Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for March 17th, 2009|Daily archive page

The Loveliest Of All was the Unicorn

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2009 at 7:18 pm

As we distance ourselves from the sin of the Golden Calf, we are once again engaged in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that will be the focal point for all Divine encounters.

The fabrics, gems and precious metals are of many kinds and Israel has been astoundingly generous.Amid the myriad of materials donated are skins of a certain animal, in Hebrew it is called a “Tachash.” The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation of this portion hazards a guess and translates these skins as those of a dolphin with a disclaimer saying that the Hebrew is “uncertain.” In Hillel’s Bronfman Edition of the Five Books of Moses, Everett Fox translates Tachash as “tanned” skins. Others have offered “sealskins.”

The earliest Aramaic translation, the Targum Onkelos, translates the word Tachash with an equally cryptic Aramaic word, sas-gavna which later Talmudists endeavor to unpack. Here are some sources for you to ponder.


Synagogues and Newspapers

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Edgar M. Bronfman recently had an op ed piece that was posted on JTA. Never a fan of synagogues, he has created his own prayer experiences for the High Holidays to which he has invited friends and fellow travelers. He praises the emerging signs of Jewish culture and religious life and encourages people to support them even during these austere times.

“The fact that young Jews are not affiliating in the“traditional” way indicates there is something wrong with our institutions,not that there is something wrong with our youth. We have to let go of the old ways of defining what it means to be an “involved Jew” and begin to look to the kind of involvement that today’s Jews are seeking.”

Well, that does seem to be an issue, but Judaism is not a service industry. It is a vehicle for service. Even these exciting new projects attract mostly engaged Jews who are disaffected from existing institutions. The synagogue may be going the way of the newspaper, (as Clay Shirky would have us believe) but just as journalism is a necessary component for a democracy and therefore will not die, Torah is the central and essential component of Judaism and any innovation that does not somehow reflect its values will not be sustained. Historically, this seems to be an accurate statement. Make no mistake, for these purposes Torah is not narrowly defined, but encompasses many pathways. These pathways share one thing though, and that is commitment.

The more these innovations come from substance and meaning, and not from a consumer’s perspective, the more successful they will be.