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 »

Audio-Schiur – Psalm 126 – Gedenklernen für Herrn Heinz Althof s.A.

February 8, 2011

Psalm 126 — Weshalb sprechen wir diesen Psalm öfters vor dem Tischgebet? Weshalb vermischen sich das landwirtschaftliche Thema mit der Rückkehr der Weggeführten Zions? Read the rest of this entry »

Le psaume 92 – cours multimédia en français

February 8, 2011

PikiWiki_Israel_14321_Religion_in_IsraelFrançaisaudio-input-microphoneLe psaume 92 est l’un des plus connus, car nous le retrouvons trois fois chaque semaine, toujours dans la liturgie du Chabbat. Que l’on visite la synagogue plus ou moin régulièrement, c’est un psaume que l’on reconnaitra.

Mais quel est donc le sujet de ce psaume? Est-ce le chabbat, comme la superscription (le verset titre) l’indique? Que est-ce-que d’autres psaumes peuvent nous enseigner à propos de ce psaume? Read the rest of this entry »

Video-Schiur: Psalm 34

August 16, 2010

Psalm 34 wird wöchentlich, beim Schabbatmorgeng”ttesdienst gesprochen.

Was ist das Thema des 34. Psalm, und mit welchen historischen Ereignissen ist es zu verbinden? Erläutern diese historische Umsände den Inhalt des Psalmen?

Die Quellen zum Vortrag können Sie hier herunterladen.

Dieser Vortrag wurde im Schloss Landskron bei Flüh präsentiert, zu einem von der Schomre Thora Basel organisierten Barbeque-Picnic.

Videovortrag: Wer hat die Psalmen verfasst?

June 2, 2010

Es ist allgemein bekannt, dass König David als Verfasser der Tehillim (Psalmen) angesehen wird. Allerdings gibt es im Talmud, in zahlreichen Midraschím und auch im Text der Tehillim Hiweise darauf, dass König David nicht der einzige Verfasser der Tehillim ist.

Wer denn waren die anderen Verfasser der Tehillim, und was wissen wir über sie?

Dieser Schi’úr (Vortrag) wurde am So. 7. März ’10 in der Schomre Thora Basel vorgetragen und ist der zweite in einer Reihenfolge von Video-Schi’úrim (Vorträge) zu den Psalmen. Der frühere Vortrag heisst Tehillim als Gebet.

[Sie können sich diesen Video auch bei Vimeo anschauen.]

Audio-Schi’ur zu Psalm 91 – im Andenken an der Frau Beatrice Bernstein

April 11, 2010

Es ist mit grossem Bedauern, dass wir von der schmerzlichen Mitteilung vom Hinschied der Frau Beatrice Bernstein s.A. — בריינדעל בת יהודה — vernommen haben. Zum ersten Schiwa’-Lernen wurde der schwierige, aber schöne und tiefe Psalm 91 ausgelegt. Anbei die Aufnahme dieses Lernens. Read the rest of this entry »

Videovortrag: Tehillim als Gebet

January 19, 2010

Gestern durfte ich einen Vortrag zum Thema Tehillim als Gebet in der Schomre Thora Basel präsentieren. Dieser Vortrag wird nun dem Internetpublikum zu Verfügung gestellt [].

Der Vortrag beruht teilweise auf einem früheren Blog-Post in englischer Sprache: The Warmongering Laboring Amazones. [automatische Google-Übersetzung ins Deutsche]

Manche Teilnehmer wünschten sich Ratschläge, welcher Kommentar sie zu die Hand nehmen sollten, um das Buch Tehillim zu lernen lesen. Anbei also einige Titel in den deutschen, englischen und hebräischen Sprachen. Read the rest of this entry »

The Warmongering Laboring Amazons

December 14, 2009

R’ Yaaqov Emden (“Yaavetz”) remarks that it is appropriate for a woman in the throes of labor to recite Psalm 20, which is also part of the daily morning liturgy.

Does it thematically fit?

Thematically, Psalm 20 seems far removed from birth stools and midwives. Its theme is a military one, for soldiers going to battle against a powerful, well equipped enemy.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of LORD-ETERNAL our God. They are bowed down and fallen; but we are risen, and stand upright. (verses 8-9)

Is this custom preserving some vague memory of women becoming particularly aggressive during labor, of all times? Did ancient women pray to turn into fiery warmongering Amazons, thinking that those heroines don’t fear birthing pangs? Or is this psalm about the various implements used to make women most comfortable during the painful birthing pangs? Some modern women prefer giving birth in a bath or on a Roma Wheel, rather than in a bed or birthing stool. Did our ancient Israelite ancestresses prefer reclining on a horse or a wagon?

By the same token, we may ask why this psalm was incorporated into the daily liturgy of sedentary farmers and merchants. Is this not a prayer for officers and soldiers? Read the rest of this entry »

How did Psalm 30 Land in the Morning Service

July 31, 2009

EnglishOne of the pleasures of having come to Basel was, that I was suddenly confronted with what seemed to me rather strange liturgical minhaggim, as up until then I had assumed that my tradition was of course the standard; a common human fallacy. One of the things I discovered, is that, while every synagogue I could remember visiting up until then, included Psalm 30 (מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית) in the morning liturgy, to be recited before Baruch SheAmar, in Basel, it was ignored.

My first indication that this Psalm’s inclusion in the liturgy deserved some scrutiny came even before I encountered Minhag Basel, from hearing about R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s personal minhag of reciting said Psalm only after Barukh SheAmar, for in his opinion it was only within the framework of Pessuqei deZimra that one could begin to recite Psalms in the morning liturgy. (However, he had no objection to the liturgical recitation of Psalms after Pessuqei deZimra.) However, that was a chiddush of R’ Soloveitchik; it never was an established minhag.

So how come that it is recited in most communities, while many Yeckishe communities skip it? Read the rest of this entry »