Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s a Trans-denominational, Multi-congregational, Inter-generational Havdalah Service

By Education Fellow Amanda Winer

The title of this post sounds like a Broadway song, doesn’t it?

It actually describes a recent program that we had the pleasure of organizing for two partner congregations in South Texas—Temple Beth El in Brownsville (unaffiliated) and Temple Emanuel in McAllen (Reform).

Second year Education Fellow Erin Kahal and I coordinated our spring visits to Brownsville and McAllen, respectively, and we put together this great Havdalah service on South Padre Island as a joint program for our communities. We thought it would be nice to share some pictures from the event.

The beautiful sea side setting for Havdalah

The beautiful seaside setting for our Havdalah service.

Notice the braided border on this invitation.  Very Havdalah-themed.

Notice the braided border on this invitation. Very Havdalah-themed.

Me and Erin at the beach.

Me and Erin at the beach.

We had participants of all ages.

We had participants of all ages.

The ceremony distinguishes between the holiness of Shabbat and the everyday nature of the new week.

The ceremony distinguishes between the holiness of Shabbat and the everyday nature of the new week.

Tessa Galloso, 13, headed up the snack committee.

Tessa Galloso (center), 13, headed up the snack committee.

Each student was responsible for one of the Havdalah sets.

Each student was responsible for one of the Havdalah sets.

Participants reading from a handout with appropriate songs and blessings.

Participants read from handouts with appropriate songs and blessings.

We had an amazing time bringing these two communities together!

We had an amazing time bringing these two communities together!

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this program possible!

Posted on April 24, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Eating on the Road

Stuart Rockoff eating ice cream in Oklahoma, with summer intern Diana in the background.

Stuart Rockoff eating ice cream in Oklahoma, with summer intern Diana in the background.

Whenever I get ready to go on a long research trip, I put together a detailed itinerary, listing each library, synagogue, and cemetery I plan to visit, as well as the people I will interview or with whom I plan to meet.  I make sure to add addresses, contact numbers, and hotel and rental car confirmation numbers. Once all this information is compiled, I start working on my favorite part of the trip: figuring out where I am going to eat each day.

It’s not unusual for me to spend twice as much time combing through reviews on Urbanspoon or Roadfood.com than reading through libraries’ online catalogs. Of course, I spend far more time in the archives than in restaurants, but one of the perks of my job is the chance to become an expert on regional southern cuisine. For me, this opportunity has become a serious responsibility!

Whenever I’m on the road, I try to find out about the unique regional specialties, from hot tamales in the Mississippi Delta or dry rubbed beef brisket in central Texas, to burgoo in western Kentucky. Once, when I was visiting Laredo and other Jewish communities along the Texas-Mexico border, I spent hours figuring out precisely which Mexican restaurants offered the most authentic and tastiest version of the local cuisine. I would hate to visit a town and miss the best place to eat.

But sometimes, I must take into account other considerations. When I recently traveled to western Kentucky, I was faced with the prospect of eating mutton barbecue for three days straight. Since I’ve entered my 40s, I knew that such a schedule would wreak havoc on my archive productivity (not to mention my digestive system!). So I mixed in an occasional salad and bought fruit at a local grocery store for healthy snacks.  Finding green things to eat can be a challenge on the road.

One of the effects of the Immigration Act of 1965 – the most underrated federal law of the past 50 years, if you ask me – is the spread of Asian immigrants to cities and towns around the country.  I have learned to scout out Asian restaurants in unusual places. I have had amazing Vietnamese pho in Oklahoma City and great pad thai in Paducah, Kentucky.

In preparation for a trip to Virginia two weeks ago, I was most excited to eat at Peter Chang’s, a new restaurant recently opened by the famous peripatetic master of Chinese cuisine, whose sudden disappearances and movements have been tracked by foodies across the country, including Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker magazine. Chang has recently opened restaurants in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Williamsburg – three cities I just happened to be visiting.

While I can assure you this was a coincidence, I’ll happily admit that his restaurants graced my itinerary three times over a four day stretch.

What are your favorite Southern specialties?  What about out-of-region surprises?

Posted on April 22, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

To Plant or Not to Plant Seed: The Truth of Homosexuality in the Bible

[Editor's Note: This post is not our typical "Southern & Jewish" fare; one of our contributors, Rabbi Marshal Klaven, wanted to share a sermon he wrote about homosexuality in the Torah, in light of the ongoing equality debate and the prominence of arguments around this topic "based on biblical texts".]

To Plant or Not to Plant Seed: The Truth of Homosexuality in the Bible

C. Mattison Illustration

                  C. Mattison Illustration
                    www.cmattison.com

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, Your Honor – the Holy One, Blessed be God, I stand before you today to protest a great injustice and to defend the unalienable rights of fellow members in our human family. Every day, our brothers and sisters – people created in Your Divine image – are having their basic human liberties restricted or altogether stripped away. They are often harassed and tormented; they are often barred from supporting loved ones in times of great need; they are often prohibited from marriage; and, in some places, they are legally thrown out of public places like restaurants and theaters.[1]

Why? What supposed crime have they committed? Simply: falling in love with another human being of the same gender.

And, frankly, it deeply upsets me that this injustice is perpetrated and perpetuated by people of faith, who claim that such blatant discrimination and unabashed bigotry are justified by Your Holy Word. Specifically, contained within the Holiness Code, part of a special section in the book of Leviticus, they point to a group of laws dealing with inappropriate sexual relations. According to just two lines in the entire Hebrew Bible, both of which are found within the double Torah portion of Acharei Mot/K’doshim, we are warned that “if a man lies with a man, as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done a to-eivah, an ‘abhorrent thing;’[2] they shall be put to death – their blood guilt is upon them.”[3] (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)

So, no, I will not argue today whether or not homosexual sex is prohibited in the Bible.[4] Clearly, it is. However, I will attempt to answer the question that so often goes unasked in this debate, which is “why was it prohibited?” What about homosexual sex was abhorrent to our ancestors? To answer this pivotal question, which will dramatically change the course of the conservation, I call forward the expert testimony of Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew Language, renown Biblical commentator. “The evident rationale for such a prohibition,” explains Alter, “seems to be the wasting of seed in what the law envisages as a grotesque parody of heterosexual intercourse.”[5]

Why? What’s the problem with this parody? Well, the problem, according to the Bible, is that heterosexual intercourse, wherein the seed of human life (i.e. sperm) is implanted in the fertile ground of the woman’s womb, is meant for one purpose and one purpose only: to create life, to procreate, “to be fruitful and multiply.” First issued as a blessing in Genesis 1:28, these words only became a Divine command to man upon the depopulation of the world after the flood in Genesis 9:6.[6] There, these words are found among others which deal with a case of homicide. This is intentional, writes the master commentator RaSHI, “for anyone who does not engage in reproduction should be compared to one who sheds blood,” as both require a death penalty.[7]

Anyone, hmmmm? Well then, based upon this rationale a lot of people would be slated for death.[8] Because, in addition to those who engage in homosexual sex, anyone – homosexual or heterosexual – who engages in sex using contraceptives (e.g. condoms), or anyone – homosexual or heterosexual – who masturbates, is likewise guilty of the same crime: wasting seed. What?! Don’t believe me? Then please allow me to introduce into evidence the case of Onan, Judah’s second eldest son. According to the Biblical testimony, “Whenever Onan went to join with Tamar, he let his seed go to waste. What he did,” states the Bible, “was displeasing to the Lord, so God took his life.”[9]

Given this precedent, some may wish to continue their prosecution and persecution of homosexuals. After all, they claim, “God instructed us, in this Holiness Code, ‘to reprove our kinsman.’”[10] True, God did say we should “reprove our kinsman;” however that line ends with “but, we may not incur any guilt because of him.” That is to say, when we see someone doing something we believe to be harmful, we are obligated to say something. However, as the second part of the verse implies, it has to be done in such a way as to not be disrespectful. For, we cannot resolve one sin by creating another. Besides, in God’s law of nature, death eventually comes. Not in body, but in name, as one who does not procreate, has no one to carry it on.

With that, Your Honor, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case. Clearly, without any true Biblical basis, upon which to ground such injustices, I ask that you dismiss all grievances against these fellow human beings, our kinsmen in the family of God. For, as social psychologist Erich Fromm deduced, “In essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part of One; we are One. This being so, it should not make any difference whom we love,” as long as we love with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls.[11] With this greater truth, may we go on to honor both God’s Holy Words better, as well as all those who hold these Words near and dear: heterosexual and homosexual alike. Kein y’hi ratzon, may this be God’s will as well as our own.

 Sources:

[1] For example, while living in Cincinnati, OH for seminary training at HUC-JIR, I learned of a law there, which allowed a proprietor of a public place to throw someone out of their establishment if he/she suspected the individual of being gay, leaving this individual without any legal recourse. While this law was thankfully repealed in 2004 by 67% of the voters, many cities still have such discriminatory allowances.

[2] It is important to note that the Hebrew word to-eivah (“abhorrent,” or sometimes translated as “abomination”) occurs numerous times in the Bible. Taking stock of these, Rabbi Richard Friedman commented, “to-eivah is a relative term in the Bible, which varied according to human perceptions. For example, in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that ‘any shepherd is a to-eivah/an abhorrent thing to Egypt’ (46:34); but obviously shepherding is not a to-eivah/an abhorrent thing to the Israelites, as they proudly perform this role.”

[3] Some would like to add Sodom and Gomorrah to this list. However, nowhere in that story does the Bible say anything about homosexual sex. It is merely inferred from the line: “Bring them (i.e. the men) out to us, that we may get to know them.” (Gen. 19:5) It is true. Occasionally, “to know” is the Bible’s way of saying “sex;” but not always. Case in point: the beginning of the book of Exodus. There we are told “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8). If everywhere the word “to know/yada’at” means “sex,” then we must conclude that the previous king of Egypt and Joseph were engaged in a homosexual relationship. And, because it did not continue with the new king, the Pharaoh became upset and enslaved our people.

[4] I explicitly state “homosexual sex” rather than “homosexuals,” because the Bible is clearly not prohibiting a person nor is it calling them abhorrent. The Biblical text is specifically referring to an act as abhorrent.

[5] Robert Alter. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. W.W. Norton & Co.: New York, 2004. p. 623

[6] The prohibition was addressed only to man, because of our ancestors’ limited knowledge about procreation. According to their understanding, all the material needed to reproduce life was contained with the zerah/the seed (i.e. the sperm), as a woman’s egg is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Hence, that is the reason why sex between two women was never prohibited in the Bible, though included later by the rabbinic sages.

[7] RaSHI commentary to Genesis 9:6

[8] Kinsey, Alfred C. et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Indiana University Press: Philadelphia. 1948 and 1998, p. 499. According to this study, Kinsey reported that 92% of men engage in masturbation. In Kinsey, Alfred C. et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Indiana University Press: Philadelphia. 1953 and 1998, p. 142. According to this study, Kinsey reported that 62% of women engage in masturbation. A similar study was done in 2006 by Gerressu M., Mercer C., Graham C., Wellings K., Johnson A., called  “Prevalence of masturbation and associated factors in a British national probability survey.” Arch Sex Behav 37 (2): 266–78. According to their results, 95% of men and 71% of women masturbate.

[9] See Genesis 38:6-10. The Mishnah, written in the first century of the Common Era, makes reference to this act. As it is written: “The hand that oftentimes makes ‘examinations’ is – among woman – praiseworthy, but among men, let it (i.e. the hand) be cut off!” Just in case we were fooled by the euphemism “examination,” tractate Niddah in the Babylonian Talmud makes it clear that “examination refers only to the emission of semen.” (BT Niddah 13a).

[10] Leviticus 19:17

[11] Erich Fromm. The Art of Loving. Harper and Row: 1956.

Posted on April 19, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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