Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jeffrey Woolf brings us this touching story. After telling it to my father, one thought popped into my head: "And in Lakewood, they're banning the internet." Well, at least my alma mater comes out looking good in that article, the rantings of comment-deleting obsessives notwithstanding. (Don't take my word for the latter- just take a look at that blog, painful as that might be.)

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Maybe I'll work on a real article for a bit today- details to follow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It seems that everywhere one looks these days, there are ads for the History Channel's new series, "The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross".

As it happens, the crescent was a symbol, dating back to pagan antiquity, of the city of Byzantium/Constantinople. It became a symbol of Islam only after the Ottomans captured the city and made it the capital of their Empire. (See the learned comments of a Mr. Lamm, among others, at this link.) In the 15th Century. Hundreds of years after the last Crusade.

I'm thankful I don't get my history lessons from TV shows.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I found myself overhearing a somewhat overwrought conversation yesterday afternoon. It began with someone wondering about various points in Parshat Noach: "If, as the Midrash says, Noach's vine took one day to grow, where did Canaan come from?" "One day? What about Orlah?" "Did Noach keep the Mitzvos?" "Did he just know them?" It went on and on, constructing a house of cards whose only purpose was not even to reconcile the "facts" of various Midrashim but just to raise more questions.

Now, knowing the people talking, I didn't expect them to concede the obvious: That the first eleven or so chapters of Genesis are myth, perhaps a myth based on some historical fact, surely myth with deep and profound lessons to teach, myth with Divine inspiration or authorship. I didn't expect them to know that in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utunapishtim brings many people- not just his family- onto the Ark with him. I didn't expect an admission that the presence of Canaan in the curse serves quite different purposes than an indication that he was really there.

But they weren't even touching the text itself- they were dealing with Midrashim. Years ago, I was quite the fan of Midrashim, devouring them and believing in them. But I was eight years old. Ten, tops. Then, my brother, bless him, let me in on the truth. Much as a Christian kid is told the truth about Santa (a point further reinforced today as I listened to a bit about Eliyahu visiting the Seder), he informed me that no, Moshe was not ten amot tall and Og's ankle (or, better, heel) was not thirty amot off the ground. And on and on.

I got pretty defensive, but I soon saw the light. Even later, I got to see the conflict between various Midrashim that negates the possibility that they may all be true. Also later, a Bible professor demonstrated the same about Aggadata (such as in the Talmud) in general. If I can be a bit smug, I've also come to see how Midrash can reflect (even if only inadvertently) some deeper truths. But around that table, there wasn't a hint of that. Just Midrash as fact, Midrash as fact.

Ah well. Chalk it up as another disillusionment. I got a few of those in the last few weeks, as incredible as they were- perhaps another day?

Have a great week, all!

Friday, November 04, 2005


(Yes, that's the proper pronounciation.)

I remember that back in elementary school- oh, this must have been the fifth grade- we were always disappointed when we got out of a long no-Tachanun period on a Monday or Thursday. Like, you're cruising along, jumping from Chazarat HaShatz to Kaddish, and suddenly- Bam!- you're hit (granted, often after a two-day Rosh Chodesh, and sometimes more) with VeHu Rachum.

I guess all these years later I should have a more mature attitude toward things...but hey, it's Friday! We just missed it! Would a "Yay!" be misplaced?

As to my amazing trip to Israel, I hope to have more later. (Sorry for not blogging from there.) Right now, I'll just note that I said Birkat Kohanim (no Yiddish terminology now!) thirty-three times. In three weeks. To be mathematical, that's more than 2.5 times as much as I do it in one entire year in Chutz LaAretz. It included two times at the Kotel, during the mass Birkat Kohanim, an amazing experience, and a full three times on Yom Kippur.

More later, I hope!