Libi Frydman Orlow

Adina and I had been discussing and deliberating having a fourth for a few years. The events in Israel this past summer shifted the conversation and nine months later, Adina and I are humbled by and in awe of the birth of our fourth child, Libi Frydman Orlow. She is a miracle just like the rest of the fOuRLOWs and we are confident that our Libi is every bit as amazing as her sister and two brothers. Seeing that she was born out of our concern for Israel and the future of the Jewish people we found it fitting to name her Libi ( pronounced Lee Bee) after the first line of  Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi‘s Songs for Zion, he wrote, “My heart in the East and I at the farthest West.” Later on in the poem he writes:

Zion, do you ask if the captives are at peace— the few that are left?

I cry out like the jackals when I think of their grief;

but, dreaming of the end of their captivity,

I am like a harp for your songs.

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Adina and I dream of the end of our captivity and the sustained safety of the Jewish people. We sincerely hope that our Libi will be an instrument of our national song. We are excited to see the impact she makes on the world.

Tisha B’Av: Fast for Feast

I recently reconnected with near and dear friend of mine Rabbi Marc Gitler. Rabbi Marc and I share a unique bond of having spent prolonged periods living in Minsk, Belarus. When we were talking Rabbi Marc shared a great Torah with me and seeing that it is connected with Tisha B’Av I wanted to share it with you.  He wrote:

Mar Zutra in Mesechet Brachot states: אגרא דתעניתא – צדקתא the merit of a fast day lies not in the fasting, but in the charity dispensed. Rashi explains that towards the end of the fast day a person should seek out poor individuals and give them tzedakah. Presumably, without the donated dollars, the poor person would have no food to break his or her fast. Thus a person is rewarded for the charity.

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, the Maharsha, raises a question about the statement. Jewish tradition doesn’t allow one to receive a tangible benefit from the performance of a mitzvah, yet on fast days a faster benefits in that he/she saved money that he would have otherwise spent on food. The Maharsha, answering his own question, recommends “calculating the money saved by fasting and giving the money to charity.”

The Maharsha’s idea is simple, yet extraordinary. Fast days are not intended as days to save money. They are opportunities for personal spiritual growth and communal connections, especially with those in need. By following the Maharsha’s idea with a minimal 10,18,25, or 36 dollar contribution to tzedakah, you have the opportunity to elevate your fast day, as well as provide much needed food to those in need.

I contributed and I would urge you to do the same. Have a meaningful fast. Here is the link:

Eli Eli and Tisha B’Av

Over the years I have come to really appreciate the tzorat hadaf– the form of the printed Vilna Shas. That is not to say that I do love learning Talmud, but beyond the Talmud itself, I love the format of commentary. I enjoy the idea of putting a text at the center , like the Mishna or Gemara, and bringing commentary in conversation with this text and each other around it. I have found that it is a great resource to study other texts as well. To that ends I have put together some contemporary pages of Talmud. They include:

Exploring the Ideas of Machloket, Bat Kol, and Who’s Voices Count

In Memory of Arik Einstein z”l

The Connection between Rav Nachman and Franz Kafka

And now with the advent of Tisha B’Av I wanted to share some thoughts on Hannah Szenes’s Eli Eli

It is one of those songs that we sing every year on Tisha B’Av, but I am suspect that we do not give it enough thought. Please tell me what you think. And of course I would love to hear your thoughts on other texts you would like to see dealt with in a contemporary pages of Talmud.

 Thinking Out of the Box

How do we define space? Often is is easiest to go and pull out a map. Pictures just work in ways that words do not. See below at this map of the wonderful state of Wyoming.

But how might you define this space without a picture? Well, it is square landmass in the center of the United States of America. That is pretty accurate, but how would do you this for another state (and do not pick Colorado)? It is very hard to define these spaces with just words.

But, alas this is the project in Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land of Canaan, this shall be the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof.  Thus your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin close by the side of Edom, and your south border shall begin at the end of the Salt Sea eastward; and your border shall turn about southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass along to Zin; and the goings out thereof shall be southward of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon; and the border shall turn about from Azmon unto the Brook of Egypt, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Sea.  And for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea for a border; this shall be your west border. And this shall be your north border: from the Great Sea you shall mark out your line unto mount Hor;  from mount Hor you shall mark out a line unto the entrance to Hamath; and the goings out of the border shall be at Zedad;  and the border shall go forth to Ziphron, and the goings out thereof shall be at Hazar-enan; this shall be your north border.  And you shall mark out your line for the east border from Hazar-enan to Shepham; and the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall go down, and shall strike upon the slope of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea; this shall be your land according to the borders thereof round about.’ (Numbers 34:1-12)

There are no straight lines. Without saying anything about the current geo-political issues in Israel, I can say that the Torah here is being simple without being simplistic. The biblical land of Israel is not Wyoming.This posses an interesting model as to how we define things that are complex which we might not have seen.

In light of SCOTUS’s decision to guarantees the right to same-sex marriage I thought it would be appropriate to revisit a post from a 4 years ago in discussion of Matot Masai, our Torah portion. Even if same-sex marriage is not sanctioned by Halacha, winning  the civil right to marry represents a human rights victory. It saddens me to see religious groups either going on the attack or recusing themselves from the discussion. Same-sex marriage is a great opportunity for the religious establishment to redefine the nature of marriage.

Why do they need to redefine marriage you ask? Well, simply put, marriage is not working. If current trends continue 40% or possibly even 50% of marriages will end in divorce. That is a staggering rate. Instead of defining it by excluding people, we need to enjoin people into a conversation of joining together for a the creation of a household build on common values. The institution of marriage is far too complex to make believe that it can be mapped out as easily as the straight borders of Wyoming.  Traditional forms of religion can live in their self imposed exile or join in and offer their wisdom.

I am confident that we all have a lot to learn about the contours of creating successful life long relationships. Life-long partnership needs to move beyond the infantile belief that  is just about creating babies ( yes I am in the hospital right now). It might not be a simple box, but can we picture a more mature understanding of life-long commitment?


No Church in the Wild

I have been thinking about the end of last week’s Torah portion discussing the Israelites committing idolatry and harlotry with the daughters of Moav. There we read:

 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moshe, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.( Numbers 25: 6-8)

In Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion,  we learn that he is praised “covenant of peace”. How can this be the case? Pinchas and his vigilante justice seems like the opposite of a “covenant of peace”. And what do we make of the fact that he was the son of Aaron. How does this depict the priesthood?

I was thinking about this when listened to No Church in the Wild by Kanye West, Jay -Z, and Frank Ocean.

Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive
All right, all right
No church in the wild

Tears on the mausoleum floor
Blood stains the coliseum doors
Lies on the lips of a priest
Thanksgiving disguised as a feast

I can imagine that there are circumstances when the ends justify the means, but it seems really hard to bring about a belief in God in the face of a mob through the lies (or in this case the aim) of a priest.

Talking Body

In Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals talking.   Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak the son of Zippor  ( bird). Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and  he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites.  And of course this story of a talking animal fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity.

In this context I have been thinking about Tove Lo‘s explicit earworm Talking Body. She sings:

Now if we’re talking body
You got a perfect one, so put it on me

I am not offended, by the lyrics ( the rest is even more explicit). In general I would argue that Judaism has a sex positive worldview. But still I would say that sex cannot be instead of other forms of communication. Rather, I would say sex should be the climax ( pun intended) of other forms of communication.  Similar to Bilaam being depicted as an ass by a talking donkey, we stand to regress to debase animals when we see sex as a stand alone form of communication. Talking bodies can have profound meaning in a broader conversation.


SCOTUS: Same Sex Marriage

Today is a monumental day in American history. The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. The way I see it religious people have a choice to make. Will we complain about this decision regarding who can get married or enjoin the public in a conversation about the meaning of commitment. There is no doubt in my mind that things will get nasty. I am worried that people acting in the name of their faith will not model respect. Three years ago I wrote:

As religious people, we should welcome this “challenge” of same-sex marriage as an opportunity to define marital commitment in the 21st century. Getting lost in the form of a wedding completely misses the conversation about the content of a marriage. Who better to guide the conversation about commitment?  It is laughable to outsource the definition of a marriage to the state. We clearly do not want to leave this conversation of commitment in the hands of politicians. We want to be the ones crafting the conversation on what makes a life-long commitment work. And in the end we have to realize that we cannot just preach respect, we need to model it.  ( read rest of that post)

I for one am happy about the decision.  What will be the next chapter? How will we in the religious community be part of the conversation, will we shirk away, or worse will we act out? Here is our moment to model showing respect. Today our Supreme Court has helped take us one step closer to making a more perfect union by making it illegal for states to ban same sex unions. Do we want to be part of this conversation?

– See source post Modeling Respect

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