DS9 for Bava Metzia 58b

This document — “Bava Metzia 58b with DS9 and related background” — was prepared in my own wrestling with text on ona’at devarim, “harmful speech,” explored at SVARA this season. Thanks to all in, and supporting, Mixed-Level Bet Midrash fall 2021/5782: teacher R’ Bronwen Mullin, Fairies Sarit Cantor and Annie Kaufman, fellow bet midrash students. Special thanks to my chevruta who was a wonderful partner in exploration.

Responsibility for this document and anything not directly attributed to someone else, is, for better or worse, mine alone. (Bava Metzia 58b can be found at Sefaria.)

Bava Metzia with Deep Space Nine

What Have You Done!?

Here is a different form of exploration around some of the same ideas, particularly the concept of blood being shed by humiliating someone… or draining away at their identity, drop by drop….and yes, I know, there are mixed metaphors in the whole “becoming white” thing.

I believe readers without sight can manage PDFs. If anyone prefers a different format, happy to try to provide.

We have met the enemy, and…

Psalm 30, begins its emotional roller-coaster ride with praise for God who has “lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” The whole concept of enemies requires attention, both in general and in the specific context of Jewish communities in the U.S. today. For a start: When, in the name of security, Jews make visitors to their sanctuaries feel unwelcome, that is a shameful cutting off our noises to spite our faces; when we do the same to other Jews, we should just declare, “We have me the enemy, and he is us.”

Showing Up for Shabbat

I was blessed with two powerful, community-celebrating experiences this past Shabbat. My experience on Saturday morning was so positive, in fact, that I wrote to our neighborhood paper praising the supportive feeling that I believe reflects so well on our community. But I was heartbroken to read a first-hand story of a very different experience that began with “Are you invited to be here?” and went downhill from there:

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to stay, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.
— from a Jew of Color attempting to “Show Up for Shabbat”
full story below

I joined worship services in two congregations which had prominently advertised their participation in Refugee Shabbat two weeks earlier.

On Saturday morning, I participated in a basement havurah that meets in a church. Except at high holidays, there is no security personnel or system of “greeters” at the door. The idea of what makes us secure, as Jews and as a wider community arose, as it happens, in the course of our Torah study before services.

On Friday night, I attended a large synagogue with its own building, clearly identifiable as Jewish. I was greeted before entering the building by several new (temporary?) security guards, as well as one regular. I did hold my breath for a moment wondering what they would make of my “Justice for Zo” hat (implicating special police officers in a young man’s death) and the “Black Lives Matter” sign attached to my backpack. (The backpack itself would flag me at some synagogues, a separate security story: No, I don’t a car where I can keep it; and, yes, I need it, coming straight from work). But no one stopped me. Beyond the presence of security personnel, I didn’t see anyone stopped or treated in an unwelcoming way in the short time I was in or near the entryway.

The journalist in me wants to emphasize that I am a regular in both congregations described, while my Jewish sister reports going to a synagogue where she was not know. But I must also stress that, while I don’t “look Jewish” to many eyes, I have gray hair and skin pale enough to sunburn inside of 15 minutes. The latter has, over the years, prompted MANY suspicious looks, rude questions, and a sense of being held apart in some Jewish gatherings; the former, however, seems to neutralize any sense of threat on the part of security personnel or informal synagogue greeter/guards.

Showing Up for Each Other

I have been part of numerous conversations about security in recent years, often over what it means to choose particular security measures when we know the consequences of increased policing on our wider communities and the dangers, in particular, for black and brown people. Those issues are of grave and urgent concern, part of how we let ourselves become “the enemy.”

In the story posted below, however — and in way too many incidents, stretching long before the recent shootings — it was not security personnel who failed to welcome our sister. It was her own people, the folks designated, in a terrible mockery of the word, as “greeters.” (I am trying to determine if and how the greeters were trained, a post for another day.) There is much to do in our individual Jewish communities to ensure that we are inclusive and welcoming.

I was tempted to say “more inclusive and welcoming,” but I think that’s like saying it’s OK, or maybe even “normal” to be a little bit racist or homophobic or able-ist, etc. In addition, we all know that many of our communities are all too willing, regardless of “inclusive policy,” to say, as someone last Shabbat told a fellow Jew: “You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you.”

So, instead, I’ll ask every one of us who recites Psalm 30 in the morning to pause and ask: In what ways am I letting myself be the enemy? How am I contributing to making others feel like they’re in Sheol or the pit? How can I work to help turn our mourning into dance, in a truly collective way?

And, whether we recite this psalm every day or not, let’s find other ways to ask these questions, individually and collectively.

3 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

In Her Own Words

This came to me via the Facebook page of MaNishatana. Here is the post in graphic, followed by the full text of the post.

embed Manishtana

Full text of post:

It seems, despite my very pointed posts, people *still* did not listen. A story of one JOCs experience [over] this past Shabbat that I came across on a colleague’s news feed, in her own words:

Today, I went to Shabbat morning services.

“Are you invited to be here?” they asked when I arrived.

“I am a Jew and I am here to pray,” I said.

“You’ve never been here before.” “Do you live here?” “Why did you come here?” All questions of me asked before I found my way fully into the sanctuary.

When I stood in line to get a siddur, the greeter stared at me.

“Shabbat Shalom,” I said. And I held out my hand for a prayer book. I was greeted with a blank stare.

“I’ll take a siddur please, I said. SHABBAT. SHALOM.”

And he feebly replied in kind, and I took a prayer book.

When I spoke up about it to three different people, the responses were universal.

“Well, I’m sure that you mis-understood.” – I am sure that I did not. And each time this is the response, it casts me as the person in the wrong. Only pouring salt on an open wound.

“I’m sure that they didn’t meant it THAT way.” – Again, casting me as the person who needs to be more understanding.

“You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you. We have never seen you before.” – What is about me that is so scary? Really.

For much of my life, my parents did their best to protect me from all of this. When I was a child, my father would tell me that if people stare at me when we go, it’s because I am beautiful. And they can’t help but stare. We both knew that wasn’t why people were staring, but I let him believe that I believed him.

For much of my life, I would sit, stoic after being “received” this way at synagogue. I did not cry. I did not move. I stayed.

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to stay, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.

I pray that those of you who “showed up for Shabbat” today felt the sense of love, strength, pride and community that I longed to feel. That I long to feel everyday.

I pray that there will come a day when I’m not scary to MY OWN PEOPLE simply because I am a different combination of beautiful things than other people might be. And I AM beautiful. Exactly as I am.

I pray that there will come a day when our synagogues will truly be SAFE SPACES – in every sense of that term.

Today, for me, was not that day. But perhaps there will come a day. We sing ani ma’amin – which means “I believe.” And I do. I believe in love. I believe in hope. I believe that we CAN be better than this. I believe that we must be better than this. All of us. Together.
End of Post


Word- and Picture-Power

This season reminds us – even if we didn’t have recent events screaming reminders at us – that words, and related mind-pictures have tremendous power. And this Torah portion (Re’eh: Deut. 11:26-16:17) warns us that we have an individual and a collective responsibility to ensure that word- and picture-power in the community does not endanger the flow of blessing or somehow impede God’s Mercy from manifesting.

The commandment to see and to recognize blessing and curse, both individually and collectively, is complicated and challenging.

If each of us is challenged to see, as part of a collective awakening, we are also challenged as a community to honor what others see. And what may look like blessing from one perspective might appear as a curse in other quarters.

Complete dvar Torah: The Commandment to See

Trouble to See #2: Beyond Central Casting

further thoughts and references on Jews and Racial Justice….

from PBS program on Ethiopian Jews
from PBS program on Ethiopian Jews

“Bernie Sanders Looks Like Everyone’s Jewish Grandpa…,” read a headline on the Jewish Daily Forward website earlier this election season. But Sanders doesn’t look anything like these Jewish men, some of whom are probably grandpas, or like many Sephardic grandpas. He doesn’t look like the grandparents of many Jewish children in the United States. Bernie Sanders looks like Jewish grandpas from only one part of the world.

The blurb was meant to be cute, sure, but it still promotes an extremely limited view of who “looks Jewish.” (Sadly, the Forward lets the same sloppy “Jewish looks” idea inform news stories as well.) This, in turn, helps validate widespread challenging of anyone who doesn’t look like “a Jew” Central Casting might send.

Jews of color, in particular, report being frequently singled out and questioned about their background — despite that fact that this is contrary to a number of Jewish teachings.

This is just one way in which Jewish communities have work to do, more than most of us would like to admit,
in the area of racial justice.

(How) Are You Jewish?!

Not all Jews of color are Jews by choice. But the Talmud’s specific stress on not embarrassing a proselyte or child of a proselyte (Baba Metzia 58b) seems apropos. As does Jewish law forbidding differentiating between Jews by choice and Jews by blood (see, e.g., Yebamot 47b).

More generally, Jewish tradition teaches “verbal wrongs”
are more serious than monetary ones
and that shaming a person in public is the same as shedding blood
(Baba Metzia 58b, again).

It is sometimes argued that people are “merely curious” and not attempting to shame a person who looks “different.” But this ignores what Jews of color, and others who don’t necessarily resemble Ashkenazi Jews, have repeatedly said: Being harassed with demands to explain yourself and your connection to Judaism is not welcoming; it is exhausting to be singled out all the time and demoralizing to have one’s identity challenged.

Micah810_53Michael Twitty, an African American Jew, describes how other Jews regularly question his presence in Jewish space and often demand: “Were you born Jewish?” (Jews United for Justice “Racial Justice Seder“)

MaNishtana, “100% Black, 100% Jewish, 0% Safe,” has his identity challenged so often, he says, that he finally penned a book entitled Fine, thanks. How Are You, Jewish?

In her famous poem, “Hebrew Mamita,” Vanessa Hidary speaks about a man complimenting her with, “You don’t look Jewish. You don’t act Jewish.” Eventually, she develops this  response:

Bigging up all people who are a little miffed
‘cuz someone tells you you don’t look like
or act like your people. Impossible.
Because you are your people.
You just tell them they don’t look. period.
listen here

Jewish Diversity and Racial Justice

One organization that has been working for years to “foster an expanding Jewish community that embraces its differences,” is Be’chol Lashon: In Every Tongue. Among their offerings are research, resources, and diversity-celebrating materials.

Recognizing and celebrating diversity within Jewish communities also means addressing the discrimination and risk that fellow Jews face because of their color. See, e.g., “#MyJewish and Why It Matters.” This is another crucial element in the story of Jews and Racial Justice. (more soon)


The same publication has made factual errors in the past based on assumptions about who “looks Jewish.”

Matot: Heavy Tongue, or the House of Cards theory of bible study

I want to begin by acknowledging my teacher, Max Ticktin z”l, for whom the period of shloshim is coming to a close and whose connections to Temple Micah are more varied and interesting than I knew before he died. Max taught me — and others in several generations — a lot about who is and is not an enemy, of ourselves personally and of the People Israel.

Dvar torah on parashat Matot, Temple Micah 7/30/16

These remarks focus on the story of vengeance, Numbers 30:1ff. This is an odd and troubling story in many ways. I chose to study it, in part because I worry about the consequences of failing to examine the uglier parts of our tradition, and in part because its very oddness makes it interesting.

A few odd things

One odd thing is that we are told Pinchas was the priest of the campaign, but we are not told who the military leader was.

Another odd thing is how the otherwise terse story stops to tell us that Pinchas brought the “holy utensils” — which many commentators believe means the Ark — and the shofar. This makes the whole thing sound terrifyingly like something out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Paramount 1981) or any of our contemporary wars that make use of religious iconography to wreak havoc on perceived enemies.

It seems to me — although I didn’t find commentary saying this, exactly — that the religious details, the priest, the holy utensils, and the shofar, hint at the spiritual aspect of the story. However distasteful and scary most of us find this today, the idea that a war should be fought to kill some people in order to preserve other people’s spiritual health, that was a part of biblical storytelling.

Midianites and Moabites, Balak and Pinchas

The Torah and many commentaries are clear that this whole issue with the Midianites is a war on people who tempted the Israelites into idolatrous behavior. We might think (and many commentaries remark) that the problem would be with the Moabites because it was the Moabites with whom Israel engaged in harlotry and idolatry in what is called here “the matter of Baal Peor.”

Back at the close of parashat Balak, we are told that Israel became “attached to Baal Peor and the wrath of God flared up against them” (citation). Moses and the judges had just ordered the Israelites to turn on one another and kill men attached to Baal Peor when the Israelite male, Zimri, and the Midianite female, Cozbi, perform what is generally understood to be public sex acts at the Tent of Meeting. Then Pinchas runs them through with a spear, stopping a plague we had not been told was happening. Just the one Midianite, Cozbi, is mentioned there. But both nations collaborated in hiring Balaam to curse Israel. So perhaps they were collaborating in the incidents involving Baal Peor, too. However it came to be, God told Moses back in chapter 25, at the start of parashat Pinchas, to harass [tsaror] the Midianites and kill them because they had attached [tsorerim] Israel “through the conspiracy against you [the Israelites] in the matter of Peor.”

Hasidic commentary says this harassing is a sort of eternal command, because the temptation to the Israelites will persist. The idea is that once they have tasted debauchery, it will be impossible to keep desire from arising again. So Israel must now be eternally harassing those who harassed them with temptation.

If the Israelites could have been warned some other way to be eternally vigilant to stop evil urges in themselves, we might have an easier time with the lesson. But that is not what Or HaChaim teaches, and that is not how the Torah text unfolds. Instead….

God tells Moses to harass the Midianites in chapter 25. And then we have a census and some legal material, a list of offerings, and a long treatise on vows. After all that, here in chapter 31, God tells Moses to take vengeance — now the verb is different, nekom –against the Midianites.

This is another odd bit and one of my favorites.

Another odd thing

Back when the whole mess started, we have a break between portions introduced right at the height of the Baal Peor matter. Israel’s idolatry and the incident of Zimri & Cozbi ends parashat Balak. Pinchas is rewarded for his action that stops Cozbi & Zimri in the next portion. And that’s where we see the command to harass Midian, at the start of parshat Pinchas.

The portion break suggests that the story was just too far out of control and the Rabbis wanted to cool things off….This is a very famous break, often discussed in the commentary. For more, see “Pinchas and the scary friend….But that’s a later, conscious choice of how we are to read and learn this text. The Torah itself inserts the five-chapter break between the precipitating events and God’s call for harassment, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, this episode of vengeance.

Moreover, we have so many odd things in both places. Pinchas acts to stop a plague that is not mentioned before it stops. Moses and God speak of a conspiracy against the Israelites involving sexual misconduct. But the only conspiracy we’re told about in the text is the one to hire Balaam to curse the people. Balaam is blamed (in commentary and in the text here) for whatever sexual acts and idolatry are happening, even though the last we heard of him, he went home after blessing Israel with words we still celebrate every morning in the prayers. (See, e.g., “Balak prayer links”.)

Missing Bits

I think the missing bits and the halting way the story is told suggest a struggle — with facts, perhaps, or with feelings and ideologies that lead to death and disaster. If we take nothing else away from this, I believe the Torah wants to ensure that conspiracy and war and people turning on one another is not read smoothly or accepted easily.

Avivah Zornberg, the brilliant and very Freudian teacher of Torah, believes the Torah itself has an unconscious that is suppressing trauma. (See The Murmuring Deep, citation coming). I’m not sure I buy her whole theory, but I do think we should listen to the pauses and the stuttering and the weird missing bits as closely as we listen to the story tht reads more easily… maybe more closely.

Midianites: enemies?

And meanwhile Moses, who argued with God so many times before has nothing to say in the text in support of the Midianites who protected and nurtured him in his youth. Nothing to say about his extended family and the legacy of Jethro, his father-in-law, who contributed so much to his own learning and helped Israel set up a judicial system.

It’s not much of a surprise that we don’t hear from Zipporah, as we rarely hear from women, even ones who face down God to save their husbands from death (see the “night incident” at the inn in early Exodus; citation coming). But Moses has nothing to say on her behalf?

We’re not the first generation to notice the oddness of this incident and Moses’s close connection to Midianites. Early commentary says that is why, although God tells Moses to exact vengeance, Moses sends others and stays back himself. Of course, this says nothing about the fact that he lets it happen, anyway, even appears to orchestrate it; it also discounts the fact that Moses is quite aged here and perhaps unable to command in battle.

But the interesting point to note, I think, is that Numbers Rabbah acknowledged the relationship between Moses and Midian, and tries to address how hard it all was and how thoroughly entangled were all the players here.

The contemporary biblical literary teacher Robert Alter says this about Baal Peor in chapter 25:

The Israelite attitude toward its neighbors appears to have oscillated over time and within different ideological groups between xenophobia, a fear of being drawn off its own spiritual path by its neighbors, and an openness to alliance and interchange with surrounding peoples.

–Alter’s Torah commentary

In reference to this passage in chapter 31, he says:

Either two conflicting traditions are present in these texts, or, if we try to conceive this as a continuous story, Moses, after the Baal Peor episode reacts with particular fury against the Midianiate women (not to speak of all the males) because he himself is married to one of them and feels impelled to demonstrate his unswerving dedication to protecting Israel from alien seduction. But it must be conceded that the earlier picture of the Midianite priest Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, as a virtual monotheist and a benign councilor to Israel does not accord with the image in these chapters of the Midianite women enticing the Israelits to pagan excesses.

One more possibility comes to mind….

House of Cards theory of bible analysis

Maybe there was a conspiracy involving Balaam and the Midianite kings but orchestrated by some other entity for reasons of their own, some kind of House-of-Cards-type plot to discredit the Midianites and turn Israel against them — or to make us believe Midian and Israel were enemies and would always be. Maybe the plot was so successful that Moses turned against his own earlier supporters because of it, so successful that the narrator can make us believe the story really moves from “go kill more people to undo you own spiritual troubles” to instructions for how to become ritually clean after carrying out more vengeance. But whichever Frank Underwood was behind the plot is no longer available — to look  us straight in the eye, breaking the Torah’s fourth wall, so to speak  — and confess what’s really going on and why, or to at least offer another version of the truth.

This is not too different from Zornberg’s unconscious theory. Because they both boil down to the fact that the Torah itself cannot say, maybe no longer knows, what caused the People to lose their spiritual way and then turn on neighbors and allies in an attempt to cope, make some sense of it.  But the Torah is still able to tell us in its stuttering way, full of missing bits and confusion, that the tale is maybe not as straightforward as it might sometimes be portrayed, that vengeance is not a simple matter with a clear beginning and end, that it’s not something that ends well…or even ends:

In the middle of his rant to the leaders for not killing enough, Moses is somehow back to a lecture on ritual purity after touching the dead. And we are not told at this point if his ranting instructions were carried out (and we know from later stories in Tanakh that there are plenty of Midianites still in the land).

A heavy tongue returns

It occurred to me late in preparing these remarks that perhaps the rambling and stuttering of this story is related to what Shelley Grossman described here about Moses a few weeks ago: his aging and use of an old playbook and how he no longer has his siblings at his side. Remember, too, that Moses tried to refuse the Exodus mission, back at the Burning Bush, by telling God he was “heavy-mouthed” and “heavy-tongued” (Alter’s words). At the time, God told Moses not to worry because Aaron could speak. But now, Aaron and Miriam are gone and we have, instead, Pinchas — Aaron’s grandson whom we first meet when he is in the middle of a violent act, committing a killing that we are later told is part of a covenant of peace.

So maybe what we witness here is a story that is moving forward under emerging leadership but related by a man who has reverted to heavy-tongue, reporting to us that his own demise will follow on the heels of vengeance on people he once knew as family and fellow monotheists. Maybe it’s a kind of last gift to Moses — and to us — that the old, heavy-mouthed stuttering voice comes through to warn us that no such tale can be told without stumbling and missing bits.


Max David Ticktin (1922 – 2016)

There are many on-line obituaries and memorials to Max. My favorite is this one by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. And in the way of such things, I was carrying the Torah through the Micah congregation just a few days after Max’s funeral and, even though Max did not attend services at Micah would not have been there to touch me with his tzitzit, I found myself equal parts profoundly sad at the knowledge that we would all be missing his touch and deeply grateful for the myriad ways he had already touched so many of us.


The Torah Portion

The Torah portion Matot is comprised of Numbers 30:2 – 32:42. Temple Micah is following the schedule of readings used in Israel and, therefore, one week ahead of many congregations in the diaspora at this point in the calendar.

Empathy: Are We There Yet? (Beyond 29)

“A lot of my friends have been beaten, killed…by police,” 16-year-old Michael Singleton told Whoopi Goldberg on The View the other day. “I went down there to fight for what I stand for — my Black people.” Thunderous silence.

Six Seconds of Empathy

Singleton is the young man caught on tape being slugged in the face by his mother, who was “in a rage” (her words) upon seeing that he had joined a group throwing rocks at Baltimore police after the funeral of Freddie Gray. Toya Graham was then heralded “mom of the year” by a number of media outlets, and she and Singleton were interviewed a number of times by national media in the ensuing days.

SingletonCooperNicolle Wallace, co-host of The View, did ask Singleton if he was scared in his daily life in the neighborhood. But no one on The View offered condolences to a 16-year-old who had just expressed grievous loss. Not one second of outrage emerged as he related that agents of the state, meant to protect Singleton and his friends, hurt them instead.

Charlie Rose, who also interviewed the pair, did take about six seconds to acknowledge to Singleton, “so yours was an act of protest because of what happened to your friend.” That appears to be a record degree of empathy for Singleton in the many interviews he endured with his mother.

Sherill Ifill, of the NAACP, spoke on Rose’s program before Graham and Singleton, to the fearful circumstances “in which the mother found her son” and the need for systemic changes. She expressed far more compassion for beleaguered mothers of children in neighborhoods like the one Graham and Singleton inhabit.

What is Applauded? and What is Ignored?

It was Graham who was greeted on The View with thunderous applause as she described pummeling her son and then declared “throwing rocks at the police is not going to bring [Freddie Gray] back.” Graham also received a “thank you” from host Whoopi Goldberg, who added that “people need to know there are caring parents out there.”

But “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?” —

Praising Graham distracts from a hard truth: It doesn’t matter how black children behave – whether they throw rocks at the police, burn a CVS, join gangs, walk home from the store with candy in their pocket, listen to rap music in a car with friends, play with a toy gun in a park, or simply make eye contact with a police officer – they risk being killed and blamed for their own deaths because black youths are rarely viewed as innocent or worthy of protection….

This celebration of Graham reflects a belief that black youths are inherently problematic, criminal and out of control. The video also supports the idea that black fathers are absent, suggesting that all we need is an angry black mom to beat the “thug” out of an angry young man – and everything will be fine.
— Stacey Patton in a Washington Post opinion piece

Patton is author of the memoir That Mean Old Yesterday and a senior enterprise reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education. See also, “In America, Black Children Don’t Get to Be Children.”

“What is so disturbing is that white supremacy is let off the hook,” Patton adds.

Moreover: A teenager reports that his friend was beaten by police, that police abuse is a regular part of his life, and earns barely a nod.

What does empathy, this week’s attribute on the omer journey, ask of us here?

Thanks to Amy Brookman for sharing one of the videos above and some concerns about it. Thanks to Kay Elfant for sharing the Charlie Rose link.

We counted 29 on the evening of May 2. Tonight, we count….

Continue reading Empathy: Are We There Yet? (Beyond 29)

Consequences, part 2 (beyond 26)

We passed the mid-point in the omer journey away from oppression, this week, at the same time that Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police evoked response all across the U.S., inspiring the message: #BlackSpring has begun.

There is still much for privileged and oppressed people to learn about how the system works to keep some people down and what it will take to undo that system. And we are still weeks away from Revelation at the holiday of Shavuot. But this seems a moment of turnaround. And I think perhaps we can find a pivot point in considering language — as both a potential stumbling block before (all of us) blind and as a tool for finding a new path.

One of my favorite teachers on Jewish prayer, Max Kadushin, offers some hints for a way forward.

Larger Self, Collapsed Time

Kadushin describes Jewish prayer, particularly recitation of a blessing, as “an element in a moral experience,” one that engages an individual’s “larger self.” He notes that many Jewish prayers are in the first person plural, even though the pray-er may not, depending on time and circumstances, have the need expressed in the prayer:

How is it that the individual can regard common needs as “his needs,” even when they are not at the same time his own needs at all?

[In recitation of a blessing] not an actual experience, but the sheer knowledge of a common need of man is now the occasion for an individual’s petition and he regards the common need as his need.

The larger self allows an individual to be aware, poignantly aware, that there are others [for example] who are sick; the awareness is so strong that he associates himself with them, though at the same time retaining his self-identity….Self-identity is retained and material circumstances of the individual have not changed; nevertheless, the self has become larger, more inclusive: large enough to include indefinite others and a consciousness of their needs.
— Max Kadushin, Worship and Ethics: A Study in Rabbinic Judaism. (NY: Bloch, 1963), p.108-109

Kadushin also speaks of prayer collapsing time, so that the travails and delights of the past and a future of blessings we have not yet experienced coalesce in the present. It is in this prayer experience, heavily influenced by language, that the seeds of change are nourished.

We counted 26 on the evening of April 29. Tonight, we count…. Continue reading Consequences, part 2 (beyond 26)

Stumbling Blocks: Consequences, part 1 (beyond 25)

A few resources for further consideration about the stumbling blocks of language:

Coded Racist Language is Still Racist

This satiric piece goes a long way to illustrate how deeply embedded is racist reporting and language and reporting

“If you watched that segment and thought that is a ridiculous premise and an absolutely terrible way to talk millions of about people who share nothing — nothing! — but broad pigmentation,” Chris Hayes concludes, “you are right.”

This essay breaks down some key points.

This frustrated Baltimore official tells CNN to just go ahead and call young people “niggers” if she’s going to insist on using “thugs.”

Racist Language Kills (Really)

from "Association between...Area Racism and Black Mortality"Recent research links racism — studied through a “search-based proxy of area racism” (based on vocabulary) — to Black mortality. Racist language has deadly — actual human health, not metaphor — results.

In this way and so many others, allowing the use of racist language to go unchallenged “gives the means, or prepares the way for wrong” (see yesterday’s post).

We counted 25 on the evening of April 28. Tonight, we count…. Continue reading Stumbling Blocks: Consequences, part 1 (beyond 25)

Do not stand idly by Fox endangerment of your brothers

UPDATE: The Baltimore Fox-affiliate WBFF fired the reporter and photographer who doctored video to create this story (see below). The producer who assigned this story received only a one-day suspension, and the Fox network has not taken responsibility for its lies, defamation of character, or incitement to violence. See City Paper update on this story (12/31/14). The petition is on-going.

“They were terrified,” reads Genesis 42:35, as 11 of Jacob’s sons realize that their brother Joseph faked evidence that would link them to crime against the state [theft from Pharaoh’s household]. Just a few days ago, a Fox station in Baltimore similarly faked evidence of a crime against the state. Bible readers know that Joseph faked the crime for his own reasons, and that the act will eventually leads to a sort of reconciliation in this troubled family. Nonetheless, the brothers and their father are rightly terrified at the dangerous manipulation. Fox acted for its own reasons, as well, but it remains to be seen if there is any kind of reconciliation possible in this situation.

The shortest version: My friend, Kymone Freeman of We Act Radio, was at the large protest march in DC on December 13. He was filmed by C-SPAN holding a mic and portable amp while people are chanting “We won’t stop ’til killer cops are in cell blocks.” But Fox aired the clip, severely edited — on December 21, after the deaths of two police officers in NYC — claiming it was a chant of “kill a cop.”

Insult to injury: Tawanda Jones, who was filmed leading the chant, has been an especially peaceful activist, who persists in advocating for indictment of “killer cops” — including those responsible for death of her brother, Tyrone West, in custody of Baltimore City Police last year — while insisting that the existence of bad (“killer”) police tarnish the reputations of the entire force, which she supports.

Anyone who does evil, according to a medieval Jewish source, “is punished not only for the specific victim but for all who sorrow for him, as it is said, ‘Now comes the reckoning for his blood’ (Genesis 42:22)” — Sefer Hasidim, 131 (found in Zornberg’s Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, on the Joseph story).

  • This Fox story has not only damaged the specific victims — Tawanda Jones, Kymone Freeman, and others at the Dec. 13 march — but so many more.
  • Fox perpetrated reckless endangerment of individuals and a whole community.


These lies would never have aired without dangerous, racist assumptions

— on the part of Fox staff and viewers — behind them.

Jews know this story.

Anyone who has studied Jewish history knows this story.

Anyone who has studied black history knows this story.

Anyone who has studied Muslim history knows this story.

We all know this story!

It’s time to change the story!!

More Background

Here is a bit more background, the WBFF “apology,” and Kymone’s petition petition in response to being used in this ugly, dangerous manipulation.

Here is Tawanda Jones’ interview with the station that defamed her:

Note, please, that the interviewer has the audacity to say to Ms. Jones “you seem sincere,” as though THEIR distortion of her views deserved as much credence as HER OWN. Also, please note that Ms. Jones says the false story “killed a piece of me.” The Talmudic adage, “Just as the sword can kill so can the tongue” (Arachin 15b), seems amazingly and heart-breakingly apt.

Please read and consider signing and sharing.

Deeper Responses

Time for Silence? Time for Speech?

The Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) offers thirty pairs of phrases elaborating on the theme of a “season set for everything” (Kohelet 3:1-8):

1) To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2) A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3) A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up
4) A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and time to dance;
5) A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6) A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7) A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8) A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
— Kohelet 3:1-8 (“Old” JPS at mechon-mamre

Continue reading Time for Silence? Time for Speech?