5/31/18

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018 - The Milk and Meat Kosher Taboo Explained

Why Not Milk and Meat? 
Because we must Segregate Men from Women to be a Sacred People
My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Though I was raised observant of the commandments in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, I woke up one day recently and realized that I don’t understand the ban on cooking or eating dishes that combine dairy and meat ingredients. The logic of those laws suddenly puzzles me. If the milk and meat foods are kosher separately, why are they forbidden when they are mixed together?

Flustered in Fair Lawn

Dear Flustered,

You do understand that most of the time, each religion is based on its own brand of logic. You don’t apply the general laws of deduction and inference to a religion. You accept how the system works internally, and you build on it. That buy-in and acceptance of the reasoning of your own religion is a big part of what we call faith.

Apparently, you do accept that God decreed that his chosen people avoid mixing milk and meat. Unique beliefs and practices like this one can be found in Judaism — and in all the major world religions.

You would like to apprehend the deeper meanings in this set of Jewish rules.

Jews have been questioning the relevance of these laws for some time. In 1885, classical Reform Judaism officially scuttled the laws of kashrut, calling them “foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

But in 1979, backtracking speedily (that is, speedily for religious leaders), the Reform rabbinical association proclaimed that “It is reasonable to ask the Reform Jew to study and consider kashrut so as to develop a valid personal position.” In 2011, the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis published “The Sacred Table,” which encourages an “ethical, health-based, spiritual approach to culinary culture in the Progressive Jewish community.”

5/27/18

New Yorker: At His 80th Birthday Party Philip Roth talked of Death

New Yorker has been churning out amazing content in the past few issues. David Remnick continues that flow with his account of Philip Roth's eightieth birthday celebration in Newark.

Remnick explains that death was Roth's main topic in his birthday remarks. An odd choice for a birthday festival for most folks but not for Roth.

Now, we usually don't dwell on the subject of death in our thoughts. But today we conclude our recitation of Kaddish for our dad. And that put us face-to-face with the subject. As we said in another post, we feel that through the public synagogue Kaddish ritual we firmly rooted our dad's soul into the community of Jews that he so loved and served with such dedication. As the community of Israel lives and flourishes, so does the energy of our dad live on. One form of immortality.

Dad's body rests in a cemetery in Israel on Har Hamenuchot overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. His presence there roots his soul in the Zionist dimension of our collective reality as a people. As the State of Israel lives and flourishes, so does the vitality of our dad live on. Another form of immortality.

Roth eloquently writes of the stones in a cemetery in New Jersey and the memory of his family. Roth has certainly rooted his soul in a public vital body of writing that will live on for a long time. A Rothian form of immortality.

Here is Remnick's teasing conclusion to his essay:
...Roth is the author of thirty-one books. His favorite, he has said, the one in which he felt the most free as he wrote it, is “Sabbath’s Theater.” Laughing a little to himself, Roth said that the novel, which was published in 1995, could easily have been titled “Death and the Art of Dying.” Its epigraph is Prospero’s line in Act V, Scene 1 in “The Tempest”: “Every third thought shall be my grave.” And within is the line from Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it stops.”

“The book is death-haunted,” Roth said. Mickey Sabbath, the turbulent, profane, and libidinous hero, is a man who is beyond discretion and taste, whose outrageous adulterous behavior is, Roth said, “his response to a place where nothing keeps its promise and everything is perishable.” As a boy, Sabbath lost the person closest to him in the world—his older brother, Morty, whose plane was shot down, in 1944, over the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

With that introduction, Roth read pages three hundred and sixty-three to three hundred and seventy of “Sabbath’s Theater,” one of the most stunning passages in all his work. He was not about to let us forget what eighty means. In the novel, Sabbath has gone south (“Tunnel, turnpike, parkway—the shore!”) to visit the Jewish cemetery where his grandparents, parents, and brother are all buried. I will not ruin it for you. To get the feel of the night, you must read the passage in full—or, better, read the novel entire. And imagine that this passage—with its great elegy of gravestones, with its memories of life lived, of a life cut short, and all of it in particular—imagine that this is what Philip Roth chose, very deliberately, as his birthday message, his greeting, his farewell. These were not his last words—please, not that!—but they were what he chose. Death-haunted but assertive of life. The passage ends with his hero putting stones on the graves of the dead. Stones that honor the dead. Stones that are also meant to speak to the dead, to mark the presence of life, as well, if only for a while. The passage ends simply. It ends with the line, “Here I am.”

Philip Roth was Attacked and Excommunicated at Yeshiva University in 1962


VI. The Holocaust in the Discourse of Popular American Jewish Culture

The role of the Holocaust in the civil discourse of American Jews comes more sharply into focus through critiques in contemporary imaginative fiction. It plays an important role in popular Judaic non-systemic (counterculture) folk representations. Consider the blunt example of the writings and experiences of Philip Roth. (Cf. Young, pp. 109-112, for further discussion of Roth.)
Roth in The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (New York, 1988, pp. 127-130) recounts an anecdote that he calls his "excommunication" at a Yeshiva University symposium on fiction he participated in New York in 1962. At this "trial" he tells us he was grilled mercilessly by a moderator and audience who began after him with the question: "Mr. Roth, would you write the same stories you've written if you were living in Nazi Germany?" As framed, the query was merely a cloak for a dagger aimed at the heart of Roth's literary expressions. The questioner transparently meant, "Are you not a self-hating Jew?" Roth was so shaken by the attack, he could not respond at the time. Instead, he says, he has given his answer many times over in the fiction he has published, in his discourse, since that incident.

Of course, Roth could have answered easily and obviously. He was a product of Jewish cultural processes over several generations in an American democracy. He wrote for an American non-racist audience. He was nurtured on the great achievements of English literature. Jews within German society had no such nurture and faced an openly hostile racist culture. Roth could only have written his oeuvre for us. We read him, understand him, despise him or laugh with him and respond to his characters and caricatures.

Through his fiction he challenges the basic discursive truths of Judaic life and, in my view, allows us to better judge their cultural value and purpose. Roth's recent parody of Holocaust memory within American Judaism and the Zionist setting was also one of his most radical. In The Counterlife he developed the following.

The book's protagonist Nathan Zuckerman finds himself on a jet flight from Israel sitting next to Jimmy Lustig, of the West Orange Lustigs. Jimmy is a psychotic reversioner returning from study in the Diaspora Yeshiva. He plans to hijack the plane to Germany and issue a press release aimed at "regeneration for the Jews," (Philip Roth, The Counterlife, New York, 1988, pp. 188-9)

FORGET REMEMBERING
I demand of the Israeli Government the immediate closing and dismantling of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Museum and Remembrance Hall of the Holocaust. I demand this in the name of the Jewish future. THE JEWISH FUTURE IS NOW. We must put persecution behind us forever. Never must we utter the name "Nazi" again, but instead strike it from our memory forever. No longer are we a people with an agonizing wound and a hideous scar. We have wandered nearly forty years in the wilderness of our great grief. Now is the time to stop paying tribute to that monster's memory with our Halls of Remembrance! Henceforth and forever his name shall cease to be associated with the unscarred and unscarable Land of Israel!
ISRAEL NEEDS NO HITLERS FOR THE RIGHT TO
BE ISRAEL!
JEWS NEED NO NAZIS TO BE THE REMARKABLE
JEWISH PEOPLE!
ZIONISM WITHOUT AUSCHWITZ!
JUDAISM WITHOUT VICTIMS!
THE PAST IS PAST! WE LIVE!
In the novel, but a few pages later, Jimmy backs off. The press-release was just an irrepressible, offensive Jewish joke. As Jimmy says, "Come on, you think I'd be crazy enough to f--k around with the Holocaust? I was just curious, that was all. See what you'd do. How it developed. You know. The novelist in me." (Ibid., p. 193)

Roth's artifice is an inversion of remembrance. He casts the scene in terms of the most visible contemporary context of political violence - airline hijacking. Roth pits recent reversionary forms of Judaism against accepted American communal forms, and against State-sponsored monumental discourse. These fictive memories have undoubtedly been shaped and cultivated under the repression of the corporate personality of the system of civic American Judaism. Roth's characters express as their response a fierce struggle over the acceptance or rejection of the central belief system.

Cited from my,
Judaisms and Memories: Systemic Representations of the Holocaust -- keynote address, Conference on the Effects of the Holocaust on the Humanities, University of Minnesota, March, 1989.

- repost from 4/25/06

5/4/18

My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for May 2018: Is Lazy Jewish? Is Showrooming Kosher? Is Facebook Treif?

My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for May 2018
Is Lazy Jewish? Is Showrooming Kosher? Is Facebook Treif?

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

There are times that I feel like just doing nothing, taking it easy, and drinking in the moments of my life. For some reason, at those times I feel guilty about this interlude. I feel like I should be doing productive activities every day. But I want to enjoy this slow time. What can I do to ameliorate my sense of failure during my intervals of inactivity?

Lazy in Leonia


Dear Lazy,

Wow. This is a timely question at any season, but especially now as our kids get out of school for the summer. What will they do all day? Parents will scramble around to find ways to program every minute of the summer days for their kids.

It’s also a timely concern because so many of us are reaching the age of retirement. And our retirees are asking themselves how they will fill every day with pursuits and activities.

Pop culture has no fundamental problem with your question. Singer Bruno Mars’ hit, “The Lazy Song,” says it well. “Today I don’t feel like doing anything / I just wanna lay in my bed / Don’t feel like picking up my phone / So leave a message at the tone / Nothing at all…”

But the values of our Jewish teachings don’t buy that attitude at all. Going way back to the biblical book of Proverbs, King Solomon inveighs against the slothful person, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise… How long will you sleep, O sluggard? when will you arise out of your sleep?”