You Shall Pursue

May 30, 2012

Shavuot

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 10:38 pm

I went out to Fort Tryon for Shavuot this year. For those of you not in the know, Shavuot started out as a holiday celebrating the end of the harvest in ancient Israel, and was an opportunity for all sorts of ritual sacrifices. Today (since there’s no longer a Temple to sacrifice things in), the holiday marks the giving of the Torah at Sinai. It is celebrated by eating dairy foods and staying up all night studying Torah. Fort Tryon is full of cool cats in their 2os and 30s who learn like nobody’s business, and are almost always frummer than me (I was the only girl there in pants). I got the marvelous opportunity to do Judaism with good friends from college, and just generally to delve back into the sort of learning that I haven’t gotten to experience in far too long.

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May 25, 2012

Morality and the Talmud

I spend a lot of time in the feminist blogosphere, and many mainstream feminist blogs are run by atheists, or at least by people who reject the value of organized religion. This means reading a lot of posts like this one from Pandagon, which are often challenging to read, usually because atheists who reject all religion out of hand get my hackles up. However, I do think that this post raises a valid and interesting point. Namely, what is the relationship between textual interpretation and the moral claims of a broader society?

There is no denying that Judaism has long been in the habit of offering multiple, sometimes contradictory, interpretations of the Law (see: Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai). There is also no denying that our tradition contains many examples of halakhic interpretation and re-interpretation to fit a particular sage’s view of morality (see: Maimonides’ views on abortion or post-Expulsion responsa in North Africa). My question is, how does that fit in with the idea of text as moral authority? How can an ever-changing text be considered a moral authority?

I think the problem is that our society sees immutability and authoritativeness as one and the same. We like to ignore the fact that we interpret and re-interpret all major texts to suit the morals of the day. Look, for example, at the Constitution. It has 27 Amendments. In the first version, most black people were 3/5 of a person and women couldn’t vote, and now neither of those things are true. But there exist in America “strict constructionists” who claim that their interpretation of the Constitution is not only right, it is not an interpretation at all. You see the same thing with Orthodox Judaism, which claims that it is “Torah true” (oh, except the Torah says nothing about patrilineal descent or sheitels. oops!).

On the other hand, I don’t think it necessarily follows that one can say that everything is an interpretation, and therefore there is no authority the text. I think the Torah presents us with the lump sum of human behavior in all its richness, and asks us to pick the way that is life-affirming, or the way that is life-destroying, and the attendant consequences. The interpretation comes in as each generation decides how best to affirm life and relationship with God (for the sake of this argument, I am counting atheism in its current form as a form of engagement with the Divine). Part of that may be adherence to ritual, or a commitment to social justice, or to asceticism, or neo-Platonism, all of which have emerged as part of the Jewish view of “life affirming” at one point or another.

For me, Judaism at its deepest core is that commitment to feeling deeply, living right up at the edge where everything is real, often heartbreaking, and always complicated. It is, I think, why the Jewish culture is so committed both to scholarship and to social justice. Our theology does not rest on the World to Come, so we make our time in the World that Is. Perhaps that is the moral authority, that we are tasked with engaging with the world of the here and now, and within it, staking our claim on morality and goodness.

New Music Video: The Revelation Will Not Be Televised

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:07 am

This is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite Jew bands, Stereo Sinai. And Miriam (the female vocalist) was recently featured in the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36. Go you guys!

May 24, 2012

Works, Faith, and Why I Don’t Eat Shrimp Any More

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:48 am

Last weekend, I was at a party, talking to a Catholic guy. My future vocation came up in the conversation, and he was fascinated, as non-Jews often are. He had LOTS of questions for me. One of which was the difference why Jews placed so much of an emphasis on laws while Christianity focuses more on “faith.” I take questions like these VERY seriously, because usually, answering them will lead me to discover more about the reasons why I am practicing Judaism in the way that I have chosen to practice (also, because I will talk about Judaism ALL DAY if given the option).

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May 23, 2012

Wholeness, Perfection, and American Consumption

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:47 am

The six months leading up to my acceptance into rabbinical school were not easy for me. During a particularly difficult work situation, I broke down crying in my parents’ car on the way home from the train station, briefly considered quitting my job and moving home, then found myself a therapist instead. I was, during this time, plagued with anxiety that I was failing at everything: my job, my dating life, my quest toward rabbinical school, everything. And in the past year, I have not learned to “be healthy,” per se. Rather, I have learned that it is okay, normal, and natural to be flawed, and that I can still be loved and accepted as I am, even broken and damaged.

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This Wall is Mine Too

This Wall is Mine Too

I have lots of other ideas percolating that I will get around to sharing, I promise. In the meantime, this is an important story about the dangers of state control of religion, and of religious hegemony. The kotel is a holy site for ALL Jews, not just the ones with regressive ideas about women’s ability to control their religious expression. And it is deeply troubling to me that this particular interpretation has consistent police backing.

May 14, 2012

Failures of Justice: Incarcerated Youth

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:08 am

So this article from the Village Voice made my skin crawl (warning for extremely graphic images of open wounds).

Basically, the article discusses the endemic and growing problem of violence in the juvenile wards at Rikers Island. Gangs of teenagers engage in multi-person fights, often with weapons, in order to establish a system of control of privileges such as phone access, food, and control of the television. Let me repeat that; CHILDREN are cutting each other up for access to the TV. And it appears, based on the Voice report, that prison employees are systematically downplaying the prevalence that these fights have in the juvenile population. In some cases, it appears that guards may have been encouraging these fights or using them as a means of population control.

Western culture often sees men with criminal records as less than human. These young men are seen as “getting what is coming to them,” as brutality, injury, and even rape are seen as natural consequences of breaking the law in the United States. But here’s the thing. These inmates are children. While they are serving out their sentence, the government has a responsibility to them (as it supposedly does to all prisoners) to protect bodily integrity and keep them from harm.

I am especially troubled by the overwhelming prevalence of young men of color in these pictures. Since New York City’s stop and frisk laws overwhelmingly target people of color, and, in fact, stops and frisks more young black and Latino men and teenagers than there are black and Latino young men in New York, this points to a disturbing trend wherein these young men are disproportionately arrested, and then brutalized within the penal system.

I am a religious Jew, and my sense of faith leaves me especially sickened by these images. The rabbis taught that one must be exceptionally careful when handing down capital cases, to the point that Eliezer ben Azariah said that a court which put a person to death once every 70 years was exceptionally bloodthirsty. While we are not killing these boys outright, we are sending them into custody where they are brutalized, attacked, and deprived of opportunities to make a better life for themselves upon release. We are using the prison system to destroy the lives of minors, and as a feeling person, I don’t know what the words are to express my sorrow. My heart goes out to them and to their families.

May 10, 2012

President Obama: Same-Sex Couples Should Be Legal

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 4:14 am

From NPR

On a similar note, a word from Proverbs:

“Do not withhold good from one who deserves it
When you have the power to do it.
Do not say to your fellow, ‘Come back again; I’ll give it to you tomorrow,’ when you have it with you.”

I sincerely hope this leads to more policy shifts on the Federal level. I’m scared by all of the bigoted State Constitutional Amendments getting passed.

May 7, 2012

Rabbis are People Too.

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 7:00 pm

Clicking around the internet as I begin my journey towards school, this post really resonated with me. The rabbi writing the piece, who is in charge of PunkTorah, lays out a contrast that lies at the heart of my future rabbinate; how do I, or any clergy person, serve God and the Jewish people while retaining my own humanity?

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May 4, 2012

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: Jewish, but not Jewish Enough

Filed under: Patrilineal Descent — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:28 pm

So there was an article in the Huffington Post recently, written by a young Orthodox woman named Rivka Cohen. Her mother converted to Judaism through a Conservative beit din, and her Modern Orthodox community at school now insists on treating her like a Shabbas goy. This article encapsulates perfectly the problems that the contemporary Jewish community faces when dealing with intermarriage, and the miles it has left to go.

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