Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Nine Months Out

            My daughter Shalvi is nine months old today, which means that she has been outside my body for as long as she was inside. It feels momentous, though I don’t know of any way to mark the occasion. Still three months shy of her first birthday, she is just starting to crawl and to pull herself up to a standing position, which means she can go farther and farther away from me, and I can’t always assume that I’ll find  her where I left her. She’s also less interested in breastfeeding, and while I still nurse her several times a day, she will increasingly push away the breast in favor of a cup of dry cheerios that she can feed herself. A year and a half ago, she was just becoming a part of me, the first cells of her body forming inside mine. And now she is increasingly apart from me, making her way into the world, extending the radius of my care, my concern, and my love.
            Shalvi is not my first child, but it is harder to let her go than any of the others -- perhaps because as I get older, I am increasingly attuned to life’s evanescence. I look wistfully at pregnant women I pass on the street, cognizant of the arc that rises in anticipation, peaks in those sacred moments of birth, and then descends as the days and weeks pass and mother and child sink into comfortable familiarity. As I watch friends who have given birth to babies younger than my own, I am reminded of how time slows down after giving birth to baby, whose lifespan is measured in days before it is measured in weeks, and in weeks before months. All too soon I shall stop counting in months when Shalvi—Godwilling—turns one year old. I’m not sure I’m ready. I find myself holding on to her as she scampers away, not quite ready to let these moments pass.
“This month shall be for you the first month of the year,” the Bible says about the exodus from Egypt, an event so momentous that it upended the calendar and reset time. In the Bible the first month is Nisan, the month of the exodus. The day we think of as the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, falls out in Tishrei, the seventh month. There are thus two cycles of Jewish time: There is universal time, which begins on Rosh Hashanah, the day the world was created. But there is also Jewish time, which begins on Passover, with the birth of the Jewish people as a nation. These two ways of marking time unfold against the backdrop of one another in the same way that personal time—the clock that is upended and reset after birth—unfolds against the backdrop of ordinary time. Yes, it is just an ordinary Tuesday in January; but it is also the day that my baby was born, marking this date as special for years to come. As I hope it will be.
Shalvi, of course, is too young to be aware of anything unusual about this day, the nine-month anniversary of her birth. But in the same way that God was involved in her conception—the Talmud says that there are three partners involved in the creation of a child: the mother, the father, and God—it seems appropriate to involve God today, as well. And so I decided to recite the Shehehiyahu blessing, a sort of Jewish elastic clause, stretching to accommodate moments that ought to be marked but do not have a blessing of their own. Thank you God for sustaining me, and for enabling me to reach this day. At first I thought I might pick up Shalvi and hold her while I said these words, but she was busy pulling herself up on the edge of the couch. In any case it seemed more fitting, in that otherwise ordinary moment, to let her go.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Extempore Effusions -- Kidushin Perek Bet -- האיש מקדש

Kidushin Perek Bet – האיש מקדש

Don’t betroth a girl ‘til you espy
Her yourself with your very own eyes.
Lest you look and then say
‘She’s too ugly, no way.”
You do not want a wife you despise.

You can’t plead: It’s not my fault I sinned
Your autonomy you can’t rescind.
Someone sent you to lie,
Or to make someone die--
Don’t blame him. On yourself the blame’s pinned.

Bear the message: She wants a divorce
You are witness as well. But of course.
Though we might think instead
You just wanted to wed
The divorcee whose hand you hence forced.

If a girl, while still quite underage
Becomes nonetheless—yes—engaged.
Her dad needs to know
Ere the two have a go
Make sure he’s at least on the same page.

Under the poplar they sat
Passing wine to and fro- -how ‘bout that.
“With this wine, wed your son
To my daughter, how fun.”
Does the son need to know ere they chat?

If he says, “Marry me with this date”
Not a film night; a fruit on her plate.
If it’s worth a full penny
At least one, or many—
That statement, it seems, seals her fate.

If you lend some nice cash to a dame
Then you say, “I will not stoop to claim
It back, but to wed
Her with that loan instead.”
Are you married? Or is that just lame?

If he says to the dame, “Please come dine,”
And then “Wed me with this cup of wine.”
But it’s not wine; it’s honey
(A joke? It’s not funny.)
Say, is that betrothal still fine?

“Marry me if I read Torah well.”
Is he really that good? How to tell?
If he’s read just three verses
(Let’s hope he rehearses!)
Then they are betrothed. All is swell.

“You’re engaged if you haven’t got flaws
Like a six-fingered hand, or sharp claws.”
Then he learns she is flawed
Does that make her a fraud?
Tell us sages, now what are the laws?

If you betroth both a girl and her mom
Can you do such a thing without qualm?
No, you cannot betroth
Since you can’t sleep with both
Says Abayey in Yael Kagam.

Can a Kohen betroth with the meat
Of the sacrifice he got to eat?
“Thanks to this sheep,
Woman now you can sleep
With me.” Is that a fair legal feat?

Maaser Sheni coins must be redeemed
In Jerusalem, or so it seems.
Since that trip surely tires,
No woman desires
To be wed with those coins, though esteemed.

The garments of priests may be worn
In the Temple and out, though not torn.
To heights we have striven
But Torah’s not given
To angels. We’re all human-born.

If you find a cow, sheep or some stray
Near Jerusalem, not far away
Here’s the rabbis’ advice:
It might be sacrifice
So no burgers or sweaters, they say.

No mice came by here, no mice stole
Because here the mice don’t have a hole.
Mice steal only to hide
What they’ve stolen inside
Like some cheese, or the crumbs from a roll.

Shimon Ha-Amasuni could get
Exegesis on each use of “et.”
Except fear of God
Here he only could nod:
“I could darshan the others, and yet—“

If your job is to adjudicate
You cannot charge your clients top-rate
Give your rulings for free
Never charge any fee
Justice sold carries sadly no weight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Extempore Effusions on the Completion of Masechet Kidushin Chapter 1

How is a woman acquired?
When one of three things has transpired—
Give money, a writ,
Or just go and do "it"
("It" is sex. Should that be your desire.)

You can go buy a woman with cash
(Buy a few if you've got a big stash.)
We know this from the field
Bought by Avram (whose shield
Was God). This purchase should not be rash!

Is "Derech" a masculine noun?
Or feminine? Cases abound.
On matters semantic
The Talmud's pedantic.
"No way!" "Way!" This word gets around.

The way of a man is to court
A woman. He does this for sport.
If you lose something dear
You go hunt far and near
It does not hunt for you. Men, cavort!

The money that's paid for a wife
Does not go to the girl. She'd cause strife
If she kept all the bucks
It's for Dad. (Yes, it sucks—
He gets all, though she gives her whole life.)

Can a woman say, "I hereby make
You my husband." That is, can she take
Him instead of vice versa
Say, give him her purse. A
Fair trade. But the deal would not take.

If a man says, “Behold you are mine,”
To a woman he happens to find.
Does that mean they are married?
Though no ring was carried,
No canopy, contract or wine?

A woman would rather be wed
Than lie all alone in her bed.
Better two bods than one—
Is it really more fun?
(She could buy a warm blanket instead?)

"Half of you is now wed unto me"
Says the groom. Bu can such a thing be?
No, a woman's not fit
To be midway down split
If she weds, she weds full-bodily!

"I will give you a penny right now
For your daughter. And also your cow."
Is the coin for the chick
Or for both? It's a trick--
Half a penny is never allowed.

"With this coin I thee wed unto me"
She then tosses it into the sea.
The coin's gone forever
Is their bond now severed?
"I did it to test him!" (her plea).

"Be my wife with this loaf of fresh bread."
A dog's chasing her! Soon she'll be dead!
She throws bread to the beast
It slows down for the feast
She escapes. Is she single, or wed?

A man's picking dates from a tree.
She says, "Throw down two dates please for me"
He said, "If I so do
Will you then be my true
Wife?" "Throw fruit, please" she cries, eagerly.

"Say, how much would you give for your son?"
"I have two dollars. I'd give you one."
"And how much for your gal?"
"That's about right, my pal."
They are wed! Raise a glass, everyone!

An engaged woman waits to be wed
Ten men come and they rape her instead
When they get in her sack
They go in from the back.
Never mind! Stone them 'til they are dead.

A girl's spouse-to-be starts penetrating
She accepts Kiddushin from one waiting
Patiently by her side.
Now we need to decide:
During sex, do we say they're still dating?

Said Ben Bag Bag, "I don't understand—
All the sages say you're a smart man
That you know Torah's rooms--
Yet it's you who assumes
Eating truma – engaged women can."

You discover a blemish. You say:
"I will not keep you, wife. Go away!"
If the servant's thus marred
You'd still keep her. Not hard
To see why. Wives are for work and play.

If a woman takes as Kiddushin
Coins at night, when not much can be seen.
If she thinks it's a pruta
Then morning comes: "Shoot! A
Half pruta? That guy is obscene!"

"You're my wife with this fine myrtle mat."
Cries the woman, "You think I'm worth that?"
He says, "Look deep inside
There are four coins that hide
There. Take those." Does the whole deal fall flat?

There once was a woman who sold
Lovely ribbons. There came a man bold
He stole quite a few
She cried, "Give them back, you!"
He said, "Marry me." How do we hold?

Chalitzah is done with a shoe
Take it off him, then throw it. You do
It with sneaker and sandal
But don't cause a scandal
With footwear he can't fit into.

A slave may not wish for a wife
But his master may say, "Make new life!"
Then he must procreate
With a Canaanite date
Lest the master accuse him of strife.

A Canaanite slave lost his arm
While plowing his master's great farm
The slave then goes free
Yes, indubitably--
It's the price he gets paid for his harm.

When a Canaanite slave girl goes free
After six years laboriously
Spent, she gets some nice cash
At her big send-off bash
Hey girl, pocket the dough and then flee!

If your slave boy falls sick all six years
(First a headache, then tonsils, then ears.)
Does he make up the time
Well, as Rav Sheshet chimes
If he sewed, he is not in arrears.

A master may say to his slave-
Girl, "Fantastic are you! How I rave!
I shall make you all mine
In my bed, you'll fit fine."
Is she wed or engaged to the knave?

Can a master say, "Servant girl, you
Are not quite right for me, it is true.
But I'll give you my son,
He's a minor, but hon'
He'll be yours someday." Can he thus do?

All your slaves must be treated with care
With good mattress, good wine, and good fare.
Say, if you eat fine bread
Don't give stale cakes instead
To him. Ye who buy slaves should beware!

If a priest fighting battles espies
A beautiful maid with his eyes.
Do we call it a vice
If he sleeps with her twice
What’s the law about priest-maiden ties?

If a slave does not want to go free
He must say twice “This life is for me.”
If his Master’s held dear
Then you nail in his ear
It seems strange, yes, that such things could be.

A convert was ready to die
His servant stood very close by.
“Will you bring me my shoes?”
This was Mar Zutra’s ruse
To inherit the servant. How sly!

Can a slave or a woman acquire
A thing that they need, or desire?
Rabbi Meir said no,
They can own things, although
It all really belongs to the sire. 

A chicken inserted its head
To a glass jar and screamed ‘til ‘twas red
And the jar promptly shattered
The juice inside splattered
The bird owner pays, Rami said.

Rebbe’s servant girl dunked and came up
With a bone in her teeth from her sup-
per. Then must she repeat
Her dunk from head to feet?
Must her tongue get wet? Rebbe said yup.

Rabbi Shimon dissented and taught
(Though the claim that he made was quite fraught)
If an animal’s gifted
It first must be lifted
Then how is an elephant bought?

Rabban Gamliel rode on a ship
He was gone for quite long on this trip.
He announced: “I will hand
Over tithes atop land.”
Can the land part instead have been skipped?

Can you swear on two things in one oath
Is a double swear something we loath?
Amen then amen
Said the Sotah again
Swearing not just on one thing, but both.

Thank you for buying my wheat
But I fear you’ll have nothing to eat
It burned in a fire
I fear it’s quite dire--
You paid for a worthless receipt.

Father must teach Son a trade
Something that Son can do to get paid.
If he doesn’t; good grief
Son will become a thief—
When he needs food, he’ll swoop down and raid.

Rabbi Hiya was very impressed
For he saw that Ben Levi, half-dressed
Took his son to go study
Before anybody
Awoke. Because it’s God’s behest.

Don’t sin when in private—God’s chair
Is the sky. His legs hang down from there.
As God’s legs are quite long,
If you do something wrong
You bump into His feet. So beware.

If you see someone white-haired, stand up
We respect anyone so grown-up.
You can’t try to flee
Or pretend you don’t see
Him. And pour him some wine in his cup. 

If a Torah scroll passes, you stand
(Some will reach out to kiss with their hand.)
If you’re busy with study
You need stand for nobody
Although your respect he commands.

Some mitzvoth can be done any time
It does not matter when the clock chimes.
Hang a mezuzah on your door
Return coins from the floor
Send the mother bird off ere you climb.

Are women commanded by God
To be fruitful? At first you might nod
God tells Adam and Eve
To have babes. But reprieve
Is granted to Eve. Yes, it’s odd. 

Are we always considered God’s sons?
Are we all the time His chosen ones?
Yehuda says no,
It depends if you go
In His ways. If so, God loves us tons.

Some mitzvoth depend on the land
(Which is Israel, you must understand.)
Such as: You cannot eat
From the new crop of wheat
“Til the Omer is waved with the hand.

When Moses died, manna stopped falling
Did the people starve while they were bawling?
They ate manna from jugs
(Hopefully free of bugs)
Then made matzah, while Egypt recalling.

Those who honor their fathers live long
But what of that boy, young and strong
Dad said “Bring chicks to me.”
So he climbed up the tree
And then fell to his death. What went wrong?

For sinners, we cut them some slack
We say: Go away dressed all in black
Do your sin while you hide
And although we will chide
You, if you repent, you’re welcome back.

Is it better to do or to learn?
For which action is more merit earned?
Tarfon said: You should do
Said the sages: Not true!
You should learn how to do, we discern.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Lovely Eyes (Kidushin 7a)

My twin daughters are extraordinarily generous. Whenever I pick them up from preschool, I always have snacks lodged under our double stroller. The girls ask me for snacks because they are hungry, but they are never content to leave it at that. Outside their preschool is a playground where many of the parents and kids hang out after the school day is over. My girls make the rounds giving out snacks to each and every one of their friends in the schoolyard, as well as to any kids interested in a rice cake or pretzels. They insist not just on handing out a pretzel to each kid, but on offering the entire Tupperware container, so that each kid may choose how many he or she wants. Generally this means there are very few pretzels left for my girls, but they don’t seem to mind. The satisfaction they get out of sharing with others is presumably more valuable to them than another bite of salty crunch.
            The Talmud has a term for this sense of satisfaction, as I recently discovered in learning daf yomi. In tractate Kidushin, which deals with betrothal and marriage (among other topics), the rabbis discuss the ways in which a woman may become betrothed to a man. Generally this is accomplished by means of the transfer of an object of value from a man to a woman, though the man my alternatively give the woman a written document attesting to their betrothal, or he may simply have intercourse with her. It is always the man who initiates. Well, almost always. The Talmud at the beginning of Kidushin (7a) describes the case of a woman who says to a man, “Take this coin, and with this coin you will be engaged to me.” At first glance this seems strange; since when does a woman give something to the man to effect betrothal? The rabbis of the Talmud explain that while it may appear that the woman is giving something to the man, in fact it is he who is giving something more significant to her. In this specific case, the rabbis explain, the man is an important person, and the woman receives the “gift” of being able to confer benefit on him—which is its own source of satisfaction.
            It seems that the sages, like my daughters, understood the inherent value of conferring benefit on someone else, and the satisfaction of making others happy. The phrase used in the Talmud for this sense of satisfaction is טובת הנאה, i.e. the goodness of [conferring] benefit. Elsewhere the sages speak of what it means to give a gift בעין יפה, i.e. with a “lovely eye.” To give with a lovely eye is to give generously and capaciously. This is of course subjective, but it seems to have the power to alter objective reality: the sages speak of a measure known as a tefach, a handbreath, which is approproximately eight centimeters. But everyone’s hand is a different width, and everyone’s sense of what is appropriate to hand out varies too. Thus the rabbis come up with the notion of a טפח שוחק, a laughing handbreath – which is a bit more of than just a handbreath. It is a handbreath given with a generous heart and a smiling face, much like the way my daughters hand out pretzels in the schoolyard. 
          I don’t know why my daughters are so generous. Is it just their temperaments? Is it because they are twins, and have had to share from the moment of conception? Or have they somehow internalized that we, thank God, have enough, and can afford to give to others? Has someone modeled this generosity for them? Certainly I can take no credit. Often at night, when I’m standing in the kitchen packing their lunches and restocking the bag of snacks I keep under their stroller, I find myself gritting my teeth that I have to replace the pretzels once again, even though I know my daughters hardly ate any of them. But then I stop for a moment and think about how lucky I am that God has shone His countenance upon me and given so generously to me, בעין יפה, granting me the gift of not one baby, but of two born simultaneously. Twins, I have no doubt, are the gift of lovely eyes, and I am grateful to God that my hands are so wide, and so full.