Torah Study Notes 4-28-12

April 28, 2012
p. 738
13:29 Skin problems and their remedy. Note that the remedy comes from the priest – not anyone identified as having medical skills. This is related in a way to the building of the mishkan and the tabernacle. Here one’s body is literally a temple. Here the priest is declaring the person “impure.” This text describes no known or identifiable disease – the reference is to spiritual impurity. Note the use of the number seven with its mystical import. EL: This all seems very irrelevant. PG: It has to do with what makes an individual prepared to be before God. The word “scall” means any scaly or scabby disease.
This entire text is operating as metaphor – the body is the lens of heaven on earth – the way that God’s will is focused on the individual. Understand that this is post-exilic. The second temple was not viewed as a true replacement of Solomon’s Temple. EL: This is a very unattractive metaphor. Even accepting the relationship with the mishkan. LL: This strikes me as satirical. The writer is the Mort Sahl of his day. He is looking at the fuss – the gold and silver of the mishkan and is saying: let’s look at the human body in the same way. PG: There may be a challenge to authority here. Priestly activity is placed into a form of absurdity. EL: Is there any occasion in which biblical scholars reject the text? PG: The beginning of the book of Numbers – the census – seems to be a straightforward method of counting. But the Haftarh of Isaiah says that the number of Israelites is beyond counting. To consider this patent contradiction is called “preaching against the text.” There is a dialectic here – a thesis and antithesis. A careful reading of Torah – a heartfelt reading – will frequently result in a dialectic. This is the midrash of dvar ahcer (Sp?) – another reading. Here there could be an expression of resistance to the authority of the priest. But it does raise the question: When is the purity of the individual sufficient to be in the presence of the divine? It is a function of what is inside of you – that can burst forth by eruptions in the skin. LL: Is this in the nature of psychosomatic disease? PG: It is more in the nature of cognitive dissonance – issues of threshold – between the struggle of hope and expectations and the harshness of reality. The reality at the time was idolatry and the apparent success of idolatrous nations. Living a good life may result in physical and material well being. But the latter does not guarantee the former – that is one of the lessons of the Book of Job.


Contest: Where is this?

In honor of Israeli Independence Day (today), here’s a contest open to all students in the religious school: Where is this?

Where Is This?

Where Is This?

Whoever provides the most accurate and complete answer, with as many details as possible, wins a prize on Sunday!

The best way to find out the answer is to explore the location on Google Maps, here.

Noted Bible Scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman to Speak at Vassar Temple

New York, April 24, 2012 — Noted Bible scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman will give a lecture about Bible translation on Tuesday, May 1st, at 7:00 p.m. at Vassar Temple, 140 Hooker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY. His talk, which is open to the public free of charge, addresses the inaccuracies in English Bible translations and explains how readers can see past the mistakes to find what Hoffman calls the “undiscovered beauty of the Bible.” The lecture is based on his popular book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning.

Refreshments will be served after Dr. Hoffman’s presentation, and autographed copies of his book will be available for sale. Though Hoffman travels widely throughout Europe and North America, this is his only appearance this year in Dutchess County. For more information, contact the temple at 845-454-2570 or

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman is a noted expert in translation, Hebrew, and the Bible. He holds a doctorate in linguistics and has served on the faculties of Brandeis University and of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. He currently serves as the director of Vassar Temple’s Religious School, which provides a dynamic environment where students in grades K-12 discover and explore their own connection to Judaism.

Dr. Hoffman is the chief translator for the 10-volume series My People’s Prayer Book (winner of the National Jewish Book Award) and My People’s Passover Haggadah, both from Jewish Lights Publishing. He is the author of the critically acclaimed In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language from NYU Press and, most recently, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning from St. Martin’s Press. Dr. Hoffman can be reached by phone at 718-834-1080, by e-mail at, and more information about him can be found on his website:

Torah Study Notes 4-21-12

April 21, 2011
P. 711
Leviticus begins with a description of the priesthood and the role of Aaron and his children. There are only two stories in the entire book – the rest is God speaking to Moses. One of the stories is about the error of Aaron’s two sons and their punishment. That covers the issue of ritual purity. They are hollowed out – their spirit is removed. The discussion is therefore about the internal – spiritual – not psychological. For the most part biblical text deals with deeds. God may know what is in your heart but the community does not. Ritual purity takes place below the surface of the individual. What we ingest has an impact on what is beneath – hence the dietary laws.
10:16 “Then Moses inquired about the goat of purgation offering, and it had already been burned!” This is about the ordination of priests – they have been kept solitary for seven days and not they emerge to make offerings. The first two sons have died at this point – disrupting the ceremony. Now the goat has been burned improperly outside the sacred area. Here, errors in the text – any logical problems – have been deliberately included. See the works of biblical scholar Tikfa Frymer- Krenski on the subject of Moses running up and down the mountain – left in to demonstrate the conflation of several narrative traditions. Note the unusual use of an exclamation mark at the end of the first sentence – changing the question to a statement.
10:19 A deviation from the instructions is now deemed acceptable. Aaron points out the changed circumstance which justifies the change. This is a brief meditation on what it means to follows rules – they are not to be followed slavishly.
11:1 The first story of Leviticus has ended. Now we are into specific rule-making. What is the global idea here? That we have been terrified by the story of Aaron’s sons and now are given the rules that must be followed? SN: There seems to be a shift from knowing what God wants to putting us all into a state of anxiety. PG: This chapter is prescriptive in tone. But everyone already knew what was not to be eaten – only now this knowledge is connected to God. Things may be transformed from being ordinary to the subject of a covenant. As in Abrahams journey in Genesis – where he decided to leave his father’s house and then encountered God. Now he is on a journey directed by the Holy – the cultural, historic and contingent now becomes sacred. LL: This appears to be a basic step in creating a religion. SF: To a certain extent this is a training process – it encourages discipline and self-restraint. There is move toward becoming both a people apart and also a more profound way of thinking about faith. PG: Christianity spiritualized all activity – so what you ate became irrelevant. Islam sees Judaism as a failed religion – and tries to get it “right” by re-interpreting the Torah.

Students from Vassar Temple and Temple Beth El Learn Together

Joint Vassar-Temple and Temple-Beth-El Pizza Dinner

Joint Vassar-Temple and Temple-Beth-El Pizza Dinner

Students from Vassar Temple and Temple Beth-El met Wednesday night for a special joint program. After a pizza dinner (complete with ice-cream sundaes for dessert), college students from Vassar College led an exploration of interfaith issues.

Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaches About the Golden Age of Spain

Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaching at Vassar Temple

Rabbi Paul Golomb Teaching at Vassar Temple

Continuing his course on Jewish History, Rabbi Paul Golomb addressed a large and eager group of adult learners as he explained how the Golden Age of Spain fits into the larger picture of the Jewish story.

Torah Study Notes 4-14-12

April 14, 2012
p. 1467: Haftarah – Second Samuel
The reading sequence is different in Israel for about eight weeks this time of year. We could accommodate by splitting the torah portions but instead we will read Haftarah. AF: Isn’t this lack of conformity a problem for Judaism? PG: No. There is no requirement for conformity in Judaism. LL: The vigor of Judaism is the discussion of different ideas and approaches. PG: Anyone who calls for conformity is trying to exercise power so that everyone does it their way. Note that the Gaonate fixed the calendar.
The introduction to this psalm is an introduction to the seventh day of Passover. Note the identification as a David psalm. Note the sense of dread and the hyperbolic sense of danger. Compare to the 22nd Psalm “Lord why have you abandoned me?” SF: Is this David expressing his own fears? PG: There were three significant battles that the Israelite’s faced as they wandered: Egypt, the Amalachites and Sivan and Ok. In the confrontation with Egypt they do nothing but escape – the defeat is via divine intervention; the Amalachite conflict is similar. Sivan and Ok had to be fought in order to cross the Jordon – without divine intervention. There may be an intentional evolution toward self-reliance – until God virtually disappears in the story of Joseph.
The poet is creating a fearsome vision – ala Odin or Zeus. This is a depiction of a God in human form – the concretization of God as a commander. The modern tendency is to avoid any images of God. The ancients were accepting of imagery but did not want it to be a fixed image. CL: There was a noted Chinese emperor from about 1000 AD who like to sign the works of his courtiers that he approved of. You can imagine the same sort of thing going on with these psalms. PG: Recent archeological finds confirm the existence of David. But consider the epic of Gilgamesh – which has also been confirmed archeologically. The written account of Gilgamesh is about 1200 years later than the actual events. These Psalms may also have been created well after the existence of David. The rabbinic tradition is to ascribe unknown psalms to David.
Who is the psalmist/author’s enemy? It appears that the demons he struggles with may be those within him. “They advanced on me in my time of calamity, but the Eternal was my support.” David was a complicated, often conflicted, individual. Saul, his predecessor appears to have had severe psychological problems. David succeeds because he can, at least partially, confront his demons. He is aided by his poetry – his psalms – which reach out to God. AF: Could he have been on drugs? PG: Hallucinogens were available throughout ancient times.
“…with the crooked you are cunning…” PG: This all does not ring true if you are familiar with the life of David. This language suggests that personal weaknesses are not your fault – ultimately justice will reign. The difficulties of daily existence and the uncertainties of life may have made this more eagerly acceptable to the ancient hearers. AF: Isn’t David glorifying himself by describing his special relationship with God? PG: If you assume that this was written by David in the first place. It’s a bit more complicated than that. LL: There is a change in tone here. Some of this may have been added by another author who wanted to exalt David. The beginning is much more personal and anguished.

Suggestion Box

We’d all like to see Vassar Temple be a place where we can gather for social, educational and other purposes.  To date we’ve held a number of excellent Adult Education programs and social events.  But after watching a few dinners get cancelled due to low interest, I’d like to reach out to all of you to see what kinds of events or activities might appeal to you.  In general, the Temple needs to establish a good balance of “fun-raising” and “fund-raising” activities, as lack of the latter (other than the very successful SCRIP program) have put a lot of pressure on the Temple’s operating budget.

So, I’d like to use this blog entry as a way to solicit your ideas for events or activities at Vassar Temple:  fun things, educational, ideas for fundraisers.  Simply click “Comment” below this post and enter your ideas in the comment box.  Identifying yourself is optional, but it would be great to know from whom to obtain more info or clarification.  Then click “Post Comment”.  If you see a suggestion that you like, feel free to “second” it in another comment.

If you feel shy and don’t want to append to the blog, but would still like to share your ideas, feel free to send me an e-mail (  But the real value of sharing your ideas in the blog is to allow other readers to build on your idea, and collaborate! 

I look forward to your responses!!   Thanks, Bob

Vassar Temple Student Collects Donations for the SPCA

Calista with donations for the SPCA

Calista with donations for the SPCA

Vassar Temple student Calista, as part of her Bat Mitzvah preparations, collected donations for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Dutchess County. “It felt good to help the animals,” she said. She is shown here with the supplies she collected.