We're deep into Season 3 of Tov!, my podcast about The Good Place and Jewish ideas related to teshuvah. You can find all the most recent episodes here, or type "Tov!" into your favorite podcast app.
Also, I have been logging in at 12:36pm Eastern time each weekday this Elul to teach and talk about some classic teaching about teshuvah, mostly Maimonides but other things maybe too. You can join here, or you can listen to the ones I've taped:
On “The Good Place” Chapter 7 is the classic lying episode, and on the podcast Rebecca Rosenthal and I jump off from the Talmud’s analysis of white lies to talk about truth and relationships, how and when we tell people important truths, and how truth emerges between people not just by telling.
(Also the Klingon death ritual....)
That's Rabbi Sari Laufer, my partner for Chapter 5 of Tov!
"To Measure or Not to Measure" -- on “The Good Place” Eleanor is excited when she is polite for the first time without thinking, Tahani’s philanthropy doesn't score enough points with her parents or the algorithm, and Chidi doesn’t find pleasure in doing the most good. So on the podcast Jon has his first stomach ache and Sari Laufer (new rabbi on the team) helps us think more about where measuring goodness does and doesn’t make sense. Oh, and where intellectual vs. sensual pleasure fits in!
Check it out here or wherever you get podcasts!
On “The Good Place” Michael tries to guide Chidi and Janet toward new things, but it’s Eleanor who finds unexpected inspiration because of Tahani. So on the podcast, Jon Spira-Savett and Audrey Marcus Berkman explore reincarnation Jewish-style and who the teacher you need turns out to be.
Posted at 08:45 AM in Calendar, Education, Elul, Ethics, Foregiveness, High Holidays, Holidays, Hope, Jewish Education, Leadership, Middot, Rosh Hashanah, Soul, Spirituality, Study, Talmud, Teacher-Student Relationship, Television, Teshuvah, Torah, Yamim Noraim, Yom Kippur, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
If you're a fan of "The Good Place" and at all connected to Jews or Judaism, try out my new podcast that I'm creating with a bunch of colleagues!
Tov! is on all the major podcast platforms, and it will be a fun and interesting way to explore some Jewish texts and ideas. Check out the website for episodes and show notes, or search for it in your app and try it out!
It's launching right as we begin Elul, the month in the Jewish calendar leading to Rosh Hashanah. This is the time of year when we're all Eleanor Shellstrop, trying to improve our lives as though everything is in the balance.
Posted at 11:06 AM in Calendar, Education, Ethics, Foregiveness, Gossip, Harry Potter, High Holidays, Holidays, Hope, Jewish Education, Lashon Hara, Leadership, Middot, Rosh Hashanah, Soul, Study, Talmud, Television, Teshuvah, Tikkun Olam, Tzedakah, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Yamim Noraim, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
A Facebook post by a congregant highlighted a controversy around an initiative called #DisruptTexts, and my response to it was going to be much longer than a typical FB comment. #DisruptTexts as a specific project isn't something I had heard of, but as I skimmed the website the other day it certainly doesn't seem brand new. This is an initiative for literature education in schools that aims to "challenge the traditional canon" both by bringing in more representative texts and by putting new texts and perspectives into dialogue with "traditional" ones. I'm posting partly because the congregant said she wanted all her child's teachers to be involved in this kind of pedagogy, and I am/hope to be one of those teachers.
I don't know why this approach would be controversial at all. I mean I do, of course. But I would think even people with suspicion ought to be cheered by the idea of critical thinking about texts and literature, and by the idea of pairings and conversations centered around both traditional and new literary texts.
Anyway my mind went immediately to an experience I had as a first-year rabbinical student in just this kind of pedagogy at an adult level. As a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I had access to the Protestant institution across the street, Union Theological Seminary. I enrolled there in a course about the book of Hosea taught by Professor Phyllis Trible, one of the pioneering feminist critics of the Hebrew Bible. I had read from a couple of Professor Trible's books. One of them was called Texts of Terror, to give you a sense of her work. Her scholarship there was about women such as Hagar, Tamar, and the brutalized concubine of Gibeah in the book of Judges. Professor Trible was looking both to document the treatment of women by the (male) authors and editors of the Bible and to listen for women's voices somehow in the same texts.
I had studied the opening chapters of Hosea in religious school during high school with my terrific teacher Earl Schwartz. Hosea takes to heart the prophetic metaphor that images Israel's straying from God as an unfaithful wife. So he marries a prostitute and his book opens with a graphic revenge fantasy put in God's mouth/mind, leading to reconciliation. It's pretty horrifying.
That's where Professor Trible opened the course. I figured, based on what I knew of her, that the course would critique Hosea and unearth all the factors behind taking an already-problematic metaphor too far back in his time. Instead, she opened by saying even so, she wanted to see whether there was a way to reclaim Hosea and to have his book in the canon. It was a generous and tentative opening -- Professor Trible presented this as an open question. We would work through the text of the book and see.
The students were paired off and each group had to prepare a particular section in depth to present to the class -- to translate, analyze, and suggest issues and interpretations. I asked for or ended up with a passage that is read traditionally in the synagogue as a haftarah, a section of the prophets paired with the week's Torah reading. My partner was a Southern female Protestant seminarian who was also lesbian and married (this was the first half of 1991).
I am sure we compared Hosea to other places in the Torah and prophets that talk about Israel's unfaithfulness or betrayals, straight up or in metaphor. Hosea was also an innovator in the idea of teshuvah or "repentance"/personal change in Jewish thought. How do we hold both sets of his words?
My engagement with Hosea continued. A number of years ago, I was in the synagogue and listening to the chanting of the first couple chapters of Hosea by a thirteen-year-old girl on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah. I was horrified. How had I let that happen? Somewhere in between that moment and Professor Trible, I had sat in horror while the students in the Jewish day high school I worked at presented "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" as the school play. So much leering at women in the play, being staged by young girls being watched by young guys, and we the faculty had somehow let that happen. Here it was again, and just as bad even though I'm sure relatively few people were paying close attention to the English translation of Hosea in front of us in the synagogue.
I resolved that one way or another, no girl would chant this passage in the synagogue again. I thought about this for a few months and learned that the haftarah readings were not as fixed as our Bibles in the pews would lead us to think. Then I remembered too a section of the Mishnah, the early code of Jewish law that is the foundation of the Talmud, that lays out a series of texts that are not to be publicly read and/or not to be publicly translated in the synagogue, even though they can be encountered in a process of Torah study. (Before print, during services biblical readings were in some places translated out loud into the vernacular.)
I proposed not just that young girls would not read this for Bat Mitzvah, but that no one should hear this passage read out loud in the synagogue. We would substitute another reading for the opening of Hosea. The first year, I took time the week before to explain what I was doing and why. I taught a bit about Hosea, and both Earl Schwartz and Professor Trible. The next week I gave out xeroxes of an alternative text. In succeeding years, I make note of what we are doing and why. This is how I keep Hosea in the canon. He's there, not as loud as he once was, and always now framed by and along with other voices including new ones, including my own.
This is hardly the only example of its kind in my own life of texts and canons and teaching literatures. A whole section of my very first education course at the Seminary was about "difficult texts." But I describe all of this about Hosea to say that there are many dimensions to encountering texts, and all kinds of ways of staging or framing those encounters. We read privately or with others; we listen or we debate; we study intimately or we share ritually. There is more than canon-or-cancel. #DisruptTexts is about the classroom, the place where students and teachers read together and learn how to read. It's part of what we should be doing as teachers and parents, sharing stories and literature with our students and children.
Posted at 12:09 PM in Abuse, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Ethics, Feminism, Foregiveness, Jewish Education, Justice, Leadership, Numbers, Parashat Hashavua, Prophets, Ritual, Study, Teacher-Student Relationship, Teens, Tikkun Olam, Torah, Tzedek, USA, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
This year I updated my usual re-post about Moshe and Yeshayahu, your "two personal spiritual assistants", and published it at the Times of Israel:
It is not easy to take a day off of school or work for the High Holy Days. As school pressures have become more demanding, even at younger ages, the decision about bringing children to services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on a school day might be more difficult for a parent than ever before. In places like New Hampshire -- any place where there are few Jewish families in any school -- there can be a lot to navigate in terms of homework, tests, and after-school activities.
So here are five reasons to take your child out of school and bring them to services anyway!
1. It's amazing to see so many people taking time all at once to make ourselves and the world better.
This is the essence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
It's one thing to say that each of us should always be trying to be a better person. It's another to see hundreds of people focused on that all at once.
We can show our children: Look how many people are working on bringing out the good in themselves and each other. It matters so much to them that a lot of them are taking off from work, and from school.
This is what being Jewish is all about.
2. So many Jews!
Especially outside of, say, Israel and New York, when do you see the Jewish community so big?
If you are a child in a place where your family is the only Jewish family around, or one of the only ones, you may not feel like you are part of something big and important. Being a minority can feel special. But seeing you're part of something bigger when you're Jewish is also special, and can make it easier all the times when being a minority is hard.
3. Shofar is really cool.
During Rosh Hashanah daytime services, and at the very end of Yom Kippur, the shofar (ram's horn) is sounded. On Rosh Hashanah, there is a specific order of blasts, long and short and very short and very long. It's really like nothing else we ever do in a service.
It's ancient and primal. The shofar itself is pretty exotic. In our synagogue, there are different looking shofars that our blowers use.
Plus, in a lot of synagogues, the kids are invited to come up really close even in a service where there are hundreds of people. You get the best seat.
Also, not to be sneezed at -- the Torah scroll. Not everyone gets to see it up close when it's open. But we have been copying it word for word for more than two thousand years, onto parchment scrolls.
4. Learning to be different
Coming out on a weekday to a religious service, and especially a Jewish one -- that's pretty countercultural. It's good to fly in the face of the culture of conformity and achievement, at least here and there.
It's good for our kids to learn that standing proud in your identity is important and not easy, but worthwhile if the cause matters. It can even feel good. Especially when you can tell your friends later about the shofar, or a Hebrew word.
Being different takes effort. You have to explain things about yourself and your culture, you have to know about your heritage. A lot of the work belongs to parents -- to be the ones to explain and advocate toward teachers and coaches. By the way, I (or whoever are the rabbi or Jewish leaders where you are) am right behind you, to equip you or to make calls on your behalf.
5. Hanging out
There's the service, and then there's not being in the service. Kids get to see other kids who are Jewish too and more or less their own age. But it's not Hebrew School, so they get to hang out and catch up and even connect with new kids.
There's always a couch or a room or some corner in the synagogue to find and claim. Kids get to make the place their own.
Behind almost any adult synagogue regular, or or almost any rabbi, there are stories and memories of what we did on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur when we weren't in the service.
All that -- and you and your child or children will hopefully find services meaningful too -- words, teachings, songs and melodies.
So even if it's hard, and even if you yourself the parent have a lot of questions about what's going on and what it all means, think about coming to services on the High Holy Days and sharing this experience with your family.
Got any thoughts or reasons of your own? Leave them in the comments!
If you are in our area and don't already have a synagogue for the High Holy Days, we would love to have you at Beth Abraham. Click here to learn more or get in touch.