Shtisel – A Netflix series worth watching

Netflix’s Shtisel (created by Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky) is a two-season series telling the story of an extended Haredi family living in present-day ultra-Orthodox Geula, a neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem. In Hebrew and Yiddish with English subtitles (the Hebrew is not always accurate as it glosses over religious expressions in a truncated English translation), we watch as life unfolds for the 63 year-old widower and patriarch of his family Shulem Shtisel, his 89 year-old mother who lives in assisted living and is “corrupted” (per Haredi values) by and addicted to her television set, Shulem’s older brother Nukhem who has financial woes and his 23 year-old unmarried daughter Libi who live in Belgium but come to Jerusalem to get a loan from Shulem and find a kosher husband for Libi, Shulem’s 5 children and their spouses with a wide variety of strengths and problems, and his twelve grandchildren the oldest of whom (15 year-old Nuchama) takes care of her younger siblings when her mother Giti struggles to make a living after her husband Lipa abandons her and their children on a business trip to Argentina. Lipa returns and begs forgiveness and they reconcile over the course of the two seasons.

For my complete review, see my Blog at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shtisel-a-netflix-series-worth-watching/

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“Make for me a Sanctuary that I may dwell within them” – Parashat T’rumah

The Mishkan (i.e. Tabernacle) was a physical manifestation of God’s presence on earth as designed and built by human hands, just as the created world (through the twenty-two letters of the aleph-bet) is an emanation of Divine thought into the creation of the universe. In each case, the same verb asah (make) appears in the Biblical text. There being nothing of coincidence in the Hebrew Bible, the rabbis concluded that there was a direct correlation between the creation of the world by God and the creation of the Mishkan by the ancient Israelites.

For my full d’var Torah, please see my Blog at the Times of Israel at  https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/make-for-me-a-sanctuary-that-i-may-dwell-within-them-parashat-terumah/ .

The Super Bowl – a reflection of a violent America

Watching the Super Bowl, likely the last time I do so, I felt alienated from my own country for the Super Bowl and football generally present a world that is contrary to my Jewish values.

To understand why, go to my Blog at the Times of Israel –  https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-super-bowl-a-reflection-of-a-violent-america/

 

Jewish myopia in a perfect storm of anti-Semitism – As hatred blows in from all directions, some Jews are in denial, while Israel makes common cause with bigots

This Times of Israel blog by Deborah Lipstadt is must-read for any Jew and liberal who thinks that antisemitism comes only from the right-wing in American politics and from a bunch of insignificant crazies in Europe. Not so, Deborah states – and she is right.

Just yesterday, I met with a young Polish Jewish woman who told me that antisemitism in her native Poland is today similar to what it was like before World War II.

We Jews cannot bury our heads in the sand, but we also have to be careful to distinguish, as Deborah does, the difference between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies vis a vis the occupation of the West Bank and antisemitism. It is anti-Semitic if a critic of Israel goes so far as to say that the Jewish people do not have the right to a state of our own or that the State of Israel is not legitimate.

Read Deborah’s article and pass it around. It has already gone viral at the Times of Israel Blog

https://bit.ly/2MH54Y8

If Howard Schultz runs as an independent for President, a national boycott of Starbucks ought to be the consequence

Howard Schultz, should he run for President as an Independent, would likely take more Democratic votes away from the Democratic nominee than from the Republican Trump, and that could be the difference that elects Donald Trump to a second term.

Schultz should run, if he wants, as a Democrat. That he wants to do so as an Independent is not only self-centered and likely to be a failure (no Independent candidate has ever won for President including Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 – remember John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992), but it’s a cowardly act because, in my view, it seems that he doesn’t want to run competitively in the primaries against other far more politically experienced than him, despite running an international company with a strong concern for ethics and fair treatment of employees.

I hope that Schultz decides to drop this potentially disastrous run and do the responsible thing – step aside altogether or run as a Democrat in the primaries just like the 20 or so other potential candidates will do.

If he runs as an Independent, I will never step foot in a Starbucks again – and neither should any of us because we will likely be able to blame him for a 2nd Trump term!

The Aleph is the first letter of the Ten Words – Parashat Yitro

The first letter of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet and the the first letter in the first word of the Ten Commandments (lit. “words” – aseret ha-d’varim) is the Aleph (Exodus 20:1).

Commentators find deep meaning in the form and construction of the Aleph. It is made of two yuds, one pointing up (i.e. towards heaven) and the other pointing down (towards earth). The connector between these two yuds is a vav (the sixth letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet). The gematria (the number equivalent for the letters of the aleph-bet) of the three letters yud + yud + vav (10 + 10 + 6) equals 26. 26 is the number equivalent as well for the holiest Hebrew Name of God, known as the four-letter tetragrammaton (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh — 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26). Therefore, the number equivalent of the three internal letters that form the Aleph carries the same number equivalent as the holiest four-letter name of God.

The upper Yud of the aleph represents the absolute and transcendent realm of God. The lower Yud represents the corporeal and physical world of humankind. Moses’ role as  chief among the prophets is represented by the Vav which connects the lower Yud of humankind and the upper Yud of God. Moses therefore connects the lower and upper worlds, the transcendence immanence of God, the spiritual and metaphysical realm as opposed to the material and the physical world.

The number equivalence of the Hebrew vav (6), represents the six directions (north, south, east, west, heaven, and earth) signifying God’s ever-presence.

Thus, in the letter Aleph is the intimation of God’s unity with creation, the joining of the implicate and the physical, the merging of the world to come and the world that is, God’s pathos and Moses’ prophetic empathy.

Sources: I am grateful to Reuven Matheison and his article “The Inner Meaning of the Hebrew Letters” from Visions of the Psalms Through the Gate of Colors, by Moshe Tzvi HaLEvi Berger, p. xix. I am grateful also for the notes of the artist, Moshe Tzvi Berger whose primary sources were The Hebrew Letters by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg; Sparks of the Holy Tongue, by Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson; and Secret of the Holy Letters, by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (z’l)

 

Hearing God at Sinai again – Parashat Yitro

This week is the 5th Torah portion in the Book of Exodus – Parashat Yitro – in which the Ten Words are uttered, inscribed in the tablets of the law, and brought down from Sinai by the prophet Moses to the people of Israel. As we consider this singular event in the history of Judaism and western religion, it’s worth our while to pause for a moment to consider the nature of the first and most transformative event in Moses’ life.

He was in Midian tending sheep when he came upon a bush that burned unconsumed. The sight of it was so unusual that Moses stopped to ponder the miracle. Then he heard God’s voice charging him to go to Pharaoh and free the Hebrew slaves and take them out of Egypt.

The portion begins by telling us about Jethro, a Midianite Priest and Moses’ father-in law, who rabbinic commentators suggest enjoyed a close mentor/mentee relationship together.

The Torah describes how Jethro taught Moses to govern the people – to delegate and decentralize, to appoint judges and give up control over smaller cases, to allow others to act, judge and lead, to relinquish many of the burdens he carried as prophet, judge, and military chieftain.

Moses did as Jethro advised and we might imagine that Moses became calmer, more intentional and self-reflective. In this relaxed state Moses could heard God’s voice – not as an audible sound but as an intuitive quiet murmuring sound, much like the sound that breath makes as it passes through the lips, like Elijah’s kol d’mama daka, the voice of conscience.

One commentary notes that we can read “Mi chamocha ba-eilim Adonai – Who is like you, Adonai, among the mighty?” another way – as “Mi chamocha ba-ilmim Adonai – Who is like You, Adonai, among the silent ones.”

This reading of the text suggests that Moses entered into a quiet internal dialogue with God!

We don’t know the exact location of the sacred mountain of Sinai, but where ever it was the experience of the divine transformed each individual there and the Jewish people as a whole.

Each time we learn Torah and interact with the sacred text, tradition teaches that we reenact the Sinai experience, that we join our ancestors as our people received Torah. If we listen carefully, perhaps we may be able to hear God’s voice echo from the mountain top through time to us.

To hear, however, we first must rid ourselves of the noise in our lives, pause, and listen. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “Only when we’re able to share in the spirit of awe that fills the world are we able to understand what happened to Israel at Sinai.”

Yitro teaches that the revelation of Torah filled the world with limitless potential for holiness and spiritual uplift.

Tradition teaches that whenever the Ten Words are read, the congregation stands in memory of the experience at Sinai when Moses brought down Torah.

 

Correction to my blog characterizing IfNotNow as a pro-Israel organization

In my blog at the Times of Israel I mischaracterized IfNotNow.
 
IfNotNow takes no position on Zionism or a Jewish state. Not taking a position is not support. The best that one can say about IfNotNow is that it is neutral, but that doesn’t put it in the Zionist camp.

Response to a parent of a JVP child

I have written a response to a rabbinic colleague whose child is a supporter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and who, I believe, has set aside moral standards when evaluating Jewish organizations in their relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel.

To read my blog at the Times of Israel, go to https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-response-to-the-parent-of-a-jvp-child

Dr. King’s Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood – February 26, 1965

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke from the bimah of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles on Shabbat evening, February 26, 1965, only five days after the assassination of Malcolm X.

Security was tight around the synagogue on that evening. Sharpshooters were placed on the apartment building across the street on Hollywood Boulevard. Dr. King delivered his sermon with two large body guards standing directly behind him.

The Sanctuary was filled to capacity with 1400+ congregants. Rabbi Max Nussbaum reminded the congregation that since it was Shabbat, applause following Dr. King’s remarks would be inappropriate. He said: “You will wish to applaud, and you will not do so!”

This existence of the recorded speech was discovered by the wider Los Angeles Jewish community and was noted in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal before Martin Luther King Day in 2007. National Public Radio learned of it from the LAJJ article and requested permission to air it nationally that year. It was aired both in 2007 and 2008.

The speech borrows from many other addresses Dr. King delivered over the course of his career and is an example of the eloquence, passion, and deep intellect that was Dr. King. He was 35 years old when he delivered it.

You can listen here – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm