Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Odds and Ends: Shavuos Reading

Shavuos is a tough holiday for being both rabbi and father. I had our older two kids sleep in my office Shavuos night so that they could daven with me at the 5 AM minyan, but after returning home and having a quick family seudah I was then off-limits to the world for a several hours, while the great rebbetzin managed the family. Then I was so thrown off of the old circadian rhythms that the rest of Yom Tov was a blur of naps and shiurim and speeches and davening, and I have to admit that I emerged feeling more than a little guilty about being unable to truly help. I think if I were not the rabbi, I probably wouldn’t stay up all night unless my children were old enough to join me.

During Yom Tov I did catch up on some books that had been waiting for me, though, and found some interesting things:

I finally got around to starting Gilead, and I liked it enough that I hope to finish it. The pace is slow and folksy (think Steinbecky, a Grapes of Wrath turtle crossing the road), not my favorite tempo, but I like the peek inside an old preacher’s mind. It rings true, so far; I could see myself sounding like that someday.

Thumbed through R’ Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible. (I wonder if he realizes how many books on Amazon share this title?) This book surprised me, but not in a good way; I began it expecting to like it, and I just didn’t. His approach to modern commentary, as expressed in his early discussions of “Entering the Characters’ World,” just didn’t work for me. The lessons derived, such as regarding the sale of Yosef, seemed, by turns, either derivative or contrived.

Also looked over Naomi Graetz’s Silence is Deadly, and found that a more rewarding, if frightening, read. I’ll readily acknowledge that I was not aware of a few of the sources she brought to show that wife-beating was, at times, sanctioned by certain rabbinic leaders. Overall, she made a convincing case for the need for stronger rabbinic action to oppose this bestial phenomenon.
Lest this appear an across-the-board endorsement, I don’t agree with some of her premises. For example: At the start of the book Dr. Graetz attempts to read sanction for wife-beating into biblical texts, arguing that these texts influenced social acceptance of domestic violence, but (1) her reading runs counter to the texts themselves, and (2) because her readings are new, they can’t have been an historical influence.
I also don’t agree with her contention that rabbinic sanction could have framed society’s overall view of wife-beating. Given the book-acknowledged fact that the majority weight of the rabbinate came down harshly against this horrific violence, I don’t see how the minority view could be considered the source of this evil. I stick to my view that this violence is more a product of human malfunction than social approval/allowance.

And the new HaMaor came (and with a daring, hot-pink cover!). Although this Torah journal isn’t of my political bent, I find interesting ideas in some of their divrei torah, and I enjoy reading it.

At the end of this issue I found a remarkable letter on the current Conversion Controversy.
The letter itself is forgettable, making foolish, hearsay-based claims about conversion-over-the-telephone, but the opening paragraph, apparently tying together the Conversion Controversy and Global Warming, is what makes it interesting. It reads (rough translation):

The entire world trembles, we hear the greatest and most frightening earthquakes, stormy winds blow and overturn great cities, thousands and myriads are cast from their homes and the place of their dwellings and are killed and die from illness and hunger and thirst, and in general the weather patterns are changing and the places that had been coldest are warming and the ice and snow are melting, there is a great upheaval in the world, in all of its corners, and no one pays attention that new, never-before-seen things are happening. But all of this does not approach the spiritual and physical upheaval that is happening in the Holy Land, when there are those in Israel who accept converts…

I can’t quite put my finger on why I find this entertaining rather than sad. There must be something wrong with me.


  1. We've been hosting a Shavuot afternoon shiur for over ten years already. For some neighbors, it's the only one they can make, and not only becaue it's in English.

  2. Yes, every year I think about offering that - even just doing it as a recap of the Shavuot night shiurim. Haven't done it, though.