Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: April, 2019

To Each Their Own: Shir Hashirim 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Why are great works of art subject to vastly different interpretations? Is art that inspires boisterous debate necessarily great, or merely provocative?

Of all of the books of the Bible, perhaps no text inspires more vastly different reactions than the Song of Songs; on its surface, it is romantic poetry, but to others, it is a metaphor for religion and/or politics:

The Pitch: “My beloved is mine And I am his Who browses among the lilies.” – Song of Songs 2:16

Swing #1: “He demanded all His needs from me. He commanded only me, to make the Pesach sacrifice, sanctify the firstborn, make a Tabernacle, sacrifice burnt offerings; and He did not demand [these things] of any other nation.” – Rashi

Swing #2: “The image of the lover as shepherd, when amplified by ‘browses among the lilies’, is an erotic double entendre, especially since lilies are mentioned in connection with … [one’s] lover’s lips.” – Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation

Swing #3: “ The reference to ‘grazing,’ both here and in the parallel verse in 6:3, once more suggests an invective against the king.” – Scott B. Noegel and Gary A. Rendsburg, Solomon’s Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think such a divisive text was selected to be read in synagogues on the Shabbat (or second Shabbat) of Passover? Does the conversational nature of our Passover Seders help make it easier to consider a complicated text such as this? Is our religion better off consulting texts that are difficult to understand? What are the benefits and potential problems of teaching a text like this?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We hope you’ll be here on Shabbat, not only to observe the final day of Passover and Yizkor, but also to be present when we re-dedicate our Holocaust Torah scroll, which will include participation by local Holocaust survivors as well as Synagogue youth who traveled to the National Holocaust Museum in February. Be here on Saturday the 27th for an important moment in our congregation.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of texts that are difficult to understand, perhaps the greatest moment of baffling baseball talk took place July 8, 1958, when Yankees manager Casey Stengel testified before Congress. It has to be read to be believed.

Chag Sameach, and very soon, Shabbat Shalom!

Matzahpalooza: Pesach 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you like to eat matzah? Do you enjoy eating it year-round? If you don’t like matzah, to what extent does it diminish your affection for Passover?

Depending on your opinion, matzah may or may not be infused with taste, but to our sages, it is infused with meaning:

The Pitch: “‘This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” – The first words of the Magid section of the Haggadah

Swing #1: “Not the bread of affliction but the bread of haste. Matzah was the food that the people ate when they were liberated, not while they were enslaved.” – Baruch SheAmar

Swing #2: “The Seder begins with ‘This is the bread of poverty’ and not ‘This is like the bread of poverty,’ as it is written, ‘In order that you may see the bread that I fed you… when I brought you out of Egypt’ (Ex. 16:32).” – Divrei Negadim

Swing #3: “Why is matzah called lechem oni? It is taught: Lechem oni – because you answer with many words. Oni has the same root as the word oneh, to answer or respond.” – Shibolei HaLeket

Late-Inning Questions: What does matzah symbolize to our commentators? Is there value to eating symbolic foods, even if our taste buds don’t enjoy them? If we observe the dietary rules of Passover but eat very little matzah, are we missing out on some of the holiday’s meaning?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Twice a year, we hold a brief Healing Service at our synagogue. It is open to anyone, but especially geared toward anyone healing from loss, be it emotional or physical. Please join us Thursday, April 26th, at 5:30PM.

The Big Inning at the End: The Miami Marlins might not have a talented team on the field, but its stadium’s Kosher food stand offers first-rate service – it even stays open on the intermediate days of Passover, offering Kosher for Passover fare.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

Too Much Information?: Metzora 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What topics embarrass you the most? Are there topics you’re only willing to talk about in front of a select group of people? Are there topics you’ll never discuss with anyone?

We usually only whisper about the subject matter of the latter part of this week’s Torah portion:

The Pitch: “Speak to the Israelite people say to them: When any man has a discharge issuing from his member, he is impure. … When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, she shall remain in her menstrual separation seven days; whoever touches her shall be impure until evening.” – Leviticus 15:2, 19

Swing #1: “Reproductive blood, like shed blood, is handled carefully. The woman’s ‘source’-as-overflowing-spring is emblematic of womanhood, reminiscent of the four-branched river of Eden, and redolent with fecundity of that lushly moist primeval garden: ‘You [Shulamith] are a garden spring,/ A well of fresh water,/ A rill of Lebanon’ (Song of Songs 4:15). And so behind the niddah and Shulamith (and their evocation of Eden) stands the fount, Eve herself, ‘the mother of all living’ (Genesis 3:20).” – David Tabb Stewart, “Leviticus”, from The Queer Bible Commentary, edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache

Swing #2: “Gonorrhea was already known in antiquity and even then doctors were aware of the connection between sexual contact and the transmission of the disease. The common wisdom of ancient medicine and of the doctors of the Middle Ages was that this disease brought about a weakening of the tubes which transmit the sperm making them unable to contain the sperm any longer. Only since the 17th century has it become clear to doctors that the substance emitted by the patient afflicted with Gonorrhea is pus and not semen. … The Torah had already made that distinction. Rav Huna in his comments in tractate Niddah (35b) simply sharpens and defines the difference which was already well known to our ages who understood that there was no connection between gonorrhea and an emission of semen.” – Professor Yishayahu Nitzan, “Torah and Science: Gonorrhea”, from A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume I

Swing #3: “The extent to which impurity radiates into the environment depends upon the severity of the deed and of the uncleanliness. The more extreme the act, the wider the area affected by transgression.” – Daniel Friedmann, To Kill and Take Possession: Law, Morality, and Society in Biblical Stories

Late-Inning Questions: Is it embarrassing to read this post? If so, why? What are the downsides to making a topic taboo? What are the upsides? What does it say about a society that avoids speaking of certain subjects in so-called “polite company”?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Busy cleaning for Passover? Don’t forget to sell your chametz (leavened products) before it’s too late! Now you can click here and take care of this online.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of too much information, there’s a growing sense that baseball only will remain popular if its top stars are fully accessible to the public, especially on social media. Is this a fair expectation for professional athletes?

Shabbat Shalom!

Week-ness: Tazria 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is an ideal amount of time for a vacation? Is a one-week excursion enough time to return rested and refreshed? Or do you need more time, or perhaps less?

While our Torah portion does not speak of vacations, it does speak of people with a skin condition who must leave the community for seven days — so that, presumably, that amount of time will be enough to rejoin society positively:

The Pitch: “But if the priest finds that there is no white hair in it and it is not lower than the rest of the skin, and it is faded, the priest shall isolate him for seven days.” – Leviticus 13:21

Swing #1: “The anxiety about leprosy: Was it just paranoid primitive ignorance, or a foresighted public health precaution? The priests are instructed to quarantine those with skin diseases. Perhaps this is the first recorded example of a public health campaign.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “The verse should be understood as follows: ‘even though the symptom of the affected skin does not appear lower than that surrounding it, but the intensity of the discoloration has not diminished, this is sufficient reason for the priest to place the person in isolation, even if the hair in that area has not turned white; in other words, if the intensity of the discoloration did diminish, it is clear that the person afflicted will be declared ritually pure.’” – Chizkuni

Swing #3: “The minimum time of such an isolation is seven days, which is how long the isolation is for a person. The maximum time is three weeks, which is only for a house.” – Mishnah Yomit on Mishnah Arakhin

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that isolating someone with this skin disease is more for the benefit of the afflicted one or of society as a whole? When is it most beneficial to separate from society? When we isolate ourselves from the outside world, how do we know when we’re ready to rejoin it?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow, we’ll be honored to welcome Kate Smith of the Jewish National Fund. JNF continues to do important work benefiting Israeli society in a way that transcends politics. Please join us at services tomorrow to hear her speak of some of the organization’s important work.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of separating from society, there were countless rumors of where Sandy Koufax spent Yom Kippur in 1965 — the famous day he declined to pitch the first game of the World Series so that he could observe the Day of Atonement. Congregants of numerous synagogues insisted that they saw Koufax in their pews, but the truth is that he spent the day alone in his hotel room, observing the day with the same quiet dignity that has marked his entire life.

Shabbat Shalom!