Moses and the Rambo Problem by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

Moses is an interesting character is in the pantheon of religious leaders. He is such a major personage, considered the founder of Judaism and yet there are no extra-biblical accounts of his life and his deeds. He only exists in the bible. You’d have thought that such a major event as leading a whole class of people away from Egyptian slavers, would have shown up on the radar of other written or mythical accounts from the time. Nothing!

Even his name is interesting. When the Egyptian princess gathered Moses out of the waters she said:

She named him Moses, explaining,

“I drew him out of the water.”

Exodus 2:10

This is one meaning of his name. But there are others. In Egypt, the land where he was born and raised, the M-SH (variations: m-s or m-ss) root simply means “son.” Or it can mean “child” in a non-patriarchal sense. We see this in other Egyptian names Ramses is the child of the sun god Ra. Tutmose is the child of Tut. 

Continue reading “Moses and the Rambo Problem by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”

The Patriarchy of Ki Tisa and a Call to Reimagine Divinity by Ivy Helman.

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:35.  Its events revolve around the theme of creation, destruction, and recreation.  From a feminist perspective, it is quite clear that this cyclical process is a result of a patriarchal understanding of the divine as jealous, distant, and rage-filled.  

Ki Tisa begins soon after the Israelites have been delivered from Egyptain slavery.  This delivery creates a new people devoted to this divine liberator.  Yet, Ki Tisa starts with both that deity and their leader, Moses, nowhere to be found. So, what do the Israelites do being in such a vulnerable spot?  They create a golden calf in order to have a spiritual connection to something.  

Continue reading “The Patriarchy of Ki Tisa and a Call to Reimagine Divinity by Ivy Helman.”

Ha’azinu and Models of the Divine by Ivy Helman.

This week’s Torah parshah, as you can tell from the title, is Ha’azinu, or Deuteronomy 32:1-52.  This is Moses’ final speech to the Israelites before he ascends Mount Nebo to die.  It is traditionally associated with Yom Kippur and read somewhere very close to it (when exactly depends on the year).  The reasons for this association should become obvious as we continue.  

In the parshah, Moses describes how, even in the Promised Land, the Israelites will continue to be idolatrous, thus disobeying their deity and bringing divine wrath upon themselves.  From what I have already discussed in past blogs about the history of the Torah’s composition, clearly the exiled Israelites in Babylonian sought reasons for that exile; in traditional Isrealite fashion, they made sense of their current circumstances by reasoning whose disobedience was to blame.   

Continue reading “Ha’azinu and Models of the Divine by Ivy Helman.”

Aren’t We All Divine Children? by Janet MaiKa’i Rudolph


Consider the following four birth stories:

  1. A high priestess became pregnant in a manner that was forbidden in her society. She gave birth to a baby boy. Fearing for her child’s life, she fashioned a basket of rushes and cast him into a river. He was retrieved by a man named Akki whose name means “the drawer of water.” Akki raised the boy.
  2. A son was born to a young princess who had been forced to keep her pregnancy a secret because it was forbidden. When her son was born, she placed him in a basket and floated him down the river. He was found and raised by foster parents. He grew up to become a noted warrior, speaker and eventually a king. 
  3. A young boy accidentally ingested some drops of star-studded wisdom from the cauldron of a goddess and, in this manner, was suddenly awakened to divine knowledge. The goddess grew furious that her divine wisdom was stolen. Desperate to escape her life-threatening wrath, a wild chase ensued. The boy turned himself into a rabbit, but the goddess turned herself into a dog to chase him down. The boy turned himself into a fish to swim away but the goddess became an otter to continue the chase. The boy then turned himself into a bird, but the goddess became a hawk. Finally, the boy turned himself into a seed and hid in a large pile of grain. The goddess turned herself into a hen and ate up all the grain including the boy-as-seed. In this manner she found herself pregnant. She planned to kill the baby when he was born, but when she saw him, he was so beautiful that she fell in love and she could not bring herself to do so. The goddess sewed the baby into a leather sack and threw him into the river. He was retrieved by a man named Elphin who renamed and raised him.
  4. A woman of the priestly caste of her tribe gave birth to a baby boy. At the time, all boys born to her tribe were under a decree of death. To save her son’s life, she created a basket of reeds and floated him down the river. He was found by a royal princess who retrieved him from the water, gave him a new name and raised him to adulthood.

Continue reading “Aren’t We All Divine Children? by Janet MaiKa’i Rudolph”

Shemot: Women’s Misbehaving and Disobeying as the Key to Liberation by Ivy Helman.

imageThis week’s Torah portion, or parshah, is Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1).  This parshah sets the scene for the liberation of the Israelites from slavery both by introducing main characters and elaborating on just how difficult life was for the Isrealites under Pharoah’s rule.  The parshah contains many noteworthy aspects: the death of Joseph and the multiplication of the Isrealites in Egypt; the increasing wrath of the Egptians; the birth and adoption of Moses; Moses’ encounter with the Divine in the form of a burning, yet unconsumed, bush; the revelation of the divine name, G-d’s plan for Moses’ role in the liberation of the Israelites from slavery; Moses’ attempts to get out of his assigned role; and Moses’ first confrontation with Pharoah.   

In addition, there are many women, who are integral to the salvation of the Israelites, in this parshah.  For the most part, Jewish tradition has acknowledged their part when it comes to discussions of this parshah, especially Shifra and Puah.  Yet, their role is often overshadowed by Moses’ varied miracles, the mighty power of the divine, the revelation of the Torah, the wanderings in the desert, and so on.  However, the Israelites’ liberation from slavery would have looked quite different without women.   Continue reading “Shemot: Women’s Misbehaving and Disobeying as the Key to Liberation by Ivy Helman.”

On Vayelech, Its Context and Theodicy by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThe Torah parshah for this week (to be read on 15 September) is Vayelech (Devarim/Deut. 31:1 – 30).  September 15th is also Shabbat Shuvah (return), the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It is the time of the year when we focus on repentance for all of the ways in which we have failed to live up to G-d’s standards.

Perhaps it is fitting then that this parshah is also preeminently about how our ancestors believed they continually failed to live up to G-d’s standards.  It concerns itself quite repetitively with three things: one, the passing of the leadership of the Israelite community to Joshua and G-d’s last requests of Moses, two, the rants of a jealous G-d who already knows of the Israelites betrayal and, three, an invitation for the entire community (Israelite and non-Israelite men and women and children) to hear the words of the Torah and Moses’ song (which follows in Duet. 32).  This is prefaced by the occasion of Moses’ birthday as well as the reminder that Moses can’t enter the Promised Land. Continue reading “On Vayelech, Its Context and Theodicy by Ivy Helman”

The Transformative Power of Daily Practices by Ivy Helman

My simple daily rituals and spiritual practices are what keep me mindful of G-d and G-d’s presence in my life.  They also remind me of G-d’s call to justice, care, compassion and love. 

“I find by experience, not by reasoning,

but by my own discovery that G-d is near me,

and I can be near G-d at all times.

I cannot explain it but I am as sure of my experience

as I am of the fact that I live and love,

but I know I do.

In the same way, I know I am in contact with G-d.”

This poem by Lily Montagu speaks to me.  I read it most mornings as I say my morning prayers, and it is one of those mantras I try to live by.  I have found that contrary to popular belief, sustained religious practices can be just as transformative as instantaneous conversion experiences.  This is why I have developed certain spiritual and specifically Jewish practices (For more about my joinery to Judaism, see one of my previous blogs “Reflections on my Spiritual Journey: Claiming Judaism”).  I find that they help me develop and cultivate a strong relationship with G-d.  For example, I keep a kosher home; wear a kippah daily; try to pray at least twice a day and before snacks and meals; practice the principles of Mussar; attend regularly Shabbat services Friday evenings at my Reform Congregation in Lowell and Saturday morning services at a Conservative congregation in Nashua, NH; light Shabbat candles; try not cook or create on Shabbat; make Havadalah to mark the end of Shabbat; give tzedakah as much as I can and study Torah with my friends.  This list is not all encompassing and there are quite a few areas of my practice I wish were more disciplined as well.

Continue reading “The Transformative Power of Daily Practices by Ivy Helman”

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