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Whatever time you start, apologise for being late, but contrast the situation to other people's tradition which would have been even later.

Argue whether you should avoid eating things like rice which are absolutely definitely not leavened bread, but there is a tradition of avoiding them. Agree that everyone coming to the seder agree that you shouldn't avoid them, but decide to avoid them anyway just in case.

Don't eat anything until you're explicitly told to eat it. Don't finish any cup of wine until the last one.

Announce how Rabbi Hillel invented the sandwich.

"Seder" originally comes from Hebrew meaning "Judiciously skip ahead without telling anyone the page number because everyone has different books"

Try have everyone recite things in unison using different translations.

Explain the story of the first passover and the exodus from egypt, but repeating that every year would get a bit repetitive after several thousand years, so spend most of the time telling stories about other people telling the story.

Argue whether parting the red sea and letting the israelites get halfway across and then stopping and letting the water roll back over them could reasonably be construed as "sufficient" or not.

Tell everyone you don't usually exchange presents before exchanging presents.

Sing the jewish version of Partridge in a Pear Tree, starting "One is our God, in heaven and on earth."

Just when you've got used to switching between english and hebrew, to shake things up, there's suddenly an aramaic forerunner of House That Jack Built, that ends with God destroying

Sing the jewish version of the House that Jack Build about a little goat, that ends with God destroying the angel of death.

The year you first came was the first time people did the animal noises while singing, but because it's been every year you've been there, you're firmly convinced that's a tradition about eighteen hundred years old.

Comment that that's a recent addition to the passover liturgy (recent in this context meaning "a continuous tradition of barely more than 400 years").

Stay up too late discussing different interpretations.
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Traditional Jewish prayer for after going to the toilet

So if you don't already know, the most interesting thing about it is that there IS one. It talks about how we're grateful for the orifices and sphincters because we couldn't live without it.

Lots of people have an instinct that it's not really appropriate to mix defecation and prayer. And there's some of that in Judaism, eg. you're not supposed to pray on a toilet. But a big part of his talk was quoting bits of talmud about toilets, to illustrate, there's nothing _bad_ about it, it's like things like sex (and maybe surgery?) which are great and good topics for prayer, even if you're not supposed to mix the two.

Although he never explicitly SAID that distinction. I think it might have been helpful if he had, rather than just giving pro-toilet examples without explaining the distinction explicitly. (I got a lot of this from hatam_soferet's comments on liv's post.)

The overall thesis

I felt like I was missing background here, like there was some cultural disconnect. His overall thesis was related to the fact the prayer refers to god as roughly "throne of glory" and also (?) uses "throne" in reference to the toilet. And there's most probably SOME connection implied there.

But he seemed to imply it was more than that. Which seemed very odd, like, the rest of the talk made the point that it was ok to pray about bodily functions as much as anything else. But (I don't know, but I got the impression that?) it's really shocking to imply God might do _anything_ physical, even eat -- and I didn't get the impression that defection was so much MORE holy it was ok to talk about God doing it.

But I was clearly missing something, like he didn't EXPECT to prove that thesis. He just wanted to advance it. And I guess that's partly him, and partly a tradition of commentary? After all, most talks don't have a thesis they even pretend to prove. But partly, I'm frustrated because if someone SAYS they're going to prove something, I'm not used to the idea I'm not supposed to believe them.

And partly I'm frustrated because I'm really interested in this sort of cross-cultural meta-conventions about study and prayer, but people rarely *talk* about them, even though it might be something Rafi could do very well.


In fact, I get the impression he's rushed off his feet delivering these popular talmud sessions. He always encourages people to participate with ideas and interpretations (less so this time, but more in other sessions I've been in), how you're supposed to when studying something. But a few things made me realise he maybe usually lacks time or preparation to really *engage* with any of those comments, except by plowing ahead with his thesis. So he's still a really good popular educator, but I'm sometimes left not sure what I'm missing.

R. Akiva follows R. Yehoshua into a bathroom and spies on him

He followed with half a dozen pieces of Talmud which supported his thesis in some way, but really, one of the most interesting aspect of the talk is just seeing them in their own right.

R. Akiva: Once I followed my teacher R Yehoshua into a bathroom and watched what he did, so I would know the most appropriate way to go to the bathroom.
Ben Azai: And "not spying on people" you didn't think you could figure out for yourself?
R. Akiva: How to go to the bathroom is part of the teachings (oral Torah?), I had to learn it!
R: Kahana: It's funny you should say that, because I hid under your bed and listened to you with your wife. You chatted and giggled like new lovers. I had to learn how to behave in the bedroom, it was part of the teachings.
R. Akiva: *with a straight face* That was highly inappropriate.

It's also followed by a passage where rabbis argue why you should wipe with the left hand. Because you eat with the right. Because you wrap tefillin with the right. Etc. I'm not sure if any of them end with the obvious answer "all of the above".

The dangers of learning from Joshua the Nazarene

Liv linked to a partial translation here: https://www.ou.org/life/torah/masechet_shevuot_13a19b/

R. Eliezer was accosted by a follower of Jesus (or, so we guess), commonly supposed to be James (?). He proposed a point of teaching, which is implicitly not traditionally correct, but R. Eliezer was amused/moved by the argument, and even though he didn't respond, came under suspicion of following the teachings of Christianity, which was illegal at the time, and temporarily arrested by the Roman authorities.

What's fascinating is that it's one of the few (possible?) mentions of Jesus in the Talmud. And it gives me dissonance, in that I know much Talmud was written down about the same time as Jesus, but they don't easily go together in my head. R. Eliezer stars in such stories as the oven of achnai, where he pursues an academic argument by making increasingly impossible miracles, culminating in being outvoted shortly after God speaks from the sky to endorse him personally. And is exiled, and loses it, and gazes on the crops and sea, which are ruined wherever he looks. It's like the time of myths. But then there's other stories like this one where he bustles around early-AD middle east going to market, administrating universities, arguing with political authorities, etc. (Right?)

And the particular point in question was, it was forbidden to use money from exploitation and vice[1] as donation to the temple (subject to a lot of details). The disciple asked if it was appropriate to use it for the high priest's privy, that already being full of uncleanliness in some sense. And this gives a very strange view of how jewish leaders at the time might have viewed christianity at the time (or the temple for that matter). Eliezer is inconvenienced by being associated with Christianity, but he doesn't recoil shouting "blashphemer, blasphemer". And the christian disciple is more persecuted, but not so much he can't stop in the middle of the market to buttonhole rabbis and have theological arguments.

It seems likely this is an implicit criticism or mocking of Jesus' followers' beliefs of the time SOMEHOW but I don't know the context to say how. I don't know if that's something Jesus' followers WOULD have had an opinion on, or if it's supposed to discredit them.

[1] The translation is fee from a prostitute, but I prefer to read that as the bad thing being betrayal of vows, exploitation, or whatever, rather than prostitution per se, anyone able to add details?
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On Sunday, Liv and I, ghoti and cjwatson, and youngest and middle child attended cambridge limmud, a one-day Jewish conference. At some point, I got lucky or got better at judging which talks would actually be interesting to me, and went to several talks I'm really glad I got to see.

And maybe because I've started carrying caffeine pills, which I resolutely do not use day-to-day, but I find really useful if I'm at an all day event, or in a foreign city, and even if there is tea/coffee readily available, it may be inconvenient to actually get hold of it.

The limmud makes a big effort to have an actual children's program, with things that are exciting to go to and several of the same speakers as the adult program, and not just be somewhere to leave children. Middle child loves people and really loved it -- hummus making, drumming, puppet show, a little bit of the aleph-bet etc. Youngest child finds it quite difficult to meet new people, he said "i don't always like adults", and I sympathised a lot. But we were allowed to sit with him, and after a couple of sessions of wanting ghoti, I was really impressed he joined in a lot of things. He was always good at cooking (I am in awe, I'm only now really learning any cooking) and also colouring, and talking to people. And said he was looking forward to next year!

The organisation was pretty good. There were a few problems, but none really evident to me. It was a bit smaller than the previous one, but they managed to get the popular speakers into the big rooms so there was no-one turned away, which had sometimes been a problem. Lunch is always tricky to arrange, but was handled fairly well.

Talks I went to:

Calne - a famous transplant surgeon (?) who talked about the ratchet of science, how science always gets more, not less, and we have an obligation not to build dangerous things with it. With a smattering of interesting history and philosophy. I kept expecting him to make some overall philosophical argument, but I never really heard it.

Freedman - expert on Middle East problems. Mostly conflicts between other countries, not Israel. It was mostly about "why it's so difficult", but to felt optimistic in that it was at least talking about how things could improve, even if it was hard to ever achieve.

Rita Rudner -- light anecdotes about her life story and life in hollywood

Rafi Zarum - talmud study for non-experts, he does this a lot and is a really good speaker. This was on the prayer for after going to the toilet. Pending a post about it.

Boyarin -- a real scholar, always talking about something that doesn't really exist at all yet, usually to be future published in a book, he was the one I was most excited about. But I correctly predicted it would be full of digressions on the bits he was working on this month, and hedged around with detailed justifications of dating of texts etc some people will find controversial but I'd be happy to take his word for, and generally I didn't have enough background to understand. So I sent liv and cjwatson to listen, and went to Freedman instead, and made them promise to explain it to me at length afterwards which worked pretty well. May be a future post coming.

Levine -- talking about how what some of Jesus' parables might have been interpreted by people belonging to jewish tradition at the time. I love that sort of thing, and she apparently published an annotated NT in addition to some other books, which we should maybe seek out. And she was a hilarious and effective speaker. However, I had some reservations about the actual examples she used, I didn't get any good idea what they might have meant other than "not what Luke said", and when they're only known via Luke, you can only go so far in expecting Luke to have preserved a clarity of meaning different to the one he said they meant. May be a future post coming.

Also see liv and ghoti's write up:
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What's the story with challah?

It's surprisingly simple. The history is comparatively short, and the customs are fairly similar amongst different traditions, and it doesn't make a difference whether you're in the diaspora or in Israel.


No, that was all a lie. It all starts in ancient hebrew some time after the exodus from egypt...

Uh, actually can we skip the ancient history?

OK. Up to five hundred years ago in eastern europe...

This is skipping the history?

Yes! This is skipping thousands of years of history.

Look, can I maybe find out how challah is used nowadays.


As a non-jew, what actually is challah?

Challah is a rich bread made with egg, where the dough is plaited together. It's traditionally used as the "bread" part of jewish prayers before meals, especially on the sabbath and on a few other festivals. But it's a common jewish tradition even if you're not observant.

Read more... )
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A young Jewish woman began going round with a young man she knew, and introducing him to all sorts of aspects of jewish culture, which he really loved.

But her mother worried that the influence might flow both ways, and one day she overheard something quite blasphemous. She eventually confronted the daughter about it.

"He said you were telling him how much you liked bagels, and you said they were food of the gods! How could you say that?"

The daughter panicked and tried to think fast.

"Oh no, I'm sorry. You completely misunderstood. I actually said they were holey food"
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I went with Liv to talk by Daniel Boyarin at Cambridge Limmud, which was an advance preview on his new book.

As I understand it, the "conventional" view of the gospel of Mark is that it's the earliest of the gospels, probably written by a non-Jew for a non-Jewish audience, and several passages are seen as supporting cases where Jesus rejected Jewish law, and as such are sometimes used as a basis for the idea that Christianity doesn't need to follow various bits of Jewish law.

However, Boyarin proposes an alternative view, that Mark probably was Jewish, but writing for a non-Jewish audience. And if Mark was someone who knew and followed usual Jewish laws in the first century CE, it suddenly a very important source about what those practices were, which is what Boyarin is really interested in. (As opposed to the current view, that if Mark were originally non-Jewish, and reporting Jewish customers second-hand mainly to say "they don't apply any more", it wouldn't tell you much about it at all.)

Read more... )
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Q. If you're Jewish do you have to avoid cutting your fingernails in sequential order?
A. Of course not.
Q. But are there other people who would say the exact opposite of what you just said, often with Talmud quotes to back it up, and others who would say it's more complicated than that?
A. Duh, yes of course.

Cite: This came from http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1118/rules-for-cutting-nails, originally linked from http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7769032/what-is-the-optimal-jewish-toenail-cutting-algorithm. I couldn't quickly find an authoratative citation.