Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When the Chickens Went on Strike

kapores Although most modern Jews have abandoned the practice of Kapores, in some parts of the community, it is still common. I'm not sure what the Masorti movement thinks it will accomplish by joining with the SPCA -Tel Aviv, ince the parts of the community that are practicing kapores aren't the parts likely to care what the masorti movement does, but all in all, it can't hurt.

In the story from which I took this post's name (an adapted tale based on the original story by Sholom Aleichem) the author in fact points out that the practice of taking a chicken (male for men, female for women) swinging it over one's head to "catch" one's sins, and then slaughtering it, is not exactly halacha ( Jewish law). And while in general one ought not to depend on fiction for accurate portrayals of Jewish law, in this case, it happens to be correct. Not only is "Where is it written?" a good response, but where it is written, the rabbis aren't too happy with it, considering it (Like many folk customs which have become embedded in Jewish practice) akin to idolatry, or at lest very improper.

And reasonably so, while it might be a midat chesed (act of mercy) to buy a chicken which one will then donate to the poor to eat (although that does raise some questions about how that came about... really? We're giving our sins to the poor to eat? Hmmm. I hear a sin eater story in here somewhere for those of us familiar with that southern custom), the problems with the ritual as a whole are numerous. For now, let's set aside the problem of tzaar ba'alei chaim - the requirement not to be cruel to animals (in this case, by packing them in itty bitty crates sitting around in the sun all day until it's time for them to be grabbed and swung around by the feet) and concentrate on the symbolism of the custom itself.

While there seems to be some kind of yearning for authenticity as played by certain elements of the Jewish community which favor dress styles not native to Israel, but rather early modern Europe, I've never been able to fathom why people attach their sentiments to these kinds of customs (including within the community, but without it as well). There's somehow a sense that it looks or feels more authentic - but how could it be? If Judaism and our peoplehood is based upon our connection to God through God's commandments, as the Torah tells us, then one couldn't possibly repent by swinging a chicken around.
I far prefer the formulation of the Talmud (Brachot 17a) (See the bottom of the post) which likens the fat that one loses during a fast to the fat offered as a sacrifice in the times when the Temple stood. That makes far more sense to me.

Most importantly, if w are repenting, we cannot hope to shed our sins elsewhere without the ful act of teshuvah that goes with it. Whether we are speaking of ourselves as individuals, our individual communities, or Israel as a whole, our own sins cannot be displaced by any symbolic act, whether we're talking about swinging a chicken or saying that the other party involved has done bad things and so they have to repent first. NO, we are responsible for the sins of ourselves, and the sins of our people. If we wish for peace, we have to act first to recognize and admit our sins; to make reparation to those whom we've harmed; to confess to God - because in doing so, we humble ourselves and take into our hearts that our acts, whether accidental or intentional, whether preemptive or retaliatory, were wrong; and then to not do it again when the opportunity presents itself.
Stop building settlements, stop demolishing homes, stop blaming others for acts over which we have agency. Goldstone isn't our enemy, and taking on against him, as the Rabbinical Assembly has just, entirely ridiculously, done, will not bring peace.
As long as we treat acts for which we need to repent as thought they were public relations bloopers which can be addressed if we only change our spin, there will not be kaparah, atonement, no matter how long we fast on Yom Kippur, no matter how many chickens we swing. We have to do the work ourselves.

(From the Yom Kippur Haftarah Isaiah 58:2-7)
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 "Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?"
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me.. (Brachot 17a)


Thursday, September 17, 2009

10 Ten Weirdest Muppet Shows of all time

I had forgotten what a great show it really was...I don't even remember these, but there's just as many not mentioned here... and really, weren't Statler and Waldorf the best part of the show?

In the spirit of the season

I apologize for being such a slacker this past year in posting. (New job and all that- not an excuse, but still).

Still, this morning I find myself with an embarrassment of riches, which I will try to cover over the next few days.

Today's topic: a terrific post reflecting on tshuvah, and using the teachable moments recently offered us in public by politicians sports figures and musicians for how not to apologize.

I've noticed, myself, the spreading plague of people who "apologize" if I have hurt your feelings, implying that it is the victim who is oversensitive to a rather minor slight, or worse yet, implying that they have done nothing wrong at all, and the victim is to blame.
I actually blame the politicians for this one - the non-apology! It all started as a way for them to seem to apologize without actually taking responsibility for what was done wrong.

I would like to note that this is not really an apology.

In Judaism, we say that tshuvah has a number of steps:
First acknowledge that one has done wrong. This is not a qualification met by "if I have done x," or "if I have hurt you"
The next step is to make amends Again: one cannot get to this steps without first acknowledging the wrong. But should one manage to eke out a sense that one is responsible for a particular wrong behavior - or more often a slough of them, which include not only the wrong itself, but others' feelings about it, then one is not off the hook until one has cleaned up the mess created. This may mean raising money to clean up that oil spill without cutting all one's employees' salaries while giving oneself a bonus.

After all that, you also have to be committed to a new course of action - that means, when the opportunity presents itself again - DON'T TAKE IT. And by the way, that also means, for example, don't do other things that are slightly different, or that are kinds of different. Or that have a different character, but are essentially the same in meaning. You get my drift here?

Then, once one has made amends to others, and genuinely turned away from the old path, one may (then and only then) make confession to God. Yes, you have to acknowledge your responsibility twice. All those preachers down on their knees letting us know that God forgave them for being caught en flagrante with male prostitutes - sorry - that's not the first step. I don't know how you worked it out with your wives, but I would bet it would be a good first step to also apologize to all those "homoSEXuals" you're always sending to hell in a handbasket.

The word Tshuvah doens't really mean "repentance," but "return." "Return" means that rather than saying one is sorry and moving on to the next wretched remark, one has to realize that one has walked way off the right path, turn around and walk all the way back. It is insufficient to apologize and move on, becasue usually, the things that we do wrong are not single mistakes in an otherwise unblemished life. No, we humans are creatures of pattern and habit, and that eans those mistakes that we make aren't just about a one-ff. THey are usually part of a larger pattern of behavior which we need to observe and reform. That is one of the reasons why Judaism is based on laws - halakha- not feelings: tzedaka, not caritas, for example-
psychology confirms what the rabbis have been telling us for centuries: peoples' behavior is not driven by rational choice making, but rather by impulses often driven by habit, which are then after the fact justified. Which means that more important than good intentions are good habits, good patterns.

BUt there's one more thing to add here. Sometimes one really does do wrong by accident, or by mistake. In our society today, we often try to emphasize intent and show tht our action was not intended to do harm - that is, in part, the origin of the non-apology. BUt in Judaism, accidents, too require tshuvah - how do we know this? In the Torah, sacrifices are offered for unintentional sins, moreover, check your high holiday liturgy - you may notice that accidental sins are listed there too. In our society, that is counter-intuitive - if it's an accident, why do we have to say sorry? BUt accidents too, are often not done in a vacuum - they, too, often result from patterns of behavior that result in outcomes that - while we may not have intended them- are inevitable, and results of our actions.
You may not have intended to fall off the roof and land on someone and kill them- but why were you up on a roof without safeguards? Do you tend to behave in risky ways? YOu didn't intend to get drunk again? Well, why were you hanging out with your drinking buddies and depending on them for a ride?

So, I say to all non-apologizers - cut it out! You too, must do full tshuvah. yes, it's not easy, but take some responsibility. And when I say "you," I mean "me, too."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Warning signs

Jack over at his shack posted this pretty recently, but I can't help but share it... This is just mind-boggling. Are there really men out there who are this er, self-confident and yet simultaneously completely unaware of what blathering fools they are?
I've dated a few unpleasant guys, but when they give off the "I'm an a******" signals before they even get you to agree to the first date, that's impressive.

DO listen through to the second voicemail. It is in a class by itself.