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Revealed miracles in our time - But here in my heart, I give you the best of my love.

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May 7th, 2007


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10:45 am - Revealed miracles in our time

I've been reading this book based on a recommendation from 50bookchallenge, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland and the book is a historical account, an attempt not to explain or to excuse the actions of ordinary men in unusual times, but to examine it in context and try to make sense of it. Yesterday, I read through an except of the daily reports the battalion commander was sending. It's just lists of who shot an estimated how many Jews. Seeing the numbers laid out like that. Knowing someone was keeping a log, not of names or faces, but just sheer numbers. Watching the progression from taking only the battle aged males to entire communities as they became inured to the violence and death they were dealing to whole families, whole communities. I stood a silent witness unable even to articulate my feelings yesterday, or even discuss what I'd read.

This morning, in the daily Torah reading, [which I think everyone knows by now is the Artscroll "Daily Dose" series available from http://www.artscroll.com.]
we read the passages that state that a person is obligated to give us his life for the sanctification of G-d's name. And in the ethical discussion section, (it's divided, if you recall into: Torah discussion, Mishnah of the day, Gemorah on the Mishna, Ethics, Prayer), they had an excerpt from a letter from a Rabbi (and I don't have the book here, but I think, without promising, it might be this Rabbidiscussing the Yeshiva of Kelm. The letter, reproduced in part talks about the Yeshiva of Kelm and how the students used to dance in the street and sing joyously on Simchat Torah, a holiday of dancing and rejoicing in the giving of the Torah. And on that day, when they were taken away to be shot, how they danced and sang with the same joy, the same spirit, even though there was no sanctification of G-d's name to make, they was no separation between the righteous from the sinners, those who would choose to die to honour G-d's name and those who would not.

And again, I have no words to describe what I feel. But I have nothing but words to explain my thoughts, so I must try. Yesterday they were flat numbers in a book, and today they sing joyous songs to G-d. Yesterday the taste of life was ash in my mouth, and today, I will sing. Ashira lashem, ki gmal ali. (Psalms 13:6) I will sing to the L-rd, for he has [redeemed; dealt kindly with; dealt bountifully with] me.

Some people would call that coincidence, and maybe it is. But it's an odd bit of coincidence, given that nothing in the Daily Dose heretofore has had any relation to the topic of mass shootings. The Holocaust has come in passing in "How can we have faith in the post-Holocaust era." type questions, but this was so specific to what I was reading about. I feel like I should photocopy the page and clip it to the page in the book so that when I pass it on to the next person, it will go with that insight.

And with that thought ended, I move on to the concept of women in prayer and specifically the introductory lecture I heard yesterday.

5/6/07 - Rabbi Jacobs on Prayer
What was the last time you prayed? What the context of the prayer? Were you happy? Praying in gratitude? Suffering and asking G-d to hear your pain? Letting G-d know you were still there?

For many of us, our most fervent prayer experiences were not in the context of praying in Synagogue, and for some, they were.

Why is our prayer sometimes better out of Shul?

Professor Eisen was talking about his mission to share Conservative Judaism, and he talked about the interplay between Halacha and Agada. Halacha is our legal context, the tension between nomos (the laws of the book) and narrative (the culture and liturgy) that float in and out of the laws. The laws must come out of a society that supports them. The law creates norms and expectations around the reality of the society now and the desires of the society for the future. And they constrain the society. In that way, the laws have an impact on taking the society to the place they want to go. The laws and the customs need a plausibility structure around it. If, for instance, Shabbat is important to the society, the community must support it and nurture it and provide a framework for observing it.
The laws and norms define how prayer was meant to happen but the Agada doesn't exactly follow the laws as laid out and how do these things interact.

These laws that we'll use as our source material come from the Mishna (225 CE) and Talmud (500 CE). The Mishna preserves discussion and opinion on the law and the situation the law arises from.
The Talmud Balvi (550) provides explanation and expansion on the Mishnahs, to explain them and apply them to their time. The Talmud maintains the sense of diversity, but the Talmud sources are from the same era as the Mishnah, either from another text, or from an oral tradition that was not codified in the Mishnah.

The Talmud represents a shift in communal life, from a context of inclusion and unity within a strong community, to a context of exile. The intent of the Talmud was to preserve the structure and essence of Judaism in a post-Temple era. Details and structures are being removed from Temple and transferred to a post-Temple era where synagogues and smaller communities are responsible for upholding their own religious support structure - synagogues etc.

So with that basis for understanding, lets look at the texts:
Mishna Brachot 3:3 - Women, children and slaves are exempt from the recitation of Shema, and obligation if Tefillin, but are obligated in prayer (Defined as the Amida), metuzah, and grace after meals.

What does this mean?

People who are dependant, rely on the support of the others, are not obligated in the "time-bound" mitzvot because they are not masters of the own time.

So are they exempt or prohibited? Askenazi community, you are exempt. Sephardic community, you don't (which is closer to forbidden)

Massekhet Megillah - all count towards the quarum of seven for reading the Torah on Shabbat, but a woman shouldn't read from the Torah out of respect for the community.

In this section, the community is already running, by contrast to the Mishna passage. And there's a feeling, perhaps that the women should not read so as to not emasculate the men by reading, since a woman probably wouldn't be the first available person, if they're there and available, it probably means the men are illiterate and cannot read for themselves. Women are somehow difficult for the community. A woman who is skilled in public prayer might embarrass or emasculate the male.

Mishna Kiddushin - 1:7 (In Discussing Mitzvahs on the children (that are on the parents)) every positive commandment determined by time, men are obligated, and women except. Every positive commandment not determined by time conveys equal obligation. Every negative commandment conveys equal obligation.

We know this isn't an absolute, for example candlelighting is a time-bound mitzvah, but we're bound on that. So is Bircat Hamazon. Lulav and sukkah, are determined by time, and women are obligated on those. In part this is because the laws were established and then categories were set up to encompass them as best they could, resulting in categories that aren't really strongly separated. For an example of a negative commandment that is time-bound (in which everyone is obligated), the Passover offering must be completed by midnight. (which sounds like a positive the way I've said it, but it's not really worded that way.)

This Mishnah furthers the idea that we're working with that women are on the outskirts of communal prayer. Women are not obligated in the prayer sevices or required to rush off to Minyan. Their service is felt to be a more private, less public service.

Prayer history : If we take these Mishnayot as descriptive of community, then we see a community where prayer is happening by men. We have no record of what literate women were doing. They were seen as a negative element in the community. Women's literacy might have been something to be avoided. This is the way things went for many years, and many synagogues don't have women sections, for example. [Although I privately wonder how women listened to the Shofar, a Mitzvah in which women are equally obligated.] That disenfranchisement of women in more recent years is moving away. Sometime in the 17th and 18th century women's Tekhinot, private prayers, began to flourish. The men were derisive of this practice, which caused even more of a blossoming in the Tekhinot practice.

There are women who were playing all along, doubtless, but we didn't have records of their prayers.

Looking at our agadot, our Biblical sources, we see the following:

Exodus 15:20-21 After the song as the Sea, Moses sings I will sing...And Miriam sings, "Sing, ya'll..." a more community oriented prayer enjoying the women to sing with her.

Judges 5:1-3 Deborah sings with Barak a song of victory and praise to G-d. An individual song sung to the community.

Samuel 1:10-13
Hannah's prayer - her lament, very personal, pain and suffering and promise to G-d is counterpointed with the reaction of the priest of the Temple she's praying in. We see that her prayer is devout and sincere, but Eli presumes that she's drunk because the idea of her being devout in prayer is something that doesn't even occur to him. So even though her prayer is now considered our guideline for how to pray, it's perceived at the time as a rebellion of a sort. Something very out of place and indeed, something wrong, there's a perception that her service is deficient or defective because it's so intense. Perhaps at that time women don't belong in a holy place praying with such devotion?

How do we pray in modern times? Our prayers follow a basic process. In our service, we've transitioned to a place of egalitarianism, where women are involved in the Syngagogue and in the service at a surface level. Does this address the needs of the women. If egalitarianism is letting them in but that alone doesn't address their needs, what would?

In The Book of Blessings by Marcia Falk, the author adjusts the terminology of the prayers so women can relate more deeply. She uses a fuller expression of how we experience G-d and religion in our lives. In talking about her experiences since writing the book, she says she's found that people have taken her personal expressions and incorporated them wholesale without examining them and determining what expresses their own thoughts.

So what we're going to do in the sessions that follow is, using the categories and and calendars of Judaism and women, we will be able to think about the things we'd like to pray about and how we can incorporate them to create a richer prayer environment.

The Rabbi used the phrase, "If we wanna go all Leviticus (technical detail oriented) on this Mishna...." Sometime in my life, I want to be able to use that phrase in discussion.
Current Mood: happycontemplative

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