I participated in my first Pidyon Ha’Ben ceremony today.
For those who aren’t familiar with the whole concept of Pidyon Ha’Ben, here’s some info straight from Wikipedia:
According to the traditional rabbinic interpretation, in the early part of the Bible, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, the duties of a priest fell upon the eldest son of each family. The first-born was to be dedicated to God in order to perform this task.
Following the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, after the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was taken away from the first-borns, and given to the tribe of Levites, specifically to the Kohanim, High PriestAaron, his children, and their descendants. At the same time it was instituted that the first born of each family should be redeemed; i.e. they would be ‘bought back’ from the dedication to God that would previously have been required of them.
The ceremony is relatively rare, so I was both honored and very pleased to be asked by good friends of ours here in Omaha who wished to redeem their first-born son by offering me some sheqalim in exchange for him. I was happy to oblige in making the trade and the cantor from our synagogue helped out to make the ceremony a really beautiful one:
The Shulkhan Arukh states that when a Jewish woman gives birth to a firstborn male by natural means, then the child must be “redeemed”. The father of the child must “redeem” the child from a known Kohen representing the original Temple priesthood, for the sum of five silver Shekels, or equivalent in country’s currency (if it has silver currency of the correct weight). The procedure does not apply when the father is a Kohen or Levite, and does not normally apply when the mother is the daughter of one.
As “a known Kohen,” my grandfather participated in these ceremonies with some frequency for many years; I felt a particular connection with him today in taking part in my first.
roguepriest asked: I'm not Jewish. Is it wrong that I feel weird when Jewish friends willingly and happily eat pork or other non-kosher foods?
Well, I can’t tell you how you ought to feel.
But I’ll say this: People, Jewish and not Jewish, often apologize to us when they order non-kosher food in front of us. I’m not sure why they do this, especially those who aren’t Jewish, but I’d say it happens two-thirds of the time.
And I don’t think we’re especially “judgy” about keeping kosher. What we typically explain to people is that we keep kosher in our home and we’re vegetarian or pescatarian (if the fish is kosher) when we go out to eat. This position is, in itself, a compromise; we know many people who wouldn’t eat at a non-kosher restaurant at all. Given that we make this compromise in order to be (relatively) observant of ancient dietary laws in our modern world, we know that what we do doesn’t have any bearing on what other people do or what we expect of others.
This works for us and we’re comfortable with it. We wouldn’t presume to tell other people what’s good for them.
I’m spending the weekend trying to figure out if my grandfather attended the Vizhnitz “Beit Israel” yeshiva (pictured above) in his hometown of Vișeu or the Satmar yeshiva in nearby Sighet.
Stories in the family suggest the latter, but I can’t figure out why his parents would have sent him out of town when he could have remained at home.
This is part of a little side project of mine; I’ve just started working on a historical narrative about the first 35 years of my grandfather’s life.
The Top 10 Posts of 2013
In the last couple of days of 2013, by way of reflection on a successful year of blogging, I’ll be linking to my Top 10 posts of the year.
These are the posts that drew the most unique eyeballs; the list doesn’t include the About page, where several thousand people each year go to find out whose writing they’re reading, the Ask page, where people write in with questions or to say kind and unkind things to me, or the front page, which is always the top draw since it’s the way that people access the site directly (rather than via some referring site).
Perhaps you missed some of these posts. Or maybe you just want to have another look since it’s been a little while. Feel free, of course, to share them with friends and loved ones because each click tells me that you’d like for me to keep writing these sorts of things.
Here, then, are the 6th-10th most viewed posts of 2013:
#10. That time the Republican leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives casually used an anti-Semitic slur during a debate on a bill (4/18/13)
#9. “Here We Are Now Entertain Us,” a manifesto against the whole notion of “edutainment”: that it’s equally if not more important for college courses to be entertaining than educational (5/13/13)
#8. “Althouse: The Clinton clot plot thickens… or thins… with anti-coagulants,” in which a Wisconsin law professor suggests that Hillary Clinton was probably faking a blood clot to avoid testifying about Benghazi (1/1/13)
#7. That time conservative pundit Erick Erickson made a whole bunch of claims about the “real” Jesus, who was wrathful, vengeful, and could definitely throw a haymaker (5/24/13)
#6. That time a graduate student at the University of Nebraska repeatedly used the n-word during a discussion on whether or not student government members should avoid using derogatory language and then tried to turn the whole ensuing mess into a free speech issue (12/3/13)
See you here tomorrow for the Top 5!
Kosher cops: Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is seeking to establish a “kashrut police” in effort to broaden the authority’s power over businesses that present their merchandise as kosher but have no rabbinate-issued kashrut certificate. Inspectors of the “kashrut police” would wear identification badges and even uniforms.
Who will procure for me an official identification badge and uniform so that I can present myself as the “kashrut police” for both Purim and Halloween 2014?
Oh, a comedian!
But seriously, my Christmas afternoon and evening involved helping out at the synagogue for the annual Men’s Club Kosher Chinese Buffet. This year, we had more than 125 people in attendance and more entrees than a Friday night dinner at my grandmother’s house.
We set up, we cooked, we ate, we served, we ate, we cleaned, and we ate a little more. My sense is that no one went home even remotely hungry and we still had plenty of food left over to take home and to give to others.
Major thanks is really due to the core crew — especially David, Ben, and Mike who came in early and stayed late — so that a slacker like me could swoop in for a few hours during naptime and after bedtime.
If your synagogue isn’t serving up a ridiculous amount of kosher Chinese food every Christmas, well, you just might want to think about moving to Omaha …
For How Long?
For how many more days will pretty much everyone I speak to inquire as to whether or not I had a Merry Christmas? Through the weekend? Into next week? Into the new year?
Unrelatedly, how was your Christmas? Merry?
A lot of people have asked me why I care so much about this “Duck Dynasty” nonsense. This video clip is a good explanation.
In it, Matt Lewis explains his concern that ganging up on someone who expresses an unpopular opinion, especially one based on his religious belief, will lead to a chilling effect on speech.
Clearly, I could just as easily claim that being told not to criticize someone whose speech offends me could also lead to a chilling effect. But I think there’s a larger point to be made here.
A long time ago, some Christians used religious belief to defend the notion that blacks were inferior to whites. Much more recently, some Christians believed that Jews were Christ-killers and/or that they were doomed to the fires of Hell. While very few still believe the former, a fair number likely still believe the latter. But they generally don’t say it to interviewers for major national publications.
Is that because something changed in their belief system or because of a chilling effect based on liberal indignation? I tend to think it’s a combination of those things. Some Christians might still believe that Jews are going to Hell, and they might talk about this belief with their friends and family, but they generally don’t say it publicly because it’s simply not acceptable to do so.
Make no mistake: This isn’t an infringement on belief or on speech; people are still free to believe what they want to believe about Jews. It’s just no longer acceptable to make hurtful or hateful statements about Jews in public. Over time, I like to think people will just stop believing these things about Jews just as they stopped believing that racial inequality was religiously sanctioned.
Is something lost when people stop believing these things? Lewis seems to think so, since he casts himself as a staunch and unapologetic defender of unpopular speech based on religious belief. So what is it that’s lost? For my perspective, what we’re losing is mostly just the sort of other-ing that leads to intolerance, hatred, conflict, and violence. Can one still be a good Christian without believing that Jews are going to Hell or that homosexuals ”are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil”? I suspect one can, given how many Christians don’t believe this sort of thing.
When I criticize people who launch attacks against gays and lesbians using religious language, I’m very mindful of the chilling effect my criticism might have. I’m actually hoping that, by discouraging the public expression of hurtful, other-ing language, we’ll be able to make progress toward become more accepting of those who look differently, act differently, or hold different beliefs from our own.
At this point, homosexuals are a minority group that it’s still acceptable for conservatives to target under the guise of religious belief and Jews are not. When I criticize this language of exclusion, I do it because I’m looking forward to a time when religious belief no longer justifies the poor treatment of any minority group.
Anonymous asked: What will you be eating for Christmas dinner?
I’ll be having Chinese food, as is the custom of my people.
The Men’s Club at our synagogue sponsors a very well-attended annual Chinese dinner buffet on December 25. Between the food and the company, it’s really not to be missed.
My friend Drew Jacob sends along a link to what is clearly the perfect birthday gift, a military strategy board game that’s set in the ancient Middle East. I’m not sure it’s quite worth its $55 price tag — or that any board game could be worth that kind of price tag — but this review definitely pushes all the right buttons with me:
The Campaigns of King David is a board game that simulates the creation of the Kingdom of Israel. Despite the title, it’s not really a game about the conquests of King David. Call it a military strategy game of the Biblical era, circa 1,000 BCE, where Judah is just one of several contending powers—and far from the strongest—striving for mastery of Palestine.
The war game can be played by up to five players controlling five Biblical-era powers: Judah, Philistia, Aramea, Moab and Tyre. The battlefield is a roughly two-foot-by-three-foot map that stretches from the Mediterranean coast and the Negev to the Jordan River and Damascus.
Sort of like Risk, the map is divided into hundreds of provinces that are either plains or hills. Plains tend to produce more food while hills tend to offer greater mineral resources. The more fertile breadbaskets tend to be concentrated along the Mediterranean coast, the Damascus plains and the area south of Jerusalem, while the Moabite territories east of the Jordan River are especially blessed with mineral resources.
But, ok, seriously, who wants to get together for a little game of biblical Risk?
Taking a break from whatever it is one does when one is an eccentric multi-millionaire who occasionally yells at teen girls on television, Kanye West explained that President Obama was clearly hamstrung by his lack of connections … like the ones all the Jews have:
"Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can’t make these moves or he’s not executing. That’s because he ain’t got those connections. Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people."
If only Obama was Jewish … then he’d be super-popular with all the people who don’t like him!
My wife’s Thanksgivukkah present is here!
Now to wrap it and place it gently underneath our traditional, colorfully festooned Thanksgivukkah bush. I know what you’re thinking: She’ll see this photo and know what it is underneath that wrapping paper. Never fear: She’s got a real job; she doesn’t have time to read this blog.
[None of this is true, of course, except the part about buying the gift. She really likes fizzy water, which I naturally abhor as it’s the beverage of choice of Communists and Seth Jolly.]