Food For Thought

Perla recently sent me an article and asked me to post it to our Vassar Temple blog. Like Perla, I found Rabbi Schuck words and thoughts very interesting, to say the least. It gave me pause!

It is written by David Schuck who is the rabbi of the Pelham Jewish Center in Pelham Manor, NY. He is also an adjunct lecturer in the Professional and Pastoral Skills Department of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. David was a participant on an AJWS Rabbinic Delegation service learning trip to Ghana, and was a Jewish Service Corps educator in Mumbai, India, through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Many of Vassar Temple’s fund raising and charitable efforts relate to hunger. E.g. Crop Walk, Lunch Box, Can Jam, etc.. When it comes to world hunger, Rabbi Schuck gives us food for thought!

See for yourself and you be the judge. Follow this link:


Torah Study Notes 6-15-13

June 15, 2013
p. 1043
Judges – The story of Jephthah addresses the nature and quality of leadership. The related Torah portion in Numbers deals with reaching the banks of the Jordon River, the final encampment before entering the Land. Judges reflects the deterioration of the notion of forming a nation out of the tribes. This is chiastic in that what is in Numbers is repetitive or analogous to what has happened in Exodus. Recall the attack by the Amalekites after crossing the Red Sea See: .

11:1 The son of a prostitute he was the son of Gilead – a mighty warrior. Note that the city of Gilead is on the other side of the Jordon River so this is probably only a geographic name. This land was acquired by military force. J becomes an outlaw and goes out raiding. LL: I am troubled by the notion that becoming an outlaw is his only alternative. This is not quite the analogous situation of Jean Val jean in Les Miserables. SN: being an “outlaw” in this context may not necessarily indicate a highwayman. It could mean someone who is literally outside the law of the community.
11:4 The Ammonites attack Israel and the people ask J to defend them. He requires that he be named chieftain if he is successful. The people agree.
11:11 J is confirmed as commander in chief. The King of Ammon explains his hostility – relating to the seizure of lands at the time they crossed the Jordon.
11:14 A recital of the Israelites peregrinations in order to enter the Land. See map on page 1158. In Exodus they were totally reliant on Moses and Aaron. In Numbers the people are still complaining after their travels in the Wilderness. A similar series of challenges take place in Numbers – but Moses and Aaron are overwhelmed and eventually do not enter the Land. The Israelites themselves meanwhile are getting stronger. There is no reference to the aid of God – instead it is the strength of the people that prevails. This story of Jephthah puts all of this into context – now, with J, they are a formidable fighting force. Isaac Asimov said that the best way to create science fiction was to take one aspect – change it – and watch how everything else is distorted – like time travel or the existence of robots.
11:23 LL: The story of Moses striking the rock to obtain water for the people and then not obeying God’s instructions to speak to the rock. Could this be a metaphor dealing with leadership where the rock is actually the people? With that interpretation it is the people who first have to be forced to obtain the water and later persuaded to do so. PG: Sometimes a rock is just a rock. The reference to three hundred years is confusing – the reference is likely to the entry into the land recited in the Book of Numbers. The reference here to Balak shows the lineage to Ruth and ultimately to David. Here he is described as acting sensibly.
11:29 The spirit of the Eternal settled upon J. He makes a vow to the Eternal. LL: Is he bargaining with God? He subdues the Ammonites. Recall that he doesn’t completely keep his vow as to the burnt offering. See Ch. 12 of Judges. As the stories in Judges progress the protagonists become less and less heroic. Consider Sampson who ultimately cannot be fully successful until he kills himself. SF: Two things – the spirit of the Eternal settled upon J – how do we first gain and then lose divine support?? PG: The loss is not covered in the Haftarah. That is a theological concept that is applied to the story after the fact. The references to God here are more likely a reflection of a psychological state – combined with common language usage. Note that this land on the east bank of the Jordan is not land that was promised to Israel by God. Since they are in exile in Babylonia at the time this was written this story has to do with return to the land – the personality and actions of J are intended to bring that result. PG: We are sympathetic to individuals whose lives are not of their own making. The rabbinic question posed after the fall of the 2nd Temple is: why was the Land lost to Rome? The answers are various: hubris, loss of faith, and even the notion that no polity is needed to maintain one’s faith – hence the anti-Zionists. This latter continues to be a position of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel today.

Torah Study Notes 6-8-13

June 8, 2013
p. 1019 First Samuel
Korach is the initial revolt against Moses’ leadership. Medieval analysis recognizes that this is not a simple confrontation as to who is right and wrong. How does this connect to the Torah portion? Here it is the prophet Samuel who is trying to reconcile the need of the people for leadership with their faith.
11:14 Saul is crowned King. What does the phrase “renew the kingship” mean since Israel had previously never had a king? There were undoubtedly hereditary chieftains and tribal leaders. This raises the question as to the basis of Moses authority. Consider the play Hamlet. We as the audience know privileged information that Hamlet has received from his father – as a ghost. Samuel reservations about Saul appear to come from God.
12:1 Samuel is telling the people that if there are negative repercussions from his naming of Saul – the people are responsible since they insisted that they needed to have a King. He rhetorically asks if he done any wrongs or taken a bribe. Is he concerned that Saul will turn upon him and make accusations?
12:6 A recitation of the history and travails of the people. Only God is their true king.
12: 13 The King serves by divine right. Both the people and the King are followers of the Eternal. This question of loyalty to God over the state continues to be a problem in both the US and Israel today. In Israel the haredi refuse to serve in the military or otherwise support the state. In the US religious group scrutinize laws to determine if they are acceptable as a matter of faith. Moral and ethical and religious aspects are found in virtually every legislative enactment.
12:16 Samuel invokes God to bring thunder and rain during the wheat harvest in order to demonstrate the wrong that the people have done in asking for a king. “It is true that you have done evil…just do not turn away from the Eternal…” LL: There are several difficulties in this account for the modern reader. Obviously Samuel has serious reservations about his selection of Saul and the confirmation of Saul’s kingship by the people. At first, Samuel seems to be avoiding responsibility for his decision by blaming the people – then by castigating them for their lack of faith. In the end he finds a middle bath.
Note that the first book of Samuel has at least three accounts as to how the kingship was established. Also, the ascension of a King might have diminished the role of Samuel as a prophet. Note the passage in Deuteronomy 17:14 wherein God anticipates the establishment of a Kingship in Israel. Modern scholars assign this passage to a much later time than Samuel.

Vassar Temple Religious School Closes Year With Breakfast

Vassar Temple Seth A. Erlebacher Religious School Final Breakfast

Students, parents, and teachers mingle during a year-end breakfast at Vassar Temple’s Seth A. Erlebacher Religious School

Vassar Temple’s Seth A. Erlebacher religious school ended the year on a high note yesterday with a communal breakfast, year-end activities, and a chance for the older students to attend a moving Confirmation service led by four 10th graders in recognition of their progress in religious school.

The final event of the school year is a picnic and teacher-recognition service on Friday, June 7.

Torah Study Notes 6-1-13

June 1, 2013
The Haftarah of Joshua. The Torah portion connection is that of sending spies into the land in Numbers.
p. 998
2:1 At the direction of Joshua two spies from Shittim explore the countryside and come to the house of a prostitute in Jericho. PG: So much is left out in this opening passage. We see here Joshua’s authority after the death of Moses.
2:2 The King discovers that two spies have come. The prostitute denies knowledge that they were spies. A massive group of Israelites are camped on the east side of the Jordon and an obvious reason for concern since they have laid waste to two other areas. Why did she protect them? JB: Joshua and this narrative seems like it could be part of the Torah, PG: An excellent observation. Joshua has six books and a number of scholars have observed the same thing. It is thought that Joshua is the culmination of what should have been Torah. It is essentially a continuation of the story in the Torah. But this is the account of the establishment of a nation – which was anathema to the Persians. A political decision was made to leave Joshua out, and perhaps private, so as not to invite retribution from the former captors.
The reality of the exile was that the people survived it intact and returned. The mythic history is the sojourn from Egypt and return. The reality was return from Babylonia after captivity there. One of the positive results was the change in focus from the Temple to the universality of God and the ability of the Israelites to relate to God regardless of where they might reside. Sacred texts are portable so become the new focus. There were likely a small group of individuals, led by Ezra, who initiated this shift – disconnecting the religious experience from a specific spot. By the year 1000 BCE there was a group living on the land that self-identified as Israelites. Even the two kingdoms of Israelites operated in a compatible fashion without armed conflict. Assyria wiped out the more populous Northern Kingdom but could not defeat the South. In any event the new focus had to be constructed in such a way so as not to offend the authorities – Babylonians – who had just let the people return. The scroll becomes a substitute for the altar.
2:8 The prostitute Rahab explains why she has agreed to hide the spies. She recognizes that an invasion is immanent and wants to protect her family.
2:14 They agree to preserve her and her family from the upcoming invasion. Note that the story of Sion and Og occur later in the Torah.
2:18 She must display the red cord from her window as a sign. This is reminiscent of the blood on the doors for Passover. It is a sign that they will be safe. Note that cities of this time were invariably walled – sometimes by the double casement method with a space between two layers – sometimes filled with rocks and. The system of wall building was used for an identifiable and discrete period of time – likely including the period of this account of Jerico. But Jericho proved not to be double walled. See the work of Herman Schleiman and Flinders Petrie both of whom did serious archeological work at Jericho. It is one of the two oldest cities on earth – the other being in northern Syria. Jericho contains a Neolithic stone age tower that dates to 8000 BCE. It is now part of the West Bank. See map on page 1034.


Neolithic Tower

Discovered and excavated by Kathleen Kenyon in her Trench I, the Neolithic tower was built and destroyed in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, which Kenyon dated to 8000-7000 BC.  The 8m diameter tower stands 8m tall and was connected on the inside of a 4m thick wall. On the basis of this discovery, archaeologists have claimed that Jericho is the “oldest city in the world.”  Clearly such monumental construction reflects social organization and central authority, but there are good reasons to question both its dating to the 8th millennium BC. and its function as a defensive fortification.

2:22 The spies report to Joshua – the people are scared to death of us. Note that the injunction that “there is no before or after in the Torah” applies to the Haftarah as well – all of the sacred texts.