Category Archives: Religion

Proverbs 24

As I said referencing
Arafat back in November of 2004
and Oral Roberts in December of 2009

בנפל אויבך אל תשמח ובכשלו אל יגל לבך
If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice.
Proverbs 24:17.

And also:

Say unto them: As I live, saith the L-rd G-D, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Ezekiel 33:11

The death of anyone is not cause for joy.

I think it is OK for one to be relieved that someone has been ‘brought to justice,’ if those are terms you’d use, and you feel death is justice.

anti-evolution legislation

Some in the Missouri Legislature are once again trying to pass anti-evolution legislation. A similar bill died in 2010 without ever being even assigned to committee. So perhaps the chances are good that this time it will die similarly. Though I fear the election last November tilted the state legislature even more to the right.

I used to create comics under the title “Make Louvre (Not War)” using public domain artwork.

Here are some of these comics from 2003 when Holt Rinehart and Winston edited their textbooks.

Artwork Credits:

* Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) – Children Playing at the Beach
* Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) — from How the Rhinoceros Got his Skin

Artwork Credits:

* Winslow Homer (1836-1910) — The Blackboard
* Photograph of the artist as a young man
* Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) – Children Playing at the Beach


So, I’m taking an intro to Judaism class with Jenifer

Last night was our third session, and the Rabbi was illustrating oral tradition with an old fashioned game of telephone. With 15 students, he whispered to student one, “Star Wars was the best movie ever.” By the time it reached the end of the line, “Star Trek was the best movie ever.”

He declared that it was the first time he had ever done the experiment that he came across a ‘heretic’ that intentionally changed the message. First time he’s dealt with me.

[What does this mean for the accuracy of the oral tradition? I’ll let you decide that.]

Where Were You?

Above we have the video of one of the stranger questions/answers from the hearings concerning Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan.

The Question

Senator Lindsay Graham (R), US Senator from South Carolina since 2002, and a member of the Corinth Baptist Church. according to the bio on his Senate website, asked Elena Kagan, Supreme Court Nominee, where she was on Christmas Day 2009. (When the Christmas Bomber struck.)

No, I don’t believe he was asking for an alibi. Though his motivations are suspect. It’s hard to come up with a logical rationale to ask that question of a nominee. Possibilities.

1) Reminding everyone that she is Jewish.

Sen. Graham isn’t going to outright say “Hey everyone, she’s Jewish, don’t vote for her because of that.” He’s not stupid. However, there has been some commentary that with her selection, there would no longer be a White Anglo Saxon Protestant male on the court. Of course, due to her being chosen by a Democratic president, it is the Republicans who are coming up with reasons not to select her, and that puts them in an interesting position if they argue this is a problem. The conservative position is generally speaking that quotas are bad. That selecting someone just because they are this or that in order to create a ‘diverse’ atmosphere is equivalent to discrimination.

They were horrified at the suggestion that Sonia Sotomayor’s different perspective, because she was Hispanic, would be beneficial to the court. So it’s hard for them to argue that a Protestant Perspective is necessary. Are they really going to argue that we need a justice who can show empathy for the Protestant world view?

From the other side — I don’t believe I’m being hypocritical. I do believe diversity is helpful, but I don’t think religious diversity is necessary. Or at least, not the religious diversity under discussion. The differences between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths — when looking at world perspective – are likely minor when compared to differences based on gender and ethnicity. However, if there were an alternative, equally qualified, who was an adherent to Hinduism, Buddhism, or a Native American faith, I would encourage their selection. They would, of course, need to be qualified for the position. But all other things being equal, a different perspective of that nature may well be beneficial to the Court.

2) A suggestion that she is Less American because she doesn’t observe Christmas

If he had asked her where she was on July 4, 2009, the implication wouldn’t be considered veiled. It would be construed as a direct accusation of lack of patriotism unless she was able to say she was celebrating Independence Day in some fashion.

Since he was tying the question in with the “Christmas Bomber” – did he intend to suggest she was less patriotic – perhaps even treasonous – because she didn’t observe Christmas?

3) An attempt to get Kagan to respond in an emotional manner. (see below.)

The Answer

Elena Kagan responded with an old quip that like most Jews, she was at a Chinese restaurant. The Jewish attraction to Chinese food is an oft-told Jewish joke that I think has its origins in New York City and its heavy immigrant populations. I do enjoy Asian food, though I prefer the spicier Thai dishes than the generally milder Chinese ones. For similar reasons I like Mexican and Indian foods. Some like it hotter than hot.

This led to some commentary that in case she didn’t get selected, she had a career on the Borscht Belt. As the Wikipedia article states, the Borscht Belt doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s about as old and as outdated as her joke.

But the comparison that came to my mind is the old mentality that the best response to racism in the workplace, for an African American, is to laugh, tell a joke, and dance a jig. Getting angry, and calling the person a bigot, doesn’t get you anywhere. Whether or not they are a bigot is irrelevant. Like when you’re in the presence of a wild animal, it’s best not to show fear, it’s best not to show anger.

And from that perspective, Elena Kagan responded to the situation perfectly.

Time to Quote Proverbs 24 again

As I said referencing Arafat back in November of 2004

בנפל אויבך אל תשמח ובכשלו אל יגל לבך
If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice.
Proverbs 24:17.

I never really considered Oral Roberts an ‘enemy’, per se, but the quote is still appropriate.

The death of anyone is not cause for joy. My condolences to his family, friends, and followers.

On the Eighth day of Hanuka

On the Eighth day of Hanuka YouTube gave to me eight nights of presents

Eight Crazy Nights! What would a YouTube Hanuka be without Adam Sandler?

But did you know there was an Aussie Punk version?

And what would a discussion of ????? be without even a brief mention of the giving of presents?

As much as some do try to argue that there are traditional reasons why a family might exchange presents on the Jewish holiday – it is a festive occasion – the primary reason it is done is so the child doesn’t feel ‘left out’. One solution is to exchange presents on December 25th. That preserves the Jewish holiday to be celebrated with the appropriate traditions. Some consider this ‘giving in’ and since Hanukkah is about resisting forced assimilation, they do their best to resist. Are there any other choices?

This isn’t the best time to be providing options — everyone for this year has already made a decision — but there is always next year. Presents can be exchanged on any day of the year.

New Years used to be a traditional day for Christians to exchange presents. Most Jewish Americans celebrate New Years even though it’s the ‘Christian Calendar’, because it is also the secular calendar. If you asked me what day it is, I would tell you it is December 12th. I could tell you that with a second’s thought. I’d have to look up the day on the Hebrew calendar. (Thankfully, now my blog is a place to go for that.) I will be at a New Years Eve party getting sloshed this year, like most years. I don’t think this is unusual, but I have never lived in an Orthodox home, so I can’t say for sure.

In a novel I began writing several years ago I had a family come up with a somewhat more unusual solution. I’m not sure the novel will ever be finished, so I might as well release the idea here. It works best with a family of at least two children.

1) Presents can be given any day of the month of December.
2) The gift giving is anonymous. The person giving the gift doesn’t sign their name to it. Leaves it where the receiver will find it, and know it is for them. This can be accomplished with pre-generated name stickers (so handwriting isn’t detectable) – or just leaving it on the individual’s bed, assigned chair at the dining room table, etc.

The smaller the family the more likely it is the children will be able to figure out who gave what, but if multiple smaller gifts are exchanged, or if extended family like aunts, uncles, cousins are brought into it, it will become more difficult. However, the point is to teach them the pleasures of giving for the sake of giving, without expecting any thanks in return. The ‘third’ rung on Maimonides ladder. Giving gifts to friends and relatives isn’t the same thing as giving tzedakkah (charity), but there is enough of a parallel. And by making the giving into a game, the giving becomes just as fun for the child as the getting.

At least, that’s the idea. I don’t know if it’s a good one. It hasn’t been tried to my knowledge. You’re free to try it next year. If you do, let me know how it works out.

On the seventh day of Hanukka

On the seventh day of Hanukka YouTube gave to me seven sons refusing

The video above is of the song, Who Can Retell which is probably the second most common religious song sung on Hanukka (second to Maoz Tzur). It contains the lyrics, “in every age a hero or sage came to our aid.” Many would label Judah Maccabee and his followers as the heroes of the Hanukka story. However, there are eight other heroes who occasionally get short shrift: Hannah and her seven sons. Her sons are known, not for what they did, but for what they refused to do, and at what cost.

There are two versions, however. In one version they are commanded by Antiochus to eat pork, and they refuse, one by one, eldest to youngest, each seeing their brother die for his refusal. In another version, they refuse to bow down.

The difference is important, because all but three of the 613 commandments are breakable “to save a life.” The three unbreakable commandments are 1) Murder. No one but G-d has a right to decide who should live and who should die. So killing one person so another can live isn’t permissible. This, of course, doesn’t include self-defense. Self-defense isn’t murder, and isn’t considered a violation of a commandment. However, this does include suicide. Killing yourself so someone else can live is deciding their life is more important than your own. Virtuous in some religions, this is viewed as usurping G-d’s role. 2) Biblically prohibited sexual relations. (There is some disagreement between branches of Judaism on which these are.) 3) Idolatry. (more)

The kosher dietary laws aren’t in that list of three. So if Antiochus commanded the children to ‘merely’ eat pork, shouldn’t they have done so to save their life? The answer is that some feel when the entire religious community is threatened, instead of just one individual, it becomes admirable to refuse to break any commandment. It’s the only time that martyrdom is actually encouraged.

Here’s a short poem I wrote about fifteen years ago, and which appeared in an early chapbook:

inferiority complex

Hannah’s seven sons sacrificed their lives
refusing to bow down
to King Antiochus.

Surrounded by the Romans nine hundred and sixty
men women and children ended their own lives
on Mount Masada.

I meanwhile have difficulty getting to the synagogue
more than two or three times a year and the dietary laws
are inconvenient.

On the Sixth day of Januca

On the Sixth Day of Januca YouTube gave to me six muppets singing

Notes: The video actually contains four songs. The first one is six muppets singing about “What Do You Do with a Menorah?” This song is followed by “Latke Boogie Woogie” and “Spinderella”. In these two songs a few other muppets make an appearance. The original six do make a reappearance at the end in “Chanukah Blessing & Round.”

All four songs are really cute, and should be fun for kids. For a holiday without any ‘carols’ I’ve sure found a lot of fun songs on YouTube. t I wish they had existed when I was a kid. Or I wish I had known about them.

As near as I can tell from my internet research, ‘Janucá‘ isn’t just a possible Spanish spelling, it is the common Spanish spelling.

For those who may be worried…the end is in sight. I’ve picked out the videos for the last two days already. The notes could get long on both.

On the Fifth day of Khanike

On the Fifth day of Khanike YouTube gave to me five golden rings five torah books.

Notes: First, the spelling in the header may look real unusual, and you may think I made it up, but it is the spelling that the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came up with as the ‘standard’ transliteration for the Yiddish and Ashkenazic pronunciation of the holiday.

Second, I decided that today would be where the two holiday songs briefly merged. The one I am composing, if you will, and the original Christmas version. Because the Twelve Days of Christmas, as a song, may have a history that resembles some of Khanike’s traditions. Some say it originated in 16th century England during religious persecution as a sort of mnemonic device to teach catechism. (Others argue there is no hard evidence for this.) This is similar to the popular story that the dreidel originated in ancient times when the Syrian Greeks forbade the study of Torah. Alas, this origin story has been refuted as well.

The Five Gold Rings in the 12 Days of Christmas are supposed to represent the Five Books of Moses — which is the Torah. Khanike doesn’t appear in the Torah, it appears in the Book of Maccabees. (There is only one Book of Maccabees in the Jewish scriptures. Some non-Jewish scriptures have a second one.) This is why Khanike is considered a ‘minor’ holiday to some. Not minor in its importance, but since there are no Torah commandments relating to it, there are no required observances. One of the 613 commandments is that no additional commandments be written. So any holiday that commemorates events that occurred after the events in the Torah have no required observances/rituals associated with them. There are traditions, but that’s different. So there’s no requirement to rest from work, or to go to the synagogue during the eight days, except of course there is a requirement to rest from work on the Sabbath, and there is always at least one of those during any 8 days.

While Khanike isn’t in the Torah, the Torah is certainly important to Khanike, as the holiday centers around freedom to practice one’s religion.

The video choice contains the Miami Boys Choir singing a medley of two Khanike blessings, and three songs. It includes Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), which is probably the most popular religious song for Khanike. You can find several videos of different choirs singing this song, but I chose the Miami Boys Choir video for two reasons. 1) I felt the voices of the children were more uplifting then the voices of the adults in most of the other videos. 2) The song is completely in Hebrew in all versions, but this is the only video I saw that has subtitles, and I know a lot of my readers don’t understand Hebrew.

On the Fourth day of Hannukah

On the fourth day of Hannukah YouTube gave to me: Four dreidel sides

(three folk stars, two BNLs, and a lesson in the spelling)

Notes: A dreidel is a spinning top with four sides. Here’s what I wrote about dreidels three years ago. Contains variants on the game to balance out the odds, as well as ‘adult’ variants. Also explains what the Hebrew letters on the dreidel mean.

The video above is ‘interesting’ in that it’s a guy singing about playing with his dreidel all day long. And it never shows us a picture of what his dreidel looks like. If your mind is like mine, the song is hilarious.