The 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”
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to take a class with Chava Weissler, a scholar at Lehigh University who studies Jewish history, community, and sacred practices– particularly those practices related to women. My fellow students in the class were other rabbis, taking a break from their work in order to do some learning. Dr. Weissler was teaching about an Ashkenazi Jewish women’s practice known as “soul candles”—the making of candles during the High Holiday season to honor the dead of the community as well as the mythic ancestors. Candles for Abraham and Sarah were made alongside candles for grandparents and other deceased relatives, using wicks that had been laid out along the graves to take the “measure” of the dead. During the making of the candles, the candlemakers would ask that these ancestors would pray for the living, just as the living prayed for the dead. As Dr. Weissler described this practice, a nervous giggle passed through the room.
I remember being shocked. I understand that my colleagues have varying beliefs around life after death and around spirit in general. And, hearing my colleagues laugh at such a ritual and its attendant beliefs surprised me. Those same colleagues would never laugh at the idea that God wrote the Torah (even if not all of them believe that) or at the idea that God answers prayers (even though I’m sure many of them struggle with that idea too). But the belief in ancestors who could intercede on behalf of their relatives was alien enough to be funny. This caused me to notice that the contemporary spirit world, for some Jews, is rather empty. It contains an abstract God, and no one else.
Continue reading “Crowding into the Spirit World: Reclaiming a Metaphysics of Multiplicity by Jill Hammer”
I recently noticed that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about financial security, the way class systems work in the United States context, and how these types of realities inform my feminism. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that for the first time in my life I am not a student with multiple part time jobs, but rather am a “real” adult working full time at a job that offers retirement and medical benefits.
As I’ve written about before, I grew up in a poor family in rural Wisconsin and as a result I am often hyper vigilant about my finances. While I likely go a bit overboard when organizing my budgeting, balancing, saving, and spending this type of organizing is something I can control. The simple act of paying a bill, or determining how much I can spend on groceries this week gives me a profound sense of safety because for the first time there really is enough coming in to support my basic needs.
Continue reading “Empowering Toys and the Problem of Class Divisions by Katie M. Deaver”