Friday, May 19, 2017

Fetishization of Poverty

I posted this on the Facebook group Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, but nobody reacted:

This passage is not medieval, but I'm wondering whether any of you know any medieval parallels. (Early modern or modern parallels would also be great!) And it doesn't deal with women, but it deals with the poor, so, in the spirit of intersectionality, I perhaps many of you will be interested. In addition to the 19th-century text, which I am presenting in my own translation from the Hebrew, I am including also a link also to a parallel from our own day: An example of a wedding, a few years ago, where (apparently) well-to-do people fetishized poverty and made a hobo-themed party.

Here's the 19th-century text:
Rabbi Moses Sofer (born 1762, in Frankfurt, died 1839, in Pressburg), writes the following homily (for the Festival of Shavu‘oth [Pentecost – the festival celebrating God’s giving of the Law to the Israelites at the Theophany of Mt. Sinai], 1829):
Let us explain the words of the Sages of the Talmud: ‘All agree that on Shavu‘oth we need it also to be for you. [That is, not just for God, in Torah-study and prayer, but also for you, in food and drink.]’ (Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 68b) We can explain this with a parable, in which the king’s ministers honor the king by making him a feast each year. This feast is typically made with great riches, like the feasts of King Solomon. One time, they considered what to make further, for there was nothing lacking from them or from their table, and [the king] had already become accustomed to this, so this feast, which was so routine, became considered less valuable. What did they do? They made a feast like that of poor people, with the vessels of one in exile [cf. Ezekiel 12:3], and they invited the king. And this was a novelty in his eyes; and it was made with the ultimate beauty, and the king was greatly pleased with it.
Here, too, to show honor to God with Torah-study and songs and praises is something that we do all the time; so how can we honor him more? With the feast of a poor person – that is, with food and drink and drinking wine; and through this He is praised, through the songs and praises of this poor feast, and this is his glory. This is what is meant in the words [of the Talmudic Sages]: ‘All agree that on Shavu‘oth, we need it also to be for you, [with food and drink].

And here's the link:

To protect against link-rot, I'm going to copy the whole Huffington Post article here:

It’s Called “Poverty,” You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

Here’s the great thing about Etsy. As repellant as some of the shit is that I find there, there is always something worse.
Today I present one of the most insensitive features I’ve ever seen on the Etsy blog. And as usual, it’s celebrated in a circle jerk of obliviousness, complete with hipstermatic photos and dipshit Etsy drones yammering in approval.
Yes it’s a poverty wedding! How fun is that? They dressed like actual poor people! They even did some research:
We got to work researching the Depression era and hobo culture. As we prepared to make everything for our wedding, we collected feed sack dresses and old work boots, antique hand-stitched quilts and jug band instruments. After reading that the word “hobo” may be a syllabic abbreviation of “homeward bound,” we fell in love with the notion!
They fell in love with the very idea of penniless, homeless migrants, drifting from town to town, looking for work! Those hobos were just yummy, with their faded antique quilts and feed sacks, and those super cute boots they always wore. That whole period was just so desaturated and Brother Where Art Thou, which is also totes adorbs.
Okay, maybe many hobos found themselves having to leave their families in order to find enough work to support them, or maybe they escaped from harsh lives in orphanages. And, okay, maybe they died on train tracks or sweltered to death in locked box-cars. And maybe when they did finally find some work, they were set upon by thieves who took everything from them and threw them off of fast moving trains.
Don’t be such a downer! They had totally awesome trash can fires!
The important thing is, hobos were all clowns who had bandanas tied on sticks, like in cartoons.
Anyhoo, it was a super cute wedding. But I can’t help thinking that they could have done so much more with it.
Here are some ideas you can use when you have your own hobo themed depression era wedding!
• Souvenir photos on a lice ridden mattress in the weeds
• Tuberculosis screening tent
• Steal your own dinner
• Cigarette rolling contest with butts you find on the street
• Sterno martinis
• Hobo Stew bar
I’m sure you can think of lots more. Just remember to have fun with it. Golly, that’s why the Flying Spaghetti Monster made poor people in the first place!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

רעיון על "אגרת השבועות" של אלקבץ

יש מתח ב"איגרת השבועות" של ר' שלמה אלקבץ. כי מחד גיסא, לכאורה, תכלית האיגרת היא לשכנע את הנמענים (בני סלוניקי, לפי ורבלובסקי) למעבד תיקונים גם בלילה השני של שבועות, כמו שהכותב עשה עם החסיד והחברים (בניקופוליס, לפי ורבלובסקי). אבל מאידך גיסא, הוא כותב שבכוונתו לעלות לארץ ישראל בקרוב ממש, ונראה (אך לא מוכרח) שהוא מעודד אף את הנמענים לעלות לארץ ישראל. ובכל זאת, לא מוזכר בשום מקום באיגרת שאין יו"ט שני בארץ ישראל.

Two Days of Yom Tov in a World of Modern Communication

Turkey blocks access to Wikipedia. Rabbis in Israel move Yom Ha'atzma'ut to a different day. How are these events related?

One sometimes hears the claim that today, the observance of two days of Yom Tov in the diaspora is no longer relevant, because of the advent of the internet age. That is, perhaps 150 years ago one could not rely on the published, calculated calendars, because the Sages of the Land of Israel could have re-established the practice of declaring the month on the basis of moon-sighting, and one would not have heard of this in faraway lands, because of the lack of reliable telegraph lines; but today, with the internet, everyone would know about this immediately.

Yet this is not so. First of all, we see that the internet spreads as much misinformation, and fake news, as it spreads real information; while the internet is an amazing tool, it has not removed ignorance from the world. And, moreover, we see that governments can prevent whole populations from using whole parts of the internet.

Second of all, the Sages of the Land of Israel have become much more prominent and aggressive. Moving around the date of Yom Ha'atzma'ut may only be relevant to the Religious-Zionist community, in the Land and in the diaspora, but rabbis of all the various Jewish communities have come to have influence throughout the diaspora; see, for example, the influence of rulings of the late Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Ovadya Yosef on communities around the diaspora. Moreover, rabbis in the Land of Israel have brought back practices that had fallen into disuse centuries earlier; lighting Hanukka lamps at the outside of the doorway is, perhaps, a trivial example, but the restoration of tekheleth in tzitzith is a more significant example. Restoring the establishment of the calendar by moon-sighting could fit into this whole tendency.

Yet would we be sure of it? Would it be real? Would it be a hoax? The media spread claims, before Passover, that a far-right-wing political group of rabbis had performed a Paschal Sacrifice this year. Consumers of information, around the world, believed this, and many were ready to critique it, as if it were a declaration of World War III. In fact, no such event had happened; all that had happened was a historical re-enactment, in the wrong location, on the wrong day, with no claims of being a Paschal Sacrifice. (And, I believe, it wasn't even the first time that this had been done in the past few years. Moreover, the event wasn't very political. And if they ever do get a permit to do an actual Paschal Sacrifice, it won't be a declaration of WWIII; it will be people practicing their religion, in a way that they have been looking forward to for over a millennium.)

If rabbis restore the establishment of the calendar by means of moon-sighting -- or if they do not, but they do something that looks somewhat similar -- the internet wiil be abuzz with misinformation about it. And in some countries, the governments may close off relevant avenues to find out about this, as Turkey did to Wikipedia a few days ago.

So yes. The observance of two days of Yom Tov is still quite relevant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ideas for scholarly projects

1. Collecting quotations of earlier paytanim in piyyutim of later paytanim.

2. Research into prayers surrounding the Priestly Blessing. Today's Ashkenazic machzorim have the prayer about the dream, from the Babylonian Talmud, and the one about the 22-letter divine name, (ostensibly?) from Sha‘aré Tziyyon of the 17th-century Kabbalist Nathan Nete Hanover. Were there other such prayers, and are there many different versions of these prayers? (Certainly there's the fact that 19th-century editors, uncomfortable with Kabbalah and divine names, removed the name from the second prayer, even though the name is the whole point of the prayer.)

3. A study of the Biblical verses that are presented before the various poems in Ashkenazic Selichoth rites. The selection of verses are inconsistent even for the same poems among the different Ashkenazic rites. Where do the verses come from -- do any of them come from the authors of the poems? Has anyone gone through the verses to determine the relevance of each one to the poem that follows? (Probably not a project for me; I'm not so interested in Selichoth.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Songs for Sukkoth

In response to popular demand, I am posting the text of these zemiroth for the upcoming holiday. חג שמח!

אסדר תושבחתא (שיר על האושפיזין), מאת ר' דויד בר חסין

אֲסַדַּר תֻּשְׁבַּחְתָּא / בְּמִלִּין וְרַחְשִׁין
לִיקָר אֲבָהָתָא / אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / אִילָנִין תַּקִּיפִין
קָיְמִין דְּעָלְמָא / אֲחִידֵי שַׁיְפִין
וּמָארֵי דְגַדְפִין / עֲלַ֫נָא מְכַסִּין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / נְזַמֵּן לְהוֹן הַשְׁתָּא
יֵעְלוּן יִתְּבוּן יֵיכְלוּן / נַהְמָא דְאוֹרָיְתָא
בְּהָדֵין מְטַלַּלְתָּא / יִתְאַמְרוּן חִדּוּשִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / יוֹמִין שַׁבְעָא נִינְהוּ
מַגְּנָא וּמַצְּלָא / תְּהִי זְכוּתַ֫יְהוּ
בְּאַכְסַנְיָא כֻּלְּהוּ / יְהוֹן מִתְכַּנְּשִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / דְּרוֹעָא יַמִּינָא
רַב חִסְדָּ"א רַב חִנָּ"א / אַבְרָהָם אֲבוּנָא
מָארֵהּ דְּרֻחְצָנָא / וּבְדִק בְּנִסִּין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / וְתַמָּן נְיָחָא
לְיִצְחָק דְּאִיעֲקַד / עַל גַּבֵּי מַדְבְּחָא
וֶאֱלָהּ כָּל־רוּחָא / רַחְמוֹי נְפִישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / דֵּן הֲדַר יִתְקְרֵי
יַעֲקֹב שְׁלִימָא / אֲחִיד בִּתְרֵין סִטְרֵי
אִתְגַּבַּר עַל גַּבְרֵי / וְעִירִין קַדִּישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / בַּר עַמְרָם לֵוָיָא
מֹשֶׁה רִבֹּונַ֫נָא / רֵישׁ כָּל־נְבִיאַיָּא
הוּא מְהֵימְנָא רַעְיָא / אוֹרָיְתָא לַן אַחְסִן

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / אַהֲרֹן כָּהֲנָא
בְּמַדְבְּרָא הֲוָה / בִּזְכוּתֵיהּ עֲנָנָא
וַעֲלֵי חוֹבַ֫נָא / קֻרְבָּנוֹי מְרַצִּין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / חַסִּידָא פְרִישָׁא
יוֹסֵף צַדִּיק, נָטֵר / קְיָמָא קַדִּישָׁא
כַּד עֲרַק טָשׁ טִישָׁה / וְאַנַּח לְבוּשִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / זַכָּאָה אַחְסַנְתֵּהּ
דְּדָוִד מְשִׁיחָא / בַּת־שֶׁבַע אִנְתְּתֵהּ
עַל־כֻּרְסֵי מַלְכוּתֵהּ / יִתֵּב וְלֵית אַוְשִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / קֳדָם רִבּוֹן עָלְמִין
יְקוּמוּן לָקֳבֵל / רֵישֵׁי שַׁבְעִין אֻמִּין
יָתַן יִטַּר יַטְמִין / מִכָּל־עַקְתִין בִּישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / נַעְטֵר מוֹתְבֵיהוֹן
כָּל־יוֹמָא בְרֵישָׁא / אָתֵי חַד מִנְּהוֹן
וּלְעֵ֫לָּא מִכֻּלְּהוֹן / רֵישָׁא דְכָל־רֵישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / רַב הַמְנוּנָא סָבָא
כַּד עָיֵל לְגַוַּהּ / אָמַר מִלָּה טָבָא
עוּלוּ לְאוֹתָבָא / אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין

אֻשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין / וְגֻבְרִין גִּבָּרִין
זַכַּאי חֻלְקַ֫נָא / דְּעַ֫לוּ לְאַתְרִין
עֲלַן יְהוֹן שְׁרִין / בִּרְכָן דִּי נְפִישִׁין

זרע חכמים, מאת ר' ישועה

זֶ֫רַע חֲכָמִים / אָבוֹת הַתְּמִימִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

יַ֫֯חַד שִׂמְחוּ / וְגִילוּ צַדִּיקִים
בְּמוֹעֲדֵי צוּרְכֶם / וּמִשְׁפָּטִים וְחֻקִּים
עֲרֵבִים מִדְּבַשׁ / וּמִנֹּ֫פֶת מְתוּקִים
וְאֵל שׁוֹכֵן שְׁחָקִים / יִתֵּן לָכֶם רַחֲמִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

שְׁ֯בוּעַת בְּרִיתוֹ / יִזְכֹּר לֶאֱמוּנַי
וְיִבְנֶה בֵיתוֹ / וְיַאְדִּיר דּוּכָנַי
וְאָז בְּתוֹרָתוֹ / יֶהְגּוּ כָּל־הֲמוֹנַי
וְיִשְׁמְעוּ עֲגוּמִים / דִּבְרֵי נִחוּמִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

וְ֯אֵל שׁוֹכֵן שִׁבְעָה / צִוָּה לַעֲמוּסִים
לָחֹג לְפָנָיו / שְׂמֵחִים וְשָׂשִׂים
בְּלוּלָב וַעֲרָבָה / וּפְרִי עֵץ הָדָר וַהֲדַסִּים
וְאָז יִהְיוּ שְׁלוֹמִים / לָהֶם כִּימֵי יָמִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

עַ֯ם יהוה וְחֶבְלוֹ / קְרוּאִים סְגֻלָּה
שִׂמְחוּ כִּי לוֹ / מִשְׁפַּט הַגְּאֻלָּה
וְאֶל תּוֹךְ הֵיכָלוֹ / יָשִׁיב הֲמֻלָּה
וְיָעִיר כָּל־רְדוּמִים / בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ קְרוּאִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

הִ֯פְלִיא עֵצוֹת / יְקַבֵּץ הֲמוֹנְכֶם
וְיָשִׁיב נְפוּצוֹת / אֶל־תּוֹךְ מְעוֹנְכֶם
וְגוֹדֵר פְּרָצוֹת / יָחִישׁ בִּימֵיכֶם
תְּשׁוּעַת רַחֲמִים / תְּשׁוּעַת עוֹלָמִים
בַּסֻּכּוֹת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Garden Leisure on the Sabbath

Today I was looking at the sugya in b. Sukka 37a, which becomes the halakha in the Shulchan `Arukh Orach Chayyim 336:10:

הדס מחובר, מותר להריח בו; אבל אתרוג ותפוח וכל דבר הראוי לאכילה, אסור להריח בו במחובר שמא יקוץ אותו לאכלו.

The Sha‘aré Teshuva writes:

אבל אתרוג כו'. עיין מ"ש אא"ז בבכור שור בשבת דף ע"ג שרש"י בסוכה דף ל"ז כת' דהאוכלו במחובר אין לך תולש גדול מזה ולכן יש למחות ביד הטועים והולכים לגנות בשבת וי"ט וקוטפים פירות מן המחובר ואוכלים וראוי למנות אנשים ע"ז עד שישתקע הדבר כו' וע"ש דמייתי מעירובין דף ק' דתלישה ברגל הוי תלישה וע' בהר הכרמל סימן ט' וע' בספר מטה יהודה הביאו במח"ב דברים הצריך ליזהר היושבים בגנים בשבת שלא יטלו ידיהם בשבת אפילו בפרדס חבירו גם לא ישליך זרעים במקום ירידת גשמים שסופם להצמיח גם לענין טלטול בכל הגן ולהוציא מן הבתים לגן צריך ליזהר שיש כמה מציאות לאיסור וצריך לשאול פי חכם באיזה מציאות מותר, (ועיין לקמן סימן שנ"ח בט"ז ס"ק ה' שכתב מה"ט ראוי שלא לאכול בגנה בשבת כו' והביאו בה"ט שם), גם הקושרים חבלים באילן ומושיבים קטנים בהולכה והובאה עושים כמה איסורים וצריך למחות בידם ע"ש וע' בשו"ת נ"ב מ"ת סימן ל"ח בביאור דברי הרמב"ם במשקה מים לזרעים ע"ש:

Translation of the bolded portion: And see in the book Matté Yehuda, who cites this law in MH"B [?], matters that one needs to warn the people that sit in gardens on the Sabbath, that they shouldn't wash their hands on the Sabbath even in their neighbor's orchard; and they should not throw seeds in a place where the rain falls, for they will ultimately sprout; and regarding carrying in the garden, and carrying from the houses to the garden, there are various situations where it is prohibited, and one must ask a rabbi in what situation it is permitted....

This could actually be pretty interesting material for a study on the history of leisure activities on the Sabbath, specifically visiting gardens/parks. If there are rabbis giving specific halakhic advice to "people that sit in gardens on the Sabbath", this means that this must have been a practice. What other sources do we have?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Proprietors of Artscroll give money for a "real" sefer

I went to the Glueck Beth Midrash at YU today, and was looking for a copy of Tractate Rosh Ha-shana in the Talmud Yerushalmi. The only one that was on the shelf was the one with the commentary of R' Chaim Kanievsky. I have seen this edition on shelves, but don't think I have ever looked inside. I opened up to the front pages, and found the following dedication page:

לישרים נאוה תהילה
שלום רב לאוהבי תורתך
התודה והברכה התהילה והתפארת
לכבוד ידידינו היקרים והישרים,
הרבנים הגאונים, מגדולי מפיצי התורה בדורינו,
הרב נתן שערמאן שליט"א
והרב יעקב מאיר זלוטוביץ שליט"א
שנדבו בשמחה הוצאות הספר

That is, R' Nosson Scherman and R' Meir Zlotowitz, the proprietors of ArtScroll, gave the money to fund this book. The dedication goes on to list the various people in whose memory Scherman and Zlotowitz are dedicating the book. So, although they have devoted the last several decades to publishing ArtScroll books, they have financed the publication of this book. And who published this book? It is self-published! The title page says only the city and the year: בני ברק, תשס"א.

  Do Rabbis Scherman and Zlotowitz think that only a book like this is a "real sefer", as opposed to an ArtScroll book, and thus that funding it is a way to do something truly relevant with their lives? Now, who distributes the sefer? Apparently Rav Chaim Kanievsky, bikhvodo u-ve'atmzo, at his own home address (and one other distributor):  

את הספר אפשר להשיג ע"פ הכתובת:

הרב קניבסקי
רשב"ם 32

רב סעדי' גאון 11 בני ברק

So a man who is considered one of the greatest rabbis in the Israeli Lita'i world is self-publishing and self-distributing his works, and the proprietors of ArtScroll are funding the project.