Bo -- Exodus 10:1–13:16

Insofar as it relates to modern life, religious scholars have cast the role of ritual in a certain light, understanding how it forms and informs our human societies and cultures through that preferred lens. In her renowned study, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992), the anthropologist of religion Catherine Bell challenges some of the assumptions that guide most religious scholarship. Bell suggests an approach to ritual activities less encumbered by assumptions about how ritual embodies dichotomies of thinking and acting; instead, she turns her focus to disclosing the strategies by which ritualized activities "do what they do," how and why they continue to stir us and remain relevant.

Every American Jew can attest to the power of ritualized activities "doing what they do" from generation to generation — think of the ubiquity of the Passover seder celebrations and its popularization with the Maxwell House Haggadah! Clearly, Bell is on to something here; the power of Exodus resonates to this day.

This section in the reading of Exodus serves as one of the main moments for the etiology of Pesach – to "passover" the marked homes of the Hebrews when the Angel of Death comes to smite all firstborn children. The roasted Paschal offering is to be eaten that night together with the matzah and bitter herbs. Of all the plagues, it is the smiting of the firstborn which breaks Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, so the Israelites depart hastily [b’hipazon], not leaving time for their dough to rise, which results in unleavened bread. The commemorative seder celebrated to this day incorporates elements of this narrative through the Haggadah, which is composed of: telling the story of redemption to the next generation [magid]; consuming matzah at nightfall; eating bitter herbs of maror; enacting the plagues by spilling drops of wine. The last three of these ten plagues spilled are in memory of those visited upon the Egyptians: locusts swarm the crops; thick darkness envelops the land; firstborn smitten at the stroke of midnight on the 15th of Nissan.

It is telling at this moment of liberation that the Israelites are commanded to restructure their understanding of time through the establishment of a monthly rebirth by the lunar calendar. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a Passover offering as a slaughtered lamb or kid, with its blood sprinkled on the lintels of every Israelite home. In addition to the annual commemoration of Passover, reminders of the Exodus abide daily with the donning of phylacteries on the arm and head which symbolize the ongoing human-divine covenant.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Exodus 13:9: "And it shall be to you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the law of the Lord shall be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord took you out of Egypt." Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents discarded their tefillin and other Jewish ritual objects when they arrived in the United States. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin writes that "if skin divers dove into New York harbor, they could dredge up an underwater mountain of tefillin. As the boats carrying our great-grandfathers passed by the Statue of Liberty, they literally kissed their tefillin goodbye. Religious observance was for another land and another place." Today, many of us even outside of Orthodoxy have reclaimed ritual objects and practice. Laying tefillin is a powerful ritual and a daily reminder of the moment we hearkened to freedom. In every ritual act, there is liberating psychological potential. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Bo -- Exodus 10:1–13:16

Facebook_CoverDesign_Bo"No more exploitation of the weak, racial discrimination, or ghettoes of poverty! Never again!"

So declared Pope John Paul II in 1999. He called for a different way of living in keeping with his religious ideals, and he argued that the Church should not achieve these goals through partisan politics or by revolutionary violence. The purpose of religion was bringing about the Kingdom of God, not about creating a Marxist utopia. So how does our traditional-egalitarian Jewish community read this week’s call for liberation in the Exodus story?

This section in the reading of Exodus serves as one of the main moments for the etiology of Pesach – to "passover" the marked homes of the Hebrews when the Angel of Death comes to smite all firstborn children. The roasted Paschal offering is to be eaten that night together with the matzah and bitter herbs. Of all the plagues, it is the smiting of the firstborn which breaks Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, so the Israelites depart hastily [b’hipazon], not leaving time for their dough to rise, which results in unleavened bread. The commemorative seder celebrated to this day incorporates elements of this narrative through the Haggadah, which is composed of: telling the story of redemption to the next generation [magid]; consuming matzah at nightfall; eating bitter herbs of maror; enacting the plagues by spilling drops of wine. The last three of these ten plagues spilled are in memory of those visited upon the Egyptians: locusts swarm the crops; thick darkness envelops the land; firstborn smitten at the stroke of midnight on the 15th of Nissan.

It is telling at this moment of liberation that the Israelites are commanded to restructure their understanding of time through the establishment of a monthly rebirth by the lunar calendar. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a Passover offering as a slaughtered lamb or kid, with its blood sprinkled on the lintels of every Israelite home. In addition to the annual commemoration of Passover, reminders of the Exodus abide daily with the donning of phylacteries on the arm and head which symbolize the ongoing human-divine covenant.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by the tenth and final plague. "It came to pass at midnight, and the Lord smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who is in the dungeon, and every firstborn animal." (Exodus 12:29) Because contemporary readers are so familiar with the story, we too often ignore or diminish the horror of this plague. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

New Books In Our Library Collection

Rosemary Rothstein and the rest of the CBS Rabin Family Library Committee have been quite busy this past year. New books are added to our collection all the time. We invite you to come by and take a look!

If you would like to check out a book, just take a card from the library desk, sign your name and date, and place the card in the black mesh wire box. If you have an interest in some Jewish subject and can’t find what you are looking for, email Rosemary or Henry Hollander and they will see what they can do for you.

Below, congregant and bookseller Henry Hollander provides a few short reviews of some recently-acquired titles.

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Heart of Many RoomsA Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices within Judaism,
by David Hartman

The late David Hartman (z"l), founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, encouraged thoughtful re-evaluation of Jewish ideas within a traditional Jewish setting. This collection of essays includes sections on "Family and Mitzvah with an Interpretive Tradition," "Educating Towards Inclusiveness," "Celebrating Religious Diversity," and "Religious Perspectives on the Future of Israel." Hartman’s contribution to Jewish education has had an invigorating effect on the many teachers who have studied at the Hartman Institute. While his legacy continues to benefit and shape the institute, we are now deprived of Hartman’s direct teaching. A Heart of Many Rooms provides a a good introduction to this significant Jewish thinker's thought.



Survival in SarajevoSurvival in Sarajevo: How a Jewish Community Came to the Aid of its City,
by Edward Serotta

Serotta is a European journalist and photographer who reported and photographed Sarajevo during the long and brutal Bosnian siege of the city. The war that occurred in the period following the collapse of Eastern European communism pitted Muslims, Croats, and Bosnians against each other. The Jewish community was no one’s enemy. Within the besieged city, the small Jewish population very actively worked to maintain public health, find food for the population, reach out to the isolated elderly, and provide a route of escape for as many people as possible, Jew or non-Jew. Serotta tells the story of this community, nearly destroyed in the Holocaust fifty years earlier, in a moment of very bitter triumph.

Bat Mitzvah of Ana RosensteinA guide for Shabbat worshipers in attendance at the Bat Mitzvah of Ana Rosenstein, Michal Bat Leah Hannah v’Benyamin, Shabbat Shira-Parshah Beshallach, February 11, 2006, 13 Shevat, 5766,
Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco, California.

At most of our b'nai mitzvot, the family provides a short brochure to help explain to the uninitiated just exactly what is going on around them and why. This deluxe version of such a production is very well done and can provide a helpful model for families preparing their own (simpler) brochures.

Schocken Guide to Jewish BooksThe Schocken Guide to Jewish Books: Where to Start Reading about Jewish History, Literature, Culture and Religion,
edited by Barry W. Holtz

Three thousand years of Jewish life is a lot to take in. It can be hard to figure out where to start. This guide is one of the best introductions to the world of Jewish books out there.





Wolloch HaggadahThe Wolloch Haggadah. Pessach Haggadah In Memory of the Holocaust,
Illustrated by David Wander with calligraphy by Yonah Weinrib

This Haggadah was originally commissioned as a one-of-a-kind, hand-written and illustrated manuscript. There was a subsequent, high-quality limited-edition portfolio produced. This edition is the first trade edition. It was dedicated to the memory of the Wolloch’s parents, both of whom perished in the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, Haggadot manuscripts were produced for surreptitious use, and they reveal much about how Jews lived and maintained their spiritual lives in the face of overwhelming adversity.

A Haggadah that is a commemoration of the Holocaust is not something I am not always comfortable with. There is an implicit and often explicit connection between the ideas "we were slaves in Egypt" and "we were victims in the Holocaust" that is too rigid for my tastes. That said, this particular rendering of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, drenched as it is in what Salo Baron referred to as "the lachrymose conception of Jewish history," is both beautiful and horrible in its telling of the tale. Come and review it and make your own conclusions!

Kezayit: Micrography

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Waugh_FullBrooklyn-based artist Michael Waugh is best known for producing large-scale, ink-on-mylar drawings, but with a twist. From the artist's website:

"For the past few years, my drawings have utilized an ancient Hebrew form of calligraphy called micrography, in which minute words are written out so that when you stand far away, you see an image. Those ancient drawings typically employed a sacred text; the purpose of the drawings was either devotional or magical. The texts used in my drawings are neither sacred nor magical, and it is doubtful that they deserve any form of devotion. The text used in these drawings comes from government reports commissioned or headed by US presidents (i.e. presidential commission reports)."

Waugh_Detail2The image you see above is Waugh's The Grace Commission, part n, a 2007 work measuring 36 x 78 inches. Just to the left, we've included a detail of the work, which shows the handwritten script that forms the greyhound's head and the background landscape. As the title of the work suggests, this image was created using the federal report about President Ronald Reagan's Grace Commission, a 1982 investigation into governmental "waste and inefficiency."

Whereas Waugh uses micrography for conceptual reasons -- the imagery in his drawings is a comment on the texts he uses -- its invention was precipitated by a very different need. The second commandment, read strictly, prohibits religious Jews from creating artwork that may be deemed idolatrous and blasphemous. Although Jewish tradition has proven generally amenable to visual art, micrography ensured that Jewish artists wouldn't need to worry -- the potentially dangerous image was rendered harmless because it was formed by written sacred text that formed it.

Micrography arose as an art form sometime in 10th century Egypt and Eretz Israel. Although most scholars attribute its invention to Jews, it was heavily influenced by the surrounding Islamic culture and calligrams. From the catalog essay for Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art, an exhibit at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary:

"Hebrew micrography was the creation of the Masorah scribes of Tiberias in the production of Bible codices (the book form of the Tanach that included marginal notes of the masorah and nikudot). The Leningrad Codice from 1009 written in Cairo, has sixteen diverse carpet pages presenting the small but fully legible masorah text in architectural and abstract designs surrounded by beautiful gold and red illuminations reminiscent of Middle Eastern carpets. This art form spread throughout the Levant, with Yemen as an especially important center, and then to north into medieval Europe. The Sephardic scribes of Spain utilized micrography, especially in some of the Catalonian Haggadot. The Ashkenazi scribes, with their micrographic specialty of medieval grotesques and bestiaries decorating the margins and front pages of luxury Bibles, and Haggadot also flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. After the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century, the use of micrography expanded to ketubbot, omer counters, amulets, and other independent works on paper, eventually to its use in portraits and secular Jewish illustrations. Throughout the centuries it has remained a predominately Jewish art form."

HAGGADAH

Announcing HAGGADAH, a new CBS exhibition opening in the Kahn Gallery on Sunday, April 10, 2016, at 5 p.m.

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Passover, perhaps more than any other holiday, is steeped in tradition and ritual. Fortunately, we have a wonderful, step-by-step guide through the seder – the Haggadah.

The CBS Rabin Family Library has dozens of Haggadot that you can peruse and borrow: The Maxwell House version that many of us grew up with, the beautiful Shahn, Baskin, or Szyk. There are Haggadot aimed at children, interfaith families, or vegetarians, others that focus on the Holocaust, and still more that are animated, illuminated, or just plain fun.

The Kahn Gallery of Congregation Beth Sholom, behind the Gronowski Family Chapel, will be showcasing Haggadot from our own library! Come see the show, HAGGADAH, learn about the Haggadah, and join us for a “Taste of Passover” reception. You will also have the opportunity to "sponsor" one of the framed photographs to help defray the cost of the show!

HAGGADAH is curated by Rosemary Rothstein and Eva-Lynne Leibman.
25_18x24 Image information:
Top, the metallic cover of Arthur Szyk’s Massadah and Alumoth Jerusalem Tel Aviv Haggadah, from 1967
Bottom, unidentified accordion-format Haggadah

Strangers Like Us: The Syrian Refugee Crisis

SyrianRefugeeA core message of Pesach (Passover) is that the Israelites' status as "strangers" in Egypt, the foreigners who were mistrusted, despised, and mistreated, serves as a lesson to us, their spiritual descendants: to be a Jew is to be forever a "stranger." With that permanent "otherness" in mind, we are commanded to be ever welcoming of "strangers," in every place and age. That's no mean charge, as we're seeing today. There is no better time than Pesach to reflect on how our ethical aspirations inform our everyday actions and politics.

Working with Dr. Lindsay Gifford (Assistant Professor of International Studies and Anthropology, University of San Francisco) and Vlad Khaykin (Associate Director, Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific Region), CBS created a Pesach seder table Haggadah supplement to encourage Jews everywhere to wrestle with the Syrian refugee crisis.

If you'd like to print these for distribution, please click here to view a high-resolution file. The image below is relatively low resolution.

SyrianRefugeeHandout Lead image credit: Petros Giannakouris, AP