I went to two Elie Kaunfer sessions at LimmudNY, both on liturgy. Elie likes liturgy, and it's usually fun to hear people talk about things they like.

We looked at two parts of the central prayer, the 18 Blessings Which Are Really 19. One, the part which asks God to do destructive things to people we don't like, and two, the part about We Can Haz Sakrifis?

This post's about the first one, Shmuel HaKatan and the Curse Against The Heretics - you can download a recording of Elie teaching it here, and the sourcesheet is here. You should listen to it - it's an hour and a bit.

The Curse (or Blessing) Against the Heretics is the one that goes something like this: And for the slanderers let there be no hope; and may all evil perish in an instant. And may all your enemies be swiftly cut off, and the evil sinners soon uproot, smash, throw down, and humble, soon, in our days. Blessed Are You God, who smashes enemies and humbles wilful sinners.

From the sources, it seems Shmuel haKatan didn't like the content of this Blessing much either - he was a bit of a liberal, one who cared about how people were feeling (!). But he said some form of it anyway, and that says to me he had a complicated relationship to this part of the liturgy.

I like this. It says to me that parts of the community have always found this blessing problematic; this isn't new. This is interesting because people don't usually keep doing things that are absolutely against their natures. Stuff that's really really vitriolic I think we tend to tone down over time, and stuff that becomes completely irrelevant we smooth out - since we still have it, the saying of this blessing is accomplishing something we're invested in. Shmuel haKatan and Elie between them prompt me to think about what it might be.

The words themselves are saying something we all want to say, if we're honest about it. There's part of all of us that wants to defend our communal boundaries, and reacts very strongly to people who challenge that. When one's (communal) identity is threatened, saying God, Please Squish People I Don't Like In Nasty Ways is natural enough.

However, I think the experience of saying such words and finding it icky is also doing something important, and that's possibly part of why we're still invested in the blessing. The icky feeling is reminding us that such ideas can be extremely destructive, that being on the receiving end of such sentiments isn't nice at all, that this Isn't A Very Nice Thing To Be Saying. That's why we find this text problematic, after all. We don't want to legitimise those feelings by having them in the liturgy.

From where I am, cutting out the words would, I think, be tantamount to denying that we all feel that way sometimes.* That would be comfortable, but leaving them in is perhaps more useful from a personal/communal moral development perspective. Saying the words and being disturbed by them acknowledges the undeniable sentiment and reminds me that I ought to be aware of it, and I ought to keep it in check. Embracing the ick forces me to stop denying that I have those sorts of defensive feelings, and reminds me that they're not very civilised, simultaneously.

So this helps me combine the icky feeling of those words with my reluctance to prune the liturgy, and helps me see it in a way that's useful to me. This I like very much. Cheers, Elie. :)

* Yes, I know some rites already have this cut. Don't go taking that as a moral judgement of intellectual dishonesty or something. I mean for me, right now, to deal with the discomfort by not saying the words wouldn't be quite right.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jan. 16th, 2009 11:33 am)

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 11:00 AM Update on Limmud NY Conference Status
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2009 11:20:22 -0500 (EST)

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 25th, 2007 05:02 pm)
I went to hear R' Professor Jonathan Magonet talking about the new (UK) Reform siddur.What he said is pretty much what he's written on this site, so you can go and read it in his words and not my rendition of same.

Here are some of the things which impressed me.

The layout. )The )piloting in the community and the ) thoughtful self-assessment, and a striking and intelligent )willingness to see the community in its present state with examples, and finally, this point: )

He said that the existing siddur had a function of giving the movement a point of unification, as previously there hadn't been a proper Reform Movement Siddur. Now the movement has matured and solidified somewhat, the unification can be taken more or less for granted, and the diversity can be accommodated, so the new siddur is to function less as a means of expressing unification and more as a tool which everyone can use, but which can be used in many different ways.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 24th, 2007 10:34 am)
Calligraphy: two years ago I limited my Limmud class to twelve because I wanted to be sure of being able to work with everyone, and I had to turn away several people. This year I didn't limit the numbers, because I'm a better teacher now and figured I could give more than twelve people a good experience. I wasn't expecting thirty people, though. I had to start turning people away when I ran out of pens.
Six years ago at Limmud I took an introduction to Torah reading - seventy minutes every day for four days, how to leyn Torah. I took home the introduction and the skills and practised, and now I'm a pretty decent leyner and those skills I got at Limmud are part of how I earn a living. Two years ago I taught an introduction to calligraphy, seventy minutes a day for three days, and yesterday someone took the time to share with me how she took home the introduction and the skills and practised, and was able to incorporate Hebrew lettering into the glassworking she does by profession, so now the skills she got at Limmud are part of how she earns a living. So it goes on, along and round and up, from hand to hand, Jew to Jew, Limmud to Limmud. I think that's beautiful.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jan. 1st, 2006 09:32 pm)
We shabbated in Oxford, which was utterly lovely, of course, and thence to Nottingham. Train travel on Christmas Eve is disgustingly expensive and tremendously inefficient, just for the record.

Limmud: fantastic. Yay Anglo-Jewry. I didn't end up going to all that many sessions, in the end, but I did spend a lot of time talking to people - some entirely random ones, and some Influential Figures with whom it was nice to get acquainted.

two sessions )

I had the best fun teaching calligraphy. about calligraphy classes )

At the end, they said nice things )

The 12-14s in Young Limmud wanted to have a calligraphy session, more about that )

Most of the sessions I went to were either ones by scholars on feminism, or performing arts ones. the arts, including a )rendering of "Summertime" in Yiddish - hysterically funny. Something about the way the taut Yiddish idiom and clipped vowels sit with the lazy, confident theme of the song. Yiddish is the language of "Oh God, everything's going wrong," and Summertime is not that kind of song at all!

* Normally I'd say the art of beautiful handwriting, but you can't say that and then ask people to use coloured pencils to trace letter outlines, not if you want them to take you seriously.
** Some of them buggered about and didn't do anything much, of course
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 16th, 2005 11:10 pm)
I submitted four sessions - one "advanced" on ketubah-type stuff, and a three-parter Hebrew Calligraphy for Beginners. I'm still mulling over "Zen and the Art of Sifrei Torah Maintenance" - it'd be fun, I'm just not sure if it'd be chutzpah. I need to decide tomorrow.

ETA: Sefer Torah Maintenance is on the list. Woo! I'm getting psyched.


hatam_soferet: (Default)

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