(Jewish) Prayer (Gentile Kings and Democratic Country)


This 16th prayer, of Portuguese origin, Ha’Noten Teshua (He Who Gives Salvation) was then translated into English and presented by  Menasseh ben Israel to Oliver Cromwell in 1655. It became the template in traditional Jewish prayer and still appears in abbreviated form in modern orthodox prayer books. Appealing to autocrats, this baroque petition confirms Jewish fealty to sovereign authority and elevates and magnifies higher and higher the power of kings while begging protection from a position of Jewish social inequality. Unlike both the original form and the abbreviated form of the Ha’Noten Teshua in modern orthodox siddurim, the prayer for the country 1927 by Louis Ginzburg is democratic in spirit. It forms the basic template in Conservative movement siddurim, promoting good government and the universal blessings of liberal values like prosperity, peace, equality, and justice. Alas, it too lacks the poetic magnificence and visual grace, the path through strong waters and planetary star of the full Ha’Noten Teshua. Jonathan Sarna explores here the “liturgy of politics and the politics of liturgy” in American Jewish prayer.

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הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים
וּמֶמְשָּׁלָה לֲנְּסִיכִים
הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ
מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה
הַנּוֹתֵן בַּיַם דֶרֶךְ
וּבְמַיִם עַזִּים נְתִיבָה
הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִשְׁמוֹר
וְיִנְצוֹר וְיַעֲזוֹר
וִירוֹמֵם וִיגַדֵּל
וִינַשֵּׂא לְמַֽעְלָה לְמַֽעְלָה לַאֲדוֹנֵנוּ

He that giveth salvation unto Kings,
and dominion unto Lords,
He that delivered his servant David
from the sword of the Enemy,
He that made a way in the Sea,
and a path in the strong waters,
bless and keep,
preserve and rescue,
exalt and magnify,
and lift up higher and higher, our Lord:

[And then he names, the Pope, the Emperour, King, Duke, or any other Prince under whom the Jews live, and add’s :]

הַמֶּלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו יִשְׁמְרֶהוּ
וּמִכָּל צָרָה וָנֶזֶק יַצִילֵהוּ׃

The King of kings defend him in his mercy,
making him joyful,
& free him from all dangers and distress.

מֶֽלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו
יָרִוּם וְיַגְבִּיהַ כּוֹכַב מַעֲרַכְתָּוֹ
וְיַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל מַמְלָכְתּוֹ׃

The King of kings, for his goodness sake,
raise up and exalt his planetary star,
& multiply his dayes over his Kingdom.

מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו
יִתֵּן בְּלבּוֹ
וּבְּלֵב כָּל יוֹעֲצַיו וְשָׂרָיו
רַחֲמָנוּת לַעֲשׂוֹת טוֹבָה עִמָּנוּ
וְעִם כָּל יִשְּׂרָאֵל אַחֵינוּ

The King of kings for his mercies sake,
put into his heart,
and into the heart of his Counselors, & those that attend and administer to him,
that he may shew mercy unto us,
& unto all the people of Israel.

בְּיָמָיו וּבְיָמֵינוּ
תִּוָּשַּׁע יְהוּדָה
וְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁכּוֹן לָבֶטַח

In his days and in our days,
let Judah be safe,
and Israel dwell securely,

וּבָא לְצִיּוֹן גּוֹאֵל
וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן
וָנֺאמַר אָמֵן:

and let the Redeemer come to Israel,
and so may it please God.

[[text and translation found here at the Open Siddur Project]]



אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ
קַבֵּל נָא בְּרַחַמִים אֶת־תְּפִלָּתֵֽנוּ
בְּעַד אַרְצֵֽנוּ וּמֶמְשַׁלְתָּהּ.
הָרֵק אֶת־בּרְכָתְךָ ע֚ל הָאָֽרֶץ הַזֺּאת
עַל נְשִׂיאָהּ שׁוֹפְטֶֽיהָ שׁוֹטְרֶֽיהָ וּפְקִידֶֽהָ
הָעוֹסְקִים בְצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה.
הוֹרֵם מֵחֻקֵּי תוֺרָתֶֽךָ
הַבִינֵם מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶֽךָ
לְמַֽעַן לֺא יָסוּרוּ מֵאַרְצֵֽנוּ שָׁלוֹם וְשַׁלְוָה
אֺֽשֶׁר וָחֺֽפֶשׁ כּל־הַיָּמִים.

Our God and God of our ancestors:
Accept with mercy our prayer
for our land and its government.
Pour out your blessing on this land,
on its President, judges, officers and officials,
who work faithfully for the public good.
Teach them from the laws of Your Torah,
enlighten them with the rules of Your justice,
so that peace, tranquility, happiness and freedom
will never depart from our land.

אָנָּא יְיָ אֱלֺהֵי הָרוּחוֺת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר
שְׁלַח רוּחֲךָ עַל כָּל־תּוֹשְׁבֵי אַרְצֵֽנוּ
וְטַע בֵּין בְּנֵי הָאֻמּוֹת וְהָאֱמוּנוֹת הַשּׁוֹנוֹת הַשּׁוֹכְנִים בָּהּ
אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה שָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת.
וַעֲקֺר נִלִּבָּם כָל שִׂנְאָה וְאֵיבָה קִנְאָה וְתַחֲרוּת.
לְמַלֺּאות מַשָּׂא נֶֽפשׁ בָּנֶֽיהָ הַמִּתְיַמְּרִים בִּכְבוֹדָהּ
וְהַמִּשְׁתּוֹקְקִים לִרְאוֹתָהּ אוֹר לְכָל־הַגּוֹיִם.‏

God of all that lives,
please bestow Your spirit on all the inhabitants of our land,
and plant love, fellowship, peace and friendship
between the different communities and faiths that dwell here.
Uproot from their hearts all hate, animosity, jealousy and strife,
in order to fulfill the longings of its people, who aspire for its dignity,
and desire to see it as a light for all nations.

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ
שֶׁתְּהֵא אַרְצֵֽנוּ בְּרָכָה לְכָל־יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל
וְתַשְׁרֶה בֵּינֵיהֶם רֵעוּת וְחֵרוּת
וְקַיֵּם בִּמְהֵרָה חֲזוֹן נְבִיאֶֽיךָ
“לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב
וְלֹא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה”
וְנֶאֱמַר “כִּֽי־כוּלָּם֩ יֵדְע֨וּ אוֹתִ֜י
לְמִקְטַנָּ֤ם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם֙”.

And so may it be God’s will
that our land be a blessing for all who live on earth,
and that fellowship and liberty will dwell between them.
Establish soon the vision of your prophet:
“Nation will not raise a sword against nation,
and they will no longer learn war,”[1]
and, as it is said: “for all of them will know Me,
from the smallest to the greatest’.[2]

[texts available here at Open Siddur Project]

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Zachary Taylor (Trump Insurrection) (2021)

A bust of former President Zachary Taylor was defaced with a red substance that appeared to be blood.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

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“What is the Mishnah?” an International Zoom Workshop Sponsored by Harvard University

Tuesday, January 5, 2021 (All day) to Thursday, January 21, 2021 (All day)


On Zoom


Links to join the individual sessions are pasted below, please register in advance: 

(after registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting) 

Panel 1: The Mishnah and History – Tuesday Jan 5, 2021 11:00AM – 1PM EST 

Shaye Cohen: Opening Remarks 

Martin Goodman:  The Presentation of the Past in the Mishnah 

Hayim Lapin: The Mishnah as a Historical Document 


Panel 2: The Mishnah in its Historical Context – Thursday, Jan 7, 2021 11:00 AM – 1PM EST 

Vered Noam: Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls 

Catherine Hezser: Mishnah and Greco-Roman Law 

Jonathan Milgram: Mishnah and Ancient Near Eastern Law 


Panel 3: The Social World of the Mishnah – Tuesday January 12, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Jonathan Klawans: Priests and Pietists

Adiel Schremer: Heretics

Ishai Rosen-Zvi: Gentiles 

Gail Labovitz: Women and Gender


Panel 4: The Mishnah in its Literary Context – Thursday January 14, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Yair Furstenberg: The Literary Evolution of the Mishnah 

Shamma Friedman: Mishnah and Tosefta

Azzan Yadin-Israel: Mishnah and Tannaitic Midrash


Panel 5: Mishnaic Discourse – Monday January 18, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal: Mishnaic Hebrew/Language

Beth Berkowitz: Rhetoric (including mahloket)

Moshe Shoshan: Narrative


Panel 6: Composition, Transmission and Reception – Tuesday January 19, 2021 11:00 AM- 1:00 PM EST 

David Stern: Early Transmission/Publication of the Mishnah

Uziel Fuchs: From the Geonim to the Age of Print

Chanan Gafni: From the Age of Print to the Nineteenth Century


Panel 7: The Mishnah and Judaism – Thursday January 21, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Chaya Halberstam: Mishnah and Torah 

Sarit Gribetz:Holiness in the Mishnah

Naftali Cohn: Mishnah as Utopia



Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Associate Professor, Department of Hebrew Language, Hebrew University 

Beth Berkowitz, Ingeborg Rennert Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor, Department of Religion, Barnard College  

Shaye JD Cohen, Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University 

Naftali Cohn, Professor, Department of Religions and Cultures, Concordia University, Montreal 

Shamma Friedman, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary 

Uziel Fuchs, Senior lecturer Department of Oral Torah, Herzog College and Department of Talmud, Bar Ilan University 

Yair Furstenberg, Assistant Professor and Chair, Talmud Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

Chanan Gafni, Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev  

Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Studies, Fellow of Wolfson College, and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Oxford 

Sarit Gribetz, Associate Professor of Classical Judaism, Department of Theology, Fordham University 

Chaya Halberstam, Associate Professor of Judaism, Department of Religious Studies, King’s University College at Western University, Canada 

Catherine Hezser, Professor of Jewish Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London  

Jonathan Klawans, Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Boston University 

Gail Labovitz, Professor of Rabbinic Studies, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University 

Hayim Lapin, Robert H Smith Professor of Jewish Studies and History and Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies, University of Maryland 

Vered Noam, Professor of Talmud, Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel Aviv University 

Jonathan Milgram, Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Department of Talmud and Rabbinics, The Jewish Theological Seminary 

Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Professor of Rabbinic Literature, Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel-Aviv University 

Adiel Schremer, Professor of Jewish History, The Israel & Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Bar Ilan University 

Moshe Shoshan, Senior Lecturer, The Joseph and Norman Berman Department of Literature of the Jewish People, Bar-Ilan University 

David Stern, Harry Starr Professor of Classical and Modern Jewish and Hebrew Literature, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University 

Azzan Yadin-Israel, Professor of Jewish Studies, Department of Jewish Studies, Rutgers University 

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(Rashi) Translation At Sefaria (FYI)

In case anyone did not know and wanted to know, the Rashi commentary to the entire Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch + Prophets + Writings) is up translated at Sefaria. You can find it here. I’ve poked around a little here and there but was always too lazy to look at commentaries of actual special interest to me, namely Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs. Political theology types will have their go-to sources.

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God in the Poetics of Space (Bachelard)

Some of the mentions of God and gods in Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space are only incidental and unremarkable. While the most meager appearance of the word is “just” a figure of speech, in a meditation on poetics and imagination, words are not so simple. I’m following below and citing the main passages in the order in which the word “God” appears throughout Bachelard and making my own connection to the way “certainty” figures for Bachelard in the image. In order of appearance, the divine appears in [1] the self-enclosure of huts and shells. [2] The sense of wonder invoked in the poetic image moves into forests and into immense space [3] through thresholds. [4] The final image of a tree in a poem by Rilke is the quintessence of rounded being. The Poetics of Space has a running argument with Heidegger. Bachelard refuses the notion that being or human Dasein is “thrown.” The image-of-God-embedded-in-place-in-the-world is a figure of certainty; alone with God in place, the apparition of God is scaled from the intimate to the immense, moving back and forth in a spiral motion of thought between inside (consciousness) and outside (the world). One way to simply this concrete metaphysics is to point out that for Bachelard, a French thinker writing at mid-century, the universe is a hostile place. The house is warm, protective. That’s where God is first sensed in the poetic image. The final two word-phrases in the poetics of space,” this straining of a tree to see God, belongs to “the permanence of being” and a “concrete metaphysics.”


“The hut immediately becomes centralized solitude, for in the land of legend, there exists no adjoining hut. And although geographers may bring back photographs of hut villages from their travels in distant lands, our legendary past transcends everything that has been seen, even everything that we have experienced personally. The image leads us on towards extreme solitude. The hermit is alone before God. His hut, therefore, is just the opposite of the monastery. And there radiates about this centralized solitude a universe of meditation and prayer, a universe outside the universe. The hut can receive none of the riches “of this world.” It possesses the felicity of intense poverty; indeed, it is one of the glories of poverty; as destitution increases it gives us access to absolute refuge. This valorization of a center of concentrated solitude is so strong, so primitive, and so unquestioned, that the image of the distant light serves as a reference for less clearly localized images” (p.32).


“Poetry gives not so much a nostalgia for youth, which would be vulgar, as a nostalgia for the expressions of youth. It offers us images as we should have imagined them during the “original impulse” of youth. Primal images, simple engravings are but so many invitations to start imagining again. They give us back areas of being, houses in which the human being’s certainty of being is concentrated, and we have the impression that, by living in such images as these, in images that are as stabilizing as these are, we could start a new life, a life that would be our own, that would belong to us in our very depths. When we look at images of this kind, when we read the images in Bachelin’s book, we start musing on primitiveness” (p.33).


“Recalling these evenings during the dramatic winters in his father’s house, Bachelin writes (p. 104): ‘When our companions left us, their feet deep in snow and their faces in the teeth of the blizzard, it seemed to me that they were going very far away, to unknown owl-and-wolf-infested lands. I was tempted to call after them, as people did in my early history books: “May God help you.’ And what a striking thing it is that a mere image of the old homestead in the snow-drifts should be able to integrate images of the year one thousand in the mind of a child” (pp.41-2).


“Faced with ‘the horrible dangers of war,’ [Bernard] PaIissy [ed. footnote: sixteenth century scholar, potter and enamelist. One of the creators of the ceramic arts in France] began to muse about ‘a young slug that was building its house and fortress with its own saliva.’ Indeed, he passed several months dreaming of a construction from within, and most of his leisure time was spent walking beside the sea, where he saw ‘such a variety of houses and fortresses which certain little fishes had made from their own liquor and saliva that, from now on, I began to think that here was something that might be applied to my own project.’ ‘The battles and acts of brigandry” that take place in the sea being on a larger scale than those that take place on land, God ‘had conferred upon each one the diligence and skill needed to build a house that had been surveyed and constructed by means of such geometry and architecture, that Solomon in all his wisdom could never have made anything like it’” (pp.127-8).


“Poets feel this immediate immensity of old forests: 1 Foret pie use} foret brisee OU l’on n’enleve pas les morts Infiniment fermee} serree de vieilles tiges droites roses Infiniment resserree en plus vieux et gris fardes Sur la couche de mousse enorme et profonde en cri de velours (Pious forest, shattered forest, where the dead are left lying Infinitely closed, dense with pinkish straight old stems Infinitely serried, older and grayed On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry.) Here the poet does not describe. He knows that his is a greater task. The pious forest is shattered, closed, serried. It accumulates its infinity within its own boundaries. Farther on in the poem he will speak of the symphony of an “eternal” wind that lives in the movement of the tree-tops. Thus, Pierre-Jean Jouve’s ‘forest’ is immediately sacred, sacred by virtue of the tradition of its nature, far from all history of men. Before the gods existed, the woods were sacred, and the gods came to dwell in these sacred woods. All they did was to add human, all too human, characteristics to the great law of forest revery” (p.186)


A rarely felicitous expression of the intimate nature of the notion of immensity may be found in the pages Baudelaire devoted to Richard Wagner, and in which he lists, so to speak, three states of this impression of immensity. He begins by quoting the program of the concert at which the Prelude to Lohengrin was played (loc. cit. p. 212). ‘From the very first measures, the spirit of the pious recluse who awaits the sacred cup, is plunged into infinite space. Little by little, he sees a strange apparition assuming form. As this apparition becomes clearer, the marvellous band of angels, bearing in their midst the sacred goblet, passes. The holy procession approaches, little by little the heart of God’s elect is uplifted; it swells and expands, stirred by ineffable aspirations; it yields to increasing bliss, and as it comes nearer the luminous apparition, when at last the Holy Grail itself appears in the midst of the procession, it sinks into ecstatic adoration as though the whole world had suddenly disappeared/’ All the underlinings in this passage were made by Baudelaire himself. They make us sense clearly the progressive expansion of the daydream up to the ultimate point when immensity that is born intimately, in a feeling of ecstasy, dissolves and absorbs, as it were, the perceptible world” (p.194).


“I should like to examine a little more closely, this geometrical cancerization of the linguistic tissue of contemporary philosophy. For it does indeed seem as though an artificial syntax welded adverbs and verbs together in such a way as to form excrescences. By multiplying hyphens, this syntax obtains words that are sentences in themselves, in which the outside features blend with the inside. Philosophical language is becoming a language of aglutination. Sometimes, on the contrary, instead of becoming welded together, words loosen their intimate ties. Prefixes and suffixes-especially prefixes-become unwelded: they want to think for themselves. Because of this, words are occasionally thrown out of balance. Where is the main stress, for instance, in being-there (être là): on being or on there? In there -which it would be better to call here- shall I first look for my being? Or am I going to find, in my being, above all, certainty of my fixation in a there? In any case, one of these terms always weakens the other. Often the there is spoken so forcefully that the ontological aspects of the problems under consideration are sharply summarized in a geometrical fixation. The result is dogmatization of philosophemes as soon as they are expressed. In the tonal quality of the French language, the là (there) is so forceful, that to designate being (l’être) by être là is to point an energetic forefinger that might easily relegate intimate being to an exteriorized place. But why be in such a hurry to make these first designations? One has the impression that metaphysicians have stopped taking time to think. To make a study of being, in my opinion, it is preferable to follow all the ontological deviations of the various experiences of being. For, in reality, the experiences of being that might justify “geometrical” expression are among the most indigent … In French, one should think twice before speaking of l’être là. Entrapped in being, we shall always have to come out of it. And when we are hardly outside of being, we always have to go back into it. Thus, in being, everything is circuitous, roundabout, recurrent, so much talk; a chaplet of sojournings, a refrain with endless verses” (213-14).


But then come the hours of greater imagining sensibility. On May nights, when so many doors are closed, there is one that is just barely ajar. We have only to give it a very slight push! The hinges have been well oiled. And our fate becomes visible. And how many doors were doors of hesitation! In La Romance du Retour, by Jean Pellerin, this tender, delicate poet wrote: 1 La porte me flaire, elle hbite. (The door scents me, it hesitates.) In this verse, so much psychism is transferred to the object that a reader who attaches importance to objectivity will see in it mere brain-play. If such a document had its source in some remote mythology, we should find it more readily acceptable. But why not take the poet’s verse as a small element of spontaneous mythology? Why not sense that, incarnated in the door, there is a little threshold god? And there is no need to return to a distant past, a past that is no longer our own, to find sacred properties attributed to the threshold. In the third century, Porphyrus wrote: “A threshold is a sacred thing.”2 But even if erudition did not permit us to refer to such a sacralization, why should we not react to sacralization through poetry, through a poem of our own time, tinged with fantasy, perhaps, but which is in harmony with primal values (pp.222-3)


“Without preparing us, precisely as regards the absolute nature of the image, Michelet says that ‘a bird is almost completely spherical.’ If we drop the “almost,” which moderates the formula uselessly, and is a concession to a viewpoint that would judge from the form, we have an obvious participation in Jaspers’ principle of “round being.” A bird, for Michelet, is solid roundness, it is round life, and in a few lines, his commentary gives it its meaning of model of being.1 “The bird, which is almost completely spherical, is certainly the sublime and divine summit of living concentration. One can neither see, nor even imagine, a higher degree of unity. Excess of concentration, which constitutes the great personal force of the bird, but which implies its extreme individuality, its isolation, its social weakness.” In the book, these lines also appear totally isolated from the rest. One feels that the author, too, followed an image of “concentration” and acceded to a plane of meditation on which he has taken cognizance of the “sources” of life. Of course, he is above being concerned with description. Once again, a geometrician may wonder, all the more so since here the bird is considered on the wing, in its out of-doors aspect, consequently, the arrow figures could accord here with an imagined dynamics. But Michelet seized the bird’s being in its cosmic situation, as a centralization of life guarded on every side, enclosed in a live ball, and consequently, at the maximum of its unity. All the other images, whether of form, color or movement, are stricken with relativism in the face of what we shall have to call the absolute bird, the being of round life” (p.237).


Sometimes we find ourselves in the presence of a form. that guides and encloses our earliest dreams. For a painter, a tree is composed in its roundness. But a poet continues the dream from higher up. He knows that when a thing becomes isolated, it becomes round, assumes a figure of being that is concentrated upon itself. In Rilke’s Poemes francais, this is how the walnut tree lives and commands attention. Here, again around a lone tree, which is the center of a world, the dome of the sky becomes round, in accordance with the rule of cosmic poetry. On p. 169 of this collection we read: Arbre toujours au milieu De tout ce qui I’ entoure Arbre qui savoure La vo’llte des deux (Tree always in the center Of all that surrounds it Tree feasting upon Heaven’s great dome)

Needless to say, all the poet really sees is a tree in a meadow; he is not thinking of a legendary Yggdrasill that would concentrate the entire cosmos, uniting heaven and earth, within itself. But the imagination of round being follows its own law: since, as the poet says, the walnut tree is “proudly rounded,” it can feast upon “heaven’s great dome.” The world is round around the round being.

“And from verse to verse, the poem grows, increases its being. The tree is alive, reflective, straining toward God. Dieu lui va apparaitre Or pour qu’il soit sur Il developpe en yond son être Et lui tend des bras murs. Arbre qui peut être Pense au-dedans. Arbre qui se domine Se donnant lentement La forme qui elimine Les hasards du vent! (One day it will see God And so, to be sure, It develops its being in roundness And holds out ripe arms to Him. Tree that perhaps Thinks innerly Tree that dominates self Slowly giving itself The form that eliminates Hazards of wind)”

“I shall never find a better document for a phenomenology of a being which is at once established in its roundness and developing in it. Rilke’s tree propagates in green spheres a roundness that is a victory over accidents of form and the capricious events of mobility. Here becoming has countless forms, countless leaves, but being is subject to 241 the phenomenology of roundness no dispersion: if I could ever succeed in grouping together all the images of being, all the multiple, changing images that, in spite of everything, illustrate permanence of being, Rilke’s tree would open an important chapter in my album of concrete metaphysic” (239-41).

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(Jewish Law) The Tikvah Fund = The Conservative U.S. Group Trying to Transform Israel’s Justice System


This post is something by way of an epilogue. Back in the day, the Tikvah Fund and the people running its various organs and sister institutions in the United States (academic programs at Princeton and NYU, the Jewish Review of Books, Tablet) pretended that their sole interest was “Jewish ideas.” In fact, the agenda was always to introduce, under the radar, conservative ideas into the American university system and American Judaism via Jewish Studies. That caravan finally moved on to Israel, where the ultra nationalist agenda is now transparent. As reported here, the far-right agenda is to cripple the power of the Israeli judiciary in the interest of the Israel Is The Nation-State of the Jewish People idea and the Jewish settlement project in the occupied West Bank. With no interest in the principle of equal rights and equal citizenship enshrined in law, the program is based on a conservative American constitutional model of conservatism: “judicial restraint, separation of powers, individual liberty and limited government.” The judiciary is one of the last and most important pillars of Israeli democracy. Unlike in America, the Tikvah Fund in Israel is capable of real and lasting damage. Ideologically, what links Tikvah Fund in the United States with the Tikvah Fund in Israel is “law,” i.e. the Jewish law and politics idea and Jewish-state law as an actual and effective political force in society; because there is no constitution in Israel, and therefore no constitutional protections. I  never understood how the authority fetish in contemporary Jewish thought could be decoupled from authoritarianism. While I won’t speak here to the history of Jewish law as a loose social canon, coupled with the political, there is a definite connecting link between the contemporary Jewish law idea and fascism.  

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Shekhina (2nd Temple & Rabbinic Sources)

On God/Shekinah in Targumim, 2nd Temple Period, and rabbinic sources, see this exhaustive entry by Kaufman Kohler and Ludwig Blau in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia available online here. “The term,” they explain, “was used by the Rabbis in place of ‘God’ where the anthropomorphic expressions of the Bible were no longer regarded as proper.” Shekkinah relates to God’s descending, dwelling, resting “presence.” I would note that, in the sources, the Shekhina is more like a shell than an essence. It dwells not “in” the human person, but rests “upon” and settles around the person.

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The Ultimate “Hasmoneans & Hanukah” 2020 Twitter Thread


Reminding us again that the rabbis, who detested the Hasmoneans, were only one group of players in antique and late antique Judaism: the Hanukah memorialization of the Maccabean revolt is not simply a reactionary reflex of Jewish modernity and modern Jewish nationalism. By Yitz Landes, this is the ultimate 2020 Hanukah thread on Twitter –ultimate because, in addition to Landes himself, it includes detailed sub-threads by and links to essays by and about Annette Yoshiko Reed, Simcha Gross, Mika Ahuvia, Vered Noam, Daniel Picus, and Ophir Münz-Manor. You can find them all here. Much of the attention goes to the celebration of heroic Maccabees in synagogue things like piyyut and art. A follow up question: what becomes of the Maccabees in medieval Ashkenaz?

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(Jews Love Hanukah) Sensible Excess (Maimonides)

Jews love Hanukah, but not because of the story.

The story itself has 2 sides. The one relates to Jews and Syrian-Greeks (and between Jews and Jews) (or Judeans if you prefer). The other relates to God and the Hanukah miracle. Modern Jews, not exclusively Zionists, emphasize the former rather than latter. I’m not sure when this started. I’m guessing it goes back to 19th century liberal German Judaism and Jewish Wissenschaft (academic Jewish Studies). It’s well known, indeed, that German Judaism looked back to the Golden Age in Spain, and I’m also betting that German Jewish modern Hanukah draws on Maimonides, who also had almost nothing too much to say about the miracle.

In chapter 3 of Hilkhot Megilah v’Hanukah of the Mishne Torah, the discussion of Hanukah opens with a historical preamble about Greeks and Hasmonean priests and the struggle over the Temple, great victories, and the restoration of kingship to Israel. The story about the one jar of oil is without any reference to God or to the word “miracle” (3;1-2). This is the way Maimonides set up the laws of the holiday, on the human plane, as history. Without much by way of explanation, there are only three references to the miracle, and these only in relation to the practice of lighting Hanukah lamps, not in reference to the story or to anything having to do with God (3:3, 4:12, 4:13).

Long before the competition with Christmas in modern American Judaism, the “real” reason why Jews love Hanukah always had what to do with excess. For Maimonides, the excess is “sensible,” being both rational and sensual.

The first point of excess is song. As if he wanted to make a point, Maimonides notes that the Hallel service (the singing of psalms integrated into the liturgical calendar) is recited 18x a year, indeed, he makes it a point to say, on “days of excessive joy” (יְמֵי שִׂמְחָה יְתֵרָה) (3:6). In the blessing for the Hallel, the language Maimonides prescribes reflects the same quality. God’s name is praised with glee. God’s name is good to praise and pleasant to sing, etc., etc. (3:10). It is not beside the point that Maimonides make it a point to note that according to the custom of the early sages, for each and every thing, the word “hallelujah” would repeat 123x during the course of a single recitation of the Hallel (3:12).

The lighting of Hanukah lights or oil lamps (נֵרוֹת) enjoy for Maimonides the same quality of excess. The more light being the better, adding lamps is integral to the beauty of the mitzvah, and to making it still more beautiful. “One who beautifies [it] further than this and performs the commandment in the choicest manner lights a lamp for each person on the first night and continues to add one lamp on each and every night” (4:1; transl. altered). It is entirely to the point that Maimonides makes it a point to note that in a household of ten, men and women, that would be 80 lamps by the last night (4:2). He also makes it a point to note that this was the custom in all the cities in Spain (4:3). One appreciates in Maimonides the sense of luxury and taste.

Maimonides comments that the mitzvah of lighting the lamps is “exceedingly precious” (חֲבִיבָה הִיא עַד מְאֹד) (4:12). Even the poor should go to great lengths to purchase the necessary oil,, and it is more important, if forced to choose, to buy lights for Hanukah than Kiddush-wine for Shabbat. No matter what, “The lighting of [a person’s] home takes priority, so as to sustain peace in the house, since even the divine name was erased [in the oath of purgation—Numbers 5:12-31] to make peace between [a jealous] husband and his wife. Great is peace, since the entire Torah has been given to create peace in the world, as it is written: “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17)” (4:14)

If Maimonides is right, then the “real” reason Jews love Hanukah has to do with excess, and the “true” excess of Hanukah is “sensible.” The meaning of the act is internal to the act. It has nothing to do with narrative as such, except insofar as people like to tell stories. For the rationalist, Hanukah refers to human things and to human pleasure. Between ancient Jerusalem and medieval Spain, between the time of the early sages and his own, God’s name is simply good to sing and even better in excess, while special lights, especially the excessive lighting of lamps, mark both the Jewish home as a place and the virtue of peace.

[[translations grabbed from the Mishne Torah site at Sefaria]]

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(Jewish Social Studies) Epidemics & Other Disasters: Views from Jewish Studies (Coronavirus)

issue cover imageAdditional Information

Historiographical scholarship tracking the responses, including theological, of a small people caught up in the swell of impacted global crises, here being primarily plagues and pandemics. As editors Elissa Bemporad,  Julia Phillips Cohen, and  Ari Y. Kelman suggest, the shift here in a general way is  from History to Nature. The reference to Dubnov reflecting on his writing of medieval history during the early twentieth century suggests that Jewish Studies has heretofore been preoccupied with the former (History) at the expense of the latter (Nature). The two, of course, overlap. But the disasters in this volume are not the usual ones foregrounded in Jewish Studies, i.e. gentile violence against Jews, but rather so-called natural disasters behind which the hand of God? Kudos to the editors at Jewish Social Studies. 

Jewish Social Studies recognizes the increasingly fluid methodological and disciplinary boundaries within the humanities and is particularly interested both in exploring different approaches to Jewish history and in critical inquiry into the concepts and theoretical stances that underpin its problematics. It publishes specific case studies, engages in theoretical discussion, and advances the understanding of Jewish life as well as the multifaceted narratives that constitute its historiography.


Indiana University Press


Volume 26, Number 1, Fall 2020

Table of Contents

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  1. Jewish Studies in Times of Crisis
  2. Elissa BemporadJulia Phillips CohenAri Y. Kelman
  3. pp. 5-19
  4. full access 
  1. The Pandemic, Antisemitism, and the Lachrymose Conception of Jewish History
  2. Magda Teter
  3. pp. 20-32
  4. full access 
  1. COVID-19 and the Theological Challenge of the Arbitrary
  2. Shaul Magid
  3. pp. 33-45
  4. full access 
  1. Ottoman Jews and Plagues
  2. Yaron Ayalon
  3. pp. 46-54
  4. full access 
  1. Learning from Disasters Past: The Case of an Early Seventeenth-Century Plague in Northern Italy and Beyond
  2. Dean Phillip Bell
  3. pp. 55-66
  4. full access 
  1. Heroes and Victims Without Villains: Plague in Early Modern Prague
  2. Joshua Teplitsky
  3. pp. 67-76
  4. full access 
  1. Jewish Healers and Yellow Fever in the Eighteenth-Century Americas
  2. Laura Arnold Leibman
  3. pp. 77-90
  4. full access 
  1. Writing Against Loss: Moroccan Jewish Book Culture in a Time of Disaster
  2. Yigal S. Nizri
  3. pp. 91-100
  4. full access 
  1. “Jewish Fever”: Myths and Realities in the History of Russia’s Typhus Epidemic, 1914–22
  2. Polly Zavadivker
  3. pp. 101-112
  4. full access 
  1. Israel’s Shaar Ha’aliya Camp through the Lens of COVID-19: Does the History of Quarantine Matter?
  2. Rhona Seidelman
  3. pp. 113-121
  4. full access 
  1. AIDS Was Our Earthquake: American Jewish Responses to the AIDS Crisis, 1985–92
  2. Gregg Drinkwater
  3. pp. 122-142
  4. full access 
  1. “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot! We Want Summer Camp!”: Orthodox Jewry in the Age of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter
  2. Joshua Shanes
  3. pp. 143-155
  4. full access 
  1. Flashbacks and Foreshadows at the Ends of Empire: Lessons from the Periphery to a Collapsing Center
  2. Evelyn María Dean-Olmsted
  3. pp. 156-180
  4. full access 
  1. Lessons of Hurricane Katrina for American Jews, 2020 Edition
  2. Karla Goldman
  3. pp. 181-191
  4. full access 
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