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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Jacob’

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology
The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination
By Marc Michael Epstein,Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011

The Golden Haggadah was created in Catalonia, Spain sometime around 1320. So named because all the illustrations are placed against a patterned gold-leaf background, it is a ritual object of incredible luxury and expense. In light of Marc Michael Epstein’s analysis found in his recent book The Medieval Haggadah, this tiny masterpiece of Jewish art easily ranks among other towering works of complex narration including Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in Rome.

The text of the Haggadah is prefaced by 8 pages of double-sided illuminations, each side containing 4 narrative scenes. Since the 56 illuminations frequently depict more than one aspect of a biblical narrative, the overall scope of the illuminations is vast. The first 27 scenes are from Genesis starting with Adam naming the animals, the next 26 portray the Exodus itself and the final 3 scenes depict medieval domestic Passover scenes.

Golden Haggadah, fol. 4v, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Superficially, the selection of these particular biblical stories has no explicit relationship to the Haggadah text that follows, other than in the most general – the stories of Genesis lead up to the Exodus. Epstein therefore insists that more substantive significance will be revealed if we see the illuminations in the light of two medieval exegetical models. “The narrative sequence of the biblical text is expressed via the conventional progression of scenes, corresponding to pshat, contextual exegesis, in medieval biblical commentary. But the moral, theological, and political themes that were important to the authorship and that they wanted to stress are found in the chiasmic [diagonal across the page or pages] readings, corresponding to drash, homiletic exegesis.” What is especially fascinating is that Epstein is linking different sequences of seeing to specific conceptual exegetical models. To complicate matters, these links may be positive echoes or negative contrasts of meaning. This may very well be a totally unique procedure in the analysis of visual art.

Golden Haggadah, fol.5rv, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Epstein organizes the 56 illuminations on three levels: first the group of 4 found on one page, secondly the group of 8 seen on two facing pages and finally patterns he discerns throughout all the illuminations. In what he identifies as the Bifolium 2 (two pages facing one another), the narrative literally proceeds from upper right to upper left, then back down to lower right and finally to lower left, exactly as Hebrew is read. The subjects chronologically unfold as: Destruction of Sodom, Akeida, Jacob Steals Esav’s Blessing, and Jacob’s Ladder. On the facing page we see Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Joseph’s Dream, Joseph Sent to his Brothers and Joseph Encounters the Angel in the same zigzag pattern.

Epstein immediately observes the connection between the diagonal of Jacob’s Ladder that continues up through the ruins of Sodom. This chiasmic (diagonal) link contrasts the destruction of the evil city of Sodom with the eventual construction of the holy city of Jerusalem at the site of Jacob’s ladder. In a divergent manner the Akeidah operates as a typology (ma’aseh avot siman l’banim – the events of forefathers foretell the events of later generations) to Jacob’s stolen blessing, each confirming the Divine choice of which son was to carry forward the history of the Jewish people. Suddenly a simple Biblical progression of Lot, Abraham, Isaac to Jacob develops into a nuanced complex commentary about retribution, holiness and inherited divine mission.

Further nuances emerge as Epstein observes that in this page delineating the early Israelite family tree, the right side of each image is dominated by “negative” figures. Lot hastens off with his daughters who will produce Amon and Moab; Ishmael, forefather of the Arab peoples, stands next to the donkey at the Akeida, Esav, forefather of Rome (i.e. Christianity) rushes in on the right and finally at Jacob’s Ladder we see on the right the angel of Esav preparing to attack the sleeping Jacob.

The repetitive flow of angels across the two facing pages yields more insights into the unfolding narrative. On the left-hand page Jacob Wrestling with the Angel is diagonally mirrored by the (non-textual) angel Gabriel guiding Joseph; compositionally 2 figures on the right are placed in contrast to a group of 6 figures on the left. This again echoes ma’aseh avot siman l’banim to show that just as Jacob encountered an angel at a crucial juncture, so too his son Joseph’s fateful encounter with his brothers was precipitated by the direction of an angel.

Richard McBee

Pesach Video: Baking Passover Matzah in Israel’s Heartland

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Yishai Fleisher takes us to Beit El in Israel’s heartland, the location of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) ladder, to bake matzot (unleavened bread) the old fashioned way by hand.  A crew of friends and neighbors carefully follow the detailed processes laid out in Jewish Law (Torah) for preparing and baking the matzah in less than 18 minutes total from start to finish.

Yishai Fleisher

Yori’s News Picks from All Over, Tue. 2/28/12

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

So, what have the children of Jacob and the people who hate them been up to over the past 24 hours? What can I say, it’s a violent planet. But even in a violent blue-green ball like ours, some stories still get our goat. Like this one:

YOU BULLY A JEWISH KID – YOU PAY. IT’S THE LAW

The NY Post reports on a $10.5 million federal suit that says staffers at Eagle Avenue Middle School in West Hempstead stood by as schoolmates abused Gedaliah Hoffman, calling him a “f–king Jew” for wearing a yarmulke.

Staffers caused “the bullying to become escalated by punishing only Gedaliah, although Gedaliah was the victim of the attacks,” says the lawsuit, filed last week by the boy and his mother, Lori Hoffman.

Oh, we want t see that one through. And give ’em hell, Gedaliah Hoffman!

OK, we can’t do just nasty stuff, where’s the ray of hope thing? Well, there it is, in Borough Park!

LADIES TO THE RESCUE

Like this group of Brooklyn Jewish women who are starting their own ladies-only ambulance service.The NY Daily News reports that Borough Park lawyer Rachel Freier, 46, held the first recruitment drive Sunday for Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “assisting women’ (but also a great pun on the Hebrew name for the ladies section in shul) — in her dining room. The News says Hatzolah leaders shot down Freier’s request last fall to let women into its 1,300 all-male corps, the city’s largest volunteer ambulance crew, which answers more than 50,000 calls a year.

Ezras Nashim member Hadassah Strauss, 26, retorts: “Women have been delivering babies for thousands of years.” Sharp lady. I strongly advise against getting into an argument with her…

WEEKDAY WARRIORS

And what religious Jewish person’s heart won’t be gladdened by this NY Times headline: In Texas, the Sabbath Trumps the Semifinals. Well, good for the Sabbath! And good for the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, which won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals last weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip. Because the Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.

Hey, I say, wasn’t any super meikel rabbi out there to give the lads an opening? A halachic three-point throw? Nobody?

According to the Times, several of Beren Academy’s opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with the Sabbath. See? All a Jew needs to make it in America is a few nice goyim…

ARE WE GETTING ALONG, OR WHAT?

Dozens of students gathered in the Hughes-Trigg commons to hear from religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and balance and moderation was the main topic of the Islamic Awareness Week’s interfaith discussion panel Monday night – reports the Southern Methodist University Daily Campus.

So we scroll two-three paragraphs down and we get what we just knew had to be in there somewhere, the Jewish guy condemning intolerant Jews. Because, let’s face it. while hoards of Muslim tolerant folks have been storming the public squares of the Third World, with tolerant soldiers and police shooting tolerantly – and with moderation! – into the crowds, them extremists Jews really drowned out that peacefulness with their extremist going on living in their homes.

“Each religious leader discussed how the essential truths of their religions stress the importance of balance and moderation. However, they all spoke of extremists within their religions whose actions go against the core values of their faiths.”

Now, wait for it… wait for it… and – who’s the first panelist to take a crack at the condemn-thine-own-extremist challenge?

“Balance and moderation is a challenge,” Rabbi David Gruber said, describing extremist behavior he witnessed by some Jewish people in Israel.

First one, and ONLY one, folks. Honor murders, decapitations, mass killings, suicide bombing – not event a footnote. Horrible Israelis? Oh yeah, baby, we know all about them.

Even the Christian guy got away with it without mentioning firebombing abortion clinics and murdering abortion doctors, f’rinstance. So now we’re clear: The leasson from Islamic Interfaith Awareness Week at SMU is – we must do something about the Jews.

Good to know.

PRAYING IN BUDAPEST

And speaking of goyim, nice or otherwise, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports that LDS Church has been added to Hungarian government’s recognition list, along with five Buddhist groups, Methodists, J Witnesses and two Islamic communities. Well, welcome to the club, guys, and remember: keep the weird stuff to a minimum…

 POLITICS REMAINS A CONTACT SPORT

This would have been funny enough for a dream scene from a Woody Allen movie (the earlier, funny ones): FOX40 News reports that Neo-Nazis and Occupy Groups clashed at Capitol Monday, man what a story. Except two officers were hurt in the clash, and made the story distinctly unfunny.

Yori Yanover

MK Hatovely Addresses Miami Beach Audience

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

MK Tzipi Hatovely addressed a Chabad “Lunch and Learn” event on December 14 in Miami Beach.

Hatovely, who sits on the Knesset’s Security and Defense Committee, referenced her recent trip to Belgium where she had attended a meeting of NATO members. “I couldn’t sleep from fear, realizing that Israel and the U.S. are the only countries in the world that recognize the existential threat of a nuclear Iran,” she said.

On the subject of right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, she declared, “We must make it abundantly clear to the world that Israel is ours because of the biblical mandate we received. Our land belongs to us because it was promised by G-d to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Carol Flato, Florida chairperson of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), sponsor of the event, introduced Hatovely and expressed thanks to the Israel Independence Fund for sponsoring Hatovely’s speaking tour of the U.S.

Taking questions from the audience, Hatovely addressed concerns over the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard and said she had attempted to visit Pollard at the federal prison in North Carolina but was denied visitation on the grounds he “cannot have visitors due to his poor health.”

Fern Sidman

Chanukah – Stepping Up To The Plate

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

As Jewish festivals go, Chanukah is one of our favorites – it is quite “user-friendly.” We get a rare green light to travel and cook with no restrictions. We can drive back and forth (no need for our hosts to find sleeping accommodations) and feast with family and friends as we gleefully celebrate the miracle of a rag-tag band of heroes beating the odds. We rejoice over the improbable reality that a few overcame the many; of a bit of burning oil lasting way beyond its “shelf-life.”

But there is another, timeless lesson ensconced in this Festival of Light that we should be aware of and internalize on a daily basis. It’s about seeing a need – and instead of waiting for someone more “qualified” or more experienced or more powerful or more “in the know” – we stand up, ignoring the deep pit of fear and doubt gnawing at our hearts; rolling up our sleeves, and “stepping up to the plate” (and I don’t mean the one containing the latkes).

The male members of the Maccabee family were kohanim, priests, spiritual leaders. They were not soldiers. The family’s patriarch, Matityahu could have easily rationalized that someone more trained in warfare and combat should take on the occupying Assyrian Greeks who had imposed their pagan culture onto the Jewish people and restricted their freedom of religion. Matityahu could have shrugged off the idea of physically engaging the enemy. Hey, not him, not his sons. The risks were too great, the challenge so formidable that it would be an exercise in futility. Why make what very likely would be a failed attempt to “fix what was broken,” to make the supreme sacrifice for nothing. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to a good outcome. All their blood, sweat and tears would be for naught – so why even bother?

But we all know that Matityahu, his sons and his not so merry band of men, forged ahead, despite the odds, despite their likely cluelessness of how to fight – and that made all the difference in the world. If not for this ordinary family’s willingness to take on an extraordinary challenge, Dovid would not exist, only Demetrius would.

I was reminded of the Maccabees and the message of Chanukah at a recent event celebrating 30 years of Aish Hatorah in Toronto. Four women, who I describe as female, 21st century Maccabees were the guests of honor – a fifth, was the guest speaker. Each had an incredible story of seeing a need, a tikun, and despite their very likely misgivings regarding the success of their endeavors, decided to swallow their doubts and “take the bull by the horns.”

Ellen Schwartz, a day school teacher, looked forward to the birth of her first child and envisioned re-discovering life and all its wonders anew through her baby’s eyes. But Jacob was born with Canavan’s, a rare, genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A gene found in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, if both parents are carriers, there is a one in four chance their child will have Canavan’s. Jacob is blind, cannot speak, eat or walk – and currently, there is no cure.

No one would have faulted Ellen and her husband Jeff from wallowing in self-pity and railing against the script the Heavenly Writer had written for them. However, instead of letting what seemed like a huge lemon “sour” their lives, Ellen and Jeff saw beyond their son’s severe disabilities and turned his life into a soul enriching lemonade. To that end, in 1998, Ellen co-founded Jacob’s Ladder, (the Canadian Foundation for Control of Neuro-degenerative Disease) an organization that raises awareness of, and funds research into finding cures for neur-odegenerative diseases. Now in its 10th year, Jacob’s Ladder has raised over $2 million.

Ellen also founded Project Give Back, a project in which children are encouraged to pick a charity or cause, research it, make contact, fundraise and share their knowledge with their class. In one instance related to Ellen, a student who spoke about his autistic sibling inspired a couple of classmates to reach out to an autistic neighbor whom they had previously ignored.

(L-R): Pamela Bielak, Rebecca Lambert, Nancy Weisbrod, Ellen Schwartz

Ellen has ensured that Jacob’s life would enhance others lives – that through her special child, people, especially children, would grow as human beings and learn invaluable life lessons of coping, of appreciating what they take for granted; and learning compassion and patience and acceptance of those different from them. Jacob himself is a symbol, like the legendary oil of Chanukah that was supposed to last one day, but burned for seven days longer, beyond physical expectations. Not expected to reach his forth birthday, Jacob was bar-mitzvahed last year.

Cheryl Kupfer

It’s All in Your Head

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

“And the messengers returned to Jacob and said: We have come to your brother, to Esau and he is also coming to meet you and four hundred men are with him. And Jacob was very frightened and he was distressed and he divided the people that were with him and the sheep and the cattle and the camels to two camps.” (From this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:7-8)

 

“And he was very frightened and he was distressed.” Why write the same thing twice? We understand that Jacob was frightened, we understand that he was feeling pressured. Why re-emphasize this as two separate issues?

 

There are many answers given to this question. But one Chassidic commentary captured my eye. “And he was distressed -” because he was frightened. Jacob naturally reacted toward Esau with fear. But immediately afterwards, he felt great sorrow for having felt fear.

 

When we moved to the Shomron, the Arab uprising was in its first year. To protect their car windows from being smashed by rocks, many of our neighbors attached metal “cages” to their windshields. Their cars resembled a sorry version of a zoo on wheels.

 

I took a different tack. I began driving on the roads slowly, with my windows open and an Israeli flag flying proudly from my car. I was the victim of far fewer rock attacks than my neighbors, who would fearfully speed through the Arab villages. When the flag got torn and had to be removed from our car, my wife was afraid to drive!

 

Much water has flowed since then under the bridges of Judea and Samaria. An Israeli flag no longer conveys pride and ownership – it may possibly even convey the opposite. But the lesson remains the same. A person is where his thoughts are. If you feel that you belong in Israel and that this Land is yours, then you are not afraid. Your internal world projects to your surroundings, reflecting as a world that is, indeed, not dangerous.

 

Israelis today do not feel that they belong in their land. They are encased in state-of-the-art protective defense systems, but are suffering from the worst case of existential doubt they have ever had. Their internal perceptions create the external threat. That is why the solution has to be – first and foremost – to change Israel’s mentality and consciousness.

 

It all begins and ends in the world we create inside our heads and hearts.

Moshe Feiglin

Was Jacob Really An Ish Tam?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

What kind of man was Jacob? This is the question that cries out to us in episode after episode of his life.

The first time we hear a description of him he is called ish tam – a simple, quiet, plain, straightforward man. But that is exactly what he seems not to be.

We see him taking Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup. We see him taking Esau’s blessing, in borrowed clothes, taking advantage of their father’s blindness.

These are troubling episodes. We can read them midrashically. The Midrash makes Jacob all-good and Esau all-bad. It rereads the biblical text to make it consistent with the highest standards of the moral life. There is much to be said for this approach.

Alternatively we could say that in these cases the end justifies the means. In the case of the birthright, Jacob might have been testing Esau to see it he really cared about it. Since he gave it away so readily, Jacob might be right in concluding that it should go to one who valued it.

In the case of the blessing, Jacob was obeying his mother, who had received a Divine oracle, saying that, “the older shall serve the younger.”

Yet the text remains disturbing. Isaac says to Esau, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” Esau says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob [supplanter]? He has supplanted me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Such accusations are not leveled against any other biblical hero.

Nor does the story end there. In this week’s parshah a similar deceit is practiced on him. After his wedding night, he discovers that he has married Leah, not, as he thought, his beloved Rachel. He complains to Laban.

“What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:25)

Laban replies: “It is not done in our place to give the younger before the firstborn” (Genesis 29:26).

It’s hard not to see this as precise measure-for-measure retribution. The younger Jacob pretended to be the older Esau. Now the elder Leah has been disguised as the younger Rachel. A fundamental principle of biblical morality is at work here: As you do, so shall you be done to.

Yet the web of deception continues. After Rachel has given birth to Joseph, Jacob wants to return home. He has been with Laban long enough. Laban urges him to stay and tells him to name his price.

Jacob then embarks on an extraordinary course of action. He tells Laban he wants no wages at all. Let Laban remove every spotted or streaked lamb from the flock, and every streaked or spotted goat. Jacob will then keep, as his hire, any newborn spotted or streaked animals.

It is an offer that speaks simultaneously to Laban’s greed and his ignorance. He seems to be getting Jacob’s labor for almost nothing. He is demanding no wages. And the chance of unspotted animals giving birth to spotted offspring seems remote.

Jacob knows better. In charge of the flocks, he goes through an elaborate procedure involving peeled branches of poplar, almond and plane trees, which he places with their drinking water. The result is that they do in fact produce streaked and spotted offspring.

How this happened has intrigued not only the commentators – who mostly assume that it was a miracle, G-d’s way of assuring Jacob’s welfare ­– but also scientists. Some argue that Jacob must have had an understanding of genetics. Two unspotted sheep can produce spotted offspring. Jacob had doubtless noticed this in his many years of tending Laban’s flocks.

Joshua Backon has suggested that prenatal nutrition can have an epigenetic effect – that is, it can cause a certain gene to be expressed that might not have been otherwise. Had the peeled branches of poplar, almond and plane trees been added to the water the sheep drank, they might have affected the Agouti gene that determines the color of fur in sheep and mice.

However it happened, the result was dramatic. Jacob became rich: “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43).

Inevitably, Laban and his sons felt cheated. Jacob sensed their displeasure, and – having taken counsel with his wives and being advised to leave by G-d himself – departs while Laban is away sheep-shearing. Laban eventually discovers that Jacob has left, and pursues him for seven days, catching up with him in the mountains of Gilead.

The text is fraught with accusation and counteraccusation. Laban and Jacob both feel cheated. They both believe that the flocks and herds are rightfully theirs. They both regard themselves as the victim of the other’s deceitfulness. The end result is that Jacob finds himself forced to run away from Laban as he was earlier forced to run away from Esau, in both cases in fear of his life.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/was-jacob-really-an-ish-tam/2011/11/30/

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