Sunday, October 23, 2011

Harold Camping, Shemini ‘Aṣereth, and heretics who do do not know enough to copy a text straight

Jewish date:  26 Tishri 5772 (evening) (Parashath Noaḥ).

Today’s holidays:  Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Bobby London (Church of the SubGenius).


This is going to be a variety of things.

1) You may remember that Protestant minister Harold Camping predicted that the world as we know it would end on May 21, 2011 (noted in “Mark your calendars for the Rapture, but don’t hold your breath”, “The Rapture and soft maṣṣah”, and “The Rapture and Pesaḥ preparation”), which of course failed to happen.  Well, Camping came up with a new prediction after that that the world as we know it would end on October 21, 2011.  Unless this blog post is a figment of your imagination, this did not happen.  Details can be found at “Oct. 21 'Doomsday' So Far Pretty Quiet” and “Radio prophet gone from airwaves on new Judgment Day eve”.  I hope he will figure out his system does not have good predictive power and quit, but I am not that optimistic.

2) Shemini ‘Aṣereth/Simḥath Torah:  I spent a lot of Sukkoth sick and under self-imposed quarantine in my apartment.  This naturally limited what I could see people do.  I did get out before Shemini ‘Aṣereth/Simḥath Torah (I went to see a doctor and found I was not infectious), so I can report what happened then.  Simḥath Torah is distinguished by the haqqafoth ritual, in which the Torah scrolls are carried around the reading table seven times (nominally, practically much more than this) with singing and dancing to celebrate the end of the annual reading cycle and the start of the new one.  Unhappily for me, the disease I have is a respiratory infection, which made singing for me unrealistic.  Good thing that there were a lot of other people there to take care of that.  Dancing was somewhat more limited than what I am used to.  The synagogue I currently attend for Shabbath and holidays meets in trailers, as their permanent location is currently under construction; this results in crowding even under ordinary conditions.  On Simḥath Torah, this resulted in slower dancing and fewer fancy moves than there might have otherwise been in order to avoid collisions.  Haqqafofth also have a tendency to go on for extended periods of time, which prompted my synagogue to do some creative scheduling.  At night, dinner was served at the synagogue right after services, thus avoiding any delay from people having to go home and get everything ready.  In the morning, qiddush was held at the synagogue between the Torah reading and yizkor (the memorial prayer for the dead), avoiding the need for anyone to wait until a few hours into the afternoon to eat.  There is also the practice of calling up all men to read from the Torah on Simḥath Torah; at first I thought they were skipping this practice entirely, but they placed it at the very end of the services.  This is the first time I have ever heard of such a practice.  I heard mention of secondary haqqafoth being done elsewhere; even though I had not heard of that practice, due to my condition, I declined to investigate it.  Maybe next year.

I have put my willow and myrtle branches into a vase with water in the hopes of growing them.  The willow seem to have grown the beginnings of roots.  I also hope to grow trees from the seeds in my citron, but I plan to wait for it to fully ripen first.  I have no hope for growing anything from the palm frond.

This wraps it up for the Tishri holidays.  The next holiday, other than the monthly Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (new moon) is the very recent Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day, which I am eager to find out if anyone really pays any attention to and why.  (Really.  The man committed treason by enabling the enemies of Israel and ignoring that said enemies had no real interest in making peace.  That, if anything is a reason not to dedicate a holiday to him, even if he did get assassinated.)

3) Every year, observant Jews are expected to read through the entire Torah three times, twice in the original Hebrew and once in a language they understand, usually Aramaic.  They also commonly read commentaries on the Torah as well; this year I have chosen to read the classic Hertz’s Ḥummash (Hertz, J. H., ed. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary. London: Defus d’universitah Oxford, 1929-1936. 2nd ed. London: Soncino Press, 1961. Print.) and, since I have this thing about religious fallacies and misinformation, a heretical (“Conservative”) commentary (Lieber, David L., and Jules. Harlow. Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. Travel-size ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Print.).  To be sure, reading a “Conservative” commentary which makes it clear in the introductions that the people who put it together do not believe in Judaism in the traditional sense of the term is annoying.  But what is more annoying than the commentary is the text of the Torah printed above the commentary.  Why?  Because they dared change the text.  I am well aware that annotations have been added to the printed text of the Torah due to the script being defective.  But the heretics decided that certain passages (Genesis 2:23; 3:14-16; 3:17-19; 4:6-7; 4:23-24; 7:11 in my reading so far, not to mention the entire hafṭarah for Parashath Bere’shith) are poetry, and so they took the liberty of taking liberties with the spacing of the text to show off the poetriness.  This is a direct violation of a great unwritten rule:


Because these idiots have reformatted the text as poetry, some reader who is not so well-informed on the history of the formatting of the Hebrew Bible may get the wrong impression that the poetic formatting is actually part of the text and impose an interpretation which may not be correct.  Good going, heretics.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yom Kippur and Sukkoth

Jewish date:  20 Tishri 5772 (Parashath Bere’shith).

Today’s holidays:  Sukkoth (Judaism), Feast Day of Luke the Evangalist (Christianity), Feast Day of St. Richelieu (Church of the SubGenius).


This is not the best of times for me to be posting.  I have been noticeably sick (fever, coughing, questionable temperature sensations, lethargy, lack of appetite) since Saturday night.  For the sake of avoiding passing on the disease to someone else, I have stayed inside my apartment since then.  The only reason I was able to post anything on my other blog on Sunday was that I had written the post already.  I am doing better now, though still not fully recovered yet.  Being sick not been good for my Divine Misconceptions-related activities.  I had hoped to visit the Temple Mount as far back as Sunday—and have fun leading the police officer and Waqf official following me over big piles of rubble in the name of creative interpretation of civil disobedience—and at this point I do not realistically expect to be able to do so until next Sunday.  My condition has also made writing unrealistic.  (There is recent material by creationists I have felt needs criticism, and my writing the criticism is going to have to wait a while longer.)  At the moment, I do feel up to reporting a bit about Yom Kippur and Sukkoth in Israel.

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement):  Largely the same as Ro’sh hashShanah, except a lot of fasting.  Unlike other fast days, spending all day at home is usually not an option.  Since no one (except minors and those medically unable to fast) has any meals to go to, there is no push to keep the services short, and thus they can stretch to fill the entire day.  We only got about an hour’s break between musaf and minḥah.  It also can be very tiring.

Sukkoth (Tabernacles):  I have heard mention of the practice of starting to build the sukkah (a ritually prescribed booth to dwell in during Sukkoth) at night right after Yom Kippur.  My landlord actually did so.  There is also an older practice of using actual fruit to decorate the sukkah.  (Most people these days use plastic fruit.)  My landlord has bunches of real dates hanging in and outside of his.

Sukkah decorations vary a lot, depending on the tastes of the owners of the sukkah.  Two I have seen so far have had mirrored balls in them, ones that would look quite normal on a Christmas tree.  These made me think rather of some pictures by M. C. Escher, such as this one:

I rather like the idea an Escher-inspired sukkah and based on this may eventually make a go at it myself.  Though reproducing certain aspects of his work may prove challenging.  I do think this image may be somewhat doable if executed correctly:

OK, off the creative goofiness and on to other things.

In the United States, one normally acquires the ’arba‘ minim (four species:  palm, willow, myrtle, and citron, which get ritually waved) through a synagogue, except maybe in New York City.  I expected to get them from someone sitting out front of the synagogue, as people had done before for other religious purposes, such as selling scrolls of Esther and checking tefillin.  I ended up buying mine from a group who had a kid hand out advertisements.  There were other such advertisements posted, and the alternative would have been to walk into Bene Beraq, where I had already seen some people trying to sell ’ethroghim (citrons) for outrageous prices.  (See the Israeli movie Ha’Ushpizin, which features a 1,000 NIS ’ethrogh.  None of the ones I saw were quite that expensive, but there is some truth to the premise.)  The set of ’arba‘ minim I got was actually good quality, but with one flaw:  usually one also receives a holder for the palm, myrtle, and willow woven out of pieces of palm frond to make the assemblage easier to handle—and somehow I did not realize I had not gotten one until too late.  This does not invalidate the ritual waving in any way, but it is not ideal, and I have been practically paranoid about trying not to accidentally strip leaves off the willow and myrtle.  Also, waving the four species in an apartment dominated by bookshelves (such as mine) without hitting anything is rather tricky.

In the old days, new moons were declared by a special committee, and people in the Diaspora often had to wait for days to find out when the new moon had been.  As a result, many critical holidays were celebrated for an extra day due to doubt on when they actually were.  When the fixed calendar was instituted—thanks to the Roman persecutions making it necessary—the extra days continued to be observed except for Yom Kippur.  (The reason I was told was that people liked having an extra day off and refused to give up the extra days.)  For liturgical purposes, observing the extra days can make a mess of things, as the original doubt is not implemented uniformly.  Pesaḥ (Passover) and Sukkoth are divided into two parts, yom ṭov (the festival proper, on the first and last days) and ḥol hammo‘edh (intermediate days of lesser holiness).  In the Diaspora, the second days of Pesaḥ and Sukkoth are treated as if they were yom ṭov in every respect, which means the technically correct prayers for ḥol hammo‘edh are not said at all.  On Sukkoth specifically, things are worse.  In the musaf prayer, the special sacrifices for that day are recounted, and since different sacrifices are to be brought on every single day of Sukkoth, not only are the wrong sacrifices specified for the second day, but an attempt to compensate by doubling up the sacrificial readings is made on the following days.  It gets even weirder on the eighth day, the semi-independent festival of Shemini ‘Aṣereth (Eighth Day of Assembly).  Unlike the last day of Pesaḥ, it does get treated a bit as doubtfully ḥol hammo‘edh, with (some) people eating and sleeping in the sukkah.  However, due to the extra day added on to the holiday, there is an awkward second eighth day, which to make things a bit less confusing gets dubbed Simḥath Torah (“the joy of the Torah”) and which marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah.  Here in Israel, we have none of this weirdness of extra doubtful days, and the liturgy makes a lot more sense.

I think that will be all for now.  Peace.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seliḥoth, Ro’sh hashShanah, and Fast of Gedhalyah

Jewish date:  7 Tishri 5772 (evening).

Today’s holidays:  The Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Feast Day of Francis of Assisi (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Buster Keaton (Church of the SubGenius).


It has been too long since I last posted.  For one thing, I have been busy with work, trying to get a paper to first draft stage, which helped tire me out.  For another, the previous month on the Jewish calendar, ’Elul, and the current one, Tishri, are themselves very good for tiring people out.  ’Elul is the season to prepare for Tishri and hence given over for repentance.  ’Elul also has a set of penitential prayers known as seliḥoth which are said either late at night or early in the morning.  How long selihḥoth are said varies by ethnic group; Sefaradhim (Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain and Portugal) and ‘Edhuth hamMizraḥ (Middle Eastern Jews) say seliḥoth all of ’Elul, while ’Ashkenazim (Mid- and Eastern European Jews) (such as myself) begin the week before Ro’sh hashShanah.  Even though, seliḥoth do not do a lot of good for getting a good night’s sleep.  And this problem has not ended yet, since seliḥoth are said until Yom Kippur.  So I am feeling somewhat zombie-like and expect to be this way for the rest of the week.  (Yom Kippur is this Saturday.)

OK, let’s try to say something meaningful about ’Elul and Tishri in Israel.  I hope this turns out somewhat intelligible, but considering my condition, if anyone needs translation or further explanation, feel free to ask.

Seliḥoth:  I pray according to the Lithuanian rite, or more precisely, (largely) according to the rite of the Ga’on Rav ’Eliyyahu of Vilna.  The synagogue I pray morning services at during the week does seliḥoth according to the Polish rite.  Ordinarily variations in ’Ashkenazi rites are not large, but the people in Poland included a somewhat different set of liturgical poetry among the seliḥoth, enough that I have found myself losing track of where we were in those early morning prayers.

Advertising:  Muted, as all the Jewish holiday advertising I have seen already.

Ro’sh hashShanah:  On Shabbath and major holidays, I pray in a synagogue known for two things:  1) a musical style of prayer pioneered by Rav Shelomoh Carlebach, taken to the point where I have compared praying there to being in a musical, and 2) being crowded on Shabbath and major holidays.  (People who come late have to stand for the entire service).  Ro’sh hashShanah prayers everywhere tend to be more musical than normal, so there the difference was not so great.  The level of crowding, which everywhere tends to be bad on Ro’sh hashShanah, was worse than normal, with extremely little space available even for people willing to stand the entire service.  I sat in the back next to the partition between the men and women’s sections, and I was pressed for space enough that my left shoulder hurt.  During the musaf service, when we are supposed to prostrate ourselves on the floor, I only had room to crouch.

There are a lot of nice people in the community, and a local rav usually arranges for places for me to eat on Shabbath and major holidays.  (I am relatively new here, single, and without family in the area.  Eating alone on holy days is not ideal or fun.)  At dinner on Ro’sh hashShanah symbolic foods are eaten; this is a sort of prayer through action, though the symbolism is often based on puns which are quite untranslatable.  One of the more translatable symbolic foods is the eating of the head of a fish or mammal.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be to the head and not to the tail.”)  Among various other symbolic foods, on the first night we were actually served a fish head.  I found it too repulsive to eat any of it.  (And I watched a sheep get slaughtered without fainting or reverse peristalsis.  Go figure.)  Though I have often heard about the custom of eating a head on Ro’sh hashShanah, this is only the second time I have actually seen it practiced.  (The first time was years ago at Yeshiva University, where someone in the cafeteria had somehow gotten his hands on half of a sheep skull with some meat still on it.)

Another symbolic food, one much more commonly consumed, is pomegranate seeds.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be as full of miṣwoth as a pomegranate.”)  On the second night of Ro’sh hashShanah, I was at a communal dinner, and a number of the participants brought pomegranate seeds.  While many of these came from pomegranates purchased intact, there was also there a packet of pomegranate seeds without the rest of pomegranate around them.  This, I presume, was an attempt by someone to make a quick buck (or in this case, a quick sheqel) from people who are too lazy to remove the seeds from a pomegranate themselves.  I would like to note that as far as harnessing laziness for profit goes, this was a failure.  The pomegranate seeds which came packaged inside a pomegranate tasted better than the ones packaged in plastic.  The inclusion on a small black plastic spork with the pomegranateless pomegranate seeds, presumably to get them out of the package, did absolutely nothing to improve the taste or their convenience.

The Fast of Gedhalyah:  Nothing particularly unusual.  Then again, I spent most of the day in my apartment to avoid overheating.

Rain:  The Jewish liturgy includes praying for rain in the winter, but not in the summer.  This accurately reflects the climate in Israel.  We have not had rain all summer, and only recently did we get any again.

I think that’s about all I can produce right now.  Oh, and in the spirit of the season, I extend forgiveness for all those who have inadvertently sinned against me.

May you all be written for a sweet year.