Thursday, February 25, 2010

Welcome To The Rain

I dreamt so vividly last night that I woke up wanting to cry. Everything I had imagined in my sleep had been so real; I just wish it could have been true.

The other gratifying thing is that everything I said and did in my sleep was what I would actually do in real life; thus, there is no discrepancy between my heart and mind regarding this particular topic. And that is gratifying.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Did Esther Risk Her Life Twice?

Two years ago I wrote a post entitled "Unsummoned" regarding my question as to whether Esther appeared unsummoned before the king twice. R' Gil Student turned this post into a dialogue and discussion. Now, in a fun blast from the past, I decided to create a source sheet regarding some of the points of view on this issue. Thanks to Jordan who was the one who provided me with lots of the sources in the first place! (Although I read through many more sources than I actually put on this sheet.)

Ralbag in Source 1 explains the text the way that I did, stating that Esther desired to undermine Haman's advice and thus went before the king unsummoned once again. In this way, she risked her life the second time as well.

R' Yitzchak ben Arama in Source 2 disagrees with the Ralbag's explanation. I'll be honest and say I don't entirely understand everything he says, so if someone wants to explain it to me, that'd be grand.

I read the Alshich in Source 3 as supporting my point as well. He writes that the King's mercy was awakened and thus he extended the scepter to Esther which was a symbol of finding favor, as we have seen before when he extended his scepter to her so that she would live. (The fact that he compares it to what happened before suggests, to my mind, that both scenarios are similar.) Additionally, he adds that perhaps the King extended his scepter to hint to her that she should rise up from the ground, where she had flung herself weeping.

Source 4 is the Rokeach. I'm interested in the 'davar acheir' here because he mentions a point Jordan had raised to me. Jordan mentioned that based on a careful reading of the Targum to Esther 4:11, it seems that the law against going in unannounced was instituted by Haman. That being the case, suggested Jordan, it is possible that after the demise of Haman she would not be risking her life by approaching Achashveirosh.

The Rokeach says differently. It's not that after the demise of Haman that the law was abolished, but rather, after his ten sons were hanged. The law only changes after the last vestige of Haman is gone. The Rokeach proves this by citing Esther 9:12, where the King simply speaks to Esther without the prelude/ introduction of Esther entering the room and his having to extend the scepter to her. Now, if the Rokeach believes that this law instituted by Haman was only abolished after the death of his ten sons, it follows that when Esther came the second time the law was still in effect, and thus she did risk her life that time as well.

As a tangential point, Jordan noticed another difference. In Esther 8:4, Esther arises and stands before the king. The words used are: וַתָּקָם אֶסְתֵּר, וַתַּעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ. In contrast, in Esther 5:2 the king notices her already standing and extends his scepter; therefore she draws close and touches it: וַתִּקְרַב אֶסְתֵּר, וַתִּגַּע בְּרֹאשׁ הַשַּׁרְבִיט. What, questioned Jordan, is the difference? Why does she arise in one scenario and not in the other?

At the time I didn't have an answer but I think I have one now. The Esther presented in these two scenarios is very different. The Esther who comes unsummoned the first time waits for the king to notice her. She is already standing; she has not prostrated herself before him. She is simply waiting, עֹמֶדֶת בֶּחָצֵר, until he notices her. Only then, when he bids her, does she draw near to him. The second time Esther visits the king, she has the first occasion to use as precedent. Thus she is not as afraid. This is an anguished, uncontrollable Esther who does not humbly wait to be noticed, fearing for her life, but bursts in upon the king, weeping and prostrating herself. This Esther is not composed; she is not orchestrating a careful plan. This Esther is in pain and she is pleading, not resorting to plots and machinations and banquets, but simply pleading. This is why he bids her arise. In Chapter 5, the king did not have to ask her to get up because she had never fallen down in the first place!

Anyway, that's some Torah for Taanis Esther, in memory of the Queen who risked her life- twice- for us.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anyway Friends

"A little white dress with ABCs all across the front. I remember I came home one evening after a marathon of kids’ parties and whatnot and Little Miss Maya was not quite ready to take her little dress off and get in the bath so we went to her room and hung out on the floor and started talking. And out of nowhere, she told me that when she grew up, she wanted to marry me. So I said, “Why?” I asked her, I said, “Why me?” And she looked up at me and she said, “Because, Daddy, you are my anyway friend.” Now at the time I didn’t know what that meant so Maya had to explain to me that an anyway friend is the one person in your life who, no matter what they say or do, no matter what they’ve been through with you, they love you anyway. So my sincerest hope is that for Maya, Dink, and for Dink, Maya, is that anyway friend. Because no matter how old you are or what your responsibilities, if you have love, real, unconditional love, I think you can make it. So, to my anyway friend and her anyway friend, may you not only make it but enjoy it."

~Sam's Toast in Private Practice, Season 3, Episode 15, "Till Death Do Us Part"


People like to say TV is trash, that they don't understand why people would waste time watching television when there are so many other things they could be doing. But I think TV is a laboratory in which people play out their possibilities, seeing who they could be or would be dependant upon the differing situations offered to them. I think many television shows are portals into other worlds, other perspectives that allow us to view ourselves differently. And I was impressed by Sam in this episode and the words he spoke even though they were difficult for him. Naomi and Sam both demonstrated courage- Naomi in coming to Maya's wedding and Sam for making this toast rather than chastising the two teenagers- and I thought the concept expressed was beautiful and worthy of note. Hurrah for anyway friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And This Is Why I Write

I love Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The man understands my soul. This is an excerpt from Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch by the Rav, pages 27-29.


There is another element in da'at Hashem, one that will be important when we pick up the biography of Abraham. To know God also means to have a desire to share one's knowledge with others, to have a longing to teach people, to bring the message to the ignorant and insensitive or to those unfortunate ones who have not had the opportunity to learn and to study. A man who is happy and does not want to teach others is not necessarily cruel and selfish. But he is not a scholar. A real scholar cannot contain what he knows within himself; he explodes. Knowledge entails a dynamic element; the knower becomes restless, the truth cries out from the inner recesses of his personality, and he must tell others.

The second principle of commitment is that the name of God must be on one's lips. "This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth; but you s hall meditate therein day and night" (Joshua 1:8). Why is it necessary to not only think of God and be aware of Him, but also to verbalize and externalize this awareness? Judaism has always required that man objectify his thoughts and feelings. The Torah did not underrate the role of subjectivity in religion, but the Torah was suspicious if one tries to reduce religion to subjectivity. Avodah she-ba-lev, worship of the heart, is a state of mind. But apparently the Halakhah was not satisfied with having avodah she-ba-lev arrested within the human personality. It required of us to externalize it through the recital of a standardized, fixed text of tefillah. Emotions come and go; therefore, we must act out our emotions. If we have God in mind, if we are aware of Him, we must pronounce it, verbalize it, say it in words.

I know that when I prepare a shi'ur, if I write out everything, and everything is neatly arranged, then when I deliver the shi'ur, it does not require so much energy and is not a strain for me. But if I don't write out a shi'ur- no matter how well I understand it- and instead I have to work it out during the delivery, it is a tremendous strain. No matter how clearly a person understands something, if he has not written it out, formulated it in words and sentences, it is still amorphous and formless.

The same is true of confession. It is not enough to repent in one's heart; one must formulate his confession to God in words and pronounce it verbally. Why? Man will discover many things he did not understand before when he tries to formulate his thoughts in words. That is why it is necessary for a person who is in love with God to not hide it, but to speak up, to express it, to verbalize it.

Judaism believes that words per se are the most powerful weapon God has provided man. Judaism believes in the power of the mind and the majesty of the word. Through the word, God created the world. God did not need words to create the world, but He chose the word as the instrument of creation in order to teach us that we can create the world through the word- and can destroy the world through the word. The word can be the most creative power in man's hands, but it can also be the most destructive power given to man. That is why Judaism is almost merciless with regard to lashon ha-ra, evil speech, and why it takes so seriously the issues of perjury, vows, and oaths.

In Judaism, the word is the mark of one's identity as a human being, in contradistinction to a beast or brute. In medieval Hebrew, the name for man is medabber, the "speaker." Judaism believes in the potency of the word. It is not just a sound, it is not just phonetics- it has a mystical quality to it. Hence man's awareness of God must be objectified in the word. "And they all open their mouth in holiness and purity, in song and hymn, and bless, praise, glorify, revere, sanctify, and declare the kingship of God" (Siddur).

Book Review: 6 Diaries

Six Diaries is a book that tells the tale of six girls' personal journey in the area of modesty. Ten teenagers were chosen "from all four grades of high school, from different groups of friends and levels of frumkeit" (Goldin 14) to engage in a year-long activity that would include keeping a tznius journal and coming to monthly group meetings to discuss one's progress or lack thereof in this area. Aliza Goldin organized the group in an effort to engage with her students and learn about their perceptions, points of view and ideas when it came to this topic.

Let me make it clear that I do not doubt Mrs. Goldin's sincerity or the fact that she had nothing but the purest intentions in creating this program. The students whose diaries are published within the book also shine through in terms of their genuine, thoughtful and honest exploration and desire to truly grow and serve God. I admire the sincerity of both the teacher and her students and am also impressed that Mrs. Goldin refrained from forcing the girls to participate in any way. Indeed, midyear she allowed students in the group the chance to drop out, and four did so, which is why only six diaries are published.

Nevertheless, I find this book to be an appalling piece of confusing propoganda mislabeled as inspiration. There are ideas and points of view expressed by the participants in this program that are never corrected by the teacher. This may either be a flaw in the book (perhaps she did correct them but this is not documented in the text) or prove that the teacher herself agrees with the points of view expressed, which would be worse. While the teacher meant to help her students grow in their service of God, I believe that in fact many of them regressed. Mrs. Goldin allowed them to harness the natural ability humans have to be judgmental and turn their judgments against fellow classmates, parents and others who do not meet the correct tznius standards. This is aside from the fact that her exposition of the topic of tznius does not appear (at least within the book) to be based in halakha so much as a personal viewpoint. Her comments are often unintentionally patronizing and restrictive.

Early into the book, Mrs. Goldin demonstrates that she has never met an intelligent female. She breezily asserts, "Ask any girl what she finds the hardest roadblock in her avodas Hashem, and if she's honest, she will tell you: tznius" (Goldin 22). As my friend joked, "Aw, damn, and here I was going to say the Documentary Hypothesis!" Mrs. Goldin's assertion is deplorable. It undermines the very real philosophical challenges and difficulties many people face and suggests that the only true problem women have when it comes to serving God is their focus upon external clothing. This is a dismissive and patronizing approach that betrays an utter lack of understanding.

Mrs. Goldin compounds this when she declares:
    The Vilna Gaon says that what Torah is to a man, tznius is to a woman. The girls were unimpressed. I wasn't worried, and continued developing this thought. This means, I told them, that if Torah is the fuel that feeds the man's neshamah, then tznius is the fuel that feeds the woman's neshamah.

    If Torah is for every single male, then tznius is for every single female.

    If the yetzer hara does everything in its power to stop a man from learning (in fact, the Chofetz Chaim used to say that the satan would be happy for a man to daven and say Tehillim all day, as long as he's not learning), then the yetzer hara will launch a similar attack to make sure the girl doesn't put the correct emphasis on tznius.

    There was a collective blink.

    This means that if a girl does chesed, if she davens, if she respects and honors her parents, and even loves to learn Torah, to a certain extent, the satan is pacified.

    "Are you saying anything we do is worthless unless we're working on tznius?!"
    "Are you saying all the things we work on mean nothing?!"
    "Are you saying all Hashem wants is our knees and elbows?!"

    No, no, and no. I was just saying, the satan is somewhat pacified, because he got to keep the main thing. (Goldin 22-23)
So this woman is under the impression that for women, keeping the laws and tenets of tznius is more important than praying to God, respecting and honoring one's parents or learning Torah. It is the 'main thing' in contrast to these other commandments. I find that fascinating, seeing as honoring one's father and mother is one of the Ten Commandments which we received at Sinai, whereas these rules about collarbones and elbows never appear anywhere in the Five Books of Moses. But let's leave that aside and focus on sources. I would like to see where the Vilna Gaon and the Chofetz Chaim make these statements and the context thereof. If anyone has the source for me, I would appreciate it.

Now let's demonstrate the detrimental effect this woman's point of view and attitude has upon the way her students view others.

In a diary post written by Shevi, the student explains:
    I was just thinking...I saw pictures on the computer of a girl I know, and she was totally not dressed okay- the pictures were really inappropriate. I was good friends with her last year, and we are still friendly this year, but when I saw those pictures it made me look at her differently, and kind of...distance myself a little bit. I feel really badly about it, cuz she is really sweet, but she keeps putting these types of pictures up. She totally sees nothing wrong with it, and it makes me wonder. I can't help staying away. (Goldin 110)
So Shevi's understanding is that due to the fact that this girl is putting up pictures of herself in clothing that does not meet the standards Mrs. Goldin has been teaching her about, she should separate herself from this person. This is aside from the fact that she is implicitly judging the girl and deciding the girl is less worthy due to the clothing she wears.

These comments are not made by only one diarist. Point in fact, here's another documented entry by a different girl:
    She was coming over to spend the day at my house, studying. I was wearing my usual type outfit, whatever it was that day, and she came in wearing one of those V-neck Hanes tee-shirts, which are SO not okay to wear alone on anyone. It came so low that I had to look away- it was embarrassing. I was so, so...surprised, I guess. I mean, it was upsetting to me in general that she thought it was okay to wear something like that around me, and also...I just couldn't understand. I was so taken aback that I couldn't comment. (Goldin 175)
Rather than teaching the students to see past others' clothing in an effort to respect, love and cherish the true person underneath the external trimmings, Mrs. Goldin manages to create a hyper-sensitivity and awareness of the members of her group not (only) to their own modes of dress, but to everyone else's.

Lest you think the teacher corrected this student and informed her that her own supposed progress in a particular area doesn't mean she mustn't remain friends with others who don't accord with her point of view, I offer the following passage:
    We can also harness the power of a group. If peer pressure is a huge force for the negative, it is equally as strong for the positive, and working on something together with a group of like-minded people is an enormously effective technique.

    Make it easier for yourself: Don't buy the clothes! Don't keep them in your closet! Don't shop in certain stores! Don't hang out with those kids! Tznius is difficult enough without the things that we are constantly doing to sabotage ourselves. (Goldin 167)
Don't hang out with those kids?!

Let me understand this correctly. Because a group of teenagers chooses to buy tight-fitting clothes, or short jean skirts, or wears pants or t-shirts (because the lack of tznius the teacher is referring to throughout this book has nothing to do with children who are walking around just as strippers, just children who are wearing contemporary American styles), one shouldn't hang out with them? Drop the friendship rather than respect another person despite the fact that they wear tight-fitting-shirts and you don't?

That's certainly not a message I would want my daughter to assimilate.

But it gets better. You see, the children in this book are being turned into fundamentalists. This to the point that one of them decides to literally cut up her clothes. Not donate them to the Salvation Army or otherwise give them to someone who could profit by them. Nope. Rather, this passage is related, again without comment or critique:
    K, so there's something I've been realizing. After each time we meet I get all inspired and have all these ideas fo what I wanna do, but then I just forget about it the next day. So this time I really wanna do something about it. So now it's time to say good-bye to my really short jean skirt. I'm thinking about cutting it up, because if I don't I'm still gonna wear it.

    Okay, I'm really gonna cut it. Uch, I keep changing my mind and now I don't want to.

    K now I'm really gonna cut it. I'll let you know how it goes.

    AHHH!!! I just went on a rampage and cut three skirts! I think I'm getting a little carried away. It kinda feels like giving a korban- I know that sounds weird, but I actually mean it. (Goldin 70)
I admire the sincerity of this girl's desire to serve God. She gave up something that was precious to her for God. I appreciate that. But I also feel like this is a colossal waste of money, something which recurs in the book when other girls throw out their clothes and their parents are not pleased by the fact that hundreds of dollars they spent on their children's clothing is going to waste.

Despite the fact that Mrs. Goldin avers that being tzanua does not mean changing your personality, that message is clearly not understood by the students she is teaching. Rather, one of the girls looks up to a peer who does something I find very disturbing:
    I went home with a friend last night, and I sat on a bus that had girls and boys on it. Anyways, there was this kid in my class who I started to talk to after I sat down, and when we pulled up to the stop that the boys got on she suddenly stopped. She never picked up our conversation, and then a few minutes after we pulled off, she sent me a text apologizing, saying how she really tries hard not to call attention to herself. So every single day she plugs in her iPod, and just becomes the silent one for the rest of the trip.

    She's been doing this every day for a year. It's unbelievable. (Goldin 170)
This is something to be admired? The girl is under the impression that having a simple conversation with a friend is 'calling attention to oneself' which somehow became categorized as a type of sin. A different girl is under the same misimpression:
    So I know this kid who's a really great girl, so kind-hearted and caring, and she also dresses very tznius. But to me, I forget all of that when I hear her talk and laugh. When she talks, she talks in this really loud voice, and speaks over whoever happens to be speaking at the time. In a way, I think she needs everyone to hear her, see her, notice her- she just seems to be so attention-grabbing. The way she acts seems to contradict the way she dresses. Tznius to me is a package deal- you really have to have it all. Tznius is a mentality and an awareness- a constant awareness of how you dress, talk, stand, think, and feel. In my mind, that means someone who is completely self-aware. That's the goal, anyway. (Goldin 129)
Why is this student under the impression that to be loud, enthusiastic, energetic or effervescent is sinful? If this girl is speaking over others, that is simply rude and should be corrected. But it doesn't make her actively immodest. There is no such law.

Then there's the wonderful power of the guilt-trip that wends its way throughout the book:
    K so basically after tonight's meeting I literally feel like garbage. I can not begin to tell you how uncomfortable I was hearing about how against halachah I dress...I am.

    And I KNOW I'm not half as bad as a lot of kids I know.

    So why do I feel like the world's worst Jew?

    It just feels really frustrating to be trying so hard and then to hear the things we talked about, and realize that it doesn't really matter because I'm doomed anyway: chukas hagoyim, arayos, knees, collarbone, elbow, tightness- like, seriously already!

    One second you're telling us that wherever we are is fine, as long as we're headed in the right direction- and the next it's like oh, and by the way you're all transgressing like 3000 issurim d'Oraysa. Like, oh gee, thanks. Totally not making me feel bad at all. NOT! (Goldin 71)
I hate guilt trips and I hate teaching God's law in such a way that people are made to feel that they are bad. I'm sure the teacher didn't intend her message to come across this way, but it is sad nonetheless that it did.

There's a great part in the journals where the teacher basically suggests that keeping the laws of tznius is more important than mitzvot that are interpersonal (bein adam l'chaveiro):
    Then I addressed something I read in one of the journals: Why is tznius such a big deal- it only affects you. Isn't it worse to speak badly about someone- now, that really affects someone else? The fact is, though, that when you start seeing tznius as something bigger than the clothes you choose to wear; when you see it as protecting the kedushah which is an integral part of klal Yisrael, then you realize that your decision whether or not to be tznius at any given time is not a small, personal decision. It's huge. It's cosmic. It's global. We spoke about this thought from all angles, for a while. (Goldin 42)
This is where I completely disagree with the teacher. If there's a choice, I would rather my students learned to be moral, loving, accepting people who care about others and desire to expend time and energy to be kind to them. I care more about the respect they have for one another and their desire to see the good in one another than I do about their clothes. I believe this is an attitude shared by God. God desires the heart, as the prophets say- not mere sacrifices. Similarly, God desires our moral commitment to our fellows (as evidenced by Dor Haflaga, etc) rather than an obsessive focus upon externals.

If people are interested in reading a book that honestly deals with the topic of modesty, I would recommend purchasing Understanding Tzniut by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin. He is fair, clear and brings sources for his viewpoint as opposed to spouting ideas without providing proof. But I'd as soon give Six Diaries to my daughter as hand her a cupful of poison. The lessons taught by this book don't accord with the intentions of the teacher. She believes they do because her girls suddenly made commitments to wear tights every day, cover their elbows in the sweltering summer heat, or ensure they never bare their toes. But at what price, I ask you? At what price to the relationships they had forged with their parents or friends? To their mental attitudes toward others? What have they truly learned...and is it good that they learned it? I think not.

But that's all right. You see, the fact that I think this way clearly demonstrates that the Satan has been pacified by me. I might love God and believe in Him with all my heart, but having opinions like these clearly demonstrate that my tznius isn't up to par. So let the weeping commence. The Satan's got me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A snow day in college! Who would have thunk it?
Who wants to join my elaborate celabratory party tonight in its honor?
I'm thinking snowballs in Central Park or some such...
(It is a bit depressing; I'm missing my favorite classes tonight. Sadness, sadness.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Patriarchs, Sin & Uplifting Character Traits

This is from Artscroll's Oznayim LaTorah: Insights in the Torah Deuteronomy portion. Page 126, Chapter 9, verse 27. I really like the interpretation R' Sorotzkin offers here:

כז זְכֹר, לַעֲבָדֶיךָ--לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק, וּלְיַעֲקֹב: אַל-תֵּפֶן, אֶל-קְשִׁי הָעָם הַזֶּה, וְאֶל-רִשְׁעוֹ, וְאֶל-חַטָּאתוֹ.27 Remember Thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin;
As explained in the Artscroll: Do not turn to the stubbornness of this people, and to its wickedness and to its sin. Through the merit of the three holy Patriarchs, Moses prays "Do not turn" to three things: by the merit of Abraham, who used the trait of stubbornness to fight idolatry, "do not turn to the stubbornness of this people"; by the merit of Isaac, who willingly bared his neck to the slaughtering knife, "do not turn to its wickedness," the iniquities willfully committed; and by the merit of Jacob, who suffered troubles and exile all his life, "do not turn to its sin," those sins committed unintentionally (for exile atones for unintentional sins). This is why the three items are listed from the most serious fault down to the least serious one, although one would expect the opposite for they are listed in the order of the Patriarchs they correspond to.


This explanation follows my favorite theme of how one can uplift and channel one's character traits in order to serve God in holiness. And I think it's a really interesting understanding of how precisely each Patriarch helps to counter the people's actions.

A Light Unto the Nations

Sometimes people are under the impression that the concept of being a 'light unto the nations' is an invention of the moderns as opposed to an underlying facet of Judaism. To counter this point, I suggest people look at the Aznaim L'Torah (R' Zalman Sorotzkin) to Deuteronomy 9:24; divrei hamaschil מַמְרִים הֱיִיתֶם, עִם-יְהוָה, מִיּוֹם, דַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם.

Please Let's Dodge The Train

"Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel was just a freight train coming your way." ~"No Leaf Clover" by Metallica

God, please, please; this is a battle I cannot win without you. I want to win it. But the mind doesn't rule the heart by me, and this means I need you to help me. I need you to because I can't help myself. I'm so awash with longing that I can't see the future. And if the past is always more real than the future, if I'm always living in a poppy-filled imaginarium of opiate wonders, even if I never so much as sniff the drug, I will never get out of the labyrinth. I will never, ever get out. And you have got to get me out. Because I can't, I can't get out by myself. I'm asking you, God; no, in truth I'm begging you. I can't want it enough with my heart because my heart doesn't belong to me anymore. And because I'm afraid of the pain. It doesn't matter, though. "To the pain!" cries Wesley and I shall echo him; let's dance, God, shall we? Let's duel to the pain and you'll leave me my ears to hear the screams of the children.

I know you only help those who help themselves. I know I have to want it. But it's like Evey says, "I can't feel anything anymore." I'm riding a merry-go-round that always stops in the same place, a carousel where I never move forward but always backward. My life needs to revolve around a different spool of thread; the Fates cut the other one long ago. But I can't do it. I can't. I need you to make me. I need you to love me enough to help me love myself. I know my mind but I can't feel. I don't dare.

Wake me up with different eyes so that I'm not consistently seeing what already was in lieu of all that will be. I've been branded so that a flame, a fire, burns in my mind always. And I can't wish it away of my own initiative. I love that fire. I long for that fire. But that fire is hurting me. And I cannot be Karenin's wife in the path of all that beautiful light...

The train is coming for me; the question is whether I will, like Richard, 'have a fatal accident today' or step on it and survive the ordeal of the Blackfriars. You're on my side, so you give me a Door, you hear me? I'll pick her bleeding off the street so long as she cuts our way out of the Angel's loft. Take the fire out of my mind and then I'll be able to live again. At least make it possible for me to imagine that.

I love you lots, God; I only wish sometimes that it was easy.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I Need A Job

I need a job that gives me health insurance. I can start this job whenever you, friendly reader, hire me. I can start tomorrow. Or this summer. You let me know.

Here's what I'm good at:

-English Literature
-Tanakh (but no, I cannot teach in Hebrew)
-Public speaking

Here's what I'd ideally want to do:

-Motivational speaking
-Writing a column someplace
-Teaching English literature
-Work on a talk show
-Something to do with toys, toy-stores, or designing toys (or dolls)
-Something really interesting and unconventional

Who knows of jobs I can apply for?

Bel & The Dragon

Since my mind is in spin disc mode (too much, too fast, too soon, way too much to emotionally handle/process, I don't have a grandmother, slow down, world), it's very hard to concentrate. Since it's hard to concentrate, it's very hard to do work. So we're going to trick my mind by researching for my paper (through typing up quotes and suchlike but pretending like I'm just writing a blogpost.) Excellent.

(And yes, there's a good chance I chose 'Bel & the Dragon' because it sounds like 'Belle & the Dragon' which reminds me of 'Belle & the Beast' which reminds me of 'Beauty & the Beast.' So there.)


Under the subject heading Daniel, Additions To in The Anchor Bible Dictionary with David Noel Freedman as Editor-in-Chief, Volume 2 (D-G), published by Doubleday in 1992 in New York.

D. "Bel and the Snake"

"Bel and the Snake" represents two distinct "confrontation narratives" in which the prophet Daniel, a confidant of King Cyrus of Persia (550-530 BC), courted his own death by deliberately setting out to disprove the "divinity" of two much revered Babylonian gods: the idol Bel (Akk Belu 'He who rules,' i.e. Marduk of Babylon) and a large, living snake. In both stories Daniel's clever use of food proved the undoing of the false gods, that is, Bel could not eat and therefore was not a living god; and because of what the snake did eat he died immediately. These brief tales, each of which is only 22 verses long, are designated as Daniel 13 in ('O' sign with slash through the middle): Daniel 14 in the LXX and Vg.

(page 24)

2. Genre of the Two Tales

The plot for "Bel," the world's first detective story, is certainly plausible. And whether believable or not, Daniel's being safe in the pres (up till here is page 24) ence of ravenous lions and a prophet's being transported by the hair of his head do have biblical antecedents (cf. Daniel 6 and Ezek 8:3).

Yet few, if any, scholars argue for the historicity of either tale. For one thing, "Bel" has a couple of historical errors: Cyrus did not "succeed" (v 1) but rather took by force the kingdom of his grandfather, Astyages (cf. Herodotus Hist. 1: 130); and more important, classical authors like Herodotus, Strabo and Arrian agree that it was the Persian king Xerxes I (486-465 BC) who destroyed Bel and his temple (not Daniel [v 22 of O w/slashthru), or Cyrus the Great [the LXX]). Second, both "Bel" and "The Snake" are typologically identical with other unhistorical stories in Daniel 1-6 where Daniel, described in the third person, is always the hero (except in Daniel 3), and the then-reigning king is the other principal. Moreover, it is always Daniel's strong adherence to his faith that is responsible for bringing him into a dangerous situation and for saving him from it, with the result that Daniel is rewarded by the king, his enemies are destroyed, and the God of Israel is recognized as the one true God.

(page 25)


1. It is the "historization of a myth, the myth being that most exciting part of Enuma Elish (The Babylonian New Year Creation Epic), where Marduk, the tutelary god of Babylon, kills Tiamat, the primordial goddess of salt water" (Freedman 25). Scholars suggest that "echoes of this struggle between Marduk and Tiamat" are seen "even in the ingredients Daniel fed the snake in v 27 (i.e., "pitch, fat, and hair")" (Freedman 25). This is due to the fact that the Aramaic words for 'pitch' and 'barley' can also mean 'wind' or 'storm' and this refers to "one of the weapons Marduk used to kill Tiamat" (Freedman 25). Hair would represent the Greek translator's misreading of the Aramaic word for storm or whirlwind for that meaning hair (Freedman 25). Critics of this viewpoint explain that Tiamat was "envisioned by the Babylonians as a female dragon, not a snake." Further, while snake worship did exist in Neo-Babylonian culture, there is no evidence of Neo-Babylonians "worshipping living snakes."

2. Other scholars have preferred to view "Bel" and "The Snake" as popular or priestly anecdotes of Haggadah inspired by Jer 51: 34-35, 44:

    "Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel, he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies, he has rinsed me out. The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon," let the inhabitants of Zion say, 'My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,' let Jerusalem say...And I [i.e. God] will punish Bel in Babylon and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed. The nations shall no longer flow to hm; the wall of Babylon has fallen.
Although no extant texts illustrate any intermediate stages in the evolution of "Bel and the Snake" from Jeremiah 51, the process of subsequent midrashic elaboration and embellishment is documentable. For example, Daniel's concoction of "pitch, fat and hair" (v 27) is described in later Jewish literature as concealing a variety of lethal objects: pointed nails (B'reshit Rabbah), iron combs with sharp tines (Josippon), iron hatchets (Chronicles of Jerahmeel), and very hot coals (Jer. Nedarim 37d). By contrast, Nickelsburg (1981:27) suggests that "Bel and the Snake" may be a midrashic treatment of Isaiah 45-46. (All this is on page 25)

3. The third and most recently proposed genre for the two tales is idol parody, a motif well illustrated by Isaiah 44 and 46. As "a Daniel confrontation it [i.e., 'Bel and the Snake'] sought to ground the rejection of idol worship, typically formulated in the inherited parodies, in the historical act of a well known hero of the faith in the which it [the idol parody] appeared as a recognized oral genre" (Roth 1975: 43). Roth also maintains that the idol parodies of "Bel" and "The Snake" were written to counteract the appeal of idolatry, and esp. zoolatry, to Egyptian Jews of the 1st century BC (cf. Wis 15: 18-19; Let. Aris. 138). Egypt did indeed have a long history of snake worship; for example, Apophis, the wicked enemy of Re, was depicted as a snake, as was Buto, the snake goddess of lower Egypt.

Needless to say, such tales were designed for Jews, not gentiles. Any impact on the latter would have been most negative, the gentiles resenting such Jewish pretensions: (page 25)


If "Bel and the Snake" was originally composed in Greek, then its exclusion from the Jewish canon is quite understandable. But if, as seems more likely, "Bel" and "The Snake" were originally Hebrew/ Aramaic compositions, then their exclusion from the Jewish or Palestinian canon is more puzzling- unless, of course, they were added to the book of Daniel after its canonization.

In all likelihood, "Bel and the Snake" (whether placed after Daniel 12 [so "O w/strikethru"] or after "Susanna" [so the LXX and the Vgl), was added after the composition of the canonical Daniel but before Daniel and its Adds were (page 26) translated into Greek. However, the reason(s) for "Bel and the Snake"'s being excluded from the older and more venerated text of Daniel is a matter of sheer speculation. Certainly the traditional view (i.e. that the Council of Jamnia ([in AD 90)] rejected the Adds to Daniel) is rapidly losing supporters (Cohen 1987: 186).


Date and Place of Composition. Like the stories in canonical Daniel, "Bel and the Snake" may date to the 3rd century BC, or, quite possibly, somewhat later. Certainly there is nothing in either narrative to preclude its having originated as haggadic elaborations of Jer 51:34-35, 44, or Isaiah 45-46 sometime during the late Persian period, there being nothing distinctively Greek in either narrative.

It is likely that "Bel and the Snake" was added to the Semitic text of Daniel several decades after 163 BC, i.e., the date of the canonical Daniel. Antiochus VII Sidetes' invasion of Judea and his razing a portion of the walls of Jerusalem in 135 BC could have provided an appropriate Sitz in Leben for inerting "Bel and the Snake" into canonical Daniel.

Virtually every major Jewish settlement has been suggested as the place of composition for "Bel and the Snake." Because zoolatry was a temptation for some Egyptian Jews, many scholars, ranging from Fritzsche (1851) to Roth (1975: 42-43) have argued for an Egyptian provenance. But scholars believe that "Bel" and "The Snake" are semitic compositions look to either Babylon (Bissell 1880; EncJud 4:412) or Palestine (Brull 1887: APOT 1: 652-64). The discovery of Pseudo-Daniel at Qumran makes a late 2d or early 1st-century BC Palestinian provenance for "Bel and the Snake" more likely than ever before. (pages 26-27)


From Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by John J. Collins copyrighted in 1993, published by Augsburg Fortress (apparently Fortress Press) in Minneapolis, MN.


Bel and the Seprent obviously has much in common with Daniel 1-6, especially chap. 6. It too may be characterized as a court legend, which culminates in the recognition of the true God in tones of wonder. Again the king is gullible, and Daniel's opponents are villainous and murderous. Within the common framework of the court legend, however, Bel and the Serpent rings some distinctive changes.

First, the courtly elements of the story are reduced. David's enemies are not rival sages but priests and the Babylonian populace. Second, the legendary elements are greatly reduced and appear only in the third section of the story. Daniel disposes of Bel and the Serpent by his own wits, and the episode with Bel has often been dubbed a detective story. In this regard the story recalls the practical wisdom of Ahikar rather than the mantic wisdom of Daniel or Joseph. Third, the polemic against idols is much more central in this story than in any of the tales in Daniel 1-6. There is some polemic against idolatry in Daniel 1-6 - for example, when the three young men refuse to worship the statue in chap. 3 or when Daniel berates Belshazzar in 5:23- but none of these stories revolves around the issue of idolatry. There the Jews are endangered because of their fidelity to their own religion; here Daniel provokes opposition by his attack on the idols. When the courtiers plot against Daniel in chap. 6, it is because of professional jealousy; in Bel and the Serpent he initiates the hostilities by destroying the idols and having the priests slaughtered.

Idol parodies occur frequently in biblical literature in the post exilic period, beginning with Second Isaiah 9esp. Isa 44:9-20). Examples are found in Hab 2:18-19; Jer 10:1-16; and Psalms 115 and 135. An extended example is found in the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah. Although these parodies are quite caustic, they differ from Bel and the Serpent in two respects. First, they are not cast as narratives; second, they neither call for nor narrate the destruction of the idols. The message of the biblical idol parodies is that idol worship is folly and should be avoided. The message of Bel and the Serpent is that idols should not be tolerated.

An analogous story about the destruction of idols is found in Jubilees 12. There Abraham upbraids his father: "What help or advantage do we have from these idols before which you worship and bow down?" (v 2). His father advises him to "be silent, my son, lest they kill you." Abraham, however, "arose in the night and burned the house of idols. And he burned everything in the house. And there was no man who knew" (Jub 12:12-13). The analogy, however, is limited. In the story of Bel and the Seprent, Daniel first exposes the futility of the idols. In this respect, a better parallel can be found in the story of Mosollamus,t he Jewish archer, attributed to Hecataeus of Abdera by Josephus (AgAp 1.22 par. 201-4). Mosollamus shot a bird that the pagan soldiers were watching for augury and thereby demonstrated its lack

(page 417)

of foreknowledge. Moreover, Daniel destroys the idols with the permission of the pagan king. The repudiation of the idols does not necessarily imply a repudiation of the gentile world.

The story may also have a midrashic dimension. Moore endorses the view that "these tales are pure Jewish fiction, being popular or priestly anecdotes of haggadah inspired by several verses in one chapter of Jeremiah," specifically Jer 51:34-35 ("Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, has devoured me...he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies") and 51:44 ("And I will punish Bel in Babylon and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed"). Apt though these verses are, however, there is no explicit link between them and Bel and the Serpent, and the suggestion that they inspired the story is not compelling. Nickelsburg finds "a number of remarkable parallels to Isaiah 45-46" which "suggest that our story may have developed as a kind of commentary on these chapters of Second Isaiah." In Isaiah 45, Yahweh addresses Cyrus, who will come to know him (vv 1, 3). Beside Yahweh there is no other God (5,6). Isaiah 46 (OG) begins a polemic against idols with "Bel has fallen." Again, the parallels are apt, but they are by no means adequate to generate the story. There is no evidence that the story originated as a midrash on a scriptural text.

Setting and Function

The provenance of Bel and the Serpent is quite uncertain. If we assume that it was incorporated into the Book of Daniel by the OG translator, then the date can be no later than the second century BCE. The fact that the OG version makes Daniel a priest, in contradiction to Daniel 1, suggests a date before MT Daniel had become authoritative (therefore before the mid-second century.)

If the original language was Hebrew or Aramaic, then an origin in the Egyptian diaspora during the Hellenistic period is unlikely, because there is no clear example of Egyptian-Jewish literature from this period in a Semitic language. The inaccuracy of the portrayal of Babylonian religion argues against an origin in the eastern diaspora. If the original language was Hebrew rather than Aramaic, the land of Israel is by far the most likely place of composition. In that case, the sympathetic portrayal of the gentile king is more plausibly dated before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes rather than later. We may suggest, then, that the original document was composed in Jerusalem in the first quarter of the second century BCE, in circles different from those that collected the tales of Daniel 1-6. It is readily admitted, however, that several steps in this argument are uncertain and the conclusion is highly tentative.

The Judaism portrayed in the story is strict, even intolerant, on the matter of idolatry, but it is not antagonistic to the gentile world as such. The king is naive but he is no tyrant, and he does not hesitate to repudiate the idols and acknowledge the God of Daniel when the evidence warrants it. Both versions of the story make clear that he hands Daniel over only under duress, and eventually he comes to mourn him. The story implies a world where Jews live under a gentile ruler. The desirable objective is not independence but the conversion of that ruler. In this respect Bel and the Seprent is typical of the so-called diaspora novels (Daniel 1-6, Esther, 3 Maccabees), but such an attitude was also at home in the land of Israel in the period before Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt.

The story makes little attempt to be fair to Babylonian religion and is, indeed, a caricature. Nonetheless, it has considerable metaphorical potential. The priests of Bel

(so far this has all been on page 418)

are representative of manipulators of images in all ages. The manipulation of religious images for personal gain is endemic to religion and is all too familiar a problem in the modern world. The serpent that bursts is symbolic of the idolization of mindless consumption. The stance of Daniel, in contrast, is one of honesty and integrity. The point at issue is not only his adherence to specifically Jewish forms of worship but his rejection of fraud and hypocrisy, which were certainly not peculiar to Babylonian religion.


Although Bel and the Serpent was composed in a Semitic language, there is no evidence that it was ever part of the Hebrew-Aramaic Book of Daniel. The identification of Daniel as as priest shows that it came from a different strand of tradition. It is not correct, then, to speak of its "rejection from the Jewish canon." It was simply part of the extensive corpus of Hebrew and Aramaic literature that never came to be regarded as biblical. Its inclusion in the Book of Daniel must be attributed to the Greek translator. The earliest citation is found in Irenaeus (Haer 4.5.2), who cites vv 4 and 5 with reference to "Daniel the Prophet." It was rejected by Jerome, on the grounds that it is not found in the Hebrew of the Book of Daniel. It was less popular than Susanna in the church fathers, and the episode of the lions' den was more often cited from Daniel 6.

(page 419)


Now let's look at The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English edited by R.H. Charles, D. Litt., D.D., Volume 1 published by Oxford University Press, first published in 1913, in New York.

Page 652 is where Bel & the Dragon shows up.

I need to photocopy this because I can't type it all up. Ah well. I should probably write my paper at some point. Damn the damned paper.

She Can Still Wake Up

She said: "I've become so numb I can't feel you there."
She begged me to help her feel.
And I said, "I can make you feel it."
She said she was a person before they brought her down;
She was better than this dark relentless town.
She had another lover who kept her in a cage;
She had sold her future and buried who she was.
And I said, "I can make you feel it."
And I said, "Dear God the only thing I ask of you
Is to hold her when I'm not around."
And she said, "Wake me up."
And I smiled and said, "Sweetness follows."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Monday, February 01, 2010

Moshe & Rena: The Ascension of my Moonlit Grandmother

She opened her eyes wide, taking her first deep breath of deliciously scented air. Her hair hung in two long braids down her back, her skin fresh and smooth with the delightful flush of youth. Her eyes were clear, her body new again. She twirled delightedly, dazzled.

He reached out his arms to her. "My darling Rena, you've come back to me," he said.

"Moshe," she replied, "I never wanted to leave you."

The two of them looked compassionately down upon the family members gathered around the hospital bed, all of them grieving, tears lining their saddened faces. Then they turned back to one another.

"Can I really have my youth back?" she marvelled, having forgotten the sensation of movement with ease, the free, easy way in which one could traverse the soft dewy grass, the shine of the sun in her hair.

"Of course," Moshe replied. "This is a world of the spirit, of the soul. Here you may have everything." He beckoned her to his palace, shining resplendently in the sky. "This is what I have been building for you during the past twenty years," he stated grandly. She looked at the elaborate silks, the scent of pomegranate and myrrh intermingling, the jewels that lay at her feet. She smiled to see the glittering glow of God's light that emanated from the windows.

"And is that where we shall dwell?" she inquired, curious.

"Yes, Rena," he told her, and she smiled, glad to have been united with him at last.

My moonlit grandmother is dead.