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May 2, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Acharei Mot

This week’s Torah portion reminds us not to eat blood (Lev. 17:12) and yet blood is constantly being sprinkled around during sacrifices.  So its not that blood is completely impure- so what’s really going on here?

Arama writes that blood represents an animal’s personality, and so by pouring out blood on the altar, a Jew was dedicating the animal’s personality, and thus his or her own personality, to God.  Of course, this all makes sense only if you buy his assumption that blood = personality, which seems a bit arbitrary.

Having said that, the blood restriction seems to be a part of a pattern.  Jews are prohibited from using wool and linen together, but the priests’ uniforms combine wool and linen.  As with the blood prohibition, something generally prohibited is allowed for sacred use.  Maybe the broader idea here is to have some sort of distinction between the sacred and the mundane, whether the sacred item be animal blood or wool/linen mixtures.

April 28, 2016 / conservadox

An easy Pesach

In some ways, this has been an easy Pesach.  I probably will end it without preparing a single Yom Tov meal: I was at my brother’s for the seders, and have been invited to every single meal for the second Yom Tov.  For the first day of chol hamoed (Monday) i mostly ate chicken left over from the seders (I was mostly in transit from brother’s in Atlanta to home in Pittsburgh).  The past few days I mostly ate canned mackerel and veggie/sweet potato Terra chips for lunch, Pesach pizza and blintzes for dinner – though here I am being redundant, since pesach Pizza is really just potato blintzes with a token amount of cheese (which is why it is much better than I thought it would be!).  Thank God for potatoes!

April 16, 2016 / conservadox

shul visit update

I finally made it to a couple of the below-the-radar minyans (i.e. no signage or web page), Kesser Torah and the Chabad Naamat weekday minyan.  Details here.

April 16, 2016 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

Because last week’s parsha discussed green and red impurities in a house, I decided to have some green and red food: a stew made out of cucumbers and tomatoes as well as fish with bbq sauce (this time pike).

Also, because Pesach was coming up I felt the need to have a little extra chametz: a cheese pretzel and garlic rolls from Milky Way (Pittsburgh’s only real kosher restaurant, unless you count the koshesr Dunkin Donuts)

And also blueberry ice from Rita’s.

April 10, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Metzora

The Arama commentary only has three pages on this coming week’s Torah portion.  Since the plain meaning of the portion (about skin diseases) is pretty dry, the Talmud created midrashim suggesting that these skin diseases were due to lashon hara (gossip) which of course gives Arama a reason to go on and on about the abuses of speech.

He notes that when a victim of these diseases is purified. he/she must offer sacrifice two birds.  Arama writes that “The reason that two birds have to be offered is because speech is basically welcome only for two purposes: (a) to study and teach Torah, b) to earn one livelihood”- a farfetched midrash on a farfetched midrash.

And like many farfetched ideas, this seems a bit unhinged from reality.  We build relationships by talking, and not just about work or abstract intellectual topics.

April 7, 2016 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

For the first time in a few weeks I have Shabbos dinner at home. Since the Torah portion is all about red and white rashes I am having red amd white foods:

tomato salad (red) with mushrooms/garlic/onions (white)
red kidney beans (red) with konjacki pasta (white) and tomato sauce
challah roll goat cheese pizzettes
salmon (red) with bbq sauce and a little cream cheese (white)
white cake with strawberry jam
plums with yogurt

April 7, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Tazria

This week’s Torah portion is about various skin diseases.  Since the Talmud blames some of these diseases on the victim’s sins, Arama goes into a long discussion of various good and bad qualities of people.

He mentions a statement in the Mishnah praising a rabbi who had a “benevolent eye” and uses that as a jumping-off point to discuss a concept that I’ve never quite understood: the “evil eye.”

Arama (well, really Munk interpreting Arama as always) writes “[God] commanded Moses to make sure no one would be around to give him an ‘evil eye’ [on Mt. Sinai]… The essential damage caused by this evil eye is due to the character deficiency of the viewer who infects everything he sees with his own disease.  Therefore, such people, especially when full of hatred, reinforce the damage that their look can cause.”  He adds that a “benevolent eye” is an important quality and that one should pray for this “characer trait of the … positive attitude to all that he sees around him.”

So it seems to me that according to Arama, an evil eye is not a supernatural power, but a general malevolence, a negative attitude towards all.   He isn’t saying anything unusual here- except that I’ve seen the term used in a more superstitious context, and Arama is trying to defang superstition by reference to the Mishnah.

March 27, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah-Shemini

This week’s Torah portion contains some of the dietary laws, in particular the lists of forbidden animals.  Know-nothing Jews often think these laws are about physical health.  As Arama points out, this logic “would reduce Torah to being a medical textbook, and a very abbreviated one at that.”

Arama adds that other nations enjoy good health to the same extent as Jews.  Furthermore, no poisonous plants or animals are on the “forbidden” list, as would be the case if physical health were the cause of the dietary laws.

So what is the cause of the dietary laws?  Arama doesn’t really have any idea; he mutters vaguely about spiritual health and the afterlife.   But if God wanted to make it spiritually healthy for Jews to eat ostriches, God could have made us that way.  So what is the answer?  Teiku. 


March 22, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Tzav

This week’s Torah portion, like last week’s, focuses on the details of sacrifices.  Arama’s commentary (at least as translated by Munk) mostly discusses prayer for some reason, but he does have a tiny bit to say about sacrifices generally.

He suggests that because God needed the prophets to rebuke Jews for their erroneous views about the meaning of sacrifices, perhaps God’s plans had misfired.  The purpose of the sacrifices was to make Jews closer to God, and apparently this purpose was not met.

How can this idea be squared with the idea of an all-knowing divinity giving wise commandments?  Arama writes that God’s plans are “long range and comprehensive.”  In other words, sacrifices didn’t work well in the short run, but they led to prayers, which in turn led to our presumably better status quo.

March 20, 2016 / conservadox

shabbos dinner

Was feeling kind of icky and didn’t have much time, so I had a very simple shabbos dinner.  Basically just seminola pancakes (because the flour offerings mentioned in Vayikra are, according to some commentators, made of seminola) and lentils with beef sticks, with hamantashen for dessert.


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