Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: April, 2020

Eight is Enough?: Tazria-Metzora 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: What are some best practices for discussing sensitive topics with a wide audience? How do we balance the need for tact with the need for directness?

From the beginning, our two portions this Shabbat deal with numerous personal topics:

The Pitch: “On the eighth day the flesh of [a baby boy’s] foreskin shall be circumcised.” – Leviticus 12:3

Swing #1:Brit milah was, and still is, a father-son ceremony. Consider that for the entire period of the pregnancy and for the first seven days of the child’s life, the mother was solely responsible for its survival. Human psychology dictates that fathers are peripheral to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Thus, on the eighth day after a boy’s birth, precisely at the conclusion of the first most protected time between the mother and the child, the community held a special ceremony to mark the unique identity shared by father and son.” – Rabbi Helaine Ettinger from The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #2: “The renowned anthropologist Mary Douglas offers another interpretation of the role of circumcision in the context of postpartum impurity. She writes that circumcision played a protective role for mother and son, so that they were perceived as safer than a mother and daughter. This enhanced protection allowed the new mother and her son to venture out sooner, whereas a mother and her daughter had to lie low to avoid danger. Impurity was viewed as having a protective function.” – The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi & Andrea L. Weiss, ed.

Swing #3: “The circumcision must take place on the eighth day, because all living beings are after birth, within the first seven days, very weak and exceedingly tender, as if they were still in the womb of their mother; not until the eighth day can they be counted among those that enjoy the light of the world.” – Moses Maimonides, Guide For the Perplexed

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the requirement to circumcise a baby boy on the eighth day of his life? How does the ritual mark a relative readiness to join the greater community? On a broader level, how do we determine when we’re ready to join the greater community? How must we adjust our thinking given our current pandemic?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow at 11:45AM, join us in our Adon Olam Challenge, No, we won’t join each other online for this. Rather, we ask that, whatever you’re doing on that day and time, you pause and sing Adon Olam with those in your household. It’s just another way to do as a community together, even if we’re apart.

Shabbat Shalom and stay safe!

Separation Anxiety: Shemini 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the most difficult aspect you’re dealing with during this time of pandemic? Is it social separation? Physical separation? Or, perhaps, separation from the patterns and structures we once relied upon?

This week’s Torah portion includes an expectation for Israelite priests to maintain certain separations, especially in the wake of the sudden deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu:

The Pitch: “You must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.” – Leviticus 10:10-11

Swing #1: “God seems to be saying that the deaths [of Nadav and Avihu] were not the merciless act of a vindictive deity. They were a warning to mind the details.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “The primary concern incumbent upon the priests is not to avoid ritual purity, but to safeguard the separation between ritual impurity and purity.” – Jonathan Klawans, Impurity & Sin in Ancient Judaism

Swing #3: “[There is] an interesting dichotomy. Tamae, which is linguistically parallel to [holiness] in the verse, is the state in which one must stay away from [holiness]. Since [holiness] involves sanctity through separation, any further  separation, such as this state of tumah, must surely only add holiness.” – Judith S. Antonelli, In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah

Late-Inning Questions: To our commentators, is holiness an example of being closer to God, or a recognition of how separate from God we are? Does this indicate that separation is, at times, healthy? How is the act of separation during this pandemic teaching us meaningful lessons?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We sincerely hope that you’ll participate virtually  in our semi-annual congregational meeting on Sunday at 10:30AM. We need to update you during this time of transition so that we’ll continue to move forward with strength.

Shabbat Shalom!

My 2020 Passover Message

Click here. Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Flip a Kohen: Tzav 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: How many major life transitions have you experienced? Were you able to apply what you learned from earlier transitions to more recent transitions?

As God continues to describe proper sacrificial offerings, there is already a hint at a priestly transition — even though the priests had yet to begin their work:

The Pitch: “And so shall the priest, anointed from among his sons to succeed him, prepare it; it is the Lord’s — a law for all time — to be turned entirely to smoke.” – Leviticus 6:15

Swing #1: “The literal sense of the Hebrew [of ‘from among his sons’] is ‘in his stead among his sons,’ but ‘in his stead’ is regularly used in references to monarchy to indicate the successor to the throne, and that must be the meaning here.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #2: “Regardless of who bore [the sacrifice’s] cost or who prepared it, it was the high priest’s responsibility to offer it.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Swing #3: “[The Torah] teaches us that [even] from among the sons of a High Priest, if he is anointed [with oil] he is a High Priest, and if not, he is not a High Priest.” – BT Horayot 11b

Late-Inning Questions: Aaron, the High Priest, must already evaluate how his sons will eventually replace him. How do our commentators understand plans for priestly succession? Why should Aaron be expected to simultaneously do his job and think about the next person who will assume this responsibility? How does future uncertainty complicate our ability to plan? How do we best handle the uncertainty we face today?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: There are so many online offerings for our community — welcoming Shabbat, praying for healing worldwide, virtual Seders and classes … the list goes on. Find out the latest here.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!