Monday, February 27, 2017

Prayer and worship in the Torah- discussion notes

Session 2 Covered 2/25/17 Prayer and worship  in the Torah
Start from Torah- Hertz Chumash
First act of worship. Sacrifice; Minchah-Gift.Cain. Gen 4:3 p 14
 And it’s a flop! A bloody flop! UL’MINCHATO LO SHA’AH!
Next act of worship:10 generations later. Noah after the flood.8:20.p 31 This time, it works-we get the promise of the rainbow!
After that, still no sacrifice for next 10 generations. No prayer! Finally, Gen 12:8 p 46  Abraham builds mizbeach. He talks to God, he debates with God, but still no formal prayer.
Who is the first person to offer a “bracha’ a Blessing for someone? Not one of ours!
Gen 14:18 יח p 52
וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן׃. 19 יט
וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
וּבָרוּךְ֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּ֥ן צָרֶ֖יךָ בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּתֶּן־ל֥וֹ מַעֲשֵׂ֖ר מִכֹּֽל׃

20 generations have gone by from Adam till Abraham. Finally, 20:17  p 71 Abraham prays for healing for Abimelech’s household for they have been struck barren.. Note: then, this first prayer listed is for children!.
Also, Abraham prays for the other, not for himself. Next chapter 21:2   p 71 -The birth of Isaac. Lesson-Rabbis teach from this- pray for others if you want your own prayer answered.
We have the Bracha- as a blessing of goodness for someone-Also- not by one of ours. Rebecca’s family. -.Gen 24:60. P 87 Achoteynu at  We have the idea of bracha by parent for child with Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his sons.
Next act of prayer: Isaac-again for fertility. Gen 25:21 p 93 Vayeetar Yitzhak lenochach ishto

What we pray for tells us what we value- note that these early examples of prayer are for children! Far die kinder.

Well, Let’s go to the commands.- Is there a mitzvah to pray? First, what is a mitzvah?
Dispute: RAMBAM( Maimonides)- Prayer is a Mitzvah based in the Torah.(mideoraita)based it on Biblical text “ To serve God”-service implies ptrayer.
RAMBAN( Nachmanides)-Prayer as we know it is set by the Rabbis ( Miderabanan). It results out of a desire for God’s kindness.

Start with Exodus- we have instructions for sacrifices.
Right after 10 Commandments, 20:24 p 301 - Mizbeach adamah.
׃With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold.׃Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.
Here is the essence of worship in the world of Temple Judaism. I give something of mine to God, God gives something to me in return-blessing. But it is even more- not all the sacrifice is burnt-the bulk it is eaten. Who eats together? Family! We ate the sacrifice in the ancient Temple in the presence of God- He got the “ reyach Nichoach”, the beautiful smell, and we ate. What better metaphor for a sense of union with God. ( PS- who still does that? The Catholics. Communion.  The wafer and wine- the body and blood of Jesus, who is the lamb, the korban.

A true prayer  There is one incident in which we have a true personal prayer. Moses, when Miriam is stricken with leprosy. אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ) Number 12:13 p 619
Notice-five words. “God, please, heal, God, please, her.”  Rabbis see this as an ideal prayer. Short- to the point. So why is our prayerbook so long? It all depends on what pray means.
Is there any in the Torah itself that we must say? Shma Yisrael.Deut 6;4  p 769 Every Jew is to say it morning and evening, walking by the way, lying down- but is it a prayer? Or is it a lesson to be memorized ?
Is this a reference to an obligation to pray?

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך Deut 8:10 p 783   After you eat, you give blessing. That is the basis for birkat hamazon, but we don’t have any text.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple.  

I have started a discussion on Prayer at our Shabbat Jewish Learning Community.
These are the notes for the first session:

( Page references from Hertz Pentateuch)

A. Jewish Prayer is a contradiction
1. First=who are we praying to? To the wall? Is it to an abstract? To a personhood? Depends on our idea of God. Is it to a negative attribute? Ein Sof ( Infinite, distant)? Or “ Rachman”( Merciful and personal)?
2nd -Why pray?  A. Music? East European Chazanut- at its peak- was better than the Opera. Yosele Rosenblatt, Moshe Kousevitsky,  Opera singers Richard Tucker Jan Peerce
b. Nice company?Letter to editor Bintel brief of Der Forwerts. Century ago. Why do you go to shule? Avraham-I go to talk to God. Yitzhak- I go to talk to Avraham! Synagogue- Greek- for Bet Knesset-House of Gathering.
c- Food?- Kiddush,  Oneg Shabbat. Ancient Temple- the people shared their meal with God and with each other. Earliest synagogues were also the local motel for travelers!
d-Intellectual stimulation? Torah reading, drashah. Bet Midrash- House of Study. Shule- from “school”.
e- and for worship-Bet tefilah-House of prayer.

3-What do we pray for? Pray for the stock market, the horse race? How do we know what we are supposed to pray for?
4-Are we commanded to pray? Voo shteyt es geschrieben? Find me the line in the entire Bible where it says you are commanded to pray! ( Implied but not explicit).
5. Why pray at a fixed time? Shacharit, Micha , Maariv.Heschel writes of his coming to Berlin as a young student, an ordained Chasidic Rabbi, who has gone to the realm of the goyim, Berlin, the Berlin of Cabaret and intellect. overwhelmed by the glory of such an intellectual society. Then the sun is setting, and he is broken out of his revelry by the realization that it is time to stop and daven mincha. Was he in the mood? No! Then why daven, why not wait till the mood strikes him. And he realizes that the mood may never strike him if he waits for it, but if he begins to daven, he might come to the mood, to the spirit.
But, Heschel is a Chasid at heart and Chasidic masters never davened on time- Does the Holy One wear a watch?
4. What is the nature of our prayer. All is opposites
Tefilah and Tachanunim. Two opposites.
Tefilah- from root ” pll”- judgement-one is in judgement. One is claiming what is justly his-her? One is putting oneself in judgement before the Holy One. One is critical of one self.
Tachanumin- Just the opposite- from “ Chen”, find favor. A Pleading- My case can’t stand   in court.  judgement has failed- plea for mercy.
Fixed and spontaneous
Tefilah- is “Keva”- Fixed. Before, after meals, Amidah-fixed text. Fixed time- Shacharit, Minha, Maariv. Tachanunim can not be fixed( although it is in the prayerbook)
But, Rabbis say: Do not make your prayer fixed but make it a supplication( tachanunim).( Pirke Avot)
Public and Private- Tzibur and Yachid
Prayer may be said in private. It’s a personal affair. The ancient rabbis would stand in a quiet spot, in front of a wall ( long before The Wall, the Kotel).
Prayer is best said in public- in a Minyan-10.Kaddish, Barchu, Torah reading.
More Polarities
Fear & Anxiety-That motivates tachanunim
But also  Joy & Awe- To some extent- Tefilah (awe),
Two other complimentary dimensions:
Hoda’ah( acknowledgement) Brachah-Hamotzi & Shechechyanu
 and Hodayah( Thanksgiving)- Hallel,

So, let’s look at these issues from the texts- how we started, how we evolved, how we answered these issues in all ages.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Statement of Concern

This past week, we have been collectively thrown into a dizzying whirlwind of activity by the new administration. Part of it is due to the real events, and part of it is due to the way news is reported and reinterpreted, both from left and right.
For that reason, I am posting below, the statement of the Rabbinical Assembly , the authorized Rabbinical organization of the Conservative Movement, this past Sunday in regards to what was reported as a ban on Muslims from entry into the US.In and of itself, it speaks to our concerns.It is similar to statements issued by the Reform and Orthodox rabbinic associations, a rare sign of agreement.

However, it is also true that there was no ban imposed on Muslims as a group.That may have been implied, based on statements by candidate Trump The executive order by President Trump, however,did not make that statement.

The order is a temporary travel ban on travelers from 7 Middle-East countries, and included a temporary halt to refugee admission, and an indefinite halt in accepting refugees from Syria. The ban, as worded, was very disruptive. However, In response to public outcry representatives of both parties, some key disturbing parts of the ban were removed. It is therefore not a blanket ban on Muslims. It targets, for a variety of reasons, countries that are openly hostile to the United States, namely Iran,  or involved in genocide ( Sudan), or in a state of political disarray and under the control, in whole or part, of Iran, ISIS,or Al-Qaeda ( the rest). It appears that this signals a realignment of Middle East policy away from the pro-Iran tilt of the previous administration, and back to the pro-Sunni tilt of all prior administrations.

The order was enacted heavy-handedly and it is of questionable value for the strategic interests of the United States. That said, it is important to note that the ban has been given support by the Chief of Security for Qatar and bythe United Arab Emirates. There are no massive demonstrations in the streets of Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, as far as I know, as there were in the wake of the infamous "Mohamed" video ( when "spontaneous" demonstrations may have been choreographed).

( It did lead to Prime Minister May of the UK calling on Muslim countries to lift their bans on holders of Israeli passports).

The executive order did achieve one thing for sure: it has aroused a sense of fear in many of us that this is but the first sign of an intolerant America. Against this, we need to be constantly vigilant.
It is essential that no ground be ceded on the ideal of an America open to freedom of religious expression by an adherent of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other faith( or no faith).
This ideal was given expression by the first President of the United States, George Washington:
" For happily, the Government of these United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

Notice that emphasis, which we all forget, that we are to all act, in Washington's word,as "good citizens."
I therefore hope and pray that the government take seriously the very values which it is seeking to protect . The text of the executive order blocks "those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including "honor" killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation."(quoted from the actual executive order).

( Since the Russian Duma just made wife-beating a non-criminal offense, maybe Russian visas should be questioned!) 
This must remain a nation that upholds those values.
I am also concerned that this country remain open as a refuge.I say this as one whose entire family was declared " illegal" retroactively by their governments(Polish and German) in the years leading to the Holocaust .I know full well the horrid consequences of the shutting of the doors to Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference by the nations of the world (Jews  were never identified as a terrorist threat.)
We expect that refugees be handled on a merit basis of their likelihood to be persecuted in their land of origin. That includes Yazidis and Assyrian Christians but it also includes Jews in Iran and in Yemen, as well as Sunnis under Shiites and Shiites under Sunnis, as well as people persecuted because of gender or gender-orientation.
( The situation of Jews in Iran is such that Iranian Jewish groups here must keep silent on this in order not to endanger those Jews still in Iran).
We must also be aware that the solution of Syrian refugees will happen only with the resolution of Syria itself ( where we should have established "red lines"and safe zones years ago.) and that the civil wars with ISIS and Al-Qaeda and the like will only be resolved from within those societies.
As Jews, we have additional concerns of anti-Antisemitism in this country, Jews are still the single religious group most targeted by hate acts, based on government data. These hate acts  are by adherents of both left and right extremism.
Just this week, many Jewish Community Centers received threatening calls.…/this-is-what-a-jcc-bomb-threat-sounds-…
Jewish students have been intimidated on UC campuses, to the extent that the Regents had to issue a formal declaration:

Brown-shirt style terrorizing of university campuses by extreme elements of the far left are the result of the same mentality that has spooked our Jewish students on campus.As a veteran of the Hippy-Yippy years, I can attest that our student riots merely helped propel President Nixon to two overwhelming election victories. 
To reiterate, we all need to be vigilant, both as Americans and as Jews, to defend our precious liberties from threat of the alt-right and the alt-left , liberties that we take for granted.
We seek a world in which, in the vision of the prophets,"
Everyone will sit under his or her own vine and own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. ( Micah 4:4)
Text of resolution:
Deeply rooted in our tradition, faith, and values, we are a people of immigrants. Throughout our history we often were the stranger in a strange land and were persecuted and attacked simply for being the other. As Jews, it is not only our religious values that speak to welcoming those who seek shelter and safety, but it is also a pillar of free, democratic nations.
Our religious tradition repeatedly forbids us from oppressing the stranger. For instance, Leviticus 19:34 commands us, 'The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' And Exodus 22:21, 'And you shall not wrong a stranger, neither shall you oppress them; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' It is a betrayal of Jewish history and our own Jewish values to stand quiet as victims of war and terror are left helpless -- especially on the basis of religion.
The protracted war in Syria has created 7 million displaced persons within Syria alone and millions more throughout the Middle East, with refugees escaping through Turkey, the Balkans and Europe. Meanwhile, millions of undocumented immigrants in America live in fear of imprisonment, deportation or worse.
The Conservative movement has continuously and consistently advocated for the rights of immigrants including pathways to citizenship and family reunification as a top priority. We call on the US government to reject policy proposals that would halt, limit, or curtail refugee resettlement in the U.S. or prioritize certain refugees over others; and urge President Trump and the U.S. Congress to instead take bold leadership by providing robust funding to support refugees around the world as well as provide necessary resources to refugees who are already resettled in the U.S.
Most importantly, the Conservative Movement completely rejects the targeting of individuals based on their religion. As Jews, it is an affront to our fundamental values. We are all enriched by the diverse set of experiences that immigrants bring to our society. We see it not only throughout our economy and educational system, but also in our synagogues, camps, schools, and institutions where people of diverse backgrounds, countries of origin and experiences come together to pray to the same God, who sees us all as equals. To do otherwise betrays the Jewish values we find deeply engrained in our faith and history.
Rabbinical Assembly
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
The Jewish Theological Seminary
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Cantors Assembly
Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
Jewish Educators Assembly
Mercaz USA
Women's League for Conservative Judaism