Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Mazel tov to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex


With a tip of my kippah to CBS News (which has a video of the ceremony: let me reflect on last Saturday’s joyous event, the royal wedding. It was welcome relief to focus on the simchah in the midst of the darkness of yet another tragic school shooting.


I was struck by several features of the ceremony but wish to comment on two. Towards the end of the ceremony, before Harry and Meghan exited to sign the Ketubah—sorry, I meant the registry--, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who presided over the proceedings, offered a prayer (about the 42 minute mark in the CBS broadcast) in which he declares: “Blessed are You O Lord our God for You have created joy and gladness, pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship”. It sounds like he copied this from the beginning of the last of the 7 benedictions recited at a Jewish wedding: “We praise You, Lord our God, King of the universe who created joy and gladness, bride and groom, pleasure, song, delight and happiness, love and harmony, peace and companionship.” Of course, he didn’t go on to mention the phrase from the Book of Jeremiah, of voices of joy and gladness in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, but the similarities are striking.


Secondly, perhaps it is my empathy for a fellow preacher that I most enjoyed Bishop Curry’s homily, which frankly sounded more appropriate coming from a Baptist preacher than the head of the Episcopal Church in this country. (I admit that he was a tad too verbose.) I was most intrigued by his reference to the French Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his discussion of fire. (An Anglican wedding and he manages to quote Dr. King, an American Baptist, and a Jesuit theologian!)  The Bishop waxed a bit long in his exposition of Chardin, but the very idea of harnessing the fire of love was a powerful image. I would suggest to you that had he had asked one of my rabbinic colleagues for help, she would have pointed to a classic spin that offers a slightly different insight, also reflecting the power of fire, albeit its potential for destruction. In Hebrew the word for man is ISH, Alef, Yud, Shin, and the word for woman is ISHAH, Alef, Shin, Hey. They share in common two letters: Alef and Shin, which form the word fire. But the two distinctive letters are Yud and Hey, a name of God. Together, living and loving in harmony, a couple bring God into their lives. Without God, they are reduced to AYSH, fire; their union can be readily consumed. We wish that Harry and Meghan do harness the fire of love and pray that God will ever be with them and shine His manifold blessings upon them.


This week’s Torah reading includes the priestly benediction, which was beautifully chanted by the choir during the ceremony. Though not a Kohen, let me share it as a blessing not only for the new couple, but for all of us:  


May the Lord bless you and guard you.

May the Lord show you favor and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you kindness and grant you peace.


Shabbat shalom.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News from Israel


Drones at Your Front Door: An Israeli Contribution


The day that you can go on-line and order something and have it delivered within an hour by a drone is drawing near. And one of the companies contributing to this is the Israeli company Flytrex.


Flytrex has now teamed up with the state govermment of North Carolina to participate in a FAA pilot program that will bring the Israeli company’s food-delivery drone technology to this country. This is part of a wider program which pairs state and local governments with private companies to accelerate the safe deployment of drones in our skies. The program is intended to aid the Department of Transportation and the FAA to craft new rules that will regulate low-altitude drones.


Yariv Bash, the company’s CEO is optimistic about the implications of this partnership. “This is, “he said, “a breakthrough moment for drone deliveries, the start of an exciting new era. Commercial drones represent a far safer, cheaper, faster and eco-friendly mode of transportation than existing delivery options, and this stamp of approval from the FAA is an invaluable stepping stone to getting widespread drone delivery off the ground.” While recognizing that Amazon will undoubtedly own the largest share of the drone delivery business, he is nonetheless confident that “if we can have a fraction of the rest of the market” it will prove to be highly profitable.


Last year, Flytrex began a pilot project with UkrPoshta, the Ukrainian Postal Service to deliver packages weighing up to 3 kilos (6.6 lbs.) as far as 23 kilometers (14.4 miles) round-trip at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour (almost 44 mph).


Flytrex is not a manufacturer of drones. Rather, it has developed a cloud-based system that allows customers to operate remotely an entire fleet of drones. It conceives of itself as the FedEx of the drone-delivery world. Just as FedEx doesn’t manufacture trucks or planes but provides the infrastructure to make the most of existing tools, similarly, Flytrex with its software will enable companies to safely create drone-delivery networks.






Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Naso (Numbers 5:1—6:27) is read this Saturday, May 26th.


5:11 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: (12) Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: If any wife has gone astray and broken faith with her husband, (13) in that a man has had carnal relations with her unbeknown to her husband, she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her—(14) but a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought about the wife who has defiled herself; or if a fit of jealousy comes over one and he is wrought up about his wife although she has not defiled herself—(15) the husband shall bring his wife to the priest…


One of the most enigmatic passages in this Torah [5:11-31], this description of the ritual inflicted upon suspected wayward wife (whom rabbinic literature refers to as a sotah…) has elicited a wide range of reactions. It has inspired enormous efforts at interpretation extending from rabbinic to contemporary times. Some readers consider the ritual to be unforgivably misogynistic, demonstrating the vulnerability of women and the privileged position of men in Israelite society. Others believe this ritual works to protect accused women.


The ritual of the sotah is unique in the Tanach. Perhaps the closest analogue is the ritual used in response to an unsolved murder (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). Both rituals are to be performed when the community faces the possibility of a capital crime without the necessary evidence to determine innocence or guilt. The sotah ritual may be a biblical example of a “trial by ordeal.” Used through the ancient Near East, such trials helped to decide cases in which witnesses were conflicted or lacking. The Laws of Hammurabi (see par. 132) provide a relevant example in which a woman is accused of adultery without evidence and must undergo a trial by ordeal in a river to determine her fate. The sotah ritual is likewise administered to a woman accused by her husband of adultery (5:13-15).


If found innocent, the vindicated woman will remain fertile, if guilty, her body will swell grotesquely; and she will presumably be rendered infertile (5:19-22) ….


In biblical law, the crime of adultery warranted death (Leviticus: 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Therefore, this ritual, which does not result in death even of the guilty woman, may reflect a more compassionate form of punishment. The question “Whom does the ritual protect, the suspicious husband or the accused wife?” receives no easy answer. Because of linguistic difficulties that riddle this passage, an accurate understanding of the details of the ritual and the motivation behind them may forever elude readers. Yet the ambiguity of the passage, if not intentional, is a gift for interpreters who value indeterminate meaning in a text. Particularly for feminist readers, the ritual of the sotah reflects of the ambiguity of women’s roles in the Bible and the vulnerability of women within ancient Israelite society. (Amy Kalmanofksy, “Naso: Suspicion and Sanctity” in Tamara Cohen Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Professor Kalmanofsky was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1995. She received her Ph.D. in Bible from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Bible and Associate Vice Chancellor at JTS. In addition to over a dozen articles and published essays, she is the author of Terror All Around: The Rhetoric of Horror in the Book of Jeremiah—2008, Dangerous Sisters of the Hebrew Bible—2014, and Gender-Play in the Hebrew Bible—2017.  She is also editor of the forthcoming volume, Sacred Text and Sexual Violence. She serves on three editorial boards: The Journal of the Studies in Religion, Feminist Studies in Religion Books, and the Biblical Interpretation Series. She is married to Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky [JTS 1997] who is the rabbi of Ansche Chesed in Manhattan.)

Thu, May 24 2018 10 Sivan 5778