Editorial & Opinion | Musings

07/16/2014 | | Special to the Jewish Week | Musings

Professor Louis Ginzberg was the greatest scholar of rabbinic Midrash in his day, with a vast range of learning in many languages. My father told me that once, at a reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Ginzberg taught, a woman approached him and in the course of discussion, began arguing with him about a point in Midrash. After a long, fruitless argument, Ginzberg said, “Why don’t we check the ‘Jewish Encyclopedia’ — would you accept that as an authority?” The woman agreed.

07/09/2014 | | Special to the Jewish Week | Musings

Sending his son Adam some stamps, Saul Bellow wrote in the accompanying note, “Countries sometimes disappear leaving nothing behind but postage stamps.” Anyone who has studied history must indeed be mystified at what endures — the shopping lists of ancient Sumer or obscure graffiti scratched on a prehistoric cave. As in Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” what we think will survive often disappears with barely a trace.

07/02/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Why does Abraham declare, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). The Beit Halevi (Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik) offers a brilliant insight.

06/25/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

A word for a profoundly Jewish but often disrespected profession: God bless funeral directors.

As a rabbi, I have marveled for many years at the skill and care of funeral directors. My father, a rabbi in Philadelphia, would often recount how his friend, Joseph Levine, would care for those who were bereaved and frightened, and gently guide them. I have seen the same care repeatedly in my own years conducting funerals and meeting with families who had suffered a loss. Death is the most sensitive time; when a funeral director is unkind, the results are devastating. But day after day, a mortuary worker must speak with families whom he or she does not know, and be warm without being cloying, caring without presuming too much, discuss financial arrangements at a time when the family can barely add two and two.

06/18/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

Rabbi Moshe Taub pointed out to me that of the 85 sentences in the Book of Ruth, all but eight begin with “and.” Parataxis is the name scholars give to the practice of recounting a string of happenings without explanation or causality. E.M. Forster wrote, “The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot.” Children tell plotless, paratactic stories: “And he said. And I said. And then...”

06/11/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Musings

The Talmud teaches us (Berachot, 21a) that the requirement to say a blessing after a meal comes from a verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10), and to recite it before the meal comes from a logical imperative. But the reverse is true with Torah study; the source for reciting a blessing before is from a verse (Deut. 32:3).