A Prayer for the Victims of the Olympic Terrorist Massacre

July 18, 2012

English640px-Connollystraße_31_-_GedenktafelForty years ago, the murderous Palestinian Terorists of the Black September gang massacred eleven Israeli athletes. The Olympic Committee still refuses to incorporate a minute of silence in the opening ceremony of the games.

Meanwhile, Jews, synagogues and many other Jewish organizations are looking to meaningfully commemorate the victims. Many of the prayers floating around veer significantly from the traditional prayer texts, while many people find particularly those traditional texts meaningful. All such memorial prayers floating around the net fail to incorporate the full names of the victims (in the form of ploni ben ploni). As a matter of public service I am therefore posting the text of the E-l Male Rachamim prayer that I wrote for this occasion. It is thoroughly traditional and has the full names of all the athletes. Read the rest of this entry »

Parsing Modim’s Poetry

October 30, 2011

EnglishPikiWiki_Israel_14321_Religion_in_IsraelThe penultimate blessing of all ‘Amidot (standing devotions) is the Thanksgiving Blessing, which begins with the words Modim ana’hnu Lakh (“we thank You/we acknowledge Your grace”). However beautiful and central the notion of thanksgiving is to prayer in general and to the ‘Amida in particular, it is by no means easy to parse this text, as it is a written in a rather typical rabbinic style of liturgical poetry which non-initiates do not directly recognize.

A careful study of the text will, however, make some of that poetic beauty stand out and make the text more readily understandable. Read the rest of this entry »

The Goodly Tents of Jacob

July 14, 2011

While the gentile prophet Bil’ám (Balaam) is, on the balance, condemned by Jewish tradition, he enjoys the rare distinction that some of his words were incorporated in the Jewish prayerbook. Just about every prayerbook includes somewhere in the beginning of the book a paragraph beginning with Bil’ám‘s words: מַה־טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל – How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel!

Once, in a discussion about the layout of siddurim, I remarked that that paragraph does not really belong in the body of the siddur – or, more precisely, in the morning prayers section – and that it would be far better to print it, for example, on the inside of the front cover. My reasoning was that the custom of reciting this verse relates particularly to the synagogues, symbolized by the tents and tabernacles of Bil’ám‘s verse. Indeed, R’ Ovadya Sforno comments on that verse:

מה טובו אהליך יעקב. בתי מדרשות… משכנותיך. בתי כנסיות ומקדשי אל המיוחדים לשכן שמו שם ולקבל תפלת המתפללים.

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob – [those are the] study halls … Your tabernacles – [these are the] synagogues and other sanctuaries of G”d, dedicated to the presence of His Name and for the [heavenly] reception of the the worshipers’ prayers.

This was not met with anything near consensus, but as the image below, taken from an old Rödelheim festival prayerbook, argues, the phrase may have little to do with the morning prayer service and everything to do with visiting a synagogue. Read the rest of this entry »

Audio-Vorträge: Die jüdischen Hauptereignisse des 20. Jahrhunderts

June 1, 2011

Anbei de Audio-Dateien der zwei Vorträge einer Mini-Serie zum Thema der jüdischen Hauptereignisse des 20. Jahrhunderts: “Holocaust und Entstehung des Staates Israel, Wie können wir diesen beiden Ereignissen in unseren Gebeten gerecht werden?” Die Serie wurde am 2. und 8. Mai 2011 in der Schomre Thora Basel präsentiert, und zu jedem Vortrag wurde ein (hoffentlich) passender Psalm gelernt. Read the rest of this entry »

Meditating on the Tragedy in Japan

April 11, 2011

It’s been a month since tragedy hit Japan and over 25’000 men, women and children died, many of them swept away by the terrible waves of the tsunami. 150’000 are still homeless, living in temporary shelters. Many more are probably living with friends and relatives, so that the actual number of homeless may be much higher.

While we cannot possibly make sense of out such a human tragedy, it does (or should!) evoke in us a feeling of human brotherhood, shared suffering, a tremendous sadness that so many of G”d’s creatures, each endowed — as all humans are — with a spark of G”d-likeness, were so tragically lost (cf. the aggadeta in Megilla 10b, where G”d rebukes he angels at the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army perished, saying “My creatures are drowning in the sea …”). It also evokes in us our very own human frailty. In the words of the author of the High Holiday liturgical poem Untane Toqef, man bears resemblance to:

… the broken shard, like dry grass, a wilted bloom, a passing shadow, a disappearing cloud, the blowing wind, the whirling dust, the fleeting dream.

And despite our frailty, we, humans, are called upon to better the world, and Israel has a particular responsibility to lead by example and construct a just, loving and spiritual society.

When faced with massive but distant tragedies such as these, one must of course ask what it is one wants to achieve.

What such a situation calls for, is, first and foremost, an emotional study of those who were facing their deaths, and of those who, while they survived, saw their homes and often their friends and relatives, too, swept away under the terrible waves. Beyond that, the sought after texts should give strength to those who survived but became bereft and destitute, and should allow those far away to explore the religious questions and needs of the survivors.

So what texts may be fitting meditations on those themes of human frailty? Which texts may give us strength in the face of the fear of death? I want to suggest the following psalms. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Birkat HaMazon So, So Long? (Video Lecture)

March 15, 2011

Explore the structure of the Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals). This lecture is based upon a previous lecture given in German (Danksagung ausserhalb der Synagoge: Das Benschen), and answers some of the questions raised at the conclusion of that lecture. Read the rest of this entry »

Audio-Schiurim: Die Schomre-Thora-Vorträge zu Gebet

March 9, 2011

Im vergangegem Februar dürfte ich in der Schomre Thora Basel einen gut besuchten Vortragszyklus namens Mehr Bedeutung für unsere Gebete vorstellen (die Einladung war hier zu lesen). Nun finden Sie die Audio-Aufnahmen hier. “Dankbarkeit für Alltägliches: Die Morgenbrachót”, “Das Power-Gebet: Warum soll G”tt unsere Gebete erhören? Die Amidá” und “Danksagung ausserhalb der Synagoge: Das Benschen”. Read the rest of this entry »