe brutalities committed against the Jewish people on this date in years past.

Jewish liberation is bound up with the liberation of the Palestinian people. So as we mourn the dehumanizing oppression our people has suffered, tonight we also mourn the dehumanizing oppression we are currently enabling and inflicting upon Palestinians.

May the destruction and occupation in Palestine cease. May redemption be born out of the ashes. Freedom and dignity for all.

PROGRAM

  • Explanation of Tisha b’Av & Reflections in English on violence and suffering in Israel and Palestine
  • Maariv (traditional evening service)
  • Chanting of Eicha (the Book of Lamentations): partly in Hebrew, partly in English, and partly personal contemporary lamentations
  • Name-reading of Israelis and Palestinians who have perished in the current violence
  • Mourner’s Kaddish
  • Close
  • Post-event Small Group Discussions: Being Jewish & Mourning Israel-Palestine Today

QUESTIONS & PRESS:
Contact Simone Zimmerman (simonerzim@gmail.com) & Max Cohen (maxacohen@gmail.com)

Why I Fast and Mourn on Tisha B’Av, the Day of Homelessness and Displacement

As we are less than two days from Tisha B’Av, the major day of communal mourning in the Jewish year, marking the destruction of both Temples and sovereign Jewish life in Israel, and numerous other calamities in our memory.   In progressive, Jewish  circles, I often hear a version of the following:  I don’t want sacrifices to be restored or the Temple rebuiltand I much prefer Jewish life without the Temple to Jewish life with the Temple, so why should I fast, mourn, and observe this day?  The following is my response, why I think that that question is beside the point and why I think it is important to observe Tisha B’Av fully even (especially?) for those who think that post-Temple Judaism reflects progress over the Temple cult:

Tisha B’Av is a day of collective focus on Jewish particular angles on the universal ills of homelessness, displacement, vulnerability, alienation, and desperation. Though we no longer actively seek out the forms of worship that animated Temple life, we do not serve ourselves or humanity well by dissociating from the trauma and loss that we experienced through its destruction.  I find it telling that in Eikha (Lamentations) itself, little of the focus is on the Temple cult itself. It’s about personal degradation, poverty, and fear, and communal shock, homelessness, shame, anger, and alienation from God. Moreover, the Sages, of blessed memory, already, within a couple of hundred years after the 2nd destruction, showed awareness of the possibility of precious growth, creativity, and progress emerging from the ashes of destruction, while not dissociating from the trauma of the loss in the first place (eg, Pesikta deRav Kahana 20:5 (Roni Akarah), where R. Aha in the name of R. Yohanan unpacks Yesh’ayahu 54:1 to mean that Israel “produced many more righteous people in its destruction than when it was built up”).

Additionally, throughout Jewish history, collective wisdom has associated with Tisha B’Av those aspects of communal trauma that are about sudden, dislodging and traumatic rupture:  the burning of 24 cartloads of texts of the Talmud in 13th century Paris; the Spanish expulsion; the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, etc. In a world where displacement and homelessness are everyday occurrences, often right before our eyes in our own cities, when the whole world is faced with a refugee crisis, including one caused (justifiably or not) by Israel in our name, and in a moment when we Jews are mercifully very minimally represented in the pool of the dispossessed and homeless, it is at our peril that we disregard opportunities for carnal and emotional empathy, such as this day allows.  When we experience a taste of starvation, when we refrain from greeting people, acting as though there’s no one we can trust, no one who can support us, when we sit on the floor, barefoot and unbathed, we push ourselves to stop averting the eye from the millions near and far for whom every day is Tisha B’Av.

 

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TBT: Re-Revisiting The Mitzvah of Rebuke for the Therapy Generation

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re revisiting this piece I posted a year ago, right before Tisha B’Av, on the mitzvah of rebuke.  I argued that one of the consequences of living in therapy culture is that we must be more confrontational and engage in more rebuke, since the Torah commands us to do so when we’re angry, and we now have the emotional technology to do so constructively.  ”True rebuke is necessary for the purpose of generating love, safety, and trust, of disengaging us from the hostility and distrust that produce alienation and violence…In a culture of processing groups, conflict aversion is not piety and not even always chastened caution:  It’s reckless abandonment and sometimes it’s even mean. ”

We’re TBT’ing, because it’s still a live issue, and especially in this moment, when the Jewish community is rightly immersed in intense and urgent debate about Israel, it is all the more important not to back away from hashing out those conflicts, even as we must pursue the most constructive ways to do so.  However, I appreciate several responses I got critiquing my failure to explore the significance of power to this question.  Several respondents pointed out that when the person whom I feel violated me is someone who has power over me, it can be extremely difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to perform rebuke; conflict-aversion may be self-protection.  Part of what makes processing groups and group therapy work is the external creation of a safe space, including the removal of the power dynamics that obtain in general.  Even if we have been trained how to speak critically and non-violently, that training is not so helpful if we don’t have control over the context.  These critiques are correct and I am grateful for them.  I also wonder whether power dynamics are actually much more prevalent in hurtful interactions than perhaps I considered a year ago.

Here is the article again.  I invite and welcome responses, especially on the question of power.

“It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.””

“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”

(More here.)

“Let Justice Rise Up”: On Prayer and Times of Crisis

by Danya Lagos

The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »

Torah-Bot: Kosher or Blasphemous?


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?

 

Photo from Tablet Magazine