יום ראשון, פברואר 25, 2007



I was looking up US government information on Daylight Savings Time (which starts much earlier, March 11, this year than ever before) and was pleasantly surprised: In its note on the history of hours, minutes, and seconds the government (NIST, to be specific) uses B.C.E. and C.E. instead of B.C./A.D.

Then I happened upon a new Christian right-wing alternative to Wikipedia called Conservapedia. In its mission statement it says:

Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance.

Oh, my! C.E. is anti-Christian (which evidently is the same thing as anti-American)? Perhaps non-Christian, but anti- ? Give me a break. Even by using C.E. we are acknowlegding that we share the same era with you, as defined by the arrival of your claimed Messiah. But why should we have to call it "the year of our lord," when that's not our Lord?

Not that these are the sort of people one can reason with...

But I really like the irony in this link from blogger Jon Swift:

For years homeschooled children have had to rely for all of their information on Wikipedia, which is full of dangerous ideas that homeschooling was supposed to prevent from seeping into the home. Now, finally, there is an alternative, which doesn't have any controversial ideas at all: Conservapedia. Conservapedia is based on good Christian values, unlike Wikipedia, which I gather from the name, is based on Wiccan.

Thanks to wmtc for the tip.

(I should note that wmtc stands for "we move to canada," a terrific blog by L-girl, who did just that. I have a yahoo.ca address for this blog, but that's the only part of me that is Canadian--at least so far!)

יום שישי, פברואר 16, 2007


New version of Blogger

I upgraded to the new version of Blogger. Among many nice new features is the ability to add labels to posts (indicating their topics). Among the not-so-nice features is that if you want to go back and add labels to old posts (which seemed like a good idea), it updates the time stamp. So your old posts become "new." I tried manually back-dating (when I could figure out what the original date might have been), but it does not work. The software insists on giving the new date and time.

So, now I have a post about "last week's" Haftarah for Sh'mot that is dated today. Ugh.

If any other bloggers happen upon this and know a solution, please drop a comment here. It would be really nice to be able to add labels to old posts (or, for that matter, correct errors I might catch in re-reading an old post) without the software treating it as new.

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Jews from Iraq

This morning on BBC World Service's Outlook program, there was a fascinating segment about Jews in Jerusalem who lived in Iraq until the 1950s. BBC's overview:

The creation of the Jewish state in 1948 brought an influx of immigrants from all over the world - from other parts of the Middle East as well as from war-scarred Europe. For all of them it was the culmination of a religious journey, the fulfilment of a dream to live in the promised land. But more than half a century on, how do those immigrants and their descendants feel? For Outlook, Lipika Pelham visited one community, the Iraqi Jews who arrived mainly in the 1950s, and settled in an area known as Mahane Yehuda in the heart of Jerusalem. It is a famous market with alleyways lined with grocery stores, still mostly owned by the descendants of the original Iraqi and Kurdish immigrants.
The program included interviews about a nuts-and-dried-apricots store run by one of the immigrants. (Why can't we have stores like that?) And tantalizing discussions about culinary traditions that they brought from Iraq. It also quotes one of the men as saying that before 1947, no one cared whether they were Jewish or Muslim, but everything changed for them after the establishment of the state of Israel. Some of them still speak Arabic amongst themselves, despite being fluent in Hebrew (and in some cases English).

The program was a great window on just how much the cultures of Mizrahi Jews (several of the people interviewed actually have Mizrahi as a surname) and Muslim Arabs. What a tragedy that they were forced from their homes. Fortunately, they had a Promised Land that welcomed them to new homes.

At the page linked above, the BBC offers a link to an audio clip.

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Abraham's path

Two researchers are following the footsteps of the religious patriarch, Abraham, in the hope that people will rediscover their common roots, reported the Christian Science Monitor on February 13. Briton Daniel Adamson and Jordanian Mahmoud Twaissi are tracking Abraham's route from Haran, Turkey, through Syria and Jordan, and into the West Bank, using GPS devices and Google Earth. Later they will continue their research into Egypt. They hope eventually that conditions will allow them to include Iraq (where Abraham's initial home of Ur is located).

To its initiators, the dream of building the path presents an endless array of possibilities: for religious pilgrimages, for developing the region's underrealized tourism potential, and, most important, for breaking down barriers of fear and misunderstanding between East and West.

Of course, the goal of a tourist path and multi-faith pilgrimages through this trouble region is quite distant. But their fusion of religion and ground-level peace-making is a welcome change. The project is being sponsored by the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University.

"I've worked in the Middle East on and off since the late 1970s, and it seemed that among those of us who were looking for political solutions tended to kind of steer away from religion," [Howard] Ury [of Harvard] says in a phone interview from his office in Boston. The feeling he says, was "Don't go to close too religious issues – because that's too regressive, it's too hot."

"The Oslo process [to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] failed in part because of that. The question came to me, 'What if you actually welcomed in the constructive role of religion, the ancient beliefs and ancient texts?'

"It occurred to me that Abraham was the single most underutilized resource in the Middle East. He represents faith, hospitality, kindness towards others. So the question was, could one somehow evoke the ancient stories to be a catalyst for coexistence, as well as understanding and even an economic source for growth."

It is a fascinating story and project. Ury notes in the article that the Jordanian government may be ready to work on expanding its own tourism potential by developing the Abraham Path through its territory.

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Middle Eastern spices and kosher wine

California Country, a program shown on RFD-TV, recently ran a show with two segments featuring Jewish agriculturists in the Golden State. One segment featured a havdalah in Napa Valley featuring Jewish vintners. One of the wineries featured was Covenant Wines, which begins its mission statement as follows:

The Jews may have the oldest codified relationship to wine of any people on earth, but kosher wine ironically is best known for its “unorthodox” taste. In the context of Jewish history, this dubious distinction is understandable. Thousands of years ago, the Jews lived in the Holy Land, where grape growing and wine making were common practice. But after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, the Jews began a long period of wandering known as the Diaspora, which presented them with a serious enological challenge. Rarely were their new homes in exile blessed with vineyards such as those previously known in their ancestral land. [...]

A century ago, Jewish immigrants to America found local Concord grapes to be plentiful. But the wine produced from these native American grapes had a so-called "foxy" character. Keeping the wines sweet made them more palatable, and this sweet style became synonymous with kosher wine.

More recent history has been kinder to Jewish wine makers, and currently there is a revolution in quality among kosher wines the world over.[...]

The other segment was about some purveyors of exotic fresh spices. The presentation did not center on the fact that the owners of the company are Jews (specifically, Israeli immigrants), but it did include some scenes of their Friday meal with friends, where they showcase the spices in various dishes. In the scenes, one can see the owner wearing his kippah.

I never expected to see a Shabbat dinner celebration and a havdalah on a TV channel that calls itself "Rural America's most important network," but there it was!

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Medlar runners

In last week's Haftarah for Sh'mot, at Isaiah 27:6, there is a reference to a medlar tree. Or at least there is in the Plaut II translation (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised):

Jacob shall come to take root,
Israel shall blossom and bloom.
They shall fill the earth with fruit
like a medlar when it sends forth runners.

There is a footnote to this passage, which reads as follows:

Like... runners. In the translation, this phrase has been moved up from verse 8, for clarity.
Medlar. A form of apple tree

Well, now that is taking some liberties, and I am not talking about the moving of a phrase from one verse to another. I am talking about the medlar, which is no more closely related to apple than is a raspberry. (Both are part of the rose family, which is vast and includes many fruiting and non-fruiting plants.)

Medlars come from Persia, and certainly would have been known in ancient Israel. But, if answers.com can be believed, the Hebrew word for medlar is shin-samech-kuf. I do not see this word in the Hebrew text in Plaut II. A quick check of some other translations showed no reference to "medlar" (see blow). I wish I knew which word in this Haftarah passage was being translated as "medlar" and why, given the obscurity for most readers of that term.

As for the fruit itself, medlars were popular in Victorian times, but they are not very well known now outside of Persia, and, again according to answers.com, in Piedmont (Italy). They may be making a comeback, however, as I see medlar trees offered in many of my nursery catalogs; perhaps the medlar is being rescued from obscurity. Just don't call it an apple! (I have never eaten a medlar, but they can't be eaten right off the tree; they must be very soft.)

JPS has:

[6] [In days] to come Jacob shall strike root,
Israel shall sprout and blossom,
And the face of the world shall be covered with fruit.

[7] Was he beaten as his beater has been?
Did he suffer such slaughter as his slayers?
[8] Assailing them with fury unchained,
His pitiless blast bore them off
On a day of gale.
[There is a note on "Assailing them" that says "Meaning of Heb. uncertain."]

A KJV that I have that was my mother's says:

[6] He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.
[7] Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?
[8] In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he sayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.

And these are the same verses???

For the sake of completeness, let's also include verses 7 and 8 of Plaut II (as it was from 8 that the line about the medlars--which is what got me started here--was moved from):

[7] Did God strike [Israel] down like others who were struck?
Was [Israel] slain as [God] slew the slayers?
[8] God contended with them, sending them off with a hot blast,
as on the day the east wind comes.

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New Year for Trees

Tu B'Shevat is coming right up. As the OU explains, it is one of four Rosh HaShanahs on the Hebrew calendar, in this case the one for trees and their fruit. So, get out and plant a tree! But not on Tu B'Shevat Tu Bishvat,* for like so many other holidays in 5767 (e.g., the Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, and Chanukah), this one, too, falls on Shabbat. So, plant one on Friday and one on Sunday, and they will be a year apart in age!

With February starting, another "new year" is right around the corner: Pitchers and catchers will soon be reporting!

Indeed, winter must be coming to an end.

Chag sameach!**

* Thanks for BZ for the "Shewa Fight" link. In 2006, BZ had an extensive discussion of this, complete with Google rankings of the various alternates.

** It is not technically a holiday, but it's close enough!

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What Lutherans believe

It all started with medlars. (That is explained in the post immediately before this one.) I happened to look up an old bible that was my mother's in order to try to understand different translations of a specific passage.

One never knows where reading the Bible might lead! In this case, it led me to a series of old programs from Lutheran church services, including my conformation* in 1975, and my baptismal certificate,** among many items my mother had left in this bible. (If I had ever opened it up before, it would have been a very long time ago.)

One item was a statement of Lutheran principles of faith, adapted from Luther's Augsburg Confession. I'm not about to type all 28, but the first four really struck me in terms of how far I have come from my Lutheran youth. (In truth, I am sure I never actually believed any of this.)

1. There is one God who is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2. All people are by nature sinful, and in need of new birth through Baptism.
3. Christ is truly divine and truly human.
4. No one can become righteous in God's sight by his own efforts, but solely through faith.
Wow. No offense to any of my Christian friends or family who may read this one day, but to me the idea that one can't become righteous through one's own efforts just strikes me as so wrong, as does the entire idea of original sin. (Let's not even get into the nature of God and Jesus of Nazareth!)

Of course, I knew in a general sense that these were the beliefs of the faith in which I was raised and which gave my dear late mother so much comfort. But, still, seeing them in print in something that my mother saved because it obviously had meaning to her was quite an eye-opener.

I can't ask my mother what she thinks about my "finding" Judaism, but I believe she would be happy to learn that I am not an atheist after all. However, the one living witness to the baptism knows of my conversion intention. I was very pleased that when I told my Godmother, one my mother's childhood friends, about my plans some time ago, she said, without a moment's hesitation, "I am all for that!"

* I was re-reading this after posting, and saw this typo. Uh, confirmation. Or was this a "Freudian" typo??

** And a piece of white cloth with a cross embossed on it, which was in with my baptismal certificate. I can't claim to know what this is, as I have never witnessed a baptism (well, other than my own, which I don't exactly remember), but I gather that this was a key piece of the ritual through which I was "saved" of the sins I had simply on account of having been born. Ugh!

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