Jewish Technological Seminary

Technojudaism!New blog on the Jewish use of technology: HaMeetz.

You can also follow HaMeetz on Twitter.  If you’re Jewish, and you use Twitter, HaMeetz wants to follow you.

Alternate titles: Technolojew, DeVry Torah.

From the “Life in Israel” file…

The Dude abides.

Emor

Emor has my linen breeches in a bunch.  One of the most common tsores you hear in modern commentary on Emor is the idea that kohanim with physical defects are not kosher for presenting sacrifices to God.  Those who affirm equal opportunity for people with disabilities decry the insensitivity of the text to the desires and rights of those with physical differences to serve God according to their own ability.

I don’t have an easy answer to this; I can’t imagine one exists.  The parallel drawn in Emor between priests without blemish and animals without blemish does remind me of the numerous commandments throught the Torah to sacrifice only unblemished animals. 

Whenever I read that, I think that God is reminding us (and reminding us, and reminding us…) not to cut corners in our service to him OR in the service of our fellow humans on His behalf.  If God wasn’t repetitive and explicit with this instruction, you can bet that many people would probably sacrifice only animals they would cast aside anyway, keeping the best for themselves.

What does this say about the priests?  Maybe God, playing on human vanity, wanted the service of the Lord to be a bit of a beauty contest.  This sounds distasteful, but maybe it’s how he wanted us to see the role of the priests.  Perfect and unblemished.  Few and proud.  The Marines of the Mishkan.

I like to think this was the intention of the Priestly Code — to make it a revered, respected institution.  Not only that, but even those who inherited the office were not always guaranteed full status.

Also, if God wanted to exclude people on account of their disabilities, would he declare thay they may (or must?) partake of the sacrificial meals?  All kohanim who are pure (in the temporary sense of cleanliness, an usually voluntary state) may reap the benefits of the office, regardless of their permanent (often involuntary) condition.

To me this is a clear example of God tempering all His actions — the full justice of which we may not readily grasp — with mercy, and perhaps a little justice we do understand.

Shabbat shalom!

Why does Atkins beat kashrut?

Not the Circle-K, dude.I keep kosher, or what I call konservative kosher — my family walks into any restaurant and orders four salmon platters, or two salmon platters, a quesadilla, and an eggplant parmesan.  You get the idea; not kosher enough for some, but certainly a bit uncomfortable on Sloppy Joe Friday at the office cafeteria.

When people ask me, “What gives?”  on Sloppy Joe Friday, I say I’m a vegetarian. 

When people ask me why I’m holding out when someone brings Krispy Kremes to a morning meeting during a particular week in spring, I don’t crack open Exodus to explicate kosher l’pesah; I say I’m on a diet.  Everyone nods in understanding, sighs in solidarity, and secretly gloats that there will be more donuts to go around.

What’s wrong with me?

I’m I ashamed of being Jewish?  Or have I just learned that telling people I keep kosher is a low-return investment of my time and their attention? 

You tell someone you keep kosher, and then explain what that means (usually required in the US Midwest), and you can count on a couple of reactions. 

One, their eyes glaze over as soon as they hear, “According to Leviticus…” 

Two, they grin politely while thinking, “So this guy’s too good for Sloppy Joe Friday, eh?  What does that say about me?”

Or can you count on this?  Am I projecting?  Am I missing an opportunity to share something meaningful about myself and my beliefs with intelligent, well-meaning coworkers?

The fact is that if you say you’re on a diet, everyone gets that.  In the US most of us are overweight, all of us are vain, and we all want to appear magnanimous in our support for others’ self-sacrifice.

We all get vegetarians; everyone’s heard of Gandhi, or has a sister or a kid or a sister’s kid who’s weird like that.

You tell someone in the US Midwest you don’t eat what they eat for religious regions, they feel judged, and so do you.

So I have two questions for you:

First, why is following fad diets (South Beach, Atkins, Blood Type) more socially acceptible than following a millenia-old pattern of eating for religious reasons in a nation that was founded on religious tolerance?

Second, is a Jew obliged to own up to kashrut, and explain it if necessary, if that’s the real reason he’s not eating in a social setting with non-Jews?

Kedoshim

Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20) isn’t one of those passages of the Torah that challenges one’s imagination to draw meaning and metaphor from a story about life in the Ancient Near East.  There’s no character development, no narrative arc, no backstory to speak of…just a litany of all that we shalt and shalt not do, pretty much from start to finish.

Unlike stories about talking snakes or wrestling matches with angels, we are not called on to derive moral lessons or extrapolate commandments.  Kedoshim is a straightforward instruction manual, a recipe for achieving a stated objective: to be holy.

God tells us to be holy for He is holy, and in the same breath he gives us a series of rules to follow, both imperative and proscriptive.  It appears to me that these rules fall into two general categories, roughly corresponding to the two chapters of Leviticus:  personal behavior (chapter 19) and social behavior (chapter 20).

What interests me most is the divergence in legal formulations between 19 and 20.  A typical 19 commandment:

19:18 Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

A typical 20 commandment:

20:11 And the man that lieth with his father’s wife–he hath uncovered his father’s nakedness–both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Chapter 19 says: don’t do this thing, even though no one would know it was you; I am the Lord. 

Chapter 20 says, don’t do this thing with another person (or animal), or else everyone will stone you, even though you think it’s a private matter between you and the other person (or animal).  Anything you do with even one other person affects the holiness of the entire people.

So even in the kitchen-sink list of rules that make up Kedoshim, one can draw general conclusions, and here are mine:

Your personal holiness is defined by what you do when no one’s looking.  God is not into the ethics of transparancy.

When you are capable of involving someone else in your transgression, you are capable of jeopardizing the holiness of your entire nation.

Finally, I don’t support capital punishment for gay men or public immolation for a mother-daughter situation.  I do think the parsha offers profound insight into the difference between crime and conspiracy, as well as a statement that holiness is extremely personal, and public holiness is more personal than you think.

Shabbat shalom!

If I were Jewish, I’d be pretty upset.

For the record, I am, but I guess it depends on whom you ask.

Shenanigans!From the Jerusalem Post:

“In an unprecedented decision, the High Rabbinical Court of Israel has called to invalidate all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Haim Drukman, the head of the Conversion Authority.”

This has got to be the last straw.  The emperor has finally stepped out on the balcony in his new clothes, and he is flapping like Jeremy Segal in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall“.

Banning concerts and TV and vegetables is one thing, but claiming to revoke the Jewishness of thousands of people with the stroke of a pen only revokes the credibility of this body as a religious authority.

From the glass-half-full perspective, maybe Israel will start getting a little respect from other nations in the Middle East, now that its democracy has been hijacked by ridiculous fundamentalists.

Good commentary on this issue here and here.  I think this would qualify as a Shanda fur die Goyim, if they paid attention to such shenanigans.

You heard me.  I call shenanigans.

Bonus Question: If I’m not technically Jewish, according to standards of the High Rabbinic Court, is my disparagement of their foolishness to be considered anti-Semitic?

Misunderstanding the Diaspora

I was just reading a post by ArielBeery at Blogs of Zion, and I had to stop and read it again, because at first it didn’t make sense.  The thesis is that some Jews in America were becoming more like Protestant Christians because we are truncating or eliminating the prayer for Israel from our services.

This post demonstrates severe misunderstanding of the American Jewish community; as I am equally ignorant of Israel, I only wish to educate, not to criticize.

In my experience, the more devoted an American Jew is to improving his spiritual sensibilities, the more bound he feels by halakha, the more devotion he shows to Israel as well.  Those who reject Israel or at least do not show preference or deference to her among the nations of the world are usually the least “religious” amongs us.

As a Conservative Jew in America, I note the irony of our movements vociferous support of Israel — with our deeds, our checkbooks, and our regular recitation of the prayer for Israel — while many in Israel continue to support a coalition that rejects the legitimacy of our rabbis and our converts.

By the way, Protestant Christians are more likely to support Israel than are other types of Christians, in my experience.