Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for Passover, April 22

Eatin' it all up at TBE's Chocolate Seder!

Happy Passover to everyone in our extended TBE community, from our clergy, staff and lay leadership!

For those of you in college or other exotic places, I'd love to hear about your Seder experiences!

There will be no service here on Friday night of the first Seder.  Festival services on Shabbat and Sunday morningat 9:30.  On Shabbat morning we'll be discussing "How Much of the Seder is Set in Stone?" And on Sunday, in honor of Passover's coinciding with Earth Day this year, we'll look at the newly published "Earth Justice Seder."

Time Lapse Photography

You might recall that last year we began compiling a TBE Passover Family Album, containing photos from your Seders, past and present.  Now we have a chance to add to that album with photos from this year.  This will give us a time-lapse effect, as we watch our families - and by extension our TBE family - continue to grow, from year to year, generation to generation.  Please send me jpeg attachments - or you can upload photos directly to the album.  In our lobby, we are displaying photos from this album, as well as our school and family Passover activities, including the Chocolate Seder, along with the recent Women's Seder.


Jew Belong
If you are looking for some last minute Seder assistance, you can download our Women's Seder Haggadah, our Chocolate Seder Haggadah (great activities for the kids) and my Passover Preparation Guide. Thanks especially to Lisa Gittelman-Udi for her work on the Women's and Chocolate Seder Haggadahs.   I also highly recommend as supplements, the American Jewish World Service Global Justice Haggadah, for a more reflective, holistic approach, one of my favorites isThe Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah; there's even a Jdate Haggadah.  Families with teens can check the Moving Traditionssupplement, from the people who have provided fabulous Rosh Hodesh programming for our teens.

And for someone looking for how to lead a "Kick-Ass Seder" try the Jew Belong Haggadah.  As Rabbi Matt Gewirtz put it, referring to the label, "The name might take you aback at first, but that is part of the point. It is supposed to throw you just enough to make you take a look; to send the overt message that this is not the same old religion with which you grew up. They are encouraging an intriguing, compelling, in-your-face brand of Judaism. It is not about trends, gimmicks or fads. It is about relating to your modern self, engaging you where you are in life and reminding you that meaning is yours to own."
So whatever you do at your Seder, make it relevant!  Make it meaningful!  Make it a night different from all other nights.

The Last Night in Egypt
If you are looking for fodder for Seder discussion, check out these 20 Table Topics for Your Passover Seder, from Jewish Boston.  Or try this challenge from David Arnow:

It's the Israelites' last night in Egypt, the night of the final plague, the slaying of the Egyptian first born. (Note: Sources are divided as to whether this plague targeted only males or included females as well.) When the Egyptians learned about this fearful plague, some Egyptian mothers decided to seek refuge for their firstborn in the houses of Israelites. Imagine the Israelites, sitting safely in their homes, and suddenly there's a knock at the door and an Egyptian mother is pleading for the life of her firstborn.
Should the Israelites take in the Egyptian firstborn?
Read Arnow's response and that of an ancient midrash that he quotes, and discuss what those at your table would have done on that fateful night.  And then reflect on the fact that a family of six from the same war torn region is scheduled to arrive in Stamford next week.

More on Legumes
Everything is coming up Kitniyot!  Suddenly the decision of the Conservative Movement, which I've been discussing in these pages for several weeks, has been discovered b the media and it has shocked the nation.  Who knew a few lentils and beans could cause such a buzz.  On Friday morning - the eve of Passover - at the conclusion of our 7:30 morning minyan, I'll hand out a source sheet on the topic and give you a few insights, so you can sound really, incredibly smart and rabbinic as you expound on kitniyot (a word used for lentils, which comes from the word "small") at your Seders tomorrow night.  That brief study session will also serve as our "Siyum for the First Born."
The Jewish Burka
The "Women of the Wall" prayer group has been planning to stage a first-ever Women's Priestly Blessing at the Kotel this Sunday.  As of this writing, that effort has been stymied by Israel's attorney general; it is on hold, at least for the time being.  While the cause of women's rights has made tremendous strides recently in Israel, the suppression of female voices continues unabated.

The culprit here is a controversial Talmudic concept known as Kol Isha ("A Woman's Voice"), which like many religious restrictions has taken on a life of its own, expanding in scope over the centuries, as female voices have continued to be suppressed and demonized.

There are some justifications for reducing a woman's public role that might have made some sense once upon a time, within the internal logic of a traditional, pre-modern patriarchal society.  Kol isha was never one of them. It was always insidious, inviting suppression and, ultimately and inevitably, harassment and physical abuse.  Once a women becomes an object of scorn, or an object of temptation, or even an object of love - she has become, irrefutably, an object.

The Kol Isha controversy stems from a Talmudic discussion where one rabbi, Samuel, called the voice of a woman ervah, meaning "indecent," "shameful," or "lustful." He was referring to the recitation of the Sh'ma, which was not to be prayed while a woman was singing.  For, as the passage states, "the voice of a woman is indecent" (kol be-ishah ervah) and would be an improper distraction from concentration on holy things.
The idea that an un-muffled female voice can lead men into a state of uncontrollable lust is reprehensible, insulting to both women and men alike.  Are we guys that incapable of keeping our zippers zipped that we have to demand that women keep their lips zipped too?

Natalie Bergner writes on the Women of the Wall website that the Talmudic prohibition flies in the face of biblical precedent; she cites the sensual love poetry of the Song of Songs, and the explicit command from God for Abraham to "listen to the voice of Sarah."
The first wide-ranging halachic prohibition of a woman's singing voice didn't occur until modern times.  In the journal Conservative JudaismEmily Teitz writes that Jewish women's singing voices were in fact heard throughout the Middle Ages, as teachers, entertainers and professional dirge singers, even within the synagogue itself.  Rabbi David Golinkin's responsum on the subject suggests that in the Talmud, Samuel may not have been referring to a woman's singing voice at all.

Golinkin writes:
There is no general prohibition against women singing in classic Jewish law based on the Talmud and subsequent codes and commentaries until the early nineteenth century. The current blanket prohibition accepted by Haredi and some modern Orthodox rabbis was first suggested and rejected by Rabbi Joshua Falk (d. 1614) and was only given as a halakhic ruling by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Hatam Sofer, in the early nineteenth century. However, this opinion is not in agreement with the simple meaning of the dictum by Samuel and with all of the opinions of the Rishonim (renowned rabbinic authorities of the Middle Ages).

The fact that such restrictions have become more pronounced over the past few decades mirrors the increased oppression of women in some quarters of the Muslim and Christian worlds and the increased polarization of American politics on religious grounds.   As feminism has taken hold, the reaction to feminism has been equally strong, pulling society both ways, and pulling hard.

With female cantors and rabbis proliferating in the non-Orthodox world, and even now among the modern Orthodox, there is no turning back on this issue.  My conscience will not allow me to participate in ceremonies that give undue deference to Kol Isha - for instance, purely secular celebrations of Israel where a woman's voice should be heard loud and clear. How absurd it is to hear the songs of Naomi Shemer or the verse of Hanna Senesh having to be sung by a man.

As a committed pluralist, I need to accept that for some Jews - and some iterations of Judaism - halachic justifications for the differentiation between male and female sex roles are internally consistent with an accepted worldview that existed in previous eras, long before feminism.  They were right, perhaps, for their time.  I can accept the fact that when I am praying with an Orthodox minyan, traditional restrictions regarding women will be upheld, mostly for reasons other than Kol Isha.

But we can't allow Kol Isha to expand incrementally as religious restrictions so often do (as we've seen even with the eating of lentils on Passover).  Jewish tradition has no inherent problem with women. The problem isn't Judaism - it's Jews.  And discrimination against women, like all discrimination, is a slippery slope, one that leads to objectification which can lead a culture to condone violence.  We need to go out of our way to reverse the disturbing trends.

Last year, when Israel's new government was sworn in, one Haredi newspaper tried to airbrush women out of the picture completely.  Women, evidently, are meant never to be heard OR seen.

Israel has become ground zero in the battle against the suppression of women's voices. Golinkin cites a 2011 incident when nine observant IDF cadets walked out when a woman began singing a solo.  He concludes that there is "no halakhic justification for anyone walking out when women sing. But even if one accepts the very strict ruling... it is forbidden to walk out in order not to insult the female performers."

At least in Israel, female singers have not been suppressed in major national ceremonies, including the official Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut ceremony on Mount Herzl.  Given current trends, this may not be the case in the near future.
Jeremiah (33:10) prophesied of a time when "the joyous voice of the bridegroom and bride would once again in the streets of Jerusalem."  Evidently that time has not yet come at the Kotel.  Despite the progress we had hoped was being made, female voices of blessing will not be heard at the Western Wall this Passover.

Kol Isha is coming dangerously close to becoming the Jewish burka, a veritable symbol of the subjugation and humiliation of half our population.  We need to reverse this trend, in Israel and in Jewish communities everywhere. The Jewish burka must be eliminated.

It is time to silence Kol Isha.

The Chad Gadya Machine
As we pray for a peaceful Passover everywhere, especially in light of this week's bus bombing in Jerusalem and other terror attacks this month across the globe, here is a classic poem from Yehuda Amichai:

An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Goat On Mount Zion
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

Chad Gadya, that child's song at the end of the Seder, has a very serious side.  The playful ditty traces a cascade of events beginning with a baby goat being devoured by a cat. Each verse adds a link to the chain reaction; a dog comes and bites the cat, a stick beats the dog, fire burns the stick, water puts out the fire ... and on it goes. Each successive verse gets longer until the fable ends in a final saving stroke; God kills the Death Angel.
Chad Gadya has become a modern metaphor, reflecting how utterly hopeless things can seem.  The ending is nice, but with the world utterly destroyed before we get there, of what use is such salvation? 

The great Israeli singer Chava Alberstein wrote her own version of the song in 1989a time when the Israeli army was in Lebanon and the first Palestinian uprising had begun only months before.  After opening with the traditional Aramaic lyrics, the words of the song turned to the relationship between oppressor and oppressed, with Alberstein stating: "What has changed [mah nishtana]?" - "I have changed this year."
The song was quickly barred from broadcast on the government-controlled airways, but public pressure ultimately caused the ban to be lifted. Now it's a fixture on the play lists during the pre-Pesach period in Israel.
You can see hear it below:

Our father went to market and bought a little goat
For two bits, for two bits
This is how the traditional story goes...
The cat came along and ate the kid
A small kid, a white kid that our father bought
Why are you singing this traditional song?
It's not yet spring and Passover's not here.
And what has changed for you? What has changed?
I have changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:
How long will the cycle last?
How long will the cycle of violence last?

The chased and the chaser
The beaten and the beater
When will all this madness end?
I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep
Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf.
I used to be a dove and I used to be a deer,
Today I don't know who I am anymore.
Deezvan abba beetray zuzay...
And we start all over again
Now hear Alberstein's version, but this time sung in Arabic and Hebrew by a combined Jewish-Arab choir from Jaffa.

When you watch this video, just uploaded last month, suddenly the Chad Gadya machine doesn't seem nearly so imposing.  Maybe we can somehow manage to extricate ourselves from its wheels.  There may be hope yet!

Happy Passover!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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