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Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-05-22 10:12
Subject: TV you can hang on the wall using magnets
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Finally, the sort of TV SF writers of the last century were so fond of, is on the way: something so thin you can hang it on the wall using magnets. (Well, I suppose that's just the display; once you've included the tuner and PSU and logic circuitry and hard disk solid-state media for recording programmes, it won't be quite so thin... yet.) —Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-26 12:48
Subject: What filled the gap between the Bible and the Mishna?
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Tags:cool, limmud

When I was growing up, the impression I got is that there was a huge gap in ancient Jewish literature between the last books of the Bible, closing shortly after Cyrus the Great let the Jews return to their homeland in 538 BCE, and the Mishna, the first written formulation of the Oral Torah, written at the start of the third century CE.

This is unfortunate, because the rabbinic Judaism of the Mishna is very different to the ancient Israelite religion depicted in the Bible, and because of a taboo against writing down the Oral Law, there's very little to see how we got from the one to t'other. The Talmud paints a picture that "we've always done things this way", but, as [personal profile] liv first pointed out to me a dozen years and more ago, this is Pharisaic propaganda. The Pharisees radically reformed Judaism, recentring it from the Temple to the synagogue and home, to enable it to survive the destruction of the Temple, but, because they lived in a society that rejected innovation in religion, they had to make out everything new they came up with to have gone back to the year dot, even where the Bible clearly disagrees with it.

But it's not actually true that the literary record between the close of the Bible and the Mishna is as empty as one might think. There's a whole bunch of documents that were written during this period, which the Jews largely went to forget about; we call them the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha (and the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, and *ahem* the Gospels). None of these give us an in-depth examination of the development of the Oral Law or the embryogenesis of Pharisaic Judaism, but there are some clues if you look for them.

For example, one of the two main prayers in the Jewish liturgy is the `Amida. The Talmud gives a variety of contradicting accounts of how this prayer originated, over the course of hundreds if not thousands of years. However, if you want hard evidence, look to the Wisdom of Ben Sira, which contains a sequence of prayers following the same themes as the central prayers of the weekday `Amida (though the words are completely different).

A second example: The Bible is clear that מְלָאכָה "work" is forbidden on the Sabbath, but does not give more than a few hints as to what this includes: collecting things in (Ex. 16:26, Numbers 15:32) or transporting them into (Jer. 17:19ff) the public domain, conducting business (Amos 8:5, Neh. 10:31, 13:15. The Talmud uses hermeneutics to derive, from the fact that the order to keep the Sabbath is given immediately in the Torah after the instructions on how to build the Mishkān (Tabernacle), that the activities prohibited on the Sabbath are those that went into the construction of the Mishkān. However, this smacks of post-facto justification to me. If you look in the Book of Jubilees, however, written three and a half centuries before the Mishna, the last chapter gives a list of activities prohibited on the Sabbath. With the exception of sexual intercourse (which probably reflects the mores of the all-male monastic Qumran community), the list pretty much reflects modern Jewish practice, but does not correlate at all with the 39 categories derived by the Talmud.

So, returning to the main subject, I became intrigued to know what exactly there are written in the late- and post-Biblical periods, and when it was written, and here's what I found out:

View piccyCollapse )

Titles in green are ones I have read, those in red ones I would like to try and get to read some time; those in orange ones I have read but no longer remember anything of. :-( The collection of works is not a comprehensive list of everything written during this period.

The dates here are not systematic: some date ranges indicate uncertainty as to when the book was written, others that it was written over a period. The dates come, where possible, from books on my shelf, and where not, from Wikipedia.

A few of the dates need a little explanation: Ecclesiastes (קֹהֶלֶת), Wikipedia says, has two different sets of dates proposed for it depending on whether it has Greek influence, about which there is no agreement. And though the primary text of 2 Enoch dates to the first century, this text was tweaked to add Christian and Gnostic references any time up to the seventh century.

Lastly, the impression I get is that the Book of Daniel represents the gathering of a series of stories about its eponymous hero written over the course of centuries. Daniel 10 and 11 describe, as a prophesy and with almost all names removed, the political history of the Greek period of occupation of the Land of Israel, breaking off in the middle of the Hasmonean revolt, from which it is deduced that this is when this part of the book was written. But Ezekiel, writing centuries earlier, and a contemporary of the biblical Daniel (if he existed) makes reference twice to Daniel (or Dan'el: the word is written without the י) as a famously wise man, which I take as evidence for the Daniel stories starting in this own time.

Returning to the original point, the upshot is that the period between the close of the Bible and the Mishna is anything but devoid of Jewish literary representation. This confirms my suspicions, but I did have a few surprises in what I have learned from this little project, which can I suppose be summed up as surprise at how short the period between the close of the Bible and earliest of the works in the Dead Sea Scrolls actually was.

I had thought, a little while ago, that the chronology was: the history in Chronicles ends with the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, and the last of the prophets wrote within a generation of this; then followed Ezra and Nehemiah, about sixty years after the return. Then I discovered that, though the history in Chronicles only goes up to the return (the end of the book quoting the opening of Ezra), the genealogy of the House of David is given for a further six generations, into the fourth century, so I thought the book must have been edited to add this after the rest of it was written.

But now I discover what's actually the case is that Malachi was writing a full century after the first return from the Babylonian exile; and Ezra and Nehemiah weren't written (according to Wikipedia and the Hertz Chumash—though I'd like to get another look at the Soncino Daniel-Ezra-Nehemiah, which gives different dates IIRC) until after the last generation mentioned in Chronicles (though the men themselves lived a little beforehand).

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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-22 13:50
Subject: (no subject)
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I thought it would be fun to take some timelapse photography of my cheeseplant as its latest leaf emerged from its bud and unrolled. Unfortunately, the results aren't as slick as I would have liked, due to (a) the fact the cheeseplant would get moved by my opening and shutting the curtains every day, and me then pulling the leaves up above the windowsill, (b) snapping photos once a day being an insufficiently high frame rate, and (c) the most dramatic changes happening when I could not take photos due to either being in Berlin, or it being Pesach; but you get the idea.

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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-20 19:53
Subject: Zoos, huh! What are they good for? (Answers on a postcard, please)
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aviva_m and I visited a zoo recently. I was reticent to go; I'm not comfortable with the incarceration of animals in small spaces—indeed, since I discovered the idea of goldfish having a seven second memory is a myth, I'm not even comfortable seeing them in a tank, unless it's as large as a pond. Consequently, we went to the larger of Berlin's two zoos, the Tierpark.

This was the first time I've been to a full-blown zoo (beyond the likes of Pet's Corner in Jesmond Dene) since I went to Whipsnade at about sixteen, and I was rather trepidatious. Once we got there, aviva_m was entranced to see the bears' antics, and I was delighted to discover that next door to the elephant enclosure one could find both hyraxes and a manatee: the elephant's closest relatives.

But.

The enclosures, though larger than, say, the 1930s-era bear pit we previously saw in Berlin,* were all rather small compared to the amount of a room the animals would have in the wild. I was distressed to hear a tiger wailing a single plaintive note over and over again, and to see a dhole engaging in a clear example of stereotypy: the pacing or rocking back and forth that characterises animals kept in an environment which is too small and does not feature enough stimulation. It actually had quite a large enclosure, quite a few tens of metres on a side, and the other dholes were unaffected, but this one was running in a figure-of-eight shape ten metres in length over and over again, and had been doing so long enough to have worn a rut into the ground.

* Built because the bear is the city's emblem (due to a folk etymology deriving the first half of "Berlin" (pronounced in German like "bear-lean") from "Bӓr").

† Or humans: think of the children found in the orphanages in Romania when Ceaușescu was toppled.

I find myself wondering what justifies treating animals like that? Once upon a time zoos were the only way people could get to encounter exotic animals beyond mere pictures of them, but now there are amazing natural history programmes on TV, which will show you animals in their natural environment in a way you could never see in a zoo.

It's true that sometimes zoos are a necessity for protecting endangered animals threatened with extinction in the wild, but my experience in game reserves in South Africa showed me there is an alternative. Yes, it's more expensive to run a game reserve and shuttle people around in jeeps in the hope (not guaranteed) they'll see wild animals, but so? Do animals exist to be paraded before us at the cost of their mental health? Besides, sometimes large game reserves aren't necessary. The penguins I saw in South Africa stayed in their colony by their own choice. They could go out swimming and hunting in the sea as far as they liked, but they always came back to their nests.

Thoughts or reactions?

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-19 13:26
Subject: Fishing
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Are there any fishers here who would like to take me fishing with them one Sunday this summer in, say a fish pond in north London or somewhere else within reasonable distance of here?

This is all part of my desire to see if being an accomplice to taking an animal from running/swimming around freely to sitting on my plate can help drive me further towards vegetarianism, a path I've been stalled on for some years now.

First I tried to see shechita performed in an abbatoir, but the people I contacted were extremely suspicious and weren't having any of it. Then, when I mentioned this to R. Eiran Davies​, he said he'd invite me along next time he shechted a chicken for the woman [personal profile] ewt calls the Chicken Lady, but then she ran out of chickens, and by the time she'd got more, Eiran had left the country; so I'm now trying to re-start the process, but with a still more modest aim.

Fish do have an advantage for me though: Shechita not being required, and the animal not being fleishik, I could be directly responsible for the fish's death then take it home and cook and eat it myself.

PS: No Nirvana quotes, please; it's not factually correct.

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-08 18:17
Subject: Do not cross the road whilst the Eye of Sauron is upon you!
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[photo]

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-02 06:54
Subject: April Fools
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Well done to ewx, who it seems was the only one to realise in my last posting that the seasonal relevance wasn't to Pesach but to the fact it was April Fool's Day.

There is no tractate Listim of the Babylonian Talmud; listim means "bandits", and my excerpt—the quotation from Ezekiel (the first two verses of which aren't actually in the book*) and commentary both—was a transcript, with the language changed slightly to make it non-obvious, from the film Pulp Fiction.

* And indeed involved non-Biblical language: there doesn't appear to be a Biblical Hebrew word for "selfish".

In the film, R. Yulai Jules refers to the would-be café robber he's addressing as "Ringo". I took this as a reference to the nineteenth-century gunslinger Johnny Ringo (not to be confused with SF author John Ringo), and substituted "Shimon". Who better for R. Yulai to refer to in this context than R. Shimon ben Lakish, the notorious bandit turned Talmudic rabbi?

Now, is anyone kicking themselves for not spotting the quotation?

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-01 07:01
Subject: Commentary on a passage in Ezekiel
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I've been reading my way through the books of the Bible that aren't (or aren't all) part of the yearly reading cycle; I'm currently up to Ezekiel, which I'm reading with the Soncino commentary. Anyhow, I came across a passage with an interesting commentary which I think has relevance at this time of year (please excuse my suboptimal translation, my Aramaic is weak):
Babylonian Talmud, tractate Listim 10a מס׳ ליסטים י א
Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." R. Yulai said: I have been saying that for years; if you heard it, that was it for you. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was something cold-blooded to say to an am haaretz before I did him in. But what I saw this morning made me think twice. See, now I'm thinking, maybe it means you're the evil man, and I'm the righteous man, and my weapon is the shepherd protecting me in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that isn't the truth. The truth is, you're the weak, and I am the tyranny of evil men. But I'm trying, Shimon. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd. דֶרֶךְ הַצַּדִּיק נָסַב בְּעֲוֹנוֹת הָאָנוֹכִים וְעֲרִיצוּת הָרְשָׁעִים׃ בָּרוּךְ הָרוֹעֶה הַחַלָשִׁים בְּשֵׁם צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד בעֶמֶק הַחוֹשֶׁךְ כִּי הוּא אָכֵן שׁוֹמֵר אָחִיו וּמוֹצֵא יְלָדִים נֶאְבָדִים׃ וְעָשִׂיתִי בָם נְקָמוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת בְּתוֹכְחוֹת חֵמָה וְיָדְעוּ כִּי־אֲנִי ה׳ בְּתִתִּי אֶת־נִקְמָתִי בָּם׃ (יחזקאל כ׳ה י׳ז) אמר ר׳ יולאי האי אמרי לשנין ואין שמעת האיך כל בשבילך׃ לא חשבי עליי, רק חשבי דהוא מאי בדמא קר לומר לעם הארץ לפני דהרגיהו׃ אבל הרהרי אחרי מאי דראי בבוקר׃ אלימא דאנת רשעא ואנא צדיקא ונשקי רעיא דמגני בעמקא חשכא׃ ואבא דאמרי דאנת רשעא ואנא רעיא ועלמא הוא רשעא ואנוכי׃ וכך אנא אהבנא׃ אבל פתרונא דאנת חלשא ואנא עריצותיי רשעין׃ ואנא נסי נסינא להווא רעיא׃
Now, the question is: can you work out what the seasonal relevance is? (Clue: The fact my brother once read the quoted passage at the top after שְׁפוֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ during the seder isn't it!) —Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-03-18 13:14
Subject: New version of the Wandering Jews siddur
Security: Public
There's a new version of my Wandering Jews siddur available, featuring:
  • Egalitarian and progressive additions and alternatives, presented in grey so those who prefer can ignore them and use the traditional text.
  • Lots of corrections to the text; mostly very minor (and frequently invisible to non grammar geeqs) in the case of the Hebrew, but sometimes more major in the case of the transliteration.
  • Stage directions for bowing and taking steps forwards and backwards.
  • A thorough overhauling of the transliteration for consistency.
  • The Sephardi/original wording of Yedid Nefesh as an alternative to the Ashkenazi wording.
  • Adon Olam as an alternative to Yigdal (those who know me will know this is one of my bugbears!).

I busted a gut trying to get this ready for this Friday's WJ-alike event in Berlin (if you're reading this and would like to attend, let me know and I'll send you the details!), but anyone else planning to hold a Friday night service at any time is encouraged to download the new version of the siddur from the above link and make use of this resource.

As for the previous versions, print it out double-sided, flipping the pages on the short edge to get the pages of the booklet the right way around.

PS: It would appear I did indeed invent the word "genizable", as all the Google hits for it currently seem to be preceded by "oxy-" or "homo-". It's a most useful concept, and one I've been using to friends and (longer) inside my head for a long time.

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-03-15 18:03
Subject: Praying to the God you don't believe in rather than the God you do
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One hears stories of rabbis* replying to the typical nonbeliever's grouch against religion with "The God you don't believe in, I don't believe in either."

* I can't remember who, and googling this phrase, one comes up with any number of people to whom it has been attributed.

I'm happy to accept that notable rabbis have said this. My question is that if, as moderns, we don't believe in a simplistic theology dating from thousands of years ago, which is irreconcilable with what we see in the world, but instead come up with sophisticated ways of trying to bridge that gap, be it pantheism or panentheism, the philosophy of Buber or that of Levinas (or even of Mordecai Kaplan, though this would not be acceptable to the traditionalist rabbis of which I am talking), etc, etc, then why do we as Jews still pray with a liturgy addressing itself to that God we agree we don't believe in?

And yes, I'm aware of the tension between the need to adapt liturgy to make it speak to people, and the danger of loss of the authority that comes from changing too far wording that has been hallowed through usage over the centuries; but still.

Or, to put it another way: if being killed and enslaved and carried off into exile, then persecuted and murdered and expelled from our countries multiple times through the ages, and eventually subjected to a cold-blooded attempt at total genocide resulting in 5.6 million deaths is not enough to outweigh two or three incidents from the very remote past in which God did save our people (again, coming from a traditionalist perspective that does not query the historicity of this), then what the hell would be?

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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