Sunday, December 30, 2007

Conversion Class: 11-24-2007

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: the High Holy Days
These holidays are commanded in the Torah.

It was commanded that on the First day of Tishri, there would be a celebration, because that would be the head of the year.  Originally, this holiday was not called Rosh Hashanah, and it bore no connection to Yom Kippur.  It was merely commanded to be a celebration on that day which included the blowing of the shofar.  In modern times, it's the day to begin the process of repentance.  It's also a day that is associated with the creation of the universe, and as such, we are to repent with the intention of tikkun olam (making the world a better place).
Some rituals associated with Rosh Hashanah are the blowing of the shofar, eating honey with apples, making round challah, and tashlich.  Tashlich is the casting of crumbled bread into flowing waters; this is supposed to represent the casting off of sins.

It was also commanded that on the 10th day of Tishri that there would be a day of atonement.  Jews are called to straighten out their affairs with God and to afflict their souls.  In modern times, we afflict our souls with fasting.  To do that, we eat no food and drink no water.  

It is important to realize that Jews believe that God can not forgive sins committed against other people; only the person wronged can do that.  Therefore, today's Jews use the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to make amends with the people they may have wronged.  These days are called the "Days of Awe".

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Shabbat service: My First Torah Service

Today we did a Torah service. Usually, we just do more of a prayer
service and we only look at the Torah in the Ark. Today, though, we
took it out and showed it around. We touched our prayer books to the
Scroll and then kissed them. Then the rabbi undressed the Torah, and
prepared to read today's Torah portion. He told us that he had planned
to read the section with the burning bush, but changed his mind. We
heard the beginning of the book of Exodus, instead. He also told us
that it's part of the tradition to have somebody read along in a
Chumash, just to make sure that the pronounciation is correct. He
encouraged the Hebrew readers to call out corrections, if necessary.

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I've been neglectful

I haven't been keeping up with my blogging lately. Actually, I haven't
been keeping up with my studies, either. Or going to class
consistently.  This is what happens when you try to jam-pack Hanukkah
and Christmas and flu season into one month...and you work in retail.
I promise to be better when I'm 27.

I had planned posts on a couple classes dating back to November, as
well as on Jews who make me laugh, like Alex Borstein and Zach Braff.
Look for information on great books, too. I'll let you know when I get
around to reading any...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture, Part VIII

The final part.  Whoo hoo!

I have to say, this was probably the least interesting section of the book.  I think it was meant to be an overview of the Jews' influence on American culture, ended up being a pretty dull list of Jews and a 2-sentence summary of why they're famous.
The notables are broken down into groups: Actors, Writers, Musicians, Athletes, Doctors Scientists, and Political Figures.
It just didn't feel relevant to me, I guess.  There wasn't enough information to do any of the people mentioned, and their accomplishments, justice.

I do feel somewhat inspired to do research on selected figures/pop culture icons/Jews and write up posts about their Judaism.  I might do something similar for TV shows, movies, or songs with Jewish characters or themes.  Just for fun.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saturday's Service: Hanukkah Shabbat

On Saturday, we didn't have a minyan, and the Rabbi was gone visiting his son, but we held service anyway.  We didn't do as much in Hebrew as they normally do, because I would have had a lot of difficulty participating, and with only about 5 people, that would be pretty significant.

Otherwise, we talked about the special haftarah portion for Hanukkah Shabbat.  It's from Zachariah, chapter 4.  It describes one of the prophet's visions, and was chosen to emphasize the spiritual aspects of the holiday over the military side.   There's an angel talking to Zachariah, and he describes the rededication of the altar and the menorah.

We also talked about how we can make Hanukkah significant to us in modern terms.  It's all well and good to light some candles and spin some dreidels, but there has to be something more to make it worthwhile.  Some people talked about Hanukkah and its contrasts with Christmas as a yearly opportunity to celebrate being Jewish and not succumbing to the silliness that surrounds the contemporary celebrations of Christmas.  Others talked about the fact that Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple, and that we can use it as a time to re-dedicate ourselves to a Jewish way of life.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

2nd Night of Hanukkah

I had to work until 10:30 tonight, so I lit my Hanukkah candles late, but I did manage to do it for the first time.
I'm also celebrating a minor miracle: I found my cat when I got home from work.
The ironic part is that I stayed home from my day job in order to look for the cat.  I couldn't take time off from my night job, so I asked my sister to check for him from time to time and left for work.  
When I got home, I found him hiding under my boardwalk!  I know he wasn't there earlier today.
Hooray for Hanukkah!

News Links: Biblical Archaeology in the News

On National Geographic's website, Eilat Mazar identifies a ruin in Jerusalem as the Wall of Nehemiah.  She points to pottery shards and other artifacts to date the structure, and the biblical record to confirm the identity.  Not everybody agrees, as the article points out, but it's an interesting theory.  For a weak Hanukkah-Nehemiah tie-in, see Faithhacker.

Yahoo News reports that archeologists have found a palace thought to belong to Queen Helena of Mesopotamia.  She lived in modern-day Iraq and converted to Judaism in the 1st century C.E.  After her conversion, she moved to Jerusalem, and, the theory goes, built a palace that the Romans destroyed when they took Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  For a neat Hanukkah tie-in, all this would have been happening right at the time Hanukkah celebrations were first becoming popular.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

First Night of my First Hanukah

I had intended to observe the holiday in my home, but....
My cat ran away.  He charged the door when my sister was letting her dog out.  So I spent the evening looking for him.  Two and a half hours in the cold, and still no cat.  I'm bummed; it's no fun to lose a pet, and it's even less fun on a holiday.

That may be what I get for making plans to go (Christmas) gift shopping with a friend during Hanukkah...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I skipped class and the service today.

I haven't been feeling well, so I decided to stay home and sleep, since I had the opportunity.  It was a blessing to be able to turn off the alarm clock and not care when I woke up.  I never get to do that.

Service probably involved a discussion of how the Judah and Tamar story depicts an inappropriate and incorrect application of levirate marriage and was probably intended to be part of a smear campaign on David.

Class discussion would have centered around sukkot, which I haven't done a fantastic amount of research on yet.