A community’s sacred texts shed light on its beliefs and values. This is obvious when it comes to liturgy.
Hence the uproar, last year, over the pope’s reinstitution of the Latin Mass, and its prayer for the conversion of the Jews.
Of course, the principle is true when it comes to Jewish liturgy as well.
The inclusion of the matriarchs in liberal versions of the amidah or the use of female or gender-neutral God language reflect feminist (or at least female-friendly) theological inclinations. And when the Reform movement re-introduced language about the resurrection of the dead in the new prayerbook it published last year, it reflected the movement’s increased comfort with aspects of traditional Judaism.
But prayerbooks aren’t the only texts that shed light on a community’s religious values.
Soon after ArtScroll published its Hebrew-English Stone Edition of the Pentateuch in the early 1990s, it became the humash of choice in most Orthodox synagogues.
But the Stone humash wasn’t merely an updated translation of the Torah. Its commentaries differed wildly from the previous Hebrew-English humash of choice: the Hertz humash — edited by Joseph H. Hertz and published by Soncino.
While the Stone humash refers to traditional and modern (small “m”) Orthodox sources, Hertz availed himself of Christian works, academic Bible studies, as well as traditional sources.
By modern academic standards, Hertz’s commentary was by no means stellar. In fact, Hertz rejected the fundamental theoretical framework of modern Bible scholars — the Documentary Hypothesis. Nonetheless, whenever I was in a synagogue with both the Hertz and the Stone, I would always reach for the Hertz.
The Hertz engaged with the world, even if it did so under specific ideological constraints. The Stone, on the other hand, represented the swing toward social and theological insularity that has come to define much of contemporary Orthodoxy.
I bring all of this up because I stumbled upon some very interesting facts about Rabbi J.H. Hertz.
Hertz was born in Hungary in 1872 and was educated in New York. He served congregations in Syracuse and South Africa before becoming the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. Hertz wasn’t always beloved by his more traditionalist colleagues, but he would certainly have been considered an Orthodox rabbi — as reflected in his position in Britain, as well as the fact that his humash was for decades standardly found in Orthodox congregations.
Yet interestingly, he was a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In fact, he was the very first graduate.
Of course, while JTS is, today, the flagship institution of the Conservative movement, back then, the Conservative movement was just getting off the ground, and in practice may not have differed much from Orthodoxy.
Still, many of the founders of the Conservative movement (and JTS) broke away from Reform Judaism — not Orthodoxy.
But the absolute most fascinating tidbit about Hertz:
In the 1920s, Hertz successfully organised international opposition to proposed calendar reform. The League of Nations was considering a calendar amendment, such that a given date would fall on the same day of the week every year. This requires that one day every year (two in leap years) is not any day of the week but a “world day”. Thus, once or twice a year there would be eight days rather than seven between consecutive Saturdays. Thus the Jewish Sabbath, which must occur every seventh day, would be on a different weekday each year. The same applies to the Christian Sabbath. Hertz realised that this would cause problems for Jews and Christians alike in observing their Sabbaths, and mobilised worldwide religious opposition to defeat the proposal.
-Diverse analysis on the increasingly urgent issue of whether and how Israel should invade Gaza:
-A ballistic expert says that Sderot should be protected by an American anti-missile system called Phalanx. (Haaretz)
-It turns out that the Iron Dome defense system cannot defend Sderot from Kassams launched from Beit Hanun in Gaza. (Haaretz)
-And Reuven Pedatzur sees this failure as â€œAnother chapter in a gloomy saga.â€? (Haaretz)
-Schmuel Rosner reports that the US wants Israel to be fully prepared for a massive invasion of Gaza. (Haaretz)
-The invasion of Gaza is seen as â€œinevitable,â€? because of the Qassams, but it hasnâ€™t occurred, because of the Qassams. (Forward)
-According to Safed’s Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, leveling the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun [pop. 32,000] is “the only efficient solution” to Kassam fire. (Ynet)
-David Kimche makes the case for Tzipi Livni taking over leadership of Israel. (The Jerusalem Post)
-Nehemia Shtrasler argues that Israelâ€™s budget situation is becoming chaotic, with no controls at all on spending proposals. (Haaretz)
-In reviewing 6 books related to Zionism, Geoffrey Wheatcroft makes the case that â€œIsrael today has the purest Jabotinskian government yet seenâ€?, but notes that â€œJabotinskyâ€™s intellectual honesty was always a challenge to the evasion or denial of other Zionists, and yet he too was a Luftmensch.â€? (Times Online)
-Jeremy Sharon argues that just as â€œNeville Chamberlain finally resigned â€¦ due to the disastrous direction his policies had taken the countryâ€?, so must Olmert. (Ynet)
In this installment of â€œFrom the Academy,â€? Dr. Joel Hecker, Chair of the Department of Modern Jewish Civilization and Associate Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, tells us about some of his recent research and academic work.
In a recent article, â€œKissing Kabbalists: Hierarchy, Reciprocity, Equality,â€? I studied the act of kissing: kisses between the masculine and feminine aspects of Divinity in the kabbalistic system, between kabbalists and the Shekhinah, between kabbalists and their wives, and from kabbalist to kabbalist.
My interest in kissing, besides the obvious, stems from issues that I was considering in my book, Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah. In examining the treatment of eating (and thinking about eating) in kabbalistic literature, I wanted to explore the ways in which the mystical encounter with God occurs in and through the body.
While the kabbalists, like all medieval Jewish thinkers privileged the mind and imagination as the arenas in which enlightenment occurs, for the kabbalists, the centrality of mitzvot that demanded the involvement of the body called for ways of thinking about the role of the body in serving and communing with God.
As an extension of an interest in eating, kissing, besides possibly revealing an oral fixation, marks a turn towards the interpersonal and away from the ingestion of inanimate food.
From the Jerusalem Post:
A Haifa chocolate factory became the unlikely scene of a midnight heist when robbers broke in and made away with 100 tons of kosher for Pesach chocolate spread. (MORE)
-A look at 32 year old Rabbi Adam Chalom, the new leader of Humanistic Judaism. The Society for Humanistic Judaism claims 10,000 members in 30 congregations. (Chicago Tribune)
-Rabbi Chalom makes the case for Humanistic Judaism (10 minute sound file). (NPR)
-Joseph Chumanâ€™s evaluation of which has more â€œstaying power,â€? religion or ethnicity, leads him to a gloomy demographic outlook for Secular Humanistic Judaism.
Today, we’re reminded that — amazingly — former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is still alive, still in a coma after suffering a stroke two years ago.
Today is his 80th birthday.
When Sharon suffered his stroke, Yehudah Mirsky wrote an excellent article for us about the prime minister’s legacy. The article can be found here.
It was bad enough when Dunkin’ Dount became the country’s largest seller of bagels. But now Kraft has to go and ruin the quintessential secular Jewish food. The food giant is going to begin selling bagels prefilled with cream cheese.
TMZ’s posted an entertaining video about former Israeli soldiers using their skills to protect the likes of Britney Spears and Nicole Richie.
The clip focuses on one firm IMS Security, which advertises itself as “Specializing in building custom security protection and anti-terrorist training programs for public figures, private entities and government agencies looking for a higher level of expertise.”