Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Framing A Journey Through Jewish History:
“In every generation do enemies rise up against us, seeking to destroy us.” So declares a passage near the beginning of the Haggadah. The events in suburban Kansas City on Sunday serve as a reminder that even here in the United States there are those who despise us as Jews. (The fact that none of the victims were Jewish is perhaps ironic in light of the intentions of Frazier Glenn Cross, who is a KKK devotee, as well as a neo-Nazi. And that there are those who share his warped beliefs, including the mayor of his hometown, leaves us chilled.) The shootings, however, are the exception to the rule of the nature of Anti-Semitism here in the United States: in most instances it manifests itself in much less violent form than in other parts of the world.
Frequently, Jewish history is perceived as a series of assaults on Jews and Jewish life. “They hate us” becomes the leitmotif for the story. This concept was encapsulated by the great Jewish historian Salo Baron, who spoke of lachrymose history—tear-stained history: a focus on tragic history. He rejected that approach and sought to highlight the positive features of Jewish life across time and space.
At the conclusion of the opening episode of his five part series, “The Story of the Jews”, noted historian Simon Schama stands by the Arch of Titus, commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and he quotes a line Freud penned on a postcard showing the arch: “The Jew survives it.” But Schama’s history is more than a mere tale of Jewish survival. His is a tale of Jewish creativity, often in the face of persecution. His is a story of Jews, often propelled by persecution, who sought out new homes where they fashioned dynamic Jewish lives.
As in all efforts to condense a vast span of history, some events, personalities, literary creations sometimes get short shrift. I wonder how the Maccabees were omitted from the review of Jewish-Greek interaction. Missing later were the clashes between mysticism and rationalism; the impact of the printing press on the formation of Jewish law; and the clashes between Hassidim and their 18th century foes. Those quibble aside, what Schama offers is a very personal exploration of the Jewish experience across the centuries. And so while one may disagree with some of his omissions and with what he chooses to highlight, he brings to the screen an upbeat view of the Jewish experience: of how Jews fashioned remarkable cultures and in the last 200 years contributed to general culture on a broad scale.
And the fact that the series begins in the West London Synagogue, the “mother synagogue” of Progressive/Reform congregations in England, dating back to the 1840’s, and shows Schama in shule is indicative of this personal odyssey, in which he respectfully dons a yarmulke when visiting a synagogue or even travelling through the Jewish catacombs of Rome. It is inspirational to see a distinguished general historian take Jewish culture—and there is also a scene at a family seder!!—so personally.
Later in the Haggadah, shortly before we get to the meal, we declare, “In every generation, one must view oneself as having been liberated from Egypt.” That is an effort to root our lives in that foundational experience. One can see Egyptian bondage as the paradigm for most of Jewish life across the centuries, and see Jewish history and Jewish life as a series of “Us versus them.” Or one can perceive it as a starting point for a civilization that has flourished and taken on new forms with the passage of time. I prefer the latter.
Enjoy the matzah brei.
Shabbat shalom and a continued zissen Pesach.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
A Light Unto the Nations
Oree Advanced illuminations Solutions of Ramat Gan has developed a product which is close to the gold standard for modern lighting technology: thin, energy efficient, low cost, and uniformity of product. The technology uses LEDs, now increasingly standard in thin television screens and computer monitors. Its five-watt module gives off as much light as 40 watt bulb and is only 4 millimeters thick.
The inspiration for Oree was a visit to the dentist, as Eran Fine contemplated on how to improve the lighting in the office. His first thought was to fashion gloves with lighting sources in the fingertips: but that was rejected because gloves are disposable. So he moved on to work with Noam Meir and together they established the company in 2006, and attracted funding from around the globe: Genesis Partners from Israel, Gimv from Belgium, FGC from Japan and Epistar from Taiwan! The new product was made by embedding Epsitar chips into a light guide so the diodes spread light uniformly across the two-dimensional surface. The invention is patent protected with patents in the US, Europe and China.
Two years ago, Peter van Strijp, formerly Phillips Lighting CEO, joined the company as it moved from R & D to sales. The product has been on the market since the summer of 2012 and is manufactured in Thailand at the rate of 100.000 units per month. The product is being snapped-up by manufacturers as quickly as they are produced.
Van Strijp and Oree see potential opportunities for expansion at every turn: integrating the modules into corridor lighting; adding them to task lighting, and placing them in a refrigerator to illuminate shelves. IKEA is considering using the Israeli product on the undersides of cabinets. As Amir Steklov, CFO, noted: “You can even glue it to wood, because it does not get warm.”
The modules last 50,000 hours and can be dimmed and controlled by computer.
The product is so successful, and continues to attract growing interest as it is demonstrated internationally at trade shows, that future plans call for a separate office to open in China in the near future.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The Torah portion for the Sabbath of Passover (April 19th) is Exodus 33:12- 34:26.
34:18 You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread—eating unleavened bread for seven days, as I have commanded you—at the set time of the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you went forth from Egypt.
34:18 Behold he begins to teach and to recall some of the commandments previously mentioned; these are the commandments which distance them [the Israelites] from idolatry, for they had already succumbed to it. And the remembrance of some of the commandments instructed them about the wonders that the Name had done for Israel in their leaving Egypt and in receiving the Torah. This was done so that they would remember their essence and pursue knowledge of the Lord and walk in His ways. In particular these are the festival of Matzah, the issue of [giving the] firstlings and the Sabbath rest; for all of them are in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, as is mentioned in the portion of Va’etchanan. And the festival of Shavuot is a remembrance of the giving of the Torah, which in its essence was the most wonderful of all wonders. And the festival of Sukkot is also a recollection of the Exodus, as it is said, “For I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:433). And mentioned with them is the necessity to appear before the Lord three times during the year and the festival on those occasions. For in this way there would be better established in their hearts faith in the Name, and they would not stray from Him, for they would have been raised with this faith, and hence it would not be forgotten. And remembered, as well, is the brining of the first fruits, for that, too, testified on the reality of the Name and that all things derive from …(RaLBaG in Otzar Rishonim: Sh’mot. Born in 1288 in Languedoc, in southern France, Levi Ben Gershon is known as Gersonides. The Hebrew designation is an acronym of his name plus the “R” for rabbi. He appears never to have held a rabbinical position, despite his brilliance. Extant are his commentary on the Five Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, 4 of the 5 Megillot (missing Lamentations), as well as on Proverbs, Job, Daniel and Chronicles. He continued the family tradition of Talmudic commentaries, as well. He was also a distinguished philosopher and author of Sefer Milhamot HaShem, The Book of the Wars of the Lord, which is available in English translation. A portion of the work was translated into Latin at the request of Pope Clement VI, as it focuses on a survey of astronomy as known in the Arab world. Additionally, he wrote a commentary on Averroes, who commented on Aristotle, and hence early Latin editions of Aristotle’s works include his commentary. A polymath, he also wrote on mathematics, and his work Maaseh Hoshev deals with such topics as the derivation of cube roots, binominal coefficients, and various algebraic identities. He is said to have died in 1344, although according to some early scholars he died in 1370 in Perpignan.)
The Torah portion for the 8th day of Passover( April 22nd) Is Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17.
16:16 Three times a year—on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths—all your males shall appear before your God YHWH in the place that [God] will choose. They shall not appear before YHWH empty-handed.
Three times a year…all your males shall appear before your God YHWH. The emphasis on “males’ in the concluding verses of the parashah is noteworthy, especially since earlier statements imply that the entire extended household, including daughters and females slaves, was obligated to participate in festival observances. The exclusion of women in the verse appears to contradict the preceding passages. The Rabbis solved this contradiction by subdividing the responsibilities of rejoicing (v. 14) into various components. Accordingly, women and people with sexual ambiguities, such as the hermaphrodite and the non-sexed person, are said to be exempt from the commandment of appearing before God (Mishnah Chagigah 1:1), since the biblical verse specifies that males are to do this. “Appearance” (r’iah) entails both presence in the Temple and offering a sacrifice, since “they shall not appear before YHWH empty-handed” (16:16). Talmudic discussions (BT Chagigah 4b) suggest that the exemption of women from this particular o0bligation makes sense since bringing a sacrifice in this instance is a time-bound commandment (festival observances takes place three times a year on specific days on the calendar). According to an early rabbinic principle, women are exempt from commandments that must be performed at fixed times (Mishanh Kiddushin 1:7). However, the responsibility to rejoice applies to everyone (Tosefta Chagigah 1:4 and BT Chagigah 6b): thus, in that aspect of the festival celebration, women and men are equally obligated. (Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, “R’eih: Post-biblical Interpretations,” in Eskenazi and Weiss, editors, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Professor Fonrobert earned her doctorate from the Graduate Theological union. She is an associate professor of Religious Studies at Stanford, focusing on the rabbinic era of Judaism. Her fields of interest include gender in Jewish culture and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity. Her inaugural book, Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstruction of Biblical Gender, was the recipient of the Salo Baron prize for a best first book in Jewish studies. She was co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. She currently serves as co-director of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies.)