Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Say It Ain’t So, Joe
In 1919, the White Sox threw the World Series (then a best of 9) to the Cincinnati Reds. One of the accused—there were 8 who were banned from baseball—was “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” (Historians dispute whether he was in fact an active participant in the fix.) One day, after walking out of the courthouse, having testified to a grand jury, purportedly—and more likely apocryphally--, a young man said to him, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
That incident from nearly a century ago comes to mind in the wake of 2 recent developments. One is “Deflateegate.” It is amazing that this story has garnered so much attention. Major developments in the world have been pushed to the back burner so this can be the lead story of news broadcasts here in the United States. Absurd. Did the Patriots deliberately deflate the ball so that Brady and his receivers could have an easier time or was it chance atmospheric conditions? As a Giants fan, I admit to being prejudiced and suspect that they did doctor the balls, after all it seemingly was only the Patriots balls that were deflated. Hmm! (I have to admit that they probably would have crushed the Colts using Nerf balls.) But whether the charge is true, it raises the larger issue of how far one can go to win; how far are the rules bent? The integrity of the game is challenged.
Whatever the ultimate decision of the NFL, it will not prevent the Super Bowl being played, with Brady and Belichick. After all, the official investigation won’t even question Tom Brady until after the game is played. The failure to clamp down on this behavior is but one more black eye for the sport that seems to value the game over integrity and the health of its former players.
But more distressing is the case of Sheldon Silver. The speaker of the New York State Assembly was arrested last Thursday on federal corruption charges and accused of using the power of his office for more than a decade to secure millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks and then covering up his scheme. It is a “shanda und a cherpah,”, a major league embarrassment for Jews. He claims that he will be exonerated, but the evidence of his collusion with a New York oncologist seems overwhelming. It is yet another Chillul HaShem, a desecration of God’s name, for the Jewish community. It is less than a year ago that William Rapfogel, the head of Met Council, which aided Jewish poor in the City, pleads guilty to a long-term milking of public funds. His behavior, despite efforts to re-organize the Council under new leadership, has destroyed this important agency: only last week the Council announced its impending demise. Silver’s dethroning—a new speaker will be elected in a week and a half-- will undoubtedly negatively impact on some Jewish organizations that were his beneficiaries. And it is a clear diminution of Jewish political power up in Albany. (Though it should be mentioned that Eric Schneiderman, the New York State Attorney General, is a MOT.)
In the case of Joe Jackson, he probably could have honestly denied his involvement. Alas, it would appear that neither Tom nor Sheldon can say it ain’t so.
Hakarat Tov, the recognition of those who have done good things for us, is a neglected concept within Judaism. As we recover from the Winter Storm Juno—when did they begin naming snow storms?--, we should express our thanks to those who manned the plows and cleared the streets even in the midst of the raging storm. We tip our hats to them.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Toasting Tu B’Shevat with the Fruit of the Vine
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Jaffa oranges were readily available and we could eat them to mark Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New year of the trees—and more generally of Israeli agriculture—(this year, next week, on Wednesday, February 4th)--. Easier to obtain are Israeli wines, and so this week, I share with you a piece that was circulated by Agence France-Presse (AFP) and was reprinted not only in France and the nearby UK, but in South Africa, Malaysia, Bangladesh and China!
The article focused on the growth of Israeli boutique wineries. 20 years ago there were almost none—that is to say wineries with production of under 100,000 bottles. One of the first to open was the winery at Kibbutz Tzora, which opened in 1993, and which we visited a couple of years ago, and now produces 60,000 bottles. Today Israel has 350 wineries; 320 of them classified as boutique. Some of them, of course, have grown to the point where they are no longer in that category. Flam, which opted to become kosher a few years ago, now is at 100,000 bottles.
Remarkably, a large percentage—60% according to the article—of the smaller wineries lack rabbinic supervision, including a couple of the top end ones, such as Margalit and Pelter.(Of note, recently Pelter opened a separate kosher winery with the label Matar.) But others, have decided that, despite the complications of having that level of supervision, it is worth it, as it provides entrée to supermarkets in Israel as well into the Jewish market outside of Israel. So in addition to Flam, Castel, Alexander, and Tulip—whose transformation I chronicled some time ago-- have revamped their production and now produce high end kosher wines. (Castel, for example, produces only 4 wines, ranging in price from the mid 30’s to the mid 6o’s.)
According to French wine expert Marc Dworkin, Israel is "a small country where each wine-producing region is more interesting than the last."
Gilad Flam, who produces seven different labels, says he wants to create a wine that is uniquely Israeli. "We are not copying the wines of Bordeaux or of Italy but creating a high-quality Israeli wine," he says. "The growing conditions are excellent and we are trying to get the taste of this land in every bottle." The winery was the center of attention 2 years ago during President Obama’s visit to Israel: its wines were featured at the state dinner hosted by President Peres.
Surprisingly, despite the expanding number of Israeli wineries, only 10% of the industry’s revenue comes from exports. Additionally, Israelis drink a relatively small amount of wine per annum: somewhere around 6-7 liters (the equivalent of 8-9 regular bottles), whereas in France the per capita consumption is at 56 and in the UK it is 33. Clearly, there is room for expansion both domestically and internationally.
So this year in honor of the holiday, don’t fret about the absence of Jaffa oranges, instead, crack open a bottle of Israeli wine (two stores in Commack—Vanderbilt near North Shore Farms and LI Wine and Spirits on Jericho Tpk.—have reasonable selections) and make a contribution to JNF. L’chaim.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of B’shalach (Exodus 14:15-16:10) is read this Saturday, January 31st.
15:20 Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. (21) And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.
The Song at the Sea is considered to be the oldest extant writing concerning the exodus from Egypt. In the received text the longer version of the ancient poem celebrating the divine victory over the Egyptians is attributed to Moses (15:1). Following that, however, is a shorter section that designates Miriam as the leader and presumably the author of the song (15:21). The phrase beginning “Sing to Yahweh” in v.21 is understood as a title rather than a repetition of the poem. The fact that this citation has been preserved despite later perspectives that augment the significance of Moses while diminishing that of his sister has led scholars to conclude that the work was indeed originally preserved as her creation.
Miriam’s association with the Song at the Sea challenges several stereotypes about women in ancient Israel. It conveys an image of women as singers of war songs, which is supported by other biblical texts (Judges 5; I Sam. 2:1-10). These militaristic hymns are among the oldest examples of Hebrew poetry. Although scholars have generally assumed that poetry, like other cultural creations, was exclusively the work of men, these examples raise the question of women’s role in originating and developing poetic forms. Vocal and instrumental music, in addition to ritualized dance, may have re-created the sensations as well as the oral images of battle.
The thematic content of these biblical songs also demands consideration of the relationship between women and warfare. Within a larger cultural context, traditions surrounding the Canaanite deity Anat and the Babylonian Ishtar support an ancient Near Eastern familiarity with an image of female warriors. It is in fact Anat, rather than her divine counterpart, Baal, who may be the source of numerous militaristic qualities attributed to Yahweh. Although there is no material evidence to confirm women’s actual participation in battle, modern cultural prejudices should not prevent the consideration of the possibility, especially in the early days of the settlement of Israel, when a low population may have created a demand for women’s labor without discrimination. Other biblical passage mention women singing and dancing in celebration of the arrival home of victorious male warriors (Judg. 11:34, I Sam. 18:6-7).
Miriam’s designation as a prophet and her unquestioned leadership of the victory celebration in Exodus 15 indicate that ancient Israelites were also familiar with forms of female authority that did not survive into later periods…(Drorah O’Donnell Setel, “Exodus,” in Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds., The Women’s Bible Commentary, p. 31. A fifth-generation resident of Buffalo, Rabbi Setel—now divorced--, is a graduate of Swarthmore, Setel was ordained as a rabbi at the Leo Baeck College in London. She returned to the States and obtained a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo Law School. At the time this volume in 1992 was published she was Jewish chaplain at Wesleyan. Subsequently, she served as head of Jewish studies at the American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina. Currently, she serves a Reform congregation in Niagara Falls, Temple Beth El and a new congregation in Buffalo, Kehillah. She has served as the president of the Buffalo Board of Rabbis.)