Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Big White Fish in a Small Pond

Just like forever and
Unlike yesterday just
Licking a dirty stick for
I dislike your white hair
Even in the soft light your
Clutches of words
And slicing double-talk are
Rat dead smell sweet and
Molted sickly as death sin
Licked and Flabby like
Tits hanging low and old

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Book of Blessings - Marcia Falk

The Book of Blessings is Martha Falk’s widely ambitious siddur, or prayer book, designed to reformat Jewish liturgical service, and with it, Jewish notions of God, Israel and its election, male and female roles, the notion of a personal divinity, the position of Judaism regarding the natural world, to name only a few.

Falk’s motivations for creating this siddur are outlined both at the beginning of this book, and in greater depth at the conclusion.  She cites a quote from Arthur Green, a luminary in the world of Jewish Renewal and non-dualistic Judaism. Green says that even though he believes that there is no such entity as a God separable from the world or people or the things in it, he still uses the language of liturgy that presumes such a separation of objects.  Falk admires Green's work, but finds this a strange position to take.

So, the reader should keep this in mind when using The Book of Blessings.  It has little resemblance to many siddurim out there.  Even the siddur of the Reconstructionist movement is not as bold at replacing the formulas for blessings and most aspects of liturgical language found in traditional prayer books which presume a personal God and a personal supplicant.

So, this siddur will speak to many people.  Other people will read it and see it as fundamentally un-Jewish, despite the extensive Hebrew.  The siddur you want is for you to decide.  In our world, we are Jews by choice, and with that in mind, we get to choose our prayers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Days Between - Marcia Falk

In The Days Between Marcia Falk of the Book of Blessings  siddur fame provides a High Holiday machzor in her own unique style, expressing her own take on the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe, and Yom Kippur.

For those looking for a traditional machzor, Falk’s work is not for you.  She makes a point of not only failing to anthropomorphize God, but even mentioning an entity called God at all.

Rather, Falk tries to evoke a sense of sacredness in everyday items, things, ideas, and in the process, give the person using her machzor a sense of an all-encompassing divinity not confined to one time, one place, one notion, or one angle of belief.  Even, in a deep sense, trying to destroy the idea that something called 'God' and the 'World' and its seemingly multifarious 'objects' are separate at all.

This is a tall order, and this book sometimes succeeds in this grand mission and sometimes fails.  The Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur prayer books are filled with majestic images, invocations on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death, all presided over by an all-powerful King God who judges the world.  Like it or not, something about those themes pulls many non-religious Jews into temple on the High Holidays (and to be fair, keeps many away!)

Falk’s work is a brave attempt, but it falls short of the show stopping opulence which most Jewish people expect at the High Holidays.  Although I agree with the ideology behind her work, I don’t think she quite reaches the mark she sets for herself, or that is expected during the High Holidays.

But if the book is a failure, it is a wonderful failure.  The Days Between certainly stands as a powerful counterpoint to Jewish traditions at this time of year, departing from well-worn tracks in liturgy and theology, while retaining a broadly defined Jewish sense.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Readings

Rosh Hashanah Readings is a very typical Jewish Lights production, presenting a variety of short passages on different topics relating to Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays culled from a decidedly liberal side.  The volume mainly contains quotes from contemporary figures in the Jewish scene.  There are very few entries from Chasidic or more antiquated sources.

The volume has a charm all its own.  Start reading it during the penitential month of Elul, and gradually bring yourself to Rosh Hashanah.  The books is arranged that way, the passages are easier to digest in bits, and it will make the reading experience more enjoyable and meaningful than rushing through it a few days before Rosh Hashanah.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

In Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President  by Candice Millard may give readers their only expose to an assassination of a American President that is all but forgotten, that of James Garfield.

Lincoln and McKinley were shot for ideological reasons.  Both men were viewed as political threats to their respective assassins.  Garfield was the first president shot by a crackpot, a man genuinely mentally ill, who stalked and obsessed over Garfield for several months before shooting him.  In this sense Garfield is the first president to be killed simply because he held this high profile office (yet lessons were not learned… the president would not be under constant guard until after McKinley’s murder).

This book also explorers the series of grievous mistakes made by Garfield's attending physicians.  Garfield was shot at an inopportune time in the history of medicine.  Advances in sterilization existed, but Garfield’s doctors were Old School, and he died of a wound he would have most likely survived had they simply stopped probing his wounds with dirty hands.

This book enshrines a fascinating chapter of American medical and political history in a lively and readable style.