Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: March, 2019

Pork Barreling: Shemini 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you keep Kosher? If you do, what about doing so is most difficult? If you don’t, what is the biggest obstacle that prevents you from doing so?

As our portion lists the animals the Israelites are allowed and not allowed to eat, perhaps the most prominent non-Kosher animal is granted a mere sentence in our text:

The Pitch: “And the swine – although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud: it is impure for you.” – Leviticus 11:7

Swing #1: “Interestingly, in the high country in the eastern part of Canaan, where Israelite population was concentrated toward the end of the second millennium BCE, the percentage of pig bones discovered is only a fraction of what it is in the Canaanite lowlands. This suggests that the taboo [against eating pork] was already generally embraced by the Israelites at an early period (well before the composition of the Torah) and also that some Israelites chose to disregard it.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #2: “The Torah uses these words as a condition, i.e. as long as the pig has not reverted to chewing the cud it may not be eaten. In the future, when it undergoes evolutionary changes so that it will become a ruminant, it will again be fit to be eaten by Jews. It is not the Torah which will adapt to ‘realities,’ but ‘reality’ which will adapt to Torah; the laws of the Torah are immutable, the nature of the pig is not.” – Or HaHayim

Swing #3: “I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Law is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose injurious character is doubted, except pork and fat. But also in these cases the doubt is not justified. For pork contains more moisture than necessary [for human food], and too much of superfluous matter. The principal reason why the Law forbids swine’s flesh is to be found in the circumstance that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome. It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. But if it were allowed to eat swine’s flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, as may be seen at present in the country of the Franks.” – Moses Maimonides, Guide For the Perplexed

Late-Inning Questions: Why might our commentators suspect that the pig is, in many circles, the “ultimate” non-Kosher animal? Why is it not unheard-of for some Jews to avoid eating pork but eat other non-Kosher things (such as shellfish and/or cheeseburgers)? Is keeping Kosher an all-or-nothing proposition? Or are there gradations of Kashrut observance that should be recognized?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join me as we resume our “Tuesdays with Rabbi” series on April 2nd and 9th, both from 6:00-7:00PM. These classes will exam why the prophet Elijah is invited to our Seders. If you can’t make it in person, look for my feed on Facebook Live!

The Big Inning at the End: The word “pork” is another word for pig, but it’s also a metaphor for things that ought to be unnecessary (such as the “pork” that is added to a governmental bill to satisfy a small number of lawmakers). One might describe the many hidden costs of attending a Major League Baseball game, as detailed today in Deadspin, as an example of big-league pork!

Shabbat Shalom!

Opening Day: Tzav 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What was your most memorable first day of school? First day of work? First day of anything? What made those first days particularly memorable?

As the priests of the Tabernacle start their first day of Divine service, God has a lengthy inauguration ceremony in store:

The Pitch: “‘Take Aaron along with his sons, and the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the community leadership at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.’ Moses did as Adonai commanded him. And when the leadership was assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Moses said to the leadership, ‘This is what Adonai has commanded to be done.’” – Leviticus 8:2-5

Swing #1: “The ritual [of the priestly ordination] represents one of the more complex biblical rituals with a significant number of participants. [Leviticus 8] clearly describes a founding ritual, which is designed to bring into existence a certain state, institution, or situation, which is different from a maintenance ritual. The human participants in the ordination of Leviticus 8 play a voluntary part, which cannot be said for other ritual participants, such as the animals that were involved in the sacrificial subrites.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #2: “Here, concretely, is an illustration of the Biblical overlap between experience and tradition. Aaron and his sons had been washed; they had been dressed carefully in their vestments; the anointing oil had been sprinkled on the altar seven times, and then on Aaron’s head; the sacrifices of the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of ordination had been made according to the laws of sacrifice; those parts of the animals that had to be burned into smoke were burned into smoke, those parts of the animal that had to be placed outside the camp were placed outside the camp; the unleavened bread, the cake of oil bread, and the wafer had been deployed also according to decree; then a second sin offering, then a second burnt offering … even in the great strangeness of the priestly cult, the Jew can recognize the universe of the Commandments, of the law, of the ritual – of what would come to be known as the tradition.” – Leon Wieselthier, “Leviticus”, from Congregation, David Rosenberg, editor

Swing #3: “By placing sacrificial blood on the priest’s extremities, the Torah indicates that the newly ordained kohen has passed through a transitional moment from being a private citizen to becoming a representative of God and a public leader. Ear, hand, and foot – and abbreviated code for his entire body – emphasize that service to one’s highest ideals, to one’s people, or to one’s God must be total. Through his induction into the Temple ritual, the kohen entered a higher state of purity, devotion, and service. To become a nation of priests requires of us no less.” – Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, The Bedside Torah

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, does the inauguration rituals described in our portion set a specific mood for the priests? What mood is it? Should the supervisors of these workers be responsible for creating that mood? To what extent are we responsible for motivating ourselves to do well at our jobs?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us Tuesday, March 26th, at 7:00PM, when we’ll meet Rabbi Sharon Shalom and learn about Ethiopian Jewish Thought. This event is free and open to the public.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of Opening Day, I know that it’s important for Major League Baseball to market their game in foreign countries, but the fact that the regular season already began for the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, who played two games against one another in Japan this week, while everyone else still has a week of Spring Training, is too much for this fan to take. Stop teasing us – let the real games begin!

Shabbat Shalom!

Standing For Peace And Against Hate

(I am diverting from my usual format to respond to the tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand.)

Jewish tradition teaches that every person is formed in the image of our Creator. Thus, any violent act of hatred tarnishes all of us. We are pained by the repugnant massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zakhor, in which we are reminded to blot out Amalek. The book of Exodus teaches that the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in brutal and hateful fashion. Today, we rededicate ourselves to work for peace and understanding to render obsolete those who wish to do the work of Amalek today.

We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters both locally and around the world, just as so many in the Muslim community stood with the Jewish community in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Earlier today, I joined today with the rest of Charleston’s rabbis to reach out in solidarity to Imam Shamu Shamudeen, who responded to us with messages of gratitude and love.

We are committed today, more than ever, to teaching and practicing love and acceptance.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Rosenbaum

So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done: Pekudei 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: To what extent are you good at finishing what you start? What stops you from bringing tasks to completion? What sorts of methods help you to overcome this?

After a myriad of instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle, the text rejoices at its completion:

The Pitch: “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting. The Israelites did so; just as Adonai had commanded Moses, so they did.” – Exodus 39:32

Swing #1: “It should have stated: ‘The children of Israel did …’ and then have added: ‘Thus was completed all the work …’. The following lesson is indicated: Even when the Holy One Blessed be He assists those who execute His commands He attributes their execution only to the person engaged in it. In the case of the construction of the Tabernacle the Israelites were not even expert in the work, which was executed miraculously on its own accord through Diving Providence. Despite this the text attributes the execution of the work wholly to the Israelites.” – Moshe Alshikh

Swing #2: “The Ramban notes a difficulty with the verse; the words ‘all the work’ seem to him to be redundant. Perhaps the explanation is that the intent of this text is to specify that the artisans did not employ foreign labor [of those who did not believe in the holiness of the task] in any work of the Tabernacle. Unlike the later case of the building of the Solomonic Temple, all the work [of the wilderness Tabernacle] was done exclusively by the children of Israel.” – Divrei Yirmiyahu

Swing #3: “To give birth generally means to go through labor. Similarly, the building of the mishkan required labor. The people did not merely have to bring their gifts to those in charge to make this project a success. Each person, each individual actually, had to engage in physical labor. In Exodus 39:43 we read, ‘Now Moses saw all the work (melachah, or ‘physical labor’), and here they had made it as YHVH had commanded, thus had they made.’ Building the mishkan, birthing the mishkan, was a very physical and labor-intensive process connecting the people of Israel to their creation.” – Rabbi Elana Zaiman, ‘The Birthing of the Mishkan’, from The Women’s Torah Commentary, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, editor

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators claim that the Mishkan is an achievement solely attributed to the Israelites’ hard work. How is it important for the Israelites to feel they could complete the construction on their own? Should the Israelites feel empowered because of this? What are the benefits of feeling empowered? Are there any drawbacks?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow Never Knows how you’ll feel if you miss tonight’s Beatles Shabbat at 6:00PM! Sing our Kabbalat Shabbat prayers set to Fab Four melodies!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of finishing what we start, one relic of baseball past is the complete game; these days, it seems like a parade of relief pitchers is necessary in order to secure a victory. For a time, a pitcher who had to be removed from games was considered a failure. Now, it’s pretty much expected. Does this diminish the game at all, or is this simply a logical evolution?

Shabbat Shalom!

Zip Recruiter: Vayakhel 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever been in charge of hiring someone to do a job? If so, what skills are most important to you? What character traits are most vital?

As the Israelites begin building the mishkan (portable Tabernacle), God goes to great lengths to explain the qualifications of the chief engineers:

The Pitch: “[God has inspired Bezalel] to give directions. He and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work … as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs.” – Exodus 35:34-35

Swing #1: “Some scholars have a great deal of wisdom but keep it to themselves because they are either unwilling or unable to impart it to others. Hence the Torah found it necessary to stress that Bezalel and Oholiab had been endowed with both the ability and the will to teach and communicate their skill and knowledge to those willing to learn.” – Abraham Ibn Ezra

Swing #2: “There was no more elevated tribe than the tribe of Judah and no more lowly than the tribe of Dan, who was from among the sons of Jacob’s concubines … the Blessed Holy One said, ‘Let Oholiab come and work with Bezalel, lest the latter grow haughty – for the great and the lowly are equal before the Blessed Holy One.” – Tanhuma

Swing #3: “Natural talents and supernatural anointing of God to a task are not necessarily opposed to one another. On the one hand God did not choose unskilled workers and supernaturally enable them to do the job. On the other hand, Bezalel and Oholiab could not have been empowered and directed by the Spirit of God.” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, in what ways were God’s “hiring choices” a signal to the rest of the Israelites? Why does God give reasons for empowering Bezalel and Oholiab, even though God never cites reasons why Moses is the leader of Israel and why Aaron is the High Priest? When is it fair to be expected to explain our decisions? Does God really need to explain this decision?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This month, we will start outreach programs to area senior-living facilities. Please join Charleston JFS, Men’s Club, Sisterhood, and Rabbi Rosenbaum to open a portal to Jewish life for residents of these homes. To be added to the volunteer list, please contact Allan Benezra at or at 914-329-8336.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of explaining decisions, it’s going to be intriguing to find out (if we ever do) why Bryce Harper just signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for less money per season than he would have received had he re-signed with the Washington Nationals. Obviously, he would have become a very wealthy man regardless, but to me, something doesn’t add up …

Shabbat Shalom!