Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23): An Eye for an Eye and Blasphemers

I am a blasphemer. Not in how I use God’s name as a swear word. I swear very little if at all. I am probably not a blasphemer in contravention of the Third Commandment that instructs us, “not to bear the name of YHWH in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) However, I am a blasphemer deep in my heart and even deeper in my mind. This is not a charge stated lightly or carelessly. Rather, it is an onerous one and is the main reason I find this week’s portion so intriguing.

What is a blasphemer?

Parashat Emor is primarily about the equation of purity and holiness and, more particularly, how priests are to avoid becoming “polluted”. Yet, incongruously, the portion ends with the stoning of the blasphemer just before the law of retaliation (lex talionis) is repeated. The two sides of the sandwich, rules of retaliation and priestly injunctions against pollution, are critical to my understanding of blasphemy and how it should be treated by a community.

Let me begin with the injunction of an eye for an eye, the injunction to retaliate. Verses 24:19-20 read as follows:

ויקרא כד:יט וְאִ֕ישׁ כִּֽי־יִתֵּ֥ן מ֖וּם בַּעֲמִית֑וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה כֵּ֖ן יֵעָ֥שֶׂה לּֽוֹ: כד:כ שֶׁ֚בֶר תַּ֣חַת שֶׁ֔בֶר עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֥ן מוּם֙ בָּֽאָדָ֔ם כֵּ֖ן יִנָּ֥תֶן בּֽוֹ: Lev If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him: 24:20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him.

This is not an abstract imperative to me. Last Monday I was operated on my left eye. It was injured when I was seven-years old. Doctors removed a piece of lead, stitched up my pupil and for over fifty years I could only discern light and dark; through that eye, everything only looked like various shades of a cloud. Once just over twenty years ago when we were driving north on Vaughan Avenue just south of St. Clair Ave. W. and I was in the passenger seat, I suddenly exclaimed aloud, “I can see! I can see!” For the first time in over five decades on the big billboard on the north side I could discriminate actual shapes with my left eye – blurry though they were. I even saw some sort of difference in colour, though, when I checked, not quite what others saw. But the recovery of some sight in the left eye was “a miracle.” I could see with my left eye, not clearly, but see nevertheless.

Over the years since, contrary to the pattern of most people, my sight in that eye gradually improved so that I began to be able to identify shapes and even read very large print. The improvement was attributed to the fact that the scar tissue on my pupil had gradually become smoother over the years and had become more and more transparent. My retina had never been injured. It was suggested that I get laser surgery and there was a good chance that my vision would improve even more.

When I was first told about this, I was informed that there was a risk, not a tiny one but a significant chance that there would be no further improvement and that the improvement in my vision would even be set back. The main reason was that my pupil had been misshapen by the injury and laser surgery would be riskier. I decided not to take the risk and rather enjoyed the gradual improvement in my sight in my left eye over the last two decades.

Then four things happened. First, I had begun to develop cataracts in my eyes, much worse in my partially-sighted left eye than my right, and my vision in that eye had begun to become more blurred again. Second, laser surgery had improved enormously and the chances of success had changed dramatically. Third, my optometrist, whom I saw regularly, seemed more dedicated to improving my eyesight than I was and “insisted” that I see a surgeon. Fourth, in the test for my surgery, at least in one of the tests, the technician put a blackout lens over my right eye and a dark lens with pinholes in it over my left eye. I was asked to read the letters on the screen.

Miracle of miracles! I could read every single letter, right down to the tiny ones on the final line. Clearly, I could even have perfect vision out of that eye if the light was allowed to reach the retina easier and perhaps more directly and more focused. I joyfully acquiesced to the surgery.

A week ago Monday I had the surgery. This Wednesday I went for my follow-up examination. I could read through the left eye all but the bottom row of letters on the black-and-white screen. I had been rewarded with 20/30 vision. Success!

What does this story have to do with a revenge ethic let alone with blasphemy? The full context of the injury helps clarify the relevance. When I was seven-years-old, fifteen months younger than my late older brother (he eventually became a highly-regarded cardiologist), he had just turned nine. As he did his homework at the kitchen table in our house on Ulster Street, I began to tease him mercilessly for having to take school work home and for not finishing everything at school or even dispensing with it quickly when we got home. Finally, in rage and exasperation at the continual interruptions and the constant teasing, he turned and flung his pencil at me. The pencil hit my left eye and the end piece of the lead broke off and remained lodged in my pupil.

That was on a Thursday after school. We did not know the extent of the damage at the time, or that the lead had been lodged in the pupil. My eye just stung and kept watering. The nurse was not in the school on Friday and I was sent to see her first thing on Monday morning. She immediately called my mother and I was rushed to Sick Children’s Hospital in the old building on College Street that now houses the blood bank. I was operated on the same day and spent the next three weeks in the hospital graduating by steps from a black mask to a Lone Ranger mask and then a black pirate patch over my left eye.

Other than eating salty porridge – sugar was still rationed immediately after WWII – my memory of the hospital in a general ward with about twenty other young boys was that we had had a wild great time over the three weeks of my stay. My blind eye has just become a fact about me. Because I had very dark brown eyes, no one noticed that the left pupil was turned upwards unlike my young friend, Charlie Menkes, who had an external scar over his eye where he had been cut. In contrast to me, everyone knew he was blind in his left eye.

What if the law of retribution had been in effect? Would my brother have lost sight in his left eye because he had thrown the pencil? Even though I had provoked the action? After all, the injunction simply stated that, “The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him.” How unjust that would have been! And my late bother might not have become the brilliant medical diagnostician he turned out to be.

The lex talionis was not nuanced like the Hammurabi Code that only required an eye for an eye if a noble had been injured. The person would only have to pay a few shekels if the victim had been a commoner or even half that value if he were a slave. If he was a Mesopotamian, my brother would have been forced to pay me his earnings for perhaps a few hours of work for I too was just a commoner. But we were not Mesopotamians. We were Jews. And the law in the Torah regarded everyone as equal and requiring the same retributive punishment.

The injunction of an eye for an eye is one part of the narrative, the top slice of the sandwich. I have already written about the other side-story, the bottom slice that occurs in Leviticus, God’s sudden slaying of Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, for who knows what – because they erred as priests in bringing alien fire into the Holy of Holies, because they might have been a bit tipsy, or for a myriad of other rationales that rabbinic authorities have dreamt up to excuse such murderous divine action without giving the victim a hearing or any due process let alone some slack. Unlike alleged pollution of the holy, at least an injured eye only required injuring the eye of the one who caused the injury and not sudden and immediate death. Thank God my brother had only injured me physically and not polluted the purity of God’s holy place.  I regard these rare side-stories as perhaps throwing more light on the law than all the details of that law.

Which brings me to the blasphemer. (Leviticus 24:10-12) In the camp, there was a fight between two boys, presumably young adults rather than young boys like my brother and myself. The two boys were not brothers at all. Both mothers were Israelites, but the father of one was an Egyptian while the father of the other was an Israelite. Had the young lad with the Israelite father provoked the other boy by calling him a half-breed? Had the boy with the Egyptian father responded by cursing the Israelite God?

Whatever the back story, the son of the Egyptian father was put in the stocks to await YHWH’s decision about his punishment. Note, there is no indication that the one boy injured the other in the fight, only that he blasphemed God. But was this a different example of retributive punishment? What happened? Presumably God’s honour was far more important than a blinded eye for God ordered the Israelites to take the lad outside the community and stone him.

ויקרא כד:יג וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:כד:יד הוֹצֵ֣א אֶת הַֽמְקַלֵּ֗ל אֶל מִחוּץ֙ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְסָמְכ֧וּ כָֽל הַשֹּׁמְעִ֛ים אֶת יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל רֹאשׁ֑וֹ וְרָגְמ֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ כָּל הָעֵדָֽה: Lev 24:13 And YHWH spoke to Moses saying, 24:14 “Bring out the curser outside of the camp and all who heard him will lean their hands upon his head, and the whole community will stone him.”

Was this similar to the treatment meted out to Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu? The treatment of the son of the Egyptian father seems much worse or, at the very least, much gorier. Nadab and Abihu seemed to be instantly consumed by God’s fire. The son of the Egyptian father and the Israelite mother, Shelomith, clearly suffered a much slower and more agonizing death. However, there is an indication that the blasphemous son of the Egyptian father, is, like King Josiah, the real hero of the story. Like Rebecca, the mother of the son with the Egyptian father was Shelomit, daughter of Divri of the tribe of Dan. Such a description was a lofty honorific.

Was racism involved? Was the son of the Egyptian father really being punished for being of “mixed blood” and, therefore, a symbol of the so-called pollution of the nation through intermarriage, through breeding cattle of one kind with cattle of another kind? Did such alleged “pollution” defile Eretz Israel, the Holy Land itself?

That seems not to be the case. The bloody mob execution was not racist. It appears that the text condemns racism. After all, Miriam got a skin disease for chastising Moses for taking an Ethiopian bride. The following verse is even clearer and reads as follows:

ויקרא כד:טו וְאֶל בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל תְּדַבֵּ֣ר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֥ישׁ אִ֛ישׁ כִּֽי יְקַלֵּ֥ל אֱלֹהָ֖יו וְנָשָׂ֥א חֶטְאֽוֹ: כד:טז וְנֹקֵ֤ב שֵׁם־יְ-הֹוָה֙ מ֣וֹת יוּמָ֔ת רָג֥וֹם יִרְגְּמוּ ב֖וֹ כָּל הָעֵדָ֑הכַּגֵּר֙ כָּֽאֶזְרָ֔ח בְּנָקְבוֹ־שֵׁ֖ם יוּמָֽת: Lev 24:15 And to the children of Israel you will speak, saying: any man who will curse his God will bear his sin.  24:16 And one who will pierce the name of YHWH will surely be put to death.  The whole community will surely stone him, like stranger and like citizen; when he pierces the name he will die.”

It did not matter who cursed God. Israelite or son of an Egyptian were to be treated the same – stoned and murdered for cursing God. Should we be delighted that in this case egalitarian principles of equality before the law trumped racism? Shawna Dolansky a professor at Carleton University whom I have cited favourably before, seems to think so. I myself find this type of compensatory rationale, however valid in bringing out the principle of equality before the law, to be a distraction from the law that required blasphemers to be stoned.

Dr. Serge Frolov finds this injunction to kill blasphemers to be an embarrassment to the religious and body politic of Israel. I, on the other hand, find it intriguing. Perhaps the one who cursed God was not a reference to him in a racist or nationalist sense, but that he was an Egyptian in his heart, that he belonged to the class of people who prevented the Israelites from being liberated. On the other hand, even though he dissed God, perhaps it was he who at this time lived among the Israelites and now stood on the side of liberation and freedom as well as equality. Perhaps he stood as a foil in contrast to those who stone others for using God’s name as a curse word and who demand an eye for an eye. Perhaps the son of the Egyptian was a symbol of one who challenges the premises of both injunctions and argues that the God of Israel is a God of self-revelation, is a God that learns the lessons of excess zealotry and reverence for purity, is a God who gradually, through intercourse with flawed humans, learned too of His own flaws and learned as well to accept responsibility and to diss His inhumanity.

Afterword I

Ignoring for the moment those who simply deride the barbarism of such laws, this stance is quite different from that of most Reform Jews, who avoid discussing such injunctions that they find embarrassing. Others, supply twisted rationales. Still others, mainly a few evangelical Christians, believe that such demands should be taken literally and enforced. Certainly, in their own way from their own sacred texts, Islamicists from the Taliban and ISIS take similar injunctions literally. What about interpreters like myself who try to understand the plot, the characters and the theme in terms of the textual context and the thrust of the narrative?

The story begins with two boys struggling. Unlike Cain and Abel or Jacob and Esau, they are not blood brothers. But they are at odds. But like those stories, in the struggle, the one favoured by God (Abel) or by Isaac (Esau) is not the one that becomes the carrier of the historical narrative. Cain and Jacob win but carry the wounds of that victory similar to the way Jacob limps after wrestling with the angel. Similarly, after an enraged Moses killed the overseer for his barbaric treatment of the Hebrew slave, the next day when he found two Hebrews fighting (Exodus 2:13) and asked why one Hebrew had struck his fellow Hebrew, the striker bravely retorted and asked why Moses was acting so high and mighty. Then he mocked Moses responding, “Do you think you can kill me like you killed the Egyptian?”

This story of the stoning of the son of an Egyptian father and an Israelite mother echoes that one, for the son of the Egyptian God, like Moses, acts out of rage, not to kill as Moses did, but to use God’s name as a curse word. But unlike Moses, the Israelites do not flee for they are now on their own land. Further, it is the Israelites who perform the unseemly violence, not Moses, and not in wrath, but in a cool-headed and cold-hearted belief that they were just inflicting a divinely sanctioned punishment for simply using God’s name in vain.

This fighting (נִצִּים) that takes place in both cases is not simply a physical fight, but a struggle to find the correct path and the norms. And like the pattern throughout the Torah, somehow, the choice originally taken seems the worse one, whether the injunction flouted is one of protecting the purity of the Holy of Holies or the name of the Holy One Himself. It will take humanity to soften and amend the harshness of God’s pristine and inflexible commandments.

That is reason enough to be a blasphemer.

Afterword II

Note that, unlike the case of Aaron’s two sons, towards whom God took umbrage, it is the Israelites who arrest the son of the Egyptian father and Israelite mother for cursing God.  God simply delivers the verdict. But God does not get off the hook so easily. We all know the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you.” Just as it is totally unjust to take an eye for an eye, it is far worse to take a life simply for dissing God. Unless – an important unless – the name of God is His life essence. Blasphemy is not simply using God’s name as a curse word, but abusing God’s name, God’s reputation.

Is this not like Putin punishing dissidents or Erdoğan arresting Turks for insulting the highest authority in the land or Donald Trump insisting that dedicated civil servants be fired for besmirching the name of The Donald. After all, what else is Trump, for better or for worse, but his brand? Isn’t that true of God? And is it not much more of a blasphemy than using God’s name as a swear word to comparing YHWH to Putin, Erdoğan and Trump? Does that not make me a blasphemer in my heart and mind much more deserving of being stoned than the son of the Egyptian father and Israelite mother who used God’s name as a curse or my brother who, in justified anger, threw a pencil at my eye?

All the twisting of the story to turn it upside down and inside out to insist it is a warning against the Israelites insulting anyone’s god, is a lesson against religiously inspired violence based on the belief that insulting the divine name is a most serious and egregious transgression, is not only beside the point, but a more repulsive apologetic in the name of higher principles than all the Talmudic rabbis who try to justify the injunction.

I am more worthy of being cursed because I challenge not only God’s holiness as giving Him an immunity, but the whole idea of separating the holy and unpolluted from the profane and unpolluted. For the nitty-gritty of ethics is to be found in the profane rather than in any abstract vision of purity or perfection. That is why rabbinic Judaism was superior to either the puritanism of the Essenes or the priestly ritualism, even if it often slipped back into the errors of its close predecessors and contemporaries.

 

Hail to heartfelt and mindful blasphemers!

Advertisements

The Dance Macabre

I received three communications directly or indirectly concerning Israel’s Yom HaZikaron or Memorial Day. The only direct one follows and is self-explanatory:

ONE

Greetings from Jerusalem. We are here witnessing what Yom HaZikaron really means to Israelis. Spending yesterday at Mount Herzl and being there with so many young Israelis paying a tribute to those who have died on behalf of Israel, has been a very emotional experience for both of us, myself and my wife. It shall and must be shared with our young diaspora generation in Canada and the States. Seeing, feeling the pain of parents, family members and an entire nation can be only understood when you hold the moment close to your heart as your hand is reaching to touch and feel and to understand.

I am very much honoured to be part of this Israeli’s Memorial Day and experience the indescribable true spirit of the nation.

TWO

The second communication was oral. Like the third, it was a response to the film Foxtrot. This reader of my blog went to see the film even though I had indicated that I was not recommending readers see the movie. She did see it and walked out two-thirds through. But the reason was very different than the source of my advice. I did not want to recommend that the movie be seen because I found the emotional tearing to be just so great in the depiction of how parents feel about the loss of their son in the IDF. This took place in the first and third acts. My reader responded to the second act. (SPOILER ALERT!)

In that act, four Palestinians in a car are inadvertently killed by gunfire from Israeli soldiers. Under their commander’s orders, an excavation machine is brought to this remote and desolate army checkpoint, a large whole is dug and the whole car with the four dead young people inside is buried and the earth scraped back over the hole.

My reader left because what she saw on the screen was a calumny aimed at the Israeli army. She knew the Israeli army would never do anything like that. She thought that this act of the movie would only serve anti-Israel propaganda.

I agreed with her than many if not most viewers would interpret Act II literally instead of as a hyperbolic metaphor for Israel engaging in a cover-up concerning the effects of the occupation on the soul of Israel. Nevertheless, I defended the right of an artist to engage in poetic licence in such surrealist writing and dramatization. My reader remained unconvinced.

THREE

A third reader saw the film, read my review and wrote his own brilliant analysis of the symbolic meaning of the film. He, too, was jarred by the second act, but for very different reasons than myself or my other reader. As he writes, “Act two is a variation on the theme of the fog and chaos of war that does not work for me.” (AGAIN, FULL SPOILER ALERT!) With minor edits, that feedback follows:

At the end of your review of the film, Foxtrot, you invited comments. Here are a few thoughts.

We are glad we went to see the film. We are also glad that none of our friends joined us. It is a difficult film to watch, particularly as a parent, as you indicated.

In your review, you emphasized the metaphor of the foxtrot dance. I am not a dancer and had to look up foxtrot on wiki. A foxtrot was a dance which minimized the chance of inadvertent physical contact. The foxtrot was respectable in earlier days. As such, the foxtrot was the anti-tango.

Who was dancing the foxtrot in the film? I would suggest that, in the first act where the parents receive the news of the fate of their son, the dance is between the young soldier’s family and the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. The agents of the state are trying to be empathetic in the synthetic manner of civil servants who are just doing their job. If they do not know the answer to a question, they say it is not in their job description to know. Beware of clergy and, in particular, chaplains who are working from a manual of administration and related policy directives. In this dance, the civil servants do not do a good job of respecting physical boundaries.

As I recall, they inject a drug into the mother who had fainted without first asking consent of the husband or advising him of the action they are taking. They push the father to drink water and fiddle with his cell phone, without permission, to prompt him to hydrate himself every hour. Has he been medicated too? Water appears to be another important recurring metaphor in the film. In the first act, it is restorative and helps one regain equilibrium.

In the second act, the soldiers know the word foxtrot from the international phonetic alphabet for radio communications: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot, etc. One of them casually mentions that foxtrot is also a dance. There is a scene where a soldier does a little dance on the roadway. I would suggest, however, that the real dance in the second act is between the soldiers manning the checkpoint and the travellers on the road. Each group is careful not to touch the other. That dance changes when a beer can rolls onto the dance floor.

There is a lot of water imagery in the second act. Although the soldiers are in the desert, water appears to be a threat to them or at least a significant nuisance. They slog through pooled water by their makeshift encampment; the metal box in which they live is slowly sinking into the waterlogged ground. They do not appear to be stationed in a life-giving oasis. Water adversely affects their work. There is a storm one night when they check the documents of the couple whom they compel to wait outside their vehicle in the downpour. The abundance of unwanted water makes the desert setting surreal. (my italics)

The camel, itself a water symbol, ambles through the checkpoint from time to time and reinforces the impression that the desert is an unreal place. It is ridiculous to see the barricade be raised and lowered each time to let it pass. Of all the travellers through the checkpoint, the camel also turns out to be the dance partner who was, literally, the only real threat on the road. The other dance partners are pretty well indistinguishable from the soldiers. The various occupants in the vehicles they stop do not dress in ethnically different or identifiable ways. One merchant appears to be carrying a load of garish toys. A robotic toy soldier is left behind to goose step on the highway until it falls over by itself still kicking. Every detail in the second act reinforces the feeling that the desert checkpoint is surreal. (my italics)

In the third act, I would suggest that the dance is between the father and mother of the soldier. At the outset of the act, they are beyond the touching stage. They are not living together. They are still parents, together. They reminisce. The father mentions a couple of times that he was the happiest when they were living by the sea in earlier times. In the third act, water is again a positive, life-affirming image. Although grounded in bitter reality, they are unable to agree on the ultimate meaning of their son’s last sketch from the desert. They are entering a softer reality of individual projected thoughts helped along by a bottle of wine and their son’s stash. Still, the parents’ dance is the only one of the three that conveys hope. The last dance represents more than just the movements of people who are playing out their roles – and represents more than a formal social dance between hostile strangers.

So, should one applaud after the music finally stops?

Act one suggests that when the dance is real, things get surreal. The very real news of the death of the son is followed by a banal, but also surreal, bureaucratic process. Ultimately, the news becomes unreal too. I would have clapped my hands after the first dance.

Act two suggests that when the dance is surreal, very real things can happen. The need for a barricade and dance of inspection in the middle of a wet spot in the desert appears bizarre. The reality is, however, that death wants to cut in and dance too. Act two is a variation on the theme of the fog and chaos of war that does not work for me. I would have refrained from clapping after the second dance.

Act three suggests that one can dance by the sea at sunset with the one who used to love you. I would not clap after this dance either unless it was in a Hollywood musical.

Regardless, in my opinion, Foxtrot does work as a sum of its parts. As I mentioned at the outset, I am glad that we went out in the ice storm to see the movie. lt is just difficult to know to whom to recommend this film.

A FOURTH ACT OR AFTERWORD

First, as a foreword, I offer a brief, and possibly controversial, potted history of indulgences that at first may appear totally unrelated and even far-fetched. The institution developed over two successive and distinct phases, with a number of mutations within each phase during the Middle Ages. The practice continues into the present. For example, almost ten years ago, the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a decree granting indulgences to those who undertook a pilgrimage during the Pauline Year to the Basilica of Saint John outside the Roman walls.

Indulgences were instituted to relieve parishioners of penances. The first phase of their development began with the Crusades and the wars between Christendom and the advancing militant Muslim faith. The Muslims had a clear psychological advantage in their war with the Christians. If one of their warriors died in battle for their faith, they were considered martyrs and guaranteed a place in heaven. In contrast, Christian soldiers who died in battle without confessing and receiving the final rites, not only lacked such a guarantee, they went to purgatory. You can readily see why this posed a morale problem for the Christian armed forces.

The Pope issued a decree which said that any soldier who died in battle for the Christian cause had acted as if he had confessed his sins and would be automatically forgiven without any formal proceeding. The initiative, though welcomed by soldiers, was also greeted by widespread criticism. What about the wounded? What about those permanently handicapped? What about those who lost legs or arms or their very wits? Why should they not be blessed with an indulgence? In response to the criticism, the application was broadened. During the First Crusade in 1099, Pope Urban II expanded the scope even further and remitted all ecclesiastical penance for any armed pilgrim setting off for the Holy Land.

Many civilians who went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land were also martyred by “terrorists.” The application was broadened again. Many Christians lacked the strength or the ability to fight. They were handicapped in some way. For many Christians, the hardships of life, the risks to the flesh and the punishment for sins, were far more onerous than anything that happened to a Christian going to war. The application of the first type of indulgence was changed again. First extended to civilians martyred on the crusades, it was extended to those who were, for some reason, unable to volunteer in the Christian struggle against Islam and paid for a proxy to go to war on his behalf. Thus, did the Indulgence of the Cross mutate into a form that not only raised morale in the religious wars, but raised a good part of the money needed to fight those battles.

The Crusades ended. But the taxation system in the church had come to rely heavily on indulgences as a source of funds. Further, the Church had changed its focus and shifted its energies to building the enormous ornate cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The development of the Indulgence was now detached from the Crusades. You could earn an indulgence by making a pilgrimage to Rome every hundred years; the Jubilee Indulgence.

The Church, however, ran through the money raised for the centenary in only 23 years. The application was changed again. The Church instituted a pilgrimage every 25 years instead of every 100. This Jubilee Indulgence was once again modified to allow it to be a reward for pilgrimages to a myriad of sacred sites and institutions. Soon, one could buy oneself out of or limit the effects of punishment in purgatory for indulgences could be earned in return for purchase of a “sacred” trinket or even for a donation to a “good cause.” As Martin Luther charged, the Church had become corrupt to its core in the process of raising funds to erect its great edifices.

Initially, the 95 theses that Martin Luther had nailed on the church door in Wittenberg was simply an academic disputation. Such was the case when Martin Luther first traveled outside Wittenberg to Heidelberg on 25 April 1518 to defend his theses before the German General Chapter of the Augustine monks. There was no scandal. There were no protests. It was simply another theological academic debate. However, half way between the six months between the event in Heidelberg and those in Augsburg, a momentous event took place that had nothing to do with intellectual debate and everything to do with political hysteria.

But first Augsburg. Last year, Augsburg, Germany, marked its 500th anniversary. Far from being a remote outpost in the desert, Augsburg was central to the Reformation. Many historians argue that the long religious war in Europe between Catholic and Protestant began in Augsburg rather than Wittenberg. In contrast to the proceedings in Heidelberg, Martin Luther was summoned to the free imperial city of Augsburg by the Cardinal and papal legate, Cajetan, to face charges of heresy. In the papal trial for heresy between 7-20 October 1518, Luther refused to deny his Theses as demanded by Cajetan. Luther instead challenged the morality of indulgences and questioned the Pope’s authority.

This moment is very famous in history. Between Heidelberg and Augsburg, a far less well-known event took place in July 1518 in the free city of Strasbourg where grain and grapes met in an economic marriage. The event was the Dancing Epidemic. In that communal psychosis, 400 people in the end participated in day and night dancing so that many, exhausted and dehydrated, died from the strenuous exercise. This was not, as widely conveyed at the time, a punishment from God, but was the culmination of built-in resentments developed over years at the penury of the peasantry and the gerrymandering and restrictions of electors in a period of weather turmoil. Freezing rains in April followed by a scorching summer of drought alternating with torrential rains ruined crops and possibly resulted in new fungal diseases, associated with LSD, that infected the local crops. (CF. Carlos Bracero, “The 1518 Plague of Strasbourg: A Dancing Fever,” 2013) Ergot poisoning from moldy rye seeds was a possible initiating event. Alternatively, encephalopathy associated with streptococcal infection- Sydenham’s chorea – was another possible health issue among young people that could have set off the craze.

While canons, monks and nuns lived in luxury and paid neither taxes nor with their lives to defend the city – very similar to the position of the plutocrats of today – Martin Luther’s 95 theses had set the downtrodden masses on fire to express their outrage at the Church in wild and frenzied physical displays. This hysterical mania followed from earlier greater restrictions on and repressions of the working class and, when some planned a revolt, the participants were beheaded and hung for high treason. The madness of the masses now threatened to disrupt the whole social order and the political leadership responded with new forms of indulgences – opening community centres and outdoor sites to hopefully contain the frenzy.

No more polite and controlled dancing, but a wild frenzy would adumbrate the widespread revolt against the Church set off by the events at Augsburg. In the wild dance of the soldier on that barren outpost in the desert in Foxtrot, is Samuel Maoz being prescient about the outcome of the mad and seemingly unprecedented times through which we are passing? Does the metaphor of the dance have even more political and social significance than my reader brilliantly pointed out in the film?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Adam and Eve

If chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis set the stage for the development of humankind, Chapter 3 provides the frame. Chapter 2, verse 24 ended with a comment on how Adam and Eve felt after they had sex. The two of them were naked and felt no shame. How did they go from being naked and unashamed to being shamed? How did chapter 3 define the frame through which human relations came to be understood by millions of people?

A frame, according to the philosopher and linguist, George Lakoff, offers an ethical and political language in which to embed deep-seated and active values. (Cf. Don’t Think of an Elephant) Those who command the construction and interpretation of the frame determine in large part how we see and respond to the world. The vaguer the frame becomes, the more confused it appears to be, the more likely behaviour will be based on fears rather than on positive values and aspirations. Further, the more that one frame is reinforced by effective metaphors rather than logical arguments, by repetition, interpretation and other means, to that degree will possessors of the frame be able to resist challenges. For the frame is overwhelmingly unconscious and provides the conceptual basis for dealing with our lives and desires.

One interpretation of the Adam and Eve story has set the predominant frame in terms of which male-female relationships, from which all other relationships are derivative, are understood and entail certain types of actions and ruling out others. It goes as follows, recognizing that naming or branding them came later:

  1. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  2. Eve was tricked by an unscrupulous and shrewd snake to eat thereof.
  3. Eve then seduced Adam.
  4. After they ate, they recognized that they were naked and became ashamed of their nakedness and donned clothes.
  5. God suspected something was amiss.
  6. The man and his wife hid from God ostensibly because they were naked.
  7. God then knew that the two had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and first confronted Adam.
  8. Adam said it was Eve’s fault.
  9. When Eve was confronted, she said it was the serpent’s fault; he had seduced her.
  10. As a result, the snake was cursed, forced to crawl on its belly and eat dirt, and there would hereafter be enmity between the snake and women.
  11. Woman was cursed a) with suffering extreme pain in giving birth and b) with a desire for her husband and c) acceptance that the husband would rule over her.
  12. Adam was cursed because he would be forced to work all his life by the sweat of his brow until he died.

Let’s call this the family conservative frame since if informs and is reaffirmed by most community conservatives. The frame is taken to mean what it apparently says, that is, it is perceived as a literal rather than metaphorical frame which makes it resistant to other interpretations. Desire and sex are viewed as the source of all evil, but a desire that neither man nor woman can avoid. Hence, the doctrine of original sin. Sex is then viewed as perhaps necessary to satiate uncontrollable desires and, of course, to procreate, but it should only properly take place between a man and his wife in a boundaried context of a mutual but asymmetrical relationship, the woman defined primarily by nurturing and bringing forth children in pain and suffering under the rule of her husband as the final arbiter.

Let us reread the text in terms of another frame, one which primarily accepts the narrative as a metaphor that requires interpretation. Further, instead of stressing negatives and prohibitions, it is a tale about overcoming superego trips for a life of creativity, responsibility and true companionship.  Though there are many variations, let us call it the liberal frame. It differs from the conservative reading in the following respects:

  1. God’s statement to man and woman is not a categorical command but a conditional claim – if you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will die; knowledge of your mortality will be the consequence of having sex.
  2. Nevertheless, God allows his consequentialist declarations to be perceived as absolute moral prohibitions, whereas the task of humans is to see through this critically and to reinforce the rights of self-determination in opposition to such an imposition.
  3. Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil entails man “knowing” a woman and a woman “knowing” a man, that is sex – this is the one common element of both frames.
  4. A consequence of having sex is both recognition of one’s mortality and that recognition is the ground and foundation for humans defining themselves in terms of ethics.
  5. The talking erect serpent is man’s penis seen by man as having a will of its own and is characterized as sly and subtle; the difference however, is that man must recognize this as an act of objectifying his own body, just as he objectified woman by conceiving of her as an extension of himself, and failing to take responsibility for his whole being and his actions.
  6. Most importantly, this reflects on the male disposition to separate his conscious life of objectivity and viewing the world from his unconscious life, so that the male is characterized as inherently torn between an embodied self and a disembodied self that uses language to bring things into cognitive existence through the simple act of naming. Recognizing thought as primarily an act of unconscious framing provides a major step in overcoming this schizophrenia.
  7. The female disposition, on the other hand, is to be embodied, to be sensitive to sensual appeals rather than repressing them, to see relationships as modes of contact and communication rather than objectification, but when such dispositions are asserted, they are readily interpreted by the possessors of the conservative frame as subversive, so there develops a countervailing disposition under social pressure to expand injunctions, to perceive them as superego commands opposed to eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to not even touching; ideally, the woman should be a nun.
  8. The real sin of both the male and the female is one of a cover-up, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, and not taking responsibility for their actions; it is the decision to hide, not the drift into having sex.
  9. Transparency is to be lauded and not seen as a matter of shame.
  10. God does not like them having sex – He intended the future Eve to just be a help-meet, not even a companion and friend let alone a sexual partner.
  11. Through the failure to see the narrative as a metaphor, man perceives his life of work as a burden and a duty from which he longs for escape – either at the end of his days or when he can return to a paradisiacal state of leisure.
  12. For the very same reason, woman sees her life exclusively and burdensomely as a nurturer responsible primarily for giving birth, raising children and subjecting herself to a patriarchal order.

How do we allow one frame to develop and eventually command the way the world is viewed? One is by being educated in art as well as science, by seeing art and the imagination as absolutely critical and central to self-definition. Secondly, it requires using science, using the power of naming, to unveil the unconscious. Third, nurturing must be accepted, not only as the responsibility of both men and women, not only of the role of both men and women in the family, but of the conception of government in which care of one’s fellow citizens is first and foremost followed by care for the rest of the world.

That role of nurturing extends from government to all of civil society, including business and industry. Government is responsible for our health and well being, our safety, our use of public resources, our communications. Without highways and airports, telephones and the internet, our role as humans to facilitate contact and communication will be subverted. Further, and most audaciously, while interpreters of the conservative creed and the literalist interpretation of the core narrative code are perceived as allocating responsibility primarily to the family, the metaphorical interpretation views it as a prime responsibility of government to educate its citizens that government’s prime concern is caring and protecting, not retreating from its responsibilities. Adam Smith does not describe the wealth of nations simply to characterize businesses in open competition in order to maximize themselves, but as trustees served and protected by our governments to enhance the well-being of all. Though corporations may have a propensity to be self-serving, it is the duty of government to establish moral sympathy as the foundation stone and ensure, by means of regulations, that all businesses serve the public good.

Politics are grounded in an ethics of responsibility and accountability rather than an abuse of ethics to cover-up and hide, to be devious and celebrate deviousness. That requires offering your own narrative and interpretation of that narrative, framing and naming experience and thereby your own experience. It means making nurturing and empathy – traditional feminine values – as the core, rather than repression, hard-nosed discipline and patriarchy. The biblical tale begins with the latter, but with the message that it is up to humans to bring forth the former for otherwise the patriarchal God, Elohim, the God of power and domination, will never discover His other side, his mercy and that He is Adonai and not just Elohim. History is the vehicle for the education of both God and humanity. History is not reification but discovery and learning.

God is NOT the source of defining right and wrong. Males are NOT the source of defining right and wrong. Both have a history of failure. But both also have a history of learning from that failure and altering the framework through which they understand the world and act in and upon it. At Passover services the most interesting child is not the wise child who has learned all his lessons by heart, but the contrary child who raises questions about those lessons even as he mistakenly distances himself from the community in so doing. God begins by defining Himself as a strict disciplinarian, as a severe deliverer of tough love for His people, but discovers over and over again that tough love only leads to disarray and destruction rather than preservation and security. Reread the Adam and Eve story as an imaginative exercise with a very different frame.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Sex and the Single Man

We suspected it all along. But we are approaching certainty. Donald Trump will be impeached, even though he attacked Syria ostensibly to destroy some of the capacity of an evil regime which sacrifices its own nationals with chemical weapons in contravention of international treaties and the rules of war. Trump, reading from two prompters, gave his finest presidential speech ever in explaining what the U.S. and its allies were doing in their missile attack on Syria and why. Pat Robertson, the evangelical preacher, even interpreted Trump’s habit of sniffing while he reads a speech to be a sign that he was breathing in the breath of the Holy Spirit. However, the speech stank from insincerity. By sometime next year, if not earlier, Mike Pence will become president of the United States.

A reader of my blog sent me a very insightful article by Meghan O’Gieblyn in the May issue of Harpers Magazine called: “Exiled: Mike Pence and the evangelical fantasy of persecution.” The article not only paints a picture of the character of Pence’s Christian beliefs, but also provides insight into how he and other Christians could vote for and support Donald Trump no matter how much he lied, how much he fornicated with other women than his wife, how much he took to the media to berate and belittle his own appointees and government administrators. Mike Pence belongs to a branch of the Christian evangelical religion that takes its archetype for political involvement and activity from the story of Daniel and the emperor Cyrus.

In his 2016 book, God’s Chaos Candidate: Donald J. Trump and America’s Unraveling, Lance Wallau claimed that God spoke to him and revealed that candidate Trump was like the Persian King Cyrus cited in the Bible. Cyrus decreed that the Jews living in captivity in ancient Babylon could return to Israel and rebuild their temple. Voting for Trump entails a sacrifice to achieve a greater cause and objective.

First, the thesis presumes that Christians in America now live as aliens and a threatened minority in their own historic land. This is the same theses that Martin Luther King put forth in his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech fifty-five years ago on the Washington Mall on 28 August 1963: “the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” This is how Evangelical Christians, and Lance Wallau in particular, currently portray the current plight of Evangelical Christians in America. They are living as a persecuted minority as exiles in their own land.

Second, they will be redeemed, not through good works and social justice, but by getting in bed with a pagan who will serve as God’s means to deliver them once again to the Promised Land and their rightful home. They will return from exile and once again build a commonwealth based on strict Christian (priestly Jewish) teachings (a kingdom that never existed in history as much as some Jews tried to create one). The rule of a new High Priest would esteem purity and ban homosexuality, drive strangers out of the land and revere ethnic homogeneity. The Black narrative is first appropriated and then applied to themselves in a competition of imagined victimhood.

Could anything be more miraculous than the pagan Donald Trump rescuing Mike Spence from political decline and obscurity following the farce of the anti-gay legislation he introduced in Indiana? Could anyone imagine anything more miraculous than Donald Trump no sooner – or even before he won the presidency – proceeding headstrong towards self-destruction? Yes. The story of Daniel in the Torah is interpreted to mean that, “God’s people can survive in exile—even under the fist of a despotic ruler—so long as one of their own tribe advocates on their behalf in the corridors of power.” One can have faith and serve Babylon at one and the same time. Because Babylon with a pagan, tenacious and willful ruler unintentionally will serve as a mechanism of return as Isaiah foretold (45:1).

א  כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְכוֹרֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר-הֶחֱזַקְתִּי בִימִינוֹ לְרַד-לְפָנָיו גּוֹיִם, וּמָתְנֵי מְלָכִים, אֲפַתֵּחַ–לִפְתֹּחַ לְפָנָיו דְּלָתַיִם, וּשְׁעָרִים לֹא יִסָּגֵרוּ. 1 Thus saith the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him, and that the gates may not be shut:
ב  אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ אֵלֵךְ, וַהֲדוּרִים אושר (אֲיַשֵּׁר); דַּלְתוֹת נְחוּשָׁה אֲשַׁבֵּר, וּבְרִיחֵי בַרְזֶל אֲגַדֵּעַ. 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the doors of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron;

Trump will be the wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness and substitute religious correctness for Israel’s sake so that the nation can fulfill its divine assignment, and for America’s sake so that Christian nationalists can once again regain their proper place in the sun.

I had started to write this blog early Friday morning, but was sidetracked because of a request of one of my sons. I never got very far into it. On Friday evening when I was off to synagogue, at the corner of Nina and Bathurst Streets, I saw a vision. In the sky to the south at the bottom of the steep Bathurst Hill, there was a large hand in the sky. Beneath that sky, cars were driving towards the heavens and disappearing into the clouds. Of course, the huge hand in the sky was but a reflection in the misty late afternoon of the hand signal that warned pedestrians not to cross the street. The cars in the sky disappearing into the clouds were but reflections of the cars driving down the Bathurst Street hill. An unusual confluence of mist and air, and the sun remaining invisible, allowed what was on the ground to be reflected much larger than life in the sky. The heavens mirrored earth. It was an illusion.

Though this naturalistic explanation was correct, what I saw was a miracle nevertheless. It was a vision almost worthy of Daniel. God’s hand was so powerful that it could make cars and traffic disappear. Such is the power of God’s hand and His outstretched arm! Such is the willingness of humans to sacrifice their neighbours in the name of purification!

My theme in this series of blogs has been about etzem and how identity, or sameness, and independence can be reconciled. I wrote about Adam’s fantasy that woman was merely an extension and projection of man, woman more as possession than as objectification, though both misconceptions prove to be complementary. It is this tale of master and slave, of men as masters and women as their servants, that is even more fundamental than one ethnic group, one religious group or one race, subjecting another group to slavery.


כז  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.

Even in Genesis I, when God created man and woman, only man was made in the image of God. That is why in man’s dream, in Adam’s dream, woman is viewed as created, not this time as an image of himself, but as a physical extension and projection of himself. Only man in the image of God can say and it will be. Only man can name and classify and bring the categories of thought into being. Woman is simply made as a physical help meet of man – at least as told in the Biblical narrative of the faulty path of human illusions.

The biblical narrative begins, not with human independence, but interdependence, with man dependent on God and woman dependent on man. It is an asymmetrical interdependence. Man is beholden to God, not simply for his life, but for being created in the first place and for being given the position in turn of master over the physical universe. Man is the surrogate of God. Woman, on the other hand, is viewed by that man as simply his physical extension in the original doctrine of possessive individualism. But just as God is dependent on man for being recognized as the creator and master of the universe – animals and plants certainly cannot do that job – man is dependent on woman for serving his physical needs.

However, there was a fundamental difference between man and God epitomized by the two trees that God planted in Eden. One was the Tree of Life. God was eternal. Man was not. And man would not eat of the Tree of Life even though man deluded himself initially to believe that his destiny was to have eternal life.  A second tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of moral discernment. Here, man had it over God. Because God was not a physical being. God did not have a sexual partner. Man, on the other hand, could know woman, could have sex with a woman and thereby discover the foundations of a moral universe. If God brought humans into the world in this archetypal mythical tale, man and woman would bring morality into the world. It was not sufficient to recognize the good, to wonder at the beauty of creation. It was necessary to understand evil as well and its source. As you will see, it is not sex.

How? Because the two trees, the tree of life and thee tree of knowledge of good and evil were also interdependent. Man was warned that if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if man knew woman, if the two had sex, they would know that they were mortal and were not like God, would know that one day they would surely die and that they never would be able to eat of the tree of eternal life.

The story of the second creation of Eve, the creation of Eve in the imagination of the male, is about an Eve who is but a physical extension of man, an Eve who exists simply because man is lonely and, further, because the man that is lonely does not even recognize that he needs Eve as his companion and, further, that being alone is “not good.”

Woman is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” And the two become one flesh in reality when they mate. But they do not, simply thereby, become partners in life.  For man does not see woman as his equal, does not see woman as an independent self-conscious being with whom he must establish and build a relationship. Look at how the mating game begins in Genesis III.

א  וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’
ב  וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ:  מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל. 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
ג  וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן–אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ:  פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן. 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’
ד  וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה:  לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die;
ה  כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’
ו  וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
ז  וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.

What do we know about the serpent? We know it stood erect. We know that the serpent was subtle and devious. In fact, the serpent is an outright liar for he describes sex as a divine experience when that is precisely what a Hebrew divinity can never experience. God did recognize what is good and not good (loneliness for man); God had not yet come to recognize what is evil.

The serpent insists that if Eve eats of the tree of knowledge she will know good and evil and that will be like being a divine being who knows good and bad, good and evil. We know that the serpent spoke to woman. We can surmise that when first mentioned, serpent is a euphemism among a host of euphemisms in the Bible. We may currently give a penis a proper name – Peter or Oscar– or call it a boner. The biblical writers were prone to use a wide variety of euphemisms to refer to a penis, such as “basar,” “flesh” in Exodus 28:42, the same word that is used in Genesis 2:23: “flesh of my flesh,” בָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי. Woman then means bone of my bone, penis of my penis. Another euphemism for penis is erva עֶרְוָה or “nakedness,” as 3:7 above, עֵירֻמִּם.

Last night we went to hear The Hot Sardines at Koerner Hall, a terrific retro jazz band with superb musicians and even a tap dancer – see and hear them if they are in your neck of the woods – they play Vancouver at the Orpheum later this month and in Winnipeg in May – or if you go to New York, they perform at Joe’s pub. They put on a tremendous show. They are crisp and exacting musicians with a great horn and wood section. And they are funny in a sly and witty way, just as are some of the tunes they play from the days of dirty jazz in which all types of interactions with fruit were used to refer euphemistically to sex and passion.

Note the following about the biblical tale of the erect penis:

  1. Man objectifies his own penis and sees it as Other.
  2. That Other, unlike woman, is viewed as an entity with an independent being.
  3. That independent being, in contrast to the naïve Adam, obsessed with his naming ability and, thereby, bringing things into existence, is characterized by guile.
  4. Woman is seduced, not by a man, but by his penis, by woman discovering what a delight a penis is to the touch and the sight and the taking the penis in as food for the body and the spirit.
  5. Only in this way does Eve teach the blissfully unaware Adam, who does not even recognize Eve as an independent being but characterizes his penis as having independence from himself, that he too can take pleasure in his physical being.
  6. In discovering their nakedness, in discovering the penis, in discovering the wonders of sex, they are both ashamed.

Why do Adam and Eve feel shame? And what does sex and shame have to do with independence and autonomy?

To be continued.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Bone of my Bone

Yesterday I wrote about etzem suggesting both identity (sameness) and independence and asked how two such apparently opposite meanings of the same term could be reconciled. Earlier this month I had also written about salvation versus resurrection (wordpress 2018/04/07) These were the opening paragraphs of that blog:

Resurrection is very infrequently cited in the Torah. In its rare expressions, it is most often interpreted as a vision of glory at the end of days. But try reading it as a nightmare of the end of days when ignorant nostalgia governs, when dead zombies take power, when the shades enter daily life and hide the rays of sun behind a dark cloud, when those who sleep in the dust of the earth on gold-plated beds awake to reproach all others and spread abhorrence and hatred. (Daniel 12:2).
The vision of resurrection is not something to be celebrated, as the rabbis and Jesus did, but to be feared and eschewed. The monster in the black lagoon may now be coloured green as in The Shape of Water and in our imaginations and apparitions, but the real danger lies in the monstrosity of breath entering the dry bones of a dead past, dry bones covered with sinews and flesh, dry bones made to breathe and live again, when those should have been left in the slow decaying heap where they belonged and left to return to dust. (Ezekiel vv:1-2) The goal should be to deliver the Promised Land to our children and our children’s children and not to those lifted out of their graves.

Yesterday, however, I wrote about Adam falling asleep in the Garden of Eden story and God removing one of his ribs to fashion a woman viewed by this archetypal male as simply an extension of his own body. In this story, Eve is created out of a living bone, not a dry, dead one. It is not a story of resurrection, but of material projection. Recall that in Genesis I, on the sixth day of creation, long before this night dream of the creation of woman, God had already created man and woman, though man alone was created in His image. This, contrary to most interpretations, is not a blessing but a curse.  For the Jewish God is a very unimaginative one. He has little sense of the music of the spheres and of artistry. He is a craftsman with an attention to detail and precision. He is a scientist, absolutely marvelous at bringing objects and things into existence.

Humans are an example. They are embodied creatures, fertile, capable of reproduction, but also of rule. For man was made in the image of God to rule over all created things. What is created is viewed as good (or bad) and not as beautiful or ugly. God cannot smell. God cannot taste. Everything has been made for utility. God can pronounce what He creates as good, but not as embodying the beautiful. The sun and moon are placed in the heavens to dominate, to separate light from darkness and allow consciousness and knowledge of the external world and its exploitation to take place. God is also a mad scientist who can give birth to a monster out of a desire to objectify Himself in the flesh. And then that creation blessed with a divine spirit will do what God does, blame others for all the problems that result rather than taking responsibility for His own mistakes.

How was that initial rule based on responsibility for the creation but irresponsibility for the management demonstrated? By giving man the power and the ability to engage in taxonomy, to use his brain to classify and categorize all things. Not to relate to them as things to touch and smell and wallow in their beauty. And not even to manage them properly. Man is given the power of naming, the same power God had but with one difference. God named, and the thing came into being. Man named what already existed and the thing came into being in thought, in consciousness. However, unlike God, images and fantasies came into being in and out of the human imagination.

Why did Adam, why did man need a helper? It was not to name things. He could do that on his own. It was for the same reason God created man and woman in the first place – to be His toadies. Man and woman were to be His surrogates in managing the material world. After all, God lacked a body. Man and woman were created in the image of God with the capacity to rule and administer. Man, however, right from the get-go, dreamed he was like God, that woman was created as his own projection, as an extension of his own flesh rather than as an independent being. For man, only God has independence. Only God has absolute autonomy. Embodied being entails dependence.

But as the stories unfold in both Genesis and Exodus, it becomes very clear that what man lacks most is a sense of independence and responsibility – for himself and for another. This is also true of God. God depends on man. God needs man to execute His will. Further, God is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. I shall be who I shall be. God is the god of self-revelation.

One reader of my blog informed me of Jerome M. Segal’s book, Joseph’s Bones. (I have not as yet obtained a copy let alone read it.) But my reader informed me that the book “ends with the burial of Joseph’s bones at Shechem. This action represents the ongoing wishes of the Israelites for a just God who will judge individuals instead of the collectivity. Joseph represents what Israelites want God to be: the One who knows us as individuals and the One who can forgive individuals. The Israelites brought two arks through the desert to Canaan. One was the Ark of God’s law and the other the ark containing the bones of the compassionate Joseph.” Therefore, I want to jump to Joseph’s bones to thrown light on the creation of Eve in Adam’s imagination as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

Why did Joseph exact an oath from the children of Israel that they would bring his bones up from Egypt? (Genesis 50:24-26) [I have drawn much of this material from my daughter, Rachel, and several of her lectures on Joseph’s bones, primarily her class on the nexus between homeland and exile, a lecture she delivered at Hebrew College this past Monday.] Why was it so important to bury Joseph’s bones in Shechem? And why is this an archetypal tale of redemption and the fulfilment of God’s promise to redeem Israel? What is wrong with the interpretation of Daniel’s vision of resurrection coming at the end of days as consisting of individual resurrection as promulgated by many rabbis, most Pharisees, about the messianic age during the late Second Temple period in opposition to the Sadducees? (Josephus, Antiquities xviii) A plain reading of the text suggests that the Joseph reburial narrative is a parable of the reuniting of the two kingdoms and the resurrection of Israel as a nation. (37:2-11)

“These bones are the whole House of Israel.” The dead bones represent the consciousness of Jews in the diaspora who had lost hope in Israel’s resurrection. Spiritual death is the loss of hope. These are not the bones of Daniel divided into those who lived just lives and those who did not, with resurrection reserved only for the just. Rather, a Jew is not simply an individual, but one deeply embedded in a family and a nation. In exile, as refugees, the spirit of a people lives to some degree in suspended animation. (Cf. Jon D. Levenson (2006) Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life)

Note that in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 22 about Eve as a projection of Adam, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, there is no staging as in the resurrection where the bones are first covered with sinews and then flesh and then skin and finally they are infused with the breath of life. Eve is instantly created as a living being from a bone. It is a very different kind of parable, one of fantasy rather than hope. God created man and woman. They were equal except in one sense. Only man was made in the image of God. And that was not something good. For man, unlike woman, was prone to fantasize that he could be like God, that he could aspire as a narcissist and megalomaniac to envision himself as the ruler of all humanity as well as of all the rest of nature. Such a visions of rule began with a belief that woman was not an independent conscious being, but an extension of himself.

How do we know this vision of the bringing to life of woman is a male fantasy? It takes place when Adam is asleep. It runs contrary to a plausible tale told in the previous chapter that humans emerged from the brine of evolution together. Man is borne by a woman and is born from the womb of a woman; man suffers from womb envy. As in dreams, there is no staging; the events spring seemingly out of nowhere. Rule is envisioned as solitary rather than shared. Rule is envisioned as a projection of self rather than a responsibility assigned to humans as nations, as collectivities. It is a classical narcissist fantasy – the other is merely an extension and reflection of me.

But why bones? Why flesh of my flesh? Because the other then only has a material existence. Only the male is an embodied spirit. Adam in his fantasy world has pulled off a coup. Why? To get away from parental (and responsible) governance, only to become totally dependent on woman. He is someone who clings to his wife. In the quest for divine power, the male becomes a supine infantile creature. And the self is envisioned in terms of possessive individualism and a material existence where the woman is the objectification of a male fantasy. At the same time, underneath it all, that selfsame male reveals himself to be a clinging male totally dependent on the Other for recognition and acceptance. Beneath the boastfulness and the bravura one can only find a whimpering infant needing appreciation from the very same creature he views simply as an objectification.

In contrast, Joseph dies, period. His resurrection involves only reburial in the proper place for the birth and rebirth of a nation. Further, Joseph is the most feminized of all the male characters in the Torah. Whatever the necessity for a martial spirit in defence of the nation, whatever the need to engage in manipulation in the exercise of power, the spirit of the nation must be one of compassion, one of caring, one of attention and sensitivity to others. Further, to live on hope and realize aspirations, one must be able to interpret dreams, to distinguish fantasy from reality. Consciousness may entail naming and categorization, classification and objectification. But etzem is a product of the imagination.

It is on that psychological, social and political foundation that the spirit of a nation will emerge and develop. This is the base for conveying how identity, how sameness, can be reconciled with independence.

To be continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Master and Slave: Independence

Israel’s Independence Day starts next Wednesday evening at sundown and is celebrated on Thursday 19 April 2018, a shifting date on the English calendar, for the date is set in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th day of Iyar 5778. In Hebrew, it is called Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות. Yom means day and ha’atzmaut means independence. If we want to understand what we are celebrating when we take joy in the festivities – whether Jew or gentile, whether Israeli or member of another nation – we must understand what independence means for a nation, and, before that, what it means for an individual.

A week from today in the evening, the holiday of Yom Hazikaron, יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן, begins, that is the Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or otherwise in the defence of Israel and for those who have been victims of terrorism – Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah (יוֹם זִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה).  It is a very solemn day.  For 24 hours, everything is closed; it feels like Yom Kippur. A siren sounds this evening Israeli time at 8:00 pm and all traffic stops for two minutes of silence. This is repeated on 18 April at 11:00 am Israeli time. The end of the siren wailing is followed by a memorial service and recitation of prayers at military cemeteries. If we want to understand what independence is, we must understand what sacrificing one’s life for a nation means.

Further, both holidays follow less than two weeks after Passover, Pesach, פֶּסַח, the week when Jews celebrate their exodus from slavery in Egypt and the quest for freedom. It is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Matzah, the festival of freedom from slavery. To understand the point of these two holidays next week, it helps to have a brief review of the holiday that just passed.

Passover is a celebration of God’s efforts to bring Jews forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow and pain into joy and happiness. Likewise, next week we repeat and reinforce the experience over two days of going from mourning into festivity. As we celebrate Pesach to re-enact this redemption, this movement from slavery into freedom (Exodus 13:8), the moment must be re-experienced, must be repeated over and over. We must re-experience that journey. We must recognize that it is a spiritual and physical trip that we ourselves must make. We must recognize our personal redemption. We are obligated to see ourselves as if we left a state of bondage for freedom. (Deuteronomy 6:23)

What does it mean to experience being a slave in Egypt? One can think of it as simply physical slavery. Eritreans fleeing their oppressive country have often been enslaved by traffickers and held for ransom until they were redeemed. Slavery does mean enforced servitude. Freedom means being free of such external coercion. But that is not all it means. When a slave is in bondage to a master, he or she is not only forced to work for and supply the needs of the master, he or she must also recognize the master as his Lord and Saviour, he upon whom the preservation of one’s life depends. Further, he or she recognizes the master as his or her superior, and, therefore, himself or herself as his inferior.

This recognition is double-sided. Mastery supposedly defines an ideal. The slave is in bondage to a false idol, another human perceived as superior to oneself. ‘Freedom from’ will mean both freeing oneself from physical bondage, but also freeing oneself from the mental bondage branded into one’s soul so that one is conditioned for a long time to retain a slave mentality, to see oneself as dependent on another for one’s life and to perceive that other as the epitome of life.

That is NOT accomplished by following the guide of Yerachmiel Israel Isaac Danzigerof Alexander (Poland 1853-1910) who in the Yismach Yisrael Haggadah (p. 107a) interpreted the obligation to re-experience one’s freedom from slavery as a process of recognizing one’s “essence,” atzmo, citing Exodus 24:10 – “It was the very essence (etzem) of the heavens for purity.” To quote: “This is an allusion to the inner divine spark found in each of us. A person must strengthen this holy spark no matter how low a state he reaches. In Egypt, we were so deeply mired in impurity that the Prosecutor said ‘both the Israelites and the Egyptians worship idols.” If strengthening the “inner spark” sounds retro as well as new age, it does. I suggest that etzem has nothing to do with an inner spark, and nothing to do with a process of purification, though it certainly has to do with casting off idolatrous propensities.

Exodus 24:10 reads:


י  וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.
10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.

The phrase the “like of the very heavens,” the translation of וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם

is interpreted by this commentator in a Platonic way, envisioning transforming and raising up an inner spark into a purified state akin to the heavens, a variation of realization of a pure pre-existing form. However, is we read the biblical text where etzem appears, independence as in Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות, the reference is indeed to sameness, but to physical sameness.  Genesis 2:23 reads:

 
כג  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת. 23 And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Etzem of my etzem, bone of my bone, עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

Genesis 2 follows the six days of the creation story with the seventh day of rest. The earth still did not have humans nor, for that matter, any vegetation or crops. For it had not rained. Then a mist went up from the earth to water the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living soul, that is, a man of flesh and the breath, the spirit of life. There is no discussion of purity. There is no reference to an inner essence, a divine spark. The imagery is water, earth (flesh) and air and not fire. Then God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in it to groom the trees and plants.

Three things then happen. God tells man that he is free, free to eat whatever he wants from the garden. With one exception: “of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.” Why? Because if you eat of it, you will have knowledge of your certain and inevitable death. Second, God made birds and beasts. And Adam gave them their names – cows and goats. Third, Adam was put to sleep. Why? Because God saw that man needed a help meet. Not man. Adam did not even know he was lonely.  When Man was asleep, woman came into being for Adam. Woman for Adam is a projection of his unconscious. In Adam’s dream, the woman was an extension of himself, made from his own rib. It is then that man pronounces that woman is “now bone of my bone,” etzem of my etzem: עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

If etzem means independence, but woman is here envisioned as simply a physical extension and projection of man, one might reasonably conclude that these are opposite states. To be merely viewed as a physical extension of another would appear to be the opposite of independence. How does this make any sense? Unless, of course, the tale is read ironically. Though the woman is perceived as an extension of man’s physical self, she in reality is the true expression of his real self. The real self is not a hidden spark within, but a real presence of another outside whose independence and otherness is not initially recognized. Man discovers his own independence by and through discovering the independence of another. Initially that independence is that of a woman.

One answer is that etzem means “essence,” the bone marrow of the matter, roughly, the heart of the matter, “the essential fact of the matter.” However, Exodus 12:51 reads:


נא  וַיְהִי, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–עַל-צִבְאֹתָם.  {פ}
51 And it came to pass the selfsame day that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. {P}

The same day, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם

Like bone of my bone, the stress is on sameness, not difference, not autonomy, not independence. This is also true of Leviticus 23:14.


יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד-עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.  {ס}
14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until ye have brought the offering of your God; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. {S}

The sense is that of identity, as oneness with oneself, oneness with another, and oneness with the experience of escaping oppression. Again, in Leviticus 23:29-30 we once again find etzem translated as sameness.


כח  וְכָל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, הוּא, לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
28 And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.
כט  כִּי כָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תְעֻנֶּה, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–וְנִכְרְתָה, מֵעַמֶּיהָ. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.

What is going on? How is repetition and sameness equated with independence and freedom? How is a woman projected as simply a physical extension of man connected to independence?

To be continued

With the help of Alex Zisman

A Proud Father and a Proud and Appreciative Canadian

What a weekend! On Friday evening I went to a concert rather than to synagogue. After about a twenty-year absence, Eric (my fourth child) returned to playing the trumpet in a newly formed orchestra, the Summerhill Community Orchestra. The opening number, Telemann’s “Trumpet Concerto,” was played by my son. He also conducted. I was bursting with pride. He was terrific. Another wonderful performance followed with Victoria Yeh on the violin playing “Romance for Violin.” Then Sarah John conducted Rossini’s rousing classic “Overture to the Barber of Seville.” The second half featured Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7.

What a great evening!

Saturday morning was spent initially in Torah study discussing slavery and freedom, about which I will write a separate blog, and Saturday afternoon visiting a close friend.  On Saturday evening, we went to another concert at Koerner Hall, primarily to hear David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana band, a fusion of Jewish and Cuban music. They were excellent as always. Buchbinder’s trumpet playing of this unique Afro-Cuban/Jewish/Jazz fusion gets better and better as do the original compositions. Hilario Durán, a Cuban-trained pianist, is absolutely brilliant. The accompanying players are all great: John Johnson on Reeds and Flute, Aleksander Gajic on the Violin, Justin Gray on Bass, Mark Kelso on Drums, Joaquín Núñez-Hidalgo on Congas and Percussion, and the vocalist Maryem Tollar.

But the hit of the evening for me, surprisingly, came in the first half when we heard Kuné (meaning “together”), Canada’s global orchestra formerly known as the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra celebrating the release of their debut album on Universal Music Canada. A year ago, Mervon Mehta, who runs the performance side of The Royal Conservatory of Music, initiated and created a new ensemble of musicians to celebrate Canada’s cultural diversity and pluralism. Howard Buchbinder was the artistic director. I expected an orchestra with outstanding musicians from around the world. I did not expect such fascinating and original music performed with such great artistry. I cannot recall when I have seen a pre-act get a standing ovation that forced the performers to come back on stage and play another number. I saw and listened to 13 virtuoso musicians, each brilliant in his or her own right.

Let me suggest a taste – though you should listen to the music; the CD, simply entitled Kuné, can be ordered online. The evening began with Canadian First Nation drumming, but quickly merged from that start into the violin and subsequent singing by Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, a Canadian Métis. The Gypsy music evolved into jazz, and then, in a subsequent number, into Irish and Scottish reels from the Maritimes. The fusion was seamless, original and entrancing.

Demetrios Petsalakis, originally from Greece, played the Oud (he also played guitar) that, with the other instruments, emerged as an original jazz composition. One of the most lyrical as well as haunting pieces was performed by Padideh Ahrarnejad who arrived in Canada just over a year ago from Iran. She played the Tar and sang. And if you want to hear rhythm, you had to listen to the percussion and singing of Aline Morales of Brazil as well as the final number, after the standing ovation, led by a flautist, Lasso (Salif Sanou) from Burkina Faso, who played the talking drum in a thrilling unique composition. These were not soloists, though solos were played within each piece, but true fusion music which blended instruments, styles, musical history and motifs from all across the world.

Every single one of the musicians deserves their own accolades, including:
Sasha Boychouk (Ukraine): Woodwinds & Ethnic Ukrainian Flutes
Luis Deniz (Cuba): Saxophone
Anwar Khurshid (Pakistan): Sitar & vocals
Paco Luviano (Mexico): Acoustic & Electric Bass
Matías Recharte (Peru): Cajón, Drums & Percussion
Selcuk Suna (Turkey): Clarinet
Dorjee Tsering (Tibet): Dranyen, Flute, Piwang & Vocals.

I had been missing my movies. In the wee hours on Sunday, instead of writing a blog, I watched Denzel Washington on TV in the dystopian film, The Book of Eli by the Hughes Brothers. It was a classical Denzel performance with its hesitations, mannerisms, morose disposition and inward reflection, but this time with a very troubled but very dedicated and committed soul. This combined Christian revivalist and Wild West movie set in a destroyed wasteland of the future is at times fascinating and at other times simply boring and leaden with scenes too stretched out and infused with too much preaching and insufficient witnessing. Denzel is a mad preacher on route to save mankind by transporting the last remaining copy of the Bible to the West, but with his own indifference to the suffering of others. In the process of his walk across the continent, he comes face to face, not so much with his inner demons, as with himself as a sinner even though dedicated to his mission. A very interesting and disturbing film, but not a must see.

I then watched a ten-year-old film, Untraceable, more about the female FBI agent, Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), set on capturing a serial killer, than the killer himself, the archetype of a sadistic psychopath, a callous loner with no or blunted emotions, exploiting, playing with and eventually destroying the life of another rooted in an impulse for revenge for a perceived injustice and with no ability to feel guilt or express remorse. The film has a unique and, for its time, prescient twist. The slow agonizing deaths are broadcast on social media to millions of viewers. It is an archetypal cop/thriller/horror film which is fast-paced and horrifying, if you like and appreciate the genre, but totally implausible if you examine the timetable of events with any close attention. I do not and did not understand why I watched it.

The third film I saw was both much more interesting and very understandable why I watched. One of my major interests is the ethics of bystanders, whether the Rwandan genocide or individual malfeasance and silence when witnessing an injustice or atrocity. That was the core focus of Barry Levinson’s HBO film Paterno in which Al Pacino, another great actor with an even broader reach than Denzel Washington, plays the celebrated coach, Joe Paterno, who, for over four decades, was a very celebrated and winning head football coach of the Nittany Lions at Penn State, but who is suddenly and unceremoniously fired by the trustees of the university, ostensibly for not adequately and appropriately dealing with the pedophilia, sexual molesting and perhaps male rape committed by one of his veteran assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky.

What did “JoePa” hear, when did he first hear it, what did he do, and how much attention and effort did he pay to the rumours and complaints about his assistant coach? The question of why is more muted in total disproportion to the noise and demonstrations by Penn State idolatrous fans, whose unexamined enthusiasm for Joe is also portrayed, perhaps at too great length. What started as a supposed report in 1999 turned into a media explosion twelve years later. Al Pacino is as mute as the 84-year-old ex-hero he plays, conveying his dealing with the scandal with a glance, a shrug, a sigh, a thrust forward of one stooped shoulder.

The question of Sandusky’s guilt, though there is some, but not much, doubt, is accepted as a premise. Sandusky is now serving a minimum of 30 years in prison. He will die there. He is a peripheral presence in the film. The reasons for Joe not reporting him slips out in installments over the course of the movie – distraction, presumption of innocence, friendship, disbelief, preoccupation with other matters, structural deficiencies in the university, inattention to a matter seen as of peripheral importance, the focus on winning rather than the well-being of the players – these and other reasons and excuses are put forth over the course of the movie. The current zeal for reporting predators just did not seem to exist. It was another era. Joe is a heroic remnant from an earlier age who could still insist, without any in-depth self-examination, that the events had “nothing to do with me.”

Joe is played with a sense of humanity before and in spite of the tragedy he faced. His extraordinary composure in dealing with the scandal even as it ate into his very sense of himself (he died just months after being fired), and his own fleeting doubts and questions as he urged the students to suppress their idolatry and get on with being excellent students, makes him both deserving of being admired but also makes the viewer more upset with his lack of insight. The film is a very empathetic portrayal of a bystander who had been an enormous success but ultimately failed the ethical test in the last twelve years of his life. In some sense, the failure is as gruesome as that of the prophet Eli played by Denzel Washington.

From yesterday’s morose morning, in the evening we went to the Hot Docs theatre to see the documentary on Itzhak Perlman, simply called Itzhak. He is both approachable and loveable, an honest but diplomatic commentator and a great and funny raconteur. The film is absolutely marvellous, a fly-on-the wall documentary of this extraordinary talent and his wife, Toby, full of life, humour and her own centre of will. The editing of Helen Yum is simply superb and deserving of an Oscar nomination. The film takes you on a roller coaster ride of a man so grounded yet so ambitious to reach and teach how to aspire for the heavens.

The film begins with Itzhak playing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the opening of one of his beloved baseball games and near the end there is a moving performance of the theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams. (Perlman played first violin in the orchestral score of the movie.) The film could not possibly include everything in this great man’s wonderful life, but I was secretly hoping, given my Canadian nationalism and pride, that the film would include a segment from his performance in Ottawa at the National Art Centre’s 150th year celebration of Canada’s birth when last September he played “a musical love letter to the movies,” a sort of reprieve and update of his 2006 Academic Awards performance.

If you want to hear great music, if you want to watch a courageous, extraordinarily talented but funny, down to earth and very humane individual, do not miss the film. The fact that the film is perforated with his extraordinary classical violin playing, and a few scenes in various genres other than classical music, is both inspiring and an aesthetic delight. Rarely do we find ethics and beauty so intricately intertwined. What an uplifting way to end the weekend!

 

With the help of Alex Zisman