How Can a Soul Sin?! (Zohar)

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I like the naive shock in the Zohar. Commenting on the verse “If a soul sins” (Lev. 5:1), the Torah is astonished (astonished!) that a soul could sin. Before its descent into the world, the soul stands before the King in a garment in the image of this world. She is passed through 1,008,000 worlds to see and to delight in the glory of those who engage in Torah. She inhabits the Garden for 30 days to see the glory of the spirits of the righteous. And then she descends into the world, delving into darkness. All this glory and all this perfection bestowed upon her. How can it be that a soul sins? (Zohar 3:13a-b)

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Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky in the New York Post


I love the New York Post, and their front page editor’s a genius. I’m not sure if out-of-towners will see the affectionate ribbing with which the paper greets the birth of baby Clinton Mezvinsky. Another liberal cry baby!

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Wrath in the World (Evil According to the Zohar)

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At the very end of the commentary on Exodus, the Zohar turns its attention to the flow and force of evil in the world. The demonic point has no color, and it does not exist. It expands out, to the right and to the left, the force of shadow combining with Death, Samael and Lilith, radiating gold as it descends into the world as anger, killing, wounding blows upon blows, fierce wrath after wrath, one riding the other, and unabated rage. In the Zohar, evil is religious. It’s form  is force of relentless judgment let loose in the world, the chasing after human beings to judge them for the sins that they conceal, this running to inflict injury. The final word of the commentary to Exodus is to recommend that we keep away from all this. What matters most to the zoharic authors would be the opposite, the binding up of units of force together in order to convey blessing and mystical peace. (Zohar, 2:242b-44b)

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Dialogue in the 21st Century: A Martin Buber Memorial Conference


Dialogue in the 21st Century: A Martin Buber Memorial Conference

Manhattan College

April 23, 2015


Call for Abstracts:

Submissions from all disciplinary backgrounds, including philosophy, religious studies, Judaic studies, media studies, political science, education and peace studies are welcome.

In order to promote interdisciplinary dialogue and provide maximal time for discussion participants will give 15-20 minute presentations as part of a panel. Suggested topics include:

  • What is dialogue? What are the preconditions for and limitations of dialogue? How does one educate for dialogue?
  • How may Buber’s life and work be fruitfully brought into dialogue with contemporary conceptual movements and problems, such as the exploration of the other, cosmopolitanism and the study of language?
  • How does Buber’s life and work illuminate recent cultural and political shifts, such as the rise of information technology, contemporary art and media, current interfaith debates and recent international conflicts?

The conference will be held during Manhattan College’s month-long annual celebration of its Lasallian mission. Presentations that engage one or more of the five Lasallian hallmarks — commitment to social justice, respect for human dignity, an emphasis on ethical conduct, reflection on faith and its relation to reason, and excellence in teaching — are therefore especially welcome.

Please send proposals in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format to Dr. Sarah Scott (sarah.scott at no later than December 15, 2014. Proposals should include 1) a developed abstract (approximately 1,000 words); 2) a short abstract for inclusion in the conference program (150 words maximum); 3) a short biography for inclusion in the conference program (150 words maximum); and 4) full contact details, including email address and phone number. Authors will be notified of acceptance by January 15, 2015.

Sponsored by the Manhattan College Center for Ethics, the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center, the Office of Mission, the Philosophy Department and the Religious Studies Department.

(PS: That’s Buber in a bow tie with HRH Princess Beatrix after winning the Erasmus Prize in 1963 –Zjb)

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BDS (Amira Hass at Birzeit)


This is why BDS is the damaging thing that it is, the damage being done not just to Israel, or actually less to Israel than to Palestinian civil society whose call it is U.S. advocates of BDS intend to support. At Birzeit University, Amira Hass was booted off a conference because there’s a rule that no Israeli Jews are allowed on campus. The conference was organized by the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and The Center for Development Studies. Apparently, Katja Hermann, director of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Regional Office in the Occupied Territories was shocked. Hass writes that Hermann told her that “had she known about the law at Birzeit, and the decision to exclude [Hass] from the conference’s audience, she wouldn’t have agreed to hold the event within the university walls.” The story’s here. It suggests to me that ultimately BDS is going to overreach, hurting the very people whose cause it is intended to champion.

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In Shul After Gaza — Green Rosh Hashana at Anschei Chesed


A report from the liberal pew: The Jewish year this year happens to be a Schmittah year, a sabbatical year. According to the Bible, the land is supposed to stay fallow every seventh year. The land needs to rest. It’s not our land. In the Land of Israel, we are supposed to rely on the leftover, wild crop. Green, the vision is utopian, utterly impracticable. This was what Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky talked about for Rosh Hashana at  Anschei Chesed. With its own radical implications but in its own quiet way, he took the opportunity to talk about economic inequality, land ownership, and environmental sustainability, i.e. all the things that make unbearable our entire modern way of life. The talk was global in its perspective even as the rockets and rubble this summer Gaza and Israel, indeed, the entire question of Israel and Palestine hung over every word. Maybe it was just me and I’m reading too much into the talk. But here’s what I heard. The land needs to rest. It’s not our land. It’s no man’s land. About Gaza and the poisoning of the discourse about Israel and Zionism, Rabbi Kalmanofsky stated very clearly that it would be what he called rabbinic malpractice not to talk about them. For that, the congregation will have to wait until Yom Kippur. The talk last Thursday was meant, I think, to lay the groundwork for that discussion on a broader basis of what’s fair and what’s right, on peace and economic justice.

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נהיה לראשׁ ולא לזנב (Rosh Hashana Fish Head Blessing)

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“May we be like the head and not the tail.” Like many customs and tradition, eating a fish head to mark the new year, is both delicious and disgusting. Before they are moral, these kinds of tradition are gustatory, or rather the morality has a gustatory intensity or flavor. Kudos to my brother Andrew for the photograph, and for sharing it at FB. He caught such a plaintive look and expression. I guess we should count our blessings. In the Shulchan Aruch, laws of Rosh Hashana, chapter 583, which you can read here, it’s supposed to be a lamb’s head, the point having been to remember the lamb of Isaac. According to the Rama, “Some are careful not to eat nuts since nuts have the numerical value of sin.  Also, they cause a lot of gas, interrupting prayer.” Tongue in cheek, that too is moral.

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