Shemini – Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Facebook_CoverDesign_SheminiYou are what you eat, so they say. But more importantly, as Jews, we eat only in the context of creation.

In this week’s reading, Shemini, aside from Aaron’s mysterious silence in the face of his sons’ immolation, we are drawn into the distinctions conveyed through our dietary laws. The laws of kashrut are commanded, identifying permissible and forbidden animals for consumption, including: (1) land animals only with a split hoof and that chew their cud; (2) fish with scales and fins; and (3) appropriately listed birds and insects.

As we read in Leviticus 11:1-2, the divine imperative for conscious consumption brings awareness that "you may eat out of all the domestic beasts that are on the earth." This phrase "on the earth" appears seven times in this chapter (11:2, 21, 29, 41, 42, 44, 46) – why? It is a reminder taking us back to the sixth day of Creation, when the Earth was first covered with plants and mobile creatures, and the humans were blessed as stewards of "every animal that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:28).

Finally, distinctions relating to ritual readiness are recounted, including the laws relating to the immersion pool known as the mikveh. All these rituals are based on the ancient wisdom of distinction(s); while they continue to evolve, they still have resonance today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by fire's central and ambivalent role in Shemini. It goes "forth from before the Lord and consume[s] the burnt offering" (Leviticus 9:24) and also "forth from before the Lord and consume[s]...Nadav and Avihu" (Leviticus 10:2). It is difficult to read of the horrible fate of Aaron's sons without considering the English name for the Shoah – "holocaust n 1. a burnt sacrifice: a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire 2. a complete or thorough sacrifice or destruction esp. by fire." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

VaYelekh -- Deuteronomy 31:1 – 30

facebook_coverdesign_vayelekhA remarkable conversation between two Jewish luminaries took place a few years ago, when neuroscientist Eric Kandel (b. 1929) and survivor-activist Elie Wiesel (1928- 2016) – both Nobel Laureates – reflected on memory and forgetting. Wiesel reminded us that we must never forget, while Kandel taught that the best way to do this is by remaining active, social, and creative into your golden years.

As we struggle moment to moment in our over-programmed lives to continuously remember a present called consciousness, we should heed the words of these luminaries: "Keep the past alive in you, and actively use it to create a better future."

This week’s reading of Parashat VaYelekh reminds us to never forget the exemplary life of Moses, who reaches his 120th year fully active (even in his short-lived retirement!). Among his final acts recounted here, Moses announces the transition in leadership to Joshua and also concludes the writing of the Torah scroll, now entrusted to the Levites for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant.

Additionally, he explains that every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot, the entire people of Israel are commanded to "gather" together in the Jerusalem Temple in a rite that comes to be known as the mitzvah of hak’hel. The gathering is a sacred moment of communal assembly, one during which those present hear the king read from the Torah scroll. Yet alongside this injunction to gather and read together, there is the acknowledgement that the Israelites will inevitably turn away from their covenant with the divine. When this turning happens, they will experience an eclipse of the divine face, as it were, even though the words of Torah will never be forgotten.

Judaism is both a day-to-day spiritual practice as well as a legacy project never to be forgotten – our challenge is how to strike the appropriate balance.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by Deuteronomy 31:16–17: "And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them. And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them..." The image can be interpreted in many different ways, but it was informed by specific and rather literal thinking. Having worked for almost a decade in the neuroscience lab of Paul Greengard, who shared the Nobel Prize with Eric Kandel, I was thinking of the electric thicket of neurons and synapses contained in each of our brains, and how physiological changes to these cells can lead to perceptual deficiencies (e.g., hidden faces). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shul School Is Back In Session!

ThinkingMattersOur popular Thinking Matters: Modern Jewish Philosophy mini-course series kicks off a new semester next week!

Below, we provide an overview of September – November 2016 Thinking Matters course offerings. (The full 2016–17 mini-course overview can be accessed by clicking here.)

Join our impressive line-up of local star teachers and CBS experts to wrestle with today's urgent questions of Jewish philosophy. Can there be such a thing as a Jewish philosophy, or a philosophy of Judaism? How does Judaism relate to the broader question of the relationship of ethics, religion, and theology to philosophy? (For an introduction to Jewish modern thought and philosophy, we recommend Steven Katz's essay, "Eliezar Berkovits & Modern Jewish Philosophy.")

Details and readings for upcoming Thinking Matters single classes and mini-courses are included below.

All classes meet on Thursday evenings from 6:30 – 8 p.m. All sessions are FREE for CBS members, but students are encouraged to make a donation to CBS. For nonmembers, each single session is $12. Alternatively, nonmembers can purchase an 8-session pack for $84, or the full semester subscription for $180.


Elie Wiesel and the Problems of Holocaust Representation
September 22 & October 27
(Sessions continue in 2017: January 12, January 19, February 2, March 2 & 30, & April 20)
(8 sessions w/ Dr. Michael Thaler)

Course Description: Elie Wiesel is universally recognized as the leading voice of Holocaust commemoration and interpretation. This course will highlight significant differences in content and message between Wiesel's original Yiddish memoir, Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Remained Silent), which is known only to a handful of scholars, and the universally acclaimed French (La Nuit) and English (Night) versions. Dr. Thaler will also compare Wiesel’s work of Holocaust representation with the accounts of other key witnesses, both Jews and non-Jews, including Jerzy Kosinski (The Painted Bird), Tadeusz Borowski (This Way To The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen), Charlotte Delbo (None Of Us Will Return), Jean Améry (At The Mind’s Limits), and Primo Levi (Survival In Auschwitz). Additionally, to examine the impact of Holocaust narratives on younger American Jewish writers, we shall look at Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, and Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am.

Jewish Thinking & Activism In Black Lives Matter
November 3
(1 session w/ Ilana Kaufman)

Course Description: Jewish identity. Jewish values. Black lives. They all matter. Thinking about and reflecting on Jewish identity and values, Ilana Kaufman will present experiences from field work and data, and delve into interesting community dilemmas connecting who we are as Jews and the Racial Justice movement.

Readings: TBD

Ethics In Sacrificing One Life For Another
November 17
(1 session w/ Rabbi Doug Kahn)

Course Description: "Two people were traveling, and [only] one of them had a canteen of water. [There was only enough water so that] if both of them drank they would both die, but if one of them drank [only], he would make it back to an inhabited area [and live]. Ben Petura taught: 'Better both should drink and die than that one see his friend’s death,' until Rabbi Akiva came and taught: 'Your brother should live with you' (Vayikra 25:36) – your life takes precedence over the life of your friend's.'" (Bava Metzia 62a) This one-session class wrestles with the ultimate ethical issue – saving one life at the expense of another. Rabbi Kahn will examine how Jewish law was applied to agonizing life-for-life situations during the Holocaust and continues to be relevant in today’s world.

Readings: None


Kezayit: Burn, Baby, Burn!

Facebook_LagBOmerFlamingArrowWhat's this Kezayit thing? Read here.


Lag B'Omer is this Thursday, May 26 (18 Iyar). Although the holiday has been getting more press in recent years, it continues to go largely ignored by most Jewish Americans.

But maybe that's about to change? A concerted effort is being made by some contemporary Jewish leaders to make Lag B'Omer a centerpiece of the Jewish calendar, a holiday that secular Jews will appreciate as much as their religious brethren. Given that Lag B'Omer is traditionally observed by lighting bonfires, dancing, singing, and feasting, it should be an easy sell.

So why do we set things ablaze and party hardy on Lag B'Omer? What are we so colorfully celebrating? According to one content-aggregating website, "Lag Ba'Omer is a joyous holiday, but no one is sure what it celebrates."

There are explanations, however. Lag B'Omer translates as the "33rd [day] in the Omer." The Omer, as devoted Kezayit readers will surely recall, is the 49-day period between the second night of Pesach and Shavuot. While we previously explained why the 49 days of the Omer are counted and why this count has taken on mystical significance, we didn't mention that most of the period of the Omer is understood to be one of semi-mourning. Halachically observant Jews may not get a haircut, shave, listen to instrumental music, dance, or have weddings or parties during the Omer. The Talmud explains that the semi-mourning memorializes either a terrible plague that killed 24,000 of the great sage Rabbi Akiva's students or the murder of those same students by Roman soldiers during the years of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE). Modern rabbis have also suggested that the Omer should be seen as a time to remember the millions of Jews who were persecuted and killed during the Crusades, centuries of European pogroms, and the Shoah. Of course, anthropologists point out that many ancient cultures practiced "similar periods of restraint in the early spring to symbolize their concerns about the growth of their crops."

BonfireWhether it's an ancient rite of an agricultural people, a commemoration of a specifically Jewish experience, or some combination thereof, the Omer is meant to be a somber period. Lag B'Omer is the exception. All the restrictions of the mourning period are lifted; it's the one day during the Omer that we let it all hang out. Which brings us back to the holiday's potential renaissance.

As a recent article in J. makes clear, Lag B'Omer makes space for even the most secular of Jews to connect strongly with their Judaism. Joel Stanley, Director of Jewish Innovation at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) in Palo Alto, saw an opportunity to draw a crowd with "live music, archery, dance, wilderness workshops, spontaneous chats about Kabbalah, activities for kids and barbecue" well as "towering fire sculptures." This year, the OFJCC is producing their first Burning Mensch celebration, a Lag B'Omer party designed to appeal to younger, more secular Jews, those of our tribe who generally eschew ritual or traditional spiritual experiences, but are eager to celebrate their Jewish heritage. Zack Bodner, Executive Director of the OFJCC, says Burning Mensch is part of an effort he dubs Judaism 3.0, "a vision for the future."

We salute such creative efforts, and hope that Burning Mensch is a grand success, both for the sake of its producers and sponsors (Kol Emeth, Jewish Study Network, and Milk + Honey) as well as for Jewish engagement, generally.

Announcing The Gathering Essay Competition

TheGathering1CBS is delighted to announce an exciting cultural and learning opportunity for families in our community!

Playwright Arje Shaw is generously sponsoring an essay writing competition for CBS teenagers (at or around b'nai mitzvah age). Shaw invites teens who are interested in participating to attend his critically-acclaimed play, The Gathering, during its upcoming run at The Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley (July 21 - August 20, 2016).

After watching the play, participants should write an essay (1,000 - 1,500 words) about how practicing remembrance and tolerance can improve the future for all people. This essay should be composed in conversation/collaboration with parents and other family members.

TheGathering2Although The Gathering deals with the Shoah, the teenage essayists will present their compositions to the congregation during Sukkot 5777 (October 17-18, 2016). Why Sukkot instead of, say, Yom HaShoah? Shaw hopes the process of writing the essay will prompt the participating teens to thoughtfully consider their heritage and how best to honor it (l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation), and the mystical tradition of inviting ushpizin, ancestral "guests," into the sukkah to share space with us is pertinent.

Following the public presentation of the essays, Rabbi Glazer will announce which of the entries he and a committee of CBS member judges deems most resonant. Shaw will make a $1,000 donation to CBS in the author's name.

Shaw notes that The Gathering wasn't written just for himself. It is, as he puts it, "an expression of neshamah, a soulful thank you to my parents for all their sacrifices to rebuild their lives in securing a future for their children. We all have had people in our lives who made that happen, and The Gathering is a tribute to them."

We think that Shaw's essay competition will provide some of our CBS teens with their own opportunity to offer such a tribute.

Photo credits: The Gathering production photos by


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

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

Mystics of Mile End Book Talk

Sigal headshot (1)On Monday, April 25, author Sigal Samuel will present a book talk about her acclaimed debut novel, The Mystics of Mile End, which tells the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family obsessed with climbing the Kabbalah's Tree of Life.

Brother and sister Lev and Samara Meyer live in Montreal's Mile End — a mashup of hipsters and Hasidic Jews. They have a fairly typical childhood, other than that their father is distracted, their mother is dead, and down the street Mr. Katz is trying to recreate the biblical Tree of Knowledge out of plucked leaves, toilet paper rolls, and dental floss. When their father, David, an atheist professor of Jewish mysticism, is diagnosed with an unusual heart murmur, he becomes convinced that his heart is whispering divine secrets. But as David's frenzied attempts to ascend the Tree of Life lead to tragedy, Samara and Lev set out — in separate and divisive ways — to finish what he's started. It falls to next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor Chaim Glassman to shatter the silence that divides the members of the Meyer family. But can he break through to them in time?Mystics of Mile End book cover

Sigal Samuel is an award-winning fiction writer, journalist, essayist, and playwright. Currently opinion editor at the Forward, she has also published work in the Daily Beast, the Rumpus, BuzzFeed, and Electric Literature. She has appeared on NPR, BBC, and Huffington Post Live. Her six plays have been produced in theaters from Vancouver to New York. Originally from Montreal, Sigal now lives in Brooklyn. The Mystics of Mile End is her first novel.

The cost of attendance is $18 and includes a copy of the novel. Given that the book retails for $16 on Amazon, this is a wonderful deal! RSVP early as we are limited to 30 books. Refreshments will be provided.




Shul School: "Thinking Matters"

Congregation Beth Sholom's Thinking Matters course series
continues this fall.

Join our impressive line-up of teachers to wrestle with
some of the exciting and challenging questions of modern Jewish philosophy!

"Thinking Matters: Modern Jewish Philosophy"
Can there be such a thing as a Jewish philosophy, or a philosophy of Judaism? How have Jewish traditions participated in the philosophical canon or in philosophical questioning in modern times? How do Judaism and philosophy relate to the broader question of the modern relationship of ethics, religion, and theology to philosophy? Given that modern philosophy claims universal validity, what does it mean to emphasize its historically or culturally determinate sources?

For an introduction to Jewish modern thought and philosophy, we recommend Steven Katz's essay, "Eliezar Berkovits & Modern Jewish Philosophy."

The dates, topics, and educators of the remaining two sections are detailed below, and the relevant readings for Dr. Berman's section can be downloaded by clicking on the hyperlinks.

October 8, 15, 22, & 29
German Political Philosophy & Jewish Thinking (4 sessions with Dr. Russell Berman)

Dr. Russell Berman's classes meet Thursday nights in the Beth Sholom Board Room from 7-8:30 p.m.

October 8: Hannah Arendt, Zionism and Ethnic Politics

Reading: Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

October 15: Eichmann in Jerusalem: Deception and Denial

Reading: the Gershom Scholem-Hannah Arendt exchange of letters
; Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Little Rock

October 22: Hannah Arendt as a Thinking Weapon Against Israel

Reading: Judith Butler, selected chapters from Parting Ways

October 29: Post-Zionism & Thinking against Academic BDS of Israel

Reading: Elkhanan Yakira

November 5, 12, 19, & December 3
Shoah & Postmemory (4 sessions with Dr. Murray Baumgarten)

Murray Baumgarten's classes meet Thursday nights in the Beth Sholom Board Room from 7-8:30 p.m.

November 5: Reading Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo -- Narrator, Character, Identity, & the 'Hier ist kein Warum'

Reading: Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (part 1)

November 12: Primo Levi, the Chemical Laboratory, and the Periodic Table

Reading: Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (part 2)

November 19: Poetry and Hurbn: Speaking Jewish in German, Yiddish, English, & Hebrew

Readings: Paul Celan's poem "Death Fugue," and poems by Pagis, Glastein, and Reznikoff