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The Rhyming Story of #Purim

Posted by rabbiart on February 26, 2010

The Rhyming Story of Purim (1)

Ahasverosh gave a party
He told Vashti don’t be tardy
He said to her “come show your beauty”
She said to him “it’s not my duty”
Her response he did not like
So he told her to take a hike
His councilors made his anger fester
A tale told in the Book of Esther .(2)

Ahasverosh soon got lonely (3)
No more his former one and only (4)
He told his men “Find me a Queen” (5)
To be not heard, to be just seen
Hadassah had an Uncle Mort (6)
He told her with the King make sport
But not to say who was her kin
So now our story doth begin

Esther did the king desire
Her beauty really lit his fire (7)
No virgin like her had he seen
So she became the royal queen
Meanwhile trouble at the gate (8)
Mort found out, the rest was fate
“Warn the King, and mention me” (9)
Our villains soon hung from a tree

Now Haman gets a big promotion
Then causes quite a big commotion
Bowing down Mort does not do
It’s unbecoming for a Jew (10)
When Haman saw Mort standing there
He told the King Mort puts on airs
My King, he said, Mort insults you
So here’s the thing that you should do

Decree that we can kill his tribe
And I will pay you quite a bribe
The king’s decree went through the land
But Shushan did not understand
The Jews did mourn and fast and cry
Then Mort gave Esther reasons why
And told her “now it’s up to you”
Its time for you to be a Jew

The inner court she could not trod
Unless she got the golden rod
She told Mort “go fast for three” (11)
And then the King I’ll go and see
Esther waited for the nod
From Ahashveros golden rod (12)
Said Esther, King, now here’s the deal
Invite Haman to a meal

When Haman got the invitation
He told his wife great expectations
For this great deal he could not wait
But when he saw Mort at the gate
He told his wife “I am offended”
She said that Mort should be suspended (13) When the King just couldn’t sleep He summoned records that they keep

Reminded Mort had helped him live
He asked what honor did we give?
They told him nothing had been done
And Haman thought “I am the one!”
So Haman helped the King decide
Upon the King’s horse he should ride
Upon his head he’ll wear your crown
And thus you’ll give him great renown

The King said with your plan I’m down
Dress Mordecai and lead him round
Through Shushan’s streets, my word proclaim This man has the King’s acclaim Haman did what he was told He went home feeling very old Where Zeresh told him straight and true There’s nothing more that you can do

The King and Haman went to dine
Two days eating, drinking wine
Esther told the King her tale
She was quick to close the sale
Haman pled for life with Esther
The King thought Haman a molester
On Mordecai’s gallows Haman hung
The King was soothed and justice done

Uncle Mort got Andy’s ring
Esther told him here’s the thing
To save the Jews you must decide
Send your decree so far and wide
You must do the thing that’s right
And grant the Jews the chance to fight
Defend themselves and smite their foe
Save a people from more woe

The Jewish people proved quite able
On their foes they turned the table
And after all the bells were rung
Ten sons of Haman soon were hung
Throughout the land Jews slew the beast
And then of course they had the feast
Our story now is almost done
They tried to kill us but we won
Ahasuerus did what’s right
Honor gladness joy and light (14)

1  The word “Purim” means lots, or casting lots, to determine one’s fate.    Purim is always one month before Pesach, so when leap year gives us two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month, and the 14th of Adar in the first month becomes Purim Katan, a little Purim.

2 The only book in the Tanach that doesn’t mention G-d.

3  Well, not exactly lonely, but if you’re old enough, you understand. Or as Frank Sinatra said, “I cleaned that one up for you.”

4 Not counting all his concubines, of course

5  Not much is known about Ahasuerus. Being rich and powerful, he demanded a new trophy wife, a fair young virgin to be precise.

6  Mordecai.  Why is Mordecai like an orange?  Neither one rhymes with anything.

7 See footnote #3 and use your imagination, if necessary

8  Bigthan and Teresh, two of the royal gatekeepers, plotted against the King.  Apparently, when their parents named them, they did not consider how difficult it would be to incorporate their names into the Rhyming Story of Purim.

9  The text does not actually say that Mordecai told Esther to mention his name.

10  It would be a violation of the 2nd of the Ten Commandments.  Traditionally, there were four ways this commandment could be violated; ritually slaying a sacrifice, burning any ritual substance on an altar, pouring a libation, or by prostrating one’s self.

11  Days, that is.  At the end of Chapter 4, Esther tells Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan and conduct a three day fast, planning to approach the King without an invitation.

12  The golden scepter. According to the Megillah, no one could approach the King unless he first extended his golden scepter.

13  Haman’s wife Zeresh makes the suggestion that Haman should build a gallows 50 cubits high and have Mordecai hung upon it.

14   This verse, chapter 8:16, reads “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” It is in the Havdalah service, with an added prayer; “so may it be for us”

Other tidbits:

Megillat Esther begins with the word “va-yehi”. R. Levi, or some say R. Yonatan said: The following remark is a tradition handed down to use from the Men of the Great Assembly: Wherever in the Tanach we find the term va-yehi, it indicates the approach of trouble. (Talmud Bavli 10b)

Our tradition takes bowing down very seriously.  Our sages taught: If a splinter has got into his foot while in front of an idol, he should not bend down to get it out, because he may appear as bowing to the idol; but if not apparent it is permitted. If his coins got scattered in front of an idol he should not bend and pick them up, for he may be taken as bowing to the idol; but if not apparent it is permitted.

(Avodah Zarah 12a)

Resh Lakish said: It was well known before the One at whose word the world came into being that Haman would one day pay shekels for the destruction of Israel. Therefore He anticipated his shekels with those of Israel. And so we have learnt: “On the first day of Adar proclamation is made regarding the shekalim and the mixed seeds.”

(Megillah 13b)

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My Mom Blogs the Wedding

Posted by rabbiart on July 19, 2008

Technically, not a blog, but here are my mom’s recollections of the wedding.
+This is a sort of “communal” letter to several of my friends who asked to hear about it.    I’ll start at the beginning.   I arrived on Thursday afternoon 7/10   and had a scrumptious dinner at a local cafe courtesy of Art & Carol, just the three of us.

Shana and Daniel and baby Joseph arrived about then, but chose not to accompany us.    However, I had a few moments to admire Joseph, who weighs over 17 pounds at 3 1/2 months, and is a calm , cheerful, responsive baby.

On Friday evening, we were all invited to Shabbat dinner at Michalle’s, hosted by Art & Carol.   For the first time I met Walter, who has hair almost down to his waist, and he’s not even a musician!    Met his father, who said “But you’re so young!” to me, and then his mother, who said, “You’re so young”  which of course made me feel great.  (She hadn’t heard him say it).   Art made Kiddush and Motzi, and I think we made a Shehecheyonu (sp?)  too.   Then it was buffet style, delicious of course, and we all sat and stood around, circulating.    There were about 20 people there, but most important to  me was that all my children and grandchildren (except Keren, Hillel’s wife, who is in Israel fulfilling a professional commitment) were in the same room — not to omit the great-grandson.

I spent a lot of time in the air conditioned motel room, but Saturday Larry & Ruth took me for a ride to glimpse the Dell (yes, the computer guy) Jewish Campus, which has four synagogues, the JCC, the day school  and I guess a few other things.    It is said that Dell is a product of Austin, and when he made the big bucks he donated  a  pile to buy the land, etc.

Saturday night \the eight of us, plus Joseph, went to a restaurant that Shep chose.    He goes to Austin every year for the Music Festival.     Again, we had a wonderful time just being together, joshing, kidding, enjoying.   The eight is Ruth & Larry,  Daniel & Shana, Hillel, Mara,  Shepard and me.  We were seated that way at the wedding reception too.

Sunday we had to get started early; Art insisted the ceremony start on time, and it did.   It was in the Texas Hillel, which had a sign on the door “Closed for private party.” We went upstairs for the ceremony.   The Chuppah was a red silk cloth on which all the members of the Chang family still in Taiwan had signed their names and wishes.     (Later, there was a smaller piece of similar cloth and markers on which we all signed;  that was downstairs at the reception) Art, resplendent in formal wear and the most beautiful white square top Kippah I have ever seen,  first explained to the guests (around 100) what the procedure would be.    There was a five piece live orchestra that played, but I don’t remember what.    The maid of honor, best man, and three more couples (3 women, 3 men) walked in while Art went out a side door in order to be able to walk Miriam in with Carol on the other side (the aisle was kind of narrow).

Miriam was absolutely gorgeous in a white gown with a train, beaded at the train and in a center inset in the front.   It had an empire waist and halter neck, but you couldn’t see her bare shoulders because her hair was down.     The accent was a RED sash that tied in a bow in the small of her back and went all the way to the end of the train.

I can’t remember much about the actual ceremony, but it was Jewish all the way, especially when Walter stomped the glass in its white satin envelope.   I thought he might smash the floor. After the bride and groom left, we guests all went downstairs for the reception.   The bride reappeared having changed into a bright red/gold dress.   I think you call it a Chong-Sam.   She looked as though she was poured into it.  Mandarin collar,  thigh high slit.    Now her hair was up with one of those long Oriental sticks holding it up.        Gorgeous.

My fingertips are getting tired.   I’ll have to omit some detail.    All the food was Kosher, prepared and served in the Chinese fashion.      There was round dancing, and the hoisted chairs, and when Miriam and Walter did the “first dance” you could see what a trained dancer Miriam is — it was like no other, carefully choreographed.

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More Wedding Pictures – Thanks Betsy!

Posted by rabbiart on July 15, 2008

Wedding pictures from Betsy Markman are here!

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The Season of our Joy – All the Wedding News that I can recall – part two

Posted by rabbiart on July 15, 2008

Check out the Hupah – Continued

So I get upstairs to check out the hupah; it is beautiful beyond belief. In addition to having sentimental and symbolic presence because it was lovingly made, printed and signed by Walter’s relatives who live in Taiwan.  They are, unfortunately, too elderly too travel to the U.S. for the wedding, and due to timezone differences, Walter turned down my suggestion to webcast the wedding.

I immediately see that we can get the bridesmaids and groomsmen much closer to the hupah than what we had rehearsed the night before.  I find the table, collect the 2nd kiddush cup (supplied by Hillel), grab Walter’s kiddush cup and the bottle of kosher wine he selected for the ceremony, take it all upstairs and set it up under the huppah.  Fortunately, at some point I realized that the wine had to be de-corked, otherwise I would have been trying to pour wine during the ceremony from an unopened bottle.  That would probably be considered a rabbinic faux pas (sorry, don’t know the Talmudic term for that, but I’m sure there is an equivalent).

Go back downstairs where I am informed that it is time to get the ketubah signing underway so that the photographs can be completed before guests star arriving. At this point it is probably close to 10:30, and we have encouraged guests to arrive early because of the parking situation.  Next order of business, find a good location in the Hillel lobby (glass walls open to the outside view) where the photographer can shoot the ketubah signing (as opposed to shooting the signers) without capturing the trucks parked outside.  Lots of table and chair moving ensues, nephew Seth is very helpful in this regard.  Herbert and I locate the Ketubah (picture coming, please be patient) which is wrapped in cellophane or something.  We slit open one end, after which Hubert realizes that the other end was designed to be opened and then resealed.  Oh well.  We gather Emmanuel (best man), Denise (maid of honor) Walter (groom, you knew that), and Miriam (bride beautiful beyond belief) and commence signing.  Everyone has diligently practiced signing their Hebrew names, or at least has a cheat sheet to copy from.  I am of course reminded of when Carol and I were signing our Ketubah lo these many moons ago, and the photographer shot Merle Feld from an angle that basically was, shall we say, a bit revealing (significant understatement).  (note to self, should scan picture and post, or, maybe not).

After significant urging to hurry things along, the signing is completed.  Bride and bridesmaids go outside to the patio, where the temperature is 100+ in the shade.  Of course there is no shade, and the patio is all concrete, so the effective temperature is probably, well, let’s not worry about it.  I take the groomsmen upstairs and show them their new positions, lined up along side the outer edge of the huppah, stage left. Proceed downstairs, find out that brother-in-law Bob has safely returned from his iPod-fetching mission with success. Take possession of Miriam’s precious iPod, or, her iPod with its precious mix tape for post-band dancing.   Bridesmaids and bride come inside, groom and groomsmen go outside to be tortured by Jessica (photographer) in the increasingly hot sun.

Meanwhile back at the ranch (Hillel lobby) guests are arriving in significant numbers.  Lots of hugging, kissing, and “it’s so good to see you again” ensue.  I think at some point the parental units are ushered outside for pictures; then it is decided that wedding time (11:30) is fast approaching, and additional pictures can be taken later.  Sorry, its a little blurry.

Where’s the pants!

Sorry, cousin Aaron, but, as I told you, there is no way this does not become part of handed-down-thru-the-generations family story telling.  Carol’s first cousin Mark (brother she never had) arrives with wife and younger son Aaron.  As we found out then, or maybe it was later (see ain mukdam v’ain m’uchar batorah), at 11:10 as the Weksler family was ready to leave the hotel, Aaron discovered and then had to confess, that he had forgotten to bring the trousers of his suit.  A pair of “waiter pants” is borrowed and Aaron is dressed for the wedding.  For some reason his father decides that he should bring the track shorts (that Aaron threw on when he discovered he was sans pants) into the wedding venue.  I know this because I remember seeing Mark holding the aforementioned track shorts.

Time to get this party started!

The wedding ceremony, that is.  I circulate in the crowd and ask the groomsmen to “encourage” everyone to go upstairs and take their seats.  Once the room is full I go into the room and assume the dual role of father-of-the-bride and rabbi-performing-the-ceremony.  I have previously explained to Jessica that she may take pictures at all times except while the ceremony is going on.  (By the way, Miriam had asked me to write an explanation of a Jewish wedding that they could print and put on all the seats.  Walter’s contribution was to tell me to keep it to a single page. I wrote it, they edited it and printed it).  I explain to the folks that they are part of a congregation, and not an audience, and rehearse them in saying the four traditional Hebrew words with which bride and groom are greeted once they are under the hupah.    (ברוכים הבאים בשם יי  or Blessed are they who come in the name of HaShem). I explain that they don’t have to actually learn the phrase; that we will be doing it on the – for those who took high school french – ecoute et repete system.  I will say two words, and they will repeat them.  We practice a couple of times.  I also explain that we have engaged a professional photographer and that people may take pictures, but only without using a flash.  I completely forget to tell them not to take pictures during the ceremony.  (Difficult to get G-d to sign a release form, and some things in life should be experienced and remembered, not video-ed or photographed, and yes, I know I am in a minority on this, but fortunately I’m the rabbi, but unfortunately, I forgot to mention this).


The final pre-wedding ceremony is the veiling of the bride. I find Miriam and Walter – and Jessica of course – on the landing where Jessica is taking pictures of bride and groom.  I interpose myself and say it is time for the bedeken.  Walter lifts the veil up and pulls it over Miriam’s face. I mention to the two of them that the rabbi’s manual says that the rabbi or a designated relative is to read the accompany text, and that as rabbi I have designated myself as the relative.  I read the five lines of the bedeken text as my heart swells to the point of breaking and my eyes glaze over with tears of joy.  (All of this might actually have taken place before the explanations described above, I can’t remember, and anyway אין מוקדם ואין מאוחר in my memory.

Let the wedding begin!!

I exit the room, check that the entire bridal party is present upstairs and ready, tell Yoli we are ready to start, go back, stand under the hupah, and somebody cues the band, probably both me and Yoli, but at the same time.  Lights (well, not really), camera, action!  The music begins.  Hubert(FoW) and Shirah (niece) come down the aisle arm in arm, more or less as rehearsed the night before.  They are followed by Peter and Nadine.  In turn they are followed by William (Walter’s brother) and Michalle (Miriam’s sister).  Finally, Emmanuel (FoW and best man) and Denise (FoM and maid of honor).  When they are halfway down the aisle, I exit through the side door stage right (which I have tried at least three times to make sure I don’t commit a Marx-brothers-movie-moment and find myself unable to get out of the room), so that I can join Carol so we can walk Miriam down the aisle.  One of my many vivid goofy-wedding-dreams earlier that week was that I am delayed getting to the back of the room, and Carol and Miriam walk down the aisle without me.  Fortunately, the door opens, and I go to outside the entry door and stand with Carol and Miriam as Walter’s parents walk him halfway down the aisle, where they are supposed to leave him as they proceed to stand under the huppah.  Finally Yoli lets us start down the aisle, and I see that Walter, rather than being halfway down the aisle, is standing in front of the hupah waiting for Miriam.  Oh. Miriam’s incredible bridal gown is so wide that the three of us can’t all go through the door at the same time, so I do have to wait, then catch up to Carol and Miriam (hmmm. that dream almost came true).  We stop halfway down the aisle, kiss Miriam (through the veil, of course). I motion Walter to come up the aisle to get Miriam, and Carol and I walk (float, actually) the remaining 10-15 feet to the hupah. Carol stands next to Denise, I assume the “rabbinical position” at the back of the hupah, and watch Miriam and Walter come down the aisle, enter the hupah, and stand facing each other as instructed (one final chance to exercise parental ?rabbinic? authority).

Under the hupah

Everyone is now under the chupah. I invite the congregation to repeat the traditional words of greeting with me.  They do.  Apparently, at this point Ruth (my older sister) begins weeping tears of joy (according to the report I got from my mother) and continues to weep tears of joy until the end of the ceremony.  it’s on with the (it’s not a) show!  Reading from ye olde (actually the new version) Rabbi’s Manual, I conduct the first part of the ceremony, known as the Arusin (betrothal). This involves reciting a borei pri hagafen and the blessing that thanks G-d for sanctifying his nation of Israel through the instruments of hupah (marriage canopy, if you haven’t figured that out and I haven’t explained it) and kiddushin.

I prompt Emanuel for the ring which Walter will place on Miriam’s forefinger.  I have previously (at rehearsal dinner) warned him that under the hupah is no place for ring?-I-forgot-the-ring-jokes.  He hands Walter the ring; Walter places it on Miriam’s forefinger and recites the traditional wedding formula.  I prompt Denise for the ring. She gives it to Miriam, who places it on Walter’s finger, and she recites the traditional (OK, not really traditional, since the traditional jewish concept of wedding is that the groom is acquiring the bride. Hah, try telling that to Miriam. Or Walter for that matter).

I now tear my eyes away from Walter and Miriam (especially Miriam, after all, I’ve known her for thirty years) and look out into the congregation.  I point out that the rabbi’s manual says the rabbi may make some remarks at this point, and that I will.  Chuckles ensue, and Nadine later tells me she loved my sense of humor under the hupah.  As near as I can recollect, it went something like this.

“Miriam’s cousin Shana asked me this morning if I had planned out what I would say under the hupah.  I told her that I planned to say whatever came out of my mouth.  We have an expression in Jewish tradition – devarim hayotzim min ha lev nichnasim lalev. Words which are spoken from the heart (literally “come out of the heart”) enter the heart.  Always remember this moment, when your hearts are open to each other.  In all of life’s moments, speak from the heart.  When life favors you with blessing, speak from the heart, and when life hits it’s inevitable more difficult moments, because no one goes through life unscathed, also speak from the heart, and you will be fine.  The Talmud has a story. Well, the Talmud has lots of stories (people in the congregation are chuckling at this point).  There is a particular story of a Roman maiden who comes to a rabbi; it does matter which rabbi, and challenges him.  I know you believe you G-d is great and created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh, but what has your G-d done since then? What does your G-d do all day?  The rabbi replies, G-d sits all day and arranges marriages for brides and grooms.  The Roman matron says, that’s doesn’t seem too difficult, I can do that!  She goes off to her estate and arranges marriages for all her slaves and servants.  After a few days she goes around checking on them, and finds them very unhappy, all battered and bruised.  She returns to the rabbi and confesses that arranging marriages is a lot more difficult than it appears.  Miriam’s friend Nadine arranged for Walter and Miriam to meet, but G-d arranged for them to find each other, to fall in love, and to marry”.  [there might have been more, and these might not be the exact words, but you get the gist].  Anybody who remembers more, please make a comment and report your recollection.”

I give Walter and Miriam their kiddush cup so they can hold it together during the final part of the ceremony.  Their eyes are locked on each other (and have been the entire time). I now read (in English) and chant (in Hebrew) the sheva brachot (seven blessings) which are the marriage part of the ceremony.  Pausing before the seventh bracha, I read the first part of the Ketubah and mention that it details Walter’s obligations to Miriam, and conclude by saying that we will stipulate to the reading of the remainder of the Ketubah.  The seventh bracha is read and chanted.  As I’m chanting the last brachah, I hand Emmanuel the smash glass (in it’s cloth container) so that he can place it on the ground for Walter to stamp on.  As the seventh brachah concludes, Walter takes a hop step on his left foot, raises his right foot to about knee-height, and drives it down through the glass. Good thing the floor is concrete (I’m guessing), or he would have driven the glass, and his foot straight through the floor.  Walter and Miriam embrace and kiss, the music starts up, and they proceed back down the aisle as husband and wife.  If there was dry eye in the house, I don’t want to hear about it.  I know there weren’t any in my family.

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First Wedding Pictures Available – Thanks Rick and Andy!

Posted by rabbiart on July 15, 2008

My cousin Rick wins the prize for first available wedding photos which can be seen online here.

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The Season of our Joy – All the Wedding News that I can recall

Posted by rabbiart on July 14, 2008

“Wow” (direct quote from my mother regarding the wedding).
“I wish I allowed and encouraged videotaping of life cycle events – because I’m the only one who didn’t get to watch the wedding” (direct quote from me)
“A beautiful ceremony” (direct quote from lots of people)
“Out of respect for Jewish religion and culture, please don’t order any dish with pork of shell-fish in it” (from Walter’s incredibly sweet father –  Fwu-Ranq Chang  -at the rehearsal dinner Saturday night)

To get the most out of your child’s wedding ceremony, I recommend being the officiating clergy person. I don’t believe it is possible to have a more intense experience than standing under the hupah with your own daughter (or son if you have one) and her (or his) groom (or husband). Oh wait, possibly doing the father/daughter dance at the wedding. Or maybe sneaking over to her half of the duplex to practice for five minutes and being shown the correct dance frame. More on all this later.  But first, if you need to see some video at this point, go on over to

Sunday – The Day Begins

We are facing a parking shortage at UT Hillel (wedding venue), because immediately next door at the Baptist church there is a revival meeting with a nationally known speaker, and it starts at 10:00.  So the ten spaces of the Hillel parking lot have been allocated to the wedding party/family (thank you wedding coordinator Yoli who put her foot down on this one).  So we are maxing out on carpooling.  Walter is picking up his parents and brother, so we buzz down to the duplex to pick up Michalle (sister), Denise (life-long friend and maid of honor), and some beautiful young woman dressed in a bridal gown that would take your breath away (it took mine away).  The thermometer in the rental car is already reading 91 degrees and there is not a cloud in the sky.  Plus, I suddenly notice that the gas gauge, which read half full when driving to  the rehearsal dinner, is now showing perilously close to empty.

Of course, Carol and I are already dressed in wedding outfits and have sweated (literally not figuratively) our way from the motel room to the car.  So I’m running the air conditioner, and leave it on while extricating Michalle from her side of the duplex, and Miriam and Denise from the other side, and trying to speed things up so we get to Hille before, rather than after, running out of gas.  I go into the duplex and Denise promptly announces that she is still lacing up Miriam’s wedding gown.  “How much longer” I ask, to which she replies ten minutes.  So I decree (still the dad for another couple of hours) that the lacing up will be concluded at Hillel.  We gather up the train of the dress and proceed out to the car.  Before we hit the front door, Miriam reminds us that we need to also take the vases with the wedding flowers (for the bridal party).  So everyone gets in the car, and I hand vases to Carol, Michalle and Denise.

Finally we are all loaded in the car with everything we need to bring to the wedding.  We are halfway up I-35 when a shriek is heard from the back seat. Miriam has forgotten her iPod, which has music for after the band is finished. (We’re talking eight course Chinese banquet interrupted with 90 minutes of dancing).  We have enough time, but not enough gas (I’m afraid) to turn around and go get it, so I decree (still the Dad for a couple more hours) that we will find someone at Hillel to go get the iPod.  Unbeknownst to him, my brother-in-law Bob is designated as the likely fetcher.  Bob, Debbie (Carol’s sister), Seth (nephew), Shira (niece) and Irma (Carol’s mom) have to arrive early because Shira is in the wedding party.  Jumping ahead slightly, Bob, being he gracious and all-around good guy that he is, of course agrees to go get the iPod.  He whips out his Blackberry (what! no iPhone?!?) and gets directions from Google Local or whatever it’s called.

We arrive at Hillel

Jumping back 15 minutes in time from the Bob/iPod/Blackberry scene, we are arriving at Hillel. Once around the block in order to pull up on the right side of the street in front of the entrance, we disembark everyone, get bride, bridal flowers, etcetera etcetera, into Hillel.  I start to circumnavigate the block again in order to go the correct way up the alley to get into the Hillel parking lot (not supposed to enter from the street).  Pull the car up in front of the parking lot exit, decided the heck with it, and pull in the wrong way, turn the car around, and park it.  I am of course, at this point ringing wet in my Tux due to the heat and the various getting in and out of car, duplex and so on.  I see Bill Averback (leader of the band – Austin Klezmorim – fantastic by the way) in the side patio, and am able to take a shortcut into UT Hillel, thus more quickly getting into the air conditioned (praise whoever invented AC) building about 45 seconds sooner than otherwise.  My tux begins to dry out.

Check out the Hupah and set up the room

I find Yoli, our wedding coordinator, and go upstairs to see the Hupah, which is now set up.

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Fahrenheit 451

Posted by rabbiart on June 1, 2008

Imagine yourself in 13th century Paris.  Say about 1242.  You’re walking along the boulevard and you notice a procession of carts passing you by.  This is not unusual, but each cart is full of books; more books than you have ever seen in your life.  You decide to follow the cart procession.

The procession winds through the streets of Paris collecting books.  Strangely, the books all look very much alike.  By the time you have followed the cart-train to its destination, twenty four carts of books have been colected.  In the Pace de Greve is a large cross and a supply of firewood.  The books are unloaded and heaped all around the wooden cross.  A bonfire is set, and then kindled.  The books go up in smoke.

What were these books? 1200 editions of the Talmud; confiscated from their owners by order of Pope Gregory IX.

You are in Rome in 1553.  On Rosh HaShanah – September 9 – a book burning is held under the orders of the Inquisition. Now it is 1559 and the Catholic church publishes a list of forbidden books.  Prominent on the list is the Talmud.

Now you are in the Israeli town of Or Yehuda.  It is May 20, 2008.  Once again books are collected from their owners, dumped in a pile, and set afire.  Only this time the books are not the Talmud, but the New Testament; distributed in Or Yehuda by proselytizing Messianic Jews.

Burning of Jewish books was accompanied by forced disputations.  Rabbis were made to defend Judaism against charges that it was heretical, denied Christian teachings and insult Jesus Christ.  Participation was not optional.  This was, of course, in the complete absence of any Jewish activity to challenge Church teachings or prosleytize among Christians. The books that were burned had been forcibly confiscated from their owners, who had no desire to see their precious Sifre Kodesh put to the pyre.

The New Testaments burned had been given to their owners by Messianic Jews.  Messianic Jews in Israel number about 10,000.  They are actively engaging in seeking converts, going door-to-door in neighborhoods handing out Christian Bibles and other literature.  The recipients voluntarily gave the Bibles to the yeshiva students who went around collecting them.  Then the Bibles were burnt.

In seeming contrast to the Talmud burnings, there was provocation in the form of active missionizing to a community that viewed it as insulting and hurtful.  No bibles were forcibly taken from their owners.  One could view the incident as simply owners disposing of property they no longer wanted.

Religious Jews in Israel are quite likely to resent Messianic Jews and what they stand for. The latter must know that their proselytizing efforts are like salt in the wounds and bound to cause a reaction.  Anger is likely to have played a large part in what took place.

Still… Is it the same?  Or is it different? You decide.

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Mitzvah 41 – No Big Steps

Posted by rabbiart on May 22, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of their appearance in the Torah.

This week we cover Mitzvah 41: Not to stride by steps to the altar

Let’s start by confessing puzzlement as to how this mitzvah might be observed in our day. Shemot 20:23 says not to climb in steps on the altar, so as not to expose “nakedness”.

וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ, עָלָיו.

It might be helpful to picture the people wearing robed or toga-like garments in order to understand what is meant. We no longer have the un-hewn altar, nor do we wear clothes that would expose our nakedness should we climb up any kind of steps.

According to Rashi there is no concern for actual exposure, but only the suggestion of it from taking too wide a steps. So the design of the steps should allow for narrower footsteps as one ascends or descends. In other words – tzni-ut (modesty). The immodesty of wide steps in turn detracts from the attitude of awe and reverence the altar requires. Sefer HaHinuch specifically states that there should be no levity whatsoever.

According to Rashi there is no concern for actual exposure, but only the suggestion of it from taking too wide a steps. So the design of the steps should allow for narrower footsteps as one ascends or descends. In other words – tzni-ut (modesty). The immodesty of wide steps in turn detracts from the attitude of awe and reverence the altar requires.

The midrash says the proper way to walk is with a demure heel to toe pace, undoubtedly with a respectful attitude. The Shulchan Aruch describes the proper posture for the Amidah. While reciting the Amida, one should place his right hand over his left hand, and place them over his heart. He adds that one should stand in a manner that reflects fear, awe and trepidation. The Shulchan Aruch further notes that it is improper to place one’s hands on his hips as he prays the Amida, as this posture would be an expression of arrogance.

All of this would seem to suppress an important mood and emotion – joy. If we have to reflect fear and trepidation, and avoid levity, and walk demurely, how can we rejoice?

Rashi’s concern is not for actual exposure, but improper appearance. The Shulchan Aruch similarly warns against improper expression or attitude. Sefer HaHinuch warns against any levity. But look at the content of the siddur, perhaps especially on Shabbat. Many prayer texts speak of joy; take the easy example, the psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat. HaShem’s gift of the Torah is interpreted as an act of love. There is plenty of room for expressing our joy – and in rejoicing with each other. We need only take care to not let it get out of hand.

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