Questions from an artist who writes blessings and creates art around them.

Q:“Am I allowed to draw over the letters, including Hashem’s name if you can see them underneath?”

A:How you treat Hashem’s name is a metaphor for how you treat Hashem. How literally Jews take metaphors roughly depends on where they fall on the denominational spectrum. Thus some (most) Jews would say that painting transparent watercolour over a Divine Name is fine if it contributes to making it beautiful, but a few would think it inappropriate. Without knowing you personally I cannot say how you should feel about all that.

Q: “If I make a mistake and the writing is not legible anymore, do I need to bury it?”

A:If a text is damaged but contains legible Divine Names it is proper to bury it because it is improper to dispose of Divine Names in any other way. If you made the Name itself illegible by making the mistake, such as spilling opaque paint onto it, opinions vary since the Name has already been destroyed, but you should probably go to the extra effort of burying it, to teach you to be more careful next time.

Q:“I use canvas, is that ok?”

A:Okay, look, there is an opinion that says you aren’t allowed to write verses from Tanakh on anything except kosher parchment, with anything except kosher ink, in anything less than book-length amounts. There is also an opinion that says someone who writes down blessings is like someone who burns the Torah (כותבי ברכות כשורפי תורהת Shabbat 115b). The vast, vast majority of Jews do not abide by these opinions.* I assume you are among them since you create blessing art on printed material. In that case, obviously it is fine to use canvas; canvas is a respectable art material. I wouldn’t suggest you go all “Piss Christ” because ugh, and I personally think it would be weird to write blessings on parchment made from pigskin, for instance, but basically there are no rules about this beyond “Don’t do it.”

* Even very frum ones. They too use prayerbooks, for instance. I might talk about that at some later time.

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Right, yo. Click the image to see bigger. I’ve got nothing at all on this one; as I recall, it hasn’t been catalogued yet. No artist, no location, no date, nothing.

So. What are they saying? Bring on the yeshiva jokes.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Feb. 25th, 2013 02:18 pm)

And now, dessert!

Menu item 13: Frozen Squishies, אשישי קפאין.

Explanation 13: Song of Songs 2:8 says סמכוני באשישות, sustain me with raisin-cakes. Jastrow says that ashisha comes to mean any pressed kind of food, also a jug or contents thereof. So this might be a frozen raisin-cake, or it might be an ice-cream cake (if that isn’t horribly anachronistic) or it might be iced punch.

Menu item 14: Stewed fruit.

Explanation 14: Proverbs 31 says Give unto her the fruit of her hands.

Menu item 15: Tree fruit

Explanation 15: This is a non-rabbinic one; the citation is the proverb “The fruit does not fall far from the tree.” Why a sudden non-rabbinic thing? I have an idea, which we’ll get to.

Menu item 16: Grapes

Explanation 16: (Sow) grape seeds with grapevines, says Pesachim 49a.
Here’s the context. The Talmud is talking about the desirability of marrying certain kinds of people (social commentary like whoa; go learn that whole section, it’s fascinating), and says:

תנו רבנן: לעולם ימכור אדם כל מה שיש לו וישא בת תלמיד חכם, וישיא בתו לתלמיד חכם. משל לענבי הגפן בענבי הגפן, דבר נאה ומתקבל. ולא ישא בת עם הארץ – משל לענבי הגפן בענבי הסנה, דבר כעור ואינו מתקבל.

That is, it is taught in a baraita that one should sell everything he has and marry the daughter of a Torah scholar [and do remember that it is sages writing this], and marry his daughter to a Torah scholar. This is like planting grapes among grapevines; it is fitting and fruitful. And one should not marry the daughter of an ignoramus; this is like planting grapes among scrub, it is distasteful and not fruitful.

So serving grapes at the wedding is commenting that this is a fitting and fruitful match involving a Torah scholar.

Menu item 17 (note that 17 isn’t written י”ז as it usually is, it’s written טוב; I think that’s rather nice): Black coffee.

Explanation 17: I am black and comely, says Song of Songs 1.

Menu item 18: Champagne.

Explanation 18: This is another bit where you really really need to go learn the whole section of Talmud (Shabbat 67a). It’s just fascinating; it’s talking about things which are and are not forbidden on account of being darchei ha’emori–irreligious shtick non-Jews do, unfitting for Jews. For instance, peeing in front of a pot to hasten its cooking is forbidden because it’s darchei ha’emori, but putting a chip of mulberry wood in it is fine.

Saying “Wine and life according to the rabbis!” is another thing that’s not forbidden. Rashi seems to be saying that “Wine and life!” is a general thing the non-Jews say when drinking wine, but if you add “according to the rabbis” that makes it kosher.

So the champagne course here wishes the couple a blessed and frum life.

Note that the family have put in a lot of effort to get the number of menu items up to 18, to the extent of quoting a non-Jewish proverb for item 15. I assume this is because 18 is the number associated with life, luck, etc.

ABD Wasserman said “I don’t know; was Chai a thing then?” and the answer appears to be yes it was; not the yud-chet symbol people wear on necklaces and whatever, but the idea that 18 is a good number, especially for donations, seems to have been around since the early chasids, if not before. So 18 is probably no coincidence, and is yet another symbolic element on this menu.

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Today, drinks.

Menu item 10: Wine.

Explanation 10: Psalms 128 says “Your wife shall be a fruitful vine.”

Menu item 11: Beer.

Explanation 11: מכי רמו שערי באסינתא, From the time they put barley into the asinta, Ketubot 8a.

Ketubot 8a is discussing the early formation of the wedding-meal liturgy. Today, the standard practice is that during the seven days after the wedding, if the bride and groom are at a meal with at least one person who hasn’t already participated in the wedding festivities, and a minyan is present, a special Invitation to Recite Grace After Meals is said, and a set of extra blessings is added to the grace. In the Talmud, it seems that all these elements are negotiable.

Regarding the Special Invitation, it seems that possibly you said it whenever your household was infused with weddingish joy, for example if you had a wedding guest staying for up to a year after the wedding (!). And also before the wedding. How long before the wedding? From the time you put the barley into the asinta to soak, to make the beer for the wedding feast.

Menu item 12: Seltzer (מי געש, volcano water).

Explanation 12: Reference to Proverbs 5:18, Let thy fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.

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Back to the menu at this wedding feast.

Menu item 4: מרק, soup.

Explanation 4: תמרוקי הנשים. This one is a pun on Esther 2:12, וששה חדשים בבשמים ובתמרוקי הנשים “six months with scents and ointments for women.”

Menu item 5: דג גדול, a big fish.

Explanation 5: Song of Songs 2 says ודגלו עלי אהבה, his banner over me was love. I guess it’s just a play on dag, diglo, and gadol.

Menu items 6, 7, and 8 are meaty items, grouped together with the phrase from Genesis “And they shall be one flesh.”

Menu item 6: בשר, meat.

Explanation 6: Genesis 2 says ויאמר האדם זאת הפעם עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשר, the man said of the woman, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.

Menu item 7: Baby birds

Explanation 7: Psalm 128 says בניך כשתלי זיתים, your children shall be like olive shoots. A touch macabre, perhaps?

Menu item 8: לשון צלוי, roast tongue.

Explanation 8: Proverbs 31 says ותורת חסד על לשונה, the Torah of lovingkindness is on her tongue.

Menu item 9: ושלישים על כלו

Explanation 9: The menu says: אם שלש אלה לא יעשה לה. These are two verses from Torah: And officers (shalishim) over the whole, explained by another verse which explains the three (shalosh) obligations of a husband to his wife. But what does shalishim mean in a food context? Potatoes and two veg? A family joke? Some sort of sauce? From context, it’s something that goes with meat dishes…any ideas?

Tomorrow, the drinks courses.

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I wanted to do you a post about why there aren’t any vowels or musical notation-marks in a sefer Torah, but when I came to study the subject, I realised it’s a good deal more complicated than can fit into one post. It seemed to require a brief history of vowel-marks, which in turn required a brief history of the alef-bet, which in turn required a brief history of writing in general.

So we’re going to start with a brief history of writing, and then we’ll do the alef-bet, and then we’ll do vowel-marks, and then we’ll be sorted.

Let’s get into it by way of Yosef. This week’s parsha and last week’s, Vayigash and Miketz, tell us about Yosef, employed in a high administrative position tracking and controlling food supplies for an enormous region through fourteen years of plenty and famine.

This kind of activity is how writing was invented, we think. People wanted to keep track of how many things they had (or were owed), so they used tallies, with one-to-one correspondence between the number of marks and the number of things; tally marks have been in use since the Stone Age, a matter of some forty thousand years.

Writing seems to have evolved independently in various areas. We’re ultimately interested in the alef-bet, so we’re going to take that route, but it’s worth remembering that this isn’t the only history of writing out there.

Between 8000 and 4000 BCE people used a token-based kind of abstraction for record-keeping: pebbles or clay tokens representing quantities. One pebble in a jar means one goat in the field; two pebbles in a different jar represents two baskets of grain, and you’d better remember which is which. During these four millennia, the level of abstraction expanded somewhat, such that instead of sixty-three pebbles in a jar meaning sixty-three I-think-it-was-goats-or-is-that-the-grain-jar-damn, you had one sixty-goat token and three one-goat tokens in your jar, and maybe some grain-tokens too, if you had any grain.

Keeping your goat record in a jar leaves you a bit open to your accountant hooking some of your goats, though, so people developed the habit of sealing their tokens in clay containers. Very nice and secure, right?

But a bit tiresome when you want to check up on how many goats you’ve got, that being the whole point of this record-keeping business anyway. Rather than keep on breaking open and resealing the clay containers, around 3500 BCE people started marking the containers while the clay was still wet, using a stylus to carve representations of the contents’ type and quantity.

The next step was to realise that once you have those marks in the clay, the tokens inside the jars are obsolete. The marks are now fully representing real-life objects, without the intermediary stage of tokens; they are no longer mnemonic but pictographic.

Once you’re writing things like “60 goats,” you might also want to convey “Belonging to me” or “When I counted them in the springtime”. Marks come to convey not just objects but ideas and situations.

The next step in the history of writing is using marks to represent sounds. You’ve read the Just So Stories, I take it? If not, go read the one under the link, and then come back.

Say a culture has a symbol :) okay? It starts out representing someone with a smiley face, so when you see it, you think of someone smiling. How do you speak it? :) also stands for the sound which comes out of your mouth when you say “smileyface.” Eventually, we might abbreviate :) to be the sound “sm”.

This is how alphabetic writing systems are born. More about that next week.

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טז) לא יעשה חציו גויל וחציו קלפים, אבל עושה חציו גויל וחציו צבאים, אף על פי שאינו מן המובחר. He shouldn’t do half of it on gevil [=a thicker type of cow parchment, more like leather] and half on klaf [a thinner type of parchment made by splitting a cow skin laterally]. But he may do half on gevil and half on deer [deer also comes out thickish with a similar texture to gevil], even though that isn’t the nicest way of doing it.
יז) אין דובקין בדבק, ולא כותבין על גבי המטלית, ולא תופרין במקום הכתב, אמר ר’ שמעון בן אלעזר משום ר’ מאיר שדובקין בדבק, וכותבין על גבי המטלית, אבל אין תופרין במקום הכתב מבפנים, ותופרין במקום הכתב מבחוץ. One does not stick it together with glue, and one doesn’t write on patches, nor sew in the bit with the writing. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Meir that we do stick it together with glue, and write on patches; but we don’t sew it in the bit with the writing on the front side, and we do sew in the bit with the writing on the back side. [You can do this if you are working with unsplit hides; they’re thick enough that you can stitch through only part of the thickness of the material. I think this is what it's talking about. ]
יח) צריך שיהא משייר מלמעלן ומלמטן, כדי שלא יקרע, ומאחר ליה על מחייה, מלמטה למעלה ומלמעלה למטה, הלכה למשה מסיני. One must leave a bit [unsewn] above and below, so that it shouldn’t tear. And one has to go back over the sewing – from bottom to top, and from top to bottom – this is halakha from Moses at Sinai. [I think it’s saying that you make a backstitch at each end, but I’m not sure. The various other things I’ve read haven’t discussed this one. Remember a few days ago I said this text isn’t authoritative?]
יט) ספר שנקרע טולה עליו מטלית מבחוץ. A sefer which tore – you put a patch on the back.
כ) כל האותיות הכפולים באלפא ביתא, כותב את הראשונים בתחילת התיבה, ובאמצע התיבה, ואת האחרונים בסוף, ואם שינה פסול. The letters of the alphabet for which two forms exist – you put the former at the beginning of the word, and in the middle of the word, and the latter at the end of the word, and if you deviate from this, it is invalid. [Note to self: look at this in the context of the development of final letterforms, sometime or other.]

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יב) ובקלפים לא נתנו שיעור, אלא כל מה שהוא רוצה, מוסיף, ובלבד שלא יפחות משלשה דפין. There is no defined measurement for the klafim; whatever one wants, he may add, provided he does not go under three columns.
יג) יריעה שבלת, לא יטול שנים ויחזיר שנים, אלא נוטל שלשה ומחזיר שלשה, ומה שהוא מחזיר, כמדת כתב הראשון. A worn-out sheet – one does not remove two [columns] and return two, but one may remove three and return three, measuring the same as the original.
יד) שיעור הדף כדי שיהא רואהו, ובקטן לא יפחות מטפח, ר’ יוסי בר’ יהודה אומר לא יפחות משלש אצבעות. A column should be sized so that he can see it, and at the smallest it should not be less than a tefach [wide; see above about them being six tefachim high]. Rabbi Yosi in the name of Rabbi Yehudah says, he shouldn’t make it smaller than three finger-widths.
טו) ולא יעשה חצי ארכו יתר על רחבו, ולא רחבו יתר על ארכו, אבל ממצעו הוא, ועושה אותו מן המובחר. He should not make half its length [=column height] greater than its width, and its width should not be greater than its length, but he should do it between, to do it as nicely as possible [That is, width < length < 2*width.]

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Okay! This bit is what got me started on this in the first place.

יא) אבל בשיטין נתנו טעם, כמסעות ארבעים ושנים, וכרבבות של ישראל ששים, וכזקנים של ישראל שבעים ושנים, וכתוכחות של משנה תורה תשעים ושמנה, הכל לפי הכתב.

כמסעות, שנאמר ויכתוב משה את מוצאיהם;

כרבבות ישראל, שנאמר כתב לך את הדברים האלה כי על פי הדברים האלה כרתי אתך ברית ואת ישראל, מה ישראל בששים ריבוא אף שיטיה של תורה בששים;

וכזקנים שבעים ושנים, שנאמר אספה לי שבעים איש, וישארו שני אנשים במחנה, והמה בכתובים, שבעים ושנים;

וכתוכחות תשעים ושמנה, שנאמר אם לא תשמר לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת.

But for the lines, we have a reason: like the journey-stations, forty-two; and like the myriads of Israel, sixty; and like the elders of Israel, seventy-two; and like the Admonitions in Deuteronomy, ninety-eight; all according to one’s writing.

The journey-stations, as it says, Moses wrote their journeys (Numbers 33:2).

The myriads of Israel, as it says, Write thou these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel (Exodus 34:27); just as Israel are in sixty myriads, so too the lines of the Torah are sixty.

And the seventy-two elders, as it says, Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16) and There remained two men in the camp and They were numbered among the elders (ibid. 11:26), which makes seventy-two.

And the ninety-eight admonitions, as it says, If you do not observe and obey all the words of this Torah. (Deuteronomy 28:58)

If you have a ninety-eight line Torah in your shul, I would like to see a photograph. Please.

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ח) מניחין בסוף הדף כדי הקיפו, ואינו צריך לעשות כן בתחילתו, ולתורה מיכאן ומיכאן; לפיכך גוללין את הספר לתחילתו, ואת התורה לאמצעיתה. One leaves at the end of the [last] column enough to wrap around it. It is not necessary to do this at its beginning. For Torah, on both sides; accordingly, one rolls the book from its beginning, and the Torah from its middle.
ט) ואין פוחתין את התורה ביריעה מארכה של תורה, ששה טפחים. One doesn’t reduce the Torah, in a sheet from the length of the Torah, more than six tefachim. [Yes, this is truly painful translation. Sorry. It means a sheet of Torah ought to be six hand-breadths high.]
י) ואין פוחתין ביריעה פחות משלשה דפין, ולא מוסיפין על שמנה. One doesn’t make a sheet with fewer than three columns, or more than eight.

As I said last time, for pity’s sake, don’t go trying to use this to write the Torah.

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Here’s a quote from Eric Ray’s book Sofer: The Story of a Torah Scroll:

…no “base metals” may be used in making or repairing these texts. Base metals are the metals used in everyday tools. That means that no iron, no steel, no brass, no copper, and no bronze can be used. Base metals are the kinds used to make weapons. Nothing that is used for killing can be used in making a Sefer Torah, a Mezuzah, or a pair of Tefillin.

Strictly speaking, this is something of an overstatement, but let’s explore the sentiment. Our aversion to metal implements starts in the Torah, in Exodus 20:22:

If you build an altar of stones to me, you shall not use dressed stone; if you lift your sword to it you pollute it.

And in 1 Kings 6:7:

In building the House, stones ready-dressed were brought, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool was heard in the House during its construction.

Rashi, the most widely-accepted biblical commentator, explains:

The altar was made to lengthen man’s days, and iron was made to shorten man’s days; it isn’t appropriate to lift something which shortens against something which lengthens. Also, the altar brings peace between Israel and their heavenly father, so one should not use upon it anything which cuts and destroys.

That’s some pretty powerful anti-iron associations.

Now, from, an element of Chinese culture:

Chinese people, under the cultivation of Confucianism, consider the knife and fork bearing sort of violence, like cold weapons. However, chopsticks reflect gentleness and benevolence, the main moral teaching of Confucianism. Therefore, instruments used for killing must be banned from the dining table, and that is why Chinese food is always chopped into bite size before it reaches the table.

This fascinates me because it suggests that it’s not just Jews who are made uneasy by iron tools. I have no idea how much cross-cultural exchange there may have been, but it’s interesting that such a concept should take hold in such different places.

The haftarah to parashat Behukotai contains a line from Jeremiah 17:

Judah’s guilt is written with an iron pen…

Judah here means the Jews; Jeremiah is talking about how the Jews have messed up again. It seems likely that Jeremiah didn’t choose an iron pen just because of its material properties. Iron has nasty overtones. A set of sinister connotations, if you will.

Looking forward, to today’s sofer. It’s not actually per se forbidden to use base metals, according to various authoritative halakhic sources, but many soferim hold that it’s utterly inappropriate, for their associations with violence and the incompatibility of this with the ideals of Torah; Torah, like the altar, is supposed to lengthen man’s days and promote peace between Israel and God. Hence the widespread use of alternative tools – precious-metal substitutes such as gold and silver; non-metal tools such as glass; tools with positive symbolism such as surgical scalpels.

In particular, the iron pen, associated by Jeremiah with the numerous times the Jews have failed to play straight by God. The iron pen carries not only associations of violence but also of disregarding the Torah. It’s not necessarily the best tool for the process of creating that selfsame Torah. We are encouraged to use quills, so that we can create Torah without these overtones.

Or we could use chopsticks.

The astute will note that this is a repost with edits. It’s still interesting :P

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I was looking up the bit about the number of lines per column (thanks, MarGavriel), and I figured I might as well review (and translate, because that’s how I learn best) the whole chapter.

Various people describe Masechet Soferim as a rulebook for writing the Torah. It really isn’t. It’s a minor talmudic tractate containing a mish-mash of interesting things, many of which are connected to writing Torah scrolls, but it isn’t a rulebook. It doesn’t even mention a whole lot of things we hold to be rather important; you also have to remember that it is a Lesser Source; many of its statements are contradicted by more authoritative talmudical tractates. So for pity’s sake, don’t go trying to use this to write the Torah. Learn the Keset haSofer instead.

Text pulled from If you appreciated this, buy a subscription. Translation by me without looking up any commentaries or parallel texts, so don’t expect perfection.

א) מניחין בין שם לשם כדי שיהא ניכרין, ובאותיות כדי שלא יהא מעורבבין. אם עירב את האותיות, או שהפסיק באמצע השם, אל יקרא בו. One leaves between word and word enough that we can recognise it, and between letter and letter enough that they aren’t joined together. If one joined the letters, or made a gap in the middle of a word, it is not to be read from.
ב) מניחין בין שיטה לשיטה כמלא שיטה, ובין תיבה לתיבה כמלא אות, ובין אות לאות כמלא שיער, ובין דף לדף כמלא גודל, עשה סוף הדף לתחילתו פסל. עירב את האותיות, או שהפסיק באמצע השם, אל יקרא בו. One leaves between line and line the amount of a line; and between word and word as much as a letter; and between letter and letter as much as a hair; and between column and column as much as a thumb’s-width; if one made the trailing edge of a column [i.e. the left-hand edge] up against the leading edge [of the next] it is pasul. If one joined the letters, or made a gap in the middle of a word, it is not to be read from.
ג) מניחין בין לדף לדף. שם בן ארבע אותיות, לא יכתוב שתים בסוף הדף, ושתים בין דף לדף, אבל לא משם קטן, ואם היה שם קטן בפני עצמו של שלש אותיות אסור. Leaving between column and column: a word of four letters should not be written two at the edge of the column and two in the space between – but not from a little word, and if there is a little word on its own of three letters, it is assur.
ד) מניחין בין דף לדף, בתורה שתי אצבעות ריוח, ובנביאים ובחומשים ריוח גודל אחד. One leaves between column and column – in Torah, two finger-widths’ space, and in prophetic books and single books of the Torah, one thumb-width.
ה) מניחין מלמטן בתורה ריוח טפח, ומלמעלן שלשה חלקים בטפח, ובנביאים ובחומשין שלש אצבעות מלמטן, ושתים מלמעלן; כאן וכאן אם רצה להוסיף יוסיף, ובלבד שלא יהא הרוחות מרובין מן הכתב. One leaves beneath – in Torah, a tefach-space, and above, three parts of a tefach; in prophetic books and single books of the Torah, three finger-widths beneath and two above. In both, one may make them bigger if he wishes, provided that the blank space is not bigger than the writing.
ו) מניחין בין ספר לספר, בתורה ריוח ארבע שיטין, ובנביא של שנים עשר שלש שיטין. One leaves between book and book – in Torah, four lines; and in the Twelve Minor Prophets, three lines.
ז) גמר כל הספרים, ושייר בו דף אחד, עושה אותו יריעה אחת קטנה, ואינו נמנע. If one finished all the books, and one column remained, he makes of it a little sheet, and that is okay.

All right. There’s twenty of these. I’ll give you the rest later.

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The original stone tablets were written by the finger of God, etzba Elohim.

Nowadays we write their less cumbersome representations, the Torah-scrolls, with quills, but what most people today don’t know is that ideally you don’t use a quill to write sifrei kodesh.

You’re supposed to use the index finger of your dominant hand — why the index finger? because Jewish tradition holds that there is a vein in the index finger leading directly to the heart; this is why in the wedding ceremony we put the ring on the index finger — you grow the nail, and then you shape it into a nib and write with that.

As well as representing the etzba Elohim, this also brings the scribe closer to the mitzvah. The Torah-scroll represents the marriage contract between God and the Jewish people; now, Jewish law states that one may contract a marriage by emissary, but it is obvious to all that it is better to attend one’s own wedding in person, since there is something rather glaringly inappropriate about contracting this closest of bonds by means of an intermediate agent. Similarly, writing a Torah-scroll with a quill, an intermediate agent, is permitted, but it is much better, if one can, to perform the act in person.

Most scribes today aren’t particular about this method of beautifying the mitzvah, and indeed it is hard to observe.

One reason quills are a decent technological substitute for fingernails is because they have very similar mechanical properties, both being made largely from keratin, rendering them tough but flexible, easily shaped but holding that shape. We’ve seen before in these pages that quills need frequent sharpening if they are to write well, and the same is true of fingernails. We’re used to cutting our fingernails, because they grow faster than we wear them down, but if you use your fingernail to write on parchment, it will wear down faster than your body can replace it, and you will run out of pen.

Since the invention of acrylic nail-tips, which are attached to the shortened nail, some scribes have been experimenting with using these prosthetic fingernails as writing tools. Interestingly, it’s following this line of thought that plastic nibs have recently been developed. Like nail-tips, these nibs are attached to one’s regular writing instrument and are designed to be longer-lasting than the original.

I’ve said before that plastic nibs definitely have their place, but they just aren’t capable of the subtlety of the keratin-based originals. Acrylic nibs are ingenious, but they really aren’t ideal. It follows that the careful scribe is forced to observe prolonged rest periods in which the fingernail must re-grow. One may, if pressed for time, use the other fingers of the hand, but this often results in reduced writing quality, given the lesser dexerity of the fourth and fifth fingers, so the truly careful scribe will plan his work such that he does not need to do this. This generally means he writes Torah one day a week and does some other job the rest of the time while his nail is re-growing.

This is why it takes such a long time to write a sefer Torah. If fingernails didn’t wear down with use, it would be possible to write a sefer Torah in an hour or so.

For consider this. We know that Moshe Rabbeinu died on Shabbat afternoon (R. Yosé in Seder ‘Olam Rabba 11), and we also know that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote thirteen Torah-scrolls on the last day of his life (R. Yannai in Devarim Rabba Vayyelekh §9).

Now, writing on Shabbat is a Biblically-forbidden activity, which Moshe Rabbeinu would not have done. But writing with one’s non-dominant hand is only prohibited on a Rabbinical level, at a much later date, which means that in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time it would have been permitted. So, we know that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote thirteen Torah-scrolls with his non-dominant hand in one day. (Clearly, had he been using his dominant hand, he would have been able to write far more Torah-scrolls, perhaps as many as forty.)

We also know that Moshe Rabbeinu had an unusually fast rate of keratin production, because his face had horns, which are, like fingernails, made from keratin. Normal people don’t produce keratin fast enough that they have horns; the best most of us can manage is hair and nails. But Moshe Rabbeinu was special. That’s why his Torah-writing wasn’t hampered by his fingernails wearing down, and how it is that he was able to produce thirteen sifrei Torah on one Shabbat.

Interestingly, the cantillation phrase traditionally used for the words etzba Elohim is a very rare one (occurs only once in Torah) called karnei Moshe – “the horns of Moses” – and this is why.

Wasn’t that educational?

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This is one of my favourite letter-halakhot, from the rules of how to make straight nun:
animated nun

אות נו”ן פשוטה תואר צורתה כמו זיי”ן וג’ תגין על ראשה אך שהיא ארוכה כשיעור שתהא ראויה להעשות נו”ן כפופה אם תכפפנה Its form is like a zayin, with three tagin on its head, but it is long, such that one could make bent nun out of it if it were bent round…

And from the rules of straight khaf, clarifying the point:

שאין חילוק בין פשוטה לכפופה רק שזה פשוטה וזה כפופה… …there is no difference between the straight and bent form save that one is straight and one is bent…

Many people have difficulty visualising (and remembering) this. I hope that the animation displayed here will help.

My favourite favourite letter halakaha, though, has to do with tagin.

Tagin on right head of tzaddiTzaddi with taginThe very best sorts of people do mitzvot as soon as the opportunity presents itself, correct? And we read Hebrew from right to left, so surely we should put tagin on the right-hand head of letters such as tzaddi, which have more than one head? Like the image at left, in fact.

We don’t, though. We put them on the left-hand head, like the image at right. Why’s that?

Because if you put them on the right-hand head, they’d fall off. (Keset haSofer, 5:2, letter tet.)

Tzaddi and taggin

And this is why we make the right-hand heads curvy and upward-tilted.

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Been meaning to write about this since 2009…one of my colleagues in Israel asked the Masorti movement for their official position on lady scribes. Their response is here.

It’s in Hebrew, so I’m posting a summary of the main points:

* The Gemara and many major halakhic decisors say it’s a problem for women to write sifrei Torah, tefillin, and mezuzot.

* The Tur, the Rif, and the Rosh all say it’s a problem for women to write tefillin.
* But they don’t explicitly say it’s a problem for women to write Torahs.
* Neither does Masechet Sofrim.
* In fact Masechet Sofrim says if you may read Torah for the congregation, you may write.
* And our women may read.
* Therefore they may write Torahs.


* People who are exempt from laying tefillin are invalid to write tefillin.
* Women are exempt from tefillin because it’s connected to talmud Torah.
* From which most people say women are exempt.
* But there are opinions saying otherwise, and also in our day, in Israel, we have ruled that women are not exempt from talmud Torah. The world has changed.
* So they are not exempt from laying tefillin either.

* And therefore they are totally kosher to write anything. QED.

I don’t buy this entirely.

Part of the halakhic philosophy of the Masorti movement is that if there’s a minority opinion, you can go with it, even if that opinion was ultimately rejected by Judaism as it developed. It’s totes fine to resurrect an opinion if it says something you want it to say. Another philosophical point is that “times have changed” is an absolutely valid reason for discarding something you don’t like. Once you have those two points on board, the above is sound reasoning and the answer unexceptionable – but getting those points on board takes a bit of work, and I don’t find them wholly convincing as I understand them. (I could also be missing the nuances. Feel free to explain in comments, if so.)

“Times have changed” is also part of contemporary Orthodoxy’s philosophy, but you have to work harder at using it as a justification for anything. “It’s not completely unprecedented, even though the majority eventually went against it,” likewise – if you can show that someone sometime did this thing, you’re much more justified in wanting to do it yourself, but that of itself isn’t an argument because you still have to deal with your inheritance – all the people who did something different subsequently. You can’t just write them off. This is why the above is desperately inadequate from an Orthodox perspective, and echoes in some form my own discomfort with it.

So if I don’t buy the above, but nonetheless I write sta”m – how do I justify it? I hear you asking, and I’m ‘fraid I’m not going to answer right now. I’m not so into the piece-by-piece incorporation of women into Jewish ritual life just at the moment. I could spend ages and ages coming up with contorted justifications for everything, but it’s an activity I find distasteful at present, so you’ll have to figure it out yourselves from the stuff on my site. Oh, and anyway, this was just a post about the Masorti thing, not a presentation of Jen’s Philosophy of Halakah. So yes – this is what the Masorti position in Israel is. Jolly jolly.

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A couple of days ago, I said this episode would deal with considered selection of wires and strings – that is to say, how we assess what parts of our halakhic lives are (or should be) immovable, and which parts are more easily adjusted. But then I thought about some stuff, and actually I want to come at that idea via another route.

Mishnah, Rosh haShana, 4:4
Context: the Temple staff have been counting the days and watching the moon, and they know Rosh haShana is due. But they can’t actually get on with the official business of Rosh haShana until they’ve taken official testimony that the new moon has appeared. So they observe Yom Tov just-in-case, and when witnesses turn up, they can make it official. Okay? Onward.

Originally, they used to accept testimony about the new moon all day בראשונה, היו מקבלין עדות החודש כל היום
One time, the witnesses took their time about turning up, and the Priestly Song was messed up [the witnesses arrived too late in the day for them to make it Rosh haShana]. פעם אחת נשתהו העדים מלבוא, ונתקלקלו הלויים בשיר
So they made an enactment: they would only accept testimony about the new month until mincha-time [roughly mid-afternoon]. התקינו שלא יהו מקבלין עדות החודש, אלא עד המנחה
And if witnesses came at or after mincha-time, [that was too bad;] they kept that day as holy [see above; they had kept the day as holy just in case, but it turned out to be not-needed], and the next day was also holy [i.e. the official Rosh haShana, from which they would start to count the calendar and so on]. ואם באו עדים מן המנחה ולמעלן, נוהגים אותו היום קדש ולמחר קדש
After the Temple was destroyed משחרב בית המקדש
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made an enactment: they would accept testimony about the new moon all day. התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי, שיהו מקבלין עדות החודש כל היום

I like these Temple examples, by the way, because the taking-away of the Temple was rather like removing a pin from a string-diagram – sudden, and relatively clean-cut.

So, how can we represent this mishnah within the metaphor we’ve been developing? And is that useful?

Originally, they used to accept testimony about the new moon all day which triggered the Priestly Song, which is sort of the trigger for its being properly Rosh haShana.
One time, the witnesses took their time about turning up, and the Priestly Song was messed up and that messed up the accounting of the days – they didn’t know if it was Rosh haShana or not, so they didn’t know which sacrifices to do, and everything went Horribly Wrong.
But Rosh haShana needs to be a stable point. Not a wire, exactly, but wire-like in its stability. So they made an enactment which would protect it, thus:
they would only accept testimony about the new month until mincha-time, and if witnesses came at or after mincha-time, they kept that day as holy, and the next day was also holy. Something like this diagram.
And if you look at it from a bit of a distance, it’s basically the same as it was before, see? But it’s been adjusted to protect Rosh haShana, in that now there will always be time to do the Priestly Song.
This is kind of a big deal, since it affects what day Rosh haShana is. The SAME DATA now gives a DIFFERENT RESULT. But we decide to accept a bit of variation in the possibility of when exactly Rosh haShana officially is, so as to ensure that the Priestly Song never gets messed up.
And indeed the rabbis found this kind of disturbing. Once the Priestly Song was no longer a consideration, because there was no Temple Service, rabbinic Judaism found other ways of expressing “Today is officially Rosh haShana” – and a safeguard for the Priestly Song was no longer needed.
So they accepted testimony all day again: After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made an enactment: they would accept testimony about the new moon all day.

(Pin graphic from Just Mousing Around.)

So is this a useful way of looking at the mishnah? Yes, in a limited fashion. I don’t want us to fall into the trap of trying to map out the huge enormous complicated string diagram that would be the entirety of halakha, with its variations for different points in history. I don’t think that would be useful (or feasible). I also don’t think one should generally try to conceive of mishnayot in such terms; this exercise is intended only as a way to see how mishnayot such as the one above fit into the metaphor we’ve been developing, not as a general method of Mishnah-learning.

The useful thing I think we get here is seeing how our texts treat some things as hugely important – not messing up the Priestly Song on Rosh haShana – and other things as less important – being precise about which day exactly the new moon actually was – and how that affects the relationships between other data points in the halakhic universe. Some pins-and-strings we are okay moving; some pins-and-strings we are not okay moving, and the question of which is dependent on the broader circumstances.

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Zevahim 107b discusses the concept of Temple zones. The sacrificial cult that was Temple-based Judaism was centred on the Temple. More specifically, the Temple’s courtyards and the walls of Jerusalem define concentric zones in which sacrifices may be offered, particularly holy sacrifices may be eaten, and lesserly holy Temple foods may be eaten (respectively).

History: remember that there were two Temples. The first one was destroyed, then there was some downtime, and then they built another one. But in between times, there were still Jews, and there was time when Jews had access to the Temple precincts but hadn’t yet rebuilt the Temple.

So, Zevachim 107b:

Let’s talk about one who offers sacrifices outside the sacrifice-zone in our day (when there is no Temple). Rabbi Yohanan says he is liable (to punishment for having offered sacrifices outside the zone); Resh Lakish says he is exempt. איתמר: המעלֶה בזמן הזה: ר’ יוחנן אמר חייב, ריש לקיש אמר פטור
Rabbi Yohanan says he is liable – the sanctity of the original sacrificing-zone (in the First Temple) made the zone fit for sacrifice both in its time and eternally. ר’ יוחנן אמר חייב — קדושה ראשונה קידשה לשעתה וקידשה לעתיד לבא
Resh Lakish says he is exempt – the sanctity of the original sacrificing-zone ended with the Temple structure. ריש לקיש אמר פטור — קדושה ראשונה קידשה לשעתה ולא קידשה לעתיד לבא
In other words, what happens if we remove the Temple from the world? To what extent can we – should we – still behave as though there is a Temple? Rabbi Yohanan is apparently saying the Temple’s effects – in this respect, at any rate – are permanent; Resh Lakish is saying that we can’t go around behaving as though the Temple is still there when it isn’t.

Rabbi Yehoshua said, I heard that they made sacrifices even when there was no Temple; and they would eat holy-holy sacrifice-meats even when there were no curtains [temporary structures put up while the second round of building was going on, to define the Temple zones], and they would eat lesser-holy sacrifice-meats even when there were no Walls. א”ר יהושע: שמעתי שהיו מקריבין אע”פ שאין בית ואוכלים קדשי קדשים אע”פ שאין קלעים קדשים קלים ומעשר שני אע”פ שאין חומה מפני שקדושה ראשונה קידשה לשעתה וקידשה לעתיד לבא

Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Yehoshua both seem to be saying, in a sense, that the halakhic system is made not of string, but of wire. (Excuse the wobbliness of the wires in this picture. Wire’s harder to work with than string, and I didn’t take the time to fetch out hammer and pliers. Imagine them beautifully non-wobbly, if you would.)

With wire, when you remove a pin, everything stays in the same place. You can continue with everything pretty much as it was before, and indeed you should. You should offer sacrifices even when there is no Temple. The rules about offering sacrifices outside the sacrifice-zone should apply even when those zones don’t really exist any more.

So, what have we got so far? We have a midrash suggesting that the halakhic system works like a system of pins and strings, and we have a baraita suggesting that really those strings are more like wires. Every halakhic data point has an effect upon every other halakhic data point, of whatever magnitude; we explore the extent to which sudden removal of halakhic data points affects the remaining ones. Rabbi Yehoshua seems to be suggesting that the connections are rigid; even if the Temple is missing, we should behave as though it is not missing.

Now. It is very easy to mock the extreme of that idea. You’ve heard of those strange communities which refuse to admit that their rebbe is dead, and every Shabbat they give him the fifth aliyah, and the congregation solemnly responds “Amen” to the dead rebbe’s inaudible blessing.

But wiry behaviour patterns also help us. Consider justice. Sometimes we witness miscarriages of justice. Our belief in the ability of the judicial system to judge rightly may be rather shaken. But most of us don’t go off and campaign for judicial reform, do we? Most of us prefer to tell ourselves that the Temple is still there, that the miscarriage of justice was a fluke, and continue as before.

Reshaping patterns is hard, and it’s much easier to let the wires hold the pattern for us. More about the considered selection of wires and string required of us as living Jews, tomorrow.

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Yesterday, we saw a midrash which links the act of adultery to every single one of the Ten Commandments. I said then that this is showing that halakhot are all interconnected with one another in ways you mightn’t expect, and today we’re going to explore a graphical representation of that idea.

Halakhic data points. They might be any of a number of things – biblical verses, perhaps; facts of life (”men cannot give birth”); real objects (”this woman”); theoretical constructs (”love,” “justice”); combinations thereof (”my husband;” “the Temple”). They seem to be pretty independent of one another.
Indeed, you might think you can remove a data point here and there (”this woman,” say, or “the Temple”) and the others will be pretty unaffected, although of course you’ll still be able to see the holes where they were.
This is where we start to get a little abstract. I am winding string around the pins to create string-patterns, to represent the connections that exist between halakhic data points. The connections could be exegetical, or theoretical, or they could just be other halakhic data points. Together, the strings and the pins represent the mass of laws and ideas and facts that together make up the halakhic system, and I am asking you to consider the mashal, the parable, on its own terms, without trying overly hard to work out exactly what represents what. The halakhic data points are all connected, is what we are saying here.
Indeed, they are all interconnected, each one to every other. This is a lesson of yesterday’s Tanhuma. (Now do you get why I titled these posts “halakhic string theory”?)
And if we remove one of the data points – say, “Do not commit adultery,” or “The Holy Temple” – all the things that were directly connected to that certainly go wobbly…
…but so do other things that weren’t apparently connected at all. You wouldn’t have thought adultery would be connected to violating Shabbat, but we make the effort to show that it is, and that’s because we don’t want to forget about all the knock-on effects.
With a bit of tweaking, you can create something that works pretty well, even minus the missing data points. We do this all the time when people die. “It’s not proper Judaism without my parents,” you might say. “Life isn’t the same any more.” And you go through mourning, and you rearrange the remaining datapoints in your halakhic world, and you come up with something workable, and life goes on.

Similarly, the Temple got destroyed, but rabbinic Judaism pulled itself together somehow, nonetheless. It used the flexibility – to use the language of the mashal – inherent in one loop of string twined around pins to create a different pattern, one which still works pretty neatly. Isn’t that valid?

Tomorrow we’ll see a Talmudic text which says no, that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

In the meantime, check this out. It’s the string art of John Eichinger, whose creation features at left. This is what proper string art looks like – not the massively-simplified, crude versions I have above – and halakha is even more complicated than that.

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The way we divide the Torah-readings nowadays, parashat Naso always falls out adjacent to Shavuot, the festival upon which we celebrate the Giving of the Torah, and upon which we read the Ten Commandments.

Thus it is that the following Midrash is especially appropriate for the Naso/Shavuot period (thus, yes, I should have posted it several weeks ago, but I was busy then and it’s still interesting now), combining as it does the ritual-of-the-suspected-adulteress and the Ten Commandments. Reference: Midrash Tanchuma (ed. Buber), parashat Naso (4).

Our Sages said in the name of R. Hanina, father of R. Aha: The adulterer and adulteress violate all ten commandments of the Decalogue. אמרו רבותינו בשם ר’ חנינא אביו של ר’ אחא הנואף והנואפת עוברים על עשרת הדברות
They said to him: “Nine of them, we understand. But the Sabbath??! How? אמר להם על תשעה אנו מודים, אלא על השבת כיצד
I AM THE LORD THY GOD. Whenever anyone commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, it is as if he has denied God, as it is written, they denied God, saying, it is not (H)he על אנכי, שכל הנואף אשת חבירו כאילו כופר בהקב”ה, שנאמר כחשו בה’ ויאמרו לא הוא (ירמיה ה יב)
THERE SHALL NOT BE ANY OTHER GODS BEFORE THEE. In this commandment, it says: The Lord thy God is a jealous God, and the parasha of the Sota mentions the husband’s jealousy twice? Why twice? Once for himself, and once for God. As it is written: For it is a minhath qena’oth, a meal-offering of jealousies [plural], two jealousies. לא יהיה, שכתוב בו כי [אנכי] ה’ אלהיך אל קנא (דברים ה ח), ושני פעמים אמור בסוטה ועבר עליו רוח קנאה וקנא את אשתו (במדבר ה יד), ולמה שני פעמים, שהוא מקנא להקב”ה ולבעלה, שנאמר כי מנחת קנאות הוא (שם שם /במדבר ה’/ טו), שהיא שתי קנאות.
THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN. For the adulterer commits his act, then falsely swears that he has not done it. לא תשא את [שם] ה’ אלהיך, שהוא נואף ונשבע על שוא שלא עשה.
HONOR THY FATHER. For the adulterer impregnates the Sota, and she gives birth, and she tells her husband that it is his child; the embryo grows [into a child, and the child into an adult], who honors the Sota’s husband, thinking this to be the father, and expresses dishonor to the adulterer when seeing him in the street, thinking this not to be the father. כבד את אביך, שהנואף עם הסוטה מתעברת ממנו, ואומרת לבעלה ממך אני מעוברת, והעובר גדול, ומכבד לפני בעלה, סבור שהוא אביו ואינו אביו, ועובר בשוק ומבזה את הנואף, שסבור שאינו אביו.
THOU SHALT NOT KILL. For the adulterer enters the house on the understanding that if caught, he will either kill or be killed. לא תרצח, הנואף נכנס על מנת שאם נתפס או יהרוג או יהרג.
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. Well, this one is obvious. לא תנאף, וודאי שהוא נואף.
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL. For he steals his neighbor’s vagina, as it is written: Stolen waters are sweet לא תגנוב, שהוא גונב מקור חבירו, וכן הוא אומר מים גנובים ימתקו וגו’ (משלי ט יז).
THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS. For the Sota lies to her husband, saying: I am pregnant from you. לא תענה ברעך, שמעידה עדות שקר [לבעלה] ואומרת ממך אני מעוברת.
THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE. For anyone who commits adultery covets all that belongs to his neighbor. How so? He impregnates the Sota, and leaves, and she gives birth. Her husband thinks that this is his son. When he is about to die, he writes a will, and leaves everything to the “son”, who thus inherits everything, not realizing that he is not the son. Since the adulterer’s act has led to all this, we see that he has coveted all that belongs to his neighbor. לא תחמוד בית רעך ולא תחמוד אשת רעך, שכל מי שחומד אשת חבירו ונואף עמה, חומד כל אשר לחבירו, כיצד כשהוא נואף עמה והולך לו, והיא יולדת ממנו, סבור בעלה שהוא ממנו בא, כשבא להיפטר מן העולם, סבור שאותו הבן שלו, וכותב לו דייתיקי מכל נכסיו, ומורישו כל מה שיש לו, ואינו יודע שאינו בנו, נמצא שהנואף חומד כל מה שיש לו לחבירו
So, R. Hanina, we understand nine. But the Sabbath?! How does the adulterer violate that?!! אמרו לו לר’ חנינא הרי אמרנו תשעה, [זכור את יום] השבת כיצד עובר עליו
He said to them: Sometimes, a common Israelite commits adultery with a priestess, the wife of a priest. She gets pregnant from him, and everyone thinks that the child is the son of the priest, and thus a priest himself. So he goes and serves in the Temple, and sets up firewood and burns it on the Sabbath, and thus violates the Sabbath. [A priest may do this on the Sabbath as part of the Temple work. A non-priest may not.] אמר להם אני אומר לכם פעמים כהן שיש לו אשה כהנת, ישראל נואף בא עליה, והיא יולדת ממנו, סבורים בו שהוא בנו של כהן, ועומד התינוק ומשמש בבית המקדש, ועורך עצים ומעלה בשבת, ונמצא מחלל השבת
Thus, the adulterer and the adulteress violate all ten commandments of the Decalogue. הרי עשרת דברות שהסוטה עוברת עם הנואף

(Translation courtesy Gabriel Wasserman.)

So this is interesting as a text, but it’s the more interesting for the meta-message, I think. What’s it saying? That everything is connected. Sometimes the connections are obvious. Sometimes they’re not obvious. But, because halakhot are all interconnected, messing with one thing is going to have an impact on other, apparently unrelated, things.

Yes, you might say that the example above is so unlikely as to be preposterous, and it’s true that in general we don’t stretch ourselves to accommodate rampantly unlikely possibilities. But that’s not the point.

The point is not that you should not commit adultery lest your offspring come to serve erroneously in the Temple (not that I am endorsing adultery, you understand); the point is that everything in the halakhic system has the power to affect everything else. More about that shortly.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Apr. 13th, 2010 12:50 pm)

The first cup of wine is drunk whilst reclining

This, they tell you, is because formal meals during the classical rabbinic period were conducted in the format of the classical world. Diners reclined on couches to take the Meal of Freedom, in the manner of the aristocracy of the time.

Nowadays we sit up to table for the Meal like usual, but we “recline” by leaning on our elbows on the table just like our mothers always told us not to. Sometimes with cushions, which knock over glasses and bang into one’s neighbour.

Ever since I was told this, I’ve wanted to conduct a seder reclining, with couches, but that is hard when you are always a guest at someone else’s seder.

This year, however, planning seder with Mar Gavriel, I said “I’ve always wanted to make seder on couches,” and he, being similarly geeky and eccentric, bounced and said “Me too!”

So we did. We dismantled the dining table and made couches from mattresses. We draped many drapes, found tiny tables, arranged cushions upon which to recline, and presented a seder in Ancient Greek style.

No Festivals were harmed during the taking of these photographs

At a certain point in the seder, the seder plate, with its various accoutrements, is removed from the table, as part of the ritual theatrics of the night. But the earliest sources do not say that the plate is removed, no, they say that the table is removed. And why? Because the earliest sources are speaking of the kind of incidental table which can be removed bodily from the room.

And so, since we had that kind of table…at the point where the gemara says “The table is removed,” we removed the table.

This sort of thing is deeply satisfying when you are a text geek. There is something delightful about living in a text-based religion and actually acting out parts of the foundational texts.

Of course, this is what Passover is about – those who eat matzah and bitter herbs are acting out the text. Those who eat the meal hastily, shod and girded of loin, are acting out the text. Every year we re-enact the journey of the first exodus to create annual resonances, marking the circling back of the year and forming the links in the chain of generations. These are resonances with the biblical text.

But we are not a biblical religion. Our authoritative text on one level is the Torah, and on one level it is good to resonate with that. But our authoritative text on another level is the Talmud, and as such, it is good to resonate with that also, where we can. Thus it is that the haggadah, the re-telling of the Exodus story, contains relatively little biblical narrative and a relatively great amount of Talmudic narrative. We resonate with our biblical ancestry and we resonate with our talmudic ancestry.

Text geeks delight in the closeness a close understanding of a text gives them with the ever-circling layers of rabbinic Judaism. Finding one’s Judaism in a text gives a text geek the sharp joy of recognition – “Yes, this is me! This is mine!” which the Pesach seder aims to stimulate by whatever means possible, even if only in the recognition of childhood tunes.

And thus it is that doing a seder where we really reclined on couches and really removed the table doesn’t make our seder cooler or more authentic than yours (except insofar as it does, obviously (joke)), but it acts out the Talmudic text in the act of acting out the Biblical text, and we can create that, and thus see ourselves not only coming out of Egypt but also reclining with the rabbis, resonating with the Jewish identity cycle and forging our link in our generation.

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