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Archive for the month “March, 2013”

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

There is a Zen saying that goes like this: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. The foundation of this saying is to remind us that if someone seems to have all the answers to all the questions, they don’t have any answers at all. I was reminded of that saying last Monday night when I sat down for a traditional Passover Seder and the leader of the Seder presumed to know everything. It was rather tedious having to listen to his zealotry as he fumbled through a Haggadah different from the rest of us trying to find a place we could all agree on. It was tedious to listen to the polemical insistance that the story being repeated was an actual experience witnessed by millions of Jews in Egypt and at Sinai around 3200 years ago.

I must admit being a bit impatient with the leader, who was trying to equate my relationship with a Chabad Rabbi and his relationship with the Chabad. When I tried to explain to him that my interest was more or less academic and not religious or spiritual he was arrogant enough to tell me I was wrong and that no one goes to the Chabad unless they are interested in spiritual development. When he presumed to know my personal motivation I demonstrated my own impatience by telling him that the stories that survived to form Rabbinic Judaism are simply made-up, redacted and crafted by the redactor to create a theosophy matching the politics of the exile after the rise of Christianity and the defeat of Bar Kochba; that it is impossible to ignore the political reality and still understand the surviving mythology.

At that point I was told that he and I are exactly the same. We come from the same religious experience. In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. True, we are about the same age, we both have prostate cancer although mine is currently in full remission while his is, unfortunately, not, we both attend the Chabad (but not for the same reasons) but there the similarities end. I am an atheist, a Jewish atheist but an atheist nevertheless while he is conveniently religious (only when it suits him). I am curious about the form of argumentation used by the post-exilic sages because it is a fascinating academic exercise to understand the thought process as the core documents of Jewish thought were created but I do not accept these documents as anything other than an effort to explain that which is difficult to explain. He takes the documents at their face value asking no critical questions as to origin, political considerations or relationships between Jews and Gentiles as these documents were being created. I could go on about differences but I think I have made my point.

I generally find those people who presume to speak for others to be both tedious and arrogant. Perhaps the two cannot be separated in any meaningful way. In this particular case, I was also angered by the presumption that this man decided what my personal motives might be and how utterly wrong he was. His error was compounded by his failure to listen to any explanation of my motives that I offered. I soon became tired of the whole affair and began to respond to him with the following, “I can’t believe you swallow this made up BS hook, line and sinker!” For that I probably should ask for forgiveness but I probably won’t because I only see him on rare occasions any longer.

What I find is that I have far more questions than I have answers. I don’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself when I write. Sure I try to write persuasively but I don’t expect anyone to simply accept my arguments at face value. I write to construct tentative answers to difficult questions offering up my musings for comments and critique. After all, isn’t that how we learn to understand each other. Only when there is a single-minded zeal does the process of understanding get interrupted falling into ruins. So keep the conversations lively and if you meet the Buddha on the road…Kill him!

 

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Harold Bloom and the Torah’s Authorship: Thinking in Jewish XXV

Harold Bloom and the Torah's Authorship: Thinking in Jewish XXV

Harold Bloom and the Torah’s Authorship: Thinking in Jewish XXV

Harold Bloom is an American Literary Critic, a scholar of Shakespeare and a professor of English Literature. Among his scholarly projects is a strand of religious criticism that includes The Book of J, that can be summarized as follows:

In The Book of J, he and David Rosenberg (who translated the Biblical texts) portrayed one of the posited ancient documents that formed the basis of the first five books of the bible as the work of a great literary artist who had no intention of composing a dogmatically religious work. They further envisaged this anonymous writer as a woman attached to the court of the successors of the Israelite kings David and Solomon — a piece of speculation which drew much attention. Later, Bloom said that the speculations didn’t go far enough, and perhaps he should have identified J with the Biblical Bathsheba. (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Bloom#Religious_criticism, March 28, 2013)

Ever since Spinoza published his Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670, a work in which he questioned inconsistencies in the biblical texts, European scholars began to uncover specifics of biblical authorship. Five classes of authorship surfaced based on any number of factors including stylistic language use to, in some cases, the naming of God. Grouped as E, P, D, R and J. E refers to passages using the plural name for God, Elohim. P refers to the priestly class author thought to be responsible for much of the book of Leviticus and the last part of Exodus. D, refers to the author of the book of Deuteronomy. R references the redactor of the five books of Moses into a single reasonably coherent narrative. Finally, J refers to the author referencing God as YHVH (mistranslated as Jehovah by 19th century CE German Christian biblical scholars).

The redactor of the Torah, the R author, makes his presence known after the remnant of Israelites return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. The R author weaves together a generally coherent story, fitting in pieces of the other authors, sometimes seamlessly and other times awkwardly, thereby making the Torah the central document of Jewish historiography. Just one of Bloom’s examples helps us understand the task of the redactor. When we first meet Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, he is introduced by the J author as Abram which, according to Bloom translates as “exalted father.” Later in the narrative, God tells Abram that he shall no longer be called Abram, rather his name shall now be Abraham. Bloom tells us, along with other biblical scholars, that Abraham is introduced by the P author and translates as “father of a host of nations.” The redactor’s task was to take two disperate story lines and weave them together into a single and believable story.

Bloom argues that the bulk of the Torah, especially the narrative stories (as separated from the priestly legalisms mostly found in Leviticus) may be attributed to a brilliant author of the stature of Homer, Shakespeare and Tolstoy and further argues that J was likely an aristocratic woman living in the time of Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple) in the 10th Century BCE. He makes this bold claim based on the use of language and the characters emphasized in her writings. Bloom makes the point that J was not interested in priests, rites of sacrifice or temple cults, rather her emphasis was on heros, great people, men and women, who collectively were the soul of the Israelites. That her stories do not show up in the writings of P written some six-hundred years later during the time of the Second Temple and are repeated without much accuracy or passion by the D author shows a reluctance of the redactor (likely the scribe Ezra) to emphasize the strength of J’s authorship, cannot hide the force of the metaphor of the patriarchs, the story of Joseph, and the heroism of Moses as they mirror that of David and Solomon of her own time.

Bloom argues that J was the first author of the Torah, that her stories contain powerful irony and characterizations. Abram and Sarai, Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph, Tamar and Moses all appear as real and flawed human beings. God himself takes on a role that is also distinctly one of a God in crisis, always wanting to do the right thing but, just as the humans he presides over, cannot help but expose his own flaws.

By the time of Ezra and the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 72 CE, the power of J’s authorship was watered down by the E, P and D authors as well as the redactor’s need to present a post exilic metaphor of utopian perfection. Bloom’s artful analysis brings the richness of J back to life and, unless you cannot give up the ghost of the revelation at Sinai, makes one think carefully about the way one must and should read Torah in the present day. Bloom’s book is an ethical journey through a speculative fictional reading of the Torah, one that makes perfect sense in helping one to understand the many contradictions explicitly contained within the text of the Torah itself. It is a must read.

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The Utopianism of Jewish Religious Thought: Thinking In Jewish XXIV

The Utopianism of Jewish Religious Thought: Thinking In Jewish XXIV

The Utopianism of Jewish Religious Thought: Thinking In Jewish XXIV

From Adam’s exile from paradise (exile), Noah’s redemption of the world (redemption), the exodus from Egypt (redemption), the first revelation at Sinai (redemption), the smashing of the tablets as Moses saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf (exile), the second revelation at Sinai (tentative redemption), the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (exile), the return of the remnant of exiles from Babylon and the building of the Second Temple (redemption), the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (exile), Jewish historiography has been a constant story of exile and redemption. After the last exile, that of the Roman destruction of the Temple and the final crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE, Jewish practice fell into the hands of a small sect of sages who authored the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the two Talmuds. The interesting thing about these documents according to Jacob Neusner, is that in response to the Roman exile, the Rabbis chose to remake the whole of the Jewish experience into one in which they created a world of extant redemption existing outside of the time and vagaries of  the temporal world. The sages created an ideal world, a world that mirrored that which they expected a final redemption to look like, not a world in which the Jewish people were marginalized, persecuted and ridiculed by the gentiles surrounding them. In short, the rabbis created a utopian vision of redemption that could only be achieved by communal action.

For the rabbis of the fundamental texts of Rabbinic Judaism redemption was not an individual, personal act. One cannot be saved from exile as an individual, rather, the whole Jewish community, wherever they might be, could only be redeemed from exile through the group effort of each and every individual following the law to the letter. The more people following the laws of Moses and the rabbinical deciders the closer one comes to redemption; the sooner the messiah arrives to return things to the state of paradise from which Adam was initially exiled. Redemption, then, comes at a cost, the cost of blindly following a set of arcane rules and regulations, many of which cannot be understood at a rational level and, to complicate things even more, better than half cannot even be carried out because they refer to Temple practices, animal sacrifices, priestly cleanliness (or suitability to carry out priestly duties), and other laws regarding the unique practices of the Temple sacrificial cult. This model served the Jewish people quite well until the middle of the 17th century CE when Jewish mysticism began to emerge.

According to Gershom Scholem, Jewish mysticism sprang from a religious revival among Jews so that by the mid 1600’s a shift in the idea of redemption moved ever closer to the idea that once the messiah arrived, individual salvation was indeed possible and would precede any kind of group redemption that was the ultimate goal of the arrival of the messiah. This idea was vigorously opposed by those rabbis representing the status quo but that didn’t stop messianic cults from popping up. The most successful of these cults followed the life of Sabbitai Zevi, a Sephardic rabbi who preached some unique interpretations of the law and, through his disciples, notably one Nathan of Gaza, claimed to be the messiah. Even after Zevi was forced into apostasy by Sultan Mehmed IV when he was offered the choice between death and conversion to Islam in which Zevi chose conversion, the movement remained strong until the mid 19th century CE. Scholem contends that the Sabbatean movement was the precursor of the modern movement of Reform Judaism.

Through the last two thousand years, Judaism flourished in an atmosphere of utopian expectations. The historiography of Judaism stresses the communal responsibility to obey commandments and if that is done then all will go well. It tells a story of perfection spoiled, of exile, of redemption, of exile, of redemption and exile over and over again. Living in exile today, Jews around the world just celebrated two nights of a holiday of redemption from exile yet even within the story of the Exodus are buried smaller stories of exile and redemption, of failure to follow the laws and commandments and being forgiven as a group. The Passover Seder ends with the utopian words, Next Year in Jerusalem; not the Jerusalem that exists today, rather the Jerusalem that will exist once the Temple is rebuilt and Jews can once again offer burnt offerings to the God of Israel. I am not sure that is a world I would choose to inhabit.

Infusions, Doctors and Life Generally

Infusions, Doctors and Life Generally

Infusions, Doctors and Life Generally

As I was sitting in the very comfortable reclining chair getting hooked up for my sixth infusion of antibiotics to deal with the  resistant echoli strain that has seen fit to invade my body, I was struck by the idea that since my cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery period, I have slowed down. Now slowing down is a good thing. It began when I took off my watch forcing me to be less concerned with time in general. While the act of refusal to recognize time as a constraint was difficult at first, it has become a blessing. To not feel the urgency of time makes the time I have more precious; something akin to a gift from myself to myself. At the same time, I have not lost my appetite for punctuality. This may seem a contradiction but I think it is not. When everything is run by the clock then punctuality is an obsession but when I take the time to just take in what is there, punctuality becomes an ethical act; an act of respect for the other whether the other is driven by the clock or not.

So sitting in that chair, talking to Cynthia, the nurse administering the antibiotic, I noticed all of the surroundings, the pictures on the wall, the clock with the broken second hand, the smell and taste of the antibiotic as it drips into my veins. In the moment of that half hour of dripping solutions I was at one with the universe.

Since taking off the watch six or so months ago the world seems to spin at a slower pace. Of course it isn’t the case but the fact that I take the time to notice things I didn’t have the time to notice before is a bonus that was totally unexpected. I hear the voices of doctors as they try to figure out what is going on with me and find the urgency of one doc countered by the patience of another as they look at the results of the data. One doc looks at a number and nearly panics while the other looking at the same numbers takes the approach of waiting to see how the whole picture develops before striking out with a treatment plan. I think that one should never treat a number, rather one should look at the whole picture and treat the cause of the abnormal data that emerges over time. Jumping in without all the facts is as dangerous as denial of the emerging data. While one cannot be absolutely certain when incomplete data is present, one cannot allow oneself to be driven by the presence of a single abnormal number either. That too is an insight I learned after taking off my watch and allowed myself the luxury of observation.

As an aside, I found it interesting that even with the PICC line inserted I had to be stuck to draw blood in my internist’s office. What a waste of a good PICC line. When in the infusion center blood was also drawn and the same blood numbers will be analyzed. Why twice? Could it be profits are involved?

 

PICC Lines and Emergency Rooms

PICC Lines and Emergency Rooms

PICC Lines and Emergency Rooms

What appeared to be a simple urinary tract infection, likely due to the fact that the prostatectomy left me with a bit of incontinence which continues with varying degrees of severity, turns out to be a highly resistent strain of echoli, one requiring a fourteen day course of iv infusion therapy with the one antibiotic to which I am not allergic. This meant that I spent the bulk of yesterday morning having a PICC line inserted in my left arm. When the PICC was inserted and the first round of antibiotic was administered, a blood draw was done right before the line was bandaged. I thought I was done but that would be too much to expect at this point. I was home for about an hour when I got an urgent call from the infectious disease doc overseeing the treatment of the echoli infection. “Hurry,” she said, “go to the ER immediately. Your potassium levels are alarmingly high and your kidney function numbers are way out of whack.”

And so it was that I wound up in the Emergency Room where I was treated with a drug to help reduce the potassium in my system and was administered fluids to drive my kidney function back to normal levels before I was discharged from the hospital just in time to see the Blackhawks lose for only the second time to their closest rival, the Anaheim Ducks.

I had the second dose of the antibiotic this morning. When I arrived at the office for my appointment the receptionist told me that my doc wanted to see me earlier than Friday when I was already scheduled to see her. By next Monday she will have the results of the ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder and we’ll see what the next step will be. Of course, the ER doc handed me a sheet describing End Stage Kidney Failure but told me it was just a precaution and that the problem I was suffering was likely due to the echoli infection I was already being treated for. ESRF looks a lot like the effects of the particular antibiotic I am being infused with and it should clear up as the treatment kills off the bacteria in my system.

Still, as a cancer survivor, it is a bit disconcerting to learn that I might be sicker than I ever imagined. I mean, seriously, beating one disease only to have a second potentially life threatening illness take its place is simply not what I had in mind. Of course, looking on the good side, if I do require kidney dialysis, at least I have a central line already installed in my arm, making the whole process easier to deal with.

By the Numbers

The most important number I saw yesterday was a PSA of less than 0.01, essentially no prostate cancer remaining six months post surgery. That was very good news but not unexpected. Everything else was normal or bordering on normal with a few slight adjustments. More to come later

 

Teleological Martyrdom and Messianic Drama: Thinking In Jewish XXIII

Teleological Martyrdom and Messianic Drama: Thinking In Jewish XXIII

Teleological Martyrdom and Messianic Drama: Thinking In Jewish XXIII

Teleology presupposes that there is a purpose to historical events; that things unfold as they are supposed to unfold. Add theology to teleology (without which much of theology could not exist) and one is presented with drama that both engages one’s imagination and fuels the very idea of martyrdom. In modern terms, if one did not ‘believe’ that God’s plan was not being carried out through one’s personal actions it would be impossible for one to construct a bomb filled with nails, ball bearings, nuts and bolts, strap that bomb to one’s chest and blow up a bus or hotel lobby or police station or whatever other target one had in mind. It is the very idea that the martyr is born of belief in a teleological purpose, spurred on by the further idea that God is behind that very teleological purpose, and that, furthermore, one particular person is the tool of God’s purpose that allows such heinous acts of zealotry to exist at all.

For some people it is difficult to imagine a world without a purpose; without a plan for physical and spiritual perfection. It is even more difficult to attribute such plans to individuals for to do so would be to be bestowing special features to human beings that border on the Godly. It is far easier to eschew the arrogance of human beings and attribute the planning of the eventual outcome to God who works in mysterious ways beyond all understanding. Easy then to claim that one is only the prophet of that God, that God revealed his secrets directly without need of intermediaries; hence, God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai, to Jesus, to Mohammad, to biblical prophets, to Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard and so on. It is easier to rely on the voices heard by these and other prophets than it is to claim that it was the human beings themselves who created the plan for God rather than God creating the plan for men.

Part of the problem as I see it is simple enough. It is difficult to believe in a teleological purpose and also acknowledge free will. If there is a certain unalterable flow to historical events, then all of the events, including the very mundane events, have outcomes known to God (or who or whatever lays these great and grandiose plans). If the outcomes are known to the planner but unknown to the ones affected by the plan then all that can be said about free will is that there is merely an illusion of free will; what purports to be a choice is nothing more than a predetermined path that impersonates choice but, upon further analysis, is the only available path because it is known by the creator of the teleological purpose.

What seems to have happened at the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a time of great political and theological success for the development of Jewish thought, is that as the political will to remain apart from the Hellenistic world surrounding them fell apart, varying sects of messianic zealots began writing about the teleological end of times, turning that teleology into a rather diverse set of sects that espoused martyrdom as a cause celeb. Not unlike the martyrdom found in suicide bombers, this teleology of the end of days spread like wildfire among the varying sects of Judaism, what some have called Judaisms, so that there were entire groups of people willing to sacrifice themselves rather than submit to Roman or Greek rule, while others relied on the cult of the single martyr in which the individual sacrifice was sufficient to assuage the sins of the larger community. Still others relied on cyclical epochal history in which lessons learned had to be learned over and over again and again in order to prepare for the messiah yet to come. What came of all this messianic drama was rabbinic Judaism and Christianity (all other messianic orders seemed to have been wiped out due to lack of members after mass suicides).

In the end, it seems to me, that the result of teleological purpose turns one away from the notion of free will, choice and ethical behavior toward the zeal of the end of history and the restoration of humankind. Where is the responsibility in that? A far more ethical stance comes, not from following arcane dietary rules or confessing one’s sins for fear of punishment in some unknown afterlife described only by poets and essayists and not from people returning from the dead, but from an understanding that there is no purpose to the universe whatsoever, that there is no plan, no divine vision transmitted only to the select few; to the contrary, events are random and unplanned. History does not repeat itself, it does not work in some kind of mythic dialectic (Hegel and Marx be damned). Human beings make choices each and every day that alter the course of history in unknown and unexpected ways. It is always more efficacious to act within an ethical code of behavior, making choices easier, but it is not required. One thing is for sure, however, if one does not accept the idea of an ordered, purposeful universe it is impossible to strap explosives to one’s own body and blow up the world.

Yes, A Week for Medical Concerns: Dealing with the Aftermath of Cancer and More

Yes, A Week for Medical Concerns: Dealing with the Aftermath of Cancer and More

Yes, A Week for Medical Concerns: Dealing with the Aftermath of Cancer and More

In the next ten days, starting today when I visit my internist and oncologist back to back, I begin a ten-day period of rather intense medical review. While I expect to find things right on schedule, one never knows. My internist drew blood last week in preparation for this morning’s visit. Leaving his office, right around the corner from Starbucks, I went to read and enjoy a cup of coffee. While sitting in Starbucks, I began to notice some significant back pain along with gripping groin pain. It took a few moments, but it soon became clear that I was passing a kidney stone. As if I didn’t have enough urological problems, I then noticed that I was running a fever of around 101 degrees. Yikes, now I am getting sick as well. Just what I needed. Since the symptoms weren’t getting any better, last Friday I went to my internist complaining of cloudy urine and this on again off again fever. He prescribed an antibiotic, one I had never taken before and said I should keep the Monday appointment as a follow-up as well as one in which we would address any number of issues. By Saturday, I couldn’t stay away from the bathroom and I had developed a bright red, blotchy rash all over my body. I stopped taking the antibiotic on Sunday. It is now Monday morning and I still have bowel trouble but at least it is not constant and urgent.

Soon after I post this I will be on my way to Starbucks once again in preparation for my trip to the internist’s office. As soon as I finish with him I must go to the oncologist for an infusion of iron as my system simply refuses to ingest iron from any source whatsoever. This means a bag of the dirtiest looking rust water (I know it is not but that is exactly what it looks like) will be introduced into my veins and allowed to course through my system adding iron to my blood stream.

Finally, I get to see the urologist who replaces the urologist who treated me for the past fifteen years. He took a new position and so I am left to see if I like his understudy or not. I am actually feeling a bit uncomfortable about this change but my old urologist swears that this new doc is even more affable than he is and that he would send his own brother to him which, I suppose, is a strong recommendation. Time will tell whether I like this new guy and whether he will become my urologist of choice or will I have to shop for someone else? Tick tock tick tock!

Other than that, not much is new on my medical front. The kidney stone pain has subsided which may only mean that the stone is not moving about or it could be that the stone has passed. My fever is gone but there again, on only two days of antibiotic it may return. I think I’ll suggest to my internest that he stick with antibiotics that we know I have absolutely no allergic response to and take it from there. I nervously await the PSA results of my blood test, he also tested for testosterone levels but I don’t know why. I think I’ll ask. May post later with some news about the test results. If not, I’ll surely post tomorrow.

It Is All About How One Looks at History: Thinking In Jewish XXII

It Is All About How One Looks at History: Thinking In Jewish XXII

It Is All About How One Looks at History: Thinking In Jewish XXII

What constitutes history? Even historians artfully argue about the meaning of history and historical data. In a brilliant analysis of Jewish and Christian thought in the century or so post-Constantine, Jacob Neusner argues from this rather idea: Jews and Christians, using the same set of facts and the same analytical approach reached dramatically different conclusions. The outcome depended on how each protagonist understood the ultimate teleological meaning contained within the facts themselves. Christian authors chose to explain the series of events from Biblical Genesis to their own present day as the perfection of the teleological promise of redemption and salvation; that the past predicts the future. Jewish Sages, on the other hand, understood the past from Biblical Genesis to the present day as another in a never-ending series of retributions, punishments meted out by God for the failure to deliver what God seemingly wanted. On this view the events of the past held no particular sway over the teleological promise of salvation to come when the Messhah finally arrives, rather, the events of the past are merely mini-cycles of relative redemption and relative punishment getting people ready for the ultimate salvation offered by the Messiah who is yet to come.

Christian scholars saw the conversion of Constantine and the political triumph of Christianity as absolute proof that God delivered on God’s promise. They understood the triumph as everlasting and unchanging. God finally revealed his Messiah to the people and now all prophesies have come to fruition. Jewish Sages, on the other hand, saw the world quite differently. They saw the world in terms of epochs that were anything but permanent. Whatever the political conditions extant in the world today are certainly not the conditions that will be present in the future. Each epoch is thought to be a permanent, powerful solution to the political world but, in the final analysis, falls and is replaced by another overarching politic. With this in mind, Jewish Sages saw the political conversion of the Roman Empire as nothing more that the beginning of a new epoch, one with lessons to offer for the true coming of God’s Messiah. Both Christian and Jewish scholars understood the world in the same teleological and eschatological terms; history presents itself as a linear progression to the end of days in which salvation is the reward for all of human kind. Christian eschatology argues that this very opportunity opened itself to fruition with the advent of Jesus with true salvation coming somewhere down the road waiting for the Messiah to return to finish his work. Jews, on their part, rejected that very idea in favor of one that merely predicts that sometime in the future, but not now, salvation is guaranteed by the advent of the Messiah.

Making use of the same proof texts from the Pentateuch and other biblical writings and writing under quite similar teleological structures, Christian and Jewish scholars came to different conclusions regarding the meaning of the “triumph” of Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries CE. Their conclusions were, of course, structured to fit the overarching teleology that understood the historical as proceeding in a straight line from creation to the end of days. How they understood that line, however, influenced how they chose to examine the data they both had to work with. Both, according to Neusner, chose to see Genesis as prima facia evidence, factual documentation of God’s creation, relying heavily on that story as well as other Biblical stories to ‘prove’ their case. Christian scholars rigorously examined these stories as a linear progression from which flowed the entire history of mankind to the end of days culminating with the advent of the Messiah. No less rigorously, Jewish Sages, using precisely the same historical database found a very different, cyclical reading of the text. What happened in one epoch is bound to happen in another and the cycle will continue until such time as the Messiah appears.

So which side is right? Well, perhaps neither. Both arguments are based upon the single notion that history unfolds as a meaningful teleological story, a line that may be connected from the beginning of creation to the end of days. On the Christian side, that line appears to be linear, expressing the very idea that at each step along the way a progressive line is drawn to bring humanity closer to the salvation offered by the Messiah. On the Jewish side, that line appears to be cyclical, turning over and over, like a wagon wheel in the sand, presenting a slightly different political solution along the way to prepare humanity for promised salvation. But, what if history, the flow of independent events, most meaningless, are not connected to a teleological purpose? What if those events are simply random anomalies that, while perhaps occurring in bunches to look meaningful, are simply random groupings of insignificant long-term meaning? On this view, the world and its history appears to be more or less Jewish minus the teleology of the Jews. Governments rise and fall, what seems important at the moment is nothing more than the elevation of random ideas and events into immediately weighty issues of the day soon to be forgotten for the next weighty idea. The difference between the Jewish Sages cyclical view and this rather austere existential view is that for the Sages a teleological purpose is attached to the cyclical randomness of the unfolding of events while I suggest there is no teleological purpose at all to the randomness that materializes as meaningful history.

The Passover Seder; A Play on Order: Thinking In Jewish XXI

The Passover Seder; A Play on Order: Thinking In Jewish XXI

The Passover Seder; A Play on Order: Thinking In Jewish XXI

Attending a weekly study session at the Chabad the other night, Rabbi Mendel stressed the meaning of the word Seder in Hebrew as meaning “order.” In order to accommodate the needs of the guests at the seder, and to allow all the guests the context in which they should concentrate on the commandments of the order of the seder, it is sometimes alright to do a bit of shuffling in order to put an end to the fidgeting that would otherwise take place.

The order of the seder places the festive meal about half-way through the commandments of the seder but, according to Rabbi Mendel, if you are unable to begin the seder at exactly the moment of sundown, it is unlikely that food would be served before 10:00 PM and there would still be hours to go before the whole thing were completed. His practical response was to begin the Passover seder even before sundown but start with the festive meal that is to be served to the household. By the time the sun goes down, and the commandments are ready to be met according to the law, everyone at the table is good to go, ready to concentrate and not worried a bit about when in the name of the merciful God one is going to eat. A practical suggestion for a difficult problem that I intend to try this year.

The second thing I learned was that in place of lamb bone to represent the pascal sacrifice one should use a chicken neck. This is for two reasons. First the use of a lamb bone is too much of a reminder of the pascal sacrifice itself and the point is not to mirror the sacrifice but to pay homage to it by representing the sacrifice on the seder place so a chicken neck is an ideal representation of the idea of sacrifice without being either the animal specified as the appropriate Temple sacrifice itself or being so close in color, texture or other specific reminder (say a goat shank) of the sacrifice itself. Chicken is the perfect choice to represent, without anyone ever thinking it could be, the Temple sacrifice. This cleared up a long-standing question I had that, not having an answer for, bothered me. My mother used a chicken neck or thigh bone on the seder plate when I was growing up. When I asked here why a chicken rather than a lamb bone her response was always, “My mother did it this way, I don’t really know why.” Of course, Granny would give me the exact same answer. Now I know why this practice is appropriate.

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Screwy Lew's Views

An egotistical flight of fancy into the random ramblings of a semi-demented mind.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman Online

An English Rabbi in New York

Gooseyanne's Blog

The everday ramblings of Anne and her Goose

FEC-THis

Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer

JUMP FOR JOY Photo Project

capturing the joy of the human spirit - in mid air - around the world

Lavelda Naylor

Therapy Resources and Ruminations

♥ The Tale Of My Heart ♥

In your light, I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you.

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