Acharei Mot / Kedoshim – Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

Facebook_CoverDesign_AchareiMot-KedoshimIn conversation with a Jewish artist, I once quipped that all artists must see their art as an offering to the Other Side. "What?!," the artist exclaimed. In order to quell the energy of the negative forces in the universe, I explained, the mystical interpretation of many rituals, especially sacrifice, is understood as a way of assuaging and keeping at bay the Other Side.

So what were the two Young Turk priests, Nadav and Avihu, up to with their offering as ritual artists? The enigmatic scene first described in Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47), returns in Parashat Acharei Mot with a sobering lesson about the episode.

Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta? Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who find in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. Sometimes, though, that ecstasy comes at a price – the Other Side can overtake even the most spiritual of ritual artists.

The fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw rather than engage in the real world with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. For Jewish art to be effective, it cannot withdraw from the world, but must engage directly with it by transforming it.

Reading Parashat Kedoshim, we're reminded that part of the reason Leviticus can be a challenging read is that it often seems as though there are competing voices of religious authority. Recall there are two distinct and independent schools of Torah in the Book of Leviticus — the Priestly Torah and the Holiness Code. There is a fine line distinguishing the Priestly Torah, which is preoccupied with the priestly views of ritual that are distinct from the masses, from the Holiness School, which interweaves the priestly elements of ritual with popular customs.

Interestingly, we see in Kedoshim that the Holiness Code is ecological in orientation, at least insofar as it emphasizes the web of relationships that unite various members of the land community – namely: earth, animal, and humans. Just as it is forbidden to cut "the edge" [pe’ah] of either "field" (19:9) or "human head and beard" (19:27), so we are invited to reorient our lives with greater ecological awareness of the place we play within the web of all sentient beings. Such a planetary awareness is what holiness demands of us.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract, painterly response to the many instances of "you shall not" in Acharei Mot / Kedoshim. Some contemporary readers are turned off by all these "negative commandments" (mitzvot lo taaseh), but such laws became essential as humans settled in large, agrarian centers. Codified behavior provided increased predictability in social interaction, and these codes of conduct were enforced to direct society toward cohesion and stability; the many prohibitions serve as a bulwark against barbarism and the breakdown of social bonds. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Acharei Mot / Kedoshim – Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

Facebook_CoverDesign_AchareiMot-KedoshimIn conversation with a Jewish artist, I recently quipped that all artists must see their art as an offering to the Other Side. "What?!," the artist exclaimed. In order to quell the energy of the negative forces in the universe, I explained, the mystical interpretation of many rituals, especially sacrifice, is understood as a way of assuaging and keeping at bay the Other Side.

So what were the two Young Turk priests, Nadav and Avihu, up to with their offering as ritual artists? The enigmatic scene first described in Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47), returns in Parashat Acharei Mot with a sobering lesson about the episode.

Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta? Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who find in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. Sometimes, though, that ecstasy comes at a price – the Other Side can overtake even the most spiritual of ritual artists.

The fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw rather than engage in the real world with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. For Jewish art to be effective, it cannot withdraw from the world, but must engage directly with it by transforming it.

Reading Parashat Kedoshim, we're reminded that part of the reason Leviticus can be a challenging read is that it often seems as though there are competing voices of religious authority. Recall there are two distinct and independent schools of Torah in the Book of Leviticus — the Priestly Torah and the Holiness Code. There is a fine line distinguishing the Priestly Torah, which is preoccupied with the priestly views of ritual that are distinct from the masses, from the Holiness School, which interweaves the priestly elements of ritual with popular customs.

Interestingly, we see in Kedoshim that the Holiness Code is ecological in orientation, at least insofar as it emphasizes the web of relationships that unite various members of the land community – namely: earth, animal, and humans. Just as it is forbidden to cut "the edge" [pe’ah] of either "field" (19:9) or "human head and beard" (19:27), so we are invited to reorient our lives with greater ecological awareness of the place we play within the web of all sentient beings. Such a planetary awareness is what holiness demands of us.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract, painterly response to the many instances of "you shall not" in Acharei Mot / Kedoshim. Some contemporary readers are turned off by all these "negative commandments" (mitzvot lo taaseh), but such laws became essential as humans settled in large, agrarian centers. Codified behavior provided increased predictability in social interaction, and these codes of conduct were enforced to direct society toward cohesion and stability; the many prohibitions serve as a bulwark against barbarism and the breakdown of social bonds. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Camp Ramah Galim

Riding Your Wave In the Sea of Judaism: The Start-up Camp Ramah Galim

imgresThere is nothing quite like the oceanic rhythm of Camp Ramah campers and staff surrounding you from dawn till dusk. In those eternal moments, you begin to feel the pulse of this camp’s namesake — Galim. Singing, dancing, exploring, studying, rock climbing, scuba diving — an immersive summer at Camp Ramah in Northern California transforms hearts and minds to live Jewish lives.

Along with Elyssa and Talya, I have been blessed to visit, teach, and support our brand new Camp Ramah NorCal, known in Hebrew as Ramah Galim, or "Ramah of the Waves." Clearly, if we can create the ruach of Ramah amidst the strawberry fields of Watsonville, then we can do anything! Thanks to the devoted leadership of many, including CBS members Craig Miller and Alex Bernstein, Ramah Galim has been overwhelmed by the response of parents looking for a meaningful, authentic Jewish camping experience. Registration was expected at 100 and is now over 250! Who could resist such a panoply of ways to live your Judaism? Outdoor adventures, ocean explorations, and performing arts – each track of this new camp meets each child right where they are, lifting their souls ever higher.

Facebook_JoshHorwitz---AaronMiller---------RabbiGlazer_CampRamahNorcal_July2016 I've been part of Ramah since my second year as a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Traveling to and teaching at almost every Ramah in the Northeast, it has become clear to me that the many unique Ramah traditions mark a transformational camping movement born from the vision of Conservative/Masorti Judaism; the movement continues to inspire and renew one generation to the next, producing Jewish leaders and families unlike any other!

And so this summer I brought deep expectations – along with my family (who joined many other rabbinic families from near and far) – to Ramah NorCal, the new jewel in the Bay Area Jewish community. As rabbi of CBS, along with our amazing Youth Advisor, David Herrera, we look forward to our ongoing partnership with Ramah Galim and its leadership (headed by Rabbi Sarah Shulman) Facebook_SarahShulmanLielRabbiGlazer_CampRamahNorcal_July2016with the goal of ensuring more and more Jewish campers feel their unique pulse as part of the waves of this oceanic blessing of Ramah Galim, and that this summer magic washes back through our communal family in the coming years.

While Elyssa was facilitating Jewish art and spiritual direction workshops for all ages, I was blessed to teach the staff and campers about some of the layers of meaning within the name Ramah Galim. This culminated with our dedication of the Aron HaKodesh during the camp's Founder’s Day, when I shared two "take-aways" from the Zohar on the mystery of galim, or waves. Firstly, to be children of galim is to be riding the waves of our ancestors, as the children of Abraham and Sarah who enacted mitzvot as innumerable as galei yam, the waves of the sea. Secondly, to download the taste of the world that is coming – that is, Shabbat — we must be as galim, for all exists within these waves, intermingled, heaps upon heaps, reaching out to all!

I am grateful for the ability to support and partner with Ramah Galim, and I know that the camp is so appreciative of the unconditional support provided by CBS. The pulsing rhythm of our CBS spiritual life will only be enhanced by continuing to support Jewish camping experiences and making spaces for informal, experiential Judaism to come alive in our community! As we welcome Rebecca Goodman to our team as Director of Youth Education,Facebook_RabbiGlazerArkDedication2_CampRamahNorcal_July2016 along with David Herrera who is been blessed to spend all summer with our campers at Ramah Galim, we have great things to look forward to together! May we continue to be and become children of galim! That is the secret of Ramah Galim and it is the secret of CBS. Let us continue to reach out to all, making new friends and deepening old friendships so that we continue building and nurturing our Jewish lives with love as deep as the ocean. May this summer immerse our children in the waves of inspiration that make up the oceanic blessing of Judaism. From these children inherit a better world, thanks to the actions we commit to take.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Photo captions:
- Josh Horwitz, Sam Toeman, Aaron Miller, Raquel Sweet, Nathan Fell, Adina Sweet, and Rabbi Glazer at Camp Ramah NorCal
- Rabbi Sarah Shulman, Liel Shulman, & Rabbi Glazer at Camp Ramah NorCal
- Rabbi Glazer speaking at the dedication of the Ramah Galim ark during Founder's Day

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."