Archive for the ‘Jewish’ Category

Books and the Lightness of Travel

August 13, 2009

8 months since last post, a repaired laptop, and returning to CT tomorrow to work at a retreat center (after the dentist).  I’ve been trying to decide what books to take with me.

I’ve settled on small ones.

  • Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy  The Christian Future and Planetary Service. I feel I need Eugen at all times and these two are focused on issues of society’s speed and the need for communion.
  • Ira Stone A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar.  Stone’s translation and commentary for Wisdom & Mussar by R. Simcha Zissel is a surprise gift as the appendix.  Mussar means “instruction” or “correction” and refers both to a literature of self-improvement throughout rabbinic Judaism and also specific activities. Stone’s encounter with Zissel’s Kelm school of mussar through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas brings the tradition to greater contemporary relevance.
  • Dalai Lama Spiritual Advice for Buddhists and Christians.  Short and quick.
  • Pirke Avot “Chapters of the Fathers”.  Olitsky brings major commentaries to his pages of both English and Aramaic. This is a major effort for the next few months to be able to teach this tractate.
  • Margaret Atwood Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.  The cover has a balloon near the top above the print and a thumb tack at the bottom facing up.  I started this in June and it was a riot.  Part of my effort see the financial bubble as a poetic invention.

Perhaps Walter Brueggeman The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant and a Daniel Elazar edited book on covenant and constitutionalism.  There’s a project in me about the federating, communing in personal and political dynamics, drawing on Jewish and Christian sources and seen in US history.   Not sure if that deserves my time now.

I’m concerned once again with the “culture wars.” Hopefully that may subside as a I depart the DC area. It forced to drop an idea of reviewing several classic studies of legislative dynamics through the lens of health care reform 1970s-1990s.  Yet there is less legislative activity now compared to the culture war of the town hall meetings which all media outlets excitedly channel to the viewer.

Was tempted to bring an Aquinas-based reading of salvation history through he lens of Torah & Temple and a book on Lonergan’s own intellectual conversion.

There are also a number of books relevant to retreat management or other activities where I’m going. They’ll have to wait here. I’m committed to easy of travel.

That’s the update. Scattered interests, as ever.

Death: A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Out of a Bar…

January 14, 2009

Today at lunch I was told that Rabbi Alan Lew, a seemingly vigorous, recently retired pulpit rabbi, died yesterday during a post-prayer walk.  January 4th, 9 days ago, I helped Alan and his wife find transportation from this retreat center to visit friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  He then traveled to Maryland to continue teaching with Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz about mindfulness, brokenness. From his website:

Rabbi Lew’s book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation was published by Little Brown and Co. in August of 2003. ” . . .Yet for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God. . . . Lew has marked out a journey of seven distinct stages, one that draws on these rituals to awaken the soul and wholly transform us. . .”

I like and despise the Days of Awe, an annual death preparation meant to transform our lives.  During the Yom Kippur fast, white is worn to suggest our burial outfit and bathing discouraged.  You are already rotting!  The soul must experience Tshuvah, or re-direction, turning to the ways of God and away from sin, in order to be granted life in the coming year. This is severe yet Alan know the energy can be guided toward self-revelation, the death of the old self must be embraced.

I also note Richard John Neuhaus’ passing.  His fascinating life teaches what is possible.

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Taking Sides in Gaza

January 6, 2009

I’m happily out of touch with the news most days.  I’m a bit of an addict some days and nights, parsing opinion columns and sloppy reporting.  I do all this to keep from moral sloppiness.  Here’s help for us from Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s a strange world, but there you have it. I’ve been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information. One of my friends — if you want to know why they’re my friends, read this book — told me that one of his comrades was thrown off a high-rise building in Gaza City last year by Hamas, and so he sheds no tears for the Hamas dead. “Let the Israelis kill them,” he said. “They’ve brought only trouble for my people.”  [emphasis added]

See below for a review of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza.

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Welcome to the Blogsphere: From Darkness

December 31, 2008

I’m interested in non-pharmaceutical, soul-based responses to depression.  There are a few programs integrating the science and spirit of mental health and a few projects here and there, mostly the spheres are far apart.  Welcome to Borei Hoshech “Who Creates Darkness.” (found via Jewschool). From the ABOUT section:

This blog explores the weekday morning prayers in light of the contributors’ personal experiences with depression and anxiety, complemented by an analysis of what traditional Jewish sources have to say.

In addition to exploring the intersection between tefillah [prayer] and depression, an important secondary goal of this blog is to create a virtual community around reflections on Jewish religious practice in general from the point of view of people who have experienced depression and other mental illnesses.

The blog’s title, “Borei Hoshech” or “בוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ,” means “who creates darkness,” and comes from the first blessing before the morning Shema. The full blessing reads:

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Fasting and Caged Cats

December 31, 2008

Peter Leithart drops pithy, counter-intuitive  biblical readings regularly on his blog.  Living more ascetic now than normal, I’m appreciative of this take on the Bible and the Body.

For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body.  We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical.  The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked.  The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.

Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure.  After all, if good and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them?  Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.

The reason members of the Church began to value fasting as renunciation of the body is beyond my scope. I am concerned how a text loses its initial vitality and how a text is revivied.  Isaiah 58 illustrates this process. See reason for cat image below.

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Catching Up with 2 Poetic Images From Daily Living

December 24, 2008

I’ve thought about updating here numerous times since I arrived in Fall Village, CT 10 days ago.  Alas, I’m rarely sitting down at my laptop when I’m not exhausted.  I find myself quite content amid a flurry of work and snow.  However, I must get two ideas out before they are lost.

On the train to NYC I found a large, carpeted floor space in the last car to rest my weary back. I took my usual three deep breaths and a lower back disc slipped back into alignment. For about 3 years I’ve been able (or had to) do this a few times a day.  When the alignment is sufficiently off, my low back experiences a painful constriction of motion until this “crack” occurs.  This restores motion and eases painful pressure.

Prone on the train, a constellation of aging, body deterioration, and the soul’s growth connected in my mind’s night sky. Twenty years of ‘adult’ responses to anxiety and stimuli erode the body.  My lower back pain demands reduction of built up tension.  Breathing deeper, as this crack requires, calms nerves. Aches of aging train the spirit to confront its repression and shadow preparing for the long dark night of adulthood. (more…)

Appreciating Christian Zionists

October 28, 2008

I’ve historically been cool the idea that the Jewish community would ally with groups seeking our conversion or who eagerly view Middle East conflict as leading to the End of Days. It feels like we’re being used for someone elses salvation.  Plus, we probably don’t agree on most of our domestic agenda, I once thought.  Didn’t Jewish social progress in the US emerge through limiting the influence of evangelical and other “public” Christians. Or at least conservative ones.  As I relax my grip on my noble and enlightened sense of self, these issues have receded and I recently found space to appreciate Christian Zionists.

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Fear and Repentance: 5769

September 30, 2008

For many Jews, the most meaningful element of High Holy Days synagogue services is the rabbi’s sermon.  Indeed, careers are won or lost here.  However talented our clergy, reliance on their performance for spiritual elevation reduces our commitment to God to paid entertainment or sound-bite movie reviews.   I hope the ancient liturgy and melodies make the uncomfortable topic of our t’shuvah (repentance) real.  Amid the lengthy Hebrew and English readings, may you find small nuggets that provoke or disturb you after the service heading to Yom Kippur.

With that said, I want to share parts of Rabbi Andy Bachman’s Rosh Hashanah sermon entitled “No Fear.”  Andy reflects on existential fear that, more than anything concrete, pervades the lives of his Brooklyn congregants.  Meaning, Purpose and Rootedness are the themes congregants always use to describe what they want.  Here, toward the end of the sermon, Andy suggests active Jewish life pushes back against fear and allows us to step into the unknown.

Learning, Spirituality and Acts of Lovingkindness. The Pillars of the Universe. Shimon Ha Tzadik said the world stands upon three things: Torah (study), Avodah (service), Gemilut Hasadim (generous acts). Meaning, Beyond the Self, and CommunityEach serve as a kind of antidote to fear that we encounter on a daily basis.

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The Work of Repair (and Repentance)

September 25, 2008

The Jewschool group blog has a new contributor named HatamSoferet, or Torah scribe.  She is the first woman known to have completed writing a kosher Torah and the creator of T’fillen Barbie (see below). Reflecting on the busy month of Ellul which transitions us to the High Holy Days — esp. busy for Torah scrolls repairers —  she wisely notes:

I find repair work to be a lot more taxing than writing from scratch. I can write all day quite happily, but repairing all day leaves me wilting, exhausted, and consuming quite startling amounts of chocolate. It’s a physical strain and it’s a mental strain; more of the latter than the former.

When you write, you sit down and words flow, letter after letter, and fill the page slowly but surely. Sure, you have to concentrate, but you’re going with the stream. When you repair, you have to focus in on every single letter, one after the other, and examine it minutely for potential problems, since even one broken letter invalidates the sefer Torah – and there are 304805 of them. It’s intense, intense work.

Well, it occurs to me that this is a metaphor for Life. Merrily going along writing (or living, as it might be) is relatively simple, although you don’t necessarily know what it’s going to look like in twenty years’ time – but if your job is to go through from one end to the other, find every little thing which isn’t right, and repair it, well, that’s a whole lot harder.

Nonetheless, the message of the season is precisely that – check things over, find the bits which are broken, and repair them.

Check out her website for all you wanted to know about scribing Torah.

A Second Amichai poem

September 23, 2008

A Man Doesn’t Have Time

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

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